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Parshas Chukas - Don't Become Part of the Problem, Become Part of the Solution             6 Tammuz 5784

07/12/2024 08:50:00 AM

Jul12

Throughout my teaching career I have been privileged to teach many topics and areas of Jewish learning: Talmud, Chumash, Halacha, many areas of Jewish law, Hashkafa (Jewish philosophy and outlook), and Musser - self-improvement. Every teacher has his or her own style and methodology of teaching, regardless of the subject or level of the class. Within certain subject matters, the focus of the learning will vary depending upon specific goals.  For me, one of the primary goals of a class is to develop a clear process of thinking and understanding the reasons for learning that subject.

Every Rabbi has a particular area of teaching preference, whether it be a class on the weekly potion, a Gemara class or an area of Halacha. I personally especially enjoy giving classes in Jewish law (halacha). My style is to discuss cases, presenting students with the law, the situation, and then challenge them to try to figure out how the halacha applies to that specific case. More often than not, the students make suggestions of how to avoid the problem in the first place. My automatic response is “I am not looking for outside-the-case solutions”. I can always suggest ways to prevent a problem from coming up. A simple illustration is “if a person does not have wine or grape juice on Friday night for kiddush, what are his options?” Invariably, someone will suggest “make sure you get wine or grape juice before Shabbos” thereby obviating the question of should I make kiddush on bread? The point of teaching halacha is to learn, to fully understand the law and its applications to each specific situation.

This method of figuring out the halacha rather than ’simply’ providing a solution works well in the world of academia and intellectual mindset, but it also works quite well in the practical sense. Life is full of situations that are usually an after-the-fact issue that needs to be solved right now rather than making use of hindsight regarding how the person should have acted beforehand.   For example, if there are only nine people who show up to the minyan and we need one more to complete the minyan, we can’t go back (at this very moment) and suggest every member should commit to two days a week to go to minyan. The action needed now is to call someone to get over to the Shul immediately to complete the minyan. Ultimately, the tenth person who needed to be called was a part of the solution. All those who are not part of the solution are contributing to the problem.

Leroy Eldridge Cleaver, a controversial political activist once stated, 'If you are not part of the solution, you must be part of the problem. Some say this is a misquotation and the full correct quote is: 'There is no more neutrality in the world. You either must be part of the solution, or you're going to be part of the problem. We find several examples in the Torah where being part of the solution will prevent a person from becoming the problem. An open, obvious example is if a person gives charity, he will not come to need charity himself. On the other hand, someone who does not help someone in need will eventually become the one who is asking for help. In essence, if we become part of the solution, we won’t become part of the problem. (This is somewhat counter intuitive, yet the Torah’s principles don’t operate on the same plane as the human mind.) Another prime example is the process and procedure of the Parah Adumah, the Red Heifer. Clearly, the Mitzva of the Parah Adumah does not make sense to the human mind yet it is the mechanism the Torah describes as the ultimate ‘Chok” – a law that we do not comprehend. What is this illusive understanding of the Parah Adumah?

In this week’s Parshas Chukas the Torah states in Bamidbar 19:7 "וכבס בגדיו הכהן ורחץ בשרו במים ואחר יבא אל המחנה וטמא הכהן עד הערב"  “The priest [the Kohein] must then immerse his vestments and his body in a mikvah and remain unclean until evening, after which he may come into the camp”. The Torah continues and states the one who burns the cow must also immerse his clothing, etc. and remain unclean until the evening. Finally, a ritually clean person shall gather up the cow’s ashes and place them outside the camp and again this ritually clean person becomes impure until the evening requiring immersion of his body and clothing as well.

We clearly see that sometimes all of us must give of ourselves - either by giving the charity, or, in the case of the Red Heifer be willing to become impure by helping someone else remove his impurity. This is an example of Law of the Torah which is considered completely above human comprehension. In the Yotzros (additional prayers) of Shabbos Parah it says to purify the impure and to defile the pure ones by saying “Kadosh” Holy.  The paradox is that those who are involved in the preparation of the ashes of the cow become ritually impure, while the sprinkling of water with those ashes is used to remove contamination! It is an example of a Law which must be accepted on faith alone. This is finalized by the word Kadosh/Holy at the end of the procedure. The Admor, Reb Yisroel from Ruzhin, explains the meaning of the anomaly with the last word ‘kadosh’. It is exclusively the result of the recognition “it is holy” because Hashem said this Mitzva and is above human comprehension. Hashem will cleanse those individuals who may think they are impure because they have sinned, and yet still confess their misdeeds. When someone comes to the realization that they sinned, they come clean and even if they had committed a sin it will turn into a Mitzva.

Ultimately, it takes a person to jump in and sacrifice a little of himself to avoid being the problem, instead focus on creating solutions before and after the issues arise. By doing so, we can and will both avoid and eliminate the greater challenges facing the Jewish people of today.     

Ah Gutten Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas Korach - Stopping Time, Living in the Moment & Preparing for the Future                29 (26) Sivan 5784

07/05/2024 11:09:06 AM

Jul5

What do the following have in common? 1. this week’s Parsha having been read forty-seven years ago, 2. a message in the Beth Jacob ”Voice” printed twenty-five years ago, and 3. the passing of 1,892,160,000 seconds? This coming week will be the forty-seventh anniversary of my Bar Mitzva which took place at the Washington Hotel in Belle Harbor, N.Y.  When it comes to the lifespan of a man, Chaza”l point out - through the words of Dovid Hamelech in Tehilim 90:10 ,,"ימי שנותינו בהם שבעים שנה..."  “The days of our years in them [total] seventy years…”. Basically, the average life span of a man is seventy years, and when I was thirty-five years old, I wrote about passing that mid-point in my life. And now, this past Tuesday, the twenty-sixth of Sivan, I recognized the mid-point of my life and have only another 1,892,160,000 seconds (and counting/ticking) left in my life. That is predicated upon the blessing that people have bestowed upon me (and everyone else) to liveעד מאה ועשרים שנה   - until one hundred and twenty years. This is based upon the verse in Bereishis 6:3 "ויאמר ה' לא ידון רוחי באדם לעלם בשגם הוא בשר, והיו ימיו מאה ועשרים שנה"  “ “God said, My spirit will not continue to judge man forever, since he is nothing but flesh. His days shall be 120 years.”

Why is it that as children grow, they want time to pass more quickly, while adults, after a certain age, want time to slow down? I will take this thought a step further by considering how some people, who are chronologically adults, yet still have the energy and zest of children, somehow want time to go faster? Ultimately, the greatest question of all time is how do we get to age and at the same time live longer? The answer to all these questions is found in the book of Mishlei, written by the wisest of all men - King Solomon. Shlomo HaMelech, writing in Mishlei 15:27, tells us “ושונא מתנות יחיה” “One who hates gifts shall live.” We can derive from this quote that one who loves gifts will not live. Sefer Arvei Nachal, states that a person does not come into this world merely to partake of what he calls ‘silver bread’, because in the supreme world the soul is sustained for free without need for any nourishment. Therefore, if this person loves presents and gifts, what is the purpose for which he is living in this world?  Are we are not concerned for ‘silver bread’?

It is with this in mind we recall the Gemara Brachos daf Yud amud beis, ”The Rabbis taught that whoever wants to benefit should do as Elisha did, and whoever does not want to benefit from this world should act as Shmuel HaNavi acted. The Gemara explains that there are two ways to understand why a Neshama/soul comes into olam hazeh - this world:   1. The soul does not want to partake of the silver bread, and 2. The Neshama also wants things for free. The problem with that is that once someone gets even something small or little for free, that person - by human nature - will want to receive a great deal more.  This is why when the soul comes into this world and tastes even a little Torah for free, it wants much more! Therefore, the soul comes into this world in order to receive reward for the Torah learned and for the mitzvos performed. That is the reason the Gemara used Elisha as the individual to emulate – Elisha, who had received a portion in the supreme world prior to his birth, wanted to benefit even more greatly in this world. Someone who does not benefit from or partake in anything from this world emulates Shmuel HaNavi who did not benefit at all from this world!  On the other hand, it’s important to note that someone who only takes a little from this world and is satisfied, is a person who is counter intuitive to the above explanation.  And yet, we see from the Kohanim something completely different, which brings us to a side question from the reading this week’s Parshas Korach regarding the Matnas Kehuna, the Priestly gifts!

In this week’s Parshas Korach the Torah states in Bamidbar 18:7 "ואתה ובניך אתך תשמרו את כהנתכם לכל דבר המזבח ולמבית לפרכת ועבדתם, עבודת מתנה אתן את כהונתכם והזר הקרב יומת"  “You and your sons will be entrusted with your priesthood, so that your service shall include everything that pertains to the altar and to anything inside the cloth partition (see Vayikra 21:23). This is the gift of service that I have given you as your priesthood. Any unauthorized person who participates shall die.” We see from here that the Kohanim did, indeed, receive gifts. Perhaps we should invoke the idea of those who despise gifts shall live? The  answer, within this context, is obvious. Here, the Kohanim are receiving a gift which is the Avoda, the service to Hashem. The Gemara Yoma 68 describes how the Kohanim ate and partook of the sacrifices; it is through their eating of the Korban that the one offering the sacrifice receives atonement. That is why the Torah specifically mentions עבודת מתנה “gift of service I will give to the Kohanim”. The gift itself is the Avoda, the work in the Beis HaMikdash itself. And it is precisely that kind of gift which a person wants – and needs - more of.

When each of us enters this world, we seek physical pleasures; it is the ongoing quest for overt physical pleasure which causes a person to never be satisfied, to crave move and never feel satisfied.  A child craves the independence to obtain more of the physical world and will accept anything and everything life offers, so long as it precisely satisfies that craving. Therefore, the young child and the growing adolescent yearns to grow up quickly, to find a way to speed up time to reach the next – and the ongoing ‘next’ levels of satisfaction for physical, worldly things. As we physically, mentally, and spiritually age and mature, we slowly grow to realize that the only deepening experiences which are truly worthwhile are the spiritual pleasures of the world.  These are the precious gifts of inner growth and awareness that we need to gain access to the next world. It is at this point of mature awareness when we try to screech the passing of time to a halt and start to gather the important spirituality of Torah and Mitzvos to take with us to the world to come.

As I begin the second half of my life (hopefully to its completion) I have at last come to the recognition of what is truly important for the next world.   And it is at this momentous point of awareness that helps me to fully understand the deep, profound meaning of ‘fulfillment’, of purpose and mission.

Ah Gutten Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas Shlach - Fashion that is ALWAYS in Style     22 Sivan 5784

06/28/2024 10:19:26 AM

Jun28

History always has the last laugh. Often times, my children will sit around looking at old pictures happily making comments about the style of clothing everyone was wearing.  Typical comments are, “Check out those huge glasses!”, “You could land an airplane on the brim of that hat!”, or ”Those pants are so baggy you could use them as a flotation device during a rainstorm!”, I caution them by saying, “just wait. These will be back in style one day.”. At that comment, they begin to chuckle, laugh and say, ”No way! Never in a million years!”. Lo and behold, it doesn’t take a million years for old styles to come back.

In fact, fashion trends historically tend to repeat every 20–30 years, a concept known as the "20-year rule", based on the idea that fashion can evoke feelings of nostalgia, and that young adults may lean towards styles that feel "new" and "retro". Designers also  draw inspiration from the styles their parents wore, or from generational changes. According to Forbes, due to the rise of social media, this  20-year trend cycle has become extremely condensed. Social media has the power to raise a trend to extreme popularity, then drop it into obsolescence overnight. Fast-fashion companies can remain congruent with this expedited trend cycle by producing merchandise that sells as quickly as the trend is created. 

Trends originate from a myriad of sources with inspiration drawn  from many different artistic avenues including museums, art galleries, vintage archives, films, music, social movements, and architecture.  At times, trends are an unpredictable phenomenon, but every trend can be dissected into five stages.  Stage One: The Introduction, Stage Two: The Rise, Stage Three: The Peak, Stage Four: The Decline,  Stage Five: The Obsolescence.  Every major trend has a way of being reinvented or reintroduced in some way, shape, or form. Subscribe to trends that appeal to you, even if they are not “in style” right now; it is guaranteed that eventually, they will be back.

Jewish fashion also shares a place but limited to a smaller clientele. There is one garment known by one name, comes in a few different sizes and materials. It is worn differently by each individual. This garment, a mitzva for boys and men to wear, is  called “Tzitzis”. The mitzvah of tzitzis is a positive commandment in the Torah that requires men to wear garments with tassels (tzitzis) attached to the four corners of a garment, at least during the day. The purpose of the mitzvah is to remind us of all of the Torah's commandments and to motivate us to perform mitzvos. The Talmud says that the mitzvah of tzitzis is equal to all other mitzvos in the Torah, and that those who observe it meticulously are worthy of seeing the Divine Presence.

Truth be told, tzitzis are necessary on any four cornered garments; it is not the tzitzis that we refer to today. Nevertheless, the Rabbis mandated to wear a special, dedicated garment with four corners to affix tzitzis so that we will not forget this Mitzva. Nevertheless, the tallis gadol (large) or the tallis kattan (small) are garments that have been worn for centuries and have never been influenced by society. Truth be told, there have been occasional attempts to change or ‘revise’ this tradition, but by and large, Ashkenazim, Sepharadim, and Chassidim adhere to the general look with some minor differences, but the design and tradition has not changed over time.

