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Parshas Toldos - Guilty as Charged, Innocent as Can Be                           30 Cheshvan 5783

11/24/2022 12:12:24 PM

Nov24

Throughout Tanac”h there are stories and events which, at first glance, appear as if some righteous person had made a mistake. The average person who cannot research the commentaries for explanations of the events will not be able to arrive at the truth.

I’ve often pondered if life is strictly black and white or is gray a part of that analysis? Surely, there are situations in life that appear clearly black and we unknowingly call it wrong, while there are other times when something appears completely white and we naively call it correct, but is that true? I came across a business ethics article that addressed the idea of right and wrong through the lens of morality. Here is a brief quote from the article. “You may never have thought about why you think some actions are good and others are bad, but I’m sure that hasn’t stopped you from knowing the difference when you see it, so how do you determine whether an action is right or wrong; good, or bad? I suspect you have some sort of system for deciding. Everyone does. Maybe it’s a set of rules, maybe it’s a gut feeling, maybe something else.” If we think that differentiating “right and wrong” is strictly a moral discussion, we must ask ourselves where we get beliefs about morality. In other words, where do you believe morality comes from? Does morality come from culture, religion, feelings, pain/pleasure, personal interests, rationality, civil rights, relationships, or character? As a God-fearing, believing Jew, each of us appreciates that morality is a concept which comes from Hashem and is part and parcel with the Torah. The Torah does not take the list I mentioned earlier as a legitimate source regarding  from where morality and ethics stem.  As an example, some societies view “shechita”, ritual Jewish slaughter, as cruelty to animals. Yet, the Torah, given by God, decides what is and what is not cruelty to animals, known as Tzaar Baalei Chaim. If we believe that God is All-knowing, then who are we to say that something in the Torah is not what it is supposed to be? It must be that it is we who do not understand the definitions of what cruelty is and when it does or does not apply. Nevertheless, there are glaring parts of the Torah that need explanation. One of the issues that tops the list is when the first-born rights changed hands.

 There are two ways of looking at this scene; did Yaakov buy the birthright from Eisav, or did Eisav sell the birthright to Yaakov? One may say that it’s just semantics; obviously in any transaction one person sells and the other person buys. Even so, many commentators ask why Eisav did not come up with the “price” and the “item” to be sold; rather it was Yaakov who suggested that Eisav should sell the birthright specifically for a bowl of lentil soup. How could Yaakov even float let alone suggest such an exchange? Yaakov is considered to be the epitome of Emes/truth. How can he act in guile to obtain the Bechora? Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik,* in his work The Beis HaLevi, gives us insight into both Yaakov and Eisav and why this exchange was carried out in a completely ethical and moral fashion.    

In this week’s Parshas Toldos, the Torah states in Bereishis 25:31 "ויאמר יעקב, מכרה כיום את בכורתך לי"  - “And Yaakov said, first sell me your birthright”. The Beis HaLevi explains that the intention of Yaakov was clearly not to purchase the birthright so that he could gain monetarily by receiving a double portion. This event occurred before the Torah was given; who would have known that the Bechora entitles someone to a double portion? At that time the Bechora was just a title that received a modicum of honor from being the first born of the father, as we find earlier when Hashem said to Avraham in Bereishis 21:12 כי ביצחק יקרא לך זרע"  -“It is through Isaac that you will gain posterity”. The Rabbis define the word ביצחק  , B’Yitzchok, as meaning only a part of Yitzchok and not the entire Yitzchok. It would only apply to the part that holds onto his father’s ways, making it befitting to be called his son. Since on the day of the sale, Eisav behaved repulsively, Eisav had no connection to the first-born title. His action didn’t warrant the title of being a first born, a title which revealed close   association to his father. How could a child be referred to as the first born when he couldn’t even be called a son? Eisav’s only goal was to make sure Yaakov did not have that title; he personally could care less about the title. Therefore, Yaakov asked that the Birthright be sold to him, especially because at this point Yaakov had much to gain while Eisav had nothing to lose. This is exactly how Eisav responded to Yaakov: ולמה זה לי בכורה  - ”What good is a birthright to me?” In essence, the birthright had no intrinsic meaning to Eisav because he had no desire or intention of living in the ways of his father, Yitzchok.

A proof regarding how reference to ‘first born’ and ‘son’ are connected is taken from Shmos 4:22 when Hashem declares the greatness of the Jewish people by referring to them as בני בכורי ישראל  -Israel is ‘My son, My firstborn’. We deduce that the word son is included in the word BChori. Therefore, the verse comes to teach us that a Jew has two attributes. First, we are considered the son, and second, we are also the first born.  In this case there is no gray, it is all black and white and both Yaakov and Eisav acted in their own best interests.

Ah Gutten Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

 

* Yosef Dov Soloveitchik (born 1820 in Minsk when it was part of the Russian Empire; He died May 1, 1892, in Brest-Litovsk, Grodno. He was the author of Beis Halevi, by which name he is better known among Talmudic scholars. He was the great-grandson of Chaim Volozhin.

Yosef Dov Soloveitchik was born to Rivka, a granddaughter of Chaim Volozhin, whose father was Yitschok Ze'ev, descendant of Simcha Rappaport.

In his youth, Soloveitchik lived in Brod. One anecdote illustrates his early mastery of rabbinic learning. Shlomo Kluger the Rabbi of Brod, enjoyed engaging in Talmud studies with him. When Soloveitchik was about to leave Brod, Kluger is reputed to have said to him, “You have always resolved my kushyos (difficult Talmudic questions). But I have one difficulty you cannot resolve. How will I manage to part from you?”

Parshas Chayei Sorah - I Had a Thought, But It Wasn't Thought Through                     24 Cheshvan 5783

11/18/2022 09:19:23 AM

Nov18

Ever find yourself in a position when you did not want to do something, and you ended up not doing it? Have you ever found yourself in a position when you did not want to do something, but you did it anyway? Perhaps you had a situation that you wanted to do something, but you ended up not doing it? Or maybe you had a situation which bothered you and you wanted to do something about it, and you ended up doing it? These four scenarios are common real-life experiences which we may or may not take the time to reason through. I am sure there are times we struggle with making the decision to act upon or to ignore something and other times when we just allow our emotions to set the pace and course in our day-to-day lives. Life is full of decision making, ranging from  insignificant to major decisions that will alter the path of our lives forever. Many decisions in life may only affect us for the moment while others can affect ourselves and others, causing a ripple effect for years and even generations to come. Truth be told, every decision has a potential effect on more people than we can imagine. Decisions and actions play a role in our lives and on the lives of our families and others around us. Someone who works in an office and shares space with other employees  influences others - whether they choose to do so or not. A simple illustration: a co-worker who has an upbeat demeanor, choosing to view situations from a positive angle, will bring a positive vibe to the workplace, while a co-worker who tends to view situations and others from a negative perspective creates negative vibes in return.

What motivates a person to decide what to do? Certainly a few reasons pop up:  making money, attaining fame, reaching out to others. Some decisions are driven by lust and temptation, and sometimes we act without even thinking about the consequences or repercussions.  Acting without thinking is a natural reflex, working on raw instinct, a gut reaction essential  in certain high-pressure, split-second life-threatening situations. On the other hand, if a person has time to contemplate doing or not doing something and just responds instinctively, he is debasing himself, ignoring his ability to reason, choosing instead to act on the level of  an animal. A human being is blessed with intellect, with the ability to make informed decisions and think about the consequences of his actions. In fact, it is the Yetzer Hora, the evil inclination, that does not give us opportunity to think about whether we should do X or Y, encouraging us to  act on impulse.  So how do we train ourselves to process and respond in the correct manner? The answer is to make the effort to learn mussar, to educate ourselves about how to act appropriately, to be disciplined in our behavior, elevating our ethical standards and spiritual paths.  Mussar teaches us how to think and contemplate before we act. Once we reach the  level of appreciating the beauty of humility, clarity of thought, and empathy,  we will have the innate discipline to “just act” in a way that is clearly on the highest level a person can be. This is what Eliezer saw in Rivka as he was charged by Avraham to find a wife for Yitzchok. The following illustrates the level that Rivka was on which earned her the place in Jewish history to be one of the mothers of Klal Yisrael.

In this week’s Parshas Chayei Sorah the Torah states in Bereishis 24:22 "ויהי כאשר כלו הגמלים לשתות ויקח האיש נזם זהב בקע משקלו ושני צמידים על ידיה עשרה זהב משקלם"  “When the camels finished drinking, he took a gold ring weighing half a shekel, and two gold bracelets, weighing ten gold shekels, for her arms.” It interesting to note that it was only “when the camels finished drinking” - only then did Eliezer take a gold ring weighing half a shekel. *Ovadia ben Yakov, in his commentary to the Sforno, explains: Eliezer wanted to see if Rivka was a worthy mate for Yitzchok. He wanted to see if she had the qualities that was famous in the house of Avraham, namely the midah of chessed, the character trait of kindness. That being the case, why did Eliezer wait until the camels finished drinking, apparently at the very moment when Rivka said to Eliezer, “Drink and also your camels should drink” would have been a good enough sign to recognize her righteousness and give her the jewelry right then and there. Why wait until the camels literally finished drinking? The Sforno explains that Eliezer waited until Rivka gave water to all the servants and the camels to see if after she completed giving the water, she might ask for something in return. Perhaps she might ask for a favor or  wait for a tip for services rendered. Perhaps, give her a gift that was not so expensive, giving instead a little something of recognition for her being there at the right time and the right place for Eliezer and his entourage. But that was not to be the case, Rivka acted in more than a dignified manner; immediately upon finishing her chores, she quickly turned to go home as if she had done nothing that would deserve any type of reward, even a basic acknowledgement. Her act of chessed/kindness was performed naturally, in humility and empathy as if she had done nothing special and simply went about her business.    

 

Ah Gutten Shabbos

 

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

*Obadja Sforno (Hebrew: עובדיה ספורנו) was an Italian rabbi, Biblical commentator, philosopher, and physician. A member of the Sforno family, he was born in Cesena about 1475 and died in Bologna in 1550.

Doing the Right Thing

Parshas Vayera - מי כעמך ישראל / Who is Like the Jewish People?      17 Cheshvan 5783

11/11/2022 11:31:03 AM

Nov11

I have often wondered if the supply and demand equation applies to every scenario in the world. Whether it is food, housing, education, virtually anything, there is a vitally important measure of supply and demand required to see success or failure. In general, when it comes to food necessary to stave off starvation, there is an ample supply to meet the needs of the hungry. While this statement is based upon a global viewpoint, we must also calculate how to get that food supply delivered to the locations where starving people can be fed. When it comes to housing, the major indicators that factor into the supply and demand are price and interest rates. Finally, my third example focuses on the growing demand for dedicated, highly qualified teachers.  This is a demand where the supply is just not there. Across this country, in both the Jewish and secular world of education, there is a strong need for more and better qualified teachers in order to meet the growing needs of our children.

Recently, another example of the supply/demand issue came to mind. I think this example is more central to the Jewish family and perhaps more specific to the Orthodox Jewish community worldwide. Anytime we discuss a supply/demand issue when it comes to necessities, the issue of discussion and need carries much more weight than, for example, the supply and demand for cars. If there is a shortage of new cars, we can hold on to our old cars for a while, take taxis, Ubers, or or public transportation. This might not be so terrible; it could force us to talk to our spouse and children a little more instead of focusing on driving. But when it comes to educating our children or giving tzedakah/charity, there is no leeway. Those needs must be met. I found it fascinating and disheartening to see how much need exists within the Orthodox Jewish world. Perhaps it is through the creation of social media and instant communication that our eyes have been opened to the countless numbers of organizations, educational institutions, and individual needs there are. We see this daily through the number of requests that come to us via our phones, computers, and the good old mail system.

Online campaigns are popping up daily.  Numerous chessed platforms have been created. A small sampling of such platforms for giving include Charidy campaigns, TheChessedFund, Go Fund Me, GiveCampus, Fundly, GiveButter, Donorbox, Kickstarter, Crowdfunder, Indiegogo, Facebook Fundraising, PayPal, EdCo, 360MatchPro, Bonfire, Kiva, the list continues to grow. On the flip side, I am encouraged by the outpouring of support to which Jews across the globe willingly contribute, even if it is only a few dollars. It is truly amazing to take note of how these things are born  and quickly snowball into something so beneficial to those in need. Rabbi Wein often remarked that there is enough Jewish money available worldwide to keep every Jewish organization from operating in the red. I will take that statement and run with it and openly state there is enough Jewish money that if everyone gave their respected portion, we could wipe out all of the needs from every Jewish organization and household. This reality hit me when I read a posting in my Yeshiva Shaarei Torah Alumni WhatsApp group regarding an individual in need. Keep in mind, the Yeshiva has been in existence for almost fifty years. A posting of financial assistance was sent by a friend of an alumnus (who was at the time of the posting in the first years of the high school and is not on this chat).  He shared a letter written by a a quadriplegic who was trying to raise needed funds so he could  have a better quality of life. While the numbers are not important, within a few hours of the posting, the monies were raised from guys who never saw or spoke to this man, let alone previously knew of his existence and situation. I was so uplifted to realize the supply quickly came in to fill the demand. This is a concept that comes from the Chessed of our forefather Avraham Avinu whose kindness is detailed throughout the parshiot we read during these weeks.

In this week’s Parshas Vayera the Torah relates several instances of Avraham’s Chessed/kindness. Dovid Hamelech, in Tehilim 89:3 עולם חסד יבנה , stated that the world is created through kindness.  Bereishis Rabbah 8:5 states that the creation of Adam HaRishon was in the merit of God’s Chessed. Rav Yoel Schwartz, in his work Davar B’Ito, writes from this source that we see the root and very foundation of the existence of mankind is predicated on acts of Chessed. The acts of kindness that Avraham performed with complete self-sacrifice became the foundational platform of merits for the Jewish people in the future. The Midrash describes in the merit that Avraham ran three times: 18:2 "וישא עיניו וירא והנה שלשה אנשים עליו, וירא וירץ לקראתם מפתח האהל וישתחו ארצה"   “Avraham lifted his eyes and saw three strangers standing a short distance from him. When he saw them from the entrance of his tent, he ran out to greet them, bowing down to the ground.” 18:7 the Torah states "ואל הבקר רץ אברהם, ויקח בן בקר רך וטוב ויתן אל הנער וימהר לעשות אתו"  “Avraham ran to the cattle, and chose a tender, choice calf. He gave it to a young man who rushed to prepare it. For this Hashem said, “I [God] will run in front of his children to give them the Torah.

The Gemara in Bava Metzia 86b describes that so too, in the merit that Avraham gave milk and butter to the guests, his [Avraham’s] children merited to have the manna from heaven for forty years in the desert. In the merit that Avraham “stood over them [the angels/guests], the Jewish people merited to have the clouds of glory stand for the Jews traveling in the desert. In the merit that Avraham said to his guests, “Let some water be brought and wash your feet,” Avraham’s children merited the well in the desert to have water to drink. We see from Avraham’s actions how important it is for a person to be concerned with the welfare and well-being of others. The Gemara Taanis 13 teaches that anyone who separates him/herself from the community during its time of need will bear a great punishment. Therefore, we see the opposite is true when someone comes forward to extend help, the reward will be great.

Yes, it is true that many tragedies have befallen large numbers of people and many difficulties are occurring and deepening in our Jewish communities. There is great need, but I am confident that great blessing will come to Klal Yisrael for the resounding, ongoing efforts of collectively helping out Acheinu Kal Beis Yisrael. Let us all take active part in addressing and managing the needs and the essentials of every Jew we come across.

Ah Gutten Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

                                                                                                                                                                                                               

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

Parshas Lech L'Cha - "Thinking Deep"     10 Cheshvan 5783

11/11/2022 11:28:42 AM

Nov11

This Dvar Torah is sponsored by the Adelman/Gleiberman families in memory of Mr. Lonnie Adelman, Yehuda Zev Ben Shlomo Yitzchok z”l

One of the many horrible high school experiences I endured were all standardized tests, especially the SATs. Beyond the typical multiple-choice questions which most often can be figured out through a process of elimination, these multiple-choice questions were deceptive since, in my view, most of the choices offered could reasonably have been  the correct answer. They were written in a manner to purposely confuse the already-nervous test-taker. It was not only necessary to know the material; to answer correctly, it was essential that the student understood how to accurately decode the question.   This week I was reminded of these unpleasant memories thanks to experiencing nightmares, night sweats, and flashbacks of anxiety regarding  the upcoming election. Let me explain…

This week, in good company with many Jews across America, I found myself in the middle of two major elections. First, the Israeli elections, which, after an unprecedented fifth election in three years on November 1, showed clear indications that former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who served as the ninth prime minister of Israel from 1996 to 1999 and again from 2009 to 2021, was expected to return as prime minister following the 2022 Israeli legislative election. The Israeli election, however, did not grip me with fear as I could not vote since I am not an Israeli citizen. Nevertheless, it did set the stage for the upcoming U.S. elections set to take place this coming week. I chose to vote early, but that has not calmed my deep anxieties.

Typically,  there are the usual two candidates running for office.  Most often, I vote on party lines but will cross party lines when the candidate is someone whom I feel is worthy of my vote. In addition to the typical choice of candidate,there are referendums and propositions to vote for or against. Today,  twenty-six states have the power of initiative or referendum, showing what powers—initiated statutes, initiated amendments, veto referendums, or some combination— are available to their residents. Effective in the 2021/2022 election cycle, a signature requirement, with modifications from state-to-state, applies for each type of measure. Each state has different types of initiated statutes or amendments, such as between direct or indirect initiatives. If you are really interested in all of this, you can go online to read all the details about the process in each state by searching  ‘propositions state by state’.Just click the appropriate chart.

As I was filling out my mail-in ballot,  a mental melt down reminiscent of my high school years slowly enveloped me. I began to relive the trauma regarding a line of double or triple innuendo questioning packed with confusing, misleading language, clearly designed to trick the voter to approve a measure which is not only unclear but potentially harmful.  It took me longer to go through seventeen propositions than to complete a tractate of Gemara/Talmud. And I’m still unsure if I chose the answer which I believed to be correct. Whenever I fill out these questionnaires, I say to myself, “Why don’t they just ask the question directly?” After reviewing this week’s Sidra I found an answer to my question!

In this week’s Parsha Lech L’Cha the Torah states in Bereishis 12:1 "ויאמר ה' אל אברם לך-לך מארצך וממולדתך ומבית אביך אל הארץ אשר אראך"  “God said to Abram, ‘Go away from your land, from your birthplace, and from your father’s house, to the land that I will show you’. Rashi immediately jumps on the obvious question: ‘Why didn’t God tell Abram where he was to go?’ Rashi presents a Midrash which answers that God did not reveal the land to Abram immediately in order to make it beloved in his [Abraham’s] eyes and to give him a reward for each and every word. Similarly at the end of Vayera, in the commandment of the Akeidas Yitzchok, Hashem describes an elaborate description of whom he is to take to slaughter and once again, He does not reveal the place immediately. It is revealed only after he is already on his journey.  I might add not only did Avraham receive extra reward based upon each word Hashem used to describe the command, but Avraham would receive extra rewards for every step taken while kept in the dark regarding his ultimate destination. Rav Yaakov Yisroel Kanievsky zt”l, the Steipler Gaon, writes in his sefer Birkas Peretz on Chumash:  The first reason the Midrash offers ‘to make it beloved in his eyes’ we learn that when a person looks for something toils over it for a long time, the matter becomes clear and beloved to him. The Steipler continues, explaining  if the matter (understanding) would have come easily to the person, by chance,  without undue effort,  then it would not have the same value as if he had put in the effort.

