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Parshas Nitzavim/Vayeilech - Finding Inner Strength During Challenging Times                   21 Elul 5780

09/10/20 11:07:18

Sep10

All of us have  challenges and encounters throughout our lifetimes,  more often than not on a daily basis. I am not sure if what I am about to write is considered TMI (too much information) or if this is something that many people share but will never admit to. Every morning I encounter what I call “the sock conundrum”. The sock drawer is, by definition,  a mine field; you never know what will come out. To begin with, there are all different kinds: dress socks, sweat socks, casual socks, thick socks, socks that are ankle length, mid -calf, and more. The bigger task is pulling out a pair that match.  Even grouped in the same category, i.e.  dress socks, I have some that are a bit below the knee and others go higher. To me, one of the most annoying parts of getting my attire all lined up is being off kilter when seemingly little things are not even or equal.  It throws my day completely off. But it does not end there. Inevitably, holes begin to appear either at the toe or the heel. It’s amazing! These holes mysteriously appear overnight. It is like a budding flower! When does this happen?  My final sock question is why is it that the same pair of socks typically will have only one sock develop a hole and not the other. I wear them at the exact same time for the same duration so how does this happen So, I need to match up the holy and unholy socks… until this phenomenon plays itself out again.

I came up with three ways to avoid the morning stress of the sock conundrum. The first is to organize the sock drawer on a regular weekly basis, and through attrition remove the socks with holes and be a shadchan (a matchmaker) for the rest. Second idea,  like many Californians, is just to never wear socks again. Somehow, the first way is not practical, and the second is not appropriate for me. The last idea I had, albeit improbable, came to mind a few days ago on Labor Day. One of the traditions we had in my house/family growing up was to watch the Jerry Lewis Telethon which raised money for the MDA – the Muscular Dystrophy Association. For half a century Jerry Lewis raised millions of dollars for this cause (although it did have its controversies later). The telethon was cut in 2014. Jerry Lewis, who died in 2017, was an entertainer who had a quirky personality and interesting habits. His life started with humble beginnings as a boy from a poor family. Maybe I should consider copying one of the things he was famous for… he never wore the same socks twice. They say Jerry never forgot his early years, his poverty, and the holes in his socks. Thumbing his nose at the past, Jerry promised himself he would never wear the same pair of socks more than once. He just wore a pair and then throw the socks out. Once again, I am not sure how practical or affordable that may be for me.

The Rabbis teach us that a person can learn something from everyone or anything, and Jerry Lewis is no exception. How many people in the world, even if they are wealthy and can afford to wear a brand-new pair of socks, would do so? The psychological effects that stemmed from his childhood left an indelible impression upon him. The only way he could drive that sense of feeling out of his system was to come up with a plan never to have to face that same situation again. Often there are situations that we face that we need to overcome. We face the impossible and find ways that defy the odds to accomplish them. There is a hint to this notion in the Torah. The availability of the Torah is such that Hashem mandated and proscribed that it [the Torah] is not too mysterious or remote from you.

In this week’s Parshios Nitzavim/Vayeilech the Torah states in Devarim 30:12 "לא בשמים היא,  לאמר מי יעלה לנו השמימה ויקחה לנו, וישמענו אתה ונעשנה"  “It is not in heaven, so that you should say, ‘who shall go up to heaven and bring it to us so that we can hear it and keep it?”

There is a story told about Reb Zalman of Volozhin in the sefer called Toldos Adam. One time Reb Zalman needed a specific sefer/book that was being stored in a chest under a bookcase stacked with books. This made it almost impossible to retrieve that book because it was nearly impossible to move the bookcase that was on top of the chest.. Initially, he reasoned that since it was so difficult to remove the bookcase which prevented him from getting the book from the chest, he felt exempt from even trying. But he was reminded of the Gemara Eiruvin 55a that explains the verse quoted earlier how the Torah is not in heaven. The intent of the passuk is not that if the Torah really were in heaven, we would be exempt from learning it because we cannot get to it. Rather, the intent is that we would be obligated to get a ladder and ascend to heaven to get it, despite the fact we know that even with a ladder one cannot get to heaven. The lesson is if a person wants to reach the Torah, he would be able to reach it with a ladder. At that moment Reb Zalman felt an inner strength, approached the bookcase, and removed the heavy objects so he was able to retrieve the book he needed. Similarly, Yaakov Avinu, lifting the rock from the well with supernatural strength, was driven by his desire to honor his mother. Yaakov demonstrated his honor to his mother, as the passuk mentions, by lifting the rock אחי אמו three times to draw water for the flock of Lavan, his mother’s brother.

We are facing extraordinary challenges during these times. We have struggled in a proper way to serve Hashem, whether it be through davening, learning, or performing general Mitzvos. But things will change in the next few weeks with the arrival of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. We now prepare to rise to another level that we need and have not felt for the past six months. The Yamim Noraim are powerful and awesome days. They infuse us with a surge of desire and passion. There is really nothing that can stand in our way to break out of the conundrum of the times we are living through. It is up to each of us to reach beyond ourselves and stretch to attain our goals, to have Emunah/faith that Hashem will help and guide us. Through this determination, commitment, and focus we can gain a fresh new Torah every day.

Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas Ki Savo - Time Cannot be Made Up, but You Can Make Up for Lost Time!                15 Elul 5780

09/04/20 10:54:38

Sep4

Even though it has been a dark six months from the time when the pandemic took hold on the world, there were many bright spots along the way. Every year, as we approach Rosh Hashana we look back over the course of the year about to close and remember things we should or should not have done. For those things we should have done, we say to ourselves, ”Well there’s always next year.” For those things we should not have done, we express regret, saying we are sorry and will not do them again. One of the most treasured gifts we have is time – a gift which cannot be saved; it can only be used or wasted. Time is so precious because only time gives us opportunity for growth, for helping others, and ultimately for making a difference in the world. Time itself is irreplaceable, but the things we could have done during a certain given period time are dependent solely upon how we use it.

 Barbara Bush, in her book Reflections: Life After the White House, writes,  “At the end of your life you will never regret not having passed one more test, not winning one more verdict, or not closing one more deal. You will regret time not spent with a husband, a friend, a child or a parent.” There is no question that we parents attempt to make wise choices and correct decisions for our children. My wife and I made a difficult choice, sacrificing in order to send our children away from home for high school. Clearly, every parent makes such decisions based upon what would be best for their sons or daughters. For my wife and me, these decisions were made with those principles in mind, but the choice was never easy. I will not get into the pros and cons of the decision, but one obvious aspect is missing out on their lives, not seeing them daily, not having opportunities to guide and direct them in person.  The time that they were away cannot be made up, time is here and then time is gone. We cannot recapture the teen years - or any other time of life – time cannot be retrieved. But , due to Covid-19, our youngest child came home from Israel a few weeks earlier than planned, and also due to Covid-19,  stayed well beyond the time he was scheduled to return to his Yeshiva in Eretz Yisrael. Like so many others in the world, he was home either quarantined, following stay- at- home orders, or just having nowhere else to go for five and a half months. We set out on a mission to make his time valuable, productive, and fun. Beyond what we call “the silver lining” was 5 ½ months of bonding and really developing a close connection to our son. We learned together almost every day to fill in the gaps he was missing from Yeshiva on zoom. We exercised and assembled a new basketball hoop together, taking over four days to construct it.  We used that basketball hoop just about every day possible. We prepared meals and ate healthy foods together and through our nurturing and support, he lost a sizable amount of weight. The ultimate value was spending time not with a teenager who often does not particularly want to spend time with his parents, rather with a mature young man who thinks deeply and philosophically as I shared life’s insights with him. This precious experience made up for lost time. The importance of time and the opportunity to strengthen our relationship with Hashem is found in the Manual.

In this week’s Parsha Ki Savo we read of the Tochacha, the public rebuke of the Jewish people and a horrific description of what will befall the Jewish nation if we stray from Hashem. The Torah states in Devarim 28:28 "יככה ה' בשגעון ובעורון ובתמהון לבב"   “God will strike you with insanity, blindness and mental confusion.” Rashi explains the ‘simhon levav’ as obstruction of the heart, while Rav Hirsch explains it as hallucinations. These are the primary reasons a person does not come back and repent. We have blocked our hearts from attempting to repent and return closer to Hashem. One of the Al Cheit’s we ‘klap’ our heart is ‘for the sin that which we sinned before you in confusion and a closed heart’. The confusion and hallucinations not only caused us to sin in the first place, it prevents us from returning  to Hashem through Teshuva. We are beset with so many distractions that we do not find the time to even think about our misdeeds and the need to ask God for forgiveness. It was these same distractions that led us to sin initially which now distract us from trying to make it right. Therefore, through reasoning that if we are able to make up for the infraction by doing Teshuva, getting close to Hashem, it will be considered as if we never sinned to begin with. And so, the time we missed out in the beginning will be rectified by how we spend the time later.

As we evaluate our lives in general and this past challenging year in particular, the essence, quality and gift of time rises to the surface. Sometimes we feel we wasted so much time, and yes, it is true we cannot get that time back. Nevertheless, that which we lost out during that time can be made up with meaningful and positive experiences of the same magnitude moving forward.

There is a well-known Gemara Makkos that when a person killed someone accidentally, he would flee to a city of refuge. Nevertheless, an avenging relative could reach the person before he made it to the city safely, especially if he did not have enough time to get there. Measures were taken to help him reach the city of safety before the avenging relative could catch him by putting up signs on the road giving directions leading to the Ir Miklat - city of refuge.  Perhaps, as we feel time fleeting from us, we, too, need guidance, directions, and reminders.  Perhaps we should hang signs of “Elul”, “Elul”, “Elul”. Maybe by seeing these signs around us will make it easier to feel that closeness and surely help to make meaningful use of the time we now have.

There is no difference between my son and me and between Hashem with each of us. My son and I, who were apart from each other during those post-elementary school years, restricted by distance from each other, was given back to us through making powerful use of every moment of the time we now had together, reconnecting in ways so powerful and beautiful in only a few short months together during a pandemic.  Many of us have drifted away from Hashem our Father at different periods of our lives. However, the experiences during the month of Elul and the holiday season from Rosh Hashana through Simchas Torah can make up for lost time. Let us each appreciate the opportunity to use each day, each moment wisely, to have the focus to see the value of time put to meaningful use.

Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas Ki Saytzey - Growing Closer to Hashem the Natural Way       8 Elul 5789

08/28/20 14:53:30

Aug28

It all started with an idea for the Shul to offer its members and supporters something to be picked up in honor of Shavuos. A gift bag including cheesecake, Torah content and a small basil plant was created. I, along with everyone else, picked up the gift basket and have faithfully watered the basil plant every day. Unfortunately, we do not use a lot of fresh basil. A few weeks after Shavuos, Jim and Libbe Sherman donated mini cherry tomato plants for people to pick up and grow at home. I also took home a few of the leftover tomato plants and religiously watered them, and made sure they had sufficient sunlight. Well, as with many things, they grew out of their small crib and needed a bed, so I replanted some in the ground and others in containers, taking care to invest in proper in soil, plant holders, and plant food in anticipation of never needing to buy a tomato again!

There is no question that we pay for the conveniences of life. Convenience is measured in time, effort, and availability;  it is more convenient to just go to the store and buy tomatoes – saving the investment of supplies and effort.  It is also cheaper than growing them on a small scale. Growing things in your own garden has no connection to convenience, but there is an abundance of satisfaction, confidence-building and learning about Hashem’s world which otherwise goes unnoticed. I do not want to come across as a novice, but that is what I am. The incredible ways of God’s world are seen so clearly and beautifully by simply watching and caring for things as they grow and mature. The more tending and loving care given should produce outstanding results, but this is not always the case. It is amazing how each of the eight tomato plants I nurtured all grew differently; some produced an abundance of tomatoes, others meekly produced very few.  

Through all this fascination, watching the fruits of my watering and feeding, I also faced some frustration and disappointment. Things were going well when I noticed many of the leaves on a few of the plants were all gone. Later, I observed a tomato worm latch onto a plant, eating all its  leaves right off the stem. Through the learning process of working with these plants, I understand that fruits and vegetables grow leaves and from those leaves  flowers bud, and from those flowers the fruit literally pops out. A small little ball grows bigger and bigger and eventually, with proper care and good sunlight, that little ball will turn from green to red. But without the leaves no flowers will bud. All that hard work instantly is gone – no plant, no fruit, nothing! Of course, there are ways to get rid of the worms, but it was devastating to experience, and I felt helpless.

After a few weeks of witnessing the budding, enlarging, turning from green to red, we were able and very ready to pick a handful of fresh tomatoes. I found out that many people in the neighborhood ere growing many different things, so I decided to purchase a few different vegetables and grow a variety in my mini farm. , this, of course, required more time,  an increased financial investment to build and the need to create more space. The greatest limmud/lesson was the realization of how much we need to rely on Hashem and how dependent we are upon Him for everything. The success is not solely on our watering and care;  the seed initially should be of good quality and the soil should contain the best nutrients and degree of water and sun for the seeds. The nutrition that we supply should not be too little or too much. (I learned a painful lesson about the danger of over watering,  literally drowning one of the tomato plants. I performed an emergency transplant.  My poor little plant is now in critical condition on life support). The biggest factor in all of this is to understand that we are not in control of the amount of sunlight required for the nurturing and growth of these plants. In short, only God is in control.  

The beauty of planting created within me another angle of realization:  I need to daven to Hashem for yet another matter - my vegetable garden. So, I inserted another request, added to my long list of things I ask of Hashem. Upon reviewing the Parsha, I noticed that the Torah gives us an instruction manual regarding how to yield a good harvest. In Parshas Ki Saytzay the Torah states in Devarim 24:19:  כי "תקצר קצירך בשדך ושכחת עמר בשדה לא תשוב לקחתו, לגר ליתום ולאלמנה יהיה למען יברכך ה' אלוקיך בכל מעשה ידיך"  “When you reap your harvest in your field and have forgotten a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back again to take it; it shall be for the stranger, for the fatherless and for the widow, that Hashem your God may bless you in all of the work of your hands”. Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch informs us that most of the agricultural Mitzvos have all been mentioned in Vayikra 19:9 and 23:22 where it was fully explained that these harvest gifts were to be reserved for the poor. This duty of the harvest, its meaning of being  conditional for happiness and blessing in the land, is understood to be a continuous act of recognition for our redemption out of Egyptian slavery.  This should be in the forefront of the minds of the people here at this juncture when the people were about to move into the land of Canaan. At the same time, a fresh harvest gift which was not mentioned previously in Vayikra is added here. This is the law of Shickcha/forgetting and the laws for fruit trees. In this instance the solution and guarantee for a good harvest is not only davening to Hashem but the requirement to take care of those who do not have land of their own. When we were slaves in Egypt, we did not have our own land to plant and were dependent upon receiving a slave’s ration. If we provide for Hashem’s children who do not have produce of their own, He will guarantee that whatever we plant will prosper.

Upon further reflection it came to mind that we have multiple personalities and identities in our relationship to Hashem. Hashem is our father, our king, our healer, and our Master.  The verse describes the stranger, the orphan and the widow in the context of individuals entitled to our benevolence. Likewise, each and everyone of us in our relationship to Hashem is sometimes viewed as though we do not know who our father is and that we are estranged from Him. We will say on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur that there is no Shikcha/no forgetting by God. When we think of those the Torah singles out who need special attention,  this should actively be internalized, realizing we are these people vis a vis ourselves and Hashem. Now is the time to  nurture our unique relationship with Hashem and actively put more effort into growing in our Avodas Hashem. We have all emerged from a tiny seed which needs tender nurturing through spiritual nourishment day by day,  bringing us all to fruition as we approach the coming year.

Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

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Parshas Shoftim - Getting Close from a Distance         1 Elul 5780

08/21/20 11:48:13

Aug21

These past six months - and hopefully no more than that - have seen history in the making, a phrase referring to an ongoing current event, will be remembered for all the stress, fear, pain and loss this pandemic has caused, altering our way of life and our view of the future. I think it would be difficult to find an individual whose day -n-day-out routine  has not been impacted by Covid-19. The life cycle events that touch upon those who are either celebrating or mourning has resulted in the now daily term: ‘zoom’ – applied to virtual attendance of weddings, bar mitzvas, brisim, funerals, shiva calls, and also extended to annual medical physicals, conferences, and teaching.  Zoom has now become part of our daily lexicon. 

In Orthodox tradition in varying degrees and communities, there is separation amongst the genders for different life cycle events.  But of the list mentioned earlier, one event - a thirteen year-old boy’s Bar Mitzva - has most of the participation on the men’s side. This was typically true thirteen years prior at this boy’s Bris Milah! Witnessing these events, I recognized the incredible sacrifice and giving that a mother has for her son. For these events she stands in the background, watching from a distance beaming with pride and joy, selflessly giving away her son for service. This prototype may well have been established by Chana, the mother of Shmuel HaNavi.  Chana  willingly gave her son to the service of Hashem. A loving and caring mother consistently gives a piece of herself to her child never looking away or abandoning her young – no matter how old her child may be. The strength of a mother to give and separate while still maintaining such close, dedicated connection is something only a mother can know and experience. I do not want to dismiss the sacrifice that a father makes as well. Of course, within the beauty of a dedicated family, the father’s love and commitment are equally strong, but tend to be in balance rather than identical to the mother.  There is no question both parents raise their children together, knowing what is best for them encouraging each child to grow, becoming his or her own person.  Within this environment, each parent balances this nurturing in a unique and loving way. It is this sense of connection and relationship that causes the child to always look back at the parent with love and deep connection as well.

This reminds me of the famous mashal/parable about a little boy who stood on a beach looking out at the vast sea holding onto a flag. In the distance was a group of young boys playing, but the boy remained totally oblivious to them and their games. A man approached him and asked, ”Why don’t you go play with the boys” The boy replied: “I have no time for games.  I am waiting for a boat to pass by and at that moment I will wave my flag at the boat, and the captain of the ship will wave his flag back at me.”  The man chuckled at the boy saying, “What are you thinking? The large ships cannot get that close to the shoreline. These large ships are moving quickly, and the captain of the ship is not going to slow down. He will not be able to distinguish you from anything on the beach. Why don’t you just go play with your friends?” The boy answered, ”That is exactly the type of ship I am waiting for, the large one that goes fast. I am sure then the captain of that ship will see me waving my flag and he will do the same.”

The man was no longer chuckling but burst out laughing at the boy. “The captain of that kind of large vessel is a high-ranking officer and an elite important person, stated the man. “First of all I doubt that the captain could even see you from such a distance, and I cannot imagine that even if he could see you, why would he direct his attention necessarily towards you? On top of that, why would he bother to wave back at you at all?” The boy said in a stubborn manner, “I am sure that not only will he will be looking for me, but when he sees me he will be happy and glad to wave his flag back at me, because he knows I was waving at him. The captain will be so happy when he sees me being so happy.” The man finally said to the boy, “How can you be so sure of what you are saying?” The boy looked up at the man and with a smile,  looked deeply into the eyes of the man saying,  ”Because the captain of the ship is my father”!

This story, taken from Rabbi Krohn’s book, Around the Maggid’s Table, is a mashal applicable to all of us today. With all we are dealing with in every aspect of our lives, we may tend to feel disconnected from our religious and Jewish life. We are like the boy on the beach, but we just cannot give in and just go play with our friends. We need to look out, holding our banner, a sign of commitment and devotion, waving at the appropriate and meaningful times to gain the attention of  the captain. The captain of this ship is Hashem;  when we wave and show we are connected, we care, then He, without doubt, will wave back at us in good fortune.

Hashem waits for us all the time, every day throughout the entire year, but more so during the last month of the year Elul. Hashem is drawing closer to us so we can see Him and wave and connect. This is one of the meanings to the acronym of  -  אלול Elul “I am to my beloved as my beloved is to me.”            

Contrary to popular belief, we are not living in unprecedented times; the world has experienced greater hardships throughout its history. God has just thrown us a new reminder of not only who is in control; He is reminding us that He is our father and our mother, He, regardless of what may be happening to us, wants a strong, eternal relationship The nurturing and giving that we have received from Hashem was established before birth and is a connection forever.  Occasionally we may forget.  As we now begin the month of Elul, we hope and pray the year will end with the cessation of all its curses, and we will be blessed with  a fresh start in the coming weeks. All we need to remember is  that now is the time to look out above and beyond and start to wave our flags!

