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"HaTikvah!"

03/19/2020 04:31:23 PM

Mar19

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

In light of what the world and the People Israel are facing with the spread of the COVID-19 virus, I believe it is providential that this week's double parashah, Parashat Vayyak'heil-Peku'dei, begins with the Hebrew verb "vayyak'heil."  This word is translated into English as "And he caused to assemble."  The parashah begins with Moshe assembling the B'Nei Yisrael (Children of Israel) in order to begin the process of making and constructing the Mishkan (Wilderness Tabernacle), HaShem's "dwelling place" among them.  The COVID-19 virus has most certainly caused the world community to assemble in an effort to eradicate this latest threat to humankind.  The question you may ask is what can you as an individual do.  Well, certainly you must follow the protocols issued by the Center for Disease Control and all other valid authorities in an effort to stem the rising tide of COVID-19.  What else can you do?  Because the People Israel has faced many a life threatening crisis, let us look to our Tradition for those "tried-and-true" methods that have caused us more than once to unite as one people to face each crisis that comes up.

In the Talmud Bavli (Babylonian Talmud) in Masekhet Shevuot 39a we read: "All Jews are responsible for one another."  This has always been the strength of our people.  In Vayikra Rabbah 4 we read: 'Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai taught: 'It can be compared to people who are in a boat, and one of them took a drill and began to drill under his seat.  His fellow passengers said to him: "Why are you doing this?"  He said to them: "What do you care?  Am I not drilling under me?"  They replied: "Because you are sinking the boat with us in it!"'"  We are now all in the same boat.  If we do not help each other, if we do not look after each other we are in danger of sinking the entire boat.  And it is to that end that we must also remember the story of Miryam as found in Sefer Bemidbar (the Book of Numbers) in which we are told that she was shut out of the camp for seven days due to having been afflicted with tzara'at (a virulent skin disease).  Because of this, the B'Nei Yisrael did not proceed on their journey until Miryam was readmitted into the camp.  When one of us is quarantined, the rest of us must wait for them to recover before we carry on with our individual lives.

From Rosh Chodesh Elul until Hashanah Rabbah, Ashkenazic Jews recite Tehillim (Psalm) 27 twice each day.  At this critical time, we should pay attention to the final verse of this Psalm: "Hope to HaShem; be strong and He will give you courage; hope to HaShem!"  This is what we do time and time again as the People Israel!  This is what we must do now!  Is it any wonder, then, as to why the national anthem of Medinat Yisrael (the State of Israel) is "HaTikvah"(the Hope)?

"To Give or Not to Give: That Is the Question"

03/11/2020 01:55:39 PM

Mar11

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

In the 1930's Rav Elchonon Wasserman, Rosh Yeshivah of the Baronovich Yeshivah, was in the United States engaged in a fund-raising campaign for the yeshivah.  On the Erev Shabbat (Friday night) preceding the reading of Parashat Ki Tissa (this week's parashah), he made an appeal at a shul where he announced that for $80, one could have the merit of supporting his entire yeshivah for one week.  ($80 went much further in the 1930's than it does today.)  The members of the shul were very enthusiastic by his passionate speech with many seeming to be ready to "take the plunge" of pledging $80.  However, there was one man who was clearly not excited about the congregants "jumping onboard" Rav Elchonon's "bandwagon," and this man was the Rabbi of the shul.

 When Rav Elchonon finished his speech, the Rabbi rushed to the podium and began to drone on and on with the result being that the congregants' excitement about Rav Elchonon's speech quickly decreased.  The Rabbi effectively quashed Rav Elchonon's fundraising efforts by declaring: "If you give $1 to the Baronovich Yeshivah, that, too, is a significant donation."  And with that, Rav Elchonon received almost nothing in pledges.  Later that night, when visiting Rav Elchonon in his host's home, the Rabbi of the shul said this; "I know you are upset about what happened this evening.  You probably have complaints against me and my congregation."  To his shock, Rav Elchonon told the Rabbi fo the shul that he had no complaints whatsoever.

