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Parshas Toldos - Four Eyes & Four Ears               4 Kislev 5784

11/17/2023 10:36:00 AM


Throughout our lives we experience the need for  things that were created out of necessity, yet over time become essential components  of the fashion industry. And even beyond the scope of the fashion industry these highly useful items morph to the status symbols of accessories. I have now been wearing eyeglasses for half a century. By the time I started wearing glasses in the early 1970’s, there were more styles than the basic black or metal frames, but those stylish glasses of the ‘70’s don’t compare to the choices  we have today. Back in the day when glasses were first introduced, a derogatory slur was to call someone wearing glasses “four eyes”. This insult didn’t last long, as either the growing recognition for the need for glasses became more necessary, or more people who needed glasses started to wear them in public.

A few weeks ago, I observed several of my students wearing different kinds of headphones in between classes. I am positive that they were listening to one of my prerecorded classes and were just reviewing…although I did wonder why they were moving around and tapping their fingers almost as though they were listening to some music! It then dawned on me while thinking about how many people walk around with things like headphones, earbuds, air pods…that perhaps all of these modern additions to our ears could be referred to as ‘four ears’ enhancements! Witnessing the modern additions to our  two God-given hearing devices known as ears caused me to realize that there is   a stark difference between eyeglasses and earphones. Eyeglasses help us. They are customized to improve a person’s vision, allowing  the user to see more clearly those around him or her, to visually connect with everyone else or to more clearly read and write, therefore further enhancing his or her connection to the world at large. Glasses, which clarify and improve vision, allow a person to focus, to visually distinguish between something beneficial or harmful, something beautiful or potentially fearful. A person’s nearsightedness or farsightedness is corrected with lenses that enhance vision. The primary function of earphones or ear buds, however, is to essentially cancel out noise from the outside. They create a bubble specifically designed to exclude noise and possibly a lot of other information from which a person might benefit. Canceling out noise in it of itself isn’t a bad thing, at times it is essential, protecting our ears from loud sounds which could do damage to our ability to hear, or to muffle sound so that a person won’t hear foul language, slander, or evil speech.  In fact, some say Hashem created earlobes for that exact reason, they can act as ear plugs when one does not want to hear something. Truth be told, perhaps Hashem created eyelids to allow a person to close his or her eyes to avoid looking at something inappropriate. Nevertheless, the notion of hearing and seeing is not limited to the physical characteristics of a person, but also can be viewed – or processed - in the abstract. Seeing something in a mentally visionary capacity, the ability to ‘see’ right from wrong, to discern or ‘hear’ what an individual is saying beyond the mere concrete definition of words is to truly process the importance of taking the time to synthesize, to mentally synthesize the words and sounds which surround us.

The Torah is not written with the exclusive intent of the physical realm. It was written with the intent to help us to learn the lessons from the stories. This is certainly true when it comes to our forefathers, as we find with Yitzchok Avinu regarding the two prominent senses of seeing and hearing.

In this week’s Parshas Toldos the Torah states in Bereishis 27:1 "ויהי כי זקן יצחק ותכהין עיניו מראת, ויקרא את עשו בנו הגדול ויאמר אליו בני ויאמר אליו הנני"  “ - Isaac had grown old and his eyesight was fading. He summoned his elder son, Esau - ‘My son’ ‘Yes’. The passuk tells us that Yitzchok’s eyes grew dim, depicting an older man, when he lived another sixty years! The Baal HaTurim explains regarding the middle bracha of Birkas Kohanim, the priestly blessing, that the word Year, to shine light, is in the merit of Yitzchok Avinu. Throughout the course of the Akeida, the binding of Yitzchok, Yitzchok died, and Hashem shined a light upon him bringing him back to life. Metaphorically speaking, when a person can’t see, it is as if he is dead, but someone who can see the world is alive. Perhaps Yitzchok was physically blind and needed glasses, and so Hashem infused the light of sight, giving Yitzchok the corrective lenses that removed the blindness.

As the story of the blessings unfold, and Yaakov (Jacob)dresses to resemble Eisav, he brings the food prepared by his mother, Rivka, to receive the first Bracha from Yitzchok (Isaac) that had been destined to be given to Eisav, his brother. The story is dramatic. We hear in Bereshis 27:22 the Torah states: "ויגש יעקב אל יצחק אביו וימשהו ויאמר הקל קול יעקב והידים ידי עשו" “Yaacov (Jacob) came closer to his father Yitzchok (Isaac), and [Isaac] touched him. Isaac said, ”The voice is Jacob’s voice, but the hands are the hands of Esau.” When reading the words of Yaakov’s voice, it is the way Yitzchok is hearing/ processing the sounds of Yaakov. Yitzchok is internalizing that  the voice is not of Eisav but Yaakov. This level of ‘hearing’ or ‘listening’ is not limited to the physical sounds of their voices but rather to how Yaakov spoke - the tone, the mannerisms, the softness of respect that was more in line with Yaakov rather than Eisav. Yitzchok heard a certain voice or message and rethought its intent and meaning. There are times a person will say something to someone and if he/she truly understood the intent of the statement, will imbeu that intent within the response.  The person might say, ”Do you see what I’m saying?” or… ”Do you hear what I’m saying?” In both cases, we know they physically heard what was said; this is about depth of understanding of what was said.

This past week I had the honor and pleasure of being counted among one of the largest gatherings of Jews in history -  close to three hundred thousand Jews all gathered together for a rally/march in Washington, D.C. I came away with many ideas and lessons from this event. Several of the political and social speakers heard and truly observed/synthesized what the Jewish people are about. On the flip side, I also saw and heard messages from political analysts and politicians. There are underlying messages and nuances that can be seen and heard from both sides of the podium.   The non-Jewish world needs to see and hear what the Jewish people have to say, and the Jewish people need to hear, see, and – most importantly - understand what the world is saying to us. 

Shlomo HaMelech in Koheles begins the third chapter with the well-known…there is a time for this and a time for that. I would like to add, there is a time to close our eyes and a time to open them. There is a time to close our ears and a time to open them up. We, the Jewish people of today, need to open our eyes and put on a pair of corrective lenses to gain clarity on the world scene, simultaneously making sure the world opens their ears to the Kol (voice)of Yaakov and to the yadayim (hands) of Eisav.  The voice of the Jewish people is peace while the hands of Eisav are destruction. Hashem should open the eyes and ears of the nations of the world to bring about a world of Shalom to the Jewish people and to the rest of the world. Amen!

Ah Gutten Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas Chayei Soroh - The Perils of War           25 Cheshvan 5784

11/09/2023 03:22:02 PM


Parshas Chayei Soroh – The Perils of War

When it comes to war there are many different strategies and ongoing intense planning sessions required to takedown the opponent. Three mechanisms come to mind regarding the current battle which the Jewish people are fighting.  The first, obviously involve sophisticated use of physical armaments, guns, aircraft, and ships as well as placement of materiel and manpower.. Second, the daily need to publicly address the false narratives and lies being spread - not only by the  enemy on the southern border of Israel, but the media promoting so many of those lies throughout the world. The third mechanism, which, unfortunately, will continue to grow, is the economic battle that is visibly threatening the stability of one of the most successful economic countries in the region.

As I previously wrote, a call to say Avinu Malkeinu during these difficult times was suggested by leading Rabbinic authorities. We here at Beth Jacob took this up, reciting Avinu Malkeinu daily during Mincha.  The point of adding certain Tefillos/prayers and or Tehilim is not just to say the words, but rather to internally process their powerful meaning, reciting each word as a plea to God. We typically say Avinu Malkeinu during the ten days of repentance when our personal lives hang in abeyance, and on public fast days, recalling a tragedy that gives us pause to reflect upon. But the reciting of Avinu Malkeinu is different now, as it carries implications for Jews around the world and Israel specifically.

Tefilla/prayer in Judaism is multi-dimensional. Tefilla speaks for individuals, groups, and the entire Jewish people. This, too, is reflected in the Avinu Malkeinu prayer, as it can be dissected in different parts to meet the needs of targeted audiences. I will share a few lines to illustrate my forthcoming message. By and large the media outlets around the world are biased against Israel (and whenever I mention Israel, it does not only refer to the land of Israel, but to the Bnei Israel -the Jewish people everywhere). We are being verbally attacked by hateful propaganda. Therefore, we say “Our Father, our King, seal the mouths of our adversaries and accusers.” The haters of our people throughout the world are constantly thinking and conspiring - knowingly and unknowingly – of means and methods to attack us. To this we say, “Our Father, our King, thwart the counsel of our enemies.” The last example I will share is "אבינו מלכנו בטל מחשבות שונאינו"  - “Our Father, our King, nullify the designs of those who hate us.”  This war has drawn hundreds of thousands of Jewish and non-Jewish workers in Israel away from their day jobs, placing an enormous strain on the usually robust Israeli economy. A second degree of cause is that several countries around the world have cut off diplomatic economic ties with Israel. Here are some of the challenges Israel is facing on the home front.

The following is an excerpt from Anchal Vohra, a columnist at Foreign Policy.

In southern Israel, crops are now waiting in the sun, wilting further with every passing minute, and shuddering a bit as army vehicles buzz past. The area’s farms have become a vast army staging area, packed with olive green tents and tanks. Farmhands are nowhere in sight.

The veritable greenhouse of the nation is now dependent on university volunteers. They have tried to salvage the situation and pick the fruit before it rots, but their efforts have fallen short and the Israeli government has already started to import some items.

Israelis are proud of their technological innovations in agriculture and of their ability to grow in a largely arid region and feed their people. Now it is at the top of the list of sectors that will bear the brunt of a long war with Hamas. Oil and gas, tourism, health care, retail and technology are some of the others. “Many of my colleagues have left,” said Cindy, a caregiver from the Philippines who asked to be identified only by her first name for safety reasons. “We are going, too, if it gets any worse,” she told me at a market in Jerusalem.

Many airlines have stopped flying to Israel while the government has asked for activities at a gas field to be halted to minimize the risk of a targeted attack. The Israeli shekel has already plummeted to a 14-year low; the central bank has cut the forecast for economic growth this year from 3 percent to 2.3 percent, and prominent industries are facing disruptions.

Israel entered the war with $200 billion in reserves and $14 billion in aid, mainly for military funding, from the United States. And yet experts say the ongoing conflict will cost the Israeli economy billions more and take much longer to recover than it has in the past. Israeli volunteers at home and abroad are chipping in with extra labor and economic assistance—an admirable gesture but insufficient to make up the economic shortfall.

Entire towns have been abandoned and businesses shut down as 250,000 people have been evacuated and forced to seek refuge across hotels in the country or with relatives living elsewhere. Furthermore, the call to 360,000 reservists, who were employed in various jobs in peace time, has stretched companies and made their continuation as profit-making businesses precarious.

“This war will cause additional costs compared to these two (previous) confrontations also because of a massive participation of reservists, who are inserted in the labor market in normal times but will be absent from their jobs during the war,” Strawczynski said. “If the war is long, the impact of lack of human resources will result on a high cost for the Israeli economy.”

Tourism, a sector that makes up 3 percent of Israel’s GDP and indirectly provides 6 percent of total jobs, has been dealt a fatal blow, too. The beach in Tel Aviv and cobbled lanes of the old city in Jerusalem, the main tourist attractions, both lie vacant.

The economic pressure for the land of Israel is not a new phenomenon. In this week’s Parsha Chayei Soroh the Torah relates Avraham Avinu purchasing the Mearas Hamachpeila for the exorbitant amount of four hundred silver shekel pieces to bury his wife, Soroh Immeinu. According to the Hammurabi code of that time, a year’s wage for a working man was between six and eight Shekels.  After Avraham paid Ephron, the Torah states in Bereishis 23:20: “This is how the field and its cave became the uncontested property of Avraham as a burial site, purchased from the children of Cheis.”  *Rav Shmuel Mohilever asks why the Torah needs to relate in such detail, relating the specific business transaction between Avraham and Ephron and the sons of Cheis, especially, to the degree of informing us of the final sale price?! Rav Shmuel explains that the Torah wants to teach us that at a when time we need to redeem our holy soil from “others” we will do so at any cost. Avraham models for us that we will pay and overpay any amount to buy, maintain, and keep Eretz Yisroel. Money is being spent and money is being lost in the economy. Nevertheless, we will overcome all adversity - Mi K’Amcha Yisroel, Am Yisroel Chai!!!

*Rav Shmuel Mohilever 1824-1898 was a rabbi, pioneer of Religious Zionism and one of the founders of the Chovevei Zion movement.

Parshas Vayeira - Distance: Question is How Far or Close?       19 Cheshvan 5784

11/03/2023 09:01:50 AM


 As of this writing, the war in Israel is concluding its first month. B’Ezras Hashem, all of us, in Israel, here in San Diego, and throughout the U.S. and the world, will get through the many challenges of this war and of the growing world-wide evidence of antisemitism. As Jews of Israel are now fighting a war on two fronts – on the northern border of Israel, dealing with  Hezbollah, a proxy of Iran - in addition to the war in Gaza to the south - the ability to maintain the necessary attention for our brethren in Israel grows more challenging. We had a successful emergency fundraising campaign, including several rallies in support of Israel which were well- attended by a host of Jews. Here in our shul, we have been saying Tehillim twice a day and have added the recitation of Avinu Malkeinu (Our Father, Our King), a tefillah (prayer) we say from Rosh Hashanah through Yom Kippur, in our davening. The question always comes up is ‘how long should such extra tefillos should be recited? Some have expressed concern that saying additional prayers adds time to the length of the service. It is unfortunate that some view these extra few minutes as a burden on the Tzibur/community. I recently heard Rav Mordechai Willig voicing some of my sentiments on this matter. First, I want to state unequivocally that, we will continue to say these extra prayers as long as necessary. Second, how dare we even entertain the thought that it is a bother, an intrusion to our valuable time, for us here in America to pray to Our Father, Our King for compassion, for mercy, to bring an end to bloodshed, to  captivity, to all that is evil – to ALL of our People - when our brethren are suffering throughout Eretz Yisrael. If anything, we should double and triple the number of extra tefillos we say to our regularly mandated ones.   

Personally, I have been experiencing something strangely resembling   a condition referred to as ‘Survivor’s guilt’,  a response to an event in which someone else experiences loss. While the name implies this to be a response to the loss of life, it could also be the loss of property, health, identity, anything viewed as personally important. I assure you that I do not have a feeling of any such ‘guilt’. However, I am feeling something far more powerful.  I’ll try to explain…

Being far away from Israel leaves me with a level of feeling disconnected from what is going on in our Homeland, the Land which is the home given to us by God., I believe this feeling, this kind of ache from deep within, is a natural human condition. Baruch Hashem, my wife and I – as well as many members of our Shul -have a good number of relatives in living Israel, including  parents, siblings, children and many several first cousins and a plethora of next generation cousins, nieces, and nephews. My wife and I speak to our direct blood relatives on a constant basis. But it is the second and surely the third level of relatives with whom we also connect  during trying times. I called my first cousins who have several children and in-law children who were called up for the war, in addition  to our four nephews who were also called up. After detailing the whereabouts and challenges their families are going through, they ask me “…and how are you doing there?” At first, I didn’t have a good answer. How am I doing here in San Diego? Perhaps my cousins were just making small talk, or perhaps inquiring about the antisemitism flaring up throughout America.  Whatever the intent, I began to analyze the depth of the question they were asking. Perhaps the underlying question is how I am dealing with the fact that as much as I try to connect and feel the pain and anxiety of Jews in Israel, it remains elusive. The bottom line is, no matter how much Tzedakah one gives, no matter how many Tehillim one recites, no matter how many rallies someone attends, nothing can replace the feeling of being with the people who are affected… and potentially for me to be affected.

This is not meant to be a guilt trip or a push for making Aliyah (although maybe it should be). Rather, it is an observation on which we need to focus more deeply - simply because that’s the only thing we can do! This condition may be found in the Torah. Everything else is found in the Torah, so why not this?

The Torah in this week’s Parshas Vayeira states in Bereishis 22:20-21 "ויהי אחרי הדברים האלה ויגד לאברהם לאמר, הנה ילדה מלכה גם היא בנים לנחור אחיך"  “After this, Avraham received a message: Milcah has also had children from your brother Nachor”. In 22:23 the Torah states "ובתואל ילד את רבקה שמנה אלה ילדה מלכה לנחור אחי אברהם"  “Besuel has had a daughter Rebecca, Milka bore the above eight sons to Avraham’s brother”. The Midrash Rabbah Bereishis 57:1 on this verse quotes Shlomo HaMelech in Mishlei 14:30 "חיי בשרים לב מרפא" “A tranquil heart is the life of the flesh”. The Malbi”m explains that a troubled or distorted Heart  cannot function properly and will not allow the whole body to function smoothly and well; flesh and bones are only as healthy as the spirit they encase. The Midrash states that while Avraham was still on Mount Moriah, he was informed of the birth of the future wife of his son Yitzchok. This news reached him immediately after withdrawing the knife with which he was about to offer his son Yitzchok on the altar. The Torah in Bereishis 29:14 describes the relationship that Lavan sees of Yaakov as, “Yes, indeed, you are my own flesh and blood”, and this brings healing to the heart.” The news Avraham received of Rivka’s birth  injected critical new life into him after being broken from the test of the Akeidas Yitzchok.* If I had to guess, based upon this Midrash, Soroh did know Hashem’s command and allowed Avrohom to fulfill his Mitzva. Perhaps this was the defining moment, that which gave Avraham new life was the same lack of information that caused the broken heart of Soroh, ultimately causing her death. ** The pain, suffering and sorrow that Sorah endured was affected by her “being away” or being removed from “the unknown” which sometimes gives cause for a different kind of feeling than one experiences when he/she is actually ‘there’ – being in the fight, seeing and feeling it directly. We do know what is happening in Israel, but it is a different kind of knowing. It is a knowing that causes a keen awareness regarding the separation and distance from what is taking place. We may be able to sympathize but also not fully able to empathize. We hope and pray to reunite with all of Klal Yisroel,  and instead of trying to join in their sorrow, we will ultimately be physically united, celebrating our joys together, in person. This trying, emotional pull is not unique. Throughout the world, from Israel to America, throughout South America, Europe and Australia, we are experiencing the beauty of אחדות – Achdus: unity from a distance. May we all grasp the powerful meaning of unity, of being together with love, with focus, with oneness!

*A question I’ve always had that never received a quantitative answer is, did Soroh know that Avrahom was taking Yitzchok to be sacrificed?

** There are commentaries who explain Soroh passing away from a disbelief that Avrohom did NOT fulfill Hashem’s command to sacrifice Yitzchok, again realizing she knew exactly what was going on.

Parshas Lech L'Cha - A People of One and the Same         11 Cheshvan 5784

11/03/2023 09:00:13 AM


On May 7,th 1973, An estimated 100,000 people marched along Fifth Avenue to show their support for Soviet Jewry. Leading the two-mile procession, which began at 72nd Street and culminated in a mass rally at Dag Hammarskjold Plaza opposite the United Nations, were 44 young people dressed in black and white striped prison uniforms symbolizing the number of known Soviet Jewish “prisoners of conscience”. The memory of watching this event at the age of nine, standing in the midst of an immense crowd, was permanently seared into my mind.

Over the years I pondered the effects that rallies and demonstrations have on governments and policies. Did the great Russian Bear really care what a bunch of Jews were yelling in New York? We can surely say that, at least to some extent, politicians are influenced with regard to how they speak, react, and vote based upon their constituents’ reactions. Do politicians actually listen to the voices of their constituents s in order to remain in office? One can argue that at the very least such public outcries and demonstrations may make a difference. 

This past Sunday,  my conceptual understanding of the value of organizing, demonstrating, and participating in a rally took on new meaning.   My wife and I attended a rally in support of Israel which drew hundreds of Jews from throughout San Diego. Most of the Jews who attended were not observant in the least, and many, perhaps most, were Israeli citizens living abroad. I found myself deeply connected to my people on an entirely new level: we are looked upon by the world as being the same – we are all Jews.

I then took notice of the behaviors of the Orthodox world during the past three weeks. I am not going into the gory details or rehashing the horrors we witnessed in Eretz Yisrael on the last day of Yom Tov. Rather, I believe it is important to state and take a deeper look at the intense and oftentimes selfless, giving acts of chessed and deepest levels of care  Jews throughout the world are expressing and doing. There are the massive monetary relief efforts pouring into Israel (and let me remind us all, that it is still not enough). Within Israel, restaurants, which only a few weeks ago were serving non-kosher food, have sought out the strictest means for koshering their kitchens in order to prepare food daily for thousands of refugees and chayalim (soldiers); individuals throughout the country have instantaneously formed groups where each member prepares three meals per day for a minimum of twenty-five people in need.

Throughout the world Jews have organized times to gather to say Tefillos,- prayers, have organized world-wide online or in-person Tehillim (Psalms) groups, asking for mercy from Hashem continuously around the clock. People are learning more and have made commitments to learn more Torah in merit of the hostages, the wounded, and the success of Tzaha”l, the Israel Defense Forces.  Moreover, I came to see, to recognize the deep, genuine Ahavas Yisroel, the love of Israel, that Jews have for other Jews when we are stripped down to nothing else but seeing each other as a fellow Jew. Thanks to the speed of the Internet, there is remarkable ability to witness how every Jew finds his or her way to help the cause. This tragedy in Israel brought out the best in us, the best in every Jew, religious and secular alike, worldwide, to find a way to be a positive contributor in our collective struggle as Jewish people. For some, it may be putting on a kippah, attending minyan a little more often, depriving oneself of some joy or pleasure during this time of conflict. The Jews who have demonstrated in solidarity at a rally, attending  ‘simply’ because they are Jewish, make a strong, powerful statement to all of us and to the entire world. Jews throughout the United States, Canada, Europe, Australia, are openly demonstrating their commitment and Jewishness. There are continuously growing examples of Jewish pride. I have been told, and have witnessed, a strong, deepening tendency for Jews to speak up against hateful, antisemitic attitudes, even openly risking their jobs to express dismay of their superiors’ apathetic reactions towards the horrific murderous acts of Hamas and the growing Hizballah attacks.

