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"Do Look a Gift Horse in the Mouth!"

04/20/2021 12:25:47 PM

Apr20

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

This week’s Torah reading consists of the double parshiyot of Acharei Mot and Kedoshim.  In Parashat Kedoshim we find the following: “But you shall love your fellow as [you love] yourself; I am HaShem!” (VaYikra 19:18) Is this mitzvah (commandment) an impossibility to fulfill?  After all, how can a Yemenite Jew love an American Jew?  Each has a set of completely different customs and traditions which seem to be totally incompatible.  Furthermore, how can a Chasid love a Litvak when the two have been arguing for centuries about the proper (i.e.- correct) way to serve Hashem?  And how can an observant Jew love a secular Jew when they seem so diametrically opposed to each other?  And yet, there, in “black-and-white,” is the mitzvah (probably the most important one of all) of our Torah as clear as day.

Rebbe Nachman teaches that each member of Am Yisrael (the People Israel) possesses a special quality that every other member lacks thus making everyone of us “uniquely unique” (my words).  He writes that one Jew’s special quality might be the ability to arouse another Jew to action opening his/her heart and soul to serve Hashem.  Because of this, the members of Am Yisrael are therefore dependent upon one another for increasing our Avodat Hashem (Service to Hashem).  For example, whereas one Jew may be a serious scholar who is capable of learning Torah for hours on end, another Jew may be a dynamic person who does good deeds and exhibits lovingkindness to his fellow Jews.  If they both meet each other and develop a relationship, something quite wonderful can happen: each person can reflect his/her own special quality on his/her friend to the mutual benefit of both people.  This upwardly spiral movement results in both people being more devoted both to Hashem and to Am Yisrael thus becoming better Jews.  They then are able to fulfill the mitzvah to love their fellow Jews as they love themselves.  Perhaps the following Chasidic parable will better explain this principle:

That particular Ukranian winter was a very bitter one indeed.  The snows did not melt until Pesach, and even then the roads were barely negotiable muddy messes of ruts and potholes.  The annual May Farmers’ Bazaar in Berditchev managed to attract only one-third of its normal number of participants. This made the merchants especially glum.  Yankele, a tall strapping livestock dealer from Zhitomer, sold draft horses.  Every time he tried to interest a prospective customer to buy one of his steeds, the customer would back off, shrug his shoulders, and say, “What good is your horse to me if I cannot afford a harness and a wagon?”

On the other side of the market, Yoshke sat on a wooden crate in front of his pile of harnesses and twiddled his thumbs.  He had not made a single sale all day long.  Across the street from him under an open shed was Feivel who was exhibiting his five new sturdy wagons, all guaranteed to last a long time.  However, not a single person stopped to interrupt his recitation of Tehillim (Psalms) to inquire about the price of a wagon.  Later in the day the merchants gathered in the local shtiebel to daven Minchah (afternoon) prayers.  After they finished davening, they filed out of the shtiebel and began returning to their respective stalls.  It is then that Feivel, Yoshke, and Yankele struck up a conversation with each other.  Each sang his respective song of woe to the other two, a song which spoke of no customers and no income.

Suddenly, Yankele came up with a wonderful idea: “Say, why don’t I bind one of my horses to one of your best quality harnesses, Yoshke, and then hook it up to Feivel’s best wagon?  We can then display the whole thing in the center of the Bazaar and see what happens.  Would both of you like to try such a partnership?”  Both Yoshke and Feivel immediately agreed to Yankele’s proposal, giving praise to both Yankele and Hashem for such a wonderful idea.  In a short period of time, the sale of the harnessed horse and wagon brought almost twice the price of each component sold by itself much to the satisfaction and gratification of all three merchants.  By the end of the week, they had sold another four horse-drawn wagons.  Each man returned home with more money than he had ever earned, with a new and thriving partnership, and – more than anything else – with two new friendships.

          Like Yankele, Yoshke, and Feivel of this parable, each member of Am Yisrael has the ability to bring his/her own special quality into a friendship and a relationship that can be made with any other member of Am Yisrael.  The more one Jew truly loves another Jew, the more s/he gains from that person’s special quality.  It only makes sense then that the more we love those of Am Yisrael who come from different backgrounds and histories, the more we become better servants of Hashem by recognizing that each one of us – all of us – have been created b’Tzelem Elokhim, in the Image of G-d.  And that makes all of us “uniquely unique.”

04/14/2021 02:01:33 PM

Apr14

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"Here Comes the Judge!"

04/07/2021 04:18:00 PM

Apr7

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

This week’s Torah reading consists of the double parshiyot of Tazria and Metzorah.  In Parashat Tazria we find the following: “He who is afflicted with tzara’at shall be brought before a Kohen.” (VaYikra 13:9) Our tradition teaches us that the metzorah (the one who suffers from tzara’at) has this condition because he has committed the sin of lashon hara (evil tongue), engaging in slander and gossip.  Tzara’at (incorrectly translated as “leprosy”) creates a horrific blemish on a person’s soul in the same way it manifests itself on a person’s body.  Our Torah tells us that only a Kohen can determine if a person is actually suffering from tzara’at.  It is this connection with a Kohen, whether the metzorah wants it or not, that can bring about the healing of both the body and the soul.  Our Sages teach us that every mention of a Kohen in the Torah alludes to the true tzaddik of each generation.  Rabbi Natan of Breslov says that when one accepts the advice and instruction of a tzaddik, a person’s heart and eyes are opened both to the truth and the merits of doing t’shuva which can bring about the healing that is so desired.  Perhaps the following Chasidic parable will illustrate his teaching:

 Mendel the “milchiker” (dairyman) barely scraped together a livelihood from his three cows, two of which were well on their way to the endless green pastures of “cow heaven.”  He worked from way before dawn until well after dusk milking the cows, churning the butter, delivering the milk, taking the cows out to pasture, and bringing them back to the barn at night.  Mendel barely had enough to feed and clothe his wife and three daughters.  He had no idea where he would get the wherewithal to put together a decent dowry for his eldest daughter, who had now reached the age of marriage, let alone the other two sisters who were to follow her.  He calculated that he would need at least five hundred crowns (an exorbitant sum!) for each girl.

One evening after dark, a fierce pounding on the front door startled Mendel.  After he opened the door to see who it was, he found three mean-looking policemen standing there.  He was issued a royal warrant to appear in a Bucharest courtroom in seven days.  A large lump formed in his throat.  “W-what did I do w-wrong?” stammered the hapless milchiker.  The police sergeant growled, “Don’t ask questions!  Just show up on time!”  Mendel spent the next seven days praying and fasting as if Yom Kippur was just around the corner.  His heart pounded harder as each day passed.  He had no idea what was in store for him in Bucharest.

On the appointed day, he arrived in court as instructed.  The Judge addressed him: “Mendel Mashevitz from Anatolia, son of Chatzkel, step forward!”  Mendel could barely stand on his wobbly knees.  He winced and held his breath as he prepared for the worst.  The Judge continued: “Your great uncle Moses Mashevitz has died.  You are the next of kin.  The State awards you the inheritance of two thousand crowns of which 500 shall be paid in inheritance tax.  You are thereby granted fifteen hundred crowns.  Case closed!”

Poverty-stricken Mendel the milchiker would never have gone to Bucharest on his own, as he was expecting the worst.  However, the seemingly bad summons proved to be the blessing of his life.  In these days of the COVID-19 pandemic, far too many of Am Yisrael (the People Israel) have been suffering, both those who have suffered from the disease itself and those who have suffered from its lasting effects on their hearts and souls.  While there is absolutely no correlation between COVID-19 and tzara’at, there may still be the need to seek out a “tzaddik” (i.e.- Rabbi) who can provide wise and compassionate counseling and guidance that could hopefully help those who suffer to begin the journey toward the healing of body and soul.  Our Tradition is an endless source of love and healing for those who suffer.  We only have to seek out those who know how to “tap into” this source to begin the healing process.   