From this we derive a lesson regarding the long-lasting effects of doing Mitzvos and learning Torah. Those who immerse themselves in learning the process and details of the Mitzvos will perform them differently, developing long-lasting, positive  effects upon the individual. The same applies to learning Torah in-depth with careful analysis.  Such effort will bring more meaning and truth to the Torah and bring the devoted individual closer to God. Unfortunately, the opposite is also true. Things that come without effort and toil will be regarded lightly. Truth be told this lesson extends not only to Torah and Mitzvos but to any situation and relationship in life, both spiritually and physically. Therefore, Hashem did not reveal information to Avraham immediately, rather Avraham would toil in the word of God, and it became precious in his eyes.

I now think back to the voter’s card and the proposition list that I forced myself to go over and review several times. In the end I won’t say I understood everything about each proposition but going through each one and reading over the confusing explanations accompanying each proposition helped me to understand the issues at stake in California. Whether I agree with them or not, whether I voted yes or no is not the issue. Through focused effort,   I developed  a deeper sense of understanding the issues that loom around us. With this newfound knowledge and a greater sense of appreciation of the importance of these issues, I now look forward to seeing the results of these propositions that will either alter our way of life or keep the status quo. On a deep, personal level, this valuable lesson applies to learning Torah.  All of us need to actively seek out the profound meaning of the precious words of the Torah, delving into performance of mitzvos, making every word, every mitzvah ever more sacred and beloved in our eyes.  Ultimately, this active effort to understand and to apply brings us closer to Hashem.        

Parshas Noach - Living to See the Day              3 Cheshvan 5783

10/28/2022 09:00:59 AM

Oct28

This Dvar Torah is in memory of Yehoshua Heshel Ben Yehuda Leib z”l

Over the Yom Tov of Sukkos, we read the book of Koheles where Shlomo HaMelech writes        "דור הולך ודור בא" “a generation goes and a new generation comes”. With the passing of my father, Reb Yehoshua Heshel ben Yehuda Leib, Mr. Edward Bogopulsky z”l, a link to the previous generations has been severed. The following is not a “Chiddush”, something novel; rather it will hopefully remind us all, creating  a deeper awareness of what happens to everyone over time. I am connected to my grandfather, someone who was born in the 1800’s, through my father. When my grandfather died, the connection to that world was severed. Now, the historical connection that my children and grandchildren, who loved and knew my father, born in 1930, has been severed. My grandchildren will have a new historical perspective from the 1960’s. It takes the passing of someone who may have been a great grandfather, to more profoundly enable us to look back at the wisdom and sacrifice of the previous generation. Unfortunately, wisdom from the older generation is not only not passed down; but it can be outrightly ignored and even, at times, shunned. People are meant to learn from the past, yet too often fail to  see the benefit to them. Therefore…..  

The phrase “history repeats itself” and therefore what we learn from history is a lesson meant for the young. Unfortunately, however, that is rarely the case. It takes maturity to recognize the need to learn from our past, and usually a younger person looks at that part of history as irrelevant to the present, disregarding the lessons to be learned. Please take note that the “younger person” does not necessarily come with a certain age; rather, it is just a “younger person” who should take the time (and make the effort) to learn from the older generation at all ages and stages of life. Sometimes a person, as he or she ages, comes to understand and appreciate the lessons, teachings, and messages that their parents and grandparents endeavored to imbue within them. In many cases, lessons of life are taught with words, but perhaps the best teaching is through being a role model. My father, הרני כפרת משכבו and mother זכרונה לברכה taught more by action rather than by speech. My wife, our children, and I learned lifelong lessons from my parents. With the passing of my father, I feel that one of the most important mitzvos and certainly one of the two mitzvos the Torah states - its reward, as in כיבוד אב ואם ,no longer apply. That may be the case in other religions, but in Judaism the Mitzva of honoring your mother and father continues to be your mitzva until you are no longer able to  do it. My father was niftar on the day we completed the Torah and started again from the beginning. The book of Bereishis is also known in the English as Genesis. The word Genesis is a translation from a different name of the first book of the Torah known as Sefer HaAvos, the Book of our Fathers. It is a sefer which focuses on the teachings of our forefathers.    

The book of Bereishis or Sefer HaAvos, the Book of Our Fathers, describes the building of families after the world came into existence. In a few different places in Bereishis, the Torah goes out of its way to list several genealogical generations. The word Toldos – generations - is frequently used throughout the first book of the Torah. The beginning of this week’s Parsha uses the word ‘Toldos’. The Torah in Bereishis 6:9 states: "אלה תולדות נח, נח איש צדיק תמים היה בדרתיו את האלוקים התהלך נח"  “These are the chronicles of Noach. Noach was a righteous man, faultless in his generation, and Noach walked with God.” Rashi comments, ”Since it [scripture] mentions him [Noach], it relates his praise, as it is said in Mishlei 10:7 זכר צדיק :לברכה  the memory of the righteous shall be for a blessing. We learn from here that when a Tzadik’s name is mentioned, we must bless him. So too, when a person mentions his or her parents after they die, one must honor them. Within the first twelve months we say הריני כפרת משכבו  -I will be an atonement for them, and after twelve months we say זכרונו/ה לברכה : their memory should be a blessing.

I mentioned earlier that there are two mitzvos  where the reward is revealed in the Torah: honoring your mother and father and Shiluach HaKein - sending away the mother bird. Many ask, why is the reward for honoring your parents’ a long life? I saw in one of my favorite seforim on the laws of Kibbud Av VaEim, written by a great talmid Chacham Rav Zvi Aryeh Solomon, the following footnote (Siman 3 page 29) that perhaps sheds some light on my question. He explains  it is worthy to point out the mitzva of honoring your father and mother is unique among all 613 mitzvos in that not only can you, but you must honor your parents when they are alive and even after they pass away. Even when our parents go to their world, we cannot think we are finished with this mitzva. We honor them by leading exemplary lives, learning Torah, fulfilling mitzvos, or, heaven forbid, disgrace them by not doing those things mentioned. When people look at us for good or for bad, this serves as a reflection upon from whom we have come.  Therefore, we still must maintain giving our parents honor, albeit in a different way then when they were alive, but nevertheless the mitzva of honoring our parents continues on. Perhaps I’ll suggest that so long as we perform the mitzva of honoring our parents, Hashem will give us more time in this world to continue to honor our parents, hence giving us longer life.

Just remembering our parents, however, is the safeguarding, or passive method, but the proactive is “to do something” in their memory. If we act in a positive manner, that will influence others to follow the ways of the Torah and become more committed Jews. This is the greatest honor we can give a parent, especially after they have passed on to the next world. The influencing and teaching of Torah and giving proper derech eretz to others is important. Perhaps the most effective and highest form of honor to our parents is when the continuity of Torah and Mitzvos continues on through the generations and future generations who issue from them. I and my extended family hope to fulfill the mitzva of Kibbud Av VaEim, to honor our parents, their grandparents and great grandparents and continue down the line until the time of Techiyas HaMeisim ,when we will once again fulfill the Mitzva in person during their lifetime.        

Parshas Vayeilech - To Greet or be Greeted?     5 Tishrei 5783

09/30/2022 08:50:04 AM

Sep30

History in the making catches the attention even of those who typically may not be interested in that particular happening. I believe most Americans have heard of the sport of baseball and even a team named the Yankees. Nevertheless, they may not follow or even care about this team or baseball in general.

The Yankees debuted to a cheering section seated in the right-field of Yankee Stadium on May 22, 2017. Called "The Judge's Chambers", the section spanned three rows containing 18 seats located in section 104. Fans were chosen by the team, seated there,and outfitted with black robes, wigs, and foam gavels. Since 2017, this section in Yankee Stadium stands out among the other sections in the ‘House that Ruth built’. It all started with a young rookie phenom named Aaron James Judge. The Judge’s Chambers are a section of seats out in the right field outfield next to the bleachers. The cheering section looks like a jury box with faux wood paneling, all causing this special section within the ballpark to stand out entirely from others. The jury box consists of three rows of seats located directly in the back of the right-field seats. Every time Aaron Judge walked up to the plate, viewers could see this entire section “rise” in honor of the slugger.

Judge began his career slugging home runs, continuing his wins with the    unbelievable feat of tying Roger Maris (also a Yankee) for the most home runs (61) in a season, a feat which, as of this moment, has not been beaten by any American league player. As Judge’s slugging record approached tying Babe Ruth’s record of sixty home runs, ticket sales and prices skyrocketed with fans wanting to witness baseball history. As of today, ticket prices for the upcoming game tops out at ten thousand dollars, climbing even higher as each game passes. One of the highlights of Judge’s career was listening to Yankee broadcaster John Sterling announce “All Rise… Here comes the Judge”. The original phrase "Here Comes the Judge" is a song made famous by American soul and comedy singer Pigmeat Markham, first released in 1968. The source of any of these “All Rise” are words, now part of our common vernacular announcing the arrival of a judge entering a courtroom, connoting respect for the authority of the court. Whatever the origin of such  phrases, the expression must be appreciated in context. Being part of a song, or even acknowledging the source coming from the  American pastime sport of baseball,  does not do justice to the concept. Perhaps in the courtroom one could find reason for expressing respect to the law and the person representing the law who enters the courtroom dressed in the dignified, somber, black robe.  

The irony of the hype during the Aseres Yemei Teshuva is eerily awkward, mentioning the coming of the judge and needing to stand. I must take objection to the roles that the people and the judge play. As we now find ourselves during these ten days of repentance, our lives hanging in the balance between life and death, the arena of a stadium, or even a courtroom, is far different than the Beis Din Shel Maalah - the Heavenly court where the ultimate Judge sits. Here, in the lower courts, the judges enter the room where the jurors, spectators and litigants are sitting, while in the Heavenly Court we all must enter the courtroom where the Judge is sitting, awaiting our appearance.  The powerful prayer Unisaneh Tokef, which we recited on Rosh Hashana and will again say on Yom Kippur, states, “All mankind will pass before You like members of the flock. Like a shepherd pasturing his flock, making sheep pass under his staff, so shall You cause to pass, count, calculate, and consider the soul of all the living”.

I cringed thinking of the day the record was tied, how the media stressed the scenario where people stood in their places as the judge entered the courtroom. In Selicha 64 are the words "ואני לא נקראתי לבא אל המלך"  -“while I have not been called to come to the King”. In our case the Judge is the King, our Father, and yet we go to Him; He awaits our arrival, not the other way around. Although, per Tefilla, we are supposed to arrive before Hashem, nevertheless in the Courtroom of our King, Hashem is ever-present. In this holy Courtroom, we – every one of us - find ourselves being brought to The Judge. This bit of baseball history and the Days of Awe also coincide with a mitzva relating to the King of Israel.

The Torah in this week’s Parsha Vayeilech states in Devarim 31:12 "הקהל את העם האנשים והנשים והטף וגרך אשר בשעריך למען ישמעו ולמען ילמדו ויראו את ה' אלוקיכם ושמרו לעשות את כל דברי התורה הזאת"  “You must gather together the people - Hakhel: the men, women, children and proselytes from your settlements, and let them hear it. They will thus learn to be in Awe of God your Lord, carefully keeping all the words of this Torah.”

Many commentators ask why young children were also required to be present at Hakhel. The Gemara Chagigah 3a states: Rabbi Eleazar ben Azariah said: “Men would come to learn, and women would come to listen. Why would children come? To provide a reward for those who brought them.” Maharsha takes that to mean even children who are not yet in school, similar to a tradition of Sefer Chasidim: we don’t bring such small children to shul, since they distract their parents and others around them. The Ramban and Rashi indicate that even the youngest children should be brought. Rashi explains in Gemara Megillah 5a that we delay a Hakhel that falls on Shabbat  so that parents are able to carry their small children when there is no eruv. R. Ovadya Yosef suggests that there is a value -  even at the age of infancy - so that even the youngest of all will become accustomed to  hearing Torah, benefitting from being at an event where the Divine Presence is particularly present. The Gemara in Yevamos 64a tells us that any gathering of over 22,000 Jews has an added element of the Divine Presence. I’m not certain as to exactly when the King arrived at Hakhel. The point for Hakhel is not whether the King arrived before or after the people. Rather, it is to teach the lesson that we “go to” see the King, in person to listen to Hashem’s Torah. In life, it is always better to take the initiative, to go out actively and greet someone first and not wait to be greeted.  I would not swear to this in court, but I definitely want to confess, that I enjoy watching the Judge chase history. Nevertheless, when it comes to Yom Kippur, we had all better show up and take our places. There is no sitting back, waiting for the judge to arrive.  The Judge of all Judges is waiting for us – every one of us – to be there in sincere humility and repentance for our day in court.

Ah Gutten Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas Nitzavim - Say it & You Can Make it Happen               26 Elul 5782

09/30/2022 08:48:00 AM

Sep30

This Dvar Torah is in honor of Fred & Elaine Lepow upon making Aliyah, Mazal Tov!

There is a custom to perform “Hatoras Nedarim” - releasing of vows on Erev Rosh Hashana. A very famous, core question is ‘Why, if we do Hatoras Nedarim on Erev Rosh Hashana, must we say Kol Nidrei?’ Conversely, if we say Kol Nidrei, why must we say Hatoras Nedarim? The most common answer for the first question is that Kol Nidrei refers to the vows of the community, while Hatoras Nedarim takes care of personal vows. On another level, according to one Nusach, Kol Nidrei frees us from future vows only if the condition is forgotten later, while Hatoras Nedarim is said for all personal vows.

Nedarim/vows, which can occur for reasons as common as making a statement to do or not do something, are very powerful. Chaza”l say ”"It’s better not to vow than to take a vow and not fulfill it.” True, taking a vow and motivating ourselves to do or not do something could be a positive technique to get closer to Hashem, but it runs a risk. Beyond the technical issue of getting ourselves in trouble by not fulfilling a vow, there is always a way around it. 1) We can become accustomed to adding the words ‘bli neder’/without a vow either at the beginning or the end of our statements. 2) We can always have the vows annulled or released. Perhaps there are other lessons to glean from the halachik discussion of vows. One such incidence was recently addressed in daf yomi where the Gemara discusses vows which are taken by a husband that would affect his wife, and a wife making a vow that would affect her husband.

The Gemara Kesuvos 71b and the top of 72a discusses whether a husband can take a vow that would restrict his wife from participating in certain activities. If he is forbidden to make these declarations, then should she be entitled to leave her husband and receive her guaranteed Ketubah money. הַמַּדִּיר אֶת אִשְׁתּוֹ וְכוּ׳. בִּשְׁלָמָא לְבֵית הַמִּשְׁתֶּה § The mishna states: One who vows and obligates his wife not to go to a house of mourning or to a house of feasting for a wedding, must divorce her and give her the payment of her marriage contract because it is as if he were locking a door in front of her. The Gemara asks: Granted, when he forbids her from going to a house of feasting, 72a אִיכָּא נוֹעֵל בְּפָנֶיהָ, אֶלָּא לְבֵית הָאֵבֶל מַאי נוֹעֵל בְּפָנֶיהָ אִיכָּא? תָּנָא: לְמָחָר הִיא מֵתָה וְאֵין כׇּל בְּרִיָּה סוֹפְדָהּ. וְאִיכָּא דְּאָמְרִי: אֵין כׇּל בְּרִיָּה סוֹפְנָהּ. there is effectively an act of locking a door in front of her by withholding from her any possibility of rejoicing, but when he forbids her from going to a house of mourning, what locking of a door in front of her is there? He taught: In the future she too will die, and no person will eulogize her or take care of her, just as she did not care for others. And some say: No person will value her or pay attention to her, since a person who does not visit the sick or console mourners cuts himself off from others. תַּנְיָא, הָיָה רַבִּי מֵאִיר אוֹמֵר: מַאי דִּכְתִיב ״טוֹב לָלֶכֶת אֶל בֵּית אֵבֶל מִלֶּכֶת אֶל בֵּית מִשְׁתֶּה בַּאֲשֶׁר הוּא סוֹף כׇּל הָאָדָם וְהַחַי יִתֵּן אֶל לִבּוֹ״, מַאי ״וְהַחַי יִתֵּן אֶל לִבּוֹ״? דְּבָרִים שֶׁל מִיתָה: דְּ[יִ]סְפֹּד — יִסְפְּדוּנֵיהּ, דְּ[יִ]קְבַּר — יִקְבְּרוּנֵיהּ, דִּידַל — יְדַלּוּנֵיהּ, דִּ[י]לַוֵּאי — יְלַוּוֹנֵיהּ, דְּ[יִ]טְעֹן — יִטְעֲנוּנֵיהּ. Similarly, it is taught in a baraitaRabbi Meir used to say: What is the meaning of that which is written: “It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, since that is the end of all men, and the living will take it to heart” (Koheles 7:2). What does “and the living will take it to heart” mean? It means that they will take matters relating to death to heart, realizing that they, too, will eventually die. He who eulogizes others, people will eulogize him; he who buries someone, people will bury him; he who lifts others to bring them to burial, people will similarly lift him to bring him to burial; he who escorts others out for burial, people will similarly escort him; he who carries others, others will carry him. Therefore, one who does not come to a house of mourning to comfort the bereaved will himself not be treated with proper dignity when he dies.

The Talmud is contextually dealing with the relationship and status of vows between husband and wife. Often, the Torah whether it is the written law, the oral law, rishonim, acharonim or poskim, have a way of sending a message which causes us to read between the lines. The gemara is sending a clear lesson of communal involvement. The examples listed earlier are not limited to end of life, although I have seen this to be the case. Rather, the lesson should be for every aspect of shared Jewish life. In terms of a Jewish community, it entails every person to be on every committee. Every person needs to volunteer for whatever needs to be done. Every person needs to show up at every event. There is no room for just taking that which I need and if something doesn’t “speak” to me I don’t have to show up, I don’t feel the need to participate. If people choose not to show up, choose not to help or participate, the system will crash causing the entire infrastructure of the community to no longer have the ability  to carry out its obligation to attend to all the community’s events, occurrences and needs.   

The Torah, in the beginning of this week’s Parshas Nitzavim in Devarim 29:9 states:"אתם נצבים היום כלכם לפני ה' אלוקיכם, ראשיכם שבטיכם זקניכם ושוטריכם כל איש ישראל"   “Today you are all standing before God your Lord – your leaders, your tribal chiefs, your elders, your law enforcers, every Israelite man.” There are a handful of times that we as a shul community come together at the same time and place. One of them is the sounding of the Shofar when all men, women, and children listen collectively to the sound of the Shofar. The sound of the Shofar has many meanings, many levels of understanding. One of them is the that the Shofar is a call to action. Just as the trumpets’ blast leads the charge of the army to battle, so, too, the Shofar is the sound of the charge for each and every one of us to join forces with our comrades into the battle - whether we like that particular battle or not. We all need to be there for everyone else. Let the Shofar penetrate the core of our existence to remind us – all of us - that we are here for each other, and if I am here for you, then you will be there for me.

Ah Gutten Shabbos & Ah Goot Yur

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas Ki Savo - Torah: The Bedrock of our Past, Present & Future       20 Elul 5782

09/16/2022 09:06:34 AM

Sep16

Ninety-nine years ago, on the 3rd of Elul, 5683, corresponding to August 15th, 1923, the first Knessiah Gedolah took place in Vienna/Wein or Vien. It was a watershed event in the annals of Jewish Orthodoxy. This was the first gathering of world Torah leaders in the in the 20th Century,  united in the struggle against secular assimilationist movements that were threatening the survival of Torah Jewry. In 2015 the Orthodox community worldwide had been amazed and elated by the discovery of a rare short film containing images of numerous gedolei Yisroel (great Orthodox Jewish leaders) across the spectrum, including Roshei Yeshivos, Chassidic Rebbes and Torah luminaries. And among them was a crystal clear presence of the saintly Chofetz Chaim, Rav Yisroel Meir Kagan z”l.  

