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"Are You Trustworthy?"

10/26/2021 08:28:55 PM


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

In this week’s parashah, Parashat Chayei Sarah, we find the following: “Avraham was old, advanced in years, and HaShem had blessed him in all things. And Avraham said to the senior servant of his household, who was in charge of all he had: ‘Place your hand under my thigh.  I want you to swear by HaShem,       G-d of heaven and earth, that you will not take a wife for my son from among the daughters of the Canaanites among whom I live. Instead, go to my land and to my birthplace and there find a wife for Yitzchak my son.’” (Bereshit 24:1-4) What most people do not see here is there appears to be a major trust issue between Avraham and his most senior household servant whom our tradition identifies as Eliezer.  What is this trust issue that has raised its “ugly head?”  It is this: Why did Avraham make Eliezer swear he would follow Avraham’s order to him?  Why did this man who was in charge of all of Avraham’s worldly possessions (i.e.- his wealth) need to take an oath in order to prove his trustworthiness to his master?  Perhaps the following story will increase our understanding of this most important point in the history of the People Israel.

Once, as Rabbi Yisrael Salanter, z”l, was traveling to a distant city, he passed through a small town and decided to rest in one of its many inns that accommodated travelers.  Because the innkeeper sensed that Rabbi Salanter was a true ben Torah, he approached the Rabbi and asked: “Excuse me, but would you happen to be a shochet?  I have a cow in the barn that needs to be slaughtered.  I usually go to our neighboring town to have it slaughtered, but if you are a shochet, you can save me a great deal if time and effort in making the trip there.”  Rabbi Salanter responded to the innkeeper by saying that he was indeed not a shochet.

About an hour later, Rabbi Salanter approached the innkeeper and asked him the following question: “Perhaps you could be so kind as to lend me some money?”  The innkeeper was quite taken aback by the Rabbi’s request and he replied: “Give you a loan?  Why I do not even know you!  How can I trust you to pay me back?”  Without batting an eye, Rabbi Salanter responded as follows: “Listen to what you just said.  When it came to loaning me money, even if only a small amount, you would not trust me as I am a stranger to you.  Yet when you wanted your cow slaughtered, you were fully prepared to rely on me even though you have absolutely no idea who I am.  Shechita involves many intricate halachot.  Why were you so sure that I possess enough Yirat HaShamayim (Fear of Heaven) to be a proper shochet?”

Avraham Avinu, Abraham our Father, trusted Eliezer with all his worldly possessions.  But it was different when it came to finding a wife for his beloved son Yitzchak.  Why was it to be so different?  Because the woman who was to become Yitzchak’s wife had to literally become the next Sarah.  Not only did she have to be Yitzchak’s wife, but she had to be the next Matriarch of what would become the People Israel.  Taking care of physical property was important, to be sure.  But Eliezer was literally performing a task that would literally change the world.  It is for that reason that he had to commit his heart and soul to the task at hand by swearing allegiance to his master.  We, the People Israel, can do no less in keeping and maintaining our commitment to the Torah, to ourselves, and, most important of all, to Hashem.

NOTE: This is my last submission to “Rabbi’s Corner” as your Rabbi.  It has been my honor and privilege to serve you over the past four years.  May HaShem continue to bless Congregations of Shaare Shamayim and its members.

"But I Know You Love Me!"

10/19/2021 04:24:05 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 each year: once in its "proper place" as part of the weekly Torah readings and once 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 completely 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 ask, HaShem is omniscient (all knowing), wouldn’t He already know that Avraham would indeed pass the test?  Why should Avraham have to go through such an anguish-producing test to prove his loyalty and devotion to Hashem?  Additionally, had not HaShem already promised Avraham that Yitzchak would carry the "mantle" handed to him by his father?  How could he do so if he becomes an olah?

