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Parshas Yisro - The Mosaic of Am Yisrael      23 Shvat 5781

02/05/2021 09:39:45 AM


Parshas B’Shalach completed eleven years of writing a weekly message. As I sat down to write the first message of the twelfth cycle, I recall writing about how the Jewish people can be viewed as a single large, vibrant orchestra, each Jew playing an instrument that contributes singular dimension to the overall concert of life. Recently, however, I took notice of the Jewish people from a different angle, let me explain.

A nation is a group of people who share the same culture, history, language, or ethnicity. A nation can also be described as a group of people living in the same country under the same government. The word nation, a derivative of the Latin word natio, means "birth" or "place of birth”. Although up until 1948 the Jewish people did not share the same country as far as living together is concerned, we did maintain from the time of our father Abraham continuously to the present day, our identity and commitment to the Land of Israel. In terms of population numbers, we are a small nation made up of a diverse people committed to one eternal homeland. However, in terms of commitment to each other, to Israel, and to world-wide contribution, we are, in fact, Big.  I by no means define this group of people by how much money they have, how famous they may be, or even how big a Tzadik they may be. Rather, the ‘bigness’, indeed, the largess of this diverse group refers to the multi-faceted  ways in which they contribute to our existence. Contributions have been continuously made for the past, present and future of our people. What I am about to say and the examples I am about to use may seem trivial, but I think all of these contributions are important to deeply appreciate  yet another angle of who we are.

Someone in the community sent me a link to a recent program of ’60 Minutes’ that featured a story of how a Holocaust foundation began a project to record survivors’ stories to be used with technology so that future generations will be able to hear directly from the survivors. Another example is someone who comes to davening at the Shul spends considerable time researching and applying the original Hebrew pronunciation of our tefillos. The rise of anti-Semitism on college campuses and disturbing antisemitic language that is being injected into mainstream American education is appalling. While most of us go on with our daily lives, there are individuals and organizations who rally vehemently to protect Jews from the way we are portrayed in the media, emphasizing the need to educate the next generation to the dangers of such verbal hate. And, of course, none of us should ever ignore the thousands of individuals studying Torah throughout the world. There are groups of Jews who refuse to dress in the contemporary style of the mainstream of Americans, adhering instead to a style that clearly identifies them as proud Jews.  They, too, should make everyone else proud of their commitment.  There are Jews throughout the world, particularly in Israel, who risk their lives by defending the country of Israel and its borders as well as Israel’s security throughout the world. We have individuals who single-handedly started organizations dedicated to helping Jews through crises, illness, death, and, yes, even simchas - all aspects of need throughout life ranging from the cradle to the wedding canopy. I scroll down my e-mail list and literally every other email is from an organization that is not only looking for a donation but also offering help in their respective line of work. Of course, it goes without saying how per capita the Jewish people have contributed far greater than any other nation in the arts, science, mathematics, technology, health, education and more.

We are not a one-sport team. While we are a tiny nation regarding our numbers, we are the largest nation in the world with regard to unremitting commitment to doing good, to protecting our Land and each other. Indeed, we play in every arena and stadium with people leading in every direction. But aside from the leading role we present to the world, we are internally preserving the Jewish people. This is not a new phenomenon; this has been the core recipe for success in the continuity of the Jewish people throughout the millennia. There are Jews teaching students of all ages about the past through to the present to preserve us all as we look towards the future. But we the Jewish people are still so much more than this. These listed examples are only the main headings.  Indeed,  each Jew is connected to one of these items. Therefore, our people are, indeed, a big nation – each of us representing a facet of the collective effort put forth by everyone together. The examples mentioned are only the general categories that every one of us  connects to.

The is, indeed the mosaic of our people, a concept found not only in our daily lives; it is a principle of the Torah as well.  In this week’s Parshas Yisro Moshe ascends Har Sinai to retrieve the Torah and give it to Klal Israel. Prior to Moshe coming down with the Torah, God began to announce what we refer to as the “Ten Commandments”. We know there are 613 mitzvos in the Torah, so why make a big deal about ten of them? The Aseres HaDibros were not just any ten commandments. We know that in the period of the Second Temple, the Ten Commandments formed an important part of Jewish liturgy. According to the Mishna Tamid 5:1, they were recited twice daily before the reading of the Shema Yisrael, Judaism’s central statement of faith. There is some evidence that the Ten Commandments were also among the texts included in the tefillin. Chaza”l in Gemara Brachos 12a argued against giving the Ten Commandments special prominence so as not to give ammunition to heretics who claimed that only the revealed law was important, and the man-made amendments were not. To this day, some communities stand during the reading of the commandments and some do not. However, the Chachamim won out in that we no longer read the Ten Commandments as part of the Shema or give them any other special liturgical prominence. Nevertheless, in many siddurim the Ten Commandments are included among other prayers to be recited after the davening is completed.  At a deeper level, several of the most famous commentaries explain that all of the Mitzvos are actually included within these ten.

The Torah states in Shmos 24:12 "ויאמר ה' אל משה עלה אלי ההרה והיה שם, ואתנה לך את לחת האבן והתורה והמצוה אשר כתבתי להורתם"   “Hashem said to Moshe, ‘Come up to Me, to the mountain, and remain there. I will give you the stone tablets, the Torah and the commandments that I have written for [the people’s] instruction.” The Targum Yonason Ben Uziel explains that Hashem told Moshe to go up upon the mountain to receive the tablets of stone that within them are hinted everything about the Torah and the 613 commandments that I wrote for you to teach to them. Rashi says it out right! He explains that all six hundred and thirteen commandments are included in the Ten Commandments. In addition, Rav Saadia Gaon specified within the liturgical poetry which he composed for each one of the Ten Commandments, all the 613  commandments  are dependent upon the Ten Commandments. Rebbi Ezriel, a student of the son of the Raava”d, in his commentary to Shir HaShirim indicates how many Mitzvos of the 613 are in each one of the Ten. Rabbeinu Bachya as well as Rav Saadia Gaon all figured out the connections of the 613 within the Ten!

The Aseres HaDibros is not only the blueprint for the entire Torah;  it also sends a subtle message to every Jew in the world. No matter who or where a Jew is on the religious spectrum or even on an affiliated level, each one of us make up the beautiful, eternal mosaic of the Jewish people. Every Jew from his or her place and space adds to the dimension of our people. Yes, there are the major leaders in all categories, just as the Ten Commandments are the blueprint of the entire Torah. Every Jew is that ‘mitzva of the 613 that is included within those top Ten. The most important lesson is not only that each person should recognize his or her vital piece to the greater puzzle, we should all recognize each other’s place within this magnificent masterpiece – the mosaic which is the Jewish people. AM YISRAEL CHAI!            

Parshas B'Shalach - A Split Second Incision    15 Shvat 5781

01/29/2021 08:24:58 AM


The weekly Dvar Torah is sponsored by Deborah and Maxwell Brookler in memory of Mrs. Kitty Silverman, Gitel bas Ezriel Baruch on her first Yahrzeit

On January 23, 2020, China imposed an absolute lockdown in the Chinese city of Wuhan. Now, one year later, the long months of harsh lockdown have faded from view in Wuhan, the first city in the world devastated by the new coronavirus. As residents begin the process of moving on, they cite a Chinese saying which warns against “forgetting the pain after a scar heals”. Fast forward to a still-festering world-wide pandemic and there probably isn’t a five- or six-year-old child in the world who will ever forget this past year. Baruch Hashem, we do see the light at the end of the tunnel with proper precautions and a vaccine.

Every generation is defined and characterized by a life-changing event. Lives are molded through life- changing experiences. For the world at large, this generation will be marred by the Covid-19 pandemic, and the previous generation (a generation is approximately twenty years) by the events of 9/11. Our parents and grandparents endured world wars and times of a financial depression. There are upside events and milestones as well, from a cure, vaccine, or major medical breakthroughs to putting a man on the moon.  These  global events have each profoundly affected large segments of the world’s population. On a micro level, this occurs within countries, ethnicities and especially in religions. Within the Jewish world the previous generations witnessed two polarized /opposite events, namely the years from 1939-1945 known as the holocaust and, only a few short years later in 1948, the establishment of the State of Israel.

For the Jewish people, historically speaking, Yezias Mitrayim, the Exodus from Egypt was the defining moment for the Jews then and forever after. It is the one event that is connected to the Shalosh Regalim of Pesach, Sukkos and Shavuos. It is the historical event that we mention during every kiddush - sanctifying Shabbos and Yom Tov.

Reb Aaron Ben Asher of Karlin (1802 – 1872), known as Rabbi Aaron II of Karlin, was a famous Chasidic Rebbe in northwestern Russia. In his work Beis Aharon, he instructed his students to review a certain Ramban every day as it is a fundamental part of Yiddishkeit/Judaism. The Ramban, at the end of Parshas Bo Shmos 13:16, explains the purpose of constantly remembering Yetzias Mitzrayim, the Exodus from Egypt. He wrote: "ומן הנסים הגדולים המפורסמים אדם מודה בנסים הנסתרים שהם יסוד התורה כלה שאין לאדם חלק בתורת משה רבינו עד שנאמין בעל דברינו ומקריני שכלם נסים אין בהם טבע ומנהגו של עולם"  “By remembering the great and wondrous miracles, one recognizes the hidden miracles too, and this is the foundation of the entire Torah. For if not, one does not have a portion in the Torah unless he believes that everything that occurs to him is all miraculous, and that there is no such thing as the natural order of the world. This is the whole purpose of saying over the story of Yetzias Mitzrayim, fulfilling the mitzva to say it twice every single day.” One can ask, ”Why?” The answer is to remember that everything that happens to us is Hashgacha Pratis (Divine Providence).  Accordingly, it follows that the great signs and wonders constitute faithful witnesses, witness to the truth of the belief in the existence of the Creator and the truth of the entire Torah. And because the Holy One, blessed be He, will not make signs and wonders in every generation just for the sake of the eyes of some wicked man or heretic. He therefore commanded us that we should always make a memorial sign of that which we have seen with our eyes, and that we should transmit the matter to our children, and their children to their children, to the generations to come, and He placed great emphasis on it, as indicated by the fact that one is liable to extinction for eating Chometz on Pesach and for the abandoning of the Korban Pesach the Paschal lamb”.

The Chasam Sofer explains this Ramban with an amazing parable as to how we get from repeating the amazing miracles of Yetzias Mitrayim to seeing the Hashgacha Pratis in everything that occurs to us. There was once an exceptionally talented artist, a sculptor who was one of the greatest of his time. One of his most outstanding pieces was a beautiful sculpture of a horse. The horse was made from plastic, but it looked so real that it was difficult for anyone to realize that it was fake. He decided to move this sculpture, which had taken him months to create, to a place smack in the middle of the busiest intersection of the city. He stood from afar on one of the corners of the street, watching people coming and going.  No one,  not one person, stopped to look at his beautiful work of art. This bothered him terribly. He thought to himself about how hard he worked, about how many months he had devoted to creating this beautiful work of art, yet no one even gave it a glance. Deeply disappointed, he thought that perhaps he had not truly created a work of art after all. One day, he mentioned these feelings to his friend. His friend replied, “You are being foolish. The reason no one has stopped to admire your horse is the opposite:  it is because it is too good – they think it is a real horse. Seeing a real horse is not that interesting. I would advise you to take this sculpture and split it in half. When people see a statue of a  horse which looks so real  split into two, you will see many people stop to admire it’! The people will realize it is a beautiful work of art and they will appreciate it.” And that is exactly what happened; the passersby started to notice his work of art.

The Chasam Sofer explains this exact human response occurs in this world. Hashem created the heavens and the earth. A person wakes up in the morning with everything running smoothly. There is a sun by day, moon by night, but no one notices the constant ‘Hashgacha Pratis’ - Hashem’s consistent overseeing of the world’s daily activities. We tend not to pay attention to the fact that it is God who is arranging everything every single micro-second. Therefore, Hashem made Yetzios Mitzrayim, a one-time exodus from Egypt where the things that are ‘regular’ were changed. First there were the ten plagues, then the  splitting of the Yam Suf (Sea of Reeds). What was the purpose if not to grab the attention away from the ordinary day-to-day expected occurrences of life.

There are moments throughout our lives when we look around and consider all the miraculous things that make the world happen, that make the world seem ordinary. We take for granted the daily Hashgacha and input Hashem continuously gives to the world and to our very existence. Therefore, sometimes, on a daily basis or weekly/monthly basis, Hashem will break something in two to get our attention. It is our responsibility to recognize the beauty of the world and see the incredible artwork of the Creator all the time, especially when He splits it in two.  

Parshas Bo - The One & Only Chef's Delight    8 Shvat 5781

01/29/2021 08:23:28 AM


One hundred years ago the fast-food industry was introduced in the United States. (Try to guess which one.  Don’t look yet, but the answer can be found at the end of the article) Accompanying the concept of “fast food”, the entire food industry underwent a revolution of canning, food preservation, and offerings of numerous readymade ingredients. By the mid-seventies a variety of pre-packaged ingredients were on supermarket shelves, saving the consumer – or reluctant cook - an enormous amount of time, hence speeding up food preparation, albeit with some sacrifice to quality and freshness. Throughout these decades of fast-food development, companies introduced new shortcut possibilities, including the introduction of several new food preparation machines. While some cooks opted for the new wave of readymade “stuff”, true chefs and a handful of hard-core mom and pop outlets stood by their original recipes and traditions of preparing meals from scratch. 

My mother a”h bridged this transition; she knew how to make everything from scratch (especially for Pesach), but at the same time did not hesitate to dabble with modern technology. Nevertheless, like many other things in the world of inventions, we have gone too far and are losing out on the unique value of the original, old-fashioned food preparation techniques. Today there are numerous tempting shortcut gadgets available for the reluctant cook: the Airfryer, Insta-pot, rice cooker, bread maker, the sous vide, and the list goes on. Modern gadgets and shortcut techniques should be available to assist but not necessarily to substitute the process of fresh food preparation.

I was born in the middle of this period of emerging fast foods and growth of modern food-prep appliances.  Growing up, I was always a momma’s boy. My mother a”h and I spent a lot of quality time together since I did not begin attending school until entering kindergarten. My maternal grandparents came to this country in May of 1939 and opened a dairy restaurant on the Lower East Side of Manhattan which they continued to run for over thirty years. My mother literally grew up in the kitchen. Cooking and baking was the standard side of the kitchen, but she had a knack for re-creating foods, otherwise known in today’s lingo as recycling leftovers. My mother gave me my first exposure to cooking. My experience and culinary ‘career’ were launched from her exceptional skill and love for food preparation. I learned and applied my cooking skills throughout my childhood and adolescent years, peaking as I worked as a mashgiach in some of the fanciest hotels. Thanks to my mother’s ability for creating and preparing something from nothing and from observing superbly trained hotel chefs at work, I received a decent culinary education.

One of the basic tools essential to food preparation is knowing what kind of ‘cooking’ is required for a particular dish. There are many ways to prepare food - braising, grilling, frying, roasting, baking, steaming, poaching, simmering, broiling – each essential to determine the outcome of every dish. For example, just this week I took a piece of meat which I thought I’d just throw onto the grill. Little did I know that this cut of meat (deckle roast) is in the brisket family and should be cooked in the oven with a little liquid, essential for softening the meat. Instead, the deckle roast, now cooking on the grill, toughened up and it was no longer worth the value of what we had paid for it.

Putting aside the knowledge needed to prepare food for the palate, there are also serious ramifications about the laws of keeping kosher, be it mixing of meat and milk or the mixing of kosher and non-kosher foods together. It is also vital to know and understand the methods of food prep with regard to knowing which kashering (kosherizing) method is appropriate for that dish. Not only are the laws of cooking in the Torah, but there are also specific kinds of food prep necessary for fulfilling a mitzva. Before we get to see where these situations are in the Torah, I would like to state an obvious truism related to this topic: There is a cause-and-effect relationship with regard to the taste and method of cooking. My rule: the more human involvement in the cooking process, the better the food will taste. While less time or use of short cuts may be necessary at times, quality of taste will be adversely affected. Put simply, the food will not taste as good.  In my opinion, anything grilled (so long as it does not require slow, moist cooking) has a better taste and flavor than something just placed in an oven. Grilling requires constant involvement and supervision while other foods will do well simply put into the preheated oven until done.

In this week’s Parshas Bo the Torah states in Shmos 12:8 "ואכלו את הבשר בלילה הזה, צלי אש  ומצות על מררים יאכלהו"  “Eat the sacrificial meat during the night, roasted over fire. Eat it with matzah and bitter herbs”. The Torah clearly tells us that the Korban Pesach must be roasted over an open pit, barbecue/grilling style. It is interesting to note that the positive command to roast the meat was not sufficient. In fact, the next verse, Shmos 12:9, administers a negative command on how to prepare. "אל תאכלו ממנו נא ובשל מבשל במים, כי אם צלי אש ראשו על כרעיו ועל קרבו"  “Do not eat it [Korban Pesach] raw or cooked in water, but only roasted over fire, including its head, its legs and its internal organs”. The question is why do we need a positive command to roast and a negative command not to eat it raw or cooked in water? The sefer HaChinuch brings forward two reasons: The first is the Korban Pesach must be roasted because this is the way kings and rulers have their food prepared, in contrast to ordinary folk who do not have the luxury of roasting of meat. The poor need to cook a small amount of meat with other ingredients to make the meal go further. The second answer to the question regarding why specifically meat is roasted on a fire is to demonstrate the need to prepare something quickly by throwing the meat on the grill. When food is cooked in the oven, many more ingredients are necessary to flavor and seep into the meat, so the cooking time is considerably longer.  Therefore, roasting on an open flame demonstrated the quickness with which we had to cook the Korban Pesach and then immediately leave.  Again, additionally, open grilling is a sign of royalty who have the luxury of eating large quantities of grilled meat. A third answer is possibly the most well-known - the aroma of the grilling meat would reach the Egyptian noses, smelling the roasting of their perceived gods with no ability to do anything about it. Clearly, the aroma of roasting meat on an outdoor open fire permeates the air much more pungently than meat cooking in an oven inside the home. This same act, using the open fire, is also a positive commandment in Devarim 7:25    "פסילי אלהיהם תשרפון באש" “You must burn their idolatrous statues in fire”.

When it comes to our Avodas Hashem, serving the Almighty, there are no short cuts. We need to take the original recipe handed down from generations ago and not use some kind of replacement regarding how we perform this service. We should serve God openly, allowing the aroma of the Mitzvos be a sweet smell for all of us who perform the Mitzvos and to our neighbors who will also recognize the sweet smell of how we worship the Master Chef of the world!

Answer -  eltsaC etihW

Parshas Vaera - Coming Back to Shul                  2 Shvat 5781

01/14/2021 11:17:41 PM


So much has been written and spoken about regarding the raging pandemic throughout ten months of this past year. Looking back, we recognize and mourn the loss of life as the pandemic wreaked havoc across the globe. Our lives were turned upside down and the world retreated. Life as we knew it came to a standstill. Every aspect of our lives changed abruptly from the way we pray, to how we learn, purchase food, travel, socialize. The list goes on and on, yet despite all the negatives there was also good that emerged, thanks to our forced change in behavior. Life tends to be somewhat polarized: when something negative occurs, something positive emerges to counterbalance it. Today, while the Covid-19 pandemic still rages, hope that the vaccine will stem and ultimately defeat its continued spread and devastation is emerging.  Knowledge regarding disease transmission and awareness of the importance of social distancing and wearing of masks is far beyond what was understood ten months ago.

Early on, in the beginning of the lockdown, shuls were forced to close and Tefilla B’Tzibbur- communal prayer- was, for the first time in our lives, totally shut down. Jews across the continents, from young children to Torah scholars, found themselves alone, davening in solitude, separated from minyanim.  Yet, through this isolation, opportunity for self-introspection arose, allowing a deepening appreciation for the quality and beauty of prayer, of how we pray and exploration of the depth and profound meaning of each word. However, while many whom I spoke with expressed appreciation for this opportunity for inner growth, ultimately even that experience eventually grew stale. It is difficult to maintain consistent davening with the intensity and concentration required when davening at home. This is only one of the many reasons we need to go to Shul. We need to be in a place dedicated strictly for prayer where we set a place and time in order to accomplish through being part of a minyan more than we can attain individually.  We need to daven together.

Today, while the Covid-19 pandemic still rages, hope that the vaccine will stem and ultimately defeat its continued spread and devastation is emerging.  People not in high-risk groups are resuming many of their previous activities. Yet, some who do venture out have not yet made that same commitment to returning to shul and to davening with a minyan. While there are still good reasons for some not to come back to daven in shul, it is nevertheless necessary for those not in a high-risk category to make an honest ‘cheshbon’ – calculation – and re-evaluate the importance of attending minyanim. For some, now may just be the time to return to shul, to daven with a minyan. Precautions are taken and accommodations are available to make everyone feel safe and to remain healthy. It is hoped that the rate of transmission will drop as the number of people receiving the vaccine increases.  At a certain point, the absence from Shul and Tefilla B’Tzibbur starts to have a negative effect on a person’s spiritual well-being. The emphasis and importance of Tefilla is highlighted in a most unusual Midrash. 