Hundreds of people gathered around the inn where the Chofetz Chaim was staying. Everyone came to catch a glimpse of the Gadol Hador, the greatest Rabbi of the generation. Remember, this was prior to twitter and any social media; most people didn’t even know what he looked like. Many in the crowd waited for the opportunity to meet the Chofetz Chaim in person and ask for a bracha from this great Tzadik. When people arrived to seek a blessing, the Chofetz Chaim replied, “I am not a Rebbe” meaning he was not among the Chasidic masters and Kabbalists who were expected to give brachos. Nevertheless, the people would not relent. They pushed the Chofetz Chaim to the point where he had no choice but to honor their request and began blessing them. Among the visitors were a man and his young son who the Chofetz Chaim did not recognize. This occurred around the time of Parshas Ki Savo. The Chofetz Chaim said to the man, “I am not sure why you are asking to receive a bracha from me. If you send your son to a yeshiva, then you don’t need my blessing because you’ve already been pre-blessed by six hundred thousand Jews who stood on top at the mountains of Greizim and Eival. The Gemara Sotah 36 describes six tribes on Har Gereizim and six tribes on Har Eival and the Kohanim, Leviim, and the Aron HaKodesh where the Shechina - God’s presence - rested was below in the middle. It was there that everyone who was present heard the words "ברוך אשר יקים את דברי התורה הזאת"   “Blessed is the one who fulfills and upholds the words of the Torah.” But if you are going to send your son only for a secular education, then I cannot give you a bracha.” He concluded in Yiddish by saying, “I am not a light scratcher when it comes to tochachah/ rebuke.” The father then began to tremble and his knees began to shake, asking himself, ”How did the Chofetz Chaim know to say this to me!”

There is a saying of the Rabbis: “if I don't learn Torah for one day, the Torah leaves me for two days.” I felt this lesson when writing this week’s message, having missed writing a message last week. Sometimes the lack of something good is the curse; the inverse is also true. Although I quoted above that blessing will come from those who uphold and disseminate Torah, that quote is, in fact, derived from the negative perspective. The Torah in this week’s Parshas Ki Savo says in Devarim 27:26 "ארור אשר לא יקים את דברי התורה הזאת לעשות אותם, ואמר כל העם אמן"  “Cursed is he who does not uphold and keep this entire Torah. All the people shall say, Amen.” The Ramba”n has a very scary interpretation on this. Nachmanidies writes that included in this curse of ‘not upholding the Torah’ are all the people who had the ability, the strength, and the wherewithal to do things, to take action so as to uphold and fulfill Torah and Mitzvos but did not do it! The Ramba”n explains the words אשר לא יקים  who does not uphold refers to those who do not try to put forth the effort to solidify and strengthen Torah learning and observance in their communities. Consistent with this thought, the Gemara Sotah 7:4 in the (Jerusalem Talmud) explains the words: “someone who does not uphold” indicates the Torah will otherwise fall. The Gemara asks, "Is it really possible for the Torah to fall?”  Rav Assi, in the name of Rebbi Tanchum Bar Chiya, explains that even if a person learns and teaches, observes, and performs yet still remains doubt regarding if he could strengthen Torah and did not, that person will be included in the category of those who will be cursed.

Learning Torah and even being a fully observant Jew is not what everyone grows to become. Nevertheless, everyone could be blessed by fully supporting Toras Emes, -a true form of Torah that supports the legacy of all that will help maintain, deepen and ultimately guarantee the survival of the Jewish people. Think about the Yisachar/Zevulun partnership of supporting Torah: the business partner receives the same reward as the person who is doing the actual learning. If someone learns but does not support, that person will fall into the cursed category. On the other hand, someone who does not learn but supports Torah will be included in the blessing.

The Torah is the blueprint Hashem used to create the world. Chaza”l teach us that Hashem looked into the Torah and created the world. As Rosh Hashana approaches, let’s remind ourselves that the beginning of the world and its creation are ongoing.  Hashem’s creation of our world, of our lives,  goes hand-in-hand with our learning – at all levels - and with our embracing the Torah. Rosh Hashana is all about everything we generally practice: apples and honey, special Amida, Shofar blowing, looking towards forgiveness. This is all underscored by the realization that it is the strengthening of the Torah which is the single most important issue with which each of us must enter the new year.  As the great Reb Yisrael Meir HaKohein sternly declared, ”If we want to gain the blessings we daven to receive,  they will come through upholding true Torah values and through the proliferation of Torah learning in our own homes and families and throughout our community.

Ah Gutten Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas Shoftim - Drafting the Final Words       5 Elul 5782

09/01/2022 04:03:41 PM

Sep1

In this week’s Parshas Shoftim, the Torah states that if a person should be found slain and the identity of the killer is unknown, the elders of the city closest to where the victim was found are to bring a calf down to a valley and decapitate it at that very spot. They then openly declare that they had no part in the death of this victim and ask for atonement for the people of Israel. We understand the procedure and details of this mitzvah. The underlying message is clear:  a tragedy of this sort cannot be allowed to pass without strong response from those nearby – even if the tragic event was not of their doing. Although the Torah is focused on the identity of the killer being unknown, chances are that the identity of the victim is also unknown. As we read in the Torah דברים כא:א כִּי יִמָּצֵא חָלָל בָּאֲדָמָה אֲשֶׁר ה’ אֱלֹקיךָ נֹתֵן לְךָ לְרִשְׁתָּהּ נֹפֵל בַּשָּׂדֶה לֹא נוֹדַע מִי הִכָּהוּ   Devarim 21:1 “This is what you must do when a corpse is discovered fallen in the field in the land that God your Lord is giving you to occupy, and it is not known who the murderer is.” The focus is on the anonymity of the murderer and not necessarily on the victim. The Gemara in Sotah and the Rambam Hilchos Rotzeiach codifies that if the identity of the murderer is discovered (even if the murderer is on the other side of the world), then the procedure of Eglah Arufah (breaking the calf’s neck) is not performed.  I would endeavor to postulate that if the identity of the victim were to come to light, then we would still go through the Mitzva of Eglah Arufah. The reason: we must stand up for the victim; we must take responsibility when not knowing the murderer even if we now know who the victim is. Apparently, one of the main issues is the identity at least having some knowledge of  the perpetrator, and, no less important, knowledge of the victim. Over time, we develop connections, knowing, connecting the people we meet to those who are around us.

Knowledge and ever-deepening of understanding continues to grow through experience of years of learning how to address tragedy and loss. Being a pulpit rabbi for close to thirty years has helped deepen my awareness of human behavior and has earned me some wisdom. Every pulpit rabbi, perhaps anyone whose work requires helping and guiding people,  has built up a treasure trove of stories and lessons gained over the course of his career that can help and benefit others. Mentoring assistant rabbis and communicating with and learning from other rabbis in the field builds additional layers of growth and wisdom. Questions and interests shared among the rabbinate contribute profoundly to the scope and depth of hands-on learning. Recently, I was having a discussion on death and dying which spilled over into bereavement and mourning. From there the discussion found its way to the cemetery and funerals, including some of the stories – and nightmares – that I have experienced. During that discussion someone asked,” Have you ever officiated at a funeral for someone you did not know?”  It was a great question, and the short answer was, “Yes, I have.” In fact, my rabbinic training course under the tutelage of Rabbi Wein included a public speaking class. We were given a topic to develop and present before the class. One assignment was to deliver a eulogy for someone whom we did not know. That exercise served me very well; my very first opportunity to preside over a funeral came to me in a most unusual way. The following story provides modern reinforcement to the mitzvah of Eglah Arufah.

Before I became a pulpit rabbi, my wife and I taught Judaic studies at a day school in Binghamton, N.Y. One day, my boss, the principal of the school, approached me and told me that a woman had just passed away and the rabbi of the synagogue was out of town. Under those circumstances, as in many smaller Jewish communities, the principal of the school was the default rabbi in charge. He was not particularly interested in doing the funeral in the middle of winter in Binghamton which at that time was experiencing below freezing temperatures and layers of snow over twelve inches deep. So, logically, he turned to me, knowing that I was aspiring to become a community rabbi, offering me the opportunity to conduct the funeral. He told me that the deceased was not someone from the community and this would therefore bring only a small gathering with very little pressure. I reasoned this would give me some good experience, so I agreed to do it.

Part of our training included preparation for a funeral/levaya. The first step was to visit with the immediate family and the mourners prior to the funeral in order to explain three things: 1) what will take place at an orthodox funeral; 2) review the laws of mourning, and 3) take the time to learn about the person whom you will be eulogizing. I asked about the deceased’s youth, education, work history, passions, hobbies, and family life. It was a cold, blistery, winter night as I made my way to the apartment of the deceased’s widower.  We sat down and introduced ourselves, then I began to execute my game plan. I went through the first two parts without incident. When it came to learning about his wife, I asked the widower a question or two. At that moment when I asked about her, his face grew stern, he closed his eyes, and with his hands in the air exclaimed, “Oh! What can I say! What can I say!” I jumped back in my seat and regrouped, changing the topic, and then approaching it from another angle to glean some information about his wife. Once again, arms raised, now palms open, raising his voice a bit stated, “My wife! Oy! What can I say! What can I say!” Again, I gave the husband a little time to regain his composure.  I tried one last time, once again asking if he could tell me something about his wife. Once again, now in a more forceful tone of voice, he called out,” My wife! My wife! What can I say! What can I say!”. At that point I realized I was not going to get anywhere. The next day I walked to the podium to deliver a eulogy for a woman I had never met, raised my hands off the podium, and cried out,” Oy! Mrs. So and so, what can we say, what can we say!” Yes, there are times we do not know the deceased and we are left wondering what happened to that person. This painful story provides perspective regarding our responsibility to the victim. But it also goes deeper: what about me?  This is the time for introspection and for growth.  It is a time to honestly evaluate how we are living our lives.

I felt that the lady whom I eulogized was a victim who had no identity. There was nothing we could say about her – nothing good, nothing bad. She was a “Jane Doe” who had no one to speak on her behalf. As we go through the month of Elul, we need to take the time to evaluate our lives, we need to ask, “What will people say about me when I am gone?” We cannot go through life and after 120 years have the eulogizer get up and repeatedly state,” What can I say! What can I say?” It is critical that we spend these precious days and years processing what others can say about notable things we’ve done, contributions we’ve made, memories we’ve woven into the fibers of our families and community. We live in this world to do and to act for the sake of others, for the sake of those we love, of those whom we can positively help and guide. Let this year be the year of creating the eulogy of what will be said about ourselves after 120 years of giving and caring!

Ah Gutten Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas Re'eh - Getting Back Into Shape          28 Av 5782

08/24/2022 07:37:23 PM

Aug24

There are seasons and pre-seasons; spring training and fall training. This past summer I participated in a pick-up baseball game with our mid-summer ruach boys who came to learn/teach in and out of the Beis Medrash. As many of my readers know, I love the game of baseball - love watching and even love playing. It has been a few years since I actually attempted to even be in a scrimmage kind of game, but when I do play, I approach it with the seriousness of a game seven of the fall classic. (I do not want to bore you with ALL the details because I know some people think baseball is a BOOOORING sport). I began throwing and swinging as if it were mid-season; unfortunately, I am just a little out of shape and many of the muscles necessary for those motions have been dormant for a long time. Now, about six weeks into this focused workout, I wonder why my left knee greets me with a nagging, lingering pain every morning when I wake up. Apparently, when I bat from the right side, a substantial amount of pressure collapses on the front leg as it comes down through the swing. I guess the good news is that had I swung from both sides of the plate, my other knee would be hurting too.

It is an understatement to stress the importance and need of spring training.  It is critical and crucial for the health and well-being of the athlete, who, in turn, can either add to or detract from the team as a whole. Muscles and joints that are rarely used cannot be simply turned on and expected to go full force. It is interesting to note that when we pull a muscle, stretch a ligament, or do any other strenuous activity, the body immediately recognizes something is wrong, diagnosing where the issue is coming from, and shutting down that part of the body by way of a strain or a pull in order to prevent further harm or damage.  One tends to disconnect the effect the brain has with regard to the rest of the body. The mind seems to think it can do something without first consulting the body to see if it can handle the sudden surge of energy and pressure exerted on any single part of the body. If we would just first think about this cause and effect, we’d be able to  prepare appropriately, based upon our physical ability and our mental acuity.  If one thinks first, then the resulting actions turn out to be a blessing, but if there are no forethoughts, the physical actions could be a curse. This concept is indicated in the first passuk of this week’s reading.

In this week’s 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”. This verse has a wide audience, connecting to everything we do in life, even how we treat our bodies and, of course, our souls. On another point regarding increasing the “load” is that one should be careful not to just add on or neglect from the daily routine, a point identified in the Parsha as well. In Devarim 13:1 the Torah states: "את כל הדבר אשר אנכי מצוה אתכם אותו תשמרו לעשות, לא תסף עליו ולא תגרע ממנו"  “It is enough that you carefully observe everything that I am prescribing to you. Do not add to it and do not subtract from it”. The Rabbis taught "כל המוסיף גורע"  ”Whoever adds is actually taking away.” The adding on must incorporate the related exercises and motions into the already existing routine in order to make it stronger and better. When it comes to Ruchni (spiritual), we do not necessarily need to take on more; rather we must strengthen that which we already have. This should be done slowly and steadily.

Furthermore, motions, actions, and activities that we feel within the physical realm must also be viewed in the spiritual realm. There are significant parallels between the physical and the spiritual in every facet of life. The key is to find them, using each of them to our benefit and not to our detriment. I have always maintained the position that when someone begins the journey towards becoming more observant, he/she needs to do so slowly. So many people start off in high gear, going a hundred miles per hour until wham! -  the bubble bursts or he/she just burns out. Training requires slow, focused growth, carefully building upon the effort and accomplishments of the previous day. This lesson is the entrée to the last month of the year, Chodesh Elul.

This coming Shabbos and Sunday is Rosh Chodesh, with Sunday being the first day of Elul, the day when we begin reciting L’Dovid Hashem Ori and blow the Shofar after davening. Elul is the training time to get back into spiritual shape. There are many different pathways and avenues of preparation, all helping us to get ready for the opening of the first day of the year: Rosh Hashana. There are many things we do throughout Elul including   shofar blowing, selichos, checking of our tefillin and mezuzos, reciting all of Tehillim twice during the month, and focusing on ever-deepening, genuine introspection. Some of the reasons people feel the High Holiday services are long and boring is because they have not mentally gotten into shape. Those who have earnestly participated in “fall training” will have a completely different experience coming to Shul. This ‘awakening’ requires more than just preparing to come to shul the same way we do throughout the year. It requires a little more. Beginning with Rosh Chodesh Elul, we need to put more time into training our souls and even our bodies. The sheer length of the holidays is two or three times as long as an ordinary Shabbos, but if we extend our attendance and participation during the training exercises, we will make the time of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur more meaningful and impactful.

There is a general cost and risk when a person invests in something in order to experience true profit and gain. As the old saying goes, “no pain no gain”. So too, spiritually speaking, if we want to gain, we need to invest with some pain by showing up more frequently for longer periods of time. The amount we gain from deepening our learning, focusing more earnestly on our davening, doing more chessed, and in general performing Mitzvos with a mindset to improve, the more profoundly we will produce gains we could never had expected under the ordinary efforts put forth throughout the rest of the year. Let us all show up for the fall training so that we will be in the best physical and spiritual shape as we head into the new year with all the blessings and none of the curses.            

Ah Gutten Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas Eikev - Identity Religion         22 Av 5782

08/19/2022 08:46:05 AM

Aug19

There are certain things we experience in life which convey one kind of meaning and then later take on a new dimension and purpose. There is a tradition at Jewish weddings, bar, and bat Mitzvos for the hosts to provide a kippa/yarmulka that would have information such as the name of the boy/girl/couple and date of the celebration. I would guess this practice originated more commonly among non-observant Jews who provided a kippah for the men upon entering and participating in a ritual life cycle event. This tradition, as many others, seeped into the orthodox venues. Today, it’s common to provide a kippah  commemorating the event even though most of the participants and guests arrive wearing their own kippah. It is still a welcome gift, especially to those who arrive without a kippah.

At a recent bar mitzvah which took place here at my shul beautiful kippot were attractively presented, available to anyone who needed or wanted one. As I gazed out and saw so many  men dotted with this kippah on their heads, it struck me that there is another dimension to this tradition: a sense of unity. Many of the attendees demonstrated a beautiful uniformity that conveyed a unifying message to the event. It was as though everyone, participating together, visually displayed that they were all on the same team rooting for the bar mitzva boy to hit a grand slam – which, by the way, he did!

 I once heard Rabbi Wein explain the phenomena of sports caps, jerseys, etc. Billions of dollars are spent worldwide by men, women and children of all ages who purchase sports paraphernalia and proudly wear the emblem of their teams. It is an identity with the athlete or the team and a sense of pride and joy whether the team or individual is successful or not. There are many kinds of teams - sports, management, business, but often in religion this does not occur. In religion we find most people gather together from similar backgrounds and are familiar with the people around them. Most religious scenarios reflect this kind of ‘sameness’, including Judaism. This is an unfortunate reality, but the following story is so beautiful because it gives the true and meaningful definition of a team.  

A little over twenty years ago Rabbi Yonah Weinrib, a remarkable artist who specializes in elaborate manuscript illumination which combines a wide array of art techniques and media to enhance his exacting calligraphy, was a scholar in residence in San Diego. He is an accomplished author as well as an artist. One of his pieces is called “Min HaMinyan” which is a picture of exactly ten Jews from all different backgrounds davening at the Kotel to make up a quorum to daven. I know that my shul, Beth Jacob, shares this beauty. Throughout the year we welcome tourists, businesspeople, individuals who have dome for medical needs, conference attendees, and so forth, who visit our shul. These visitors typically come from many different religious, economic and social levels. Throughout every summer, we have the pleasure of welcoming all the different brands of Jews - from the right to the left and everyone in between. Lo and behold, as soon as we all come together under one roof to daven, we become teammates all working towards the same goal, serving Hashem.

In this week’s Parshas Eikev the Torah in Devarim 9:10 states "ויתן ה' אלי את שני לוחת האבנים כתבים באצבע אלוקים ועליהם ככל הדברים אשר דבר ה' עמכם בהר מתוך האש ביום הקהל"  “God gave me the two stone tablets written with God’s finger. Upon them were written all the words that God declared to you on the mountain out of the fire, on the Day of Assembly”. Rav Yakov Kattina mentions that the last word of the passuk should be either the sixth of Sivan or Shavuos, which was the day the Torah was given. Why is the term “Kahal” or Assembly used in this case? In his Sefer Korban Ani, Rav Kattina addresses this, explaining that the day the Torah was given is called “Yom HaKahal”- the day of the gathering! On that day there was Achdus/Unity among the Jewish people that has never been before been seen or  witnessed again. Rav Kattina brings forward a Zohar that says there have been many times when the Jewish people have come and gathered together, but never has there been such an incredible degree of unity as that time around Har Sinai when we received the Torah. Let us keep in mind that there were twelve tribes plus the Leviim and Kohanim. Rare is the time when the entire Jewish people get together and are on “the same page”.

