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"A Taste of Honey!"

05/27/2020 02:28:00 PM


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

There is the parable about the big brown honey bear who was hungry.  He searched around looking everywhere for food.  He found thistles and dandelions and tubers, but he did not find what he really wanted: honey.  Since honey was his absolutely favorite food, he continued to search the woods and the meadows.  He came upon some stately white oak trees under which was a copius amount of acorns.  "I am not a squirrel," he thought to himself. "I do not want aqcorns!  I want something sweet.  I want honey.  Give me honey!"  A few minutes later, he suddenly smelled the fragrance of that which he was seeking: wildflower honey!  He quickly hurried toward the source of the fragrance.  All of a sudden, a bee buzzed by his ear.  He kept going.  A second bee landed upon his nose while a third one landed on his ear.  He continued on his trek.  Before too long, the bear was surrounded by a swarm of angry bees.  The truth be told, the more bees there were, the happier the bear was.  Why?  Because he knew that bees meant there was a beehive and a beehive meant that there was a honeycomb.  With a singleness of purpose, the bear put up with the increase of the stinging that he was enduring constantly moving toward the intoxicating honey fragrance that was getting stronger and stronger with each step he took.  Never losing the site of his objective, the bear came upon a patch of wild lupines and there it was: the honeycomb of his desire!  The lesson?   A hungry bear with a mouth full of honey never pays the slightest attention to any obstacle, not even to hundreds of bee stings.

The first night of Shavuot is known as "Tikkun Leyl Shavuot," literally "Repairing the Night of Shavuot," which commemorates the fact that the B'nei Yisrael who were standing at the foot of Har (Mount) Sinai had been told to spend the night in preparation to receive the Torah the very next morning.  What did they do instead?  The Torah tells us that they fell asleep!  It is during this first night of Shavuot that participants in "Tikkun Leyl Shavuot" spend the entire night studying Torah which can include Torah, MishnahTalmud and other traditional texts.  The session ends with the participants davvening Shacharit together at sunrise.  The fact that they have stayed awake all night studying Torah "repairs" the mistake our ancestors made at the foot of Har Sinai.  Perhaps they fell asleep because they were not eager to receive the Torah from HaShem?  Perhaps.  But each year since that seminal moment in the history of Am Yisrael (the People Israel), we are given the opportunity to once again strengthen our bond with both HaShem and with H-s Torah.

We must not be like our ancient ancestors and succumb to falling asleep on this night.  After all, the fact remains that if you decided to spend the night "binge watching" your favorite television series, you would most probably not fall asleep.  So why would you do so when you open a Chumash or a Tanakh or a volume of Talmud on the first night of Shavuot?  We should take a lesson from the bear in the parable.  May we overcome the "bees" (sleepiness and fatigue) as we bring ourselves close to the "honey" (the Torah) on this night.  May we once again taste the sweetness of the Torah which is honey to our souls.

"Then...Teach Aleph!"

05/21/2020 04:47:52 PM


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

In this week's parashah, Parashat BeMidbar, we read the following: "...Aharon and his sons shall enter, and they shall appoint them ( the Levi'im [Levites]), each and every one of them, to his service and to his burden." (BeMidbar 4:19)  This verse speaks about how the Kohanim (Priests) were to be assigned specific tasks in their service in the Mishkan (the Wilderness Tabernacle) and the two Temples in Yerushalayim (Jerusalem).  Aharon and his sons were not to be the only Kohanim who were to carry out the required tasks for serving HaShem.  They were to assign (i.e.- teach) the other Kohanim what to do, how to do it, and why it must be done.  This method of "passing the gauntlet" of Judaism can be witnessed within various sects of Chasidism with the rebbe (the Chasidic master) using the senior talmidim (students/disciples) of his Chasidic court to instruct the novices.  Each newcomer is taught to "pay attention to this," "view this as being important," "notice that this is significant," and so on.  But direct spiritual counseling remained under the province of the rebbe who evaluated the individual needs and talents of each novice.

According to Chasidic understanding, each one of us has our own specific contribution to offer this world in which we live.  It is taught that no one else can do what HaShem has assigned each of us to do.  The reason that the rebbe was the personal mentor to the novice was because he felt that the novice needed assistance in order to identify his own personal spiritual path in order to proceed to fuflill the purpose Hashem has assigned to him.  Without this structured guidance, the novice could easily be either overwhelmed or totally intimidated by attempting to ascertain his path in this world and thus end his journey before it truly began.

Yes, I agree that for the majority of the People Israel, only a small number aspire to be a rebbe, a rabbi, or even a fully observant Jew.  However, it is a fact that far too many of us make the decision to stop walking on the path that HaShem has assigned to each one of us even when that path will not result in our becoming a rebbe, a rabbi, or a fully observant Jew.  But the fact remains that each of us is a Jew who needs that mentor, that teacher to help find our own individual path.  All of us need to recognize that as we proceed in this world. we remain as students with very important roles to play.  So, if all you have learned about how to be a Jew is expressed in the fact that you know how to pronounce the letter "aleph" and nothing else, then make the decision to teach the letter "aleph" to someone else with all the joy and devotion for Judaism, for the People Israel, and for HaShem that you have.  By doing so, you then become both a talmid and a rebbe.

