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01/13/2021 03:57:14 PM

Jan13

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"Ribbit,Ribbit, Ribbit!"

01/13/2021 12:25:50 PM

Jan13

Rabbi Reuben Israel Abraham, CDR, CHC, USN (ret)

In this week’s parashah, Parashat Va-Eira, we read the following: HaShem said to Moshe: “Come to Par’oh and say to him: ‘Thus says Hashem: “Let My people go that they may serve me.  If You refuse to let them go, then I will plague your whole country with frogs.  The Nile will swarm with frogs, and they shall come up and enter your palace, your bedchamber and your bed, the houses of your courtiers and your people, and your ovens and your kneading bowls.  The frogs shall come up in you and in your people and in all your courtiers.”’” (Shemot 7:26-29)

Needless-to-say, most people do not like frogs let alone swarms of frogs.  But it might surprise you to learn that our Tradition looks at frogs in a totally different way.  Rabbi Nachman of Breslov wrote an entire discourse on the “inner meaning” of the frog stating that frogs allude to the scholars of Torah.  The Sages of the Talmud also had praise for the lowly frog.  In Masekhet Pesachim 56 of the Talmud Bavli we are told that Chanania, Mishael, and Azaria derived from a frog the inner strength to throw themselves into the fiery furnace rather than to bow down to Nebuchadnezzar’s idol.  They reasoned that because the frogs had the dedication to follow Hashem’s will throwing themselves into the Egyptians’ ovens during the time of the Ten Plagues, they, too, must do the same based upon the fact that they were Hashem’s creation on a much higher level than that of a frog.  The Midrash tells us that more than anything else, the croaking of the frogs is what drove the Egyptians out of their minds.  So it is that at face value, the importance of the frog may be greatly underestimated by the text of the Torah.  Perhaps this Chasidic parable will help us to understand that rather than its outer appearance, the frog’s inner significance is what is most important:

Nosson Nuta lived in a broken-down clapboard and tarpaper shack at the end of the village.  No one paid the slightest attention to this semi-toothed, curved-spine, near-sighted cobbler of 73 years of age.  He barely eked out a living mending old shoes and boots.  More than anyone else, he bore the brunt of the village children’s pranks and their parents’ disdain.  In the local Synagogue, Nosson Nuta was never called to the Torah, because in the eyes of his neighbors and fellow Jews, he was merely one small rung above the lowest beggar.  Since he could not afford to pay for a better seat, they forced him to sit in the back of the shul next to the sooty furnace.  However, in spite of all this, Nosson Nuta accepted his lot of great humiliation and incessant insults with happiness.  He seemed to enjoy the mocking and jokes made at his expense.

The thatched-roofed houses of the Central Ukraine were notorious fire hazards.  Because of this, every village knew that it would have to be rebuilt every couple of years or so.  Strangely, there had not been a fire in Nosson Nuta’s village for over 12 years, the very time when he first arrived as a widower having recently lost his wife.  Not only that, there had not been a pogrom or a miscarriage of justice in the village during the same time period as well.  The people of the village attributed their good fortune to their own righteousness.  However, they were in for a rude awakening!

One winter evening, Nosson Nuta closed his eyes for the final time.  When he did not show up for minyan the next morning, no one paid any attention, this in spite of the fact that he had never failed to pray 3 times each day with the Synagogue’s minyan.  When he failed to arrive in shul on the second morning, the village Rabbi decided he had better inquire as to the elderly cobbler’s well-being.  When he discovered the fate of Nosson Nuta, the Rabbi immediately summoned the Chevra Kaddisha in order for its members to come and perform their required sacred duties.  The did so perfunctorily.  They buried Nosson Nuta at the northern end of the cemetery in the paupers’ section.  No one considered the funeral of the deceased cobbler to be a good enough reason to close up shop for an hour in order to attend.  There were not even 10 men at the funeral, and Kaddish could not be recited.

That very same night, with the soil on Nosson Nuta’s grave still fresh, a band of bloodthirsty Cossacks descended upon the village, indiscriminately killing anyone and burning and pillaging anything they could get their hands on.  The village became a charred ruin, and those who had refused to attend Nosson Nuta’s funeral were now occupied with burying their own dead.  The only building which escaped the terrible fate of the pogrom was the village Synagogue.  After the half-dozen funerals, the Rabbi and the beadle went to inspect the shul to ascertain the damage.  Barukh HaShem, the shtiebel’s 5 Sifrei Torah were not touched.  Their beautiful silver ornaments were totally intact.  “How strange,” thought the Rabbi, “that the Cossacks did not enter the Synagogue like they had done during other pogroms in other villages.”  He felt as though some unknown guardian angel had protected the Aron HaKodesh, the Sifre Torah, and the rest of the Synagogue.  Suddenly the beadle asked, “What’s this?”  He pointed to a tin box that was concealed in the Holy Ark behind the Torah scrolls.  “I do not know,” replied the Rabbi as he pried the box open.  Inside, there were two stacks of fine parchment containing beautifully handwritten Rashi Hebrew script.  The Rabbi’s eyes suddenly opened very wide and his jaw fell wide open.  While he could not understand everything he read, he gleaned enough from the papers to know that they contained an eye-opening Kabbalistic commentary on one of Hashem’s Holy Names.  It was obvious that the author could swim like a fish in the sea of the Torah’s deepest secrets with ease.  The Rabbi slowly turned page after page, and then he saw the signature: Nosson Nuta ben Dov Ber.  It hit the Rabbi like a ton of bricks!  The elderly cobbler had been a hidden tzaddik and a scholar of monumental proportions!  It is then that the Rabbi understood why the village had been spared being subjected to pogroms for a dozen years as well as why the Synagogue had been spared the night before!

          We live in a world that is filled with the shallowness of glorifying that which is shines with the glitter of a beautiful façade.  Our Tradition teaches us that it is inner beauty that is most important.  The passage quoted from this week’s parshah teaches us that while the frog may be ugly and revolting on the outside, few creatures praise Hashem and serve H-m with such dedication.  May all of us do the same!    

   

"Love Your Brother as Yourself!"

01/07/2021 03:29:51 PM

Jan7

Rabbi Reuben Israel Abraham, CDR, CHC, USN (ret)

Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Heschel, the Rebbe of Kapishnitz, once visited one of his followers who happened to be quite wealthy.  The Rebbe knocked on the door of the man’s home.  When the wealthy man opened the door, he was quite taken back at the sight of the holy Rebbe standing on his doorstep.  He asked in bewilderment; “Why did the Rebbe have to trouble himself to come to my home?  The Rebbe could have summoned me and I would have dropped what I was doing and come at once!”  The Rebbe answered him: “I know of a certain family that is in desperate need of help.  The husband is out of work and, as an addition to the extreme hardship that this produces, they have a son who is very ill and requires immediate special medical attention.  Needless to say, their expenses are well beyond their means.”

But Rebbe” the wealthy man responded, “did this make it necessary for you to exert yourself by traveling to my home?  Why did the Rebbe not simply dispatch a messenger to inform me of this? I would have gladly given whatever sum of money that was needed!”  The Rebbe slowly and deliberately answered the wealthy man: “This particular request is of the utmost importance to me.  Because of this, it was essential that I come to your home personally.”  Exasperated, the wealthy man exclaimed in a loud voice: “I am fully prepared to give as much money as is necessary!  Just tell me: to whom I should make the check payable?”  The Rebbe paused for a moment and then slowly said: “Make the check payable…to your brother!”

