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"We Are Family!"

12/13/2019 12:05:46 PM

Dec13

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

By human nature, we tend to adapt our behavior to our surroundings, meaning that we act like those people with whom we are at the time be it our friends or our neighbors.  We had direct evidence of this last Sunday as close to 200 people gathered at CSS to honor Jacques Lurie for the 18 years he has functioned as Educational Director and Executive Director.  We gathered with an intended purpose and that was to celebrate Jacques' dedication and commitment to CSS.  We see in this week's parashah, Parashat Vayishlach, how important it is to be associated with people whose ultimate goal is to live in peace.

We read the following in this week's parashah: "Rescue me, please, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Eisav." (Bereshit 32:12)  The scenario as presented in the Torah is that Ya'akov was on the road traveling to reconnect with his brother when he received the report that Eisav was heading towards him with no fewer than 400 men.  It is at that moment that Ya'akov prayed the words just cited imploring HaShem's help.  The question is asked as to why Ya'akov repeated himself in describing Eisav.  Why did he use the term "my brother" as well as Eisav's name?  Our commentators state that Ya'akov's fear was two-fold.  First and foremost, he was afraid that Eisav, the man, would threaten his physical survival.  But Ya'akov was also afraid that in greeting him as his brother, Eisav would have a negative influence on his family if both brothers ended up making peace between themselves.  This is why he prayed for HaShem to save him from the two possible outcomes.It is remarkable that Ya'akov prayed for his spiritual well-being before he prayed to be rescued from possible physical harm.  He was more concerned about the negative influence Eisav might have on him than he was about his own life.

Here at CSS, we are not merely members of a Synagogue.  We are a family with all the ups and downs any family experiences.  In spite of this, we must "keep our eyes on the prize."  We must always remember to concentrate our efforts on what unites us as a family.  We must always work towards the "shalom bayit" (peace of the home) which enhances our family life here at CSS.

"You've Got a Friend?"

12/05/2019 02:43:08 PM

Dec5

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

In this week's parashah, Parashat Vayeitzei, we find the following: "And it was when Lavan heard the news of Ya'akov, the son of his sister, that he ran toward him, and he embraced him, and he kissed him, and he brought him into his house;...." (Bereshit 29:13)  It is interesting to note how Rashi takes note of the fact that Lavan ran toward Ya'kov.  Why did Lavan do this?  Rashi states that Lavan was certain Ya'akov had come laden with wealth and precious gifts as had Avraham's senior servant when he came looking for a wife for Yitzchak.  Upon discovering that Ya'akov was empty-handed, Lavan then surmised that Ya'akov had diamonds concealed in his clothing.  Rashi then states that Lavan embraced Ya'akov and slid his hands over Ya'akov's garments.  When he still felt nothing there, Lavan believed that in order not to be robbed, Ya'akov had hidden his valuables in his mouth.  It is then that Lavan kissed Ya'akov lovingly.  But the result was the same: Ya'akov had nothing on him.  The question must be asked: why did Rashi interpret Lavan's actions as relayed in the Torah text in such a negative light?  Why did he not assume that Lavan was hugging and kissing Ya'akov because he was his nephew?

While we have all come across people who come across as being the best of friends, as being the closest of any acquaintances, sometimes we discover that these people only want to come close to us in order to use us for some purpose that benefits only themselves.  We almost always discover this when, after receiving what they want, they quickly disappear from our lives treating us with indifference never to be seen again.  We see this at the end of this week's parashah: "And Lavan arose early in the morning, and he kissed his (grand)sons and his daughters and he blessed them; and he went, and Lavan returned to his place." (Bereshit 32:1)  Why did he not kiss Ya'akov?  The Chofetz Chayim says that because Ya'akov had come empty-handed, there was no need for Lavan to kiss him good-bye.

A true friend is not someone who hugs and kisses you in order to get something in return.  A true friend is someone who genuinely cares about you expecting nothing in return.  What is the best way to gain such friends?  Be one yourself to all whom you want as friends.

"When Opportunity Comes Knocking!"