"Little Green Men?"

05/14/2020 02:32:24 PM


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

In this week's double parshiot of Behar-Bechukkotai, we read the following: "Then I shall command My blessing for you in the sixth year, and it will generate its produce for three years." (VaYikra 25:21)  The Torah portion speaks of the Sabbatical year.  If B'nei Yisrael were to follow the Laws of Shemitta by letting the land lay fallow during the seventh year, then they would never be for want.  Keep this verse in mind as you read the following vignette which I found in Rabbi Moshe Kormornick's book Short Vort.

After being dragged to an Aish HaTorah "Discovery Seminar" by his friend, Jay found himself sitting and listening to the Rabbi give a very convincing and rational lecture on "The Proofs of G-d's Existence."  All during the presentation, Jay argued with the Rabbi only to end up agreeing with the Rabbi's convincing arguments.  As he concluded his lecture, the Rabbi was summing his proof that HaShem gave the Torah at Mount Sinai and that it could not have been written by a man by citing the verse quoted earlier.  The Rabbi asked the following question of the class: "If G-d was not the One who wrote the Torah, and instead it was written by a mere mortal, this person was obviously driven by his desire that people should live by his religion.  If so, why would he have written this verse?  Why would he have ever allowed himself to be tested like this, to be held up to such scrutiny?  To make such a promise as stated in this verse is nothing short of promising a miracle, something a mere mortal could never deliver thus risking his failure to do so in the first place.  If it was not HaShem who wrote this line, how long do you think such a religion would last before being exposed as a fraud?"  Jay put his hand up and shouted: "Six years!"  The Rabbi shot back: "Absolutely correct! But surely if the Torah had been written by a man, even by a genius such as Albert Einstein, we would have proven this verse wrong many, many centuries ago?"

The room was totally silent!  The people were stunned!  Nevertheless, Jay stood up and triumphantly declared: "Rabbi, thank you for your presentations today.  You have answered all my questions, and I cannot refute what you have said.  As time went on, I even became more convinced that you are right.  I even thought about enrolling in a Yeshiva to learn more. However, I have one final argument that I just know you cannot disprove.  You see after hearing all your evidence, I do agree with you that a man could not have written the Torah let alone created the world and everything in it while sustaining it since the time of Creation.  But maybe it was aliens who wrote the Torah?"  Jay stopped speaking, and everyone in the room could see he was completely serious.

Although he was taken aback by Jay's question, the Rabbi had an immediate answer: "You know what?  You are absolutely right!  I cannot categorically disprove your theory.  But let me say this to you: If a group of aliens came and created the world, if they created everything in it from my eye with its millions of sensory nerve cells to the highest mountains, if they can maintain the the distance of the earth to the sun at exactly the same amount every minute so that the earth should not freeze or burn up, and if  they wrote the Torah and can guarantee a blessing to anyone who keeps the laws of the Sabbatical Year, and then they tell me to keep Shabbos, then...I am going to keep Shabbos!"  This time Jay was stunned.  He sat down, took a moment to reflect on what the Rabbi had just said, and then declared: "Okay, Rabbi!  Where do I sign up for Yeshiva?"

"What You Need Is Love!"

04/29/2020 03:48:21 PM


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

In this week’s combined parshiyot of Acharei Mot – Kedoshim, we read the following words: “…and you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am HaShem!” (VaYikra 19:17) Rabbi Akiva declared this to be the main principle of the Torah. I am reminded of the Beatle song “All You Need Is Love” and how this seemed to be the “main principle” of the “Young Generation” of that time with the sincere hope that “love indeed conquers all.” But the question that can be asked is to what type of love is this mitzvah (commandment) of the Torah referring. If your love of other people is based solely on your feelings, a major problem can develop. And is that major problem? Simply this: one day you might feel very positive about someone, and the next day you might feel the exact opposite. It is because HaShem has commanded us to love others that we must develop the ability to both have and show positive attitudes towards others. How do we do this? By focusing on the virtues that others have. I offer the following for your consideration:


Rabbi Nosson Scherman tells the story about how Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, z’l, used to recite Tehillim (Psalms) in his yeshiva on Shabbat afternoons. On one particular Shabbat, a mildly retarded boy was watching Rav Moshe as he recited Tehillim. The boy got up and went over and turned Rav Moshe’s volume of Tehillim 90 degrees to the right. Rav Moshe kept reciting Tehillim. The boy then turned the volume through its original position and stopped at 90 degrees to the left. Again, Rav Moshe kept reciting Tehillim. The boy then took the volume and turned it completely upside down toward Rav Moshe, and he still kept reciting Tehillim. The Rosh HaYeshiva seemed completely unphased as to what the boy was doing. But not so with one man who, along with all the other men in the room, had been watching what was going on. He decided he had seen too much of the boy’s antics and he reacted quite crossly and said this to the boy: “Stop it already! Let the Rosh HaYeshiva alone!” Rav Moshe immediately stopped reciting Tehillim, looked up, and said this to the man who had reprimanded the boy: “He is only playing with me. I enjoy it when he plays with me. I love him like my own child.” And with that, Rav Moshe embraced and kissed the boy.


