Skip to content


TorahAnytimes Newsletter Tisha B'Av

Parshat Tisha B'Av

Compiled and Edited by Rubin Kolyakov


"The TorahAnyTimes" Newsletter    Print Version

Special Tisha B'Av Edition
9th of Av, 5776 | August 13, 2016

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik

Rabbi Paysach Krohn
The Pair of Tzitzit

It was July of 2011 when the life of eight-year-old Leiby Kletzky was tragically brought to an end. Shocking the Jewish world, it brought heartrending tears to every Jewish man, woman and child.

I remembering hearing about the unfortunate news, and wondering what I should do next. I did not personally know the Kletzky family and vacillated if I should make my way to their house in Brooklyn to pay a shiva call. But then I realized that we were not simply dealing with a private loss in this case; this was a collective loss for all of the Jewish people. And so, I decided to go.

Upon reaching the Kletzky home, I was amazed to see throngs of people standing in line outside. Security guards were helping facilitate people into and out of the home. It was only after a while that I finally stepped foot into the Kletzky home and walked over to Nachman Kletzky, father of Leiby. Extending my heartfelt condolences, I softly said, “May Hashem comfort you amongst the mourners of Tzion and Jerusalem.”

As I was about to turn around, Nachman looked at me. “I know you,” he said. “My son, Leiby, used to watch your videos on Tisha B’av. Sit down; I want to talk to you.” That was the last thing I was expecting. But, of course, I gently took a seat.

After talking for a short while, he said to me, “Can you please go speak to my wife and daughters? They need chizuk (support and encouragement). Leiby was our only son. I will ask everyone else to leave the room so you can spend some private time talking to them.”

Following Nachman’s lead, I began speaking to his wife and four daughters. After doing so for quite some time, I wished them my condolences and left. But that was not the last time I would see the Kletzky family. As time continued, I went on to become particularly close with Nachman. And on one occasion, he related to me what had occurred just a mere two hours after I left their home during the shiva:

A woman had come to see Mrs. Kletzky. “Mrs. Kletzky,” she said, “I want to thank you.” Wondering what she had done for this lady she never met before, she was told, “I have a nine-year-old boy who just a few weeks ago started acting defiantly. Stopping to wear his tzitzit, no matter what my husband and I tried, he wouldn’t budge. We bought him gifts and offered incentives, but that didn’t accomplish anything. Whatever we did, either good or bad, was to no avail. He wouldn’t wear his tzitzit to school nor to summer camp.

“One morning, however, he came downstairs wearing his tzitzit. “Why are you wearing your tzitzit?” I asked. “I am so happy to see that!” “I am wearing them as a merit that they find Leiby,” he said.

“For the next two days, my son wore his tzitzit. And then, the ominous day arrived and we heard the news. When that happened, I wasn’t sure how my son would react. Maybe, he would tear off his tzitzit in anger and resentment. And so, I waited to see what the next morning would bring.

“As I stood by the stairs early the next morning, I looked up in anticipation to see what my son would do. And then he came out of his room…wearing tzitzit. And Baruch Hashem, he has been wearing them ever since.

“I therefore want to thank you, Mrs. Kletzky. It is only because of your son, Leiby, that my son was motivated to begin wearing his tzitzit again.”

But that is not the end of the story.

“Three weeks after this incident,” Nachman continued to tell me, “I called the mother who had visited our home and told us the story of her disobedient son. I said to her, ‘If you wouldn’t mind, could you and your son come to my house? My family would like to see you.’” Agreeing to make the trip, the mother and her son headed to our home.

As the young boy walked inside with his mother, I gently gave him a kiss. “This is not a kiss from me,” I said, “it is a kiss from my son, Leiby.” I then sat the boy down at the table and told him, “I just want you to know how proud we are of you. We heard that you started putting on tzitzit as a zechut (merit) that my son be found. It means so much to us.”

And then Nachman Kletzky took out a pair of Leiby’s tzitzit and handed it to the boy. “These are yours now. Wear them every day as a zechut for Leiby.”

Every morning to this very day, this now ten-year-old boy wears this pair of tzitzit. And before he puts them on, he says, “L’zecher nishmat Leiby Kletzky” (in memory of Leiby Kletzky).