11/27/2019 11:27:15 AM

Nov27

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

This week's parashah, Parashat Toldot, contains the story of the births of Eysav and Ya'akov and the resulting relationship each had with his father, Yitzchak.  We read the following: "And Yitzchak loved Eysav because [he brought] game into his mouth, and Rivkah loved Ya'akov.  Now Ya'akov stewed a stew; and Eysav came from the field, and he was weary.  And Eysav said to Ya'akov, 'Pour into me now some of this red, red [stuff], for I am weary'...And Ya'akov said, ' Sell me - as it is day - your birthright.'  And Eysav said, 'Behold, I am going to die; so why do I need a birthright?'" (Bereshit25:29-32)  The Torah goes on to tell us that Eysav indeed did sell his birthright to Ya'akov for the mere "price" of bread and a stew of lentils.  We are further told, "...and Eysav despised the birthright." (Bereshit 25:34)  Especially in the culture of the Ancient Middle East, the first born son had special privileges which included his father's blessing of the birthright.  He would become, upon his father's death, the primary heir of his father's household.  So the question that must be asked is this: why did Eysav so willingly give up this privilege of the first born son which was so important?

The great Medieval Bible commentator Rashi explains that Eysav knew how important the birthright was and that it entailed huge responsibilities for him and his offspring.  These responsibilities would have included the eventual service by his offspring in the Holy Temple.  If there were any shortcomings in performing the service in the Temple, says, Rashi, Eysav surmised that his offspring could be punished with death.  But why does the Torah tell us that Eysav despised his birthright?  By doing what he did in giving it to his brother, did not Eysav show how important the birthright and the eventual avodah (service) to HaShem it entailed was to him?

Our tradition teaches us that Hashem  places before us many opportunities that make us better human beings and better members of the People Israel.  The lesson of this Torah portion is that we should never let those opportunities slip away from us.  We must never say, "It's too hard for me to do" or "I will do it tomorrow."  Eysav had the opportunity to engage in the service of the birthright that was rightfully his, but he gave it away and eventually rationalized his action by despising it.  Our tradition considers this action to be nothing but disgraceful and dishonorable.  May none of us ever fail to seize any opportunity to honor both ourselves and the People Israel when we are presented with the ability to do so!

"Abraham Lincoln WAS right!""

11/22/2019 10:48:35 AM

Nov22

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

The Rambam (also known as Maimonides) once had a debate with a group of philosophers who claimed that the nature of a cat could be changed to become like that of a human being.  The Rambam countered with the statement: "An animal will always be an animal."  Because the philosophers disagreed with him, they spent weeks training a cat to prove him wrong.  At last the day had arrived for them to prove their point.  People gathered to see what would happen: would the Rambam be proven correct or would he have to "eat his words?"  The cat walked in the room where everyone was gathered dressed as a waiter carrying a tray with wine and glasses.  Everyone was astounded and assumed that the philosophers had proven their point.  Standing on the opposite side of the room, the Rambam took a bag out of his pocket, opened it, and released a mouse.  As soon as the cat saw it, it dropped the tray spilling the wine and smashing the glasses.  It then dashed across the room in an attempt to catch the mouse.  It was at that point that everyone gathered to watch this spectacle agreed with the Rambam: while you can definitely train a cat, you cannot change its nature.

In this week's parashah, Parashat Chayyei Sarah, we read the following: "And Avraham rose from before his dead (Sarah), and he spoke to B'Nei Chait (the Children of Chait) saying, 'A stranger and an inhabitant I am with you.  Give me a holding of a grave with you and I will bury my dead from before me.'" (Bereshit 23:4)  The text goes on to say how Avraham offered to buy the Me'arat HaMachpeilah (the Cave of Machpeilah) and the surrounding field from Ephron the Hittite.  Efron first replies that he will give it to Avraham as a gift.  But no sooner said than done, Ephron chages his mind an willingly accepts the 400 sh'kalim (silver shekels) that Avraham was offering in order to purchase the cave and the field.  Why the change of mind on Ephron's part?

When Avraham asked Ephron for the cave and the field, the discussion was carried out in front of all the B'nei ChaitEphron, in his attempt to appear magnanimous, replied: "No, my master, hearken to me.  The field I have given to you; and the cave that is in it, I have given it (also).  Before the eyes of the members of my people, I have given it to you; bury your dead!" (Bereshit 23:11)  So what changed his mind?  Why did Ephron accept the money offered by Avraham?  Simply stated, his greed over took him.  His true nature shown forth.  Because Ephron was, by nature, a shallow and greedy person, he not only took the money but he ended up "overcharging" Avraham for the burial place of his beloved Sarah.

