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"Judge Not Lest Ye be Judged!"

05/08/2019 02:36:29 PM


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

In this week's parashah, Parashat Kedoshim, we read the following: "You shall not commit a perversion of justice; you shall not favor the poor and you shall not honor the great; with righteousness shall you judge your fellow."  (VaYikra/Leviticus 19:15)  We learn from this verse that a judge must measure those standing before him/her with the "yardstick of justice" (i.e.- in strict accordance with halakhah [Jewish Law]).  However, our Sages also interpreted this verse to mean that we must judge each person favorably, meaning that, if at all possible, we must find some justification for his/her actions.  There appears to be a contradiction between the two interpretations.  Just what is going on here?  I offer the following vignette:

"The score was 8 to 0, and the other team showed no signs of improving their performance.  Reuven was playing a pick-up game of pool volleyball at camp against some teenagers.  They were playing rather poorly, and Reuven was a bit surprised.  After all, these boys had been in the pool for a while practicing.  All they had to do was get the ball over the net, but they could not seem to do that at all. Reuven's team scored three more points making the score 11 to 0.  As the game would end when the one of the teams would score 22 points, both teams switched sides in the pool.  Reuven's team took up its position, and play resumed.  In a short while, the other team had caught up with Reuven's team.   And no matter how hard Reuven's team tried, they could not get the ball over the net.  Until Reuven's team switched sides, Reuven had no idea that the other side of the pool was the deep end.  In the shallow end of the pool, it was easy to play the game.  But it was much harder to do so in the deep end.  Eventually, the opposing team won the game.

It is at this time of the year that we read a chapter of Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) every Shabbat afternoon.  In Pirkei Avot we read "Do not judge your fellow until you have reached his place."  All-too-often, we judge other peoples' actions based upon the position in which we are located.  And that is wrong.  Why?  Because our position is only ours; no one else can occupy it.  And that is true of everybody.  When someone's actions seem strange or even wrong to us, we must realize that this is probably so because we are missing some vital information that makes all the difference in the world.  To judge others favorably is not merely doing something kind.  To judge others favorably helps us to seek out the truth about them.  This skill is not only crucial to the judge in the courtroom; it is also vital in maintaining our relationships with others.  Shabbat Shalom!

"In One and Out the Other!"

05/03/2019 09:54:40 AM


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

In this day and age, we human beings must be able to adapt to the ever changing situation in which we live.  And that is part of what makes us human: the ability to acclimate to almost any environment, any climate , or any condition in which we find ourselves.  Even when the new circumstance may be highly annoying and very uncomfortable, we can become accustomed to it if we spend a long enough time in it.  However (and there is always a "However"), the opposite side of the coin is true as well.  Even when we find ourselves in a new environment that is welcoming and luxurious and somewhat exotic, we also become accustomed to it and accept it as "the new normal."  I believe that this is what "plagues" the non-Orthodox American Jewish Community at this time.  We accept what is even when it is antithetical to living life as a Jew.  So what is it that we must do to retain out unique identities as Jews?  As always, we turn to (what else?) our Torah for the answer.

In this week's parashah, Parashat Acharei Mot, we read the following command to Aharon following the death of his sons Nadav and Avihu: "And Hashem said to Moshe: 'Speak with Aharon your brother, that he shall not enter at all times to the Sanctuary, within the Partition, before the Cover that is on the Ark; then he will not die.'" (VaYikra/Leviticus16:2)  There was a specific time when Aharon, the first Kohen Gadol (High Priest) could approach HaShem in the Kodesh HaKodashim (the Holy of Holies) in the Mishkan (the Wilderness Tabernacle), and that was on Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement).  Why the restriction?  Because if he entered the Kodesh HaKodashim more often, he would then become accustomed to it, and it would no longer have the profound effect that it had by his doing this only on Yom Kippur.  We read the following from our Tanakh (Hebrew Scriptures) regarding how our people were to come into and depart from the Beit HaMikdash during the Shalosh Regalim (the Three Pilgrimage Festivals) in Yerushalayim (Jerusalem): "Whoever comes in by way of the Northern Gate to prostrate himself shall go out by way of the Southern Gate.  He shall not return by way of the gate through which he came in.  Rather he shall go out opposite it." (Yechezkel/Ezekiel 46:9)  When our people came to the Beit HaMikdash during the Shalosh Regalim, they were awestruck by its beauty and magnificence.  They could literally feel the holiness that was inside its walls.  They would leave inspired and uplifted until they made their next visit.  However, in order for this feeling to remain, they were ordered not to go through the same entranceway twice lest they would become too familiar with this holy place.

