5 Adar I 5774 | 5 February 2014
With Bells On
By Rabbi Dr. Barry Dov Schwartz
THIS PAST SHABBAT, DR. PHIL LEVINE DELIVERED A MEANINGFUL DVAR TORAH AT SEUDAH SHLISHIT IN HONOR OF THE FIRST YAHRZEIT FOR HIS MOTHER, ALEHAH HASHALOM. IT WAS MOVING AND AT THE SAME TIME ERUDITE, AND WE ARE GRATEFUL THAT HE SHARED HIS WISDOM AND EXPERIENCE WITH US. WHEN HE MENTIONED THE BELLS THAT THE KOHEN GADOL WORE ON HIS ROBE, IT REMINDED ME OF WHAT I ONCE HEARD THAT COMES FROM THE LUBAVITCHE REBBE.
THE REBBE SAID THAT THERE ARE SOME ‘MITZVAHS’ THAT CAN AND SHOULD BE PERFORMED IN SECRET, BUT THERE ARE OTHER ‘MITZVAHS’ THAT SHOULD BE DONE IN PUBLIC. THE SOUND OF THE BELLS THAT THE HIGH PRIEST MADE AS HE WALKED WAS AN INTEGRAL PART OF THE MITZVAH ITSELF. IF HE HAD ENTERED THE KADOSH KODOSHIM, THE HOLY OF HOLIES, AND WORSHIPPED THERE WITHOUT THE BELLS, THE MITZVAH WOULD NOT HAVE BEEN COMPLETE. HE LIKENED IT TO THE SHOFAR ON ROSH HASHANA. WITHOUT SOUNDING THE SHOFAR, YOU HAVE NOT FULFILLED THE COMMANDMENT OF THE DAY. SO THERE ARE TIMES, SAID THE REBBE, WHEN YOU HAVE TO SERVE THE LORD WITH NOISE. THERE ARE TIMES WHEN YOU HAVE TO CALL ATTENTION TO WHAT YOU ARE DOING.
THE REBBE NOT ONLY ESPOUSED THIS IDEA; HE PRACTICED IT. NOBODY HAS DONE MITZVOT WITH MORE FANFARE, MORE PUBLICITY, MORE NOISE THAN HE AND HIS CHASSIDIM; AND I SAY THIS TO THEIR CREDIT. OTHER CHASSIDIC GROUPS ARE INSULAR. THEY DO NOT WANT THE WORLD TO ENTER THEIR HOMES, AND THEY DO NOT WANT TO ENTER THE WORLD.
BUT CHABAD IS DIFFERENT. CHABAD GOES INTO THE WORLD IN ORDER TO SPREAD ITS MESSAGE. EVEN IF IT MEANS ERECTING A TEN FOOT MENORAH IN THE CENTER OF ANY GIVEN TOWN IN THE PRESENCE OF THE MAYOR AND LOCAL POLITICIANS AND DIGNITARIES. CHABAD ARE MASTERS OF THE OF THE ART OF PUBLIC RELATIONS, AND THIS WE MUST ADMIT WHETHER OR NOT WE AGREE WITH THEM ON OTHER ISSUES. THEY NOT ONLY DO MITZVOT; THEY RING THE BELLS WHEN THEY DO IT SO THAT ALL THOSE GOING BY MAY HEAR ABOUT IT AND PERHAPS BE DRAWN TO DOING IT TOO. THIS GOES BACK TO A TRADITION THAT WHEN THE BAAL SHEM TOV WAS ASKED WHEN THE MESSIAH WOULD COME, HE ANSWERED, ‘WHEN YOU SEND FOUNTAINS OF TORAH OUT FAR INTO THE WORLD.”
