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"All You Need Is Love!"

09/12/2019 03:39:05 PM

Sep12

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

We have entered the "Season of Repentance" in the Jewish calendar.  We are commanded by our Tradition to "do" t'shuvah (repentance/returning) in order to cause us to come back to our Tradition, to our people, and to HaShem.  We began this time period as we entered the month of Elul.  In Ashkenazic minhag (custom) it is during this month that we sound the shofar at the end of the Shacharit service each day except for Shabbat.  The blasts of the shofar are meant to awaken our souls, to spur us to action, to inspire us to became actively engaged to do t'shuvah.  But is it only the blasts of the shofar that lead us to take action?  Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev said "No!"  He taught that there exist two kinds of "awakenings:" an "Awakening from Above" and an "Awakening from Below."  What did he mean by this?

  Reb Levi Yitzchak taught that one must not rely only on the "Awakening from Above."  A person must benefit from the work of his own hands in order to become inspired to action.  It is only when he does this that he will merit feeling of the Ruach HaKodesh (the Spirit of Hashem) resting upon him.  What does this mean?  It is only when we take the first step, it is only when we inspire ourselves by actively engaging in a more spiritual lifestyle creating a greater connection to HaShem that we create an "Awakening from Below."  This, in turn, will create an "Awakening from Above" resulting in the fulfilling of HaShem's promise to us as imparted in the words of the prophet Zecharyah: "Return to Me and I will return to you!"  (Zecharyah 1:3)  We know that this is HaShem's desire for us by way of the name of the month in which we currently find ourselves.

The Hebrew letters which make up the name of this month leading up to Rosh Hashanah are Aleph, Lamed, Vav, Lamed which, when put together, are read as "Elul."  What is most interesting to note is that the word Elul is an acronym for the following words found in Shir HaShirim (the Song of Songs) written by Shlomo Hamelekh: "Ani L'dodi ve-dodi li!" --- "I am for my beloved and my beloved is for me!" (Shir HaShirim 6:3)  It is during this month of Elul that we, the People Israel, seek a special closeness with Hashem.  This is one of the reasons that the days of the month of Elul are known as "Yamei HaRatzon" (Days of Desire).  We desire to do t'shuvah at this time in order to be closer to Hashem.  And all it takes for Hashem to become closer to us, all it takes for Hashem to love us is for us to want to be closer to H-m.  When all is said and done, all you need is love!

"Are You Upside Down?"

09/04/2019 03:34:25 PM

Sep4

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

During training flights, the lead pilot of an Israeli squadron of F-16 fighter jets had the task of shooting out flares in the area of the target to mark where his squadron was to aim their missiles.  After doing so, he would immediately elevate his plane to a higher altitude so that the planes flying with him would be able to attack the target.  One night, as they were flying in total darkness, he shot out his flares and was immediately overcome with vertigo.  As a result he turned his pane upside down while thinking all along that he was right side up.  He began to pull the plane into what he thought was its regular steep incline not realizing that he was actually heading straight towards the ground at hundreds of miles per hour.  And although the altimeter was sounding a warning that he was in a steep dive rapidly approaching the ground, he ignored it thinking that it was malfunctioning.  The jet had two different systems to warn the pilot of an impending crash, and this second one was beeping frantically.  Suddenly, both pilots of the two jets that had been alongside of him during this training run informed him that he was upside down and was about to crash.  They told him to invert his plane and pull up before it was too late.  Even though he was certain he was right side up,  he followed their instructions and brought his plane back for a safe landing.

In this week's parashah, Parashat Shoftim, we read : "You shall not deviate from the word they (the appointed judges) tell you." (Devarim 17:11)  Moshe Rabbeinu, Moses our teacher, told B'nei Yisrael that they had to obey the rulings of the courts (made by the appointed judges) even if they were convinced that these rulings were wrong.  If the judges said that left was right and right was left, their word was law.  Silly?  No.  And let me tell you why.

