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Parshas T'Tzaveh - It Ain't Over Till It's Over, Sir           9 Adar I 5779

02/12/19 11:42:52

Feb12

Yogi Berra was an unlikely athlete: 5-foot-7, 185 pounds. He got his nickname as a teenager because he resembled a yogi, or so the story goes. He was a notoriously bad ball hitter, reaching for pitches outside the strike zone, and yet he won the American League MVP award three times, and played on 10 world championship teams, winning 14 pennant winners (both major league records) in the course of his 19-year career.

Berra's most famous turn of phrase was probably "It ain't over till it's over." -- a deceptively simple statement of depth. What he meant was that we need to stay aware, stay focused, and, most important, never give up. Stand firm for your values, stand up for yourself. There are times in life when things don’t go smoothly, particularly in the beginning. Perseverance is a critical value, a trait a person must have and refine to get through some of the difficulties and push backs in life. Opportunity knocks on the door for someone willing to work hard to open it up. If a person tries to open a door only one time, giving up after one unsuccessful attempt, that person will never be successful.

I must admit to my utter dismay I am surprised and saddened by a certain attitude that I sense within the community. We have dozens of events in our community, not limited to davening, learning, lecturers, meals and more. I hope I am wrong, but my sense is that if something is not right at the beginning, a give up attitude prevails. When a lecturer begins a talk, the first few moments may not be immediately effective, but by the end of the talk the impact of what was said may be profound. Even in a series of talks, I have witnessed people who do not come back and listen to the other lectures, based upon their initial assessment of the first lecture.

Unfortunately for the student or the mature listener, people tend to shut down when the speaker is not a top-class entertainer. Lecturers tend not to be entertainers; they are presenters of ideas, concepts, things to mull over and learn through. Most of the time the later lectures or presentations far exceed the expectations of those in attendance, yet people lose out because they gave up too early. It is disappointing to me how a person has such lack of patience. If a talk for some reason just doesn’t match with prior expectations, all too often the baby is thrown out with the bathwater. When a person eats out in a restaurant and is displeased or not excited about the appetizer, he usually does not just get up and leave the restaurant Just because a person didn’t enjoy the first lecture, speech, or initial impression of the guest presenter is not justification for avoiding attending remaining lectures of Torah yet to be taught. ( I might add very strongly while I’m on the subject, that it is a shame and an embarrassment to our kehillah when speakers are brought in particularly on Shabbos and people choose to do other things - including learning during the lecture. To put it frankly, person who learns while a guest speaker is talking is making a statement that their Torah is more important or greater. It is honestly inappropriate. Secondly, if the average person sees the above-average person not going to the lecture or shiur, a message is sent that it’s not worth the time, causing others to perhaps not to attend. There is a certain derch eretz that needs to be addressed; people need to think about how their actions affect the klal.

The path to a person’s growth may not take place with the instant gratification of one lecture; such growth needs time to perk, to take root It is actually Chazal who say not to give up even when the sword is on your neck; it’s never too late. Furthermore, we see in this week’s Torah reading how necessary it is to go through difficult times in the beginning to actualize the sweetness of life later on.

In this week’s Parsha T’Tzaveh the Torah states in Shmos 27:20 “V’Ata T’Tzaveh Es Bnai Yisrael, V’Yikchu Eilecha Shemen Zayis Zach, Kasis LaMaor, L’Haalos Ner Tamid”. “You, [Moshe], must command the Israelites to bring you clear, illuminating oil, made from hand-crushed olives, to keep the lamp constantly burning”. The great Chasidic master R’ Chanoch Of Aleksander* explains the idea of the oil in a different manner than the more common teaching. Shemen/Oil and olive oil in particular is a hint for wisdom and knowledge. There is a specific type of preparation needed when a person wants to acquire knowledge. At first, a person needs to walk in ways of a bitter soul. A bitter inside and an olive represents or hints to the idea of bitterness. This bitterness will crush (Kasis) a person’s soul and lead the soul to loftier and higher levels. After that Hashem will help him open, enlighten his eyes in the service and worship of Hashem, referencing L’Maor L’Haalos Ner Tamid.

This has a similar idea regarding the wood of the tree that Moshe threw into the water at Marah (the place named bitter). According to the Mechilta in B’Shalach 25 “the water was bitter and became sweet with bitterness”. In the natural order this makes no sense and is difficult to comprehend. Obviously, it was a miraculous feat as is confirmed the verse in Shmos 15:25 that the ‘waters became sweetened’. The Jewish people felt they had done something wrong by complaining about not having water to drink. As the Torah describes in Shmos 15:24: “The people complained to Moses, “What shall we drink?” They went around feeling and acting bitterly down to their inner being. The Jews then proclaimed, “What have we done that we have sinned?” This bitter feeling played on their emotions, working on them, turning the water on their lips from bitterness to sweetness.

The Midrash Chadash explains why olive oil is different than all other oil. At the outset the olive is bitter but in the end it is sweet. So too the Jewish people and the nation of Israel will endure bitterness through the exiles in order to be sweetened by the time of Moshiach. A second analogy is just as the olive is first bitter then turns sweet, so too the Jewish people will live bitter lives in this world so that they may earn reward for the world to come. Lastly, the olive is bitter but in the end turns sweet, so to the Jewish people will not return and repent from their evil doings until they are pressed and crushed like the olive so that they will enjoy the sweetness of the redemption during messianic times.

The Shiur, class, meal, book, or event is not over until it’s over, don’t give up on it and don’t leave early for you may lose out on the most basic and important things necessary to grow as a Jew.

Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

 

*Rabbi Chanoch Henich HaKohen of Alexander was born in Poland, 1798-1870 (Adar II). Rabbi Chanoch was a disciple of Rabbi Simcha Bunam of Pshis'cha, Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk and Rabbi Yitzchak Meir Alter, the Chidushei Harim. Rabbi Chanoch was known for his great wisdom in niglah and nistar, the revealed and mystical aspects of the Torah. A man of miracles and wonders, he was known also for praying loudly with great excitement.

Parshas Teruma - Ruin Your Day With Only One Tap               3 Adar I 5779

02/07/19 22:36:20

Feb7

The first American alarm clock was created by clockmaker Levi Hutchins, of Concorde, New Hampshire, in 1787. His alarm clock rang only once— at 4:00 A.M. Mr Hutchins invented his device so that he would never sleep past his usual waking time. It was his “firm rule” to awaken before sunrise, whatever the season. Sometimes, however, he slept past that hour and was distraught throughout the rest of the day. He made this device only to wake himself up for his job; it was created for no other purpose. The French inventor, Antoine Redier, was the first to patent an adjustable mechanical alarm clock in 1847.

I share an experience with millions of people throughout the world almost every day of my life. Even though we human beings come equipped with some type of internal clock, most of us need an alarm clock to at least “remind ourselves” that it is time to arise. There is an entire industry devoted to the different nuances of every the sound an alarm the clock can make. In today’s day and age, you are able to select pre-recorded voices - from the soft spoken Mashgiach to the commanding Marine drill sergeant - informing your still-sleeping body to get up and get out of bed. If you prefer, you can choose to stick with the good old-fashioned loud ringing buzzer. The list of sounds from which we are able to choose, ranging from a sweetly tweeting birdie to an emergency stress call indicating nuclear fallout, all peacefully await the opportunity to come alive at our beck and call.

As the alarm clock user of old turned over to shut off the pesky alarm, a major decision had to be made within a fraction of a second: should he immediately jump out of bed or… briefly stretch and roll back over to catch just a few more winks. The likelihood of ‘just another five minutes’ still remains a risk that some people take, typically regretting this decision as they pop out of bed an hour later! Enter, the snooze button, a clever option which offered the drowsy user to re-set the alarm for an additional five, ten, or fifteen minutes when the alarm would sound off again. Popular opinion has it that the snooze feature was the feat - or fault - of Lew Wallace, the famous author of Ben-Hur. (The Lew Wallace Museum asserts, however, that Wallace could not have created the snooze button, although he did invent a few other things).

Unfortunately, the snooze button option too often lures us into dreamland once again. It takes a firm determination to rise up like a lion to avoid sinking back into that inviting pillow. One of the many famous brainy quotes from Phyllis George is, “Life is what you make it: If you snooze, you lose; and if you snore, you lose more.” I think the cause of the snoring is due to the extra snoozing that we try to get. A few days ago, I was the victim of that inviting ‘snooze button’; instead of pushing the five-minute reset, I inadvertently turned the alarm off altogether. Upon awakening, I realized what had happened and leaped out of bed in a total panic. I was late for an early morning appointment. Besides missing a very important meeting and getting up in a frenzy, my entire day was off. When my day begins even slightly off kilter, I feel as though I’m playing catch-up all day long. Clearly, the few extra winks that I got came at a heavy price, one that I know for myself does not satisfy the cost-benefit analysis.

Viewing this analysis, there are three stages that I described; the initial sleep, the snooze period, and the getting out of bed. Most things in life can be broken down into different stages and compartments. As we move from one stage to the next, we hope there is at least some measurable improvement in the decision-making processing during these transitions.

In the aftermath of the sin of the golden calf, God commanded Moshe to build the Mishkan/Tabernacle. Each component of the Mishkan and its contents was assembled with keen attention directed to the order of construction, precise detail regarding that construction, and magnificent artistry. Every aspect of the building of the Mishkan included stages which polished and elevated the items, bringing them up to their full capacity and potential. Let us look at one of these items and get a glimpse at how we benefit from the cost.

In this week’s parsha Teruma the Torah details the Mishkan and its contents. Each and every part of the Mishkan has its own significance. The Gemara Bava Basra 25b asks what we can learn from the vessels and utensils of the Mishkan. Rebbi Yitzchok says that someone who wants to become wise shall turn his prayers southward, and to become wealthy, direct his prayers northbound. This is hinted in the placing of the Table/Shulchan, which represents food, eating and plenty, toward the north. The Menorah, which is light and represents Torah and wisdom, is placed toward the south. Rebbi Yehoshua Ben Levi adds that a person should always pray to the south. A person prays to the south will become wise, and his wisdom will facilitate him to become wealthy.

This positioning of the vessels is in direct relation to how we see ourselves vis-a-vis the keli, or the vessel. The actual placing of the vessels offers a different perspective. The Torah states in Shmos 26:35 “V’Samta Es HaShulchan Michutz LaParoches, V’Es HaMenorah Nochach HaShulchan Al Tzela HaMishkan Teimana, V’HaShulchan Titein Al Tzela Tzafon”. “Place the table outside the curtain, toward the northern wall of the tabernacle. The menorah shall be opposite the table, toward the southern wall of the tabernacle”. The verse mentions the Shulchan/Table twice - once before the mentioning of the Menora/Candelabra and once afterwards. The Shulchan, which had the showbread placed upon it, represents the physical side of the life of a human being. We are a hybrid of physicality and spirituality, the Table being physical while the Menorah represents the spiritual. Human beings require food and sustenance to have the ability to become more spiritual. After a person eats and strengthens his body, he can turn his attention to other spiritual pursuits. It takes a body that is well-maintained and fit to become the receptacle of holiness and spirituality. Therefore, the Torah first mentions the Shulchan/Table and only afterwards mentions it in relationship to the Menora, the light of Torah. Once the Shulchan revives a person physically with its material food, it has the potential to overcome any physical challenge. Caution is extremely important to assure that the physical knows when to stop and to ready itself for the light and spirituality. The physical component of Man is now ready to take on the other half of his purpose: to become a spiritual being in a very physical world.

Sleep is an important physical component; it is necessary to rest our physical bodies so that we can take on more spirituality. The alarm is really the transition point from the physical to the spiritual, from sleep to waking up, performing Mitzvos and learning Torah. Be careful not to hit that snooze button! It only gives us more physical pleasure while pushing off the purpose of growing spiritually. Get rid of the snooze button! Rise like a lion to serve the Master of the world through our Kelim/utensils and our Tabernacles of today!

Parshas Mishpatim - The Attention Span Myth      25 Shvat 5779

01/30/19 22:32:57

Jan30

Question: Has digital communication changed my attention span? When asked about the effects of digital communication, people often note that the ability to maintain focused concentration has changed. According to a study conducted by Microsoft, the average person’s attention span has dropped from 12 seconds in the year 2000 to less than 8 seconds today – which is shorter than the attention span of a goldfish.

Scientific evidence indeed suggests that sustained ability to attend to a task is changing – but this does not imply that attention spans are becoming shorter. As psychologist Gemma Briggs points out, “The average attention span is pretty meaningless. It’s very much task-dependent. How much attention we apply to a task will vary depending on what the task demand is. The actual definition of ‘attention span’ is the interval during which an individual can concentrate, as on a single object, idea, or activity.” We can assess and illustrate some of this theory by evaluating an event that will take place this coming Sunday.

MarketWatch estimates that a full hour of the Super Bowl broadcast consists of advertisements, while the halftime show usually lasts about 13 minutes. That means that even if you don’t watch football, you watch 73 minutes of the Super Bowl. If everyone did this, we would cumulatively watch the Super Bowl for 8,168,700,000 minutes — 15,541 years or 219 lives on Earth.

Most live football coverage is replays, people standing around and men talking. The actual action of the football game — when the ball is in play — is about 12 minutes long. If you wanted to watch the entire “Super Bowl” for the love of the sport, you could do so in less time than it takes to heat a frozen lasagna in the oven or even daven Mincha. So why is it that people can stay involved and pay attention to something that lasts for so long? Could they listen to a series of Torah classes for that same period? There are claims that kids don’t have the attention span that kids had a generation or two ago. I flatly disagree. They have enormous attention spans. For example, kids and adults alike are able to play video games with the greatest intensity and concentration for hours. It is not about the ability to pay attention; such sustained focus is determined by the material and kind of activity that is being viewed.

In this week’s parsha Mishpatim the Torah states in the very last verse of Shmos 24:18: “Vayavo Moshe B’soch He’Anan VaYaal El HaHar, Vayehi Moshe BaHar Arbaim Yom V’Arbaim Layla”: “Moshe went into the cloud and climbed to the mountain top. Moshe was to remain on the mountain for forty days and forty nights”. This narrative continues in Ki Sisa Shmos 31:18 with the episode of the Golden Calf.

The introduction to the sefer HaChinuch says that Moshe learned the entire Oral Torah on Har Sinai for forty days and forty nights. If he were there only to receive and learn the ten commandments, he would have finished in one day. Truth be told, Moshe didn’t even need forty days to accomplish all the learning because it was Hashem teaching him; Moshe could have easily completed all this learning in fewer days. God intentionally took longer so as to demonstrate that Moshe, and subsequently every Jew, should learn Torah with a clear, focused head while being calm and patient. In addition, this taught us that it is necessary to instruct every Jew to study until he clearly understands what he is learning. It is only in such an environment that a person can learn a lot with calm. This is the only way a person can attain the highest level of learning; a person cannot learn impulsively or in haste.

The purpose for Moshe being on top of the mountain for precisely forty days -not less and not more - is connected to the formation of a fetus in the mother’s womb. The forty days in heaven is to wipe away and cleanse the limbs connecting the physical world to the spiritual. It is at that precise moment of the forty days with this infusion of holiness that we are able to understand the secrets and the depth of the Torah. We are transformed from a physical blob of bone, flesh and blood to become like a ministering angel with no physical component, becoming a new-born creation. Furthermore, it was during those forty days that Moshe was transformed and was reborn; he was not the same Moshe he had been prior to climbing the mountain to learn from Hashem. The spirituality that he merited on top of the mountain was intense; there was a big difference before and after.

The Yalkut Shimoni brings a story about the Tanna Rav Yochanan who traveled from Teveriyah to Tzippori along with Rebbi Chiya Bar Abba. As they passed a field, Reb Yochanan remarked, “that field belonged to me, but I sold it so that I could learn Torah.” They continued the journey and came upon an olive tree and again, Reb Yochanan stated, “that olive tree was mine, but I sold it to learn more Torah.” They then passed a vineyard, and the same declarations were repeated for the sake of learning Torah. Reb Chiya began to cry and was asked by Rav Yochanan why he was crying. Reb Chiya said, “I am crying because you haven’t left anything for your old age. You had income, but you sold it all.” Reb Yochanan replied, “Is the matter so simple in your mind that I sold something that only took six days to create and bought something that was given over a forty-day period?” When Rav Yochanan died they praised him with the words of Shlomo Hamelech from Shir Hashirim 8:7: Many waters of heathen tribulation cannot extinguish the fire of this love, nor can rivers of royal seduction or torture wash it away. Were any man to offer all the treasure of his home to entice you away from your love, they would scorn him to extreme. This means to say if a person wants to give away all the treasures of his house so that he could acquire the love that Rav Yochanan had for the Torah, you would be scorned. There is no treasure in the world that could purchase the intensity of desire and love for the Torah that he had.

A person who learns with ‘hasmada’, defined either as diligence or consistency, does not necessarily have a greater or lesser attention span. If there is a desire and love for anything, a person has all the time in the world for it. When something is valued, it grabs our attention and we don’t want to leave it or let go. When there is something that we desire, we do not tire from working to attain it. To the contrary, it becomes a part of us. The teaching of Torah should not be altered to accommodate time, rather it is the love of learning itself that needs to be improved upon. Once the love of learning Torah becomes a part of us, as in the case of Moshe, we will not have any issue in learning for days on end, without food or drink to ‘break things up’, because then we WILL have the true attention span necessary to master the Torah and make it an integral part of who we are.

Parshas Yisro - One For All and All For One            18 Shvat 5779

01/24/19 18:29:31

Jan24

Giving thanks and recognizing the good we receive is of the utmost importance. Being thankful is a basic tenet upon which the world is modeled, always requiring the need to be strengthened and encouraged and every circumstance. With this said, we humans tend to err, falling short of this goal, at times intentionally but more often accidentally. One major situation is at an event when many people help an institution, organization or private affair and need to thank those who contributed. It never fails when a person rises to thank everyone who helped and participated, that someone is left off the list. To avoid this embarrassment, we begin with a disclaimer,,apologizing in advance for skipping, omitting, forgetting someone therefore not giving those who were omitted the proper thanks and recognition. I’m not claiming to have a solution to this problem; I am not immune to this predicament.

I am now beginning my tenth year of writing a weekly message/ Dvar Torah. Over five years ago I shared some material with a publisher, and with the help of Hashem’s published a book/Sefer. As is customary, the beginning of the book has a preface, introduction and acknowledgements. Those of you who read my book (and for those of you who haven’t read it yet!) will recall how I acknowledged and thanked many people who helped me shape the person I am today. One of my biggest regrets in the publication was the omission of a few key people and areas that without question should have been listed. Unlike an event where one can grab the microphone later and add on to the list of thank yous, once the book was printed there was no going back. Since I would like to give proper credit to a few more people and organizations, I will take the liberty to write about them independently over the next few months, giving proper homage, albeit very delayed.

I attended sleep-away camp for twenty summers, beginning as a nine-year old to being on staff married with children. The relationships and friendships I developed over the years will be cherished for a lifetime. The influences and direction in my life came from two very different camps at different stages in my life. Camp Avraham Chaim Heller and its staff played a large role in shaping me as the individual I am. The staff and administration were a family that re-united every summer and shared life’s ups and downs throughout the year. I entered the fray as an inexperienced young counselor and left as a peer to the wonderful leaders who were about a half a generation older than I. To them, and they know who they are, I owe a great amount of thanks.

It is the overall sleep-away camp experience, the selection of a camp which is be the best possible choice for each child that my wife and I are big believers in. Camp is a great equalizer among children of each age group. For several weeks, everyone sleeps in the same kind of environment, sweating through the humid nights, swatting flies and mosquitoes, running from a sudden rain storm, or shivering under a cold spell. Everyone eats the same food, quality, and quantity as the next camper. The camaraderie and pride one takes in bunkmates is like a brotherhood without parents. Children learn to be part of a different kind of society - and even different culture - outside of their own homes. Campers come from all different backgrounds, religious observance, economic spheres, and family dynamics that afford the chance to blend into something they otherwise may be oblivious to. Truth be told, while this sounds fantastic and rosy, this description is the outcome at the end of the summer even though it isn’t necessarily a reflection of how the camping season began. The concept of camping and the similarities hits home to the broader Jewish experience. As our forefathers traveled, they ‘camped’ in the desert and specifically near Har Sinai as we received the Torah.

The Torah in this week’s Parsha Yisro states in Shmos 19:2 וַיִּסְעוּ מֵרְפִידִים, וַיָּבֹאוּ מִדְבַּר סִינַי, וַיַּחֲנוּ, בַּמִּדְבָּר; וַיִּחַן-שָׁם יִשְׂרָאֵל, נֶגֶד הָהָר “VaYisu MeiRephidim Vayavou Midbar Sinai, Vayachanu Bamidbar, VaYichan Sham Yisrael Neged HaHar”. “they had departed from Rephidim and had arrived in the Sinai Desert, camping in the wilderness. Israel camped opposite the mountain. Midrash Seichel Tov asks why is it necessary for the Torah to write the word ‘camping’ twice? He answers that in all places where ‘they traveled, and they camped is mentioned refers to an indication that their trip was filled with divisiveness. This time the Torah first writes ‘camping’ and then camped, highlighting they began the journey arguing and fighting, but in the end they ‘camped’, implying that they dwelled as one man with one heart. beginning is a shaky start, but by the end everyone melds together. An inference could be made through Rashi’s comment that they were traveling as one, regarding receiving of the Torah - they joined together for the common mission but still lacked unity amongst themselves. journey from Rephidim to Har Sinai was fraught with infighting. But when they reached Har Sinai, the Torah repeats the idea of camping, hinting that they became like one, inside and out. The Meam Loez explains the well-known verse, “Hashem gives strength to His people, Hashem blesses His people with peace”.