Whether it is the voices screaming out the words of Tehilim or the rally goers yelling out ‘Am Yisrael Chai’, all are directed to the One Above, Avinu Shabashayim, our Father in Heaven. There are no other nations, no other people in the world who share such a powerful, unique relationship than we Jews have towards each other. Where does this all come from? We all know that this is a silly, rhetorical question, we all know where we get this from ~

In this week’s Parsha Lech Lecha the Torah relates the story of a war between four and five kings. Abram’s nephew Lot is taken captive. At this point the Torah states in Bereishis 14:13 "ויבא הפליט ויגד לאברם העברי והוא שכן באלני ממרא...."   “The refugee who escaped came and brought the news to Abram the Hebrew and he dwelt in the plain of Mamre….”  Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch (1808-1888) stresses the complete contrast to what is told of Lot in the preceding verses. העברי Avraham had remained the Ivri, whether that means the stranger who had come from the other side of the river, or, as Rav Yehoshua takes it, the one who stands on the other side, who stands in opposition to the whole world. Avraham remained isolated in his own distinctive character and was known and recognized as such. Rav Hirsch says there are the words of Bnei Yisroel and the words of the other nations of the world. Rav Boruch Ber Leibowitz, Rosh Yeshiva of Kamenitz, says there are only two nations in the world: the Jews and the Goyim (all the other nations of the world).

We, the Jewish people, are looked upon as the “other one” the one on the “other side”. Whatever that other side means, for better or for worse, for good or for bad, it is directed at you and at me, at every Jew - despite how they look or dress. It makes no difference to the other nations of the world if we are observant or not. The world doesn’t care if we are Republicans, Democrats, socialists, liberals, conservative, rich or poor, intelligent or ignorant, famous or infamous, strong or weak, learned or naïve. In the eyes of the other nations of the world, we are all the same. We are Jews. Sometimes that Jew will be liked, perhaps, on rare occasions, even appreciated. However, unfortunately – and importantly - most other times throughout history the Jew is despised. If the Goyim don’t care, choosing to view each of us as a Jew, we should also look at ourselves as a Jew. Avraham Avinu, the very first Jew and the father of Judaism, clearly looks at all of his children simply as Jews and loves them as such.

Rav Grossman from Migdal Emek complimented this with a beautiful insight.  There is a custom before one begins to daven/pray in the morning to say the words הריני מקבל :עלי מצות עשה של ואהבת לרעך כמוך  - ‘Behold, I accept upon myself the positive commandment of loving my neighbor as myself’. Rav Grossman asks, if we are starting to daven to Hashem, shouldn’t we say, ”I am accepting the positive Mitzva to love God”? Why mention ‘to love my neighbor’ if I am starting to daven to Hashem? He responds by saying that the most cherished thing for a father is to have his children get along and to love each other. If the children in a family love each other, that becomes the greatest sense of pride and joy for a father. Avinu Shebashamayim, our Father in Heaven, is now seeing the outpouring of love that His children are showing for one another, each in his or her own unique way. My way doesn’t have to be his way and his way doesn’t have to be my way. We are each a proud Ivri, the son (or daughter) of our father Avraham. That is His way. Hashem sees all His children come together. If we, the entire Jewish people, are on the same side as Avraham Aveinu, Abraham our forefather, Hashem will fulfill all His promises to Avraham and these promises will be fulfilled through us, through our unity and our actions, today.

Parshas Haazinu - Yom HaKippurim - I'm So Sorry.......Now Not Later     7 Tishrei 5784

09/22/2023 08:55:13 AM


On erev Rosh Hashana and erev Yom Kippur there were locations where   the minhag of specifically going to the cemetery to daven at the graves of loved ones was observed.  The Rema in Orach Chaim siman 581-4 regarding Rosh Hashana writes, “וְיֵשׁ מְקוֹמוֹת נוֹהֲגִין לֵילֵךְ עַל הַקְּבָרוֹת וּלְהַרְבּוֹת שָׁם בִּתְחִנּוֹת, וְנוֹתְנִים שָׁם צְדָקָה לַעֲנִיִּים (כָּל בּוֹ).” –“There are places where the custom of visiting a cemetery and increasing our supplications and give charity to the poor were observed.” The Rema in Orach Chaim siman 605:1 regarding erev Yom Kippur writes, ”וְיֵשׁ מְקוֹמוֹת שֶׁנּוֹהֲגִין לֵילֵךְ עַל הַקְּבָרוֹת וּלְהַרְבּוֹת בִּצְדָקָה, וְהַכֹּל מִנְהָג יָפֶה” –“There are places where the custom to go to the graves and increase their charity.” This custom continues in many communities today, continuing to be positive and emotionally powerful during these days of teshuvah.

When I first arrived in San Diego, many of the local shuls and congregations met at the cemetery on the Sunday of Aseres Yemei Teshuva. Each group would visit their relatives and daven at their grave sites, asking their loved ones to carry their prayers and supplications to the throne of glory. The source for the custom of going to the cemetery during the ten days of repentance is obscure; we don’t know the precise source. I hypothesize that the reason people began the custom of visiting the grave sites of their relatives was due to the fact it may have been too difficult to go either erev Rosh Hashana or erev Yom Kippur. In the shtetl, the cemeteries were typically located on the outskirts of the town; they were located nearby and were readily  accessible.  For many of us today, traveling to the cemetery requires extra time and effort. Visiting the grave sites of loved ones may require a flight to another state or even to Eretz Yisrael. Therefore, the annual visit to loved ones’ grave sites was made at a more convenient time, a time of year easier than going on Erev Yom Kippur. Nevertheless, this practice has fallen by the wayside.  Nowadays, individuals make the effort to visit family grave sites, but do so individually rather than with a large group.

This year I found myself in the cemetery during this time. It was truly unexpected and not a planned trip or personal visit; I attended the levaya/funeral of Dr. Howard Kaye. When I officiate at a funeral, I mention to the attendees that they should ask for forgiveness from the niftar/ the deceased. The reason we do this is because the halacha states that if we need forgiveness from someone, we should ask them. But in a situation where the person has passed way prior to us asking for forgiveness, we take a minyan/quorum to the grave site and collectively ask for forgiveness. Therefore, at every funeral it does not hurt to ask for forgiveness- just in case. The Rabbi who eulogized Howard appropriately asked for forgiveness, as is the custom. At that moment it hit me. I thought to myself: why wait until now to ask forgiveness? Why not ask as soon as we think we may have hurt another person? This relates to the notion of needing to ask for forgiveness - Bein Adom Lachaveiro - between man and man -before approaching God for forgiveness. Although it is brought down in Halacha that a person should ask for mechila/forgiveness from everyone on erev Yom Kippur, why not ask immediately after the incident? This situation is especially poignant in our day and age. Once again, when we lived a simpler life, our circle was close and very confined, we were able to run around on Erev Yom Kippur to ask forgiveness from everyone. Today, our interaction is worldwide, occurring with people whom we know well and also with others with whom we are not well acquainted. We have different levels of contact with multiple people, making it difficult and frequently impossible to reach other than via an actual phone call, text or email. Therefore, if I were to attempt to ask forgiveness, I would need to start days before Yom Kippur, especially during the Aseres Yemei Teshuva. Typically, during the ten days of repentance, we focus primarily on our relationship with Hashem. We should also be focused on our relationship with our children, spouses, neighbors, co-workers, employees, employers’ friends, and family too. The notion of Teshuva/repentance is found everywhere, particularly the Shabbos before Yom Kippur.

In this week’s Parshas Haazinu the Torah states in Devarim 32:46 "ויאמר אלהם שימו לבבכם לכל הדברים אשר אנכי מעיד בכם היום, אשר תצום את בניכם לשמור לעשות את כל דברי התורה הזאת"  - he said to them, “Pay close attention to all the words through which I warn you today so that you will be able to instruct your children to keep all the words of this Torah carefully”. The words ‘pay close attention’ are not the literal translation; rather in actuality they mean ‘place on your hearts’- think about what goes on in your heart. Reb Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter, known as the Sfas Emes, writes that the heart mentioned here needs preparation, just as the earth and the dirt of a field need preparation to grow something. He writes that one can seed and plant a field only after the earth has been tilled. Only after the land is prepped and seeded will the raindrops be able to penetrate the soil, allowing the seed to be nourished so it can flourish and grow. Without proper preparation the water will bounce off the ground, unable to penetrate into the soil where it needs to go. So, too, a person needs to prepare his limbs and muscles and the different parts of his body to receive the abundance, the overflow of material needed to grow and prosper both physically and spiritually.

How do we prepare our hearts so that the compassion of God is able to reach deep within us, turning our sins into merits? The answer is simple:we each need to prepare our hearts by first asking forgiveness  Bein Adom LaChaveiro - between us. One of the main principles of teshuvah and atonement is stated in the Mishnah Yoma 8:8: “For transgressions between a person and God, Yom Kippur atones; however, for transgressions between one person and another, Yom Kippur does not atone until he appeases the other person.” In other words, the party who was wronged must grant forgiveness for the wrongdoing. Appeasing the other person prepares the heart for a complete Teshuva that extends to Hashem, helping us in the Teshuva process.

If someone is feeling a disconnect between himself  and God, perhaps one needs to soften up that heart and allow the water of purification to enter one’s heart. As the Mishna concludes with the words of Rebbi Akiva: Rabbi Akiva said: How fortunate are you, Israel. Before Whom are you purified, and Who purifies you? It is your Father in Heaven, as it is stated in Yechezkel 36:25: “And I will sprinkle purifying water upon you, and you shall be purified.” The Navi Yirmiyahu says in 17:13 “The ritual bath of Israel is God”. Just as a ritual bath purifies the impure, so too, the Holy One, Blessed be He, purifies Israel.

Ah Gutten Shabbos & Ah Gutten Yom HaKippurim

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Nitzavim/Vayeilech - Rosh Hashana - Ingenuity Supplanted 29 Elul 5783

09/22/2023 08:52:08 AM


When I was a young boy, all of us needed to be more creative and intuitive than we tend to be today. We did not have the wealth and breadth of material goods, food choices, etc. as most of us take for granted today. I was born less than twenty years after the destruction of European Jewry during the horrific years of the Holocaust. Refugees entering the U.S. during and immediately following W.W. II were just that - refugees. Re-building the Jewish people (and the same goes for the State of Israel) didn’t start taking shape in earnest until the mid-1980s. My parents a”h were expert recyclers, intentionally making use  of every part of anything, creatively re-purposing any number of items. We had no concept of living any other way, appreciating our lives, feeling good and genuinely believing we had everything.  Recently, I was reminded of one of the classic examples of something my parents did; I’m sure many other families did the same. As Rosh Hashana approached, we received dozens of greeting cards wishing us a happy and healthy new year. As mentioned above, my parents recycled routinely, it was a part of our daily living fifty years ago! We re-purposed almost every used item for something else. We saved all the cards, punching  punched a hole in the corner of every card, stringing them up in our sukkah as a decoration from wall to wall. It was an activity we all enjoyed – reading the cards while eating in the sukkah, happily speaking about those  who had sent them. Back then we didn’t have the option of buying ready made sukkah decorations, rather innovation kicked in and we enthusiastically made our own.  

Last week, I received a real  Shana Tovah/New Year card actually delivered to our mail box. Thirty years ago, I used to get about two dozen cards; over the years this mailing of personal Rosh Hashanah cards custom has dwindled. This is caused by two factors; the new generation does not send cards and the greeting card industry is on the decline, falling by an average of 3% each year. Due to the decline in purchases, department stores such as CVS and Walmart have been left with no choice but to limit their display space for greeting cards.  Surveys have been conducted to determine why people no longer tend to send cards. There are several reasons why. For some, reasons of ecology and minimizing clutter tend to be the motivator. In general, many people are opting to go paperless, preferring to post a message on Facebook or to send e-correspondence to wish their friends and relatives a happy holiday. This is especially true for younger folks. Truth be told, I received many good wishes through calls, texts etc., but to date I have only received one card! When I saw the sender of that card, I went over to thank him and expressed my appreciation knowing this is somewhat of a fading tradition. He told me he had to go to multiple stores to find New Year’s greeting cards and remarked how scarce they are among the selection and locations to be found. One of the benefits and values to the origination of these cards is they save time calling friends and relatives, especially when speaking with people whom we have not spoken to in a long time. A second benefit is that the wording of well-designed greeting cards transmit the perfect message we want to convey to a specific person in a particular situation. General greeting card messages address the gamut of celebrations of life, including giving of consolation consoling and comfort during a difficult time or sending general wishes.

The liturgy for Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur is similar to the concept of the perfect messages we need to convey to Hashem. The machzor- מחזור, plural machzorim, is the prayer book which is used by Jews on the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Many Jews also make use of specialized machzorim on the Shalosh Regalim, the three pilgrimage festivals of Pesach, Shavuos, and Sukkos. The machzor is a specialized form of the siddur, which is generally intended for use in weekday and Shabbat services. The word machzor means "cycle"; the root ח־ז־ר means "to return". We return and review the same prayers over and over again. The term machzor originally referred to a book containing prayers for the entire year, including weekdays and Shabbos as well as all holidays.  

Over the last century newer publications with commentary and elucidations have been added. In addition, the old English translation has been replaced by today’s colloquial English. Credit must be given to the Birnbaum Machzor, published in 1951, written by Paltiel Birnbaum. This machzor was a major breakthrough for American Jews, helping the davener to relate and connect to the davening in a more meaningful way. We must ask ourselves, is it really the English translation and the commentaries that make our Tefillos desirable to Hashem? Surely it is beneficial to understand what we are saying, and knowing what we are saying does help our focus. In the introduction Birnbaum writes, “For nearly two thousand years the Hebrew prayers have helped to keep the Jews alive, saving them from losing their language and identity.” Indeed, on the Days of Judgment, when we contemplate a turbulent past and an uncertain future, the machzor and the tefilos (prayers) form a stable text to which we can attach our hopes, dreams and aspirations. But the prayers are also complex and confusing, even to the initiated. For over a thousand years—and, indeed, for our personal lifetime—the machzor has been a sure-footed guide. And that’s perhaps another reason why it has lasted as long as it has. When everything around us is changing so rapidly, we often find solace in those things that stay the same. Just as there are certain tunes we associate with the Days of Awe, there are also certain books. For many, the Birnbaum machzor, or any version a person has made their personal choice, will remain with them and continue to be among the greatest, and even the most precious books guiding and leading us.

Perhaps the most important lesson of Tefilla in general and the davening of the Yamim Noraim/ Days of Awe are summed up by The Alter of Kelm. Rav Simcha Zissel Ziv (1824-1898)  points out that prayer is unique in the various ways we connect to God. The Gemara Brachos 6a states that Tefilla/Prayer is the essence of דברים העומדים ברומו של עולם  things that stand on the highest plains of the world. He explains the “things” are the words of Tefilla. Omdim, they stand and become the foundation for raising a person to the loftiest plains of the universe. By just saying the words with the proper intent or direction, we can ascend to spiritual heights beyond any other means possible for taking us there.  We do not need to understand everything we are saying to elevate ourselves in order to experience a spiritual high. Rather, it is the prayers themselves, those special, powerful words that will bring us to a place closest to Hashem.

Let this Yom Tov season be the time and place for each and every one of us to be elevated to the highest levels of our world. Allow the words that emanate from our lips, the intentions of our brains, and the passion of our hearts raise us up by merely reciting the words over and over again as they connect within us through the Machzor. Let the words of Chaza”l speak for themselves, granting us all the opportunity to serve the King in health, strength and nachas for another year!

Ah Gutten Shabbos & Ah Guut Yor

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas Ki Savo - Guest Post Rabbi Larry Rothwachs  15 Elul 5783

09/22/2023 08:50:49 AM


Guest Post by Rabbi Larry Rothwachs
A number of years ago I was visiting Israel for a short 72 hour visit and was able to accomplish so much in a short amount of time. How did I manage to accomplish more in 72 hours than I normally do? To strengthen the question, this was before Waze when people were still using GPS devices. But this time, I didn’t even have my GPS with me! I normally relied heavily on the GPS, especially in Israel. GPS is great — you put in where you are, where you want to go, and can even add stops along the way, and it calculates the best or fastest way to get there. But this trip, I knew I had only 3 days and I knew exactly what I wanted to do. In other words, even without the GPS, I did exactly what the GPS says it is doing after one plugs in the address: “calculating.” In advance of the trip, I planned every stop and route very meticulously and that allowed me to accomplish so much in such a short period of time.

There is a word in parshas Ki Savo that appears only one time in Tanach.

וַיְדַבֵּר מֹשֶׁה וְהַכֹּהֲנִים הַלְוִיִּם, אֶל כָּל-יִשְׂרָאֵל לֵאמֹר: הַסְכֵּת וּשְׁמַע, יִשְׂרָאֵל, הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה נִהְיֵיתָ לְעָם, לַיהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, וְשָׁמַעְתָּ, בְּקוֹל יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ; וְעָשִׂיתָ אֶת-מִצְו‍ֹתָו וְאֶת-חֻקָּיו, אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי מְצַוְּךָ הַיּוֹם

What does haskeis mean? Most would probably translate it as pay attention, be silent, contemplate, or listen very carefully. The Seforno, however translates it as create an illustration in your mind:

הסכת – צייר במחשבתך, כמו ״את סכות מלככם״ (עמוס ה׳:כ״ו).

Based on this, the Shem Mishmuel writes that anyone who wants to engage in self improvement, be it in spiritual or physical matters, should make sure to have a mental plan mapped out in advance. This is similar to what Chazal say in Berachos (30b) that chasidim rishonim would meditate before davening. This is what haskeis u’shma means, calculating your route to achieve success. He concludes that this is the way to prepare in Elul, to imagine and visualize where you want to be during Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur and plan out the steps to take during Elul to reach that destination.

Throughout Aseres Yemei Teshuva we will recite daily, “שיר המעלות ממעמקים…תהיינה אזניך קשובות”. What we must remember, though, is if we want Hashem to listen to us and be more attentive to our needs, we first must demonstrate that ourselves — כל המרחם על הבריות מרחם עליו מן השמיים.

The way to accomplish this is by being haskeis u’shma, being attentive to the needs of others and planning out how to achieve that goal.

As we now reach the midpoint of Elul, Akavya Ben Mehalel (Pirkei Avos 3:1), provides us with a foundational roadmap for life:

עֲקַבְיָא בֶּן מַהֲלַלְאֵל אוֹמֵר, הִסְתַּכֵּל בִּשְׁלֹשָׁה דְּבָרִים וְאֵין אַתָּה בָּא לִידֵי עֲבֵרָה. דַּע מֵאַיִן בָּאתָ וּלְאָן אַתָּה הוֹלֵךְ וְלִפְנֵי מִי אַתָּה עָתִיד לִתֵּן דִּין וְחֶשְׁבּוֹן

If we are haskeis u’shma, we know where we are coming from and where we want to go, and plug it into the GPS of life, it will hopefully allow us to calculate the best route for self-improvement on the journey of life. 

Thank you Rabbi Rothwachs!

Ah Gutten Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas Ki Sayzzeih - Don't Take.....Receive       8 Elul 5783

08/25/2023 10:32:18 AM


Concentrating in Shul during davening is challenging enough without any outside interference. Many have experienced the annoying hand in your face at the Kotel with someone asking for tzedakah. Most people give willingly without interruption and may even be inclined to give more to the individual if they weren’t so disruptive. In many large shuls cross the United States, a different but still similar scenario occurs  involving a  group of collectors who, in the middle of davening, show up unannounced and proceed to walk up and down the rows clanging their change, asking individuals at prayer for donations to a various number of causes. In an attempt to minimize the distraction of asking for change, some members of the minyan bring a preset, organized stack of money to give to each hand placed in front of their face. Some people bring quarters, others bring dollars, leaving the contribution in clear view so that the collector understands that he is to take a predetermined stack of money and then move on. This strategy definitely has its advantages: first, the person donating the tzdakah knows precisely what amount he is giving,  and second, the donor is able to avoid any interaction between himself and the receiver. Although on the surface this seems to be a great idea, it does come with a modicum of downside. Everything in life has its pros and cons. One common issue that I have identified is on occasion, we tend to think that if I offer something, and people take that offer, then I have done something positive. But sometimes, allowing someone just to take a stack of money without it being overtly handed to that individual, may ultimately can lead to entitlement and prerogative. I will illustrate this in more detail as I have observed a few situations that reflect the importance of giving and not just taking. Both of these examples are with children but should be translated to adults doing the same thing:

First, Kiddush: Baruch Hashem, Beth Jacob has a kiddush after davening every Shabbos morning whether there is a sponsor or not. The kiddush is self-serve, buffet style, inviting people to come and take the food – a normal procedure typical of Shabbos kiddush.  Children tend to happily approach the tables and take whatever they want and as much as they want. I understand that kiddush is designed for people just to take. At the same time, children should be educated to learn that they need to ask for and be given food, not just take whatever they wish.  A considerable part of every child’s social and emotional development involves learning that it is not appropriate to assume that simply because I see something I want that I can just take as much of it as I wish.  The next time you go shopping, take a quick look at the fruit department in any grocery store.  It’s highly likely that you will see a child go to the bins of grapes, pick at them and pop them into his or her mouth. Worse yet, while waiting with his or her parent at the checkout line, the child might just be tempted to help him/herself to take a candy bar from the display rack.  The child may not see or understand that difference. Another Shul scene takes place at the candy man station. Traditionally, a child will approach the candy man and politely ask for a candy. The candy man may or may not ask the child a question, remind them to say please and thank you, and require a bracha/blessing to be recited and assure the candy man that the wrapper will make its way into the garbage. In some cases, this gentle guidance has all gone by the wayside -  the is left candy unattended, allowing the child to freely help him/herself to the candy.

