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

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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

Parshas B'Haaloscha - The Power of Perception     15 Sivan 5777

06/23/2017 11:22:20 AM

Jun23

No two eyes are alike and no two people literally see eye to eye. There is a general understanding of concepts, philosophies, understanding of laws that by and large people agree upon, but not necessarily exactly the way I do. I think we can all agree that the way an adult views a situation will be very different than that of a child. This differentiation usually comes with greater clarity of focus as the child ages in years and matures in his thinking. But until that time comes, there will be many frustrating, exhausting and upsetting battles between parent and child, teacher and student, and for that matter, between the growing adolescent and anyone in an authoritative position. Looking back over time, I feel the teenage years were by far the worst as my kids’ brains developed their critical thinking skills, learning on-the-job skills of how to argue and rationalize through every minute detail of life.

Without going into all the details, I remember one such incident when one of my children was clearly in the puzzled wrong but fought me over an issue that my child emphatically saw differently. It was an issue of substance contrary to the many trivial things we had ‘lively discussions’ about. Due to the importance of the subject, I sought out guidance from my Rebbi.  I carefully laid out the two sides of the argument or dispute that my wife and I had with our teenage child. I was sure that my Rebbi, knowing we were in the right,  would give me some advice and clever strategy for dealing with the circumstances at hand. To our great surprise and initial disappointment, not only did he not give us any strategy or even basic advice,  in a unique way he sided with our child! My Rebbi’s words were clear: “We need to look at the situation through the child’s eyes,” using phrases such as “in his mind”; “from his perspective” and “where the child is coming from”. This was truly an eye-opener for my wife and me. Why do we, as parents, need to look at the story or situation from the kid’s perspective? At first my wife and I looked at each other bewildered. You know, like… aren’t the parents always right? And what about the notion that children should listen to what the parents say, regardless of where the child is coming from? Our puzzled look then gave way to a look of ‘uhuh’ maybe my Rebbi is right (he always is) and look at things from a different perspective, using a more objective manner, bringing our child’s input of the situation into the discussion.

We are all influenced by our peers, by our surroundings, and by the information we read and hear about. One of the most convincing of ideas and beliefs is seeing something, as the old saying goes: “seeing is believing”. The Jewish people historically have made decisions - both good and bad -  based upon circumstances that we thought were very clear. One instance which caused catastrophic damage was the image that the Satan drew for the people showing that Moshe Rabbeinu was dead after the Jews miscalculated the timing of his return down from Har Sinai. Yet, there is another ‘vision’ that appears in the Torah that helped the Jewish people in their traversing the dangers of the desert. Throughout my years of learning, I always thought the Jewish people traveled in the desert by following the Mishkan. When the Mishkan travelled, we walked, and when it stopped, we camped. The navigation system was the cloud of glory during the daytime;  I thought a great fire during the night would light up the path. Looking over the verses a lit bit closer reveals something different.

In this week’s Parshas B’Haaloscha in Bamidbar 9:15 the Torah states: “U’V’Yom Hakim Es HaMishkan Kisa He’Anan Es HaMishkan L’Ohel HaEidus, UBa’Erev Yihiyeh Al HaMishkan K’Marei Aish Ad HaBoker”: “On the day that the Tabernacle was erected, the cloud covered the Tabernacle, the Tent of Testimony. Then, in the evening, there was something that appeared to be like fire on the Tabernacle, remaining there until morning”. The narration continues in 9:16 “From then on it remained that way. There was a cloud covering it [by day], and a fire-like partition by night”. The Targum Yehonasan Ben Uziel remarks that it is possible that the cloud remained and was also there at night.  The Midrash Rabbah asks rhetorically, ”What does ‘looks like fire’ mean?” The wording teaches us that if the cloud was whitish, then the people knew that the sun was rising. When the cloud was reddish, they knew the sun was setting.

The Malbim explains that the cloud which led the Jews out during Yetzias Mitzrayim had one pillar of cloud and one of actual fire. One was used to lead them during the day and the other to continue leading them at night. Here in the desert there was only one cloud that served both during  the day and through the night, similar to what the Midrash said. This cloud in the Midbar was there leading the Jews at night, but it appeared as fire. There was a perception among the people that this nighttime pillar  was a fire, but in reality it was just the same cloud. The appearance of the cloud at night was a fire, as viewed at the end of Sefer Shmos: “The cloud of Hashem was over the Mishkan during the day, and fire in it at night, referring to the cloud itself. The cloud is the true essence of where God was found; it was  never really seen in a pillar of fire. Therefore, from this point onward it was always a cloud over the Mishkan 24/7.

Be that as it may, what was the benefit for the Jews to perceive the cloud as a fire instead of the same cloud from the daytime? The Shach (Sifsei Kohein) -  the appearance of the cloud as fire - remained even when the Israelites camped and were stationary. Initially, we thought the fire was necessary at night to light up the road when they travelled. That is not the case, as the fire (the cloud that looked like a fire) was seen even at night because nighttime is filled with fear and worry. At night, a person thinks of his sins and is nervous. The vision of seeing a fire was a protection for the Jews at night to do Teshuva as the fire would remind them of the fires of Gehinom. A preventive measure from sinning is when one thinks of the fires of Gehinom. The fire will ward off evil spirits and any bad thoughts of sin that might come to mind during the night. 

The mind is a powerful tool that perceives things that are there or may not be there. When it comes to business and secular things in life, a person will be open to hearing and listening to another’s perspective and see that person’s perception of the situation. In spiritual matters when a person is already in a position of seeing himself in a certain way, he should not leave things to his or her own perception but rather get guidance from an objective viewpoint. Let’s grow up and not act like the child who can only see it his way. Let’s rather be open to ask what the proper way of seeing and doing something is. When it comes to children, take into account their perception and empower them, but ultimately use that perception and emopowerment to lead them to the correct and true conclusions.

Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas Nasso - Follow the Leader........But Who IS a Leader?    8 Sivan 5777

06/23/2017 11:13:28 AM

Jun23

During our lifetime on this world, we are constantly challenged to know and understand the difference between right and wrong, good and evil and the like. Even when things appear to be obvious, we need to step back and evaluate through the Hashkafic glasses of Torah and Chazal. We must keep in mind that this world is a world of Sheker (falsity) and an Olam Hafuch an upside-down world. Things, situations, and people sometimes appear to be ‘Kosher” and yet they are not. Every day we read and hear about the leaders of the world: presidents, prime ministers, monarchs, dictators, and so forth in the headlines or on the news. Being a leader is a sought-after position yet only a few turn out to be appropriately equipped.  Regardless of who these leaders  may actually be, there is still a fascination, a tendency to look up to those who lead. People tend to follow a leader if they are attracted to what they stand for. Other times they are forced to follow a leader out of fear and retribution, particularly if they don’t follow the party line. Still, there are other brave individuals who, despite being fearful of some form of punishment, will stand up against that leader. A leader isn’t necessarily someone who is good; a leader could be evil.

There is no agreement as to what defines a leader in the secular world, after scouring through many divergent definitions and qualities of leadership, I found the following list of twenty-one traits that describe a leader:  focused, confident, transparent, has integrity, is inspirational, passionate, innovative, patient, stoic, authentic, open-minded, decisive, personable, empowered, positive, generous, persistent, insightful, communicative, accountable, and restless. These are all wonderful traits – albeit a little beyond the realm of the typical elected political leader – yet they encompass characteristics most people seek in a leader whom they will follow.

We, as parents, teachers, and educators encourage our students and children to take on leadership roles. We encourage our children to take responsibility, to face up to situations which are challenging, and when the opportunity arises, to take on leadership roles. The Torah’s definition of a Manhig, a leader is a little different. Moshe Rabbeinu and other leaders of the Jewish people didn’t necessarily have most of those laudable qualities listed above, and he certainly did not posses all of them. One would think a leader such as Moshe Rabbeinu or a Reb Moshe Feinstein ZT”L would have embodied most of those traits mentioned above. Rather, Moshe Rabbeinu was selected by Hashem, and Reb Moshe was somewhat ‘elected’ by the people of his generation due to his greatness. The number one reason for God choosing His leaders is the trait of humility - a trait which far outweighs any other trait, including all of the traits previously listed. When we compare the success of a successful leader to the fall of the failing leader, we find the difference in ‘Anivus’  - humility. This is not to say that every great leader - even one chosen by God Himself  - will always be liked and successful. Truly great Torah leaders face many challenges, and I venture to say that the greater their leadership, the more opposition they may have to endure.  In addition to humility, a Torah leader must be a role model for his followers. This notion is highlighted in this week’s Torah portion is one of the few references to error by leaders of the Jewish people.  

In this week’s parsha Nasso, each one of the Nesiim (tribal leaders) brought identical sacrifices during the days of inauguration of the Mishkan. In Bamidbar 7:2 it states: “Vayakrivu Nesiei Yisrael Roshei Beis Avosam, Heim Nesiei HaMatos Heim Omdim Al HaPekudim”. “The princes of Israel, who were the heads of their paternal lines, then came forward. They were the leaders of the tribes and the ones who had directed the census”. In the very next verse, as the Nesiim presented their offerings, the spelling of the princes in Hebrew (Nesiim) is missing the letter ‘Yud’. The Yalkut Meam Loez quotes Rashi and the Midrash Rabbah which explains that at the time that the Jewish people were informed of the fundraiser for the Mishkan, the princes said amongst their peers, “Let the people give as much as they want, and afterwards we will contribute and make up the difference.” They waited until the people of Israel had finished but realized that there was nothing more that was needed for the Mishkan itself, and they were upset that they didn’t give initially. The princes said, “We did not merit to give to the Mishkan, so let us at least give towards the Bigdei Kehuna, the Priestly garments.” Hashem hinted His dissatisfaction with the princes because they were lazy and nonchalant in donating to the Mishkan. Therefore, Hashem left out a letter in their title and from their name Nesiim. Now that the Nesiim recognized their mistake as explained in Parshas Vayakhel and were punished for it, they didn’t want to make the same mistake twice. When the Mishkan was erected, the Nesiim jumped at the opportunity to offer sacrifices on behalf of their respective tribes. While they were thinking about their mistake, they also thought about what to bring. It was Nesanel Ben Tzuar who stated that wagons were needed to carry all the articles of the Mishkan while traveling from place to place. Perhaps it was Nesanel’s namesake who realized they, the Nesiim, needed to ‘give’ first, to set the example and not to wait.

There are Jewish leaders from various camps and sometimes people judge the camp by its leader. As the old saying goes “don’t judge Judaism by Jews”. Please don’t confuse the ‘modern’ term ‘Chareidi’ with what it means to be a Torah observant Jew. Don’t use the pitfalls of the so-called ‘Chareidi movement’ as an excuse not to be a fully observant and active Jew.   If the leadership of a community or the parents of the community’s children want its constituents to sit down and learn Torah on a consistent basis, then they need to demonstrate this desire through leading by example, by being in the Beis Medrash and by learning. If the community’s parents and leadership want their constituency and children to appreciate and to value davening/Tefillah, then they must be the role models and set the example in Shul by arriving on time, praying with focused sincerity, and avoid talking.

A leader of the Jewish people does not have to be charismatic, good looking, or even a great orator. Rather, a Jewish leader is a role model for the three principles upon which the world stands: Torah, Avodah (prayer) and Gemilus Chasadim. These are the qualities that I personally have witnessed in the true leaders and Gedolim of our time. San Diego should be no different. Let these three principles be our guiding value system in determining who is a true leader to follow, and be careful not to be fooled by someone who poses as a leader yet fails to possess these qualities                       Ah Gut Shabbos              Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas Bamidbar - Tipping the Scales     29 Iyar 5777

06/02/2017 11:58:51 AM

Jun2

As the counting of the Omer winds up, there has been another counting of sorts, but this one counting down. An energized young Rabbi in our community put out a ‘Skinny by Shavuos contest’ that has motivated a group of men to lose as much unnecessary weight as possible. (I think there is a women’s version of this contest as well). At the beginning of the contest, everyone needed to weigh in and take a picture and send it in, and presumably will repeat the weighing-in and picture-taking on the last day of the contest. Many strategies and plans were in full force, complete with encouragement and impediments being a source of friendly banter between foes. One area that I struggle with is how often to check my weight progress – or lack thereof - on the scale. The daily method can offer happiness or disappointment.

Most of us tend to manipulate the scale - and our weight - by standing differently on the scale, weighing at alternate times, and, most effective for getting the greatest positive result, adjust the time for the weigh-in according to how much and what we ate that day. At times these gimmicks give us a sense of success, but we must realize that everything balances out at the end and may lead to frustration. All in all, it is very important to be healthy and maintain a proper body weight. Sometimes I feel that in order to live a better and longer life I have to kill myself now in order to reach that goal.

I recently discovered another instance of manipulation connected to exercise, losing weight and overall better health. I’m not sure if this could help me in a lawsuit, but the health aid ‘Fitbit’ that I wear on my wrist to measure my steps taken, calories lost, etc. has a major fallacy. A natural component of praying is the swaying motion that many of us do particularly during the silent Amida. I, as the Rabbi, try to maintain a certain speed and pace of the davening, thereby allotting a certain amount of time for the Amida. Therefore, I check the time at the start of the Amida and check the time I finish, either slowing down or speeding up accordingly. As a matter of habit, whenever I check the time on my Fitbit, I check how many steps I’ve taken so far that day. Lo and behold one morning not only did I check the time at the start and finish of the Amida, but I checked the number of steps taken as well. I was astonished to learn that I took over three hundred steps during the Amida with my feet together side by side, not having moved my feet or the rest of my body for the past five minutes! I realized that as I ‘shuckeled’ - swayed - back and forth, my hands swayed along with me, my ‘Fitbit’ faithfully tracking the motion of my arms… even though my legs never budged. I’m even tempted to say that even if you walk, the ‘Fitbit’ may not register any steps taken if you immobilize your arms from moving.

There are ways of tricking a scale or a measuring device, but ultimately we are only fooling ourselves. Knowing how to weigh and measure gives us the ability to carry the load of our weight and manage to balance who we are. This idea of carrying a load is alluded to in this week’s Parsha. At the very end of the Parsha, the Torah describes the work, service, and duties the Levites performed: Kehos in Bamidbar and Gershon and Merari in next week’s reading of Nasso. In Bamidbar 4:19/20 the Torah states: “V’Zos Asu Lahem V’Chayu V’Lo Yamusu B’Gishtam Es odesh Ha’Kodashim, Aharon UBanav Yavou V’Samu Osam Ish Ish Al Avadaso V’El Masao”. “V’lo Yavou Lir’os Kvala Es HaKodesh Vameisu”. “This is what you must do so that they survive and not die when they come into the Holy of Holies. Aharon and his sons shall first come and arrange each thing so that every Kehothite can perform his service, carrying his load. The Kehothites will then not come and see the sacred furniture being packed, and they will not die”.

