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"These Boots Were Made for Shining!"

11/25/2020 12:02:01 PM

Nov25

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

 

In this week’s parashah, Parashat Vayetze, we find the following:  “And Ya’akov vowed a vow saying: ‘If G-d be with me, and He will guard me on this way upon which I am going, and He will give me bread to eat and a garment to wear, and I will return in peace to my father’s house, and HaShem will be my G-d, then this stone which I have established as a monument shall be a house of G-d….” (Braysheet 28:20-22) At first glance, this appears as though Ya’akov is “asking for the world” and that he is trying to “make a deal” with Hashem: If Y-u will do this, then I will do that.  However, what this passage really illustrates is that Ya’akov did not want to request anything from HaShem other than his minimal needs.  But why “minimal needs?”   Why was Ya’akov requesting so little from HaShem?  Was he lacking trust in HaShem by not asking for more?  Rebbe Nachman of Breslov instructs: “A person must accustom himself to praying for all his needs at all times,…For each of his needs, the principle advice is to only pray to HaShem and to believe that Hashem is good for everything – for curing illness, for livelihood, and for every other need – and one’s principle efforts should be in praying to HaShem….”  Perhaps the following parable will help with an understanding as to how Ya’akov was doing exactly what Rebbe Nachman was advising:

The Duke had two personal valets who traveled with him wherever he went.  One day a special messenger arrived from the palace to inform the Duke that he was invited to dine with the King and a number of the world’s leading statesmen.  This dinner was to be the most prestigious event of the year.  The valets both knew that the Duke’s appearance had to be impeccable for this event.  They both had shoeshine boxes with an assortment of pastes and brushes.  Yet, for this occasion, they needed something special.  The Duke’s custom-made knee-high black leather boots would have to shine like mirrors.  Both valets requested special Belgian horsehair brushes and Welsh saddle soap.  Despite the fact that both items were exorbitantly expensive, the Duke agreed to their request and procured the articles for each valet.

On the afternoon before the royal banquet, the two valets were feverishly polishing boots.  The first valet was polishing the Duke’s boots, bringing them to a high gloss.  All he cared about was his master’s prestige.  The second valet was using his new Belgian horsehair brushes and Welsh saddle soap to polish his own boots.  Suddenly the Duke entered the workroom.  He saw his best boots in the hands of the first valet and then noticed the second valet engaging in the act of polishing his own boots.  “Aha,” exclaimed the Duke, “a valet must be neat and clean, but a regular brush and polish are more than adequate for a valet’s own boots.  The Belgian horsehair brushes and Welsh saddle soap cost a good two hundred silver crowns!  Were it not for the royal banquet, I would never have purchased them!  Yet for a servant to use them for his own boots is insufferable!  The nerve!”

Needless to say, the second valet was reprimanded and punished for his actions while the first valet was rewarded for his selfless service to the Duke.”

          When we use the abundance of blessings that HaShem gives us in order fulfill H-s mitzvot, we are like the first valet in the parable who used all the expensive tools that were given to him in the service of the Duke.  This is the type of person to whom Rebbe Nachman was referring when he instructed us to ask Hashem for all our needs.  But when we ask for HaShem’s blessings only to use them for our own needs and desires, then we are like the second valet in the parable as we are “embezzling” from HaShem in the same manner that the second valet was embezzling from the Duke.  So, we see that Ya’akov was not playing “Let’s make a deal” with HaShem.  Instead, he was committing himself to a lifetime of service and devotion to Hashem.  We can and must do no less!   

"A Rose by Any Other Name...!"

11/19/2020 07:05:20 PM

Nov19

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

This is the parable about the nurseryman and the Treasury Minister:

There were two distinct neighborhoods that bordered the expansive grounds of the Royal Palace.  The minsters, members of Parliament, and other high-browed blue-bloods lived in the neighborhood just north of the Royal Palace.  Each mansion competed with each other in grandeur.  Diamonds and gold were as plentiful as were the squirrels and pigeons, so much so that no one would even deign to bend down and pick up a stray silver talon that lay in the street.  In stark contrast was the workers’ neighborhood that lay to the south of the Royal Palace.  This area consisted of plain and simple two-room bungalows where the King’s servants lived.  These cooks, chambermaids, laundrymen, gardeners, and other servants had little to their name except for the beautiful flower gardens and impeccable cleanliness that gave their neighborhood a delightful charm.

The Treasury Minister was one of the northern neighborhood’s most important residents.  Although he was as rich as King Midas, he was beyond stingy.  All the other ministers despised him for this, and they often made comment that it was easier to extract blood from a rock than it was to obtain a shilling from the Treasury Minister.  Behind his back, they all whispered that he did not care one iota about the welfare of the King; his only joy came from seeing the royal coffers filled with gold bars.  All too often, the ministers would complain to the King that they had not received their annual allotments to which the Treasury Minister would reply that his only concern was the welfare of the kingdom.  The King, however, knew otherwise suspecting the Treasury Minister of corrupt behavior.  In fact, the King strongly believed that the Treasury Minister had been stealing from the royal coffers for years.  But because the kingdom was currently engaged in a war, the King could not make the opportunity to expose the scandal.  Instead, he decided to give the Treasury Minister more rope with which to hang himself.

The nurseryman who lived in the southern neighborhood was a cordial, kind, and simple man of extraordinary character.  He was always ready to do a favor for anyone be they rich or poor.  His love for the King knew no bounds, and he was willing to go to any length to see to it that the King was always satisfied.  In fact, the entire kingdom expressed amazement at the nurseryman’s dedication to his beloved King.  Every morning at 9 A.M. sharp, the King would cross the main road that separated the Royal Palace from the Parliament building.  The nurseryman would precede the King by one hour clearing from the monarch’s path all the horse droppings that had accumulated the previous day.  By 9 A.M., the road was spotless and sweet-smelling in honor of the King.  The nurseryman would then take the manure that he had loaded in the wagon and use it to fertilize the King’s chamber gardens.

The King’s chamber gardens resembled a miniature Garden of Eden, a small piece of Heaven on Earth.  Aromatic herbs grew alongside exotic flowers that represented every color of the spectrum.  Fruit trees of every variety sprang up from lush, green lawns frequented by all kinds of birds and butterflies.  The King loved to stroll in his personal Shangri-La often picking a ripe plum or persimmon right off the tree.  All this came about due to the hard work and diligent effort of the nurseryman who never sought anything in return from the King.  He toiled for the King from before dawn until far after the sun’s setting.  In the morning he would clean and fertilize.  In the afternoon he would prune and weed.  In the evening he would plant and water.  The palace chamber gardens were his doing and his doing alone.

One day, the Treasury Minister decided to give in to his long-time desire for an enticing red Jonathan apple from the King’s personal apple tree, this in spite of the fact that he had more than a dozen such trees on the grounds of his own estate.  With no shame whatsoever, he trespassed into the royal chamber gardens.  Just as his hand was about to snatch the apple of his eye, the King suddenly appeared.  “You dare to pick my apples under my own nose, Treasury Minister?  Is there no limit to your audacity?”  The King, who had been secretly watching the Treasury Minister all along, had already summoned the Palace Guard to make haste to the doomed minister’s mansion in order to confiscate the hundreds and hundreds of gold bars of royal gold that the Treasury Minister had stolen over the years.

          In this week’s parashah, Parashat Toldot, we read the following: “And Yitzchak sowed in that land, and he found in that year a hundredfold, and HaShem blessed him.” (Braysheet 26:12) Rashi comments on this verse saying that the people of that generation used to remark that the manure of Yitzchak’s mules was better than all of Avimelekh’s gold and silver.  Yitzchak resembles the nursery man in the parable in that he, like the nurseryman, would take the crudest material waste and convert it into a thing of beauty and spiritual gratification for the King of Kings, for Hashem.  Everything that Yitzchak did became a path in this world for more prayer, more Torah, and more good deeds to honor Hashem.  Like the Treasury Minister, Avimelekh used the land for his own personal appetites, trying to steal everything Yitzchak owned from the wells he had dug to the wife he had married.  Thus, by the verse found in our Torah it is easy to see how the manure of Yitzchak’s mules made a greater impact on the world than did Avimelekh’s gold and silver.  Perhaps it is indeed a mitzvah to “stop and smell the roses” in order to recognize and appreciate what Hashem has given and continues to give us.aShemHh

"Gone Fishin!"