As an observation, there is an interesting rationalization regarding why the candy man will just leave the candy bag available for the eager children to help themselves. The reason I should just allow someone to take something without me giving it to them is as follows. I reason to myself that the end results will be the same. Why should I trouble myself to put forth the effort to have to set out the candy and to be there to hand it out?  It’s really not a strenuous or time-consuming thing to do. The answer is critical and can directly lead to a potential life-long lesson. I know everyone thinks that it is only about the child taking without asking; it is equally important for the person to be there to give the candy to the child. When a person gives something to someone, a connection is made and a relationship is established. This emerging relationship creates a bond that is greater than simply being a supplier of candy. The candy man becomes the child’s friend, mentor, teacher. This is a time to use the opportunity to nurture the child to grow, to learn to appreciate the need to ask and to say ‘thank you’. Although the Hebrew word “to take” is "קח" and is used extensively to acquire something, it nevertheless is only after something prior to that acquisition has been done. This is highlighted in the beginning of tractate Kiddushin and sourced from the Torah.

The Torah in this week’s Parshas Ki Seitzay states in several places (Devarim 22:13, 24:1, 24:5, earlier 20:7)  "כי יקח איש אישה"    “When a man takes a woman”. This first half of the passuk does not mean that he literally and physically takes her but rather he marries her through a previous act of presenting her with an acquisition. To clarify, a man cannot take/marry a woman without first giving something to her. The man needs to give the woman he wishes to marry a document or money before anything else happens. Even if he gives one of those two items, there needs to be consent on her part; she openly accepts the gift or document. The meaning of “taking” is predicated upon something that happening beforehand. In addition, the woman cannot be the one to just take the money or the ketuba and become married; the man presenting the ketuba to the woman must hand it directly to her.  So too with the candy. The child should not just take it; the candy needs to be given to the child, creating a bond between giver and taker.  Chaza”l learn out that the words "כי יקח – אין קיחה אלא בכסף"  when you take – taking can only be effective when it is done with money. I can’t take something for myself without giving of myself first.

Giving and then taking creates a relationship between the giver and the taker. As we are rapidly approaching a new year when we want to take all the blessings that we need, leaving  behind all of the evil decrees.  For this to happen, we need to step up. Hashem is ready to give, but it is only effective if we give first. Only when we give our commitment and display our will to follow the Torah and fulfill the mitzvos will God be forthcoming with all that we need and want.  

Ah Gutten Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas Shoftim - Coming & Going                     Rosh Chodesh Elul 5783

08/18/2023 08:58:03 AM


Summer 2023 in the Northern Hemisphere began on Wednesday, June 21 and ends on Friday, September 22. In the United States, particularly regarding cultural events, the summer season  begins on Memorial Day, last Monday of May, and ends on Labor Day, first Monday of September, coinciding more closely with the meteorological definition of summer. The Jewish, especially the Orthodox summer, season runs from July fourth until Labor Day. The heat of the summer typically begins with the fast of Tammuz until Rosh Chodesh Elul. Regardless of ‘official’ dating of this season, summer is the time for travel, for move-ins and out of a location, a time for hosting and visiting.

Beth Jacob has the opportunity of hosting many visitors to San Diego who come from all over the world. These visitors are a wonderful complement  to our family members and old members of the community who return to visit. As we like to show our hospitality and cordialness, we wish a Shalom Aleichem (welcome) to those new arrivals and visitors and a Tzeischem L’Shalom (farewell) to those who are departing. As  tourists and visitors arrive and depart, I always welcome visitors and newcomers and also wish safe travels and a good new year to those leaving. Recently, I began to think about which group of people should be welcomed first -  the new arrivals or those who were leaving?

The first example that came to mind occurs every Friday night when we sing a song for the angels. We begin with Shalom Aleichem and end with Tzeischem L’Sahalom. In truth, this is not the best example because the same angels are coming and going in contrast to different parties arriving and leaving at the very same time.  We’ve also frequently had visiting guests as well as out-of-town company who have stayed with us, literally using the guest room as a revolving room, saying good-bye to one group before welcoming the next, saying Tzeischem l’Shalom first and then Shalom Aleichem, welcoming the next visitors. ,

A slightly different component of a Jewish greeting is when the first person says ‘Shalom Aleichem’ (peace upon you) but the person to whom it was said replies ‘Aleichem Shalom’ (loosely translated as ‘upon you should be peace ‘). I once heard the reason for the flipping of these two terms as follows: One of the names of God is Shalom.  Through the act of each person offering the expression, the name of Hashem serves to work as bookends, solidifying the expressions, thereby transferring or giving the blessing to each other.  

The following is a beautiful insight presented in a sicha (discussion) given by Rav Menachem Mendel Schneerson z”l. When Jews meet their goal there is peace and unity. It should also be added that in the salutation and response of ’Shalom Aleichem’/‘Aleichem Shalom’, the first and the last word is Shalom, indicating the dictum: “The beginning and the conclusion are interconnected.” In actuality, it is the first word of the salutation, Shalom, which invokes the supernal power of peace and unity in a manner of “from above downwards” (albeit, still in potential) which later evokes the actual effectuation of the unity of separate forces and elements as indicated by the response Aleichem Shalom.  At the first moment of the initial encounter of two Jews, they agree and proclaim that their goal is to bring peace and unity, thereby creating the potential for eventual unity out of diversity. This encounter of unity between two Jews may take place at any time, even on a weekday, in any place, even a public domain, and in any milieu. The result will be unity and peace. After researching the common exchange among Jews, I thought of a connection to one of the tragic stories/mitzvos in the Torah regarding the Eglah Arufah, the breaking of the calf’s neck.

In this week’s Parshas Shoftim the Torah states in Devarim 21:5: "ונגשו הכהנים בני לוי כי בם בחר ה' אלוקיך לשרתו ולברך בשם ה', ועל פיהם יהיה כל-ריב וכל-נגע"  “The Kohanim from the tribe of Levi shall then come forth. [It is these priests] “who God has chosen to serve Him and to pronounce blessings in God’s name, and all who are entrusted to decide in cases of litigation and leprous signs”. A quick synopsis of this mitzvah is as follows. "If you find someone slain in the land – and it is unknown who killed him, your elders, your judges, must measure the closest city nearest to the corpse. The elders of that city bring a calf that has never pulled a yoke or been worked.  The elders of that city bring this calf down to a ‘hard’ valley that will not be worked and not planted, and there, in that valley, they decapitate the calf. At that point we pick up the verse whereby the Kohanim perform this ceremony.

Rav Yitzchok Punok in his sefer Kehilas Yitzchok explains that the Kohanim are required to have proper Kavana/ intent and concentration during the Birkas Kohanim, the Priestly blessings. When the Kohanim utter the last three words וישם לך שלום , and establish for you peace, the kohanim are stating there shall be peace among the Jewish people. The peace between the people of Israel does not only mean peace with our enemies; it means an internal peace among our Jewish family. The blessing should make sure there are no arguments that result in punishments to Klal Yisrael. The blessings of the Kohanim are intended to spread throughout the entire Jewish People so that  there will no longer be machlokes/dissension amongst our brethren. How much more so that there will never come to harm a fellow Jew let alone one Jew come to kill another Jew! When the Kohanim have the proper thoughts in mind, when they feel sincere devotion from the depth of their hearts, all negative thoughts or animosity between Jews will be removed. The impact of this blessing is so powerful it will remove any trick that the Satan could use  to make us stumble, and it will remove any leprosy. Ultimately, the bracha will serve as a protection assuring that a Jew would never take the life of another Jew, as mentioned in the storyline discussed in Parshas Shoftim regarding what to do when a Jew is found murdered on the road. The Kohanim were chosen to serve Hashem and to bless Bnei Yisrael in the Name of God which is the name of Shalom. 

Although not everyone is a Kohein, we all nevertheless have the ability to work towards creating a peaceful, loving environment, as did the Kohanim when giving  the blessings. When we invoke the name of Hashem through the word ‘Shalom’, a feeling of brotherhood is created among the Jewish people to never harm their brother. When we greet a fellow Jew, including those we’d never previously met, we offer a greeting which is, in essence, a bracha to bring us closer together - and he responds in kind. Wishing each other well and using Shalom, both when coming and when going, will surely give safe passage to the visitor and the stranger alike. Perhaps the city that is responsible for the death of the man killed never gave a warm Shalom Alecheim or Tzeischem L’Shalom upon arrival or upon their departure.  A thought to internalize!

Ah Gutten Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas Re'eh - Converse, Inverse, & Contrapositive    24 Av 5783

08/11/2023 08:37:02 AM


This Dvar Torah is in the merit of a refuah sheleima for Tzvi Yeshayahu ben Toba Rochel

There is a principle in Jewish tradition that states” כל המוסיף גורע”,- loosely translated as “anyone who adds, subtracts”. Thinking about this truism, I wondered…is the opposite “whoever takes away, adds”? I searched online and found the following:

The truth value of the converse of a statement is not always the same as the original statement. For example, the converse of "All tigers are mammals" is "All mammals are tigers." This is certainly not true. The converse of a definition, however, must always be true. `

To form the converse of the conditional statement, interchange the hypothesis and the conclusion. For example, the converse of "If it rains, then they cancel school" is "If they cancel school, then it rains." To form the inverse of the conditional statement, take the negation of both the hypothesis and the conclusion. The inverse of “If it rains, then they cancel school” is “If it does not rain, then they do not cancel school.” To form the contrapositive of the conditional statement, interchange the hypothesis and the conclusion of the inverse statement. The contrapositive of "If it rains, then they cancel school" is "If they do not cancel school, then it does not rain."

This all evolved from some major rule changes in major league baseball. The three biggest changes are the pitch clock, larger bases, and making the shift illegal. Initially, there was concern regarding the impact these changes would have on the game and its players. I read an article recently which stated that everyone is happy with these rules and that these rule changes have had a very positive impact on the game. In addition, reports are now coming in from individual players and the teams regarding how the players are healthier and are not as fatigued as they were in the past. (Please contact me if you want to know all the details why). So, I found my answer to the question: “if you take away something, do you gain?” The answer is a resounding “Yes!” We see this through viewing a case from the baseball rules change of 2023.

It is interesting to note the original source of the statement of “whoever adds, subtracts”.  The Gemara Sanhedrin 29a has the following discussion about judges advancing a claim on behalf of someone, but only if the individual is a generally upstanding Jew. On the other hand, the judges do not advance a claim on behalf of an inciter, i.e., one who is accused of inciting others to idol worship, referred to as a Meisis. The braisa teaches: If the defendant did not advance a claim that he was teasing the plaintiff, the judges do not advance this claim for him. Apparently, he stated his admission seriously. But in cases of capital law, even if the defendant did not advance any claim on his own behalf, the judges advance a claim on his behalf. But the judges do not advance claims on behalf of an inciter. The Gemara asks: What is different about an inciter, causing the court to not seek to deem him innocent? Rabbi Chama bar Chanina says: I heard at the lecture of Rabbi Chiyya bar Abba that an inciter is different, as the Merciful One states concerning him: “Neither shall you spare, neither shall you conceal him” (Deuteronomy 13:9). In this unique case, the court is not required to try to deem him innocent.

Reb Shmuel bar Nacḥman says that Rebbi Yonasan says: From where is it derived that the judges do not advance a claim on behalf of an inciter? It is derived from the incident of the primordial snake who tempted Chava; he was the first inciter. As Rebbi Simlai says: The snake could have advanced many claims on its own behalf, but it did not claim them. And for what reason the Holy One, Blessed be He, did not advance these claims for it, deeming the snake exempt from punishment? Because the snake did not advance these claims itself.

The Gemara asks: What could he have said? The Gemara answers: The snake could have said that it is not to blame, as when there is a contradiction between the statement of the teacher and the statement of the student, whose statement should one listen to? One should listen to the statement of the teacher. Since God instructed Adam and Eve not to eat from the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, Adam and Eve should have heeded God’s words and not those of the snake. Chizkiya says: From where is it derived that anyone who adds, subtracts? It is derived from a verse, stated by Eve: “God has said: You shall not eat of it, neither shall you touch it” (Genesis 3:3), whereas God had actually rendered prohibited only eating from the tree but not touching it, as it is stated: “But of the Tree of Knowledge of good and evil, you shall not eat of it” (Genesis 2:17). Because Eve added that there was a prohibition against touching the tree, the snake showed her that touching it does not cause her to die, and so, she consequently sinned by eating from it as well. Chava added on to Hashem’s words, consequently bringing death to the world. Nevertheless, we see the snake is the Meisis, the inciter. The punishment for someone who incites and causes others to sin is read this week on Shabbos.

The Torah in this week’s Parshas Re’eh states in Devarim 13:7 "כי יסיתך אחיך בן אמך או בנך או בתך או אשת חיקך או רעך אשר כנפשך בסתר לאמר, נלכה ונעבדה אלוהים אחרים אשר לא ידעת אתה ואבותיך"  “[This is what you must do] if your blood brother. your son, your daughter, your bosom wife, or your closest friend secretly tries to act as a missionary among you, and says, ‘Let us go worship a new god. Let us have a spiritual experience previously unknown by you or your fathers”. The word Meisis or meseth is explained by the Radak as “he tries to convince you”. The Targum explains this as: “he tries to mislead you” and the Rashbam explains, “He gives you bad advice.” The common denominator is that everyone agrees the primary purpose is to make a Jew stray from Hashem. This was the essence of the snake luring Chava away  from Hashem. True, it was the physical appearance and temptation to which she was drawn,  but this was only a façade created by the Nachash to lure her away, causing  Chava and Adom to sin.

Chaza”l explain that the root of the Meisis is the idea of silence or secrecy. There are several forces working to draw us away from Hashem and from our Judaism. Unfortunately, it is not only the stranger or the non-Jew who is tries persistently to do this; there are Jews who  repeatedly work to convince others that it is not necessary to be so observant or to spend so much time learning or even to daven. We ask for the Brachos of the beginning of the parsha to give us all the ability and the strength to recognize a snake and its true colors and kill its impact physically before it kills us spiritually.       

Ah Gutten Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas Eikev - Learning Enhances Performance 16 Av 5783

08/11/2023 08:34:53 AM


I sometimes wonder if my readership feels that I take this opportunity to use this platform for my personal therapy or self-reflection. I admit that self-reflections shared can benefit others, and I strongly believe that certain events – common, every day occurrences, omissions, miscalculations – blunders and simple acts of forgetfulness can have a powerful effect on many people beyond the individual committing the mistake.   

On Yom Kippur we recite Viduy/confession which openly admits the positive things each of us has lacked and the negatives each of us may have violated. The Chid”a, Rav Chaim Yosef Dovid Azulai, broke down the traditional Viduy and added different infractions, each of which begins with the same letter of each phrase of the Viduy. The first heading of the Viduy is ‘Ashamnu’, we have been delinquent. The Chid’a specified some of these delinquencies, listing אכלנו בלא ברכה תחילה וסוף  - we have eaten without reciting the introductory and /or concluding benediction. I have a tendency to swallow the words of the needed bracha before eating, but I nevertheless do manage to say them. Even if I forget to recite the Bracha/blessing at first, the law stipulates that one can say the blessing even while the food is in your mouth. If it is too difficult to do that, then you are supposed to say the bracha when taking the next bite or piece of food.

A few months ago, I found myself not once but twice realizing  that I had forgotten to say the Bentching! Despite the fact that there are administrative ways to ‘fix’ the blunder by having in mind that forgotten -to- bench food when bentching after the next or any other meal eaten later, I still typically keep in mind  that the bentching covers the previously eaten food, too. Nevertheless, I was devastated. How could I be so callous as to totally forget to recite the Grace After Meals even one time, let alone two times!

I took this as a sign that I needed to do something for two reasons: 1) as a tikkun - a  corrective measure and 2) for an atonement. Based upon the rabbinic teaching that since we don’t have the Beis HaMikdash, we cannot offer sacrifices, Chaza”l tell  us that if one learns about the sacrifices it is considered as if they were brought. Therefore, I thought to myself, what better way to gain atonement and correct my infraction of laxity than to learn about the laws of bentching and of the Brachos. It did not take too long for me to realize that this learning opportunity was right in front of me in the Smichas Chaver Program taught by Rabbi Whittenburg. I made a commitment, bli neder, to join the chabura/group to learn the details of the mitzvos of bentching. I cannot say that I am now an expert in this area of halacha, but I definitely feel that Hashem will accept this mechanism of learning about a topic or area that needed shoring up.  

This strategy works for anyone at any time throughout life: Make an effort to learn about something in order to get better at it. This is true for any mitzva, but how much more so for the most fundamental mitzva of gratitude for eating, an act which continuously gives us physical nourishment, giving us the strength to pursue our spiritual needs. Birkas HaMazone is something we are trained to say from a very young age. It is probably the most universal tune  sung in Jewish music across the Jewish spectrum. The command to bentch consists of three simple phrases found in the Torah:  “I ate, I was satisfied, and I blessed.”  Rav Dov Ber, the Maggid from Mezeritch, writes that Birkas HaMazone requires more kavana (intent or direction) than the Shmoneh Esrei because prayer is rabbinic while Bentching is Biblical, as we in the discussion below.  

The Torah in this week’s Parshas Eikev states in Devarim 8:10 "ואכלת ושבעת, וברכת את ה' אלוקיך על-הארץ הטובה אשר נתן לך"  :“When you eat and are satisfied, you must therefore bless God your Lord for the good land that He has given you.” Take a moment to review this section of the Parsha.  Look at the passuk (phrase) just before and immediately following this one.  There is a hidden message within the following Pshat/explanation I offer. The Gemara Brachos 21a states that this particular quoted line is a commandment to recite the grace after meals. I try to analyze why would a person forget to say a blessing, either before beginning to eat or immediately after eating? A powerful concept the Rabbis use to explain our lack of devotion to Hashem is the blessing of success and wealth that we have. This is best explained by the author of the Ner LaMaor who says we should not only bless Hashem when we are extremely hungry, starving, or pressured to eat; we should also bless Hashem -  even when we are full and satisfied.  In fact, it is precisely when we are totally satisfied and full, when things are going well that we are required to bless Hashem. There is no doubt that a poor, destitute person should thank Hashem for the food he has, but even someone who has plenty, who may think he is in control of his bounty, surely needs to recognize Hashem’s gifts and thank Him when eating and upon finishing his meal.   

The Gemara Brachos 35b states …”whoever benefits from this world without first making a bracha is committing a sin as reprehensible as if he stole from God and the Jewish people.” Rebbi Akiva Eiger asks, “I understand why this is considered stealing from Hashem because everything belongs to Him, but why is it stealing from the Jewish people?” Rebbi Akiva Eiger answers with the explanation: God created the world so that man can benefit and recognize the goodness of Hashem. As a result, a person will bless Hashem’s name in acknowledgment of all the good He did for us. Our blessing of Hashem will lead Him to add and to bestow more success and blessings upon His creations. Therefore, if a person is less than grateful for what he receives and does not recognize the source and or the inherent blessing expected as an expression of gratitude, then any benefits received but not followed by a bracha are tantamount to stealing from God. Indirectly, without blessing Hashem, God withdraws His giving of plenty, which affects the entire Jewish people. The ingrate causes God to hold back the plenty that He is fully desiring and willing to give, but only on condition that He is blessed by the people. Therefore, everyone loses out due to the lack of blessings said before and after we eat.

The lesson to be learned is that everything we do in life affects not only specific individuals; our actions – or lack of appropriate actions – can negatively affect potentially everyone in the world. This rule applies to every commandment, but especially with regard to reciting Birkas HaMazone, or Heaven forbid, not saying it or forgetting to say it.  Learning about Mitzvos will give us a more heightened sense of the impact we can have on ourselves on our families, and on the entire world, hopefully in a most positive manner.     

Parshas VaEschanan - The Mother of all Prayers 9 Av 5783

08/11/2023 08:26:41 AM


It has now been over nine and a half months of saying kaddish for my father z”l. There are a few different affects which typically occur during the course of the eleven-month obligation to recite kaddish, ranging from being a burden, to an obligation, and, ultimately, to an honor. I personally take upon myself the task of reciting kaddish first as an honor and only second as an obligation. Throughout the experience of saying kaddish, I would never say it was a burden, but can rather be challenging when it comes to traveling, planning ahead as much as possible to assure that I have a minyan in order to say kaddish. I must admit that, due to travel, there were a few times  that I found it impossible to have a minyan, so I delegated the opportunity to my nephews to say kaddish for their grandfather. Other than that, I not only recited kaddish with a minyan but have been very successful in obtaining the ‘amud’ - the lectern - to lead the services. Leading the services is more advantageous, and therefore highly recommended, for a mourner as it gives greater comfort to the soul of the departed.