Rabbi Benzion Klatzko
Repairing the Broken-Hearted

As part of our daily prayers, we fervently recite the blessing of Boneh Yerushalayim in which we express our deep yearning for the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the restoration of the Davidic dynasty. Yet, elsewhere within our prayers, we are privy to learning the exact method in which we bring about this magnificent era.

Rebuild the city of Jerusalem, Hashem; the scattered ones of Israel gather in. The One Who heals the broken-hearted, Who bandages their wounds (Tehillim 147:2-3).

Expressing our sincerest desire to see the splendor of Jerusalem once again flourish, we go about enumerating the ways Hashem lovingly deals with His entire world of creation. He brings comfort to those who are broken in spirit and in pain. Yet what is the connection between the two? What does the restoration of Jerusalem have to do with supporting those who are suffering?

The answer is exactly that. It is through following in Hashem’s footsteps and performing these actions that we bring about the long-awaited time of rebuilding Jerusalem. By rebuilding other people’s crushed lives, we help rebuild the glorious Beit Hamikdash. We are enjoined to genuinely care for those who are broken-hearted and in need of comfort. The one who just went through a painful divorce, the children who have only one parent, the father who has lost his job and does not know how he is going to pay the electric bill, and those who have lost their faith because someone dear to them is deathly ill and the doctor’s prognosis is unpromising. It is through lifting up the spirits of these forlorn individuals and families and offering them our heartfelt support that we will rebuild Jerusalem.

Unfortunately, however, the number of those undergoing trying times today is overwhelming. How in fact can we heal the wounds of all those suffering? What can we do to restore the broken lives of so many of our brethren? All we must do is look at the subsequent verse for our answer:

He counts the number of the stars, and to them all He calls by name (ibid., v.4).

For the myriad of stars that exist in the galaxy, G-d counts each and every one of them and calls them by their own unique name. Despite there being literally countless stars, every single one is numbered by Hashem. While we would argue that one more or one less star would not make any difference, that is far from the truth. Each and every one has its own special function and serves its own unique purpose.

The same is true of the Jewish nation. Every member of Klal Yisrael counts and plays a special role. One more Jew means the existence of a whole other world and one less Jew means the loss of an entire world. That is how we bandage the wounds and heal the scars of every individual suffering. We are to view their strife as immeasurably important and real to us. The significance of every Jew is worlds beyond description.

Sometime ago, my wife planned on taking my eight-year-old daughter to a concert along with her friend. Aware that the girl’s mother had passed away, my wife gently reminded my daughter to be sensitive to her feelings.

As they later began returning home and my wife dropped off my daughter’s friend at her house, my daughter let out a sigh. It seemed as if she had been relieved of a heavy burden.

“Is everything okay?” my wife asked. “What happened?” “It’s nothing,” my daughter replied. “It’s just that the past few hours have been a little bit hard for me. All night long, I made sure not to call you Mommy. A number of times I felt like yelling out “Mommy!” but I restrained myself. I didn’t want to remind my friend that she no longer has a mommy and make her feel bad.”

Recognizing the pain of every suffering Jew and caring for them personally is the way we go about rebuilding their sorrowful lives. By turning our focus towards them, we cast a beacon of light filled with warmth and hope upon their distraught hearts. And then, instead of having those beautiful stars die out and become a dim puff of smoke, they are invigorated to radiate brighter and livelier and continue carrying on their special mission as Hashem’s shining children.

Rabbi Yissocher Frand
Hearing the Cries

As we arrive in Shul on the Shabbat prior to Tisha B’av, known as Shabbat Chazon, a somewhat mild mood of mourning and sadness settles in. Recognizing the memorable day of Tisha B’av which beckons just around the corner, as we finish reading the Torah, we turn to the very chilling and sobering words of Yeshaya HaNavi.

After Yeshaya’s indicting words wherein he enumerates the severe sins which the Jewish people have committed, he levels the final charge that breaks the heart of every Jew. “When you spread your hands in prayer, I [Hashem] will turn a blind eye; even if you intensify your prayer, I will not listen…” (Isaiah 1:15). Hashem will simply not heed our prayers. There can perhaps be no greater punishment than that. While we may at times be subject to challenges and suffering, that which offers us comfort and hope is the opening of our Siddurim and Tehillim. Yet if that is no longer an option, we are doomed for the worst.