When you are driving to work along your old familiar route, you know that your favorite gas station is on your left hand side.  However, when you go home from work along the same route, this same gas station is now on your right hand side.  You see, it all depends upon your perspective.  Our Rabbis are telling us that perhaps our perspective is wrong.  We must turn around.  We must face the opposite direction  in order to gain the proper perspective as to what is happening in our lives.   And that is what the month of Elul is all about.  We are to prepare to do t'shuvah by turning around and viewing our lives from the proper perspective utilizing our family, our friends, our synagogue, our tradition and HaShem to go forward into the new year.  May we all be successful in doing this!

"We ARE a Treasure!"

08/28/2019 12:18:46 PM

Aug28

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

Yudele was a young Yeshiva bachur who was getting ready to spend Pesach (Passover) with his family in Poland.  Normally Yudele would go home via a horse-drawn wagon, a grueling week-long journey.  However, this time his family treated him to a ticket for a new mode of transportation: a locomotive train.  Yudele had never seen a train before and was very excited about being able to travel this way.  He arrived at the station early and followed the other passengers to the train.  He found himself in a small passenger car with many non-Jewish passengers.  At one point during the journey, a man wearing a uniform boarded the train and walked through each train car.  At the sight of the train conductor, many of the passengers hurried off to other parts of the train, some hiding under tables, others locking themselves in the restroom.  Yudele was scared not knowing what was going on or what he was supposed to do.  He again "followed the crowd" and hid under a table near the back of the car.  The conductor immediately spotted Yudele and grabbed him by the collar.

"You Jews are no different than anyone else!" he shouted.  "Thief!  You need a ticket to be on this train.  Since you clearly do not have a ticket (after all, Yudele was hiding under a table), you need to get off the train now!"  Being confused and frightened, Yudele explained to the conductor that he indeed did have a ticket.  With shaking hands, he pulled it out of his pocket and showed it to the conductor.  The conductor was flabbergasted as he stood there and looked at Yudele's ticket.  Not only did Yudele have a train ticket, but it was a first-class train ticket!  Apologizing profusely to the Yeshiva bachur, the conductor promptly escorted Yudele to his own private room in the First Class car and offered his service to Yudele for the rest of the journey.

In this week's parashah, Parashat Re'eh, we read: "You are the children to HaShem your G-d...For you are a holy nation to HaShem your G-d, and HaShem has chosen you to be a treasured nation from all the people on the face of the earth. (Devarim 14:1-2)  From these verses we see that we, the People Israel, have a unique characteristic that no other nation on earth has and that no other nation can replicate.  The problem is that the majority of our people do not appreciate our unique role in this world and, because of this, we look to other peoples and cultures for satisfaction.  We need to remember that we are the earthly representatives of HaShem, and this should cause us to behave accordingly.  As the Torah tells us, we are indeed a "treasured nation!"  Not because we are born a  people better than any other people, but because we are born into royalty as the children of the King of Kings.

"Preparation Is the Key!"

08/21/2019 11:09:01 AM

Aug21

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

We read the following in this week's parashah, Parashat Eykev: "And I dwelt on the mountain for 40 days and 40 nights; I did not eat bread nor did I drink water." (Devarim 9:9)  This verse relates how Moshe went up the mountain shortly after B'Nei Yisrael (the Children of Israel) had received the Aseret HaDibrot (the Ten Commandments) coming down on Shiv'a Asar B'Tammuz (the 17th of Tammuz).  Upon seeing B'Nei Yisrael worshiping Eygel HaZahav (the Golden Calf), he throws the tablets down shattering them into pieces.  Moshe then returns to the top of the mountain to plead with HaShem not to kill the people.  "And I fell down before HaShem like the first time for 40 days and 40 nights; I did not eat bread or drink water...." (Devarim 9:18)  Moshe descends the mountain on the 29th of Av having achieved his goal.  On the very next day, Rosh Chodesh Elul, Hashem tells him: "Engrave for yourself two tablets of stone just like the first ones, and ascend to Me up the mountain and make for yourself an ark of wood." (Devarim 10:1)  The end of this 40-day/night period is Yom Kippur upon which B'Nei Yisrael are forgiven for this grievous sin.  Rashi tells us that during the middle 40 days/nights period, the period during which Moshe voluntarily ascended the mountain to plead with HaShem on behalf of B'Nei Yisrael, HaShem was angry with them to the point that He wanted kill them.  Moshe "convinced" H-m otherwise.  This middle 40 day/night period teaches us an important lesson: in order to develop a positive relationship with another person, we must work very hard at this process over an extended period of time.  This best evidenced via the Jewish marriage ceremony.