Ran Elchonon explained: "Take a look at this week's parsahahHaShem told Moshe that He chose Betzalel ben Uri ben Chur to build the Mishkan (Wilderness Tabernacle).  With literally millions of people in the Jewish encampment, Moshe had to go search for Betzalel.  If he went up to someone and asked him if he was Betzalel and received the answer 'No!', Moshe would simply conclude that the person he asked was not supposed to build the Mishkan.  You cannot be upset at a person for not being chosen to complete a specific task.  The same is true for me.  HaShem has designated people to support the Baronovich Yeshivah.  I came and spoke to your shul thinking that your people were those whom HaShem had selected.  Obviously I was wrong.  Someone else will have this merit in Olam Haba (the World-to-Come).  How can I have complaints against you for that?"

Think about this the next time you are approached to give money to some Jewish organization.  Think about this the next time you are approached to give money to Congregations of Shaare Shamayim.  HaShem has designated someone to fulfill the role of Betzalel for the person or organization trying to raise money.  Instead of refusing to pledge to give, ask yourself: "Am I that Betzalel?"

"To Get Respect, Give Respect!"

03/05/2020 02:01:41 PM

Mar5

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

In Pirkei Avot, we read: "He (Ben Azzai) used to say: 'Do not be scornful of any person, and do not be disdainful of anything, for you have no person without his hour, and you have no thing without its place.'"  (Avot 4:3)  What we are being told here is that one must never insult people either verbally or in any other way.  Even if we consider the other person to be inferior to us in every way, s/he must be treated with respect, regardless of whether or not we know why this person is the way s/he is.  The key to interpersonal relationships is to place ourselves in our friend's shoes see things from his/her perspective.  For example, when your boss loses his/her temper and raises his/her voice at you for not meeting a required deadline, stop for just a minute and try to understand the amount of pressure s/he is under before you get insulted and end up resenting him/her.  Perhaps, just perhaps, you will realize that put in that same position, you just might act in the same way?

In this week's parashah, Parshat Tetzaveh, we read about the "Me'il" (mantle) worn by the Kohen Gadol (High Priest) when he was in active service to Hashem.  Attached to the bottom of the Me'il were no fewer than 72 ornaments in the shape of pomegranates alternating with 72 golden bells.  Why the bells?  Whenever the Kohen Gadol went into the Kodesh HaKedoshim (Holy of Holies) which contained the Aron HaKodesh (the Ark of the Covenant) in the Mishkan (Wilderness Tabernacle) and later in both of the Temples in Yerushalayim (Jerusalem), the sound of the bells would announce both his coming and going causing the people to stop and pay attention to his actions.  We learn from this that a person should not enter his/her own home in a stealthy manner: unexpectedly and unannounced.  By not doing this, sensitivity and respect is shown the home's occupants.

Why show sensitivity and respect to the members of one's own family upon arrival at home?  Because this can raise their spirits and affect their lives in a profoundly positive way.  Such a demeanor gives evidence that we love others as much as we love ourselves.  Perhaps the lesson to be learned here comes from the words that used to be the on the outgoing message of the answering machine of one of CSS's beloved late members, Stanley Smuckler, zichrono livrachah (may his memory be for a blessing): "Although it's nice to be important, it's more important to be nice!" 

02/28/2020 01:52:18 PM

Feb28

"Never Let Go of It!"

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 is constantly ready for transport.  We, the People Israel, must be ready to take the Torah with us wherever we may be as well.

"Between Man and Man"

02/19/2020 10:42:33 AM

Feb19

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

In this week's parashah, Parashat Mishpatim, we read the following verse: "And these are the laws that you shall place before them:...." (Shemot 21:1)  The great Medieval commentator Rashi indicates that the Hebrew word "eilah" ("these") used in this verse connects this week's parashah with last week's parsahah, Parashat Yitro, in which the Aseret HaDibrot (the Ten Commandments/Utterances) were given.  Rashi states that because of this connection, we can conclude that the laws mentioned in Parashat Mishpatim were given to Moshe at Har Sinai (Mount Sinai).  The question is asked: Is it not obvious that the entire Torah was given to Moshe at Har SinaiRaav (Rabbeinu Ovadiah M'Bartenura) points out that Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) begins as follows: "Moshe received the Torah at Sinai and transmitted it to Yehoshua, and Yehoshua transmitted it to the Elders...."  (Perek Rishon, Pasuk AlephPirkei Avot deals with no laws; it deals with ethics and character traits that every Jew should strive to make a part of his/her life.  Raav states that, although many scholars of non-Jewish civilizations have written similar texts, the difference is the origin of these teachings.  Rabbi Simcha Sheps, z"l, one of the Roshei Yeshivah of Torah Vodaath, stated that this is just what Rashi is pointing out as well.  He said that Rashi was teaching us that every word of this week's parashah was given to Moshe at Har Sinai.

