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

01/24/19 18:29:31


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Sat, December 14 2019 16 Kislev 5780