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"We Are B'Nei Yisrael!"

11/15/2018 11:45:26 AM


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

There is a verse from Sefer Yeshayahu (the Book of Isaiah) that says there will come the time when all nations of the world will declare "Lekhu ve-na'aleh...." --- "Come let us go up to the Mountain of HaShem, to the House of the G-d of Yaakov." (Yeshayahu/Isaiah 2:3)  [That time will be when the Mashiach arrives, may it come soon, speedily, in our time!]  Masekhet Pesachim of the Talmud Bavli explains that the verse does not say the House of Avraham or the House of Yitzchak; it says the House of Yaakov.  Why?  Because, as we see in this week's parashah, Parashat VaYeitzei, Yaakov is the first person to refer to the place at which he prayed to Hashem as a  "Beit El" - "a House of G-d."  This is the spot where he dreamed the dream of the "soolam," the ladder or, more correctly, the ramp connecting Heaven to the earth.  Our tradition teaches that this location is the Temple Mount.  But why did Yaakov feel compelled to build a "Beit El?"

The Torah tells us that Avraham prayed to Hashem on a mountain (i.e.- Mount Moriyah), and Yitzchak prayed to HaShem in a field.  But it was Yaakov who recognized the power of praying to Hashem in a house, a house dedicated to HaShem.  In other words, one can say that Yaakov built the first Synagogue.  But the question still remains: why did Yaakov feel compelled to build a "Beit El?"  Perhaps Yaakov needed a "Beit El" because he had spent so much time far from home.  During his life, Yaakov had spent 20 years working for the wicked Lavan, and at the end of his life he was living in Eretz Mitzrayim, the Land of Egypt.  Additionally, Yaakov is the only Patriarch who spends time with his children outside of Eretz Kena'an, the Land of Canaan.  The fact is that Yaakov needed a "Beit El" to strengthen, to reinforce his spirituality, to reinforce his link with HaShem.  And the rest, as they say, is a major part of our people's history.

It is not surprising that the Synagogue has been part and parcel of the Diaspora since its beginning.  While Eretz Yisrael, the Land of Israel, has magnificent Synagogues, it is outside of Eretz Yisrael, in the Diaspora, where the People Israel feels the need for a Synagogue.  We need the Synagogue to be the location of of our spirituality, to be the focus of our relationship with HaShem.  In America, the Synagogue became the center of American Jewish life.  While this still holds true for the American Orthodox Jewish Community, it is fast disappearing in the rest of the American Jewish Community.  Because it was believed for the longest time that everything Jewish had to occur in the Synagogue, non-Orthodox Jews did just that: they confined their Judaism exclusively to the Synagogue.  And after the kids grew up, for far too many Jewish families the Judaism they practiced stopped dead in its tracks simply because they stopped going to Synagogue.

It is now that we see how this is a distortion of Yaakov's dream.  For Yaakov, and for us as well, the Synagogue was and is the center of Judaism when we leave our homes and go out into the outside world to become part of the outside world.  And most importantly, for both the American Jewish Community and the American non-Jewish Community the Synagogue is the physical representation of both Judaism and Jewish life to the outside world.  The Synagogue is the center of our religious life, for it is the center of our life pertaining to Jewish rituals, especially prayer.  But most important of all, the Synagogue is the catalyst for living life as a Jew wherever we may find ourselves, either at home or away from home.  Yaakov knew this to be true, and so should we!         


The More Things Change...!

11/07/2018 03:54:49 PM


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

This weekend is a weekend replete with incredible history for both the People Israel and the people of this world.  The period of Friday, November 9th to Saturday, November 10th is commemorated by World Jewry as "Kristalnacht" - the Night of Broken Glass.  In that overnight period in Germany in 1938, over 2,000 Synagogues were destroyed, thousands of Jewish businesses were vandalized, 100 German Jewish citizens were murdered, and over 30,00 German men were placed in concentration camps.  All this is well documented and well known by anyone who reads about or studies the history of that time period in Europe.  Most historians say that "Kristalnacht" was the beginning of the Holocaust culminating in what became known as "The Final Solution."  However, I would propose a different beginning of World War II which can be traced back to November 11, 1918.