The power of being able to adapt to almost any situation has become a detriment in our lives as Jews here in America.  We live our lives as Americans first and Jews second, and that has resulted in the highest rate of assimilation ever experienced by the American Jewish Community.  [German Jews also viewed themselves as Germans first and Jews second.  We have just commemorated on Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Day) the disastrous results of how that turned out.] But we have in place that Sanctuary, that Beit HaMikdash, that Kodesh HaKodashim with us right here, right now.  It is called Shabbat.  It is separate and apart from the other six days of the week making it both holy and special.  We must treat it as such by adapting our lives to this day that defines us, and only us, as the People Israel.  Let all of us make every effort possible to do just that!  Shabbat Shalom!

"Am Yisrael Chai!"

04/18/2019 02:19:22 PM


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

Imagine the following scenario:  A man wearing a white coat is walking down the main street of his city carrying a baseball bat.  As soon as he sees another person coming his way, he walks up to the man and begins swinging away at him with the baseball bat.  After a few swings, the man with the bat manages to land a blow that puts the other man down on the ground writhing in pain.  With that, the man who delivered the blow bends down and says this to the injured person: "Don't worry, my friend. You see this white coat I am wearing?  I am this city's leading orthopedic doctor, and I work in this city's finest hospital.  I will make sure that you have a full and speedy recovery!"  An impossible scenario, you say?  Maybe not.  Just think about the following scenario that actually happened.

In Sefer Breyshit (the Book of Genesis) we read the following: "And He (Hashem) said to Avram: 'You shall surely know that your seed will be strangers in a land [that does] not belong to them; and they shall serve them, and they will afflict them [for] four hundred years.'" (Breyshit/Genesis 15:13)  One of the recurring themes of the Seder meal is our giving thanks to Hashem for having brought us out of Eretz Mitzrayim (the Land of Egypt) with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm.  But why are we so grateful to Hashem for saving us when it was He who put us there in the first place?  That reminds of the vignette of the defendant who appears in court before the judge after being charged with the murder of his parents and pleads for mercy because he is now an orphan.  HaShem could have kept us far away from Eretz Mitzrayim so that no harm would have befallen us and there would have been no need to rescue us.

The answer to this perplexing riddle is that our descent into Eretz Mitzrayim was necessary, because it was there that Am Yisrael (the People Israel) were formed as a nation.  It was there that Am Yisrael became capable of being lifted up in order to gain the merit of receiving the Torah.  It is because we were slaves that we had no choice but to recognize HaShem's role in taking us out from Eretz Mitzrayim.  And it is because of this status in our relationship with Hashem at that time that we could receive the Torah from Hashem saying the words "Na'ase v'Nishma!" ("We will do and we will listen!")  Chag Kosher ve-Sameyach!

"I'm a Loser?"

04/10/2019 02:59:19 PM


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

In the Story of Creation found in Sefer Bereshit (the Book of Genesis), we read the following: "And G'd said, 'Let the waters be gathered from below the Heavens to one place, and let the dry land appear;' and it was so.  And G'd called the dry land "earth," and the gathering of the waters He called "seas," and G'd saw that it was good."  (Bereshit 1:9)  At the very beginning of Creation, the Earth was covered with water with the emergence of land coming about as stated in the verse just quoted.  In this week's parashah, Parashat Metzora, we read that one of the stages in the purification process of the metzora ( one who suffers from tzara'at) is tevilah (immersion) in a mikveh (a ritual pool of water).  It is when the metzora immerses and then emerges from the mikveh that s/he feels as though s/he has been created anew.  This is also what happens to one who converts to Judaism as well: s/he is "reborn" during  tevilah in the mikveh.

As I stated in last week's "Rabbi's Corner," our Tradition teaches us that the metzora was afflicted with tzara'at because of his/her failure to guard the words s/he spoke to other people about other people.  To overcome being a metzora, a specific process of purification had to be followed.  This being "reborn" caused the person to put his/her past behind and move forward using that past as a learning tool.  Anyone who has been successful can tell you that success does not come overnight.  Becoming a success more-often-than-not involves a great deal of failure.  Possibly the greatest basketball player of all time, Michael Jordan, has been touted as having single-handedly redefined what makes an NBA superstar.  And yet this is what he says about his success: "I've missed more than 9,000 shots in my career.  I've lost almost 300 games.  26 times I was entrusted with the ball so that I would make the game-winning shot, and I missed.  I have been a failure over and over in my life."  But this, and not the statistics, are what is most important for Michael Jordan: he used his failures as his motivation to "shoot" for success.  In spite of the fact that his shooting average was just under 50% (i.e.- in order to score points he would take 2 shots; one he missed and the other he made), he used the shots he missed as stepping stones toward successfully making the basket on the next shot.  The question is this: was Michael Jordan a failure or a success?