The significance of coming together as one camp is highlighted by the insight of Rabbi Yehuda Loew the Maharal of Prague. The Maharal emphasized the need for Jewish unity during the camping process to access the Torah and release Moshe to retrieve the Luchos. The term ‘they camped’ is written in the singular form, indicating how the Jewish people came together as one as they repented. It is this process of individual repentance that brings the Jewish people to recognize God’s oneness. In turn, the Torah could not be given to a splintered people; it could only be given to a unified nation. This is magnified in the next verse which states: “Moshe ascended up to Elokim”. Moshe could only go up as the leader and the king of Israel if the people were completely unified under his rule. If they were a fractured and divided people, Moshe could not elevate through them. If there were no nation or people, there can be no leader. As they bound together, Moshe became the king who was able to be ‘pushed’ up to the heavens by the people. A king can only be a king if he has subjects.

For a nation to thrive or even for a congregation to grow, good leadership is required. But leadership alone is not enough. A leader who has a unified people behind him will permit and encourage the person in charge to be bold and make strides on behalf of everyone. Moshe needed Am Yisrael to be in sync, to reach higher and receive the Torah, allowing the people to grow in their new-found service to God who took them out of Egypt. So too, every leader, and especially a community that is led by a Rabbinic figure, will be that much more successful with a unified congregation behind him. It is a group of people with one purpose and a single mind-set that sets the stage for a leader to catapult them to higher realms.

We today - in all congregations and communities throughout the world - should take the lesson from Har Sinai and unify the Jewish people to be a nation with one heart and one soul, so the Melech HaMoshiach, King Messiah will be given the boost, just as that which Moshe received, to take us back to the highest levels of holiness and purity,leading us to the time of Yemos HaMashiach and the re-building of the third Beis Hamikdash speedily in our day.

Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas B'Shalach - Dead or Alive?                    11 Shvat 5779

01/17/19 15:15:43

Jan17

Parshas B'Shalach - Dead or Alive

Last Shabbos, as the Aron HaKodesh opened, a feeling of sadness fell upon me. For those of you who know the Aron at our Shul, it houses three Sifrei Torah, but to my dismay, only two out of those three were present. At first glance I was shocked, and then alarm and panic gripped hold of me. Immediately, I thought it might have been borrowed without permission. Then… emerged the dreaded thought, “Was it stolen?!” As my mind raced during those few seconds while singing the words of “VaYehi Binsoa HaAron” - ‘carrying the Ark’ I began to focus and remembered what had happened only a few weeks prior. Here is a description of the background as to what led to my apprehension.

Throughout life many people in their respective professions learn and prepare for unique situations, possible emergencies that they hope will never materialize or come to fruition. It is almost like buying insurance: we need it and must have it but hope never to use it. This is even more true in the Rabbinate. Many laws and Halachos are learned and studied, mostly for the theoretical possibility - as remote as it may be - to know what and how to proceed in a situation when a split-second decision is needed. Sure, there are times when a question arises and there is ample time to go back and review the law, but often one needs to act immediately, relying on memory, expertise and a lot of Siyata Dishmaya, Heavenly Assistance. During our smicha training, Rabbi Wein reviewed many scenarios including the most recent.

It was an ordinary Shabbos morning, and we were rolling along, zipping through Torah reading. During the sixth Aliyah my eyes were trying to focus in on a word, working to decipher the word’s letters. The word was distorted; as I peered in closely, my heart sank, realizing that some of the ink had begun to fade on some of the letters. One letter, a yud, had almost completely disintegrated. Emotionally, or perhaps psychologically, I was trying to figure out how this Torah was still kosher at the very least and most lenient opinion. This thinking clearly gave way to my intellectual and educational background, fully knowing that this sefer Torah was passul/invalid and therefore not kosher for use. At that point as I hovered over the Torah, other men on the bimah started to peer over, searching for the error. After I declared it passul and motioned to bring another Torah out, a group of men moved into action, helping with the Torah. It reminded me (and others) how if God forbid, a human being needed medical attention a crowd would quickly gather round to help. A few of the guys helped dress the passul Torah while others quickly brought out another Torah to continue the laining. During this commotion I and all those around me felt a keen sense of this now-passul Torah feeling as though it was a living human being. The Torah, which is the Eitz Chaim - the Tree of Life - was now injured, perhaps critically; it needed to be carried away while all of us hoped for the best. There was a sudden, strong feeling of loss that gripped everyone who had witnessed the Torah ‘going down’; a sense of defeat and despair permeated through the Shul. The good news is that a sefer Torah can always be repaired. Unlike Tefilin and a Mezuza which, when a letter is cracked or missing will most of the time be declared permanently invalid, a Torah most often can be repaired and can be brought back to life.

It is interesting to note that the word Meis- dead- is used to describe something that is permanent and final. When the Torah records the death of the great leaders, the word ‘dead’ is not used. Instead the phrase ‘he was gathered’ or ‘departed’ is used, signifying that dying is not complete; the body has died, but not the soul.

In this week’s Parshas B’Shalach, when telling the story of the Egyptians drowning in the Sea of Reeds, the Torah is reluctant to state that all the Egyptians ‘died’. Instead, in Shmos 14:20, the Torah states: “Vayashuvu Hamayim Vayechasu Es HaRechev V’Es Haparashim, L’Chol Cheil Paroh HaBaim Achareihem Bayam, Lo Nishar Bahem Od Echad”; “And the waters returned and covered the chariots, and the horsemen, even all the host of Pharaoh that went in after them into the sea; there remained not so much as one of them”. The language, that there remained not so much one of them is also used when describing the end of the fifth plague in Shmos 9:6: “Vaya’as Hashem Es Hadavar Hazeh Mimacharas, VaYamas Kol Miknei Mitzrayim, U’MiMiknei Bnei Yisrael Lo Meis Echad”. “And HaShem did that thing on the morrow, and all the cattle of Egypt died; but of the cattle of the children of Israel died not one”. Dovid HaMelech, in Tehilim 106:11 uses the same expression, “Echad Meihem Lo Nosar” - “that not one of them remained”. We actually recite this in the paragraph leading up to the morning Amida. One of the Baalei Tosafotwrites, ‘Lo Nishar Bahen Od Echad’, but one did remain! He uses a certain rule of ‘up until’ or ‘including’ the last part of a statement. Who was the one person that actually survived the drowning from the Red Sea? It is explained that the Pharoah survived and it was none of them refers to his people who survived. The Midrash explains that the Malach Gavriel came and purged Pharoah in the water for fifty days as a direct punishment for Pharoah exclaiming ‘Who is God?’ The word Mi in Hebrew also spells out the word water, which has the numerical value of fifty.

The Mechilta records a dispute as to what happened to Pharoah. Rebbi Yehuda says even Pharoah drowned, but Rebbi Nechemia says everyone died except for Pharoah. A third opinion is that Pharoah went in last and drowned. The Midrash Seichel Tov tells us that Pharoah did go down into the water and Hashem turned him on his face and the water covered him, but his soul did not leave him. At that point an angel of Hashem plucked Pharoah out of the water and brought him to the city of Ninveh. Hashem spared Pharoah so that he could relate the amazing feats that the God of the Jews performed for them against him. Hashem wanted Pharoah to reveal His name throughout the land of Ninveh and throughout the world. The Rabbis say he ruled over Ninveh for five hundred years and brought them back to repent. How awesome it was for the man who denied and rebelled against Hashem to promote and bring greatness to His name, whereby Pharoah himself declared, “Who is as great as the God of the Jews!”

For this reason Hashem saved him so he could be the messenger to bring about a revolution of Teshuva among the non-Jews of the world. Therefore, the verses do not use the word ‘dead’ as if there were no return. To the contrary, when there is a little bit of life left, it has the capability to accomplish many things. Although our Sefer Torah ‘looked dead’ it was not! It is temporarily out of commission. If we allow it to go without attending to its aging, it might eventually deteriorate beyond repair. I remind myself when I see the empty space in the Aron/Ark that this Torah is being taken care of. It is being repaired and will be brought back to life. Not only will it be brought back to life for its own sake, but it is being restored back to life to be the Living Torah whose purpose is to spread the word of Hashem to us and all of humanity!

Parshas Bo - Push the Re-Set Button                  5 Shvat 5779

01/11/19 09:12:47

Jan11

Changing gears, shifting the momentum, and having a break are all means and schemes to get back into the game. Why is it that a team dominates the first half or part of the game and then the tables are completely turned, and the other team defeats them by the time the game ends? How often do we see a sports team come back and play a completely different game in the second half versus the first? Why is it a student has an extreme turnaround the second half of the school year? It is interesting to note that sports that do not have a break or intermission have fewer chances for recovery at the midpoint of the game to catch up and win. The fact that there is some type of long pause in a tournament or battle gives the struggling side the ability to regroup. In fact, most ‘time-outs’ in a game are called for that exact reason: to stop the momentum of the surging opponent to halt and for the other side to regroup.

The theory of turning the tide after a break is backed up by a recently published study. Eleven seasons of data prove fourth-quarter 'momentum' in NBA games is overrated. While late-game comebacks are exciting for fans, research finds they often don't lead to OT victories. Game 1 of last year's NBA Championships took place on May 31, 2018, in Oakland. It was the Golden State Warriors against the Cleveland Cavaliers. LeBron James had a playoff-career high of 51 points, eight rebounds and eight assists. The Cavs outscored the Warriors in the 4th quarter, and their late-game momentum brought the match into overtime.

Yet, Cleveland ended up losing the game by 10 points, 124-114. While Cavalier fans were bummed out, the loss came as no surprise to a team of Israeli researchers from Ben-Gurion University. In a new study, they examined 900 tied games with fourth-quarter comebacks. They pored over the data from about 14,000 games over 11 NBA seasons. "We found that regardless of momentum, teams with the home advantage and more season wins were more likely to succeed in the five-minute overtime,” said Dr. Elia Morgulev, who co-authored the new study in the Journal of Economic Psychology.

So why doesn't late-game momentum help? The researchers posit that it could be due to several issues. It's possible that the comeback team is so exhausted from their come-from-behind spurt that they lose momentum in overtime. Or maybe releasing tension during the brief break before overtime causes a team to relax because they feel they’ve already achieved their target of not losing – and then they lose any momentum. My theory is that there is a break from the end of regulation to the beginning of the overtime, giving the team that lost the edge to regain its composure and reset their game plan.

The phenom to rebound and turn things around is built into the nature of the world. On the grandest scale, this occurs once a year on Rosh Hashana. The Shmitah cycle does the same thing on a seven-year- cycle basis. But as far as a day-to-day recognition that we can change direction from bad to good comes either on a week-to-week basis and surely every month. In fact, the day before Rosh Chodesh is called ‘Yom Kippur Katan’- the small day of atonement whereby we fast, recite special prayers of repentance, and prepare to start anew the next month. However off course we may have strayed, we are given the chance to get back on track in the new month. This is duly noted in the Torah.

In this week’s parsha Bo the Torah states in Shmos 12:2: “HaChodesh Hazeh Lachem Rosh Chadashim, Rishon Hu Lachem L’Chadshei HaShana” - “This month shall be the head month to you. It shall be the first month of the year”. The Netzi”v, Rav Naphtali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin explains this verse by challenging the supposition. There is a rule, “Ein Chadash Tachas HaShemesh - there is nothing new under the sun”. From the time of creation, that idea held true until this point in time. From now on the Jewish people would not be confined to the old rule of “there’s nothing new under the sun” and would now have the ability to ‘make new things’. This ability was given to the Jews and only to the Jews through the first Mitzva that was commanded to us as a nation. An interesting debate is discussed when the Torah in Shmos says a ‘new’ king arose over Egypt. Some opinions say it was the same old king with ‘new’ decrees while others maintain an actual ‘new’ king, a totally different person. Irrespective of the debate, we can inject the thought that whoever he was or whatever this person as king of Egypt did was seen through the lens of ‘newness’ that only the Jewish people could cultivate and appreciate.

The Netziv, in his commentary Haamek Davar, explains the notion of new in a different aspect. The description of this month, Nissan, has two dimensions: being the head of the months and being the first of the months. The word ‘rosh’ or head is understood here and in many other places as ‘the best’ or ‘the choicest’. The word ‘Lachem’ - ‘to you’ - indicates that this month specifically is the best or choicest of all the months of the year, similar, to the month of Tishrei, which is the optimal month in connection to the physical needs of the world. Since the world was created in Tishrei, the blessing of all physical things being created is given. There is a great rule that Chaza”l taught, the same day something was created by Hashem, that very same day will be stronger for that same thing in all future generations and will get stronger as time goes on. As an example, the nature of fire on Saturday night burns more deeply because fire was created by Hashem on the first Motzai Shabbos of the world. The Rashba, in his responsa 413 writes, “Because of this the month of Tishrei is primarily connected to the creation of man and the judging of him.” The month of Tishrei deals with everything of nature because the world was created in this month. So, too, with the month of Nissan. The merit of redemption was first created during this month, allowing us to leave the exile and become free. Leaving Egypt and leaving the status of slavery to Pharaoh and his people gave us the time and opportunity to serve Hashem without interruption and with full dedication. Therefore, the month of Nissan is the time we must strengthen our ties to Hashem in every generation, just as it was done that very first time. Nissan was the ‘head’, giving the strength of redemption to this month, establishing this strength from now on based upon the ‘first’ time it occurred.

The head of or the first of something brings a renewed sense of strength and ability. Whenever things are slow and life is on the down side wait ,and look for the opportunity to start again. With the inert strength that Hashem instilled initially to the part of life, we are given the ability to take this strength and strengthen our selves, refreshing our lives and resetting our course of life.

Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas Vaera - Revealing the Torah Piece by Piece        26 Teves 5779

01/02/19 11:38:10

Jan2

There is a certain thrill one gets in learning Torah. The different levels of excitement or appreciation come from the person with whom I am learning or preparing. The gemara in Taanis relates that in general there are three kinds of people we learn from: a teacher, a colleague, and a student. For me, I get the most out of my Torah learning when a student reaches a level to ask and derive questions from other things we’ve learned previously. It displays a genuine depth of understanding and grasping of material, revealing measurable signs of growth.

Last week, one of my study partners asked the following question: In Parshas Shmos Hashem gave Moshe three signs by which to convince the Egyptians and the Jews that he, Moshe, was a messenger from God. In Shmos, Perek 4 Pesukim 3,6, and 9 three signs are given: his staff turning into a snake and back again to a rod; Moshe’s hand, which develops leprosy when first inserted in his shirt and then, after repeating the process, it comes out healthy again; The third sign is when Moshe took some water and turned it into blood as a sign that this will be the first of the ten plagues. My chavrusa asked: if later Hashem wasn’t going to allow Moshe to smite the Nile, as we see in parshas Vaera, why even bother doing the miracle of the water with him? Doesn’t God know that Moshe would not be able to hit the Nile because he had to show Hakaras Hatov - gratitude toward the water - because it saved him? The following is the selection in question.

In this week’s Parshas Vaera the Torah states, Shmos 7:19: "VaYomer Hashem El Moshe Emor El Aharon, Kach Matcha UnTei Yadcha Al Meimei Mitzrayim Al Naharosam, Al Y’Oreihem, V’Al Agmeihem, V’Al Kal Mikvey Meimeihem V’Yihyu Dam, V’Haya Dam B’Chol Eretz Mitzrayim UVaeitzim UBa’Avanim.” : God said to Moshe, “Tell Aaron to take his staff and extend his hand over the waters of Egypt – over their rivers, their canals, their reservoirs, and every place where water is kept, and the water shall turn into blood. There will be blood throughout all Egypt, even in wooden barrels and stone jars.” An almost identical verse and command is repeated at the time of the third plague of lice, upon which Rashi comments in an identical fashion as well. Rashi explains, ‘Since the river offered protection to Moshe when he was cast into it, therefore it was not smitten by his hand, neither with the plague of blood nor with the frogs; but it was smitten by Aharon’. This instruction is repeated in Shmos 8:12 where Rashi gives a similar explanation. ‘The dust was not deserving to be smitten by the hands of Moshe, since it protected him when he killed the Egyptian and concealed him in the sand; and therefore, it was smitten by the hands of Aharon.”

The name of the parsha is Vaera, which means ‘I revealed Myself’, as in Hashem telling Moshe He appeared to the forefathers. For me, it rings loudly as I reviewed this section a few times working through in the process of answering this question. My initial thought was God doesn’t take decisions out of our hands; rather he places the challenge or situation in front of us to make the decision on our own. Hashem wants Moshe to come the realization that he needs to have gratitude to the Nile for protecting him. After further review (revelation), the initial test in Shmos commands Moshe to take some water out from the Nile and turn it into blood, in contrast to turning the entire river red. This answer removes the question completely Upon further and deeper review, however, another answer was revealed to me in an obscure sefer - K’ayal TaArog

If one steps back to analyze this, one might reach a different conclusion regarding the reason Moshe should not have been the one to do the first three Makkos (plagues). Anyone with a little common sense realizes that the water and the sand didn’t really do anything to protect him. The protection came from his sister Miriam when she placed him into the basket. The water was just helping Miriam. So, in reality, the water by itself doesn’t deserve any particular mention or reward. Therefore, even if Moshe would have been the one to smack the Nile, the river would not have had a complaint against Moshe. We should not apply the principle of ‘denying the good’ vis a vis the river. Furthermore, we could argue that the river was just doing its job exactly as God had intended. Nevertheless, with all that said, the river did fulfill the will of Hashem, therefore elevating its level of holiness. The fact that the river turned into blood proves that it followed the will of its creator and raised its level of sanctity. We should not view the river turning into blood as a punishment. So, why do all the commentaries - led by Rashi - explain that Moshe had to have a sensitivity and gratitude to the river and therefore needed to have Aharon begin the plague?

Rav Aleksander Yehoshua Levinson of Har Nof, Yerushalayim in his sefer K’Ayal TaArog, formalized this approach and answers in the following manner: There are two approaches or paths when it comes to the fulfillment of Mitzvos between man and his fellow man. The first and obvious side is the benefit the recipient of the kindness receives from the giving of his friend. (There is also the flip side of doing something harmful to our fellow). The second way to observe the act is the benefit to the giver. At the same moment that he is giving or doing the kindness, he is refining his good character qualities. When a person does a ‘chessed’ - a kindness - he becomes a Baal chessed, a master of kindness. The act of chessed that he or she performs transforms the person’s middos and refines them another notch above. The act of chessed converts into the midda itself and strengthens it.

Rav Dessler compares a person’s middos to a ladder. Each one of us is on a certain rung. All the middos that are beneath that rung have been conquered by that person; the person was victorious over each previous challenge. The evil inclination no longer has the upper hand over it so it gives up on that point. Any middos that are above the rung are those we still strive to perfect. When we fulfill a mitzva ,not only do we receive reward, but it puts another notch into climbing the ladder of that trait. Through this process a person begins to change, conquering the trait and making it part of his essence. Rav Soloveichik, in his sefer ‘Al HaTeshuva, explains the difference between atonement and purity. A sin causes two bad things for a person: 1) the sin causes him to receive a punishment. 2) The sin causes the person to become a sinner; he defiles himself, lowering himself from what a human being should be. Teshuva, repentance, comes to fix these two corrupt events. First, Teshuva atones for the punishment and purifies the sinner from the impurity of the sin. This notion is all the more emphatic: doing a chessed causes the person to develop into a kinder individual.

  1. the perspective of ‘the letter of the law’, the concern that Moshe should not hit the Nile or the sand that protected him is now easily understood. But we must realize it was not because Moshe was under any obligation. To the contrary, he could have done the Makkah (plague), because his only true gratitude would have been toward Basya, the daughter of Pharoah, who literally spared him. Only he did not do the hitting himself because the middah of Hakaras Hatov would be weakened within him if he smote the water by a little bit or strengthened the character trait of gratitude by overcoming and withdrawing from doing so a little more each time. That is why Hashem told Moshe to let Aharon do it, to sensitize Moshe even more so as to improve his Middos a little at a time, fine tuning his overall character as the leader of His people.

Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas Shmos - The Gateway to Freedom       19 Teves 5779

12/27/18 17:33:58

Dec27

There are many times and situations in life when we feel ‘trapped’ - not in the sense that we are in physical chains or shackles, but rather in emotional or psychological feelings of being stuck, having no way out of a certain situation. Three times a day in the Amidah we pray for redemption and freedom. The seventh bracha of R’Ey B’Anyeinu is not limited to the ultimate redemption we crave for until Moshiach comes. Reb Chaim Friedlander, in his sefer Sifsei Chaim, writes: “In addition to the national ‘Geula/Redemption’ we wait for, there is another component: individual redemption.” We pray for a geula/redemption that He will redeem us from our daily troubles that are renewed each day. Each one of us has our different bonds of restraint from which we ask Hashem to release us.

