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Parshas Chukas - Just Do It!!!   8 Tammuz 5781

06/18/2021 11:25:35 AM

Jun18

This week’s Torah message is Sponsored by Bill, Steffi, Breana and Ethan Retin in honor of Rabbi & Leah Bogopulsky and the entire Beth Jacob community for welcoming us so warmly 21 years ago and making us feel like family ever since.

An interrogative word or question word is a function word used to ask a question, such as what, which, when, where, who, whom, whose, why, whether and how. They are sometimes called wh-words, because in English most of them start with wh- (compare Five Ws).

The question children persistently ask their parents is the proverbial, ”Why?”. The curiosity, wonder-filled searching of reasons for seemingly everything  is evident when innocent, inquisitive children, growing ever more aware of the world around them, ask the question, ”Why?”. I believe, with full confidence, that everyone falls into this category of questioning why. Whether we, throughout our childhood repeatedly asked our parents reasons for everything  or now, as parents on the receiving end of our children’s repeated questions of why, the most common answer is typically, ”Because”. So often, the answers to the questions presented by an innocent, curious child in a manner which is both age-appropriate and satisfying are difficult to frame appropriately. Of course, some answers can be modified and broken down to a child’s level, but other times they cannot. When a question cannot be explained, especially when the child follows up with another question of “but why”, the only ‘reasonable’ answer is simply “because”.  This simple escape-hatch  ‘because’ answer is likely the result of  one of two reasons:  because we cannot break a response down to a level the child will comprehend, and the second is simply out of frustration. When we reply with “because” due to the first scenario, it is a response given in a loving, compassionate manner. But when we reply “just because”, it is most likely tinged with frustration and a sense of losing patience thanks to the repetitive bombardment of questions from the wide-eyed, curious child.

These ‘why’ questions are generally broken down into two age groups: the younger, innocent children, and the older children who have typically reached the age of rebelliously challenging authority. I do not, Chas V’Shalom/Heaven forbid, mean children who are literally rebelling against their parents, but rather children who are at the age of feeling their oats by asking the for justification for whatever may have been told to do. At this stage of life, the line of questioning typically goes as follows. “Why do I have to do it if my sister does not have to” and vice versa. Or…”Why does our family have to do ’that’” when the family down the block does not do it?”” Why do I have to go to sleep so early when my friend Charlie does not even have a bedtime?” “Why do I need to make my bed if I am only going to mess it up when I go to sleep at night?” “Why do I have to clean up my toys if I am going to take them out again tomorrow?” And on and on. And one of my favorites: “If dinner consists of a protein, starch, vegetable, and dessert, why can’t I have dessert first and the main meal afterwards?” And, of course, we can’t leave out the most common question all children ask”  ”Why is the sky blue?” As Jews we recognize that these questions which begin with “why” are not exclusively asked in secular matters; they apply to religious areas of discussion and affairs as well.   

After all is said and done, an older child may feel the answer is inadequate and does not want to listen. Nonetheless, in my humble opinion, (and you know I am not so humble)- at least not when it comes to answering my children’s questions) I feel that at a certain point a good parent should follow up by not just saying “because” but by adding,  “Don’t like it? Well, that is just too bad, you still must do it.”  Kids have rules which they need to learn must be obeyed even though they do not necessarily understand or agree with.  Even though they would prefer not to do something they have been asked to do, they still must do it.   This holds true with regards to the physical, mundane parts of life and also with the physical, spiritual component issues of life. We as parents need to  realize that we can ask but also require our children to learn, daven, do chessed, by making clear that rules are rules – it is expected that they will do, obey what we clearly expect that they do.  After all, we are the parents – that is our job. It goes without me saying we must treat and teach and guide every child according to their specific needs, abilities, and ways, maintaining realistic expectations based upon each child’s level of understanding, with love and clear firmness.

Now, this may seem all good and dandy, but we must also be aware that if WE are not doing those same things that we are telling our children to do, then they will turn around to us and ask, ”Why aren’t you doing it?” Keep in mind, children may not need to actually verbalize this internalized justification so many words, but they are no doubt thinking it in their minds. And yes, with younger children, we may force our will upon them, but as they grow physically, mentally, and intellectually stronger, they will clearly see the double standard. My advice, my message is, ”Do not be self-contradicting”! Whatever we ask from our children, we must also be prepared to do no less than they are being told to do. This lesson is not pulled from some sociological book on parenting or raising children, rather the message and lesson is loud and clear from the Torah itself.

 In this week’s Parshas Chukas the Torah in Bamidbar 19:2 states: "זאת חקת התורה אשר צוה ה' לאמר, דבר אל בני ישראל ויקחו אליך פרה אדומה תמימה אשר אין בה מום אשר לא עלה עליה על"  “The following is declared to be the Torah’s decree as commanded by God. Speak to the Israelites and have them bring you a completely red cow which has no blemish, and which has never had a yoke on it”. The red hefer is the quintessential “chok” or statute. We know some of the obvious mitzvos referred to as Mishpatim;  here the Chok which we would not necessarily know on our own. The Gemara Yoma 67b summarized this beautifully. “Our Rabbis taught: My judgments/mishpatim you shall fulfill, i.e., such commandments which, if they were not written [in Scripture], they should by logic have been written. These are: [the laws concerning] idolatry, adultery and murder, robbery and “blessing” the Divine Name. And My statutes you shall observe, i.e., such commandments to which Satan objects, they are [those relating to] the wearing of sha'atnez, the chalitzah [performed] by a yevamah, the purification of the metzora, and the he-goat that is sent away on Yom Kippur. And perhaps you might think these are empty acts, therefore the Torah says: I am Hashem, I have decreed it and you are not permitted to criticize it.

In essence, Hashem is commanding us by both the Mishpatim that we understand and by the Chukim that we do not necessarily understand to just do it because ‘I am Hashem’. We may not like it, but we still need to do it. For some reason we all appreciate the adult or parent at a certain point just saying “you still have to do it” in mundane life matters. The two lessons merge: the authority at a point can require reasonable things without giving a reason to it. So, too, in the Torah world we, the children, must follow and just do it because our Father in Heaven commanded us to “JUST DO IT”!!!

Ah Gutten Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas Korach - The Difference Between Taking & Giving         1 Tammuz 5781

06/11/2021 11:31:25 AM

Jun11

Forty-four years ago, on the Shabbos of this week’s parsha,  my family and friends gathered at the Washington Hotel in Belle Harbor, N.Y. to celebrate my Bar Mitzvah. The location of this special weekend was a duplicate of my brother’s a”h Bar Mitzvah weekend which took place at the same location four and a half years earlier. The primary reason each bar mitzvah was moved to a hotel was because my grandfather was not able to walk to the local Shul where we davened regularly. Not to give the wrong impression, the hotel was a bit run down at the time of my brother’s Bar Mitzva, and to say the least, it had not been updated by the time my Bar Mitzva arrived. All in all, back in the day it was a beautiful event and a milestone in my life and in the history of our family. But as in any major event, especially in the Jewish world, no simcha occurs without stress, worry, and unplanned mishaps, and mine was no exception.

On Thursday, two days before this special weekend, my parents asked my brother to deliver a few things to the hotel for Shabbos. The drive took approximately twenty-five minutes, and it was a beautiful, sunny, June day. My family happened to have gotten a “brand new” used car which, for my family was regarded as a new automobile.  My brother, bargaining with my parents to make this round trip, asked my parents if a few of his friends could come along and go golfing on a course located in the same neighborhood as the hotel. I went along for the ride and, of course, to the golf course as well. It was an exasperating experience for me, a thirteen-year-old trying to play golf for the very first time without any prior instruction or guidance. I could not hit the ball very far; in fact, although I did get some chunks of dirt to go flying, I was unable to hit the ball at all. Finally, completely frustrated, I  picked up the ball and threw it as far as I could. I did not get a hole in one, but it did release my frustration. After this experience we drove to the hotel to drop off things for Shabbos. Now, if you do the math, my brother had only recently obtained his driver’s license. He was a good driver, but somehow when he drive into a triangular-shaped corner, he went right through a stop sign and totaled the vehicle, rendering it undrivable.  

Putting this all into perspective, a day earlier my mother a”h and I went to pick up the small pocket siddurim that were given out as a gift with the occasion of my Bar MItzvah stamped on the front as a token memento for everyone in attendance.  The siddurim did not come out the way I had envisioned, and I was completely dejected by the product. My mother a”h turned around to me and said to me in Yiddish, “This should be the worst thing to happen to you in your life.” How deeply prophetic were her words. Looking back, there is no doubt in my mind there was stress, anxiety, tension, hassle, worry and pressure, but it was never felt by me whatsoever. Typically, a thirteen-year-old does not pick up on these issues, but in my case, even more so because my parents did not lean into them. It is at such points and important events in life which lend to controversy and disagreement. What is the secret for maintaining calm during all the hullabaloo to successfully navigate the storm? Perhaps such insight comes from the portion I was to read that Shabbos.

In Parshas Korach we read about two major events:  the rebellion of Korach and his followers, and the giving and receiving of the Matanos Kehuna, the twenty-four gifts Kohanim were entitled to receive. The Torah states in Bamidbar 16:1 "ויקח קרח בן יצהר בן קהת בן לוי, ודתן ואבירם בני אליאב ואון בן פלת בני ראובן"  “And Korach, son of Yitzhar (a grandson of Kehas and a great-grandson of Levi), took to a rebellion along with Dasan and Aviram (sons of Eliav) and On son of Peles, descendants of Reuvain”. Contrast that verse with the following verse towards the end of the Parsha. In Bamidbar 18:8 the Torah states "וידבר ה' אל אהרן ואני הנה נתתי לך את משמרת תרומתי, לכל קדשי בני ישראל לך נתתים למשחה ולבניך לחק עולם"  “God announced to Aharon: I have given you responsibility for My elevated gifts. I am thus giving you all the sacred gifts of the Israelites as part of your anointment. These shall be an eternal portion for your descendants.” Rashi clearly explains the connection between Korach trying to take away the Kehuna/priesthood from Aharon and the giving of special gifts to Aharon. Rashi quoting the Sifrei writes, “This may be likened to a king who gave a field to his beloved friend but did not write or sign a deed of sale, nor bring it to the recording offices. There came a man who contested the ownership of the field. The King said to him (his friend) whosoever desires, let him come and contest your rights, Behold, I will write and sign for you a deed of sale and will bring it to the recording offices. Similarly, here: since Korach came and protested against Aharon and wanted to take the Kehuna, scripture comes and grants him twenty-four gifts of priesthood as an everlasting covenant of salt. For that reason, this section is adjoined here.”

The lesson learned is that whoever challenges the Tzadik and stirs a controversy against him will not reach their desired goal. To the contrary, in the end the Tzadik will be blessed and bestowed upon honor and gifts from heaven. Avoid the controversy and Machlokes because it does not do anything for the person; at the end that person suffers a tragic end as did Korach and his followers.

Machlokes and controversy is not  described unless in extreme cases such as Korach.  This applies just as strongly to each of us as we live through in our day-to-day experiences. Machlokes quite often arises out of jealousy, envy, and the like, ultimately leading to the demise or ruination of the instigator, even though this individual may sincerely believe in his/her cause and might have reasons for pursuing it.  All too frequently, if driven to pursue the cause anyway, it will most likely fail.  The way to resolve such situations is by giving. I look back at the events which occurred over four decades ago and clearly  see and reap the benefits of my parents continuously giving, clearly avoiding being upset at potential blowups and miscues from so many situations. We should all take in the good sense the lesson from Korach teaches us:  in so many different situations throughout our lives, focus on giving rather than taking.. Doing so will ultimately deliver a Bracha of success, nachas, and shalom for all on both sides of the issue.

Ah Gutten Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas Shlach - With Strings Attached, Don't Forget the Context         24 Sivan 5781

06/04/2021 12:25:55 PM

Jun4

Every Thursday morning either I or someone else drives slowly through the neighborhood, keeping one eye on the road while the other eye looks up towards the sky. This may seem a bit dangerous, and I do not advise anyone to do this unless trained by a professional Eiruv checker. For over fifteen years the Eiruv has been checked two days before each Shabbos or Yom Tov in order to resolve and repair any possible issue.  As with anything in life, it is always wise to “change things up” occasionally when viewing the same, identical scene week after week after week.  Over time, such repetitious viewing tends to desensitize the eyes and brain to any changes, taking for granted that everything is in order. Unfortunately, that is exactly what an ‘oversight’ is: when I see over the sight and actually not able to see that which I am meant to see.

One method of checking a majority of the Eiruv is to look at the location of the connection, where the line attaches to the pole. In truth, all one needs to do is look at the connection of each pole, and it obviates the need to see the continuous running of the entire line from pole to pole. It is obvious that if the line is connected on both ends,  we then can assume the Eiruv line is up at that section. Well, this method proved effective until it did not. I had checked the Eiruv on Thursday; that afternoon someone in the community was walking and saw something that looked like the monofilament line we use for the Eiruv. I am always appreciative of the eyes that are out there who report back when they see something is out of place. I would say there is a fifty-fifty chance that the report proves that some sort of problem was spotted.  Sure enough, as I drove over to check it out, I noticed that the string was still connected to the top of the pole but was drawn over some trees. On the far end the line was once again attached to the pole and the line extended vertically into the intersection. When looking at the top of each post,  the impression seen from the ground was that the line was still intact and attached at the pole, but the view was not clear enough to determine that some of the line was severed in the middle causing a part of the line to be loosely flying in the air. Normally if the Eiruv line breaks, at least one side of the line will drop down directly from the top of the post. 

This scenario reminded me of a certain lesson I have often talked about regarding something at the beginning and at the end. In Tehilim Tehila L’Dovid 145:20 Dovid HaMelech states "שומר ה' את כל אהביו, ואת כל הרשעים ישמיד"  “Hashem watches over all those who love Him, and will destroy all the wicked”. This loosely means God watches over those He loves but will destroy all the wicked. Imagine if someone walked into a lecture when this very verse was being presented, but came in a second late and missed the very first word of ‘watches’. The verse would be heard as follows. Hashem, all those He loves and all the wicked will be destroyed. If the individual came on time and heard from the very beginning but left a second early and missed the very last word  ‘destroy’, the verse would be heard as follows. Hashem watches over all those who love Him and all the wicked. Basically, missing the first word changes the meaning: Hashem destroys the good and the bad; leaving the lecture early, the message heard is: Hashem will safeguard both the loved and the despised ones. In this case the middle is intact while the extremes changed, similar to but in actually the inverse of the Eiruv whereby the sides were intact but the middle was missing. How often things in life are portrayed in a certain way - avoiding an outright falsehood but somehow leaving out the truth. To say the strings are attached but not mentioning that the middle is severed is relating information without full context or if you will, causing it to be “out of context”. We face these challenges every day whether in the media or by having to listen to a disagreement between two people. It is absolutely vital that we listen to both sides of the complete story, otherwise you run into trouble as per our own history…

In this week’s parsha Shlach the Torah relates the story of the “spies”. Some of the Jewish people did not fully trust that the land of our destiny would be the right place for us. Leaving the desert and entering a foreign land was concerning and troubling. Looking for reassurance, they asked Moshe to send messengers to check out the land. Moshe inquired from God, Who reluctantly agreed by having messengers observe the beauty and greatness of Eretz Yisrael and bring back words of excitement and encouragement for the next chapter of the Jews’ travels. We are familiar with the story of twelve “men” (Rash”i indicating important and righteous individuals)  of which ten brought back a lot of truth to what they saw but left out context to which Calev and Yehoshua had to “fill in” to complete the picture. The information they gave was a mixed signal.

 The Torah states in Bamidbar 13:27 "ויספרו לו ויאמרו באנו אל הארץ אשר  שלחתנו, וגם זבת חלב ודבש הוא וזה פריה"  “They gave the following report: ‘We came to the land where you sent us, and it is indeed flowing with milk and honey, as you can see from its fruit.”  The very next passuk 13:28 states: "אפס כי עז העם הישב בארץ, והערים בצרות גדלת מאד, וגם ילדי הענק ראינו שם" “However, the people living in the land are aggressive, and the cities are large and well-fortified. We also saw the giant’s descendants there.” But they clearly left out the history up until now that Hashem has protected and advanced the Jewish people up until this point and guaranteed the success soon. This is the middle part of the string that lacked the connection, and so Calev had to show the connection from beginning to end. The missing context of the ten spies is to say that yes, it is a wonderful land, and Hashem has promised us and will fulfill the dream, despite the fact they are giants and so forth.

It is easy to pick apart an idea or an argument by leaving out some minor points. We have a limited ability to control and navigate the narrative of the world, but we can work on our own internal discussions. We need to be honest, not to defend ourselves by saying we are just leaving out a truth. That is out-right lying. Leaving out a truth is tantamount to a falsehood. In our conversations and discussions, whether with family, friends, or business associates, we need to not only connect the line at the beginning and end of the poles’ we need to make sure the line is continuous, even in the middle, not omitting  some context to the discussion.

Ah Gutten Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas B'Haaloscha - Strengthening the Weak Brings Success to the Strong                  16 Sivan 5781

05/27/2021 04:03:10 PM

May27

In business, people’s attitudes, and strategies are focused upon improving the successes and ditching the failures. This may be a great and important model designed for the physical world of Olam Hazeh - this world - but not necessarily applicable towards  attaining Olam Habah in the spiritual realm of the next world. Spiritually speaking, we need to focus on the times we stumble and fall to insure we do not fail again. I will share two stories to illustrate my point, one from a major athlete, the other a master Torah educator. The irony of these individuals is they both rank at the very top of a sport, albeit one professional and not Jewish, the other an amateur but an Orthodox Rabbi.

There is a debate between the generations as to who the GOAT in basketball is.  I, who hails from the older generation, will tell you it is hands down Michael Jordan. But I discovered an entirely different angle as to why he was the greatest. The following says it all.  "I've missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times I've been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed." Jordan's penchant for taking his failures and perceived slights and turning them into fuel for his success is one of his most notable traits. Although he is arguably the closest thing to a basketball immortal in the sport's history, he did have some ugly games. However, he has been able to learn from those performances, always improving  for the better. Michael Jordan did not focus on the great games; he focused on the average games.  The second individual, Rabbi Gershon Kramer, was undeniably the best overall well -rounded Jewish ball player. His name was synonymous with basketball in the Catskill Mountains for over three decades. During the year he was the best eighth grade Rebbi in the Tri-State area. Every year he took his class to visit Reb Moshe Feinstein zt”l on the lower East Side of Manhattan. While introducing the students, it was apparent that he mentioned that thirteen of the fifteen students were doing exceptionally well. He kept on lauding the praises of the thirteen to Reb Moshe at which point Reb Moshe grabbed the hand of Rabbi Kramer. He stared into the eyes of Rabbi Kramer and in a gentle soft touch and tone said, “It is so wonderful to hear how well these thirteen boys were doing…but what about the other two? Rabbi Kramer suddenly realized how easy it was to celebrate the successes, but how critically and perhaps more importantly it is to focus on the weaker students. Hashem wants the average under-dog to rise up and succeed as well. The Torah is replete with examples of seeking out the “not” in contrast with the “have” Here are two examples from this week’s reading.    

The first, in this week’s Parsha B’Haaloscha, the Torah states in Bamidbar 9:1-9 the situation of someone who did not participate and partake of the Paschal lamb on the Seder night. As the issue is brought up to Moshe Rabbeinu, Moshe tells them to wait as he retrieves the answer from Hashem. The results came in that there would be a second opportunity known today as ‘Pesach Sheni’, the second Pesach. The passuk states 9:7 "ויאמרו האנשים ההמה אליו אנחנו טמאים לנפש אדם, למה נגרע לבלתי הקריב את קרבן ה' במעדו בתוך בני ישראל"  “We are ritually unclean as a result of contact with the dead. Why should we lose out and not be able to present God’s offerings at the right time, along with the other Israelites?” The great Chaisidic master Rebbi Shlomo Rabinowitz of Radomsk* explains the words “why we lose out” as unique in the Torah. He writes we never find any other Mitzva in the Torah which is fixed on a holiday that has a “make-up” at a completely different time except for the Korban Pesach, the Paschal lamb. The Paschal lamb provides opportunity to fulfill the Mitzva one month later. The question is why? Rav Rabinowitz explains that the Jewish people were strong in their commitment to fulfill this Mitzva. They pleaded, beseeched, requested, and just about demanded a solution to their losing out on this Mitzva.  In this case the Rebbe points out that this as a sign for the future of Klal Yisroel to be stubborn and adamant with a strong heart and soul to inherit the land of their forefathers. In doing so it will form the impetus for Hashem to bringing the salvation.

The second incident is at the end of the Parsha when Miriam is stricken with Tzoraas, leprosy. The Torah states in Bamidbar 12:15 "ותסגר מרים מחוץ למחנה שבעת ימים, והעם לא נסע עד האסף מרים"   “For seven days, Miriam remained quarantined outside the camp, and the people did not move on until Miriam was able to return home”. Rashi explains the cloud of glory did not move, so the people obviously had to wait. But the Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh explains that the passuk says, "והעם לא נסע"  -“the people did not travel.” The matter was not because of the cloud; rather it was because they [Bnei Yisrael] themselves had agreed not to travel without Miriam, so as a sign of honor to her they waited. Imagine! An entire nation of over three million people waiting for just one person! Nevertheless, everyone recognized how Miriam would have felt being left behind and the embarrassment it would have caused.

We have two prime examples in this week’s Parsha: showing sensitivity for Miriam while also showing the drive to perform a Mitzva of Korban Pesach. I see the Korban Pesach related to, L’Havdil, the Michael Jordan story of pursuing that which is lacking and finding ways to improve and accomplish more. The story of Klal Yisroel waiting for Miriam relates to Rabbi Kramer understanding the importance of the ‘other’ two students who might have been left behind. They too are important and need sensitivity in making sure we wait for them to catch up, not leave them behind like Miriam.

We too should take the lessons from the great ones both in the physical and spiritual worlds. No one in Klal Yisroel should be left out or left behind. We should all strive to perfect our imperfections and lift those who are down. Through both means we will collectively build our people and reach the greatest heights of who every one of us is capable of becoming.

Ah Gutten Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas Nasso - Cease-Fire...Meant for Whom?      10 Sivan 5781

05/21/2021 11:05:23 AM

May21

At this moment as I sit here typing out this message, a unilateral cease-fire is being implemented between Israel and Hamas. I am going to stay non-political and express my feelings as a Jew, albeit not an Israeli citizen. I believe that the Jews in Israel should determine their choices and not be shouted at by Jews – and politicians - living in the comfort of America. Perhaps the best advice I can give to American Jewry is similar advice I give parents/in-laws to their children: open your check books and be quiet.  So too, when it comes to Israel, we Jews in America need to open our wallets/check books and give generously without any strings attached.

