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TorahAnytimes Newsletter Ekev

Parshat Ekev

Compiled and Edited by Rubin Kolyakov


"The TorahAnyTimes" Newsletter    Print Version

Parashat Eikev
23rd of Av, 5776 | August 27, 2016

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik

Mrs. Orit Esther Riter
Meeting Leibel

ושמתם את דברי אלה על לבבכם ועל נפשכם

And you shall place these words of Mine upon your heart and soul (Devarim 11:18)

As Leibel, a man well into his years, entered inside a synagogue in Israel one Friday afternoon, he was met by a large crowd who began reciting the afternoon Mincha prayers. After concluding Mincha and Kabbalat Shabbat, the rabbi got up to speak. Focusing his attention on the rabbi and listening intently to his words, Leibel took a seat.

It was just a few minutes later that Leibel got up and quickly made his way to the bookshelf. Looking through the many books arranged on the shelves, after some time, he pulled out a Talmud Bavli, Tractate Yoma. Opening it up with enthusiasm, Leibel began reading the words on the page as tears fell down his cheeks.

When davening finally came to a close and the shul members courteously passed by the rabbi and wished him Shabbat Shalom, Leibel knew he had something to tell him. Approaching the rabbi, Leibel said, “I apologize if I interrupted your speech by abruptly getting up, but I could not restrain myself.” And with that, Leibel began detailing what had transpired during his youth:

“When I was a young boy sixty-five years ago, I lived in Communist Russia. Times were trying and restrictive, and teaching and learning Torah was not an easy endeavor. Nevertheless, I had a good teacher who used to teach my class the Talmud. As for myself, I was particularly bright and would consistently ask penetrating questions.

“One day, I asked my teacher a question. He began saying, “Leibel, that’s a great question!” and was just about to give me the answer when he was interrupted. The Secret Police came storming into the classroom and started taking my teacher away. Caught amid the frenzy, we were all unnerved and shocked. But my teacher did not forget about my question. “Leibel,” he yelled, “your answer is in Tractate Yoma, Daf (page) 42!” And then he disappeared.

“From that day on, I never again saw a Talmud. I went on to become a senior doctor and forgot my entire previous life as a Jew. I am not sure what brought me to this synagogue today, but obviously I had something I needed to find. In the middle of your speech, all of a sudden, I remembered the question I had years ago asked my teacher. As I began reminiscing of that event and the words my teacher told me, I couldn’t wait one more moment. I immediately headed for the bookshelf and opened to Tractate Yoma, Daf 42, to find the answer to my question.

“I then began perusing through the words on the page. When I finally pinpointed what my Rebbe was referring to, I was brought to tears. More important than simply finding the answer to my question, I realized that I had found my own Leibel. I found myself and understood that my true identity is a Torah Jew who shares a connection to Torah. I felt something special as I was looking at that page of the Talmud and I now know that this is where I belong.”

Whether we may consciously be aware or not, every single one of us shares a deep connection to Hashem and His Torah. Such a profound bond may sometimes take years to surface, but without question, we all have it deep within us. All that we must do is open our hearts to the Torah’s Divine wisdom and allow its beauty to touch our neshama.

Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller
Understanding Our Blessings

ואכלת ושבעת וברכת את ד׳ אלקיך

You will eat, be satisfied and bless Hashem, your G-d… (Devarim 8:10)

There are generally three different blessings recited after eating different foods, namely Birchat HaMazon (over bread), Al Hamichya/Ha’Gefen/Ha’Etz (respectively over grain products, wine and the Seven Fruits of Israel), and Borei Nefashot (over anything else). The longest of these blessings is that of Birchat HaMazon, followed by Al Hamichya and then Borei Nefashot. Not coincidentally, this order of length reflects the amount of human involvement expended in the process of making these foods. To make bread, a tremendous amount of human investment is applied. Making fruit, on the other hand, involves very little preparation. One simply plucks an apple off the tree.

It is for this reason that the after-blessings are as lengthy as they are. In the process of bread making, one could likely grow prideful and think, “This is my food and my creation.” To avoid this, a long thank you in the form of Birchat HaMazon is in place. We spend significant time and energy acknowledging that it was Hashem all along who was involved in bringing this bread to our table. In contrast, with regard to a cup of water or an apple where there is less human investment involved in the process, there is less concern that man will wrongly attribute the true source of the food to his own doings. On that account, the blessing for such products is shorter than with regard to Birchat HaMazon.