Halakhah (Jewish Law) intentionally divides the Jewish marriage ceremony into two distinct parts: erusin, where the man and woman are bound to each other in a betrothal that did not allow them to live with each other, and nisuin, the ceremony under the chuppah (wedding canopy) that did permit them to finally live together as husband and wife.  In pre-Medieval times, the period between erusin and nisuin was one year.  Obviously the entire process of getting married was compressed into one ceremony that still contains both parts, each part being separated by the reading of the Ketubah (the wedding contract).  Even this small amount of time between each part of the Jewish marriage ceremony continues to give emphasis to the fact that love between husband and wife requires time and effort to develop and grow.  Because our relationship with HaShem is akin to the relationship between husband and wife, it also takes much time and great effort to develop and grow.  The simple fact of the matter is that the more time and effort we put into our relationship with HaShem, the greater and more satisfying will that relationship be

As we approach the month of Elul, that period of time when we prepare for the Yamin Nora'im (the Days of Awe), may we put even more effort into nurturing our relationship with HaShem as well as all our relationships with our spouses, our families, our Synagogue, and the People Israel.  

"Jealousy: It Will 'Get' You Every Time!"

08/14/2019 04:05:34 PM

Aug14

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

A storekeeper once complained to to Rabbi Meir of Premishlan: "Somebody opened a store next door to mine and he is taking business away from me!" The venerable Rabbi replied: "Have you ever seen a horse drink water from a river?  He walks into the water and stamps his hooves.  Why?  Because he sees another horse also drinking from the river (i.e.- his reflection in the water), and he is afraid the other horse will drink up all the water and leave none for him.  He therefore kicks at his own mirror image.  That is the attitude and reaction of the horse.  But you know better!  You should realize that there is enough water in the river for all the horses, and that no one can touch what G-d has prepared for you.  Therefore you have nothing to fear, and and you have nothing to be jealous of."

We read in this week's parashah, Parashat Va'etchanan, the "second" version of the Aseret HaDibrot (the Ten Commandments).  We find the following: "And you shall not covet your neighbor's wife, and you shall not desire your neighbor's house...." (Devarim 5:18)  We can easily understand why HaShem commanded us not to steal or to murder.  It is, after all, physically possible for a person to refrain from committing such crimes.  But jealousy is an emotion; it is an integral part of human nature.  When you see something you like, you naturally develop  desire for it.  How can the Torah forbid this emotion?

The Ibn Ezra tells us it is expected that while an ignorant, poverty-stricken man might covet his neighbor's daughter because of her beauty or her family's wealth, it would never dawn on him to lust after the wife of the king (i.e.- the queen).  She is so inaccessible to him that such a thought would never enter his mind.  So must it be with his neighbor's belongings or his neighbor's wife.  He must view these as being as unattainable as the king's gold or the queen herself.  Remembering Rabbi Meir's admonition, we must believe that HaShem  looks after us and provides for our needs.  After all, we find in Pirkei Avot (4:1): "Ben Zoma says: Which person is rich?  He who is happy with his lot...."  May we all find such happiness.

"The Loving Rebuke"

08/09/2019 11:08:15 AM

Aug9

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

In Masekhet (Tractate) Megillah 18b of the Talmud Bavli (Babylonian Talmud) we find instructions on writing a Sefer Torah (Torah Scroll).  The sofer (scribe) must copy out of text located in front of him.  It is forbidden to write even one letter of the Sefer Torah by heart.  The Talmud then relates the story of Rav Chisda once finding Rav Chananel writing a Sefer Torah without a written text in front of him.  Rav Chisda knew that he must rebuke Rav Chananel, but because he respected and admired Rav Chananel he did not know how to do this.  Finally, Rav Chisda said this to Rav Chananel: "You are qualified to write the entire Sefer Torah by heart.  However, the Sages ruled that it is forbidden to write even one letter from memory."  What we have here is evidence of a loving rebuke.  We find the same situation in this week's parashah (Torah portion), Parashat Devarim.