Thus, the words of another person with a similar name (Abraham Lincoln) rang true, and continue to do so today: "You can fool some of the people all of the time, all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time." 

"Learn But Don't Look Back!"

11/14/2019 04:06:49 PM

Nov14

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

A colleague of mine was telling me that the first day of kindergarten was a bit overwhelming for his son.  Since the little boy was eager to get home when his first day of school was over, he ran into his father's arms as soon as he saw him and would not let go until they both were a "safe" distance from his school.  A mere two weeks later, things were very different.  When the little boy left school, he walked slowly back to his father who was waiting for him in the family car all the while turning back toward his new friends and teacher to look at them.  In that short time span, he had become so comfortable with school that he considered it to be his "second" home.  In my colleague's son's case, there was nothing wrong in looking back.  However, we see in this week's parashah that taking such action produces tragic results for the wife of Lot, Avraham's nephew.

We read in this week's parashah, Parashat Vayeira, the angels warn Lot and his family not to look back as Sedom was being destroyed.  Despite the warning, Lot's wife could not contain her curiosity: "And his wife looked from behind him, and she became a pillar of salt." (Bereshit 19:26)  Our Sages say that this was punishment for a sin she had committed while living in Sedom.  After her husband had invited the angels to be guests in his home, Lot's wife went to her neighbors presumably to borrow salt.  However, her real reason was to inform her neighbors that Lot had violated the Sedom city policy of not inviting guests into one's home.  But the question must be asked as to why she was punished for this act after she left Sedom and looked back?  Why was she not punished earlier?

Lot and his family were not like Avraham and his family in that they sinned just like the rest of the inhabitants of Sedom.  So why were they rescued by the angels?  Because they were related to Avraham, they were allowed to redeem themselves by leaving the city and putting their past behind them.  Because Lot's wife demonstrated that she was still connected to the people of Sedom, she was punished along with them.  We are like Lot and his family in that we make mistakes and go through difficult times.  The key to getting through such situations is to look forward and not get stuck in the past.  A person cannot grow by being mired in the past.  One can learn fro the past, but one cannot and must not live in the past in order to move forward.

"What Do They Really Want?"

11/07/2019 12:33:02 PM

Nov7

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

Many members of the People Israel do not know what to make of Christian support for Medinat Yisrael (the State of Israel) and Am Yisrael (the People Israel).  Many respond with profound suspicion if not outright hostility.  A colleague of mine who serves as Rabbi of what is known as the National Synagogue in Washington, D.C. once told of how he ran into an elderly Christian woman in Atlanta.  He described her as being a "frail but feisty lady" who, when she met  my colleague, was wearing a bulky cast on her arm.  My colleague told her that he hoped she would feel better soon and that G-d should bless her to which she replied: "I am already blessed.  G-d blesses me because I bless Israel."  The church where my colleague met her was on a busy Atlanta street.  It displayed no fewer than eight enormous Israeli flags on its front lawn as well as a giant banner which read: "I will bless those who bless you."  These words are found in one of the verses (Bereshit 12:3) that comes from this week's parashah, Parashat Lekh Lekha, and it is considered the main "mantra" for millions of Evangelical Christian Zionists.

Pastor John Hagee, founder of "Christians United for Israel" (CUFI) has written a book entitled In Defense of Israel.  In the chapter of his book entitled "Our Debt to the Jews," Pastor Hagee points to this verse as the secret to Jewish success and prosperity: "Based on the population of the Jews in proportion to the rest of the world, it's surprising that we hear about them at all beyond a brief mention in a high school geography class...Yet throughout history, Jews have been at the center of the world's creative, scientific, and cultural achievements."  He goes on to say that Jews "are disproportionately high as Nobel Prize recipients, they are over represented in the field of medicine, and their contributions in the area of scientific research are staggering."  Millions upon millions of Christians take the words of the verse from this week's parashah both seriously and literally, and they do all they can do to "bless" both Medinat Yisrael and Am Yisrael in order to reap what they consider Divine reward and benefit from HaShem's blessing.