The ultimate goal is for all of us to come together at all times and places, to have one unified voice. In actuality, we do, but we don’t realize it. There is one and only one thing that unifies the Jewish people, our Torah. That last official unity took place back at Har Sinai; such total, complete unity is one of the things that holds us back from complete redemption. The sad part is that when Jews of different backgrounds get together under circumstances outside their regular environment, they thrive on meeting and being together. At least in my opinion - or perception- Jews enjoy being with other Jews despite their differences.  When Jews get together outside of their usual routine and away from their community, they tend to connect to other Jews with whom they’d otherwise never have opportunity or even desire to meet. When the tourists and visitors come to Beth Jacob, the identity crisis is left at the door. We all daven to Hashem, we all enjoy opportunities to learn together, we all share the same identity under the banner of Torah just as we did at Har Sinai!

Ah Gutten Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Rav Yakov Kattina, was an author of two major works. He served as dayyan in Chust, Carpathian Russia, in the bet din of Moses Schick (1849–79). His two works were published anonymously. The first, Racḥamei ha-Av, was first published in Czernowitz in 1865 and has been frequently reprinted. The work has 58 chapters on moral improvement. In the introduction, the author says: "I called this booklet Racḥamei ha-Av ["Mercy of the Father"] for it is true mercy for a man to chasten his child to lead him in the ways of God, this being the sole purpose of man." The second work, Korban he-Ani, homilies on the Chumash in a kabbalistic and cḥasidic vein, was published in Lemberg in 1872 and 1882.

Parshas Va'Eschanan - The Influence of a City   15 Av 5782

08/12/2022 09:37:31 AM

Aug12

This time of the year brings many tourists to San Diego, and that includes many  “frum” religious Jews. On a daily basis, I encounter Jews from all walks of life and from all over the world. Most of these guests are vacationing from the East Coast, which gives opportunity for us to  play Jewish geography on all levels. I always ask where our visitors are from and where they came from originally, such as where did they grew  up. Recently, an older man visited with his married grandson. He told me where he was from and then went on to tell me where his grandson lived. He mentioned one of the myriads of small cities surrounding Lakewood and said, ”My grandson is from such and such Ir HaKodesh.”! I quickly jumped in and exclaiming ”Perhaps Lakewood itself is Ir HaKodesh, the Holy city, but not… (the city to which he was referring).!

This week I heard the usual line, “Tish’a B’Av has come and gone, and the Beis HaMikdash is still not rebuilt. I guess we will have Tish’a B’Av again next year. ”Truth be told, of course I hope there will be a Tish’a B’Av next year; it is only a date on the calendar! Of course, I understand the meaning of this statement. I fully understand that this statement laments the fact that we are still in exile and are only using the 9th of Av as the association to something tragic. Nevertheless, we should look toward next year’s 9th of Av no longer as a sad day, but rather, as the Rabbi’s teach us, that the day will become a holiday and a day of Yom Tov.

Of course, all of this is spoken in jest, I mean do people really think or believe that we should call Lakewood N.J. Ir HaKodesh/ a holy city? When I hear statements as such it lends itself to thinking we have made it religiously and there is no need to even consider Eretz Yisrael, a place which is our national homeland and home to the four major holy cities. This, unfortunately, rings to the sounds of a local Jewish community their city as equal to Jerusalem. The following is an excerpt from the Jerusalem Post in 2015: At the synod of Reform rabbis held at Frankfurt in 1845, Rabbi Samuel Holdheim rejected the idea of a personal messiah and political redemption in the Land of Israel. “The hope for a national restoration contradicts our feeling for the fatherland,” Holdheim stated. “Our nationality is now only expressed in religious concepts and institutions.”

This rejection of the concept of Jews as a nation was rooted in two concepts. The first was the Reformers’ rejection of what seemed to be a primitive notion of a personal messiah and the resumption of sacrifice in the Temple in Jerusalem. This concept clashed with the ideas of Enlightenment, an era believing in a religion of reason and universal brotherhood. But the second reason for Holdheim’s statement is just as striking: this Reform rabbi wanted to avoid charges of dual loyalty. The Jewish commitment to sovereignty in Israel brought into question the allegiance of Jews to the Germanic state where they were striving to be citizens.

The very notion of comparing cities with large Jewish populations, referring to them as holy cities, seems anti-ethical. As we assess the state of the Jewish people we wonder as we look around, observing our actions and behaviors, is this truly why Moshiach would come? Is this an era worthy of his coming? There is an overindulgence of the material world that prevents us from focusing on the truly important things in life. Nevertheless, there is one important difference between Germany, 1850 and Lakewood, 2022. That major difference is the flourishing of Torah and the commitment to Mitzvos at a level we have not seen in over 2000 years since the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash and the exile from Eretz Yisrael.  Despite the challenges the “frum” community faces, there exists a level of kedusha/holiness that is created by living a religious life. When more Torah is learned, more mitzvos are fulfilled, more tefillos are offered, more good deeds are accomplished, there is a holiness that is created within the place where this occurs. Hashem’s presence is still among us through His Torah, and that serves as a comfort for us despite being in galus/exile. The Gemara Brachos 8a states: “From the day of the destruction of the Temple, God only has the four cubits of halacha as His domain in His world.”

I would like to suggest there are two types of kedusha/holiness in the world; 1) an inherent holiness, somewhat “God made” that maintains its sanctity whether there is any Jewish life present at all. That is Yerushalayim Ir HaKodesh. 2) a holiness that is “man-made”, driven by the Jewish people living according to the Torah. The latter can be attained anywhere in the world. This stands in clear contradiction to Germany, 1850, where the reform movement rejected the Torah, mitzvos and the promise of Zion and the ultimate redemption. Germany was not like Jerusalem because there wasn’t any holiness created. This is by no means rationalizing that any “makom Torah” any place of Torah can replace Yerushalayim as the holy city. Rather, any Makom Torah creates an artificial kind of holiness, which for its time and place raises the level of sanctity for its inhabitants.

Throughout the millennia the Jewish people created great cities during every exile and in places that were desolate of everything. Therefore, I take back my comment that Yerushalayim is the only holy city. It is the only city that has its holiness from within and maintains its kedusha holiness throughout the millenia of time. Nevertheless, we each have within us the ability to create a holiness wherever we go. This applies to the individual and the Klal. In a place where the Torah is no longer being followed and fulfilled, destruction and desolation will follow, but where Torah and Yiddishkeit are flourishing, the influence of the Torah raises the level of every person in the city, Jew, and gentile alike.

 Every city where Jews reside should be a place where there is clear evidence of focused effort to make their city a makom Torah, a Makon Tefilla, a Makom of Gemillus Chassadim. This would be a wonderful way to identify our city of San Diego as a holy place. Perhaps the next time someone is asked where they went on vacation, they will respond San Diego, Ir HaKodesh. And more so if someone were to ask me where I am from, I can say, San Diego, Ir HaKodesh!    

Ah Gutten Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas Devarim/Tish'a B'Av - It's Always a Good Time!!!                                   7 Av 5782 

08/04/2022 12:35:11 PM

Aug4

This is the time of year we prepare our Shul’s annual calendar, combining the secular and Jewish dates as well as all civil and religious holidays. I enjoy preparing and editing the calendar (with a few others) for the coming year, benefitting from getting a clear overview of how and when the Jewish holidays fall out. The Jewish component of the calendar is more interesting and more challenging than the secular because in a certain sense it remains fixed. The secular or Gregorian calendar is based upon the sun (solar calendar), while the Jewish (and to an extent the Muslim) calendar follows the moon (lunar calendar). In short, since we follow the moon, all significant dates such as holidays, fast days and minor festivals occur a little before or a little after they did during the current year, almost never falling on the same day of the week two years in a row.

With that being the case, the holidays of Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, and the major festivals of Pesach, Shavuos, and Sukkos sometimes fall out mid-week while on other years over the weekends. The same can be said of all the dates in the calendar, including Tish’a B’Av. In Talmudic times, the establishment and setting of the new moon and subsequent holidays and events were determined by two witnesses testifying in Jerusalem about seeing the new moon. In the fourth century, Hillel II (Hillel HaZakein) established a fixed calendar based on mathematical and astronomical calculations. This calendar, still in use, standardized the length of months and the addition of months over the course of a 19-year cycle, mathematically assuring that the lunar calendar realigns with the solar years. Adar II is added in the 3rd, 6th, 8th, 11th, 14th, 17th and 19th years of the cycle. Therefore, we have two acronyms, one for Tishrei and the other for Nissan: Lo AD”U Rosh לא אדו ראש  - indicating that Rosh Hashana will never begin on a Sunday, Wednesday, or Friday - and לא בדו פסח  Lo BD”U indicating that Pesach never begins on Monday, Wednesday, or Friday.

During the year I often hear comments regarding the way certain holidays and national observances fall out. Sometimes these comments refer to the time of the year “oh it is so early this year” or “it falls out so late this year.” Those comments typically relate to how these holidays either coincide with the secular schedule or not. To me, a more significant and important observation are the comments of when Yom Tov falls out in the middle of the week, forcing people to take off more days from work, while a legitimate concern, but simultaneously implying  ”Oy! More Yom Tov and then a few days later is Shabbos?” almost complaining about more days of restrictions, too much eating, too much Shul, etc. A second scenario, which I feel is very offensive, concerns how the date of Tish’a B’Av falls out, either midweek or on the weekend, depending upon when the nine days occurs on the calendar. For some reason people can handle the no-meat custom if the Ninth of Av falls midweek, breaking up the nine days with a Shabbos in between in contrast to the way it fell out this year having a full week of no meat! People really complained, expressing how difficult it is to eat no meat for an entire week. Well, maybe that’s a good thing, helping us to become more aware of and more consciously experience the loss of the Beis HaMikdash. In today’s day and age there are very few things that we either do or do not do to remind us of even minor suffering, allowing us to at some core level  to feel the destruction of both of the Temples in Jerusalem.

This concept of doing without to help us to meaningfully grapple with the deep despair connected to the destruction of the 1st and 2nd Temples also applies to the restrictions on listening to or playing music, going swimming and some other activities that need a heter - some Rabbinic allowance to not observe these customary restrictions during the nine days. There is no question when it comes to someone’s health and well-being that Rabbinical dispensation can be awarded, but it behooves us all to think if and when we really need the heter or not. Can we get by for just one week without something that we typically have and enjoy during the rest of the year?

I think part of this issue is the length of the galus/exile itself. The further we get from the holiness of the Beis HaMikdash and the spiritual connection to Hashem, the more difficult it becomes to relate about the loss. Our spiritual and religious relationship with Hashem was strongest when we had the Temple. It is difficult to mourn for something that we have not seen or experienced in our lifetime nor the lifetime of so many generations since the destruction. We understand that a relationship is not based upon physical means and things, nevertheless lacking such physical memory or have  a physical memory or something to visualize, to internalize, this horrific destruction becomes much more difficult to truly appreciate. Reb Tzadok HaKoheinin Tzidkas HaTzadik 221 writes that “forgetfulness” is the beginning of evil. When God occupies our mind, our head is full of goodness, but when we forget about Hashem,  other thoughts seep in. Hashem represents everything that is spiritual;  this world represents everything that is physical. As the exile extends, we grow psychologically further away from Hashem. This notion is answered by the fact that Hashem always continues to seek out a closeness to us. The difficulty we have with it is the association, the connection between the physical presence of holiness in terms of having or not having a Beis HaMikdash. Now that we do not have the Temple we feel cut off from Hashem and subconsciously grow further away. That being said, it is challenging to feel the loss over time, and therefore the restrictions that the Rabbis consciously placed upon us to try to feel this loss doesn’t always resonate with everyone. Without a more physical connection we tend to put less emphasis on those restrictive reminders and feel unnecessarily burdened by them.

It is of utmost importance to stop and think of the purpose of the restrictions, not as a means to punish and make our lives uncomfortable, but to provide us with the subtle, physical reminders of what we have lost in that physical sense of God’s sanctuary, the ability to see, feel, experience the physical and spiritual presence of our Temple. The physical deprivation we try to experience during the three weeks, the nine days and on Tish’a B’Av itself is collectively summed up to remembering the spiritual connection through our physical separation.

With Hashem’s help we will internalize the loss by, yes, experiencing some physical and mental discomfort. This is the meaning of what the Gemara in Taanis 30b states, “And the Sages say: Whoever performs labor on the Ninth of Av and does not mourn for Jerusalem will not see her future joy, as it is stated: “Rejoice with Jerusalem and be glad with her, all who love her; rejoice for joy with her, all who mourn for her.” (Isaiah 66:10). From here it is stated: Whoever mourns for Jerusalem will merit and see her future joy, and whoever does not mourn for Jerusalem will not see her future joy”. Let us all take a little pain and benefit from the great gain!  

 

Ah Gutten Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas Matos/Maasei - How Did I Get Here?    29 Tammuz 5782

07/28/2022 04:48:00 PM

Jul28

Due to the necessity of security in our homes, offices and most places of worship, we are faced with a variety of push button locks necessary to gain entry. Here at Beth Jacob, we have different combinations for the gate entry to the property and the main door into the building. As I approach the gate/door, I by routine push the sequence of buttons; sometimes the gate opens on the first try, and at other times it does not. The fact that it did not open was not due to a jam or the need to reset the system; it was because I had used  the wrong code. I no longer “think” of the numbers and sequence; I just do it. This kind of action is called “muscle memory”, the ability to reproduce a particular movement without conscious thought, acquired through frequent repetition of that movement.

There is something in our brains called the Default Mode Network or DMN. Scientific investigation has now shown that our DMN takes over when we are undertaking familiar activities such as tying our shoelaces, playing a musical instrument (once a level of skill has been developed), driving a familiar route, or performing a repetitive task. Research shows that once our brains are familiar with an activity, they ‘switch off’ and go into ‘autopilot mode’, allowing us to undertake tasks without thinking about them. In everyday life we’re probably in DMN much more than we realize. Cooking, washing the dishes, taking a shower, mowing the lawn, and so forth, are all familiar tasks we undertakes mainly while in this Default Mode Network.

DMN may be okay when it comes to mundane acts and even more strangely, studies show that the brain seems to perform such tasks better and with more accuracy when in DMN than when in ‘switched on’ mode. But when it comes to spiritual and religious acts, we need the ‘kavana’, the purposeful, focused direction and proper concentration, not just performing routinized DMN. If we only rely on muscle memory, then when a situation slightly changes, we won’t be able to do the task correctly. If we are engaged in the actual process by going through each step with care, we will remember things better, openly working our cerebral muscles rather than relying on muscle memory.   My support for this idea is rooted in the details of the Torah’s description in a few places. As we know, the Torah does not waste words. Nothing in the Torah is superfluous, as we will read this week.

In this week’s double Parsha of Matos and Maasei, the Torah, in the beginning of Maasei  states in Bamidbar 33:1 " אלה מסעי בני ישראל אשר יצאו מארץ מצרים לצבאותם ביד משה ואהרן" “These are the journeys of the Israelites who had left Egypt in organized groups under the leadership of Moshe and Aharon”. This begins the listing of the forty-two locations during the forty-year journey of wandering through the Sinai desert. The Madreigas Ha’Adam says these verses are necessary to inform future generations of the greatness of the One whom we say created the world. To remind us that it is Hashem who nourished and sustained all the needs of six hundred thousand men ( a total of approximately three million people) in the desert. The desert was a place far from any civilization. There was no water, no vegetation, no protection from the elements. If someone expressed disbelief, then here is a clear listing of those places where each event occurred. Unfortunately, even if we could go back to those places, we wouldn’t see the miracles. Nevertheless the mentioning of these places is crucial to the everlasting memory of what was. If only the miracles that took place in the desert were mentioned, they would be forgotten, but by mentioning the places with the miracles, the history and events were cemented in our minds. This belief is summarized by the Rambam in his sefer Moreh Nevachim (Guide to the Perplexed III 50), quoted by the Ramban on the first passuk in Maasei. The following is an excerpt from the Moreh Nevuchim 

“It is also necessary to note the following observations. The view we take of things described by others is different from the view we take of things seen by us as eyewitnesses. That which we see contains many details which are essential and must be fully described. The reader of the description may believe that it contains superfluous matter, or useless repetition, but if he had witnessed the event of which he reads, he would see the necessity of every part of the description. When we, therefore, notice narratives in the Torah which seemingly have no connection to any of the commandments, we are inclined to think that they are entirely superfluous, or too lengthy, or contain repetitions; but this is only because we do not see the incidents which make those narratives noteworthy.

The enumeration of the stations the Bnei Yisrael traveled in the desert found in Bamidbar 33 supports this fact. At first sight this enumeration appears to be entirely useless. To obviate such a notion Scripture says, "And Moshe wrote their goings out according to their journeys by the commandment of the Lord." Bamidbar 33:2. It was indeed most necessary that these enumerations should be written. Miracles are only convincing to those who witnessed them; future generations, however, who know them only from the account given by others, may consider them as untrue. But miracles cannot continue, cannot last for all generations; it is even inconceivable [that they should be permanent]. Now the greatest of the miracles described in the Law is the wandering of the Israelites in the wilderness for forty years, always provided with a daily supply of manna. This wilderness, consisted of places "wherein were fiery serpents and scorpions, and drought, where there was no water" Devarim 8:15; places very remote from cultivated land, and naturally not adapted for the habitation of man, "It is no place of seed, or of figs, or of vines, or of pomegranates, neither is there any water to drink" Bamidbar 20:5; "A land that no man passed through, and where no man dwelt" Yirmiyahu 2:6. All these miracles were wonderful, public, and witnessed by the people. But God knew that in the future people might doubt the correctness of the account of these miracles just as they doubt the accuracy of other narratives. They might think that the Israelites stayed in the wilderness, but it was  in a place not far from inhabited land, a place where it was possible for man to live in the ordinary way; a place like those deserts in which Arabs live at present, or that they dwelt in such places in which they could plow, sow, and reap, or live on some vegetable that was growing there. They may declare that manna came always down in those places as an ordinary natural product, or that there were wells of water in those places. To remove all these doubts and to firmly establish the accuracy of the account of these miracles, The Torah enumerates all the stations, assuring that coming generations may see them, and learn the greatness of the miracle which enabled human beings to live in those places forty years.” Chaza”l intentionally arranged the reading of this parsha to always coincide during the three weeks of mourning so as to illustrate the ability and resilience of the Jewish people to survive and thrive under the most difficult conditions.

So, next time you have that startling ’How did we, the Jewish people, get here’ feeling, you’ll know why. It’s because of Hashem’s kindness and purpose of Am Yisrael’s destiny in the world!

Parshas Pinchas - "My Grandmother Regina & The Daughter's of Tzelafchad"                               22 Tammuz 5782

07/28/2022 04:43:37 PM

Jul28

This Dvar Torah is L’ilui Nishmas, in memory of Regina Avigdor Bogopulsky - Rivka bas Moshe Aharon & Batsheva on her Yahrzeit

Today, the 22nd of Tammuz, is the Yahrzeit (yearly anniversary of death) of my “grandmother” Regina who passed away June 30th, 1994. It may sound odd that I refer to my grandmother by her first name and not by the traditional bubbe, safta or grandma. The reason is because she was my step-grandmother. She and my late grandfather z”l  had a wonderful second marriage of about twenty-two years until my grandfather passed away. Since both of my natural grandmothers passed away before I was born, and my grandfather re-married before I was born, Regina was effectively the only grandmother I had ever known.

Even though Regina had her own children and grandchildren, she treated me, the youngest of my grandfather’s grandchildren,  as one of her own. There are two  vivid memories I hold dear: The first was when she bought me a very sophisticated hockey set/game for my ninth birthday, a treasured gift which cost $100.00. . It was packaged in a large 3x5 box which she happily shlepped (carried)  to my house from Linick’s Toys store which was a few long blocks away. The second memory I treasure was the always -available variety of large, thick, sugar cookies, so delicious that I can still savor their taste in my mouth. I have never seen or tasted sugar cookies like those ever again in my life; they were one of a kind. Following my grandfather’s death, my parents visited with her regularly for the rest of her life.  She proudly attended my wedding and was prominent in all the family pictures. Unfortunately, once I moved away I was no longer able to visit her.  She passed away a few years after my wedding. I look back now, twenty-eight years later, remembering with total clarity how wonderful she was to my grandfather, and what a wonderful, nurturing grandmother (the only grandparent I ever had) she was to me.