"You Are What You Eat!"

04/07/2021 04:16:29 PM

Apr7

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

In this week’s parashah, Parashat Shemini, we find the following: “For I HaShem am your G-d: you shall sanctify yourselves and be holy, for I am holy…For I Hashem am He Who brought you up from the Land of Egypt to be your G-d: you shall be holy, for I am holy.  These are the laws/teachings concerning animals, birds, all living creatures that move in water, and all creatures that swarm on earth, for distinguishing between the unclean and the clean, between the living things that may be eaten and the living things that may not be eaten.” (VaYikra 11:45-47) This week’s Torah portion contains an elaborate description of those foods which are permitted and those which are not permitted for us to consume.  Our Tradition teaches that this physical need to eat food includes not only what we eat but how we eat as well as how much we eat.  Rebbe Nachman of Breslov explains that one’s intellect is reflected in one’s countenance (Likutei Moharan, I:60).  When we possess true wisdom (i.e.- Torah), our face becomes illuminated.  (Note: The Torah tell us that Moshe’s face was illuminated each time he left the Mishkan (Wilderness Tabernacle) having spoken with Hashem.) But when a person overeats, teaches Rebbe Nachman, the human aura (illumination) disappears along with the accompanying intellectual and spiritual acumen, and the person becomes like an animal.  How can this be?  Perhaps the following Chasidic parable will help to explain:

The King badly needed a court musician to replace his former court musician who had retired.  The King, together with the Minister of Music, interviewed and auditioned seventy of the kingdom’s best musicians.  One particular musician outshined the rest. His name was Lear.  The king awarded him with the prestigious position.  Lear’s tenor voice had the sweetness of citrus grove honey.  Not only could he sing using a variety of genres, but he could play the violin as well.  He could make his violin laugh or cry as if it had its own soul.  When Lear’s voice tired or when he needed a rest from playing the violin, his music did not stop.  He would pick up his flute and play melodies so divine that the King would literally swoon in delight.

“As long as you play your music with all of your heart,” the King said, “I will allow you the run of the palace.  You may eat and drink whatever you like, and you may enjoy all the palace amenities.  I want you to be happy, for your happiness will be reflected in the quality of your music.  However, do not forget your duties as Court Musician.  They are your first and foremost priority!”  As time passed, Lear’s singing and fiddling and fluting became less and less exciting and inspiring.  He began to anticipate mealtime more he would anticipate entertaining the King.  Rather than eating and drinking in order to play energetically for the King, Lear began eating and drinking for the sake of his ever-expanding waistline.  His visits to the royal brewery became more and more frequent.  Thus, it came to be that the more Lear consumed, the greater his appetite increased to the point that his belly ruled his brain.

Once, before a concert, Lear had drunk too much of the King’s rich black ale, the result being that he felt very sluggish.  He could barely life up his violin bow.  “This is no problem,” Lear thought to himself, “I shall sing to the King.”  But the excess of beef and beer had taken their toll on him.  Just as he attempted to make his voice ascend an octave, he belched with all the forcefulness and sound of a devastating thunderclap.  Disgusted, the King not only banished Lear from the palace, he sent him into a lengthy exile from the kingdom to atone for his wrongdoing.  To this day, the remorseful Lear longs for the day when he will be able to return to the palace and play his music for the King just as he had done previously.

In this Chasidic parable, the King is Hashem.  Lear is like the Jew who is a committed to prayer and Torah learning, for like Lear whose music brought indescribably joy to the King, a Jew’s learning of and devotion to Torah is music to Hashem.  When a Jew eats and drinks in order to have the energy to serve Hashem, he becomes a vessel of holiness.  But when he eats and drinks solely for the sake of his own bodily pleasures, he becomes a “beheima” (a beast of the field).  We must never forget that it is our “neshama” which distinguishes us from animals.  And it is because we have been created “b’Tzelem Elohim” (“in the Image of G-d”) that we must never allow our “neshama” to lose its holy countenance.  We must do all that must be done in order to “shine on” as a light unto the nations.  For that is our sacred task; that is our mission as assigned to us by Hashem.

"Blowin' in the Wind!"

03/30/2021 01:10:54 PM

Mar30

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

On the second day of Pesach (Passover) we read the following: “And from the day on which you bring the Omer Hatenufah (the Sheaf of Elevation Offering),…you shall count off seven weeks.  They must be complete: you must count until the day after the seventh week --- fifty days…” (VaYikra 23:15-16) We began the period of Sefirat HaOmer (the Counting of the Omer) on the second night of Pesach and will conclude it on the day before Shavuot.  With this in mind, it stands to reason that Pesach and Shavuot are connected: the beginning of this period starts with Pesach, the liberation from the slavery of Mitzrayim (Egypt) by the outstretched arm of HaShem, and it culminates fifty days later with Shavuot, the giving of the Torah by Hashem to B’nei Yisrael at Har Sinai (Mount Sinai).  During the forty-nine days of Sefirat HaOmer, we are engaged in the process of preparing ourselves to receive the Torah from Hashem.  Rabbi Natan of Breslov writes that the forty-nine days of Sefirat HaOmer correspond to the forty-nine gates of teshuva (repentance/returning).  He teaches that the reciting of Tehillim (Psalms) each day opens one of the gates of teshuva each day.  Therefore, he says, it is extremely important to recite Tehillim each day during Sefirat HaOmer. (Kitzur Likutei Moharan, 63:2) Perhaps the following Chasidic parable will help to explain why:

Yashka the farmer worked exceedingly hard to prepare his field for corn planting in the Spring.  His hands were scarred and bloody from gripping the leather reigns in order to keep his mighty ox walking in a straight line while plowing each furrow, and every muscle in his strained back “cried out” in pain.  When the field was finally ready for planting, Yashka lovingly placed each seed in the ground as if it were a valuable gem.  When all was said and done, Yashka would then pray for the blessing of rain that would trigger the seed’s germination and subsequent growth.

Yashka gained tremendous satisfaction from weeding the furrows of the stout young corn plants.  He believed that seeing the lush green stalks made all of his hard work worthwhile.  He looked forward to the expected bumper crop of corn, but, alas, his joy was short-lived.  As soon as the fertilized corn flowers turned into baby seed cobs, the expected crows appeared.  The minute he saw and heard the cawing black-feathered menaces descend upon his corn field, Yashka ran out of his thatched-roofed house with his pitchfork in hand and attempted to chase the crows away.  However, no sooner would he leave the field after chasing them away, the crows would then reappear.  After being disgusted at the number of times his attempts to remove the crows failed, Yashka erected a scarecrow in the middle of the field.  This worked for a couple of days, but as soon as the clever birds realized that this straw-filled figure wearing Yashka’s old hat and shirt was both lifeless and harmless, they once again descended upon the cornfield.

After a moment’s thought, Yashka came up with a new idea.  His cornfield was exposed to prevailing breezes from all four directions.  He carved a special flute out of a reed and put it on the scarecrow’s mouth.  When the wind would blow every fifteen minutes, it would pass through the flute and make such an amazing loud sound spanning a three-octave range that it scared the crows away each time.  Because the flute “did its job,” Yashka was able to reap a full crop of golden yellow corn.