It is a fact that every religion and even secularists, who by definition are non-religious, have ethics by which society is expected to live.  "The New York Times" has a weekly column written by someone with the pen name of "The Ethicist" who determines what is considered ethical.  And then there is the famous "Miss Manners" column which is syndicated three times each week in over 200 newspapers.  The author of this column is "the final authority" on good manners and proper behavior for millions of Americans.  So, you may ask, what's the difference between their ethics and Jewish ethics?  Let's look at couple of examples.

We read the following in this week's parashah: "You shall not accept a false report...." (Shemot 23:1)  This law commands us not to engage in lashon hara (evil tongue): gossip.  However, going beyond the plain meaning of the text as found in the Torah, our tradition teaches us that speaking lashon hara is prohibited even if the story being told is 100% true.  A secular ethicist would protest asking what is wrong with telling a true story.  After all, the truth is paramount in all cases.  S/he might even ask who would make up such a law.  In another example we find that the Torah tells us that we are commanded to help our enemy in need before we help our friend in need: "When you will encounter the ox of he who hates you or see his donkey that is wandering, you shall surely return it to him!  Perhaps you will see the donkey of he who hates you lying beneath its load, and you will refrain from helping him!?!  You shall indeed help him!"  (Shemot 23:4-5)  These laws appear to be counterintuitive, but the fact is that they were given to us by Hashem at Har Sinai.  They are not the product of the so-called reason and logic of human beings.  It is that person who will commit him/herself to abiding by these laws, laws dictating how relationships are maintained between human beings, who will come out ahead each and every time.

"Lo Tirtzach!"

02/12/2020 02:11:54 PM

Feb12

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

This week's parashah, Parashat Yitro, contains the first of two versions of the Ten Commandments that are found in the Torah.   For many Jews, they believe that the observance of the Ten Commandments is their totality of living a Jewish life.  But does anyone really fully observe all of the Ten Commandments?  I am sure that all of us, at one time or another in our lives, have violated keeping Shabbat properly.  And it might seem near impossible to honor our parents 100% of the time.  In the society in which we live, we are urged to covet by virtue of the constant harangue thrown at us by the advertising media.  "But, Rabbi," you say, "there is one commandment that I have never violated, and that is the commandment 'Thou shalt not kill!'"  I would tell you that the commandment in Hebrew reads "Lo Tirtzach!" and that it's literal meaning is "Do not murder!"  "All right, Rabbi" you protest, "but I still haven't murdered anyone!"  I would guide you to what our Tradition  says about this commandment before making such a claim.

  The great French Jewish commentator Chizkuni wrote this about "Lo Tirtzach!": "Hein be-yad, hein be-lashon, hein be-shtikah."  The prohibition against murder can be violated by physically killing someone, by using words against someone, and by our silence toward someone.  Simply put, we are held accountable by our Tradition if we cause someone's death through our words and/or our silence.  Over a decade ago there was a case known as "MySpace Suicide Hoax."  Perhaps you remember it.  A 13-year-old girl in Missouri committed suicide after she was emotionally manipulated by her adult neighbors.  As a "prank," the adults and kids in her neighborhood set up a fake boyfriend on social media for this girl.  They insulted her with words and played with her emotions.  Some knew about what was going on but chose to remain silent.  Others were actively involved and participated in badgering the self-esteem of this poor girl to the point that she eventually hanged herself.  As Chizkuni pointed out, those who were either actively or passively involved in this episode violated the commandment "Lo Tirtzach!"  Both hose who joined in in the act of insulting this girl on-line as well as those who stood aside and knew this was happening are morally --- if not legally --- held accountable and responsible for her murder by Halakhah (Jewish Law).