The Chasam Sofer explains these verses through an exposition of a gemara in Tamid 32a. Alexander of Macedon inquired of the Elders of the South regarding ten matters. Question seven was: “What should a man do to live?” The Elders replied, ”He should kill himself.” A man should toil away at a job even if he finds it unpleasant in order to earn his sustenance. He should not think this job is beneath him and therefore risk not working at all. He should not indulge himself excessively in physical pleasures, and he should trouble himself to study Torah. Since if he learns Torah he will live in this world and the world to come. The eighth question was: “What should a man do to die?” The Elders replied, ”He should enliven himself.” A man should do the exact opposite of what was said before. Chasam Sofer explains if a person wants to live for the next world (Olam Haba), he needs to kill himself in this world in his service to God. With this strength, it gives a person life and purpose in this world and eternal life in the next. The opposite (Heaven forbid) works the same way but in the opposite direction. If man fills his life with worldly pleasures and delights for this world, then he is killing himself for the next world.

In reality a person doesn’t need to kill himself or work so hard in this world to receive a portion in the next world, since a person is obligated to perform and do every single mitzva in its proper time. On the contrary, if a person afflicts himself with undue hardship in doing a mitzva, he might be in violation of ‘Moe’il B’Hekdesh’ - abusing sanctity when not called upon. With this framework, we can now look at the verse from a different angle. When the passuk said, ‘This is what you must do……and you will live and do not die,’ meaning there is no need to kill oneself in all areas of this world, rather ‘when they come into the Holy of Holies…..and Aharon will place and assign each man his job and his load’. Each person can only be obligated to do that which his ability allows him to do. ‘So that it won’t be seen as being swallowed up in their service and drowning in their Avodas Hashem to the extreme that they can’t make it. The Torah isn’t looking for a person to be so overwhelmed and overtaken by his Torah responsibilities in serving God that it will kill him. The Torah prefers a balance to a person’s Avodas to Hashem by creating circumstances that aren’t too challenging while still manageable for serving Hashem.*** No one should kill himself to serve Hashem, rather ‘V’Chayu’ - live - and serve God for better times well into the future.

To be healthy, a person doesn’t need to kill himself on a crazy diet. Instead, one should practice good daily protocol to live a healthy physical, good life that allows us to serve Hashem properly, ultimately giving us the means to serve Hashem in the spiritual world through the physical.

Let us all approach the days of Kabbolas Hatorah in counting down the calories and the number on the scale so that we can count the spiritual pursuit to serve Hakadosh Baruch Hu in both body and soul.

*** A person must be intellectually and emotionally honest with himself to come to the equation of how much to push, when to lay low and step back, and when to push for more when ready to grow to the next level and do more.

 

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 Behar/Bechukosai - A True Baal Tzedaka!!!    22 Iyar 5777

06/02/2017 11:56:05 AM

Jun2

About fifteen years ago I met a Jew from Arizona who spent his vacations in San Diego. Over the years if he had Yahrzeit he would come and daven at Beth Jacob. My first encounter with him was on a Shabbos, and he heard me speak at the first minyan. Later, he told me that he liked me “as a rabbi because I didn’t speak too long.” (This is the ultimate Rabbinic compliment.). Ever since then he would come by once or twice a year and we’d chat, exchange pleasantries and a few times a year I would call him before Rosh Hashana and Pesach to wish him well. Through a former business partner of his, he would get me tickets to a few baseball games when the Yankees were on the West Coast.

A few months ago this individual called me and asked if I knew what the eight levels of giving charity were. I didn’t know them off-hand, plus I was driving at the time so I told him I would look it up and get back to him. Unfortunately, because I was driving I didn’t have a chance to write this memo down and I completely forgot about it. A few months later  for some reason his name popped into my head which jogged my memory, causing me to remember that I had totally forgotten to get back to him. Not only did I forget to call him back,t I totally could not remember what information he was looking for. I was so embarrassed that I called his office and initially asked his secretary to tell him that I called and asked what I was supposed to research for him. The secretary was a bit confused and I decided to bite the bullet and speak to him directly and apologize for my not getting back to him. I was very nervous and before I could even say one word he gave me his usual open, caring, and friendly greeting. I then proceeded to tell him why I called and apologized up and down for not getting back to him. He is such a nice person (a true mentsch), he did not even for a second think about that and told me he had already gotten the information and apologized to me for asking a favor like that, knowing how busy I am.

A few days later I received a printed 3x8 card from his office. At the top it read “Bob* has asked to share a piece of wisdom with you which guides him… The card continued with the heading ‘Maimonidies’ Levels of Charity’ and then went on to list the eight levels of charity in the order of highest value. I wrote him a thank you note, adding the source of the Rambam in Mishneh Torah, Laws of Charity 6:7-14. This person is a true “Baal Tzedaka” - loosely translated as an ‘owner of charity’ because he knows how to give. Not every person who gives money to charity is a Baal Tzedaka, rather they are a Baal (owner) over their own money who are not quick to let it go. A true Baal Tzedaka realizes that he or she is only the guardian of money which belongs to God. The Baal Tzedaka understands that he is entrusted to distribute it. But above and beyond that, is the special treatment, dignity and honor he makes the solicitor feel. The solicitor isn’t made to feel bad; rather the solicitor is genuinely viewed as a partner and an avenue for him to give charity.

The Torah often speaks of different methods of kindness and charity that is part and parcel of what is expected of us as Jews.  We are not to think that we are doing someone else a favor by giving that person money.     

 

The Torah in this week’s double parsha of Behar/Bechukosai states in Vayikra 25:25: “Ki Yamuch Achicha U’Machar MeiAchuzaso, Uva Goalo Haarov Eilav, V’GauAl Eis Mimkar Achiv” - “If your brother becomes impoverished and sells some of his hereditary land, a close relative can come and redeem what his kinsman has sold”.  **Reb Zalman Sorotzkin in his commentary Oznayim LaTorah points out that the words ‘Ki Yamuch Achicha’ is repeated in verses thirty-five and thirty-nine. He explains the reason for the three instances is that each deals with three different situations in which a person might find himself.  The Torah is teaching derech eretz regarding how a relative, a brother,  meaning a fellow Jew, should react and treat another Jew in need. First, if your kin becomes impoverished,, he is still your brother and you should not embarrass him. One might think, for example, that if he did not come to you for help, but you notice that he sold his land, you should step in and redeem land for him. Secondly, if he loses the ability to support himself and does not have any more land to sell, you should come to his aid, because at that time he is still your brother. Lastly, even if he is not your relative, (definition: not even Jewish) but rather a Ger V’Toshav, a good gentile living in Israel, he is also considered to be your brother! Even to the extent he needs to sell himself as a slave and you buy him and are now his master, he is still considered your brother!

Perhaps another fantastic lesson and insight is the phrase ‘when opportunity strikes, open the door’. This notion only comes to remind us of what Chazal have already said,  particularly with regard to this situation. The word ‘Imach’ - ‘with you’ -  teaches us that when a poor person is with you it is because Hashem has sent him to you. It is not the human being who is making the request, it is Hashem asking you to give. The place to deposit or to give it to is the person who came to see you. This is another example where there are three partners involved: God, who is making the request, the wealthy individual who is there to give, and the poor person to whom it is given.

Let us all be blessed two-fold with enough so that we will never need, and when blessed with plenty to have the foresight to give when Hashem asks for it.

*Name has been changed

**Zalman Sorotzkin, also known as the Lutzker Rav ( 1881–1966), was a famous Orthodox Rabbi who served as the rabbi of Lutsk, Uraine. Sorotzkin was born in Zagarine, Lithuania in 1881. Initially, he studied with his father, Rabbi Ben-Zion Sorotzkin, who was the town's rabbi. He then studied in the yeshivas of Volozhin and Slabodka.

Sorotzkin was a son-in-law of the Telzer Rav and Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Eliezer Gordon. When Rabbi Gordon died in 1910, Sorotzkin was offered the position as rabbi and rosh yeshiva in Telz. He did not accept the position and was shortly afterwards appointed as Rabbi to Voranava, Belarus (near Vilna). This position enabled him to establish a close relationship with Rabbi Chaim Ozer Grodzenski. In Voranava, Rabbi Sorotzkin established a yeshiva ketana. After two years in Voranava, Rabbi Sorotzkin moved to Dziatlava, where he served as rabbi for eighteen years. As Zhetel was the birthplace of the Chofetz Chaim, the Chofetz Chaim would affectionately refer to Rabbi Sorotzkin as "my" rav.

In 1914, due to the German invasion, Rabbi Sorotzkin moved to Minsk and became a close friend of the Chazon Ish, who rented a room from Rabbi Sorotzkin. At the the end of World War I, Rabbi Sorotzkin returned to Zhetel.

In 1930, Rabbi Sorotzkin was appointed rabbi in Lutsk, where he remained until World War II. During the early days of the war, when many yeshivas had to relocate, Sorotzkin served as the head of the Vaad Hayeshivos, at the behest of Chaim Ozer Grodzenski. Sorotzkin managed to flee the war and escape to Palestine.

 

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 Emor - Making it Count

06/02/2017 11:54:20 AM

Jun2

Transitioning from old school to new school is easier said than done. As people grow older, the ability to adapt to constantly-evolving technological developments in our fast-paced world becomes increasingly more difficult. creating  I am no exception to this situation.  As I get older and technology advances, I find myself slipping behind, losing awareness  of new apps and electronic conveniences that life offers. I only use about eighty percent of what my smart phone is capable of. Either I have lost interest in pursuing more and more into the cloud, or I am just getting older and losing the mental capacity for learning new technology. I am comfortable with certain advances that I adapted to but am now beginning to become reluctant to learning how to make use of newer changes.

Many of the advances in technology have eroded the personal touch and human-to-human interaction. We barely need to see anyone face to face anymore because we can communicate instantaneously at any time, any place in the world, by pushing or stroking a few keys. There ae fewer toll road collectors thanks to ez-pass and electronic toll roads that track every vehicle, allowing users to pay on line. Then there is on-line banking. While I do a limited amount of banking on line,  I’m now old enough to still prefer walking into the bank and speaking with a teller or my personal banker. Certainly, on-line banking saves considerable physical time, but unfortunately, we lose out on the emotional time.

Speaking of banking, another lost procedure in banking is the counting of money. Today, whether it’s a deposit or a withdrawal of money, a machine counts all the bills. No longer does the teller count out the money in front of you when you withdraw money. In fact, I am so old school I ask the teller to count out the money, even though it came out of the automated machine and afterwards went through the counter. There is something definitive about counting out bills one by one. An impression is made as the money adds up (it is interesting to observe the different methods tellers have in counting out the money) to the sum. We see the value of counting from the fact the fourth book of the Torah is called Sefer HaPekudim, the book of Numbers, where Hashem displays His love for his children through conducting a census.

In a two-way relationship, there is a giver and a receiver. Sometimes the giver gets more from his giving;  at times the receiver gets more than the giver.  With respect to Hashem counting and numbering His favored nation, we sometimes ask ourselves, “who benefits more, the person counting or the one being counted?” God doesn’t really need to count us for His sake; He counts us for ours, making us feel special for being so singled out.  So too, when it comes to Mitzvos that seemingly are performed for the benefit of someone Most often the Mitzvos are given not only tous but for us. An example of this is found in this week’s Torah portion Parshas Emor Vayikra 21:15 which states: “Usfartem Lachem MiMacharas HaShabbos MiYom HaViachem Es Omer HaTenufa, Sheva Shabbasos Temimos TiHiyena” - “And you shall count for yourselves from the day after that Sabbath, from the day of your bringing the wave offering of the Omer; it shall be seven complete Sabbaths”.

 Before explaining the significance of counting, the Maharal explains that there is a remez (hint) as to why we count forty-nine days from the offering of the Omer until the day of Kabbalas HaTorah, which is on Shavuos. The Omer, which is brought from barley, can be made into flour and ultimately into bread. In Pirkei Avos 3:21 the Mishna teaches ‘Im Ein Kemach Ein Torah’ - ’If there is no flour (bread) there is no Torah’.

The Ksav Sofer explains why the word ‘Lachem’ - for yourselves -  is not superfluous. The word ‘Lachem’ is used to teach that the counting of the seven weeks is not only about the number of days counted. Rather, the primary intent of counting is to recognize the quality of a person’s behavior and conduct. Each and every part of every single action a person does makes a difference. A person improves and becomes a better Jew when his actions are qualitative in nature, which clearly benefits him. This understanding of ‘Lachem’ is similar to the interpretation of when Hashem spoke to Avraham saying to him: “Lech L’cha Mei’Artzecha”. Rashi explains the L’cha - to you - as for your good;  for your benefit. Every time the word L’Cha is used it is for the individual’s gain. The counting of the Omer is no different. Counting the Omer is a benefit for the soul of man, assisting in sanctifying and purifying the individual.

With each passing day we count  toward the perfection needed to receive the Torah that was given on Har Sinai. Counting creates accountability;  the person thinks and sees what is different today from yesterday. Every new day should begin by trying to build upon the accomplishments of the day before. As every bill is counted by the teller, it adds up to the total sum. Each dollar is independent and at the same time compounded to the previous bill. Not only do I have single bills, but I have a much greater amount altogether that I can do much more with. So too every day of the Sefira that a person counts he should try to purify and sanctify himself a little more than the previous day and to build upon it. In the process of these seven weeks, we should try to decrease and remove desires that drag us down, preventing us from growing spiritually. It goes without saying (but I must say it) the improvement that we need to work on is not only in the spiritual sense - between me and Hashem - but also in the middos between man and man.

The counting of the Omer and the mourning period for the students of Rabbi Akiva coincide. I suggest that this is  no coincidence. Life is precious;  we know how every minute counts. If every minute of life builds upon the previous minute, one will live a very full life. One must remember this applies to both the physical and spiritual worlds between Hashem and my neighbor. Let us manually count the cash and the deeds. Let us appreciate the count and our value will appreciate as well.

       

Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

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

ontent.

Parshas Tazria/Metzora - Seeing and Feeling what is not there            1 Iyar 5777

04/27/2017 03:24:47 PM

Apr27

Is the absence of noise silence? There’s a saying “you don’t know what you have until it’s gone.” Recently, two things occurred that I caused me to adopt a new saying: “It’s difficult to know when something annoying is no longer bothering you,” or “The absence of something annoying is difficult to pinpoint when it’s gone.”

Due to construction around SDSU, traffic had to be re-routed. For the past eight-months a San Diego Transit city bus, #115, was rerouted to use side streets, including Rockford, which is right in front of my house because the bus turning point was closed during construction. The bus, which is a safety issue particularly regarding children, was also an annoyance as it rolled down the usually quiet streets. A few days ago, I was thinking to myself,  wondering if the bus was still on this alternative route or had it returned to its original route? I cannot pinpoint the time this aggravation ceased. A second scenario wasn’t as grating but nevertheless was still a bit irritating. On my bi-annual visit to the dentist, I was interrogated by the doctor with a series of questions. One of the questions, “are my teeth sensitive to hot or cold” rang a bit too true. It just happens to be that some of my teeth have been sensitive to very cold foods, forcing me to move the food around to other parts of my mouth. The dentist recommended using Sensodyne toothpaste when I brush to cure the problem. Last week one of my family members asked me, “Did it help?” As I was slowly processing, trying to determine whether  it helped or not, I realized that the only way to know would be to test it out by eating something cold.  I had not done this, and therefore I was left to using my mind, trying to determine if the problem still persists or not. After focusing on whether the bus still rolls down my street or the tingling in my mouth still exists, I have come to the conclusion that both have stopped.