The Midrash Rabbah 11:1 relates an amazing and scary explanation of the following: The Torah, in this week’s Parsha Vaeira, states in Shmos 8:16 "ויאמר ה' אל משה השכם בבקר והתיצב לפני פרעה הנה יוצא המימה, ואמרת אליו כה אמר ה' שלח עמי ויעבדוני"   “God said to Moshe, ‘get up early in the morning, and confront pharaoh when he goes out to the water, and say to him, ‘Let My people leave and serve me’.”  Rashi explains why Hashem tells Moshe to get up early in the morning: Pharaoh pretended he was a god, and therefore did not need to relieve himself. He secretly tended to his bodily needs and functions early each morning before anyone else was awake. Therefore, Hashem wanted Moshe to show pharaoh he is not a god and told Moshe to go the river earlier than Pharaoh in order to catch him in the act. The Midrash, however, says something quite different than Rashi’s explanation. It says Pharaoh wanted to daven to Hashem. He could not pray in the place since it was full of idols.  Therefore, Pharaoh needed to go to an area that was idol-free to engage with Hashem.

Before we explain this, we need to examine how it come to be that Pharoah wanted to pray. At a certain point pharaoh recognized God’s greatness, raining relentless punishment upon Egypt. Despite the fact that pharaoh rejected Hashem and turned Moshe away, he now experienced second thoughts. Therefore, even the evil pharaoh, who had enslaved and tortured 600,000 Jews, now wanted to daven to Hashem. Hashem would have answered pharaoh’s prayers if he had prayed from the beginning, but he passed up that opportunity to pray at the appropriate time. A good person is always given the opportunity to repent, to get closer to God.  The wicked, on the other hand, also have the same opportunity - with limitations. Based upon a passuk in Iyov 36:13, we learn that after Hashem waits for the wicked to repent, when they do not do so, even if they desire to repent at the end, He takes away, obstructs, their hearts’ desire so that they will not repent. This was precisely the case regarding pharaoh. Initially, he could have allowed the Jews to leave but chose not to do so. When things began to get rough, pharaoh had a change of heart, and this time he sincerely intended to daven to Hashem. Hashem, however, said sorry, too late and arranged for Moshe to intervene, removing the opportunity for Pharaoh to repent and let the Jews go.   

Pharaoh was evil. He did not receive a second chance, unlike others who can always repent.  The mechanism within nature that prevented his second asking was due to Moshe’s intervention. This is the route Hashem chose to deny pharaoh, the rasha, the second chance to repent through prayer. And so, Hashem tells Moshe to get there before Pharaoh arrived to pray because even the tefillos of pharaoh have power! Moshe, fully unaware, is instructed by Hashem to “go out and stand before him”, to cut pharaoh off by arriving at the river before pharaoh had a chance to pray.  Hashem told Moshe, that if he did not do this and pharaoh had the opportunity to pray, it would be too late for the Jewish people.

If the Yetzer Hora/Evil Inclination should come to me and proclaim, ”Who do you think you are? You think you can pray to God?” I would immediately retort, “I know who I am. Perhaps I am not so holy and righteous. Perhaps I can improve. But I am not in in any way a rasha like Pharaoh!” If Pharaoh’s prayers could have stopped Moshe Rabbeinu, then our Tefillos are certainly powerful enough to reach Hashem’s ears. To repeat the words of the Midrash: ‘Pharaoh wanted to pray to Hashem, and Hashem told Moshe before pharaoh could do so to ‘go stand in front of him’. The Midrash says that there some people who are prevented from davening by Hashem. We should not focus on those individuals; we must, instead, remind ourselves before every Shmoneh Esrei/Amidah how much our Tefillos are worth. If the prayers of a rasha/wicked and evil person such as pharaoh are worth something, then our Tefillos are worth a billion times more. In addition to the value of our prayers, we know that Hashem desires our Tefillos. Our prayers bring us closer to Him.

In my humble opinion, it is Shul attendance, participation in davening with a minyan, that keeps us connected, especially during these trying times. It has been too long, and the longer we are away the further we distance ourselves from Hashem. We need everyone’s Tefillos to focus upon and pray for the threat of illness to dissipate.  We need each other to return, to come back before we fall into the trap of the Yetzer Hora thinking that this is the new norm…it is not.

Parshas Shemos - These are Our Names!       24 Teves 5781

01/08/2021 09:58:31 AM


This week we begin reading Sefer Shemos.  For the most part, story or history books are filled with names. We know that shmos means names, but the irony is that this week’s parsha is filled with names while at the same time displaying a clear lack of names. The question is why?  

Malcolm Forbes once said, ”Every story has an end, but in life, every end is just a new beginning.” Despite the fact that we concluded the book of Bereishis last Shabbos, the story has not ended. The book of Shmos is just a new beginning, as detected by the prefix ‘vav’ at the very first wordואלה  - meaning ‘and these’, showing a continuation from that which came previously. Presumably, the book of Shmos is not only a continuation but the addition to sefer Bereishis.

The book of Genesis is the story of the Jewish people in utero, while the opening of Shmos is the clear birth of the nation of Israel. Nevertheless, it is the individuals who make up the nation. Each and every Jew, from the rise of our nation in the book of Shmos, is part of an emerging people, both as individuals and at the same time as individuals each of whom together comprise the entire nation. In fact, there is a notion that there are six hundred thousand letters in the Torah, each letter representing a Jew. To me, since every Jew has a connection to the Torah, each of us is commanded to be familiar with it in its entirety. To connect to something, we must know it well; there should be a directive to read the Torah at the beginning, from Bereishis. It is here, only in the book of Shmos, where we find the hint of this mandate to read the Torah.

We find the source of reading the Torah in the Levush Mordechai, written by Reb Mordechai Yaffo. The Levush brings down that the source for our obligation to read the parsha two times and the Targum Onkelus (commentary) once comes from this week’s parsha Shmos. This obligation is commonly known as "שנים מקרא ואחד תרגום" , “two times reading the Torah and one time Targum”. The first two words of this week’s parsha are  "ואלה שמות" “ViEleh shemos,”  ‘and these are the names’ which are the roshei teyvos (acronym that reads out” וחייב אדם להשלים הפרשה שנים מקרא ואחד תרגום"  “Vi’chayav Adam Lihashlim Haparsha Shnayim Mikra Vi’echad Targum”- “… and a person is obligated to complete the portion reading it two times and the Targum once.” The obvious question is, why would this be the source?  What is the simple understanding?  What does shemos have to do with shnayim mikra vi’echad targum?

Rav Yechezkel Weinfeld of Ramat Eshkol in Yerushalayim suggests that the reason is, Shmos is the book of galus (exile) and geulah (redemption).  Up until now, through sefer Bereishis we have been dealing with our forefathers, and there are only three of those in contrast to sefer Shmos which is about the children, and there are too many of those to count.  In a situation where not everyone can be counted and mentioned, some may feel inadequate and unworthy of any special accolade. Therefore, the Torah comes in right now at this juncture to tell us that we- all of us - are important.  As it says, each person must finish “his parsha with the rest of the tzibbur.  In addition, each one of us needs to read the parsha- not once, but twice- and we must translate it into a different language, presumably one that we understand. Why is the Mitzva to read it twice? So that we can sometimes read it differently and realize that there is another or many other ways of reading those letters which represent other Jews who may be different than I am. The context of having and learning a commentary is to understand there must be room for interpretation.

Another important lesson of reading the Torah twice is we must always see that even though our input is important, the Torah must be read twice- the Torah is the base and must be viewed through the lens of the Torah. There are many additions and explanations that we contribute to the understanding of the Torah, but we must realize anything we have to contribute must always be with the realization of the Torah’s primacy, the Torah is the main thing.  Nevertheless, our input is important, but only when we know where and how to frame it. A further reason for reading it twice is accuracy, to make sure we say it properly and ultimately to remember it better, for repetition helps with retention.

More importantly we need to remember we are all reading the same words of the Torah every day and the same Parsha each week. No one person or any particular group owns the Torah. We all could fulfill the Torah, each according to his/her own traditions with proper and adequate halachik guidance. 

Finally,  I wish to take some poetic license with my own drush of the two-time business of the parsha. If one noticed, there are different words used for the letter lamed in the phrase above; some read it as Likros – to read - and other as L’Hashlim – to complete. There are two lessons to be taken from this phrase. With regard to Likros, the first is the two times we read the portion is meant to be one time for the way each of us sees the Torah and the second time how each of us reads the Torahmay be through the eyes of another reader, namely my fellow Jew. Although he may pronounce the words with a different dialect, accent, or emphasis, I need to accept that Jew just as equally as the person who read it the first time, namely us.   Additionally, the word ‘LHashlim’ - to complete - is a direct message to each and every one of us. We are all put on this earth to accomplish a mission and we need to complete it before we leave. To complete the Parsha isn’t necessarily the portion of the week, it is also the parsha that is our life.  The word Parsha is defined as a section or piece, whereby we may be in a certain ‘parsha’ of life. We all must read our life script and fulfill it until we have completed it.

Each and everyone of us should have the ability to not only read but to understand the Torah; we individually and collectively represent all Jews. Hopefully, as we all read the parsha individually and collectively, we will complete our unique, individual missions that carry us through to the Geulah Shelaima collectively as a whole Bais Yaakov, the House of Jacob!

Parshas Vayechi - Living & Preparing for Eternity     16 Teves 5781

12/30/2020 09:13:52 PM


One of the most awkward, sensitive, and deeply important topics of discussion in life is death. Death is something we all cognitively understand will happen to us, yet no one truly grapples with the reality that it will ever happen to them. Death is, no doubt, the most uncomfortable area of conversation with which I as a rabbi must deal. There is a famous story in Tales Out of Shul where Rabbi Feldman remarked to the people attending a funeral that people think there are two clubs in life: the club of which the person whose body lying before them was a member, and the club everyone thought they belonged to. No one wants to think about death in general, especially not their own. Nevertheless…….. 

The Gemara says that whoever will prepare on erev Shabbos will have what to eat on Shabbos. The six days of the week are physical, focused on the mundane. Shabbos, on the other hand, is a day of rest that is the spiritual counterpart to the weekdays. This world is viewed as the six days to work and accomplish to put away for the day of rest, synonymous to the next world, the world to come. Therefore, just as we prepare for the Shabbos in this world, so, too, we prepare for the Shabbos in the world to come.

The preparation a person does in this world for the next world is not only helpful for himself or herself, but for the family each of us will leave behind. The rule in life is the more we prepare for something and think ahead, the easier it will be for the spouse/children/community who are left behind.  Additionally, the more clarity there is, the less machlokes/disputes will arise among the family. In addition, if a person is clear regarding his/her final wishes - whether leaving clear instructions to prepare for life-ending scenarios or where to be buried – such clarity will guide and comfort the family, providing them with peace of mind, not having to guess as to the true wishes of their departed loved one. There are countless numbers of families, all of whom were well-intended yet ended up not speaking to each other over matters that were left vague by a parent. How painful it must be for the neshama of parents who witnessed such discord between their children at this painful, difficult point when it is too late for them to intervene. If they had only left clear instructions, the Neshama would be imbued with Menuchas HaNefesh, literally would be able to rest in peace. This important lesson is clearly detailed in the Torah itself……

In this week’s parsha Vayechi the Torah states in Bereishis 47:29-31 "ויקרבו ימי ישראל למות ויקרא לבנו ליוסף ויאמר לו אם נא מצאתי חן בעינך שים נא תחת ירכי ועשית עמדי חסד ואמת אל נא תקברני במצרים. ושכבתי עם אבותי ונשאתני ממצרים וקברתני בקברתם ויאמר אנכי אעשה כדברך. ויאמר השבעה לי וישבע לו וישתחו ישראל על ראש המטה".  “ - When Yisrael [Yakov] realized that he would soon die, he called for his son Yosef. Yakov said, 'If you really want to do me a kindness, place your hand under my thigh. Act towards me with truth and kindness, and do not bury me in Egypt. Let me lie with my fathers. Carry me out of Egypt and bury me in their grave’. Yosef replied, “I will do as you say.”  

These verses describe Yakov’s request to be buried with his forefathers in Israel and not in Egypt. Apparently, it was insufficient for Yakov just to ask for this; he insisted his son Yosef take an oath to ensure he would follow through. *Rav Zvi Solomon, in his sefer Kavod HaAvos, raises an interesting point. The fact that Yakov required his son Yosef to swear indicates that the mitzva of honoring your mother and father applies not only during their lifetime; it applies even after they have passed away, quoting the Gemara Kiddushin 31b and also codified in Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 240:9. If that’s the case - that the Mitzva to honor our parents applies even in death, - why was it necessary for Yosef to swear? He was reliable. Surely Yosef, who fulfilled all the Mitzvos, would continue to do so! Rabbi Solomon goes through a beautiful discourse regarding the difference of opinion between the Ramban and Rebbi Akiva Eiger’s understanding of Yosef’s obligations. For full detail, refer to Kavod HaAvos, pgs 219-222. To paraphrase Rebbi Akiva Eiger’s explanation, there are two kinds of last will testaments that parents may leave for their children. The primary will address how to distribute the assets and divide the estate in a peaceful, equitable manner. The secondary will address an issue which is more spiritual and which, in the case of Yakov, was where he demanded to be buried. The monetary issues of how to pay off the deceased’s debts and distribute assets speaks to the surviving loved ones. The deceased does not really care about these distributions after he/she is gone. The physical body ceases to exist; all physical association therefore also stops. In contrast to the physical, however, is the spiritual well-being of the Neshama/soul. It is this concern which is of extreme concern - even after death.  Therefore, Yakov knew that all ordinary arrangements would be taken care of by Yosef because he would honor his father. The deeper question or concern Yakov had would be the pressure Yosef might feel to have his father buried in Egypt, and that was what Yakov needed to make sure would not happen. Yakov was concerned for his after-life. Being buried in Egypt would cause him pain during Techiyas HaMeisim. He also feared that the Egyptians might worship his grave. After all, it was in Yakov’s merit that the last five years of the famine was furloughed for a later time in Egyptian history. From here we see, brilliantly brought out by Rabbi Solomon, that the obligation to honor a parent is not limited to this world; it extends even beyond. For this and other issues, including reciting Kaddish, giving charity in their name, and learning for their namesake, a nachas ruach is brought to their souls.

This coming Shabbos has been coined T.E.A.M. Shabbos (Traditional End-of-Life Awareness Movement) by NASCK (National Association of Chevra Kaddisha), an organization that deals with end-of-life questions and situations. This coming Shabbos, shuls and organizations throughout the world will dedicate lectures, shiurim, and materials on this all-important part of life. Jewish belief is that there is an after-life; the Neshama lives on, and we anticipate Techiyas HaMeisim (revival of the dead) in the Messianic time.

The all-important Mitzva of Kibbud Av VaEim, honoring your mother and father, is in full focus this week. Parents have an opportunity to ease the burden on their families and prepare for the inevitable after 120. Become aware of end-of-life issues and prepare properly so that our children can continue to honor us properly in this world and the next. If we give them the tools to obey and fulfill the commandment of honoring their parents, then our children should merit the promise and the reward of this mitzva to have long life themselves!


Ah Gutten Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky


*Rabbi Zvi Solomon, born in Brooklyn NY., is an alumnus of Ner Israel Rabbinical college and Yeshivas Mir Jerusalem. He was a member of the Kollel of Greater Boston and lectures on various Torah topics for the Boston Jewish community. He now serves as a Rabbinic Coordinator at KVH Kosher and is a KVH Kosher Supervisor. Rabbi Solomon is an expert in vegetable checking for bugs as well as a Bodek of Shaatnez in clothing. The Boston Shatnez Laboratory was started by Rabbi Zvi Solomon in 2007. His humble beginnings began as a SEEDLING at Beth Jacob San Diego in 1997, returning to Beth Jacob San Diego for multiple years after that.

Parshas Vayigash - It is not the Mountain We Move; It is Ourselves       10 Teves 5781

12/25/2020 11:12:39 AM


Over the course of the last few months, we have been ordered to daven outside due to Covid-19. We are fortunate to have a great set-up with our patio adjacent to the social hall and an almost complete exterior enclosure. While one side it is completely open, two sides are completely closed while the fourth side faces east onto the parking lot and beyond. The fourth side has a right-angle triangular shape. So, the wall decreases from the top to the bottom like a slide. Every Friday, chairs are arranged with small, individual tables set up in front of each chair. During the week, the tables and chairs get moved around a little to this side and a little to that side. I sit approximately in the middle of the length of the patio with my back directly up against the wall. I am blessed with an instinct to see who is coming and going and to scour the area for security purposes.

As these months of go by, I have, at times, begun to feel as though I was losing my mind. When we initially starting davening on the patio, I was able to easily see over the wall into the lot. Overtime, it became more difficult to see over the wall, and this week I could not see over the wall at all. To see out, I needed to walk further to where the height of the wall’s construction was lower. I began thinking to myself that while I am aware we physically tend to shrink as we age, I did not think it happened at my age, and so quickly!

I began to ponder this and realized that I am not going crazy nor am I shrinking at a rapid pace. Rather, it dawned on me that the chair and table was being set up just a few inches over to the left where the wall was higher. Nothing was happening to me; it was the chair’s fault!  Or at least it was because the chair had been slightly relocated to an area where the wall’s construction was a bit higher. This reminded me of a classic story of the mythic town of Chelm*:

Once upon a time, in the little village of Chelm, the people decided that they needed a new cemetery.  The population of the city had expanded, people had begun to build larger homes, and the need to find a new location for the townspeople’s eternal resting place was now evident.  They looked, and looked, but could not find a suitable location.  They called a meeting of the wise people of the town and for seven days, debated the issue.

At the end of the seven days, the people reached a conclusion: On the southern side of the city, they could utilize a new space created simply by moving the mountain to make room for the new cemetery. This, of course, raised a new question for the people: how does one move a mountain?  They debated the issue for another seven days.  Finally, the wise men of Chelm came up with an idea: “We will all rise, all men of the town as one – united in spirit and body – and together we will move the mountain.” The townspeople quickly accepted this “wise” advice. Early one morning, all able-bodied men – young and old, would make their way out to the mountain on the southern side of the city.

A crowd quickly gathered and surrounded the mountain.  The men pushed and shoved and leaned and tried as hard as they could, but they could not move the mountain. Thirty minutes went by, allowing the participants to catch their breath before they strenuously applied themselves once again.  They pushed and strained and shoved but could not move the mountain.  At this point, the menfolk of Chelm were drenched in sweat, and the sun had risen, beating down on them. Growing ever more uncomfortable, the men removed their coats and jackets, depositing them on the side in preparation for their next try. As all the men struggled, a group of petty thieves watched the men in earnest.  They quickly came with small carts, and as the men of Chelm strained to move the mountain, the thieves stole all the coats and jackets and quickly disappeared from the town.

After a few hours of straining, one of the wise men discovered that his jacket was missing.  Soon, all the men discovered that their coats and jackets were missing.  They began to wonder what was going on.  The wise man of Chelm surmised the answer. “We must have been successful!” he told them. “We must have moved the mountain so far that we cannot even see the place where we left our clothing.” Upon hearing this explanation, the people began to applaud, cheer, and even break out into dance over their success.

They were foolish to think that losing their coats and jackets was a sign of their success, but they were not foolish with regard to looking for a metric for success.  Where in Chelm they were looking for room for their cemetery, In the Torah Yosef and Yehuda were also looking for some space.

In this week’s Parshas Vayigash the Torah states in Bereishis 44:18 "ויגש אליו יהודה ויאמר בי  :אדני ידבר נא עבדך דבר באזני אדני ואל יחר אפך בעבדך כי כמוך כפרעה"  Judah walked up to [Joseph] and said, ‘Please, your highness, let me say something to you personally. Do not be angry with me, even though you are just like Pharaoh”. The Baal HaTurim quotes the Midrash Rabbah 43:6 that the gematria (numerical value) of the first three words of the Parsha describing Yehuda’s moving and approaching Yosef totals three hundred ninety-six. If you take the words "גם נכנס ופייסו"   “He also entered and appeased him”, and "זהו להלחם עם יוסף"  “and he came to do battle with Yosef” each one of those phrases equals three hundred ninety-six! Yehuda’s approach was with the same temperament, in the same manner - whether he was going to use a peaceful tactic or an aggressive one. If he were going to be angry or calm it would be the same as he moved toward Yosef. The number or degree of his approach was the same: to come to an agreeable solution to their defiance of one another.

The lesson in life isn’t for me to always get my way on my terms. People think if they push hard enough, they will get what they want. They push so hard that they begin to believe that they are changing someone else or a situation. Little do they know they have not moved anyone or anything – not one single inch. But sometimes, to make a change one must change his/her position and be amenable one way or another. Yehuda approached and moved towards his brother Yosef, and that was what changed the situation. We, too, need to change and approach situations differently to reach a different conclusion. While we certainly cannot move a mountain, but we surely can move ourselves!

Ah Gutten Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky


*In East European Jewish folklore, the city of Chelm functions as an imaginary city of fools like that of the Greek Abdera, the English Gotham, and the German Schilda, among numerous others. The legendary “town of fools,” often presented ironically as “The Wise Men of Chelm,” is a feature common to most European folklore. Chelm, located approximately 65 kilometers southeast of Lublin, had a Jewish population from at least the fourteenth century, and was a real town whose residents bore no connection to the stories. If anything, the town was known for Torah scholarship.

Adapted from the Yivo Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe.