There is no doubt that the power of our words is overwhelming.  How do we know this?  We read the following in this week's parashah: "And G-d spoke all of these words, saying...."(Shemot 20:1)  Please note that our Torah tells us that G-d did not speak these commandments --- He spoke these words.  What we call the Ten  Commandments are known in Hebrew as Aseret Ha-Devarim (the Ten Utterances).  These words given by HaShem to B'nei Yisrael (the Children of Israel) are the most powerful words ever given to any people on this earth.  They have both the power to make holy and the power to destroy.  We must remember that the words we speak or do not speak are just as powerful.   We must always strive to use our power of speaking or not speaking words to others wisely, for it is only then that we may claim to observing the commandment "Lo Tirtzach!"  

"Dem Bones!"

02/05/2020 10:14:16 AM

Feb5

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

The Talmud teaches us that one who starts to perform a mitzvah (duty/obligation) has a greater responsibility to complete it than one who has begun to undertake to perform it in the first place.  Why is that?  We look to a verse from this week's parashah, Parashat BeShallach: "And Moshe brought up the bones of Yoseph with him, for he [Yoseph] had indeed caused the B'nei Yisrael (the Children of Israel) to swear saying, 'G-d will indeed remember you, and you will bring up my bones from this [place] with you.'" (Shemot 13:19)  You may ask why Yoseph did not instruct his brothers to immediately bury him in Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel) upon his death.  the fact is that he could not make such a request as he knew that Pharaoh would not have allowed it.  After they swore to fulfill Yoseph's request, his brothers, in turn, obligated their descendants to do so as well.  As we have already noted, the Torah tells us that only Moshe retrieved Yoseph's remains to fulfill his request.  However, it is indeed surprising to note that the Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible) says the following: "The bones of Yoseph, which the B'nei Yisrael had brought up from Egypt, were buried in Sh'chem,...." (Yehoshua 24:32)

It is interesting to note that it is from this verse that the Talmud Bavli in Masekhet Sotah 13b teaches the importance of completing a mitzvah.  The Talmud Bavli explains that if one person begins a mitzvah and another person comes along and completes it, the latter will receive credit as if s/he performed the entire mitzvah him/herself.  Yes, it is true that Moshe alone was responsible both for removing Yoseph's remains from Eretz Mitzrayim (the Land of Egypt) and for watching over them during the 40-year sojourn through the wilderness until he passed away, but it was because B'nei Yisrael completed his mission by actually burying Yoseph's remains in Eretz Yisrael that they, and not Moshe, receive the credit for doing so.  What does this episode teach us?

We can all be inspired to complete an important task.  However, that inspiration is limited to those things we believe ourselves capable of doing.  When we begin to take action, a part of us often becomes discouraged due to whatever challenges of difficulties may arise as we proceed with our task.  In such a situation we can and should request from HaShem through heartfelt prayer for a moment of clarity that will give us the ability to carry on and complete the task at hand.  There is no doubt that the media pays more attention to the finish line of a marathon than it does to the starting line.  After all, anyone can begin a race, but what matters most is those who finish it.

"Dog - ma!"

01/29/2020 05:47:04 PM

Jan29

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

In this week's parashah, Parashat Bo, we read the following: "But against the B'nei Yisrael, no dog shall wag its tongue."  (Shemot 11:7)  In last year's "Rabbi's Corner" I spoke of our beautiful dog Lorelai.  We were truly blessed to have her with us for almost 16 years.  My wife and I were deeply saddened when she passed from this world last October, but we quickly added a new puppy, Cocoa, to our family.  We know how special Lorelai was and how she gave us so much love and devotion, and our family life felt empty without a dog.  The Hebrew word for "dog" ("calev") can be translated "as a heart," and that is what a dog is: one big loving and caring heart.  Now, I am not the only member of Am Yisrael (the People Israel) who feels this way.  A Midrash (Yalkut Shimoni 187) tells of how Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa had a disciple named Rabbi Yeshaya who fasted for 85 days.  Why did he do this?  He could not understand the teaching of the Sages that dogs will one day sing a shirah (song) containing the following words: "Come!  Let us prostrate ourselves and bow down; let us kneel before Hashem, our Maker!  For He is our G-d, and we are the people of his pasture and the flock of H-s hand...." (Tehillim 95:6-7)  It seems as though Rabbi Yeshaya was bothered by the fact that dogs are described by our Sages as "azei nefesh" (brazen of spirit).  How could such creatures merit being allowed to sing such a special shirah?

