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Parshas Vayera - You Can, or You Can - Which One Is It?                       16 Cheshvan 5780

11/14/19 12:40:59


The three-year lease on my car is due to expire in the next few weeks. I am once again faced with questions that I faced three years ago, deciding how I should go about my next means of transportation. Three years ago, my car basically stopped working and was not worth fixing; the car had no notable value. In order to make a long story short, I decided to get a new car rather than a pre-owned or, as they used call it, a used car. Spending the entire day at the dealership, I had to decide whether to buy a new car and finance it or to try something that I’d never done before, to lease it.

Anyone who has had the privilege of dealing with a car salesperson knows how frustrating it is to speak with someone who keeps reminding you that he is helping you to get the best deal possible. For those who have never had this wonderful opportunity, let me give you a quick synopsis. After reassuring me over a dozen times that he is going to take really good care of me, the salesperson asked, “What am I looking for?” So, we reviewed the type of car and features I’d like, and then came the pop question, “What can I afford?” We went over the numbers, and eventually, after waiting a good amount of time, I was told that the vehicle I want could not be had for the amount I wanted to spend. More time went by and I was blandly told that it was not possible to ‘give’ the car away for the price I wanted to spend, basically declaring that they would be ‘losing money on the deal’. Really?! Then there was the time I was ‘hondling’ with the salesperson and, as negotiations were breaking up, the manager was brought in ‘to see what he could do’ to make the deal work. As I walked out the door, the manager said to me, “What if I can close the deal for this price?” I said I’d think about it and then returned a little while later. I said to the manger, “O.K, I can do it for that price.” I thought to myself that now, finally we’ll have a done deal and be out of there in no time with my new car.” SCREEEEEEECH! STOP! He says to me, (the chutzpah) “I did not say I can do it for this price; all I said was if I can give it to you for this price, would it work?” At that point, I turned around went to the other dealership and completed an agreement there. That slight nuance of the word can make or breaks the entire negotiation.

While the power of suggestion is often deceiving, as described above, but it can also work as a measure for promoting something positive, useful and helpful. A statement or question can be understood from opposite perspectives - from good to bad or from right to wrong. *Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel, the Alter from Slobodka, depicts the scenario between Avraham and the city of Sodom. Avraham Avinu was the foundation of Chessed (Kindness) in the world; Sodom, the opposite of everything Avraham stood for, was his adversary. The people of Sodom were the the epitome of callousness and rudeness sprinkled liberally with antipathy. They intentionally intensified their disservice to their neighbors and to each other.. Through their wickedness evil actions, they stood in complete opposition to Avraham. All the goodness that Avraham planted in the world was uprooted by the Sodomites and Amorites. One might conclude that if God considered getting rid of Sodom, the nemesis of Avraham, Avraham would be ecstatic!

Let’s look at the wording and language Avraham uses when speaking to Hashem:

In this week’s parshas Vayera the Torah states in 18:22-24: "ויפנו משם האנשים וילכו סדומה, ואברהם עודנו עמד לפני השם. ויגש אברהם ויאמר, האף תספה צדיק עם רשע. אולי יש חמשים צדיקם בתוך העיר האף תספה ולא תשא למקום למען חמשים הצדיקם אשר בקרבה" :: : “The men turned from where they were, and headed toward Sodom; Avraham was still standing before God. He came forward and said, ‘Will you actually wipe out the innocent together with the guilty? Suppose there are fifty innocent people in the city. Would You still destroy it, and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty-good people inside?’ Avraham’s question to God - will you actually wipe out the innocent with the guilty - is simply understood that the righteous did nothing wrong. Why do they deserve to die with the others? Why should there be collateral damage and punishment? When the angels left, Avraham stood in front of God. Would he have davened that the wicked should be wiped out and the Tzadikim should be left unscathed? If Avraham had done that then he would have been no better than the people of Sodom. Rather, he stood in front of Hashem and prayed not to destroy the wicked so the righteous will remain, but, on the contrary, to daven that because there are possibly fifty righteous people, Hashem would not destroy anyone – not the wicked and not the righteous. Avraham remained truthful to his beliefs and the to Torah and Mesorah of goodness. He did not pray for the downfall of Sodom, but looked instead to the strength of the good people so as to give the wicked the opportunity too change their ways from bad to good and therefore to survive.

The Amidah that Avraham had by standing in front of Hashem is the Amidah that we have today - to bring more goodness and to not necessarily destroy the people who do bad. Instead, we daven for them to change their ways. Avraham was asking how can you, God, wipe out the innocent with the guilty? Change the ‘how can’ to ‘can you’ really destroy the wicked if you have Tzadikim along with them? The answer, of course, would be no. Avraham rhetorically expressed that not only are You, God, not going to destroy the righteous people by exclaiming ‘how can you’ but stating that You, God, can save the evil because of the good. The Rokeach explained that האף תספה is not a language of anger but rather an expression of bewilderment and surprise. Avraham, through prayer, was able to change God’s disposition of Din/Judgment to Rachamim/Mercy. That is the power of Tefilla.

When we are confronted with a challenge and we ask ourselves ‘can we’ the answer is ‘we can’. It all depends upon our attitude. If we learn from Avraham that Chessed overcomes the evil even of Sodom, we ‘can’ change a situation regarding we view such challenges and direct our questions and prayers accordingly.

Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky


*Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel (1849 Russia – 1927 in the British Mandate of Palestine), also known as Nota Hirsch or Natan Tzvi Finkel, was an influential leader of Orthodox Judaism in Eastern Europe and founder of the Slabodka Yeshiva, in the town of Vilijampolė (a suburb of Kaunas). He is also known by the Yiddish appellation der Alter ("the Elder") and as the Alter of Slabodka. Many of his pupils became major leaders of Orthodox Judaism in the USA and Israel.

*Not to be confused with Nosson Tzvi Finkel of the Mir.

Parshas Lech Lecha - The Time Change           9 Cheshvan 5780

11/07/19 13:59:45


Two weeks each year people are a little off their game. One week a person does not have enough time and the next week there’s a little bit too much time. This past Sunday most American changed their clocks to standard time, “gaining “an hour to the week. Personally, I try to be as systematic as possible, changing the clocks all at the same time, albeit for those who know me, different clocks are set at different times, some five minutes fast, some fifteen minutes fast, while others are set to show the actual, real time. Old-fashioned clocks and watches need to be changed manually, but our satellite-recognizing timekeepers automatically adjust to the time change. However, there are a few clocks in the “no time” zone that can, may, or are supposed to change by a receiving signal which does not always work. To add to this confusion, there was a question many in our state of California addressed: “Aren’t we now one of the states that voted not to change but rather to remain on Standard Time? If so, what happened?”


California voters approved Proposition 7 to end Daylight Saving Time on November 6, 2018. So…why did we still change our clocks this past weekend? It's a fairly straight- forward answer with a not-so-simple solution. The California Legislature needs to get a bill passed, and then Congress needs to approve it. So, what's next? The bill is currently pending a hearing in the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Congress has until December 2020 to act on these bills.

Not all states observe Daylight Saving Time, and by law, they are not required to do so.. Arizona and Hawaii don't currently observe DST, and Indiana only started observing it in 2006. According to a recent Associated Press poll, most people across the country want to stop the twice-a-year ritual of clock changes. There are dozens of other polls with mixed results whether to switch or remain and to remain on which one.

This past week someone manually turned the atomic clock in Shul back one hour. Looking up at the time only a few minutes later, the numbers had reverted back to the old time. People in the room were quite puzzled as to why it didn’t remain with the new time, especially when it should pick up an atomic signal to correct itself! At that point someone made a comment that maybe it’s time to change the clock. Someone else responded that we tried to change the clock, but it does not want to change! Obviously, the correct wording should be ‘adjust the time’ or just go buy a new clock. Nevertheless, the idea of ‘change’ the clock, meaning adjusting the time or replacing the apparatus, is something we all face as we transition through different stages of life. This is most apparent in people who “change” their names to change their destiny.

In this week’s Parshas Lech Lecha the Torah in Bereishis 17:5 states: "ולא יקרא עוד את שמך אברם, והיה שמך אברהם כי אב המון גוים נתתיך" “ - “No longer shall you be called Abram. Your name shall be Abraham, for I have set you up as the father of a horde of nations”. Then, in 17:15, it states: "ויאמר אלוקים אל אברהם, שרי אשתך לא תקרא את שמה שרי, כי שרה שמה"- - - “God said to Abraham, Sarai your wife, do not call her by the name Sarai, for Sarah is her name”. Immediately after the change Hashem says to both Abraham and Sarah, “I will bless you and increase you”. The Gemara Brachos 16b explains: that only the three are called the Avos (the fathers) and only the four are called the Imahos (the mothers). Who are the three? We know now they are Avraham, Yitzchok and Yaakov, but why not start with someone else, like Terach, Avraham’s father? The Torah describes Abram as old, being ninety-nine years old after Yishmael turns thirteen, which now brings the birth of Yitzchok closer. Even if we didn’t want to have Terach as one of the ‘fathers’, he IS the biological father of Abram and we can’t change that link. In fact, going up the ladder tracing the generations from Terach to Noach and further back to Adam, each and everyone one is referred to as the Avos. In the words of Chaza”l, is it possible to take a sharp knife and sever the generation between Abram and Terach so that the chain of three starts with Abram, continuing to Yitzchok and Yaakov? Apparently, when Hashem decided to plant the vineyard of Israel, He did it in a way that was intended to break the link from Terach to his son Abram, starting with Abram as the first and continuing to make the three with his son Yitzchok and his son Yaakov, thereby creating the Avos of three as we know it to be. But how?

When birth occurs naturally, the father is known to the child as his father, and the father of the father is known as the grandfather. In the chain of family tree, the child is the trunk at the bottom, the body is the father, and the branches of the tree are formed by the grandfather and further back through the previous generations. But there was one man who was older and, with his wife, no longer had the ability to have children in the ‘natural’ way. Hashem intervened and miraculously reverted both the man and his wife, Abram and Sarai, to their youth, enabling them to bear children. Since the chain of natural birth stopped with Abram, he was no longer directly connected to his father Terach, because if Abram was unable to have a natural child then the connection to the grandfather and previous ancestors no longer existed. Therefore, Hashem waited until Abram and Sarai were older, well past child-bearing age, and performed a Neis/miracle. Hashem caused them, in a sense to be reborn. A new beginning was created with Abram and Sarai and their Koach, their strength to have the ‘natural’ child would continue to Yitzchok and then to Yaakov, establishing the three Avos.

To demonstrate this nais/miracle to the new potential parents, Hashem changed their old physical bodies to new, younger ones. When a new child is born, the baby is given a name; to begin their new life, Hashem changed the names of both Abram and Sarai to Avraham and Sarah - new identities completely disconnected from Terach and Haran, the fathers of Abram and Sarai. Avraham and Sarah experienced a change in body and soul; their physical qualities changed from old back to young, and spiritually through the slight change of their names by the mere addition of a letter. . In addition, they needed brand new biological clocks that gave them the opportunity to have children specifically in the miraculous form to establish the chain and link of the Avos beginning with Avraham and not from Terach, his father.

All of us need to constantly review and evaluate who we are and where we are going as we progress through our lives. Sometimes we need to adjust and ‘change’ who we are in a slight manner - a little more or a little less - regarding how we go about our lives. That is the slight hour change, keeping the general time and connecting it to who we are as people. On the other hand, (no pun intended) sometimes we need to ‘change the clock’, experiencing a complete, new, thorough overhaul, putting completely new systems into place. Hopefully by recognizing time and place of where we and our families are, we can ‘change’ the clock and be right on time every time!

