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

10/20/2020 02:34:51 PM

Oct20

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Let There Be Light!"

10/15/2020 08:29:51 PM

Oct15

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

"Truly --- 'Z'man Simchateinu'!"

10/06/2020 03:10:08 PM

Oct6

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

The 7-day festival of Sukkot is known in Hebrew as “Z’man Simchateinu” – “the Season of Our Joy.”  In fact, this is the most joyous of the Shalosh Regalim (the three Pilgrimage Festivals), each of which required us to travel to Yerushalayim (Jerusalem) to bring special korbanot (sacrificial offerings) to be placed on the altar in the Temple.  In the special Torah reading for the first two days of this autumn festival we read the following: “Us’machtem lifney Adonai Eloheychem shiv’at yamim.” --- “You shall rejoice before HaShem your G-d seven days.”  Immediately after the conclusion of the seventh day of Sukkot which was punctuated by the ritual of the beating of the aravot on Hoshanah Rabbah, we enter the solemnity of Shemini Atzeret (the Eighth Day of Tarrying) and the joyousness of Simchat Torah, literally “Rejoicing of the Torah.”  So, you may ask, how much more joyful can one be after celebrating Sukkot?  Perhaps this story may provide an answer.

Goldzweig and Oppenheim were two wealthy merchants who traded in rare gemstones and fine jewelry.  Each year, they would travel from their respective homes in Warsaw and Munich to the great annual fair in Leipzig.  As old friends, they were accustomed to lodge, dine, pray, and do business together, often pooling their resources for their mutual benefit.

The week of trading was drawing to a close.  Goldzweig and Oppenheim had conducted more than satisfactory business, and were about to return home with an ample stock that promised healthy profits for each of them. Before catching their afternoon trains, they were left with one more significant task – buying a gift for their wives.  For them, returning empty-handed from Leipzig was a worse domestic sin than eating on Yom Kippur!  They had to find something for their better halves.  But what does one purchase for the wives of wealthy gem merchants who have every material amenity that a woman could dream of?  The business of present-purchasing proved to be a greater challenge for Goldzweig and Oppenheim than a week of bartering and negotiating they had just completed.  The two merchants had to be at the train station in just two short hours, but they were still empty-handed!  They could not seem to find a suitable gift for their wives.  Another gold watch or a diamond broach just would not suffice.

Suddenly an old Polish Chasid with long silver payos who was wearing a dashik (the black narrow-visor cap that was common among Polish and Ukrainian Chassidic Jews at the time) on his head approached the two merchants.  He asked: “Could I interest you gentlemen in rare Judaica?”  Goldzweig and Oppenheim looked at each other and smiled.  What a novel idea!  Judaica was always a good investment that never decreased in value.  The old Polish Chasid had two hand-illustrated copies of the classic Tzena U’rena Yiddish commentary for women that had been printed on rare parchment paper in early 18th century Budapest.  Even 150 years later, the volumes were in near mint condition.  At only 80 crowns apiece, the books were indeed a bargain, and both men jumped at the opportunity to purchase the books.  After paying the old Polish Chasid, Goldzweig and Oppenheim hurried to the train station.

After arriving home in Warsaw and before he unpacked the rest of his bags, Goldzweig produced the carefully-wrapped volume and presented it to his wife.  As she opened the package, her eyes opened wide and filled with tears.  After she carefully examined the book, a tender smile illuminated her face as she clutched it to her heart.  “Shimon,” she said, “this is the most exquisite gift I have ever received!  I will cherish this forever, and I will read it every Shabbat!  This will become our most important heirloom to be given to our eldest daughter with the hope that she will pass it down to her eldest daughter and so on and so on until the end of time!  Only a G-d fearing, magnanimous, and loving husband such as yourself could have found such a priceless gift!  This Tzena U’rena is so very beautiful!  How can I ever thank you?”

Oppenheim, on the hand, unfortunately received a much less enthusiastic welcome upon his arrival at home in Munich.  “Another dust-catcher?!” his irate wife shrieked at him.  She took the rare antique volume from him and threw it into a corner treating it as if were last week’s newspaper.

On Simchat Torah, which “wife” will you be?  Will you be overjoyed at once again ending and beginning the greatest story ever told: the story of Am Yisrael – the People Israel as presented in our Torah?  Will you treasure it and use it every week as you journey through the next year and the rest of your life?  Or will you relegate it to the proverbial “dustbin of history,” never giving even a moment’s thought to its eternal truths and lessons?  The fact of the matter is that Simchat Torah can be a turning point in the life of each member of Am Yisrael.  The more we learn to love Hashem and H-s Torah, the happier we can be with ourselves and our lives.

May all of us sing and dance on this most joyous of days!

"Come Blow Your Horn!"

09/22/2020 08:16:12 PM

Sep22

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

One of the reasons we blow the shofar on Rosh Hashanah (this year only on the second day) is to remind us of the virtues of our ancient ancestors and to lessen the stern judgements against us.  The following parable might help you to better understand this concept.

In his younger days, the King had personally commanded the Royal Military.  Years ago, leading the royal cavalry regiment, he had almost lost his life in a fierce battle against the kingdom’s hostile neighbors to the north.  His troops had been decimated; his horse had been killed; and he was badly wounded in his leg.  With nightfall, an eerie silence hovered over the battlefield with the hoot of an owl and the howl of a wolf temporarily replacing the rattling of sabers and the battle cries of the enemy.  The King managed to crawl to a nearby forest where, wounded and exhausted, he almost lost total consciousness.

The King’s soul was tormented by the deep blackness of the night.  He anticipated nothing but a bitter end believing that if he managed to survive the night, he would be killed by an enemy soldier who found him in the morning.  All seemed hopeless when, suddenly, he was startled by someone touching his shoulder.  He could not see anyone in the darkness, but he distinctly heard the soothing voice of a young foot soldier whispering: “Your Majesty, you are severely injured, but do not worry.  I will carry you to safety.  Be absolutely silent and make no sounds.  The enemy is lurking everywhere.”  This brawny young lad, the son of one of the villagers, carried the King on his back all night long until they reached the front line of friendly forces.  There, the King received the medical attention he so desperately needed, and he was eventually nursed back to health.  In deep gratitude, the King took the valiant young soldier back with him to the Royal Court.  He awarded the lad a medal of honor and placed him in the Royal Military Academy, the kingdom’s most prestigious educational institution and officer’s school.

The young man excelled in his studies and received a commission in the Royal Military.  Rising quickly through the ranks, he incurred the extreme jealousy of his fellow officers, most of whom were sons of noblemen and aristocrats.  This young officer of peasant stock outshined them all.  When he was chosen over the son of a royal minister to become the Commander of the Royal Guard, his fellow officers plotted against this young man whom they referred to with extreme disdain as “the commoner.”  They began to collect an entire dossier of circumstantial evidence against him in an effort to get rid of him one way or the other.  They planted incriminating letters among his possessions and collected false testimony from so-called “witnesses.”  They created virtually airtight accusations of treason and conspiracy to assassinate the King.  After the “evidence” was submitted to the proper authorities, this newly appointed commander of the Royal Guard was thrown into prison to await his day in court.