This Midrash continues by stating that an angel came down from Heaven and said this to Rabbi Yeshaya: "Yeshaya, until when will you fast?  It is a decree from HaKadosh Baruch Hu (the Holy One, blessed be He) from the day he revealed H-s secret to the prophet Chabakkuk.  He never revealed it to any creature in the world.  Since you are a disciple of a great scholar, however, I have been sent to tell you the secret.  Dogs are meritorious [and will therefore be rewarded with reciting this shirah] because they did not bark when the Jews left Egypt."  It is a fact that dogs bark.  Lorelai barked at everything and anything that came within her sight as she would sit by the front door.  Cocoa has yet to do this, but I expect it to happen with her as well.  Why?  Because dogs bark as a reflex especially when there is something that spooks them or that they do not recognize.  They are very intuitive and easily sense danger.  On the night of Yetziat Mitzrayim (the Exodus from Egypt), everyone one was crying because death was all over.  All the firstborn in the Eretz MItzrayim (the Land of Egypt) had died.   Logic would dictate that all dogs should have been barking their heads off.  But while the dogs of the Egyptians did, the dogs of the B'nei Yisrael were silent.  And it is because the dogs of the B'nei Yisrael resisted their inner nature to bark that all dogs will merit to sing this shirah.  Like the dogs of the B'Nei Yisrael, may we also fight our inner nature to resist learning and living our Torah so that we, too, may sing this shirah!

Inheritance or Heritage: Which is Yours?"

01/22/2020 05:43:41 PM

Jan22

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

In this week's parashah, Parashat Va-Eira, we read the following: "And I will bring you into the land concerning which I raised My hand to give to Avraham, to Yitzchak, and to Ya'akov; and I will give it to you for a morasha: I am Hashem."  (Shemot 6:8)  Not too long ago my wife and I decided to update our wills.  Of course, every parent would like to leave an inheritance to their children and grandchildren and (Barukh Hashem) great grandchildren.  Some parents work their entire lives denying themselves everything in order to amass a huge nest-egg to leave as an inheritance.  Others live in frustration that they will not leave a sizable "will and testament."  Just what does our Torah have to say about this?

Our Torah has two Hebrew words that relate to leaving a bequest to those who survive us: morasha and yerusha.  The word morasha first appears in this week's parashah and does not appear again until the last parashah of the Torah, Parashat Vezot HaBerakhah.  The word morasha is usually translated to mean "heritage" while the word yerusha is usually translated to mean "inheritance."  Yerusha is usually used for everything except for the Torah and Israel.  Note that Webster's Dictionary translates the word "heritage" as "property that is or can be inherited."  This makes the words "heritage" and "inheritance" synonymous.  The Hebrew of the Torah does not do this, and, in fact, comes up with four possible distinctions in the meaning between morasha and yerusha.  I want to concentrate on one distinction only, because I feel it speaks to generation after generation of our people.

A yerusha (inheritance) is usually a substantive object whereas a morasha can be an abstract idea or ideal.  There is a Yiddish folk song in which the singer laments that while his friends' wealthy parents gave them automobiles, his parents could only give him good wishes: "Go with G-d!"  While his friends' parents gave them cash, his parents could only gave him aphorisms: "Zai a mentsch!" ("Be a good person!")  However, eventually the automobiles and the cash of his friends were quickly dissipated while the words of his parents remained with him so that he could pass them on to the next generation.

Truth be told: an inheritance pales in comparison to a heritage.  The question to be asked is this: What will you leave your children and grandchildren and great grandchildren - a transitory inheritance or the magnificent heritage of Judaism and the Jewish People?