As with the metzora and how s/he proceeds in life after having suffered from tzara'at, it is how we view our failures and what we do with them that makes all the difference in our lives.

"Guard Thy Tongue!"

04/03/2019 05:07:13 PM


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

Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel once sent his servant, Tavi, to the market to buy "good food."  Tavi, who was known for his wisdom, brought back beef tongue.  Rav Shimon immediately sent him back to buy "bad food."  Again he returned with beef tongue.  Rav Shimon asked him how the same food could be both "good" and "bad."  Tavi replied: "From a tongue can come both good and bad.  When a tongue speaks good by complimenting or praising another person, there can be nothing better.  But when a tongue speaks evil by speaking lashon hara ("gossip") or by making fun of another person, there is nothing worse.  It can break up families, and it can kill."

This week's parashah, Parashat Tazria, talks of the disease of tza'arat, all-too-often mistranslated as "leprosy."  The fact is that tza'arat is not a communicable disease like the mumps or measles.  Our Sages tell us that a person receives this affliction due to speaking lashon hara (e.g. - telling tales/lies about another person).  The literal translation of lashon harah is "evil tongue."  The Tanakh tells us: "Death and life are in the hands of the tongue." (Mishlei 18:21)  On a slight variation of an old adage, the tongue is mightier than the sword.  Why?  Because a sword can only kill the person who is next to you.  The tongue, on the other hand, can speak words on one continent that "hit the heart" of of someone on another continent and "kill" them.  Of all the limbs and organs of the human body the tongue moves with the greatest speed and the least effort.  Using the tongue to spread lashon hara is the most frequently committed sin which in human beings engage.  And it is this sin that caused one to be afflicted with tza'arat.  

In the Story of Creation, we read: "And (HaShem) blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a nefesh chaya ("a living being").  (Bereshit 2:7)  Targum Onkelos translates nefesh chaya as "a speaking spirit."  It is the human soul given to each one of us by Hashem that gives human beings the ability and the power to speak.  But Hashem also gave us something else that gives us the ability to use our tongues wisely: He gave us teeth and lips which act as two "gatekeepers" for the words we speak.  Thus, a person has to think twice before s/he says something once.  Remember: a bird that escapes may be caught and returned to its owner; a word that escapes can never be returned!

"We Know Nothing, Nothing!"

03/28/2019 03:08:46 PM


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

There is a story told by a colleague that comes out of Bait Ya'akov of Baltimore about a couple who had been Torah and mitzvot observant before the Shoah (the Holocaust).  Sadly, but not unexpectedly, after experiencing the horrors of the Shoah, the husband dropped all religious observance.  Because the wife was able to retain her belief in Hashem and Torah despite of all the tragedy she had witnessed and experienced, she insisted that her husband should at the very least go to shul simply because he was still, and always would be, a Jew.  Nevertheless, he steadfastly refused to go.  After arguing about it for a while, the wife finally said: : "You know, each morning you run out to buy the newspaper and come and read it from cover to cover.  As a personal favor to me, could you please buy your newspaper and take it to shul and read it there?  I'm not asking you to go there to daven.  Just go there and read your newspaper and make me happy."  Because the husband wanted to please his wife, he agreed to her request.  For years, he would go to shul each morning and sit in the very back and read his newspaper while everybody else davened.

Now I ask you: If you saw a man coming into the CSS morning minyan each day the just to read the  newspaper, never once putting on a tallit or tefillin, never once opening a siddur, how would you react?  Even if you said nothing or did nothing about it, wouldn't you think that this person is a sheigetz?  Would you not think that he is being totally disrespectful to the shul, to Judaism, to Hashem?  Would you not wonder why he cannot read his newspaper at home?  Well, if you thought any or all of this, I would not necessarily blame you.  That would be the expected reaction.  But, believe it or not, that is not how the congregants of this shul reacted.  Not only did they not chastise this man, they actually befriended him.  After davening was completed, they would schmooze with him.  If a yahrzeit was being remembered, they would invite him to join them for a "l'chaim."  So what eventually happened?  You guessed it: he stopped reading his newspaper, started davening three times each day, and eventually became the shul president.