Dozens of witnesses who gave hours of testimony against him virtually assured the guilty verdict of treason with the sentence of death by a firing squad.  As he awaited his execution, “the commoner” was granted a final wish.  He requested to appear before the King the night before his execution.  In accordance with royal law, his wish was granted.  As he stood before the King, “the commoner” asked for everyone to be silent and for the lights in the royal court to be extinguished.  Then, in the deep blackness, bound in chains and heavily guarded, “the commoner” whispered, “Your Majesty, you are severely injured, but do not worry.  I will carry you to safety.  Be absolutely silent and make no sounds.  The enemy is lurking everywhere.”  Suddenly the King had a flashback to that fateful night on the battlefield when he believed he would never again see the light of day.  He right then and there knew in his heart that this same village lad who had rescued him from certain death could have never conspired against him.

With that, the King ripped up the verdict, freed the accused lad, and restored him to his rightful place of honor as the Commander of the Royal Guard.  He also vowed to unleash his anger on all the evil officers behind the slander and false accusations made against the young man.

Rosh Hashanah is known as “Yom HaDin,” “the Day of Judgement.”  Because we believe that there is a long list of accusations against us in the Heavenly Court (after all, no one is perfect!), we sound the shofar to remind the King of Kings (HaShem) of our virtues much in the same way that the village-born soldier of the story reminded the King of that fateful night on the battlefield when he saved the King’s life.  The sound of the shofar reminds Hashem the we, the People Israel, are the only nation on earth that agreed to receive and abide by the Torah.  As such, we cannot be guilty of only willful transgressions against H-m.

Happy is the nation that hears the call of the shofar.  May all of us merit a wonderful inscription in the Book of a long, happy, and healthy Life!  Ketiva v’Chatima Tova!  Amen!

"With a Song in Your Heart!"

09/15/2020 01:30:14 PM

Sep15

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

Recently we read the double parashah of Nitzavim-VaYeilech in which we found the following verse: "Now write this song for yourselves and teach it to B'Nei Yisrael...."  (Devarim 31:19) To what song is this verse referring?  The traditional answer is that the song mentioned is the one found in this week's parashah, Parshat Ha'azinu.  But there are those who state  that the song is nothing less than the words of the Torah itself that Moshe received from HaShem on Mount Sinai, and the reason for them to be written down is so that B'Nei Yisrael will learn them and study them and use them.  Notwithstanding this interpretation, the question must be asked as to why the words of the Torah are referred to as a "song."

In the second half of the verse whose words I quoted above we find the following: "...place it in their mouths, in order that this song shall be for Me as a witness against B'nei Yisrael."  It is interesting to note that in Sefer Yehoshuah, in the Book of Joshua, Yehoshuah is confronted by the image of a man with a sword in his hand.  When asked by Yehoshuah who he is, the "man" replies: "...I am the Commander of Hashem's Legion."  The Rabbis of the Talmud understood this scenario to mean that HaShem was displeased with B'nei Yisrael's lack of commitment to H-s Torah.  Why?  Because both Yehoshuah and B'nei Yisreal had not fulfilled the the intention behind the command of writing and teaching the words "Now," without delay.

This Shabbat is the "Sabbath of Returning."  It is the Sabbath when every member of Am Yisrael, the People Israel, hopefully returns and recommits to Judaism and the Jewish people.  One of the simplest and most effective ways of doing this is committing oneself to Torah in whatever way possible.  You may ask if this commitment is to be based solely upon the fact that there is an unbroken chain of inheritance from previous generations.  For many, it is.  But while one may commit to Judaism because one is happy to continue the history and values of our people, the fact remains that such a commitment is rarely based upon one's life being interwoven at any meaningful level with the Torah.  And this is sad, for such a commitment is not sustainable.

The verse from this week's parashah refers to the words of the Torah as a "song."  A song is meant to be sung and sung well.  And in order for a song to be sung well it must come from within, having touched the deepest levels of one's soul.  A song sung well expresses a deep meaning that transcends the logic of its words.  A song sung well bursts forth when one's whole being becomes absorbed in its deep inner dimensions.  That is what the Torah is to be to all of us who are a part of Am Yisrael, the People Israel.

We are at that point of this new year when we are about to return one-on-one to HaShem.  This is part of what Yom Kippur, the Day of "At-one-ment," means: being "at one" with HaShem.  To be "at one" with HaShem, we must strive with all the passion we can muster to make our relationship with HaShem the song of our lives.  And we do this by singing the Song of the Torah with all of our hearts, with all of our souls, and with all of our strength.  May each one us  sing it loud and sing it well.

Gamar Chatima Tova!  May you be sealed for good in the Book of Life for 5781!    

"Come Blow Your 'Horn'!"

09/09/2020 04:13:22 PM

Sep9

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

One of the reasons we blow the shofar on Rosh Hashanah (this year only on the second day) is to remind us of the virtues of our ancient ancestors and to lessen the stern judgements against us.  The following parable might help you to better understand this concept.

In his younger days, the King had personally commanded the Royal Military.  Years ago, leading the royal cavalry regiment, he had almost lost his life in a fierce battle against the kingdom’s hostile neighbors to the north.  His troops had been decimated; his horse had been killed; and he was badly wounded in his leg.  With nightfall, an eerie silence hovered over the battlefield with the hoot of an owl and the howl of a wolf temporarily replacing the rattling of sabers and the battle cries of the enemy.  The King managed to crawl to a nearby forest where, wounded and exhausted, he almost lost total consciousness.

The King’s soul was tormented by the deep blackness of the night.  He anticipated nothing but a bitter end believing that if he managed to survive the night, he would be killed by an enemy soldier who found him in the morning.  All seemed hopeless when, suddenly, he was startled by someone touching his shoulder.  He could not see anyone in the darkness, but he distinctly heard the soothing voice of a young foot soldier whispering: “Your Majesty, you are severely injured, but do not worry.  I will carry you to safety.  Be absolutely silent and make no sounds.  The enemy is lurking everywhere.”  This brawny young lad, the son of one of the villagers, carried the King on his back all night long until they reached the front line of friendly forces.  There, the King received the medical attention he so desperately needed, and he was eventually nursed back to health.  In deep gratitude, the King took the valiant young soldier back with him to the Royal Court.  He awarded the lad a medal of honor and placed him in the Royal Military Academy, the kingdom’s most prestigious educational institution and officer’s school.