You will find the words of this mitzvah at the beginning of the Shacharit service of any traditional siddur as reminder of the importance of this mitzvah. But while it is easy to recite these words as you begin your daily prayers, it is more difficult to feel this way in your heart. So how can you put this mitzvah into action? How can you make it a very part of your being? By always being on the lookout for gemillut chasadim (acts of lovingkindness) that you can do for other people, especially those whom you may not like or appreciate. By searching for them, you will find things to do and words to say that will touch their hearts and souls. Yes, this is a challenge. It is an everyday challenge. But it is a challenge each one of us must take up and run with. Why? Because it is the cornerstone of the Torah!

"Stand Up and Be Counted!"

04/22/2020 03:45:08 PM


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

Some might find it cruelly ironic that during this time in which the world is suffering the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, we read the double portion of Parshiot Tazria-Metzorah having to do with how one suffered from and was “cured” of the “plague” of lashon hara (evil tongue/gossip). This also happens to be the period in the Hebrew Calendar of Sefirat HaOmer (the Counting of the Omer). It is during this period (the first 33 days of Sefirot HaOmer) that we are in communal mourning for the 24,000 students of Rabbi Akiva who died at this time due to the fact that they were not respectful to each other. It is also the period of time during which we observe and commemorate two days that have become part of the modern-day calendar of Am Yisrael (the People Israel): Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Memorial Day) and Yom HaZikaron (Memorial Day for Fallen Israeli Soldiers & Victims of Terror). In the history of the United States of America , there are two days which stand out during this time as well: April 19th & April 20th. April 19th is the anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing, and April 20th is the anniversary of the Columbine School Shooting tragedy, both acts being committed by people who can be described as being evil. April 20th also happens to be the birth date of the perpetrator of “the Final Solution,” the more-than-evil Adolf Hitler, may his memory be blotted out forever. When considering all of this, it is very difficult for many people to find hope in their lives. So, please allow me to convey some perspective that might enable hope to be found.

On April 16, 2007, a man named Seung-Hui Cho went on a killing rampage on the campus of Virginia Tech University. Before he was finished, he had killed 32 people. He would have killed more people had Liviu Librescu not been on the scene. At the age of 76 years, Liviu managed to save the students in his Virginia Tech classroom by throwing himself in front of the classroom door and taking the bullets in his own body after telling his students to run and take cover. What is even more remarkable about Liviu Librescu is the fact that he was a survivor of both the Holocaust and the Communist regime of Romania. He had survived the Shoah working in a forced labor camp after which he was deported to a ghetto in Focsani, Romania. He remained in Romania after World War II eventually working in a position at a government aerospace company. However, when he refused to swear allegiance to the Romanian Communist regime followed shortly thereafter with a request to be permitted to move to Israel, he was fired. Here was a man who literally risked his life by declaring to the Romanian government that he was a Jew who wanted to make aliyah. He eventually came to this country and became a teacher. In fact, teaching was his life, he excelled at it, and his students loved him. The way he lived his life and the way he died living his life reminds one of the way Rabbi Akiva lived his life and died.

Rabbi Akiva was perhaps the greatest Rabbi of the Mishnah. Our Tradition teaches us that Rabbi Akiva was ordered by the Romans to stop teaching Torah. When he refused to do so, they burned his body while he was yet alive. As he died, Rabbi Akiva cried out his last words, “Shema Yisrael, Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai Echad!” – “Hear O Israel, Hashem is our G-d, HaShem alone!” The Mishnah tells us for that one act alone, Rabbi Akiva gained immediate entry into the Olam HaBa (the World-to-Come) also known as “Paradise” or “Heaven.” Liviu Librescu died in the same manner; he died while engaged in doing what he loved the most: teaching. Even more to the point, he died giving his life in order to save the lives of his students. And for that reason alone, I am certain that, like Rabbi Akiva, he also gained immediate entry into the Olam HaBa.

The Talmud Bavli (Babylonian Talmud) in Masekhet Avodah Zarah 10b teaches, “A person can acquire the world in one moment.” What this means is that in one moment of heroism, a person can show the s/he is worthy of ascending to highest level of Heaven. Often, under intense pressure, good people can lose all perspective. One never knows how s/he will act under such pressure until that moment finally arrives and must be dealt with. Especially at this time, in spite of the overwhelming pressure from those who want to return to “things as they were,” an action that can literally put millions of lives at risk, let each one of us rise to the occasion and do what is right for not only ourselves but for all humanity. Let all of us be like Rabbi Akiva and Liviu Labrescu.




"Are you Kosher?"