NOW AND THEN IT OCCURS TO ME THAT NON-CHABAD JEWS COULD LEARN A LESSON FROM ‘CHABADNIKS.’ NO, I AM NOT APPLYING FOR A LICENSE TO DRIVE A MITZVAH TANK ANY TIME SOON. BUT WHEN I THINK HOW SO MUCH OF THE MEDIA’S PORTRAYAL IS EITHER ILL-INFORMED OR HOSTILE; SO MUCH OF WHAT WE SEE OF JUDAISM IN SITCOMS IS EITHER MOCKING OR BASED ON IGNORANCE; SO MUCH NEWS IS DOWNRIGHT SLANTED OR OUTRIGHT ANTISEMITIC AND ANTI ISRAEL. WHAT IF WE REALLY USED THE MEDIA TO CALL ATTENTION TO JEWISH VALUES AND JEWISH TEACHINGS? WHAT IF, AS THE REBBE SAYS, WE RANG A BELL SO THAT ALL WHO GO BY COULD HEAR THE STORY OF OUR TRADITION?
THE PEW REPORT HAS IT ALL WRONG: JEWS ARE PROUD OF THEIR RELIGION. TRUE, WE ARE LOSING MANY JEWS AND WE HAVE TO DO MORE TO HELP KEEP JEWS JEWISH, AND AT THE SAME TIME TO SPREAD THE WORD OF TORAH AND YIDDISHKEIT TO THOSE SEARCHING FOR THEIR ROOTS AND FOR SPIRITUALITY. IT WOULD BE A REAL SIN, A VERITABLE AVEIRAH TO KEEP THE EXCITEMENT, THE BEAUTY, THE UNIQUENESS OF JUDAISM A SECRET.
LET US IN NORTH WOODMERE NEVER KEEP OUR JUDAISM UNDERCOVER. LET US SHOUT OUT THE GLORIES OF OUR YIDDISHKEIT FROM THE ROOFTOPS. LET US, LIKE THE KOHEN GADOL, WEAR THE BELLS OF JUDAISM WITH PRIDE AND FOR ALL TO SEE. AND HEAR!
LCHAVOD ULITIFORET (SHMOT,28:2):THIS INDEED WILL BRING GLORY AND SPLENDOR TO OUR COMMUNITY AND TO AM YISRAEL.
9 Shevat 5774 | 9 January 2014
Moshe’s Model of Empathy
By Juliana Feirstein
Toward the end of Parshat Beshalach, Benei Yisrael is attacked by the nation of Amalek. While the battle took place, Moshe stood on the top of a hill and raised his hands towards Hashem. This reminded the Jewish people to focus their hearts to the Almighty so that they would succeed and be victorious over Amalek. The Torah states, “And the hands of Moshe were heavy and they took a rock and placed it under him and he sat on it.” Why did Moshe sit on a rock and not something more comfortable like pillows?
Rashi tells us that Moshe sat on a rock and not on pillows because he did not want to sit in comfort while Jews were in danger and suffering. He wanted to feel their suffering and to take on some of their pain. Rabbi Yeruchem Levovitz teaches that this is a lesson for us on how to feel another person’s suffering. Don’t just imagine the pain of another, but do something physically to actually feel his/her pain. Whether the physical act is a discomfort for you or an act of kindness out of your way to help a person it can change someone’s whole perspective on their situation. People hate the feeling of loneliness, and unfortunately we all find ourselves feeling alone sometimes. Friendship is not only an antidote to that loneliness. Everyone has unique qualities, middot that inspire and shine light for us all. But when a person is upset or in a bad place their self worth can be clouded and they just don’t realize how amazing they are!!! That small act of support to show the person we are there right beside them can give world’s worth of meaning. We must remind each other how incredible we each are as sons and daughters of Hashem!
Moshe’s empathy serves as an ideal model for us. By being aware of how a little discomfort bothers us, or how taking time out of our day to help another person takes work, we can have greater empathy for others and understand just an ounce of what they are battling. Human instinct by default makes it hard sometimes to see a person in a rough situation and you just can’t help yourself but to feel that it isn’t your problem. But Moshe taught us that we are all one nation! If one person is suffering we can take a part of our life to make them feel a little less alone and remind them that they are loved and will be nudged back into a state of simcha!