The young man excelled in his studies and received a commission in the Royal Military.  Rising quickly through the ranks, he incurred the extreme jealousy of his fellow officers, most of whom were sons of noblemen and aristocrats.  This young officer of peasant stock outshined them all.  When he was chosen over the son of a royal minister to become the Commander of the Royal Guard, his fellow officers plotted against this young man whom they referred to with extreme disdain as “the commoner.”  They began to collect an entire dossier of circumstantial evidence against him in an effort to get rid of him one way or the other.  They planted incriminating letters among his possessions and collected false testimony from so-called “witnesses.”  They created virtually airtight accusations of treason and conspiracy to assassinate the King.  After the “evidence” was submitted to the proper authorities, this newly appointed commander of the Royal Guard was thrown into prison to await his day in court.

Dozens of witnesses who gave hours of testimony against him virtually assured the guilty verdict of treason with the sentence of death by a firing squad.  As he awaited his execution, “the commoner” was granted a final wish.  He requested to appear before the King the night before his execution.  In accordance with royal law, his wish was granted.  As he stood before the King, “the commoner” asked for everyone to be silent and for the lights in the royal court to be extinguished.  Then, in the deep blackness, bound in chains and heavily guarded, “the commoner” whispered, “Your Majesty, you are severely injured, but do not worry.  I will carry you to safety.  Be absolutely silent and make no sounds.  The enemy is lurking everywhere.”  Suddenly the King had a flashback to that fateful night on the battlefield when he believed he would never again see the light of day.  He right then and there knew in his heart that this same village lad who had rescued him from certain death could have never conspired against him.

With that, the King ripped up the verdict, freed the accused lad, and restored him to his rightful place of honor as the Commander of the Royal Guard.  He also vowed to unleash his anger on all the evil officers behind the slander and false accusations made against the young man.

Rosh Hashanah is known as “Yom HaDin,” “the Day of Judgement.”  Because we believe that there is a long list of accusations against us in the Heavenly Court (after all, no one is perfect!), we sound the shofar to remind the King of Kings (HaShem) of our virtues much in the same way that the village-born soldier of the story reminded the King of that fateful night on the battlefield when he saved the King’s life.  The sound of the shofar reminds Hashem the we, the People Israel, are the only nation on earth that agreed to receive and abide by the Torah.  As such, we cannot be guilty of only willful transgressions against H-m.

Happy is the nation that hears the call of the shofar.  May all of us merit a wonderful inscription in the Book of a long, happy, and healthy Life!  Ketiva v’Chatima Tova!  Amen!

!אנא סלח לי ... אני סולח

09/03/2020 04:46:48 PM

Sep3

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

     In the prayer liturgy of Selichot, we find the following: “…What can we complain about?  What can we say? What can we speak, and how can we justify ourselves?  Let us search and examine our ways and return to You, for Your right hand is extended to receive those who repent…Merciful and Gracious One, please do not turn us away empty-handed from Your Presence.  Please do not turn us away empty-handed from Your Presence, our King, for You are the One who hears prayer.”  (Selichot With English Translation: Annotated Edition, Kehot Publishers, 2012) It is at this time of the Hebrew year when we are supposed to conduct a “cheshbon hanefesh” --- an accounting of the soul --- in preparation for the Yamim Nora’im (the Days of Awe).  Such an accounting, more likely than not, will show us how we have come up lacking when we compare our actions to what the Torah requires of us.  In the everyday society in which we live, we are taught to hide our shortcomings.  So, I ask you: even if we do admit to them, why should HaShem give us favor?  Perhaps the following story will help us to better understand why He does this:

            The King desired to build a vacation home far away from the Palace on a distant shore.  It was to be a haven of blue sky, golden sands, soft sea breezes, and temperate seasons.  He issued a royal proclamation inviting interested builders to submit their proposals within the next 30 days.  The most well-known and often-used builders shied away from the proposal.  Why?  Because they had no desire to spend many months on a deserted island thousands of miles away from the City of the Palace.  Then, a poor handyman possessing no more than a hammer, a saw, and a small bag of nails landed the job after submitting his modest proposal.

            The King was undismayed after meeting him.  He trusted the poor handyman and gave him a ship loaded with the finest building materials – wood, cement, marble stone, and metal.  The King’s sailors packed the ship from stem to stern and top to bottom with an entire year’s supply of food, clothes, utensils, a temporary shelter, and every other possible necessity and amenity that the poor handyman might need.  The poor handyman agreed to complete the building project within the next 12 months.

            Following the lengthy sea voyage to the King’s vacation island, the poor handyman found that the only things that existed on the island were clumps of palm trees and monkeys as well as a huge expanse of sand and a beautiful beach.  The King’s sailors unloaded the ship’s cargo and put the poor handyman ashore telling him that they would return in exactly 12 months to bring him home.  For the first week, the poor handyman devoted all of his time to setting up his temporary shelter and organizing his household.  The King had provided him with the best flour, dried fruits and nuts, a variety of preserved foods, and plenty of wine.  Subsequently, he would spend an hour or two each day laying the foundations for the King’s vacation home and then spend the rest of the day attending to his own needs and pleasures: baking bread, sunbathing on the beach, and drinking wine.

            At the time that 11 months had transpired, the poor handyman had only completed the laying of the building’s foundations, the building of the frame of the vacation house, and the attaching of a portion of the roof to the frame.  Even if he worked around the clock, he would need several more months to complete the job.  Having no choice, he threw away the wine, stopped baking bread, and ate nothing but the dried fruit and nuts.  Getting very little sleep, he got up before sunrise to begin work not laying down his hammer and saw until after sunset.  At the end of the 12th month, the King’s ship approached the island with the King onboard.

             When he came ashore, the King found a house with no windows or doors as well as debris strewn all over the place.  Monkeys pranced from unfinished room to unfinished room.  Before the King had a chance to react, the poor handyman threw himself at the King’s feet and cried out: “Your Majesty, what can I say; how can I justify myself?  Your Majesty sent me here with all my needs, but I pursued my own gratifications rather than devoting myself to completing your royal vacation home.  Please forgive me!  Please give me another year to complete this task!  I will do my best not to again disappoint Your Majesty.”

            So, what did the King do?  The poor handyman’s candor and honesty saved his life as his total and humble admission converted the King’s potential anger to mercy and compassion.  The King granted the poor handyman another year --- again, with all his needs met --- to complete the task.

     And so it is with us.  Each year, we are provided with everything to complete our duties as Am Yisrael (the People Israel), but we find that when the Month of Elul arrives, we must try to make amends for our shortcomings by reciting Selichot prayers early in the morning to complete whatever t’shuva we can complete.  With Rosh HaShanah (the Day of Judgment) fast approaching, and because we know we are far from accomplishing our task as Jews, we end up begging HaShem for another year of life to do so.  It is because of HaShem’s eternal love for His people that He forgives us and blesses us with another year of heath and prosperity.  So may it be again this coming year for every member of Am Yisrael!     

"In G-d We Should Trust!"