04/17/2020 07:34:24 AM


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

In this week’s parashah, Parashat Shemini, we read the following: “And these you shall deem repulsive of the fowl, they shall not be eaten, they are repulsive:…the chassidah….” (VaYikra 11: 13 & 19). The Hebrew word “chassidah” is translated into English as “stork.” “So, what’s wrong with eating a stork,” you ask.” It is not a bird of prey, is it?” I would answer your question by saying that the chassidah is the exact opposite of a bird of prey such as an eagle, a hawk, or a vulture. According the Ramban, birds of prey are not kosher because they display a cruel nature: among the many things they eat, they eat other birds. In other words, they eat their own kind. The chassidah displays kindness towards others of its own species by sharing its food with them. This should come as no surprise for the origin of the name of this bird is the Hebrew word “chessed” (kindness), the very same quality it shows to others of its own species. “But, Rabbi,” you ask, “if this bird has chessed, shouldn’t we be allowed to eat it? Maybe by eating it we will become kind as well?”

There is no doubt that we human beings find it easy to love our fellow human beings, more often than not, only if they are similar to us. On the one hand, if s/he goes to same shul I go to, if s/he dresses like I do, if s/he has the same values I have, then I will show him/her kindness and love whenever the need arises. On the other hand, if s/he is not like me, then I have no reason whatsoever to deal with him/her, and I have no interest in showing kindness and love. But that is not what chessed is all about! Chessed demands that we show kindness and love equally to all people! And that is why the chassidah is not kosher: it acts kindly only towards its own kind. It does not act kindly towards any other bird. For us, the People Israel, this is not an admirable trait to copy.

Many great Rabbis were known for their love for and caring about every single Jew, and it did not matter at all whether that Jew wore a black hat, a white kippah, or no head covering whatsoever. The fact of the matter is that being loving and kind to only your own kind is not kosher!

"How to Give Thanks During this Pandemic"

04/02/2020 04:58:05 PM


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

We read the following in this week's parashah, Parashat Tzav: "And this is the law of the peace-offering that one shall bring to HaShem; if for thanksgiving should he bring it, then he shall bring with the thanksgiving sacrifice unleavened loaves mixed with oil, and unleavened loaves daubed with oil, and fine scalded flour loaves mixed with oil,  With loaves of leavened bread he shall bring his offering, with the sacrifice of his thanksgiving peace offering." (VaYikra 7:12-13)  According to the Torah, the korban todah (thanksgiving sacrifice), as opposed to other offerings, had to be eaten within a 24-hour period of one day and one night.  This meant that family members and friends had to join with the one making the offering to partake of the sacrifice.  According to the Talmud Bavli in Masekhet Berachot 54b, there were four categories of people who were required to make this offering: (1) people who traveled over the sea, (2) people who crossed the desert, (3) one who recovered from a life-threatening illness, and (4) one who was released from captivity.  The Midrash of VaYikra Rabbah 9:7 tells us that in the future, "All sacrifices will be obsolete, except for the korban todah."

Today, birkhat ha-gomel has replaced the korban todah.  This blessing is recited over an open Torah scroll after an aliyah by those who fit these categories.  This b'rakhah (blessing) is derived from the passage​​​​​​​ I have quoted, and it reads as follows: "Blessed are Y-u, HaShem, our G-d, King of the universe, Who bestows good things upon the unworthy, for He has bestowed kindness upon me."  According to Rabbi Menachem Liebtag, the korban todah was not designed as a personal offering of thanksgiving to HaShem.  Instead, it was meant to inspire others to share in a communal offering of thanks.  Rabbi Liebtag stresses that we learn from this passage about the obligation as a community to resp​​​​​​​ond with prayer when we witness great danger or tragedy.  Both the korban todah and birkhat hagomel are blessings of gratitude meant to be expressions to Hashem of our​​​​​​​ gratitude for what He does for us on a daily basis.  But there is more.

We are at the beginning of a global health crisis the like of which has not been seen by humanity since "​​​​​​​The Black Death"​​​​​​​ which decimated Europe in the Middle Ages.  COVID-19​​​​ seems unstoppable, and our "natural" reaction to it may be​​​​​​​ to run and hide.  For the rest of the world, it might be "every man for himself."  But for us, the People Israel, this cannot be and must​​​​​​​ not be​​​​​​​ true.  We learn this from this week's parashah.  We learn that we must show gratitude to Hashem for what He has given us while we also show empathy and concern for those who suffer from the COVID​​​​​​​-19 pandemic.  Let us share that for which we are thankful with those who need it most.

"Are You 'One for All'?"

