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Parshas Balak - Who is the Test For?                 15 Tammuz 5779       

07/17/19 12:37:30


Following up on last week’s message, I would like to share another aspect of experiences from my high school academic career. I was not particularly into test taking or, for that matter, even studying for tests. Despite the advice of educators proclaiming that cramming for an exam is not very beneficial, I, knowing better, reasoned the opposite. “Why should I study or prepare in advance of a test, taking the risk of possibly forgetting the material? I reasoned that it was much better to buckle down and study twenty minutes before the exam. That way the material would be fresh in my mind.” Believe it or not, this strategy did meet with limited success; I did get some of the questions right.

Looking back at my adolescent view of tests, I continue to consider what is the testing process really for? Most educators will tell you that a test is given to measure and assess the student’s growth of knowledge, formally measuring how much information the student retained, was able to process, and apply. I am of the belief that tests in actuality determine the quality and effectiveness of the teacher! Think about it. What student wouldn’t want to do well on an exam? Surely, most students would do whatever it takes to succeed, providing he or she was genuinely motivated and encouraged by the teacher. I believe that the results of student performance on classroom tests are a direct reflection of the focused teaching techniques of the teacher,

I tried using my theory of teaching when answering my parents each time I had to have the tests and quizzes signed off by one of them in order to show the teacher that my parents had been informed and therefore kept in the loop of my academic performance - or lack of. I would defend my lower grade on an exam with the following argument: There was a ten-question test and each question was worth ten points. I got five wrong for a whopping fifty percent, while everyone else in the class scored ninety percent. Obviously, all of them had gotten one of the ten wrong. After carefully analyzing the data of the test, I realized that each student got a different question wrong. That meant that I was not the only student to have gotten that question wrong. To the contrary, each one of the questions that I got wrong another student also got wrong. So, I could surmise that it certainly was not I; it was the teacher who got it wrong. I suppose I could have admitted that occasionally it was my fault, especially if I happened to be the only one who got the wrong answer, but that wasn’t the case!

A teacher’s effectiveness is measured through the growth of his or her students’ love of learning the material; it can be seen through the stimulating, creative and challenging way of presenting the material being taught. My Rebbi, Rabbi Reznick, was all of the above, particularly when it came to giving an exam. He created a twenty-question multiple choice test. . By design, a multiple-choice test has three to five choices and you must choose the best answer possible. Typically, the choices were preceded by letters A,B,C,D. My Rebbi created self-motivation throughout the test with the choice of selection being different numbers such as 4,9,15, or 19. A different set of numbers was presented for each one of the twenty questions. A student could answer each question in order, but if he chose the third answer which, for example, would be 15) he would answer question number 15 instead of question two. If the student answered all twenty questions and did not come back to a question that had already been answered, it meant that the student got them all right and a one hundred percent on the test. I do remember one brilliant fellow, HaRav Shlomo Goder, A”H, who was able to get a perfect score, not by knowing the material per se, but by figuring out the mathematical system. As one could see, tests and their purpose have different goals in different situations. The Torah is replete with leaders and foes of the Jewish people who lived and died by their tests. One such individual who almost passed the test but ultimately failed was Bilaam HaRasha, Bilaam the wicked.

In this week’s reading of Parshas Balak, the Torah states in Bamidbar 24:10 “ויחר אף בלק אל ‘ ‘ “‘ויאמר בלק אל בלעם לקב איבי וגו.בלעם ויספק את כפיו: Enraged at Balaam, Balak struck his hands together. “I called you,” Balak said to Balaam, “to damn my enemies, and instead you have blessed them these three times!” HaRav Yitzchok Shmelkish*in his sefer Beis Yitzchok quotes the Beis HaLevi**and asks why Balak was so angry at Bilaam. Didn’t Bilaam at the very outset tell Balak that he would not speak what God did not tell him to say? But Balaam said to Balak, (Bamidbar 22:38) “And now that I have come to you, have I the power to speak freely? I can utter only the word that God puts into my mouth.” From the beginning Bilaam gave full disclosure that he did not know whether he would be able to curse the Jews. Why would Balak be so angry after the fact?

It is understood that when a person says, “I can’t do such and such a thing,” we know there are two ways to interpret the intent. For example: a person tells his friend go to over to a certain respected individual and, for a great sum of money, slap the person across the face! There is no question any normal person would say, “I can’t do that.” If he turns to another person and asks him to lift the wall of a city for a great sum of money, so, too, here the person would reply, “I can’t do that.” Even though both responses were identical, there is a great difference between them. In truth, in the first case he could carry out the request (or the test), but his sense of decency and normalcy does not allow him to carry it through. In the second scenario, it is simply physically impossible to lift the wall of a city. The practical difference between “I can’t” in the two scenarios is one does not think it is worth it while the other is just incapable. Perhaps, for a lot of money someone would slap another, and if he was smart would tell the recipient of the slap that he’d split the money with him. As far as lifting the wall, all the money in the world could not change the facts on the ground.

When Balak approached Bilaam, at first he was offering money that he thought just wasn’t enough and for that reason to curse the Jews, an honored people, would take more than that. So Balak offered more and Bilaam responded that even if you give me all the money in the world, I can’t do it. Balak viewed Bilaam as the first case while Bilaam was looking at the lifting the wall case.

When we test people and challenge them, it must be something that they can accomplish if they believe it is worth it for them. We can’t challenge and test children or adults with something beyond their capabilities. A teacher, parent, boss or employer that gives a test that is too difficult or material that was not properly explained is the “I can’t” factor - the wall. Creating a test, trial or a task that requires the motivation to prepare, to work hard to succeed is the first case scenario. The Ribbono Shel Olam tests each and everyone one of us daily. Our job, our responsibility, is to see the benefit side of what we gain and how we grow from those experiences and not to get down on ourselves. Let us all rise to the test and all say “I CAN”.

Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky


*Rov of Lemberg passed away 9 Tishrei 5666/1906

**Yosef Dov Soloveitchik born 1820 in Nesvizh, Minsk, died 1892 in Brest-Litovsk, Grodno was the author of Beis Halevi, by which name he is better known among Talmudic scholars. He was the great-grandson of Rabbi Chaim Volozhin.

Parshas Chukas - Of Colors & Numbers              9 Tammuz 5779

07/17/19 12:35:19


By the time this Parsha rolled along, school was out and I sighed a sign of relief. Believe it or not I was not the model student that one might assume,seeing and knowing me now. Elementary school wasn’t bad educationally, but I didn’t particularly enjoy going to school. I concocted any excuse to get out of going to school ~ a made-up stomach-ache, some clouds threatening an approaching drizzle, or even a medical appointment that I needed to recuperate from so I could go home instead of back to school. At least my grades were respectable, my behavior was in check and I consistently convinced my parents that I was trying my best. High school, however, was a completely different story.

Compounding my dislike of school, my grades and attitude during my high school years were painfully reflected on my report cards. I sometimes joked about my report cards, describing my grades in a rather creative manner. I would ask someone, “Do you know the highest number on my report card?” They’d reply, “No”. I wittily responded, “The highest number on my report card was the number of days I was absent.” When I was asked which periods of the day I liked the most, I would reply, “It’s a close call between recess and lunch, and that rest period, officially referred to “library” was a close second. Finally, to sum up my performance when completing a semester, I’d quip, “Overall, there was more red ink on my report card than black and white.”! But, as stated earlier, by this time of the year I was enjoying the well-needed summer vacation – a deeply appreciated break from a rough and tough school year. When my parents questioned me about my report card, I explained that this high school had a different scoring and marking system; the emphasis on higher and lower numbers were different, just like the red and black colorings represented different interpretations of the grading classification. I further explained that just as the category of mitzvos called ‘Chukim’ which, to the average person, don’t make sense, the report card really didn’t make sense based upon the way it looked. For some odd reason, I don’t think they actually believed me, but they continued to love me, nonetheless.

  1. halacha, Jewish law, numbers and colors teach us many different points, but it is not often that the two coincide and teach us some halacha. Such is the case regarding the mitzva of the Parah Aduma, the Red Heifer. As an aside, the one purpose of this mitzva and its process and procedure was to purify someone from corpse impurity and make him wholesome again. The significance of the color and number of non-red hairs on the cow is crucial to its validity as seen in the follow discussion.. In this week’s Parshas Chukas the Torah states in Bamidbar 19:2זאת חוקת התורה אשר צוה השם לאמר דבר אל בני ישראל ויקחו אליך פרה אדומה תמימה אשר אין :בה מום אשר לא עלה עליה על “Speak to the Israelites and have them bring you a completely red cow [at least three years old], which has no blemish, and which has never had a yoke on it”.

Rashi ,regarding the words perfectly red, explains this to mean that the heifer should be perfect in redness, that if there were as few as two black hairs on the body of the cow, it is disqualified. Even though Rashi says black hairs instead of red, it does not mean specifically black versus red, rather any color other than red, such as white. In other words, even if there were two white hairs, it would also be disqualified. The reason the Mishna teaches black hairs is to teach us something additional. That is that even if the hair was initially red and then turned black, perhaps because of aging, it is still invalid. Rashi quotes only a part of the Mishna, but there is more. The Mishna in Parah 2:5 states: If the red heifer had two black hairs or two white ones [developed] within a single hole or cavity, it is invalid. Rebbi Yehuda says, even if they grow from within one follicle, it is invalid. Rebbi Akiva maintains that even if there were four [hairs] or five, which were widely separated, they may be plucked out, the animal remains a valid Parah Adumah/Red Heifer. The halacha follows the first opinion that what disqualifies a cow from being a Parah Aduma is it must have at least two hairs from a single hole that are not red. Otherwise, one black or one white hair in one area and another black or white hair further away is still deemed acceptable as a Red Heifer. Once again, we need the Torah SheB’Al Peh the oral law to explain in full detail what the written Torah - She’Biksav - means. On a deeper level, is there a particular reason the Mishna chooses white and black as the alternative colors to red?

Rav Abulafia* in his master work Imrei Shefer expounds upon the words of Rebbi Moshe HaDarshan**. In Kabbala Cheit, sin is called ‘red’, and a merit is called ‘white’. The reason sin is red is because the sins a person commits come from his physical body; the body is sustained and dependent upon blood, which is red. As we read in parshas Acharei Mos, ‘…the life of a person is in his blood. Therefore, when a person sins with his body, the resulting act is colored red. On the other side, the mitzvos and good deeds a person performs creates merit which comes from the neshama/soul which resides in the brain and is called white. Therefore, when a person becomes angry or desires something and is out of control, his face turns red from his physical side. But when a person is calm and stands in awe and fear of Hashem and everything on that level comes from the neshama/soul, then his face remains a cool, pale white.

Reb Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter, in his work the Sfas Emes, expounds the notion that the Parah Aduma is not invalid until it has two hairs together, but the Temimus, the perfection of man, to be perfect and blemish free to walk with Hashem, disqualifies with even one white hair. If a human being is missing a tiny bit of wholesomeness, whether it is in how he fulfills a mitzva or is lacking in his sincerity or in his fear of God, then he is not at all complete. Our goal is to strive to have fewer red marks on our records and more of the black and white that represent calm and effort from our souls. The symbolism of the ‘red cow’ is to reduce the infractions that it represents and use it to purify us from our misgivings. Numbers are significant, showing us the fewer of something odd or different the better it is.

Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

*Abraham ben Samuel Abulafia אברהם בן שמואל אבולעפיה was the founder of the school of "Prophetic Kabbalah". He was born in Zaragoza, Spain in 1240 and is assumed to have died sometime after 1291

** Moshe haDarshan (11th century) משה הדרשן was chief of the yeshiva of Narbonne, and perhaps the founder of Jewish exegetical studies in France. Along with Rashi, his writings are often cited as the first extant writings in Zarphatic, the Judæo-French language. Moshe was descended from a Narbonne family distinguished for its erudition.

As a Haggadist, Moshe ha-Darshan was considered a rabbinical authority, owing his reputation principally to the fact that, together with Tobiah ben Eliezer, he was the most prominent representative of midrashic-symbolic Bible exegesis (derash) in the 11th century. His work on the Torah, sometimes called Yesod, is known only by quotations found mostly within Rashi's commentaries (Rashi quotes him 19 times in his pirush Al HaTorah, and only twice in his pirush on Shas - once in Kesuvos 75b, and the other in Niddah 19a), contained extracts from earlier haggadic works, and midrashic explanations of his own.

Parshas Korach - Es Zol Zeyn Di Ergeste Zach As Khapanz Tsu Ir: It Should Be the Worst Thing That Happens to You        1 Tammuz 5779

07/11/19 22:21:01


It was forty-two years ago of this Thursday - the week of Parshas Korach - when this story took place. Because my grandfather, a”h, couldn’t walk all the way to the Shul we attended, I had a week-end bar mitzva at a hotel in Belle Harbor, N.Y. This was a repeat of my brother’s bar mitzvah; five years earlier he had his bar mitzva there as well.

On Thursday morning my mother, a”h, and I went to pick up the yarmulkes and small pocket siddurim that would be placed in the gift basket for the guests. The yarmulkes came out fine, but the cover of the siddur did not look or feel the way I had anticipated it would look. I was disappointed, dejected, upset and a bit angry. My mother a”h was great under pressure, and as the pressure of the entire weekend was quickly closing in on my mother, she said to me in Yiddish, “עס זאָל זיין די ערגסטע זאַך אַז כאַפּאַנז צו איר” : “It should be the worst thing that happens to you”. Lo and behold, a few hours later my brother, a”h, took me along with a few of his friends golfing at a park near the hotel where the bar mitzva was going to take place. We delivered some of the things later that afternoon in what happened to be our new car, or at least new for our family (a new used car). After a very frustrating afternoon on the golf course followed by delivering the bar mitzva items to the hotel, my brother drove through a weird stop sign and totaled the car! Thank God no one was injured, but after I processed what had happened that day, I thought about those prophetic words my mother, a”h, told me. At the end of the day, all of us must understand that despite things in life not going the way we might want them to go can always be worse.

I wouldn’t categorize the following as a true epiphany, but the following incident brought me back to the wise words my mother, a”h, told me. A few weeks ago the Shul did not order rolls for Shalosh Seudos (the third meal of Shabbos) because we had accumulated a fair amount of freshly frozen rolls in the freezer. Rather than buy more, we chose to use what we had. Unfortunately, through a miscommunication, the rolls were not taken out of the freezer in time to defrost for the meal, and I started to build up a frenzy of anxiety. Then it hit me. So what! Is this the end of the world? Could we not manage? And so, I realized - what if they were frozen! Leave them out for a few minutes and they’ll be edible. But, more than that, I once again remembered the old lesson: this should be the worst thing that happens in Shul, that the rolls were not defrosted in time for Shalosh Seudos!

The question is what do we want to take away from any situation that isn’t as perfect as we thought or had hoped it would be? My intention relaying these two examples are that they stand as illustrations which I have observed in my life. I have no doubt that all of us engage in similar situations every single day of our lives. In fact, the Torah is replete with characters who see both sides in life. Some choose to focus on the fullness while others focus on what is lacking. This week we read of such an individual who only saw what he should have instead of what he does have.