But then Yeshaya changes his castigating tone and says that all hope is not lost. We can mend our ways and return to our previous splendor. We can reopen the gates of prayer and have our heartfelt words heeded by Hashem once again. Yeshaya goes on to list ten aspects of teshuva: “Wash yourselves, purify yourselves, remove the evil of your deeds, cease doing evil, learn to do good, seek justice, vindicate the victim, render justice to the orphan, take up the cause of the widow” (ibid., 16-17). Following this, Hashem summons us to, “Come and let us reckon together” (ibid., v.18). If this is done, promises Yeshaya, then “even if our sins are red as crimson, Hashem will whiten them.” We can improve our sorry state of affairs and regain our honorable composure.

Of these ten stages of teshuva, Yeshaya begins with a general call to cleanse ourselves, and from there incrementally progresses step by step to complete the list of full repentance. Rashi notes that these steps of teshuva in fact correspond to the Aseret Yemei Teshuva, the Ten Days of Repentance, between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. They are the actions we should look to undertake and put into practice.

This being the case, it follows that the ninth and final step listed before our reckoning with Hashem – i.e. caring for the widow – is the crescendo and pinnacle of all the others. “Rivu Almanah!” cries out Yeshaya. “Take up the cause of the widow!” The woman who is oftentimes helpless and invisible; the woman who is overlooked and has lost her voice in the community and feels that she no longer counts. Care for her and look after her. That, says Yeshaya, is the greatest thing you can do.

Yet it seems quite strange. Why would caring for the widow rank at the top of the totem pole? What is so significant about rivu almanah that Yeshaya wishes to emphasize and instruct us in?

Imagine the scene. You are sitting at home and the doorbell rings. Standing outside is a widow. “I just recently lost my husband. I have a number of children at home I need to feed, the government has threatened to foreclose my home and I am all alone. Can you spare a few dollars?” Is opening your checkbook for this poor, distressed woman what Yeshaya calls teshuva of the highest order? It would take a heart of stone to close your door and completely refuse to help this unfortunate woman. What then is Yeshaya speaking of?

Rav Zelig Epstein zt”l, the late Rosh Yeshiva of Shaar HaTorah in Queens, New York, was known to be a man of towering greatness and wisdom. Worthy of being called the “Rosh Yeshiva’s Rosh Yeshiva,” he served as the address for countless people, including other Rabbanim, who sought counsel and guidance. Someone who rendered and resolved serious life decisions, his broad shoulders provided succor and support to all those who needed.

On one such occasion, Rav Zelig shouldered the burdens of a woman who had tragically been widowed. Having survived the Holocaust together with her husband, they arrived at the shores of America and went on to build a family with three children. Unfortunately, however, the pangs of the Holocaust took an irreparable toll on the husband and he decided to end his own life. Leaving his wife behind, she now faced a future life as both a Holocaust survivor and lonely widow.

She needed someone to lean on, and Rav Zelig was that individual. He was the person she would turn to; the figurative shoulder she would cry on. She herself was a very fragile woman, as you could imagine.

Sometime later, one of her children grew very ill and needed medical treatment. And indeed, Rav Zelig stepped forward. Overseeing all the medical procedures that were involved in caring for this child, Rav Zelig’s efforts came through. At least for a short while.

It was one Erev Yom Kippur that matters took a turn for the worst and the sorrows which already troubled this widow became even greater. Her beloved son passed away. It was already too close to Yom Kippur to go about with the burial, and so it would have to be postponed for another day. Yet here was this woman, having survived the inferno of the Holocaust, lost a husband to suicide and now a child to illness. She most certainly could have filled a cup with tears. Rav Zelig, however, was a bit more worried than that.

Walking to Kol Nidrei later that night on Yom Kippur, Rav Zelig began thinking if just perhaps this tragedy would be the proverbial straw that would break the camel’s back. Just maybe this woman would not be able to endure the loss and she would break down and meet the same fate as her husband.