08/26/2020 06:06:01 PM

Aug26

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

Here is a true story of an incident that happened several months before the outbreak of the Second Lebanon War in Tammuz 5766/July 2006 as witnessed and told by Rabbi Lazer Brody in his book Chassidic Pearls:

On a balmy Thursday evening in Yerushalayim after putting their five children to bed, Rabbi “Benjamin” sat down with his wife to partake of a modest supper of day-old bread, a cucumber, and a cup of tea.  Because the tear that glistened in her eye caused him alarm, he thought he had caused her some kind of pain.  “My dear husband,” she said softly, “I hate to complain and to burden you, but there is nothing in the house for Shabbat.  I do not even have any flour with which to bake challahs let alone wine, fish, or a piece of chicken with which to feed the family.  What am I supposed to do?”

Rabbi “Benjamin” knew that he was being presented with a serious test of faith.  His “yetzer hara” (evil inclination) told him to do the following: “Forget your Thursday night chevruta (Torah learning with a partner), your recitation of midnight lamentations, your going to the mikvah in the morning, your “hitbodedut” (intense personal prayer) at the Kotel (the Western Wall) followed by “HaNeitz” (sunrise davening).  Instead, go do something to make some money for Shabbat!”  Rabbi “Benjamin shook off the “voice” of his “yetzer hara” and made an even stronger commitment to completing his regular routine of serving Hashem.  With utter and complete confidence, he told his wife: “Don’t worry!  HaShem will certainly provide for us in time for Shabbat!”

That night, a wealthy lawyer living in Haifa had a terrible nightmare that caused him to wake up in a cold sweat.  In his nightmare, he saw a Katyusha rocket come through the wall of his bedroom and explode in his bed killing him instantly.  With trembling hands, he called a well-known Haifa Rabbi.  He told the Rabbi about his nightmare and asked him what to do.  The Rabbi replied that he, the lawyer, must take this dream with complete seriousness and that he must fast all day Friday.  The lawyer protested that due to health reasons it was impossible for him to fast.  The Rabbi then told him that he could redeem the fast with a contribution to charity, specifically to a worthy Torah scholar.  “I do not know any worthy Torah scholar,” protested the lawyer.  “Do you, Rabbi?”  “Yes, as a matter of fact, I do,” replied the Rabbi.  “I will be going to Yerushalayim to pray at the Kotel.  Give me a generous donation, and I will make sure that worthy Torah scholar receives it.”  With that, the lawyer gave the Rabbi 400 shekels, and the Rabbi headed for Yerushalayim in his beat-up Subaru.

As it turned out, once each month the Rabbi would arrive at the Kotel three hours before sunrise in order to recite the entire Sefer Tehillim (Book of Psalms) before davening “HaNeitz.”  As usual on such a day, this day the Rabbi approached the Kotel, kissed it, and began his recitation of Tehillim.  There was only a handful of people present at that hour, but not far away from where he was sitting, the Rabbi saw a young man in his thirties engaged in an intense tearful prayer to Hashem.  The Rabbi was not eavesdropping, but he could not help but overhear the young man’s words:

HaShem, you know that I left everything behind to devote my life to Y-u.  I gave up medical school for Yeshiva resulting in my friends taunting and making fun of me for making t’shuva.  Beloved Father in Heaven, I do not ask for an easy route, and I do not want any riches.  But Y-u have commanded us to honor the Shabbat.  How can I do that with an empty table?  Y-u commanded me to learn Torah day and night.  But how can I do that with a hungry family?  Please, Heilige Tatty (Holy Father), hear my prayers.  Shabbat begins in another 14 hours.  I know I deserve nothing, but please strengthen my emunah (faith) and my bitachon (trust) by sending me the wherewithal to honor the Shabbat with my family….”

 At that point, the young man could not continue speaking as he was sobbing uncontrollably with tears streaming down his face.

The Rabbi from Haifa was in awe of HaShem’s unbelievable Divine Providence: three hours earlier He (HaShem) had sent the nightmare to the wealthy lawyer right before he (the Rabbi) was to make his monthly visit to the Kotel in Yerushalayim.  And here was this obviously worthy Torah scholar who was in need of the 400 shekels he had been given to donate to such a person.  With a silent prayer of thanks to HaShem for the privilege of serving as H-s messenger, the Rabbi walked over to the young Torah scholar and handed him the 400 hundred shekels, but not before he shared the story of the lawyer’s nightmare.  The young Torah scholar was overwhelmed with a profound sense of gratitude, and he blessed the Rabbi and lawyer.  Needless-to-say, everyone had a joyous and wonderful Shabbat!

But that is not the end of the story.  Three months later, a deadly Fajr missile came crashing through the lawyer’s bedroom wall in his luxury apartment on Mount Carmel and exploded in his bed.  But, as it turned out, he was NOT there!  He and his family had decided to spend the night with relatives in Herzliya.  As our Sages have taught, charity saves a person from death.

We read the following in this week’s parashah (Torah portion): “…and blessed are you in the field.” (Devarim 28:3) This blessing was to come to the B’Nei Yisrael because of their adherence to maintaining the covenant made with HaShem at Mount Sinai in that they would keep the mitzvot of the Torah.  We promised: “Na’aseh ve-nishmah” --- “We will do and we will obey.”  All the rest will follow from our being Hashem’s most beloved of all people.  I ask you: As we approach the coming new year of 5781, is it not the time to live up to the promise we made at Mount Sinai.  Hashem trusts that we will keep our part of the covenant.  We should trust that He will do the same.      

"Judge Not...!"

08/26/2020 06:03:56 PM

Aug26

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

          The small shtetl’s congregation was in the middle of the Shabbat Torah reading when all of a sudden, a group on nine and ten-year-old flew into the shul like a whirlwind with their Shabbat clothes muddied from collar to cuff.  They ran up to the Rabbi and exclaimed: “Rabbi, Rabbi, a cow has fallen into a pit!  What do we do?”  The Rabbi eyed the little urchins with great impatience and replied: “No one must touch the cow!  Livestock are muktzeh (untouchable) on Shabbat!”  Upset that the cow might die, the little boys went back outside.

          A few minutes later a group of pre-Bar Mitzvah- aged boys barged into the shul with their Shabbat clothes looking no better than those of the younger boys.  They, too, ran up to the Rabbi and interrupted the Torah reading by shouting: “Rabbi, Rabbi, a cow has fallen into a pit!  What do we do?”  This time the Rabbi reprimanded the boys by telling them that if they had spent more time in shul and less time in the shtetl’s mud and haystacks, they would know the halakhot (laws) of Shabbat better than they did.  He said: “The Shulchan Arukh (Code of Jewish Law) specifically states in Orach Chaim Chapter 308, Clause 39 that one may not move or lift animals on Shabbat, for they are muktzeh!  Now either sit down and open a Chumash or get out of here!”  Needless-to-say, the boys opted for the latter choice.