When Moshe Rabbeinu (Moshe, our Teacher) rebuked B'Nei Yisrael (the People Israel) at the end of his life, he recounted how he appointed judges over the nation due to B'nei Yisrael's excessive quarreling.  "So I took the Heads of your Tribes, distinguished men, who were wise and well-known, and I appointed them as heads (judges) over you." (Devarim 1:15)  Moshe went into detail, listing the qualities needed for those judges.  Why was it necessary for Moshe to list these qualities at this point in the journey?  As the Torah text points out, Moshe began by explaining how qualified these "distinguished men" were and why they, in particular, were needed to assume the duties that needed to be fulfilled.  It should be noted that Moshe prefaced his rebuke with praise.  He told B'Nei Yisrael how special they were in that they needed these specially selected people to ensure that they would follow the dictates of the Torah.  So, what is the lesson here?

Criticism (i.e.- rebuke) is dangerous.  Why?  Because it can wound one's pride.  It can demoralize the recipient for a long time, perhaps even forever.  However, being critiqued (i.e.- criticism) can also lead to tremendous growth.  It can broaden one's vision (chazon) and help one to proceed on a new and better path.  As the Torah teaches us, it is only when we see the positive traits in the one who needs correction that we are then able to give that person a loving rebuke.  And when that happens, everyone wins!   

"The Danger of Anger"

07/31/2019 05:44:55 PM

Jul31

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

Imagine you are standing out in the pouring rain trying to open your front door, and you find that the key will not turn.  You try and you try and you try, but it just will not turn.  So what do you do?  You become frustrated and angry and try to force the key to turn.  And the result is that the key breaks off in the lock.  Now it is most certain that you cannot get into your home.  Not only that, you have destroyed both the key and the door lock.  If only you had stepped back, taken a moment to calm yourself down, and given some thought to the problem at hand, you would have realized that you had the key in the wrong way.  What prevented you from solving the problem?  Your momentary anger.  We see this illustrated in this week's double parashah, Parashat Mattot/Mas'ei

We read the following: "Moshe was angry with the commanders of the army...." (BeMidbar 31;14)  What was he angry about?  The commanders had made the decision to spare the lives of of all the Midyanite women and children in spite of the orders they received to the contrary.  In his anger, Moshe gave incorrect instructions as to how to kasher (purify) the implements of war they had used during the battle with the Midyanites.  It was Elazar, the Kohen Gadol who, having succeeded his father Aharon after his deathgave the proper instructions as to what to do with the implements of war.  It was Elazar and not Moshe who taught these laws to the B'nei Yisrael.  Because Moshe had become angry, his instincts and not his wisdom prevailed preventing him from teaching the people the laws of purification regarding dead bodies.  His anger prevented him from remembering what these laws were in spite of the fact that HaShem had taught them to him.  Thus we see the inherent danger in becoming angry.

Becoming angry and expressing that anger can destroy in an instant the years of investment in a relationship with another human being.  Being angry destroys one's health, eats away at being happy, and causes a person to lose the ability to think clearly.  Holding yourself back from reacting instinctively and negatively in a fit of anger, will enable you to act rationally.  Remember: anger is only one letter short danger.

"Might Does Not Always Make Right!"

07/11/2019 05:08:21 PM

Jul11

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

In this week's parashah, Parashat Chukat, we read the following: "Take the staff, and gather together the assembly, you and Aharon your brother, and speak to the rock before their eyes, so that it shall give forth its waters."  Once again the B'nei Yisrael are complaining vociferously, this time that they have no water.  Miryam, sister of Moshe and Aharon, has died and the well of "Mayim Chayim" ("Living Water") has ceased to produce the life sustaining liquid that has kept them alive all the years of their wandering in the desert.  So HaShem commands Moshe to speak to the rock to bring forth water for the B'nei Yisrael.  It is interesting to note that this is the very same rock that Moshe had previously been commanded to strike to bring about the same result.  Why the difference in methods to produce the same result?

There are two distinct methods by which a person can obtain a desired result in this world.  The first is by strength.  People often use their physical strength, voice, or facial expressions to compel others to do their bidding.  In fact, more often than not, the more forceful the exertion of such strength, the quicker others listen and fulfill the desired "request."  The second way to obtain a desired result is through the use of wisdom.  It is through the exercising of wisdom that the one making the request is compelled to think of creative ways to favorably influence others to do their bidding.  It is this use of wisdom, not strength, that separates man from animals.  Animals operate by instinct and patterned behavior to get what they want.  Human beings have the ability given to them by HaShem to exercise wisdom and judgment to reach their desired goals.