 The Torah in this week’s Parshas Shelach Bamidbar 15:38 states "דבר אל בני ישראל ואמרת אלהם ועשו להם ציצת על כנפי בגדיהם לדרתם, ונתנו על ציצת הכנף פתיל תכלת. ......וראיתם אתו וזכרתם את כל מצוות ה'..."  “Speak to the Israelites and have them make tassels on the corners of their garments for all generations. They shall include a twist of sky-blue wool in the corner tassels. These shall be your tassels, and when you see them, you shall remember all of God’s commandments to keep them”. The question is, what part of the tzitzis is supposed to remind us of all the 613 commandments?

Rashi writes that the reason why tzitzis have this power of reminding one of all the commandments is because the total numerical value of the letters of the [Scriptural] word tzitzis is six hundred, and together with the eight threads and five knots, you have six hundred thirteen [corresponding to taryag, the six hundred and thirteen commandments]. The Ramban reacts to Rashi’s explanation, writing that he does not understand this, for the word tzitzis in the Torah is written without a [second] yud, so the total numerical value is only five hundred and ninety! Moreover, the number of threads to be used for each of the fringes according to Beis Hillel is only three, which, when passed through the hole at the corner form six threads – not eight as Rashi mentioned. Rather, the Ramban says the remembrance of the all the mitzvos is through the Techeiles, the blue thread, which alludes to the all-inclusive attribute which is bakol and which is the aim of All.

Whichever pshat you appreciate more, there is an underlying message regarding this garment. The law of tzitzis has both white and blue threads. The two aspects of the corner are the knots and the strings. The knots represent the tying together and unifying the Jewish people while the individual strings teach about every individual’s purpose and contribution to the Klal- the community. This is the ultimate purpose of the Tzitzis and reminds us of all the commandments that are fulfilled by the individuals making up the Klal of Yisrael.

Ah Gutten Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas B'Haaloscha - Every Second Counts     15 Sivan 5784

04/21/2024 11:26:35 PM

Apr21

 Every event and activity at Beth Jacob has its own unique qualities. Whether it is a tefilla, learning session, dvar Torah, kiddush, or a bagel breakfast, they are all distinctly unique and special.  I will share one example from Shalosh Seudos or Seudat Shelisheet (the third Shabbos meal). At the conclusion of bentching, I make a point to proclaim: “Yasher Koach to all! Everyone is cordially invited to Maariv, followed by Havdalah” (adding at this point whatever appropriate additional upcoming item the new week may include), followed by stating  “Maariv will begin in exactly three hundred and eighty-two seconds – 382!” (of course this precise time pronouncement – six minutes and twenty-two seconds- varies week to week depending upon how much time there actually is until Maariv).  There are three reasons why I make this weekly declaration:  1. It keeps people on their toes, giving those who are paying attention to my precise time announcement something to process,  2. It causes at least some of those listeners a need to do the math, and 3. it definitely entertains me!

This fascination for  converting months, days, hours and minutes into seconds started when I was a curious  third grade child.  As many of you have learned over the course of time, I did not relish the opportunity to learn in school. I could not wait for class to be over,  literally not only counting the minutes until the bell, but  also counted all the seconds. I mastered the multiplication of five minutes equaling three hundred seconds then multiplying that by the number of five-minute increments to get the total number of seconds remaining. I usually needed to start the countdown from nine hundred (that’s 15 minutes for those of you still doing the math).

In general, the value and deep significance of seconds are seriously underestimated.   In medical terms, a few seconds can be the difference between life and death.  It’s common knowledge that sports games such as football and basketball are won or lost within a few seconds. In fact, in competitive sports today, not only are the full seconds considered important, but it’s also  especially common in running and swimming competitions that milliseconds separate first, second, and third places, often with all three competitors timed within one second of each other.  While all of us know that seconds turn into minutes, minutes into hours, hours into days, days into months and months into years, but have we thought about a deeper connection between seconds and days? The answer may lie in an acutely interrelated story involving Moshe Rabbeinu and his sister Miriam HaNeviah.

In this week’s parshas B’Haaloscha, the Torah states in Bamidbar 12:15 "ותסגר מרים מחוץ למחנה שבעת ימים, והעם לא נסע עד האסף מרים"   “For seven days, Miriam remained quarantined outside the camp, and the people did not move on until Miriam was able to return home”. But why was Miriam stricken with leprosy? Of great interest is the incident where Miriam is struck with "white leprosy." She receives this punishment from God for questioning and complaining about Moshe’s "Cushite" wife and his separation from her. But what is the back story of Miriam and leprosy? Hashem said to Miriam, “...why, then, do you not fear to speak against my servant Moshe”? And so, God's wrath flared against them (Miriam and Aharon), and He departed. Because she did not trust in God, Miriam was struck with leprosy. When Moshe asked Hashem to remove the disease from her body, Hashem said she would be healed in seven days.

As mentioned earlier, there were two short stories connecting these siblings. The latter story is here, where Rashi reveals why the people did not journey while Miriam was quarantined with Tzoraas. Rashi explains this honor Hashem gave her is due to the"שעה אחת"   - the one moment or one hour which she [Miriam] waited for Moshe when Moshe was cast into the Nile river. As it is stated in Shmos 2:4 "ותתצב אחותו מרחוק לדעה מה יעשה לו"   “[The child’s] sister stood herself at a distance to see what would happen to him.” The Baal HaTurim quotes the Sifre explaining the verse in Shmos has seven words, seven words of waiting. Therefore, the Shechina waited seven days for her, as a measure-for-measure honor. But it is the Sifsei Chachamim who explains the time connection. The character or Midah of good has a 500:1 ratio to the Midah of something bad. Based upon this, he calculated that the time Miriam waited for Moshe was approximately one third of an hour, roughly twenty minutes. If you take 24 hours of a day and multiply it by the three twenty-minute portions of the hour, you get seventy-two. Seventy portions multiplied by seven days equals five hundred and four. The four extras are four twenty-minute segments equaling one hour and twenty minutes. Even though we are over by four, the rule of rounding down comes into play since it is not a full day, but rather a very small portion of the day which falls by the way-side. Some suggest that the extra eighty minutes was an additional reward to Miriam, for it took that amount of time to run to her mother and deliver the good news that Moshe was saved from drowning in the river.

A normal resting heart rate for adults starts at a range of 60 beats per minute.  If we live to the maximum one hundred twenty years, our hearts will beat approximately 3,784,320,000 times. This may appear to be a lot, but the clock on the wall and the internal body clock never stops. Just keep in mind that every second counts. Moreover, if we do something good, Hashem will pay us back five hundred fold, giving us that extra time to perform more Mitzvos, guiding us to  make a meaningful difference in the world.

Ah Gutten Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Pesach 5784        14 Nissan 5784

04/21/2024 11:26:13 PM

Apr21

Every day that passes becomes history. Although something out of the ordinary may not occur, each and every day still becomes part of the history book of the world. History is being made and recorded throughout every segment, every part of the world that we may or may not know about. The world’s book of history is not a diary for the common individual; it is for God who sees it all day, every day.  Every nation, every people have a unique history. The Jewish people are not the exception; we may even be the rule. We have a long, storied history that dates to the beginning of civilization to our forefather, Avraham Avinu. But it was not until the Jews left Egypt as a people and became a nation that history took on a new book.

The history of the Jews as a people began three thousand three hundred thirty-six years ago in the Hebrew year 2448 when we left Mitzrayim. Pesach and the month of Nissan, the month in which Pesach falls, is associated with the greatest miracles the world has ever seen. Beginning with the ten plagues and the accompanying sub-miracles which took place in Egypt during this time, the stage was set for Pharoah to send the Jews out.  As we all know, these miracles were followed by the splitting of the sea, receiving of the Torah on Har Sinai, and the forty subsequent years that followed in the desert. We recite the words of dayeinu (it would have been enough) in the Haggadah on Seder night, recounting and proclaiming that each and every miracle by itself would have been enough. Those major events are documented as part of our long history. The early recordings of our history are meant to be lessons for all future generations, repeatedly reminding, retelling how we will fall, rise, fall and rise once again.

If I could take some poetic licenses, the last one hundred fifty years have been the most significant years of history for the Jewish people since the time we left Egypt. One might argue that the glorious days of the first Beis HaMikdash were the highlight of our existence. That may be true, but that was just the final component and completion for us as a nation to serve Hashem, having begun that process when we left Mitzrayim (Egypt). We did not witness the incredible Nisim Gluyim (open miracles) as we did in the old days, but the nisim nistarim (hidden miracles) are just as amazing. During the last one hundred fifty years, Hashem has given us the struggles of traveling through a desert, suffering affliction of the worst crimes against humanity and witnessing the great miracles which led us into Eretz Yisrael. 

With all that said, I recently read an incredible quote from Rabbi Shmuel Klein, who we were privileged to have as a scholar in residence. Rabbi Klein wrote about miracles based upon a statement of Rav Yakov Emden. The Siddur Rav Yakov Emden contains a fifteen-page introduction with an approximate font size of four, demonstrating the length and depth of the introduction. One of the goals of writing the introduction was to facilitate an understanding of how we stand in front of Hashem, Who is the undeniable King of the world, Master of the world, Creator of the world.  For the Jewish people to fully understand and contemplate God as God, we need to look inward at our history. Many contemporary speakers have mentioned how we, the Jewish people, are the Chosen nation. The words of these contemporary speakers are all recycling the same ideas discussed by Rav Yakov Emden, who lived from 1700 to approximately 1790. Those famous words retold how all of the civilizations, countries, nations  who were the mightiest at the time are no longer in existence. There is not a trace of the ancient Babylonians, Greeks, or Romans, yet the Jews are still around. Rav Emden took it a step further, explaining all the miracles that Hashem performed for the Jews were, in actuality, isolated events, isolated miracles. He triumphantly and emphatically writes that there is one greatest miracle of all miracles that has taken place for the Jewish people which is even more than leaving Egypt, more than the plagues inflicted upon Egypt, more than the receiving of the Torah on Mount Sinai, and more than the miracles of the Jews traveling in the desert. The greatest Nes (miracle) is the ongoing, continued existence of the Jewish people throughout history. The fact that we have survived, that we continue to survive and to thrive is THE greatest miracle of all history. We can deduce this from the famous words of the haggada: “V’Hi Sh’Amda” – “that in every generation there are those who seek to annihilate us, and God miraculously saves us as a nation again and again. Even so, we may ask, why? On what merit do we continue to survive?

Rav Elimelech Weisblum* of Lizhensk (1717-1787), known today because of his sefer Noam Elimelech, explains the verse in Shmos 10:2: "ולמען תספר באזני בנך ובן בנך את אשר התעללתי במצרים ואת אתתי אשר שמתי בם, וידעתם כי אני ה' "  :“You will then be able to confide to your children and grandchildren how I made fools of the Egyptians, and how I performed miraculous signs among them. You will then fully realize that I am God.” When Hashem decided to be merciful the very first time, He performed a miracle for His children. Through that one-time miracle, He took revenge against our enemies. There was an awakening of mercy that would continue to help the Jewish people throughout the future of generation after generation, for all generations to come. Whenever the Jews needed to rise up, to defeat any enemy who was persecuting the Jews, God protected his people and took His vengeance out upon those who seek their destruction. . Therefore, the reason God continues to create miracles for the Jewish people is based upon the initial feeling of mercy that Hashem put into motion for similar future situations. Therefore, we tell over the story on Pesach night to remind us of that initial mercy that will be there for us in every generation. Now we can understand the depth of joy when singing “V’Hi SheAmda”, proclaiming that Hahem continuously saves us in each and every generation. When we recite “V’Hi SheAmda”, we remind Hashem to bring out that original mercy and apply it now in our current situation.

This is an allusion to Rav Emden’s explanation that the miracle of Klal Yisroel’s continued existence from the time we left Egypt until this very day is nothing short of miraculous. We are told that during the seder we need to view ourselves as if we personally went out of Egypt. This concept becomes manageable because the mercy shown 3336 years ago has applied in every generation since. We hope and pray for the fulfillment of the well-known statement of Chaza”l: “In Nisan we were redeemed and in Nisan we will be redeemed”.        

Wishing you all a Chag Kasher V’Sameach

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas Shmini - Past, Present & Future of Acheinu Kol Beis Yisroel        26 Adar II 5784

04/05/2024 10:56:12 AM

Apr5

I received this communication from Rabbi Shlomo Hecht. Rav Shlomo, Inbal and the Hecht family lived in our community for a few years and has maintained contact with the Beth Jacob community. He sent me the following important beautiful message:

“Hello,

I`m sending you a lovely idea coming out of Beit Hillel, in which I am a member.

Many Israeli communities will hold a Shabbat soon dedicated to Diaspora Jewry, led by us together with the Israeli government's Ministry of Diaspora Affairs. The goal is to get to know your reality better, understand your challenges, and strengthen the bonds of brotherhood between us. The congregations in Israel will address the issue of Diaspora Jewry that Shabbat in classes, community meetings and sermons. It will take place on Shabbat Shmini-HaChodesh, 5-6.4.24, כ”ז אדר ב’.

