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"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!

"Vengeance Is Mine?"

07/08/2020 04:42:30 PM

Jul8

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

In this week’s parashah, Parashat Pinchas, we read the following: “And HaShem spoke with Moshe saying: ‘Pinchas, son of El’azar, son of Aharon the Priest, turned away My anger from upon the B’Nei Yisrael, when he zealously avenged my vengeance in their midst, and I did not destroy the B’Nei Yisrael in my vengeance.’” (BaMidbar 25:11) We read at the end of last week’s parashah how Pinchas executed the Israelite prince Zimri and the Midianite woman Cozbi as they were flaunting their sexuality in front of the B’Nei Yisrael. In this week’s parashah, we read how Pinchas is heralded as a hero due his zealousness and, in fact, is rewarded a “B’rit K’hunat Olam” (a Covenant of Eternal Priesthood) for his actions by Hashem. In light of the violence and destruction that has taken place across this country in recent weeks, perhaps we should look at the role zealousness and vengeance and how they play out in today’s world.

A few years ago, I happened to be in Eretz Yisrael shortly after the bodies of Gilad Shaer, Naftali Frenkel, and Eyal Yifrach were found. They had been abducted and murdered by Hamas terrorists. These murders were evil and vicious, and for many of our people, they put the final nail in the coffin effectively ending any possible chance for peace between the so-called “Palestinians” and Israelis. It was not long after that the body of Mohammed Abu Kh’deir, a young “Palestinian,” was found. It was determined that young Israeli vigilantes killed this boy as an act of vengeance for the murders of the three Israeli boys. Immediately there were those who declared a moral equivalency between the actions of the “Palestinian” terrorists and the Israeli vigilantes. But was this true?

When the three Israeli boys were found murdered, “Palestinians” danced in the streets and distributed candy in celebration. When Abu Kh’deir was found, Prime Minister Netanyahu condemned the action, and the Israeli authorities promptly tracked down and arrested the perpetrators. The Israeli news media condemned the Israeli vigilantes while the “Palestinian” media mocked the disappearance and slaughter of the three Israeli teens. While there is obviously no moral equivalency between the humanity of Israeli culture and society and the savagery of Radical Islam that continues to spread like COVID-19 throughout the Middle East and the rest of the world, it is an incontrovertible truth that the death of innocents is always abhorrent and can never be tolerated in a civilized world.

Many members of the People Israel read this week’s parashah and are troubled by the violence displayed by Pinchas with his execution of Zimri and Cozbi. They are even more shocked by Hashem’s decision to reward Pinchas with a “B’rit K’hunat Olam.” Our Rabbis teach that Pinchas’s intentions were pure, and that he was preserving the sanctity of both the Torah and the B’Nei Yisrael. Unfortunately, in our world today we do not have the benefit of immediate Divine Judgment from HaShem. Therefore, in the absence of this, it is we who must distinguish between different types of violence. Even today, IDF military operations are conducted against Hamas in retaliation for the rocket attacks launched against major population centers in Israel. And it is a known fact that the IDF never ---NEVER --- condones the killing innocents. Unlike the “Palestinians,” our vengeance is tempered by our knowing and acknowledging the difference between right and wrong. May our actions continue to be a lesson to the rest of the world.         

"What Mask Do You Wear?"

06/25/2020 02:53:41 PM

Jun25

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

Have you ever listened to supermarket cashiers talking with each other? Invariably, they discuss the same topic, something that can be termed as “the escape clause”: How long have you worked today and when are you going home? It is not unlike the two-year-old who is confined to a crib and wants to be taken out. Nor is it unlike the ten-year-old who sits in class and cannot wait of the bell to sound ending the school day. It is even like the thirty-year-old who is counting the days until s/he can go on vacation. In this time of the pandemic, we have encountered this type of attitude. On the one hand, we have had state after state count the days until they could “open up” once again, supposedly in order to try to regain financial solvency. On the other hand, with the opening up of society once again, there has been an alarming increase in new COVID-19 cases across the country. What has caused this large upsurge in COVID-19 cases? Simply this: the refusal by so many (especially young people) to abide by the guidelines issued by the CDC about wearing face masks and maintaining proper social distancing. It is evident that there are far too many people who do not like to abide by the rules and regulations that can prevent harm either to themselves or to others.