11/12/2020 01:16:17 PM

Nov12

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

In this week’s parashah, Parashat Chayye Sarah, we read the following: “And it was when the camels had finished drinking that the man took a golden nose ring weighing a beka, and two gold bands for her arms, ten shekalim in weight.  “Pray, tell me,” he said, “whose daughter are you?  Is there room in your father’s house for us to spend the night?”  She replied, “I am the daughter of Betuel, the son of Milcah, whom she bore to Nachor.” (Breysheet 24:22-23) The question asked is why did Eliezer (“the man”) give these items to Rivkah before he verified her identity?  How was he so sure that she was the righteous bride who was intended to become Yitzchak’s wife?  We find the answer in the following parable:

The Princess was the King’s only child.  She was as beautiful as the harvest moon.  Her modesty and her impeccable character were all the more admirable in the light of her superb intellect.  She was fully learned in languages, literature, and sciences.  Yet, this exquisite rose had one long thorn: she refused to consider any of the outstanding marriage proposals that her father received on her behalf.  The bewildered King confronted his daughter: “Dearest, do you have any doubt that I have anything other than your absolute welfare at heart?  Why do you refuse every single marriage proposal?”  She answered, “Your Majesty, my beloved Father, please do not think that I am an ingrate.  My entire vitality depends on the portion of fresh fish that I eat of Shabbos.  I derive nourishment from nothing else.  (It just so happened that the Princess was always sickly during the winter months when the fish left the frigid waters of the kingdom and swam south to the warm waters of the great ocean.) I cannot commit to any marriage proposal unless my husband-to-be is capable of providing me with a fresh fish for each Shabbos of the year.”

 The King acted immediately.  It was then midwinter when the waters of the kingdom were frozen.  There was not a fresh fish to be found in the entire kingdom.  At such times as this, the Princess was her pale and melancholy self.  The King announced that whoever would bring the best and largest fresh fish to the palace by the coming Shabbos (only 5 days away!) would win the hand of the princess.  The King’s announcement became the talk of the entire kingdom.  Everyone had an opinion or a comment.  Who could possibly pull a fresh fish out of the kingdom’s chilly waters in the middle of February?  How could the King prefer the son of a fisherman to the son of a nobleman?  The fishermen wondered how they could catch what the Princess wanted when it was a two-week round-trip to the great ocean and back when Shabbos was only five days away.

It just so happened that in the highlands of the kingdom lived a simple shepherd who spent most of his time alone tending to his flocks.  When the King’s proclamation reached him, he wondered how he, a simple shepherd, could find fresh fish in the middle of winter.  The shepherd had an artesian well near his modest cabin from which he drew the clear and refreshing waters that he needed to sustain himself and his flocks.  The afternoon after hearing of the King’s proclamation, he was drawing water from the well for his flocks.   He took a moment to gaze at the beautiful red and gold sunset.  The breathtaking spectacle inspired the young shepherd to sing a melodious song of praise to the Ribbono shel Olam (“Master of the Universe”).  Completely entranced by the setting sun, he forgot what he was doing, that is until such time that he raised the rope-tied wooden bucket from the well.  It seemed heavier than usual, and much to his surprise he found a large rainbow-colored fish splashing and wiggling inside the bucket.  He immediately praised the Creator for his miraculous good fortune, carefully wrapped the fish, and raced off to the palace.

No one in the palace had ever seen such a remarkable fish in the middle of the winter.  But the King had one reservation: could the young shepherd secure such a fish every single week?  The shepherd shrugged his shoulders and told the King that he had made no effort whatsoever to catch the fish and added that he could not make such a promise to produce the same result each week.  Furthermore, he told the King that had not come to the palace to ask for the hand of the Princess in marriage.  He merely wanted to please the King by presenting him with this beautiful fish.  Enamored with the shepherd’s selflessness and simplicity, the King said, “Come with me.  We shall go for a walk together.” With that, the King, the Princess, and their entourage took the shepherd to the bank of the frozen river not far from the palace.  The ice was filled with holes where many citizens were trying to catch fish.  Suddenly, everywhere the shepherd walked, fish began jumping out of the holes in the ice.  Within moments, a ten-pound carp jumped right into the shepherd’s arms!  “Yes, Father!” exclaimed the Princess with glee. “He is my intended!  I will marry the shepherd!”  The King nodded in royal agreement and approval.

When Rivkah approached the well to draw water for Eliezer and his camels, our Tradition tells us that the water in the well rose to meet her just like it did for Eliezer’s master, Avraham.  With this, Eliezer thus knew Rivkah was the truly righteous woman who was meant to become the wife of Avraham’s son Yitzchak. He therefore gave her the precious jewelry items.  And the rest is our history.

May we all be like Rivkah in that we maintain the same strong ties with both our ancestors and our Tradition so that we, too, will receive the precious gifts promised to us by HaShem because we are H-s betrothed.  

"Chosen...For What?"

11/05/2020 05:52:15 PM

Nov5

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

          We, the People Israel, are called the “Chosen People.”  This unfortunately creates a great deal of angst among a large part of our People.  Why?  Because they believe what our detractors say about us: we believe we are the “chosen people” because we believe we are better than anybody else.  But this has absolutely nothing to do with our being the “Chosen People.” Among the non-Jewish peoples of this world, there are many who do good and perform charitable deeds for others just as we do.  So, why are they not included among the “Chosen People?”  Perhaps the following Chasidic parable will provide some guidance:

The King had twelve ministers, each in charge of a particular facet of government.  The King barely slept, for his workload demanded at least twenty hours/day.  As a result, he was unable to handle may urgent matters that demanded his personal attention.  After serious consideration, the King decided to appoint a viceroy who would serve as his personal assistant and chief minister.  Such a viceroy would remove a considerable load from the King’s shoulders.  Since the King wanted to ensure the cooperation of all his ministers with the new viceroy, he decided to let them elect their new superior from among themselves.  In the initial ballot, four ministers voted for the Minister of Defense, and four ministers voted for the Minister of the Treasury.  The remaining four ministers voted for various other candidates.  The King decided to hold a second and final ballot where the twelve ministers would choose between the Minister of Defense and the Minister of the Treasury.  The election would be held at a special cabinet meeting in thirty days’ time.

During the next thirty days, the Minister of the Treasury darted about feverishly from ministry to ministry campaigning among his peers in order to secure his election as viceroy.  Discreetly, he left a gift on the table of each one of his colleagues at the end of each of his respective meetings with each one of them.  To one, he gave a solid gold watch.  To another, he gave a priceless antique saber.  The Minister of the Treasury ended up spending thousands on diamond rings and ivory-handled pistols.  He knew how to find favor in the eyes of each individual colleague.  The upcoming election received his total attention, even at the expense of neglecting the pressing affairs of his own ministry.

On the other hand, the Minister of Defense paid no attention to the imminent election.  Because, rebel insurgents were making trouble in the northern part of the kingdom, the Minister of Defense left the comforts of the capital city to personally direct the army’s counter-insurgency campaign against the rebels.  He slept in a tent with the commanders in the field and ate the same food that the front-line soldiers ate, all the while sacrificing his personal convenience for the welfare and security of the kingdom.  Oftentimes totally exhausted, he would fall asleep on his spartan field cot with all his clothes on.

