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"Avram the Hero?"

10/17/2018 01:52:23 PM


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

In this week's Torah reading, Parashat Lech Lecha, we find HaShem's "calling" for Avraham to leave the land of his birth and his father's household and journey to the land that HaShem will show him.  The Mishnah (Pirkei Avot 5:3) states that Avraham Avinu, Abraham our Father, passed all ten nisyonot (tests/challenges) that were posed to him by HaShem.  The command of "Lech Lecha" was one of those nisyonot.  An even more important test is one which we will read about found in next week's parashah: "Akeidat Yitzchak," the Binding of Isaac.  Rav Simcha Zissel Broide, the Rosh Yeshivah of Chevron Yeshiva, tells us that there are two types nisyonot: one that defines who we are and one that we face on a day-to-day basis.  When you face a big nisayon that may involve serious self-sacrifice, you can often reach deep down and find the courage and determination to make the proper decision and do the right thing.  But there are also those "little" nisyonot that you face each and every day that do not require such strength and fortitude.  Such, says Rav Broide, is the nisayon of "Lech Lecha."

 A "Lech Lecha" nisayon is having to decide whether or not to get up in time for morning minyan.  It's coming home from work exhausted and deciding whether to learn with your child or grandchild and help with homework or sit in front of the T.V. or computer.  While no one classifies such nisyonot as those which define a moment in one's life, they are nevertheless vitally important in life.  HaShem told Avraham Avinu that his reward for undertaking the nisayon of "Lech Lecha"would be wealth and offspring upon his arrival in Eretz Yisrael.  Did he get his "just desserts?"  No, he did not.  Instead he encountered severe famine, a famine which caused him to go down to Egypt in order to survive.  It is because he accepted this nisayon without question, without comment, without protest that Avraham Avinu becomes a hero.

A "Lech Lecha" nisayon deals with the issues of everyday life, issues such as health, childrearing, and financial problems.  There is no glamor, there is no excitement in dealing with these types of issues, but they are no less challenging.  And while the "Akeidat Yitzchak" type of nisayon is more noteworthy because it stands out from the rest, the true indication of how heroic a person is may indeed be how one deals with the many daily "Lech Lecha" nisyonot that are handled with faith and trust in HaShem.  May all of us become true heroes each and every day of our lives.

"The Fear of Failing"

10/10/2018 04:55:37 PM


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

In this week's parashah, Parashat Noach, we read about the flood which HaShem brings upon the earth due to the evil which H-s creation, human beings, have brought upon the earth.  Only one man, Noach, and his family are allowed to survive.  The Torah tells us: "Noach ish tzadik, tamim hayah b'dorotav...." --- "Noach was a righteous man; he was perfect in his generations...."  Our Rabbis argue about this description of Noach, with some coming to the conclusion that he was not as righteous as the main character of next week's parashah, Avraham Avinu - Abraham, our Father.  But the fact remains that our Torah tells us: " HaElohim hit'halekh Noach." --- "...with G-d did Noach walk."  In anyone's eyes that would make Noach appear to be just as the Torah describes him: "tzadik" --- "righteous," maybe even as righteous as Avraham.  It is interesting to note, however, that our Torah tells us how Avraham was ordered by HaShem to "hit'haleikh lefanai" --- "walk in front of Me (HaShem)."  What does this mean?  Noach saw his world destroyed and reacted to this by becoming a drunk.  Avraham was so concerned about his world that he became "the Father of Nations" as is the meaning of his name.  Why the great difference between two "tzadikim" - "righteous men?"

Rashi tells us that Noach was "mi-ketanei emunah" --- "one who had little faith."  Even though HaShem told him to enter the ark, he hesitated until the rising waters finally forced him to do so.  And when the waters receded allowing Noach and his family to leave the ark, what did he do?  Again he hesitated.  The Torah tells us that Hashem ordered Noach: "Tzei min ha-teivah...." --- "Go forth from the ark...."  One would think that after being cooped up in the ark with his family and all those animals that Noach would be more than willing to exit into the brave new world that awaited him.    But the fact remains that Noach just does not want to move from his spot.