Rav Zelig thus decided to skip Kol Nidrei and Yom Kippur and instead walk to this woman’s house and spend it with her. Were he to give her the emotional support she needed at this painful time, perhaps she would be able to pull through. But as Rav Zelig continued walking, he realized that it would take him well over an hour to make it to this woman’s house. And maybe an hour was too long.

Without further delay, Rav Zelig decided to confer with his mentor, Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky, as to the proper course of action. Entering the Yeshiva Torah V’Daas where Rav Yaakov was davening, he caught him in the middle of reciting the blessings prior to Shema. Yet Rav Zelig had a pressing and urgent question which could not wait even a minute. Making his way over to Rav Yaakov, he asked, “Can I take a bus to visit this widow so she will not remain by herself?” Well aware that between carrying the money for the bus fare and traveling to the woman’s house some violation of Yom Kippur was involved, Rav Yaakov nevertheless pointed to a few coins placed near him. The money which Rav Yaakov had designated to be used for his own bus fare after Yom Kippur went to Rav Zelig instead.

And so, Rav Zelig Epstein, one of the preeminent leaders of the previous generation, got on a bus and traveled to this widow on Yom Kippur so she would not remain alone. And it was all because maybe out of the misery of her life she would decide to end it short. It was there that Rav Zelig spent the rest of Yom Kippur, offering care and comfort to a woman who was facing the most trying of times.

That is what Yeshaya HaNavi means when he speaks of rivu almanah, taking up the cause of the widow. Yeshaya prompts us to do much more than simply respond to the knock on our door. We are to be proactive and imagine all the people who have been buffeted by the vagaries of life and nearly given up on all that they have. We must hear their silent cries and respond without delay.

Yet lest you think that the Biblical usage of almanah is limited to that of a widow, Rashi (Shemot 22:21) reminds us otherwise. Almanah is a shorthand for any person who is down on their luck. Almanah refers to the individual who has been out of work for six months, the person with a debilitating disease, families who are coping with a disabled child, a child at risk or the inability to have a child. All of the problems that plague the Jewish community are encompassed within the word almanah. That is the apex of the ten steps of teshuva.

Rivu almanah is about expanding our sphere of concern and placing as priority the needs of another. That is what we must think about on this solemn day of Tisha B’av. The problems facing a fellow Jew are our problems, and the tears streaming down their faces are just as real to us as they are to them. If we are looking for ways to turn ourselves and the rest of the world around and herald the glorious day of Mashiach, this is where we must begin. We reach upwards by reaching outwards. It is as simple as that.

Rabbanit Yemima Mizrachi
The Pink Room

Two years ago before Rosh Hashanah, I had the opportunity of hearing Reuven Gross speak. A caring father of two boys and two girls living in Israel, his dedication to Torah learning and raising his children with such beautiful ideals served as a source of inspiration to all those he encountered.

But then tragedy struck and his life and the life of his family would never again be the same. Two men entered the home of the Gross’ and released toxic fumigation gases. Claiming the cherished lives of both his daughters, ages one-and-a-half and two-and-a-half, the void and pain left in the wake of this calamity was piercing. Miraculously, the two boys remained alive, albeit severely injured. Yet the loss felt within the Gross’ home was beyond words. Remaining now in the family was Reuven and his wife and their two sons.

It was following this catastrophic misfortune that Reuven Gross came to address a gathering of 14,000 women in Israel. Sharing words of strength and encouragement, he related:

“In my house, there are two rooms. The boys’ room is blue and the girls’ room is pink. Yet after suffering the heartbreaking loss of our beloved daughters, my wife and I could no longer step foot into the girls’ pink room. Staring into their closet and seeing their little Yom Tov dresses beautifully hanging and their tiny, shiny shoes nicely arranged was an excruciating and unbearable sight.

“It was just before Rosh Hashanah that my wife said to me, “What are we going to do with this room? Something has to be done; it is causing too much pain.” I then looked at her and said, “You know what Michal? This room is going to stay exactly the way it is. It is going to remain pink forever. And that is because in this very black story we went through this year, there was a lot of pink. And that pink was Am Yisrael.