The notion that something is no longer there is more challenging to know when something is there. After scouring the double Parshios of Tazria- Metzora, I stumbled upon something similar where at one point in time something did appear and then was gone. The Torah in this week’s Parsha in Vayikra 13:2 states: “Adam Ki Yihiyeh B’Or B’Saro Se’es O Sapachas O Baheres, V’Haya B’Or B’Saro L’Nega Tzaraas, V’Huva El Aharon HaKohein O El Achad Mi’Banav HaKohanim”. “If a person has a white blotch, discoloration, or spot on the skin of his body, and it is suspected of being a mark of the leprous curse on his skin, he shall be brought to Aharon, or to one of his descendants, who are the priests”. The Gerrer Rebbe, in his sefer Sfas Emes, relates in a mystical fashion the significance of the ‘skin’ mentioned in this verse. Before Adam HaRishon sinned, the shine and radiance of Hashem permeated throughout the world and throughout the entire creation. By looking at what was created one could see the Creator. Basically, one could see God through and from within creation and the light from the seven days of creation was completely revealed. But after the sin of Adam and Eve in Gan Eden, they became aware of their bodies and Hashem made for them ‘Casnos Or’ - leather garments. The Torah is not only coming to describe the new wardrobe of Adam and Eve, but is giving us insight into ‘clothing’. At this point the leather garments (leather in Hebrew is ‘Or’ spelled Ayin, Vav, Reish - the  identical spelling of the word ‘flesh’ in our parsha) are presented to cover things up and hide that which had been revealed. The word ‘Or’ in Hebrew as I spelled it out earlier can also be pronounced Eevair, which means blind. Yehuda Aryeh Leib Alter, the Gerrer Rebbe, explains that it was difficult to see the light because of the curtain or veil of darkness that separated the two. He goes on to compare skin of the body to the ‘Or’ – the skin of the world.  The natural skin of a human being is porous,  allowing the skin to breath and excrete waste and perspiration from the body. The covering of the world, the Or, also has tiny openings like windows which allow the hidden light to peer through while the waste flushes out of those openings. When the natural skin breaks down and is afflicted, the spiritual infection causes the skin to crack and break open. When something bad happens in the world and the ‘skin’ or the covering of the world is damaged that is a sign that the true inner light needs to come out and shine on the world. 

The Negah/Affliction is a sign of an inner disease that needs healing which comes as a chessed performed by Hashem  to arouse a purification. Therefore, the leper is brought to the Kohain to heal because it was through the Kohain that he was deemed impure. In reality, the Negah/affliction is a necessary component of healing for the individual. A complete and dedicated Jew would be glad to see the afflictions which represent imperfections and shortcomings. The area of the body from which the Tzoraas appears is exactly where the purity will come from. Before the Negah appears, the impurity is sealed underneath the surface of the skin. Through the appearance of the affliction, it is now revealed that the person needs to become pure again. As the skin breaks the Or - light with an aleph, - breaks through the Or  -the skin with an Ayin - and brings about a purification process.

There are many things in life that somehow get in the way of what we perceive as being annoying. As a scab develops over a burn or a cut, it tends to interfere with our mobility, so out of frustration we sometimes pull it off too soon.  It can no longer protect and regenerate the skin which had been regenerating beneath the scab.

At times we experience something that annoys us like a bus making noise or a tingling sensation on our teeth that requires a subtle removal to once again appreciated the way things are supposed to be. Sometimes we actively remove something negative and reveal the positive and other times we go through the natural healing process that eventually brings out the light that shines forth from God’s world. 

Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas Tzav - Custom Dipping                         10 Nissan 5777

04/06/2017 06:27:36 PM

Apr6

Over the past few months my life has been turned upside down. Any time someone loses a close relative the reality is that life is no longer the same as it was. How much more could one say about losing a parent. The mother who brought me into this world in whom I was physically connected to in utero and who I shared the most time in this world with is now detached once again from me. At birth, we separated from each other but were physically together in this world. Now we split again as she goes back to the spiritual world in which she was a partner in bringing me from.

The last few weeks have been filled with travel, arrangements in the wake of my mother’s passing and picking up some broken pieces. Everyone in life goes through periods of time when things are upside down and we tend to do things backwards or at least in a different order we normally do them. In general, everyone has their idiosyncrasies when it comes to doing things, but I’ve found this to particularly be true when it comes to food; how it is prepared and eaten.

There are a few common practices that people do differently, but one thing observant Jews do differently is preparing instant coffee on Shabbos. Generally, when making instant coffee the coffee goes in first followed by the boiling water, then cream and sugar if you like. But on Shabbos (for Halachic reasons to avoid cooking) we pour the water first and then add the coffee and other ingredients if we like. Proven from other areas of Jewish law the coffee would mix better the way we do it during the week and not on Shabbos. Therefore, if it wasn’t for Shabbos we would choose to do it one way and not the other. But there are other areas that some people do one way while others do it another. For example; do you pour ketchup on the side and dip French fries into the ketchup or do you pour the ketchup on top of the fries? When cooking hard boiled eggs do you boil the water and then put the eggs in or do you put the eggs in the water and boil it up together? A third scenario outside of food is the procedure of putting on shoes and socks. Do you put on both socks and then shoes or do you put on one sock then the shoe, and afterwards the second sock and second shoe?  I believe there are consequential differences in these examples and can the better way can be proven with good reasoning. Are there similar cases to these that the Torah could illuminate the proper sequence or proper procedure?

In last week’s parsha Vayikra (like I said earlier I myself don’t have everything straight yet) the Torah states in Vayikra 2:13 “V’chal orban Minchascha BaMelach Timlach, V’Lo Tashbis Melach Bris Elokecha Mei’Al Minchasecha, Al Kal Korbancha Takriv Melach”. “Moreover, you must salt every meal offering. Do not leave out the salt of your God’s covenant from your meal offerings. Furthermore, you must also offer salt with your animal sacrifices”. The Talmud in Menachos 21a explains that the sacrifices were salted before being paced on the altar. The practice of using salt when eating bread is traced back to this verse. In our day and age we don’t have the Beis HaMikdash and can no longer offer sacrifices. The Rama, Rav Moshe Isserles in Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 167:5 writes “the symbol of the Temple today is our home and the table represents the Alter. The food eaten at the table is symbolic of the sacrifices that were offered on the alter”. The primary component of our diet is bread and it was therefore charged with being the replacement of the meat that we offered daily.  This resulted in the bread being like the sacrificial meat requiring the need to use salt. Here again we face a dilemma; do we dip the bread in the salt or do we sprinkle the salt on the bread?

The Mishna Brurah Siman 1678 S’’K 33 writes that the Kabbalists require dipping the bread into the salt three times. One of the many connections bread and salt have are the Hebrew letters are the same when rearranged Lechem and mellach. The Gemara Brachos 5 explains the Bris/covenant that is mentioned here and by the Tochachah the public rebuke of the Jewish people in Devarim 28:69. The Bris mentioned here sweetens and perfects the meat of the sacrifice. So too the Bris mentioned by the rebuke contains Yisurin afflictions that soften a person and cleanses him from his sins. In short, the salt prepares the meat and the Bris of the hardship fixes the human flesh to be better.

Apparently, there are different customs as to dipping the bread into the salt or sprinkling the salt on the bread. The Rama just mentions bringing salt to the table to protect the people from tragedy. It was the Kabbalists who said it is insufficient just to bring salt to the table and not enough just to dip one time but rather need to dip the bread in salt three times. The bread represents the character of mercy while salt represents judgement. In a sefer called Derech Seudah it is written that bread should be dipped so that the Midda of mercy overcomes the Midda of judgement. The bread on top forced its way into the salt beneath it and overcomes the din.   

Yet in a few days we will all recline at the Pesach Seder and eat Matzah. Some authorities say that Matzah is pure it does not require salt whatsoever. Most others do require salt. The challenge of salt and Matzah is that if I dip the Matzah into salt it doesn’t cling to it and even if I sprinkle salt on the matzah id doesn’t absorb and usually spills right off. So, what do we do at the Seder, dip or sprinkle? (some hold that due to the statement in Mah Nishtana of dipping twice, the salt is not even one of those two times indicates we don’t dip for Matzah) Rav Yosef Karo says to dip like we do all year round. The Rama holds that at the Seder we do not dip Matza into salt at all as it is not necessary being ‘clean bread’. Nevertheless, we use salt even on Matza but on Pesach one Chasidic custom was specifically to sprinkle the salt onto the Matza and not dip. The reason not to dip was fear the Matza crumbs would remain in the salt dish and get wet due to the salt and potentially creating a fermentation and causing the crumbs to become Chometz. Therefore, sprinkling on top for Pesach was the proper procedure.

There are so many customs and practices that contribute to the make-up and beauty of the Jewish world. The customs we observe is the icing on the cake of the actual Mitzvos. Whether the icing is chocolate or vanilla is irrelevant, the important part is that we do the Mitzva and each group of Jews through our diversity picks the custom. If we focus on the primary and let the individual groups tweek it accordingly so be it. 

Ah Gut Shabbos and Ah Gut Yom Tov

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas T'Tzaveh/Zachor - Changing Terminology           11 Adar 5777

03/08/2017 09:19:14 AM

Mar8

Hebrew isn’t “just” the modern language spoken in Israel today; it is also known as ‘Lashon HaKodesh’ - the holy tongue/language. We learn about the reason why we human beings speak so many languages from the Biblical story of the Tower of Babel. Since the time of Babel, language has continuously evolved, morphing into new dialects while incorporating older languages from conquering countries, causing the development of new languages. Thanks to the ease of communication and travel today, new words, “borrowed words”, and idiomatic expressions are continuously being added to virtually every language of the world.  I believe that there are two people who are the first to become aware of these new words: the professional Scrabble player and the person who first spoke that word.   

An additional form of ‘alternative wording’ – to paraphrase a newly-coined phrase-is also making its mark in different arenas. I’m sure many of you reading this will think of other examples, but here are a few of my own recollection. Throughout my childhood we never had a new car. Any time we bought a different car for the family, it was always a ‘used’ car. Now, years later the prospective buyer does not look for  an ‘old’ car to buy; he considers or tests out a ‘pre-owned’ vehicle to purchase. I attribute this change to the leasing business, whereby the exchange of cars on a more frequent basis grew popular in contrast to the good old days when one bought a car and held onto it for life, or at least until it simply died of extreme abuse and/or old age. Another subtle change was introduced with regard to a person’s job interview. One of the questions asked by the interviewer is, “Describe your your previous employment.”  This is a euphemism for “Why were you fired?” Nobody wants to admit that they were fired, so instead they would say, ‘I was let go due to the company’s economic downturn,” or “My position has been cut; it is no longer needed.” Despite these nuances of language, the person may still be telling the truth – there’s just a slightly a different twist of emphasis. Most recently I viewed a resume for someone looking to get married. In some circles resumes are exchanged between the respective parties to get an initial overview of the individual to determine whether  this individual might be compatible (at least initially on paper) or not. In keeping with the new euphemistic manner of description, it is now  the norm not to state that a person is divorced or widowed but rather to simply state  “previously married”. Language and the use of rather creative phraseology create an entire different perspective on things.

A further plunge into the use of terms is using the generic term  to explain a specific situation, thereby limiting its meaning. We are all guilty of using words and making them synonymous within the context of a referral. There is misuse in this application of language despite its wide acceptability across the world. Here are three examples that come to mind: Eight days after a Jewish boy is born, he must enter the covenant that Avraham Avinu made with Hashem on our behalf. The covenant is the ‘Bris’. A Bris is not a circumcision; it is a sealing of a covenant, a sacred promise. There are many britot (plural for Bris) that people make between themselves  which do not require a circumcision. The second term is ‘Ger’ which, simply translated, means a stranger or sojourner. In Jewish thought, there is a ‘Ger Toshav’ and a ‘Ger Tzedek’ and even a ‘ger’, referring to a stranger in a foreign land. Nevertheless, the common term ‘ger’ in the vernacular usually assumes a convert to Judaism, more appropriately titled ‘Ger Tzedek”. Lastly is the ‘Get’ - a Jewish bill or document. The word ‘get’ by itself does not mean a divorce but rather a bill, the proper term for a man divorcing his wife would be a ‘Get Isha’. There are other types of ‘Gittin’,such as when a man frees his slave.  To free a slave, the owner is required to give the newly-freed individual a ‘Get Shichrur’ which is a document of emancipation. Here again the typical meaning of the word ‘Get’ by itself has evolved to give  the impression it is talking about  a divorce.

Whether the change of wording is intentionally intended to convey a different message or, on occasion indicates a lack of understanding of the true meaning of a word, we know one thing: change matters. Adding or taking away a word from a discussion will change the flavor, intent and even the very meaning of the conversation. This idea of leaving out something is emphasized in this week’s Parsha Tetzaveh with Moshe’s name deliberately omitted. Putting aside that Moshe’s name being omitted in this Parsha is due to his statement of ‘erase me from your book’ when God was going to wipe out the Jewish people, starting again with Moshe, or because we read this Parsha during the week of his passing, there is another, very important message conveyed by the language used in Tetzaveh.

In this week’s Parsha Tetzaveh the Torah states in Shmos 29:46:

בתוך בני ישראל והייתי להם לאלהים.  שמות כט:מו  ושכנתי “And I will dwell amongst the children of Israel and I will be to them as a God”. These words sound familiar but are not exactly the same as the words we read previously in Parshas Terumah. The Torah states in Shmos 25:8:

 שמות כה:ח   ועשו לי מקדש ושכנתי בתוכם

“And make for me a Sanctuary and I will dwell in them”. I see these verses as the developing relationship between Hashem and the Jewish people. Relationships by their very definition continuously undergo change.  The players involved are constantly evolving. In a perfect world two parties in a relationship either both remain the same or change together in the same direction. That, however, isn’t always the case. The good thing about man’s connection to God is that He does not change, rather we change, thereby straining the bond. Essentially, these pesukim depict the evolution of a reconnection the Jewish people will have in the future. The fundamental union the Jewish people should have towards Hashem is to build a place for Him to reside in this world (whether that means in a physical building or within each person) and for us to be drawn to Him there. Unfortunately, throughout our long and tumultuous history we have not chosen this path.  We did not make that place for Hashem all the time and in all places. Since Hashem is the ultimate partner, He does not allow us to determine the relationship we have with him;  instead of Hashem waiting for us to let Him in, He comes to dwell among us to be a God for us. The Sforno comments that Hashem comes to dwell amongst us in order to receive our service with desire and to hear our prayers.