The first time that the B'nei Yisrael received water from the rock, Moshe had been told to strike it, and strike it he did.  This occurred at the beginning of the desert wanderings.  But after 40 years of wandering in the desert and as preparation for their entering into the Promised Land, the B'nei Yisrael needed to be shown that the more intelligent way of achieving their desires is to use wisdom - not strength.  Shlomo HaMelekh (King Solomon) said: "...wisdom is better than might." (Kohelet 9:16)

"R-E-S-P-E-C-T!"

07/03/2019 01:55:04 PM

Jul3

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

Did you watch the two nights of the "first" debates involving ten of the Democratic candidates contending with each other for the nomination to run for President?  I would dare say that both nights were filled with political, theological, legal, and interpersonal disagreements between the candidates.  Some of the issues being debated involved some heated exchanges, even arguments.  The Rabbis of the Talmud called such an exchange between people a "makhlokhet," a separation.  It saddened me to see that often during these exchanges what seemed to missing was even a little respect.  What is interesting to me is that we see the same thing in this week's Torah portion.

In this week's parashah, Parashat Korach, we find such a makhlokhet occurring between Moshe and Korach. Korach, along with Datan and Aviram and On and the B'nei Yisrael, challenges Moshe and Aharon.  We read the following: "And they assembled against Moshe and against Aharon and said: 'Rav Lachem --- You have gone too far!  For the entire congregation - they are all holy and in their midst is HaShem; and why are you aggrandizing yourselves over the assembly of HaShem?"  What is happening here?  Korach and his followers are accusing Moshe and Aharon of being "holier than thou," and they attempt to raise up a challenge to Moshe's leadership.  Moshe responds by saying the same words: "Rav Lachem --- You have gone too far!"  He tells the rebels that they are not challenging him; they are challenging HaShem!  The Torah tells us that the result of this makhlokhet is that Korach and his followers are swallowed up by the earth.  Does this mean that the Torah is telling us that we must never disagree with each other let alone with those who lead us?  The answer to this question is really quite simple.  Korach's mistake was not that he dared to disagree with MosheKorach's mistake centered around the way in which he disagreed with Moshe.

During the time between Pesach and Rosh HaShanah, we read "Pirke Avot" (the Ethics of the Fathers) after mincha services on Shabbat.  We find the following: "A controversy for Heaven's sake will have lasting value.  But a controversy not for Heaven's sake will not endure.  What is an example of a controversy for Heaven's sake?  The debates of Hillel and Shammai.  What is an example of a controversy not for Heaven's sake?  The rebellion of Korach and his associates."  Korach in his attempt to unseat Moshe's leadership did not debate issues or abilities.  Instead, he tried to defame Moshe's character by falsely accusing him of illicit activity.  And it is his transgressions of slander, anger, jealousy, and envy that eventually lead to Korach's death and to the deaths of those who followed him.

The lesson found in this week's parashah is a challenge for anyone who finds themselves in a debate or a disagreement.  Yes, we may lose our temper.  Yes, we may end up saying things we should not have said.  Yes, we may even blow things all out of proportion.  But when and if we do this, we must remember Korach.  While on occasion we may identify with Korach, we must always, always, treat each other with respect, celebrating both our commonalities and our differences.  After all, is this not what the strength of United States of America is? 

"I Spy!"

06/26/2019 04:19:16 PM

Jun26

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

Once there was a wise man sitting at the entrance to his village.  A traveler approached and asked him, " I am looking to move from my home and relocate here in your village.  What kind of people live here?"  The wise man replied by asking, "What kind of people live where you currently live?"  The traveler replied, "They are mean, rude, and cruel."  The wise man responded, "The same kind of people live in this village."  After some time another traveler approached the wise man and asked the very same question about the residents of the wise man's village.  And once again, the wise man inquired as to what kind of people lived in this traveler's village.  His reply was, "The people of the village in which I live are courteous, polite, and kind." The wise man replied,"You will find the same kind of people here as well." The point of the story is that one can find both good and evil in every village.  A person will only notice that upon which they are focusing.