Rachmana Litzlan, Heaven forbid, no one should know how trapped a deaf/mute person could be. In fact, many speech impediments can be a barrier to communication with others unless they can be overcome. There is a host of issues that stymie our growth whether it be communication, social interaction, and surely learning. Language is one of those areas that a person can feel trapped in as well. A sense of isolation due to not knowing the language that people are speaking, for example, would be close to identical to that of a person who is completely deaf. When a person knows a little of the language being spoken, he becomes easily frustrated trying to think of the right words to use. We sometimes feel foolish not knowing or not being able to “pull up” a word, or even worse, feeling and looking stupid or ignorant in the eyes of the people who are watching and listening to you struggle. Having taught in Talmud Torah afternoon school, in the day school grades 2-8, in high school, and being a pulpit Rabbi, I’ve concluded like so many others before me, that reading Hebrew and being fluent in Hebrew are key to the success of a Jew’s prayer, learning, and overall growth. Being fluent in reading Hebrew is so important that it is one of the components that led to the Jewish people being redeemed from Mitzrayim.

This week we begin reading Sefer Shmos, the Book of Names, also known as Sefer HaGeullah, the Book of Redemption. The Torah alludes that there are four descriptions of redemption in Shmos: chapter 6, verses 6 and 7. These descriptions of redemption form the core reasons attributed to drinking the four cups of wine at the seder - each cup representing a different ‘language’ of redemption. The Midrash in Shmos Rabbah 1:33 and Vayikra Rabbah state:

ויקרא רבה (וילנא) פרשה לב
רב הונא אמר בשם בר קפרא בשביל ד’ דברים נגאלו ישראל ממצרים שלא שנו את שמם ואת לשונם ולא אמרו לשון הרע ולא
נמצא ביניהן אחד מהן פרוץ בערוה
Vayikra Rabbah section 32, R’ Huna said in the name of Bar Kapparah: Because of four things Israel was redeemed from Egypt: They didn’t change their names or their language, they didn’t speak lashon ha-ra, and none of them was promiscuous.

פסיקתא זוטרתא (לקח טוב) דברים פרשת תבא דף מו עמוד א
דבר אחר ויהי שם לגוי. מלמד שהיו ישראל מצויינים שם. שהיה מלבושם ומאכלם ולשונם משונים מן המצריים. מסומנין היו וידועין
שהם גוי לבדם חלוק מן
המצריים:

Minor Pesikta, Devarim (Ki Savo) 41a Another interpretation: “And there they became a nation” – this teaches that the Israelites were distinct there, in that their clothing, food, and language was different from the Egyptians’. They were identified and known as a separate nation, apart from the Egyptians. The language has many definitions, but it is not limited by anything less than speaking, reading and understanding of Hebrew. With the explosion of the English Judaic library, thousands of Jews have come back to their roots and have studied Torah. But the English translations should not be used as the primary source of learning; rather they should be used as an aid to study and learn in the original. Over the years in my career I have identified the trouble and difficulty many have with learning Hebrew, both children and adults.

Let me start by stating two propositions that seem to me beyond debate: 1) that the vast majority of children have a strong capacity to learn languages and 2) that the vast majority of children who spend years in American day schools studying Hebrew graduate without having attained a credible degree of oral reading or spoken Hebrew fluency.

Reading fluency is the ability to read accurately, smoothly and with expression. Fluent readers have learned to recognize words without struggling over decoding issues. This developing oral fluency – Hebrew as well as English - does not equate with reading comprehension. Fluency evolves to comprehension (mental fluency) when the child’s oral language is the same as the written language. We are all capable of developing oral fluency without understanding what we’re reading, but fluency bridges word recognition to overall comprehension. Once decoding of words becomes more fluid, children learn to focus on what the text is saying, to make connections between what they are reading and their own background knowledge. Non-fluent readers, however, must spend more time decoding, causing frustration when trying to comprehend the text. They will often have to read the same passage over several times to attain comprehension, struggling with words, language, and meaning To read with expression, a student not only divides words into chunks, he uses proper phrasing as he connects the words to their meanings.

It is important for adults to read aloud to children, modeling what good readers do. Take the time to show your children how you pause for punctuation, how you change your voice to make the text more meaningful. I believe children should be read to by their teachers, by their parents, and by their relatives. The more models of fluent reading children hear the better.

Take the time to model reading and then to share reading with your children. Read a paragraph (modeling) and then have your child read it to you. Share pages by first reading one page and then have your child read the next page. Read out loud together (choral reading). Children will learn to love reading if a love of reading is witnessed at home as well as in school. The children who are motivated to read will become even more motivated as their oral fluency improves. The importance of reading fluency is critical. All learning depends upon reinforcement of newly-learned skills; failure to do so can make or break a person’s desire to learn. Our language, our learning, our understanding is core to our identity. It is my hope that concerted attention to our children’s reading skills – Hebrew and English – will lead to a deeper ability to understanding ‘redemption’ – personal freedom.

Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas Vayechi - Has This Ever Happened To You?                                       13 Teves 5779

12/21/18 09:58:00

Dec21

The Gemara in Chagiga 16a quotes: “There are six things that are said regarding a human being: three of them are like angels and the three are like animals.” There are a few other sources with identical phraseology of six things - three are this and three are that. The Gemara, in Shabbos 151b, states: there are six kinds of tears, three are good for the body and three are bad”; “Six things are said by wine – ‘three are for the good and three are for the bad’.

My version is that there are six things that generally happen to individuals; they think it only happens to them and to no one else: three of them are bad… and I would like to hear from any of you readers the three good things that happen to people. Let me explain by giving the three things that have happened to me. Most recently, my cars were vandalized by some joy-walking people who decided to rip off the windshield wiper arm off the back window of one car and smash the driver’s side mirror on the second vehicle. This has given me a good bit of aggravation. I have wasted time and money, for no worthwhile, meaningful reason that I could think of. I thought that vandalism of this kind only happened to me, but when I related this to someone else, he told me that the same thing had happened to his wife’s car a few months ago. The second thing that happened to me actually occurred twice within the last nine month - credit card fraud, requiring freezing the current cards being used until new ones can be issued. The credit card company reverses the fraudulent charges and are very good at securing your account. But it is inconvenient and makes daily living a little more challenging. After mentioning this to a few people, they all started telling me their own stories of credit card fraud on their accounts. I supposed these shared tales of woe aren’t necessarily bad unless your intention was to be unique. How often does a person purchase a car deep down feeling that no one else has that car. It may be that the person buying the car simply wants to feel unique or feel nerdy that he/she is the only one on the planet driving that kind of a car. Later, driving around town in this brand new car begins to notice the same vehicle everywhere! Bottom line: in all three scenarios we felt we were the only victims or the only buyers when, in reality, we all share the same similar fate and aggravation.

There is a real dichotomy with this kind of thinking. Sometimes we want to feel special - but not when it comes at an expense. As we conclude sefer Bereishis, the story of Yosef and his brothers comes to an end. Yakov dies, leaving the brothers susceptible and exposed to Yosef’s revenge and retribution. Each one of the Shevatim received a Bracha from their father Yakov which was independent of his siblings, with the exception of Efraim and Menashe, who received theirs together. The brothers continue to witness different treatment between them and Yosef through the children. As far as they are concerned, their take on receiving a bracha was the supposition that perhaps they each were unique when receiving a blessing from their father. Did they know at the time that everyone was getting a bracha? Did they believe that bracha each of them had received was solely for that one brother, for better or for worse? Maybe they viewed receiving a bracha as a necessary act because their father thought they would be bad and lead a life of sin without it. This thought was not so farfetched after learning the family history of the blessings their grandfather Yitzchok originally set to give Eisav but was taken instead by their father Yaakov. It was going to be a certain bracha for the future creativeness that would be necessary for Eisav to lead an upstanding life. Nevertheless, Yosef recognized all of this and tried to quell their fears.

In this week’s parshas Vayechi the Torah states in Bereishis 50:21: “V’ata Al Tira’u, Anochi Achalkeil Eschem V’Es Tapchem, Vay’nacheim Osam, Vayidaber al Libam” - “Now don’t worry. I will fully provide for you and your children.” According to Rashi, ‘Yosef thus comforted them and tried to make up’, explaining that the words of Yosef were words receptive to the hearts of his brothers. Yosef explained, “Before you came down to this land, people murmured about me that I was only a lowly slave; it was through you that it became known that I am a free man. Now, if I were to kill you, what would people say? A group of young men did Joseph see and he glorified himself through them and said, ‘they are my brothers’, and in the end he killed them. Is there a brother who kills his own brothers?” Reb Yisroel Salanter in his sefer Be’er Yosef comments that on the one hand Yosef’s words are to comfort them, assuring them that he would not harm them. On the other hand, however, when he tells them, “Is there a brother who would kill his brother?” Yosef stares into the eyes of those who were guilty of that exact crime, wanting to kill their brother. How could these words be interpreted as Yosef tried to comfort them? He answers that, in truth, a brother does not kill his own brother. It is antithetical to the course of nature for that to be the case. With this, Yosef reiterates again that this was not a natural course of events but rather a series of events directly from Hashem. God orchestrated an unnatural set of circumstances, having brothers trying to kill their brother, as a sign that the entire purpose was only to arrange the family to down to Goshen, averting the family suffering from famine.

This kind of comfort would be accepted by the any nation of the world in order to reconcile a family, bringing it together. How much more so for the number one Jewish family of Yakov and his twelve sons. The words were truly comforting knowing that this all came about to show the brothers that it was the hand of God which was involved in the entire process. The Jewish people should give comfort to each other by standing behind each and every brother of ours. The story of Yosef and his brothers is a template for the Jewish people to learn and apply our responsibility to ultimately treat each other.

Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas Vayigash - What Would You Do?         6 Teves 5779

12/13/18 23:48:16

Dec13

Recently, I was shopping in one of the local grocery stores when I noticed a woman who appeared to be homeless. There is no need for me to explain how I knew she was homeless, I have enough experience in knowing. She was lurking around the exit of the store with a box of holiday cookies held snugly around a few layers of clothing combined with other garment material. After I checked out, I saw her walking out of the store with the box of cookies. She was mumbling and talking out loud. I watched her eating the from the box of cookies at the far side of the parking lot. I stood there, faced with a dilemma. Should I go back into the store and inform the manager or mind my own business and just leave? On the one hand stealing is wrong no matter who it is. Just because a person is homeless or very poor does not give them the right to shoplift and steal. In fact, some say that prices of goods and merchandise are priced higher to build in more profit to offset the loss as a result of theft. This, in turn, causes higher prices to be charged. These extra costs are then passed on to the honest, law-abiding citizens. On the other hand, one can argue that the loss is so insignificant; the benefit of helping someone in society outweighs the wrong of stealing. I chose the latter and got into my car and sped off as if nothing had happened.

What is the law? Is there a legal duty to report a crime? For the most part, civilians are not required to report a crime if they see one. However, there are certain crimes that impose a mandatory reporting requirement for certain people. For instance, if school staff, medical personnel, and even parents witness child abuse or neglect and fail to report it, they could be liable. Most of the time, ordinary citizens are not legally required to report a crime or to do anything to stop it. In other words, there is no general duty to be a “good Samaritan”. But the exceptions are surprisingly widespread. Surely, a violent crime is different compared to light stealing such as shoplifting cookies from a grocery store. What would you do if you saw someone shoplifting? What does the Torah have to say about this kind of situation? Interestingly, a similar sketch can be noted in last week’s parsha Mikeitz and told over again this week.

In this week’s Parshas Vayigash Yehuda approaches Yosef, the viceroy of Egypt, to plead his case on behalf of himself and his brothers. The Torah states in Bereishis 44:30 “V’Ata K’Voee El Avdecha Avi V’Hanaar Einenu Itanu, V’Nafsho Keshura B’Nafsho”: “And now, when I come to your servant our father, the lad will not be with us”. We are familiar from the end of last week’s Parsha how Binyamin, the lad in this discussion, was caught stealing the ‘cup’ of the viceroy. In Bereishis 44:1-2 the Torah states: “Joseph gave his overseer special instructions. “Fill the men’s packs with as much food as they can carry” he said. “Place each man’s money at the top of his pack. And my chalice - the silver chalice - place it on top of the youngest one’s pack, along with the money for his food. After the brothers left Egypt, Joseph said to his overseer, “Set out and pursue those men. Catch up with them and say to them, ‘Why did you repay good with evil? It’s the cup from which my master drinks and uses it for divination. You did a terrible thing.”

  1. this point, when Binyamin is accused of stealing the goblet (after being framed), why didn’t the brothers defend him by denying it and saying it was a set up? The Meam Loez, Rabbeinu Bachya and others explain that at that moment the brothers smacked Binyamin harshly between his shoulder blades. They yelled at him and said, “Ganaf Ben Genaft!” – “A thief the son of a thieftess.” Binyamin’s mother, Rachel, was accused of stealing the Teraphim - her father’s idols - so he would stop worshipping them. Binyamin yells back at his brothers and says, “You have such chutzpah, speaking and accusing me of this. This accusation of me stealing pales in comparison to your sin of selling my brother and creating a lie to our father of my brother being killed.” The brothers accused Binyamin when there was nothing, no substantial reason to accuse him. Later, in verse 13, they end up rending their garments as a sign of shame for this accusation. They automatically jumped to a conclusion without thinking of any other possibility or reason why Binyamin had the viceroy’s cup. Imagine if we had the hindsight to know the scenario of every situation that draws our own conclusions about others.

The story did not end with me just driving away. I was half way home and this predicament was gnawing at me the entire time. So, I turned around and headed back to the grocery store. But instead of looking for the manager, I went to the holiday cookie shelf that was prominently on display, and lo and behold there was one package missing. This space must be where the package of cookies had been which the homeless lady took. I took another bag of cookies, walked to the register and bought the cookies. As the clerk turned to give me my receipt, I handed him the bag of cookies to put back on the shelf and explained what I had witnessed and in an after-the-fact case bought the homeless person a bag of cookies. The store was not out the money, the woman received a free bag of cookies and, for me, my mind would be at rest.

If the story had ended there it would sound incredible and people might pat me on the back for my being a good Samaritan. Fortunately, and unfortunately, the manager (who knows me) was now at the very next register. I went over and explained what I had done, basically giving him a heads up of the possibility that this person may come back again and be tempted to take something else after being successful the first time. To my utter astonishment, embarrassment, humiliation and shame, she nonchalantly said to me, “Oh her?! Oh no. She did pay for the cookies!!!”

  1. all take a lesson from this incident. We need to think about who, why, and what is going on regarding a person and a situation before drawing some harsh, and very possibly false claims. Unless someone is in mortal danger, there is no reason to interfere in something that we may not fully understand. An individual whom we suspect of having committed a crime may not have done anything wrong. This homeless person didn’t do anything. The results: the suspect is innocent, but the accuser is guilty.

Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas Mikeitz - The Experience of a Lifetime     29 Kislev 5779

12/06/18 22:42:02

Dec6

The White House Chanukah Party is an annual reception held in the east wing of the White House and hosted by the U.S. President and First Lady to recognize and celebrate the Jewish festival of Chanukah. The tradition was established in 2001, during the administration of George W. Bush. The guest list includes hundreds of American Jewish politicians, organization heads, and school and yeshiva deans. While presidents prior to President Bush held menorah lighting ceremonies, none hosted an actual party/reception with kosher food to top it off!

December 22nd, 2003 was the nineteenth party of the season that the President and first lady had thrown. It was this party, President Bush’s final party of the season, that my wife Leah and I had the privilege to attend. The experience was a truly awesome one. The White house was regal and decorated for the season. Despite the overwhelming decorative spirit of the non-Jewish holidays, it was a Chanukah celebration. With the Marine band playing ‘Sevivon Sof Sof Sof’ and ‘I have a little dreidle’, a feeling of Jewish pride permeated the White House that night.

According to some halachik opinions, the President of the United States of America has the same legal status as that of a king. There is a halacha in the Shulchan Aruch which states if one is to see a king in person, a special blessing is recited. Since the impeachment of President Nixon, there is a debate in today’s law as to whether a President has the same status as a king. If a President could be removed by the people, then he does not have the status of a king. Be that as it may, the feeling that one has being in the presence of the President of the United States conveys the same feelings as being in front of a king. In fact, while waiting on the receiving line, a few of the Rabbis began discussing the question of whether to recite the bracha in full, or perhaps without God’s name, or maybe not at all. As the discussion went back and forth, we inched closer to the room where the President and First Lady greeted us and had a photo op. Every Rabbi and Rebbetzin came to their own conclusion of if and what to say or not. After a few minutes of private time with the President, we roamed around the east wing, totally soaking up the experience.

When I returned home and talked about our meeting with the President, I was asked, ”So, did you make a Bracha or not?” I replied as follows:: “As we moved into the room with the President, the entire scene became surreal. We recognized the person because we had seen him on television and in newspapers so many times, but this was different. We were obviously nervous and focused on the moment of being right there, making sure we did everything correctly and appropriately.. We concentrated so much on just being there, that we totally forgot, in fact didn’t even think about making a bracha. So, in the end,we did not say the blessing - not because we thought we shouldn’t say it, but because we were in a daze! This incident shed some great light on a difficult passage in the Torah.

In this week’s Parshas Mikeitz the Torah describes the meeting of Yosef and his brothers for the first time since they had sold him twenty-two years earlier. In Bereishis 42:8 the Torah states: “VaYaker Yosef Es Echav, V’Heim Lo HiKirhu”. “And Joseph recognized his brothers, but they did not recognize him”. Rashi explains the reason why Yosef recognized them but his brothers did not recognize that it was Yosef (even though they were searching for him). The reason was because when Yosef was taken away, the brothers all had beards. Yosef, however, had no beard when he was sold to the Ishmaelites. Now, twenty-two years later, Yosef had a full beard. Many people find this Rashi difficult to accept. How could a brother not recognize a brother even after not seeing each other for so long? A second question is that only a few verses earlier the Torah records that Yosef did recognize them, so why repeat it? The Iben Ezra explains that Yosef does at first recognize them as a group but not each brother individually. Later, however he is able to recognize and identify each one. The Ramba”n goes further and explains that when they said they had down from Canaan to buy food, Yosef knew that these men were his brothers.The Malbi”m says that once he heard their voices, it confirmed that they were indeed his brothers. The Rada”k expounds that Yosef tried to ‘show them’ his love, that he would not hurt them, but they still failed to recognize him, believing that Yosef actually wanted to kill them. I would like to pose support to the notion that despite the fact that they were looking for Yosef, it never would occur to them that Yosef was actually in this high position. In addition, everyone around called Yosef “Tzafnas Paneach” and Yosef was speaking Egyptian, not Hebrew. Ultimately, the brothers did not expect this and therefore when they came face to face with Yosef there was a disconnect. They never thought that this high-ranking Egyptian-looking official was their brother. When my wife and I were with the President, the awesome feeling at the time created a blanking out of everything else including the issue of reciting a bracha. Sometimes the shock of something unexpected happens, creating a block in our brains, keeping us from processing even simple things such as recognizing one’s own brother. While standing in front of the president, I started thinking, ”"Is that really him?! Am I really seeing the president?!” My mind started to play tricks on me and created some doubt within the moment. So, too, the brothers could not have imagined that this great person was Yosef, and even if they had thought it might be Yosef, they dismissed that idea and said, ”Impossible! Can’t be Yosef!”

Finally, there is a theory that every human being has a look-alike in the world. Some believe even more than that. There are many times I see photos of someone who looks identical to someone else I know. The brothers may have thought to themselves, ”Yeh, it looks like Yosef, but it can’t be.” Ultimately, it was the plan of Hashem to facilitate Yosef recognizing them, but making it not possible for the brothers to recognize him in order to carry out a master plan of the Jewish people coming down to Mitzrayim and fulfilling the Bris Bein HaBesarim, the covenant with Avraham. This was all a pretext to prepare the birth of Am Yisrael in Egypt, emerging into the world as a nation. The goal was to eventually come to recognize each other, eliminating the animosity that once existed so as to create brotherly love, uniting the hearts of Acheinu Kal Beis Yisrael!

Ah Gut Shabbos & Ah Lichtiga Chanukah

Parshas Vayeishev - The Long Road Home part II                    22 Kislev 5779

11/29/18 22:41:45

Nov29

Last week my wife and I spent a few days away from San Diego which, of course, deepened our appreciation for our great city. As you may recall from last week’s message, I followed Waze and arrived at our destination, avoiding a lot of unnecessary traffic. I was so proud of myself… until the next morning. You see, we visited a city that I had previously been to for a rabbinic conference. Up until the time we arrived, I had not realized that we were checking into the same hotel I’d stayed in five years ago.

