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Parshas VaEschanan - The Mother of all Prayers 9 Av 5783

08/11/2023 08:26:41 AM

Aug11

It has now been over nine and a half months of saying kaddish for my father z”l. There are a few different affects which typically occur during the course of the eleven-month obligation to recite kaddish, ranging from being a burden, to an obligation, and, ultimately, to an honor. I personally take upon myself the task of reciting kaddish first as an honor and only second as an obligation. Throughout the experience of saying kaddish, I would never say it was a burden, but can rather be challenging when it comes to traveling, planning ahead as much as possible to assure that I have a minyan in order to say kaddish. I must admit that, due to travel, there were a few times  that I found it impossible to have a minyan, so I delegated the opportunity to my nephews to say kaddish for their grandfather. Other than that, I not only recited kaddish with a minyan but have been very successful in obtaining the ‘amud’ - the lectern - to lead the services. Leading the services is more advantageous, and therefore highly recommended, for a mourner as it gives greater comfort to the soul of the departed.

My most recent trip of two weeks was replete with minyanim at all hours of the day as I traveled to many different places. The most challenging feat is always to keep in sync with the speed and décor of the minyan, and more so to stay within the nusach (text) of the minyan, be it Ashkenazic in Israel, Sephardic, Nusach Sefard, Askenazic American, and so on. The halacha/rule is the shalich tzibbur must pray using the same tradition as the congregation, foregoing his own. The best is when there are instructions and rules that control the pace and speed of the davening. Ultimately, of course, I feel most comfortable when I return home and daven in my own shul.

Many people are stubborn, refusing to “give in” or acquiesce to the norms and customs of the Shul they are visiting, or even to the shul they attend regularly. It is fascinating to learn about the origins of the differences in customs within the davening. One of my many pet peeves (I know I haven’t shared one with you lately), is during the Shabbos davening to decide whether to sing a song together with the Chazzan or to say the song line by line. The two tefillos in question are L’Cha Dodi and Keil Adon. The majority of Ashkenazic, non- Yeshivish Shuls typically will sing both of these songs all together as one, while the more Yeshivish minyanim and nusach Sefard have the custom that the chazzan sing the first paragraph and the congregation sing/hum the song but only say the words afterwards. * This determination may no longer be of any concern to an existing group, but when a new congregation, shul, is formed, the customs and traditions must be formulated and decided upon. To my knowledge, there is no book or manual that lays out all the options of what should or should not be done. In fact, there are times in the history of a congregation that the customs were changed based upon certain extenuating factors.

I was recently perusing through a sefer titled Kisvei HaGaon by Rav Yosef Eliyahu Henkin Zt”l. In volume one, page 163 of the Eidus L’Yisrael section, Rav Henkin writes about who goes first – the ”chazan then congregation – or the congregation then chazzan”. Rav Henkin beautifully outlines a rule of thumb, clearly explaining why the custom may sometimes dictate that the chazzan goes first, followed by the Tzibbur (congregation), and at other times the reverse is followed. If the piyyut, the poem, is simple, meaning there is no refrain, then the chazzan goes first, followed by the congregation.  Rav Henkin offers a few examples: Keil Adon, Shema Yisrael, and Hashem Hu HaElokim (7x) at the end of Neilah on Yom Kippur, along with many others. In these examples, the chazzan is the leader and goes first. But if a  piyyut, a poem, has a beginning and an end, including a refrain - for example L’Cha Dodi, Malachei Rachamim, and Yisroel Nosha, sung on the High holidays, along with other examples,  the chazzan sings the main body of the poem and the congregation completes it. So, if the chazzan says Shamor v’Zachor in L’Cha Dodi, the congregation follows by ending it with the refrain of L’Cha Dodi. But, in principle, if the congregation had previously said Shamor v’Zachor first, then the chazzan, followed by the congregation, completes it with the refrain. We find the same principle holds true regarding  blessings that both the chazzan and the congregation will recite. The most famous example is reciting of Shehecheyanu on Yom Kippur eve. The chazzan will begin to say the blessing out loud, while the congregation is instructed to say it along with him in an undertone and finish the blessing before the chazzan so that the congregation can say ‘Amen’ to the leader’s Bracha.

Perhaps people are adamant regarding their own customs because of their emotional attachment to their heritage despite the intellectual and sound halachik basis to the contrary. I would like to suggest- and share - an original idea based upon the famous Midrash in Devarim Rabba as to perhaps where there could be a basis for the plethora of ways and customs the Jewish people have become accustomed to practice.

The Torah in this week’s Parshas VaEschanan states in Devarim 3:23: "ואתחנן אל ה' בעת ההיא לאמר"  “: At that time [Moshe] pleaded with God, saying, The Midrash Rabbah 11:10. From where do we know that at that time Moshe prayed five hundred fifteen times? (And, according to the Ba’al HaTurim, the number of 515 is the same as the word שירה  /song that Moshe sang in front of Hashem so his prayers should be heard?) As it states, our same verse of VaEschanan also has the numerical value of 515. Chaza”l describe Moshe praying with ten different לשונות  - either understood as languages or different forms and variations of prayer. I would suggest that the sources of all the various customs stem from these myriad of prayers and forms that Moshe Rabbeinu used in his plea to enter Eretz Yisrael.

Moshe’s manner of Tefilla set the stage for how future congregations determined their specific practices. Perhaps some of those Tefillos were long and drawn out while others were short and quick. Maybe some of them were accompanied by singing, repeating refrains out loud while other prayers were said silently and more seriously. Maybe some of the davening grew through ways of dancing and clapping, even including the use of some accompanying  instruments, while others were of a more somber note, davening quietly while standing still. Moshe Rabbeinu was, in essence, the choir leader of the Jewish people during his lifetime, setting the parameters of Tefillah for all future congregations and kehillos Yisroel for all time. May all  the Tefillos of Klal Yisroel everywhere in the world bang on the gates of prayer and finally answer our prayers for Yeshuos V’Nechamos and truly experience the comfort the Jewish people so desperately need in our time.    

*This analysis is by no means complete and across every congregation and custom, but rather strictly my observations alone.

Ah Gutten Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas Devarim/Chazone - Who's in Control 2 Av 5783

08/11/2023 08:24:40 AM

Aug11

From the moment we wake up until the second we fall asleep, a person feels, truly believes, that he is making the decisions of the day. Upon waking up I scan through my daily planner/calendar to check what is on the schedule for the day. This is particularly necessary on a day when I am traveling. I calculate the time necessary to pack, get to the airport, etc. As I wrote in the previous article, life does require some planning; we cannot live life doing something major such as booking an airline ticket at the gate. A person can try to buy a ticket at the gate, but it might be prohibitive. A second challenge to consider regarding air traffic today is that you may not even have a seat left to buy. In today’s day and age, the earlier a person reserves or purchases something, the lower the price will be.  This applies to  renting a car, making a hotel reservation or booking a plane ticket. Prices are driven by availability; the prices go up as the time gets closer to the date of departure.  

My latest trip was carefully planned out: a three-city travel flying from here to Eretz Yisrael, then to New Jersey and back to San Diego. I rented a car in Israel and while there I canceled my original car reservation as the prices had dropped.  In booking a car rental, you do not need to pay up front. The process is straightforward: when you pick up the vehicle the rental begins. To incentivize customers, rental companies will offer a lower price if you pay up front, including paying a cancelation fee if done before the time of the reservation. I never took that enticing offer, knowing full well that I can’t predict what will happen between “now and then” being so far off in the future - up until this last trip. I booked the car we’d be picking up in Newark on Friday while still in Israel, knowing we were leaving and arriving in Newark on Sunday.  At the time it seemed to be a no brainer. The plane took off on time, smooth sailing through the skies, and I felt that I beat the system and made the right bet. And then,  about a half hour prior to landing, the captain announced that Newark Airport was closed, and we would be landing in Boston, not knowing whether we would get to Newark or stay in Boston. Well, there went my cheaper car rental as I might lose the entire amount because we landed after my rental time had begun. We panicked and made another car reservation, planning now to drive from Boston to Newark and pick up the original car.  However, to make a long story short, we were able to refuel and continued on to Newark, remarkably  still able to pick up the original pre-paid car. I will skip (at least for this article) the backend of the trip and seeing the hand of God once again while still believing that I am calling the shots. But that wasn’t without a lot of Agmas Nefesh - loosely translated as stress! The experience clearly put Hashem back into the forefront of my thinking about just who is really in control. This situation is not an anomaly for me nor for the Jewish people. In fact, the Torah is replete with sagas describing when we lacked faith and thought we were in charge, failing to recognize that Hashem was pulling the strings all along.

In this week’s Parshas Devarim, the Torah states in Devarim 1: 2-3: "אחד עשר יום מחרב דרך הר שעיר עד קדש ברנע. ויהי בארבעים שנה בעשתי-עשר חדש באחד לחדש, דבר משה אל בני ישראל ככל אשר צוה ה' אתו אלהם"  “[This is in the area] which is an eleven-day journey from Choreiv* to Kadesh Barnea by way of the Seir highlands. “On the first day of the eleventh month in the fortieth year, Moshe [also] spoke to the Israelites regarding all that God had commanded that he tell them”. Rashi immediately points out in very harsh terms the timing of their travels. Moshe said to them: “See what you have caused. You have no shorter way from Choreiv to Kadesh Barnea than by way of Mount Seir, and even that is a journey of eleven days. Nevertheless, you traversed it in three days.” Rashi calculates the days based upon the story line. Rashi continues, ”Consequently, in three days they traveled that entire way. And this much did the Divine Presence trouble itself for your sake, to hasten your coming into the land. And because you acted corruptly, He caused you to make a circuit round about Mount Seir which took forty years.”

Moshe Rabbeinu is clearly stating the reasons why this debacle occurred. Moshe did not simply outright explain what the sins were that the Jewish people had violated. Rather, he hinted at the rebellions and anarchy just by mentioning the places where these offenses  took place. Moshe did not provide details of places and the distance in time between one location and another.  He did not use  MapQuest or Waze. The Tochacha/ the rebuke Moshe provides focuses on the reason the journey, which should have taken only a few days was extended to a period of forty years, is due to the sins they committed in those specific places. The lesson, and hidden message, is clear: when we sin, we lose our way and literally go off the derech. Sinning and rebelling against the Hashem will cause us to lose our way. If we avoid sinning, we will keep on the straight path and reach our destination faster than expected. A sin could be viewed as a distraction; when we get distracted from the task on hand, we get lost, drifting further and further from accomplishing what we set out to do. Keeping focused will lead to finishing the task sooner than expected and probably in a more effective manner.

The Kli Yakar writes that the eleven days mentioned in the verse correspond to eleven days of mourning the Beis HaMikdash, including the nine days from Rosh Chodesh Av, the seventeenth of Tammuz and Asara B’Teves. Due to our sins, we lost focus of who is really in charge, creating a void which allowed the Beis HaMikdash to be destroyed.   

As we entrench ourselves for these nine days, we start planning for life after Tish’a B’Av. Typically, as well as historically, Moshiach has not come and so, unfortunately, we fall into the trap of despair that the coming of Moshiach is not happening this year or any time soon. With our small faith, we prepare for yet another year, anticipating, assuring ourselves that Moshiach is not coming again. Perhaps Hashem will have a different plan for us; perhaps He will bring Moshiach, even though we do not expect or plan for this to occur.  We should all be Zocheh to greet Melech HaMoshiach B’Meheira B’Yameinu!

*Choreiv – either Mount Sinai or the surrounding vicinity

Ah Gutten Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas Chukas / Balak - Overthinking            11 Tammuz 5783

06/30/2023 09:22:28 AM

Jun30

Typically, with the start of summer, it’s common to ask, “What are your plans for this summer?” Since school is out, it’s common for many families, time permitting, to go on a family vacation together. If it’s not possible to take time off from work, parents need to either hire childcare, or, if financially feasible, to send their children to day camp or even sleep away camp. Whatever the situation, a fair amount of advance planning is required. In truth, it’s not only the summer but throughout the year, and, in deed, throughout life that people plan trips, schedule meetings for work, make travel arrangements for business and pleasure, make plans to remodel their home, and so forth.

In the back of our minds, the subconscious knows yet seems to assert little concern regarding whether things will go according to plan. We understand (but do not necessarily believe) that ultimately something will happen to us! The concern is predicated upon the deep core belief that we know God runs the world and that things could change at moment’s notice. No one needs to be reminded about that ‘event’ called “Covid”; disruptions are bound to happen anywhere from something – small or large. If I had to guess, I would bet that almost everyone reading this right now knows at least one person who has been affected by the airline industry crisis currently taking place. Most cancelations and delays are due to weather and a shortage of air traffic controllers, according to airport administrators. … In reality, “that’s an issue that is not going to be solved overnight,” said Charles Braden, Norfolk International Airport’s director of market development. “It’s a big problem.” he continued. Geoff Freeman, president of the U.S. Travel Association, predicted that this summer’s travel season “will be off the charts…which may be great for the travel industry, but as a country, we have underinvested in the aviation system for far too long.” Mr. Freeman continued to explain that U.S. investment in air traffic control, technology, and individual training has long been below the level needed and we’re paying the price for it.

Now that we are experiencing this challenge, it becomes more apparent that there are two issues which  are out of the consumers’ control; human failure and mother nature (otherwise known as HaKadosh Baruch Hu, God Himself!). Either way, knowing things are out of our control, does not mean that we can live life without at least a modicum  of planning. The world runs on a system of making appointments, buying tickets in advance, and so on. The question is how do we balance these two ideas of planning in advance knowing full well things may not turn out the way we planned?

In the past I have written about and quoted a famous verse from Mishlei 19:21 where Shlomo HaMelech says, "רבות מחשבות בלב איש, ועצת ה' היא תקום"  - “There are many thoughts in a man’s heart, but the plan of Hashem, that shall stand”. This statement of king Solomon apparently limits our ability to navigate (not necessarily control) our lives. A few weeks ago, I was thinking about this Mishlei and came up with a “chiddush”-  a new understanding of this verse. As you can see, I underlined and put the word in Hebrew and English in bold type. Perhaps this is the clear distinction, the fine line, in living our lives consistently with the Torah and Shlomo HaMelech’s understanding of how the world operates.  For the ongoing process of the world, we human beings clearly need to look a little ahead, taking the time to plan. The question always comes back: “how much effort or planning do we really need to do?”. The Machshavos - thoughts - are the essence of planning, looking ahead to the things in life and that are necessary and acceptable. However, when we start to overthink, to attempt to micromanage every detail, we lose sight of who is really in control. Trying to figure things out so that “I” will always come out on top is where the warning and where reality comes into play. The ultimate and final scenes are determined from above. We must recognize and consider that all the time. We find a similar pattern of thinking in several places throughout the Torah.

This week we read two parshios: Chukas and Balak.  In the second parsha, the Torah relates the story of Balak, king of Moav, who hired Bilaam to curse the Jewish people. The narrative is crystal clear. Balak summons Bilaam who refuses to come. A second set of messengers is sent to convince Bilaam to go with them and fulfill the wishes of Balak to curse the Jewish nation. The Torah, in Bamidbar 22:20, states: "ויבא אלוקים אל בלעם לילה ויאמר לו, אם-לקרא לך באו האנשים קום לך אתם ואך את הדבר אשר אדבר אליך אתו תעשה"   “That night, God appeared to Bilaam and said to him, ‘If the men have come to summon you, set out and go with them. But only do exactly as I instruct you.” Reluctantly, Hashem allows Bilaam to go. Repeatedly Bilaam says to the men and eventually to Balak, “I can only say what Hashem instructs me to say.”   Rav Pinchos of Koritz in his manuscript Kodesh Hilulim asks the following: Instead of saying as I instruct you to do, shouldn’t it have been written ‘just as I say’? Rather, the Midrash states, “Come and see how beloved the Jewish people are to Hashem.” God allows His presence to be with a rasha, a wicked person, for the benefit of Klal Yisroel. The understanding here is Hashem says to Bilaam to “go with them”. Hashem explains to Bilaam that he can go with them but there will not be any benefit to Bilaam against My people. Only that which I tell you to say will you be successful, in that it will help the Jewish people. When Hashem speaks to Bilaam, Hashem allows His Shechina to rest upon Bilaam. This is the single and only instruction through which Bilaam can act.  The only good thoughts Bilaam could have are solely those that Hashem needed Bilaam to have in order to do good for Am Yisrael. We take the lesson at its core: whatever ends up happening connects directly to the original thought that only Hashem will allow for our benefit as well. To be continued…

  

Ah Gutten Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

*Pinchas Shapiro of Koretz 17261791 was a Lithuanian Chasidic rabbi and theologian who was a disciple of the Baal Shem Tov. He was the son of Rabbi Avraham Abba Shapiro and Sora Rochel Shapiro. Pinchas's father was a descendant of Rabbi Nosson Nata Spira, the author of Megaleh Amukot. His son Moshe was born in 1759.Born in Shklov, Pinchas was named after his paternal grandfather, described as "the famous and great scholar Rabbi Pinchas from Shklov."

Parshas Korach - Will the True Leader Stand Up       4 Tammuz 5783

06/23/2023 09:05:30 AM

Jun23

I have a hunch that everybody who listens and learns the Parsha week in and week out has grown to have chosen a parsha favored above all the others. There is no question that every boy and girl who had an opportunity to learn and perform for their bar/bat mitzva love and cherish their special, personal parsha! I can personally attest to the fact that no matter how many years it has been (at least 46) since my bar mitzva, Parshas Korach is definitely my favorite. There are six parshios in the Torah that are named for people (can you name them?). As a kid I didn’t appreciate my parsha as it is named after someone who is not looked upon well in the eyes of Hashem. Nevertheless, as we mature, we begin to learn with a different perspective. We appreciate every angle of the parsha, not only its name but all the other components of the parsha which together help us to weave the lessons to be digested.. 

God created a world replete with opposites; when something is wrong something else is right. When something is high, there are other things that counter it that are low. Somethings are heavy while others are light. There will always be a set amount of money that exists in the world, and it moves (zuz) around from one place to another, some have more while others have less, and it never stays the same. In fact, when it comes to an illness for which there is  no cure, the rabbis teach us that the cure is already in the world just waiting to be discovered. In layman’s terms, this is the concept Hashem creates - the refuah is there even before the makka; God creates the cure even before the illness. There are many more examples of this concept. To highlight one more, we find that where there is a villain there is a hero. There are situations at the outset where we cannot determine if someone is evil, acting in a wicked fashion. It is only as the individual’s actions grow clearer that we are able to  see the truth and the person’s true sense, true intentions, are revealed. At times it is difficult to see the difference, but eventually the evil just pours out.  Well, according to my theory, there needs to be a hero. Even when it comes to the good guy, heroism isn’t necessarily detected immediately, growing more and more visible only after analyzing and then seeing the situation from beginning to end. Suspicions regarding the honesty and integrity that we questioned at first now become d more obvious, slowly determining that the individual is truly innocent. Our focus then is guided by the person’s righteousness, no longer believing him/her to be evil, but actually understanding that this individual is  truly good, honest, and sincere. This is the exact scenario we find in my Bar Mitzva portion, Korach.