The King observed what both ministers were doing without intervening in any way.  He knew exactly where each one was and what each one was doing at all times.  He knew about the lavish gifts the Minister of the Treasury was giving to his colleagues, and he knew about the Minister of Defense’s sleepless nights on the battlefield.  Nothing escaped the King’s eyes.  He was fully briefed on all affairs of the kingdom from his own totally reliable sources.  The night before the election, a royal messenger knocked on the door of each of the ministers’ homes --- all except for the two candidates.  The royal messenger handed each of the other ministers a hand-written note from the King sealed with the royal seal.  The note read: “My dear Minister, for the good of the kingdom and as a gesture of your unshakable loyalty to me, please vote for the Minister of Defense.  With appreciation, the King.”

On the day of the election, ten minsters voted for the Minister of Defense.  The Minster of Defense abstained from voting altogether.  And the Minister of the Treasury voted for himself.  Needless-to-say, the Minister of Defense became the King’s capable and chosen viceroy.

In this parable, the Minister of Defense symbolizes Avraham Avinu, Abraham our Father.  Why?  Because Avraham’s life was filled with selfless and unwavering service and devotion to HaShem, the King of Kings.  We see this in this week’s parashah, Parashat Vayyeira.  In spite of the fact that he was recuperating from his circumcision while sitting in the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day, what did Avraham do? The Torah tells us: “And he raised his eyes, and he saw, and behold! Three men were standing before him, and he saw, and he ran toward them from the entrance of the tent, and he prostrated himself to the ground.”  (Brayshit 18:2) And Avraham did this in spite of the fact that he was being visited by none other than HaShem H-mself!    Because of this, he merited HaShem’s blessing that his offspring would be HaShem’s “viceroys” in this world.  His offspring would become HaShem’s “Chosen People” who would be obligated to do exactly as Avraham did: serve HaShem with selfless and unwavering devotion.

The history of the People Israel is replete with proof of this, especially in the darkest of times.  No other people in the history of this world has endured what the People Israel has endured all the while remaining steadfast to both the Torah and to HaShem.  May we continue to act like the Minister of Defense in the parable: expecting nothing from but giving everything to aShemHaShem.

"Matchmaker, Matchmaker...!"

10/29/2020 04:49:30 PM

Oct29

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

          Shraga Feivish was the most successful matchmaker in the whole province.  People used to say that he could seal a match between a bulldog and a Siamese cat if he put his mind to it.  One day, the Rebbe summoned Shraga Feivish and presented him with a problem.  “Shraga Feivish,” the Rebbe said, “Moshe Mendel the son of Uri the baker is a wonderful boy.  He is destined to be a great scholar and a tzaddik.  He must be able to devote his life to Torah and prayer.  Menachem the banker has a daughter who would be perfect for Moshe Mendel!  This match is made in Heaven!  I want you to arrange this match.  Your reward will be substantial, both in the world and the next!”

          “Rebbe,” Shraga Feivish replied kissing the tzaddik’s hand, “There is nothing that I would like better than to do the Rebbe’s bidding!  But what can I do?  Menachem the banker has visions of securing a high-society match for his daughter.  He will not give me the time of day for anything less than a blue-blooded Rebbishe grandson.  The banker with the baker?  This will never work!”  “With HaShem’s help, you will make it work,” smiled the Rebbe who then proceeded to bless the matchmaker and send him on his way.  Shraga Feivish arranged to meet with Menachem the banker.  And, surprisingly, although he had a number of good proposals, Menachem the banker was nevertheless both curious and eager to hear what Shraga Feivish had to offer.  With the Rebbe’s blessing, Shraga Feivish was completely confident that he would be successful.

          “My esteemed Reb Menachem,” began Shraga Feivish as he ceremoniously opened his notebook. “I can offer you any number of the best young men in all of Podolia and Galitzia.  If it is blueblood you seek, my clients include the offspring of the Baal Shem Tov, Rebbe Michal’e of Zlatchov, and the Noam Elimelech, just to name a few.  If it is scholarship that you seek, I represent the best boys from the best yeshivas, the least of who has mastered the entire Talmud by age fifteen.  With your wherewithal, I can offer you the choice of the cream, that is with exception of one boy….”  With that statement, his curiosity got the best of Menachem the banker; he swallowed the matchmaker’s “bait.”  “Which boy?” he demanded to know.  “Do not hide anything from me, Shraga Feivish!”

          “What does it matter to you?” asked Shraga Feivish.  “Money cannot buy everything.  I have one boy who is so far ahead of the rest in holiness and pure Torah scholarship that he deserves not only a father-in-law of sound financial means, he deserves a father-in-law who will appreciate having an absolute tzaddik for a son-in-law.  After all, you are a banker, Menachem….”  “Are you insinuating that I am not good enough for this boy?” Menachem the banker replied.  “Do you not know that I learn with a chevrusa every evening?”  Shraga Feivish smiled and said, “So do the wagon-masters and the water-shleppers.  This boy prays like and angel.  When he finishes the Shemonah Esrei, he is standing in a puddle of tears, and….”  “What are driving at, Shraga Feivish?” Menachem the banker demanded to know.  “Do you think that I pray like one of the peddlers?  I am the first one in shul for Shacharis in the morning, and I am the last one to leave.  How dare you imply that I am not worthy of having a tzaddik for a son-in-law!”

          By now the tension in the air was so thick that you could cut it with a knife.  Shraga Feivish calmly said, “Listen Reb Menachem.  For your own good, why not settle for a Talmudic scholar who happens to be the grandson of the Rizhiner Rebbe?  I mean, after all….”  “No, said the banker, “I demand to see your best boy, the tzaddik!”  “I am sorry, Reb Menachem,” replied Shraga Feivish, “but I do not think the Rebbe will let me match the young holy man with anything less than the daughter of someone who is truly on the appropriate spiritual level, one who has a working knowledge of the Ari’s Eight Gates….”  “ENOUGH!  I DEMAND TO SEE THE REBBE!  TAKE ME TO THE REBBE!” shouted Menachem the banker.

          Shraga Feivish’s ploy had worked perfectly!  The more obstacles he placed in Reb Menachem’s way, the more the banker desired the match with Moshe Mendel, the young holy man.  Later, in the Rebbe’s chamber, Menachem the banker literally begged the Rebbe to grant a blessing to the match between his daughter and the baker’s son.

            In this week’s parashah, Parashat Lech Lecha,             we read the following: “And HaShem said to Avram: “Go for your sake from your land and from your birthplace and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you.  And I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you, and I will make your name great and you will be a blessing.” (Bereshit 12:1) Avraham Avinu, Abraham our Father, faced ten tests in his lifetime, and none of them may have been as difficult as this particular test.  By testing Avram in this way, HaShem knew that he would “pass the test” with flying colors as his desire to do HaShem’s will not for only his own sake but for the sake of those who would follow him and who would eventually become the People Israel was intense, so intense that he left everything he had known and loved behind in order to begin the journey of bringing Torah and Eretz Yisrael to this world.

The tests we face in life as the People Israel are more often than not very difficult for us to face and overcome.  But, may we be like Avram; may we have that same desire for ourselves and, most especially, for those who follow us! For it is then that we too will become Avraham  Shabbat Shalom!

“Mah Tovu…How Good Is It? --- Tov Me’od!”          