In this Chasidic parable, Yashka’s plowing and preparation of the field for planting is symbolic of how we prepare for Pesach.  The days the corn grew between the planting of the seed and the harvest of the ripened corn are symbolic of Sefirat HaOmer.  Yashka’s corn harvest is symbolic of our receiving the Torah.  The crows are symbolic of the worldly temptations which try to keep us from fulfilling our spiritual destiny.  The scarecrow is symbolic of our being unable to rise above those temptations.  The prevailing breezes which passed through the flute stuck in the scarecrow’s mouth are symbolic of our rising above those temptations by reciting Tehillim in the effort to become fully prepared to receive the Torah.  For by receiving the Torah and thereby bringing it into this world, we, Am Yisrael (the People Israel), have also brought into this world both material and spiritual abundance not only for us but for all people everywhere.

In Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers), a tractate of the Mishnah which is read every on every Shabbat between Pesach and Rosh Hashanah, we find the following: “…for you can have no freer man than one who is engaged in the study of Torah.” (Pirkei Avot 6:2) When we received the Torah, we became a truly free people.  May this Pesach of 5781 bring a year of abundance, freedom, and peace not only to Am Yisrael but to all people everywhere.

 

"Oops!"

03/24/2021 02:45:37 PM

Mar24

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

In this week’s parashah, Parashat Tzav, we read the following: “And this is the teaching of the asham (guilt) offering; it is most holy.”  (VaYikra 7:1) We learn the following from the Talmud Bavli (Babylonian Talmud): “It has been stated: Rabbi Yose son of Rabbi Chanina said: The Tefillah (the Amidah Prayer) was instituted by the Patriarchs. Rabbi Yehoshua son of Levi says: The Tefillah was instituted to replace the daily sacrifices. It has been taught in accordance with Rabbi Yose son of Chanina, and in accordance with Rabbi Yehoshua son of Levi.” (Talmud Bavli Masekhet B’rakhot 26b) It is obvious that we cannot perform the asham offering due to the fact that the Jerusalem Temple no longer stands.  Instead, our Sages have taught us that we must do t’shuva which, when combined with vidui (confession) and personal prayer, is considered to be as holy as was the asham offering.  Perhaps this Chasidic parable will be able to explain why this is so:

Before a royal banquet, two of the King’s servants were commanded to clean and shine the King’s magnificent but extremely delicate crystal goblets.  Each servant received six of the priceless goblets along with a stern warning to exercise supreme caution in the performance of their royal assignment.  The two returned to their workstations adjacent to the royal kitchen and began to clean the goblets.  The first servant, easily distracted by a chambermaid’s chatter nearby, carelessly hit one of the goblets with his elbow and knocked it off the table.  The delicate crystal goblet plummeted to the floor shattering into smithereens.  The first servant paled but almost immediately regained his composure as he grabbed a broom, swept up the shattered pieces of the broken crystal goblet, and disposed of the “evidence.”  The second servant executed his duties of wiping and polishing the crystal goblets with so much attention to his task that beads of perspiration appeared on his forehead.  He cleaned the goblets with utmost care and complete concentration.  He wrapped the five finished crystal goblets in their blue velvet casings, but as he reached for the sixth one, it slipped out of his hand and crashed to the floor.  The second servant’s heart skipped a beat and his pulse pounded in his throat.  His eyes filled with tears as he immediately ran to tell the King what had happened.

The second servant threw himself at the King’s feet.  “Your Majesty,” he cried out, “I have broken one of your magnificent crystal goblets!  I am completely miserable over what I have done!  Please, Your Majesty, accept three years of my wages as payment for the goblet!  I am so very, very sorry for what I have done!”  As he finished speaking, the second servant was sobbing so hard that he could no longer speak.  The benevolent and merciful King extended his scepter to the second servant and indicated to him that he should rise.  “Dear servant,” smiled the King, “Your heartfelt confession is dearer to me than a thousand crystal goblets.  You shall not be punished.  On the contrary, from this day onward you shall no longer serve as a mere kitchen servant.  I am promoting you to the position of Royal Waiter.”

To be sure, there was nothing in the palace that escaped the King’s attention.  He knew full well of the first servant’s mishap and patiently waited for him to come and confess.  Hours passed by, but the first servant failed to make an appearance before the King.  The King then summoned two of the palace guardsmen and instructed them to immediately bring the first servant before him in ball and chains.  The first servant was brazenly adamant regarding what had happened to him: “Your Majesty, why am I being treated like a mere criminal?”  The King then requested that the six goblets be returned to him immediately.  Obviously, the first servant could only produce five goblets.  When the King inquired about the sixth one, the first servant shrugged his shoulders and claimed complete ignorance as to the sixth goblet’s whereabouts denying that he had done anything wrong.

“Not only do you fail to confess to me,” said the King, “but in your utter foolishness, you even deny your guilt in this matter.  I am always prepared to forgive negligence, even willful negligence, but I can never forgive dishonesty.  Your distance from the truth renders you a criminal unfit to serve in my Palace!”  The servant was led away into exile never to be heard from again.

Rebbe Natan of Breslov writes: “A person’s confession of wrongdoing is so very dear before Hashem, especially since confession means admitting to the truth.” (Likutei Halakhot, O”H, Hilchot Kriat Shema, 2:1) Rebbe Natan explains that truth is the epitome of holiness, for not only does HaShem waive punishment for the confessed wrongdoing, He actually consoles the confessor.  The exact opposite happens to the liar who attempts to conceal his transgressions.  Clearly in the parable the King is “the King of Kings” and all of us are H-s servants.  Because our Sages teach that such a vidui, such a confession of wrongdoing, is equivalent to an asham offering as outlined in this week’s parashah.  As such, it is most holy in H-s eyes.  May we learn from this that it is only through our heartfelt and sincere vidui that we will receive the Divine compassion of our loving Father in Heaven.

 

 

"Up in Smoke!"

03/17/2021 04:07:01 PM

Mar17

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

In this week’s parashah, Parashat VaYikra, we read the following: “HaShem called to Moshe and spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting saying: ‘Speak to B’nei Yisrael and say to them: “When any of you presents an offering of cattle to HaShem, he shall choose his offering from the herd or from the flock…He shall bring it to the Tent of Meeting for acceptance on his behalf before HaShem…He shall lay his hand upon the head of the burnt offering that it may be acceptable on his behalf in expiation for him…and the Kohen shall turn the whole into smoke on the mizbayach (altar) as a burnt offering, an offering by fire of pleasing odor to Hashem.”’” (Sefer Vayikra 1:1-4 &9) This burnt offering is known as the “Olah” for it goes up in smoke in its entirety.  It was a mandatory sacrifice that was offered twice each day, both at Shacharit and at Mincha services in both the Mishkan and each of the Temples.  Our sages taught that the Torah’s command to burn all of the “Olah” on the altar means that Kohen received no part of this sacrifice for himself and that its entire burning upon the altar was pleasing to Hashem.  But the question which must be asked is this: Was the “Olah” really pleasing to Hashem because of its odor?  Perhaps the following Chasidic parable will answer this question:

The King’s Cabernet wines were the best anywhere.  The rich brown soil of the sun-drenched vineyards yielded plump, premium wine grapes that surpassed those of the world’s most famous chateau plantations.  However, the King’s wines were not for sale.  Instead, they were given as rewards to those fortunate few who served the benevolent monarch with extraordinary dedication.  There was one stipulation that the King made to those whom he honored: they must bring their own perfectly clean, oak-hewn cask.  Without it, they could not claim their prize.