Noach does not want to march forward to make a new life for his family.  So what does he do?  He plants a vineyard and gets drunk on its produce.  In fact, he gets so inebriated that he returns to his tent and lies there naked to the world, to his family, and to HaShem.  Because he has been witness to the failure and the destruction of his world as he knew it without trying to do anything to alter the outcome, Noach once again refuses to do anything.  Why?  Because, as a human being, he does not want to fail HaShem a second time.  He gives up on both himself and life.  Thus Noach becomes the paradigm of the fear of failing.  As we will see in next week's parsahah, Avraham is the paradigm of the person who is not afraid to fail.  More than any other figure in the Torah, Avraham teaches us the the only failure that exists is failing not to try in the first place.  We only fail when we fail to take action.

"All You Need Is Light!"

10/03/2018 04:09:07 PM


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

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."

In this day and age we seem to be surrounded by darkness, and it more and more 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 this "darkness" as it engulfs our society.  We especially see this with religion and how it is "used" as a "kardom lachpor bo," "an axe with which to gore," resulting in Hashem and everything about H-m being associated with all that is bad.  As we begin Parashat Bereshit this week, we see that the very beginning of the Creation Story 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...."  We see that darkness when we hear the so-called leaders of religion telling people that they are wicked sinners, that they are infidels, and that they are the cause of disease and disaster in this world.  How do we combat this illusion of darkness that seems to control our lives at this time?

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."  And a little further on we read, "And G-d created the man in H-s image - in the Image of G-d did He create him...."  It is our duty to reflect the Image of G-d in all that we do in this world.  We cannot reflect that image in darkness - it must be done in light.  After all, we are commanded to be "a light unto the nations."

As we proceed into the year 5779, let your light shine unto yourself, your family, your friends, your Synagogue, and the world.

Ode to Joy

09/26/2018 03:02:16 PM


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

The month of Tishrei began with Rosh Hashanah, proceeded to Yom Kippur, and is climaxing and ending with Sukkot, Hoshanah Rabbah, Shemini Atzeret, and Simchat Torah.  It is during this month that we are able to come closer to Hashem that at any other time in the year.  And it is especially during Sukkot, the Season of Rejoicing, that we experience our greatest joy over the eternal covenant we have with HaShem.  It is during Sukkot when we are commanded to move from our permanent physical home and dwell in the temporary structure that reminds us of the how are ancient ancestors lived as they left Egypt and made their way to the Promised Land.  But the sukkah is more than a mere temporary structure which reminds us of what we were.  The sukkah contains a secret that best exemplifies the basis of the covenant between HaShem and the People Israel.

We know that the entire month of Elul and the first ten days of Tishrei deal with forgiveness.  We ask those whom we know we have wronged or think we have wronged for their forgiveness.  Let's say you tell a person you know you have wronged how you wronged him/her and ask for forgiveness.  There is no doubt that it is one of the hardest things for one to do: to go and admit to someone that you have wronged him/her.  So, having done this, you can expect four possible reactions.  (1) If the person doesn't care about the relationship you have with him/her, s/he might brush you off by saying, "Yeah, sure, that's fine.  Don't worry about it."  (2) If the person appreciates your sincerity and forgives you, s/he might shake your hand and say, "Thank you.  All is forgiven."  (3) If the person is truly moved by what you have said, s/he might say, "Please don't give it another thought.  I absolutely forgive you."  (4) But if this person has a loving and abiding relationship with you and forgives you with all his/her heart, s/he might give you a hug and say, "Forgive you?  Forgive you for what?  It never happened.  I love you so much.  Don't ever forget that, not for a moment, no matter what!"  It is this fourth reaction that is the secret of the joy of Sukkot.

Whenever we enter the sukkah, we are completely immersed in the Presence of the Divine.  Whenever we enter the sukkah, we experience the compassion and love and total forgiveness of HaShem.  Whenever we enter the sukkah, we are lovingly embraced by HaShem.  Why?  The sukkah is the physical manifestation of our eternal covenant with HaShem.  It is in the sukkah that we are fully surrounded and embraced by HaShem.  And what could give us more joy than that?

