Torah Thinkers Forum

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In Psalm 117, King David wrote "Praise HaShem all nations; praise Him, all the states! For his kindness has overwhelmed us." 

(.הללו את ה' כל גוים, שבחוהו כל לאומים, כי גבר עלינו חסדו)

 

Why will the nations of the world praise HaShem for the kindnesses he showed the Jewish nation?

Because only they understand the true wonder of His miracles.

Besides all the open wonders that we have seen Him perform in saving us, there have been many more times that they plotted and schemed to destroy us that we never knew about because HaShem stopped them before they could ever attempt such efforts.

Today when we celebrate the wonder of it being 50 years since we were once again able to visit our Holy places and rebuild the Old City of Jerusalem, we need to keep this idea in mind.

We need to thank Hashem for all his open and hidden efforts on our behalf.

It truly is wonderful to live in a time when we bask in his beneficence and we need to acknowledge that in our thoughts and prayers.

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Yesterday morning on Shabbat, the day before Chanukkah, when the davening in shul was almost completed I noticed an old man enter and look around. I surmised by the kippah perched precariously on his head that he was not used to attending services and that there was a special reason he was coming now,

He slowly walked up to a man standing near me, and I heard him ask in Hebrew "My wife is in the hospital. What prayer can l say to ask for her recovery?"  The person who was asked the question was a little flustered and started to look at the index in the siddur to see what prayer he could find. I walked over to the old man and showed him the "Misheberaich" prayer that is commonly said after the Torah reading for all those who are sick, and told him to mention his wife's name at the appropriate place in the prayer.

While he said the prayer, I walked to the back of the shul and returned with a small book that I presented to the old man. I told him that this book is Tehillim (Psalms) that was written (mainly) by King David thousands of years ago. Through the centuries, Jewish people recite Tehillim whenever they are in need of salvation. I told him to take the Tehillim home and recite a few of them every day in the merit of his wife. I said that when his wife hopefully gets better, he can return the Tehillim to the shul.

He thanked me, and I wished his wife a Refuah Shleima (a complete recovery).

Chanukkah is a holiday that is observed in the cold days of winter. It takes place at the end of the month (25th of Kislev) when the moon is waning, and the hours of daylight are short, while darkness fills most of the 24 hours of the day. But during this darkness, a small flame is lit that lightens the night and foretells a change, that daylight will soon overpower darkness, that good will overpower evil, and that hope will prevail over gloom.

 

One lesson of Chanukkah is that one must always believe that we should never despair. I hope and pray that this old man may one day soon celebrate with his wife at home, and that Chanukkah will again be a joyous occasion for them both.

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We are now living through the aftermath of the most contentious, divisive presidential election campaign in many years. The result was wildly unexpected and came as a shock to those who supported the losing candidate. For at least five days afterwards, protesters took to the streets , some of them violently damaging property and injuring policemen. A common chant by the protesters was 'Not My President', in denunciation of the winner of the election whom they personally detest.

Yesterday I heard a shiur from Rabbi Shay Schachter, taped a few days ago, in which he gave various examples of governments and rulers of the past, and what the Torah taught in explaining how people were expected to react to them. One example that seemed to fit the current situation was that of Rav Chanina the 'Sgan Kohanim' - Deputy to the High Priests. Rav Chanina is quoted in Pirkei Avot (Ethics of our Fathers) 3:2,  "Pray for the welfare of government ...."

Rabbi Meir Shapiro, the Lubliner Rav (1887-1933), who is famous for his promotion in 1923 of the ongoing Daf Yomi  program (in which Jews from around the world study the same page of Talmud every day, and complete it in 7 1/2 years) asked an interesting question about Rav Chanina - Why is he called the Sgan Kohanim which is a plural form, instead of Sgan Kohain, the singular form of Deputy to the High Priest? The Deputy had many administrative functions and ritual duties in the Beit Hamikdash (Holy Temple in Jerusalem). But he was mainly appointed to be able to fill the shoes of the Kohain Gadol if the high priest passed away or was incapacitated. So he traditionally would serve one Kohen Gadol, not many, and therefore he theoretically should never be the deputy to many Kohanim Gedolim . So why was he referred to by that appellation?

The Lubliber Rav answered that Rav Chanina lived during the Hasmonean dynasty, toward the end of the Second Temple Era. The Talmud (Yoma 18a) teaches that during that period, the office of Kohen Gadol was auctioned off by the despotic occupying  Roman rulers to the highest bidder. Many grossly unqualified people bought the august position and died prematurely (as Divine punishment) during their terms. Rav Chanina, who was learned and righteous, was really the most qualified to assume the position, but was constantly barred by the Romans from ever ascending to that most lofty role so that the Romans could continue to sell the privilege and maintain their control as they increased their wealth. So Rav Chanina became the deputy to many Kohanim Gedolim.

One would think that Rav Chanina would turn bitter and despise the ruling government for their injustice. Instead he is known throughout Jewish history by his quote 'Pray for the welfare of government'. For while the government indeed treated him badly he wanted to pass down a message to all of us.

The message is that no matter how we feel about the government in charge, we must realize that they hold our fates in their hands. We can and should indeed try our best to influence government policies, to stand up for those who may be unjustly treated by the government, and if possible try to make sure that future governments are more in tune with our political views. 

But first, we must pray that the government turns out to be one that lives up to our expectations, and not down to our fears.

With Hashem's help and blessings, may we look back in four years and say that our fears were unfounded, and that the current government acted way above our expectations.  

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Every year, the yeshiva I attend, Toras Moshe (Tomo), takes the first and second year students on a post-Succot 4 day trip (Tiyul)  to the Galil. This year my wife and I joined in and we enjoyed a wonderful time in beautiful Northern Israel, with the Tiyul being ably led by Reb Avi Lowenstein, a Kollel member of Tomo. My wife, Iris, deserves extra credit for braving 4 days as the only female in the company of 50+ young men (and also for putting up with me). 

We participated with the guys in activities such as a extremely difficult water hike at Zaki, a scary jeep tour up and down the mountains around Tzfat, and I (without Iris this time) joined them in a midnight hike through a forest trail from Tzfat to Amuka. And to finish the trip, Iris and I spent Sunday on our own experiencing the wonders of the Golan, such as the Banias waterfall, the city of Katzrin and the nearby Hula Valley, where millions of birds spend time in their migration to Africa from the chilling winters of Europe.

But the part of the trip that stands out in my mind was the uplifting Shabbat we all spent together. Each meal was accompanied by exuberant singing of Zemirot and a Torah thought by one or more of the young men. I had the privilege to speak at a Friday night oneg, in which I tried to impart some of the lessons of my 40+ years of experience beyond which the young men had already lived.

The highlight of Shabbat was the way that we greeted Shabbat at its beginning and said goodbye to it at its end. It reminded me that the Rambam taught that Kiddush at its start and Havdala and its conclusion are two parts of one the Mitzvah of honoring Shabbat. We began Shabbat with an outdoor Kabbalat Shabbat that we prayed on a promenade (Tayelet) overlooking Tzfat. Like the Kabbalists of old, we went out to greet the Shabbat queen, and as we sang and danced, we saw the sun slowly dip behind Mount Meron. The service was led by the mellifluous voice of Yaacov Spiro, and we all joined in with spirited chants of the chapters of Tehillim that comprise the davening, as well as with lively dances. (Iris had her own personal Ezrat Nashim on the summit above the Tayelet.)