In this week’s parashah, Parashat Shemot, we find the following: “And the daughter of Par’oh descended to the river to bathe [in it]; and her maidens were walking near the river.  And she saw the basket in the midst of the reed-thicket; and she sent her maid and she took it.  And she opened [it}, and she saw him – the boy, and behold: a lad was crying, and she took pity on him.”  (Shemot 5-6) The Torah goes on to tell us that Par’oh’s daughter, Bit’ya, realized that the baby was a Hebrew.  “So, Rabbi,” You may ask, “just what is going on here?  Why are two different people, the baby and the unnamed lad mentioned in the same passage?  Are they one and the same person?  And how did Bit’ya know that the baby was a Hebrew?”  The Baal HaTurim explains that this verse does, in fact, deal with two separate people.  When Bit’ya opened the basket, she saw the baby whom she takes for herself and eventually names Moshe.  It is at that same moment of discovery that she noticed a young lad crying.  Who was this young lad?  The Baal HaTurim says that she recognized him as being Aharon, the brother of Moshe.  She then realized that because one brother was crying for another that both must be Hebrew.

Many of us, in an effort to fulfill the mitzvah of tzedakah will spend a great deal of time searching far and wide for opportunities to extend ourselves to others in order to help them and to make their lives better.  But all too often we fail to recognize that there are members of our own families who need our attention and our attentiveness the most.  A way to test whether you really care about others or whether you are merely helping them for the recognition you might receive is by examining the way you help the members of both your immediate and your extended families.  While charity may begin at home, it is lovingkindness and caring that is really needed the most!

"You Get What You Pay For!"

01/04/2021 02:29:23 PM

Jan4

Rabbi Reuben Israel Abraham, CDR, CHC, USN (ret)

In the first parashah of the year of 2021, Parashat VaYechi, we find the following verses which become the basis for the blessing of one’s sons on Friday night after returning home from Synagogue: “And he [Ya’akov] blessed them on that day saying, ‘With you shall Yisrael bless saying, “May G-d make you like Ephrayim and Menasheh;”’ and he placed Ephrayim before Menasheh.” (B’reisheet 48:20) The fact is that Menasheh as firstborn should have been placed first.  In ancient Middle Eastern tradition, the firstborn son enjoyed a number of advantages (e.g.- a double portion in the inheritance of his father’s estate).  Our Tradition teaches that the reason Ephrayim was placed before Menasheh was due to the fact that Ephrayim had spent his time in Goshen learning Torah under the tutelage of his grandfather Ya’akov.  Because of this, he surpassed his older brother on a spiritual level thus earning to be placed first.  What this passage teaches us is that status (i.e.-in this case, being firstborn) guarantees nothing.

Rebbe Nachman of Breslov once scolded his disciples and followers by saying the following: “Your problem is that you think the righteous attain greatness merely because they have a very great soul.  This is absolutely wrong!  Any person can attain my levels and become just like me.  All that it takes is true devotion and effort.” (Sichot HaRan, 165) What Rebbe Nachman is saying is that no one can complain that their Judaism is weak because they are not the son or daughter of a Talmudic scholar.  To be a spiritually strong Jew takes dedication and perseverance.  Perhaps this can be illustrated by the following Chasidic parable:

            In recognition of their loyalty, two peasants received an invitation to visit the Czar.  Both were directed to arrive at the palace within seven days.  Each lived 100 kilometers from the palace, yet one had a horse-drawn wagon while the other had neither a wagon nor a horse.  He would have to walk.

            The “pedestrian peasant” knew that he had no time to waste if he wanted arrive at the palace on time.  He calculated that at 20 kilometers per day, he could make the journey in 5 days leaving him the rest of the time to prepare himself for the biggest day in his life: a personal appearance with the Czar.  So, he packed a small rucksack with his best clothes and some bread and water for the journey and immediately set out on his way.  He managed to travel more than 20 kilometers each day reaching the capital city in 4 days.  On the day of his appointment, he arrived at the palace early, preferring to wait several hours for the Czar rather than making the Czar wait even a half minute for him.  He was not only well rested and well dressed, he had even made a complete tour of the capital city.  The Czar was immensely impressed with this simple but devoted peasant who had made the entire journey from his village to the palace on foot.  He granted the pedestrian peasant priceless gifts of gold and special royal privileges.

            The peasant with the horse-drawn wagon, on the other hand, figured that he had plenty of time to reach the Czar’s palace.  He estimated that his horse could cover an easy 50 kilometers per day.  Because of this estimate, he came to the conclusion that 2 days would give him adequate enough time to reach the palace.  Why should he rush?  4 days after receiving the invitation, a mere 3 days before the expected appointment with the Czar, the “wagon-driving peasant” left his home.  About 30 kilometers down the road, one of the wagon wheels broke three spokes.  Luckily, he had a spare wagon wheel, but it took him an entire half day to change the wheel.  By the time he had finished changing the wheel, it was night time and a bitter cold had descended.  He was forced to spend the night at a local inn, one that charged him much more than he was able to afford.  And yet, still undismayed, he slept late the next morning thinking that he could cover the remaining 70 kilometers in the remaining 2 days without any problems.  He proceeded to eat a lengthy breakfast, paid the innkeeper, and went outside to discover that his horse and wagon had been stolen.  Having no other choice, he walked and ran the remaining 70 kilometers both day and night finally reaching the palace at the very last minute.  He was out of breath, fatigued, disheveled, and disoriented.  Needless to say, the Czar was thoroughly disgusted by this wagon-driving peasant who did not have enough respect to bathe and change his clothes and properly present himself to his monarch.  The Czar’s guards sent him packing.

The pedestrian peasant of the parable symbolizes a person who is born into a family that does not have the advantages of a blue-blooded lineage.  Nevertheless, with effort and dedication and foresight, the pedestrian peasant surpassed the wagon-driving peasant who had more advantages than did he.  In the end, the wagon-driving peasant’s advantages meant nothing.  The ultimate deciding factors were the effort and devotion expended by the pedestrian peasant.

And so it is with Am Yisrael (the People Israel).  Our sons are blessed to be like Ephrayim and Menasheh in order to show our children, our grandchildren, and our great grandchildren that in order to “get something out of” Judaism, we must put something into it first.  We must be like Ephrayim putting dedication and hard work into being members of HaShem’s “Chosen People,” having been chosen to spread the Light of Torah throughout the world.  It is then that we will receive the bountiful blessings promised to us by Hashem.  May we not fail in our efforts!    

 

"Pasture-al Care!"

12/24/2020 05:27:09 PM

Dec24

Rabbi Reuben Israel Abraham, CDR, CHC, USN (ret)

In this “Age of COVID-19,” many members of the People Israel have opted to engage in Zoom prayer services offered by a plethora of institutions, most notably synagogues.  However, there are also many more who have opted, for any number of reasons, to eschew these opportunities.  Obviously, for many people there is no feeling of being in community with friends and family by being on Zoom.  So, what could they do?  I would dare say that there is probably much more private prayer taking place, at least here in America, than ever before.  At least, I hope there is, for I would be distressed and unhappy to learn that any of our people have opted to give up praying altogether simply because they cannot be together with others in shul.  And that thought brings me to this week’s parashah, Parashat Vayigash.

We read the following from this week’s sidrah: “And Yoseyf said to his brothers and to the household of his father, ‘I will go up and I will speak to Par’oh and I will say to him, “My brothers and the household of my father who [were] in the Land of Kena’an have come to me.  And the men are shepherds of livestock, for they have been herdsmen, and their livestock and their cattle and all that belongs to them they did bring.” (B’raysheet 46:31-32) Why the use of the two terms – “shepherds” and “herdsmen” - to describe Yoseyf’s brothers’ occupation?  The answer to this question begins by recognizing that being a herdsman you own the flocks you shepherd.  As such, you are an “independent contractor” in that the income you receive comes from selling the flocks you have shepherded.  And what does it take to shepherd flocks?  Not much.  The simple fact is that one who is a shepherd in the Land of Kena’an at that time had a lot of time on his hands, especially while his flock was grazing.  Our Tradition says that our most important ancestors – Avraham, Yitzchak, Ya’akov, Ya’akov’s sons, Moshe, Shmu’el HaNavi, and David – all chose to be shepherds so as to have seclusion in which they could engage in personal prayer to Hashem, this act being called “hitbodedut.”  Rebbe Nachman teaches: “When a person prays in the field, every blade of grass joins in his prayer, and helps him, and gives power to his prayer.”  So, in this age of seclusion from others (i.e.- quarantine), why aren’t more people speaking to Hashem “one-on-one?”  The answer most often given, which makes no sense to me at the current time, is that one has no time to set aside each day to speak with Hashem in personal prayer.  I would like to suggest that the following Chasidic parable shows the silliness of such a claim:

The King’s Interior Minister decided to take a walk along the river in order to vent the stress of a demanding day.  The late afternoon breeze and the sunlight on the gently flowing water soothed his soul.  Alone with the birds, the elegant willow trees, and the deep blue sky, he felt an indescribable inner peace.  Suddenly, he came upon a very disturbing sight: some one hundred meters in front of him sat a destitute figure by the riverbank, alternately wailing and moaning.  His clothes were torn, his hair and beard were dirty and unkempt, and he was grossly underweight.  “Who knows when this miserable soul had his last bath or meal?” the Interior Minister thought to himself.  He quickened his pace toward the miserable figure.