In this week’s Parshas Korach we find all the criteria for what a leader is truly all about.  The Torah states in Bamidbar 16:4 "וישמע משה ויפל על פניו"  “And when Moshe heard this, he threw himself on his face”. The very next passuk states: "וידבר אל קרח ואל כל עדתו לאמר, בקר וידע ה' את אשר לו ואת הקדוש והקריב אליו ואת אשר יבחר בו יקריב אליו"  “Then Moshe spoke to Korach and his entire party. “[Tomorrow] morning”, he said, “God [will show that He] knows who  who is holy, and He will bring him close to Him. He shall choose those who shall [be allowed to] present [offerings] to Him”. Reb Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the Ba’al HaTanya, charges that Moshe could have said the second verse immediately. Why was it necessary that he first fall on his face? Reb Shneur Zalman reasons that Moshe viewed himself as a shaliach, a messenger from Hashem, and perhaps the challenge Moshe was experiencing is all from above. Moshe was thinking that just as he was a messenger, so, too, could others be messengers. Certainly, an individual with Korach’s lineage (identical to Moshe) could be chosen by Hashem to act in this manner. Therefore, Moshe fell on his face, first to contemplate the matter, considering that perhaps he  was acting in a haughty manner. After checking himself out, he concluded that he did not have within himself an ounce of haughtiness. At that point Moshe recognized that Korach was not sent by Hashem but was just an individual dissenter and combatant  seeking honor. At that point Moshe understood, proceeding to  answer as he did. Reb Yonason Eibeshutz, in his sefer Tiferes Yehonason, explains that  Moshe’s falling down is an expression of the highest degree of what a leader is all about. The Gemara in Moed Kattan 17a refers to the words of Chaza”l, words of the sages. The sages say any time or place the sages “put their eyes on someone,” meaning to stare or gaze at a specific individual, that person either died or became destitute. Since Moshe did not want to harm Korach and his followers, rather Moshe was holding out, hoping these revolters would ultimately  repent and do teshuva. Despite being attacked by Korach verbally and emotionally, Moshe still waited for him to repent; repentance is the ultimate goal. Moshe realizes it’s not about Korach or about Korach and Moshe; it’s about Korach and Moshe, watched by God, to willingly do whatever it takes for however long it may take to recognize the need for repentance. Therefore,  Moshe fell onto his face so that he wouldn’t come to gaze upon Korach and either kill him or make him destitute.  Moshe is willing to put aside his own victory over Korach to bring him back, to give him every opportunity to repent.

This is the apparent difference between the villain and the hero, between the tzadik and the rasha. The evil rasha wants to do one thing while the righteous tzdadik wants to accomplish something quite opposite.  The wicked want to destroy and take down while the tzadik wants to lift up, to build the person up, to help him rehabilitate. In life we make choices. We can choose to look and to hear about the one who makes the most noise, such as  Korach, or to look a little deeper in order to find the quiet, silent voice of Moshe.

In conclusion, we are all capable of being a Korach or a Moshe. Only one of these exhibited true leadership. Let us injest this lesson and act in the footsteps of Moshe Rabbeinu, keeping our eyes down. praying for the sinners to repent and come back, to join and participate together as part of Klal Yisroel.

Ah Gutten Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas B'Haalos'cha - Jewish Guilt                 20 Sivan 5783

06/09/2023 10:20:46 AM

Jun9

Our modern world is inundated by non-stop information, good and bad, accurate and false, transmitted continuously by the media. There is no doubt that people throughout the world are over influenced by the media. Our opinions and biases are formed by what we see, hear and experience. Unfortunately, this is all too often the case for people who never established their own sense of right and wrong. In my humble opinion, the Torah is the absolute truth; issues of society need to be viewed through the lens of the Torah and Chaza”l. I cannot speak for other religions, but I would imagine that the same truth would hold up - those who are more learned and deeply committed to religion will be less influenced by their surroundings. Part of being knowledgeable and having a sense of right and wrong is the formation of a deep sense of obligation, responsibility, and caring. For better or for worse (probably worse), if a situation arises which causes a caring person to try to to make something right but falls short of this attempt, that good and caring person will end up feeling guilty. On the other hand, someone who cares marginally and messes up will still claim innocence. To summarize this idea,  “the innocent tends to feel guilty, while the guilty typically feel innocent”.  

In the following excerpt the Torah clearly relates  about the persistent complaints expressed by Jewish people.  Now, I hope we all agree that at this point in Jewish history, the people should not be complaining, revealing a side of them that is less than to be desired. Nevertheless, Moshe Rabbeinu, who always wants to try to help,  davens for the people and literally puts out the fire. This is immediately followed by more complaining…

The Torah in this week’s parshas B’Haaloscha states in Bamidbar 11:1,2,4 "ויהי העם כמתאננים רע באזני ה' וישמע ה' ויחר אפו ותבער בם אש ה' ותאכל בקצה המחנה. ויצעק העם אל משה ויתפלל משה אל ה' ותשקע האש. והאספסף אשר בקרבו התאוו תאוה וישבו ויבכו גם בני ישראל ויאמרו מי יאכלנו בשר".  “The people began to complain, and it was evil in God’s ears. When God heard it, He displayed His anger, and God’s fire flared out, consuming the edge of the camp. The people cried out to Moshe, and when Moshe prayed to God, the fire died down. The mixed multitude among [the Israelites] began to have strong cravings, and the Israelites once again began to weep. “Who’s going to give us some meat to eat?” They loudly demanded. The people who were complaining are identified as the eirev rav, a group of people with questionable lineage who may not have been Jewish. Nevertheless, their influence on the mainstream was very powerful and accepted by the Jews. The eirev rav could potentially be viewed as the voice of everything that is wrong with the world, refusing to see the goodness that lies within the world. The goodness of Moshe is revealed, despite Moshe’s understanding that they are in the wrong. In fact, Moshe may have felt guilty for the situation. Moshe had done everything possible with the greatest and purest of intentions, and still he went to bat for them by davening to stop the plague that ensued with a fire burning around the camp.  After Moshe helped the wicked ones who felt entitled to complain, they immediately resumed their crying and complaining a second time. Even though they were wrong, they felt they were innocent and were being mistreated.

One must ask a simple question, ”Why did the people complain”?  If one takes into account what life looked like in the desert, wouldn’t it be hard to find anything wrong or to have any reason to complain? Reb Yosef Zvi HaLevy* explains a key point regarding why the complainers are referred to as “the people” and not Bnei Yisrael: the “complainers” were from the common nation and not the important Jewish people. It was only the common people who were not satisfied with their life situation. These people were used to working in an all-physical capacity, but the desert conditions didn’t call for physical labor at all. The only “work” the Jewish people needed to do in the desert was to sit in the Ohel Moed or the Beis Midrash to hear the Torah being taught directly from Moshe Rabbeinu. The commoners, not trained or accustomed to sitting to learn,  complained in their hearts about their situation.  They found it difficult  to sit in peace and tranquility to just daven and learn Torah and not to work a physical job for the body.

Rav Shamson Raphel Hirsch zt”l in his commentary explains that all complaining is a result of a lack of spirituality. When an individual, a family, or a community does not have enough Ruchniyus/spirituality,  complaining that the Gashmiyus/physicality is lacking ensues. On  the other hand, when there is an infusion of Ruchniyus/spirituality, then even when there is a true lacking of some physicality, it is overlooked and viewed with satisfaction rather than a lacking.

Every person needs to assess his or her physical and spiritual needs knowing full well that they will only be satisfied in the physical sense if they are being nourished spiritually. If we are drying up and lacking our spiritual growth, then we will never be satisfied with our physical lot in life, always feeling the need for more. As individuals, we need to look beyond our personal space, seeing and acting upon this lesson with regards to the greater community, working together to create and facilitate a stronger spiritual place to live. A community where there is more Tefillah, more Torah, and more Gemilus Chasadim to truly build not only a Bayis Neeman B’Yisrael but also a Kehilas Beis Yakov, a congregation of the house of Jacob will grow together, deepening its individual and communal growth. Individually and collectively, we look forward to building our physical places through the fulfillment of our communal obligations of learning Torah and davening Tefillah B’Tzibbur - together as a congregation!

Ah Gutten Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

 

*Rav Yosef Zvi HaLevy (1874-1960) was an Israeli rabbi and head of the rabbinical court for Tel Aviv-Yafo. HaLevy was born in 1874 in Vilijampolė, Kaunas, Lithuania, then part of the Russian Empire, and was the son of Rabbi Avraham HaLevy. He obtained his rabbinical ordination (semicha) from Slabodka Yeshiva. Rav HaLevy emigrated without his family to Ottoman Palestine at the beginning of 1891 and shortly thereafter married the daughter of Rabbi Naftali Herz Halevy, the Chief Rabbi of Jaffa. In 1894 (or late 1893), he moved to Jerusalem, but returned to Jaffa in about 1897. HaLevy was later appointed to serve as the head (Av Beit Din) of the Tel Aviv Rabbinical Court.

Parshas Nasso - The Trip of a Lifetime             13 Sivan 5783

06/02/2023 03:42:07 PM

Jun2

This week’s Dvar Torah is L’iluy Nishmas / in memory of HaRav Dovid Elimelech ben Shmuel HaKohein z”l

In Bereishis we read about Eliezer the servant of Avraham being guided by Hashem in getting to his destination in traveling not at fast pace but rather in the concept known as Kfitzas HaDerech. This term is understood as either the road was made shorter, or he someone jumped the road so to speak. Although I have never read or learned about this in the opposite form I did experience it this week.

This week, one of my most long-standing friend lost his father, Rabbi David Winter z”l. My friend,  Chaim and I are in touch almost weekly and I was acutely aware of his father’s health decline and his approach to Olam Habah - the next world. I was informed that medical care was slowing down and to expect the unexpected phone within a day or so. My gut reaction to may similar situations would be to want to go and be with my friend. Unfortunately living so far away historically has limited me and my family members to attend both happy and sad occasions with friends and family. My friend Chaim recently married off his third and last girl (only has girls). I had missed the first two weddings and I really intended to make the last one. Circumstances had it that I was to be iin Israel for my Mother’s Yahrzeit and really had no option to go to the wedding. It then hit me what Shlomo Hamelech wrote in Koheles, “that it is better to go to a house of mourning than to a house of rejoicing” like a wedding. It was too quick for me to attend the funeral and I reasoned that I would have more quality time with my friend at the Shiva house instead of going to the funeral where it would be too overwhelming to spend time together. At that moment I start the search for airline tickets and for reasons too long to discuss here I flew into Newark New Jersey instead of JFK in New York which was much closer as the Shiva was in Queens. The traffic in the New York New Jersey area is beyond painful. I knew there would be traffic and returning to the airport during the day would take a little longer. It is actually only about twenty-one miles from Queens to Newark airport and it took two hours and forty-five minutes, in contrast flying it took only five hours (less than double the amount of time) to travel three thousand miles from San Diego! When a righteous person travels Hashem can make a long distance go fast but if not righteous makes a short distance go extremely slow.

A perspective of traveling is how a person carries themselves. When we travel either by car, plane, horse and buggy, or the original way of travel the old plain walking way,  we are carrying our bodies from one place to another. Most often the ability to go faster sometimes depends on the load that we are carrying, as we can walk or run faster with out carrying baggage and stuff. At the end of Bamidbar and the beginning of Nasso we read of the Levite families doing their work and carrying the different parts of the Mishkan as they traveled through the desert.  Several commentators address the distinction between the work and the carrying by the Leviim.

In this week’s Parshas Nasso the Torah states in Bamidbar 4:24 "זאת עבודת משפחת הגרשני לעבוד ולמשא"  “The Gershonite family shall serve by maintaining and carrying as follows”. Chizkuni* explains the word to work or serve as the putting together the components of the Mishkan and erecting it when they camp came to rest, and to dismantle it as the people were about to move. This is confirmed by a passuk/verse earlier Bamidbar 1:51 "ובנסע המשכן יורידו אתו הלוים ובחנת המשכן יקימו אתו הלוים והזר הקרב יומת"  “When the Tabernacle is moved, the Levites shall take it down, and when it is to remain in one place, they shall set it up. Any non-Levite who participates shall die”. The Eben Ezer explains the word “to work” is putting up the Mishkan and making the showbread, slaughter and watch over. But it is the Sforno who connects the activities together by citing a different earlier verse Bamidbar 3:25 "ומשמרת בני גרשון באהל מועד המשכן והאהל..."  “The task of the descendants of Gershon involving the Communion Tent….” This speaking of the tasks when they were camped. Our verse here comes to relate that all the roles, tasks, involvement, and everything the Leviim did when the camp was “parked” and rested was also performed in the same detail when they traveled. The Levites had those same tasks of carrying it all when they traveled.

The concept of carrying and traveling is not limited to the physical items we shlep but in addition the Torah gives us a perspective to travel through our life. I am personally going through a process of leaving behind or ignoring some baggage that life accumulates along the way. When we hold on to ideas, pet peeves, philosophies that no longer serve us any good hold us back and slow us down from reaching a further greater destination in life. We only have a certain amount of time in this world, and we need to go as far as we can in the quickest way possible. We carry psychological baggage whether it is religious, work, family or world related that prevents us from accomplishing things in our life that we are capable of and will never come to realize by removing it.

We have a choice in life. We can decide to take a very short trip that will take a very long time to get to my destination and I may not even make it there. Or I can take a very long trip and get there quickly and have more time available to do even more.  We can all in a sense become Leviim and learn the lesson from Leviim to carry only the necessary things to serve Hashem. May each and everyone be Zocheh to merit work in their respective ways and with all the talents we are blessed with to serve the Creator on our journey.

*Chizkuni born in France, 1220-1260 is a commentary on the Torah of Rabbi Chizkiyah ben Manoach. Chizkuni, a compilation of insights culled from the Midrashim, as well as the writings of twenty other Rishonim, including Rashi, Rashbam and Ibn Ezra. However, Chizkuni does not name any of his sources (other than Rashi), to encourage objective study, as he felt that one should focus on the message rather than the messenger.

Parshas Bamidbar - Coffee, Torah & Shavuos   28 Iyar 5783

05/19/2023 09:07:33 AM

May19

Parshas Bamidbar typically occurs the week before the Yom Tov of Shavuos, as is the case this year. Several commentaries connect Bamidbar, the desert, as the prime location for the giving of the Torah. Har Sinai was not the tallest or mightiest mountain; it stood  smaller and less imposing than most of the surrounding mountains, representing humility, a necessary ingredient for one to succeed in Torah studies. Additionally, the desert is an area of the world that is “ownerless,” reflecting the notion of how no one person can claim the Torah as uniquely his own; the Torah is available for all of us to embrace - so long as we are up and awake. The tradition to stay up all night learning is to metakein, to fix the error of our ancestors who overslept the morning of Kabbolas HaTorah on Shavuos. Therefore, to ensure we don’t oversleep, we simply do not go to bed. A tool many use to stay up and study both secular and Torah subjects is to ingest caffeine through drinking two main beverages: coffee, and coke.

Shavuos is a major two-day festival holiday commemorating the date when God gave us the Torah on Mount Sinai. Every year for over 3,000 years, we celebrate this beautiful holiday by renewing our deep commitment to and acceptance of the gift of our Torah from Hashem; every Shavous Hashem ‘relives’ this precious gift to us.  Even though Shavous is not equivalent to the typically accompanying American secular Memorial Day which commemorates and honors those who lost their lives defending the United States, Shavous does include saying Yizkor, a perfect time to honor our deceased loved ones.

 As the summer approaches I recall a story that took place with my friend Buddy. Over the course of many summers, Buddy and a few of his friends worked at a few kosher hotels in the Catskills, a region in upstate New York. diligently the owner, of blessed memory, worked diligently at saving money and more importantly squeezing out every possible value of anything and everything in sight (and out of sight, HINT). The waiters were each given five Sanka coffee packets to serve to the guests. The waiters had to retrieve the opened packets and return them to the owner who then gave each of the waiters five new packets to distribute. At first, the staff reasoned that the owner was afraid guests and or staff were taking the coffee packets out of the dining room for later use… or who knows what, perhaps to sell them? Lo and behold, one day my friend Buddy witnessed the owner slicing the open coffee packets completely down the side to get to the few granules remaining in the bottom and sides of each packet and brushing them into a jar. My friend didn’t dare say anything but remarked that by the end of the summer this hotel owner had filled an entire jar with the remnants of the grinds from those used packets coffee!

There is a famous  expression “Good to the Last Drop” – a phrase actually used by Theodore Roosevelt, later adopted by Maxwell House Coffee in 1917. In truth, every Jew knows why Maxwell House had such success. There is no question it is attributed to the advertising for Pesach as the most famous Haggada which became known as the ‘Maxwell House edition’ Haggadah. 

The successful marketing of the phrase “Good to the Last Drop” was to emphasize to the drinker that every drop of the coffee was just as tasty as the first drop.  Far more to the point, each and every ounce is equal to make up the whole. This overtly simple marketing technique is actually an incredible lesson for all of us. Each and every one of us together make up the essence of life striving to deepen and connect with each other in an ever-deepening commitment to growing in knowledge of Torah and Mitzvos. In this week’s parsha, Parshas Bamidbar, the Torah states in Bamidbar 1:2 "שאו את ראש כל עדת בני ישראל למשפחתם לבית אבתם, במספר שמות כל זכר לגלגלתם"  “Take a census of the entire Israelite community. [Do it] by families following the paternal line, according to the names of each male, taken individually”. The term שאו / census reflects a ‘raising up’, indicating the counting of the Jewish people was used to lift them up in importance. This was accomplished in two ways: First, the act of counting the Jewish people created a sense of unity among the individuals who were now part of a larger whole. The Alshich HaKadosh comments the Shechina/God’s presence is meant to rest upon the group and not an individual, hence the Shechina could not rest upon the Jewish people as we were no longer individuals, but rather part of something bigger. Second, the ability to mention God’s name could not be done by the individual.  During the counting every person had to clearly state his name and  declare his unique trait and specific talent. The individual counted was special in that he had the ability to tilt the world to be in a better place with his expertise. It is for this reason that even when the Jewish people are in a group, they still individually bring a half shekel. Why a half shekel? A half shekel was brought to show I am not a complete person without someone else emphasizing that even my small coin has the ability to tip the scales. It is interesting to note the name of the coin is “shekel” which itself means to weigh and balance the scales.  As important and powerful as we are as individuals, we are reminded that we are still only half the person each of us  can strive to become.   It is only with the continuation of counting from one to the next to the next that we create a powerful team, a people who together form a solid whole, overcoming individual weaknesses.

The Jewish people is not only counted. Rashi emphasizes that we are precious; Hashem counts us, His precious nation, again and again, while also clearly demonstrating the importance of each and every person. Without that ‘one’ we don’t have the other. The Jewish people have been brought together, growing from those small granules that Hashem lovingly picks up and removes from the cracks and dark places, bringing them to be counted among the rest of Am Yisrael.  As we conclude the final week of the Omer, we look back and see how the individual days made it into weeks. Every Jew is represented as an individual day while the weeks are the different groups of the Jewish people. As we culminate the Omer with seven full weeks, we count and bring all the individuals who together form part of a group, bringing  the groups together as we did at Har Sinai to receive the Torah כאיש אחד בלב אחד  as one man with one heart to our Father in Heaven.

Parshas Behar/Bechukosai - How Do You Handle the News?    20 Iyar 5783

05/19/2023 09:05:04 AM

May19

There are several world-renowned lines of questioning that we all either come to ask or need to answer throughout the course of our lives. One of those questions took place during while teaching  my Chumash class at SCY High. I needed to convey two pieces of information to my students, one of which I knew they would welcome while the other would cause them to want to run away.  It’s important to note that for every question or piece of information I present, the response must be accompanied by an explanation of why. And so, I presented the question: “I have good news and bad news. Which do you want to hear first?” The class was pretty much split down the middle, half stating that they wanted to hear the bad news first, deal with it and get it out of the way and  then hear better news. The other half said they want to hear the good news first and have at least something positive which would help them to better deal with the bad news that follows.

A different situation may call for what you've likely heard as the ‘sandwich method’ (sometimes called the ’feedback sandwich’). The sandwich method starts off on a positive note, mentioning a constructive criticism, then finishes off with another positive comment. But if you only have one good and one bad, how do you choose? An additional consideration is who decides - the speaker or the receiver.

According to a 2013 study published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, most people with good and bad news to share prefer to share the good news first. (Researchers call it "priming emotion-protection," a fancy way of saying, "maybe this won't be so bad if I ease into it." But the same study shows that most recipients of good and bad news prefer to hear the bad news first, if only because that reduces the worry factor: If I know bad news is coming, I'll dwell on that -- and be less likely to take seriously or pay much attention to the good news. Maybe that's because we tend to prefer stories with happy endings. (No research is necessary to confirm that statement). Most people tend to feel anxiety and discomfort when receiving bad news, thus the news-recipients may choose to receive the bad news first so that the following good news will ultimately help to make them feel better.  Research confirms that most people would rather give good news first while the receiver prefers to hear the bad news first.