 

It is interesting to note that the Targum in both places uses the term ‘Ashrei’ meaning ‘fortunate is my dwelling’, as if to say Hashem is willing to do something that benefits both sides, even if He is the one making the move. This concept speaks volumes of advice for each of us in all of our connections to the array of people in our lives. In an ideal world we would stay connected to everyone all the time. Nevertheless, we should feel fortunate to have those special people in our lives.  Even if this  means that I should be the one to make that move to strengthen the relationship, so be it!

 

The threat of the Jewish people being annihilated by Haman during the episode of Purim highlights this issue. The accusation that the Jewish people were spread out and did not get along - neither with Hashem nor with their brethren - was corrected by each of them making that move to come closer, to  rekindle the fraternity among the Jewish people. Keemu V’Kiblu - they affirmed and accepted - not only the Torah but the premise of K’Ish Echad B’Lev Echad; as one person with one heart. Just as we did at Har Sinai, so too we should see our attempts to be fortunate and to reach out and change the terms of what we have been used to. Let’s create some new language this Purim and bring about the greatest Ahavas Yisroel yet to be seen!

 

Ah Gut Shabbos and Ah Freilichin Purim Kadosh

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas Terumah - The Art of Giving                              5 Adar 5777

03/02/2017 10:44:07 PM

Mar2

I would be remiss not mentioning something about the land of Israel, having had the privilege of being here for almost two weeks. Going to Eretz Yisrael on a Mission is mutually beneficial for Israel and for us, the visitors. Despite being a small group at the outset, we joined forces with another tour for the second half, meeting new people and going to places for the very first time. I, as a repeat visitor to many places I had previously seen, experienced many new insights, new discoveries, and new exhibits, in addition to viewing the many improvements throughout Israel.

Israel has dramatically changed over the course of its sixty-nine years of modern existence. Personally, I have  witnessed many changes over the last thirty-five years since the first time I arrived in Israel to learn. Everyone who comes witnesses incredible growth, constant building, and learns first-hand of the amazing contributions Israel gives to the world. I would like to share an observation that continues to occur in Israel. In my humble opinion (many, I’m sure, will disagree with me on this), Eretz Yisrael continues to thrive despite the vast cultural, economic, religious and social differences which exist amongst its people. Instead of pointing out or even highlighting the major differences that exist among the Jews of Eretz Yisrael, I will point out the central core and reason why all the diversity works. The answer is simple: it is Eretz Yisrael. It is Eretz Yisrael that draws all walks of life, fulfilling  the variety of purposes for why they came here - whether for religious or Zionistic or for political or personal freedom - Jews come here and establish an ultimate, common goal. The struggle is how each group feels its way, seeking  the truth and the correct path. In my point of view, it is refreshing to see the religious and non-religious, or non-observant, Jews get along with and appreciate each other just a little more than they did before. The relationship among the Jews of all backgrounds in Israel is far better than the relationship of their counterparts in the United States. One disclaimer: my observation includes mainstream groups. There are, of course, the fringe groups, the extremes to the far right and the far left,  that will never see eye to eye. Within those extreme groups, I don’t believe it’s likely that they even get along amongst themselves. It is not just any land that brings Jews together;  it’s the Holy land of Eretz Yisrael. It is ‘Kedusha’ that attracts all of us to each other, regardless of the difference in perspectives. In addition to ‘Kedusha’ – Sanctification – there was another unifying piece to the Jewish puzzle:  the Mishkan – the Tabernacle – the portable earthly dwelling place of God.

In this week’s Parsha Teruma we read about the making of the utensils and articles of the Mishkan. The one thing that created the ability for these holy items to perform their ’magic’ in the Mishkan was the collection of money to fund it all. The Torah states in Shemos 25:2 “Dabair El B’Ne Israel V’Yikchu Li Terumah, Mei’eis Kal Ish Asher Yidvenu Libo Tikchu Es Terumasi”. “Speak unto the children of Israel, that they take for Me an offering; of every man whose heart maketh him willing ye shall take My offering”. There are two parts to this verse: the first to give money to the building of the Mishkan and the second the manner in which the person gave the money.

The Netzi”v, Rav Naftali Tzvi  Yehuda Berlin, in his commentary Haamek Davar, explains an aspect of the donation process to the Mishkan. The Tosefta in chapter two of Gemara Megilla teaches us that any Keli/utensil that was first made for ordinary things can no longer be donated to Hekdesh. This is derived from the passuk “V’Asu Li Mikdash” - and you shall make for Me a sanctuary. The word ’Me” indicates exclusively made for Hashem and nothing else first. With regard to how the donations were made - either voluntarily or against their will - is derived from a Kal Vachomer. A Tosefta in the first perek of Bava Basra states that the Jews of a community were forced to contribute money to build a Shul in their city. This is derived from the biblical and positive commandment to build the Mishkan. The principle of Kal Vachomer applies here: If one must contribute to a Shul, having been assessed by the local Vaad, how much more so must one contribute to the collection of funds for the Mishkan, which was taken by the Gabbaim (collectors) against the will of the givers. Each person and family was assessed a fee according to their means.

Additionally, the Torah mentions ‘if the heart of the person wants to give’ which seems contradictory. The Netzi”v answers it was only the ‘Adanim’ or sockets that follows this that were specifically warned that the rich could not give more and the poor could not give less. However, anything additional was voluntary in nature, so much so that if a person found it within his heart to give more than the stipulated amount, it would be accepted. An additional point on the word ‘Tikchu’ -  it was taken - seems to indicate forcibly. In this case, someone who pledged and separated the donation out would be forced to give the money, even against his will. The reason is that once it is separated it no longer belongs to him; it belongs to God.

To include my own variation of the Netzi”v’s pshat is the act of forcing people to give the proper amount which they are obligated to give. This is only enforced if the individual has not  come forward, giving  it willingly. Everyone is given an opportunity to give the determined share of his own free will. But if a person does not live up to his shared responsibility which was determined by the Temple treasurers, then it was collected  by force against the will of the individual.

Every Jew has a certain obligation of giving that should be collected or given by the heart’s desire to give. If, however, the individual should renege this obligation, force may be needed. There are a few areas in every Jew’s life which require his contribution. I will only mention a few here. All of us are obligated to give to Eretz Yisrael, to the Shul we attend, and to the poor of our town. We must join our brethren who maintain and continue to develop Eretz Yisrael because they realize how important and holy it is. Our own sanctuaries, the Shuls of our communities, are like the Mishkan. Lastly, every human being is a small sanctuary within which God resides, and we must contribute to the well-being of that Holy receptacle.

We do not have the ability to force people to donate, to  give what they really should be giving. Nevertheless, every one of us should feel the pressure that I MUST give. People are not allowed to think they are giving because ‘They want to’.  It is mandatory to give;  there is no choice. If a person has given his full assessment and now wants to give an extra amount, that will be accepted as well. One should never feel he is doing a favor by giving tzedakah to the organization in Israel or to his Shul. Sorry, but it is an obligation to give!

Giving of ourselves, willingly meeting up to the obligation of giving our due assessment, is required of every Jew. Let us learn to appreciate the inner fulfillment of giving freely as expected and to give more - even when it is not expected.

Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas Mishpatim - Do the Do's & Don't Do the Don'ts        28 Shvat 5777

02/23/2017 10:56:06 PM

Feb23

Recently, the Shul held a mid-week scholar/Rabbi visit who gave classes in our community. Rabbi Zvi Solomon, one of the senior Mashgichim of the KVH and the head of the Boston Shaatnez Laboratory, presented live demonstrations about how to clean produce and also taught and revived an awareness of the Mitzva of Shaatnez. Rabbi Solomon is passionate about his work and derives great satisfaction from witnessing Mitzva observance taken seriously. During the class on Shaatnez, I learned an important lesson from the Rabbi. He explained that these “kinds” of commandments aren’t the most glorious and sought-after ones by many. In fact, quite often these Mitzvos are taken less seriously by many who rationalize why they don’t need to do ‘all the things’ he prescribed. He noted that there are, as we know, ‘Chukim’ - the laws that don’t make sense (and a human being would not necessarily even think of such laws) and ‘Mishpatim’ - the laws that do make sense (a human being would come up with these laws). A true Oveid Hashem, a person who truly serves God, is the one who does the Chok Mitzvos, those that are difficult to understand and accept. Someone who only observes the Mitzvos that he/she likes and-or understands is really worshipping themselves, not God. These individuals choose to observe only the things that make them feel good, but that is not what the Torah and fulfilling the Mitzvos is about.

There are other Chok Mitzvos that are unfortunately taken lightly, meaning people don’t take the Mitzva seriously, resulting in the non-fulfillment or even violation of those commandments (for a full list please speak to me privately). I do understand that not everyone is able to fulfill every Mitzva, and I am no exception to that, but what is crucial is the acceptance of responsibility towards all six hundred thirteen Biblical commandments and the myriad of Rabbinic enactments and decrees. Anything short of an outright rejection of one Mitzva that a person says or feels he does not believe in is considered apostasy. Even the violation or non-fulfillment of a positive Mitzva that is declared publicly or displayed in a rebellious fashion would also fall under the same category. We live in challenging times and the test of our commitment is very strong. We sometimes fail in the application, but we may never falter in our belief, acceptance, and commitment.

Parshas Mishpatim contains 8.65% of the Mitzvos of the Torah: twenty-three imperative and thirty prohibitions. One of the positive commandments in this week’s parsha of Mishpatim is to make sure the “Mechasheifa” sorceress does not live. In Shmos 22:17 the verse states: “Mechasheifa Lo S’Chayeh”. Perhaps the reader will try to figure out if this Mitzva is a Chok or a Mishpat. As with all Mitzvos, even this one is relevant today despite the possibility that you may never have been a Harry Potter fan, such as myself. Nevertheless, the prohibition still exists today. Although we cannot carry out the punishments, there are perhaps people around today who may not be performing magic but are doing things in the same spirit as the sorceress.

What was the reason the Torah commanded that a magician (not an illusionist) or sorcerer must be put to death even if the offender was not Jewish? First and foremost, Rashi quotes the Gemara Sanhedrin 67b, teaching us that the commandment was for both male and female sorcerers and explains the Torah usage in the female because the M’Chasheifa (female) were more abundant than their male counterparts. Moreover, it is interesting to note that the Torah does not say they shall be put to death like most of the other times death is used, but rather ‘she shall not live”. Rav Naftali Zvi Yehuda Berlin in his HaAmek Davar explains the reason that ‘shall not live’ is used is because they create a danger or risk for all mankind and therefore are considered a pursuer of a life. As a rule, the Torah commands a person to kill his pursuer. Rav Sorotzkin, in his work Aznayim L’Torah, explains the juxtaposition of this Mitzva following the Mitzva of taking a woman by force in a forbidden manner. He explains that a man who desires a certain woman may turn to a sorceress so that though her powers the heart of the woman will be directed towards this man. Rav Sorotzkin goes so far as to say that even in his time he had heard of such things.

  1. today’s day and age, we’re confronted with society’s acceptance of individuals who choose their gender. New categories and classifications are springing up in every generation. The latest new gender that I have heard of is non-binary gender: the person can choose a gender that he/she wants to be one day and then morph over to the other gender another day. In modern times no one needs to turn to the sorceress to promote gender deviances. It is the society that gives us the opportunity. This by and large does not just go against the Jewish perspective and agenda, it goes against mankind, as mentioned by the Netziv.

The final question is why does this person in the Torah or this philosophical outlook need to be put to death, requiring that this way of thinking must be destroyed, emphasizing that it cannot live on? The Midrash Rabbah quotes the Gemara Sanhedrin 67b: “Rebbi Yochanan says: The reason the name of the sorceress is ‘Mechasheifa is developed from its root. Why is magic called Kishuf? Because it tries to destroy and contradict the design from above.” The word is an acronym for “Kachash Pamalya Shel Maalah”- It tries to destroy the heavenly decrees of how things should work on Earth. Black magic tries to contradict and change that which God created in the beginning of all time. This is an act of rebelliousness on the hands of the sorcerer/sorceress and therefore deserves the death penalty for promoting a different kind of idolatry whereby people worship their own new creations, openly going against what Hashem wanted.

We live in dangerous times where the fabric of not only the Jewish home is under attack, but the entire human species is under siege. There is no Mitzva that does not exist today, perhaps not in the identical physical way it once did, but perhaps in a more serious and dangerous fashion today. This is the spirit and philosophical reason behind it. Keep in mind every Mitzva applies today and we must be careful in its observance and in the fulfillment of all the Mitzvos in every day and in every generation.

Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Disclaimer: I am explaining why I believe this Mitzva exists in some shape or form today. I am fully supportive of helping those in need and am ready to guide them back to a state of being that the Torah commands us to be.

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

Parshas Yisro - The Light & Sound Show                   21 Shevat 5777

02/17/2017 03:01:48 PM

Feb17

Preventive medicine is always better than deferred maintenance, but nevertheless, some people feel that since they’re healthy, why bother going for regular check-ups. Others are afraid to go to the doctor for fear that they may find out something is wrong. Baruch Hashem, I feel healthy and therefore have no problem going to the doctor at least twice a year. In preparation for my physical examination, I have blood drawn to give the physician some internal information prior to the exam date. For the best and most accurate results, blood should be drawn while fasting, except for water. I choose to have the blood test taken as early as possible, but as a result I have to skip my morning cup of coffee – the “fix” that gets me going for the day. Upon my return from the doctor’s office, I make a bee line for the coffee machine and enjoy that cup with an overwhelming sense of satisfaction usually accompanied by an “Ahhhh,” an expression of relief and pure delight.

There are a few natural, guttural responses to taste, smell, and touch, but for now I will focus on the various responses there are to certain drinks. When I take a sip of my first cup of coffee in the morning, I let out a sigh of A”hhhh,” but a hot cup of tea that follows a heavy dinner is “Uhhhhh”. At the Shul Kiddush I hear reactions of “Ooooh” when someone drinks a new scotch or bourbon they have never tasted before. If someone eats something delicious, the typical reaction is ”Mmmmm”. Even the different sizes of the blue prize boxes at parent-child learning receives a different level of “ooohs” and “ahhhs”. When we worry about something, it’s either an ”oy vey” or “iy ya yih”.

There are also a few facial expressions that convey very clear emotions, communicating without any sound easily understood visual responses. . This kind of expression is magnified in our times due to the emoji’s and emoticons people use while messaging and writing communications via their computers and hand-held devices. Sound or facial expressions are often made at the beginning of something such as the start or at the end of a communiqué. Surely every individual decides where and when to use an expression, the question I ask is where is its use most effective?

Similarly, I ask myself; which is greater - starting or finishing something? As one proceeds through life, everyone begins many things but they don’t necessarily complete them. And everyone knows if you never begin you never come to be able to finish, so maybe it’s better not to start. I believe both starting and finishing are equally important, providing a sense of accomplishment when finished, and also meet up to the drive to start something despite the risk of not being able to finish it. Ultimately, when a person finishes either a cycle of something or begins something completely new, the end or the beginning should motivate a person to strive for greater heights.