To Remember or Not to Remember:  That Is the Question!

09/21/2018 07:21:23 AM


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

This week's parashah, Parashat Ha'azinu, is a magnificent piece of poetry which is Moshe's final song to B'Nei Yisrael before he leaves them to pass on to the World-To-Come.  One would think that this song would be a song of love and triumph based upon Yetziat Mitzrayim, the Exodus from Egypt, the receiving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, and the successful arrival at the edge of the Eretz Kena'an, the Land of Canaan, the Promised Land.  But it is not. The fact of the matter is that a great deal of the song consists of Moshe's admonition to B'Nei Yisrael as to how they will break the covenant made with HaShem at Mount Sinai as well as its consequences.

We find the following verse in this parashah: "The Rock Who bore you --- you will forget, and you will disregard the Power Who birthed you."  (Devarim 32:18)  An explanation of this verse is given by the Dubner Maggid by way of the following story: Reuven owed Shimon a large sum of money and lacked the funds needed to repay his debt.  Since Shimon was hounding him to "pay up," Reuven approached his close friend Levi and asked for advice.  Levi instructed him to act as if he were totally insane each time Shimon would approach him for the money.  In that way, said Levi, Shimon would leave him alone.  Sure enough, when Shimon approached Reuven for his money, Reuven did exactly what Levi had told him to do.  And just as Levi said, Shimon left Reuven alone from that day on.  The very next day, Reuven asked Levi to lend him a large sum of money for just a few days, and Levi lent him the money.  One week later when Levi asked Shimon to repay him for the loan, Shimon began to act insane again.  Levi became furious at him and shouted: "I am the one who gave you the idea to use this method.  It is chutzpah for you to use it against me!"

Hashem created forgetfulness for those who have suffered in the past.  If we would clearly remember every bit of suffering that occurred to us in this life, we would never be able to cope with this life.  We would never be able to enjoy the good things in this life because we would always be remembering the pain of the past.  By forgetting the misfortune's of our lives, we can live a happy life in spite of our past sufferings.  But one thing that we should never forget: we should never forget HaShem and our obligations to H-m.  The Dubner Maggid stated that this is the message of this verse.

Every trait and attribute we possess has been given to us by HaShem and can be used for good or for bad.  It is up to us to utilize all that we have been given for only the good.

The Never-Ending Song

09/12/2018 04:36:48 PM


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

On this Shabbat Shuvah of 5779 we read Parashat Va-Yeilech in which we find the following verse: "Now write this song for yourselves and teach it to B'Nei Yisrael...."  To what song is this verse referring?  The song is nothing less than the words of the Torah itself that Moshe received from HaShem on Mount Sinai, and the reason for them to be written down is so that B'Nei Yisrael will learn them and study them and use them.  But the question 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: " 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 not based upon one's life being interwoven at any meaningful level with the Torah.  And 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 5779!    



To Choose or Not to Choose

09/05/2018 02:07:23 PM


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

In this week's parashah, Parashat Nitzavim, we read: "See, I have given you today life and good, and death and evil...I call the heavens and the earth today to testify upon you that I have given you life and death, blessing and curse; and you should choose life in order that you and your descendents live.  To love HaShem your G-d, to listen to H-s voice and to cling to H-m, for He is your life and the length of your days to dwell in the land that HaShem swore to your forefathers, to Avraham, to Yitzchak, and to Ya'akov, to give you..." (Devarim 30: 19-20)  A remarkable thing happens in the final six verses of this week's parashah, and it is found nowhere else in either the Torah or the Tanakh.  What we find in this passage is the fact that Moshe is conveying Hashem's willingness to allow the Children of Israel the ability to have free will.  Our tradition teaches that all is determined in Heaven, that Hashem controls everything that happens...except for free will.  But how can this be?  If HaShem is all-powerful and all-knowing, then how could we human beings have the ability to do anything independent of H-m?  If HaShem controls nature, life, death, and the destiny of this world, then how could we human beings have the power to choose what HaShem has not chosen?  How can this be?