My most recent trip of two weeks was replete with minyanim at all hours of the day as I traveled to many different places. The most challenging feat is always to keep in sync with the speed and décor of the minyan, and more so to stay within the nusach (text) of the minyan, be it Ashkenazic in Israel, Sephardic, Nusach Sefard, Askenazic American, and so on. The halacha/rule is the shalich tzibbur must pray using the same tradition as the congregation, foregoing his own. The best is when there are instructions and rules that control the pace and speed of the davening. Ultimately, of course, I feel most comfortable when I return home and daven in my own shul.

Many people are stubborn, refusing to “give in” or acquiesce to the norms and customs of the Shul they are visiting, or even to the shul they attend regularly. It is fascinating to learn about the origins of the differences in customs within the davening. One of my many pet peeves (I know I haven’t shared one with you lately), is during the Shabbos davening to decide whether to sing a song together with the Chazzan or to say the song line by line. The two tefillos in question are L’Cha Dodi and Keil Adon. The majority of Ashkenazic, non- Yeshivish Shuls typically will sing both of these songs all together as one, while the more Yeshivish minyanim and nusach Sefard have the custom that the chazzan sing the first paragraph and the congregation sing/hum the song but only say the words afterwards. * This determination may no longer be of any concern to an existing group, but when a new congregation, shul, is formed, the customs and traditions must be formulated and decided upon. To my knowledge, there is no book or manual that lays out all the options of what should or should not be done. In fact, there are times in the history of a congregation that the customs were changed based upon certain extenuating factors.

I was recently perusing through a sefer titled Kisvei HaGaon by Rav Yosef Eliyahu Henkin Zt”l. In volume one, page 163 of the Eidus L’Yisrael section, Rav Henkin writes about who goes first – the ”chazan then congregation – or the congregation then chazzan”. Rav Henkin beautifully outlines a rule of thumb, clearly explaining why the custom may sometimes dictate that the chazzan goes first, followed by the Tzibbur (congregation), and at other times the reverse is followed. If the piyyut, the poem, is simple, meaning there is no refrain, then the chazzan goes first, followed by the congregation.  Rav Henkin offers a few examples: Keil Adon, Shema Yisrael, and Hashem Hu HaElokim (7x) at the end of Neilah on Yom Kippur, along with many others. In these examples, the chazzan is the leader and goes first. But if a  piyyut, a poem, has a beginning and an end, including a refrain - for example L’Cha Dodi, Malachei Rachamim, and Yisroel Nosha, sung on the High holidays, along with other examples,  the chazzan sings the main body of the poem and the congregation completes it. So, if the chazzan says Shamor v’Zachor in L’Cha Dodi, the congregation follows by ending it with the refrain of L’Cha Dodi. But, in principle, if the congregation had previously said Shamor v’Zachor first, then the chazzan, followed by the congregation, completes it with the refrain. We find the same principle holds true regarding  blessings that both the chazzan and the congregation will recite. The most famous example is reciting of Shehecheyanu on Yom Kippur eve. The chazzan will begin to say the blessing out loud, while the congregation is instructed to say it along with him in an undertone and finish the blessing before the chazzan so that the congregation can say ‘Amen’ to the leader’s Bracha.

Perhaps people are adamant regarding their own customs because of their emotional attachment to their heritage despite the intellectual and sound halachik basis to the contrary. I would like to suggest- and share - an original idea based upon the famous Midrash in Devarim Rabba as to perhaps where there could be a basis for the plethora of ways and customs the Jewish people have become accustomed to practice.

The Torah in this week’s Parshas VaEschanan states in Devarim 3:23: "ואתחנן אל ה' בעת ההיא לאמר"  “: At that time [Moshe] pleaded with God, saying, The Midrash Rabbah 11:10. From where do we know that at that time Moshe prayed five hundred fifteen times? (And, according to the Ba’al HaTurim, the number of 515 is the same as the word שירה  /song that Moshe sang in front of Hashem so his prayers should be heard?) As it states, our same verse of VaEschanan also has the numerical value of 515. Chaza”l describe Moshe praying with ten different לשונות  - either understood as languages or different forms and variations of prayer. I would suggest that the sources of all the various customs stem from these myriad of prayers and forms that Moshe Rabbeinu used in his plea to enter Eretz Yisrael.

Moshe’s manner of Tefilla set the stage for how future congregations determined their specific practices. Perhaps some of those Tefillos were long and drawn out while others were short and quick. Maybe some of them were accompanied by singing, repeating refrains out loud while other prayers were said silently and more seriously. Maybe some of the davening grew through ways of dancing and clapping, even including the use of some accompanying  instruments, while others were of a more somber note, davening quietly while standing still. Moshe Rabbeinu was, in essence, the choir leader of the Jewish people during his lifetime, setting the parameters of Tefillah for all future congregations and kehillos Yisroel for all time. May all  the Tefillos of Klal Yisroel everywhere in the world bang on the gates of prayer and finally answer our prayers for Yeshuos V’Nechamos and truly experience the comfort the Jewish people so desperately need in our time.    

*This analysis is by no means complete and across every congregation and custom, but rather strictly my observations alone.

Ah Gutten Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas Devarim/Chazone - Who's in Control 2 Av 5783

08/11/2023 08:24:40 AM


From the moment we wake up until the second we fall asleep, a person feels, truly believes, that he is making the decisions of the day. Upon waking up I scan through my daily planner/calendar to check what is on the schedule for the day. This is particularly necessary on a day when I am traveling. I calculate the time necessary to pack, get to the airport, etc. As I wrote in the previous article, life does require some planning; we cannot live life doing something major such as booking an airline ticket at the gate. A person can try to buy a ticket at the gate, but it might be prohibitive. A second challenge to consider regarding air traffic today is that you may not even have a seat left to buy. In today’s day and age, the earlier a person reserves or purchases something, the lower the price will be.  This applies to  renting a car, making a hotel reservation or booking a plane ticket. Prices are driven by availability; the prices go up as the time gets closer to the date of departure.  

My latest trip was carefully planned out: a three-city travel flying from here to Eretz Yisrael, then to New Jersey and back to San Diego. I rented a car in Israel and while there I canceled my original car reservation as the prices had dropped.  In booking a car rental, you do not need to pay up front. The process is straightforward: when you pick up the vehicle the rental begins. To incentivize customers, rental companies will offer a lower price if you pay up front, including paying a cancelation fee if done before the time of the reservation. I never took that enticing offer, knowing full well that I can’t predict what will happen between “now and then” being so far off in the future - up until this last trip. I booked the car we’d be picking up in Newark on Friday while still in Israel, knowing we were leaving and arriving in Newark on Sunday.  At the time it seemed to be a no brainer. The plane took off on time, smooth sailing through the skies, and I felt that I beat the system and made the right bet. And then,  about a half hour prior to landing, the captain announced that Newark Airport was closed, and we would be landing in Boston, not knowing whether we would get to Newark or stay in Boston. Well, there went my cheaper car rental as I might lose the entire amount because we landed after my rental time had begun. We panicked and made another car reservation, planning now to drive from Boston to Newark and pick up the original car.  However, to make a long story short, we were able to refuel and continued on to Newark, remarkably  still able to pick up the original pre-paid car. I will skip (at least for this article) the backend of the trip and seeing the hand of God once again while still believing that I am calling the shots. But that wasn’t without a lot of Agmas Nefesh - loosely translated as stress! The experience clearly put Hashem back into the forefront of my thinking about just who is really in control. This situation is not an anomaly for me nor for the Jewish people. In fact, the Torah is replete with sagas describing when we lacked faith and thought we were in charge, failing to recognize that Hashem was pulling the strings all along.

In this week’s Parshas Devarim, the Torah states in Devarim 1: 2-3: "אחד עשר יום מחרב דרך הר שעיר עד קדש ברנע. ויהי בארבעים שנה בעשתי-עשר חדש באחד לחדש, דבר משה אל בני ישראל ככל אשר צוה ה' אתו אלהם"  “[This is in the area] which is an eleven-day journey from Choreiv* to Kadesh Barnea by way of the Seir highlands. “On the first day of the eleventh month in the fortieth year, Moshe [also] spoke to the Israelites regarding all that God had commanded that he tell them”. Rashi immediately points out in very harsh terms the timing of their travels. Moshe said to them: “See what you have caused. You have no shorter way from Choreiv to Kadesh Barnea than by way of Mount Seir, and even that is a journey of eleven days. Nevertheless, you traversed it in three days.” Rashi calculates the days based upon the story line. Rashi continues, ”Consequently, in three days they traveled that entire way. And this much did the Divine Presence trouble itself for your sake, to hasten your coming into the land. And because you acted corruptly, He caused you to make a circuit round about Mount Seir which took forty years.”

Moshe Rabbeinu is clearly stating the reasons why this debacle occurred. Moshe did not simply outright explain what the sins were that the Jewish people had violated. Rather, he hinted at the rebellions and anarchy just by mentioning the places where these offenses  took place. Moshe did not provide details of places and the distance in time between one location and another.  He did not use  MapQuest or Waze. The Tochacha/ the rebuke Moshe provides focuses on the reason the journey, which should have taken only a few days was extended to a period of forty years, is due to the sins they committed in those specific places. The lesson, and hidden message, is clear: when we sin, we lose our way and literally go off the derech. Sinning and rebelling against the Hashem will cause us to lose our way. If we avoid sinning, we will keep on the straight path and reach our destination faster than expected. A sin could be viewed as a distraction; when we get distracted from the task on hand, we get lost, drifting further and further from accomplishing what we set out to do. Keeping focused will lead to finishing the task sooner than expected and probably in a more effective manner.

The Kli Yakar writes that the eleven days mentioned in the verse correspond to eleven days of mourning the Beis HaMikdash, including the nine days from Rosh Chodesh Av, the seventeenth of Tammuz and Asara B’Teves. Due to our sins, we lost focus of who is really in charge, creating a void which allowed the Beis HaMikdash to be destroyed.   

As we entrench ourselves for these nine days, we start planning for life after Tish’a B’Av. Typically, as well as historically, Moshiach has not come and so, unfortunately, we fall into the trap of despair that the coming of Moshiach is not happening this year or any time soon. With our small faith, we prepare for yet another year, anticipating, assuring ourselves that Moshiach is not coming again. Perhaps Hashem will have a different plan for us; perhaps He will bring Moshiach, even though we do not expect or plan for this to occur.  We should all be Zocheh to greet Melech HaMoshiach B’Meheira B’Yameinu!

*Choreiv – either Mount Sinai or the surrounding vicinity

Ah Gutten Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas Chukas / Balak - Overthinking            11 Tammuz 5783

06/30/2023 09:22:28 AM


Typically, with the start of summer, it’s common to ask, “What are your plans for this summer?” Since school is out, it’s common for many families, time permitting, to go on a family vacation together. If it’s not possible to take time off from work, parents need to either hire childcare, or, if financially feasible, to send their children to day camp or even sleep away camp. Whatever the situation, a fair amount of advance planning is required. In truth, it’s not only the summer but throughout the year, and, in deed, throughout life that people plan trips, schedule meetings for work, make travel arrangements for business and pleasure, make plans to remodel their home, and so forth.

In the back of our minds, the subconscious knows yet seems to assert little concern regarding whether things will go according to plan. We understand (but do not necessarily believe) that ultimately something will happen to us! The concern is predicated upon the deep core belief that we know God runs the world and that things could change at moment’s notice. No one needs to be reminded about that ‘event’ called “Covid”; disruptions are bound to happen anywhere from something – small or large. If I had to guess, I would bet that almost everyone reading this right now knows at least one person who has been affected by the airline industry crisis currently taking place. Most cancelations and delays are due to weather and a shortage of air traffic controllers, according to airport administrators. … In reality, “that’s an issue that is not going to be solved overnight,” said Charles Braden, Norfolk International Airport’s director of market development. “It’s a big problem.” he continued. Geoff Freeman, president of the U.S. Travel Association, predicted that this summer’s travel season “will be off the charts…which may be great for the travel industry, but as a country, we have underinvested in the aviation system for far too long.” Mr. Freeman continued to explain that U.S. investment in air traffic control, technology, and individual training has long been below the level needed and we’re paying the price for it.

Now that we are experiencing this challenge, it becomes more apparent that there are two issues which  are out of the consumers’ control; human failure and mother nature (otherwise known as HaKadosh Baruch Hu, God Himself!). Either way, knowing things are out of our control, does not mean that we can live life without at least a modicum  of planning. The world runs on a system of making appointments, buying tickets in advance, and so on. The question is how do we balance these two ideas of planning in advance knowing full well things may not turn out the way we planned?

In the past I have written about and quoted a famous verse from Mishlei 19:21 where Shlomo HaMelech says, "רבות מחשבות בלב איש, ועצת ה' היא תקום"  - “There are many thoughts in a man’s heart, but the plan of Hashem, that shall stand”. This statement of king Solomon apparently limits our ability to navigate (not necessarily control) our lives. A few weeks ago, I was thinking about this Mishlei and came up with a “chiddush”-  a new understanding of this verse. As you can see, I underlined and put the word in Hebrew and English in bold type. Perhaps this is the clear distinction, the fine line, in living our lives consistently with the Torah and Shlomo HaMelech’s understanding of how the world operates.  For the ongoing process of the world, we human beings clearly need to look a little ahead, taking the time to plan. The question always comes back: “how much effort or planning do we really need to do?”. The Machshavos - thoughts - are the essence of planning, looking ahead to the things in life and that are necessary and acceptable. However, when we start to overthink, to attempt to micromanage every detail, we lose sight of who is really in control. Trying to figure things out so that “I” will always come out on top is where the warning and where reality comes into play. The ultimate and final scenes are determined from above. We must recognize and consider that all the time. We find a similar pattern of thinking in several places throughout the Torah.

This week we read two parshios: Chukas and Balak.  In the second parsha, the Torah relates the story of Balak, king of Moav, who hired Bilaam to curse the Jewish people. The narrative is crystal clear. Balak summons Bilaam who refuses to come. A second set of messengers is sent to convince Bilaam to go with them and fulfill the wishes of Balak to curse the Jewish nation. The Torah, in Bamidbar 22:20, states: "ויבא אלוקים אל בלעם לילה ויאמר לו, אם-לקרא לך באו האנשים קום לך אתם ואך את הדבר אשר אדבר אליך אתו תעשה"   “That night, God appeared to Bilaam and said to him, ‘If the men have come to summon you, set out and go with them. But only do exactly as I instruct you.” Reluctantly, Hashem allows Bilaam to go. Repeatedly Bilaam says to the men and eventually to Balak, “I can only say what Hashem instructs me to say.”   Rav Pinchos of Koritz in his manuscript Kodesh Hilulim asks the following: Instead of saying as I instruct you to do, shouldn’t it have been written ‘just as I say’? Rather, the Midrash states, “Come and see how beloved the Jewish people are to Hashem.” God allows His presence to be with a rasha, a wicked person, for the benefit of Klal Yisroel. The understanding here is Hashem says to Bilaam to “go with them”. Hashem explains to Bilaam that he can go with them but there will not be any benefit to Bilaam against My people. Only that which I tell you to say will you be successful, in that it will help the Jewish people. When Hashem speaks to Bilaam, Hashem allows His Shechina to rest upon Bilaam. This is the single and only instruction through which Bilaam can act.  The only good thoughts Bilaam could have are solely those that Hashem needed Bilaam to have in order to do good for Am Yisrael. We take the lesson at its core: whatever ends up happening connects directly to the original thought that only Hashem will allow for our benefit as well. To be continued…


Ah Gutten Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

*Pinchas Shapiro of Koretz 17261791 was a Lithuanian Chasidic rabbi and theologian who was a disciple of the Baal Shem Tov. He was the son of Rabbi Avraham Abba Shapiro and Sora Rochel Shapiro. Pinchas's father was a descendant of Rabbi Nosson Nata Spira, the author of Megaleh Amukot. His son Moshe was born in 1759.Born in Shklov, Pinchas was named after his paternal grandfather, described as "the famous and great scholar Rabbi Pinchas from Shklov."

Parshas Korach - Will the True Leader Stand Up       4 Tammuz 5783

06/23/2023 09:05:30 AM


I have a hunch that everybody who listens and learns the Parsha week in and week out has grown to have chosen a parsha favored above all the others. There is no question that every boy and girl who had an opportunity to learn and perform for their bar/bat mitzva love and cherish their special, personal parsha! I can personally attest to the fact that no matter how many years it has been (at least 46) since my bar mitzva, Parshas Korach is definitely my favorite. There are six parshios in the Torah that are named for people (can you name them?). As a kid I didn’t appreciate my parsha as it is named after someone who is not looked upon well in the eyes of Hashem. Nevertheless, as we mature, we begin to learn with a different perspective. We appreciate every angle of the parsha, not only its name but all the other components of the parsha which together help us to weave the lessons to be digested.. 

God created a world replete with opposites; when something is wrong something else is right. When something is high, there are other things that counter it that are low. Somethings are heavy while others are light. There will always be a set amount of money that exists in the world, and it moves (zuz) around from one place to another, some have more while others have less, and it never stays the same. In fact, when it comes to an illness for which there is  no cure, the rabbis teach us that the cure is already in the world just waiting to be discovered. In layman’s terms, this is the concept Hashem creates - the refuah is there even before the makka; God creates the cure even before the illness. There are many more examples of this concept. To highlight one more, we find that where there is a villain there is a hero. There are situations at the outset where we cannot determine if someone is evil, acting in a wicked fashion. It is only as the individual’s actions grow clearer that we are able to  see the truth and the person’s true sense, true intentions, are revealed. At times it is difficult to see the difference, but eventually the evil just pours out.  Well, according to my theory, there needs to be a hero. Even when it comes to the good guy, heroism isn’t necessarily detected immediately, growing more and more visible only after analyzing and then seeing the situation from beginning to end. Suspicions regarding the honesty and integrity that we questioned at first now become d more obvious, slowly determining that the individual is truly innocent. Our focus then is guided by the person’s righteousness, no longer believing him/her to be evil, but actually understanding that this individual is  truly good, honest, and sincere. This is the exact scenario we find in my Bar Mitzva portion, Korach.

In this week’s Parshas Korach we find all the criteria for what a leader is truly all about.  The Torah states in Bamidbar 16:4 "וישמע משה ויפל על פניו"  “And when Moshe heard this, he threw himself on his face”. The very next passuk states: "וידבר אל קרח ואל כל עדתו לאמר, בקר וידע ה' את אשר לו ואת הקדוש והקריב אליו ואת אשר יבחר בו יקריב אליו"  “Then Moshe spoke to Korach and his entire party. “[Tomorrow] morning”, he said, “God [will show that He] knows who  who is holy, and He will bring him close to Him. He shall choose those who shall [be allowed to] present [offerings] to Him”. Reb Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the Ba’al HaTanya, charges that Moshe could have said the second verse immediately. Why was it necessary that he first fall on his face? Reb Shneur Zalman reasons that Moshe viewed himself as a shaliach, a messenger from Hashem, and perhaps the challenge Moshe was experiencing is all from above. Moshe was thinking that just as he was a messenger, so, too, could others be messengers. Certainly, an individual with Korach’s lineage (identical to Moshe) could be chosen by Hashem to act in this manner. Therefore, Moshe fell on his face, first to contemplate the matter, considering that perhaps he  was acting in a haughty manner. After checking himself out, he concluded that he did not have within himself an ounce of haughtiness. At that point Moshe recognized that Korach was not sent by Hashem but was just an individual dissenter and combatant  seeking honor. At that point Moshe understood, proceeding to  answer as he did. Reb Yonason Eibeshutz, in his sefer Tiferes Yehonason, explains that  Moshe’s falling down is an expression of the highest degree of what a leader is all about. The Gemara in Moed Kattan 17a refers to the words of Chaza”l, words of the sages. The sages say any time or place the sages “put their eyes on someone,” meaning to stare or gaze at a specific individual, that person either died or became destitute. Since Moshe did not want to harm Korach and his followers, rather Moshe was holding out, hoping these revolters would ultimately  repent and do teshuva. Despite being attacked by Korach verbally and emotionally, Moshe still waited for him to repent; repentance is the ultimate goal. Moshe realizes it’s not about Korach or about Korach and Moshe; it’s about Korach and Moshe, watched by God, to willingly do whatever it takes for however long it may take to recognize the need for repentance. Therefore,  Moshe fell onto his face so that he wouldn’t come to gaze upon Korach and either kill him or make him destitute.  Moshe is willing to put aside his own victory over Korach to bring him back, to give him every opportunity to repent.

This is the apparent difference between the villain and the hero, between the tzadik and the rasha. The evil rasha wants to do one thing while the righteous tzdadik wants to accomplish something quite opposite.  The wicked want to destroy and take down while the tzadik wants to lift up, to build the person up, to help him rehabilitate. In life we make choices. We can choose to look and to hear about the one who makes the most noise, such as  Korach, or to look a little deeper in order to find the quiet, silent voice of Moshe.

In conclusion, we are all capable of being a Korach or a Moshe. Only one of these exhibited true leadership. Let us injest this lesson and act in the footsteps of Moshe Rabbeinu, keeping our eyes down. praying for the sinners to repent and come back, to join and participate together as part of Klal Yisroel.