When we sang Lecha Dodi, composed by Rabbi Shlom Alkabetz, a 16th century Tzfat Kabbalist,  it took me back to the days of yore when it was typical of the holy people of Tzfat to celebrate the entrance of Shabbat that way every week. After davening, I mentioned to one of the young men that if the Kabbalists prayed every Friday night the way we had, it was no wonder they reached such lofty spiritual heights.

At the conclusion of Shabbat we stood entranced by the slow, moving rendition of Havdala by Aryeh Schwartz. It reminded us of that our souls had been uplifted by Shabbat, and that we would longingly look forward to the next Shabbat to come.

Too often, we just go through the motions of performing Mitzvot, especially the one of observing the Holy Shabbat. Every once in a while, we need to re-energize our souls to try to capture the essence of Shabbat. I know of no better way of doing that than to experience it with young men like the Tomo students who are striving to become better Jews with each Mitzva that they lovingly perform

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When we planned to make Aliyah, I had no idea that one day I would be walking around Jerusalem wearing a holster holding a Smith & Wesson gun which contained a magazine of eleven 9 caliber bullets.

But shortly after arriving here, I started looking for some volunteer opportunities besides my everyday yeshiva attendance. Most of our retired or semi-retired friends have one or more volunteer activities that they take part in. They may help in beautifying the city, assist local Israelis in bettering their English speaking skills, or assisting in taking care of the animals in Jerusalem's zoo, or any of a myriad of other possibilities.

I noticed a sign from the Police Department asking for volunteers to join in the local citizens' patrol. It sounded interesting, so I answered the call. After filling out the required paperwork, getting a doctor's sign off on my health, and going through a background check, I was accepted. My training consisted of a two hour course of police and volunteer roles and responsibilities. I took a police driving test to qualify to drive a patrol car, and I attended a lesson in the use of a carbine rifle (later upgraded to an M16), and did live firing at a gun range in the Jerusalem hills.

Soon enough I was doing a three hour evening car patrol once every two weeks, together with another volunteer. Besides the police car, with revolving blue roof lights :-) , we were provided with a walkie-talkie and a loaded rifle. We responded to a number of dispatcher calls during the tour that usually had to do with citizens' complaints of cars parked in their driveways, or some not so suspicious people being seen in their vicinity.

The most difficult part was understanding and responding to the occasional rapid fire Hebrew from the walkie-talkie, and dealing with the boredom of driving around for three hours with not much to do. But once we did apprehend a mentally unbalanced Jewish woman who was roaming the streets carrying a large kitchen knife. A few months ago I requested from my police commander to be given assignments to protect events instead of car patrol. That led to me be assigned to the Jerusalem Marathon, Independence Day celebrations, school events, and other local happenings such as a new Torah being brought to a shul.

About a year and a half ago, after the horrific Har Nof massacre, people in my shul in Abu Tor (that abuts an Arab village) were concerned that they needed daily protection and, knowing of my police work, asked me to get a gun and a license to carry it. At the time I was still a few months short of being here three years (when I would qualify to get a license), so I went to work getting all my paperwork together. The shul members signed a letter stating that they wanted me to get a gun to protect them, my police commander wrote me a recommendation, and my yeshiva also wrote a letter stating that they would like me to have a gun to be their security detail every day. And a year ago last July, when my three year anniversary arrived, I put in the paperwork to get a gun license. 

After three months of interviews and more background checks I was approved for the gun carry license. I went to a local gun store/firing range and purchased (with their recommendation)  my Smith & Wesson. Now I wear my holster filled gun 7 days a week, whenever I leave the house (Rabbi Shurkin told me there was no problem with carrying it on Shabbat - details available for those that are interested).

And that's how I came to be at the local (Armon Hanatziv) neighborhood nursery school for 4 hours today, two at the school day's opening at two at its closing. It was very pleasant to greet all of the little children and their parents, and to hopefully make their lives less stressful. And coincidentally, today I also had time to spend at our local gun firing range, taking a half hour refresher course, and shooting 50 rounds to qualify to renew my gun license. My aim with my personal gun was thankfully much better than my aim last week with the M16 at a refresher course with the police :-) .

We are about one month away from Rosh Hashanna. In my vocal prayers, I will be asking Hashem to send us Moshiach swiftly, so that there will be peace in Israel (and then I will be able to get rid of my gun). 

 

I also know that if He deems us not yet worthy of the complete redemption, in my thoughts this year I will pray for a year without any terror incidents, and that therefore I will not ever have to raise my gun from its holster with the idea of using it on someone. But if need be, I will pray that HaShem should guide my hand and make my aim true.

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We are now in the week leading up to Tisha B'av, commemorating the tragic destruction of our two Batei Hamikdash. And as the Talmud states, a generation in which the Beit Hamikdash isn't rebuilt is as if it was destroyed in that time. So if we don't get a reprieve in the next few days, we need to acknowledge that we today are responsible for not yet achieving the final redemption that we all so desperately yearn for.

We know that the cause of the destruction of the second Beit Hamikdash was because of Sinat Chinam, baseless hatred, among the Jewish people. If we look around Israel today, we easily see that we indeed have a long way to go to clean up our act. We see strife between those of the political Right and those of the political Left, between religious and secular Jews, between Ashkenazic and Sefardic Jews, and between Charedi and Dati Leumi (National Religious) Jews.  And the list goes on and on.

In my car driving around Jerusalem, I usually listen to a mixture of talk radio and music. This being a time when listening to instrumental music is prohibited, I switched to Radio Kol Chai, a somewhat amateurish Charedi radio station that I would not normally tune in to, but one that I could safely assume would not have any prohibited music playing. 

I heard people calling in wishing good health to family members, happy birthday wishes, and the like to their friends. And then one person called in with an unusual story and request. He related that last Rosh Hashanna, he was very sick and laid up in bed. He couldn't get to shul to hear the Shofar blowing. Now he has recovered and wishes to start a Gemach (a benevolent organization) in his home town of Elad in which he would pair up people who need someone to come to their home to blow the shofar, and people who were available to visit home-bound people and blow the shofar for them.

The radio announcer asked, "Why just in Elad? The idea is so good that you should expand it to the whole country!"  The caller said that he didn't know the various communities and wouldn't be able to match up people in close geographic range of each other.  The announcer said "We'll help you. We'll ask for volunteers from every community to step forward and take responsibility for their area. You just coordinate with them to set up to whom calls should be made, and the hours that calls will be accepted."  And so a national organization to help needy people was born!

What I was listening to was only a small step. Many more such initiatives need to be created in which we each reach out to our fellow Jews to help to fulfill whatever is lacking in their lives. We all need to be proactive and look for opportunities to connect to our brothers and sisters and slowly bring about a growing movement of "Ahavat Chinam"  -- love with no strings attached.

Each small step, like the Shofar Gemach, is like a ray of sunshine in an overcast gloomy day. Let's pray that we shall soon see all the clouds of hate and mistrust being blown away by an abundant radiance of love and kindness.

