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"A Kiss Is Still a Kiss!"

09/23/2021 03:09:35 PM


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

I think of the movie “Casablanca” and the song that the movie made both more famous and more popular than it was when it was first released in 1931, and I find that it relates directly to Sukkot.  The song to which I refer is “As Time goes by.”  The song begins with these lyrics: “You must remember this, a kiss is still a kiss, a sigh is just a sigh; the fundamental things apply as time goes by.”  You may ask: “Rabbi, what does this song have to do with Sukkot?”  Well, if you allow me to, I will tell you! 

The month of Tishrei began with Rosh Hashanah, proceeded through Yom Kippur, and is climaxing and ending with Sukkot, Hoshanah Rabbah, Shemini Atzeret, and Simchat Torah.  It is especially during this time of the year in the Jewish calendar, during the month of Tishrei and proceeding into the month of Marcheshvan (so-called as it contains no Jewish festivals or celebrations other than Shabbat), that we have the ability to come closer to Hashem that at any other time in the year.  And it is especially during Sukkot, our Season of Rejoicing, that we experience our greatest joy over the Eternal Covenant we have with HaShem.  It is during Sukkot that we are commanded to move from our permanent physical home and dwell in the temporary structure that reminds us of the how our ancient ancestors lived as they left Egypt and made their way to the Promised Land.  But the sukkah is more than a mere temporary structure which reminds us of what and where we were.  The sukkah contains a secret that best exemplifies the basis of the Eternal Covenant between HaShem and the People Israel.

We know that the entire month of Elul and the first ten days of Tishrei deal with forgiveness.  We ask those whom we know we have wronged or those whom we think we have wronged for their forgiveness.  So, let's play out some possible scenarios that might result from your action:  You tell a person you know you have wronged how you have wronged him/her and ask for forgiveness.  There is no doubt that it is one of the hardest things for one to do: to go and admit to someone that you have wronged that person.  So, having done this, you can expect four possible reactions.  (1) If the person doesn't care about the relationship you have with him/her, s/he might brush you off by saying, "Yeah, sure, that's fine.  Don't worry about it."  (2) If the person appreciates your sincerity and forgives you, s/he might shake your hand and say, "Thank you.  All is forgiven."  (3) If the person is truly moved by what you have said, s/he might say, "Please don't give it another thought.  I absolutely forgive you."  (4) But if this person has a loving and abiding relationship with you and forgives you with all his/her heart, s/he might give you a hug and say, "Forgive you?  Forgive you for what?  It never happened.  I love you so much.  Don't ever forget that, not for a moment, no matter what!"  It is this fourth reaction that is the secret of the joy of Sukkot.

Whenever we enter the sukkah, we are completely surrounded by and immersed in the Presence of the Divine.  Whenever we enter the sukkah, we experience the compassion and love and total forgiveness of HaShem.  Whenever we enter the sukkah, we are lovingly embraced by HaShem.  Why?  Because the sukkah is the physical manifestation of our Eternal Covenant with HaShem.  It is in the sukkah that we are fully surrounded and embraced by HaShem.  And what could give us more joy than that?  So, I suggest to you that in these last few days of Sukkot, before the solemnity of Shemini Atzeret and the unbridled joy of Simchat Torah, that you enter the sukkah you constructed or, if you were not able to do that, enter the sukkah at the Synagogue and languish in the eternal Embrace of Hashem that awaits you.  You will never feel more loved or treasured!


"But What Should I Do With It?"

09/15/2021 12:16:23 PM


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

Years ago, a husband and wife appeared before Rabbi Mordechai Gifter, zichrono livracha, Rosh Yeshiva of Telz, asking him to rule on a family dispute. The husband, a member of Rabbi Gifter's kollel (an all-day Torah learning program) felt that because he was one who studied Torah in the Rabbi’s kollel, it was beneath his dignity to take out the garbage. His wife felt otherwise. After listening to the couple, Rabbi Gifter concluded that while the husband should in fact help his wife, he had no halachic obligation (an obligation according to Jewish Law) to remove the garbage from the house.  The next morning, shortly before the early Shacharit services were to begin, there was a knock on the front door of the young couple’s house. Upon opening the door, the young yeshiva student was startled to see Rabbi Gifter standing there, and he asked the Rabbi to come in.  Rabbi Gifter responded by saying that he did not have time to come in.  When asked why not, Rabbi Gifter replied: “I've not come to socialize with you.  Instead, I have come to take out your garbage. While you may believe it's beneath your dignity to do this, it is not beneath mine.”

In this week's parashahParashat Ha'azinu, we read the following: "My lesson will fall as the rain, my saying will flow like dew, like rainstorms on grass, and like raindrops on vegetation." (Devarim 32:2) Rabbi Chayim Shmuelevitz cited the Vilna Gaon on this verse who said that rain helps things grow.  And what is it that rain helps to grow?  Only that which has already been planted.  The same is true with the Torah, the study of which can help a person grow.  But just like the rain and plants, the growth spurred by Torah study is dependent upon what kind of character traits a person already has.  The Torah student filled with arrogance will become more arrogant as his knowledge increases, and he may laud it over those whom he considers inferior to him.  The person who is not filled with himself will use his Torah learning to be of service to his fellow Jews.  In fact, for such a person, the more Torah knowledge he accumulates, the more will his behavior toward others will become a Kiddush HaShem (a sanctification of HaShem's name).