For twenty years the King’s personal valet had served his master faithfully and steadfastly.  On the occasion of a royal banquet in honor of the King’s birthday, the King decided to pay special tribute to his trusted servant.  The King wanted all his subjects to see how even a simple servant could, with complete dedication, attain the prestige that was normally reserved only for noblemen.  The valet dutifully prepared an empty oak-hewn cask for his regal prize.  But while the cask was clean, it still had the musty aroma of the peasant wine he was accustomed to drinking.  After inspecting the cask, the King declared: “This cask is not yet fit for the royal wine.  It is clean, but its strong aroma will overcome the delicate bouquet of my royal wine.  We cannot allow that to happen!”  The valet asked: ‘Then what must I do, Your Majesty?”  “Take the cask apart, plane and sandpaper each stave until it is perfectly smooth, clean, and devoid of any trace of other wines.  Leave the staves to dry and sweeten in the direct sunlight for a week, reassemble the cask, and then you will have a perfect vessel for my wine,” replied the King.  “If my wine is mixed with anything else --- with even the slightest hint of a foreign wine --- then it could conceivably cause you harm.  But when you drink it in its intended pure state, it will benefit you!”

The faithful valet fulfilled all of the King’s instructions to the letter.  One week later, he presented his perfectly clean cask to the King who then proceeded to fill it with his rare vintage Royal Cabernet wine.  Throughout the Kingdom everyone spoke of the faithful valet, the person of utter simplicity who earned the King’s most prestigious award.

          In Likutei Moharan, 1:4.7, Rebbe Nachman of Breslov explains that being praised can be dangerous as it is liable to cause a person to become arrogant.  But when a person attributes all of his or her success to Hashem’s blessing and Divine assistance, then receiving praise will not be detrimental at all.  In the Chasidic parable, the King’s wine is symbolic of receiving praise and success.  The King’s servant is symbolic of the Kohen at the mizbayach.  Our Tradition teaches that the members of the priestly clan enjoyed status, power, and wealth.  When any other type of sacrifice was offered up on the altar, the Kohen was rewarded with specific portions of the sacrifice.  However, not so with the “Olah.”  The Torah commands the Kohen first and foremost to perform the sacrifice of the “Olah” with no thought of personal gain, i.e.- without thinking of himself.  Through the “Olah,” the Kohen has the ability to serve Hashem selflessly.  Through the “Olah,” the Kohen realizes that the ability to serve as a priest in the Beit HaMikdash (the Temple) is not due to his own talent or skill.  It is simply due to Hashem’s benevolence and love for having brought him into this world as a member of the priestly clan.

Am Yisrael has a special status with Hashem in that we are partners with H-m in the Eternal Covenant made at Har Sinai (Mount Sinai).  Although the vast majority of the People Israel are not members of the priestly clan, we must act as if we are by performing mitzvot with no ulterior motives.  By doing so we will provide a “pleasing aroma” to Hashem Who, in turn, will bring us blessing, happiness, and shalom.

 

"Simple Is As Simple Does!"

03/10/2021 06:03:41 PM

Mar10

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

In this week’s double parashah, Parashat VaYakheil/Pekudei, we read the following: “And Moshe caused the entire community of the B’nei Yisrael to assemble, and he said to them: ‘These are the things that HaShem commanded you to do: For a six-day period, work may be done, but on the seventh day there shall be for you holiness, a Shabbat of rest for HaShem;…’” (Shemot 35:1-2) This passage has raised some questions posed by our Sages: (1) why did Moshe go to such lengths to assemble the entire B’nei Yisrael; (2) Why did Moshe insist that parents bring their children including newborn babies; and (3) of all the laws of the Torah, why did Moshe insist upon personally informing the entire community about Shabbat?  Perhaps the following Chasidic parable will answer these questions:

The Kingdom of Simpalia was breathtakingly beautiful, a land filled with stately mountains and bubbling streams and massive cedars that reached to the clouds and golden fields of wheat that stretched to the horizon.  Simpalia simply lacked nothing.  Its benevolent King ruled with utterly simplicity demanding virtually nothing from his subjects while he fulfilled all their needs.  The only thing he asked in return was their simple, unflinching loyalty.  However, the People of Simpalia, known as “Simpletons,” continually failed to fully appreciate the King’s benevolence.  They mistook his simple goodness and kindness as being a sign of his being weak.  Without considering the possible consequences, the Simpletons revolted against the King from time to time.

Although the King easily extinguished these silly little revolutions of his people, he was highly disappointed by his subjects’ ingratitude.  So, he decided to institute an improved system of education.  The King wrote a classic manual of ethics called “The Five Portals” and planned to teach it to all of his subjects.  But the Simpletons had two drawbacks that impaired their learning: stiff necks and thick skulls. Since the King could not rely upon the Simpletons’ ability to learn the content of “The Five Portals” by conventional means, he summoned his trusted servant --- a wise, old sage and musician by the name of Reedsman.  Reedsman lived by the river not far from the King’s palace.  He played enchanting melodies on his flutes that he carved out of reeds that grew by the riverbank.  Reedsman could make his flutes laugh and cry as well as sing the songs of the birds, the plants, and the animals.  His music could cure the sick, and it left a lasting impression on anyone who ever had the privilege of hearing it.

The King came up with a brilliant idea: rather than attempting to teach the Simpletons the words of “The Five Portals,” the King decided to invite Reedsman to the castle so that for 40 days and 40 nights he could teach Reedsman the book from cover to cover.  Reedsman, in turn, would then set the King’s entire book to music and play the music for the entire population of Simpletons.  The King knew that the image of the wise and pious Reedsman and the enchanting strains of his music would immediately penetrate the souls of the Simpletons.  Most importantly the children, whose minds had not yet been hardened by life, would have the words of “The Five Portals” clothed by Reedsman’s heavenly melodies engraving them on their hearts and in their minds forever.

The King then issued an edict in which he promulgated two laws: (1) every man, woman, and child must appear at the arena of national assembly on a given day to hear Reedsman play his flute and (2) until the end of time, every Seventh Day the Simpletons must rest from their chores so that would be able to sing Reedsman’s delightful melodies.  Thus, they would never forget “The Five Portals,” and they would never again revolt against the King.

          Rebbe Nachman of Breslov teaches in “Likutei Moharan, I:192” that the words of a true tzaddik are the essence of truth that exceeds everything else.  He says that the utterances of a true tzaddik leave a clear and lasting impression on all those who hear him much more so than if his words had only been read.  He states that hearing the words of a true tzaddik first hand leaves a clear and lasting impression on the listener.  Rebbe Nachman’s teaching sheds light upon the underlying purpose for “hakheil,” the assembling of the entire B’nei Yisrael to hear the words of Moshe, the true tzaddik.  In the parable, the King is representative of Hashem.  The Simpleton’s are representative of the B’nei Yisrael.  The King’s book “The Five Portals” is representative of the Torah, the five books of Moshe.  Reedsman is representative of Moshe.  The music of his flute is representative of Moshe’s words conveyed to the Assembly of B’nei Yisrael.

Nu, why did Moshe begin his teachings with the mitzvah of Shabbat?  The reason is simple: our Tradition teaches that the observance of the mitzvah of Shabbat is equal to the observance of all the mitzvot of the Torah.  So, you see, when all is said and done, “the K.I.S.S. principle” really does work!

Shabbat Shalom u-V’racha and Chodesh Tov!   

 

"With This Ring...!"

