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"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!



"Ani Ma'amin --- I Believe!"

01/15/2019 03:33:07 PM


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

This Shabbat is known as "Shabbat Shirah" - "the Sabbath of Song."  It receives this name because two profoundly important songs are contained in both the weekly parashah [Torah portion] and the haftarah.  In the haftarah we find the Song of Devorah, the great prophetess and judge who saved B'nei Yisrael from military defeat.  In the weekly parashah [Parashat Beshalach] we find "Shirat HaYam" - "the Song of the Sea." This is the song that Moshe and the B'nei Yisrael sang after being saved at the Sea of Reeds by the "hand" of Hashem.  The Song of the Sea begins as follows: "Az yashir Moshe u-VeNei Yisrael...."Then Moshe and the B'Nei Yisrael sang...."  However, that translation of the Hebrew is grammatically incorrect.  Even our Sages say that it should be read as it is written: "Then Moshe and the B'Nei Yisrael will sing...."  The reason why it should be read this way is found in the Talmud.  There it explains that this phrase is one of the indications of "techiyat hameitim" - "the resurrection of the dead."  The Talmud is telling us that at the time of the coming of the Mashiach [the Messiah], Moshe and B'Nei Yisrael will then sing Shirat HaYam.  The Belzer Rebbe during World War II, Rav Aron, explained that Moshe decided to start the words of Shirat HaYam in the way he did because he knew there would be the day when the B'Nei Yisrael would once again see all who had perished in the Land of Egypt during the period of enslavement on the day that they would be resurrected.

There is the story about a widow living in Jerusalem who lost her only son in one of Israel's wars.  The woman was inconsolable.  She refused to participate in any of her family's simchot [joyous occasions].  The only events she would attend were funerals.  She reasoned that with no husband and no son, what possible joy could she have in life?  After a funeral she attended, she was walking with a woman who decided to stop at the grave of the famed tzaddik of Jerusalem, Rabbi Aryeh Levine, in order to recite some psalms.  On his tombstone can be found the following: "I request that anyone who comes to pray at my grave should say wholeheartedly 'I believe with complete faith that there will be a revivification of the dead whenever the wish emanates from the Creator, Blessed is His Name and Exalted is His mention ---forever and for all eternity.'"  When the widow read these words, they struck a chord in her heart and soul.  It suddenly became a reality to her that she would one day see her son again.  From that moment on, she began to live her life again knowing that her son would be brought back to her at the time of techiyat hameitim.  And, as we all know and pray, that could happen anytime!

I officiate at funerals during which family members of the deceased deliver heartfelt eulogies.  More often than not each person ends the eulogy by expressing the firm belief that they will once again see their beloved departed.  As this declaration of faith gives each person some consolation over his/her loss, it usually means that this will happen after they die.  Perhaps the belief in techiyat hameitim as taught by our tradition will help those who mourn to once again sing songs of joy while they are yet alive in this world.  "Ani ma'amin!"  I believe that it will!   


"To 'Woof' or Not to 'Woof': Is that the Question?"

01/09/2019 11:55:07 AM


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

We are blessed to be the “parents” to a beautiful almost 15-year-old Bichon Frise who has added so much love to our lives since she entered the family at the age of 4 months. I was scared of dogs as a kid, but I am devoted to this creation of Hashem to the point that I make monthly contributions to the A.S.P.C.A. and the H.S.U.S. Whether you know it or not, dogs played a significant role in Yetziat Mitzrayim, the Exodus from Egypt.  Our Torah tells us that when Moshe warned of the impending plague of the Death of the Firstborn, he stated, “There shall be a great outcry in the entire Land of Egypt…But against the Children of Israel no dog shall whet its tongue, neither against man nor beast.” (Shemot 11:6-7)