However, the closer the Interior Minister came to the poor soul, the more something seemed terribly, terribly wrong.  The destitute figure in front of him was strikingly similar in appearance to the King’s missing son who had inexplicably left the palace a number of years previously.  The Interior Minister approached the miserable young man and asked: “Aren’t you the King’s son?”  The lad stopped his moaning and wailing, looked over his shoulder nonchalantly at the Interior Minister, and replied: “Why, yes, I am!”  The Interior Minister continued: “Why do you look so terrible?  Why have you not eaten or bathed?  Your Father the King is the richest man on earth, and he can provide you with all your needs at the snap of a finger.  Why don’t you talk to him and tell him what you need?”

“I don’t have time, “replied the senseless Prince who then turned away to return to his moaning and wailing.

          So many of the People Israel are like the disheveled Prince of this story: they moan and wail about their lives and then do nothing else.  Perhaps if they engaged in personal prayer with Hashem each day, even if only once a day, they would feel HaShem’s Presence in their lives, a Presence that reminds of them of who they are and why they are.  Perhaps instead of giving up altogether on prayer because they cannot be together in shul, they should take a lesson from our ancestors and engage in “hitbodedut,” deep, personal prayer in seclusion with HaShem.  Perhaps they should become their own personal shepherds.

"No 'U-Turn' Allowed!"

12/17/2020 06:00:03 PM

Dec17

Rabbi Reuben Israel Abraham, CDR, CHC, USN (ret)

In this week’s parashah, Parashat Mikeitz, we find the following: “And they said to one another: ‘Indeed, we are guilty for our brother [Yoseyf], for we observed the distress of his soul when he pleaded with us but we did not listen; therefore, the distress has come upon us.’” (Bereishit 42:21) Who caused the distress of Yoseyf’s brothers?  Our Tradition teaches us that HaShem orchestrated the distress that came upon Yoseyf’s brothers.  Why did Hashem do this?  Rebbe Nachman of Breslov explains that HaShem causes everything that happens to us to become a message to us from H-m.  Why does HaShem need to send us a “message?”  Because He wants to bring us closer to H-m so that our relationship with H-m will better than before.  Perhaps the following Chasidic parable will help us to realize the importance of our understanding the messages we receive from HaShem:

The royal proclamation reached every province in the kingdom: the King needed a new Head Royal Courier, a person who should be of impeccable character, one who was loyal, reliable, and swift of foot.  The courier would be required to travel to the far corners of the earth in service of the King, delivering royal messages to their proper destinations and returning to the palace as quickly as possible.  Having interviewed thousands of candidates, the King’s closest advisors narrowed the field down to two candidates.  Both were veterans of the King’s elite cavalry.  Both were combat veterans whose loyalty and dedication to King and country were beyond a shadow of a doubt.  The first soldier was the King’s fastest runner, fiercest fighter, and best marksman.  The second soldier, while much less impressive on all counts than the first, was the unit’s intelligence specialist and map reader and was fluent in no less than a dozen languages.

The King was in a quandary.  He could not decide between the two candidates.  Each had relatively special advantages unique to himself.  The King debated back and forth with himself as to which of the two men was preferable.  Finally, he decided to give each of them a test.  The King sent the first candidate on a mission to deliver a greeting to a tribal monarch in the wilderness of Manchuria.  He sent the second candidate on a mission to deliver a gift to the Emperor of Japan.  Whoever would successfully complete his mission and return to the palace in the shortest amount of time would be rewarded the post of Head Royal Courier.   After issuing these instructions to the two candidates, they set out on their respective journeys.

The second candidate carefully planned his itinerary pouring over maps in order to find the best route to take.  Once he reached Japan, he easily found his way to the Emperor’s Palace, this because he understood Japanese and could easily understand the road signs.  Besides, when he needed to, he asked directions from the locals as he spoke fluent Japanese.  Within two short days, the second candidate had completed his task and had already begun his journey home.  The first candidate traversed Russia in record time.  After crossing the Manchurian border on horseback, he reached a certain crossroad and stopped dead in his tracks dumbfounded.  The road signs were all in Manchurian, and he could not read Manchurian!  He tried stopping a few of the locals he saw on the way in order to ask them directions, but they spoke only Manchurian.  He could speak only Russian and German.  Frustrated at the turn of events but determined to complete his mission, the first candidate spent months roaming the vast expanses of Manchuria.  Ultimately, because all of his efforts became focused on his survival, he completely forgot about the mission and why he was in Manchuria in the first place.  Eventually, he completely forgot about the King and his homeland as well.

While the new Head Royal Courier was eating pheasant-under-glass at his Majesty’s table, his lost and bewildered counterpart was roaming a Manchurian forest in search of a few pine nuts or plant tubers that would enable him to survive for just one more day.

Understanding the “messages” we receive from HaShem is exactly like what the second candidate did when he was able to decipher the road signs on his journey in Japan.  It did not matter how strong or brave or talented he was.  It only mattered that he was able to understand what each road sign said.  By not being able to understand the “messages” we receive from HaShem, we become like the first candidate who became totally disoriented eventually failing to complete his mission.  We can fail to perceive, let alone complete, what our mission as Jews is here on this earth, in this World.  We can better understand the “messages” we receive from Hashem through daily prayer and Torah study.

May we not be like Yoseyf’s brothers failing to pay attention to and understand the distress they had put him through resulting in their own.  May we be more like Yoseyf HaTzaddik, opening our eyes and hearts to HaShem in order to understand the “messages’ He sends us so that we may complete our Divine Mission here on this earth, in this World in spite of any distress we may encounter.  

 

"Trust Me!"

12/10/2020 06:05:20 PM

Dec10

Rabbi Reuben Israel Abraham, CDR, CHC, USN (ret)

In this week’s parashah, Parashat Vayeishev, we find the following: “And Re’uven heard, and he rescued him (Yoseyf) from their (Yoseyf’s brothers’) hands; and he said, ‘Let us not strike him a fatal blow.’  And Re’uven said to them, ‘Do not shed blood!  Cast him into this pit which is in the desert, but do not stretch forth a hand against him’ in order to rescue him from their hands to return him to his father.” (Braysheet 37:21-22) This scene seems all fermisht (confused/crazy).  Re’uven, the oldest brother, exhorts his brothers to cease from killing Yoseyf on the one hand, while on the other hand he urges them to throw Yoseyf into a pit in the desert, a pit which is filled with scorpions and snakes.  Our Tradition considers this to be certain death for Yoseyf.  So nu, how can the Torah be telling us that Re’uven “rescued” Yoseyf?  Rebbe Natan of Breslov writes that a son or daughter of Israel should never despair, for Hashem’s mercy and compassion know no bounds.  Our Tradition teaches us that not even when a sharp sword rests upon our neck should we ever give up hope and that we should never stop asking for help from Hashem.  The history of the People Israel is proof that it is HaShem and only HaShem Wh-m we should rely upon in the most dire of circumstances.  Perhaps the following parable will help with an understanding as to how Re’uven was doing with Yoseyf exactly what Rebbe Natan was advising to be done:

            Chaim Yankel was a prankster and a loafer who was allergic to a day’s work.  His beady eyes were always searching for an easy way to make a few kopecks, honestly or otherwise.  It just so happened that the village in which Chaim Yankel lived had just received its first telegraph line.  Now the villagers would no longer have to wait for three weeks until their letters reached their destinations in cities such as Warsaw and Lvov.  Telegrams reached their destinations on the same day with answers being received within a few hours or a day at the most.  There was only one problem: the telegrams were very expensive.  A mere ten-word telegram cost twenty times more than a stamp for a regular letter.  Because of this, only the wealthy merchants of the area were found in the telegraph office.  The butchers, bakers, and wagon-masters could not afford such a luxury.