03/05/2021 02:29:50 PM

Mar5

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

In this week’s parashah, Parashat Ki Tissa, we read the following: “And Moshe stood at the gate of the camp, and he said: ‘Whoever is for HaShem [shall come] to me!’  And all the Children of Levi gathered to him.” (Shemot 32:26) The great Bible commentator Rashi indicates that not one single Levi participated in the sin of the “Eygel HaZahav” (“the Golden
Calf”).  The Midrash which cites Rashi’s commentary tells us that Satan (not “the Devil” of Christianity) created an atmosphere of darkness, chaos, and confusion causing fear and anxiety among the B’nei Yisrael due to Moshe’s tarrying at the top of Har Sinai.  The B’nei Yisrael lost all their patience in waiting for Moshe to return, thought that he had perished on top of Har Sinai, and thus fell into the sin of idolatry.  Nu?  Why were the Levi’im able to maintain their patience while the rest of the B’nei Yisrael could not?  Perhaps the following Chasidic parable will provide us with an answer:

Two of the King’s guardsmen, both being engaged to be married, were called away to war.  Before they joined their comrades on the battlefield, each was allowed to bid farewell to his respective fiancé.  The first guardsman, a young officer of noble heritage, gave his intended, the refined daughter of one of the King’s most rusted ministers, a very rare gift.  “My darling,” he said, “this ring has been in my family for generations.  I now give it to you as a token of my becoming forever bound to you.  Hopefully, we will be able to pass on this heirloom to further generations of our family.  So, I ask that no matter what happens, you will pray for me, you will be strong for me, and you will believe in your heart that sooner or later I will come home to you and you alone!”  He then made his tearful exit.  The second guardsman, a brave young officer of “common-folk” lineage, presented his fiancé, the daughter of a fishmonger, flowers and sweets.  Within a week, the flowers had wilted and all the chocolates had been eaten.  Shortly thereafter, the fishmonger’s daughter forgot about the gifts and the gift-giver as well.

Only a fortnight later, having received no news from the front, the fishmonger’s daughter began entertaining the overtures of a smooth-talking merchant in the marketplace.  He displayed gold and silver before her eyes while he promised her the sun and the moon if only she would consent to marry him.  Her wide-eyed stare gave indication that his offer was very enticing to her.  “Should I decay in maidenhood forever?” she lamented, all the while completely forgetting about the vows she had made to the second guardsman.  She was easily tempted by the merchant’s slick style and suave debonair.  So, she married him discarding honor and loyalty for a life filled with food, drink, and revelry.  Meanwhile, the King’s minister’s daughter spent every evening staring out her bedroom window waiting for the return of her intended.  She ended each night in the same way: having failed to see the return of her fiancé, a single tear would trickle down her cheek.  But then she would look at the ring on her finger, and a confident smile would appear on her face.  It was as if the springtime sun had emerged to drive away the dark, gray clouds of winter.  Then she would exclaim how she would wait forever for her beloved before she drifted off into the tranquil sleep of a newborn child.

 One year passed.  The King’s legions finally defeated the enemy army, and both guardsmen returned home.  The second guardsman, discovering that his fiancé had left him for another man, let his sword seek justice, and he executed both her and her smooth-talking husband.  The first guardsman’s heart rejoiced when he saw his beloved fiancé’s silhouette framed in the upstairs window as she was patiently waiting for him.  No words could possibly describe the joy of their reunion, the happiness of their subsequent marriage, and the bliss of their lives together for many years.  To this day, the ring --- the most precious of all the family heirlooms --- is still being passed from one generation of their offspring to another.

Rebbe Nachman of Breslov states that by having “emunah” (true and complete faith in Hashem), we can acquire the attribute of being patient.  Patient people do what they have to do without allowing anyone or anything to sway, to tempt, or to confuse them in any other direction than that to which they have committed themselves.  Understanding this, the parable teaches us the following: (1) the guardsman leaving to go to war symbolize Moshe going up to the top of Har Sinai for 40 days and 40 nights.  (2) The first fiancé symbolizes the Levites who did not waver in their loyalty to Hashem.  (3) The noble guardsman’s ring symbolized the “emuna” and patience of the Levi’im.  The Levi’im, like the King’s minister’s daughter, were able to wait patiently with no weakening of their resolve.  Like the fishmonger’s daughter who had no ring, the “erev-rav” (the non-Jews who left Mitzrayim [Egypt} with the B’nei Yisrael) had neither “emunah” nor patience thus resulting in their succumbing to idolatry.

We, today’s B’nei Yisrael, need neither flowers nor chocolates to sustain the “emunah” and patience we need to keep us spiritually and emotionally attached to our people, to our religion, and, most important of all, to HaShem.  After all, we already have the “ring”: Shabbat and the Torah.  “I will betroth you to Me forever; and I will betroth you to Me with righteousness, justice, kindness, and mercy; and I will betroth you to Me with faithfulness, and you will know Hashem!”

Shabbat Shalom ve-Shavua Tov!

"My Kingdom for a Horse!"

02/24/2021 01:57:58 PM

Feb24

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

In this week’s parashah, Parashat Tetzaveh, we read the following: “And you shall put into ‘Choshen HaMishpat’ (the Breastplate of Judgement) the ‘Urim’ and the ‘Tummim,’ and they shall be upon the heart of Aharon in his entering before HaShem; and Aharon shall carry the judgement of B’nei Yisrael (the Children of Israel) upon his heart continually before HaShem.” (Shemot 28:30) The Urim and the Tummim were a small piece of folded parchment with Hashem’s Holy Name written upon it.  This parchment was folded in a special way and inserted into the Breastplate of Judgement as the Torah commanded to be done.  However, at the end of this verse we also find that the Torah commands that the Urim and the Tummim shall continually be upon Aharon’s heart.  How can this be possible with the High Priest being required to wear four layers of clothing (the “Ketonet” [tunic], the “M’eel” [robe], the “Ephod,” and the “Choshen” [breastplate]). There is no possible way he could place the Urim and the Tummim upon his heart.  Perhaps what is really being said here is that the High Priest was not to allow any other thoughts come between him and Hashem when he was bringing himself closer to HaShem.  Perhaps the following Chasidic parable will help us to understand this concept a little bit better:

Herschel was the “vasser traeger (water carrier) of Kalinovka, a small hamlet between Breslov and Berditchev in central Ukraine.  His life was rather difficult for many reasons, among them the backbreaking work and the constant jeers and insults he endured from the villagers simply because he was so unlearned.  Frequently, having filled his two wooden pails with water from the river, he would place the yoke on his back and carry the water into the village presumably to the home of the customer who had placed the order.  Most of the time, however, Herschel would forget to which house he was supposed to bring the water, so, more often than not, he would knock on the wrong door.  Usually, he would receive several comments and slammed doors in his face until he found the right address.

This made Herschel disgusted with his lot in life.  “If only I had an ox,” he said to himself.  “Then I would be much more efficient in delivering the water to my customers.  So, Herschel pawned his heirloom silver etrog box and bought himself an ox.  Herschel transferred the yoke and the wooden buckets from his own back to the back of the ox.  The ox certainly did make life easier for the “vasser traeger’s” arms and back, but it did nothing to improve his brain.  With the efficiency of an ox, Herschel was now not only carrying water to the wrong houses, he was carrying water to the wrong streets as well.  “This is ridiculous,” thought Herschel. “Oxen are obviously good for plowing a field, but they are failures at home delivery.  I need a horse!”  He begged and borrowed, sold his ox, pawned his wife’s wedding ring, and finally scraped up enough money to purchase an old draught horse.  In spite of its age, the horse was certainly faster than the ox, but now Herschel was carrying water from the river to the wrong shtetl.

Years later, after the invention of the automobile, people in the shtetl would joke with each other and say, “Lucky that Herschel did not have a car, otherwise he would have been shlepping water to the wrong country!”

We see by way of this parable that Herschel made small mistakes when traveling on foot by going to the wrong house.  With the use of an ox, he made bigger mistakes by going to the wrong street.  And with the use of a horse, his mistakes were compounded by going to the wrong shtetl.