03/25/2020 02:59:29 PM


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

With this Shabbat, we begin reading Sefer Va-Yikra (the Book of Leviticus).  It is interesting to note that, traditionally, this was the book that was first taught to little boys as they began cheder.  You may ask: "Rabbi, why would those little boys begin their studies with learning how to sacrifice animals?"  To answer your question, I want to focus my remarks on the second verse of this week's parashah, Parashat Va-Yikra, which reads as follows: "When a man [singular] from among you brings an offering to HaShem - from animals, from the cattle, or from the flock, shall you [plural] bring your offering." (Va-Yikra 1:2)  The question that might be asked is why the change in focus from the singular to the plural.  I believe the answer to this question speaks to the heart of the problem created by those young people who refuse to take the necessary precautions and observe the required restrictions needed to attempt to stem the increase in the numbers of those contracting COVID-19, more commonly known as the "Coronavirus."

Rabbi Moshe Sternbuch learns from this verse that when a person commits a sin, s/he is not only affecting him/herself.  When a person commits a sin, his/her entire world (family friends, the People Israel) is affected.  When one fo B'Nei Yisrael (the Children of Israel) brought a sacrificial offering in order to try to make amends for the sin s/he committed, s/he was not only elevating him/herself above the sin, but his/her world was being healed in the process.  This, says Rabbi Sternbuch, is why the beginning of the verse refers to the individual sinner who wants do t'shuvah (repentance) and the end of the verse indicates his/her action will bring about an abundance of blessings upon all of B'Nei Yisrael.

Rabbi Zev Leff tells the story about a father who was sitting comfortably in his easy chair trying to read a magazine.  His 5-year-old daughter came to him and began tugging on his jacket.  Why?  Obviously because she was bored.  So, what did the father do?  He ripped out one of the pages from the magazine he was reading (the page happened to be a map of the world) and tore it into 25 little pieces.  He then gave the pieces to his daughter and told her to come back to him when she completed reassembling the jigsaw.  He assumed that it would take her at least an hour to match together the contours of each ripped piece of paper.  After all, she had never even seen a map of the world.  Imagine how surprised he was when his daughter returned after a few minutes with the entire map of the world reassembled perfectly!  He was astounded!  "How did you do this so quickly?" he asked.  His daughter answered: "Daddy, it was easy!  I turned the pieces of paper over and saw that it was a picture of a person.  Once I put the person back together, the whole world fell into place."

This week, the news media has reported about the mass gatherings of college-age students who have decided not to observe the proper protocol measures needed to fight the spread of COVID-19 and gathered in the usual "Spring Break" areas throughout the country.  In every interview I watched, when asked why they were acting in this manner, each person basically said "I am going to do what I want to do.  I am not worried about anyone else."  Our Tradition teaches us otherwise.  Our Tradition teaches us to care for and about each other.  The little girl of Rabbi Leff's story had learned this lesson.  The verse I cited from this week's parashah teaches this lesson.  The question is: Are we willing to learn from it?


03/19/2020 04:31:23 PM


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

In light of what the world and the People Israel are facing with the spread of the COVID-19 virus, I believe it is providential that this week's double parashah, Parashat Vayyak'heil-Peku'dei, begins with the Hebrew verb "vayyak'heil."  This word is translated into English as "And he caused to assemble."  The parashah begins with Moshe assembling the B'Nei Yisrael (Children of Israel) in order to begin the process of making and constructing the Mishkan (Wilderness Tabernacle), HaShem's "dwelling place" among them.  The COVID-19 virus has most certainly caused the world community to assemble in an effort to eradicate this latest threat to humankind.  The question you may ask is what can you as an individual do.  Well, certainly you must follow the protocols issued by the Center for Disease Control and all other valid authorities in an effort to stem the rising tide of COVID-19.  What else can you do?  Because the People Israel has faced many a life threatening crisis, let us look to our Tradition for those "tried-and-true" methods that have caused us more than once to unite as one people to face each crisis that comes up.

In the Talmud Bavli (Babylonian Talmud) in Masekhet Shevuot 39a we read: "All Jews are responsible for one another."  This has always been the strength of our people.  In Vayikra Rabbah 4 we read: 'Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai taught: 'It can be compared to people who are in a boat, and one of them took a drill and began to drill under his seat.  His fellow passengers said to him: "Why are you doing this?"  He said to them: "What do you care?  Am I not drilling under me?"  They replied: "Because you are sinking the boat with us in it!"'"  We are now all in the same boat.  If we do not help each other, if we do not look after each other we are in danger of sinking the entire boat.  And it is to that end that we must also remember the story of Miryam as found in Sefer Bemidbar (the Book of Numbers) in which we are told that she was shut out of the camp for seven days due to having been afflicted with tzara'at (a virulent skin disease).  Because of this, the B'Nei Yisrael did not proceed on their journey until Miryam was readmitted into the camp.  When one of us is quarantined, the rest of us must wait for them to recover before we carry on with our individual lives.

From Rosh Chodesh Elul until Hashanah Rabbah, Ashkenazic Jews recite Tehillim (Psalm) 27 twice each day.  At this critical time, we should pay attention to the final verse of this Psalm: "Hope to HaShem; be strong and He will give you courage; hope to HaShem!"  This is what we do time and time again as the People Israel!  This is what we must do now!  Is it any wonder, then, as to why the national anthem of Medinat Yisrael (the State of Israel) is "HaTikvah"(the Hope)?