These difficult times teach us how important and vital the connection between Jews around the world is for us as a people. I`m appealing to you to write a short letter to be delivered to an Israeli community in honor of this Shabbat. This is an opportunity for direct communication with a community in Israel. Of what should they be aware? What would you like to say to them?

Thank you for your help in strengthening the bond between Diaspora and Israeli communities and Jewish brotherhood.”

The following is the message I shared with the Beit Hillel community:

Predictions are just that -predictions. Inevitably, someone’s assumptions will be correct while all the others will not. During the first few weeks after the October 7th massacre in southern Israel, the Israel Defense Forces prepared for war. Many predictions as to the length of the war were made. I clearly recall someone somewhere saying the war will last at least six months if not more. Well, this week the Orthodox Union campaigned to have 180,000 signatures and letters sent to the President of the United States in support of Israel. The number of signatures, one hundred eighty thousand, represented the 180 days since the war began. I personally did not think that the war would go on for this long, but then again, I am not the Prime Minister, nor do I live in Israel or have the battlefield experience to calculate the time such a complex mission would take. Nevertheless, Jews around the world rallied for our brethren in Eretz Yisrael.

In the beginning, fear and horror gripped the Jewish people throughout the world, especially in Israel. But Israel doesn’t just sit and think; it must act. That action took place as a massive number of reservists were called up for the initial phase of the war. The Jews in the diaspora also acted, sending supplies, raising money, learning for the sake of the war effort and our people, praying fervently during and after each service of Shacharis, Mincha, and Maariv. During the initial shock, we joined together with the greater San Diego Jewish community, holding vigils and rallies in support of the families who lost lives and for the maimed and injured. The orthodox community banded together for the sole purpose of Tefilla and reciting of Tehilim for words we did not have to express our grief, support and compassion. Our Shul, Beth Jacob, joined many Shuls, adding “Avinu Malkeinu” during Shacharis and Mincha - even on Shabbos - which came along with its own halachik query.

In addition, there was a list of the names of the Shvuyim, captive Jews taken as hostages, that I printed out and distributed in conjunction with creating two large signs which were be placed on the Bimah of the Shul to identify and connect with the names, even though we don’t know these individuals personally. Another Shul, Adat Yeshurun, printed up small cards with Tefillos and a ‘Mi Shebeirach for the Shvuyim/captives and for all of those who were injured. Since October 8th, we at Beth Jacob recite Tehilim 121 & 130 after Shacharis every day including Shabbos. In the afternoon after Mincha, we recite two Tehilim from 13, 79, 83, 121, 130, 140 and 142, followed by the two Mi Shebeirachs followed by the recitation of Acheinu Kol Beis Yisrael by the Tzibbur (congregation).  

Our challenge in the diaspora is the fact we live our daily lives but also need to make a concerted effort to remember, to pay attention to what continues to take place in  Israel every day.  We need to grapple with the fact that the hostages are not home - and that an unknown number of them have been killed. We face the constant dilemma of how communal life, Shabbos kiddush, simchos, general happy occurrences continue to take place while simultaneously reminding ourselves to keep up with daily, ongoing effects of a difficult, complex war Israel - not only in Gaza but also building in the North as well.  I am concerned that many people have “disconnected” from what is happening in Israel. Even the twice daily recitation of Tehillim has become the norm, causing those who do so with focused reason to remind others of the vital importance for doing so.   But this is the point, that we are still saying Tehilim every day, twice a day, to consciously grasp hold of deep feelings of connection to our brethren who are still facing the challenging effects of the war. We who live in the diaspora are experiencing a sharp rise in antisemitic acts. Jews throughout America have become more concerned about their politics and about the effects the war is having in Israel and on Jews in America and throughout the Western world.  We Jews living in America saw an amazing show of support for Israel during the first four to five months of the war. Recently, however, these feelings have shifted. Today, we Jews living in America receive Chizuk/strength from the Jews living in Israel as they continue the fight for our Homeland (believe it or not, Israel is home to even the Jews in the diaspora). Perhaps we can see the shift based upon an analysis from the Torah.

In this week’s Parshas Shmini the Torah states in Vayikra 9:1 "ויהי ביום השמיני קרא משה לאהרן ולבניו, ולזקני ישראל"   “On the eighth day, Moshe summoned Aharon, his sons, and the elders of Israel”. Rashi explains that the eighth day of the consecration is the first (day) of the month of Nissan, the very day when the Tabernacle/Mishkan was erected. The Dubno Maggid, using the Gemara Megillah 10b, explains the first Vayehi as a trouble and the word V’Haya as a sign of joy. The word Haya is in the past tense, but when a vav is added it becomes the future tense. On the other end, the word Yehi is a term describing the future, while adding that same letter vav, turns it back to the past tense. The seven days prior to this day, from the 23rd of Adar until Rosh Chodesh Nissan, were the days Moshe trained Aharon and his sons for the Temple service. This was capped off by the 8th day being Rosh Chodesh Nissan.

Our brave men and women of the IDF and the entire people of Israel have been striving for these last six months to regain the security for our people – in Israel and abroad. The reservists were called up for their מילואים  -to fill in- as was the preparation by Moshe and Aharon. There was a ויהי ביום השמיני  on October 7th, Shmini Atzeres. Let us continue to daven, to learn, and to perform chessed, to take the lessons and the strength from our counterparts in Israel. Together, we will turn that  ויהי into והיה  as Klas Yisrael watches out for all Acheinu Kol Beis Yisroel in Eretz Yisroel and throughout Chutz LaAretz.  Amen!

Ah Gutten Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas Pekudai - El Al Part III                            5 Adar II, 5784

03/14/2024 10:16:00 PM

Mar14

The seventeenth of Adar will be the seventh yahrzeit of my mother a”h. There is a halachik dispute regarding which Adar a person observes the Yahrzeit when someone passed in a year when there is only one Adar. Most poskim/halachik decisors hold it to be in the first Adar, with a minority opinion arguing to hold it in the second Adar. Nevertheless, there are those who observe both dates of Adar I and Adar II. Although there are some differences, I choose to observe both, but, as mentioned above, most poskim regard the first Adar as the primary choice and therefore I went to Israel at that time. Some of you may remember reading the actions I took when returning from Israel during the Shiva for my mother a”h, securing a minyan to daven with and not to miss a kaddish. I was extra careful not to miss a kaddish as the only son able to say kaddish for our parents. I flew United Airlines through San Francisco, grabbed my luggage, left the airport, caught an Uber to Chabad and caught a bare minyan, turned around, zipped back to the airport, and caught a commuter flight to San Diego.  Davening with a minyan and saying kaddish during Shiva was a must. All this was necessary because I was a frequent United Airlines flier and not El Al. If I had flown on El Al I’m sure I wouldn’t have had to go through so many hoops.

Fast forward seven years. I am now flying on El Al to Israel for my mother’s a”h yahrzeit. Truth be told, my tickets were booked on United prior to October 7th We waited until January to determine if United would resume its scheduled flights to Israel. They did not.  We cancelled United and booked on El Al.  Part III focuses on another major distinction between airlines. As a Rabbi, I’m never ashamed or embarrassed to call out loud to an area full of Jews: ”Mincha, mincha”, or”Maariv, maariv” at the gate of the terminal . In the ten years flying out of San Francisco, I was only able to secure one minyan. All other times I davened by myself and asked a nephew to recite kaddish for his grandparent during the tefilla/service I missed. This recent trip flying on El Al out of JFK I found myself in waiting to board in a room filled with religious Jews.  The epiphany I had at that moment, arriving late, quickly surveying the room to find a minyan was as follows: On the United flight from San Francisco there was always a room full of Jews. I always asked for anyone who had not davened Maariv to join me. No one davened Maariv and no one seemed to want to daven Maariv. Here, at the El Al area of JFK, I was in a room filled with Jews. I knew that everyone who was sitting and relaxing had already davened Maariv.. The most fortunate end to searching for a minyan as it got closer to boarding was that there was always one more minyan to be held at the very last moment! Perhaps three articles in a row discussing the reasons to fly El Al gives me a Chazaka to sign up for the El Al Matmid (frequent flyer) program.

One of the most unique features of a flying, especially when it is a long flight, is that despite differences of backgrounds, religious observance, and individual levels of learning, everyone is on the journey together. With that said, flying on ordinary airline passengers are all stuck together, but on El Al the majority of the passengers are primarily a bunch of Jews all stuck together. We are all in a sanctuary, flying together - one people, the children of Hashem. This idea is strengthened in the Torah.

In this week’s Parshas Pekudei the Torah states in Shmos 40:34 "ויכס הענן את אהל מועד, וכבוד ה' מלא את המשכן"   “The cloud covered the Communion Tent, and God’s glory filled the Tabernacle”. The Ramban explains this as a feeling of holiness, while the Rambam in Moreh Nevuchim writes God’s glory formed an actual physical glow in the Mishkan. The Rambam in Moreh Nevuchim 1:19 writes that God’s presence was evident in the Mishkan. The Admo”r Rebbi Yaakov Aryeh from Rahdzyman, explains why the Mishkan had this holiness or light: it was self-evident that God’s presence was present. What was the key element that brought down the Shechina, God’s essence and presence into the Mishkan? The rebbe explains that the entire Mishkan was full of Ahavas Yisroel, a peak love that the Jewish people had for each other which was the silver lining for Hashem. The Mishkan, with all its materials, and the contents, the keilim/utensils, all came through the Jews giving faithfully and without compulsion to the construction of the Mishkan. It was the bold strength and relentless desire of every single Jew to contribute as much as he or she personally could. When these conditions are met, coming together specifically to give, the only possible result would be that Hashem’s presence would come to rest on the Tabernacle. When there is no dissension, when there is only giving from a pure heart, this reveals itself to be the recipe God yearns for all of us to attain. Once the Jewish people give up on any of the things that merely occupy space -  infighting, exhibiting lack of respect, lack of concern for one another, the powerful, positive feeling of unity is lost. This, in turn, causes no ‘room’ or space for Hashem to be.   Once that space is opened, the flow of the Shechina flows into the Mishkan. Therefore, the honor of Hashem filled the Mishkan.

At the conclusion of each of the five Books of Moshe, we call out “Chazak Chazak V’Nischazeik”. These words deliver a powerful message to the Jewish people. There is a reason why we conclude each sefer of the Torah with this phrase. During the past six months, the Jewish people have come together.  We have witnessed Hashem’s presence in formidable, miraculous ways. When we see and feel this achdus and unity, we get to see the physical presence of God. Declaring these words for all of Klal Yisroel to hear gives all of us a depth of strength and reinforcement. Perhaps next time we take off on an El Al flight, we should rise and say, “Chazak Chazak V’Nischazeik!”

Ah Gutten Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas Vayakhel - El Al    Part II                      28 Adar II 5784

03/08/2024 08:43:37 AM

Mar8

Last week’s message focused on my personal El Al experience of the “Netilas Yadayim/washing cup” feeling of being on our national Jewish carrier. This week I will carry on with part II of this trip albeit from a totally different vantage point. While this issue primarily affects men traveling to Israel than it affects women, nevertheless, as you will read, women are definitely affected as well.

Decades ago, it was in vogue for men to daven at appropriate times during the flight. El Al was the one airline which commonly had minyanim on board with the staff understanding -and sometimes less understanding. This challenge of davening while standing in the galley or next to an exit has been increasingly more challenging. For me, personally, (and I wrote about this a few years ago) I followed my rebbi’s suggestion or psak that I should not stand while inflight but daven in my seat, even for those parts of the prayers that require standing, such as the Amida. So, as I mentioned in last week’s article, while on board my El Al flight, I was confronted with the following dilemma. Should I continue to daven in my seat as I’d, along with other passengers who also davened while seated, regardless of the airline, or join one of several minyanim of Chasidim which was taking place throughout this El Al flight? As I sat in my seat debating what to do, I noticed (and heard) a disgruntled woman trying to reach the restroom who was trying to navigate her way through the crowd of davening Chasidic men.  As I was in the process of retrieving my Talis and Tefilin from the overhead bin, a Dati Leumi (religious Zionist) fellow mentioned to me he was starting a minyan in a few minutes in the galley where a previous minyan was concluding. It sounded as though he was counting on me as one of the ten, so the decision to join him was made for me.  I think the minyan consisted of seven chasidim, one Sephardi, myself, and this Tziyoni who was the ShliachTzibur leading the davening. As I stood next to him and reached the section of saying kaddish he began to recite the mourner’s kaddish. It was then I realized he needed a minyan and wanted to lead, as is the custom for those mourning for a parent. As he began the kaddish, I turned towards him and saw more than I heard… saw his torn shirt. Not only was this man in mourning, but he was also in shiva - the first seven crucial days of mourning since burying his mother! At that point I felt vindicated davening with a minyan on the plane, as this deeply grieving fellow really needed me.

