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Parshas Metzora/HaGadol - Great People make Great Holidays         6 Nissan 5782

04/07/2022 02:00:45 PM


There are some things in life that depreciate over time, slowly losing  their value while others appreciate, increasing in value. But there are very few things in life that maintain their value no matter what. A picture is worth a thousand words because it speaks different messages to different people. I once saw a picture of Rabbi Yissachar Frand that struck me in so many ways. For those who do not know Rabbi Frand, take a moment and Google him;   you will typically find him behind a microphone in front of a lectern, giving a Torah shiur/class or a public lecture, consistently inspiring the Jewish people throughout the world.  One of the common themes one finds when describing great Torah scholars are their open, down-to-earth, genuine demeanor. They are not plastic people. They live ‘real’ lives. They are husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, sons, and daughters, just like you and me.

The following description is not, chas v’shalom, heaven forbid, a detracting statement, but rather a compliment to the greatness of Rabbi Frand and other Torah scholars in general. The photo shows Rabbi Frand pushing a shopping cart full of groceries - most probably in Seven-Mile Market in Baltimore. This by no means demonstrates a belittling of Rabbi Frand, it rather reflects his true greatness: even a Rosh HaYeshiva helps and shops for the home. This picture captures a thousand words and even more. In our day and age, we do not see or experience such scenes. To a normal, thinking person, the picture speaks volumes about what normalcy is and should be. Others, who are living in a different context of the way normal Jewish life is supposed to be, probably cannot understand the picture at all. They may even believe it was most likely photoshopped because Rabbi Frand would never be seen doing something as mundane as pushing a cart through a grocery store.

The Gemara in Shabbos and other places make note of the fact how the tannaim and amoraim would shop for Shabbos food and do chores around the house to help prepare for Shabbos. In their case it was not just about cleaning or eating; these chores were all part of doing things to honor and prepare for Shabbos and Yom Tov. Performing mundane activities in the name of the holiness and sanctity of Shabbos is no less than learning about Shabbos and Yom Tov. If anything, I may say, the physical attribute of actively doing something for any mitzva may be greater than the learning of the mitzva. The Torah itself testifies to the Jewish people announcing Naaseh V’Nishmah - we will do and then we will learn. Clearly, actions of performing mitzvos, and perhaps the preparation to fulfill the mitzvos, are the highest levels we can reach in our Avodas HaShem, our service to God. There may not be physical pictures that speak volumes of the gedolim who are also helpers and cleaners in their own homes. We hear stories here and there depicting great Rabbis and leaders being “human”. We need to visualize those pictures that are worth a thousand words to describe their greatness.

This Shabbos, the Shabbos before Pesach, has a special title: Shabbos HaGadol, the Shabbos of Greatness. There are many reasons explaining why and when this particular Shabbos  attained such special status.  As illustrated previously, the greatness of a Talmudic scholar illuminated through a photograph depicting a mundane event only serves to re-emphasize his greatness. The 10th of Nissan of the year was date of the original Great Shabbos. The Bnei Yissaschar (Nissan Maamar 7) explains the Shabbos HaGadol, the Great Shabbos, as follows: Why is it that when a person sins and then does Teshuva, all his sins are forgiven?  At the time of the sin the person was on the level of an animal. When a human being recognizes his error in judgment and does Teshuva/repentance from even one sin, he raises himself to the level of a Ben Adam, a human being. When a person goes through that transformation, he or she emerges with a new face and is no longer considered the same person who had previously sinned. It was on that very day that the Jewish people took the lamb as it states in Shmos 12:21 "ויקרא משה לכל זקני ישראל ויאמר אליהם, משכו וקחו לכם צאן למשפחתיכם ושחטו הפסח"    Moshe summoned the elders of Israel, and said to them, ‘Gather [the people] and get yourselves sheep for your families, so that you will be able to slaughter the Passover sacrifice”. Rav Hirsch explains the ‘pulling away’ means to remove your hands from the idolatry. Since the Jewish people repented for the sin of idolatry, Hashem forgave them for all their sins! This is the meaning of Shabbos HaGadol. The Shabbos immediately before the beginning of Pesach commemorates the ‘pulling away’, the removing of our hands - the repentance - from the idolatry of the Egyptians. Now that is pretty big and great!

Reb Aharon from Karlin in his sefer Beis Aharon explains that the Shabbos before any Yom Tov /holiday is a preparation for that coming Yom Tov. He explains that Shabbos Kodesh is termed ‘Holy Shabbos’ while Yom Tov is referred to ‘Mikra Kodesh’ ‘Called Holy’ - that we are calling out and receiving the holiness from the Shabbos immediately prior to the Yom Tov. As a result, the Shabbos before Pesach is called Shabbos HaGadol, the great Shabbos of preparation and anticipation of the coming Chag. The Gemara Pesachim 117b states Shabbos is set and continues to maintain itself week in week out, while Yom Tov is determined by the Beis Din. The sanctity of Shabbos needs no assistance to determine its sanctity, but the kedusha/sanctity of the holidays are like minor children who need help to stand, since each Yom Tov needs the court’s decision. Behold, Pesach, as the first of all the holidays  in the yearly calendar approaches, we call the Shabbos immediately preceding Pesach HaGadol, likened to an adult who stands on his own recognizance, marking a distinction between the sanctity of Shabbos and Yom Tov.

In addition to Hashem creating the standard Shabbos and the Jewish court system establishing when each of the festivals will come, there is still one more critical role in creating Gadlus/greatness. That greatness, the becoming of that Gadol, is put squarely on the shoulders of all  families raising their households. Let us all take the picture in mind of a Rabbi Frand and others who make their Yom Tov great by investing time, effort, energy, and hard work in preparing for any Yom Tov, but Pesach in particular. Everyone in the household should do physical labor towards creating the holiness of Pesach. I am not saying we need to be like our forefathers who were slaves in Egypt, but to physically put effort into helping to create Pesach and Yom Tov. This effort will become the picture seen with clarity in our children’s minds as they grow older. This vivid memory, a mental picture of shared effort, preparation and anticipation for Pesach, will continue to be recalled, illuminated, and transmitted   to their children and to their children’s children, as we have done for hundreds of generations. This is key to our Jewish survival and the continuation of our great people.     

Parshas Tazria / HaChodesh - Taking the Lessons to Heart      28 Adar II 5782

03/31/2022 03:46:32 PM


With the passing of Rav Shmaryahu Yosef Chaim Kanievsky zt”l, the Jewish world found itself at a loss. None of the eulogies could do justice to the greatness of this man. Many spoke in terms of his brilliance and how we have an obligation to fill the gap of Torah that he left behind. One of the main themes that one drew from the description of his life was how he was a “simple” Jew who just followed every single aspect of Torah and Halacha. Stories were told how he followed the directions given in all areas of Jewish law, including Shabbos, kashrus, honoring his parents, welcoming everyone with a smile, and mitzvos between man and man.

The death of a Tzadik is not merely a passing moment in time; it is an important reckoning for the Jewish people. There are several places in Torah that explain how the death of a Tzadik atones for the sins of the Jewish people and protects them from clamity. 

מיתת צדיקים מכפרת על ישראל - במסכת מועד קטן נאמר: "אמר רב אמי: 'למה נסמכה מיתת מרים לפרשת פרה אדומה? לומר לך - מה פרה אדומה מכפרת, אף מיתתן של צדיקים מכפרת'.

The death of Tzadikim Atones for Israel – The Gemara Moed Katan quotes Rav Ami: “Why was the death of Miriam juxtaposed to the portion of the Red Heifer? To teach us, just as the Red Heifer atones, so, too, the death of the righteous atones”.   מכפרת על ישראל כיום הכיפורים - בויקרא רבה נאמר עוד בענין זה: "בא' בניסן מתו בניו של אהרון, ולמה מזכיר מיתתן ביוהכ"פ? אלא מלמד שכשם שיום הכיפורים מכפר, כך מיתתן של צדיקים מכפרת"

Atones for the Jewish people like Yom Kippur – The Midrash Vayikra Rabba states: On the first of Nissan the sons of Aharon died, and why does it mention their death on Yom Kippur? To teach us that the same way the day of Yom Kippur atones, so, too, the death of the righteous atones”.

צדיק שראוי לכך נלקח על מנת לכפר על ישראל - על פטירת צדיקים מובא בילקוט לך לך דבריו של הקדוש ברוך הוא: "אמר הקב"ה לאברהם אבינו: 'בשעה שבניך באים לידי עבירות ומעשים רעים, אני רואה צדיק אחד שהוא יכול לומר למידת הדין: 'די', ואני נוטלו ומכפר עליהם'"

A Tzadik who is worthy of this is taken on condition to atone for Israel – The Yalkut Shimoni on the passing of a Tzadik says in parshas Lech L’cha the words of the Almighty are, “God said to Avraham, at a time that your children come to me with sins and terrible actions, I find one righteous person who could stand up and say to the heavenly court, ‘Enough’! And then Hashem takes him and atones for them”.

In this week’s Parshas Tazria the Torah’s main focus is about Tzoraas/Spiritual Leprosy. The Gemara Erchin 16a gives us a few reasons why a person would develop leprosy, first on his house, then on his clothing, and finally on his body. Perhaps the most famous reason a person would get Tzoraas is as punishment for speaking Loshan Hora, evil speech and slander. I find it interesting that in today’s world there is a heavy emphasis on the prevention of speaking Loshan Hora but very little about the remedy if one does speak Loshan Hora. (Thank goodness I and certainly no one else ever speak Loshan Hora! Yeh, right! Ooops, there ya go! That flippancy in it of itself is Loshan Hora. I would like to suggest through the following how to follow up and remedy this sin, which unfortunately, I believe, does not receive proper attention and  is not being addressed.   

Last Shabbos afternoon, I, too, gave a class titled ‘Reflections of Rav Chaim’. I was inspired to think a little more on fine-tuning some of the points that were highlighted by so many. I will share an incident that occurred last week which will more clearly act to illustrate the merit of Rav Chaim. Last week I was speaking with someone, and he said that such and such a person was at the wedding of my son in Baltimore a few months back. I quickly said, ”No he wasn’t.” We went back and forth until I remembered he was at the wedding. I quickly corrected myself and said ”Yes, I was mistaken.  He was at the wedding, I remember during the meal he came over to me and wanted to tell over a great dvar Torah that he had come up with.” I’m sure you know that I love to hear words of Torah, but it was not the time or place; I had to gently suggest that I would call him in a few days to hear all about it. (I did call him a few days later to listen to his words.)  My dear readers, by me repeating the way I remembered the gentleman at the wedding, is blatant lashon hora. There was NO need for me to repeat that, I should have said, yes, I remember he was at the wedding and close my mouth! It dawned upon me how there is so much emphasis on the prevention of the sin of Lashon hora, but much less attention on the correction. Therefore, to be true to my commitment, the very next day I called the gentleman and told over the entire incident and asked forgiveness. 

.אם אין מתעוררים לתשובה רעה באה לעולם על רעיון זה, שכפרת מיתת צדיקים מועילה רק עם ההתעוררות לתשובה, מבואר בדברי השל"ה הקדוש: "ובזה מתורצים שני מאמרים דסתרי אהדדי. רבותינו ז"ל אמרו (מועד קטן כח א) "מיתת צדיקים מכפרת". ובפרק חלק (סנהדרין קיג ב) אמרו, "צדיק אבד מהעולם, רעה באה לעולם", שנאמר (ישעיה נז, א) "הצדיק אבד ואין איש שם לב, ואנשי חסד נאספים באין מבין, כי מפני הרעה נאסף הצדיק'. אלא, לא קשיא, כשאין מתעוררים לתשובה רעה באה לעולם, וכשמתעוררים לתשובה אזי מיתתו מכפרת".

If we are not awakened to repent, bad things will come to the world – On this topic  - that the death of Tzadikim atones for the sins of the generation - such deep loss only helps when accompanied by an arousal of repentance. The Shela”h HaKodosh writes, “…and with this we can resolve an apparent contradiction of two statements. The Gemara Moed Katan 28a states that the death of the Tzadik atones while the Gemara Sanhedrin 113b states when a Tzadik is lost from this world, bad comes to the world. As it states in Yeshayahu 57:1 “The righteous man has perished, but no one takes it to heart, and men of kindness are taken away, with no one understanding that because of the evil the righteous man has been taken away.” An apparent contradiction arises:  does the Tzadik save the world, or is the Tzadik lost from the world? Rabbi Yitzchok Breitowitz answered this question with the explanation of the Alshich Hakadosh. The Alshich says a Tzadik truly perishes when nobody grows as a result of his passing (I don’t pay attention). But if the passing of the Tzadik is the medium by which I become a different, indeed a better person, then the Tzadik still has an existence permanence in the world: his influence continues to operate to elevate, to lift each of us”.    

Sadly, there are horrible things happening in our day and age;  we need to pay attention to the passing of Tzadikim such as Rav Chaim. We ask that he and all the greats going back to the patriarchs continue to be a Meilitz Yosher, the ambassadors and advocates of the living before God in the highest court to protect Klal Yisral. But we must realize, asking is not enough. We each need to improve in order to make his passing worthy of his protection.

Ah Gutten Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas Shmini / Parah - Seek Knowledge Willfully      21 Adar II 5782

03/23/2022 07:51:46 PM


Do you ever feel that you simply need/want to know everything? Realistically, it is highly unlikely that any person can really know everything, but, there are times when I don’t know something and I really do not care to learn anything related to that information. There are other times, however, when I actively seek out that knowledge. It is always easier, and certainly more convenient, to let the unknown or even the initial curiosity just pass. Why bother taking the time and effort to find out about something when I will most likely hardly ever need it. Personally, I do think that way sometimes while at other times I subconsciously say to my self I can just Google it and access the information almost instantaneously. For me, this may be true regarding secular knowledge, but when it comes to Torah, I have an affinity, a deep need to dig and seek an answer to something I do not know or have a need to learn more in depth.

My quest is connected specifically to this week’s Parsha. The Torah in this week’s Parshas Shmini states in Vayikra 9:1 "ויהי ביום השמיני קרא משה לאהרן ולבניו, ולזקני ישראל"  “On the eighth day, Moshe summoned Aharon, his sons, and the elders of Israel”. The eighth day was Rosh Chodesh Nissan and it was the day of consecration, the first day of Nissan - the very day which the Tabernacle/Mishkan was erected. In Parshas Tzav we learned about the Seven Days of Miluim, from the twenty third of Adar until the first of Nissan. During these seven ceremonial days of the inauguration of the Mishkan, Moshe Rabbeinu acted as the Kohen Gadol. This was the only time in his life that Moshe acted as High Priest – during that week he had the status of a High Priest. Now it is the eighth day, following this seven-day period. Moshe called to Aharon and his four sons to invest them and their descendants with the status of Kehuna for the rest of eternity. This was preceded by a seven-day period of learning and practice by concluded the seven-day consecration period. Rosh Chodesh Nissan has great significance, but perhaps a lesser-known consideration is part of the Mussaf Amidah recited on Rosh Chodesh. It is here, on Rosh Chodesh Nissan, where there is a point of contention in the liturgy.

The Mussaf service of Rosh Chodesh has twelve blessings representing each of the twelve months.  In addition, there is one more blessing mentioned for a leap year, when we have a thirteenth month. The Artscroll siddur commentary regarding the place where it explains   “we conclude with a final plea that that God fill the new month with every form of happiness and blessing. Since the year has twelve months, we specify twelve sorts of blessings. They are grouped in six pairs and the congregation answers ‘Amen’ after each of them. [In a Jewish leap year, which has a thirteenth month, a thirteenth term of blessing is added: ולכפרת פשע   and for atonement of willful sin. Most congregations recite the additional phrase only until the Second Adar, the extra month, while some recite it all year long.] I always had two questions: first, why do we have an extra description in a leap year, and second, why do some say it up until and including Adar II while others, as the Artscroll mentions, say it throughout the entire year? The source of this commentary in Artscroll is from the Anaf Yosef, which is a commentary found in Siddur Otzer Tefillos. The thirteenth blessing is added only for the leap year. But once the “added on” month of that leap year is completed, we cease saying it because the addition was expressly for that thirteenth month. Once that month is over, we stop saying it. The Sefer Taamei HaMinhagim (page 197) explains we add the words ‘and for atonement of willful sin’. Where and what is this willful sin? Avraham Yitzchak Shperling, author of Sefer Taamei HaMinhagim answers, ”Perhaps the year should not be a leap year, and thus we might be eating Chometz on Pesach!” Therefore, since we willfully arranged this, we need an atonement, because, perhaps, we are actually sinning. Rav Yakov Kopshitz adds that it was known that Reb Eliyahu Lopian zt”l explained that the observance of Yom Kippur Katan* every Erev Rosh Chodesh is comparable to a sick person waiting to reach a place of healing on Yom Kippur! Since the leap year is now a longer year, we need some extra strengthening, and therefore with Yom Kippur a bit further away we need some atonement in the middle of the year. Rav Hutner zt”l explains an additional reason based upon the Gemara Sanhedrin 12b regarding Chizkiyahu HaMelech, who announced and proclaimed ‘an additional month’ in Nissan, past the appropriate time of Adar, in  essence making it a leap year after the fact. The sages vehemently disagreed with him and he the king davened to Hashem and asked "ה' הטוב יכפר בעד"  :“Hashem the good will atone for them”. From this story come the words ולכפרת פשע   and for atonement of willful sin. The Mishna Brura in 423:6 brings a variety of opinions regarding how to proceed. Some say the additional words every year, leap year or not. Others only say it during a leap year, and even during the leap year will only say it until Adar II. The Chazon Ish only said it up until Nissan (not including Nissan), while the Aruch HaShulchan and the Ben Ish Chai wrote to say it throughout the entire year. The final option given by the Yosef Ometz and Mekor Chaim is to say the additional words ONLY in the additional month of Adar II, only one month out of the year. The Chofetz Chaim concludes, “…in all of these, some do this way and some do that way,” meaning any custom is valid. Just be consistent with whichever custom one has.

This Shabbos we announce the incoming new month of Nissan that will take place the following Shabbos. The Rabbis have taught that it is in the month of Nissan that the redemption from Egypt took place and in Nissan the Jewish people will be redeemed once again. We hope and pray we will have attained an atonement, and this year Nissan will be the Nissan of the ultimate redemption.  

Ah Gutten Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky


Yom Kippur Katan יום כיפור קטן translation from Hebrew: "Minor Day of Atonement", is a practice observed by some Jews on the day preceding each Rosh Chodesh. The observance consists of fasting and supplication but is much less rigorous than that of Yom Kippur proper.

The custom is of comparatively recent origin and is not mentioned in the Shulchan Aruch. It appears to have been inaugurated in the sixteenth century at Safed by the kabbalist Moshe Cordovero who called the fast Yom Kippur Katan. It was included by Yitzchok Luria in his Seder HaTefillah. Reb Yeshaya Horowitz refers to it by that name, explaining that it should be observed by fasting and repentance: "Following the custom of the very pious, one must repent of his ways and make restitutions both in money and in personal acts, in order that he may enter the new month as pure as a new-born infant.” The custom has roots in the Torah Bamidbar 28:15 where a sin offering is sacrificed on Rosh Chodesh, indicating judgment and atonement is provided by God on that day. Therefore, the idea of fasting would seem obvious. Because fasting is prohibited on Rosh Chodesh,  the fast is observed on the day prior to Rosh Chodesh.

Parshas Tzav - Clothes Re-Make the Man        14 Adar II 5782

03/15/2022 06:03:11 PM


How I get dressed in the morning depends entirely upon my weight. The size of my clothing not only go up or go down, rather it also changes how I wear the clothing. My button-down shirts need to expand at the seams and my pants will vary up and down my waistline. On the positive side, I have found that my socks fit all the time, and if the shoe fits, wear it. One outer accessory that I wear all the time, but others may never wear while still others wear only on certain occasions, is a necktie. Even a necktie needs to be adjusted, knotting by  starting in various positions to ensure the tie is not too long or too short. My bowties need to be adjusted in the width, coordinated with my weight as it goes up and down! I have been fighting this battle (The battle of the bulge) for a long time and I do not even see a ceasefire on the horizon. In life, the advice we give is sometimes not to fight to win the battle but to win the war! Which somehow brings me to another character of clothing, our arsenal.  

Correct me if I am wrong, but I estimate the majority of times the word “wardrobe” is used to describe the clothing of a woman, not necessarily the attire of a man, at least not mine. The official definition and etymology of the word “wardrobe” appeared in the English language in the early 14th century. It originated from Old French words warderobe, wardereube and garderobe, in which "warder" meant "to keep, to guard" and "robe" meant "garment". My take on the etymology of the word is that it’s fairly well aligned  with “War D’ Robe” -  it’s a constant war that goes on with the robe or clothing I attempt to conquer.. While it is true that clothing and manners do not make the man, however, when he is made, the stuff we choose to wear greatly improve his appearance. The great Chasidic masters emphasize the importance of proper, almost elegant attire, especially on Shabbos and Yom Tov. But even during the week a person needs to be presentable as each of us is the embodiment of Tzelem Elokim - created in the image of God.

When setting up a home, there is a halachik recommendation to affix a mirror at the entrance/ exit (the front door), to give a person one last lookover before leaving the house to be among people. The need to straighten a hat, to fix a tie, to ensure clothing is both clean and presentable all combine to make us appropriately attired to the outside world. Clothing also defines us as people. Uniforms are worn to identify someone’s business or type of work being done.  Police officers, fire fighters, nurses, doctors, members of the military, athletes, used car salesmen, technicians, and so forth, all wear uniforms or appropriate clothing that indicate their line of work and expertise. In addition, a uniform is a sign of belonging and identifying with a certain group. As you are reading this now - either on Purim day or just after - you witnessed and perhaps even participated in dressing just a little differently than you typically tend to do on any other day of the year.

One of the most prominent customs practiced on Purim is to dress up in costume. This custom was actually mentioned in the Rishonim, the writings of the early leading scholars who lived from the 11th to the 15th centuries.  In fact, the Rema, Rabbi Moshe Isserles (1530–1572),   

 a Talmudist and noted expert in halacha – Jewish law, wrote that it is acceptable on Purim for men to dress up as women, even though this seemingly violates the prohibition in Devarim 22:8 "A man's clothes shall not be on a woman, and a man shall not wear women's clothes". Others mention that is customary to dress up as non-Jews, although this violates the prohibition in Vayikra 18:3 “don't go in their ways".  One explanation regarding this custom is the prohibition to be likened to non- Jews exists at several levels. In general, this prohibition, like other Torah prohibitions, should not stand in the way of danger, and indeed the Shulchan Aruch in Yoreh Deah 157:2 writes that a person may dress up like a non-Jew to avoid being identified as a Jew if Jews are being attacked. However, in the previous Halacha it states: “…if there is a decree for Jews to dress like non-Jews in order to make us lose our distinctiveness, then we are forbidden to change our dress even in the face of danger”.