This coming Sunday is the 100th anniversary of the signing of the armistice that ended what was supposed to be "The War To End All Wars."  We know it as World War I, and it at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month that what was - up until then - the bloodiest war ever fought on this earth was brought to an end in a railroad car outside of Paris.  In fact the document that was signed gave the day its name in American parlance: November 11th became known as "Armistice Day."  But instead of creating a world which shunned war and worked for peace, November 11th is now being recognized by many historians, especially Holocaust historians, as the beginning of World War II.  The aftermath of the signing of the armistice created such open hatred of our people in Germany and throughout Europe that it seems impossible how people the world over were blind to what eventually took place over the following 20 years leading up to "Kristalnacht."  The question begs: Why was the world so blind?  The result of this "blindness" was World War II and the Holocaust.

We, the American Jewish Community and more specifically the Pittsburgh Jewish Community have seen first hand what happens when people turn a blind eye toward anti-Semitism.  I hope and pray that the result of this tragedy which has appeared to unite Jew and non-Jew will not be a spur-of-the-moment phenomenon.  On this Veterans' Day weekend during which we honor all those who have put on a uniform and stood in the way of hatred and intolerance and bigotry, I hope and pray that all people who believe in people will stay united in order to work toward that day when nation shall indeed no longer have to lift up sword against nation and when humankind will never again need to learn war.



10/30/2018 04:17:46 PM


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

Last Sunday night following the horrific tragedy that occurred during Shabbat services being held at  Eitz Chayim-Ohr L'Simcha Synagogue in Pittsburgh, there was many gatherings of interfaith communities across America both to mourn the senseless loss of life and to express solidarity in the wake of this hate crime committed against Jews, specifically American Jews.  Congregations of Shaare Shamayim was invited to attend and participate with The Old York Road Kehillah and The Cheltenham Multi Faith Council in the service held at Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel in Elkins Park.  At that service a special reading authored by Rabbi Paul Kipnes was read by myself and Rabbi Robert Leib of Old York Road Temple-Beth Am.  As victims are being buried and mourned by their families, friends, and community, I offer for your consideration the words of this prayer entitled "A Kaddish After Gun Violence, for When Humanity Fails Itself":

Yitgadal v'yitkadash sh'may rabba...Exalted and holy be Your great name....  Yet little feels holy today.  Another mass shooting, an incomprehensible horror, too many dead and too many wounded.  And we are left to mourn the dead, to heal the wounded, to wonder "why?"  B'alma di v'ra the world which You God created, according to plan....  But is this part of Your plan: that death and destruction emerges from the free will You entrusted to us, that automatic gunfire rains down unceasingly, that people kill people using weapons we designed and created with the hands you accorded us?  V'yamlich malchutei, bayeichon uv'yomeichom...may Your majestic love be revealed in the days of our lifetime....  In Your Torah we are taught that when Moses and the Israelites stood praying at the shores of the Red Sea while the Egyptian army was bearing down on them, You called out to us saying: "Why are you crying out to Me?  Tell the Israelites to move on!"  (Exodus 14:15)  So help us to move on, not by forgetting this terror, not by explaining it away, not by blaming easy targets.  But by having the courage to mourn the dead, to heal the victims, to bless the first responders, to lead with love, to change the laws, and to save lives.  Y'hei sh'lama raba min sh'maya, v'chayim aleinu...may there (soon) be abundant peace from heaven, and life for us....Peace that comes because we did not become inured to the continual violence in our houses of worship, in our concert venues, in our schools, in our malls, and in our neighborhoods.  And because we did not allow the calls for prayers to turn us away from the actions we must take to end mass shootings.  But because we did have the courage to stand up, to speak up, and to act out.  Oseh shalom bimromav, Hu yaaseh shalom aleinu...May the One who creates harmony on high, bring peace to us....v'al kol Yisrael, v'al kol yoshvei all Israel and all the world....  So that one day Your world, free from this violence, will finally reflect Your exaltedness and holiness.  V'imru...And we all say...Amen!

"Bring Me a Higher Love!"

10/24/2018 12:11:53 PM


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

In this week's parashah, Parashat VaYeira, we find the story of Akeidat Yitzchak (the Binding of Yitzchak).  This story is read twice: in its "proper place" as part of the weekly Torah readings and on the second day of Rosh Hashanah.  The story relates how Hashem "tests" Avraham by asking him to bring his beloved son Yitzchak up to Mount Moriah (i.e.- the Temple Mount) and offer him up as an "olah" (an elevated burnt offering).  Because Avraham willingly acceded to Hashem's command, our tradition teaches us that he passed the "test."  Our commentators ask why HaShem had to "test" Avraham in the first place.  Because, they say, HaShem is omniscient (all knowing), He already knew that Avraham would pass the test.  Why should Avraham have had to go through such an anguish-producing "test?"  After all, had not HaShem already promised Avraham that Yitzchak would carry the "mantle" handed to him by his father?