Five days later I was sitting in the bulkhead section, located right in front of the bathrooms and galley. A religious couple was sitting next to me; the husband was a very pleasant, soft-spoken individual, while his wife was quite outspoken. Several things about the trip disturbed her, but none more than a disturbance which took place about halfway through our fifteen-hour flight to LAX. A bunch of non-observant, post high school kids started to congregate, and as kids will be kids, did not have the awareness that some passengers were trying to get some sleep. They spoke loudly in large, close groups with no seeming awareness of the tightness of their surroundings, creating barriers that prevented people from reaching and accessing the bathrooms. These kids were all Israeli, loudly and enthusiastically speaking Hebrew without taking a breath. For a while, as I was kind of dozing in and out, I heard my neighbor complaining to her husband quite loudly, in an attempt to get the gathered dynamic group to “get the point”.  Of course it did not work. Finally, after a few hours of continuous teenage group dynamics, the woman could no longer contain herself (especially as her husband was ignoring her) and she went over to a few of the kids and said,” If your parents or grandparents were trying to rest and sleep, would you be standing here disturbing them?” At that, they were taken aback and began to apologize. Some of the group dispersed and went back to their seats while others remained but were much more aware of the decibel levels, they reached making overt efforts to lowered the volume to a minimum. I thought about the experience I mentioned earlier and how the religious were suspected of being inconsiderate while davening standing near a bathroom or blocking the aisle.  Here was the inverse – no davening, just happy groups of teens totally unaware of the disturbance they were causing.  I found irony viewing the different perspectives on the same airline.

I noticed one of the teens had a tee shirt which represented a connection between the area in Israel known as Shaar Hanegev with the San Diego Jewish Academy. At that, I took the liberty to engage several of these youngsters and sort of apologized on behalf of my co- passenger. They said it was ok and understood her point. But only a few short moments later, the woman herself rose up from her seat and began engaging with some of those same kids she had lambasted only a few minutes earlier. As she connected with them and realized that the purpose of their trip was to bring the Israel connection to unaffiliated Jews, she was touched so deeply that she basically offered any assistance to the group while they were in California for their ten-day trip. I reiterate, I don’t believe these stories would have occurred on airline other than El Al.

None of this should really surprise us, as we are known as Mi K’Amcha Yisrael” - who is like the Jewish nation? We find that answer or reason behind this in the Torah.

In this week’s Parshas Vayakhel the Torah states in Shmos 35:1 ויקהל משה את כל עדת בני ישראל ויאמר אלהם, אלה הדברים אשר צוה ה' לעשות אתם"  “Moshe assembled the entire Israelite community and said to them: ‘These are the words that God has commanded for you to do.” I would like to suggest the reading of the passuk should not be understood in its plain meaning - that Moshe gathered the Jewish people to hear the words that Hashem commanded them which would be the Mitzvos, and so forth. Rather, read the passuk in reverse, that these are the words God commanded us to do. What is He commanding us to do? To do as Moshe did. To gather and assemble the entire Jewish people, end of story!  To gather us together no matter who we are or where we come from. In every generation we are commanded to gather the Jewish people together; to focus on become a unified community. I am glad to report that I witnessed the fulfillment of this verse, bridging together Jews from all over the world, from different backgrounds, different religious observance and yet all together up in sky “to the Above”. Perhaps the ‘above’ referenced is the Holy One Above!

Ah Gutten Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas Ki Sisa - What's in a Cup?      20 Adar 1, 5784

02/29/2024 08:25:46 AM

Feb29

So, is airline loyalty worth it? The question has been around for decades, but these days the value is more dependent on your travel habits than anything else. The amount you fly most often correlates to the loyalty benefits you can earn and, equally important, just how much value you’ll find in those perks. Travel perks such as free upgrades, airport lounge access, priority check-in, waived fees, and VIP treatment are enticing — and enviable. Considerations regarding convenience – or inconvenience – of transfer locations and points of available destinations are important.  But these incentives often come at a cost, like picking a flight that is more expensive or more inconvenient than a better flight with another airline.

Aside from travel frequency, there are other factors to consider. With today’s turbulent airline industry, it makes more sense than ever to evaluate the costs and benefits of sticking with one airline. And then there’s the fact that the barrier to entry is quite low with any frequent flier program, as there are no sign-up costs involved with starting an airline account. Anyone can take advantage of airline loyalty programs, and you can begin accumulating points even if you don’t fly with one airline exclusively. Even just a few international flights can start you at the airline’s minimum status. As with most things in life, there are pros and cons. We all need to consider all the factors before arriving at a final choice of airline.

Ultimately, whether you choose to pursue airline loyalty or not will depend on what you value most when you travel; the decision of booking with a single airline for all your travel is very personal. Until recently, the strongest case for airline loyalty has come down to travel frequency. For those who are always on the go, it made sense to choose an airline that works best for your schedule needs and reap the rewards of loyalty. The advantages of your airline’s status consistently far outweighed any disadvantages. But if finding the lowest price or most convenient flight every time you book is most important, loyalty won’t be as valuable to you. For those who are in between, it’s a good idea to sign up for free with the airlines that you fly most frequently and start earning points and benefits slowly but surely. These points still hold true...except the current situation of booking a flight into and out of Israel.

My family adopted the loyalty route, trying to stick with one airline. We have primarily flown United even to Israel, choosing it over El Al. It was not an easy decision, nevertheless we did. Until recently. Due to the war, all airlines canceled their Israel destination. I needed to book a second ticket to my recent trip to Israel on El Al. Not only is El Al flying when all other airlines are not; they are more than competitive regarding pricing and upgrading. Furthermore, there are many advantages to flying the national Jewish airline in general, but there was one innovative thing I experienced on El Al that you won’t find on any other airline. Inside each restroom there is a small, two-handled mini washing cup attached to the wall. This could be used for washing one’s hands upon waking from a long sleep or to wash Netilas Yadayim for bread. I do not know how long ago this was instituted, but people made do for many years without it. So, although it is an upgrade, it also happens to be the best halachik way to wash hands. Even though one can figure out an alternative without it, it nevertheless is best to be used when available. It was such a defining moment and another official statement that this is the national Jewish airline of the Jewish people.

Jewish ritual is replete with items we use in our daily activities, Shabbos, and holidays. A washing cup is found in every Jewish home in the kitchen, bathrooms and even by some at bedsides. The importance of many of the utensils and furniture we use throughout our lives comes directly from the Mishkan and the Beis HaMikdash - the Tabernacle and the Temple. Washing was an integral part of the Temple service, albeit without an actual cup, as we see in the following description.  

In this week’s Parsha Ki Sisa the Torah states in Shmos 30:18:  "ועשית כיור נחשת וכנו נחשת לרחצה ונתת אתו בין אהל מועד ובין המזבח ונתת שמה מים"  - “Make a copper washstand along with a copper base for it. Place it between the altar and the Communion Tent and fill it with water for washing and place the water there”. Reb Meir Simcha of Dvinsk, in his commentary Meshech Chochmah, presents a challenge. The wording should have been “and place the water in it”  rather than writing “put it there”. Reb Meir Simcha explains that every ministering vessel used in the Mishkan/Tabernacle was fit to sanctify (by washing) the hands and feet. This did not necessarily require the washing to be done from the water in the Laver. The Gemara in Zevachim 21b states; “The priests may sanctify their hands and feet from all vessels, whether they can hold a quarter-log of water 22a  בין שאין בהן רביעית ובלבד שיהו כלי שרת or they cannot hold a quarter-log of water, provided that they are service vessels.” Apparently, the basin need not hold so much water. Rav Adda bar Acḥa explains: The braisa is referring to a case where one drills a hole in the basin and places a much smaller vessel at the hole as a conduit for the water. Even if that vessel is very small, the priest may sanctify his hands and feet from it, provided there is enough water in the basin for four priests. The Gemara asks: But doesn’t the Merciful One state that the priests must wash their hands and feet “from it,” i.e., from the basin and not from another vessel? The Gemara responds: The following verse repeats the phrase “they should wash,” to include any service vessel. The Gemara concludes that the requirement isn’t to have the washing from a vessel, rather the washing must take place in that space between the Tent of Meeting and the altar. That is why the verse specifically states that the water had to be placed there.  The essential part is the place; even if there was no water in the Kiyor/Laver itself, the water had to be put there!

When it comes to airlines and perks, they are generally all the same, apart from El Al. Yes, it may cost a few more dollars, true they may not have as many convenient flights as others, but there are perks and advantages that El Al provides exclusively for the Jewish passenger. Furthermore, throughout Israel’s war against Hamas and the growing tensions to the north against Hezbollah, El Al continues to fly, often carrying massive amounts of needed supplies for the soldiers and refugees who have had to flee from both the south and the north of Israel.  And carries full plane loads of these vital supplies at no cost. It says in Pirkei Avos, ”Do not look at the jug but rather look what is inside”. The Kiyor is important, but it’s the water inside that purifies. A plane is a means of transportation; the most significant part of the trip is not what airline we are flying, but who we are flying with!

Ah Gutten Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas Terumah - More is Sometimes Less     5 Adar I 5784

02/15/2024 03:53:13 PM

Feb15

I am always looking to get the most out of life, literally squeezing every precious drop – right down even to filling my car with gas. For example, when the price of gas is good, I try to fill my car up as much as possible. Even though the newer pumps have an automatic shut-off, I still tip the nozzle to get out the last few drops. A second example is the garbage. I try to stuff the garbage bag with just a few more things, only to typically watch as the overstuffed bag rips wide open. My reason for stuffing just a little more into the bag is, of course, to  spare me from using another bag. By trying to add more to the already stuffed bag to save a bag, overstuffed bag rips wide open. My reason for stuffing just a little more into the bag is, of course, to  spare me from using another bag. By trying to add more to the already stuffed bag to save a bag, I end up needing to use another bag in addition to the next bag anyway.

A different scenario takes me to the classroom. I always joked proclaiming that the only reason I became a teacher was to torture students the way I was tortured. Nevertheless, I promised myself I would not do something that several teachers did back when I was a student: to squeeze in just one or two more points after the bell rang. Even though all teachers accept the well-known ism that as soon as the bell rings, students’ brains instantaneously shut down, we still try to get just a little more information thrown towards them as they hustle to leave the classroom. The teacher, by trying to push forward an additional drop of information, actually loses out a bit at the end.

Even in the realm of kosher, there are laws that invalidate a cow from being kosher, therefore declaring it a treifa. The Shulchan Aruch in Yoreh Deah teaches that if an organ is missing, the animal is obviously treif. But what about if the animal had a genetic defect and had two of something instead of one. We might think along with the adage: “two heads are better than one,” but in Halacha the extra ‘one’ is considered as if the animal does not have any. "יתר נטול דמי"  - something extra is as if it had been taken away, leaving the animal to be considered without that organ or limb at all. Here again, adding something is not good; in actuality, it makes the item worse.

 Sometimes ‘the more the merrier’ isn’t so merry. Many studies have been conducted regarding the concept of whether more or less is beneficial or possibly harmful for the average person. This ‘truism’ has been extensively studied by behavioral psychologists. The following was taken from a Harvard study conducted in 2000 by psychologists Sheena Iyengar and Mark Lepper:

On one day, shoppers at an upscale food market saw a display table with 24 varieties of gourmet jam. Those who sampled the spreads received a coupon for $1 off any jam. On another day, shoppers saw a similar table, except that only six varieties of the jam were on display. The large display attracted more interest than the small one. But when the time came to purchase, people who saw the large display were one-tenth as likely to buy as people who saw the small display.

Other studies have confirmed this result that more choice is not always better. As the variety of snacks, soft drinks, and beers offered at convenience stores increases, for instance, sales volume and customer satisfaction decrease. Moreover, as the number of retirement investment options available to employees increases, the chance that they will choose any decreases. These studies and others have shown not only that excessive choice can produce “choice paralysis,” but also that it can reduce of retirement investment options available to employees increases, the chance that they will choose any decreases. These studies and others have shown not only that excessive choice can produce “choice paralysis,” but also that it can reduce people’s satisfaction with their decisions, even if they made good ones.

 

Drs. Iyengar and Lepper found that increased choice decreases satisfaction with matters as trivial as ice cream flavors and as significant as employment opportunities. These results challenge what we think we know about human nature and the determinants of well-being. Both psychologists and businesses have operated on the assumption that the relationship between choice and well-being is straightforward: The more choices people have, the better off they are. In psychology, the benefits of choice have been tied to autonomy and control. In business, the benefits of choice have been typically tied to the benefits of free markets. Added options make no one worse off, and they are bound to make someone better off. The proper Hashkafa - Jewish philosophical outlook - doesn’t stem from my, or anyone’s, day-to-day living that ‘more is better’. Nor does it come from any academic or social study. Rather it is based upon the understanding that every principle has its roots in the foundation of the Torah, as we see here.  

The Torah in this week’s Parshas Teruma speaks about building the furniture in the Mishkan. The first item to be built was the Aron, the Ark of the Covenant. The Torah states in Shmos 25:10 "ועשו ארון עצי שטים אמתים וחצי ארכו ואמה וחצי רחבו ואמה וחצי קמתו"  Make an ark of acacia wood, 21/2 cubits long, 11/2 cubits wide, and 11/2 cubits high”. The Gemara Sanhedrin 29a states: “it is from this verse that we learn of the principle שכל המוסיף גורע  whoever adds takes away. The Vilna Gaon explains this idea from the letter ‘vav’ in the passuk. Since it says in the verse 21/2 cubits long, it means two amos plus another one half of an amah. But if we were to take away the ‘vav’ from the word וחצי , then it would be read as אמתים חצי ארכו  two amos, which is half of the length. This means the entire length would be four amos if verse did not have the letter ‘vav’. It turns out, the fact that we ADD the letter ‘vav’, the length is shorter - only two and one half amos and not four. So, by adding the letter ‘vav’ it reduces the measure of the length of the ark.