Parshas Re'eh - It Takes Three Strikes Until You're Out      24 Av 5780

08/14/20 12:10:36

Aug14

"Take Me Out to the Ball Game" is a 1908 Tin Pan Alley song by Jack Norworth and Albert Von Tilzer which has become the official anthem of North American baseball, although neither of its authors had attended a game prior to writing the song. The song's chorus is traditionally sung during the middle of the seventh inning of a baseball game. Fans are generally encouraged to sing along. Take me out to the ball game, Take me out with the crowd; Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack, I don't care if I never get back. Let me root, root, root for the home team, If they don't win, it's a shame. For it's one, two, three strikes, you're out, At the old ball game.

Baruch Hashem, I am in he eleventh cycle of writing a weekly message. There were two times that I took a forced hiatus due to my brother and mother’s illnesses where I did not have the time or head space to write. To be honest there may have been a week here and there that I missed a week, but never more than three in a row. A few weeks ago, amid Covid-19 I missed two weeks in a row and teetered on a third. Well I need to thank an avid reader (I know that now) of my weekly message who said to me “no pressure, but I really miss reading your dvar Torah message”.  At that point I realized and said to myself I need to get back to it, because if I miss another it will be my third strike and I am out.

Baseball season began late this year and I am not into it as much as I should. Typically, I watch more of the games, am following scores, standings, and stats, but so far this year I watch some highlights if I am in the mood. I do not think my age has anything to do with it, rather baseball in my humble opinion has two strikes against itself, at least for me. Covid-19 created a shorter season of fewer games and are playing without fans in the stands, strike one. At this point the season nevertheless starts but amid a wave of social unrest in this country that has stained professional sports. Whenever I attended an event that commenced with the singing of the national anthem I for one was very proud and would sing purposefully out loud (despite the fact in some arenas and stadiums they only play the music without the lyrics). Who would have ever thought we would face such challenges to our national pastime? Oh, I almost forgot, to make up for missed games they scheduled double-headers of seven inning games instead of nine. When do we sing “take me out to the ballgame”? Oh yeh, I forgot, there are no fans in the stands to sing… It is for these reasons that at least for me baseball has two strikes and I do not want to strike out

The last six months have been trying times for everyone around. Like any other situation everyone handles things differently, not necessarily better, or worse but different. Unfortunately, some areas of life are more manageable under stress than others and naturally some handle it better than others. Throughout the pandemic we watched and heard speakers give chizuk, inspiration, techniques in how to get through the challenges we each face. As of today, some things have gotten better but other ways of life continue under pressure and stress. We all have our up and downs, our successes, and our failings. But the key element is to build upon, maintain and continue that which is good, and if by chance we fall, stumble, and break the streak it can not go past the second strike. We need to stay shy of that third time because three in Jewish law establishes a "חזקה"  a pattern for positive and negative. The concept of Chazaka or threepeat is found extensively throughout the Torah Sheb’Al Peh the Oral law, but also alluded to in the Torah SheBichsav the Written Torah as well.

In this week’s Parshas R’Ay the Torah states in Devarim 16:16 "שלוש פעמים בשנה יראה כל זכורך את פני ה' אלוקיך במקום אשר יבחר בחג המצות ובחג השבועות ובחג הסוכות, ולא יראה את פני ה'    ריקם" “Three times each year, all your males shall thus be seen in the presence of God your Lord in the place that He will choose: on the festival of Matzahs, on the festival of Shavuoth, and on the festival of Sukkoth. In those times you shall not appear before God empty-handed”. There is an obligation that three times a year a person needs to come to Yerushalayim and visit Hashem at the Beis HaMikdash. In Gemara Pesachim 8b Rabbi Elazar says that “whoever owns land in Israel must go up, and whoever does not have land need not go up.” Tosafos brings up a fact that Rebbi Yehuda Ben Beseira did not ascend these three times because he did not have land in Eretz Yisrael. The Vilna Gaon (for my special reader) raises a difficulty as to why Reb Yehuda Ben Beseira did not have land, surely he lived during this time and all Jews received a portion during the capture and dividing of land in the time of Yehoshua? Reb Eliyahu of Vilna explains that land was given to those who either were part of the exodus from Egypt or to thos who came to the land itself. But the Gemara in Sanhedrin 92b states the individuals whom Yechezkel/Ezekiel HaNavi brought back to life were the ones who left Egypt early and married women from ‘outside’. Reb Yehuda Ben Beseira stood up and announced “I am from the sons of the sons who left Egypt early and here are the Tefillin (to prove his lineage) that my father’s father left for me. Ezekiel had revived the people of Ephraim who were included in the count but nevertheless were not part of the actual group who left Egypt and not part of the group to come into the land together. Therefore, Reb Yehuda Ben Beseira who did not own a piece of land in Israel did not have to go up, but nevertheless connected in other ways as he knew the importance of the Chazaka element. In the absence of the Holy Temple there are those that say a person should visit their Rebbi those three times a year no matter where we are in the world. The connection to the Rebbi is the connection to Hashem. Three times strengthens the bonds and the recognition of who we are no matter when or where we are. That third Yom Tov of Sukkos is approaching and that will have completed the cycle of the three Chagim. Let us do what ever we can at every opportunity to strengthen

Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas Eikev - In One Eye and NOT out the Other     17 Av 5780

08/07/20 13:41:49

Aug7

Announcements, phone calls, e-mails, fliers, facebook, twitter are only some of the methods we use to communicate information. Despite how many times announcements are made or e-mails sent, invariably there are some who didn't get the information. Quite often, as an event is taking place, someone will come later and say 'I didn't hear or read about it'. There is a great difference between listening and hearing and reading and comprehending; almost everyone hears and reads things, but they are not necessarily listening or understanding. Yet I believe there is a deeper issue than just hearing to listening and glancing and reading..... Subconsciously ignoring.

The debate rages as to how much advertising is needed for people to get the message. There are instances when repeating information in different forms is beneficial. At other times people become sick and tired of hearing or reading the same information repeatedly - even when it's packaged differently. Granted, the level of attention something receives is directly correlated to how interested the party may be. Announcements, either in person or through media that are not meant for my age group or gender will automatically not register in the "paying attention section" of my brain. Of course there are things that apply to everyone across the board, and that is Torah and all the things which link to Torah.

In the beginning of this week's Parsha Eikev, the Torah states: והיה עקב תשמעון את המשפטים האלה ושמרתם ועשיתם אותם....."And it will be that you will hearken to these laws and you will safeguard and perform them". The very last passuk of last week's parsha states: "...and you will safeguard the Mitzva, the statutes, and the laws which I have commanded you to do this day. The Kli Yakar observes that the word "Chukim" in Vaeschanan is missing in the next verse in Eikev. The Kli Yakar explains the absence of the word "Chukim" is really found in the word 'Eikev' - the heel -which can be understood to mean that one should not trample and step on the Chukim, those statutes for which we do not know the reasons. This is in contrast to the Mishpatim, the laws that mankind would enact on their own as it makes sense for a society. The Chukim, on the other hand, do not have rational reasons to the human mind.

The Kli Yakar explains the language and usage of the term Eikev (which means heel) comes to include all the statutes. The statutes are hinted in the word Eikev because the Satan and the nations of the world mock the Jewish People for doing these mitzvos that they cannot relate to. It is for this very reason that Jews tend to trample and step on these Chukim, mitzvos which they feel uncomfortable doing because they do not know the reasons to do them. This is what the Rabbis referred to when they said "do not tread upon the Mitzvos Kalos" - seemingly the easy ones but those that people mock.

The Rabbis often mention the idea "to be careful and treat the Kal (easy) mitzvos identical to those which are more difficult or not possible for us to understand. Again, this directly applies to Eikev, do not trample upon the easy ones, those mitzvos which don't make sense in the same way that we don't trample on the more difficult/harsher ones, the Mishpatim that make sense. All of the mitzvos share in their significance and importance, and this is particularly important regarding the Mitzvos that we are challenged with by not knowing the reasons behind the Chukim.

There is no area of the Torah that should be treated lightly because it may not make sense to you. When I read the ingredient panel of a medication, I do not understand or know what it all means, but I follow the instructions, nevertheless. So too when it comes to following directions in the Shulchan Aruch one should just do the mitzva instead of mocking and disregarding it completely. There is a guarantee that if a person does these mitzvos he will come to rejoice, as reflected in the word V'Haya - and it will be.

In a Jewish community, whether it's the Kollel, local day school or Shul, opportunities are granted to one and to all. During Covid we have come to adjust our looking through zoom and other media outlets. Dozens of lectures, speakers, and learning opportunities are there for everyone. Daily, weekly and monthly announcements go out seeking people to sign in from the comfort of your home to learn. Unfortunately, however, much of this planning falls on deaf ears and muted devices. I am not referring to ears which are physically unable to hear, but rather to an ailment of disregarding and ignoring the potential growth made available yet ignored. People should not be foolish in thinking that if I just do the Mishpatim, then I will be ok. Everyone needs to study Torah on every level. It is through the study of Torah that we will increase the days and years of our lives. This requires listening to and noting when the class is going to take place and then showing up and learning.

Baruch Hashem we have seen many families flourishing in our Shul. But let me take license to issue a strong warning: To maintain the level of commitment and observance of the mitzvos, one must continue to study Torah - either privately with a chavrusa or by attending Shiurim. Torah learning is the oil which keeps all the parts greased up and running smoothly. If the performance of mitzvos is not complemented by a constant stream of Torah, then the riverbed will dry up. Opportunities for Torah study come and go; It is incumbent upon all of us to take advantage every available situation to learn.

When a person hears the announcement of a certain lecture or speaker, they should figure out a way to attend by signing in and not just shrug it off as if it's not important or it's not for me. Torah is the elixir of life Plain and simple. Without it we cannot exist. Next time we hear an announcement of Torah learning let us commit to take it upon ourselves the mitzva of Limmud HaTorah.

Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

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Parshas Matos/Maasei - Process + Results = Growth        25 Tammuz 5780

07/17/20 13:41:53

Jul17

Time keeps marching on as we now enter the second trimester of the year, continuing to live in an eerie, ever-changing world. Each one of us has dealt with the trials of this situation differently - some better, -some worse. From the outset I recommended a number of suggestions for people to inculcate into their lives and daily routine. This included, but was by no means limited to reading, exercising, walking outside, finding a hobby, taking on projects that will provide you with a sense of accomplishment during the pandemic. These were suggested outside of family time.Developing the ability to refine learning and davening help to also develop deeper introspection, seeking out the greater meaning of life.

I try to follow my own advice, although truthfully, it is hard for me, too; I don’t always manage to follow my own advice. There were two things I did accomplish, however. One of them was more geared to my son, but we both derived great pleasure and satisfaction and a long-term benefit from the experience. I knew we needed some added activity and distraction during the early days of Covid-19, so I bought a new basketball hoop for the backyard. I gave over the task and the reins to my son to put the hoop together. The process took approximately five days from the time we bought it until the first shot. The assembling of the hoop was an extremely detailed process requiring many steps. The instructions were broken up into ten major parts with about ten steps in each section. My son methodically laid out all the hardware, garnering all the necessary tools to beginning this journey of unchartered territory. All of this was a totally new challenge for him. . In the assembly of such an item, no corners can be cut; every step is necessary, and each step must be performed in that exact order. Unfortunately, (later on you come to realize the fortunate side of looking at something) mistakes were made on the way that required going back a few steps and undoing everything which we had labored to meticulously complete while working in the hot sun with sweaty palms and tired muscles. But as soon as we realized we’d made a mistake, we went back and undid it. With the knowledge we gained from each mistake, we were able to proceed with a deeper level of confidence, going forward to the next level. Ultimately, as the assembly progressed, a bigger picture of the final product came into view and we had a better understanding of how each piece, screw, nut, and placement of the items began to fit. And so our confidence grew, while still grappling with mistakes. Yes, some dejection crept in, but our persistence and determination kept us focused on the end goal.

A second project, more of a hobby that I took on, was advanced through the generosity of Jim and Libbe Sherman who gave away some mini cherry tomato plants. Up until now the only way I experienced somewhat of a “green thumb” was to take a green magic marker and color my thumb. For some who are familiar with one of my philosophies is that each and everyone one of us has the ability to do anything in life we put our minds and effort to accomplish. So, I took a number of these little plants and followed the basic instructions. One of the challenges I personally faced is not knowing if I am doing it the “right way” or not. A separate challenge is that it is not a project of instant gratification. There are many steps a a few weeks along the way from initially planting these little seedlings to experiencing the pleasure of eating that first tomato. I planted a total of eight plants, and I’m hoping that at least one will survive and produce. The jury is still out on the plants. I made a few mistakes along the way, requiring that I go back and correct them, but with those corrections came stronger results in the steps that followed. To date, some of the plants are doing better than others, but flowers are sprouting which is a good sign that the fruit is not far behind.

We see from both examples that the process is an important component of the entire project. Growth many times comes when we see and learn from the mistakes we make. Shlomo HaMelech presented his famous parable of a person who falls off his horse seven times, each time gets up and tries again. This teaches multiple lessons. Not only is it important for a person to get back up after he falls, but the process of falling down is almost necessary so that we can get back up again, each time a little stronger and a little wiser. The process itself adds value despite the extra work and time involved, for that is how we grow. This lesson is found in the Torah, as all lessons are.

In this week’s Parsha Matos/Maasei, the Torah states in Devarim 33:1 "אלה מסעי בני ישראל..." “These are the journeys of the Sons of Israel”. Reb Yaakov ben Chaim Asher Leiner in his sefer Sifsei Tzadikim (pub 1914 Pietrokov) describes this verse as referring to the entire world. This world is a world of rectification. Every single day a person has the opportunity to fix any mistake he made the previous day. Angels are referred to as “standing” as in standing still and not moving because they remain at one continuum – one level throughout their existence. The angels have no merits or the need to fix what happened in the past because they can not violate the word of God. Man, on the other hand, continuously moves either forward or backward, up or down throughout their entire existence. Mankind is always moving from one level to another. With regard to the Jewish people traveling with the Torah, the word “Eileh”/ These is used. The rule is that if it would say V’Eileh - and these - it would include everything in the past, connecting as a continuation from the past to the present and on to the future. But without the letter vav, it describes these going forward and not looking back. Rav Leiner explains the prior days needing correction. Someone who is wise will sever from the past sins and bad poor decisions and rectify the mistakes. This is how he interprets, “And they camped and they traveled”. The Jewish people continuously “traveled” from one madreigah to the next, going from one level to the next step up.

The basketball hoop has been a priceless addition and something that not only keeps us in physical shape today but helped to sharpen our minds, teaching us great life lessons through the process. Hopefully, with Siyata Dishmaya, with Heaven’s help, at some point Hashem will hopefully give the blessing of the tomato plants to yield their fruit. We should all receive help from the One above that all of our endeavors are met with blessing. Amen!

Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas Pinchas - History, History, Oh History  18 Tammuz 5780

07/10/20 12:39:32

Jul10

I always try not to be an alarmist, but there is no question that the America of today is not, at least overtly, the America it was yesterday. Within my lifetime I have experienced extraordinarily little direct anti-Semitism. Growing up in Brooklyn we were called names but were never actually confronted. Yes, at times a car would drive by and the passengers would hurl insults ranging from our family members to the broader Jewish people. Sure, we heard and read about the way Jews were treated in other countries - such as the former Soviet Union - but here in America this felt more like benign anti-Semitic lip service, vocal slurs which some goyim felt obligated to fulfill. Today, however, It behooves every Jew to look around, to take stock of the openness of alarming rhetoric that is being openly spoken in blatant, unabashed fashion. We may think the adage, “Sticks and stones will break my bones, but names will never harm me” is true. To the contrary words, repeatedly used in intentionally insulting ways lead to physical action and harm.

With that said, I would like to share two episodes that illustrate whether source of my concern and why I need to speak up. There have been two situations which I encountered within the last two months. One weekday morning while walking to Shul, a young woman got out of her car and proceeded to dig in a neighbor’s front yard. In my opinion, this young woman may have been homeless but did not fit the physical stereotypical impression of a homeless person. As she was kneeling on the ground, digging and covering, I stopped (at a safe distance) and asked her if everything was alright. At first, she ignored me, so I asked again if she was okay. She then jumped up, brandishing a small metal pipe-looking thing and began to yell obscenities at me. I tried to calm her down, to explain my well-intended concern, all to no avail as she continued her tirade. While I did not feel threatened in any way throughout her hysterics, but when she drove off, car tires screeching, she yelled some choice anti-Semitic choice slurs at me. This incident occurred just as the national demonstrations and riots were holding strong. I honestly believe this unfortunate woman has some mental health issues going on, but I do surmise that her ability to be so emboldened was a direct result of the atmosphere now wafting through communities all over the country.

The second incident took place last week at approximately nine thirty at night. I had to open the vehicle gate for someone. During those few seconds immediately after the gate closed, a tall, slender, African-American walked past me. As I began to slowly walk back home, , simultaneously checking messages on my phone as I usually do, I noticed this same individual at the intersection of Mesita and Rockford Dr. By the time I reached the intersection, this man was about three houses up, walking on Mesita Drive. I paused, cautiously crossing the street, still reading an email on my phone, when I heard a man yelling something. I stopped, looked up and saw this same man now approaching me quickly, yelling, “Why are you following me!” As he was about twenty feet away and I was now in the middle of the intersection, I said, “I am not following you, I am just walking home.” While returning this reply, I simultaneously realized that knowing I had only planned to go to the gate for a moment, I left my front door wide open! Immediately following my reply to him, the man burst into a major rant, hurling insults and accusations against me. He came all the way up to me and shoved his license into my face and said, “Look at my address! I live here!” Once again, in a futile manner, I tried to explain that I was not following him and intended no harm. Instead of just turning away and walking home, he did not believe me. He refused to budge. It was at that moment that I realized something was off and decided not to engage any longer. At this point, he backed off physically but verbally continued his verbal assault, ratcheting up almost to the level that could be construed as a threat. I decided not to challenge him by retorting, “Are you threatening me?” Baruch Hashem, it ended there, and nothing further developed after that night.

Of course, I realized that from his perspective he was “concerned that a fifty-six-year-old white-haired pot bellied Caucasian man was following him. I get it. But again, either he was not well mentally or had a momentary meltdown, and I was the convenient target. In both instances, more so in the second, I felt he was ‘inspired’ by the culture, emboldened to do what he did. I was particularly more stupefied in this more recent event by such erratic and potentially dangerous behavior, not knowing with what action, if any, I should follow up. Should I call the police and have a record on file or just let it be and dismiss it as a one-off occurrence? As time passed, I did not report anything regarding either of these occurrences.

My personal issue regarding this internal indecision of what to do, and the ramifications that could have ensued is troubling. There was a time in Jewish history where even the greatest leader, Moshe Rabbeinu, ‘froze’, not knowing what to do. It took, Pinchas, the grandson of Aharon, to take matters into his own hands and diffuse the situation, putting an end to the plague that killed twenty-four thousand Jews. The verse at the end of Parshas Balak 25:7 states: וירא פינחס When Pinchas, a son of Elazar and a grandson of Aharon the priest, saw this he rose up from the midst of the assemblage and took a spear in his hand. In today’s climate we need to “open up our eyes and ears to see and hear “that which is taking place around us - both far and near.

We need to focus on two parts of the solution to weather any storm – both the physical the spiritual. We need to make our Hishtadlus, our efforts, in the natural way of the world. Second, and most important, we need to turn and ask for help from HaKadosh Baruch Hu. Our prayers and our actions of Mitzvos must be fullhearted and with major sincerity. Our Bein Adom LaChaveiro - how we treat each other - must be stepped up to show the world who we are as a people, living Hashem’s Torah every day of our lives, thus sanctifying God’s name throughout the world in being MeKadesh Shem Shamayim BaRabim.

Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

 

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Parshas Chukas/Balak - Recalling What We Said When We Were Younger      11 Tammuz 5780

07/10/20 12:37:03

Jul10

There’s an old cliché: ‘Oh remember the days of yesteryear’, recalling, either with fondness or yearning, a former period of our lives. I remember as a child growing up thinking that I will never make my children do the things that my parents made me do. Alternatively,I would tell myself that I will not treat my children the way my parents treated me, that when I become a parent I will let my child do what my parents chose not to allow me to do. My rebbi, Rabbi Wein, would always mention what a good sense of humor God has. One of those humorous quips was that God punishes children by making them parents! Now, as a parent, I somehow see things differently than the way I viewed various events when I was growing up. Now that the shoe is on the other foot, I seem to have forgotten all of those promises I made to myself when I was younger.