Reuven Gross then continued:

“The warmth and love exuded by all members of Am Yisrael from all religious backgrounds was something I never experienced before. I had never before come into such close contact with so many Jews of different religious observances than myself. I had grown up learning in a yeshiva since my youth, and my interaction and exposure to other Jews from all walks of life was limited. Yet suddenly, after this fatal incident, as my wounded children slept in the emergency room, I witnessed the eyes of numerous doctors and nurses filled with tears and their faces wet from sobbing. Nurses were approaching me and asking, ‘What can I do to help? How can I say Tehillim?’ My wife and I were so overwhelmed by the love that exists within Am Yisrael. Everyone commiserated with our sorrow and personally shared in our loss.

And then Reuven Gross concluded:

“And so my wife and I said, “Ribono Shel Olam, when You look down upon us and see our sins and our blackened mistakes, please remember that in Your world You have one pink room. And that pink room is Am Yisrael. With their loving hearts, they brighten up the world and warm the countless lives of their beloved brothers and sisters.”

This is what truly defines the Jewish nation. While there may be many of us with differing opinions, beliefs and religious practices, what collectively brings us together as a nation is our unconditional love for one another. When one Jew is in pain, every Jew is in pain. We are that pink room which adds bright color to the darkness appearing in so many lives and adds color to the tearful faces of those stricken with misfortune. And it is that pink room which will lighten up the way for Mashiach’s arrival and unite all of us together in the shining house of Hashem, the Beit Hamikdash.

Rabbi Dovid Kaplan
Wailing from the Wall

A number of years ago, I had the privilege of visiting the Chief Rabbi of Gateshead, Rabbi Shraga Feivel Zimmerman. Amid our conversation, he told me about a very interesting encounter he had experienced not too long before:

“One day, I received a phone call from a non-Jew living in Scotland. The first words out of his mouth were, “Hello, are you the Chief Rabbi of the Jews?” Taken aback by the straightforward, unexpected question, I replied, “Not quite. I am the Chief Rabbi of Gateshead, but not all of the world.” And then the man got straight to his point.

“I have a confession to make.” Although I tried explaining that he had the wrong religion and that he may want to go to a Catholic priest instead, he remained on the line. “Rabbi,” he reiterated, “this is regarding the Jews.” “Okay, if that is the case, come on over to my house.” I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I would give him a try.

As he entered inside, he walked up to my desk and began explaining the reason for his arrival. “Last month, I took a trip to Europe and made my way over to one of the concentration camps. While there, I decided I would take a look into the crematorium. I proceeded to walk inside and sense what it must have felt like a moment before death. I then began thinking that just maybe I should take a souvenir to remember my visit. And so, I grabbed hold of a stone from the wall and pulled it out.”

The man then took out a stone and placed it on my desk.

“I was thinking about it afterwards,” he continued, “and I realized that perhaps I shouldn’t have done that. Yet I had already left Europe and could not go back. I am now giving it to you. Whatever you think should be done with it, please go ahead.” And then the man walked straight out of the room and out of sight. There was no way I would be able to find him.

Now stuck with a stone from the crematorium on my desk, I wasn’t sure what to do. But I knew that before anything else, I needed to carefully examine the stone for any blood residue. Were there to be anything of such a nature on the stone, it may need to be buried. And so, I looked it through. But I found nothing of the sort.

I then phoned my Rebbe, Rav Dovid Soloveitchik shlita, in Israel. Explaining to him the scenario, I presented the conflict. “On the one hand,” I said, “there seems to be no halachic issue with discarding the stone. There is no residue on it which would necessitate it to be properly stowed away. On the other hand, it is not just another stone; it is from the crematorium.”

After posing this question to Rav Dovid, there fell a deafening silence over the phone. It was clear that he was pondering the issue and carefully thinking of how to proceed.

Ten minutes later, Rav Dovid spoke up. “It is a Pasuk,” he said. “Chavakuk tells us, ‘Even mi’kir tiz’ak’ – ‘A stone will cry out from the wall’ (Chavakuk 2:11). That stone from the crematorium had a purpose. It cried out to Hashem about the pain His children endured and the brutal deaths they experienced. It stood as witness to the unspeakable atrocities and brutalities inflicted upon our ancestors. This stone must be returned to where it was taken from.”