Parshas Mikeitz - Changing Faces Over Time  3 Teves 5781

12/18/2020 11:39:18 AM


A few weeks ago I received an innocent call asking for a character reference for someone in the community. This is a common occurrence; many people list their local community rabbi on their CV as a reference. In most cases, my wife or I neither know or even  recognize the name of the person requesting the referral. This time I did not recognize the number, but the caller ID was a name that rang a bell.

The caller was someone I had known over thirty-five years ago while learning in yeshiva. After chatting a bit, he informed me about yet another WhatsApp group called ‘Rabbi Wein’s YST Alumni’ (The YST stands for Yeshiva Shaarei Torah). In only a few short clicks, I was transported back to my post- high school yeshiva days where I had spent seven wonderful years as both a bachur and also in Kollel. After I was introduced, I scrolled down through the one-hundred plus participants and wondered if I were in the correct chat. Although the area codes matched the locale from which most of the participants came, I still did not recognize many of their names. This is understandable;  I was only in the Yeshiva for a small part of its long history. There were many students who had learned there before me and many more who came after I left. Nevertheless, we all came together, having  a common bond - the Yeshiva building, the Rabbeim and, of course, the memories. I would venture to claim that most people in any social situation over a span of years (especially school years) could ever imagine not recognizing those with whom they were close to from that time long into the future.  If asked, most everyone would quip,, ”Of course I will remember who that person was.” Yet, our memories play tricks on us; it does not even take a long absence before we tend to forget people. This phenomenon is not so far from what we read about in the Torah this week.

In this week’s Parshas Mikeitz, the Torah states in Bereishis 42:8 "ויכר יוסף את אחיו, והם לא הכרהו"  “Joseph recognized his brothers, but they did not recognize him”. The Piltzer Rebbe, Rav Pinchas Yustman in his work Sifsei Tzaddik, explains why the brothers did not recognize Yosef. To strengthen the question, the Midrash says that the image or portrait of Yosef looked exactly like his father, Yaakov. If so, the brothers knew what their father looked like.  Shouldn’t they have easily been able to recognize Yosef? Despite Rashi ‘s explanation that when they sold Yosef, he did not have a beard and now he had one, it should not have made a difference. Yosef having a beard should not detract from his resemblance to his father. Rav Yustman answers that Yosef was now thirty-nine years old and resembled Yaakov when he was a thirty-nine-year-old. Yosef looked like his father when his father was that age of thirty-nine. But the brothers did not know what their father looked like when he was that age. (They must have lost the family album.) Since Yaakov married when he was eighty-four, obviously his children did not know what he looked like over sixty years before his marriage.  

 Perhaps, through this understanding of the passuk, I realize why I did not remember many of the names on the chat. I was satisfied until a zoom meeting was arranged so that Rabbi Wein could speak to the alumni of the high school and the current Yeshiva guys. I was excited to see some of the faces I had not seen in over three decades. Then reality struck a second time, and this time it hurt even more. Okay, let alone some of the guys chose not to show their faces and only displayed their names, but others had covered-up their names! Maybe some knew who they are, but others did not. The real challenge was the reality of how the zoom boxes of those showing their faces and their correct identities were still unrecognizable!  I could not believe it, considering I have not changed at all. To be fair, I am sure the feelings were mutual, but at least I had my video with the proper name displayed. Once again, I thought to myself, ”How is it possible for me to not recognize these guys whom I saw day in and day out!”

The Kli Yakar asks why, in consecutive pesukim, there is no mention of Yosef recognizing his brothers?  The passuk before, in Bereishis 42:7, states  "וירא יוסף את אחיו ויכרם, ויתנכר: אליהם וידבר אתם קשות ויאמר אלהם מאין באתם ויאמרו מארץ כנען אשבר אכל"   “Yosef recognized his brothers as soon as he saw them, but he behaved like a stranger and spoke harshly to them. “Where are you from?” He asked. “From the land of Canaan to buy food.” Why does the Torah need to repeat a second time - in verse 8 - that Yosef recognized the brothers? Rav Lunchitz explains that the first time it states ‘recognized’ refers to the structure of each face that caused him to recognize who they were. The second recognition regarded the brotherhood and rachmanus/pity. Others explain that initially Yosef recognized them, but then behaved like a stranger towards them, as though he did not recognize them. But after they responded that they were from the land of Canaan,  he had complete recognition, supporting his initial hunch that they were, indeed, his brothers. The Iben Ezra notes that at first he was in doubt as to who was whom, meaning who was Reuvain and who was Shimon. After he spoke to them a bit, he was able to connect the pieces together and recognized them individually.

The Torah itself reconciles the repetitiveness through experiencing a clearer picture of who the brothers were in the eyes of Yosef. It took time and a few moments to reflect, to see each brother in order to conclude how he [Yosef] did know with certainty who they were. But this could not occur immediately; it took a little time. So too, if someone does not initially appear familiar, yet you feel you know them, take it slowly, look back, try to detect the features of a person which never change.  Chances are good that you will figure out who the person is.  Perhaps the larger and more important lesson is that it takes time to recognize qualities and characteristics in people whom we do not know. A changing face does not mean a change of heart. But a change of heart at times changes the face that will over time become unrecognizable. Hopefully, years from now, we’ll all pull out of our photo boxes and see each other with clarity of memory, recognizing one another face-to-face regardless of the years and events of time.  

Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky


*Rav Pinchas Menachem Elazar Yustman (1848-1920) was known as the Piltzer Rebbe. In his early years known as Reb Mendel of Ger was a Chasidic Rabbi who after the passing of his brother-in-law Rabbi Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter, became a Rebbe for some Gerrer Hasidim, in Pilica, Poland.

He was born in Góra Kalwaria, his father Rabbi Binyamin Leizer Yustman and mother Tzina Pesa (née Alter), daughter of the Chiddushei Harim the first Gerrer Rebbe. His mother died when he was young. Orphaned of his mother, he was brought up by his grandparents, Rabbi Yitzchak Meir Alter (known as the Chiddushei Harim) and his wife. When he was about nine years old, his grandfather took him to visit the Kotzker Rebbe, an event which left a lifelong impression on him. He married Hendel Lea, daughter of his uncle Abraham Mordechai Alter, in 1864.

Parshas Vayeishev - Oh Never Mind, It's Nothing.........Really? Nothing?                            25 Kislev 5781

12/11/2020 11:21:10 AM


How often is it that you might tell someone, or they tell you not to worry about something, or not to place special value on something, or  tell you that what you are doing or have done is not a big deal? For example, "You seem very upset." "No, no, it's nothing - I'm OK." "It was so nice of you to take care of the baby all day." "Oh, it was nothing, I enjoyed it." Perhaps another scenario this kind of banter takes place is when someone mumbles under his breath, just loud enough for you to hear some mumbled words, but unable to make out what was said. Then you ask the person, ”What did you say? I could not hear or understand you.” They immediately reply, ”Oh nothing, it was nothing”. Even worse for me is when a person says, “I was talking to myself.” So, I think to myself, “Ah, it was loud enough for me to know that he is talking to himself, but mumbled so that I could hear it?” I have been thinking about these situations for many years and  have come to the following conclusion: There is nothing in the world that is something which is nothing; something is something and nothing is nothing!

If something is not meant for me to hear, then talk to yourself when no one else is around. People should never downplay their words, especially when the words and their message may be significant. Words and speech are a gift given to human beings; we should always be careful not to abuse that gift - or worse - waste it. The lesson of the weight which accompanies how we use our words can be seen directly from the great Chofetz Chaim who was always deliberate in choosing his words. While I have no source for this statement, it has been said over in the name of the Chofetz Chaim  that every person is given a certain number of words to speak in this world, and when this gift of oral language is used up, our time expires.

Another case in point is the notion of how the Torah and even the commentaries such as Rashi and Rambam were precise and exact in their writing. So much so, that an enormous amount of time and effort is expended throughout our learning deciphering why a specific letter or word that seems superfluous, is, in fact, meaningful and essential.. Clearly, the Torah has no ‘extra’ words. To the contrary, the Torah She’bKsav, is written almost cryptically, requiring that the Torah She’B’al Peh to be examined, explaining why and what we each learn from these supposed extra words. One of the foremost examples will be read this week.

The Torah in this week’s Parshas Vayeishev in Bereishis 37:24 "ויקחהו וישליכו אתו הברה, והבור ריק אין בו מים"  “They [the brothers] took him [Yosef] and threw him into the well. The well was empty; there was no water in it.” The word pit in this instance is spelled chaser - missing, or omitting, the letter ‘vav’, and the very next word pit is spelled complete - including the letter ‘vav’. The Vilna Gaon explains the remez/hint regarding the  same word spelled differently. The Gr”a brings Rashi in the Gemara Shabbos 22a to the fact that the pit was empty.  Don’t we know that the pit did not have any water in it? Rashi explains: It did not have water, but it did contain snakes and scorpions. The Ramban points out that the brothers of Yosef did not know there were snakes and scorpions in the pit either. That is why the Torah first writes the word ‘pit’ without the letter ‘vav’ because they thought the pit really was completely empty - no water, no snakes and no scorpions! And then the Torah writes the word ‘pit’, including the  ‘vav’, indicating there was no water in the pit, but it DID contain snakes and scorpions. Thinking about this, it makes sense that the brothers thought it was empty.  Throwing Yosef into a pit full of water would have drowned Yosef. But if they saw there was no water but contained dangerous and lethal animals that also would have killed him. Therefore, we must conclude that they believed the pit to be completely empty. We now know the pit contained venomous creatures which likely would have killed him, but due to Yosef’s righteousness, they stayed away from him and he remained alive.

I would like to share a different angle to this portion. The intention of the Torah is to give us lifelong lessons for all generations. Water is compared to Torah. When the Torah says "אין בו מים, אבל נחשים ועקרבים יש בו"  - “There is no water, but there are snakes and scorpions”, I suggest the words "אין בו מים"  - the situation of no water being there is not the physical manifestation of the water, rather it is the spiritual void of Torah that water represents. The snakes and the scorpions are ‘bad middos’ - unscrupulous character traits.

The jealousy and animosity which the brothers felt towards Yosef was not limited to a physical confrontation. There also existed a religious battle. Yosef felt and observed all the mitzvos, both in Eretz Canaan (Eretz Yisrael) and outside, while the brothers maintained the philosophy that the mitzvos need only be followed in Israel, and now they were outside the Land. A religious battle ensued between them, and this may be highlighted in our verse. They felt there was no need for the Torah at this point, and, adding insult to injury, there could even be a lacking in middos. This may be a radical understanding of the Shivtei Kah, the holy tribes of the Jewish people, and therefore I cannot say it about them. But, when it comes to us, their children in our day and age, it might hold water.

Torah is supreme, and the learning and observance of the Torah is the key and critical element to our collective and individual existence as Jews. The fact that the pit had  no water but did contain evil, means where there is no Torah, the vacuum is filled with middos Raos and the non-fulfillment of mitzvos. Unfortunately, I have witnessed that when Torah is not the primary concern in our life, it has an adverse, ever-deepening negative effect upon ourselves, our spouses, and ultimately our children. We need to study and learn more Torah, whatever area of Torah, allowing Torah to permeate within us, making a positive influence in our lives. Without the Torah, the snakes and scorpions, which are the ills and challenges of our decaying society, will completely destroy us. Unfortunately, we are like the brothers who thought there was no water/Torah, but also did not, or could not see the snakes and scorpions, thereby becoming less observant and less attached to the Jewish people.

Our challenge today, and the fundamental lesson of Yosef and the pit, is that all of us need Torah in our lives, even though we may not see the dangers which are lurking all around. Let the light of the Candle represented by the learning of Torah keep our families above water, clear of the swarming creatures which could ultimately destroy us. The Greeks tried to kill us by enticing us to assimilate, to take on their ways.We fought them off with the guidance of Hashem.  Now,  let us fight off the modern-day Greeks of today and shine forth brightly as Klal Yisrael has done and will continue to do until the lighting of the Menorah in the Bayis Shlishi which should be built speedily in our day, Amen!

Parshas Vayishlach - Shaping our Future from our Past                  18 Kislev 5781

12/04/2020 10:10:20 AM


These past nine months have drawn us closer to our screens almost to an unhealthy level. Obviously, we have no choice in certain circumstances such as zoom classes for school, work-related meetings, and, of course, family get togethers. Rarely do I watch online classes or presentations,  But this week was different. For a few hours straight, I watched hespedim for recent leaders of the Jewish people given by other great leaders of our time. I drew so much inspiration and insight from the eulogies. That I came to reconsider that perhaps such use of online technology was not a ’waste of time’ but rather an invaluable component of who we are as a people, and what I can strive to become as a person. This opened my eyes -and heart- to an important dimension of our character development that should be focused upon. Then I became conscious that this is not something new, as you know…..

Every week I scour my library for divrei Torah related to an incident, a story, or something that I relate to in ordinary life. Every book and sefer brings perspectives to the reader that may not have been previously known or keenly understood. Sometimes reading someone else’s thoughts resonate within us. I believe that when such thoughts do resonate, it is because we are like-minded, but could were able to express it as well as in this particular sefer or book. Most seforim are commentaries of the Torah, whether it is halacha, mussar, or presentation of a deeper understanding of the written and oral Torah. I for one, hope to get inspiration or a more profound sense of knowledge and understanding from the seforim I learn from.

No question, Torah is paramount to all that we do as Jews. I have  always been driven by learning so as to be able to answer questions with depth, to prepare lectures and drashos. I felt that the reading of “books” was not the best use of my time. Only recently did I come to understand the need to read about the great Jews of our past to gain a perspective for our future. These biographies are not just “reading material”; rather they contribute to pieces of a larger picture of our overall dimension as Jews.  Therefore, at the same time, the learning and reading of such material should be used and viewed as a mechanism to aspire us to be better people, not only better Jews (in the limited Jewish sense). There are dedicated biographies that I recommend everyone to read, from the great Torah scholars to the great women driving them to their greatness.

This week, as I was perusing through a few seforim, I realized that the phenomena of reading about our great sages and righteous people is nothing new. In the back of a few of the seforim that I have, eulogies of the leaders of the generation the author lived in are included. I thought to myself “Why write up the hesped/eulogy here? Intrigued, I began to read the Hespedim. Amazingly, the people whose Hespedim I was reading came to life!  These beautiful tributes to outstanding leaders of our past did not focus on how many times the individual finished Shas and Poskim and all of the laws of the Torah, but rather gave me a deeper insight regarding the greatness of each of these people; I learned to appreciate them as great husbands/wives, fathers/mothers/ mentors, friends, colleagues.    Above all, I learned how they profoundly reached out to the less fortunate. Although the Torah is not meant to be a history book, there nevertheless is mention of many (not all) of the characters’ place and time of death. In this week’s parsha we read of one obviously significant person and one less known but nonetheless important.

In this wek’s Parshas Vayishlach the Torah states in Bereishis 35:8 "ותמת דבורה מינקת רבקה ותקבר מתחת לבית קל תחת האלון, ויקרא שמו אלון בכות"  “Rebecca’s nurse Devorah died, and she was buried in the valley of Beth El, under the oak. It was named Weeping Oak”. Who was Devora and what did they say at her funeral? We do not necessarily know exactly what was said, but as in every eulogy we find out things about someone that we did not necessarily know. But it IS through the words of the eulogizer that we gain insight into who the person was and what and how we can gain and grow from that individual’s way of life. So too, we seek out Chaza”l to give us the tidbits of information that the Maspid/eulogizer may have used in delivering the final say about this Devorah.

Devora was a name  that would later become famous through a prophetess by the same name in Shoftim 4:4.  Rashi and Medrash Lekach Tov, and Sefer HaYashar say that Rivka Immeinu sent Devorah to inform Yaakov that it was safe to return home. According to others, Yaakov had stopped at his parents’ home and had picked up Devorah. The Midrash Aggadah explains Devorah was the mother of Rivka, making her Yaakov’s grandmother. In fact, the Midrash Tanchuma in Ki Seitzay explains the plural of the word ‘Bachus/weeping for Yaakov, who wept for both his mother and grandmother Rivka and Devora on their passing. The passuk reveals to us her burial place is Beit El,  a holy place that, in her merit, indicates she deserved to be buried there.

There are three times the Torah uses the expression "ותקבר"   “and she was buried”: Devorah, Rochel and Miriam. The Midrash Lekach Tov asks what is this expression supposed to teach us? The answer is that we do not allow a bier to be left out in the street by women because of their honor, and therefore we bury as close or as soon as possible following their death. It is a testament to Devorah that she was part of the elite- on the level of a Miriam and Rochel Immeinu. No more needs to be said. The greatest of our women leaders were always Tzanua, modest and in the background, pulling the strings, choreographing their husbands, daughters, and sons to lead and teach the Jewish people. Sometimes we hear a lot about someone; other times only a word or two encapsulates their entire essence and being. It was Devorah who fast tracked Yaakov and his family to put into motion the essence of all that the Jewish people will become.

Let us take some more time from our busy schedules and learn by reading , hearing, or watching events and accomplishments of  our leaders of the past to insure a brighter and stronger future for Am Yisrael, Amen  


Parshas Vayeitzay - Thanks for the Memories   11 Kislev 5781

11/26/2020 09:30:10 PM


As I get older, I have become ever-more nostalgic, treasuring the memories of my teen and childhood years. One of the fondest memories I have is Thanksgiving Day, a day which started by taking the subway to Manhattan to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in person. Sitting on the curb watching the parade, I was entranced by the huge floats and blow-up heroes of my childhood come to life as they cruised before me. I would wait patiently to see Batman and Superman floating in the air. We always came prepared with our winter gear, as some years the temperatures dropped below freezing. From there we hopped on the subway and headed uptown to Washington Heights where the day culminated with a family gathering of my aunts, uncles and first cousins (from my mother’s side of the family). Like the rest of America (or at least New Yorkers) Thanksgiving was about the parade, football, and dinner which included turkey as an option.  I am the second-to youngest-first cousin; all the older cousins watched the two football games that sported the same two teams playing in two separate games every year.

For just shy of a century (1924), the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City has been synonymous with the holiday. Thanksgiving Day football games, a close second, started a decade later. But this year will be unlike any other. With coronavirus cases spiking across the country, the department store will hold a modified version of the parade. Every year, thousands of spectators (including myself sitting on the curb) flock to the parade to see the towering balloons, decorative floats, acrobats, marching bands, and more  make their way down the 2.5-mile stretch of Midtown Manhattan. But this year, Macy's had to work with city and state officials in order to figure out how to have a parade at all. Giant balloons still flew, but without their 80 to 100 handlers. Much of the parade was pre-taped over a three-day period for the televised event. About 8,000 participants usually help with the parade — but this year, that number was reduced by about 88%.

Although it has been many years since I experienced these two events, I nevertheless felt a piece of my life was no longer the same. Today, I live too far away to attend the parade in person, and our family, Bli Ayin Hora, has expanded beyond continents, allowing us to  only get together on zoom, bringing a tinge of sadness to the day. On the other hand, however,  I do feel appreciative of what I experienced growing up within the nurturing of my loving family in New York. The fact that my parents took us to these events and family gatherings made life incredibly special. A day like Thanksgiving is not a particularly religious day; it is rather a day of reflection of Hakaras Hatov and giving of continuous thanks. It is one of the most crucial and critical middos a person needs to develop. If someone appreciates something or someone then they, in turn, will feel appreciated by others. Judaism and the Torah illustrate constant themes and messages of Hakaras Hatov, recognizing the good in someone or something that was done for us. In truth, Hakaras Hatov and giving thanks are really two similar but not identical concepts. Hakaras Hatov is recognizing the good, while Hoda’a is the practice of giving thanks. Giving thanks is something that needs to be done proactively and on a recurring basis. One needs to be careful, however, when giving thanks continually.  Such repetitious giving of thanks can lead to a lack of sincerity; care and pause needs to be exercised each time words of thanks are expressed, reiterating assurance of genuine thanksgiving.

On the heels of last week’s message about our senses, there is yet an additional dimension of some of the senses again this week related to thanksgiving.  There are basic functions that with which we are blessed and need to be mindful of them every day. Emphasized throughout the Torah and Rabbinic teachings, the five senses of sight, hearing, touch, smell, and taste should never be taken for granted (Loss of taste and smell are two symptoms experienced by Covid patients).

In this week’s Parsha Vayeitzay the Torah states in Bereishis 29:35 "ותהר עוד ותלד בן ותאמר הפעם אודה את ה', על כן קראה שמו יהודה, ותעמוד מלדת"  “She [Leah] became pregnant again and had a son. She said, ‘this time let me praise God,’ and named the child Yehuda, she then stopped having children”. Rav Meir Simcha HaKohein of Dvinsk, in his commentary Meshech Chochmah, explains why Leah specifically had to praise Hashem after the birth of her fourth son, named Yehuda. Rav Meir Simcha expounds there are four categories of Brachos: thanks, praise, mitzva, and benefit. We do not recite a bracha of benefit (Nehenin i.e. food) on three of the five senses: sight, hearing, and touch. If one sees something beautiful, hears something pleasant, or feels something good, they may need to make a bracha of praise but not of benefit. Only for a good smell is there a bracha of Hana’a/benefit is made. We learn this out from Gemara Brachos 43b bringing a passuk that we recite every day from Tehilim 150:6 "כל הנשמה תהלל קה, הללוקה"  “Let every soul praise God, Praise God”, something that the Neshama benefits from but the physical body does not. Therefore, in descending order, Reuvain’s name is based upon sight, Shimon’s name is based upon hearing, and Levi’s name is based upon a feeling that Yaakov would be close to Leah after securing at least three of the twelve tribes. Those three are not connected to a bracha. Only Yehuda, as stated in a passuk in Yeshayahu 11:3 states "והריחו ביראת ה' "  “And he shall be animated by the fear of the Lord…” The Redak and Ibn Ezra explain that through the fear of Hashem he will be endowed with acute senses, able to perceive things unperceivable by others. The sense of smell is mentioned since it is the most delicate of the senses and cannot be misled, as can the senses of sight and hearing. Thanks, is therefore associated with smell, and Leah named her son - Yehudah - with the name of thanks connected to smell.