It is a well-known fact that a small error made in navigating a jet airplane has far more serious effects than doing the same when “navigating” a mule.  The Torah tells us that we are to be “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”  As with the “Kohen HaGadol” (the High Priest), we must keep our thoughts focused upon the Torah, upon the People Israel, and upon HaShem.  Rabbi Nachman of Breslov teaches that our thoughts have far-reaching implications: like nuclear power, they can either build or destroy an entire world.  Let us keep our hearts focused upon our Tradition and our G-d so that we can rid ourselves of the tension, stress and anxiety that dominate our lives.  Let us focus our thoughts and prayers and efforts on “Tikkun HaOlam” (the Repair of the World) so that we may enjoy true Shalom!

"It's What's Inside That Counts!"

02/18/2021 02:40:05 PM

Feb18

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

In this week’s parashah, Parashat Teruma, we read the following: “HaShem spoke to Moshe saying, ‘Tell B’Nei Yisrael to take for me gifts from every person whose heart so moves him…And let them make me a mikdash [sanctuary] that I may dwell b’tocham” [among them].  Exactly as I show you --- the pattern of the Mishkan [tabernacle] and the pattern of all its furnishings --- so shall you make it.’” (Shemot 25:1-2 & 8-9) The great Chasidic masters, disciples of the Baal Shem Tov of blessed and saintly memory, translated and interpreted the word b’tocham to mean “within them,” thus requiring that each of us prepare ourselves to become a sanctuary worthy for the dwelling within of the Shechinah [the Divine Presence].  Perhaps the following Chasidic parable will help us understand why this preparation is needed:

The King and his royal entourage were visiting the outlying villages of the kingdom.  The King was entertaining the thought that the crisp, clear mountain air of the countryside would be the most conducive for promoting the good health of his three sons, the princes, who usually spent most of their time in the crowded and congested capital city.  It happened that the royal entourage stopped by a quaint little inn and tavern.  Because the innkeeper was thrilled that the King and his escorts should frequent his humble abode, he ran outside and prostrated himself before the King’s feet.  “Your Majesty,” he declared, “I am so honored!  How may I serve you?”

 “You may rise,” replied the King.  “I am looking for a dwelling in this region that is befitting for a hostel for my vacationing sons.  They do not require fancy furnishings, but they must have rooms that are impeccably clean and orderly located in the proximity of the mountains and the hot springs.  “But your Majesty,” exclaimed the innkeeper, “My inn is very simple.  This tavern is the only source of my income.  I do not think that the princes would feel comfortable in the company of my ale-drinking clientele.”  “I shall compensate you six times over for the sale of your ale.  In addition, I will give you a stipend of 500 pieces of gold to transform the inn and the tavern into a quality spa, fit for royal guests only.  You will have the privilege of hosting my sons, the ministers, and honored guests of the Kingdom.  You will never have to worry about money.  Agreed?”  The innkeeper accepted the King’s offer.  As the King walked away, his accompanying officers warned the innkeeper saying, “If you fulfill all the King’s demands by preparing and maintaining a proper lodging for the King’s sons, your rewards will be far more than you ever dreamed they could be.  But, if you fail, you will be thrown into the deepest, darkest dungeon, punished and doomed to oblivion!”

The King and the innkeeper agreed that the princes would arrive in nine weeks.  With that, the innkeeper feverishly cleaned, repaired, rebuilt, and remodeled the inn and tavern turning it into a charming spa.  The tavern itself became a regal dining room.  In six short weeks, the work was completed.  With three weeks left before the royal guests were to arrive, the innkeeper took a well- deserved rest from his labors.  However, after only three days of idly waiting for the three princes, the innkeeper became bored.  One evening, while the innkeeper sat on the front porch of the remodeled inn and tavern smoking his cornstalk pipe and listening to the singing of the hummingbirds while watching the golden sunset, three peasants approached him.  “Dimitri,” they called out, “Good evening!  We are thirsty!  Break out a keg of ale!”  “I am sorry, comrades,” apologized the innkeeper. “This is no longer a tavern.  Everything has been rebuilt for the King.  Soon, his sons will arrive for a short stay.  My inn and tavern are now a royal spa.”  The peasants burst out laughing and replied, “Choose, Dimitri!  Either we open a keg or we break open your head!”  Dimitri thought for just a moment and came to the conclusion that there was still plenty of time before the princes arrived.  Besides, being bored as he was, he missed his old clientele.  With the flow of the ale once again, the merriment that always resulted would soon follow.  Besides, here was a chance to earn a few rubles on the side.  “Surely,” he thought to himself, “I will have the place straightened up before the King’s sons arrive.”  So, he acceded to the peasants’ demand and once again opened the inn and tavern as if nothing had changed.

However, with a foothold in the refurbished fancy quarters that were fit for royalty, the peasants stubbornly refused to leave.  In fact, every day more and more of the innkeeper’s clientele flocked to the royal spa causing it to revert to its former status of a village inn and tavern, the result being a continuous scene of drunken brawls and general mayhem.  The brand new highly polished marble floors, prepared especially for the princes, were now covered in mud, blood, and beer.  With only one day left until the arrival of the princes, Dimitri made a valiant effort to clean and repair the spa, but his last-minute rushed effort was far from sufficient.

The next day, the three princes arrived accompanied by an elite platoon of the palace guard.  All of them stood there surveying the scene and coming to the conclusion that things simply did not look right.  The spa’s walls seemed to be soaked with the smell of ale.  To the alarm of the visiting royalty, all three of the beds which had been designated in the royal suite for the King’s three sons were occupied by drunken peasants who were still wearing their muddy boots and were sleeping off their drunken stupor from the previous night’s ale-drinking party.  The King had paid for the fancy beds which were intended for the use of his sons, the princes.  He had given the foolish and easily tempted innkeeper more than enough money to remodel the inn while compensating him sixfold for the loss of the tavern’s business.  But now the silky white sheets of the royal beds were completely ruined by mud and filth.  This action was not only a breach of faith by the innkeeper, it was an outright embezzlement of the King!  In complete disgust, the royal entourage left the premises as the innkeeper was shackled in heavy chains, thrown into the deepest, darkest dungeon never to be heard from again.

In this Chasidic parable, the King is Hashem.  His three sons are the wisdom, knowledge, and understanding which each of us needs in order to receive the Torah.  The innkeeper is each one of us whose task it is to prepare our hearts and minds and souls to receive the Torah so that we become a sanctuary worthy for the Shechinah to dwell in.  We must make ourselves into a "mikdash me’at" [a miniature tabernacle] worthy of the presence of the King of Kings.  For without the Torah, our very soul suffers.     

 

 

"Fire When Ready?"

02/11/2021 04:16:09 PM

Feb11

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

In this week’s parashah, Parashat Mishpatim, we read the following: “And Moshe came and he related to the people all the words of Hashem and all of the laws…And Moshe wrote all the words of HaShem,…And he took the Book of the Covenant, and he read it before the people, and they said: ‘All that Hashem has spoken, we will do and we will listen.’” (Shemot 24:3a, 4a, & 7) Many people, both Jew and non-Jew alike, read these words and come to the incorrect conclusion that the B’nei Yisrael were literally “out of their minds” to “blindly observe” HaShem’s mitzvot (commandments).  However, to the Jew who is faithful to our People and Tradition, there is no such thing as “blind observance.”  In order to counter the onslaught against Judaism and the Jewish People, first, we must do what the Torah tells us to do, and only afterwards do we ask questions.  Perhaps the following Chasidic parable will help us to understand this concept:

Fiodor was a young professor of philosophy at the revered University of Moscow.  He believed in nothing but the power of his own intellect.  Even when someone told him that there is oxygen in the air, he would not accept such a notion until he thought long and hard about the logic of such a statement.  When war broke out between Napoleon Bonaparte and the Czar, everyone was drafted including Fiodor.  In basic training, he drove his commanders insane. When he was told to take his musket apart and clean it, he sat there and pondered how much soot one gunshot would impart to the barrel.  He came to the conclusion that it was illogical to clean one’s musket after shooting it, for soon the weapon would once again become soiled anyway.  Used in this manner, Fiodor’s professorial logic was nothing else but ignorance, for an unclean weapon can jam and fail to function.  In the heat of battle, this could cause him to lose his life because of the weapon’s malfunction at the most critical time.