In this week's parashah, Parashat Shelach, we find that ten of the leaders of the twelve tribes return from their "scouting mission" speaking very negatively about the Land of Kena'an.  The Talmud Bavli (Babylonian Talmud) tells us that when the twelve spies were sent out on their mission (a mission that would last forty days), they intended to locate only the evil that could be found in the Land.  Only Calev and Yehoshuah reported that regardless of anything bad that had been found, Hashem would insure that the B'nei Yisrael were successful in the conquest of the Land.  The other ten spies chose to concentrate their reports only on the negative aspects they discovered completely ignoring the Land's best features.  The Torah tells us: "Like the number of days you spied out the Land --- forty days --- a day for a year, a day for a year, shall you carry your sins --- forty years --- and you shall know you strayed from me." (Bemidbar 14:34)  Thus it was that the B'nei Yisrael's entry into the Land promised to them by HaShem was delayed for forty years.

What is the lesson to be learned here?  Simply this: there is good and bad everywhere, in every place and in every person.  We must do all we can do to overcome our tendency to concentrate only on the bad by finding and emphasizing the positive in every place we find ourselves and with everyone with whom we come into contact.  It is only in this way that we will remember that each of us has been created B'Tzelem Elohim (in the Image of G-d) and has been placed in this world created by Hashem to glorify H-m. 

"Over and Over and Over Again...!"

06/12/2019 04:11:07 PM

Jun12

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

Beginning on Rosh Chodesh Nissan, on the eighth day of the inauguration of the Mishkan, the Wilderness Tabernacle, the leader of each of the twelve Tribes of Yisrael brought up a specific set of offerings, one tribe per day for twelve days.  All twelve offerings were identical in number, weight, and measurements.  These offerings are detailed in this week's parashah, Parashat Nasso.  The question that must be asked is this: why the detailed repetition?  What is the point?  Perhaps we can look to the National Basketball Association (the NBA) for the answers to these questions.

Swish!  Stephen Curry nailed another crowd-pleasing, off-balanced 3-point shot with what appeared to the crowd to be little effort expended by the superstar.  Having broken the NBA record by making no fewer than 402 3-point shots in a single season, Curry has been called the greatest shooter in NBA history, perhaps even greater than the legendary Michael Jordan.  When asked how he manages to get the basketball through the hoop with such uncanny accuracy while under such intense pressure to score, he said this: "There is not one shot I take during the game that I have not already shot during that day 60 to 70 times during practice.  I perfect the same shots over and over and over again training the muscles in my fingers and hands to coordinate in unison.  When I throw the ball up with 2 seconds left on the shot clock, I am not merely throwing the ball into the air.  I am actually taking the same shot that I have taken many times before.  In fact, as soon as the ball rolls off my fingers, I can close my eyes and know that the ball will go in the basket."  So, what Stephen Curry is saying is that to be a good basketball player, one needs to practice the same shots over and over again.  To be a good guitarist, one must practice the same scales on the guitar over and over again.  And to be a good Jew, one needs to perform the same mitzvot over and over again.

The Rambam (Maimonides) writes that good character traits do not come to a person by the performance of only one major good deed.  Good character traits come to a person either by doing the same good deed or by doing many smaller good deeds over and over again.  It is precisely that repetition of doing a good deed that elevates us, that refines our character, that creates for us a stronger and more powerful connection to HaShem.  Just remember: practice makes perfect!

"Do You Believe in Miracles!?!"

06/05/2019 01:54:51 PM

Jun5

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

"You guys don't have enough talent to win on talent alone!"  These were the words of Coach Herb Brooks who had been hired to train the 1980 U.S. Men's Olympic Hockey Team.  Although the members of the team were college hockey all-stars, their team sportsmanship was nothing short of horrendous resulting in an equally horrendous performance on the ice.  After one particular exhibition game, Coach Brooks noticed the players were fighting with each other thus becoming distracted from their intended goal (no pun intended), that of winning the gold medal.  He became enraged, called them back out on the ice, and made them perform an intense drill over and over again.  He admonished them: "Each of you is wearing a jersey with your name on the back representing yourselves.  That name signifies the skills each of you possesses as well as the determination each of you has to carry out those skills.  However, the name on the front of the jersey is far more important.  That name is the name of the team all of you play for.  That name represents the skill sets of all of you combined.  When you place the name on the front of the jersey before the name on the back of the jersey, then the name on the back of the jersey will truly shine."  So what happened after Coach Brooks' admonishment?  Team USA went on to defeat the Soviet Union national hockey team, a team that had one the gold medal in six of the seven previous Olympic Games.  And, of course, the rest, as they say, is history.