There are many opinions about the latest cease-fire, whether good or bad, too early or too late, and, as an additional aside, if it is actually worth anything at all. It is interesting to note that the typical dictionary definition of a cease-fire reads as follows: A cease-fire is a temporary suspension of fighting, typically one during which peace talks take place; a truce. In the current situation I do not believe there will be any peace talks. This is most likely  no more than a cessation of the rocket attacks from Gaza into Israel. True and lasting peace talks can exist only when there are two legitimate sides vying and positioning for a better end, demonstrating at least overt tolerance towards each other’s values and needs. The only position our enemy, in this case Hamas,  holds is to annihilate us and rid us from all of Israel.

In my view, shared by the written opinion of quite a few others,  it is utterly shocking how much influence the media has over people. Propaganda worked throughout the years prior to and during the Holocaust; unfortunately, such hate-riddled, time-warped propaganda continues to play a major – and dangerous - role today. Our enemy during this recent conflict is Hamas, yet the people of the world openly, by and large, view this terrorist organization an equal to Israel with full rights to ‘reclaim their land’ – defined by them as all of Israel. It’s important to remind ourselves that the United States does not engage formally with Hamas, which it has labeled a terror organization. The United States must rely on countries such as Egypt and Qatar to wield influence on the group. I am not sure statistically throughout history how many cease-fires have succeeded or failed in attaining a full-fledged peace,  but we all know that this cease-fire is only temporary. The word “peace” when it comes to Hamas, is a relative term. Peace is achieved by two sides agreeing to a future of non-hostility, by recognizing publicly a need to respect the existence and differences of each other. Hamas, by agreeing to this cease-fire, is using it as  an opportunity for a time-out. The question is for how long. The animosity and hatred that is embedded in Hamas and their cohorts of terror against Israel  can only be defeated in the short term with Hashem’s help. The long-term solution resides within our own ability.

Chazal, in several places throughout their teachings, note that only when when Klal Yisrael is at peace with itself will Hashem provide sanctuary and peace for His people and their land. When our hearts are dedicated to Hashem (in a sincere fashion, not just lip service) then Hashem will protect us. From the words describing Yaakov and Eisav of hearing the voice of Yaakov or the hands of Eisav, we see the value that Hashem puts on peace, placing His own name on the line. I would like to suggest that the real cease-fire is not in the hands of the United States, the European Union or the Arab states; it lies within the reach of us, the Jewish people,  as I will explain.

In this week’s parshas Nasso the Torah relates in Bamidbar 5:23 the law of Sotah. The procedure is described as follows: "וכתב את האלות האלה הכהן בספר, ומחה אל מי המרים"  “The priest shall then write these curses on a parchment, and dissolve [the writing] in the bitter waters”. The Rabbis taught that it was necessary to dissolve or erase the name of God so that peace can be achieved and brought between the two parties who were at odds with each other, namely the husband and the wife. HaKadosh Baruch Hu, The Holy One Blessed be He, orders that a book or scroll should be written with sanctity - containing His holy name -  only to be erased and dissolved in the bitter waters. The Mahara”l, Rabbi Yehuda Loewy, explains the Torah (Hashem) permitted the erasure of His name because it was specifically through the act of erasing Hashem’s name from the scroll that peace was attained between a husband and his wife. When there is peace between a man and his wife then the Shechina (God’s presence) is among them and resides in their home. This comes because of erasing Hashem’s name. In no way does this act push away the Shechina. To the contrary, it brings the Shechina back. True, the ineffable four-letter name of Hashem may be erased, but it is only being replaced by another one of God’s names – the name ‘Shalom’. Therefore, it is not necessarily an erasure but rather a joining together of another name of Hashem, a description of Shalom, which now firmly links the couple together.  

In life we sometimes need to erase things that we feel are sacrosanct and cannot be erased or done away with. We feel strongly about certain principles and laws that we cannot forego under any circumstances. This is particularly true when it comes to our views of Jews of different stripes.  We must accept that there are different strokes for different folks. Each of us feel things must be done our way or the highway. Tolerance – the ability to acknowledge the opinions of others who do not agree with ours – is too often lacking in our Jewish world. Jewish people collectively must come to the realization that people, especially Jews, do not always agree on everything. It is equally important to understand that we do not have to always agree with each other; we must respect and demonstrate tolerance towards each other. We must develop and hold dear to a deep and abiding mutual respect despite our differences. This sincere and mutual respect must exist in order to achieve a true Shalom bein Adam LaChaveiro: a true peace between man and his fellow man.  

By giving in or giving up something that we feel we cannot give up because it is too holy,  stop and think again about where true holiness comes from and where it needs to go. Clearly, when there is dissension within the ranks of the Jewish people, the Shechina will not enter to be a part of us. Perhaps when we give up something that demands from the other, choosing instead to create tolerance, deepening harmony, and finally genuine respect, then the Shechina will easily join everyone together.

The cease-fire must begin within our own families and within our Shuls/Synagogues. Within the Orthodox community, a ‘cease-fire’ – a giving in to the other -  needs to be the lead example. Once we can accomplish such inner growth and overt tolerance and respect, then we will be able to bridge the gap to the non- orthodox and or non-observant segments of the Jewish people , displaying a cease-fire through genuine tolerance and open recognition that we are all brothers and sisters of one family. Through this cease-fire, we will achieve true peace and have the name of (God) - Shalom - in every Jewish home here and in Israel, reaching the level of Shalom Al Yisrael!

Parshas Bamidbar/Shavuos - Solidarity with Am Yisrael 5 Sivan 5781

05/21/2021 11:02:59 AM

May21

One of the many delights of my job is the variety of people and daily issues I deal with.  Without getting into any details, the diversity of topics faced by a pulpit Rabbi ranges from marriage to divorce, birth to death, from laws of mourning to issues addressing education, policy making, kashrus, eruv, family guidance (for those who seek it out), giving of classes, teaching, community concerns and needs, Israel, and so much more. On any day I may receive several questions in one area, such as marriage, or focus on a variety of matters running the entire gamut previously mentioned. In a nutshell, life is never boring. Moreover, it gives me the opportunity to connect with everyone in the community and to hone in on the halacha and proper way the Torah instructs us to lead our lives. It is fascinating and eye-opening to deal with individuals asking unique questions from their distinctive worlds.

Part of what gets me so excited and intrigued on so many multidimensional issues of my vocation is the complex interaction this daily weaving of individual specific needs and concerns generates, linking every segment of Jewish life and the Jewish people. Obviously, no two Jews are alike, and everyone is in a different place and position in life, be it older or younger, single or with a family, older or younger children, different stages of learning, diverse levels of observance, and ultimately, a distinctive charting of their Judaism. With over a quarter century in the Rabbinate, this process has given me the ability to deepen and nurture my own learning and growth. Through this process my views and understanding of people in general - and Jews in particular - have evolved and matured. One size really does not fit all;  the identical question asked by two people separately will often receive two different answers. Hopefully, each will receive the correct answer, and the proper decision for each of the petitioners will be dealt with accordingly.  

We live in troubled times; the Jewish people are now facing complex geopolitical and accompanying antisemitic challenges as we speak and as I type. The diversity among the Jewish people is great and complex, and we struggle daily to address and repair the differences between us. Most recently ,however, as demonstrated in Operation Guardian of the Walls and the Meron tragedy, Jews from all walks of life put their differences aside and bound together as brothers and sisters should. Unfortunately, it takes a calamity to remind us of how close we really are to each other. Deep down we know and appreciate the value of every Jew, of how much each one of us means to the other. This is recognized by the parsha of the week we just read and the upcoming Yom Tov of Shavuos.

In this week’s Parshas Bamidbar 1:1 the Torah states "וידבר ה' אל משה במדבר סיני באהל מועד, באחד לחודש השני בשנה השנית לצאתם מארץ מצרים לאמר"   “God spoke to Moshe in the Sinai Desert, in the Communion Tent on the first [day] of the second month in the year of the Exodus, saying:” On this verse Rashi gives us an insight on how the Jewish people should value each other. Rashi writes,”… because of their love before Him, He numbers them every time. When they went forth from Egypt, He numbered them, and when they fell because of the sin of the Golden calf, He numbered them so as to ascertain the number of those who remained. And when He came to cause the Divine Presence to abide among them, He numbered them. On the first day of Nissan, the Tabernacle was erected, and on the first of Iyar He numbered them.” It was the love Hashem has for His people that He counted the Jews a number of times. Now it is true that when a person counts something, the goal is to get to the total number, but this total cannot be reached without everyone. It is the Yachid, the individual, that is the most important component of this count.  Hashem, by counting repeatedly, is demonstrating the importance of the individual over the group.   

This all may sound so unique, but in truth it is not. The notion of ‘one-hood’ stands out in the upcoming yom tov of Shavuos.  Klal Yisrael readied itself to receive the Torah. The Torah was given not only to the Klal - the group - but also to the Prat -the individual. The Jewish people gathered at Har Sinai and the passuk in Shmos 19:2 describes the scene:"ויסעו מרפידים ויבאו מדבר סיני ויחנו במדבר, ויחן שם ישראל נגד ההר"   “They had departed from Rephidim and had arrived in the Sinai Desert, camping in the wilderness; Israel camped opposite the mountain”.  Despite the obvious, that the entire Jewish people were there gathered around the mountain, the Torah sneaks in the word encamped in the singular. Rashi’s famous explanation "כאיש אחד בלב אחד"  . The singular of vayichan is to be interpreted as one man with one heart. The heart does not necessarily mean the physical meaning of heart but rather the singular meaning of one mind set. Rashi concludes with, “but all the other encampments were with complaints and with strife”.

What does the ‘one mind set’ really mean? I would like to suggest “one mind set’ means we all think in the same terms; that while each of us is unique, we accept and respect each other for our differences. ‘One mind set’ does not mean we all must think the same way or even practice the same way. Practically speaking, how do we get to this realization that the mind set must be to respect and accept each other as a starting platform? The answer goes back to what I said earlier -  at times of trouble we forget our differences and appreciate our similarities. To accomplish depth of respect and commitment to each other, we need to strengthen and reinforce the ahava, the love for each other. We must move beyond mere lip service, we need to create settings where we see our fellow Jews not as distant or removed, different from ourselves, but rather as close to us, as our brothers and sisters.

The Yom Tov of Shavuos and Parshas Bamidbar could not come at a better time. The combination of recognizing the importance of every Jew, bringing each of them together under one banner, is essential to strengthen us as truly One People. Let us practice tolerance for our fellow Jew and unite in appreciating everyone’s individual contribution. There are numerous examples in the Torah describing how effective we are joining individual- to- individual to make up the Tzibbur.  Let us use the counting of every Jew and the Yom Tov of Shavuos to demonstrate and re-enact the time of Har Sinai. Let us stand together today under one banner just as Klal Yisrael did at the base of Har Sinai 3333 years ago.

 

Ah Gutten Shabbos & Ah Gutten Yom Tov

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

 

Raising a Community, a Family and Ourselves along with Developing a Torah Personality can be purchased by clicking here via my author page at Mosaica Press.

Parshas B'Har/B'Chukosai - Re-Reading a Book       25 Iyar 5781

05/07/2021 11:10:39 AM

May7

One of the most annoying but perhaps hugely beneficial phrases I have heard was repeatedly recited during my elementary and high school years. While passing out tests, my teachers always told us to  ”Make sure you go over, review, and check your work.” This phrase stood as a constant reminder to us that once you handed in your paper there was no way you could ask for it back should you remember something later. The annoying part in elementary school was that after we handed in our test, we could do other work, read, or do anything else so long as we were quiet. In high school, the entire period was dedicated to taking the exam and therefore once we handed in the exam we could leave. This was especially tempting if it happened to be the period before gym, or better yet, the last period of the day. It never dawned upon me until recently that I was usually the first one to finish and never bothered looking any test over, while the smartest guys in the class held onto their exams until the very last minute. I am not sure if they became smarter because they went over their work, or they were just smart and knew that it was beneficial for them to review if they had the time. I would guess it was probably a combination of the two; I had neither. (They may have had a higher GPA, but I had a better shooting-from-the-floor percentage.)      

Review, in general, is possibly the most effective method of learning, not only about retention but also helped to gain clarity and a deeper understanding of the material. One of my Rabbeim in Israel, Rabbi Liff, always reminded us of his Rebbi, Reb Chaim Shmuelevitz’s  (famed Rosh Yeshiva of the Mirrer Yeshiva in Yerushalayim) slogan “aoyb ikh hat nisht barikhtn, es s vi aoyb ikh keynmol gelernt” -  loosely translated:  ”Im Nishta Chazird Nisht ke Learnt”. If you do not review, it is as though you never learned it in the first place.  At the top of every page of Gemara/the Talmud there are four wider lines of Rashi and Tosafos which serve as a hint to review at least four times. The Gemara in Pesachim 72a says, "One, who reviews a subject 40 times, is guaranteed it will be rooted in his memory as if it were placed in his pocket." The Mishna Brura 114:41 says, "Reviewing one’s studies 101 times ensures that they will not be forgotten. The Gemara Chagiga 9b teaches us that you cannot compare reviewing something one hundred times to one hundred one times.

Why is it necessary to emphasize the concept of review repeatedly? The answer lies in the fact that review is one of the major keys to success. If that is the case, why is it so challenging? The answer is nothing short of common sense; review is boring. We think we know this material already. Learning something new for the first time is exciting and desirable; it’s new knowledge for us to gain. Review, on the other hand, does not give us that same push or drive because we think we know it; it is old. Yet the oldest book in history is one that we review over and over again every year: the Torah. The reason we do so without complaining is because it clearly does teach us something new each time. But that lesson should carry forward to any type of study and review.  

Unfortunately for me, bad habits don’t die young. Fast forward from my school days to today, I still do not review things as much as I should. This reality, or better yet nightmare of having to “go over, review, and check my work”, reared its ugly head a few months ago. I had been working on a second book and there is an editing process that seems to never end. In essence, I am constantly reviewing the same material, looking for errors and omissions. The process has taken over two years and some of the material was almost outdated. It was during the final review that I read something that needed to be re-written in order to make it current.  Surely today we read books or watch movies that are not current and clearly not as interesting. By reviewing, I was able to catch one of those outdated messages and bring it up to speed. This, of course, is all necessary because I am human, and to err is human. The Torah, on the other hand, is immutable and therefore will never have this problem. The Author of the Torah wrote it for all time, only as God can do: no mistakes, no errors, no omissions, and no rewriting will ever be necessary. This lesson itself is found in the Torah.

In this week’s Parshios of B’Har and B’Chukosai the Torah describes in Vayikra 25 verses 25-34 the redemption of land from a Jew who ran into financial difficulty and therefore needs to sell his land in Israel. This applies not only to the redemption of land but to repossessing houses in walled cities that a man was forced to sell when he became destitute. While the laws of redemption vary if a house is in a walled city or an open field, in each scenario there exists the ability to reclaim the land within a certain time frame, thereby allowing the individual to return to his ancestral property. Why is it so necessary to retain the same piece of land? Why can’t he or his close relative just buy a different piece of land? I would suggest - with some literary license (Jewish drush) - that a person knows his land. He knows the land that he worked on previously and going back to it will yield a better product overall.  By working his old land, he will be doing Chazara/review on something he has already studied. He knows it thoroughly and does not need to learn it anew.

This week we conclude the book of Vayikra, and as per the custom for the completion of every Sefer, we call out the words “Chazak, Chazak, V’NisChazeik”. When we review and learn the Torah over again, it ultimately gives more and more strength. The introduction to Mesilas Yesharim, ‘Path of the Just’, tells us ”He [the author] is not coming to teach us anything new. Rather he comes to review those things we already know.” We are familiar with the notion that an angel comes to teach the entire Torah to a baby in utero, and legend has it the Malach touches the baby on top of the lips and the baby forgets all the Torah which had been learned. If that is the case, why learn it in the first place? The answer is straightforward: once something was learned it is easier to relearn it the next time.

To you, my readership, you may readily see that my messages do not contain some incredible new ideas. I choose, instead, to take the ideas, the concepts, and scenarios of everyday life and through them remind us all how to view them from a Torah perspective. Thoughts and ideas are not merely the things that you all know; by packaging them in a unique and different way, by presenting them from a different angle or perspective, it helps us to see, to focus with new insight. It is a Chazara/review of important lessons which help and guide us as we live our lives, which, in turn, help our families grow,  and ultimately strengthen our community. Therefore, it is with great thanks to Hashem, and my personal joy that I announce a Chazak Chazak for the publication of my new book Raising a Community, a Family, and Ourselves. Wishing you all continued growth, strength, and ever-deepening chochma/wisdom as we continue to grow together.……..

 

Raising a Community, a Family and Ourselves along with Developing a Torah Personality can be purchased by clicking here via my author page at Mosaica Press.

Parshas Emor - Don't let our Differences Divide us, let them Unite us!            17 Iyar 5781

04/29/2021 10:10:11 AM

Apr29

This Dvar Torah is in honor of Shmuel Yaakov Eden on his Bar Mitzva Parshas Emor!

A few weeks ago, while attending a wedding, I struck up a conversation with another guest whom I did not know. He shared a question with me and proceeded to propose an answer.  The question: Which is the correct version of counting the omer – "yamim la’omer" or "yamim ba’omer? Is there a content difference or only a grammatical one between them? I think we can all agree there is no shortage of opinions and answers when discussing Jewish practice and halacha. Halacha itself has a wide range of biblical and rabbinical commandments, complimented by decrees, enactments, and the accompanying variety of customs – some of which are pretty funky. There are some customs where Jews will accuse each other of being a heretic for not practicing specific halachas as they do, while there are others who throw their hands up in the air and say to each other, ”Who cares! Does it really make a difference?” I will illustrate this with two customs that occur relatively at the same time - only one day apart. On Pesach, some eat gebrokts (soaked matzah), whiles others do not eat gebrokts. Some go to the extreme of not even placing matzah on the table for fear it might get wet and become chometz. Others label this concern insignificant. This relates back to the question posed by my new acquaintance -  pronunciation when counting the Omer: is it Ba’Omer or La’Omer? Before we delve into that battle, let us understand the essence of the Mitzva of the Omer.

In this week’s parshas Emor the Torah states in Vayikra 23:15 "וספרתם לכם ממחרת השבת מיום הביאכם את עומר התנופה, שבע שבתות תמימת תהיינה"  “You shall count seven complete weeks after the day following the [Passover] holiday when you brought the omer as a wave offering”.  Omer is the measurement of barley brought as a korban on the second day of Pesach; it is the accepted rabbinic parlance when referring to the korban. The measure of the Omer was 1/10 of an Ephah. A Biblical Ephah is approximately ninety-three cups of dry US flour. The Omer, therefore, came out to be 9.3 cups of dry flour. The ‘counting’ of the omer, is just that. A mitzva to count 49 days starts on the day the korban ha’omer is offered. Somewhat separate from the Korban Omer (offered specifically one time on the 16th of Nissan) and the subsequent counting of 49 days towards Shavuos, is the mourning period for the death of Rebbi Akiva’s twenty-four thousand students. There is a machlokes (a debate) whether in our times, when there is no korban ha’omer, the mitzva of sefiras (the counting of) ha’omer is Torah law or Rabbinic (see Beis Yosef, Orach Chayim 489).

Getting back to the original question of la’omer or ba’omer, as I mentioned earlier, the risk factor of saying the wrong thing is exceptionally low. The Mishna Brura O.C. 489:8 explains that even if one leaves out the word entirely, the counting is valid, and it seems that even if the word were needed, both versions are similar enough to be valid. There are many authorities, both the rishonim (literally ‘the first ones’ - the leading rabbis and poskim who lived from the 11th to the 15th centuries)and the acharonim (the "last ones" – the leading rabbis and poskim living since the writing of the Shulchan Aruch – Code of Jewish Law – in 1563 to today, who fall on both sides of the coin. So… what more can we learn from this mitzva of Omer? Every Mitzva has the directions or the ‘how to’ perform the mitzva. Furthermore, I believe every Mitzva contains a message of a different dimension. In this case, my new friend suggested that the Omer is viewed as one long - or one whole mitzva - while others view each day independent of the other. Ba’Omer means "in or within the period of the omer, reflecting on just that one day". La’omer can mean "from the time of the offering of the korban omer or to the end of the counting. The former is more current on the day while the latter speaks more in terms of the totality of days. My new friend brought an interesting proof regarding his opinion that BaOmer is more correct. When it comes to the thirty-third day (this Friday), we do not say Lag La’Omer, rather Lag Ba’Omer. The fact we say Ba’Omer is because it specifically is referencing that one day of Lag, meaning thirty-three. In truth, we could say both forms are valid depending upon our intentions: are we speaking about a specific day or are we referring to the entire Omer period in general. The specific day is seen as the ‘prat’-  the individual, while the La’Omer is the Klal, or the general.

The ‘prat’, or individual day, is represented by the individual Jew, while the Klal, or general, represents the whole of the Jewish people, hence the wording ‘Klal Yisrael is not just a group; it is the totality of the Jewish people. Klal Yisrael is the sum of all the parts. Without the parts there is no whole, and without the whole we are just parts.

The Jewish people have both dimensions: we are individuals, and as individuals we each join to make up the Klal. The magnitude of this viewpoint is the subtleness of when we do this counting… the days of mourning for Rebbi Akiva’s students. The Gemorah in Yevamos 62b brings down this story. It was said that Rabbi Akiva had 12,000 pairs of disciples. All of them died during the same time period because they did not treat each other with respect. The world remained desolate until Rabbi Akiva came to our Masters in the South and taught the Torah to them. These were Rabbi Meir, Rabbi Yehuda, Rabbi Yosi, Rabbi Shimon and Rabbi Elazar ben Shammua;  it was these Rabbeim who revived the Torah at that time. A Tanna taught: "All of them (the 24,000 students of Rabbi Akiva) died between Passover and Shavuot". Rabbi Chama ben Abba or, it might be said, Rabbi Chiya ben Avin said: "All of them died a cruel death." What was it? Rabbi Nachman replied: "Croup." The Talmud speaks of 12,000 "pairs" of students and not of 24,000, ostensibly to stress the lack of unity of which they were guilty.  