The next time we see a fellow Jew in pain – even something as simple as someone who dropped their bags outside of a supermarket – we must resist the yetzer ha-ra telling us it isn’t your problem. If Moshe Rabbeinu, who was busier and more important than any of us, could make the additional effort of feeling the pain of the Jewish People – even while he was busy making sure they won the war – then we DEFINITELY can. These opportunities to empathize with others come up so often; whenever we grab them, we will be following in the footsteps of Moshe Rabbeinu.
14 Mar-Cheshvan 5774 – 17 October, 2013
Rabbi Jeffrey H. Miller
The Mishna in Avot (5:3) teaches that עשרה נסיונות נתנסה אברהם אבינו ע”ה ועמד בכולם, Avraham Aveinu experienced (and prevailed in) ten tests of faith. The eighth test, according to Maimonides, was Avraham’s willingness to accept Sarah’s decree to expel Hagar and Yishmael from his house.
That our Sages recognized Avraham’s turmoil must not be overlooked. We, who are the descendants of Yitzchak, must not forget that Avraham – and God – loved Yishmael as well.
Avraham struggled with the decision until God said (Gen. 21:12):
|“… Whatever Sarah tells you, hearken to her voice…”
||…כֹּל אֲשֶׁר תֹּאמַר אֵלֶיךָ שָׂרָה שְׁמַע בְּקֹלָהּ…
But surely Sarah had an agenda. She had no great maternal love for Yishmael, especially after the birth of Yitzchak. Why, then, should her obvious bias toward Yitzchak influence and impact on Abraham’s decision?
Perhaps an answer can be found in the comment of the Talmudic Sage Rabbi Yehoshua ben Korcha:
|God took the YOD from Sarai and divided it into two (equal parts): half to Sarah and half to Abraham.
||יו”ד שֶנָטָל הָקָדוֹש בָרוךְ הוא מִשָרָי נֶחֱלָק חֶצְיָו לְשָרָה וְחֶצְיָו לְאָבְרָהָם.
|(ילקוט שמעוני תורה פרשת לך לך רמז פב)
Sarah was very much Avraham’s partner in life. So much so, that she gave of herself to make her husband complete. And in doing so, she did not diminish herself. Sarah and Avraham were great and righteous individuals, but as a couple, they were even greater; they were unstoppable. They ‘made souls’ and they spread God’s Message at every opportunity.
Thus, Sarah did not act out of self-interest in order to promote herself and her biological child. She worked tirelessly with Avraham to lay the foundation of a nation. Her opinion about Yishmael was guided by intuition, to be sure, but also by the spirit of God. In fact, Rashi points out that from this episode, we learn that אברהם טפל לשרה בנביאות, Avraham was inferior to Sarah in (this) prophecy.
A Yod (being 10) was taken from Sarai and split into two Heys (being 5 each). I think that God was teaching that the First Law of Thermodynamics – that the total energy of a closed system cannot change – should be applied to family life.
There is a simple yet beautiful lesson to be learned by the name changes of our First Couple. To succeed in life, to build a בָיִת נֶאֱמָן, husband and wife must do considerably more than share an address and bed. They must share completely of themselves. Sarah willingly gave of herself to make her husband whole, and in the process, she became even more whole herself.
The eighth test was complicated and multifaceted. In the end, God nudged Avraham to appreciate that he, too, needed to trust Sarah completely, just as she had entrusted herself with him so many times before.
7 Mar-Cheshvan – 577413 October,2013
Parshat Lech Lecha – Josh Abramowitz
This Dvar Torah is mostly based on the works of Nechama Lebowitz, and my Rebbeim.
Why Avraham? Why was he who we call the Father of Bnei Israel? There were a few righteous people in the generations past. Noach, Shem, to name a few. They all believed in One All Powerful Being. So why was it he who gets hand picked like a diamond in the rough?
This question is preceded by an even bigger question. What is the need for One Chosen Nation? Why can’t everyone have a chance form a special relationship with their Creator? Its discrimination! It’s almost like having parents who tell all their kids that only one of them is allowed in the house.