One answer to the question of "Why?" is given by the Ramban who said that Hashem tested Avraham in this way so that "dei lehotzi mei-ha-koach el haoel."  The "test" helped Avraham take what he believed and put it into action.  Rabbi Yaakov Neuberger, a Rosh Yeshivah at Yeshiva University, cites this verse from Sefer Devarim (the Book of Deuteronomy) as an explanation of the Ramban: "Hashem has tested you in order for you to know if you love Hashem your G-d with all your heart and with all your soul." (13:4)  The "test" was meant for Avraham to see for himself how much he loved HaShem; HaShem already knew this.

The same is true for us when we perform "mitzvot" (the duties of the Torah).  Using the Ramban's reasoning, Hashem "tests" us by commanding us to perform mitzvot so that we can feel good about ourselves and show our love of HaShem.  The more mitzvot we do, the more our souls are enlarged and the more spiritual we become ultimately growing closer to Hashem.  In fact, as opposed to the more common way of viewing mitzvot completion, our Rabbis encourage us to perform as many mitzvot as possible rather than doing an entire mitzvah all at once.  For example, it is better to give ten different people a single dollar than to give one poor person ten dollars.  The more mitzvot we do, the more we actually live our spirituality.  And the more we perform actual physical actions in service of HaShem, the closer we come to HaShem.

Avraham understood that the way to bring about a greater love of HaShem was to take what he believed in his heart and in his soul and put it into action. His actions of carrying out HaShem's command proved to himself that his love of HaShem was even greater than he realized.  We must do all that we can to be like Avraham so that we can bring a higher love of HaShem to Hashem, for ultimately that is what He wants from us.

"Avram the Hero?"

10/17/2018 01:52:23 PM


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

In this week's Torah reading, Parashat Lech Lecha, we find HaShem's "calling" for Avraham to leave the land of his birth and his father's household and journey to the land that HaShem will show him.  The Mishnah (Pirkei Avot 5:3) states that Avraham Avinu, Abraham our Father, passed all ten nisyonot (tests/challenges) that were posed to him by HaShem.  The command of "Lech Lecha" was one of those nisyonot.  An even more important test is one which we will read about found in next week's parashah: "Akeidat Yitzchak," the Binding of Isaac.  Rav Simcha Zissel Broide, the Rosh Yeshivah of Chevron Yeshiva, tells us that there are two types nisyonot: one that defines who we are and one that we face on a day-to-day basis.  When you face a big nisayon that may involve serious self-sacrifice, you can often reach deep down and find the courage and determination to make the proper decision and do the right thing.  But there are also those "little" nisyonot that you face each and every day that do not require such strength and fortitude.  Such, says Rav Broide, is the nisayon of "Lech Lecha."

 A "Lech Lecha" nisayon is having to decide whether or not to get up in time for morning minyan.  It's coming home from work exhausted and deciding whether to learn with your child or grandchild and help with homework or sit in front of the T.V. or computer.  While no one classifies such nisyonot as those which define a moment in one's life, they are nevertheless vitally important in life.  HaShem told Avraham Avinu that his reward for undertaking the nisayon of "Lech Lecha"would be wealth and offspring upon his arrival in Eretz Yisrael.  Did he get his "just desserts?"  No, he did not.  Instead he encountered severe famine, a famine which caused him to go down to Egypt in order to survive.  It is because he accepted this nisayon without question, without comment, without protest that Avraham Avinu becomes a hero.

A "Lech Lecha" nisayon deals with the issues of everyday life, issues such as health, childrearing, and financial problems.  There is no glamor, there is no excitement in dealing with these types of issues, but they are no less challenging.  And while the "Akeidat Yitzchak" type of nisayon is more noteworthy because it stands out from the rest, the true indication of how heroic a person is may indeed be how one deals with the many daily "Lech Lecha" nisyonot that are handled with faith and trust in HaShem.  May all of us become true heroes each and every day of our lives.