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I always am moved when I visit Torah giants.

In Israel I have met leading present day Torah scholars such as Rav Chaim Kanievsky and Rav Aaron Leib Shteinman, may they live long and in good health. I felt uplifted just being in their presence and basking in their light of their pure souls. I was able to comprehend the great level of Torah scholarship and refinement of character that a dedicated person can reach in a lifetime of toil and struggle.

And in my youth I was also fortunate to meet Torah luminaries of the the past generation such as the previous Bobover and Skvere Chassidic Rebbes, and heads of yeshivas such as Rav Moshe Feinstein and Rav Yitzchak Hutner, (all ZT"L) , whose memories live on within me.

In a different vein, I also feel excited to meet people who have lived lives that played roles in Jewish history, and that are heroes of a different sort. A week ago I had the opportunity to meet one such man.

I had heard a few weeks ago that in our community, just down the block from our local shul in Abu Tor, lived a survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. I spoke to Michael Stern, a friend who has been raised in the neighborhood, and he acknowledged that as he was growing up he knew the person in question, Simcha Rotem, very well. In fact Michael himself had been surprised only within the the last year or two to find out about Simcha's past exploits. I urged Michael to take me to meet the famous survivor. Michael told me that Simcha was somewhat of a recluse and didn't always accept visitors, but I prevailed upon Michael, and on Shabbat afternoon, we met at the shul a half hour before Mincha, and we walked together down the block and knocked on Simcha's door. 

Simcha's wife answered and directed us to the back yard where Simcha was taking a short stroll. We went there and Michael introduced me to the elderly man, who looked to be in relatively good health. I shook Simcha's hand and told him that it was a great honor to meet him. I first asked him if had ever met Reb Menachem Ziemba, a Talmudic genius and prodigy who lived and died in the Ghetto. Simcha answered that he had heard of the great Rabbi, but never had the opportunity to meet him.

I then asked Simcha a number of questions dealing with his exploits and will relay his answers (along with information I later found out in a Wikpedia article that is cited below). 

Simcha Rotem  (born 1925 as Szymon Rathajzer, was also known as Kazik, his nom de guerre). He was 17 years old when the Warsaw Ghetto uprising began. He was the main courier that passed information to and from the fighters in and outside of the Ghetto. When I asked him how he escaped the German onslaught, he told me that it was through the sewer system. He said that the effects of his constant travelling by foot through such unsanitary conditions had an adverse effect on his health throughout his life. He didn't mention that through his knowledge of the sewers he eventually led out the last 80 people whom he saved from sure death at the hands of the Nazis. And he didn't offer the fact that he is one of the last three survivors of the Ghetto still alive.

Simcha related that after escaping the Ghetto he continued fighting as a partisan until the end of WWII. He made Aliyah to Israel (then known as Palestine) in 1946 and joined the Haganah. He rose to an officer rank and fought in the War of Independence and all other Israeli wars up until the Yom Kippur War in 1973, when he was deemed too old to fight. In later years he was presented with a number of awards and decorations by the Polish government.

In all, it was a short but meaningful visit.  We don't get many opportunities to meet people who inspire us with their lifelong achievements, and we should make sure to grab those occurrences when we get the chance.

 

Simcha Rotem - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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Jews are a contentious people.

The old joke tells of a lone Jewish castaway on a deserted island who is found after a number of years. His rescuers are puzzled to find that he has built two shuls for himself. In explanation, he tells them that one is the shul he davens in, and the other is the shul he doesn't daven in.

In Israel, where religion and politics are intertwined, then battles are even more escalated. Politicians who one day excoriate each other in the harshest terms, are the next day best friends in a coalition, and those who are both Torah observant, but have different philosophies, can declare each other as heretics and destroyers of the faith.

I define myself as Chardal, an amalgam of both the Charedi (strictly observant) and Dati Leumi (national religious) camps. I find gratification in the renewal of a Jewish state in Israel after almost 2000 years of exile, with its ingathering of persecuted Jews from all ends of the Earth, and its wondrous achievements in the past 68 years in the fields of technology, science and health, among others. And I admire the staunchness of those who show such dedication in their Torah study, punctiliousness in their Mitzva observance and vibrancy in their Chesed performance for all members of Israeli society in such organizations as Hatzalah, Zakah, Yad Sarah, and so many more. 

As one living on the fault line between the seismic philosophical camps in the Torah observant world in Israel, I get complaints from friends on both sides. How can I be proud of a State of Israel, whose founders and leaders have always shown antipathy to those who dedicate their lives to Torah study? And from others on the other side, how can I identify with those who show a lack of respect and often disdain for the State they live in and don't evince gratitude to those who protect them and provide all the needed services that they utilize in their daily lives?

And while I find merit on both sides of the argument, I particularly find it objectionable when philosophical argument is replaced by physical destruction.

For example, I proudly flew two Israeli flags on my car in honor of the celebration of Yom Haatzmaut, Israel Independence Day, and they (and the replacements that I had prudently bought in anticipation of what would occur) were ripped off my car within one week, as I parked daily in the Charedi neighborhoods of Sanhedria Murchevet and Ramat Eshkol. 

And secondly, I brought a festive blue and white party hat to my Charedi yeshiva on Yom Haatzmaut. My fellow yeshiva mates, and a number of Rebbei'im, got a good laugh when I placed it on the students' hat rack among the traditional black hats that always are there. I took a picture of the scene and titled it ''I brought my hat to yeshiva today and it fit right in." 

I sent the picture to my friends, most of whom replied that they got a good chuckle on seeing it. My wife called it "whimsically irresistible," and my good friend, Richard Corman, suggested I send in to the Jerusalem Post for their weekly magazine section of readers' photos. The Jerusalem Post responded that picture was "cool," and published it as the lead picture in the photo section the next Friday, with the caption "Happy Independence Day."  

I posted the picture from the newspaper in the yeshiva's coffee room with a prescient note attached, "Before you deface the photo or tear it down, please speak to me - R' SDR." As I suspected would happen, by the next morning it had been ripped down, but sadly no one took credit(?) for that action. When I posted a backup copy of the picture (I am well prepared) with a note "Would the person who destroyed my previous picture please speak to me - R'SDR,"  sadly, it too was gone by the next morning. I had a number of offers by my fellow yeshiva students who wished to tell me who the culprit was, but I declined to listen to the Lashon Harah, and just said that I wished the offender would come and talk to me about his issues, but until now he hasn't come forward.

We are about to celebrate the Yom Tov of Shavuot. When the Jewish nation camped at the bottom of Har Sinai, the Torah states "He Camped," and Rashi explains, "as one person with one heart." The Talmud at the end of of Tractate Taanis states "In the future Hashem will make a circle of all the righteous people and will sit in the middle of the circle, and all will point toward Him saying 'Behold, this is our Hashem'." The commentaries explain that even though all the righteous people come from different points of the spectrum of Torah philosophy, they will all share in the joyous revelation of Hashem's deliverance,

 

If we hope to attain Hashem's final redemption with the coming of Mashiach, it behooves us all to put aside our philosophical differences, and show respect for all those who share our love of Hashem and His Torah, regardless of whether we differ 180 degrees in the circle in how we express our devotion. Only then we we merit to see Hashem's final salvation for our wonderful people who are comprised of many disparate types. 