"To Give or Not to Give: That Is the Question"

03/11/2020 01:55:39 PM


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

In the 1930's Rav Elchonon Wasserman, Rosh Yeshivah of the Baronovich Yeshivah, was in the United States engaged in a fund-raising campaign for the yeshivah.  On the Erev Shabbat (Friday night) preceding the reading of Parashat Ki Tissa (this week's parashah), he made an appeal at a shul where he announced that for $80, one could have the merit of supporting his entire yeshivah for one week.  ($80 went much further in the 1930's than it does today.)  The members of the shul were very enthusiastic by his passionate speech with many seeming to be ready to "take the plunge" of pledging $80.  However, there was one man who was clearly not excited about the congregants "jumping onboard" Rav Elchonon's "bandwagon," and this man was the Rabbi of the shul.

 When Rav Elchonon finished his speech, the Rabbi rushed to the podium and began to drone on and on with the result being that the congregants' excitement about Rav Elchonon's speech quickly decreased.  The Rabbi effectively quashed Rav Elchonon's fundraising efforts by declaring: "If you give $1 to the Baronovich Yeshivah, that, too, is a significant donation."  And with that, Rav Elchonon received almost nothing in pledges.  Later that night, when visiting Rav Elchonon in his host's home, the Rabbi of the shul said this; "I know you are upset about what happened this evening.  You probably have complaints against me and my congregation."  To his shock, Rav Elchonon told the Rabbi fo the shul that he had no complaints whatsoever.

Ran Elchonon explained: "Take a look at this week's parsahahHaShem told Moshe that He chose Betzalel ben Uri ben Chur to build the Mishkan (Wilderness Tabernacle).  With literally millions of people in the Jewish encampment, Moshe had to go search for Betzalel.  If he went up to someone and asked him if he was Betzalel and received the answer 'No!', Moshe would simply conclude that the person he asked was not supposed to build the Mishkan.  You cannot be upset at a person for not being chosen to complete a specific task.  The same is true for me.  HaShem has designated people to support the Baronovich Yeshivah.  I came and spoke to your shul thinking that your people were those whom HaShem had selected.  Obviously I was wrong.  Someone else will have this merit in Olam Haba (the World-to-Come).  How can I have complaints against you for that?"

Think about this the next time you are approached to give money to some Jewish organization.  Think about this the next time you are approached to give money to Congregations of Shaare Shamayim.  HaShem has designated someone to fulfill the role of Betzalel for the person or organization trying to raise money.  Instead of refusing to pledge to give, ask yourself: "Am I that Betzalel?"

"To Get Respect, Give Respect!"

03/05/2020 02:01:41 PM


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

In Pirkei Avot, we read: "He (Ben Azzai) used to say: 'Do not be scornful of any person, and do not be disdainful of anything, for you have no person without his hour, and you have no thing without its place.'"  (Avot 4:3)  What we are being told here is that one must never insult people either verbally or in any other way.  Even if we consider the other person to be inferior to us in every way, s/he must be treated with respect, regardless of whether or not we know why this person is the way s/he is.  The key to interpersonal relationships is to place ourselves in our friend's shoes see things from his/her perspective.  For example, when your boss loses his/her temper and raises his/her voice at you for not meeting a required deadline, stop for just a minute and try to understand the amount of pressure s/he is under before you get insulted and end up resenting him/her.  Perhaps, just perhaps, you will realize that put in that same position, you just might act in the same way?

In this week's parashah, Parshat Tetzaveh, we read about the "Me'il" (mantle) worn by the Kohen Gadol (High Priest) when he was in active service to Hashem.  Attached to the bottom of the Me'il were no fewer than 72 ornaments in the shape of pomegranates alternating with 72 golden bells.  Why the bells?  Whenever the Kohen Gadol went into the Kodesh HaKedoshim (Holy of Holies) which contained the Aron HaKodesh (the Ark of the Covenant) in the Mishkan (Wilderness Tabernacle) and later in both of the Temples in Yerushalayim (Jerusalem), the sound of the bells would announce both his coming and going causing the people to stop and pay attention to his actions.  We learn from this that a person should not enter his/her own home in a stealthy manner: unexpectedly and unannounced.  By not doing this, sensitivity and respect is shown the home's occupants.

Why show sensitivity and respect to the members of one's own family upon arrival at home?  Because this can raise their spirits and affect their lives in a profoundly positive way.  Such a demeanor gives evidence that we love others as much as we love ourselves.  Perhaps the lesson to be learned here comes from the words that used to be the on the outgoing message of the answering machine of one of CSS's beloved late members, Stanley Smuckler, zichrono livrachah (may his memory be for a blessing): "Although it's nice to be important, it's more important to be nice!" 

02/28/2020 01:52:18 PM


"Never Let Go of It!"

