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"Might Does Not Always Make Right!"

07/11/2019 05:08:21 PM


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

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

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

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


07/03/2019 01:55:04 PM


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

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

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

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

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

"I Spy!"

06/26/2019 04:19:16 PM


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

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

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

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

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

06/12/2019 04:11:07 PM


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

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

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

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

"Do You Believe in Miracles!?!"

06/05/2019 01:54:51 PM


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

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

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

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

"Stop and Smell the Roses"

05/29/2019 02:23:56 PM


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

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

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

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

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

"A Field of Dreams?"

05/24/2019 09:55:55 AM


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

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

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

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

"Lead from the Front!"

05/14/2019 04:01:54 PM


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

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

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

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

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

"Judge Not Lest Ye be Judged!"

05/08/2019 02:36:29 PM


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

In this week's parashah, Parashat Kedoshim, we read the following: "You shall not commit a perversion of justice; you shall not favor the poor and you shall not honor the great; with righteousness shall you judge your fellow."  (VaYikra/Leviticus 19:15)  We learn from this verse that a judge must measure those standing before him/her with the "yardstick of justice" (i.e.- in strict accordance with halakhah [Jewish Law]).  However, our Sages also interpreted this verse to mean that we must judge each person favorably, meaning that, if at all possible, we must find some justification for his/her actions.  There appears to be a contradiction between the two interpretations.  Just what is going on here?  I offer the following vignette:

"The score was 8 to 0, and the other team showed no signs of improving their performance.  Reuven was playing a pick-up game of pool volleyball at camp against some teenagers.  They were playing rather poorly, and Reuven was a bit surprised.  After all, these boys had been in the pool for a while practicing.  All they had to do was get the ball over the net, but they could not seem to do that at all. Reuven's team scored three more points making the score 11 to 0.  As the game would end when the one of the teams would score 22 points, both teams switched sides in the pool.  Reuven's team took up its position, and play resumed.  In a short while, the other team had caught up with Reuven's team.   And no matter how hard Reuven's team tried, they could not get the ball over the net.  Until Reuven's team switched sides, Reuven had no idea that the other side of the pool was the deep end.  In the shallow end of the pool, it was easy to play the game.  But it was much harder to do so in the deep end.  Eventually, the opposing team won the game.

It is at this time of the year that we read a chapter of Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) every Shabbat afternoon.  In Pirkei Avot we read "Do not judge your fellow until you have reached his place."  All-too-often, we judge other peoples' actions based upon the position in which we are located.  And that is wrong.  Why?  Because our position is only ours; no one else can occupy it.  And that is true of everybody.  When someone's actions seem strange or even wrong to us, we must realize that this is probably so because we are missing some vital information that makes all the difference in the world.  To judge others favorably is not merely doing something kind.  To judge others favorably helps us to seek out the truth about them.  This skill is not only crucial to the judge in the courtroom; it is also vital in maintaining our relationships with others.  Shabbat Shalom!

"In One and Out the Other!"

05/03/2019 09:54:40 AM


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

In this day and age, we human beings must be able to adapt to the ever changing situation in which we live.  And that is part of what makes us human: the ability to acclimate to almost any environment, any climate , or any condition in which we find ourselves.  Even when the new circumstance may be highly annoying and very uncomfortable, we can become accustomed to it if we spend a long enough time in it.  However (and there is always a "However"), the opposite side of the coin is true as well.  Even when we find ourselves in a new environment that is welcoming and luxurious and somewhat exotic, we also become accustomed to it and accept it as "the new normal."  I believe that this is what "plagues" the non-Orthodox American Jewish Community at this time.  We accept what is even when it is antithetical to living life as a Jew.  So what is it that we must do to retain out unique identities as Jews?  As always, we turn to (what else?) our Torah for the answer.