Studies and polls are very limited regarding the time and place where the assessment is occurring. As a result, the findings of the research is that it tends not to carry enough weight to determine permanent solutions and policies. That is not to say we do not rely on information in the short term when that is the only way to make decisions. By and large the Torah itself, which is immortal, does give us insight and direction for the past, present and future. With that said, we turn to the Torah to answer our question of what is the preferred order: the good then the bad or the bad then the good? The answer is quite simple. The Torah is replete with examples of the positive and good first,  followed by the negative. A few of the many examples of these include the blessings and the curses of Parshas Re’eh. The Torah states in Devarim 11:26 "ראה אנכי נתן לפניכם היום ברכה וקללה"  “You can therefore see that I am placing before you both a blessing and a curse”. In Devarim 27:11 when it comes to Har Gerizim and Eival, the Torah states "אלה יעמדו לברך את העם על הר גריזים...ואלה יעמדו על הקללה בהר עיבל"  “The ones who stand on Mount Gerizim for the people’s blessing….the ones who shall stand on Mount Eival for the curse”. While there are many more examples, I will demonstrate one more  comes from this week’s Torah reading.

The Torah in this week’s double Parshios of Behar and Bechukosai speaks of the Tochacha, the public rebuke and warning to the Jewish people regarding what might happen if we rebel against Hashem. Here again, the Torah first mentions the good and then the bad. In the beginning of Bechukosai, the Torah states in Vayikra 26:3: "אם בחקתי תלכו ואת מצותי תשמרו ועשיתם אתם. ונתתי גשמיכם בעתם"  “If you follow my laws and are careful to keep my commandments, I will provide you with rain.” Rain is an open sign of blessing, seen throughout the Torah, while draught is a curse. Only a few verses later, in 26:14, the Torah states: "ואם לא תשמעו לי ולא תעשו את כל המצות האלה"  “[But this is what will happen] if you do not listen to Me and do not keep my commandments.” Once again, we have the positive of observing the Torah and receiving the reward of rain,  followed immediately by the negative warning: if we don’t follow the Torah, bad things will befall us. On this passuk, Rav Baruch HaLevi Epstein* in his sefer Tosefes Bracha quotes a question from the famed commentary Ibn Ezra regarding why the blessings come short and concise while the curses are extensive and elaborate. The answer, generally speaking, is because the good characteristics outweigh and are greater than bad middos.  Rav Epstein explains that the curses are only mentioned to serve as a deterrent to frighten the people from sinning-  and we can never receive enough deterrents to keep us from sinning. The brachos/blessings will surely come true, so being exact, precise and to the point is sufficient. Rav Epstein continues with a short psychological insight that “good” comes in short bursts and small amounts. In the event something good from the blessing is lacking, it is no longer good but will be replaced with something else that is good. On the other hand, when it comes to curses, the “bad” appears and piles up, one upon another until the curses become impossible to bear.

On a personal note, I interpret the coming of the good first because I hope to take the bracha, the good and use it effectively so that there will no longer be a need for the other shoe -the “bad” to drop. Let me take something good now in the hopes that the bad will never come. It is always better to hear good news than to hear bad news, whether we are the speaker or the receiver. We should all be blessed with blessings and never need the lessons learned through being receivers of the bad.

* Rabbi Baruch Halevi Epstein was a very fascinating man who lived and studied in Lithuania from 1860-1941. He was the son of the great Rabbi Yechiel Michel Halevi Epstein, Rabbi of Novardhok and renowned author of the monumental halachic work Aruch Hashulchan. Additionally, his uncle was the famed “Netziv”, Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin, Rosh Yeshiva of the flagship Lithuanian yeshiva, Volozhin. In addition to coming from such illustrious Rabbinic stock, the younger Rabbi Epstein, despite being a bookkeeper by profession, was a noted Torah scholar in his own right. There is almost no shul or yeshiva in the world that does not carry his work “Torah Temima”, a highly informative and innovative commentary on Talmudic and Midrashic texts which he placed alongside the biblical source that spawned them. Despite some minor controversy, Torah Temima remains highly popular among the learned masses of Jews from across the spectrum.

Less well known, however, is another commentary he wrote on the Torah called “Tosefes Bracha”. This work is not formatted the same way as Torah Temima. Rather itis a standard-design freestyle commentary on the Chumash. Unlike Mekor Baruch, Tosefes Bracha has not been reprinted any time recently and is therefore difficult to find (in fact, it isn’t even one of the 40,329 seforim freely available on hebrewbooks.org!

Parshas Emor - It's All About Others....               14 Iyar 5783

05/04/2023 10:25:04 PM

May4

In this week’s Parsha Emor the Torah states in Vayikra 23:15,16 "וספרתם לכם ממחרת השבת מיום הביאכם את עומר  התנופה שבע שבתות תמימות תהיינה"   “You shall then count seven complete weeks after the day following the [Passover] holiday when you brought the omer as a wave offering”. "עד ממחרת השבת השביעית תספרו חמשים יום והקרבתם מנחה חדשה לה'"   “Until the day after the seventh week , when there will be [a total of] fifty days. On that fiftieth day you may present new grain as a meal offering to God”.

The Torah instructs us to count each day from the second day of Pesach for 49 days until the Holiday of Shavuos. Today is the 29th day of the Omer count, which means the holiday of Shavuos will take place in three weeks. The Sefiras Ha’Omer, the counting of the Omer,  is observed as a period of semi-mourning. There are a few reasons given for this, most prominent one being those 24,000 students of the famous Rebbe Akiva of the Mishna, died during this time period.

The Talmud reveals to us that these great students all passed away due to the same ailment: they did not honor each other in a rightful manner. Commentators explain that this was a subtle fault of theirs; because all of them were on such an elevated spiritual level, their shortcomings were brought under extra scrutiny.

Rabbi Dovid Saks, Director of the Jewish Heritage Connection in Scranton, PA, conveys an important lesson with regard to the death of Rabbi Akiva’s students: “Because of this tragic shortcoming and the subsequent loss, each of us is expected to work on remedying their failure by conducting ourselves in a respectful manner towards others especially during this time period.”

To further emphasize the importance of this lesson, Rabbi Saks brought out some beautiful examples of sensitivity:

When Eliyahu ben Shlomo Zalman (1720-1797), later known as the great Vilna Gaon, was  six years old, he ran out to play with a friend on a see-saw but quickly ran back to his father, explaining that playing on the see-saw caused his friend to be lowered in order for him to be raised up. “This goes against all that I have learned!” he exclaimed!”  Through such sensitivity to others and beautiful Middos (character traits), Eliyahu grew to become a great tzaddik as well as a brilliant scholar.

Rabbi Saks then describes a seemingly minor event in the life of Rabbi Yaacov Kaminetzky, Z”L, frequently referred to as ‘Chakima D’Yehudai’, the wise man of the Jews.  He was a life-long friend of Rabbi Aharon Kotler, founder of the Lakewood Yeshiva, and was among the first to promote English-language sefarim. Rabbi Saks relates a time when Rabbi Kaminetzky was one of two passengers in a car when the driver was entering an intersection and Rabbi Kaminetzky noticed a city bus with its left blinker indicating the need to merge into traffic.  Rabbi Kaminetzky instructed his driver to let the bus merge ahead of them. Reb Yaacov explained that even though they were pressed for time and had the right-of-way, they were only two passengers in their car while the bus was filled with many people. Even though it’s likely that no one on the bus took notice of the car allowing the bus to go first, this was an example of character refinement being a personal exercise.  Our behavior is not dependent upon others recognizing what we do for them.

And lastly, Rabbi Saks writes of a young mother in the 1940’s trying to decide what type of school she should consider for her two young boys.  She was unhappy when watching the disrespectful manner in which the local public-school children behaved.  Passing Yeshiva Rabbeinu Yaacov Yosef (RJJ), she was impressed with the polite and respectful way the students behaved at dismissal and so decided to enroll her sons.  The boys of the yeshiva had no idea a woman they had never met would be so impressed with their respectful behavior.  This woman’s sons ultimately became great rabbis and teachers, raising families of their one with hundreds of descendants continuing to demonstrate sensitivity to others and beautiful Middos.

Today, Friday May 5th is Pesach Sheini.  During the first year after the exodus, as Pesach approached, anyone ritually impure was not permitted to participate in the Pascal lamb. Those prohibited from this participation complained to Moshe.  Moshe then turned to God, asking for guidance. God did not tell Moshe, “Too bad.  They’re not able to participate.” Rather, God told Moshe to establish an alternate date, providing the opportunity for those who were not able to participate on Pesach to be given another chance one month after Passover on the 14th of Iyar.  Again, Rabbi Saks asks us to consider what significance there is regarding the 14th of Iyar to Passover.  The Talmud explains that the matzah which the Jews hurriedly baked on their way out of Egypt lasted until the 14th of Iyar, connecting directly back to the exodus. Immediately following this event, on the 16th of Iyar, the Jews asked Moshe for food, and God responded by providing manna from heaven, providing ample food for all the Jews during their travels.

I would like to suggest that the lesson of great Middos comes from Moshe - and ultimately from Hashem. When asked to participate in some fashion, Moshe could have turned to them exclaiming, “it’s too bad, you missed out”. Instead, Moshe patiently told the people to wait until he retrieved an answer from Hashem telling him what to do. The Almighty, in His benevolence, allowed the people a second chance because they showed a desire to participate.

In conclusion, everything returns to exhibiting sensitivity and good Middos which we need to show each other, especially in their time of need. During the remaining weeks until we receive the Torah anew on Shavuos, we each need to remind ourselves how Middos, good character, is a prelude to receiving and fulfilling the Torah.

Ah Gutten Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

 

Parshas Acharei Mos / Kedoshim - Playing with Fire                        7 Iyar 5783

04/27/2023 08:51:57 PM

Apr27

The modern state of Israel just celebrated its Diamond Hebrew anniversary date, Mazal Tov! No country in the world has ever grown so rapidly since its inception as Israel. The expansion of Israel is evident in all sectors - education, agriculture, science, the military, and the list goes on and on. There is no question in most people’s minds that this is nothing short of a miracle, having been born only three years after the Jewish people were decimated, losing one third of its population worldwide. 

I look back and reflect on my own perspective of the span covering forty-one years of travelling to Israel.  My first visit took place in 1982, the year I studied in Yeshiva. Following that year,  fast forwarding over four decades, the country has changed dramatically, experiencing remarkable growth, both for better and for worse. First, the modernization of Israel is laudable.  It’s amazing to see how immigrants who arrived with minimal skills, totally impoverished, now share the wonder of seeing their children graduate from college and become part of the mainstream of Israeli life.  Building and construction used to have thirty Arabs  pouring cement, making the concrete, carrying up the bricks to buildings that were no taller than three stories. Today, there are still thirty Arabs building and constructing skyscrapers, only now one person works a crane one minute then jumps onto the Deere equipment while the other twenty-nine  stand around doing nothing. A sad change over this period is that I remember as a yeshiva student forty-one years ago, every Friday a bunch of us would catch  a Sheirut (a large nine passenger taxi) from Yerushalayim back to the Yeshiva in Telz-Stone. This number of Jewish and Arab passengers varied on each trip, but sometimes I was the only Jew traveling with eight Arabs (plus the Arab driver) through Abu Ghosh which was the town adjacent to Telz-Stone. Unfortunately, the security situation, as we’re all aware,  has deteriorated so markedly today  that terrorism knows no bounds, Rachmana Litzlan (Heaven should save us). Nevertheless, on a lighter note I’ll share both a positive and a negative observation of  Israel throughout the last forty-five years.

There are a few areas of modernization and technology where Israel has left many other advanced countries in the dust. Israel, known as the start-up nation, has earned worldwide recognition from advances in medical research, major archeological discoveries, climate change research, and  oceanographic research to name just a small sampling In contrast, parking a car in Israel has always been challenging, leading to fewer and fewer available parking spaces and more and more cars looking for a place to park. Available parking locations can be blocks away from the area the driver and passengers need to walk to. Long gone are the days of meters, and even putting a little ticket in your windshield allowing you to park for a fixed amount of time is no longer available.

Honk honk, pull over, one of the most popular parking apps is Pango, a pioneer in this field, which was founded in 2005. The app offers the convenience of cashless paying for curbside parking – without the need to use parking meters. It’s available for Android, iOS users in 60 cities in the US and Israel. This app also reminds its users when their time is running out, allowing them to buy more time, acting as a virtual parking meter at the touch of your fingertips. Pango’s last round of funding garnered $6.5 million in 2015. The Pango app currently allows drivers to pay for parking at street meters and in parking lots in over 60 cities in Israel, Europe, and the US. Drivers using Pango to park activate the app, which determines their location. Using a built-in database, the app activates an on-phone “meter,” registering the car with a municipal database. Parking enforcement officials who check meters and give out citations for vehicles parked in spaces with expired meters query the database and pass over vehicles that have the Pango app running. Upon returning to their vehicle and ending the “parking event”, drivers are told how much they owe, the sum is added to their cellphone bill or a pre-registered credit card and collected later by the parking enforcement agency.  Sounds great, right? Well… first for an old timer such as myself, it’s necessary to familiarize yourself with setting it up and checking to be sure you understand how to use the app. The major “glitch” that affected me is that it’s necessary to remember to start the Pango app when you park, and…even more importantly you also need to remember stop the timer when you leave the space! During my last trip to Israel, I paid more into the app while driving than I paid when my car was parked! Pango literally got me coming and going. The lesson is clear.  We need to know and to understand when to start and when to stop or shut down.  This is symbolized in the teachings of our sages by the life and death of Aharon’s two sons, Nadav and Avihu.

In this week’s Parshas Acharei Mos/Kedoshim, the Torah states in Vayikra 16:1 "וידבר ה' אל משה אחרי מות שני בני אהרן בקרבתם לפני ה' וימתו"  “God spoke to Moshe right after the death of Aharon’s two sons who brought an [unauthorized] offering before God and died”. Reb Yisrael ben Eliezer 1698-1760, known as the Baal Shem Tov בעל שם טוב, asks a question regarding the double language used in the verse. He explains from three different sources (Midrash Rabbah 44:6, Rashi in Sotah 33 and Rashi in Parshas Re’eh) that Chaza”l explain anytime the word אחר  (achar) is used it means something close by, and when the word אחרי  (acharei) is used it means separated or distanced. With this rule we can explain the death of Nadav and Avihu, Aharon’s two sons, in a new light. The word “after” in this week’s opening verse is “Acharei” with the yud indicating that the fear of death was far away - distant from them. Every minute of the Kohein’s service is wrought with fear that if they make a mistake, they face certain death. Nevertheless, a Kohain stands tall and ready to address the task at hand, with the full awareness of their limit and never to cross a certain line. One could imagine that every moment the Kohein grows closer to Hashem, his soul may just leave him if he makes a mistake - as his closeness grows.  Yet, they became too comfortable and distant, no longer fearing that death was an option by getting too close.

Nadav and Avihu were cocky. They lost their Yiras HaShem and were not afraid, becoming careless in their Temple service. This led to the devastating sin resulting in their death. So, too, we need to be fearful and aware of how we serve Hashem, remaining always cognizant of where we stand in front of God. If we maintain our fear, meaning how we daven, how we speak, how we treat others, how we learn, these combined focused actions will form a positive living experience, thereby avoiding the opposite results which grow from believing we can live a free-for-all lifestyle devoid of consideration for our Yiras HaShem, serving Hashem up close without overstepping the boundaries.

Ah Gutten Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas Tazria/Metzora - Learning to Handle the Truth      30 Nissan 5783

04/21/2023 08:16:09 AM

Apr21

The Jewish people are called “B’Nei Yisrael” but are also referred to as the “Beis Yaakov”. When Yaakov’s name was changed by God, it was not meant to be a name that would replace the previous name, as was the case with Avraham and Sorah; rather it provided another dimension of who Yaakov was. Rabbeinu Bachya, in Parshas Vayechi, points out that the name Yaakov is used when describing something physical, while the name Yisrael stood for the spiritual side of the person whom his children would emulate.

I have often written, spoken, and taught about how Hashem created man with a dichotomy of the physical and the spiritual within a physical world. We human beings maintain both a physical and a spiritual side of who we are; not only do these characteristics exist side by side, they are intertwined with each other. We find the spiritual often compliments the physical and vice versa. The neshama represents the spirit and the guf/body represents the physical parts of a person, each very likely to almost mirror the other. When the spiritual dominates, then both the body and soul flourish. On the other hand, if the physical dominates, then at the end of a life, the person is bereft of not only the spiritual but also the physical.  As a Rabbi, I am a strong proponent of working and caring for the neshama and the religious concerns of an individual. At the same time, the Torah admonishes us to be healthy, to watch over our health; and this is where the spiritual and physical - the body and soul - need to be on the same page.

Taking care of one’s health is directly in line with fulfilling a religious obligation. I strive to be in line and schedule regular and annual appointments for my general health and specific areas of medical concern. I am not perfect, but I see the physician and the only thing I need to do is to follow the medical advice I receive. A few years ago (during Covid) I had a pimple on my nose which caused me concern. I turned to Google, researching all the symptoms and possible diagnoses. This got me nervous enough to go see a dermatologist. I always noticed different kinds of spots on my body - some brown, some red, little bumps, and skin tags. Since then, I took care to have annual physicals to inspect all the spots on my body. On my last visit I noticed how quickly the doctor scanned and looked at the different spots on my body. He identified each one, describing and explaining what they were, assuring me, Baruch Hashem, that they were of no concern. I was amazed as he recognized the different sizes, shapes and color of each spot and declared all to be normal. This immediately recalled something eerily similar in the spiritual world known as Tzoraas, which, as we’re all aware, is a spiritual malady that has physical manifestations. Hence, we see the crossing over of the spiritual and physical. My dermatologist, Dr. Ginsberg (who btw I highly recommend) reminded me of what a Kohein may do when a person comes for a check-up when certain spots and colors appear on a body. Unfortunately, we do not take the word of a Kohein to the same degree of importance as we do a doctor. In other words, when it comes to a physical or medical issue, we heed the word of a doctor, but when a spiritual issue arises, we tend to brush off the advice and instruction of the spiritual leader. This is highlighted in this week’s Torah reading.

The Torah in this week’s Parshas Tazria and Metzora states in Vayikra 14:3 "ויצא הכהן אל מחוץ למחנה, וראה הכהן והנה נרפא נגע צרעת מן הצרוע"  “The priest [Kohein] shall go outside the camp, where he shall examine the leper to determine that the leprous mark has healed”. This verse can be explained in a virtue-based ethical manner (derech Mussar). Earlier in Vayikra 4:3 the Torah states “ “אם הכהן המשיח יחטא לאשמת העם.... “If the anointed priest [Kohein]commits an inadvertent violation, bringing guilt to his people, the sacrifice for his violation shall be an unblemished young bull as a sin offering to God.” If the leaders of the Jewish people, the individuals upon whom we trust and rely, make a mistake unintentionally and turn from the proper path, it “brings guilt to the people”- leading the people to walk in their footsteps of sin. This is hinted in the words “The priest [Kohein] shall go outside the camp”. The Kohein went out from his spiritual camp to the camp of the ordinary. Then, because of his going out of his camp to the non-Kohein camp “… he shall examine the leper to determine that the leprous mark has healed” feeling the pressure and learning from others what they want to hear. He [the Kohein] will give a “hechsher”- a stamp of approval and declare the man free and clean of Tzoraas/leprosy. Meaning, he will learn the ways of what the people want to hear: that it is not leprosy, that the food is kosher, that this activity is permissible, you can do this, you can do that, and so forth, because the leader responds to what the questioner wants to hear as their answer.

This is not the case with a medical professional. While we hope the doctor will give us good news, assuring us all test results were negative, however, if the prognosis turns out to be positive, in essence we need and want to hear the truth. If, Rachmana Litzlan (Heaven forbid), a person is diagnosed with an illness and needs medical intervention with medicine or treatments, the doctor doesn’t just say “Ah, you’ll be fine. You don’t have to do anything, just continue to live your life as is and enjoy.” To the contrary, we would sue the doctor for malpractice and for jeopardizing the patient’s life.