Ah Gutten Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas B'Haalos'cha - Jewish Guilt                 20 Sivan 5783

06/09/2023 10:20:46 AM


Our modern world is inundated by non-stop information, good and bad, accurate and false, transmitted continuously by the media. There is no doubt that people throughout the world are over influenced by the media. Our opinions and biases are formed by what we see, hear and experience. Unfortunately, this is all too often the case for people who never established their own sense of right and wrong. In my humble opinion, the Torah is the absolute truth; issues of society need to be viewed through the lens of the Torah and Chaza”l. I cannot speak for other religions, but I would imagine that the same truth would hold up - those who are more learned and deeply committed to religion will be less influenced by their surroundings. Part of being knowledgeable and having a sense of right and wrong is the formation of a deep sense of obligation, responsibility, and caring. For better or for worse (probably worse), if a situation arises which causes a caring person to try to to make something right but falls short of this attempt, that good and caring person will end up feeling guilty. On the other hand, someone who cares marginally and messes up will still claim innocence. To summarize this idea,  “the innocent tends to feel guilty, while the guilty typically feel innocent”.  

In the following excerpt the Torah clearly relates  about the persistent complaints expressed by Jewish people.  Now, I hope we all agree that at this point in Jewish history, the people should not be complaining, revealing a side of them that is less than to be desired. Nevertheless, Moshe Rabbeinu, who always wants to try to help,  davens for the people and literally puts out the fire. This is immediately followed by more complaining…

The Torah in this week’s parshas B’Haaloscha states in Bamidbar 11:1,2,4 "ויהי העם כמתאננים רע באזני ה' וישמע ה' ויחר אפו ותבער בם אש ה' ותאכל בקצה המחנה. ויצעק העם אל משה ויתפלל משה אל ה' ותשקע האש. והאספסף אשר בקרבו התאוו תאוה וישבו ויבכו גם בני ישראל ויאמרו מי יאכלנו בשר".  “The people began to complain, and it was evil in God’s ears. When God heard it, He displayed His anger, and God’s fire flared out, consuming the edge of the camp. The people cried out to Moshe, and when Moshe prayed to God, the fire died down. The mixed multitude among [the Israelites] began to have strong cravings, and the Israelites once again began to weep. “Who’s going to give us some meat to eat?” They loudly demanded. The people who were complaining are identified as the eirev rav, a group of people with questionable lineage who may not have been Jewish. Nevertheless, their influence on the mainstream was very powerful and accepted by the Jews. The eirev rav could potentially be viewed as the voice of everything that is wrong with the world, refusing to see the goodness that lies within the world. The goodness of Moshe is revealed, despite Moshe’s understanding that they are in the wrong. In fact, Moshe may have felt guilty for the situation. Moshe had done everything possible with the greatest and purest of intentions, and still he went to bat for them by davening to stop the plague that ensued with a fire burning around the camp.  After Moshe helped the wicked ones who felt entitled to complain, they immediately resumed their crying and complaining a second time. Even though they were wrong, they felt they were innocent and were being mistreated.

One must ask a simple question, ”Why did the people complain”?  If one takes into account what life looked like in the desert, wouldn’t it be hard to find anything wrong or to have any reason to complain? Reb Yosef Zvi HaLevy* explains a key point regarding why the complainers are referred to as “the people” and not Bnei Yisrael: the “complainers” were from the common nation and not the important Jewish people. It was only the common people who were not satisfied with their life situation. These people were used to working in an all-physical capacity, but the desert conditions didn’t call for physical labor at all. The only “work” the Jewish people needed to do in the desert was to sit in the Ohel Moed or the Beis Midrash to hear the Torah being taught directly from Moshe Rabbeinu. The commoners, not trained or accustomed to sitting to learn,  complained in their hearts about their situation.  They found it difficult  to sit in peace and tranquility to just daven and learn Torah and not to work a physical job for the body.

Rav Shamson Raphel Hirsch zt”l in his commentary explains that all complaining is a result of a lack of spirituality. When an individual, a family, or a community does not have enough Ruchniyus/spirituality,  complaining that the Gashmiyus/physicality is lacking ensues. On  the other hand, when there is an infusion of Ruchniyus/spirituality, then even when there is a true lacking of some physicality, it is overlooked and viewed with satisfaction rather than a lacking.

Every person needs to assess his or her physical and spiritual needs knowing full well that they will only be satisfied in the physical sense if they are being nourished spiritually. If we are drying up and lacking our spiritual growth, then we will never be satisfied with our physical lot in life, always feeling the need for more. As individuals, we need to look beyond our personal space, seeing and acting upon this lesson with regards to the greater community, working together to create and facilitate a stronger spiritual place to live. A community where there is more Tefillah, more Torah, and more Gemilus Chasadim to truly build not only a Bayis Neeman B’Yisrael but also a Kehilas Beis Yakov, a congregation of the house of Jacob will grow together, deepening its individual and communal growth. Individually and collectively, we look forward to building our physical places through the fulfillment of our communal obligations of learning Torah and davening Tefillah B’Tzibbur - together as a congregation!

Ah Gutten Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky


*Rav Yosef Zvi HaLevy (1874-1960) was an Israeli rabbi and head of the rabbinical court for Tel Aviv-Yafo. HaLevy was born in 1874 in Vilijampolė, Kaunas, Lithuania, then part of the Russian Empire, and was the son of Rabbi Avraham HaLevy. He obtained his rabbinical ordination (semicha) from Slabodka Yeshiva. Rav HaLevy emigrated without his family to Ottoman Palestine at the beginning of 1891 and shortly thereafter married the daughter of Rabbi Naftali Herz Halevy, the Chief Rabbi of Jaffa. In 1894 (or late 1893), he moved to Jerusalem, but returned to Jaffa in about 1897. HaLevy was later appointed to serve as the head (Av Beit Din) of the Tel Aviv Rabbinical Court.

Parshas Nasso - The Trip of a Lifetime             13 Sivan 5783

06/02/2023 03:42:07 PM


This week’s Dvar Torah is L’iluy Nishmas / in memory of HaRav Dovid Elimelech ben Shmuel HaKohein z”l

In Bereishis we read about Eliezer the servant of Avraham being guided by Hashem in getting to his destination in traveling not at fast pace but rather in the concept known as Kfitzas HaDerech. This term is understood as either the road was made shorter, or he someone jumped the road so to speak. Although I have never read or learned about this in the opposite form I did experience it this week.

This week, one of my most long-standing friend lost his father, Rabbi David Winter z”l. My friend,  Chaim and I are in touch almost weekly and I was acutely aware of his father’s health decline and his approach to Olam Habah - the next world. I was informed that medical care was slowing down and to expect the unexpected phone within a day or so. My gut reaction to may similar situations would be to want to go and be with my friend. Unfortunately living so far away historically has limited me and my family members to attend both happy and sad occasions with friends and family. My friend Chaim recently married off his third and last girl (only has girls). I had missed the first two weddings and I really intended to make the last one. Circumstances had it that I was to be iin Israel for my Mother’s Yahrzeit and really had no option to go to the wedding. It then hit me what Shlomo Hamelech wrote in Koheles, “that it is better to go to a house of mourning than to a house of rejoicing” like a wedding. It was too quick for me to attend the funeral and I reasoned that I would have more quality time with my friend at the Shiva house instead of going to the funeral where it would be too overwhelming to spend time together. At that moment I start the search for airline tickets and for reasons too long to discuss here I flew into Newark New Jersey instead of JFK in New York which was much closer as the Shiva was in Queens. The traffic in the New York New Jersey area is beyond painful. I knew there would be traffic and returning to the airport during the day would take a little longer. It is actually only about twenty-one miles from Queens to Newark airport and it took two hours and forty-five minutes, in contrast flying it took only five hours (less than double the amount of time) to travel three thousand miles from San Diego! When a righteous person travels Hashem can make a long distance go fast but if not righteous makes a short distance go extremely slow.

A perspective of traveling is how a person carries themselves. When we travel either by car, plane, horse and buggy, or the original way of travel the old plain walking way,  we are carrying our bodies from one place to another. Most often the ability to go faster sometimes depends on the load that we are carrying, as we can walk or run faster with out carrying baggage and stuff. At the end of Bamidbar and the beginning of Nasso we read of the Levite families doing their work and carrying the different parts of the Mishkan as they traveled through the desert.  Several commentators address the distinction between the work and the carrying by the Leviim.

In this week’s Parshas Nasso the Torah states in Bamidbar 4:24 "זאת עבודת משפחת הגרשני לעבוד ולמשא"  “The Gershonite family shall serve by maintaining and carrying as follows”. Chizkuni* explains the word to work or serve as the putting together the components of the Mishkan and erecting it when they camp came to rest, and to dismantle it as the people were about to move. This is confirmed by a passuk/verse earlier Bamidbar 1:51 "ובנסע המשכן יורידו אתו הלוים ובחנת המשכן יקימו אתו הלוים והזר הקרב יומת"  “When the Tabernacle is moved, the Levites shall take it down, and when it is to remain in one place, they shall set it up. Any non-Levite who participates shall die”. The Eben Ezer explains the word “to work” is putting up the Mishkan and making the showbread, slaughter and watch over. But it is the Sforno who connects the activities together by citing a different earlier verse Bamidbar 3:25 "ומשמרת בני גרשון באהל מועד המשכן והאהל..."  “The task of the descendants of Gershon involving the Communion Tent….” This speaking of the tasks when they were camped. Our verse here comes to relate that all the roles, tasks, involvement, and everything the Leviim did when the camp was “parked” and rested was also performed in the same detail when they traveled. The Levites had those same tasks of carrying it all when they traveled.

The concept of carrying and traveling is not limited to the physical items we shlep but in addition the Torah gives us a perspective to travel through our life. I am personally going through a process of leaving behind or ignoring some baggage that life accumulates along the way. When we hold on to ideas, pet peeves, philosophies that no longer serve us any good hold us back and slow us down from reaching a further greater destination in life. We only have a certain amount of time in this world, and we need to go as far as we can in the quickest way possible. We carry psychological baggage whether it is religious, work, family or world related that prevents us from accomplishing things in our life that we are capable of and will never come to realize by removing it.

We have a choice in life. We can decide to take a very short trip that will take a very long time to get to my destination and I may not even make it there. Or I can take a very long trip and get there quickly and have more time available to do even more.  We can all in a sense become Leviim and learn the lesson from Leviim to carry only the necessary things to serve Hashem. May each and everyone be Zocheh to merit work in their respective ways and with all the talents we are blessed with to serve the Creator on our journey.

*Chizkuni born in France, 1220-1260 is a commentary on the Torah of Rabbi Chizkiyah ben Manoach. Chizkuni, a compilation of insights culled from the Midrashim, as well as the writings of twenty other Rishonim, including Rashi, Rashbam and Ibn Ezra. However, Chizkuni does not name any of his sources (other than Rashi), to encourage objective study, as he felt that one should focus on the message rather than the messenger.

Parshas Bamidbar - Coffee, Torah & Shavuos   28 Iyar 5783

05/19/2023 09:07:33 AM


Parshas Bamidbar typically occurs the week before the Yom Tov of Shavuos, as is the case this year. Several commentaries connect Bamidbar, the desert, as the prime location for the giving of the Torah. Har Sinai was not the tallest or mightiest mountain; it stood  smaller and less imposing than most of the surrounding mountains, representing humility, a necessary ingredient for one to succeed in Torah studies. Additionally, the desert is an area of the world that is “ownerless,” reflecting the notion of how no one person can claim the Torah as uniquely his own; the Torah is available for all of us to embrace - so long as we are up and awake. The tradition to stay up all night learning is to metakein, to fix the error of our ancestors who overslept the morning of Kabbolas HaTorah on Shavuos. Therefore, to ensure we don’t oversleep, we simply do not go to bed. A tool many use to stay up and study both secular and Torah subjects is to ingest caffeine through drinking two main beverages: coffee, and coke.

Shavuos is a major two-day festival holiday commemorating the date when God gave us the Torah on Mount Sinai. Every year for over 3,000 years, we celebrate this beautiful holiday by renewing our deep commitment to and acceptance of the gift of our Torah from Hashem; every Shavous Hashem ‘relives’ this precious gift to us.  Even though Shavous is not equivalent to the typically accompanying American secular Memorial Day which commemorates and honors those who lost their lives defending the United States, Shavous does include saying Yizkor, a perfect time to honor our deceased loved ones.

 As the summer approaches I recall a story that took place with my friend Buddy. Over the course of many summers, Buddy and a few of his friends worked at a few kosher hotels in the Catskills, a region in upstate New York. diligently the owner, of blessed memory, worked diligently at saving money and more importantly squeezing out every possible value of anything and everything in sight (and out of sight, HINT). The waiters were each given five Sanka coffee packets to serve to the guests. The waiters had to retrieve the opened packets and return them to the owner who then gave each of the waiters five new packets to distribute. At first, the staff reasoned that the owner was afraid guests and or staff were taking the coffee packets out of the dining room for later use… or who knows what, perhaps to sell them? Lo and behold, one day my friend Buddy witnessed the owner slicing the open coffee packets completely down the side to get to the few granules remaining in the bottom and sides of each packet and brushing them into a jar. My friend didn’t dare say anything but remarked that by the end of the summer this hotel owner had filled an entire jar with the remnants of the grinds from those used packets coffee!

There is a famous  expression “Good to the Last Drop” – a phrase actually used by Theodore Roosevelt, later adopted by Maxwell House Coffee in 1917. In truth, every Jew knows why Maxwell House had such success. There is no question it is attributed to the advertising for Pesach as the most famous Haggada which became known as the ‘Maxwell House edition’ Haggadah. 

The successful marketing of the phrase “Good to the Last Drop” was to emphasize to the drinker that every drop of the coffee was just as tasty as the first drop.  Far more to the point, each and every ounce is equal to make up the whole. This overtly simple marketing technique is actually an incredible lesson for all of us. Each and every one of us together make up the essence of life striving to deepen and connect with each other in an ever-deepening commitment to growing in knowledge of Torah and Mitzvos. In this week’s parsha, Parshas Bamidbar, the Torah states in Bamidbar 1:2 "שאו את ראש כל עדת בני ישראל למשפחתם לבית אבתם, במספר שמות כל זכר לגלגלתם"  “Take a census of the entire Israelite community. [Do it] by families following the paternal line, according to the names of each male, taken individually”. The term שאו / census reflects a ‘raising up’, indicating the counting of the Jewish people was used to lift them up in importance. This was accomplished in two ways: First, the act of counting the Jewish people created a sense of unity among the individuals who were now part of a larger whole. The Alshich HaKadosh comments the Shechina/God’s presence is meant to rest upon the group and not an individual, hence the Shechina could not rest upon the Jewish people as we were no longer individuals, but rather part of something bigger. Second, the ability to mention God’s name could not be done by the individual.  During the counting every person had to clearly state his name and  declare his unique trait and specific talent. The individual counted was special in that he had the ability to tilt the world to be in a better place with his expertise. It is for this reason that even when the Jewish people are in a group, they still individually bring a half shekel. Why a half shekel? A half shekel was brought to show I am not a complete person without someone else emphasizing that even my small coin has the ability to tip the scales. It is interesting to note the name of the coin is “shekel” which itself means to weigh and balance the scales.  As important and powerful as we are as individuals, we are reminded that we are still only half the person each of us  can strive to become.   It is only with the continuation of counting from one to the next to the next that we create a powerful team, a people who together form a solid whole, overcoming individual weaknesses.

The Jewish people is not only counted. Rashi emphasizes that we are precious; Hashem counts us, His precious nation, again and again, while also clearly demonstrating the importance of each and every person. Without that ‘one’ we don’t have the other. The Jewish people have been brought together, growing from those small granules that Hashem lovingly picks up and removes from the cracks and dark places, bringing them to be counted among the rest of Am Yisrael.  As we conclude the final week of the Omer, we look back and see how the individual days made it into weeks. Every Jew is represented as an individual day while the weeks are the different groups of the Jewish people. As we culminate the Omer with seven full weeks, we count and bring all the individuals who together form part of a group, bringing  the groups together as we did at Har Sinai to receive the Torah כאיש אחד בלב אחד  as one man with one heart to our Father in Heaven.

Parshas Behar/Bechukosai - How Do You Handle the News?    20 Iyar 5783

05/19/2023 09:05:04 AM


There are several world-renowned lines of questioning that we all either come to ask or need to answer throughout the course of our lives. One of those questions took place during while teaching  my Chumash class at SCY High. I needed to convey two pieces of information to my students, one of which I knew they would welcome while the other would cause them to want to run away.  It’s important to note that for every question or piece of information I present, the response must be accompanied by an explanation of why. And so, I presented the question: “I have good news and bad news. Which do you want to hear first?” The class was pretty much split down the middle, half stating that they wanted to hear the bad news first, deal with it and get it out of the way and  then hear better news. The other half said they want to hear the good news first and have at least something positive which would help them to better deal with the bad news that follows.

A different situation may call for what you've likely heard as the ‘sandwich method’ (sometimes called the ’feedback sandwich’). The sandwich method starts off on a positive note, mentioning a constructive criticism, then finishes off with another positive comment. But if you only have one good and one bad, how do you choose? An additional consideration is who decides - the speaker or the receiver.

According to a 2013 study published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, most people with good and bad news to share prefer to share the good news first. (Researchers call it "priming emotion-protection," a fancy way of saying, "maybe this won't be so bad if I ease into it." But the same study shows that most recipients of good and bad news prefer to hear the bad news first, if only because that reduces the worry factor: If I know bad news is coming, I'll dwell on that -- and be less likely to take seriously or pay much attention to the good news. Maybe that's because we tend to prefer stories with happy endings. (No research is necessary to confirm that statement). Most people tend to feel anxiety and discomfort when receiving bad news, thus the news-recipients may choose to receive the bad news first so that the following good news will ultimately help to make them feel better.  Research confirms that most people would rather give good news first while the receiver prefers to hear the bad news first.

Studies and polls are very limited regarding the time and place where the assessment is occurring. As a result, the findings of the research is that it tends not to carry enough weight to determine permanent solutions and policies. That is not to say we do not rely on information in the short term when that is the only way to make decisions. By and large the Torah itself, which is immortal, does give us insight and direction for the past, present and future. With that said, we turn to the Torah to answer our question of what is the preferred order: the good then the bad or the bad then the good? The answer is quite simple. The Torah is replete with examples of the positive and good first,  followed by the negative. A few of the many examples of these include the blessings and the curses of Parshas Re’eh. The Torah states in Devarim 11:26 "ראה אנכי נתן לפניכם היום ברכה וקללה"  “You can therefore see that I am placing before you both a blessing and a curse”. In Devarim 27:11 when it comes to Har Gerizim and Eival, the Torah states "אלה יעמדו לברך את העם על הר גריזים...ואלה יעמדו על הקללה בהר עיבל"  “The ones who stand on Mount Gerizim for the people’s blessing….the ones who shall stand on Mount Eival for the curse”. While there are many more examples, I will demonstrate one more  comes from this week’s Torah reading.

The Torah in this week’s double Parshios of Behar and Bechukosai speaks of the Tochacha, the public rebuke and warning to the Jewish people regarding what might happen if we rebel against Hashem. Here again, the Torah first mentions the good and then the bad. In the beginning of Bechukosai, the Torah states in Vayikra 26:3: "אם בחקתי תלכו ואת מצותי תשמרו ועשיתם אתם. ונתתי גשמיכם בעתם"  “If you follow my laws and are careful to keep my commandments, I will provide you with rain.” Rain is an open sign of blessing, seen throughout the Torah, while draught is a curse. Only a few verses later, in 26:14, the Torah states: "ואם לא תשמעו לי ולא תעשו את כל המצות האלה"  “[But this is what will happen] if you do not listen to Me and do not keep my commandments.” Once again, we have the positive of observing the Torah and receiving the reward of rain,  followed immediately by the negative warning: if we don’t follow the Torah, bad things will befall us. On this passuk, Rav Baruch HaLevi Epstein* in his sefer Tosefes Bracha quotes a question from the famed commentary Ibn Ezra regarding why the blessings come short and concise while the curses are extensive and elaborate. The answer, generally speaking, is because the good characteristics outweigh and are greater than bad middos.  Rav Epstein explains that the curses are only mentioned to serve as a deterrent to frighten the people from sinning-  and we can never receive enough deterrents to keep us from sinning. The brachos/blessings will surely come true, so being exact, precise and to the point is sufficient. Rav Epstein continues with a short psychological insight that “good” comes in short bursts and small amounts. In the event something good from the blessing is lacking, it is no longer good but will be replaced with something else that is good. On the other hand, when it comes to curses, the “bad” appears and piles up, one upon another until the curses become impossible to bear.

On a personal note, I interpret the coming of the good first because I hope to take the bracha, the good and use it effectively so that there will no longer be a need for the other shoe -the “bad” to drop. Let me take something good now in the hopes that the bad will never come. It is always better to hear good news than to hear bad news, whether we are the speaker or the receiver. We should all be blessed with blessings and never need the lessons learned through being receivers of the bad.

* Rabbi Baruch Halevi Epstein was a very fascinating man who lived and studied in Lithuania from 1860-1941. He was the son of the great Rabbi Yechiel Michel Halevi Epstein, Rabbi of Novardhok and renowned author of the monumental halachic work Aruch Hashulchan. Additionally, his uncle was the famed “Netziv”, Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin, Rosh Yeshiva of the flagship Lithuanian yeshiva, Volozhin. In addition to coming from such illustrious Rabbinic stock, the younger Rabbi Epstein, despite being a bookkeeper by profession, was a noted Torah scholar in his own right. There is almost no shul or yeshiva in the world that does not carry his work “Torah Temima”, a highly informative and innovative commentary on Talmudic and Midrashic texts which he placed alongside the biblical source that spawned them. Despite some minor controversy, Torah Temima remains highly popular among the learned masses of Jews from across the spectrum.