And then Rav Dovid concluded, “Next time you are there, go back to the crematorium and replace this stone. That is where it rightfully belongs. It’s role in this world is right in that wall where it had been. It has seen the demise of thousands of Jews and will forever serve as a memorial to that horror which it witnessed.”

And indeed, a few months later, Rabbi Shraga Feivel Zimmerman stopped off in Europe, located the site of the crematorium and returned the stone to its place.

Even the stone which could have been viewed as just a stone, in truth, stands for much more. It represents the tumultuous history of our nation. Yet there is even more to the stone than that. That stone is not only a testimonial that we will never forget; it is a testimonial that we will never be forgotten. It is the stone which not only mournfully cries about our past, but also triumphantly declares our future. Little is there to question about the indomitable Jewish spirit. Even within the hottest crematorium, it will never be extinguished. We will forever live on amid the flames and triumph over the greatest of tragedies.

Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis
Our Undying Mission

On one of my previous trips to Eastern Europe, I was given the opportunity to speak in Hungary and Poland before a number of well-respected officials and ministers. It was after I finished speaking in Hungary that I was approached by one of the ministers with a probing question.

“Mrs. Jungreis,” he said, “are you angry?” Not sure what he was exactly referring to, I replied, “Do I look angry? I hope I don’t.” But that was not what he meant. “Are you angry in your heart? You must be since this is the country where many rules were enacted against your people.” Finally understanding the intent of his question, I went on to clarify a very important point he was missing.

“Let me tell you something about Jewish history,” I began. “Thousands of years ago, I had brothers and sisters who were brutally enslaved and tortured in Egypt. They had all the reason to get very angry and focus all their energy on avenging their ruthless masters. But they didn’t. Instead, they focused on rebuilding the nation. That is who we are as Jews. We have too much to accomplish than getting angry. Instead of anger, we rebuild.

Centuries later, we were again persecuted. Exiled to Babylon as slaves, as we left Jerusalem, blood flooded the streets and reached knee-high. Yet despite being brutally beaten by our Babylonian tormentors, we still did not become angry and demoralized. We instead started to rebuild. We didn’t have time to be angry.

And then came the Romans and they too tortured and sold us as slaves. Yet we surged forward and thrived as a nation. And thousands of years later, look what happened with Communist Russia? We weren’t allowed to freely practice Judaism, but we rebuilt Russian Jewry into a thriving force in the world today.

And then there was Hitler ym”s with his Final Solution. But, as history has shown, he became the final solution and we are here today.

“And so,” I said in conclusion to the Hungarian minister, “we do not have time to be angry. We are the children of G-d who always look towards rebuilding a brighter future. Never do we allow our past to hold us down and prevent us from moving forward.”

Yet, despite this being absolutely true, we must ask ourselves one very important question. Where in fact do we derive such strength to carry on? What pushes us forward to march on with dignity despite the innumerable odds against us?

Let me share a story with you.

When I was a young girl in Bergen Belsen, every morning I stood for roll call with my head shaved, dressed in rags and covered with lice. It wasn’t a pretty sight. We all just stood there waiting until the Nazis came. Yet as young as I was, whenever I would look at the Nazi guards, I would say to myself, “Blessed be G-d that I do not belong to this people. Thank G-d that my father is a holy man and not a murderer.”

While you might be wondering how I would be so perceptive as a little girl, allow me to tell you how I gained such wisdom.

Every day while in the camps, each one of us received a small portion of bread. It was a meager piece of bread meant for one person, and in no way did it remove the pangs of hunger. Nevertheless, my father would take his small ration of bread, make the blessing over it and eat just a tiny bit. He would then hide the rest away in great pains, and tell us in Yiddish, “Kinderlach (children), count the days until Shabbat.”

When Shabbat would arrive, in the middle of the night while surrounded by mice and rats, my father would gather us children together and say to us again in Yiddish, “Close your eyes, my dear children. We are home. Mommy just baked delicious fresh Challah. It is still warm.” My father would then take out those remaining precious crumbs he had saved and give them to us. And then he would sing the beautiful hymn Shalom Aleichem, “Welcome to you, Angels of the Sabbath.”

On one such occasion, my younger brother pulled at my father’s arm and said, “Daddy, I don’t see any angels here. Where are the Angels of Sabbath?” My father, unable to hold himself back, started to cry. He then looked down at my brother and gently said, “You my children. You are the Angels of Sabbath.”