In this week’s Parshas Korach the Torah states in Bamidbar 16:1"ויקח קורח בן יצהר בן קהת בן לוי ודתן ואבירם בני אליאב ואון בן פלת בני ראובן" : “Korach son of Yitzhar (a grandson of Kehas and great grandson of Levi) began a rebellion along with Dasan and Aviram, the sons of Eliav, and On, son of Peleth, descendants of Reuvain”. Now, even though we translated the word ויקח as began, it typically connotes taking or even buying. The Apter Rov, Rav Avraham Yehoshua Heshel of Apt, in his sefer Ohaiv Yisrael, relates a Midrash that Korach “took or bought a bad deal for himself. If someone has the merit, he takes himself and his friend with him to Gan Eden, Paradise, and if he does not merit then he will take his portion and his friend’s portion to Gehinom”. The Apter Rov explains that every kind follows its kind: bad follows bad, good follows good. When a tzadik or a good person rebukes the wicked and he deflects the rebuke, whatever good that person has will now follow the righteous one, and the whatever bad within the good person will be taken by the Rasha - the evil one. This, in turn, means the good of one will follow the good of the other all the way to the bank of Gan Eiden, while the bad of one follows the bad of the other all the way to the landfill and below. Korach ‘took’ the bad of Moshe and Aharon (the bad is a discussion point for another time) with him to the abyss when the earth opened up and swallowed him along with all his followers of bad. Whatever redeeming qualities Korach had were swallowed with him (Korach did have good things but that is also a discussion point and comparison to Moshe for another time).

At the root of Korach’s rebellion was the jealousy he bore towards his first cousin, Moshe. Korach felt that he should have been appointed the Kohein Gadol and accused Moshe of nepotism. Korach was a brilliant talmid chacham, and prior to this terrible event was respected by all. The Midrash Rabbah 18:1 informs us that he was one of the top officials to Pharoah. Gemaras in Pesachim 119a, Sanhedrin 110a and Targum Yonason Ben Uziel here in 16:19 describe Korach as extremely wealthy. The Zohar says in relation to Korach, ‘taking’ whoever chases and takes what is not his, it will run away from him, and more so, that which he has will be completely lost. Korach lost all that he had, and he did not gain from that which he sought out.

From our human perspective nothing and no one in the world is perfect. From above everything is correct, good and perfect. We are blessed with so much of the good, yet we get upset when things are not as perfect as we thought they should be. This concept is different than the definition of who is rich, someone who is happy with his lot. This is a nuance of when that last piece or the final touches are slightly off or completely gone, we should focus on the main part that we still have. If the cherry on top falls off or the icing gets wiped away, we still have the cake. That is the part of having your cake and eating it too. These little things should not bother us. We need to learn to just stop and remind ourselves that this should be the worst thing that happens to you and to me!!!

Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas Shlach - Out of Sight, But Not Out of Mind      25 Sivan 5779

06/27/19 22:20:12


The Jews of Chutz La’Aretz (outside of Israel) and of Eretz Yisrael have been somewhat separated these past several weeks regarding the weekly reading of the Parsha. Since the eighth day of Pesach fell on Shabbos, we, living here in the diaspora, read a section on Shabbos for Pesach. In Israel, that very same Shabbos was no longer Pesach in Israel, so those residing in Israel continued reading the next week’s portion according to the cycle. In years when Pesach creates a split, when the Jews in Israel are up to Bechukotai, the diaspora Jews combine Bechukotai with the previous portion of Behar, providing the diaspora Jews the opportunity to catch up with their Israeli counterparts. In a Jewish leap year such as this year, the split lasts until the Parshah of Massei, which in the Diaspora is combined with the previous portion of Matos, while in Israel these parsiot are read separately. From time to time Jews who travel to and from Israel are challenged by feeling somewhat in-between the diaspora and Israel.

This reminds me of the different idioms and cliches that describe this feeling of being caught between two sides. For example, nisht ahin un nisht aherr; no man’s land; sitting on the fence; is the glass half empty or half full, and so forth are a few expressions people use when they feel they are in the middle of something and are not committed one way or another. In sports, a football field has two sides and the yard lines go from one to forty-nine on each side of the field, but there is only one fifty-yard line which is smack in the middle. When the ball is exactly on the fifty-yard line, it is not on the defensive or the offensive side; it lies on neither team’s territory. Which side am I on? Am I going forward or am I still behind? A similar but different way to analyze our ambivalence is in a situation where we have gained experience from the past but are unsure about the future. We know where we have come from but the future remains unknown. Sometimes we may feel safer going back to a bad situation rather than taking a risk for a better future. At other times we know how bad the past was and will even blindly wander into the unknown future. This ambivalence is witnessed as the Jewish people begin their travels on the way to Israel.

As the Jews journey towards Eretz Canaan, Moshe and Aharon are dealing with an unhappy, thankless people who don’t stop complaining about their situation. Despite the fact that numerous miracles were performed on their behalf, a lack of faith permeated at least through the eirev rav – the mixed multitudes. As we find ourselves between Parshios B’haaloscha and Shlach, we look at Bnei Yisrael looking back at Egypt and ahead to Eretz Canaan. Last week in B’haaloscha 11:4, the Torah states: “The mixed multitude among the Israelites began to have strong cravings, and the Israelites once again began to weep. ‘Who’s going to give us some meat to eat?’ they demanded. ‘We fondly remember the fish that we could eat in Egypt at no cost, along with the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onion and garlic’. ‘But now our spirits are dried up, with nothing but manna before our eyes’. This is a clear statement looking backwards juxtaposed by a strong suggestion to return to Mitzrayim despite all the incredible miracles and favors Hashem did for Klal Yisrael. They would rather go back to a horrible situation – slavery - with difficult conditions rather than look toward a bright future awaiting them in their own land. The following is a personal insight on the people wanting to return to Egypt.

When Klal Yisroel complained, remembering all of the good foods and imagined benefits, we might suggest that they had a much better life during the year long plagues. True, they were slaves who could not leave Egypt, but the physical, hard labor had ceased and the Jews were living a normal life in Egypt! This, in my opinion was the worst twist of memory because klal Yisroel was forgetting the great chessed Hashem had done for them, remembering instead a life of comfort in Egypt. This is possibly what they were referring to when they complained, while totally forgetting all that had transpired during their slavery.

In this week’s Parsha Shlach we fast-forward to the Jewish people growing optimistic, looking forward to the future in Israel. In anticipation and preparation, they ask Moshe to send spies to survey the people and the land to determine how best to conquer it. In Bamidbar 13:27,28 the Torah states: ויספרו לו ויאמרו באנו אל הארץ אשר שלחתנו וגם זבת חלב ודבש היא וזה פריה אפס כי עז העם וכולי They gave the following report : ‘We came to the land where you sent us, and it is indeed flowing with milk and honey, as you can see from its fruit. However, the people living in the land are aggressive, and the cities are large and well-fortified.” The Kotzker Rebbe Rav Menachem Mendel of Kotzk asks were the Meraglim(spies) lying with their report? Did they fabricate things in their heart that wasn’t there? The Kotzker rav answers, “There is no question they spoke the truth of what they saw.”. If they didn’t lie, what was their sin? In his wisdom the Kotzker states that not everything which is not a lie is necessarily the truth.” Just because a person does not lie does not make him a man of truth. The truth is something that is not only on the surface; rather it goes deep within the recesses of an individual. Emes and Emunah, truth and faith, run through a person’s veins; a person does not just acquire truth easily, giving a cursory glance over a piece of land. Emes, truth, requires toiling over the matter and with wisdom and intelligence a person comes to the conclusion of truth and justice. The Meraglim / spies did not seek the inner truth of the situation in Israel; they looked away from the word of Hashem. Their sin ultimately lay in failing to seek the truth from the depths of where it lies - and that is from Hashem.

On both extremes the Jewish people failed, stumbling in the going and the coming. The land of Egypt was out of their sight, but it was still in their minds. Additionally, the land of Israel was also not in their mindset; they were unable to see the emes - the truth - of what Hashem had laid out for them. Each and every one of us may find ourselves at some crossroads in life when big, heavy decisions need to be made. In all situations we need to seek out Toras Emes - the ways that Hashem will lead and guide us. Pursuing the truth is not as easy as we hope, sometimes being drawn back to a comfortable situation but ultimately holding us back from growing. We should all be blessed with Siyata Dishmaya, to seek out the Emes from the Torah and from our sages, leading us to a fruitful, bountiful life so that we can serve Hashem with the fullness of total faith, trust and love.


Parshas B'Haaloscha - What's All the Noise About?          18 Sivan 5779

06/20/19 22:48:42


An oxymoron is a literary device in which two contradictory words are used together.A good example of the oxymoron is the phrase “deafening silence.” Have you ever read that ‘the silence was deafening’? Or were you ever told that ‘your silence is deafening’? How can silence be deafening? After all, it’s clear that an extremely loud noise – such as an explosion - is deafening, but silence is the absence of any noise. Rare is a time in my life that there is complete silence. Growing up in the city and spending time in the country always has its share of different kinds of noises. Perhaps some of us can remember walking in a dense woods or standing outside in the midst of a vast desert that, for just a few seconds is wrapped in quiet, free of bird sounds, free of rustling wind, or even the scurrying of some animal. This is an experience devoid of all sound, and the silence can be deafening. Otherwise, life is full of noises.

If you were to stop and think, or, better yet stop and listen, the myriad of sounds and noises our ears bring to our brains is truly incredible. In reality, it is the ear that brings all sound to the brain which then deciphers just what that sound is and where it is coming from. Rarely do we have the time to stop and listen for different sounds and messages that life sends to us. The hissing of a snake can warn us of danger while the howling of the wind prepares us for a storm. Frequently, we are able to tune out some sounds that are not directly related to us. For example, when a child cries or babbles in Shul, I only “hear” that sound if it is my child (or today, my grandchild). If, on the other hand, that cry or babbling was noise coming from someone else’s child, the sound is typically ignored. Please take just a moment to process or “hear” the following noises……Achoo, Babbling, Cough, Gargle, Gibberish, Hiccup, Hum, Chomp. Awooga, Bang, Boom, Beep Beep Beep, Ding Dong, Fizz, Flutter, Honk, Kaboom, Oom-pah, Ping, Plop, Slosh, Splash, Squish, Swish, Thump, Tick Tick Tick, Tick tock, Vroom, Whoosh, Zap, Ching, Clink. Bark, Bleat, Buzz, Chirp Chirp, Growling, Hiss, Hoot, Meow, Moo, Purr, Quack, Ribbit, Roar, Screech, Bells, Whistles, Crash, Clash, Wham, Smack, Whomp, Whump, Thump, Bump. This is just a short list of onomatopoeias, words that imitate, resemble or suggest the source of the sound that they describe.

In Judaism we have sounds that express grief and sorrow as well as happiness and joy. But, primarily the sounds we’ve grown accustomed to hear are associated with certain mitzvos, such as hearing the sound of the shofar on Rosh Hashana. In the time the laws of the Jubilee were being announced, we also heard the Shofar on Yom Kippur of the fiftieth year. Today, in Yerushalayim and other cities in Eretz Yisrael, the sound of some type of horn is blasted incrementally announcing that the time to usher in Shabbos is drawing near. This blasting of a warning horn to remind us of apporoaching time is not only symbolic; it reminds us of the blowing of the horn which took place during the Mishnaic period. Throughout the armies of the world, trumpets were blown to indicate the ‘charge’ into battle and were also blown to warn people to run for safety. The Jewish people were no different;the horn was also blown during battle as well as for other purposes, as is seen in this week’s parsha.

In this week’s Parsha B’Haalosecha the Torah states ותקעו בהן ונועדו אליך כל העדה אל פתח אהל מועד: “When both of the trumpets are sounded with a long note, the entire community shall assemble at the Communion Tent entrance.” )Bamidbar 10:3( Then, in verses 4-8, the Torah presents a few different variations of sounds either emanating from only one of the trumpets and the differences between short and long notes of both of the trumpets. The Meam Loez explains that when Hashem wanted to speak to the entire nation, the people were gathered together by blowing one long Tekiah from both trumpets. If the purpose was only to call the Nesiim - the tribal leaders - to gather together, then only one trumpet blew a long Tekiah note. If the purpose was to announce the moving or traveling of the camp, then both trumpets blew a TRT: Tekiah, Teruah, Tekiah. Since a Teruah was one of the sounds heard, the people knew it signaled that the camp needed to initiate travel. The Alshich teaches us that it was the sons of Aharon HaKohein who blew the trumpets and no one else. In addition to the explanation of blowing, further understanding reveals the need to repeat the blowing in each quadrant so that everyone heard and understood that it was time to pack up and go. Many commentaries, understanding the need for a variety of sounds to indicate different messages, considered the possibility that these sounds could easily have been a series of blows that differed one from the other. Upon investigation it becomes clear that there is more to the actual number of trumpets blown and the corresponding different kinds of sounds they produced.

The Netziv in the Haamek Davar says the reason why it says both trumpets were used is because it was clear to hear when two horns were being blown as well as to distinguish when either the sounds were different from each other or when one trumpet played longer notes than the other. Two trumpets were blown for the Kavod, the honor, of the multitude of Jews. It was a call for the entire people! This is in contrast to only one trumpet being blown for the Nesiim, the princes of the tribe, designating them as unique among the people. The Mincha Belulah explains that the leaders were called with one trumpet so as not to create jealousy among them if they were to be called by Moshe and Aharon. Should that occur,,someone would have to be called first and someone last, in contrast to using just one trumpet, allowing everyone to be called at the very same moment.

Rav Shamshon Raphael Hirsch explains the essence of the words Tekiah and Teruah - the long blast and the staccato. A Tekiah is a straight blast/sound whose root is Taukah meaning to thrust, stick, insert, or drive into. The sound of the Tekiah is solid and long, piercing the air, telling the people they cannot break and to go forward with force. The word Teruah is a rattling sound, more like a cry or a rattle. The Teruah is a sound that causes alarm and perhaps even panic. The root of the word Teruah is to be shaky. Rabbeinu Bachya relates that the Tekiah is a straight-forward sound, symbolizing the character of mercy as we see in the verse that states that Hashem extends His right hand in order to receive those who want to return. When it comes to the nation traveling, the Teruah is blown as a sign that the people were about to enter in battle, therefore giving a cause for concern. The Teruah is symbolic of the character of judgment, a significantly scary time for Am Yisrael.

Sounds are the instruments through which we determine what is occurring around us, for good and for bad. We should learn to cut out all the noise and static in life that is basically a distraction and focus instead on the beautiful symphony that Hashem conducts through the messages of sound.

Parshas Nasso - Traveling Light                           11 Sivan 5779

06/14/19 08:50:52


Airport security is at an all-time high, but at the same time, I wonder… do we feel any safer than we did twenty years ago? On the other hand, with the help of the Almighty, travel to Eretz Yisrael has accompanied all of us with a sense of security and safety for many years. Anyone who travels to Israel knows the security drill they must go through. A person is grilled with a series of multiple questions and at different check points. Part of that drill is being asked if anyone gave you anything to bring and maybe deliver? The reason for this (and sometimes they tell you) is a famous story that took place on Thursday, April 17, 1986, at the Heathrow International Airport in London. El Al security agents thwarted an attempt to blow up an El Al plane in mid-air. The plane, a Boeing 747, was preparing to depart with 395 passengers and crew. This was the story….