10/20/2020 02:34:51 PM

Oct20

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

In this week’s parashah, Parashat Noach, we read the following: “These are the generations of Noach --- Noach was a righteous man, perfect in his generations; with G’d did Noach walk.” (Bereishit 6:9) A midrash (Bereishit Rabbah 30:8) describes the following five people found in the Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible): Noach, Yoseif, Moshe, Iyov, and Mordechai, all who saw “a new world” come about in their times.  Each saw what could have been permanent terrible tragedies that were transformed into uplifting experiences that created a better world.  In each of these instances, the Hebrew word “hayah” (commonly translated to mean “was”) is used in describing what each of these men experienced.  Why the use of the word “hayah?”  Rabbi Yissocher Frand in his book The Power of a Vort (“vort” is translated to mean “word”) suggests that the key as to how a person enters and engages with a “new world” is based on how s/he views the word “hayah.”  Either one can wallow in it never moving forward or one can “let the past fade into twilight.”  He uses Noach and the “Mabul” (“the Flood”) as an example.  Although Noach and his family were spared the fate of the rest of their generation, they could have said “woe is me” and stopped dead in their tracks.  Instead, they emerged from the “teivah” (“the ark”) and proceed in a totally different world, a world that was not the world that they had known and lived in prior to the Mabul.  “Hayah” --- the past is gone forever.  This brings to mind what is happening in our world at this time.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, I do not think that many would disagree with me that far too many of us took things for granted.  We were able to live and enjoy life as Jews without appreciating what we had.  And now, gone are things like celebrating with a chatan and kallah at the chuppah, celebrating a boy becoming a Bar Mitzvah or a girl becoming a Bat Mitzvah, going to shul three times each day to pray with the minyan, getting together with chaverim in the beit midrash to learn Torah.  They are prohibited in order to attempt to stem the spread of COVID-19.  If there is any overriding message that comes out of this pandemic, it is this: we need to better appreciate what we have been given by Hashem in our everyday lives and not just at those special times in which we all revel.  At this time, the old adage “You don’t know what you have until it’s gone” is an incontrovertible truth.  And this is where the word “hayah” plays a pivotal role in our lives.

Before it is too late (and none of us knows when that time is), we must realize how good we had it before the COVID-19 pandemic.  Instead of concentrating only on how bad we have it right now, how bad the economy is, how bad the health situation is, how bad the world is, we need to do what all five of the men from the midrash did: they fought back with every ounce of their strength in order to bring about a better world.    We need to do the same.  How?  By appreciating our families, by appreciating our friends, by appreciating what we can accomplish from our homes, by appreciating our ability to still explore our world and learn new things even while doing so in a brand-new way, by appreciating our health and the food we eat and the basic necessities we have.

In an article published in “Yated Ne’eman,” of March 27, 2020, Rabbi Baruch Rabinowitz puts what I consider to be the best perspective on this COVID-19 pandemic by imagining what his late father-in-law, a survivor of the Shoah (“the Holocaust”) might have said about our world today. 

You are restricted where to go and how many people can congregate, but you could stay home and be in your own bed?  You mean, you don’t have to stay in a bunker?  No ghetto?  No sleeping with animals in a barn?  You could go to sleep at night and expect to find yourself and your family in the same place in the morning?  You have enough food in your home to survive for a few weeks?  No rationing of a few grains of barley per person per day?  You have fresh water to drink and don’t need to limit it?  You don’t have to boil it first?  You can go to the bathroom and you don’t need to use a pail in a corner with other people around?  You can go outside to get food and there’ll be food available?  You can go outside to get food and you won’t be shot dead if discovered?  You can take a shower?  With soap?  With warm water too?  You have a tallis and tefillin?  You can pray as long and as loud as you want and not be afraid of being discovered?  You could gather on your own porches and sing “Kabbalas Shabbos” (the service welcoming the Sabbath) and let it fill the whole street?  You could have a Shabbos se’udah (“Sabbath meal”) with real chicken soup, not just a little salt in water and leave the rest to the imagination?  Real fish?  Fresh challah, soft and chewy, not hard and moldy?  White, and not coarse black?  You can get more than one slice of bread a day?  You don’t have to hide it from other people?  You could think about making plans for the next month or even the next year and have a reasonable chance of keeping those plans?  Heat?  You can feel your fingers and toes when you wake up?  You have air conditioning?  You don’t feel suffocated by the heat and stench?  You have shoes without holes?  More than one pair?  Really?  You have sefarim (“holy books to learn from?  Any sefer you want?  You have access to shi’urim (“lessons”) by phone or by computer?  You have a way to keep in touch with the outside world and at least know there is an outside world?  You could actually know what is happening out there?  You could be in touch with family and see how they’re doing?  You never think that maybe you’re the last one alive? There is nothing to complain about.  All is okay.

While all might not, in fact, be “okay,” as long as you are alive, as long as you can live in this world and love those who are important to you, as long as you can still say “Modeh/Modah Ani” each morning, it is just “okay.”  It is indeed tov me’od --- it is indeed very good!

"Let There Be Light!"

10/15/2020 08:29:51 PM

Oct15

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

At the beginning of this week’s parashah, Parashat Bereshit, we see that the very beginning of the Story of Creation speaks of darkness: "In the beginning of      G-d's creating of the heavens and the earth, the earth was wondrously void, and [there was] darkness upon the face of the deep...."  (Bereshit 1:1-2) We read further on in the parashah: "...and the spirit of G-d was hovering over the surface of the waters.  And G-d said, "Let there be light, and there was light.  And G-d saw the light - that it was good, and G-d separated the light and the darkness." (Bereshit 1:2-4)  In this day and age we seem to be surrounded by darkness, and more and more it appears to be similar to that thick, "touchable" darkness that made up the "Choshech Afaylah," the "Darkness of Blackness," that lasted for three days throughout the entire Land of Egypt causing the Egyptians to remain in place, not being able to move or live their normal lives.  In our own time, we seem to have gotten lost in the middle of the "Darkness of Blackness" called COVID-19 which once again seems to be engulfing our society, our country, and the world in its deadly grip.  There are those who, in the name of religion, are using this pandemic like a "kardom lachpor bo," "an axe with which to gore," saying that, because people are wicked sinners, because they act like Adam and Chavah in Gan Eden (the Garden of Eden) by defying what is believed to be “the Will of God,” they are the cause of this disease in this world at this time.  How do we combat this illusion of darkness that seems to control our lives at this time?  How can we bring more light into this world that seems so dark and bleak while we battle this dreaded virus?

 

There is a short story written by Joseph Epstein entitled "Felix Emeritus."  The story is about two residents of a retirement community, both all alone in this world, who engage in a conversation.  One is a bitter, divorced man who lost his business in a lawsuit.  The other is a retired English professor who keeps secret the fact that he is a Holocaust survivor.  The divorced man shares his written life's story with the English professor.  After reading the story, the professor asks, "You have very, very dark thoughts about life...Does life seem so bleak to you?"  The divorced man replies, "Only when I think about it."  So, how do we stop “thinking about it” when we are surrounded by what appears to be the “second wave” of COVID-19?

 

If we read a little further on in this week’s parashah, we find the following: "And G-d created the man in H-s image – “beTzelem Elohim” (“in the Image of G-d”) did He create him...." (Bereshit 1:27) This verse is the pinnacle, the high point, of the Story of Creation.  Because we have been created “beTzelem Elohim,’ we are duty-bound to reflect the Tzelem Elohim in all that we do in this world.  We do this anytime and every time we perform a mitzvah (duty/obligation) as commanded by the Torah.  And most important of all, because we are the People Israel, we must not and cannot reflect that Tzelem Elohim in darkness; we must do so in the light created by Hashem for this purpose.  We must give evidence to the rest of the peoples of this world that the Torah is meant to be as important to them as it is to us.  After all, we are commanded to be "a light unto the nations."

 

As we continue to proceed into this year of 5781, may the light of the People Israel shine unto ourselves, unto our families, and unto the world in an effort to combat and rid the world of this “Darkness of Blackness.

 

 

 

 

"Truly --- 'Z'man Simchateinu'!"

10/06/2020 03:10:08 PM

Oct6

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

The 7-day festival of Sukkot is known in Hebrew as “Z’man Simchateinu” – “the Season of Our Joy.”  In fact, this is the most joyous of the Shalosh Regalim (the three Pilgrimage Festivals), each of which required us to travel to Yerushalayim (Jerusalem) to bring special korbanot (sacrificial offerings) to be placed on the altar in the Temple.  In the special Torah reading for the first two days of this autumn festival we read the following: “Us’machtem lifney Adonai Eloheychem shiv’at yamim.” --- “You shall rejoice before HaShem your G-d seven days.”  Immediately after the conclusion of the seventh day of Sukkot which was punctuated by the ritual of the beating of the aravot on Hoshanah Rabbah, we enter the solemnity of Shemini Atzeret (the Eighth Day of Tarrying) and the joyousness of Simchat Torah, literally “Rejoicing of the Torah.”  So, you may ask, how much more joyful can one be after celebrating Sukkot?  Perhaps this story may provide an answer.