            Chaim Yankel came up with what he considered to be a brilliant idea: he would open his own telegraph office.  He went about setting up shop in a dilapidated storefront property and began advertising that “Chaim Yankel’s Thrifty Telegraph Service” would send any message to anywhere in Europe for a mere fifty kopecks for ten words.  This price happened to be less than a quarter of the two-ruble per telegram price charged by the official telegraph agency.  He posted a hand-written, crooked-line advertisement on the bulletin board of the local shtiebel.  The results were amazing!  The next morning, a line of gullible people awaited their opportunity to take advantage of Chaim Yankel’s new communication service.

            The day that he opened his shop, Chaim Yankel made thirty rubles.  This was more money than would normally make in two months’ time.  Another day or two passed with his initial customers returning asking if they had received answers to their telegrams.  To be sure, there was no possibility that any answers to their telegrams would be received when there not even a working telegraph line upon which to send them in the first place!  After a week’s time, the angry customers chased Chaim Yankel through the village streets intending to tar and feather him.  The authentic postal clerk who ran the official telegraph office could not stop laughing at the ignorance of those who believed in “Chaim Yankel’s Thrifty Telegraph Service.”  What a lesson they had learned!

          Crying out to HaShem, seeking H-s love and mercy, is akin to sending a telegram from the official telegraph office of this parable.  Our Tradition teaches that we can be certain the message always reaches its destination.  Rav Shalom Arush explains that Re’uven had Yoseyf thrown into the pit because he knew that Yoseyf had complete emunah (faith) and bitachon (trust) in Hashem and that he would cry out with every last ounce of his physical, emotional, and spiritual strength to Hashem.  Re’uven knew that Hashem answers such prayers, and he had complete confidence that Yoseyf would be rescued.

          It costs us so very little to cry out to Hashem in our most dire time of need.  But what we receive in return is like receiving a vast fortune.  May we always turn to HaShem with complete emunah and bitachon in the King of Kings when we need H-m most!

 

 

"Joy to the World!"

11/25/2020 12:03:41 PM

Nov25

Rabbi Reuben Israel Abraham, CDR, CHC, USN (ret)

In this week’s parashah, Parashat Vayishlach, we find the following: “And Ya’akov remained by himself, and a man wrestled with him until the rising of the dawn.  And he (i.e.- the man) saw that he could not prevail against him (i.e.- Ya’akov), and he (i.e.- the man) touched the “chof” (“socket”) of his (i.e.- Ya’akov’s) thigh and it was dislocated --- the “chof” of the thigh of Ya’akov --- when he had wrestled with him.” (Braysheet 32:25-26) It is interesting to note that the Hebrew word “chof” can also be translated to mean “palm” as in the palm of one’s hand. With this in mind, Rebbe Nachman of Breslov states: “When --- Heaven forbid --- severe judgements hover over Israel, dancing and the clapping of hands mitigate them.”  What Rebbe Nachman is saying is that dancing and hand clapping are the People Israel’s best defense against any evil decrees that are levied against it.  Perhaps the following parable will help with an understanding as to how Ya’akov was doing exactly what Rebbe Nachman was advising:

            Baron Rustikov was a ruthless tyrant who terrorized the poor Jews of Tockavitz, a village he entirely owned even to the last house.  He milked the Jewish villagers dry with the heavy taxes he placed upon them.  When they could not pay, he mercilessly imprisoned them in a damp and foreboding underground cellar that had no food, no water, and not a ray of sunlight.  No one could resist the evil Baron, for he had a private army of heartless Cossacks who were more than happy to shed the innocent blood of a Jew at the slightest pretext.  It is because of this that the Jews of Tockavitz were at a complete loss.  Their fervent cries to Heaven did not seem to help at all, that is until a Gypsy organ grinder passed through the village.

              The organ grinder had a small but precocious monkey that would not sit still for a moment.  When the Gypsy would play a merry tune on his hand organ, his monkey would dance and dance and dance.  When the two-minute or so tune was over, the monkey pranced among the spectators with a tin cup in its hand.  If a person refused to place a coin the cup, the monkey would scamper up the victim’s back and begin to dance on his head.  It would not take too long of a time before the unfortunate person would part with whatever change he had in his pocket by placing it in the cup.  One night, the Gypsy tried to steal a horse from the village blacksmith, Yudke, a big and brawny man.  Yudke and a group of his friends with pitchforks in hand chased the hapless Gypsy for a mile down the road while the terrified thief ran for his life.  The Gypsy abandoned everything he had including the hand organ and the monkey.

            Simcha Zissel, the village jester who possessed a wit as sharp as a razor, seized both the monkey and the hand organ recognizing a golden opportunity from Heaven.  He became the Ukraine’s first Jewish organ grinder.  “Now let the Baron send his nasty henchmen!” bantered Simcha Zissel between Mincha and Ma’ariv with everyone at the shtiebel gathered around him and his monkey.  “They are in for a big surprise.”

            The villagers posted sentries in all four directions leading to and from the village.  Whenever the Baron’s debt collectors would head in the direction of Tockavitz, the sentries would alert Simcha Zissel who was always ready for both action and a good laugh, especially at the expense of the Baron’s perpetually semi-inebriated Cossacks.  Simcha Zissel would play a ditty on his hand organ, and the monkey would begin to dance.  The amused debt collectors, listening to their favorite tunes, would remember that they were thirsty.  This time, the monkey’s cup was filled with vodka which Simcha Zissel poured for the Baron’s brutes.  Before long, they would forget about their boss and their assigned task as debt collectors, and they would turn their drunken wrath on each other rather than on the poor Jewish villagers of Tockavitz.  After a period of time during which three or four groups of the Baron’s Cossacks fell prey to Simcha Zissel and his monkey, the Baron decided that he could do quite well without the back taxes of the poor Jews of Tockavitz.

          Rebbe Natan of Breslov elaborated on Rebbe Nachman’s teaching: “Dancing and clapping can mitigate the harshest oppression.  Rebbe Nachman urged us to take his lesson at face value by making an effort to be merry on our joyous holidays such as Purim and Chanukah…We can make ourselves so elated that we actually dance and clap our hands in joy.  This is what abates the harshness of the evil decrees levied against us.”  We see by way of the passage cited from this week’s parashah that “the man” whom our tradition identifies as Esau’s angel (the Evil Inclination) who strikes the “palm” (“chof”) of Ya’akov’s thigh was making an attempt to neutralize the Jew’s clapping (using one’s palms of both hands) and dancing (using one’s thighs).  Why did Esau’s angel try to do this?  Because he realized that when Jews sing and dance and clap our hands, we repel sadness and depression --- the two strongest weapons that the “Yetzer Hara” (the Evil Inclination) uses against us in order to cause a separation between us and HaShem.

My Rabbi, Rabbi Jay Karzen, has always spoken of “Joyous Judaism.”  Not only does he speak of it, he practices it.  And it is the practice of “Joyous Judaism” that is the best defense against the vagaries of this world that would mean to harm us by separating us from HaShem.    