          After another three minutes transpired, a group of young women gathered outside the shul.  They raised such a cacophony that it completely drowned out the Torah reading altogether.  The Rabbi rolled the Sefer Torah shut for the moment and went to the window where he called out to the young women: “What is all this commotion?  Can you not respect the Torah and remain silent?”  The young women blurted out: “Rabbi, Rabbi, a cow has fallen into a pit!  What do e do?”  “Nothing,” the Rabbi shouted in reply.  “I have now declared three times that one must not lift or move an animal on Shabbat.  It is muktzeh!”  With that, the young women left.

          Two more minutes passed by bringing a fourth group, this time a group of frantic congregants who informed that Rabbi of the cow that had fallen into a pit.  However, they added one more bit of information the others had neglected to mention: “Rabbi, Rabbi, it is your cow that has fallen into a pit!”  Without even batting an eyelash, the Rabbi declared: “Call Ivan the caretaker and tell him that I said to pull the cow out of the pit by its horns!”  As soon as the Rabbi had heard that it was his cow that had fallen into the pit, he had no problem in pulling a string of halakhic dispensations out of his pocket.

We read in this week’s parashah, Parashat Ki Teitzei, the following passage: “You shall not have in your purse a stone and a stone: a large on and a small one.  You shall not have in your house an ephah and an ephah: a large on and a small one.  ((Rather,) a complete and just stone you shall have; a full and just ephah you shall have; in order that your days will be lengthened upon the Land that Hashem, your G-d, is giving to you.  For it is an abomination of Hashem, your G-d, any who do these --- any who perform falsehood.”  (Devarim 25:13-16) The two sets of stones and the two measures of ephah mentioned in this passage symbolize a double standard that we all-too-often use between the way we judge others and the way we judge ourselves.  It is true that we human beings are very subjective in that we are strict with others but lenient with ourselves.  However, we must realize, especially at this time of the year, that this double standard is dangerous.  Note that we read this parashah during the Month of Elul, the month during which we are supposed to be preparing ourselves for Rosh HaShanah.

Rebbe Nachman of Breslov writes: When a person speaks about another person, it resembles Rosh HaShanah, the Day of Judgement.  Therefore, one must look carefully at himself if he has the right to judge the other person.”  Rebbe Nachman explains that because no one has the measure of mercy that Hashem has, no one can judge his fellow human being as mercifully as Hashem can.  “Middah k’neged middah “ --- “a turn for a turn”:  a person is judged in the same way s/he judges others.  Either we should judge others with at least the same leniency with which we judge ourselves or --- even better --- we should refrain from judging others altogether.  In that way, perhaps, we will merit a favorable judgement from Hashem.  May each of us receive just such a judgement as we approach 5781.  “L’shanah Tovah Tikateyvu!”

 

"And the Band Played On!"

08/19/2020 05:44:57 PM

Aug19

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

With the advent of the month of Elul we begin reciting Psalm 27 as directed by the Mishnah Berurah: “The custom in our countries is to say from Rosh Chodesh Elul until Shemini Atzeret every day after the end of prayer services morning and evening “By David, HaShem is my light and my salvation….[Psalm 27]” (Mishnah Berurah 581:2)  We recite this particular Psalm during this penitential month as a special request to Hashem that He accept our prayers.  It is during the month of Elul that we ask Hashem not to push us away in spite of our many shortcomings.  It is at this time that we earnestly seek H-s Divine Presence.  But there is one verse in this Psalm that seems out of place.  Why? Because it makes a request of HaShem: “One thing I ask of HaShem, only this do I desire: Let me live in the House of HaShem all the days of my life, let me gaze upon the beauty of Hashem, and let me frequent H-s Sanctuary.”  (Tehillim 27:4) At first glance, this is obviously not a single request; it is three requests.  So why does David speak of “one thing?”  Perhaps the following parable will add some clarity.

Reuven Dovid was the richest man in all of Nemirov owning ships in the port of Odessa, warehouses in the city of Berditchev, and grain stores in Uman.  Although he was very careful with his money, he nonetheless supported both the poor and the scholars of Torah by opening his home to guests with no one ever leaving without a smile and a full stomach.  Because of this, Reuven Dovid was beloved in all of Nemirov.  As such, the entire town eagerly anticipated the wedding of Reuven Dovid’s daughter, for each person felt like this was his or her own family’s celebration.

One month before the wedding, Reuven Dovid summoned Mendel the Litvak.  Mendel Litvak was a Breslover Chasid and a musician of the best repute in all of Podolia Province.  Mendel’s klezmer band could turn a “routine” wedding into an unforgettable experience.  People in the Podolia Province of central Ukraine used to say that Mendel Litvak’s fiddle had made more people do teshuva than all the preachers in the province combined.  Reuven Dovid personally loved Mendel Litvak’s music and was eager to hire him for his daughter’s wedding.  To his delight, Mendel Litvak and his band were available on the designated night of the wedding.  All that remained was for an agreement to be made on the price.

“How much do you charge for Klezmer?asked Reuven Dovid.  “Two hundred rubles per musician,” came Mendel Litvak’s reply.  Because Reuven Dovid was so eager to “seal the deal,” all he heard was “two hundred rubles.”  This seemed to him to be a tremendous bargain for such a prominent klezmer band.  Not hearing the words “per musician,” he shook Mendel Litvak’s hand and declared, “It’s a deal!”

Needless-to-say, Reuven Dovid’s daughter’s wedding was the best the town of Nemirov had ever known.  The tables were overflowing with delicacies that most of the townspeople had never seen, much less tasted, in their lives.  Mendel Litvak together with his drummer, his clarinet player, and his bass fiddler played up a storm carrying the celebrants on the holy fervor of the songs’ melodies from joy to tears and back again.  After the wedding was over, people exclaimed that whenever Mendel Litvak plays, you have to bring with you an extra set of shoes so that if the pair you came in falls apart, you will have a replacement pair you can put on in order to keep on dancing.

As the guests were filing out, Reuven Dovid came up to Mendel Litvak and hugged him and embraced him and thanked him and gave him…two hundred rubles.  “What’s this?” Mendel Litvak demanded to know.  “It’s your earnings, “replied Reuven Dovid.  “You said the price was two hundred rubles….”  “Per musician,” Mendel Litvak interjected.  “You owe me another six hundred rubles!”  “Eight hundred rubles?” Reuven Dovid chokingly replied.  “Whatever for?”  Mendel Litvak was toe-to-toe with Reuven Dovid as he replied: “Do you expect my clarinetist, my drummer, and my bass fiddle player to work for free?  My fiddle is nothing without their accompaniment.  When you hire Mendel Litvak, you have to pay for the Klezmer!”