I remembered that the Shul was very close by; it had advertised it was located only one tenth of a mile from the hotel. I left the hotel at seven thirty in the morning, hoping to learn a little before davening which started at eight. Armed with my coffee, Talis and Tefilin, I embarked on my short journey to Shul. As I was about to get into my car, I paused and said that I should walk the five minutes instead of drive. I strolled toward the Shul, only to recognize the area but not able to find the Shul which was a converted house. Balancing my coffee and Talis /Tefilin bag, I searched for the Shul address on my phone and used google maps to guide me. . The Shul picture came up and I saw a new building of the Shul. Now I panicked as I realized the Shul had moved! I clicked on a walking map of how to get to the new location, and by this time I had exactly enough time to make it there when they were scheduled to start. Unfortunately, I don’t read walking maps very well from my cell phone and what should have taken five minutes ended up taking forty-five minutes. I missed half of Shacharis.

If only I had either checked before leaving to find out if the situation had changed since my last visit, asked someone for directions, or just driven there with the car navigation system, I would have had the fortune of my original plans. In hindsight, I realize that I believed that I knew exactly where to go and how to locate the Shul. I was overconfident and too sure of myself. (Now I know many of you reading this are going to use my situation as the typical male/female difference of action when it comes to needing directions: men never to ask for directions, claiming they ‘know’ the way, while women always tell the man just to ask someone for help. (That may be so, but it’s not the point).

As I was lamenting my poor decision-making, compounded by the fact that once I knew I was lost I tried to figure out the correct way to go by myself, .at one point in the saga of retracing my steps, I came to a T in the road and needed to go either to the right or to the left. I later realized that going to the left in this situation of doubt goes against the advice of Chaza”l. The Rabbis taught “Kol Pinos Sh’Ata Poneh YihYu Derech Yemin”: “When faced with a dilemma of which direction to go, whatever you might think you should do, go to the right. If only I would have first thought about what the Rabbis advise and then follow their advice, I would have saved myself time and aggravation. This is not only a mere ‘direction’ on a compass for travel on streets and roads, but rather it’s following the advice of Chaza”l in the map of life. Keep in mind when I mention the advice and words of the sages, that is just another way of saying “the Derech HaTorah” - the ways of the Torah.

Life is a mission; it is our forefathers who, through their actions, lead us and show us how to navigate the world in which we live. In this week’s Parsha Vayeishev, Yaakov Avinu is punished with the the episode of Yosef and the hardship of resettling in Egypt at the end of his life. Many of the commentaries explain the reason for this to have occurred. The very first passuk of the parsha states in Bereishis 37:1 Vayeishev Yaakov B’Eretz M’Gurei Aviv, B’Eretz Canaan”: “Meanwhile, Jacob settled in the area where his father had lived in the land of Canaan”. There is an apparent contradiction in the terminology. The word ‘Vayeishev’, in reference to Yaakov, connotes a dwelling as a resident in contrast to the word ‘M’gurei’, meaning sojourning of his father Yitzchok. The Kli Yakar points out it should be consistent in that for both Yaakov and Yitzchok the word should be either sojourning or being a resident. A second question is why does the Torah need to say the land of Yitzchok’s sojourning was Eretz Canaan? Kli Yakar explains that Yaakov is guilty because he asked to dwell in this world with permanence and not as a sojourner in this world as had his father. Yitzchok was a sojourner in this world even when he was living in his permanent place of Israel. Earlier in Bereishis 26:3, Hashem commands Yitzchok to “remain an immigrant in this land”. This land, not referring to the land of Israel per se, but rather to his life on this earth. Even though the land of Canaan did belong to Yitzchok and technically Yitzchok was a citizen, he nevertheless lived his life in this world, constantly sojourning like a Ger, a stranger. In fact, we find similar wording and emphasis by Avraham Avinu as well. When Avraham was purchasing the M’Oras HaMachpeilah to bury Sorah, he said to Ephron in Bereishis 23:4,“Ger V’Toshav Anoci Imachem”: I am an immigrant and a resident among you”. If you want to treat me like a stranger, I will take the land that is rightfully mine because I live here! Yitzchok inherited the land of Canaan from his father and still acted as a Ger, a sojourner or as an immigrant in respect to his life. Yaakov missed the point; he did not learn that lesson from his father and grandfather. Perhaps I can take some literary license and use a pun on the word ‘right’. As mentioned earlier, at a crossroad when in doubt one should go to the right and not to the left. So too, in the crossroads of life, when a person is in doubt of what to do, he should follow in the ‘right’ direction and manner that his father and grandfather before him had traveled.

As we are about to begin the festival of Chanukah, we are reminded of its lessons. It is the light and the learning of the Torah that guided the Jews to overcome the Yevanim. So, too, in our day and age with the struggles of modern-day Hellenism which is at an all-time high, we need to strengthen our commitment to Torah values and observance of the Mitzvos to be successful. Let us follow the path and direction from our forefathers who, during persecution and immense challenges, maintained their dedication to Hashem. Let us rededicate our conviction during our challenges of life and take the right path as did our parents and grandparents.

Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas Vayishlach - The Long Road Home     14 Kislev 5779

11/22/18 13:52:29

Nov22

IMPORTANT: PLEASE READ TO THE END

The American Automobile Association projects that 54.3 million Americans will journey 50 miles or more away from home this Thanksgiving, a 4.8 percent increase over last year. The 2018 holiday weekend will see the highest Thanksgiving travel volume in more than a dozen years (since 2005), with 2.5 million more people taking to the nation’s roads, skies, rails and waterways compared with last year. For the 48.5 million Americans planning a Thanksgiving road trip, INRIX, a global mobility analytics company, predicts travel times in the most congested cities in the U.S. could be as much as four times longer than a normal trip. Regardless of the means of transportation, travelers are figuring out ways (waze) to minimize their travel time in order to maximize the fun and meaningful time spent with family or on the vacation.

Unfortunately, many people don’t plan adequately, leaving home just hoping for the best. In all of my travel experience, relying on ‘hope’ that travel plans will go smoother than predicted is both reckless and imprudent. I’ve often come across similar crossroads when I first began to use ‘Waze’. I would question the directions offered by the navigation system, choosing to ignore the ‘off road’ or ‘exit here’ directions because I reasoned to myself that the current traffic will ‘clear up’, doubting the program’s ability to navigate from upon high (so to speak). Perhaps, one out of one hundred times, my choice to ignore the input from that Waze voice didn’t really make a difference, but the other ninety-nine times proved quickly to be a bumper-to-bumper mistake. We think we know better, but sometimes we humans must come to trust and realize that an outside source or, or even a computerized voice opinion might be a better option.

What is it that gets into a person’s head to consciously choose to take a road or path that ultimately leads to the wrong destination? Why is it that as soon as we see and clearly understand that this choice is not a wise one, that it’s not the right way, we still do not turn around or take a different path? There is a famous saying of the Rabbis, “B’Derech She’Adam Rotzeh Leilech Bah, Molichin Oso”, literally translated “On the road/path that a person wants to go on, we lead him”. Figuratively, Hashem allows a person to make his own choices, to go down whichever road in life he chooses, and Hashem will help and lead him that way. If we insist upon living life a certain way, no one will oppose us. Nor will God put obstacles in our way to prevent us from even going down the wrong path. To the contrary, there will be signs that cause us to be convinced that this is the correct choice. This statement is found in Gemara Makos 10b and in the Midrash Bamidbar Rabbah 20:11, taken from Parshas Balak whereby Bilaam wants to curse the Jews and is refused by Hashem. Bilaam persists several times until God gives in and allows Bilaam to go. The Midrash explains that God said, “If you want to go, then go, even though I know it is not good for you.” Since Bilaam wanted to go, Hashem not only let him go, He led him down that road. The commentary Matnas Kehuna spells it out, clearly, stating: Even though the action is directly against what Hashem wants, He helps them go that way!

What does one do to prevent this from happening? First and foremost, we need to understand that this challenge is nothing new. Every one of us, the great, the famous, the person struggling to just live a good life, is confronted with such tests. We must learn from our trusted leaders how to prevent ourselves from negative inflluences. In this week’s Parsha Vayishlach Yaakov meets his brother Eisav after twenty-two years. The anticipated fear subsided when they met, and Yaakov prostrated himself before his brother Eisav. At the conclusion of their reunion, Eisav said to Yaakov, “Vayomer Nis’ah V’Neileicha, V’Eilcha L’Negdecha”: “Let’s get going and move on,” said Esau, “I will travel alongside you.” (Bereishis 33:12). A short exchange takes place between the two, with Eisav trying to convince Yaakov to accompany him wherever he and his family go. Yaakov makes excuses, saying, “I will come to join you in Seir.” Yaakov then diverted his journey, traveling to Sukkot. Yaakov is afraid to travel with Eisav for fear of the negative influence his brother would have on his family. Eisav, on the surface, tries to get Yaakov to accompany him. The sefer Peninei Torah explains that Eisav was not so innocent after all. Eisav stated,, “Let us go together………(and if not)…….. I will go against you!” Eisav, in actuality, gave Yaakov an ultimatum: Either you come with me or I will become your nemesis for all time. Either we go together down the same road of terror, sin and anti-God, or if you choose to go your own path, I will constantly fight against you and your principles. Yaakov responds to Eisav: Berishis 33:14 “Please go ahead of me, my lord. I will lead my group slowly, following the pace of the work that I have ahead of me, and the pace of the children.” Eisav replies again, “Let me put some of my people at your disposal,” on the surface presumably to help with his family’s traveling needs. Yaakov, however deciphered Eisav’s offer as trying to infiltrate the life of Yaakov’s family. Yaakov’s final and emphatic answer to Eisav was, “What for? Just let me remain on friendly terms with you.” Yaakov’s reaction isn’t simply a ‘no thank you’ to his brother’s gestures. Rather, he goes on the offensive by telling Eisav, “You go on your way by yourself and I will do my ‘melacha,’ my duty, as is laid out before me as the leader of the Jewish people. I have a unique and special mission in this world to spread the name of Hashem, and to educate my children in the ways of Hashem. It is for these reasons that we do not and can not share the same road!”

Rarely in life does someone have a perfect record. For almost thirty years I have been teaching, guiding, and mentoring individuals and families. In some cases, the advice and guidance that I’ve shared with them has been considered and followed. By and large the decisions were the correct ones; people have experienced growth and have seen nachas from their families. Unfortunately, I have also witnessed far too many people hear what I have to say but choose not to listen. Rather, they follow their own instincts and choose an alternative path which, before long proves to be the wrong road to travel. By the time that reality sets in, they tend to rationalize that it is still the right choice; life seems to be good, continuing on their way as God helps them distance themselves spiritually from Him. On the shallow level, life in this world would have been a lot easier for Yaakov and his family had he agreed to remain with Eisav.. He understood, however, that the benefits of being on his own and staying away from Eisav would prove far better for him and his family, not only in the next world but even in this world!

It is extremely painful for me to know what potential there was for an individual or a family who chose to sell out for an easier or more convenient lifestyle. Not realizing the upside of a more meticulous life, people choose the ‘easier’ and less resistant path to their Judaism. I hope and pray that it is never too late to find the accurate road back home.

Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas Vayeitzay - The Jury Is Still Out           7 Kislev 5779

11/15/18 11:44:57

Nov15

When I arrived at Yeshiva Shaarei Torah to learn and go to college, my path of life was not to become a pulpit Rabbi. I was planning one thing, but Rabbi Wein influenced me (and many of my friends) to work as a Klei Kodesh, which literally means ‘a holy vessel/utensil’, figuratively meaning to work in a religious field to teach Am Yisrael Torah. Whether it was teaching in a school, becoming a pulpit Rabbi, going into outreach or the like, did not make a difference,; the ultimate goal was the same. In truth, Rabbi Wein, YB”L, emphasized that no matter how a person makes his living or earns his wages, he should always be working for the Jewish people. After a few years in Yeshiva, I decided to go for the Rabbinate. At the time, Rabbi Wein, as the most seasoned pulpit Rabbi, taught practical Rabbinics in addition to the standard learning of Orach chaim and Yoreh Deah.

Learning and teaching prepares a person for the field they have chosen to enter, but the success comes by way of experience in the field. Moshe Rabbeinu had the top Semicha from the best ‘Rebbi’ in the universe, but his experience on the job for so many years made him the leader he was. In most professions, learning on the job and having the practical, hands-on experience really polishes a person to become truly effective in his or her chosen line of work. Nevertheless, there remain some areas which, as a Rabbi, I am and will always feel challenged in managing. On the one hand my passion for teaching Torah, helping someone with a Chessed, being involved in growing and sustaining the Jewish community, all speak volumes to me. Even bearing the troubles of others and lending a shoulder is manageable. But there are certain life events, certain catastrophic occurrences that no one can provide any good answers to explain. I’m not going to give any specific examples because many people have a peckele, a satchel, of some incredulous challenge to deal with in their lives.. Why did this person die young? Why did the Holocaust happen? Why?? When someone approaches and asks me, “Why, why did such and such happen?” When there can be no answer, we are trained to respond with a famous cliché of Chazal: “Gam Zu L’Tovah” - “this, too, is for the best,” meaning we don’t now why things happen, but we know it happens for the best. Although we say, ‘It’s for the best’, do we really believe so? And how does it help by saying so? Our Avos, our forefathers who taught us everything, did so not only by word but rather by action. We find some direction in the issue discussed above in the following manner.

It is known that Moshe Rabbeinu delineated and separated/divided the Parshios in order to better understand the place to stop and start. As you are probably familiar, there are two types of "parsha" divisions: Ptuchos and Stumos. 1)"Ptuchos" = open, indicated by a gap of blank spaces until the end of a line; the next 'parsha' begins at the start of the next line. 2)"Stumos" = closed, indicated by a gap of at least nine spaces; the next parsha can begin on that very same line. As a rule of thumb, a "parsha ptucha" usually indicates a major change of topic, while a "parsha stumah" indicates a subtler one, but as we know there are many exceptions. In this week’s Parsha Vayeitzay, the Torah states in Bereishis 28:10 “Vayeitzay Yaakov M’Be’er Sheva Vayeilech Charana”: “And Yaakov left Be’er Sheba and headed toward Charan”. The entire parsha has no ‘openings’ or ‘closings’. Tosafos and the Ba’al HaTurim explain this indicates that no one knew of Yaakov’s leaving, as he ran from his brother Eisav quietly.

Reb Chaim Shmulevitz asks what the connection is between Yaakov running away undetected, and there having no separation between the parshios? The Bereishis Rabbah 91 quotes a verse from Yeshayahu 40:27: ‘Why do you say, O Jacob, and declare, O Israel, - My way is hidden from Hashem, and my cause has passed by my God? The Midrash discusses a remark of Yaakov in parshas Mikeitz 43:6. Yaakov asks his sons when they were returning to him from Egypt, ‘Why did you treat me so ill by telling the man (Yosef) that you had another brother?” Yaakov blamed his sons for the difficult situation in which he found himself. Yaakov spoke this way at this point because he saw his separation from Yosef as proof that Hashem had ceased to watch over him. The Midrash comments that Yaakov never said something idle, other than in this instance. Reb Chaim Shmulevitz states that the Midrash criticizes Yaakov for complaining to his sons about their heedlessly mentioning to the Egyptian ruler that they had another brother. The essence of the criticism is that Yaakov evaluated an individual incident, which to him appeared to be a great tragedy, when, in reality, no one incident can ever be understood in isolation. Every event is merely one episode in a series of events in life, all unfolding as part of a larger story. We could never think that this is part of the plot. When viewed in terms of the overall picture, every incident is seen in an entirely different light. So it was with Yaakov’s separation from his son, Yosef. Every occurrence was but a chain in the events that culminated in Yosef becoming the viceroy of Egypt, all collectively benefitting Yaakov and helping the entire nation. The story line of Yaakov’s life is filled with adventure and challenges. From his marrying not one but four wives, dealing with his father in law Lavan, being taken advantage of multiple times, and meeting up with his brother Eisav, Yosef’s life was a turbulent one. There are no paragraph breaks in the long narrative because focusing on each individual event as it occurred without knowing the end of the story would be pointless. A partial view is not merely incomplete, it is distorted. It is only after the story completely unfolds that can we understand it.

There is the understanding of “this is also for the best.” We don’t judge a specific event at face value, rather we state that the end of the story will be good”. In order to believe this, we need to follow a nuance in Talmudic advice. Rebbi Avahu said in the name of Rebbi Meir, ‘A person should become accustomed to say “whatever Hashem does is for the best”. If we train ourselves to always say this phrase under all circumstances, then when a big-time catastrophe hits we will be ready to understand and say it is for the best. Yaakov’s life story is a model for everyone. To agonize over an incident or occurrence is being nearsighted. Hashem, the Master planner and designer, is busy creating a tapestry that will only be appreciated when all the individual pieces are put into their place.

Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas Toldos - Multi-Tasking??? Not       1 Kislev 5779

11/08/18 22:00:31

Nov8

Over my lifetime I have developed some ‘shtick’, that at the time is speaking to me I am looking down or away and they pause waiting for my attention. I then say to them ‘go ahead talk, speak, what is it? I proceed to tell them to speak because I listen with my ears and not my eyes!

  1. week I began teaching the Hebrew reading crash course for the twenty-second time. While children can learn and master several languages, most adults are language-limited, finding it quite difficult to learn a new language. Some people tend to be auditory learners while others are visual learners. Despite my emphasizing the importance of seeing/visualizing a word and then reading it from a given text, one lady attending my Hebrew course was actually trying to process how to read the word by reading my lips. I reiterated to her the importance of looking at the words she was reading while also listening, using her ears and reading with her eyes. Many years ago a Rebbi (teacher) of mine reminded us of the statement of the Rabbis, “Osiyos machkimos” - the letters of the Torah make one wise. Even though we are only learning to read Hebrew and are not reading from the Torah itself, the lesson also holds true for learning to read. We can learn from many different sources, but it is almost impossible to learn from all of them simultaneously. Learning by listening, using the sense of touch working to learn through use of our eyes – seeing, in other words, learning through use of our senses, kinesthetically, typically assures the success rate of learning to go up, but each of these learning activities needs to be done separately. When there are competing drives, however, when the learner does not give full attention to his or her learning strengths, trying to apply all modalities simultaneously, full attention is lost and the person never receives the needed mind power to excel..

A person may have two ears but can truly focus on listening to only one thing at a time. An example of the need to exclusively listen to one thing is found in Halacha. In the laws of Tefilla and repetition of the Amida it states in Orach Chaim 124:4 that a person should be silent and concentrate on the blessings being recited in the Amida. The Chofetz Chaim in his commentary the Mishna Brura Si’K 17 states that a person should refrain from learning during the repetition so that he will be able to answer the Chazzan properly. Even if you can manage to do both, learn and answer at the same time, I believe there will not be one hundred percent concentration in both areas.

Speaking for myself, when I try to do two things at once (I‘m not talking about walking and chewing gum at the same time), neither of the tasks gets the proper attention and most often I do not accomplish either of them! Others, of course, will argue that they can do both tasks well simultaneously. Even if there is an individual who can answer ‘Amen’ while learning, as I cited previously, he should nevertheless not learn during the repetition for fear that others will imitate the person who just might be able to learn and respond but will perhaps cause someone not capable of such a feat to end up not being able to learn or respond appropriately – neither task will be adequate Multi-tasking, despite the fact that so many in our fast-paced, high speed world believe is an essential skill, leaves all tasks short of reaching their full potential.

The balancing of two things is always challenging. On the surface we sometimes see two different things on the outside, but on the inside or beneath the surface lies one solid piece. In this week’s Parshas Toldos we read of the birth of Yaakov and Eisav and right away from the very beginning there is an inner struggle between them. On the surface we surmise they are two different types of people. This is dramatically underscored by the description Rashi gives of the turbulence inside the womb of their mother, Rivka. When Rivka passed by a house of Torah study, Yaakov grew excited; when Rivka passed a house of idol worship, Eisav grew excited. Fast forward thirteen years and Yaakov is sitting, dwelling in his tent of Torah while Eisav is out in the field killing and pillaging.

If we carefully examine these two brothers, it is difficult to imagine such disparity. Yaakov and Eisav, both of whom come from Yitzchok and Rivka, were not only brothers; they were twins bearing the closest DNA possible. On the surface, or on the outside, Yaakov and Eisav appear as two distinct siblings, yet we know that deeper down they share the same road map. As the story progresses after Eisav sells his birthright to Yaakov, Yitzchok, who is getting older, wants to bless his firstborn. We read of the switch arranged by Rivka, and Yaakov’s worst fear comes about when his father calls out ‘Hakol Kol Yaakov, V’Hayadayim Yedei Eisav’. In Bereishis 27:22 the Torah states: Jacob came closer to his father Isaac, and [Isaac] touched him. He said, The kol - the voice - is of Jacob, but the hands are the hands of Esau. Yaakov was nervous that his deception (commanded by his mother) was foiled. He thought and felt that the wrath of his father would turn any possible blessing into an eternal curse. But Yitzchok continued with the blessing as planned, and Yaakov walked out triumphantly at least for the moment. The famous question is, “Was Yitzchok really fooled by the disguise?”