"The Fear of Failing"

10/10/2018 04:55:37 PM


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

In this week's parashah, Parashat Noach, we read about the flood which HaShem brings upon the earth due to the evil which H-s creation, human beings, have brought upon the earth.  Only one man, Noach, and his family are allowed to survive.  The Torah tells us: "Noach ish tzadik, tamim hayah b'dorotav...." --- "Noach was a righteous man; he was perfect in his generations...."  Our Rabbis argue about this description of Noach, with some coming to the conclusion that he was not as righteous as the main character of next week's parashah, Avraham Avinu - Abraham, our Father.  But the fact remains that our Torah tells us: " HaElohim hit'halekh Noach." --- "...with G-d did Noach walk."  In anyone's eyes that would make Noach appear to be just as the Torah describes him: "tzadik" --- "righteous," maybe even as righteous as Avraham.  It is interesting to note, however, that our Torah tells us how Avraham was ordered by HaShem to "hit'haleikh lefanai" --- "walk in front of Me (HaShem)."  What does this mean?  Noach saw his world destroyed and reacted to this by becoming a drunk.  Avraham was so concerned about his world that he became "the Father of Nations" as is the meaning of his name.  Why the great difference between two "tzadikim" - "righteous men?"

Rashi tells us that Noach was "mi-ketanei emunah" --- "one who had little faith."  Even though HaShem told him to enter the ark, he hesitated until the rising waters finally forced him to do so.  And when the waters receded allowing Noach and his family to leave the ark, what did he do?  Again he hesitated.  The Torah tells us that Hashem ordered Noach: "Tzei min ha-teivah...." --- "Go forth from the ark...."  One would think that after being cooped up in the ark with his family and all those animals that Noach would be more than willing to exit into the brave new world that awaited him.    But the fact remains that Noach just does not want to move from his spot.

Noach does not want to march forward to make a new life for his family.  So what does he do?  He plants a vineyard and gets drunk on its produce.  In fact, he gets so inebriated that he returns to his tent and lies there naked to the world, to his family, and to HaShem.  Because he has been witness to the failure and the destruction of his world as he knew it without trying to do anything to alter the outcome, Noach once again refuses to do anything.  Why?  Because, as a human being, he does not want to fail HaShem a second time.  He gives up on both himself and life.  Thus Noach becomes the paradigm of the fear of failing.  As we will see in next week's parsahah, Avraham is the paradigm of the person who is not afraid to fail.  More than any other figure in the Torah, Avraham teaches us the the only failure that exists is failing not to try in the first place.  We only fail when we fail to take action.

"All You Need Is Light!"

10/03/2018 04:09:07 PM


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

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

In this day and age we seem to be surrounded by darkness, and it more and more appears to be similar to that thick, "touchable" darkness that made up the "Choshech Afaylah," the "Darkness of Blackness," that lasted for three days throughout the entire Land of Egypt causing the Egyptians to remain in place, not being able to move or live their normal lives.  In our own time, we seem to have gotten lost in the middle of this "darkness" as it engulfs our society.  We especially see this with religion and how it is "used" as a "kardom lachpor bo," "an axe with which to gore," resulting in Hashem and everything about H-m being associated with all that is bad.  As we begin Parashat Bereshit this week, we see that the very beginning of the Creation Story speaks of darkness: "In the beginning of G-d's creating of the heavens and the earth, the earth was wondrously void, and [there was] darkness upon the face of the deep...."  We see that darkness when we hear the so-called leaders of religion telling people that they are wicked sinners, that they are infidels, and that they are the cause of disease and disaster in this world.  How do we combat this illusion of darkness that seems to control our lives at this time?

We read further on in the parashah: "...and the spirit of G-d was hovering over the surface of the waters.  And G-d said, "Let there be light,  and there was light.  And G-d saw the light - that it was good, and G-d separated the light and the darkness."  And a little further on we read, "And G-d created the man in H-s image - in the Image of G-d did He create him...."  It is our duty to reflect the Image of G-d in all that we do in this world.  We cannot reflect that image in darkness - it must be done in light.  After all, we are commanded to be "a light unto the nations."

As we proceed into the year 5779, let your light shine unto yourself, your family, your friends, your Synagogue, and the world.

Ode to Joy

09/26/2018 03:02:16 PM


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

The month of Tishrei began with Rosh Hashanah, proceeded to Yom Kippur, and is climaxing and ending with Sukkot, Hoshanah Rabbah, Shemini Atzeret, and Simchat Torah.  It is during this month that we are able to come closer to Hashem that at any other time in the year.  And it is especially during Sukkot, the Season of Rejoicing, that we experience our greatest joy over the eternal covenant we have with HaShem.  It is during Sukkot when we are commanded to move from our permanent physical home and dwell in the temporary structure that reminds us of the how are 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 we were.  The sukkah contains a secret that best exemplifies the basis of the 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 think we have wronged for their forgiveness.  Let's say you tell a person you know you have wronged how you 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 him/her.  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 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?  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?