Last week I completed my Sabbatical year of writing a weekly Dvar Torah; this Shabbos Parshas Yisro will begin the eighth cycle. I’ve noticed that as human beings we all have different reactions, some physical and some emotional. In addition, we each react differently at the start or end of an event. Let me explain. The taste and impact that a ‘sweet’ has on a person’s stomach varies based upon whether it is eaten at the beginning of a meal on an empty stomach or at the end of the meal for dessert on a full stomach. The reaction and response towards a situation varies as to when it occurs and the feeling is manifested through his surroundings. This idea is found in the amazing description of giving of the Torah.

In this week’s Parshas Yisro the Torah states in Shmos 20:15 “V’Chal Ha’Am Ro’im Es HaKolos V’Es HaLapidim V’Eis Kol HaShofar V’Es Hahar Ashein, Vayar Ha’Am Vayanu’u Vayamdu Meirachok”. “All the people saw the sounds, the flames, the blast of the ram’s horn, and the mountain smoking. The people trembled when they saw it, keeping their distance”. The Eben Ezra explains that when it says “They saw the sounds” it means hearing. In a similar vein in Bereishis 42 the Torah writes that Yakov saw that there was food in Mitzrayim. Obviously, Yakov did not actually ‘see’ but rather Yakov actually ‘heard’ there was food down in Egypt. The five senses that are joined together in one place above the forehead, meaning that while the sense of sight would typically refer to vision, the ability to see, to mentally process what the eyes “see” or to mentally process the sounds the ear is “hearing”. But these senses – seeing hearing, tasting, touching, smelling - all have more than one meaning.Rambam in Moreh Nevuchim (Guide to the Perplexed) writes the definition of ‘seeing’ means feeling and reaching an understanding. Another example of this is in Breishis 27 “V’Chein Ra’ah Reiach B’ni” Yitzchok smelled the fragrance of his garments, and blessed him. Yitzchok didn’t literally ‘see’ the smell of his son but understood the smell. Whenever it mentions the concept of seeing something it implies a level of understanding, of inner perception.

The Rosh, Rabbeinu Asher writes ‘seeing the voices and sounds at Har Sinai’ in actuality means he benefited from the sounds. There are other references in the Torah that infer that the term ‘saw’ is defined as receiving some type of benefit from what they saw. Rabbeinu Bachya explains from Tehilim 29:7 “Kol Hashem Chotzeiv LaHavos Aish” “The voice of Hashem hews out flames of fire”. They would literally see the fire at the giving of the Torah and then it says they saw the voices and the sounds.

There are many ways to communicate information, news, and feelings that we want to share with one another. At times we must be careful of the little gestures we make, both consciously or subconsciously. Subliminal messages can be very powerful. We need to realize that it doesn’t take more than a little sigh of some kind to let everyone around me know how and what I am feeling. People will ‘see’ you through ‘hearing’ some of the things that just come out intentionally or not. Let the noise and the sounds people hear be of satisfaction and appreciation for all what we are experiencing.

Ah Gut Shabbos Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

 

Abraham Ibn Ezra was born in Tudela, in the present-day Spanish province of Navrre, when the town was under the Mslim rule of the emirs of Zaragoza, later he lived in Cordoba. In Granada, it is said, he met his future friend (and perhaps his father-in-law) Yehuda Halevi. He left Spain before 1140 to escape persecution of the Jews by the new fanatical regime of the Almohads. He led a life of restless wandering, which took him to North Africa, Egypt, (in 1109, maybe in the company of Yehuda Halevi), and back again to Narbonne in 1161, until his death on January 23 or 28, 1164, the exact location unknown.

Parshas B'Shalach - What Going Green Really Means           14 Shvat 5777

02/09/2017 08:46:38 PM

Feb9

This coming Shabbos - the fifteenth day of the Hebrew month Shvat - is known at TU B’Shvat because the two letters used to illustrate the number fifteen is a ‘tes’ and ‘vav’, spelling out “TU”. The halachik and historical significance of this date is considered Jewish Arbor day, and the official beginning of the tree season. The Jewish holiday TU’ B’Shvat, the New Year for trees, usually falls in January or February. Even though the Spanish village of Mondoñedo held the first documented arbor plantation festival in the world, organized by its mayor in 1594, Jews have been reckoning with this concept for thousands of years. Today, the holiday is most often observed by planting trees or by raising money to plant trees, and by eating fruit - specifically grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, and dates which are five of the seven species for which Israel is praised. Originally, the objective of this day was to calculate the age of fruit trees for tithing as mandated in Vayikra 19:23–25.

The first Mishna of Rosh Hashana discusses the four Rosh Hashanas in the Jewish calendar. The last one mentioned is the New Year for the tree when it blossoms. The date established by the sages was the fifteenth of Shvat to be this Rosh Hashana. But there is a dissenting opinion to Beis Hillel, and that is Beis Shammai which states that the date is not the fifteenth but rather the first day of the month. An analysis of the opinions of Hillel and Shammai by Rav Yosef Zevin Z”L explains that the difference of perspective is whether to focus on the actual (Beis Hillel) or on the potential (Beis Shammai). Rav Zevin gives many examples which support this philosophical outlook. These include (but are not limited to) increasing the number of candles as Chanukah proceeds, or decreasing the number; whether the bracha on fire is Me'orei ha'esh, or Maor ha'esh, which the Vilna Gaon explains refers to the original source of fire at bri'as ha'olam. Finally, Rav Zevin’s examples also include Rosh Hashanna for the new tree when it blossoms, the fifteenth of Shvat, or when the rain that enables their blossoming has finished falling,to be the beginning of Shvat.

Reb Tzvi Elimelech from Dinov, in his work “The Bnei Yisaschar,” (Month of Shvat 2:2) points out that in the Mishna Rosh Hashana 1:1, three out of four heads of the year are in the plural but the fourth one is in the singular, that being the New Year of the tree, not trees. Some explain that on Tu B'Shvat, although it is Rosh Hashana for all trees, there is one tree that we focus our attention on this special day. This is “THE” tree mentioned in the Garden of Eden and explained by the Rabbis as an Esrog tree. Therefore, the Bnei Yisaschar writes that "A person should pray on Tu B'Shevat to find a kosher, beautiful, mehudar esrog with which to fulfill the mitzvah." In fact, the Ben Ish Chai composed a prayer for a beautiful Esrog. I find it curious that for the Mitzva of Esrog there is a recommended day to daven for a ‘good one’ to perform the task in a superior manner. We don’t encounter a day to daven for whole Shmurah Matzos, a classic bow and arrow, extra cheesy cheesecake, a righteous ram for a holy shofar, or special olives to produce the best oil for the menorah! There are many references to trees throughout scriptures, teaching us many different things. Perhaps the tree isn’t necessarily speaking of fruit…

In this week’s parshas B’Shalach the Torah states in Shmos 15:25 “Vayitz’ak El Hashem, VaYoreihu Hashem Eitz VaYashleich El HaMayim Vayimt’ku HaMayim, Shom Som Lo, Chok U’Mishpat V’Shom Nisahu”. “When Moshe cried out to Hashem, He showed him a certain tree. Moshe threw it into the water, and the water became drinkable. It was there that God taught them survival techniques and methods, and there He tested them.” Most commentators ask what were the techniques and methods that Hashem taught Moshe?

Rabbeinu Bachya mentions that some commentators say that Moshe taught the Jews details about vegetation which they would encounter in the desert. He showed them which plants had therapeutic or medicinal value and, on the other extreme, which were poisonous. The word ‘Chok” applied to phenomena which were known pragmatically, whereas the word “Mishpat” applies to knowledge of the inner workings and the why and wherefore of the phenomena in question. Moshe was concerned that by teaching the natural powers of plant life people might consider themselves self-sufficient and become less dependent on God. Therefore, Moshe warns them that in the final analysis it is up to Hashem to heal and cure people.

Another commentary which discusses the bitter waters of ‘Marah’ turning sweet, on the words ‘He taught them about a certain wood’ teaches that this was the tree of life, the Eitz HaChaim from Gan Eden, which surrounded the bitter waters. When the Satan became aware of the presence of that tree, he removed it in order to confuse the Jews and to lead them into sinning, resulting in the Jews complaining about their lack of water. The Mechilta quotes Rebbi Nosson saying it was the tree of life that God showed to Moshe. Moshe then took a leaf from it and cast it into the water and the waters became sweet. Rabban Shimon Ben Yochai says He showed him something from the Torah, meaning not showing but rather teaching. The word in the verse does not say ‘and He showed him’, but the word ‘VaYoreihu’ means ‘and He taught him’. The word VaYoreihu is synonymous with teaching - as it is written in Mishlei 4:4 Vayoreini – which, in context, means ‘teach me’. He - Hashem -literally showed him words of Torah that are compared to a tree, as Shlomo HaMelech said in Mishlei 3:10: “Etz Chaim Hee LaMachazikim Bah”: “It is a tree of life for those who grab and hold onto it”.

There are medicinal qualities in a tree and in the vegetation which surrounds it. But these qualities only apply if combined it with the other meaning of the tree and what it represents…..Torah. The Jewish Arbor Day is not about the planting of the physical trees. It is perhaps more importantly about planting, securing and strengthening the tree of life, which is represented by the Torah. It is noteworthy to mention that the handles on the Ashkenazic Torahs are called the ‘Atzei Chaim’ - the trees of life. A tree produces shade, bears fruit, and even after it dies it can be used to build homes, provide fertility to the soil, producing the matrix for future trees, and so forth. So, too, the Torah provides shade and protection from the evil inclination, it bears fruit to the next generation, and it serves as the basis of our Jewish home.

This TU B’Shvat prayer is not only about the physical Mitzva of Esrog that we want to have for Sukkos. It reminds us to pray and daven for what the Tree represents and what its symbolism is all about. May we be zocheh (merit) to water, nourish and nurture our tree of the Torah that will give us the ultimate good life.

Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas Bo - Do You Belong to the Congregation?          7 Shvat 5777

02/03/2017 09:52:31 AM

Feb3

An essential trait for any ‘living’ language is that expressions, usage of terminology, and definitions of words evolve over time. Dictionaries and thesauruses give multiple explanations and substitutions for words, phrases, idioms and jargons that are used to express context and situations. Sometimes the use of words acquires different meanings as we progress through our lives. For example, when, as a teenager I heard or shouted word ‘homerun’, for me it literally meant just that - someone had rounded all four bases during a game. But in the colloquial sense of the word, when someone says ‘he or she hit a homerun’ it might mean he did a great, fantastic job that just cleaned up the entire situation..

I recently encountered one of those words that I enjoyed when I was in grade school and have come to despise that very same word in my adult life. I recently purchased a new piece of exercise equipment through Amazon, complete with free delivery. Not fully appreciating the value of it coming assembled, I thought that I would be able to easily put it together. Unfortunately, my memory did not serve me well. The last time I bought a new barbecue grill, I bought the floor model that was ready to go because at that time I did remember the previous experience of buying a grill out of the box – which required assembly. I was too cheap at the time of ordering this piece of equipment to spend the extra twenty-five dollars for assembly, and besides the advertisement on the box stated, ‘assembles in minutes’. Little did I know that it took me two hundred forty minutes to get the thing assembled. Therefore, when I had the opportunity to buy it pre-assembled, I grabbed it. Now let’s fast-forward to the new machine. Thanks to my memory lapse and my enthusiastically naive attitude that I could put together the elliptical, I never thought of paying extra to have it assembled. After one week of having a huge box in our kitchen, I gave up on the thought of assembling it myself and called Amazon to take it back. The company offered to send someone to assemble it at about half the cost of the machine itself. Amazon itself offers a home service that will come to assemble your purchase through them at about a fifth of the purchase price. Ultimately, I hired a local person for the same Amazon price to assemble it for me.

I now cringe when I hear the word ‘assemble’, but this was not always the case. In my youth I got all excited when I heard the word ‘assembly’ because that meant more time outside the classroom. I’m not sure if the word ‘assembly’ is used today in elementary or high school, but back in the day I looked forward to any time there would be an assembly, preferably during a secular class. As a little boy I didn’t fully appreciate the experience of the ‘assembly’, only that we got out of class and attended a gathering where we could sit back, and didn’t have to take notes. Naturally, we also didn’t really need to pay attention, and ultimately were not held responsible or accountable for the purpose of the gathering. My euphoria of having an assembly was the typical reaction – and immaturity - of a little kid.

Neither my peers nor I appreciated the purpose and benefit to the statement of ‘assembly’ and its implications. The fact that the entire school, from the youngest kindergarteners to the really big eighth graders all attended the same event was a statement all to its own. The unity and purpose as a solid body coming together was the unsung victory of the cause under which we came to unify. The rows of students our age and reality of being part of a greater whole was an incredible silent message felt by the participants of the assembly. Unfortunately, in our society, including our Jewish society and community, is, in my opinion lacking of this powerful message. I don’t believe people understand or even minutely appreciate the value of an assembly. The secret of the Jewish people’s success was the ‘assembly’ – the meeting of the whole - which we read in the story of leaving Mitzrayim.

In this week’s parshas Bo the Torah states in Shmos 10:9 “Vayomer Moshe Binareinu Uvizkeineinu Neilech, B’Vaneinu U’Vivnoseinu B’Tzoneinu U’Vivkareinu Neilech I Chag Hashem Lanu”. “Young and old alike will go”, replied Moses. “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 the previous verse Pharoah, after being menaced by the plagues and second-guessed by his advisors, gives in slightly by almost allowing the Jews to leave Egypt, but catches himself. Instead of allowing the Jews to completely leave he asks Moshe and Aharon “Mi VaMi HaHolchim” “But exactly who will be going?” Pharoah is reluctant to send ALL the Jews away while Moshe and Aharon recognize the importance of EVERYONE leaving together!

Reb Moshe Elyokim Hopsztajn (1757 – 1828) the second Kozhnitzer Rebbe, the son of the Avodas Yisroel explains the concept of the young and old in the passuk. He learns the word not ‘with our young’ but rather ‘like in our youth’ ‘in our old age we will go’. The measure a person reaches in behavior and activity during youth will determine and be a foreteller for the same enthusiasm in later years. The Jewish people will always “go” with zest and zeal, always climbing higher and higher. There is a great advantage that old age brings a step up to society; they carry within them the blessings from life’s experiences. Keep in mind that the later years are connected and pull from the younger years - like the flame of a candle. Life is compared to wine; wine will be better with age only if the wine in its youth was good. If the wine was bad to begin with, as it ages it will turn into bitter vinegar.

A community that abandons its young is compared to an old age home, and a community that forces its seniors into the corners of the room turns those corners, those rooms, into an orphanage! Fortunate are the young whose wisdom of its elders are like a candle at their feet, and fortunate are the elders that the flame of the young strengthens them.