Rabbi Yoseph Dov Soloveitchik, known by the name of his famous work "Beit HaLevi," became involved in a bitter feud between two groups that could best be described as highly contentious.  R. Yoseph Dov appealed to one of the influential citizens of Brisk asking him to use his position to bring the two camps together to talk with each other to bring about a peaceful solution.  The man refused the Rabbi's request.  R. Yoseph Dov told him that it was a mitzvah, a duty, to bring peace to two warring factions.  The man impudently replied, "I think it is a greater mitzvah to remain neutral and not get involved."  R. Yoseph Dov continued, "I was always puzzled by the verse in the Torah 'But against the Children of Israel, no dog shall whet its tongue....'  For what purpose does the Torah tell us this?  The Talmud (Bava Kamma 60b) says that when the Angel of Death enters a community, the dogs weep.  When Eliyahu HaNavi (the prophet Elijah) enters the community, the dogs are playful.  On the night of the plague of the Death of the Firstborn, there was a conflict.  Eliyahu HaNavi is the one who is the messenger of redemption, so he was there that night.  But so was the Angel of Death there in order to strike down the firstborn.  Thus, the dogs were in a quandry.  Should they weep because of the Angel of Death or should they be playful because of Eliyahu HaNavi?  The dogs decided to remain neutral (i.e.- silent).  That is why the Torah says, ' dog shall whet its tongue...."  Remaining neutral when one can bring peace among feuding people is appropriate for dogs.  It is not appropriate for intelligent people.  The Talmud (Shabbat 127a) says that 'bringing peace between man and his fellow' is a great mitzvah for which one is rewarded in both this world and in the eternal world.  One should not shun this mitzvah, hiding behind a cloak of neutrality."

Perhaps, just perhaps, the lesson taught by R. Yoseph Dov is one that needs to be heard in Washington, D.C. at this time.  Perhaps, just perhaps, someone needs to tell both sides in the current contentiousness that reigns in our nation's capital that each one is "barking up the wrong tree."

Shabbat Shalom!

"Stand Up and Be Counted!"

01/02/2019 04:35:26 PM


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

Tragically we saw toward the end of the year 2018 the specter of anti-Semitism/anti-Judaism raising its ugly head once again, this time in Pittsburgh.  The reaction of the American Jewish community was swift and overwhelming.  But this was not always the case in this country.  Justice Felix Frankfurter recounted in his memoirs that when he found out the Franklin Delano Roosevelt was thinking of appointing him to the United States Supreme Court, the leaders of the American Jewish community sent a delegation to FDR pleading with him to not go through with the appointment.  Why?  Because, said the delegation, it would anger Hitler and make Jews "too visible" in this country.  Rabbi Avi Weiss recalls that when the Student Struggle of the Soviet Jewry movement got started, the leaders of the American Jewish community wanted no one to raise a voice about the Jews of the Soviet Union.  Why?  Because it would anger the leaders of the Soviet Union causing further oppression for Soviet Jewry.  Needless-to-say, in both of these cases the leaders of the American Jewish community were ignored.  What happened?  Well, what had been predicted would happen did not, in fact, ever happen. We see a similar  situation in this week's parashah.

Last week's parashah, Parashat Shemot, ended with Pharaoh responding to Moshe's command/demand from Hashem to free B'nei Yisrael from Egyptian bondage by withholding the straw with which they made the daily assignment of bricks.  The reaction from B'nei Yisrael is anything but positive for Moshe: "And they (B'nei Yisrael) met Moshe and Aharon [when they were] standing opposite them,...And they said to them,'May HaShem be revealed to you and may He punish [you], for that which you made our scent bad in the eyes of Pharaoh and in the eyes of his servants - to put a sword in their hand to kill us!'" What they were  telling  Moshe and Aharon is that they wanted them to remain quiet.  "Don't stir the pot!"  So what did Moshe and Aharon do?  Moshe protested to Hashem that his going to Pharaoh had increased the misery of the B'nei Yisrael.  He also claimed that because of this, the B'nei Yisrael would not listen to him.