Jewish women throughout our history have played an immense role in both the private world of their homes as well as in the national spotlight.  For me, Regina was my personal national spotlight.  I thank her posthumously for all she did for me. Regina was proud of me and treated me as one of her own grandchildren. To be honest, however, her biological grandchildren - understandably so - were the shining stars of her world. I believe the correct relationship for me regarding her grandchildren would be ‘stepcousins’. One of the older step cousins, Aidel, married Rabbi Ephraim Buchwald who penned* the following dvar Torah in the year 2000 just six years after Regina passed away. In my opinion Rabbi Buchwald’s words encapsulate a core aspect of our grandmother. May this be a zchus and an Aliyah for her neshama.            

“In this coming week’s parshas Pinchas, we learn of the precedent-shattering request of the daughters of Tzelafchad. The Torah, in Bamidbar 27, records that the five daughters of Tzelafchad came before Moshe, Elazar the Priest, the Princes of the Israelite tribes, and the entire congregation at the door of the Tabernacle. The women claimed that their father had died in the wilderness and had left no sons. The Torah in Bamidbar states in 27:4"למה יגרע שם אבינו מתוך משפחתו כי אין לו בן, תנה לנו אחוזה בתוך  :אחי אבינו"   “Why should our father’s name be disadvantaged in his family merely because he did not have a son? Give us a portion of land along with our father’s brothers.”

The Torah relates that since Moses did not know the immediate answer, he brought the question before God. God told Moshe that the claim of the daughters of Tzelafchad was justified and instructed Moshe to transfer the inheritance of their father to them. In further clarification, God states that if a man dies and leaves no sons, his property shall first transfer to his daughters, and only afterwards, if there are no female heirs, to other close relatives.

This scriptural portion is indeed remarkable. After all, why didn’t the Torah just include this law, that the property of a man who leaves no male heirs transfers to his daughters, as part of the regular legal portions that appear throughout the Torah? Why was it necessary for the daughters to approach Moses, and why was Moshe incapable of responding, making it necessary for him to get the answer directly from Hashem?

We live in an age where many disenfranchised, or so-called disenfranchised, people make claims about historic injustices. They demand that the discriminatory practices cease and often request compensation for previous injustices. While surely many of these claims are legitimate, the practice of discriminatory claims has become so widespread, and in certain instances has gotten so out of hand, that it’s been quipped, only half in jest, that soon left-handed people will start class-action suits against public accommodations which have staircase rails only on the right.

Distinguishing between a legitimate claim and a non-legitimate claim has become an art. And with the factor of “political correctness” often being added into the mix, woe unto the person who does not show proper respect to those claims — legitimate or not!

The Torah was the first universal document to insist that a man provide for and adequately support his wife, as we learn from Shmos 21:10, “Sh’era, k’sutah, v’onatah lo yig’rah,” Men must provide their wives with food, clothing, and physical pleasure. Furthermore, the entire narrative of the book of Exodus indicates that, were it not for the women, the Jewish people would never have been redeemed from Egypt — in each case citing the errant behavior of the men and the faithful behavior of the women. The Torah (Deut. 24:1) is also the first document in human history to provide for divorce for unsuccessful marriages. The Gemara/Talmud Sanhedrin 76b states movingly that one must love one’s wife as much as oneself and honor her more than himself. It is indeed fascinating to note that the male-dominated Halakhic hierarchy of Jewish law has worked assiduously over the millennia to expand the rights and privileges of women, particularly remarkable since this was done at the time when other civilizations were limiting the rights of women. It was not so long ago that women in some countries of the Orient were expected to jump into the grave and be buried alive after their husbands died. The Gemara Arachin 19a teaches that an older woman in the house is a treasure and a blessing.

Now back to the earlier question. Why indeed was the law of inheritance of daughters not included in the general legal sections of the Bible? Why was it necessary to ask G-d to render a decision? Perhaps because Halakha, Jewish law, is an evolving law. Clearly the social status and positions of both men and women change as society evolves. Could it be that the Al-mighty was signaling us that as the role of women changes in secular society, the role of women needs to be reevaluated in the religious society. But, of course, there is a caveat — if the laws of secular society controvert any of the values and laws of the Torah, they must not be followed. To the contrary, they must be rejected. However, when the laws and customs of society do not clash with Jewish law, then Jews must take a leading stand in the efforts to expand women’s rights and privileges.”

The laws that we learn from the episode of the daughters of Tzelafchad were a revolutionary breakthrough in society and family. Clearly, my grandmother Regina was a modern-day daughter of Tzelafchad. She was a true woman of valor of her time. Women of strength, clarity of thought and dedicated devotion to their families, women such as my grandmother, Regina, are the shining stars of our time. They exist to help us all understand the nature of Torah and the nature of the Torah’s perspective on women.

*This is an edited and truncated version of the original.

Parshas Balak - Relentless     16 Tammuz 5782

07/14/2022 09:29:15 PM

Jul14

Unwanted calls – including illegal and spoofed robocalls - are the FCC's top consumer complaint and top consumer protection priority. Spoofed calls mask the identity of the caller; illegal robocalls are calls inadvertently blocked or labeled as possible scam calls by a robocall blocking app or service.

For the life of me I cannot remember how far back I have been receiving spam calls. Typically, this has occurred on my landline, but within the last two years I have been receiving scam calls on my cell phone as well. Inexplicably, on some incoming calls my phone warns me with a “Potential Spam” notification. To add to the frequency of ‘potential spam’ calls I am also receiving calls from numbers close to mine! This is called "spoofing"; the caller is using a fake phone number. There are a couple of different kinds of spoofs such as "neighbor" and  "reflection" spoofing. Neighbor spoofing is a call from a number that appears to be close to your own, often the same area code and first three digits of your phone number. The intention here is to make you think the call is local, coming from a “neighbor,” so that you’ll be more likely to answer the call. Reflection spoofing is when the caller’s number appears to be the same as your own. In other words, it is a “reflection” of your phone number. The scammers hope that you will be curious enough to answer the call.

Most recently we received repeated calls (about twenty over a two-hour span) in another newer scam on our landline (I know I am dating myself now). In this scam, if you pick up the phone, you’ll find someone impersonating an Amazon customer support agent on the other end of the line. The impersonator might claim, for example, that an order for a $1200 iPhone 12 or another expensive product has been placed on your account. If you haven’t ordered an expensive product on Amazon recently, you’ll grow reasonably alarmed by this news. The bad guys rely on your sense of fear and urgency to extract sensitive information from you over the phone. The phone scammers may also ask you to visit a website or gain your trust by conversing casually with you. Do not answer any questions, do not go to any website you may be asked to visit, and do not, under any circumstances, provide the caller with remote access to your computer. To do this would allow the scammers to control your device and extract any information they please. I personally enjoy playing around with the callers, giving them a hard time until they eventually hang up. Nevertheless, the best advice is to hang up immediately and, if you feel compelled, to report the incident to the FCC.

The driving force of their approach is to be relentless. No matter how many times I say, “I’m not interested” they still call back again. Whether I answer the phone or not, they will call back either via robocalling or direct contact.

Another area of consumer annoyance is the constant repetition of unsolicited emails. On average, I typically delete about fifteen emails a day from each of my email addresses. In fairness, most of the emails I receive are the result of my purchasing or signing up for something that I only needed one time. Even after repeatedly unsubscribing to many of the unwanted emails, they continue to inundate my incoming mail. The investment from the sender is next to nothing on the hope that someone might click and re-engage. Again, we must be as relentless as the attacker. This approach and this kind of attack are both clearly seen in a segment of the Torah. The fact that these techniques mentioned are still actively being used must be since they are successful enough to make it worthwhile to continue using them.

In this week’s Parshas Balak, the Torah in Sefer Bamidbar from chapter 22 -24 describes the attempt of Balak, king of Moav, to defeat the Jewish people through the hiring and directing of the prophet Bilaam to curse the Jewish people. The theme throughout the entire parsha is a series of non-stop attempts to figure out a way to defeat the Jews. Attacking the Jewish people is not found in one or two incidences; it is a continuous focus. Here is a list of at least ten times where the intention is clear: Bamidbar 22:6 “This nation is too powerful for us [alone], so if you would, come and curse this nation for me”. 22:11 A nation that covers the earth’s surface has left Egypt. Come and curse them for me, so that hopefully, I will be able to fight against them and drive them away”.  22:15 “Balak sent another delegation, this time with a larger number of dignitaries, higher in rank than the first”. 22:22 “God displayed anger because [Bilaam was so anxious to] go, etc.” 22:27 “Bilaam loses his temper and beat the donkey with a stick”. In 22:37 “Balak said to Bilaam, ‘I had to make so much effort to get you’.  In chapter 23 Bilaam instructs Balak to build altars and offer sacrifices to appease God and allow him to curse the Jews. Three times Bilaam tries to curse the Jewish people but each time he is foiled, only allowed to speak the words of blessing that Hashem put in his mouth.

From the very beginning to the very end, Bilaam knew from the outset that Hashem would control his ability to fulfill Balak’s wish. Why didn’t the tenacity and determination of Bilaam not win over? The reason is simple: So long as we maintain a firm dedication to Hashem our enemies will not harm us. As soon as we buckle, as soon as we give in, even just a bit,  we are finished. As in the examples of the robocalls and unwanted emails,  we must have nerves of steel, refusing to give in, to answer the call, to give even the slightest indication that we are falling for the scam. Ultimately, the last-ditch effort of Bilaam in Bamidbar 25 to lure the Jews to sin through immorality was the crack, the breach of our defense. We gave in, leading to being caught in the scam with devastating results.

The lesson of Parshas Balak is a gift to us; it is the key to success. As often and as consistent our enemies are to destroy us physically and spiritually, we must be just as relentless in defending our Torah values and principles. Today, we are facing an unprecedented relentless attack upon our sacred Torah and Jewish values. We need to stand firm and not give in. With strength and clarity of belief we will inevitably win the battle.     

Ah Gutten Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas Chukas - Knowing & Abiding the Law    9 Tammuz 5782

07/08/2022 05:58:55 AM

Jul8

In every system of governance, there are hundreds if not thousands of laws and regulations, and, thanks to the limited knowledge of those who made and later revised the laws and regulations, all of these man-made rules and laws are subject to revision and change over time.  The only set of rules and laws that are immutable are those within the Torah itself which was created by Hashem for mankind. Only God, who created man, knows how to create a system that is not limited by time or change; the laws of God are timeless – past, present, and future were all taken into account. Laws of the land experience continuous change based upon  human conditions and the world at large. Perhaps a seemingly  insignificant example was highlighted a few weeks ago. This incident demonstrated the exact point when even individual judges, referees and umpires who consistently review the everchanging rules are not necessarily completely versed in the new laws. Perhaps a more reasonable excuse for the indecision is based upon a lack of clarity in the law itself.

On June 17th the Yankees – Rays game had a sixteen-minute interruption as a question regarding allowing a pitching change to take place was debated. Without going into the minutia of the rule, the umpires did not know the rule and required the assistance of MLB ruling division in New York. Apparently, the managers of each team did know the rule, but the umpires did not. I understand the umpires not knowing or at least not remembering the pitching change rule, because the rules of pitching changes are constantly changing!  Personally, as a Rabbi I can appreciate not knowing or at least not remembering a halacha when it must be made on the spot. I can attest to the pressure and anxiety resulting from a halakhic ruling that is urgent; it must be made in the moment. This scenario took place in Shul during the reading of the Torah, but first I must share some backdrop in order to be able to fully appreciate what happened.

Dr. Bill Lapp brought me a mini handbook of laws on krias HaTorah - reading of the Torah. Every day between Mincha and Maariv we methodically and slowly made our way through this small but all important sefer. We covered laws and scenarios that I witnessed and other situations that inevitably will come up, albeit only rarely.  We had just reviewed a scenario whereby the Ba’al Korei/the Torah reader went past the stopping point, and we needed to figure out the precise starting point for the next Aliyah. I could have taken a few minutes to research the correct procedure, but during the morning minyan ‘time is of the essence’- a split-second decision is required. I made the decision, and Baruch Hashem I have a decent track record of getting the call right, although not one hundred percent of the time. Nevertheless, I was told by Rav Dovid Cohen Shlit’a that a Rov has a certain Siyata Dishmaya (Heavenly assistance) to make the correct ruling that can be relied upon with some authority. I believe I came up with the correct call and no one questioned it. Perhaps this was because everyone had already run out of Shul that morning (lucky for me)!

Every city, state and country have laws which each individual is required to know. These laws exist to protect and to guide each member of that society to be a totally law-abiding citizen.  While very citizen should, in actuality, know every law,  there are many obscure laws which are not necessarily commonly known. Nevertheless if caught breaking the law, the claim of ignorance won’t hold up in court. In essence, we must know the law, but we do not necessarily need to know the reason behind the law. This is congruous to the laws of Judaism found in the Torah itself.

In this week’s Parshas Chukas the Torah describes the Mitzva of Parah Aduma/the Red Hefer. The Para Aduma is the quintessential mitzva which describes what a ‘chok’ or statute contrasts with a ‘Mishpat’. The Para Aduma is a ‘chok’;  even Shlomo HaMelech, the wisest of all men, did not understand it. Rav Yosef Zvi Salant, in his sefer Be’er Yosaif (5769), quotes  a Medrash Rabbah 19:6 on the first words of the Parsha Bamidbar 19:2 "זאת חקת התורה"  -These are the statutes of the Torah. “Reb Yosi b”r Chanina said: “Hashem said to Moshe, ”To you I will reveal the reason of the mitzva of Parah Aduma – but after it will be a chok”. Rav Salant asks, ‘if there is a reason for the mitzva of the red hefer, why did God hide it from everyone, even from the wisest of men?’ In addition, it was explained that the red hefer came as an atonement for the golden calf. So we do know the reason! Therefore, why is it considered a chok? Apparently, the chok is regarding the difficult understanding of the purification process when the Tahor/the cleansed person becomes Tamei/defiled when performing part of the service. There is an important reason and lesson to be learned from the fact that we do not know some of the reasons. Hashem intentionally left out the reasons behind some of the commandments so that a person would become accustomed to performing the mitzva despite not knowing why. To perform a Mitzva that one fully understands and comprehends gives more reason for a person to do it and not necessarily because God commanded it. Perhaps if we knew the reasons behind every Mitzva we could come to rationalize and argue against its worthiness. This is the antithesis of what a true eved/servant to Hashem is. A true servant is someone who obeys, performs, and serves without question. There were times I have been challenged with this understanding, calling it  ‘blind faith’; the answer to that is, yes! It is blind faith. Unfortunately, in our day and age, in our society today there is a culture of all about me -  ‘my rights’, ‘my way of thinking’.. Yet there are mitzvos that we do understand, but those are typically mitzvos that we would probably think of on our own. Since they make sense we don’t challenge Hashem on those, only the ones we don’t understand.

Ultimately, if we can serve Hashem on a level which transcends understanding, we will root ourselves ever more deeply in our Emunah/faith in Hashem, reaching a profound level of understanding of the ways of Hashem. Chukim give us the protection that man cannot disagree with God, thinking  he or she can do whatever one’s mood dictates.

 L’Havdil, playing in a ball game, we must know all the rules of the game even though we may not understand them. Even if we disagree with the rule, we know every player still follows it or there are consequences. How much more so, when it comes to our heritage, our history, our people, our past, present and future.  We must be dedicated to knowing all the rules, laws and customs, even the Chukim that we may not understand or know the reasons why they must be observed.  They must be followed even if we disagree. Ultimately, this devotion to our laws including the chukim will strengthen ourselves, our families and our communities and bring us closer to our Creator.         

Ah Gutten Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas Korach - Vision is Understanding    2 Tammuz 5782

07/01/2022 02:05:51 PM

Jul1

This Dvar Torah is sponsored by Alan and Elisheva Green in memory of Elisheva's mother, Rivka Rus bas Hugo z"l, on her Yahrzeit Gimmel Tammuz 3

I remember throughout my early childhood that all my friends had a favorite superhero. Today may be no different, but back then there were fewer to choose from. Some kids were into the Marvel comics while others, including myself who wouldn’t dare miss an episode on television. Just as it is typically the book that precedes the movie, so, too, the comic book came before the television show. Perhaps it was the time unique to when I was born that caused me to be especially attracted to the original superhero, Superman. Superman debuted in Action Comics #1 (June 1938) in a story written by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. He's generally considered the first comic book superhero, so there was no set formula for how this kind of character should behave. Although it is debatable as to who was the genuine first superhero, some say the Phantom, created by Lee Falk (USA), was the first superhero who debuted in his own newspaper comic strip in Feb. 1936. The machlokes/argument centers around whether the  comic book, a comic strip, or a cartoon,  determine who – or what was the first superhero. 

I never got into Marvel comic books (although maybe I should have), rather it was the television series of Superman that I really enjoyed. As a kid I thought I was watching the Superman series for the first time, not realizing WPIX was playing old re-runs every afternoon at 4:30. I never missed an episode and never understood why Batman was more popular, since obviously Superman had far greater powers. (OK, that’s for another drasha). Super strength, flight and amazing heat vision are just a few of his most noteworthy powers, but his X-Ray vision is regularly overlooked. However, even though he had the amazing ability to see through wood, cloth, metal, and plastic, he was unable to see through lead – a major weakness in his super talents.

We are all aware of the fact that science fiction is always ahead of its time, and it’s only a matter of time before the imagination becomes a reality. One of the leaders in world technology is… yup! you guessed it, an Israeli company. Israeli military can ‘see through walls’ thanks to a new sci-fi radar device. The Xaver 1000 can detect people and objects from 42meters away through the thickest of walls, according to a guide provided by the manufacturer. The Xaver 1000 provides real-time feedback on lifeforms and objects that are obstructed by walls. The Xaver 1000 opens its wings like a bat while the AI-powered software tracks live and static objects.

The machine maps out targets wherever they are located in the room, whether they are sitting or standing. It even has the resolution to map specific body parts. It is able to distinguish adults, children, and animals.  Camero-Tech, the manufacturer of the Xaver-1000, believes its high-performance technology has applications in military and law enforcement-related scenarios. "The system creates an unprecedented situational awareness 3D visual picture, providing a clear operational advantage and the ability to 'step into the known," the company stated.

The Xaver-1000 requires just one operator to review the feedback in two-dimensional or three-dimensional renderings on the 10-inch screen attached to the body of the device. The machine sends out radar pulses and then reassembles the returning signal as a three-dimensional image using ultra-wide sensors, patented technologies, and algorithms. Camero-Tech says the Xaver 1000, along with their other products, is also used in search and rescue missions. The company states that "The system offers a first-of-its-kind capability to map the general shape of the room or structure, viewing behind the wall or under collapsed ceilings." When the mission is complete, the Xaver 1000 wings collapse, and the 36-pound machine and battery pack can be transported as a compact bundle. This is beyond the ordinary X-ray machine that can see into our bodies. The fact that an average person can use this technology is almost superhuman!

Although technology affords us great advances in the physical realm, it will never replace the system of “seeing” in the spiritual world. The ability to see is not limited to something physical; seeing, perceiving, processing  requires both wisdom and insight in order to read a situation and meet the challenge of dealing with it properly. One of the most profound examples of this is found in a classic story of the Torah. In this week’s Parshas Korach the Torah relates the showdown between Moshe Rabbeinu and his first cousin Korach.