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One of my favorite neighborhoods in Yerushalayim is Geula, where mostly Chareidim (devoutly religious people) live. I may be predisposed to be partial to Geula, as it was the first neighborhood I lived in 45 years ago when I came to study for a year in Yeshiva at age 19. My good friends, Aron Horowitz and Shlomo Zalman (Red) Green, and I shared a room on Rechov Tzefania in the summer of 1969 before my yeshiva studies started. So besides being very familiar with it, Geula brings back memories of my youth. Some of the shops (and probably people) are the same today as they were way back then. 

I stopped by in Geula this afternoon to pick up some Sefarim that I had previously ordered, and while there shopped for some extra food for Shabbat. Friday afternoon (as it was today) is a particular busy time in Geula, and one needs sharp elbows to make one's way in and out of the local stores which are jam packed with men and women buying supplies for Shabbat. 

But one facet of life in Geula seems to be never changing, no matter what year, month or day it is. And that is the ubiquitous people, men and women, young and old, with outstretched hands asking for charity, whom one passes as one makes his way down the five or so blocks on Rechov Malchei Yisrael's commercial area. Some of those panhandlers seemingly have been there for ages, and are almost like old friends. I fondly remember Yudi Wiener's mother who always sat on the same spot of the street (on the right side coming up from Kikar Shabbat) near Rechov Yona, who collected for poor brides to be. Over the years I always enjoyed stopping by and chatting with her when I would visit Israel, and especially Geula.

So today, as is my custom, I prepared a handful of shekels, in loose change in my hand, to be ready for 'Running the Gauntlet', as I mentally consider it when I an about to pass by all the collectors. I gave one shekel to each person looking for a donation, received a welcome blessing from them, and returned a message of Shabbat Shalom.  

Some people have told me that they resent being accosted by all "the beggars." They wonder if they really are fulfilling the Mitzva of Tzedaka when they give money to them. They ask, "is the whole business of asking for money a scam? Do they really need the money? Will they be using it for cigarettes and other unhealthy purposes? Why isn't the government providing these people with all they need?" 

My thought process is a little different. I think that it is not up to me to verify the veracity of need of each and every one there. If someone asks for help, then I give them a little something. It won't make any difference to my overall bank account, and they seem to appreciate my small gift. I also want to inculcate in myself the trait of being a giver, not of someone who passes by and looks the other way. 

It would be great if there were no beggars asking for money. That would hopefully mean that everybody who previously was wanting, now had what they formerly lacked. But until that day, I will (IY"H) continue to hand out loose change to everyone who asks, remembering to thank Hashem that I have what to give and am not needy.

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This past Shabbat (Parshat Tzav) we hosted 10 guests for lunch (thanks, Iris for all the hard work), including four young men, two of whom are Americans learning in Yeshivot in Jerusalem. Also,we were honored to have among our guests two young Lone Soldiers (those who don't have families in Israel to help them), who are in a program (Hesder) for those who learn Torah part time and also serve in the Israeli Army (the IDF); they had just been inducted this past week. One of them, Ezra, hails from Seattle, and the other, Ami, from London. 

I put aside my original Dvar Torah (written in my last email/blog), and told over a Dvar Torah that I had read the day before from the Ateret Cohanim organization., as follows:

IN 1981, the Lubavitcher Rebbe had written a letter about Parshat Tzav that followed Purim, and was taking place in the year after Shmittah, just like this year.

The Rebbe stated that the word Tzav, which normally means "command," was interpreted by Rashi to mean "urging on for the present and for future generations." (See Siftei Chachamim for an explanation of how Rashi derived that explanation.)  

Purim, which is a holiday that will last through the generations, was predicated on Esther's call to "gather all the Jews" to pray on her behalf. 

The year after Shmittah is one in which all Jews are commanded to fulfill the Mitzvah of Hakhel, gathering together in the Beit Hamikdash on Sukkot to hear the King read from the Torah.

So, in combination, this is a period of uniting together through the Torah to insure that Jews will be celebrating throughout the generations.

I also added (as per the article I read), that Jerusalem is a city that was never divided among the Tribes, but was rather a place of unity, where Jews gathered three times a year on the Festivals.

We too, as well as our guests, were joining together in Jerusalem, on Parshat Tzav, the day after Purim, In the year after Shmitta.

We were privileged to have with us young men who were coming from far away to protect the Jewish people both physically and spiritually. 

Through the inspiring efforts of these young men, and the unity of the Jewish people, we can be certain that Jewish celebrations will continue throughout the generations.   

Also, I would like to bring to the attention of all who are reading this, that Lone Soldiers have an especially difficult time before Passover buying all the food and supplies they need when they are off base, which they are for all Holidays and for Shabbat. To that end, I and others who volunteer at the Lone Soldier Center have been working on a campaign to raise funds to provide these brave young men and women with vouchers to help in this effort.

 

If you would like to help, please visit  https://lonesoldiercenter.com/vouchers-for-lone-soldiers/ . Thanks in advance for your support of this effort.

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Those of you who have been receiving my emails for the past three plus years may recall the one I sent in June 2013 (see below) about a Siyum Mishnayot that I am planning for January 2019..

This past week in yeshiva I made a Siyum upon reaching the halfway point in my quest - finishing Seder Nashim, which is the third of the 6 Sedarim that I have completed in the past 2 and 3/4 years.

One of the thoughts I mentioned to those attending the Siyum was a question/answer that I heard Rabbi Feiner tell over in the name of Rav Tzadock Hacohen. He asked why is it that for learning we have a special prayer והערב נא - that we ask Hashem that he make learning a sweet and pleasant experience for us? Why don't we pray for the same request before we perform any Mitzva, that we should feel the sweetness of the Mitzva when we do it?

Rav Tzadock explained that the Gemara tells us that Hashem created the Yetzer Harah, the evil inclination, but also created the Torah as a remedy. Whenever we endeavor to perform a Mitzva and don't exactly feel like doing it, we can turn to the Torah, learn more about the Mitzva, and gain extra motivation to fulfill the Mitzva.

But when it comes to learning Torah, if we don't exactly feel like learning, then what can we do? We can't learn Torah to help us, because at that moment we don't feel like learning in the first place. So instead we have a prayer that we beseech Hashem to give us the feeling that the Torah is sweet and wonderful, and that we will ourselves instinctively want to learn. And then when Hashem answers our prayer, we do enjoy the pleasures of learning Torah and can fulfill the Mitzva of learning Torah to the best of our ability.

So at this halfway juncture in my quest to make a Siyum on the whole of Mishnayot, I once again invite you all to join me in January 2019, location somewhere in Jerusalem (to be announced), to celebrate with me.

Hope to see you all then!   

 

----- Forwarded Message -----

I would like to invite you to my Siyum Mishnayot on Shas. The date of the Siyum will be sometime around  January 2019. 

That's right, 2019. Let me explain.