I know and I see the life of good and plenty (not the candy) and know that the reality is the more we think we have or want will diminish, will decrease all of what we do have. I once wrote regarding the giving of gifts to our children on Chanukah: ”The more we give our children the less they will have.” Let us take stock of our lives and possessions, be happy with what we have so that we can say, “the less I want, the more I will have! 

Ah Gutten Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas Mishpatim - DEI & Speaking Out Against Complicity      30 Shvat 5784

02/09/2024 08:56:33 AM

Feb9

This Dvar Torah is in honor of the Jewish men and women who are fighting on the front lines defending Eretz Yisroel, and who are in the work force throughout the U.S. fighting Anti-Semitism throughout corporate America!

We are all enlisted in the Tzivaos Hashem, the legions or the army of God. Just as every army has different divisions and roles, so, too, we, the Jewish people, occupy different positions, all of which defend the Jewish people and the honor of Hashem. The arenas of fighting are, unfortunately, ongoing in Gaza and growing along the northern Lebanese border, but arenas of deep challenge are also growing in the workplace, in schools, in prestigious institutions of higher learning, and even in local neighborhoods throughout the U.S., North and South America, Europe, as far into the Pacific as Australia. Throughout the world we are encountering increasing occurrences of open viperous hatred against Israel and the Jewish people. While these events present a different kind of challenge, one that is not, at least openly, risking physical life, these openly antisemitic attacks cause major impacts upon us, our families and our communities. Perhaps the most difficult challenge in the workplace is when it comes to disguise. -The growing anti-Zionist protests against Israel, while deeply concerning, are, in actuality, a true form of antisemitism.

One of the most recent ‘isms’ to seep into society and the “office” is ‘DEI’ – diversity, ethnicity, inclusion – ostensibly referring to fair treatment and inclusion of all people. DEI policy emerged from Affirmative Action in the United States. The legal term "affirmative action" was first used in “Executive Order 10925” signed by President John F. Kennedy on 6 March 1961. Its intention was to promote actions that achieve non-discrimination. Fast forward 50+ years, DEI has been accused of ignoring or even contributing to antisemitism. According to Andria Spindel, of the Canadian Antisemitism Education Foundation, antisemitism has been largely ignored in the DEI curriculum. The relationship between DEI and campus antisemitism came under further scrutiny after the 2023 Hamas attack on Israel, and the subsequent war in Gaza.

Some members of our own community have been denied promotions, warned about speaking out in favor of Israel, criticized for trying to explain the evil perpetrated by Hamas or simply for trying to express shock and horror regarding the ruthless attacks of October 7th. We are all witness to open efforts to silence our growing concerns while being simultaneously attacked by ongoing propaganda from certain “groups” throughout society. Hamaivin yavin – the one who understands will understand!

Tabia Lee, a former DEI director at De Anza College in California, has claimed that DEI frameworks foster antisemitism due to its "oppressors and the oppressed" dichotomy where "Jews are categorically placed in the oppressor category", described as "white oppressors". She has claimed that her attempts to include Jews under the "DEI" umbrella was resisted. When her critics asked the college trustees to oust her from her role, one counselor explicitly referenced her attempts to place Jewish students "on the same footing as marginalized groups". The Brandeis Center likewise notes how the DEI committee at Stanford University alleged that "Jews, unlike other minority group[s], possess privilege and power, Jews and victims of Jew-hatred do not merit or necessitate the attention of the DEI committee". This public declaration was made after two students complained about antisemitic incidents on campus.

Truth is truth and falsehood is falsehood! The Torah in this week’s parshas Mishpatim states in Shmos 23:7 "מדבר שקר תרחק" : “Keep away from anything false.” When we hear calls for the destruction of Israel disguised -  in the many different forms - we need to speak up. When it is disguised in the workplace, the sheker- the lies- must not be met with complacency; rather, we should speak out. The degree of truth, the smallest indications between truth and falsehood, must be observed and revealed. The following is a deep yet simple appreciation of how far a Jew must go not to misrepresent something, even a minor flinch.     

In the sefer Chasidim by Reb Yehuda HeChasid ben Rabbeinu Shmuel HeChasid in #1058 writes that even a person hinting in such a small way such as shaking his head  or moving to the left or to the right must be done with truth. This is based upon a passuk in Vayikra 19:36 where the Torah states "והין צדק יהיה לכם literally meaning ‘an honest liquid measure’ but metaphorically the Hebrew word ‘Hin’ is the word yes. Even your Yes’s must be righteous. Reb Yehuda goes on and asks rhetorically, “...from where do we know that even a wink or something like a wink must be with righteousness?” He brings support from Mishlei 6:12-13 “An irreligious person, a man of iniquity, walks with a perverse mouth, winking with his eyes, scraping with his feet, pointing with his fingers.”  In Yeshayahu 58:9 the Navi says, ”Remove the perversion of finger pointing and evil speech”. When a person wants to say yes, he shakes his head up and down; when he wants to say no, he moves his head from left to right. All of his limbs need to be truthful.   

Rav Yeshayahu ben Chaim Attia z”l in his responsa Bigdei Yesha Even HaEzer #32, published in 1853, quotes a Teshuva/ responsa from Rebbi Akiva Eiger who was asked a question from the judges of Blustok in Poland. Initially, Rebbi Eiger hesitated whether to answer them, and in the end, he decided he would. In the opening of the responsa, Rebbi Akiva Eiger reveals why he hesitated and what made him change his mind. Prior to the question and answer, there is a back story as to why Rebbi Akiva Eiger was involved in this question. “I am not worthy of being asked these questions that were sent from such a great distance. Thank God the Jewish people are not widowed from having great Rabbis in their own towns, to whom I am inferior. In addition, I have many responsibilities to my local community, and I don’t really have time for outside inquiries. The only problem is that when I was in Bromburg for a family celebration, someone approached me and asked me to give an answer to this question. I was silent and did not respond, but maybe I moved my head in the positive as a promise. Therefore, I have no choice but to move out of my comfort zone and go through the effort of answering. Just a slight indication brought R’ Eiger to consider a false impression if he did not answer the question.

We the Jewish people through the lens of the Torah know that every form of communication must be discerning and carefully monitored. We are responsible for what we say and sometimes for what we do not say. The lessons of Emes are a pillar for our families, communities and for all Klal Yisroel.  Let us pay tribute to ALL who defend our people and the name of Hashem, and with truth bring the Achdus/unity that is necessary to bring the Geulah Shelima the complete redemption speedily in our days!

Ah Gutten Shabbos & Ah Gutten Chodesh

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

 

Sefer Chassidim, Book of the Pious is a text attributed to Yehudah ben Shmuel of Regensburg (died 1217) a foundation work of the teachings of the Chassidei Ashkenaz ("Pious Ones of Germany"). It offers an account of the day-to-day religious life of Jews in medieval Germany, and their customs, beliefs, and traditions. It presents the combined teachings of the three leaders of German Hasidism during the 12th and 13th centuries: Shmuel the Chassid, Yehuda the Chassid of Regensburg (his son), and Elazar Rokeach.

Parshas Yisro - Serving God 24/7                        23 Shvat 5784 

02/02/2024 09:02:16 AM

Feb2

This week’s Dvar Torah is sponsored by Ary & Elena Abramovic in memory of Ary’s father, Daniel ben Fanny and Gedalia on his Yahrtzeit 24 Shvat.

We tend to make use of words both literally and figuratively. For example, the meaning of a word comes from the Old French word figuratif, which means “metaphorical.” Any figure of speech — a statement or phrase not intended to be understood literally — is figurative. For example, you may complain that your hands are frozen, or that you’re so hungry you could eat a horse.  I found some figurative uses of words have infiltrated our lexicon more than others.  One of these words is “addicted”.

Most of the time when we declare we are addicted to something, it is not meant to be literal. Not too many people are going to come out and reveal their shortcomings and weaknesses, especially, G-d forbid, addictions. Nevertheless, I do surmise that often when someone uses the words “I am addicted “to something, it may be closer to being used literally rather than figuratively- and typically the implication of the statement is not realized by the individual uttering the exclamation.   To better grasp this, let’s examine the definition of “addiction” and its four stages from Wikipedia.

“Addiction is a chronic dysfunction that involves the reward, motivation, and memory systems in the brain. To separate addiction from other neurological disorders, experts say that four factors must be present... compulsion: overpowering urge to fuel the addiction; craving: the urge to fuel grows as demanding as severe hunger pain, mimicking, and sometimes even replacing a genuine physical need; consequences: despite negative consequences, the behavior continues; control: These factors unique to addiction alone and are classified as the 4 C's.”

The behaviors of most addicts are similar which is why the 4 C's of addiction apply to any type of addiction including not only smoking, drugs, alcohol, and gambling, but also video games and smart phone usage The explanation of the 4 C’s are as follows: 1. Compulsion - Compulsion means that an individual has an absolute and overpowering urge to fuel their addiction. The behavior may start impulsively, but as the addiction grows, it becomes a compulsive habit. By not partaking in the habit, agonizing anxiety occurs, affecting all other behaviors. 2. Craving - The urge to fuel the addiction becomes as demanding as hunger pain, mimicking a physical need. It feels like it is vital for survival. This urge often manifests as restlessness, insomnia, and lack of appetite.  3. Consequences - Even when negative consequences become apparent, the behavior continues. Consequences of addiction include schoolwork, social interaction with peers, relationships, and social interactions, including parent/child/teacher relationships, work, legal and money problems. The fourth and final state stage is Control: 4. Control is actually the beginning of the healing process: the individual learns to control and ultimately overcome the addition.  Control means when or how the individual’s need to fuel the addiction is overcome. In that you control the addiction; it no longer controls you.

At one point I was under the impression that certain addictions had a limit - vis a vis mitzvos, let me explain. During my growing-up years, I knew several chain smokers who had the uncanny ability to stop smoking throughout the twenty-five hours of Shabbos. Today, unfortunately, a growing addiction to the smart phone is now recognized as one of the most serious concerns regarding mental health of the adolescent and teen-age population.  And it’s growing even at the expense of Shabbos. Social media is so powerful that many people cannot overcome the temptation or need to get their ‘fix’ from tapping into their phones even on Shabbos. Phone addiction, and the withdrawal symptoms some people go through, is devastating. What was sacred to the day of Shabbos is not necessarily the case today. The only way to reverse the trend of any addiction is to lessen the dependency and slowly cut down on that which we want or think we need so deeply that it takes precedence over all other legitimate needs.  How do we approach this challenging task? The answer is not found in Shabbos but rather throughout the entire week!

The Torah in this week’s Parshas Yisro records the Aseres HaDibros, the Ten statements/commandments. We know that the fourth is to remember and safeguard the holy day of Shabbos. In Shmos 20:8-9 the Torah states "זכור את יום השבת לקדשו"  “Remember the Sabbath to keep it holy”. "ששת ימים תעבד ועשית כל מלאכתך"  “You can work during the six weekdays and do all your tasks”. Then the Torah continues in 20:10 “But Shabbos, is the Shabbos to God your Lord. Do not do anything that constitutes work”. There is a combination and connection between Shabbos to the six days of work and then another verse about the seventh day.

Rabbeinu Bachya in the name of Rambam explains that we serve Hashem by specifically working on the six days of the week, like the patriarchs who served Hashem in the full spiritual sense through their physical work. They served Hashem through their work, but on Shabbos day itself they served Hashem by making it a complete day of rest. We are commanded to serve and “work” for Hashem by resting through the cessation of the work that we did throughout the prior week.

The treatment of stopping an addiction such as over use of the smart phone, whether it is texting on Shabbos or checking social media, must be eliminated on Shabbos, but to do so, it must begin during the six days of the work week. Working throughout the six days means the labor, going to school, learning and hopefully the fulfillment of doing that labor for parnassah, personal growth, and fulfillment. The ‘work’ we do during the week is not considered an obsession, even though for some, working grows to become an obsession.  Work, regardless of the specific type of work, does not typically grow to become a harmful addiction which negatively affects our health and our ability to interact with others. An addiction, as stated earlier, is a serious dysfunction.  It grows , leading to personal harm, both physical and emotional.  It isn’t the “doing” of something but rather the withdrawal of the temptation. The Torah Temimah asks,” Is it possible to do all the tasks in only six days?” He explains that the act of working on ourselves to rest on the seventh day completes the “all” aspect of work in serving Hashem. Serving Hashem is not only a six day of the week time frame; serving God is a full seven-day process, week in and week out.