The lesson to remember every day we count the Omer is the importance of every individual and the Klal - the entire group. It is no coincidence the death of the students who did not show proper respect to his individual study partner died during the days of the omer. Interpreted to represent both the individual and the Klal. The counting of the omer gives us an opportunity to work on our middos and character, of Bein Adam LaChaveiro. As the Omer is described in the parsha amongst the festivals of the year, it will be that when we act appropriately, when we practice Bein Adam LaChaveiro, the Yomim Tovim and festival cycle and observance will once again take place in the Beis HaMikdash. Then, the Omer offering will be brought, and the counting of the Omer will once again be biblical according to all opinions. On the question of La’Omer or Ba’ Omer, we still may have a difference of opinion, but we all respect that difference.  

Have a Spiritual Lag Ba'Omer & Ah Gutten Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

 

Parshas Acharei Mos/Kedoshim - Living Jewish or Jewish Living       10 Iyar 5781

04/23/2021 09:10:17 AM

Apr23

This Dvar Torah is L'Ilui Nishmas IMO Yehuda Leib Ben Yehoshua Heshel Bogopulsky z"l on his Yahrzeit 10 Iyar 

There is an old Yiddish expression “Shver tsu zayn ah Yid”: “It's hard to be a Jew”. This expression, or figure of speech, was used in a 1920 Yiddish-language comedy written by Sholom Aleichem about the difficulties dealing with Jewish-Gentile relationships in the Russian Empire. Throughout Eastern Europe, this expression was well known to every Yiddish-speaking Jew -  for good reason. Jews were routinely marginalized and discriminated against—if not flat-out persecuted—throughout every European country. In the United States this phrase took on a different slant, to the effect that in America it is difficult to be an observant, practicing Jew. At first, this was due to the rigors of obtaining the amenities and affordability to be an observant Jew. But in today’s day and age, it is more about the difficulties and downright interference of simply living the American lifestyle.

Too often people tend to contemplate the difficulties of being a Jew, frequently relating these difficulties to the Mitzvos/commandments that are forced upon them. There are many such Mitzvos which are commonly perceived as invasions to a person’s lifestyle - such as keeping kosher in and out of the home, observing Shabbos and the laws of family purity,  to name only a few. I would bet most people feel these difficulties primarily centered around Mitzvos between man and God. Those Mitzvos I mentioned earlier are prime examples of commandments that do not affect interpersonal relationships. Overall, people do not associate the principle of “Shver tsu zayn ah Yid” with the Mitzvos Bein Adam LaChaveiro, - the Mitzvos between man and man. ”Surely”, most would emphatically state, “we act appropriately with people.” Regrettably, this is the farthest thing from the truth; it is just as difficult, if not more so, to fully observe the laws between man and our fellow man. I believe that we, the Jewish People, do not comprehend the significance of the Mitzvos between man and man due to the influence of the secular world around us. It is rare to find a gentile who would be able to conceive some of the unique Mitzvos Hashem gave us. For example, one would think that it is fair to charge interest when loaning someone money. The money that I am giving as a loan will no longer be able to generate more income for myself, so why not at least recoup some of that potential loss? If someone wronged me, why couldn’t I take revenge to get even, wouldn’t that be fair? Who would not think it is a good idea to give special consideration to the poor? These, and countless other interactions among people, are everyday situations that the non-Jewish world is not commanded to observe, and yet we, the Jewish people, are required to adhere to all of them. Each member of the society in which we live plays a major part in our lives, influencing us greatly.  Therefore, each of the commandments affecting our interpersonal relationships – the commandments between man and man – prove throughout our lives to be both difficult and challenging.

In this week’s Parshios Acharei Mos/Kedoshim the Torah states in Vayikra 19:15 "לא תעשו עול במשפט לא תשא פני דל ולא תהדר פני גדול, בצדק תשפט עמיתך"   “Do not pervert justice. Do not give special consideration to the poor nor show respect. Judge your people fairly”. Rashi interprets the words ‘Judge your people fairly’ according to the plain meaning. There is, however, another interpretation regarding this line.  It reads: "הוי דן את חברך לכף זכות" Judge your fellowman in the scale of merit.”  I heard a remarkable new understanding of this concept. Being “Dan L’Kaf Zchus” - giving someone the benefit of the doubt - is not, L’Chatchila, done in the best possible way or occurring at the beginning, at first, initially. Rather, L’Chatchila, you should mind your own business. But, B’Dieved (in retrospect), you were judging somebody in a certain situation, and you should not have done so; therefore, at least now you need to judge that person favorably.  The reason we need to judge favorably is clear and basic: Who are we to judge at all! God is the only ‘Judge’ to whom a person ultimately answers, and this seems to be something we tend to forget about all the time.

This lesson of not judging and, of even greater import, understanding why we should not judge, can be taken to another level of appreciation. In Vayikra 19:3 the Torah states: "איש אמו ואביו תיראו ואת שבתתי תשמרו, אני ה' אלקיכם"  “Every person must respect his mother and father and keep my Sabbaths. I am God your Lord”. The Gemara Kiddushin 31 asks how do we show reverence or what constitutes ‘Morah’? The Gemara answers, ”He [the son] shall not sit in his [the father’s] place, nor speak in his place, nor contradict his words.” This Gemara is commenting on the ‘why’ when speaking of honoring a parent. The Torah concludes with, ‘I am Hashem your God’. Both you [the children] and your parents are obligated to honor Me. Therefore, do not listen to him [your father] to void My words. Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter, also known by the title of his main work, the Sfas Emes, writes in his maamar of 1871 that this line is a hint by Hashem that we, the children, should not sit in the place of our father….our Father in Heaven! The Zohar HaKadosh writes that Hashem is the Father of the Jewish people. Hashem is telling us not to sit in His place.

In the words of Kedusha, the angels call out how Holy Hashem is, and that He fills the world with His honor. Hashem’s honor reigns throughout the world; we need to be careful where we sit - definitely not in God’s chair and place. The message is that we need to stop trying to run the world. Hashem is commanding us not to sit in His place and try to run the world. Why are we agitating, fooling ourselves to believe that by doing this or that we will be saved? Rather, we need to just do our Hishtadlus, our effort, and just sit back and comment as a devout Jew would say, ‘a Jew ought to allow himself to be led by Hashem’. The subtle reminder that ‘Hashem/ God runs the world’ is also learned out from the few key words in the verse ‘and keep My Sabbaths’. The declaration of Shabbos makes it clear that in six days God created the world and on the seventh day He rested. This expresses His kingdom.; it is Shabbos testifies that Hashem is the Creator of the world and runs and sustains all.

The phrase “shver tsu zayn ah Yid” – “It's Hard to be a Jew” caused great damage, pushing away an entire generation of those ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ stereotypical Jews from Judaism. I believe it was Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l who told parents to be careful of the message your children are getting from you when they hear you say those sighing, woeful words.  To summarize, I would like to rephrase that famous old Yiddish expression and say, “Shver tsu zayn ah Yid Ahn Gut” It's Hard to be a Jew without God”. If we connect our existence to remembering who is really running the show, then it will be much easier, and actually deeply fulfilling, to be a God-fearing observant and dedicated Jew!    

Ah Gutten Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

 

Parshas Tazria/Metzora - Eretz Yisroel-There's No Place Like Home         3 Iyar 5781 

04/15/2021 09:57:39 AM

Apr15

On May 14, 1948, just a little over three years since the Holocaust came to an end, the State of Israel was officially declared; on May 11, 1949, The United Nations General Assembly admitted Israel to membership in the UN by a vote of 37-12. The delegations of the six Arab countries (Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Yemen) walked out of the Assembly Hall in protest. The UN vote recognizing the State of Israel miraculously occurred. Unfortunately, only a short seventy-two and seventy-three years later, the Holocaust is either being openly denied, or perhaps worse, commended throughout the world. The State of Israel, which in 1948 did not have complete support from the world, now faces challenges even from those who supported it then. Today, despite Israel’s contributions to the world and being recognized as a beacon of democracy throughout the Middle East, continuously faces calls for its destruction and, again, maybe worse - is attacked and labeled as a racist and oppressive country.

Within a span of nine days many Jews throughout the world annually commemorate Yom Hashoah, Yom Hazikaron - Israel Memorial Day, and celebrate Yom HaAtzmaut, Israel’s day of Independence.  I carefully worded the fact that many but not all Jews observe these specific days. There are many Halachik reasons and arguments on both sides regarding the observance of these days. I will not divert into any of those discussions, choosing instead to focus on one word that connects all of these events: ‘Kodesh’- Holy - the same word that connects the Jewish people to Hashem. The Jews who were murdered during the Holocaust ALL died Al Kiddush Hashem, sanctifying God’s name for the mere fact that they were killed because they were Jewish. Additionally, each and every oneof the men and women who died while in the Armed Forces defending Eretz Yisroel all died Al Kiddush Hashem.  Each of the victims of terror who were murdered in Eretz Yisroel by terrorists ALL died Al Kiddush Hashem. The land of Israel is called ‘Eretz HaKedosha” - the Holy land.       

In a pre-Pesach article, I mentioned a few points from a discussion I heard from my Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Wein. Rabbi Wein told us of a custom which he continues to practice - the insistence on drinking wine from Israel at the Seder. At that point he maintained a continuation of the story of Yetzias Mitzrayim with the Jewish people headed to the land of their forefathers.

Today, some three thousand years after the exodus from Egypt, the Jewish people are once again entering and populating the Holy land of Israel. Many have heard that Israel is known as the ‘Start Up Nation’. Israel is a leader in so many products ranging from medicine, science, technology, food, beverages, and more. Israel has become the center of Jewish life and affords the comfort of being a Jew with all the amenities and fewer distractions than other places in the free world. Yet there seems to be a tendency for so many Jews to travel to other destinations rather than visiting  Israel.

We need to be aware of the importance of not only supporting Israel by purchasing Israeli products because to do so helps Israel’s economy,  but because things that come from the Holy Land are holy. But how did the founders of modern-day Zionism view Eretz Yisrael? In 1903, Theodore Herzl presented a plan referred to as The Uganda Scheme  to the Sixth Zionist Congress in Basel. It proposed the idea of creating a Jewish homeland in a portion of British-controlled East Africa. Herzl presented the plan as a temporary refuge for Jews to escape rising antisemitism in Europe. At the Congress the proposal met stiff resistance.  

To contrast this, one needs to read about how the religious leaders and great Rabbonim characterized Eretz Yisrael. An interesting source from the ערוך השלחן (Aruch HaShulchan}, written by Rav Yechiel Michel Epstein, came across one of my chat groups.  The Aruch HaShulchan first printed in 1884, many years prior to the establishment of the State of Israel in Eretz Yisrael. I mention the year to juxtapose the current events at that time, only nineteen years before the sixth Zionist Congress. Just as Rabbi Wein mentioned using Israeli wine at his seder, the Aruch HaShulchan wrote an important and eye-opening halacha on the mitzva of lulav and esrog. Rav Epstein wrote about the esrogim that were grown in the Carpathian Mountains and other surrounding regions, explaining that most were possibly grafted since the majority of the orchards were run by non-Jews.  Due to the great distances of the locations of these orchards, rabbis could only make occasional inspections of the esrogim to assure that they were not grafted and therefore approved for religious use.

Rav Epstein writes in Orach Chaim 648:29 as follows:

ולפי זה אין לנו שום היתר על אתרוגים, רק אותם שישראלים מעידים שיודעים הנטיעות מתחילתן, שאין בהם שום הרכבה. כמו אתרוגי ארצינו הקדושה, שבשם גדולי ישראל, ותלמידי חכמים, ויראי אלקים משגיחים על הגינות, שלא יהיה בהן שום הרכבה. אבל לאתרוגי קורפ"ו – אין שום היתר, אף בההכשרים שלהם, שידוע לכל שישראל מעטים שם, וכבושים תחת ידם, ויראתם על פניהם. ואיך ידעו מה שעושים על פני השדה בגינותיהם ובכרמיהם, אם ירכיבו אם לאו?ושמא תאמר: הרי אינם חשודים להכשיל רק מה שיש להם טובת הנאה, כמבואר ביורה דעה סימן קיח? איברא דזה יש להם טובת הנאה רבה, דידוע דכל מורכב גדל ממנו פירי יפה, וכל שאינו מורכב – הפירי אינה יפה. ובכל הפירות כן הוא. ואדרבא תקונם של אתרוגי קורפ"ו זה הוא קלקולם, דבאמת הם יפים מאד ואין דומה להם, וזהו מפני הרכבתם. ולכן כל איש מישראל אשר נגע יראת ד' בלבו – לא יקח רק אתרוגי ארץ ישראל. ואיך לא נבוש ולא נכלם בדבר מצוה שנוכל לקיימה מפרי ארצנו הקדושה, ליטול דווקא מארץ העמים? אוי לה לאותה בושה, אוי לה לאותה כלימה! ועל זה נאמר: "וימאסו בארץ חמדה". ולכן יש ליזהר בזה מאד מאד. (גם הלבוש, והמגן אברהם סוף סימן זה, והט"ז בסימן הבא – פסלום.)

(The following is a translation of the section in bold) “Therefore, every Jew who has a fear of Heaven in his heart – should only take an Esrog from Eretz Yisrael. And how is it that there is no shame and humiliation, with the ability to fulfill the Mitzva with a fruit from Our Holy Land, and instead specifically take from a foreign land? Woe to that shame, woe to that humiliation! Upon this the verse in Tehilim 106:24 states “And they despised the desirable land…”. Therefore, one should be very, very careful in these matters”.

There are many ways to show our love, affection, and dedication to Eretz Yisrael. Whether buying Dead Sea spa products, Tefilin, or Bamba, these purchases not only support the Israeli economy; they connect us to Eretz Yisrael. Every Friday night I offer Osem soup nuts and I remark, ”Who wants a taste of Eretz Yisrael?” Our diet both physically and spiritually should be nourished through Eretz Yisrael. We should all merit to live, breathe and walk the length and breadth of Eretz Yisrael as our forefather Avraham Avinu did when he was promised the Land from Hashem for his children in future generations.  

 

Ah Gutten Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas Shmini - The Defining Moment          26 Nissan 5781

04/08/2021 02:47:08 PM

Apr8

Well, I made it, Boruch Hashem! The last time was in March of 2020 that I did something at least three or four times a year which lasted from three to twenty-five hours each time. To tell you the truth, I was a bit anxious, nervous, and uncertain as to how I was going to actually get this done. These are just a few of descriptive phrases which attempt to describe my first air flight in over a year since the pandemic changed our lives. As you may know through some of my other writings,  I do not travel well. I have a severe degree of airsickness which periodically causes me to lose consciousness by passing out. I faced this upcoming trip with a confluent concern: getting back into flying and dealing with that entire experience now compounded by wearing a mask. Although my mask-wearing experience has not been a problem, I have tended not to wear a mask since receiving the second vaccine. However, wearing masks are mandated by Federal law in all airports and on all planes – no exceptions. Everyone must wear a mask throughout the hours of travel. This makes any long-distance flight a bit uncomfortable; there is no place to turn for a breath of fresh air. As a Jew I feel an extra pressure to not only be compliant but extra cautious to avoid a Chilul Hashem. 

When booking tickets, we chose to fly the red eye, hoping that some of the restrictions regarding mask-wearing would be relaxed once the lights were turned off and there was less activity in the aisle. The irony of this is that in the airport seating is spread out by blocking out every other seat. Initially, when air travel resumed, airlines boasted that all the middle seats would be blocked due to concern for safety and health measures. Well, the overnight flight we booked was cancelled and we were booked  on a daytime flight that was totally packed – there was not a single empty seat on the plane. When it comes to the airline making money, they can compromise on our safety by no longer having even a slight degree of separation so long as everyone abides by the mask-wearing requirement. Now do not get me wrong, I do believe masks make all the difference, but guidelines and enforcement need to be handled with more seichel.

And so, yes, the world has changed, and we need to go along and change with it. After 9/11 the world changed, and we adapted to the resulting new requirements. Today, those requirements, which were so burdensome when implemented, are today  part and parcel of our culture. An entire generation has grown up not knowing what life was like before 9/11. Sad as it is, a generation of children will grow up with mask-wearing for the foreseeable future, and adults will adapt one way or another depending upon where and what the local culture and laws demand. Change is part of our existence. It has occurred throughout the past 5781 years and will continue to occur so long as we humans inhabit this planet.  To be successful, we need to adapt to each new reality. Sometimes the changes are gradual; other times change is an instantaneous jolt. 9/11 and this Covid pandemic are examples of how lives become turbulently reshaped in a flash.

Many of our electronic utensils - refrigerators, air conditioners, washers, dryers, and so forth, come equipped with filters that eventually need to be changed. Filter changes give new life and extend the productivity of the appliance. We human beings filter the situations of life on a constant basis. Sometimes, to be productive and not break down, we also need to change our "filters". It takes time and effort to accomplish this filtration,  but in the long run (and even in the short run) such adaptation or change brings stability, focus, and the personal strength necessary to successfully navigate life.

 

There are defining moments in life. We find in the Torah examples of people and Mitzvos  which are defined by a single instance of dramatic change. Whether it be an Akeidas Yitzchok, Moshe throwing down and smashing the Luchos, or the spies returning with a skewed view of Eretz Yisrael, life changed instantly for those who witnessed these events. But there are other more subtle indications in the Torah regarding how things are dramatically altered for better or for worse, causing lifelong change to those affected.
 

In this week's Parsha Shmini, the Torah states in Vayikra 11:46 (the very last passuk of the parsha) "להבדיל בין הטמא ובין הטהור, ובין החיה הנאכלת ובין החיה אשר לא תאכל"  “With this law, you will be able to distinguish between the unclean and the clean, between edible animals and animals which may not be eaten”. Let’s learn Rashi: בין הטמא ובין הטהר. צָרִיךְ לוֹמַר בֵּין חֲמוֹר לְפָרָה, וַהֲלֹא כְבָר מְפֹרָשִׁים הֵם? אֶלָּא בֵּין טְמֵאָה לְךָ לִטְהוֹרָה לְךָ — בֵּין נִשְׁחַט חֶצְיוֹ שֶׁל קָנֶה לְנִשְׁחַט רֻבּוֹ: ‎הטהור‎‎ בין הטמא ‎ובין‎ BETWEEN THE UNCLEAN AND THE CLEAN — Is it necessary to say that one should understand to distinguish between the donkey and the cow? Have they not already been closely defined as to their distinguishing characteristics? But the meaning is that you should thoroughly understand how to distinguish between what is unclean for you and what is clean for you* -  between what is forbidden and what is permitted to you; between the case of an animal whose windpipe was only half cut through by the knife, and the case when the greater part has been cut through (in the former case the animal is forbidden, in the latter it is permitted as food) (Sifra, Shemini, Chapter 12 7). *The Sifsei Chachamim explains the “the unclean” is caused by your actions, and “clean to you” is based upon your actions. This means that even if you have a kosher species animal, you determine by shechting it whether it will be “kosher” for you or not. The Ramban writes of how much difference  there is between “the greater part” and the case regarding cutting through  only half of the windpipe The difference is only a hair’s breadth.

But the defining comment (Which is really a moment without the letter c.) on this passuk is that even though up until the very last moment when the knife cuts through the pipes, this animal is forbidden because it is still alive. There is a prohibition of eating from a live animal. As soon as the knife passes though, at that split second, the animal automatically becomes pure and clean to eat.

 The name given to the knife used for ritual slaughtering is “chalif” which means ‘to change’. It is through this instrument - in less than a fraction of a second -which causes the animal to  ‘change’ from unclean to clean, from non-kosher to kosher. The laws of kashruth, according to Rav Hirsch, are not for bodily health; they are given to us by God to protect the moral integrity of our souls. Our lives are with these “moments” of change, transforming us for better or for worse; for good or for bad. Regardless of the results, we must continue to move forward, to power through these changes. Our focus must remain focused on recognizing these changes as they occur, filtering the decision-making process so as  to make positive change in our lives. Just as schechita must happen instantaneously, so too change occurs often without warning. When Covid attacked the world all of us were dramatically affected.  We all have changed. The question one needs to ask is ”Do you want to move on from the past or continue to live a life of stagnation, a life which resists moving forward?”

Ah Gutten Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas Tzav/Pesach - The Seder, Putting your Life in Order!!!            12 Nissan 5781

03/25/2021 11:46:53 AM

Mar25

This year will mark the three thousand, three hundred, thirty-third time that the Jewish people will be celebrating Pesach, the exodus from slavery. The history of the Jews is evidence to our eternity as a people, and Jewish history is the history of all mankind. One major secret to our continued existence and ability to survive has been the transmission of Torah from generation to generation. If the Jew fulfills the directive of ושננתם לבניך   - to teach our children, we will continue thriving until the end of time. Unfortunately, for some that teaching and the accompanying chain has been severed. The results, therefore, are no surprise: their children have become part of the eighty percent who died during the plague of darkness and did not merit to leave Egypt.

Please take note, mainstream commentaries explain the reason the Jews died while it was dark is because the Egyptians should not be able to say Hashem is killing his own people, not only us. I would suggest the Jews perished during the plague of Choshech/darkness not only in the literal sense but also figuratively; they died a religious death and were no longer interested in being Jewish, choosing instead to assimilate into Egyptian culture. To ensure that the transmission is successful, we need to actively teach our children, both in both mind and action, not only teaching Torah, but role modeling it as well. We must act as we preach; actions do, indeed, speak louder than words. There is no better opportunity to reset our life and goals for our family and ourselves than Pesach.

Although the Torah commands a father to teach his children Torah, there exists the concept of a “Shaliach”, a messenger for many mitzvos. Teaching Torah to our children is not an exception. In today’s society, children primarily are taught in a school system. Even in a “home schooling” situation, it is someone else who does most of the teaching.  Nevertheless, Chaza”l direct us מצוה בו יותר מבשלוחו  it is a greater to do a Mitzva yourself than through a messenger. Pesach is the time when we can learn from others and still maintain the obligation of teaching and transmitting the most basic and essential messages for our family’s future.

No matter how old a person is, he still learns from others, particularly when such learning is available from his or her Rebbi. I participated in a zoom session with my Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Berel Wein, who gave over to us (his children) some key points and takeaways of the most important things to discuss at the seder. I will share these priceless points so that you, too, can implement them, crafting an atmosphere that will leave an indelible impression on our families for years to come, transmitting something they will cherish and pass on to the next generation.

The Pesach seder is meant to be an experience for children. We are celebrating Cheirus, which means freedom. It should not be torture or an experience they want to forget about. They should be free to enjoy and be free of criticism, allowing them the liberty to be the stars of the show while the adults (of course choreographing behind the scenes) should be the audience, demonstrating accolades and woo hoos for the participants. Children should feel their own freedom, and as they mature they will come to appreciate the concept that every Jew needs to feel as if they, too, left Mitzrayim.