Yes, I will admit that it is very hard for many of the People Israel to believe that after centuries of church-instigated "curses" directed toward us, millions of Christians are suddenly interested in becoming a source of blessing for both Medinat Yisrael and Am Yisrael.  But the key to the change in heart of Evangelical Christianity can also be found in the last words of this verse found in this week's parashah: "...and there shall be blessed with you all the families of the earth."  The People Israel have been waiting since Mount Sinai for these words to become true.  Now is the time for us to respond with enthusiasm and joy for the support we are receiving.  After all, you know what they say about approaching a "gift horse" don't you?  

"Guard Thy Tongue!"

10/31/2019 04:59:27 PM

Oct31

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

The Talmud teaches us that the Torah does not "waste" words.  Every single letter is filled with meaning.  Sometimes, if we come across a word or a phrase that appears to be superfluous, we must give it further analysis.  In this week's parashah, Parashat Noach, we find the following verse: "Of the pure animal and of the animal that is not pure" (Bereshit 7:8)  These words are, of course, describing the kinds of animals Noach was to bring into the ark with him.  The Talmud asks why so many words were used to describe an animal that was not pure when the Hebrew word "tamei" (impure) could have been used instead.  The Talmud answers that the Torah was "saved" from explicitly writing the word "tamei" thus teaching us an important lesson that we must always be careful not to speak in a vulgar ("tamei") manner.  Words have the power of life and death.  The following story illustrates this most explicitly.

Rav Elya Lopian was forced to take shelter with a group of Jews as bombs were falling around them.  Although the fear in the shelter was tangible with people crying and screaming, the Rabbi sat in the corner and began to learn Talmud hoping that his action would help protect the people.  Suddenly a man rushed over to the Rabbi and exclaimed: "They are speaking 'lashon hara' (gossip) here!"  "What?!" the Rabbi declared. " We must al leave this place!"  With that, he picked up his volume of Talmud from which he was learning and ran out of the shelter.  Together, the Rabbi and his companion ran through the streets of Jerusalem, dodging bullets, shrapnel, and bombs as they made their way to another place of safety.  After they settled in, the Rabbi continued his learning.  Shortly afterwards, the situation calmed down.  The Rabbi then learned that the shelter he and his companion had left had taken a direct hit leaving no survivors.  He concluded: "Death and life are in the power of the tongue!"  Amen!  

 

"Shalom Bayit"

10/31/2019 04:21:06 PM

Oct31

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

One Yom Kippur, Rav Yehonaton Eibeschutz was forced to observe the day in a small town away from home.  Without revealing his identity, the Rabbi entered a shul, and looked for what he would consider a suitable place to pray.  He spotted a man who was fervently swaying back and forth with tear-filled eyes.  The Rabbi felt that this man could serve him in whose own prayers, so he sat next to him.  The man sobbed and prayed: "I am but dust in my life, Oh HaShem, all the more so in death!"  Inspired by the Kol Nidre prayers of the previous evening, the Rabbi sat in the same place on Yom Kippur.  Once again, this man poured out his heart in prayer to Hashem describing how insignificant he was.

When the Yom Kippur Shacharit Torah portion was about to be read, the shul's gabbai called up a man from the front of the shul for an aliyah.  Suddenly, the man sitting next to the Rabbi who had been so self-effacing in his prayers called out: "You are giving him the third aliyah?"  The shul immediately went silent and the Rabbi stared in total disbelief at the man, who blurted out once more: "I can learn much better than him!  I give more charity than he ever has, and I have a more illustrious family!  Why does he get an aliyah ahead of me?"  The Rabbi turned to him and said: "Moments ago you were crying to HaShem and telling H-m how insignificant and unworthy you are!  Why are you now shouting how important and wonderful you are?"  "What are you talking about?" the man protested, "Compared to HaShem I am nothing but dust.  But not compared to him!"