 

"Be Careful Where You Tread!"

01/15/2020 01:36:23 PM

Jan15

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

We read in this week's parashah, Parashat Shemot, the following: " And He [HaShem] said, 'Do not approach here; take off your shoes from upon your feet, for the place upon which you are standing --- it is holy ground.'"(Shemot 3:5)  This command by HaShem is preceded by Moshe tending to Yitro's sheep near Har Sinai (Mount Sinai).  When he looked up at the mountain, Moshe saw a burning thorn bush on the mountain which did not appear to be consumed by the fire.  When he proceeded to investigate this "unnatural" phenomenon, Moshe was given this command by Hashem.  One question that might be asked is why Moshe was not told beforehand that the mountain was holy.  Even more important, what would cause the mountain to be holy in the first place?

Our tradition teaches that although HaShem infused all of creation with the potential to be holy, He expects human beings to "activate" the holiness found in this world.  In fact, the ability to make something holy was given over to humankind.  Our Torah tells us that it was Moshe - not HaShem - who made the Mishkan (the Wilderness Tabernacle) and all of it utensils holy. Each Rosh Chodesh (the Head of the Month) was determined by the Beit Din (the Rabbinical Court) in Yerushalayim. Before the Torah was given to B'Nei Yisrael (the Children of Israel) by Hashem, they were told the following: "And Moshe said to HaShem, 'The people may not ascend the Mountain of Sinai, for Y-u Y-urself have warned us saying, "Set a boundary around the mountain [Har Sinai] and you shall make it holy." (Shemot 19:23)  When Moshe first walked upon Har Sinai, the mountain itself was not yet holy.  Even though the Shechinah (HaShem's Holy Presence) was there, Moshe had not yet made it sacred.  It was only after Moshe recognized the Shechinah in the burning bush and received direct communication from Hashem that the ground upon which he was walking actually become holy.

A man-made material is defined as one that is manufactured through human effort.  The process is usually begun by using raw materials that become finished products through human effort and ingenuity.  But our job as human beings - especially our job as Am Yisrael ( the People Israel) - is to take the physical world which HaShem has given over to us and create holiness within it by following the mitzvot of the Torah.  The Torah thus tells us that holiness does not just happen --- it is made by us.

Who are These?"

01/09/2020 05:10:35 PM

Jan9

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

Every morning when Michael would stroll down the busy corridors towards his office, his boss (the President & CEO of the company) would greet him with a warm "Good morning!" and a smile.  Even if Michael was late to work, behind on an assigned project, or absent from attending a morning meeting, his boss always smiled at him.  It seemed to Michael that his boss was pleased with his performance.  Sure enough, after six years of fulfilling his duties as administrative assistant, Michael was promoted to warehouse manager .  One morning, shortly after his promotion, his boss met him in the corridor with a stern look on his face.

"Where were you during yesterday's meeting?" he demanded to know.  Surprised at the tone of the question, Michael apologized profusely.  Then he politely asked his boss why he was concerned about his absence from this meeting when he missed so many meetings in the past.  What had changed?  His boss responded as follows: "As an entry-level employee, you made me happy if you were just getting the job done.  However, you are no longer an entry-level employee.  You are now a manager.  You are a valuable asset to this company, and your time, input, and effort are all very important to me.  As a manager, I need you to be on time and present at all meetings."

In this week's parashah, Parashat Vayechi, we read the following: "'And now, your two sons who were born to you in Eretz Mitzrayim (the Land of Egypt) until my coming to you in Mitzrayim - they are mine; Ephrayim and Menashe, like Re'uveyn and Shim'on will they be for me'...And Yisrael saw the sons of Yoseyf, and he said, 'Who are these?'  And Yoseyf said to his father, 'They are my sons whom G-d has given me in this [place].'  And he said, 'Take them to me now, and I will bless them.'"   (Bereshit 48:5 & 8-9)  In this passage, we see that Ephrayim and Menashe, who have been raised in an idolatrous society, have been "promoted" from the status of merely being Ya'akov's grandsons to that of being two of the Tribes of Yisrael that would eventually settle the land.  In essence, Ya'akov was overlooking what they lacked in being brought up in Mitzrayim and was instilling in them , through his blessing, the self-confidence they needed to truly become part of the Tribes of YisraelYa'akov recognized their unique ancestry and their potential for greatness.  And because of this, we bless our children every Erev Shabbat and Erev Chag with the words, "May Hashem make you like Ephrayim and Menashe."