Any addiction needs to be worked on every day - including the day when it is obviously not proper. The six days of “work” require that a given amount of focused time must be set up to ‘work hard’ to remove oneself from that vice, building daily, hourly resistance and strength to overcome compulsion and craving.  This is a proven method of attaining self-control through incremental, small measures of time and less use of the challenge. This message is applicable to everyone striving to get closer to Hashem by following in the footsteps of Avraham, Yitzchok and Yaakov, serving Hashem All the days of the week both in physical and labor and resting from that same labor stated in the fourth commandment this week!  

Ah Gutten Shabbos

Rabbi Avram Bogopulsky

Parshas B'Shalach - What are we Fighting For?     15 Shvat 5784

01/25/2024 02:01:41 PM

Jan25

This Dvar Torah is dedicated the memory of the fallen defenders of Eretz Yisrael!

The devastation and overwhelming grief which the Jewish people in Israel have endured since the heinous terror attack of Simchas Torah on October 7th can only be comforted by the resilience and unity exhibited by the Jews in Israel and throughout the world. Over 1,200 innocent Jews -entire families - fathers, mothers, babies, children, grandparents were horrifically killed, Ahl Kiddush Hashem, sanctifying God’s name. There have been few days since the October 7th massacre when a soldier hasn’t given up his or her life on behalf of our people. Somehow, the human mind can digest small losses at a time, but when major large losses occur, we are shaken to our core, and that which has become dull to the senses now shocks upon us again.

We, united with the families of the slain soldiers, are devastated over the escalating numbers of Israeli soldiers who have lost their lives in the ongoing war in Gaza. But this week’s attack from Hamas, which killed 24 soldiers, marked the deadliest day since Israel began its invasion of Gaza. We mourn the loss of these soldiers, and all the others who have perished in this war. We extend our broken-hearted nichum aveilim to their grieving families: “HaMokom yenacheim osam b’soch she’ar aveilei Tziyon v’Yerushalayim” – May they be comforted among the mourners of Zion and Yerushalayim- and our most fervent tefillah: v’lo yosifu l’daavah od- And they shall not know sorrow anymore.

There is an overwhelming sense of Jewish pride and dignity that the soldiers of the IDF consistently demonstrate in life and even in death. Some of you may have read about the following powerful adjunct regarding such a loss in the news, but for those who have not, I am sharing this incredible letter written by one of the soldiers who was killed this week.  The letter was read at his funeral:

Among the fallen during Monday's tragic incident in Gaza was Sergeant Major Elkana Vizel, 35, a resident of Bnei Dekalim. Vizel, married to Galit and a father of four Elkana Vizel worked as a teacher at the Naom School in Bnei Dekalim, where his wife also works, and on Tuesday, just hours after he was killed, it emerged that he had prepared a letter ahead of time to be read only if he had been killed in battle. 

 "If you are reading these words, something probably happened to me. First of all, in case I was captured by Hamas, I demand that no deal be made to release any terrorist in order to release me. Our overwhelming victory is more important than anything, so please – just press ahead with all the force until our victory is as overwhelming as possible." This is first paragraph of the letter that was retrieved with his body.

The letter continues: "Maybe I fell in battle. When a soldier falls in battle it is sad. But I ask you to be happy. Don't be sad when you part from me. Sing a lot, plant in hearts, hold each other's hands, and strengthen one another. We have so much to be excited and happy about – we are the generation of Jewish redemption! We are writing the most meaningful moments in the history of our people and of the whole world. So please be optimistic. Keep choosing life all the time – a life of love, hope, purity, and optimism."

He continues with the same theme of celebrating life rather than mourning his death:

"Look into the eyes of your loved ones and remind them that everything they experience in this life is worth it and that they have a lot to live for. Live! Don't stop for a moment the intensities of life! In Operation Protective Edge I was already wounded. I had the choice to stay behind, but I don't regret for a moment returning to be a fighter. On the contrary, it's the best decision I ever made."

We find several places in the Torah which speak of the Jewish people in battle. There are different dimensions regarding the purpose of the wars. Sometimes it’s an offensive war to eradicate idolatry, other times it’s a war to defend against the honor of Hashem and to protect the ideals of the Torah. There were times throughout Jewish history that we were forced to retaliate, taking the offensive side of the war. We only fought when challenged or attacked by others first. *HaRav Yaakov Moshe Charlop z”l relates two significant examples of this.

In this week’s Parsha B’Shalach the Torah states in Shmos 17:9 "ויאמר משה אל יהושע בחר לנו אנשים וצא הלחם בעמלק מחר אנכי נצב על ראש הגבעה ומטה האלוקים בידי"  “Moshe said to Yehoshua, choose men for us, and prepare for battle against Amalek. Tomorrow, I will stand on top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand.”  Rav Charlop quotes his Rebbi, Rav Kook z”l, to explain this verse. The entire tendency of Amalek was to fight against ‘the מצוה  Mitzva and the  חובה Obligation’ concept and to cool down the heat and passion of the Torah. The goal was to reduce the activity and service of the Jew down to a “רשות reshus” -to something that is optional.  These three ways of serving Hashem are hinted within the word מחר – tomorrow- as each letter of the word  מחר stands for a word: מצוה, חובה, רשות  When Moshe said Tomorrow, I will stand on top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand” in order to sway or tilt the acronym to a total devotion, a total obligation to serve Hashem and not merely as a suggestion.

Later on, in Bamidbar, during a different battle for the honor of Hashem, the Torah tells us that Pinchasויקח רמח בידו   took a spear in his hand. God spoke to Moshe saying, “Pinchas was the one who zealously took up My cause among the Israelites and turned my anger away from them so that I did not destroy them.” This was the opposite of what had transpired regarding  Amalek when Pinchas elevated the optional to a Mitzva - an obligation - with a spear in his hand. The word רמח  /spear -meaning optional - has the same Hebrew letters as   מצוה – meaning obligation but reversed to mean optional. Moshe took the spiritual staff and transformed the Jewish mind to understand that nothing is haphazard or optional, which is what Amalek wanted to teach. Pinchas elevated something that was optional to a higher level of obligation.

Tzaha”l today has elevated the purpose and goals of Am Yisroel to the level of Torah and Avodah and Gemilus Chassadim. May their sacrifices be considered the modern day Korbanos/sacrifices, but their deeds and actions should lead Klal Yisroel to serving Hashem and to bringing Moshiach sooner than intended, thereby offering, and bringing the other types of sacrifices in the service of Hashem.

 

* Rabbi Yaakov Moshe Charlap יעקב משה חרל"פ, 1882 - 1951) was an Orthodox rabbi, talmudist, kabbalist, Rosh Yeshiva of the Mercaz HaRav yeshiva, and a disciple of Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook. Rabbi Charlap served as rabbi of the Sha'arei Hesed neighborhood in central Jerusalem, and author of the Mei Marom series of books on Jewish thought. His grandson, Rav Zevulun Charlop z”l of Yeshiva University passed away last week.

Parshas Bo - This week’s Dvar Torah is brought to you by Guest Author Rabbi Dovid Saks        9 Shvat 5784

01/25/2024 02:00:06 PM

Jan25

 

Last week’s Parsha concludes with the seventh plague of hail mixed with fire, during which Pharoh finally gave in to G-d’s power and proclaimed, “This time I have sinned: Hashem is the Righteous One, and I and my people are the wicked ones.”

The Torah tells us that after Moshe prayed and the plague abruptly stopped, Pharoh’s stubbornness kicked in once again and he did not set the Jews free.

This week’s Parsha opens with G-d telling Moshe to go to Pharoh to warn him about the impending plagues. G-d tells Moshe that He hardened Pharoh’s heart in order that He display His wonders to Pharoh. G-d tells Moshe, “all this is in order that you tell your sons, and your son’s sons that I made a mockery of Egypt with My signs that I placed on them – that you know that I am Hashem!”

A question raised is, if Pharoh was ready during the seventh plague to let the Jews go, why did G-d allow Pharoh to harden his heart and not allow them out? Rabbi Dovid Feinstein o.b.m. explains: The reason G-d demonstrated His power through all the plagues was so that the story be told by us throughout the generations.

The Torah relates that G-d foretold to Avraham, during a prophetic experience, that his descendants will be enslaved for 400 plus years. However, since the Egyptians oppressed the Jews excessively during this time, G-d reduced the servitude experience by 190 years, and calculated the 400 years from an earlier date.

Pharoh was aware that the Jews were sentenced to be enslaved for 400 years and felt assured that they would remain in Egypt for the duration. He therefore resisted Moshe’s demands to release the nation before the time was up.

Reb Dovid Feinstein says something astounding. Had the Egyptians treated them decently as slaves, without any abuse during that time, the Jews would have been in Egypt for the requisite 400 and possibly at the end of 400 years Pharoh would have released the nation willingly without the need of plagues and miraculous Divine intervention. Had that come to pass, there would have been no overt display of G-d’s greatness and might to impress upon the minds of our youth.

Once Pharoh didn’t abide by his mission to simply enslave the Jews without cruelty and maltreatment, the narrative account of the awesome plagues and miraculous redemption from Egypt that we relate to our children each year at the Pesach Seder became a reality.

Essentially, G-d shortened the exile by 190 years so that we should have this wonderous period in our history to be able to teach our children the wondrous miracles He performed on our behalf. Our Exodus from Egypt is so integral to our belief that we are mandated to mention it in the third paragraph of the Shema during the day and at night so that we don’t forget it.

Before the Jews left Egypt, G-d told Moshe to please instruct every Jew to borrow garments and items from their Rai’aihu – their friend, and thus the Egyptians would provide them with great wealth. A simple understanding of this is that the Jews should ask to borrow garments and riches from their fellow Egyptians before they left. However, the Talmud teaches us that whenever the word Rai’aihu is used it only refers to a fellow Jew to the exclusion of non-Jews.

Commentators explain this in a novel way which portrays how our positive actions and demeanor is looked at by outsiders. G-d tells Moshe, “I have to make good on a promise that I made to Avraham that with the freedom of his descendants from slavery, they will receive great wealth.” To make this happen, G-d instructed Moshe to tell the Jews to begin borrowing and sharing their own personal items one Jew with another – their Rai’aihu. When the Egyptians will see the caring that the Jews have for each other, they will recognize the beauty of the kinship we have to each other, and they will then intuitively react by graciously giving the Jews their accumulated wealth – which they owed the Jews for all their tireless work. The awesome care, consideration and kindness which we show and do for each other generates appreciation from outsiders who observe us!                         Rabbi Dovid Saks

This is exactly what the Jewish people need to do today!

Parshas Vaera - Naming the Redemption         2 Shevat 5784

01/12/2024 09:22:27 AM

Jan12

This week’s Dvar Torah is sponsored by Victor Wahba in memory of his mother Camila Wahba

Can someone feel both embarrassment and exhilaration at the same time? Well, I recently had this experience on my last trip to Chicago. On Motzai Shabbos I spoke at Avos U’Banim, our version of parent/child learning. I was introduced as a rabbinic guest from San Diego. At the conclusion of my talk, one of the fathers approached me and told me his mother was born and raised in San Diego but had left many years ago. I was curious to learn her name thinking I may know some of his relatives. At this point he only told me the family surname but did not offer her given name. I asked him, but he uncomfortably refused and said, "It is forbidden to say your parent’s name.” I looked at him with a glint of disbelief and replied, ”I believe that the halacha is you are not permitted to call your parents (or in-laws for that matter) by their first name, but are allowed to reference their name.” For example, you could say the name when asked to be called to the Torah. I would need to say my father’s name. So, I asked once again if he would please let me know where it says that you can’t even reference a parent’s name.” a few minutes later, while the kids were eating pizza and waiting for the raffle, he brought over a book/sefer of Halachos which discussed the topic of laws concerning honoring your parents in English. It was titled “The Fifth Commandment.”  He then showed me this halacha/law as well as the footnote where it is found in the Shulchan Aruch!

It was at that exact moment that I felt embarrassed to the point of humiliation and at the very same time I had a feeling of exuberance. As a Rov I felt embarrassed that I did not know or recall a law straight out of the Shulchan Aruch, the Code of Jewish Law. This emotion was immediately followed by the joy of learning something and strengthening my learning and knowledge in an area that needs it. Later, I processed this event and realized the ethical improvement opportunity that I experienced through that episode. I initially displayed a sign of Gaava/haughtiness by stating,” Show me where it says that.” My attitude was one of presuming I knew this halacha, yet I recognized my error and learned to humbly accept the correction. A person can accept a correction in one of two ways, begrudgingly or graciously. I opted to accept the correction graciously as this is a sign of anivus/humility.

The notion of not calling a parent by name or even referencing a parent’s name is that it shows a lack of respect. Just as we don’t say the name of God, we also do not overtly say the names of  our parents. Names in general, especially names in Judaism, are a serious business; they are Hebrew names, names of Lashon HaKodesh, the holy tongue. The Jewish name is elevated because each name is Lashon Hakodesh, a clear differentiation from secular names of the gentiles.  The greatness and importance of the Hebrew language is highlighted several times throughout the Torah.