A Rabbi once told the Chazon Ish all about the positive intellectual qualities of a young man whom his sister-in-law was considering marrying.  After listening patiently, the Chazon Ish interrupted the Rabbi and asked him, "Yes, but will he also be a good husband?"  It is very important to remember that what is most important is not what you know; what is most important is what you do with what you know.




"Never Stop Singing!"

09/09/2021 08:27:58 PM


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

In this week’s parashah, Parashat Va-Yeilech, we read the following: "(So) now write down this song for yourselves and teach it to B'Nei Yisrael …." (Devarim 31:19) To what song is this verse referring?  The song is nothing less than the words of the Torah itself that Moshe received from HaShem on Har Sinai (Mount Sinai), and the reason for them to be written down is so that B'Nei Yisrael will learn them and study them and use them.  But the question that might be asked is: “Why are the words of the Torah referred to as a ‘song?’”

          It is interesting to note that in the second half of this verse we find the following: " it in their mouths, in order that this song may be My witness against B'nei Yisrael." (ibid.)  It is interesting to note that in Sefer Yehoshua (the Book of Joshua), we read the following as it relates to the verse from Sefer Devarim (the Book of Deuteronomy): “And it was when Yehoshua was near Yericho (Jericho) he looked up and saw a man standing before him, a drawn sword in his hand.  Yehoshua went up to him and asked him: ‘Are you one of us or are you one of our enemies?’  He replied: ‘No, I am Captain of Hashem’s host!  Now I have come!’” (Yehoshua 5:13) The Sages of the Talmud understood this scenario to mean that HaShem was displeased with B'nei Yisrael's lack of commitment to H-s Torah.  Why?  Because both Yehoshua and B'nei Yisrael had not fulfilled the intention behind the command of writing and teaching the words of the song "Now," without delay.

This Shabbat is known as “Shabbat Shuva,” the "Sabbath of Returning."  It is the Shabbat when every member of Am Yisrael (the People Israel) hopefully returns and recommits to Judaism and the Jewish People.  One of the simplest and most effective ways of doing this is committing oneself to Torah in whatever way possible.  You may ask if this commitment is to be based solely upon the fact that there is an unbroken chain of inheritance from previous generations to be maintained.  For many, it is.  But while one may commit to Judaism because one is happy to continue the history and values of our people, the fact remains that such a commitment is not based upon one's life being interwoven at any meaningful level with the Torah.  And this is sad, for such a commitment is neither viable nor sustainable.  An example of this is the long-held belief that young Jews should commit their lives to Judaism and the Jewish People in order to honor the victims of the Holocaust.  The response of young Jews is that this is not a reason to remain Jewish.  Perhaps what is needed is something that will touch their hearts and souls.

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

We are at that point of this New Year of 5782 when we are about to return one-on-one to HaShem.  Indeed, Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement ("At-one-ment) means that in spite of being in community prayer to HaShem, each one of us is in the act of being "at one" with HaShem.  And to remain in this moment of "at-one-ment" with HaShem throughout the year of 5782, each of us must continually strive with all the passion we can muster to make our relationship with HaShem the song of our lives.  We can do this by singing the “Song of the Torah” with all of our hearts, with all of our souls, and with all of our strength each and every week of the year on Shabbat.  May each one us commit to singing this song loudly and to singing it well for all of 5782!

“Gamar Chatima Tova!”  May all of you be sealed for a good year in the Book of Life for 5782! 




"Choosing to Be Chosen!"

09/02/2021 05:29:02 PM


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

In this week's parashah, Parashat Nitzavim, we read: "See, I have given you today life and good, and death and evil...I call the heavens and the earth today to testify upon you that I have given you life and death, blessing and curse; and you should choose life in order that you and your descendants live.  To love HaShem your G-d, to listen to H-s voice and to cling to H-m, for He is your life and the length of your days to dwell in the land that HaShem swore to your forefathers, to Avraham, to Yitzchak, and to Ya'akov, to give you..." (Devarim 30: 19-20) A remarkable thing happens in the final six verses of this week's parashah, and it is found nowhere else in either the Torah or the Tanakh.  What we find in this passage is the fact that Moshe is conveying Hashem's “willingness” to allow the B’nei Yisrael the ability to have free will.  Our tradition teaches that all is determined in Heaven, that Hashem controls everything that happens...except for the free will of human beings.  But how can this be?  If HaShem truly is all-powerful and all-knowing, then how could we human beings have the ability to do anything independent of H-m?  If HaShem truly controls nature, life, death, and the destiny of this world, then how could we human beings have the power to choose what HaShem has not chosen?  How can this be?

The latest findings in neuroscience claim human beings make choices through the physical properties of the brain and not by something called the "soul" or the "spirit."  But even the scientists themselves who make this observation are at odds with it when it comes to the human experience.  We like to think that we have choices to make, and we sense that the choices we make matter in our lives and in the lives of those whom we love.  And it because of the choices we make that we matter in this world.  As human beings, we believe that life itself is precious, and that it has great significance.  To claim otherwise strikes us as being both inhumane and just plain wrong.