At the time of Purim, the decree of Haman was directed against all Jews. It is true that the stated reason behind the decree was Haman's claim in the Megillah 3:8 that we were a people who did not keep the king's laws. This, however, was not Haman's true motivation, and in any case the decree applied to all Jews. In this case, dressing up as a non-Jew would have been permissible. And so, the custom to dress up as non-Jews reminds us that this practice would have been permissible at the time of the original miracle due to the unique nature of Haman's decree. Another possible explanation is that the non-Jews at that time likened themselves to Jews, as the Megillah 8:17 states: 'And many of the common people Judaized themselves’. We both commemorate and mock this insincere, purely external adherence to Judaism by adopting a purely external likeness to non-Jews while internally remaining fully devoted to our faith.  More significant, there are other times that changing of clothing was not only important but imperative.

In this week’s Parshas Tzav the Torah states in Vayikra 6:4 "ופשט את בגדיו ולבש בגדים אחרים, והוציא את הדשן אל מחוץ למחנה אל מקום טהור"  “He shall then take off his vestments, and put on other garments. He shall then take the ashes to a ritually clean place outside the camp”. The Chassidic master, Rebbi Moshe of Kobrin (1784–1858), explains the removing of the vestments is when a person reveals himself by taking off his outer or exterior layer and fixes the sins of the inner layer of the neshama, the soul. It is upon him to search through his deeds and heal the blemishes and put on ‘other’ types of clothing. The removing of the stained and heavy garments and be replaced with light, clean, new clothing that is free of sin. This is part of the Teshuva process which never really ends but is always a constant battle; therefore, the changing of the garments is never ending. It is a war against the Yetzer Hora, using certain types of clothing to benefit us in the repentance process, ultimately growing closer to Hashem. Therefore, we are constantly changing, ridding ourselves of one sin, working on the next one, to eventually change that one as well.

My hope, prayer, and bracha for everyone is to have a full wardrobe - an arsenal to fight the Yetzer Hora, the evil inclination – to properly dress ourselves inside and out so as to make us the men and women who are proud to stand in front of God!

Ah Freilichin Purim & Ah Gutten Shabbos,

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas Vayikra / Zachor - From Head to Toe8 Adar II 5782

03/11/2022 12:59:37 PM


Roof and underground fixing of Life are always moving; sometimes life is calm, settled, simply serene while other times we find ourselves treading on thin ice. There are two extremes to life which accompany us all: we need to have a roof over our heads and we must always strive to be on solid ground. This reminds me of some major issues the Shul has been dealing with for several years.  My hypothesis is that both these structural issues of the building are the result of one cause.

As our beautiful Shul building approaches its half-century mark, we are beginning to see some problems emerge on both the interior and exterior of the structure. Even more than the aesthetics, the “kishkes” of the building were  not doing well. The roof, while able to provide protection from the cold and the sun, could no longer shield us from the rain. Instead, it began to drip in some places while in others an umbrella was needed if you wished to remain for kiddush. The second issue, a major one from the onset, was that the Shul had been built on a canyon that was “filled” but not compacted well. With erosion over time and the shifting of the unstable California earth, the Shul building started to sag and sink in certain places around the social hall. My feeling is that when the foundation began to sink, the structure supporting the roof began to slightly break apart, creating cracks,  allowing water to seep through.

The Shul first invested in repairing the sinking floor and then addressed the roofing issues.  To stabilize the shifting and sinking of the floor, a company specializing in this work strategically created three subterranean concrete support beams. Once the ground was stabilized, a new roof treatment was applied to the entire Shul. No sooner was that completed then, low and behold, it stopped raining! I don’t mean to imply that we’ve had clear skies ever since. To the contrary, we’ve had a few downpours that really put the new roofing to the test. As far as we can see - and feel - we’ve returned to indoor dryness. Over time, these two projects are the kinds of expensive investments from which we tend not to view with any positive benefits.  In fact, it is almost a phrase termed as “sinking money into the ground” and “keeping dry”, but – and this is a very big but - it actually worked! As I walk through the building, I feel uplifted from the ground and covered from above.   

The notion of covering from above and having a solid foundation on the bottom are not exclusive to the physical realm; it applies to the spiritual realm as well. In the opening words of this week’s Parsha Vayikra the Torah states in 1:1 "ויקרא אל משה, וידבר ה' אליו מאהל מועד לאמר"  “God called to Moshe, speaking to him from the Communion Tent”. Reb Menachem Mendel of Kotzk asks, ”What is so different about this time when Hashem speaks to Moshe in contrast to all others?” He explains with a Midrash Rabbah Aleph that up until the Mishkan and the Ohel Moed/tent of meeting were erected there were other times Moshe had spoken with God. Hashem spoke with Moshe at the burning bush, as well as in Midian, and, of course, at Har Sinai. Nevertheless, once the Tent of Meeting was established, it was said, ‘how beautiful is modesty’, as is quoted from Micha 6:8 "והצנע לכת עם אלוקיך"  “walk modestly with your God”. The Kotzker asks, “…but wasn’t it a private meeting between Hashem and Moshe at the  the burning bush? And in Midian, Moshe had a secluded place to talk with Hashem. For we know, these were private meetings. Only Moshe heard Hashem. No one else heard those words.”

Prior to the Mishkan, God revealed Himself without limitation and confinement. Since Hashem was not limited or confined, it was possible that even a maidservant crossing the Sea of Reeds was able to ‘see’ even that which Yechezkel and other Prophets had not seen. But when the Mishkan was erected. things changed; the dynamics of God’s presence was felt in a different way. From the time the Mishkan was erected, ‘tzimtzum’- constriction - came into existence. Tzimtzum is a limitation or condensation of Hashem’s presence to a confined area. The Mishkan provided a greater level of Tznius/modesty since it covered and constricted Hashem within. Since it was enclosed, it had a new level of modesty, it received a special importance, more so than any earlier time when Hashem had spoken to Moshe. God was not ‘all around’ but much more intimate and private to Moshe; that was the specialty of Vayikra! And so, full coverage of a roof affords a greater level of importance, delivering a stronger message when completely enclosed.

The flooring of the Mishkan had a unique aspect as well. The mizbeiach/altar was the primary focal point of the building. According to Maimonidies, the prime purpose of the Mishkan was the offering of sacrifices to Hashem. According to the Ramban, the primary purpose was solely to get closer to Hashem. In theory, they are not arguing. Rather, the Rambam offers the mechanism of how to get closer to Hashem. After sprinkling blood on the ‘top’ part of the Mizbeiach for a variety of sin and guilt offerings, the Kohein poured the remaining blood down two pipes that led out to the Kidron valley in Yerushalayim. One of the reasons provided was that the Kohein, who had sinned would in full view of the people, would pour out blood from his own sin, demonstrating to all that even he sins. No one should be embarrassed to come forth, repent, and attain atonement in an open full-view fashion. Nevertheless, it is the leftover blood that is poured out, discarding the unwanted part of the sacrifice to go underground and not be a part of the sacrifice itself. The blood was collected at the bottom and sold as fertilizer for ‘ordinary’ use, not being Hekdesh/holy, and the proceeds went to the Temple treasury. We see a complete separation between the offering of atonement and the discarded remainder blood. So too, a building needs to have a solid base, a solid foundation, to maintain a distance between the good and the unwanted.

In our daily lives we look up and we look down. We look up to see from where our protection comes and carefully walk on solid ground not to trip and fall. The challenge in our own sanctuaries is to create a place where we relate and see Hashem in His constriction, just for each and every one of us and our families away from the rest of the world. As we move ever closer to Hashem, we check our footing, building – and strengthening - the foundation by discarding that which we no longer need, and complete that holy home for our children, our families, our communities, and for the entire Jewish people. That is the message of “the calling in our tent of meetings”.        

Ah Gutten Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas Pekudei - Connecting to the Past for the Future                     30 Adar I 5782

03/01/2022 07:15:32 PM


I would like to share two personal highlights experienced on my recent trip to Israel - the first while visiting Yeshiva Neveh Zion, and the second was a visit with Rabbi Wein. I had to meet someone at Yeshiva Neveh Zion, and while there  the Mashgiach asked me if I would speak to the boys and share some words of encouragement and inspiration. I agreed. The next day I spoke to the boys and told them that I had attended Neveh Zion forty years ago. I explained that although I am three times their age and in a very different life situation, we nevertheless share a common bond of being Neveh brothers!  Each of us, across the generations, share in the history of Neveh:  I contributed to the Neveh story in its sixth year of existence and now, forty years later each of them is now continuing that same legacy. Some of us laid the foundation, the first floor, of this beautiful yeshiva, and now these bright, enthusiastic yeshiva bochrim continue to build, adding on the skyscraper. In truth, I received more chizuk/strengthening from my visit speaking with them than they did listening to me. I re-connected to the Mash Rabbi Blumenfeld who was a talmid/student of Rav Wolbe. I connected to my past to build for my future. Having a Rebbi is so critical not only for the Torah he teaches today, but for the connection and continuous link he provides to the mesorah of previous generations.

My visit with Rabbi Wein is always special and dear. Here, again, is a someone who always emphasized his connection to the Europe of Torah giants through his Rabbeim who arrived prior to the Holocaust. Rabbi Wein always remarks that when he saw his Rebbi, he was not only seeing and hearing the man in front of him, he was also seeing and hearing his Rebbi’s Rebbi and beyond. Rabbi Wein’s passion for Jewish history is his contribution to bringing the Jewish people back together. The adage of “history repeats itself” is nothing new to us, but unfortunately, we still don’t seem able to learn the lessons of history. There are few individuals whose words written today still  prove to be relevant tomorrow. How rare it is that words written over one hundred fifty years ago remain profoundly relevant today. The writings of the great Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch fall into this rare place of relevance and brilliance If I can be so bold, I would say the writings of a Rav Hirsch in our day and age could be seen in the writings of Rabbi Berel Wein. I will share an important, timeless message from Rabbi Wein. Although this message was written almost thirty years ago, it is profoundly important and meaningful today. I will preface his words with a backdrop from the Parsha.

This week’s Parshas Pekudei concludes sefer Shmos and the erection of the Mishkan. The last five parshios of Shemos dealt with the building of the Mishkan, the fashioning of the utensils needed in the service, and the vestments of the Kohanim who would perform the Avoda in the Mishkan/Tabernacle/sanctuary. All the laws of Shabbos are derived from the process of the building and operating of the Mishkan. The Jewish people followed the work ethic of Hashem and worked six days, but when it came to Shabbos, they wanted to continue building God’s house. The response was an absolute ”No”, and hence any melacha/work associated with the Mishkan became forbidden as the 39 laws of Shabbos. Pekudei is a continuation of Vayakhel where Moshe gathers the Jewish people to teach a law of Shabbos. Why was it necessary to gather all the people? Moshe’s voice could have reached everyone while still in their own tents. Why force everyone to come together? The following is Rabbi Wein’s clear and searing message in connecting the gathering and Shabbos:   

“There is a public expression of religion and a private one. There are many times when one is compelled to participate in a public expression of religious faith – synagogue prayer services, for example – when one would rather find a more private and discreet fashion to serve the Creator. It must be admitted that it is much more difficult to feel spiritual when surrounded by the many then when alone with one’s own self. Many great Jews, even rabbis, have spent time in their lives purposely isolated from the world in order to search for themselves, pavingtheir unique path to their Creator. But Judaism is, overall, not a monastic faith and does not allow Jews to easily substitute any form of private practice for public duties and practice. In today’s Torah reading Moshe calls together the entire Jewish people – Vayakhel Moshe – in order to remind them of the importance of the observance of the Sabbath. Moshe’s public statements are meant also to reinforce the public nature of Jewish practice and to make clear that Sabbath is not only a private matter but a public Jewish expression of faith and national identity as well.

 In matters of the Sabbath, the halacha itself differentiates between private behavior and public behavior. The position of Jewish tradition against Chilul Shabbos B’Farhesya, the public desecration of the Sabbath, is far more critical than its judgments against private failings in this matter. Public desecration of the Sabbath is the road to Jewish disaster. This has been proven over and over in our history. The tragedy of American Jewry did not begin with intermarriage and non-Jewish grandchildren. Its roots lie in the early public destruction of the Sabbath already in the late nineteenth century.  And it was not only the desecration itself, it was also the acceptance of the public desecration of the Sabbath by the Jewish “establishment” of this country that paved the way for today’s terrible and heartbreaking problems. Jewish community centers openly violating the Sabbath, Jewish organizations holding meetings, conventions and other public gatherings that almost do not allow Sabbath observance and attempting to “protect” Judaism by permitting Sabbath desecration have brought us to the intermarriage crisis. Even though the tactics over the struggle to prevent automobile traffic in religious neighborhoods in Jerusalem leave much to be desired, there is no doubt that the goal of a more public observance of the Sabbath in the Jewish state is a worthy and necessary one.

The public aspect of Jewish observance, unfulfilling as it may sometimes be, colors and shapes our attitudes towards our private faith as well. Where there is no public Judaism there will eventually, and rather sooner than later, be no private Judaism either. The Haskalah preached: “Be a Jew in your home and a person of the world in public.” A great slogan, but a recipe for Jewish disaster. The “person of the world in public” lost the ability to “be a Jew in your home”. Such is the hard lesson of Jewish history, especially in this century”.

Shabbos is the key to Jewish survival as a people, as families, and as an individual. We need to step up our Shabbos game to ensure our families’ Jewish survival. There are two aspects to Shabbos: Zachor and Shamor. Sure, we may be fulfilling the Shamor by not violating the actual law, but are we fulfilling the spirit of the laws of Shmiras Shabbos? Are we just getting by with the basic concept of Zachor Shabbos? We need to go out of our way to strengthen both Zachor and Shamor - both in the public view and internally in the home. Through this effort we will ensure that our future will connect to our past and carry us on into the future generations of a strong, united Klal Yisroel. Every one of us should commit to stronger observances. Collectively we will be stronger and through this strength we will say IN SHUL TOGETHER LOUD AND CLEAR, “CHAZAK CHAZAK V’NISCHAZEIK!”     

Ah Gutten Shabbos,

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas Vayakhel - Global Warming                  23 Adar I 5782

02/24/2022 01:30:50 PM


Have you ever asked yourself when global warming began? Global warming is another raging debate not only in this country but all around the world. Issues regarding global warning, along with so many other issues, tend to be driven by a mix of science and politics.  With this said, I believe an important component of the discussion centers around the history of global warming itself. Therefore, before we discuss actual concerns regarding global warming, we need to look at some of the timelines of weather in general.

Dating of our atmosphere began about five thousand years ago with different civilizations tracking different components of the earth’s weather and climate conditions surrounding their specific regions of the world.. In approximately 350 BCE, the Greek philosopher Aristotle wrote Meteorologica, an impressive in-depth discussion which represented the sum of knowledge of the time about the earth sciences, including weather and climate. Today, Aristotle’s ‘Meteorologica’  is the oldest-known scholarly discussion of  what slowly grew to become the modern field of meteorology. From the Greek ‘meteoros’, meaning high in the sky, we have the modern term meteorology, the study of clouds and weather

Jumping to more recent history, Thomas Jefferson was considered to be a ‘weather expert’, and Ben Franklin, long fascinated by weather, argued that weather actually moves from place to place, but it was not until the early 1800s when Luke Howard, 1762 - 1864, an Englishman, named and recorded detailed explanations of cloud types used today: cumulus, cirrus, stratus, and nimbus.  Howard wrote numerous accounts of his observations of weather throughout the area around London and gave a series of lectures about meteorology.  Luke Howard is commonly considered to be the father of modern meteorology.  The New York Meteorological Observatory opened in 1869 and began to record wind, precipitation, and temperature data. With the establishment of the U.S. Weather Bureau in 1870, data began to be recorded throughout major areas of the country.  At that time weather forecasting was slowly introduced in the Midwestern cities, beginning with Chicago in 1870, and extending throughout the country by the early 1890s.

 It is my belief that there is general agreement that the world is at least 5782 years old, yet we only have recorded weather data from the last 170 years -  hardly enough time to determine the impact on the world of climate change. True, climate may be changing over time; glaciers are melting and weather patterns are changing, but that does not mean it will bring an end to the world. It is possible that certain regions of the world which today are colder, may at some distant time been very hot, and vice versa. Is the United States warming up so quickly? Only two days ago USA Today reported “Winter not over: Arctic cold front to bring bitter temperatures, heavy snow to parts of US”. All of us agree that, like so many things, we are only able to see small pieces of the puzzle of the complexities of our planet.  

The Torah does have commandments to ensure the ongoing beauty and character of the world.

The Mitzva of Ba’al Tashchis (wanton destruction) applies to every aspect of life including the earth. Therefore, we should all take care to implement ways to conserve and continue earth’s existence, even though Hashem will never let it falter. And so, with all that said, where in the Torah do we find the very  beginning of global warming?

In this week’s Parsha Vayakhel the Torah states in Shmos 35:3 states "לא תבערו אש בכל משבתיכם ביום השבת"  “You shall not light fire in any of your dwellings on the Shabbos day”.  The parsha opens and briefly discusses the forbidden Melacha of creating a fire on Shabbos. Interestingly enough, the written law only mentions one of the thirty-nine melachos of Shabbos. Rabbeinu Bachya explains that in general all the melachos - the thirty-nine prohibited laws of Shabbos - are all connected to the prohibition of fire. Many of the Shabbos laws are related to and dependent upon fire. Rabbeinu Bachya explains that fire is the source and the reason for all other melachos of Shabbos. Therefore, the Rabbis established the mitzvah of havdala on Motzai Shabbos (exiting of Shabbos) on Saturday night,  the beginning time of the week when ‘fire’ became permissible along with all other melachos. Starting something new calls for the making of a blessing, and this became part of the Havdala service. The bracha of בורא מאורי האש   - Borei M’Orei HaAish - is selected because it was the very first work-related service following the creation of the world. This is the time that we humans can start creating our kinds of creation. All of this is connected to what is stated in the beginning of Breishis: "ויהי אור" - “and let there be light”. Following this, Rabbeinu Bachya adds that the other three brachos of Havdala are all sourced from the beginning of creation. The bracha on wine “Borei Pri HaGafen” is hinted to in the word “HaAretz”, the land, referring to the “gefen or vine” in the “Gan”, these are the wines that were preserved in the grapes from the six days of creation. The bracha on the Besamim/spices is hinted in the wordsורוח אלוקים  / the spirit of Elokim. It is the smell that fills the spirit of man as he takes a breath through his nostrils, filling his soul. This is further discussed when the spirits - or the winds - at times hold back the sweet smells and therefore make a blessing for the ability to smell the sweetness of the spices. Lastly, the bracha of המבדיל בין קודש לחול  - the separation between the holy and the mundane - is hinted to in Bereishis 1:4 when the Torah states "ויבדל אלוקים בין האור והחושך"  - “And God separated between the light and the dark”.

Global warming has more than one new definition that we hear about today. The world of warming is beyond the physical temperature of the atmosphere. Hashem created fire as the, prime part of creation in order to create other things. The fire and the heat it produces does, indeed, contribute to global warming in both the physical and spiritual arenas. Chaza”l describe the little fire that exists in every single Jew, known as the “Pintele Yid”, is the spark lying within every Jew. During the decades of teaching Jews from all backgrounds, I can feel, see,  recognize that beautiful, tiny spark that wants to ignite and warm and nourish the soul. Fire has the ability to give off from itself two things: light and heat. This is the spiritual global warming that we vie for, that we yearn to share with all Klal Yisroel. May the absence of creating “fire” on Shabbos, and the kindling of the havdala “fire” combine to light up our souls and let this spark bring warmth and light to our fellow Jews.

Ah Gutten Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas Ki Sis - It's not a Crime to Fall, but it is a Sin Not to Get Up              17 Adar I 5782

02/17/2022 02:17:57 PM


Being a Rabbi in a mid-tier city such as San Diego has many pros and cons. Although, if you analyze most situations, every pro can be the con and each con can be the pro. One of my standard quips when necessary to report good news and bad news to my class is to ask, “Which do you want to hear first, the good news or the bad news?” In truth, it really doesn’t make a difference which one they pick.  For example, if they respond, ”We want the bad news first, “I reply, ”The bad news is I will be missing class next week…”Then they ask,  “So, what is the good news?” “The good news is I will be missing class next week!” In truth, this is consistent with any pro and con, both being  good and bad.

In many smaller Jewish communities, there are those who wear many different hats in the community. For many years I taught a mini class here and there in the local Jewish high schools. This year I was offered the responsibility of teaching a Gemara shiur/class in the local boy’s high school on a regular Monday to Thursday schedule. I personally feel a great sipuk/self-satisfaction from teaching these young men. They are all very bright, energetic, and best of all they laugh at my corny jokes! What more can any rabbi or rebbi ask for? Of the minyan, quorum, of boys in the class, invariably has someone either going out to the bathroom, being absent, needing to get a drink, studying for an upcoming test in another class, checking the inside of their eyelids, or actually focusing on getting a very up-close look at the page of Gemara being discussed. This list works on a rotating basis, with each student taking a turn here and there. There is an incredible commonality that threads its way through all these young men. They are mature enough to realize that I know what they are up to, and they feel disappointed in themselves when disappointing me. Mind you, I do not need to even say anything to them after one of them takes his turn selecting one of the choices listed above.  Invariably, the offender(s) approach me either after class or prior to the next day’s class earnestly expressing the consistent and identical message,  “Rabbi, I’m so sorry  for my behavior. Tomorrow I am going to do better!” They each recognize and admit to the fact that they’ve stumbled and fallen. I offer them encouragement by telling them it is ok, tomorrow is another day, and another opportunity. It is not the falling down or the failing that is the problem, rather the problem is if a person falls, he must get right back up. 

Another classic rule I have consistently offered to my students over the years has been after taking a test and then returning the test to each of them,  they had to review, study, and then return their test with all of the correct answers. Following that, they had to retake the exact same test so that they could demonstrate to me - and, more importantly, to themselves that they now had processed and truly learned the material. I am not interested in grades; my goal is to motivate every student to truly work through and understand the required material. Falling and erring is human; it is not a crime. But if a person does not correct himself, then that is sinful. A student who makes an effort to figure out what he or she is missing and chooses to learn and to ultimately master the information earns acknowledgement of that effort and growth. The Torah is replete with great leaders who have fallen but rebounded; the process of falling and then getting up is a major ingredient required for greatness. Probably the greatest of the many examples of falling and then getting back up found throughout all of Tana”ch occurs in this week’s Torah reading.

In this week’s Parshas Ki Sisa the Torah describes the unfolding events of the Eigel HaZahav, the sin of the golden calf. The Torah in Shmos 32:1 states: "וירא העם כי-בשש משה לרדת מן ההר, ויקהל העם על אהרן ויאמרו אליו קום עשה לנו אלוקים אשר ילכו לפנינו כי-זה משה האיש אשר העלנו מארץ מצרים לא ידענו מה-היה לו"  “Meanwhile, the people began to realize that Moshe was taking a long time to come down from the mountain. They gathered around Aharon and said to him, ”Make us an oracle (god) to lead us. We have no idea what happened to Moshe, the man who brought us out of Egypt.” In order to more deeply appreciate this current situation, we need to look back and review how and what brought the Jewish people to this point. What was the reason that caused the Jewish people to gather around Aharon? What did they want from him?