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

This week's parashah, Parashat Terumah, contains the following verse: "The poles shall remain in the rings of the Aron (Ark); they may not be removed from it."  Like several other vessels of the Mishkan (the wilderness Tabernacle), the Aron had poles attached to it.  However, unlike these other vessels, there was something very unique about the poles of the Aron.  In Masekhet (Tractate) Yoma of the Talmud Bavli (the Babylonian Talmud) we are told that the poles of the Aron had to be installed on the Aron even before the Luchot (the Tablets) were placed inside of it.  Just what is the reason as to why the poles always had to remain on the Aron?  We can find the answer to this question in the story as related to a colleague of mine by Captain Joe Goldman, a Delta Airlines pilot.

  "I was once flying a red-eye from California to New York.  Since I decided to stretch my legs, I got up and walked around the plane.  I felt a sense of pride as I observed almost all the passengers sleeping peacefully as if they felt very secure that I was flying the plane.  I noticed, however, toward the back of the plane there was a passenger with his overhead light on.  'Why was he not taking advantage of sleeping on this flight?' I wondered.  I went back to where he was sitting and was surprised to see a young Jewish man bent over a volume of Talmud silently reading its words.

Even though I had been raised religious, I had long ago abandoned the mitzvot and adopted a totally secular lifestyle.  I simply saw no value or relevance of the Torah believing that it was something you kept on the shelf at home.  But this yeshiva student showed me how wrong I was.  He was not cramming for an exam or preparing for an interview.  He was simply studying HaShem's wisdom.  He was living proof that the Torah is not confined to any one place; the Torah accompanies the Jewish people wherever we go.  Perhaps this yeshiva student was doing more to keep the passengers safe and secure through his studying Talmud than we who were at the controls in the cockpit could ever do!"

HaShem gave us the Torah in order that it accompany us wherever we may be going and whatever we may be doing.  The poles of the Aron must remain attached to its side so that it is constantly ready for transport.  We, the People Israel, must be ready to take the Torah with us wherever we may be as well.

"Between Man and Man"

02/19/2020 10:42:33 AM


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

In this week's parashah, Parashat Mishpatim, we read the following verse: "And these are the laws that you shall place before them:...." (Shemot 21:1)  The great Medieval commentator Rashi indicates that the Hebrew word "eilah" ("these") used in this verse connects this week's parashah with last week's parsahah, Parashat Yitro, in which the Aseret HaDibrot (the Ten Commandments/Utterances) were given.  Rashi states that because of this connection, we can conclude that the laws mentioned in Parashat Mishpatim were given to Moshe at Har Sinai (Mount Sinai).  The question is asked: Is it not obvious that the entire Torah was given to Moshe at Har SinaiRaav (Rabbeinu Ovadiah M'Bartenura) points out that Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) begins as follows: "Moshe received the Torah at Sinai and transmitted it to Yehoshua, and Yehoshua transmitted it to the Elders...."  (Perek Rishon, Pasuk AlephPirkei Avot deals with no laws; it deals with ethics and character traits that every Jew should strive to make a part of his/her life.  Raav states that, although many scholars of non-Jewish civilizations have written similar texts, the difference is the origin of these teachings.  Rabbi Simcha Sheps, z"l, one of the Roshei Yeshivah of Torah Vodaath, stated that this is just what Rashi is pointing out as well.  He said that Rashi was teaching us that every word of this week's parashah was given to Moshe at Har Sinai.

It is a fact that every religion and even secularists, who by definition are non-religious, have ethics by which society is expected to live.  "The New York Times" has a weekly column written by someone with the pen name of "The Ethicist" who determines what is considered ethical.  And then there is the famous "Miss Manners" column which is syndicated three times each week in over 200 newspapers.  The author of this column is "the final authority" on good manners and proper behavior for millions of Americans.  So, you may ask, what's the difference between their ethics and Jewish ethics?  Let's look at couple of examples.

We read the following in this week's parashah: "You shall not accept a false report...." (Shemot 23:1)  This law commands us not to engage in lashon hara (evil tongue): gossip.  However, going beyond the plain meaning of the text as found in the Torah, our tradition teaches us that speaking lashon hara is prohibited even if the story being told is 100% true.  A secular ethicist would protest asking what is wrong with telling a true story.  After all, the truth is paramount in all cases.  S/he might even ask who would make up such a law.  In another example we find that the Torah tells us that we are commanded to help our enemy in need before we help our friend in need: "When you will encounter the ox of he who hates you or see his donkey that is wandering, you shall surely return it to him!  Perhaps you will see the donkey of he who hates you lying beneath its load, and you will refrain from helping him!?!  You shall indeed help him!"  (Shemot 23:4-5)  These laws appear to be counterintuitive, but the fact is that they were given to us by Hashem at Har Sinai.  They are not the product of the so-called reason and logic of human beings.  It is that person who will commit him/herself to abiding by these laws, laws dictating how relationships are maintained between human beings, who will come out ahead each and every time.

"Lo Tirtzach!"