If you know who you are and you know that your life has meaning and purpose, then no matter what life brings your way, you will be able to walk with dignity. That was what my father inculcated within us as children. We Jews live with an undying mission. Never are we to forget who we are. We are G-d’s precious children who lead lives of holiness, of kindness and of rebuilding. No matter what challenges we endure nationally or individually, we surge forward with a vision of life and vibrant thriving. Even amid the harshest of conditions, we remain positive of our future and confident about our life’s mission. And that is because the Jewish soul will never be extinguished. Even amidst the darkness of exile, our soul will always remain aflame with the hope and prospect of rebuilding upwards and onwards.

Rabbi Zecharia Wallerstein
The Hand Behind the Cup

Let me tell you a story.

In Flatbush, New York, there used to be a lady who would sit outside the take-out restaurant Chap-a-Nosh throughout the day collecting tzedakah for herself. And sure enough, as people walked into and out of the store, they kindly dropped a quarter or dollar into the cup she was holding.

When I myself would walk by her, I would give her a dollar or so and ask her how she was doing. I knew that I was helping by giving her some money every so often, and I felt good about it.

Sometime ago, it was Friday morning and I arrived a bit earlier than normal. Walking towards the woman, I noticed another girl standing next to her and handing her a cup of coffee and a chocolate danish. I figured that she purchased the coffee and danish from the pizza shop, Jerusalem II, across the street. Yet as I continued to stand and watch the woman thank the girl for bringing her the food, I began to curiously wonder why she had gone especially out of her way to help this woman. And so, I followed the girl in an attempt to find out.

“Can I ask you something? Is this the first time you did this?” Looking back at me, she said, “No, I do it every week.” Quite surprised, I continued to pry out of curiosity. “Why don’t you just give her money like everyone else?” And then she revealed the true reason behind her actions.

“Rabbi Wallerstein, you don’t understand. This lady fasts all day. She sits in her chair and refuses to get up herself and buy some food. She is a poor woman and feels that if she will walk across the street, three or four people will walk out of Chap-a-Nosh and she will lose out on making a few dollars. I have seen this and know about it. I therefore go out of my way and buy her food. That is my tzedakah and I know it is helping her.”

As I walked away from this girl after hearing what she said, I was quite blown away. “What is the difference,” I thought to myself, “between me and her? I see a lady holding a tzedakah cup and think to myself, ‘I feel bad; let me give her some money.’ My thought process is, ‘I see a cup; here is a dollar bill.’ Yet what does this girl see? She sees something entirely different. She sees the person holding the cup. She sees a woman who is cold and hungry and in need of sustenance to make it through the day. Only this girl saw that; I never saw that person.”

That is what taking a second look means. With the first look, you see a cup and only a cup. With the second look, however, you see a completely different world. All of a sudden, you see a hand connected to the cup and a human being connected to the hand. And then you realize that you are not merely dealing with dollars and cents, but with a person who has feelings and wishes to feel cared for and valued. And then, like this young girl did, you walk across the street and buy a cup of coffee and a danish. That is how we change our world. It is the second look which will merit us seeing the shining face of Mashiach and herald his arrival speedily in our days.

Rabbi YY Jacobson
Thirty Years Later

For a number of years, my brother has given a weekly Torah class in Manhattan every Wednesday night. Well attended by those who wish to broaden their knowledge of Torah, it has met success and enhanced many lives.

It was on one Wednesday night that a man who had never been there before entered the room and took a seat. Listening carefully to the class, my brother noticed rather quickly that something was amiss. The boy’s motor skills were compromised. Aside from a speech impediment, the man had trouble functioning independently. And indeed, when my brother later spoke to him, he learned of the man’s devastating story. He had been born with a neurological disease. Immediately after birth, the doctors informed the parents that their child would be slightly disabled and would need to receive special attention for the rest of his life.

Facing an uneasy situation, the parents were unprepared to raise a handicapped child Deliberating what to do, they decided to place him in a special needs institution. From then on, never again did their lives cross. Sadly, the little boy grew up never knowing his parents.