Parshas Noach - The Key to Kindness               3 Cheshvan 5780

11/01/19 09:10:06


The Mishnah explains that the world stands on three pillars: Torah, Avodah and Gemilus Chasadim - the study of Torah, prayer and acts of kindness. Two of the three, studying Torah and Tefillah – prayer - can be done singularly, by an individual. There’s no question that prayer should be done within a Tzibur , with others together, and learning should be with a study partner with a place of study or a Bais Midrash setting. On the other hand, the mitzva of performing or participating in a Chessed, a kindness, requires at least one other individual, in order to perform the kindness for that person.. Without the other person it is impossible to complete the Chessed. The old cliché, ‘it takes two to tango’ first applied to the Mitzva of Chessed long before the dance was created. Unfortunately, the Mitzvos that are dependent upon one another are more difficult to do. In contrast, Mitzvos that are within our purview are typically within our control. We decide whether to do the mitzva or not; I can daven, choose when or even whether to learn, but it is impossible to complete the Chessed alone; I, the giver, cannot also be the recipient. Alternatively, I the recipient, require the giver.

During the month of Elul, the time of year we prepare for the days of Awe and Judgment, I found myself in Lakewood N.J. a small city with many observant Jews. In my view, a smaller Jewish community has fewer opportunities for Chessed than a larger one. This is not to say there aren’t needs in smaller communities, but the issues and needs multiply as the population expands. For example, we here in San Diego may see one ‘meshulach’/charity collector a week while in the shul where I davened in Lakewood had between fifteen and twenty such individuals every single morning. A second example of simple giving would be when a person might need a car ride because his or her car broke down or is in for repairs. In Lakewood, I could drive around all day as an unpaid ‘Uber/Lyft or taxicab driver, picking up Jews in need of such assistance all day long six days a week. Many families only have one vehicle, and due to the nature of the daily yeshiva schedule, school age children, young marrieds, the elderly, are always hitch-hiking to and from Yeshiva. In these two examples we clearly see opportunity to perform a chessed.

The following is the opinion of this writer,, so I will speak for myself as I’m not sure others feel the same way. Unfortunately for me, when I see collectors scurrying around the Shul collecting, a million thoughts ranging from why do they have to disturb our davening to why can’t they just get a regular job run through my mind. Regarding giving a rides to those caught without a needed car, I think to myself, why didn’t they plan this out? Why couldn’t they arrange to get assistance ahead of time? This is actually the reality of how some people operate, the looking for a ride IS their plan, someone collecting IS working, this is his livelihood. This has been the typical way I viewed these situations in the past. Now it was Elul, the month of introspection, a time to become that better person and develop an attitude towards others as we want God to have toward us. Therefore, I re-focused and analyzed these and other situations to focus on the potential Chessed and make it an actual, a real kindness. This did not require any physical change as to how I would do something, but rather it is a small change in personal attitude and how I approach this Mitzva, which is - no question - a challenge.

The key to kindness is to think about the situation beyond what we see in front of us. Forget about the kid I’m giving a ride for or the man going to yeshiva as being late or disorganized. Think instead about the result: it was because of me that this particular individual was abe to be where they needed to be, hopefully on time rather than late. This person will be able to daven a better Shacharis because I got him there on time. When I give some tzedakah to the collector, I don’t think about him but about the children he’s raising money to help who will have a decent Shabbos dinner or the money to purchase needed shoes or clothing, or the ability to purchase needed medication. By giving the extra dollar, that dollar will contribute to someone’s family to pay down excessive bills. We must realize that the Chessed we do goes far beyond the immediate person in front of us. Chessed, by definition of what giving is really all about, goes far beyond the current situation; that is the key to overcoming those challenging thoughts. This strategy is also found in the Torah for overcoming adversity.

In this week’s parshas Noach the Torah states in Bereishis 7:14 "המה וכל החיה למינה וכל הבהמה למינה וכל הרמש הרמש על הארץ למינהו וכל העוף למינהו כל צפור כל כנף": “They came along with every separate kind of beast, every separate kind of livestock, every separate kind of land animal, and every kind of flying creature - every bird and every winged animal”. The midrashim relate it was not a peaceful year for Noach’s family, who never had time to lie down and sleep for even one full night during the entire twelve-month period of the Mabul. They were responsible for all the thousands of birds, wild animals, domestic animals that had to be fed - each according its own schedule. Some ate by day others by night; it was a 24/7 operation for only eight people. The midrash Socher Tov 1:12 and Midrash Rabbah 28:9 teaches that while Noach was in the Teivah he constantly davened to Hashem and asked to be delivered from this prison; his soul was tired of the smell of lions, bears and panthers. Hashem said to Noach, “It is My decree that you shall not leave this confinement for a full twelve months!”

Rav Eliyahu Dessler in Michtav M’Eliyahu asks what was the purpose of Hashem assigning to Noach and his family this overly-burdensome task of keeping all of the animals alive? Rav Dessler answers that the destruction of the world was due to Chamas/robbery motivated by people’s ego.. To become the builders of the new world, Noach and his family had to work on themselves, cultivating within each of them the opposite trait. The opposite of taking is giving, the opposite of taking what you think is yours is to give back that which is yours. The taking from someone else can only be corrected by giving from yourself. These are the traits of kindness and mercy upon which form the basic principles of Chessed. When a person gives selflessly to a cause, he benefits through inner growth. Noach and his family needed to learn to see beyond the present, beyond the difficult and repulsive job they had in the Ark. The only way to see it through was to investigate the future; their efforts maintained the existence of animal life as was known before the flood.

The key to Chessed is seeing within, looking deeply and understanding that what is beyond the challenge that is in front of us lies beauty of giving beyond what we are able to see. Let us all master the Key to Chessed is having vision and understanding that our acts are not limited to the here and now but will have ripple effects to many others beyond the one person in front of us.

Parshas V'Zos HaBracha/Bereishis - The End is Actually the Beginning      26 Tishrei 5780

10/25/19 09:38:48


When I was a Bachur, an unmarried Yeshiva student, a friend and colleague of mine, Rabbi Daniel Wasserman, asked me to help lead davening on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur in a Shul in Jersey City, N.J. At the time, I was not fully acquainted with the nusach (tunes or proper liturgy) of Yamim Noraim, the High Holiday tunes. It was recommended that I ask Cantor Jack Rosenbaum, Of Blessed Memory, to teach me the nusach. With trepidation I called him, and he invited me over to his home to discuss the matter. At the time I didn’t have any extra money to pay for the lessons and if I had to pay, I would essentially use the money I would earn from davening over the holidays and therefore not really come out ahead. He asked me how much I could pay, but before I was able to respond, he said I will make you a deal! If I would agree to do Shnayim Mikrah V’Echad Targum (read the Torah portion twice and the commentary Onkelos once), he would give me the lessons at no charge. I immediately agreed and not only learned how to daven for the High Holidays, which was a skill set I would use later in my career, I also learned through the Torah that year.

A day before Shmini Atzeres/Simchas Torah I received a text from a father of one of my congregants who was spending this Simchas Torah in Israel visiting a different child. Last year he was here with his wife visiting his son and his family here in San Diego. Here is the exact text he sent me: “Last Simchas Torah, you challenged the tzibur (congregation) to take on Shnayim Mikroh v’Echad Targum. Today, B”H, I finished my first cycle. Thank you for the challenge.” That text totally made my Yom Tov one of the best. I realized how, in so few words of challenge and inspiration, it’s possible to create so much Torah learning. I’m not aware of any others who may also have been moved take on this challenge, but, even if it was for only one person, it sent shockwaves through me and in heaven because I know it helped him to grow.

The Kabbalists were awestruck at the veracity and enormity that is accomplished through reviewing SHM”T (Shnayim Mikra V’Echad Targum). The sefer Yesod Shoresh Va’Avoda and the Chasam Sofer in his Chidushim to Chullin says that by reading SHM”T, a person removes the small shell fragments that stuck on the Torah when Moshe smashed the Luchos/Tablets. The shell fragments are an impediment to fully grasping the depth and understanding of the Torah due to the negative influence of the smashing of the luchos. Reviewing the Sedra in this fashion removes that barrier. It is amazing how the simple reading of the verses has such force, allowing us to open up the deeper meaning of the Torah. The Shlah HaKadosh in tractate Shabbos, the Megaleh Amukos in Parshas Kedoshim, the Kaf HaChaim in 285:32, relates in the name of the kabbalists through reading of SHM”T that a person merits and prepares himself for the Neshama Yesierah, the extra soul we are given for Shabbos. That second neshama/soul is called אדם‘Adam’ which is a praise and crowning of all the names of mankind. Some other names such as ‘Ish’ or ‘Enosh’ are the simpler names, but the name אדם is the most noted. A hint to this is found in the verse Bereishis 2:10 "ויקרא האדם שמות לכל הבהמה ולעוף השמים ולכל חית השדה ולאדם לא מצא עזר כנגדו" - and he called them (all the animals) by their names, as Adam was given the task and charge to name every creature by knowing its essence. Adam had this special wisdom that gave him the ability to name the animals based upon their inner nature and essence. I would suggest it was through the neshama yeseirah that Adam had extra wisdom through which he was able to name the animals. We often hear that the essence of a person comes from his Neshama - his soul. Therefore, Adam was able to use his neshama to identify the other ‘neshamos’ of the animals (not meaning that animals actually have a soul but rather meaning their essence). Every Shabbos we receive an additional soul in its raw state. We decide if, how and when we will use it for something positive or negative, whether we will use it to give us more strength, wisdom, courage to make proper decisions for that coming week, or choose to do nothing with it. Week in and week out we take on the role of Adam HaRishon and can identify the essence of beings, situations and life’s experiences.

The very last parsha of the Torah וזאת הברכה - and this is the blessing that Moshe gave to the children of Israel - is the ability to take something from its end and start again. The Chasam Sofer writes that the last three words of the Torah Devarim 34:12 states לעיני כל ישראל - in front of all the eyes of the Jewish people - בראשית ברא אלוקים “In the beginning God created the world”. The Gemara Sotah 14a quotes Rav Simlai “the Torah begins with Chessed/kindness and ends with Chessed. In Bereishis, after Adam and Chava ate from the forbidden tree, they had knowledge of their nakedness. So, God, with kindness, fashioned leather clothing and dressed them to spare them from embarrassment. The Torah in Devarim 34:6 ends with a Chessed that it was God who took care of Moshe after he died, and He buried him [Moshe]. Reb Yerucham Levovitz, the Mashgiach of the Mirrer Yeshiva, said from here we see that the essence of the entire Torah is Chessed/kindness and caring for others as illustrated by Hashem in the beginning and in the end.

As the Torah begins with the six days of creation, it wasn’t until the seventh day that Shabbos, the day of rest, was created. One might question and think it is odd, why on a day of rest would you would have another neshama? The simple answer is Shabbos is resting after the week and preparing for the new week. Shabbos is a day of rest from creativity, but not a day of rest to nourish and fill the extra neshama that we will use in its wisdom for the upcoming week. Shabbos is the actual last day of the week, but it is preparing us for the new coming week. So too, at the end of the year we immediately look forward to the new year and what we will accomplish. We just concluded a seven-week period of feeding and nourishing our souls. Baruch Hashem I see many in our kehilla who are taking the old or last part and using it to continue nourishing the new year and new winter season, taking the spirituality of the neshamot yeseiros and applying it to nurture and continue the growth from that which was imbedded in them these past two months. I truly hope and pray that we do not look at the concluding of Elul, Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, Sukkos, Chol Hamoed, Hoshana Rabba, Shmini Atzeres and Simchas Torah as the end, but rather take all of this beauty which has nourished our souls to lead into the new beginning of a prosperous year, both physically and spiritually.


Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas HaAzinu - Hashem Hashem, The All Merciful One       12 Tishrei 5780

10/11/19 08:43:37


There is a standard tradition of asking for mechila – forgiveness - from one another before Yom Kippur. Typically, it is easier to ask forgiveness from someone who isn’t that close to you, such as an acquaintance or a person whom you are friendly but are not really close.. There are the other people who are very good friends and still others who are even closer, such as family. Throughout the year we are more likely to have run-ins and disagreements with people with whom we have close contact throughout the year. . Typically, shortly before Yom Kippur,, someone will approach you to ask for mechila/forgiveness. Immediately we respond, “Of course I forgive you.” Then, without missing a beat, ,we respond by asking forgiveness from from them. But I think there is one group of people who present difficulty with regard to this pleasant two-way forgiveness refrain. For this group, asking for mechila is only a one-way street. Let me explain. Children need to honor and respect their parents. They need to ask forgiveness; the parents do not have to ask forgiveness from a child. (A Rebbi may be in the same category as a parent).