Kids look forward to certain events throughout the year, such as a special birthday party. We should make our seder look and feel like a fantastic birthday party for kids. It needs to be fun and active.  No child falls asleep or is bored at their own birthday party. This seder/party is filled with goodies, a game of hiding the afikomen and even a promised present during Chol HaMoed. Most of us enjoy participating in being given a chance to star or take on a great part. We should make it so for the children. If they view the seder as a party, they will look forward to next year’s seder throughout the year. Eventually, as they grow and mature, they will appreciate the story and the Torah that is involved in the story of the Jewish people.

The participants at the seder must appreciate the words אשרינו מה טוב חלקינו, ומה נעים גורלנו, ומה יפה ירושתנו Ashreinu Mah Tov Chelkeinu, Umah Naim Goraleinu, Umah Yafa Yerushateinu: How good is our portion, how pleasant our lot, and how beautiful our heritage! We cannot overstate it enough to relate the benefit and beauty that we have the Torah and the way of life as a Jew. Our inheritance is something we received and will give over to our children. We must feel it to effectively transmit it.Whenf children smell our lack of the above, they will sever this bond as soon as they grow up, (even a little) cutting the connection.  

An integral part of the seder is not only mentioning where we left, but almost equally important, where we were going. Our homeland is Eretz Yisrael, and we need to explain, teach and demonstrate our Ahavas  Eretz Yisrael, our love of the Land of Israel. I will always be thankful to the country we have so graciously been a part of, but I will not be apologetic to say we are only visitors and guests here in America. Rabbi Wein has a custom to drink wine specifically made in Israel. Sixty years ago Israeli wine was unheard of. Today, Israeli wine producers compete at the highest levels in international wine production. The Netzi”v, Rav Naftali Zvi Yehuda Berlin, upon receiving a bottle of wine from Israel, donned his Shabbos clothing prior to drinking this wine from the holy land. We, too, should devote some part of the seder to specifically focus on Eretz Yisrael, sharing this gift of the present state of Israel in our time.

Finally, we recite the most important words of the seder and if we don’t, we do not fulfill the night’s order. Whoever does not recite “Pesach, Matza and Marror” does not fulfill his obligation.  This is the underlying message to teach and give over to our families. The Pesach meal represents the best of times in our life. The Matzah, as we had to eat it quickly or not have a chance to let it rise, represents the unexpected challenges of life. The Marror, the bitter herb, was no better witnessed this past year during Corona. Death, illness, isolation, sadness permeated the entire world. It was a bitter lesson, especially for Klal Yisrael.   The life lesson is that as we taste many things in life, both sweet and bitter, we still have to make a bracha on it - for good or the bad. Life has its ups and downs and that is part of our heritage and history.  

We should be zocheh to merit the ability to fulfill these messages. As a result, we will put our life and the lives of our future generations in order through the Pesach Seder!

Ah Gutten Shabbos & Ah Chag Kasher V'Sameach

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

 

          

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

https://mosaicapress.com/product/developing-a-torah-personality/ 

 

Parshas Vayikra - Smack your Lips and Savor your Meal!!!                6 Nissan 5781

03/18/2021 10:17:56 PM

Mar18

As a follow up to last week’s message regarding how to emerge from the pandemic, I wish to share an old insight that applies even more today than ever before. Everyone can highlight some of the good and bad things that took place this past year and, for most of us, can even see the silver lining packed within some of the challenges. Two areas of life were greatly impacted during Covid-19 - eating out  and davening/praying with a minyan. At least here in San Diego, our dining experience, albeit challenging even in the best of times, is now returning with limited in-door dining and seating. The same is true with regard to davening as more people get vaccinated.  Hopefully, the ability to “go back to normal” is approaching. Unfortunately, habits were formed, and people grew comfortable with what they now term “the new norm”. I was told by Rabbi Wein that we must go back to the “old norm” in conjunction with the benefits of the past year.  The following is a comparison of the similarities of eating and davening.

When it comes to eating out, people typically tend to choose between fine dining and fast-food joints. A fine dining experience will usually take a few hours to eat food that can typically be eaten in a few minutes. I remember eating in an Israeli restaurant with an all-you-can-eat menu. The experience was gluttonous. We were served seven different types of meats, chicken, and a plethora of side dishes. Diners were invited to taste as many of these delicacies as they wished. There was no time limit; diners were welcome to stay there for six hours, get up, walk around, go the bathroom, shmooze with diners at other tables, burp, and then sit back down to partake in more food. There is a distinct feel or sense of royalty when surrounded with the lavishness of eating in an environment of opulence. Truth be told, it kind of crosses the border on the prohibition of excessive eating (as discussed in the Gemara Pesachim 108a regarding eating of Korban Pesach), a negative commandment in the Torah.

At the conclusion of this amazing, yet luxurious eating experience, I reached the feeling of satiation whereby I might have been obligated to recite the full Birkas Hamazon despite not having eaten any bread. For me, the pleasure and enjoyment of this culinary experience was due to the fact that I could actually enjoy eating delicious food slowly, savoring every taste sensation with a sense of ease and relaxation. Typically, I would indulge myself by eating a good rib steak but would consume it quickly, not taking the time to appreciate the full flavor of the meat attained by eating more slowly. On the other hand, eating quickly, without proper chewing can wreak havoc on the intestinal track. Every dietician, doctor and health professional will tell you that eating slowly helps your digestion, keeps your weight in check, and helps to contribute to a more enjoyable lifestyle. Of course, there are situations when we have no choice, but that should only be the exception not the norm.

There are very few foods other than meat which are connected to an all -you- can- eat menu. I would like to suggest that there is a symbolic connection here regarding the relationship of meat to both a Biblical and a rabbinic view point. This week, as we begin Sefer Vayikra, the Book of Leviticus, our attention will now focus on the daily activities that existed in the Mishkan, the portable Temple which we just completed building, concluding with its inauguration. Probably the most active part of the Mishkan was the processing of animals for korbanos, ritual sacrifices and offerings. Animals were offered daily for the public and continually throughout the day for personal sacrifices. Sacrifices were offered for a host of reasons not limited to sin or guilt. Sacrifices were also offered for thanksgiving, free will, nazir, childbirth, and more. There was a constant flow of animals being led in, slaughtered, and essentially roasted on the mizbeiach - the altar. Meat was consumed by 'Hashem', the Kohanim, and their families. Some sacrifices were eaten and enjoyed by those who brought the offerings along with their families. The Navi Hoshea in 14:3 states: "Unishalma Parim Sifaseinu", "and let us render for bulls the offering of our lips”. The essence of the sacrifices is to become closer to Hashem, hence the word "Korban" which means to get close, is done through our lips.

When sacrifices were able to be brought, the closeness to Hashem came as a result of the offering itself as well as the eating of the meat. pToday, in these ost-Temple times,we are no longer able to bring offerings or experience the emotional power of connecting to HaShem through eating of the meat, we must be aware of the requirement that we have to use our lips in another way to get close to God This is done through prayer! When it comes to communal or private prayer, a person establishes habits regarding the way he eats, just as he establishes habits regarding the way he davens.  I am suggesting that there is, indeed, a correlation between the speed with which a person eats and the speed of his davening, or vice versa.  In other words, I am saying that there are people who daven quickly or slowly and people who eat quickly or slowly. A person does not process that his body actually adapts to a certain routine - whether it is eating or davening. After a period of time, each of us evolve and change, especially when it comes to the speed of davening. We now  have only one Shacharis minyan in Shul and have adapted a compromise speed between the pace of davening during the early minyan and the second minyan. This is especially true when we find ourselves in an environment which is different from that which we grew accustomed to. Someone who is used to daven quickly will, at times, find himself in a slower minyan. Similarly, a person who typically eats slowly may at times be forced to eat quickly.

We have already established the fact that doing things more slowly vis a vis eating -and probably davening -is healthier. During the busy work week, a person may not have time to eat properly or to daven slowly, for that matter. But I must add, a person does not tend to leave the table early, leaving food on his plate – especially when it is good.  So, too, a person should not leave davening early, leaving some of the prayers unsaid.  

With that said, therefore, when the 'opportunity' to 'slow down' occurs, we should take advantage of that time and enjoy it. This opportunity rolls around every week on Shabbos and on occasion of Yom Tov. Shabbos and Yom Tov meals need not be rushed. We can enjoy the food, ambiance, and atmosphere during each Shabbos and Y.T. meal. In addition, the tefillos on Shabbos and Y.T. should be viewed as an invitation to take in all that prayer has to offer. Just as we can sit down and savor a great meal by eating slowly, taking pleasure in every aspect of the meal, giving it time to digest, so too can we use our mouths to savor the taste and the beauty of the prayers. We have a chance to daven slowly, to think about the words and the meaning of the tefillos in a way which we may not have the chance to do during the week. This requires a change of mindset regarding eating, and, kal vachomer - how much more so - by davening. Stop and think. Digest this thought. Do we want to eat our words by half chewing, or chewing so quickly that we devour them without even tasting them? The korbanos, represented by our food, should be used to get closer to Hashem. Take the time to daven slowly and with greater kavana - concentration and understanding - of the tefillos. Hopefully, by eating more slowly on Shabbos and YomTov, we will train ourselves to eat more slowly during the week. Healthy eating habits contribute to becoming physically healthier. In the same vein we should enjoy and treasure slower davening on Shabbos and Y.T. Hopefully, that, too, will carry over to our davening during the week, even if it is on a Sunday or on a day off from work when we have more time.

Ah Gutten Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas Vayakhel/Pekudei - As Covid Fades, The Lessons Remain     28Adar 5781

03/11/2021 10:26:55 PM

Mar11

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Click here for printable version

Milestones and anniversary dates are commonly viewed differently by the very people involved in those same occasions. Some place great emphasis on a particular date or time while others dismiss these occurrences as ‘just part of life’. Many people throughout the world will take note that it has been a full year since Covid-19 invaded our world,  , our families, our very way of life as we once knew it. For me, it was  both riveting and even frightening to take note of the  events we witnessed together steadily continue to unfold. Now, one year later, I am amazed how HaKadosh Baruch Hu -God - is allowing things to steadily return, at least partially, to life as we once knew it. 

This past week I received the second dose of the Covid-19 vaccine;  I felt liberated and healthy even though I will continue to wear a mask and socially distance during the next two weeks, allowing time for the vaccine to take its full effect. There was much halachik discussion as to what if any appropriate bracha or tefilla should be recited when receiving this and perhaps other vaccines or medical treatments. 

The following explanation of a proper bracha to recite under such circumstances is from Rabbi Dr. Aaron E. Glatt, Associate Rabbi, Young Israel of Woodmere, and Chief of Infectious Diseases & Hospital Epidemiologist at Mount Sinai Hospital of South Nassau. Based on Shulchan Aruch Orech Chaim 230:4 with the Mishnah Brurah Seif Kattan 6, it is proper and recommended to recite the following supplication to Hashem prior to undergoing any medical treatment or procedure. Certainly, this supplication is most appropriate to recite before receiving the lifesaving COVID-19 vaccine: The prayer in Hebrew is:  יהי רצון מלפניך ה' אלוקי שיהא עסק זה לי לרפואה (יש מוסיפים: כי רופא חנם אתה) In English, this is loosely translated as “May it be Your will, Hashem, my G-d, that this treatment will be for me for a cure (and some add, because You are a Healer who cures for free).” 

We continue to be patient for more and more people throughout the United States and around the globe to become safe and healthy against this virus. There were many lessons learned and practiced over this period. Some of those good practices fell by the wayside while others modified our personal well- being. These practices or even minhagim – customs - concern how we conducted ourselves, whether they be regarding interpersonal relationships or our own personal relationship with the Almighty. Some of the rules and regulations related to safety and health have eased, and, in some places, are no longer mandated. 

In Shul, signs were immediately posted at the onset of the pandemic mandating that we prepare a safe environment. I daven every day in front of a wall that has three signs posted for this purpose. The first sign reads ‘Prevent the Spread’ with four pictures illustrating- stay home if you’re sick; wash your hands; wear a mask; separate. The second sign reads ‘Cover your Nose and Mouth’ accompanied by a picture of a face mask, illustrating how to wear it properly. The third sign reads ‘Social Distancing is Required’, depicting a group of people each standing 6ft apart. We humans tend to grow tired of or even annoyed by dictums which recommend taking on precautionary but invasive practices or behaviors.   I am not here to dictate or to determine whether or not these practices should continue.  I am, however, relating the reality that some of these practices are no longer being… well, practiced! I continue to stand by the principle that we should not forget these seemingly simple but very important safety and health measures. These measures not only continue to protect others as well as ourselves; they also help to make the world we live in a better, more caring place. Therefore, for the sake of our spiritual health and well-being, we should continue to practice all the health and safety measures that have been so strongly recommended. This is learned out in an immensely powerful message in the Torah. 

The Torah, in last week’s Parsha Ki Sisa, relates the dialogue Hashem had with Moshe after God told Moshe to quickly go down the mountain because the Jews were sinning. In Shmos 32:7   "וידבר ה' אל משה, לך רד כי שחת עמך אשר העלית מארץ מצרים"  “God declared to Moshe, ‘Go down, for the people who you brought out of Egypt have become corrupt.’” Then, in Shmos 32:8 "סרו מהר מן הדרך אשר צויתם עשו להם עגל מסכה" “They have been quick to leave the way that I ordered them to follow, and they have made themselves a cast-metal calf”.  This one-to-one conversation takes a turn no one could expect or ever imagine. The Midrash Rabbah 46 (which, by the way, if not for the fact that it is written, we never would have been able to say or even think of such an idea) relates that when Hashem told Moshe to descend the mountain, he was holding the Luchos (Tablets). Moshe, not believing that the Jewish people sinned, said, “If I do not see it, I do not believe it!” How do we know that Moshe did not believe the Jews sinned? The question is, why didn’t Moshe break the Luchos earlier? The Midrash continues, stating: “We see here, that when Hashem told Moshe, ”Go down because your nation has sinned…” he held onto the Luchos and did not believe that the Jews sinned. Wait a minute! Who didn’t Moshe believe? Hashem! Hashem told him that the Jewish people had sinned, yet he didn’t believe it!! The Midrash continues: “Moshe said: “If I do not see it, I will not believe it.” This is confirmed by the Torah eleven verses later. Finally, in Shmos 32:19 "ויהי כאשר קרב אל המחנה וירא את העגל ומחלת ויחר אף משה וישלך מידו את הלחת וישבר אתם תחת ההר"  “As he approached the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, Moshe displayed anger, and threw down the tablets that were in his hand, shattering them at the foot of the mountain”. We see that Moshe only shattered the Luchos/Tablets when he saw with his own eyes. The Midrash goes on, ”Woe upon those who testify or say things they have not seen with their own eyes.” Is it really possible that Moshe Rabbeinu didn’t believe Hashem when He said, ”Your nation has sinned?” However, Moshe wanted to teach us an important lesson:  Even if one hears something from a trustworthy individual, even it it’s the Tzadik, the biggest Rabbi of the generation, he is not allowed to accept it and act upon it until he sees it with his own eyes or hears it with his own ears! 

I know that if we took the time to internalize the lesson of this Midrash, we would spare ourselves so much machlokes and conflict. If we just thought about this Midrash and its message, we would avoid so much pain and aggravation. Hashem Himself told Moshe, but Moshe wanted to teach us that even if the most trusted person tells you something, you are  not to act upon it until you verify it with your own eyes and ears. The lessons of the three signs in Shul not only give us practical advice; they give us a spiritual guideline as well. If you hear something which states that we can prevent the spread, it is correct to initially hold back in order to properly verify.  We should also remember that the mask is used to cover our mouths but also figuratively keeps us from jumping the gun and repeating something that may not be reliable because we heard it from someone else, who may have also heard it from someone whose information may not be reliable. Finally, if there is too much temptation, we may spread false information. In truth, our mask protects others, not ourselves.  It is the use of masks by others which, in fact, protect us.  Allegorically, if wearing a mask is not enough of a reminder to be quiet, then perhaps  social distance from others and wait until verification of something that is so important that we need to believe and repeat. Moshe held back to teach us this lesson. In today’s current situation, let’s take the lessons and benefits this pandemic had shown us and aspire to live as better Jews, to be leaders, representing truth and goodness, as well as safety and precaution, for all mankind.            

Ah Gutten Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas Ki Sisa / Porah -  There is The King Who is aware of every Mask we put on!               21 Adar 5781

03/04/2021 06:36:37 PM

Mar4

Malcolm X. Forbes said, ”Every story has an end, but in life every end is just a new beginning.” Just as Purim has come and gone, so too have the costumes and the opportunity to be someone we are not, or, perhaps, maybe someone who we want to be! And… as Purim came to an end, many of us wished we could just remove the masks of Purim and go back to our true selves, only to come to terms with the reality that we still need to still wear our Covid-19 masks for the health and security of  fellow citizens. While some states cancelled the mask order, other states, including California, are keeping the mask order in place for the foreseeable future. While many of us cannot wait until we are able to bare our faces in public once again, for others, wearing a mask has been a blessing, as discussed in the following excerpt from an English publication.  

Lee dreaded run-ins with old friends and acquaintances around town, finding these spontaneous interactions “extremely awkward”. He used to time his shopping trips to minimize the possibility of bumping into someone he knew, waiting until almost closing time before heading out. “Since I've been wearing the mask, my awkward interactions with friends and family have significantly reduced,” he says. Now, he goes to the shops whenever he wants, without worrying about whom he might see. He hopes that, even after the pandemic ends, it will still be socially acceptable to wear a mask.

As stated earlier, wearing a mask is, for most of us, an annoying but worthwhile sacrifice; it is one of the most effective ways to slow the spread of Covid-19. Still, most of us look forward to the day when we can remove the mask permanently and see each other full face-to-face in public.

While face-coverings fog our glasses, clog our pores, and make it harder to smile at strangers and recognize friends, some secretly relish the new mask-wearing mandates for reasons ranging from the convenient and expedient to the more complex and psychological. Some welcome the way face coverings reduce or change interactions that might otherwise spark social anxiety. But is this a helpful, coping mechanism – and what happens when the pandemic comes to an end?

In this week’s Parsha Ki Sisa the Torah states in Shmos 34:33,34 "ויכל משה מדבר אתם ויתן על פניו מסוה. ובבא משה לפני ה' לדבר אתו יסיר את המסוה עד צאתו ויצא ודבר אל בני ישראל את אשר  יצוה"  : When Moshe finished speaking with them, he placed a ??? over his face. Whenever Moshe came before God to speak with Him, he would remove the ??? until he was ready to leave, he would then go out and speak to the Israelites, [telling them] what he had been commanded. What is the ??? According to Targum Yonason, Moshe covered his face with a hood. The Radak and LeKach Tov stated that it was a veil, while Rashi believed it to be a mask!

We know that Moshe Rabbeinu was the ‘humblest of all men’ and that he acted with an incredible sense of humility, interacting with people in a subdued, modest manner.  Nevertheless, as nice as this viewpoint seems, it is problematic. On the flip side, Moshe was considered a Melech/King, as stated in the Gemara Zevachim 102a:  Hashem referred to Moshe as a king, or he had the stature and the laws associated with being a king. As the leader, Moshe had an obligation to lead and rule with a ‘high hand’ and to be careful about his honor. There is a law that some individuals, such as parents, may forego their honor, but a king, even though he may try to forego his honor, cannot do so. The honoring must remain!  

The sefer Mayana Shel Torah quotes in the name of Rabbi Akiva Eiger* that Moshe was forced to mask or cover over his humility and modesty; his strength as a ruler and the accompanying command of respect were requirements even Moshe was not permitted to relinquish. When he appeared before the people, Moshe needed to show his greatness as a leader and king.  A king does not bow to the people, therefore he covered up his true self as an ‘anav’. In the next verse when Moshe appears before Hashem, he removes the covering from his face, revealing the true and humble man, a man who lowered himself in stature, a trait for which he is praised.   

The irony of Moshe having to cover his face stems from an earlier verse 34:29: “Moshe came down from Har Sinai with the Luchos of testimony in his hand. As Moshe descended down the mountain, he did not realize that the skin of his face had become luminous - a קרן עור  - when Hashem had spoken to him”. The Iben Ezra explains the word Kauran Or, literally, “was giving off rays (‘horns’) of light”. Reb Chaim ben Moshe Ittar, the Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh, writes that Moshe merited to have this radiance of light shine from his face because of his incredible amount of humility. The Torah itself testifies to Moshe’s humility. When Hashem told Moshe to write the word humble - ‘Anav’ עניו - in Hebrew, Moshe wrote it חסר , meaning missing, written without the letter ‘yud’ like this ענו. This alone demonstrates the humility of Moshe. It is for this reason that Moshe merited to have a radiant face beaming with light. This is hinted in the following Midrash: “Rabbi Yehuda Bar Nachman said there was a drop of ink left in the quill of Moshe when he completed writing the Torah. That drop of ink was the exact amount needed to write the letter ‘yud’.  Moshe did not want to write about his own humility and therefore left the ‘yud’ out.. The rays and beam of light are the result of that tiny drop of ink which Moshe did not use.

We are now all witness to seeing how simply wearing a mask can serve as an equalizer among people. Whether we are mandated to wear a mask or not, there are times when it is still necessary for some people under certain circumstances to wear one. We should take this lesson of the mask seriously.  Take the time to see the similarities and differences among the people of the world, using our masks to humble ourselves to others and to Hashem, but to also be aware of the benefit of both the need for humility while also being bold when it comes to leading Am Yisrael and the world, helping everyone to see the ultimate light and Emes/Truth in the world.

Ah Gutten Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

 

*Rabbi Akiva Eiger was born in Eisenstadt - the most important town of the Seven Jewish Communities of Burgenland, Hungary, (now Austria). He was a child prodigy and was educated first at the Mattersdorf yeshiva and later by his uncle, Rabbi Wolf Eger, at the Breslau yeshiva. Out of respect for his uncle, he changed his surname to Eiger. He therefore shared the full name Akiva Eger with his maternal grandfather, the first Rabbi Akiva Eger (1722–1758) (b. 5482, d. 15 Elul 5518), the author of Mishnas De'Rebbi Akiva who was rabbi of Zülz, Silesia from 1749 and Pressburg from 1756.

He was the rabbi of Märkisch Friedland, West Prussia, from 1791 until 1815; then for the last twenty-two years of his life, he was the rabbi of the city of Posen. Rabbi Eiger was a rigorous casuist of the old school;  his chief works were legal notes and responsa on the Talmud and the Shulchan Aruch. He believed that religious education was enough, and thus opposed the party which favored secular schools. He was a determined foe of the Reform movement, which had begun to make itself felt during his lifetime.