A few weeks ago in my yeshiva there was a gala Siyum Hamishnayot  Seudah at which one of the guys in my shiur, Tzvi Smith, made a Siyum Mishnayot on Shas. His father, Morris Smith, spoke and explained how his son how accomplished the feat. Tzvi started learning Mishnayot at his Bar-Mitzva 5 1/2 years ago. His learning was done using what I thought was a very interesting plan.

He learned two Mishnayot a day, and on every day after day 1 he not only learned two new ones; he also reviewed the two he had learned the day before. On day number 9 he continued learning two new Mishnayot, but also reviewed those of the day before and also those of day 1. On day 39 he started the third level of review - he continued learning two new Mishnayot, but also reviewed those of day 1, and those of the day before (day 38), and those of a week before (day 31). On day 129 he added a 4th review cycle (similar to the previous ones), and on day 365 a 5th review cycle.

So by the year's end he had learned the (365 * 2) Mishnayot once and was deep into reviewing them a number of times. Each year for the next 4 years he added one more review cycle, and finished the initial round of all Mishnayot in 5 1/2 years, which occurred a few weeks ago when he made the siyum.

My head was spinning a little bit at following this sequence (as I'm sure yours is), but Morris explained that by setting up an Excel spreadsheet, the learning schedule is easily constructed. And the whole process intrigued me. My friends have long called me "Machine Man" for my logical approach to processes (I hope it's not for being unemotional - a little fault of mine at times), and I thought that this would be a good project for me as well.

So I set up my spreadsheet (after going over the concept with Tzvi a number of times), and I'm ready to begin my learning on Rosh Chodesh Av, about 10 days from now. So why am I inviting you NOW to my Siyum, if it won't be happening until 5 1/2 years from now have passed? 

A few months ago I read an article in Mishpacha magazine about a master fundraiser who was giving lectures on how to achieve goals. He had 10 steps in his plan, but only a few of them stuck with me. He said that it was important to make a plan, be very detailed about it, and most important of all to tell everyone about it. The more people you tell, the more compelled you will be to go through with your plan.

So I invited my Rosh Yeshiva earlier this week - and he understood right away with a smile why he was being invited 5 1/2 years in advance. And I am inviting all of you for the same reason - because I want to feel compelled to follow through with my plan.

The Siyum will take place IY"H in Yerushalayim (exact place to be determined). As since all of you will have moved here much in advance of the Siyum with the early appearance of Moshiach to bring you (if you are not already here), then there will be no excuse for you to not be at the Siyum.

 

There's no need to RSVP. I'll keep a spot for you ready. See you there!

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The following is based on a lecture I heard from Rabbi Eitan Feiner.

In all the plagues of Egypt but one, Moshe was first told from Hashem what plague would ensue if Paroah wouldn't send the Jews free, and then Moshe relayed the message to Paroah. The exception was the plague of Arbeh (locusts).  For this affliction, the Torah does not record Hashem telling Moshe that Arbeh was to come, but it does mention Moshe warning Paroah about it. If Moshe wasn't told in advance of that plague, and how did Moshe know it would happen? 

Rabbi Feiner gave a few answers to that question. The one that intrigued me the most was the one postulated by the Chasam Sofer (Rabbi Moshe Shreiber (Sofer) 1762-1839) . He said that Moshe decided on his own that the next plague would be Arbeh, and Hashem went along with the idea based on the rule צדיק גוזר והקדוש ברוך הוא מקיים (A Tzadik Decrees and Hashem Fulfills)! 

This rule is based on a sentence in Iyov (Job) 22:28 and has many applications in the Talmud and Midrash. I take the rule to mean that the Tzadik is so attuned to the Torah, which is Hashem's will, that what he wishes and what Hashem wishes are one and the same. So here too, when Moshe divined (pun intended) that  the next plaque would be Arbeh, it was so. One reason that Moshe came to that conclusion was that the previous plague, Barad (hail), had destroyed all the strong hard crops, but not the soft ones. So the next plague should inevitably conclude that job of destroying all Egyptian crops.

A story is told of the Chofetz Chaim's son, who was travelling with the son of a great Chassidic Rebbe. The Rebbe's son related that there were always miracles in his father's house that happened  because 'A Tzadik Decrees and Hashem Fulfills'. The Chofetz Chaim's son answered that in his father's household, things worked differently. There life was based on the rule of 'Hashem decrees and a Tzadik fulfills' .  :-)

This week, Jerusalem hosts the annual Agudath Israel Yarchei Kallah (Torah study convention) at the Ramada Hotel. When I still lived in the States, I attended the convention (along with 100-200 others from the States) many times and greatly enjoyed spending a week away from work, steeped in the learning of Torah, and hearing many wonderful lectures. Now that I am privileged to live in Yerushalayim and learn in a yeshiva on a daily basis, I still make it my business to attend one lecture given every year on Wednesday mornings.

Today I once again was at the Ramada Hotel listening intently to Rabbi Yitzchak Zilberstein. He is a renowned Posek (Torah decisor)  who regaled the crowd with a number of cases that came before him this past year (some of which I may discuss in future blog entries). He discussed what he based his decisions on in each case.

Sitting there I thought to myself that a Torah scholar who decides right and wrong is also fulfilling the dictum of 'A Tzadik Decrees and Hashem Fulfills'. He must be fully versed in Torah and Halacha, and use his knowledge to decide what the Torah's (and Hashem's) will is. Since he lives by the rule of 'Hashem decrees and a Tzadik fulfills, Hashem grants him the privilege of letting the rest of us know what His will is.

May we always live by the rule of  'Hashem decrees and a we fulfill' to the best of our abilities.  

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I heard an interesting shiur (lecture) on the way back from yeshiva today. Rabbi Shay Schachter was discussing frailty of the human condition, especially the trait of jealousy. He recounted how that trait was first experienced by Cain who was jealous that his brother Hevel's sacrifice was accepted while his wasn't and since he felt jealous, he irrationally and illogically killed Hevel (even though that wouldn't cause his sacrifice to also be accepted).

And Rabbi Schachter asked, do Angels also experience jealousy? And he answered as follows.

In this week's Torah reading, Parshat Vayeitzei, Yaacov goes to sleep and dreams of a ladder standing on the ground whose head reaches the the Heavens., and Angels are ascending and descending on it. The Talmud in Tractate Chulin Daf 91 Amud Bet states that the Angels were gong up and looking at the Holy Throne, and they saw that the picture of Yaacov was engraved on one of its pillars. Then they came back down and they saw the same face on Yaacov. And they wondered how could that be? How could a human face be on such a holy place up in Heaven?

Then the Talmud states that they got jealous and wanted to kill Yaacov just as Cain killed Hevel due to jealousy. And the next verse says 'And behold! Hashem was standing over him' (to protect him from the Angels).

How is this to be understood? The Angels are in Heaven all the time in proximity to the Almighty, so why would they be jealous? And also, Angels are created with perfection to undertake a specific task, so why would they be jealous?

Rabbi Akiva Eiger (1761-1838) points out that there is a Talmud passage that seems to indicate the exact opposite, that they have no jealousy. In Tractate Shabbat Daf 89 Amud 2, the story is told that when Moshe went up to Heaven to receive the Torah, the Angels complained that Man doesn't deserve the Torah. Hashem told Moshe to answer them. He said "What is written in the Torah? Don't steal, don't kill, don't be adulterous, etc. That doesn't apply to you. Is there jealousy among you that you need the Torah?". And right away the Angels agreed that the Torah belongs to the human race.