As time and life goes by, not everyone is able to ask their parents forgiveness for a variety of reasons. One obvious reason is because the parent is no longer in this world physically. However, there are situations when a parent is here physically, but mentally the parent is in a different place. In my case my mother a”h is in the next world, and my father Y”BL, who is in this world but is not really aware of what’s going on due to his lack of sight and hearing, cannot respond. There’s no question that as a son I can be doing more for my father. I can call more often, visit a few more times a year, and overall be a better son. On Erev Yom Kippur, as I wished my father a Gut Yom Tov, I asked him forgiveness for anything that I may have done wrong to him or for anything I may not have done correctly for him. This tradition is something we do every year, but this year felt a little different. This past year has seen a decline in my father’s mental ability and diminishing recognition of the people around him. This is in addition to the fact that he is so far away. He is only able to hear a voice on Skype or telephone. Up until this year there was some type of reply, usually a ‘yes’ to the forgiveness from my father before Yom Kippur, but this year was different. There was no reaction after we spoke. No ‘yes’. This made me very nervous. Perhaps he does not forgive me for some of the issues I mentioned earlier, or perhaps there is something else completely different, something that I am unaware of. I keep thinking to myself, perhaps he heard me ask for mechila, and this time he is not ready to forgive me!

Two quick points came to mind, and I came to the realization that I should not be nervous after all. First, I know he doesn’t hear me, and I know his memory is compromised. I know this and I deal with this throughout the entire year. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, I KNOW my father, and despite having gotten angry a few times in his life, he is an extremely forgiving person. There’s no reason for this beautiful characteristic to stop now. My father’s kindness always came through; despite becoming angry, his strong compassionate nature would shine through. Therefore, I felt confident that despite the silence after my request there is no concern that his merciful side would not take over the Din/judgment. This relationship of a parent to a child is uniquely powerful in the sense that the father always has compassion for his child - under any circumstances. We may see the mercy and kindness by a human parent, but does it exist with our Father in Heaven?

In this week’s Parshas HaAzinu the Torah states in Devarim 32:39: "ראו עתה כי אני אני הוא ואין אלוקים עמדי, אני אמית ואחיה מחצתי ואני ארפא ואין מידי מציל" - “But now see! It is I! I am the [only] One! There are no [other] gods with Me! I kill and give life! If I crushed, I will heal! But there is no protection from My power!” Rabbi Shimon Betzalel Neuman, in his sefer Peninim Yekarim, asks why the verse repeats the word ‘Ani’? He explains, based upon a Rashi in Parshas Vaera Shmos 6:2, whereby God spoke to Moshe and said to him, “I am YHVH (Hashem). Whenever God uses the name ‘Hashem’ with regard to a Mitzvah, it’s an expression that He guarantees, is believed that He will pay the reward for the fulfillment of the Mitzva. Likewise, whenever the name of God is used in reference to punishment for a sin, the word Hashem is also used. This is because He is believed to pay a price to the individual for sinning. But this terminology begs the question: Why, by dishing out a punishment, do we use the term Hashem - the YHVH which is used exclusively as an understanding of mercy and not judgment? The classic,general rule is that the name Elokim is reserved for judgment, while the name Hashem is used to describe mercy. Here, by serving a punishment, shouldn’t we use the term Elokim and not Hashem?

The answer is that even when God punishes, it is done with a sense of rachamim/mercy. This directly connects to the way a loving father at times needs to punish his child; it is done in the most merciful way possible. This is what is meant when we recite the verse in Pesukei D’Zimra Tehilim 135:14 that Dovid HaMelech took from Haazinu 32:36 "כי ידין ה' עמו": “For Adonay judges His people”. Even at a time when God is judging and meting out punishment, He does it by mixing in Rachamim/mercy and actually removes the Din/judgment, leaving mercy. The proof is nuanced in the words, “But now see it is I. It is I; this is a guarantee or security that I, Hashem the merciful God Who will pay the reward and warn of the punishment. It is I [Hashem the merciful God] who is believed to pay. It is I, Hashem, and I alone; Elokim is not with me even when teaching or recording the idea of punishment. It is only Hashem and not Elokim.

As Yom Kippur passes we now try to live our life knowing that Hashem forgave us and that the character of mercy overcame the character of justice. As we enter into this new season heralded by the Yom Tov of Sukkos, we can feel a sense of security and compassion that is represented in the symbolism of the Sukkah. As we will sit in the Sukkah next week, we affirm the notion that God judged us with Hashem and mercy and not Elokim with judgment. Sitting, dwelling in the Sukkah immediately after Yom Kippur is a testament to our belief that we have gained atonement through mercy and not through harsh judgment. Let us bask in the glory of Hashem and let His mercy shine upon us and continue to guide and lead us throughout the year.

Parshas Vayeilech / Shabbos Shuva - Watch Your Step      5 Tishrei 5780

10/04/19 09:02:58


Dictionaries typically provide an array of definitions to words The Oxford English Dictionary, granddaddy of all English-language sources of word definitions, also gives in-depth etymologies – detailed histories of the derivation of every word included its vast word . In addition to all dictionaries, there is also our personal dictionary in which each of us describes or explains something. For example, in my personal dictionary under the word “stubborn,” my definition is: when a person hears a rattling noise and ignores it, or when a car is not driving properly, simply disregards it. The ultimate for me is when I have an ache or pain, or something more severe and completely discount it, declaring that it’ll go away… eventually. Wel, I experienced something that fits this description in my dictionary. A few weeks ago my wife and I traveled to NY for a wedding and before returning home we did some extensive walking in lower Manhattan visiting “Ground Zero”. Upon my return, I felt an intense soreness in my foot which I initially ignored (of course), eventually attributing the continuous, gnawing discomfort to dancing at the wedding and the walking around town. My foot was swollen a bit and after diagnosing myself I took some Motrin and rested a bit overnight, feeling good-to-go the next day. But, alas, it was not getting better, and as each day wore on and I bravely continued to walk around, the soreness grew stronger each day. Finally, as Rosh Hashana was approaching, I began to think about this foot of mine more seriously and went to see my doctor who gave me, among other things, an authorization slip to have my foot X-rayed. Being rather busy, I pushed off getting the X-ray for a few more days, reasoning, “Why should I spend so much money on a co-pay for the x-ray?” I overcame my clarity of reasoning and went to get the X-ray. The technician told me, “You are going to have to see the doctor!”

I could not believe that I broke my foot! I did not remember any time when I may have banged it or fell or even twisted it, yet… x-rays don’t tend to lie. Initially, the doctor said my foot might require being surgically repaired. After my proclaimed disbelief, accompanied by my continuous questioning of the need to have surgery, the doctor managed to maneuver the bone, trying his best to help me avoid surgery if he could help my foot to heal externally. There were many thoughts and messages going through my mind at the time, but mostly, I was and still am in denial that I broke a bone! Let’s be real; it does not hurt that much. In fact, I have no pain at all. Besides a little swelling, I don’t see anything wrong with my broken foot compared to the other one. There’s just a little discomfort…

There is a teaching about the fact that we tend to attribute any bad things or omens that happen to someone at the end of the year as a good sign, indicating that we have completed any punishment on the previous year’s account and therefore can hopefully go into the New Year with a clean slate. I hope for me that is definitely the case! However, this also set my mind in place for the upcoming Ten Days of Repentance from Rosh Hashana To Yom Kippur. We read on both Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur the prayer Unesaneh Tokef. A line of deep concern is וְתִזְכֹּר כָּל הַנִּשְׁכָּחוֹת: You remember all that is forgotten. In a Tefillah “L’Eil Orech Din” we say, “The one who scrutinizes secrets”: "לצופה נסתרות ביום דין. In reacting to my broken foot, I cannot recall anything or any particular time that this injury occurred. But it did. As for me, it was a well-kept secret that I had broken my foot - even when informed that it was broken. I was in disbelief. I could not remember, but Hashem remembered. I could not see anything. But God sees all that is hidden, especially that which man can not see. Throughout the year, throughout our entire lifetimes, we do things that are wrong, but we don’t remember ever committing them. Even when there may be a hint from above that I’m hurting a bit because I may have broken something [committed a sin], I brush it off and say it’s nothing. ignoring the warning signs, disregarding them, remaining in denial, unable to make that connection. We can’t see the crack but the Almighty does, because He sees all. To God the world is seen clearly, for us, mere mortals, we would need an X-ray. And even with the X-ray we still can’t believe it. I am not saying that any illness or sickness is caused by a sin or that a wounded person is bad. We know that sometimes the righteous have difficulties in this world. Nevertheless, these are signs that Hashem is clearly trying to communicate with us. Whatever that message is, we need to take it seriously and not discard it. We need to pay attention and address it. We must be aware of the steps we take and follow a path that the Torah leads us upon. The leaders of the Jewish people literally led us, walked the walk, teaching by example and giving of themselves for the Jewish people. There could be no one more suited for this description than Moshe Rabbeinu’s:

In this week’s Parshas Vayeilech the Torah states in Devarim 31:1"וילך משה וידבר את הדברים האלה אל כל ישראל" “Moshe went {literally walked} and spoke the following words to all Israel, saying to them: Today I am 120 years old and I can no longer come and go”. The steps of Moshe Rabbeinu were not ordinary paces. They teach us everything that Moshe did in Torah and Mitzvos was done for the sake of the Jewish people. Rav Yosef Ben Meir Teomim* in his work Noam Megadim writes the strength of the community gives strength to the leader to reach higher levels and climb the spiritual ladder step by step to lead Am Yisrael to a higher place. Furthermore, Rav Teomim writes that even after Moshe finished walking, meaning after his soul departed from this world, he continued to lead the Jewish people. As he spoke these words and the Jewish people heard his voice, the lessons he taught continue until this very day. In fact, the words you are reading right now are words that Moshe Rabbeinu himself taught us and continue to do so.

We need to be cognizant of our actions and steps because they are all truly hidden, a known only to Hashem. This applies to the sins and to the Mitzvos as well. We sometimes forget the negative or positive impact we have on others, whether we see this or not. Therefore, the lesson for this year is not to tread lightly, to the contrary let’s put our foot down, making positive and strong imprints of Torah values and chessed and kindness to all around us. We, the observant Torah-filled community consist of each individual, every one of us must step up to the plate and fulfill the mandate of V’Halachta Bidrachav: We shall follow or walk in His ways!

Ah Gut Shabbos & ah Gmar Tov

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas Nitzavim / Rosh Hashana - Pitching In                       26 Elul 5779

09/26/19 18:08:01


This year the solar month of September ran neck and neck to the lunar month of Elul. The month of September is by and large the last month of baseball’s regular season preceding the playoffs, while Elul is the last month of the year prior to the post season’s high holidays of Rosh Hashana and Yom HaKippurim. It is during these critical months of Sept/Elul that we prepare for the Big Game, both joining as one in the same pitch.

On Rosh Hashana we hear the pitch of the Shofar blowing, creating a position for us to be successful on the day of judgment. Baseball season boils down to who is going to pitch. Going through the month, I recognized an eerie similarity in the realm of the pitch of the Shofar to the pitching rotation and strategy of who starts and who finishes the game on the mound.