The plan was to plant explosives in the belly of the plane; the explosives were to be transported by a duped and innocent passenger entirely unaware of their existence. El Al security agents at the London stop uncovered the explosives and prevented the terror attack. After the discovery of the explosives, local authorities took over and arrested the passenger, later also arresting the man who sent her, a Jordanian Arab named Nizar Hindawi. The passenger, a 32-year-old Irish woman named Anne-Marie Murphy, who was six months pregnant, arrived at the check-in desk some forty minutes before it closed. She was approached and questioned by the deputy security officer as part of routine passenger security checks.

No suspicious signs were revealed during her questioning. The passenger, who gave the impression of being a simple woman, responded in the negative when asked if she had been given anything to bring to Israel. During the questioning she was calm and revealed no sign of nervousness. When checking her baggage, suspicious signs came to light: A Commodore scientific calculator with an electric cable was found; the bag raised suspicion due to its unexpectedly heavy weight. The security officer’s examination of the bag revealed explosives concealed in the bottom of the bag, under a double panel. He called the police, and the passenger was arrested.

For many years I took things for people and always felt a little guilty and uneasy lying to the security agent when asked if anyone gave me anything to take for them. Of course, I, like many others, rationalized that we are the innocent ones and therefore didn’t want to go through the rigamoral of being truthful and having to go through a secondary security check. This charade ended abruptly about fourteen years ago when I was asked to bring back a pair of Tefillin for someone in the community. I had packed the Tefillin in my suitcase rather than take it in my hand-luggage along with my own personal Tefillin. My luggage was flagged and I was asked again if I was given anything to take back with me to the States. Again I answered in the negative. They challenged me and asked about the Tefillin. I was a cooked goose, covered with embarrassment. It was at that defining moment I said, “no more.” I will politely decline when asked to take something that would need to be packed (unlike an envelope of money or a credit card). Today we are limited in the size and weight of our belongings when we travel, at least by airplane. While it is true physical things carry weight, spiritual ones do not. Within nature there is another dimension that things that are spiritual do not necessarily take up space, time and or even weight. This is manifested in the carrying of the Mishkan’s holy objects through the desert by Gershon, Kehas and Merari, the sons of Levi.

In this week’s Parshas Nasso the Torah describes the work of the tribe of Levi. In Bamidbar 4:24 the Torah states: “Zos Avodas Mishpchos HaGershuni, LaAvod UlMasa”. “The Gershomite family shall serve by maintaining and carrying as follows. The Seforno breaks down the words ,and explains the work of maintaining occurred during the camping, while the carrying of the holy vessels took place during the traveling. As an aside, I always look at homonyms in their context. The word Masah spelled with an ‘ayin’ or an ‘aleph’ sound the same but have different meanings. Nonetheless, in this context they are used together to understand what was carried during the traveling.

We must keep in mind that although the order of birth had Gershon as the oldest, Kehas was given the privilege of carrying the most holy items. That was read in last week’s parshas Baidbar. Nasso begins with Gershon first being given the task of carrying the other items followed by Merari. The Shaar Bas Rabim explains the language of ‘masah’ - ‘carrying’ is used when describing the eldest brother Gershon, as well as when describing Merari it states ‘mishmeres masa’am’ – ‘to carry’. Unlike at the end of Bamidbar last week, the Torah just writes, ‘This is the service of the sons of Kehas’ but has no mention of carrying. The Gemara Sotah 35 teaches us that the Aron, the Ark, carried those who carried it. When the Jewish people traversed the Jordan River, the Navi tells us the Ark carried the Kohanim in the air from one side of the Jordan to the other. Even though all the other vessels of the Kodesh HaKadoshim (holy of holies) did not carry the Kohanim who were carrying the items, nevertheless they did carry themselves, and the Kohanim did not need to carry the vessels. Therefore, due to the holiness and importance given to Kehas and family, they did not have to be burdened under the weight of the vessels and therefore the Torah did not write masah’ - ‘to carry’. . However, the other brothers, Gershon and Kehas, carried the other parts of the Mishkan and needed to be counted as they physically carried those items.

Life is full of challenges and we are constantly balancing and juggling things in life such as family, livelihood, and religion. There is no question that while certain things are a burden and weigh us down, we must also realize that other things are not only light but sometimes weightless. Once we commit to the performance of duties to Hashem, we will be uplifted and carried by the effort and accompanying fulfillment. There is no doubt that by working on our spiritual pursuit we will be carried by the mitzva, which will, in turn carry everyone else along with us. Yiddishkeit is the spiritual security that we have within us as we go through life, and we should use it as we travel throughout our lifetime.

Parshas Bamidbar / Shavuos - Klal Yisroel's Wedding Dance                          3 Sivan 5779

06/06/19 09:44:57


Living in San Diego, a comparatively small community, there are certain limitations regarding certain life-cycle celebratory events. As the old saying goes, “the only two things guaranteed in life are death and taxes”. The joyous occasions of Bris Milah, Pidyon HaBen, and Bar/Bat Mitzvahs do happen in all smaller communities, but weddings are the one event that don’t always take place here in San Diego. Weddings, by definition of terms, include two sides, meaning either the bride or the groom typically come from a different city. Today, with American Jewry spread out across the country, more often that not weddings of local people end up in distant locations more convenient for the families. Nevertheless, last week I not only attended one wedding, but two weddings - back -to-back - one in San Diego the next day the other in Los Angeles.

As I get older and attend weddings where I am older than more than three quarters of the attendees, I can focus and observe quite a bit regarding the individual aspects of the total wedding. There is singing at the Chosson’s tisch/table, followed by some dancing, escorting the groom to veil the bride, but nothing unique or especially exuberant. That outburst of unrestrained exuberance bursts forth when dancing at the arrival of the new couple as they enter the banquet hall for the first time as husband and wife. Jewish dancing is basic; it’s very circular. The men’s circles go around and round sometimes holding hands, putting hands on a fellow dancer’s shoulders, or just clapping. Next time you are at a wedding or simcha, take note of the formations of the circles breaking up and starting anew; look at the inner versus the outer circles. The inner circle starts off with the chosson and fathers, then reaches out to the grandfathers, siblings, relatives, and friends. The outer circles tend to be older people, guests who were invited from the ‘other’ side and people who are just not into or comfortable with dancing per se. An outside observer may think the only important circle is the one in the center with the guests of honor, or the inner circle of friends, and that the outer circle isn’t really doing anything. Each circle serves its own purpose. Ultimately, the outer circle lends support and protection to the inner circle; that inner circle does the same for the center circle. Similar to any army that has many divisions all of whom serve and support each other, no matter their position. There are a number of allegorical as well as real descriptions of things surrounding and supporting central figures.

A less well-known part of my youth occurred around the time of my Bar Mitzva. I was part of a boys’ choir. The lyrics from one of the songs on the album was “שיר המעלות הבוטחים ב"ה כהר ציון לא ימוט לעולם ישב. ירושלים הרים סביב לה וה" סביב לעמו מעתה ועד עולם”: “Those who trust in Hashem are as Mount Zion which cannot be moved but abides forever. Jerusalem is surrounded by mountains, and Hashem is round His people, from now and forever” (Tehillim 125:1,2). This verse reveals the symbolism that the relationship, or marriage, between Hashem and the Jewish people is eternal, like the rock-solid mountains surrounding the Temple Mount which elevated the Beis Hamikdash upon high.

Parshas Bamidbar is typically read prior to the Yom Tov of Shavuos. There are two places in the Torah that highlight the Jewish people surrounding something, in the desert around the Ohel Moed, the Tent of Meeting, and in Parshas Yisro when the Jews circled around Har Sinai preparing to receive the Torah, consequently coinciding with Shavuos. The Torah states in this week’s Parsha Bamidbar 2:2 “איש על דגלו באתת לבית אבותם יחנו בני ישראל מנגד סביב לאהל מועד יחנו.” “The Israelites shall camp with each person near the banner having his paternal family’s insignia. They shall camp at a specified distance around the Communion Tent.”

The Midrash Rabbah on this passuk tells us a great love did Hashem, Blessed is He, have for the Jewish people who made flags and banners just as the ministering angels made in Heaven so they could be recognized for whom they are. The Midrash quotes a verse that displays the love Hashem had for the Jewish people at this time. In Shir HaShirim 2:4 Shlomo HaMelech states:

הביאני אל בית היין ודגלו עלי אהבה”:He brought me to the chamber of wine (Torah delights) and my banner clustered my encampments about Him in love”. The house or chamber of wine refers to the Tent of Meeting. The Torah Temimah explains the Midrash that the house of wine refers to Sinai because the Torah was stored there in preparation for its giving from the time of creation, just as wine is stored in a cellar. Rashi explains the second half of the verse,”… and His banner upon me is love” refers the gathering of the tribes around the Tabernacle in the desert. That, in it of itself, was an act of love. The Vilna Gaon quoted in the Artscroll Shir Hashirim explains that the numerical value of יין - wine - is seventy, alluding to the seventy facets of Torah interpretation, which is an apt description that Har Sinai should be the ‘house’ of this revelation. The numerical value of ודגלו is forty-nine, which equals the forty-nine gates upon which the Torah can be expounded. The Gerrer Rebbe adds to this stating that the forty-nine of the banner hints to the forty-nine days of Sefirah, which is the time of preparation for receiving of the Torah on Shavuos morning.

Reb Aharon Kotler in Mishnas Reb Aharon explains that all areas of holiness and spirituality in serving God must have an order. The camping, traveling and the very design of the Jewish camp in the desert all had a particular order; everything, every aspect was intertwined and based upon each other. The extended explanation the Torah prescribes for the formation of each quadrant of tribes is special and unique; every tribe had its specific assigned location and prominence. The circles of the tribes formed the outer layer to the tribe of Levi; the innermost circle consisted of the Mishkan itself. On the passuk in Shmos 19 which describes the Jewish people camped around Har Sinai to receive the Torah, we became fused together as one one man with one heart. The Jewish people merited to receive the Torah because they respected each other - despite the positioning of where they were located.

When every soldier acknowledges his purpose and role and appreciates the other soldier’s purpose and role, then there is no jealousy between them, only love and support. The order of where everyone is in each given situation is important but only completed by the acknowledgment and acceptance of where they stand. So if you find yourself in the outer circle ,just schlepping along at a wedding, don’t think your presence and your participation is for naught. There is a real sense of belonging – and meaning - to the entire group dancing together to honor the groom – and for the women, to honor the bride. The Yom Tov of Shavuos comes to remind each one of us that we serve a purpose and an important role in the serving of Hashem. Whether you are the one making all the noise and excitement and receiving all the attention, or the quiet one going about his or her business, collectively we make up the total of Am Yisrael.

Parshas Bechukosai - Putting Out the Fires or Planting New Crops?                                               26 Iyar 5779

05/31/19 11:04:52


Everything Hashem created in the world can be used for good or bad. For something to be a blessing, the right amount at the right time and place is needed; should any of these conditions be lacking, the blessing spells out a curse. The Tochacha or public rebuke of the Jewish people and foretelling of the future vis a vis the blessings and curses of the Jewish people, is found in two places: parshas Ki Savo in Devarim and the last Parsha in Vayikra, Bechukosai, this week’s reading. Bechukosai opens with a brief description of blessings to be showered upon us if we fulfill the mitzvos. The bulk of the portion then goes on to describe the devastation, through a series of seven curses, that will affect the Jewish people if we choose not to follow and fulfill the mitzvos of the Torah. Although the Torah does not mention all the ways the land will be destroyed, we know that fire is a force in the world which can devastate the land.

California and San Diego in particular are no strangers to wildfires. Unfortunately, raging fires have also become too common in Eretz Yisrael. Only last week, with temperatures way above the norm along with other factors, fires raged throughout Israel , wiping out entire communities, leaving behind charred cars and twisted homes. Baruch Hashem, the loss of life was minimal, but the utter destruction is devastating. I believe that many of the fires in Israel were ignited through arson, a truly heinous, dastardly, cowardly act perpetrated by our enemies. A young ,newly- married couple from our community lost all their belongings in one of these criminally-motivated fires.

On the other hand, although often harmful and destructive to humans, naturally occurring wildfires play an integral role in nature, returning nutrients to the soil through the burning of dead or decaying matter. Fires also act as a disinfectant, removing disease-ridden plants and harmful insects from the forest’s ecosystem. By burning through thick canopies and brushy undergrowth, wildfires allow sunlight to reach the forest floor, enabling a new generation of seedlings to grow. To be open and honest, there are opinions that differ from mine which claim forest fires increase carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, contributing to the greenhouse effect and climate change. In addition, ashes destroy much of the nutrients and erode the soil, causing flooding and landslides. Be that as it may, we know from the Torah that land does better with change such as allowing the land to rest or through the cleansing of naturally caused fire.

In a previous message I mentioned my rabbinic training. An additional layer which is part of my rabbinic responsibility is that of a fireman. Part of my job, as well as the core job of other community leaders and CEOs is putting out fires. During my early years as a young rabbi, a past president of the Shul gave me some sound advice: “Things are either neutral-to-positive or neutral-to-negative.” He explained that the goal is to make things progress by making neutral-to-positive decisions and to not waste time in the process. Negative energy is spent on exactly that: putting out the fires at this function, dousing out the fire because of this or that. When we get stuck in a situation where we find ourselves focused on extinguishing the pop-up fire here and there, we lose our focus: to properly move forward with our agenda. Although this principle is generally correct, I have noticed over the years that sometimes putting out a ‘fire’ does have some redeeming quality. It may put an issue to rest, or, through reviewing the issue reveal other positive issues that never would have surfaced otherwise. As far as our Parsha and the curses are concerned, there are situations when a curse is actually a blessing in disguise. We try to avoid the curses, but we should keep in mind that there is opportunity for building on a tragedy, causing brachos to grow through it all.

In this week’s parsha Bechukosai the Torah states in Vayikra 26:31: “Vnasati Es Areichem Charbah, Vahashimosi Es Mikdisheichem, V’Lo Ariach B’Reiach Neechochachem”. “I will let your cities fall into ruins, and make your sanctuaries desolate. No longer will I accept the appeasing fragrance of your sacrifices.” When reading this verse, it is necessary to review it carefully, for it is obvious that once the Beis HaMikdash is destroyed, of course there won’t be any aroma because there are no longer any sacrifices! Rashi quoting the Sifra explains in the following passuk Vayikra 26:32 “Vahashimosi Ani Es HaAretz, Vshamimu Aleha Oyveichem Hayoshvim Bah”. “I will make the land so desolate that even your enemies who live there will be astonished.” This is good dispensation for the Israelites, for the enemies will not find any gratification in their lan, since it will be desolate, stripped of its inhabitants. In truth, one can ask, ‘What difference would it make to the Jews if their enemies aren’t comfortable in our land after we’ve been displaced? “ Is this reasoning based on the simple, child-like level of thinking, “If I can’t have it, then they shouldn’t have it?” That is hardly the case when it comes to Am Yisrael and God destroying our land. The truth is there is a silver lining in the Tochacha, the public rebuking of the Jewish people. Despite the destruction of the actual land, the Kedushas HaAretz, the holiness of the land, is ever-present. The Kedusha/holiness is witnessed through the fact that the invading nations cannot find comfort in the land, causing them to leave. Those who invade our land don’t want to live in a holy place like Eretz Yisrael; they physically won’t want to. That is how we know the land was and is still holy despite God’s wrath of destruction upon it. From this we determine that their presence is not permanent, even though our land - Eretz Yisrael - is in a state of ruin. The final proof is that there will not be an aroma from the Altar, not even from a ‘Bamah’ a private altar which was only permissible prior to the Beis Hamikdash. One might think that since the Temple is destroyed, we can still offer Korbanos on a ‘Bamah’. This thought is halted by the verse that tells us there will not even be a sweet smell, due to the forbidden use of the private altar. The only reason the private altar is outlawed, despite the absence of the Beis HaMikdash, is because the holiness of the Temple is still here. The sanctity of the Beis HaMikdash was never nullified - even after it was destroyed.