        The Malbim explains the verse I quoted from Psalm 27 saying that King David’s one aspiration included all his desires.  In the same way that the story tells of the price of Mendel Litvak’s klezmer band including all four musicians, the Malbim tells us that King David aspired to serve HaShem, to understand HaShem’s ways, and to spend all of his days in the House of HaShem praying and learning Torah.  In this month of Elul, the final month of the year 5780, may we have our own aspirations, maybe not as great as King David’s but aspirations nonetheless.  May each of us aspire to become a little better than we were a week ago, a month ago, even a year ago.  May we remember what Rebbe Nachman of Breslov taught: Because entire spiritual worlds are illuminated by every tiny good deed, Hashem derives gratification from all of us completing any mitzvah no matter how small it may be.  May we seek Hashem’s help to fulfill our aspirations resulting in a healthy and happy 5781.  Amen!  

"Fly, Eagle, Fly!"

08/12/2020 03:20:56 PM

Aug12

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

In this week’s parashah, Parashat Re’eh, we read the following: “See [that] I am putting before you today blessings and curses.  The blessings: [on condition] that you will hearken to the mitzvot (commandments) of HaShem, Your G-d, that I am commanding you today.  And the curses: if you will not hearken to the mitzvot of HaShem, your G-d, and you will stray from the path that I am commanding you today to go after other gods.”  [Devarim (Deuteronomy) 11:26-28] Our Tradition teaches that all that happens in this world is ordained by Hashem except for the most precious gift He has given us: free will.  Based on this passage from our Torah, we see that Hashem wants us to use our free will in order to make a very clear-cut choice: either follow the mitzvot of the Torah and live or do not follow the mitzvot of the Torah and die.  It would seem very obvious to the most clear-headed thinker that the choice must be made to live, yes?  I offer the following two vignettes for your consideration in answering this question.

An eagle’s nest was accidently placed in a chicken coop.  The egg in the nest eventually hatched, and the eagle grew up thinking it was no different from all of its chicken friends in the coop.  The eagle did everything that the chickens did.  It scratched the dirt for seeds.  It clucked and cackled.  It walked and ran and hopped.  It never tried flying more than a few feet because, after all, its chicken friends could not fly.

One day, the eagle saw a bird flying gracefully and majestically high up in the open sky, and it asked its chicken friends:What is that beautiful bird?”  They replied: “That is an eagle.  It is an outstanding bird, but you will never fly like that because you are merely a chicken.”  The eagle never gave it a second thought, for it believed that the words of its chicken friends were absolutely true.  It continued to live like a chicken, and eventually it died like a chicken.  Due to its lack of vision, due to its inability to make a choice, the eagle was deprived of its heritage.

 

          Once a man asked Shlomo HaMelekh (King Solomon) to teach him the language of birds, but Shlomo HaMelekh refused to do so explaining that it was not a good idea to be familiar with the language of birds.  But the man persisted, so Shlomo HaMelekh taught him.  One day the man was walking down the street listening to the birds chirping.  He found out that they were “talking” about him describing how that very night all of his sheep were going to die.  The man thought to himself: “This is horrible news! Now that I know, I can sell them before it happens!” So, he sold his sheep.  A few days later, he again listened to the birds chirping while he was walking, and again they were “talking” about him, this time saying that his house was going to burn down that very night.  He quickly sold his house.  He was very pleased with himself as he thought how good it was that he knew the language of birds, for he had saved himself from suffering a huge monetary loss.  The next day as he listened to the birds chirping, he found out that he was to die that very night!  Of course, he became very upset and ran to see Shlomo HaMelekh to tell him what had happened.

          Shlomo HaMelekh shook his head and said: “Now you understand why I did not want to teach you the language of birds.  Apparently, you once committed a certain sin for which you deserve severe punishment.  However, Hashem in H-s great kindness, wanted to give you a “clean slate” by giving you a small punishment: killing all your sheep.  When you did not allow H-m to do that, He moved on to the burning down of your house, but you did not allow H-m to do that either.  Therefore, the only remaining action that Hashem could provide you with atonement for your soul was your death.”

Two stories about using our free will to make choices.  In the story about the eagle, the choice was wasted.  The eagle did not aspire to anything greater as he wanted to be like every “Tom, Dick, and Harry.”  Too often, we, the People Israel, make that very same choice.  We forget that we are not like everyone else; we forget that we are covenanted to Hashem.  In the story about the man who learned how understand the language of birds, we must never forget that although we have been created b’Tzelem Elohim (in the Image of G-d), we cannot “outsmart” Hashem by making the wrong choices we think will benefit us.  And we must never fail to use the Torah as our indispensable guide in making the right choices.   

"That Look of Love!"

08/06/2020 03:18:04 PM

Aug6

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

We read the following in this week’s parashah, Parashat Ekev: “Keep, therefore, all the commandment that I command you today, so that you may have the strength to enter and take possession of the land that you are about to cross into and possess, so that you may long endure upon the soil that Hashem swore to your fathers to assign to them and to their descendants, a land flowing with milk and honey. For the land that you are about to enter and possess is not like the Land of Egypt from which you have come…but the land you are about to cross into and possess, a land of hills and valleys, soaks up its water from the rains of Heaven. It is a land which Hashem your G-d looks after, on which HaShem your G-d always keeps H-s eye, from year’s beginning to year’s end. If, then, you obey the commandments that I command you today, loving HaShem your G-d and serving H-m with all your heart and soul, I will grant rain for your land in season, the early rain and the late. You shall gather in your new grain and wine and oil. I will also provide grass in the fields for your cattle --- and thus you shall eat your fill.” (Devarim 11:8-15) Rashi comments that HaShem’s principal attention is focused on feeding Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel) only secondarily feeding the rest of the world. Rambam stresses that all the nations of the world eat only by virtue of the “personal” attention HaShem gives to Eretz Yisrael. Rebbe Nachman of Breslov explains Rambam’s statement as follows: “There is an intellectuality of Eretz Yisrael and an intellectuality of the other nations. The intellectuality of the other nations feeds from the intellectuality of Eretz Yisrael, for the main wisdom and intellect are in Eretz Yisrael.” (Likutei Moharan, II:71) Perhaps this concept can be clarified by way of the following parable:

A great and magnificent King lived in a large, beautiful palace with his only daughter, the Princess. She was the “apple of his eye” and his heart’s greatest love. The Princess was lovely, both on the inside as well as the outside, and she was blessed with intelligence, kindness, and compassion. She also had a razor-sharp intellect, an endless thirst for learning, and a phenomenal ability to understand and retain everything she learned. There was not a wise man or a minister in the entire kingdom whom the King could entrust with the education of his beloved daughter. Therefore, he educated her himself thus ensuring that her intellectuality would be an extension of his own intellectuality. In fact, the Princess learned from texts that her father the King himself had composed. She was so engrossed in her learning, satisfying her intellectual “hunger,” that she neither ate or drank anything while her father the King instructed her. But, each day, after five straight hours of learning, her delicate body would cry out for its minimal needs to satisfy her physical hunger.