Each of us has the ability to make choices. The Torah tells us this is so.  We even have the free will to either make choices or not make choices.  This ability, this "gift" comes from our Creator, Hashem.  Our moral and spiritual fate lies in the choices we make and are not determined by either HaShem nor in the forces of nature.  The Torah states an eternal and essential truth: We have free will.  We have the ability to choose.  At this time, in this season, it is imperative, its vital, that we choose to continue our lives Hashem’s Chosen People!


"But Just Who Is Cursed- Me or You!"

08/27/2021 07:24:58 AM


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

We find the following in this week's parashahParashat Ki Tavo: "Cursed is the one who does not uphold the words of this Torah to perform them." (Devarim 27:26)  It is a sad fact that a few ultra-observant Jews tend blame non-observant Jews for much of the suffering within the Jewish world.  Their "proof" is this verse which declares that non-observant Jews bring a curse upon the People Israel.  But, the question that must be asked is this: "Is this really true?"  The Talmud answers this question in the negative by telling us that every Jew is obligated to say "The world was created solely for me." (Talmud Bavli Sanhedrin 37a)  Looking beyond what appears at first glance to be an intense self-centeredness on the part of anyone who says these words, we must realize the lesson they teach is that every occurrence that happens in our lives is a learning experience from which we are supposed to grow, to improve ourselves, and to extend ourselves to others. 

Soon after the 1929 Arab anti-Jewish riots in Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel) which claimed the lives of so many of our people, the question arose as to why HaShem allowed such devastation to ravage the Holy Land.  A number of people gathered in the home of Rav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld to seek an answer to this question.  One man suggested, "Perhaps it is because of the soccer matches that are taking place on Shabbos," looking to Rav Sonnenfeld for approval of what he had just said.  Rav Sonnenfeld slowly rose from his seat and loudly declared, "Absolutely not!  Most of the people who are engaged in these soccer matches on Shabbos had previously been drafted into the Russian army and forced to desecrate Shabbos.   They were forced to eat non-kosher food, and were not allowed to perform any mitzvot.  After returning to their homes after their service, they were subjected to mass pogroms in which many of their family members were murdered.  And now you think that it is because these people who were forced to abandon Torah and mitzvot under these conditions that they are responsible for the punishment the entire Land has suffered?!"  The room fell silent as Rav Sonnenfeld continued, "Perhaps it is we who live here in Jerusalem who are to blame!  We have not suffered as have these people, and yet we also have not taken note of the great Torah scholars who live among us, and we do not follow in their ways.  Because more is expected of us, we are more to blame for not fulfilling our potential despite the great opportunity we have to do so by being Jews living in the Holy City of Jerusalem!"

Especially at this time of the year, during the month of Elul, each one of us must evaluate our own actions or non-actions so that we may admit how we may have caused problems for the People Israel, be they in our own families, in our own communities, or in our own Synagogues.  When all is said and done, the answer to the question is that all of us are to blame.  The real blessing is that all of us can be the solution as well.  And that solution can be found only in the Torah.

"Close to Y-u!"

08/18/2021 02:41:33 PM


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

We journeying forward in this month of Elul in the Jewish calendar toward the ultimate time of the “Yamim Nora’im” – the “Days of Awe, the period of time beginning with Rosh HaShanah and ending with Yom Kippur.  During this journey, we are commanded by our Tradition to engage in “t'shuvah” (repentance/returning) in order to cause us to come back to our Tradition, to our people, and, most important of all, to HaShem.  Ashkenazic minhag (custom) during this month bids that we sound the shofar at the end of the Shacharit service each day except for Shabbat.  Why do we do this?  We do this, because the blasts of the shofar are meant to awaken our souls, to spur us to action, and to inspire us to became actively engaged in doing t'shuvah.  But I ask you: should it only be the blasts of the shofar that lead us to take action?  Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev answered this question with a resounding "No!"  He taught that there exist two kinds of "awakenings:" an "Awakening from Above" and an "Awakening from Below."  But what did he mean by this?

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

The Hebrew letters which make up the name of this month leading up to Rosh Hashanah are Aleph, Lamed, Vav, Lamed which, when put together, are read as "Elul."  What is most interesting to note is that the word Elul is an acronym formed by the first letters of the following words found in Shir HaShirim (the Song of Songs) written by Shlomo Hamelekh: "Ani L'dodi ve-dodi li!" --- "I am for my beloved and my beloved is for me!" (Shir HaShirim 6:3) This pasuk (verse) speaks of desire.  It is interesting to note that the days of the month of Elul are known as "Yamei HaRatzon" (Days of Desire).  Why are they called this?  Because it is during this month of Elul that we, the People Israel, seek a special closeness with Hashem.  It is during this time of the Jewish year that we desire to do t'shuvah in order achieve that closeness with Hashem.  Is this a very difficult process in which we must expend a great deal of effort and a lot of expense to achieve our desired result?  No.  When all is said and done, all it takes for Hashem to come closer to us, all it takes for Hashem to love us is for us to want to be closer to and to love H-m.




"It All Depends on How You Look at It!"

08/11/2021 05:05:21 PM


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

We read in this week's parashahParashat Shoftim, the following: "You shall not deviate from the word they (the appointed judges) tell you." (Devarim 17:11) Our Rabbis teach that Moshe Rabbeinu, Moses our teacher, told B'nei Yisrael that they had to obey the rulings of the courts (made by the appointed judges) even if they were convinced that these rulings were wrong.  If the judges said that left was right and right was left, their word was law.  At first glance, this seems to make no sense at all.  But perhaps the following story can help give a better perspective as to what the Torah is telling us.