In this week's parashah, Parashat BeMidbar, we find the following: "And the B'nei Yisrael encamped - each man by his camp and each man by his flag - by their legions...And Hashem spoke with Moshe and with Aharon saying; 'Each man by his flag with signs according to the house of their fathers shall the B'nei Yisrael encamp - distant and surrounding the Tent of Meeting shall they encamp...." (BeMidbar 1:52 & 2:1-2)  Why the flags?  The flags were assigned to each tribe according to their purpose and mission.  Each flag clarified what each tribe stood for and enabled each tribe to achieve its potential.  Did the flags cause any tribe to feel superior to any other tribe?  No. Why?  Because the central focus was on the Mishkan (the Wilderness Tabernacle) that was placed in the center of the camp with all the tribes surrounding it on all sides, both when the B'nei Yisrael were stationary and when they were traveling.  This central location of the Mishkan united the twelve tribes to complete their mission.

As members of the People Israel, each of us has our own purpose and mission to fulfill.  We remain stronger and more unified in completing our task as Jews when we remember to keep our identity as a single entity with a single mission "on the front of the jersey."  Am Yisrael Chai!

"Stop and Smell the Roses"

05/29/2019 02:23:56 PM

May29

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

Relaxation is a thing of the past.  Our everyday world is crammed full of so many things to do or so many places to get to that we are always on the move.  We just never stop.  Even our vacations, the time during which we should be relaxing and enjoying, are filled to the brim with things to do.  No one takes time to "stop and smell the roses" anymore.  In fact, everyone is moving at such a frantic pace that they do not even see the roses let alone smell them.  The most important  human quality that has been sacrificed for the sake of expediency is that of having patience.  And the place you see this most often is while being on the road in your car.

If you want to know the smallest unit of time people spend at doing something, just watch cars at a stoplight.  Question: how long does it take for the car behind you to start beeping its horn when you do not take off as soon as the light turns green?  Perhaps a nanosecond?   And what happens if you get caught by a red light, that is if you do not run it anyway as so many Philadelphia drivers do?  And school busses?  How many times have you watched drivers simply drive around a school bus that is discharging its passengers even when the red lights are flashing and the stop sign is displayed?  Even E-Z Pass has succumbed to our impatience.  Now we even have E-Z Pass Express lanes in which drivers violate the suggested speed limit in their haste to get to where they "need" to be.  Is there a solution to all this?  Yes, there is, and we can find it in our tradition.

In this week's parashah, Parashat Bechukotai, we read the following: "If you will follow My laws and faithfully observe my commandments,...I will grant peace in the land, and you shall lie down untroubled by anyone...But if you do not obey Me and do not observe all these commandments, if you reject My laws and spurn My rules, so that you do not observe all My commandments and you break My covenant, I will in turn do this to you: vehifkad'ti aleichem behalah/I will decree upon you panic...."  Rabbi Zalman Sorotzkin translates "behalah" as "confusion or nervous tension."  He says that this curse is upon all of us now, at this time.  We live hectic, pressure-laden lives rushing from one activity to the next never finding shalom, never finding peace.  How can we change this?  By returning to our roots, by returning to our Torah, by returning to our people, and by returning to HaShem.  And that returning can be started by simply observing the one day each week that can relieve us of our "behalah," and that day is called Shabbat.

Join your friends, join your CSS family just this one day each week, and you will be both pleased and surprised as to how different your life will be.  Try it; you might like it!

"A Field of Dreams?"