There are two approaches and differences of opinion which explain why the Jewish people demanded of Aharon to produce “something” in Moshe’s absence. One opinion was that they were asking for an outright idol to worship - no what ifs about it. The second opinion was a simple request for a leader to replace Moshe to continue to lead them on their way. If you think about the two choices, who in their right mind, in the face of so much which has been done by Hashem for the Jewish people, would  not judge the situation favorably.The Jewish people missed Moshe; they only wanted a leader. Could we ever think they wanted to outrightly worship an idol after hearing the commandment “Thou shalt not have any other gods..?”. Because of this we are forced to say that the people who left Egypt and clearly witnessed the awesomeness of God just wanted a new leader. They wanted Aaron to make a way to replace Moshe; they did not want to substitute or to take away the place of God. Simultaneously, the Jews were constantly being drawn back to the culture and influence of Mitzrayim. Despite seeing the open miracles of Hashem, the people still considered the ways of the Egyptians - their witchcraft, sorcery, and their strange practices. This pull was so strong that  they turned away from their good ways, choosing instead to follow the bad ones.

Tracking the history, the Jewish people continued the pattern of flipping from believing to questioning. As we see from Moshe showing the people the signs with his staff, they  replied in Shmos 4:31 “The people believed”. Then, only a few verses later in 5:21 “Let God look at you [Moshe] and be your Judge”. Later, we find the Jewish people, freed from Egypt, openly believing, yet they again began to rebel before crossing over the sea. At the end of Shmos 14:31 “They believed in God and in His servant Moshe”, only to be challenged later in the quest for water in Shmos 17:7 “Is God with us or not?” The people were constantly questioning and doubting, recalling the strength that Moshe had performing all these miracles, while failing to give the credit to Hashem. The problem was that so long as Moshe was around, they didn’t have the audacity to challenge him, but now that he had seemingly gone missing they began to openly question the situation. Moshe had ascended the mountain; he should have come back down in a day, but he didn’t. To the Jews (being fueled by the Eirev Rav) Moshe was just a human being, a mortal who, they surmised, had possibly been burned in a fire,  was captured, died, or anything else. Now they no longer wanted a human being; they wanted something stronger and better - a God that would tell them the future and bring it about.

At the end of the day, Moshe returns after the creation of the idol. Three thousand Jews died in this episode. We witness the Jewish people falling to their Yetzer Hora and, finally, getting back up after seeing the truth. The Jewish people committed crime after crime by giving Moshe - and God - a hard time - (Hashem tolerated it). They believed that if Moshe were no longer alive, they had to take some action in order to reach God.  They were not yet able to understand that we each have direct access to God; there is never a place for an intermediary. They did not sin, however, because they did get back up and righted the path from which they had strayed.

 We all fall from time to time in our religious observance and avodas Hashem. We must always remember to get up, to address so that the falling does not turn into a sin. If and when we fail and fall, immediately rise up to correct the misdeed. Shlomo HaMelech says a person falls seven times and can always get up. Hopefully, I can take the lesson and learn from my students, about feeling bad when having fallen down to immediately correct it by saying tomorrow I will be better! 

Parshas T'Tzaveh - Where There's Smoke There's No Fire        9 Adar I 5782

02/09/2022 03:22:42 PM


One of the benefits of having two Adars, an additional month before Pesach, is we have the benefit of having extra time before Pesach’s arrival. To some, that’s a good thing - we get to push off the cleaning, shopping, and preparing for another month. For others it’s a horror, it only means an additional month of shopping, cleaning, and worrying about Pesach. This can create stress on our shalom bayis (peace in the Home).  For my wife and me this extra month works out perfectly: she cleans for an extra month while I push it off for another month! It is amazing how year in and year out the routine and order of Pesach cleaning and readiness is the same. We go through the same frustrations, the same jokes, and the same last minute down to the wire preparations until… the finish line exclamation, “Phew we made it!” Next thing we know we are all sitting around together at the seder.

One could not imagine after all the cleaning, scrubbing, and checking that we or anyone would ever find chometz. Of course, it is possible, while cleaning, to find some chometz in places that one would never have thought chometz could possibly be found.. But what are the chances of finding chometz after such thorough cleaning and searching? Surely, someone might find a long-lost Cheerio which is less than an olive-size amount, and while it’s not great, it’s not the end of the holiday. But one would rarely if ever find a large amount of chometz on Pesach. Well, please don’t begin mistrusting the rabbi, but I believe it’s been three out of the last five years that we discovered large amounts of chometz on Pesach. The Halacha/law is that this chometz must be destroyed by burning.  Therefore, ever-so-often we have burning of the chometz before and, yes, even during Pesach.

The first time we found chometz was on Yom Tov itself. The Halachik procedure is to cover the chometz and burn it during Chol Hamoed. In fact, even if you discover chometz on the last day of Pesach, it needs to be burned and destroyed after Pesach. The reason you don’t even flush it down the toilet or throw it into the street is that at that moment on Yom Tov it is muktzeh; it cannot be moved.  Therefore, during Chol Hamoed, I lit a small fire and burned the cheerios we found. Three years ago, we found an entire untouched deli roll in the refrigerator! Thinking we were going to eat it the morning of erev Pesach, we stuck it in the corner of the door of the refrigerator and forgot about it. This experience taught me that it is quite difficult to burn an entire deli roll with a lighter or a few matches. Luckily, at that time I still had a large blow torch that was able to turn that deli roll into a charred brick. Last year I established a chazaka - a three time rule - and found a full loaf of white bread that had fallen behind the freezer. Unfortunately, I no longer had the large blow torch,so we proceeded to burn it in the backyard chimney/BBQ area. We were working furiously to rid the chometz/bread by burning all different sized pieces. I was concerned about the smoke billowing to the neighbors. It was at that moment that I came to this new understanding of fire and smoke. When the fire was burning and raging, there was very little smoke. However, as soon as the fire and flames died down, it began to smoke more and more. As we doused the bread with lighter fluid the flames came roaring back, and the clouds of smoke began to wane. Why is it that when there was fire there was no smoke and vice versa? What caused the smoke to rise when the flames die down? And…just what is smoke if there’s no fire?

 Well, introductory Science 101 tells us that when something burns hotly, it burns cleanly. When the flame dies down, there are remaining embers and residual heat which will continue smoldering. Without the heat of the flame there is incomplete combustion, resulting in smoke and soot. Smoke is a mixture of soot, carbon compounds, tar, aerosols, unburned fuel, and other components of incomplete combustion. In short, when a fire burns brightly, it efficiently combines oxygen with carbon, making carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide, and with hydrogen, forms water vapor.  If all the hydrocarbons and organic materials being burned are done cleanly, there is very little smoke.  However, when a flame is extinguished, there is still typically a lot of latent heat.  The process of burning is snuffed out which results in an incomplete transformation into water and carbon dioxide, leading to incomplete compounds which create soot. Of course, all of this is part of nature, and science, which, with regard to the process of burning, goes hand and hand with the Torah, as we will read this week.

In this week’s Parsha T’Tzaveh the Torah states in Shmos 30: "ועשית מזבח מקטר קטורת עצי שטים תעשה אותו"  “Make an altar to burn incense out of acacia wood.” The Midrash Tanchuma says that this verse needs to be thought through because there were two altars in the Temple. One altar was to bring Olah - offerings in the form of animals; the other altar was used to burn the spice incense. The Mizbeach HaOlah was located outside the courtyard while the Mizbach HaKetores was located inside the Heichal. Rebbi Shimon asks why was the Mizbach HaKetores, the altar inside, called a Mizbeiach? Did it have sacrificial animals upon it? The term "מזבח"  /Mizbeiach is derived from the word "זביחה"-  - slaughtering or sacrificing. Are these terms associated only with animals and not incense? The answer is that the incense  burnt nullified and stood up against many evil strengths. The Ketores burned the ‘Sitra Achair’   סִטְרָא אָחֳרָא,  ‘the other side’, as opposed to,סִטְרָא דִּקְדוּשָּׁה, sitra dikedusha, 'the side of holiness', so that it could no longer be a prosecutor against the Jewish people. It was equivalent to having been slaughtered on the altar. Therefore, the inner altar was also called an altar for slaughtering and burning up the evil of man’s actions.  

The Chometz on Pesach is considered the “other” kind of bread which is soured and evil. The only way to deal with it is to burn it. As the fire completely consumed and burned the bread, the smoke was the purity that remained. The smoke from the burnt chometz became a sweet smell because the proper action was taken. When the fire is finished doing its job, only the smoke remains. The ascending smoke is our assent offering to God: the fire is the sin, and the smoke is the atonement.  Fire and smoke represent the bad and the good that comes from destroying the bad; they do not co-exist. To the contrary, if we can burn up the bad and evil traits which challenge us all, then we can sacrifice on our own innermost altars, bringing the sweet smell of smoke to please Hashem.

Parshas Terumah - Man Laughs and God Plans                    3 Adar I 5782

02/04/2022 09:28:13 AM


There are times when we plan things with care but end up with not being able to make our plans happen.  On the other hand, there are times when we need something to happen, but do not think this will come to fruition.  Then, lo and behold, that which we wanted, but did not think was going to happen actually occurred! That familiar, old Yiddish adage, “Der Mentsch Tracht un Gott Lacht,” loosely translated as “Man Plans and God Laughs,” applies to the negative and also to the positive. Despite our most careful planning, the ‘Road of Life’ tends to be unpredictable. We might have a well-planned road trip and destination strategies, but scenic new vistas might beckon us, or unforeseen roadblocks could deter us. Typically, we carefully plan (and we need to plan) to go somewhere or look forward to some upcoming event, and for whatever reason God thought otherwise, and these plans did not come to be. On the other hand, one must look at the situations that appear quite gloomy yet end up working out - despite our negative mindset.

“Der Mentsch Tracht un Gott Lacht is a powerful phrase.  It strengthens our Emunah, our faith and belief in Hashem.  Sometimes our plans don’t work out; sometimes they work out perfectly.  At all times, they always work out according to the will of Hashem.

On a recent trip, I experienced this reverse concept no less than three times.  The first experience was taking the red eye out of San Diego and being delayed because of a computer glitch. That in it of itself wouldn’t be so bad except for the fact that the previous day’s flight had the same issue and was cancelled. At this point we were reaching the curfew, the time when flights can no longer depart out of Lindbergh field, San Diego’s airport. I had resigned myself to the fact we would deplane and decide to fly the next day or cancel the trip altogether. Lo and behold, there was an announcement over the PA system telling the flight attendants to prepare for takeoff. I could not believe it! The plans had completely turned around in my head.

The second experience occurred as a direct result of the delay of the flight. I always manage the precise timing of plane arrival, deplaning, collecting luggage, getting to the car rental area, checking out the reserved  rental car and, in this case, driving to Lakewood, all planned in order to make it on time to join a decent minyan. Having been delayed, we were running exactly ninety minutes behind schedule and needed to squeeze in a minyan  before going to an appointment I had scheduled.  In short, I had very little flexibility. With a few phone calls, I decided to take a hit and miss minyan at the latest time possible. Once again, bingo! I caught the only minyan that would accommodate all the necessary details I required.

The third situation (although a bit different) occurred on Shabbos morning as we awoke to see over a foot of beautiful, glistening blankets of snow. Not being too well prepared for that kind of winter storm, my grandkids and I assumed I would stay home and not go to Shul. No way!  Donning my inferior winter gear, we prepared to make the trek to Shul and see if God had different plans for me that morning.  

My oldest son-in-law was raised in a brutal winter city; he is always well-prepared for these kinds of storms. The fresh snow was about mid-calf deep, and I only had the usual waterproof over-the-shoe rubbers/galoshes that would cover my shoes but nothing above my ankle. For those who have experienced walking in the snow know, as you step down, the surrounding snow caves in and covers whatever else is exposed. I recalled an old phrase, “in the footsteps of our forefathers,” observing the deep footsteps my son in law created by going first. Then, just as I imagine one would walk through a mine field, I carefully stepped into the exact same footstep that my son-in-law had imprinted in the snow. This plan worked, and by putting forth this effort I was able to get to and from Shul with minimal cold/wet/icy impact of the snow on the ground. I returned home and gleefully related to my attending audience how another plan or negative experience turned out positive, transforming from failure-to-execute to fulfilling that which I did not think was going to happen. This is not exclusive to learning or davening but to every facet of life. I would even bet that Moti did not expect the Bengals to upset the Chiefs in Arrowhead. In his mind, during his seven hour drive to the game he never really thought or expected a win, and once again the outcome was so much greater than he anticipated!

All of this could not have been topped off in a better way than from an insight my youngest son-in- law immediately showed me regarding  why all these situations connect to a higher level. In this week’s Parshas Terumah, the Torah describes the building of the Mishkan, the portable Sanctuary. The Torah lists the different Kelim/articles that were used in the service of Hashem: the Ark, Shulchan, Laver, and different covers. My son-in-law pointed out a beautiful understanding of the Aron, the Ark. In Shemos 25:12 the Torah states: "ויצקת לו ארבע טבעת זהב ונתתה על ארבע פעמתיו, ושתי טבעת על צלעו האחת ושתי טבעת על צלעו השנית"  “Cast four gold rings [for the ark], and place them on its four corners:* two rings on one side, and two on the other side”. There are opposing views of where these “corners” were located. The Radak and Targum explain Pa’Amosov as corners. Rashi states that the rings were at the very top of the Ark. Based upon the Gemara Shabbos 92a, they were 2 1/3 handbreadths (7 inches) from the top of the Ark. Ramban and Rabeinu Bachya state that the rings were at the very bottom of the Ark. The Ibn Ezra and Abarbanel maintain that the Ark had legs and the rings were on its feet. The Ibn Ezra explains, and I quote as follows: THE FOUR FEET THEREOF. “I searched all of Scripture and did not find the word pa’am (foot) used in the sense of corner. It is always employed in the sense of a foot. We thus read in Yeshayahu 26:6: Even the feet of the poor, and the steps (pa’ame) of the needy;.In Tehilim 85:14 Dovid HaMelech says, “I shall make His footsteps (pe’amav) a way”, and in Shir HaShirim 7:2 Shlomo HaMelech says,”How beautiful are thy steps” (pe’amayich). There are many other instances, and I was therefore forced to explain that the ark had feet, for it would be disrespectful for the ark to sit on the ground. Later, in Sefer Yehoshua, the Navi describes how those who carried the Aron/Ark, were, in actuality, being carried by the Aron. The Aron had feet and IT carried everyone else!

The Aron, which housed the luchos/tablets, and the Torah represent everything God stands for. Although we explained that the Aron had legs and carried itself, it is the power of Hashem that carries us all wherever we go. The lesson of the Aron is if we attempt to do a mitzva or to do the right thing, Hashem will lift us up -  physically and spiritually -  to help us succeed in all our endeavors. As we walk in the footsteps of the Torah, we must remember that the legs of the Aron take us where we need to be. .

Ah Gutten Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky                                                                                                                                                                                                                 

Raising a Community, a Family and Ourselves along with Developing a Torah Personality can be purchased from me directly or by clicking here via my author page at Mosaica Press.

Parshas Mishpatim - Standing up as A Jew in Public        26 Shvat 5782

01/27/2022 12:23:40 PM


Every state of our union has different mask requirements. One of my congregants had recently been in a state that recommends - but has not required - face coverings for the public. When she and her family ate out at the local kosher restaurant, she noticed that no one was wearing a mask. She was surprised and said aloud, “I do not know why people don’t follow the rules (although only a recommendation). One of the obvious-looking Jewish patrons replied, ”We have enough rules to follow!” Now that may sound funny but … on the other hand it may seem preposterous.

Interestingly, there is one place in this country where everyone must wear a mask. A few weeks ago, while in flight returning from Chicago,  I was waiting to use the restroom when the flight attendant almost blurted out that she davens at such and such shul in Chicago. We spoke a little about Jewish life in San Diego and Chicago, and I was curious about her being a Jewish (very traditional and knowledgeable but not Orthodox) stewardess. She told me, almost as a confession, how challenging it is to be known as a Jew among her gentile co-workers. She was not at all inferring that she had experienced anti-Semitic rhetoric or the like. Rather, she expressed how personally embarrassing it is for her when confronting some Jewish passengers who refuse to comply with the rules. She asked, ”Why is it that some Jews, even though a small minority, feel they don’t have to abide by the rules?” She tried explaining the concept and I told her the expression she was looking for was ‘Chilul HaShem’. She explained that this issue has always existed on a small scale, but Covid and masking seem to have exacerbated the frequency of this refusal to comply among Jewish passengers. She did add that there are many people, not just Jewish passengers, who have issues regarding compliance with masking and many other FAA rules on planes. In fact, she stated that percentage wise, Jews are overall compliant with the rules and do tend to be more courteous and respectful. The issue she has, and she knows it’s not fair, is that when “it’s the Jew” it becomes magnified a hundred-fold. While acknowledging the ‘unfairness’ of this situation, she said it is, nevertheless, the reality on the ground and in the air! Since she knows who is in the cabin, she cringes when she hears some disturbance going on, hoping it is not being caused by an obviously-observant Jewish passenger. As she was describing the scenario to me, she openly acknowledged the double standard applied regarding a Jewish person and everyone else. Nevertheless, she remained  stymied while also understanding she cannot win an argument of this kind with her co-workers.   

When comparing these two scenarios of eating out in a kosher restaurant and traveling on a plane, it’s easy to recognize the distinction between them. The restaurant is located in a state that does not have an official masking rule while the airline industry in its entirety adheres to a standard of very strict rules. In fact, the airlines universally adhere to  the strictest rules anywhere in the world. There is a time and place where every Jew needs to accept and follow the rules even if they disagree with them. I want to make myself clear: this issue applies when a rule such as wearing a mask while on the plane and the Jew, a passenger on the plane chooses not to follow the rule and makes a scene. This specific situation is a clear case of committing a Chilul HaShem.

Does the question of Dinah D’Malchusa Dinah - following the law of the land - apply to masking? The Halachik ruling is if the government does not enforce a policy, then we, as Jews, are not in violation of “the law of the land”. By the way, that does not mean one is forbidden or should be discouraged from wearing a mask. Perhaps at the very early stages and beginning of the pandemic there may have been an interpretation of the law as such. Fast forward almost two years and the requirement of wearing a mask is still not consistently enforced nationally or even on a state-wide level. The law requiring the wearing of a mask is, however, strictly enforced on all commercial flights, clearly making the wearing of a mask in flight Dinah D’Malchusa Dinah.

We are very familiar with all kinds of laws and customs, starting with biblical and rabbinic laws, followed by customs and traditions from a variety of upbringings and regional centers of Judaism. We know the D’Orysa or biblical commands are absolute, requiring  the Talmudic explanation of how, when and why we perform and fulfill these Mitzvos. The Mitzvos are broken down into many categories and sub-categories. One such distinction is found in the namesake of this week’s Parsha Mishpatim.  Mishpatim are laws that ‘make sense’;  anyone could come up with or understand the reasons behind them. Parsha Mishpatim contains fifty-one of the 613 mitzvos, making this parsha  tied at fourth place for the most mitzvos in any one parsha. Mishpatim, laws which make sense, is contrasted to Chukim, the statues that we do not understand or know the reasons for the Mitzva. To appreciate the distinction between the Torah laws and Mitzvos versus the laws of any society are clear and absolute, but even within the laws of Judaism there is a stark difference between the Chukim and the Mishpatim. (Please take note that Mishpatim, which contains most of the commandments between man and man is listed first).

There is one commentator who stands out among the great Rishonim who can explain the importance of the Mishpatim. Rabbeinu Bachya introduces every parsha with a passuk/verse from Mishlei, the book of parables written by the wisest of all men, Shlomo HaMelech. The following is an excerpt from the introduction of this week’s Parshas Mishpatim which begins with a quote from Mishlei:  "גם אלה לחכמים הכר פנים במשפט בל טוב" (משלי כד, כג) “These things also belong to the wise; it is not good to display partiality in judgment” (Proverbs 24,23).   

From the beginning of the Book of Proverbs up until here Shlomo Ha Melech, Solomon the King, made it his business to admonish foolish people and adolescents. In fact, he announced his purpose at the very beginning of the Book of Mishlei – the Book of Proverbs - when he said in chapter 1:4 “to give prudence to the simple, to the young man knowledge and discretion.” Commencing with this verse he switches and admonishes the scholars, the ones who preside in the courts and dispense justice. Therefore, he said at the beginning of the verse we quoted above גם אלה, meaning that “also these parables” are meant for the wise. What does his admonition consist of? “It is not good to display partiality in judgment.” Shlomo condemns partiality as a negative character trait. Why did we need Shlomo HaMelech to tell us this, seeing that the Torah in Devarim 1:17 has already written: לא תכירו פנים במשפט, “do not show favoritism in judgment?” Shlomo added an additional dimension to what the Torah had said in that the Torah did not mention a specific penalty for judges guilty of showing favoritism. Shlomo adds in passuk/verse 24:24: ”He who says to the wicked ‘you are righteous’ will be cursed by people; nations will abhor him.” If a judge convicts an innocent person, the outrage of the people will be even greater, and he will likely be removed from his position as judge. Seeing that the entire Torah from בראשית until לעיני כל ישראל is inextricably tied to a system of justice, Shlomo said בל טוב instead of לא טוב parallel to what we say in Tehilim 147,20 ומשפטים בל ידעום, “He did not acquaint them (the Gentiles) with a system of fair justice.”

It is a well-known fact that משפט Mishpat - a system of justice, is the foundation of the throne of Hashem’s glory as mentioned in Tehilim /Psalms 89,15: ”Righteousness and justice are the foundations of your throne.” Anyone helping to establish true justice on earth thereby helps to strengthen the foundation of God’s throne. He who perverts justice undermines the foundations of God’s throne. By saying בל טוב, Shlomo indicated that a person guilty of this will not merit טוב- will not experience “goodness in store for the righteous,” of which the psalmist (Psalm 31:20) said: ”How abundant is the good that You have in store for those who fear You.”

Shlomo taught us in Proverbs that he who is guilty of showing partiality in judgment will be punished not only in this world but also in the world to come. Justice is the prerequisite for peace. Therefore, we find Yisro telling Moshe that if he were to carry out his advice with the approval of God, “…also this whole people will arrive at its destination in peace.” (Exodus 18,23). Peace ensures the continued existence of the world. This is why Chaza”l in Gemara Brachos 64 say that the scholars, who oversee administering justice, add to the amount of peace in the world.