Among his children were his two sons, Avraham (1781–1853) and Solomon (1785–1852). His daughter Sorel (Sarah) Eiger Sofer (1790–1832) was the second wife of the Chasam Sofer (1762–1839), rabbi of Pressburg.

Parshas T'Tzaveh/Shushan Purim - The Truth & the True Weekly Message   13-15 Adar 5781

02/25/2021 05:18:01 AM

Feb25

Once upon a time long, long ago, I wrote these weekly messages the other way around. Now for some of the old, I mean older readers, you might recall (but you probably do not, either because you ARE old, or perhaps you never really read these Divrei Torah. The reason I say you did not read these Divrei Torah is exactly the point. When I first began writing them, I discussed the “Torah portion” first and then segued that into the quirky, ridiculous, every-day and every person experience to which perhaps only I could relate. I do not remember (because I am also old) at what point in time I flipped around the Dvar Torah segment with the light-hearted mundane insight I wished to share. This format gave me some satisfaction; I felt that I was only wasting half my time discussing the Torah part because most people, if they did accidentally click open the email or sit on one of the printed copies in Shul, would read at least the first half, just as you are doing right now!  Gotcha!

Now, as for the younger or new readership who only know the current format, perhaps we should show them how the layout used to be. This way we’ll have created ונהפוך הוא  a reversal for everyone, possibly causing a surprise for me…and…maybe, just maybe… the reversal just might cause everyone to read the entire piece!   I repeatedly said maybe, but I am not holding my breath!  So… if you feel the urge, you can stop reading right now. But wait!  Ahhh, could it be that you are still reading because it is Purim time and everything in the world has the chance, opportunity, to change and flip around?  If, however, you do continue to read on (even though by now you have been given two occasions to stop), I will attribute this determination on your part to the essence of Purim: You are diverging from the typical act of exiting this email or putting down the printed copy. By the way, since Purim has an element of Yom Kippur - the Rabbis teach us Purim is Yom K’Purim. I will forgive you if you choose to go ahead and read this message in its entirety, planning next week to return to skipping over the light-hearted stuff, reading ONLY the Torah portion of the message.

You are probably wondering (or not) why I am writing about Purim. After all, Purim is on Friday and the Parsha is T’Tzaveh. Why write about Purim? Well, if I do not write about Purim now, then when? In reality, that is not the only reason. When Purim, or more precisely the fourteenth of Adar, falls on Friday, in walled cities – including, of course, Yerushalayim Ir HaKodesh – everyone residing within that walled-in area celebrates the unique “perfect Purim storm”, called a Purim M’Shuleshet” - a three-day Purim! Most people do not get over their hangovers after one day of celebration, let alone three! In Yerushalayim the the Megilla is read and Matanos LaEvyonim (giving of at least one gift to two or more poor people) are given on Friday; Al HaNissim is added to the Amida and to the Bentching on Shabbos; and the Purim Seuda and Mishloach Manos (sending of gifts) take place on Sunday. Now the Halacha stipulates that if someone who celebrates Purim on the 14th of Adar goes ahead and adds Al HaNissim on Shushan Purim on the 15th of Adar, they do not need to repeat that prayer. This almost implies that since somewhere in the world Purim is celebrated on that day, even though we are not supposed to add it, nevertheless, if we did say it accidentally, no harm no foul. This refers to saying Al HaNissim when not on your day. See below* if you forgot to say it on your day. Therefore, this Shabbos is also a day of Purim so I can write about it whether  you skip this reading this Dvar Torah accidentally or intentionally!   

Chaza”l teach us that whenever the name Achashveirosh is used in the Megilla, it refers to the actual Achachveirosh, but when it is preceded by ’HaMelech’,  the term refers to Hashem, the King of the world. We also read ‘HaMelech; every Shabbos and Yom Tov.  This is highlighted at the beginning of Shacharis on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, as the Chazzan begins with the word “HaMelech”.  For example, the opening of the 6th chapter of the Megillah calls out בלילה ההוא נדדה שנת המלך  - On that night The King could not sleep. Rashi explains that ’The King’ refers to Hashem. The Maharal of Prague, Reb Yehuda Loewy, asks,” If we wanted to hint to God in the Megillah, couldn’t we find a more appropriate way to hint to Hashem?” Perhaps the hint could have been phrased either in the name of Mordechai or Esther; why place the hint next to the name of the wicked Achashveirosh? Why, of all the people, would we choose the evil Achashveirosh? The Maharal teaches us an amazing insight: What we are actually looking at is erroneous! The reason we even ask the question, or the reason the question is set up this way is because we see the main character as Achashveirosh, while Hashem is hinted to be somewhere in the background. However, the reality is that Hashem is truly “The King”; Hashem was running everything. God has a collection of puppets and dolls. One puppet is named Achashveirosh and another puppet is named Haman.  Hashem was using them! In fact, there really is no Haman and no Achashveirosh. Everything was from Hashem Himself. This is the main idea of Megillas Esther, which should be read לגלות את ההסתר   - to reveal the hidden. Hashem is hinting to all who read and hear the Megillah that it is not Haman or Achashveirosh.”It is I!”, said Hashem! The Pashut Pshat, the basic meaning of HaMelech is Hashem, not a hint. Achashveirosh and all the other characters of the Megillah were nothing more than puppets. Hashem created an incredibly powerful puppet show.

This concept applies to us in our lives, too. The person bothering you is just a puppet. This can explain the Gemara that says, ”One is obligated to drink on Purim until he cannot differentiate between Arur (cursed be) Haman and Baruch (Blessed be) Mordechai. Sometimes a person may have an enemy and he thinks of him as his personal “Arur Haman”. He hates him, he avoids him. ”He’s my enemy!” Another person is his “Baruch Mordechai”. I must send him a fancy Mishloach Manos…He is my good friend…. The Rabbis want us to realize that there is, in effect, no friend and no enemy, they are only puppets. That is the purpose of drinking on Purim, to reveal the hidden; to realize that there is one King of the entire world; the rest of the world consists merely of puppets. You think that person is hurting or helping you……it’s not that person; it’s Hashem. After we drink, we do not know the difference between Haman and Mordechai, but we do realize that it’s all Hashem. This is the hidden reason of wearing masks on Purim; we think it is Ploni behind the mask only to find out it is Almoni. He is not who he appears to be, and that is the lesson of Purim. We think that a certain person is an enemy. He is not. It’s all from Hashem, the King of the world.

Let us internalize this lesson and put it deep in our hearts. With this inside of us, we can truly be “Marbim B’Simcha!  And be glad, thrilled and overjoyed that this is the end of this week’s message!

Ah Gutten Shabbos and Ah Frielichin Purim

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

 

*Since this meal is obligatory on Purim, so is its Birkas HaMazon. The Maharshal and the Shela are of the opinion that if one forgot to say ‘Al HaNisim’ in the Birkas HaMazon, the Grace after Meals would have to be repeated, together with its ‘Al HaNisim.’ The majority of authorities, however, including the Shulchan Aruch, Mishna Berura, Kaf HaChaim and Chida, are of the opinion that one is not required to repeat the ‘Al HaNisim,’ because one may fulfill the obligation to eat a Purim Seuda without eating bread (see Magen Avrohom 695:9). Accordingly, our accepted practice is not to repeat Birkat Hamazon because of a forgotten Al HaNisim.

Parshas Terumah - My Holy Household Utensils      7 Adar 5781

02/19/2021 12:29:43 PM

Feb19

Well, it is that time of year again when the spring-cleaning, aka Pesach cleaning, gets underway. If not for my wife, we would need to rent out a few fifty-foot-long storage containers to mass the collectible junk accumulated over the past three decades. I have come to realize that a hoarder looks at their ‘’stuff’ as nostalgia, while a ‘normal’ person confronts it as junk. As we pass through the different ages and stages of life, happily picking up new things, we shed the old. I do perceive this issue to be a bigger challenge nowadays than  a generation or two back.

I was thinking back to the first residence I lived in and wondered how we managed with such limited space. As I travelled back further into the recesses of my memory, I gathered we did not have an abundance of things. But I do recall certain unique items or utensils that were in vogue back then. For me, even though I no longer have those utensils, I have still retained the memories and warm feelings of these items recalled from my past. I will share a few of those unique utensils, especially the kitchen gadgets and containers along with other items as well.

We had a few items that were camouflaged as pieces of furniture. The television that sat in the living room was encased in a large piece of furniture that had mini sliding doors which closed to cover up the screen. The record player was also enclosed in a piece of furniture, encasing the motor completely within one half of its box while  the records were placed on the turntable housed on other half. When not in use, a  piece of wood was slid over the record side, displaying a rectangular piece of furniture on legs. In the kitchen were either four or six ceramic mini bowls which  my mother used to make vanilla and chocolate pudding. These were never used for anything else. I vividly remember putting the bowls, filled with hot, freshly-made pudding, on the window ledge during the winter to quickly cool down and gel  in time for us to inhale. This dessert was only served after our dairy dinner of the week, always on Thursday nights. Corn-on-the-cob was another food that had unique holders made up of two mini fork-like prongs for poking into each side of the cob. The holders  came in different designs; our happened to be in the shape of a cob of corn. Finally, we had dedicated grapefruit spoons. The specially-designed spoons had a wooden handle and at the end of the metal spoon were ridges that could dig into the grapefruit to scrape all the pith along with the pulp. This spoon came with a small matching knife to cut through the slices of a half-cut grapefruit. This knife would cut around the circumference and then cut the natural contour of the slices.

Every utensil had a specific role and function, and we would never dare use it for something else other than its intended purpose. These items were ‘holy’ and therefore were treated with special care and consideration. But it was far more than these particular utensils that defined and characterized my family. There were many other items, each of which had something special to add to the makeup of the house in which our family lived.

It goes without saying that each member  of a family – the parents and each of the children - together contribute to the environment and flavor of the house and its contents. The physical world is the abode and environment for family life; this applies to the spiritual realm as well. The physical house that represents the entire Jewish family was none other than the Mishkan/Tabernacle, the portable Temple that would eventually be exchanged for a permanent residence for God in the Beis HaMikdash.

Our ancestors went down to Egypt as a small family, but left as a nation with the Torah as our mandate; this family now required a place for the ‘King’ to reside and be close to His subjects. This week’s Parshas Teruma takes a sharp turn away from the people as a nation and its laws so as to focus on our nationhood by creating a Sanctuary for the King.

Rashi in Shmos 25:2 says, ”There were thirteen things which are mentioned in this reference (the materials to build with) and all of them were required for the work of the Tabernacle or for the vestments of the priesthood, if you will closely examine them.” Others calculate fifteen items that were necessary to build the Mishkan as a spiritual sanctuary for Hashem in this world. Rav Chaim Volozhin in his work Nefesh HaChaim (Shaar Aleph Perek Daled) explains that the Mishkan and later the Beis HaMikdash gathered and contained all the forces of the universe and the order of sanctity. All the rooms and the holy utensils were replicated from the model in heaven.  "בצלם דמות תבנית העולמות הקדושים"   “in the image of His likeness there are holy worlds”, referencing a sanctuary mirroring heaven and earth. All the materials used in the construction and the function of the finished products brought us up a rung in the ladder to heaven. These physical items, when used in a spiritual manner, will bring more holiness into the world. These same words are used in third bracha of Sheva Brachos, the seven blessings recited for a bride and groom under the chuppah and for seven days after their wedding. We shower blessings upon the newlywed couple to have what it takes to build a Jewish home known as a "בית נאמן בישראל"  “A true home in Israel”.  The third bracha is "אשר יצר את האדם בצלמו, בצלם דמות תבניתו, והתקין לו ממנו בנין עדי עד"  “Who fashioned the Man in His image, in the image of His likeness, and prepared for him – from himself – a building for eternity”. The way to create an eternal Jewish home is through having physical utensils  used in a spiritual manner.   

The message of replicating the sanctuaries of heaven and earth can be seen in our own homes. We, too, have dedicated utensils that can elevate our homes to climb the rungs of holiness. It is important to remember that the blessings of Sheva Brachos is the core connector for each newlywed couple, and the reminder to all of us as we grow through the love and commitment of bringing up and treasuring our families, how to reach and accomplish the goal of the eternal Jewish home. Keep in mind that all the cute knick-knacks and utensils are to be used in our sanctuary where we, too, have the ability to have Hashem reside within our home just as He does in His home.

Ah Gutten Shabbos,

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas Mishpatim - Man's Best Friend    29 Shvat 5781

02/11/2021 03:12:09 PM

Feb11

This D’Var Torah is sponsored by Daniel and Sandra Spivak in honor of their ninth Wedding Anniversary 

A few years ago, while in Israel, I noticed an uptick in the number of dogs being walked by their owners. It took me a while, but I came to understand that having pets in general and dogs in particular are a sign of affluence. When I was growing up I did not notice too many dogs in my neighborhood, and rarely did I find a Jewish home with a dog. My earliest recollection of dogs was walking past a fenced-in yard where large German shepherds were barking and howling, practically leaping over the fence any time I passed by. From my perspective, dogs were used primarily for protection or even to attack a perceived danger. Over time, the role of dogs has evolved not only from guard dogs, working dogs, and watch dogs, but even beyond the common role of household pets.    The view of seeing a dog as ‘man’s best friend’ is  just the  beginning of the evolution of the pet world. Today people invest considerable money to have companion dogs, service dogs, and mental health dogs. Pets are found happily snuggled inside doggy strollers and backpacks shopping with their owners and traveling on planes to vacation and work-related destinations. As a result, there has been a boom in the dog population over the last fifty years.  In fact, have you ever given any thought to how many dogs are  in the United States? There was a 2020 census of pets in households aligned with the 2020 United States Census. Wisdom Health, the world’s leader in pet genetics, conducted its own 2020 United States Pet Census. This parallel population survey sought to provide insights into the lives of our country’s cats and dogs, asking owners a variety of questions, including the size, breed, activity levels and overall lifestyle of residential dogs, cats, and other animals to better understand the lives of American pets. The overall pet population, according to the AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association),included 77 million dogs and stated that 84.9 million or 67% of American households own at least one kind of pet. 63.4 million or 53% of American households own dogs. Most dog-owning households have one dog. Granted, most of today’s dogs are not the kind of dogs I described people having in the past.Throughout the millennia, the primary livelihood of many Jews was shepherding.  We know that many of the leaders of the Jewish people were רועים  / shepherds and, in fact, shepherding was one of the qualities Hashem looked at when choosing a leader for His children, the Bnei Yisrael. All the Avos, Avraham, Yitzchok, and Yaakov, Moshe rabbeinu, and Dovid HaMelech were shepherds. Hashem noticed how carefully they maintained their flock. This appealed to Hashem, noting  that a good and diligent shepherd would demonstrate the same attributes when appointed to lead His flock.

The German shepherd dog, a member of the herding breed, is known for its courage, loyalty and guarding instincts. This breed makes an excellent guard dog, police dog, military dog, guide dog for the blind and search and rescue dog. For many families, the German shepherd is also a treasured, loyal and loving family pet. These are qualities of goodness and kindness, unlike my childhood exposure to these same dogs. Therefore, there is ‘room’ for dogs within Jewish thought and living. Although we do not hear much about dogs in the Torah per se, it is by no means completely absent either.

There are but just a few places in the Torah that mention dogs; when the Jewish people left Mitzrayim, even the dogs did not bark at the Jews leaving. It is in this parsha that we find the second mention of dogs. In this week’s parshas Mishpatim the Torah states in Shmos 22:30 "ואנשי קדש תהיון לי, ובשר בשדה טרפה לא תאכלו לכלב תשלכון אתו"  “Be a holy people to Me. Do not eat the flesh torn off in the field by a predator. Cast it to the dogs”.  On the surface this verse appears normal and routine - give meat no longer fit for a Jew to eat to ‘his best friend’. But, as usual, the Torah is not here to tell us things that are normal or would be routine for us to do. We can see this throughout the entire parsha of Mishpatim which deals with laws between man and man; although we think something is straightforward, the Torah emphasizes our obligation for fear we may not do what is sensible.

The verse in discussion is not just an ordinary piece of meat that is not kosher, but specifically the ‘treifah’ meat of an animal that was torn and killed. Let’s take a look behind the scenes and go back a few frames to unfold the scenario. Let’s say I am a shepherd of my large flock. I have my trusted shepherd dog, guarding my sheep, goats, and maybe even cattle from other predators. One morning, I arrive to find one of my sheep killed and torn. What is my first reaction? How did this happen? Where was my trusted guard dog? I think to myself that my dog failed in his responsibilities by not doing the job of protecting my flock. I am furious at the dog and my instinct is to get a whip and punish the dog for sleeping on the job and causing me this loss. I ask, why would the Torah tell me to give this carcass to my guard dog who just failed me?

I learned the answer to this and have shared it over the years, but it bears repetition. Let us look back at how many days, months, and years my dog has been faithfully doing his job of protecting my herd. Thousands of nights and days he was on guard and watched over the animals and he kept them safe.  Unfortunately, for reasons unbeknownst to me this one time he did not or maybe could not protect all the animals and one was lost. The Torah’s incredible message is now, at the time when I think I may be entitled to be angry and hit the dog for failing, I should instead show hakaras hatov, gratitude for all of the times the dog did do his job and reward him with a fresh piece of meat.

I gave over this pshat during the Shovavim period while delivering a class on Shalom Bayis/peace in the home. We can extrapolate and expand the concept to any relationship between two people. A husband does many things for a wife and vice versa. Friends do many things for each other. It can happen that one time something fails, causing one spouse or friend to be upset at the other for burning the soup or not washing the last dish. Sure, we can be angry and hold it against the person, or we can take the message from the dog’s loyalty that sometimes we make a mistake and are even wrong in your eyes. Remember now, at the moment we think we should have the right to be angry with the other person, take the opportunity to thank them for all they have done for you in the past by buying them a gift or a treat. Show your appreciation for ALL they have done for us and forget about the one small mishap that took place now. This will truly create a Shalom Bayis in the House of Hashem!

 

Ah Gutten Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas Yisro - The Mosaic of Am Yisrael      23 Shvat 5781

02/05/2021 09:39:45 AM

Feb5

Parshas B’Shalach completed eleven years of writing a weekly message. As I sat down to write the first message of the twelfth cycle, I recall writing about how the Jewish people can be viewed as a single large, vibrant orchestra, each Jew playing an instrument that contributes singular dimension to the overall concert of life. Recently, however, I took notice of the Jewish people from a different angle, let me explain.

A nation is a group of people who share the same culture, history, language, or ethnicity. A nation can also be described as a group of people living in the same country under the same government. The word nation, a derivative of the Latin word natio, means "birth" or "place of birth”. Although up until 1948 the Jewish people did not share the same country as far as living together is concerned, we did maintain from the time of our father Abraham continuously to the present day, our identity and commitment to the Land of Israel. In terms of population numbers, we are a small nation made up of a diverse people committed to one eternal homeland. However, in terms of commitment to each other, to Israel, and to world-wide contribution, we are, in fact, Big.  I by no means define this group of people by how much money they have, how famous they may be, or even how big a Tzadik they may be. Rather, the ‘bigness’, indeed, the largess of this diverse group refers to the multi-faceted  ways in which they contribute to our existence. Contributions have been continuously made for the past, present and future of our people. What I am about to say and the examples I am about to use may seem trivial, but I think all of these contributions are important to deeply appreciate  yet another angle of who we are.

Someone in the community sent me a link to a recent program of ’60 Minutes’ that featured a story of how a Holocaust foundation began a project to record survivors’ stories to be used with technology so that future generations will be able to hear directly from the survivors. Another example is someone who comes to davening at the Shul spends considerable time researching and applying the original Hebrew pronunciation of our tefillos. The rise of anti-Semitism on college campuses and disturbing antisemitic language that is being injected into mainstream American education is appalling. While most of us go on with our daily lives, there are individuals and organizations who rally vehemently to protect Jews from the way we are portrayed in the media, emphasizing the need to educate the next generation to the dangers of such verbal hate. And, of course, none of us should ever ignore the thousands of individuals studying Torah throughout the world. There are groups of Jews who refuse to dress in the contemporary style of the mainstream of Americans, adhering instead to a style that clearly identifies them as proud Jews.  They, too, should make everyone else proud of their commitment.  There are Jews throughout the world, particularly in Israel, who risk their lives by defending the country of Israel and its borders as well as Israel’s security throughout the world. We have individuals who single-handedly started organizations dedicated to helping Jews through crises, illness, death, and, yes, even simchas - all aspects of need throughout life ranging from the cradle to the wedding canopy. I scroll down my e-mail list and literally every other email is from an organization that is not only looking for a donation but also offering help in their respective line of work. Of course, it goes without saying how per capita the Jewish people have contributed far greater than any other nation in the arts, science, mathematics, technology, health, education and more.

We are not a one-sport team. While we are a tiny nation regarding our numbers, we are the largest nation in the world with regard to unremitting commitment to doing good, to protecting our Land and each other. Indeed, we play in every arena and stadium with people leading in every direction. But aside from the leading role we present to the world, we are internally preserving the Jewish people. This is not a new phenomenon; this has been the core recipe for success in the continuity of the Jewish people throughout the millennia. There are Jews teaching students of all ages about the past through to the present to preserve us all as we look towards the future. But we the Jewish people are still so much more than this. These listed examples are only the main headings.  Indeed,  each Jew is connected to one of these items. Therefore, our people are, indeed, a big nation – each of us representing a facet of the collective effort put forth by everyone together. The examples mentioned are only the general categories that every one of us  connects to.

The is, indeed the mosaic of our people, a concept found not only in our daily lives; it is a principle of the Torah as well.  In this week’s Parshas Yisro Moshe ascends Har Sinai to retrieve the Torah and give it to Klal Israel. Prior to Moshe coming down with the Torah, God began to announce what we refer to as the “Ten Commandments”. We know there are 613 mitzvos in the Torah, so why make a big deal about ten of them? The Aseres HaDibros were not just any ten commandments. We know that in the period of the Second Temple, the Ten Commandments formed an important part of Jewish liturgy. According to the Mishna Tamid 5:1, they were recited twice daily before the reading of the Shema Yisrael, Judaism’s central statement of faith. There is some evidence that the Ten Commandments were also among the texts included in the tefillin. Chaza”l in Gemara Brachos 12a argued against giving the Ten Commandments special prominence so as not to give ammunition to heretics who claimed that only the revealed law was important, and the man-made amendments were not. To this day, some communities stand during the reading of the commandments and some do not. However, the Chachamim won out in that we no longer read the Ten Commandments as part of the Shema or give them any other special liturgical prominence. Nevertheless, in many siddurim the Ten Commandments are included among other prayers to be recited after the davening is completed.  At a deeper level, several of the most famous commentaries explain that all of the Mitzvos are actually included within these ten.