02/12/2020 02:11:54 PM


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

This week's parashah, Parashat Yitro, contains the first of two versions of the Ten Commandments that are found in the Torah.   For many Jews, they believe that the observance of the Ten Commandments is their totality of living a Jewish life.  But does anyone really fully observe all of the Ten Commandments?  I am sure that all of us, at one time or another in our lives, have violated keeping Shabbat properly.  And it might seem near impossible to honor our parents 100% of the time.  In the society in which we live, we are urged to covet by virtue of the constant harangue thrown at us by the advertising media.  "But, Rabbi," you say, "there is one commandment that I have never violated, and that is the commandment 'Thou shalt not kill!'"  I would tell you that the commandment in Hebrew reads "Lo Tirtzach!" and that it's literal meaning is "Do not murder!"  "All right, Rabbi" you protest, "but I still haven't murdered anyone!"  I would guide you to what our Tradition  says about this commandment before making such a claim.

  The great French Jewish commentator Chizkuni wrote this about "Lo Tirtzach!": "Hein be-yad, hein be-lashon, hein be-shtikah."  The prohibition against murder can be violated by physically killing someone, by using words against someone, and by our silence toward someone.  Simply put, we are held accountable by our Tradition if we cause someone's death through our words and/or our silence.  Over a decade ago there was a case known as "MySpace Suicide Hoax."  Perhaps you remember it.  A 13-year-old girl in Missouri committed suicide after she was emotionally manipulated by her adult neighbors.  As a "prank," the adults and kids in her neighborhood set up a fake boyfriend on social media for this girl.  They insulted her with words and played with her emotions.  Some knew about what was going on but chose to remain silent.  Others were actively involved and participated in badgering the self-esteem of this poor girl to the point that she eventually hanged herself.  As Chizkuni pointed out, those who were either actively or passively involved in this episode violated the commandment "Lo Tirtzach!"  Both hose who joined in in the act of insulting this girl on-line as well as those who stood aside and knew this was happening are morally --- if not legally --- held accountable and responsible for her murder by Halakhah (Jewish Law).

There is no doubt that the power of our words is overwhelming.  How do we know this?  We read the following in this week's parashah: "And G-d spoke all of these words, saying...."(Shemot 20:1)  Please note that our Torah tells us that G-d did not speak these commandments --- He spoke these words.  What we call the Ten  Commandments are known in Hebrew as Aseret Ha-Devarim (the Ten Utterances).  These words given by HaShem to B'nei Yisrael (the Children of Israel) are the most powerful words ever given to any people on this earth.  They have both the power to make holy and the power to destroy.  We must remember that the words we speak or do not speak are just as powerful.   We must always strive to use our power of speaking or not speaking words to others wisely, for it is only then that we may claim to observing the commandment "Lo Tirtzach!"  

"Dem Bones!"

02/05/2020 10:14:16 AM


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

The Talmud teaches us that one who starts to perform a mitzvah (duty/obligation) has a greater responsibility to complete it than one who has begun to undertake to perform it in the first place.  Why is that?  We look to a verse from this week's parashah, Parashat BeShallach: "And Moshe brought up the bones of Yoseph with him, for he [Yoseph] had indeed caused the B'nei Yisrael (the Children of Israel) to swear saying, 'G-d will indeed remember you, and you will bring up my bones from this [place] with you.'" (Shemot 13:19)  You may ask why Yoseph did not instruct his brothers to immediately bury him in Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel) upon his death.  the fact is that he could not make such a request as he knew that Pharaoh would not have allowed it.  After they swore to fulfill Yoseph's request, his brothers, in turn, obligated their descendants to do so as well.  As we have already noted, the Torah tells us that only Moshe retrieved Yoseph's remains to fulfill his request.  However, it is indeed surprising to note that the Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible) says the following: "The bones of Yoseph, which the B'nei Yisrael had brought up from Egypt, were buried in Sh'chem,...." (Yehoshua 24:32)

It is interesting to note that it is from this verse that the Talmud Bavli in Masekhet Sotah 13b teaches the importance of completing a mitzvah.  The Talmud Bavli explains that if one person begins a mitzvah and another person comes along and completes it, the latter will receive credit as if s/he performed the entire mitzvah him/herself.  Yes, it is true that Moshe alone was responsible both for removing Yoseph's remains from Eretz Mitzrayim (the Land of Egypt) and for watching over them during the 40-year sojourn through the wilderness until he passed away, but it was because B'nei Yisrael completed his mission by actually burying Yoseph's remains in Eretz Yisrael that they, and not Moshe, receive the credit for doing so.  What does this episode teach us?

We can all be inspired to complete an important task.  However, that inspiration is limited to those things we believe ourselves capable of doing.  When we begin to take action, a part of us often becomes discouraged due to whatever challenges of difficulties may arise as we proceed with our task.  In such a situation we can and should request from HaShem through heartfelt prayer for a moment of clarity that will give us the ability to carry on and complete the task at hand.  There is no doubt that the media pays more attention to the finish line of a marathon than it does to the starting line.  After all, anyone can begin a race, but what matters most is those who finish it.

Fri, May 29 2020 6 Sivan 5780