It is only the Torah that contains  a perfect system of right and wrong. We often get caught up in “other laws”, viewing them as a nuisance or an invasion of our personal rights or freedom. To the contrary, laws of the society in which we live, travel, and function are laws which must be respected. To flaunt them or openly reject them is a clear Chilul HaShem. Dinah D’Malchusa Dinah, the law of the land is the law. These ‘other laws’ do not overrule or contradict the Torah. May we merit the time when true justice reigns supreme in the coming of days.

Parshas Yisro - Maintaining A Jewish Home        19 Shvat 5782

01/21/2022 09:29:39 AM


It does not take much for Jews to come up with reasons to celebrate an event and use it as an excuse to eat! The rabbis explained there is no true joy unless one has wine and meat. Of course, wine and meat have been highlighted for their spiritual purpose, going back to the time of the Beis HaMikadash, the Holy Temple:  wine was used as libations for the altar and meat was from the sacrificial offerings. So, it is only today, lacking the Temple, that we substitute all other foods for celebratory reasons, but even during the time the Beis HaMikdash was standing we looked forward to eating  as a means of celebrating with simcha and joy.

One of the reasons Yitzchok Avinu asked Eisav to bring him food was not because he was hungry. Think about it,  his wife, Rivka, overheard the entire conversation and direction that Yitzchok had with Eisav. If Yitzchok was hungry, he easily could have asked Rivka for lunch! Apparently, it was  by design that Eisav prepared the food and Yitzchok became full and satisfied from that specific food. Rabbeinu Bachya explains that a person is able to offer a more complete blessing, and, more importantly, one that will come to fruition when accompanied by a special meal. So clearly, goodness and blessing can be brought to a higher, more complete level through a full stomach. Hence, food and drink (in proper measure) are an integral part of our culture. You may correctly comment at this point that food is a component of every culture. Here, too, I am not speaking of the culture in terms of cuisine, but more specifically in the spiritual sense. The purpose of a Jew is to use food to bring us closer to God, the same way as was  in the Beis HaMikdash.  

On Simchas Torah, the last person called to conclude the Torah is called “Chosson Torah” while the person honored with the first reading of Bereishis is called “Chosson Bereishis”. Both aliyos occur with great fanfare and the spreading out of a talis over the bimah, creating a Chuppah a wedding canopy. Just as a wedding between a bride and groom, celebrated with a festive meal, so too a Chosson - or Chattan  - the groom of the Torah also is accompanied by a reception to celebrate the “wedding” the groom has with the Torah, his “bride”. The minhag Yisrael, the custom in the Jewish world, is for these two individuals to provide a kiddush either on the day of Simchas Torah or another Shabbos during the year.

In life there are always two ways of looking at a situation or an event. A few examples: the celebrating of an anniversary could be viewed that another year of marriage has passed, or it is the re-creation of a new year of married life on the horizon. Likewise, when we finish a Mesechta/tractate of the Talmud, we not only finish but immediately begin the next Mesechta in the cycle. On a personal level, Parshas Yisro is my anniversary for writing this weekly message. It is a celebration of completing twelve years and at the same time starting the thirteenth cycle. Shavuos and Simchas Torah are recognized for the day the Torah was given and the completion of the Torah reading cycle. Nevertheless, there is more to the celebrating of an event with just food. Rather, there is a bond, a deep connection that we are focusing on,  creating a joy among all of the celebrants. Parshas Yisro highlights the story of the giving of the Torah and the symbolism of the marriage between Hashem and the Jewish people.

In this week’s Parshas Yisro the Torah states in Shmos 19:8 "ויענו כל העם יחדו ויאמרו כל אשר דבר ה' נעשה, וישב משה את דברי העם אל ה'"  “All the people answered as one and said, All that God has spoken, we will do”. The Jewish people answering was the commitment to the marriage of the Jewish people to the Torah and Hashem. The key element in this holy union was the acceptance and commitment to follow the Torah and observe the Mitzvos. If the Torah is observed, then Hashem’s presence is present in the home. The guideline of the Torah is what creates a smooth and meaningful ride through life. When I process the word ‘smooth’ relating to life, I understand it to mean there will be a tranquil home, a home filled with peace -  shalom bayis. Peace in the home, however, is not limited to marital harmony; it extends to every aspect of family dynamics. Having a house imbued with Shalom Bayis means there is tranquility between parents and children, among siblings, and between the parents themselves. Furthermore, Shalom Bayis exists when other people, such as relatives, guests and even strangers come into your house. How do we react and behave? If a Torah environment is primary, then Shalom Bayis will permeate all who are in the house. 

There is an old saying, “happy wife happy life”. This saying should be expanded to include all aspects of our lives.  A happy person will have a happy life. Mental health professionals have found people who lead tranquil, calm lives and have a peaceful home will live a happy, more productive, fulfilling life. Shalom Bayis does not necessarily mean there are not differing opinions and subtle arguments. Rather, Shalom is something to work on, something to be achieved. The Talmud is replete with disagreements, arguments among the great sages of their time. With this said, never do we find a hatred or animosity.  To the contrary, there was always love and respect shown among them.

Parshas Yisro is the crossroads, the anniversary of the story of the great wedding that took place between the Jewish people and the Torah. There are times when the house has its challenges. There are times in all our lives when we may need to seek out help in order to strengthen our shalom bayis.  At any time, I am always available to help couples with even very small issues; correcting, working out solutions to small issues avoids their growing into big ones.  An anniversary is an opportunity to look back at what we’ve gone through and to look forward to what we need to accomplish. The key element is to know how we bring that ‘Shalom’ back into the fray. An anniversary, birthday or any day of reckoning looks back to the beginning.

For Shalom Bayis, we look back to the day we walked into that bayis/home. There was marital bliss and happiness. Think back to the principles and values that each spouse brought into their home. We go back to the blessing that was showered upon the young couple - that they should merit to build a Bayis NeEman B’Yisrael, a true home among the Jewish people. Just as the groom is about to slide the ring onto the finger of his bride he declares, הרי את מקודשת לי בטבעת זו, כדת משה וישראל"  “Behold you are betrothed to me with this ring, according to the laws of Moshe and Israel”. It is by the laws of the Torah upon which this marriage will be based. God’s presence and Shechina rested over the mountain at the time of the giving of the Torah. It is therefore a requirement for Shalom Bayis to exist with Hashem’s Shechina resting over the home as a result of the Torah being part and parcel of that home. May we all merit Shalom Bayis in our personal homes and may Klal Yisrael merit Shalom in the House of Israel through our dedication and learning of Hashem’s Torah.

Ah Gutten Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas B'Shalach - Getting High on Manna

01/14/2022 11:14:55 AM


This week’s Torah message is sponsored by Ronnie and Susan Masliansky of Skokie Illinois in memory of Esther Rochel Bas Nachum z”l (Esther Rose Bogopulsky) and Aharon Ben Avraham Yitzchok z”l (Rev. Aaron Masliansky) on their Yahrzeits this past week.

We all remember learning about the manna that fell from heaven when the Jewish people left Egypt. Perhaps one of the top ten facts kids remember from their Chumash or Parsha class was that manna could taste like anything your taste buds desired. An age-old question was what Bracha/blessing was recited over the Manna? I will be discussing this question at my Shabbos afternoon class this week. Imagine the feeling one would have after eating the Manna: satisfaction, satiation, and total contentment.. The Rabbis explained that Yitzchok asked Eisav for food before he blessed him. Yitzchok understood that a Bracha  given would be more effective on a full stomach. Yitzchok was on a spiritual high and was able to give a Bracha/blessing to him. Some people think that I can be a more effective Oved HaShem - servant of God - when in a state of euphoria. So here is the question of our modern age: Why is it a problem to take a forbidden substance if such substance would help me to serve Hashem better?   

The following message is sensitive and challenging, particularly within the culture and stresses of modern American society.  Every challenge confronting American society eventually filters down to the Jewish community, and the Orthodox circles are not immune to these addictions. The medical use of cannabis is legal with a doctor's recommendation in 36 states, four out of five permanently inhabited U.S. territories, and the District of Columbia. Twelve other states have laws that limit THC content, while  the recreational use of cannabis is legalized in 18 states, the District of Columbia, the Northern Mariana Islands, and Guam. Another 13 states and the U.S. Virgin Islands have decriminalized its use.

It is now an acceptable question from the “frum” community to ask, ”Why can’t I use marijuana now that it is legal?” There are ethical questions asked of Kashrus agencies to give certification to “edibles” and brownies that have a component of cannabis. On the one hand it is a good sign that some are at least asking the questions while others don’t even bother to ask, choosing to just use it. One should not think that rabbis and Jewish organizations are not hanging up posters on the issue of substance abuse and alcohol because they do not know about it or are in denial. To the contrary, Rabbis, Roshei Yeshiva, principals, and other leading figures who say they do not have any substance abuse issues in their community are either living out of touch or are simply lying. The Orthodox Union and Agudas Yisrael are tackling these issues, unfortunately on a daily basis. This, along with other sensitive topics can be embarrassing to discuss with someone else, especially with their rabbis or close friends. Nevertheless, it is not only important, it is critical to open up, to have a conversation  (albeit an uncomfortable one in the beginning but a very beneficial one in the future) with a rabbi. Unfortunately, most people today do not have a rebbi or a personal teacher in whom they can confide and ask important everyday Halachik and Hashkafik questions. When a person seeks out a rabbinic figure, he/she  is  receiving truthful guidance  connecting to Hashem. This is clearly seen in the Torah.   

In this week’s Parshas B’Shalach the Torah in Shmos 14:31 describes the song of Moshe Rabbeinu, words that were later incorporated into the davening. Every single day during Shacharis,the morning prayer, we recite a section from the Torah known as “Az Yashir”. A few sentences prior to Az Yashir, we mention how the people believed in Hashem and Moshe, His servant. "ויאמינו בה' ובמשה עבדו"   The Mechilta in Parshas B’Shalach explains that ’whoever believes in the shepherd of Israel is as if they believe in the creator of the world’. Similarly, another verse states "וידבר העם באלוקים ובמשה"  “the people spoke with God and with Moshe”. If the Jewish people were able to speak with Hashem, how much more so were they able to speak to Moshe. The Mechilta repeats the reasoning that speaking to the shepherd of Israel is equivalent to speaking to One who said, “let the world be”. Therefore, we need to seek rabbinic guidance on all levels, especially the difficult and critical ones. The basic question is: is it permitted to smoke marijuana?

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein OB”M discusses this in his responsa Igros Moshe, Yoreh De’ah Vol. 3, Siman 35. The following is a loose translation of what he writes there:

“It is obviously forbidden to smoke marijuana, as this violates many basic laws of our Torah. First of all, it physically injures the person. Even if there are people who are not physically affected by this, it mentally affects the person as it destroys his mind and prevents him from understanding things properly. This is a terrible thing, since not only can the individual not properly study Torah, he also cannot pray and properly perform Mitzvos (commandments), since doing them mindlessly is considered as if they were not done at all. Furthermore, he is creating within himself a very strong desire (addiction?), which is much stronger than the desire to eat, etc. which are necessary for a person to live. There are many who cannot control or overcome this desire. This is a very grave prohibition, as we find that a Ben Sorer U’Moreh [is killed] (See Deut. 21:18) for creating within himself a very strong desire, even though it is to eat Kosher food! How much more so it is forbidden for a person to bring upon himself an even greater desire, especially for something that a person does not need at all…”

It's important to note that medical marijuana is a completely different question where there is great concern to alleviate pain and suffering. With regard to medical marijuana, there is  greater leniency for a specific person and in a specific situation. Every question must be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.

Unfortunately, obtaining marijuana is almost as easy as it was for the Jews to get Manna in the desert. Billboards and signs have been placed all over the city advertising cannabis. I do not know anyone who uses marijuana in an illegal fashion in our community.  While saying this, I also do not want to be so naïve to think that the problem does not exist within the San Diego Jewish community.  I do want the members of the community to know that I am always here to listen to the silent cries that are often smothered through some form of substance abuse, taking a toll on the user and causing detrimental effects for the family. Rabbis are here to guide people to get help physically, emotionally, spiritually for all of the challenges of life.  This certainly applies to substance abuse.  Every Jew is precious, and we love everyone. Dependency on drugs ultimately leads to harming oneself and one’s family. We hope and pray Hashem protect those who are in danger and give them the wherewithal to serve Hashem with all-natural strength.

Ah Gutten Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas Bo - Checking the Unchecked Behavior    5 Shvat 5782

01/06/2022 09:54:09 PM


Leadership is, at times, judged for taking a stance on an issue, and, on occasion, for not taking a stance on an issue. Perhaps ‘taking a stance ‘is not the best choice of language, especially regarding the topic of discussion below.  Perhaps a better choice of words would be to comment or choose not to comment on issues which swirl around the world, and, more specifically, swirl around the Jewish world at large. I share this message with some trepidation. Too often a writer or speaker leaves a point or two out of the discussion, leading the reader or listener opportunity to fill that void,  resulting in criticism for the omission.   A writer must be very careful, as, unlike the spoken word, the written word remains  for eternity. Even today, when so many things are recorded, one must be extremely careful not only to cross the T’s and dot the I’s, but to also ensure that no essential details are omitted while making the complex effort to omit details which can later be misconstrued or taken out of context.

With this introduction, I arrived at another dilemma. We, here in San Diego, are blessed and cursed by living ’out of town’. Living in an ’out of town’ community causes challenges of living a life without all the Jewish amenities that are typically readily available in a larger Jewish, and particularly religious, population.  On the other hand, we ‘out-of-towners’ are blessed to be insulated from some of the major distractions and challenges facing larger “frum” Jewish communities. With this said, today’s world is starkly different, not only in the Jewish world but for everyone, thanks to the Internet. This is not a referendum on the Internet (otherwise how would you be reading this on-line); I am simply stating a fact that the world has become much smaller. We can now tap into the shmuess/chatter and news of every Jewish community throughout the world with a few strokes of a keyboard.

I do not know how many of my readers follow news that comes out of Chareidi, Chaisidic or Litvish circles, but it is irrelevant for two reasons: 1) to quote Rabbi Steven Pruzansky, “Predators exist everywhere since time immemorial. There are Haredi predators, Modern Orthodox, Dati Leumi, Conservative, Reform, unaffiliated Jews, atheist, Catholic and Muslim predators. There are predators who are priests, rabbis and imams. There are predators who are journalists and politicians, doctors and lawyers, teachers and professors, police officers, plumbers and piano teachers, producers and directors, actors and actresses, parents, and stepparents. Nevertheless, we should be accurate and circumspect in judging any group for the sins of an individual.” 2) Rabbi Pruzansky continues, “Those who continue to deny that problems of abuse exist in their community are enablers of the worst kind. Therefore, I will make known to anyone who doesn’t even know what I am talking about to hear a message of going forward. I am referring to the recent scandals, disgraces, humiliations, and shameful stories that have come out of the religious Jewish world. Many are familiar with the term Chillul HaShem,’ loosely translated as a desecration of God’s name. I would like to outline two or three points that we can take away from current events. Before I begin to address Chillul Hashem, the most severe sin a Jew can commit, let us halachically define it and not misuse it. Too often a term of such magnitude is thrown around and most typically ill placed. I will try in a few short sentences to give a general overview;  I am sure there is more to be said. My description is not all-encompassing.   

The Rambam enumerates three types of Chillul Hashem. The first is when someone refuses to give up his life when called for. The second is when one commits a sin, not because he’s driven by his urges but pretty much out of spite. The third category is what we typically mean when we talk about Chillul Hashem: when someone who should know better acts in a fashion that is perceived to be beneath him. The Gemara Yoma 86a discusses what would constitute a Chillul Hashem. Rav said a Chillul Hashem would be applicable if a person failed to  pay his butcher on time. Now that is not such a grievous thing, but coming from Rav, it reflects badly on Torah scholars. Each of us, at our own level, is responsible to strive to act upward and not stoop down. Tosfos in Gemara Bava Kamma 113b rules that a Chillul Hashem does apply to non-Jews whenever they are expecting better behavior from the Jew. If it is a common traffic violation that most people may transgress and is understood [even though not forgiven] by the authorities,  Jews are not looked upon more harshly than others. Such case may not be defined as Chillul Hashem. In the case of a serious infringement, however, where most people are expected to obey, and the Jew is looked upon as one who should present higher standards of behavior, it may fall into the definition of Chillul Hashem.

These cited references are light in comparison to scandals that place the Jewish people clearly in a bad light by committing fraud and white-collar crimes where it is “only money”. These “only money” crimes destroy the reputation of Jews within the community where such offenses occurred as well as to the Jewish name at large. But  cases of sexual abuse, fraud, manipulation, and so forth, destroy the essence of Jewish society by losing trust in the good people and mentally and sometimes physically come to kill the victim.

We find in Gemara Yoma 86a quoted earlier that complete Teshuva/repentance for the classic Chillul Hashem is not always a simple task, and in extreme cases it is almost unattainable. In lighter cases of Chillul Hashem, if at all, I give you the words of Rabenu Yona in his Sha'arei Tshuvah 4:5:one should increase Kiddush Hashem  - the sanctification of  Hashem's name - by acting with meticulous care in that regard, in order to repair the damage that had been created. The sin of committing a chillul Hashem in an extreme case, such as in sexual abuse, is so serious that the Gemara tells us that neither teshuvah (repentance), Yom Kippur, nor suffering can fully affect atonement for such a person. A person cannot be fully cleansed of the taint of making a Chillul Hashem until he has died - and not by suicide.

I have read, listened to countless talks by leading Rabbanim, Roshei Yeshiva, and mental health professionals about the recent events and the conclusion is the same. The works of a person who commits these crimes against the innocent and vulnerable must be thrown, out despite the appearance of the mis-perceived value of the offender. We must understand this person (who I don’t want to even mention his name) probably lost any portion in the world to come. Our feelings of support must be loud and clear to the victims of sexual abuse.  We must assert that we believe the victims’ claims (when substantiated through proper channels) and are here to support these people emotionally, physically and financially, assuring that they  receive the necessary tools to rehabilitate.

Going forward, we, as parents, grandparents, and teachers need to educate our children from an early age about the dos and don’ts that are expected and accepted by adults. This is not limited to strangers, it applies equally to all relatives who are near their prey within the natural family setting. To again quote Rabbi Pruzansky, “It is parents who must educate their children regarding acceptable boundaries and the impropriety of physical contact by others. Parents must impress on their children that no adult is ever allowed to tell them to keep a secret from their parents, and that children should never be embarrassed or afraid to share with their parents anything that has happened to them. Children – boys and girls – should be informed of the laws of yichud and try to not to be alone behind closed doors with any person, even a respected authority figure. And children should cry out immediately, run from their assailant, and immediately inform their parents.”

Let us begin to correct and protect the innocent and vulnerable and root out the evil conduct within our society. It is up to us all to live in God’s image by creating more Kiddush HaShem and not, Chas V’Shalom, the opposite.

Ah Gutten Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas VaEira - New Year's Resolutions        26 Teves 5782

12/30/2021 12:28:04 PM


Parshas VaEra – New Year’s Resolutions

Are New Year’s resolutions an acceptable practice in Judaism? Do Jews, or for that matter does Halacha recognize this sort of behavior? One can argue both sides: on the one hand it helps us be better people while on the other hand doing so could come from a forbidden, ritual practice. History does not have a definitive answer on this matter, but one of the earliest known practices of making such resolutions dates back about 4000 years ago to the ancient Babylonians who are believed to have been the first people to make New Year’s resolutions. They were also the first to hold recorded celebrations in honor of the new year—though for them the year began in mid-March, not January, timed to coincide with spring crop planting. During a massive 12-day religious festival known as Akitu, the Babylonians either crowned a new king or reaffirmed their loyalty to the reigning king. They also made promises to the gods to pay their debts and return any objects they had borrowed. These promises could be considered the forerunners of today’s customary New Year’s resolutions. If the Babylonians kept to their word, their (pagan) gods would bestow favor on them for the coming year. If not, they would fall out of the gods’ favor—a place no one wanted to experience.

Based upon that description, we Jews would forbid New Year’s resolutions since the sources for doing so are idolatry. On the other hand, this entire practice of the Babylonians seems extremely familiar to something we do every year on the first of Tishrei, our Rosh Hashana or New Year. While we repent, we take on clear resolutions not to do certain things we were not supposed to do or… the opposite – to commit to doing things that we were supposed to do.

How effective are resolutions? Well, for the secular world, statistics have shown when it comes to resolutions, it is common knowledge that they are not often realized.  Many give up on their resolutions early into the new year; resolutions are typically viewed more as a tradition and less of something to actually commit to accomplishing. So, let’s take a deeper look: how early do people typically give up on their resolutions, if they do , in actuality, give up at all? 22% of resolutions fail after the first week, 40% of resolutions fail after a month, 50% of resolutions will fail after the first three months, while 60% of resolutions fail after six months. We hope that when it comes to Jewish resolutions impacting how our year is going to be the statistics are at least somewhat higher. But our “resolutions” are not always about Mitzvos and Aveiros; rather our typical resolutions focus on other forms of commitments - to be “better” at something we are already doing i.e., davening, watching our speech, concentrating on blessings, doing more chessed etc.  One common example is creating a road or a pathway to grow closer to God. The main key path to getting closer to Hashem is through the study of Torah. There has been a boom in the learning of Torah in the Jewish world. One outstanding example is Daf Yomi.

This Shabbos, January 1,2022 on the secular calendar, will be exactly two years since the Siyum HaShas (the completion of a 7 ½ year cycle of completing the Talmud’s 2711 pages by learning one folio a day). On that day, many of the attendees at the various venues of the Siyum, whether it was at MetLife stadium, in East Rutherford, New Jersey, or at your local Shul, took on a commitment to join the incredible mass movement of learning the daf. Some people are still going strong while others have petered out along the way. Nevertheless, all have learned more than they would have if they had not started at all. It was a resolution of sorts to start on something new with a goal that they never thought they would ever have been able to do.

A resolution , a determination to make a firm decision to do or not to do something, usually is inspired by an event or the timing of something special or unique in a person’s life. The day of the completion of the last Daf Yomi cycle, was, without a doubt, one of those moments. To the day, now almost two full years into the new 7 ½ year Daf Yomi cycle, thousands are still going strong, their commitment and growth of daily learning of the Talmud changing their lives and the lives of their families and loved ones around them. Unfortunately, not everyone was successful in continuing. But I would like to share another golden opportunity that is within everyone’s reach, and I mean everyone. I started it myself and here is how I got into it.

Last Sunday, December 26th I texted someone out of the blue and said “Shalom Uvracha. How are you?”. He replied, “Shalom. BH I’m well. How are you? Are we starting Mishna tomorrow?” To be honest I had no idea what he was talking about, but I played along with him as if I knew. So I said “yes, I just wanted to know which Mesechta/tractate”. He said: “Starts with Brachos?” I said: “Yes, but you probably did Brachos already”. He said: “Ohhh. I was saying the universal ‘we’ in regard to Mishna Yomi”. I confirmed we’d start that day and asked for a time and then asked, “What Mishna is the world Mishna Yomi up to? Are you doing that?” He replied, “Apparently it started yesterday”. So, being only one day behind, we started learning via phone. I had heard of Mishna Yomi, but I never knew the breakdown and how the cycle runs. I researched and found out that Mishna Yomi is a daily Torah-study program in which participants learn two Mishnayos a day and complete all six orders of the Mishna in approximately five years and nine months.