In this week's parashah, Parashat Semini, we read the following: "But this is what you shall not eat from among those that bring up their cud or that have spilt hooves: the camel, for it brings up its cud but its hoof is not split --- it is unclean to you; the hyrax, for it brings up its cud but its hoof will not split --- it is unclean to you; and the hare, for it brings up its cud but its hoof has not been split --- it is unclean to you." (VaYikra 11:4-6)  In these verses we have a combination of three different verb tenses: past, present, and future.  Why?  Rav Yisrael Salanter, zichrono livrachah (may his memory be for a blessing!), that this passage shows us how we cannot, before know someone's past, present and future, judge that this person is tamei (unclean, impure, unworthy).  If you do not know everything about the person you are about to villify, you must not be so quick to declare him/her tamei.  The members of the shul in the story did not know that this man was not reading his newspaper as an act of defiance against HaShem.  He was reading it to please his wife in spite of how he felt about Judaism because of what he had experienced during the Shoah.  Because they knew nothing about his past, his present, or his future, they accepted him as he was and became much richer for it.  We should do no less!

"Mother Nature's Son?"

03/20/2019 09:52:04 AM


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

We will read the following in this week's parashah, Parashat Tzav: "The fire on the Mizbe'ach (Altar) should be kept burning, it shall not be extinguished; and the Kohen shall kindle the wood upon it every morning; he shall prepare the Olah (Elevation-Offering) upon it and shall cause the fats of the Sh'lamim (Pease-Offerings) to go up in smoke upon it." (VaYikra 6:5)  There were three stacks of wood piled on the Mizbe'ach, one them being the maarachah gedolah (the large pile of wood upon which the offerings were burned).  The Kohanim were commanded to add two pieces of wood to this pile twice each day.  The Talmud tells us that fire from Shamayim (Heaven) miraculously rested upon the Mizbe'ach.  With this in mind, the question must be asked: "What was the purpose of the Kohanim adding the wood and keeping the flame alive?  Would not the miracle of the fire from Shamayim suffice?"

We live in a world that seems to be lacking of anything miraculous.  The world seems to "run on its own" as if guided by "Mother Nature."  While it is the daily job of every Jew to seek out our Creator discovering that He is involved in every detail of this world, HaShem's involvement in this world appears to be hidden from our view.  In fact, if HaShem would be openly involved in worldly affairs, we would be denied the opportunity to search for and discover H'm.  And that would reduce our role as Jews in this world as we would become like everyone else attributing what happens in this world to "Mother Nature."  Our tradition teaches us that when HaShem does perform miracles in this world, He camouflages them within the realm of nature giving room for us to ask: "Is it Hashem, or is it nature?"  That is why the Kohanim were commanded, in effect, to "hide" Hashem's open miracle of the fire from Shamayim resting upon the Mizbe'ach by "creating" their own fire.

Our lives are filled with many miracles each and every day.  Unfortunately, we barely take notice of them, because we attribute their occurrences to "Mother Nature."  It is our job as Jews to look deeper into and notice HaShem's direct involvement in our lives so that we may proclaim H's love and majesty to the rest of the world.  Shabbat Shalom!

"Be All That You Can Be!"

03/14/2019 02:50:08 PM


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

We find the following pasuk (verse) in this week's parashah, Parashat VaYikra: "When a person offers a meal-offering to HaShem, his offering shall be one of fine flour; he shall pour oil upon it and place frankincense upon it." (VaYikra 2:1)  A taxi driver in Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel) once told an American yeshivah bachur (Yeshiva student) about a high-profile passenger he once drove in his taxi.  this person happened to be none other than the Steipler Gaon.  The Steipler asked the taxi driver if he had a designated time for learning Torah or if he spent any time learning Gemara (Talmud).  The driver replied that when he gets home after a long day in his cab, he quickly eats his supper and then runs out to a nightly shiur (Torah lesson).  He also admitted that because he is usually so exhausted he falls asleep only five minutes into the shiur.  "Because I only wake up 55 minutes later when Rabbi who teaches the shiur close his book with a snap, I only learn about 5 minutes of Gemara each day," he reluctantly admitted.  The Steipler exclaimed; "'V'nefesh ki takriv!' ("A person when he makes an offering!")  You are offering up your soul!"  

 Looking at Parashat VaYikra, if we had to come up with a Jewish recruitment slogan, it could be something similar to the title of this piece which was, at one time, the recruitment slogan for the United States Army, and it might go something like this: "Give all that you can give!"  We find in this week's parashah a listing of the various offerings (sacrifices) that were made for the various transgressions people make against each other and against Hashem.  One of the offerings made was called the minchah offering, and it was brought by a person who was so poor that he could not even afford to purchase two small turtledoves to offer up on the altar.  The minchah offering was a mere handful of flour.  The great Torah commentator Rashi noted that of all the different offerings made, only the minchah offering was described as "nefesh" - "a soul."  In essence, Rashi was saying that when bringing a minchah offering, the person was viewed by Hashem as offering his very soul because he was giving H'm all that he could afford.  And that offering was most precious to HaShem.