After the sin committed by Adam and Chava (Eve) which caused them to be expelled from Gan Eden (the Garden of Eden), Adam was faced with making an important choice.  He could dwell on Chava's mistake and live out the rest of his life in bitterness and regret.  Or he could put the mistake behind him and instead focus on Chava's positive qualities and attributes praising her.  The Talmud tells us that a husband and wife who live together in harmony merit HaShem's presence dwelling with them.  Because he knew that being expelled from Gan Eden would cause them leave HaShem's presence, Adam made a commitment to maintain "shalom bayit" (marital harmony) focusing only on Chava's positive attributes.  He did so, according to our weekly parasha, Parashat Bereshit, in the following manner: "And Adam called his wife 'Chava' because she was the mother of all living things." (Bereshit 3:20)   Thus, HaShem was with them at all times.  May it be so with all of us!

The Joy of H-s Hug"

10/17/2019 05:56:14 PM

Oct17

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

Have you ever given any thought as to how, during the Festival of Sukkot, we are in a kind of "quarantine" with HaShem when we dwell in the sukkah?   Dwelling in the sukkah may very well be the closest thing to being in the ancient Temple in Jerusalem.  Why?  Because when we dwell in the sukkah we are surrounded by HaShem's love and concern.  Dwelling in the sukkah during this festival, which immediately follows the Yamim Nora'im (the Days of Awe) during which we offered prayers asking HaShem to forgive us and grant us another year of life, is the secret of the embrace given to us by HaShem that tells us everything is okay.

Let's say that during the period between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur you met up with someone whom you knew you had wronged.  Let's say you had committed the sin of lashon hara (gossip) by speaking badly about him to others.  According to halachah (Jewish Law), you have to tell this person what you did and ask for his forgiveness.  It is only then that HaShem can forgive you.  This may the hardest thing for a person to do: to admit to another human being that you have wronged that person.  Nevertheless, you summon the courage to confront him and apologize profusely for what you have done.

What is the best possible outcome?  If this person loves you for who you truly are, and if he forgives you with all of his heart, he might give you a big hug and say something like this: "Forgive you?  Forgive you for what?  It never happened!  You need to remember that I love you unconditionally not matter what!"  He tells you that he appreciates how difficult this was for you and that he loves you so much that you have nothing to fear from him.  And this is the secret of the Joy of Sukkot!

The walls of the sukkah are the hug of HaShem's loving embrace.  When we enter the sukkah, we are totally enveloped by the Divine Presence.  We experience the awesome compassion, love, and total forgiveness given to us by HaShem.  Knowing this, felling this, how can  we be anything but joyous!?!  

"A Good Husband?"

10/10/2019 04:21:54 PM

Oct10

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

A newly married yeshiva student's wife once requested that he take out the garbage when he left in the morning to go to yeshiva.  He replied that it was not fitting for someone who studies Torah to do this.  In fact, later that day he went further and asked his Rosh Yeshiva (Head of the Torah school) his opinion about the matter.  "Yes," said the distinguished Rosh Yeshiva, "it is indeed not fitting for someone like yourself to take out the garbage."  And with that, the yeshiva student went home being thoroughly satisfied that the Rosh Yeshiva agreed with him.  The next morning, there was a knock on the door of the yeshiva student's home.  He was shocked to see the Rosh Yeshiva standing there.  "Would you please show me where you keep your garbage?" asked the Rosh Yeshiva.  "I came here to take it out for you."

In this week's parashah, Parashat 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, Steinsaltz Edition)  Rabbi Chayim Shmuelevitz used to cite the Vilna Gaon on this verse who said that rain helps things grow.  But what does rain help 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?"

 

"Sha'ar Shamayim"

09/29/2019 02:38:49 PM

Sep29

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

In Sefer B’reyshit (the Book of Genesis) we read the following: “And Ya’akov went out from Be’er-Sheva, and he went to Charan. And he arrived at the place, and he lodged there for the sun had set, and he took stones of the place, and he put them at his head, and he lay down in that place. And he dreamed, and, behold: a ladder standing on the ground and its top reaching the Heavens; and, behold: Angels of G-d ascending and descending upon it. And behold: Hashem was standing over him, and He said, ‘I am Hashem, G-d of Avraham, your father, and G-d of Yitzchak; the land upon which you are lying I will give to your seed….” And Ya’akov awoke from his sleep, and he said, “Indeed Hashem is in this place, and I did not know.” And he was fearful, and he said, “…this is Sha'ar Shamayim (the Gate of the Heavens)!” (B’reyshit 28:10-13 & 16-17)

But just what is this “gate?” For the People Israel, “the Gate of the Heavens” has always been open and will always remain open. Each era of the People Israel has imagined “the Gate of the Heavens” as an entrance through which those whose prayers pass through will find a life of purpose, a life of presence in the here and now, a life that gives meaning, a life that creates a better world not only for the People Israel but for all peoples of this world.