The Torah states in Shmos 24:12 "ויאמר ה' אל משה עלה אלי ההרה והיה שם, ואתנה לך את לחת האבן והתורה והמצוה אשר כתבתי להורתם"   “Hashem said to Moshe, ‘Come up to Me, to the mountain, and remain there. I will give you the stone tablets, the Torah and the commandments that I have written for [the people’s] instruction.” The Targum Yonason Ben Uziel explains that Hashem told Moshe to go up upon the mountain to receive the tablets of stone that within them are hinted everything about the Torah and the 613 commandments that I wrote for you to teach to them. Rashi says it out right! He explains that all six hundred and thirteen commandments are included in the Ten Commandments. In addition, Rav Saadia Gaon specified within the liturgical poetry which he composed for each one of the Ten Commandments, all the 613  commandments  are dependent upon the Ten Commandments. Rebbi Ezriel, a student of the son of the Raava”d, in his commentary to Shir HaShirim indicates how many Mitzvos of the 613 are in each one of the Ten. Rabbeinu Bachya as well as Rav Saadia Gaon all figured out the connections of the 613 within the Ten!

The Aseres HaDibros is not only the blueprint for the entire Torah;  it also sends a subtle message to every Jew in the world. No matter who or where a Jew is on the religious spectrum or even on an affiliated level, each one of us make up the beautiful, eternal mosaic of the Jewish people. Every Jew from his or her place and space adds to the dimension of our people. Yes, there are the major leaders in all categories, just as the Ten Commandments are the blueprint of the entire Torah. Every Jew is that ‘mitzva of the 613 that is included within those top Ten. The most important lesson is not only that each person should recognize his or her vital piece to the greater puzzle, we should all recognize each other’s place within this magnificent masterpiece – the mosaic which is the Jewish people. AM YISRAEL CHAI!            

Parshas B'Shalach - A Split Second Incision    15 Shvat 5781

01/29/2021 08:24:58 AM

Jan29

The weekly Dvar Torah is sponsored by Deborah and Maxwell Brookler in memory of Mrs. Kitty Silverman, Gitel bas Ezriel Baruch on her first Yahrzeit

On January 23, 2020, China imposed an absolute lockdown in the Chinese city of Wuhan. Now, one year later, the long months of harsh lockdown have faded from view in Wuhan, the first city in the world devastated by the new coronavirus. As residents begin the process of moving on, they cite a Chinese saying which warns against “forgetting the pain after a scar heals”. Fast forward to a still-festering world-wide pandemic and there probably isn’t a five- or six-year-old child in the world who will ever forget this past year. Baruch Hashem, we do see the light at the end of the tunnel with proper precautions and a vaccine.

Every generation is defined and characterized by a life-changing event. Lives are molded through life- changing experiences. For the world at large, this generation will be marred by the Covid-19 pandemic, and the previous generation (a generation is approximately twenty years) by the events of 9/11. Our parents and grandparents endured world wars and times of a financial depression. There are upside events and milestones as well, from a cure, vaccine, or major medical breakthroughs to putting a man on the moon.  These  global events have each profoundly affected large segments of the world’s population. On a micro level, this occurs within countries, ethnicities and especially in religions. Within the Jewish world the previous generations witnessed two polarized /opposite events, namely the years from 1939-1945 known as the holocaust and, only a few short years later in 1948, the establishment of the State of Israel.

For the Jewish people, historically speaking, Yezias Mitrayim, the Exodus from Egypt was the defining moment for the Jews then and forever after. It is the one event that is connected to the Shalosh Regalim of Pesach, Sukkos and Shavuos. It is the historical event that we mention during every kiddush - sanctifying Shabbos and Yom Tov.

Reb Aaron Ben Asher of Karlin (1802 – 1872), known as Rabbi Aaron II of Karlin, was a famous Chasidic Rebbe in northwestern Russia. In his work Beis Aharon, he instructed his students to review a certain Ramban every day as it is a fundamental part of Yiddishkeit/Judaism. The Ramban, at the end of Parshas Bo Shmos 13:16, explains the purpose of constantly remembering Yetzias Mitzrayim, the Exodus from Egypt. He wrote: "ומן הנסים הגדולים המפורסמים אדם מודה בנסים הנסתרים שהם יסוד התורה כלה שאין לאדם חלק בתורת משה רבינו עד שנאמין בעל דברינו ומקריני שכלם נסים אין בהם טבע ומנהגו של עולם"  “By remembering the great and wondrous miracles, one recognizes the hidden miracles too, and this is the foundation of the entire Torah. For if not, one does not have a portion in the Torah unless he believes that everything that occurs to him is all miraculous, and that there is no such thing as the natural order of the world. This is the whole purpose of saying over the story of Yetzias Mitzrayim, fulfilling the mitzva to say it twice every single day.” One can ask, ”Why?” The answer is to remember that everything that happens to us is Hashgacha Pratis (Divine Providence).  Accordingly, it follows that the great signs and wonders constitute faithful witnesses, witness to the truth of the belief in the existence of the Creator and the truth of the entire Torah. And because the Holy One, blessed be He, will not make signs and wonders in every generation just for the sake of the eyes of some wicked man or heretic. He therefore commanded us that we should always make a memorial sign of that which we have seen with our eyes, and that we should transmit the matter to our children, and their children to their children, to the generations to come, and He placed great emphasis on it, as indicated by the fact that one is liable to extinction for eating Chometz on Pesach and for the abandoning of the Korban Pesach the Paschal lamb”.

The Chasam Sofer explains this Ramban with an amazing parable as to how we get from repeating the amazing miracles of Yetzias Mitrayim to seeing the Hashgacha Pratis in everything that occurs to us. There was once an exceptionally talented artist, a sculptor who was one of the greatest of his time. One of his most outstanding pieces was a beautiful sculpture of a horse. The horse was made from plastic, but it looked so real that it was difficult for anyone to realize that it was fake. He decided to move this sculpture, which had taken him months to create, to a place smack in the middle of the busiest intersection of the city. He stood from afar on one of the corners of the street, watching people coming and going.  No one,  not one person, stopped to look at his beautiful work of art. This bothered him terribly. He thought to himself about how hard he worked, about how many months he had devoted to creating this beautiful work of art, yet no one even gave it a glance. Deeply disappointed, he thought that perhaps he had not truly created a work of art after all. One day, he mentioned these feelings to his friend. His friend replied, “You are being foolish. The reason no one has stopped to admire your horse is the opposite:  it is because it is too good – they think it is a real horse. Seeing a real horse is not that interesting. I would advise you to take this sculpture and split it in half. When people see a statue of a  horse which looks so real  split into two, you will see many people stop to admire it’! The people will realize it is a beautiful work of art and they will appreciate it.” And that is exactly what happened; the passersby started to notice his work of art.

The Chasam Sofer explains this exact human response occurs in this world. Hashem created the heavens and the earth. A person wakes up in the morning with everything running smoothly. There is a sun by day, moon by night, but no one notices the constant ‘Hashgacha Pratis’ - Hashem’s consistent overseeing of the world’s daily activities. We tend not to pay attention to the fact that it is God who is arranging everything every single micro-second. Therefore, Hashem made Yetzios Mitzrayim, a one-time exodus from Egypt where the things that are ‘regular’ were changed. First there were the ten plagues, then the  splitting of the Yam Suf (Sea of Reeds). What was the purpose if not to grab the attention away from the ordinary day-to-day expected occurrences of life.

There are moments throughout our lives when we look around and consider all the miraculous things that make the world happen, that make the world seem ordinary. We take for granted the daily Hashgacha and input Hashem continuously gives to the world and to our very existence. Therefore, sometimes, on a daily basis or weekly/monthly basis, Hashem will break something in two to get our attention. It is our responsibility to recognize the beauty of the world and see the incredible artwork of the Creator all the time, especially when He splits it in two.  

Parshas Bo - The One & Only Chef's Delight    8 Shvat 5781

01/29/2021 08:23:28 AM

Jan29

One hundred years ago the fast-food industry was introduced in the United States. (Try to guess which one.  Don’t look yet, but the answer can be found at the end of the article) Accompanying the concept of “fast food”, the entire food industry underwent a revolution of canning, food preservation, and offerings of numerous readymade ingredients. By the mid-seventies a variety of pre-packaged ingredients were on supermarket shelves, saving the consumer – or reluctant cook - an enormous amount of time, hence speeding up food preparation, albeit with some sacrifice to quality and freshness. Throughout these decades of fast-food development, companies introduced new shortcut possibilities, including the introduction of several new food preparation machines. While some cooks opted for the new wave of readymade “stuff”, true chefs and a handful of hard-core mom and pop outlets stood by their original recipes and traditions of preparing meals from scratch. 

My mother a”h bridged this transition; she knew how to make everything from scratch (especially for Pesach), but at the same time did not hesitate to dabble with modern technology. Nevertheless, like many other things in the world of inventions, we have gone too far and are losing out on the unique value of the original, old-fashioned food preparation techniques. Today there are numerous tempting shortcut gadgets available for the reluctant cook: the Airfryer, Insta-pot, rice cooker, bread maker, the sous vide, and the list goes on. Modern gadgets and shortcut techniques should be available to assist but not necessarily to substitute the process of fresh food preparation.

I was born in the middle of this period of emerging fast foods and growth of modern food-prep appliances.  Growing up, I was always a momma’s boy. My mother a”h and I spent a lot of quality time together since I did not begin attending school until entering kindergarten. My maternal grandparents came to this country in May of 1939 and opened a dairy restaurant on the Lower East Side of Manhattan which they continued to run for over thirty years. My mother literally grew up in the kitchen. Cooking and baking was the standard side of the kitchen, but she had a knack for re-creating foods, otherwise known in today’s lingo as recycling leftovers. My mother gave me my first exposure to cooking. My experience and culinary ‘career’ were launched from her exceptional skill and love for food preparation. I learned and applied my cooking skills throughout my childhood and adolescent years, peaking as I worked as a mashgiach in some of the fanciest hotels. Thanks to my mother’s ability for creating and preparing something from nothing and from observing superbly trained hotel chefs at work, I received a decent culinary education.

One of the basic tools essential to food preparation is knowing what kind of ‘cooking’ is required for a particular dish. There are many ways to prepare food - braising, grilling, frying, roasting, baking, steaming, poaching, simmering, broiling – each essential to determine the outcome of every dish. For example, just this week I took a piece of meat which I thought I’d just throw onto the grill. Little did I know that this cut of meat (deckle roast) is in the brisket family and should be cooked in the oven with a little liquid, essential for softening the meat. Instead, the deckle roast, now cooking on the grill, toughened up and it was no longer worth the value of what we had paid for it.

Putting aside the knowledge needed to prepare food for the palate, there are also serious ramifications about the laws of keeping kosher, be it mixing of meat and milk or the mixing of kosher and non-kosher foods together. It is also vital to know and understand the methods of food prep with regard to knowing which kashering (kosherizing) method is appropriate for that dish. Not only are the laws of cooking in the Torah, but there are also specific kinds of food prep necessary for fulfilling a mitzva. Before we get to see where these situations are in the Torah, I would like to state an obvious truism related to this topic: There is a cause-and-effect relationship with regard to the taste and method of cooking. My rule: the more human involvement in the cooking process, the better the food will taste. While less time or use of short cuts may be necessary at times, quality of taste will be adversely affected. Put simply, the food will not taste as good.  In my opinion, anything grilled (so long as it does not require slow, moist cooking) has a better taste and flavor than something just placed in an oven. Grilling requires constant involvement and supervision while other foods will do well simply put into the preheated oven until done.

In this week’s Parshas Bo the Torah states in Shmos 12:8 "ואכלו את הבשר בלילה הזה, צלי אש  ומצות על מררים יאכלהו"  “Eat the sacrificial meat during the night, roasted over fire. Eat it with matzah and bitter herbs”. The Torah clearly tells us that the Korban Pesach must be roasted over an open pit, barbecue/grilling style. It is interesting to note that the positive command to roast the meat was not sufficient. In fact, the next verse, Shmos 12:9, administers a negative command on how to prepare. "אל תאכלו ממנו נא ובשל מבשל במים, כי אם צלי אש ראשו על כרעיו ועל קרבו"  “Do not eat it [Korban Pesach] raw or cooked in water, but only roasted over fire, including its head, its legs and its internal organs”. The question is why do we need a positive command to roast and a negative command not to eat it raw or cooked in water? The sefer HaChinuch brings forward two reasons: The first is the Korban Pesach must be roasted because this is the way kings and rulers have their food prepared, in contrast to ordinary folk who do not have the luxury of roasting of meat. The poor need to cook a small amount of meat with other ingredients to make the meal go further. The second answer to the question regarding why specifically meat is roasted on a fire is to demonstrate the need to prepare something quickly by throwing the meat on the grill. When food is cooked in the oven, many more ingredients are necessary to flavor and seep into the meat, so the cooking time is considerably longer.  Therefore, roasting on an open flame demonstrated the quickness with which we had to cook the Korban Pesach and then immediately leave.  Again, additionally, open grilling is a sign of royalty who have the luxury of eating large quantities of grilled meat. A third answer is possibly the most well-known - the aroma of the grilling meat would reach the Egyptian noses, smelling the roasting of their perceived gods with no ability to do anything about it. Clearly, the aroma of roasting meat on an outdoor open fire permeates the air much more pungently than meat cooking in an oven inside the home. This same act, using the open fire, is also a positive commandment in Devarim 7:25    "פסילי אלהיהם תשרפון באש" “You must burn their idolatrous statues in fire”.

When it comes to our Avodas Hashem, serving the Almighty, there are no short cuts. We need to take the original recipe handed down from generations ago and not use some kind of replacement regarding how we perform this service. We should serve God openly, allowing the aroma of the Mitzvos be a sweet smell for all of us who perform the Mitzvos and to our neighbors who will also recognize the sweet smell of how we worship the Master Chef of the world!

Answer -  eltsaC etihW

Parshas Vaera - Coming Back to Shul                  2 Shvat 5781

01/14/2021 11:17:41 PM

Jan14

So much has been written and spoken about regarding the raging pandemic throughout ten months of this past year. Looking back, we recognize and mourn the loss of life as the pandemic wreaked havoc across the globe. Our lives were turned upside down and the world retreated. Life as we knew it came to a standstill. Every aspect of our lives changed abruptly from the way we pray, to how we learn, purchase food, travel, socialize. The list goes on and on, yet despite all the negatives there was also good that emerged, thanks to our forced change in behavior. Life tends to be somewhat polarized: when something negative occurs, something positive emerges to counterbalance it. Today, while the Covid-19 pandemic still rages, hope that the vaccine will stem and ultimately defeat its continued spread and devastation is emerging.  Knowledge regarding disease transmission and awareness of the importance of social distancing and wearing of masks is far beyond what was understood ten months ago.

Early on, in the beginning of the lockdown, shuls were forced to close and Tefilla B’Tzibbur- communal prayer- was, for the first time in our lives, totally shut down. Jews across the continents, from young children to Torah scholars, found themselves alone, davening in solitude, separated from minyanim.  Yet, through this isolation, opportunity for self-introspection arose, allowing a deepening appreciation for the quality and beauty of prayer, of how we pray and exploration of the depth and profound meaning of each word. However, while many whom I spoke with expressed appreciation for this opportunity for inner growth, ultimately even that experience eventually grew stale. It is difficult to maintain consistent davening with the intensity and concentration required when davening at home. This is only one of the many reasons we need to go to Shul. We need to be in a place dedicated strictly for prayer where we set a place and time in order to accomplish through being part of a minyan more than we can attain individually.  We need to daven together.

Today, while the Covid-19 pandemic still rages, hope that the vaccine will stem and ultimately defeat its continued spread and devastation is emerging.  People not in high-risk groups are resuming many of their previous activities. Yet, some who do venture out have not yet made that same commitment to returning to shul and to davening with a minyan. While there are still good reasons for some not to come back to daven in shul, it is nevertheless necessary for those not in a high-risk category to make an honest ‘cheshbon’ – calculation – and re-evaluate the importance of attending minyanim. For some, now may just be the time to return to shul, to daven with a minyan. Precautions are taken and accommodations are available to make everyone feel safe and to remain healthy. It is hoped that the rate of transmission will drop as the number of people receiving the vaccine increases.  At a certain point, the absence from Shul and Tefilla B’Tzibbur starts to have a negative effect on a person’s spiritual well-being. The emphasis and importance of Tefilla is highlighted in a most unusual Midrash. 

The Midrash Rabbah 11:1 relates an amazing and scary explanation of the following: The Torah, in this week’s Parsha Vaeira, states in Shmos 8:16 "ויאמר ה' אל משה השכם בבקר והתיצב לפני פרעה הנה יוצא המימה, ואמרת אליו כה אמר ה' שלח עמי ויעבדוני"   “God said to Moshe, ‘get up early in the morning, and confront pharaoh when he goes out to the water, and say to him, ‘Let My people leave and serve me’.”  Rashi explains why Hashem tells Moshe to get up early in the morning: Pharaoh pretended he was a god, and therefore did not need to relieve himself. He secretly tended to his bodily needs and functions early each morning before anyone else was awake. Therefore, Hashem wanted Moshe to show pharaoh he is not a god and told Moshe to go the river earlier than Pharaoh in order to catch him in the act. The Midrash, however, says something quite different than Rashi’s explanation. It says Pharaoh wanted to daven to Hashem. He could not pray in the place since it was full of idols.  Therefore, Pharaoh needed to go to an area that was idol-free to engage with Hashem.

Before we explain this, we need to examine how it come to be that Pharoah wanted to pray. At a certain point pharaoh recognized God’s greatness, raining relentless punishment upon Egypt. Despite the fact that pharaoh rejected Hashem and turned Moshe away, he now experienced second thoughts. Therefore, even the evil pharaoh, who had enslaved and tortured 600,000 Jews, now wanted to daven to Hashem. Hashem would have answered pharaoh’s prayers if he had prayed from the beginning, but he passed up that opportunity to pray at the appropriate time. A good person is always given the opportunity to repent, to get closer to God.  The wicked, on the other hand, also have the same opportunity - with limitations. Based upon a passuk in Iyov 36:13, we learn that after Hashem waits for the wicked to repent, when they do not do so, even if they desire to repent at the end, He takes away, obstructs, their hearts’ desire so that they will not repent. This was precisely the case regarding pharaoh. Initially, he could have allowed the Jews to leave but chose not to do so. When things began to get rough, pharaoh had a change of heart, and this time he sincerely intended to daven to Hashem. Hashem, however, said sorry, too late and arranged for Moshe to intervene, removing the opportunity for Pharaoh to repent and let the Jews go.   

Pharaoh was evil. He did not receive a second chance, unlike others who can always repent.  The mechanism within nature that prevented his second asking was due to Moshe’s intervention. This is the route Hashem chose to deny pharaoh, the rasha, the second chance to repent through prayer. And so, Hashem tells Moshe to get there before Pharaoh arrived to pray because even the tefillos of pharaoh have power! Moshe, fully unaware, is instructed by Hashem to “go out and stand before him”, to cut pharaoh off by arriving at the river before pharaoh had a chance to pray.  Hashem told Moshe, that if he did not do this and pharaoh had the opportunity to pray, it would be too late for the Jewish people.

If the Yetzer Hora/Evil Inclination should come to me and proclaim, ”Who do you think you are? You think you can pray to God?” I would immediately retort, “I know who I am. Perhaps I am not so holy and righteous. Perhaps I can improve. But I am not in in any way a rasha like Pharaoh!” If Pharaoh’s prayers could have stopped Moshe Rabbeinu, then our Tefillos are certainly powerful enough to reach Hashem’s ears. To repeat the words of the Midrash: ‘Pharaoh wanted to pray to Hashem, and Hashem told Moshe before pharaoh could do so to ‘go stand in front of him’. The Midrash says that there some people who are prevented from davening by Hashem. We should not focus on those individuals; we must, instead, remind ourselves before every Shmoneh Esrei/Amidah how much our Tefillos are worth. If the prayers of a rasha/wicked and evil person such as pharaoh are worth something, then our Tefillos are worth a billion times more. In addition to the value of our prayers, we know that Hashem desires our Tefillos. Our prayers bring us closer to Him.

In my humble opinion, it is Shul attendance, participation in davening with a minyan, that keeps us connected, especially during these trying times. It has been too long, and the longer we are away the further we distance ourselves from Hashem. We need everyone’s Tefillos to focus upon and pray for the threat of illness to dissipate.  We need each other to return, to come back before we fall into the trap of the Yetzer Hora thinking that this is the new norm…it is not.

Parshas Shemos - These are Our Names!       24 Teves 5781

01/08/2021 09:58:31 AM

Jan8

This week we begin reading Sefer Shemos.  For the most part, story or history books are filled with names. We know that shmos means names, but the irony is that this week’s parsha is filled with names while at the same time displaying a clear lack of names. The question is why?  

Malcolm Forbes once said, ”Every story has an end, but in life, every end is just a new beginning.” Despite the fact that we concluded the book of Bereishis last Shabbos, the story has not ended. The book of Shmos is just a new beginning, as detected by the prefix ‘vav’ at the very first wordואלה  - meaning ‘and these’, showing a continuation from that which came previously. Presumably, the book of Shmos is not only a continuation but the addition to sefer Bereishis.

The book of Genesis is the story of the Jewish people in utero, while the opening of Shmos is the clear birth of the nation of Israel. Nevertheless, it is the individuals who make up the nation. Each and every Jew, from the rise of our nation in the book of Shmos, is part of an emerging people, both as individuals and at the same time as individuals each of whom together comprise the entire nation. In fact, there is a notion that there are six hundred thousand letters in the Torah, each letter representing a Jew. To me, since every Jew has a connection to the Torah, each of us is commanded to be familiar with it in its entirety. To connect to something, we must know it well; there should be a directive to read the Torah at the beginning, from Bereishis. It is here, only in the book of Shmos, where we find the hint of this mandate to read the Torah.