There is not a specific bracha of thanksgiving made on the day, but it is a day to stop, think, and appreciate life in general. We have experienced a very long, trying, sometimes painful Covid experience. The Ribbono Shel Olam sent us all a powerful message to appreciate life itself. We need to be Makir Tov, to recognize the good and then give the praise with all our Neshama praising Hashem. Let Thanksgiving Day be a lesson and the reminder to give thanks to everyone around us and to the One above.

Parshas Toldos - Listening to your Common Senses                4 Kislev 5781

11/20/2020 11:37:05 AM


Our nervous system depends upon the five senses – sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste in order to receive and process information from the world outside our bodies. Each of these senses has a specific job:               

Sight:  The eyes translate light into image signals for the brain to process.

             Sound: The ears use bones and fluid to transform sound waves into sound signals to the brain.

                           Touch: Specialized receptors in the skin send touch signals to the brain.

              Smell: Molecules released from fragrances or odors stimulate olfactory cells or nerve cells in the nose, sending signals to the brain where the particular smell is identified.

Taste – gustation - develops through taste receptors on the tongue, soft palate, cheeks, esophagus and the epiglottis – a small flap in the throat.  Five types of taste are known: sweet, salty, bitter, sour, and umami – the taste of protein!

    As I analyze these five senses, three of them seem to be more critical than the other two. The ability to see, hear and feel are important regarding our health, safety, and overall well-being. This is not to say that taste and smell do not affect safety and health, but in my opinion these senses are not as critical to survival as the others. With that said, I will share two examples where I dramatically fail with regard to listening to the messages my senses are sending me.

The first incident occurred over thirty years ago while driving over the 59th street bridge from Queens to Manhattan. We were stuck in traffic. My car began overheating and smoke was steaming out from under the hood. At one point the person next to me (my Shidduch date) in the passenger seat said,” Is that smoke coming from this car?” A few minutes later the passenger was sniffing, while I thought that there did seem to be a smell like anti-freeze oozing into the passenger section of the car, vaguely indicating to me that there may be a leak. I remained, however, oblivious, until the passenger noticed drivers in other vehicles motioning to us, wildly waving their hands, pointing to the smoke now coming out thickly and rapidly. My polite passenger sheepishly asked,” Don’t you think something is wrong?” I responded,” You mean that little smell and some smoke? Nah. It’s nothing.”  Long story short, we made it over the bridge, parked on 2nd Avenue and waited for a tow truck to get us home.

The second example occurred about fifteen months ago when my foot was just a little swollen.  I ignored that and kept going. By the end of the day I was limping along. I could see some redness on the top of my foot and felt a nagging, but not serious pain. I took some ibuprofen, raised my foot while sitting, and by morning it was better. By the end of the next day, however, it was swollen again and felt really heavy. This went on for about two weeks until I was finally convinced that it might be a good idea to see my doctor. Making a long story short, I ignored the signs, and, as you may remember, I learned that I had been walking around with a broken foot. There are dozens of examples I can relate to about how our body detects and senses when something is wrong - or even right.

Reviewing the Parsha this week, I picked up on the fact that all the senses are mentioned in the parsha. In fact, all five are found in the Perek chapter 27.  This week’s Parshas Toldos opens with the pregnancy of Rivka and concludes with the fleeing of Yaakov from his brother Eisav. Let us identify and highlight where and how these senses are mentioned and how significant they are. In no order we begin with Rivka experiencing a mini battle of sorts within her as she is pulled toward the house of idolatry by Eisav and the house of Torah study by Yaakov while in her womb. From that point on Yaakov and Eisav went their separate ways, but their paths crossed many times, continuing to this very day. 

The Torah states in Bereishis 27:1   "ויהי כי זקן יצחק ותכהין עניו מראות, ויקרא את עשו בנו הגדול ויאמר אליו בני ויאמר אליו הנני"   “Isaac had grown old and his eyesight was fading. He summoned his elder son Esau, and he called out ‘my son’ and he said ’Yes’ I am here.’ Why was it important for the Torah to relate the status of his eyesight? The fact that he was getting old was reason enough to want to bless his children, just as the Torah relates how Avraham, his father, was old!  In Bereishis 27:9 the Torah states: "לך נא אל הצאן וקח לי משם שני גדיי עזים טובים, ואעשה אתם מטעמים לאביך כאשר אהב"  Rivka said to Yaakov, ”Go to the sheep and take two choice young kids. I will prepare them with a tasty recipe, just the way your father likes them.” Why was it necessary for Rivka to prepare food that should have a good taste? The answer is simple: she was following the command that Yitzchok himself had asked Eisav to do for him earlier in 27:4. One can ask why Yitzchok asked Eisav for a tasty meal? Rabbeinu Bachya explains that the best bracha/blessing comes following a satiated, full stomach. Note that sound and touch are found in the same verse, making this  perhaps one of the most famous pesukim to pit the Jewish people against all the other nations of the world. In Bereishis 27:22 the Torah states: "ויגש יעקב אל יצחק אביו וימושהו, ויאמר הקל קול יעקב והידים ידי עשו"  “Yaakov came closer to his father Yitzchok, and [Yitzchok] touched (felt) him. He said, ‘The voice (sound) is Jacob’s voice, but the hands are the hands of Eisav’.”  Why is the word ‘voice’ repeated, but the hands – touch – is only mentioned once? I suggest that a sound - or voice - is a sense that can be impersonated or altered, meaning the same one individual can have two different-sounding voices from the same voice box, in contrast to the sense of touch, in this case the hands -feeling – was the cover-up by Rivka who ‘dressed’ Yaakov’s hands. I believe my distinction is supported by the fact the word ‘voice’ - in Hebrew ‘kol’ - is spelled two different ways: one time ckaser and one time malei- meaning once full with a vav and the other without. This Indicates that there was something strange going on. Even though Yitzchok could not see well, his sense of hearing was able to discern the sound of Yaakov’s voice even though the hands felt like the hands of Eisav. The final sense of smell that the Torah states in Bereishis 27:27 "ויגש וישק לו וירח את ריח בגדיו ויברכהו, ויאמר ראה ריח בני כריח שדה אשר ברכו ה' "   “Yaakov approached and kissed him [Yitzchok]; he smelled the fragrance of his garments, and blessed him. He said, see my son’s fragrance is like the perfume of a field blessed by God”.

Of the five senses and incidents I point out, four of the five are in the positive.  Sight was lacking; Yitzchok could not see! Sight, however, in this situation was Yitzchok’s foresight: he recognized the need to give specific blessings to each of his sons. Alternatively, sight could also be a reference to the moment Yitzchok realized he had given the first bracha to Yaakov and trembled, knowing that was Eisav standing in front of him. Rashi on the word ‘tremble’, connotes an expression that Yitzchok saw Gehinnom opened beneath him.

We take away from this analysis that the senses are physical in nature. We need them to navigate our way through life; it is scientifically proven that when one sensor does not work properly, other sensors will kick in to compensate. The deeper and more significant lesson, however, is to be more acutely aware of how we should consciously use our sensory processing for the performing and fulfilling the Mitzvos. Let us use our common sense to provide the vital viaduct to living both our physical and spiritual lives properly, making continuous effort not to ignore the signs our senses are sending to us.

Ah Gutten Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky


P.S. Guess who the passenger in the car was?

Parshas Chayei Soroh - Traveling is about the Purpose not the Destination

11/12/2020 02:10:25 PM


"Déjà Vu" is a borrowed French expression meaning ‘already seen’.  When a déjà vu  event occurs, our memory is sparked, making us feel as though we’re revisiting a place we have already been to, a person we have already seen, or an act we have already done. Recently, I have come to recognize another kind yet related experience, and I wonder if it only happens to me or to everyone.  

I have been living in San Diego, California for almost twenty-five years. I have driven thousands of miles on most of the freeways but have visited only a handful of the one hundred twenty-seven neighborhoods. As you drive on the massive California highway system (in my opinion of one San Diego’s strong points), one takes notice of the major intersections of freeways, sometimes three different roads each going north and south or east and west. A few years ago, visitors from Israel were awestruck by the gigantic merge of highways 8, 805 and 15. Even though I have driven past these interchanges hundreds of times, I have not necessarily been on all of them. Recently I took a road that put me on  a ramp which connected to a section of highway that I had never driven on before. As I was driving, the area around me began to come into focus and I realized that I was driving on the road that I have passed by or seen hundreds of times, yet had never driven on until this very day.  A second but similar road story took place while driving southbound on a road, never realizing that the northbound road was on the other side but could not be seen - until one time when it was revealed. For some reason I feel I made a discovery that no one else knew about. Little did I realize that I, too, drive on roads daily which others do not tend to use yet may one day find themselves driving on.  The third and last driving observation occurred when driving on a street I have never previously driven on before and I was not exactly sure where I was going. Suddenly, I approached an intersection and… golly gee whiz wow! I now knew exactly where I was! I have driven on this major road and have seen the street that I just approached but never realized the street would come out where it did.

These three examples are similar to a maze. When you are in a maze you cannot see the connecting points and turns, but from an aerial view one can see it all very clearly. In truth, this fact highlights  some of the benefits we receive from satellites. There is a certain thrill I experience when I make these links, and I cannot wait until the next one just hits me in the windshield. This all may seem to be very amusing and mundane, but roads and travel are a part of daily life, certainly here in Southern California. In truth, travel, roads, and directions are the keys to getting from point A to point B in the most safe, efficient, and timely manner. These ideas grow and blossom daily, and they are found in the Torah too.

In this week’s Parshas Chayei Soroh, the Torah conveys the episode of Avraham sending his trusted servant Eliezer to find a wife for his son, Yitzchok. Not only does the Torah divulge the way Eliezer was to know which girl would be the right one for Yitzchok, it narrates the entire segment over again to Rivka’s family before accepting anything from them. The Torah states in Bereishis 24:27 "ויאמר ברוך ה' אלקי אדני אברהם אשר לא עזב חסדו ואמתו מעם אדני, אנכי בדרך     נחני ה' בית אחי אדני" “He [Eliezer] said, ‘Blessed be God, Lord of my master Avraham, who has not withdrawn the kindness and truth that He grants to my master. Here I am, still on the road, and God has led me to the house of my master’s close relatives”. * Rav Eliezer Ashkenazi, in his sefer Maasei Hashem, explains this verse with another verse from Tehilim 119:1 "אשרי תמימי דרך"  ~ “Fortunate are those whose way is perfect, who walk with the Torah of Hashem”. This teaches us that those who are perfect while they are on the road, all the way and up until they reach their destination, will reach their destination as long as they are walking in the path of the Torah. The entire journey’s purpose is to fulfill the will of Hashem. So too here - Eliezer’s trip was for the sake of heaven. Therefore, while he was still on the road, Hashem led him to the house of his master’s relatives. The journey itself had the same feeling, emotion, and drive - just as it would be at the moment, he reached his destination. Therefore, Eliezer merited the blessing of Kfitzas HaDerech, literally jumping the road; the road and the time were shortened to get to his destination. He merited this because his entire essence was focused on the task at hand, and that concentration was maintained throughout the entire trip.

For Eliezer  there may have been many roads, different avenues, and values that could have taken him off the beaten path. Life brings many different roads and paths that we see but do not know from where they came or from where they lead. Sometimes we are tempted to try out the new road not knowing if and when we will ultimately arrive at our destination. If we are going someplace and we have the sincerity of working towards doing this L’Shem Shamayim, Hashem will guide us through and make it the correct way. In this vein we should recite Tefilas HaDerech, the wayfarer’s prayer, not only when going on a trip out of the city but everyday upon waking up, preparing to take the first few steps of the day. If we concentrate and make sure all of our intentions are for the sake of Hashem, then He will arrange it that we will be successful in all our ways, - those we’ve traveled before and those yet to be traveled.     

Ah Gutten Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky


*Rav Eliezer ben Elijah Ashkenazi (1512–December 13, 1585) was a Talmudist, rabbi, physician, and many-sided scholar. He received his Talmudic education under Joseph Taitazak in Salonica. Ashkenazi first became rabbi in Egypt in 1538–60, probably at Fostat, where, due to his learning and wealth, he became widely known. Compelled by circumstances—doubtless of a political nature—to leave Egypt, he went to Cyprus, remaining there for two years as rabbi at Famagusta. In 1561, Rav Ashkenazi took up residence in Prague. Here—either because he was a rabbi, or because he was a leading authority—his was the first signature appended to the constitution of the burial society of the congregation. After leaving Bohemia and proceeding eastward as far as the Crimea, Rav Ashkenazi returned to Italy, not before 1570. While rabbi of Cremona in 1576 Rav Ashkenazi  published Yosef Lekah (Increases Learning; compare Proverbs 1:5), dedicated to Joseph Nasi, Duke of Naxos.Yosef Lekah  was reprinted several times.  Four years later Rav Ashkenazi returned to Eastern Europe, as rabbi of Posen. In 1584 he left that city to take up his abode in Cracow, where he died on December 13, 1585.

Parshas Vayera - We never learn until We Make a Mistake......and Then Some                   19 Cheshvan 5781

11/06/2020 09:31:39 AM


I have been wearing glasses since I was nine years old. Thank God for corrective lenses.  They have helped me to see clearly throughout my life. Our vision, as well as all our senses and abilities, should never be taken for granted and should be reflected upon from time to time in order to more deeply appreciate that which we have.

According to research conducted by the Vision Impact Institute, three out of four people in the U.S. require vision correction, and of those people, 71% wear glasses and 22% wear contacts. However, the number of people wearing corrective glasses or contacts changes drastically as people age. Only 59% of people ages 25-39 wear corrective lenses, while 93% of people between the ages of 65 and 75 wear corrective lenses. The proportion of individuals requiring glasses to improve their sight rapidly increases after the age of 45.Interestingly,the study also found that people between the ages of 16 and 25 tend to look at screens (e.g. tablets, phones, and computers) more than 3 hours per day. All that screen time can later lead to serious problems such as age-related macular degeneration. Although there may be some scientific support that eyesight is determined or controlled by our environment, most will say it comes down to genetics, and there is truly little one can do to change that. However, having good or bad eyesight is a physical condition. There are other types of sight, critical to all of our lives, which cannot be corrected by glasses or contacts .

The phrase “hindsight is 20/20” means looking back at a situation or an event and having a clearer understanding of how things could have been done better or more appropriately. This  wishing to be able to undo a previously missed opportunity or inappropriate action, unfortunately, cannot be undone by use of corrective lenses. People have visions - visions of greatness, visions of prophecy, visions of making appropriate, smart choices all requiring spiritual corrective lenses known as ‘Hashkafa”. Everyone has an Hashakafa, but just as in the physical sense there is bad and good, so, too, in the philosophical realm there is good and bad. Chaza”l teach us in Pirkei Avos: ‘Who is a wise person? Someone who has eyes in his head.’ It is interesting to note that while it is true our eyes are located on the part of the body which sits on top of the neck called the head, eyes are really located on the face. Therefore, shouldn’t the Rabbis’ statement  be that a wise person has his eyes on his head, not in his head? So, what do the Rabbis mean when they say a wise person has his eyes in his head? The answer is, that the statement is not speaking of the eyes in terms of physically seeing, for those eyes are located on the face. The eyes in the head represent sight governed by our intellect, knowledge, and wisdom. Hindsight is not taken literally, of course. We humans do not have eyes in the back of our heads. More accurately, this expression refers figuratively to what the brain interprets: deciphering information already known based upon something that has previously happened.

In this week’s parshas Vayera the Torah states in Bereishis 19:11 "ואת האנשים אשר פתח הבית הכו בסנורים מקטן ועד גדול, וילאו למצא הפתח" “They [the angels] struck the men who were standing at the entrance with blindness – young and old alike — and [the Sodomites] tried in vain to find the door”. The Malbim explains blindness not as a physical eye ailment but rather hallucinations. The Sachatchover Rebbe in his commentary Shem MiShmuel also explains that it was not blindness in the traditional understanding, rather it was a ‘blindness’ of knowledge and intellect. In this instance, the attackers of Lot did not feel or sense the imminent danger that was lurking around the corner, namely the eradication of Sodom and Gomorrah. How do we know that they did not understand or feel a danger coming? The answer is revealed to us at the end of the passuk when the verse states they tried in vain to find the door! Even when blinded, they continued, pursuing a way in to get to Lot, his family, and the angels. A person with sense and wisdom would recognize that this is not going in the direction planned. Maybe we should not be doing this. Instead, they continue their attempt to attack. They are not dissuaded from their goal despite the obvious stumbling block placed before them. Even when their world and their entire mission was literally crumbling underneath them, they lacked the ability to regret their actions and instead of quickly learning from their obvious mistake, they pushed on. To make matters worse, only a few verses later - 19:14 - Lot tries to persuade them to get out of this place, to leave immediately.  But not only did their eyes fail to see it; it also fell on deaf ears (but that is a Drasha for another time). They did not budge from their determination and remained blinded by their stubbornness.

Lot, for his part, was also living down the wrong path. Fortunately for him and part of his family, he was able to see the truth and understand, but the remainder of his family did not. Unfortunately, Lot did not have the foresight to realize – to perceive - the influence he had on his older daughters and married them off to Sodomites. Lot’s daughters were sucked into the society. For them, it was too late to change. Lot brought them up that way, and the mistake in judgment was a costly one. Lot was raised in his Uncle Avraham’s home. Yet, while Avraham Avinu brought Lot up,  at a certain point, which we witnessed in last week’s parsha, Lot grew wealthy and haughty and chose to separate from Avraham.

Members of a community and people living within the private world of their own families need to maintain a life of honesty, integrity, and truth. Once those essential qualities break down a person begins to lead a life that is antithetical to the Torah, falsely justifying the decisions and actions of their lives. Along the way they damage those closest to them: their children, spouses, friends, and others. This lifestyle choice continues until there is a major hiccup and they make a serious mistake. If this  error is caught and honestly looked at, it can be corrected.  Bad decisions are made by all of us as we live our lives, but with focused effort such decisions can be corrected.  However, if the individual remains completely blinded, such serious errors in judgment, errors in behavior will continue until ultimate demise. Remember, no one is perfect, but when we make a mistake, see and face the error.  Ultimately, this  may be for the best in helping to return to seeing things with a perfect vision and Hashkafa.

Ah Gutten Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas Lech L'Cha - Election Day 2020          11 Cheshvan 5781

10/29/2020 01:42:36 PM


 ”Cardinal rule” is a phrase derived from the Latin adjective cardinalis, meaning ‘serving as a hinge’ or, the source from which everything rests or results; it refers to something of core importance.  There are cardinal rules which apply to many areas of life, and the Rabbinate is no exception. I would not say we were given a set of cardinal rules in the Smicha/ordination program, but for the most part these rules are learned on the job. There are a few cardinal rules in the Rabbinate which also apply  to lay leaders and other clergy.

 One of the major rules is to not publicly side with a political party or to publicly endorse something political from the pulpit. This notion originates from a letter written in 1801 by Thomas Jefferson shortly after the ratification of the Constitution and the First Amendment.  Jefferson had just won the presidential election of 1800.  Replying to a letter concerning conflict of church and state, Jefferson wrote, “…religion is a matter which rests solely between man and his Creator…” Jefferson then quoted the First Amendment to the Constitution reassuring that all religious rights were protected by “separation of church and state”. This foundational understanding of the Establishment Clause and Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment has been used extensively to support freedom of religion throughout the 20th and 21st centuries.

We are told that one should avoid discussing two things at the dinner table: religion and politics.  Religion and politics can be polarizing, precisely because they deal with important matters that are deeply personal and close to our passions and beliefs. But these discussions do not have to be polarizing or combative. Intolerance of another person’s faith is a personal choice, not a legal requirement. We are also told that we “should not mix religion and politics.” Again, this saying has a powerful truth: that when religion is used for political purposes, it empties religion of its eternal meaning and becomes just one more cynical method of acquiring power. But there is also a disclaimer hidden in that phrase: that sometimes when people say “Don’t mix religion and politics,” they actually mean “Don’t bring your faith into the public square where I can see it.” In other words, hide your faith outside of your place of worship because we have a “separation of church and state.” Separation of church and state is too important a concept to be misused — especially not as a tool for silencing opposing views. Therefore, I do not believe the concept of separation should silence people of religion and faith-based leaders from discussing politics in an open forum from their own pulpits.  