We read the following verses in this week’s double Torah portion of Chukat-Balak: “And Yisrael resided in Shittim, and the nation began to stray after the daughters of Mo’av. And they called the nation to the sacrificial banquets of their gods; and the nation ate, and they prostrated themselves to their gods. And Yisrael became attached to Ba’al Pe’or, and the wrath of HaShem burned against Yisrael.” (BaMidbar 25:1-3) The Talmud Bavli (Babylonian Talmud) in Masekhet Sanhedrin 64a tells us that the worship of Ba’al Pe’or was the most loathsome of all idol worship. The verse from the Torah uses the word “vayitzamed,” a verb that that speaks of how the B’nei Yisrael (Children of Israel) were connected to Ba’al Pe’or like a cover that is attached with a wax seal. But if the Talmud is correct in its view of the worship of Ba’al Pe’or, if it was so abhorrent, what is it that caused the B’Nei Yisrael to be attracted to it?

The worship of Ba’al Pe’or was unique. Serving this pagan deity had no boundaries or limitations. In fact, the more one let go of anything that restricted his/her worship of Ba’al Pe’or, the better it was for the worshipper. The pull of this worship that attracted the B’Nei Yisrael was that they could do whatever they wanted. There were no boundaries. But such conduct was fatal to those who succumbed to the worship of Ba’al Pe’or: the Torah tells us that they paid the price of their actions with their lives. As it is, this episode teaches us a valuable lesson which we must apply at this critical time in human history.

Without any rules or regulations, sports such as baseball, football, and basketball are not enjoyable, either to the players themselves or to the spectators. Why is this? Because what makes any sport a challenge, and what makes that challenge enjoyable, are the many guidelines and limitations that must be followed and observed when playing the sport. The rules and regulations cause the player to develop a skill that makes the sport more professional and more enjoyable. The same holds true with following the guidelines of the CDC as we encounter each other in the public sphere. By doing so, we become more confident that we are protecting both ourselves and all whom we come into contact after such encounters. We develop the “skill” of becoming partners with HaShem in helping to bring about “Tikkun HaOlam” (the Repair of The World) at a time when the world so badly needs it.

The basis for the worship of Ba’al Pe’or was that human beings did not need rules and regulations simply because they were already great. Judaism teaches that it is the rules and regulations that make human beings great. It is the Torah and its mitzvot which make us “a light unto the nations and a kingdom of priests.”

"Are you on the Wrong Track?"

06/17/2020 03:42:47 PM

Jun17

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

Asher Lemmel was born in a shtetl on the Ukrainian prairie. He had never traveled to either Berditchev or Vinnitza let alone to Kiev or Warsaw. But he had heard of all kinds of stories about the beautiful Black Sea coast in the southern Ukraine. He dreamed of visiting the beach, smelling the enchanting sea breeze and eating freshly roasted fish. For weeks and months, Lemmel worked his fingers to the bone saving kopeck after kopeck to make his dream come true. He eventually saved enough money (100 rubles) to be able to hire a wagon to go to Vinnitza and from there by train south to Odessa and the Black Sea.

After arriving in Vinnitza, Asher Lemmel found himself completely overwhelmed by the bustling city. In his shtetl, he knew everyone, and everyone knew him. But here, he was confused by the train station with all the people arriving and departing at once. He asked the ticket teller how to find the train to Odessa. Impatiently, the ticket teller handed him a train schedule and told him to pay for his ticket and move through the line. Asher did so taking the train schedule, printed in classic Russian script, and walking away. But there was a problem. Asher Lemmel had never learned to read or speak very much Russian. After all, everybody in his shtetl spoke Yiddish. Unable to fully understand the train schedule, he concluded that to the best of his knowledge that the train to Odessa would be departing from the east-side platform.