Goldzweig and Oppenheim were two wealthy merchants who traded in rare gemstones and fine jewelry.  Each year, they would travel from their respective homes in Warsaw and Munich to the great annual fair in Leipzig.  As old friends, they were accustomed to lodge, dine, pray, and do business together, often pooling their resources for their mutual benefit.

The week of trading was drawing to a close.  Goldzweig and Oppenheim had conducted more than satisfactory business, and were about to return home with an ample stock that promised healthy profits for each of them. Before catching their afternoon trains, they were left with one more significant task – buying a gift for their wives.  For them, returning empty-handed from Leipzig was a worse domestic sin than eating on Yom Kippur!  They had to find something for their better halves.  But what does one purchase for the wives of wealthy gem merchants who have every material amenity that a woman could dream of?  The business of present-purchasing proved to be a greater challenge for Goldzweig and Oppenheim than a week of bartering and negotiating they had just completed.  The two merchants had to be at the train station in just two short hours, but they were still empty-handed!  They could not seem to find a suitable gift for their wives.  Another gold watch or a diamond broach just would not suffice.

Suddenly an old Polish Chasid with long silver payos who was wearing a dashik (the black narrow-visor cap that was common among Polish and Ukrainian Chassidic Jews at the time) on his head approached the two merchants.  He asked: “Could I interest you gentlemen in rare Judaica?”  Goldzweig and Oppenheim looked at each other and smiled.  What a novel idea!  Judaica was always a good investment that never decreased in value.  The old Polish Chasid had two hand-illustrated copies of the classic Tzena U’rena Yiddish commentary for women that had been printed on rare parchment paper in early 18th century Budapest.  Even 150 years later, the volumes were in near mint condition.  At only 80 crowns apiece, the books were indeed a bargain, and both men jumped at the opportunity to purchase the books.  After paying the old Polish Chasid, Goldzweig and Oppenheim hurried to the train station.

After arriving home in Warsaw and before he unpacked the rest of his bags, Goldzweig produced the carefully-wrapped volume and presented it to his wife.  As she opened the package, her eyes opened wide and filled with tears.  After she carefully examined the book, a tender smile illuminated her face as she clutched it to her heart.  “Shimon,” she said, “this is the most exquisite gift I have ever received!  I will cherish this forever, and I will read it every Shabbat!  This will become our most important heirloom to be given to our eldest daughter with the hope that she will pass it down to her eldest daughter and so on and so on until the end of time!  Only a G-d fearing, magnanimous, and loving husband such as yourself could have found such a priceless gift!  This Tzena U’rena is so very beautiful!  How can I ever thank you?”

Oppenheim, on the hand, unfortunately received a much less enthusiastic welcome upon his arrival at home in Munich.  “Another dust-catcher?!” his irate wife shrieked at him.  She took the rare antique volume from him and threw it into a corner treating it as if were last week’s newspaper.

On Simchat Torah, which “wife” will you be?  Will you be overjoyed at once again ending and beginning the greatest story ever told: the story of Am Yisrael – the People Israel as presented in our Torah?  Will you treasure it and use it every week as you journey through the next year and the rest of your life?  Or will you relegate it to the proverbial “dustbin of history,” never giving even a moment’s thought to its eternal truths and lessons?  The fact of the matter is that Simchat Torah can be a turning point in the life of each member of Am Yisrael.  The more we learn to love Hashem and H-s Torah, the happier we can be with ourselves and our lives.

May all of us sing and dance on this most joyous of days!

"Come Blow Your Horn!"

09/22/2020 08:16:12 PM

Sep22

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

One of the reasons we blow the shofar on Rosh Hashanah (this year only on the second day) is to remind us of the virtues of our ancient ancestors and to lessen the stern judgements against us.  The following parable might help you to better understand this concept.

In his younger days, the King had personally commanded the Royal Military.  Years ago, leading the royal cavalry regiment, he had almost lost his life in a fierce battle against the kingdom’s hostile neighbors to the north.  His troops had been decimated; his horse had been killed; and he was badly wounded in his leg.  With nightfall, an eerie silence hovered over the battlefield with the hoot of an owl and the howl of a wolf temporarily replacing the rattling of sabers and the battle cries of the enemy.  The King managed to crawl to a nearby forest where, wounded and exhausted, he almost lost total consciousness.

The King’s soul was tormented by the deep blackness of the night.  He anticipated nothing but a bitter end believing that if he managed to survive the night, he would be killed by an enemy soldier who found him in the morning.  All seemed hopeless when, suddenly, he was startled by someone touching his shoulder.  He could not see anyone in the darkness, but he distinctly heard the soothing voice of a young foot soldier whispering: “Your Majesty, you are severely injured, but do not worry.  I will carry you to safety.  Be absolutely silent and make no sounds.  The enemy is lurking everywhere.”  This brawny young lad, the son of one of the villagers, carried the King on his back all night long until they reached the front line of friendly forces.  There, the King received the medical attention he so desperately needed, and he was eventually nursed back to health.  In deep gratitude, the King took the valiant young soldier back with him to the Royal Court.  He awarded the lad a medal of honor and placed him in the Royal Military Academy, the kingdom’s most prestigious educational institution and officer’s school.

The young man excelled in his studies and received a commission in the Royal Military.  Rising quickly through the ranks, he incurred the extreme jealousy of his fellow officers, most of whom were sons of noblemen and aristocrats.  This young officer of peasant stock outshined them all.  When he was chosen over the son of a royal minister to become the Commander of the Royal Guard, his fellow officers plotted against this young man whom they referred to with extreme disdain as “the commoner.”  They began to collect an entire dossier of circumstantial evidence against him in an effort to get rid of him one way or the other.  They planted incriminating letters among his possessions and collected false testimony from so-called “witnesses.”  They created virtually airtight accusations of treason and conspiracy to assassinate the King.  After the “evidence” was submitted to the proper authorities, this newly appointed commander of the Royal Guard was thrown into prison to await his day in court.

Dozens of witnesses who gave hours of testimony against him virtually assured the guilty verdict of treason with the sentence of death by a firing squad.  As he awaited his execution, “the commoner” was granted a final wish.  He requested to appear before the King the night before his execution.  In accordance with royal law, his wish was granted.  As he stood before the King, “the commoner” asked for everyone to be silent and for the lights in the royal court to be extinguished.  Then, in the deep blackness, bound in chains and heavily guarded, “the commoner” whispered, “Your Majesty, you are severely injured, but do not worry.  I will carry you to safety.  Be absolutely silent and make no sounds.  The enemy is lurking everywhere.”  Suddenly the King had a flashback to that fateful night on the battlefield when he believed he would never again see the light of day.  He right then and there knew in his heart that this same village lad who had rescued him from certain death could have never conspired against him.

With that, the King ripped up the verdict, freed the accused lad, and restored him to his rightful place of honor as the Commander of the Royal Guard.  He also vowed to unleash his anger on all the evil officers behind the slander and false accusations made against the young man.

Rosh Hashanah is known as “Yom HaDin,” “the Day of Judgement.”  Because we believe that there is a long list of accusations against us in the Heavenly Court (after all, no one is perfect!), we sound the shofar to remind the King of Kings (HaShem) of our virtues much in the same way that the village-born soldier of the story reminded the King of that fateful night on the battlefield when he saved the King’s life.  The sound of the shofar reminds Hashem the we, the People Israel, are the only nation on earth that agreed to receive and abide by the Torah.  As such, we cannot be guilty of only willful transgressions against H-m.

Happy is the nation that hears the call of the shofar.  May all of us merit a wonderful inscription in the Book of a long, happy, and healthy Life!  Ketiva v’Chatima Tova!  Amen!

"With a Song in Your Heart!"