Rabbi Daniel Mechanic
They’re Here…

מה ד' אלקיך שאל מעמך

What does Hashem, your G-d, ask of you? (Devarim 10:12)

It was on that memorable day in Los Angeles when I met Larry David, producer of the renowned television series Seinfeld, that he asked me a glaring question which troubles the mind of many people in this day and age. After showing him various logical proofs to G-d’s existence and explaining how G-d gave us the Torah amid a mass revelation of three million people, Larry said, “Okay, I get that. But how do you know that He didn’t change His mind? Maybe, G-d later decided to switch and go with the Moslems or Christians?” When he asked me this question, I knew where to turn. I went on to tell him what happened one Shabbat morning in my community.

I live in Flatbush, New York, a neighborhood heavily populated by Orthodox Jews. A number of years ago, it was Shabbat morning at around 11:30 am, and a number of Christian missionaries descended on our neighborhood. It was just around the time when everyone was returning home from Shul. Assumingly, the missionaries figured that now would be the best time to “spread the message of the l-rd!” as they say. While most of the religious families on my block closed their doors as soon as they saw these people and refused to open their homes to hear about any nonsense, I had a different agenda in mind.

I quickly ran down to my basement and said, “Kinderlach (children), come upstairs quickly; the missionaries are here!” At the time, I had four children, all under ten years of age. Telling them to quietly sit on the couch and watch what Abba does, they all ran to take a seat and wait to be entertained by our special guests.

Walking back to the front door, I opened it and warmly said, “Sabbath Greetings! Come on in!” Not knowing what hit them, an African American couple stepped inside. I mentioned that I was a rabbi, getting them particularly excited. In their mind, they believed that if they would win me over to their side, they would be catching a “big fish.” Bringing them to my Shabbat table, I began pointing to the Challah and explaining the significance of why we have two of them and why we cover it as we make the blessing over wine. With the house smelling of chicken, cholent and kugel and the table beautifully set with our best dishes, this couple was certainly surprised by what they had walked into. When my wife finally walked into the dining room, I could tell what she was thinking by the look on her face, “Here we go again…” This wasn’t the first time I was doing this.

After some while, I turned to the man and woman and said, “So, what brings you here?” The woman simply sat there silently, but her husband had something to say. “Rabbi,” he said as he closed his eyes, “I come with a message of ‘Love and Salvation!’” And then he began his repertoire which he must have repeated dozens of times. Meanwhile, I could hear my kids giggling behind me. I didn’t want to create a chillul Hashem (desecration of G-d’s name), so I tried to motion to them to quiet down. But the man’s refrains for embracing Christianity and enjoying salvation just kept them laughing.

After he finished presenting his ideas, I said, “That is all very fascinating, sir. But, if you don’t mind me asking, what rational evidence do you have that Jesus is the Messiah? I am not looking for ‘I believe!’ I also can say ‘I believe!’ We all believe. But one of us is right and one of us is wrong. And since we are advancing opposite arguments, both of us cannot be correct. So what rational evidence do you have that your man is the Messiah?”

Without further delay, the man pulled out an English Bible from his pocket. “Rabbi,” he said, “it discusses here in Isaiah 53 about the suffering servant. It clearly is referring to Jesus.” He then went on to cite numerous other verses mentioning Jesus. All the while, I patiently listened to him, not saying a word. And then it was my turn.

“What you are saying, sir, is that two thousand years ago, G-d deliberately inserted certain words into the Bible as an allusion to all of humanity that this man is the Messiah?” He nodded his head. “Sir, the original is in Hebrew.” And then I began testing him. “Do you know what a kisei is? He just stared at me. What about a shulchan?” It was obvious that he didn’t know Hebrew, and so I called over my two little daughters, Tzippi and Channi, who were six and four years old. “Okay,” I said to them, “how do you say ‘Table’ in Hebrew?” In unison, they both said, “Shulchan.” “What about ‘Orange’?” “Tappuz.” And then I turned back around to the missionary.