Korach was a great man, Dasan and Aviram, sons of Eliav of the tribe of Reuvein were, according to many, men of great caliber and the two hundred fifty Nesiim of the tribe of Reuvein were of special stock. If so, we need to understand how such a tragedy could take place.  Korach was an anarchist who really had a hidden agenda. I heard a beautiful explanation by Rav Yitzchok Breitowitz who spoke of the greatness of Moshe through use of his great x-ray vision. Korach came to Moshe and the people declaring that every Jew is close to God and is therefore capable of figuring out how to serve Hashem. Challenging Moshe’s authority by asking “what gives you -Moshe - the ability, the right, to lead me and the people and tell me how to serve God”? This is stated in Bamidbar 18:3 "ויקהלו על משה ועל אהרן ויאמרו אלהם רב לכם, כי כל העדה כלם קדושים ובתוכם ה', ומדוע תתנשאו על קהל ה'"  “They demonstrated against Moshe and Aharon, and declared to them, ‘You have gone too far!’ All the people in the community are holy, and God is with them. Why are you placing yourselves above God’s congregation?” When one looks at most rebellions and challenges for ‘equality’, one comes to realize that it is not about equality at all; it is about a power grab. “Why are you the leader if we are all ‘equal’! exclaimed Korach. Indeed, they were not fighting for equality. They were fighting for total control. Moshe sees through the deceit of Korach and completely ignores his claim by answering back, ”Why are you so dissatisfied? What do you really want?” Korach was not saying that he had been short changed, rather he professed to be defending and speaking on behalf of the people. Moshe, however, with his perceptive vision sees this is as a hidden agenda. We read this in Moshe’s response to him [Korach] in Bamidbar 18: 8,9 Moshe tried to reason with Korach: “Listen [to what I have to say], you sons of Levi. Isn’t it enough that the God of Israel has separated you from the community of Israel? He has brought you close to Him, allowing you to serve in God’s Tabernacle and to minister as the community’s leaders.

Moshe saw Korach for who he truly was.  He had been given plenty of honor and was well-invested in serving Hashem. Yet, Korach uses the tactic that he is speaking only for the people. Moshe would not allow Korach’s jealousy and desire of power come to fruition through Korach’s claim of equality. Korach, indeed, had equality to Moshe, but Korach was not in the number one position, and he was not satisfied with his place of second-in-rank honor which he and his tribe of Levi received.

Moshe’s ability to see and to evaluate Korach’s true intentions are addressed, as he [Moshe] almost ignores the initial claim of Korach on behalf of the people. We view situations every day, be it at work, at home, with family, with friends, co-workers and even strangers. As a boy I yearned for Superman-level  x-ray vision.Today I ask for the x-ray vision of Moshe Rabbeinu!

Ah Gutten Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas Shlach - Up, Down, Vertical & Horizontal    25 Sivan 5782

06/24/2022 09:36:21 AM

Jun24

This Dvar Torah is sponsored by Saylor and Bracha Crayk in honor of Bracha Pesia Crayk's Birthday

 

From time to time I find myself at one of the largest, busiest airports in the world - Chicago’s O’Hare international. O’Hare, due to its size, sometimes requires changing terminals, going up and down and all around! As in many airports and other travel centers, moving walkways help  speed up the average person’s walking time, allowing the ‘walking’ passengers to just stand still and allow the belt to move them along to their appropriate boarding locations.  While gliding along on one of these moving walkways, I began to think about  the multiple devices used at airports as well as train and railroad stations which help people to move from one place to another. Thinking these inventions were relatively new, I searched a bit and was taken by surprise at what I learned. Here is a brief history of these moving people devices.

Since the beginning of time, man has striven to figure out ways to move around beyond the physical limitations of the human body. The Otis Elevator Company can trace its origins to 1853, when Elisha Graves Otis introduced the first safety passenger elevator at the Crystal Palace Convention in New York City. His invention impressed spectators at the convention, leading to the introduction of  the first passenger elevator, installed in New York City in 1856. Only three years later in 1859, Nathan Ames in Michigan invented something he called ‘Revolving Stairs’,  generally acknowledged as the world's first escalator.

A moving walkway, also known as an auto walk, moving pavement, moving sidewalk, people-mover, or travelator, is a slow-moving conveyor mechanism that transports people across a horizontal or gently- inclined plane over a relatively short distance. These moving walkways are often installed in pairs, one for each direction.

The first moving walkway, designed by architect Joseph Lyman Silsbee, debuted as The Great Wharf Moving Sidewalk at the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893, in Chicago https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chicago. It had two different divisions: one where passengers were seated and one where riders could stand or walk. It ran in a loop down the length of a lakefront pier to a casino. Six years later a moving walkway was also presented to the public at the 1900 Exposition Universelle in Paris as the Rue de l’Avenir. The walkway consisted of three elevated platforms, stationary, a second which moved at a moderate speed, and the third at about ten kilometers per hour (six miles per hour). These demonstrations likely served as inspiration for some of H. G. Wells' settings mentioned in the "Science Fiction" section below.

The first moving walkway in an airport was installed in 1958 at Love Field in Dallas. Moving walkways generally move at a slower speed than a natural walking pace, and even when people continue walking after they step on a moving walkway, they tend to slow their pace to compensate, thus moving walkways only minimally improve travel times and overall transport capacity but nevertheless give the harried passenger time to just ‘let it roll’.  

People often think of technology as something that was created by man. A person could easily fall into this kind of mentality. Man is given the tools by God to create and produce so as to ‘move’ mankind along for many different reasons. We should never forget that all the modern conveniences of life and all the technology we continuously are being introduced to should be used to help ‘elevate’ us in our service to Hashem. That point, however, too often gets lost on the toys. Not only must we realize that the actual invention is from Hashem, but the central theme of the invention is also from God. This is so clear from some of the Torah’s related stories. Here is a perfect example:

In this week’s Parsha Shlach the Torah states in Bamidbar 13:25 "וישובו מתור הארץ מקץ ארבעים יום"  “At the end of forty days they came back from exploring the land”. Rashi questions the ability for the spies to travers the land so quickly. Rashi writes, “But is it not four hundred Persian miles by four hundred Persian miles, and the walking distance of an average person is ten miles per day; thus, there is a walking time of forty days from East to West and they traversed the entire   length and breadth? However, since it was revealed before the Holy One Blessed Be He that He would decree upon them ‘for every day a year,’ קצר לפניהם את הדרך   He shortened before them the way”.

The spies had what we call ‘kfitzas haderech - a jumping of the way’. This is not the only place in the Torah we find this. Yaakov Avinu also experienced this phenomenon. This is clearly an open miracle. So why didn’t the spies  recognize that Hashem has the ability to fulfill His promise, guaranteeing that the Jewish people would, inherit and conquer the land? The answer offered by many is miracles and wonders only work for those who believe in them. Those who do not believe, cannot  see or even perceive of these miracles. That is something Dovid HaMelech says in Tehilim which we read in Hallel "עינים להם ולא יראו" :   “Eyes they have, but they see not”.

We are, Baruch Hashem, blessed with eyes to see and ears to hear, and so forth.  Sometimes we must ask ourselves, ”What are we really looking at?  Am I looking at all?

What do I see?” Is it true that just because we have eyes, we will see and perceive everything? The answer, of course, is a loud and clear, “No!” Just because we have eyes, enabling us to look, to see, to even see something in its acutely visual form does not mean we are truly seeing – truly perceiving/ understanding - what is in front of our eyes. When we see something, we need to understand where it comes from and what is it about. Hopping on a walkway does not mean I can now sightsee in the airport because I don’t have to watch where I walk. Rather, I must see/actively internalize that Hashem has given me the merit of K’fitzas Haderech, a shortening or speeding up of my travels. As with all parts of this world, the events, the ‘happenings’ we experience are only blessings and miracles if we open our eyes, comprehending at the deepest possible levels, knowing from Whom these events come. Otherwise, we remain blinded, incapable of true appreciation and inner growth.  Even the overt, continuous improvements of modern technology require acknowledgement of giving proper credit to the Source of such achievements As each of us experience what we think of simply by living our modern lives, consider this to be one more step towards building our ever-deepening relationship with Hashem, continuously working to serve Him to the fullest ability of our ability to see! !

Ah Gutten Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas B'Haaloscha - Simple Answers to Complex Issues       17 Sivan 5782

06/16/2022 12:58:40 PM

Jun16

John Flaherty, an announcer for Yankee baseball games, was an average player during his career. He came up through a farm system (I’d rather not say which team) as a young, promising hitter. Spring training is a time to impress the management that these young, talented athletes are ready for the major leagues. One day, Ted Williams was on the field when a coach approached, introducing him to a young John Flaherty. The coach espoused Flaherty’s hitting ability to Ted Williams saying, “I think this kid could swing the bat.” The coach then asked Williams   for some insight and advice on assessing the future success of this young talent. The great Ted Williams responded: ”Hips and hands, hips and hands.” The advice for success was short and sweet - nothing more nothing less - just hips and hands. While this anecdote is true in the physical world, let’s consider how much more deeply does this apply in the spiritual world.

I recently heard a story about Mr. Gary Turgo, one of the leading Orthodox philanthropists in America.  Mr. Turgo was the guest speaker at an event where a young couple who were struggling to make a go of their business was in attendance. The husband and wife looked at each other, acknowledging their thoughts to approach Mr. Turgo before he departed in order to ask for his advice about their business. Mr. Turgo was gracious enough to give them some time and listened to their business issues (perhaps in real estate). After they completed their pitch, he gave them two words of advice, ”Go daven!” They looked at him with surprise, expressing some confusion and disappointment.  Mr. Turgo, reading their reaction and facial expressions, reiterated his advice, “Go daven.” The young couple felt dejected and frustrated at the results of what they thought would be a conversation to help them. The next morning, the wife, who had not been davening as often as she knew she should, took advantage of a few extra minutes, reflecting, “What the heck, I’ll follow Turgo’s  advice,” and proceeded to daven shacharis – something she had not done since attending seminary.  Remarkably, before she’d even had a chance to close her siddur, her phone pinged. She clicked on a text  informing  her that a certain “deal” she and her husband had been working on - something which had only a slim chance of closing - had just closed. From that deal they were able to roll into five or six other deals. In a short period of time their business and fortune turned completely around. This all came from a simple, succinct piece of advice.

Of course, we all understand we do not always have every tefilla/prayer answered as relayed in the above story. Tefilla/prayer does not assure an automatic ‘yes’ to everything we want or need. It is, however, something we need to do in order to receive everything from Hashem. Even if every player were to follow Ted William’s advice, there is no guarantee that this advice will make any of them   as great a hitter as Ted Williams.  Nevertheless, the advice is the correct advice and only realistic strategy to be followed. L’Havdil, Tefilla/prayer is no different; it may not bring the immediate answers we want, but it nevertheless is the correct advice for any assurance of success  in all areas of life. The notion of simple, short answers to complex issues can be found in the Torah as well.

The Torah in this week’s Parshas B’Haaloscha relates how Moshe selected seventy elders. The spirit of God descended upon them and they received the ability to prophecy. Two of the seventy, Eldad and Meidod, continued to prophecy in the camp when everyone else ceased to do so. It is at this point when Yehoshua makes a brief statement to Moshe followed by Moshe’s curt reply to Yehoshua (Joshua). The exchange states in Bamidbar 11: 28,29 "ויען יהושע בן-נון משרת משה מבחריו ויאמר, אדני משה כלאם. ויאמר לו משה המקנא אתה לי...."  Joshua the son of Nun, Moshe’s chosen attendant spoke up. ‘My Lord Moses’, he said, ‘stop them!’ ‘Are you jealous for my sake?’ replied Moshe……” These two statements are the mirror image of each other. Reb Chaim Volozhin explains Yehoshua’s objection was that two kings cannot reign under one crown. Therefore, it was said, ”The face of Yehoshua was like the moon, while the face of Moshe was like the sun.” This is an insightful connection from the time of creation when God created the moon and the sun to be the same size. The Midrash says the moon complained to God, ’There cannot be two kings at the same time’ while the sun never said a word. As a result of the complaint, the moon was downsized in comparison to the sun. So too here, it is the ‘moon’ [Yehoshua] with the identical complaint. Therefore, Yehoshua was viewed smaller, or lesser, in greatness than Moshe. Moshe continues to act with complete humility. He does not make a big deal about it, choosing to ignore the situation – a true sign of anivus/humility.  Looking at the second passuk, we find Moshe acting consistently with his incredible middos.  Moshe now responds to Yehoshua, “Are you jealous for my sake?” Moshe responds with these simple, clear words, totally defusing the situation. The Kli Yakar explains Moshe’s response saying, ”You are a young, unmarried boy; you still have the strong trait of jealousy within you, but I am older, above that and no longer jealous of these matters. I would be pleased if everyone were gifted with prophecy, as I have been. “ Moshe views jealousy as envy of others’ greatness.  Genuinely caring parents and teachers are not jealous of their children’s or students’ successes; rather, they strive to nurture them to attain greatness beyond their own, to ‘shep nachus’ in the achievements of those they’ve guided and loved.  There is no jealousy. To the contrary, they express gratitude to Hashem for their children’s and students’ successes.  Moshe is teaching us all a lesson: the way to overcome being jealous of anyone is to realize Hashem has given us inner awareness that if we are immature, if we are self-centered, we will fail to recognize the most beautiful gift of all – to recognize and appreciate the talents, gifts, and dedication of others so that together we will all be able to serve Hashem with ever-deeper devotion.

Two or three words of advice is all that it takes for a person to become great. Whether it is ’Hips and hands, ‘Go daven’ or ‘Are you jealous’, all are simple, direct words to answer complex issues.             

Ah Gutten Shabbos,

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

06/16/2022 12:58:22 PM

Jun16

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Parshas Nasso - Filling Up the Tank                   11 Sivan 5782

06/10/2022 08:07:18 AM

Jun10

James Patterson’s popular collection of books filled with enduring fictional characters has made him one of the world’s bestselling authors. In addition to his many stand-alone thrillers, non-fiction, and romance novels, he is also famous for several quotes and proverbs. One such quote that I read off a tea bag (that was attributed to – ”Unknown”) that grabbed my attention is: “Don’t depend on others to give you strength…. Find it within yourself.”

When I initially read this, I thought this was a beautiful concept for Judaism in general. I know that people need inspiration and motivation from others, but I always felt that being self-motivated, searching for and finding our own answers to life’s challenges, will last longer over time. When a person works on him/herself to find appropriate ways to succeed, the success rate is far better than receiving it elsewhere. The name of this week’s Parsha is Nasso, a word which has multiple meanings in addition to the meaning within the context of the parsha – ‘to lift’.  Every one of us needs ‘to lift’ ourselves up, to carry our own existence. This really defines Patterson’s proverb and shows a consistency within the Torah. As we are all aware, there is always an alternative or even opposite understanding of every segment of the Torah. The following is not necessarily opposite but perhaps a complimentary approach to whether strength should come from within or from someone else.

The Torah in this week’s Parshas Nasso states in Bamidbar 6:23 "דבר אל אהרן ואל בניו לאמר כה תברכו את בני ישראל, אמור להם"  “Hashem spoke to Moshe thus saying: ‘Speak to Aharon and his sons, thus shall you bless the people of Israel. Say to them’ ”. This is the introduction to what we refer to as the Birkas Kohanim, the priestly blessings. The Birkas Kohanim are recited by Sephardic Jews everyday of the year in Israel and abroad, while Ashkenazim have the Kohanim recite the brachos every day in Eretz Yisrael, but outside of Israel, it is recited only on the yomim tovim. The decision not to have Birkas Kohanim in the diaspora, with the exception of the Yom Tovim, is that the Kohanim need to be B’Simcha - with joy - in order to bless. Living in the diaspora there are always worries and concerns; only through the joy of a Yom Tov would the Kohein reach the level of joy necessary to give the brachos.

Reb Shlomo Lunchitz, in his classic commentary Kli Yakar, focuses on the last two words ‘Amor Lahem’ - say to them - and explains the significance of these words. He quotes the Sifri 6 143 that says: “… from here we learn the Chazan calls out each word to the kohanim, the text of the blessings.” The traditional reason for this is the kohanim need help to ensure they say the proper words. But on a deeper level, it is the Chazzan who is the channel which first ‘pulls the blessing through the pipes’, so to speak, from the source of blessing. The blessing is poured onto the heads of the Kohanim, instilling them with the power to bless. At first the Chazzan says to the Kohein that Hashem will bless the Kohanim to make them a solid vessel full and instilled with Hashem’s blessing. Afterwards, the Kohanim pour out the blessing from their full essence to the empty vessels of the people. But if the Kohein was not blessed first, then it would be pouring from one empty vessel to another.

With this explanation we can better understand what it says in Bereishis 12:3: "ואברכה מברכיך, ומקללך אאר"     “I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you, I will curse”. It should have said I will curse those who curse you, just as stated in the bracha. Rather, Hashem indicates that the Kohein who blesses the people will himself first be blessed by Hashem. This is necessary in order to give the power and essence of the blessing to the Kohein so as to relay the blessing to the Jewish people. But in the case of the curse, it is only after the fact when someone has cursed you will Hashem then curse that person in retribution. Hashem does not give the ability of giving a curse so that they should have what it takes to curse someone else, only through the blessing does that work. Therefore, the Gemara in Chullin 49a states that the Chazzan first dictates to the Kohein; only then can the Kohein bless the people.

From this we can determine that receiving strength from others is not necessarily a bad thing. We should, of course, always try to muster up strength within ourselves.  Nevertheless, when it comes to spiritually infusing someone with a blessing from Hashem, we first need Hashem to bless the giver so that the giver is able to appropriately bless the receiver.  Today all of us need strength, wisdom, and blessing. Chaza”l teach us that we should not take a blessing lightly - even if it comes from an Am HaAretz. I therefore want to give a Bracha of strength, encouragement, heavenly assistance, wisdom and fortitude to our holy congregation and community. May we all be zocheh to merit all of the Birkas Kohanim, hearing the blessing directly from them at the third Beis HaMikdash, speedily built in our days. Amen!       
 

Ah Gutten Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

P.S. The length of this week’s message reflects the shortened week after the Yom Tov of Shavuos. 

Parshas Bamidbar / Shavuos - What's in the "Kup"?        3 Sivan 5782

06/01/2022 09:07:44 AM

Jun1

The book of Bamidbar is given this name because the Jewish people travelled through the Sinai desert. I am still searching for a source that suggests the reason for the desert being named  ‘Sinai’ was due to the fact that Har Sinai (Mt. Sinai) made this desert famous because the Torah had been given on it. The Pirkei D’Rebbi Eliezer explains the name of Sinai is derived from the word Sneh which was the burning bush. In Shmos 3:12 the Torah states "ויאמר כי אהיה עמך וזה לך האות כי אנכי שלחתיך, בהוציאך את העם ממצרים תעבדון את האלוקים על ההר הזה" “Because I will be with you, "replied [God]. Proof that I have sent you will come when you get the people out of Egypt. All of you will “then become God’s servants on this mountain”.