As an infantryman, Fiodor was slow and dreamy and ineffective.  So, his commanders decided to transfer him to the artillery.  There, he could use his academic prowess to calculate the range and trajectory of the cannon fire.  Fiodor passed his classroom studies with flying colors, and then, on the cannon range, directed the cannon fire superbly.  He was now finally ready to go to the front lines where the Russian army was hard-pressed to repel Napoleon’s attack.  As the battle ensued, a sentry spotted the first French troops approaching from a distance.  He raced over to Captain Borisov, the artillery battery commander.  The Captain looked into the distance and saw that the French regiment was fast approaching Smolensk.  He estimated that they were only 2500 meters away at the compass bearing of 270 degrees (due West).  “Corporal Fiodor,” he ordered, “make an immediate trajectory calculation for 2500 meters and prepare to fire!”

“Excuse me, Sir,” replied Fiodor scratching his chin, “but are you sure those are French troops?”  “Don’t be daft, Corporal!  There are no Russian forces to the west of us!  Calculate the trajectory and prepare to fire immediately!”  “But, Sir,      “argued Fiodor, “who says the French army is coming here to fight?”  “Idiot!” screamed Captain Borisov. “They have marched their way through all of Europe!  They are not on their way here to attend a tea party!  They want to defeat the Czar’s army and conquer Russia!  Now, fire!”  Fiodor stood his ground and continued: “I respectfully submit, Sir, that since today is a cloudy day, and since we cannot verify where the sun is, perhaps the direction from which these troops are approaching is not West at all.  Perhaps it is East, and those troops are really Russian troops…”

Before Fiodor had a chance to complete his sentence, a volley of French cannonballs exploded right in the midst of the Russian artillery battery, killing most of the troops.  Corporal Fiodor’s slow and resolute philosophizing became the nail on the coffins for many Russian soldiers that day.

During war, during an attack by the enemy, there may be no time for explanations and philosophy.  That is why training for combat is so very important.  A well-disciplined army can best execute its duties by following the Torah tried-and-true of “na’ase v’nishma” (“We will do and then we will listen.”).  In other words, first the army must fulfill its duty, and then it can ask questions evaluating how well it performed in the heat of the battle.  In this age of wanton disregard for all that is sacred, at this time when the People Israel faces the onslaught of rampant assimilation, perhaps we need to heed the teaching of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov who says that we must have “virtuous boldness” in our war against evil, that evil being those Jews and non-Jews who act as enemies of both Judaism and the Jewish People.

“Kavei el HaShem, chazak ve’ya’ameitz libecha, v’kavei el HaShem!” --- “Hope to Hashem; be strong and take courage and hope to Hashem!” (Tehillim 27:14)

 

"To Whom Are You Indebted?"

02/04/2021 04:00:59 PM

Feb4

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

In this week’s parashah, Parashat Yitro, we read the following: “For I, HaShem your G-d, am an impassioned G-d, visiting the guilt of the parents upon the children, upon the third and upon the fourth generations of those who reject me but showing kindness to the thousandth generation of those who love Me and keep My commandments.” (Shemot 20:5-6) You may ask: “Is this fair?  Why do I have to pay for the “sins” of my father?”  Rashi explains that a son must pay for his father’s sins when he (the son) continues to transgress in the same manner that his father did.  Indeed, halachah (Jewish Law) specifically states that orphans are required to pay their parents’ debts (Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat, 107.a) If this is true of material debts, then al achat kammah ve-kammah (how much more so) is this true of spiritual debts?  And while you may think that there is no connection between the two, there is this striking similarity: with material/monetary debts, the creditor can be merciful and decide to forego the debt; with spiritual debts, t’shuvah (repentance and returning to HaShem) can bring about Hashem’s compassionate decision to release the debt.  In either case, the son’s decision to forego the ways of his father causes the release of the liability for his father’s misdeeds that is mentioned in the Torah.  Perhaps this Chasidic parable will promote clarification of this principle:

A group of loafers and local derelicts would spend their days in idleness and their nights drinking vodka and playing cards.  Frequently, they would break into the local Synagogue at the edge of town and desecrate the sacred house of study and prayer with their drinking and gambling.  Several times a week, the unfortunate beadle would open the Synagogue before Shacharit prayers and discover a veritable disaster before his eyes: garbage as well as peanut shells and empty liquor and beer bottles would be strewn all over the place.  The frustrated beadle would then have to clean up the whole mess before the first congregants would arrive.  After all, who would be blamed if the Synagogue was tidy and in order upon their arrival?  Of course, the beadle would be blamed!  What a terrible situation he found himself in!

The beadle decided he must put an end to the derelicts’ desecration of the Synagogue once and for all!  To do so, he planned to stay awake all night and lie in wait in the Ezras Nashim (the upstairs women’s gallery).  That very same night, a group of the derelicts’ sons decided that they had as much right as did their fathers to do exactly what their fathers were doing.  Like their fathers, they obtained a supply of beer, liquor, snacks, and a deck of cards, snuck into the Synagogue, and settled in drinking, eating, and carrying on until…The beadle, a robust man whose arms had chopped their share of firewood over the years, had waited until midnight to make his move.  When the clock struck midnight, he pounced upon the youths like a lion on his prey.  The six or so youths suffered a rain of blows from the beadle’s two vengeful fists, from a leather strap, and from the wooden soles of his Cossack boots.  Not a single one of them managed to escape the beadle’s wrath.  “For two whole years, you brats have made my life miserable!” he screamed.  “Even worse than that, you have been defiling the Holy House of Hashem!  Nobody has ever paid me for all the extra work you’ve caused me to do!  But now you will pay the price!  None of you will sit for a year!”  Crying, the boys protested and tried to explain that this was the first time they had done this, but to no avail.  They ended up suffering all the punishment that was really intended for their derelict fathers.

 The next evening the derelict fathers returned and, once again, they left the Synagogue in filth and disarray.  The beadle arrived in the morning before daybreak, as usual, and what did he see when he opened the door?  He found the Synagogue was impeccable, spotlessly clean and miraculously sweet-smelling.  Suddenly he heard some rustling under one of the tables.  “Who’s in here?” he bellowed.  A freckle-faced, red-headed boy all of fifteen years of age crawled out from under the table where he was hiding.  He had in his hand the rag with which he had been scrubbing the floor.  “It is I, Lipa the son of Kalman,” the boy replied.  “I am so ashamed.  I discovered that my father is part of the gang the defiles this Synagogue.”  Tears were running down the boy’s cheeks.  “I have tried my hardest to clean up the mess.  Please forgive me!”  The beadle leaned over and kissed the boy on his forehead.  Not only did this young tzaddik refuse to follow the ways of his father, he even did his best to try to make right his father’s wrong.  As a result, instead of being struck, kicked and whipped by the beadle as were the boy’s delinquent friends, he, Lipa the son of Kalman, got a kiss instead.

The lesson of this Chasidic parable is obvious: as Rashi explains, sons rightfully pay for the sins of their wayward fathers when they walk in their fathers’ footsteps.  But when sons discard their wayward fathers’ errant ways, when they do t’shuvah and return to Hashem, they are no longer liable for their father’s sins.  May we all return to Avinu Malkeinu, our Father, our King, soon in an effort to walk in H-s ways!