In this week's parashah, Parashat Acharei Mot, we read the following command to Aharon following the death of his sons Nadav and Avihu: "And Hashem said to Moshe: 'Speak with Aharon your brother, that he shall not enter at all times to the Sanctuary, within the Partition, before the Cover that is on the Ark; then he will not die.'" (VaYikra/Leviticus16:2)  There was a specific time when Aharon, the first Kohen Gadol (High Priest) could approach HaShem in the Kodesh HaKodashim (the Holy of Holies) in the Mishkan (the Wilderness Tabernacle), and that was on Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement).  Why the restriction?  Because if he entered the Kodesh HaKodashim more often, he would then become accustomed to it, and it would no longer have the profound effect that it had by his doing this only on Yom Kippur.  We read the following from our Tanakh (Hebrew Scriptures) regarding how our people were to come into and depart from the Beit HaMikdash during the Shalosh Regalim (the Three Pilgrimage Festivals) in Yerushalayim (Jerusalem): "Whoever comes in by way of the Northern Gate to prostrate himself shall go out by way of the Southern Gate.  He shall not return by way of the gate through which he came in.  Rather he shall go out opposite it." (Yechezkel/Ezekiel 46:9)  When our people came to the Beit HaMikdash during the Shalosh Regalim, they were awestruck by its beauty and magnificence.  They could literally feel the holiness that was inside its walls.  They would leave inspired and uplifted until they made their next visit.  However, in order for this feeling to remain, they were ordered not to go through the same entranceway twice lest they would become too familiar with this holy place.

The power of being able to adapt to almost any situation has become a detriment in our lives as Jews here in America.  We live our lives as Americans first and Jews second, and that has resulted in the highest rate of assimilation ever experienced by the American Jewish Community.  [German Jews also viewed themselves as Germans first and Jews second.  We have just commemorated on Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Day) the disastrous results of how that turned out.] But we have in place that Sanctuary, that Beit HaMikdash, that Kodesh HaKodashim with us right here, right now.  It is called Shabbat.  It is separate and apart from the other six days of the week making it both holy and special.  We must treat it as such by adapting our lives to this day that defines us, and only us, as the People Israel.  Let all of us make every effort possible to do just that!  Shabbat Shalom!

"Am Yisrael Chai!"

04/18/2019 02:19:22 PM


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

Imagine the following scenario:  A man wearing a white coat is walking down the main street of his city carrying a baseball bat.  As soon as he sees another person coming his way, he walks up to the man and begins swinging away at him with the baseball bat.  After a few swings, the man with the bat manages to land a blow that puts the other man down on the ground writhing in pain.  With that, the man who delivered the blow bends down and says this to the injured person: "Don't worry, my friend. You see this white coat I am wearing?  I am this city's leading orthopedic doctor, and I work in this city's finest hospital.  I will make sure that you have a full and speedy recovery!"  An impossible scenario, you say?  Maybe not.  Just think about the following scenario that actually happened.

In Sefer Breyshit (the Book of Genesis) we read the following: "And He (Hashem) said to Avram: 'You shall surely know that your seed will be strangers in a land [that does] not belong to them; and they shall serve them, and they will afflict them [for] four hundred years.'" (Breyshit/Genesis 15:13)  One of the recurring themes of the Seder meal is our giving thanks to Hashem for having brought us out of Eretz Mitzrayim (the Land of Egypt) with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm.  But why are we so grateful to Hashem for saving us when it was He who put us there in the first place?  That reminds of the vignette of the defendant who appears in court before the judge after being charged with the murder of his parents and pleads for mercy because he is now an orphan.  HaShem could have kept us far away from Eretz Mitzrayim so that no harm would have befallen us and there would have been no need to rescue us.

The answer to this perplexing riddle is that our descent into Eretz Mitzrayim was necessary, because it was there that Am Yisrael (the People Israel) were formed as a nation.  It was there that Am Yisrael became capable of being lifted up in order to gain the merit of receiving the Torah.  It is because we were slaves that we had no choice but to recognize HaShem's role in taking us out from Eretz Mitzrayim.  And it is because of this status in our relationship with Hashem at that time that we could receive the Torah from Hashem saying the words "Na'ase v'Nishma!" ("We will do and we will listen!")  Chag Kosher ve-Sameyach!

"I'm a Loser?"

04/10/2019 02:59:19 PM


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

In the Story of Creation found in Sefer Bereshit (the Book of Genesis), we read the following: "And G'd said, 'Let the waters be gathered from below the Heavens to one place, and let the dry land appear;' and it was so.  And G'd called the dry land "earth," and the gathering of the waters He called "seas," and G'd saw that it was good."  (Bereshit 1:9)  At the very beginning of Creation, the Earth was covered with water with the emergence of land coming about as stated in the verse just quoted.  In this week's parashah, Parashat Metzora, we read that one of the stages in the purification process of the metzora ( one who suffers from tzara'at) is tevilah (immersion) in a mikveh (a ritual pool of water).  It is when the metzora immerses and then emerges from the mikveh that s/he feels as though s/he has been created anew.  This is also what happens to one who converts to Judaism as well: s/he is "reborn" during  tevilah in the mikveh.