 

"These Boots Were Made for Shining!"

11/25/2020 12:02:01 PM

Nov25

Rabbi Reuben Israel Abraham, CDR, CHC, USN (ret)

 

In this week’s parashah, Parashat Vayetze, we find the following:  “And Ya’akov vowed a vow saying: ‘If G-d be with me, and He will guard me on this way upon which I am going, and He will give me bread to eat and a garment to wear, and I will return in peace to my father’s house, and HaShem will be my G-d, then this stone which I have established as a monument shall be a house of G-d….” (Braysheet 28:20-22) At first glance, this appears as though Ya’akov is “asking for the world” and that he is trying to “make a deal” with Hashem: If Y-u will do this, then I will do that.  However, what this passage really illustrates is that Ya’akov did not want to request anything from HaShem other than his minimal needs.  But why “minimal needs?”   Why was Ya’akov requesting so little from HaShem?  Was he lacking trust in HaShem by not asking for more?  Rebbe Nachman of Breslov instructs: “A person must accustom himself to praying for all his needs at all times,…For each of his needs, the principle advice is to only pray to HaShem and to believe that Hashem is good for everything – for curing illness, for livelihood, and for every other need – and one’s principle efforts should be in praying to HaShem….”  Perhaps the following parable will help with an understanding as to how Ya’akov was doing exactly what Rebbe Nachman was advising:

The Duke had two personal valets who traveled with him wherever he went.  One day a special messenger arrived from the palace to inform the Duke that he was invited to dine with the King and a number of the world’s leading statesmen.  This dinner was to be the most prestigious event of the year.  The valets both knew that the Duke’s appearance had to be impeccable for this event.  They both had shoeshine boxes with an assortment of pastes and brushes.  Yet, for this occasion, they needed something special.  The Duke’s custom-made knee-high black leather boots would have to shine like mirrors.  Both valets requested special Belgian horsehair brushes and Welsh saddle soap.  Despite the fact that both items were exorbitantly expensive, the Duke agreed to their request and procured the articles for each valet.

On the afternoon before the royal banquet, the two valets were feverishly polishing boots.  The first valet was polishing the Duke’s boots, bringing them to a high gloss.  All he cared about was his master’s prestige.  The second valet was using his new Belgian horsehair brushes and Welsh saddle soap to polish his own boots.  Suddenly the Duke entered the workroom.  He saw his best boots in the hands of the first valet and then noticed the second valet engaging in the act of polishing his own boots.  “Aha,” exclaimed the Duke, “a valet must be neat and clean, but a regular brush and polish are more than adequate for a valet’s own boots.  The Belgian horsehair brushes and Welsh saddle soap cost a good two hundred silver crowns!  Were it not for the royal banquet, I would never have purchased them!  Yet for a servant to use them for his own boots is insufferable!  The nerve!”

Needless to say, the second valet was reprimanded and punished for his actions while the first valet was rewarded for his selfless service to the Duke.”

          When we use the abundance of blessings that HaShem gives us in order fulfill H-s mitzvot, we are like the first valet in the parable who used all the expensive tools that were given to him in the service of the Duke.  This is the type of person to whom Rebbe Nachman was referring when he instructed us to ask Hashem for all our needs.  But when we ask for HaShem’s blessings only to use them for our own needs and desires, then we are like the second valet in the parable as we are “embezzling” from HaShem in the same manner that the second valet was embezzling from the Duke.  So, we see that Ya’akov was not playing “Let’s make a deal” with HaShem.  Instead, he was committing himself to a lifetime of service and devotion to Hashem.  We can and must do no less!   

"A Rose by Any Other Name...!"

11/19/2020 07:05:20 PM

Nov19

Rabbi Reuben Israel Abraham, CDR, CHC, USN (ret)

This is the parable about the nurseryman and the Treasury Minister:

There were two distinct neighborhoods that bordered the expansive grounds of the Royal Palace.  The minsters, members of Parliament, and other high-browed blue-bloods lived in the neighborhood just north of the Royal Palace.  Each mansion competed with each other in grandeur.  Diamonds and gold were as plentiful as were the squirrels and pigeons, so much so that no one would even deign to bend down and pick up a stray silver talon that lay in the street.  In stark contrast was the workers’ neighborhood that lay to the south of the Royal Palace.  This area consisted of plain and simple two-room bungalows where the King’s servants lived.  These cooks, chambermaids, laundrymen, gardeners, and other servants had little to their name except for the beautiful flower gardens and impeccable cleanliness that gave their neighborhood a delightful charm.

The Treasury Minister was one of the northern neighborhood’s most important residents.  Although he was as rich as King Midas, he was beyond stingy.  All the other ministers despised him for this, and they often made comment that it was easier to extract blood from a rock than it was to obtain a shilling from the Treasury Minister.  Behind his back, they all whispered that he did not care one iota about the welfare of the King; his only joy came from seeing the royal coffers filled with gold bars.  All too often, the ministers would complain to the King that they had not received their annual allotments to which the Treasury Minister would reply that his only concern was the welfare of the kingdom.  The King, however, knew otherwise suspecting the Treasury Minister of corrupt behavior.  In fact, the King strongly believed that the Treasury Minister had been stealing from the royal coffers for years.  But because the kingdom was currently engaged in a war, the King could not make the opportunity to expose the scandal.  Instead, he decided to give the Treasury Minister more rope with which to hang himself.

The nurseryman who lived in the southern neighborhood was a cordial, kind, and simple man of extraordinary character.  He was always ready to do a favor for anyone be they rich or poor.  His love for the King knew no bounds, and he was willing to go to any length to see to it that the King was always satisfied.  In fact, the entire kingdom expressed amazement at the nurseryman’s dedication to his beloved King.  Every morning at 9 A.M. sharp, the King would cross the main road that separated the Royal Palace from the Parliament building.  The nurseryman would precede the King by one hour clearing from the monarch’s path all the horse droppings that had accumulated the previous day.  By 9 A.M., the road was spotless and sweet-smelling in honor of the King.  The nurseryman would then take the manure that he had loaded in the wagon and use it to fertilize the King’s chamber gardens.

The King’s chamber gardens resembled a miniature Garden of Eden, a small piece of Heaven on Earth.  Aromatic herbs grew alongside exotic flowers that represented every color of the spectrum.  Fruit trees of every variety sprang up from lush, green lawns frequented by all kinds of birds and butterflies.  The King loved to stroll in his personal Shangri-La often picking a ripe plum or persimmon right off the tree.  All this came about due to the hard work and diligent effort of the nurseryman who never sought anything in return from the King.  He toiled for the King from before dawn until far after the sun’s setting.  In the morning he would clean and fertilize.  In the afternoon he would prune and weed.  In the evening he would plant and water.  The palace chamber gardens were his doing and his doing alone.

One day, the Treasury Minister decided to give in to his long-time desire for an enticing red Jonathan apple from the King’s personal apple tree, this in spite of the fact that he had more than a dozen such trees on the grounds of his own estate.  With no shame whatsoever, he trespassed into the royal chamber gardens.  Just as his hand was about to snatch the apple of his eye, the King suddenly appeared.  “You dare to pick my apples under my own nose, Treasury Minister?  Is there no limit to your audacity?”  The King, who had been secretly watching the Treasury Minister all along, had already summoned the Palace Guard to make haste to the doomed minister’s mansion in order to confiscate the hundreds and hundreds of gold bars of royal gold that the Treasury Minister had stolen over the years.