In the Midrash from Bereshit Rabba (39, 5) a pasuk from Yermeyahu is broken down into 4 parts. The generation of Enosh, The generation of the Mabul, The generation of Migdal Bavel, and then addresses Avraham. These mark the three stages of the failure of mankind and then the choosing of Avraham. Adam dropped the ball when he ate from the tree and then mankind was a mess. Hashem decides to push the reset button and start all over with Noach and his family. Then that generation as a unified people had the nerve to rebel against the Almighty. This is a very interesting episode. Hashem doesn’t destroy this generation. There is a certain respect for these people because they were together. But then again they were demonizing the G-d by thinking they could get to him. Hashem says they can’t exist together as a whole and serve him so they have to broken apart. They’re biggest strength was now they’re biggest weakness. So they get broken off into little pieces of a puzzle that get scattered across the earth. Now they’re broken. Who is going to pick up the pieces of the puzzle? One of those nations. The Jewish nation. They become the elite unit and driving force into the task of serving Hashem. A light unto the nations. With the end goal being that every nation, as a unified people come to do the same.
We now understand the need for one nation as opposed to all people. But there still leaves open the question of why Avraham is the birthfather of that nation. This is also very puzzling because we see no indication as to why he was selected. Last weeks Parsha ends with telling us there is a person whose name is Avraham, and this weeks Parsha begins with G-d telling him Lech Lecha at the age of 75. How suddenly did G-d become his bestfreind? I can understand why Noach was selected. The Psukim tell us he was a Tzadik. But what did Avraham do to be called The father of all nations (Berechot 13a)?
The Rambam in the beginning of Hilchot Avoda Zara describes beautifully the process of how avoda zara came to be, leading into Avraham coming into his own. He came to conclusions that created an unshakeable belief in One Master of the Universe. (The Rambam doesn’t say explicitly as to this being the reason he was chosen but the Ramban says that it is specifically for this reason). Bereishit Rabba (39, 1) states his thought process as this: If there a beautifully lit castle, how can there be no owner? Then the owner pops out and reveals himself. Avraham wondered the same. How can there be such a wonderfully complex world without someone controlling it? Then Hashem revealed himself. He took it one step further though. His belief was so all encompassing and deeply rooted in him, it dictated his actions as well. Chazal tell us (Kidushin Perek 4, Mishnah 4) he kept the whole Torah. My simple understanding of that is that the Torah dictates reality. He was in touch with the reality of the world to the point where he had an intuitive understating where he knows truth from non-truth, good from bad. Chazal tell us his kidneys taught him Torah. The kidneys in the body separate the waste in your body from the good stuff. Parallel to his “spiritual kidneys” which taught him right from wrong. He embodies what the verse in Tehillim: “The Tzadik through his Emunah he lives”. He lived, breathed, walked, and talked on the basis of his belief system.
From this picture we now painted of Avraham maybe we understand why he was chosen. But there is still a glaring hole in our point. That is, where do we see this in the words of the Parsha?
There is a midrash (Berieshit Rabba 32) in which R’ Yochanan says: “A potter would test a jar by striking it if he knows it would be break on the first shot. What would he test? Good jars that wouldn’t break even if he strikes it many times. A righteous person is tested and not the wicked, as it says in Tehillim, “Hashem tests the Tzadik”.” Avraham was destined to go through 10 tests in which he would fully realize his potential. Why was he chosen over any other person who came before him? His being chosen over the rest testifies to the fact that he was the only one who could pass the test, which may not have been true for his predecessors. He was the only one who wouldn’t crack.
The world invites us to search, dissect, and question. We are begged by our Father in Heaven to look at the precedent set by Avraham. To reflect on this world and realize its objective truth and live through it in action. Then ultimately to carry the torch after which the rest will follow.