This coming week’s election results will be the most significant piece of history in our country for at least the past seventy-five years. Most of you are waiting to see who I will be voting for, while others will tell you they already know my candidate choices. Well, for those who think they know who I have decided to vote for, I will continue to allow their imaginations to confirm their decision. America is split down the aisle on the fine points of every issue. I would be surprised to see any issue voted on with an overwhelming majority on any case. Which side of the aisle should observant Jews find themselves?

In this week’s parshas Lech Lecha we are more formally introduced to Avraham Avinu. We read about his birth, marriage and early travels with his father Terach in last week's parshas Noach. After his father died, Avraham continues carving his own path after being commanded Lech Lecha – Go! - to the land of Canaan. Avraham is known as HaIvri, the Hebrew, a description found in Bereishis 14:13 "ויבא הפליט ויגד לאברם העברי"  “The refugee who escaped came and brought the news to Avram the Hebrew”. The Midrash Rabbah Parashat Lech Lecha, Parasha 41 on the very words “Veyaged L’Avraham HaIvri” explains Avraham was called "Ivri" because he stood alone on one side of the river, facing the whole world on the other side. The Talmud, when discussing Avraham Ha Ivri (Avraham the Hebrew) informs us that he was referred to as HaIvri which means the one from the other side for three reasons: 1. He came from the other side the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, 2. He crossed over from the “other side” of humanity. Beyond Avraham Avinu’s absolute Bitachon (assurance) in Hashem, Avraham was distinct among his fellow men through consistently displaying the quality of Chessed, which became the signature mark of Avraham’s personality. The third reason is given by the Pesikta Rabbasi (Pesikta 33): when Hashem saw that the entire world worshipped idolatry, and Avraham separated himself from them by not doing so, He called Avraham an Ivri. That appellation referred to the fact that Avraham took the opposite “side” regarding this pivotal issue, then that of the rest of the world. Another Midrash in Shemot Rabbah 3:8 explains that the Jews are called “Hebrews” (Ivriim), because they were destined “to cross over the Red Sea” she’avru ha’yam. Two things make Avraham special: First, he discovered God by himself, and second the Rambam in Hilchos Avoda Zorah 1:1-3 writes that Avraham understood that it was not enough to believe as an individual, that there must be a whole nation that believes. Avraham’s strength in standing alone against the whole world, along with his project of establishing a nation which would worship Hashem, helped him succeed where others had failed.

In our United States of America, the words “In God We Trust” is printed on every coin and bill of currency in our monetary system. This great country was founded on religious principles that invoked God into the very fabric of society.  The Torah directs us to vote in favor of the principles that are found in the Torah. That does not mean that we should vote for certain types of legislation or rally for a certain law. Rather it is a platform of decency and of law and order that requires our vote. We need to be on the ‘other side’:  just as Avraham Avinu was the Ivri, so too we his descendants need to be on the other side of which is the same side as the Torah. The Torah stands for social justice, equality, human life, proper treatment of animals, helping the less fortunate and or rights of every human being defined in their categories. The Torah stands for law and order, truth, integrity, and many other important life-leading ideas and much more. Whichever candidate, party, group that stands for the values that the Torah upholds will receive my vote this Tuesday on November 3rd.

Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas Noach - Greetings     5 Cheshvan 5781

10/22/2020 08:42:33 PM


Ah Gut Your, Ah Kesiva Vachasima Tova, Gmar Chasima Tov, Ah Gut Kvittel, Ah Gut Yom Tov, Ah Gutten Vinter, Ah Lichtiga Chanuka, Ah Freilichin Purim, Ah Zeesen Kasherin Pesach, Ah Gutten Zummer, Ah Gutten Shabbos, and, of course, Shabbat Shalom are Jewish greetings used as we progress through the year. These greetings are reflective of the holiday and season that we are currently in, just passed, or are moving into. The greetings are infused with blessings relevant and pertinent for that time of year, some religious and others secular, some just for fun and others serious. These universal Jewish greetings go beyond a simple ‘good morning’ and the like. Rather, each greeting demonstrates a connection to being Jewish whether we know the person to whom we’re speaking or not.

For the average person, every greeting and introduction is an opportunity to demonstrate respect for others and to create a favorable impression of yourself to others. When you greet someone, you acknowledge their presence. Most people do this automatically, barely noticing they are doing it. Nevertheless, it is an especially important component of society that provides opportunity to understand one another, breaking down barriers that otherwise might distance one from another. Surely, Jews say good morning and give greetings throughout the year just as everyone else does. Is the idea of greetings something consistent with Torah thought or not?

What is the Halachik/Jewish law opinion on the matter of greetings? To answer, I would look at the laws of mourning. On Tisha B’Av we refrain from greeting people in the morning whom we typically might greet daily. This practice is followed in a house of mourning whereby no greetings or goodbyes are used when entering or departing the mourner and the house. A visitor just walks into the ‘Shiva house’ without knocking and sits down facing those in mourning. Before leaving, the visitor gives words of comfort and then just leaves. We can deduce that if I am forbidden from greeting at certain times and places during the year, it must be a good thing, if not mandatory, to greet someone upon seeing them.

A few months ago, I wrote about the inability to show a smile to someone due to mask-wearing requirements. Although it may take extra effort to speak while wearing a mask,, this  makes it all the more important to give an extraordinary greeting in order to make up for the lost visual of the smile. These kinds of greetings should not be limited to a ‘good morning’ to someone you see every day. Rather, go out of your way to give that extra effort to greet  everyone with whom you come into contact with throughout the day. Every day presents  opportunities to brighten up someone’s day and lift their spirits with a good greeting.   Whether you are waiting in line at the bank, checking out at the grocery store, waiting on some line or in an office waiting for an appointment, you can improve the world around you by extending this simple gesture of good will as we wend our way through the waves of anxiety throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. I believe statistics support that we are closer to a vaccine and that the mortality rate is currently dropping. Treatments are improving as the medical and scientific worlds learn more about the intricacies of this virus. We are hopeful that we will slowly emerge from this pandemic and begin the process of restitching the shattered lives of so many who have lost loved ones while rebuilding the devastation done to the economy. For now, however, we must focus on doing what must be done to protect ourselves and those dependent upon our leadership

That was not the case going back two thousand one hundred six years ago when Noach and his family emerged from the Teivah/ark. There too, a complete destruction of the world, barring the fish, the  eight human beings quarantined in the ark, and the animals they ceaselessly fed and cared for. When they were told to step out of the ark, there was no one around to greet except themselves. Perhaps they even anticipated knowing there would not be anyone to greet and felt reluctant to even leave the ark. Did Noach and his family want to exit from the Teivah or not?

In this week’s Parshas Noach the Torah states in Bereishis 8:16  "צא מין התבה אתה ואשתך ובניך ונשי-בניך אתך"  “God spoke to Noach saying, ‘Leave the ark --you, along with your wife, your sons, and your son’s wives”. The Netzi”v, Rav Naftali Zvi Yehuda Berlin, in his commentary Haamek Davar, comments that in the very next verse it says, ‘take out with you…’ from the ark all the living creatures. The subtle difference between ‘leave’ and ‘take out’ is coming to teach us that they delayed and remained in the ark to seek out the blessing. Of course, you ask, ”What blessing is it referring to?” Fast forward to Bereishis 9:10: “God said to Noach, ‘I am making a covenant with you and with your offspring after you. It will also include every living creature that is with you among the birds, the livestock, and all the beasts of the earth with you – all who left the ark, including every animal on earth. The animals carefully made sure (by remaining in the ark) to be included in the blessing that Hashem gave to future offspring and only those who left with Noach. But had they left immediately, then they would not have been a part of this blessing. The Netzi”v later on explains that the animals stood there next to Noach to receive the bris/covenant. It would also be a segula, a good merit, to receive a blessing, tor be part of a covenant when it is in front of you and not from behind.

I would like to suggest that Hashem, commanding all of the passengers on the Teivah to go out, was really extending an invitation, a greeting, to come back into the world. Noach and his family had no one to greet and perhaps I can suggest that this is why they were reluctant to leave, not knowing where to go. It took that ‘welcome’ from Hashem to motivate them to come out. The guarantee through the words Hashem spoke with Noach was a bris/covenant, and a bracha/blessing. This message was conveyed through the ‘greeting’ of welcome to Noach and his family to come out and rebuild the world. If you spell the word Teivah with a Yud and rearrange the letters you get Bayit, house. Every morning, afternoon and evening we walk out of our homes the same way 2106 years ago Noach emerged from his house. His purpose, his goal, was to rebuild the world;  our mandate is the same. We have the mission, the purpose, to go out from our homes to recreate a better world every single day of our lives. That will be the ultimate blessing and the covenant that not only will destruction not rain down upon the world, but  that only blessings will shower upon us through our greetings, wishing everyone a special, unique, dedicated blessing for that time and place.     


Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas Bereishis - Finding New Inspiration in the Old     28 Tishrei 5781

10/16/2020 12:03:36 PM


Sponsored by Joel and Marlene Gerendash in memory of Marlene’s father, Yehoshua ben Binyamin A”H, on his Yahrzeit, 29 Tishrei.

Starting a new project is often wrought with anxiety, but at the same time it is also filled with a sense of excitement. Beginning something fresh does not require much motivation because the project itself is the motivating factor. In contrast, some motivation is required and necessary when it comes to revisiting a project that was previously tackled. This week, as I sat down to type out a message, I faced a double challenge. In general, after a break from the routine of writing messages for a few weeks,  it takes more effort to get back into it. Second, starting sefer Bereishis, going back to the beginning AGAIN, or as they say, “here we go again”, can be  challenging. A good motivational push often comes from positive feedback or flattery. The cliche “imitation is the highest form of flattery” is a truism. A few years ago a reader of my weekly message died and instructed her family to have me to conduct her funeral, despite never having met or spoken to her. That gave me inspiration to continue writing. Then it happened again only a few days ago…..

This week I received an email from a woman in Riverdale, NY. Here is what she wrote. “Rabbi Bogopulsky, allow me to introduce myself.  My name is ………… and this Shabbos is my son's Bar Mitzvah.  In preparing for his speech on Shabbos, I was looking for a way to connect the aspect of this Shabbos as Shabbos Bereishis as a transition from the Yomim Tovim to the rest of the year, and the Yom Hashishi reference to the 6th day of Sivan.  I was struggling, until I happened across your shul's website and found your dvar torah and your analysis to sports- regular season and post season.  It was so perfect because my son is super into sports and it brought the speech together.  I wanted to thank you! and let you know he plans to use this analogy in his speech (with a thank you and reference to you of course.)” This is all it took for me to be motivated and think of something unique that will touch someone or help them relate in some way. 

I started to think, asking myself, “What is the connection between the High Holiday season to Bereishis? Why does Bereishis come right after the Yom Tov season?” Earlier in the week my father-in-law discussed the very first Rashi of the parsha/Torah and asked a seemingly remarkable simple question. The first Rash states: ”It was not necessary to begin the Torah [whose main object is to teach commandments, mitzvos, with this verse]  but rather from ‘This month shall be unto you the beginning of the months’ (Shmos 12:2), since this is the first Mitzva that the Jewish people were commanded to do. And what is the reason that it begins with Bereishis? Because of the power of His works, He declared to His people in giving them the heritage of the nations. For if the nations of the world should say to Israel: “You are robbers because you have seized by force the lands of the seven nations of Canaan, Israel would say to them, ‘The entire world belongs to the Holy One, Blessed Be He. He created it and gave it to whomever was right in His eyes. Of His own will He gave it to them and out of His own will He took it from them and gave it to us.” 

Throughout the last two thousand years the world has declared the land of Israel is not ours. Country after country has occupied and dominated the land of Israel. Most noted, in today’s day and age,  the world delegitimizes Israel’s right to exist;  they would love to kick us out. Our adversaries consistently challenge our rights to the land ,even when we claim this Rashi to them! They are not upholding the mandate of the Torah, so what good is Rashi’s explanation in contrast to the Mitzvah of Kiddush HaChodesh?

The answer may be as simple as the message we, the Jewish People remember within our DNA - that the world was created by Hashem. This serves as a powerful reminder to  remind us, reinforcing all that we declared less than a month ago on Rosh Hashana: that Hashem created the world. It is due to the strength of Hashem’s actions and creations that He reiterated to Am Yisrael. Hashem needed to inform us how the Holy land became our inheritance and our place of dwelling. It is through this very statement, -God declaring that the land is His - that He commands the Jewish people with Mitzvos Teluyos BaAretz, Mitzvos that are dependent upon being in the land. This short story in the beginning of Bereishis is the precursor to the Jews being commanded and fulfilling the Mitzvos in the land of Israel.

 Rashi in Devarim 11:18 on the word"ושמתם את דברי אלא""Therefore, you shall place these My words in your heart”. Even after we have been exiled, we distinguish ourselves by observing the commandments: put on Tefillin, prepare Mezuzos so that they be not new to you when you return. “These words” are the words from the beginning of Bereishis; they come after the entire season full of Mitzvos.  As we now head into the long winter season, we are reminded that God created the world, described in detail so that His children do not forget to maintain and sustain the efforts of the past month.

We began the year declaring Hashem’s kingdom, once again returning to the historical period when it all began. The new year is not just the process of starting over again from the past year, it is the renewal, the beginning of something brand new. Creation was not a one-time occurrence; it happens on a daily basis. This is the nuance that should lead to our excitement and motivation of beginning afresh, not replaying last year once again, but of genuinely understanding the message of genuine renewal, refreshed and motivated to greeting our new year with deeper commitment and gratitude to Hashem for all the gifts and responsibilities He has given us.

Parshas HaAzinu - Understanding the Song!   6 Tishrei 5781

10/16/2020 11:57:52 AM


I recently watched a podcast presented by Rabbi Efram Goldberg about shul life. The question asked was, “What is the biggest religious intimidation that you have experienced?” There were a few cute answers, but one I related to was, “I am intimidated by a Baal’ Korei/Torah reader who is able to change tunes in the middle of the reading.” For example, in the Megilas Esther we use the tune for that Megilla and change for just a few words to the tune from Megilas Eicha, or in Parshas Devarim, we switch from the regular Shabbos niggun of leining to the niggun for Eicha. There are even Haftoras that change the tune being sung in the middle.

I have prided myself for many years to successfully teaching adolescent boys, preparing them for their Bar Mitzva. Although reading from the Torah or Haftorah is not a prerequisite to become a Bar Mitzva, it is a part of our rich tradition to learn at least a small section. One of the major challenges is transitioning from the Torah tune to the Haftorah tune.  Every student is different; with some I start by teaching the Haftorah while with others I begin with teaching the Torah reading. Some students adjust to the nuanced change immediately while others never get it. But even the ones who mastered both tunes have a hard time, at least initially switching gears, making that subtle change from the end of the Parsha to the beginning of the Haftorah. What is the basis for reading the Haftorah and when did it begin?

The earliest mention of reading the Haftorah  is found in Sefer Avudraham, a commentary on the prayers written by R. Dovid Avudraham in the early 14th century. Another early source states that reading from the Prophets was a part of the decree of Ezra the Scribe to read from the Haftorah on various occasions (Sefer HaMachria 31, by R’ Yeshaya di Trani, of 13th century Italy). A more recent suggestion is that reading from the Prophets was instituted in response to heretical sects such as the Samaritans, which denied the sanctity of the prophetic books (R. Hirsh, R. Reuven Margolios). No reason is given in any Talmudic-era source. The most well-known suggested reason is that during the era of Greek oppression (leading up to the Chanukah story), the public reading of the Torah was forbidden. Therefore, due to being forbidden from reading from the Torah, Jews began reading from the Prophets instead. The decree, was limited to the Five Books of Moses, so the sages instituted that a section of the Prophets be read instead, incorporating an idea that was related to the Torah reading which should have been read that week. Later, the decree was relaxed, but the Jews maintained their new custom to read from the Prophets as well as from the Torah. Sometimes the connection between the Torah portion and the Haftorah is clear, but sometimes the connection is obscure. This week’s Navi (Prophets) portion designated, for Ha’azinu, is replaced due to the calendar having Shabbos Shuva.  Therefore, we read a section relating to repentance. But, if Haazinu were to be read between Yom Kippur and Sukkos then a different Haftorah would be read, since Haazinu is a song, another song is used for the Haftorah.

There are a total of ten songs in Tanach - five major songs that are written differently than the other four, while the tenth song will be sung by Moshiach. Rabbi Menachem Liebtag beautifully laid out a wonderful explanation of these songs. Shiras Ha'azinu" is one of five 'songs' found in the Tanach. Each song marks the end of an important time period. The following diagrams will greatly enhance our appreciation of what a Shira is, specifically for this week. For the purpose of today, a 'song' is defined as a parsha in Tanach written on the Torah scroll in a special pattern. Two songs - Ha'azinu and Yehoshua - exhibit the pattern of two columns: --  --  --  --  --  --  while three others- HaYam, Devorah, & David - exhibit the pattern of: ---  --  ---  --  ---  --  ---  --  ---  --, a 'brick like' structure. The Gemara in Megillah 16b states: “All the songs in Scripture are written in the form of a half brick over a whole brick, and then a whole brick over a half brick, with the exception of the names of Haman's sons and the list of the kings of Canaan, which are written in the form of a half brick over a half brick and a whole brick over a whole brick. What is the reason? So that the sons of the Canaanite kings and the sons of Haman should never rise again from their downfall.”. Rabbi Liebtag suggests Shiras Ha'azinu and Yehoshua mark the end of historical periods which fell short of their original expectations. On the other hand, the songs following pattern B - Shiras HaYam, Devorah, & Dovid - relate to more ideal situations.

With this in mind, "Shiras Ha'azinu," which follows pattern A, begins with the Jewish people’s past and then foretells its future destiny. The Navi describes God's pessimistic forecast of what will happen after Bnei Yisrael enter the Land. This could be viewed negatively, and is therefore very disheartening, especially after the Jews were forced to wander in the desert for an extra forty years due to bad behavior. In contrast, Shiras Dovid also follows pattern B, as it describes Dovid’s thanks to Hashem for His assistance in achieving the most complete conquest of Eretz Canaan. Dovid praises Hashem for having granted him victory over his opponents throughout his life. But there is one glaring commonality between the two - both songs repeatedly describe Hashem as “the Rock”, the foundation of all existence and the ultimate Protector and Savior.

This notion of Hashem as our Rock is always critically important for every Jew to remember, especially during the Aseres Ymei Teshuva, the Ten days of Repentance. The Parsha represents our feelings of despondency - that our year was not the best and we find it difficult to change. The Haftorah then comes with an emotional high, claiming the success of Dovid HaMelech through all of his challenges, meeting and surpassing all of them in turn with the help of our Rock. Whether through dark times or the bright times, Hashem is always there for Klal Yisroel and Dovid. HaKadosh Boruch Hu is always with us during our challenges and will always be with us, helping and guiding us to succeed. The two songs of Haazinu and Shiras Dovid are symbolic of the history of the Jewish people and the diary of every Jew’s life. May we merit to experience the “Rock” in the difficult challenging times as well as through the times of gratitude and celebration. Let us make this transition from the Parsha to the Haftorah in a smooth and uplifting manner and be able to compose our own Shiros V’Tishbachos, our own songs and praises of the One ultimately we all truly rely upon.

Parshas Nitzavim/Vayeilech - Finding Inner Strength During Challenging Times                   21 Elul 5780

09/10/2020 11:07:18 AM


All of us have  challenges and encounters throughout our lifetimes,  more often than not on a daily basis. I am not sure if what I am about to write is considered TMI (too much information) or if this is something that many people share but will never admit to. Every morning I encounter what I call “the sock conundrum”. The sock drawer is, by definition,  a mine field; you never know what will come out. To begin with, there are all different kinds: dress socks, sweat socks, casual socks, thick socks, socks that are ankle length, mid -calf, and more. The bigger task is pulling out a pair that match.  Even grouped in the same category, i.e.  dress socks, I have some that are a bit below the knee and others go higher. To me, one of the most annoying parts of getting my attire all lined up is being off kilter when seemingly little things are not even or equal.  It throws my day completely off. But it does not end there. Inevitably, holes begin to appear either at the toe or the heel. It’s amazing! These holes mysteriously appear overnight. It is like a budding flower! When does this happen?  My final sock question is why is it that the same pair of socks typically will have only one sock develop a hole and not the other. I wear them at the exact same time for the same duration so how does this happen So, I need to match up the holy and unholy socks… until this phenomenon plays itself out again.

I came up with three ways to avoid the morning stress of the sock conundrum. The first is to organize the sock drawer on a regular weekly basis, and through attrition remove the socks with holes and be a shadchan (a matchmaker) for the rest. Second idea,  like many Californians, is just to never wear socks again. Somehow, the first way is not practical, and the second is not appropriate for me. The last idea I had, albeit improbable, came to mind a few days ago on Labor Day. One of the traditions we had in my house/family growing up was to watch the Jerry Lewis Telethon which raised money for the MDA – the Muscular Dystrophy Association. For half a century Jerry Lewis raised millions of dollars for this cause (although it did have its controversies later). The telethon was cut in 2014. Jerry Lewis, who died in 2017, was an entertainer who had a quirky personality and interesting habits. His life started with humble beginnings as a boy from a poor family. Maybe I should consider copying one of the things he was famous for… he never wore the same socks twice. They say Jerry never forgot his early years, his poverty, and the holes in his socks. Thumbing his nose at the past, Jerry promised himself he would never wear the same pair of socks more than once. He just wore a pair and then throw the socks out. Once again, I am not sure how practical or affordable that may be for me.