          In this week’s parashah, Parashat Toldot, we read the following: “And Yitzchak sowed in that land, and he found in that year a hundredfold, and HaShem blessed him.” (Braysheet 26:12) Rashi comments on this verse saying that the people of that generation used to remark that the manure of Yitzchak’s mules was better than all of Avimelekh’s gold and silver.  Yitzchak resembles the nursery man in the parable in that he, like the nurseryman, would take the crudest material waste and convert it into a thing of beauty and spiritual gratification for the King of Kings, for Hashem.  Everything that Yitzchak did became a path in this world for more prayer, more Torah, and more good deeds to honor Hashem.  Like the Treasury Minister, Avimelekh used the land for his own personal appetites, trying to steal everything Yitzchak owned from the wells he had dug to the wife he had married.  Thus, by the verse found in our Torah it is easy to see how the manure of Yitzchak’s mules made a greater impact on the world than did Avimelekh’s gold and silver.  Perhaps it is indeed a mitzvah to “stop and smell the roses” in order to recognize and appreciate what Hashem has given and continues to give us.aShemHh

"Gone Fishin!"

11/12/2020 01:16:17 PM

Nov12

Rabbi Reuben Israel Abraham, CDR, CHC, USN (ret)

In this week’s parashah, Parashat Chayye Sarah, we read the following: “And it was when the camels had finished drinking that the man took a golden nose ring weighing a beka, and two gold bands for her arms, ten shekalim in weight.  “Pray, tell me,” he said, “whose daughter are you?  Is there room in your father’s house for us to spend the night?”  She replied, “I am the daughter of Betuel, the son of Milcah, whom she bore to Nachor.” (Breysheet 24:22-23) The question asked is why did Eliezer (“the man”) give these items to Rivkah before he verified her identity?  How was he so sure that she was the righteous bride who was intended to become Yitzchak’s wife?  We find the answer in the following parable:

The Princess was the King’s only child.  She was as beautiful as the harvest moon.  Her modesty and her impeccable character were all the more admirable in the light of her superb intellect.  She was fully learned in languages, literature, and sciences.  Yet, this exquisite rose had one long thorn: she refused to consider any of the outstanding marriage proposals that her father received on her behalf.  The bewildered King confronted his daughter: “Dearest, do you have any doubt that I have anything other than your absolute welfare at heart?  Why do you refuse every single marriage proposal?”  She answered, “Your Majesty, my beloved Father, please do not think that I am an ingrate.  My entire vitality depends on the portion of fresh fish that I eat of Shabbos.  I derive nourishment from nothing else.  (It just so happened that the Princess was always sickly during the winter months when the fish left the frigid waters of the kingdom and swam south to the warm waters of the great ocean.) I cannot commit to any marriage proposal unless my husband-to-be is capable of providing me with a fresh fish for each Shabbos of the year.”

 The King acted immediately.  It was then midwinter when the waters of the kingdom were frozen.  There was not a fresh fish to be found in the entire kingdom.  At such times as this, the Princess was her pale and melancholy self.  The King announced that whoever would bring the best and largest fresh fish to the palace by the coming Shabbos (only 5 days away!) would win the hand of the princess.  The King’s announcement became the talk of the entire kingdom.  Everyone had an opinion or a comment.  Who could possibly pull a fresh fish out of the kingdom’s chilly waters in the middle of February?  How could the King prefer the son of a fisherman to the son of a nobleman?  The fishermen wondered how they could catch what the Princess wanted when it was a two-week round-trip to the great ocean and back when Shabbos was only five days away.

It just so happened that in the highlands of the kingdom lived a simple shepherd who spent most of his time alone tending to his flocks.  When the King’s proclamation reached him, he wondered how he, a simple shepherd, could find fresh fish in the middle of winter.  The shepherd had an artesian well near his modest cabin from which he drew the clear and refreshing waters that he needed to sustain himself and his flocks.  The afternoon after hearing of the King’s proclamation, he was drawing water from the well for his flocks.   He took a moment to gaze at the beautiful red and gold sunset.  The breathtaking spectacle inspired the young shepherd to sing a melodious song of praise to the Ribbono shel Olam (“Master of the Universe”).  Completely entranced by the setting sun, he forgot what he was doing, that is until such time that he raised the rope-tied wooden bucket from the well.  It seemed heavier than usual, and much to his surprise he found a large rainbow-colored fish splashing and wiggling inside the bucket.  He immediately praised the Creator for his miraculous good fortune, carefully wrapped the fish, and raced off to the palace.

No one in the palace had ever seen such a remarkable fish in the middle of the winter.  But the King had one reservation: could the young shepherd secure such a fish every single week?  The shepherd shrugged his shoulders and told the King that he had made no effort whatsoever to catch the fish and added that he could not make such a promise to produce the same result each week.  Furthermore, he told the King that had not come to the palace to ask for the hand of the Princess in marriage.  He merely wanted to please the King by presenting him with this beautiful fish.  Enamored with the shepherd’s selflessness and simplicity, the King said, “Come with me.  We shall go for a walk together.” With that, the King, the Princess, and their entourage took the shepherd to the bank of the frozen river not far from the palace.  The ice was filled with holes where many citizens were trying to catch fish.  Suddenly, everywhere the shepherd walked, fish began jumping out of the holes in the ice.  Within moments, a ten-pound carp jumped right into the shepherd’s arms!  “Yes, Father!” exclaimed the Princess with glee. “He is my intended!  I will marry the shepherd!”  The King nodded in royal agreement and approval.

When Rivkah approached the well to draw water for Eliezer and his camels, our Tradition tells us that the water in the well rose to meet her just like it did for Eliezer’s master, Avraham.  With this, Eliezer thus knew Rivkah was the truly righteous woman who was meant to become the wife of Avraham’s son Yitzchak. He therefore gave her the precious jewelry items.  And the rest is our history.

May we all be like Rivkah in that we maintain the same strong ties with both our ancestors and our Tradition so that we, too, will receive the precious gifts promised to us by HaShem because we are H-s betrothed.  

"Chosen...For What?"

11/05/2020 05:52:15 PM

Nov5

Rabbi Reuben Israel Abraham, CDR, CHC, USN (ret)

          We, the People Israel, are called the “Chosen People.”  This unfortunately creates a great deal of angst among a large part of our People.  Why?  Because they believe what our detractors say about us: we believe we are the “chosen people” because we believe we are better than anybody else.  But this has absolutely nothing to do with our being the “Chosen People.” Among the non-Jewish peoples of this world, there are many who do good and perform charitable deeds for others just as we do.  So, why are they not included among the “Chosen People?”  Perhaps the following Chasidic parable will provide some guidance:

The King had twelve ministers, each in charge of a particular facet of government.  The King barely slept, for his workload demanded at least twenty hours/day.  As a result, he was unable to handle may urgent matters that demanded his personal attention.  After serious consideration, the King decided to appoint a viceroy who would serve as his personal assistant and chief minister.  Such a viceroy would remove a considerable load from the King’s shoulders.  Since the King wanted to ensure the cooperation of all his ministers with the new viceroy, he decided to let them elect their new superior from among themselves.  In the initial ballot, four ministers voted for the Minister of Defense, and four ministers voted for the Minister of the Treasury.  The remaining four ministers voted for various other candidates.  The King decided to hold a second and final ballot where the twelve ministers would choose between the Minister of Defense and the Minister of the Treasury.  The election would be held at a special cabinet meeting in thirty days’ time.

During the next thirty days, the Minister of the Treasury darted about feverishly from ministry to ministry campaigning among his peers in order to secure his election as viceroy.  Discreetly, he left a gift on the table of each one of his colleagues at the end of each of his respective meetings with each one of them.  To one, he gave a solid gold watch.  To another, he gave a priceless antique saber.  The Minister of the Treasury ended up spending thousands on diamond rings and ivory-handled pistols.  He knew how to find favor in the eyes of each individual colleague.  The upcoming election received his total attention, even at the expense of neglecting the pressing affairs of his own ministry.

On the other hand, the Minister of Defense paid no attention to the imminent election.  Because, rebel insurgents were making trouble in the northern part of the kingdom, the Minister of Defense left the comforts of the capital city to personally direct the army’s counter-insurgency campaign against the rebels.  He slept in a tent with the commanders in the field and ate the same food that the front-line soldiers ate, all the while sacrificing his personal convenience for the welfare and security of the kingdom.  Oftentimes totally exhausted, he would fall asleep on his spartan field cot with all his clothes on.