Perhaps this well-known story about the Baal Shem Tov offers us the most sage advice on how each of us by way of our prayers may gain access to the gate: “It is Yom Kippur, the Day of Judgment. The Baal Shem Tov is conducting the prayer services. In the middle of his chant, he pauses abruptly. His face looks troubled and strained. Time passes and the congregation becomes increasingly anxious over this unusual delay. In the meantime, a young shepherd boy is sitting in the back of the synagogue. Never having received a religious education, he is unable to read the Hebrew words of the prayers. Yet his heart yearns to pray to his heavenly father. He pulls out his shepherd’s whistle from his pocket and decides to pray in the form of a tune. As he sounds the first note, the startled congregation turns around and silences him. Suddenly a smile brightens the Baal Shem Tov’s face. He resumes the service and brings it to a joyful conclusion. Afterwards, his disciples ask for an explanation of this curious behavior. The Baal Shem Tov replies: “I sensed the gates of heaven were closed to our prayers. A year of misfortune was to be decreed upon our people. I tried to break through but to no avail. However, that one sincere and heartfelt note which the shepherd boy emitted was enough. It pierced through all the heavenly gates. Thereafter, all our prayers were permitted to follow.”

May your hearts be filled to overflowing with your own individual prayers during these Yamim Nora’im (days of Awe), and may your prayers create a better life and a better world for you and those you hold dear!

 

09/29/2019 02:01:17 PM

Sep29

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"Who Really Is To Blame?"

09/19/2019 04:26:17 PM

Sep19

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

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!"

In this week's parashah, Parashat Ki Tavo, we read the following: "Cursed is the one who does not uphold the words of this Torah to perform them." (Devarim 27:26)  It is all too easy for ultra-observant Jews to 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 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 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.  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 Synagogue.  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!

"All You Need Is Love!"

09/12/2019 03:39:05 PM

Sep12

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

We have entered the "Season of Repentance" in the Jewish calendar.  We are commanded by our Tradition to "do" t'shuvah (repentance/returning) in order to cause us to come back to our Tradition, to our people, and to HaShem.  We began this time period as we entered the month of Elul.  In Ashkenazic minhag (custom) it is during this month that we sound the shofar at the end of the Shacharit service each day except for Shabbat.  The blasts of the shofar are meant to awaken our souls, to spur us to action, to inspire us to became actively engaged to do t'shuvah.  But is it only the blasts of the shofar that lead us to take action?  Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev said "No!"  He taught that there exist two kinds of "awakenings:" an "Awakening from Above" and an "Awakening from Below."  What did he mean by this?

  Reb Levi Yitzchak taught that one must not rely only on the "Awakening from Above."  A person must benefit from the work of his own hands in order to become inspired to action.  It is only when he does this that he will merit feeling of the Ruach HaKodesh (the Spirit of Hashem) resting upon him.  What does this mean?  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 for 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)  It is during this month of Elul that we, the People Israel, seek a special closeness with Hashem.  This is one of the reasons that the days of the month of Elul are known as "Yamei HaRatzon" (Days of Desire).  We desire to do t'shuvah at this time in order to be closer to Hashem.  And all it takes for Hashem to become closer to us, all it takes for Hashem to love us is for us to want to be closer to H-m.  When all is said and done, all you need is love!

"Are You Upside Down?"

09/04/2019 03:34:25 PM

Sep4

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

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.

In this week's parashah, Parashat Shoftim, we read : "You shall not deviate from the word they (the appointed judges) tell you." (Devarim 17:11)  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.  Silly?  No.  And let me tell you why.

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.  You see, it all depends upon your perspective.  Our Rabbis are telling us that perhaps our perspective is wrong.  We must turn around.  We must face the opposite direction  in order to gain the proper perspective as to what is happening in our lives.   And that is 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 HaShem to go forward into the new year.  May we all be successful in doing this!

Sun, December 15 2019 17 Kislev 5780