The taxi driver of the story worked to exhaustion each day, not because he wanted to but because he had to in order to provide for his family.  He needed the parnassah (financial support).  The fact that he voluntarily and willingly went to the shiur each night took much sacrifice (pun intended) in his part.  The Steipler Gaon recognized this, and so does Hashem.  After all, giving all that we are capable of giving is all that Hashem expects of us.  We should expect no less of ourselves than does He.

"Family Strong!"

03/06/2019 05:00:18 PM


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

With this week's parashah, Parashat Pekudei, we end the annual reading of Sefer Shemot (the Book of Exodus).  It is interesting to note that there is a link between the first pasuk (verse) of Sefer Shemot and the last pasuk.  The first pasuk reads as follows: "And these are the names of the Children of Yisrael who came to Egypt with Yaakov; each man and his household came." (Shemot 1:1)  The last pasuk reads this way: "For the cloud of HaShem would be on the Tabernacle by day, and fire would be on it by night, before the eyes of all the House of Yisrael throughout their journeys." (Shemot 40:38)  It is interesting to note that the term "Children of Yisrael" is used nearly 400 times throughout the Torah while the term "House of Yisrael" is used less than ten times.  While Sefer Bereishit (the Book of Genesis) can be viewed as the book of the beginning of the world, Sefer Shemot can be viewed as the beginning of the People Yisrael.  It is in Sefer Shemot that we become a nation.  The people Yisrael, the Jewish nation, is not a conglomeration of millions and millions of people; it is a nation composed of families.  And it is the bayit (the household) that makes us the Jewish nation.  Just how important is the family, the household, in Jewish history?

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch notes that the halakhah (the Jewish Law) that exempts a chatan (a groom) from going out to battle and from fulfilling all other communal obligations during the shanah rishonah (the first year of marriage) seems to fly in the face of the "normal" halakhot of the Torah.  In general, when there is a conflict between a mitzvah d'rabbim (an obligation placed on the public) and a mitzvah d'yachid (an obligation placed upon an individual), the mitzvah d'rabbim takes precedence over the mitzvah d'yachid.  One can assume, then, that the obligation of the chatan to rejoice with his wife during their first year of marriage should be superceded by the obligation to go to war for the good of the nation.  Why, in this case,  is the chatan exempt?

Rabbi Hirsch answers this question by pointing out how important it is for the chatan and the kallah (the bride) to spend time together building and cementing their relationship.  By doing this, he says, they actually fulfill a mitzvah d'rabbim as each Jewish home contributes to the foundation of the Jewish nation.  Creating and building a Jewish home is indeed a communal obligation, because the People Yisrael can only thrive as a nation when we have strong Jewish families.  In other words, we must be "Family Strong!"  May we always be so!  Shabbat shalom!    


"Time Is On My Side"

02/28/2019 01:42:47 PM


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

A large financial institution in England was on the verge of collapse.  In order to save itself, the leadership drafted a proposal offering the company for sale to a wealthy man for the price of 2.5 million pounds sterling (@ $4.2 million).  Although the price was considerably lower than the true value of the company, the offer was not a great bargain.  The offer was conferred to the wealthy man via a telegram sent on Friday night.  Because he was Shomer Shabbos, he provided no answer.  The next morning, a new proposal was sent offering the reduced price of 2.2 million pounds sterling.  Because it was still Shabbat, this telegram, like the first, was ignored.  In sheer desperation the leadership of the company made a third offer with the price reduced to 1.7 million pounds sterling.  On Motzaei Shabbat, Baron Rothschild viewed all three telegrams eventually responding to the final offer.  It was this institution that gave him his greatest wealth.

This week's parashah, Parshat VaYakheil, tells of how Moshe gathered together the entire nation of B'nei Yisrael in order to give them the instructions regarding the building of the Mishkan (the Wilderness Tabernacle).  Of the 122 verses found in this parashah, only two are not about the Mishkan: "For a six-day period, work may be done; but on the seventh day, there shall be for you holiness, a Shabbat of rest for HaShem; whoever does work on it shall be executed.  You shall not kindle a fire in all your dwelling places on the day of Shabbat." (Shemot/Exodus 35:2-3)  The obvious question here is why are these two verses found in this parashah that has to do with the construction of the Mishkan?  The simple answer is that Shabbat and the Mishkan serve the same purpose: to elevate B'nei Yisrael out of their physical existence in order to instill holiness within their souls.