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

Every day when you are driving to work along your old familiar route, you know that your favorite gas station is on your left-hand side.  However, when you go home from work along the same route, this same gas station is now on your right-hand side.  Did it switch places?  Of course not. The fact of the matter is that what you see all depends upon your perspective.  During this time of the year our Rabbis are telling us that perhaps our perspective is wrong.  Perhaps we need to re-orient ourselves to what is real and what is not real in our world.  Perhaps we must turn around and face the opposite direction in order to gain the proper perspective as to what is happening in our lives.   And that is just what the month of Elul is all about.  We are to prepare to do t'shuvah by turning around and viewing our lives from the proper perspective utilizing our family, our friends, our synagogue, our tradition, and, most of all, our relationship with HaShem to go forward into the new year.  As we approach the beginning of the year 5782, may we all be successful in our attempt at doing this!


"The 'Un-Jews' - Chas veChalilah!"

08/04/2021 03:44:38 PM


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

We read the following in this week's parashahParashat Re’eh: "You are the children to HaShem your G-d... For you are a holy nation to HaShem your G-d, and HaShem has chosen you to be a treasured nation from all the people on the face of the earth. (Devarim 14:1-2) From these verses we see that Am Yisrael (the People Israel) have a unique characteristic that no other nation on earth has and that no other nation can replicate.  The problem is that there is a significant number of Am Yisrael, especially here in America, who not only do not appreciate our unique role as Jews that they play in this world, but they deny it altogether.  And it is because of this that they look to other peoples and other cultures for satisfaction and justification of their existence.

Recently, “Tablet” magazine published an article dated June 16th of this year entitled “The Un-Jews: The Jewish attempt to cancel Israel and Jewish peoplehood.”  It was written by Natan Sharansky and Gil Troy.  Of course, Sharansky was a “refusenik” and Soviet prisoner before being released and emigrating to Israel.  He eventually held ministerial positions in no fewer than four Israeli governments.  Troy is both a presidential historian at McGill University and a Zionist activist.  The article they co-authored addresses the dozens of Jewish Studies and Israel studies scholars and academics who signed a “Statement on Israel/Palestine” in reaction to the “crime” they believed Israel committed in dealing with the May onslaught of missiles from Gaza at the hands of Hamas: “This language (i.e.- the words used in the Statement) effectively denied the need for a Jewish state, thereby declaring war not just on Israel’s existence but on modern Judaism as we know it.  Within American Jewry, this surge in anti-Zionism openly targets the broad Zionist consensus the Jewish world developed after the Holocaust and the founding of the State of Israel – as well as the post 1990’s Birthright consensus embracing Israel and Israel experiences as central Jewish-identity building tools…We call these critics ‘un-Jews’ because they believe the only way to fulfill the Jewish mission of saving the world with Jewish values is to undo the ways that most Jews do Jewishness.”  Sharansky and Troy explain that these anti-Zionists join a long history of “un-Jews” pointing out that they are most active when they seek “to join with non-Jews in advancing quintessentially Jewish ideas of brotherly love, equality, and social justice unmoored from their Jewish context and their Jewish delivery systems.”  They point out that the most successful of these un-Jewish movements has historically been Christianity, and Am Yisrael knows only too well what the results of that “pairing” have been.

Sadly, our history is replete with such attempts made in previous eras.  Examples include the Hellenist Jews who embraced everything Greek, the Jews who followed Jesus (including today’s so-called “Messianic Jews” and “Jews for Jesus”) believing him to be the Mashiach (the Messiah), as well as the Jews who fully embraced Socialism/Communism from the German Marxist Rosa Luxemburg to those Jews who helped to create and carry out the Bolshevik Revolution to the “Overstay Sekcia” (the Jewish Section of the Communist Party) whose Jewish members did all they could to destroy both Russian Judaism and the Russian Jewish community.  All these “un-Jews” eventually perished at the hands of those whom they sought to embrace in their head-long rush to destroy Judaism.  And, as the late Yogi Berra said: “It’s deja vous all over again!”  The tragedy of this outpouring of Jewish self-hatred is that it has an even greater presence in the American Jewish community than ever before because of the use and availability of social media.  And it is because of this that far too many unlearned and uneducated Jews gravitate to the “un-Jewish” side completely forgetting who they are and why they are here in this world.

We need to remember that we are the earthly representatives of HaShem, and this should cause us to behave accordingly.  As the Torah tells us, we are indeed a "treasured nation!"  Not because we are born a people better than any other people, but because we are born into royalty as the children of the King of Kings.  The Torah has outlined our mission in this world and we must do all we can do to complete it.  May we not fail in this task!



"Be Prepared!"