Today’s generation is called the ‘sandwich’ generation’, a different but yet a similar challenge by caused by another set of circumstances. In addition to being parents of children and grandchildren, we are still, at the same time, children to our own aging parents. I find myself at this later stage in life saying the same things about my now-aging parents: that when I get older I’m not going to do things the same way that my parents are doing now that they are growing older. As parents age there tends to be a denial of some sort to recognizing or accepting their growing fragility and ability to take care of themselves. At times there is a struggle between the senior parents and their middle-aged children regarding what is in the best interest of the parents and family. Aging parents cannot be objective in their long term care if they are in an already-failing situation. Obviously, there is a big difference between the reaction of a young, minor child versus that of an adult child’s reaction to their parents’ decision making. Obviously, the minor child does not see the big picture and responsibility of life; at the other extreme, it is actually the aging parents who lack the ability to take in the big picture. The adult parent/child is now in the middle, realizing that while his or her parents were correct in the way they brought you up, also are placed in the awkward position of reality that they should not act in a stubborn manner in dealing with their ultimate care later on in life.

It is always easy to be the critic, the all-knowing one, the one who would have done it differently, when we are not actually the ones calling the shots at that time. It’s easy to criticize the coach, the teacher, the parent, and even the Prime Minister of Israel when we are not in that position at that time. One of the greatest challenges we face in life is balance. As children grow up ,we understand and actually look forward to our own children’s growing maturity, encouraging them to make decisions on their own. Hopefully, by the time they are really mature they will understand why and when a parent made a certain decision and choice for them. On the other side of life, we hope that a senior parent can recognize when it is time to ask for the help and follow the opinion of others, especially their children, in making choices for them.

The critical points are to know when to begin making the correct choices and, equally important but far more difficult, to know when to give up making those choices. This concept is reflected in this week’s Haftorah for Parshas Balak.

The Navi Micha in chapters 5,6, recalls how Hashem protected the Jewish people as they traveled through the desert. Micha mentions how Balak hired the evil Bilaam to curse the Jews. After failing to curse Am Yisrael, Bilaam suggests to Balak that he lure the Jews, particularly the men, into idolatry through acts of lewdness. The Chasam Sofer connects part of the service of idolatry to this Haftorah. Reb Avraham Sofer brings a Mishna from Pirkei Avos 3:4 “Reb Shimon Omer,: Shlosha She’Achlu Al Shulchan Echad V’Lo Amru Alav Divrei Torah, K’ilu Achlu M’Zivchei Meisim”: “If three people ate at the same table and did not speak words of Torah upon it, it is as if they ate from offerings of the dead”. Why does it make them as though they ate from offerings of the dead? The reason is based upon a verse in Yeshayahu 28:8: “For all tables are full of vomit and filth without the Omnipresent”. The vomit and filth (literally dung or excrement) was the actual service of idolatry for Ba’al Peor. In Tehilim 106:28 Dovid HaMelech says: “VaYitzamdu L’Baal Peor VaYochlu Zivchei Meisim”: “and the Jewish people attached themselves to the idol of Baal Peor, and they ate offerings of the dead”.

The Torah emphasizes that due to the Jews eating sacrifices intended for idolatry, they became attached to the idol Baal Peor itself. But in Tehilim Dovid HaMelech seems to indicate that they first got close to Baal Peor and then they ate of the sacrifices. The Chasam Sofer suggests that once the Jewish people failed with Baal Peor, this sin has remained within the Jewish world even till this very day. While the sin of idolatry is no longer, the drive and the attraction to idolatry still exists today. In fact, the Torah in Devarim states clearly that anyone who gets close to Baal Peor will be destroyed. Nevertheless, in Yehoshua it states that the Jews never cleansed themselves completely from the sin of Baal Peor idolatry. Even though the idol of Baal Peor was destroyed and no longer exists, the sin still lingers. The sin is represented by offerings to the idols: the breads, the oils, the wines, all of which cause us to mingle with the non-Jews, which can lead to inter-marriage and further idolatry ,ultimately moving us away from God.

Baruch Hashem we no longer actually serve the idols, but ,unfortunately, we still find ourselves eating of the sacrifices of the dead, the dead idol of Baal Peor. This, to our misfortune, has plagued us for many, many generations.

As we enter into the three-week period of national mourning over the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash, we need to look at some point of why this happened. We as a people continue to sin in ways that separate us from Hashem, not necessarily through idolatry itself but through the act of doing things that lead us in that direction. We need to clearly sever not only the idol worship but the calculations and bad decisions that are the very fringes of idol worship. This should be a lesson to clearly mark the distinction in life’s decisions to know when it is time to let others make it for us and when we should make them on our own.

Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

 

If you would like to sponsor or dedicate a part of Rabbi Bogopulsky’s upcoming new book please contact him directly or reply to this E-Mail.

This Dvar Torah is re-printed with permission from the author.

 

Parshas Korach - Have We Reached the New Norm?         4 Tammuz 5780

06/26/20 09:21:28

Jun26

The days turned into weeks, and the weeks have turned into months. I am scared to even talk about the next stage if these months may possibly turn into years! Throughout history changes have taken place and still the world evolved from one set of circumstances to the next. It is almost twenty years since the world of travel and security changed, but acceptance of this need for security has become the norm for the older generation and a part of life for the younger generation. We do not know if the wearing of masks and social distancing is at its peak and will decline, reverting to the way life was before Covid-19 or if these changes are here to stay – at least for a long time. What we should know is God’s omniscient presence in the past, present and future. Unfortunately, we sometimes tend to see Hashem through our 20/20 hindsight, or look with expectation towards a bright and secure future by spitting out the words ‘Im Yirtzeh Hashem’, with God’s will. But it is the present that we either cannot see God, or we just are not looking hard enough for Him. We tend to forget the fact that Hashem is in control as we speak and write. I recently heard about this problem addressed head on.

It is written in the Zohar חיי עלמא מזוני “The one who gives life, gives sustenance”. Rav Elimelech Biderman asks, “What does that mean?” Rav Biderman explains this phrase with a few examples. One can be the wealthiest and most resourceful man in the world, but with all his power, influence, connections and protectzia, can he add even one day to his life span? Even with all the money in the world and networks available to him, can he extend his life? Certainly not, rather, he will receive whatever is predestined to him from the time he was created, not a day or even a penny more. Of course, a man must put forth his/her best effort to make a livelihood and seek out the best medical care, but at the end of the day, it is not in our control.

The Chovos HaLevavos in Shaar Daled writes negatively of someone who does not put in effort to make a living wage. Nevertheless, he must constantly remind himself that complacency is not a guarantee. It is a Mitzva to try and yet know that it is not in his control; it is in God’s hands. There is a story told of a bachur (unmarried Yeshiva student) who came to Reb Elya Lopian zt”l for permission to leave the Yeshiva and go to work. Reb Elya felt the boy still had time to learn before going off to work and asked him why he needed to leave now. The bachur replied: Why? So, I can get married and support children and a family. Reb Elya responded, “And how do you know that you will get married?” “Well, everybody gets married! “the bachur responded. “Ahh, but how do you know you will have children?” The student was growing irritated and responded, “ Is the Rebbi cursing me?” Reb Elya Lopian replied, ”No, I am not cursing you, but I see you put your trust in Hashem to get married and to be blessed with children, but you do not have trust in Him that He will provide sustenance for you and your family in the proper time. Reb Elya concluded, “Are you doing this (going to work) because you are placing a limit on Hashem’s abilities? “

In another episode, a bachur told the Chofetz Chaim that he was turning down a certain Shidduch (a proposed match). Not only was he turning it down, he continued to exclaim, he did not want to even consider or entertain such a suggestion. The Chofetz Chaim asked why he would not consider this shidduch (proposed match)? The young man answered that he is looking for a girl whose father would provide support of five years to be able to continue to learn. The boy added that if he did not receive this commitment he would not consider the shidduch. The Chofetz Chaim then asked the bachur how long he expected to live. The bachur responded he hopes to live at the very least to seventy or eighty years and hopefully more. this age range was just the minimum. The Chofetz Chaim continued, “And who will support you for the remaining sixty-five to seventy years? The bachur immediately jumped and exclaimed ,“Why should I worry about that now?” The Chofetz Chaim responded, ”So… you are guaranteed the 65-70 years, but it is only the first five years that you are worried about?” This attitude is not new, but like everything else there is precedent from the Torah.

In this week’s parshas Korach the Torah states in Bamidbar 16:1 "ויקח קרח בן יצהר בן קהת בן לוי, ודתן ואבירם בני אליאב ואון בן פלת בני ראובן" “ Korach the son of Yitzhar (a grandson of Kehas and a great-grandson of Levi) began a rebellion along with Dasan and Aviram (sons of Eliav) and On, son of Peles, descendants of Reuvain”. The Midrash Shocher Tov 49:3 states Dasan and Aviram had two traits;:brazenness and divisiveness. It was they who said to Moshe, “Who made you a ruler and a judge over us!” It was Dasan and Aviram who said, ”Let us appoint a captain and return to Egypt.” .It was Dasan and Aviram who rebelled at the Sea of Reeds. But one of the greatest direct challenges to Moshe and indirect challenges to Hashem was when they left over manna because they had a trust issue.

The characters in the stories earlier behaved and acted in the same way as Dasan and Aviram. They left over manna for the next day, they were only worried about tomorrow but not worried about the days after that. Seems if they were concerned for the future, they would have stored up a lot of manna. Apparently, down the road they would eventually have put their trust in Hashem but certainly not the very next day. How foolish it is to only be concerned with the immediate future and take matters into our own hands , claiming we/they are not concerned about the distant future. Dasan and Aviram were not of the highest moral caliber. The leftover manna bred worms and rotted. The Midrash Tanchuma Tzetzaveh 11, referring to Shmos 16:20, describes swarms of ants marched out of the tents of Dasan and Aviram and entered the tents of the B’Nei Yisrael. Ultimately, the Midrash Rabbah 18:5 relates on the words: “Woe is to the wicked man, woe to his neighbor! “ Because Dasan and Aviram were neighbors of Korach, they were smitten with him and perished from the world.

We are living in uncertain and challenging times. The only certainty we need to know is to do our Hishtadlus, to make a positive effort navigating the storm of today and to reach up Heavenward for signs, direction, and strength.

Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

 

Parshas Shlach - Be Careful What You Wish For       27 Sivan 5780

06/19/20 11:09:14

Jun19

What do airlines, electricity, teenagers, tumah (spiritual impurity) and self-esteem have in common? The answer is that in one form or another, the term “grounded” is used at some point in time with each of them. The meaning of the word “grounded” depends upon the context in which it is used. The examples above are a mix of good and bad, positive and negative. The terms grounded and grounding are very similar, but their meanings are quite different.

There are times when ‘grounded’ has a completely positive meaning. To be grounded means you are solid with whom you are. You are sure of yourself; you have confidence in your decisions… you trust yourself. To be grounded means you pay attention not only to yourself but to what is going on around you.

Electricity, which can be viewed as a form of fire, can be very helpful or extremely harmful. When using fire, we take as many precautions as possible, and we should do the same with electricity. Wiring is tricky; in any electrical circuit, two wires – the “hot wire” and the “neutral” or grounded wire - are needed to complete a circuit. The neutral, or grounded wire, is most correctly referred to as a "grounded neutral conductor”, but for simplicity’s sake it’s typically referred to as "the neutral" or "the ground wire". A "grounding" wire, on the other hand, is a safety wire that has intentionally been connected to earth. The grounding wire does not carry electricity under normal circuit operations. Its purpose is to carry electrical current only under short circuit or other conditions that would be potentially dangerous. Grounding wires serve as an alternate path for the current to flow back to the source, rather than go through someone touching a dangerous appliance or electrical box.

In terms of spiritual impurity known as ‘Tumah’, the only objects susceptible to becoming ritually impure are people, keilim (either clothing, utensils), liquids and foods. Items attached to the ground and the ground or the earth itself are not subject to Tumah. Tumah / spiritual impurity does not take effect when something is “grounded”. Perhaps the reason for this is that without something being grounded everything in the world would be susceptible to ritual impurity by virtue of the fact that everything is connected. The ground serves as some kind of ‘home base’ whereby it has immunity from the impurity.

Unfortunately, we are still in the midst of the pandemic and are enduring a grounding in the aviation sector. This comes at great cost financially, emotionally, and physically. Most recently, in March 2019, aviation authorities worldwide grounded the Boeing 737 MAX passenger airliner after 346 people died in two plane crashes - Lion Air Flight 610 on October 29, 2018 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 on March 10, 2019.

As travel restrictions continue amid the ongoing spread of coronavirus, a record number of planes have been grounded. At least 70 airlines around the world grounded themselves completely, according to Cowen Investment Bank. These included heavy hitting airlines such as Emirates and Etihad and low-cost behemoths like EasyJet. Other top carriers, including Lufthansa, Cathay Pacific, and Singapore Airlines at one point canceled up to 95 percent of their flights. U.S. carriers were not far behind: American Airlines suspended 80 percent of its domestic flights and 90 percent of its international flights into May; Southwest parked 50 of its 750 jets; United cut its April domestic schedule by more than 60 percent and , like most U.S. airlines, cut most of its international flights, planning deeper cuts into June; Delta had at least 600 planes grounded at one point or another. Early on, at the peak of the virus, up to 80 percent of the world’s overall fleet could have been grounded as a result of coronavirus travel restrictions, Peter Harbison, chairman of the industry group Centre for Aviation, told the Financial Times. A unique story/incident regarding “grounding” happened to Ben Sliney, a former United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) National Operations Manager. His first day in this position was September 11, 2001, and he was responsible for ordering a National Ground Stop across United States airspace in response to the terrorist attacks of 9/11.

Regarding the home, grounding is a general discipline technique which is used with children and teenagers, in which one is forbidden to leave their place of residence (or sometimes their bedroom) except for required activities, which may include but are not limited to school, work, projects, essential medical care, and going to Shul. During this time period, any positive reinforcement is revoked, and certain privileges are taken away. These restrictions could include no computer (except for school work), no video games, no listening to music or watching television, losing allowance and driving privileges and not permitting opportunities to play or have fun with toys. Punishment may also include having to do extra chores. Grounding is used as an alternative to physical discipline. According to a 2000 review on child outcomes, "Grounding has been replicated as a more effective disciplinary alternative than spanking with teenagers. Grounding can backfire if the type and duration of restrictions is disproportionately severe for the behavior meant to be corrected, or if the restrictions are too difficult for the parent to enforce.” Therefore… “seichel” is required.

The negative impact regarding “being grounded” often leads to other problems. A plane's flight being canceled or a person being restricted can have adverse effects. In fact, we hear and read about the Jewish people in the desert complain about going into the land of Canaan after hearing the report of the spies. It led them to complain and sin. In effect, they expressed the desire to stay put , to be grounded in the desert rather than continue traveling to Canaan. This attitude led directly to the Jewish people’s disastrous end of wandering in the desert for forty years, dying in the desert and not entering into Eretz Yisrael.

The Torah in this week’s parsha Shlach states in Bamidbar 14:27 "עד מתי לעדה הרעה הזאת אשר המה מלינים עלי, את תלונות בני ישראל אשר המה מלינים עלי שמעתי" “How long shall this evil group exist, complaining against me? I have heard how the Israelites are complaining about me”. At the end of the very next verse Moshe tells them, “it is God’s solemn declaration that I will make your accusations against Me come true.”

I am going to take a great deal of literary license here by connecting two Hebrew words together that truly have different meanings but share the same letters. I would like to explain these words although they are not really the same but nevertheless share a strong connection. The word used in the above quote, ‘malinim’ translates to ‘complained’ while the letters inside that word are ‘lina’, which can mean rested or leftover. Because they complained, they ended up remaining in the desert, as Moshe stated, “Your accusations will come true.” In other words, since you complained you will be grounded here and remain outside of Israel.

Let us think of our own situations and be careful about what and how we express ourselves.. Heaven forbid, we do not want our words to ground us! Rather, our words should anchor us to be positive and strong in our Emunah/Faith.

Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

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

 

Parshas B'Haaloscha - The Clock Never Stops Ticking      20 Sivan 5780

06/12/20 13:08:00

Jun12

One of my responsibilities as a Rabbi/clergyman is visiting people in hospital and care facilities. For me, it is an extra perk: first, of course, it is my duty, but on top of that I receive heavenly reward as well. To the perceptive mind and eye, there is something that hangs on the wall opposite each bed - a pull-off page calendar that marks the current day’s date, or at least a white board on the wall which has the day’s date and an update of other information for the patient. No one should ever need to go to a hospital, but for those who have had that experience, we understand how time seems to stand still. An incredibly sad Covid-19 story with a good ending tells about a Jewish man who was put onto a ventilator before Pesach and came out of it a few weeks after Pesach. One of the first things he said was, “When is the Seder?” He had completely lost all sense of time. I feel the same goes for the last three and a half months. I need to look at the calendar to know what day of the week it is as well as checking the current date and sometimes even what year we are in! One of our dedicated Daf Yomi attendees posted a meme about time, “I am not adding this year to my age; I did not use it!”

But besides a calendar or a watch, there are other indicators and reminders which serve to give us a sense of time. We associate people with time and time with people. When I try to remember something that happened in the past, I need an aid to remember. One method I use to calculate or to figure out when something took place is I think about an individual or family who were in the community or around me at that time. As my family and I close in on the completing of two dozen years at Beth Jacob, I look back at the many different people who have come and gone. As time goes by, the frames of time become clouded and blurred, sometimes making it difficult to remember when someone arrived or left the San Diego Jewish community.

San Diego, in general, tends to be a transient community. People come and people go. Perhaps this is the trend of our generation in all places throughout the world generally, but especially in the Jewish world. I often think what the community would look like if everyone who came just stayed and did not move away. To be fair and objective, I would have to look at the community as though no newcomers arrived at all. In other words, life is a balance of people and circumstances in all scenarios.

The idea of time standing still is not a new phenomenon for the Jewish people. We traveled in the desert for forty years with the same weather, the same food, the same clothing and the same living quarters. In fact, the Jews complained about many of those issues, especially the food and water supply. Even internal family squabbles erupted between Aharon and Miriam against their brother Moshe. Over this period there were religious issues and concerns of not being able to perform the Korban Pesach, resolving the issue with Pesach Sheini. I think this all sounds awfully familiar to us now with regard to our much shorter “shelter at home” order. With all that has transpired in our world over the last few months from the medical /health issues to the social unrest we are witnessing, I at least feel as though I am wandering through a fog of time. I do not have all the answers to the issues, but I can and will share an insight for each and everyone of us to think about concerning making the world a better place.

In this week’s parshas B’Haaloscha Moshe instructs Aharon to light the Menora. The Torah states in Bamidbar 8:2 "דבר אל אהרן ואמרת אליו, בהעלתך את הנרות אל מול פני המנורה יאירו שבעת הנרות" “Speak to Aharon and say to him, ‘When you light the lamps, the seven lamps shall illuminate the Menorah”. Rashi explains that this act and command to Aharon was a gift to him and the Kohanim for future generations. But Rashi, describing the lighting writes, "שאתה מדליק ומטיב את הנרות" “for you should light them and then clean the lamps”. In his sefer Panim Yafos *Rav Pinchas Ben Zvi Hirsch Horowitz comments that those actions should be reversed: first clean the candlesticks and then light them. He explains that in reality this may be reversed, but in purpose the given order is correct. The first thing a person needs to do is get the light going, fire it up and then clear its path. Sometimes, just the light and the resulting flame will clean and clear out some of the debris. The lesson and message for us today is that we need to just light the candle and the menorah. That light will, in turn, reflect, thereby lighting up the other things around it. More importantly, once a fire is lit and the candle burns, the light that it gives off is timeless. The long -lasting effects of the light which, of course, is brought through the learning of Torah and fulfilling the mitzvos, will continue to shine, clearing away the debris, opening the path of justice and purity. Each and every one of us should strive to light up our own lives, to clear the path, to clean up that which is around us, creating clarity of light for the Jewish people and the world that we live in.

Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

*HOROWITZ, Pinchas Ben Ẓvi Hirsch Ha-Levi (1730–1805), German rabbi. Horowitz was born in Czortkow, Poland, where his father was rabbi. He studied first under his father and then under his two brothers, Nachum (introduction to the Shevet Aḥim) and Shmuel Shmelke *Horowitz, later rabbi of Nikolsburg. During that period the two brothers were attracted to the circle of *Dov Baer of Mezhirech. Rav Pinchas Horowitz visited Dov Baer, first in Mezhirech and then in Rovno. As a result of these visits, he made the acquaintance of *Shneur Zalman of Lyady, the founder of *Chabad Ḥasidism.

 

Rav Horowitz was rabbi at first of Witkowo, Poland and then of Lachowicze (1764). In 1771 he accepted a call to the rabbinate of Frankfurt, a post he held until his death. During his later years he was frequently ill and eventually became totally blind. Horowitz was held in the highest esteem by the rabbis and scholars of Frankfurt. Particularly noteworthy was the cordial relationship which existed between Rav Horowitz and Nathan Maas, Av (father) of the Bet Din of Frankfurt and author of the Binyan Shelomo. Rav Horowitz maintained a close and friendly relationship with Nathan *Adler, although he opposed him in certain matters and later was one of the signatories to the 1779 proclamation signed by the leaders and rabbis of the community against Adler because of his cḥasidic leanings. His congregants also admired Horowitz because of his saintliness and integrity. On one occasion Rav Horowitz gave assistance to a Catholic priest who was in distress. Horowitz had a private *minyan where he followed the Sephardi rite, whereas the traditional Ashkenazi rite of Frankfurt was otherwise followed.

 

Horowitz vigorously opposed the *Haskalah movement. On the eve of the new moon of Tammuz 1782 he preached a powerful sermon (known as Tokhaḥat Musar, "ethical rebuke") against Mendelssohn's German translation of the Pentateuch and its commentary, the Be'ur (Biur). In this sermon, regarded as the first public statement reflecting fierce opposition to the Haskalah, Horowitz referred to the Biur as a work "which resuscitated heretical works in scoffing at the words of our sages." The opinion has been expressed that his opposition to the translation was directed chiefly against the special system of translation and the "dogmatic tone" of the commentary and not against the translation itself. It should be noted that despite his polemics against the aims of the Haskalah movement, he did not refuse to give his approbation to the German translation of the festival prayer book of Wolf *Heidenheim. In 1795. Rav Horowitz issued a ban on the proposed establishment of a teaching institute in Frankfurt, fearing that it would result in a diminution of the study of religious subjects, but under pressure from the civic authorities, he was compelled to rescind the ban. On the other hand, he was keenly focused on the contemporary problems of the community and participated actively in the concern of the communal council to create a harmonious relationship with the government Conspicuous among his prominent pupils was Moses *Sofer, author of the Chasam Sofer, who revered Rav Horowitz for his talmudic genius and his halakhic authority. He stated that despite Horowitz' attraction to Chasidism, he was averse to giving expression to cḥasidic or kabbalistic ideas. In the view of many scholars, the whole tradition of Horowitz' Chasidism is open to doubt.

 

The most important of Horowitz' works, on which his fame chiefly rests, is the Sefer Hafla'ah, in three parts: pt. 1, Sefer Ketubbah (Offenbach, 1787), consists of halakhic and aggadic novellae on tractate Ketubbot with an appendix entitled Shevet Aḥim on the Shulḥan Arukh Even ha-Ezer, laws of ketubbah chapters 66–118; pt. 2, Sefer ha-Makneh (ibid., 1801), to tractate Kiddushin and to Even ha-Ezer, 26–45. Horowitz wrote a homiletical introduction to these parts entitled Pitḥa Ze'ira. The Hafla'ah to tractate Berakhot and on the laws of meat and milk (1895) and on various tractates (3 vols., 1900) were published posthumously. Among his other works the best known is part 3 of Sefer Hafla'ah, his commentary to the Pentateuch, Panim Yafot (Ostrog, 1824), published by Ephraim Zalman *Margulies. That the 1876 Warsaw edition is still in print is evidence of the continued popularity of this work. In this commentary pilpulistic halakhic expositions are combined with kabbalistic and ḥasidic elements. He also wrote Shevet Aḥim in two parts; pt. 1 Netivot le-Shabbat, a commentary to Even ha-Ezer 1–23 (1838), pt. 2 Givat Pinḥas, 83 responsa (1838). A commentary to Psalms entitled Panim Yafot, collected from his various works was published by Pincḥas Finkelstein (1924). Various explanations by him of scriptural verses are found scattered in the works of his contemporaries and pupils. A commentary on the Passover Haggadah appeared in 1860 (reprinted in Jerusalem, 1994). On the occasion of the coronation ceremonies of the emperors Leopold ii and Francis ii in the years 1790/92 he compiled special prayers which were issued with German translations.

Parshas Nasso - The Blessings We All Wait For     12 Sivan 5780

06/12/20 13:04:29

Jun12

Amazingly enough, we just concluded our second of the “Shalosh Regalim,” the three pilgrimage festivals of Pesach, Shavuos and Sukkos while davening at home in isolation. Who would ever have thought, who could ever have imagined such a bizarre situation which has temporarily paralyzed the entire world , impacting the Jewish people in such a devastating manner? Despite all the difficulties and challenges of this pandemic, we Jewish people have the halachik protocols needed to meet every situation. Many aspects of Jewish life have been affected, and many parts of Tefillah need to be modified for personal, private prayer in place of communal prayer consisting of a minyan of ten. I have heard rabbis speak about Hallel, Yizkor, the Megilos of Shir HaShirim and Rus. The detailed laws of Chometz and Matzah, who is obligated and who is not. I’ve listened to and studied the relevant customs of the Omer down to the shortage crisis of Cholov Yisroel cream cheese in the New York metropolitan area needed to make cheesecake for Shavuos! One topic which slipped beneath my radar if not all the Jewish people, is that of Birkas Kohanim, the Priestly blessings.

To be perfectly honest, there was a brief moment of attention Birkas Kohanim received in Israel. On Chol HaMoed Sukkos and Pesach there is one day selected for ALL Kohanim to recite Birkas Kohanim altogether. There were some images sent around contrasting the throng of Kohanim last year as compared to a few spread-out Kohanim seen at the Kotel this year. True, in Israel everyone (both Ashkenazim and Sephardim) “Duchans” (the platform) every day of the year, while outside of Israel Sephardim continue this practice but Ashkenazim limit these blessings to the festivals. So far, between Pesach and Shavuos, we have missed out on Birkas Kohanim six times! These unique, special words are directly from the Torah and are always read aloud around the holiday of Shavuos. The question is why?

In this week’s Parshas Nasso the Torah lists the Priestly Blessing or priestly benediction ברכת כהנים. This blessing is also known in rabbinic literature as ‘raising of the hands’ -נשיאת כפים or rising to the platform - עליה לדוכן. For many, the word ‘Dukhanen’ is used. This is Yiddish for the Hebrew word Dukhan – platform –because the blessing is given from a raised platform. This prayer is recited by Kohanim who are descendants of Aharon. The text of the Bracha is found in Bamidbar 6:23–27. "דבר אל אהרן ואל בניו לאמר, כה תברכו את בני ישראל אמור להם. יברכך ה' וישמרך. יאר ה' פניו אליך ויחונך. ישא ה' פניו אליך וישם לך שלום." “Speak to Aharon and his sons saying: This is how you must bless the Israelites. Say to them: ‘May God bless you and keep watch over you. May God make His presence enlighten you and grant you grace. May God direct His providence toward you and grant you peace.” According to the Torah, Aharon blessed the people and Hashem promised that "I will place my name on their hands" (the Kohanim's hands) "and bless them" (the Jews receiving the blessing). Chaza”l, the Sages, stressed that although the Kohanim are the ones carrying out the blessing, it is neither the Kohanin nor the ceremonial practice of raising their hands that results in the blessing; it is God's desire that His blessing should be symbolized and communicated through the raised hands of the Kohanim. The Midrash on the passuk in Bamidbar 6:25: “May God make His presence enlighten you and grant you grace” dissects the verse and explains it as follows: “May Hashem’s presence enlighten you” refers to opening one’s eyes and heart to Torah. The words “grant you grace” is explained by Rebbi Chiya HaGadol that Hashem should camp within us. The question is what do these two ideas of opening our eyes to Torah and granting grace have to do with each other? HaRav Yehuda ben Yosef Peretz in his sefer ‘Perach Levanon’ (Berlin 1712) explains that the angels protested that Hashem should give of His countenance to the heavens and the Torah should be given to them. The reasoning, they argued, was the law of ‘Bar Matzra’, Aramaic for border or boundary. (Note: There are variant ways as to how this word is pronounced, including mitzra or metzra. I chose what seems the most common.) A “bar matzra” is someone who shares a boundary with someone else. In halachah, a bar matzra is awarded certain rights in relation to the property that abuts the common border. Namely, if someone wants to sell his field, his direct neighbor has first rights of refusal to purchase it in order to make his own land contiguous. Since the angels were physically closer to God and the Torah when it was in heaven before it was given, they requested to have the Torah. Therefore, to negate their claim,Hashem took His presence and brought it close to us, the Jewish people. And so, here we see Hashem’s great kindness: in the first part of the passuk Hashem lightens us up with the Torah and perhaps the Malachim, the angels, have a right to their claim of Bar Matzra. However, along comes the second half of Veechuneka stating that Hashem will make His presence be with us - the law of Bar Matzra will be with us!

We are clearly living through a time of darkness – we tend to ‘see’ but cannot truly comprehend what we are trying to focus through. The events that we have been and continue to live through are both eerie and downright frightening. There is nothing conclusive, nothing clear with regard to the myriad of questions surrounding Covid-19. The unrest and lack of discipline in our country and throughout the world has us all wondering if we are progressing, positively moving forward, or regressing to the times of old. I don’t believe any one person has a clear, concise, or even close-to-perfect answer that will as yet begin to lay a foundation towards some satisfactory solution for assuaging these fears of all the unknowns and ramifications concerning this challenging time. But, as caring and observant Jews, we know there is one thing in life that does give us clarity and a ray of hope towards the future - and that is the Torah.

Our duty in the middle section of the Kohanim’s Bracha is to allow the light of Torah to shine, to literally light up the path of life for us. But this, however, is predicated upon the latter half of the Bracha – to allow Hashem to reside within ourselves, our family, and our community, to welcome Hashem to become a true part of our daily lives. We look forward to earning the love of Hashem to be with us and have the Torah near to us so we can all be the recipients of the Birkas Kohanim in Yerushalayim Ir HaKodesh, witnessing the rebuilding of the third Beis HaMikdash speedily in our day.

Parshas Bamidbar - Re-Opening Our World   27 Iyar 5780

06/12/20 13:00:54

Jun12

Americans are tuned in every day and night waiting to find out when their locale will begin or continue to the next phase of opening for business, pleasure, and religious activity from Covid-19. It is a delicate balance of knowing when to start the integration of society while keeping the virus at bay and the incident rate low. Many people are frustrated with the slow process, some feeling it is not necessary while others feel it is too quick. I am not a scientist, but what Rabbis do is to search for precedent in forming opinions and practice. Perhaps the following excerpt from the official NASA website can shed some light on our current situation. Obviously, we are dealing with two completely different ideas, nevertheless the message may be the same.

Spacecraft re-entry is tricky business for several reasons. When an object enters the Earth's atmosphere, it experiences a few forces, including gravity and drag. Gravity will naturally pull an object back to earth. But gravity alone would cause the object to fall dangerously fast. Luckily, the Earth's atmosphere contains particles of air. As the object falls, it hits and rubs against these particles, creating friction. This friction causes the object to experience drag, or air resistance, which slows the object down to a safer entry speed. This friction is a mixed blessing, however. Although it causes drag, it also causes intense heat. Specifically, shuttles face intense temperatures of about 3000 degrees Fahrenheit (about 1649 degrees Celsius). Blunt-body design helps alleviate the heat problem. When an object – with a blunt-shaped surface facing down -- comes back to Earth, the blunt shape creates a shock wave in front of the vehicle. That shock wave keeps the heat at a distance from the object. At the same time, the blunt shape also slows the object's fall. The Apollo program, which moved several manned ships back and forth from space during the 1960s and 1970s, coated the command module with special ablative material that burned up upon re-entry, absorbing heat. We see the difficulty and complexity of something moving from one atmosphere to another. I believe our transition from stay-at-home command to exploration of malls, shops, restaurants, Shuls and the like is similar in nature. The devastating effects of a space shuttle upon its return from outer space to Earth travelling too fast or too slow will be catastrophic. The pace, speed, and exact entry point are crucial elements of a successful mission. This is the challenge we face while trying to return to our old atmosphere.

The Torah gives us this perspective from the namesake of the new Chumash we begin with this week in Bamidbar. The first Parsha is named as the book itself in the very first passuk. In Bamidbar 1:1 the Torah states: "וידבר ה אל משה במדבר סיני,, “And Hashem spoke to Moshe in the Wilderness of Sinai”. The Midbar, the desert, where the Torah was given teaches us many lessons from humility to the fact that anyone can embrace the Torah as a way of life. The word Midbar/desert can be understood in at least two ways. The first, is the general definition of a dry, barren area of land, especially one covered with sand, that is characteristically desolate, waterless, and without vegetation. The second is two Hebrew words הדרכה והנהגה Guidance/training/direction and conduct/behavior. I would like to suggest an integration of these two different understandings of the term “Midbar/Desert. The Gemara Sanhedrin 8b explains through the passuk in Tehillim 47:4 that if we attain good guidance and conduct ourselves properly, then the desert will be a place where we can flourish despite its scarce resources. The Torah, given in the harshness of the desert in spite of its apparent shortcomings, demonstrates that one can become great in such an atmosphere. But, if we do not act properly, then it will be a desolate place of destruction where there can be no life.

Transitioning from one atmosphere to the next is not solely dependent upon each atmosphere but rather how we guide and maneuver from one to the next. All in all, people are people, everyone has his or her opinion and philosophy. We, as the Jewish people, can pray and ask Hashem to imbue the leadership, both secular and religious, to have the wisdom and insight in making the transition safe and healthy. Re-entering from the stay-at-home atmosphere to the spiritual atmosphere of Shul life should be a careful process - not too fast and not too slow. It needs to be carefully, perfectly timed under the best conditions.

Parshas Behar/Bechukosai - Covid-19: A Blessing or a Curse?    21 Iyyar 5780

05/15/20 12:31:58

May15

Give or take a few weeks, the Western World is approaching a quarter of a year now either in quarantine, self-quarantine, or stay-at-home orders! It is reported that throughout these weeks, the number one most-often mentioned word is Zoom. Collectively, we have experienced just about every life experience through the screens of our devices, be it a computer, tablet, or cellphone. We are yet to have data on what the PTSD will have regarding this time period of history.

Thanks to the technology of Zoom, we have all witnessed and been a part of every life cycle and social gathering possible, including weddings, funerals, bar-mitzvahs, shiva/condolence calls, brisim, baby naming, davening, classes, school, board meetings, social visits, family get togethers, lectures and many more. To sum it all up, THIS IS NOT NORMAL! Although I try to encourage everyone to maintain a semblance of their daily routine and schedule, I realize it has many drawbacks. We are trying, or at least pretending, to play and live the game of life in a real (or surreal) way under false circumstances. To make believe and play for short periods of time and then to revert back to reality is a healthy experience. To “get away” for the moment is rehabilitating, but not when it becomes a replacement the real game itself.

Whatever we call this Covid-19, whether it be a plague, an illness, or something similar, it would categorically meet the requirements of a curse. Albeit, in every curse there is a blessing, yet at this time of human loss, pain, and suffering, it is difficult to see the blessing in disguise. We, who must have deep faith, know that “everything is for the best” and again, as difficult to understand or even to say those words ,each and every one of us should recognize this. Nevertheless, we are all clearly able to see, feel, hear about the curse and havoc that has impacted our lives and the world at large. Nevertheless, we, the Jewish people, look for inspiration or a bright spot in order to more clearly see the end of something bad and the beginning of something good. Well, hopefully we are at this turning point as this coming week’s Torah reading of Parshios Behar and Bechukosai explains. Parshas Bechukosai is synonymous with the Tochacha, the public rebuke of the Jewish people , resulting in the horrific description of the resulting harsh penalties. The timing of this reading is highlighted in the Talmud.

The Gemara Megilla 31b teaches us that Ezra established for the Jewish people that we read the Klalos/ Curses of Toras Kohanim (the book of Vayikra) before Atzeres/Shavuos and again in Mishneh Torah (the book of Devarim) before Rosh Hashana. The Talmud asks: “Why do we read these portions prior to Shavuos and again prior to Rosh Hashana? Abayei and some other commentators report, as stated by Reish Lakish, so that we are given the vision and strength to end the year and its curses”. This means that as the year concludes, if there were any kind of evil decree or curse on the world, the Jewish people, or any one individual, it should be completed and perhaps fulfilled with the going out of that calendar year. The Gemara, however, is not satisfied. One could understand this logic by reading the Tochacha/Rebuke from Parshas Ki Savo a week or so before Rosh Hashana because that IS the end of the year. But why must we read the Tochacha of Parshas Bechukosai prior to Shavuos? Is Shavuos considered the new year? The Gemara answers…yes! The Mishna in Rosh Hashana states that fruits of the land are judged on Shavuos, thereby making Shavuos a new year. The Rambam in Hilchos Tefilla 13:2 and the Mogen Avraham Siman 428:4 and others mention the importance of reading Bechukosai before Shavuos. But perhaps, more importantly, is that which is somewhat overlooked in Bechukosai. Bechukosai is automatically associated with the curses, but there are Brachos in the beginning of Bechukosai which are overlooked, somewhat casually glanced over without emphasis.

The significance of the Brachos/blessings preceding the curses is great. Chazal taught the concept that Hashem creates the Refuah/healing before the Makkah/wound. There is no doubt in my mind that the refuah - the cure of this virus - is here in the world, it only takes Hashem’s allowance for us to discover it. The Bracha for this time in the world predated the devastation of the virus and we should be zocheh , meriting to see the refuah and the blessings that are here with us, yet to be received. Blessings will come only after we deserve them. Therefore, each and every one of us needs to do a little self-introspection, looking inward with keen attention and honest deliberation to our own lives. We need to prepare and go through the transition through doing Teshuva/repenting to greet the new year after Shavuos that will, with the grace of Hashem, bring the end of the curse and the beginning of a new year of blessing.

Parshas Emor - Living in our Own World          14 Iyyar 5780

05/08/20 17:20:23

May8

During the lockdown we encourage each other to make the best of the situation that we are going through now. Whether it has been using our time wisely for a better davening, speaking and connecting more deeply to our parents, children, and spouses, learning some area of Torah or following a secular pursuit upon which we don’t typically focus, are all important and invaluable. Speaking for myself (and I am sure others as well), I try to maintain the ordinary daily schedule of events while working within this new framework. Current studies and emerging theories are coming out regarding the negative impact and toll the quarantine continues to take on our brains and bodies. At the very beginning of the mandatory stay-at-home order, I suggested among many ideas, the importance of exercise. Exercise keeps our minds sharp and our bodies in shape and has an overall positive effect on our mood and attitude.

In general, I try to use my time wisely by planning and scheduling similar events together and go to places that are close to each other. The best is combining two tasks or chores at the same time. In keeping up with and maintaining a regular schedule, I usually drive around the neighborhood and check the Eruv on Thursdays. When the Eruv was established, it was recommended that at least once a year an inspection should be done on foot. I decided to combine the routine of checking the Eruv and exercising in one united task. If anyone is curious, the Eruv is four and a half miles in circumference; it normally takes fifteen to twenty minutes to check the Eruv, based upon traffic conditions. It takes a little longer by foot. But, often in life there is an additional benefit to the tasks being fulfilled. Besides the exercise and Eruv being inspected, I was the opportunity to actually see and greet people who typically whiz by and notice certain things about the area that typically go unnoticed. I would like to share just two of my observations.