Hoshana Rabbah 5774 – 25 September 2013
Rabbi Jeffrey H. Miller
Our Sages, of blessed memory, were deeply fascinated – almost obsessed – with God’s interaction with the cosmos (in general) and mankind (in particular). In examining His dealings with the physical universe, Chazal came to an astounding deduction:
כל מדותיו של הקדוש ברוך הוא מדה כנגד מדה
All of God’s (multifaceted) attributes involve ‘measure for measure’
(T.B. Sanhedrin 90a-b)
‘Measure for Measure’ is an oft used rabbinic expression that is difficult to translate but which loosely means that the (Divine) punishment always fits the crime. It’s therefore worthwhile to examine the punishment meted out by God to Adam for eating from the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge:
|With the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, until you return to the ground, for you were taken therefrom, for dust you are, and to dust you will return.
||בְּזֵעַת אַפֶּיךָ תֹּאכַל לֶחֶם עַד שׁוּבְךָ אֶל הָאֲדָמָה כִּי מִמֶּנָּה לֻקָּחְתָּ כִּי עָפָר אַתָּה וְאֶל עָפָר תָּשׁוּב:
How is a sweaty brow just punishment for violating God’s (then) only prohibition to mankind and to which He had already declared:
|But of the Tree of Knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat of it, for on the day that you eat thereof, you shall surely die.
||מֵעֵץ הַדַּעַת טוֹב וָרָע לֹא תֹאכַל מִמֶּנּוּ כִּי בְּיוֹם אֲכָלְךָ מִמֶּנּוּ מוֹת תָּמוּת:
In the interest of full disclosure, shouldn’t God have told Adam that the punishment of eating from the fruit was lifelong toil of the land (in addition to mortality)?
Perhaps an answer can be gleaned from the opinion of Rabbi Yehuda (T.B. Berachot 40a):
רבי יהודה אומר: חטה היתה … אילן שאכל ממנו אדם הראשון
The tree rom which Adam ate… Rabbi Yehuda states, was wheat.
In explaining his vote for wheat, Rabbi Yehuda cryptically notes that children do not know to call ‘father’ and ‘mother’ until they’ve tasted grain.
Perhaps what he is implying is that Adam and Chava were placed in the Garden of Edenלְעָבְדָהּ וּלְשָׁמְרָהּ, to work and guard it (Gen. 315). But they were still essentially first among equals with respect to the rest of God’s creatures. They grew up, so to speak, when they ate ‘learned’ to transform wheat into bread. In other words, they, unlike the rest of God’s creation, did not merely eat of the available produce, they transformed it, creating something entirely new, unseen in raw nature. In this way, they emulated one of God’s most important attributes – the Creator.
The process, however, was supposed to be a evolutionary one, like a child slowing tasting new foods and learning to speak. Instead, it became revolutionary, and man developed far too quickly for his own good.
Perhaps the original couple thought as children often do, that life would be easy with their newly acquired knowledge of the world around them. God said otherwise. I imagine He said: “You, Adam, now know that the world contains raw materials from which you can build many great things. But this knowledge comes at a cost. It is not easy growing the wheat, harvesting it, grinding it, and baking it. It is a back-breaking task. You will sweat. And, ironically, it will take so much time that you’re quest for knowledge will be compromised by your need to subsist.”
And yet, as God often does, He allowed this curse to be a blessing in disguise. For in making bread, we forge a partnership with the Divine who causes the whjeat to grow. And we remind ourselves of this partnership each and every time we eat bread, for before doing so we declare:
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ מֶֽלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, הַמּוֹצִיא לֶחֶם מִן הָאָרֶץ
Blessed is God, King (Creator) of the Universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.
And every time we taste something new we’ve created, be it food, or an invention, or an idea brought to life, we have the unique opportunity to cast the experience in holy terms, by thanking God for endowing us with the capacity to appreciate God in every stalk of wheat, and every idea we fashion.
Food for Thought
- How is it possible that Rabbi Yehuda believed that something clearly described as a ‘tree’ would be wheat stalks? (See, Gen. Rabba 15:7)
- Besides wheat, what other possibilities for the fruit of the tree are offered by Chazal? And what fruit is conspicuously missing? (See, T.B. Berachot 40a)
- In what way was Chava’s punishment מדה כנגד מדה?
 It is not clear whether Chava was created before or after this Commandment was given. This, of course, creates difficulties better left for another day.
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