07/28/2021 03:04:13 PM


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

We read the following in this week's parashahParashat Eykev: "I had ascended the mountain to receive the tablets of stone, The Tablets of the Covenant that HaShem made with you, and I stayed on the mountain forty days and forty nights eating no bread and drinking no water." (Devarim 9:9) This verse relates how Moshe went up the mountain shortly after the B'Nei Yisrael (the Children of Israel) had received the Aseret HaDibrot (the Ten Utterances/Sayings/Commandments) eventually descending on Shi’a Assar Thammuz (the 17th of Tammuz).  Upon seeing the B'Nei Yisrael worshiping the Eygel HaZahav (the Golden Calf), he throws the tablets down shattering them into pieces.  Moshe then returns to the top of the mountain to plead with HaShem not to kill the people: "I threw myself down before Hashem, eating no bread and drinking no water forty days and forty nights as before, because of the great wrong you had committed…" (Devarim 9:18) Moshe descends the mountain on the 29th of Av having achieved his goal of saving the B'Nei Yisrael.  On the very next day, Rosh Chodesh ElulHashem tells him: "Thereupon Hashem said to me: Carve out two tablets of stone like the first, and come up to Me on the mountain…’" (Devarim 10:1) The end of this 40-day/40-night period is Yom Kippur upon which the B'Nei Yisrael are forgiven for this grievous sin.  Rashi tells us that during the middle 40 days/nights period, the period during which Moshe voluntarily ascended the mountain to plead with HaShem on behalf of the B'Nei YisraelHaShem was angry with them to the point that He wanted kill them.  Moshe "convinced" H-m otherwise.  This middle 40 day/night period teaches us an important lesson: in order to develop a positive relationship with another person, we must work very hard at this process over an extended period of time.  This best evidenced via the Jewish wedding ceremony.

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

As we are approaching the month of Elul, that period of time when we prepare ourselves for the Yamim Nora'im (the Days of Awe), may we make a concerted effort to nurture our relationship with HaShem as well as all our relationships with our spouses, our families, our Synagogue, and the People Israel.  



"Your Mission, Should You Decide to Accept it!

07/22/2021 03:38:48 PM


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

In this week's parashah, Parashat Va'etchanan, we read the following: "HaShem, our God, sealed a covenant with us at Chorev.  It was not with our fathers that HaShem sealed this covenant, but with us – the living, every one of us who is here today." (Devarim 5:2-3) Moshe was reminding the B'Nei Yisrael that the brit, the covenant, they made with HaShem when receiving the Aseret HaDibrot, “the Ten Utterances” (more commonly referred to as “the Ten Commandments”), was made with all generations of the B’nei Yisrael, both with the generation of our ancestors alive in that place at that moment as well as with all succeeding generations of the B’nei Yisrael.

We recall Parashat Yitro which tells of the giving of the Aseret HaDibrot, and we read these words that HaShem spoke to Moshe: "’But you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’  These are the words that you shall speak to B'nei Yisrael." (Shemot 19:6) The great Torah commentator Rashi comments on the phrase beginning with "These are the words" saying that this means: "Not less (words) and not more (words)."  What is Rashi saying here?  Merely that Moshe is not supposed to add or subtract any words from what HaShem told him to say.  But why would HaShem limit Moshe to just those few words? The answer to this question can be found in a story as related by Rabbi Yaakov Luban.

There was a family in Yerushalayim that had a severely challenged child.  As he got older, his needs conflicted with the needs of the rest of the family so much so that consideration was being given as to how it might be the time to place him in an institution.  They sought guidance from Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, zichrono livracha (may his memory be for a blessing), one of the greatest Orthodox Rabbis of his time, regarding this matter.  He asked them: "Did you discuss this with your son?"  The family protested that due to his mental incompetence, the boy would not understand the question let alone be able to answer it.  Rabbi Auerbach protested: "You cannot just drop off a child at an institution without discussing it with him!  Bring him to me.  I want to speak with him."  The family did as he asked.  Rabbi Auerbach identified himself to the boy, and the boy told him his name.  The Rabbi proceeded: "I have a problem that you may be able to help me with.  There is a school that has no mashgiach to make sure that everything is being run properly.  It's my job to make sure that everything there is on the up-and-up, but I cannot be there on a regular basis.  Can I ask you a favor?  Would you be willing to live in the school and serve as my representative to make sure that it's being run properly?  Tell them that I have sent you as my personal emissary to supervise."  The boy immediately accepted his mission and took it so seriously that when his parents came to bring him home for Shabbat, he told them that he could not take any Shabbat off."  Because Rabbi Auerbach told him that he was responsible for the school, he felt he had to remain on campus to supervise.  Using a simple, brief explanation that the boy could understand, Rabbi Auerbach had given this boy a mission to fulfill, and fulfill it he did.

Rabbi Luban went on to say that in a similar fashion, HaShem told Moshe that He was giving the B'nei Yisrael a specific mission as well: the B'nei Yisrael - both those present at that moment and all who would come afterwards - were to be HaShem's emissaries of Torah in this world.  In a few simple and straightforward words, HaShem gave both our ancestors and us the most important mission of all: "And you shall be for Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation...."  May all of us, the B’nei Yisrael, accept this mission forever, and may we forever remain committed to its fulfillment.


"For the Greater Good!"