Not far away, closely watching him was a group of well-dressed, slightly drunk Russian noblemen. They decided to have fun with this man who appeared to them to be a perplexed Jewish “country bumpkin.” They asked him if he needed help. Asher Lemmel replied: “This is the east-side platform, yes? Does the train for Odessa leave from here?” One of the noblemen retorted: “Of course not, silly Jew! Odessa is south of here. Does it seem logical that the train leaving from an east-side platform would reach a destination in the south?” Asher Lemmel looked at the paper again and seemed certain that it read “Odessa – east-side platform.” But the Russian nobleman had shaken his confidence. Suddenly, a train approached on the south-side platform, and Asher Lemmel was urged by this Russian nobleman to board it immediately. He did so.

Odessa should have been an 8-hour train trip from Vinnitza. After 24 hours of traveling on the train, the conductor appeared requesting that passengers either produce their tickets or pay their fare. Asher Lemmel showed the conductor his train ticket and asked the conductor when they would arrive in Odessa. The conductor replied: “Dimwit! We are on our way to Siberia! This is the east-bound train!” Asher Lemmel was astounded: “But I boarded in Vinnitza on the south-side platform! I want to go south!” The conductor angrily told Asher Lemmel that the side of the platform of the train station had nothing to do with the direction in which the train was traveling. Oy vey! As the train schedule which Asher Lemmel held had said, he realized then that he should have boarded the train on the east-side platform. Poor Asher Lemmel! Instead of surf and sand, he was bound for ice and snow. He should have paid more attention to the paper.

In this week’s parashah, Parashat Korach, we read the following words: “And Korach took….” (BaMidbar 16:1) The parashah tells of the rebellion of Korach and his followers, a rebellion which ends in their demise. The Midrash describes how Korach used his own reason and logic to challenge both Moshe’s and HaShem’s authority over the B’Nei Yisrael (Children of Israel). In front of Moshe, Korach spoke to his myriad of followers saying: “If one tiny mezuzah, with only two passages of Torah, is able to protect an entire house, then why affix a mezuzah to a house full of books which contain thousands of passages from the Torah? Does such a house really need a mezuzah?” He then turned to Moshe waiting for his answer. Of course, Moshe answered that such a house does indeed need a mezuzah. Korach’s reaction was to make fun of both Moshe and the Torah requirement for observing this mitzvah (commandment). What Korach was trying to do was to reduce the mitzvot of the Torah, which had just been given by Hashem to the B’Nei Yisrael at Har Sinai (Mount Sinai), to a set of statutes governed by mere human logic and reason. This, in effect would separate Korach from both the leadership of Moshe and the obligation to follow the Torah thus inflating his standing among his followers. But this, as we see, was a tragic mistake for all involved.

  1. our own day, we find far too many members of the B’Nei Yisrael thinking about the mitzvot of the Torah in the same way that Korach thought of them. If it is not logical, if it does not make any sense to them, they throw Torah aside and move on. The problem with such thinking is that they then have no foundation for being members of the B’Nei Yisrael. They end up searching for meaning in this often meaningless world with the result being that they come up “empty-handed.” They then try to counter this by announcing to the world that they are seeking a more “spiritual life” than what Judaism has to offer. But the fact remains that there is nothing better than following Torah to attain a more spiritual life! Our Torah is like the train schedule that Asher Lemmel held in his hand. All he had to do was follow the words that he could read. He then would have reached his desired destination. All we have to do is follow the mitzvot of the Torah, each of us to our own best ability, for by doing so, we will then reach our desired destination of attaining peace in our hearts and holiness in our souls.

"No Strings Attached?"