The latest findings in neuroscience claim human beings make choices through the physical properties of the brain and not by something called the "soul" or the "spirit."  But even the scientists themselves who make this observation are at odds with it when it comes to the human experience.  We like to think that we have choices to make, and we sense that the choices we make matter in our lives and in the lives of those whom we love.  And it because of the choices we make that we matter in this world.  As human beings, we believe that life itself is precious, and that it has great significance.  To claim otherwise strikes us as being both inhumane and just plain wrong.

Each of us has the ability to make choices. The Torah tells us this is so.  We even have the free will to either make choices or not make choices.  This ability, this "gift" comes from Hashem.  Our moral and spiritual fate lies in our own hands - not in the "hands" of HaShem nor in the forces of nature.  The Torah states the truth: We have free will.  We have the ability to choose.  At this time, in this season, let us choose life!

"The Joy of Selichot?"

08/28/2018 05:29:57 PM


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

Selichot refers to the penitential prayers that are traditionally recited in the middle of the night on the first Saturday night that is at least four days prior to Rosh Hashanah.  It is during this prayer service that we begin to ask Hashem to hear our prayers and have mercy upon us.  We beg HaShem over and over and over again for forgiveness.  This is the central theme of the Yamim Nora'im, the Days of Awe, from Rosh HaShanah through Yom Kippur.  While each day has at least one specific piyyut, poem, added to the Selichot prayer service, the central part of the Selichot prayers is where we continually ask HaShem to use H-s thirteen attributes of mercy when judging us.  The central theme of Selichot is our asking HaShem to hear our prayers and forgive us.

In the Ashkenazic tradition, one reason given for starting Selichot prayers on Saturday night is found in Leket Yosher, a work written in the 15th century by Rabbi Yosef ben Moshe.  We start reciting Selichot prayers following the close of Shabbat, because at that point in time people are rejoicing over having been able to celebrate Shabbat.  Our Rabbis teach in Masekhet Shabbat of the Tamud Bavli that the Shechinah, the Divine Presence, will only rest upon us when we have simchah, rejoicing.  "Thus it is most appropriate to pray with simchah shel mitzvah, the rejoicing of the mitzvah."   Why would we rejoice when asking HaShem to forgive us?  Because we know that He will grant it.  We need joy in order to bring HaShem's presence upon us.  We declare in the Selichot prayers the following verse of Isaiah 56:7 in which HaShem states, "I shall bring them to My holy mountain, and I shall make them rejoice in my holy prayer."

In this week's parashah, Parashat Ki Tavo, we read about the horrible curses that will be brought upon us "because we did not serve Hashem with rejoicing and a full heart." (Devarim 28:47)  Note that is not because we did not serve HaShem that we are punished.  We are punished because we do not have joy in our hearts and souls when we serve Hashem through our prayers, and our prayers are to be the vehicles by which we express our gratitude to Hashem for all He does for us.  So how do we attain this joy?  It is through the recitation of the Selichot prayers that we are to focus on making ourselves complete.  And how do we make ourselves complete?  Our Rabbis teach us that we do this by helping others.  We cannot expect to be complete in our avodah, our service to HaShem unless we are sensitive to the needs of others.  The more we work on helping others during these Yamim Nora'im, the closer we will feel Hashem's presence in our lives and the more joyous our prayers will be.

As we recite Selichot prayers beginning this Saturday night, let us rejoice in the love and forgiveness that Hashem has for us at this time!  And let us rejoice in our willingness to be here with and for each other!

"Is War Hell?"