07/15/2021 04:56:04 PM


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

In this week’s parashah, Parashat Devarim, we find the following: Then all of you came to me (Moshe) and said: ‘Let us send men ahead of us and they shall spy out the land for us, and they shall return to us (with) a word (of) the way in which we should ascend and the cities in which we should enter.  And the matter was good in my eyes…” (Devarim 1:22-23)    However, it must be noted that in the Talmud Bavli, the Babylonian Talmud, in Masekhet Sotah 34b, our Sages state that HaShem did not agree with Moshe.  Rabbi Yissocher Frand notes the difficulty of such a conclusion.  If it is really true that HaShem opposed the idea of sending out the spies, why did He not merely tell Moshe that it was not to be done?  Why did He allow the B'nei Yisrael to do something of which He did not approve?  Why did not Hashem just say "No!"  Well, as is usually the case when a Rabbi asks a question, the answer is provided by that very same person.

Rabbi Frand answers his own question by citing a comment made by the late Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Telz in Cleveland, Ohio.  Rabbi Mottel Katz, zichrono livracha, noted that sometimes children wish to do something that their parents consider inappropriate.  More often than not what is the parents' reaction?  It used to be that they would "put their foot down" and forbid their children from doing what they wished to do.  I remember such reactions from my parents, especially my father.  When he said "No!", he meant "No!"  What did I do?  I stopped dead in my tracks and followed his dictum.  However, it turns out that sometimes this is not always the best reaction.  Sometimes we need to concede and give in to our children.  How do we know this to be true?  We know this to be true because of the lesson learned from the episode of the spies as found in the Torah.  In the episode of the spies, HaShem understood that B'nei Yisrael were not at all ready to accept H-s denial of their request.  He therefore conceded to their request and let them go their own way.  And the rest, as they say, is history.  In the case of our children, as long as there is no danger to their lives, there may be times that they may simply not be able to accept our total refusal at the moment.  And it is at such a time that it might be best for us to concede with the understanding that other opportunities will arise to bring our point across more effectively in order to bring about our desired results.

The major news events that take place week after week always center around "devarim," "words."  What words were said?  What words were not said?  What words should have been said?  At what moment should these words have been said?  At what moment should these words have not been said?  The fact is that words which are said are usually taken and “spun” and "respun" in ways that whoever is speaking them wants to make him/herself appear to be "right."  Sometimes, more often than we care to admit, the words that have been spoken lead to actions that are taken.  And just like words that have been spoken, actions cannot be taken back.  Hopefully, the action that is taken brings about the desired result for all concerned.  However, if the action taken is not right, it is sometimes better to be smart and concede to its performance no matter what the result.  Why?  Because, as HaShem taught us through the episode of the spies, it is always better to be smart than to be right...for the greater good.

Shabbat Shalom and have a meaningful fast!


"There Is Danger in Anger!"

07/09/2021 10:31:43 AM


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

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

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

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

Remember: the word "anger" is only one letter short of the word "danger!"

"This 'Doctor' Is Always on Call!"

06/30/2021 03:15:30 PM


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

In this week’s parashah, Parashat Pinchas, we find the following: “HaShem spoke to Moshe saying: ‘Assail the Midianites and defeat them, for they assailed you through the conspiracy they practiced against you because of the affair of Pe’or and because of the affair of their kinswoman Kozbi, daughter of the Midianite chieftain, who was killed at the time of the plague on the account of Pe’or.’” (BeMidbar 25:16-18) The conspiracy mentioned here refers to the wicked Bilaam who advised the Midianite men to send their women on a mission of enticing the B’nei Yisrael men to engage in highly improper sexual behavior with them.  Because the Midianite men were essentially the instigators of the deaths of 24,000 of the B’nei Yisrael, Hashem judged them as being guilty of conspiracy and deserving of death.  Rebbe Nachman of Breslov explains that Bilaam is the epitome of all evil and the embodiment of the seventy nations, all the nations of the world except for Am Yisrael.  (Likutei Moharan I:36b) The history of Am Yisrael shows that the nations of the world continually conspire against us with each nation using its own unique “weapon” against us.  These weapons include the weapon of conspiracy.  Bilaam, the embodiment of all evil in this world, engaged in a conspiracy to destroy B’nei Yisrael’s Holy Covenant with Hashem, an action which would result in the destruction of the B’nei Yisrael.  As the Melitzer Rebbe put it: either Bilaam kills the Jew or the Jew kills Bilaam.  Perhaps the following Chasidic parable will help to explain the concept of general evil and the general correction needed to defeat it:

  The Princess, the King’s only daughter, was deathly ill.  The King sent out an urgent proclamation to all four corners of the kingdom calling for all physicians to hasten to the palace.  The Princess had lost a dangerous amount of weight resulting in becoming pale and frail.  She could barely move let alone sit up or stand on her own two feet.  Her body ached from head to toe, and she suffered from pains in her stomach and in all of her joints.  Her slight was blurry, and her other senses were foggy.

Doctors from every province of the kingdom hurried to the King’s Court in the palace, each one bringing his own set of herbs and remedies.  One by one, they were ushered into the Princess’s chambers.  Some of them succeeded in bringing the Princess partial relief, but soon afterward, she would begin to feel the pain in another part of her body.  When it seemed as though all hope was lost, a plain-looking simple peasant requested permission to enter the palace gates.  The palace guards berated him.  “I am a doctor,” the peasant insisted, “and the King has summoned all doctors.  I am sure that I have the remedy for the princess!”  The palace guards, being both highly skeptical of the peasant doctor and very wary of the King’s wrath, decided it would be best to allow the peasant doctor inside.