The first is the social courtesy and closeness that exists from the people who are running, jogging or only plain walking. Many but not all pedestrians are wearing masks. Therefore, as a courtesy when passing someone, there is an automatic distancing to separate one from the other, but this distance-separating comes along with a little wave or greeting to express the idea of “don’t take it personally”. The second and more profound observation is the array of foliage that exists. As I slowed down and walked along Collwood Boulevard, I began to take notice of how many kinds of grasses, plants, shrubs, small trees, and the like grow on the mountain side of Collwood. There are plants that are clearly dead or dormant and others that are just beginning to come to life. I wondered to myself while viewing the assortment of different sizes, colors, and peculiarities how they exist in such close quarters. They remain together in the day and the night, in the cold and in the heat and when it is dry or even wet. When a car whizzes by, they all feel the wind, and all move together in the same direction. Although each variety of vegetation is created uniquely and differently, they nevertheless can co-exist as if it were among its own kind.

To me this is reminiscent of an entire universe from different parts remaining together under all kinds of conditions. True, these species do not necessarily grow in every part and place in the world, but in every place, there are specific plants and vegetation unique to that region. This is a microcosm of humans living on Earth; groups of certain people tend to congregate and live in specific areas. Originally, people remained in the locale where they were born, but over the last two centuries migration has peaked, and the world is a mix of different cultures, religions, and the like. Our challenge is to take the time to consider the vegetation, which, at least to my eyes, exist in peace and harmony. This remarkable setting is found none other than in the Torah HaKedosha!

In this week’s Parshas Emor the Torah speaks of the Moadim, the festivals of the Jewish calendar year. The Moadim have a double reference, a seasonal one and an historical one. With regards to the first, the festivals are connected with the season of the year as well with the state of development of the products of the soil. On a philosophical level, the meaning of Moadim is the “Times for Meeting” of the Bnei Yisrael to Hashem; they should be fixed and sanctified. More specifically, the cycle begins with Shabbos and Pesach and concludes with Sukkos. The Mitzvos of Sukkos are listed at the end of the Parsha. The Torah states in Vayikra 23:40 "ולקחתם לכם ביום הראשון פרי עץ הדר כפת תמרים וענף עץ עבות וערבי נחל..." “On the first day, you must take for yourself a fruit of the citron tree, an unopened palm frond, myrtle branches, and willows [that grow near] the brook”. The last of the four species that represent all the different kinds of Jews (combination of Torah and Mitzvos or lack thereof) is the willow. The Arava/willow has neither taste nor smell, contrasting to no Torah or Mitzvos, the least desirable of Jewish character. Rav Shamshon Raphael Hirsch quotes the Yalkut Shimoni saying: God says, none may be lost on account of their failing, but additionally God teaches to join them together in one combined union so that the failings of one are balanced by the perfection of the other.

Rav Hirsch, in his masterful way of seeing the world, adds that according to their geographical dispersion the four Lulav-plants could also be representative of the plant world. The date palm belongs exclusively to the torrid zone, citrus plants to countries of lesser heat, myrtle is a plant of the temperate zone, and willows grow in colder climates. With all of them and with each one of them, we nevertheless must rejoice, find joy in the Presence of God.

We, today, find ourselves - the Jewish people and the world at large - collectively representatives of God’s world to come together just as the plant and fruit life around us. We bear witness to the unfortunate passing away of thousands of people from this virus and yet children are also being born. The isolation of individuals is countered by the chessed and kindness offered and accepted, bringing people closer to each other. On a whole, I feel a stronger sense of humanity permeating through the streets of the world, creating a tangible calm and peace or Shalom among mankind. Hashem always offers us a choice: to change for the better on our own, or to have our hand forced. Unfortunately, this experience has come through the latter.

We wish comfort to those who lost loved ones and wish health to those suffering physical and mental illness. May it be our will to learn from these deep, harsh, and difficult circumstances to bring a complete peace to the world and experience the ultimate redemption.

Parshas Acharei Mos/Kedoshim - We Are All Affected Together       7 Iyyar 5780

05/08/20 17:17:47

May8

Here, in our quarantine quarters, we find ourselves saying, “Remember when we were able to do… [fill in as appropriate]”? Most people are driving less without going to school, work or recreation. With all that is going on, there are individuals who are going to work, and for them the roads are open, experiencing extraordinarily little traffic . As a result, they are driving a little faster on the roads, especially the freeways. Who among you remember speeding along the 805, the 15, the 405, or the 8 and out of the blue there was a slowdown of the traffic flow. We always hope that the cause is from a stalled car and not, Heaven forbid ,an accident. Sometimes, we are pleasantly surprised when the slowdown just breaks up for no apparent reason, at least that we can see.

In my assessment, accidents, stalled cars, and the like are considered acts of God beyond the natural control of life. But then there is a man-made slow down created by the speeders, and that is when the CHP (California Highway Patrol)speed up ahead of the traffic and swerve from side to side at a slower speed so that the flow of traffic slows down. It is very frustrating, especially when your location is far back and you have no way of knowing the reason for the slowdown. Other times we find ourselves in the first few rows of cars and are able to see why the slowdown is occurring, thanks to the CHP swerving to control the speed. As we are in the process of going somewhere, we feel a great sense of frustration and aggravation as to how this slow down directly affects the timing of our commute. Generally speaking, we are in a rush to get somewhere and now find ourselves delayed, arriving late for this appointment and subsequent meetings. This is only our immediate gut reaction which has nothing to do with any rational thinking. Subconsciously, we understand that this is for our own benefit. Even though none of us believes that speeding will get us into some trouble, or even worse, God forbid, into an accident, the slow down must be for the “other car” and not for me. Nevertheless, deep down we should understand that this slowdown is for the health and safety of ALL of us, whether we care to admit it or not.

Often in life we slow down, but sometimes it is self-instructed while at other times it is an act from above. Usually when we slow down it includes an inner circle of people in our lives, including family members, co-workers and community. Rarely does our slowing down impact the entire population as this virus has affected everyone, without exception, causing an exhaustive slowdown of society across the globe. Here, too, on the surface our first gut reaction is ,”I need to do x,y, and z and I can not do it now.” Initially we feel keen and deep frustration which hopefully for most of us subsides somewhat, settling down to a more rational reasoning of why this quarantine, isolation, and resulting slow-down was, indeed, necessary for our own safety and wellbeing.

We may be driving at the back of the slowdown and never know what caused it. Right now, however, we are in the front row of cars watching the CHP swerving and slowing us down, sending a message that is louder and clearer than screeching tires or worse, the grinding of metal to metal. Sit back, slow down, take in the scenery of family, our own personal relationship with HaKadosh Boruch Hu.

What did, or what will we do during this slowdown? What should we be focusing on - ourselves? others? or maybe both? As we well know, the Torah is not just a set of laws with rules and regulations ; it is a guide for life in all situations. This situation is no different. We look to the Torah for some direction during these challenging times. The Torah in this week’s Parshios of Acharei Mos and Kedoshim states in Vayikra 19:18 "לא תקם ולא תטר את בני , כמוך, אני ה' "עמך ואהבת לרעך “Do not take revenge nor bear a grudge against the children of your people. You must love your neighbor as [you love] yourself. I am God”. The Sadigerer Rabbe, Reb Avraham Yakov, explains the last two ideas of the verse as inextricable, one from the other. Most commentaries focus on the first part, which Rebbi Akiva said is a Klal Gadol BaTorah, a great rule of the Torah - to love your neighbor like yourself. Upon further scrutiny, the words ‘Ani Hashem’ are added on to many of the Mitzvos between man and man ,and here is no exception. In fact, not only is it not an exception but perhaps here it is the most necessary. Rabbi Akiva explains that the same way a person acts and treats his fellow Jew, I am Hashem. “I, too, “ says Hashem, “will treat and act with you.” Perhaps Hashem is not pleased with not only how Jews are treating their fellow Jews ,but Rei’Acha ,beyond a Jew, but to all humankind. Be it non-Jew to non-Jew, Jew to Jew or Jew to non-Jew and non-Jew to Jew, we ALL are in this slow-down together. God gave the world time to contemplate, deliberate, ponder and reflect upon our relationships with the entire world. Looking out of our homes and walking outside at a safe distance should ultimately bring us closer together. Let us not think of those things that separate or divide us, but rather at those things which bring us closer together, unifying the world to remember the ‘Ani Hashem’ of our existence.

One of the most important things to remember is to understand when the traffic finally breaks up and we start life in the fast lane again, that we do not forget the reason we had to slow down. Let us not forget to take all the treasured and meaningful videos, stories and anecdotes we have learned during this slowdown and always keep the safety and health of our physical and spiritual lives first and foremost in our minds.

Parshas Tazria/Metzora - The Mask: Hiding or Preventing        30 Nissan 5780

05/08/20 17:15:58

May8

Parshas Tazria/Metzora - The Mask: Hiding or Preventing

Human beings need social interaction to exist on many levels: personal relationships, including family and friends and professional, including business and academic interactions, and so forth.. We are now bearing witness to the difficulties and challenges related to Covid-19 that have struck people throughout the world. My world has also been tainted in many ways, but I will highlight two of them that are distant yet related.

The world of ZOOM and other meeting/teaching platforms have exploded to meet the needs of social interaction, continuation of business meetings and teaching from pre-school to graduate programs. We, too, at Beth Jacob have joined this world in order to maintain a virtual Shul for davening, learning, and disseminating information to members and to the outlying Jewish community. As is true regarding everything in life, nothing is perfect, and ZOOM, which is great, gives each individual participant options to mute oneself and to turn off the video, leaving a black screen with just a name identifying the person. Even then, a person can “change” the name, using an alias or the name or word of a funny or not so funny character. To me, the shutting down of the video camera decreases and almost eliminates the connection that we so desire and cherish. The ability to see a person’s face allows for a meaningful ‘connection’ to each participant. Chaza”l (the Rabbis of blessed memory) have stated that there is no comparison between hearing and seeing the face of a person. The Kabbalists explain the Hebrew word for face is panim which can also be translated as inward. A person’s face reflects what is inside of that individual’s being; by looking at someone’s face we are able to view the essence of that person. Moshe Rabbeinu wanted to see Hashem panim el panim, face to face. The desire was not to see what God looks like (because Hashem is not a physical being) but rather to see the essence of What Hashem is. This gift that Hashem has instilled within human beings, , the gift of seeing/reading the face of those with whom we are communicating, is now minimized by our situation to make do with something that compromises the natural way.

The second observation relates to the few times I’ve ventured out of the house to go shopping. Many concerned and responsible citizens - including myself - now wear masks to avoid a potential transmission of Covid-19 from person to person. The expression a person has on his/her face and particularly the expressions emitted by with the mouth speaks volumes. If you do not believe me, just take a look at how many emoji faces there are on your phone. While the expression the eyes are the entrance way to the soul and the eyes definitely give a direction as to an individual’s point-of-view, it is the mouth that gives support to the entire face. The mouth controls the description of the face, shaping the message to transmit happiness, sorrow, anger, excitement, etc. We communicate not only by speaking, or through use of sign language, but also through facial and mouthing expressions. I, and I’m sure many of you, know how to communicate with one’s mouth without emitting a single sound.

Rav Shimshon Pincus ZT”L once told me an interesting idea about the Jewish people during the years of wandering in the desert. If the Jewish people had everything, that they needed during the forty year journey through the Sinai desert, there obviously was no need for the Mitzva of Tzedaka. Yet, we are lead to believe that the utopian society of the generation of the Jews in the desert fulfilled all of the mitzvos (so to speak). So, how did they perform the Mitzva of Tzedaka/righteousness? Rav Pincus responded with a smile, exactly how a Jew would smile at a fellow Jew and the other reciprocated and smiled back. The acknowledgment and recognition a person gives to someone else makes the other feel good, as if he or she were receiving something warm, something to be cherished. A smile is contagious; an outgoing smile is reflected upon the recipient’s face, shining back to the person who sent it. In short, smiles given are reflections of the sender. Nowadays, when I venture out to the grocery store, I am only able to see another’s eyes and eyes alone cannot be read. It is the combination of eyes with the mouth which sends the messages, but when the mouth is covered, we are prevented from adequately being able to convey or receive such nonverbal messages. As a Jew, I try to show courtesy and pleasantness to those around me, Jew and gentile alike. While I am not silenced by wearing a mask, I find it very difficult to transmit a friendly feeling to another human being. Additionally, I tend to use the ability to read someone’s mouth if the person appears to be looking at me in an adversarial way. I raise my defenses in case I deem the person a threat. Once again, I am blinded by the fact that masks cover up mouths, causing a complete standstill. These and all issues are discussed in the Torah.

In this week’s Torah portion Tazria/Metzora we read about the laws on Tzoraas/leprosy and the Metzora, the leper himself. The Mechilta lists ten different reasons or sins why a person would develop Tzoraas and end up being quarantined outside the camp of the Jewish people. The number one or most famous reason was the speaking of Loshon Hora. This is a direct result of someone’s wrongful speech and the misuse of the gift of the mouth, forcing a person to ‘cover’ that mouth and face by being sent away and not being a part of Am Yisroel. If one were to analyze all of the other reasons the Mechilta lists, one would be able to connect and associate those sins that stem from the mouth to the disposition of the total face.

These are two reflections happening on a regular basis during these trying times of social distancing. So often, we read sections of the Torah that we think are outdated and do not apply to us in our time. One obvious example is Tzoraas, the spiritual leprosy that we do not see and therefore cannot check today. Nevertheless, the message, the Mitzva, and the relevance of Tzoraas is alive and well today in our midst, particularly as we ‘protect’ ourselves by wearing a mask. Perhaps the wearing of a mask today or using a ZOOM screen when interacting is not just hiding or preventing the spreading of a virus. I would say it’s the message that we may be guilty as well of the sins that lead to Tzoraas; the result of wearing a mask and observing social distancing is to give us time to reflect that just maybe we may have Tzoraas. The actual physical affliction does not appear, but the effect of it may be making its way inside through a hidden, masked cover-up preventing us from truly ‘seeing’ each other.

May we all have the ability during this time of isolation to think and reflect upon our actions that may have led us to living this type of existence. If we think about this and consider ourselves to possibly be guilty of some of the reasons Tzoraas comes about, then we should do Teshuva. If and when we repent and learn from our actions and speech, we should be Zocheh and merit to see the end of the virus and its devastation and begin to rebuild our world as the Ribbono Shel Olam would want to see us achieve.

Parshas Shmini - Resetting the World to a Higher Plane    23 Nissan 5780

05/08/20 17:14:14

May8

It has been a few weeks since my last weekly parsha message. The reason is twofold: my entire schedule, focus and structure of the day was thrown off by the world dealing with the coronavirus. The second is I felt so much has been written and spoken about that I felt I had little new to add to the already voluminous audio and video material flooding our computers and cell phones. Nevertheless, I felt that for me personally, I need to write something so as to keep the lines of communication open between you, my readers, and me.

To say the least a lot has happened over the past six weeks. The world is no longer the same place it was such a short yet long time ago, and we are not near finished before we begin to see the changes yet to come. We are in a similar situation to the time Noach and his family were in the ark. Noach and his family saw a world before, during and after the flood. So too, we knew what the world looked like before what we are currently living through, and, with Hashem’s help we should all remain healthy and those who are ill should have a Refuah Sheleima to see the world in the aftermath of Covid-19. God sent a powerful message to the world with the flood which was at the brink of never recovering, short of Noach and his family. Only those who lived to see the future are able to appreciate life as it was, is, and will be. I apologize in advance if what you about to read sounds similar to something else you’ve already heard, but I personally have not seen or read this twist on the current Matzav/situation.

Hashem created the world for us to live in a physical place while reaching ever higher for a spiritual existence. In the beginning there was natural Gashmiyus/physical beauty and pleasure. But it was there to be viewed in a natural and simple way. I surmise that Hashem felt the balance required to maintain a spiritual feeling in that kind of physical world would be optimum. As the world continues to progress, the level and intensity of this physical world increases, putting ever-greater pressure on mankind to connect to Hashem. This idea is not limited to the Jewish people; it is intended for all humankind. Hashem promised never to bring a Mabul/flood onto the world again, but we should all realize that God has a vast arsenal of the most minute microorganisms to send the most powerful messages. Perhaps the world was growing too distant from the spiritual connection and Hashem decided to awaken the world, bringing it back a number of centuries to a time when we return to our core selves.

Across the globe, cultures, religions, people of all colors and sizes have been affected. Aviation has come to a screeching halt. People have no means for travel – not by air, auto, train or even by foot without feeling the effects of the new situation. One can read articles and view videos animals roaming around in desolated areas which were only weeks ago densely populated by humans. I haven’t seen any crime statistics, but I would bet that overall crime is down. No Jew will ever forget the Pesach which we have just concluded. Some day, when we tell our children and grandchildren of this pandemic descending upon us, synchronized with the celebration of Pesach, future generations will not believe us. We are living through eerily strange, challenging times and I’m sure everyone can add to this list of strange, seemingly supernatural events and challenges.

We, the Jewish people, not only recognize the natural state of the world but that which is above the natural state. The Torah emphasizes something called L’Maalah MiDerech HaTevah - something which is above the natural law of the world. Kedusha or sanctity is something intangible that is not physical but even beyond the natural state of being. The notion how the world was created in seven days represents the natural order of the world, while anything that is above nature lies closer to Hashem. The number eight represents anything above nature, like a boy receiving a Bris on the eighth day, reaching a higher level after the seven natural days of the world. This idea is highlighted in a number of places in the Torah and Chazal.

In this week’s Parshas Shmini the Torah recognizes this transition between the seven natural, mundane days to the spiritual level of the eighth day. The Torah states in Vayikra 9:1 "ויהי ביום השמיני קרא משה לאהרן ולבניו ולזקני ישראל" : “On the eighth day, Moshe summoned Aharon, his sons, and the elders of Israel”. This was the eighth day after seven days that the Kohanim were taught the service by Moshe as was seen only a few verses before this in Vayikra 8:33. “Do not leave the entrance of the Communion Tent for seven days, until your period of inauguration is complete. This is because your installation ceremony shall last for seven days. This seven -day period began the twenty-third of Adar and concluded on the thirtieth of Adar. The following day was Rosh Chodesh Nissan, the first of the month when the Mishkan was established and the business of the Tabernacle was now up and running. This was the day that Hashem’s presence would occupy the Mishkan. The spiritual existence of Hashem would, if you could say, come down and be felt in the physical realm. The Rabbis explain the concept of ‘Tzimtzum’ as contraction, constriction or even as condensation. The Vilna Gaon and others in Kabbalah understand this to explain that Hashem began the process of creation by "contracting" his Ohr Ein Sof (infinite light) in order to allow for a "conceptual space" in which finite and seemingly independent realms could exist. This primordial initial contraction, forming a "vacant space" into which new creative light could beam, is denoted by general reference to the tzimtzum that Hashem was able to have a ‘physical ‘place in this world. According to some, after Adam and Chava sinned Hashem didn’t have a place until the Mishkan was built and inaugurated, and later this spiritual presence of Hashem would be found in the physical place of the Beis HaMikdash.

Since the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash, Hashem does not have that ‘place’ in this world except when and where we bring Him in. These last few weeks have given us an opportunity to roll back the Gashmiyus/physical pleasures of the world and provided some space for that Tzimtzum of God to be welcomed back into our Mishkan. For me, some days I rise to the occasion and others I feel stifled. Sometimes I feel Hashem’s presence in a stronger, more formal way, but other times it’s business as usual.

We are still in the middle of this “miraculous time” of our lives; the jury is out as to how and when this will conclude. One question we must ALL ask ourselves is ,“Are we making the future an ordinary seven or a spiritually higher eight where Hashem will once again find Himself able to contract and be a more regular part of our daily life.

Parshas T'Tzaveh - Did They Call My Name?    10 Adar 5780

03/06/20 00:19:28

Mar6

From the day of a baby boy’s bris or a baby girl’s naming, a person hears his name anywhere from five hundred thousand to a million times over a seventy-year life span. Throughout our lives there are times we want to hear our name being called out and other times when we absolutely do not want to hear our name called. If we are in a contest that calls out names to advance to the next round, we would want to hear our name called. On the other hand, when I attend jury duty, I do not want to hear my name being called because that means I was selected for a jury pool and I would not be able to leave early.

There are situations when we are in doubt as to whether we heard our name or not. For example, background noise or static can make it difficult to discern whether our name was announced or not This may occur at an airport terminal, or during a raffle or an auction. Also, the reason why my name is being called will have a direct effect upon how clearly I am able to decipher if my name was announced or someone else with a similar-sounding name was being called. I always find it quite amusing how some people ask me if I am related to Bogomilsky, and I ask them why they think I am related to that family. ? They typically explain that the names are so close and sound familiar. I tell them the two closest possibilities that we are related is that we were all at Har Sinai and our names are consecutive in the Brooklyn phonebook, but other than that the names are NOT the same!