So here we have a citation that the Angels don't experience jealousy, while in our Torah reading it seems they do. How can this be reconciled?

I thought to myself (and immediately was happy to hear that Rabbi Schachter had heard the same answer from Rabbi Asher Weiss) that if you look carefully to what Moshe said, "Is there jealousy among you?", you can perceive the answer. Angels aren't jealous of each other. But when they look down on our world they can experience jealousy. They looked at Yaacov and saw how he had the opportunity to grow and raise himself to such lofty heights that his face was engraved on the Holy Throne, while they are created to do one purpose and can't grow or change themselves.

Later in the Torah reading we find that Rachel was jealous of her sister Leah, who had children, while Rachel was barren. How could the Holy Mother of our nation, Rachel, be jealous of her sister (especially when we learned earlier that she abetted her father's plot to let Leah get married to Yaacov because she didn't want to embarrass her sister - SDR)? Rashi answers that Rachel realized that if Leah was having children and she wasn't, it was because her sister was more righteous than she was. She wasn't jealous of the children, but of the fact that her sister had reached such levels of greatness that Hashem had blessed her with children, while Rachel  evidently still needed to work to improve her own condition.

I study in yeshiva all day with young boys and young men, ages 18-25. And many times I find that when we discuss previous lectures of our Rabbis, or issues that we learned together a few days or weeks ago, they remember much more than I do. And it causes me to feel jealous of them, although I do realize that they have the advantage of youth over me. But this type of jealousy is good, as the Talmud teaches "Jealousy of scholars increases knowledge." So to overcome my 'handicap', I just work harder, writing down the lectures afterwards while I re-listen to them on a recording, and then attempt to later distill the main points to an outline that I can review and attempt to better retain.

 

We all need to learn from the Angels and our Mother Rachel. Let's be jealous of those who have reached greater heights of knowledge, morality, and righteousness, and use this human trait in the way that it was intended for us.  

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On my way to yeshiva today, I listened (on my Ipod) to a lecture that Rabbi Feiner gave earlier this week dealing with this week's Torah portion of Va'aira. He noted that three Angels came to visit Avraham, one to help heal him from his circumcision, one to foretell to him that he would have a son, and one who was on his way to destroy Sdom.

Rabbi Feiner asked why was it necessary for the Angel who was on his way to destroy Sdom to stop and visit with Avraham? Why couldn't he go there directly?

Rabbi Feiner retold an answer that Rabbi Chatzkel Abramsky had given. The Angels upon hearing from Hashem that Sdom was to be destroyed, had questions about it. Why was it so significant to Hashem what humans did or didn't do? Weren't they a lowly creation? And they quoted the verse "מה אנוש כי תזכרנו " - What are humans, that they should be remembered" ? So in answer to that query, Hashem sent the Angel to first visit Avraham, to see what a man could accomplish, and to what heights of holiness he could ascend. Then the Angel could understand the significance of man.

Rabbi Feiner also told a story of an old invalid rabbi who lived near him in Shaarei Chesed, Jerusalem, years ago when the Feiners were living in Israel. He said that he and his wife would occasionally visit that old rabbi. And once the old rabbi mentioned that when he was 7 years old he went with an uncle to see the Chofetz Chaim, who was passing through his town upon returning from attending a conference in a major city. The young child was lifted on his uncle's shoulders and brought to the window of the train (which was stopped at the station) to view the Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan (commonly known by his most famous book - Chofetz Chaim)  up close. The Chofetz Chaim reached out of the window and shook the young boy's hand. The old rabbi related that his whole life was influenced by that one encounter, and he often felt bad that he ever washed that hand afterwards.

That story reminded me of the trip I took with my yeshiva about a month ago to the Galilee. We stayed in Tiberias for Shabbat, and Rabbi Lowenstein, who was leading the tour, met me Shabbat morning when I was approaching the room where the hotel customers were to pray. He told me that he just come back from visiting a synagogue nearby where noted Mekubal (master of Kabbalah),  Rav Dov Kook, (the grandson of Rav Avraham Yitzchok Kook, the first Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of British Mandatory Palestine, and Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, noted Posek (decider of Jewish law) and Gadol Hador - leader of our generation) was praying. Rabbi Lowenstein told me that people travel to Tiberias just to see Rav Kook pray. He related that he saw Rav Dov Kook say each word of Shmoneh Esrei (the central prayer of our liturgy) out loud slowly as if he was a defense attorney giving his closing argument to the ultimate Judge and Jury, Hashem.  

I still had about a half hour before my minyan was to start, so I hurriedly made my way to the synagogue to see Rav Kook. At that point, the Torah was being read, and Rav Kook was sitting right behind the Torah reader. The portion being read dealt with Cain killing his brother Hevel. At the point in the story when the murder occurred, Rav Kook lifted his hands, and grasped his head as if in astonishment. I felt that his was thinking, "Did that just occur? Did someone just kill someone else? Did a main character just get cut out of the story?" It seemed to me that he was living the story as if he was just hearing it for the first time, or perhaps watching it unfold before his eyes.

Having the opportunity to see a great Torah scholar is not something that one should pass up. Just by being in his presence, one is like someone who walks through a perfume store - some of the fragrance attaches to him and he leaves differently than he was a few moments before.

One should always try to visit or see such a person. You can never tell how your life will be changed for the better, if you just grasp that opportunity..

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Every year I have the same problem.

July and August hot summer days bleed into hot September days, and although the month of Elul starts, I am not ready. I hear the shofar blast every morning after davening, but it's just as if an alarm clock goes off that causes to me to stir for a moment, and right afterwards I hit the snooze button and go right back to my regular daily routine.

In olden days, our ancestors trembled when Elul arrived, because they could feel it in their bones that the Day of Judgement was right around the corner. But I always need something else to wake me up, or I will arrive at the fateful day and realize that I am ill prepared to face my Maker. Some years I am fortunate to listen to a lecture that resonates within me, or I can absorb by osmosis the necessary feeling from others who are already tuned in.  

A few days ago I was driving to yeshiva and Radio Yerushalayim, the main station in Jerusalem, that usually plays a mix of contemporary Israeli and American rock, pop, and rap, played a song that really penetrated my soul. I didn't catch the name of the song or singer, and afterwards started to despair that I would be able to find out what it was, or hear it again.

Today, I heard it again, and made a note of the singer's name, עמרם ביטון (Amram Biton), and the song's name, יודע עמוק בפנים (Knows Deep Inside). I then found it on Youtube and played it about 10 times in a row on my cell phone on the way home, and on my desktop at home. In fact, I'm still playing it as I write this, as it really is putting me into the spirit of Elul.

The song in pretty simple (as is the Hebrew it's sung in). It speaks to the fact that there is a Master to the World, and we all know it deep inside (even if that fact is not at the top of our consciousness all the time).  And He knows all about us, all our thoughts, actions, and deepest desires.  It is played in a cheerful tune, so it is not meant to scare the listener, but to make the listener feel that there is Someone up there who cares about each one of us. And it also makes me think that I work for that Boss, and He gave me a task to accomplish this year, and I need to think about whether I have been a responsible person in completing the task I have been given.