Traditionally, one pitcher pitched the entire game. In the early days of Major League Baseball, substituting a player was not allowed except for sickness or injury. An ineffective pitcher would switch positions with another player on the field. The first relief appearance in the major leagues was in 1876 with Boston Red Caps outfielder Jack Manning switching positions with pitcher Joe Borden. Fast forward to the modern era, a relief pitcher (aka reliever, collectively the bullpen) is a pitcher who specializes is coming into a game started by another pitcher. The difference in usage patterns goes beyond when the pitchers are brought into the game. Unlike starters, who are given several days off after each appearance, relievers are expected to be able to pitch throughout several consecutive games. A relatively recent development in relief pitching is the use of relievers in highly-specific roles. Rather than using all relievers in essentially the same way, as teams do with their starters, managers now try to use each reliever in one of a small number of stereotypical roles that depend on the game situation and the opposing batter. The latest in baseball, an opening pitcher, more frequently referred to as an opener, is a pitcher who specializes in getting the first outs in a game before being replaced by a long reliever or a pitcher who would typically be a starting pitcher. Now, you may be thinking, how does this resemble the blowing of the Shofar?

The Shofar is blown throughout the entire month of Elul except for Erev Rosh Hashana. The Shofar blowing during Elul is just a short blast of Tekiah, Shvarim-Teruah Tekiah at the end of the morning prayer. There were some communities who blew Shofar in the evening after Maariv, but that custom is rarely practiced today. There are many people who can blow Shofar during the month of Elul, but usually they are not the same individuals who blow Shofar on Rosh Hashana. Being a Baal Tokeah (shofar blower) requires skill, stamina and talent. Sure, a few short blows is easy, but on Rosh Hashana the main blower/ Tokea needs to pace himself for the long one-hundred blasts of the day. Each word, i.e. tekiah , shevarim, or teruah, are considered one sound each. During Elul this equals a total of four sounds while Rosh Hashana this equals one hundred kolos/sounds. In baseball there is a reliever, if necessary. Does such a concept exist for blowing the Shofar? Can more than one person blow the Shofar on Rosh Hashana? The Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 585:3 states:אם התחיל לתקוע ולא יכול להשלים ישלים אחר ואפי' ג' או ד' ודי בברכה שבירך הראשון והוא שיהיו שם התוקעים האחרונים בשעת ברכה ואפילו אם בירך ולא יכול לתקוע כלל השני תוקע בלא ברכה ולא הויא ברכה לבטלה: If a person begins to blow the Shofar but cannot finish, someone else can finish. Even three or four people can relieve the starter, and not only can they participate, they do not need to make a Bracha if they heard it already from the beginning. The technical reason this arrangement works is the rule of Kal Yisrael Areivim Zeh BaZeh: every Jew is a guarantor for one another. In essence, we are all like one person, therefore even if another individual comes along to help and complete the blowing of the Shofar, it’s still considered the same one person who is performing the act or the Mitzva. The Shofar may be blown by one or multiple people can join and help. This is the classic example of a starter and reliever. The starter needs to pace himself while the reliever gives it his all right away. In this new age of baseball, with a reliever who starts the game for one or two innings, he gives it his all in the beginning instead of at the end. With regard to the blower of the Shofar, the main pitcher is the Rosh Hashana blower while the reliever - either in the beginning or the end - is the man who does the short stint during Elul. The Jewish people are not just a regular team for the here and now; we are a team that is strung together from game to game, each from one time period to the next.

In this week’s Parshas Nitzavim the Torah states in Devarim 29:13,14 “ולא אתכם לבדכם אנכי כרת את הברית הזאת ואת האלה הזאת. כי את אשר איננו פה עמנו עמד היום לפני ה אלוקינו ואת אשר איננו פה עמנו היום. “But it is not with you alone that I am making this covenant and this dreaded oath. I am making it both with those who are standing here with us today before God our Lord, and with those who are not [yet] here with us today.” On the word ‘yet’ Rashi explains that includes future generations. An obvious question exists: How is it possible to include the future generations in an obligation of a covenant without them being present? Rabbeinu Bachya comments consistently on both verses stating that it is not with you alone, referring to a father who was present. A father is the root and source for his children and for the future branches that will come forth from his [the father’s] roots. Therefore, if the roots were present at the signing of the bris/covenant, then whatever those roots bring forth later are connected and considered an offshoot from their origin. Regarding the second verse “…and with those who are not yet here with us” Rabbeinu Bachya explains those who are not here today in body, but who are here with us today in spirit or with their souls. Other commentaries mention that later generations are dependent upon the previous generations and the previous generations are dependent upon the later generations, vis a vis fulfilling the covenant. Meaning, it’s all or nothing. Those who are here now and those who will be here later; ultimately, Klal Yisrael is viewed as one large body stretching from generation to generation. We do not view the existence of the Jewish people in a vacuum, but rather on a continuum of existence. And so we learn that one Jew can relieve another Jew and carry on the responsibility of fulfilling a particular Mitzva or the ultimate leadership and mission of the Jewish people.

When we hear the blowing of the Shofar on Rosh Hashana, any one of us could be filling that position, taking on that role on behalf of each other. The halacha/law that states we are permitted to have a reliever or substitute for the Shofar blower is not limiting to being given permission to do so. Rather, it is a message that we are all there for each other; we are ready to step in for our fellow Jew in time of need. It is with this lesson in mind we approach the holy and awesome days of Rosh Hashana to let Hashem know that we are not only individuals, but we come as a nation. We come as a people as brothers and sisters ready to help one another. In this merit may we all be zocheh to a Kesiva Va’Chasima Tova, a Happy and sweet New Year!

Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas Ki Savo - The Purpose of Elul                 19 Elul 5779

09/18/19 17:58:38


There is a famous story told of the Chofetz Chaim, Reb Yisrael Meir Yisrael Meir Kagan, Zt”l and his student Reb Elchonon Wasserman Zt”l. The story relates how Reb Wasserman spent the month of Elul with his Rebbi the Chofetz Chaim. The story goes that when Rav Elchonon Wasserman’s son was born, he approached his Rebbe, the Chofetz Chaim, and asked his permission to travel home for the baby’s bris. The Chofetz Chaim responded, “Will you be the Mohel?” implying that it is more important to remain in Yeshiva and not to interrupt his learning. Rav Moshe Shmuel Shapiro, zatzal, in his sefer laments the fact that in today’s generation every single simcha - be it a bris, wedding, or sheva brachos, is a reason to take a week off from yeshiva, even to travel out of the country, just to attend the event.

The month of Elul is critical to properly approaching the Yemai HaDin, the Days of Judgment. Today many people shy away from those words, implying the upcoming days are viewed as being harsh and full of exacting punishment. In truth, the days of Elul and the days of Awe are opportunities to get back into a better, more focused routine of the cycle of mitzvos, applying conscientious effort to growing closer to Hashem. It should be likened to an adult son who left home and keeps brief contact with his parents, but later in life recognizes he has the opportunity to call his father and mother on a daily basis and reignite the closeness he had as a child being loved and nurtured by his parents.

Last weekend I attended a very special wedding of a very close friend of mine. A relative of mine asked me, “How are you able to leave your Shul just a few weeks before Rosh Hashana?” Looking back, the timing of being in Lakewood New Jersey for a few days during the month of Elul was mind opening. Lakewood, including its expansion to surrounding areas, has become one of the largest Jewish communities in the country, not only known for the array of kosher food in supermarkets, but also for the numerous eateries for breakfast, lunch and dinner and everything in between. It is a city no doubt wrought with challenges, but equally no doubt it is a place where a Jew can flourish and become a Ben Aliyah, a person of spiritual growth. In a few weeks the words ותשובה ותפילה וצדקה מעבירין את רוע הגזירה:“Repentance, Prayer and Charity remove the evil decree” will be upon our lips and minds. I found myself inspired and witnessing ways to shape the days of Elul and its purpose, just by being in a setting surrounded by this powerful focus. The following description of how and why helped me to grasp a little more deeply on this month of Elul, transcended to the level of an everyday life experience. Shuls are packed for Shacharis, Mincha and Maariv; everyone goes to Shul to daven - the grocer, the butcher, the investment banker, the plumber, electrician, and H-vac guy, the Rebbi from the Cheder and the young men learning in Kollel. Today, Lakewood consists of men and women in all facets of work trying to make a living while simultaneously immersed in a full, spiritual, observant life. In the morning, Shuls are filled with young and some middle-aged men, who come to learn for an hour or so before Shacharis. With fresh, hot, brewed coffee filling their veins, the sound of Torah learning reverberates throughout the building. Mothers and wives share equally in their husbands’ learning of Torah, davening with a minyan three times a day. The sacrifice the wives and the mothers make creates an environment of beauty and commitment from the home, clearly transmitting the message to reinforce that which girls and boys are taught in school - that Torah is the primary ingredient of a Jewish home; it must be central to every family’s core values. The amount of chessed seen and the opportunities for everyone to learn and do are endless. The art to becoming a true Baal Chessed and to be successful at it will be featured in a future article. For me, seeing it during this powerful month of Elul opened my eyes to something we can all work on with proper education and a fresh outlook. The vast number of Jews who do not reside in Lakewood or other large, dense, Jewish communities may not weave this deep connection to Torah or worse, we may be left out. This concern is addressed in the Torah itself, clearly stating that no one can say the Torah is exclusively mine. Rather, the Torah is meant for each one of us.

In this week’s Parshas Ki Savo the Torah states in Devarim 29:3 "ולא נתן ה לכם לב לדעת ועינים לראות ואזנים לשמוע עד היום הזה": “And God did not give a heart to understand, nor eyes to see or ears to hear until this very day.” HaRav Simcha Maimon, in his sefer Shiurei Chumash, quotes Rashi on the words “until this very day”. Rashi states: “he heard and explains that very day that Moshe gave the Torah to the sons of Levi… Later, it states in 31:9 that the Torah was given to the kohanim, the sons of Levi, and all the rest of the Jewish people came to Moshe and cried, “We also stood at Har Sinai and received the Torah. You gave it to us as well”. Why is it now that you give it only to your tribe of Levi, and they, the tribe of Levi, will come to us tomorrow and say Moshe gave us the Torah and not you, referring to the rest of the Jews? At his, Moshe was ecstatic and rejoiced on the matter and went on to say to Klal Yisrael, “On this day we have become a nation,” 27:9 "היום הזה נהיית לעם" ,Indeed,Moshe is saying, “Today I understand that you want to cling to the Torah and to have a desire in the Torah”. Up until this time the Jews observed the Torah, but at times we find people observing and keeping the Torah because they feel and know they have to do it, but maybe they don’t really want to do so. There may be “other” reasons why they stay observant and go through the motions of keeping the Torah, but in fact, they are not really a part of it. On the other hand, there are those who have a different approach and understanding of why they fulfill the Torah’s words. It is because their hearts desire to keep and observe the mitzvos. The difference between these two approaches to serving Hashem and keeping the mitzvos as commanded is recognized and identified when a challenge to do a mitzvah or to fulfill an edict of the Torah is only when they are forced to do so for some reason other than their clear and focused desire to do so. If a person’s heart motivates and drives the individual to observe the mitzvos, that person will want to do them even if not commanded for the sole purpose of getting closer to God. In other words, for some people, any excuse or reason not to observe a mitzva, even when it is something beyond their control, will be enough; they did what they could and are therefore content. By contrast, those who are committed to observing the mitzvoth would be deeply upset, seeking to do anything in their power to be able to fulfill the mitzvoth in order to fully observe the Torah.

Moshe, upon hearing the people demand the rights to the Torah become upset at the thought that Moshe was not giving it to them, that they could be removed from such obligation, made Moshe rejoice. Recognizing that the people exclaimed their desire to possess to also embrace the Torah gave Moshe cause for rejoicing. Torah learning, intense observance of the mitzvoth, a feeling of desire to grow in Torah and Yiras Shamyim is not exclusive to the Lakewoods, Borough Parks, and other such communities. We here in San Diego need to stand up proudly not just espousing lip service, proclaiming that the Torah is ours as well as theirs. We all need to make this Elul a defining moment in our growing closer to Avinu She’Bashamayim, our Father in Heaven.


Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas Ki Saytzay - A Jew is A Jew is A Jew     12 Elul 5779

09/11/19 15:50:23


My Jewish identity has always been a source of attraction to others since the earliest times I can remember. As a child growing up in Borough Park (or Boro Park as spelled by the natives!) I was chased by the local non-Jews, forcing me to try to be inconspicuous and walk on the other side of the street. During my high school years I traveled to school on the NYC subway, passing through neighborhoods that were not safe for anyone, especially Jews. I was taunted at times or stared down; I preferred feigning sleep or to fake doing my schoolwork (that was easy to do because I always faked doing my homework throughout high school). Relocating six thousand miles to go to Yeshiva in Israel gave me a completely different sense of pride and joy of being Jewish. Please keep in mind this was in the early 1980’s before the Intifada was conceived. We traveled in taxis owned and driven by Arabs and I shared an entire taxi ride with my cousins (local Arabs), being the only Jew in the cab. Returning to America for me was a religious culture shock, acutely aware of our minority status - even in NY - amongst the gentile population. It only took one incident of a car slowing down to have a bunch of young anti-Semites yell a few obscenities and display some vulgar motions to remind me of where I was, back in the exile. To this day, some yelling of some kind of anti-Jew rhetoric is not uncommon. Since I’m older now and down’t hear as well, I feel less upset by these ‘happenings’, especially since I’m never certain that the rhetoric is directed at me.

Despite my awareness and memory of open anti-Semitic insults remains very clear, the level of attacks of verbal anti-Semitism has not been an issue for me, Baruch Hashem. In fact, over the years I’ve felt a decrease in anti-Semitic name calling. I have written about the many questions I receive about Judaism and religion while I am out and about at a park, mall, or shopping. The questions asked of me typically range from when/what the next holiday is to is how much that individual loves, admires, respects, etc. Israel. Sometimes I get lucky and missionaries actually try to convert me. Recently, I was in a public restroom in the airport and the following situation took place: I was in the bathroom washing my face, trying to refresh from a flight when I was approached by a non-Jew. I was asked point blank by this total stranger, “What is the difference between an orthodox Jew and a regular Jew?” The question took me by surprise, I thought, and I believe Hashem put the best words into my mouth. I paused, looked back at him and said, “Nothing. There is no difference between one Jew and another.” Of course, we know there are differences in the way Jews observe the Torah from everything to nothing, but we are all inherently the children of the same Avos, - the same Fathers - Avraham, Yitzchok and Yaakov. The thread that we all share are the middos, the character traits that are seen in our DNA. There are certain Middos that are only found in a Jew who is either born Jewish or someone who properly converts to Judaism. Part of the conversion is converting the DNA to Jewish traits of Middos tovos. The Torah and Judaism allow for conversion to Judaism, some immediately, others after a few generations, and still some others who can never convert and become Jewish.


In this week’s parsha Ki Saytzay the Torah states in Devarim 23:4: "לא יבוא עמוני ומואבי בקהל השם, גם דור עשירי לא יבוא להם בקהל השם, עד עולם. על דבר אשר לא קדמו אתכם בלחם ובמים..." “ - ”An Ammonite or Moabite [*man] may not enter God’s marriage group. They may never enter God’s marriage group, even after the tenth generation. This is because they did not greet you with bread and water when you were on the way out of Egypt.” Abarbanel comments the Ammonites or Moabites did not give essentials even though Avraham Avinu showed special kindness to their ancestor Lot. Rav Eliyahu Lopian Zt”l elucidates that in dealing with the low life Amalekite where the Torah commands us to blot them out, nevertheless if they come to convert we accept them, but in contrast to children and offspring of Lot we do not accept converts. Regarding Amalek (which is found at the end of this week’s parsha) ,the Torah says “They did not fear God”, but if an Amalekite would accept upon himself the yoke of Torah and Mitzvos, then he would be fearful and in awe of Hashem and would be kasher and acceptable, as is the case regarding any other gentile from any other nation. But Amon and Moav had bad middos; they were destructive and denied and or did not recognize the good that had been done for them. Therefore, they will never be accepted into the Jewish fold and can not convert to Judaism. No exceptions, even to the tenth generation. Amon and Moav can never join the congregation of Hashem, forever.

Is the real reason we don’t accept the Moabites and Amonites into the fold because they didn’t feed us? Maybe we should judge them favorably and give them the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps they lacked the resources necessary to feed and sustain us. If they were a poor people, they would not have had enough bread and water to sustain to an entire nation. Reb Yonason Eybeshutz explains the reason we don’t accept them has nothing to do with food. This eternal denial of acceptance is due to the second part of the verse when the Torah states that they hired the non-Jewish prophet Bilaam to curse the Jews. It was the hatred they displayed by trying to curse us, to deny us any possibility for a future. Obviously, they would not offer us bread and water. We understand the wickedness of their intent; we will not judge them favorably because we know the core reason they refused us bread and water was due to their hatred of us. Someone who hates a people will not and should not deserve to become a part of that nation.

Am Yisral, time and time again throughout our history, has mobilized its forces and unified its energy to help out a Jew no matter who that person may be, anywhere across the globe. We are one body and one soul and at the core there really are no differences when we strip away and peel off the layers of black, white and all colors in between. Nevertheless, even though subconsciously and intellectually every Jew knows and feels this way, our emotions sometime get in the way, keeping us from demonstrating the kinship that we ultimately share. This Elul is the time to look beyond the surface of our differences and see the core of each Neshama, how every one of us comes from the same source. As we see Am Yisrael as an Am Echad, Blev Echad, Hashem, our father in heaven, will look down upon His children with mercy - as a father shows upon his children. Elul is about not about repairing, it’s about recognizing our similarities and looking beyond our differences and it’s about showing the world there is no difference between Jews!

Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky


*Ammonite or Moabite man but not woman (Yevamos 69a) See Ruth 1:4, 4:13

Parshas Mishpatim - First & Foremost               5 Elul 5779

09/05/19 12:55:40


A famous chef once explained to me that when food is partially prepared either by frying, roasting, grilling, or boiling, and the cooking process is finished off with a different kind of cooking, the taste will always follow the initial cooking method. Sometimes a person boils or cooks some meat and then throws it onto the grill for the flavor. The issue is that boiling the meat not only renders out the fat, it also causes the natural juices of the meat to be released. Take, for example, spareribs which require preservation of both the fat and the natural juices of the meat in order to maintain the true flavor of the ribs. Parboiling doesn't remove much of the natural flavor, but there will still be some loss. Simmering for an hour will result in a large loss of flavor, which can be tasted in the water. The meat itself can become quite dry after it loses its natural juices due to boiling or simmering. For best flavor and retention of moisture, whether chicken or beef, boiling is not recommended. Slow cooking with low heat accomplishes the same goals of tenderizing and rendering of fat without the loss of flavor or moisture of the meat.

This notion is supported in a few places in the Talmud: Kerisus 12b, Shabbos 71a in discussions regarding the liability of eating two pieces of forbidden foods if they combine to make a full size of a Kezayis - an olive size amount. The Gemara in Kerisus declares that if the two half-measures of forbidden food come from the ‘Tamchui’, an Aramaic word most often used in connection with a soup kitchen, but in this case it is used regarding two identical foods that are prepared differently do not combine to make the adequate measure (kezayis). Rashi in the Gemara Shabbos clearly explains this Tamchui as one boiled the other grilled and therefore for the purposes of cooking on Shabbos similarly do not combine to make the full measure and therefore are exempt from punishment. From here we see a clear distinction between the first half of something to its second half.

Things that are the first in life take and hold the strength and sway over everything that comes afterwards. This factor is found in the laws of kashrus with a technical term referred as תתאה גבר - “the bottom overtakes the top”. Generally speaking, when something is poured onto something, the mixture of the two is determined by the bottom or initial item or ingredient. This, perhaps, is the reasoning behind the cliché ‘first impressions are lasting’ and the supporting axiom ‘first impressions are so important’. Chaza”l teach that it’s not necessarily upon all of us to finish the task, but starting is something everyone needs to do. There are many references to the beginning or the first of something in life that, in my humble opinion, carries the bulk of that ‘something’ throughout our lifetime. A final and decisive issue complementing this concept I believe is the different friends and friendships we encounter from the cradle to the grave.

I have remarked and others have remarked to me that the friends that we have from our childhood and early adulthood are the dearest, most sincere and dedicated people we will connect with throughout our lives. Surely we make friends as adults and as we progress through life. Truth be told some of those friendships, once made, are so sound and strong that is as though we have known them since we were very young. For me, it was during my high school and summer camp years that I established the strongest of friends. Let me explain. The friends from my high school years, despite our different paths religiously and in terms of observance, have continued to remain close no matter our differences. We may not speak for a couple of years, but when we connect it’s as if we spoke and saw each other yesterday. Old friends, or our first friends are not judgmental; they are always there, ready to help, to laugh, and to hold us when we need them to do so. No one is counting who owes the other the next phone call, as is so often the case in later friendships. A few weeks ago, amongst our many visitors and guests, a man approached me after davening and began to quiz me, asking if I could guess who he is. He is (now Rabbi) Asher Dicker, a friend from the old neighborhood, someone with whom I had davened on Shabbos and had not spoken to or seen in thirty years. It was such an enormous feeling, such a powerful sensation which brought me back to my youth. As he is a noted talmid chacham, as we were saying our goodbyes to each other he departed with a dvar Halacha and a Torah thought. There is a Halachik rule that when two Mitzvos occur simultaneously, we perform the one that is more common than the other. For example, a classic example of this for a man is what does he don first, his talis or his tefillin? Since they are both obligations occurring for davening, which takes precedence over the other? We follow the ‘Tadir V’She’eino Tadair, Tadir Kodem’ that which is common and the other not common, the more common one goes first. Tallis is worn seven days a week while Tefilin (not worn on Shabbos or Yom Tov) is six days a week, so we put on the Tallis and afterwards the wrap the Tefilin.

Rav Dicker posed the following query: This past Sunday was Rosh Chodesh Elul and we add Borchi Nafshi to the end of the Rosh Chodesh davening. At the same time we began reciting L’Dovid Hashem Ori on Rosh Chodesh Elul. Which one do we recite first? In practice we said Borchi Nafshi first and then L’Dovid, but when we look at the rule we say Borchi Nafshi for RoshChodesh - approximately seventeen times throughout the year - while L’Dovid is said from Rosh Chodesh through Shmini Atzeres, clearly over fifty days! Reb Asher provided an insight that satisfies the challenge, and that is how do we view reciting something multiple times. Borchi Nafshi is recited every month, from month to month from one Rosh Chodesh to the next with a break in the middle, demonstrating each time we say it is its own time, thereby seventeen different times. On the other hand, we are told to recite L’Dovid during this ONE time period beginning Rosh Chodesh Elul and ending after Sukkos, but it is only recognized as the one time a year we say it and therefore it is the less common of the two. Hence saying Borchi Nafshi first is the proper order and saying L’Dovid is second.

The concept of tithing and the ‘first’ is a part of Jewish life in terms of the first gifts to God through the Kohanim as indicated in the Torah. In this week’s Parshas Shoftim the Torah states in Devarim 18:3: “וזה יהיה משפט הכהנים מאת העם מאת זבחי הזבח אם שור אם שה ונתן לכהן הזרע והלחיים והקבה" - “This shall be the law of what the priests receive from the people: When any ox, sheep, or goat is slaughtered as food, you must give the priest the foreleg, the jaw and the maw”. The Ramban (Nachmanidies) quotes the Rambam (Maimonidies) from his sefer Moreh Nevuchim III, 39 that the cheeks are given to the priests because they are the first part of the body of the animal, the shoulder is the first of the extremities of the body, and the maw is the first of the inwards, for the first of them all is given to the ministers of the Most High in His honor. This is just another example of how the first things of the world are unique and special.

The ultimate first and special are the first nation and the unique relationship we, the Jewish people, have with Hashem. Unfortunately, we don’t see ourselves as the ‘first’ ones of Hashem; therefore we fall short of acting in the manner that is called for. As a result we have strayed and fallen aside. Elul is the time to remember the ‘first’ of the year, and we, as the first nation, have the responsibility to carry who we are and what we represent and to reestablish the order of the world as it was in the very beginning.


Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas R'Ay - Leaving Your Mark                    28 Av 5779

08/22/19 23:05:54


As we all know, San Diego is a popular vacation and business destination. While businesspeople travel to San Diego year round to attend meetings, conventions, seminars, and the like, they are different than the tourist crowd. Although when a guest appears in Shul, I ask, “Are you here on business or for pleasure,” when they respond that they are here on business, I respond, “Your business here should be pleasurable.” On the other hand, Jewish tourists tend to visit our fair city at specific times of the year, depending upon their children’s school/yeshiva schedules, These calendar breaks also apply to winter vacation,. Some schools follow the secular school calendar, so vacations coincide with the non-Jewish holidays; other schools intentionally create a designated week-long break in January or February. The summer vacation is also organized around similar schedule issues. Some schools are off the full months of July and August while others schedule their summer breaks during the month of Av, resuming school the beginning of Elul. As we head into the new school year for everyone (after Labor Day and Rosh Chodesh Elul), I want to take a look back at some of the highlights and accomplishments of the past summer.

I am proud of the fact that Beth Jacob is a popular destination for so many tourists who come from the full spectrum of Judaism. Sephardim, Ashkenazim, observant and more observant, locals and foreigners all enter our Shul not only feeling welcome but also are immediately made to feel at home. We strive to provide an environment that is welcoming and warm, driving home the point that we openly make every effort to make every visitor’s stay that much more enjoyable, if that is even possible! The help we offer is accepted with appreciation and gratitude by our visitors, often expressing amazement at the warmth of our community At the end of their stay, whether it was a day or a week or more, I ask them if this was their first time to San Diego. If they say yes, I tell them “it won’t be their last visit either; they’ll be back, and we’ll look forward to their return.

Typically, the shul gets used - and abused - from the playground outside to the bathrooms inside and everything in between: the building and premises get used. the kelim mikva, Moishe’s Grill, our shul is a place to regroup and use as a base of operation. And still, this is the least of what we have to offer. The heaviest usage, without a doubt, are within the four walls of the Beis Medrash where davening, learning and the planning of vacation days take place daily. I announce to visitors and guests that the air conditioning blows all day, the lights burn throughout the night, water, tea and coffee available 24/6. The wear and tear on the Shul take its toll, but then again we are here to help and serve Klal Yisroel. Due in part to our hospitality, guests and visitors leave donations to the Shul for all these various reasons, either on-line, contribute cash to the office, write a check or use a credit card for donations. Some actually make use of the pink donation envelopes we have in the Beis Medrash. Last week I pulled one of these pink donation envelopes from the Tzedakah box. On the surface the two-dollar donation seems minimal, but the message is priceless!

On the inside flap of these donation envelopes are choices as to how the visitor wants the donation to be directed - general fund, youth activities, library fund, etc. In the comment section someone wrote, “Ripped pg in a סידור”. Click here Mi K’Amcha Yisroel - Who is like Your people, Yisroel? A prayer book is used for praying, and if used in the normal way, then a person would not be liable to pay damages if it rips. Of course, if it was negligence then he would be liable. My guess is the person was not negligent; it was accidental, yet he still felt obligated to pay something for it. The deeper reason is things that belong to a shul are known as ‘Mamon Hekdesh’ - holy money. While the Beis HaMikdash stood, there was a Mitzva M’ilah: using holy things for personal, use which is a grave sin. The halacha is similar today in that the shul has sanctity. e should not use shul property for personal use unless permission is granted. People did not take things from the Beis HaMikdash because it was “just there”; it was forbidden to take without paying for it. Today’s shul is the representation of the Beis Hamikdash; no one should think the shul is obligated to offer something for people to use just because it’s there. Holy, consecrated things could be used if there is compensation for it. These words ring no louder than in the Torah.

In this week’s Parsha R’Ay the Torah states in Devarim 12:8 “לא תעשון ככל אשר אנחנו עשים פה היום איש כל הישר בעיניו": “You will then not be able to do everything that we are doing, [where each] person does what is right in his eyes.” *Rav Meir Dan Plotsky, in his commentary Kli Chemdah on Torah, explains this verse is a warning to the Jewish people. The warning was about how life would be different in Eretz Yisrael than it was during their time in the desert. Do not think that you will be able to do here in Israel that which you did in the desert. There was no obligation on any individual to bring Olah and sacrificial offerings to the Mishkan, rather every man could do whatever appeared right in his eyes. There was no obligation to bring a Korban, an animal, tithings in the desert for those Mitzvos are dependent and connected to the land of Israel. Sure, they brought sacrifices in the desert, but they were optional and of their free will in contrast to when they were in The Land. In Eretz Yisrael it was no longer optional; it was a requirement. Only after arriving and settling the land were the Bnei Yisrael at rest and ease and therefore had time to undertake these Mitzvos as an obligation. Up until that point the Jews were busy in the desert, traveling from place to place with minimal rest, knowing that at any moment they would need to pack up and go. Hashem did not add the obligation of bringing a korban or sacrifice during the forty years in the desert.

With the Beis HaMikdash destroyed and the Jewish people in exile, the Shechina, God’s presence, is found within the shuls and Batei Midrashim. The Kedusha and holiness exists in these places, thereby the premises and their contents are considered holy. If damaged, restitution is an obligation. Even if one would argue the point of not being obligated, I think everyone would agree that we should not look to take things from the shuls and Batei Midrashim. Rather, we should give and pay because it is considered holy money. These items are forbidden to be used for personal benefit unless authorized for ordinary, day to day usage. If we begin treating our holy houses with proper respect, we will prove that we are worthy to see the return of the Shechina in the permanent Third Beis HaMikdash!!!

Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky


*Meir Dan Plotsky 1866 - 1928 was the President of Kollel Polen. He was a Talmudic scholar who authored the Kli Chemdah, a commentary on the Torah. He also authored the Chemdas Yisrael on Sefer ha-Mitzvot.

Plotsky was the son of Rabbi Chaim Yitzchak Ber Plotzker of Kutno, who was first a follower of Rav Chanoch Henich of Alexander, but who then became a follower of the Sfas Emes of Ger. At the age of nine, Plotsky was sent to learn in the yeshiva of Rabbi Chaim Eliezer Wax, the Nefesh Chayah, in Kalisz, president of Kupat Rabbi Meir Baal HaNes Kollel Polen. Shortly before his bar mitzvah, he became a disciple of Rabbi Avrohom Bornsztain (the Avnei Nezer), first Sochatchover Rebbe, whom he considered his lifelong rebbe muvhak (primary Torah teacher).

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

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Parshas Eikev - Just Follow the Rules              22 Av 5779

08/22/19 23:05:18


One part of a pulpit rabbi’s job is to comfort and give encouragement to those who are not well. One of the usual but deeply-felt comments I make as I take leave of someone is that the next time I see this individual I hope he or she will feel stronger and better and will be completely healed. In most cases once the patient leaves a facility, I follow up from time to time either by phone or text. The best scenario of all is when the tables are turned, and instead of me visiting a person who is not well , that person is able to visit me in my office! Last week I had an incredible visit from someone who, according to the logical course of the illness, should not have been sitting across my desk.

A renewed member of life and now of the Shul met with me after a long four-year battle with multiple life-threatening issues. For many years Dennis Mesnick volunteered for Beth Jacob, raising money for the shul to help continue spreading Torah values throughout the community. Dennis, for all the years that I have known him, was always upbeat, willing to help anyone, and a mensch. After battling serious illnesses these past four years, he consistently expresses no anger with what life has dealt him. To the contrary, he savors all that life still has to offer him. During our meeting, which I prefer to call a visit, we both tried to stay positive and not dwell on the past illnesses and continued challenges of life. Nevertheless, as we tried to stay away from the medical chat, it inevitably came up. One of the most fascinating lessons that I am aware of was reviewed again. The introduction to Path of the Just states, “I’m not here to teach you anything new, but rather to remind you of all the things you know already.” During our conversation Dennis told me about his wonderful doctors and mentioned one critical message. Due to Dennis’s condition, his doctor stated the following: “As long as you stay away from certain foods, you will live.” As he continues to improve, he keeps those words of his doctor close to his lips, adhering to that golden rule. The doctor did mention other patients who had the same condition as he but did not follow his advice. Correspondingly, the status of their health had fallen far from where it should have been. An interesting follow-up to this is that Dennis feels that his doctor is more supportive of him because he follows his advice religiously, making the right choices to be healthier. When one follows the orders and directions of any authority, there tends to be more support and encouragement from that teacher, parent, physician, employer and so forth. That has always been Dennis’ message: follow the orders and directions of those who are trying to help you.

While visiting people who need a Refuah Sheleima, it often happens that the person calls me “doctor”, instead of “Rabbi”. Obviously, this is not a sign of disrespect but a mere confusion of titles, since the title “doctor” is so often used during their ordeal. I not only take no issue with this slight confusion, I recognize the vital link between those who care for the physical to those who nurture and shepherd the spiritual. It’s not only the doctor to whom we should heed. Rabbis tell us that by following the Torah good will result for you and your family. This concept is clearly seen within the Torah itself!

In this week’s Parsha Eikev the Torah states in Devarim, 11:13-21, the second paragraph of the Shema whereby Hashem decries to the Jewish people והיה אם שמוע תשמעו אל מצותי אשר אנכי מצוה אתכם היום לאהבה את ה" אלוקיכם ולעבדו בכל לבבכם ובכל נפשכם “If you are careful to pay heed to my commandments which I am prescribing to you today, and if you love God your Lord with all your heart and soul…”This statement is followed by a guarantee of the blessings of sustenance, health and long life. Today we live at a crossroad between generations. The old school of thought is just that, old school: stick to what has worked for centuries in Jewish education for both old and young. The younger generation, however, feels they need something new and different. Reb Shlomo Luntzitz in his commentary Kli Yakar, emphasizes this point of the old school. Kli Yakar quotes Rashi, “If you listen to that which is old, you will hearken to that which is new. Chaza”l, the Rabbi’s of Blessed memory, teach Mitzva Goreres Mitzva - that the recompense for a Mitzva is a Mitzva, and understanding creates more understanding, namely from the old to the new.

The Kli Yakar then diverts relating something in reference to what Moshe stated: “With all your hearts and with all your souls…”, yet ‘with all your might’ it is not stated, as it is in the first paragraph of Shema. The reason ‘with all your might’ (Devarim 6:5) it is not mentioned here is because it is prevalent in every society to have an individual whose money is dearer to him then his body. Hence, the corny old joke of the robber saying to the victim, “Your money or your life!” followed by a long pause and the robber continues, “Nu?” The man replies, “I’m thinking, I’m thinking!” Rashi stated earlier "יש לך אדם": “You possess a man.” From those words we deduce that this character flaw is not prevalent in a community. We find this flaw in one individual or in a limited number of people whose opinions are invalidated relative to mankind. We do not, however, find this in a community or a congregation because the majority will discount the wasteful opinion and completely disregard it. On the other hand, according to what Rashi stated about a person’s ‘might,’ we deduce that in every attribute that He (Hashem) measures for you, whether it be for good or for evil.

In today’s day and age we need to go back to basics and not think that every new method of study or worship is now hip; I need something new, something different. Rather stick to the old, and eventually that old will feel new again in the present just as it felt in the past. There is no reason to change course after hundreds of years; it is best to stay focused following the Torah, observing the Mitzvos and serving God the good old-fashioned way. Unfortunately, the old saying “the squeaky wheel gets the oil” applies today. Those individuals who cry out the loudest seem to get the most attention, bending people’s ears to their false and corrupt ways of thinking. We should never apologize for the ultimate standards the Torah presents, providing us with a magnificent roadmap, guiding us how to live our lives. There is no need to cave in or compromise our principles and methods that have carried us for centuries in building Jewish communities throughout the world.

May Hashem give strength and wisdom to the leaders of our generation to rememberוארך ימינו כי הם חיינו and with this in mind continue to teach and guide Hashem’s children to remember to follow the medicinal orders of following God’s orders.

Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky


Thank you to Rabbi Dr. Kanter for his commentary on the Kli Yakar in his sefer published in 2003.