06/10/2020 05:23:44 PM

Jun10

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

 

In this week’s parashah, Parashat Shelach, we read the following: “And HaShem said to Moshe, saying: ‘Speak to B’Nei Yisrael, and say to them that they shall make for themselves tzitzit [fringes] on the corners of their garments for their generations; and they shall put on the corner of the tzitzit a p’teel teichelet [thread of blue]. And it shall be for you tzitzit, and you shall look at it; and you shall remember all the mitzvot [commandments] of Hashem, and you shall do them; and you shall not wander after your heart and after your eyes because you stray after them. In order that you will remember and you will do all My commandments; and you will be holy to your G-d.’” (BeMidbar 15:37-40)

How powerful is the mitzvah of wearing tzitzit? The fulfillment of this mitzvah literally has the power to change lives. Consider the following story found in Masekhet Menachot 44a of the Talmud Bavli:

There was a certain young student who kept the mitzvah of tzitzit without fail. However, his piety did not extend to every area of his life. In fact, upon hearing about a woman of ill repute who demanded an extremely hefty price for her services, he decided to visit her. He sent her money and set a date to meet her. When he arrived, he found the following extremely opulent setting she had set up for him: seven beds, one on top of the other, six made of silver with the top one made of gold. There were six silver ladders leading to the six silver beds with a golden ladder leading to the top bed made of gold. He proceeded to climb all seven ladders. As he was about to succumb to her temptations, suddenly his tzitzit flew up and slapped him in the face. Immediately, he slid off the top bed down to the floor where he was quickly joined by the woman.

This woman was insulted by his action and she asked him what sort of flaw in her he had discovered. He told her that although he had never seen such a beautiful woman in all his life, he pointed to his tzitzit and explained to her that this was a mitzvah that HaShem had given B’Nei Yisrael. He further told her that HaShem either punished B’nei Yisrael for violating H-s mitzvot or He rewarded them for following H-s mitzvot. He then relayed to her that as he was about to succumb to her wiles, the tzitzit he was wearing appeared to him as four witnesses who would attest to the sin he was about to commit. Therefore, he stopped. After listening to him, the woman told him that she would not allow him to leave without him giving her his name, the name of the city in which he lived, the name of his Rabbi, and the name of the yeshivah in which he studied Torah. The young man did as she asked and then returned to his yeshivah.

After he left, this woman gave 1/3 of her possessions to the Roman government, 1/3 to the poor, and kept the remaining 1/3 for herself. She traveled to Rav Chiya’s Beit Midrash (the yeshivah in which this young man was a student) and asked that he help her to convert. Rav Chiya asked her if her desire to covert was so that she could marry one of his students, a reason which would invalidate her request for conversion. She told him the entire story of what had happened. Convinced of her sincerity to become a Jew, Rav Chiya allowed her to convert. After her conversion, he instructed her to “collect her acquisition’ --- to marry the student who had visited her.

What is the Gemara teaching us by way of this story? Just this: Sometimes a mitzvah simply does not appear to make any sense to us. For example: not cooking a kid in its mother’s milk with the resulting laws of kashrut prohibiting eating meat and dairy at the same meal; observing sha’atnez by not wearing a garment made of both linen and wool; not eating the meat of a pig; wearing tzitzit. None of these mitzvot are based on reason and logic. But it is an incontrovertible fact that they are mitzvot given to us by Hashem meant to keep us from wandering away from living our lives and achieving our destiny as Jews, and that is “to be a light unto the nations and a kingdom of priests.” No matter how hard we may try, we, all of us, like the young student in the story, are B’nei Yisrael, and we owe it not only to Hashem but to ourselves as well, just like the mitzvah of wearing tzitzit, to remain fully attached to each other.

"Be More Like Moshe!"

06/10/2020 05:21:30 PM

Jun10

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

In this week’s parashah, Parashat Beha’alot’cha, we read the following: “And the man Moshe was exceedingly humble, more than anyone [else] on the face of the earth.” (BeMidbar 12:3)

In this day and age, it would appear that humility is a very scarce commodity. If this is so, perhaps we need to ask the question “Just what is humility?” In Jewish tradition, humility is not being displayed by one who deprecates him/herself. One who says “I am nothing. I am worth nothing.” is not necessarily being humble. The person who makes such statements just might be displaying signs of depression. In our tradition we are taught to place a value on who are by placing ourselves in comparison to Hashem. “I am nothing – compared to Hashem.” In making such a statement, the humble person can fully acknowledge his/her qualities and achievements as long as s/he recognizes them as being gifts from Hashem. Consider the following story.