Less well known, however, is another commentary he wrote on the Torah called “Tosefes Bracha”. This work is not formatted the same way as Torah Temima. Rather itis a standard-design freestyle commentary on the Chumash. Unlike Mekor Baruch, Tosefes Bracha has not been reprinted any time recently and is therefore difficult to find (in fact, it isn’t even one of the 40,329 seforim freely available on!

Parshas Emor - It's All About Others....               14 Iyar 5783

05/04/2023 10:25:04 PM


In this week’s Parsha Emor the Torah states in Vayikra 23:15,16 "וספרתם לכם ממחרת השבת מיום הביאכם את עומר  התנופה שבע שבתות תמימות תהיינה"   “You shall then count seven complete weeks after the day following the [Passover] holiday when you brought the omer as a wave offering”. "עד ממחרת השבת השביעית תספרו חמשים יום והקרבתם מנחה חדשה לה'"   “Until the day after the seventh week , when there will be [a total of] fifty days. On that fiftieth day you may present new grain as a meal offering to God”.

The Torah instructs us to count each day from the second day of Pesach for 49 days until the Holiday of Shavuos. Today is the 29th day of the Omer count, which means the holiday of Shavuos will take place in three weeks. The Sefiras Ha’Omer, the counting of the Omer,  is observed as a period of semi-mourning. There are a few reasons given for this, most prominent one being those 24,000 students of the famous Rebbe Akiva of the Mishna, died during this time period.

The Talmud reveals to us that these great students all passed away due to the same ailment: they did not honor each other in a rightful manner. Commentators explain that this was a subtle fault of theirs; because all of them were on such an elevated spiritual level, their shortcomings were brought under extra scrutiny.

Rabbi Dovid Saks, Director of the Jewish Heritage Connection in Scranton, PA, conveys an important lesson with regard to the death of Rabbi Akiva’s students: “Because of this tragic shortcoming and the subsequent loss, each of us is expected to work on remedying their failure by conducting ourselves in a respectful manner towards others especially during this time period.”

To further emphasize the importance of this lesson, Rabbi Saks brought out some beautiful examples of sensitivity:

When Eliyahu ben Shlomo Zalman (1720-1797), later known as the great Vilna Gaon, was  six years old, he ran out to play with a friend on a see-saw but quickly ran back to his father, explaining that playing on the see-saw caused his friend to be lowered in order for him to be raised up. “This goes against all that I have learned!” he exclaimed!”  Through such sensitivity to others and beautiful Middos (character traits), Eliyahu grew to become a great tzaddik as well as a brilliant scholar.

Rabbi Saks then describes a seemingly minor event in the life of Rabbi Yaacov Kaminetzky, Z”L, frequently referred to as ‘Chakima D’Yehudai’, the wise man of the Jews.  He was a life-long friend of Rabbi Aharon Kotler, founder of the Lakewood Yeshiva, and was among the first to promote English-language sefarim. Rabbi Saks relates a time when Rabbi Kaminetzky was one of two passengers in a car when the driver was entering an intersection and Rabbi Kaminetzky noticed a city bus with its left blinker indicating the need to merge into traffic.  Rabbi Kaminetzky instructed his driver to let the bus merge ahead of them. Reb Yaacov explained that even though they were pressed for time and had the right-of-way, they were only two passengers in their car while the bus was filled with many people. Even though it’s likely that no one on the bus took notice of the car allowing the bus to go first, this was an example of character refinement being a personal exercise.  Our behavior is not dependent upon others recognizing what we do for them.

And lastly, Rabbi Saks writes of a young mother in the 1940’s trying to decide what type of school she should consider for her two young boys.  She was unhappy when watching the disrespectful manner in which the local public-school children behaved.  Passing Yeshiva Rabbeinu Yaacov Yosef (RJJ), she was impressed with the polite and respectful way the students behaved at dismissal and so decided to enroll her sons.  The boys of the yeshiva had no idea a woman they had never met would be so impressed with their respectful behavior.  This woman’s sons ultimately became great rabbis and teachers, raising families of their one with hundreds of descendants continuing to demonstrate sensitivity to others and beautiful Middos.

Today, Friday May 5th is Pesach Sheini.  During the first year after the exodus, as Pesach approached, anyone ritually impure was not permitted to participate in the Pascal lamb. Those prohibited from this participation complained to Moshe.  Moshe then turned to God, asking for guidance. God did not tell Moshe, “Too bad.  They’re not able to participate.” Rather, God told Moshe to establish an alternate date, providing the opportunity for those who were not able to participate on Pesach to be given another chance one month after Passover on the 14th of Iyar.  Again, Rabbi Saks asks us to consider what significance there is regarding the 14th of Iyar to Passover.  The Talmud explains that the matzah which the Jews hurriedly baked on their way out of Egypt lasted until the 14th of Iyar, connecting directly back to the exodus. Immediately following this event, on the 16th of Iyar, the Jews asked Moshe for food, and God responded by providing manna from heaven, providing ample food for all the Jews during their travels.

I would like to suggest that the lesson of great Middos comes from Moshe - and ultimately from Hashem. When asked to participate in some fashion, Moshe could have turned to them exclaiming, “it’s too bad, you missed out”. Instead, Moshe patiently told the people to wait until he retrieved an answer from Hashem telling him what to do. The Almighty, in His benevolence, allowed the people a second chance because they showed a desire to participate.

In conclusion, everything returns to exhibiting sensitivity and good Middos which we need to show each other, especially in their time of need. During the remaining weeks until we receive the Torah anew on Shavuos, we each need to remind ourselves how Middos, good character, is a prelude to receiving and fulfilling the Torah.

Ah Gutten Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky


Parshas Acharei Mos / Kedoshim - Playing with Fire                        7 Iyar 5783

04/27/2023 08:51:57 PM


The modern state of Israel just celebrated its Diamond Hebrew anniversary date, Mazal Tov! No country in the world has ever grown so rapidly since its inception as Israel. The expansion of Israel is evident in all sectors - education, agriculture, science, the military, and the list goes on and on. There is no question in most people’s minds that this is nothing short of a miracle, having been born only three years after the Jewish people were decimated, losing one third of its population worldwide. 

I look back and reflect on my own perspective of the span covering forty-one years of travelling to Israel.  My first visit took place in 1982, the year I studied in Yeshiva. Following that year,  fast forwarding over four decades, the country has changed dramatically, experiencing remarkable growth, both for better and for worse. First, the modernization of Israel is laudable.  It’s amazing to see how immigrants who arrived with minimal skills, totally impoverished, now share the wonder of seeing their children graduate from college and become part of the mainstream of Israeli life.  Building and construction used to have thirty Arabs  pouring cement, making the concrete, carrying up the bricks to buildings that were no taller than three stories. Today, there are still thirty Arabs building and constructing skyscrapers, only now one person works a crane one minute then jumps onto the Deere equipment while the other twenty-nine  stand around doing nothing. A sad change over this period is that I remember as a yeshiva student forty-one years ago, every Friday a bunch of us would catch  a Sheirut (a large nine passenger taxi) from Yerushalayim back to the Yeshiva in Telz-Stone. This number of Jewish and Arab passengers varied on each trip, but sometimes I was the only Jew traveling with eight Arabs (plus the Arab driver) through Abu Ghosh which was the town adjacent to Telz-Stone. Unfortunately, the security situation, as we’re all aware,  has deteriorated so markedly today  that terrorism knows no bounds, Rachmana Litzlan (Heaven should save us). Nevertheless, on a lighter note I’ll share both a positive and a negative observation of  Israel throughout the last forty-five years.

There are a few areas of modernization and technology where Israel has left many other advanced countries in the dust. Israel, known as the start-up nation, has earned worldwide recognition from advances in medical research, major archeological discoveries, climate change research, and  oceanographic research to name just a small sampling In contrast, parking a car in Israel has always been challenging, leading to fewer and fewer available parking spaces and more and more cars looking for a place to park. Available parking locations can be blocks away from the area the driver and passengers need to walk to. Long gone are the days of meters, and even putting a little ticket in your windshield allowing you to park for a fixed amount of time is no longer available.

Honk honk, pull over, one of the most popular parking apps is Pango, a pioneer in this field, which was founded in 2005. The app offers the convenience of cashless paying for curbside parking – without the need to use parking meters. It’s available for Android, iOS users in 60 cities in the US and Israel. This app also reminds its users when their time is running out, allowing them to buy more time, acting as a virtual parking meter at the touch of your fingertips. Pango’s last round of funding garnered $6.5 million in 2015. The Pango app currently allows drivers to pay for parking at street meters and in parking lots in over 60 cities in Israel, Europe, and the US. Drivers using Pango to park activate the app, which determines their location. Using a built-in database, the app activates an on-phone “meter,” registering the car with a municipal database. Parking enforcement officials who check meters and give out citations for vehicles parked in spaces with expired meters query the database and pass over vehicles that have the Pango app running. Upon returning to their vehicle and ending the “parking event”, drivers are told how much they owe, the sum is added to their cellphone bill or a pre-registered credit card and collected later by the parking enforcement agency.  Sounds great, right? Well… first for an old timer such as myself, it’s necessary to familiarize yourself with setting it up and checking to be sure you understand how to use the app. The major “glitch” that affected me is that it’s necessary to remember to start the Pango app when you park, and…even more importantly you also need to remember stop the timer when you leave the space! During my last trip to Israel, I paid more into the app while driving than I paid when my car was parked! Pango literally got me coming and going. The lesson is clear.  We need to know and to understand when to start and when to stop or shut down.  This is symbolized in the teachings of our sages by the life and death of Aharon’s two sons, Nadav and Avihu.

In this week’s Parshas Acharei Mos/Kedoshim, the Torah states in Vayikra 16:1 "וידבר ה' אל משה אחרי מות שני בני אהרן בקרבתם לפני ה' וימתו"  “God spoke to Moshe right after the death of Aharon’s two sons who brought an [unauthorized] offering before God and died”. Reb Yisrael ben Eliezer 1698-1760, known as the Baal Shem Tov בעל שם טוב, asks a question regarding the double language used in the verse. He explains from three different sources (Midrash Rabbah 44:6, Rashi in Sotah 33 and Rashi in Parshas Re’eh) that Chaza”l explain anytime the word אחר  (achar) is used it means something close by, and when the word אחרי  (acharei) is used it means separated or distanced. With this rule we can explain the death of Nadav and Avihu, Aharon’s two sons, in a new light. The word “after” in this week’s opening verse is “Acharei” with the yud indicating that the fear of death was far away - distant from them. Every minute of the Kohein’s service is wrought with fear that if they make a mistake, they face certain death. Nevertheless, a Kohain stands tall and ready to address the task at hand, with the full awareness of their limit and never to cross a certain line. One could imagine that every moment the Kohein grows closer to Hashem, his soul may just leave him if he makes a mistake - as his closeness grows.  Yet, they became too comfortable and distant, no longer fearing that death was an option by getting too close.

Nadav and Avihu were cocky. They lost their Yiras HaShem and were not afraid, becoming careless in their Temple service. This led to the devastating sin resulting in their death. So, too, we need to be fearful and aware of how we serve Hashem, remaining always cognizant of where we stand in front of God. If we maintain our fear, meaning how we daven, how we speak, how we treat others, how we learn, these combined focused actions will form a positive living experience, thereby avoiding the opposite results which grow from believing we can live a free-for-all lifestyle devoid of consideration for our Yiras HaShem, serving Hashem up close without overstepping the boundaries.

Ah Gutten Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas Tazria/Metzora - Learning to Handle the Truth      30 Nissan 5783

04/21/2023 08:16:09 AM


The Jewish people are called “B’Nei Yisrael” but are also referred to as the “Beis Yaakov”. When Yaakov’s name was changed by God, it was not meant to be a name that would replace the previous name, as was the case with Avraham and Sorah; rather it provided another dimension of who Yaakov was. Rabbeinu Bachya, in Parshas Vayechi, points out that the name Yaakov is used when describing something physical, while the name Yisrael stood for the spiritual side of the person whom his children would emulate.

I have often written, spoken, and taught about how Hashem created man with a dichotomy of the physical and the spiritual within a physical world. We human beings maintain both a physical and a spiritual side of who we are; not only do these characteristics exist side by side, they are intertwined with each other. We find the spiritual often compliments the physical and vice versa. The neshama represents the spirit and the guf/body represents the physical parts of a person, each very likely to almost mirror the other. When the spiritual dominates, then both the body and soul flourish. On the other hand, if the physical dominates, then at the end of a life, the person is bereft of not only the spiritual but also the physical.  As a Rabbi, I am a strong proponent of working and caring for the neshama and the religious concerns of an individual. At the same time, the Torah admonishes us to be healthy, to watch over our health; and this is where the spiritual and physical - the body and soul - need to be on the same page.

Taking care of one’s health is directly in line with fulfilling a religious obligation. I strive to be in line and schedule regular and annual appointments for my general health and specific areas of medical concern. I am not perfect, but I see the physician and the only thing I need to do is to follow the medical advice I receive. A few years ago (during Covid) I had a pimple on my nose which caused me concern. I turned to Google, researching all the symptoms and possible diagnoses. This got me nervous enough to go see a dermatologist. I always noticed different kinds of spots on my body - some brown, some red, little bumps, and skin tags. Since then, I took care to have annual physicals to inspect all the spots on my body. On my last visit I noticed how quickly the doctor scanned and looked at the different spots on my body. He identified each one, describing and explaining what they were, assuring me, Baruch Hashem, that they were of no concern. I was amazed as he recognized the different sizes, shapes and color of each spot and declared all to be normal. This immediately recalled something eerily similar in the spiritual world known as Tzoraas, which, as we’re all aware, is a spiritual malady that has physical manifestations. Hence, we see the crossing over of the spiritual and physical. My dermatologist, Dr. Ginsberg (who btw I highly recommend) reminded me of what a Kohein may do when a person comes for a check-up when certain spots and colors appear on a body. Unfortunately, we do not take the word of a Kohein to the same degree of importance as we do a doctor. In other words, when it comes to a physical or medical issue, we heed the word of a doctor, but when a spiritual issue arises, we tend to brush off the advice and instruction of the spiritual leader. This is highlighted in this week’s Torah reading.

The Torah in this week’s Parshas Tazria and Metzora states in Vayikra 14:3 "ויצא הכהן אל מחוץ למחנה, וראה הכהן והנה נרפא נגע צרעת מן הצרוע"  “The priest [Kohein] shall go outside the camp, where he shall examine the leper to determine that the leprous mark has healed”. This verse can be explained in a virtue-based ethical manner (derech Mussar). Earlier in Vayikra 4:3 the Torah states “ “אם הכהן המשיח יחטא לאשמת העם.... “If the anointed priest [Kohein]commits an inadvertent violation, bringing guilt to his people, the sacrifice for his violation shall be an unblemished young bull as a sin offering to God.” If the leaders of the Jewish people, the individuals upon whom we trust and rely, make a mistake unintentionally and turn from the proper path, it “brings guilt to the people”- leading the people to walk in their footsteps of sin. This is hinted in the words “The priest [Kohein] shall go outside the camp”. The Kohein went out from his spiritual camp to the camp of the ordinary. Then, because of his going out of his camp to the non-Kohein camp “… he shall examine the leper to determine that the leprous mark has healed” feeling the pressure and learning from others what they want to hear. He [the Kohein] will give a “hechsher”- a stamp of approval and declare the man free and clean of Tzoraas/leprosy. Meaning, he will learn the ways of what the people want to hear: that it is not leprosy, that the food is kosher, that this activity is permissible, you can do this, you can do that, and so forth, because the leader responds to what the questioner wants to hear as their answer.

This is not the case with a medical professional. While we hope the doctor will give us good news, assuring us all test results were negative, however, if the prognosis turns out to be positive, in essence we need and want to hear the truth. If, Rachmana Litzlan (Heaven forbid), a person is diagnosed with an illness and needs medical intervention with medicine or treatments, the doctor doesn’t just say “Ah, you’ll be fine. You don’t have to do anything, just continue to live your life as is and enjoy.” To the contrary, we would sue the doctor for malpractice and for jeopardizing the patient’s life.

We all understand and appreciate the need for the doctor to be up front, to tell us something we need to hear. Why should it be different if the spiritual leader, be it the Kohein who checks for Tzoraas or a modern-day Rabbinic figure, be any different?               

Ah Gutten Shabbos,

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas Vayikra - The Fine Print    1 Nisan 5783

03/23/2023 12:29:49 PM


This week's Dvar Torah is sponsored anonomously for a continued Refuah Shelaima for Eitan Yakov ben Miriam Esther 

Have you ever listened to a commercial for a new drug? The advertisement gets patients excited about something that may help improve their lives only to hear a bunch of warnings quickly rattled off noting severe side effects,  potential risks and possible death if the drug is taken. Ever read the bottom of an advertisement for a new medication? It, too, has numerous warnings written in illegible, microscopic type. Have you ever received a one-paragraph or even a one-word email from an attorney that will automatically say at the bottom of the message, “Please read the legal disclaimer that governs this email and any attachments.” When you click on the underlined legal disclaimer, a twenty-page document filled with disclaimers, disclosures, and warnings opens for your reading pleasure. In the financial realm, one reads articles or attends seminars to gain knowledge and advice on an array of money matters. After all is said and done, there are disclaimers stating these are “forward-looking statements, hypotheticals, illustrations and examples”.

 What does a disclaimer do or mean? A disclaimer is a formal statement saying that the individual or business is not legally responsible for something, such as the information provided in an advertisement, an email, or  in a book. A disclaimer is in place specifically to protect your business against potential legal claims. For example, its policy will prove a key document and help to protect your business against liability, should the action result in a court case. Other declarations come in the form of a statement such as: "The author assumes no responsibility or liability for any errors or omissions in the content of this site. The information contained in this site is provided on an "as is" basis with no guarantees of completeness, accuracy, usefulness, or timeliness.”

Once upon a time a person made a statement or wrote something that had meaning and backing. That all changed, at least in the United States, when mandatory messages first appeared after the passage of the Federal Caustic Poisons Act (FCPA) of 1927, a law that ordered sellers of poisons to provide warning labels on their bottles. Of course, warnings of hazardous, and poisonous ingredients should be in bold, large font.  Information regarding vitally important ingredients or issues should not be presented in a type size so small that the reader needs to squint and strain his eyes to see, nor should it be verbally explained at high speed and in a barely audible frequency. In all my decades of  earning, I never read a commentary from any of the Rishonim, Acharonim, and or modern day Poskim who include any disclaimers at the end of their explanations, decisions, or rulings.  

In Judaism things are reversed; the warnings and explanations are up front, written  in large font, inviting easy readability with full, clear disclosure. As we now begin Sefer Vayikra - the book of Leviticus - we immediately confront all of the sacrifices that a person might come to offer.

There are many reasons given that the offering of sacrifices brings atonement to a sinner for his sins.  Both the Ramban and Rabbeinu Bachya explain that although some reasons are given, nevertheless, there are deep secrets and understandings which we are incapable of grasping. With that said, I will present five general reasons why we offer sacrifices, all of which are possible for our human intellect to process. The five reasons are taken from the Meam Loez. The first reason is to arouse the hearts of man that when he committed a sin he rebelled against God. In the event that one may contemplate how it could be possible for a lowly human being to have the audacity to go against Hashem’s will,  Hashem commanded a person who sinned to return, to repent, and do to the animal one of the four capital punishments that this individual  deserved.  Since God is compassionate, He gives an extension of life to a human being, and the sacrificial animal takes his place. Therefore, when mentioning the Korbanos/sacrifices, it is always LaHashem, representing mercy and not L’Elokim, which is judgment. Reason number two is to offer a way for the Kohanim to receive sustenance. The Kohanim do not receive land in Israel and therefore needed support through different means, in this case working the sacrifices in the Beis HaMikdash and also being exclusively entitled to certain parts of the sacrificial animal.  A person can dedicate his work and service with more attention when there is no need to worry about parnassa. The third reason, given by the author of Akeida Toldos Yitzchok, explains the sacrificial offering as a penalty. Requiring a person who sinned to shell out big money to purchase an animal created regret and perhaps a method of prevention against future violations. Money talks, and if a person would have to pay for every sin committed, it just might curb some of those instincts and spare a person’s bank account. The fourth reason, given over in the name of the Eben Ezra, is to make a person think about his/her actions and have a heavy heart when contemplating the process the animal must go through because of the person’s actions or behavior. He must watch the slaughter of the animal and then watch as it burned into ash and dust, similar to what happens to a person at the end of his life. It reminds the sinner that it is not worth the fleeting moment of physical pleasure, now realizing that his actions were all for nothing. The entire sacrificial process reminds a person that only the mitzvos and good deeds performed in this world will bring him to the next world. The fifth reason, according to the Rambam in the Moreh Nevuchim, is that we offer Korbanos – sacrifices - to distance the Jewish people from the impurity of idolatry. The Jews watched the Egyptians worshipping the lamb and sheep, knowing that it was forbidden to kill those animals. Hashem gave the Jewish people a mitzva to sacrifice the very kind of animals that represented the deities of the Egyptians. When we sacrificed these animals in the Beis HaMikdash, we reversed the distancing from Hashem,  growing closer to Him. The definition of the word Korban means ‘to get close’, and through these actions we grow closer to Hashem.

