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TorahAnytimes Newsletter V'etchanan

Parshat V'etchanan

Compiled and Edited by Rubin Kolyakov


"The TorahAnyTimes" Newsletter    Print Version

Parashat Va'etchanan
16th of Av, 5776 | August 20, 2016

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik

Rabbi Fischel Schachter
Comforting Our Nation

נחמו נחמו עמי...דברו על לב ירושלים

Comfort, comfort My nation…speak consolingly of Jerusalem (Haftorah, Isaiah 40:1-2)

It was a Friday afternoon just a few weeks before Yom Kippur that I sat down to prepare my annual Shabbat Shuva derasha. But, to my disappointment, I was not getting too far. I had an empty notebook and the words were just not coming to me. I had written something, only to discard it over and over again. And then the phone rang.

“Would you be able to come to Williamsburg?” Caught amidst a so-called writer’s block and knowing that I needed to prepare this speech, I politely replied that I was busy at the moment. Right then was not the best time. “There are a bunch of children who would like to hear a story,” continued the man on the other line, “and their mother is terminally ill. Maybe you could tell them something and cheer them up.” Hearing this, my heart went out for the children and their sick mother, but I stuck with my answer. “I am very sorry, but I cannot make it now.”

Without a moment’s delay, the man on the phone said, “Can I remind you of a story Rabbi Schachter once said?” I knew that he was referring to me. “Go ahead,” I told him.

“You once related on Tisha B’Av the story of a man reciting Kinnot who was approached by someone blind. “Can you please take me home?” politely asked the blind man. Looking up at the person who was “disturbing” his heartfelt recitation of the Kinnot, the man replied, “No! Can’t you see that I am busy right now crying over the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash!”

Observing this scene from a distance was the renowned Rav Mottel, descendent of the Chernobyl Chassidic dynasty. Rav Mottel proceeded to approach the man who had just slighted the other blind man and say, “You don’t have to cry over the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash.” Confused, the man asked for an explanation. “Anyone who yells at another when saying Kinnot,” said Rav Mottel, “should stop reciting Kinnot over the Beit Hamikdash, and start reciting Kinnot over his own life.” The man had sadly missed the message of Tisha B’Av and forgotten that it was precisely sinat chinam (baseless hatred) which engendered the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash.

After listening to this story told to me over the phone, I didn’t need to hear anything more. And so, there I was on my way to Williamsburg.

When I finally reached the house and walked through the front door, I was immediately met by the overwhelming smell of delicious Challah. “Wow!” I said to the man standing next to me, “the chesed organizations seem to be doing a great job helping the family.” But I was wrong. “The mother of the family baked these Challahs,” said the man. “The luscious smell is thanks to her. She insists that she prepares the Shabbat meals for her family. She knows that her days are numbered, but she will not give in. Every week, she has two women help her stand up while she bakes Challah and prepares the Shabbat meal. She has been told that every Shabbat may be her last and that she should rest, but she only says, ‘I will not rest on my last Shabbat.’”

As I heard this, I already knew I was dealing with a very special family.

Glancing over to where the four children sat down surrounding their mother, I could only imagine what life was like for all of them. “Thank you so much for coming here to tell my children a story,” said the mother. “It means so much to us all.”

I began telling the kids the best story I had. Every so often the mother would let out a little giggle, clearly trying to get the kids to laugh along with her. But for most of the time, it was the mother smiling and laughing in the hope that her children would do the same.

As I concluded my story and started heading for the door, the mother once again thanked me for taking the time and effort to come. She even invited me to return again.

The next time I returned to the house was to be menachem avel and comfort the family on the loss of their mother.

It was just minutes before I walked out of the house that Friday afternoon that the father of the children stopped me. “You see this flight of stairs?” he said. Pointing upwards, he began to tell me, “My wife makes the trek down these steps every single day with two women holding her up. She insists that she sees her children onto the bus. ‘As long as I am alive,’ she says to us, ‘I will send them off to school.’”

That was the type of wife and mother this woman was. She was a true eishet chayil, a woman of valor.

It was then, as I began walking away from the house that Friday, that I finally understood what Rav Mottel had meant when he said, “Anyone who yells at another when saying Kinnot should stop reciting Kinnot over the Beit Hamikdash, and start reciting Kinnot over his own life.” We can never get too caught up in our own personal lives and forget what it means to think and care about somebody else.

While I thought I was giving chizuk (support) to these children that Friday afternoon and cheering them up, the person who I believe received the most chizuk that day was myself. Looking at the mother of these children and seeing her absolute love and dedication for them was the greatest source of inspiration.

While we may not be able to master or even come close to the noble and courageous level this woman from Williamsburg reached, what each and every one of us can do is come a little bit closer to who we truly can become. And it starts by seeing the discomfort of a fellow Jew and looking beyond ourselves. Caring for another is what I learned from this woman and the lesson we ourselves must walk away with following the day of Tisha B’Av.

As we enter Shabbat Nachamu and reflect upon the comfort Hashem tells His prophets to speak to the suffering Jews, we must realize that we are enjoined to do the same. We too must look to provide comfort and express love for our fellow Jews whose lives are filled with strife and sorrow. If there is any lesson we are to learn from Tisha B’Av, this is it. Hashem says, “Nachamu nachamu ami” – “Comfort, Comfort, My nation,” and we must echo those words as well. That is how we rebuild the Beit Hamikdash and the lives of our brothers and sisters. With care and concern, we lay down warm bricks of love and comfort and build upwards and onwards.