There was once was a king who owed a debt of gratitude to a poor man. He decided to repay the poor man by making him governor of one of the provinces of his kingdom. This newly appointed governor became so successful at his job that he became very popular, the most popular governor of all the king’s provinces. In order to witness the source of this governor’s success, the king decided to spend a day with him. However, because he did want to draw attention to himself, the king dressed as a commoner. The two men, the king and the governor, walked around the town together in order for the king to see the governor “in action.” However, the entire day was most embarrassing for the governor because he was showered with praise and gratitude by everyone they met while the king, who was the real source of all the good these people had received, was virtually ignored. The governor was displaying humility.

The Rizhiner Rebbe explained that each one of us has been given many abilities and gifts from HaShem. It may be wealth; it may be intellect; it may be family or business connections. Rebbe said that whenever we are heaped with praise for actions that come about through one of our “gifts” from HaShem, we must never forget the real source for such praise so that we can forward it to the proper “address.” In other words, we must be more like Moshe.

 

"Do Not Do As They Do!"

06/04/2020 02:08:39 PM

Jun4

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

The Chofetz Chaim lived in Radin, a tiny hamlet that had no chillul Shabbat (desecration of Shabbat) whatsoever. Until World War I when the Chofetz Chaim was already in his mid-70’s, he had never witnessed anyone desecrating Shabbat. However, World War I brought about the devastation of many Jewish communities in Europe. The entire population of the hamlet of Radin “pulled up stakes” and moved into the Russian interior for the duration of the war. It was during the first Shabbat in which the Chofetz Chaim was in exile from Radin that he witnessed his first Shabbat being desecrated. His reaction? He broke down into tears. The next Shabbat he once again saw chillul Shabbat causing him to cry even harder and longer than the previous week. His students expressed puzzlement: “We understand why you cried so much last week. Your having witnessed chillul Shabbat for the first time in your life was a very traumatic experience for you. But by this week, you should have expected it to happen again. So, why did you cry at all this week and so much more intensity than you did last week?” The Chofetz Chaim replied: “Last week was the first time I saw another Jew violate the holiness of Shabbat. I was crying for the problem itself. This week, when I witnessed another violation of the holiness of Shabbat, it did not hurt me nearly as much as it did last week. That’s why I cried even more. I am concerned that I have become callous toward Shabbat simply because I have fallen from my personal spiritual level. I am concerned that I no longer feel HaShem’s pain when H-s children desecrate Shabbat. Last week, I was crying for Shabbat. This week, I am crying for myself.”

 

The world has been a witness to the most serious of all desecrations of Torah during this last week with the wanton destruction and killing of others in reaction to the murder of George Floyd. We who are HaShem’s creations, having been created in H-s image, have violated the mitzvah (command) of “ve’ahavta l’rei’achah kamochah” (“Love your neighbor as [you love] yourself!”). One of the dangers of living in such an open society is that often, after we witness or hear about others transgressing the law, we fall “victim” to entertaining the tendency of doing the same. We become vulnerable to that which is a chillul HaShem and, because we see so many others doing the same with no resulting percussions whatsoever, we become inured to its effects. The Chofetz Chaim knew this to be true regarding witnessing chillul Shabbat and set about to correct himself. We can do less than to immediately repair whatever breach we may have committed in order to prevent ourselves, and others, from committing any chillul HaShem.

"A Taste of Honey!"

05/27/2020 02:28:00 PM

May27

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

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

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

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

"Then...Teach Aleph!"

05/21/2020 04:47:52 PM

May21

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

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

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

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

"Little Green Men?"

05/14/2020 02:32:24 PM

May14

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

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

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

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

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

"What You Need Is Love!"

04/29/2020 03:48:21 PM

Apr29

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

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

 

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

 

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

"Stand Up and Be Counted!"

04/22/2020 03:45:08 PM

Apr22

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Sat, August 8 2020 18 Av 5780