We find the source of reading the Torah in the Levush Mordechai, written by Reb Mordechai Yaffo. The Levush brings down that the source for our obligation to read the parsha two times and the Targum Onkelus (commentary) once comes from this week’s parsha Shmos. This obligation is commonly known as "שנים מקרא ואחד תרגום" , “two times reading the Torah and one time Targum”. The first two words of this week’s parsha are  "ואלה שמות" “ViEleh shemos,”  ‘and these are the names’ which are the roshei teyvos (acronym that reads out” וחייב אדם להשלים הפרשה שנים מקרא ואחד תרגום"  “Vi’chayav Adam Lihashlim Haparsha Shnayim Mikra Vi’echad Targum”- “… and a person is obligated to complete the portion reading it two times and the Targum once.” The obvious question is, why would this be the source?  What is the simple understanding?  What does shemos have to do with shnayim mikra vi’echad targum?

Rav Yechezkel Weinfeld of Ramat Eshkol in Yerushalayim suggests that the reason is, Shmos is the book of galus (exile) and geulah (redemption).  Up until now, through sefer Bereishis we have been dealing with our forefathers, and there are only three of those in contrast to sefer Shmos which is about the children, and there are too many of those to count.  In a situation where not everyone can be counted and mentioned, some may feel inadequate and unworthy of any special accolade. Therefore, the Torah comes in right now at this juncture to tell us that we- all of us - are important.  As it says, each person must finish “his parsha with the rest of the tzibbur.  In addition, each one of us needs to read the parsha- not once, but twice- and we must translate it into a different language, presumably one that we understand. Why is the Mitzva to read it twice? So that we can sometimes read it differently and realize that there is another or many other ways of reading those letters which represent other Jews who may be different than I am. The context of having and learning a commentary is to understand there must be room for interpretation.

Another important lesson of reading the Torah twice is we must always see that even though our input is important, the Torah must be read twice- the Torah is the base and must be viewed through the lens of the Torah. There are many additions and explanations that we contribute to the understanding of the Torah, but we must realize anything we have to contribute must always be with the realization of the Torah’s primacy, the Torah is the main thing.  Nevertheless, our input is important, but only when we know where and how to frame it. A further reason for reading it twice is accuracy, to make sure we say it properly and ultimately to remember it better, for repetition helps with retention.

More importantly we need to remember we are all reading the same words of the Torah every day and the same Parsha each week. No one person or any particular group owns the Torah. We all could fulfill the Torah, each according to his/her own traditions with proper and adequate halachik guidance. 

Finally,  I wish to take some poetic license with my own drush of the two-time business of the parsha. If one noticed, there are different words used for the letter lamed in the phrase above; some read it as Likros – to read - and other as L’Hashlim – to complete. There are two lessons to be taken from this phrase. With regard to Likros, the first is the two times we read the portion is meant to be one time for the way each of us sees the Torah and the second time how each of us reads the Torahmay be through the eyes of another reader, namely my fellow Jew. Although he may pronounce the words with a different dialect, accent, or emphasis, I need to accept that Jew just as equally as the person who read it the first time, namely us.   Additionally, the word ‘LHashlim’ - to complete - is a direct message to each and every one of us. We are all put on this earth to accomplish a mission and we need to complete it before we leave. To complete the Parsha isn’t necessarily the portion of the week, it is also the parsha that is our life.  The word Parsha is defined as a section or piece, whereby we may be in a certain ‘parsha’ of life. We all must read our life script and fulfill it until we have completed it.

Each and everyone of us should have the ability to not only read but to understand the Torah; we individually and collectively represent all Jews. Hopefully, as we all read the parsha individually and collectively, we will complete our unique, individual missions that carry us through to the Geulah Shelaima collectively as a whole Bais Yaakov, the House of Jacob!

Parshas Vayechi - Living & Preparing for Eternity     16 Teves 5781

12/30/2020 09:13:52 PM

Dec30

One of the most awkward, sensitive, and deeply important topics of discussion in life is death. Death is something we all cognitively understand will happen to us, yet no one truly grapples with the reality that it will ever happen to them. Death is, no doubt, the most uncomfortable area of conversation with which I as a rabbi must deal. There is a famous story in Tales Out of Shul where Rabbi Feldman remarked to the people attending a funeral that people think there are two clubs in life: the club of which the person whose body lying before them was a member, and the club everyone thought they belonged to. No one wants to think about death in general, especially not their own. Nevertheless…….. 

The Gemara says that whoever will prepare on erev Shabbos will have what to eat on Shabbos. The six days of the week are physical, focused on the mundane. Shabbos, on the other hand, is a day of rest that is the spiritual counterpart to the weekdays. This world is viewed as the six days to work and accomplish to put away for the day of rest, synonymous to the next world, the world to come. Therefore, just as we prepare for the Shabbos in this world, so, too, we prepare for the Shabbos in the world to come.

The preparation a person does in this world for the next world is not only helpful for himself or herself, but for the family each of us will leave behind. The rule in life is the more we prepare for something and think ahead, the easier it will be for the spouse/children/community who are left behind.  Additionally, the more clarity there is, the less machlokes/disputes will arise among the family. In addition, if a person is clear regarding his/her final wishes - whether leaving clear instructions to prepare for life-ending scenarios or where to be buried – such clarity will guide and comfort the family, providing them with peace of mind, not having to guess as to the true wishes of their departed loved one. There are countless numbers of families, all of whom were well-intended yet ended up not speaking to each other over matters that were left vague by a parent. How painful it must be for the neshama of parents who witnessed such discord between their children at this painful, difficult point when it is too late for them to intervene. If they had only left clear instructions, the Neshama would be imbued with Menuchas HaNefesh, literally would be able to rest in peace. This important lesson is clearly detailed in the Torah itself……

In this week’s parsha Vayechi the Torah states in Bereishis 47:29-31 "ויקרבו ימי ישראל למות ויקרא לבנו ליוסף ויאמר לו אם נא מצאתי חן בעינך שים נא תחת ירכי ועשית עמדי חסד ואמת אל נא תקברני במצרים. ושכבתי עם אבותי ונשאתני ממצרים וקברתני בקברתם ויאמר אנכי אעשה כדברך. ויאמר השבעה לי וישבע לו וישתחו ישראל על ראש המטה".  “ - When Yisrael [Yakov] realized that he would soon die, he called for his son Yosef. Yakov said, 'If you really want to do me a kindness, place your hand under my thigh. Act towards me with truth and kindness, and do not bury me in Egypt. Let me lie with my fathers. Carry me out of Egypt and bury me in their grave’. Yosef replied, “I will do as you say.”  

These verses describe Yakov’s request to be buried with his forefathers in Israel and not in Egypt. Apparently, it was insufficient for Yakov just to ask for this; he insisted his son Yosef take an oath to ensure he would follow through. *Rav Zvi Solomon, in his sefer Kavod HaAvos, raises an interesting point. The fact that Yakov required his son Yosef to swear indicates that the mitzva of honoring your mother and father applies not only during their lifetime; it applies even after they have passed away, quoting the Gemara Kiddushin 31b and also codified in Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 240:9. If that’s the case - that the Mitzva to honor our parents applies even in death, - why was it necessary for Yosef to swear? He was reliable. Surely Yosef, who fulfilled all the Mitzvos, would continue to do so! Rabbi Solomon goes through a beautiful discourse regarding the difference of opinion between the Ramban and Rebbi Akiva Eiger’s understanding of Yosef’s obligations. For full detail, refer to Kavod HaAvos, pgs 219-222. To paraphrase Rebbi Akiva Eiger’s explanation, there are two kinds of last will testaments that parents may leave for their children. The primary will address how to distribute the assets and divide the estate in a peaceful, equitable manner. The secondary will address an issue which is more spiritual and which, in the case of Yakov, was where he demanded to be buried. The monetary issues of how to pay off the deceased’s debts and distribute assets speaks to the surviving loved ones. The deceased does not really care about these distributions after he/she is gone. The physical body ceases to exist; all physical association therefore also stops. In contrast to the physical, however, is the spiritual well-being of the Neshama/soul. It is this concern which is of extreme concern - even after death.  Therefore, Yakov knew that all ordinary arrangements would be taken care of by Yosef because he would honor his father. The deeper question or concern Yakov had would be the pressure Yosef might feel to have his father buried in Egypt, and that was what Yakov needed to make sure would not happen. Yakov was concerned for his after-life. Being buried in Egypt would cause him pain during Techiyas HaMeisim. He also feared that the Egyptians might worship his grave. After all, it was in Yakov’s merit that the last five years of the famine was furloughed for a later time in Egyptian history. From here we see, brilliantly brought out by Rabbi Solomon, that the obligation to honor a parent is not limited to this world; it extends even beyond. For this and other issues, including reciting Kaddish, giving charity in their name, and learning for their namesake, a nachas ruach is brought to their souls.

This coming Shabbos has been coined T.E.A.M. Shabbos (Traditional End-of-Life Awareness Movement) by NASCK (National Association of Chevra Kaddisha), an organization that deals with end-of-life questions and situations. This coming Shabbos, shuls and organizations throughout the world will dedicate lectures, shiurim, and materials on this all-important part of life. Jewish belief is that there is an after-life; the Neshama lives on, and we anticipate Techiyas HaMeisim (revival of the dead) in the Messianic time.

The all-important Mitzva of Kibbud Av VaEim, honoring your mother and father, is in full focus this week. Parents have an opportunity to ease the burden on their families and prepare for the inevitable after 120. Become aware of end-of-life issues and prepare properly so that our children can continue to honor us properly in this world and the next. If we give them the tools to obey and fulfill the commandment of honoring their parents, then our children should merit the promise and the reward of this mitzva to have long life themselves!

 

Ah Gutten Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

 

*Rabbi Zvi Solomon, born in Brooklyn NY., is an alumnus of Ner Israel Rabbinical college and Yeshivas Mir Jerusalem. He was a member of the Kollel of Greater Boston and lectures on various Torah topics for the Boston Jewish community. He now serves as a Rabbinic Coordinator at KVH Kosher and is a KVH Kosher Supervisor. Rabbi Solomon is an expert in vegetable checking for bugs as well as a Bodek of Shaatnez in clothing. The Boston Shatnez Laboratory was started by Rabbi Zvi Solomon in 2007. His humble beginnings began as a SEEDLING at Beth Jacob San Diego in 1997, returning to Beth Jacob San Diego for multiple years after that.

Parshas Vayigash - It is not the Mountain We Move; It is Ourselves       10 Teves 5781

12/25/2020 11:12:39 AM

Dec25

Over the course of the last few months, we have been ordered to daven outside due to Covid-19. We are fortunate to have a great set-up with our patio adjacent to the social hall and an almost complete exterior enclosure. While one side it is completely open, two sides are completely closed while the fourth side faces east onto the parking lot and beyond. The fourth side has a right-angle triangular shape. So, the wall decreases from the top to the bottom like a slide. Every Friday, chairs are arranged with small, individual tables set up in front of each chair. During the week, the tables and chairs get moved around a little to this side and a little to that side. I sit approximately in the middle of the length of the patio with my back directly up against the wall. I am blessed with an instinct to see who is coming and going and to scour the area for security purposes.

As these months of go by, I have, at times, begun to feel as though I was losing my mind. When we initially starting davening on the patio, I was able to easily see over the wall into the lot. Overtime, it became more difficult to see over the wall, and this week I could not see over the wall at all. To see out, I needed to walk further to where the height of the wall’s construction was lower. I began thinking to myself that while I am aware we physically tend to shrink as we age, I did not think it happened at my age, and so quickly!

I began to ponder this and realized that I am not going crazy nor am I shrinking at a rapid pace. Rather, it dawned on me that the chair and table was being set up just a few inches over to the left where the wall was higher. Nothing was happening to me; it was the chair’s fault!  Or at least it was because the chair had been slightly relocated to an area where the wall’s construction was a bit higher. This reminded me of a classic story of the mythic town of Chelm*:

Once upon a time, in the little village of Chelm, the people decided that they needed a new cemetery.  The population of the city had expanded, people had begun to build larger homes, and the need to find a new location for the townspeople’s eternal resting place was now evident.  They looked, and looked, but could not find a suitable location.  They called a meeting of the wise people of the town and for seven days, debated the issue.

At the end of the seven days, the people reached a conclusion: On the southern side of the city, they could utilize a new space created simply by moving the mountain to make room for the new cemetery. This, of course, raised a new question for the people: how does one move a mountain?  They debated the issue for another seven days.  Finally, the wise men of Chelm came up with an idea: “We will all rise, all men of the town as one – united in spirit and body – and together we will move the mountain.” The townspeople quickly accepted this “wise” advice. Early one morning, all able-bodied men – young and old, would make their way out to the mountain on the southern side of the city.

A crowd quickly gathered and surrounded the mountain.  The men pushed and shoved and leaned and tried as hard as they could, but they could not move the mountain. Thirty minutes went by, allowing the participants to catch their breath before they strenuously applied themselves once again.  They pushed and strained and shoved but could not move the mountain.  At this point, the menfolk of Chelm were drenched in sweat, and the sun had risen, beating down on them. Growing ever more uncomfortable, the men removed their coats and jackets, depositing them on the side in preparation for their next try. As all the men struggled, a group of petty thieves watched the men in earnest.  They quickly came with small carts, and as the men of Chelm strained to move the mountain, the thieves stole all the coats and jackets and quickly disappeared from the town.

After a few hours of straining, one of the wise men discovered that his jacket was missing.  Soon, all the men discovered that their coats and jackets were missing.  They began to wonder what was going on.  The wise man of Chelm surmised the answer. “We must have been successful!” he told them. “We must have moved the mountain so far that we cannot even see the place where we left our clothing.” Upon hearing this explanation, the people began to applaud, cheer, and even break out into dance over their success.

They were foolish to think that losing their coats and jackets was a sign of their success, but they were not foolish with regard to looking for a metric for success.  Where in Chelm they were looking for room for their cemetery, In the Torah Yosef and Yehuda were also looking for some space.

In this week’s Parshas Vayigash the Torah states in Bereishis 44:18 "ויגש אליו יהודה ויאמר בי  :אדני ידבר נא עבדך דבר באזני אדני ואל יחר אפך בעבדך כי כמוך כפרעה"  Judah walked up to [Joseph] and said, ‘Please, your highness, let me say something to you personally. Do not be angry with me, even though you are just like Pharaoh”. The Baal HaTurim quotes the Midrash Rabbah 43:6 that the gematria (numerical value) of the first three words of the Parsha describing Yehuda’s moving and approaching Yosef totals three hundred ninety-six. If you take the words "גם נכנס ופייסו"   “He also entered and appeased him”, and "זהו להלחם עם יוסף"  “and he came to do battle with Yosef” each one of those phrases equals three hundred ninety-six! Yehuda’s approach was with the same temperament, in the same manner - whether he was going to use a peaceful tactic or an aggressive one. If he were going to be angry or calm it would be the same as he moved toward Yosef. The number or degree of his approach was the same: to come to an agreeable solution to their defiance of one another.

The lesson in life isn’t for me to always get my way on my terms. People think if they push hard enough, they will get what they want. They push so hard that they begin to believe that they are changing someone else or a situation. Little do they know they have not moved anyone or anything – not one single inch. But sometimes, to make a change one must change his/her position and be amenable one way or another. Yehuda approached and moved towards his brother Yosef, and that was what changed the situation. We, too, need to change and approach situations differently to reach a different conclusion. While we certainly cannot move a mountain, but we surely can move ourselves!

Ah Gutten Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

 

*In East European Jewish folklore, the city of Chelm functions as an imaginary city of fools like that of the Greek Abdera, the English Gotham, and the German Schilda, among numerous others. The legendary “town of fools,” often presented ironically as “The Wise Men of Chelm,” is a feature common to most European folklore. Chelm, located approximately 65 kilometers southeast of Lublin, had a Jewish population from at least the fourteenth century, and was a real town whose residents bore no connection to the stories. If anything, the town was known for Torah scholarship.

Adapted from the Yivo Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe.

Parshas Mikeitz - Changing Faces Over Time  3 Teves 5781

12/18/2020 11:39:18 AM

Dec18

A few weeks ago I received an innocent call asking for a character reference for someone in the community. This is a common occurrence; many people list their local community rabbi on their CV as a reference. In most cases, my wife or I neither know or even  recognize the name of the person requesting the referral. This time I did not recognize the number, but the caller ID was a name that rang a bell.

The caller was someone I had known over thirty-five years ago while learning in yeshiva. After chatting a bit, he informed me about yet another WhatsApp group called ‘Rabbi Wein’s YST Alumni’ (The YST stands for Yeshiva Shaarei Torah). In only a few short clicks, I was transported back to my post- high school yeshiva days where I had spent seven wonderful years as both a bachur and also in Kollel. After I was introduced, I scrolled down through the one-hundred plus participants and wondered if I were in the correct chat. Although the area codes matched the locale from which most of the participants came, I still did not recognize many of their names. This is understandable;  I was only in the Yeshiva for a small part of its long history. There were many students who had learned there before me and many more who came after I left. Nevertheless, we all came together, having  a common bond - the Yeshiva building, the Rabbeim and, of course, the memories. I would venture to claim that most people in any social situation over a span of years (especially school years) could ever imagine not recognizing those with whom they were close to from that time long into the future.  If asked, most everyone would quip,, ”Of course I will remember who that person was.” Yet, our memories play tricks on us; it does not even take a long absence before we tend to forget people. This phenomenon is not so far from what we read about in the Torah this week.

In this week’s Parshas Mikeitz, the Torah states in Bereishis 42:8 "ויכר יוסף את אחיו, והם לא הכרהו"  “Joseph recognized his brothers, but they did not recognize him”. The Piltzer Rebbe, Rav Pinchas Yustman in his work Sifsei Tzaddik, explains why the brothers did not recognize Yosef. To strengthen the question, the Midrash says that the image or portrait of Yosef looked exactly like his father, Yaakov. If so, the brothers knew what their father looked like.  Shouldn’t they have easily been able to recognize Yosef? Despite Rashi ‘s explanation that when they sold Yosef, he did not have a beard and now he had one, it should not have made a difference. Yosef having a beard should not detract from his resemblance to his father. Rav Yustman answers that Yosef was now thirty-nine years old and resembled Yaakov when he was a thirty-nine-year-old. Yosef looked like his father when his father was that age of thirty-nine. But the brothers did not know what their father looked like when he was that age. (They must have lost the family album.) Since Yaakov married when he was eighty-four, obviously his children did not know what he looked like over sixty years before his marriage.  

 Perhaps, through this understanding of the passuk, I realize why I did not remember many of the names on the chat. I was satisfied until a zoom meeting was arranged so that Rabbi Wein could speak to the alumni of the high school and the current Yeshiva guys. I was excited to see some of the faces I had not seen in over three decades. Then reality struck a second time, and this time it hurt even more. Okay, let alone some of the guys chose not to show their faces and only displayed their names, but others had covered-up their names! Maybe some knew who they are, but others did not. The real challenge was the reality of how the zoom boxes of those showing their faces and their correct identities were still unrecognizable!  I could not believe it, considering I have not changed at all. To be fair, I am sure the feelings were mutual, but at least I had my video with the proper name displayed. Once again, I thought to myself, ”How is it possible for me to not recognize these guys whom I saw day in and day out!”

The Kli Yakar asks why, in consecutive pesukim, there is no mention of Yosef recognizing his brothers?  The passuk before, in Bereishis 42:7, states  "וירא יוסף את אחיו ויכרם, ויתנכר: אליהם וידבר אתם קשות ויאמר אלהם מאין באתם ויאמרו מארץ כנען אשבר אכל"   “Yosef recognized his brothers as soon as he saw them, but he behaved like a stranger and spoke harshly to them. “Where are you from?” He asked. “From the land of Canaan to buy food.” Why does the Torah need to repeat a second time - in verse 8 - that Yosef recognized the brothers? Rav Lunchitz explains that the first time it states ‘recognized’ refers to the structure of each face that caused him to recognize who they were. The second recognition regarded the brotherhood and rachmanus/pity. Others explain that initially Yosef recognized them, but then behaved like a stranger towards them, as though he did not recognize them. But after they responded that they were from the land of Canaan,  he had complete recognition, supporting his initial hunch that they were, indeed, his brothers. The Iben Ezra notes that at first he was in doubt as to who was whom, meaning who was Reuvain and who was Shimon. After he spoke to them a bit, he was able to connect the pieces together and recognized them individually.

The Torah itself reconciles the repetitiveness through experiencing a clearer picture of who the brothers were in the eyes of Yosef. It took time and a few moments to reflect, to see each brother in order to conclude how he [Yosef] did know with certainty who they were. But this could not occur immediately; it took a little time. So too, if someone does not initially appear familiar, yet you feel you know them, take it slowly, look back, try to detect the features of a person which never change.  Chances are good that you will figure out who the person is.  Perhaps the larger and more important lesson is that it takes time to recognize qualities and characteristics in people whom we do not know. A changing face does not mean a change of heart. But a change of heart at times changes the face that will over time become unrecognizable. Hopefully, years from now, we’ll all pull out of our photo boxes and see each other with clarity of memory, recognizing one another face-to-face regardless of the years and events of time.  

Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

 

*Rav Pinchas Menachem Elazar Yustman (1848-1920) was known as the Piltzer Rebbe. In his early years known as Reb Mendel of Ger was a Chasidic Rabbi who after the passing of his brother-in-law Rabbi Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter, became a Rebbe for some Gerrer Hasidim, in Pilica, Poland.

He was born in Góra Kalwaria, his father Rabbi Binyamin Leizer Yustman and mother Tzina Pesa (née Alter), daughter of the Chiddushei Harim the first Gerrer Rebbe. His mother died when he was young. Orphaned of his mother, he was brought up by his grandparents, Rabbi Yitzchak Meir Alter (known as the Chiddushei Harim) and his wife. When he was about nine years old, his grandfather took him to visit the Kotzker Rebbe, an event which left a lifelong impression on him. He married Hendel Lea, daughter of his uncle Abraham Mordechai Alter, in 1864.

Parshas Vayeishev - Oh Never Mind, It's Nothing.........Really? Nothing?                            25 Kislev 5781

12/11/2020 11:21:10 AM

Dec11

How often is it that you might tell someone, or they tell you not to worry about something, or not to place special value on something, or  tell you that what you are doing or have done is not a big deal? For example, "You seem very upset." "No, no, it's nothing - I'm OK." "It was so nice of you to take care of the baby all day." "Oh, it was nothing, I enjoyed it." Perhaps another scenario this kind of banter takes place is when someone mumbles under his breath, just loud enough for you to hear some mumbled words, but unable to make out what was said. Then you ask the person, ”What did you say? I could not hear or understand you.” They immediately reply, ”Oh nothing, it was nothing”. Even worse for me is when a person says, “I was talking to myself.” So, I think to myself, “Ah, it was loud enough for me to know that he is talking to himself, but mumbled so that I could hear it?” I have been thinking about these situations for many years and  have come to the following conclusion: There is nothing in the world that is something which is nothing; something is something and nothing is nothing!