Shabbat is holiness in time.  Shabbat is a period of time unlike that of any of the other days of the week.  For a 25-hour period, we are to stop all creative work.  If done properly, one can actually feel Shabbat as if one is touching it.  Once each week we can experience 1/60 of the Olam HaBah (the World-to-Come).  The Mishkan was holiness within a physical space.  Any time a member of B'nei Yisrael felt a diminishing of his/her spirituality, s/he could merely enter the Mishkan and be immediately uplifted.  It is important to note that Shabbat came first, and this fact has sustained the B'nei Yisrael for over 3,000 years.  The Mishkan was eventually replaced by the two Temples, and both of them also disappeared.  But we have always had and will always have Shabbat.  We have always had and will always have that "touchable" holiness given to us as a gift from HaShem.  On this "Shabbat across America weekend, I wish you "Shabbat Shalom!"



"Yasher Ko'ach!"

02/20/2019 04:37:02 PM


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

In this week's Torah reading, Parashat Ki Tissa, we read of Moshe's reaction to witnessing the B'nei Yisrael (the Children of Israel) worshipping the Eygel HaZahav (the Golden Calf), "It happened as he drew near the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, Moshe's anger flared up, and he threw down the Luchot (the tablets) from his hands and shattered them at the foot of the mountain." (Shemot/Exodus 32:19)  This action is so tragic that the Mishnah tells us that Moshe's shattering of the handiwork of Hashem (the Luchot) into pieces is one of the reasons we fast on the Seventeenth of Tammuz.  The Midrash tells us that Moshe's swift action - the breaking of the Luchot - gained the immediate attention of the B,nei Yisrael.  In fact the Talmud states that Hashem told Moshe, "Yasher Ko'ach!  ("May your strength increase!")  You did well in breaking the Luchot."  Why did Hashem congratulate Moshe for destroying H's handiwork?  The Midrash tells us that 3,000 people worshipped the Eygel HaZahav and only one tribe of 22,000 men (the Levi'im) had tried to stop them.  The great majority of the  rest of the B'nei Yisrael, while they did not worship the Eygel HaZahav, took no action whatsoever to protest against the 3,000 people who did.  Because of their inability to decide whether or not they should join the 3,000 "rebels," Moshe's action was a clear declaration that such an action could not and would not be tolerated by Hashem.  His action literally stopped the B'nei Yisrael "dead in their tracks."  The following story will perhaps better illustrate this point.

Donald Cage was the CEO of a multi-million dollar law firm based in California.  He had built the firm from the ground up in only a few years.  Hanging on the wall behind his desk was a distinctive looking picture frame which held not a law school diploma as one might expect.  In this frame was the letter of dismissal he had received years earlier from the company for which he had been working.  Mr. Cage said, "When I received that letter of dismissal, it caused me great pain and embarrassment.  I had been fired because of a few careless mistakes.  I felt so incompetent.  However, the truth is that the phenomenal success I have achieved over the past few years is also due to that letter...When I received that letter, I felt so low that I promised myself that I had enough of failure.  That letter gave me the drive to succeed.  So, I framed it!"

Hashem commanded Moshe to take the the broken pieces of the Luchot which He had made and place them in the Aron (the Ark) which was to be placed in the Kodesh HaKodashim (the Holy of Holies) in the Mishkan (the Wilderness Tabernacle).  The fact that Moshe broke the Luchot did not make them worthless. It made them all the more precious, for they were an eternal reminder that the B'nei Yisrael were able, with Moshe's help, to overcome their doubts and return to their heritage: the Torah given to them by Hashem.  May we be able to do the same when and if necessary.


"Be Gracious When Thanked"

02/13/2019 08:40:46 PM


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

If you do a favor for someone, and that person thanks you, how do you respond?  More often than not, I respond by saying, "There is no need to thank me."  In Yiddish, the expression is, "Nisht dah farvos."  While in theory this response appears to be gracious, Rabbi Yeruchem Levovitz, the Mirrer Mashgiach, states that such a response might indicate that I am harboring a less-than-pure motive for brushing aside the thanks given to me.  The recipient of the favor I have done has a natural tendency to feel that s/he "owes" me something in return.  By expressing his/her thanks, s/he "repays" me for my kindness.  If I deflect his/her thanks, I might actually be saying, "Don't thank me. Thanks is not enough.  You owe me one!"  A conundrum, no?  Let us look to this week's parashah, Parahsat Tetzaveh, fo the lesson to be learned from such a situation!