08/22/2018 01:30:10 PM


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

Matanya Robinson was the son of dear friends of a colleague of mine.  Matanya died at the age of 21 in April of 2002 while his IDF unit was going door-to-door in Jenin searching for terrorists.  One of the reasons Matanya died was because of the IDF policy to risk the lives of its own soldiers in searching for terrorists rather than merely bombing a building that might be housing terrorists.  This policy is meant to eliminate the risk of taking the lives of innocent people when searching for known terrorists.  It is, in fact, the most moral way to deal with a terrible situation.  there is no doubt that we, the People Israel, regard every life as precious.  That is why we mourn for the loss of those Egyptian lives that took place as we were taken out slavery by the "hand" of HaShem.  Because terrorists who have already committed horrible murders must be held accountable for their actions, the IDF goes "the extra mile" to try to ensure that innocent civilians are protected.  But what is the origin of this policy?  We find it in this week's parashah, Parashat Ki Teitzei.


Parashat Ki Teitzei begins with the law that speaks of the case of the soldier who goes out to war, captures a beautiful woman, and takes her home to be his wife.  Our Torah commands this soldier to shave this woman's head, let her finger nails grow long, and allow her to remain in his home crying for the entire month following the death of her parents who have perished in the war.  Please remember that at this time in the history of our people as well as those of all the other ancient Middle Eastern countries, the laws of war included the elimination of entire populations who were conquered, this being carried out by the conquering army.  To be sure, prisoners were taken, and, as was often the case, these included women who were taken by members of the conquering army to become wives.  While it may be hard to understand, our Torah was actually legislating something that was unheard of in ancient warfare: showing compassion to captives.  How, you may ask, is this woman who has been taken captive being shown compassion by shaving her head, letting her fingernails grow long, and sitting there crying for a month?


We look to Maimonides (Rambam) who states that this time period of a "hands-off" approach regarding the woman captive allowed her time to decide if she wanted to become a part of the People Israel.  According to Rambam, she was under no circumstances to be forced to convert to Judaism (something that Nachmanides [Ramban] stated was supposed to happen).  Her captor could attempt to convince her to do so, but at the end of the 30-day waiting period, it became the woman's decision to either convert or not convert.  Obviously she had to convert in order for the soldier who captured her to take her as his wife.  But if she did not wish to covert, she then had to be set free.  She could not be treated as or sold as a slave.  Our Torah forced the soldier who captured this woman to treat her in such a way that he had to view her as a person and treat her accordingly.


To be sure, the law of the captive woman as stated in our Torah does not present an ideal situation.  But neither does war.  At times, war becomes a violent, horrible, but necessary part of life.  Because we are the People Israel, we can be proud of our long tradition of conducting ourselves in a moral manner when faced with the horrors of war.  And we can certainly be proud of the way the IDF conducts itself in this day and age.


08/22/2018 01:22:15 PM


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"Say Little - Do Much!"

07/24/2018 08:38:49 PM


In this week's parashah, Parashat Va'etchanan, we read the following: "HaShem, our God, sealed a covenant with us at Chorev.  Not with our forefathers did HaShem seal this covenant, but with us - we who are here, all of us alive today."  Moshe was reminding B'Nei Yisrael that the brit, the covenant, they made when receiving the Aseret HaDibrot, the Ten Commandments, was made with all generations of Jews, both with that generation alive at that moment as well as with all succeeding generations of the People Israel.

 In Parashat Yitro which tells of the giving of the Aseret HaDibrot, we read these words of HaShem spoken to Moshe: "And you shall be for Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation; these are the words that you shall speak to B'nei Yisrael."  The great Torah commentator Rashi comments on the words "these are the words" and says: "Not less and not more."  What is Rashi saying here?  Merely that Moshe is not supposed to add or subtract any words from what HaShem told him to say.  But why would HaShem limit Moshe to just those few words? The answer to this question can be found in a story as related by Rabbi Yaakov Luban.