The midrash explains the opposite forces of good and evil within Yaakov and Eisav is really one and the same. The voice of Yaakov represents the Yetzer Tov while the hands of Eisav represent the Yetzer Hora. The two are diametrically opposed; sometimes we feel we can mange the two conditions at the same time but the reality is that we can’t. The Midrash states that at the time the voice of Yaakov (the Jewish people) is found and heard in the Shuls and study halls, the Batei Keneisiyos and the Batei Midrashos then their [the Jewish people’s] hands will not be the hands of Eisav. If not, however, then their hands will be like the hands of Eisav , immersed in evil and covered in disgust. Reb Zalman Sorotzkin z”l elaborates that if a child is brought up within the confines of Torah and Tefillah, studying and prayer, then he will stay out of trouble, avoiding the likes of Eisav. Then the hands of Eisav will be exclusive to Eisav. If, Heaven forbid, we forsake the learning of Torah and davening and the voice of Yaakov is not heard in the Beis Midrash, then the hands of Eisav will be to them [the Jewish people}. If that were to be the case, Hashem would not recognize us and would therefore not give us a Bracha as the Am Segula the chosen nation. That is hinted to in the verse that Yitzchok did not recognize Yaakov because his hands were like those of Eisav.

As we continuously struggle in the battle between good and bad, our Yetzer Tov and Yetzer Hora fight it out during our entire lifetime. The struggle of Yaakov and Eisav is the inner battle within each and everyone of us. May we blessed by Hashem to give us the strength so that our voices drown out the ability for the hands of Eisav to be seen, and let Hashem recognize us and bless us with the blessings that our forefathers merited on our behalf. Amen!

Parshas Chayei Sora - Freedom                           24 Cheshvan 5779

11/02/18 09:48:46

Nov2

This Dvar Torah is dedicated to the memory of Joyce Fienberg, 75, Richard Gottfried, 65, Rose Mallinger, 97, Jerry Rabinowitz, 66, Cecil Rosenthal, 59, David Rosenthal, 54, Bernice Simon, 84, Sylvan Simon, 87, Daniel Stein, 71, Melvin Wax, 88, and Irving Younger, 69

Of Blessed Memory who were murdered Al Kiddush Hashem.

There are many turning points in history - some subtle; others abrupt. There are changes which come over time and changes which are sudden. Last Shabbos was that abrupt and sudden change in American Jewish history. I’m not here predicting a doomsday effect. I am not saying nor implying that we should all evacuate, (although it may be a good idea) but rather to point out that life as a Jew in America continues to evolve through different phases over time, and this is now a major one. This horrific event is a different kind of terror attack, clearly defined as anti-Semitic. A Synagogue was attacked and Jews were murdered in cold blood just because they were Jewish.

I was trying to do the math, comparing September 11, 2001, which changed the face of freedom and security in these United States, to October 27, 2018, which will impact the way we live as Jews in this country. The percentage of Jews who were murdered (11) out of approximately five million Jews in America is about one fifth of the percentage of people killed on 9/11 (3000 out of three hundred million) within the total population. If the perpetrator had exercised better judgment a few minutes before committing the terror act, then a radically different outcome would have resulted. Rather than exercising better judgment, he took away our liberty as we knew it in a span of a few minutes.

There is a saying “the difference between a flower and a weed is a judgment”. This past week I appeared in court on behalf of a person who was in front of the judge to decide his fate over the next few years. My presence, along with some other community members showed the judge that he is respected in the community and could contribute to society at large. Our show of support could mean a lot. The judge wields a lot of power in his position. Within the boundaries of the laws of the land, he has the responsibility apply discretion to be lenient or stringent when judging a case before him. The inmate in question could have remained in prison based upon the facts for one more year. The judge saw the potential flower that could come from this weed and granted him his freedom. In this situation the judge used fine-tuned critical thinking skills to give back some life instead of taking it away.

When it comes to authority there are two ways an individual can take the responsibility to determine the life or future of another human being: by earned or elected responsibility or by brut force. The murderer in Pittsburgh placed himself in a position of absolute authority, determining who was to live and who was to die. As executioner, he alone, with no thought to the guaranteed rights for” life, liberty and the pursuit of freedom”..

In the previously-mentioned case, the judge, previously a lawyer, who rose to the position of judge with the consent of the people, had the power to determine who would be free and who would not. A judge is granted discretion even to change a harsh sentence to a more lenient sentence. The Torah lists different places where judges and officers are appointed, delineating the rules and laws that apply to them. In this week’s Parsha Chayei Sora, the Torah states in Bereishis 23:10 “V’Ephron Yosheiv B’Soch Bnei Cheis, VaYaan Ephron HaChiti Es Avraham B’Aznei Bnei Cheis L’Chol Baay Shaar Eero Laymore”. “Ephron was then sitting among the children of Cheis. Ephron the Chitite replied to Avraham in the presence of the children of Cheis so that all who came to the city gate could hear”. In ancient times judges typically held court at the city gates. Rashi , on this verse, points out that the word ‘Yosheiv’ is written ‘missing’ or written defectively. This is because on that day they appointed him ruler over them. Because of the importance of Avraham, who needed Ephron, Ephron ascended to greatness in a position of high office.

  1. Midrash Rabbah 31:17 records the following: “That very day the sons of Cheis had appointed Ephron their ruler”. A typical ruler has authority that ranges from punishment for a small infraction to punishment for a major crime. Ephron apparently did not have complete power as they commanded him to sell the cave to Avraham. Ephron said to them, “I will not sell it to him”. They replied, “if you do not sell it to him, we will remove you from your high office”. Immediately, Ephron was willing to sell the cave, and Avraham rose and paid him. Clearly, Ephron was the kind of judge who was an elected official and used common sense, making decisions case by case. Sometimes the sign of a good and moral judge is demonstrating the ability to change his mind when necessary. Sometimes a judge may determine that he had made an error and will hone up to it and change the decision.

It is interesting to note that the letters of Ephron’s name with different vowels spells out the Hebrew word Eeparon - a pencil. The obvious difference between a pen and a pencil is the ability to erase. (Although today they make erasers for pens, they are still not the same as a good old #2 pencil.) Taking a bit of literary license, I suggest that Ephron was the type of judge who at times, revisited prior decisions and changed his mind. In fact, when Avraham initially inquired about buying the cave, Ephron made light of the fact that he needed to be paid for it. In the end he took a hefty sum of four hundred silver pieces for the Mearas HaMachpeila.

Freedom is a given in this great country, but the quality of that freedom has now been challenged. When we pray in the bracha of Hashiva Shofteinu in the Amida, we are praying to return to the state of judges who will be smart and think of truth, justice and provide the framework to increase the religious and social freedoms that this great country was founded upon.

Parshas Vayera - Clarity, It's All in the Perspective           16 Cheshvan 5779

10/25/18 15:13:25

Oct25

Every Saturday night following the conclusion of Shabbos, we call out Ah Gut Vach or Shavua Tov, meaning ‘have a good week’. Sometimes a person senses a certain omen that indicates whether or not the week will be good or bad with the tone being set by how the week begins. We should all keep in mind that the words we utter can be very powerful - whether for good or for bad. It is important, therefore, to remember that wishing someone ’a good week’ really means something. Rabbis in general have a superficial relationship with their congregants unless the congregant chooses to share personal and sometimes private or confidential information. Some Rabbis have close contact with some of their constituents and are more directly involved in their daily lives, thereby knowing more of the challenges the family faces. When that is the case, the Rabbi checks in on the individual or family to see how things are going, giving encouragement, advice and even a Bracha/Blessing.

A few weeks ago I wished someone a shavua tov and a ‘Mazaldikah Vach’. As we have grown closer over the years, this individual confided some major things going on in his life to me which may seriously affect him, his family, our community, and ultimately Klal Yisroel. That coming week would possibly signal the arrival of the big challenge. As I wished him the magical words, I squeezed his hand with more intensity and greater ‘kavana’ than the usual and casual blessing we say. I paused and thought about the words I was wishing him and then looked him in the eye and reviewed the intent of what just transpired. Hopefully, my typical after-Shabbos greeting, along with those of everyone else who wished him the same greeting will be fulfilled. This is the way we should begin our week following the power and influence of Shabbos.

Last Motzai Shabbos, as I walked out of Shul, I received an omen that led me to believe that a good week lay ahead of me. A short time earlier I had spoken about the holiness and beauty that a Beis HaKnesses - a Shul - requires. A shul is a Mikdash M’Ot, a small sanctuary that tries to stand in for the Beis HaMikdash in its absence. During Shalosh Seudos I spoke about how great it is that every inch of our Shul is used over Shabbos. In deed, this use is reflected by the collateral damage of trash that is left behind. Following a beautiful Shmuess by a visiting Rosh Yeshiva who spoke of the battle of raising children in this generation, I gave a suggestion regarding how to start. The beginning strategy we need in order to effectively fight the battle of educating our children is to become better role models for our children. Our children observe everything we do, and we must therefore do the right things in front of them. I encouraged everybody, including the adults, to pick up three or four pieces of trash with their children as they leave the Shul, the social hall, the Shul lobby, and the outside area. I had a large garbage can placed in the center walkway to make it easier to dispose of and collect garbage and trash. I was one of the last people to leave Shul. As I emerged from Shul I was shocked to see the grounds from the entire patio throughout the park spotless, as if no one had been here on Shabbos! I was so pleased to see the grounds so beautifully cleaned up and to know that my words had been met with acceptance. How would it be possible for HaKadosh Boruch Hu not grant us a great week after we were in Shul all Shabbos with Hashem and then make sure we left our Shul in the same beautiful appearance in which He had welcomed us.

Keeping the Shul clean and the outlying grounds free of debris falls under the rubric of Kavod HaTorah. A place where the main function is to daven and learn Torah requires overt, open respect. A Talmid Chacham, a Torah sage or scholar, is supposed to make sure his appearance is impeccable because he represents the Torah. Therefore, the place of learning needs to have a clean, neat appearance as well. We find the need for this kind of positive outlook in the Torah.

In this week’s parshas Vayera the Torah relates the story of three angels visiting Avraham, each with a different mission. 1) to heal Avraham from his Milah; 2) to bring the news that Avraham and Sarah will have a baby ;3) to destroy Sedom and Gemora. As they were ready to leave to destroy the cities the Torah states in Bereishis 18:16: “VaYakumu Misham HaAnashim VaYashkifu Al Pnei S’dom, V’Avraham Holeich Eemam L’Shalcham”. “The strangers (angels) got up from their places and gazed at Sodom, Avraham went with them to send them on their way”. *Rav Meir Meir Dan Plotsky, in his sefer Kli Chemda, puts a different spin on the word ‘Misham’. The word ‘Misham’ is actually superfluous, therefore, instead of the simple understanding ‘from their place’, meaning their seats, it means from there, this place, meaning Avraham’s home. The point made is that the angels saw the righteousness and great character traits of Avraham, particularly in the area of Hachnasos Orchim, the welcoming of guests. The angels then compared this to the wickedness of the people of Sedom, and ordered Sedom’s destruction. The level was raised against Sedom was even greater when compared to Avraham’s righteousness and warm welcoming of the strangers to his tent. This is why the verse specifically says they got up from there, a place of holiness, sanctity, righteousness, and good deeds, understanding a greater reason, a greater need to destroy Sedom. The angels attained a deeper ‘Hashkafa’ (vision of philosophical understanding) as the verse stated, “They gazed upon S’dom.”

  1. we (Hashem and Am Yisroel) leave Shul every Motzai Shabbos, each Saturday night, we should have a new, refreshed perspective on life. Hopefully, we take the holiness and sanctity of the Shul (like Avraham’s home) with us and look toward the week that may resemble a S’Dom and help guide and navigate through it with a clearer vision between right and wrong and the holy and the mundane. Hashem leaves with a renewed sense of satisfaction that His people have grown, satiating themselves with spirituality which will give them blessings for the new week. God witnessed a cleaned campus giving Him honor which therefore showered potential blessings upon us. May we continue to do this week in and week out both outside and inside the holy walls of Beth Jacob.

 

*Meir Dan Plotsky (or Plotski) (1866 - March 27, 1928) was the President of Kollel Polen, a Talmudic scholar who authored the Kli Chemdah, a commentary on the Torah. He also authored the Chemdas Yisrael on Sefer ha-Mitzvot. Plotsky was the son of Rabbi Chaim Yitzchak Ber Plotzker of Kutno, who was first a follower of Rav Chanoch Henich of Alexander, but who then became a follower of the Sfas Emes of Ger. At the age of nine, Plotsky was sent to learn in the yeshiva of Rabbi Chaim Eliezer Wax, the Nefesh Chayah, in Kalisz, president of Kupat Rabbi Meir Baal HaNes Kollel Polen. Shortly before his bar mitzvah, he became a disciple of Rabbi Avrohom Bornsztain (the Avnei Nezer), first Sochatchover Rebbe, whom he considered his lifelong rebbe muvhak (primary Torah teacher).

Plotsky married at the age of 15 and spent the next 10 years in Dvohrt with his in-laws. In 1891, he became Rav in Dvohrt. Later he helped expose the forged Yerushalmi on Kodshim, claimed to be discovered by Shlomzo Yehuda Friedlander, who also claimed he was a Sefardi named Shlomo Yehuda Algazi. At the age of 36 he published his work on the Sefer Hamitzvos of Maimonides, called Chemdas Yisrael. In 1918, he became Rav of Ostrov-Mozbaisk in eastern Poland. He was voted chairman of Agudas Harabbanim of Poland, a prelude to Agudat Israel. At the age of 60, he left the rabbinate to head a large yeshiva in Warsaw, known simply as the Mesivta

Parshas Lech Lecha - Building Upon the Foundation                     9 Cheshvan 5779

10/18/18 13:33:38

Oct18

I studied just shy of two years in Israel post high school, attending an American yeshiva for boys who had not seized the opportunity to learn Torah in high school and were not introduced to learning in a non-threatening, no-pressure atmosphere. The climate in the Beis Medrash was adjusted to each student’s needs; there was an appropriate rebbi and method of teaching and learning for everyone. The yeshiva was located on top of a mountain while the community was down below, a good five to ten-minute walk depending upon which direction you were coming from. n addition to the incredibly dedicated Rabbeim and staff, the Yeshiva took advantage of having an American/English speaking Kollel in the community. Two nights a week some of these otherwise insulated Kollel Yeshiva men came to learn with the raucous, uncouth post-American high school students. There was a clear generation and societal gap between the black hat, white shirt Kollel guys to the ripped T-shirt and jeans, flip flop-wearing challenging boys with whom they had come to learn.

I had the merit to learn with a young man who was the most respected in all of Telz-Stone. My Chavrusa from the Kollel was a man named Alter Yachnes who taught the youngest class in the Cheder. His job was to teach the children the Aleph Beis, eventually teaching them how to read. Although an extremely humble man, when Reb Alter Yachnes walked into a room full of adults, everyone stood up to honor him. He was the most respected individual on par with the heads of the Yeshiva and head Rabbi of the town because he taught the fundamentals to the next generation. He used his expertise and talent, successfully teaching all the children privileged to learn from him, giving them the building blocks to become great Torah scholars. There are two great lessons to be learned from this: 1) The respect given to a person who isn’t necessarily the Rosh HaYeshiva but rather someone who will try to make others into great Torah and Jewish leaders, and 2) Providing the foundation of a building that is the most critical part of the structure. It is only with a strong, solid foundation that the building will survive any turmoil or trauma. The roots of a person take hold from the beginning; the best teachers give each student the tools to succeed. When we use the expression the ABC’s of life, these are not limited to reading and writing but to life’s experiences.

Whether we are discussing raising a child from birth, or nurturing an adult finding his or her way back to Judaism and religion, the foundation is critical. This rule applies tenfold when introducing a potential convert who is trying to become Jewish with the laying of the new Torah foundation on top of a pre-existing belief. A Ger Tzedek – a convert - needs instruction to replace the old foundation, starting anew with a Torah foundation, taking extreme care that it be laid carefully and correctly. The first person to lay such a foundation, creating the beginning of all Judaism, was Avraham Avinu. We will look and see how important the building of this foundation is through the actions and experience of Avraham.

In this week’s Parshas Lech Lecha Hashem instructs Avraham to take his entire household and travel to Eretz Canaan. In Bereishis 12: the Torah states: “Vayikach Avrom Es Sarai Ishto V’es Lot Ben Achiv, V’Es Kal Rechusham Asher Rachashu V’Es HaNefesh Asher Asu B’Charan Vayeitzu LaLeches Artza Canann, VaYavou Artza Canaan”. “Avrom took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, and all their belongings, as well as the people they had gathered, and they left, heading toward Canaan”. The words ‘Asher Asu B’Charan’ literally, “the soul that they had made” can be interpreted to mean the servants they had acquired, or, according to Rashi, the people that they had converted to God’s cause. Sarai had taught the women (converting them) while Avrom taught the men (converting them), bringing them to believe in monotheism.

*Rebbi Chanoch from Aleksander asks, “What happened to all those who converted? We don’t hear from them, we don’t hear anything about them, where did they disappear to?” He explains that after Avraham died, they did not want to learn from Yitzchok because they did not look up to him; they did not consider Yitzchok as important and noteworthy to follow as they did Avraham. This fact left them without a rebbi, without a teacher and a leader. These people whom Avraham and Sarah converted to monotheism were, upon Avraham’s death, without a Rebbi and Manhig, devoid of a teacher and a leader. They had no future, no continuation. There was nothing to keep pulling them along because the spring, the source of their growth, was gone. Once the source of direction and inspiration dries up, once that teacher, that leader is no longer present, then the people – nurtured by Sarah and Avraham Avinu - reverted to their old ways. Every person, in order to continue to grow and to deepen in knowledge and belief, needs to seek out a way to fill a void; when the source of learning Torah and Mitzvos is gone. That void must be filled. Hence, the old life style, never forgotten, will call once again, making it so easy to return to a previous way of living. No major effort is required to return to the ways in which we had previously been accustomed to living.

Unfortunately, there are times when a leader of a generation passes on and a younger version of the father comes to replace him. People should be careful and not say that the Gadol , the leader of this generation, isn’t as great as the Rabbi who had come before him. A person must look at the current Rabbi, or leader as the Tzadik of this generation. The leadership of each generation reflects the people of that specific generation. It is imperative that when someone leaves a yeshiva or a seminary to follow through with a new rov, a new mentor in their new location. I strongly encourage individuals prior to leaving this community to find another rov to turn to, to ask questions to, and to establish an overall relationship with. Even the best foundations need reinforcement from time to time; we can’t depend upon original teachings. We learn in Pirkei Avos, Asei L’cha Rav: make sure you have a rov to ask your questions to and to seek out guidance in areas that are not clear to you. Let’s not get lost like the students of Avraham. All of us need to cling to the next person who fills that role, continuously solidifying and building every more deeply upon the foundations laid by our original Rabbis and teachers.

Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

 

*Rabbi Chanoch Henich HaKohen of Alexander was born in Poland in 1798 and died in Poland in 1870. He was a disciple of Rabbi Simcha Bunam of Pshis'cha, Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk, and Rabbi Yitzchak Meir Alter, the Chidushei Harym.

When Rabbi Yitzchak Meir Alter, the Chidushei Harym, the rabbi of Alexander, passed away, pressure was put upon his grandson, Rabbi Yehudah Leib - the Sefat Emet to become the new leader. He felt unworthy, however, and instead went to Alexander giving his support to Rabbi Chanoch Henich. After only four years, Rabbi Chanoch passed away, and then Reb Yehudah Leib was left with no choice but to comply with the wishes of the Chassidim to become the leader of Ger. Rabbi Chanoch was known for his great wisdom in niglah and nistar, the revealed and mystical aspects of the Torah. A man of miracles and wonders, Reb Yehudah Leib was also known for praying loudly with great excitement.

Parshas Noach -  A Modern Day Ark                   2 Cheshvan 5779

10/11/18 11:30:52

Oct11

A few weeks ago I did something that I would say happens to others but not to me! While aboard a flight which was about to land in San Diego, the pilot went through his typical, prepared remarks and preparation for landing. in addition to the usual safety instructions, he reminded all the passengers to take their personal belongings and then quipped, ”Some of you will still leave stuff behind.” I thought to myself, ”Boy, I bet he insulted some people with that last comment!” Like, who is going to forget something after he made that statement, challenging everyone not to forget anything. Well…sure enough, right after after I deplaned and was walking to the baggage claim area, I checked my carry on for my phone charger and immediately recalled not seeing it or remembering to put it into my bag. I definitely processed the gathering of my paraphernalia, actually remember thinking about putting my charger into my bag, and…yeah… here I was, the shmugegy whom the pilot was referring to! I went back to the gate, gave the attendant my seat number, explaining that I had forgotten to take my phone charger. Within minutes I was reconnected to my charger and off I went.