To Remember or Not to Remember:  That Is the Question!

09/21/2018 07:21:23 AM


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

This week's parashah, Parashat Ha'azinu, is a magnificent piece of poetry which is Moshe's final song to B'Nei Yisrael before he leaves them to pass on to the World-To-Come.  One would think that this song would be a song of love and triumph based upon Yetziat Mitzrayim, the Exodus from Egypt, the receiving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, and the successful arrival at the edge of the Eretz Kena'an, the Land of Canaan, the Promised Land.  But it is not. The fact of the matter is that a great deal of the song consists of Moshe's admonition to B'Nei Yisrael as to how they will break the covenant made with HaShem at Mount Sinai as well as its consequences.

We find the following verse in this parashah: "The Rock Who bore you --- you will forget, and you will disregard the Power Who birthed you."  (Devarim 32:18)  An explanation of this verse is given by the Dubner Maggid by way of the following story: Reuven owed Shimon a large sum of money and lacked the funds needed to repay his debt.  Since Shimon was hounding him to "pay up," Reuven approached his close friend Levi and asked for advice.  Levi instructed him to act as if he were totally insane each time Shimon would approach him for the money.  In that way, said Levi, Shimon would leave him alone.  Sure enough, when Shimon approached Reuven for his money, Reuven did exactly what Levi had told him to do.  And just as Levi said, Shimon left Reuven alone from that day on.  The very next day, Reuven asked Levi to lend him a large sum of money for just a few days, and Levi lent him the money.  One week later when Levi asked Shimon to repay him for the loan, Shimon began to act insane again.  Levi became furious at him and shouted: "I am the one who gave you the idea to use this method.  It is chutzpah for you to use it against me!"

Hashem created forgetfulness for those who have suffered in the past.  If we would clearly remember every bit of suffering that occurred to us in this life, we would never be able to cope with this life.  We would never be able to enjoy the good things in this life because we would always be remembering the pain of the past.  By forgetting the misfortune's of our lives, we can live a happy life in spite of our past sufferings.  But one thing that we should never forget: we should never forget HaShem and our obligations to H-m.  The Dubner Maggid stated that this is the message of this verse.

Every trait and attribute we possess has been given to us by HaShem and can be used for good or for bad.  It is up to us to utilize all that we have been given for only the good.

The Never-Ending Song

09/12/2018 04:36:48 PM


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

On this Shabbat Shuvah of 5779 we read Parashat Va-Yeilech in which we find the following verse: "Now write this song for yourselves and teach it to B'Nei Yisrael...."  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 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 must be asked as to why the words of the Torah are referred to as a "song."

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

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

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

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

Gamar Chatima Tova!  May you be sealed for good in the Book of Life for 5779!    



To Choose or Not to Choose

09/05/2018 02:07:23 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 descendents 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 Children of Israel the ability to have free will.  Our tradition teaches that all is determined in Heaven, that Hashem controls everything that happens...except for free will.  But how can this be?  If HaShem is all-powerful and all-knowing, then how could we human beings have the ability to do anything independent of H-m?  If HaShem 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 Hashem.  Our moral and spiritual fate lies in our own hands - not in the "hands" of HaShem nor in the forces of nature.  The Torah states the truth: We have free will.  We have the ability to choose.  At this time, in this season, let us choose life!

"The Joy of Selichot?"

08/28/2018 05:29:57 PM


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

Selichot refers to the penitential prayers that are traditionally recited in the middle of the night on the first Saturday night that is at least four days prior to Rosh Hashanah.  It is during this prayer service that we begin to ask Hashem to hear our prayers and have mercy upon us.  We beg HaShem over and over and over again for forgiveness.  This is the central theme of the Yamim Nora'im, the Days of Awe, from Rosh HaShanah through Yom Kippur.  While each day has at least one specific piyyut, poem, added to the Selichot prayer service, the central part of the Selichot prayers is where we continually ask HaShem to use H-s thirteen attributes of mercy when judging us.  The central theme of Selichot is our asking HaShem to hear our prayers and forgive us.