A family in Yerushalayim had a severely challenged child.  As he got older, his needs conflicted with the needs of the rest of the family so much so that consideration was being given as to how it might be the time to place him in an institution.  They sought guidance from Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, one of the greatest Orthodox Rabbis of his time, regarding this matter.  He asked them: "Did you discuss this with your son?"  The family protested that due to his mental incompetence, the boy would not understand the question let alone be able to answer it.  Rabbi Auerbach protested: "You cannot just drop off a child at an institution without discussing it with him!  Bring him to me.  I want to speak with him."  The family did as he asked.  Rabbi Auerbach identified himself to the boy, and the boy told him his name.  The Rabbi proceeded: "I have a problem that you may be able to help me with.  There is a school that has no mashgiach to make sure that everything is being run's my job to make sure that everything there is on the up-and-up, but I cannot be there on a regular basis.  Can I ask you a favor?  Would you be willing to live in the school and serve as my representative to make sure that it's being run properly?  Tell them that I have sent you as my personal emissary to supervise."  The boy immediately accepted his misson and took it so seriously that when his parents came to bring him home for Shabbat, he replied that he could not take any Shabbat off."  Because Rabbi Auerbach told him that he was responsible for the school, he felt he had to remain on campus to supervise.  Using a simple, brief explanation that the boy could understand, Rabbi Auerbach had given this boy a mission to fulfill, and fulfill it he did.

Rabbi Luban went on to say that in a similar fashion, HaShem told Moshe that He was giving B'Nei Yisrael a mission as well: B'nei Yisrael - both those present at that moment and all who would come afterwards - were to be HaShem's emissaries of Torah in this world.  In a few simple and straightforward words, HaShem gave both our ancestors and us the most important mission of all: "And you shall be for Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation...."  May all of us be true to this mission.

"In the Long Run"

07/19/2018 04:42:20 PM


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

It is interesting that our parashah this week is the first parashah of Sefer Devarim, the Book of Deuteronomy.  In fact, the Book's Hebrew name is derived from its first verse.  The Hebrew word "devarim" is usually translated to mean "words."  This fifth and final book of the Torah is Moshe's summary of all that has happened to B'Nei Yisrael, the Children of Israel, since he became their leader.  In one particular passage, Moshe recounts how, when B'Nei Yisrael asked Moshe to send out spies to assess the land that HaShem intended to bring them to, he concluded "And the matter was good in my eyes."  The result was that Moshe sent out spies from each tribe.  However, it must be noted that in the Talmud Bavli, the Babylonian Talmud, in Masekhet Sotah 34b, our Sages state that HaShem did not agree with Moshe.  Rabbi Yissocher Frand notes the difficulty of such a conclusion.  If it is really true that HaShem opposed the idea of sending out the spies, why did He not merely tell Moshe that it was not to be done?  Why did He allow B'Nei Yisrael to do something of which He did not approve?  Why did not Hashem just say "No!"  Well, as is usually the case when a Rabbi asks a question, the answer is provided by that very same person.

Rabbi Frand answers his own question by citing a comment made by the late Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Telz in Cleveland, Ohio.  Rabbi Mottel Katz noted that sometimes children wish to do something that their parents consider inappropriate.  More often than not what is the parents' reaction?  It used to be that they would "put their foot down" and forbid their children from doing what they wished to do.  I remember such reactions from my parents, especially my father.  When he said "No!", he meant "No!"  What did I do?  I stopped dead in my tracks and followed his dictum.  However, it turns out that sometimes this is not always the best reaction.  Sometimes we need to concede and give in to our children.  How do we know this to be true.  We know this because of the lesson learned from the episode of the spies as found in the Torah.

In the episode of the spies, HaShem understood that B'Nei Yisrael were not at all ready to accept H-s denial of their request.  He therefore conceded to their request and let them go their own way.  And the rest, as they say, is history.  In the case of our children,as long as there is no danger to their lives involved, there may be times that they may simply not be able to accept our total refusal at the moment.  And it is at such a time that it might be best for us to concede with the understanding that other opportunities will arise to bring our point across more effectively in order to bring about our desired results.

The major news event that took place this week has centered around "devarim," "words."  What was said?  What was not said?  What should have been said?  At what moment should it have been said?  At what moment should it have not been said?  The words that have been spoken have been spun and "respun" in ways that those speaking them each appear to be "right."  Sometimes, more often than we care to admit, even if the action taken is not right, it is better to be smart and concede to its performance.  Why?  Because, as HaShem taught us in the episode of the spies, it is better to be smart than to be right...for the greater good in the long run.