This week's parashah, Parashat Va-Eira, shows us why we must always stand up and be counted. After Moshe's protest, HaShem says to him, "You shall speak all that I command you, and Aharon, your brother, shall speak with Pharaoh, so that he shall send away the B'nei Yisrael from his land."  What is interesting to note is the fact that before Hashem speaks these words, He gives an accounting of the entire lineage of Moshe and the geneology of the tribes of Re'uven, Shim'on, and Levi.  Why?  Because HaShem is reminding Moshe who he is and from whom he came.  Hashem is reminding Moshe that when addressing Pharaoh, he [Moshe] is not only representing himself and the B'nei Yisrael with him, but he is also representing the Patriarchs and the Matriarchs and all who followed them as well as all those who will come after him.  HaShem tells Moshe, "Ve-gam hakimoti et briti itam...." --- "And I also established my covenant with them...."  The "Brit," the covenant which Hashem established with the Patriarchs and the Matriarchs is eternal; it will never be abolished.  This covenant is what has sustained us up to the present day and will continue to do so for all eternity.  It is this covenant with HaShem that should cause all of us to "stand up and be counted" when were are confronted by those who want either our silence or, even worse, our demise.  May we, the B'Nei Yisrael always remain committed to our covenant with Hashem!  


"Who Is Righteous?"

12/26/2018 02:56:40 PM


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

I have only just returned this week from my thirty-sixth trip to Eretz Yisrael/Medinat Yisrael (the Land of Israel/the State of Israel).  Since I have made so many trips to our homeland, I rarely do "the tourist thing" anymore, and I stay away from those spots that are usually described those who have made less than a handful of trips as "something you need to go see."  But there is one place I have not seen since my first trip in 1991, and that is Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial museum dedicated to the victims of the Shoah. Just a few years ago, Yad Vashem was redesigned and reopened.  I need to see this landmark that has prompted so many other Holocaust memorial museums.   Why do I mention this at this particular time?  I do so because of two important women found in this week's parashah, Parashat Shemot, better known in English as the Book of Exodus.  At this time of the twentieth anniversary of the release of the Steven Spielberg film "Schindler's List," we again take note of the non-Jewish German Oskar Schindler, who joined some 25,000 non-Jews who risked their lives to rescue our people during this horrific time and are rightly known as the "Righteous Among the Nations."  Only those who were willing to make the ultimate sacrifice to rescue Jews are given this title, and it may surprise you to know that the first two people in human history who can be referred to as such are found in Parashat Shemot.  Who were these people?  They were Shifra and Puah.

When the Pharaoh "who knew not Yoseyf" came to power, fearful that the B'Nei Yisrael (the Children of Israel) would increase their numbers so greatly that they could join the enemies of Mitzrayim (Egypt) and overthrow it, he ordered the Hebrew midwives, Shifra and Puah, to kill all baby boys born to the B'nei Yisrael.  They, of course, did not do so.  Why?  Because according to some these women were identified as none other than Yocheved and Miryam, Moshe's mother and sister.  But if we look at both the Hebrew words used to describe these women and the context in which they were described, we find something quite remarkable.

"Meyaldot ha-Ivriot," the Hebrew words used to describe Shifra and Puah, can be literally translated as "Hebrew midwives."  But these two words can also be translated as "midwives for Hebrew women." Translated as such, we can identify Shifra and Puah as Egyptian women who were commanded by Pharaoh to carry out his genocidal order.  Why did they not do so?  Why did they risk their lives by defying Pharaoh's order?  Because the Torah tells us that they feared G'd.  It is interesting to note that when the Tanakh, (the Hebrew Scriptures) refers to "the fear of G'd," it is more often than not used to describe the behavior of exceptional (i.e.- "righteous") non-Jews.  So it is that Shifra and Puah were the first people in our history who risked their lives to save our people.  Incredibly, the Torah identifies them as Hebrews.

In the last poignant scene of "Schindler's List," Oskar Schindler is given a gold ring by his workers which is engraved with this quote from the Talmud Bavli: "Whoever saves one life saves the entire world."  Oskar Schindler didn't merely save more than a thousand Jewish lives by doing what he did; he saved a thousand entire worlds.  You see this fact in a scene at the end of the movie showing all those who were saved by Schindler who were still alive at the time of the making of the movie along with all of their families consisting of children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren.  Shifra and Puah saved the life of baby Moshe thus becoming the first "Righteous Among the Nations."  In our world, today, at this time, Barukh Hashem there are millions of non-Jews who can be called the same, because they are more than willing to stand up and be counted by supporting the People Israel, the State of Israel, and the Land of Israel.