"When You're Smiling...!"

01/02/2020 02:11:14 PM

Jan2

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

David got into a cab in downtown Manhattan and began talking with the driver.  Unfortunately, after being on the road all day the driver was not in the mood to be conversant with any passenger.  However, being the buoyant, cheerful person that he is, David quickly transformed the driver's mood into one of pleasantness.  When the cab driver came home, his wife was surprised to see him in such a good mood.  Apparently this had never happened before.  The result is that the two spent a pleasant evening at home together.  The next morning the cab driver's wife went to work in good spirits.  She did not fight with her co-workers, and nothing seemed to bother her.  Tony, her boss, went home that night without the usual migraine headache he suffered from listening to his employees argue with each other.  After arriving home, he decided to reunite with his son Jim whom he had not spoken with for months mainly due to his hectic work schedule.

After meeting up with each other and going on a walk together in Central Park, Tony noticed that his son was being very reserved and quiet and that tears were streaming down his son's face.  Becoming very alarmed, Tony asked his son what was wrong and if he was okay.  His son slowly took out a piece of crumpled paper from his coat pocket and handed it to his father.  Tony opened the crumpled piece of paper and read the following: "To whom this may concern: I committed suicide because no one in the world cares about me.  Jim"  Now Tony was the one who was crying, and he put his arm around his son.  Choking on his own tears, Jim explained why he wrote the note: "For the past few months, I was lonely and depressed.  Because I felt that no one cared about me, I made up my mind to commit suicide.  Just three minutes before I planned to jump to my death, I got your phone call saying that you wanted to spend time with me...!"

In this week's parashah, Parashat Vayigash, we read the following: "And Pharaoh said to Ya'akov: 'How many are the days of the years of your life?'"  In other words, Pharaoh was asking Ya'akov how old he was.  Rabbi Chaim Shmuelevitz explains this verse by saying that Ya'akov was being punished by HaShem with a shorter lifespan simply because he looked older than his years.  HaShem was telling Ya'akov that that there was no reason for him to age from the ordeals he suffered due to Yoseyf, Dina, and Eysav.  Ya'akov should have had emunah (faith) in HaShem that everything would work out all right.  Ya'akov could have been in a constant state of happiness.  He could have had a continuous smile on his face.  Then he would have looked younger; he would have looked his age.

There is no doubt that joy is contagious.  When you walk around with a smile on your face, you enrich the lives of those who see you, maybe just for a moment or maybe for a lifetime.  A smile is like sunshine: it nurtures; it sustains; it heals.  It is needed by everyone: rich and poor, famous and unknown, both at home and at work.  And what's more, it can be produced on demand.  A smile "costs" little but creates a lot.  After all, medical science tells us that it takes only 13 muscles to create a smile while it takes 112 muscles to create a frown.  I ask you; why work so hard?

"Who Is This Man?"

12/24/2019 04:15:43 PM

Dec24

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

When Rabbi Akiva Eiger of Posen and Rabbi Yaakov Lorberbaum of Lisa, two of the greatest scholars of their generation, arrived in Warsaw, the Jewish community came out to greet them in great numbers.  The crowd surged forward to show further respect by unhitching the horses and pulling the wagon into town.  Inside the coach, the two Torah giants sat in opposite corners, each man engrossed in his own thoughts.  Rabbi Akiva Eiger pondered how the great Rabbi Yaakov of Lisa was in the coach with him and how this magnificent welcome must be for him.  Because Rabbi Eiger wished to take part in the mitzvah of honoring this Torah giant, he quietly alighted from the coach and joined with those who were pulling the wagon.  In the opposite corner of the coach, Rabbi Yaakov Lorberbaum was having similar thoughts.  Because he believed that the reverential welcome was meant for Rabbi Akiva Eiger, he also wanted to join in the demonstration of respect.  So, he also slipped out of the coach and joined the throngs of people drawing the coach.  And so here it was that the a multitude of people continued their joyous reception of the two Rabbis totally unaware that they were pulling a coach that was completely empty of its two passengers but totally filled with humility.