In this week’s Parshas Vaera the Torah states in Shmos 6: "לכן אמר לבני ישראל אני ה' והוצאתי אתכם מתחת סבלת מצרים והצלתי אתכם מעבדתם וגאלתי אתכם בזרוע נטויה ובשפטים גדלים"  “Therefore say to the Israelites [in My name], I am God. I will take you away from the forced labor in Egypt and free you from their slavery. I will liberate you with a demonstration of My power, and with great acts of judgment”. The Mechilta on the passuk ולקחתי אתכם לי לעם  - I have taken them to me as a people, states that this  was in the merit that they [the Jews] did not change their language and furthermore used their Hebrew names. Rav Meir Simcha of Dvinsk, in his work Meshech Chochmah to Shemos 6:6 — Why did Yosef say כי פי המדבר אליכם - the one speaking to you - (which Rashi says that he was speaking Lashon HaKodesh)? Chazal tells us that in the zechus/merit that שלא שינו את לשונם  - they did not change their language-  in Mitzrayim/Egypt, they merited the geulah/redemption. What this means is that even in galus, even in exile, they had a broader vision that one day they will be redeemed and have a homeland and will speak their own language. They spoke Lashon HaKodesh with an eye towards geulah. That is what Yosef was telling his brothers — that he speaks Lashon HaKodesh because he knows that this is a step towards geulah, a step towards Redemption.  

It is for this reason – the fact that the Israelites separated themselves from the Egyptians - that the Rabbis established the ritual of reciting the blessing on four cups of wine during the Passover seder.  Having a different language, using, speaking our own” Jewish’ language, brought about a separation, thereby maintaining a distance from the Egyptians. History has proven thatwhen the Jewish people try to get close to the gentiles in their country we end up being persecuted. On the other hand, so long as we maintain our distance from the non-Jewish population, we prosper in that country. An interesting side note to process is that every Shabbos night we perform the ceremony of Havdalah which is a separation between the holy and the mundane. The preferred, most choice liquid to use is wine because wine is a symbol of separation, just as it was when we were in Egypt. There are other laws related to wine.  These halochot – laws – also serve to keep us separated as a people. to maintain our relationship with Hashem. One such halachah is Yayin Nesech - not to drink uncooked wine touched by a non-Jew.

This notion of separation does not preclude the Jewish people from participating in the many areas of the world. Rather, it encourages us to find and maintain ways to keep ourselves holy and unadulterated from the rest of society. The great challenge is to maintain our commitment to Hashem, the Torah, and Mitzvos at ALL times. Clearly, as outlined in this week’s parsha, if we create the barriers of not changing our language and keeping our Hebrew-given names, the ultimate redemption in our day will be facilitated, just as it did for our forefathers at the time of our deliverance from Egypt!

Parshas Shemos - If Plan "A" Doesn't Work, There are Twenty-Five More Letters......or Not  23 Teves 5784

01/05/2024 09:00:29 AM

Jan5

Several times over the years I have written about ‘hishtadlus’, the effort a person is required to do in this world, not to sit back and wait for miracles. Most people plan things in advance, whether it is travel, a day off, or even notating the daily schedule. Yet there are always individuals who make contingency plans for their contingency plans! The title of this article can be interpreted in many ways, but I am not going to list them all. Rather, I would love to hear from YOU, the reader, how you interpreted it. I am sure the common theme will end up being ‘more or less’ the same, yet we ask,” What is required”?  

There is a great deal of balance that is required between the ‘efforts’ that we apply in life to accomplish our goals versus our Emunah/belief that Hashem runs the world regardless of how much we try. I think there is a direct correlation between the two. Put differently, the more belief a person has, the less effort is needed, and the less Emunah (Faith) a person has, the greater the effort will be needed.  The greatest proof of this truism is seen in the transition of the Jewish people’s fate from slavery to redemption: the fact those that who exited Egypt, becoming the generation of the midbar/desert had the greatest Emunah and bitachon/security in Hashem. It was a situation that created minimal physical effort; practically nothing was required on the part of the generation of the midbar to live in the desert. In contrast, those who lived at the time we entered the Land of Israel, continuing throughout the centuries to today – to all of us living in today’s generation, need to prepare, plan, devise and create ideas.  This is especially true today; we are not on the level of previous generations. We all agree that we need to plan, to contemplate, to think.  What better place to start than at the beginning with the letter ‘A’, the first letter, the most fundamental letter of any alphabet.  

A completely related story, albeit indirect to my main message, was a story I just heard about Rav Nata Greenblatt zt”l, known for his quick wit and sharp sense of humor. In a recently published book about Rav Nata, there is a story about Rav Nachum Lansky, a member of the first class of the Memphis Hebrew Academy, founded by Rav Nata Greenblatt in 1949. Rav Nata Greenblatt, who only a few years earlier was learning and listening to shiurim from the Chazone Ish on Yerushalmi, was the Aleph Beis teacher for the initial kindergarten and first grade of the Memphis Academy and taught Nachum Lansky. Years later Rav Lansky went back to Memphis to show Rabbi Greenblatt a sefer that he wrote on Aleph Beis. Rav Nata immediately responded, ”Didn’t I teach you the Aleph Beis already?” Hebrew letters are so articulate that they give depth of meaning standing alone as well as when linked to other letters to make up words.

In this week’s Parshas Shmos the Torah states in Shmos 2:2 "ותהר האשה ותלד בן, ותרא אותו כי טוב הוא ותצפנהו שלשה ירחים"  “The woman became pregnant and had a son.” She realized how extraordinarily good he [the child] was, and she kept him hidden for three months.” The following is the entire explanation of Rabbeinu Bachya. According to the plain meaning of the text, the words “that he was good” mean that he was a handsome baby. Even if he had been ugly, in the eyes of his mother he would have appeared beautiful, and she would have protected him against all dangers and would have hidden him. This is a psychological fact of life; there was no need for the Torah to tell us that in the eyes of his mother the baby looked “good”. It follows that the Torah wished to inform us of something else. According to Shemos Rabbah 1:20, the word טוב means that Moshe was born without a foreskin. The sages add that seeing the whole house filled with light after Moshe was born, his parents considered this a good omen, i.e. he was “good”. The first time the adjective good was used as a noun was in Bereishis 1:4 when God created light and had satisfied Himself that it was something “good.” The Chochamim also comment that Adam, who had been constructed by God Himself, (rather than through a mother of flesh and blood) also did not have a foreskin. The Avos d’Rebbi Nosson, chapter 2, writes that “Good” therefore is a description of something that does not need improvement.

A kabbalistic approach concentrates on the extra word ‘ הוא’. According to the Midrashim, it would have sufficed for the Torah to write ותרא אותו כי טוב. Why did the Torah bother with the additional word הוא? The word הוא was added as one of the names of God such as we find in Psalms 100:3 הוא עשנו ולו אנחנו “He (God) has made us and we are His.” Or in Yeshayahu 42:8 -אני ה׳ הוא שמי, “I am the Lord, הוא is My name.” The Gemara Menachos 29 stated that God created the world with the letter ה. They meant with the letters,הו: of His name He created the world. The Hebrew letter’ ו’ symbolizes the number 6, the six directions which receive radiations (divine input) from the benevolent Presence of God, שכינה. God’s Presence protects the world from harm; this is why, in Tehillim 121 (which we are now reciting for the protection of Israel and Tzahal daily worldwide), Dovid HaMelech commences with the words, “I raise my eyes to the mountains, from where will my help come?” uses the word שומר/guardian, 6 times in the course of this psalm. This was David’s way of alluding to the שכינה, the presence of God. Seeing that the letter א and what it stands for is so crucial to continued existence, it was added to the two letters ‘הו' , forming the word הוא. The Aleph is the first of all the letters. If the Aleph had never been introduced to the world, it would be impossible to say there would be a beis or a gimmel. The Aleph is the reason there are another twenty-one letters in the Hebrew alphabet.  In this way, expressing Moshe’s relationship to Hashem, ‘Who’ represents the ultimate significance of א, was shown at the moment he was born. In other words: the two words כי טוב tell us that the house was filled with light at Moshe’s birth, whereas the additional word הוא tells us that this was divine light, light from a celestial source. Yocheved experienced the presence of the שכינה when she saw this light. The word הוא in our verse is also what prompted our sages to explain the word ותראהו, “she saw him,” in verse 6 as a reference to the שכינה. The Torah only needed to write ותפתח ותרא, “she opened, and she saw”. Instead, the Torah wrote ותפתח ותראהו - “she opened, and she saw Him,” i.e. the שכינה. God’s benevolent presence had accompanied Moshe to the reeds. Clearly, this is another proof that the kabbalists arrived at this interpretation through the letters הו which the Torah appended to the word ותרא. If Batya, Pharaoh’s daughter, was granted a vision of the שכינה, it is quite natural that Yocheved, the righteous mother of Moses, should be granted no less.

Parshas Vayechi - Family Feud       16 Teves 5784

12/27/2023 06:51:20 PM

Dec27

One of the most common – and upsetting – causes for parental angst   is when their children fight among themselves. There is nothing so troubling as sibling rivalry. When we, disconnected from such ongoing rivalry, are told that this ongoing fighting and rivalry is deeply disturbing, we may be inclined to chuckle, shrugging it off, thinking it’s cute. It may very well be ‘cute’ when the squabble is about some silly, insignificant situation among young children. Unfortunately, those same children as teenagers and then adults often get into major arguments and disagreements with their siblings over money and other possessions.  These sometimes-ugly fights between siblings typically take place when parents pass away and there is money to be divided and a yerusha/inheritance that needs to be sorted out. The best way to break up a fight is to avoid it in the first place. Reality - and statistics - show us that even though most assets left to children could be distributed without incident, stress, anger, and ugly fighting occurs far too often. Those same parents who were distressed when witnessing their children fight while they were alive, surely fret over witnessing their children fight when they are looking down from the next world and can no longer intervene.

There are situations when sides taken by children result in open wars of one group against the other.  (Perhaps that’s how the Hatfields and the McCoys started their everlasting feud). Reb Yitzchok ben Nisan of Vilna in his sefer Kehilas Yitzchok enlightens us regarding a passuk in Devarim: The Torah states in Devarim 14:1 "בנים אתם לה' אלוקיכם, לא תתגודדו ולא תשימו קרחה בין עיניכם למת"  : “You are children to Hashem our God. Do not make groups and do not place a scratch between your eyes.” The Gemara Yevamos 13b explains לא תתגודדו  as ”Do not make groups and groups against each other.” The Kehilas Yitzchok tells a story of a city whose Rabbi passed away. Even before the Rabbi was buried there was machlokes/division about hiring a new Rabbi! One side argued that the Rabbi’s son has the rights to the pulpit; he should take over for his father. A different group demanded they reach out to a certain large city and select a well-known Rabbi from there to relocate and take over here. Others spoke up and said why should we look at another city? We should select a new Rabbi from our own town because he is a great Torah scholar. In the meantime, a great Darshan (highly qualified, wise man who is able to expound upon and explain the Torah) ascended the pulpit to eulogize the Rabbi of the city who had passed away. During his eulogy he mentioned the machlokes raging throughout the city causing   groups forming on different sides of the aisle. He cried out exclaiming that the Gemara warns us not to cause bands of people to be divided, fighting over issues. The Darshan raised the question regarding how we need to see why the Holy Torah deemed it necessary to hint, mention, and warn us not to make a machlokes, to avoid creating opposing groups focused upon building opposing sides of basic issues, specifically when speaking about a deceased person. Couldn’t the Torah find another place in to apply this issue?  Why should such a discussion take place here at the very time when discussing the laws regarding the death of someone in the community?   The answer is that the Author of the Book, The Ribbono Shel Olam, knew exactly, from the very beginning of time, that people come to disagreements when someone passes away. By nature, when someone dies, that very loss automatically brings out the harshness of people choosing and picking one side or the other.The Kehilas Yitzchok concluded, ”Just as we now have in our own community.”

It is not only over money that people disagree; people sometimes come to argue on everything and anything. Some say the person should be buried in this type of casket while others say the deceased should be carried directly on the shoulders of important people to show greater respect. Some say there should be many eulogies to give greater honor and respect to the deceased while others challenge and claim the deceased never would want to burden the community with a long funeral. There are many other examples of ways for anger and divisiveness to develop. Therefore, the Torah HaKedosha instructs us at the outset not to make rival groups of this opinion and that opinion. Rather, this is the time to become unified with one voice, as an Aguda Achas, to call out united as one group bound together. This is the symbol of what the Book of Bereishis is about. This is how the Book of Bereishis ends.

In this week’s Parshas Vayechi the Torah states in Bereishis 48:1 "ויחי יעקב בארץ מצרים שבע עשרה שנה, ויהי ימי יעקב שני חייו שבע שנים וארבעים ומאת שנה"  “And Yaakov lived seventeen years in the land of Egypt, and it was the days of Yaakov’s life -  one hundred and forty-seven years”. Parshas Vayechi is unique in that it is a ‘Parsha Stuma’- a closed section. There are no spaces left between last week’s parshas Vayigash and this week’s parshas Vayechi. Several commentators give insight as to why this is. The Midrash Rabbah explains since Yaakov Avinu dies, the subjugation of the Jews in Mitzrayim will begin. A second interpretation is that Yaakov wanted to reveal the end of days, the time when Moshiach will arrive. And so God ‘closed him up’ and took away this ability. A third explanation is Hashem in His mercy closed up, hid all the difficulties, tragedies, and problems of the world. This also signifies that Yaakov would be protected from any of the infighting that may occur among his children. The manifestation of Yaakov being protected and not be subjected to any discord from his family truly gave him that ‘life’ both in this world but more importantly in the world he was now heading towards.