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." (Devarim 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 by showing our love for HaShem.  The more mitzvot we do, the more our souls are enlarged and the more spiritual we become which causes us to grow closer to Hashem.  In fact, as opposed to the more common way of viewing the completion of mitzvot, our Rabbis encourage us to perform as many mitzvot as possible rather than doing an entire mitzvah all at once.  An example of this is that it is better to give ten different people a single dollar than to give one poor person ten dollars.  By doing so, you are “spreading the wealth” of Jewish tradition and HaShem’s love to more people.  Additionally, 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 to offer up his beloved son as an olah proved to himself that his love of HaShem was even greater than he realized.  We must do all that we can do to be like Avraham so that, like him, we can bring our greater love of HaShem to Hashem, for ultimately that is what He wants from us.

"Not Your 'Average' S.A.T.!"

10/13/2021 02:28:45 PM


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

In this week's parashah, Parashat Lech Lecha, we find the following: “Hashem said to Avram: ‘Go forth from your native land and from the place of your birth and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you.  I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.’” (Bereshit 12:1-2) 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.  We will find an even more important test in next week's parashah, Parashat VaYeira: it is the "Akeidat Yitzchak," the Binding of Isaac.  Rabbi Simcha Zissel Broide, z”l, Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva Knesses Yisroel Chevron, teaches 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 what about 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.  A “Lech Lecha” nisayon is coming home from work exhausted and having to decide whether to sit with your child or grandchild and help with homework or to sit in front of the T.V. or computer by yourself.  While no one classifies such nisyonot as those which define a moment in one's life, they are nevertheless as vitally important in life as a “Lech Lecha” nisayonHaShem told Avram 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 a severe famine, so severe that he was compelled to go down to Egypt in order to survive.  Nevertheless, it is because he accepted this nisayon without question, without comment, and without protest that Avraham Avinu becomes a hero for the People Israel.

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 life-forming…perhaps even life-changing.  And while the "Akeidat Yitzchak” nisayon is more noteworthy because it stands out from the rest, the true indication of how heroic a person is how one deals with the many daily "Lech Lecha" nisyonot that should be and can be handled with complete faith and trust in HaShem and H-s love for us.  May we all become true heroes each and every day of our lives.

10/07/2021 07:55:25 AM


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"Failure Is NEVER an Option!"

09/30/2021 12:56:17 PM


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

In this week's parashah, Parashat Noach, we read the following: "Noach was a righteous man; he was perfect in his generations...." (Bereshit 6:9) Our Rabbis argue about this description of Noach, with one conclusion being 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 this about Noach as well: "...with G-d did Noach walk." (Bereshit 6:9) 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 received the flowing order from HaShem: “…walk before Me in purity." (Bereshit 7:1) “Wait a minute,” you say. “Noach walked with HaShem, but Avraham walked before Hashem? Nu? So, what is the great difference between these two righteous men?"

Rashi tells us that Noach was "mi-ketanei emunah" --- "one who had little faith."  Even though HaShem had 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 and repopulate the world, what did he do?  Again, he hesitated.  The Torah tells us that Hashem ordered Noach: "Go forth from the ark...." (Bereshit 8:17) 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 never wants to move far from the current spot in which he finds himself.

So, Noach does not want to march forward to make a new life for his family!  What does he do instead?  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 in front of the world, in front of his family, and, worst of all, in front of HaShem.  Because of his failure to take action and his witnessing of the destruction of his world as he knew it, Noach once again refuses to do anything.  Why?  Because he has decided to give up both on himself and on life.  Noach has decided to continue to be a failure.  Avraham, on the other hand, is entirely the opposite.

As we will see in next week's parashah, Parashat Lech Lecha, Avraham is the paradigm of the person who never thinks about failing Hashem.  We will see by way of our Torah that Avraham does more than any other human being to fulfill everything Hashem expects of him and then some.  The concept of failing HaShem never enters either his mind or his soul.  More than any other figure in the Torah, Avraham teaches us that the only true failure we can possibly suffer in life is when we fail to try in the first place.  Indeed, Avraham was so concerned about his world that he literally became "the Father of Nations" both in name and in action.  May all of us be like Avraham, never once accepting failure as an option in our lives as Jews!



"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.


Thu, February 22 2024 13 Adar I 5784