"You shall command B'nei Yisrael that they shall take for you pure olive oil, pressed, for illumination, to kindle a lamp continually.  In the Tent of Meeting, outside the Partition that is near the Testimonial-Tablets, Aharon and his sons shall arrange it from evening until the morning." (Shemot [Exodus] 27:20-21)  The Talmud Bavli raises an obvious question: For 40 years B'nei Yisrael wandered in the Wilderness, their way being illuminated by HaShem's light.  Why did He command us to kindle the lights of the Menorah in the Mishkan (the Wilderness Tabernacle)?  Did Hashem need our light?  A Midrash (a Rabbinic legend/story that helps to explain a Torah passage) says that by instructing us to light the Menorah, Hashem was "raising us up."  HaShem, Who did not "need" the light of the Menorah was saying that just as He lit a path for B'nei Yisrael in the Wilderness, so now should they provide light for H'm.  But why did He command this to be done?  Hashem was "allowing" B'nei Yisrael to do H'm a "favor" in return for providing them light in the Wilderness.  By "providing" H'm with the light of the Menorah, they could feel as though they are paying back the overwhelming debt they owed H'm. By acting in a truly gracious way toward the recipients of H's favors, HaShem  was teaching B'nei Yisrael the value of  H's gratefulness by having them say "thank you" for all the love that He had shown them.

The Brisker Rav married off one of his children in a hall owned by a Mr. Wagschal.  After the wedding, when the Brisker Rav came to pay him, Mr. Wagschal said, "Brisker Rav, it is an honor to have hosted your child's wedding.  I could not possibly take payment for it."  The Brisker Rav replied,"The cheapest way to pay for something is with money.  I am not prepared to pay the exorbitant price of taking something for free."  There is no such thing as a free lunch.  The most expensive lunch of all is when, although it seems to be free, you are forever indebted to the one who provided you the meal.  Hashem allowed B'nei Yisrael to "repay" the light He provided for them so that they would feel raised up and not indebted.  The bottom line: When thanked, respond in kind with "You're welcome."  You will feel much better for it. 

"Never Let Go of It!"

02/06/2019 04:45:17 PM


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

This week's parashah, Parashat Terumah, contains the following verse: "The poles shall remain in the rings of the Aron (Ark); they may not be removed from it."  Like several other vessels of the Mishkan (the wilderness Tabernacle), the Aron had poles attached to it.  However, unlike these other vessels, there was something very unique about the poles of the Aron.  In Masekhet (Tractate) Yoma of the Talmud Bavli (the Babylonian Talmud) we are told that the poles of the Aron had to be installed on the Aron even before the Luchot (the Tablets) were placed inside of it.  Just what is the reason as to why the poles always had to remain on the Aron?  We can find the answer to this question in the story as related to a colleague of mine by Captain Joe Goldman, a Delta Airlines pilot.

  "I was once flying a red-eye from California to New York.  Since I decided to stretch my legs, I got up and walked around the plane.  I felt a sense of pride as I observed almost all the passengers sleeping peacefully as if they felt very secure that I was flying the plane.  I noticed, however, toward the back of the plane there was a passenger with his overhead light on.  'Why was he not taking advantage of sleeping on this flight?' I wondered.  I went back to where he was sitting and was surprised to see a young Jewish man bent over a volume of Talmud silently reading its words.

Even though I had been raised religious, I had long ago abandoned the mitzvot and adopted a totally secular lifestyle.  I simply saw no value or relevance of the Torah believing that it was something you kept on the shelf at home.  But this yeshiva student showed me how wrong I was.  He was not cramming for an exam or preparing for an interview.  He was simply studying HaShem's wisdom.  He was living proof that the Torah is not confined to any one place; the Torah accompanies the Jewish people wherever we go.  Perhaps this yeshiva student was doing more to keep the passengers safe and secure through his studying Talmud than we who were at the controls in the cockpit could ever do!"

HaShem gave us the Torah in order that it accompany us wherever we may be going and whatever we may be doing.  The poles of the Aron must remain attached to its side so that it (the Aron) is constantly ready for transport.  We, the People Israel, must be ready to take the Torah with us wherever we may be as well.

"Ve-Ahavta! --- And You Shall Love!"

01/30/2019 11:54:07 AM


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

In this week's parashah, in this week's Torah portion (Parashat Mishpatim), we find the following verse: "And a stranger ("ger") you shall not oppress, for you know the soul of a stranger, as you were strangers in the "Eretz Mitzrayim" (the Land of Egypt)."  The Torah commands us to love every Jew as well as not to cause any Jew harm or pain.  It is interesting to note that the word "ger," which is translated in this verse to mean "stranger," can also be translated to mean "convert" (i.e.- one who has voluntarily accepted Judaism through a "Beit Din" [a Rabbinically sanctioned court tribunal]).  With this in mind, the verse prohibits us from oppressing the convert.  Why?  Perhaps the following story will explain why.