Shabbat Shalom!  

"Chazak, Chazak, ve-Nitchazeik!"

07/12/2018 04:10:50 PM


In this week's double parashah, Mattot-Masei, we find that HaShem commanded Moshe to send an army to wipe out the Midyanites: "And HaShem spoke with Moshe saying: 'Avenge the vengeance of the Children of Yisrael from the Midyanites'...."  What did Moshe do? The Torah tells us: "And Moshe spoke to the People: 'Arm yourselves men from the legion; and they shall engage Midyan to inflict the vengeance of Hashem upon Midyan.'"  Each tribe sent one thousand men out to do battle with Midyan, and they were led by none other than Pinchas, the zealot for whom last week's parashah was named.  Rashi, whose yahrzeit we commemorate this week, poses an interesting question: Why was Pinchas's father Elazar, who had just become the Kohen Gadol (the High Priest) after the death of his father Aharon, not sent instead?

With his assignment by Moshe, Pinchas was serving in the role of Milchamah Mashuach Kohen, the Kohen who leads an army into battle.  We find in Parashat Shoftim that before a Jewish army goes to war, the Milchamah Mashuach Kohen delivers a lecture which includes a kind of "pep talk," if you will, to the warriors about to go into battle.  Upon completion of this "pep talk," the Milchamah Mashuach Kohen is able to ascertain who should not be going into battle for whatever the reason may be.  Since most people cannot handle the sights and sounds of war, those who are determined to be too "soft" to handle the rigors of war were to be sent home.  In order to be successful in this endeavor of making such a determination, the Milchamah Mashuach Kohen must, on the one hand, be a warrior who is able to lead the troops bravely and fearlessly injecting a fighting spirit into the soldiers.  But he must also be able to lift up his soldiers in a spiritual sense.  One would think that such a job would be that of the Kohen Gadol and that it would have been Elazar who should have been sent.  After all, the succession of the Kohen Gadol was to go to the son.  Thus it was that Elazar succeeded Aharon.  However, because he is not the Koehn Gadol, when the Milchamah Mashuach Kohen dies, his son was to have no claim whatsoever to the job.  To expand on Rashi's question, why was the Kohen Gadol not automatically appointed as the Milchamah Mashuach Kohen?  Was he not the most spiritual and ethical of all the Kohanim?

To answer this question, we turn to one of the giants of European Jewry, the Chofetz Chaim, who answered the question with the following story: A community Rabbi passed away, and the kehillah (congregation) wanted to hire a great scholar to succeed him.  While being capable of handling the job, the son of the deceased Rabbi was not as accomplished a scholar as the other candidate.  As a result, a bitter fight erupted between the deceased Rabbi's family and the kehillah.  The issue was brought before the Chofetz chaim for a solution.  The Chofetz Chaim ruled that in "ordinary" circumstances, the son would inherit the father's position.  "Ordinary" circumstances are those in which the Rabbi was to deliver Divrei Torah (Torah sermons) on Shabbat Shuvah and Shabbat HaGadol spending the rest of his time ruling on questions pertaining to halakhah (Jewish Law).  Such work required no great scholarship.  But, said the Chofetz Chaim, the present circumstances required the Rabbi to overcome the secular, anti-Torah forces that sought to harm the Jewish community.  One cannot assume that the son of any given Rabbi would be able to lead his community in the battle needed to withstand and defeat all the anti-Torah forces that threaten to destroy the Jewish community.  Therefore, the kehillah should hire the great scholar.

In our own day and time, I have seen first hand what is needed to be a modern Milchamah Mashuach Kohen,.  Today a Rabbi must help people "do battle" with what seeks to do harm to or even destroy the Jewish people.  Today, a Rabbi must inspire and lead in order to maintain loyalty to and unity within the People Israel.  My hope is that as we approach the coming new year, may all of us at CSS be one in service to both Hashem and to the People Israel.