A few years ago I heard a lecture from Rabbi Yissochar Frand on this topic. He said that when we approach Rosh Hashanna, we shouldn't make up our minds to correct in the coming year all of our failures of the past year. Because inevitably, next year Rosh Hashanna will roll around and we will realize that we are back at the same point we were last year (as Yogi Berra once said, "Deja Vu all over again" - my thoughts, not Rabbi Frand's :-) ). So if we keep repeating the same scenario, it will just lead us to throw up our hands at the hope of ever doing better.

Instead, Rabbi Frand said that we should all focus on one thing that we need to work on in the coming year. Each of us needs to do some introspection, and think of what that one thing needs to be. But it should be something small enough that it is doable. And if we really work on that one item during the year and accomplish making ourselves a little better, then we will be able to build on that accomplishment in the years to come.

Whatever it takes, we each need to wake up and realize that Elul is here, and Rosh Hashanna is fast approaching.

I wish you all have a כתיבה וחתימה טובה, a New Year filled with all the blessings that Hashem can bestow upon you.

And if you are interested in that song, I'm providing the link to it below. I hope it moves you like it did me.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CdI2b6HmZO4

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Sensitive - I have a good friend who goes out at 5 am for a walk of an hour or more three times a week with a large number of empty bags in his arms, and goes up and down the streets of different neighborhoods in Jerusalem looking for trash that is lying on the sidewalk or street. He bends down, sometimes a hundred times an hour (try it, it isn't easy) picking up the trash and eventually depositing the bags in trash receptacles. Occasionally a passerby will stop and ask him why he is doing what he is doing, and he answers 'We live in a holy country, don't we? We should all do our part in making it a cleaner place for everyone'.

He is sensitive to the holiness of Jerusalem and the Land of Israel.

Sensitive - I know a young woman who is very careful when she shops for her family, to only buy fish that are sustainable. Sustainability means that there is a balance between the amount of fish that are taken out of the ocean and the amount of fish of that species that remain in the ocean, so that the fishermen are not causing the species to eventually become extinct. While she realizes that her not purchasing that type of fish won't make a dent in the problem, she doesn't want her dollars to contribute to the problem.

She in sensitive to the world's environment.

Insensitive - A few years ago I visited a family of cousins of ours in New Jersey. They showed me a beautiful picture of the whole family dressed up in their best clothes, sitting around a Pesach Seder table on the first night of the holiday. I knew that they were observant Jews, so I asked them how that picture got taken on Pesach, when obviously it would be impermissible to take a photo on that holy day. They told me that an uncle had been visiting who was nonobservant, and he took the picture of the family.

They were insensitive to the holiness of the day, and felt there was nothing wrong in participating in an act (even though they took no physical action) that was causing a desecration of the holiday.

Insensitive - A month ago, at the edge of my neighborhood, a multiplex movie theater opened, and it shows movies there 7 days a week. There has been an influx of cars of secular citizens who drive to the complex from other parts of the city as well. Last week observant friends of ours told us that they had visited the cinema during the week, and told us of how they enjoyed going to the movie theater that was an easy walk from their home.

They were insensitive to the fact that they were spending money there supporting an enterprise that was degrading the observance of Shabbat in our neighborhood in Jerusalem. Even though their patronage of the cinema will not make a difference in whether the enterprise is successful or not, I feel that anyone who is sensitive to the honor of Shabbat should not be attending such a place, any day of the week.

 

I mentioned this example of insensitivity to a number of observant friends in my neighborhood, and was surprised that a fair percentage of them did not agree with me. Am I being too sensitive? I don't think so.

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My wife and I were lucky to move to Israel before Obamacare took effect, and before Hurricane Sandy hit the New York/New Jersey region. I think there must be some connection between those two events, but I haven't quite figured it out yet. :-)

And while we don't have to worry about hurricanes in Israel, we still have to be concerned about health care. But over the three years that we have been here, we have  been very satisfied with the health care system and have very few concerns about it.

An example of the efficiency of the system is the care that my mother-in-law receives. She is 93 and has suffered a number of strokes in the past few years, leaving her incapacitated. There is a process in place that allows for foreign workers (in the health care field they are mainly Filipinos) to work in the country at government regulated rates and with defined benefits. My mother-in-law has a wonderful caring one who is with her 24/7 (with a few hours time off every day that is covered by my wife) to take care of her daily needs.

A doctor, nurse, and various therapists are available to be called to her home to provide medical care. The doctor did an initial workup to determine what medications are necessary, and is available by phone for any questions and does provide prescription refills upon request (that can be picked up the next day at a local clinic).  As my mother-in-law is a holocaust survivor, prescriptions are filled at a local pharmacy free of charge. Physical and occupational therapists also visited to prescribe the necessary equipment for her home health care and to provide various therapies.

There is a wonderful non-profit organization called Yad Sarah that provides short term loans of small medical equipment for home use. For long term use and for larger equipment such as a hospital bed, cushioned wheel chair, and a lift from bed to chair, the Ministry of Health provides the equipment to her at a 90% discount to cost. Other non-profits organizations provide free ambulance transportation for scheduled procedures at hospitals, and for emergencies Hatzalah personnel come to the home very quickly in their ubiquitous motorcycles. 

So most of our contact with the health system aside for our own regularly scheduled doctor visits has been that of the care for my mother-in-law. That is, until this past week.

We have our daughter, Aviva, her husband and two small boys, ages 5 and 2, staying with us now on a two week visit from Chicago. This past Shabbat, my wife, Iris, was carrying some food back to the kitchen from the dining room, when she stepped on a little toy car that had been left on the floor and went for quite a ride. She landed on our stone floor, trying to brace her fall with her right hand. She immediately felt a lot of pain, and even after icing her hand and wrist realized that she had suffered more than a bruise.

I walked over with her a few blocks to Terem, an emergency immediate care clinic. The receptionist saw us immediately and recorded the information from her health care card. Within another two minutes we were called in to meet a paramedic who took down  Iris' medical history and the cause of our visit to the clinic. Right afterwards Iris was seen by an Orthopedic doctor (who just happened to be an Arab). His diagnosis was that her wrist was broken. After another very short wait, the wrist was X-rayed, and about two minutes later the doctor was reading the picture and verified that her radial wrist bone had a displaced fracture.

He gave her a (Novocain?) shot to the wrist, and then yanked on her hand (which was pretty painful, as per Iris' reaction) which put the bone back in place. He then plastered on a cast and had her go for another X-ray which was done within another few minutes. After he verified that the bone was indeed reset correctly, he discharged Iris and told her to see him at the main clinic in town on Thursday morning for a followup.

And we left the clinic less than an hour after we first entered it!

On Thursday Iris went to the clinic to see the doctor. This time she did have to wait considerably longer to see him as the visit was squeezed in between patients who already has scheduled appointments. He had another X-ray done, was satisfied with her progress, and told her to schedule another follow up in three weeks.