Typically, people forget things getting off a plane but do not forget things at the gate boarding the plane. At the gate we don’t usually unload as much stuff as we do once we’re on board. Perhaps the time is too short before boarding so we don’t bother taking things out. Nevertheless, chances are greater that we will forget something when we leave the plane than we line up to board the plane. Another observation, particularly when the policy of the airline is not to have assigned seating, is how people randomly take seats and fill up the plane when boarding. Also, the order in which people board the plane isn’t necessarily the order they use get off. For example, the last person on isn’t necessarily the first person off and vice versa. As much as the airlines try to control the boarding process, passengers will never board in the order of rows and succession of the next row. On the other hand, the deplaning is done in a very orderly fashion, with people allowing the passengers in front of them to retrieve their belongings from the overhead bins, waiting patiently for them to proceed. Despite having plenty of time to gather up the personal items, I still forgot my charger.

When we board a plane there is an agent who checks our boarding passes, scanning them to make sure we are who we are while also checking our hand luggage and carry-ons to see if they meet the allocated space requirements. Wouldn’t it be nice to have an agent escort us off and make sure we have everything we brought with us as we depart? I know this sounds a bit sarcastic and foolish, but for those of us who forgot or will forget, it could really be helpful! A very eerie similar scenario is found in the Torah. In fact, it is the first recorded voyage for a large group that needed to get on board quickly and efficiently and to disembark in an orderly fashion as well.

In this week’s parshas Noach we read of the maiden (& only) voyage/journey and of the survivors of the Mabul, the great flood. In Bereishis 7:7 the Torah states: “VaYavo Noach UBanav V’Ishto U’Neshei Banav Ito El HaTeivah Mipnei Mei HaMabul” - “Noach, along with his sons, his wife, and his sons’ wives, came into the ark ahead of the waters of the flood”. Later, in Bereishis 8:18,19, the Torah states: “VaYeitzay Noach, UBanav V’Ishto U’Nshei Banav Ito………Kal Romeis Al HaAretz L’Mishpichoseihem Yatzu Min HaTeiva” - “Noach left the Ark along with his sons, his wife, and his sons’ wives………all that walk the land—left the ark by families. Rashi, commenting on the words: ‘because of the waters of the flood’ states that Noach was forced into the Teivah. Even Noach was of those who had little faith; he believed but also did not believe that the Flood would come; he did not enter the Ark until the waters forced him to do so. It sounds as though Noach, and even the animals, took their time getting onto the Teiva. Only when it was ‘the last call for boarding’ did they all hop on. Apparently, they did not show up in any set formation or order, rather they boarded haphazardly. Random people merge together on a plane (or ship for that matter) and for the duration of the flight have a certain sense of connection that didn’t exist at the gate prior to boarding which disappears as soon as they walk through the exit door. While on the vessel everyone is in the same situation as their fellow passengers, unlike who and what they were prior to and after the trip. One commentary compares this to the year of the flood; everyone and every creature lived together in harmony. Miraculously, all kinds of life, from human to animal to fowl, all coexisted together and lived and came out alive! Noach witnessed and understood what a miraculous ‘happening; this was for thousands of species to live together. Not one creature died in the ark. This was a great kindness that Hashem did for Noach, and Noach saw this miracle and built an altar, offering sacrifices to Hashem for His kindness.

Imagine a plane filled with passengers deciding to remain in the cabin; not one person getting off the plane, each passenger feeling a good and different type of life than experienced by the outside world. As tempting as this may seem, it is highly unlikely that the airline would permit everyone to stay, and even if they would allow such an event, it is not in the best interest of anyone, for as interesting and polite as people are while sitting next to each other during a flight, this is a temporary connection; it is not one intended to last. Moreover, the Pninei Torah says Hashem commanded Noach and everyone to leave the Teivah. Hashem directs Noach to leave the utopian society - where he is only focused on the wellbeing of himself, his family, and the animals onboard - to leave the Teivah, the ark, and go out into the world where they had previously lived. Instead of allowing the sins of the generation that brought the flood upon the world, go out now, return to that world, and stop such sins from occurring again in the future. Go out from the ark and mill around the market place, mix among the people and have a positive influence on them. Ultimately, we have a responsibility to be a source of positive influence, but only after we become strong in our commitments, belief, and sincere depth of Torah scholarship Are we truly able to do so.

Finally, Reb Yitzchok Ben Yehuda HaLevi, in his work Paneach Raza, learns out from the words ‘go out from the Teivah’ that this is the way all of the humans and animals exited the Teivah (the Ark) according to their families. So too, families should leave Shul on Shabbos - family by family - as they leave the Ark, the Aron Kodesh, which they had faced while praying. We should demonstrate our unity, love, and commitment from where we had just read and learned the Torah that we have a mission to guide, be lead, and influence the world we live!

Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas Bereishis - The Postseason                30 Tishrei 5779

10/09/18 10:21:22

Oct9

I was pleasantly surprised when a few people asked me about the weekly Parsha message for Bereishis last week. Due to the fact that following the conclusion of the Chag and having only half a week left until Shabbos coupled with a medical procedure I had undergone, I was unable to write something for the very first Parsha of the year, which I had desperately wanted to do. Since we are all familiar with the law found in Shulchan Aruch and Rama O.C. 299:6 quoting Rambam that Havdala can be recited until Tuesday because it is still connected to the previous Shabbos, I was given some leeway in catching up from last week and writing about Bereishis until today!

This time of year, heralds the end of the baseball season with the playoffs, finally the World Series. In sports as well as so many other activities in life, this is how one wraps up important projects or events. A team can be in top form during an entire season, but if it doesn’t win, it feels like a big waste. On the other hand, if a team is mediocre during the season but manages to win it all – playoffs and take the Series - in the case of baseball - then the regular season is forgotten. So, too, with all athletes and players. Despite an athlete having a great season, he will be remembered by how well or poorly he performed in the playoffs and the championship games. Chazal, the Rabbis have said, “HaKol Holeich Achar HaChisum”: everything follows the end or conclusion. If the star player fizzles out during the championship game, it wipes out the great regular season. If the worst player during the year has a championship end, he will be remembered.

When we use sports or mundane situations to compare to holy ones we remark, “L’Havdil Bein HaKodesh L’Chol”, to separatethe holy from the mundane. This kind of analogy to a regular season and postseason is consistent with the time of year we are currently entering. We’ve just finished the last month of the previous year and the first month of the new year. The time of the month of Elul with its preparation and the month of Tishrei, which is packed with the holiest of days, together make up the main season of the Jewish calendar. Tishrei, with Rosh Hashana, Ten Days of Repentance, Yom HaKippurim, Sukkos, Shmini Atzeres, and Simchas Torah, is the holy season. Now we begin the long haul of the post season - the rest of the year - which determines if we will be champions or not. Some people had a wonderful, inspiring few months, but then will fall off the bandwagon while others had a mediocre high holiday season but will take off during the rest of the year. At this point we’ve made it to the playoffs and will keep on going to the championship games. It is irrelevant how we did during the regular season at this time, now we must focus on being the best right now, focusing on continuing at that level from now. No one should get down on themselves for not having a great Yom Tov; we can have a great post high holiday season over the next ten months which is almost as important. For those who had a fantastic season, it is all the more important to keep up that pace and to build upon the original season. This idea rings loudly as we begin sefer Bereishis.

The very first word of the Torah is B’Reishis - ‘In the beginning”. There are dozens of commentaries and explanations to this word and to the beginnings of the world. Alongside all the deep explanations we typically learn, one can simply look at the word B'Reishis and explain the first letter ‘Beis’ to mean with or in the beginning. The letter ‘Beis’ is an affiliate or a branch of the word ‘Reishis’ - beginning. God gave a special strength to the creation that each person can begin anew from the beginning, just as in the original creation. When we begin to learn the Chumash/Torah over again after all completion of the festivals of Tishrei, we do so with a new invigoration. It is with this same enthusiasm that we learned Torah and Parshas Bereishis the very first time. We have the same strength to do it again. We have the ability to learn Bereishis all over again with the same excitement and enthusiasm as we had when we learned it the first, the second, and every time.

The Talmud Yerushalmi in Chagiga chapter three and in other midrashim explains why the Torah begins with a Beis and not an Aleph. The word for blessing, Bracha, begins with the letter Beis, while the word for curse, Arur, begins with an Aleph. Rabbi Dov Weinberger in his sefer Shemen HaTov explains that the primary ideal by which a person should live his life is the ’beis’, the with and in something else, to recognize that we need a second something in life, whether it is we who need the other or the other needs us. If we recognize the need for others and for us to be there for others, then we will see blessings in our lives. On the other hand, someone who lives life by the Aleph, saying, “I don’t need anyone else; I’m not here to help anyone else,” life will be cursed.

The fact that we start learning the Torah again and again reinforces the concept that one time is never enough. It is with each additional time we learn that the need to add on to the original learning continues to grow and grow. Even when the original or first-time leaning is good, reviewing and going over solidifies and deepens that which was learned initially. The post season isn’t only viewed as a different time; it is an opportunity to add on to the original season, strengthening that which we started. In Judaism, when we make it past the initial onslaught of Yom Tov, it is only the beginning the Bereishis of the year. Now the rest of the year comes to strengthen, solidify and quantify that which we committed to during the High Holiday season.

May the blessings of the new year be the beginning of a great year and be a true blessing to continue throughout the rest of the year during the post season.

Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas HaAzinu - A Little Piece of Heaven on Earth      12 Tishrei 5779

09/21/18 10:51:22

Sep21

This past summer San Diego experienced much warmer than usual weather for a prolonged period with very little relief. In addition to the unseasonable heat, there was an elevated degree of humidity that I had not previously experienced here. As uncomfortable as it was for most of us this summer, San Diego’s humidity didn’t come close to the typical humidity of Charleston, South Carolina, where we used to live. Nevertheless, the weeks of heat we experienced this summer reminded me of something I caught myself doing. A friend of mine from Charleston, named David Rosenberg, drove his car with his windows open and the air conditioning blasting. I could never understand the explanation given by my friend, who told me that he enjoyed the natural breeze while driving, but since it was warm he also needed the cool, artificial air of the a/c. I never fully appreciated this dichotomy until recently when I found myself in a similar but different situation. I will explain.

As is typical in San Diego with desert-like conditions, the change of air temperature drops considerably, morphing from very hot, dry heat to an extremely pleasant, cooler afternoon. I try not to run the air conditioning, but this summer it ran almost non-stop. The few days when the temperature cooled down in the evening, I rushed to shut the air conditioning off and open the windows to let in some cool fresh air. It then occurred to me that I wasn’t only turning off the a/c because of the electric bill but simply because it felt more natural. I was (and still am) getting a sense of being tired, feeling the ‘artificialness’ of the filtered, processed air conditioned room, preferring instead to breathe in the natural, crisp, cool air that we all take for granted living in San Diego. Man has done many things to create an artificial environment that mimics the handiwork of God. Nevertheless, as much as man works to control temperature and humidity, it is never quite up to the level of what Hashem creates. God’s heating and cooling systems are of the natural brand; man uses the artificial kind. Nothing that is artificial is as good as the real thing, and when we compare the two we would all choose the natural over the artificial.

When Hashem created the world, everything came from heaven, but man was given permission to do things on the ground. Hashem created the world Yeish May’Ayin, ‘something from nothing’, while man creates Yeish MiYeish, something from something. The artificial things that we craft are the by-products of what God gave us to work with. We often find the distinction between heaven and earth not only during creation, but also at other times such as Matan Torah, the plagues against the Egyptians, and towards the final parshios of the Torah. Something from the natural or even the supernatural comes down to the artificial and most definitely the superficial.

In this week’s Parshas HaAzinu the Torah states in Devarim 32:1אהַֽאֲזִ֥ינוּ הַשָּׁמַ֖יִם וַֽאֲדַבֵּ֑רָה וְתִשְׁמַ֥ע הָאָ֖רֶץ אִמְרֵי־פִֽי “Listen, O heavens, and I will speak! And let the earth hear the words of my mouth!”

The Gerrer Rebbe, in his Chidushei HaRim, explains why there is double meaning in listening and talking. In this verse both words “listen” and “talk” are mentioned. He explains that if you want to listen, Hashem will send you words, but if your ears are not bent on listening, then there are no words. The sages tell us that all who are endowed with Yiras Shamayim, (fear of heaven) - something belonging to the spiritual nature - will have words accepted by the people. If, in Heaven, those words are accepted on the loftiest of levels, then surely, on earth, in the physical part of our existence, those words will be accepted.

Rashi, regarding this verse, teaches that: “I give warning to the people of Israel, that you (heaven and earth) be witness in this matter, for I have told them that you will be witnesses. And why did He call to witness against them heaven and earth? Moshe said: ‘I am flesh and blood; tomorrow I die. If the Israelites will say: We have not taken upon ourselves the covenant, who will come to contradict them?’ Therefore, He called to witness against them heaven and earth: witnesses that exist forever.” Furthermore, the heavens and the earth will control the reward and punishment. If the Jews keep to the bris, the covenant, rain will come down from heaven and the land will produce. But if the Jews rebel and turn away from accepting the Torah, then the heavens will dry up and the fields will not yield their fruit. Rav Alexander Levinson, in his sefer ‘Ayal TaArog, posits a difficult question: Does Hashem really need witnesses regarding whether or not the Jews accepted the Torah? In addition to understanding that the heaven and earth are acting as messengers of God in carrying out reward and punishment, Rav Levinson answers that the Rabbis taught that man can be a partner with God in the creation of the world. When we do something good, something positive, which helps the world exist, we help to bring the world to Shleimus (completeness) and wholesomeness. But if we do something harmful or evil, we are destroying ourselves and the entire world along with us. Every Mitzva builds the world; every sin tears it down.

With this, we can explain the words ‘heaven and earth are witnesses’. Heaven and earth bear witness to the mitzvos or Aveiros - the good or the bad acts that we do - and will testify against us. When a person sins, he brings destruction upon himself; performing a mitzva brings blessing, thereby rectifying and solidifying the world. Hashem gave us the ability to follow the guidance of Hashem, continuing the creation begun by God.Artificial cooling and heating complement the original heating and air conditioning that took place during the six days of creation. Having the windows down while the air conditioning blows is the synthesis of heaven and earth, complementing creation.

The Sadigere Rebbe, Reb Avraham Yakov, relates how heaven and earth refer to the body and the soul representing the spiritual and the physical. It is through the combination of both body and soul that this song of HaAzinu emphasizes the importance of Torah learning and Mitzva observance.

Parshas Vayeilech - Who Will...? and Who Will...?   5 Tishrei 5779

09/14/18 08:25:05

Sep14

The concept that everything for the coming year is determined on Rosh Hashana is part of our tradition. We recite the holy Tefillah of Unesaneh Tokef on Rosh Hashana and Yom HaKippurim. Despite the fact the decrees are written on Rosh Hashana and are sealed on Yom Kippur; we have one week in-between to change anything that is not favorable to us. Added to this equation is sustenance: there must be an overt effort made by the individual to earn a livelihood. One of the sources supporting the notion that a person’s livelihood is determined for the entire year is found in the Talmud.

The Gemara Beitzah states on 16a תני רב תחליפא אחוה דרבנאי חוזאה כל מזונותיו של אדם קצובים לו מראש השנה ועד יום הכפורים חוץ מהוצאת שבתות והוצאת יום טוב והוצאת בניו לתלמוד תורה שאם פחת פוחתין לו ואם הוסיף מוסיפין לו. ביצה טז. Rav Tachlifa, the brother of Ravnai of the house of Chozae, learned that the entire sustenance of man [for the year] is fixed for him from the New Year's [Festival] to the Day of Atonement, except the expenditure for Sabbaths and the expenditure for Festivals and the expenditure for the instruction of his children in the Law. If he spent less for any of these expenses, he is given less; if he spent more, he is given more. The Entire Sustenance of Man - All profits that he will earn this year to sustain himself - are fixed. Rashi comments on this passage as follows. כל מזונותיו של אדם - כל מה שעתיד להשתכר בשנה שיהא נזון משם קצוב לו כך וכך ישתכר בשנה זו ויש לו ליזהר מלעשות יציאה מרובה שלא יוסיפו לו שכר למזונות אלא מה שפסקו לו. חוץ מהוצאת שבתות - אותה לא פסקו לו מה ישתכר לצרכה ומהיכן תבואהו אלא לפי מה שרגיל ממציאים לו לשעה או לאחר שעה. פוחתין לו - כלומר ממציאין לו שכר מועט. : This is how much he will earn this year. And he must be cautious not to spend excessively because he will only be given what was fixed for him. Except for the expenditures of Shabbat - It was not determined what one will earn for those expenditures and where they will come from. Rather, one will be provided with whatever he is accustomed to over time. He is Given less - meaning, he will make less profit (Rashi).

This is one of the more difficult calculations a person tries to figure out every week. For Shabbos and Yom Tov a person needs to believe that he is really spending in honor of the day, not because he likes to eat. Perhaps an even more powerful message is that the amount of money spent on Jewish education is not calculated to be part of ones ‘annual income’; it is money that is spent from a different account that Hashem gives to a person. In other words, if a person believes that Hashem will pay the tuition bill, he need not worry where the money will come from for everything else needed in life. But if a person does not spend properly on those items, then God takes the money from the general account and not from the one that He sets aside for these matters. I had a recent experience whereby I came to realize how our sustenance is determined, even though we all tend to think we control it.

Many years ago while living in Charleston S. C., my son was given a check for his upsherenish (3rd birthday hair cutting ceremony). In my mind once you have the check, the money is in your pocket and my young son had a few dollars. I did not deposit the check right away. Tragically, the man who gave him the check was killed. It is forbidden to cash a check knowing that the person who gave it has passed away and that money was not to be had. But that was only an eighteen-dollar check. This past summer I was cleaning out the office in my house when I came across two checks - one for thirty-six dollars and the other for FIVE HUNDRED dollars. These checks somehow were not deposited either, but I couldn’t deposit them now because they were given to me eleven years ago! To be honest, I do not remember what the checks were for, but I do know who issued them. It would be awkward and foolish to go back to the people and ask them, ”Do you think you could write a new check because I neglected to deposit the first one?

This true short story has two sides: The first is the obvious one - I was not supposed to have the money from those checks. There are many ways for Hashem to arrange and orchestrate how much money we should have. Perhaps when we incur an extra expense or a fee that we were not anticipating is related to the fact we had extra funds which we did not use properly and Hashem easily chooses a way for us not to have it or use it. But the flip side is also true - the fact that I failed to deposit those checks meant that the accounts from where the money was to be drawn were never withdrawn. Therefore, the issuers of the checks had more money in their accounts then they thought they had. HaKadosh Baruch Hu is able to make sure that while one person has too much, he might lose some, and another who has too little will receive the money according to Hashem’s plan. Since a person did not spend his money on the right things such as Shabbos and tuition, he will lose out on extra money, while another person who spent properly and now needs money to pay his regular bills will have ‘found’ money in his bank account.

Money, Parnassa (livelihood) constitute the greatest tests we all go through. Sometimes we clearly see the hand of God directly involved, but sometimes when we don’t deserve the source of funds that are taken away. As far as my checks are concerned, at this point the money is irretrievable. The money is gone, but the lesson and evidence to a statement of Chazal in understanding how much money we receive is priceless!

 

Ah Gut Shabbos and Ah Gmar Chasima Tova

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas Nitzavim - Paradigm Shift     26 Elul 5778     

09/13/18 17:38:09

Sep13

There are few Jewish communities the size of San Diego that boast a late Maariv minyan. Most Shuls daven Mincha and Maariv back to back around sunset. Our success rate with the late Maariv is approximately ninety percent, which, of course, leaves a ten percent chance that there won’t be a minyan. One of the unwritten rules is that we wait until a certain time before we call off the minyan for that night if we did not get ten men. The exception to the waiting rule is when there is a need for someone to say kaddish for a loved one, specifically a mother or father. We try to make extra calls to gather a minyan so that a person in need of a minyan to daven can fulfill his obligation, but we don’t always succeed.

Recently, we had this situation occur twice; it was resolved one time but not the other. This occurred the last night the Beth Jacob summer grill was open, and a family from LA was finishing up their dinner. I mentioned to them that we were going to start soon, but they said they needed to get going back to Los Angeles. Just about the time we would usually call the game I went outside, they were still lingering around, I asked again, and they replied, ‘how many do you need?’ I said we need three and without pause they said, ”We’re coming.’ We made the minyan, and two people were able to recite kaddish. A week earlier, we weren’t so lucky. It was the night I had just flown back from New York, and we only had four people for the late Maariv. An attempt was made to get a minyan by calling some people to no avail. I felt terrible because there was someone who has come to rely on this late Maariv to say Kaddish for his late father. I was embarrassed to face the young man who needs to say kaddish. I sheepishly walked over to him, apologized and said hopefully we’ll have a minyan tomorrow night, and we proceeded to pray individually. As I was walking home a car pulled up next to me in the parking lot. It was the mourner who is saying kaddish. I thought to myself, ”Oh now he is upset, etc, Instead, I received an incredible lesson. Just as I was going to apologize a second time he blurted out saying,“Maariv was really special tonight.” I’m thinking to myself, ”Really? We didn’t get a minyan and you couldn’t say kaddish!” He said, ”This was the first time I was able to say the entire Amidah in Hebrew. You see, my Hebrew reading isn’t up to par and I need to say some parts of the Amidah in English so that I can finish with the group in order to say Kaddish.” I was totally blown away by that conversation. He took a bad situation and created a great opportunity for himself. I stepped back from that two-minute conversation with words from a mussar sefer (book of self-improvement). Imagine a world where everyone took bad and disappointing situations and created positive circumstances from them. Then, keeping that world of people who focus on the positive and take a moment to look within ourselves, seeing how our personal lives could be so much better if we each would try to take the bad situations which too frequently come our way and focus consciously to create something positive from them.