"The Real Miracle of the Oil"

12/05/2018 03:05:15 PM


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

"Mah Chanukah?" - "What is Chanukah?"  The answer to this question is really quite simple.  While the story seemingly revolves around the military victory of the Hasmoneans defeating the Syrian-Greeks, the Talmud Bavli tells us that after entering the defiled Temple in Jerusalem, the Hasmoneans "searched the Temple and were able to find only one flask of oil that contained the seal of the Kohen Gadol (the High Priest).  There was enough oil to last for one day.  A miracle occurred and they lit it (the Temple Menorah) for eight days."  (Masekhet Shabbat 21b)  Rabbi Yosef Karo asks in Beit Yosef: "Why did they (the Rabbis) establish the holiday for eight days?  If there was enough oil to last for one day, then the miracle was really for seven days.  So why establish the holiday for eight days instead of seven?"  It's a valid question, no?  The question must be answered, of course, by asking another question.

When do most human beings seek a miracle?  The truth is that most of us pray for a miracle from Hashem when we are in a situation of distress or hopelessness, and we cannot get ourselves out of it.  It is then that we ask HaShem to "produce" a miracle for us.  Remember when the airplane made an emergency landing on the Hudson River?  Person after person who came off that airplane said that they closed their eyes as the plane hit the water and prayed to HaShem for a miracle.  In essence, they saw their one vessel of oil as being empty thus necessitating a miracle from HaShem.  It is the same for everyone who finds him/herself in a distressful or hopeless situation: we pray for a miracle.  But because the miracle of Chanukah occurred in a situation of victory, that being the defeat of our enemies, it is different and even greater, and it teaches us an important lesson.

The miracle of Chanukah occurred when the one remaining vessel of pure oil was full.  As the oil was poured out of this flask, it did not decrease but was miraculously and immediately replaced.  This means that even on the first day of the rededication of the Temple with the lighting of the Menorah, a great miracle occurred in that the oil in the flask did not diminish for even one moment.  This is the reason we celebrate Chanukah for eight days.  The real miracle of Chanukah happened when the flask was full and remained full, never becoming empty until the end of the eighth day when enough new oil had been created to keep the Temple Menorah continuously lit.  We did not need a miracle due to our distress or our hopelessness of having only one flask of pure oil.  The fact is that the miracle was already there with the eternal presence of Hashem.  And that is the lesson we can take from the miracle of the oil: we all experience miracles from Hashem everyday without having to find ourselves in distressful or hopeless situations.  Most of these miracles go completely unnoticed by most of us.  We need to pause and recognize and be appreciative of these miracles.  We need to thank Hashem on a daily basis for the full flask of pure oil that we have each day by being able to live our lives each day with our families, our friends, and our community.  For this, we must rejoice and give thanks to Hashem!

"Do You Recognize Me?"

11/28/2018 02:13:47 PM


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

In this week's portion, Parashat VaYeishev, we read how Yoseyf is sold into slavery by his brothers.  Afterwards, his brothers realize they need an alibi to give their father Ya'akov in order to explain Yoseyf's disappearance.  What do they do?  They slaughter a "se'ir izim," a he-goat, and dip Yoseyf's tunic into its blood.  They then take the bloody tunic to Ya'akov and say: " [Haker na] Recognize, please.  Is this the tunic of your son or not?" (Bereshit/Genesis 37:32)  It is interesting to note that we find another story in this week's parashah that has nothing to do with Yoseyf but that uses these same two Hebrew words: "Haker na."