I see and witness a great deal of enthusiasm amongst the children of our Shul and community. Unfortunately, at times the parents of those children (who themselves were once enthusiastic about Judaism) feel a sense of slavery to the rigors of a religious Orthodox lifestyle. Their wine was at one point very fine which, if not properly stored and guarded, will quickly sour. We, the older generation, parents and, yes, even grandparents, must remain vigilant in our attitude towards an exciting feel of Torah and Yiddishkeit. Devoid of this vigilance there will no longer be our younger generation from whom our future will thrive and grow. .

I typically don’t quote non-Jewish sources, but I feel the words of Harry Chapin’s “And the cat's in the cradle” speak mightily to this issue. If I can take the liberty to modify the refrain to be "When are you going to do the things you sent me to school for dad?" "I don't know when, But I'll get together then, You know we'll do it then.” But as we all should know that “then” will never come back again, Dad. You know it will never come back then. We need everyone on this journey of life to live and flourish through the day-to-day, week-to-week challenges of a full, rigorous, religious, observant Jewish life. We need the commitment of both the young and the older in order for us, the Jewish people, to go forward just as we did when we left Mitzrayim. If you don’t want to listen to me at least listen to Moshe Rabbeinu in his response to Pharaoh,”Let My People (with the young and the old) Go!”

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 Vaera - Don't Confuse the News with the Truth                  29 Shvat 5777

01/27/2017 01:33:26 PM

Jan27

Who and what do we believe in this day and age? The instant gratification syndrome is not limited in today’s society to food and pleasures; it extends to the information superhighway as well! People have no time or patience to read an entire article, so they come to a false conclusion based upon the headline. Media outlets know this all too well and are experts in framing things in a certain way so that unless a person reads the entire piece, his knowledge of the facts will, at best be spotty, and at worst he will be completely mislead. I am not even referring to falsifying of information, rather leaving out pertinent crucial information or other key true facts related to what is being reported.

The media and news reporting over the last six months has taken all this to a new level. It is more difficult to believe the one-sided reporting from either side of the aisle. To be honest, I don’t know and I do wonder how today’s journalism compares to journalism over the past century. For the record, I am not referring to the news publications that are found at the local grocery checkout counters, rather it is from the distinguished news publications that are ‘respected’ throughout the world.

Perhaps we Jews are more suspicious and less trusting because we see and read first-hand the biased one-sided news reporting against Israel. Perhaps we’ve become numbed from the hatred and Jew/Zionist bashing by a good portion of the world and see how corrupt the news information really is. The job or responsibility of news and media agencies is to bring light and understanding of life’s situations through truth. Unfortunately, the kind of news that is reported and how the reader’s digest it creates a darkness and falsehood. The news outlets are doing the exact opposite of what they should be doing. I personally have fallen victim to devious reporting in the past and as a rule I try not to give public statements that can easily be misconstrued. Unfortunately, the statements of politicians and the like are open for scrutiny and are always subject to the biases of those who are reporting.

There are many instances that words require explanation and interpretation. Sometimes words and statements are said quietly, in private and abridged, requiring understanding and context. This idea is common and is dealt with in the Torah and elucidated by our teachers. One such example is found in this week’s parsha Vaera. The Torah states 7:4 “V’Lo Yishma Aleichem Parah V’Nasati Es Yadi B’Mitzrayim, V’Hotzeisi Es Tzivosai Es Ami B’Nei Yisrael Mei’Eretz Mitzrayim Bishfatim Gedolim”: “This is why Pharoah will not pay attention to you. But then I will display My power against Egypt, and with great acts of judgment I will bring forth from Egypt My armies - My people, the Israelites”. The Sfas Emes, Yehuda Aryeh Leib Alter, quotes his father Rav Avraham Mordechai Alter on this verse stating: The reason the ten plagues were necessary was to remove the shell that covers that which is hidden from the original ten statements uttered to create the world. This was necessary to create a platform for the Ten Commandments to be given.

The Sfas Emes explains this Kabbalistic idea as follows. This world hides and removes the understanding from our minds that the primary source of all life and everything that happens in this world comes from the ‘letters of the Torah’. The statements that created the world are comprised of Hebrew letters. This is supported by the Mishna in Pirkei Avos 5:1 “With ten utterances the world was created. What does this come to teach us? Indeed, it could have been created with one utterance, but it was not. This was to exact punishment from the wicked who destroy the world that was created with ten utterances, and ‘Laseis Schar LaTzadikim HaMikaymim Es HaOlam Shenivr’u Ba’Asara MaaMaros’ to bestow goodly reward upon the righteous who sustain the world that was created by ten utterances”. The Tzadik knows and clings to the source of life that was lost through the ten utterances. It was the smack of each one of the ten Makkos which removed its cover and secret and became the Ten Commandments. In mathematical terms 10 statements + 10 plagues = Ten Commandments.

Deeper meanings to the Ten Commandments aren’t just words. Rather, the explanation of the word is ‘Dibur’/ speech, ‘Hanhaga’ behavior. The Zohar sheds some light and explains it based upon the words V’dibarta Bam B’Shivticha’….. U’V’Lechticha and you will speak to them when they sit……..and when they are on the road. All of our actions are performed through the words of Hashem, hence the idea that all of our actions should be done solely for the sake of Heaven.

We read about the hidden words in certain Tefillos such as in Maariv. In the first paragraph of Maariv the blessing begins ‘Asher Bidvaro Maariv Aravim’ ‘Who by His word brings on evenings’, that even in the hester/hidden there is recognition of the kingdom of heaven so that we recognize the honor of Hashem’s name even in the evening that represents darkness and things that are covered. Therefore, the words after the evening Shma is Emes VeEmunah (truth and belief) and the emes/truth is hidden during the exile. The Zohar in this week’s parsha mentions the ‘dibur/speech of Moshe was in the exile. This is reflected in Moshe describing himself as a person with ‘uncircumcised lips’ and ‘I am not a man of words’. But during Kabbalas HaTorah at Har Sinai things were in the open with the choice word of Dibur/speech again, this time ‘Vayidaber Elokim….Anochi Hashem Elokecha’ I am Hashem your God….

The language of the Torah and the way God speaks is something that requires the reader to look deeper than the surface. Glancing at a picture or some words of a headline is just one way of remaining in the dark and being blocked from the truth. A truth seeker needs to delve down and read the entire piece of news. A lesson to us all is to realize that just because the news reports something doesn’t necessarily mean it is the truth. The truth can only be discovered when everything is revealed and the true statements are uncovered. Sometimes there are painful plagues in order to bring about the best of what God truly wants from the world.

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 Shemos - Brainstorming                     22 Teves 5777

01/20/2017 12:19:16 PM

Jan20

There is nothing in life which doesn’t require ‘Siyata Dishmaya’ - Heavenly assistance. Every waking minute, from the time we open our eyes in the morning until we rest our heads on our pillows at night God helps us with everything. But as the old saying goes, “God helps those who help themselves”. For me - in both my personal and my professional life - I try to manage things on my own with direct assistance from the One above. Nevertheless, there are emergency situations that none of us, me included, can manage alone and require the assistance of others. One such emergency is when then local eruv goes down at a point in the week which is past the ordinary time that we would be able to fix it. Due to the late hour, our eruv maintenance company can’t schedule the job to fix it in time for Shabbos. HELP! I need Siyata Dishmaya, but I need the help from others. Baruch Hashem I have some great people around to help, think, and brainstorm for a solution. As you are most likely aware, it sure has been storming in Southern California lately, and I have been racking my brains to keep the eruv as operational as possible, at least for Shabbos.

What is the definition and history behind the word ‘brainstorming’? Alex Faickney Osborn (1888–1966) was an advertising executive and the author of the creativity technique named “brainstorming”. Osborn began developing methods for creative problem-solving in 1939. He was frustrated by his employees’ inability to develop creative ideas individually for ad campaigns. In response, he began hosting group-thinking sessions and discovered a significant improvement in the quality and quantity of ideas produced by employees. Osborn outlined his method in the 1948 book Your Creative Power.

Osborn claimed that two principles contribute to "ideative efficacy", these being: deferring judgment, and reaching for quantity. Following these two principles were his general rules of brainstorming, established with intention to:

  • reduce social inhibitions among group members.
  • stimulate idea generation.
  • Increase overall creativity of the group.
  1. Go for quantity: This rule is a means of enhancing divergent production, aiming to facilitate problem-solving through the maxim quantity breeds quality. The assumption is that the greater the number of ideas generated, the bigger the chance of producing a radical and effective solution.
  2. Withhold criticism: In brainstorming, criticism of ideas generated should be put 'on hold'. Instead, participants should focus on extending or adding to ideas, reserving criticism for a later 'critical stage' of the process. By suspending judgment, participants will feel free to generate unusual ideas.
  3. Welcome wild ideas: To get a good, long list of suggestions, wild ideas are encouraged. They can be generated by looking from new perspectives and suspending assumptions. These new ways of thinking might give you better solutions.
  4. Combine and improve ideas: As suggested by the slogan "1+1=3",it is believed to stimulate the building of ideas by a process of association.

Osborn notes that brainstorming should address a specific question; he held that sessions addressing multiple questions were inefficient. Osborn envisioned groups of around 12 participants, including both experts and novices. Participants are encouraged to provide wild and unexpected answers. Ideas receive no criticism or discussion. The group simply provides ideas that might lead to a solution and apply no analytical judgment as to the feasibility. The judgments are reserved for a later date. Ultimately working together makes people learn, grow, and offer solutions to challenging situations which they would unlikely be able to resolve on their own.

So now back to our very stormy weather and the eruv situation. After much brainstorming with some of the best and brightest minds of our generation, we were on our way. It took a good number of hours during the week to come up with a plan of action that is far from perfect but hopefully will be a stop gap measure to temporarily keep the eruv up in that section. I’m not sure that I alone would have resolved the issue; this was a collective effort that met success. As there is nothing new under the sun, where in the Torah do we find the strategy of brainstorming?

  1. will take literary license to point out a very subtle scene that is overlooked by most of the commentaries regarding Moshe brainstorming the plan to take the Jews out of Egypt. In this week’s parsha Shemos the Torah states in 4:28: “Vayagaid Moshe L’Aharon Eis Kal Divrei HaShem Asher Sh’lacho, V’Eis Kal Ha’Osos Asher Tzivahu” - “Moshe described to Aaron everything that God has told him about his mission”. 4:29 “Vayeilech Moshe V’Aharon, VaYa’asfu Es Kal Ziknei B’Nei Yisrael” - “Moshe and Aharon went to Egypt, and they gathered all the elders of Israel”. At first Moshe tells Aharon, his brother, all that Hashem had told him. Then both Moshe and Aharon gathered the elders of the Jewish people. Why was all this necessary? The Ramban is one of the few commentaries to perhaps shed some light on this situation. Ramban explains which words Moshe told over to Aharon, which in turn were told to the elders. Moshe told Aharon all the words that were spoken between Him and God and all about how he resisted the mission! Moreover He, Moshe, had been sent against his will. This is the meaning of the word Kal/All. Moshe told Aharon not only what he had been instructed to do and say in Egypt, but all the words – even those surrounding Hashem’s choice of him (Moshe) to be His emissary. Perhaps Moshe was still unsure of his ability to lead the Jews out of Mitzrayim. Perhaps he wanted to discuss the situation with his older brother and with the elders, those whom he, Moshe, looked up to as well. Presumably Moshe went to inform and discuss the plan of Hashem that Moshe was the man tapped for this job, but he was either still looking for a way out or a way to get confirmation through the discussions that took place. I believe this is true, as it signals Moshe’s humility in another and continuing fashion as he did throughout his life.
  1. method of ‘brainstorming’ is a tool that not only could be used in business but it is an incredible instrument for family building, classroom and student unity, and overall team development. Once again, we detect Moshe Rabbeinu teaching Am Yisrael through being the role model and going through the experience of brainstorming and not solely relying on himself. This, in it of itself, is a sign of Anivus - humility something we can all learn to take a dose of once in a while.                                              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 Vayechi - To Life To Life, L'Chayim       15 Teves 5777

01/12/2017 11:33:55 PM

Jan12

Last week I took a long trip to Israel for a very short time. It wasn’t my shortest stay in Israel, two previous trips consisted of two days each. Nevertheless, I was only there for three full days, a total of seventy-seven hours from the time I landed until I took off. As some of you know, the sole purpose of my trip was to visit with my aging parents. Although I found my mother to be in better health than I anticipated, I do not regret going for a minute. Living far away from parents deprives children of the great Mitzva of Kibud Av Va’Aim, the commandment to honor your mother and father. Even though I speak to my parents at least once if not twice daily, it pales in comparison to being there in person.

In Jewish thought and law there is a concept called “Schar Holicha” reward for going or reward for the travel itself. Therefore, on the flight home I calculated how many hours the total trip took from door to door, from touchdown to takeoff and other combinations including flying time to get to Eretz Yisrael. I came up with the following equation. As I mentioned earlier, the time from touchdown to take-off was seventy-seven hours plus the approximate fifteen hours of flying time, totaling ninety-two hours. This was all done for the sole purpose of honoring my parents. Lo and behold the gematria (numerical value of the Hebrew letters) of Kibud Av Va’Aim is also ninety-two!

Some people may argue that the number of hours returning should also be included as Schar Chazara, which is reward for returning. The logic behind including this time is that just as going, because if you couldn’t return you would not go in the first place, so the return calculation is also necessary. This is comparable to emergency personnel breaking Shabbos to save a life. They have to go to the hospital and then are permitted to return to their home base even though there is no longer an emergency. The reasoning behind it if we don’t allow the emergency personnel to return, they might not be willing to go in the first place. They would probably not want to have to remain in the hospital, spending Shabbos and Yom Tov away from their families, yet lives would be put a stake if they didn’t go to the hospital. In my case I don’t think Schar rewards for returning, so the hours of flying back are not included. There is no down side to staying longer with parents, especially if they happen to live in Israel.

We sometimes wonder what the reward will be for some or all the Mitzvos we do. The Torah clearly tells us the reward for honoring parents is long life. This is somewhat difficult to calculate. How can one figure out the formula of how much of the mitzva of kibbud Av Va’Aim parents corresponds to how long one lives.. Nevertheless, Rabbeinu Bachya offers a slightly different approach in particular to the life of Yakov and his son Yosef.