The tochacha, the rebuke, manifested its ways on the Jewish people. Ultimately, it was a sign and a method for the Jewish people to do Teshuva, to return our devotion to Hashem. We should merit to see the clear Brachos/blessings and secondarily to see the bracha that emerges from the fire to rebuild, plant and to grow once again in preparation for Moshiach.


Parshas B'Har - The Strength of a Wall                 19 Iyar 5779

05/24/19 08:52:57


When I had just entered my teenage years, my family moved into a semi-attached single-family home. Our attached neighbors, who were not Jewish, had their television set placed right up against the joining wall of our two homes. Every Friday night my ear was glued to the wall (sometimes with the help of a drinking glass), listening to the Yankee baseball games on WPIX. While I can’t say that the walls were paper thin, they were not soundproof. While I did not mind being able to hear the games through the wall, my parents were a bit more concerned, knowing that if we could hear them they could surely hear us. From time to time my mother, a”h, would yell at us and say, “Keep it down! The neighbors can hear everything!”

There are a couple of idioms using ‘walls’ that jump out at me. One of these is “I would love to be a fly on the wall”, meaning that you’d love to hear what will be said or see what will happen while not being noticed. The other idiom is, “Shhh! Be careful, the walls have ears.” We should be careful about what we say because people might be listening. Take care and watch what you say because the walls have ears.

There are a few places in the Torah when certain halachos are dependent upon and focused around a wall. For example, the holiday of Purim is celebrated in all unwalled cities of the world, with the exception of Yerushalayim, Shushan, and any other city which has been walled since the time of Joshua. Shushan, the capital of Persia, was a walled city when the Jews fought to defeat their enemies on the 13th & 14th of Adar, so Purim was to be celebrated on the 15th of Adar. Recognizing that Yerushalayim was also a walled city dating back to the time of Joshua, our sages decided that Yerushalayim, along with all cities of the world walled since the time of Joshua, would celebrate Purim on the 15th day of Adar. A second example of the walled city is in reference to the Metzora that we mentioned earlier in Vayikra. A few weeks ago we read about the metzorah, the person who becomes afflicted with tzara’as, a strict form of tumah (state of being ritually impure). We learned that the afflicted person is sent out of the city and must take up residence outside the city walls.

In this week’s Parsha B’Har a third example of a house within a walled city is mentioned. The Torah states in Vayikra 25:29 “V’Ish Ki Yimkor Beis Moshav Ir Chomah, V’Haysa Geulaso Ad Tome Shnas Mimkaro, Yamim Tiheyeh Geulaso”: “When a man sells a residential house in a walled city, he shall be able to redeem it until the end of one year after he sold it. He has one full year to the day to redeem it”. The next verse is particularly fascinating, stating: “V’Im Lo Yigael Ad M’Los Lo Shana Temimah V’Kam HaBayis Asher BaIr Asher ‘Lo’ Choma Latzmisus LaKoneh Oso L’Dorosav, Lo Yeitzay BaYovel”: “However, if it is not redeemed by the end of this year, then the house in the walled city shall become the permanent property of the buyer [to be passed down] to his descendants. It shall not be released by the Jubilee. On the other hand, houses in the villages that do not have walls around them shall be considered the same as open land (see Vayikra 25:25). “

Unlike the seller of a home in an unwalled city who can renege on the sale at any time, over here, after one year is up, the buyer can say, “I'm not selling it back to you.” That's a remarkable chumrah/stringency for a house in a walled city, a total aberration from the typical rules of real estate in Eretz Yisroel. A home in a walled city has a different law and a different status, than any home located in a place without surrounding walls. Why should this home be any different from another home?

The great Rav Avigdor Miller ZT”L explains that there is something truly unusual here. Hashem is making something apparent in these pesukim: that there is something special about a walled city. With regard to a house located within a walled city, Hashem does not allow fifty years to think about buying the house back. If it is to be repurchased from the new owner, it must be bought back now! It's now or never! So the owner of a house in the walled city weighs his options very carefully before selling his home. He understands that he's making a decision that will soon be irrevocable. He will have only one year to redeem it from the seller, and when that year comes to an end, he will have lost his home forever.

We see here Hashem's intention of encouraging the original residents of a walled city to remain in their ancestral homes. Hakodosh Boruch Hu wants the residents of a walled city to forever remain within that walled city. The owner of such a home is discouraged by Hashem from selling his home, warning him that if he chooses to sell it, his ancestral home will be lost to him and his descendants forever. . Hakodosh Boruch Hu wants people to remain in the walled cities; This is made clear in our parsha. There is something special about walled cities, something unique is necessary for us to study what it is about batei arei chomah (houses in a walled city).

We must ask ourselves, What is this holiness that seems to be caused by walls? What's so special about a walled city that makes it so different, so much more kadosh, than the unwalled city right next door? And what is it about a walled city that finds so much favor in the eyes of Hashem, that He encourages us, by means of the arei chomah laws, to remain living within its walls forever? To better understand this, we need to understand and accept a fundamental principle - a principle that we must be aware of all the days of our lives. The Rambam in Hilchos Dei’os (6:1) writes: “It is the way that a person is created, meaning that the nature of a human being is to be drawn in his attitudes, his ideas, and the way he thinks and acts, after those with whom he associates.” This means that you become what your environment is.

The word nimshach means that you're drawn like a magnet to the attitudes and behavior of the people around you. You don't have to do anything; just by being there, you're pulled along unless you fight back. If you're passive then you're going to be drawn along. The process is so smooth, so subtle, that you don't even notice how you’re changed until it's too late, until you're already in the Next World.

Everything relates directly to who your friends are, to the people with whom you associate. The Rambam stated that you'll be drawn after your acquaintances and your friends. The Rambam tells us that even acquaintances, neighbors, coworkers - anybody whom you meet will affect you. You must know that when you associate closely with people, when you live among others, you are automatically being shaped. Not only will you act the way they act, but you'll come to think the way they think, and your middos will become like their middos.

People who moved into a walled city tended to settle permanently, remaining there from generation to generation. The walled city, because of its strategic value as a safe residence, secure from external enemies, became a haven for people to move to, a safe place to raise a family.

When we understand what the Torah is trying to teach us in these pesukim of batei arei chomah, then we understand that our entire Olam Hazeh – this world we live in - and our entire Olam Habah – the world to come - depend upon what the Rambam says, “A man is pulled after his friends and acquaintances.” This is a statement of profound power. We are pulled by those with whom we are with. That's how it is and it can't be helped. And so, if someone is going to pull us, let's make sure that we're always being pulled by the right people, by the best of our people, into the welcoming arms of Hakodosh Boruch Hu! God said, “And we'll walk with Him forever and ever in the “walled cities” of strong Torah communities where we are forever inflamed with the desire to serve Him.

Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky



Parshas Emor - Alarmist or Realist? The Changing Face of America

05/17/19 09:04:37


The role of the modern-day rabbi has evolved and continues to do so ever so quickly. Long gone are the days when communities and shuls sought out and then prided themselves with the great Talmidei Chachamim - incredible Torah scholars – who filled their beis medrash with learning. The need need for gifted orators who dazzled an audience with their command of the English language and a vocabulary the size of the dictionary is rapidly fading. Without going into any depth of discussion regarding the current needs and desired wants of a community or pulpit rabbi, I will state one common character trait that the rabbis of today and of yesteryear must attain……. leadership. One major issue is that the Semicha/Rabbinic ordination program does not offer a course on “leadership skill- building”. Typically, an aspiring rabbi learns through a great deal of Torah material in order to meaningfully teach and lead the Jewish people, enabling them to in turn become more learned. The young rabbi strives to nurture students and congregants alike to grow in their relationship with God. To reiterate, there are no classes, no lectures in political science or even Jewish history from which to glean essential factual material. Nevertheless, in the back of my mind I always wondered if, and when, I might need to speak about politics and about the landscape of American Jewry.

We are approximately three generations removed from the Holocaust. I grew up in- between the first and second post-Holocaust generation. The word ‘anti-Semitism’ was just that - a word. Sure, we knew what it meant, but we didn’t actively feel it every day on a national or even on an international level. Today however, is a different story. Truth be told, a relative of mine from Israel said, “No place is safe,” in a remark after the collective recent events which took place here in America. I was quick to respond, “I think America is very safe. Am I fearful to go outside, to walk down the block with my kippah on my head? No! Are there delusional, hateful individuals in this country who may not like what I stand for? Of course. But I don’t feel as though we are living in 1938 Germany.

Anti-Semitism is not a new phenomenon in the world, and despite my lack of experiencing anti-Semitism when I was growing up, it was clearly there on the, lurking on heels of the Holocaust in the form of denying that the Holocaust had even occurred. The beginnings of the modern denial movement began in 1961. When David Hoggan published Der Erzwungene Krieg (The Forced War) in West Germany, claiming that Germany had been the victim of an Anglo-Polish conspiracy in 1939. Though Der Erzwungene Krieg was primarily concerned with the origins of World War II, it also down-played or justified the effects of Nazi anti-semitic measures in the pre-1939 period. Austin App, a La Salle University medieval English literature professor, is considered the first major mainstream American Holocaust denier. App defended the Germans and Nazi Germany during World War II. He published numerous articles, letters, and books on Holocaust denial, quickly building a loyal following. App's work inspired the Institute for Historical Review, a California center founded in 1978 whose sole task is the denial of the Holocaust. I have always harbored a deep fear of the deniers, particularly those who are protected by the First Amendment.. My greater concern, however, is focused upon elected officials who speak from the echelons of our government, professing historical knowledge. When popular mainstream newspapers become the platform for anti-Jewish rhetoric or when pervasive anti-Israel/Zionist (anti-Semitism in disguise) hatred is spewed across college campuses across the American landscape, I grow concerned. It is the first time in my life that I now see the clear need to formally act and speak out to protect the rights of our freedom and religion in this country. Of specific concern is the election of three new representatives – Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Rashida Tiaid of Minnesota, and Ilhan Omar of Michigan. All three representatives have made statements that reflect anti-Semitic tropes. All three are open supporters of BDS, the movement to boycott Israel. Ocasio-Cortez compared a migrant caravan trying to enter the U.S. illegally to Jews fleeing the Holocaust. Omar has made numerous anti-Semitic statements invoking Allah to expose Israel’s “evil doings”. We may not be prolific authors who are able to pen op-ed articles or possess outstanding speaking talent, standing up at rallies speaking out on behalf of the Jewish people’s rights. We are, however, capable of taking a stand, refusing to support any vehicles which spread hate. Just take an example from one of the leading rabbis in our country who cancelled his subscription to the New York Times. It behooves all of us to write, call, or email our elected leaders - on both sides of the aisle - of Congress to censure those politicians who are re-writing history to fit their agenda. Some of you may be thinking I am overreacting. You know something - I hope I am for the safety and security of our people. Nevertheless, we need to say something because this, in reality, is an attack on Hashem, as I will explain.

In this week’s Parsha Emor we read about the blasphemer. In Vayikra 24:11 the Torah states: “ Vayikov Ben HaIsha Hayisraelite Es Hasheim VaYikalel, Vayavioo Oso El Moshe, V’Sheim Immo Shlomis Bas Divri L’Matei Dan”: “The Israelite woman’s son then blasphemed God’s name with a curse. The people brought him to Moshe. His mother’s name was Shelomith, daughter of Divri, of the tribe of Dan.” Rav Avraham Menachem Hacohen Rafeh from Porto, in his sefer Mincha Belula, a commentary on Chamisha Chumshei Torah, published in 1594, explains that the blasphemer cursed the ‘name’ in Hebrew. Hasheim are the same three letters that spell Moshe. In other words, he cursed God, but through Moshe. A few verses later in 24:15, the Torah repeats “Any man who curses his God will bear his iniquity.” The Zohar, quoting Rebbi Elazar, explains this in the following manner. When the Jewish people were in Egypt, they knew there were other world leaders who ruled over their people. These leaders had a connection or an alliance with the Jews in sharing the same belief in Hashem as the Jews. Hashem brought those leaders closer to Him to serve Him, which elevated them to the highest level of holiness. It is for this reason when the Torah says if any man curses Elokav (and singles out the word ‘Elokav’), it refers to any of the leaders who got close to Hashem. Even though they might worship other deities, nevertheless, I, Hashem says, “Chose them to be leaders in the world”. Therefore, ‘…anyone who curses them is cursing Me’. To review, if someone curses one of the non-Jewish leaders, he is held responsible as if he cursed Hashem, How much more so does this apply to someone who curses Moshe Rabbeinu, a leader of the Jewish people, and the Jewish people themselves are cursing Hashem!

As I see it, when leaders of the world speak out openly in favor of the Jewish people, they will be blessed. The flip side of this, however, is those who seek to vilify the Jewish people and their leaders will bear their own iniquity because their attack is, in actuality ,an attack on HaKadosh Baruch Hu. Hashem promised Avraham Avinu that those who bless you will be blessed, and those who curse you will be cursed. The intent is not solely on Avraham Avinu, but rather the essence is the blessing and cursing of Hashem. We are witnessing the blasphemers of Hashem in our day and age. Any attack on the Jewish people is a desecration of Hashem’s name, and they will be punished just as the Mekalel was punished in our parsha. We should merit to see the fulfillment of the God’s word and witness the downfall of our enemies and the blessings of our friends speedily in our time.

Parshas Kedoshim - Time for Real Introspection                            4 Iyar 5779

05/09/19 19:06:01


The weeks between Pesach and Shavuos are meant to resemble a Jew’s spiritual preparation and elevation towards receiving of the Torah on Shavuos. We try to follow in the footsteps of the generation who left Egypt at the forty-ninth level of impurity who transcended to the forty-ninth level of sanctity. While the time to grow and work on becoming a better Jew and ultimately a better human being is not limited to this time of year, it should nevertheless be highlighted and emphasized. The other obvious well-known time of introspection takes place leading up to Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur when we/Moshe had ascended and descended Har Sinai the second time. The only reason there was a second time was because we sinned with the golden calf when Moshe delayed after ascending on Shavuos.