The Rabbis teach us that a person can learn something from everyone or anything, and Jerry Lewis is no exception. How many people in the world, even if they are wealthy and can afford to wear a brand-new pair of socks, would do so? The psychological effects that stemmed from his childhood left an indelible impression upon him. The only way he could drive that sense of feeling out of his system was to come up with a plan never to have to face that same situation again. Often there are situations that we face that we need to overcome. We face the impossible and find ways that defy the odds to accomplish them. There is a hint to this notion in the Torah. The availability of the Torah is such that Hashem mandated and proscribed that it [the Torah] is not too mysterious or remote from you.

In this week’s Parshios Nitzavim/Vayeilech the Torah states in Devarim 30:12 "לא בשמים היא,  לאמר מי יעלה לנו השמימה ויקחה לנו, וישמענו אתה ונעשנה"  “It is not in heaven, so that you should say, ‘who shall go up to heaven and bring it to us so that we can hear it and keep it?”

There is a story told about Reb Zalman of Volozhin in the sefer called Toldos Adam. One time Reb Zalman needed a specific sefer/book that was being stored in a chest under a bookcase stacked with books. This made it almost impossible to retrieve that book because it was nearly impossible to move the bookcase that was on top of the chest.. Initially, he reasoned that since it was so difficult to remove the bookcase which prevented him from getting the book from the chest, he felt exempt from even trying. But he was reminded of the Gemara Eiruvin 55a that explains the verse quoted earlier how the Torah is not in heaven. The intent of the passuk is not that if the Torah really were in heaven, we would be exempt from learning it because we cannot get to it. Rather, the intent is that we would be obligated to get a ladder and ascend to heaven to get it, despite the fact we know that even with a ladder one cannot get to heaven. The lesson is if a person wants to reach the Torah, he would be able to reach it with a ladder. At that moment Reb Zalman felt an inner strength, approached the bookcase, and removed the heavy objects so he was able to retrieve the book he needed. Similarly, Yaakov Avinu, lifting the rock from the well with supernatural strength, was driven by his desire to honor his mother. Yaakov demonstrated his honor to his mother, as the passuk mentions, by lifting the rock אחי אמו three times to draw water for the flock of Lavan, his mother’s brother.

We are facing extraordinary challenges during these times. We have struggled in a proper way to serve Hashem, whether it be through davening, learning, or performing general Mitzvos. But things will change in the next few weeks with the arrival of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. We now prepare to rise to another level that we need and have not felt for the past six months. The Yamim Noraim are powerful and awesome days. They infuse us with a surge of desire and passion. There is really nothing that can stand in our way to break out of the conundrum of the times we are living through. It is up to each of us to reach beyond ourselves and stretch to attain our goals, to have Emunah/faith that Hashem will help and guide us. Through this determination, commitment, and focus we can gain a fresh new Torah every day.

Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas Ki Savo - Time Cannot be Made Up, but You Can Make Up for Lost Time!                15 Elul 5780

09/04/2020 10:54:38 AM


Even though it has been a dark six months from the time when the pandemic took hold on the world, there were many bright spots along the way. Every year, as we approach Rosh Hashana we look back over the course of the year about to close and remember things we should or should not have done. For those things we should have done, we say to ourselves, ”Well there’s always next year.” For those things we should not have done, we express regret, saying we are sorry and will not do them again. One of the most treasured gifts we have is time – a gift which cannot be saved; it can only be used or wasted. Time is so precious because only time gives us opportunity for growth, for helping others, and ultimately for making a difference in the world. Time itself is irreplaceable, but the things we could have done during a certain given period time are dependent solely upon how we use it.

 Barbara Bush, in her book Reflections: Life After the White House, writes,  “At the end of your life you will never regret not having passed one more test, not winning one more verdict, or not closing one more deal. You will regret time not spent with a husband, a friend, a child or a parent.” There is no question that we parents attempt to make wise choices and correct decisions for our children. My wife and I made a difficult choice, sacrificing in order to send our children away from home for high school. Clearly, every parent makes such decisions based upon what would be best for their sons or daughters. For my wife and me, these decisions were made with those principles in mind, but the choice was never easy. I will not get into the pros and cons of the decision, but one obvious aspect is missing out on their lives, not seeing them daily, not having opportunities to guide and direct them in person.  The time that they were away cannot be made up, time is here and then time is gone. We cannot recapture the teen years - or any other time of life – time cannot be retrieved. But , due to Covid-19, our youngest child came home from Israel a few weeks earlier than planned, and also due to Covid-19,  stayed well beyond the time he was scheduled to return to his Yeshiva in Eretz Yisrael. Like so many others in the world, he was home either quarantined, following stay- at- home orders, or just having nowhere else to go for five and a half months. We set out on a mission to make his time valuable, productive, and fun. Beyond what we call “the silver lining” was 5 ½ months of bonding and really developing a close connection to our son. We learned together almost every day to fill in the gaps he was missing from Yeshiva on zoom. We exercised and assembled a new basketball hoop together, taking over four days to construct it.  We used that basketball hoop just about every day possible. We prepared meals and ate healthy foods together and through our nurturing and support, he lost a sizable amount of weight. The ultimate value was spending time not with a teenager who often does not particularly want to spend time with his parents, rather with a mature young man who thinks deeply and philosophically as I shared life’s insights with him. This precious experience made up for lost time. The importance of time and the opportunity to strengthen our relationship with Hashem is found in the Manual.

In this week’s Parsha Ki Savo we read of the Tochacha, the public rebuke of the Jewish people and a horrific description of what will befall the Jewish nation if we stray from Hashem. The Torah states in Devarim 28:28 "יככה ה' בשגעון ובעורון ובתמהון לבב"   “God will strike you with insanity, blindness and mental confusion.” Rashi explains the ‘simhon levav’ as obstruction of the heart, while Rav Hirsch explains it as hallucinations. These are the primary reasons a person does not come back and repent. We have blocked our hearts from attempting to repent and return closer to Hashem. One of the Al Cheit’s we ‘klap’ our heart is ‘for the sin that which we sinned before you in confusion and a closed heart’. The confusion and hallucinations not only caused us to sin in the first place, it prevents us from returning  to Hashem through Teshuva. We are beset with so many distractions that we do not find the time to even think about our misdeeds and the need to ask God for forgiveness. It was these same distractions that led us to sin initially which now distract us from trying to make it right. Therefore, through reasoning that if we are able to make up for the infraction by doing Teshuva, getting close to Hashem, it will be considered as if we never sinned to begin with. And so, the time we missed out in the beginning will be rectified by how we spend the time later.

As we evaluate our lives in general and this past challenging year in particular, the essence, quality and gift of time rises to the surface. Sometimes we feel we wasted so much time, and yes, it is true we cannot get that time back. Nevertheless, that which we lost out during that time can be made up with meaningful and positive experiences of the same magnitude moving forward.

There is a well-known Gemara Makkos that when a person killed someone accidentally, he would flee to a city of refuge. Nevertheless, an avenging relative could reach the person before he made it to the city safely, especially if he did not have enough time to get there. Measures were taken to help him reach the city of safety before the avenging relative could catch him by putting up signs on the road giving directions leading to the Ir Miklat - city of refuge.  Perhaps, as we feel time fleeting from us, we, too, need guidance, directions, and reminders.  Perhaps we should hang signs of “Elul”, “Elul”, “Elul”. Maybe by seeing these signs around us will make it easier to feel that closeness and surely help to make meaningful use of the time we now have.

There is no difference between my son and me and between Hashem with each of us. My son and I, who were apart from each other during those post-elementary school years, restricted by distance from each other, was given back to us through making powerful use of every moment of the time we now had together, reconnecting in ways so powerful and beautiful in only a few short months together during a pandemic.  Many of us have drifted away from Hashem our Father at different periods of our lives. However, the experiences during the month of Elul and the holiday season from Rosh Hashana through Simchas Torah can make up for lost time. Let us each appreciate the opportunity to use each day, each moment wisely, to have the focus to see the value of time put to meaningful use.

Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas Ki Saytzey - Growing Closer to Hashem the Natural Way       8 Elul 5789

08/28/2020 02:53:30 PM


It all started with an idea for the Shul to offer its members and supporters something to be picked up in honor of Shavuos. A gift bag including cheesecake, Torah content and a small basil plant was created. I, along with everyone else, picked up the gift basket and have faithfully watered the basil plant every day. Unfortunately, we do not use a lot of fresh basil. A few weeks after Shavuos, Jim and Libbe Sherman donated mini cherry tomato plants for people to pick up and grow at home. I also took home a few of the leftover tomato plants and religiously watered them, and made sure they had sufficient sunlight. Well, as with many things, they grew out of their small crib and needed a bed, so I replanted some in the ground and others in containers, taking care to invest in proper in soil, plant holders, and plant food in anticipation of never needing to buy a tomato again!

There is no question that we pay for the conveniences of life. Convenience is measured in time, effort, and availability;  it is more convenient to just go to the store and buy tomatoes – saving the investment of supplies and effort.  It is also cheaper than growing them on a small scale. Growing things in your own garden has no connection to convenience, but there is an abundance of satisfaction, confidence-building and learning about Hashem’s world which otherwise goes unnoticed. I do not want to come across as a novice, but that is what I am. The incredible ways of God’s world are seen so clearly and beautifully by simply watching and caring for things as they grow and mature. The more tending and loving care given should produce outstanding results, but this is not always the case. It is amazing how each of the eight tomato plants I nurtured all grew differently; some produced an abundance of tomatoes, others meekly produced very few.  

Through all this fascination, watching the fruits of my watering and feeding, I also faced some frustration and disappointment. Things were going well when I noticed many of the leaves on a few of the plants were all gone. Later, I observed a tomato worm latch onto a plant, eating all its  leaves right off the stem. Through the learning process of working with these plants, I understand that fruits and vegetables grow leaves and from those leaves  flowers bud, and from those flowers the fruit literally pops out. A small little ball grows bigger and bigger and eventually, with proper care and good sunlight, that little ball will turn from green to red. But without the leaves no flowers will bud. All that hard work instantly is gone – no plant, no fruit, nothing! Of course, there are ways to get rid of the worms, but it was devastating to experience, and I felt helpless.

After a few weeks of witnessing the budding, enlarging, turning from green to red, we were able and very ready to pick a handful of fresh tomatoes. I found out that many people in the neighborhood ere growing many different things, so I decided to purchase a few different vegetables and grow a variety in my mini farm. , this, of course, required more time,  an increased financial investment to build and the need to create more space. The greatest limmud/lesson was the realization of how much we need to rely on Hashem and how dependent we are upon Him for everything. The success is not solely on our watering and care;  the seed initially should be of good quality and the soil should contain the best nutrients and degree of water and sun for the seeds. The nutrition that we supply should not be too little or too much. (I learned a painful lesson about the danger of over watering,  literally drowning one of the tomato plants. I performed an emergency transplant.  My poor little plant is now in critical condition on life support). The biggest factor in all of this is to understand that we are not in control of the amount of sunlight required for the nurturing and growth of these plants. In short, only God is in control.  

The beauty of planting created within me another angle of realization:  I need to daven to Hashem for yet another matter - my vegetable garden. So, I inserted another request, added to my long list of things I ask of Hashem. Upon reviewing the Parsha, I noticed that the Torah gives us an instruction manual regarding how to yield a good harvest. In Parshas Ki Saytzay the Torah states in Devarim 24:19:  כי "תקצר קצירך בשדך ושכחת עמר בשדה לא תשוב לקחתו, לגר ליתום ולאלמנה יהיה למען יברכך ה' אלוקיך בכל מעשה ידיך"  “When you reap your harvest in your field and have forgotten a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back again to take it; it shall be for the stranger, for the fatherless and for the widow, that Hashem your God may bless you in all of the work of your hands”. Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch informs us that most of the agricultural Mitzvos have all been mentioned in Vayikra 19:9 and 23:22 where it was fully explained that these harvest gifts were to be reserved for the poor. This duty of the harvest, its meaning of being  conditional for happiness and blessing in the land, is understood to be a continuous act of recognition for our redemption out of Egyptian slavery.  This should be in the forefront of the minds of the people here at this juncture when the people were about to move into the land of Canaan. At the same time, a fresh harvest gift which was not mentioned previously in Vayikra is added here. This is the law of Shickcha/forgetting and the laws for fruit trees. In this instance the solution and guarantee for a good harvest is not only davening to Hashem but the requirement to take care of those who do not have land of their own. When we were slaves in Egypt, we did not have our own land to plant and were dependent upon receiving a slave’s ration. If we provide for Hashem’s children who do not have produce of their own, He will guarantee that whatever we plant will prosper.

Upon further reflection it came to mind that we have multiple personalities and identities in our relationship to Hashem. Hashem is our father, our king, our healer, and our Master.  The verse describes the stranger, the orphan and the widow in the context of individuals entitled to our benevolence. Likewise, each and everyone of us in our relationship to Hashem is sometimes viewed as though we do not know who our father is and that we are estranged from Him. We will say on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur that there is no Shikcha/no forgetting by God. When we think of those the Torah singles out who need special attention,  this should actively be internalized, realizing we are these people vis a vis ourselves and Hashem. Now is the time to  nurture our unique relationship with Hashem and actively put more effort into growing in our Avodas Hashem. We have all emerged from a tiny seed which needs tender nurturing through spiritual nourishment day by day,  bringing us all to fruition as we approach the coming year.

Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

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Parshas Shoftim - Getting Close from a Distance         1 Elul 5780

08/21/2020 11:48:13 AM


These past six months - and hopefully no more than that - have seen history in the making, a phrase referring to an ongoing current event, will be remembered for all the stress, fear, pain and loss this pandemic has caused, altering our way of life and our view of the future. I think it would be difficult to find an individual whose day -n-day-out routine  has not been impacted by Covid-19. The life cycle events that touch upon those who are either celebrating or mourning has resulted in the now daily term: ‘zoom’ – applied to virtual attendance of weddings, bar mitzvas, brisim, funerals, shiva calls, and also extended to annual medical physicals, conferences, and teaching.  Zoom has now become part of our daily lexicon. 

In Orthodox tradition in varying degrees and communities, there is separation amongst the genders for different life cycle events.  But of the list mentioned earlier, one event - a thirteen year-old boy’s Bar Mitzva - has most of the participation on the men’s side. This was typically true thirteen years prior at this boy’s Bris Milah! Witnessing these events, I recognized the incredible sacrifice and giving that a mother has for her son. For these events she stands in the background, watching from a distance beaming with pride and joy, selflessly giving away her son for service. This prototype may well have been established by Chana, the mother of Shmuel HaNavi.  Chana  willingly gave her son to the service of Hashem. A loving and caring mother consistently gives a piece of herself to her child never looking away or abandoning her young – no matter how old her child may be. The strength of a mother to give and separate while still maintaining such close, dedicated connection is something only a mother can know and experience. I do not want to dismiss the sacrifice that a father makes as well. Of course, within the beauty of a dedicated family, the father’s love and commitment are equally strong, but tend to be in balance rather than identical to the mother.  There is no question both parents raise their children together, knowing what is best for them encouraging each child to grow, becoming his or her own person.  Within this environment, each parent balances this nurturing in a unique and loving way. It is this sense of connection and relationship that causes the child to always look back at the parent with love and deep connection as well.

This reminds me of the famous mashal/parable about a little boy who stood on a beach looking out at the vast sea holding onto a flag. In the distance was a group of young boys playing, but the boy remained totally oblivious to them and their games. A man approached him and asked, ”Why don’t you go play with the boys” The boy replied: “I have no time for games.  I am waiting for a boat to pass by and at that moment I will wave my flag at the boat, and the captain of the ship will wave his flag back at me.”  The man chuckled at the boy saying, “What are you thinking? The large ships cannot get that close to the shoreline. These large ships are moving quickly, and the captain of the ship is not going to slow down. He will not be able to distinguish you from anything on the beach. Why don’t you just go play with your friends?” The boy answered, ”That is exactly the type of ship I am waiting for, the large one that goes fast. I am sure then the captain of that ship will see me waving my flag and he will do the same.”

The man was no longer chuckling but burst out laughing at the boy. “The captain of that kind of large vessel is a high-ranking officer and an elite important person, stated the man. “First of all I doubt that the captain could even see you from such a distance, and I cannot imagine that even if he could see you, why would he direct his attention necessarily towards you? On top of that, why would he bother to wave back at you at all?” The boy said in a stubborn manner, “I am sure that not only will he will be looking for me, but when he sees me he will be happy and glad to wave his flag back at me, because he knows I was waving at him. The captain will be so happy when he sees me being so happy.” The man finally said to the boy, “How can you be so sure of what you are saying?” The boy looked up at the man and with a smile,  looked deeply into the eyes of the man saying,  ”Because the captain of the ship is my father”!

This story, taken from Rabbi Krohn’s book, Around the Maggid’s Table, is a mashal applicable to all of us today. With all we are dealing with in every aspect of our lives, we may tend to feel disconnected from our religious and Jewish life. We are like the boy on the beach, but we just cannot give in and just go play with our friends. We need to look out, holding our banner, a sign of commitment and devotion, waving at the appropriate and meaningful times to gain the attention of  the captain. The captain of this ship is Hashem;  when we wave and show we are connected, we care, then He, without doubt, will wave back at us in good fortune.

Hashem waits for us all the time, every day throughout the entire year, but more so during the last month of the year Elul. Hashem is drawing closer to us so we can see Him and wave and connect. This is one of the meanings to the acronym of  -  אלול Elul “I am to my beloved as my beloved is to me.”            

Contrary to popular belief, we are not living in unprecedented times; the world has experienced greater hardships throughout its history. God has just thrown us a new reminder of not only who is in control; He is reminding us that He is our father and our mother, He, regardless of what may be happening to us, wants a strong, eternal relationship The nurturing and giving that we have received from Hashem was established before birth and is a connection forever.  Occasionally we may forget.  As we now begin the month of Elul, we hope and pray the year will end with the cessation of all its curses, and we will be blessed with  a fresh start in the coming weeks. All we need to remember is  that now is the time to look out above and beyond and start to wave our flags!

Parshas Re'eh - It Takes Three Strikes Until You're Out      24 Av 5780

08/14/2020 12:10:36 PM


"Take Me Out to the Ball Game" is a 1908 Tin Pan Alley song by Jack Norworth and Albert Von Tilzer which has become the official anthem of North American baseball, although neither of its authors had attended a game prior to writing the song. The song's chorus is traditionally sung during the middle of the seventh inning of a baseball game. Fans are generally encouraged to sing along. Take me out to the ball game, Take me out with the crowd; Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack, I don't care if I never get back. Let me root, root, root for the home team, If they don't win, it's a shame. For it's one, two, three strikes, you're out, At the old ball game.

Baruch Hashem, I am in he eleventh cycle of writing a weekly message. There were two times that I took a forced hiatus due to my brother and mother’s illnesses where I did not have the time or head space to write. To be honest there may have been a week here and there that I missed a week, but never more than three in a row. A few weeks ago, amid Covid-19 I missed two weeks in a row and teetered on a third. Well I need to thank an avid reader (I know that now) of my weekly message who said to me “no pressure, but I really miss reading your dvar Torah message”.  At that point I realized and said to myself I need to get back to it, because if I miss another it will be my third strike and I am out.

Baseball season began late this year and I am not into it as much as I should. Typically, I watch more of the games, am following scores, standings, and stats, but so far this year I watch some highlights if I am in the mood. I do not think my age has anything to do with it, rather baseball in my humble opinion has two strikes against itself, at least for me. Covid-19 created a shorter season of fewer games and are playing without fans in the stands, strike one. At this point the season nevertheless starts but amid a wave of social unrest in this country that has stained professional sports. Whenever I attended an event that commenced with the singing of the national anthem I for one was very proud and would sing purposefully out loud (despite the fact in some arenas and stadiums they only play the music without the lyrics). Who would have ever thought we would face such challenges to our national pastime? Oh, I almost forgot, to make up for missed games they scheduled double-headers of seven inning games instead of nine. When do we sing “take me out to the ballgame”? Oh yeh, I forgot, there are no fans in the stands to sing… It is for these reasons that at least for me baseball has two strikes and I do not want to strike out

The last six months have been trying times for everyone around. Like any other situation everyone handles things differently, not necessarily better, or worse but different. Unfortunately, some areas of life are more manageable under stress than others and naturally some handle it better than others. Throughout the pandemic we watched and heard speakers give chizuk, inspiration, techniques in how to get through the challenges we each face. As of today, some things have gotten better but other ways of life continue under pressure and stress. We all have our up and downs, our successes, and our failings. But the key element is to build upon, maintain and continue that which is good, and if by chance we fall, stumble, and break the streak it can not go past the second strike. We need to stay shy of that third time because three in Jewish law establishes a "חזקה"  a pattern for positive and negative. The concept of Chazaka or threepeat is found extensively throughout the Torah Sheb’Al Peh the Oral law, but also alluded to in the Torah SheBichsav the Written Torah as well.