If something is not meant for me to hear, then talk to yourself when no one else is around. People should never downplay their words, especially when the words and their message may be significant. Words and speech are a gift given to human beings; we should always be careful not to abuse that gift - or worse - waste it. The lesson of the weight which accompanies how we use our words can be seen directly from the great Chofetz Chaim who was always deliberate in choosing his words. While I have no source for this statement, it has been said over in the name of the Chofetz Chaim  that every person is given a certain number of words to speak in this world, and when this gift of oral language is used up, our time expires.

Another case in point is the notion of how the Torah and even the commentaries such as Rashi and Rambam were precise and exact in their writing. So much so, that an enormous amount of time and effort is expended throughout our learning deciphering why a specific letter or word that seems superfluous, is, in fact, meaningful and essential.. Clearly, the Torah has no ‘extra’ words. To the contrary, the Torah She’bKsav, is written almost cryptically, requiring that the Torah She’B’al Peh to be examined, explaining why and what we each learn from these supposed extra words. One of the foremost examples will be read this week.

The Torah in this week’s Parshas Vayeishev in Bereishis 37:24 "ויקחהו וישליכו אתו הברה, והבור ריק אין בו מים"  “They [the brothers] took him [Yosef] and threw him into the well. The well was empty; there was no water in it.” The word pit in this instance is spelled chaser - missing, or omitting, the letter ‘vav’, and the very next word pit is spelled complete - including the letter ‘vav’. The Vilna Gaon explains the remez/hint regarding the  same word spelled differently. The Gr”a brings Rashi in the Gemara Shabbos 22a to the fact that the pit was empty.  Don’t we know that the pit did not have any water in it? Rashi explains: It did not have water, but it did contain snakes and scorpions. The Ramban points out that the brothers of Yosef did not know there were snakes and scorpions in the pit either. That is why the Torah first writes the word ‘pit’ without the letter ‘vav’ because they thought the pit really was completely empty - no water, no snakes and no scorpions! And then the Torah writes the word ‘pit’, including the  ‘vav’, indicating there was no water in the pit, but it DID contain snakes and scorpions. Thinking about this, it makes sense that the brothers thought it was empty.  Throwing Yosef into a pit full of water would have drowned Yosef. But if they saw there was no water but contained dangerous and lethal animals that also would have killed him. Therefore, we must conclude that they believed the pit to be completely empty. We now know the pit contained venomous creatures which likely would have killed him, but due to Yosef’s righteousness, they stayed away from him and he remained alive.

I would like to share a different angle to this portion. The intention of the Torah is to give us lifelong lessons for all generations. Water is compared to Torah. When the Torah says "אין בו מים, אבל נחשים ועקרבים יש בו"  - “There is no water, but there are snakes and scorpions”, I suggest the words "אין בו מים"  - the situation of no water being there is not the physical manifestation of the water, rather it is the spiritual void of Torah that water represents. The snakes and the scorpions are ‘bad middos’ - unscrupulous character traits.

The jealousy and animosity which the brothers felt towards Yosef was not limited to a physical confrontation. There also existed a religious battle. Yosef felt and observed all the mitzvos, both in Eretz Canaan (Eretz Yisrael) and outside, while the brothers maintained the philosophy that the mitzvos need only be followed in Israel, and now they were outside the Land. A religious battle ensued between them, and this may be highlighted in our verse. They felt there was no need for the Torah at this point, and, adding insult to injury, there could even be a lacking in middos. This may be a radical understanding of the Shivtei Kah, the holy tribes of the Jewish people, and therefore I cannot say it about them. But, when it comes to us, their children in our day and age, it might hold water.

Torah is supreme, and the learning and observance of the Torah is the key and critical element to our collective and individual existence as Jews. The fact that the pit had  no water but did contain evil, means where there is no Torah, the vacuum is filled with middos Raos and the non-fulfillment of mitzvos. Unfortunately, I have witnessed that when Torah is not the primary concern in our life, it has an adverse, ever-deepening negative effect upon ourselves, our spouses, and ultimately our children. We need to study and learn more Torah, whatever area of Torah, allowing Torah to permeate within us, making a positive influence in our lives. Without the Torah, the snakes and scorpions, which are the ills and challenges of our decaying society, will completely destroy us. Unfortunately, we are like the brothers who thought there was no water/Torah, but also did not, or could not see the snakes and scorpions, thereby becoming less observant and less attached to the Jewish people.

Our challenge today, and the fundamental lesson of Yosef and the pit, is that all of us need Torah in our lives, even though we may not see the dangers which are lurking all around. Let the light of the Candle represented by the learning of Torah keep our families above water, clear of the swarming creatures which could ultimately destroy us. The Greeks tried to kill us by enticing us to assimilate, to take on their ways.We fought them off with the guidance of Hashem.  Now,  let us fight off the modern-day Greeks of today and shine forth brightly as Klal Yisrael has done and will continue to do until the lighting of the Menorah in the Bayis Shlishi which should be built speedily in our day, Amen!

Parshas Vayishlach - Shaping our Future from our Past                  18 Kislev 5781

12/04/2020 10:10:20 AM

Dec4

These past nine months have drawn us closer to our screens almost to an unhealthy level. Obviously, we have no choice in certain circumstances such as zoom classes for school, work-related meetings, and, of course, family get togethers. Rarely do I watch online classes or presentations,  But this week was different. For a few hours straight, I watched hespedim for recent leaders of the Jewish people given by other great leaders of our time. I drew so much inspiration and insight from the eulogies. That I came to reconsider that perhaps such use of online technology was not a ’waste of time’ but rather an invaluable component of who we are as a people, and what I can strive to become as a person. This opened my eyes -and heart- to an important dimension of our character development that should be focused upon. Then I became conscious that this is not something new, as you know…..

Every week I scour my library for divrei Torah related to an incident, a story, or something that I relate to in ordinary life. Every book and sefer brings perspectives to the reader that may not have been previously known or keenly understood. Sometimes reading someone else’s thoughts resonate within us. I believe that when such thoughts do resonate, it is because we are like-minded, but could were able to express it as well as in this particular sefer or book. Most seforim are commentaries of the Torah, whether it is halacha, mussar, or presentation of a deeper understanding of the written and oral Torah. I for one, hope to get inspiration or a more profound sense of knowledge and understanding from the seforim I learn from.

No question, Torah is paramount to all that we do as Jews. I have  always been driven by learning so as to be able to answer questions with depth, to prepare lectures and drashos. I felt that the reading of “books” was not the best use of my time. Only recently did I come to understand the need to read about the great Jews of our past to gain a perspective for our future. These biographies are not just “reading material”; rather they contribute to pieces of a larger picture of our overall dimension as Jews.  Therefore, at the same time, the learning and reading of such material should be used and viewed as a mechanism to aspire us to be better people, not only better Jews (in the limited Jewish sense). There are dedicated biographies that I recommend everyone to read, from the great Torah scholars to the great women driving them to their greatness.

This week, as I was perusing through a few seforim, I realized that the phenomena of reading about our great sages and righteous people is nothing new. In the back of a few of the seforim that I have, eulogies of the leaders of the generation the author lived in are included. I thought to myself “Why write up the hesped/eulogy here? Intrigued, I began to read the Hespedim. Amazingly, the people whose Hespedim I was reading came to life!  These beautiful tributes to outstanding leaders of our past did not focus on how many times the individual finished Shas and Poskim and all of the laws of the Torah, but rather gave me a deeper insight regarding the greatness of each of these people; I learned to appreciate them as great husbands/wives, fathers/mothers/ mentors, friends, colleagues.    Above all, I learned how they profoundly reached out to the less fortunate. Although the Torah is not meant to be a history book, there nevertheless is mention of many (not all) of the characters’ place and time of death. In this week’s parsha we read of one obviously significant person and one less known but nonetheless important.

In this wek’s Parshas Vayishlach the Torah states in Bereishis 35:8 "ותמת דבורה מינקת רבקה ותקבר מתחת לבית קל תחת האלון, ויקרא שמו אלון בכות"  “Rebecca’s nurse Devorah died, and she was buried in the valley of Beth El, under the oak. It was named Weeping Oak”. Who was Devora and what did they say at her funeral? We do not necessarily know exactly what was said, but as in every eulogy we find out things about someone that we did not necessarily know. But it IS through the words of the eulogizer that we gain insight into who the person was and what and how we can gain and grow from that individual’s way of life. So too, we seek out Chaza”l to give us the tidbits of information that the Maspid/eulogizer may have used in delivering the final say about this Devorah.

Devora was a name  that would later become famous through a prophetess by the same name in Shoftim 4:4.  Rashi and Medrash Lekach Tov, and Sefer HaYashar say that Rivka Immeinu sent Devorah to inform Yaakov that it was safe to return home. According to others, Yaakov had stopped at his parents’ home and had picked up Devorah. The Midrash Aggadah explains Devorah was the mother of Rivka, making her Yaakov’s grandmother. In fact, the Midrash Tanchuma in Ki Seitzay explains the plural of the word ‘Bachus/weeping for Yaakov, who wept for both his mother and grandmother Rivka and Devora on their passing. The passuk reveals to us her burial place is Beit El,  a holy place that, in her merit, indicates she deserved to be buried there.

There are three times the Torah uses the expression "ותקבר"   “and she was buried”: Devorah, Rochel and Miriam. The Midrash Lekach Tov asks what is this expression supposed to teach us? The answer is that we do not allow a bier to be left out in the street by women because of their honor, and therefore we bury as close or as soon as possible following their death. It is a testament to Devorah that she was part of the elite- on the level of a Miriam and Rochel Immeinu. No more needs to be said. The greatest of our women leaders were always Tzanua, modest and in the background, pulling the strings, choreographing their husbands, daughters, and sons to lead and teach the Jewish people. Sometimes we hear a lot about someone; other times only a word or two encapsulates their entire essence and being. It was Devorah who fast tracked Yaakov and his family to put into motion the essence of all that the Jewish people will become.

Let us take some more time from our busy schedules and learn by reading , hearing, or watching events and accomplishments of  our leaders of the past to insure a brighter and stronger future for Am Yisrael, Amen  

 

Parshas Vayeitzay - Thanks for the Memories   11 Kislev 5781

11/26/2020 09:30:10 PM

Nov26

As I get older, I have become ever-more nostalgic, treasuring the memories of my teen and childhood years. One of the fondest memories I have is Thanksgiving Day, a day which started by taking the subway to Manhattan to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in person. Sitting on the curb watching the parade, I was entranced by the huge floats and blow-up heroes of my childhood come to life as they cruised before me. I would wait patiently to see Batman and Superman floating in the air. We always came prepared with our winter gear, as some years the temperatures dropped below freezing. From there we hopped on the subway and headed uptown to Washington Heights where the day culminated with a family gathering of my aunts, uncles and first cousins (from my mother’s side of the family). Like the rest of America (or at least New Yorkers) Thanksgiving was about the parade, football, and dinner which included turkey as an option.  I am the second-to youngest-first cousin; all the older cousins watched the two football games that sported the same two teams playing in two separate games every year.

For just shy of a century (1924), the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City has been synonymous with the holiday. Thanksgiving Day football games, a close second, started a decade later. But this year will be unlike any other. With coronavirus cases spiking across the country, the department store will hold a modified version of the parade. Every year, thousands of spectators (including myself sitting on the curb) flock to the parade to see the towering balloons, decorative floats, acrobats, marching bands, and more  make their way down the 2.5-mile stretch of Midtown Manhattan. But this year, Macy's had to work with city and state officials in order to figure out how to have a parade at all. Giant balloons still flew, but without their 80 to 100 handlers. Much of the parade was pre-taped over a three-day period for the televised event. About 8,000 participants usually help with the parade — but this year, that number was reduced by about 88%.

Although it has been many years since I experienced these two events, I nevertheless felt a piece of my life was no longer the same. Today, I live too far away to attend the parade in person, and our family, Bli Ayin Hora, has expanded beyond continents, allowing us to  only get together on zoom, bringing a tinge of sadness to the day. On the other hand, however,  I do feel appreciative of what I experienced growing up within the nurturing of my loving family in New York. The fact that my parents took us to these events and family gatherings made life incredibly special. A day like Thanksgiving is not a particularly religious day; it is rather a day of reflection of Hakaras Hatov and giving of continuous thanks. It is one of the most crucial and critical middos a person needs to develop. If someone appreciates something or someone then they, in turn, will feel appreciated by others. Judaism and the Torah illustrate constant themes and messages of Hakaras Hatov, recognizing the good in someone or something that was done for us. In truth, Hakaras Hatov and giving thanks are really two similar but not identical concepts. Hakaras Hatov is recognizing the good, while Hoda’a is the practice of giving thanks. Giving thanks is something that needs to be done proactively and on a recurring basis. One needs to be careful, however, when giving thanks continually.  Such repetitious giving of thanks can lead to a lack of sincerity; care and pause needs to be exercised each time words of thanks are expressed, reiterating assurance of genuine thanksgiving.

On the heels of last week’s message about our senses, there is yet an additional dimension of some of the senses again this week related to thanksgiving.  There are basic functions that with which we are blessed and need to be mindful of them every day. Emphasized throughout the Torah and Rabbinic teachings, the five senses of sight, hearing, touch, smell, and taste should never be taken for granted (Loss of taste and smell are two symptoms experienced by Covid patients).

In this week’s Parsha Vayeitzay the Torah states in Bereishis 29:35 "ותהר עוד ותלד בן ותאמר הפעם אודה את ה', על כן קראה שמו יהודה, ותעמוד מלדת"  “She [Leah] became pregnant again and had a son. She said, ‘this time let me praise God,’ and named the child Yehuda, she then stopped having children”. Rav Meir Simcha HaKohein of Dvinsk, in his commentary Meshech Chochmah, explains why Leah specifically had to praise Hashem after the birth of her fourth son, named Yehuda. Rav Meir Simcha expounds there are four categories of Brachos: thanks, praise, mitzva, and benefit. We do not recite a bracha of benefit (Nehenin i.e. food) on three of the five senses: sight, hearing, and touch. If one sees something beautiful, hears something pleasant, or feels something good, they may need to make a bracha of praise but not of benefit. Only for a good smell is there a bracha of Hana’a/benefit is made. We learn this out from Gemara Brachos 43b bringing a passuk that we recite every day from Tehilim 150:6 "כל הנשמה תהלל קה, הללוקה"  “Let every soul praise God, Praise God”, something that the Neshama benefits from but the physical body does not. Therefore, in descending order, Reuvain’s name is based upon sight, Shimon’s name is based upon hearing, and Levi’s name is based upon a feeling that Yaakov would be close to Leah after securing at least three of the twelve tribes. Those three are not connected to a bracha. Only Yehuda, as stated in a passuk in Yeshayahu 11:3 states "והריחו ביראת ה' "  “And he shall be animated by the fear of the Lord…” The Redak and Ibn Ezra explain that through the fear of Hashem he will be endowed with acute senses, able to perceive things unperceivable by others. The sense of smell is mentioned since it is the most delicate of the senses and cannot be misled, as can the senses of sight and hearing. Thanks, is therefore associated with smell, and Leah named her son - Yehudah - with the name of thanks connected to smell.

There is not a specific bracha of thanksgiving made on the day, but it is a day to stop, think, and appreciate life in general. We have experienced a very long, trying, sometimes painful Covid experience. The Ribbono Shel Olam sent us all a powerful message to appreciate life itself. We need to be Makir Tov, to recognize the good and then give the praise with all our Neshama praising Hashem. Let Thanksgiving Day be a lesson and the reminder to give thanks to everyone around us and to the One above.

Parshas Toldos - Listening to your Common Senses                4 Kislev 5781

11/20/2020 11:37:05 AM

Nov20

Our nervous system depends upon the five senses – sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste in order to receive and process information from the world outside our bodies. Each of these senses has a specific job:               

Sight:  The eyes translate light into image signals for the brain to process.

             Sound: The ears use bones and fluid to transform sound waves into sound signals to the brain.

                           Touch: Specialized receptors in the skin send touch signals to the brain.

              Smell: Molecules released from fragrances or odors stimulate olfactory cells or nerve cells in the nose, sending signals to the brain where the particular smell is identified.

Taste – gustation - develops through taste receptors on the tongue, soft palate, cheeks, esophagus and the epiglottis – a small flap in the throat.  Five types of taste are known: sweet, salty, bitter, sour, and umami – the taste of protein!

    As I analyze these five senses, three of them seem to be more critical than the other two. The ability to see, hear and feel are important regarding our health, safety, and overall well-being. This is not to say that taste and smell do not affect safety and health, but in my opinion these senses are not as critical to survival as the others. With that said, I will share two examples where I dramatically fail with regard to listening to the messages my senses are sending me.

The first incident occurred over thirty years ago while driving over the 59th street bridge from Queens to Manhattan. We were stuck in traffic. My car began overheating and smoke was steaming out from under the hood. At one point the person next to me (my Shidduch date) in the passenger seat said,” Is that smoke coming from this car?” A few minutes later the passenger was sniffing, while I thought that there did seem to be a smell like anti-freeze oozing into the passenger section of the car, vaguely indicating to me that there may be a leak. I remained, however, oblivious, until the passenger noticed drivers in other vehicles motioning to us, wildly waving their hands, pointing to the smoke now coming out thickly and rapidly. My polite passenger sheepishly asked,” Don’t you think something is wrong?” I responded,” You mean that little smell and some smoke? Nah. It’s nothing.”  Long story short, we made it over the bridge, parked on 2nd Avenue and waited for a tow truck to get us home.

The second example occurred about fifteen months ago when my foot was just a little swollen.  I ignored that and kept going. By the end of the day I was limping along. I could see some redness on the top of my foot and felt a nagging, but not serious pain. I took some ibuprofen, raised my foot while sitting, and by morning it was better. By the end of the next day, however, it was swollen again and felt really heavy. This went on for about two weeks until I was finally convinced that it might be a good idea to see my doctor. Making a long story short, I ignored the signs, and, as you may remember, I learned that I had been walking around with a broken foot. There are dozens of examples I can relate to about how our body detects and senses when something is wrong - or even right.

Reviewing the Parsha this week, I picked up on the fact that all the senses are mentioned in the parsha. In fact, all five are found in the Perek chapter 27.  This week’s Parshas Toldos opens with the pregnancy of Rivka and concludes with the fleeing of Yaakov from his brother Eisav. Let us identify and highlight where and how these senses are mentioned and how significant they are. In no order we begin with Rivka experiencing a mini battle of sorts within her as she is pulled toward the house of idolatry by Eisav and the house of Torah study by Yaakov while in her womb. From that point on Yaakov and Eisav went their separate ways, but their paths crossed many times, continuing to this very day. 

The Torah states in Bereishis 27:1   "ויהי כי זקן יצחק ותכהין עניו מראות, ויקרא את עשו בנו הגדול ויאמר אליו בני ויאמר אליו הנני"   “Isaac had grown old and his eyesight was fading. He summoned his elder son Esau, and he called out ‘my son’ and he said ’Yes’ I am here.’ Why was it important for the Torah to relate the status of his eyesight? The fact that he was getting old was reason enough to want to bless his children, just as the Torah relates how Avraham, his father, was old!  In Bereishis 27:9 the Torah states: "לך נא אל הצאן וקח לי משם שני גדיי עזים טובים, ואעשה אתם מטעמים לאביך כאשר אהב"  Rivka said to Yaakov, ”Go to the sheep and take two choice young kids. I will prepare them with a tasty recipe, just the way your father likes them.” Why was it necessary for Rivka to prepare food that should have a good taste? The answer is simple: she was following the command that Yitzchok himself had asked Eisav to do for him earlier in 27:4. One can ask why Yitzchok asked Eisav for a tasty meal? Rabbeinu Bachya explains that the best bracha/blessing comes following a satiated, full stomach. Note that sound and touch are found in the same verse, making this  perhaps one of the most famous pesukim to pit the Jewish people against all the other nations of the world. In Bereishis 27:22 the Torah states: "ויגש יעקב אל יצחק אביו וימושהו, ויאמר הקל קול יעקב והידים ידי עשו"  “Yaakov came closer to his father Yitzchok, and [Yitzchok] touched (felt) him. He said, ‘The voice (sound) is Jacob’s voice, but the hands are the hands of Eisav’.”  Why is the word ‘voice’ repeated, but the hands – touch – is only mentioned once? I suggest that a sound - or voice - is a sense that can be impersonated or altered, meaning the same one individual can have two different-sounding voices from the same voice box, in contrast to the sense of touch, in this case the hands -feeling – was the cover-up by Rivka who ‘dressed’ Yaakov’s hands. I believe my distinction is supported by the fact the word ‘voice’ - in Hebrew ‘kol’ - is spelled two different ways: one time ckaser and one time malei- meaning once full with a vav and the other without. This Indicates that there was something strange going on. Even though Yitzchok could not see well, his sense of hearing was able to discern the sound of Yaakov’s voice even though the hands felt like the hands of Eisav. The final sense of smell that the Torah states in Bereishis 27:27 "ויגש וישק לו וירח את ריח בגדיו ויברכהו, ויאמר ראה ריח בני כריח שדה אשר ברכו ה' "   “Yaakov approached and kissed him [Yitzchok]; he smelled the fragrance of his garments, and blessed him. He said, see my son’s fragrance is like the perfume of a field blessed by God”.

Of the five senses and incidents I point out, four of the five are in the positive.  Sight was lacking; Yitzchok could not see! Sight, however, in this situation was Yitzchok’s foresight: he recognized the need to give specific blessings to each of his sons. Alternatively, sight could also be a reference to the moment Yitzchok realized he had given the first bracha to Yaakov and trembled, knowing that was Eisav standing in front of him. Rashi on the word ‘tremble’, connotes an expression that Yitzchok saw Gehinnom opened beneath him.

We take away from this analysis that the senses are physical in nature. We need them to navigate our way through life; it is scientifically proven that when one sensor does not work properly, other sensors will kick in to compensate. The deeper and more significant lesson, however, is to be more acutely aware of how we should consciously use our sensory processing for the performing and fulfilling the Mitzvos. Let us use our common sense to provide the vital viaduct to living both our physical and spiritual lives properly, making continuous effort not to ignore the signs our senses are sending to us.

Ah Gutten Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

 

P.S. Guess who the passenger in the car was?

Sun, June 20 2021 10 Tammuz 5781