Learning Mishnayos is not just something for kids. Years ago, my Rebbi, Rabbi Reznick told us that before one learns a tractate of Gemara, he needs to learn the Mishnayos of that tractate. Rabbi Aryeh Leibowitz, in a beautiful introduction to Mishnayos Yomi, explained that the Mishna is the foundation of Torah She’B’Al Peh, the Oral Law, and is comparable to the Torah She’Bichsav, the written Torah. The Torah was written down by Moshe Rabbeinu, who was the most humble of all men. So too, the Mishna was written down by Reb Yehuda HaNasi, who was also the humblest of his generation. As an example, he would always quote an opposing view first before giving his own opinion. The same Mishanayos are learned by young and old each and every day. The beauty of this program is that it only requires about ten minutes a day. People could learn with a partner, parent and child, or even participate in a contest motivating two people against each other. It just started last Shabbos, so it is easy to catch up this past week and join the daily Mishna learning, joining the world-wide initiative. This would be a wonderful New Year’s resolution - even on a January 1st.

On a concluding note, there are many situations of tragedy and horror that occur within the Jewish world. We cannot know the answers; we cannot give reasons or explain what or why. One of the best therapies to deal with such trying, difficult events, past and especially current, is to occupy our minds in the depths of Torah. Let us use this opportunity to learn any daily study of Torah, Shmiras HaLashon, Laws of Shabbos, etc. as a therapeutic exercise in dealing with and handling life’s challenges.

Parshas Shmos - What Was he and He Thinking?                20 Teves 5782

12/23/2021 06:34:12 PM


The winter, which is the rainy season in San Diego, brings more than flooding and traffic collisions on the ground; it also brings added pressure to a two-hundred-pound test fishing line, otherwise known as the eruv. As some of the local readership knows, (and now everyone will know) the eruv was non-operational last Shabbos due to the fact the line was broken and unable to be repaired before Shabbos.  To my recollection, this was only the second time in the seventeen-year history of the eruv being up that it was not Kasher for Shabbos use. There have been several close calls when we felt the odds of it getting fixed before Shabbos were small and advised the community to hope for the best and prepare for the worst. I could write a book on the different situations we faced and the hurdles that needed to be overcome to ensure the eruv being up for the community. As I mentioned, all but one time before last week did we fail to fix the eruv in time. We were able to fix last week’s issue at the beginning of this week, but as of the time of this writing, the eruv is down - in a different location.

For me, personally, I take this situation to heart and feel the urgency for the eruv to be operational.  I feel almost as if I am letting the community down by not finding a way to get the job done. Obviously, there are certain factors beyond my control. I know the eruv going down is not something that I have the power to control. With this said, I know most people believe that I am responsible to assure that the eruv remains up. In fact, when someone in the community called to let me know he would not be able to come to Shul, I began to apologize. This individual immediately responded, “it’s not your fault!”   

Many people asked, “What happened? Where and how did it come down? Why didn’t it get fixed”? And so here is the history and timeline of last week’s events: The eruv typically is checked every Thursday morning so that if there is an issue, it can be addressed early Friday morning. Additionally, any time we experience inclement weather, especially after a windy storm, the eruv is checked immediately, sometimes during the storm itself. This happened on Asara B’Teves, Tuesday of that week. On Thursday morning I sent a text message at 8:50 am (as I normally do) to our primary technician Mike, who owns a sign company. More vital is the boom truck he owns which is essential for us to do the needed repairs. Mike did not answer my text. A few hours later, at 11:58am, I called him, but he still did not answer his phone. I proceeded to leave Mike an urgent voicemail. During this same time, I was receiving calls and messages from another Shul in town whose eruv was down, seeking the technician since we share the same service.

At 2:01 Thursday afternoon I received a call from Mike, who told me it would be impossible for him to fix the eruv this week. He suggested that I try to reach our back-up person. I immediately called our backup company (an electrical outfit) to schedule a service for Friday morning. Once again, I was unable to get through; I left a detailed message which usually creates a “ticket” for Steve, the technician, to get in touch with me. An hour crept by and now, noticing it was 3:02 p.m. on a Thursday afternoon, I grew a bit more concerned, I called Steve-the-technician directly only to hear that his phone had been disconnected. At 3:42 pm I received an email communication from ABM electric informing me that Steve no longer worked for them, and all the technicians were booked. The email went on to state the company would try to find someone who could be assigned this job at 4:45 am Friday morning. I replied in the positive, hoping they would try to find someone, but realizing that the probability of finding a “new guy” for this kind of work was slim. At 3:46 pm I sent out an email to the community informing everyone about the news we’d received from the College Area Eruv Corporation. Therefore, as time became an issue, I began to resign myself to the fact that the eruv would not be available this Shabbos. For a reason I cannot explain, I checked my email at about 10:15 pm and saw that I had received an email at 10:02 pm confirming a new technician would meet me in front of my house at 4:45 am Friday morning. At 4:50 am I received a call from John, the new tech. I went outside to greet him, but I did not have a good feeling from that first interaction. I realized that it was only five in the morning, but these technicians always start their day early. We drove out to the site of the downed eruv, I in my car and he in his truck: El Cajon Boulevard in front of Vons. I begin to explain to John what needed to be done.

At this point I told myself, “O.K., we got it! The Eruv will get repaired. It was a no- brainer.” Unfortunately, things did not go as planned, not because the job was too difficult (Steve could have done it), but rather from the first hiccup we faced, as the line got stuck on a pole and we needed to start over, this guy John said to me, “This is not going to work.” He repeated this one liner grumble a few times. Additionally, his lack of “seichel” did not help the situation. After several tries, combined with his lack of enthusiasm - to say the least - I was defeated. I finally came to the realization that our eruv would not be repaired in time for this Shabbos.

The final straw that led me to believe that this person did not really want to help us out was when we parted ways. I would sometimes give Steve a few dollars as a tip, expressing gratitude for helping. I decided that even though we did not accomplish the mission - it did not fail, it was aborted - I decided to give something to the new fellow for trying. He answered me with an abrupt “No thanks. I get paid by the hour.” More than what he said was how he said it. It’s hard to explain, but I clearly wondered what was going through his mind during this entire interaction.

The experience left me with two feelings. The first was when I thought the eruv would be repaired, knowing we had the manpower and that my perseverance had succeeded. However, as we say every day when davening a verse from Mishlei 19:21 "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”. The Malbi’m explains that a human being believes himself to be full of possibilities, potential modes of thought and courses of action, to choose as he wills. Yet the single counsel or plan that actually goes into practical effect is often decided by Hashem, overriding a man’s apparent freedom. I completely missed this important lesson at the very outset. Secondly, it was a subtle reminder that we live in a guest country where we do not know the thoughts of every person we interact with. We hope we are respected by all, but if we are honest to ourselves, we know this is not the case.

As we begin Sefer Shmos, the Jewish people start to feel the Galus – the exile. By the end of the Parsha we begin the redemption promise. The concept of an Eruv is to bind together. I hope and pray that the physical bounds of the Eruv not only create a closeness to the Jewish community, but to the extended general community of San Diego and beyond.     

Ah Gutten Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas Vayechi - Signs & Simanim                   12 Teves 5782

12/16/2021 12:44:27 PM


Signs here, signs there, signs are everywhere! Traveling the road of life, if we take the time to look, there are signs at every twist and turn. There is clear, physical signs which stands out like posted placards, and there are signs that we say are from heaven. Recently, I took notice of the physical signs while visiting with my children. At the intersection of their street, stuck into the ground on all corners were signs reading yield, no outlet, speed limit, and one that read ‘slow down’, giving the impression that this is a street demanding caution – children are present! Many other signs are communicated without words, using pictures or symbols such as those seen on the road - railroad crossing, no turns, gas station, and so on. In airports you will see signs that have both words and pictures, perhaps the pictures are for those who don’t understand English while the words might be for those who can’t visualize how to interpret the picture.

The Hebrew word for sign is Siman, as in Siman Tov Umazal Tov, Yehey Lanu U’L’Chol Yisroel. The things that we see should be a foretelling of something good that should happen to an individual and to the Jewish people.  Sefer Bereishis is replete with signs from the rainbow from the days of Noach to Avraham asking Hashem, “How will he know that he will inherit the land” and during the period of Yitzchok and Eliezer, indicating the need to look for signs when seeking out a wife for Yaakov. Yaakov uses signs to determine which flock he will receive as compensation working for his father-in-law, Lavan. Dreams themselves serve as signs to the future as we read about Yosef, the butler, the baker, Pharoah and Yaakov. The ultimate signs come in the final Parsha of Sefer Bereishis in Parshas Vayechi.

The Torah in this week’s Parshas Vayechi states in Bereishis 48:1 "ויהי אחרי הדברים האלה ויאמר ליוסף הנה אביך חולה, ויקח את שני בניו עמו את מנשה ואת אפרים" “A short time after this, Yosef was told that his father was sick. [Yosef went to his father, Yaakov] taking his two sons, Menashe and Ephrayim, along with him”. When Yosef heard that his father Yaakov had turned ill, he took Menashe and Efrayim to receive brachos from Yaakov. The Torah emphasizes Yaakov becoming ill – a detail not mentioned regarding any of the other individuals who die in Bereishis.

The Gemara in Bava Metziah 87a says that until Yaakov Avinu there was no sickness.  He asked Hashem for mercy, and he became sick. Rashi explains that he asked that a person should become sick before he dies so he would be given the opportunity to instruct his children.  The source for this explanation is the Pirkei D’Rebbi Eliezer (chapter 52) who says that from the time of creation until Yaakov’s time, no man would become ill prior to his death; indeed, illness as such did not exist at all, and there was no warning of a person’s imminent demise.  Rather, a man walking on the road or in the marketplace would suddenly sneeze, and his soul would exit via his nostrils. Hence, a sneeze was the precursor of death. Yaakov, however, beseeched Hashem for mercy, praying that his soul not depart suddenly from this world, allowing him to have time to instruct his sons before his passing.  Hashem granted his request, and from then on, people would take ill prior to their death. Therefore, when one sneezes, he is obligated to say לחיים – to life. The Midrash Yelamdainu says that someone else tells the person who sneezed לחיים. Why did the "sneeze" cause death? The RaDa”l, Rav Dovid Luria explains in the Passuk, Bereishis 2:7, that God in creating humanity,” blew into Adam's nostrils the soul of life". Therefore, when a person sneezed, the soul would exit from the same place it had originally entered - hence death. The “sneeze” became the sign of death; the antidote is the saying of Labriyut in Hebrew or Gezuntheit in Yiddish, meaning good health.

An additional sign to note regarding Parshas Vayechi is that it is a Stuma, or a closed Parsha. Almost always there is a break between the end of one parsha to the beginning of the next. Vayechi is an exception to that rule. Chaza”l explain that Yaakov wanted to reveal the “end of days” to his children, but Hashem did not allow him to do so. Instead, (according to some) not only does Yaakov call Yosef and blesses his two children, but all the sons of Yaakov also gather to receive their parting words from their father. Yaakov does not give blessings to his sons; instead, rather prophetically, he tells over their destiny through the essence of who each of them are respectively.

Last week, while in Chicago, a man named Ben Weinschneider saw me learning a little after davening and asked if I mind if he shared some Torah with me. I said of course. He began telling me of a piece in the name of Rav Shamshon Rafael Hirsch. In Bereishis 49:5-7 Yaakov speaks to Shimon and Levi and rebukes them for their aggressive behavior in the story of Shem and Dina. Yaakov says "ארור אפם כי עז ועברתם כי קשתה, אחלקם ביעקב ואפיצם בישראל"  “Cursed be their rage, for it is fierce, and their fury, for it is cruel. I will disperse them in Yaakov and scatter them in Israel”. These words are signs to the Jewish people for all future times. Rav Hirsch asks and then explains why the words disperse them and scatter them, one using the name Yaakov, the other the name Yisrael? The name Yaakov represents the exile aspect of the Jewish people, a time of oppression and persecution. Yisrael, on the other hand, represents the “God won” victorious aspect of the Jewish people. Rav Hirsch says, “The danger to the general wrath of Shimon and Levi’s disposition is only present at a time when the nation is flourishing, when it forms a powerful body of people who could easily be influenced by two compact tribes filled with glowing feelings of strength and power and of the unity and brotherhood of the whole nation. Therefore, in Yisrael: Afitzem/scatter – when in a flourishing state of Israel, they are to be scattered. Levi, in fact, received no land at all when it was divided. Shimon’s province was completely in an enclave, entirely shut in by Yehuda, making it completely dependent upon that powerful tribe. So that at the time when Israel was in a flourishing state, Shimon and Levi’s political influence was completely paralyzed.  But in Galus, in exile, where the pressure of our fate bows everything down and the nation itself is torn asunder, there the danger lies. All feelings of one’s own importance are lost, and there is a sense of vulnerability and oppression. Therefore, the wandering Jew downtrodden and driven all over the world keeps the feelings of the importance of his own person and the sense of belonging to his people. For that the Achalkeim B’Yaakov, the dispersing of Jacob, was of the greatest benefit that the tribes of Shimon and Levi, who were scattered amongst the other tribes. It is interesting to note here, to quote Rav Hirsch, “….that the majority of teachers came from Shimon and Levi. The leaders would be found everywhere, who, with their fiery and proud dispositions would keep alive the energy and the courage, the fire and the noble Jewish pride of the Jewish spirit.” The apparent words Yaakov was giving Shimon and Levi were really hints to their future roles, vitally necessary for Jewish survival during the course of our long exile.

I’d like to add my own little hint regarding the word ‘apam’, meaning ‘rage’, which also contains the word ‘Oph’, meaning ‘nose’. The fury or rage which comes from the nose (as we read about God’s nostrils flaring when He was angry) is used to describe Shimon and Levi. The same nose through which life was blown into is also the nose that blows out fury. These are the same two characteristics of Shimon and Levi: sending rage against the enemy while simultaneously breathing life into the Jews when in exile.

Every one of us has a little of Shimon and Levi in us. We should use our ability to send a message or a sign to stand up against our enemies and send a sign of life, inspiration, and strength to our fellow Jews in times of need.

Ah Gutten Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas Vayigash - The Throw-Up Machine     5 Teves 5782

12/08/2021 12:06:55 PM


I was never sure as to why an amusement park was so named. I am curious as to who the amused would be: the spectators or the participants. For those who know me and my motion issues, I don’t think many of the rides are amusing at all! I guess there may be some activities that are fun. Perhaps a ride or two -such as the Ferris Wheel - would amuse me either from the ground or up in the air. For this article, I would say that I was never amused by these parks for a number of reasons. The Roller coaster, Carousel, Merry Go Round, Scrambler, and Tilt-A-Wheel are, for me, just advanced vomit machines that wreak havoc on my body. Why would I want to go on anything like that!

With that said, however, the term ‘roller coaster’ has often been used in the figurative sense about life. That which goes up must come down; life is a roller coaster with twists and turns, ups and downs. The challenge of life is to navigate through it all and not get sick when each of these challenging rides is over. An important lesson to contemplate is that at the amusement park an actual person is controlling the ride, observing all that is going on.  The roller coaster of life can be viewed as challenges, and at times crises which we need to get through.  Here are two vignettes of crisis, one from a few years ago and the other back to Biblical times.   

Jeff Immelt knows something about managing through crises. The former General Electric (GE) chief executive saw the industrial conglomerate through the post-9/11 period and the Great Financial Crisis. He released a book, Hot Seat, earlier this year, defending his leadership after the value of GE dropped by $170 billion during his 16-year tenure. Immelt, who is now a venture partner at New Enterprise Associates, told Yahoo Finance he thought the experiences he retold in the book could be valuable to other leaders.

“In a crisis, you have to hold two truths: You have to know that things could always get worse, and at the same time, you have to have vision that there is going to be a future that you need to invest in, ”Immelt stated at Yahoo Finance’s ‘All Markets Summit’. Personally, I would say the opposite is also true: When things are good, they can get better, but we also must be mindful that things can turn for the worse. In life a person always needs to have forward and rear-view vision, looking toward the future while learning from the past. In every generation, and in every person’s personal life you have to hold on to these truths. This is particularly poignant during and after a pandemic which, for the first time in over a century, has spread with the speed of jet travel, continuing to morph, in ways that rivet humankind world-wide. A positive outlook toward a brighter future is essential.

Yosef was the greatest CFO. He weathered the economic storm in Egypt and lead them through the famine. His brilliant insight and vision to store up food from the years of plenty for the years of famine required discipline, coordination, and great planning. Through all of this, he was dealing with a difficult family situation, requiring navigation that would have repercussions until the end of time. Yosef balanced the need to see his brothers repent with his burning desire to reveal his true identity. Yosef was not only an economic genius but also a true family man. He knew when to give it up and reveal his true identity and how to explain the entire situation that needed to happen. The commonality between GE and Yosef’s control of Egypt is that they both experienced the good times first and then the down times. The English actor and activist Jeremy Irons said, "We all have our time machines. Some take us back, they're called memories. Some take us forward, they're called dreams." Only to be topped off by the famous baseball player and manager, Joe Torre,  who quipped, "Unless you have bad times, you can't appreciate the good times."  

In this week’s Parshas Vayigash after the brothers became aware that Yosef was still alive, the Torah states in Bereishis 45:23 "ולאביו שלח כזאת עשרה חמרים נשאים מטוב מצרים, ועשר אתנת נשאת בר ולחם ומזון לאביו לדרך"  “[Yoseph] sent the following to his father: Ten male donkeys, loaded with Egypt’s finest products, as well as ten female donkeys, loaded with grain, bread, and food for his father’s journey.” Rabbi Avraham Mordechai Alter,** also known as the Imrei Emes, would always show people a particular vort (word) of the Mahara”l. The passuk tells us that Yosef sent to his father ten donkeys. The Mahara”l asks what is the significance of the number ten? Why exactly ten donkeys? The Mahara” l explains that Yosef was telling his father not to be angry at the ten brothers; it wasn’t in their control. Just as a donkey is controlled by its owner, so too the brothers did what they did because of the decree in heaven. Yosef was telling his father, “Do not be upset at the brothers for selling me.” With the ten donkeys, Yosef was implying to his father that what they did was not in their control. Donkeys just act the way their master directs them to; so too the brothers were only being directed by Hashem. Donkeys do not know the reason of their mission; they just go.  Yosef was sending this hint to his father. Telling Yaakov that he should not be upset or angry at them for they were no better than donkeys. The Mahara” l go on to explain “carrying of the best of Mitzrayim” was the reason for the decree in the first place. The design play was to bring Yaakov down to Egypt/Mitzrayim so that the Jews would leave Egypt with a lot of wealth. But the point we need to get into our heads - and more so our hearts - is that everything is controlled by Hashem. We need to send this message to ourselves…When we get hurt by someone, understand that he, the perpetrator, is being controlled by God, and we probably did something to deserve a certain kind punishment.

Yosef’s vision was toward the future and to not relish over the past. Yosef had just finished trying to convince his brothers that he does not blame them; he holds no grudge against them. Now he needs to convince his father of the same. It is one thing for Yosef to forgive his brothers, but Yosef could not forgive his brothers on behalf of his father who suffered greatly because of the sale. Therefore, Yosef needs to convince his father to let go, to forgive his sons for selling Yosef. The sales pitch was the analogy of the ten donkeys and with that Yakov would forgive his sons for what they did to Yosef and the pain and anguish they caused him.

The ups and downs and all of the uncertainty was now cleared up. Yakov is prepared to reunite and have Klal Yisroel come together. So to, if we would only realize everything is from Hashem, it would ultimately bring the Jewish people of today, the children of Yakov all together again.


Ah Gutten Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky


**Avraham Mordechai Alter Hebrew: אברהם מרדכי אלתר‎‎; 25 December 1865 – 3 June 1948), also known as the Imrei Emes after the works he authored, was the fourth Rebbe of the Hasidic dynasty of Ger, a position he held from 1905 until his death in 1948.

Parshas Mikeitz / Chanukah - Stop Being the Dreidel and Just Look Up   29 Kislev 5782

12/03/2021 09:04:58 AM


Well, welcome to the shopping season of the year. Businesses and marketers have been hard at work for months preparing to lure the lookers and turn them into shoppers and buyers. The world over, especially here in the United States, have commercialized every possible day of the calendar to sell something. Whether it is a religious holiday, a national historic day or someone’s birthday, ’can’t miss sales events where ongoing huge discounts can be used to buy things that we desperately do not need.

On-line shopping has increased greatly, especially during the pandemic. Although people are slow to return to the stores, in-person shopping is picking up as shoppers enjoy the experience of “going” shopping. The ability to try on, see in person, feel the material, and sometimes smell the fragrances enhance the shopping experience. Speaking of feeling, merchandise can also refer to food items. On-line grocery shopping is at an all-time high, benefiting the population who may not have transportation or are unable to enter the stores. The young working class, who would rather spend time on other things other than feeling the fruit and waiting online at a register, have also become ardent online grocery shoppers.  Now I must interject when mentioning feeling of merchandise. In today’s clothing business, there is so much synthetic material that it is actually difficult to determine fabric quality. My father, who graduated from the Philadelphia School of Textile*** or Philadelphia Textile Institute, was able to close his eyes, feel a piece of material, and not only tell you the type of fabric, but even fabric blends. He could tell the percentage of how much of each kind of material was in it. This skill has no value when shopping online.

My personal clothing shopping habits are almost non-existent. Occasionally, I will go to the mall with my wife or, when vacationing, will end up in some type of women’s clothing store. I typically will find myself standing there for hours feeling very uncomfortable. Some high-end stores are brilliant as they strategically place comfortable chairs and couches near racks of clothing so the men can sit while the women shop.   I recall a saying from my Rosh Yeshiva Rabbi Wein at my wedding. Rabbi Wein was supposed to be the M’Sader Kiddushin (to officiate) as per the custom. He readily agreed but warned me that he would be flying in that very day from Chicago. With a winter storm that day Rabbi Wein was delayed, and we tried to push off the Chuppah as long as we could, but eventually my uncle (a seasoned Rabbi) stepped in. My uncle, known for enjoying speaking opportunities, gave a rather lengthy message under the wedding canopy. By the time he concluded, Rabbi Wein arrived. Rabbi Wein proceeded to speak. His famous opening words rang out, “It is cruel and unusual punishment for a Chosson and Kallah to have to listen one drasha under the Chuppah, let alone to have to listen to two!” I readily modified this quote to those times spent shopping with my wife: It is cruel and unusual punishment to have to accompany my wife to go shopping in the first place and have to pay for it as well!

But after learning the following piece of Torah, I questioned myself as to what was the real reason for my feeling so uncomfortable, and, more importantly, who was the cause of it?