"Mah Tovu!

07/04/2018 04:19:21 PM


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

In Parashat Pinchas we will read about how Eretz Kena'an, the Land of Canaan, is to be divided up into an inheritance amongst the Tribes of Israel.  Our Torah tells us that only sons can inherit the Land.  But then we read the following: "Our father had no sons.  Why should our father be diminished?...Give us a portion." (Bemidbar 27:3-4)  The daughters of Tzelofechad are demanding what they consider their rightful inheritance, and we find that Moshe consults with HaShem about their request.  H-s reply is as follows: "The daughters of Tzelofechad are speaking correctly." (Bemidbar 27:7)  Subsequently the law is established that if a father has no sons, the daughter inherits the land.  At this point one might inquire as to why the Torah did not teach this law at the outset.  Why must it be promulgated after the daughters of Tzelofechad approach Moshe with their request?  A colleague of mine has stated that the answer to this question is HaShem wants B'Nei Yisrael to learn this lesson on their own through education.  I think this education process has never stopped and continues among our people today.

On November 18, 2009, a woman was arrested for the "crime" of wearing a tallit at the Kotel HaMa'aravi, the Western Wall.  Here was a situation where Israeli police were called upon to enforce halakhah, Jewish law, at the Western Wall, the holiest site for the People Israel.  Here was a situation where a woman was denied the right to practice halakhah in a manner that is permitted by many great traditional rabbinic authorities.  Here was a situation where the Israeli government denied this woman the right to practice Judaism as authorized by halakhah.

The mitzvah, the commandment, to wear a tallit is found in Bemidbar 15:38: "Speak to B'Nei Yisrael and command them to make tzitzit on the corners of their garments."  Tzitzit are found on both the tallit gadol worn during the shacharit prayer service as well as on the tallit katan, the smaller garment worn as a piece of clothing.  The Talmud Bavli (Babylonian Talmud) in Masekhet Menachot 43a states: "The rabbis taught: all are obligated in the laws of tzitzit: Kohanim, Levi'im, and Yisraelim, converts, women, and slaves.  Rabbi Shimon exempts [not prohibits] women because it is a positive commandment limited by time, and from all positive commandments limited by time women are exempt."  So, according to this passage of the Talmud Bavli, the debate as to whether women are obligated to wear tzitzit is a debate between the Tanna Kamma and Rabbi Shimon. We learn in Masekhet Sukkah 11a that two other Talmudic Sages, Rabbi Yehudah and Rabbi Amram HaTzaddik, would attach tzitzit to the aprons of the women in their houses.  Even Rambam ruled in Hilkhot Tzitzit 3:9: "Women who want to wear tzitzit wrap themselves in it without a blessing."  Rabbis of Northern Europe allowed women to wear a tallit even going so far as to permitting them to recite a blessing when doing so: "And it is permissible for them to make a blessing on time-bound positive commandments even though they are not required to perform those mitzvot...and if we would not let them make a blessing they would lose out on the mitzvah of tzitzit...." (Tosafot Rosh Hashanah 33a)

What we see here is that one of the reasons that Judaism is eternal is because it deals with the reality, and not the perceived reality, of any situation.  We must look upon our tradition as one which "flexes" in order to be inclusive and not exclusive.  A short while ago in our own sanctuary here at CSS a woman attended a Shabbat morning service wearing a tallit.  Contrary to what some might see as a challenge to existing Orthodox/traditional tenets of halakhah, this woman was merely exercising her halakhic right to wear tzitzit.  This woman, like the woman arrested at the Kotel HaMa'aravi, was following the teachings of Rambam, Rabad, Tosafot, and the Chayyei Adam.

What the daughters ofTzelofechad and the woman arrested at the Western Wall teach us is that, instead of perpetuating and expanding upon what divides us, we must embrace and magnify what unites us.  While we may not agree upon everything, we must always work together to prevent permanent disruption within the People Israel.

Tue, February 19 2019 14 Adar I 5779