In truth, this sounds so incredible and, in our day, and age it unfortunately is. In today’s world the typical response to a bad situation is to exploit it even further, giving no attempt to look for the possible good which could occur as a result. But that is not the way we are supposed to react. To the contrary, the Torah teaches us to counter a challenging, difficult situation with something positive and good. In this week’s Torah portion Nitzavim, the Torah states in Devarim 30:15 “R’ay Nasati L’Fanecha HaYom Es HaChaim V’Es HaTov, V’Es HaMaves V’Es Horah”. “See! Today I have set before you [a free choice] between life and good [on one side] and death and evil [on the other]. The Midrash Tanchuma in Parshas Pekudei Siman 3 writes that Hashem decrees upon each person before they are even born what they will be. (Until recently people thought this was strictly a metaphor. Now with the discovery of DNA we are coming to know this concept in a new light.) It is pre-determined whether a person will be weak or strong, poor or rich, short or tall, ugly or handsome, thick or thin, ruddy or smooth, and finally the decree on all that will happen! But whether a person is a Tzadik or a Rasha (righteous or wicked) is strictly determined by the person himself. He is not predisposed to either characteristic; he chooses which path – the righteous or the evil – to take. The verse states: ‘Behold I am placing in front of you ‘life and the good’ and ‘death and the evil’. Then later in 30:19 the Torah states: U’Bacharta BaChaim L’Maan Tichyeh: …. and you have chosen life so that you shall live.” The Torah (God) is telling us that the choice is ours; the decision lies within ourselves. If a person chooses to to lean and then to follow towards a certain course – whether it be towards the road to life or the road to death – they are free to do so. The choice is entirely theirs. Therefore, a person will receive punishment for the bad they do (that they chose to do) and others will receive a hefty reward for the good and straight path they chose.

In my humble opinion the pshat (understanding) is the physical life or death and good or bad but not the literal translation of either doing the Mitzvos or not. Rather, the choosing here is not limited to the action but rather the attitude. There is so much to life that is determined by one’s own attitude. It is the attitude and approach to life that literally can be the difference between life and death in this world. A person who always sees and interprets things in the negative will lead a less enjoyable and possibly a physically shorter life. On the other hand, someone who takes everything in stride, determined to figure out a way to take challenging circumstances and make each challenge work for his or her benefit is a person who chooses life. That person will adapt to any situation and come up with a way to shape it to his advantage. A mourner goes through many hoops to make sure he has a minyan to say kaddish. It can be demoralizing when the needed number for the minyan falls short. If we focus on the failure, then we choose feeling bad, and that leads to death. If we attempt to take that situation and come up with something positive, then we are choosing good which ultimately gives us life.

As we close out this year and we welcome the new year, let this new year bring each of us a focus on making the best of bad situations so that we will all have a year of goodness, happiness and the ultimate good life!

Ah Gut Shabbos & Ah Gut Yur

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas Ki Savo - Parking Permits & Passes    19 Elul 5778

08/30/18 12:49:44

Aug30

Every generation goes through a transition period. There are people alive today who are able to recall the transformation of travel from horses to car to air. Technological evolution and the changes it creates require all of us to adapt and adjust. Younger people grasp onto these new fangled inventions much more easily those of us born prior to 1990. One of the ways a person ‘stays young’ is by adjusting to life’s new surroundings, whether style, technology, or even the architecture of our cities. As a middle-aged man, I try to familiarize myself with the ever-increasing speed of technology and what is available to us Vis-a- Vis new computer devises and the Internet. Most times, the changes are for the better, often saving time, money and aggravation. In my opinion something that saves time, money and aggravation is a blessing. A recent experience I had with this is the College Area parking permit B process.

Due to the impact of university student parking in the neighborhood, the city issues parking permits for the residents of the area in order to avoid an overflow of students parking on the street which would cause a lack of space for residents to park. Over the last twenty years the process for obtaining these passes has improved immensely, but only for those who can handle basic computer know how. Years ago, I had to go downtown (and pay for parking) with my proof of residence, a form for each vehicle, copies of licenses and registrations and then wait in long bureaucratic lines. The cost of each permit was fourteen dollars per vehicle plus an additional fourteen dollars for a guest parking pass. Fast forward twenty-three years. All of this is now easily completed at your leisure from the comfort of your home. The forms are on-line; and all you need to do is scan the other documentation and pay by credit card. We can all appreciate how computers and the Internet save us time and aggravation. But how does this save us money?

One would think that with the advent of computers and much of the filing and processing done by humans in the past, we should save money on labor. The reality is that most prices and charges in life never go down, despite any decline in the costs of the items. Of course, there are exceptions to the rule due to economic conditions and price fluctuations. Rare is the occasion, however, when a charge or a price has been fixed for over twenty years and then is suddenly reduced! To my utter shock and disbelief, the area B parking passes actually dropped from fourteen dollars to nine! A five dollar reduction! I am so happy that I’ve decided not to contact the city to check if there may have been some mistake. Perhaps San Diego is unique, as a similar situation regarding elimination of the Coronado Bridge toll. The city stated the toll would be removed soon as the bridge construction costs were paid. Lo and behold, the city lived up to its word and the bridge toll is no more! This is probably the only suspension bridge built in modern times which costs drivers nothing to cross. There is no question they could have argued the money is still need for repairs and upkeep. Instead the city kept its word. I’m only assuming that the cost of processing the parking permits has gone down, and the savings is now being passed on to the residents – which is, of course, the right thing to do.

 

This time of the year focuses on change and transition. We try to modify and adjust our spiritual existence for the better, hopefully using precious time efficiently, spending our resources on spiritual growth, avoiding aggravation in the coming year and world to come. But how do we know if something that begins and appears as a blessing will continue to be that blessing? A hint to this can be found in this week’s Torah reading 

In this week’s Parsha Ki Savo the Torah states in Devarim 28:6: “Baruch Ata B’Voecha, U’Baruch Ata B’Tzeisecha” -“Blessed are you when you enter, and blessed are you when you leave”. Chaza”l learn out this verse with regard to sinning, a person to leave this world without sin just as he entered it without sin. This notion sounds wonderful, but one issue we have is how do the sages come to this idea? The Gemara in Eruvin 13b states: “ ת״ר שתי שנים ומחצה נחלקו ב״ש וב״ה הללו אומרים נוח לו לאדם שלא נברא יותר משנברא והללו אומרים נוח לו לאדם שנברא יותר משלא נברא נמנו וגמרו נוח לו לאדם שלא נברא יותר משנברא עכשיו שנברא יפשפש במעשיו ואמרי לה ימשמש במעשיו. “The Rabbis taught: For two and a half years Beis Shammai and Beis Hillel argued. Some said better or easier for a person not to be created more so than be created. Others said a person is better off being created more so than not be created. A vote was taken, and the results were better for man not to have been created rather than be created, but now that he was created he should feel out or check out his actions to examine his ways and deeds. Based upon this Gemara what blessing is there upon entering this world? How is it a Bracha for a person to come into this world?

Tosafos addresses the question and answers with a distinction as to the kind of people we are denoting. If we are discussing a Rasha - an evil, bad, or wicked person - he surely would be better off never having entered this world because he runs the risk of sinning and being punished on the way out or in the next world. A Tzadik, a righteous and good person, is not only good for him to come into the world, but it is even good for his generation. The generation that has great people living among them benefits everyone as they learn from them and access all the good fortune they bring. This distinction could very well explain the difference of opinion between Beis Shammai and Beis Hillel to the extent that they both agree to each concept being attributed to a Tzadik or a Rasha. That is why the opinion is anonymous regarding both individuals: we just don’t know which person said which statement.

When a person leaves this world without sin, then retroactively it will have been a blessing for him to have come into the world in the first place. That is a Tzadik. The opposite, however, is also true. If a person comes into this world and grows full of sins, then we view his life retroactively that it would have been better if he had not been born. Most people know are neither completely righteous nor completely wicked. We are the ‘benonim’ - the average people whose actions nevertheless impact us individually and collectively as a community. Let ‘s use the remaining days of this year striving, focused to become Tzadikim with fewer sins so that moving forward into the next year will be a blessing as it was when we came into this world.

Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas Ki Teitzei - Special Education             12 Elul 5778

08/23/18 14:35:30

Aug23

When I grew, up school always started immediately after Labor Day. Maybe this “traditional” start date for the new school year is a Northeastern practice, because in the south schools typically open a few weeks earlier. I wouldn’t call the preparation associated with the days leading up to beginning the new school year fun, but there is an air of excitement connected with this time. Teachers are busy setting up their classrooms with new materials, students are excited about purchasing all their new school supplies, and parents are ecstatic that the summer is over, signaling that their kids will soon be out of the house (and hair) for a major part of the day. Nevertheless, with all the preparations, we tend to lose focus on the primary purpose of school. With all the excitement about buying needed supplies, purchasing new school outfits or uniforms, we tend to forget that the most important aspect of going to school is to learn!

  1. for many schools, one method is used to teach groups – sometimes large groups – of students using similar teaching techniques for everyone.. This method of teaching is the antithesis of Shlomo HaMelech’s - king Solomon’s - words of “Chanoch LaNaar Al Pi Darko”: we should “educate every child according to his way”, his way and not necessarily the way for everyone else. Surely this is a very challenging objective considering our current school systems curricula, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to teach each child according to his or her own ability and learning style. The overall education system, inclusive of Jewish education, has made great strides in affording a learning forum for students who have unique learning challenges or special needs. As important as it is to establish these specific needs, the labeling tends to detract from the overall message of the unique learning style of each student, especially the emergent learners in the primary grades of school. Every child’s education needs to be special in the sense that education for that child is catered specifically to nurture success for that child. Special education as we know it provides an education for certain people, leaving everyone else without a special or unique education. Every single student or is not only entitled to ‘special education.’ Individualization of teaching and learning is exactly what Shlomo HaMelech referred to when he clearly states that every child is to be educated “according to his ways,” applying whatever special way is needed to reach each youngster.

Labeling something or someone in the world is often necessary, but it should never come with negative drawbacks. One must be very careful not to use language that encompasses a lot of different things for fear of including some within that definition and while excluding others. Such is the case with using the word ‘special education’. The Lubavitcher Rebbe is quoted as saying that he did not use the Hebrew word ‘Beit Cholim’: ‘home for the sick’ for a hospital. Rather he emphasized the positive, using many phrases in place of Beit Cholim. He referred to a hospital as a Beit Refuah - a house of healing. We all need ‘special education’ and the flip side is that educators need to know how to teach specifically and appropriately to each and every student.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t take much to create a child who feels like a failure. Children are fragile; they can be broken at the very outset, turning to negative behavior so as to receive positive reinforcement or approval from their peers through mischief. A child who has been internally labeled a failure by his or her teacher will very likely seek approval from the inappropriate actions and behaviors. Children vie for attention from their parents and peers and will do almost anything to achieve it. They may even go as far as to steal money from parents and further his decline socially by seeking out others who may be self-labeled failures. -Such a child may also drink half a log (about 5 oz) of wine with the meal when his/her parents are not paying attention. This description is part of the rebellious son’s actions that would likely have led him to be put to death. This is the Mitzva of the Ben Sorer Umoreh, a most difficult section of the Torah to understand, but nonetheless important to figure out. How can we understand this section beyond the simple explanation? In this week’s parsha Ki Tetze, the Torah states in Devarim 21:18 “Ki Yihiyeh L’Ish Bein Sorer U’Moreh Einenu Shomeiah B’Kol Aviv U’Vkol Imo, V’Yisru Oso V’Lo Yishma Aleihem”. “When a man has a wayward, rebellious son, one who does not obey his father and mother, they shall have him flogged. If he still does not listen to them, then his father and mother must grasp him and bring him to the elders of the city, to that area’s supreme court”.

The *Zohar describes the situation of the rebellious son as follows. Moshe Rabbeinu said to HaKadosh Baruch Hu, ‘is there such a father who would do such a thing to his own son?’ Moshe suspected that this was a parable to the Jewish people, the people being the wayward son. Hashem replied to Moshe ‘You know things, but I know more than you’. This portion of the Torah gives credit and merit upon the Jewish people; the son is only judged by God Himself and no one else. The son (Am Yisroel) became rebellious because they were exiled amongst the nations and have learned the ways of the Goyim. During exile the Jews are subject to the influence of the host nation. The sway of the nations is caused by our integration into society at large, which led the Jews to stumble in the laws of kashrus, eating forbidden foods. But the nations of the world despise us so that they will pelt us with stones, destroy our homes and tear down the walls of Israel from hatred alone”. Once Moshe heard this entire episode, understanding it to be an allegory for the Jewish people and not an individual boy, he wrote this Parsha of the Torah without fear or hesitation.

Judaism is a beautiful religion and the Torah is what makes it so. Everyone starts off being part of the “inside” - part of the larger group. It is only after something happens that either forces the child - or the nation - to rebel and become part of something else in order to gain acceptance. This is a result of not being taught according to their own, unique way, the way each person needs to be taught. It was the lack of special education by teachers, parents and others who could influence and nurture the child according to his or her special needs. This is a huge responsibility, but knowing the upside of such quality education, we must all embrace it with the greatest of sensitivities and the utmost time and devotion necessary for the future success of each and every one of us.

Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

 

*The Zohar lit. "Splendor" or "Radiance" is the foundational work in the literature of Jewish mystical thought known as Kabbalah. It is a group of books including commentary on the mystical aspects of the Torah (the five books of Moses) and scriptural interpretations as well as material on mysticism, mythical cosmogony, and mystical psychology. The Zohar contains discussions of the nature of God, the origin and structure of the universe, the nature of souls, redemption, the relationship of Ego to Darkness and "true self" to "The Light of God", and the relationship between the "universal energy" and man. Its scriptural exegesis can be considered an esoteric form of the Rabbinic literature known as Midrash, which elaborates on the Torah.

The Zohar first appeared in Spain in the 13th century, and was published by a Jewish writer named Moses de León. De León ascribed the work to Shimon bar Yochai ("Rashbi"), a rabbi of the 2nd century during the Roman persecution who, according to Jewish legend, hid in a cave for thirteen years studying the Torah and was inspired by the Prophet Elijah to write the Zohar. This accords with the traditional claim by adherents that Kabbalah is the concealed part of the Oral Torah.

 

Parshas Shoftim - Hold onto the Program!!!         6 Elul 5778

08/17/18 16:06:02

Aug17

A standard practice in many venues of entertainment have the guests or ticket holders receive a program or playbill which is a small booklet distributed to the patrons who are arriving to attend a live theater performance, festival, sports event, etc. The program contains an overview of all the portions of the event, an outline describing the backgrounds of the principle performers, and, in the case of theatrical productions a brief overview of the plot and even a short history of the play and the playwright. Truth be told, I am pretty sure that most people who attend an event such as a symphony, opera, concert, sports event, graduation ceremony, and the like know very well who and what they will be watching. Put differently, as people enter the hall or room, they are handed a playbill or program that contains information they are already familiar with!

I’ve pondered over this and thought perhaps this could be considered to be a souvenir - like a party gift - to remember the event being attended. Highly unlikely idea since most of these booklets are strewn on the floor, stuffed in between the seats, or tossed into a recycling pile at the exit areas upon leaving the theater. In addition to not needing the program later, I usually don’t really need it even five minutes into the show. I, for one, read the entire playbill at least once through before the curtain comes down. For goodness sake we ARE at the performance; we don’t need the paper bills and information. I propose that instead of giving these things out prior to a performance, they should be distributed to the people who are not inside in order to lure them into attending a future show. The first theatre program were issued in the mid-nineteenth century in magazine format. The original theatre programme (the formal spelling for these things) first appeared in the 18th century. These early playbills were basic, with only enough pages to list the members of the cast and information regarding the play's locale and settings. They were typically only four pages: the cover, which advertised the show, a back page, which displayed the theatre layout, and the two interior pages which listed all the credits. Not all early programmes were printed; many were written by hand or cut and pasted together from the letters of other printed documents. During the days of the early British theatre, the cast was very important. Audiences were very familiar with leading actors and a particular well-regarded actor would draw a larger crowd. The programme was a kind of contract between the theatre and the audience, because if an audience paid to see a particular actor and that actor was not performing, there was immediate risk of crowd hissing, orange and rotten tomato throwing, or even rioting. This sometimes resulted in property damage and physical assault. Program bills in sports contain a lot of information that an individual isn’t necessarily familiar with, giving a person something to do during the intermission or breaks of the game.

Let’s take a fresh look at this phenom of our culture and daily life. A person who attends one of these happenings most probably already has an interest in the event. Having an interest in something usually means the person has some background and information they will be observing. Most of the information and knowledge they have is from the home and reserved for the home. More people listen to cultural events or sporting games at home than at the hall or stadium. The full range of detail is at home, while only a selection of the event will be viewed or heard live while attending. The playbill or program is that exact selection, helping the viewer to keep a focus on the program. This idea of having something more permanent at home and something light or temporary on the road is found in this week’s Torah portion.

There is a unique and special Mitzva for the king of Israel to have his own sefer Torah accompany him all the time. In this week’s Parshas Shoftim, the Torah states in Devarim 17:18 “V’Haya K‘Shivto Al Kisei Mamlachto, V’Kasav Lo Es Mishnei HaTorah HaZos Al Sefer, Milifnei Haohanim HaLeviim. V’Haysa Imo V’Kara Vo Kal Yemei Chayav, L’Maan Yilmad L’Yirah Es Hashem Elokav Lishmor Es Kal Divrei HaTorah HaZos V’Es HaChukim HaEileh Laasosam”: “When the king is established on his royal throne, he must write a copy of this Torah as a scroll edited by the Levitical priests. This scroll must always be with him, and he shall read from it all the days of his life”. The commentaries as why this verse opens with the word ‘Imo’ – ‘with him” (Lashon Nekeiva) grammatically in the feminine, and end with the words ‘V’Kara Vo’ (Lashon Zachar) ‘with him’ grammatically in the masculine?

The *Daas Zekeinim explains that not everyone is in agreement regarding the type of Torah the king of Israel carried. He says the Melech carried a Torah, a scroll that only had the Aseres HaDibros - the Ten commandments. From the beginning words of “Anochi Hashem Elokecha, Shmos 20:2 “I am Hashem your God” until Shmos 20:14 the word Reiacha (your neighbor’s) contains six hundred thirteen letters corresponding to the six hundred thirteen Mitzvos contained in the Torah. Therefore, it has the status to be called a ‘Sefer Torah’.

The Gemara Sanhedrin 21b tells us the king has two Torahs: one in his house or his palace, which was a complete Torah as we know it, perhaps the same reason every Jew has a Mitzva to write a sefer Torah and keep it in his house. The second Torah, which had only the Ten Commandments, was taken when the king traveled. He kept it with him wherever and whenever he went. Now, since the Aseres HaDibros is only one Parsha (section), the word Parsha itself is in the female form. Therefore, that Torah was ‘imo’ –‘with him’ - in the feminine. On the other hand, the Torah in his house was a complete ‘sefer’. The Hebrew word sefer is masculine and refers to the Torah in the verse V’kara Bo which is also masculine.

This is an important lesson for all of us, including our children and all members of our families to not only have a full Torah at home, but to make sure we procure it on the road as well. The Torah is not just for the home; sometimes it is far more critical to have that spare Torah with us as we travel. Make sure we take the small parts of our Jewish life and apply them when necessary. Pocket the important parts with you at all times.

 

*Daas Zekeinim, which means the knowledge of the elders, was written by one of the Baalei Tosafot. Some say the commentary on Chumash was authored by Rabbeinu Tam who was the grandson of Rashi.

Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

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

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Parshas Re'eh - Too Much Sugar Isn't So Good         29 Av 5778

08/10/18 09:25:40

Aug10

Candy, candy, candy! Every kids’ dream diet. A universal custom in almost every Shul is to have at least one candy man who has a seemingly endless supply of sweets for children of all ages (typically from three until ninety- three). A second universal custom in almost every Shul is the throwing of candy at an aufruf, the Aliyah a groom receives the week before his wedding, or at the Shabbat Chattan which, in the Sephardic tradition, the Chattan is called up to the Torah the Shabbat following his wedding. On a similar vein there is also the custom to throw candy to/at a *bar/bat Mitzva boy or girl. Showering the new groom or the bar/bat mitzvah with sweets is a beautiful way to send a message of happy sweetness as they enter a new, major chapter in their lives. As the anticipation grows for the release of the candies, all the children position themselves to swoop in and grab as much candy as they can hold. Or chew. It is amazing how quickly the floor gets cleaned up. In fact, so quickly that I can’t help but make my usual corny remark, ”We now continue with Yekum Purkan as the grounds’ crew just finished another amazing clean-up.