In this week’s Parshas Mikeitz the verse says that Yosef told his brothers “…and you will be free to circulate the land”. The Torah states in Bereishis 42:34 "והביאו את אחיכם אלי ואדעה כי לא  מרגלים אתם כי כנים אתם, את אחיכם אתן לכם ואת הארץ תסחרו"  “Bring your youngest brother back to me. Then I will know that you are honorable men and not spies. I will give your brother back to you, and you will be able to do business in [our] land”. Rashi”, on the words, “And in the land you shall trade or do business”, (תסחרו denotes) ‘you shall go around’. Similarly, the words סוחרים   (merchants) and סחורה  (merchandise) (are called so) because the merchants go around looking for merchandise. Rashi elaborates that the word Tischaru comes from the word socher, which means a merchant, ‘tischaru’ means to look for merchandise, and Eretz Tischaru means you may travel around in the land. Rashi explains the same word for merchant and commerce is based on the fact that merchants travel around looking for merchandise. The word ‘schora’ in Aramaic means going around and around, circulating. Therefore, the reason a merchant is called a ‘socher’ is because he travels around. However, this Rashi is a bit difficult to understand. The question begs to be asked, is traveling around the primary objective of a merchant? The primary objective of a merchant is to make money! Yet, a merchant is called a ‘socher’ only because he travels around. Shouldn’t the word for a merchant describe the actual business the merchant is conducting? There are many people who travel around but are not doing so for business! However, this is exactly Rashi’s point. All the merchant does is travel around; it is Hashem who provides the money. The merchant just travels around, nothing more nothing less. We are not the ones generating our income; it is all from above.

On Chanukah we spin the dreidel, and, when it is our turn, as the dreidel spins, we hope we get a gimmel, but when our opponent spins, we hope for a shin. Just as the dreidel spins, Hashem decides what letter it lands on, so too with our business and shopping. All we need to do is spin the dreidel, nothing more. We have to remember that, like the dreidel, nothing turns down here on earth unless it is being turned upon from on High. If it is not being turned up there, nothing happens down here. We go through so much anguish trying to find the right prices and the best bargains while forgetting it is all up to Hashem to decide. True, it is important to make Hishtadlus, to make an effort in all that we do. But sometimes we just spin around too much, thinking that if we spin and turn and go and do a little more it will come out better for us.

So I have come to the conclusion that it is my shortcoming… and a little lack of faith in the shopping business. The dreidel is spun from the top to remind us that everything comes from above, even the anxiety we may bring upon ourselves. If I have to stand around and pay for the shopping, I need to feel the Bracha/Blessing from above that I have the ability to do so.

Ah Gutten Shabbos & Ah Lichtiga Chanukah

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky


***Philadelphia University’s roots trace back to the 1876 Centennial Exposition, where local textile manufacturers noticed that Philadelphia's textile industry was falling behind its rivals' capacity, technology, and ability. In 1880, they formed the Philadelphia Association of Manufacturers of Textile Fabrics, with Theodore C. Search as its president. Search joined the board of directors of the Philadelphia Museum and School of Industrial Art thinking it the perfect partner for his plans for a school and began fundraising in 1882. In early 1884, Search himself taught the first classes at the Philadelphia Textile School, which officially opened on November 5, 1884. In 1942, the Philadelphia Textile School was granted the right to award baccalaureate degrees and changed its name to the Philadelphia Textile Institute (PTI). In 1961, it changed its name to Philadelphia College of Textiles and Science.

Parshas Vayeishev - Work Today; Live Tomorrow         21 Kislev 5782

11/25/2021 01:04:05 PM


The average person thinks retirement is a time reserved for people when they get older. While it may be true that most people retire when they are older, one should seriously think about retirement when they are young. Catherine Valega, a certified financial planner in Winchester, Massachusetts, discusses the concept that at retirement there is  a 40-hour gap in your week that you need to fill. She asks, “Are you sure you have enough activities to keep your body, mind and spirituality occupied for the many years you have ahead of you?”

How much time do you realistically see yourself spending going on long walks, lounging poolside, or curling up on the couch with a good book - especially after the novelty wears off? Think hard. About this. Think long term before you retire. Do you want to volunteer? Go back to school? Pick up a new hobby or resume an old one? Come up with a plan in advance of retirement.  Raymond Jetson, 64, spends a great deal of time working to revamp the concept of what it means to be retired. He should know. He has retired twice and now is at the helm of the social enterprise MetroMorphosis.  He is quoted saying: “…I wake up every day and ask myself, What will you do today that will matter 20 years from now?"

While it is true that the average young Jewish family works hard to provide for their family. For the religious Jewish family, working hard to provide is challenging in many more ways than just making a living wage. The orthodox lifestyle and demands, in addition to observing and fulfilling the Mitzvos of the Torah, complex issues of costs of Jewish education, summer camp, daily increasing costs of kosher food, and so much more.

In this week’s parshas Vayeishev the Torah states in Bereishis 37:1 "וישב יעקב בארץ מגורי אביב, בארץ כנען"   “Meanwhile, Yaakov settled in the area where his father had lived in the land of Canaan”. This area is known today as Chevron. In the next verse Rashi gives another interpretation of וישב  - that Yaakov desired to dwell לישב in peace. However, there sprung upon him the troubles of Yosaif – the righteous desire to dwell in peace. The Holy One Blessed Be He, said, “It is not sufficient for the righteous that which is prepared for them in the world to come, but they seek to dwell in peace (also) in this world!” The traditional explanation is that Yaakov should not be thinking or planning to retire. This has been my understanding for years; it never occurred to me that this is a very strange understanding that Rashi presents. It does not make sense that this is what Yaakov wants to do.

I am not going to offer an “alternative” answer but will focus on the actual pshat -the true, correct understanding of Yaakov wanting to “retire”. This verse comes to teach us that from the time Yaakov was outside the land of Canaan and the time traveling back to his father’s house, he strove to acquire many physical acquisitions and increase the size of his flock. Yaakov even prided himself by telling Lavan (Bereishis 31:40) how during the day the drought consumed him and he was also consumed by the frost by night. But as soon as he reached his father’s home in Eretz Canaan, he entered a land that was prepared and ready to serve Hashem from two avenues: The first from the place that his holy father Yitzchok and grandfather Avraham lived; the second:it was the holy land that God had chosen. At this point Yaakov no longer wanted to work for things of this world. He ceased his pursuit of financial gain in this world,-  increasing the number of cattle, sheep, and the other physical ‘stuff’. His intent was to accomplish the same things as his forefathers. At this point in his life, he gave over the business, the money making of gashmiyus/physicality with his animals and flock so as to allow and give the opportunity to his sons the same manner as he had done during his [Yaakov’s] earlier years. This explains what the statement  ‘Yaakov did not want to go out’ means. He no longer wanted to go out and shepherd; he wanted to go learn and be a part of his father’s house. This is exactly what Avraham and Yitzchok did when they reached a certain age. They separated, distanced themselves from money-making propositions. Instead of pursuing money they pursued the service to Hashem, preparing themselves for prophecy and ever-deepening connection to Hashem. This all took place in Eretz Canaan, the land Hashem seeks out for holiness and greatness. This was Yaakov’s vow earlier when he says in Bereishis 28:21, “…and if I return in peace to my father’s house, then I will dedicate myself totally to God”. Another proof is that the Torah states in Bereishis 35:27 that Yaakov thus came to his father Isaac in Mamre, at Kiryat Arba, better known as Chevron. This is where Avraham and Yitzchok resided. The passuk is not coming to inform us that the location was Chevron, because everyone knew that. Rather it comes to teach us Yaakov’s reason for tracing the steps of his father. In fact, Chevron was a rocky land that was not suitable for his flock to graze. It was perfect for his ‘Hisbodedus’, his self-seclusion and meditation to be with Hashem. Therefore, he gave over his “business” of cattle and flock to his children and sent them to Shechem, a place far away from Chevron but better suited for grazing.

Yaakov chose to return to his true passion, a passion he had when he was a young boy dwelling in the tent of Torah. As a youngster he was able to learn in Yeshiva and be close to Hashem one hundred percent of the time, learning strictly on the spiritual realm. Out of necessity he went to work and became a wealthy businessman, raised a large family, and made enough to return to a place that was conducive for this new job in life. Typically, someone who makes a great deal of money wants, actually needs, to make more money.  Shlomo HaMelech states in Koheles 5:9 “Whoever loves silver (money) will not be sated with silver”. Yaakov was able to overcome the natural inclination man has for money and possessions, and leaving it all  to work for God.

Yaakov’s retirement did  not consist of sitting in a rocking chair on the porch reading the paper every day. Yaakov’s settling would be to go back and do what his passion was from the beginning: to serve Hashem. Every Jew needs to appreciate that our ultimate job is to serve Hashem as much as possible. Yes, life requires a person to earn a living* and at times not have enough time to serve Hashem as much or in the manner they would prefer. Nevertheless, when the opportunity arises on a day off, a day free from work such as a Sunday or legal holiday, this is the opportunity to use the time to work for Hashem. Later in life when, God willing, we are blessed with financial security, we will focus and dedicate all our resources in Avodas Hashem, “working for Hashem” in the years of our “retirement”.            

Ah Gutten Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky


*This does not and should not preclude a person’s Mitzva, the opportunity to serve God in every capacity - especially in the business world. This essay speaks to exclusivity in terms of physical retirement from a job, allowing us all the precious time to dedicate our attention fully to Hashem in other areas that they could not do during their working years.

Parshas Vayishlach - Turn something Small into something Big       15 Kislev 5782

11/18/2021 11:14:57 PM


The United States of America is, by any measure, the wealthiest, most powerful, and most influential country in the history of the world.  With that said, it also has the largest wealth gap of any nation in the world.  This is not praise; it is a reality which unfortunately is part of a serious side-effect of being a capitalistic country.  Please understand – I am fully in favor of people earning a good living.  At the same time, however, we must accept the responsibility of taking care of those less fortunate, of those who have had fewer opportunities to obtain a good education. I am speaking not of those who choose not to work hard; I am speaking of those who are less fortunate, whose chances for success are either severely limited or not available at all.  This is not a political/philosophical discussion.  I am referring to the hope and belief that we all agree on the principles of earning and supporting.

I believe that one reason there is such disparity lies in the fact that the wealthy do not live amongst those who are desperately poor and therefore fail to truly recognize the need.  There is far too much lip service with regard to claiming we all should take care of the less fortunate.  Here in San Diego, I am so close yet so far away from the severe homeless crisis right here in this beautiful, affluent city.  While I may live in a relatively modest home, it is comfortable, spacious enough for our family’s needs, and in viewing the big picture, provides excellent shelter.  We have plenty of healthy, delicious food.  We live amid a beautiful, close and caring community.  Yet, when I drive around the city, I cringe at the homeless situation we all tend to feel sorry about and wonder how these people live, how much healthy food they have to eat. 

A few days ago a young man and woman knocked on my door.  I had to decide whether to open the door or not.  Please keep in mind, the range of random people ringing my doorbell: missionaries on a Sunday morning, the mom and kids selling cookies, petitioners, and delivery guys dropping something at the front door.  I have no way of explaining why I open the door for some of these people and choose not to do so for others.  In this case, I decided to go outside and speak with the young man & woman on the front steps.   They began to tell their story, which I initially listened to somewhat half-heartedly.  They explained they were collecting for a religious charity which assured that the entire donation would go directly to help the homeless population of San Diego, offering shelter, food and clothing. I was about finished with being polite, ready to say, “No thank you”, but there was something that stopped me, made me continue listening.  The young man told me that he was once homeless and now wanted to give back, to try to help the homeless in a meaningful, purposeful way. At that I gave them a donation which was more than I would ever give to the typical person coming to the front door. There was a direct connection, an avenue for me to help (but not solve) those around us in need. This young man ‘owned his word; his experiences and his inner drive to help others in distress were precious to him. Such focus to help himself and now help others says far more than others who have inherited wealth and are content to simply live the ‘good life’. 

I must say that there are plenty of opportunities to help the homeless; we may not be able to fix the problem, but we can try to help individuals one by one. I recall seeing a woman from Beth Jacob in the parking lot of a shopping center going over to a homeless woman and speaking to her for about ten minutes. It blew me away. It only cost her a few minutes of her time to do an elite chessed. I also met someone who keeps boxes of healthy breakfast bars in her car, handing them out to homeless individuals on the street. I myself, prior to walking into a 7-11, noticed a homeless person and instead of giving just a handout of money I asked what I could get him to drink. He asked for a hot drink, I paid the two dollars and change and had the hot drink delivered to the man outside.

The individual who has lived hunger and poverty, who has ‘been there, done that’, rings out.  This is an individual who knows what it’s like to rise up from nothing, who values even the smallest things in life.  This lesson is clearly seen in the Torah on multiple occasions, but this week is especially poignant.

The Torah states in this week’s Parsha Vayishlach Bereishis 32:25 "ויותר יעקב לבדו, ויאבק איש עמו עד עלות השחר"   “Jacob remained alone. A stranger [appeared and] wrestled with him until just before daybreak”. Rashi comments on the words ‘And Jacob remained alone’. He forgot פכים קטנים  small jars and returned for them. This Rashi is brought as an explanation in Gemara Chullin 91a which explains that this verse is speaking of Jacob wrestling with the angel. The verse states: “And Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day” (Genesis 32:25). “Rabbi Elazar says: The reason Jacob remained alone was that he remained to collect some small pitchers that had been left behind. From here it is derived that the possessions of the righteous are dearer to them than their bodies. And why do they care so much about their possessions? It is because they do not stretch out their hands to partake of stolen property”.

Pachim Ketanim is something of your own sweat and tears, your own handiwork that was not served up to you on a silver platter.  We know that Yaakov Avinu at this juncture in his life was a wealthy man.  Nevertheless, he cared for and risked being harmed by returning to retrieve something that someone else would have viewed as ‘disposable’ or ‘replaceable’, not feel the true value and meaning.

I am always amazed, actually dumbfounded when people simply state that the Shul should do such and such.  The Shul is the collective entity of every one of its members and participants of the community.  The Shul is not a person. People should be doing what they are claiming the Shul should do.  It is always easier for the Shul to do, to spend – and it does – but there must always be a balance of responsibility from the membership and community at large. It is always easier to spend someone else’s money than one’s own.  A person who works hard appreciates the results so much more than the individual who inherits the results of someone else’s labor.  In Pirkei Avos 5:26 it states: הא אומר, לפום צערא אגרא  Ben Hei Hei says: The reward is in proportion to the exertion. Even though this Mishna is speaking of Torah learning and fulfillment of Mitzvos, I nevertheless consider it to be as true with ordinary, everyday work and obtaining of possessions.

Reb Yisroel Salanter points out when Rashi says possessions of the righteous are dearer to them than their bodies he focuses on the word Tzadikim, the righteous. It is the righteous who consider their money or possessions greater and dearer than their bodies, specifically pointing out their bodies - not the bodies of others. The righteous do not consider their money or possessions more precious than someone else’s. 

I think the next time we find ourselves alone with our thoughts, we should think of someone else outside of our particular comfort zone. Take some of our precious, hard-earned little jugs and do something big, something righteous with them. This is the ultimate display of how a Tzadik sees his own precious items.  They are not necessarily for himself; they are, indeed, ultimately for others!

Parshas Vayeitzay - Risk + Investment = Success     7 Cheshvan 5782

11/11/2021 01:28:20 PM


This past week the Shul hosted people who were visiting  San Diego to attend an actuarial conference. Some of them, due to responsibilities at the conference, arrived late;  as I reviewed the times and dates of the Shul activities and informed them of all the codes necessary to access the Shul, I made a remark about numbers and figures:  “One of our congregants asked one of the guests, what are some of the best actuarial jokes out there? The actuary immediately quirked,  ’None.’” That may well be the case! People view actuaries as numbers people with no sense of humor, ha ha. While it may be true for some, it isn’t necessarily true for all of them.

There are many kinds of insurance: auto, renter’s, homeowners, flood, earthquake, malpractice, fire, theft, collision, liability, etc. Do we get them all? Is every insurance policy necessary? Are we obligated under the law to buy and maintain insurance? Some people are risk takers, and each person has a different tolerance level. Even those who choose to take out an insurance policy still have a number of choices to make regarding coverage limits and costs for deductibles. Generally speaking, a lower premium will yield a higher deductible while a higher premium will reflect a lower deductible. And then…there is the ultimate question: Do we need insurance? Is buying Insurance permitted in Halacha or is it showing a lack of faith in Hashem? Reb Moshe Feinstein zt”l has a responsa in the Igros Moshe Orach Chaim IV #48 - “Permissibility: Relationship to Bitachon” (faith).  Another rather crucial concern is the insurance companies.  Like all other businesses, insurance companies constantly evaluate ways to boost profits while cutting losses. It is up to the savvy consumer to take the time each year to review the renewal policy – even if the overall cost and premium remain the same as the previous year.  As an aside, here is an interesting analogy: just as orange juice containers tend to be priced similarly, the actual containers may contain fewer ounces – a range of sixty-four to fifty-nine ounces in a container.  In other words, the insurance premium may be the same, but the coverage is not.  Insurance varies greatly, depending upon age, gender, overall health, geographic location, & so forth.  

The field of actuarial science mathematically calculates all these variables to arrive at  a price tag. Actuaries are highly skilled specialists in quantifying risk, critical to the insurance industry. Actuaries earning CAS credentials work primarily in the property and casualty insurance industry, in areas such as personal lines insurance (e.g., auto, homeowners), commercial lines insurance (e.g., medical malpractice, workers compensation), and reinsurance.  Actuaries assess and manage the risks of financial investments, insurance policies, and other potentially risky ventures. They assess financial risks, combining theories of probability, economic theory, statistical analysis, and computer science. According to the Society of Actuaries, approximately 48 percent of actuaries in the U.S. work for insurance companies. The use of statistics and percentages to analyze financial impact is seen in Halacha and in the Torah.  We will be reading one of the primary sources in our Torah portion this week.

The Torah in this week’s Parshas Vayeitzay states in Bereishis 28:20-22 "וידר יעקב נדר לאמר, אם יהיה אלוקים עמדי ושמרני בדרך הזה אשר אנכי הולך ונתן לי לאכל ובגד ללבש. ושבתי בשלום אל בית אבי, והיה ה' לי לאלוקים. והאבן הזאת אשר שמתי מצבה יהיה בית אלוקים וכל אשר תתן לי עשר אעשרנו לך"  “Jacob made a vow. ‘If God will be with me’, he said, ‘if He will protect me on the journey that I am taking, if He gives me bread to eat and clothing to wear, and if I return in peace to my father’s house, then I will dedicate myself totally to God. Let this stone that I have set up as a pillar become a temple to God. Of all that You give me, I will set aside a tenth to You’. This is nothing short of a typical insurance policy! Namely the Neder is the contract: protection, bread, clothing, and safe return home is the Coverage; the Premium is the ten percent.

But was Yaakov Avinu only looking for financial security? On the one hand, based upon many commentaries that Darshan/expound upon the double language of ‘ahsair t’ahsair’ to indicate that if someone gives his ten percent of earnings, he or she will be rewarded, receiving a return of double or some kind of financial benefit far beyond the initial charitable investment.  

Rav Moshe Shternbuch in his sefer Ta’am V’Daas explains the need to infer that the giving of Maaser (ten percent) is not specifically about money or financial giving and receiving. Rather, everything that God gives and bestows upon us - even the wisdom with which He endows us - needs to be tithed. The reward a person will merit and receive will be filled with blessing and success. It is said in the name of Reb Moshe Shapiro zt”l that he instructed the students of the yeshiva to dedicate and grant one hour per day to help others become wiser. He coined a phrase for this time as “Avodas HaKodesh”- holy service. He promised, he guaranteed those students that if they followed his word, they would merit excellence and success in their own learning. It is also said in the name of Reb Shimon Shkop zt”l, the Rosh HaYeshiva of Shaar HaTorah in Grodno, ”Just as tzedakah (righteousness) with money has a segula/treasure to become wealthy, so, too, in spirituality: if a person with extraordinary talent in knowledge separates and ‘tithes’ his time for someone else, he will be guaranteed sevenfold of spirituality greatness.

Reb Shimon Shkop was not only ‘suggesting’ a student to do this; he made it a requirement of the entire student body. There are stories told that there were certain students in the Yeshiva who, even after davening for Heavenly assistance in their Torah learning and growth, did not see it until they accepted upon themselves this commitment to contribute an hour a day of their studies to learn with someone weaker than they.

How and why the ten percent became the secret number of successes is beyond the scope of this article. In fairness the Gemara Kesubos 50 puts a twenty percent limit to give. According to most opinions this law applies only to agriculture and not necessarily to cash. Nevertheless, the lesson is that when we give, we get back, receiving in turn an even greater amount than we contributed.

No two people are created the same; some have talent in one area while others are stronger in another area. Every human being is ‘wealthy’ in some talent or skill. Every one of us  has the ability to share that knowledge and information, assisting those who are lacking in that area. It behooves individuals to seek out their blessing that Hashem has given them and use it in some fashion to share and help those less fortunate who could be elevated, assisted by your help. This, in essence, is a vital insurance policy for our future in both the physical and spiritual realms of life, both here in this world and in the world to come. Yaakov Avinu took out the first policy; we, his children, need to renew the policy every year to ensure the continued kindness with which Hashem created the world. It is our responsibility that we continue to maintain it.

Ah Gutten Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky 

Parshas Toldos - Seeing Behind the Lens   1 Kislev 5782

11/04/2021 09:17:15 PM


Twenty-two years ago, a young Chareidi Israeli couple arrived in San Diego with their one-month-old baby. The San Diego destination was not by choice; it was a journey of  necessity. Their baby, born without a cornea in one eye, was flown to San Diego so that he could undergo a newly developed cornea transplant operation for children born without a cornea. And so a young Chareidi couple travelled with their newborn baby from Israel to the Shiley Eye Center, nine thousand miles away from home, in order to meet the highly-specialized cornea surgeons who would hopefully give sight to the second eye of this baby boy. As the young couple prepared to leave for their trip to America, the father, who had never left Israel before and who knew only a few words of English, felt the need to discuss the situation with one his Rabbeim (teachers) from his Yeshiva.