Rabbanit Amit Yaghoubi
The Secret of the Worm

ודברת בם

And you shall speak of them… (Devarim 6:7)

Throughout the one hundred and fifty Psalms of Tehillim composed by Dovid Hamelech, one verse is particularly striking. Dovid, describing himself, states, “I am a worm and not a man” (Psalms 22:7). Why does Dovid Hamelech choose to depict himself out of all things as a worm?

Anyone who has ever observed a worm has come across the intriguing reality that it is capable of penetrating its way through soil. Digging to the most subterranean levels of earth, the worm slowly makes it way downward. Even the most dense and solid dirt presents no challenge to the worm. Yet wherein lays this unbelievable strength?

Chazal (Mechilta, Beshalach 2) teach that the power of the worm lies in its mouth. Digging little by little deep into the earth, it maneuvers its way underground not by means of its strong body, but its mouth. In describing himself as a worm, Dovid Hamelech means to illustrate the same idea. A human being’s greatest capacity is his power of speech. With it, he can connect to Hashem through prayer and Torah study and change the lives of others by offering uplifting and encouraging words. A person’s mouth does no less than effect changes on himself and the world in wondrous ways.

Dayan Yonasan Abraham
The Ferry Ride

וקשרתם לאות על ידך והיו לטטפת בין עיניך

Bind them as a sign upon your arm and let them be ornaments between your eyes (Devarim 6:8)

As I once stood in a small Beit Midrash in London, I soon found myself surrounded by a number of philanthropists, among them a man named Joe Orenstein. His father had been a Holocaust survivor who hailed originally from Opatow, an eminent Polish town. Having met much financial success, Joe was heavily involved in helping set up the London Jewish community and various chesed organizations.

It was one year during the month of August that he and his wife flew to New York to attend a wedding. Finding his table number and taking a seat, he was met by another gentleman sitting across from him. The man was dressed in Chassidish attire and appeared to be a distinguished individual. Striking up conversation with the man, Joe began to relate how he had recently moved from England to Israel and how a large part of his family now lived in Lakewood, New Jersey.

It was then the other gentleman’s turn to recount some of his past experiences and background. But there was one particular word which caught his attention when listening to Joe speak about his own life: England. Mentioning how years ago, he had also visited England, the man went on to tell Joe what exactly transpired on that one occasion:

“Thirty-five years ago, I took a trip to England. I was twenty-two years old at the time and didn’t have anything to do with Judaism. My father wasn’t Jewish and I had no connection to it either. After being in England for some while, I continued on to Amsterdam, and from there to Berlin and then Paris. From Paris, I eventually decided I would make my way over to London.

“To my luck, a rowdy group of fifteen-year-old boys sat alongside me on the train from Paris. Of course, I was somewhat older than they were and was unable to peacefully fall asleep listening to their noisy antics. But I managed to keep my cool. It was after this train ride that I needed to take one last ferry to my final destination. While I thought that I would now be able to enjoy a moment’s reprieve, I was mistaken. The same group of fifteen-year-old boys followed me onto the ferry. That was the last thing I wished would happen.

“But then, all of a sudden, they became quiet. Surprised and curious as to what happened, I looked up and noticed that they were taking out black boxes from their bags. I had no idea what they were doing. All I could think about was how it was quiet and that now I would finally be given a few moments to peacefully relax.

“But then, one of the boys walked over to me and began explaining what they were doing. Asking me if I was Jewish, I told him, “I’m sorry, but I am not. My dad is not Jewish.” “What about your mother?” he said. After replying in the affirmative, he reassured me that I was Jewish despite my father not being Jewish and my complete ignorance of Judaism. “Why don’t you try these on?” he told me.

“Touched by the boy’s genuine sincerity in coming over to me and taking interest in someone he never met before, I agreed to do so. And so, I began wrapping the black straps around my arm. It was the first time in my life that I put on Tefillin. The boy also proceeded to teach me the verse of Shema Yisrael and explain what it means.

“After this unexpected event, I was tremendously moved. While all I had wished to do was get off the ferry and move away from that group of noisy teenagers, in hindsight, that ride in the ferry changed my life forever. After looking further into Judaism, I eventually traveled to America and went on to learn little by little and become who I am today: a religious practicing Jew.”

After hearing this story, Joe Orenstein was certainly moved. But, rather quickly, Joe realized that this story was closer to his heart that he would have thought at first.

“Can I tell you something?” said Joe to the gentleman. “Do you know whose Tefillin those were who you put on thirty-five years ago? Mine. I was that boy who went over to you and helped you wrap Tefillin for the first time. And here we meet thirty-five years later. Pleasure to meet you again…”

Years later, the two neshamot which had connected decades earlier met again. While Joe Orenstein may have believed he was simply exposing a fellow Jew to the beauty of a mitzvah, little did he realize that he was planting a seed that would later flourish into a plentiful tree with abundant fruit. This man’s life and the lives of his children saw an entirely different destiny due to that one morning on the ferry. Never should we minimize even the smallest gesture of outreach to a fellow Jew. Its impact can last forever.

A Short Message From
Dr. Deb Hirschhorn

In one very interesting study conducted, researchers concluded that a contributing factor to the success of hospital patients recovering from an illness or surgery is the attitude of visitors. When families of patients would decry the decrepit state their loved one was in, and the degree of pain the patient was feeling was then measured, it always rose significantly. In contrast, when visitors would enter the room and positively say, “It’s a beautiful day outside!” the pain of the patients remained quite lower. The implications of this research speak for themselves. Positivity breeds positivity and leaves profound effects on our surroundings.

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