There was a firm palace statute no one dared violate stating that until the King himself ordered food and drink for the Princess, all palace servants had to make due with the previous day’s leftovers. But once the King ordered food and drink for the Princess, cries of joy would be heard throughout the palace. The servants knew that when the Princess ate and drank, they would be able to do the same as well. If the Princess was hungry, the King would order the royal butcher to slaughter an entire bull just to feed the Princess her favorite delicacy: roasted tongue in mustard sauce. Then, the servants would feast on what was left over. If the Princess requested a small drink to quench her thirst, the King would order the royal wine master to open a barrel of the palace’s best wine whereupon she would barely sip half a goblet. The rest of the barrel would then be given to the servants. Because the King loved to surprise his daughter, he would command the royal baker to bake a ten-layer, four-foot high chocolate cake filled with almond and pistachio nougat. The Princess would eat a mere spoonful in obvious delight and then bless and thank her beloved father the King. The cake would then be given to the servants who were waiting to enjoy it. In other words, whenever the King ordered food for the Princess, the palace servants would have a feast.

You may ask: “Rabbi, what does this story have to do with the passage from the Torah with which you began?” Merely this: The King in this parable is Hashem; H-s beloved daughter is Eretz Yisrael; the servants are the nations of the world. Thanks to HaShem’s “watching eye” gazing upon Eretz Yisrael, the nations of the world thrive. If you doubt what I say, all you have to do is look at what Eretz Yisrael has done both for itself and the rest of the world since that day in May of 1948 when the Homeland of the People Israel was reborn. Because HaShem cares both for and about Eretz Yisrael, the People Israel both care for and about the rest of the world. After all, what other nation would offer aid and comfort to its enemies as the People Israel has done within the past few days following the catastrophic explosion that took place in the city of Beirut by offering aid and comfort to the people of Beirut, the capital city of the state that harbors and is controlled by an enemy of both the People Israel and the State of Israel? The answer to this question is obvious: Eretz Yisrael, Medinat Yisrael, Am Yisrael all comprise not just “any nation.” This is the Land, this is the State, and this is the People all watched over by Hashem. May we continue to merit H-s ever-present gaze.

 

"Let Us All Sing...!"

07/29/2020 04:41:41 PM

Jul29

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

This Shabbat is known as “Shabbat Nachamu,” “The Sabbath of Comforting,” the name coming from the first word of this week’s Haftarah. From this week’s parashah, Parashat Va-Et’Channan, we read the following: “And you shall remember that you were a slave in the Land of Egypt, and HaShem, your G-d, took you out from there, with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore, Hashem, your G-d, has commanded you to make the Day of Shabbat.” (Devarim 5:15) In the days of the Holy Temple, may it be rebuilt speedily in our day, the head of the Beit Din (Rabbinical Court) had the power to declare when the months and the holidays would fall according to the deliberations of the members of the Beit Din. Notwithstanding this unique power they possessed given to them by Hashem, Shabbat remained Shabbat, forever being on the seventh day of the week (Saturday). With this in mind, we must ask how could Hashem command B’Nei Yisrael (the Children of Israel) to “make” Shabbat? Only HaShem could “make” Shabbat and he already had done so prior to Creation. To answer this, the following parable is offered for your consideration:

A great King ruled over 127 lands. After conquering his enemies, he decided to build the most magnificent palace the world had ever seen. The palace was erected on a hill and built of white marble and gold. It glittered in the sun from miles away. The palace’s exquisite interior was decorated with the finest silk tapestries from the Far East as well as solid mahogany furnishings from the Philippines. The King spared no expense in making the royal residence one of the great wonders of the world.

More than anything, the King loved his tropical gardens. He planned an intricate and magnificent series of miniature paradises, having the continent’s foremost landscape architects and zoological and botanical experts implement his plans. Over the period of 6 years, they designed and built a royal haven that was beyond the wildest dreams of any seeker of natural beauty.

The gardens were organized into a successive series of individual microclimates, each one representing a different area of the kingdom. One garden had thick leafy tropical plants with exotic fruit. A second garden had a flowing mountain-type stream filled with rainbow trout. A third garden resembled an African jungle while a fourth garden consisted of a series of ponds filled with exotic fish and covered in lily pads. As one proceeded into the fifth garden, he found deer, gazelles, and angora rabbits roaming the grounds without fear. The sixth garden contained literally thousands of specimens of the world’s rarest flowers in all their splendor. But it was the seventh garden, the one that contained tropical birds, that was the King’s favorite. He invited the world’s leading aviculturists to send him rare species, and he was willing to pay any price for these rare birds that he loved.

After 6 years of hard work, the King – escorted by the members of the royal staff who were charged with maintaining the gardens – devoted an entire day of inspecting his “Haven of Heaven” on earth. He found everything perfect. As he inspected the seventh garden, he came upon the rarest of birds, a grandiose long-tailed peacock from China which cost him a million gold pieces. He then spotted a rare blue-and-red cockatoo from Ceylon which cost twice that much. However, in spite of the fact that this seventh garden was truly magnificent, something inexplicable was missing. The King turned to the royal aviculturist and said: “My heart tells me that a certain species is missing from this aviary. I find everything to be lovely, a delight to my eyes. But I do not feel the joy I should be feeling from this, my favorite garden. What could be lacking?” The royal aviculturist replied; “It is true, your Majesty, something is missing. I wanted to purchase a pair of extremely rare nightingales from the Vale of Sharon, but they cost 5 million gold pieces, more than double that of the Ceylonese cockatoo.” The King asked: “Why so expensive? Aren’t nightingales half as beautiful as the cockatoo or the peacock?” The royal aviculturist answered: “They are known to have the sweetest song imaginable, your Majesty. Nothing can imitate them.” “Are they worth the price?’ the King inquired. “In my humble opinion, your Majesty,” answered the royal aviculturist, “most certainly they are worth the price. Your Majesty will feel as though the Archangels will have descended into the garden when you hear them sing.” “The money is yours!” exclaimed the King. “Bring them immediately no matter what the expense!”

After the nightingales were purchased and placed in the King’s favorite garden, the King began spending all of his time among the birds. The delight of the nightingales’ sweet harmonies was greater than anything the King had ever heard before. Because in their songs they canted the King’s praise, a completely new dimension was created in the King’s entire array of gardens. With the singing of the nightingales, the King’s gardens were finally complete.

Our tradition teaches that HaShem takes indescribable pleasure in the zemirot (songs) that B’nei Yisrael sing at the Shabbat table. Because our singing of Hashem’s praises on Shabbat is what “makes” Shabbat, we truly do have the power to fulfill the mitzvah (command) given to us from Hashem that is found in the verse I quoted.

Especially on this Shabbat, Shabbat Nachamu, may our Shabbat zemirot be filled with praises of Hashem as well as comfort for H-s people.

"From Black to White!"