“Sir,” I said, “I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but you are saying that your evidence for your religion is based on the translation of Hebrew words when you don’t even know Hebrew?” And with that, I politely showed them the door and bid them farewell.

A week later, I heard a knock on the door. It was 11:30 am. Looking through the peephole, I could tell who was pining to be allowed in. “Kinderlach!” I yelled, “they’re back!”

Calling my kids over, I told them to once again watch what Abba does. Opening the door, I knew immediately who they had sent me. It was the bubby missionary. A seventy-five-year-old lady with a little bag stood there. “Come in!” I said. Showing her to the table, she took a seat as I said, “I know why you’re here. The couple who was here last week told you about me.”

This time, I did not simply sit there and have her repeat her whole memorized presentation. Instead, I played a little game with her. “In Jewish families,” I said, “we have a custom of telling beautiful stories at our tables about morality and kindness. Right now, I was going to tell a story to my children. When I finish it, we can talk about religion.” Little did she know that the story was really meant for her more than anyone else.

It is a powerful story which counter-missionaries have come up with and I personally have used many times when dealing with others. I know of no less than fifteen “Jews for J” who are no longer involved in missionary groups because of this story. Some of them have gone on to even practice Judaism due to hearing this. While I presented this story to the lady using an Indian Chief as the main character, it works with a Rebbe just as well. It was this anecdote which I told this missionary woman, and which I subsequently related to Larry David too.

There was once a Chassidish Rebbe with 50,000 followers. Suddenly, however, the rabbi died. When that happened, even before finishing the week of shiva, his three sons broke out in an argument as to whom would become the next Rebbe. Building three Shuls, each one was confident that he would succeed his father’s coveted position. Amongst the chassidim themselves, the opinions ranged. Many chassidim felt that the oldest son should be the next Rebbe as he was the eldest. Others argued that although he may be the oldest, the second son was the wisest. And yet still, others were of the opinion that the youngest son was the most deserved as he was charismatic, warm and a passionate leader.

One day, the youngest son walked into the synagogue and gave a loud bang on the lectern. “No more fighting!” he yelled. “I have the answer who is going to be the next Rebbe. After I fell asleep last night, I had a dream. And in my dream, my father came to me and said, ‘My son, you’re the next Rebbe. Go tell everybody!’ And with that, the youngest son informed everyone of his newly assumed position.

After relating this anecdote to this missionary lady, I said, “Now you tell me, what could have the other two brothers told their younger brother that would logically disprove his argument?” I then sat there and waited for her to respond. Surprisingly, in fact, she came up with the answer herself after some time. “Well,” she said, “it would have been better if the father would have appeared in a dream to the other two brothers! If that would have been the case, the brothers would have jointly concluded that they had the same dream and that the third, youngest brother, is the rightful successor.”

She had hit the mark. By the father going to the younger brother, how could you know he was telling the truth? And even better than that, the father should have appeared in a dream to all 50,000 Chassidim. If the father wished to relay this news in the most effective way where no questions would arise, he should have appeared in a dream to every single one of the Chassidim! They all would have woken up in the morning and known who to instate as their next Rebbe.

And then I said, “Ma’am, I think you just disproved the main religions in the world and showed how Judaism is true.” “What do you mean?” she asked. “According to you, G-d should not have appeared to Jesus and said, ‘You’re the Messiah! Now go convince the rest of the world.’ Nor should G-d have appeared to Mohammad and said, ‘I have a secret to tell you. Here is the Koran. Go tell the whole world about it.’”

Does G-d act like that, or does He act as stated in the Torah? G-d gathered three million Jews to a mountain and said, “Anochi Hashem Elokecha” – “I am Hashem your G-d.” It is the only logical way G-d would have communicated with anybody.

Telling this to the woman, I think she understood the message. And so did Larry David. While she may have thought she was going to once and for all catch a “big fish,” little did she know that I had a nice, large net right at my side ready to catch her.

A Short Message From
Rabbi Noach Orlowek

I remember hearing from a friend of mine who teaches mountain climbing in Denver, Colorado a very important life principle. “It is not those who look towards the top of the mountain who succeed in making it there, but those who look at every little step they take along the way.” Those who value every small step of progress they make, whether it be in Torah study or life in general, will eventually meet great success.

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