There is a certain sensitivity to our names because our names are our specific identity. The Gemara Brachos 7b explains that our name is our essence and an insight to our personalities and our future. If someone calls us by a name which we do not approve of or relate to, we are hurt. On the other hand, when we are called by a name which we relate to or approve o,f we are proud. Our surname, family name, or last name is the portion of a personal name that indicates a person's family. Depending on the culture, all members of a family unit may have identical surnames. A given name, on the other hand, is unique for that particular individual and a further clarification may include a second or middle name. In the Torah we find a few places where a person is called by his name and then repeated a second time. For example, when Hashem called out Avraham, Avraham. Avraham responded, “I am here.” Avraham appreciated the feeling of endearment by hearing his name twice. There are many different reactions a person must have hearing his or her name being called. The reaction to hearing or even not hearing your name hinges upon the circumstances surrounding the reason why your name may or may not be called. A powerful illustration of this was discussed by my Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Wein of Yeshiva Shaarei Torah.

Rabbi Wein YB”L told about his experience walking around the children’s exhibit of Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem. Years later, I had same experience when visiting Yad Vashem. An ongoing recording of the names of the one million children murdered by the Nazis, Yimach Shmom V’Zichram, is starkly heard by everyone entering the children’s exhibit. The voice recites the name of each child, the city where he or she came from, and the age of the child when he or she was killed. Rabbi Wein, who was just about the age of those children when he was growing up in Chicago, was waiting to hear his name being called, but it was not. Rabbi Wein found himself wondering why his name hadn’t been called. After all, he was the same age as many of the children whose names were being called out, albeit from cities and towns far away from the streets of Chicago’s West Side. Nevertheless, Rabbi Wein identified with those children. Perhaps he had survivors’ guilt, giving him the drive to make a difference in the world, to be a part of the rebuilding of the Jewish people. There were others in history who felt the same way when it came to cementing a place in history.

From parshas Shmos until the last portion of the Torah V’Zos HaBracha, Moshe Rabbeinu’s name is mentioned in every Parsha except for this week’s Parshas T’Tzaveh. Many are familiar with the reason why Moshe’s name is omitted this week. The remez, hint, is due to the fact this Parsha always coincides with the 7th of Adar which is the day of Moshe’s death. To symbolically recognize his absence from the world his name is left out this week. This only answers the fact of why it would be this week, if his name should be deleted at all? Did Moshe deserve to have his name to be left out, even though it’s just one Parsha? Many commentaries explain how after the debacle of the golden calf, God was so angry at the Jewish people that He was ready to get rid of them and start a new nation with Moshe at the helm (keep in mind Moshe was on top of Har Sinai at the time of the golden calf). Moshe argued, defending the people by reasoning that if God wiped out the Jews, the other nations of the world would question Hashem and declare how terrible Hashem is to take His people out of slavery only to kill them out in the desert. Furthermore, Moshe said, “If You wipe out the Jewish nation, then kill me along with them.” Moshe was the captain of the ship that was sinking, the last one off to safety, putting himself alongside the people. Moshe declared, ”If you wipe them out, then erase me from the book that you wrote”. Once Moshe made that statement, Hashem felt He needed to pay heed to the intent and even though He did not destroy the Jews He nevertheless ‘erased Moshe’s name’.. Hence God did not write Moshe’s name in this one portion and arranged it to occur on the week that Moshe died.

A difficulty still exists, however. Why would Hashem punish Moshe for trying to defend Am Yisroel? Reb Shimon Sofer explains that leaving out Moshe’s name is not a punishment; it is, to the contrary, a reward! Hashem gives Moshe a one-time honor of Moshe being the decider and giver of the Mitzva directly to the people without Hashem first commanding him to do so. The very first word of the Sedra is "ואתה" “and you” Moshe will command the Sons of Israel. This is similar to a king who gives permission to one of his servants to rule for a day. Because Moshe was willing to sacrifice his own name, Hashem rewarded him by establishing the Mitzva of the priestly garments. Sometimes even when you don’t hear your name being called, it is nevertheless loud and clear as to who is being called!

Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas Teruma - Welcome to Shul!                   3 Adar 5780

02/28/20 09:21:27

Feb28

We started off as a small family forced to evacuate and leave town. We ended up in a foreign land which at the beginning was very good because Hashem had arranged for the infrastructure to be there before we arrived. While it was a nice place, perhaps we overstayed our welcome, because the locals seemed to grow unhappy with our continued presence. Without actually telling us outright, they clearly implied, “You want to stay longer? Fine, but from now on under our conditions and our rules.” Within a short period of time, we were no longer enjoying our lives. We were oppressed with long hours of extremely hard, physical labor and unbearable living conditions. At our wits end and not knowing what else to do, as a last resort we just yelled out to our Father until He heard us and began making plans for us to leave.

We left abruptly with little time to pack provisions needed for our family which had not grown to a few million people with no clear direction as to where and how to flee. We wandered for forty-nine days, traveling through a river, a desert and finally ending up under a mountain where we were given an opportunity to accept upon ourselves a mandate that would unite us and bring our dispersed family back together again. Our now united, large family needed to have a central location where we could always be near our Father. We were commanded to make a house for our Father which would sit in the center of the entire camp/community/family. Unfortunately, it did not take long for differences of opinion and different desires to bubble up the surface.

My Rebbi/Rosh Yeshiva Rav Berel Wein YB”L always joked over serious matters. One of his many famous insights was regarding the time davening would begin in the Beis HaMikdash and whose nusach/text was to be used. Every group or sect emphatically felt that their customs would be the ones used in the Temple, and the time they preferred to begin and conclude would obviously be the choice to be followed. It is important to highlight a fact that we Jews do get along well with each other when under attack, times of duress and when facing a common enemy. Fortunately, however, there are times when we do not face an existential threat from our enemies and that, unfortunately, is when we become our own worst enemies. Until now the Jewish people are, by and large, okay with each other; when our families come to Shul, we often go our own way to daven, to learn, or to play.

I remember watching a Jewish video about twenty years ago about the Jewish family. One of the scenes (obviously staged for the video) focused on entire families – parents, children, other relatives - arriving and leaving Shul all together on Shabbos. This was clearly beautiful, symbolic gesture suggesting that every family, along with the entire community did one and the same thing together, strengthening themselves individually as a family and also collectively as a community. The image stuck in my head of family members holding hands, talking and walking happily together to and from Shul. The Shul/Synagogue is a central point of families bonding in a common effort that establishes and maintains a Jewish community. This is due to the center of our attention being Hashem, residing in the Mishkan which is in the center.

In this week’s sedra Teruma the Torah states in Shmos 26:1 "ואת המשכן תעשה עשר יריעות שש משזר ותכלת וארגמן ותולעת שני כרובים מעשה חושב תעשה אותם" “ - Make the tabernacle out of ten large tapestries consisting of twined linen, and sky blue, dark red, and crimson wool, with a pattern of cherubs woven into them”. Reb Yakov Krantz of Dubno (1741-1804), famously known as the Dubno Maggid, in his sefer Ohel Yakov explains the “Mishkan” in the following manner. The Midrash Yalkut Shmoni describes Hashem speaking to Moshe, “Make a Mishkan for Me because I desire to dwell close to my children.” When the angels heard this, they asked the Master of the Universe, “Why do you go down to that lower world? Your honor and praise is here with us in heaven.” Hashem responded, “By your life should I do as you say? Rather my praise is to fill the world.” The Dubno Maggid explains that there are some people who, like the angels, say that Hashem is so high, so great and holy, that it is beneath His dignity to place His essence among this world. The lower world that we are in is a drop in the bucket compared to the upper spheres and higher worlds. The truth is that God’s presence even in the upper world is not enough to meet Hashem’s greatness. The upper worlds are zero in comparison to Hashem, and with all of that He still wants to lower Himself to lead the world. This is because He wants everyone to know and recognize His reality in the world and that He alone runs the world.

In the previous discussion of the Yalkut, the angels missed the point of God’s decision to be in the lower world. They [the angels] exclaimed that God’s praise is only here with us in heaven. Hashem responded to the angels that the upper world, all the heavens, are also beneath the honor of Hashem. Hashem told the angels that His will is not limited to the upper world; it includes the lower world as well. Hashem’s desire is to fill all of the worlds He created.

The Shla”h HaKadosh Rav Yeshaya Horowitz explains this in a similar vein. We recite in Hallel a verse from Tehilim 113:6: “Who is like Hashem, our God who dwells on high, yet looks down so low in the heavens and upon the earth?” Even though He is so high, He desires to come down to be with us in His lower world. To Hashem, being that He is above all, both the heavens and the earth are below. He therefore seeks to fill the entire universe, even the areas that appear lower but are nevertheless part of the entire world, with His presence. God wants to be a part of our lives, to reveal Himself to each and every one of us. We have the obligation to recognize Hashem throughout the world. When we build our Shuls, homes and continuously strive to build up ourselves, allowing Hashem to come down and to be a part of our lives, enlightening us and expanding our awareness and awe of the majesty of Hashem so we can more profoundly appreciate the entirety of God’s existence.

Parshas Mishpatim/Shekalim - Did Ralph Branca Ever Find Out The Truth?                       26 Shvat 5780

02/21/20 08:32:19

Feb21

Shlomo HaMelch taught אין חדש תחת השמש - there is nothing new under the sun. America’s favorite pastime has been plagued by the now-famous sign-stealing scandal in baseball’s Houston Astros. Many people have heard of Bobby Thomson, who, in 1951, hit the shot that was heard round the world - a home run that was full of controversy regarding what Bobby knew and when Bobby knew It. Specifically, did Bobby Thomson, who hit the game-winning home run that put the Giants in the World Series vs. the Yankees, know what pitch was coming before he hit it out?

When Thomson was asked point blank if, in fact, he knew what pitch was about to be delivered by Branca, he at first demurred, speaking ambiguously. His response remains baffling. Fast forward almost seventy years, and the Astros, who admitted to foul play, are still short of coming out with the complete truth. In fact, as they tried to cover up, neither denying nor claiming any wrongdoing, more evidence and discovery of their lying surfaced.

Children are often caught up in situations that are challenged with wrongdoing. When asked if they committed the offense or not, they often do not tell the truth for fear of being punished. One of the basic rules my wife and I imbued within our children was to always tell the truth. To be honest, there were times when one of our children did get into trouble, told the truth, and got punished while his or her friend lied, avoiding any punishment. Nevertheless, we reinforced the Mitzva of not lying, emphasizing that in the long run telling the truth avoids the danger of getting caught up in a web of lies. Telling the truth, as difficult and as embarrassing it may be, is certainly better than having to come up with more excuses and eventually get caught in a swamp of many more lies. Unfortunately, many studies have shown a widespread theory that kids who lie will do so successfully, reinforcing the act of lying. The fact that lying does exist is exactly the reason why we should be teaching them not to.

Parents are constantly being put on the spot by their children, and age is not a factor because I see this from very young children to grown adult children. Children often ask their parents difficult, challenging, embarrassing, uneasy questions. Parents are sometimes at a loss regarding how to respond, how to answer difficult questions. The best advice I can offer is to be straight up and tell the truth. Of course, it should be an age- appropriate response. Only necessary information needs to be shared, depending upon the type of question, the age of the child and the circumstances. Even though there is a principle in Jewish law known as Shitkah K’Hodaa, it is not necessary to share more information than needed at that time. While silence is tantamount to an admission, it is still not an outright lie or untruth.

There are few if any Mitzvos in the Torah that command us not only to observe them by not violating them; we are commanded to distance ourselves from the very temptation. No place in the Torah tells us to move away from non-Kosher food, or stay away from idolatry. The Torah commands us not to eat non-kosher food and not to worship idols. The Torah does not say “do not speak falsely”, rather it states “from falsity shall you distance yourself”. When it comes to telling the truth, or better yet not lying, the direction is a bit different.

In this week’s Torah Portion Mishpatim the Torah states in Shmos 23:7 "מדבר שקר תרחק, ונקי וצדיק אל תהרג כי לא אצדיק רשע" “Keep away from anything false. Do not kill a person who has not been proven guilty or one who has been acquitted. [Ultimately] I will not let a guilty person escape punishment.” The Torah states to “keep away” and the Hebrew ‘Tirchak’ literally means distance oneself from it. The Menoras HaMaor urges the need for people to know that one of the three pillars upon which the world stands is Emes/truth. When a person tells the truth, an abundance of goodness and blessing falls from the heavens. Dovid HaMelch says in Tehilim 85:12: “Truth will sprout from the earth, and righteousness will look down from heaven”. The message is clear: when mankind speaks the truth, righteousness is created in heaven and the land will yield forth blessings. The opposite, however, is also true. If people speak falsely, Hashem is angered greatly. It is for this reason that we find ourselves in the diaspora today, far from the house of God in Yerushalayim. Lying is a major cause of discord among people. It leads to theft and ultimately to the breakdown and destruction of society.

Some may ask how far one needs to go to keep away from anything false. The answer is simple…tell the truth. If something is ninety-nine percent true, we know it is false. For something to be true it must be one hundred percent truth; there is no room for anything false. Reb Avraham Abish from Frankfort Am Mein declared, “ If only a person understood how great the power of truth is, he would never come to say an untruth.” Learning to tell the truth isn’t necessarily easy; we need to learn about it and work on it like any other Mitzva. It is told about the Baal HaTanya that it took him twenty-one years to master truth telling. Twenty-one years you ask? Yes, seven years to know what the truth is, seven years to chase away and divorce falsehood from his mind and the last seven years to bring the truth into his realm of thinking. As found in so many studies, children tend to lie, building an immunity to it. It takes years of facing the truth to master it.

In Western culture there is a tradition of making a statement or at least an affirmation to telling the truth. The phrase’ I Swear to Tell the Truth, the Whole Truth and Nothing But the Truth So Help Me God’ is actually what Reb Yitzchok Abuhav meant in his sefer Menoras Hamaor. If I tell the truth Hashem will help me, but if I fail to tell the truth, He won’t. The Torah is known as Toras Emes - the Torah is Truth! Rebbi Simcha Bunim of Pshischa quips, “ We do not find the Torah itself taking measures to keep away from something except for this command telling us not to lie.” Unfortunately, lying and cheating is not a new challenge. Nevertheless, we, Am Yisroel, need to set the standards straight and not only tell the truth but remove ourselves from Sheker. Sheker - falsehood - will never last, but Emes - truth - will keep the world going and flourishing with the blessings it produces.

Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas Yisro - Peer Pressure or Peer Support    18 Shvat 5780

02/12/20 18:43:39

Feb12

Words and expressions of speech can be very delicate and must be used in their proper context in order to convey the message intended. Seemingly simple words, physical expressions and figures of speech can have multiple meanings and thus need to be used with care. In addition, some sayings and expressions have a negative tone or connotation but can have a positive spin as well. I will illustrate with two examples. One of the boys in Shul told me he had recently made the school basketball team and needed to reschedule a learning session with me because he had “practice”. I quipped with him and said, “Why do you need to practice if you made the team? Surely,” I continued, “if you are not good enough and need to practice you would not have made the team.” I continued by saying, “If you are so good, why do you need to practice?” All of this jibing, of course, went right over his head. Similarly, when looking for professional help and you read the bio of the doctor, lawyer, or whomever, and it states that this individual has been in practice for over twenty-five years, you may stop reading and consider, “Do I seriously want to go to someone who, after twenty-five years, is still advertising and still practicing full time? Surely by now they should no longer need to practice!”

The second anecdote is similar yet different. The notion of peer pressure, almost to the degree that a person feels he has no choice but to follow and behave in the same inappropriate way that others are acting gives cause for concern. Everyone wants to belong and to be well-liked. Unfortunately, sometimes a person falls prey to the people they think are their friends, striving to follow in their footsteps in order to gain favor in their eyes. The mere thought of being “left out” is enough pressure from the peers that causes a person to do something even though he or she knows it is wrong. Unfortunately, I think we’ve all had the experience of peer pressure in our lives. Hopefully, it was a meaningless act to follow and did not leave any lifetime scars.

There is, however, another way to view “peer pressure” and that is to feel pressured to do the right thing and follow in the ways of the goody two shoes. I’m referring to the person who chooses to Perform an act or do something good and positive despite the fact you did not want to do it, yet doing it because of positive peer pressure. Peer pressure is common among children who are influenced by their peers. Is peer pressure good or bad? As mentioned above, peer pressure is not always a bad thing. Positive peer pressure can be extremely powerful, used to pressure bullies into acting more sensitively, kindlier toward other kids. If enough kids get together to create positive change, they can pressure each other into doing what's right!

For the pressure to work properly it must be aligned. The secret to breaking the peer pressure lies in balance. This is easily understood through considering the pressure found in tires. To receive the best results from tire wear, the pressure in all of the tires need to be aligned with an equal number of pounds of pressure. If all four tires do not have the same pressure, then they wear differently and break down. Similarly, peer pressure is only effective both in the negative and in the positive sense if all team up to work together. Once one person is not aligned with everyone else, there is a weak link and the pressure is no longer as intense to follow along. As with all behavior we find best practices from the Torah.

In this week’s Sedra Yisro the Torah states in Shmos 18:9 "ויחד יתרו על כל הטובה אשר עשה ה' לישראל אשר הצילו מיד מצרים" : “Jethro expressed joy because of all the good that God had done for Israel, rescuing them from Egypt’s power”. Rashi brings the Midrashic Aggadic interpretation: His flesh became a mass of cuts or prickles; he grieved over the destruction of Egypt. That is what people say: Regarding the proselyte, even until the tenth generation, do not put to shame a gentile (Armean) in his presence. A person is able to change his essence as explained by the sefer HaChinuch in the mitzva of not breaking the bone of the Korban Pesach. As we go through the act of performing a Mitzva, the very act itself transforms a person for the better. Unfortunately, by committing a sin, that person is transformed into a worse human being. And yet, even when a person learns to be better - or worse - the essence and root of whom the person is now becoming continues to influence that individual throughout his or her lifetime. As we see from Yisro, despite becoming as close to the Jewish people as possible with the leader Moshe as his son-in-law, Yisro still bemoaned the fact of Egypt’s destruction.

Reb Yisroel Lipshutz*, author of the Tiferes Yisroel, a commentary on the Mishna at the end of Meseches Kiddushin, shares an explosive understanding of who Moshe Rabbeinu was. When the Jewish people left Mitzrayim, Moshe’s name became famous throughout the world. A certain king sent a sculptor/painter to paint the face of Moshe Rabbeinu. He did so and when he returned to the king, the king turned to the wise men of his court to describe who Moshe was through his picture. The king wanted to know Moshe’s nature and character, and the nature of his great strength. The wise men responded that the person whom they are looking at has many bad qualities and overall is not a good person. They describe Moshe as being two-faced in business, haughty, money hungry and more. Whatever moral deficiencies there could be in a person they claimed Moshe possessed. The king was furious because all he had heard from anyone he asked replied the complete opposite. The king thought the painter/sculptor made a mistake. The two descriptions of Moshe did not agree: the painter claimed the wise men were wrong, and the wise men declared the painter was wrong. The king, therefore, decided to see for himself and made his way to the Jewish camp, going directly to Moshe himself in order to compare the picture to the description given of Moshe. After just a few moments, the kind reckoned that the wise men were the ones who had made the error in judgment regarding who Moshe really was and what he was all about. Moshe stopped the king and explained the following: “Both the painter and your wise men are incredible at what they see. They are both right. If I [Moshe] would have continued my life, following the natural course into which I was born, I would have lived up to the description of your wise men, I would have been a fool , just like a dried-up piece of wood. I am not embarrassed to tell you,” Moshe continued, “all the qualities that your wise men said I was lacking are all part of the natural make-up of who I am. But, with resolve, I strengthened myself to overcome and chase away the evil, to conquer it to the degree that I acquired the opposite character traits, making them second nature to me.

Moshe Rabbeinu, through peer pressure, was able to overcome and literally change who he was. It is without a doubt that Moshe “practiced” consistently to create this change and continuing in his new mode to practice throughout his entire life. Change is difficult, especially when working against peer pressure. If we create a peer support who emulates who and what we strive to become, such positive growth and accomplishment is within our reach. Sometimes a person needs to go against the grain, to consciously refuse to follow the temptation of the bad behavior group. It is this resilience and strength that makes a leader as great as . All of us can strive to develop that positive pressure and practice it so we can demonstrate our leadership in being the role models for our family and Klal Yisroel.

Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

 

*Yisrael Lipshutz ישראל ליפשיץ‏; 1782–1860 was a leading 19th century Ashkenazi rabbi, first in Dessau and then in the Jewish Community of Danzig. Rabbi Lipshutz was the author of the commentary “Tiferes Yisrael”, a well-known commentary on the Mishnah. The edition of the Mishnah containing this commentary is often referred to as "Mishnayos Yachin uBoaz". The commentary is divided into two parts, one more general and one more analytical, titled "Yachin" and "Boaz" respectively (after two large pillars in Solomon's Temple, the first Temple in Jerusalem). This is often considered to be one of the clearest and most useful commentaries on the Mishnah.

Parshas B'Shalach - Stuff is Not His Who Has It, but His Who Enjoys It       12 Shvat 5780

02/07/20 08:46:00

Feb7

Over time, nostalgia has taken on greater significance for me. . There are many Knick knacks from my childhood and from my children’s childhoods that I have saved, causing one of the few areas of contention between my wife and me. She wants to get rid of all the keepsakes; I see them as treasures. Please understand. I’m not a typical hoarder, because I don’t meet the five levels of hoarding. The National Study Group on Compulsive Disorganization created a clutter hoarding scale consisting of five levels of hoarding. I will not even share levels three to five because those levels clearly describe a disorder that does not, Baruch Hashem, apply to me. Even levels one and two are different than my kind of saving. Statistically, a Level 1 hoarder is defined as someone whose clutter fills the bathrooms and kitchen. A Level 2 hoarder has at least four pets, too many per local regulations. People with hoarding disorders often save random items and store them haphazardly. Some kind of hoarding disorder occurs in an estimated 2 to 6 percent of the population and often leads to substantial distress, leading to problems functioning. Some research shows hoarding disorders are more common in males than females. Hoarding also has a genetic component, but researchers suspect that what's inherited is not a compulsion to keep stuff, per se, but rather a crippling indecisiveness, according to David Tolin, Ph.D., director of the Anxiety Disorders Center in Hartford, Connecticut.

  1. issue isn’t really hoarding old used items, rather I tend to buy new things and put them away and not use them for a while. I have a stockpile of new socks, shirts, a suit or two and even a few pair of brand-new shoes never yet worn. I can only explain this phenom in either one of two ways. The first, as a genetic condition I inherited from my parents. In the basement of our house, we stored cans of food, boxes of cereal, tissues and toilet paper in quantities to last a lifetime. My parents did not live through the depression, but they were the children of immigrants who definitely were driven to save a penny or two. The second possibility is that I am preparing for an apocalypse when the malls will be shut down, Amazon will not longer sell everything I could possibly buy in a mall, and at last my stash of attire will save the day. I will be prepared with new clothing! The downside of putting things away is that by the time I’m ready to use this array of clothing they’ll be out of style and will probably no longer fit. However, on second thought, by the time I lose weight, the clothing will be back in style! While this line of reasoning is not unique, the line of thinking seems justifiable to me!

In this week’s Sedra the Torah states in Shmos 16:19,20: ויאמר משה אלהם איש אל יותר ממנו עד בקר “Moshe announced to them, “Let no man leave over any until morning”. ולא שמעו אל משה ויותירו אנשים ממנו עד בקר וירם תולעים ויבאש ויקצוף עלהם משה “Some men did not listen to Moshe and left a portion over for the morning. It became putrid, filled with maggots and worms. Moshe was angry with these people”. Why did Moshe get angry at the people for leaving over some food, attempting to save it for the morning? The answer lies in the preceding verses, leading up to the time they left over the food. In verse 16”18 the Torah stated that when the Jews went out to pick up the manna, some gathered more and some less. But when they measured it with an omer, those who had taken more did not have any extra, and those who had taken less did not have too little. They had gathered exactly enough for each one to eat”. Reb Shlomo Lunchitz in his commentary Kli Yakar explains that the story of the manna is a display of the known wonder that the sustenance and salary of a person is set for him from the beginning of his life to the end. An individual who tries to gather more than he needs in his lifetime leaves this world with nothing extra, because a person at the time of death cannot take it with him. So too, someone who only gathered a minimum in this world didn’t lack because Hashem gives to every living creature what he needs for survival. For this reason, a miracle took place: the measure of the manna was equal to all and the “extra” a person tried to garner was wormy the very next morning. This teaches us that whatever a person stores up to save for the morrow will go bad. In the end it will be wormy and full of maggots.

The Mechilta teaches us that the Torah was only given to the consumers of the manna. The way an individual seizes the Torah and delves into it is by toiling in Torah without the extras of life. The Torah scholar knows that all the extras are for naught and eventually get eaten up by others. The exception of picking up only manna for one day was Friday when the command was to take a double portion, one extra for Shabbos. That extra portion set aside for Shabbos did not go bad; it remained fresh even the next day. The manna was spiritual food , teaching us the lesson of taking an extra portion for Shabbos in the physical sense and relating to the extra Torah learned for the Shabbos day in the next world where every day is a complete day of Shabbos. The spiritual sustenance never goes bad; it lasts for eternity. This point of spirituality lasting forever is seen by the commandment Hashem gave to save and place a jar of manna in front of the Ark of Testimony in the place of the Luchos of the Torah. This was to show that the Torah was only given to those who merited eating the manna.

  1. is no question a person should use and enjoy things in the present while at times saving something for the future. How do we decide what to use and what to put away? Perishables should be used immediately while non-perishable items could be stored for a later time. Sometimes that works and other times it does not, as in my case where the items we store away may never be used. On the spiritual side, when learning Torah and performing Mitzvos, it’s a different story. The Gemara Shabbos 127a states: These are the precepts whose fruits a person enjoys in this world but whose principal remains intact for him in the World to Come. The physical foods of today should be treated as the spiritual manna of the past. We eat to physically live in this world but our principal – the spiritual sustenance lives on in the next.

 

Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas Bo - The Rules of the Road                5th of Shvat 5780

01/31/20 11:17:36

Jan31

It is now forty years since I began driving an automobile. I took driver’s education and it was through them I got my license, but it was my mother, of blessed memory, who taught me how to drive. Ove the years I’ve heard that I have a reputation of being a New York driver. Some passengers in my car requested double seat belts and a parachute with an optional eject button just in case they needed access to an early departure. New York drivers are known to be aggressive; it is a direct correlation to the aggressiveness of daily life in New York city. In contrast, living in Charleston, South Carolina, cars can be sold with a horn because no one ever beeps such a rude, noisy device. The pace, speed and style of driving is completely different from place to place. I clearly experienced this throughout the years but learning to drive was in New York city. Years later, I needed to adjust my driving habits and change my skills while living in the south. Every culture, society, and people develop different habits in every area of life, including the art of driving. Once again, it is the influence of who, where, and why someone is in a place that directly affects how they drive.

Since my family and I have had the experience of living in different parts of the country, our driving habits have been shaped to conform to the patterns of that locale. When I am back in New York, I need to say to myself, “Okay. I need to revert back to my New York aggressive style of driving.” This may include any or all of the following: weaving in and out of traffic, cutting someone off, honking the horn until my palms ache, cut off careless pedestrians, and so forth. When I return to San Diego, I revert back to my definition of a less-aggressive driving style while still reserving the option of the old school driving whenever I deem it to be necessary.

Today, I live in a community that has a major university located in the heart of the neighborhood. Forty thousand plus students mill around what’s known as the College Area throughout each semester. There is an incredible drop in traffic school as soon as winter break, spring break, or summer vacation begins followed by an enormous rise in traffic as soon as school resumes. It is a great relief for those who live in the area during summer, winter, and the shorter breaks throughout the year.

Driving or walking through the streets unfettered by strolling students and cars and busses clogging the roadways can be a time-consuming and stressful experience. Just as there is relief and more air to breath when the students are gone, so too is there more stress and anxiety when the students return. All breaks, short or long, are not only a vacation for the students; they are also a much-appreciated vacation for those of us who live here. Drivers get quickly acclimated to open streets, allowing quicker access to and from the freeway into the neighborhood. Even the freeways see a decrease in the flow of traffic because all schools around the city are also on break. The flip side of this traffic swing is also apparent. During breaks I adjust my driving times based upon the joy of minimum traffic. Unfortunately, it takes a few days to recalibrate my driving times when the city streets fill up again. This phenomenon affected me no less than three times this week as I was running late due to the forgotten traffic conditions I now face until spring break. I was fascinated to learn that I am just a “subject” on driving patterns. Please read on…

A group of researchers from the University of Washington and the University of California at San Diego found that they could "fingerprint" drivers based exclusively on data they collected from the internal computer network of the vehicle their test subjects were driving. This is known as a car's CAN bus. In fact, they found that the data collected from a car's brake pedal alone could allow them to correctly distinguish the correct driver from 15 individuals about nine times out of ten, after just 15 minutes of driving. With 90 minutes driving data or monitoring more car components, these researchers could pick out the correct driver 100 percent of the time. Bear in mind, despite the recent study shown, the concept of travel is not a new one. It dates back thousands of years as we follow the Jewish people who, for most of our existence, have been on the road. A simple illustration of this found in this week’s Torah reading.

In this week’s Sedra Bo the Torah states in Shmos 12:37"ויסעו בני ישראל מרעמסס סכתה כשש מאות אלף רגלי הגברים לבד מטף" “The Israelites traveled from Ramses toward Sukkoth. There were about 600,000 adult males on foot, in addition to the women and children. In addition, great number of nationalities also left with them along with sheep and cattle, and a huge amount of livestock”. The Torah describes an incredible size of live traffic moving out of Egypt on its way to an unknown place, all following Moshe Rabbeinu to the promised land. We’ve learned how the Jews were forced to flee quickly, not even having the time to allow their bread to rise. Somehow, they managed to travel quickly despite the size of the camp. We know what it is like to go on a family trip, complicated by multiple generations, each person moving at his/her own pace. Children, especially young ones who want to walk and not be carried, are typically slower than the young, healthy adults. The senior population would yell to the younger generation, “Go ahead, keep going, don’t wait. We’ll catch up.” Despite and slavery and suffering, leaving a land they knew as home was also painful. Change is frightening, especially when traveling into the unknown. Nevertheless, with all of the obstacles and challenges, Hashem made it happen. Everyone was able to keep up the pace; despite their own patterns of travel, they stayed together. My guess from studying the sources was that no one bumped into others or stepped on the back of the sandal of the person in front of them. The miracles that included the actual leaving and traveling was no less miraculous than these other overlooked miracles. The people, all inexperienced travelers, adapted well to their surroundings. No one went too fast or too slow.

Our modern living style, overlaid with commuting, picking up our children, driving all over the place calculating when to leave and how much time is needed get to the next destination, relies routinely on the car’s nav system, WAZE, or Google Maps. It behooves us to keep in mind who is really controlling those apps. All of these devices, ingenious creations of man are, in fact, guides from Hashem. The prayer of Tefilas HaDerech is recited on trips when leaving a city or when departing for longer journeys. Even though we may not be obligated to say the Bracha/blessing of the wayfarer’s prayer, we should always keep in mind that the roads and traffic are still controlled by Hashem. If we keep this thought in mind, our driving will be safer, our blood pressure and anxiety levels will drop, and ultimately this will bring us to the Derech Hashem, the Path of God.

Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas VaEira - Overcoming the Handicap          27 Kislev 5780

01/24/20 11:12:49

Jan24

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public and private life, including employment, education, transportation and access to all places available to the general public, became law in 1990. On occasion, I find myself giving a ride sharing a trip with someone who has a handicap permit. Typically, I and am told by the handicapped individual that he will bring the permit so we can make parking a bit easier and closer to the venue we are attending together.

There is no question as to the different reasons why a person is entitled to this placard and the necessity it provides and the validity that it justifies. Nevertheless, for a moment I think to myself, “Hey, that’s great, but wait a minute, Baruch Hashem I don’t have a disability., I should not take advantage of this.” After that thought, I realize that it’s not for me but rather for my passenger who legitimately requires it. But then I think to myself, why not drop this person off closer to where we are going and then park somewhere else, then getting the car when it’s time to pick the person up. The law allows the service provider or the vehicle to be a part of this permit because allowing the provider this extra benefit ultimately serves the disadvantaged person while allowing the provider some extra benefit as well.

In truth, we are all handicapped in different ways. Of course, the ADA has proven to be a great step towards directly helping many with physical disabilities. I write the following connection with great trepidation. I am not comparing someone with a disability who falls under the statute of the ADA; all of us have some kind of disability which is not specifically physical, such as spiritual, emotional or personal. This second group mentioned is not entitled to a placard, allowing them to park in a designated parking spot. These disability need to be identified by the individuals themselves. The reason it is important for an individual to recognize and identify such handicaps is so that they will be able to face them in order to work to overcome them.

I am one who has thought back to something that I overcame over a period of time. Perhaps, people look at me today as being outgoing, loud, outspoken, opinionated and the like. This has not been the case my entire life. As a child I was someone who for the most played alone, only rarely going to a friend’s house for a play date. I occupied my time with my cars and soldiers. My pre-teen years were dedicated to sports, yet, even then, played ball, creating games and challenges against myself, i.e. stoop, off the wall and one-on-one basketball. The one-on-one was me against myself. My high school years were a little more social, but I traveled to and from school alone and did not live near the friends I made in high school. Looking back, I’m guessing that it wasn’t until my later teenage years that I became more social but still in a reserved manner. As I entered Yeshiva, I actively took on more of a leadership role, but it did not come naturally; I needed to work on it. Fast forward thirty-five years and at times I feel I just want to be that shy guy, left alone to sit in the corner and not be bothered with constant obligations of communal spiritual leadership. In life, a person who is able to express himself and be a little more outspoken has some benefits (and sometimes detractions). But looking back, I think subconsciously I made these adjustments, understanding that to not do so would have limited my ability to do the things I do today. My situation (not a bad one) was, to a degree, some form of handicap; I needed to face my reluctance to leave my one-on-one inner contentment in order to develop my inner understanding of the need to reach out to others, to share and feel and grow through the awareness of how much each of us can gain through social and emotional experiences which are shared. My disability or challenge was not physical; it was emotional. There is a wide range of disabilities we each of us may find ourselves on the spectrum. Since no one person is perfect, by definition we are all imperfect. Once I recognize an imperfection, I focus inwardly, striving to correct and fix it to whatever degree possible. This notion of a physical yet non-physical disability is found within the most classic fundamental icon, Moshe Rabbeinu.

We are all familiar with the Midrash of Moshe sitting on Pharoah’s lap and was given the test of picking up some sparkling jewels or glowing hot coals. Moshe set out to pick up one of the precious gems, but an angel pushed his hand away towards the coals to pick up the hot, worthless piece rather than the glittering, valuable piece. Hashem sent the Malach (angel) to change course to convince Pharoah that Moshe was not so smart, that he couldn’t be the savior for the Jewish people. This event allowed Moshe to live and grow up as an Egyptian prince who one day might ascend to the throne and not to become the leader of the Jewish people. When Moshe picked up the hot coal, he immediately dropped it and brought his burning fingers to his lips to cool down. As a result, the Midrash explains that act created some type of speech defect in either Moshe’s tongue or on his lips. This physical limitation is brought up as a defense for Moshe to decline the mission for which he was hand-picked by God. We see this clearly stated in the Torah.

In this week’s Torah reading Parshas Va’eira, God gives a second demurral to Moshe. It states in Shmos 6:29,30: וַיְדַבֵּ֧ר יְהוָ֛ה אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֥ה לֵּאמֹ֖ר אֲנִ֣י יְהוָ֑ה דַּבֵּ֗ר אֶל־פַּרְעֹה֙ מֶ֣לֶךְ מִצְרַ֔יִם אֵ֛ת כָּל־אֲשֶׁ֥ר אֲנִ֖י דֹּבֵ֥ר אֵלֶֽיךָ׃ “God spoke to Moshe and said, ‘I am God. Relate to Pharoah, king of Egypt, that I am saying to you.’ וַיֹּ֥אמֶר מֹשֶׁ֖ה לִפְנֵ֣י יְהוָ֑ה הֵ֤ן אֲנִי֙ עֲרַ֣ל שְׂפָתַ֔יִם וְאֵ֕יךְ יִשְׁמַ֥ע אֵלַ֖י פַּרְעֹֽה׃ “Interrupting the revelation, Moshe said, ‘I do not have the self-confidence to speak. How will Pharoah ever pay attention to me?’. Rabbi Aryah Kaplan gives a unique understanding of Moshe’s lip or tongue handicap. This was not the first time Moshe mentioned this excuse. Looking back only a few verses earlier in Shmos 6:12 Moshe claims the same defense. Why does he repeat it again? The Netzi”v, in his commentary HaAmek Davar, explains “not only am I not capable of physically saying the words properly, but in the eyes or ears of Pharoah it would not be well taken.” Hashem took the second time as a sign of humility that Moshe is not on the level of the mighty Pharoah. Hashem in turn has mercy upon Moshe; despite his “shortcomings” Hashem blessed Moshe to succeed in every endeavor and overcame the speech impediment. It is not that he no longer had the impediment; this disability did not impede Moshe from growing and becoming the greatest leader of the Jewish people.

May we all take this great lesson to heart. No matter what challenges we all face, if we accept them with humility, Hashem will bless each and everyone of us not only to overcome but to succeed beyond our greatest dreams.                                                           Ah Gut Shabbos      Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas Shmos - Heritage = Past, Present & Future     20 Kislev 5780

01/17/20 13:01:58

Jan17

Last month, my wife and I had the fortune to visit Prague, one of the nicest cities in Europe. Prague is one of only a few cities that was not bombed (intentionally) during World War II. The beauty and the quaintness of the city is just as it was four to five hundred years ago. One of the most interesting facts of the city is how Jewish life can be traced back almost a thousand years. Prague’s Jewish heritage is most noted for the famed Mahara”l of Prague, along with some of the greatest Rabbonim who lived and served in those communities. Although the city suffered and was oppressed by the Communist regime, Jewish culture was allowed to remain. This is particularly highlighted through the transformation of many of the Synagogues into museums as opposed to being razed.

The Jews of Prague were able to sustain a Jewish presence, carrying on our culture, traditions, and laws through the preservation of the museums. They had Machzorim, Haggadot, Chumashim and Siddurim dating from hundreds of years ago. The beauty and privilege of seeing them was enhanced by knowing that these precious Seforim contain the same words and prayers we are still saying today. One particular Tefilla stood out to me and my wife a little bit more than the rest: the prayer for the government and its leaders.

Every Shabbos, here at Beth Jacob and at many Shuls throughout the world, a prayer is recited for the welfare of the government and its leaders, Jewish or not. Many people think the origin of this prayer is from Pirkei Avos. Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) 3:2 touches on the subject. Rabbi Chanina, the deputy Kohen Gadol says: ‘Pray for the welfare of the government, because if people did not fear it, a person would swallow his fellow alive.’ What makes this Talmudic reference all the more remarkable is that Chanina lived in the days of Nero- a ruler whose name has become synonymous with tyranny- and he heralded a long tradition of Jews praying for rulers for whom they didn’t particularly care.

But this is not the first place or source we find this reference. The origin of the prayer for the welfare of the government is biblical. It was following the first exile, as we sat by the waters of Babylon, that the Navi Yirmiyahu conveyed to us the following: וְדִרְשׁ֞וּ אֶת־שְׁל֣וֹם הָעִ֗יר אֲשֶׁ֨ר הִגְלֵ֤יתִי אֶתְכֶם֙ שָׁ֔מָּה וְהִתְפַּֽלְל֥וּ בַעֲדָ֖הּ אֶל־יְקוָ֑ה כִּ֣י בִשְׁלוֹמָ֔הּ יִהְיֶ֥ה לָכֶ֖ם שָׁלֽוֹם׃ “So said the Lord of Hosts… seek the welfare of the city to which I have exiled you and pray to Hashem on its behalf, for in its prosperity you shall prosper.” This was after 586 BCE. Not 200 years later Ezra recorded that in the rebuilt Second Temple it was the practice to offer sacrifices and prayers for the lives of Emperor Darius I of Persia and his children. Some six hundred years after that Pirkei Avos touches upon this.