The average Jew thinks the level necessary to obtain the Torah must be so high that it is just about out of our reach today. The truth is that while the level is very high, there is a simple focus we need to zero in on in our daily lives to reach it. Perhaps I can explain the how, what and why we need to attain this level by illustrating how we are not doing what we need to do. Without becoming too controversial or critical, we can glean a great deal from how more and more Jews are losing sight of what is important in life. I would like to use the “Pesach Programs, Over stuffed smorgasbords, Over the top Bar/Bat Mitzva celebrations and the like” as illustrations. There are by no means any restrictions in Halacha to enjoy the permissible things life has to offer. Nevertheless, it should not become the goal or the purpose in life to overindulge in the pleasures of life. I was perusing through Jewish magazines that advertise the variety of Pesach programs available throughout the world. One common theme with regard to the focus of Pesach has become lavish meals with buffets, twenty-four-hour tea rooms, snack times, early bird dinners, and so forth. Chas V’Shalom/Heaven forbid do I say this about every Jew who attends a Pesach program is there only for the food, that is absolutely not my intention. There are, however, those who look forward to a ten-day gluttonous adventure that boasts “You can’t even tell it’s Pesach”! The rolls, bagels, the pizza and pancakes, where does it end? We need to honestly ask ourselves, “Is this a true, spiritual experience that will enhance my neshama? Is this what God wants from us? Is this the service to Hashem that He seeks from us?” This is only the most recent example that comes to mind as our digestive systems are still digesting the matza from Pesach. However, we must be cognizant of this whenever and whatever we do every single day. We must be confront ourselves with the question, “How is this going to make me a better person?” We need to ask ourselves after we did something or said something, “Did I make the world a better place as a result of my actions and deeds or not?” The strategy for accomplishing this is not a new kind of fad; it is something we find in the Torah.

In this week’s Parshas Kedoshim the Torah states in Vayikra 19:1, “Dabair El Adas Bnei Yisrael, V’Amarta Lahem, Kedoshim* Tihiyu Ki KadoshAni Hashem Elokeichem”: “Speak to the congregation of the children of Israel and say to them, be *holy, because I am holy.” The section opens with a uniqueness; the entire Eidah or congregation was to hear this. Rashi explains that from here we learn that this portion was recited at Hakhel because most of the Jewish principles are dependent upon it. I would like to explain the significance in two ways. 1. Rashi is telling us this had to have occurred during Hakhel because there are many mitzvos taught here. Among them the highlighted mitzva of ‘V’Ahavta L’Reiacha KaMocha’: ‘Love your neighbor like yourself’ which Rebbi Akiva paraphrased as the primary principle in Judaism (Jerusalem Talmud Nedarim Ch. 9). 2. Moshe speaking to the Jewish people in a gathering is particularly relevant when speaking of holiness. The key to many mitzvos is determined by the level of ‘kedusha’ - sanctity or holiness in which a person engages. Rabbeinu Yona writes in Shaarei Teshuva (Shaar Aleph Os 30, 31): The ninth level of repentance comes through the smashing of a person’s physical desires – with that he could fully repent. Man must implant within his heart the realization that desire causes him to sin and draws forth transgression with the cords of falsehood. He must withdraw himself from pleasures and not be pulled after his desire, even in relation to things which are permissible. He must follow the ways of separation and eat only to satiate himself and to maintain his body, as Shlomo HaMelech said in Mishlei 13:25 “The righteous eats to the satiety of his body”. The desire which is implanted in a man’s heart is the root of all his actions. Therefore, if his desire is properly ordered, instead of being served by all the body’s members, it will cause them to follow the dictates of intelligence so that all of his actions will be rendered fit. But to the fools who do not break from their desire but constantly pursue the pleasures of men, their desires will continue to pursue them. Ultimately, the desire pulls and tugs at an individual, drawing him to nonsensical sinning, creating an impediment to Teshuva unless they try to stop it.

Reb Moshe Chaim Luzzato, in his work Mesilas Yesharim, ch. 13, recognizes all the challenges and temptations we face in the world of physicality and the vulnerability we humans face because of our weak nature. Therefore, he recommends and instructs us that whenever possible in any and every possibly questionable situation in which we find ourselves to do whatever we can to remove ourselves from that situation. Do something to minimize the damage. For example, try to walk away after the first helping.

Since Kedusha is the separating from that which is permissible to us, it is considered the most basic and primary focus we need to have to elevate our souls through our bodies. This is the reason Moshe gave this commandment to the entire gathering all at the same time. A clear message is that Hashem wants us to become holy not through complete removal from society, such as fasting, celibacy, silence and the like, but to the contrary. Hashem encourages us through the mitzvos of the Torah to partake and participate in every permissible pleasure this world offers, with one caveat: to do so through becoming a Kadosh, to avoid overindulging in any area of pleasure in life.

Changing a trait is no easy task; it takes time and effort. Let us use the impetus of the Omer period to make those changes and not let it go by as lip service. Focus and concentrate during the day, find yourself in a situation that you (and only you know about) could decide to hold back on a pleasure or desire that you may even be entitled to and hold back a little. Become holier today more than you were yesterday and the day before. Through this Avoda (and it is no easy task) we can and will change who we are and what is truly important in life. When we figure out the Emes/truth of what Hashem wants from us we will be ready for another revelation such as the one we ALL witnessed together at the foot of Sinai.


Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky


*The Hebrew word Kodesh in all its different forms is loosely translated or explained as holiness. A better term of understanding to being Kadosh would be to separate.

Parshas Acharei Mos - Knowing Someone is Feeling Deeply for That Person                              28 Nissan 5779

05/03/19 08:47:15


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This Dvar Torah is L’ilui Nishmas in memory of Leah Bas Reuvain Z”L Mrs. Lori Kaye

Terror strikes again, but for the people of San Diego it is of a different proportion. Whenever and wherever tragedy takes place, the individuals who are nearest to the tragedy are the most deeply affected. Typically, when we hear about a famine, fire, destruction, flood or any type of traumatic event which causes pain, suffering and loss of life, our reactions vary depending upon the proximity of the disaster to us. When a disaster or tragic event occurs across the globe we pause for a moment, make a comment, and move on with our lives as if nothing has really happened. Our lives are not directly impacted by an event which is not closely connected to ourselves.

The pain and suffering that victims experience is obviously far greater than could possibly be experienced by those who did not witness or closely experience the event. We all try to empathize with those who witnessed the horror; we contact our friends, neighbors, even acquaintances to check in on them when something awful happens. However, the closer we get to the pain, the more intense our reactions. What do I mean by that? Let me explain.

This past week I, along with many other San Diegans, received well wishes, through emails, text messages and the like asking how we are doing in the aftermath of the terror attack on the Chabad House in Poway. I received calls from national organizations and agencies looking after Jewish institutions. I received calls and messages from friends and family and from tourists and business people who frequent our city, all asking, “Are you ok? How is the community doing?” There is a marked difference in their tone when the questions switch from general concern to the next level of concern - when I was asked if I know any of the victims. In this case I responded, “Yes. I knew Lori Kaye, Z”L.” Immediately, there was overt concern for my welfare. Although I met her briefly, merely saying hello or exchanging a greeting over the years, it wasn’t until six months ago that I actually sat down and spoke with Lori for about half an hour. However, it wasn’t until I listened to the eulogies given by her closest friends and family that I realized that she was the person with whom I had chatted only a few months earlier.

On October 9th, 2018, a voicemail was left on the Shul number for me from Lori. In that message she introduced herself and proceeded to explain that she was a very good friend of Oren Lee (who I know) and closest family friends. As his birthday was approaching in a few days (I think it is October 11th) she wanted to purchase my book and have it inscribed as a birthday gift for him. I immediately texted her, and a few hours later she met with me at the Shul, playing Jewish geography and weaving connections within the Jewish community. Now, only now six months later, listening to the incredible stories and anecdotes describing Lori’s life and her accomplishments ,I find myself fully comprehending and appreciating that she bought not one but three of my books. I now picture my books sitting on a shelf somewhere in her home, purchased simply to make me feel good, using the purchase as a mechanism to support a Rabbi’s work.

A few days ago, I looked back at the text I sent to Lori, and I re-listened to the voicemail she left for me indicating the time of a meeting which I would so deeply appreciate six months later. So many people were touched by her; the reaction of those who know someone who also knew her grows more meaningful and impactful by her loss.

The reading for Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year, is the section describing the Kohein Gadol during High Priest’s service in the Beis HaMikdash on Yom Kippur day. That portion is taken from Vayikra, chapter 16. As was mentioned at the memorial service for Lori, it was this Parsha that was read in Israel the day she was murdered; we here in the diaspora will read the same portion this coming Shabbos, the week of her funeral and the mourning of Shiva for her.

In this week’s Parsha Acharei Mos, the Torah opens with the reference to the death of Aharon’s two sons, Nadav and Avihu. In Vayikra 16:1 the Torah states: “Vayidaber Hashem El Moshe, Acharei Mos Shnei Bnei Aharon, B’Karvasam Lifenei Hashem Vayamoosoo”. “And Hashem spoke with Moshe after the death of Aharon’s two sons as they came close/before God and died.” The most widely-accepted understanding of the death of Aharon’s sons took place because they apparently did something wrong. The Zohar HaKadosh, on the other hand, lends great importance and accolades to the death of Aharon’s sons. On this passuk the Zohar writes that when Tzadikim - righteous people - leave this world, ‘Din’ judgment leaves the world. Therefore, we read this portion and review the death of Nadav and Avihu on Yom Kippur so that their deaths should be an atonement for the entire Jewish people. God says, “Involve yourselves with the deaths of these righteous souls and I will consider it as if you offered the proper Yom Kippur sacrifices of the day to atone for your sins. During the duration of Klal Yisroel’s exile when they do not have the ability or the means to offer the Yom Kippur atonement sacrifices, let them, the Jewish people, have the remembrance of Aharon’s two sons. For they are equal to the seventy members of the Sanhedrin, the high court who served Moshe. It is through their deaths that the Jewish people merit atonement every year as we recall these men. For whomever is pained by the difficulties and afflictions of the righteous, or shed tears over them, HaKadosh Baruch Hu calls out his name and proclaims atonement for that individual’s sins.”

The sefer Etz Hadaas Tov illustrates the greatness of Nadav and Avihu from the wording of the verse. Nadav and Avihu died by ‘neshika’ - the kiss of death - after they had already gotten close to Hashem. The word describing their death is at the end of the verse, while the beginning of the passuk describes their actions of trying to spiritually get closer to God. All other Tzadikim die first and thencling to the Shechina, Hashem’s essence. The son’s of Aharon were unique in getting close to Hashem and then, after reaching heights no other Tzadik would attain, they perished.

Leah Bas Reuvain, Lori Kaye, was truly special. She got closer to Hashem by acting and living her life as a Tzelem Elokim, in God’s image. It was through the acts of loving kindness that she emulated Hashem’s ways; she grew closer and closer right up to her final moment of life. Yehi Zichra Baruch.

Parshas Metzora/HaGadol - Making the Jewish People Whole Again    6 Nissan 5779

04/11/19 09:07:43


The daily impact of so many growing concerns from safety and security to the environmental issues which bombard us daily come at a cost of personal effort, money and time. I could discuss write each of these issues at length, but I’ve chosen to address the last one: the effect of time. Now this may sound silly, but after using the washroom, we dry our hands. At home we typically use a real towel, while in public areas paper towels were installed with proper dispensers. Along came the air dryer which in and of itself has been perfected to place your hands down into a dryer instead of holding up your hands while the water is running back down your arms.

We as Jews have two issues with electric hand dryers. The first is a time concern, as we are always in a rush. It takes longer to air dry our hands it takes to use a disposable paper towel. But all kidding aside, the second, and real issue is Shabbos. We can’t use the electric blower; we need to use those good old-fashioned paper towels. Before we get to the obvious problem with the electric blower, what is the story behind the ‘paper towel’?

Scott Paper Company was founded by brothers Irvin and Clarence Scott in Philadelphia in 1879. SCOTT® Brand Tissue with 1,000 sheets was introduced at a cost of 10 cents per roll. It was considered a medical item; print ads were used to increase awareness and address embarrassment. One day, Arthur Scott, head of the paper products company, had big trouble. An entire railroad car full of paper, unloaded at his plant, wasn't good for anything because the paper had been rolled too thick for toilet tissue, its intended purpose. Was he going to send the whole load back?

Meanwhile, Scott heard about a certain teacher in the city school system who had developed a novel idea to help fight colds in school. She gave every runny-nosed student a small piece of soft paper to use. That way the roller towel in the toilets would not become contaminated with germs. Scott decided he would try to sell the carload of paper. He perforated the thick paper into small towel-size sheets and sold them as disposable paper towels. Later, he renamed the product Sani-Towel and sold them to hotels, restaurants, and railroad stations for use in public washrooms. In 1931, Scott introduced the first paper towel for the kitchen, creating a whole new grocery category. He made perforated rolls of "towels" thirteen inches wide and eighteen inches long. And that is the story of how paper towels were born. It was to take many years, however, before they gained acceptance and replaced cloth towels for kitchen use.

The main issue with dispensing paper towels on Shabbos is the prohibition of tearing. I don’t know about you, but invariably after washing my hands in the washroom or prior to eating bread, the paper towel rips as I am pulling it out of the dispenser. This usually occurs when the towels are packed in tightly together. (When there are only a few sheets left, they fly out in enthusiastic bunches – far more than you need.) For me, this has been a problem of tearing on Shabbos, albeit accidentally and not wanting it to happen. Nevertheless, even though I am probably exempt from the violation of Shabbos, it is still a desecration of Shabbos. Perhaps we should seek guidance from the Torah on this matter and see if there are any recommendations… After perusing through the Torah, we see numerous references to the concept and application of water and washing, but not one word about drying. The issue of drying hands is addressed in the laws of washing for bread, but such washing is a rabbinic decree, not a biblical one.

The Gemara Bava Metzia 85b tells a story about washing hands. Eliyahu HaNavi used to frequent Rebbi's academy. One day it was the New Moon and Rebbi was waiting for Eliyahu HaNavi, but he failed to come. Rebbi said to him the next day: 'Why didn’t you come yesterday?” He replied: “I had to wait until I awoke Avraham, washed his hands, he prayed and I put him to rest again; likewise to Yitzchok and Yakov.” “But why not awake them together?” Eliyahu replied, “I feared that they would wax strong in prayer and bring Moshiach before his time.” There was no mention of Eliyahu drying the hands of the forefathers. Perhaps one could suggest it is implied that drying is the second half of washing and is therefore inherently understood. Nevertheless, we only find the imperative to dry when washing for bread in contrast to all other times when we wash our hands. The times we are instructed to wash our hands include when arising in the morning, coming into close contact with a corpse, after using the restroom, cutting our hair and nails ,and more. We specifically need to dry our hands when washing for bread for two reasons: (1) if we accidentally touch another person’s hands which were not cleansed, then we need to wash again and (2) the bread would become repulsive to eat after getting wet from our hands, hence the need to dry them. Eliyahu HaNavi is a central and key figure in the future, heralding the ultimate redemption of the Jewish people.