09/15/2020 01:30:14 PM

Sep15

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

Recently we read the double parashah of Nitzavim-VaYeilech in which we found the following verse: "Now write this song for yourselves and teach it to B'Nei Yisrael...."  (Devarim 31:19) To what song is this verse referring?  The traditional answer is that the song mentioned is the one found in this week's parashah, Parshat Ha'azinu.  But there are those who state  that the song is nothing less than the words of the Torah itself that Moshe received from HaShem on Mount Sinai, and the reason for them to be written down is so that B'Nei Yisrael will learn them and study them and use them.  Notwithstanding this interpretation, the question must be asked as to why the words of the Torah are referred to as a "song."

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

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

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

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

Gamar Chatima Tova!  May you be sealed for good in the Book of Life for 5781!    

"Come Blow Your 'Horn'!"

09/09/2020 04:13:22 PM

Sep9

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

One of the reasons we blow the shofar on Rosh Hashanah (this year only on the second day) is to remind us of the virtues of our ancient ancestors and to lessen the stern judgements against us.  The following parable might help you to better understand this concept.

In his younger days, the King had personally commanded the Royal Military.  Years ago, leading the royal cavalry regiment, he had almost lost his life in a fierce battle against the kingdom’s hostile neighbors to the north.  His troops had been decimated; his horse had been killed; and he was badly wounded in his leg.  With nightfall, an eerie silence hovered over the battlefield with the hoot of an owl and the howl of a wolf temporarily replacing the rattling of sabers and the battle cries of the enemy.  The King managed to crawl to a nearby forest where, wounded and exhausted, he almost lost total consciousness.

The King’s soul was tormented by the deep blackness of the night.  He anticipated nothing but a bitter end believing that if he managed to survive the night, he would be killed by an enemy soldier who found him in the morning.  All seemed hopeless when, suddenly, he was startled by someone touching his shoulder.  He could not see anyone in the darkness, but he distinctly heard the soothing voice of a young foot soldier whispering: “Your Majesty, you are severely injured, but do not worry.  I will carry you to safety.  Be absolutely silent and make no sounds.  The enemy is lurking everywhere.”  This brawny young lad, the son of one of the villagers, carried the King on his back all night long until they reached the front line of friendly forces.  There, the King received the medical attention he so desperately needed, and he was eventually nursed back to health.  In deep gratitude, the King took the valiant young soldier back with him to the Royal Court.  He awarded the lad a medal of honor and placed him in the Royal Military Academy, the kingdom’s most prestigious educational institution and officer’s school.

The young man excelled in his studies and received a commission in the Royal Military.  Rising quickly through the ranks, he incurred the extreme jealousy of his fellow officers, most of whom were sons of noblemen and aristocrats.  This young officer of peasant stock outshined them all.  When he was chosen over the son of a royal minister to become the Commander of the Royal Guard, his fellow officers plotted against this young man whom they referred to with extreme disdain as “the commoner.”  They began to collect an entire dossier of circumstantial evidence against him in an effort to get rid of him one way or the other.  They planted incriminating letters among his possessions and collected false testimony from so-called “witnesses.”  They created virtually airtight accusations of treason and conspiracy to assassinate the King.  After the “evidence” was submitted to the proper authorities, this newly appointed commander of the Royal Guard was thrown into prison to await his day in court.

Dozens of witnesses who gave hours of testimony against him virtually assured the guilty verdict of treason with the sentence of death by a firing squad.  As he awaited his execution, “the commoner” was granted a final wish.  He requested to appear before the King the night before his execution.  In accordance with royal law, his wish was granted.  As he stood before the King, “the commoner” asked for everyone to be silent and for the lights in the royal court to be extinguished.  Then, in the deep blackness, bound in chains and heavily guarded, “the commoner” whispered, “Your Majesty, you are severely injured, but do not worry.  I will carry you to safety.  Be absolutely silent and make no sounds.  The enemy is lurking everywhere.”  Suddenly the King had a flashback to that fateful night on the battlefield when he believed he would never again see the light of day.  He right then and there knew in his heart that this same village lad who had rescued him from certain death could have never conspired against him.

With that, the King ripped up the verdict, freed the accused lad, and restored him to his rightful place of honor as the Commander of the Royal Guard.  He also vowed to unleash his anger on all the evil officers behind the slander and false accusations made against the young man.

Rosh Hashanah is known as “Yom HaDin,” “the Day of Judgement.”  Because we believe that there is a long list of accusations against us in the Heavenly Court (after all, no one is perfect!), we sound the shofar to remind the King of Kings (HaShem) of our virtues much in the same way that the village-born soldier of the story reminded the King of that fateful night on the battlefield when he saved the King’s life.  The sound of the shofar reminds Hashem the we, the People Israel, are the only nation on earth that agreed to receive and abide by the Torah.  As such, we cannot be guilty of only willful transgressions against H-m.

Happy is the nation that hears the call of the shofar.  May all of us merit a wonderful inscription in the Book of a long, happy, and healthy Life!  Ketiva v’Chatima Tova!  Amen!

!אנא סלח לי ... אני סולח

09/03/2020 04:46:48 PM

Sep3

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

     In the prayer liturgy of Selichot, we find the following: “…What can we complain about?  What can we say? What can we speak, and how can we justify ourselves?  Let us search and examine our ways and return to You, for Your right hand is extended to receive those who repent…Merciful and Gracious One, please do not turn us away empty-handed from Your Presence.  Please do not turn us away empty-handed from Your Presence, our King, for You are the One who hears prayer.”  (Selichot With English Translation: Annotated Edition, Kehot Publishers, 2012) It is at this time of the Hebrew year when we are supposed to conduct a “cheshbon hanefesh” --- an accounting of the soul --- in preparation for the Yamim Nora’im (the Days of Awe).  Such an accounting, more likely than not, will show us how we have come up lacking when we compare our actions to what the Torah requires of us.  In the everyday society in which we live, we are taught to hide our shortcomings.  So, I ask you: even if we do admit to them, why should HaShem give us favor?  Perhaps the following story will help us to better understand why He does this:

            The King desired to build a vacation home far away from the Palace on a distant shore.  It was to be a haven of blue sky, golden sands, soft sea breezes, and temperate seasons.  He issued a royal proclamation inviting interested builders to submit their proposals within the next 30 days.  The most well-known and often-used builders shied away from the proposal.  Why?  Because they had no desire to spend many months on a deserted island thousands of miles away from the City of the Palace.  Then, a poor handyman possessing no more than a hammer, a saw, and a small bag of nails landed the job after submitting his modest proposal.

            The King was undismayed after meeting him.  He trusted the poor handyman and gave him a ship loaded with the finest building materials – wood, cement, marble stone, and metal.  The King’s sailors packed the ship from stem to stern and top to bottom with an entire year’s supply of food, clothes, utensils, a temporary shelter, and every other possible necessity and amenity that the poor handyman might need.  The poor handyman agreed to complete the building project within the next 12 months.

            Following the lengthy sea voyage to the King’s vacation island, the poor handyman found that the only things that existed on the island were clumps of palm trees and monkeys as well as a huge expanse of sand and a beautiful beach.  The King’s sailors unloaded the ship’s cargo and put the poor handyman ashore telling him that they would return in exactly 12 months to bring him home.  For the first week, the poor handyman devoted all of his time to setting up his temporary shelter and organizing his household.  The King had provided him with the best flour, dried fruits and nuts, a variety of preserved foods, and plenty of wine.  Subsequently, he would spend an hour or two each day laying the foundations for the King’s vacation home and then spend the rest of the day attending to his own needs and pleasures: baking bread, sunbathing on the beach, and drinking wine.

            At the time that 11 months had transpired, the poor handyman had only completed the laying of the building’s foundations, the building of the frame of the vacation house, and the attaching of a portion of the roof to the frame.  Even if he worked around the clock, he would need several more months to complete the job.  Having no choice, he threw away the wine, stopped baking bread, and ate nothing but the dried fruit and nuts.  Getting very little sleep, he got up before sunrise to begin work not laying down his hammer and saw until after sunset.  At the end of the 12th month, the King’s ship approached the island with the King onboard.