The annual Shavuos night candy grab is unique at Beth Jacob. Those who do not know about this annual event should make it their business to be at Beth Jacob for Shavuos. I will stop at that. A new custom has sort of arisen at the Shul: a kiddush sponsored celebrating the birth of a baby girl. This ‘new’ tradition includes cupcakes and an accompanying smorgasbord of sweet, spicy, gooey, array of candy choices for kids to load up on. At the most recent kiddush in honor of the birth of a baby girl, I overheard a parent say to her four-year old child, his pockets overflowing with candy, “I think you’ve had enough sugar for today.” Is it any wonder why our children are so charged up? Children have enough natural energy in their bodies without needing a sugar boost to their systems. It is interesting to note how even infants enjoy something sweet. Yet, as we get older our tastes change and sometimes we remark about an icing or cake that “is too sweet”. Ever hear a child say something is too sweet?

The human body begins its constant change from birth. From the moment we are born until the last breath before we die, our bodies are constantly adjusting to our new weight, height and shifting metabolism. We don’t feel the subtle change from day to day, but from one decade of our life to the next we experience a fluctuation in our bodies’ vital signs. The effects of change in life typically do not manifest themselves immediately. The results of a good habit or bad habit are rarely detected early. It takes years before we realize or begin to feel the effects, whether positive or negative. With regard to sugar, most children are not negatively affected by the consumption of sugar as their bodies tend to burn it off. As we age, however, our metabolism slows, requiring more exercise and less intake of sugar in order to burn off enough calories to keep us from gaining weight. Sugar is so sweet, yet can be deadly. So, too, in religious life and the Torah. There are certain issues, tests, and challenges that we face as a people who are sometimes looking for something too good to be true.

In this week’s Parshas Re’eh the Torah states in Devarim 13:2: “Ki Yakum B’Kirbecha Navi O Choleim Chalome, V’Nasan Eilecha Os O Mofeis.”. “This is what you must do when a prophet or a person who has visions in a dream arises among you. He may present you (or predict) with a sign or miracle, and based on that sign or miracle say to you, ‘Let us try out a different god. Let us serve it and have a new spiritual experience.” These verses are the warning against following a false prophet. Despite the possible miracle or great feat they may do in the beginning, one must look at how it all comes out in the end. Rashi explains the two words ‘sign’ and ‘miracle’. The sign refers to a sign in the heavens; the miracle or wonder referring to something on earth. Nevertheless, despite the performance or even validation of a prediction, one shall not hearken to him (the false prophet). The Ramban and others ask, “Why does Hashem grant the false prophet the power to show a sign?” Rashi concludes, ”For Hashem your God uses it to test you, to turn away from the false prophet and follow Hashem.” The Rashbam and Ramban explain that there are a few people who have a special gift to know the future, but a spirit of impurity influences them to prophecy. This was the power of the prophets of the non-Jews such as the magicians and sorcerers in Pharoah’s court. The sefer Torah U’L’Moadim enlightens us that these are the two reasons a person could rationalize something that is the antithesis of Torah, causing him to stray from the true Torah. The two reasons a person strays are (1) misinformation or false wisdom and knowledge and (2)pure desire and craving. These reasons follow the principles of do not follow our eyes and heart, and thoughts based upon falsehoods and desire are born out of apostasy, which the intellect tends to do. The eyes can see the good, but they are simultaneously able to see the bad. We need to be the chochom (sage/wise person) who is able to look to the future and understand what will come based upon decisions made today.

In life, things don’t necessarily emerge in the end looking as good as they did at the beginning. Sugar seems to be a wonderful treat in the beginning but may cumulatively not be good for us later. A Navi Sheker leads a person down a false path while a true Tzadik,or Talmid Chacham, realizes that the end may not seem as sweet as it was at the start. There are times when difficult, unpleasant decisions need to be made before in order to avoid worse outcomes later. Rabbis need to take a stand on certain issues that are viewed as being too harsh, devoid of the sweetness we enjoy. This may result in the Rabbi or leader becoming less popular. Nevertheless he is trying to evade a much worse outcome later down the road.

Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

 

The original custom to throw candy at an Aliyah to the Torah was only for a groom as he approaches his marriage, wishing him a sweet new life with a new wife as an additional component. This custom did not originally apply to a bar or bat mitzvah child transitioning from childhood to adulthood. Nevertheless, the custom evolved to include the bar or bat mitzvah as well.

Parshas Eikev - It's Good to the Last Drop & Extend Your Life         22 Av 5778

08/03/18 08:52:54

Aug3

I am one of millions of people worldwide who enjoy a hot cup of coffee in the morning. Saying a Bracha before the first sip only creates a greater anticipation of that satisfying taste and feel. The extent of excitement for the first sip is equal to the depth of disappointment when taking the very last sip. Even though the anticipation for taking that first sip is radically different than the realization that the last sip is about to occur, both are equally tasty and desirable in their own way. Some people drink coffee for its taste while others drink it for the jolt or pick up needed to become fully awake to face the day. This week, I asked someone who at the time was drinking black coffee if he took sugar or any sweetener. He replied, “I don’t even like coffee; it just helps me wake up in the morning.”

I’m not a collector of pins, refrigerator magnets or mugs, but I do enjoy reading the messages on them. Some are cute but others convey deep meaning and insight. The other day I noticed a coffee mug that read ‘A Good Day Is Ahead, First Coffee’. That statement tells a lot about a person, his need for that cup of coffee and the accompanying outlook regarding his day. The phrase could imply that just one cup of coffee in the morning provides positive physical or mental health. Scientists are constantly researching and studying the effects of different foods and beverages, evaluating whether they are beneficial or harmful to our health. An article appeared in the July 2nd issue of Healthy Day News. stating that people having a morning cup of java -- and another and another -- might prolong your life. In fact, drinking lots of coffee – as much as eight or nine cups a day - was associated with a lower risk of early death. Furthermore, to reap the benefit, it makes no difference if your coffee is decaf or caffeinated, instant or brewed! "This study may provide reassurance to coffee drinkers," said lead researcher Erikka Loftfield, an epidemiologist at the U.S. National Cancer Institute. But Loftfield cautioned that because this was an observational study, it be stated that coffee caused people to live longer. However, the researchers did conclude that people who drank eight or more cups of coffee a day had a 14 percent lower risk of dying over a 10-year period of study compared with those who did not drink coffee. The Mayo Clinic reports that recent studies have generally found no connection between coffee and an increased risk of heart disease or cancer. In fact, some studies have found an association between coffee consumption and decreased overall mortality, possibly including cardiovascular mortality, although this may not be true in younger people who drink large amounts of coffee.

Why the apparent reversal in the thinking about coffee? Earlier studies didn't always consider that known high-risk behaviors, such as smoking and physical inactivity, tended to be more common among heavy coffee drinkers. Studies have shown that coffee may have health benefits, including protecting against Parkinson's disease, type 2 diabetes and liver disease, including liver cancer. Coffee also appears to improve cognitive function and decrease the risk of depression.

The benefits of long life give us more opportunity to learn Torah, perform more Mitzvos and increase the good in the world by contributing to it. One major commandment for attaining long life is honoring parents. The Mitzva of honoring one’s mother and father was read last Shabbos in VaEschanan, but the reward of long life is mentioned in this week’s parsha Eikev which records the second paragraph of Shema. It states in Parshas Eikev, Devarim 11:21 “L’Maan Yirbu Yimeichem Vimei B’Neichem Al Ha’Adama Asher Nishba Hashem La’Avoseichem Laseis Lahem, imei HaShamayim Al HaAretz”: “If you do this (honor your mother and father), you and your children will long endure on the land that God swore to your ancestors, promising that He would give it to them as long as the heavens are above the earth”. In reality, the reward for long life is mentioned by the commandment, the extension of life mentioned here is to be in the land of Israel. Is there a connection between reciting of the Shema and long life?

The Shema declares the relationship between Hashem and the individual Jew and vice versa. This relationship is then transmitted from one generation to the next by teaching Torah every step of the way during our lifetime. The emphasis on following and observing Mitzvos strengthens the connection we have to Hashem and to our future generations. The sav Sofer explains the comparison of the days of heaven to the land of Israel. Eretz Yisrael is a holy place, thereby encouraging readiness to serve Hashem. For this reason it is meritorious to live in Israel in order to more easily connect to God. The Torah testifies that the Land of Israel is an atonement for those who dwell upon it. There is an influence that the land has on the people and the people have on the land. If the Jews observe the Torah in Eretz Yisrael it adds blessing to the land from which, in turn, the people benefit. The Ksav Sofer, Reb Shmuel Sofer, lived in the nineteenth century in Pressburg, far from the land of Israel. I have no doubt that the lesson of fulfilling the Torah helps establish a sanctity to a place, bringing blessings to the people who live there. The length and expanse of heaven is great, providing rain for the growth of the land which provides sustenance and life, influencing the people who benefit from it. There is a continuity from one generation to the next of passing down the traditions and teachings of the Torah. The words and teachings from the earlier generations are identical in taste and sweetness to the latter generations.

We recite Shema twice a day, once in the morning and once at night. The morning Shema is not better or more powerful than the evening one, nor is the evening Shema more powerful than the Shema recited in the morning. They equally reinforce the bond and relationship we and our children have to Hashem. This is analogous to the first and last sip of coffee and to the first and last cups of the day. The health benefits extend the entire day, impacting all the days of a person’s life. As we acquire the taste for a good cup of coffee, we cherish every sip. As the saying from Maxwell House states, “It’s good to the last drop.” This quote not only applies to coffee; perhaps its source stems from the delicious taste of Torah. From the very first words to the very last words of Torah a person learns in this world, every single taste of learning Torah forms the Elixir of Life!

Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas VaEschanan - Re-SEEDing                  14 Av 5778

07/26/18 16:36:21

Jul26

Growing up in New York city, I never developed an appreciation for agriculture. We had a small patch of grass that made up our lawn which was totally maintained by Tony the Landscaper. I never really developed a ‘green thumb’; the total extent of my interaction with trees, or anything green, was my Friday afternoon job: dusting off the leaves of the tree in the living room in honor of Shabbos!

Moving to California changed my perspective of agriculture because we had a lemon tree in the backyard. Lucky for me (not that I knew any differently), I didn’t have to do a thing to the tree and lo and behold big, beautiful lemons popped off the tree for years. Until there was trouble. From December 2011 to March 2017, the state of California experienced one of the worst droughts to occur in the region on record. The period between late 2011 and 2014 was the driest in California history since record-keeping began. 102 million trees died in total; 62 million died in 2016 alone.

One day during the summer of 2016, I stared at my lemon tree, suddenly realizing that two-thirds of the tree was dead. I was stunned. The issue of the drought didn’t register with me until that very moment. Sure, my water bill had gone up and we stopped watering the lawn, but the fact that my lemon tree was almost dead was unbelievable. At that point I pruned the tree, started watering it every day,, and last week bought garden soil specifically for citrus trees. The tree has a little more life to it but still has a way to go to reach its former days of glory. The front lawn, on the other hand, received a few spritzes of water a few times a week. Most of the grass turned brown, leaving patches of earth exposed. With no end in sight, I thought about ridding the lawn of natural grass and installing a water-free landscape.

The drought came to an official abrupt end and one year later the grass slowly started to rejuvenate. I thought of asking the gardener to re-seed the entire lawn to speed up the process, but I never did. Nevertheless, the grass is slowly growing stronger, but it is not really creating new grass where it had completely dried up. It would require tilling the earth, re-seeding, and watering daily, as though there had never previously been any grass in those areas. I marveled at the once-mighty lawn: a lawn with strong blades of grass boasting a rich deep green color that covered the entire area like a beautiful plush carpet. Now the lawn was alive but due to the lack of water it was drained of its previous vitality, its physical life drying up before my eyes. This condition could be reversed by nourishing the earth with the nutrients it once had and providing daily sustenance such as water and the grooming of its physical body. I came to realize that the lawn had another life, perhaps it was Techiyas HaMeisim, a revival of the dead!

In 2018 every Jew has challenges within their daily lives. Life is always changing and although I am pretty much the same person, I don’t necessarily do the same things I did in the past. By and large everyone I know at one point or another has ups and downs in their religious and spiritual journeys. Many of us go through periods of drought when the demands of life cause us to lose focus on areas of our spiritual beings which require focused care, attention and nurturing. For many of us who have flourished in learning, davening, minyan attendance, doing chessed, performing mitzvos, we have forgotten to keep ourselves “watered”, failing to realize how dry and almost dead we’ve become. It takes awareness of a drought in order to nurse the tree back to its former time of producing the juiciest most delicious fruit. No one should ever think that it is too late; it is never too late to get back and revive ourselves. We are also all intimately connected to the need to be nurtured; like a beautiful fruit tree, we need to conscientiously care for our human roots, branches and leaves. Never give up hope. It’s never too late to put an end to our spiritual drought, as we see in the following narrative from the Navi.

The Navi Yeshayahu in 22:13 states: And behold joy and happiness, slaying cattle and slaughtering sheep, eating meat and drinking wine; ‘Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we will die.” Rashi explains that Hashem is mourning while the Jews are eating and rejoicing. Instead of worrying about their fate and fearing God’s word, they mocked the prophets and rejoiced. They rejoiced and said, “Since we will eventually die, let us make merry and rejoice as long as we are alive in this world. They said the Nevi’im told them in the name of Hashem that we will not have a share in the World to Come; therefore let us enjoy ourselves during our lifetime.” The Jews at the time believed in the afterlife; they believed that there is a World to Come, but they also believed that they would not have a portion in it. Hundreds of years later, Rambam penned the Thirteen Principles of which one believes with perfect faith that there will be a resurrection in the times of Mashiach. In Judaism there is no denial of another life, but in context of the Navi cited earlier, the Jews at the time felt they were not entitled to it, not that they didn’t believe in it.

We believe life is not only in this world but continues into the next world as pointed out in the Torah. In this week’s Parsha VaEschanan the Torah states in Devarim 4:4: “V’Atem HaDveikim Ba’Hashem Elokeichem, Chayim Kulchem HaYom”. Only you, the ones who remained attached to God your Lord, are all alive today.” The words ‘alive today’ connote today - here in this world and today - in the next world. With reference to the words ‘are all alive today’ the Gemara in Sanhedrin teaches us that the same way you are alive today (physically), so, too, you will be alive in the next world (spiritually). From this we see a hint, or even a proof, that Techiyas HaMeisim - revival of the dead - is a Torah principle.

The Midrash Rabbah 17:6 offers a parable to help us more clearly understand how we can attain this life. Someone who is cast off into the water, The captain of a ship grabs a rope and calls out to a drowning man,”Grab onto this rope with your hand so that I can hoist you up onto the boat or pull you to dry land. Hold tight! Do not let go of the rope! If you let go of the rope, you will have no life.” So, too, Hashem says to B’Nei Yisrael, “As long as you hold onto the Mitzvos and cling to the Torah, then you will live; if not, you are choosing to forego your life in this world and the next.”

Baruch Hashem, I am so pleased how many members have started to address the spiritual drought issue by participating in our annual SEED program. All it takes is some will and desire to cut away the dead parts and add some new ideas and nourish your soul to eat, drink and live for today and continue to eat, drink and live for tomorrow.                                       

Ah Gut Shabbos    Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

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

Parshas Devarim - Is the Beis HaMikdash still here?                  8 Av 5778

07/20/18 08:33:33

Jul20

A few years ago I wrote about trying to save time, which ultimately led me to break the item I was attempting to work with, thereby spending more time and money than if I had not tried to take a shortcut. I guess God needed to send me another reminder of sorts as I attempted to separate frozen hamburgers with a knife. Instead of planning ahead and letting the burgers defrost, I used a knife that not only split the hamburger meat but also continued to efficiently split my finger. For the next few days I felt the loss of mobility and the inconvenience and challenges resulting from this shortcut. Nevertheless, I know that as my finger healed (Baruch Hashem) I slowly forgot the pain and suffering I experienced. Unfortunately, we tend to forget how bad things were at times and lose the appreciation we should have. Before long I will completely forget that it even happened, and will take for granted the blessing to have functioning fingers on my hand.

Now, forgetting something bad or hurtful that occurred is one level of not appreciating something. It’s a completely different level, however, to forget the good someone did for us. Last week a fundraising campaign went public for a woman in our community who is battling breast cancer. It happens to be that her husband has always been helpful to me, the Shul, and the community at large. He could be called upon for his services whenever necessary and he would always say, “for you Rabbi?” or “for the Synagogue? Of course!” Why did it take something of tragic proportions such as his wife becoming ill and needing help for me to stop and recognize that I should have had more Hakaras HaTov (recognition of the good). When it occurred to me how nice he was to me and the way he helps the community, I immediately donated to help his family. More importantly than the donation was the difficult but gratifying phone call I made to speak with him. I called the husband and apologized for not reaching out earlier to inquire about his wife’s health, and more so, to offer any assistance. I thought to myself better late than never and was glad to make the call despite it being long overdue. He is such a nice person that he said thank you and there was no need for me to apologize.

There is a famous question: is it better to have had something and lose it, or never have had it in the first place? Although that statement is about love, it can be applied to anything and everything in life. I’ve given two illustrations with one similar message: we must remember what we have and second, knowing we have something, we must also appreciate it. The reason we have difficulty mourning the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash is because we don’t’ know what we had and move over, when we did have it, we didn’t appreciate it. Since we, the people of our generation, never had the experience of Jewish life with a Beis HaMikdash we don’t feel the loss of not having it. It is difficult to feel we are missing something when we have never had it. Interestingly, we don’t have as much difficulty connecting to the holidays of the year, which are also rooted and intimately connected to the Beis HaMikdash. In reality, the days of mourning and the festivals of the year are intertwined more than we think.

Rav Chaim Elazar Spira, the Munkatcher Rebbe, in his sefer Minchas Eluzar writes that the three Shabbosos of the Bein HaMitzarim (the 3 weeks) are parallel to the Shalosh Regalim of Pesach, Shavuos and Sukos. Following this line of thinking, the Opta Rav, in his sefer Ohaiv Yisrael, says that the twenty-one days between the fast of Shiva Asar B’Tammuz and Tisha B’Av are sourced and rooted to all the festivals and holidays of the year. All the days of the Yomim Tovim added together equal twenty-one days. All these days of mourning the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash have the holiness and greatness of the special holidays we observe throughout the year.

Now we can see that these three weeks of pain and sorrow will turn into festivals like the three weeks of holidays celebrated throughout the year. Both sets of twenty-one days are filled with light and joy, the only difference is that right now the “three weeks” are covered with darkness, but the actual days are really full of light. Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Heschel, Admor of Apta, in his sefer Ohaiv Yisrael, writes in Parshas Devarim that Shabbos Chazone is the greatest Shabbos of the year! The Ruzhiner Rebbe explained that from this Shabbos Chazone (definition of ‘Chazone’ is ‘to see’, as in prophecy) we can see what will happen looking forward to the coming year. This is not only perception; it is, in fact, a reality of change from sorrow to happiness. How do we change from one to the other?

In this week’s Parshas Devarim the Torah states in 1:1: “Eileh HaDevarim Asher Diber Moshe El Kal Yisrael…” “These are the words that Moshe spoke to the Children of Israel…..”. Rashi explains these words were words of rebuke. Instead of openly stating the sins that the Jewish people committed, Moshe mentions the places where the Jews angered God. Due to the honor of B’Nei Yisrael, Moshe spoke through imbedded hints. This explanation is a bit difficult because later on in 1:22 Moshe actually lists the sins themselves! For example, it states: “Vatikrevun Eilai ulchem VaTomeru Nishlecha Anashim L’Faneinu, V’Yachperu Lanu Es Ha’Aretz.” - “All of you then approached me and said, ‘Send men ahead of us to explore the land. Let them bring back a report about the way ahead of us and the cities that we shall encounter.” In Devarim 9:16 it states: “I immediately saw that you had sinned to God your Lord, making a cast calf. You were so quick to turn from the path that God your Lord had prescribed.” In fact, Moshe goes on to list many of the actual sins e places where they took place. To further elaborate on Rashi’s explanation of Moshe’s words of rebuke, as long as the Jews did not repent, Moshe did not want to mention the sins they had committed, but rather only the places where those sins were committed. Moshe did not want to leave the people exposed to accusations and prosecution. However, after the Jews repented, it was a different story. When they did Teshuva out of love for Hashem, those intentional sins were converted to merits. Therefore, Moshe wanted to enumerate each and every sin, not only the places where they occurred, so that all of those sins would be considered as merits for the Jewish people.

There is tremendous light and goodness in this world, albeit sometimes it is covered and hidden from our eyes and minds. We need seek truth and the light (which is here for us to find) in this world where the light is currently covered. Let us remember what it’s like to have something and recognize the good in everyone and that through this recognition of good we will fully understand that we all benefit. By doing this we will merit the removal of the covering of the light and bask in the glory that has, is, and will always be here

Wed, February 20 2019 15 Adar I 5779