We all understand and appreciate the need for the doctor to be up front, to tell us something we need to hear. Why should it be different if the spiritual leader, be it the Kohein who checks for Tzoraas or a modern-day Rabbinic figure, be any different?               

Ah Gutten Shabbos,

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas Vayikra - The Fine Print    1 Nisan 5783

03/23/2023 12:29:49 PM

Mar23

This week's Dvar Torah is sponsored anonomously for a continued Refuah Shelaima for Eitan Yakov ben Miriam Esther 

Have you ever listened to a commercial for a new drug? The advertisement gets patients excited about something that may help improve their lives only to hear a bunch of warnings quickly rattled off noting severe side effects,  potential risks and possible death if the drug is taken. Ever read the bottom of an advertisement for a new medication? It, too, has numerous warnings written in illegible, microscopic type. Have you ever received a one-paragraph or even a one-word email from an attorney that will automatically say at the bottom of the message, “Please read the legal disclaimer that governs this email and any attachments.” When you click on the underlined legal disclaimer, a twenty-page document filled with disclaimers, disclosures, and warnings opens for your reading pleasure. In the financial realm, one reads articles or attends seminars to gain knowledge and advice on an array of money matters. After all is said and done, there are disclaimers stating these are “forward-looking statements, hypotheticals, illustrations and examples”.

 What does a disclaimer do or mean? A disclaimer is a formal statement saying that the individual or business is not legally responsible for something, such as the information provided in an advertisement, an email, or  in a book. A disclaimer is in place specifically to protect your business against potential legal claims. For example, its policy will prove a key document and help to protect your business against liability, should the action result in a court case. Other declarations come in the form of a statement such as: "The author assumes no responsibility or liability for any errors or omissions in the content of this site. The information contained in this site is provided on an "as is" basis with no guarantees of completeness, accuracy, usefulness, or timeliness.”

Once upon a time a person made a statement or wrote something that had meaning and backing. That all changed, at least in the United States, when mandatory messages first appeared after the passage of the Federal Caustic Poisons Act (FCPA) of 1927, a law that ordered sellers of poisons to provide warning labels on their bottles. Of course, warnings of hazardous, and poisonous ingredients should be in bold, large font.  Information regarding vitally important ingredients or issues should not be presented in a type size so small that the reader needs to squint and strain his eyes to see, nor should it be verbally explained at high speed and in a barely audible frequency. In all my decades of  earning, I never read a commentary from any of the Rishonim, Acharonim, and or modern day Poskim who include any disclaimers at the end of their explanations, decisions, or rulings.  

In Judaism things are reversed; the warnings and explanations are up front, written  in large font, inviting easy readability with full, clear disclosure. As we now begin Sefer Vayikra - the book of Leviticus - we immediately confront all of the sacrifices that a person might come to offer.

There are many reasons given that the offering of sacrifices brings atonement to a sinner for his sins.  Both the Ramban and Rabbeinu Bachya explain that although some reasons are given, nevertheless, there are deep secrets and understandings which we are incapable of grasping. With that said, I will present five general reasons why we offer sacrifices, all of which are possible for our human intellect to process. The five reasons are taken from the Meam Loez. The first reason is to arouse the hearts of man that when he committed a sin he rebelled against God. In the event that one may contemplate how it could be possible for a lowly human being to have the audacity to go against Hashem’s will,  Hashem commanded a person who sinned to return, to repent, and do to the animal one of the four capital punishments that this individual  deserved.  Since God is compassionate, He gives an extension of life to a human being, and the sacrificial animal takes his place. Therefore, when mentioning the Korbanos/sacrifices, it is always LaHashem, representing mercy and not L’Elokim, which is judgment. Reason number two is to offer a way for the Kohanim to receive sustenance. The Kohanim do not receive land in Israel and therefore needed support through different means, in this case working the sacrifices in the Beis HaMikdash and also being exclusively entitled to certain parts of the sacrificial animal.  A person can dedicate his work and service with more attention when there is no need to worry about parnassa. The third reason, given by the author of Akeida Toldos Yitzchok, explains the sacrificial offering as a penalty. Requiring a person who sinned to shell out big money to purchase an animal created regret and perhaps a method of prevention against future violations. Money talks, and if a person would have to pay for every sin committed, it just might curb some of those instincts and spare a person’s bank account. The fourth reason, given over in the name of the Eben Ezra, is to make a person think about his/her actions and have a heavy heart when contemplating the process the animal must go through because of the person’s actions or behavior. He must watch the slaughter of the animal and then watch as it burned into ash and dust, similar to what happens to a person at the end of his life. It reminds the sinner that it is not worth the fleeting moment of physical pleasure, now realizing that his actions were all for nothing. The entire sacrificial process reminds a person that only the mitzvos and good deeds performed in this world will bring him to the next world. The fifth reason, according to the Rambam in the Moreh Nevuchim, is that we offer Korbanos – sacrifices - to distance the Jewish people from the impurity of idolatry. The Jews watched the Egyptians worshipping the lamb and sheep, knowing that it was forbidden to kill those animals. Hashem gave the Jewish people a mitzva to sacrifice the very kind of animals that represented the deities of the Egyptians. When we sacrificed these animals in the Beis HaMikdash, we reversed the distancing from Hashem,  growing closer to Him. The definition of the word Korban means ‘to get close’, and through these actions we grow closer to Hashem.

The first Parsha of Vayikra presents and lays out all the mechanisms needed to repair our relationship with Hashem. The rest of Vayikra is filled with descriptions of the sins and situations of impurity and process for correcting and strengthening our relationship with Hashem. The warnings and safety precautions are mentioned first, prior to acting inappropriately or finding ourselves in situations requiring the bringing of one of those sacrifices mentioned at the very beginning of Sefer Vayikra.  

Parshas Vayakhel/Pekudei/HaChodesh - The Blood is our Spiritual Lifeline       24 Adar 5783

03/23/2023 12:28:23 PM

Mar23

This week’s Dvar Torah is sponsored by Shalom and Malke Brookler and family for a continued Refuah Shelaima for Eitan Yakov ben Miriam Esther 

“All my stories are true; just some have not happened yet.” This is a famous opening line of my Rosh HaYeshiva, Rabbi Wein. Rabbi Wein would often tell stories of his trips, meetings, adventures, vacations, and everyday life. A person’s life experiences create a story, providing the opportunity to process, speak about and ultimately write about, particularly through occurrences during  travel. Although I do not and most probably never will travel as much as Rabbi Wein, I nevertheless believe I do my fair share of traveling.   

Most of my trips and layovers are short, so I tend not to take advantage of or even need access to a lounge. On my most recent trip to Israel, I had a longer than usual layover, and thanks to my son had access to a lounge in San Francisco. The lounge has better sitting, more charging stations, worktables, and an array of food and drinks. I only partake of the soft drinks and fruit. As I was relaxing and minding my own business, an Israeli man sat down with some salad and other non-kosher food. As a Rabbi I was so tempted to engage with him about food and blessings, etc. The salad was not bug free but nevertheless  kosher, warranting a bracha. I guess I am getting old because I kept my mouth shut, watching as he ate non-kosher food and salad without a bracha. I didn’t even offer him my kippah to don while eating. We began to exchange some small talk. I asked him where he was from, what type of work he was in and discussed the political situations both here in America and in Israel. He lives in the Kattamon neighborhood of Yerushalayim but said he was born in Iran. He proceeded to tell me he had arrived in Israel about ten years ago. I became very interested in his journey from Iran to Israel; when he told me he was from Iran, he added that he was born a Muslim. My attention now turned from being interested to being fascinated. He related how all members of his family were devout Muslims and adhered to Sharia law. According to Sharia law, alcohol is forbidden. At the age of sixteen, he was traveling in a car with family to a cousin’s wedding. Apparently, one of the passengers had brought along a bottle of alcohol and was discovered by the Sharia police at a check point. They were all arrested, beaten, and endured horrific tortures that I cannot repeat here in writing. He thought to himself that this religion was not so loving after all and questioned his own religious beliefs,  eventually ceasing  believing altogether. Through some introspection and learning, he felt the truth of the world and decided, at great risk to himself and his family, to convert. At this point I grew  mesmerized by his tale, anticipating with a glow and tingle  how he came to make this monumental, life-altering decision. As I sit here writing, sort of grinning now, he told me found the truth… and converted to Christianity! I could not believe what I was listening to - a Muslim, converting to Christianity,  now living in Jerusalem! He then continued telling me how he had found the “light”, continuing on and on about how wonderful this was…and then the hammer dropped as he began to talk to me about Yeshua, JC, attempting to proselytize me. I was polite and listened for a few more minutes, exchanged names and then I excused myself, saying I needed to check in for the flight.  The only silver lining to the story was that I was glad - in hindsight - not to have attempted to teach or convince him to eat only kosher food and make brachos before eating.

I have often pondered why other religions see a need to convert Jews. Jews accept sincere people who seek out conversion, but we do not go out and proselytize. This was not the first time I found myself to be a target; perhaps getting a rabbi to convert fetches a bigger prize. Yet, I processed that  it is the upcoming holiday of Pesach that clearly defines us as devoted to Hashem, confirming our identity and faithfulness in Him. This coming Shabbos we read the final special section that is read before Purim and again before Rosh Chodesh Nissan. Parshas HaChodesh describes the preparation, offering, and eating of the Korban Pesach, the Paschal lamb. The Torah commands the Jews how to avoid being killed during the final plague. In Parshas Bo, Shmos 12:13, the Torah states "והיה הדם לכם לאת על הבתים אשר אתם שם וראיתי את הדם ופסחתי עלכם, ולא יהיה בכם נגף למשחית בהכתי בארץ מצרים"  “The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are staying. I will see the blood and pass you by (pasach). There will not be any deadly plague among you when I strike Egypt.” A famous question is asked: ”Why did Hashem require us to place the blood of the lamb on the doorpost?” Rabbi Azarya Piccio [Figo], in his commentary Binah L’Itim, Lublin 1875, explains that the biggest obstacle we had when leaving Mitzrayim was the accusation that the Jews worshipped idolatry, just like the Egyptians. Therefore, the first instruction God gave to Moshe and Aharon was to tell the Jews that on the tenth of the month “they shall take one lamb per household”. The language used was,משכו , to drag the lamb through the streets, openly disgracing the symbolic god of the Egyptians, demonstrating no fear  of the Egyptians who were watching this open act of defiance. The Jews were commanded to display defiance, to exhibit no fear of retribution. But that was only the beginning. The second and greater display of Emunah in Hashem was the slaughtering of the lamb. Hundreds of Jewish families were out in the open markets and streets shechting their lambs on the fourteenth of Nissan. Again, the Egyptians stood, dumbfounded and unable to do anything against the Jews. The third remarkable sign of resilience the Jews displayed took place when they ate the lamb, placing  its blood on their doorposts and lintels for the Egyptians to see, watching, helpless to react as they passed by the Jewish homes. The Egyptians asked, ”What is this blood!”, soon understanding that the  Jews were eating the meat of their god. One would think the Egyptians would be so aroused with righteous fury that they would take up weapons and storm the Jewish homes with the intent of killing the Jews. Nevertheless, this never entered the minds of the Jews who showed complete confidence in Hashem against idolatry. The blood was be a sign not necessarily to Hashem to know which house to pass over. It was, rather, a sign to the Jewish people themselves to be with Hashem. As a result of this dedication, Hashem promised that no Jew will be harmed throughout this night, despite the accurate accusation of the Jews who chose to worship the idol of the lamb, emulating their Egyptian counterparts. Behold, Moshe instructed the Jews not to go out of their houses until morning. This was to strengthen their dedication as they might have been overcome with fear of the enemy attacking them. The sign of the blood reinforced their Emunah as though it were an invitation for the Egyptians to storm in and attack; but the Jews were steadfast and remained defiant and secure in their homes.

So too, today, as the forces of idolatry and other religions surround us, we need to remain strong Jews, knowing in perpetuity that Hashem is there to protect us. We need to be careful never to give in even when we fear we are in trouble. Being in trouble and not running displays our complete, eternal love and security in Hashem, leading ultimately to the Geulah/redemption. This Shabbos as we read about the blood, it should give us strength to defy everything in the world that is anti-Torah, anti-religion, and anti-Hashem. Through this dedication we, too, in our generation will bring forth not only a Geula, but the Geulah Shelaima, ridding us of fear, strengthening our holiness and oneness with Hashem. Amen!   

Parshas Ki Sisa / Parah - Labels & Libels          17 Adar 5783

03/10/2023 02:42:26 AM

Mar10

This Dvar Torah is L'Ilui Nishmas Yocheved bas Tzvi, Anita Bogopulsky z"l on her Yahrzeit 17 Adar

Books are the core instructional tools of education, the written material shaped to meet the age and appropriate teaching level for the student. Many of the Jewish publications are focused on middos - character development and the proper way a child, and every Jew should behave. One of my favorite books which I enjoyed reading to my children and now grandchildren, is a play on words titled “Labels for Laibel”. Laibel, a boy, was taught many lessons about labels. Laibel would go around and put labels on many different items. The obvious message of this book is one which I believe presents a very important lesson for our generation.  It would be a very valuable contribution to write an adult version of this story, bearing the same title, but written to serve the opposite connotation – we should not put labels on everything, especially people.  Unfortunately, people put labels on themselves. On my last trip to Chicago, it was pointed out to me that some people were wearing a certain brand of overcoat that cost the same as a typical monthly mortgage payment. I asked, ”How do you know”? My wife  explained that a certain patch or label is displayed prominently on the outside of the coat. This is not a new phenomenon; every piece of designer clothing advertises its brand (ironically, we pay the designer companies to advertise their brand for them). Does wearing an article of clothing, driving a certain car, living in a certain neighborhood, really express anything about the quality of the individual who wears the clothing, drives the car, or lives in an affluent neighborhood? The answer: maybe yes, maybe no. 

We are fresh off the vibrant, festive days of Purim (I am currently in Yerushalayim) whereby one of the major components of the day has been to dress up, almost becoming someone whom we either emulate or despise, or dress up for the fun of being a little goofy and wild. The symbolism of the type of clothing or the uniforms we wear are often used by others to identify who that individual is, and even more concerning, to interpret what they stand for. A person who wears a police uniform is assessed from two opposite viewpoints -  either someone who is there to protect me, or if I did something wrong, someone who is coming to get me. In Judaism, and I’m sure in other religions as well, a person is identified and labeled according to his or her attire. Even cultural dress may dictate a certain bent on a person’s religious beliefs and association.

The dress code on Purim is certainly relaxed but nevertheless still must be within the guidelines of Halacha. Within the accepted parameters of Purim, we can take on a different identity; whether it is to make a statement or not is not the point. Rather, it is a reflection of a different component of whom we are which we allow to emerge and take center stage for the day. Unfortunately, the other three hundred sixty-four days of the year we find ourselves mostly dressed with and assessed by a single overt label. That label is, unfortunately, the measure of who we view ourselves as being or think who another person is and what he or she is all about. We look at and tend to judge someone through the lens of viewing how they dress and from that viewpoint determine how they think, how religious and observant they are, judging them by the ‘label’ we see them wearing. It is interesting to note that we say Purim is Yom K’Purim; the day of Yom Kippur and the day of Purim are very much related to each other. There are many beautiful interpretations, but I’ll share my own connection that I have not seen anywhere.  Yom Kippur is a day so holy that the Satan does not have the ability to influence us. The gematria, the numerical value of השטן – HaSatan - The Satan, is three hundred sixty four. It is that number of days which indicate when the Satan can harm us. But the one day, number three hundred sixty-five, the day of Yom Kippur, is hands off. So, too, is the day of Purim. During the entire year, for three hundred sixty-four days, the Satan influences us to label others and judge them by what they are wearing – viewed from their outer garb -  and not for whom they might be when viewed from within -, from their hidden selves. Only on, Purim that one day of the year, The Satan does not cause us to sin by thinking ill about a fellow Jew.

The basis for our flaw- passing judgment and labeling others - is because we do not live up to the honor of being a Tzelem Elokim, to be in the image of God. Hashem is able to see through the exterior, the outer trappings of a human being; Hashem knows the  essence which defines who we really are and what we are genuinely about. We have fallen short of a very simple directive that the rabbis have taught us:  מה הוא רחום, אף אתה רחום  - Just as He is merciful, so, too, we should be merciful. We are here to emulate God, to take on the image in which He created us. God is multi-dimensional; His many characteristics, His multiple character traits, are known as Middos. The character traits were used by Moshe Rabbeinu to defend the Jewish people in the aftermath of the greatest national sin committed by the Jewish people, the golden calf.

In this week’s Parshas Ki Sisa the Torah states in Shmos 34:6"ה' ה' קל רחום וחנון, ארך אפים ורב חסד ואמת. נצר חסד לאלפים נשא עון ופשע וחטאה, ונקה לא ינקה פקד עון אבות על בנים ועל בני בנים על שלשים ועל רבעים"   - “Hashem, Hashem, God, Merciful and Gracious, Slow to Anger, and Abundant in Kindness and Truth; Preserver of Kindness for two thousand, Forgiver of Iniquity and Willful Sin, and Error, and Who Absolves – but does not absolve completely; He remembers the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and upon the grandchildren, upon the third and upon the fourth”. These are the Thirteen Middos/Traits of Hashem that we need to follow. It was this formula that Moshe Rabbeinu defended the Jewish people with to avoid them being wiped out. There is a Mitzvas Asei/Positive commandment to walk in the ways of Hashem within their capacity as it states in Devarim 8:9 והלכת בדרכיו  - and you shall go in His ways. The Sifri in Parshas Eikev 11 - מה הקב"ה נקרא חנון אף אתה חנון, וחסיד וגו'  - in all Middos/character traits that Hashem is described, so, too, every man needs to imitate and copy Him in His ways. Reb Chaim Vital, in his work Shaarei Kedusha Shaar Gimmel, writes that these Middos/traits are not counted among the six hundred thirteen commandments because they are the primary function and fundamental part of the Mitzvos. Without these concepts it would be impossible to fulfill the Mitzvos of the Torah. I might add that it is truly impossible to live up to what a true human being needs to be. The Vilna Gaon echoes these points in his commentary to Megillas Esther 10:3: “Hashem is multi-faceted without names and without labels.  His traits are to see through everything – every one and every thing.  If we emulate Hashem and use His Middos in the way we look at others and the way others look at us, we will all be able to drop the labels and see each individual Jew in Klal Yisrael as a unique, one-of-a-kind person to be respected, not judged. When all these individuals, each with his/her own unique brand come together, we will become that one unique nation among the world known as Am Yisrael, the one and only!     

Parshas T'Tzaveh/Zachor - It's not what they call you, it's what you answer for!                      9 Adar 5783

03/02/2023 09:12:09 AM

Mar2

Buddy, my long-time close friend, and I talk about old times and people whom we mutually know from past decades. We tell each other who we may have met from our mutual past and try to guess who they are, based on imbedded hints. On several occasions, Buddy told me he attended an event and a vaguely familiar-looking guy approached him  exclaiming, ”Hi Buddy! How have you been!” Buddy did not recognize this person, so after an uncomfortable space of time, Buddy confessed and excused himself, explaining,  “I’m sorry, but could you remind me who you are?”  At that, this individual expressed hurt that Buddy didn’t recognize him, even though it may have been thirty years since he last saw him! This has happened to me as well, and therefore Buddy and I have decided to be proactive, together coming up with the plan that when meeting someone who knows us  we do not recognize him to immediately introduce ourselves, thereby opening the opportunity for the other guy to introduce himself to us.

A few weeks ago I attended a Rabbinical conference hosted by the Rabbinical Council of California. A general protocol at conferences is to place a nametag around your neck or wear a badge with your name stuck onto your attire. Since it had been three years since this conference previously took place, it was a good idea to wear the name tags, especially because I recognized the faces but could not remember the names.  I personally never like wearing those tags, most times choosing not to wear one, helping me to remain under the radar at these events.  Truth be told, for this event  I did so because of the stretch of time since the last conference. Additionally, I reasoned to myself that there is sure to  come a time when I am going to need to wear a name tag - not for others to know who I am - but for me to remember who I am!