The first Parsha of Vayikra presents and lays out all the mechanisms needed to repair our relationship with Hashem. The rest of Vayikra is filled with descriptions of the sins and situations of impurity and process for correcting and strengthening our relationship with Hashem. The warnings and safety precautions are mentioned first, prior to acting inappropriately or finding ourselves in situations requiring the bringing of one of those sacrifices mentioned at the very beginning of Sefer Vayikra.  

Parshas Vayakhel/Pekudei/HaChodesh - The Blood is our Spiritual Lifeline       24 Adar 5783

03/23/2023 12:28:23 PM


This week’s Dvar Torah is sponsored by Shalom and Malke Brookler and family for a continued Refuah Shelaima for Eitan Yakov ben Miriam Esther 

“All my stories are true; just some have not happened yet.” This is a famous opening line of my Rosh HaYeshiva, Rabbi Wein. Rabbi Wein would often tell stories of his trips, meetings, adventures, vacations, and everyday life. A person’s life experiences create a story, providing the opportunity to process, speak about and ultimately write about, particularly through occurrences during  travel. Although I do not and most probably never will travel as much as Rabbi Wein, I nevertheless believe I do my fair share of traveling.   

Most of my trips and layovers are short, so I tend not to take advantage of or even need access to a lounge. On my most recent trip to Israel, I had a longer than usual layover, and thanks to my son had access to a lounge in San Francisco. The lounge has better sitting, more charging stations, worktables, and an array of food and drinks. I only partake of the soft drinks and fruit. As I was relaxing and minding my own business, an Israeli man sat down with some salad and other non-kosher food. As a Rabbi I was so tempted to engage with him about food and blessings, etc. The salad was not bug free but nevertheless  kosher, warranting a bracha. I guess I am getting old because I kept my mouth shut, watching as he ate non-kosher food and salad without a bracha. I didn’t even offer him my kippah to don while eating. We began to exchange some small talk. I asked him where he was from, what type of work he was in and discussed the political situations both here in America and in Israel. He lives in the Kattamon neighborhood of Yerushalayim but said he was born in Iran. He proceeded to tell me he had arrived in Israel about ten years ago. I became very interested in his journey from Iran to Israel; when he told me he was from Iran, he added that he was born a Muslim. My attention now turned from being interested to being fascinated. He related how all members of his family were devout Muslims and adhered to Sharia law. According to Sharia law, alcohol is forbidden. At the age of sixteen, he was traveling in a car with family to a cousin’s wedding. Apparently, one of the passengers had brought along a bottle of alcohol and was discovered by the Sharia police at a check point. They were all arrested, beaten, and endured horrific tortures that I cannot repeat here in writing. He thought to himself that this religion was not so loving after all and questioned his own religious beliefs,  eventually ceasing  believing altogether. Through some introspection and learning, he felt the truth of the world and decided, at great risk to himself and his family, to convert. At this point I grew  mesmerized by his tale, anticipating with a glow and tingle  how he came to make this monumental, life-altering decision. As I sit here writing, sort of grinning now, he told me found the truth… and converted to Christianity! I could not believe what I was listening to - a Muslim, converting to Christianity,  now living in Jerusalem! He then continued telling me how he had found the “light”, continuing on and on about how wonderful this was…and then the hammer dropped as he began to talk to me about Yeshua, JC, attempting to proselytize me. I was polite and listened for a few more minutes, exchanged names and then I excused myself, saying I needed to check in for the flight.  The only silver lining to the story was that I was glad - in hindsight - not to have attempted to teach or convince him to eat only kosher food and make brachos before eating.

I have often pondered why other religions see a need to convert Jews. Jews accept sincere people who seek out conversion, but we do not go out and proselytize. This was not the first time I found myself to be a target; perhaps getting a rabbi to convert fetches a bigger prize. Yet, I processed that  it is the upcoming holiday of Pesach that clearly defines us as devoted to Hashem, confirming our identity and faithfulness in Him. This coming Shabbos we read the final special section that is read before Purim and again before Rosh Chodesh Nissan. Parshas HaChodesh describes the preparation, offering, and eating of the Korban Pesach, the Paschal lamb. The Torah commands the Jews how to avoid being killed during the final plague. In Parshas Bo, Shmos 12:13, the Torah states "והיה הדם לכם לאת על הבתים אשר אתם שם וראיתי את הדם ופסחתי עלכם, ולא יהיה בכם נגף למשחית בהכתי בארץ מצרים"  “The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are staying. I will see the blood and pass you by (pasach). There will not be any deadly plague among you when I strike Egypt.” A famous question is asked: ”Why did Hashem require us to place the blood of the lamb on the doorpost?” Rabbi Azarya Piccio [Figo], in his commentary Binah L’Itim, Lublin 1875, explains that the biggest obstacle we had when leaving Mitzrayim was the accusation that the Jews worshipped idolatry, just like the Egyptians. Therefore, the first instruction God gave to Moshe and Aharon was to tell the Jews that on the tenth of the month “they shall take one lamb per household”. The language used was,משכו , to drag the lamb through the streets, openly disgracing the symbolic god of the Egyptians, demonstrating no fear  of the Egyptians who were watching this open act of defiance. The Jews were commanded to display defiance, to exhibit no fear of retribution. But that was only the beginning. The second and greater display of Emunah in Hashem was the slaughtering of the lamb. Hundreds of Jewish families were out in the open markets and streets shechting their lambs on the fourteenth of Nissan. Again, the Egyptians stood, dumbfounded and unable to do anything against the Jews. The third remarkable sign of resilience the Jews displayed took place when they ate the lamb, placing  its blood on their doorposts and lintels for the Egyptians to see, watching, helpless to react as they passed by the Jewish homes. The Egyptians asked, ”What is this blood!”, soon understanding that the  Jews were eating the meat of their god. One would think the Egyptians would be so aroused with righteous fury that they would take up weapons and storm the Jewish homes with the intent of killing the Jews. Nevertheless, this never entered the minds of the Jews who showed complete confidence in Hashem against idolatry. The blood was be a sign not necessarily to Hashem to know which house to pass over. It was, rather, a sign to the Jewish people themselves to be with Hashem. As a result of this dedication, Hashem promised that no Jew will be harmed throughout this night, despite the accurate accusation of the Jews who chose to worship the idol of the lamb, emulating their Egyptian counterparts. Behold, Moshe instructed the Jews not to go out of their houses until morning. This was to strengthen their dedication as they might have been overcome with fear of the enemy attacking them. The sign of the blood reinforced their Emunah as though it were an invitation for the Egyptians to storm in and attack; but the Jews were steadfast and remained defiant and secure in their homes.

So too, today, as the forces of idolatry and other religions surround us, we need to remain strong Jews, knowing in perpetuity that Hashem is there to protect us. We need to be careful never to give in even when we fear we are in trouble. Being in trouble and not running displays our complete, eternal love and security in Hashem, leading ultimately to the Geulah/redemption. This Shabbos as we read about the blood, it should give us strength to defy everything in the world that is anti-Torah, anti-religion, and anti-Hashem. Through this dedication we, too, in our generation will bring forth not only a Geula, but the Geulah Shelaima, ridding us of fear, strengthening our holiness and oneness with Hashem. Amen!   

Parshas Ki Sisa / Parah - Labels & Libels          17 Adar 5783

03/10/2023 02:42:26 AM


This Dvar Torah is L'Ilui Nishmas Yocheved bas Tzvi, Anita Bogopulsky z"l on her Yahrzeit 17 Adar

Books are the core instructional tools of education, the written material shaped to meet the age and appropriate teaching level for the student. Many of the Jewish publications are focused on middos - character development and the proper way a child, and every Jew should behave. One of my favorite books which I enjoyed reading to my children and now grandchildren, is a play on words titled “Labels for Laibel”. Laibel, a boy, was taught many lessons about labels. Laibel would go around and put labels on many different items. The obvious message of this book is one which I believe presents a very important lesson for our generation.  It would be a very valuable contribution to write an adult version of this story, bearing the same title, but written to serve the opposite connotation – we should not put labels on everything, especially people.  Unfortunately, people put labels on themselves. On my last trip to Chicago, it was pointed out to me that some people were wearing a certain brand of overcoat that cost the same as a typical monthly mortgage payment. I asked, ”How do you know”? My wife  explained that a certain patch or label is displayed prominently on the outside of the coat. This is not a new phenomenon; every piece of designer clothing advertises its brand (ironically, we pay the designer companies to advertise their brand for them). Does wearing an article of clothing, driving a certain car, living in a certain neighborhood, really express anything about the quality of the individual who wears the clothing, drives the car, or lives in an affluent neighborhood? The answer: maybe yes, maybe no. 

We are fresh off the vibrant, festive days of Purim (I am currently in Yerushalayim) whereby one of the major components of the day has been to dress up, almost becoming someone whom we either emulate or despise, or dress up for the fun of being a little goofy and wild. The symbolism of the type of clothing or the uniforms we wear are often used by others to identify who that individual is, and even more concerning, to interpret what they stand for. A person who wears a police uniform is assessed from two opposite viewpoints -  either someone who is there to protect me, or if I did something wrong, someone who is coming to get me. In Judaism, and I’m sure in other religions as well, a person is identified and labeled according to his or her attire. Even cultural dress may dictate a certain bent on a person’s religious beliefs and association.

The dress code on Purim is certainly relaxed but nevertheless still must be within the guidelines of Halacha. Within the accepted parameters of Purim, we can take on a different identity; whether it is to make a statement or not is not the point. Rather, it is a reflection of a different component of whom we are which we allow to emerge and take center stage for the day. Unfortunately, the other three hundred sixty-four days of the year we find ourselves mostly dressed with and assessed by a single overt label. That label is, unfortunately, the measure of who we view ourselves as being or think who another person is and what he or she is all about. We look at and tend to judge someone through the lens of viewing how they dress and from that viewpoint determine how they think, how religious and observant they are, judging them by the ‘label’ we see them wearing. It is interesting to note that we say Purim is Yom K’Purim; the day of Yom Kippur and the day of Purim are very much related to each other. There are many beautiful interpretations, but I’ll share my own connection that I have not seen anywhere.  Yom Kippur is a day so holy that the Satan does not have the ability to influence us. The gematria, the numerical value of השטן – HaSatan - The Satan, is three hundred sixty four. It is that number of days which indicate when the Satan can harm us. But the one day, number three hundred sixty-five, the day of Yom Kippur, is hands off. So, too, is the day of Purim. During the entire year, for three hundred sixty-four days, the Satan influences us to label others and judge them by what they are wearing – viewed from their outer garb -  and not for whom they might be when viewed from within -, from their hidden selves. Only on, Purim that one day of the year, The Satan does not cause us to sin by thinking ill about a fellow Jew.

The basis for our flaw- passing judgment and labeling others - is because we do not live up to the honor of being a Tzelem Elokim, to be in the image of God. Hashem is able to see through the exterior, the outer trappings of a human being; Hashem knows the  essence which defines who we really are and what we are genuinely about. We have fallen short of a very simple directive that the rabbis have taught us:  מה הוא רחום, אף אתה רחום  - Just as He is merciful, so, too, we should be merciful. We are here to emulate God, to take on the image in which He created us. God is multi-dimensional; His many characteristics, His multiple character traits, are known as Middos. The character traits were used by Moshe Rabbeinu to defend the Jewish people in the aftermath of the greatest national sin committed by the Jewish people, the golden calf.

In this week’s Parshas Ki Sisa the Torah states in Shmos 34:6"ה' ה' קל רחום וחנון, ארך אפים ורב חסד ואמת. נצר חסד לאלפים נשא עון ופשע וחטאה, ונקה לא ינקה פקד עון אבות על בנים ועל בני בנים על שלשים ועל רבעים"   - “Hashem, Hashem, God, Merciful and Gracious, Slow to Anger, and Abundant in Kindness and Truth; Preserver of Kindness for two thousand, Forgiver of Iniquity and Willful Sin, and Error, and Who Absolves – but does not absolve completely; He remembers the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and upon the grandchildren, upon the third and upon the fourth”. These are the Thirteen Middos/Traits of Hashem that we need to follow. It was this formula that Moshe Rabbeinu defended the Jewish people with to avoid them being wiped out. There is a Mitzvas Asei/Positive commandment to walk in the ways of Hashem within their capacity as it states in Devarim 8:9 והלכת בדרכיו  - and you shall go in His ways. The Sifri in Parshas Eikev 11 - מה הקב"ה נקרא חנון אף אתה חנון, וחסיד וגו'  - in all Middos/character traits that Hashem is described, so, too, every man needs to imitate and copy Him in His ways. Reb Chaim Vital, in his work Shaarei Kedusha Shaar Gimmel, writes that these Middos/traits are not counted among the six hundred thirteen commandments because they are the primary function and fundamental part of the Mitzvos. Without these concepts it would be impossible to fulfill the Mitzvos of the Torah. I might add that it is truly impossible to live up to what a true human being needs to be. The Vilna Gaon echoes these points in his commentary to Megillas Esther 10:3: “Hashem is multi-faceted without names and without labels.  His traits are to see through everything – every one and every thing.  If we emulate Hashem and use His Middos in the way we look at others and the way others look at us, we will all be able to drop the labels and see each individual Jew in Klal Yisrael as a unique, one-of-a-kind person to be respected, not judged. When all these individuals, each with his/her own unique brand come together, we will become that one unique nation among the world known as Am Yisrael, the one and only!     

Parshas T'Tzaveh/Zachor - It's not what they call you, it's what you answer for!                      9 Adar 5783

03/02/2023 09:12:09 AM


Buddy, my long-time close friend, and I talk about old times and people whom we mutually know from past decades. We tell each other who we may have met from our mutual past and try to guess who they are, based on imbedded hints. On several occasions, Buddy told me he attended an event and a vaguely familiar-looking guy approached him  exclaiming, ”Hi Buddy! How have you been!” Buddy did not recognize this person, so after an uncomfortable space of time, Buddy confessed and excused himself, explaining,  “I’m sorry, but could you remind me who you are?”  At that, this individual expressed hurt that Buddy didn’t recognize him, even though it may have been thirty years since he last saw him! This has happened to me as well, and therefore Buddy and I have decided to be proactive, together coming up with the plan that when meeting someone who knows us  we do not recognize him to immediately introduce ourselves, thereby opening the opportunity for the other guy to introduce himself to us.

A few weeks ago I attended a Rabbinical conference hosted by the Rabbinical Council of California. A general protocol at conferences is to place a nametag around your neck or wear a badge with your name stuck onto your attire. Since it had been three years since this conference previously took place, it was a good idea to wear the name tags, especially because I recognized the faces but could not remember the names.  I personally never like wearing those tags, most times choosing not to wear one, helping me to remain under the radar at these events.  Truth be told, for this event  I did so because of the stretch of time since the last conference. Additionally, I reasoned to myself that there is sure to  come a time when I am going to need to wear a name tag - not for others to know who I am - but for me to remember who I am!

This week’s Parshas T’Tzaveh is famous for not having Moshe Rabbeinu’s name mentioned, something that does not previously occur  from the time Moshe was born until his death - essentially every Parsha in the Torah from Shmos forward. Nevertheless, while we may not have Moshe’s name mentioned in the parsha, the significance of names that are posted is accentuated. The Torah states in Shmos 28:21 "והאבנים תהיין על שמות בני ישראל, שתים עשרה על שמותם פתוחי חותם איש על שמו תהיין לשני עשר שבט"  -  “The stones shall contain the names of the twelve tribes of Israel, one for each of the twelve [stones]. Each one’s name shall be engraved as on a signet ring to represent the twelve tribes”. A few verses later, in Shmos 28:29, the Torah states "ונשא אהרן את שמות בני ישראל בחשן המשפט על לבו בבאו אל הקודש לזכרן לפני ה' תמיד" “- Aharon will thus carry the names of Israel’s sons on the decision breastplate over his heart when he comes into the sanctuary. It shall be a constant remembrance before God”.  Rav Shimshon Pincus zt”l explains that the Bigdei Kehuna, the Kohein Gadol’s garments contained hidden hints and deep secrets regarding the essence of a human being.   Often, the clothing we wear are a reflection of our souls, reflecting who we are, and what we are really all about. For example, if a person wears the clothing of a talmid chochom, a Torah scholar, then everyone sees that his primary focus in life is all about Torah. On the other hand, someone who does not do anything with his life will display himself with clothing that testifies to whom he truly is  - or is not. about his  With this in mind, the clothing that the Torah commands a Kohein to wear during the Avoda/Temple service reveal certain characteristics of a wholesome, complete person standing ready to serve God. Previously, in Shmos 19:6 ,“…and you will be to Me a Mamleches Kohanim V’Goy Kadosh, A kingdom of Priests and a Holy nation. Therefore, every Jew is viewed as a Kohein vis a vis his/her serving Hashem. With this in mind, we can learn many things about how we must serve Hashem.

There are two places where the twelve names of the tribes are mentioned on the Kohein Gadol’s garments. The Choshen/breastplate is described as having the names of the tribes on his heart as he approached the Sanctuary. This is a hint that teaches us it is possible for one person to carry the entire Jewish people within his heart, meaning to be able to love and worry for the entire Jewish people. The אֵפוֹד was a type of apron, which was worn by the Kohen Gadol. The Torah commands “then take two lazuli stones and engrave on them the names of the sons of Israel”. Typically, an apron has two straps that go over the shoulder, representing that a person can carry the entire Jewish people on his back. This means that a person can carry the entire Jewish people through the greatness and strength of the Torah. The Jewish people had giants in their midst, for example, Rashi, of whom it was said,  ”"If not for for Rashi, Torah would have been forgotten, or wiped from the memory of the Jewish people.” Other great personalities including the Rif, Rambam, and Ramban, also carried the Jews of their generations. In every generation there are those leaders who carry the Jewish people in their hearts and on their shoulders. These giants are there for us through the good and bad times.

We see that the names of the tribes that were on the hearts of the garments of the Kohein Gadol were twelve stones - separated from each other - while the names on the ephod, the apron of the Kohein Gadol, were only on two stones. From this distinction we can derive - and learn - a very practical law. If a person credits the people to learn Torah and attain a greater fear of Heaven, he clearly brings the people closer together as one.  Nevertheless, when it comes to loving a fellow Jew, it is not enough just to love them because they are Jews, descendants of   Avraham, Yitzchok, and Yaakov. Rather, one needs to love each and every Jew independently, just for being a Jew, not only because he belongs to the greater Jewish people.

This is hinted with the twelve separated stones, for we know that the twelve tribes are like twelve distinct nations. Every nation has its own customs, laws, philosophy,  fundamental and philosophical differences apart from other nations which bring them to despise each other, eventually bringing them to war. So, too, this animosity at times existed between the tribes of Israel. Therefore, Hashem commanded that each tribe remain separated by a holy stone that was unique to its tribe, its people. The Kohein lifted the stones together, as one on his heart, because it was upon him to love every Jew as is, as they are, respecting each with their uniqueness, accepting every Jew from his tribe, along with his customs and traditions that he received from his father, despite all our differences.

As Purim approaches we are reminded how Haman accused the Jewish people of being a nation that was apart, and at that time, Haman was correct. We were not only physically all around the world, but we had overt division among us. When we repented the Jewish people, we didn’t make an effort to remain close physically and band together. Instead, we remained in our same location but succeeded to open up and treat every Jew as one person with one heart. Today more than ever before need to come together. We as the twelve tribes, and twelve distinct names must work to come together, to be one - the Children of Israel.        

Parshas Terumah - Preferred Seating               2 Adar 5783

02/24/2023 07:48:33 AM


The internet has affected everyone’s life in one way or another during the last twenty years. This week, the U.S. Supreme court  is hearing/heard arguments regarding how platforms recommend content. Besides social media, the Internet has altered the way we shop, learn, and engage in all aspects of daily life. To sum up one area, the internet has become “our agent” for many purchases.  Take airline tickets, for example. While I still have a travel agent handle my international flights, most of us now book the majority of our tickets directly online. What used to be a simple process, has now become a maze of online navigation. The most recent assortment of choices centers on choosing a seat, especially if that seat is to be the spot on which to spend six or more hours sitting.

We have gone from buying a first-class seat to the eventuality of (you’ll excuse me) buying the bathroom seat. In between those two extremes, we have moved from business class to the main cabin with five or six choices of Preferred seats. Not too many years ago, most of us tended to choose just plain economy seats.  No more. Now there is Economy Plus, paying more for extra legroom, or buying a window seat or an aisle seat, or choosing to pay a little more for the bulkhead. . On some airlines, Preferred seating includes economy seats that have standard legroom but are closer to the front of the aircraft, located in the first few rows immediately behind Economy Plus seats. In addition, there are other benefits to Preferred seating even before getting on the plane! When purchasing preferred seating, you not only enjoy a better seat in the Economy class, you’ll also receive earlier onboard service and, when you land, get off the plane sooner, so you get to wait for your luggage just a little bit longer (Sorry, ‘Preferred’ economy is not business or first class, so the luggage doesn’t get unloaded earlier – at least not yet).

There are other areas of life where the benefits of ‘preferred’ seating can have a positive impact. In a classroom setting, preferential seating means that a student's seat is placed in a location which is most beneficial for his/her learning in the classroom. For example, if a student tends to be easily distracted,  his/her seat might be placed away from doors or windows which tend to cause potential distractions. Some might believe that placing a student in a less- distracting location is just  accommodating certain students. Keep in mind that accommodations are not interventions. Accommodations change the environment in some way. For example, they may allow a student to have preferential seating in the classroom, close to the board or near the teacher to help the student to focus on the lesson and to avoid distractions. An intervention, on the contrary, teaches a skill.