We all want peace in our family and homes whether the children are young or growing older, but we especially want our children to get along when they are older. This Shabbos Parshas Vayechi was established by the National Association of Chevra Kaddisha, the Holy Burial Society, to be the Shabbos dedicated to focusing of end-of-life concerns. The transition to the next world should be an easy and pleasant one for everybody.    

Parshas Vayigash - The End Is Just The Beginning From the Other Side                                10 Teves 5784

12/22/2023 09:46:46 AM

Dec22

Have you ever seen the inside of a tube of toothpaste? I would imagine most people have not, but I have. I guess I am not like most people. Reading this little quip, you may ask why anyone would even care to look, want to see inside a used tube of toothpaste? Well, I didn’t take a flashlight and attempt to merely ‘look’ through the opening of the tube.  I carefully sliced down the side of the tube and spread it open. I didn’t do this simply to ’see’ what was inside, but rather to scoop out every bit of the remaining toothpaste stuck to the lining of the tube (or now no longer a tube but a flat surface) in order not to waste a single bit of the toothpaste. I guess you could call me rather frugal.

I’m sure everyone is aware that within our well-stocked pantries there are several goods we use in our daily lives that are never completely used up. A few weeks ago, one of my children gave me a “nachas call”. Perhaps this constitutes TMI (too much information), but when a shampoo bottle appears to be empty, I simply add a little bit of water and shake up the bottle to extract every drop of left-over shampoo.  My son learned this wonderful trick from me, and highest compliment of all, his daughter/my granddaughter told her friends that… “we never have to buy shampoo because my Abba always makes more”. My mother a”h would never just throw out a jar or a can of food without putting in some water or other liquid ingredient and swoosh it around, pouring the remaining contents into a pot of something she was cooking. I fondly remember my mother a”h putting water into the cranberry sauce can and into the Heinz chili sauce bottle when making sweet and sour meatballs. This ‘need’ to use up every drop of food also includes squeezing out every last bit of mustard from the squeeze bottles, mayonnaise jars, and, of course, getting all the crumbs out of the bottom of a cereal bag. It also includes cutting every bit of apple from its core – too good to waste! There are even some household items that most people just discard, such as the last few squares of toilet paper glued to the roll which can be carefully removed without ripping, to be used in the future.  Those of us who still use that old fashioned item called ‘soap bars’ may have a collection of little pieces of soap which never get fully used up. What an insult to the soap! Hey, if they never get used up why does the manufacturer sell the full bar to you! Maybe the bar should just be smaller if we’re not going to use up the whole thing!

Surely there are items that are downright impossible to remove every single last particle, but for most items, such as a bottle of ketchup, all one needs to do is turn it upside down and slowly let gravity do its magic. In 1987, The H. J. Heinz Company in an advertising campaign promoted its Heinz brand of tomato ketchup within the United States with a slogan, “The best things come to those who wait". In essence this was a similar advertisement to the Maxwell House coffee slogan:…“good to the last drop”.

The fact that most people just discard the remaining product is due to several factors:  people don’t have the time or patience to do this. After all, time is money. Perhaps a greater reason is because people have adjusted to a throw-away mentality. It’s virtually empty, I’ll just open a new container and not bother with some insignificant amount of product. This is a direct cause and effect of the wealthy society we live in today. But why is it that just because we have more it seems to mean we can dispose of some of the leftovers from a previously opened container? I am sure during the Great Depression people would literally shake out the last drop of orange juice from the glass bottle. I have repeatedly been told that we are not living through a depression, Thank God! Nevertheless, why can’t we  take a few seconds to use up and conserve our resources? I have a hunch that there was a time in history when most people may have done exactly what I do.

In this week’s Parshas Vayigash the Torah states in Bereishis 45:7 "וישלחני אלוקים לפניכם לשום לכם שארית בארץ, ולהחיות לכם לפליטה גדולה"  “God has sent me ahead of you to insure that you survive in the land and to keep you alive through such extraordinary means”. The word ‘shearis’, loosely translated here as ‘survive’, is derived from the word ‘sh’ar’ or leftover. Others translate the passuk as “And God sent me before you to give you a remnant on the earth, and to save you, to keep you alive, for a great deliverance”.  Yosef, with his great Chochma/wisdom, devised a system for weathering out the storm of the famine by saving and storing from the fat years for the lean years. In fact, before the plan of Yosef was implemented, he advised Pharoah of what he was going to do. At that point Pharoah gave Yosef the name ‘Tzofnas Paneach’.  Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan explains that in Egyptian, Tzaphnath is tza-pa-neth, meaning “the Neth speaks” or “the god speaks. Paaneach is ‘pa-anakh, meaning ”the life”. Anach or anakh is the symbol of life. Hence, the name Pharoah gave Yosef - ‘Tzofnas Paneach’- can be translated as, “Lord of life”.

Yosef understood that every drop of resource would be necessary to ride out the years of famine. I am sure, I guarantee, that Yosef did not waste or discard even the smallest bit of grain that could be collected and stored. Perhaps in Egyptian homes and in surrounding areas there was waste of precious produce during the years of plenty. People could never imagine a time when they would be without. Nevertheless, I am sure many had regret about throwing out, discarding food and ”stuff” that could have been used or stored for the future. People have a tendency to trivialize the small, seemingly insignificant articles in life. Yet we hear and read about Yaakov Avinu going back and risking his life for ‘Pachim Ketanim’ – for some small worthless jugs that were almost empty. The Torah testifies about Yaakov’s demeanor which, in turn, shows us the importance of small items or small remnants of items that are still useful.

I know people reading this will think how frugal the Rabbi is. As true as that may be, we still owe it to ourselves to recognize there is no difference in quality between the last swirl of toothpaste and that very first squirt paste that oozes out of a brand new tube. I know that Hashem will bless us with more if we treat all of that which He provides us with respect, care and appreciation. One way we can demonstrate that is by using all of what He gave us, even the last swab of toothpaste!

Ah Gutten Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas Mikeitz - It's Not How You Start; It's Where You Finish!               3 Teves 5784

12/22/2023 09:43:48 AM

Dec22

This week’s Dvar Torah is sponsored by:

Bette Gould in memory of her father, Michoel ben Dov, Mr. Max Landau, on his Yahrzeit the 2nd of Teves                                     

Victor Wahba in memory of his father, Yaakov ben Avraham, Mr. Jacques Wahba on his Yahrzeit the 4th of Teves .

The Rabbis, of blessed memory, coined a phrase "הכל הולך אחר החתום"  - “everything follows the conclusion,”: the culmination of something is the crown for the entire event. The Gemara in Avoda Zorah tells us that even a person who sinned his entire life but did Teshuva/repented at the end of his life is considered as if his entire life had been lived in righteousness. L’Havdil - to make a separation between the holy and mundane - in sports, a team could be messing up the entire game, but if they manage to win the game, all the negative is forgotten. However, the reverse scenario is equally true, because the end reflects on everything that came before it.

Today, the eighth day of Chanukah, is referred to as “Zos Chanukah”, This Chanukah! The naming of the day is taken from the Torah reading of the last day of Chanukah. The Torah states in Bamidbar 7:84 "זאת חנוכת המזבח ביום המשח אתו..."  “That was the dedication offering for the altar given by the princes of Israel on the day that it was anointed”.  This dedication took place after all the princes had brought their dedicated sacrifices to inaugurate the Mishkan.  The last day of Chanukah is not ‘just’ the last day;  it is the day that encapsulates all eight days of Chanukah together. The eighth day of Chanukah seems to have the power and effect of all the eight days of Chanukah combined.

I heard Rav Boruch Rosenblum from Bnei Brak speak about today. He said in the sifrei Chassidus, a great deal of writing is devoted to the holiness of Zos Chanukah, the last day of Chanukah. The Rebbe of Ruzhin taught: The levels which even the greatest Tzadikim are unable to reach on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur are attainable for a simple, uneducated Jew to attain on Zos Chanukah. Alternatively, it was said that whatever great tzadikim can accomplish on the Days of Awe (Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur), every single Yid/Jew can achieve with his prayers on Zos Chanukah! It is further explained in the name of the Ariza”l, that the amazing thing we all say in the morning Birkas Krias Shema in the Bracha of Yotzair Hameoros, we mention eight praises of HaKadosh Boruch Hu, "פועל גבורות, עשה חדשות, בעל מלחמות, זורע צדקות, מצמיח ישועות, בורא רפואות, :נורא תהלות, אדון הנפלאות" For He alone is the 1. Performer of mighty deeds 2. Maker of new things 3. Master of battles 4. Sower of acts of righteousness 5. Causer of deliverance to sprout forth 6. Creator of cures 7. Awesome in praise 8. Master of wonders! Each one of these eight praises is compared and connected to the eight days of Chanukah. The praise of God being the performer of good deeds is connected to the first Ner/light of Chanukah, the maker of new things is connected to the second Ner of Chanukah and so on. The final praise of Adon HaNiflaos is contrasted to Zos, the eighth and last day of Chanukah - today - the day we lit the last light.

The Bovober Rebbe explained that this is what Dovid HaMelech had in mind when he composed Hallel 118 "מאת ה' היתה זאת, היא נפלאת בעינינו"  - “This is Adonoy’s doing, it is a marvel in our eyes.” God’s doing was that He gave us Zos Chanukah. The Bobover Rebbe asks, ”Why did Hashem give us this day? Because it is a marvel in our eyes!” The ‘marvel in our eyes’ is reflected in the eighth praise of Hashem being the Master of all wonders.

As we look around the world today, seeing Jews from all corners of the earth, do we not think for a moment that there aren’t Jews who don’t need Niflaos -  wondrous things - in their lives? Are there any Jews in the world who don’t need salvation from the One above? Are there Jews in the world who couldn’t use a miracle or two from God? Everybody needs something, whether it is a livelihood, health, a shidduch (a mate), shalom bayis (peace in the home), chinuch - to educate our children properly. Everything and anything that a person needs Hashem will give to the person who turns to Hashem for help and guidance.  This is the time, Zos Chanukah, the time and the day of wondrous things that Hashem will give. This idea of Chanukah is powerfully connected to this week’s Torah portion.

The Torah in this week’s Parshas Mikeitz in Berishis 41:14 states: "וישלח פרעה ויקרא את יוסף ויריצהו מן הבור..."  “Pharoah sent messengers and had Joseph summoned, and they rushed him from the pit or dungeon”. The Gemara Rosh Hashana tells us that Yosef was summoned on Rosh Hashana. Rabbeinu Ovadia, in his commentary Seforno, explains that they rushed Yosef out of jail. Why did they need to rush? What was the urgency? The Seforno explains that when the time of salvation arrives, it comes in a moment. Once that moment arrives, we must act swiftly, we run to do it. Yosef’s salvation came, and he was set free. Yosef needed to act quickly.

Sometimes a person complains that nothing is going well for him or her. He can’t make a living, can’t find his/her bashert. He or she is old and sick, our children aren’t following in the way we raised them, this is not going well, that is not happening, etc. This final, eighth day of Chanukah provides everyone the opportunity to get out of his or her pit. Everybody has their pit in which we find ourselves at one point or another in the course of our lives. Each and everyone one of us is in our private pit, struggling with our “peckle”. Some of us have multiple troubles in life and for some there are too many to list. Nevertheless, on this day of Zos Chanukah, we have the spiritual capacity to swiftly leave the pit because the 8th day is the day of Adon HaNiflaos.

May HaKadosh Baruch Hu, the Master of all wonders, bring wondrous happenings to every Jewish home, to each and every one of us, and may the light of the neiros Chanukah shine brightly in every home, bringing the ultimate Geulah Sheleima, the complete redemption, speedily in our days. Amen!

Ah Gutten Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas Toldos - Four Eyes & Four Ears               4 Kislev 5784

11/17/2023 10:36:00 AM

Nov17

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ah Gutten Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas Chayei Soroh - The Perils of War           25 Cheshvan 5784

11/09/2023 03:22:02 PM

Nov9

Parshas Chayei Soroh – The Perils of War

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

11/03/2023 09:01:50 AM

Nov3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

11/03/2023 09:00:13 AM

Nov3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

09/22/2023 08:55:13 AM

Sep22

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ah Gutten Shabbos & Ah Gutten Yom HaKippurim

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

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

09/22/2023 08:52:08 AM

Sep22

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ah Gutten Shabbos & Ah Guut Yor

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

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

09/22/2023 08:50:49 AM

Sep22

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you Rabbi Rothwachs!

Ah Gutten Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

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

08/25/2023 10:32:18 AM

Aug25

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

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

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

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

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

Ah Gutten Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas Shoftim - Coming & Going                     Rosh Chodesh Elul 5783

08/18/2023 08:58:03 AM

Aug18

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ah Gutten Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

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

08/11/2023 08:37:02 AM

Aug11

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ah Gutten Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas Eikev - Learning Enhances Performance 16 Av 5783

08/11/2023 08:34:53 AM

Aug11

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fri, July 19 2024 13 Tammuz 5784