This week’s Parshas T’Tzaveh is famous for not having Moshe Rabbeinu’s name mentioned, something that does not previously occur  from the time Moshe was born until his death - essentially every Parsha in the Torah from Shmos forward. Nevertheless, while we may not have Moshe’s name mentioned in the parsha, the significance of names that are posted is accentuated. The Torah states in Shmos 28:21 "והאבנים תהיין על שמות בני ישראל, שתים עשרה על שמותם פתוחי חותם איש על שמו תהיין לשני עשר שבט"  -  “The stones shall contain the names of the twelve tribes of Israel, one for each of the twelve [stones]. Each one’s name shall be engraved as on a signet ring to represent the twelve tribes”. A few verses later, in Shmos 28:29, the Torah states "ונשא אהרן את שמות בני ישראל בחשן המשפט על לבו בבאו אל הקודש לזכרן לפני ה' תמיד" “- Aharon will thus carry the names of Israel’s sons on the decision breastplate over his heart when he comes into the sanctuary. It shall be a constant remembrance before God”.  Rav Shimshon Pincus zt”l explains that the Bigdei Kehuna, the Kohein Gadol’s garments contained hidden hints and deep secrets regarding the essence of a human being.   Often, the clothing we wear are a reflection of our souls, reflecting who we are, and what we are really all about. For example, if a person wears the clothing of a talmid chochom, a Torah scholar, then everyone sees that his primary focus in life is all about Torah. On the other hand, someone who does not do anything with his life will display himself with clothing that testifies to whom he truly is  - or is not. about his  With this in mind, the clothing that the Torah commands a Kohein to wear during the Avoda/Temple service reveal certain characteristics of a wholesome, complete person standing ready to serve God. Previously, in Shmos 19:6 ,“…and you will be to Me a Mamleches Kohanim V’Goy Kadosh, A kingdom of Priests and a Holy nation. Therefore, every Jew is viewed as a Kohein vis a vis his/her serving Hashem. With this in mind, we can learn many things about how we must serve Hashem.

There are two places where the twelve names of the tribes are mentioned on the Kohein Gadol’s garments. The Choshen/breastplate is described as having the names of the tribes on his heart as he approached the Sanctuary. This is a hint that teaches us it is possible for one person to carry the entire Jewish people within his heart, meaning to be able to love and worry for the entire Jewish people. The אֵפוֹד was a type of apron, which was worn by the Kohen Gadol. The Torah commands “then take two lazuli stones and engrave on them the names of the sons of Israel”. Typically, an apron has two straps that go over the shoulder, representing that a person can carry the entire Jewish people on his back. This means that a person can carry the entire Jewish people through the greatness and strength of the Torah. The Jewish people had giants in their midst, for example, Rashi, of whom it was said,  ”"If not for for Rashi, Torah would have been forgotten, or wiped from the memory of the Jewish people.” Other great personalities including the Rif, Rambam, and Ramban, also carried the Jews of their generations. In every generation there are those leaders who carry the Jewish people in their hearts and on their shoulders. These giants are there for us through the good and bad times.

We see that the names of the tribes that were on the hearts of the garments of the Kohein Gadol were twelve stones - separated from each other - while the names on the ephod, the apron of the Kohein Gadol, were only on two stones. From this distinction we can derive - and learn - a very practical law. If a person credits the people to learn Torah and attain a greater fear of Heaven, he clearly brings the people closer together as one.  Nevertheless, when it comes to loving a fellow Jew, it is not enough just to love them because they are Jews, descendants of   Avraham, Yitzchok, and Yaakov. Rather, one needs to love each and every Jew independently, just for being a Jew, not only because he belongs to the greater Jewish people.

This is hinted with the twelve separated stones, for we know that the twelve tribes are like twelve distinct nations. Every nation has its own customs, laws, philosophy,  fundamental and philosophical differences apart from other nations which bring them to despise each other, eventually bringing them to war. So, too, this animosity at times existed between the tribes of Israel. Therefore, Hashem commanded that each tribe remain separated by a holy stone that was unique to its tribe, its people. The Kohein lifted the stones together, as one on his heart, because it was upon him to love every Jew as is, as they are, respecting each with their uniqueness, accepting every Jew from his tribe, along with his customs and traditions that he received from his father, despite all our differences.

As Purim approaches we are reminded how Haman accused the Jewish people of being a nation that was apart, and at that time, Haman was correct. We were not only physically all around the world, but we had overt division among us. When we repented the Jewish people, we didn’t make an effort to remain close physically and band together. Instead, we remained in our same location but succeeded to open up and treat every Jew as one person with one heart. Today more than ever before need to come together. We as the twelve tribes, and twelve distinct names must work to come together, to be one - the Children of Israel.        

Parshas Terumah - Preferred Seating               2 Adar 5783

02/24/2023 07:48:33 AM

Feb24

The internet has affected everyone’s life in one way or another during the last twenty years. This week, the U.S. Supreme court  is hearing/heard arguments regarding how platforms recommend content. Besides social media, the Internet has altered the way we shop, learn, and engage in all aspects of daily life. To sum up one area, the internet has become “our agent” for many purchases.  Take airline tickets, for example. While I still have a travel agent handle my international flights, most of us now book the majority of our tickets directly online. What used to be a simple process, has now become a maze of online navigation. The most recent assortment of choices centers on choosing a seat, especially if that seat is to be the spot on which to spend six or more hours sitting.

We have gone from buying a first-class seat to the eventuality of (you’ll excuse me) buying the bathroom seat. In between those two extremes, we have moved from business class to the main cabin with five or six choices of Preferred seats. Not too many years ago, most of us tended to choose just plain economy seats.  No more. Now there is Economy Plus, paying more for extra legroom, or buying a window seat or an aisle seat, or choosing to pay a little more for the bulkhead. . On some airlines, Preferred seating includes economy seats that have standard legroom but are closer to the front of the aircraft, located in the first few rows immediately behind Economy Plus seats. In addition, there are other benefits to Preferred seating even before getting on the plane! When purchasing preferred seating, you not only enjoy a better seat in the Economy class, you’ll also receive earlier onboard service and, when you land, get off the plane sooner, so you get to wait for your luggage just a little bit longer (Sorry, ‘Preferred’ economy is not business or first class, so the luggage doesn’t get unloaded earlier – at least not yet).

There are other areas of life where the benefits of ‘preferred’ seating can have a positive impact. In a classroom setting, preferential seating means that a student's seat is placed in a location which is most beneficial for his/her learning in the classroom. For example, if a student tends to be easily distracted,  his/her seat might be placed away from doors or windows which tend to cause potential distractions. Some might believe that placing a student in a less- distracting location is just  accommodating certain students. Keep in mind that accommodations are not interventions. Accommodations change the environment in some way. For example, they may allow a student to have preferential seating in the classroom, close to the board or near the teacher to help the student to focus on the lesson and to avoid distractions. An intervention, on the contrary, teaches a skill.

A third and final concept of “Preferential treatment” is when it comes to priority seating -  a system whereby the diner arrives at a restaurant at the time specified in advance, or the diner is seated as soon as a table becomes available. Any one of these three seating situations has benefits. Sometimes such benefits cost money; at other times, it just requires a phone call to reserve. The second scenario appreciates the value of education and learning.

Other seats we tend to think of are driver’s seats, passenger seats, and finally, strategically positioned seats such as in shul. I take notice of where people sit and their choice of location when they come into shul. I believe the choosing of a seat tells a great deal about a person, whether it is sitting in an aisle seat or choosing to sit in the front or the back row. There are  many hidden mental messages regarding these seat selections. Through observation, I know most people will choose a shul seat that gives them the most flexibility to arrive late or leave early. It’s interesting to observe that when it comes to a sporting, or entertainment event, many people are willing to pay a lot more money for the box or orchestra seats for themselves. So, let’s consider a far more important seating choice: If I needed to buy a seat for God where would it be? Well, it’s a good thing that God does not need to rely on me to buy Him a seat. He figures out a way to get His own. and it is our job to figure out where it is.

There is an age-old question; ”Where is God”? There are two answers given: the first, most often to a child, is “God is all over”. The second answer, one that can be appreciated by a thinking adult, is the Chassidic master’s answer: “God is wherever you let Him in”. So which one is it? Where does Hashem sit? The first answer is God is not a corporal being who has physical characteristics. God does not need to sit. However,  the metaphor of sitting can be found in the Torah.

In this week’s Torah portion there is a most-often quoted passuk which the Torah states in Shemos 25:8 "ועשו לי מקדש ושכנתי בתוכם" .  Rav Nosson Shapiro*, in his sefer Megaleh Amukos, kabbalistically explains that these five words that make up this verse are a reflection from Bereishis  where the Torah states that שמים וארץ  heaven and earth were created בה' בראם  with the letter ‘Hey’ which is equal to the number five. The building of the Mishkan was comparable to creating heaven and earth. Betzalel knew the letters that God used to create the world as it is written in Shmos 25:9 "ככל אשר אני מראה אותך..." – “Like everything that I show you, the form of the Tabernacle, and the form of all its vessels; and so shall you do”. Speaking in terms of the five senses which a human being has physically, he also has five senses spiritually. The five physical senses were able to relate and therefore create the five spiritual pieces of the Mishkan: the Aron, Shulchan, Menorah, Golden Altar and the Copper Altar. So, too, the design of the Mishkan structure had ten curtains contrasting the Eser MaAmaros, the Ten statements of creation and the Ten Commandments at Har Sinai. Each one of the curtains was attached with five on one side and five on the other, demonstrating that the building of the Mishkan was a miniature world, a place where Hashem could constrain Himself within.   This portable Sanctuary of God would end up in the permanent building of the Beis HaMikdash where His presence was “all over”. Only later, the Temple would be destroyed, and at that point, one might think God was homeless, that there was no place for Him to sit and dwell.   This is why the answer to the apparent two questions is really one. At the point where there is no longer a sanctuary, we the beings with the five senses, create a world and a sanctuary for Hashem to reside within, and we become the “seat” where Hashem sits. At this point we decide how close we want to be to the action and to be closely connected to the best possible seat in the house. It all lies within us.

*Nosson Nata Spira/Shapiro *1585 – 20 July 1633) was a Polish rabbi and kabbalist, who served as Chief Rabbi of Kraków. A student of Meir Lublin, Spira played an important role in spreading Isaac Luria's teachings throughout Poland. Spira was the author of a number of works, most notably the Megaleh Amukot. Spira descended from a rabbinical family, which traced its lineage as far back to Rashi. He was named after his grandfather, who was rabbi in Hrodna and author of Mevo Shearim (1575) and Imrei shefer (1597). Spira had seven children, three sons and four daughters. While serving as Chief Rabbi of Kraków, Spira refused a salary. He is buried in the Old Jewish cemetery in Kazimierz, Krakow.

Parshas Mishpatim - Bending the Rules? Maybe Just Follow Them!         27 Shvat 5783

02/17/2023 07:59:09 AM

Feb17

I must confess that for the first time in the last thirty years, I did not watch the Super Bowl. I also must admit that it was not a religious reason that drove my conscience to intentionally miss the game, but rather circumstances on the day of the Super Bowl which prevented me from watching. Hopefully, Mitoch Shelo Lishma Bah Lishma, meaning, hopefully for doing something not for the right sake will lead a person to the right reason. A third and last declaration of guilt comes by way of watching a replay of one of the most crucial and significant plays of the game that, with a rule in question, caused a major influence on the outcome of the game.

If you did not happen to be one of the 130 million Super Bowl viewers, (more than 1/3 of the country - I will address this craziness in a future message), I will sum up the scenario: Picture having less than five minutes remaining to the game, score tied 35-35, a defensive holding call on a player who grabbed/tugged on the jersey of the receiver, thereby allowing the team to kick a game -winning  field goal with time basically expiring. The referee’s flag was called into question due to two factors: 1) The small infraction that very often is not flagged as a foul, and 2) The timing of the call, considering the score and the stage of the most important game of the year. One of the heartwarming revelations came in a post-game interview with the defender who admitted, ”Yes, I grabbed the receiver’s jersey”. The world (at least the losing team) will still argue the two facts  mentioned above - that the referee should not have called that penalty. Chaza”l teach us that everything that happens in the world should be reviewed and contemplated regarding how that situation relates to me.

There are few people in the world who don’t occasionally break a small law. The national speed limit of fifty-five mph is violated daily by millions of drivers. We know there is a bit of leeway, although technically anything above fifty-five (unless otherwise posted) is breaking the law. There are dozens of examples to cite where every human being and law-abiding citizen at times stretches and pushes the limit of the law, many times breaking it. The question is why? Why would a person who respects the law attempt to knowingly break it? The answer is two-fold; 1) Since everybody else is doing it, it’s ok, and 2) The enforcement of certain laws unofficially allows it and nothing is done. Nevertheless, if we were pulled over for an infraction or caught by the government for breaking a law, we would not have a good defense. Perhaps we could attempt to present rational reasons/excuses for our behavior which might influence the officer or judge. In case the officer or judge does not see it our way, however, we would be liable. This semi-rationalization may work for things in the physical world regarding our daily living in a society, but does this same thinking work in the spiritual world of Judaism? Unfortunately, the Yetzer Hora does whatever it takes to convince us to bend the rules, to make excuses, not only breaking the spirit of the law but sometimes actually breaking the law itself.

The Torah in this week’s Parshas Mishpatim states in Shmos 21:1"ואלה המשפטים אשר תשים לפניהם"  - “These are the laws that you must set before [the Israelites].” Rashi explains the word ואלה  - ‘and these are’ adds to the preceding. Just as the preceding laws were given at Sinai, so, too, these laws were given at Sinai. Reb Yitzchak Meir Rotenberg-Alter, the first Gerrer Rebbe, in his sefer Chidushei HaRim explains that the necessity of this is because people would err in their logic. Some people may come to think since ‘Mishpatim’ are logical commandments, they would be obligated through common sense. Perhaps they would even go as far to suggest that these Mitzvos that are ‘seicheldik’- common sense - that they were not given by God, rather they were created by man. Therefore, the Torah comes to testify that ‘these’ and ‘those’, these Mishpatim/laws are the same as the Chukim/statutes that are commandments which come from the mindset of Hashem, not man. Even these Mishpatim, these laws that man would come up with, are commanded to us through the will of Hashem and not because logic dictates that we obey them. Reb Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter, the grandson of the Chidushei HaRim, refers in his sefer the Sfas Emes to an explanation by  Rashi that Moshe did not want to explain any of the reasons regarding the Mishpatim/laws to the Jews until Hashem Yisborach said the words, “that you must set before them” [the Jews]. This is because Moshe believed that if he explained the reasons to the laws, the people would perform the mitzva due to the reason, not because God commanded, we obey them and it was His will that we do so. And so God said to Moshe, ‘place them ALL [Chukim and Mishpatim] so they will perform and fulfill the Mitzvos because Hashem commanded - despite knowing the reasons explained behind the Mitzvos.

As a Rabbi and teacher, I regularly receive ‘shailos’/questions in halacha or Jewish practice. All too often a question is accompanied by the words “and the reasons no longer apply today” so why do we still do this,  or even must do this? I’ve said many times that it is okay to ask a question, but it is unacceptable to question a practice or a Halacha. Nevertheless, people still ask, “Rabbi, does God really care if I do something a minute too early or a minute too late? Does God really care if I eat this or that? Does it really make a difference if I do this or not do that? I’m a good person, isn’t that all that counts? The resounding answer to all these questions is “YES!” If a person believes in Hashem as the God of the universe, the King of all kings, the Being that gave us the Torah, is the Author of all its nuances and details, then YES everything makes a difference and who are we to say or question otherwise. True, a person has a yetzer hora, and we are only human, therefore we might come to sin, but at least we know we sinned, and it does make a difference.

We live in a society that wants everything to be permissible. On top of that, we want all to be blessed, to be assured that it is okay.  The influence and norms of society creep into the Jewish world affecting us in the worst ways, tearing down the sense of what makes us different from the other nations of the world. If we were playing any game or sport in this world and we did not go by the rules and follow the rule book, we would be considered cheaters. We might not feel the obligation and necessity to follow the laws of the Torah in its strictest sense by going by the Book. If we do not go by the book in every detail as it was presented at Har Sinai, then we are cheating the system, and ultimately, we’ll lose the game.

Let us strengthen our commitment to Torah observance, close the self -made, manufactured loopholes, and re-accept the Torah as we say on Purim: Kimu V’Kiblu, Mah SheKibel Kvar - We have held and accepted that which we have already received (on Har Sinai)!

Parshas Yisro - Interest vs. Interest                   19 Shevat 5783

02/10/2023 09:31:35 AM

Feb10

Have you come across words that are spelled the same but have different meanings? Or words that are spelled differently, but sound the same? These words are called homophones, homographs, or homonyms. Let’s have a quick look at their differences  Homophones are words that sound the same (Greek phonos – sounds) but are different in meaning or spelling. Homographs (Greek graphein – writing) are words which are spelled the same but differ in meaning or pronunciation. Homonyms (from Greek onyma – ‘name’) can be either homographs or homonyms or both homonyms and homographs. Homonyms are words that have the same spelling and pronunciation but typically have different meanings. For example, ‘quail’ meaning to cower, to cringe in fear, and ‘quail’ meaning a type of bird. are homonyms. Many homonyms differ in meaning when the word could be used as a noun or a verb, or as an adjective or a noun. The easiest way to distinguish and know how to emphasize the pronunciation is to look at it within the context of the sentence. Although homonyms have different meanings, I often found there is a connection between the two usages of the word. Let me explain.

Surfing the web I found many homonyms, but the word “interest” did not make the list on many websites. I found the word “interest” is very interesting (excuse the pun), especially in connection to the economy and to Torah. During my junior year of high school, I started working and saving my meager earnings. As a high schooler I did not have expenses that were in any way similar to the expenses of adults.  I had no car payments, home mortgage, or school loan paybacks. I had the advantage of not only saving my money, I could make more money by putting it in the bank and earning interest on my savings.  . For those with loans, the interest rate was so high it was difficult to get out of debt, but that which hurt others helped me. So much so that shortly after I turned seventeen, that July interest rates were a staggering 19%! I had no idea that it was not a good thing for the economy or for the general population; I was simply happy that my money was making money.

Fast forward almost forty years. In early 2020, the Federal Reserve cut interest rates from 1% to 0% as an emergency measure to stimulate the economy due to the negative economic effects of Covid. The U.S. economy then jumped back from its shortest recession ever recorded, partially supported by a massive policy stimulus. Just about everyone lost  ‘interest’ in interest-bearing accounts. By 2022, however, as the inflation rate hit 40-year highs, the central bank had to make its first rate increase in over two years. Following Federal Reserve meetings, interest rates were hiked 50 basis points, followed by 75 basis points increases two times shortly afterwards. With rates rising, there is a renewed interest in “interest”. As you can see, as the rates rise people become interested again. The word ‘interest’ follows its dual meaning: people are interested in interest. And then, there is yet another understanding of the word “interest”. 

The definition of “interest” is the state of wanting to know or learn about something or someone. What is a personal interest? Personal interests are activities enjoyed during a person's free time. Such interests can include hobbies, sports, artistic expression, leisure activities, volunteering, cultural activities, spiritual practices, learning pursuits, and personal development. The most significant common thread is an interest in learning or in doing something new. There is no question in my mind that the most beneficial interest a person can have is the pursuit of knowledge.  This intellectual pursuit especially applies to the Jewish people, known as the “People of the Book”- meaning the Torah. We learn, attempt to observe and practice the moral, ethical and ritual teachings of the Torah. The Torah is our conscience, our moral code, and the law of the world. Unfortunately, not everything in the Torah resonates with us on a platform of physical understanding;  at times we prefer to observe only those Mitzvos that we personally understand or happen to agree with. Logic dictates that knowledge which we find interesting and relevant finds a place in our memory.  We must be interested in what we study for it to stick with us. Nevertheless, a Torah lecture, class and the like, no matter how profound, inspiring, witty, or engaging, will never make us into better people unless we have or consciously develop a spark of self- motivation upon which the words of Torah can build. The Talmud writes similarly: One learns only a Torah topic which interests his heart (Avodah Zarah 19a). I find this true not only for myself but, I feel confident, for many others as well. The Gemara Avoda Zorah 19a brings a passuk:  "כי אם בתורת ה' חפצו" א"ר אין אדם לומד תורה אלא ממקום שלבו חפץ, שנאמר (תהלים א, ב) כי אם בתורת ה' חפצו the passuk is interpreted: “But his delight is in the Torah of the Lord”.  Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi explains: A person can learn Torah only from a place in the Torah where his heart desires and shows interest.  It is stated in Tehillim 1:2: ‘But his delight is in the Torah of the Lord’, meaning his delight is in the part of the Torah that he wishes to study. A person often studies and learns topics which are of personal interest.