 At the time, the Yungerman (term used for a young man learning in Kollel) was learning in Yeshiva Kol Torah in Bayit Vegan. His Rebbi, Rabbi Moshe Kopshitz, not only gave him encouragement and reassurance but a beautiful parting Dvar Torah, as is the Halacha when friends part ways.  This Dvar Torah was both touching and befitting  their upcoming, challenging trip. Rabbi Kopshitz quoted the verse from the Torah located in both the first and second paragraphs of the Shema. The passuk in Devarim 6:8 states "וקשרתם לאות על ידיך, והיו לטטפת בין עניך"  “Bind [these words] as a sign upon your hand, and let them be an emblem in between your eyes”.  There is a well-known challenge from Jews who take the written law literally and wear the head Tefillin literally on their face between their eyes. The question is, ”Why do we wear them where we do?” Rabbi Kopshitz explained that the eyes do not do the seeing; in fact, the eyes are only the lenses. It is the brain that receives the information and translates this into “seeing” something. Therefore, it makes perfect sense to place the head Tefillin precisely between the eyes but also above on the forehead, at the location of the brain. This makes perfect sense, and with these words this young father was off with his wife and baby to begin the mission. I am not completely sure if the father fully understood the concept of the cornea transplant and how it was supposed to work scientifically or whether the dvar Torah came before or after the explanation of the procedure. Nevertheless, the coming together of the procedure and how it was supposed to work combined with the Dvar Torah now became one and the same. The two were inseparable. Simultaneously, halfway across the globe Dr. Stuart Brown was making medical history. In 1991, when the Shiley Eye Center opened its doors.  Dr. Brown, through  a grant from the Shiley family, developed a way to perform corneal transplantation in babies who lacked a cornea. Dr. Brown’s theory was that if the body was to receive a cornea soon after birth, the brain would potentially connect to it, giving the chance of sight, hypothesizing that since the brain interprets images, it will send the connecting signals to the lens, perhaps creating vision in that eye with the new cornea. Timing was critical.  The brain needed to connect to a lens as soon as possible. The potential for success was directly dependent upon the amount of time which had transpired with no connection.

Dr. Brown’s incredible insight demonstrates how we each need to think about what we see, taking deliberate time to discern for the good or for the bad. We hear different idioms in the English language that resonate with this line of thinking:  seeing is believing, see the truth, see how the land lies, see the light, there are none so blind as those who will not see, see eye to eye, just you wait and see, and so forth. These expressions do not speak about physical sight; they use the word sight figuratively. This is not a foreign concept to us; we clearly see this throughout Jewish philosophy and literature, as we see in the following episode.

The Torah states in this week’s Parshas Toldos in Bereishis 27:27 "ויגש וישק לו וירח את ריח בגדיו ויברכהו, ויאמר ראה ריח בני כריח שדה אשר ברכו ה' "  “[Jacob] approached and kissed him. [Isaac] smelled the fragrance of his garments and blessed him. He said, ‘See, my son’s fragrance is like the perfume of a field blessed by God’. Rav Meir Simcha haKohein of Dvinsk in his commentary Meshech Chochma on Torah asks the obvious question: ”How is it possible to see an aroma?” Rav Meir Simcha understands that this is based upon two principles, both of which are not focused on the physical. The Midrash explains Yitzchok’s sight became weak and he could not see, meaning Yitzchok could not see the evil that his son Esau had gone out to do. He was blinded by the fact that he could not accept his own son not following in his ways. Second, the Zohar (242, 2) explains the words ‘to see’ is either referring to God or to Yitzchok. The Zohar says they are both correct because Ruach HaKodesh, the Divine Spirit and word, comes forth from the mouth of the righteous. Either explanation demonstrates seeing as an intellectual understanding, a complex comprehension of any situation in life. An additional illustration is seen in the following Gemara. 

The Gemara Rosh Hashana 26b records that Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish said: When I went to the district of Kan Nishrayya, I heard that they called  a rooster sechvi. The Gemara explains how this information serves to clarify the meanings of biblical verses: …a rooster is called sechvi; Rav Yehuda said that Rav said: And if you wish, you can say that Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi said this: What is the verse that employs this term? “Who has put wisdom in the inward parts? Or who has given understanding to the sechvi (Job 38:36), which should be understood as follows: “Who has put wisdom in the inward parts”: These are the kidneys that are hidden in the body; “or who has given understanding to the sechvi”: This is a rooster, a bird who knows to crow at fixed times during the night. Rashi explains the word Sechvi is and Aramaic word that means see. Accordingly, God calls the rooster sechvi because He gave it an extraordinary ability to discern (to see) the precise moment when morning dawns. On a deeper level in Parsha Vayera 19:28 the Torah says וישקף אברהם  and Avraham stared out. However, Avraham didn’t merely stare – he thought deeply. He internalized.  Targum Onkelos explains the word Vayashkeif as V’Istchi - meaning wisdom. We must always internalize, process, discern. The term ‘hashkfa’ means philosophy – a way of processing thought.  A means for seeing through difficult situations while holding fast to the synthesis of wisdom such situations can produce. The word ‘mishkafayim’ means glasses.  Glasses help us to see with more clarity, helping to give meaning to text or to general vision.

As a Jew we should not react or do things as we see them with the naked eye. The naked eye is exactly that, naked without the brain interpreting and giving meaning to a set of circumstances. Becoming an observant Jew is not limited to going through the motions of performing the Mitzvos. The level we should aspire to when fulfilling and observing any Mitzva is the thought process, to literally seeing how this action connects me to Hashem. It is the brain that gives us the Kavana/intent and direction of where our thoughts ought to be. If we are seen doing Mitzvos without any thought or perspective, then it is an eye piece without the cornea, a lack of connection to the ultimate source of comprehension. Let us not only see ourselves doing Mitzvos and learning Torah; we need to simultaneously think about what we are seeing, what we are perceiving. Then we will truly have the Chochma  - the wisdom -  to connect to God!

Ah Gutten Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas Chayei Sorah - The Faxts Eventually Come Out      22 Cheshvan 5782

10/27/2021 03:58:03 PM


This Dvar Torah is, L’Ilui Nishma, in memory of HaRav Kalman Moshe ben Reuven Avigdor Packouz zt”l  whose Yarzeit was this past Sunday, the 18th of Cheshvan

Two years have passed since  this parsha of Chayei Sorah, distributed by  the world-wide Torah Fax publication, was not sent out by its founder. Even the previous week’s Torah Fax was sent out and read posthumously. Rabbi Shraga Simmons of Aish HaTorah eulogized his friend, Rabbi Kalman Packouz, the week after he passed. One of the major accomplishments Reb Kalman was responsible for producing was the Torah Fax. Here is a snippet of that article:

“[…Rabbi] Kalman’s second breakthrough with technology came in 1992. In this pre-Internet era, he collected fax numbers of homes and offices, then created a subscriber list for Shabbat Shalom Weekly – a newsletter featuring life lessons from the weekly Torah portion and Jewish insights into personal growth. Stamped with Kalman’s huge smile (and “thumbs-up”) the “Fax of Life” was warm and witty, with insightful stories, Torah lessons for life, and a pithy “quote of the week.”

What started as a local fax sent to 50 people, expanded globally, becoming the gold standard in Jewish adult education. Shabbat Shalom reached every corner of the globe. It was posted on office bulletin boards, Jewish community centers, and synagogues. With the mass adoption of email in the mid-1990s, Shabbat Shalom Weekly became the first Jewish e-newsletter to reach 100,000 subscribers. In 27 years, Kalman never missed sending the newsletter every week. Its impact was both vast and enormous.

Approximately five years before his passing, Kalman visited San Diego twice a year. He attended a certain institute for health-related issues but never let on (and we could never tell) that he was there trying to treat his illness. His visits typically lasted two weeks. During that time he davened in my Shul and ate with my family on Friday nights. I never really knew the depth of who he was and the incredible accomplishments which led to his world-wide fame. One of my simple connections to him was that we knew his brother-in-law and sister-in-law. In short, Rabbi Kalman Packouz was the most unassuming individual one could meet. He was humble beyond description, always offering to be of assistance in any which way possible. Our many discussions regarding the plight of the Jewish people, outreach, and Torah learning stimulated and enhanced my weekly divrei Torah, such as the one you are reading now. He, too, as a writer for many years, was always looking for meaningful stories to share with the world through his Torah Fax. One time a personal story of mine came up in discussion. Rabbi Packouz wanted to write it up and send it out. I declined his request, and he, being very persistent, asked me every time he visited for permission to use the story. Each time I said no, eventually telling him that I would probably use it in an upcoming book or other publication, and I did not want to let the story out just yet. He pleaded, in his very calm and soothing voice and tone,  trying to convince me that so many people would read it and learn from it. I always thanked him, apologized but said, “I cannot let you use it.” I had my reasons why and not everything in life needs to be revealed. Well, due to recent events the time has come to share this story……….

The Story Behind the Broken China Plate

During the first year or two following our arrival in San Diego, we invited each and every member of the Shul for a Shabbos meal. Some were older couples, others joined us with their small children. At the time, our children were also very young and were susceptible to the same scenario that occurred.

We always strive to have a beautiful Shabbos table, and at one point actually used our real china for our Shabbos meals. We also used a disposable plastic table covering to protect the tablecloth from staining from spilled items.

One Friday night our Shabbos dinner guests were a family with small children.  One of the guest’s children pulled the plastic tablecloth (I hope accidentally), causing one of the china plates to fall off the table and break into a number of pieces upon hitting the floor. My initial reaction was anger, frustration, even rage (thinking to myself how did that happen!?), but I regained my composure  quickly because it was the guest’s child who had caused the china to break.  I began to tell them in a calm and soothing voice “oh don’t worry about it, it’s only a plate”. I don’t even think the parents paid too much attention to it and again I said, “It’s fine, things like that happen,” etc.

Later that night I thought to myself, “If one of my children had broken that plate, I wouldn’t have stopped yelling and screaming for hours. I would have been so mad and angry, and would have said things like “can’t you be more careful, or how could you be so clumsy, or it’s such an expensive item to break, how can you be so careless?” Explaining to my child that an expensive plate had been broken because they had been so clumsy and careless.  

I realized the hard way that I didn’t yell at the stranger how much more so I shouldn’t yell at my own children whom I love so deeply. I was calm for the company and brushed the entire event aside and just cleaned it up. I should always do that for my own flesh and blood.

I made a statement to myself at that time (form of a neder/vow) that I will give each of my children a framed piece of that broken plate when they get married and have children of their own, so it will serve as a reminder of this incident.

Accompanying the framed broken plate, I wrote: This framed piece of china is from that  plate, broken during a Friday night dinner when you were small. Keep it as a reminder never to yell or scream at your children or spouse, especially for things you wouldn’t yell at others for. Don’t yell at the ones you love the most, your family.

Love Abba

Below the plate in Hebrew it reads: to my children (their names) and a verse from Iggeres HaRamban "תתנהג תמיד לדבר כל דבריך בנחת לכל אדם בכל עת, ובזה תנצל מן הכעס   “Accustom yourself to speak gently to all people at all times. This will protect you from anger.”

In this week’s Parshas Chayei Sorah both Sorah Immeinu and Avraham Avinu die. The Torah, in both instances, records in Bereishis 23:1 "ויהיו חיי שרה מאה שנה ועשרים שנה ושבע שנים שני חיי שרה"  and then Bereishis 25:7 "ואלה ימי שני חיי אברהם אשר חי מאת שנה ושבעים שנה וחמש שנים" These are the days Sorah and Avraham lived. Every day of their each of their lives was lived as a full life. So too, Reb Kalman literally lived every day of his life. We also have a tradition that a Tzadik’s life lives on long after he  physically passes away. Kalman’s impact on the Jewish world lives on in many ways after his physical passing. As again quoted by Rabbi Simmons: “In recent years, Kalman expanded the Shabbat Shalom Weekly to three languages – English, Hebrew and Spanish. Then, at the suggestion of a colleague, he created a "Digital Eternity" project, whereby the Shabbat Shalom archives serve as a database to continue sending out a relevant weekly email in perpetuity”.

הרב קלמן משה בן ראובן אביגדור זצ״ל        יהי זכרו ברוך                                     

Ah Gutten Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas Lech L'Cha/Vayeira - In the Footsteps of our Forefather               15 Cheshvan 5782

10/21/2021 03:51:27 PM


Hotels, cars and flight all fall under the category of travel.  There is an on-going battle between the consumer and the service provider. Every provider wants our business, but the customer wants to pay as little as possible. There are many perks and benefits for members and frequent users which accompany repetitive business. I, for one, am always trying to figure out the best deals and often try to calculate which options to choose from. One of the many choices presented to someone wishing to rent a car  is the gas category. The three gas options are: A) refuel yourself and return the car with a full tank of gas; B) prepay for a full tank of gas (at local prices), regardless of how many gallons of gas remain in the tank at the time the car is returned; C) return the car with less than a full tank of gas and get charged for a full tank of gas at a rate that could be three times the price of the local gas station.

Obviously, no one would choose option C at the outset, but sometimes things do not go as planned and there is no choice. Typically, I choose option A,  refilling the tank myself so the car is returned with a full tank.  But the combination of increased pressure of travel time and my aging is becoming more of a factor. I have become more discerning in certain situations. Generally speaking, if I am returning a car to an airport or to a location that I am familiar with and know exactly where to fill up prior to returning the car,  I will choose to do so. Recently, I returned a car to a location that I had never been to previously.  Knowing this in advance, I chose option B, prepaying for a full tank of gas, eliminating the worry of where I might find a gas station in an area I did not know. In addition, I returned the car very early in the morning and did not need any extra headaches or concerns, especially from my wife.

Pre-paying for the full tank of gas is obviously a convenience, and in life we pay for convenience. Nevertheless, I try to get my money’s worth by returning the car with the least amount of gas possible. This requires some mathematics in calculating how many more miles I will need to travel and how many miles per gallon this vehicle gets, resulting in how many gallons of gas to purchase just prior to returning the rental. On my last trip I felt added pressure from my passenger that I filled up a bit too much (for fear of having to stop again for more gas) and had about thirty-four miles to go until empty, meaning I put in about one extra gallon. For me, this is a thrill and a challenge, while my passenger views it as unnecessary stress that can be avoided by spending more.

In the small picture of life, many of us have travel stories and challenges, but in the greater picture we all go through challenges as we travel the road of life. Life is a journey that comes with curves, turns, potholes, wrong turns, poor directions, and the need to navigate through it all in the best, most practical, and beneficial manner.

 From the moment we are born, the gas tank is full until we run out of gas as we come to our final resting place. During our lives we continuously re-fill the tank until the gas station closes. The book of Bereishis, also known as Sefer HaAvos the book of our fathers (Genesis) lays the groundwork for the future of the Jewish people. This is highlighted by what Chaza”l say: "מעשה אבות סימן לבנים"  “the actions of the forefathers are a sign for the children”. The process of traveling through life and facing the tests and tribulations of living our lives is clearly seen by the life of Avraham Avinu. Although Avraham is mentioned in five parshios, the main part of his life is described in Lech Lecha and Vayeira. Avraham’s life is strung together, linked by the major, famous ten tests beginning in Lech Lecha and ending in Vayeira.

The Torah in last week’s Parsha Lech Lecha states in Bereishis 12:1 "ויאמר ה' אל אברם לך לך מארצך וממולדתך ומבית אביך אל הארץ אשר אראך"  “God said to Abram, ‘Go away from your land, from your birthplace, and from your father’s house, to the land that I will show you”. The Torah in this week’s Parshas Vayeira states in Bereishis 22:2 "ויאמר קח נא את בנך את יחידך אשר אהבת את יצחק ולך לך אל ארץ המוריה, והעלהו שם לעולה על אחד ההרים אשר אמר אליך"   “Take your son, the only one you love -Isaac - and Go Away to the Moriah area,. Bring him as an all-burned offering on one of the mountains that I will designate to you”. Rabbeinu Bachya, on the words Lech Lecha in Vayeira,explains there were ten tests upon which Avraham was tested. Avraham was found to be complete and wholesome in all of them. The first test was the command to leave his birthplace;  the last was the Akeida. Pirkei Avos 5:3 also states, ‘With ten tests Avraham was tested and he stood in all of them’. Nevertheless, we find that the last test was the greatest and most challenging of all. One reason is clear: the first test came along with a guarantee that it will be for your good and benefit. The last, in stark contrast, was to sacrifice his only son. A second reason is the mere fact that Avraham was running away from bad; in the last one he was on the way to do something good. A final thought on the matter is that the words Lech Lecha do not need to be taken literally in the physical sense of going from point A to point B. Rather, the Lech Lecha is a spiritual journey leaving the Avoda Zarah, the idol worship in his birthplace, traveling to a holy place, namely Har Hamoriah. One can deduce the leaving from the first Lech Lecha indicated by the very next letter Mem, which connotes from and going away, while the second place, indicated by the word El, means to someplace great.

Life is not just about getting from one place to the next. We should look at our lives and travel a route that combines all three explanations. As we grow closer to Hashem, the tests grow correspondingly more difficult and challenging. Hashem does not need to test the wicked and those who are distant from Him. He tests those who are closest to Him. Secondly, we know the difference between good and evil. Throughout all the challenges of life, we should only choose goodness, leaving the bad. Finally, our travels through life should take us to spiritual matters that not only will give us the fuel and energy for this world, but will take us on our final destination in the World to Come.  

Ah Gutten Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas Bereishis/Noach - The Light Before the Darkness         2 Cheshvan 5782

10/08/2021 08:08:34 AM


Baruch Hashem, we had another action-packed, beautiful Yom Tov season! For the most part everything was pretty much the same routine through the high holidays and into Sukkos. I have been using the same Sukkah for the past thirty years, with some modifications, such as adding a few new decorations, some upgraded lighting, and improving its structure with some new lumber and hardware. My son and I assembled the Sukkah the day after Yom Kippur and had a few days to ensure everything was just right… but it wasn’t. Oddly enough one of my two lights went off and on intermittently and for the life of me I could not understand why. The oddity was that the light would go off, and as I entered the Sukkah the light went back on. Keep in mind these were not new lights. I thought that perhaps there was a bad connection, or perhaps the wiring was compromised. But then I realized the other light worked just fine. This kept me baffled for a few days. As Yom Tov quickly approached, I needed to take stronger action because I could not have the light turn itself  off every time I enter our Sukkah and then turn itself back on during Yom Tov.    

I took a better look at the light fixture, examining it a bit more thoroughly and noticed a little switch and bulb at the end of the four-foot overhead light fixture. Even though I’ve had these fixtures for a few years, it never occurred to me that it might have a motion sensor option. Nowhere on the box which had once contained this light fixture did it claim to have such a feature.  It then hit me that the little bulb looked like it was thinking!  The light bulb in my head turned on causing me to see that it was indeed a motion sensor. The switch next to it must have been flipped, activating the motion sensor. The other fixture remained constantly on because its switch remained off.

At times, each of us has spent hours trying to come up with a solution or an idea when suddenly a cerebral light bulb goes off blaring the answer with crystal clarity. The light bulb idiom applies when one is suddenly struck with an ingenious idea, insight, or revelation. The idea of applying light to a concept is nothing new to the Jewish people;  we are destined to be an “Or Lagola” a light unto the nations. But the concept of light runs far deeper and has lasted much longer than almost anything in history, as referred to last Shabbos and hinted about this coming Shabbos.

In Parshas Bereishis the Torah states in Bereishis 1:3 "ויאמר אלוקים יהי אור, ויהי אור"  “And God said let there be light, and there was light”. Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech Spira of Dinov (1783 – 1841),in his work "the Bnei Yisaschar" enlightens us on the word “Or”/ Light. On this verse the Midrash Rabbah Chap.2 quotes a verse from Yeshayahu 41:2 "מִ֤י הֵעִיר֙ מִמִּזְרָ֔ח צֶ֖דֶק יִקְרָאֵ֣הוּ לְרַגְל֑וֹ יִתֵּ֨ן לְפָנָ֤יו גּוֹיִם֙ וּמְלָכִ֣ים יַ֔רְדְּ יִתֵּ֤ן כֶּֽעָפָר֙ חַרְבּ֔וֹ כְּקַ֥שׁ נִדָּ֖ף קַשְׁתּֽוֹ" “Who has roused a victory from the east, summoned him to His service? Has delivered up nations to him, And trodden sovereigns down? Has rendered their swords like dust, Their bows like wind-blown straw? The Midrash indicates this is a reference to Avraham Avinu, but the Midrash also notes that one should not read the word “roused "העיר with an ayin but rather "האיר"  to enlighten with an aleph. The Bnei Yissaschar asks what is the reason that Yeshayahu the prophet did not write it explicitly with an aleph to begin with? He explains that before the original sin of Adam HaRishon, the leather garment or covering Hashem made for Adam was written כתנות אור  with an aleph (light) and only after the sin the word ‘Or’ switched from an aleph to an ayin (leather). It is through the holy and righteous that the sin of Adam HaRishon can be fixed and corrected so that the word Or with an Ayin would have a greater effect and lighten up and shine as the Or. meaning light with an aleph.

Avraham Avinu started to “fix” the sin of Adam HaRishon .Thiswas the beginning of change that the ayin of Or should shine just like the aleph. Therefore, the Navi Yeshayahu wrote the word with an Ayin but it is pronounced as though it were an Aleph.

The Rabbis expound upon the concept that there were indeed three worlds: the world before the flood, the world after the flood and a world within the Teiva, the ark. The world as we know it today has been the same world since the time of Noach when he and his family emerged from the Teiva. Prior to the flood and surely throughout the year of the flood, the world was not the same world we have come to know today.  We also find a light of some kind in the ark. In this week’s parshas Noach, the Torah states in Bereishis 6:16 "צהר תעשה לתבה"  “Make an opening for daylight in the ark”. The simple meaning of Tzohar is the Hebrew version of the Aramaic word Zohar, meaning light. Rashi explains the word Tzohar through giving two explanations; the first discusses a window to let the light in and the second through the example of a jewel whose radiance shed brilliant light into the ark. In both these circumstances something needed to be done, action had to be taken to create such light. Darkness is not necessarily the absence of light; it is rather just intense darkness.. Light was created in the beginning of creation and later during the flood. Hashem saw the darkness of the world after the sin of Adam and Chava and again during the generation of Noach. In both circumstances light was used to change the destructive nature that enveloped the world.

I would like to take some poetic license regarding the light mentioned in both Bereishis within the ayin and aleph and later in Parshas Noach  the mechanism which Noach used to bring light were not necessarily physical. Rather, this light was a change in focus, revealing the wrong that had become part and parcel of society. There is no question in my mind that we, living in this challenging generation, are experiencing nothing less than the darkness that hovered over the world pre-Mabul time. This light is not physical in nature; it is a light distinguishing with clarity between truth and falsehood, goodness and evil, right and wrong. We, the Jewish people,  the Or Lagola, are the light unto the nations. It is our responsibility to light up the world with the basic principles of moral clarity and true social justice. Only with a clear and everlasting, unabated light will darkness no longer pervade the world. Only then will  the world return to the utopian society that was the world pre-mabul. Once we can master keeping the lights on, then we will merit the ultimate light to be witnessed and understood in the coming of Moshiach Tzidkeinu B’Meirah B’Yameinu! Amen!