A third and final concept of “Preferential treatment” is when it comes to priority seating -  a system whereby the diner arrives at a restaurant at the time specified in advance, or the diner is seated as soon as a table becomes available. Any one of these three seating situations has benefits. Sometimes such benefits cost money; at other times, it just requires a phone call to reserve. The second scenario appreciates the value of education and learning.

Other seats we tend to think of are driver’s seats, passenger seats, and finally, strategically positioned seats such as in shul. I take notice of where people sit and their choice of location when they come into shul. I believe the choosing of a seat tells a great deal about a person, whether it is sitting in an aisle seat or choosing to sit in the front or the back row. There are  many hidden mental messages regarding these seat selections. Through observation, I know most people will choose a shul seat that gives them the most flexibility to arrive late or leave early. It’s interesting to observe that when it comes to a sporting, or entertainment event, many people are willing to pay a lot more money for the box or orchestra seats for themselves. So, let’s consider a far more important seating choice: If I needed to buy a seat for God where would it be? Well, it’s a good thing that God does not need to rely on me to buy Him a seat. He figures out a way to get His own. and it is our job to figure out where it is.

There is an age-old question; ”Where is God”? There are two answers given: the first, most often to a child, is “God is all over”. The second answer, one that can be appreciated by a thinking adult, is the Chassidic master’s answer: “God is wherever you let Him in”. So which one is it? Where does Hashem sit? The first answer is God is not a corporal being who has physical characteristics. God does not need to sit. However,  the metaphor of sitting can be found in the Torah.

In this week’s Torah portion there is a most-often quoted passuk which the Torah states in Shemos 25:8 "ועשו לי מקדש ושכנתי בתוכם" .  Rav Nosson Shapiro*, in his sefer Megaleh Amukos, kabbalistically explains that these five words that make up this verse are a reflection from Bereishis  where the Torah states that שמים וארץ  heaven and earth were created בה' בראם  with the letter ‘Hey’ which is equal to the number five. The building of the Mishkan was comparable to creating heaven and earth. Betzalel knew the letters that God used to create the world as it is written in Shmos 25:9 "ככל אשר אני מראה אותך..." – “Like everything that I show you, the form of the Tabernacle, and the form of all its vessels; and so shall you do”. Speaking in terms of the five senses which a human being has physically, he also has five senses spiritually. The five physical senses were able to relate and therefore create the five spiritual pieces of the Mishkan: the Aron, Shulchan, Menorah, Golden Altar and the Copper Altar. So, too, the design of the Mishkan structure had ten curtains contrasting the Eser MaAmaros, the Ten statements of creation and the Ten Commandments at Har Sinai. Each one of the curtains was attached with five on one side and five on the other, demonstrating that the building of the Mishkan was a miniature world, a place where Hashem could constrain Himself within.   This portable Sanctuary of God would end up in the permanent building of the Beis HaMikdash where His presence was “all over”. Only later, the Temple would be destroyed, and at that point, one might think God was homeless, that there was no place for Him to sit and dwell.   This is why the answer to the apparent two questions is really one. At the point where there is no longer a sanctuary, we the beings with the five senses, create a world and a sanctuary for Hashem to reside within, and we become the “seat” where Hashem sits. At this point we decide how close we want to be to the action and to be closely connected to the best possible seat in the house. It all lies within us.

*Nosson Nata Spira/Shapiro *1585 – 20 July 1633) was a Polish rabbi and kabbalist, who served as Chief Rabbi of Kraków. A student of Meir Lublin, Spira played an important role in spreading Isaac Luria's teachings throughout Poland. Spira was the author of a number of works, most notably the Megaleh Amukot. Spira descended from a rabbinical family, which traced its lineage as far back to Rashi. He was named after his grandfather, who was rabbi in Hrodna and author of Mevo Shearim (1575) and Imrei shefer (1597). Spira had seven children, three sons and four daughters. While serving as Chief Rabbi of Kraków, Spira refused a salary. He is buried in the Old Jewish cemetery in Kazimierz, Krakow.

Parshas Mishpatim - Bending the Rules? Maybe Just Follow Them!         27 Shvat 5783

02/17/2023 07:59:09 AM


I must confess that for the first time in the last thirty years, I did not watch the Super Bowl. I also must admit that it was not a religious reason that drove my conscience to intentionally miss the game, but rather circumstances on the day of the Super Bowl which prevented me from watching. Hopefully, Mitoch Shelo Lishma Bah Lishma, meaning, hopefully for doing something not for the right sake will lead a person to the right reason. A third and last declaration of guilt comes by way of watching a replay of one of the most crucial and significant plays of the game that, with a rule in question, caused a major influence on the outcome of the game.

If you did not happen to be one of the 130 million Super Bowl viewers, (more than 1/3 of the country - I will address this craziness in a future message), I will sum up the scenario: Picture having less than five minutes remaining to the game, score tied 35-35, a defensive holding call on a player who grabbed/tugged on the jersey of the receiver, thereby allowing the team to kick a game -winning  field goal with time basically expiring. The referee’s flag was called into question due to two factors: 1) The small infraction that very often is not flagged as a foul, and 2) The timing of the call, considering the score and the stage of the most important game of the year. One of the heartwarming revelations came in a post-game interview with the defender who admitted, ”Yes, I grabbed the receiver’s jersey”. The world (at least the losing team) will still argue the two facts  mentioned above - that the referee should not have called that penalty. Chaza”l teach us that everything that happens in the world should be reviewed and contemplated regarding how that situation relates to me.

There are few people in the world who don’t occasionally break a small law. The national speed limit of fifty-five mph is violated daily by millions of drivers. We know there is a bit of leeway, although technically anything above fifty-five (unless otherwise posted) is breaking the law. There are dozens of examples to cite where every human being and law-abiding citizen at times stretches and pushes the limit of the law, many times breaking it. The question is why? Why would a person who respects the law attempt to knowingly break it? The answer is two-fold; 1) Since everybody else is doing it, it’s ok, and 2) The enforcement of certain laws unofficially allows it and nothing is done. Nevertheless, if we were pulled over for an infraction or caught by the government for breaking a law, we would not have a good defense. Perhaps we could attempt to present rational reasons/excuses for our behavior which might influence the officer or judge. In case the officer or judge does not see it our way, however, we would be liable. This semi-rationalization may work for things in the physical world regarding our daily living in a society, but does this same thinking work in the spiritual world of Judaism? Unfortunately, the Yetzer Hora does whatever it takes to convince us to bend the rules, to make excuses, not only breaking the spirit of the law but sometimes actually breaking the law itself.

The Torah in this week’s Parshas Mishpatim states in Shmos 21:1"ואלה המשפטים אשר תשים לפניהם"  - “These are the laws that you must set before [the Israelites].” Rashi explains the word ואלה  - ‘and these are’ adds to the preceding. Just as the preceding laws were given at Sinai, so, too, these laws were given at Sinai. Reb Yitzchak Meir Rotenberg-Alter, the first Gerrer Rebbe, in his sefer Chidushei HaRim explains that the necessity of this is because people would err in their logic. Some people may come to think since ‘Mishpatim’ are logical commandments, they would be obligated through common sense. Perhaps they would even go as far to suggest that these Mitzvos that are ‘seicheldik’- common sense - that they were not given by God, rather they were created by man. Therefore, the Torah comes to testify that ‘these’ and ‘those’, these Mishpatim/laws are the same as the Chukim/statutes that are commandments which come from the mindset of Hashem, not man. Even these Mishpatim, these laws that man would come up with, are commanded to us through the will of Hashem and not because logic dictates that we obey them. Reb Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter, the grandson of the Chidushei HaRim, refers in his sefer the Sfas Emes to an explanation by  Rashi that Moshe did not want to explain any of the reasons regarding the Mishpatim/laws to the Jews until Hashem Yisborach said the words, “that you must set before them” [the Jews]. This is because Moshe believed that if he explained the reasons to the laws, the people would perform the mitzva due to the reason, not because God commanded, we obey them and it was His will that we do so. And so God said to Moshe, ‘place them ALL [Chukim and Mishpatim] so they will perform and fulfill the Mitzvos because Hashem commanded - despite knowing the reasons explained behind the Mitzvos.

As a Rabbi and teacher, I regularly receive ‘shailos’/questions in halacha or Jewish practice. All too often a question is accompanied by the words “and the reasons no longer apply today” so why do we still do this,  or even must do this? I’ve said many times that it is okay to ask a question, but it is unacceptable to question a practice or a Halacha. Nevertheless, people still ask, “Rabbi, does God really care if I do something a minute too early or a minute too late? Does God really care if I eat this or that? Does it really make a difference if I do this or not do that? I’m a good person, isn’t that all that counts? The resounding answer to all these questions is “YES!” If a person believes in Hashem as the God of the universe, the King of all kings, the Being that gave us the Torah, is the Author of all its nuances and details, then YES everything makes a difference and who are we to say or question otherwise. True, a person has a yetzer hora, and we are only human, therefore we might come to sin, but at least we know we sinned, and it does make a difference.

We live in a society that wants everything to be permissible. On top of that, we want all to be blessed, to be assured that it is okay.  The influence and norms of society creep into the Jewish world affecting us in the worst ways, tearing down the sense of what makes us different from the other nations of the world. If we were playing any game or sport in this world and we did not go by the rules and follow the rule book, we would be considered cheaters. We might not feel the obligation and necessity to follow the laws of the Torah in its strictest sense by going by the Book. If we do not go by the book in every detail as it was presented at Har Sinai, then we are cheating the system, and ultimately, we’ll lose the game.

Let us strengthen our commitment to Torah observance, close the self -made, manufactured loopholes, and re-accept the Torah as we say on Purim: Kimu V’Kiblu, Mah SheKibel Kvar - We have held and accepted that which we have already received (on Har Sinai)!

Parshas Yisro - Interest vs. Interest                   19 Shevat 5783

02/10/2023 09:31:35 AM


Have you come across words that are spelled the same but have different meanings? Or words that are spelled differently, but sound the same? These words are called homophones, homographs, or homonyms. Let’s have a quick look at their differences  Homophones are words that sound the same (Greek phonos – sounds) but are different in meaning or spelling. Homographs (Greek graphein – writing) are words which are spelled the same but differ in meaning or pronunciation. Homonyms (from Greek onyma – ‘name’) can be either homographs or homonyms or both homonyms and homographs. Homonyms are words that have the same spelling and pronunciation but typically have different meanings. For example, ‘quail’ meaning to cower, to cringe in fear, and ‘quail’ meaning a type of bird. are homonyms. Many homonyms differ in meaning when the word could be used as a noun or a verb, or as an adjective or a noun. The easiest way to distinguish and know how to emphasize the pronunciation is to look at it within the context of the sentence. Although homonyms have different meanings, I often found there is a connection between the two usages of the word. Let me explain.

Surfing the web I found many homonyms, but the word “interest” did not make the list on many websites. I found the word “interest” is very interesting (excuse the pun), especially in connection to the economy and to Torah. During my junior year of high school, I started working and saving my meager earnings. As a high schooler I did not have expenses that were in any way similar to the expenses of adults.  I had no car payments, home mortgage, or school loan paybacks. I had the advantage of not only saving my money, I could make more money by putting it in the bank and earning interest on my savings.  . For those with loans, the interest rate was so high it was difficult to get out of debt, but that which hurt others helped me. So much so that shortly after I turned seventeen, that July interest rates were a staggering 19%! I had no idea that it was not a good thing for the economy or for the general population; I was simply happy that my money was making money.

Fast forward almost forty years. In early 2020, the Federal Reserve cut interest rates from 1% to 0% as an emergency measure to stimulate the economy due to the negative economic effects of Covid. The U.S. economy then jumped back from its shortest recession ever recorded, partially supported by a massive policy stimulus. Just about everyone lost  ‘interest’ in interest-bearing accounts. By 2022, however, as the inflation rate hit 40-year highs, the central bank had to make its first rate increase in over two years. Following Federal Reserve meetings, interest rates were hiked 50 basis points, followed by 75 basis points increases two times shortly afterwards. With rates rising, there is a renewed interest in “interest”. As you can see, as the rates rise people become interested again. The word ‘interest’ follows its dual meaning: people are interested in interest. And then, there is yet another understanding of the word “interest”. 

The definition of “interest” is the state of wanting to know or learn about something or someone. What is a personal interest? Personal interests are activities enjoyed during a person's free time. Such interests can include hobbies, sports, artistic expression, leisure activities, volunteering, cultural activities, spiritual practices, learning pursuits, and personal development. The most significant common thread is an interest in learning or in doing something new. There is no question in my mind that the most beneficial interest a person can have is the pursuit of knowledge.  This intellectual pursuit especially applies to the Jewish people, known as the “People of the Book”- meaning the Torah. We learn, attempt to observe and practice the moral, ethical and ritual teachings of the Torah. The Torah is our conscience, our moral code, and the law of the world. Unfortunately, not everything in the Torah resonates with us on a platform of physical understanding;  at times we prefer to observe only those Mitzvos that we personally understand or happen to agree with. Logic dictates that knowledge which we find interesting and relevant finds a place in our memory.  We must be interested in what we study for it to stick with us. Nevertheless, a Torah lecture, class and the like, no matter how profound, inspiring, witty, or engaging, will never make us into better people unless we have or consciously develop a spark of self- motivation upon which the words of Torah can build. The Talmud writes similarly: One learns only a Torah topic which interests his heart (Avodah Zarah 19a). I find this true not only for myself but, I feel confident, for many others as well. The Gemara Avoda Zorah 19a brings a passuk:  "כי אם בתורת ה' חפצו" א"ר אין אדם לומד תורה אלא ממקום שלבו חפץ, שנאמר (תהלים א, ב) כי אם בתורת ה' חפצו the passuk is interpreted: “But his delight is in the Torah of the Lord”.  Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi explains: A person can learn Torah only from a place in the Torah where his heart desires and shows interest.  It is stated in Tehillim 1:2: ‘But his delight is in the Torah of the Lord’, meaning his delight is in the part of the Torah that he wishes to study. A person often studies and learns topics which are of personal interest.

In this week’s Parshas Yisro we read of the Aseres HaDibros, the Ten Commandments, which, according to the Shela”h HaKadosh, one can find all 613 commandments. The Torah states in Shmos 19:1: "בחודש השלישי לצאת בני ישראל מארץ מצרים ביום הזה באו מדבר סיני"  “In the third month after the Israelites left Egypt, on this day [the first of the month], they came to the desert of Sinai”. Rashi explains the words ביום הזה  - the same day - being the first of the month, the New Moon. It was only necessary to write  ‘on that day’; what is the meaning of ‘on this day’? It is to emphasize that the words of the Torah should be new to you as though He gave them to you today. This idea is highlighted by Shlomo HaMelech’s (King Solomon's) words in Koheles 1:9: "ואין חדש תחת השמש" - “There is nothing new under the sun.” Later in Koheles, Solomon says that the Torah is compared to a tree to those who take hold of it. The Gemara Chagiga 3b compares the Torah to a tree that is planted and is continuously growing and producing new leaves and flowers, and from those flowers come fruits. Since the time of Matan Torah (the Giving of the Torah), we have continued to delve deeper and deeper into the Torah, expounding upon its wisdom to no end. The Torah is given to each of us in the present, in the here and now, constantly deepening and broadening its roots and branches for all who cling to it, continuously causing renewed interest in growing and learning Torah.

The lesson is clear. As we invest our physical money, we are interested in the interest it will bear. In the intellectual realm of the Torah, the more interest we show in the Torah the more we are drawn to it, gaining ever-deeper interest in its newness. Through this interest, our investment continues to profit in both the physical and spiritual worlds of Olam Hazeh and Olam Habah, in this world and in the world to come!

Parshas B'Shalach - The Beginning of Life        11 Shvat 5783

02/01/2023 02:20:25 PM


This week’s Dvar Torah is sponsored by Ronnie & Susan Masliansky in memory of Rabbi Bogopulsky and Ronnie Masliansky’s grandmother Esther Rachel bas Nachum Bogopulsky & Ronnie’s grandfather Aharon ben Avraham Yitzchak Masliansky A"H.

Today, Thursday the eleventh day of Shvat, marks sixty-three years since my grandmother passed away. I never met my paternal grandmother and therefore never connected with her in a meaningful way. The two reminders I have of my grandmother are: (1) My sister is named after her, and (2) Since the time my mother passed away, I recited kaddish on the date of my grandmother’s yahrzeit because my father, who was living, couldn’t say it. For many years, my cousin recited kaddish for our grandmother, also someone who he had never known, for several years, but I did not recite kaddish because my parents were both alive. Now that my father has passed away, I no longer carry the responsibility to say kaddish for my grandmother. (The only kaddish obligation is for one’s parents, not for their parents – grandparents).. There is a debate as to whether one must honor a grandparent as a parent, and what just would those honors be?

One aspect of honoring a grandparent is drawn from a nuance of the brilliance of Rabbi Akiva Eiger. Rabbi Akiva Eiger (responsa, volume 1, no. 68) makes a fascinating statement concerning the obligation of a grandchild to honor his grandparents. Quoting from the Levias Chen, he writes that the obligation applies only during a parent’s lifetime; if the parent, who links the grandchild to the grandparent, dies during the grandparent’s lifetime, the mitzvah is no longer incumbent upon the grandchild. The distinction drawn by Rabbi Akiva Eiger is based on the teaching of a Gemara in Kiddushin 31a, whereby a son is obligated to heed the instructions of his father over that of his mother, because both he and his mother are obligated to honor his father. Since the mother is also obligated to honor her husband, the honor of the father takes precedence over that of the mother. Based on this reasoning, it is possible that the obligation to honor one’s grandparents is based on the obligation to honor one’s parents: A parent’s obligation to honor his own parents forms an obligation upon him to also honor his grandparents. Of course, according to this rationale, the obligation applies only during the lifetime of the parent. This rationale presents an elegant explanation for why a person is required to honor his father more than his grandfather. The obligation to honor one’s parent is a direct Torah instruction. The honor of one’s grandparent, however, is an indirect obligation, derived from the obligation to honor one’s parent. Accordingly, the direct mitzva is greater than the indirect mitzvah of honoring a parent’s parent. Based on this rationale, there is no room to distinguish between paternal and maternal grandparents; the obligation to honor grandparents  applies to all equally. (Also, it’s interesting to note that Rabbi Akiva Eiger’s rationale is not consistent with Rashi’s citation of the Midrash: Yitzchak was no longer alive at the time Yaakov brought his offerings. Thus, it seems that authorities who cite that Midrash will not concur).

Parents, grandparents, and previous generations are the link to our past. For the Jewish people, it was precisely during these parshios that the family of Klal Yisroel emerged. In this week’s parsha B’Shalach, we read how the Yam Suf split and that we walked across on dry land  witnessing the Egyptians following us and then being drowned as walls of water crashed down. A significant image to consider is the fact that the Jewish people “were in the sea”, totally enveloped and submerged by water as though they were covered by the waters of a mikva, undergoing a purification process. The Jewish people had just left Mitzrayim, emerging from the forty-ninth level of impurity and going through the Yam Suf, the purification moment of their Neshamos. When we immerse in a mikva, we emerge as new, purified. So, too, the Jewish people immersed themselves and came out as new - similar to the birth of a newborn baby emerging from an existence surrounded by fluids. When a baby is born, it enters this world with a clean slate, with a fresh, new and pure beginning of life.  

The following parable written by Dr. Wayne Dyer, entitled “A Conversation in the Womb – A Parable of Life After Delivery”, sums up our physical existence in this world and our spiritual one in the world to come.

In a mother’s womb were two babies. One asked the other: “Do you believe in life after delivery? “The other replied, “Why, of course. There must be something after delivery. Maybe we are here to prepare ourselves for what we will be later.”
“Nonsense” said the first. “There is no life after delivery. What kind of life would that be?”

The second said, “I don’t know, but there will be more light than here. Maybe we will walk with our legs and eat from our mouths. Maybe we will have other senses that we can’t understand now.”

The first replied, “That is absurd. Walking is impossible. And eating with our mouths? Ridiculous! The umbilical cord supplies nutrition and everything we need. But the umbilical cord is so short. Life after delivery is to be logically excluded.”

The second insisted, “Well I think there is something and maybe it’s different than it is here. Maybe we won’t need this physical cord anymore.”

The first replied, “Nonsense. And moreover, if there is life, then why has no one has ever come back from there? Delivery is the end of life, and in the after-delivery there is nothing but darkness and silence and oblivion. It takes us nowhere.”

“Well, I don’t know,” said the second, “but certainly we will meet Mother and she will take care of us.”

The first replied “Mother? You actually believe in Mother? That’s laughable. If Mother exists, then where is She now?”

The second said, “She is all around us. We are surrounded by her. We are of Her. It is in Her that we live. Without Her this world would not and could not exist.”

Said the first: “Well I don’t see Her, so it is only logical that She doesn’t exist.”

To which the second replied, “Sometimes, when you’re in silence and you focus and you really listen, you can perceive Her presence, and you can hear Her loving voice, calling down from above.”

The process of the Jewish people entering and exiting the sea was not limited to  birth/new life into this world of Olam Hazeh; it also served as a portend for the next world. The experience of Yam Suf was to demonstrate how Hashem takes care of us in this world and the next. This is an important lesson as there are many Jews who do not believe in a life after this world and therefore do not take this world with adequate seriousness. With that I will share an incredible piece of creative writing that I believe is one of the best presentations of a world to come.

Fri, December 8 2023 25 Kislev 5784