The very first words of this week’s parsha Vayechi, Bereishis 47:28 states “Vayechi Yakov B’Eretz Mitzrayim Shva Esrei Shana, Vayehi Yemei Yakov Shnei Chayav Sheva Shanim V’Arbaim U’M’as Shana”. “Jacob made Egypt his home for seventeen years. He lived to be one hundred forty-seven years old”. Many are familiar with the Gematria of the word Vayechi equaling thirty –four, corresponding to the number of years Yakov and Yosef spent together. The first seventeen years of Yosef’s life prior to being sold is documented at the beginning of Parshas Vayeishev Bereishis 37:1 and the last seventeen years Yakov spends with Yosef in Egypt. But another reason the Torah uses the word Vayechi -and Yakov lived - is because Yosef gave him the physical sustenance to live. The seventeen years of Yosef supporting his father was Midda Knegged Midda, measure for measure, in that Yakov sustained Yosef the first seventeen years of his life. In an almost reversal of fortune whereby the reward of Yakov sustaining and raising his son Yosef merited him the likelihood to live another seventeen years, despite a famine in the land where surely many people perished. When a person gives something to someone, that person will merit to get it back. A parent’s love and dedication to their child is unconditional but nevertheless contains a special kick-back of sorts that whatever they give they will merit to get back when they need it. The irony of life and the life cycle we experience regarding how a parent takes care of a child, raising him and nurturing him to become independent and self-sufficient, flips around in the parents’ old age to be taken care of by the very same children they cared for.

Reb Yechiel Michel Wisser* in his classic work the Malbi”m gives an explanation on the words of “And Yakov lived in Egypt” putting the full cycle of life in great perspective. The end of a person’s life and the remaining days on earth are a measure of his entire life. Someone who lived a difficult life in pain, anguish and sorrow but had it good at the end of his life, forgets all the hardship and toiling and considers his entire life to have been lived in good times. The Sfas Emes comments the Gematria of the word ‘Tov’ good equals seventeen which corresponds to the last seventeen years of Yakov’s life. Despite Yakov lamenting over his difficult life, the end was good and overshadowed the dark challenges and difficulties of his life.

The lesson is that a person leaves this world in the state of being at the end of his life. If a person lives a life of sin but at the very end repents, he shares in Gan Eden - in the world to come. The converse is also true: if a person is a Tzadik his entire life but at the end does not live that same way, then it is considered a full life of wickedness. Unfortunately, in my career I’ve witnessed both scenarios where a person became observant and religious towards the end of his life. That person’s entire life is not only considered completely righteous but they themselves feel a fulfilled life. On the other hand, some people lived a religious and observant life, but in the end stopped and gave up the good practices. Such people lose out on the entire lifetime of goodness, not only in the spiritual sense but their physical life is also felt to be full of hardship and difficulty.

As one famous catcher of the greatest sports team said, “It ain’t over till it’s over.” The way the game ends is a reflection of the rest of the game. Let’s make our lives richer and more meaningful so that the end of the game reflects upon the entire game just as Yakov’s life at the end was ‘good’ and changed the perspective of his entire life.

Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

 

*Meir Leibush ben Yehiel Michel Wisser (March 7, 1809 – September 18, 1879), better known as The Malbim, was a rabbi, master of Hebrew grammar, and Bible commentator. The name "Malbim" was derived from the Hebrew initials of his name. He used this acronym as his surname in all his published works and became known by it in common usage

Parshas Vayigash - The Dreaded Middle Seat   7 Teves 5777

01/05/2017 01:04:06 PM

Jan5

Back to the air we go on another travel experience that I never look forward to  but always look back at when returning. An obvious rule in life is "a person has more options the sooner he makes a decision". Today, more than ever, if you snooze you lose. We need to  make decisions in a timely fashion so that we’ll be able to have the most and, hopefully, the best choices to confront. A person who waits until the last minute will have slim pickings available at best.

For many reasons that I will not share here, I took a last-minute (not literally last minute but within a week) trip to Israel. Aisle and window seats are usually selected first, leaving the middle seats to the last-minute traveler. As passengers settle into their assigned seats, the great mind battle begins as to who has the rights of the armrest. If the window or aisle passenger takes the arm rest, then the middle passenger is left with no arm rests whatsoever. When I am sitting in either the aisle or window seat, I try to leave the arm rest for the middle passenger seat, reasoning that I at least have the window/wall to lean against or the aisle to stretch out. I would hope to receive that same courtesy if I am stuck in the middle, but that isn’t always the case. Early on as the seating and boarding is going on, a quick, decisive, and bold move must be taken to conquer the space or else it is going to be a long  - and even more uncomfortable - flight. 

Many shoppers are aware that when there is a limited number of items going on sale it’s necessary to be quick to purchase. There are many good deals that are posted on websites for limited times and quantities. Certain areas of purchase have changed over time. For instance, a daily merchandise stores such as fruit stores had the best fruits and vegetables out in the morning, but by evening only the scraps remain. Today, stores are adequately supplied, allowing replenishing and restocking of shelves and bins throughout the day. In other categories, however, the saying 'first come first serve' is still in effect. A different side of this is the notion that ‘haste makes waste’;  sometimes a person should not act so quickly.  Nevertheless, there are two approaches  that  need to be addressed: on the one hand speed and the other hand not delaying. A person may not see the difference between the two, depending upon the situation.  At the end of the day how do we reconcile these important ideas of speed, not delaying yet using care and thought before doing something? Perhaps the answer lies in the famous incident of Yosef revealing himself to his brothers and instructing them what to do right now.

In this week’s Parsha Vayigash the Torah states in 45:9 “Maharu Va’Alu El Auvi Va’Amartem Eilav Ko Amar Bincha Yosef, Samani Elohim L’Adon L’Chol Mitzrayim R’Da Eiliey Al Ta’Amod”. Yosef said: “Quickly go up to my father (Yakov) and say to him, this is what your son Yosef said, God placed me as a Lord to all of Egypt, come down to me and do not stay there”. Only a few verses later Yosef says to his brothers in Bereishis 45:24: “VaYishalach Es Echav Vayeileichu, Vayomer Aleihem, Al Tirgzu BaDerech”. “And he (Yosef) sent his brothers and they went, and he said to them ‘do not tarry or quarrel on the way home”. Look at the difference in the instructions Yosef gives to his brothers. First he says ‘go quickly’ and later says ‘do not delay or do not quarrel which would ultimately lead to a slowing down’. Yosef’s selection of instructions depended upon the purpose or upon whom he was talking about. First, he tells them to go quickly.  Sforno explains the reason Yosef tells his brothers to ‘go quickly’ was to minimize the anguish of Yakov. Once he addressed his concerns for his father, he turned his attention to his brothers.  Daas Mikrah explains the word Tirgezu/quarrel in two ways. The first is to be understood as Yosef telling his brothers  not to be angry with one another, not to fight over the decision of having sold him as explained by Rashi. These words are similar to what the Navi Chavakuk said 3:2 ‘B’Rogez Racheim Tizkor’ Amid rage – remember to be merciful. Even though it is natural for you to be angry with each other, be merciful.  Take it easy on each other because it was all meant to be.  The second interpretation of Yosef’s words are ‘do not be afraid, do not be  in awe of the road which has robbers and highway men’. The fear of my ruler, of my power,is over them as well, and therefore they will not touch you. This is similar what we say in Az Yashir everyday ‘Sham’oo Amim Yirgazoon’ the nations will hear and be afraid’.

Yosef addresses his brothers and tells them to be quick and inform our father to come down to Mitzrayim. Their hesitation was the difficult, hard decision to leave Eretz Yisrael. Therefore, Yosef tells them the decision has already been made by God, that this is the plan.  They are to bring the family down to Mitzrayim. The ticket to travel is bought already, now don’t argue about anything in delaying that will make the trip feel longer, such as infighting. Pick your seats immediately;  don’t get stuck with something you don’t like.

No major decision in life should be made quickly without proper consideration and a thorough examination of its consequences. But as soon as a decision is made after everything is taken into consideration, then quick, decisive action must be taken. For example: Once a decision is made to purchase something of major importance and significance, then the purchase should be made ASAP in order not to lose out on it. This concept is consistent with Chazal’s statement of ‘Zrizim Makdimin L’Mitzvos’. Zerizus is difficult to translate, but most often it is described as diligence, industriousness, or zeal. This is a pre-requisite for doing Mitzvos. A person needs to be ready to do the Mitzva even though it may not be the time for it. Once that time comes, however, one needs to act immediately.

The lesson to be learned is once you know you are flying, buy your ticket immediately and choose your seat. If you get stuck with a middle seat, then board quickly and take possession of the arm rests, otherwise it’s going to be a long flight………………        take my word for it.

Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas Mikeitz - Of Hangars & Silverware     29 Kislev 5777

12/29/2016 10:48:27 AM

Dec29

A few of years ago, I wrote about my Rebbi’s theory regarding ‘multiplying hangers’. It’s a well-known but as-yet unproven theory that hangars reproduce, multiplying quickly in our closets. This theory of reproduction also entails the phenomenon that they produce multiple kinds of hangars, morphing from metal to plastic to wood and anything in between. Now, after many years I have come to realize that there is something else in the household that seems to diminish overtime without anyone noticing until it becomes a significant loss. This loss has occurred in my house over the years, but I was starkly reminded of how it probably occurs due to a recent incident related to me by my daughter.

One Motzai Shabbos my daughter finished washing her dishes and sorted out the silverware to place back in the drawer. After meticulously cleaning, drying and putting away the silverware, she couldn’t believe that she only had one soup spoon left from the set of eight! She could not believe it! What happened to all the soup spoons? She and her husband quickly went to the garbage can and realized that my son-in-law had already thrown out the trash. He quickly went out to the communal trash bin where luckily (or perhaps mazal?) their easy-to-spot white trash bags were peacefully lying. (The rest of the building uses the dark colored trash bags.) Lo and behold, as they sifted through the chicken bones and dirty paper plates, they recovered seven soup spoons that had been accidentally thrown out by some of the well-intended guests. My sister, who should live and be well, never throws out her trash after Shabbos until all her silverware is present and accounted for. The silver lining of the story is that because so many spoons went missing at the same time it was obvious that they may have inadvertently been thrown out. In my house, however, we have five partial sets of silverware due to the slow but sure attrition of losing one here and one there slowly but surely going off, alone and unnoticed, to silverware heaven.

Certain things in life increase while others decrease without our paying attention to them. I think it would be a fair observation that we are focused more on the loss of things rather than the gain. We can always use another hangar or two, and if we have too many we just recycle them. Silverware, on the other hand, tends to become a little embarrassing when we slowly realize that we don’t have enough for the number of place settings at the table. The notion of recognizing the loss more than the gain is apparent in this week’s parsha and is also connected to Chanukah.

This week’s Parsha Mikeitz opens with the two sets of Pharoah’s dreams. In Bereishis 41:2-8 Pharoah has two dreams: one with the seven healthy fat cows followed by seven skinny cows devouring the fat ones, and the other which displayed seven fat, good ears of grain growing on a single stalk when suddenly another seven ears of grain grew behind them and swallowed up the seven fat, full ears of grain. Pharoah didn’t wake up when dreaming pleasantly about the abundance of cows and grain; he awoke when dreaming of the consumption of the good by the bad. The Baal Haturim says when the bad stalks are mentioned, it is not written as it is with the good stalks. “V’Hinei Sheva Shibalim Dakos Ushdufos Kadim” “And behold seven ears, thin and blasted with the east wind…” The seven ears of corn were growing on one stalk. The good years were all equally good, and therefore it wasn’t as apparent that it was so good. In contrast, the bad years were not equal. Each year was worse than the preceding one.

In Bereishis 41:8 the Torah states: Vayisaper Pharoah Lahem Es Chalomo, V’Ein Poseir Osam L’Pharoah”. “And Pharoah told them his dream, but there was no one who could interpret them for Pharoah”. The verse is clear: he was not satisfied with his astrologers’ interpretations. The Midrash in Breishis Raba 89 retells the interpretations of both dreams, intertwined as one. The first dream - seven fat cows - represented seven daughters being born to him and the eating of them would be burying the daughters. The second dream was interpreted as Pharoah as conquering seven nations and the other part depicted those same nations rebelling against him. Many commentators ask what was it about those interpretations that Pharoah didn’t like?

The Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh explains the term ‘Pharah’ was not the king’s actual name; it was the title for the king of Egypt. All the kings of Egypt were Pharoahs, and despite the fact he was not Jewish, the king was on a higher level than ordinary citizens, and so his thoughts were loftier as well. The interpretations his magicians gave were of a more personal nature and a bit ordinary and therefore Pharoah did not accept them. Yosef, on the other hand, interpreted his dreams to mean that there would be a famine in the land of Egypt and throughout his kingdom. Seven good years and seven bad years was something he related to as a king of the entire nation; it was not about him personally. The reason is a king is to his nation likens to the heart of a person – the heart gives life to all the other limbs. It was at that point when he awoke from the dream. An additional comment found the Gemaa Brachos 55 mentions that Pharoah woke up at that moment since he knew that the dream would come true. The Gemara states there are three dreams that come true: one of them is dreams of the morning. The passuk mentions that it was the morning. A spirit filled Pharoah because he realized that this was a dream which would come true for both the good and the bad.

Pharoah did not wake up when he saw the good - the blessing of abundance that would be a part of his country. He woke up only when seeing the downside - famine. He didn’t focus on how many hangars he was blessed with, but rather was astounded and shocked to have lost so much silverware. There are many lessons to take away from this story and Yosef’s interpretation. As we continue towards the end of Chanukah, we light an additional candle each night, following the opinion of Beis Hillel. Beis Shammai says we start with eight and go down to one, taking away one candle each night. Chanukah is a time to grow and expand the level of Torah commitment to mitzvos and learning. We need to grow and increase, building upon the previous accomplishments, taking care not to lose that which we’ve gained so far. Let us focus on the positive, on the potential growth within each of us and our families. Chas V’Shalom we shouldn’t wake up suddenly one day realizing how much silverware and how much of our spiritual life was thrown out inadvertently. Let us count the blessings as they come and do whatever is necessary to maintain the blessings to light up our physical and spiritual lives.

Ah Gut Shabbos & Ah Lichtiga Chanukah

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas Vayeishev - The Winning Drive           22 Kislev 5777 

12/21/2016 06:56:05 PM

Dec21

We often reckon the passage of time by generations, but just how long is a generation? As a matter of common knowledge, we know that a generation averages about 25 years—from the birth of a parent to the birth of a child—although it varies case by case. We also generally accept that the length of a generation was closer to 20 years in earlier times when humans mated younger and life expectancies were shorter.

My tenure in San Diego and at Beth Jacob is within the range of seeing the transition from one generation to the next. This community, just like all other communities, witnesses people and families come and go. Some move to other cities or other countries while others move up to a different world. In any case, there are many interesting people and characters who make up the flavor and personality of the community. Some people are quiet, reserved and keep to themselves while others are boisterous, overt in their opinions and feelings, and always visible. One such colorful man who lived in the Beth Jacob apartments for many years was Mr. Solowitz z”l. For those who knew him, there is no need to describe him. This is not the place (nor do I have the space) to elucidate to those who did not know him even a small vignette of the uniqueness and special qualities of who he was.  Nevertheless, there is one detail that I will share, which is one thing that he and I had in common - the New York Yankees baseball team.