In this week’s Parshas R’Ay the Torah states in Devarim 16:16 "שלוש פעמים בשנה יראה כל זכורך את פני ה' אלוקיך במקום אשר יבחר בחג המצות ובחג השבועות ובחג הסוכות, ולא יראה את פני ה'    ריקם" “Three times each year, all your males shall thus be seen in the presence of God your Lord in the place that He will choose: on the festival of Matzahs, on the festival of Shavuoth, and on the festival of Sukkoth. In those times you shall not appear before God empty-handed”. There is an obligation that three times a year a person needs to come to Yerushalayim and visit Hashem at the Beis HaMikdash. In Gemara Pesachim 8b Rabbi Elazar says that “whoever owns land in Israel must go up, and whoever does not have land need not go up.” Tosafos brings up a fact that Rebbi Yehuda Ben Beseira did not ascend these three times because he did not have land in Eretz Yisrael. The Vilna Gaon (for my special reader) raises a difficulty as to why Reb Yehuda Ben Beseira did not have land, surely he lived during this time and all Jews received a portion during the capture and dividing of land in the time of Yehoshua? Reb Eliyahu of Vilna explains that land was given to those who either were part of the exodus from Egypt or to thos who came to the land itself. But the Gemara in Sanhedrin 92b states the individuals whom Yechezkel/Ezekiel HaNavi brought back to life were the ones who left Egypt early and married women from ‘outside’. Reb Yehuda Ben Beseira stood up and announced “I am from the sons of the sons who left Egypt early and here are the Tefillin (to prove his lineage) that my father’s father left for me. Ezekiel had revived the people of Ephraim who were included in the count but nevertheless were not part of the actual group who left Egypt and not part of the group to come into the land together. Therefore, Reb Yehuda Ben Beseira who did not own a piece of land in Israel did not have to go up, but nevertheless connected in other ways as he knew the importance of the Chazaka element. In the absence of the Holy Temple there are those that say a person should visit their Rebbi those three times a year no matter where we are in the world. The connection to the Rebbi is the connection to Hashem. Three times strengthens the bonds and the recognition of who we are no matter when or where we are. That third Yom Tov of Sukkos is approaching and that will have completed the cycle of the three Chagim. Let us do what ever we can at every opportunity to strengthen

Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas Eikev - In One Eye and NOT out the Other     17 Av 5780

08/07/2020 01:41:49 PM


Announcements, phone calls, e-mails, fliers, facebook, twitter are only some of the methods we use to communicate information. Despite how many times announcements are made or e-mails sent, invariably there are some who didn't get the information. Quite often, as an event is taking place, someone will come later and say 'I didn't hear or read about it'. There is a great difference between listening and hearing and reading and comprehending; almost everyone hears and reads things, but they are not necessarily listening or understanding. Yet I believe there is a deeper issue than just hearing to listening and glancing and reading..... Subconsciously ignoring.

The debate rages as to how much advertising is needed for people to get the message. There are instances when repeating information in different forms is beneficial. At other times people become sick and tired of hearing or reading the same information repeatedly - even when it's packaged differently. Granted, the level of attention something receives is directly correlated to how interested the party may be. Announcements, either in person or through media that are not meant for my age group or gender will automatically not register in the "paying attention section" of my brain. Of course there are things that apply to everyone across the board, and that is Torah and all the things which link to Torah.

In the beginning of this week's Parsha Eikev, the Torah states: והיה עקב תשמעון את המשפטים האלה ושמרתם ועשיתם אותם....."And it will be that you will hearken to these laws and you will safeguard and perform them". The very last passuk of last week's parsha states: "...and you will safeguard the Mitzva, the statutes, and the laws which I have commanded you to do this day. The Kli Yakar observes that the word "Chukim" in Vaeschanan is missing in the next verse in Eikev. The Kli Yakar explains the absence of the word "Chukim" is really found in the word 'Eikev' - the heel -which can be understood to mean that one should not trample and step on the Chukim, those statutes for which we do not know the reasons. This is in contrast to the Mishpatim, the laws that mankind would enact on their own as it makes sense for a society. The Chukim, on the other hand, do not have rational reasons to the human mind.

The Kli Yakar explains the language and usage of the term Eikev (which means heel) comes to include all the statutes. The statutes are hinted in the word Eikev because the Satan and the nations of the world mock the Jewish People for doing these mitzvos that they cannot relate to. It is for this very reason that Jews tend to trample and step on these Chukim, mitzvos which they feel uncomfortable doing because they do not know the reasons to do them. This is what the Rabbis referred to when they said "do not tread upon the Mitzvos Kalos" - seemingly the easy ones but those that people mock.

The Rabbis often mention the idea "to be careful and treat the Kal (easy) mitzvos identical to those which are more difficult or not possible for us to understand. Again, this directly applies to Eikev, do not trample upon the easy ones, those mitzvos which don't make sense in the same way that we don't trample on the more difficult/harsher ones, the Mishpatim that make sense. All of the mitzvos share in their significance and importance, and this is particularly important regarding the Mitzvos that we are challenged with by not knowing the reasons behind the Chukim.

There is no area of the Torah that should be treated lightly because it may not make sense to you. When I read the ingredient panel of a medication, I do not understand or know what it all means, but I follow the instructions, nevertheless. So too when it comes to following directions in the Shulchan Aruch one should just do the mitzva instead of mocking and disregarding it completely. There is a guarantee that if a person does these mitzvos he will come to rejoice, as reflected in the word V'Haya - and it will be.

In a Jewish community, whether it's the Kollel, local day school or Shul, opportunities are granted to one and to all. During Covid we have come to adjust our looking through zoom and other media outlets. Dozens of lectures, speakers, and learning opportunities are there for everyone. Daily, weekly and monthly announcements go out seeking people to sign in from the comfort of your home to learn. Unfortunately, however, much of this planning falls on deaf ears and muted devices. I am not referring to ears which are physically unable to hear, but rather to an ailment of disregarding and ignoring the potential growth made available yet ignored. People should not be foolish in thinking that if I just do the Mishpatim, then I will be ok. Everyone needs to study Torah on every level. It is through the study of Torah that we will increase the days and years of our lives. This requires listening to and noting when the class is going to take place and then showing up and learning.

Baruch Hashem we have seen many families flourishing in our Shul. But let me take license to issue a strong warning: To maintain the level of commitment and observance of the mitzvos, one must continue to study Torah - either privately with a chavrusa or by attending Shiurim. Torah learning is the oil which keeps all the parts greased up and running smoothly. If the performance of mitzvos is not complemented by a constant stream of Torah, then the riverbed will dry up. Opportunities for Torah study come and go; It is incumbent upon all of us to take advantage every available situation to learn.

When a person hears the announcement of a certain lecture or speaker, they should figure out a way to attend by signing in and not just shrug it off as if it's not important or it's not for me. Torah is the elixir of life Plain and simple. Without it we cannot exist. Next time we hear an announcement of Torah learning let us commit to take it upon ourselves the mitzva of Limmud HaTorah.

Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

If you would like to sponsor or dedicate a part of Rabbi Bogopulsky’s upcoming new book please contact him directly or reply to this E-Mail.


Parshas Matos/Maasei - Process + Results = Growth        25 Tammuz 5780

07/17/2020 01:41:53 PM


Time keeps marching on as we now enter the second trimester of the year, continuing to live in an eerie, ever-changing world. Each one of us has dealt with the trials of this situation differently - some better, -some worse. From the outset I recommended a number of suggestions for people to inculcate into their lives and daily routine. This included, but was by no means limited to reading, exercising, walking outside, finding a hobby, taking on projects that will provide you with a sense of accomplishment during the pandemic. These were suggested outside of family time.Developing the ability to refine learning and davening help to also develop deeper introspection, seeking out the greater meaning of life.

I try to follow my own advice, although truthfully, it is hard for me, too; I don’t always manage to follow my own advice. There were two things I did accomplish, however. One of them was more geared to my son, but we both derived great pleasure and satisfaction and a long-term benefit from the experience. I knew we needed some added activity and distraction during the early days of Covid-19, so I bought a new basketball hoop for the backyard. I gave over the task and the reins to my son to put the hoop together. The process took approximately five days from the time we bought it until the first shot. The assembling of the hoop was an extremely detailed process requiring many steps. The instructions were broken up into ten major parts with about ten steps in each section. My son methodically laid out all the hardware, garnering all the necessary tools to beginning this journey of unchartered territory. All of this was a totally new challenge for him. . In the assembly of such an item, no corners can be cut; every step is necessary, and each step must be performed in that exact order. Unfortunately, (later on you come to realize the fortunate side of looking at something) mistakes were made on the way that required going back a few steps and undoing everything which we had labored to meticulously complete while working in the hot sun with sweaty palms and tired muscles. But as soon as we realized we’d made a mistake, we went back and undid it. With the knowledge we gained from each mistake, we were able to proceed with a deeper level of confidence, going forward to the next level. Ultimately, as the assembly progressed, a bigger picture of the final product came into view and we had a better understanding of how each piece, screw, nut, and placement of the items began to fit. And so our confidence grew, while still grappling with mistakes. Yes, some dejection crept in, but our persistence and determination kept us focused on the end goal.

A second project, more of a hobby that I took on, was advanced through the generosity of Jim and Libbe Sherman who gave away some mini cherry tomato plants. Up until now the only way I experienced somewhat of a “green thumb” was to take a green magic marker and color my thumb. For some who are familiar with one of my philosophies is that each and everyone one of us has the ability to do anything in life we put our minds and effort to accomplish. So, I took a number of these little plants and followed the basic instructions. One of the challenges I personally faced is not knowing if I am doing it the “right way” or not. A separate challenge is that it is not a project of instant gratification. There are many steps a a few weeks along the way from initially planting these little seedlings to experiencing the pleasure of eating that first tomato. I planted a total of eight plants, and I’m hoping that at least one will survive and produce. The jury is still out on the plants. I made a few mistakes along the way, requiring that I go back and correct them, but with those corrections came stronger results in the steps that followed. To date, some of the plants are doing better than others, but flowers are sprouting which is a good sign that the fruit is not far behind.

We see from both examples that the process is an important component of the entire project. Growth many times comes when we see and learn from the mistakes we make. Shlomo HaMelech presented his famous parable of a person who falls off his horse seven times, each time gets up and tries again. This teaches multiple lessons. Not only is it important for a person to get back up after he falls, but the process of falling down is almost necessary so that we can get back up again, each time a little stronger and a little wiser. The process itself adds value despite the extra work and time involved, for that is how we grow. This lesson is found in the Torah, as all lessons are.

In this week’s Parsha Matos/Maasei, the Torah states in Devarim 33:1 "אלה מסעי בני ישראל..." “These are the journeys of the Sons of Israel”. Reb Yaakov ben Chaim Asher Leiner in his sefer Sifsei Tzadikim (pub 1914 Pietrokov) describes this verse as referring to the entire world. This world is a world of rectification. Every single day a person has the opportunity to fix any mistake he made the previous day. Angels are referred to as “standing” as in standing still and not moving because they remain at one continuum – one level throughout their existence. The angels have no merits or the need to fix what happened in the past because they can not violate the word of God. Man, on the other hand, continuously moves either forward or backward, up or down throughout their entire existence. Mankind is always moving from one level to another. With regard to the Jewish people traveling with the Torah, the word “Eileh”/ These is used. The rule is that if it would say V’Eileh - and these - it would include everything in the past, connecting as a continuation from the past to the present and on to the future. But without the letter vav, it describes these going forward and not looking back. Rav Leiner explains the prior days needing correction. Someone who is wise will sever from the past sins and bad poor decisions and rectify the mistakes. This is how he interprets, “And they camped and they traveled”. The Jewish people continuously “traveled” from one madreigah to the next, going from one level to the next step up.

The basketball hoop has been a priceless addition and something that not only keeps us in physical shape today but helped to sharpen our minds, teaching us great life lessons through the process. Hopefully, with Siyata Dishmaya, with Heaven’s help, at some point Hashem will hopefully give the blessing of the tomato plants to yield their fruit. We should all receive help from the One above that all of our endeavors are met with blessing. Amen!

Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas Pinchas - History, History, Oh History  18 Tammuz 5780

07/10/2020 12:39:32 PM


I always try not to be an alarmist, but there is no question that the America of today is not, at least overtly, the America it was yesterday. Within my lifetime I have experienced extraordinarily little direct anti-Semitism. Growing up in Brooklyn we were called names but were never actually confronted. Yes, at times a car would drive by and the passengers would hurl insults ranging from our family members to the broader Jewish people. Sure, we heard and read about the way Jews were treated in other countries - such as the former Soviet Union - but here in America this felt more like benign anti-Semitic lip service, vocal slurs which some goyim felt obligated to fulfill. Today, however, It behooves every Jew to look around, to take stock of the openness of alarming rhetoric that is being openly spoken in blatant, unabashed fashion. We may think the adage, “Sticks and stones will break my bones, but names will never harm me” is true. To the contrary words, repeatedly used in intentionally insulting ways lead to physical action and harm.

With that said, I would like to share two episodes that illustrate whether source of my concern and why I need to speak up. There have been two situations which I encountered within the last two months. One weekday morning while walking to Shul, a young woman got out of her car and proceeded to dig in a neighbor’s front yard. In my opinion, this young woman may have been homeless but did not fit the physical stereotypical impression of a homeless person. As she was kneeling on the ground, digging and covering, I stopped (at a safe distance) and asked her if everything was alright. At first, she ignored me, so I asked again if she was okay. She then jumped up, brandishing a small metal pipe-looking thing and began to yell obscenities at me. I tried to calm her down, to explain my well-intended concern, all to no avail as she continued her tirade. While I did not feel threatened in any way throughout her hysterics, but when she drove off, car tires screeching, she yelled some choice anti-Semitic choice slurs at me. This incident occurred just as the national demonstrations and riots were holding strong. I honestly believe this unfortunate woman has some mental health issues going on, but I do surmise that her ability to be so emboldened was a direct result of the atmosphere now wafting through communities all over the country.

The second incident took place last week at approximately nine thirty at night. I had to open the vehicle gate for someone. During those few seconds immediately after the gate closed, a tall, slender, African-American walked past me. As I began to slowly walk back home, , simultaneously checking messages on my phone as I usually do, I noticed this same individual at the intersection of Mesita and Rockford Dr. By the time I reached the intersection, this man was about three houses up, walking on Mesita Drive. I paused, cautiously crossing the street, still reading an email on my phone, when I heard a man yelling something. I stopped, looked up and saw this same man now approaching me quickly, yelling, “Why are you following me!” As he was about twenty feet away and I was now in the middle of the intersection, I said, “I am not following you, I am just walking home.” While returning this reply, I simultaneously realized that knowing I had only planned to go to the gate for a moment, I left my front door wide open! Immediately following my reply to him, the man burst into a major rant, hurling insults and accusations against me. He came all the way up to me and shoved his license into my face and said, “Look at my address! I live here!” Once again, in a futile manner, I tried to explain that I was not following him and intended no harm. Instead of just turning away and walking home, he did not believe me. He refused to budge. It was at that moment that I realized something was off and decided not to engage any longer. At this point, he backed off physically but verbally continued his verbal assault, ratcheting up almost to the level that could be construed as a threat. I decided not to challenge him by retorting, “Are you threatening me?” Baruch Hashem, it ended there, and nothing further developed after that night.

Of course, I realized that from his perspective he was “concerned that a fifty-six-year-old white-haired pot bellied Caucasian man was following him. I get it. But again, either he was not well mentally or had a momentary meltdown, and I was the convenient target. In both instances, more so in the second, I felt he was ‘inspired’ by the culture, emboldened to do what he did. I was particularly more stupefied in this more recent event by such erratic and potentially dangerous behavior, not knowing with what action, if any, I should follow up. Should I call the police and have a record on file or just let it be and dismiss it as a one-off occurrence? As time passed, I did not report anything regarding either of these occurrences.

My personal issue regarding this internal indecision of what to do, and the ramifications that could have ensued is troubling. There was a time in Jewish history where even the greatest leader, Moshe Rabbeinu, ‘froze’, not knowing what to do. It took, Pinchas, the grandson of Aharon, to take matters into his own hands and diffuse the situation, putting an end to the plague that killed twenty-four thousand Jews. The verse at the end of Parshas Balak 25:7 states: וירא פינחס When Pinchas, a son of Elazar and a grandson of Aharon the priest, saw this he rose up from the midst of the assemblage and took a spear in his hand. In today’s climate we need to “open up our eyes and ears to see and hear “that which is taking place around us - both far and near.

We need to focus on two parts of the solution to weather any storm – both the physical the spiritual. We need to make our Hishtadlus, our efforts, in the natural way of the world. Second, and most important, we need to turn and ask for help from HaKadosh Baruch Hu. Our prayers and our actions of Mitzvos must be fullhearted and with major sincerity. Our Bein Adom LaChaveiro - how we treat each other - must be stepped up to show the world who we are as a people, living Hashem’s Torah every day of our lives, thus sanctifying God’s name throughout the world in being MeKadesh Shem Shamayim BaRabim.

Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky


If you would like to sponsor or dedicate a part of Rabbi Bogopulsky’s upcoming new book please contact him directly or reply to this E-Mail.

Rabbi Bogopulsky’s book “Developing A Torah Personality” is available for purchase directly from him or by clicking

Parshas Chukas/Balak - Recalling What We Said When We Were Younger      11 Tammuz 5780

07/10/2020 12:37:03 PM


There’s an old cliché: ‘Oh remember the days of yesteryear’, recalling, either with fondness or yearning, a former period of our lives. I remember as a child growing up thinking that I will never make my children do the things that my parents made me do. Alternatively,I would tell myself that I will not treat my children the way my parents treated me, that when I become a parent I will let my child do what my parents chose not to allow me to do. My rebbi, Rabbi Wein, would always mention what a good sense of humor God has. One of those humorous quips was that God punishes children by making them parents! Now, as a parent, I somehow see things differently than the way I viewed various events when I was growing up. Now that the shoe is on the other foot, I seem to have forgotten all of those promises I made to myself when I was younger.

Today’s generation is called the ‘sandwich’ generation’, a different but yet a similar challenge by caused by another set of circumstances. In addition to being parents of children and grandchildren, we are still, at the same time, children to our own aging parents. I find myself at this later stage in life saying the same things about my now-aging parents: that when I get older I’m not going to do things the same way that my parents are doing now that they are growing older. As parents age there tends to be a denial of some sort to recognizing or accepting their growing fragility and ability to take care of themselves. At times there is a struggle between the senior parents and their middle-aged children regarding what is in the best interest of the parents and family. Aging parents cannot be objective in their long term care if they are in an already-failing situation. Obviously, there is a big difference between the reaction of a young, minor child versus that of an adult child’s reaction to their parents’ decision making. Obviously, the minor child does not see the big picture and responsibility of life; at the other extreme, it is actually the aging parents who lack the ability to take in the big picture. The adult parent/child is now in the middle, realizing that while his or her parents were correct in the way they brought you up, also are placed in the awkward position of reality that they should not act in a stubborn manner in dealing with their ultimate care later on in life.

It is always easy to be the critic, the all-knowing one, the one who would have done it differently, when we are not actually the ones calling the shots at that time. It’s easy to criticize the coach, the teacher, the parent, and even the Prime Minister of Israel when we are not in that position at that time. One of the greatest challenges we face in life is balance. As children grow up ,we understand and actually look forward to our own children’s growing maturity, encouraging them to make decisions on their own. Hopefully, by the time they are really mature they will understand why and when a parent made a certain decision and choice for them. On the other side of life, we hope that a senior parent can recognize when it is time to ask for the help and follow the opinion of others, especially their children, in making choices for them.

The critical points are to know when to begin making the correct choices and, equally important but far more difficult, to know when to give up making those choices. This concept is reflected in this week’s Haftorah for Parshas Balak.

The Navi Micha in chapters 5,6, recalls how Hashem protected the Jewish people as they traveled through the desert. Micha mentions how Balak hired the evil Bilaam to curse the Jews. After failing to curse Am Yisrael, Bilaam suggests to Balak that he lure the Jews, particularly the men, into idolatry through acts of lewdness. The Chasam Sofer connects part of the service of idolatry to this Haftorah. Reb Avraham Sofer brings a Mishna from Pirkei Avos 3:4 “Reb Shimon Omer,: Shlosha She’Achlu Al Shulchan Echad V’Lo Amru Alav Divrei Torah, K’ilu Achlu M’Zivchei Meisim”: “If three people ate at the same table and did not speak words of Torah upon it, it is as if they ate from offerings of the dead”. Why does it make them as though they ate from offerings of the dead? The reason is based upon a verse in Yeshayahu 28:8: “For all tables are full of vomit and filth without the Omnipresent”. The vomit and filth (literally dung or excrement) was the actual service of idolatry for Ba’al Peor. In Tehilim 106:28 Dovid HaMelech says: “VaYitzamdu L’Baal Peor VaYochlu Zivchei Meisim”: “and the Jewish people attached themselves to the idol of Baal Peor, and they ate offerings of the dead”.

The Torah emphasizes that due to the Jews eating sacrifices intended for idolatry, they became attached to the idol Baal Peor itself. But in Tehilim Dovid HaMelech seems to indicate that they first got close to Baal Peor and then they ate of the sacrifices. The Chasam Sofer suggests that once the Jewish people failed with Baal Peor, this sin has remained within the Jewish world even till this very day. While the sin of idolatry is no longer, the drive and the attraction to idolatry still exists today. In fact, the Torah in Devarim states clearly that anyone who gets close to Baal Peor will be destroyed. Nevertheless, in Yehoshua it states that the Jews never cleansed themselves completely from the sin of Baal Peor idolatry. Even though the idol of Baal Peor was destroyed and no longer exists, the sin still lingers. The sin is represented by offerings to the idols: the breads, the oils, the wines, all of which cause us to mingle with the non-Jews, which can lead to inter-marriage and further idolatry ,ultimately moving us away from God.