             When he came ashore, the King found a house with no windows or doors as well as debris strewn all over the place.  Monkeys pranced from unfinished room to unfinished room.  Before the King had a chance to react, the poor handyman threw himself at the King’s feet and cried out: “Your Majesty, what can I say; how can I justify myself?  Your Majesty sent me here with all my needs, but I pursued my own gratifications rather than devoting myself to completing your royal vacation home.  Please forgive me!  Please give me another year to complete this task!  I will do my best not to again disappoint Your Majesty.”

            So, what did the King do?  The poor handyman’s candor and honesty saved his life as his total and humble admission converted the King’s potential anger to mercy and compassion.  The King granted the poor handyman another year --- again, with all his needs met --- to complete the task.

     And so it is with us.  Each year, we are provided with everything to complete our duties as Am Yisrael (the People Israel), but we find that when the Month of Elul arrives, we must try to make amends for our shortcomings by reciting Selichot prayers early in the morning to complete whatever t’shuva we can complete.  With Rosh HaShanah (the Day of Judgment) fast approaching, and because we know we are far from accomplishing our task as Jews, we end up begging HaShem for another year of life to do so.  It is because of HaShem’s eternal love for His people that He forgives us and blesses us with another year of heath and prosperity.  So may it be again this coming year for every member of Am Yisrael!     

"In G-d We Should Trust!"

08/26/2020 06:06:01 PM

Aug26

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

Here is a true story of an incident that happened several months before the outbreak of the Second Lebanon War in Tammuz 5766/July 2006 as witnessed and told by Rabbi Lazer Brody in his book Chassidic Pearls:

On a balmy Thursday evening in Yerushalayim after putting their five children to bed, Rabbi “Benjamin” sat down with his wife to partake of a modest supper of day-old bread, a cucumber, and a cup of tea.  Because the tear that glistened in her eye caused him alarm, he thought he had caused her some kind of pain.  “My dear husband,” she said softly, “I hate to complain and to burden you, but there is nothing in the house for Shabbat.  I do not even have any flour with which to bake challahs let alone wine, fish, or a piece of chicken with which to feed the family.  What am I supposed to do?”

Rabbi “Benjamin” knew that he was being presented with a serious test of faith.  His “yetzer hara” (evil inclination) told him to do the following: “Forget your Thursday night chevruta (Torah learning with a partner), your recitation of midnight lamentations, your going to the mikvah in the morning, your “hitbodedut” (intense personal prayer) at the Kotel (the Western Wall) followed by “HaNeitz” (sunrise davening).  Instead, go do something to make some money for Shabbat!”  Rabbi “Benjamin shook off the “voice” of his “yetzer hara” and made an even stronger commitment to completing his regular routine of serving Hashem.  With utter and complete confidence, he told his wife: “Don’t worry!  HaShem will certainly provide for us in time for Shabbat!”

That night, a wealthy lawyer living in Haifa had a terrible nightmare that caused him to wake up in a cold sweat.  In his nightmare, he saw a Katyusha rocket come through the wall of his bedroom and explode in his bed killing him instantly.  With trembling hands, he called a well-known Haifa Rabbi.  He told the Rabbi about his nightmare and asked him what to do.  The Rabbi replied that he, the lawyer, must take this dream with complete seriousness and that he must fast all day Friday.  The lawyer protested that due to health reasons it was impossible for him to fast.  The Rabbi then told him that he could redeem the fast with a contribution to charity, specifically to a worthy Torah scholar.  “I do not know any worthy Torah scholar,” protested the lawyer.  “Do you, Rabbi?”  “Yes, as a matter of fact, I do,” replied the Rabbi.  “I will be going to Yerushalayim to pray at the Kotel.  Give me a generous donation, and I will make sure that worthy Torah scholar receives it.”  With that, the lawyer gave the Rabbi 400 shekels, and the Rabbi headed for Yerushalayim in his beat-up Subaru.

As it turned out, once each month the Rabbi would arrive at the Kotel three hours before sunrise in order to recite the entire Sefer Tehillim (Book of Psalms) before davening “HaNeitz.”  As usual on such a day, this day the Rabbi approached the Kotel, kissed it, and began his recitation of Tehillim.  There was only a handful of people present at that hour, but not far away from where he was sitting, the Rabbi saw a young man in his thirties engaged in an intense tearful prayer to Hashem.  The Rabbi was not eavesdropping, but he could not help but overhear the young man’s words:

HaShem, you know that I left everything behind to devote my life to Y-u.  I gave up medical school for Yeshiva resulting in my friends taunting and making fun of me for making t’shuva.  Beloved Father in Heaven, I do not ask for an easy route, and I do not want any riches.  But Y-u have commanded us to honor the Shabbat.  How can I do that with an empty table?  Y-u commanded me to learn Torah day and night.  But how can I do that with a hungry family?  Please, Heilige Tatty (Holy Father), hear my prayers.  Shabbat begins in another 14 hours.  I know I deserve nothing, but please strengthen my emunah (faith) and my bitachon (trust) by sending me the wherewithal to honor the Shabbat with my family….”

 At that point, the young man could not continue speaking as he was sobbing uncontrollably with tears streaming down his face.

The Rabbi from Haifa was in awe of HaShem’s unbelievable Divine Providence: three hours earlier He (HaShem) had sent the nightmare to the wealthy lawyer right before he (the Rabbi) was to make his monthly visit to the Kotel in Yerushalayim.  And here was this obviously worthy Torah scholar who was in need of the 400 shekels he had been given to donate to such a person.  With a silent prayer of thanks to HaShem for the privilege of serving as H-s messenger, the Rabbi walked over to the young Torah scholar and handed him the 400 hundred shekels, but not before he shared the story of the lawyer’s nightmare.  The young Torah scholar was overwhelmed with a profound sense of gratitude, and he blessed the Rabbi and lawyer.  Needless-to-say, everyone had a joyous and wonderful Shabbat!

But that is not the end of the story.  Three months later, a deadly Fajr missile came crashing through the lawyer’s bedroom wall in his luxury apartment on Mount Carmel and exploded in his bed.  But, as it turned out, he was NOT there!  He and his family had decided to spend the night with relatives in Herzliya.  As our Sages have taught, charity saves a person from death.

We read the following in this week’s parashah (Torah portion): “…and blessed are you in the field.” (Devarim 28:3) This blessing was to come to the B’Nei Yisrael because of their adherence to maintaining the covenant made with HaShem at Mount Sinai in that they would keep the mitzvot of the Torah.  We promised: “Na’aseh ve-nishmah” --- “We will do and we will obey.”  All the rest will follow from our being Hashem’s most beloved of all people.  I ask you: As we approach the coming new year of 5781, is it not the time to live up to the promise we made at Mount Sinai.  Hashem trusts that we will keep our part of the covenant.  We should trust that He will do the same.      

"Judge Not...!"

08/26/2020 06:03:56 PM

Aug26

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

          The small shtetl’s congregation was in the middle of the Shabbat Torah reading when all of a sudden, a group on nine and ten-year-old flew into the shul like a whirlwind with their Shabbat clothes muddied from collar to cuff.  They ran up to the Rabbi and exclaimed: “Rabbi, Rabbi, a cow has fallen into a pit!  What do we do?”  The Rabbi eyed the little urchins with great impatience and replied: “No one must touch the cow!  Livestock are muktzeh (untouchable) on Shabbat!”  Upset that the cow might die, the little boys went back outside.