In the Ashkenazic tradition, one reason given for starting Selichot prayers on Saturday night is found in Leket Yosher, a work written in the 15th century by Rabbi Yosef ben Moshe.  We start reciting Selichot prayers following the close of Shabbat, because at that point in time people are rejoicing over having been able to celebrate Shabbat.  Our Rabbis teach in Masekhet Shabbat of the Tamud Bavli that the Shechinah, the Divine Presence, will only rest upon us when we have simchah, rejoicing.  "Thus it is most appropriate to pray with simchah shel mitzvah, the rejoicing of the mitzvah."   Why would we rejoice when asking HaShem to forgive us?  Because we know that He will grant it.  We need joy in order to bring HaShem's presence upon us.  We declare in the Selichot prayers the following verse of Isaiah 56:7 in which HaShem states, "I shall bring them to My holy mountain, and I shall make them rejoice in my holy prayer."

In this week's parashah, Parashat Ki Tavo, we read about the horrible curses that will be brought upon us "because we did not serve Hashem with rejoicing and a full heart." (Devarim 28:47)  Note that is not because we did not serve HaShem that we are punished.  We are punished because we do not have joy in our hearts and souls when we serve Hashem through our prayers, and our prayers are to be the vehicles by which we express our gratitude to Hashem for all He does for us.  So how do we attain this joy?  It is through the recitation of the Selichot prayers that we are to focus on making ourselves complete.  And how do we make ourselves complete?  Our Rabbis teach us that we do this by helping others.  We cannot expect to be complete in our avodah, our service to HaShem unless we are sensitive to the needs of others.  The more we work on helping others during these Yamim Nora'im, the closer we will feel Hashem's presence in our lives and the more joyous our prayers will be.

As we recite Selichot prayers beginning this Saturday night, let us rejoice in the love and forgiveness that Hashem has for us at this time!  And let us rejoice in our willingness to be here with and for each other!

"Is War Hell?"

08/22/2018 01:30:10 PM


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

Matanya Robinson was the son of dear friends of a colleague of mine.  Matanya died at the age of 21 in April of 2002 while his IDF unit was going door-to-door in Jenin searching for terrorists.  One of the reasons Matanya died was because of the IDF policy to risk the lives of its own soldiers in searching for terrorists rather than merely bombing a building that might be housing terrorists.  This policy is meant to eliminate the risk of taking the lives of innocent people when searching for known terrorists.  It is, in fact, the most moral way to deal with a terrible situation.  there is no doubt that we, the People Israel, regard every life as precious.  That is why we mourn for the loss of those Egyptian lives that took place as we were taken out slavery by the "hand" of HaShem.  Because terrorists who have already committed horrible murders must be held accountable for their actions, the IDF goes "the extra mile" to try to ensure that innocent civilians are protected.  But what is the origin of this policy?  We find it in this week's parashah, Parashat Ki Teitzei.


Parashat Ki Teitzei begins with the law that speaks of the case of the soldier who goes out to war, captures a beautiful woman, and takes her home to be his wife.  Our Torah commands this soldier to shave this woman's head, let her finger nails grow long, and allow her to remain in his home crying for the entire month following the death of her parents who have perished in the war.  Please remember that at this time in the history of our people as well as those of all the other ancient Middle Eastern countries, the laws of war included the elimination of entire populations who were conquered, this being carried out by the conquering army.  To be sure, prisoners were taken, and, as was often the case, these included women who were taken by members of the conquering army to become wives.  While it may be hard to understand, our Torah was actually legislating something that was unheard of in ancient warfare: showing compassion to captives.  How, you may ask, is this woman who has been taken captive being shown compassion by shaving her head, letting her fingernails grow long, and sitting there crying for a month?


We look to Maimonides (Rambam) who states that this time period of a "hands-off" approach regarding the woman captive allowed her time to decide if she wanted to become a part of the People Israel.  According to Rambam, she was under no circumstances to be forced to convert to Judaism (something that Nachmanides [Ramban] stated was supposed to happen).  Her captor could attempt to convince her to do so, but at the end of the 30-day waiting period, it became the woman's decision to either convert or not convert.  Obviously she had to convert in order for the soldier who captured her to take her as his wife.  But if she did not wish to covert, she then had to be set free.  She could not be treated as or sold as a slave.  Our Torah forced the soldier who captured this woman to treat her in such a way that he had to view her as a person and treat her accordingly.


To be sure, the law of the captive woman as stated in our Torah does not present an ideal situation.  But neither does war.  At times, war becomes a violent, horrible, but necessary part of life.  Because we are the People Israel, we can be proud of our long tradition of conducting ourselves in a moral manner when faced with the horrors of war.  And we can certainly be proud of the way the IDF conducts itself in this day and age.


08/22/2018 01:22:15 PM


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08/22/2018 12:14:16 PM


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Fri, November 16 2018 8 Kislev 5779