As part of a scientific study, a man dressed up as a homeless individual and entered a restaurant.  He approached a table where a young man was eating an enormous meal.  The "homeless" man explained to the young man that he had not eaten anything as yet that day.  He then asked the young man if he would share some of his food with him (the "homeless man").  The young man refused to do so and continued eating.  The "homeless" man then moved to the next table and related his"tale of woe" to a young woman who was eating a salad that was large enough to feed three people.  Alas. she, too, refused to share her meal.  At the next table, the "homeless" man found a family who was eating a meal filled with various delicacies.  And, once again, his request was refused.  What did he do?  He left the restaurant.  The "homeless" man then continued his scientific study by having his friend purchase a bagel sandwich and deliver it to a genuine homeless man who was sitting on a park bench.  When this truly homeless man saw this bagel sandwich, his eyes opened wide,  He thanked the man who gave him the sandwich and eagerly bit into the bagel with obvious delight and enthusiasm.  It is at that moment that the "homeless" man (the one conducting the scientific study) approached the genuine homeless man and asked him if he could have a part of the bagel sandwich.  What did the genuine homeless man do?  He split the sandwich in half and shared it with the "homeless" man who asked for it.  Why the difference in outcomes?  The people in the restaurant were being more than merely apathetic  towards the needs of another human being.  They did not respond as human beings to the request of the "homeless" man because they could not relate to his pain.  Only a truly homeless person, one who has experienced the pain of hunger, could understand the needs of another person in the same situation and respond in kind.

As Jews, we have lived in far too many places where we have been made to feel as though we were outcasts and strangers.  While as Jews we have the commandment to love all of our fellow Jews, our responsibility and obligation is even more important to the "ger" (i.e.- the convert/the stranger).  Why?  Because we, too, have experienced those same feelings.  It is time we used our experiences as a driving force to assist others who find themselves in the same situation we have been in.

"Have You No Shame?"

01/23/2019 04:03:03 PM


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

During the most important event in the history of Am Yisrael (the People Israel) --- the giving of the Aseret HaDibrot [the Ten Commandments] --- the Torah tells us the following: "And they [B'nei Yisrael] said to Moshe: 'You speak with us and we will listen, but do not let G'd speak with us lest we die.'  And Moshe said to the people: 'You shall not be afraid, for in order to elevate you did G'd come, so that the fear/awe of H'm shall be upon your faces so that you will not sin.'" [Shemot 20:16-17]   A midrash [Rabbinic legend] states that after hearing the first two commandments, all of B'nei Yisrael immediately died and had to be revived.  It is then that they spoke to Moshe the words I cited above as found in this week's parashah [Torah portion], Parashat Yitro.  The Mechilta explains that the words "the fear/awe of H'm shall be upon your faces" refers to busha [shame].  Rabbeinu Bechai reasoned that this passage which refers to fear/awe is actually referring to shame, because it speaks about a trait that relates to a person's face that can be seen by others.  What happens to a person's face when s/he feels shame?  The person's face turns red.  The Mechilta states that because of this phenomenon, a person with a strong sense of shame will be afraid of committing a sin.

In this day and age, especially when we view actions taken by people against other people that fly in the face of ethical and moral behavior, the question must be asked "Have you no shame?"  As we old folks often say to the younger generation, "back in the good old days," people had a sense of shame.  There was a pervading, overall knowledge that there were certain things that one never spoke about let alone did in public.  People's inhibitions provided a "natural" moral and ethical restraint on almost all members of society.  Not so with today's society!  In the last mishnah in Masekhet [tractate] Sotah of the Talmud Bavli [Babylonian Talmud] we see the prediction that in the painful period leading up to the arrival of the Mashiach [Messiah], chutzpah yasgei --- there will be an overabundance of brazenness.  We are witness to this each day in social media where everything and everybody is considered "fair game."  We are all witness to the continuing erosion of any sense of decency, ethics, and morals.  What no one would have dreamed of talking about in the public arena 20 years ago is now found in common, everyday conversation.  Millions upon millions of people share the details of their lives that no one could have imagined revealing even as few as 10 years ago.

While we cannot "turn the clock back" to "the good old days," we can once again hearken to the words of the story of the creation of human beings as found in Sefer Breysheet [the Book of Genesis].  We are told there that G'd created human beings B'tzelem Elokhim [in the Image of G'd].  Knowing this, I ask: Would you treat G'd in the same way you treat your fellow human beings?  Have you no shame?  Think about it!



Sun, September 15 2019 15 Elul 5779