          A few minutes later a group of pre-Bar Mitzvah- aged boys barged into the shul with their Shabbat clothes looking no better than those of the younger boys.  They, too, ran up to the Rabbi and interrupted the Torah reading by shouting: “Rabbi, Rabbi, a cow has fallen into a pit!  What do we do?”  This time the Rabbi reprimanded the boys by telling them that if they had spent more time in shul and less time in the shtetl’s mud and haystacks, they would know the halakhot (laws) of Shabbat better than they did.  He said: “The Shulchan Arukh (Code of Jewish Law) specifically states in Orach Chaim Chapter 308, Clause 39 that one may not move or lift animals on Shabbat, for they are muktzeh!  Now either sit down and open a Chumash or get out of here!”  Needless-to-say, the boys opted for the latter choice.

          After another three minutes transpired, a group of young women gathered outside the shul.  They raised such a cacophony that it completely drowned out the Torah reading altogether.  The Rabbi rolled the Sefer Torah shut for the moment and went to the window where he called out to the young women: “What is all this commotion?  Can you not respect the Torah and remain silent?”  The young women blurted out: “Rabbi, Rabbi, a cow has fallen into a pit!  What do e do?”  “Nothing,” the Rabbi shouted in reply.  “I have now declared three times that one must not lift or move an animal on Shabbat.  It is muktzeh!”  With that, the young women left.

          Two more minutes passed by bringing a fourth group, this time a group of frantic congregants who informed that Rabbi of the cow that had fallen into a pit.  However, they added one more bit of information the others had neglected to mention: “Rabbi, Rabbi, it is your cow that has fallen into a pit!”  Without even batting an eyelash, the Rabbi declared: “Call Ivan the caretaker and tell him that I said to pull the cow out of the pit by its horns!”  As soon as the Rabbi had heard that it was his cow that had fallen into the pit, he had no problem in pulling a string of halakhic dispensations out of his pocket.

We read in this week’s parashah, Parashat Ki Teitzei, the following passage: “You shall not have in your purse a stone and a stone: a large on and a small one.  You shall not have in your house an ephah and an ephah: a large on and a small one.  ((Rather,) a complete and just stone you shall have; a full and just ephah you shall have; in order that your days will be lengthened upon the Land that Hashem, your G-d, is giving to you.  For it is an abomination of Hashem, your G-d, any who do these --- any who perform falsehood.”  (Devarim 25:13-16) The two sets of stones and the two measures of ephah mentioned in this passage symbolize a double standard that we all-too-often use between the way we judge others and the way we judge ourselves.  It is true that we human beings are very subjective in that we are strict with others but lenient with ourselves.  However, we must realize, especially at this time of the year, that this double standard is dangerous.  Note that we read this parashah during the Month of Elul, the month during which we are supposed to be preparing ourselves for Rosh HaShanah.

Rebbe Nachman of Breslov writes: When a person speaks about another person, it resembles Rosh HaShanah, the Day of Judgement.  Therefore, one must look carefully at himself if he has the right to judge the other person.”  Rebbe Nachman explains that because no one has the measure of mercy that Hashem has, no one can judge his fellow human being as mercifully as Hashem can.  “Middah k’neged middah “ --- “a turn for a turn”:  a person is judged in the same way s/he judges others.  Either we should judge others with at least the same leniency with which we judge ourselves or --- even better --- we should refrain from judging others altogether.  In that way, perhaps, we will merit a favorable judgement from Hashem.  May each of us receive just such a judgement as we approach 5781.  “L’shanah Tovah Tikateyvu!”

 

"And the Band Played On!"

08/19/2020 05:44:57 PM

Aug19

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

With the advent of the month of Elul we begin reciting Psalm 27 as directed by the Mishnah Berurah: “The custom in our countries is to say from Rosh Chodesh Elul until Shemini Atzeret every day after the end of prayer services morning and evening “By David, HaShem is my light and my salvation….[Psalm 27]” (Mishnah Berurah 581:2)  We recite this particular Psalm during this penitential month as a special request to Hashem that He accept our prayers.  It is during the month of Elul that we ask Hashem not to push us away in spite of our many shortcomings.  It is at this time that we earnestly seek H-s Divine Presence.  But there is one verse in this Psalm that seems out of place.  Why? Because it makes a request of HaShem: “One thing I ask of HaShem, only this do I desire: Let me live in the House of HaShem all the days of my life, let me gaze upon the beauty of Hashem, and let me frequent H-s Sanctuary.”  (Tehillim 27:4) At first glance, this is obviously not a single request; it is three requests.  So why does David speak of “one thing?”  Perhaps the following parable will add some clarity.

Reuven Dovid was the richest man in all of Nemirov owning ships in the port of Odessa, warehouses in the city of Berditchev, and grain stores in Uman.  Although he was very careful with his money, he nonetheless supported both the poor and the scholars of Torah by opening his home to guests with no one ever leaving without a smile and a full stomach.  Because of this, Reuven Dovid was beloved in all of Nemirov.  As such, the entire town eagerly anticipated the wedding of Reuven Dovid’s daughter, for each person felt like this was his or her own family’s celebration.

One month before the wedding, Reuven Dovid summoned Mendel the Litvak.  Mendel Litvak was a Breslover Chasid and a musician of the best repute in all of Podolia Province.  Mendel’s klezmer band could turn a “routine” wedding into an unforgettable experience.  People in the Podolia Province of central Ukraine used to say that Mendel Litvak’s fiddle had made more people do teshuva than all the preachers in the province combined.  Reuven Dovid personally loved Mendel Litvak’s music and was eager to hire him for his daughter’s wedding.  To his delight, Mendel Litvak and his band were available on the designated night of the wedding.  All that remained was for an agreement to be made on the price.

“How much do you charge for Klezmer?asked Reuven Dovid.  “Two hundred rubles per musician,” came Mendel Litvak’s reply.  Because Reuven Dovid was so eager to “seal the deal,” all he heard was “two hundred rubles.”  This seemed to him to be a tremendous bargain for such a prominent klezmer band.  Not hearing the words “per musician,” he shook Mendel Litvak’s hand and declared, “It’s a deal!”

Needless-to-say, Reuven Dovid’s daughter’s wedding was the best the town of Nemirov had ever known.  The tables were overflowing with delicacies that most of the townspeople had never seen, much less tasted, in their lives.  Mendel Litvak together with his drummer, his clarinet player, and his bass fiddler played up a storm carrying the celebrants on the holy fervor of the songs’ melodies from joy to tears and back again.  After the wedding was over, people exclaimed that whenever Mendel Litvak plays, you have to bring with you an extra set of shoes so that if the pair you came in falls apart, you will have a replacement pair you can put on in order to keep on dancing.

As the guests were filing out, Reuven Dovid came up to Mendel Litvak and hugged him and embraced him and thanked him and gave him…two hundred rubles.  “What’s this?” Mendel Litvak demanded to know.  “It’s your earnings, “replied Reuven Dovid.  “You said the price was two hundred rubles….”  “Per musician,” Mendel Litvak interjected.  “You owe me another six hundred rubles!”  “Eight hundred rubles?” Reuven Dovid chokingly replied.  “Whatever for?”  Mendel Litvak was toe-to-toe with Reuven Dovid as he replied: “Do you expect my clarinetist, my drummer, and my bass fiddle player to work for free?  My fiddle is nothing without their accompaniment.  When you hire Mendel Litvak, you have to pay for the Klezmer!”

        The Malbim explains the verse I quoted from Psalm 27 saying that King David’s one aspiration included all his desires.  In the same way that the story tells of the price of Mendel Litvak’s klezmer band including all four musicians, the Malbim tells us that King David aspired to serve HaShem, to understand HaShem’s ways, and to spend all of his days in the House of HaShem praying and learning Torah.  In this month of Elul, the final month of the year 5780, may we have our own aspirations, maybe not as great as King David’s but aspirations nonetheless.  May each of us aspire to become a little better than we were a week ago, a month ago, even a year ago.  May we remember what Rebbe Nachman of Breslov taught: Because entire spiritual worlds are illuminated by every tiny good deed, Hashem derives gratification from all of us completing any mitzvah no matter how small it may be.  May we seek Hashem’s help to fulfill our aspirations resulting in a healthy and happy 5781.  Amen!  

Mon, March 8 2021 24 Adar 5781