This week’s Haftorah, selected from the Navi Malachi, depicts the great battles and miracles that will lead up to that redemption. There are two Gemaros that mention the last three prophets of Bnei Yisrael. Sotah 48b which says Chagai, Zecharya and Malachi were the last prophets, and the Gemara Yoma 9b which states that with the death of Chagai, Zecharya and Malachi, Divine Inspiration departed from Israel. The concluding words of the Haftorah are the final words that complete the section of Neviim as part of Tanach. Who else but Eliyahu himself does the Navi Malachi give a last message for the future? The Navi Malachi 3:22 states: “Remember the Torah of My servant Moshe, whom I commanded at Chorev (Mt. Sinai) with rules and laws for all Israel. Behold, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before the arrival of God’s great and awesome day. He will bring back the hearts of parents by means of their children and the hearts of the children by means of their parents, lest I appear and strike the land a devastating blow”.

A clear reconciliation and joining together of the polar tides of life is necessary to bring about the redemption. Many leaders were able to pull one segment of the Jewish population and at best left behind the other half or at worst tore away from them. It takes the ultimate leader to pull the extremes of the Jewish nation and bring them together without harming and ripping one half. This is the drying factor that is representative of that ultimate Geula. The solution to the paper towel issue on Shabbos is to grab hold of both ends of the paper towel and slowly bring both ends simultaneously towards each other. This simple act prevents the paper towel from tearing. Getting our hands wet and washing them is the first part of purification. Drying our hands is the culmination of that purity and is accomplished in its entirety and completeness by bringing all of Klal Yisrael together from the four corners of the physical world and the four corners of our spiritual world. Through the symbol of not tearing, and more importantly, bringing the towel ends together may we merit to see the words of Chagai come speedily in our time!

Parshas Tazria/HaChodesh - The Making of a Mensch      28 Adar II  5779 

04/04/19 10:01:05


The Yiddish word ‘mensch’, German for human being, is loosely translated as "a person of integrity and honor". The opposite of a "mensch" is an "unmensch", meaning an utterly unlikeable or unfriendly person. According to Leo Rosten, the Yiddish maven and author of The Joys of Yiddish, the colloquial term ‘mensch’ translates to mean "someone to admire and emulate; someone of noble character”. The key to being 'a real mensch' requires nothing less than character, rectitude, dignity, a sense of what is right, responsible, and decorous (that would be polite and refined). The term is used as a high compliment, implying the rarity and value of that individual's qualities. But is that the true meaning or connotation of the word mensch?

Rabbi Wein, YBL”C, explains a section from the morning prayers: “L’Olam Yhei Adam Yirei Shamayim BaGalui U’Baseter”-“A person should always be God fearing in the open and in the closed or behind closed doors.” Rabbi Wein, in his imitable fashion, put a comma after the word ‘Adam’ to be read, ”L’Olam Yhei Adam” – “A person should always be!” Don’t worry about being God fearing. First and foremost, be a human being…be a ‘mensch’. Man, Adam HaRishon, was created B’Tselem Elokim, in the image of God. The first man from the time being formed is called ‘Adam’ and continues to be referred that way until another stage is created, that of his partner, Chava. In Bereishis 2:22 the Torah states: “God built the rib/side that he took from the man into a woman and He brought her to him”. The next passuk states: “The man said, Now, this is bone from my bones and flesh from my flesh. She shall be called Woman (Ishah) because she was taken from man (Ish). When man and woman are together, they share the extra letters that of yud and hey, representing Hashem’s name. We are fused together and built around the name of God and ultimately to represent Him in this world as He does from above. The challenge we face as human beings is to always ensure that we live up to that lofty status. Shlomo HaMelech describes man as ‘There is no individual who graces the world who doesn’t sin’. This ruins and blemishes the purity of the image we are supposed to live up to. So, what do we do about becoming and maintaining the Adam within all of us?

In this week’s parshas Tazria we once again hear the term ‘Adam’. The Torah states in Vayikra 13:2 “Adam Ki Yihyeh B’Or B’Saro S’es oh Sapachas oh Baheres, V’Haya B’Or B’Saro L’Nega Tzoraas, V’Huva El Aharon HaKohein, oh El Achad MiBanav HaKohanim”: “If a person has a white blotch, discoloration, or spot on the skin of his body, and it is suspected of being a mark of the leprous curse on his skin, he shall be brought to Aaron, or to one of his descendants, who are the priests”. Rav Mordechai Leiner* in his sefer Mei Shiloach points out there are four levels or rungs to the makeup of an individual,: Adam, Gever, Enosh, and Ish. The paramount of the list is Adam, as it says in Bereishis “God created Adam in His image” and “Because in the image of God was man formed”. If there is some type of skin condition, he is brought to the Kohain. Every person who develops some type of leprosy and impurity is brought to the Kohein to regain the Kedusha/holiness. An Adam on such a high level cannot merely sit and remain with the impurity,; he must be brought to the Kohein so that Hashem could purify him to the level he had been at the time of creation with the original Adam, Adam HaRishon.

Sinning is the animalistic tendency that comes out when we lose sight of the holiness of man. The term ‘Gever’ symbolizes the strength of man to overcome those tendencies; the term ‘Enosh’ is humanity ,another description supporting that we are superior to our animalistic side. As we sin we lose a part of who we are as an Adam. It is interesting to note how man was created from the ground and a part was taken and then brought back to him. In today’s scientific world this is known as regeneration, whereby cells can reproduce and regenerate, sometimes creating complete new organisms. The Hebrew word to regenerate is ‘Arucha’ which is the same root for length and long. With Tzoraas /leprosy, the area of the skin affected must be ‘brought’ to the kohein and examined to determine if the skin is afflicted. If it is, it’s as if the skin is not there. If decided that it is leprosy, the skin needs to regenerate itself, making itself new and wholesome again. We need to make ourselves in the image and form that God made us in the beginning. When the skin does produce again it goes through the process of ‘Arucha’, literally regenerating, signifying it continues. With a refreshed and healthy body with which the skin rejuvenated itself there will be Aruch, long life will extend to a longer life.

The Midrash Tanchuma Tazria 8 explains the unique connection between Hashem the King to His subject Adam in contrast to a human king and his servant. Why is it when a person sins against Hashem, that Hashem brings physical signs such as leprosy to the body? It is because the character and Middos of God are different than that of a human being. A king of flesh and blood punishes a sinner by striking his body with ropes, chains, leather straps (made from hide) and the like, while Hashem strikes the person from within his own body, as it states, “The leprosy is stricken in the body on his flesh (the hide of the human).

In Pirkei Avos/Ethics of the Fathers, Hillel said, "In a place where there are no men, strive to be a man. For man, read mensch, which means striving in our pursuit of the Tselem Elokim, the image of God. Where there is a deterioration of man, by virtue of mankind sinning, we must take control and bring back the image in which we were created; we must strive to bring back the original plan of man to live forever and never die, for it is only due to our sins that life as we know it is cut short . This relates directly to what we read about Adam and Chava being kicked out of Gan Eden because of the sin and death that had been decreed upon them. Let us ‘Make Man’ and become the shining example of a Tzelem Elokim, a true Mensch in the image of God.

Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky


*Mordechai Yosef Leiner of Izhbitz (1801-1854) was a Rabbinic Chasidic thinker and founder of the Izhbitza-Radzyn dynasty of Chassidus. Rabbi Mordechai Yosef was born in Tomashov to his father Reb Yaakov the son of Reb Mordechai of Sekul, a descendant of Rabbi Saul Wahl. At the age of two his father passed away. Rabbi Mordechai Yosef became a disciple of Reb Simcha Bunim of Peshischa where he joined Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk and Rabbi Yosef of Yartshev; both were also born in Tomashov. When Rabbi Menachem Mendel became Rebbe in Kotzk, Reb Mordechai Yosef became his disciple in Kotzk. In 1839, Rabbi Mordechai Yosef became a rebbe in Tomaszów, subsequently moving to Izbica.

Rabbi Mordechai Yosef’s leading disciple was Rabbi Yehuda Leib Eiger (1816-1888, grandson of Rabbi Akiva Eiger. His students included Rabbi Zadok HaKohen of Lublin (1823–1900), his son, Rabbi Yaakov Leiner (1828–1878) and his grandson Rabbi Gershon Henoch Leiner of Radzyn. Mordechai Yosef Leiner is buried in an ohel in the Jewish cemetery in Izbica.

Parshas Shmini/Parah - Are We Raising Children or Do We Raise Our Children Up?      22 Adar II 5779

03/29/19 08:47:45


Parshas Shmini – Are We Raising Children or Do We Raise Our Children Up?

One of my mottos with regard to educating and raising children is “school is for information; home is where they learn”. The average Jewish family spends hundreds of thousands of dollars on Jewish education - the information which, in turn, feeds applied learning. Those dollars are invested in our children’s future, and like any other investment, active involvement is required: our children’s needs and progress have to be checked and nurtured to yield the best results. The home, however, is the epicenter for our children to learn how to conduct themselves, to develop a depth of understanding of the values we, their parents, hold dear. Home is where the information our children receive in school or yeshiva is truly ‘learned’. A good chef uses prime ingredients, treating each item with respect and care in order to create a masterful meal. Our children receive information (ingredients) from school and bring them home to ‘digest’. The home is the crucial environment for creating the best possible level of applying those pieces of information, nurturing a matrix which synthesizes the ingredients for a life of clarity of values, proper conduct, and respect. For a master chef, proper cooking utensils, precise temperatures, and, above all, timing, are essential details. The learning at home, the creation of the product, has many components which in a profound way, relates to the food produced by the master chef. The home is not limited to parents. It includes siblings, nutrition, safety, security, and so forth. Everything contributes to the end result!

Money spent on tuition is the cheapest part of educating our children. That may sound ridiculous, but in a sense, it is far easier to write a check (maybe even easier or less work to pay by credit card) than to guide, nurture, and ultimately help our children truly learn through synthesizing the ‘information’. It is the real learning that takes place in the home that is so challenging and, in most cases, ignored or overlooked. As parents we have an obligation to nurture the information that our children receive. There is no question that as parents when we observe our children doing something wrong, we reprimand them, teaching and instilling the proper course of action and behavior. But are we working on troubleshooting in advance prior to the incident to avoid any dangerous behavior or mishap? Are we as parents only reacting to situations that have already occurred, or are we trying to think ahead so as to avoid situations that can spare the hurt and pain a child may suffer either physically, spiritually or emotionally?

By definition, the term ‘parent’ means sacrifice, from the moment the child is conceived until the parent is no longer able to care for their child. As parents, we need to understand that we must sacrifice, not only for our children’s physical well-being, but also for their spiritual well-being. When a child asks for something spiritual (within reason) that may cost time, money or effort, the parent must figure out a way to nourish and nurture that request. If we desire our children to grow up with sincere religious and observant commitment, we need to show them we are committed to that very goal for ourselves and for them, even when it may be inconvenient. If a child wants to grow more connected to Judaism, we should do whatever it takes. Imagine a scenario where a child wants to daven with a minyan and is makpid/strict upon himself, making sure to always attend minyan. Perhaps an extreme example: Consider the child who arrives in Los Angeles from Israel in the late evening. After a grueling twenty-five hours he wants to head north to Los Angeles to catch the last minyan and then drive back down to San Diego. I can’t speak for most, but I’m sure a few kids at that point would like to go straight back home and daven privately without a minyan. I’m also sure that most parents at nine-thirty at night would rather drive straight home instead of driving north from the airport to L.A., finally arriving home at one in the morning. The parent in question wants to show and encourage the right thing to do. Not only doesn’t he complain, he is overjoyed by the commitment and dedication of his son. He must do whatever it takes, within the limits of possibility, to insure his child receives the religious training, learning and experience despite the hardship that may fall upon the parent. These are the attributes we parents need to inculcate within our persona, openly expressing , the desire to our children that we will do anything spiritually and religiously for them.

This has been the case for parents and children throughout history. We sometimes find tragedy when proper supervision is not provided especially when it come to adult children. We find this in this week’s parsha Shmini where we read about the death of Aharon’s two sons Nadav and Avihu. In Vayikra 10:1 the Torah states: “Vayikchu Bnei Aharon Nadav VaAvihu Ish Machtaso, Vayitnu Bahein Aish, Vayasimu Aleihen Ketores, Vayakrivu Lifnei Hashem Aish Zara Asher Lo Tziva Osam”. “ Aharon’s sons, Nadav and Avihu each took fire pans, placed fire and then incense on them. They offered it before God, but it was unauthorized fire, which God had not instructed them to offer”. In truth a Jew must do and perform every Mitzva by immersing and giving of himself to such an extent that his soul is spent - to the degree that he is lifeless and completely out of energy after doing a Mitzva. If that were the case, wouldn’t it be nearly impossible to do another Mitzva after expending all his energy on just one command? Rav Pinchas Yustman* explains that the Mitzva itself, being that it was commanded by Hashem to perform, aroused the person and gave renewed strength and vigor to him so that he looks forward to doing the next one. Quoting the words ‘VaChai Bahem’: ‘And you shall live by them’,explained by all ‘not to die from them’. Even if we ‘kill’ ourselves over a Mitzva, the very act of doing the Mitzvah with all of our being allows us to become stronger and do more Mitzvos.

Nadav and Avihu did the service in the Mishkan with the highest regard and an incredible measure of mesiras nefesh/self sacrifice. They did this to the degree that they actually killed themselves. Why? The renewed energy of the performance of their Mitzva did not work this time. Why? The reason given is because only after doing a Mitzva, a Mitzva literally means something we were commanded to do. In this case there was no command; Nadav and Avihu did this on their own. This is noted by the special cantillation mark ‘meircha kefula’ a double meircha on the word ‘Lo’ meaning they were NOT commanded. As great as they were, Nadav and Avihu acted on their own, without direction from Hashem. Their father Aharon knew they were great and righteous men; he couldn’t fathom them doing something wrong.

We as the parents need to guide our children when to do the Mitzva when we are commanded and not to do the Mitzva when we are not commanded. It’s not about us; it’s not for us to determine if or to decide when. At the time that Hashem when He wants us to do the command, we do it. We need to be all-encouraging, to consistently nurture the desire of our children to fulfill their Avodas Hashem. This, will in turn, will give them the strength, courage and attitude to want to do more.


Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky


*Pinchas Menachem (Elazar) Yustman (1848–1920) The Piltzer Rebbe, also known by the title of his main work, the Sifsei Tzadik ((and in his early years known as Reb Mendel of Ger) was a Chasidic Rabbi who after the passing of his brother-in-law Rabbi Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter, became a Rebbe for some Gerrer Hasidim, in Pilica, Poland.

Parshas Tzav - Chassid Meets Misnaggid        15 Adar II 5779

03/22/19 09:35:49


Parshas Tzav – Chassid Meets Misnaggid

Last Shabbos I experienced the ironic situation of two events coinciding thousands of miles apart. My son’s Litvisha Yeshiva in Israel chartered a plane which flew the entire student body and administration to Mezibush in the Ukraine in order to spend Shabbos at the site of the founder of Chassidus, Reb Yisrael ben Eliezer, more commonly known as the Besh”t or the Baal Shem Tov. While in Mezibush, they also visited the gravesite of Reb Levi Yitzchok of Birditchiv. Both the Baal Shem Tov and Reb Levi Yitzchok of Birditchiv were icons of the Chassidic world and movement. The Lithuanian-style Yeshiva received an infusion of fervor, drawing powerful energy from the aura of the Chassidic masters hundreds of years since their passing. That very same Shabbos, thousands of miles away in San Diego, my wife and I hosted a Belzer Chassid from Borough Park for Shabbos who was stranded here while on a business trip. The Chassid dressed in full regalia - bekesha with his shtreimel - celebrated, experienced, and received an infusion of some Litvishe Judaism.