The peasant doctor examined the Princess.  He placed his finger on her tongue and then turned to the King and said: “Your Majesty, please summon the cook and the governess immediately.”  Although the peasant doctor’s request seemed a bit odd, the King commanded the Captain of the Guard to immediately summon the cook and the governess.  When they arrived, the peasant doctor began to examine them: “What have you been feeding the Princess?”  they both gave him a long, detailed answer.  The peasant doctor shook his head and replied: “Now tell me the truth her in the presence of the King.  What have you been giving the Princess to drink?”  All eyes turned to the cook and the governess who had been secretly conspiring against the King’s only daughter.  They stammered and hesitated in their answer but were finally prodded to speak when the Captain of the Guard waved his deadly saber in front of their noses.  “The Princess has been drinking salt water,” they both answered.

As the two conspirators were led away, the peasant doctor smiled and said to the King: “Your Majesty, the Princess will now be healthy once again in a day or two!”  He then gave the Princess a glass of cool, refreshing mountain spring water.  Her eyes began to glisten, and the color began to return to her face.  As she continued to drink the mountain spring water, she was completely cured in a short period of time.

In this parable, the Princess is symbolic of the soul while the cook and the governess are symbolic of the body.  The saltwater is symbolic of the general evil the nations of the world attempt to cause Am Yisrael to engage in, this engagement being a deliberate attempt to cause Am Yisrael to abrogate its Covenant with Hashem.  The fresh spring mountain water is symbolic of the Torah, the general correction that maintains our Covenant with Hashem.  Whether conspiracies of evil come at us from either the outside world or from our own inner world, may each of us always look to the Torah for the cure that will keep us healthy both in body and in spirit.


"How Good It Is!"

06/24/2021 03:39:20 PM


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

In this week’s parashah, Parashat Balak, we find the following: “As I see them from the mountaintops and gaze upon them from the heights, there is a people who dwells apart and is not reckoned among the nations.” (BeMidbar 23:9) Rebbe Nachman of Breslov teaches that the prayers of Am Yisrael (the People Israel) lift it up beyond the limitations of nature going so far as to be able to defy and to alter nature as well (Likutei Moharan, I:216) For example, Abarbanel writes that in addition to the fact our ancient ancestors preserved our traditional dress, language, and names during their enslavement in Egypt, by virtue of the fact that Am Yisrael lived apart from the Egyptians in a totally separate area of Egypt (i.e.- Goshen), there was not a single case of assimilation thereby causing their redemption from slavery.  Rashi interprets that Am Yisrael has an entirely separate account from the rest of the nations of the world.  The Zohar and the Midrash say that Am Yisrael exists on a totally different spiritual plane from all the other nations.  Our Tradition teaches that Hashem personally and directly protects and provides for Am Yisrael, especially those who dwell in Eretz Yisrael.  Perhaps the following Chasidic parable will help to explain this most important concept:

The King’s son was restless.  He was tired of studying those thick yellow-paged volumes of the King’s law and lore.  The King often chastised him that a worthy prince should spend every waking hour learning the regal volumes.  He closed the book, took a deep breath, and gazed out the palace window from his princely chambers.  He longed to run in the expanse of the endless green pastures that were spread out before him.  Far in the distance, he could see a few black and white specks.  These “specks” were a herd of cows grazing on the horizon.  He licked his lips and exclaimed, “How nice it would be to drink a fresh glass of milk right now!”  With that, the Prince slipped outside without being noticed.  He exited the palace grounds and made a beeline for the inviting meadows.  Like a lark, he hopped and skipped along the tall grass toward the direction of the herd of cows.  He felt so free without those heavy old volumes weighing him down.  By the time he reached the grazing herd of cows, a peasant boy was prodding them to begin their walk home in the direction of the cowshed not far away.

Just as the cows were entering the cowshed, the Prince caught up with the peasant lad.  “Are you going to milk the cows now?” he asked the peasant boy.  “Yes, I am,” the lad answered. “Would you like to help me?”  “I would love to!” exclaimed the Prince brimming over with excitement.  The peasant lad wore heavy coarse blue coveralls and knee-high black herdsman boots.  Needless-to-say, the Prince was not exactly dressed for the occasion of milking a cow.  His highly shined patent leather slippers became ruined.  His silk breeches were coated knee high with cow manure.  A mixture of mud and straw covered him from head to toe.  And all of this for a glass of milk!

Upon his return, the Prince was not allowed to reenter the palace until three husky palace sentries had undressed him, burned his filthy and wreaking clothes, and bathed him in scalding hot water while scrubbing him from head to toe with stiff bristle brushes.  The Prince shrieked in torment while all this was taking place.  After he was cleaned and dressed, he was ushered into the King’s presence.  The King looked at the Prince and patiently asked, “My son, why did you close your books and so terribly soil yourself?”  “I am sorry, Father,” the Prince replied feeling truly ashamed of himself.  “I merely wanted an intermission from my studies and a glass of milk.”  “Dearest son, said the King, “do the palace grounds lack lush gardens, fragrant groves, or tree-lined pathways by bubbling brooks so much so that you needed to search for beauty on the outside?  After all, you are the King’s son!  You do not have to milk a cow in order to drink a glass of milk!  You belong in the Palace – not in a cowshed!  Ask me for all your needs, and I shall always arrange for them to be fulfilled.”  “But Father, “answered the lad, “you are so busy!  I am ashamed to bother you for such a trivial thing as a glass of milk.”  “Nonsense,” replied the King.  “You are my only son.  My entire kingdom is worthless without you.  On the contrary, I am and will always be happy to hear your voice.”