While the Torah was being given, the mountain and the atmosphere surrounding it had a full light show with fire and smoke and cataclysmic effects. One might have thought it was some type of volcanic eruption taking place, but that wasn’t necessarily the case.  Though a volcano is a type of mountain, it has a v-crater, magma, and lava. Most mountains do not have any of these components. Mountain areas are peaceful and safe to visit and stay. On the other hand, volcanoes are aggressive and may erupt when least expected. Mountains may contain water, but you cannot find any traces of water in a volcano. Mountains always have elevations higher than their surroundings. However, not all volcanoes have higher elevations than the surrounding area. Some mountains such as Mt. Kilimanjaro qualify as both a mountain and a volcano. To those who are not into the geologic make-up of such things, and I’m among this group,  the main difference between a volcano and mountain is simple: one has a hole, the other does not. And if we were somehow able to turn each one over, the volcano’s contents would fall out while the mountain would hold everything in. I view the volcano as an upside-down cup with a hole in it while the mountain is a cup turned upside down to hold in its contents. Looking through my cupboard or the supermarket aisle of cups and holders, one begins to realize the incredible number of holders there are that serve so many unique and specialized designations. It is almost as if not one cup size fits all! So much for my mountain/volcano/cup analogy! But there is a point to this prelude.

The cup has a long history from the time it was first invented to the current plethora of cups we use in our daily lives. When I refer to cups I’m writing about all different kinds, from shapes and sizes, to purpose, material and disposable, They may be glass, metal, paper, wood, china, with stems or no stems, handles or no handles, you name it.  Each different style of cup may be used for different types of liquids or other foodstuffs, for measuring and for ritual washing of hands and other ceremonial events.  When we refer to glasses, however, there are an even greater variety of shapes and uses:  flute for wine, water goblets, tumblers, juice glasses, cocktail glasses, and of course the essential shot glass.

The cup, an ancient drinking device, was believed to have been invented in 1570 B.C. in Mesopotamia. It served as a wine-drinking vessel for the wealthy and the royals. It was also filled with ‘holy’ water or wine for the gods of Greece and Rome. In historical linguistics, cognates, also called lexical cognates, are sets of words in different languages that have been inherited in direct descent from an etymological ancestor in a common parent language. For example, the word boor in English has the same meaning as the wordבור  in Hebrew. I would like to take some literary privilege and suggest the word cup in English has a similar definition to the Yiddish word ‘kup’. The Yiddish word kup means head, and the cup in this context sometimes is used as a lukhin cup, meaning a hole in the kup or head. An wonderful example of this usage is the Yiddish expression: "I need that like I need a lukhin cup." (This would be said, for example, by a man in response to being asked what he thinks about buying a new boat.) That Yiddish usage would be the opposite of having a “good kup”, meaning he had a good head capable of reasoning and applying a lot of information, thinking clearly. The head, or actually the brain, is analogous  to all the different kinds of cups mentioned earlier. The head holds an incredible amount of information and compartmentalizes all in the cerebral ‘cupboard’, readily available for immediate retrieval.

Har Sinai was the ‘cup’ from which flowed the secrets and information to the existence of mankind. The Torah which Moshe brought down from heaven was given and poured out to the willing reception of the Jewish people and then, effectively, to the entire world, despite the fact that each and every nation of the world had been  offered the Torah, but each, in turn, rejected it. The giving of the Torah on Shavuos applied to the entire world; as we learned, it was given in the desert so it would be available for everyone. ‘For everyone’ does not only mean for those who choose to take it, rather the Torah is here, available for everyone. Everyone has the kup to access the Torah at many different levels. The Torah is the ONLY written work that is learned by all ages, all cultures, and all levels. The Torah, given on Har Sinai to the Jewish people, acting together as one person with one heart, demonstrates to us all that the Torah belongs to everyone. No one person or group owns the Torah.

Perhaps the most important lesson of having so much information is knowing how to use it. We need to learn how to use the Torah not only as a way of life but as the teacher of life, giving us the ability to understand how to speak to people in different situations and under challenging circumstances. The Torah has given us all the different kinds of cups and kups. If used properly, we will drink from the elixir of life. As Chaza”l said, ”Whoever is thirsty come drink, come drink from the myriad of ways and, in turn, offer the same drink to others, reconnecting us back to the original fountain of Har Sinai.  

Ah Gutten Shabbos & Yom Tov

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas B'Chukosai - How Do Things Break?   26 Iyar 5782

05/26/2022 09:48:38 PM

May26

Several years ago, I wrote about my shoelace ripping as I pulled to tie it. I pondered why, if I tie both shoes and laces one after the other, for the same number of times, does only one lace rip and not the other? Even when I changed the ripped lace and continued using the second old lace, the old used one continued to do its job, lasting a much longer time than its partner. It wasn’t a simple case of ripping the next day, or the following day.  It was simply much stronger, getting tied repeatedly, sometimes for many weeks longer than its counterpart. A few months ago, a similar occurrence took place, causing me to wonder about this uneven shoelace lifespan once again.

Every morning and throughout the day I need to repeatedly tie my shoes. Due to the obstruction that exists between my shoulders in bending down and the shoes patiently helping to hide my feet, I need to move into a variety of different positions to accomplish this feat. Sometimes I sit on the corner of my bed or the edge of a chair, hold my breath, then cross one leg and pull it towards me, allowing me to tie one shoe. I then reverse the process to reach and tie the second shoe. A second option is to get down on one knee and tie my shoe, but that puts too much pressure on the foot that I once broke. My third option is to place my foot on a chair, bench or  a convenient low table. For years I used the coffee table in my living room as a handy platform for tying my shoe. Dozens, maybe even hundreds of times, I placed my foot on one of the corners of the table to fix my footing. The last time I did that, and I repeat the last time I will ever do that, was when I placed my foot on the corner, leaned down and snapped off the edge of our glass tabletop! This graceful maneuver resulted in a small cut on my hand, which took a few seconds to catch my attention.   Again, I’d managed to use the corner of that table as a ledge to place my foot many, many times before without the glass breaking.  Why did it decide to break that one time?  It was a thick piece of glass!

There are three factors that govern how something breaks: 1) The strength of  the bonds in the material  and, more importantly, what defects are present in the material; {2} Materials break as they become worn and deformed, reaching their breaking points. Over the years of wondering about this phenomenon, I’ve learned that the process of deformation tends to occur as defects in the fabric of any material (including glass table tops or simple shoe laces) wear out unevenly, leading to factor (3) Objects break along areas of defect. A large object is more likely, statistically, to have a defect in each direction than a small object. In other words, the handy idiom "the straw that broke the camel's back" describes the minor or routine action that causes an unpredictably large and sudden reaction, thanks to the cumulative effect of small actions, alluding again to the proverb, "it is the last straw that breaks the camel's back". This gives rise to the phrase "the last straw", or "the final straw", meaning that the last one in a line of unacceptable occurrences which causes a seemingly sudden, strong reaction. I am sure that the stress on a shoelace or even on a glass table will ultimately succumb to repeated pressure, and causing be the “last” time before it finally snaps.

The notion of having a certain amount of patience for people and situations is something we all experience. Make no mistake, however, that although we believe, we fully understand God is merciful and patient, His patience does not preclude that our actions of disobedience and laxity of following the Torah will result in a sudden harsh response.  There are two places in the Torah that are described as the tochachah - public rebuke. This, in turn, leads to a series of punishments that build up over time. The tochachah is mentioned in Parshas Ki Savo, but it is first mentioned this coming Shabbos when we read Parshas Bechukosai.

In this week’s Parshas Bechukosai, following a brief description of the great blessings to be showered upon the Jewish People, the Torah quickly turns to a series of curses and horrifying punishments. There will ultimately be a series of seven curses, the fourth one described in Vayikra 26:30. The Torah states "והשמדתי את במותיכם והכרתי את חמניכם ונתתי את פגריכם על פגרי גלוליכם, וגעלה נפשי אתכם"  “When I destroy your altars and smash your sun gods, I will let your corpses rot on the remains of your idols. I will thus grow tired of you”. The Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh explains the need for this apparent superfluous statement. Some explain the words to mean My soul will abhor you. Why did the Torah have to spell this out? It is something that we can extrapolate from verse 11 where God had stated that as long as the Bnei Yisrael  observed the commandments they would be blessed; Hashem would not abhor them. Clearly, such a blessing would not continue when the people turned sinful. If Hashem wanted to write how blessings would be reversed, turning to curses during periods when the Jewish people rebelled against Him, why didn’t Torah present all the previously mentioned blessings as being reversed?

We must assume therefore, that God listed the various punishments independent of the fact that the blessings would now be absent. The message of the verse is that even the Tzadikim - the righteous who would live during these times when the bulk of the people turned sinful -would not enjoy a display of Hashem’s favor. We find a statement to this effect in Hosheah 4:5 "וכשל גם נביא עמך"  "even the prophet who is among you will stumble." Another meaning of all these punishments is that the precious gift of prophecy will be withdrawn; there will no longer be prophets to admonish the people, to stand up and cause the people to listen, to repent. God's "soul" manifests itself through His communication with His prophets. This is just about the worst curse there is, and it is the reason the Torah mentioned it only after having already listed many other curses. Tragically, we are still witnessing the effect this curse has upon all of us even now, in our own days.

After a certain period of disobedience, Hashem can grow tired of us, removing the connection, the precious bond  between our God and all of us.  Moreover, as we stray from the basic ABC’s, the very foundation of Judaism, we weaken the vibrancy, the very strength of the bonds that connect us, tie us, to Hashem. With every proactive sin, with every passive, failed fulfillment of each Mitzva, the strength of the material that keeps us connected to Hashem weakens and erodes. Eventually, as the relationship grows more strained, the matter that holds us tightly together eventually snaps off. This occurs without warning, as suddenly as a snapped shoelace, shifting from a feeling that Hashem ‘accepts my lifestyle’, complacently believing, “it’s all good” to, Chas V’Shalom,- Heaven Forbid - a breaking off of the relationship from Hashem to us.

We read the Tochacha of Ki Savo before Rosh Hashana to end any potential liability we created. Likewise, we read this Tochacha before Shavuos so we can once again re-attach ourselves emotionally, spiritually, and ultimately physically to the Torah and the Mitzvos. The Tochacha’s message is not one of separating us from God, rather it is to re-attach, strengthen, and  renew those weakening bonds before they break off completely.

Ah Gutten Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

05/26/2022 09:48:21 PM

May26

Update this content.

Parshas BeHar - The Meaning of Trust            18 Iyar 5782

05/19/2022 01:23:14 PM

May19

This week’s Dvar Torah is dedicated by Ronnie and Susan Masliansky in memory of Ronnie’s father Mr. Joseph Masliansky, Yosef ben Aharon on his upcoming Yarzeit 22nd of Iyar

"In God We Trust" is the official motto of the United States. It was adopted by the U.S. Congress in 1956, replacing ‘E Pluribus Unum – ‘Out of Many, One’ -, which had been the de facto motto since the initial 1776 design of the Great Seal of the United States. The capitalized form "IN GOD WE TRUST" first appeared on the two-cent piece in 1864; it was not printed on some postal stamps until 1954 and did not appear on paper currency until 1957. Some would like to suggest it is because these words are printed on the U.S. currency that the American economy has thrived for over 100 years, and the reason why the U.S. dollar has been the benchmark for so long. However, all of that seems to be changing, and even a reference to the Ultimate Financier on any coins or paper bills does not seem to be enough to go against history, which raises nations to financial prominence for a time, and then lets them fall into a financial up and down pendulum or carousel.

In Israel today and in modern Hebrew, the word "בטחון" (Bitachon – trust) is used in several contexts. Shomrim or guards at checkpoints, entrances to communities, and entrances to major public venues typically wear jackets that have the word ‘Bitachon’ or ‘Security’ emblazoned on the back. We put our trust in things in which we feel secure.  If I have doubts about my security, then there is a lack of trust in proceeding and going forward. Often a false sense of security is assumed or given in a certain situation that can lead to devastating results. What is the basis of firm security in something, or better yet, how do we attain a great sense of security in the world?  The answer lies in how much trust someone has for another individual, a team, a structure or business, and so forth The more trust I build up in someone or something, the more secure I feel. This is an important lesson for a successful marriage. I would like to illustrate this by describing a personal feat that I have shown off only at very special occasions.

A guy whom I first met in ninth grade over time grew to become my best friend. We remained close throughout four years of high school, two years in Israel,  six and a half years as roommates while in yeshiva, plus an additional two and a half years when I was married. The name of my friend is, appropriately, Buddy.  My friendship with Buddy grew over the years, along with a trust that created a certain mutual security.  This security manifested itself in an act that most people would find uncomfortable, at least somewhat nervous, and unsure. The act required total trust and security as I performed a backwards free fall. I stood with my back to Buddy, lifted my arms, swung them round and round, and on the count of three - without looking back - would fall backwards, knowing that Buddy was there, prepared to catch me under my arms at the very moment my backside was within a fraction of an inch from the ground. After catching the full weight of my body, quickly dropping flat like a sack of potatoes, Buddy would then fling me back up onto my feet and we would repeat this a second time. This act required total trust that the ‘catcher’ would catch me and not let me crash onto the floor, possibly splitting my skull.  This was done as ‘shtick’ while dancing in front of a chosson and kallah at a wedding (including my own).

The stronger relationship I have with Hashem provides a far greater sense of security in Hashem. A few years ago, I wrote about my new-found hobby of gardening and the trust in God that is necessary. I must admit, in the worst scenario I could always buy tomatoes – after all, this is just a hobby, not my livelihood. But at the time I wrote that message, I did reference the challenge and, in a small way, also felt the pressure of how the agricultural Mitzvos of Eretz Yisrael must be so challenging. We are in the midst of a Shmittah year; many farmers in Eretz Yisroel are dealing with this very difficult mitzva of not sowing the land, allowing it to lie fallow. Every Mitzva is accompanied by some challenge, but the Mitzva of Shmittah is unique. It requires a hands-off approach and a great deal of Emunah (faith) and bitachon (trust). One may ask how and why is the observance of Shmittah being fulfilled more and more?

In this week’s Parshas Behar the Torah states in Vayikra 25:1,2 "וידבר ה' אל משה בהר סיני לאמר. דבר אל בני ישראל ואמרת אליהם כי תבואו אל הארץ אשר אני נותן לכם ושבתה הארץ שבת לה'"  “ :God spoke to Moshe at Mount Sinai, telling him to speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘When you come to the land that I am giving you, the land must be given a rest period, a Sabbath to God’. The answer as to how farmers, how all Jews living in Israel have the strength to fulfill this mitzvah is found in the very first Rashi of the parsha. Rashi asks, ”What connection has the Sabbatical year to Mount Sinai? Were not all the commandments stated from Sinai”? Reb Zalman Sorotzkin z”l says there is a hint that coming into the land of Israel is dependent upon Har Sinai, where  the laws and statutes that the Jews accepted upon themselves took place. Dovid HaMelech in Tehillim 105:44,45 says: “And He gave them the lands of the nations, and the labor of the peoples they inherited so that they might preserve His statutes and treasure His laws, praise God”. The Chazone Ish, Rav Avraham Yeshaya Karelitz zt”l, urged the farmers - even prior to the modern establishment of the State of Israel - to renew the observance of Shmittah according to the letter of the law and not rely on the different Heteirim (Halachik  [legal] permissibility). In his opinion, there is no permissibility to plow and seed the land of Israel during the Sabbatical year. A rabbi once asked the Chazone Ish, “Isn’t there a way to consider the land ‘ownerless’ and remove the obligation from the owners?” The Chazone Ish sternly answered, ”That may be true, but the Torah is not hefker and we do not treat the Torah with Hefkeirus/frivovously. It [the Torah] cannot be treated as if it has no value. The Chazon Ish’s point was that the Torah and the Land of Israel go hand in hand. It IS the fulfillment of the mitzvos that bring kedusha, sanctity, to the land.

If and when we invest in the Torah and perform the mitzvos as stated, then  the trust that Hashem will bless us according to each mitzva that is performed is firmly built. There is a correlation between the amount of trust we have in Hashem and the blessings that come as a result. Wishing bracha and hatzlacha to those farmers who are fulfilling the mitza of Shmittah and blessing to all those who assist the farmers of Eretz Yisrael to support them during their year sustaining of kedushas Haaretz, the holiness and sanctity of Eretz Yisrael.           

Parshas Emor - The Ups & Downs of Streaks    11 Iyar 5782

05/19/2022 01:20:45 PM

May19

It is not even on the list of the Major League Baseball records considered unbreakable. Nevertheless, no one has done it on or off the field. They tried to beat DiMaggio, but like everyone else, they failed. In M.L.B.’s ‘Beat the Streak’ game, fans build virtual lineups in the hope of topping Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak, yet after twenty years, no one has won. Streaks are fascinating and, particularly over time, can become a contagious hobby to track, but… are they records which should be sought after?

Schedules and structure are keys to success. The daily regiment that is termed “seder HaYom” -the order of the day - is a built-in system that the Torah instructs us to follow throughout our lives. The obligation to daven/to pray three times a day helps structure our day from morning to night. We need to schedule our lives around these daily events, with the knowledge that two of the three davening times are seasonal moving targets, changing based upon the rising and setting of the sun. In addition, davening – praying - is only half of the spiritual structure of a Jew’s day; the second part is learning. Those who have the opportunity and commit to a regiment of daily Torah study find that it gives them great personal satisfaction, increased knowledge, and sharpens their thinking skills. In addition, a daily learning routine shows commitment to all family members – wives, , children, siblings, parents as well as to employers and employees. That commitment forms an additional layer of satisfaction felt when others view them as productive role models for everyone else in their lives. There’s no question that spiritual growth in a home requires the commitment for everyone to be on board. As with everything in life, conflicts arise, time constraints need to be addressed, and ultimately… sometimes something must give.

A few weeks ago, I heard a story from my son about someone who met with his chavrusa (study partner - a Bengal fan no less) for over one hundred and seventy eighty days straight without missing a day of learning in person! This continued uninterrupted, including every Shabbos and Yom Tov, through snow, sleet, ice, and ferocious winds; nothing stopped their streak. As Pesach was approaching, a dark reality began to grow, hovering over their remarkable schedule. One of them was considering spending Pesach away from his chavrusa and was growing upset about their learning. This learning became and (still is) a major part of their families’ lives. The concern was taken seriously, and they agreed to approach the Rov of the chavrusa regarding this dilemma of whether to remain at home for Pesach rather than going to relatives to continue their learning. Prior to meeting with the Rov, they agreed to follow his decision.  The Rov, a highly-regarded Rabbi of the individual who asked the question, was presented with this question: “We have learned together for one hundred seventy-eight consecutive days. I am very torn because over Pesach we are going to have to miss a day.” The Rov listened carefully but answered quickly and sharply. He asked,” Would your wife stay home for Pesach?” The individual replied to the Rov,” Honestly, she probably would because she’s a tzadeikes (righteous woman). She wouldn’t want to, but she would stay home.” The Rov responded, “I will tell you a Maaseh/a story. There was a twenty-two-year-old bachur/young man who had not missed a minyan since his bar mitzvah. He was now sitting in a car with a renown Rosh Yeshiva, driving to a friend’s wedding. They were stuck in traffic, and he began to cry because he was going to miss Mincha, something that he had never missed, but was going to miss now because they were late. So, the Rosh Yeshiva said to this young man who had not missed a minyan since his bar mitzva,” There are no streaks in Judaism.” The Rov looked directly into the eyes of the young man who was anxiously waiting for a response to his dilemma regarding one hundred seventy-eight day learning span with his chavrusa and said, ”There are no streaks in Judaism but there is Shalom Bayis!”  