The Torah tells us that Yehudah has a widowed daughter-in-law, Tamar, who was supposed to be married to her late husband's brother (Yehudah's eldest son) in order to carry on the bloodline of her late husband.  She is actually twice widowed in that her first husband's brother refuses to consummate his marriage to his late brother's wife (Tamar), and he also dies.  Since Yehudah has already lost two sons (Tamar's original husband and her second husband),  he refuses to have his third son marry Tamar.  She decides to take matters into he own hands by disguising herself as a harlot/prostitute and waits for Yehudah at a major crossroad.  Yehudah comes to the crossroad, does not recognize Tamar through her disguise, and proposes to her that he should have sexual relations with her.  She tells him that her price is a "gedi izim," a kid goat.  He pledges he will return with her price, but she wants a guarantee.  She takes his staff, his cloak, and his signet ring as an "eiravon," a guarantee.  When she is found to be pregnant, Yehudah arranges for her execution due to her having committed adultery.  What does Tamar do?  She sends the "eiravon," the guarantee, to Yehudah and says: "[Haker na] Recognize, please.  To whom does this staff, this cloak, and this signet ring belong?" (Bereshit/Genesis 38:25)  Of course, they belong to Yehudah, and he admits it.

Too often, we do not recognize the value of the individuals in our community and family of Congregations of Shaare Shamayim.  Yes, we may see them during Shabbat services, but do we really look at them?  Do we really take the time to "Haker na" ("Recognize, please") their values both as individuals and as members of the greater CSS community?  Do we understand that whether they davven in the Traditional Shabbat Service or in the Egalitarian Shabbat Service they are, in fact, valued members of the CSS community?  In his parting comments during his last Shabbat service at CSS, a former Rabbi reveled in the fact that CSS has two distinct services.  His subtle message seemed to say that the service he led was "authentic" while the other one was not.  It is important to note that the strength of CSS lies in the fact that it validates each and every member as "authentic" and that it works very hard to "Haker na," ("Recognize, please") the worth of our entire community and family.  May we continue to go from strength to strength in this recognition.

"Don't Box Me In!"

11/21/2018 11:54:54 AM


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

In ths week's Torah Portion, Parashat VaYishlach, we read this about Yaakov: "And he [Yaakov] arose that night, and he took his two wives and his two maidservants and his eleven children, and crossed over the ford of Yabbok."  At this point we must ask the question which Rashi asks: "Ve-Dinah heikhan haitah?" - "And where was Dinah?"  Like all great commentators, Rashi answers his own question: "Netanah be-teivah." - "He [Yaakov] placed her in a box."  He goes on to explain that Yaakov placed his daughter Dinah in a box so that Eysav would not see her and desire to be with her.  This action was looked upon with extreme disfavor by our Rabbis.  In fact, Rashi continued: "It is for this reason that Yaakov was punished."  Because Yaakov prevented Dinah from having a good influence upon Eysav and quite possibly changing his ways so that he would be more like Yaakov, Rashi tells us that Dinah "fell into the hands of Shechem."  And thus the story of the rape of Dinah.

What Rashi is telling us is that Yaakov had no right whatsoever to place Dinah inside a box.  Hashem placed Dinah in this world for a reason: to change the world by having a positive influence on Eysav thus causing him to change for the better.  The bottom line is that Yaakov acted in a selfish manner.  Dinah was capable of bringing tremendous good in this world by changing Eysav, but Yaakov did not allow her to accomplish her "mission."  He placed her in a box.  He should have allowed Dinah to exert her positive impact on both Eysav and the rest of the world.  Rashi's commentary story gives new meaning to the phrase "thinking out of the box."  Yes, it is quite "natural" as parents to want to protect our children from all harm by keeping them in a "box," by keeping them away from all the Eysavs, all the harm, of this world.  But this often ends up stifling who and what they are.

We should take a lesson from what is found in another box that is worn every day [except Shabbat and Yomim Tovim].  Inside the tefillin that is worn on the strong arm and the head is found a parchment upon which is written these words: "Kadeish Li chol bachor...." - "Sanctify to Me [HaShem] every firstborn...."  We must sanctify our children to HaShem by allowing them to become the best Jews they can become.  How do we do this?  By teaching them how they must serve HaShem through our Tradition and allowing them to share what they have learned with the rest of the world.  This is the right way for us to "think out of the box" and bring about "Tikkun HaOlam," "the repair of this world." 

"We Are B'Nei Yisrael!"

11/15/2018 11:45:26 AM


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

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

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

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

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


The More Things Change...!

11/07/2018 03:54:49 PM


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

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

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

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



10/30/2018 04:17:46 PM


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

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

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

Mon, June 24 2019 21 Sivan 5779