The King observed what both ministers were doing without intervening in any way.  He knew exactly where each one was and what each one was doing at all times.  He knew about the lavish gifts the Minister of the Treasury was giving to his colleagues, and he knew about the Minister of Defense’s sleepless nights on the battlefield.  Nothing escaped the King’s eyes.  He was fully briefed on all affairs of the kingdom from his own totally reliable sources.  The night before the election, a royal messenger knocked on the door of each of the ministers’ homes --- all except for the two candidates.  The royal messenger handed each of the other ministers a hand-written note from the King sealed with the royal seal.  The note read: “My dear Minister, for the good of the kingdom and as a gesture of your unshakable loyalty to me, please vote for the Minister of Defense.  With appreciation, the King.”

On the day of the election, ten minsters voted for the Minister of Defense.  The Minster of Defense abstained from voting altogether.  And the Minister of the Treasury voted for himself.  Needless-to-say, the Minister of Defense became the King’s capable and chosen viceroy.

In this parable, the Minister of Defense symbolizes Avraham Avinu, Abraham our Father.  Why?  Because Avraham’s life was filled with selfless and unwavering service and devotion to HaShem, the King of Kings.  We see this in this week’s parashah, Parashat Vayyeira.  In spite of the fact that he was recuperating from his circumcision while sitting in the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day, what did Avraham do? The Torah tells us: “And he raised his eyes, and he saw, and behold! Three men were standing before him, and he saw, and he ran toward them from the entrance of the tent, and he prostrated himself to the ground.”  (Brayshit 18:2) And Avraham did this in spite of the fact that he was being visited by none other than HaShem H-mself!    Because of this, he merited HaShem’s blessing that his offspring would be HaShem’s “viceroys” in this world.  His offspring would become HaShem’s “Chosen People” who would be obligated to do exactly as Avraham did: serve HaShem with selfless and unwavering devotion.

The history of the People Israel is replete with proof of this, especially in the darkest of times.  No other people in the history of this world has endured what the People Israel has endured all the while remaining steadfast to both the Torah and to HaShem.  May we continue to act like the Minister of Defense in the parable: expecting nothing from but giving everything to aShemHaShem.

"Matchmaker, Matchmaker...!"

10/29/2020 04:49:30 PM

Oct29

Rabbi Reuben Israel Abraham, CDR, CHC, USN (ret)

          Shraga Feivish was the most successful matchmaker in the whole province.  People used to say that he could seal a match between a bulldog and a Siamese cat if he put his mind to it.  One day, the Rebbe summoned Shraga Feivish and presented him with a problem.  “Shraga Feivish,” the Rebbe said, “Moshe Mendel the son of Uri the baker is a wonderful boy.  He is destined to be a great scholar and a tzaddik.  He must be able to devote his life to Torah and prayer.  Menachem the banker has a daughter who would be perfect for Moshe Mendel!  This match is made in Heaven!  I want you to arrange this match.  Your reward will be substantial, both in the world and the next!”

          “Rebbe,” Shraga Feivish replied kissing the tzaddik’s hand, “There is nothing that I would like better than to do the Rebbe’s bidding!  But what can I do?  Menachem the banker has visions of securing a high-society match for his daughter.  He will not give me the time of day for anything less than a blue-blooded Rebbishe grandson.  The banker with the baker?  This will never work!”  “With HaShem’s help, you will make it work,” smiled the Rebbe who then proceeded to bless the matchmaker and send him on his way.  Shraga Feivish arranged to meet with Menachem the banker.  And, surprisingly, although he had a number of good proposals, Menachem the banker was nevertheless both curious and eager to hear what Shraga Feivish had to offer.  With the Rebbe’s blessing, Shraga Feivish was completely confident that he would be successful.

          “My esteemed Reb Menachem,” began Shraga Feivish as he ceremoniously opened his notebook. “I can offer you any number of the best young men in all of Podolia and Galitzia.  If it is blueblood you seek, my clients include the offspring of the Baal Shem Tov, Rebbe Michal’e of Zlatchov, and the Noam Elimelech, just to name a few.  If it is scholarship that you seek, I represent the best boys from the best yeshivas, the least of who has mastered the entire Talmud by age fifteen.  With your wherewithal, I can offer you the choice of the cream, that is with exception of one boy….”  With that statement, his curiosity got the best of Menachem the banker; he swallowed the matchmaker’s “bait.”  “Which boy?” he demanded to know.  “Do not hide anything from me, Shraga Feivish!”

          “What does it matter to you?” asked Shraga Feivish.  “Money cannot buy everything.  I have one boy who is so far ahead of the rest in holiness and pure Torah scholarship that he deserves not only a father-in-law of sound financial means, he deserves a father-in-law who will appreciate having an absolute tzaddik for a son-in-law.  After all, you are a banker, Menachem….”  “Are you insinuating that I am not good enough for this boy?” Menachem the banker replied.  “Do you not know that I learn with a chevrusa every evening?”  Shraga Feivish smiled and said, “So do the wagon-masters and the water-shleppers.  This boy prays like and angel.  When he finishes the Shemonah Esrei, he is standing in a puddle of tears, and….”  “What are driving at, Shraga Feivish?” Menachem the banker demanded to know.  “Do you think that I pray like one of the peddlers?  I am the first one in shul for Shacharis in the morning, and I am the last one to leave.  How dare you imply that I am not worthy of having a tzaddik for a son-in-law!”

          By now the tension in the air was so thick that you could cut it with a knife.  Shraga Feivish calmly said, “Listen Reb Menachem.  For your own good, why not settle for a Talmudic scholar who happens to be the grandson of the Rizhiner Rebbe?  I mean, after all….”  “No, said the banker, “I demand to see your best boy, the tzaddik!”  “I am sorry, Reb Menachem,” replied Shraga Feivish, “but I do not think the Rebbe will let me match the young holy man with anything less than the daughter of someone who is truly on the appropriate spiritual level, one who has a working knowledge of the Ari’s Eight Gates….”  “ENOUGH!  I DEMAND TO SEE THE REBBE!  TAKE ME TO THE REBBE!” shouted Menachem the banker.

          Shraga Feivish’s ploy had worked perfectly!  The more obstacles he placed in Reb Menachem’s way, the more the banker desired the match with Moshe Mendel, the young holy man.  Later, in the Rebbe’s chamber, Menachem the banker literally begged the Rebbe to grant a blessing to the match between his daughter and the baker’s son.

            In this week’s parashah, Parashat Lech Lecha,             we read the following: “And HaShem said to Avram: “Go for your sake from your land and from your birthplace and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you.  And I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you, and I will make your name great and you will be a blessing.” (Bereshit 12:1) Avraham Avinu, Abraham our Father, faced ten tests in his lifetime, and none of them may have been as difficult as this particular test.  By testing Avram in this way, HaShem knew that he would “pass the test” with flying colors as his desire to do HaShem’s will not for only his own sake but for the sake of those who would follow him and who would eventually become the People Israel was intense, so intense that he left everything he had known and loved behind in order to begin the journey of bringing Torah and Eretz Yisrael to this world.

The tests we face in life as the People Israel are more often than not very difficult for us to face and overcome.  But, may we be like Avram; may we have that same desire for ourselves and, most especially, for those who follow us! For it is then that we too will become Avraham  Shabbat Shalom!

“Mah Tovu…How Good Is It? --- Tov Me’od!”          