As I stated in last week's "Rabbi's Corner," our Tradition teaches us that the metzora was afflicted with tzara'at because of his/her failure to guard the words s/he spoke to other people about other people.  To overcome being a metzora, a specific process of purification had to be followed.  This being "reborn" caused the person to put his/her past behind and move forward using that past as a learning tool.  Anyone who has been successful can tell you that success does not come overnight.  Becoming a success more-often-than-not involves a great deal of failure.  Possibly the greatest basketball player of all time, Michael Jordan, has been touted as having single-handedly redefined what makes an NBA superstar.  And yet this is what he says about his success: "I've missed more than 9,000 shots in my career.  I've lost almost 300 games.  26 times I was entrusted with the ball so that I would make the game-winning shot, and I missed.  I have been a failure over and over in my life."  But this, and not the statistics, are what is most important for Michael Jordan: he used his failures as his motivation to "shoot" for success.  In spite of the fact that his shooting average was just under 50% (i.e.- in order to score points he would take 2 shots; one he missed and the other he made), he used the shots he missed as stepping stones toward successfully making the basket on the next shot.  The question is this: was Michael Jordan a failure or a success?

As with the metzora and how s/he proceeds in life after having suffered from tzara'at, it is how we view our failures and what we do with them that makes all the difference in our lives.

"Guard Thy Tongue!"

04/03/2019 05:07:13 PM


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

Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel once sent his servant, Tavi, to the market to buy "good food."  Tavi, who was known for his wisdom, brought back beef tongue.  Rav Shimon immediately sent him back to buy "bad food."  Again he returned with beef tongue.  Rav Shimon asked him how the same food could be both "good" and "bad."  Tavi replied: "From a tongue can come both good and bad.  When a tongue speaks good by complimenting or praising another person, there can be nothing better.  But when a tongue speaks evil by speaking lashon hara ("gossip") or by making fun of another person, there is nothing worse.  It can break up families, and it can kill."

This week's parashah, Parashat Tazria, talks of the disease of tza'arat, all-too-often mistranslated as "leprosy."  The fact is that tza'arat is not a communicable disease like the mumps or measles.  Our Sages tell us that a person receives this affliction due to speaking lashon hara (e.g. - telling tales/lies about another person).  The literal translation of lashon harah is "evil tongue."  The Tanakh tells us: "Death and life are in the hands of the tongue." (Mishlei 18:21)  On a slight variation of an old adage, the tongue is mightier than the sword.  Why?  Because a sword can only kill the person who is next to you.  The tongue, on the other hand, can speak words on one continent that "hit the heart" of of someone on another continent and "kill" them.  Of all the limbs and organs of the human body the tongue moves with the greatest speed and the least effort.  Using the tongue to spread lashon hara is the most frequently committed sin which in human beings engage.  And it is this sin that caused one to be afflicted with tza'arat.  

In the Story of Creation, we read: "And (HaShem) blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a nefesh chaya ("a living being").  (Bereshit 2:7)  Targum Onkelos translates nefesh chaya as "a speaking spirit."  It is the human soul given to each one of us by Hashem that gives human beings the ability and the power to speak.  But Hashem also gave us something else that gives us the ability to use our tongues wisely: He gave us teeth and lips which act as two "gatekeepers" for the words we speak.  Thus, a person has to think twice before s/he says something once.  Remember: a bird that escapes may be caught and returned to its owner; a word that escapes can never be returned!

"We Know Nothing, Nothing!"

03/28/2019 03:08:46 PM


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

There is a story told by a colleague that comes out of Bait Ya'akov of Baltimore about a couple who had been Torah and mitzvot observant before the Shoah (the Holocaust).  Sadly, but not unexpectedly, after experiencing the horrors of the Shoah, the husband dropped all religious observance.  Because the wife was able to retain her belief in Hashem and Torah despite of all the tragedy she had witnessed and experienced, she insisted that her husband should at the very least go to shul simply because he was still, and always would be, a Jew.  Nevertheless, he steadfastly refused to go.  After arguing about it for a while, the wife finally said: : "You know, each morning you run out to buy the newspaper and come and read it from cover to cover.  As a personal favor to me, could you please buy your newspaper and take it to shul and read it there?  I'm not asking you to go there to daven.  Just go there and read your newspaper and make me happy."  Because the husband wanted to please his wife, he agreed to her request.  For years, he would go to shul each morning and sit in the very back and read his newspaper while everybody else davened.