05/24/2019 09:55:55 AM

May24

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

There is the story from Rabbi Paysach Diskind about the five-year-old boy and his father who were driving in the West Hollywood Mountains for the very first time.  As they were driving up a very steep hill, so steep that you could not see the road on the other side, the boy screamed out, "PLEASE STOP, DADDY!"  "Why?" asked his father.  "Because we are going to drive off the road!" came the Billy's frantic reply.  Billy's father tried to reassure his son, "Son, you may not be able to see it, but this road continues on and on.  There is absolutely nothing to worry about."  In spite of his father's reassurances, Billy continued, "But Daddy, this is our first time here.  How do you know the road continues?"  Billy's father continued, "Billy, I've traveled on enough roads to know that roads just don't end abruptly.  There is always another side.  Just hold on tight, and you will see what I mean."  With that, Billy took a deep breath, held on tight, and enjoyed the downward slope on the other side." 

In the world in which we live, all too often we think that we are in charge.  In fact, we often take this role far more seriously than we should.  We work harder and harder afraid that we will lose everything we have if we stop at any time.  We worry that that we if rest from our efforts we will hit the proverbial "dead end" and fall "off the cliff."  What we completely forget is that it is HaShem Who is in charge; it is HaShem Who provides for us.  We know this by way of this week's parashah, this week's Torah portion.

We read the following in Parashat Behar: "But the seventh year shall be a complete release for the land, a Shabbat for HaShem; your field you shall not sow, and your vineyard you shall not prune." (VaYikra 35:4)  Once in every seven years we are commanded by HaShem to stop working our fields for one year.  We are told to trust in HaShem in order that we will see there will be enough to eat in spite of our total lack of effort to provide for ourselves.  This mitzvah of sh'mittah, this mitzvah of allowing the land to lay fallow for one complete year at the end of every six years, allows us to step back, to take notice, and to realize that HaShem does indeed take care of us.  So when it seems that all hope is lost, when life appears to only be going uphill, when the situation in which you find yourself seems as if it is a "dead end," remember the "field of dreams," remember that field pf plenty that is provided for us by HaShem in its appointed time.  And when you remember this, sit back, take a deep breath, and enjoy the ride downhill on the other side.  Because He wills it, it will be.  

"Lead from the Front!"

05/14/2019 04:01:54 PM

May14

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

The Dubno Maggid once asked his Rebbe, the Vilna Gaon , to identify the most effective way to influence children.  His answer was unique: he asked the Maggid to bring a large cup and surround it with small cups.  He then told the Maggid to pour liquid into the large cup and to continue pouring until the liquid overflowed into the smaller cups.  "that," said the Gaon, "is how an educator should teach.  In order to have children absorb and retain a lesson, the teacher must first absorb an overdose of whatever he seeks to impart to his students.  Thus, they, in turn, will be suffused with the overflow."

In this week's parashah, Parashat Emor, we read the following: "Hashem said to Moshe: 'Say to the Kohanim, the Sons of Aharon, and tell them: "Each of you shall not contaminate himself to a [dead] person among his people."'"  There is a "strange" repetitiveness in this verse: "Say" and "tell."  Apparently Moshe was told to say something to the Kohanim not once but twice.  Rashi quotes the Talmud Bavli (Babylonian Talmud) which teaches that this repetitiveness speaks to a double teaching.  Not only were the Kohanim of Moshe's time to be taught, but they were to teach the subsequent generation of Kohanim that followed them. These Kohanim were instructed twice by Moshe in order that they received a double measure of kedushat Kohanim (the holiness of the Kohanim).  This double portion would then overflow to the next generation of Kohanim.

Rabbi Noach Weinberg, the founder of Aish HaTorah, followed this principle in the way he hired his teachers.  He only hired those people who personally felt that the subject they taught was the most important subject of all.  For example, the Chumash (Torah) teacher believed that Chumash study was the key to entering the Olam Haba (the World-to-Come).  The Gemara (Talmud) teacher felt the same way, and so on and so on and so on.  It was found that in this way of teaching, the students best absorbed what they learned from each teacher.

The fact remains that the best way to educate children is to lead by example.  When children see the joy and excitement in a parent or a teacher, they will more than likely follow the path laid before them.  The best way for a child/student to follow the leader is for the parent or teacher to lead from the front - not push from behind!

Sun, September 15 2019 15 Elul 5779