The Prince of the parable is the symbol of Am Yisrael, while the palace with its thick yellow-paged volumes of the King’s law and lore are the symbol of the World of Torah Learning.  The Prince’s exquisite garments are symbolic of the Jewish soul, while the peasant lad is the symbol of the rest of the nations of the world.  By leaving the palace and mingling with the peasant lad, the Prince fled his duty to the Torah and permanently soiled his soul.  As we are like the King’s son, we must never close the regal volumes of the Torah --- not even for a moment.  For it  is through the study of Torah, the completion of its mitzvot (duties), and prayer from our hearts that we merit and receive the love and protection of Hashem, the King of Kings, each and every day of our lives.


"What You See Is Not Always What You Get!"

06/17/2021 05:36:10 PM


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

In this week’s parashah, Parashat Chukat, we find the following: “HaShem spoke to Moshe and Aharon saying: ‘This is the ritual law of the Torah that Hashem has commanded: Instruct B’nei Yisrael to take for you a parah adumah (“red heifer”) without blemish in which there is no defect and on which no yoke has been laid.’” (BeMidbar 19:1-2) The Hebrew words for “ritual law of the Torah” are Chukat HaTorahThis decree that requires the use of the ashes of a burnt pure red heifer in the ritual purification process is the only decree in the Torah that is introduced by these words.  Why?  Because this mixture of ashes and water which is created to purify a contaminated person also makes the person who created it impure.  Confusing?  Yes!  Even Shlomo HaMelech (King Solomon) confessed that he could not understand the rationale behind this decree. Rebbe Nachman of Breslov teaches: “Take my advice and do not let the world fool you.” (Sichot HaRan, Discourse 51) In order to better understand Rebbe Nachman’s words, perhaps this Chasidic parable will help:

Grisha had never been out of Moscow in his life.  Out on the vast Siberian plains where he grew up, a person was either healthy or he defunct.  There was no-in-between: no doctors, no hospitals, and no medicines.  There were not even any spoons or forks for that matter.  The Siberian peasants thought that a fork was only good for pitching hay or straw.  It never occurred to them that a hand-sized version of the implement could make eating easier.  One day, out of the blue, a rare letter arrived for Grisha.  Inside was a train ticket for Moscow with a twenty-ruble banknote for pocket money sent by a long-lost uncle who wanted to see his nephew before passing on into the Olam HaBa (“the World-to-Come”).  Grisha was thrilled, and he prepared himself for the imminent journey.

Needless-to-say, everything in Russia’s west was odd, new, strange, and fascinating to the peasant from the Siberian plains.  Grisha saw, for the first time, horseless carriages, marvelous structures, majestic fountains, huge stores, and all sorts of other things he could never see in Siberia.  These and many more things were both exciting and puzzling to him.  There seemed to be so much confusion in this world of Moscow.  Grisha’s uncle was the administrator of the hospital in Moscow.  He had decided that he wanted show his nephew the wonders of modern medicine by giving him a tour through the various wards of the hospital.  As they proceeded through the hospital, his uncle took Grisha to the surgical ward where they proceeded to a glass-paned observation room.  From there, they were able to witness an operation that was about to take place at the very same time.

His uncle explained to Grisha how doctors are able to remove infected parts of the body in order to save the rest of the body and, ultimately, the patient’s life.  Grisha scratched his head, confused.  He heard and understood his uncle’s words, but he was unsure of their meaning.  Suddenly, he saw a sleeping patient being wheeled in on a bed (gurney).  A nurse lifted the patient’s gown and spread alcohol on the patient’s abdomen.  A doctor leaned over the patient with a small knife (scalpel) in his hand and made an incision in the patient’s chest.  Suddenly, Grisha shrieked hysterically: “Murderer!  He is murdering that person in his sleep!  Uncle, you have got to stop this right now!”  With that, Grisha started banging on the glass panes with his fists.  It took four brawny male nurses to retrain him.

“Calm down, nephew,” urged Grisha’s uncle.  As soon as Grisha had done so, his uncle explained to him what an appendectomy was and how, if the doctor did not complete the operation within the next few minutes, the infected appendix could burst and release poisons that would flow throughout the patient’s blood stream causing the patient’s death.  “The doctor is no murderer, explained Grisha’s uncle patiently, “on the contrary, he is a compassionate healer!”

Just as the decree of the red heifer is deceiving in that the impure becomes pure and the pure becomes impure, we live in a world where fantasy can become reality and reality can become fantasy.  For example, things that look real today (e.g.- wealth and fame) can be gone tomorrow.  Ultimately, they are illusions.  What is real is HaShem’s love for us. And although we might not witness it or experience it in a way that is always understandable to us, it is there, and it will always be there.  Why?  Because we are Hashem’s treasured people, H-s covenanted people, H-s Chosen People.  Even in the worst moments of our confusion, may we never forget that fact!

Fri, September 24 2021 18 Tishrei 5782