Now I ask you: If you saw a man coming into the CSS morning minyan each day the just to read the  newspaper, never once putting on a tallit or tefillin, never once opening a siddur, how would you react?  Even if you said nothing or did nothing about it, wouldn't you think that this person is a sheigetz?  Would you not think that he is being totally disrespectful to the shul, to Judaism, to Hashem?  Would you not wonder why he cannot read his newspaper at home?  Well, if you thought any or all of this, I would not necessarily blame you.  That would be the expected reaction.  But, believe it or not, that is not how the congregants of this shul reacted.  Not only did they not chastise this man, they actually befriended him.  After davening was completed, they would schmooze with him.  If a yahrzeit was being remembered, they would invite him to join them for a "l'chaim."  So what eventually happened?  You guessed it: he stopped reading his newspaper, started davening three times each day, and eventually became the shul president.

In this week's parashah, Parashat Semini, we read the following: "But this is what you shall not eat from among those that bring up their cud or that have spilt hooves: the camel, for it brings up its cud but its hoof is not split --- it is unclean to you; the hyrax, for it brings up its cud but its hoof will not split --- it is unclean to you; and the hare, for it brings up its cud but its hoof has not been split --- it is unclean to you." (VaYikra 11:4-6)  In these verses we have a combination of three different verb tenses: past, present, and future.  Why?  Rav Yisrael Salanter, zichrono livrachah (may his memory be for a blessing!), that this passage shows us how we cannot, before know someone's past, present and future, judge that this person is tamei (unclean, impure, unworthy).  If you do not know everything about the person you are about to villify, you must not be so quick to declare him/her tamei.  The members of the shul in the story did not know that this man was not reading his newspaper as an act of defiance against HaShem.  He was reading it to please his wife in spite of how he felt about Judaism because of what he had experienced during the Shoah.  Because they knew nothing about his past, his present, or his future, they accepted him as he was and became much richer for it.  We should do no less!

"Mother Nature's Son?"

03/20/2019 09:52:04 AM


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

We will read the following in this week's parashah, Parashat Tzav: "The fire on the Mizbe'ach (Altar) should be kept burning, it shall not be extinguished; and the Kohen shall kindle the wood upon it every morning; he shall prepare the Olah (Elevation-Offering) upon it and shall cause the fats of the Sh'lamim (Pease-Offerings) to go up in smoke upon it." (VaYikra 6:5)  There were three stacks of wood piled on the Mizbe'ach, one them being the maarachah gedolah (the large pile of wood upon which the offerings were burned).  The Kohanim were commanded to add two pieces of wood to this pile twice each day.  The Talmud tells us that fire from Shamayim (Heaven) miraculously rested upon the Mizbe'ach.  With this in mind, the question must be asked: "What was the purpose of the Kohanim adding the wood and keeping the flame alive?  Would not the miracle of the fire from Shamayim suffice?"

We live in a world that seems to be lacking of anything miraculous.  The world seems to "run on its own" as if guided by "Mother Nature."  While it is the daily job of every Jew to seek out our Creator discovering that He is involved in every detail of this world, HaShem's involvement in this world appears to be hidden from our view.  In fact, if HaShem would be openly involved in worldly affairs, we would be denied the opportunity to search for and discover H'm.  And that would reduce our role as Jews in this world as we would become like everyone else attributing what happens in this world to "Mother Nature."  Our tradition teaches us that when HaShem does perform miracles in this world, He camouflages them within the realm of nature giving room for us to ask: "Is it Hashem, or is it nature?"  That is why the Kohanim were commanded, in effect, to "hide" Hashem's open miracle of the fire from Shamayim resting upon the Mizbe'ach by "creating" their own fire.

Our lives are filled with many miracles each and every day.  Unfortunately, we barely take notice of them, because we attribute their occurrences to "Mother Nature."  It is our job as Jews to look deeper into and notice HaShem's direct involvement in our lives so that we may proclaim H's love and majesty to the rest of the world.  Shabbat Shalom!

Sun, July 21 2019 18 Tammuz 5779