While a student, I primarily studied in Lithuanian-style Yeshivos which adhere to textually- based learning. This style of learning is in contrast to the Chasidic style of service to Hashem that puts a greater emphasis on singing, dancing, and eating. The Chassidic movement was founded a little over three hundred years ago, circa 1700,by the Baal Shem Tov. The Lithuanian leadership at the time took exception to this newly-founded manner of Avodas Hashem (service to God) and vehemently opposed it, and hence becoming known as the ‘Misnaggdim’ - the ones against. I don’t claim to be a historian, but the separation between these two groups remained steadfast for about two hundred years, until the crossover began, creating a growing acceptance to the Chasidic manner. After the Holocaust, whereby both the Yeshiva and the Chassidic worlds were decimated, the feelings of difference dropped and the acknowledgement of each movement took hold. While each rebuilt independently, by the early 1970s the groups merged in certain areas of Jewish life. Orthodox Jewish leadership was shared between the Roshei HaYeshiva and the Grand Rabbis of the various sects of Chassidim. Chassidim began enrolling in some Litvishe Yeshivos, while many Litvish or Yeshivish individuals began to undertake certain customs and practices from the Chassidim.

Two differences stood out during the visit of the Belzer Chassid: one food the other prayer. He did not know where he would end up for Shabbos and brought food in just in case he would end up staying in a hotel room by himself on Shabbos. Through an old SEED bachur, he connected to me, and we hosted him for Shabbos, along with all his ‘heimishe’ food. The loose meaning of ‘heimish’ is ‘from the home’, but its intended meaning is food that would be acceptable to certain standards of Kashrus. The following may seem odd to some readers, but he chose to eat his food and it did not bother us one iota. To the contrary, I wanted him to feel at home; whatever it takes to make a guest feel welcome is certainly worth that effort. The fact that he ate food with Hechsherim that he uses did not bother me. We shared beautiful Shabbos meals together, albeit with different foods. The kuntz/trick is to find the commonalities and not the differences. We became good friends over a Shabbos through demonstration of genuine respect and admiration for each person’s right to his or her standards. Such overt respect builds deep appreciation for mutual understanding and friendship.

The other difference is that many Chassidic dialects pronounce the Hebrew vowel ‘oo’ as ‘ee’, hence the word ‘hu’ is pronounced as ‘he’. Even though ‘hu’ in Hebrew means he and the word ‘he’ in Hebrew means she, it is still an acceptable pronunciation. In fact, Jews throughout the world have different pronunciations, yet all such variances are all acceptable for the constituents of that group. To put this in perspective, Chassidim are not the only group who use that pronunciation. Temani -Yemenite - pronounce every ‘hu’ as ‘he’. This is not something relegated to Chassidim; this case and all other examples are fueled through the local influence and traditions that were maintained and held onto throughout the exile and diaspora. While we are aware that Krias HaTorah should be heard within each group’s custom and dialect, an Ashkenazic non-Chassid will fulfill his obligation even when hearing a different-sounding word. In Sefer Vayikra we are challenged by the many times these words are used, particularly with regard to the sacrifices.

In this week’s parshas Tzav the Torah in Vayikra 6:18 uses the word ‘he’ for a sin offering while in 7:6 the word ‘Hu’ is used in describing a guilt offering. The Gemara Zevachim, 10 Rabbi Eliezer, says in the Mishna that an asham – a guilt sacrifice - slaughtered not for its sake is also invalid. The Gemora cites a braisa, with a dialogue between Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Yehoshua about the status of asham. Rabbi Eliezer says that both asham/guilt and chatas/sin are brought for transgressions. Just as a chatas is invalid when slaughtered not for its sake, so, too, an asham is invalid when slaughtered not for its sake. Rabbi Yehoshua replies that a chatas/sin is different, since its blood is applied on the top half of the Altar. Rabbi Eliezer replies that a pesach is also invalid when slaughtered not for its sake, although its blood is not applied on the top half, proving that this distinction is irrelevant. Rabbi Yehoshua replies that the pesach has a set time, while an asham does not. Rabbi Eliezer replies that a chatas does not, and still is invalid, proving that this distinction is also irrelevant, but Rabbi Yehoshua replies that he can repeatedly challenge both the chatas and pesach source with each one’s respective distinction. Rabbi Eliezer offers another argument from these verses. Just as the verse of chatas says chatas hee – it is a chatas, and the verse of the pesach says pesach hu – it is a pesach, and these teach us that they are only valid when offered for its own sake Therefore, the verse of the asham which says asham hu is an asham, teaching us that it is invalid when offered not for its sake. Rabbi Yehoshua replies that while these verses of chatas and pesach are in the context of slaughtering, which are required, the similar verse of asham is in the context of placing the sacrifice on the Altar. If the sacrifice is never placed on the Altar, it is still valid, so that verse cannot be teaching anything that will invalidate it. Rabbi Eliezer finally says that the verse says kachatas ka’asham – like the chatas and like the asham. This association of the two teaches that they are equivalent; both are invalid when slaughtered not for their sake. Therefore, the pronunciation can go either way.

The Jewish people have endured a long Galus/exile and have developed in many different yet complimentary ways. Whether Sephardim, Ashkenazim, Chassidim or other variations, we are a part of each other for better or for worse. As far as Chassidus and Misnaggdim are concerned, I think in today’s world there is a little Misnaggid or Litvak in every Chassid and a little Chassidus in every Litvak. Am Yisroel Chai!!!

Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas Vayikra/Zachor - Where Past, Present & Future Meet                           7 Adar II 5779

03/14/19 09:38:43


One of Rabbi Wein’s classic statements with regard to raising children is “God punishes children by making them parents”. My Rosh Yeshiva has keen insight into relationships - family, business, and, in particular, child rearing. His consistent focus has always been to create a ‘mensch’, who by definition would be a Ben Torah but the contrary was not always the case. Rabbi Wein witnessed at least two, sometimes three generations, commenting on the pattern that developed from father to son, and from son to his son, each behaving and responding in a certain way when they were young, and all sharing the same similarities when they grew older.

I believe we all, at least one time in our childhood, made the cavalier statement, “When I have kids ,I’ll never do this or that!”. Or…“I’ll never do what my parents did to me to my kids.” Of course not! But, lo and behold, just one generation later we hear parents who as children resented these statements when their parents said them repeating the exact same things. One of my own children recently remarked, “Did I act like so and so when I was his/her age?” The child is acting out in a certain way, and the parents tend to treat their children the way they were treated when they were that age. There is also the other dimension of how parents make certain decisions based upon information only they understand. The children may know what is happening, but don’t really understand why. Children do not fathom that they have not got the right to know why their parents treat one child differently from their siblings. It’s important that parents explain to their children that they don’t need to know every reason for a parent’s responses to specific behaviors. There is no entitlement for a child (of a certain age, of course) to know everything. Answering a questioning child on why, why, why, may be replied with because, because, or because.

Nevertheless, a good parent will add a statement such as, “One day you will understand,” or “Right now you may not understand but one day you will.” This is a legitimate response to an inquisitive child. With time and patience, the cycle of children becoming parents and raising them as they were raised is then remembered. As the old saying goes, ‘What goes around comes around’ works and applies for good or poor disciplining or non-disciplining, spoiling or not spoiling. That which remains is the ability for children to accept that one day they will understand and appreciate how their parents raised them. This notion is one of the underpinnings of the entire story of Purim found in the Megillas Esther.

Chaza”l, the Rabbi’s of blessed memory, say that the recipient of a miracle does not recognize the miracle as it unfolds. There is no question that the amazing, wonderous miracles that are witnessed and seen by all, such as the splitting of the sea, is renowned by all. But the hidden miracles are not noticed and appreciated as miracles until later in the future. For example; there is no doubt that the killing of Vashti by King Achashveirosh would be the preparation to all that would follow. Similarly, three years later Esther is selected to be the next queen and taken to the king’s palace. No one had a clue as to these unfolding events. A few days later, a plot of two of the king’s chamberlains to assassinate Achashveirosh was discovered by Mordechai and told to Esther in the name of Mordechai. These are seemingly random occurrences which initially seem to have no major significance. Moreover, Haman is elevated to be the second highest official in the country. Who would have thought a Jew-hater’s rise to power would be something that would end well! The Chasam Sofer remarks that only at the end, when the major miracle that everyone witnessed, would all understand that the killing of Vashti was ‘like’ a Krias Yam Suf. This is because the recipient of the miracles doesn’t have the angle in their vision to see and appreciate the miracle of the One who performs it. This concept is echoed in the words of Dovid HaMelech in Tehilim 136:4 “L’Osei Niflaos Gedolos L’Vado, Ki L’Olam Chasdo”: “He who does great wonders, alone, for His kindliness endures forever”. Only Hashem Himself who performs all of the miracles knows; no man can grasp the miracles as they occur. Nevertheless, it’s a Mitzva and incumbent upon every man in the latter stages of his life to discern all the good Hashem has done for him from beginning to end. Everyone should recognize and perceive how the events in his or her life were a perfectly-sewn tapestry, taking care to tell it over to their children and grandchildren. Describing and telling over the miracles of one’s life to their children and grandchildren is a crucially critical component of Chinuch/education. The lesson to be learned by the child and grandchild is that they, too, should see and recognize the independent events as having a purpose and pattern that Hashem has performed for them.

The Chasam Sofer writes there is a remez or hint of this Parshas Ki Sisa describing Moshe meeting God on Har Sinai. The verse states “V’Raeesa Es Achorai, Upanai Lo Yeiraoo”: “And he saw Him from behind, but his face from the front he did not see”. At the time something occurs in the world and people are perplexed and ask: ‘Why did God do this or that?’ Only after some time are they able to see and understand retroactively that all these seemingly small, insignificant events are a preparation for Hashem to perform the big miracle.

A person who reviews the events and recognizes the master plan of Hashem strengthens his Emunah/belief in Hashem and receives great reward. How much more so the person who is able to have the Emunah as the questionable events are taking place. A person receives the greatest reward for having Emunah by the mere fact that he/she can identify the seemingly negative or benign occurrence and interpret it as the hand of the Almighty. We might ask God, why, why, why and need to answer the question ourselves because, because, because. A child does not have the intellectual capacity or brain development to fully appreciate a parent’s decision involving the child’s life. But we as adults should have the cerebral, intellectual ability to connect the dots, understanding that each event in our life is just one more step in the series of life that Hashem, our Father in Heaven is looking to set up the greatest miracle and ending for the Jewish people.

We should be Zocheh and merit to live through miracles of those of the time of Purim. Just as the result and the aftermath of Purim led the Jewish people to rebuild the second Temple, so too in our day and age we should recognize and witness the miraculous events of our time to ultimately see the rebuilding of the Bayis Shlishi, the third Temple speedily in our day.


Ah Gut Shabbos and Ah Freilichin Purim!

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas Pekudei - Every Contribution Counts                                 Rosh Chodesh Adar II 5779

03/07/19 11:22:40


In my message for Parshas Yisro I introduced the concept of gratitude and noted at the time that I had omitted some key individuals and institutions which shaped me throughout my childhood and adolescence. that message I wrote, “Since I would like to give proper credit to a few more people and organizations, I will take the liberty to write about them independently over the next few months, giving proper homage, albeit very delayed.” One such person omitted was an integral part of my childhood years from about age eight to thirteen.

I was born and raised in Borough Park, a neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York. My family lived within a few blocks of two sets of aunts, uncles and cousins. My mother, A”H, has a brother, Rabbi Ziegler, who was the Rabbi of a small shul where we all davened. All my cousins and I learned how to daven and lead the prayers for Shabbos morning at that shul. My cousin Duvy and I are the same age. We started at the bottom by concluding the davening on Friday night and Shabbos morning with Yigdal and Adon Olam., graduating to Ein Kelokeinu, then to Pesukei D’Zimra, and ultimately - after bar mitzvah- to Shacharis and Mussaf. The opportunity we had was not wasted as we all learned the skill of conducting services from being the Gabbai to giving Divrei Torah, even learning how to run a shul. Some of my cousins became pulpit Rabbis, but even those who didn’t are fully capable of doing so.

I spent every Shabbos afternoon with my cousin (The Rabbi’s son) at his house. We played board games for hours and also reviewed some of what we had learned during the week with his father, my uncle Eric. Shalosh Seudos was spent with my aunt Libby, enjoying her amazing deviled eggs! From there we went to Shul, and after Havdala, as my uncle, the Rabbi ,was conducting “shul business” he instructed and encouraged us to clean and tidy up the Shul. My uncle gave us twenty-five cents per week to put all of the Chumashim and Siddurim back onto their respective shelves. At the time someone may have accused my uncle of violating child labor laws. For me, looking back at that small investment in demonstrating the Kedushas Beis Haknesses, the holiness of respecting and maintaining the shul became a part of my inner self; it was an invaluable lesson learned. When someone takes care of something, he ultimately shows respect for it and its environs. The lessons of tidying up a shul have remained with me for life. Since that time, caring for a shul has been instilled deep inside of me. Therefore, upon entering or exiting a shul am drawn to either putting chairs back to their place, throwing out the papers and tissues and organizing the seforim. Even today, I automatically tidy up, foregoing the twenty-five cents that I rightfully earned and deserved. This practice of caring for the shul and its property strengthened me in areas of Kavod Beis HaKnesses, honor and respect to a shul. To this I owe a debt of gratitude and Hakaras Hatov to my Uncle Eric, Rabbi Ziegler, my Aunt Libby and cousin Duvy. They gave me that framework during those early, formative years. I always wondered where my uncle identified this essential practice, especially for young children. I came upon the answer which is found in a related piece to the Mishkan.

The Torah in this week’s Parsha Pekudei states in Shmos 39:43 “Vayar Moshe Es Kal HaMelacha, V’Hinei Asu Osa Ka’Asher Tziva Hashem Kein Asu, Vayevarech osam Moshe”. “When Moshe saw that all the work had been done exactly as God had ordered, he blessed all the workers”. Rashi explains that Moshe said to them, ‘May it be His will, that the Divine Presence (Shechina) abide in the work of your hands.’: “And let the graciousness of Hashem be upon us and the work of your hands”. This ‘Vihi Noam is part of one of eleven psalms which begin with “A Prayer of Moshe”.