 

So all in all we are very satisfied with health care in Israel. In another 5 weeks Iris is scheduled to have the cast removed, and we hope that from then on we will only need preventative health care visits. But it is nice to know that in an emergency, there is an efficient system in place here to care for everyone's needs. 

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Hashem always makes sure that there is a balance of Kedusha (holiness) and Tumah (its opposite) in the world to ensure that mankind will have a completely free choice in deciding what path in life to choose.

When Moshe was leading the Jewish nation with prophecy, Hashem made sure that the non-Jews of the time had a role model opposite him as a prophet for their 'dark side'.

And in later years, when prophecy was no longer a force for Jews, black magic and sorcery also disappeared from the world.

In 2015 there seems to be a new 'force' in the western liberal world, which as been trumpeted and lauded as a wonderful thing to behold -- trans-genderism. Bruce Jenner, who was the epitomy of masculinity in 1976 when he won the Olympic gold medal in the decathlon, and appeared on Wheaties boxes as a masculine inspiration to  American youth, now is the face (and body) of trans-genderism, and will be called 'Caitlin' Jenner. Fashion magazines, reality TV shows, and news stories all are ablaze with the wonder of this person who has 'chosen' to now be referred to as a woman.

What force can we Jews use to counter this latest assault on our sensibilities?

I propose that we all embrace trans-ageism. By that I mean that we should not be bound by our physical ages. Too many middle age and older people have decided that 'they are what they are, and they can't change'. If we think of ourselves as not being shackled by our bodies, but rather ruled by our brains, we can decide that we can change. There is always room for growth in our Torah observance, and we should attempt to look at ourselves as youthful people with enthusiasm and spirit to meet new challenges and grow from them.

And I would also suggest to my younger friends that sometimes they should think to act with more maturity and temper some of their youthful abandon in their daily lives, so as to further their growth as responsible Torah Jews.

If we embrace trans-ageism, perhaps we can add to the Kedusha in our spiritual atmosphere, to counter the Tumah that seems to be spreading in our society.   

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This past Shabbat, the Parsha we read was Behar (outside of Israel, this week Behar/Bechukotai will be read). The Haftorah that was read was very meaningful to me, and especially since those living outside of Eretz Yisrael will not hear it read this year (the Haftorah of Bechukotai will be read instead), I thought it would be very appropriate to bring its message to everyone's attention. 

The Haftorah is from Sefer Yirmiyahu, Perek 32. The prophet Yirmiyahu (Jeremiah) relates that Hashem told him that his cousin Chanamel was coming to visit him to sell him a field. And indeed Chanamel arrived to sell the field, and Yirmiyahu realized that it was Hashem's desire for him to purchase it. He wrote up a bill of sale, had witnesses sign it, and paid Chanamel for the field. He sent the bill of sale to his disciple Baruch ben Neriah, and instructed him that it was Hashem's order that Baruch should seal the document in an earthenware container so that it would last for a long time.

 What was so special about this purchase that it was part of a prophecy that was written down for generations to come to learn about it?

The context of the purchase is that it took place as the Babylonians were attacking from the north, laying waste to the countryside, and were soon to march on to Jerusalem to destroy the city, set the Holy Temple on fire, and send the country's inhabitants into exile. I can imagine that Yirmiyahu's cousin Chanamel, like many others, were fleeing for their lives and looking to raise needed cash any way they could in order to pay for their journey,

A rational person would laugh at Chanamel's offer to sell his field. In a matter of days that field, like many others in the country, would be valueless as it was set on fire and destroyed by the invading forces. Why would anyone purchase such a worthless property?

But Hashem had a different purpose in mind. He wanted Yirmiyahu to show everyone, by the fact that he was buying the field, that indeed it would eventually be a valuable  piece of property. As the Pasuk says a little while later in that chapter, "Houses, fields, and vineyards will yet be bought in this land."

Hashem was telling everyone that one day the Jewish people would return to their land from exile, and would repopulate and rebuild their cities, farms and vineyards. We who are living in Israel today are fulfilling that prophecy! Every one of us who purchases/rents apartments in Israel and goes shopping to buy fruits, vegetables and wine/grape juice is living proof that Hashem fulfills his word to the prophets. And those who are not (yet) privileged to live here also help by their support of the people living here, whenever they purchase products that were produced here, or send monetary support to individuals or institutions here.

A month or so ago I was on a bus heading north to tour the Galil. The tour guide was telling a story and mentioned the Jews longing for Moshiach. An old man towards the front of the bus scoffed and said out loud 'My grandfather waited for Moshiach and he didn't come, my father waited for Moshiach and he didn't come, and you expect me to wait for Moshiach as well?'. I was seated too far away from that old man, but I wanted to grab him by the shoulders, shake him, and say 'Wake up and look around! Hashem prophesied that we would return and rebuild the country. You can see with your own eyes that the prophecy has come true! How can you disbelieve another of Hashem's promises that we hear every Shabbat Hagadol as written in Malachi 3 "Behold! I will send you Eliya the Prophet, before the great and awesome day of Hashem!".

 

May we all merit to greet Eliyahu as he pronounces that Mashiach has finally arrived - speedily in our day!

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This past Shabbat, I had the opportunity to speak to the people in shul in the morning after davening and I related to them a fascinating story about Pesach that Rabbi Yisroel Reisman had told last year.

The story took place in 1990, when the Soviet Union was still under communist rule. Most Jews were kept by force from leaving the country, but here and there a few Jews managed to either escape, or somehow get a visa. One family, made up of an 80 year grandfather, his son and daughter-in-law, and two grandchildren, were among the lucky few Jews who made their way out of the Soviet Union. The grandfather had learned in a Cheder, 70 years before, and still remembered some of the Jewish studies he had been taught, but the rest of the family had no knowledge of Jewish laws or customs.

The family made their way to Flatbush, Brooklyn, and moved into an apartment on a block near Rabbi Reisman. When Rabbi Reisman heard about his new neighbors, he invited the family to join his family for the Pesach Seder that was taking place that week. At the Seder, Rabbi Reisman"s family sat together with the Russian family, and as the Seder was about to begin, the Russian grandfather raised his hand and said he had something to say that no one else in the world knew, and of course he was given permission to speak.

The old man told them that thousands of years ago the Jews were slaves in Egypt, that Hashem had freed them with wondrous events, that they reached the Red Sea where Moshe raised his hand to split the sea, and that the Jews were saved as they went through the dry land but that the Egyptians who were chasing them drowned as the sea returned to its normal course. It turned out that all the grandfather's classmates of 70 years ago had passed away, and since no one since had ever talked about Jewish history with him, the old man thought that he must be the last person on Earth who knew the story!

Just think what this man had stored away in his heart during those 70 years! He knew that he had valuable information that he must impart to his children and grandchildren, and he wanted to be sure that he was a link in the chain that passed on the tradition of our forefathers to his progeny.

That is the essence of our celebration of Pesach and especially the Seder. We each must feel that we have important news that we need to impart to our family to make sure that the connection between ourselves and our glorious past continues to be known and passed on to the next generation.

 

May we all have a wonderful Pesach, and may we all celebrate together soon, as it was meant to be, in a rebuilt Beit Hamikdask in Jerusalem!  

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Last updated on: 07/25/2017
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