We are in the midst of another Presidential election campaign as well as the impeachment of the current sitting President.  We must ask important questions as to what and why this is happening.  Do people who aspire to become President do so because they are actually qualified to fill the position, or are they so filled with their egos that they forget about you and me?  Does one who becomes President get so carried away with the power they are given that they forget what they are there for?  Maybe we should ponder these questions as we read about the main character in this week's parashah: Parashat Mikeitz.  We read the following: "You shall be in charge of my palace, and by your command shall all my people be sustained; only the throne shall outrank you."  (Bereshit 41:40)  What did Pharaoh, the king of the wealthiest and strongest nation in the word at that time, see in this young Hebrew slave who had just spent the last 12 years of his life in prison?  Why did Pharaoh believe that Yoseif was qualified to be second-in-command over Mitzrayim (Egypt)?

The answer is really quite simple: Pharaoh recognized that he was dealing with a man who was imbued with the Spirit of Hashem.  Even more importantly, Pharaoh saw Yoseif as someone who believed himself to be a conduit for others.  Despite his ability to correctly interpret dreams, Yoseif had declared to Pharaoh that he was "biladai."  He was not the one who interpreted Pharaoh's dreams; it was HaShem.  So we see that when people choose to forgo their own honor and use their talents to act as an agent of Hashem, they enable H-s blessings to flow through them to their intended recipients.  Is it any wonder that Moshe Rabbeinu (Moses, our teacher) the greatest leader in Jewish history, was also the most humble? 

"Let There Be Light!"

12/20/2019 01:48:59 PM

Dec20

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

The Talmud asks: “Mai Chanukkah?" - "What is Chanukkah?” Most American Jews are aware to some degree of the story of Chanukkah. It is actually two stories, one story telling of the victory of the brave Maccabees over the Syrian-Greeks and the other story telling of the miracle of the single cruse of oil that burned for eight days instead of just one. The earliest versions of the story focus on the military victory and are found in both the First and Second Books of Maccabees. You don’t know these books of the Bible? That is not surprising since they were not included in the Hebrew Bible. Instead, they were preserved by the Catholic Church and can be found in the part of their Bible known as “the Apocrypha.” The story of the miracle of the single cruse of oil is found in the Babylonian Talmud, specifically in Tractate Shabbat. It is therefore interesting to note that Chanukkah is the only Jewish holiday that has no basis in the Hebrew Bible. The story of the miracle of the oil is found in the Talmud, specifically in Tractate Shabbat.

 

Like the American Jewish community, Chanukkah continues to change and develop. During the Middle Ages, the focus of Chanukkah remained on the miracle of the single cruse of oil, this in spite of the fact that story of the bravery of the Maccabees was well known. While most Middle Age Jews did not know that First and Second Books of Maccabees, they did know of the stories, because they were recorded in Megillot Antiochus. The Scroll of Antiochus speaks of both the military victory of the Maccabees over the Syrian-Greeks and the miracle of the single cruse of oil. In America, Chanukkah is greatly influenced by the celebration of Christmas. Sadly, the attempt by the American Jewish community to create a Jewish equivalent to Christmas has made gift giving the most important part of the holiday and has made Chanukkah more important that the Torah-ordained festivals of Sukkot and Shavuot.

 

In the State of Israel, the military victory has an equal if not more important status and comes to play a central role in the celebration of the festival. The heroic struggle of the Maccabees over the numerically superior Syrian-Greeks is in keeping with Israel’s self-image.

 

So, “Mai Chanukkah - What is Chanukkah?” Chanukkah is like the flickering flames of the lights of the Chanukiah. The flames never look the same from one instant to the next, but at its core, the festival remains unchanged.

 

May you enjoy a joyous Chanukkah season spent with family and friends.

 

 

 

"We Are Family!"

12/13/2019 12:05:46 PM

Dec13

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

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

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

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

Wed, July 8 2020 16 Tammuz 5780