07/23/2020 06:02:52 PM

Jul23

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

We begin the final book of the Chumash, Sefer Devarim (the Book of Deuteronomy) on this Shabbat. read the following from this week’s parashah, Parashat Devarim: “And you spoke slander in your tents, and you said, ’With HaShem’s hatred of us He took us out of the Land of Egypt, to deliver us into the hand of the Amorites to destroy us.’” (Devarim 1:27) A Midrash (a Rabbinic interpretive story/legend) tells us that HaShem saw the B’nei Yisrael (Children of Israel) weeping and said, “You want to weep. I will give you something to weep about.” Thus, the decree was issued from Heaven that this day, Tisha B’Av (the Ninth of Av) would become a day of mourning. It is on Tisha B’Av that a series of tragic events have overtaken the People Israel including the following: the destruction of both the First Temple and the Second Temple in Yerushalayim (Jerusalem), the defeat in 135 C.E. (the Common Era) of Bar Kochba by the Romans, the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492, the declaration of war by Britain and Russia (strange bedfellows!) against Germany beginning World War I (“The War to End All Wars!) eventually leading to the Shoah (the Holocaust) and World War II, and the beginning of the deportation of Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto. Tisha B’Av is indeed a day with a black cloud hanging over it.

There is an old saying that relates how every dark cloud has a silver lining. And this is also true with Tisha B’Av. What is the silver lining of Tisha B’Av? It is Yom Kippur. Tisha B’Av is known as “the Black Fast” in Jewish tradition because it is a day of national mourning. Yom Kippur is known as “the White Fast” because (im mertz Hashem) by the end of Ne’ilah, we believe our sins are forgiven. Both days are 25-hour fasts, but there is a difference. As one Jewish writer put it: “On Tisha B’Av, when we remember the suffering, who can eat? On Yom Kippur when our sins are being forgiven, who needs to eat?” We go from black to white.

But Tisha B’Av itself is not without tikvah (hope). The prophet Zecharyah speaks of the four fast days that will turn into days of rejoicing. “And the word of HaShem of Hosts came to me saying, ‘Thus said HaShem of Hosts: “The fast of the fourth month (the 17th of Tammuz), the fast of the fifth month (Tisha B’Av), the fast of the seventh month (Tzom Gedaliah), and the fast of the tenth month (the 10th of Tevet) shall become occasions for joy and gladness, happy festivals for the House of Yehudah (Judah); but you must love honesty and peace.”’” (Zecharyah 8:18-19) And the greatest occasion of joy and gladness will happen on this day: the Mashiach (Messiah) will be born on Tisha B’Av.

This Tisha B’Av will be unlike any other ever observed. This year, we observe Tisha B’Av coping with the horrible pandemic of COVID-19. What is worse, because of the way in which we must protect ourselves from COVID-19, most of the worldwide Jewish Community will not be physically together to fast and to mourn and to pray. It seems to many that all tikvah will be lost this year. But as we hear the mournful words of the impending destruction of Yerushalayim as expressed by the prophet Yesha’yahu (Isaiah) found in this week’s haftarah, we must focus intensely on words found at both the beginning and the ending of the haftarah: “The Chazon (Vision) of Yesha’yahu, son of Amotz (Amos) that which he viewed concerning Yehudah and YerushalayimTziyon (Zion) will be redeemed with justice and its return with righteousness.” (Yesha’yahu 1:1 & 27) This Shabbat is known as “Shabbat Chazon,” the Sabbath of Vision. May we take strength from the words of Yesha’yahu. May we envision the day when a vaccine has been created which will, at the very least, stop this COVID-19 pandemic in its tracks. And as prophesied by Zecharyah, may our days of mourning be turned into days of joy and gladness.

"Step by Step, Inch by Inch...!"

07/08/2020 04:44:31 PM

Jul8

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

In this week’s double Torah reading, Parshiot Mattot-Mas’ei, we find the following: “These were the encampments of B’Nei Yisrael, who went out of the Land of Egypt by their legions by the authority of Moshe and Aharon. And Moshe recorded their goings out for their travels by the word of Hashem, and these were their travels for their goings out.” (BaMidbar 33:1-2) What follows is a long list of all the encampments the B’Nei Yisrael made on their 40-year journey to the Promised Land. So, why such detail? What do we learn from this list of their journeys? I offer the following parable:

Danoff was a wealthy merchant who had plenty of money. His lifelong wish was to retire and spend the rest of his days in the Beit Medrash engaged in Torah learning. To achieve this, Danoff knew that he must properly train his only son Izak in the fine points of trading and international commerce. If he did not do this, Danoff was certain that his import-export business with its fleet of ships would literally be sunk. He decided to make his son Izak take a tedious journey that involved performing a myriad of tasks on the way to his ultimate destination. Danoff told his son: “I want you to embark from the port of Odessa and sail to Istanbul. Whatever the ship’s captain tells you to do, you must do! Remember: the fact that you are my son will not win you any special privileges until you have completed the tasks I have assigned you. If you perform your job well, I shall step down and turn everything over to you. Your reward shall be exceedingly great!”

The journey from Odessa to Istanbul was unbearable for Izak. The churning water of the Black Sea caused him terrible seasickness. Even worse, he was forced to do the most menial tasks on board the ship during the journey, including cleaning the sanitary facilities and shlepping heavy crates. Upon his arrival in Istanbul, Izak received a telegram from his father ordering him to purchase a very special type of silk of a certain high-quality costing a very high price. For three weeks, Izak was lost in the labyrinth of Istanbul’s many market places unable to find the specific type of silk his father wanted him to purchase. All this time he kept reminding himself that he should not become discouraged because his father was counting on him. And suddenly, the very next day, he found exactly what his father wanted.

As he made his way to Athens, Izak was barely able to escape a band of thieves bent on robbing him of his wares. In Italy, he received another telegram from his father sending him on to Switzerland, there to become acquainted with the world of international banking. From Switzerland he traveled to Paris. By this time, he had been away from home for one full year. All this time, Izak had worked on his father’s ships and bought, sold, and traded imported and exported goods, all under his father’s watchful eye. Danoff was very pleased with his son’s accomplishments. Izak had proven himself up to everyone of his father’s tasks. He was ready to come home to Odessa! Upon his arrival, his father gave him a hero’s welcome and happily turned the entire business over to him. Izak had everything he had ever dreamed of for the rest of his life.

The description found in the Torah reading of each of the B’nei Yisrael’s journeys from place to place in the desert together with the accounts of what they experienced on the way are important to take an accounting of. Why? Because just as Danoff sent his son Izak on a set of difficult journeys across Europe to learn the necessary skills of business management and to prove himself to his father, so, too, HaShem sends us --- H-s children --- on our journeys through life in order to perfect our souls through the mitzvot (duties) of the Torah. By withstanding all that is thrown at us on our journeys, we gain and develop our “skills” in learning to believe in and trust Hashem. In so doing, we correct and refine our souls.

May we never stop our journeys until we, Am Yisrael, arrive at our unique destination, a destination ordained for us by HaShem!

Sun, October 25 2020 7 Cheshvan 5781