In this week’s Parshas Yisro we read of the Aseres HaDibros, the Ten Commandments, which, according to the Shela”h HaKadosh, one can find all 613 commandments. The Torah states in Shmos 19:1: "בחודש השלישי לצאת בני ישראל מארץ מצרים ביום הזה באו מדבר סיני"  “In the third month after the Israelites left Egypt, on this day [the first of the month], they came to the desert of Sinai”. Rashi explains the words ביום הזה  - the same day - being the first of the month, the New Moon. It was only necessary to write  ‘on that day’; what is the meaning of ‘on this day’? It is to emphasize that the words of the Torah should be new to you as though He gave them to you today. This idea is highlighted by Shlomo HaMelech’s (King Solomon's) words in Koheles 1:9: "ואין חדש תחת השמש" - “There is nothing new under the sun.” Later in Koheles, Solomon says that the Torah is compared to a tree to those who take hold of it. The Gemara Chagiga 3b compares the Torah to a tree that is planted and is continuously growing and producing new leaves and flowers, and from those flowers come fruits. Since the time of Matan Torah (the Giving of the Torah), we have continued to delve deeper and deeper into the Torah, expounding upon its wisdom to no end. The Torah is given to each of us in the present, in the here and now, constantly deepening and broadening its roots and branches for all who cling to it, continuously causing renewed interest in growing and learning Torah.

The lesson is clear. As we invest our physical money, we are interested in the interest it will bear. In the intellectual realm of the Torah, the more interest we show in the Torah the more we are drawn to it, gaining ever-deeper interest in its newness. Through this interest, our investment continues to profit in both the physical and spiritual worlds of Olam Hazeh and Olam Habah, in this world and in the world to come!

Parshas B'Shalach - The Beginning of Life        11 Shvat 5783

02/01/2023 02:20:25 PM

Feb1

This week’s Dvar Torah is sponsored by Ronnie & Susan Masliansky in memory of Rabbi Bogopulsky and Ronnie Masliansky’s grandmother Esther Rachel bas Nachum Bogopulsky & Ronnie’s grandfather Aharon ben Avraham Yitzchak Masliansky A"H.

Today, Thursday the eleventh day of Shvat, marks sixty-three years since my grandmother passed away. I never met my paternal grandmother and therefore never connected with her in a meaningful way. The two reminders I have of my grandmother are: (1) My sister is named after her, and (2) Since the time my mother passed away, I recited kaddish on the date of my grandmother’s yahrzeit because my father, who was living, couldn’t say it. For many years, my cousin recited kaddish for our grandmother, also someone who he had never known, for several years, but I did not recite kaddish because my parents were both alive. Now that my father has passed away, I no longer carry the responsibility to say kaddish for my grandmother. (The only kaddish obligation is for one’s parents, not for their parents – i.e.my grandparents).. There is a debate as to whether one must honor a grandparent as a parent, and what just would those honors be?

One aspect of honoring a grandparent is drawn from a nuance of the brilliance of Rabbi Akiva Eiger. Rabbi Akiva Eiger (responsa, volume 1, no. 68) makes a fascinating statement concerning the obligation of a grandchild to honor his grandparents. Quoting from the Levias Chen, he writes that the obligation applies only during a parent’s lifetime; if the parent, who links the grandchild to the grandparent, dies during the grandparent’s lifetime, the mitzvah is no longer incumbent upon the grandchild. The distinction drawn by Rabbi Akiva Eiger is based on the teaching of a Gemara in Kiddushin 31a, whereby a son is obligated to heed the instructions of his father over that of his mother, because both he and his mother are obligated to honor his father. Since the mother is also obligated to honor her husband, the honor of the father takes precedence over that of the mother. Based on this reasoning, it is possible that the obligation to honor one’s grandparents is based on the obligation to honor one’s parents: A parent’s obligation to honor his own parents forms an obligation upon him to also honor his grandparents. Of course, according to this rationale, the obligation applies only during the lifetime of the parent. This rationale presents an elegant explanation for why a person is required to honor his father more than his grandfather. The obligation to honor one’s parent is a direct Torah instruction. The honor of one’s grandparent, however, is an indirect obligation, derived from the obligation to honor one’s parent. Accordingly, the direct mitzva is greater than the indirect mitzvah of honoring a parent’s parent. Based on this rationale, there is no room to distinguish between paternal and maternal grandparents; the obligation to honor grandparents  applies to all equally. (Also, it’s interesting to note that Rabbi Akiva Eiger’s rationale is not consistent with Rashi’s citation of the Midrash: Yitzchak was no longer alive at the time Yaakov brought his offerings. Thus, it seems that authorities who cite that Midrash will not concur).

Parents, grandparents, and previous generations are the link to our past. For the Jewish people, it was precisely during these parshios that the family of Klal Yisroel emerged. In this week’s parsha B’Shalach, we read how the Yam Suf split and that we walked across on dry land  witnessing the Egyptians following us and then being drowned as walls of water crashed down. A significant image to consider is the fact that the Jewish people “were in the sea”, totally enveloped and submerged by water as though they were covered by the waters of a mikva, undergoing a purification process. The Jewish people had just left Mitzrayim, emerging from the forty-ninth level of impurity and going through the Yam Suf, the purification moment of their Neshamos. When we immerse in a mikva, we emerge as new, purified. So, too, the Jewish people immersed themselves and came out as new - similar to the birth of a newborn baby emerging from an existence surrounded by fluids. When a baby is born, it enters this world with a clean slate, with a fresh, new and pure beginning of life.  

The following parable written by Dr. Wayne Dyer, entitled “A Conversation in the Womb – A Parable of Life After Delivery”, sums up our physical existence in this world and our spiritual one in the world to come.

In a mother’s womb were two babies. One asked the other: “Do you believe in life after delivery? “The other replied, “Why, of course. There must be something after delivery. Maybe we are here to prepare ourselves for what we will be later.”
“Nonsense” said the first. “There is no life after delivery. What kind of life would that be?”

The second said, “I don’t know, but there will be more light than here. Maybe we will walk with our legs and eat from our mouths. Maybe we will have other senses that we can’t understand now.”

The first replied, “That is absurd. Walking is impossible. And eating with our mouths? Ridiculous! The umbilical cord supplies nutrition and everything we need. But the umbilical cord is so short. Life after delivery is to be logically excluded.”

The second insisted, “Well I think there is something and maybe it’s different than it is here. Maybe we won’t need this physical cord anymore.”

The first replied, “Nonsense. And moreover, if there is life, then why has no one has ever come back from there? Delivery is the end of life, and in the after-delivery there is nothing but darkness and silence and oblivion. It takes us nowhere.”

“Well, I don’t know,” said the second, “but certainly we will meet Mother and she will take care of us.”

The first replied “Mother? You actually believe in Mother? That’s laughable. If Mother exists, then where is She now?”

The second said, “She is all around us. We are surrounded by her. We are of Her. It is in Her that we live. Without Her this world would not and could not exist.”

Said the first: “Well I don’t see Her, so it is only logical that She doesn’t exist.”

To which the second replied, “Sometimes, when you’re in silence and you focus and you really listen, you can perceive Her presence, and you can hear Her loving voice, calling down from above.”

The process of the Jewish people entering and exiting the sea was not limited to  birth/new life into this world of Olam Hazeh; it also served as a portend for the next world. The experience of Yam Suf was to demonstrate how Hashem takes care of us in this world and the next. This is an important lesson as there are many Jews who do not believe in a life after this world and therefore do not take this world with adequate seriousness. With that I will share an incredible piece of creative writing that I believe is one of the best presentations of a world to come.

Parshas Bo - The Makkos a Dual Message        5 Shvat 5783     

01/26/2023 11:18:58 PM

Jan26

Each city, no matter its location, carries  its own labels. Some cities are known for their beauty, others for great entertainment and tourist sites. I currently live in San Diego, known to be the city with the finest weather in the country. I also lived in Charleston, S.C., known for its cobblestone streets, antebellum homes, and Fort Sumter, location of the first shots of the Civil War. Many of you have visited Jerusalem, the holiest city in the world. As most of you reading this message are aware, I was born and raised in New York City, notorious for its rude citizens.  But I must tell you, in my opinion, That New York can no longer claim that prize. New Yorkers have been going through a rather dramatic transformation.  People are more outgoing, friendlier, and not  as self-centered as they once were. One qualification – being friendlier and more courteous doesn’t mean you’re going to be invited over for dinner.  That would be going too far. Rather, should you courageously ask someone for directions, or just for the time, you may receive a response…or perhaps a note of recognition that you’re standing there.

While this newfound attempt at kindness, may be a step in the right direction, there is still something lacking, not only in New York but all over the world. When someone asks for directions or simply greets someone with a ‘good morning’, and receives a response, this is typically internalized with “Wow! Friendly guy.”  In other words, the response is something other than the expected non-response. The questioner then just continues along with his own business.  I will illustrate this with a recent occurrence. I heard the following exchange between two acquaintances – they knew each other but were most likely not best friends.  One morning a man noticed his acquaintance and immediately greeted him, remarking,  ”How are you doing?” The man replied, ”Today is my birthday. Today I am one hundred twenty years old.” Without missing a beat, the first man responded,” Happy birthday. Have a great day,” and continued on his way.

I find myself at fault, guilty in a different but similar way. The only rational excuse I come up with is the overload of instant information we receive on a daily basis. When I read the Jewish news or receive a solicitation for a certain need, I tend to see it, maybe gasp momentarily, give a krechts (a moan or groan), and say Rachmana Litzlan - Hashem show mercy to this situation. After that, I go on with my day,  thinking this situation is far from me, almost shrugging it off with a silent ‘I have nothing to do with it’. There are dozens of charities, fund-raising campaigns, all addressing needs that are so great, but if I don’t know the people involved, sadly, these calls for help do not affect me in the least. When I do know a person is going through hardship, I often reach out,  asking how I can help, who should I call, and so forth. Even then, after a little while this, too, starts to be forgotten.    

One may ask, what can, or should I do? I do not have the perfect answer, but a good place to start is just to try a little harder, making an effort to do a little more, sincerely feel the pain of others, to demonstrate, at least within us, that we are an intimate part of that Bayis/house. I would suggest that everything that occurs in the Torah is meant to be a lesson for Jew and gentile alike. Not all scenarios are obvious or clear, but I believe the ten plagues not only served as a direct punishment and measure-for-measure against the Egyptians; they also served as a lifelong lesson for the young nation of Israel.

In this week’s parshas Bo, the Torah states in Shmos 12:30"ויקם פרעה לילה הוא וכל עבדיו וכל מצרים ותהי צעקה גדולה במצרים כי אין בית אשר אין שם מת" “Pharoah stayed up that night, along with all his officials and all the rest of Egypt. There was a great outcry since there was no house where there were no dead”.  Rashi explains: If a first born was there, he died. If there was not (actually) a first born (son), the oldest of the house is called ‘first-born’. We need to understand why Moshe didn’t warn the Egyptians that if there was no actual first born son, then the oldest of the house would be killed. The answer follows a pattern seen throughout the ten plagues regarding how the Egyptians either defied the existence of Hashem, rationalizing ways to explain how things occurred naturally, or they tried to manipulate the system and get around the exact directive of Moshe. By getting around the exact words of Moshe, they could claim that the Jewish God is not all powerful. The tenth plague was no different from the others, so the Egyptians removed their first-born sons from their homes, placing them  in Jewish homes in an attempt to be spared from certain death. Therefore, if Moshe had warned the Egyptians ahead of time, causing them to remove their first-born from their homes, someone else would have been killed.  They would have forced their actual first-born sons to remain in the house so that the rest of them would be saved. This is why Moshe was silent; he did not reveal all the follow-up details of the severity and length this plague would reach. As a result, there were far more Egyptians killed, the actual first born found in the Jewish homes and also every head of every Egyptian house. This is all good, regarding how   we explain these events during the seder, how Hashem paid back measure for measure in a ferocious manner.

The bigger lesson, however, is intended for us, the Jewish people, living in a generation where we also echo the words, ”There is no house where there is no dead.” The phrase ‘there is no dead’ is not meant to be taken literally - in the physical sense - but rather in the spiritual sense. Across the board, we find homes with children who are ‘spiritually dead’;  if those children aren’t the first born of the family, then it is another child or even a parent who is no longer connected. Mind you, ‘spiritually dead’ does not necessarily mean they don’t keep kosher or are no longer Shomer Shabbos. To the contrary, they may be talking the talk… but not walking the talk. The message needs to be clear to those who feel that their house is immune, or ‘we made it’; we all need to be mindful of our neighbor, the brethren who may not be directly related to me. It applies to all of us who received and witnessed this message during the Makkah that preceded our immediate redemption. When we hear and read stories of the tragedies – all tragedies, individual as well as collective - occurring  throughout the Jewish world, we need to be more sensitive, we need to feel the pain of others as if it were occurring in our own homes. We should find ways to support the many organizations which are assessing the loss in each home and working to heal and rebuild the many broken and torn homes in our midst.

In the merit of Klal Yisroel, feeling for one another in a deeper, more meaningful way, we will herald the redemption in our day just as our ancestors did upon leaving Egypt.  

Parshas Vaeira - Potholes & Patches                27 Teves 5783

01/20/2023 08:33:54 AM

Jan20

This week’s Dvar Torah is being sponsored by Rand Levin and Sari Kahn and family in memory of Rand’s father, Aryeh Leib ben Yisrael HaLevi on his Yahrzeit 27 Teves

From time to time, I look back over the quarter century since we started our new life here,  in San Diego. Each of us tends to review periods of our lives from different perspectives, memories, challenges,  the array of activities we’ve enjoyed and the many personalities we’ve encountered over the course of time. I am sure anyone who has lived someplace for an extended period of time grows accustomed to the common, typical  nuances of that location and revels at the rare occurrences as well. This winter in San Diego has brought rainfall to our region that I don’t remember having experienced in all my years here. What, you may ask, brought me to this realization? Did I compare the rainfall statistics over the last number of years? Was my lawn growing faster and greener this year? The answer to those questions is no. I came to this conclusion as I was driving, zig zagging through the streets to avoid newly formed potholes and, in some areas, new rivers of running water. This brought back memories of growing up in New York, seeing thawing mushrooms of potholes throughout the streets of Brooklyn, Queens, pretty much everywhere.

The last day of the Sukkos festival is an independent holiday called Shmini Atzeres. On that day we recite a special Tefilla – Tal - for the upcoming season of rain. The concluding verses are filled with the repetitive plea: גשמי ברכה ולא לקללה  - ‘Rain should be a blessing and not a curse’. Rain brings much that’s good, especially for a state which has continuously had to deal with severe drought. But rain also brings mudslides, erosion, and a slew of potholes. It was recently reported by Mario Escalera, a member of San Diego’s pothole repair crew: “They are everywhere right now.” He said he always knows his work will pile up when the rain clouds head to town. Despite the years of rarity of this event, for Escalera, rain clouds mean big potholes A spokesperson for the City of San Diego stated that San Diego had more than 15,000 reports of potholes in 2022. “We try to go for at least 30 potholes a day,”. He laughed when asked if rainstorms meant “job security.” “It’s good for us, but sad for the citizens of this city,” he shrugged. When asked about the job, Escalera stated that other drivers had been at constant risk of losing their jobs throughout these past years of drought. However, throughout 2022, potholes remained on the growing ‘to do’ list, part of San Diego’s ‘Get It Done’ app. The City of San Diego said it took crews an average of nine days to patch each pothole in 2022. That was a vast improvement from 2021, when crews averaged 19 days to close a complaint. I’m amazed but not surprised at how many potholes there are and how long it takes to fix them.

Perhaps not everyone reading this will hit a pothole or even know what it is. So, for clarity, potholes are typically small, but on occasion can quickly become rather large bowl-shaped depressions in a paved surface. In other words, they can be quite dangerous. They tend to have sharp edges with vertical sides at the top of the hole. These hazardous depressions are most caused by water seeping into cracks throughout the surface of a road.  These cracks, combined with the vibration of tires running over them, cause the asphalt to collapse.  The City of San Diego repairs more than 30,000 potholes per year using materials such as a hot patch compound and bagged asphalt. And that’s during years of drought.  This latest series of rare storms will make this previous number of potholes seem minimal.

It’s expected that things will erode and breakdown over time. When a natural disaster hits, however, massive damage and destruction can occur without warning in minutes if not seconds. We have all read about, watched, or witnessed countless natural disasters here and abroad. Nevertheless, the ten makkos/plagues which devastated Egypt were basically a onetime occurrence (although some of the plagues occurred again at other points in history). The plague that reminds me of the ‘pothole’ issue occurred with the seventh plague, ‘barad’/hail, which is the last of the plagues listed this week.

In this week’s Parshas Vaeira the Torah states in Shmos 9:22 "ויאמר ה' אל משה נטה את ידך על השמים ויהי ברד בכל ארץ מצרים, על האדם ועל הבהמה ועל כל עשב השדה בארץ מצרים" “ “’God,’ said to Moshe, ‘Stretch out your hand toward the sky, and there will be hail throughout all Egypt. [It will fall] on man and beast, and on all outdoor plants all over Egypt”. The Midrash Madregas HaAdom explains that the plague began as mere rain because Hashem hoped  the Egyptians would still stop and repent from their evil ways. Eventually, the rain was converted into a storm. Thunder crashed, lightning struck, and the earth quaked. Then huge hailstones, composed of blocks of ice and of fire, rained down from Heaven.  The fire did not consume the ice, nor did the ice extinguish the fire. The loud crashing of falling hailstones rocked the land. Midrash Lekach Tov describes how the hail broke entire trees and destroyed the crops even down to the deepest roots in the ground, breaking up the ground and its surface. (Sound familiar?) The Midrash Rabbah 12:3 relates the plagues were a clear sign of retribution - measure for measure. The Jews had to plant all of the trees and crops and could not go home; As a result, the plants and the ground were destroyed by the hail. The Abarbanel, Shmos 7:14, writes that the Egyptians beat the Jews, so the hail beat the Egyptians, literally down to the ground.

In conclusion, the Malbim explains the hail phenomena both scientifically and miraculously. During the natural course of a storm, one sees lightning and then hears thunder even though they are, in actuality, occurring at the same time. The reason we hear a pause is because the sense of sight (light) travels more quickly than our  sense of hearing (sound). In the case of the Makkos, the opposite took effect; the verse states that the sound of the thunder was then followed by seeing the lightning, demonstrating the occurrence of a miracle within a miracle- something that was beyond nature.

The takeaway is all about what we do and how we handle a Bracha/Blessing such as rain. If we use the blessings of Hashem properly, they will continue to flourish, building upon what we already have. Unfortunately, if we do not use each Bracha properly, serving Hashem in a better, more effective, meaningful manner, then all we will end up with will be potholes, attempting to patch up our lives instead of seeing the true potential of what the rain has to offer.

Ah Gutten Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas Shemos - Your Money or Your Life      19 Teves 5783

01/12/2023 10:12:23 AM

Jan12

What do Benjamin Kubelsky (aka Jack Benny) and I have in common? Perhaps the one thing people who know me well may quip is that we are both ‘economical’, the polite word for being cheap. There is a real difference between wasting something or being frivolous and careless about money and its value. Nevertheless, as necessary as money is in life (and money doesn’t necessarily bring happiness but having money can make life easier), it is almost always replaceable. Unfortunately, we only tend to pay lip service to that idea.