10/20/2020 02:34:51 PM

Oct20

Rabbi Reuben Israel Abraham, CDR, CHC, USN (ret)

In this week’s parashah, Parashat Noach, we read the following: “These are the generations of Noach --- Noach was a righteous man, perfect in his generations; with G’d did Noach walk.” (Bereishit 6:9) A midrash (Bereishit Rabbah 30:8) describes the following five people found in the Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible): Noach, Yoseif, Moshe, Iyov, and Mordechai, all who saw “a new world” come about in their times.  Each saw what could have been permanent terrible tragedies that were transformed into uplifting experiences that created a better world.  In each of these instances, the Hebrew word “hayah” (commonly translated to mean “was”) is used in describing what each of these men experienced.  Why the use of the word “hayah?”  Rabbi Yissocher Frand in his book The Power of a Vort (“vort” is translated to mean “word”) suggests that the key as to how a person enters and engages with a “new world” is based on how s/he views the word “hayah.”  Either one can wallow in it never moving forward or one can “let the past fade into twilight.”  He uses Noach and the “Mabul” (“the Flood”) as an example.  Although Noach and his family were spared the fate of the rest of their generation, they could have said “woe is me” and stopped dead in their tracks.  Instead, they emerged from the “teivah” (“the ark”) and proceed in a totally different world, a world that was not the world that they had known and lived in prior to the Mabul.  “Hayah” --- the past is gone forever.  This brings to mind what is happening in our world at this time.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, I do not think that many would disagree with me that far too many of us took things for granted.  We were able to live and enjoy life as Jews without appreciating what we had.  And now, gone are things like celebrating with a chatan and kallah at the chuppah, celebrating a boy becoming a Bar Mitzvah or a girl becoming a Bat Mitzvah, going to shul three times each day to pray with the minyan, getting together with chaverim in the beit midrash to learn Torah.  They are prohibited in order to attempt to stem the spread of COVID-19.  If there is any overriding message that comes out of this pandemic, it is this: we need to better appreciate what we have been given by Hashem in our everyday lives and not just at those special times in which we all revel.  At this time, the old adage “You don’t know what you have until it’s gone” is an incontrovertible truth.  And this is where the word “hayah” plays a pivotal role in our lives.

Before it is too late (and none of us knows when that time is), we must realize how good we had it before the COVID-19 pandemic.  Instead of concentrating only on how bad we have it right now, how bad the economy is, how bad the health situation is, how bad the world is, we need to do what all five of the men from the midrash did: they fought back with every ounce of their strength in order to bring about a better world.    We need to do the same.  How?  By appreciating our families, by appreciating our friends, by appreciating what we can accomplish from our homes, by appreciating our ability to still explore our world and learn new things even while doing so in a brand-new way, by appreciating our health and the food we eat and the basic necessities we have.

In an article published in “Yated Ne’eman,” of March 27, 2020, Rabbi Baruch Rabinowitz puts what I consider to be the best perspective on this COVID-19 pandemic by imagining what his late father-in-law, a survivor of the Shoah (“the Holocaust”) might have said about our world today. 

You are restricted where to go and how many people can congregate, but you could stay home and be in your own bed?  You mean, you don’t have to stay in a bunker?  No ghetto?  No sleeping with animals in a barn?  You could go to sleep at night and expect to find yourself and your family in the same place in the morning?  You have enough food in your home to survive for a few weeks?  No rationing of a few grains of barley per person per day?  You have fresh water to drink and don’t need to limit it?  You don’t have to boil it first?  You can go to the bathroom and you don’t need to use a pail in a corner with other people around?  You can go outside to get food and there’ll be food available?  You can go outside to get food and you won’t be shot dead if discovered?  You can take a shower?  With soap?  With warm water too?  You have a tallis and tefillin?  You can pray as long and as loud as you want and not be afraid of being discovered?  You could gather on your own porches and sing “Kabbalas Shabbos” (the service welcoming the Sabbath) and let it fill the whole street?  You could have a Shabbos se’udah (“Sabbath meal”) with real chicken soup, not just a little salt in water and leave the rest to the imagination?  Real fish?  Fresh challah, soft and chewy, not hard and moldy?  White, and not coarse black?  You can get more than one slice of bread a day?  You don’t have to hide it from other people?  You could think about making plans for the next month or even the next year and have a reasonable chance of keeping those plans?  Heat?  You can feel your fingers and toes when you wake up?  You have air conditioning?  You don’t feel suffocated by the heat and stench?  You have shoes without holes?  More than one pair?  Really?  You have sefarim (“holy books to learn from?  Any sefer you want?  You have access to shi’urim (“lessons”) by phone or by computer?  You have a way to keep in touch with the outside world and at least know there is an outside world?  You could actually know what is happening out there?  You could be in touch with family and see how they’re doing?  You never think that maybe you’re the last one alive? There is nothing to complain about.  All is okay.

While all might not, in fact, be “okay,” as long as you are alive, as long as you can live in this world and love those who are important to you, as long as you can still say “Modeh/Modah Ani” each morning, it is just “okay.”  It is indeed tov me’od --- it is indeed very good!

"Let There Be Light!"

10/15/2020 08:29:51 PM

Oct15

Rabbi Reuben Israel Abraham, CDR, CHC, USN (ret)

At the beginning of this week’s parashah, Parashat Bereshit, we see that the very beginning of the Story of Creation speaks of darkness: "In the beginning of      G-d's creating of the heavens and the earth, the earth was wondrously void, and [there was] darkness upon the face of the deep...."  (Bereshit 1:1-2) We read further on in the parashah: "...and the spirit of G-d was hovering over the surface of the waters.  And G-d said, "Let there be light, and there was light.  And G-d saw the light - that it was good, and G-d separated the light and the darkness." (Bereshit 1:2-4)  In this day and age we seem to be surrounded by darkness, and more and more it appears to be similar to that thick, "touchable" darkness that made up the "Choshech Afaylah," the "Darkness of Blackness," that lasted for three days throughout the entire Land of Egypt causing the Egyptians to remain in place, not being able to move or live their normal lives.  In our own time, we seem to have gotten lost in the middle of the "Darkness of Blackness" called COVID-19 which once again seems to be engulfing our society, our country, and the world in its deadly grip.  There are those who, in the name of religion, are using this pandemic like a "kardom lachpor bo," "an axe with which to gore," saying that, because people are wicked sinners, because they act like Adam and Chavah in Gan Eden (the Garden of Eden) by defying what is believed to be “the Will of God,” they are the cause of this disease in this world at this time.  How do we combat this illusion of darkness that seems to control our lives at this time?  How can we bring more light into this world that seems so dark and bleak while we battle this dreaded virus?

 

There is a short story written by Joseph Epstein entitled "Felix Emeritus."  The story is about two residents of a retirement community, both all alone in this world, who engage in a conversation.  One is a bitter, divorced man who lost his business in a lawsuit.  The other is a retired English professor who keeps secret the fact that he is a Holocaust survivor.  The divorced man shares his written life's story with the English professor.  After reading the story, the professor asks, "You have very, very dark thoughts about life...Does life seem so bleak to you?"  The divorced man replies, "Only when I think about it."  So, how do we stop “thinking about it” when we are surrounded by what appears to be the “second wave” of COVID-19?

 

If we read a little further on in this week’s parashah, we find the following: "And G-d created the man in H-s image – “beTzelem Elohim” (“in the Image of G-d”) did He create him...." (Bereshit 1:27) This verse is the pinnacle, the high point, of the Story of Creation.  Because we have been created “beTzelem Elohim,’ we are duty-bound to reflect the Tzelem Elohim in all that we do in this world.  We do this anytime and every time we perform a mitzvah (duty/obligation) as commanded by the Torah.  And most important of all, because we are the People Israel, we must not and cannot reflect that Tzelem Elohim in darkness; we must do so in the light created by Hashem for this purpose.  We must give evidence to the rest of the peoples of this world that the Torah is meant to be as important to them as it is to us.  After all, we are commanded to be "a light unto the nations."

 

As we continue to proceed into this year of 5781, may the light of the People Israel shine unto ourselves, unto our families, and unto the world in an effort to combat and rid the world of this “Darkness of Blackness.

 

 

 

 

Tue, January 19 2021 6 Shevat 5781