Mr. Solowitz had a very sharp and insightful mind. The Yankess had won the World Series four out of the last five years at the end of the century and then went cold. He shared a great insight with me as to why the current Yankees team (at that time) would not win again. He said the players lost their hunger, their drive, their enthusiasm and even their adrenalin to win again. There was very little left for such a dominant team to prove their prowess any longer, and without the inner motivation to do so they could not win. Other teams who had the drive and need  to prove their prowess and also had young players who were hungry for recognition and success would assume the top and win a World Series. The lesson of being ‘hungry’ for something, whether it is in sports, education, Torah or relationships is the key to success and winning.  Momentum is a critical part of continued growth; once that begins to slow down it is only a matter of time before we start to lose, giving  back some of that which we gained.

One of the keys to success in life in general and religion in particular is the ability to continue and maintain momentum, to create a snowball effect to build on past successes. In my career I have seen the continued upward growth of individuals and families in spirituality and overall service to Hashem. Unfortunately, I have also witnessed the unravelling of hard work and self-sacrifice of other individuals and families. The reason for  growth - or negative decline -  is determined by how determined each person is to maintain that desire and hunger for more, as opposed to giving in to  a feeling of complacency encompassed by the inner gnawing of the refrain, “Come on.  How much more do you want me to do? What do you want from me?” This latter phenomena can be found both in baalei teshuva and in families who were observant their entire lives. The common denominator is that people are tired and just want to get a break and take it easy. Many of the good, religious habits that they once prided themselves on are now just memories. The mitzvos, learning, davening, chesed, etc. that were part and parcel of their identity  have gathered dust and cobwebs. Religious observance could almost be viewed as a passing fad that came and is now gone - a ‘been there done that’ phenomenon. This notion is counter to the philosophy of the Torah where we actively apply the rule ‘there’s no rest for the weary’. Interestingly,  it appears  in the opening verse of this week’s parsha. {Parsjas Vayeishev, 37:1 which states:   “Vayeishev Yaakov B’Eretz M’Gurei Aviv B’Eretz Canaan”. “Meanwhile, Yaakov settled in the area (Chevron) where his father had lived in the land of Canaan.” The most common traditional interpretation of “Vayeishev Yaakov” is the opinion of Rashi. Yaakov wanted to dwell in peace, but there sprang upon him the troubles of Yosaif. Hashem said: “Is it not sufficient for the righteous that which is prepared for them in the world to come, but they seek to dwell in peace in this world also!” It sounds as though Yaakov had lost his drive, his sense of wanting more -  and this is the absolute truth. Yaakov does indeed want to dwell in peace, but not the peace I  described earlier  - that he wanted to have it easier, to take a break from Torah and Mitzvos. To the contrary, Yaakov  saw the opportunity to sit in the beis medrash all day and not have to go to work.

The passuk comes to teach us that as long as Yakov was in Chutz La’Aretz/ outside of Israel and on the road travelling, he continually sought to acquire more physical things of this world and to increase his estate of cattle and sheep. Yaakov was a workaholic outside of Israel. This is supported by the statement  in Bereishis 31:40: “By day I was consumed by the scorching heat, and at night by the frost”. But upon entering the land of Canaan, Yaakov immediately declared a religious asylum. Yaacov no longer felt the need to physically work, for when he came to his father’s house in Eretz Canaan he was ready to serve Hashem from two sides. On one side was the place where his father Yitzchak and grandfather Avraham had lived. On the other side was the greatness of the land itself - our Holy land, the sanctified land that God chose for him and his descendants.  Yaakov no longer had a desire to amass physical wealth and items of this world. Rather, he felt the only reason he worked so hard when he was outside of Israel was  so that he could retire from the physical and focus solely on the spiritual, just as his predecessors Avraham and Yitzchok had done. He no longer wanted to go out to shepherd his flock as he had done  before he left Israel. Avraham and Yitzchok in their old age separated from the money and acquisitions in order to devote themselves completely to Hashem and prepare to receive prophesy, living fully under the influence of God. Yaakov wanted to do the same thing as Avraham and Yitzchok: to sit in peace and tranquility, to learn Torah, to do as his fathers had done.   

Yakov wanted to sit back in peace and tranquility from the life of Gashmiyus/physicality and put his efforts into Ruchniyus/spirituality. The hunger and drive was just revving up again in pursuit of loftiness. I feel there is an unspoken regression today, much more so than a generation or two ago. Perhaps, as life grows easier and less demanding, we take our Yiddishkeit (Judaism) for granted which may lead to this deterioration.  Or perhaps even the opposite may be true: as we grow older we face more stresses, more pressures either from within our families or from without from our personal disappointments.  Regardless of the causes for this potential deepening malaise, everyone reading this needs to think back to a time when they were doing more, when they were actively, enthusiastically growing spiritually. This is not the time to only focus on olam hazeh, forgetting or neglecting all the Torah and Judaism we fought and struggled for. There is room for both. Make some time to get back to the greater heights of our past and bring them back into the present.

 

Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas Vayishlach -Symptomatic not Problematic      16 Kislev 5777

12/16/2016 03:22:19 PM

Dec16

At a recent RCC conference I was reminded of a basic rule in life: when to focus on the general and when to focus on the specific. The speaker, who was discussing his involvement in Jewish divorce proceedings, reminded me of this rule through a short anecdote. He related that someone called up his rabbi on Erev Pesach, stating  that he and his wife were in a terrible fight arguing whether or not they should eat ’gebrokts’* on Pesach. The speaker explained that the issue of this household was not the question about ‘gebrokts’, but rather the essence of their Shalom Bayis. If they are arguing about this on Erev Pesach, there are far larger  problems with the relationship.  

In an unrelated matter, the United Jewish Federation of San Diego announced a partial cut in 2017 and a complete end of all funding in 2018 of many vital Jewish causes in San Diego.  Every one of  the schools which provide  Jewish Education is slated to be included in these cuts. Our Jewish schools depend heavily on these funds;  it is deeply disturbing that the community had not been made aware of these moves until now. The schools still have an opportunity to receive the monies through grants given out by the UJF, but such avenues for grant monies are never  guaranteed. The reason I bring this up is first and foremost this is a great loss of financial support for local Jewish education. The bigger and broader issue, however, is that this move by our local UJF is only symptomatic of a far greater problem. Everyone should take a good look at the focus of UJF and what it is supporting. It plans to fund programs to help Jews maintain and reconnect to Judaism. This is similar to giving person oxygen after we cut off his air supply. The greatest fundamental source of Judaism is Jewish education, primarily the Jewish education received during a child’s critical early years of development. It is truly horrible; actually it is sinful to process the idea that a UJF of any city would even consider cutting the funding of its local schools which are the future of the Jewish community! The greater larger and broader problem is the shift in value system that Jewish Federations across North America stand for. The very future of the Jewish community is being threatened by cutting off its life source.   

Every community – every individual within every community- must evaluate, must work to  address the causes of such a decision. The most obvious challenge facing the Jewish people today is to assess the way the world presents Zionism as the primary cause of many of the conflicts in the world. We should all realize that it’s not Zionism that the world truly takes issue with. Rather ‘Zionism’ is just a more politically correct phrase or modern semantic excuse for anti-Semitism. The issue of how the world views the Jews and - even more so - how the Jews interpret those views - is nothing new. This criticism, and the accompanying Jewish fear of the criticism, is found in the Torah and highlighted in this week’s parsha which addresses Yakov’s  concern regarding what the world will think and say about him. The concern is after Dinah was taken by Shechem, when Shimon and Levi plotted to retrieve her, but along with saving her killed  the entire village.  

The Torah states in Bereishis 34:30 “Vayomer Yakov El Shimon V’El Levi Achartem Osi, L’Havisheini B’Yosheiv Ha’Aretz Ba’Canaani U’VaPrizi, Va’Ani M’Sei Mispar V’Nesfu Alay V’Hikuni V’Nishmaditi Ani U’Beisi”. “Yakov said to Shimon and Levi, ‘You have gotten me in trouble, giving me a bad reputation among the Canaanites and Perizites who live in the land. I have only a small number of men. They can band together and attack me, and my family and I will be wiped out’ ”.  Yakov is worried, yet his sons reply, ”Shall we allow our sister to become a harlot?” It appears as though Yakov was worried about world opinion while his sons only cared about saving their sister.  Truth be told, Shimon and Levi did not limit their mission against Shechem Ben Chamor just to save Dinah. With a cursory look at some of the previous verses, we can determine that Shimon and Levi not only wanted to save their sister but to punish Shechem at the same time. Perhaps this is why Yakov was upset. It was on the third day after the entire town had been circumcised, the men were hurting and basically incapacitated. At that point in verse 34:25 Shimon and Levi kill all the males. In verse 26 they killed Chamor and his son Shechem,  and then they took Dinah out and saved her.  

A question is asked: Why didn’t Shimon and Levi just take Dinah when all the men of the town were aching? Why did they first kill everyone and then take her out, which had been their goal? The Midrash explains that the passuk points out that they came to the city with ‘Betach’  - a guarantee. They were confident their mission would be successful in the merit of Yakov, their father, in order to save his daughter. It was the merit of Yakov that gave them protection and cover for their mission.  Therefore, they were concerned that once they saved Dinah and took her out of Shechem’s house, the merit of their father would no longer be in effect.  Yakov was not interested in killing anyone; his only desire was to retrieve Dinah, his daughter. As soon as Dinah was saved he would not have a desire to do any harm to them. At that point, then, protection and shield of Yakov would no longer protect Shimon and Levi for that which was against his will. Shimon and Levi realized that as long as Dinah was still ‘captured’ they had the protection of their father and were free to do as they wished against the people of Shechem. Therefore, they took advantage of the situation by taking revenge against the people who took their sister Dinah.

The deeper issue for Shimon and Levi was to stick up for the family and never allow such a disgrace to occur within the family. The hard lesson we need to take away from this is that there are times when tough action must be taken and difficult decisions need to be made. They may not be politically correct or justified in the eyes of the world, but nevertheless Am Yisroel needs to do what is necessary for our honor and security - despite what the world says. Let the Jewish community stand up for San Diego’s Jewish future and recognize the value and vital importance of Jewish education, core to our existence, essential to our future.  

Ah Gut Shabbos                              Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

 

*Gebrokts – Allowing the Matzah on Passover to get wet before eating

Parshas Vayeitzay - Handling Adversity while Shopping    9 Kislev 5777

12/09/2016 01:48:40 PM

Dec9

There a very few things in life which stress me out, but that doesn’t mean that things don’t concern me or that I don’t care about dire situations. There are challenges and difficulties which require patience and guidance for any number of given situations. Each of us deals with the challenges we must confront differently. For some, these trials may appear easy while for others, such situations are very difficult. Regardless of how each of us face challenge, we all should strive to make them less stressful whenever possible.

Too often we use or misuse the term stress in a way to express a situation. We need to narrow down the areas of life which cause us to use the term ‘stress’. Stress is the pressure or tension exerted on a material object. Stress is also more and more frequently used in a medical or biological context. Stresses can be externally induced either from the environment, psychological, or social situations, from illness, or from a medical procedure. For me the most appropriate definition of stress is the first definition:  pressure exerted on material objects.

When I go shopping, I go to buy something that I need, while others I know just go shopping whether they need something or not! For me, shopping for basic things - such as food and small articles -  is a relatively soothing and therapeutic activity because doesn’t require a lot of brain power. On the other hand, when I must buy something - let’s take a suit, for example - and it may very well cost well over one hundred and fifty dollars (I’m frugal!), I begin to go into stress mode. Depending upon the item, necessity and cost will determine the stress level that I experience. The most severe and highest level of stress that I endure is the process of buying a car. Over the years my wife bought vehicles when I was out of town which made it relatively stress-free for me. Last May we needed to get rid of our beloved mini-van and purchase something else. Last week, during a routine maintenance checkup of my car, a major problem was discovered that would require a new engine. The first difficult decision I needed to face was to either put the money into the old car or put it towards something new. As I stressed over this decision for about a week, I finally listened to the advice I had sought out to part with my car, not an easy thing for me to do as I get attached to ‘things’.  My old care was sentimental to me. It had been my mechanical pal, my trustworthy means of transportation, and I was about to reject it for a newer, better object.

The ultimate stress test for me is buying and negotiating the purchasing of a new vehicle. For those who have gone through this process, you know it is a cat and mouse game of who is going to give in first and by how much? Everyone knows that the initial price is way too high and negotiation is required.  At first, the salesman is extremely nice and courteous and expresses a few times that I shouldn’t feel any pressure today. After I choose the vehicle that I would like to buy, the initial intake of information begins. They basically ask what can we do to earn your business today. What can we do that you drive out with a new car today? It sounds like they are willing to accommodate and work with you at almost any cost. They ask what amount I have in mind to pay and then the tone of conversation changes. “Do you want us to lose money (yeh right, they’re losing money)?” The standoff begins and I personally spend an entire day just trying to position myself for the best price and not wanting to feel that I am getting ripped off.

While the “game” of purchasing a car leaves me in the void as to just who was actually the winner, we all  know that when it comes to a Tzadik, Hashem watches out for the righteous and will make sure the money they have and spend is to their benefit. This is apparent in the words we read this Shabbos.

In this week’s Parsha Vayeitzay, Yakov Avinu works for his future father- in- law, and after marrying Rachel and Leah continues to work for him. In Bereishis 29:15 the Torah states: Vayomer Lavan L’Yaakov Hachi Achi AtahVa’Avaditaqni Chinam? Hagida Li Mah Maskoortecha”. “Lavan said to Jacob, ‘Just because you are my close relative, does it mean that you must work for me for nothing? Tell me what you want to be paid.”.A few commentators mention the fact that Lavan referred to Yakov as his brother. Lavan is asking about the wages in a cynical manner loaded with diabolical intention. You, Yakov, are thinking that I am your brother and you are trying to win me over by thinking I will get free work out of you. You, Yakov, are trying to trick me into offering free, cheap labor only to lure me into a situation that I will end up paying you a fortune for your work. Lavan felt that anything that is given for free as a gift will end up costing him a lot later. Lavan says to Yakov, “You are flattering me that you are willing to work for free so that later you will ask for a great favor.  You are expecting to receive so much more than I can afford. Yakov answers, stating simply, “I only came to marry your daughters and I don’t want or need anything else.”

In Bereishis 31:7 the Torah states: Va’Avichen Heisel Bi V’Hechelif Es Maskurti Aseres Monim, V’Lo N’Sano mElokim L’Hora Imadi”. Yakov said to his wives: “Your father swindled me and changed his mind about my pay at least ten times, but God would not let him harm me.” Later in 31:41 Yakov again mentions in speaking to Lavan ‘you changed my wages ten times!” Hashem protected Yakov and through the miracle of breeding the speckled, ringed and spotted animals was able to become a very wealthy man despite Lavan’s attempts to keep it all for himself.  

I’m would be comfortable to say that Yakov’s experience with his father-in-law Lavan was a great challenge. Nevertheless, a person with Yakov’s character and trust in Hashem would lead one to believe that he got the best price for his situation. The more emunah/faith and bitachon/trust in Hashem we develop within ourselves, the more our stress levels regarding all difficult situations will be reduced.

Ah Gut Shabbos           Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Wed, August 16 2017 24 Av 5777