This notion of counting and having a streak is reflected in several Mitzvos and places in the Torah. The book of Bamidbar is also known as “sefer HaPekudim”- the book of Numbers or remembering - because Hashem instructed Moshe to count the Jewish people a few times. Rashi explains that Hashem counted the Jewish people in order to display his love and affection for His children. A second example is found in the Talmud, Gemara Beitza 3a, that an item that is counted is not subject to nullification. For example, if a non-kosher egg gets mixed up within a thousand kosher eggs it is not nullified; all the eggs are forbidden. The reason: since eggs are sold by the dozen (counted), they are each considered important and cannot lose their status. Every day in davening we recite a verse from Yeshayahu HaNavi found in Isaiah 65:23: "למען לא יגע לריק ולא ילד לבהלה, כי זרע ברוכי ה' המה וצאצאהם אתם"   “They will neither labor in vain nor give birth in vain, for they are God’s blessed seed, and their offspring [will remain] with them”. Every moment of life is precious; the time that passes will never return. Therefore, time needs to be counted and recorded. This is one of the explanations given regarding the counting of the Omer.

In this week’s parsha the Torah in Vayikra 23:15 states "וספרתם לכם ממחרת השבת מיום הביאכם את עומר התנופה שבע שבתות תמימות תהיינה"  “You shall count them seven complete weeks after the day following the [Passover] holiday when you brought the omer as a wave offering, until the day after the seventh week, when there will be [a total of] fifty days”.  I would suggest that the counting is only forty-nine days, and even though it says up until the fiftieth day, that fiftieth day is not counted. Once we hit the forty-ninth day, the cycle is completed, and the streak ends at that point. The Gemara in Menachos 85 discusses a teaching from Rebbi Chiya who asks when is there temimos? When are there complete days? The answer is quoted from a Midrash:” There is completion when the Jewish people are doing the will of Hashem”. When Klal Yisroel is fulfilling, performing the will of Hashem, peace is brought to the world. This refers to the greatest period in Jewish history during the reign of Shlomo HaMelech when there was world peace. Only when the counting of the omer is ‘complete’ is the concept of Shalom introduced. A sense of completion is necessary to encapsulate the Shalom/peace. If the counting were to continue on and on, it would never finish, making completion elusive. Shalom Bayis is attainable when something is finite. A proper hashkafa - outlook - is when there is a beginning and an end, just as we celebrate the end and completion- the siyum- of something of the Torah. The counting of the omer is a process of reaching the end, to be prepared for the next stage of kabbolas HaTorah.  So too, with everything in life, it’s not about the streak; it’s about setting the goals and then completing them. 

Parshas Kedoshim - Be Holy to One Another     4 Iyar 5782

05/19/2022 01:08:45 PM

May19

This Dvar Torah is being sponsored by Ronnie & Susan Masliansky in memory of his grandfather Yehuda Leib ben Yehoshua Heshel, Mr. Louis Bogopulsky a”h on his Yahrzeit 10th Iyar

The world’s population always varies, but in general, I would imagine it grows more than it shrinks. Rarely does the world’s population decrease, rather it is on the rise. Although death is a part of the life cycle, the closer we are to the person who has passed away, the deeper the emotional pain and depth of loss.  Today, readily-available audio and video communication  has allowed us to connect with each other more closely than ever before in the history of the world.

As the cycle of life continues, families lose loved ones. The order of nature, that  older people pass on before the younger, can turn around when the young die before the old.  My older cousins told me that none of their classmates in the 1960’s had more than two grandparents following the early years after the Holocaust. I personally did not have any biological grandmothers from birth, and one grandfather passed away when I was only six years old. The only grandparent I knew was my father’s father, who passed away when I was nineteen. This week marks the 38th year of his passing. Unfortunately, I never had the relationships that would impact my life in any substantial way.  I never had the opportunity to observe firsthand the qualities that I would hope to emulate. We typically mourn, crying  for relatives who have passed away, because they gave us a part of their essence; when they leave us a part of us leaves as well, hence we cry for that loss.

I know that realistically, the rate of people who die and pass on does not fluctuate greatly, but it does sometimes feel that there are great, devoted leaders, contributors to betterment of the world who pass away in greater numbers than the general population at large. I recall, in 1986, Rav Yaakov Kamenetzky and Rav Moshe Feinstein died within two weeks of each other. The Steipler Gaon, Rav Yaakov Yisroel Kanievsky, was niftar (died) only seven months earlier. This year, Rav Chaim Kanievsky passed away just after Purim, and now, closer to home, three great Rabbonim who were involved in different parts of Klal Yisroel passed away within a week of each other. Rabbi Zecharia Wallerstein z”l, involved in Kiruv, passed away from an illness at the relatively young age of 64. The other two giants were men whom my wife and I knew personally. The first, Rabbi Moshe Neuman z”l, was a man who lived and breathed chinuch (education).  He was the dean of the Bais Yaakov of Queens.  Rabbi Neuman educated thousands of young ladies for a half century al Derech Yisroel Saba. Rabbi Neuman’s dedication to Torah education literally changed the terrain of Torah chinuch in Queens.  Indeed, for several families, Rabbi Neuman  educated four generations of students.  Rabbi Neuman was at the helm of Bais Yaakov of Queens from 1961 to 2011. He was the principal during the time my wife Leah and her three sisters attended.Finally, the major blow to the Klal Yisroel of America came with the news of Rav Nota Greenblatt zt”l passing away last Friday. He was the most underrated and under-the-radar Rabbi of our generation.

My wife and I did not know Rabbi Wallerstein.  However, even though I never met Rabbi Wallerstein, I met scores of men and women whose lives were enriched by him. Both my wife and I watched and listened to the hespedim/eulogies of both Rabbi Neuman and Rabbi Greenblatt. My wife listened and cried hearing about her dear principal; I listened and cried hearing and relating to the life of a great gaon/genius, Rav Greenblatt. We cried because we had a kesher/connection to them; both profoundly influenced our lives. This is not the place to describe the greatness of each man. It is sufficient to say they had an extraordinary impact on each of our lives. Even though neither of us was related to either of these great people, we absorbed lessons and teachings for life from both of them. They were not “teachers” in the classroom sense. Rabbi Neuman was my wife’s elementary school principal; Rabbi Greenblatt stayed in our home when he had business in San Diego. Learning and absorbing from a role model leaves an indelible, life-long impression  on an individual. These two Rabbis personified their positions of great role models through their actions, fulfilling one of the most famous and difficult mitzvos in the Torah. This Mitzva, according to Rabbi Akiva, the greatest generalization of the Torah, is the mitzva to love thy neighbor as thy self.

The Torah in this week’s Parshas Kedoshim in Vayikra 19:18 states: "לא תקם ולא תטר את בני עמךואהבת לרעך כמוך, אני ה' "   “Do not take revenge nor bear a grudge against the children of your people. You must love your neighbor as [you love] yourself, I am God”. The Ishbitzer, Reb Mordechai Leiner, in his master work the Mei Hashiloach,* explains these famous words in a fascinating, unique manner. He explains that through the mitzva of ‘love your neighbor as thyself’ God’s name becomes great! All of the goodness which is the essence of the person that God instilled within him can be transferred and given over to others. When a person influences someone else with the essence of that which Hashem has given to him, he gains the realization that  it is because he/she understands that both the giver/ influencer and the receiver/other person are created by Hashem. Behold, we all have one Father who created all of us. Why would we ever hold back doing kindness towards each other! In addition, a person recognizes that it is not his own strength or his own handiwork that accomplishes, rather it is all a gift from Hashem. By using these talents and giving them to others,we fulfill the will of his Creator. The fulfillment of this mitzva is that a person who comes to love his neighbor as himself makes God’s name great. A second critical understanding goes even more deeply: Just as a person loves himself despite knowing his many deficiencies, so too a person must love his neighbor - even after seeing that person is lacking. This is why the verse concludes in all cases with “I am God”. Hashem loves both individuals with all their drawbacks and weaknesses; we are all called God’s children.

Rabbis Greenblatt, Neuman, and Wallerstein all shared these magnificent qualities. We cried because we lost people who shared and cared for us as close relatives do. Beyond crying, we should cherish the moments and benefits we received and try to give, extend a little bit that we received and recognize Hashem’s presence more and more profoundly in the world!           

  

*Mordechai Yosef Leiner of Izbica known as "the Ishbitzer" Yiddish: איזשביצע (1801-1854) was a Rabbinic Chasidic thinker and founder of the Izhbitza-Radzy dynasty of Chasidic Judaism. He is best known for his work Mei Hashiloach, a popular collection of his teachings on the weekly Torah portion and Jewish holidays, published by his grandson, Rabbi Gershon Leiner. Usually printed in two volume, it has been translated into English.

Rabbi Mordechai Yosef was born in Tomashov. His father, Reb Yaakov, was the son of Reb Mordechai of Sekul. At the age of two Rabbi Mordechai Yosef wase orphaned.  He became a disciple of Reb Simcha Bunim of Peshischa where he joined Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk and Rabbi Yosef of Yartshev; both were also born in Tomashov. When Rabbi Menachem Mendel became Rebbe in Kotzk, Reb Mordechai Yosef became his disciple there; then in 1839 he became a rebbe in Tomaszów, moving subsequently to Izbica. His leading disciple was Rabbi Yehuda Leib Eiger (1816-1888), grandson of Rabbi Akiva Eiger. His students included Rabbi Zadok HaKohen of Lublin (1823–1900), his son, Rabbi Yaakov Leiner (1828–1878) and his grandson Rabbi Gershon Henoch Leiner of Radzyn.

Mordechai Yosef Leiner is buried in an ohel in the Jewish cemetery in Izbica.

Parshas Acharei Mos - Is it Yes or No...or... Depends?                                     28 Nissan 5782

04/29/2022 11:42:24 AM

Apr29

Several years ago, I was deposed in a lawsuit. Anyone who has never experienced this pleasure should know that  I would not wish this experience upon my worst enemy! A few days before the deposition my lawyer reviewed what going through a deposition is like. The attorneys actually attempt to prepare the client with the same or similar questions the opposing attorney will ask. The goal of the opposing lawyer is to get the person being deposed to incriminate himself, or at the least admit that something within the case will make it appear as if you are either guilty or that the information presented may be used against you if the case goes to trial. One primary tactic any lawyer - for the defense or the plaintiff - will phrase and rephrase a question to elicit a certain response. For me, the most frustrating part of being deposed was trying to answer a question by providing an explanation or background to situation or at least to clarify the question. As I began to answer with such an explanation, the attorney curtly interrupted with,, ”Sir, just a yes or no response please, just a yes or no.”

This was no doubt the most frustrating experience I have ever encountered. For me, it borders very closely to prevention of free speech. During a deposition you are NOT free to say what you feel is needed for clarification.  You  can only to respond precisely to what the attorney asks. To be fair, my counsel can also ask me questions, and those questions are crafted to evoke the opposite type of answer which does permit the ability to give a clear response to the question, or at least more than a simple yes or no..  In life, there are  simple, matter-of-fact yes and no responses, and there are also some questions which cannot simply be answered with a blanket yes or no response. In fact, when challenged by the attorney who said,  ”Sir, a simple yes or no will suffice,” I was tempted to say that in this line of questioning there is no “simple” yes or no. It is NOT simple to answer with an abrupt yes or a no. Of course, this line of questioning is all designed to work against the witness and totally for sake of building the attorney’s case.

In general, I have found that when it comes to a Jew answering a question, there is no such thing as a “simple yes or no”.  I’ll share a few examples, and I’m sure you, the reader, can think of many more based upon your experiences.   I asked someone if he would like something to eat. He replied, “Thanks, but I just had lunch.” I then responded, “I was just looking for a yes or no.” Obviously, a Jew who is gifted with a Talmudic mind can’t simply answer with a straight yes or no.  As a result, the usual answer is that he needs to be m’dayeik – to infer from the question that if he had just eaten lunch, then obviously he’s not hungry! But that isn’t necessarily the case. Despite the fact that he’d just eaten lunch, it is possible that he may still be hungry, or at least might enjoy a snack!  So…I usually feel the need for a follow-up question asking if he might still want something else to eat.  A second example occurred just the other day while scheduling a learning session with someone. Here is the exchange. I texted “available today?” Response: “ I have a mediation unfortunately.” I try again, “I’m flexible for after the mediation or some time tomorrow! Ten hours later (after no response) I ask, ”How are we looking for tomorrow?” Response is ”Settlement is almost done.” Finally, I use the nuclear weapon… “YES, or NO?” Twelve hours later I re-engage and ask, ”Any updates?” Then… finally something in the positive direction! He texted back, "Maybe noon.” And with that I proceeded to schedule the time and we managed to meet.

I know many of you reading this will say that answering a question can sometimes be a simple, clear yes or no, and at other times an explanation is needed because some answers just can’t be simple black and white, no-nonsense responses. I would like to suggest those situations which we call the gray areas are those which require explanation.  they are neither black or white;  those are the questions which require clarity. There may be an exception when looking at this particular case, or there is more to this than the overt story.  to For those  unfamiliar with the complex principles of Jewish law,  the Torah may seem very black and white with no gray. This is only due to the fact that some may not have learned how deeply the oral law  explains the written law, believing the Torah has no exceptions. This is, in fact, the furthest thing from the truth.

We find at least two examples of the depth of the oral law in this week’s Parshas Acharei Mos. The parsha begins with the Yom Kippur service performed by the Kohain Gadol, the High Priest. The materials of some of the Kohein Gadol’s clothing were a combination of wool and linen. The prohibition on mixing wool and linen, known as Shaatnez, is clearly forbidden in the minds of many and are unaware that his clothing is not included in this prohibition. The second is found in Vayikra 18:16 the Torah states "ערות אשת אחיך לא תגלה, ערות אחיך הוא"  “Do not commit incest with your brother’s wife, since this is a sexual offense against your brother”. This prohibition extends even after the brother’s death. It appears that this is a black and white, no- go law under any circumstances until one learns from the Torah She’Bal Peh, -the Oral Torah. The Mishna and Gemara discuss one situation that falls into that gray area. This singular exception is if the brother dies without children, as we read in Devarim 25:5, the mitzva of Yibum  is commanded. Meseches Yevamos teaches all of the intricacies of this mitzva.

The beauty of the Torah, through which Judaism and the Jewish people lead their lives, is the most practical for all human beings in this world. The Jewish people left Egypt and traveled to Har Sinai to receive the Torah. Three thousand three hundred and thirty four years later the Jewish people are still reenacting the receiving of the Torah which is celebrated during the Yom Tov of Shavuos – seven weeks following Passover. We should not only be counting and checking off the boxes until that day, we should be anticipating its arrival, undertaking to learn  more of the Torah, to understand its beauty, recognizing and appreciating that the Torah is the roadmap, the blueprint for every human being to live the life God expects of us.

Pesach 5782 - The Legacy of our Life              13 Nissan 5782

04/13/2022 12:54:47 PM

Apr13

There’s an old joke about a young Jewish boy going off to college who asked his father if he does well would his father buy him a car at the end of the year? The father thought about it  yes, on one condition. The son asked, sure dad, what is it? The father said, “Yes, if you promise to put on your tefillin and daven every day,  you will have that brand-new car!” The boy said, ”Great!” As he was getting ready to leave, his father reminded him, ”Son, don’t forget your tefillin.” The son immediately picked up his bag and replied, ”Of course, Dad. Got them right here with me.” One year later, returning home from college,  the son and said to his father, ”Well Dad, I’m ready for that new car you promised me.” The father said, ”Son, did you fulfill your end of the deal? Did you put on your tefillin every day?” The son replied, ”Sure did, Dad”. “Every day?” the father inquired. “Yes Dad, I put on the tefillin every day.”  The father then responded, “Oh really!? I left the keys to the brand-new car in the tefillin bag!”

It is a cute but very sad joke, one which is, unfortunately, a very telling sign of the times. A few months ago Rabbi Yoel Gold was our first scholar-in-residence following a two-year delay due to Covid.  His primary lecture on Shabbos focused on the legacy that we need to create for our children and future generations. Just as our grandparents sacrificed and created all we have today, so, too, must we provide for our progeny. An important component of the future is to tell over our story to our children and grandchildren. Rabbi Gold is all about incredible stories that take on a life of their own, vividly describing how one incident leads to another, crossing  over to another part of the world, each event, each story interconnecting with each other. He stressed that there is a story to be told regarding every situation in life, and that each and every story needs to be told. More than that, there are objects that are found, bought, sold, stolen, each of which carries amazing stories, some still unfolding, some yet to be told.  

About a week after the Shabbaton with Rabbi Gold, I received a text from a congregant who was at a swap meet and told me he saw an old pair of tefillin for sale. I asked him how much they wanted for them. He said they were asking fifty dollars, but he believed he could get them for twenty-five. I told him to try to get them for less, but  not to leave without buying those tefillin, even if they cost more than fifty dollars. He picked them up, bought them for me, and when he dropped them off, I paid him the full amount. We saved a pair of tefillin from possibly being disgraced and desecrated. Holding this pair of tefillin  took me back to Rabbi Gold’s lecture. I wondered what  story lay hidden behind these tefillin. I was deeply moved with the reality that there is surely a story, perhaps a powerful, moving story, behind these tefillin, but we are not likely to ever learn about it.

The significance that tefillin play as an important role in the Galus and Geula - the exile and redemption of the Jewish people from Mitzrayim - is understated. Although the Torah reading for the first day of Pesach is the last thirty verses from Shmos, chapter twelve, it stops short of Shmos 13 that mentions tefillin not once but twice! In Shmos 13 the Torah states: "והגדת לבנך ביום ההוא לאמר, בעבור זה עשה ה' לי בצאתי ממצרים"  “On that day, you must tell your child, ‘It is because of this that God acted for me when I left Egypt’.  What is the this the Torah referring to? The very next passuk, 13:9 states: "והיה לך לאות על ידך ולזכרון בין עניך למען תהיה תורת ה' בפיך כי ביד חזקה הוצאך ה' ממצרים"  “These words must also be a sign on your arm and a reminder in the center of your head. God’s Torah will then be on your tongue. It was with a show of strength that God brought you out of Egypt”. Then a similar verse about tefillin is repeated in Shmos 13:16: Reb Chaim Moshe Gestinski (Niftar November 1, 1952/13 Cheshvan 5713) in his sefer Nachalas Chamisha (printed 1949) explains: Yetzias Mitzrayim, going out of Egypt will be the sign to you. When the verse says על ידיך “Al Yadecha” on your hand, meaning your left. Therefore, the word ידכה  “yadcha” at the end of the section expounds, saying it means your weaker arm. Rashi and others comment that is the hint that the Mitzva is to wrap the tefillin on one’s weaker hand to show that it is not in the hands of man to do anything. Rather, the hands and arms are given the strength to perform, to do great things.  The exodus from Egypt was the sign - everyone had a certain feeling through the wonders and signs - that it was Hashem’s hand that did all of this and the power of man is really nothing without Hashem.

Although man cannot do anything without God, Hashem nevertheless gives us the ability to create something from nothing. Hashem gives us intellect and strength as the keys to accomplish. When we left Mitzrayim, we did not have anything and yet with the help of Hashem we created and built a people. The juxtaposition of tefillin to the exodus is that following the exodus we have the mitzva of tefillin, a mitzva which combines two parts of the body, the head and the arm - the head representing thinking with our intellect, the arm representing carrying out the ideas of the mind.   Pesach is a time when, on one hand, we recognize and understand that our abilities and strength come from Hashem, and at the same time the tefillin represent the thinking and action of what
Hashem has given us. Tefillin represent the story and legacy that we have the opportunity to create. It is the story of our future, a future to share with our children and grandchildren. Let us use this Pesach to tell our story that our “Tefillin” have offered us in our lifetime. With God’s help and our effort, our tefillin will not be the story left at the table of a swap meet. Rather our tefillin will have a story that speaks out from one generation to the next.

Wishing you all……

Ah Gutten Shabbos & Ah Koshern Pesach

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Sat, November 26 2022 2 Kislev 5783