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"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!

"Bring Me a Higher Love!"

10/24/2018 12:11:53 PM


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

In this week's parashah, Parashat VaYeira, we find the story of Akeidat Yitzchak (the Binding of Yitzchak).  This story is read twice: in its "proper place" as part of the weekly Torah readings and on the second day of Rosh Hashanah.  The story relates how Hashem "tests" Avraham by asking him to bring his beloved son Yitzchak up to Mount Moriah (i.e.- the Temple Mount) and offer him up as an "olah" (an elevated burnt offering).  Because Avraham willingly acceded to Hashem's command, our tradition teaches us that he passed the "test."  Our commentators ask why HaShem had to "test" Avraham in the first place.  Because, they say, HaShem is omniscient (all knowing), He already knew that Avraham would pass the test.  Why should Avraham have had to go through such an anguish-producing "test?"  After all, had not HaShem already promised Avraham that Yitzchak would carry the "mantle" handed to him by his father?

One answer to the question of "Why?" is given by the Ramban who said that Hashem tested Avraham in this way so that "dei lehotzi mei-ha-koach el haoel."  The "test" helped Avraham take what he believed and put it into action.  Rabbi Yaakov Neuberger, a Rosh Yeshivah at Yeshiva University, cites this verse from Sefer Devarim (the Book of Deuteronomy) as an explanation of the Ramban: "Hashem has tested you in order for you to know if you love Hashem your G-d with all your heart and with all your soul." (13:4)  The "test" was meant for Avraham to see for himself how much he loved HaShem; HaShem already knew this.

The same is true for us when we perform "mitzvot" (the duties of the Torah).  Using the Ramban's reasoning, Hashem "tests" us by commanding us to perform mitzvot so that we can feel good about ourselves and show our love of HaShem.  The more mitzvot we do, the more our souls are enlarged and the more spiritual we become ultimately growing closer to Hashem.  In fact, as opposed to the more common way of viewing mitzvot completion, our Rabbis encourage us to perform as many mitzvot as possible rather than doing an entire mitzvah all at once.  For example, it is better to give ten different people a single dollar than to give one poor person ten dollars.  The more mitzvot we do, the more we actually live our spirituality.  And the more we perform actual physical actions in service of HaShem, the closer we come to HaShem.

Avraham understood that the way to bring about a greater love of HaShem was to take what he believed in his heart and in his soul and put it into action. His actions of carrying out HaShem's command proved to himself that his love of HaShem was even greater than he realized.  We must do all that we can to be like Avraham so that we can bring a higher love of HaShem to Hashem, for ultimately that is what He wants from us.

"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!    



Sun, April 21 2019 16 Nisan 5779