The importance of money was made famous in 1948 when Ronald and Benita Colman, along with “holdup man” Eddie Marr, gave Jack Benny something to think about.  This classic gag exchange took place as follows: Thug: Hey bud! Bud, you got a match? Jack Benny: A match? Yeh, I have one right here. Thug: Don’t make a move. This is a stick-up. JB: What? Thug: You heard me. JB: Mister, put down that gun. Thug: Shut up. Now come on. Your money or your life? Long pause…………Thug: Look, bud, I said, ‘Your money or your life.’ Jack Benny: I’m thinking it over.

The response reinforced the notion that Jack Benny was cheap with his money and considered his money almost more important than his life. The audience roared in laughter upon hearing this phrase from him. It has become one of the most classic lines in standup comedy ever since. For generations people have quoted this and continue to do so today.  But, as the saying goes, there’s a grain of truth in every joke.  Whenever a person is joking, they are, in actuality, disguising thoughts and emotions, either subconsciously or deliberately. There really is a moment where any of us are “thinking it over” - even when it’s “your money or your life”.

A few weeks ago, I smelled an odor in the laundry room and thought it was probably a dead rodent. Then, lo and behold, I found a defrosted meat roast in a Ziplock bag on top of the dryer which is right next to the freezer. Apparently, while I was rearranging the freezer, I neglected to put the frozen bag back into the freezer. I promptly returned it to the freezer, anticipating that the freezer would kill all the bacteria, thereby saving the roast. One Thursday night few weeks after this refreezing event, I took the roast out of the freezer to defrost, only then deciding to smell the meat. That was the moment I faced the question: ’Your money, or your life’…and actually spent a bit of time thinking about it. The meat cost about seventy dollars. “Hmm,” I thought, “Should I take a chance…”  But even I, overcoming my innate frugality, realized that even seventy dollars is not worth food poisoning or worse. As painful as it was, I discarded the meat and took out a fresh piece from the freezer. (I have to grudgingly admit that if I were the only one who would be eating the meat, I might have used it, but I could not serve it to my wife and company. Of course, in that case, if the meat wouldn’t have killed me, my wife would have). It struck me that even I had the thought of using spoiled meat to save a few dollars! This concept manifests itself in many scenarios, sometimes directly with money and other times indirectly.

In this week’s Parshas Shemos the Torah states in Shemos 2:11 "ויהי בימים ההם ויגדל משה ויצא אל אחיו וירא בסבלתם, וירא איש מצרי מכה איש עברי מאחיו"  “When Moshe was grown, he began to go out to his own people, and he saw their hard labor. [One day] he saw an Egyptian kill one of his fellow Hebrews”. Most commentaries focus on Moshe seeing the hardship of the Jews and or the Egyptian taskmaster smiting a fellow Jew. If one analyzes Moshe’s position in life in conjunction with this critical life-altering decision, we see a choice of immense proportion taking place. Moshe was brought up in the palace and would be the prince of Egypt, enjoying a worry-free life of pleasure, gratification, delight, and amusement. He would never have to worry about money or anything else for that matter. Instead of this guaranteed lifestyle, he stepped out of that world and into a world of uncertainty, a world of the unknown, a world that was both unfamiliar and foreign to all his experiences. Moshe knows he is a Jew, but he had grown up as an Egyptian. Moshe is at the crucial crossroad of “your money” - a life of leisure- or “your life” - a meaningful, challenging proactive life to help his people. Moshe could have walked out and make an about face, returning  to the comfortable life he was living. Instead, Moshe chose to sacrifice his ‘money’ for something far more meaningful. In Moseh’s case, it wasn’t ‘only’ his life and a life of this world; it was a life of destiny for the Jewish people, and, for himself, a life of eternity.

*Rav Shlomo Rabinowitz z”l in his sefer Tiferes Shlomo, elucidates this point. He explains that the Torah describes Moshe’s greatness through the fact that he went out to his brothers. Moshe, even at this time, viewed each and every one of the Jews literally as his blood brothers. Moshe was willing to give up his life of ease and luxury for his people. The word ויצא  - to go out -  is similar to the words in Shir Hashirim 5:6 נפשי יצאה בדברו : my soul departed at His decree. This is reflected in the words we say in the Shabbos morning Amidah ישמח משה במתנת חלקו  - Moshe rejoiced in the gift of his portion, so much so that he [Moshe] gave his life and soul on behalf of the Jewish people.

In conclusion, everyone makes decisions about how to spend the precious time they have in this world. An observant, religious Jew spends many hours a day following the rituals of what the Torah commands us to do. This entails the study of Torah, daily prayer, observance of the Mitzvos at hand, and then dedicating an overall adherence to what it means to be a Jew.  I have an ongoing philosophical dialogue with someone every so often. We agree and disagree on many issues, but we always analyze the pros and cons in arriving at a conclusion. We recently discussed how there are fewer and fewer meaningful life discussions. Most people just shoot the breeze and converse on very few things of substance and meaning. Many of the conversations are not about life, choosing to focus instead on nonsense and topics that do not make us or the world better. The discussions are like “the money” with regard to the choice of life - typically worthless and valueless. This behooves all of us to ask ourselves pointedly: What are the genuinely important things in life to talk about? We each need to process this, setting aside the comedy and focusing on the profound value of  asking ourselves the question: Our money or our life?

 

*Shlomo Hakohen Rabinowitz (1801 – 16 March 1866) was the first Rebbe of the Radomsk Chasidic dynasty and one of the great Chasidic masters of 19th-century Poland. He is known as the Tiferes Shlomo after the title of his sefer, which is considered a classic in Chasidic literature.

Ah Gutten Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas Vayechi - Living in this World for the Next            13 Teves 5783

01/12/2023 10:10:00 AM

Jan12

Is New Year's a religious day? According to some theologians, as applies to December 31st, New Year's Day is a Catholic feast day. It was long known as the Feast of the Circumcision and the Octave of the Nativity (that's just a fancy way of saying that it was the eighth day after Yashka's birth and, thus, the day he was circumcised in accordance with Jewish tradition.)

January 1st, the marking of a new year is not only a religious day for some, but its significance is connected to the entire world. Despite the association of it being a Christian day, religions throughout the world view January 1st as a non-denominational day celebrating the changing of the calendar year. As I mentioned in previous articles, the new year is notorious for making New Year’s resolutions,  firm decisions to do or not to do something for the sake of self-improvement or to make life easier. Perhaps we might compare a resolution to the Jewish concept of a ‘neder’ which is a vow. Is there a difference between the two? Well, as nouns, the difference between a vow and a resolution is that avow is a solemn promise to perform some act, or to behave in a specified manner, especially concerning a promise to live and act in accordance with the rules of a religious order. A resolution is a strong will, a determination. As a verb, a vow is to make a promise.

This past Monday, January 2nd, I was chatting with someone and mentioned that I had started exercising again, and that I’ve now been working out for three consecutive days – a chazaka -  something I had not done in over a year! He quickly responded,   “Oh, is that one of your New Year’s resolutions?” I responded,   “Well…yes and no. It was both a resolution and a vow.” He then asked me what I meant. I explained that “It was a resolution in 2022 that I would exercise that year.  I treated it as a vow because I only started working out the very last day of the year.  I intentionally avoided my ‘word’ to be desecrated. I was concerned that my declaration in the beginning of 2022, proclaiming I would begin to exercise again, would almost go afoul. In essence, I was trying to fulfill at least part of my commitment by finally fulfilling my intent to exercise, even though it was at the last possible day, leading immediately into the current 2023 year.  Hence, the three days were really the last day of last year and the first two days of this year. This was particularly poignant and concerning since we are currently studying Meseches Nedarim/Vows in the Daf Yomi cycle, providing me with a heightened awareness of fulfilling any statements I may have made during the year.  Nedarim- vows, commitments, and resolutions - must be taken seriously. In Jewish law, the parameters of both vows and oaths carry tremendous repercussions. In reviewing meseches Nedarim up until page 74 (out of 91 pages), I have not seen even one of the many components that appears in an interesting well-known story in the Torah.

The Torah states in Bereishis 45:24 וישלח את אחיו וילכו  “He sent off his brothers and they went on their way.” All Yosef’s brothers, Reuven, Shimon, and the rest, including Binyamin, were sent back to Canaan and to Yaakov so that Yehudah was able to keep his promise to his father. Yehuda, earlier in 43:9 stated: “I, myself, will be responsible for him. You can demand him from my own hand. If I do not bring him back and have him stand here before you, I will have sinned for all time.” We see Yehuda did fulfil his pledge to his father. If so, why then did the Chachamim, in the Gemarah Sotah 7b, say that Yehudah was punished for his guarantee (to bring Binyamin back) in so much that the bones in his coffin rattled the entire 40 years the Jewish people wandered through the desert? Rabbeinu Bachya explains the reason is because Yehudah’s vow and its fulfilment depended upon the goodwill of others. It is sinful to make such promises or vows unless the factors relating to fulfilment of the promise are all entirely under the control of the person making the promise. Yehudah had known from the outset that it would depend on the ruler of Egypt as to whether he could make good on his guarantee. The Chachamim, the sages in Gemara Makkot 11b, used this incident to formulate a halakha concerning conditional excommunication, saying that the threat of excommunication, even if conditional, requires a retroactive annulment even if, in the meantime, the party who had been threatened with such excommunication had fulfilled the conditions imposed upon him. This explains why Yehudah qualified for punishment for having guaranteed Binyamin’s safe return, despite fulfilling it.

In this week’s Parsha Veyechi, the Torah’s opening words are ויחי יעקב   - and Yaakov lived. Several commentaries explain this to mean Yaakov did not die but lived on forever. Surely, we can say he lived in this world and in the next. We, too, have an obligation to ensure our physical survival in this world and our spiritual eternal life in the next. Although our time on this earth is determined from the One above, we nevertheless must take care of the vessel we were given  always to the best of our ability. In other words, we need to be as healthy as possible by eating right, exercising regularly, and using good judgment on issues that affect our physical health and wellbeing. No less, and perhaps more importantly, are our spiritual arrangements which we need for the next world.

This week’s Shabbos Parshas Vayechi is dedicated to the awareness of ensuring a smooth transition from this world to the next when our time comes. Every year NASCK, the National Association of Chevra Kadisha, focuses on an area of Jewish importance in the here and in the after world. This year’s focus is the horrific scourge of cremation that is pervading Jewish communities throughout the United States. A zoom class has been advertised to bring this important and critical discussion forward, with the hope that perhaps any one of us can take an active part to prevent such a tragedy within the Jewish people. In addition, it is important to follow up on past discussions of estate planning, halachik wills, and end-of-life situations.  When I bring up these sensitive topics, people typically say, ”Yeh, we have to do this,” and then time goes by, and the ‘this’ gets swept under the rug for a little longer. Perhaps Parshas Vayechi usually occurs during the new secular year in order to remind us of our mortality in this world and to help us grow more deeply aware of the constant need to provide for our immortality in the world to come. Let us commit, Bli neder/without it being a vow, stating that we will take care of ourselves while living in this world, and take proper steps to also live in the next.

Ah Gutten Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas Vayigash - Reading Between the Lines        5 Teves 5783

12/29/2022 09:51:43 AM

Dec29

One of the many areas of Shlomo HaMelech’s --King Solomon’s --wisdom was transmitted came through  understanding the language of the animal kingdom, and, according to some, was even expressed by communicating directly with them. Although not mentioned explicitly, this was  derived from the verse in Kings I 5:13: “…Shlomo spoke of the trees, from the cedar of Lebanon down to the hyssop which grows out of the wall; he spoke of animal, of fowl, of crawling creature, and of fish”. But in sefer Targum Sheini Esther 3:1, it clearly states that Shlomo understood the speech and communication methods of the animal kingdom. The commentary Pas’shegen HaKesav explains that the animals knew Shlomo’s language as well. Interestingly,  there is a certain irony regarding the communication animals have with other animals of their kind, compared to that of humans to humans.

As far as I understand, animals do not have the same level of communication ability as humans. In Bereishis we are told of mankind’s ability to speak, giving them superiority to the animal kingdom. The last time I visited the zoo, I did not notice any animals asking for clarification regarding something they said to each other. I didn’t hear one animal grow insulted by another or completely misunderstand the message his fellow animal was trying to tell him. Yet, when it comes to humans, we tend to have serious regarding with our communication abilities despite having the highest intelligence of all living creatures. Since the beginning of time, man’s communication has evolved to the point where we are able to communicate half-way across the world instantaneously yet still manage to be misunderstood. How so? During the time of Adam Harishon, any communication was done face to face, leaving little room for not hearing or not understanding what the other person was saying. Furthermore, the person being spoken to could even read the expression and tone of what was being said. Fast forward a few thousand years. Today, we communicate through social media, apps for texting, messaging, and the like. In my own personal experience, I have misunderstood a person’s text message, thanks to poor  inflection, tone, or just poor writing.

Moreover, to add to the complexity of human communication, there is another way of getting a message across or to be understood – the ability to ‘read between the lines’. There is  much to be said,  written, or omitted altogether, intentionally or accidently, which frequently misconstrues and twists messaging.     Too often, omitting even a seemingly minor piece of information or a ‘minor’ detail here or there changes the entire meaning of the message. An astrophysicist, Carl Sagan, once said, ”The absence of something is often more telling then what is there.” Therefore, when reading something, one must not only read the words that are printed, but also the words that are not there. I heard this idea from Rabbi Wein many years ago. Rabbi Wein mentions this concept in his autobiography “Teach Them Diligently”.  He writes about one of his Rabbeim, Reb Mendel Kaplan zt” l, who was a disciple of both Rabbi Yerucham Levovitz, the famed mashgiach of the Mir Yeshiva, and Rabbi Elchanan Wasserman, Rosh yeshiva of Baranovitch. Rabbi Wein writes, “Reb Mendel’s aphorisms remained with me. I can still hear him say life is like chewing gum – a little flavor and the rest is chew, chew, chew.” Rabbi Mendel Kaplan taught me how to read a newspaper, spotting its unintended lessons in life.

I believe that this notion of ‘things being omitted’ or ‘reading between the lines’ and the ‘unintended lessons in life’ are means of communication that must be read and processed  with a keen eye. The Torah, as we know it, is not a history book. Even though Bereishis and some of Shmos reads like a history book, it is not. Nevertheless, even within the storylines of the Torah, there are always background and back drop to all the scenes of Tanach. A fascinating example comes in the way of this week’s Parshas Vayigash. The Torah in Bereishis 44:32 states "כי עבדך ערב את הנער מעם אבי לאמר, אם-לא אביאנו אליך וחטאתי לאבי כל הימים" “-  "Besides, I offered myself to my father as a guarantee for the lad, and I said, “If I do not bring him back to you, I will have sinned to my father for all time”. At this point Yehuda is fed up with the Viceroy’s shenanigans and is growing restless. Rabbeinu Bachya shares some of the details of the heated exchange between Yehuda and Yosef that are not in the actual text. Rabbeinu Bachya writes:

“After this outburst by Yehudah, Yosef told him that if he dared draw his sword, he, Yosef, would strangle him with it by wrapping it around his own neck. To this Yehuda replied: ”"If I so much as open my mouth I will swallow you”. Yosef countered: ”If you open your mouth, I will shut it with a rock.” Yehuda then asked: ”What shall I tell my father if I return without Binyamin?” To this Yosef replied,  “Tell him that the rope followed the bucket” [This is an allusion to Binyamin having a ‘genetic’ tendency to steal. Rochel, Benyamin’s mother, had stolen the teraphim having given birth to a son who also became a thief.].  Yehuda shot back that Yosef was framing them and judging them for a sin they had not committed. Yosef retorted that the only perverted justice at stake was the sale of their brother. Yehuda retorted that the holy fervor which had imbued him in their fight against Shechem, which was caused because of sin involving illegitimate relations, was beginning to fill him now. Thereupon, Yosef replied that the sin of illegitimate relations he should be thinking about was that of sleeping with his daughter-in-law Tamar. Yosef implied that it did not take much to extinguish Yehuda’s supposedly sincere fervor. Yehuda responded, shouting, “I am boiling over with fury, and no one takes me seriously!” Yosef said it would be easy to cool down Yehuda’s anger. Thereupon Yehuda announced that he was about to go paint the marketplaces of Egypt with the blood of its people. To this Yosef replied that this was nothing new, referring to his brothers who had experience in painting Yosef’s coat with blood, then bringing the bloodied coat to their father, suggesting it was Yosef’s blood, and that Yosef had been attacked and killed by a ferocious beast. At that point all the brothers agreed to destroy Egypt. When Yosef realized this, he said to himself, “I have to reveal myself to them so that they will not destroy Egypt.” At this point he faced his brothers, declaring  the famous words: “I am your brother, Yosef.”

From Rabbeinu Bachya’s explanation, in conjunction with the prior discussion of ‘reading between the lines’, we should all take a lesson concerning the importance of care with regard to  how and what we say when conveying a message. The last thing in the world we want is to be misunderstood and misguided by our language. When possible, make the effort to communicate the old-fashioned way - speaking face to face as human beings should, using their God-given power of speech with care and respect.  

Ah Gutten Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas Mikeitz / Chanukah - Having the Right Tools     29 Kislev 5783

12/23/2022 09:52:06 AM

Dec23

Ever wonder just what makes the most used hand tool? While a tape measure might not be the first tool to come to mind when making a list of hand tools, it is one of the most used items. When I was growing up we just had a few basic tools in the house;  when I got married and feeling manly, I also made sure to have the same basic tools in my arsenal. There are six basic tools that one needs, including a hammer, screwdriver, pliers, wrench, measuring tape, and perhaps the most important, the toolbox! Without a proper toolbox one can never remember where  the screwdriver or other stuff had been left. Today, just like many other instruments and devices used during our lifetime, we have exponentially increased the number of basic tools, primarily thanks to the available variety of each one of the basic tools. For example, there are no less than fourteen different kinds of screwdrivers, forty-two different kinds of wrenches, thirty-two different types of hammers, and  so forth. As a result, not only do I need a toolbox; I need a tool shed!

I do not claim to be “Mr. Handyman”, but I do pride myself on trying to fix small, uncomplex things that pop up around the house and car. There are times when I amaze my wife that I fixed the broken item. But there are always the other times when I disappoint myself, learning that this is one something I just could not repair.   One of my theories of life is that any average person has the intellectual capacity and the physical ability to perform and do almost everything in life within reason. The day-to-day tasks where we simply call someone to repair or help us with are usually driven by a lack of time, money, or basic laziness to just get around to fixing it on our own.  Over time, one comes to the realization that half the battle is having the correct tools for each job. Even a simple, basic item -  a ladder -made all the difference for me this week.  I needed to switch out an LED four pin prong lightbulb from a can fixture. In previous attempts, I stood on a chair, stretched my body to the maximum but was still unable to get a good grip, leading me to crack the bulb in my hand. This week I used a six-foot ladder, bringing me up to easy reach and switched it out in a few seconds. Another example is fixing a flat tire. Instead of changing the tire with the “sufganiya”, I bought an inflator that plugs into the cigarette lighter outlet in the car (the actual lighter piece is no longer provided in cars). To make a long story short, four days later I brought my car to my mechanic to patch my tire and I am back on the rocky roads of San Diego once again. Therefore, the basic recipe for fixing things requires two main ingredients: a good YouTube video that provides the know-how and knowledge, and an assortment of proper tools which offers the ease and skill to successfully complete the job.

An essential part of parenting children, employee training, and overall life experiences requires the necessary tools to succeed.  Too often, a person fails for either one or two reasons, neither of which is related to any lack of knowledge or intelligence. The first regards the shortage of tools needed to tackle the issues in life. The second could often be the misuse of these tools primarily due to not knowing how to use them properly. A supporting issue of equal importance is that these tools are used not only to build; they’re also used to take apart. For the Jewish people the Torah is the handbook of life that offers  the necessary tools through the study of halacha, history, mussar, and other important life strategies. It is through learning how to use the tools of the Torah that we are able to navigate life and fix the problems and challenges that come with the journey. The Torah teaches us how to build the positive and remove the negative. We see this concept in a unique combination of the portion of the week and Chanukah.