Parshas Vayeilech / Yom Kippur                        9 Tishrei 5782

09/14/2021 08:41:56 PM


Almost two years ago God brought something upon the world to cause the world’s human population to grow  closer together. A pandemic ravaged all four corners of the earth. At the time, the scariest part was the constant unknown of how, why, from where and when the virus manifested itself.  The virus drew no lines between global socio-economic societies. Rich and poor, healthy and compromised, men and women, Jew, and gentile, all were affected by serious illness and far too many by death. It seems to be that every year there are tragic events that give us pause when we recite the holy prayer of Unesaneh Tokef. Overcome by the power and the awesome majesty of the words, together we sing who by….and who by…..With no rhyme or reason that we mere mortals acknowledge that some are taken and some are spared. These past eighteen months have unquestionably been a most difficult time for everyone, and the Jewish people are no exception.  Nevertheless, the Jewish people approached the complex issues they faced: camp, school, yeshiva, shul, weddings, and so forth, in a variety of ways, all determined by the status of the daily spread of Covid. There was one area, however, where observant Jews throughout the world saw some common ground: how to figure out ways to maintain the daily minyanim.  During the months of the pandemic,  connecting on Zoom worked for many, but later setting up small, makeshift minyanim became the common rule wherever possible.

The terminology in halachik terms for such measures to be taken is called a “Sh’as Hadchak”-  a pressing time. In difficult and challenging situations, such as a pandemic, Jewish law may not be fulfilled to the most stringent level. Instead an ipso facto approach is taken for the time being. One may ask, ”What is so bad about conducting smaller minyanim and gatherings in backyards, parking lots, and the like?” The answer is, if this is the limit of what we are permitted to do then we do it; it becomes the “best” scenario or the “L’Chatchila” for that time. The words “for that time” are critical. Once the limitations or the issues are no longer present and the risks and dangers are not what they once were, then we should not rely on leniencies; rather we go back to the ways things were or at least move toward that ultimate goal.

Shlomo HaMelech, King Solomon, writes in Mishlei 14:28 "ברב עם הדרת מלך, ובאפס לאם מחתת רזון"   משלי פרק יד פסוק כח: “In a multitude of people is a king’s majesty, but the ruin of His Princedom is in lack of people”. The commentator Malbim explains the first “people” (Ahm) refers to a nation united in loyalty to the king. The second “people” (L’Om) denotes a population united by a spiritual belief. Even where there is an impressive display of numbers, the minister in charge of legislating and regulating religion, will find himself helpless if there is a lack of people of religious faith and understanding. The Gemara in Yoma 26a and Brachos 53a states in many places that the performance of a precept with a multitude of people is preferable to performing it in solitude; also, the participation of many in the performance of a precept is preferable to one person performing the entire precept, such as the sacrificial service. It is also preferable for many people to discharge their obligation of reciting a blessing by listening to one recitation rather than by reciting the blessing by themselves. It is even meritorious to gather to witness the performance of a Mitzva, as in the case of the korbanos/sacrifices of Yom Kippur. 

Fast forward to our current situation. Although there are certain locations which still require smaller minyanim and gatherings, in many places the situation in general, regardless of growth or decline of Covid numbers, of  has become an excuse not to return to the Shul davening. People have gotten used to a no-frills davening with no Rabbi, no drasha/sermon, and no boundaries. In larger cities there are enough people to go around and create small, localized prayer groups where no one tells them how or what to do. I have heard directly from several my friends, Rabbonim and even strangers who shared this experience with me. One individual told me they now go upstate New York a.k.a. to the country for all the holidays and long weekends, stating, ”We are never going back to the pre-Covid days.”  A friend of mine in Teaneck told me that the Shul he used to attend is now only one third full; pre-Covid it boasted multiple minyanim and overflow standing room only events.

When the virus struck it brought Klal Yisroel closer together in terms of praying together from a distance, helping each other in times of need, going out of our way and sometimes into harm’s way for the unfortunate. In my humble opinion the sense of connectedness the Jewish people felt has not been greater since the six-day war in 1967. Despite the fact Hashem has shown mercy on the world with a vaccine battle against the virus, things have changed drastically - some for the better and some for the worse. The division among the general population regarding creating safe situations and at the same time giving an expression of freedom has been tested to the limits of our society. I will stay clear of policy, religion, politics, etc., and focus on one aspect that is germane to the Jewish people: the lack of cohesion in and out of Shul. The second to last Mitzva of the Torah #612 commands the Jewish people of the Mitzva of Hakhel: to gather.  

The Torah states in Parshas Vayeilech Devarim 31:12 "הקהל את העם האנשים והנשים והטף, וגרך אשר בשעריך, למען ישמעו ולמען ילמדו ויראו את ה' אלוקיכם ושמרו לעשות את כל דברי התורה הזאת" “You must gather the people, the men, the women, children and proselytes from your settlements, and let them hear it. They will thus learn to be in awe of God your Lord, carefully keeping all the words of this Torah”. The Mitzva of Hakhel is a once in seven-year event that takes place during Chol HaMoed Sukkos, the year following the Sabbatical (Shmittah) year. In today’s day without a Beis HaMikdash, we can fulfill the spirit of the Mitzva by gathering in the Mikdash Me’at, the small Sanctuary which is the substitute of the Holy Temple itself. 

The silver lining for an out-of-town community is the lack of choices. At times that frustrates a community, but on the other hand it lends itself to a more cohesive group, all doing the same thing together. I am sure that if the members of our Shul lived in larger cities with many more Shuls, they too would be “enjoying” the ‘alternative Minyan’. I am very proud of Beth Jacob; that we do come together under one banner and it is this allowance for people to gather together which fulfills the Mitzva of Hakhel. Through our dedication and efforts to come together and serve God, Hashem should bless us all with health and happiness and a year of growth in Torah and Yiras Shamayim.

Parshas Nitzavim - Excuses Excuses, Excuses   26 Elul 5781Rosh Hashana - Prayer of Desperation or Enthusiasm     1 Tishrei 5782                            

09/02/2021 09:23:40 PM


Parshas Nitzavim – Excuses, Excuses, Excuses

In this week’s parshas Nitzavim the Torah states in Devarim 29:17-18: "פן יש בכם......אשר לבבו פנה היום מעם ה' אלוקינו....פן יש בכם שרש פרה ראש ולענה: והיה בשמעו את דברי האלה הזאת והתברך בלבבו לאמר שלום יהיה לי....."   “Today, there must not be among you any man, woman, family or tribe whose heart strays from God and who goes to and worships the gods of those nations. There must be among you the root whose fruit is gall and wormwood. When [such a person] hears the words of this dread curse, he may rationalize and say, “I will have peace, even if I do as I see fit. Let me add some moisture to this dry [practice]!”

*Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank zt”l makes sense of the words והתברך בלבבו - why would one’s heart be blessed? He explains with a story of someone who desecrated the Holy Day of Shabbos and was rebuked by his contemporaries. He replied to them, “I will fix this and remedy what I did.” After Shabbos he donated a large sum of money to the poor and needy of Eretz Yisrael,  glorifying himself by saying, ”This will definitely be more accepted and will fix my error.” He then compounded this ‘fix’ by stating,   “If I had not desecrated the Shabbos, I never would have given the money to charity for the poor of Israel (who at the time were desperate for support). It is to this attitude Rav Frank explains the words the person is only flattering his own heart through his gift. In the very next passuk the Torah (Hashem) declares, ”You will not be forgiven by doing so.” A sin is not cancelled out by a Mitzva. This is the ultimate rationalization given after doing something wrong; by not being up front and honest the self-flatterer compliments himself for his donation. The proper response, as the Rambam clearly states, is to go through the three stages of Teshuva: 1) recognition of the sin, 2) regret for doing it, and 3) acceptance to never do it again. After doing so, if a person wants to throw a huge gift/donation to Tzedaka it cannot hurt. These three ingredients are what we will call out on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur ותשובה ותפילה וצדקה, מעבירין את רוע הגזירה

Ah Gutten Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

* Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank (20 January 1873 – 10 December 1960) הרב צבי פסח פרנק was a renowned halachik scholar and served as Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem for several decades (1936-1960). Rav Frank was born in Kovno, the son of Rabbi Yehuda Leib Frank and Malka Silman, who were active in the Chovevei Tzion organization in Kovno. He studied in Lithuanian Yeshivos, learning under Rabbi Eliezer Gordon, amongothers.                                                                                                                                                                   In 1892, he emigrated to Eretz Yisrael with his brother Tanchum, his sister Tzippora and his first cousin, Rabbi Shmuel Hillel Shenker. His parents arrived in 1893. Tzvi Pesach continued his studies in yeshivas in Jerusalem. His father was one of the founders of Chadera. In 1907, Rav Frank was appointed dayan in the Beis Din of the Eidah HaChareidus headed by Rabbi Shmuel Salant, the Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem. Rav Frank served on this Beis Din for nearly 60 years, eventually becoming Av Beis Din (head of the rabbinical court) and Rav of Yerushalayim.              

Rav Frank was active in establishing the office of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel and was instrumental in appointing Rav Avraham Isaac Kook as the first Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi. Rabbi Jacob Meir, the first Sephardic Chief Rabbi, had been in Palestine prior to the formal development of the office.



Rosh Hashana – Prayer of Desperation or Enthusiasm?

Next week Jews all over the world will gather, according to their practices, for the Yamim Noraim -the Days of Awe. These days are comprised primarily of the two days of Rosh Hashana and the one day of Yom Kippur. Whether it will be in person or via zoom, live, or recorded, indoors or outdoors there will be a sense of coming together for one purpose: to daven to God. How and when is not the issue, rather those who choose to participate in something of deep meaning and importance is because they  understand and feel the importance and significance of these days.

An almost universal component in every sanctuary includes the display of a verse bringing our attention to the place in which we stand and or reflecting on prayer itself. Classically, the verse instills fear and awe to the petitioner, creating  a serious mood encompassing a sense of awe. A few years back I davened in a shul that had a verse that I had never previously seen on top of the Aron HaKodesh -the verse from Tehilim 102:1 quoting these words of Dovid HaMelech: "תפילה לעני כי יעטף, ולפני ה' ישפך שיחו"  “A prayer of the afflicted man when he faints and pours forth his supplications before Hashem”. Rav Shimshon Pincus explains there is a certain uniqueness to the prayer of the afflicted one. The Zohar HaKadosh in Balak 195 says there are “three” who speak about prayer: Moshe Rabbeinu, Dovid HaMelech and the Ani -the poor or afflicted. “Tefillah L’Moshe Ish HaElokim” was not said by any other man. “Tefillah L’Dovid” was not said by any kind of king. But “Tefillah L’Ani” the prayer of the afflicted comes from the heart of those in deep distress. Of the three which is the greatest prayer of them all? The answer is the prayer of the poor, the afflicted man, is greater and will be heard before the prayers of Moshe and of Dovid and before any other prayers in the world. The reason the poor, downtrodden petitioner is answered before everyone else is because of a broken heart. Dovid HaMelech said קרוב ה' לנשברי לב Hashem is closest to the broken hearted, and God listens intently to his words since the Ani’s prayers open the windows of heaven.

It is truly a wonder how Moshe Rabbeinu, who was a man of God, whose prayer had the effect of the ineffable name of God that could cut through like a sword, still does not come close to the prayer of the poor, the downtrodden. In Jewish law a person can relinquish all his assets and make himself destitute. On Rosh Hashana we have another method of becoming ‘poor’- by davening with a broken heart. This person’s Tefillah will be heard sooner and faster;  it opens the heavenly gates for more Siyata Dishmaya/ Heavenly assistance. There is no question that as we approach Rosh Hashana, we might see ourselves as destitute and fragile after such a year like we have just been through. Nevertheless, I would suggest a different angle for our Tefillos this year and going forward. I will explain with a short parable.

When it comes to giving charity and supporting of institutions, people want to give to something that is growing, to build upon itself, to  not throw money into a black hole of desperation. Statistically speaking, people give more Tzedakah to someone who is collecting but is well-dressed, seen stepping out of a nice car and give less money to someone who is desperate. In truth, we should give more to those who look like they need more rather than those who present well.. So too, coming before the Ribono Shel Olam in a fit of despair will be answered without question, but perhaps we should come before God with a sense of honor and dignity. Should we only approach Hashem during times of distress or anguish? Should we pour out our hearts when we are afflicted and blacking out from grief or hunger? God should not only be accessed when WE need Him, but even when things are going well. We need to reach out to Hashem so that He can at least maintain the status quo of life for us, and not have less. On Rosh Hashana we should view ourselves with the opportunity to be in a better position to ask Hashem for the things we ask for throughout the entire year. Why wait to be in a situation that requires pleading out of dire need with nowhere else to turn? Wouldn’t Hashem prefer a relationship even when we are not desperate? Surely, Hashem would appreciate our sincerity that comes by davening with kavanah while never taking any of the gifts with which He has blessed us for granted.

Wishing You All a Kesiva VaChasima Tova & Ah Gutten Yom Tov

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas Ki Savo - Who's Calling                         19 Elul 5781

08/27/2021 09:07:45 AM


GE6-4101. With this opening I am really dating myself. I never thought I would reach an age or feeling of being that l would realize I am thinking and writing about things that my children and for sure my grandchildren don’t know about. For those who do not know, GE6-4101 was my phone number during my growing-up years in Brooklyn, New York. We did not need to dial the area code in New York city because it was a 212 area code for the entire city. Years later,   the five boroughs’ area codes were divided, some remaining 212 and three others receiving the new 718. We had a relatively quick dial number because there was only one zero and no other above the number four. This description only makes sense when you consider we had a rotary phone.

The only cool feature we had on our phone was a lever on the bottom that could raise or lower the sound of the ringer. Perhaps we were considered well off because in addition to the wall phone in the kitchen that had a cord so long it was able to reach almost every room in the house, we had a desk phone in our parent’s bedroom. Fast forward from clunky cordless phones when the caller knew where you were to cellular phones where you could be located almost anywhere in the world. Even when cellular phones were introduced a person could still be identified as to where he was living based upon the area code. Only later could a person retain his or her number when moving or changing carriers. Now, when calling someone, we have no way of knowing where they live since the area code of the cell phone could be from a previously-lived location. This came to light this past week when a visitor in Shul met a member of the congregation who was his old neighbor. In exchanging phone numbers, the member, now residing in San Diego, gave his former neighbor his phone number which began with the area code from their hometown,  causing the visitor to chuckle while commenting, “oh yeh, of course it is ….”.

As I mentioned earlier, our original phone had a volume lever for the ring tone, but there was only one ringtone. Today’s cell phones come with a variety of ringtones and with applications to download ringtones to identify specific people using a variety of sounds and music of your choice. It’s common today to  make use of  different ringtones on their cellphones which sound out  various songs. This is particularly popular in religious circles where some have the song “Omar Rabi Akiva” as their ringtone; some have the song “Prok Yas Onoch”. There are so many different songs for different folks that one who hears a cellphone ring is frequently curious about what song is playing and how often the user gets to play name that tune. Is it “Perok Yas Onoch,” or “Yismechu HaShamayim” or “Hoshia Es Amecha”? However, the owner of the musically-gifted phone look to see who is calling or does he/she listen to the song? Rav Meilich Biderman teaches us a great lesson: using the cellphone as a parable to Shofar. Rav Biderman says the same scenario of the phone’s ringtone applies to the shofar blowing. Some people hear the Shofar blowing and pay attention to how adeptly the person blows the Shofar. However, we should really be paying attention to the fact that Hashem is talking to us through the Shofar, reminding us that we need to prepare ourselves to face Hashem! In addition, this act of keen listening certainly must be done in a joyous manner.

Rav Shlomo Wolbe zt”l said that if you were to ask anybody what is the happiest day in life, what would everybody answer? Certainly, the day of Moshiach’s arrival. However, the passuk says something else. We say this verse every Friday night in Kabbolas Shabbos Psalm 96, “The heaven will rejoice, the earth will exult; the sea and its fullness will roar. The fields and everything therein will jubilate; then all the trees of the forest will sing”. There will be joy in the heavens, through the trees, and in the sea, and everyone will rejoice. When? ”Before Hashem, for He has come, for He has come to judge the earth”.

 Before Rosh Hashana, being that Hashem is about to come to us, each of us needs to feel a great joy for every Jew who is about to connect to Hashem! “What is the joy?” you may ask.  When a king comes to visit you in your home, there is great joy. What do you do in preparation for the king’s arrival? You clean up your home and you scrub all the corners of the house. If you prepare properly then “Hashem will judge the world with justice”. The corners must be scrubbed and cleaned, and it must be done with joy.  We must pay attention to what the Shofar is telling us. The preparation in Elul - especially the last third of the month - should be done with joy. The critical moment to know when this moment arrives is highlighted in the manual.

In this week’s Parshas Ki Savo the Torah in Devarim 27:9 states: "וידבר משה והכהנים הלוים אל כל ישראל לאמר הסכת ושמע ישראל היום הזה נהיית לעם לה' אלוקיך" “Moshe and the Levitical priests spoke to all Israel, saying: Pay attention and listen, Israel. Today you have become a nation to God your Lord”. On this day Moshe Rabbeinu began to prepare for death. He gave the Torah scroll which he had written to the Tribe of Levi. The word ‘Haskes’, or take heed, is related to the word “kat,” meaning group or class. Moshe Rabbeinu told Bnei Yisroel to form study groups. The Torah can only be acquired through group study.  The Gemara continues to explain “a sword hangs over the head of those who study Torah alone and they become foolish”. Alternatively, Haskes is related to the word kosas, meaning “push yourself to the limit. Finally, Haskes can also be divided into hass and kasas, meaning “remain silent” and “crush. This describes the order of the Torah study. First, a person must remain silent and acquire knowledge”. Afterwards, he must crush, dissect, and then analyze the teachings he received.

Whether it be the phone or the Shofar, a person must interpret and analyze the lesson of what it is and whom it comes from. Just as we look at the phone screen to see who is calling, so too we should investigate the Shofar and listen to the messages that are transmitted, actively, with total focus receiving the ultimate word of Hashem through the ringtone of the Shofar.                                                                                                                                                                                                                     

Ah Gutten Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas Ki Seytzey - Do Not Be Scared; Be Prepared                    12 Elul 5781

08/20/2021 11:44:24 AM


When addressing an audience, whether it is in person or on paper, it is best to tell stories and anecdotes that are relevant and important to the entire crowd. There are times when a speaker or writer presents commentary which is limited  to either men or women, resulting in those not in attendance or not reading a specific sefer not being totally informed.  In time and through resulting discussions, however, the ideas presented will ultimately be conveyed to all.  I write this by way of introduction to the context of what is seen only by men within an Orthodox setting. My intention here is to inform the women of something that happens on the bimah during the reading of the Torah.

When someone is called to the Torah, he is shown the specific place where the Torah reading will begin. This specific act is done so that when reciting the Birchas HaTorah, (the blessings on the Torah), the person will know precisely which section his blessings are being conferred upon. Technically speaking, a person saying the Brachos could have in mind his blessings on the entire Torah rather than on a specific section.   Usually, a person wants to say the blessing on the section that either he is reading himself or that the Baal Korei reads on his behalf. Most times there is no issue for the reader to show the correct place where the next reading begins. Nevertheless, there are two places (of which I am aware} in the Torah that an almost identical sentence is found quite close to that where he will currently begin. If the person receiving the Aliyah is shown the wrong place and predicates his Bracha on that area, it may very well be a blessing in vain. The ramifications of a blessing in vain in it of itself are severe and most probably another bracha would be required.  

The first is in Bamidbar 4:23, Parshas Nasso which begins נשא את ראש בני גרשון   and the end of the previous Parsha Bamidbar in 4:1 which begins the same way: נשא את ראש בני קהת If one is not careful it can easily be mixed up. The second location is the beginning of this week’s Parshas Ki Seytzei. In Devarim 21:10 the Parsha begins: "כי תצא למלחמה על איביך ונתנו ה' אלוקיך בידך ושבית שביו"  “When you wage war against your enemies, God will give you victory over them so that you will take captives.” In the previous Parshas Shoftim the Torah close to  Devarim 20:1 states   "כי תצא למלחמה על איביך, וראית סוס ורכב עם רב ממך, לא תירא מהם כי ה' אלוקיך עמך המעלך מארץ מצרים" :“When you go to battle against your enemies, and see horses, war chariots, and an army larger than yours, do not be afraid of them, since God your Lord, Who brought you out of Egypt, is with you.”

In both cases there is what is termed as “Smichus HaParshios” - a closeness or connection between the sections. In the former case, in both instances a census is being taken of the tribe of Levi. In the latter, not only are they both speaking about going out to battle, but there lies a greater message in addition to a similarity of words.  I heard a beautiful explanation taken from the first battle in Shoftim from a Rabbi Doniel Langer in Tom’s River. He asked, ”How is it possible when you see horses, chariots, and an army larger than yours, not to be afraid? It would be a natural instinct to be afraid.” He went on to explain, based upon Rabbeinu Yonah in Shaarei Teshuva, that if one looks at the end of the verse, it says ‘since Hashem took you out of Egypt’. If we pay attention to this, we realize that we got out of Egypt against all odds because of Hashem. As a result, we should apply the same principle here: when there is a large army we should not be afraid because Hashem will deliver us. Rabbeinu Yonah emphasizes the need to make the connection that if we look to Hashem there is no reason to be afraid. In truth, the words “do not be afraid” are really a hint, reminding us that if we recall Hashem taking us out of Mitzrayim, He will take us out of this precarious situation too.

I would like to take it one step further and connect the first time the Torah mentions “…when you go out to war” in last week’s parshas Shoftim to the opening verse in this week’s Parshas Ki Seytzey. If we are successful in following the words of Rabbeinu Yonah and remember it is all due to  Hashem that our battles are won. When we are in battle and are not afraid of the enemy because we remember Hashem is the One who took our forefathers out of Egypt (despite all odds against us) then our enemies will be delivered into our hands. The beginning of this week’s Parsha is the fulfillment and also the conclusion from the previous week. When we go out against the larger army and are not afraid, then Hashem will deliver us. But if we do not remember Hashem and His capacity to deliver us as He delivered us from Egypt, then we should be afraid.

The battle which the Torah describes here is not limited to the simple pshat or understanding of a physical war in which the Jewish people engaged. Rather, the Torah can be viewed through each individual’s battle that he or she faces every day. We go through life facing adversity and challenges that are our internal struggles and battles. The inner strength one has is fueled by a feeling of support, which is Hashem. Faith is a powerful tool if we truly believe in it. If we only give it lip service, then the strength will not be there for us during our times of need. Moreover, if we are successful in applying our faith in Hashem, always bearing in mind and heart that He took us out of Egypt, then we won’t be afraid. Once we are no longer afraid, internally synthesizing that  it is Hashem who gives us the strength to overcome fear, then Hashem will deliver our enemies into our hands. The last words of the passuk “…so that you will take captives” describes the capture and defeat of the Yetzer Hora.  when we have overcome this challenge,  we own it;  we now can face any future similar situation.. Once we rise up against it the very first time and defeat that enemy, it no longer has the same power and influence over us. That is not to say the challenge and situation will never come up again, it surely will, but the next time we will be stronger because we’ve captured once before, and we can do so again. Hopefully by reading the Parsha we will absorb this lesson and apply it throughout these days of Elul and prepare for future battles in the coming year.                                                                                                                                                                                           

Ah Gutten Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Sat, November 26 2022 2 Kislev 5783