As mentioned earlier, this tefila was said for rulers known to be tyrannical and anti-Semitic. In the 1740’s the Jews of Czechoslovakia were saying this prayer every Shabbos morning on behalf of Maria Theresa, the mother of Mary Antoinette. On December 18, 1744, Maria Theresa, queen of Austria and archduchess of Hungary and Bohemia, signed an edict ordering the expulsion of all Jews, first from Prague – all Jews had to depart by the end of January 1745 – and then, by June, from all her hereditary dominions, that is, from Moravia and Bohemia. Maria Theresa had a profound hatred of Jews. In 1777, she wrote, "I know of no greater plague than this race, which on account of its deceit, usury and avarice is driving my subjects into beggary.” Additionally, she was prey to rumors that Prague’s Jews had sided with the Prussians, and against her, during the city’s occupation in the summer of 1744, during the course of the War of the Austrian Succession. And yet with all this we still maintained the prayer as can be seen here. It is truly a support of our history and heritage which has an unbroken chain for over twenty-five hundred years, that in spite of centuries of hatred and persecution we have recited a prayer for the government despite their anti-Semitic view of Jews.

Throughout my years in the Rabbinate I’ve seen and heard calls for Discover your Heritage! Over time I’ve come to see that this this well-intended call falls far short of what is necessary. We cannot just stop when our heritage is discovered anew by those whose opportunities to learn about it have been awakened. We all need to learn about and strengthen our magnificent heritage. Everyone needs to learn more of our history, our treasures, our scholarship and our accomplishments; to just ‘discover’ our heritage is not enough.

Last week we concluded Sefer Bereishis. I described the first book of the Torah as one full of basic principles of faith learning from the forefathers how they each individually built the Jewish people. Sefer Shmos, the book of Exodus, continues to teach us, describing the Emunah/faith of the Jewish people throughout our history. We became a nation in Mitzrayim, exiting the land of our slavery accompanied by great cataclysmic miracles that devastated the land of Egypt. Through these miracles we and the nations of the world came to know Hashem. The Ramban at the end of Parshas Bo divides the book from when we left Egypt to the second half when we received the Torah on Har Sinai, whereby we received the Shechina (God’s eminence). The third section of Shmos is the Mishkan which leads to the service of sacrifices to Hashem by the Kohanim and Leviim. In the beginning of Shmos, it says a new king arose in Egypt who didn’t know Yosef. There is a famous Rashi here which gives two explanations of “not knowing Yosef”. The first is that there was an actual new king, a different person who did not know who Yosef was. The second interpretation is that it was the same old king who came up with new decrees, either trying to forget who Yosef was or ignoring the fact of all the good Yosef had done to save Egypt. I would like to suggest that he did not know the history and heritage of Yosef. Not the history and heritage you may be thinking of Egypt but rather the past history that Yosef represents from the time of Avraham, Yitzchok and Yaakov. In that he, Yosef, is in the continuing position of the previous generations. The new decrees did not recognize and could not foretell the rich heritage of the Jewish people that was now cemented in their becoming a nation.

The strength of the Jewish people lies in our past, present and future. But the past, present and future of the Jewish people are not single, divided times in our history. Rather our past, our present and our future are all linked intimately together by our belief, language, names, dress, and ideas that have kept us going and will continue to nurture us until the ultimate redemption, speedily in our day! 

Parshas Vayechi - Living Through Our Written Words     13 Teves 5780

01/10/20 12:50:16

Jan10

In 2005, at the conclusion of the eleventh completion of the Daf Yomi cycle, I was inspired to contribute to the Jewish world of learning Torah. As the excitement grew following the world-wide celebrations of this Siyum HaShas, more and more Torah publications were written to enhance the daily learning initiative. Highly motivated by the excitement of having completed this seven-and-a-half year cycle, I came up with an idea for making the daily learning of one page of Gemara come to life and grow in significance. I noticed over the years that Rashi, the main commentary and Tosafos, give a basic explanation and understanding of the text. In addition to the main purpose of their approach, I noticed that on almost every daf (a daf is both sides of the page) there would be a comment that was not particularly needed to explain the text. It was sometimes an insight into nature or life. At times it explained and also guided human behavior; at other times it was a soft rebuke. All in all, I thought it was something unique to call out every day, share thoughts regarding life experiences that relate to the learning or events of each day.

  1. eagerly began this project, striving to identify some insight into human psychology that I learned in Rashi’s commentaries. Each day I wrote a few hundred words, striving to highlight and illuminate the insights of Rashi which went beyond the textual understanding of the Gemara. Unfortunately, this keen commitment lasted for about nine days. This past Sunday as we again completed and began the new cycle of learning each day, I turned to the Gemara that I had used fifteen years ago, and I am now reviewing those highlights and am sharing the insights I had written with our Daf Yomi group. Nevertheless, feel a twinge of regret for not having continued pursuing my goal. Perhaps the silver lining in my not continuing was the initiation of writing of a weekly message a few years later. The project of writing a weekly message was manageable because it was only once a week. As look back, my weekly message is similar to the initial book in that I took a common or obvious event or feeling from our daily lives and related it back to something in the Parsha. These weekly writings eventually were published in book form. Now as I look back at my recorded insights of Rashi, was once again overcome with a desire to take on this challenge anew, I knew I could not if I were still writing a weekly message. Now, three years after publishing my first book, I signed a contract to write/publish a second one. Perhaps when I finish this book, I’ll take a break from the weekly writing and write a daily insight from that day’s daf Yomi.

When writing a book of this genre, the author must strive to maintain a consistent theme which clearly reflects and nurtures the purpose of the work. In addition, this challenge must also repeatedly reflect the importance of that theme to the reader, insuring from the outset that specific thoughts compliment and deepen both awareness and belief with clarity and personal appeal to the reader. This Shabbos we read Parshas Vayechi, concluding Sefer Bereishis. What was the Author’s intent throughout the book of Bereishis? Of course, there is no comparison with a human being writing a book compared to God who knows all. Nevertheless, what was the theme of Sefer Berishis?

A primary purpose of creation is knowing that Hashem created the world. This introduction is that the Neshama/soul is the center of our Emunah/belief. Hashem created His house. At the very beginning man must decide if he will look at this world as if he alone is in charge or if he stands in front of and ultimately answers to HaKasoh Boruch Hu. This decision must be made from the outset. It is an indication of whether or not he is a Ba’al Emunah or not. To make such a determination we study and learn about the three primary personalities in Bereishis: Avraham Yitzchok and Yakov. These are our Avos, our fathers, the core reason why the Book of Berishis is called by “Sefer HaAvos” the book of the fathers. Each believer has a unique characteristic that highlights his or her Emunah to God. It is that unique quality that brings out our sign of belief in Hashem. Avraham, Yitzchok and Yakov make up the face of Emunah through certain practices throughout our lives..

Avraham was the ‘mevater’ - a yielding person. He gave up his land, birthplace and family. He was willing to give up his life and be burned alive in Ur Kasdim by refusing to bow down to Nimrod. Avraham yielded to Sarah’s demand to send out Hagar and Yishmael, and then was ready to sacrifice his own son Yitzchok. Reb Zushya explains Avraham is willing to give up everything to serve God because of his belief.

Yitzchok was a ‘Parush’ - a reclusive, abstinent, and self-denying person. He separated himself for the Akeidah by separating and making himself like an Olah, a sacrifice to God. He did not go down to Egypt nor did he leave for Aram Naharayim. At the end of his days he went blind and was not able to see results of sins. Through these acts of separation, he elevated himself due to the endless Emunah and belief he had in Hashem.

Yaakov was a ‘sovel’ - a person of great patience. Yaakov served God with total devotion and patience. Yaakov was able to tolerate the shenanigans of his father-in- law Lavan. He endured the taking of Dinah and the selling of Yosef. He carried the burden of exile, going down to Egypt.

These are the qualities that shaped the essence of our Avos, demonstrating total belief, faith that Hashem created the world and is the one and only God.

  1. ultimate purpose of writing is to strengthen and deepen our Emunah and faith in Hashem. It is during the daily struggles of life, its ups and downs and challenges, that we need to see and reach out to Hashem. Whether it is from a Rashi pointing out something about our daily life or something that I point out in the obvious and not so obvious events of life that we see Hashem. This is the success of a sefer and concluding it, maintaining the theme of Emunah from beginning to end. The word Bereishis can be divided Barah Shis Hashem - created in six. It is within the creation of the six days that we can see God’s hand and develop recognition of Him to strengthen our Emunah. Just as we finish Sefer Bereishis we should see Hashem and continue to deepen our Emunah and belief in Hashem throughout the other twenty three books of Tanach, making our way through the Torah She’Baal Peh the Oral Torah with focus, devotion, and continued growth and depth of understanding.

Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

 

Parshas Vayigash - A Sage is Beyond his Years       6 Teves 5780

01/03/20 09:23:41

Jan3

By now many of you have read some of the stories, heard the testimonials or saw the 13th Siyum Hashas this past New Year’s Day that people participated in from around the world and centered in MetLife Stadium. For those who may not have yet, and those who have there is always another angle that we can draw from this momentous occasion. With that caveat, I would like to share a few ideas that have been buzzing in my head for the last few months.

A true sage is recognized years later when his teachings are finally understood and perhaps experienced. I remember when I was in Yeshiva, Rabbi Wein Y”BL discussed the laws of Sukkah and who and under what conditions a person may be Patur/exempt from eating in the Sukkah. Keep in mind Sukkos on the East coast and Monsey in particular brought an early winter and was uncomfortable to sit in the Sukkah. At what degree would a person be exempt? Rabbi Wein in his imitable fashion with his Midwest accent said, “it’s not about degrees or temperature but attitude and dedication. If a person had a ticket on the fifty-yard line of the Chicago Bears playoff game and it was twenty below zero with a windchill of fifty below would he still go to the game? If the answer is yes, then he is not exempt from Sukkah either. If there is mesiras nefesh for a football game, then there needs to be self-sacrifice for the Mitzva to eat and sleep in the Sukkah”.

Well here I was thirty-five years later experiencing a cold winter day at a famous football stadium not to watch a game but to share in an experience of achdus, ahavas Yisroel and Torah. Now, I must admit it was not nearly as cold of an example Rabbi Wein described, but coming from Southern California it definitely would be a challenging Sukkah question. But Rabbi Wein’s insight and analogy goes deeper than the surface. How is it that you see the “polar bear club” plunging into ice cold water in sub temperatures or football fans in Green Bay taking off their shirts during a game with blizzard conditions? The answer is commitment, tenacity, dedication and love of the game that they don’t even feel the cold. So too, at this Siyum HaShas ninety-two thousand people braved the weather and didn’t even feel the cold. I was thrilled to have finally understood the depth of a great sage’s words of wisdom albeit it took a while, that is another dimension of the beauty of Torah.

Another small episode but not insignificant by any means was brought out by a Halacha/law of Tefilla/prayer. In Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 125:2 Mishna Brura daled says to keep your feet together during Kedusha because one needs to have more intense concentration to sanctify Hashem’s name. In this merit Hashem will settle a special sanctity upon the person from above. Through this act we fulfill the verse ונקדשתי בתוך בני ישראל and I will sanctify Myself among the children of Israel. The AriZ”L was very careful and scrupulous in this matter. Siman 95 discusses the reasons why we keep our feet together during the Amida and basically for any other part of sanctification. The Siyum HaShas venue was in the afternoon creating a situation that just about everyone would have to Daven Mincha at the event, this should not have presented a problem because Mincha (as well as Maariv) was part of the program. We are cruising on the Garden State Parkway, the Turnpike wasn’t bad, and all in all the traffic getting to the stadium was pretty light but as we got off to the service road it became a parking lot! Needless to say, the venue officially kicked-off at one o’clock we were walking into the building at about half past one. We started to hear the repetition of Mincha reverberating and booming from the Chazzan on the main loudspeaker. As the Shliach Tzibbur reached Kedusha everyone who was late running to get inside stopped cold in their tracks put their feet together and in unison responded with the Kedusha of everyone from inside as well all around the facility. As I looked around the only people who kept on walking were the security guards, building staff and the like. I can’t imagine what they were thinking as the foot traffic came to a standstill. Typically, these same gentile workers who are working the football games, concerts and the like never see a crowd of people who are late stop and not continue at whatever cost to run in to not to miss any part of the sport.

The ultimate reason is that we were not at the venue for ourselves, but rather to make a Kiddush HaShem, to sanctify God’s Holy name through Tefilla and celebrate Limmud HaTorah. The establishing of Torah and its importance can be highlighted and focused on from the Torah.

In this week’s Parshas Vayigash the Torah states in Bereishis 46:28 "ואת יהודה שלח לפניו גושנה" “And [Yaakov} sent Yehuda to Goshen”. The Rabbis teach us the purpose of this mission was to establish a Yeshiva in Goshen so that upon the family settling in a new land, Torah will be available as a key component of their continued Jewish existence in the Galus/exile. I would like to share five key takeaways from Yakov Avinu’s message for all time and future generations when it comes to the learning of Torah. Keep in mind it was Yakov who was the יושב אהל the one who sat in the tent of Torah learning in his Yeshiva.

  1. Yehuda was able to set up the Yeshiva because the infrastructure and more important the desire for Torah learning was set in place years earlier by Yosef himself adhering to the Mitzvos and bringing up his own children Ephraim and Menashe in a Galus/exile situation.
  2. Yosef told his brothers don’t delay in getting their father. Many interpret the message in different ways. I would suggest there are different ways to build Torah, let’s not argue about which way, just let’s get it done.
  3. Yakov wanted a permanent place of Torah study. Kvius, is keeping something on an ongoing basis, daily Torah study perhaps something similar to the daily kinds of Torah available today, Nach Yomi, Daf Yomi, Mishna Yomi, something that is day in and day out never to miss a day.
  4. Yakov wanted a set time of learning as it gives structure to a person’s day. As Rav Hamnuna states in Sanhedrin 7a “a person’s judgement in the next world begins with the question did you learn Torah every single day?”
  5. It states in Avos D’Rebbi Nosson 13:2 the establishing of Torah is not only learning Torah but hearing and listening to Torah. Not only does one need to learn on a consistent basis, but he also needs to listen to Torah on a daily consistent basis.

The underlying message of Torah learning is that it’s our lifeline. A true commitment to daily Torah study of at least an hour a day has the potential to change the lives of individuals, families and communities. Let us all draw some kind of inspiration and commit our families made of individuals, mothers, fathers and children to support the love of Torah through establishing a new daily commitment to Torah study.

Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas Mikeitz - Consistency Increase Capacity; Consistency Breeds Success            29 Kislev 5780

12/27/19 09:53:35

Dec27

A few years ago I took some flak for quoting a non-Jewish source as support for a dvar Torah message that I wrote. The intent was not, Chas V’Shalom/Heaven forbid to imply that we need a source outside of Torah to prove a point, especially where there are Torah sources to support everything. Rather, I used this quote as something contemporary, something everyone could relate to today. With this disclaimer, I present to you this week’s message!

Does Jerry Seinfeld still work so hard? Jerry Seinfeld’s response to this question is a master class in achieving incredible success. According to Jerry Seinfeld, his simple approach will never let you down.

Seinfeld is famous for his joke-writing routine. Early on he realized the only way to become a better comedian is to write better jokes -- and the only way to write better jokes is to write every day. So, he purchased a large wall calendar, hung it in his office, and every day after writing a new joke, he marked a red X over the date. He remarked, “After a few days, you'll have a chain; just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You'll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job is to not break the chain."

Seinfeld further explained that he read an article that said when you practice a sport a lot, you literally become a broadband: the nerve pathway in your brain contains a lot more information. As soon as you stop practicing, the pathway begins shrinking back down. Reading that changed my life. I used to wonder, 'Why am I doing these sets, getting on a stage? Don't I know how to do this already?' The answer is no. You must keep doing it. The broadband starts to narrow the moment you stop."

You can't control other people. You can't control timing. You can't control luck. When you think about it, there are very few things you can control except how hard -- and how consistently -- you work. So, if your definition of success includes, at least in part, traditional measures like wealth and professional achievement, consistent effort is the great equalizer.

In a few days thousands upon thousands of Jews from across the globe will be celebrating the seven-and-a-half-year journey through the sea of Talmud. The thirteenth Siyum HaShas will take place on January 1st, 2020. (Actual completion will be on Sunday January 5th) with venues in MetLife stadium in New Jersey to countless communities, Shuls and Batei Midrashim throughout the world. For those who are not familiar with this event, please Google it and be awestruck by the magnitude and the incredible effect Daf Yomi and the once-every-seven-and-a-half-year event has had on the Jewish people throughout the last century. There are many benefits to those who learn the daily page of Talmud and to those who support it. Recent interviews of wives and children of those who learn Daf Yomi explained the benefits they received and continue to feel through the Daf Yomi initiative in which their families participate. But to the individual, what is the primary benefit? Isn’t all and any Torah learning great? The answer is of course! All Torah learning is wonderful and great, but Daf Yomi and many other daily learning regimens give the student an increased capacity to learn as well as an increase in success in learning overall. Every day a person checks the box of another page, eventually to a chapter’s end, heading to the completion of an entire tractate. Ultimately, one looks back, realizing with awe that a number of Gemaros were knocked off, adding to the enthusiasm of beginning to complete one order after another and before long the entire Shas (Shisha Sidrei) is completed.

There is a tremendous amount of stamina necessary to carry this and other consistent processes through to completion. One can ask; “Is it because someone has the innate ability prior to beginning Daf Yomi which sets up the consistency required for day in and day out learning? Or is it an after-the-fact matter that once the person accomplishes the feat he recognizes the daily struggle and challenge which creates the perseverance? It is clear purpose and resolve that gives a person the drive to accomplish that which he sets out to do. This idea is found in the story of Chanukah and the episode of Yosef managing the food supply to Egypt and the other peripheral nations seeking out food during the region’s famine.

In this week’s Parshas Mikeitz the Torah states in Bereishis 42: 6 "ויוסף הוא השליט על הארץ, הוא המשביר לכל עם הארץ, ויבואו אחי יוסף וישתחוו לו אפים ארצה" “Joseph was like a dictator over the land, since he was the only one who rationed out food for all the people. When Joseph’s brothers arrived, they prostrated themselves to him, with their faces to the ground”. The Midrash Tanchuma 42:8 explains that Yosef himself sold the food, and why? Since he did not want to appoint anyone else to be responsible for the sale of food, he knew his family would eventually come down to Egypt to buy food. Therefore, he wanted to be the actual salesperson, enabling him to recognize his brothers when they arrived; they would receive food directly from him. The Ramban explains that it is not befitting a ruler of a land, second in rank to the king of Egypt, that he sell everyone a se’ah [a dry measure] or a half thereof of grain. It was for this reason that our Rabbis were impelled to say that Yosef had ordered at that time that all storehouses except one be closed so that he would be sure to meet his brothers. The Ramban continues to explain that this is in line with the literal interpretation of the passuk: it is possible that the people from all lands came before him, and he would question and investigate them. He would then command the officers to sell so much food to the people of that particular city. Therefore, it became necessary for his brothers, among all those who came from the land of Canaan, to come before him allowing him the opportunity to issue an order especially for them to support his father and family back home.

One could only imagine how busy Yosef would be as second in command to Pharoah. Yet, he felt it necessary to streamline the buying/selling of the grain supply to everyone and anyone who arrived to purchase. Not only was he directly involved in the sale, he was also interviewing and questioning those customers to determine what and how much food to sell them. This scenario undoubtedly took place seven days a week and well beyond regular business hours. Yosef did this on top of and in addition to his regular responsibilities. He was on a mission that required a daily focus and could not risk missing even one day for fear his family would show up that day, causing him to miss them. Each and every day that passed would ultimately bring them closer to seeing them. (Although Chazal tell us the Bnei Yisroel were the first to come from Canaan). Yosef was determined to meet up with his brothers. It would take a daily regimen on the part of Yosef to being the only person to mete out the task necessary to guarantee his success. He displayed consistency to every day and every customer. He was the only one who administered the distribution.

Perhaps it was Yosef’s tenacity and commitment that has been handed down to future generations of Jews to accomplish things, particularly in learning, to be consistent day in and day out, never missing a day, regardless of how many other things requiring attention. There is no question that this has contributed to our increased capacity to learn and retain much more than ever before and to feel and live the success for ourselves, our families, and all of Klal Yisrael. Chazak Chazak V’Nischazeik!

Ah Gut Shabbos & Ah Lichtiga Chanukah Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Wed, September 30 2020 12 Tishrei 5781