In this week’s Parshas Mikeitz, the Torah states in Bereishis 41:51-52 "ויקרא יוסף את שם הבכור מנשה כי נשני אלוקים וכו'...ואת שם השני קרא אפרים" - “Yosef named the first-born Menashe ‘because God has made me forget all my troubles -and even my father’s house’. He named his second son Ephraim ‘because God has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering’. Rav Dov Zev Weinberger z”l, in his sefer Shemen HaTov, explains that Yosef called his first son by the name Menashe, hinting to the removal of his dark past and only afterwards to give thanks to Hashem for the present and future. When Yosef’s father Yakov named the tribes, we don’t find two reasons given on the naming of someone other than Yosef. These reasons “that Hashem has gathered my shame” and “add to me another son” are reflected in the past (Menashe) and the future (Ephraim), reflecting  and representing two hidden strengths in Yosef which ultimately are divided when Yakov blesses ‘Yosef’ through his two children. The most simple and obvious understanding of these names in the order of the names is סור מרע (מנשה)  and afterwards עשה טוב (אפרים)  :‘turn away from evil (Menashe) and perform good (Ephraim). This would later come to play in the difference of opinion between Yosef and his father Yakov (Jacob) at the giving of the brachos to Ephraim and Menashe. How did Jacob bless Ephraim and Menashe? Menashe, the older son, was placed at the right hand of Yaakov in order to receive the customarily  better blessing as the older son. Ephraim, the younger son, was placed on Yaakov's left. But instead of blessing Ephraim with his left hand and Menashe with his right hand, Yaakov crossed his arms, thereby giving Ephraim the better blessing. Yosef wanted to remove the bad first and then have the good, while Yaakov felt it was necessary to bring in the good, even though he, as of yet, had not removed the bad.

This is, in essence, the debate, or machlokes, between Beis Hillel and Beis Shammai regarding how to light the Chanukiah. In every flame there are two powers - one to burn and the other to give light. One power is the burning and get rid of the bad while the other is to give light, showing the good. This insight applies to the Chashmonaim’s victory over the Assyrian Greeks: first to remove the Tumah/impurity from the Beis Hamikdash, and then immediately kindling a new, fresh, pure light.

The debate regarding opinions of Beis Shammai to light from the eighth light down to one light, lies in his opinion that the fire of the eight lights is stronger, therefore working  first to remove the evil and bad. The House of  Beis Hillel, on the other hand, argues that the primary function is to brighten the world and bring goodness all around. Therefore, we need to start with one candle on the first day, adding more light each day with an additional candle in order to bring more light and good into the world

The word Torah means light. Through the learning of Torah may we be blessed with correct use of the tools, the light we’ve been given, to remove the bad while simultaneously bringing light, building up the world with good, using the same tools today in the manner accomplished by our ancestors over  over two thousand years ago!

Ah Gutten Shabbos & Ah Lichtiga Chanukah

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas Vayeishev - Dreams Can & Do Come True    21 Kislev 5783

12/23/2022 09:50:08 AM

Dec23

Words that are spoken may never be heard again, while words that are recorded – either orally or in writing -  can be read or heard repeatedly! This came to mind a few weeks ago after listening to a heart-rendering eulogy that Rabbi Wein delivered twenty-seven years ago.

When I was in Yeshiva Shaarei Torah my chavrusa (study partner) to learn Yoreh Deah (for Smicha) was with someone who was a few years younger than I but was years ahead of me in intellectual learning. After receiving Smicha and getting married, he accepted a pulpit position in Norfolk Virginia at a very young age. He made an incredible impact on the small religious community of only three Orthodox families and grew it to over a hundred in a few short years. Sadly, at the tender young age of twenty-seven, Rabbi Shlomo Goder z”l passed away. At the Shloshim (thirtieth day after his passing) our Yeshiva, Shaarei Torah, had Rabbeim deliver hespedim/eulogies; the Rosh Hayeshiva, Rabbi Wein, spoke last. The words of Torah Rabbi Wein delivered to describe Shlomo z”l were taken from these parshios that we’ve been reading in sefer Bereishis. Rabbi Wein was anecdotal and pinpointed the essence of Shlomo z”l, weaving an incredible story about the mighty sequoia trees of Sequoia National Park to the Parsha of that week. He related how Shlomo was a man of vision who assessed the community’s potential in a few short weeks. He identified that the community would grow through the adding of a Kollel, and within days he brought Rabbi Wein to Norfolk to begin laying the groundwork for this endeavor. Shlomo saw what the community could look like and dreamt of the future. Rabbi Wein explained the attitude a dreamer has, and the attitude others have toward the dreamer.

In this week’s parsha, Vayeishev, the Torah states in Bereishis 37:19 when the brothers see Yosef coming they say "ויאמרו איש אל אחיו, הנה בעל החלומות הלזה בא"  “Here comes the dreamer!” they exclaimed to one another. Dreamers in general are not very popular people; dreamers make us ordinary mortals feel very uncomfortable. Dreamers see a very different world than the average person: they are not practical, they challenge us, and they irritate us. Part of the reason for our annoyance is because at some level we know that the dreamer is right; we are jealous that we don’t have a piece of the dream. Chaza”l compare Yakov Avinu to his son Yosef, but Chaza”l point out that the greatness of Yakov and Yosef together was that they were both dreamers! Yakov’s entire life was the embodiment of his dreams, from the dream on Har Hamoriah with the angels going up and down the ladder to the dream of seeing the speckled and spotted sheep for which he would negotiate, resulting in Hashem telling him to leave Lavan and return to Eretz Canaan. Ultimately, Yakov dreamt when he was going down to Egypt on his way to see his son Yosef.  Therefore, when Yosef told his brothers his dreams and repeated them judiciously to his father, bordering closely to a lack of respect,  his father had to respond -  הבוא נבוא אני ואמך ואחיך להשתחות לך ארצה  - ”What kind of dream did you have? Do you want me, your mother, and your brothers to come and prostrate ourselves on the ground before you (37:10)? What kind of behavior is that, how do you talk like that?” The Torah nevertheless concludes the section 37:11 "ויקנאו בו אחיו, ואביו שמר את הדבר"  “His brothers became very jealous, but his father guarded or watched the matter”. Yakov pondered the matter, keeping this all in the forefront of his mind, while his father waited to see the result. The Midrash Rabbah 84 asks; how did he watch the matter? The Midrash answers He [Yakov] took a quill and wrote down on what day, at what time, and in which place this was actually going to go down. In fact, it was because  Yakov took Yosef’s dreams seriously, the brothers became jealous. Yakov lent credence and validity to the dreams. Why would Yakov actually believe in these dreams that seemed so preposterous? The answer is because the dreamer appreciates the dreams of another dreamer. Yakov  lived by dreams throughout his life. Through all the hardships Yakov endured - being pursued by the sword of Eisav, when he froze during the night of Lavan, suffered the tragedy of his daughter Dina, when his beloved wife Rochel died, even the night his precious child was taken from him, Yakov never let go of the dream. Therefore, on the way down to Mitzrayim, Hashem yet again appeared to Yakov in a dream and told him not to be afraid, stating, “I go down with you and I will take you out. Yakov, don’t be afraid.”  As a dreamer, Yakov appreciated the dreams of Yosef.

The ninth chapter in Meseches Brachos discusses the realm of dreams and relates that dreams are one sixtieth of prophecy. Everybody dreams in their sleep; sometimes it’s a fantasy, other times a nightmare. Many people get nervous when they remember a dream; others just disregard them. Whichever approach a person takes, it is usually not seriously taken as some sort of sign or communication from above.  The “other” kind of dream, dreams of ambitions, desires, aspirations, wishes, and goals are no longer part of the average person’s psyche.  In our time, not only in the Jewish world, in the general world of dreaming, practicality has taken the place of dreaming for greatness or gain. There is no room for dreamers seeking dreams of greatness.  Historically, the Jewish people always had someone dreaming for the future of His people. The British philosopher James Allen wrote: “Dream lofty dreams, and as you dream, so you shall become. Your vision is the promise of what you shall one day be; your ideal is the prophecy of what you shall at last unveil.”

We should not be afraid to dream. To the contrary, we should allow ourselves to dream as our forefathers did. Rav Shlomo Goder z”l was a dreamer. His prophecies on behalf of Klal Yisroel did come to fruition, but only because of his dreams and aspirations. So, too, we should allow ourselves the vision to dream in pursuit of making the world a better place, helping the Jewish people fulfill its mission in the world.       

Parshas Vayishlach - Alone as One                    14 Kislev 5783

12/08/2022 12:36:18 PM

Dec8

When things we are not sure about don’t work out, we are not particularly fazed about the negative outcome, especially when compared to the disappointment we feel when things we are sure about don’t work out! For example, if someone drives an older car, it may require more maintenance and may be susceptible to breaking down. In that scenario, if it does break down, we are not surprised. But if someone was to drive a brand-new car straight off the showroom floor, the likelihood of it breaking down is slim. If by chance does break down, we would be completely devastated, probably go into a state of shock, and then go nuts. Up until a few years ago I found myself in the first case scenario, and therefore, for many years I had a membership with the AAA, the American Automobile Association. I primarily carried this membership for its roadside assistance benefits. So, when we upgraded to newer vehicles, I no longer felt the need to maintain AAA membership. Fortunately - and unfortunately - even new things grow old, despite the fact that we may keep on thinking that they are still new. Take me, for example. I still think I am twenty-five years old! Fortunately, I am getting older, but unfortunately, as the mileage climbs so does the required maintenance.

A few weeks ago, my wife mentioned that her still brand new 2015 Honda CRV was making some noises and was stuttering after a stop and go. I didn’t think much of this, reasoning to myself that my wife would be traveling shortly, so that would be a good time to have her car checked out. No sooner than that decision was made, I received that dreaded, panic-stricken phone call,  “The car isn’t moving and I’m in the middle of the road!” Luckily, the car had made it off the 8-freeway, going south, but broke down on College Avenue approaching the walking overpass during rush hour. I jumped into my car and sped to the scene, switched cars, letting my wife go home while I dealt with the helpless vehicle. I tried to get it going but quickly realized I need help and called for a tow truck, not AAA. The company said they were sending someone, but it would take about forty-five minutes to an hour for them to get there. In the meantime, I was out directing the oncoming traffic to merge into one lane. Let me tell you, some people know how to drive while others do not. As car after car whizzed by, I was pleasantly surprised that not only one, but three cars slowed down to ask if I needed help (in addition to one phone call asking if I needed any assistance). This experience gave me a renewed sense of faith in humanity, seeing that some people actually cared for someone else, for a total stranger, putting an urgent situation ahead of their own need to get to class or to a meeting, or arrive home in time for dinner.  The challenge to choose to help someone in need or to just ignore the person is not new to the world. We find this replete throughout history. Reviewing the events in my mind, I saw myself “alone” as the cars whizzed by, wondering what they were thinking as they sped past our stalled car. Did they think I was driving some kind of vehicle which I expected would break down or that they felt surprised that someone on the road got stuck and was in their way? The concept of being alone while facing an uncertain challenge is quite common in the Torah; we don’t always know who the enemy is or how to process even what it is. Let’s examine this more carefully…

In this week’s Parshas Vayishlach the Torah states in Bereishis 32:25 "ויותר יעקב לבדו, ויאבק איש עמו עד עלות השחר"  “Yakov remained alone, and a stranger appeared and wrestled with him until just before daybreak”. The Gemara Chullin 91a relates this explanation given by Rebi Shmuel bar Nachmeini: …the man he [Yakov] wrestled with appeared to him as an idolater and Rav Shmuel ber Acha in the name of Rava bar Ulla explains that the man [angel] appeared to him as a Talmid Chacham, a Torah scholar. It was explained in the name of Rabbi Avraham Borenstein, the Sochatchover Rebbe and author of Avnei Nezer (1838-1910), that there are two categories of the Yetzer Hora (evil inclination). There is one kind of evil inclination that simply seduces the man to sin, even though the person clearly knows that it is forbidden to do so. Nevertheless, the Yetzer Hora attempts and often succeeds. This is the appearance of the Sar Shel Eisav, in this opinion, who appeared as an idolater. At this moment, the Yetzer Hora just says to be like an Oved Kochavim, a sinner who just does not care. On the other side, is the Yetzer Hora who dresses up, disguised   as a Talmid Chachom - a Tzadik and Torah scholar. As such, the evil inclination dupes the man, yelling and rebuking him by saying that not only is it not a sin; it is a Mitzva! That yetzer hora, that evil inclination, affects the person to believe he is a tzadik and consequently will follow the yetzer hora, committing the sin. Just as his father and grandfather, Yakov had the ability to see through both disguises and remain steadfast in his single devotion to Hashem. The gid hanasheh, the sciatica nerve and part of the animal’s thigh that is forbidden for Jews to eat, is the reminder that we, the children of Yakov, remain devoted to Hashem despite the efforts of an Eisav coming to us in different forms to wedge something between us and Hashem.

The merit for Yaakov to remain “L’Vado”- by himself - was a portend for the Jewish people: Am Yisrael must be an “Am L’vadod”- a nation which stands alone! This has stood for us and our forefathers, even as the dust of society kicks up all around us with the ministers and subjects of Eisav. With this merit of our strong belief and security in Hashem, may we be permitted to see into the future and experience the “Also HasShachar”- the Days of Dawn - the Geula Shelaima, the complete redemption. At that time, even the remnants of Eisav will be forced against their will to say ‘Amen’ to the blessings of Yaakov.          

Ah Gutten Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas Vayeitzay - The Odometer World        7 Kislev 5783

12/01/2022 01:40:46 PM

Dec1

 There are several items that we might become attached to an item of clothing or unimportant item, not because we’re in love with these ‘treasures’, but more likely because they have been with us for a long time and have served us well. A few of these items come to mind. Perhaps the attachment to these things is more unique to me than to someone else. I happen to wear my clothing to death. I have a system of categorizing my suits, each progressing from Shabbos suit - until I buy a new suit - to weekday suit, to just a basic grab-from-the-closet  remaining old jacket or pair of pants suitable for wear when nothing important is going on. I always wonder yet  never seem to remember when I purchased the suit and how many years following that initial purchase, I continue wearing it. Besides not knowing how long it’s been in my closet, I’d also like to know  how many times I’ve worn it. I would love to have the option of having a “weardometer” installed prior to purchase in a hidden pocket of every suit that is sold – at least to me.

A second example was recognized by my wife who, while traveling, had to deal with the pull tags on the zippers of her suitcase which suddenly gave way and broke off. She immediately grew very concerned that at any moment the  zipper would completely break and she’ll be in trouble, or perhaps I’d be in trouble for just commenting that it’s fine,  and then the entire zipper would refuse to open or shut.  Thanks to this mutual nervousness, we went luggage hunting. Lo and behold, we encountered a wide range of sizes, quality, and price to consider. We began to consider buying something of higher quality which would probably last longer. Then,  as my wife was looking to buy a top-of-the-line piece of luggage she said, “You know, this piece of luggage  has lasted a long time.” In truth, I know it did, and then tried to remember how many years ago we had bought it. But if you think about it, the age of these items is not the critical factor, rather it is how many trips it took and how many baggage handlers man-handled this piece of luggage over its lifetime. So, I started to look for luggage that had a ‘lug-gageometer’, a device I just devised in my mind which would record the number of trips and distance the luggage traveled.  To date, I have been unsuccessful calculating this, so if anybody does find a lug-gageometer, please let me know. What I did find on-line was a Luggage Mileage Life Testing Machine. This kind of machine is used to test the suitcase or traveling bag equipment, complete with different kinds of wheels, assessing the limit load/ appropriate weight in each specimen, intentionally causing impact concussion and abrasion on the specimen by the rubbing and impacting between emery cloth. It even tests  turbulence board and specimen wheel through use of a conveyer-walking testing machine. This machine will imitate the using condition of a suitcase by walking on the road, testing the wheels, axle, wheel carrier, pull bar, and the overall quality of a suitcase to calculate the abrasion value of the wheels.

In Judaism we also measure and meter different parts of life and society. Some things we measure and value consciously; others are evaluated sub-consciously. As Jews, we may have difficulty with these odometers, because we sometimes have something unique, referred to as Kefitzas Haderech. Kefitzas Haderech  קְפִיצַת הַדֶּרֶךְ‎, -  "contraction of the road". It is a Hebrew term used in Jewish sources which refers  to miraculous travel between two distant places within a brief period of time. This would totally throw off the calculation process. Rashi says there are two times Chaza”l speak about Kefitzas HaDerech. The first reference to Kefitzas HaDerech in the Torah is during the story when Avraham’s servant, Eliezer, travels to Ur Kasdim to find a wife for Yitzchak. When Eliezer speaks to Besuel and Lavan, the father and brother of Rivkah, he states: "I came today to the spring, and I said: O Hashem, God of my master Avraham, if You would indeed grant success to the errand on which I am engaged." Rashi explains that the usage of "I came today" indicates that "Today I started on my journey and today I have arrived here.” Hence, we may infer that the earth (the road) shrank for him” (i.e the journey was shortened in a miraculous manner), and uses the literal phrase קפיצת הדרך to reference this phenomenon.

The second reference to kefitzas HaDerech is found in this week’s Parsha Vayeitzay when the Torah states in Bereishis 28:11 "ויפגע במקום וילן שם כי בא השמש ויקח מאבני המקום וישם מראשתיו, וישכב במקום ההוא"  : “He reached a familiar place and spent the night there because the sun had already set. Taking some stones, he placed them at his head and lay down to sleep there”. Rashi, on the word ‘he reached’ or ‘he lighted’ says, “Our Sages explained the word Vayifga as prayer”. This is the source that teaches us that Yaakov instituted the evening prayer (Maariv). The verse makes a distinction by not writing ‘and he prayed’ (instead of ‘he reached’) to teach us that the earth shrank, making the distance less for him.

I feel there is another definition to Kefitzas HaDerech besides the biblical one. In everyday life the road could be ‘shortened’ not only in physical distance but also in time. For example, I made all the green traffic lights, or I got on the right checkout line; it moved  quickly without any issues, etcetera. Each of us must internalize the fact that all extraordinary help is what gives us the super strength needed to do something out of the ordinary. Rav Yaakov Aryeh Guterman (1792-1874) who was the founding admor of the Radzymin Chasidic Dynasty, writes in his sefer Bikurei Aviv that these two incidents are a remez/hint or message to future generations. In the concept ,מעשה אבות סימן לבנים, the stories or actions of the fathers are a sign to their children. There will come a time that children will grow up and face great challenges that in the natural course of events they could not succeed in accomplishing. There are situations that are hopeless, have at best only a slim chance of success, yet unrealistic expectations crystalize, helping us to organize and make something lucrative from it. There are cases when a person struggles to make a living, finds it difficult to get that first break in life and can’t get on track. In all these examples a person needs to put his/her trust, security, and faith in Hashem to make it happen despite the uphill battle and difficulties of the situation. People of faith will gird themselves and become strong, overcoming massive obstacles with the help of Hashem. The help from Hashem to overcome the ordinary path of resistance is the modern day Kefitzas HaDerech,  getting from one place to the next in a quicker and successful fashion that under normal circumstances would be blocked by an impossible impasse.

This extra help can only come through a commitment to the belief that Hashem is the One guiding us in life. Our Avos clearly had that understanding and lived their lives with this belief firmly embedded to the core of their essence. We each could receive that extra benefit as we live our lives with the knowledge that Hashem is running the show; only He can decide how long it will take to get from one place to the next. With this said, on a mundane plane, at least let me know when it’s time to get a new suit.

Ah Gutten Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

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

11/24/2022 12:12:24 PM

Nov24

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

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

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

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

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

Ah Gutten Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

 

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

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

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

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

11/18/2022 09:19:23 AM

Nov18

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

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

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

 

Ah Gutten Shabbos

 

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

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

Doing the Right Thing

Fri, July 19 2024 13 Tammuz 5784