Baruch Hashem we no longer actually serve the idols, but ,unfortunately, we still find ourselves eating of the sacrifices of the dead, the dead idol of Baal Peor. This, to our misfortune, has plagued us for many, many generations.

As we enter into the three-week period of national mourning over the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash, we need to look at some point of why this happened. We as a people continue to sin in ways that separate us from Hashem, not necessarily through idolatry itself but through the act of doing things that lead us in that direction. We need to clearly sever not only the idol worship but the calculations and bad decisions that are the very fringes of idol worship. This should be a lesson to clearly mark the distinction in life’s decisions to know when it is time to let others make it for us and when we should make them on our own.

Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky


If you would like to sponsor or dedicate a part of Rabbi Bogopulsky’s upcoming new book please contact him directly or reply to this E-Mail.

This Dvar Torah is re-printed with permission from the author.


Parshas Korach - Have We Reached the New Norm?         4 Tammuz 5780

06/26/2020 09:21:28 AM


The days turned into weeks, and the weeks have turned into months. I am scared to even talk about the next stage if these months may possibly turn into years! Throughout history changes have taken place and still the world evolved from one set of circumstances to the next. It is almost twenty years since the world of travel and security changed, but acceptance of this need for security has become the norm for the older generation and a part of life for the younger generation. We do not know if the wearing of masks and social distancing is at its peak and will decline, reverting to the way life was before Covid-19 or if these changes are here to stay – at least for a long time. What we should know is God’s omniscient presence in the past, present and future. Unfortunately, we sometimes tend to see Hashem through our 20/20 hindsight, or look with expectation towards a bright and secure future by spitting out the words ‘Im Yirtzeh Hashem’, with God’s will. But it is the present that we either cannot see God, or we just are not looking hard enough for Him. We tend to forget the fact that Hashem is in control as we speak and write. I recently heard about this problem addressed head on.

It is written in the Zohar חיי עלמא מזוני “The one who gives life, gives sustenance”. Rav Elimelech Biderman asks, “What does that mean?” Rav Biderman explains this phrase with a few examples. One can be the wealthiest and most resourceful man in the world, but with all his power, influence, connections and protectzia, can he add even one day to his life span? Even with all the money in the world and networks available to him, can he extend his life? Certainly not, rather, he will receive whatever is predestined to him from the time he was created, not a day or even a penny more. Of course, a man must put forth his/her best effort to make a livelihood and seek out the best medical care, but at the end of the day, it is not in our control.

The Chovos HaLevavos in Shaar Daled writes negatively of someone who does not put in effort to make a living wage. Nevertheless, he must constantly remind himself that complacency is not a guarantee. It is a Mitzva to try and yet know that it is not in his control; it is in God’s hands. There is a story told of a bachur (unmarried Yeshiva student) who came to Reb Elya Lopian zt”l for permission to leave the Yeshiva and go to work. Reb Elya felt the boy still had time to learn before going off to work and asked him why he needed to leave now. The bachur replied: Why? So, I can get married and support children and a family. Reb Elya responded, “And how do you know that you will get married?” “Well, everybody gets married! “the bachur responded. “Ahh, but how do you know you will have children?” The student was growing irritated and responded, “ Is the Rebbi cursing me?” Reb Elya Lopian replied, ”No, I am not cursing you, but I see you put your trust in Hashem to get married and to be blessed with children, but you do not have trust in Him that He will provide sustenance for you and your family in the proper time. Reb Elya concluded, “Are you doing this (going to work) because you are placing a limit on Hashem’s abilities? “

In another episode, a bachur told the Chofetz Chaim that he was turning down a certain Shidduch (a proposed match). Not only was he turning it down, he continued to exclaim, he did not want to even consider or entertain such a suggestion. The Chofetz Chaim asked why he would not consider this shidduch (proposed match)? The young man answered that he is looking for a girl whose father would provide support of five years to be able to continue to learn. The boy added that if he did not receive this commitment he would not consider the shidduch. The Chofetz Chaim then asked the bachur how long he expected to live. The bachur responded he hopes to live at the very least to seventy or eighty years and hopefully more. this age range was just the minimum. The Chofetz Chaim continued, “And who will support you for the remaining sixty-five to seventy years? The bachur immediately jumped and exclaimed ,“Why should I worry about that now?” The Chofetz Chaim responded, ”So… you are guaranteed the 65-70 years, but it is only the first five years that you are worried about?” This attitude is not new, but like everything else there is precedent from the Torah.

In this week’s parshas Korach the Torah states in Bamidbar 16:1 "ויקח קרח בן יצהר בן קהת בן לוי, ודתן ואבירם בני אליאב ואון בן פלת בני ראובן" “ Korach the son of Yitzhar (a grandson of Kehas and a great-grandson of Levi) began a rebellion along with Dasan and Aviram (sons of Eliav) and On, son of Peles, descendants of Reuvain”. The Midrash Shocher Tov 49:3 states Dasan and Aviram had two traits;:brazenness and divisiveness. It was they who said to Moshe, “Who made you a ruler and a judge over us!” It was Dasan and Aviram who said, ”Let us appoint a captain and return to Egypt.” .It was Dasan and Aviram who rebelled at the Sea of Reeds. But one of the greatest direct challenges to Moshe and indirect challenges to Hashem was when they left over manna because they had a trust issue.

The characters in the stories earlier behaved and acted in the same way as Dasan and Aviram. They left over manna for the next day, they were only worried about tomorrow but not worried about the days after that. Seems if they were concerned for the future, they would have stored up a lot of manna. Apparently, down the road they would eventually have put their trust in Hashem but certainly not the very next day. How foolish it is to only be concerned with the immediate future and take matters into our own hands , claiming we/they are not concerned about the distant future. Dasan and Aviram were not of the highest moral caliber. The leftover manna bred worms and rotted. The Midrash Tanchuma Tzetzaveh 11, referring to Shmos 16:20, describes swarms of ants marched out of the tents of Dasan and Aviram and entered the tents of the B’Nei Yisrael. Ultimately, the Midrash Rabbah 18:5 relates on the words: “Woe is to the wicked man, woe to his neighbor! “ Because Dasan and Aviram were neighbors of Korach, they were smitten with him and perished from the world.

We are living in uncertain and challenging times. The only certainty we need to know is to do our Hishtadlus, to make a positive effort navigating the storm of today and to reach up Heavenward for signs, direction, and strength.

Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky


Parshas Shlach - Be Careful What You Wish For       27 Sivan 5780

06/19/2020 11:09:14 AM


What do airlines, electricity, teenagers, tumah (spiritual impurity) and self-esteem have in common? The answer is that in one form or another, the term “grounded” is used at some point in time with each of them. The meaning of the word “grounded” depends upon the context in which it is used. The examples above are a mix of good and bad, positive and negative. The terms grounded and grounding are very similar, but their meanings are quite different.

There are times when ‘grounded’ has a completely positive meaning. To be grounded means you are solid with whom you are. You are sure of yourself; you have confidence in your decisions… you trust yourself. To be grounded means you pay attention not only to yourself but to what is going on around you.

Electricity, which can be viewed as a form of fire, can be very helpful or extremely harmful. When using fire, we take as many precautions as possible, and we should do the same with electricity. Wiring is tricky; in any electrical circuit, two wires – the “hot wire” and the “neutral” or grounded wire - are needed to complete a circuit. The neutral, or grounded wire, is most correctly referred to as a "grounded neutral conductor”, but for simplicity’s sake it’s typically referred to as "the neutral" or "the ground wire". A "grounding" wire, on the other hand, is a safety wire that has intentionally been connected to earth. The grounding wire does not carry electricity under normal circuit operations. Its purpose is to carry electrical current only under short circuit or other conditions that would be potentially dangerous. Grounding wires serve as an alternate path for the current to flow back to the source, rather than go through someone touching a dangerous appliance or electrical box.

In terms of spiritual impurity known as ‘Tumah’, the only objects susceptible to becoming ritually impure are people, keilim (either clothing, utensils), liquids and foods. Items attached to the ground and the ground or the earth itself are not subject to Tumah. Tumah / spiritual impurity does not take effect when something is “grounded”. Perhaps the reason for this is that without something being grounded everything in the world would be susceptible to ritual impurity by virtue of the fact that everything is connected. The ground serves as some kind of ‘home base’ whereby it has immunity from the impurity.

Unfortunately, we are still in the midst of the pandemic and are enduring a grounding in the aviation sector. This comes at great cost financially, emotionally, and physically. Most recently, in March 2019, aviation authorities worldwide grounded the Boeing 737 MAX passenger airliner after 346 people died in two plane crashes - Lion Air Flight 610 on October 29, 2018 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 on March 10, 2019.

As travel restrictions continue amid the ongoing spread of coronavirus, a record number of planes have been grounded. At least 70 airlines around the world grounded themselves completely, according to Cowen Investment Bank. These included heavy hitting airlines such as Emirates and Etihad and low-cost behemoths like EasyJet. Other top carriers, including Lufthansa, Cathay Pacific, and Singapore Airlines at one point canceled up to 95 percent of their flights. U.S. carriers were not far behind: American Airlines suspended 80 percent of its domestic flights and 90 percent of its international flights into May; Southwest parked 50 of its 750 jets; United cut its April domestic schedule by more than 60 percent and , like most U.S. airlines, cut most of its international flights, planning deeper cuts into June; Delta had at least 600 planes grounded at one point or another. Early on, at the peak of the virus, up to 80 percent of the world’s overall fleet could have been grounded as a result of coronavirus travel restrictions, Peter Harbison, chairman of the industry group Centre for Aviation, told the Financial Times. A unique story/incident regarding “grounding” happened to Ben Sliney, a former United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) National Operations Manager. His first day in this position was September 11, 2001, and he was responsible for ordering a National Ground Stop across United States airspace in response to the terrorist attacks of 9/11.

Regarding the home, grounding is a general discipline technique which is used with children and teenagers, in which one is forbidden to leave their place of residence (or sometimes their bedroom) except for required activities, which may include but are not limited to school, work, projects, essential medical care, and going to Shul. During this time period, any positive reinforcement is revoked, and certain privileges are taken away. These restrictions could include no computer (except for school work), no video games, no listening to music or watching television, losing allowance and driving privileges and not permitting opportunities to play or have fun with toys. Punishment may also include having to do extra chores. Grounding is used as an alternative to physical discipline. According to a 2000 review on child outcomes, "Grounding has been replicated as a more effective disciplinary alternative than spanking with teenagers. Grounding can backfire if the type and duration of restrictions is disproportionately severe for the behavior meant to be corrected, or if the restrictions are too difficult for the parent to enforce.” Therefore… “seichel” is required.

The negative impact regarding “being grounded” often leads to other problems. A plane's flight being canceled or a person being restricted can have adverse effects. In fact, we hear and read about the Jewish people in the desert complain about going into the land of Canaan after hearing the report of the spies. It led them to complain and sin. In effect, they expressed the desire to stay put , to be grounded in the desert rather than continue traveling to Canaan. This attitude led directly to the Jewish people’s disastrous end of wandering in the desert for forty years, dying in the desert and not entering into Eretz Yisrael.

The Torah in this week’s parsha Shlach states in Bamidbar 14:27 "עד מתי לעדה הרעה הזאת אשר המה מלינים עלי, את תלונות בני ישראל אשר המה מלינים עלי שמעתי" “How long shall this evil group exist, complaining against me? I have heard how the Israelites are complaining about me”. At the end of the very next verse Moshe tells them, “it is God’s solemn declaration that I will make your accusations against Me come true.”

I am going to take a great deal of literary license here by connecting two Hebrew words together that truly have different meanings but share the same letters. I would like to explain these words although they are not really the same but nevertheless share a strong connection. The word used in the above quote, ‘malinim’ translates to ‘complained’ while the letters inside that word are ‘lina’, which can mean rested or leftover. Because they complained, they ended up remaining in the desert, as Moshe stated, “Your accusations will come true.” In other words, since you complained you will be grounded here and remain outside of Israel.

Let us think of our own situations and be careful about what and how we express ourselves.. Heaven forbid, we do not want our words to ground us! Rather, our words should anchor us to be positive and strong in our Emunah/Faith.

Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Rabbi Bogopulsky’s book “Developing A Torah Personality” is available for purchase directly from him.


Parshas B'Haaloscha - The Clock Never Stops Ticking      20 Sivan 5780

06/12/2020 01:08:00 PM


One of my responsibilities as a Rabbi/clergyman is visiting people in hospital and care facilities. For me, it is an extra perk: first, of course, it is my duty, but on top of that I receive heavenly reward as well. To the perceptive mind and eye, there is something that hangs on the wall opposite each bed - a pull-off page calendar that marks the current day’s date, or at least a white board on the wall which has the day’s date and an update of other information for the patient. No one should ever need to go to a hospital, but for those who have had that experience, we understand how time seems to stand still. An incredibly sad Covid-19 story with a good ending tells about a Jewish man who was put onto a ventilator before Pesach and came out of it a few weeks after Pesach. One of the first things he said was, “When is the Seder?” He had completely lost all sense of time. I feel the same goes for the last three and a half months. I need to look at the calendar to know what day of the week it is as well as checking the current date and sometimes even what year we are in! One of our dedicated Daf Yomi attendees posted a meme about time, “I am not adding this year to my age; I did not use it!”

But besides a calendar or a watch, there are other indicators and reminders which serve to give us a sense of time. We associate people with time and time with people. When I try to remember something that happened in the past, I need an aid to remember. One method I use to calculate or to figure out when something took place is I think about an individual or family who were in the community or around me at that time. As my family and I close in on the completing of two dozen years at Beth Jacob, I look back at the many different people who have come and gone. As time goes by, the frames of time become clouded and blurred, sometimes making it difficult to remember when someone arrived or left the San Diego Jewish community.

San Diego, in general, tends to be a transient community. People come and people go. Perhaps this is the trend of our generation in all places throughout the world generally, but especially in the Jewish world. I often think what the community would look like if everyone who came just stayed and did not move away. To be fair and objective, I would have to look at the community as though no newcomers arrived at all. In other words, life is a balance of people and circumstances in all scenarios.

The idea of time standing still is not a new phenomenon for the Jewish people. We traveled in the desert for forty years with the same weather, the same food, the same clothing and the same living quarters. In fact, the Jews complained about many of those issues, especially the food and water supply. Even internal family squabbles erupted between Aharon and Miriam against their brother Moshe. Over this period there were religious issues and concerns of not being able to perform the Korban Pesach, resolving the issue with Pesach Sheini. I think this all sounds awfully familiar to us now with regard to our much shorter “shelter at home” order. With all that has transpired in our world over the last few months from the medical /health issues to the social unrest we are witnessing, I at least feel as though I am wandering through a fog of time. I do not have all the answers to the issues, but I can and will share an insight for each and everyone of us to think about concerning making the world a better place.

In this week’s parshas B’Haaloscha Moshe instructs Aharon to light the Menora. The Torah states in Bamidbar 8:2 "דבר אל אהרן ואמרת אליו, בהעלתך את הנרות אל מול פני המנורה יאירו שבעת הנרות" “Speak to Aharon and say to him, ‘When you light the lamps, the seven lamps shall illuminate the Menorah”. Rashi explains that this act and command to Aharon was a gift to him and the Kohanim for future generations. But Rashi, describing the lighting writes, "שאתה מדליק ומטיב את הנרות" “for you should light them and then clean the lamps”. In his sefer Panim Yafos *Rav Pinchas Ben Zvi Hirsch Horowitz comments that those actions should be reversed: first clean the candlesticks and then light them. He explains that in reality this may be reversed, but in purpose the given order is correct. The first thing a person needs to do is get the light going, fire it up and then clear its path. Sometimes, just the light and the resulting flame will clean and clear out some of the debris. The lesson and message for us today is that we need to just light the candle and the menorah. That light will, in turn, reflect, thereby lighting up the other things around it. More importantly, once a fire is lit and the candle burns, the light that it gives off is timeless. The long -lasting effects of the light which, of course, is brought through the learning of Torah and fulfilling the mitzvos, will continue to shine, clearing away the debris, opening the path of justice and purity. Each and every one of us should strive to light up our own lives, to clear the path, to clean up that which is around us, creating clarity of light for the Jewish people and the world that we live in.

Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

*HOROWITZ, Pinchas Ben Ẓvi Hirsch Ha-Levi (1730–1805), German rabbi. Horowitz was born in Czortkow, Poland, where his father was rabbi. He studied first under his father and then under his two brothers, Nachum (introduction to the Shevet Aḥim) and Shmuel Shmelke *Horowitz, later rabbi of Nikolsburg. During that period the two brothers were attracted to the circle of *Dov Baer of Mezhirech. Rav Pinchas Horowitz visited Dov Baer, first in Mezhirech and then in Rovno. As a result of these visits, he made the acquaintance of *Shneur Zalman of Lyady, the founder of *Chabad Ḥasidism.


Rav Horowitz was rabbi at first of Witkowo, Poland and then of Lachowicze (1764). In 1771 he accepted a call to the rabbinate of Frankfurt, a post he held until his death. During his later years he was frequently ill and eventually became totally blind. Horowitz was held in the highest esteem by the rabbis and scholars of Frankfurt. Particularly noteworthy was the cordial relationship which existed between Rav Horowitz and Nathan Maas, Av (father) of the Bet Din of Frankfurt and author of the Binyan Shelomo. Rav Horowitz maintained a close and friendly relationship with Nathan *Adler, although he opposed him in certain matters and later was one of the signatories to the 1779 proclamation signed by the leaders and rabbis of the community against Adler because of his cḥasidic leanings. His congregants also admired Horowitz because of his saintliness and integrity. On one occasion Rav Horowitz gave assistance to a Catholic priest who was in distress. Horowitz had a private *minyan where he followed the Sephardi rite, whereas the traditional Ashkenazi rite of Frankfurt was otherwise followed.


Horowitz vigorously opposed the *Haskalah movement. On the eve of the new moon of Tammuz 1782 he preached a powerful sermon (known as Tokhaḥat Musar, "ethical rebuke") against Mendelssohn's German translation of the Pentateuch and its commentary, the Be'ur (Biur). In this sermon, regarded as the first public statement reflecting fierce opposition to the Haskalah, Horowitz referred to the Biur as a work "which resuscitated heretical works in scoffing at the words of our sages." The opinion has been expressed that his opposition to the translation was directed chiefly against the special system of translation and the "dogmatic tone" of the commentary and not against the translation itself. It should be noted that despite his polemics against the aims of the Haskalah movement, he did not refuse to give his approbation to the German translation of the festival prayer book of Wolf *Heidenheim. In 1795. Rav Horowitz issued a ban on the proposed establishment of a teaching institute in Frankfurt, fearing that it would result in a diminution of the study of religious subjects, but under pressure from the civic authorities, he was compelled to rescind the ban. On the other hand, he was keenly focused on the contemporary problems of the community and participated actively in the concern of the communal council to create a harmonious relationship with the government Conspicuous among his prominent pupils was Moses *Sofer, author of the Chasam Sofer, who revered Rav Horowitz for his talmudic genius and his halakhic authority. He stated that despite Horowitz' attraction to Chasidism, he was averse to giving expression to cḥasidic or kabbalistic ideas. In the view of many scholars, the whole tradition of Horowitz' Chasidism is open to doubt.


The most important of Horowitz' works, on which his fame chiefly rests, is the Sefer Hafla'ah, in three parts: pt. 1, Sefer Ketubbah (Offenbach, 1787), consists of halakhic and aggadic novellae on tractate Ketubbot with an appendix entitled Shevet Aḥim on the Shulḥan Arukh Even ha-Ezer, laws of ketubbah chapters 66–118; pt. 2, Sefer ha-Makneh (ibid., 1801), to tractate Kiddushin and to Even ha-Ezer, 26–45. Horowitz wrote a homiletical introduction to these parts entitled Pitḥa Ze'ira. The Hafla'ah to tractate Berakhot and on the laws of meat and milk (1895) and on various tractates (3 vols., 1900) were published posthumously. Among his other works the best known is part 3 of Sefer Hafla'ah, his commentary to the Pentateuch, Panim Yafot (Ostrog, 1824), published by Ephraim Zalman *Margulies. That the 1876 Warsaw edition is still in print is evidence of the continued popularity of this work. In this commentary pilpulistic halakhic expositions are combined with kabbalistic and ḥasidic elements. He also wrote Shevet Aḥim in two parts; pt. 1 Netivot le-Shabbat, a commentary to Even ha-Ezer 1–23 (1838), pt. 2 Givat Pinḥas, 83 responsa (1838). A commentary to Psalms entitled Panim Yafot, collected from his various works was published by Pincḥas Finkelstein (1924). Various explanations by him of scriptural verses are found scattered in the works of his contemporaries and pupils. A commentary on the Passover Haggadah appeared in 1860 (reprinted in Jerusalem, 1994). On the occasion of the coronation ceremonies of the emperors Leopold ii and Francis ii in the years 1790/92 he compiled special prayers which were issued with German translations.

Sun, September 26 2021 20 Tishrei 5782