This young boy was now a thirty-year-old adult. He had still never met his parents, although they both lived in Manhattan just minutes away from each other. Every month, his father would send him a handsome check and provide for all his needs, but never did he meet his parents face to face and create any emotional bond.

As my brother listened to this man’s pitiful situation, his heart went out for him. Sincerely wishing he could help, he decided to broach the issue. Calling the man’s father, he told him, “I have met your son, and I just want to let you know that he has such a spiritual and sensitive soul. He may be physically disabled and suffer from severe limitations, but I can guarantee you that it will be a privilege to meet him.” A second later, the line fell silent. My brother hoped it was the operator.

Phoning the father again, he was met by a frustrated voice. “You didn’t get the message. Mix out of my life!” Now my brother knew that it was not the operator. But he didn’t give up.

Although it had been hard enough to make the initial phone call, and now he had engendered only further resentment and frustration, my brother was not ready to let it go. A few months later, he tried again. But this time, he called the man’s mother. Maybe, he thought, as a yiddishe mama she would capitulate somewhat. After introducing himself to her and explaining why he was calling, he said, “I think you should meet your son.” Crying could be heard on the other end of the line. And then the mother said, “I am sorry, but we are not about to revisit a decision we made thirty years ago. Leave it alone.”

My brother then started reasoning with her. “I really don’t understand. There are children who are orphans and are never able to meet their father or mother. They may go on for many years wondering what their parents were like. But here you are, living in the same city as your son a mere ten minutes away, and you deprive him of the opportunity to see you once! What is he asking for? He is not requesting to move into your house nor is he demanding that you move into his. All he wants to do is see you. Is that too much to ask?”

After sending this strong message to the mother, she finally relented. “Okay, let me talk it over with my husband.”

The next week, my brother called the man’s father and made the same case he did the first time. But he did not get the answer he was looking for. “Let me think about it for a week,” the father said. One week later, the father finally gave in. “Fine,” he said, “we will agree to see him. But only on one condition; you come along.” Figuring that the father wanted a buffer, my brother arranged that they would both come to the parents’ house on the following Sunday.

When Sunday finally arrived, my brother and this boy headed over to the parents’ house. The house overlooked Central Park in Manhattan and was graced with a beautiful view of the skyline of New York City. Quite clearly, this man’s family was affluent.

As the boy sat down across from his parents, nobody’s eyes met. Conversation slowly began about the weather, yet did not carry too far. Finally, though, my brother broke the tension. “We are here for one reason. When I met your son some time ago, I could immediately tell that he was someone with much depth. A sweet and kind boy, he holds much potential. I thought that it would be a privilege for his parents to meet him after so many years of separation.”

The room then fell silent.

And then the boy started to speak. With his speech impediment, he said, “Papa, Mama, I am not perfect. As you know, I have never been perfect since birth. But so are you. Papa, Mama, I have forgiven you for your imperfections; I hope one day you will be able to forgive me for my imperfections.”

The room then grew quiet again. It was not long until the mother began sobbing and walked over to her son to embrace him for what seemed forever. His father soon followed suit as well, and went on to hug his beloved son.

As my brother realized that he had achieved his goal, he gently excused himself and left the house. The man’s parents would now take care of him. They had been reunited after living for thirty years in the same city, ten minutes away, yet so distant from one another. Their hearts which had been so far now become so close in a moment of mutual and unconditional love.

Upon reaching Tisha B'av, the day which is remembered for its calamitous destruction, we are reminded why it all came about. As our Sages teach, baseless hatred stood at its core (Yoma 9b). It is what brought Jerusalem and the Beit Hamikdash to ruins and what holds the potential of doing the same to families and friends. Yet there is a simple panacea to our desperate situation. And that depends on how we answer the question of this boy. Have we forgiven our children, our family and our friends for their imperfections? No one is perfect, but everyone has something unique to offer. Once we commit to adopting this attitude, we can look forward to heralding the long-awaited day of reuniting with our Father in Heaven and returning home where we belong.

Picture of newsletter
100% free

Subscribe to our Weekly Newsletter

Timely Torah insights, stories, and anecdotes from your favorite TorahAnytime speakers, delivered straight to your inbox every week.

Your email is safe with us. We don't spam.