The MaHarsham* in his sefer Techeiles Mordechai explains the double usage of ‘the work had been done,’ based upon the Alshich’s commentary on the verse “V’Asu Li Mikdash in the beginning of Teruma which explains that in addition to the actual building of the Mishkan itself, there is an additional component of building – You. The verse ‘make me a sanctuary so that I can dwell in it’ is, in actuality, in two parts: the first half is the physical building; the last words make a place for Hashem to reside within each of us. So, too, in our Parsha,, in addition to the work that was done to build the physical structure, the spiritual structure was also constructed within each of themselves. Based upon these two components, Moshe blessed the people. ‘Umaaseh Yadeinu Konina Aleinu is the physical building; Umaaseh Yadeinu Konineihu is the completion of the individual. The Midrash Tanchuma in Nasso 29 understands the Shechina of Hashem resting within those whose handiwork was and continues to be a part of the Mishkan. Today’s Mishkan is represented in every community shul. Moshe blessed them for this world when the Jews of the desert built the Mishkan. HaKadosh Baruch Hu will bless us for Olam Haba when the upkeep of the Mishkan/Sanctuary/Shul is maintained.

The book of Shemos ends with the completion of the Mishkan’s building. At the conclusion of each sefer we call out the words ‘Chazak Chazak V’Nischazeik: Be strong, be strong, and be strengthened’. With the accomplishment of building the Mishkan, the Jews became stronger, strengthening their identity and connection to Hashem. When one takes out time and puts forth effort to build something, he cherishes it and creates a deeper, stronger bond between the builder and its occupant. Subsequent to the construction comes the upkeep and maintenance, whether it was for the Mishkan, Beis Hamikdash or for every Beit HaKnesset / Shul in today’s day and age. The ongoing commitment to maintain and beautify the Mishkan strengthened those who did the work and again bonded with the occupant of the Mishkan, namely God.

Our Mishkan - our Shul - is built and stands as the place in which Hashem resides. We can strengthen the physical building by donating to fix, repair and maintain the physical structure. We strengthen our commitment through those acts. Secondly, when we take the time to tidy up our shul, especially after Shabbos we strengthen ourselves and form an ever-deeper love and commitment to Hashem. If we all participate in both segments, each one will ‘Chazak’ – strengthen - ourselves in two ways so that collectively we ,as a Shul, a community and people, will reach the level of ‘V’Nitchazeik’ and we will all come to be strengthened by each other’s involvement and care for God’s home away from home.

Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky


*Rabbi Sholom Mordechai Schwadron (1835–1911) was known by his acronym Maharsham. He was a foremost halachic authority whose main works "Shailos Uteshuvos Maharsham" and "Daas Torah" are widely studied sources of practical Jewish law. Among his prominent works are Mishpat Shalom on Choshen Mishpat. He was well known as a very lenient rabbi. He also authored Techeiles Mordechai, a three-volume commentary of the Torah.

He was born in 1835 in Złoczów to Moshe Schwadron, a Torah scholar, and studied under Rabbi Yoel Ashkenazy. After his marriage he was bequeathed a wood business and was hesitant to become a rabbi. However, he did so at the age of 31. It is known that after each din Torah (case in a rabbinical court), he would explain to the loser the reason he lost until he understood clearly. If the person was unable to understand, he would tell him, "You must have a good friend or family member that is a Torah scholar. Send him to me and I will explain it to him so you will feel that you were done justice." He lived in Berezhany where he acquired the nickname Gaon of Berezhany. He died there in 1911. His grandson, Rabbi Sholom Schwadron, was known as the "Maggid of Jerusalem".


Parshas Vayakhel - Coming Together             23 Adar I 5779

02/27/19 21:01:12


This Dvar Torah is L’ilui Nishmas Mr. Emanuel (Manny) Mittelman Pinchas Elimelech Ben Yaakov Shmuel Z”L

During the last 20+ years that I’ve been in San Diego I have witnessed hundreds of visitors who have come through the doors of our shul, Beth Jacob. Some visit for just a short brief time while others choose to stay longer. There is the person who drops in to catch a Mincha and those who flee the cold weather, enjoying our community for a few months. The duration of a person’s stay doesn’t necessarily leave an impact; some who stay a while and hang around may not add or contribute more than someone whom I may not even get to know by name. Sometimes, within the range of time that guests stay, I try to get to know our visitors a bit - some more some less. For many years we had a group of guests dubbed the “Snowbirds”, a group of older retired or semi-retired couples who joined us for a few weeks to two months.

A week ago Shabbos, on the 11th of Adar, Mr. Manny Mittelman left this world after ninety four years, leaving over one hundred direct descendants after he and his beloved wife, Bessie, of seventy years, YB”L, survived the holocaust. I watched his funeral from Eretz Yisrael and was moved deeply by the ninety minutes of hespedim/eulogies that were so aptly delivered by current and past communal leaders from the Detroit community in which he lived. I highly recommend that everyone take the time to listen to the entire service, or at least to some parts of it. I’m not going to repeat the eulogies here, but I will add an insight into who he was based upon the funeral itself.

A community is called a ‘kehilla,’ which stems from the first word of this week’s ParshaVayakhel Moshe”, and “Moshe gathered”. As I was viewing the funeral, not only did I pay attention to the eulogies, but to the people who delivered them. Mr. Mittelman was involved in all aspects of the Detroit Jewish community. He belonged to and associated with Jews from every spectrum across the Orthodox world. He was a part of Shuls, schools, kollelim, from the left to the right, from the modern to Chasidish and everything in between. The Maspidin/Eulogizers were from every camp within the Jewish world. The same could be said within his own family of children, grandchildren, great grandchildren and great great grandchildren, as they all grew up in his house and are all religious, observant Jews representing all kinds of stripes and colors. His own children, from Chasidic to modern, made up an incredible microcosm of the Jewish people. He accomplished all of this with the help, support, love and encouragement of his partner, Mrs. Bessie Mittelman, who should live and be well, who contributed actively and meaningfully to the shared life they built together.

Throughout the eulogies the video camera remained stationary, focusing on the podium from where the Rabbis and family members spoke. I am sure that had the camera been rotated, scanning the overflowing crowd of people in attendance, we would have seen a similar image of members of the entire Jewish community from one spectrum to the other. Mr. Mittelman had the uncanny ability to not only relate to everyone but to bring all factions together for one primary purpose: the honor of the Ribono Shel Olam, the Creator of the World. This ability was not limited to religious differences, it included people of all ages, from those who were older than he to young children. I have an eternally memorable picture of my own grandson reading to him from a siddur. He taught wisdom through the pearls of Torah that would spew from his lips; he demonstrated how to live as a Jew by being a role model for everyone, always displaying his Yiras Shamayim and Ahavas Yisroel.

Manny Mittelman’s ability to bring Jews together is consistent with the purpose and goals that Moshe aspired to in the desert with the Jewish people, particularly regarding the service and role of the Mishkan. In this week’s Parshas Vayakhel the Torah states in Shmos 35:1 “Vayakhel Moshe Es Kal Adas Bnei Yisrael, Vayomer Aleihem……And Moshe gathered the entire assembly of the Children of Israel and said to them….” The Sokotchove Rebbe says that the introduction to the Mishkan is the understanding of Vayakhel and gathering. The Jewish people stood at Har Sinai gathered together as ‘Ish Echod’ - like one man. Up until the Mishkan, independent, private altars known as ‘Bamos” were permitted; anyone could bring a sacrifice anytime at any place they wanted. Once the Mishkan was erected, however, the individual private ‘Bamos’ were outlawed, becoming forbidden. Everyone was required to bring their sacrifices to the Sanctuary. The existence of the Mishkan brought everyone together. The Mishkan rallied the entities to one place. But this was regarding the building of the Mishkan prior to sin of the Golden Calf. The Shem Mishmuel explains that after the sin of the Golden Calf, the only way to build the Mishkan was through the power of togetherness, by bringing Klal Yisrael together as one. Before the sin it was possible to build even with the strength of one part, even with the effort of one single individual. The Midrash states in Teruma, “Hashem said to Moshe that even one Jew is able to build the Mishkan.” The verse states: “any man who gives from his heart” can build the Tabernacle. Therefore, in Parshas Teruma which is prior to the Eigel HaZahav, the Golden Calf, there is no mention of ‘Vayakhel”.

The word VaYakhel -when Moshe gathered the nation - is identical to Mitzva 612 called Hakheil of the Torah whereby once every seven years, on Chol HaMoed Sukoos, the King of Israel would gather Klal Yisrael, all of the men, women and children, and read selections from the Torah. The Mitzva of Hakheil was all-inclusive. There were no distinctions between one Jew and another. The Mitzva reestablished a certain togetherness of Am Yisrael and acceptance towards one another. This was the unique ability, the rare quality that Mr. Mittelman possessed. Perhaps it was his witnessing of the horrors that took place against our people that created his open love of every Jew, independently and collectively. Many people speak about Ahavas Yisrael, but Mr.Mittleman demonstrated it throughout his life. That was the tribute he so deserved and received by the people who spoke about him and the people who were there to listen. His life was underscored by this attempt to build a Mishkan that we could all live within and be a part of. Yehi Zichro Baruch!

Ah Gut Shabbos

Parshas Ki Sisa - In the Merit of....                            17 Adar I 5779

02/21/19 14:01:52


This Dvar Torah is L’Ilui Nishmas Imi Morasi Yocheved Bas Tzvi on her 2nd Yahrzeit 17 Adar

Last Motzai Shabbos I had one of the most delightful experiences in Israel. Fifteen post high school students learning in Yeshiva from our Beth Jacob family got together for a Melava Malka in Yerushalayim. At first, I was skeptical of the idea and then became concerned about the logistics, especially when we found out restaurants don’t take seating reservations on Shabbos night because they are jam packed. With Siyata Dishmaya (and the Rebbetzin’s management), what surely looked like what might become a natural disaster turned out to be a most successful get-together. Everyone enjoyed the company, reuniting with friends from the Alta Heim while relishing a good meal.

Today’s generation takes for granted the opportunity of learning in Israel following high school graduation. The concept of post high school students taking a year or two or more of learning in Eretz Yisrael has grown to become the norm over the last fifty years. What began as a single year abroad has blossomed into multi-year learning and, in many incidences has attracted some to join the IDF. Others choose to remain, making Aliyah. It is a tremendous zchus/merit for one to learn in Israel. Not everyone has the benefit or the merit to do so. Not to take anything away from those who are able to, but it has become much easier over time. My Rebbi, Rabbi Berel Wein YB”L, often described the love the previous generations had for Eretz Yisrael. He remarked, “Our grandparents would have trekked through Europe barefoot in the snow if they could reach the shores of Eretz Yisrael to learn Torah and live in Eretz Yisrael.” So, the open question: Why are we so fortunate to be given this benefit?

Our generation in general has witnessed an incredible increase in the learning and spreading of Torah. Only last Sunday our own Rabbi Danzger participated in an incredible event known as the Shasathon whereby hundreds of study partners learn approximately ten daf (20 pages) of gemara in one day, collectively beginning and completing the entire Talmud consisting of 2711 folios. Many of the participants raised money for an organization helping couples with infertility and other Shalom Bayis issues. Rabbi Danzger and his brother raised the sixth highest amount from the three million dollars donated. The individuals who participated had the merit to be a part of this monumental task. Many people think, “Oh, anyone can just do this.” I’m not convinced that anyone who wants to be a part of something so large or learn in Israel for an extended period is guaranteed the ability to participate in such an undertaking; it takes something much more than desire, but what is it?

Every day, three times a day in the Amida, we mention our forefathers and, in their merits, afford us protection, guidance, and the will to succeed. This is recognized as Zchus Avos - merits of the fathers. In the same vain Avraham, Yitzchok, and Yaakov did things for the children of Am Yisrael, our more direct forefathers did as well. Someone up the chain perhaps two, three, four or more generations ago from whom we descend did some great things and we are the beneficiaries of their acts. Someone, somewhere, someplace did something that earned some merit which has been awarded to a descendent of theirs. Who knows what act it was, but the result or benefit from it actualized in someone in their family chain the desire and ability to learn Torah. Learning Torah is not only meaningful for thevstudent, it gives great merit for amazing, incredible things to happen to a later generation as well. And so the cycle of merits rolls on so long as the opportunities are seized and something good and positive is done with that opportunity. This may all sound nice, but is there precedent to such a concept in the Torah? While we know there is precedent, where is such evidence to be found?

In this week’s Parshas Ki Sisa the second half of Matan Torah takes place and is not the ending that anyone would have thought of who was privileged to witness the giving of the Torah. As we know, a miscalculation occurred, and Moshe was thought to be late; in fact this purported belief even convinced some that he was dead, allowing the evil doers to strike and seize the moment of weakness of the Jews who felt completely lost. The creation of the Golden Calf ensued and before anyone could realize how far off they had strayed, they were worshipping the Golden Calf. Moshe is told about this by God and descends the mountain, throwing down the Luchos and confronting the people. The Torah states in Shmos 32:26: “VaYaamod Moshe B’Shaar HaMachaneh, VaYomer, Mi LaHashem Elaiy, VaYeiasfu Eilav Kal Bnei Levi”. “And thereupon Moshe stood at the gate of the camp and said: ‘Who is for God, let him come to me! And all the sons of Levi gathered together unto him.’ The Chasam Sofer teaches us that the word Kal or All of the sons of Levi gathered included Korach and his family, despite having disputes with Moshe. When it came to defend the name and honor of Hashem, they were with their brethren to help out.

The sefer Talilei Oros writes a story about the Chofetz Chaim regarding the need to appreciate the gathering of Levi. A student once entered before the saintly Chofetz Chaim and was asked, “Are you a Kohein?” The student replied in the negative, no, I am not a kohein. The Chofetz Chaim asked why aren’t you a Kohein? The student answered because my father is not a kohein nor was his father a kohein. The Chofetz Chaim pressed on and asked why his father or grandfather were not kohanim? The student was flabbergasted and didn’t understand the line of questioning by his Rebbi. The Chofetz Chain then peered into his eyes and said, “Do you know why I am a kohein and you are not a kohein?” Without delay he continued by explaining that following the catastrophe of the golden calf Moshe called out and said, ‘Mi LaHashem Elaiy?’ Who is for God let him come to me.’ At that point all the Levites gathered around Moshe and as a result merited the Kehuna, the priesthood. This included not only that generation, but also their children and their children’s children until eternity.

The Chofetz Chaim concluded by saying that it is from here that we learn the following. In the same manner, through acts of Mesiras Nefesh - self-sacrifice which goes against the majority, they merited the Kehuna. So too, if we answer the call to ‘Who is to Hashem?’ we will also merit that our children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren receive special and unique ‘zechusim’ - merits that will help shape and drive their lives in ways they never thought possible.

We are the beneficiaries from previous generations, together taking a stand for the honor of Hashem. We need to do the same for all the generations who will follow us for years and years to come. Through our actions and deeds we will afford great opportunities to our descendants, continuing the unbroken chain of Am Yisrael!

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

02/12/19 11:42:52


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky


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

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

02/07/19 22:36:20


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Parshas Mishpatim - The Attention Span Myth      25 Shvat 5779

01/30/19 22:32:57


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

01/24/19 18:29:31


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

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

01/17/19 15:15:43


Parshas B'Shalach - Dead or Alive

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

01/11/19 09:12:47


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

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

01/02/19 11:38:10


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas Shmos - The Gateway to Freedom       19 Teves 5779

12/27/18 17:33:58


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

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

12/21/18 09:58:00


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

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

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

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

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

Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas Vayigash - What Would You Do?         6 Teves 5779

12/13/18 23:48:16


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Thu, February 27 2020 2 Adar 5780