Parshas VaEschanan - Pace Yourself, It is a Long Ride                        14 Av 5779

08/15/19 18:24:59


Last week a group of young students rented a car for their vacation. Lo and behold, using different drivers and estimations of fuel in the tank, they ran out of gas on the freeway. As I shook my head in disbelief, they asked me if I’ve ever run out of gas? Baruch Hashem and Bli Ayin Hora I have not, but, I have had some very close calls. One clear instance comes to mind…In the back of my mind I remember that my car needed gas. Being the Chochom (stubborn in this case) that I am, I tend to fill up where I get a discount and therefore habitually arrange to shop at the Costco where they have a gas station. The indicator in my car told me I had 14 miles to empty. I Waze the directions from my house to that Costco and it calculated a distance of 14 miles. Perfect. I decided to take the chance and, while driving, I could only think to myself, ‘I better not run out of gas!’ I remembered a supposed truism that the faster the car is driven the more fuel it burns. Therefore, I tried driving at a reasonable speed of about fifty-five mph and staying in one lane. Staying in the one lane also kept me at a consistent speed since I did not need to slow down or speed up when changing lanes. Lo and behold, when I arrived at the gas station my fuel indicator read three miles to empty! Incredibly, I actually saved gas by using this method of driving. This was all substantiated in a study I later found on-line.

A U.S. News & World Report article in July, 2008, explained how to drive and maximize your gas mileage. By now, most people know the boring basics: Make sure your tires are properly inflated. Change your oil and air filter regularly. Remove heavy items from your car. Still, watch the drivers on any highway, and you'll see fuel being wasted in every lane. That's because many drivers these days simply don't know much about how cars work and don't understand the mechanics of mileage. Jack Pokrzywa, manager of ground vehicle standards for SAE International, which sets technical standards for the automotive industry, explained what makes gas mileage go up or down. Here are some of the most common mileage mistakes:

“Driving too fast. Everybody knows that highway mileage is usually better than city mileage. So the faster, the better, right? Wrong by a mile. Most American cars operate at peak efficiency—generating the most forward momentum with the least amount of fuel—between 50 and 60 miles per hour. There's nothing magical about that range, except that the government establishes the city and highway mpg ratings for cars by operating them within certain speeds for a short period of time. Automakers want to get the highest mpg ratings possible, so they engineer their cars to be most efficient at the speeds at which the government tests them. If the government tested at 30 miles per hour instead, then no doubt carmakers would engineer their vehicles to be most efficient at 30. At speeds over 60 mph, gas mileage drops off a lot more than most drivers probably realize. The aerodynamic drag created by a moving vehicle increases exponentially; it takes more power to overcome the added resistance, forcing the engine to work harder, therefore burning more fuel. A lot more”.

If your car has an on-board computer that displays your instant gas mileage, the difference between 60 mph and 80 mph will be obvious—and substantial. At 60, a typical four-cylinder car might average about 30 mpg; at 80, it could fall to about 20 mpg. In other words, your gas mileage going 80 miles an hour on an open road might barely be better than the mileage you get navigating stoplights and city traffic. The Torah is a full navigation system unto itself. In addition to giving us the route it also dictates how we should drive in order to get there efficiently.

In this week’s Parshas VaEschanan the Torah in Devarim 5:29-30 states: ושמרתם לעשות כאשר צוה השם אלוקיכם אתכם לא תסורו ימין ושמאל. בכל הדרך אשר צוה השם אלוקיכם תלכו למען תחיון וטוב לכם והארכתם ימים בארץ אשר תירשון. “Be careful to do what God your Lord has commanded you, not turning to the right or left. Follow the entire way that God your Lord has commanded you, so that you may live and do well, enduring for a long time on the land that you are going to occupy”.

*Rabbi Abraham Menachem Rapa of Porto (Rappaport) in his commentary Mincha Belula explains the words right and left not as directions but adding and subtracting. The definition of going to the right is understood as adding to the existing 613 mitzvos, while going to the left is the notion of taking away from the 613 mitzvos. Sometimes we think doing more or going faster is better - it pulls to the right. On the other hand, a person pulls to the left to decrease from the Torah’s mitzvos by going slower. In either scenario right and left is synonymous with faster and slower, resulting in something bad on both paths.

Rav Naftoli Tzvi Yehuda Berlin (the Netzi”v) in his commentary Haamek Davar on Torah explains, “be careful what you do” not to add or subtract mitzvos from the Torah that are between man and God. We are forbidden to alter that which we received and have a transition from Hashem. It states we are not deviate to the left or to the right because they are all Chukim - statutes - that are untouchable. The next verse, “follow the entire way,” reflects upon the mitzvos between man and his fellow man. “The entire way” is alluded to at the end of the second chapter of Talmud Bava Metzia as meaning Gemilus Chesed - acts of loving kindness - which refer to people. There again we are directed not to turn to the left or the right. We are to stay on the straight path of doing kindness, as there is no measure to this Mitzvah.

If we stay on a straight path in one lane, not veering to either side we will have the energy and the fuel to get to our final destination. Going slower or faster, left or right, only burns more fuel and energy , causing us to lose mileage, to fall short of our goal. Let’s keep or eyes on the fuel tank and stay on the straight and narrow path the Torah had paved for us, allowing us to have the ability to reach our destination with fuel to spare!


Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky



*Mincha Belula, commentary on the Five Books of the Torah, by. Verona, 1594.

On the title page and on page 59/b are ownership inscriptions in Italian Hebrew writing: "Pinchas Chai Anav and his brother". [R. Pinchas Chai Anav (died in 1769), an Italian sage, Rabbi in Ferrara, close disciple of R. Yitzchak Lampronti, author of Pachad Yitzchak. The ten volumes of his monumental work Givat Pinchas were never printed. The Chida who met him in Ferrara, wrote about R. Pinchas, "…He was very clever and in 1755, I had merited a number of days enjoying his Torah thoughts at the time I was on a mission there in my youth.”

Parshas Devarim - It's All in the Transmission   7 Av 5779

08/08/19 09:16:26


May this dvar Torah, together with the actions of their children, serve as a merit for refuah Sheleima to Avraham ben Chana and Mazal Bat Amalya Mali.

A few months ago I wrote a piece about taking things surreptitiously to Israel and how, after getting caught up in my own lie, I told myself that I will no longer take things to and from Israel for others. Well, I have a confession to make. In my mind I thought to myself that I would just take something with me in my carry-on bag. I would agree to take an envelope of money or a credit card that needed to get to a family member in Israel. Taking something small such as an envelope has its own set of challenges: having the person pick it up, finding a way to deliver it, and so forth. Sometimes the item just sits where I was staying, waiting to be given to the individual. Sometimes it is never retrieved.

On my most recent trip to Israel, I took an envelope from someone in our community for their daughter in Yerushalayim. I was completely shocked, awed, and amazed at the reception I received regarding this envelope. The people’s son-in-law did not wait for me to call him or track him down; he called me as soon as I touched down and was willing and ready to meet me wherever I was - any time any place. If that wasn’t enough, when Aharon came to meet me, not only did he say thank you, but he handed me a little gift. When I asked him what was this for, he replied, “Just a little something to say thank you for delivering this to us from my in-laws in San Diego.” I was completely floored. He was so appreciative that he felt it was not enough just to say thank you; he felt compelled to express his appreciation in action and deed.

I would not categorize this with the old cliché’ ‘action speaks louder than words’. I believe a person is sincere when they say, “thank you”. Dale Carnegie is quoted as saying, “Pay less attention to what men say; just watch what they do.” One need not look further than Chazal in Pirkei Avos where we find a similar concept that children learn by modeling behavior, primarily the behaviors of their parents and teachers. This also applies to co-workers, friends, and people who know you. It isn’t what you say that teaches or impacts others as much as what you do. This act was another way of saying “actions speak louder than words”. Don’t get me wrong. Saying thank you and showing Hakaras Hatov is one of the most important traits a person must have. Here, I’m taking it to the next level of demonstrating the ‘thanks’ through actions and not through speech alone. Perhaps I was so impressed because the common words ‘thank you’ are said quite often, but all too often without genuine appreciation. The fact that Aharon displayed his gratitude in an act rather than just in speech taught me a greater lesson with regard to showing thanks beyond a mere few words. In Hebrew, the duality of saying and doing something can be found within the same word as we see in the Torah.

In this week’s Parshas Devarim the Torah states at the outset of Devarim 1:1 אלה הדברים אשר דבר משה אל כל ישראל בעבר הירדן במדבר בערבה מול סוף פארןבין ובין תפל ולבן וחצרת ודי זהב"

“These are the words that Moses spoke to all Israel on the east bank of the Jordan, in the desert, and in the Aravah, near Suf, in the vicinity of Paran, Tofel, Lavan, Chatzeroth and Di Zahav”.

The word Devarim, here translated as words, also has a meaning of ‘something’ from the word ‘דבר’. That something that is tangible relates to it is here that Moshe ‘spoke’ rebuke in a veiled fashion by only mentioning the places where the sins took place, but also that at these places ‘something’ tangible occurred. Giving different meaning to a word often changes the direction,.In this instance, however, the words and the action are consistent in Moshe’s message. This idea is mentioned by Rav Dovid Adani in his workMidrash HaGadol.* Rav Adani comments, “Don’t read the word Deebare (spoke), but read instead davar with a patach, an ahhh sound, meaning thing. The reason is that Moshe was afraid to rebuke the Jewish people. Moshe reasoned this in his mind because of one thing he had said to them, “Listen here, you rebels,” and as a result he was held back from entering the land of Israel. How much more so if we were to give everyone this rebuke what the repercussions might be! Only after receiving permission from Hashem did Moshe proceed to rebuke Bnei Yisrael by word and place.

A second idea is that words can be spoken and/or written down. Perhaps these words of rebuke were intended to be applied both ways. To raise a question and present an answer, we turn to the Gemarah Temurah 14a which discusses these exact words of ‘Eileh HaDevarim’ - ‘These Are the Words’. We have’ also learned that Rabbi Yehudah bar Nachmeini, the meturgaman (one who said over the lectures) of Reish Lakish (to the public), taught: The verse states:’ Write for yourself these words’. It also states: For ‘al pi’ – ‘by mouth’ of these words. How can we reconcile these verses? This teaches us that oral teachings cannot be written down, and verses that are written cannot be recited from memory. In the school of Rabbi Yishmael, they taught, ‘these’, means that these you should write, but the orally-transmitted laws should not be written down. The Gemora answers, ‘Perhaps the case is different regarding a new interpretation’. This is apparent from the fact that Rabbi Yochanan and Reish Lakish used to carry and read books of aggadah (homiletics) on Shabbos. How could they do so? Isn’t aggadah not allowed to be written down as the Oral law is technically not allowed to be written? They expounded as follows: It is written: “There is a time to do for Hashem; nullify your Torah”. They explained it as follows: It is better that one letter of the Torah should be uprooted than that the whole Torah should be forgotten. The reason they could do so is because it was becoming impossible for people to remember the Oral law without writing it down.

Words alone should be enough in many areas of life. At other times, however, words just do not do justice nor do they make a lasting impression. The aftermath of needing the Oral Torah to be written down and a small token gift for doing someone a favor will last far longer than a simple ‘thank you’. Having written something down was meant to preserve the Torah for eternity. We are approaching Tisha B’Av and the culmination of the annual mourning period for the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash. Another suggestion to help with our middos and behavior amongst ourselves would be to end the lip service of how we behave towards each other, to sincerely display the ahavas Yisroel that is necessary to combat the sinas chinam which will ultimately bring the redemption speedily in our day.


*Midrash HaGadol or The Great Midrash, written by Rabbi David Adani of Yemen (14th century), is a compilation of aggadic midrashim on the Pentateuch taken from the two Talmuds and earlier midrashim of Yemenite provenance. In addition, it borrows quotations from the Targums, Maimonides, and Kabbalistic writings, and in this aspect is unique among the various midrashic collections. This important work—the largest of the midrashic collections—came to popular attention only in the late 19th century through the efforts of Jacob Saphir, Solomon Schechter, and Rav Dovid Zvi Hoffmann. In addition to containing midrashic material that is not found elsewhere, such as part of the Mekhilta of Rabbi Shimon, Midrash HaGadol contains what are considered more correct versions of previously known Talmudic and Midrashic passages.

Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas Matos/Maasei - Departures & Arrivals    29 Tammuz 5779

07/31/19 12:41:03


Well it’s back to the skies again, taking a different look from the tube. You may recall some of my past observations: “It’s all About God” in March, 2015, “The Dreaded Middle Seat” in December, 2017, “Traveling Light” in June, 2019, and another oldie from May, 2016, about “Davening on Planes”. Most of those discussions centered on things other than the passengers accompanying me on the flight. From time to time, I do engage in conversation with a fellow passenger, Jew and non-Jew alike, on various topics from “Are you from San Diego?” to the obvious inquiries about Israel and Judaism. I try to be polite, answering all the queries, depending upon how tired I am and also, in truth, upon how engaging the other person is. The route from San Diego to New York will invariably have people who are either living in New York and visiting San Diego or visiting New York and living in San Diego. Since I’ve lived half my life in each city, I make suggestions to those who are coming and going from coast to coast.

A study from British Bank HSBC in 2018, reveals that over half of the airplane passengers have struck up a conversation with a stranger while on a plane. The findings suggest that one in seven fliers makes a lasting friendship while flying, while 16% add a new business connection to their network. Now that many airlines are testing out inflight Wi-Fi, the opportunities for making connections aren't limited to shooting the breeze with your immediate neighbors. The airplane app Inflighto has a chat function which allows communication between pilot and passenger, while also promoting conversations between travelers on board. Naturally, airborne connections aren’t always ‘plane sailing’. About 48% of surveyed passengers were freaked out if fellow passengers removed their shoes; 65% are put off if another traveler displayed rudeness to a flight attendant and, of course, drinking too much is another no-no, with 46% listing it as a complaint. If you want to impress your seat buddy, respecting their personal space is -- of course -- integral. Some 37% of people hate it when passengers take up too much space in the overhead locker and 32% get overtly upset if someone uses the arm rest. Falling asleep on someone's shoulder (30%) and snoring (26%) also tend to be buzz kills. So, if you're considerate and respectful, perhaps a connection is out there just waiting on a plane you are about to board. It's just a matter of figuring out which of the 107,000 daily scheduled flights they happen to be on.

As progress through the three weeks, about to approach Rosh Chodesh Ave and the beginning of the Nine Days, we all try to do our best in the mitzvos Bein Adam LaChaveiro, the commandments between man and man. Following a flight to the East Coast only a week ago, I was struck about how many ways people find to interact with total strangers while on a plane. For the most part people on a plane are so courteous to each other. Utterances of please, thank you, excuse me, can I help you with that, and so forth are only a few of the comments I am accustomed to hearing during travel. It is also interesting to consider that the chance of every seeing those individuals again are highly unlikely, while our friends - and particularly family members who are closest to us - we tend at times to be obnoxious and rude to. I’ve sometimes wondered what happened to “that person” I was talking to on the airplane,: did they get the job, have a good visit with those they were headed to spend time with, did their trip meet their expectations or not? Is the interaction on planes limited to short, brief comments? Is there a determining factor regarding whether or not it is strictly an on-the-plane situation or beyond? The answers to this and all situations are found in the Torah.

In this week’s Parshios Mattos/Maasei the Torah states in 33:1 אלה מסעי בני ישראל אשר יצאו מארץ מצרים לצבאתם ביד משה ואהרן “These are the journeys of the Israelites, who had left Egypt in organized groups under the leadership of Moshe and Aharon”. Why does the Torah need to say they left Egypt under the leadership of the two leaders? Who else would have been led them? The Midrash addresses this issue saying since the redemption of from Egypt came about through the hands of men of flesh and blood, it could not lead to an eternal state of Geulah/redemption. In other words, it is inevitable that another exile will follow this one - even after the redemption. What will make the difference between one exile and the next is determined by who is exercising it. If human beings are in charge, then it’s not permanent and a follow-up exile will occur. In contrast, when Hashem, with His honor and dignity, takes His people out of exile, it will be the last time. That final redemption will be final and eternal.

This idea is based upon the principle that man is finite and that which we do is not permanent or forever; it is subject to change from time to time and from situation to situation. In differentiating man and God, Hashem’s existence is infinite and eternal. Therefore, when Hashem does something it remains forever perfect, because He is perfect and complete. There is no need for something else to occur. When Hashem does it it is done. This is hinted to in the very first verse of the parsha: “These are the Journeys of the Israelites” noting many journeys, even after this one- departing from Egypt. These journeys and redemptions were performed by Moshe and Aaron, mere mortals who are limited by lifetimes and cannot be defined as eternal.

In a beautiful and keen Remez/hint the Roshei Teivos esplains: The first letter of each of the first four words of the parsha stand for the different exiles to come. The first letter of each of the first four words of Masei are ‘aleph, mem, beis, and yud’. Rabbi Ari Nachum Lubetski in his sefer Nachal Kedumim explains that the ‘aleph’ is for Edom, the ‘mem’ is for Madai, the ‘Beis’ is for Bavel and the ‘yud’ is for Yavan. These are the four exiles post the Egyptian story: Babyloniyan, Persian, Greek and the current Roman exile.

*Reb Yisroel Friedman, the Rebbi from Rhuzin, comments on a more philosophical angle regarding these exiles: Anytime the Torah says V’Eileh, it adds and connects to what was said previously. Here the word is Eileh - without the vav - disconnects and nullifies that which came before it. These travels of the Jewish people represent each person’s travels throughout his lifetime. When a person is on the wrong path, he needs to change direction and cut himself off from his previous actions. We are constantly traveling; we need to realize when to change course or maintain the course we are on. This three-week period is a time of re-setting our moral and halachik compass of life. This is a time we each need to focus on changing the way we treat others and making sure all future travel looks back at the mistakes of the past and the bright ultimate redemption in the near future.

Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky


*Ruzhin is the name of a Hasidic dynasty founded by Rabbi Yisroel Friedman (1796–1850) in the town of Ruzhyn, Ukraine. Friedman was the first and only Ruzhiner Rebbe. However, his sons and grandsons founded their own dynasties which are collectively known as the "House of Ruzhin". These dynasties, which follow many of the traditions of the Ruzhiner Rebbe, are Bohush, Boyan, Chortkov, Husiatyn, Sadigura, and Shtefanesht. The dynasties of Vizhnitz and Vasloi are related to the Ruzhiner Rebbe through his daughters.

Parshas Pinchas - Is it the Luck of the Draw or is it the Law?                         23 Tammuz 5779

07/26/19 08:58:23


As many of my readers are aware, I tend to do a fair share of shopping. It is a way for me to relax, save money and get some free exercise. Two stores that I frequent are Costco and Walmart, and while they vary significantly in quality and price, they do share a common practice: receipt checking. Many people think the swiping of your receipt with a highlighter upon exiting Costco is a joke. I now have three reasons why this quick swipe makes sense - two in my favor, one in theirs.

The first situation applies to a person who may have accidentally left his cart unattended following checkout. At Costco, no one could walk out with that person’s cart because the person who mistakenly left the cart was still in possession of the receipt. The second scenario actually occurred when I was in the process of leaving Costco with a full cart and somehow the person checking out my receipt questioned how many cartons of eggs I had just paid for; instead of the three cartons listed on the receipt, I had four cartons sitting in the cart. I felt as though they suspected me of stealing that fourth carton, but it was really an obvious mistake on the part of the cashier. This checking is done to keep losses down and also to provide an added level of checking and control on the checkout process. Since that incident, I assumed that the routine checking of the receipt was for their benefit - until a recent visit. Last week, I shopped at Costco in New Jersey, and, with a full-to-the-rim cart, the clerk glanced at the receipt and said, “Did you buy two packages of a certain meat?” After we inspected the cart, we discovered that the cashier had double charged me, and this fellow caught it! I was amazed and flabbergasted that he was able to glance down at the receipt, look in the cart, and find the discrepancy - this time in my favor! I finally came to really appreciate why Costco checks the receipts! Costco checks every customer as they exit; Walmart checks randomly. Still… must I allow the store to check my receipt?

The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution provides "the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation. The Fourth Amendment guards us against unreasonable searches and seizures. The California Penal code 490.5 states: " A merchant may detain a person for a reasonable time for the purpose of conducting an investigation in a reasonable manner whenever the merchant has probable cause to believe the person is attempting to unlawfully take or has unlawfully taken merchandise from the merchant's premises."

Costco’s checking isn’t random but sort of mandated, while Walmart is sort of a lottery pick. These two choices are found in the Torah in a few places. In this week’s Parshas Pinchas the Torah states in Bemidbar 26:55,56 אַךְ בְּגוֹרָל יֵחָלֵק אֶת הָאָרֶץ לִשְׁמוֹת מַטּוֹת אֲבֹתָם יִנְחָלוּ.

עַל פִּי הַגּוֹרָל תֵּחָלֵק נַחֲלָתוֹ בֵּין רַב לִמְעָט : “However, hereditary property shall be granted to paternal families through a lottery system. This is how the land shall be divided. Whether a group is large or small, its hereditary property shall be divided by a lottery system”. Rashi explains a tribe that was larger in population received a larger portion of land than that given to a smaller tribe. Although the portions were not equal, since they divided the land according to the size of the tribe, they did so only by means of the lot and the lottery assigned the portions by means of Ruach HaKodesh, the Holy Spirit – assigned absolutely through the hand of Hashem.

There is a debate in the Talmud Bava Basra 117 regarding whether the land divided was based upon the number of people per tribe at the time they left Egypt or by the number of people at the time they entered the land. Reb Yoshiya says it was divided according to the number of people who left Mitzrayim, while Rebi Yonasan maintains it was divided according to the number of Jews entering the land. A second question debated was regarding whether the land was divided according to the number of people per tribe or was divided equally among the twelve tribes? The Malbim explains it was through the Goral/lottery that the inheritance was divided. The lottery determined in which area of the country the inheritance of each tribe would reside, but it was divided equally among the tribes despite the size or the number of people in the tribe. The Sifri maintains that lottery clarified between the many and few (of each tribe’s population), therefore the larger tribes received a larger portion than the smaller tribes received. The Goral decided the place of the inheritance of that tribe and its borders.

The Midrash Tanchuma explains that the actual Goral/lottery had an additional component, another miracle in addition to the dividing. The Goral/lottery announced itself above that which the Urim V’Tumom displayed on the Kohen’s chest by calling out, “I am the lottery to assign this portion for this tribe and this area to this tribe”.

The Rabbis expound on the Midrash Tanchuma that the Goral was a blessing so that no tribe would be jealous or angry at another tribe for receiving a larger or smaller portion. Everyone understood that the Goral came from Hashem for the better and the better. Similarly, Rabbeinu Bachya explains this method separated the Jews from quarreling and arguing against one another and ultimately brought about Shalom.

The Costco version of checking is a lottery that stipulates everyone is singled out; no one is different. This is comparable to the benefit the lottery had regardless of being a member of a large or a small tribe. It was for the benefit of all. So, too, regarding Costco. Their checking works for the benefit of the company and the customer, it’s from Heaven. On the other hand, the randomness of Walmart could easily create animosity between the employees and the customers.

During the three weeks, called Bein HaMitzarim, we recall the difficulties of the time. M’Tzarim and Mitzrayim are the same word, both meaning pressure and narrowness. The debate of who the land was divided for was during the in-between time which spanned from leaving Egypt to entering the land. Let us treat each other with an equality and evenness and recognize that the lot each of us has in life comes from God and to be happy with it. It is with this recognition that we should be Zocheh/merit to leave this Galus/Exile as we did when leaving Egypt and enter the phase of returning to Eretz Yisrael, entering the land in the Geulah Shelaima, Amen!

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.

Sat, August 8 2020 18 Av 5780