 

"The Sound of Silence!"

01/28/2021 03:35:43 PM

Jan28

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

In this week’s parashah, Parashat Beshalach, we read the following: “As Par’oh drew near, the B’nei Yisrael caught sight of the Egyptians advancing upon them.  Greatly frightened, the B’nei Yisrael cried out to Hashem…Then HaShem said to Moshe, ‘Why do you cry out to me?  Tell the B’nei Yisrael to go forward.’” (Shemot 14:10 & 15) Our Tradition teaches us that Hashem tells Moshe that this moment in time is not to be one of prayer; it is to be one of both action and commitment to H-m on the part of the B’nei Yisrael.  But there is a deeper meaning as well.  Rabbi Nachman of Breslov teaches: “One can shout loudly in a still small voice without anyone hearing, because one does not emit a sound but simply screams silently with his soundless small voice.  Anyone can do this.  Just imagine the sound of a scream in your mind…You can stand in a crowded room screaming in this manner with no one hearing you.” (Sichot HaRan, 16) Rav Shalom Arush warns that while one could scream to Hashem in personal prayer, his/her words should not be heard by others as this creates a defamation of Hashem’s Name.  The prayer that is a silent scream is relevant when one wants to cry out to Hashem in a crowded room, or on a bus or train, or in a subway.  Our tradition teaches that even the Heavenly Hosts cannot hear the silent screams to HaShem.  Perhaps the following Chasidic parable will help us to understand the power of the silent scream:

The April sunshine melted the remainder of the ice on the River Bug in the Central Ukraine.  The forests and fields were coming alive with lush new growth.  Both flora and fauna were emerging from their winter slumber.  And so were the hunters!  From the time that they are hatched, wild goslings hear the nightmarish tales of the hunters who, with their lethal weapons, spread terror throughout the forest and lake area.  Geese are especially spiritual birds that must pray constantly for Divine protection.  The gentle species of animals that are subject to danger, such as deer and geese, are especially close to HaShem.

One brown-and-black-feathered mother goose lovingly nudged her gosling.  “You have developed marvelously, my son!  It is time to spread your wings and fly independently.”  The gosling trembled, its eyes glistening with tears of fear and trepidation.  “Mother,” it protested, “how can I fly?  I already hear the crack of gunfire from afar!  The hunters frighten me!  Maybe I will be shot!”  The mother goose reassured her youngling.  “Trust in Hashem!  All of us geese must learn emuna (faith) at a very young age.  But there is something else you should know.”  “What is that, Mother?” the gosling asked.  The mother goose replied, “Never honk within the gunshot range of the hunters!  By making noise, you will expose yourself.  Our honking is only meant for high altitude flying.  Whenever you must fly low or alone, such as going from the nest to the lake, remain totally silent.  But when you fly with the flock with everyone else honking, you may honk as well.”

So is it also true with us when we engage in prayer to Hashem.  When a person is praying in public with everyone chanting aloud, then chanting aloud is the order of the day.  But when a person is engaged in intense private and personal prayer, raising one’s voice exposes one’s prayer to the forces of evil existing in this world that try to keep the prayer from ascending to the Heavenly Throne.  Our Tradition teaches that the forces of evil have great difficulty in obstructing that which is not routine.  The silent scream offered up in prayer to Hashem can often be the “master key” that will “unlock” the gate of the pathway that leads to HaShem.  Perhaps we should use this “medium” in prayer whenever we need to come closer to Hashem and receive H-s blessing and love.

"Start Me Up!"

01/21/2021 03:24:28 PM

Jan21

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

In this week’s parashah, Parashat Bo, we read the following: “Consecrate to Me every firstborn that is [the first to] open any womb among the B’nei Yisrael – among man and among animal; it is Mine.” (Shemot 13:2) Even today we know how important the connection between being firstborn and being sanctified to HaShem is.  Long after the destruction of our Holy Temples, we still have the obligation to give our firstborn sons who open the womb in service to HaShem.  However, even without without the Temple, we are still obligated to redeem them from service to Hashem through the ritual of “Pidyon HaBen.”  What this sanctification and this redemption strive to achieve is a good beginning for our firstborn sons.  Rebbe Nachman of Breslov says: “The beginning is the main thing, for all beginnings are difficult…a person’s functioning goes according to the power and enthusiasm that he invested at the beginning…therefore, a person must always make a new beginning, for the old beginning may not have been as good as it should have been, and everything goes according to the beginning. (Likutei Moharan, I:62-65) Of course, the People Israel have the opportunity and the ability to make a new beginning each year on Rosh Hashanah.  T’shuva can indeed be looked upon as being in and of itself a new beginning.  Even in the physical world, a new beginning is recognized as better than an old beginning.  This is true when placing a new weld on an old piece of metal and creating a new growth on a tree.  Perhaps the following Chasidic parable will help elucidate the concept of a new beginning:

It was in the middle of winter in the dark Ukrainian forest.  Two wild turkeys looked high and low for something to eat, but they found nothing but snow and dry leaves. Nothing much remained of either bird except bones and ruffled black feathers.  One turkey gobbled in hunger.  The other silenced him saying “If you keep complaining, we will end up being dinner for the wolves.  They are as hungry as are we!”  Suddenly, they came upon an old owl high up in a poplar tree.  “Excuse us, Comrade Owl, but could you tell us where to find a grain or two of corn?  We are starving!”  The owl who-whooed and told the turkeys to go two miles down the road where they would find an old silo filled with corn.  The owl then flew away searching for a perch where his lofty thoughts would not be interrupted by these two turkeys.

The turkeys looked at each other in total confusion.  Directly in front of them was a crossroads.  They had neglected to ask the owl whether to go to the left or to the right.  They did know that human beings lived in one direction and that wolves lived in the other direction, but they did not know which way was which.  “If our first step is wrong, we are doomed to be tonight’s main course in the wolves’ den,” lamented the first turkey.  The second turkey nodded in agreement stating that hunger was a better fate than being devoured by the razor-toothed carnivores.  With that, they chose the left fork in the road beginning their two-mile journey into the unknown with utter trepidation.  Suddenly they heard howling from deep in the forest!  Rustling their feathers in a shiver of fear, they both exclaimed: “This is the end of us!”

Unexpectedly, they came upon a squirrel scurrying up an old oak tree.  “Squirrel, squirrel,” they cried out, “please help us! To where does this road lead?”  The squirrel replied: “It leads to the wolves’ den, you silly turkeys!  Do you not know that you are in danger?”  The turkeys gobbled and wailed in despair, but the squirrel giggled while munching away at an acorn.  They protested: “Why do you ridicule us, squirrel?  Do you not have any pity for two birds who are about to die?”  The squirrel almost fell off the branch he was sitting upon as he laughed and laughed and laughed.  “About to die?” he exclaimed. “I always heard that turkeys lacked any sense, but I never realized to what extent that was true.  Turn around, you silly turkeys, and get out of here as fast as you can!  Just start a new beginning in the opposite direction, and you will find the silo full of corn.  Cease despairing and being depressed!   Just get up and start anew!”

Thanks to the squirrel, the turkeys backtracked their steps, returned to the crossroads, and took the road to the right.  By virtue of their new beginning, not only did they avoid the bitter fate of falling prey to the wolves, but they had the feast of their lives at the old corn silo.

It is very easy in today’s world to become discouraged and depressed, viewing life with no hope.  A such, we then become like the turkeys of the parable which took the wrong fork in the road.  At such moments, we must stop and take the time to remember Rebbe Nachman’s words.  We must re-engage in life with enthusiasm, trusting in Hashem that all is for the best.  We must “start up” once again!  

Thu, April 22 2021 10 Iyyar 5781