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TorahAnytimes Newsletter Ki Tetzei

Parshat Ki Tetzei

Compiled and Edited by Rubin Kolyakov


"The TorahAnyTimes" Newsletter    Print Version

Parashat Ki Teitzei
14th of Elul, 5776 | September 17, 2016

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik

Rabbi Zecharia Wallerstein
The Red Light

כי תדר נדר לד' אלקיך

When you make a vow to Hashem, your G-d… (Devarim 23:22)

When one of our beloved teachers at Ohr Naava was in seminary, she was invited out one Shabbat with a friend to a family living in Me’ah Shearim. Arriving there together as Shabbat was about to begin, they met the husband of the house, a sweet chassidish man. Wishing them a good Shabbat, the husband then continued on to shul for davening. A few minutes later, the wife of the house appeared. She looked American and was strangely dressed in a wedding gown. Unsure what to make of everything, the two girls quietly lit their candles and then waited for the wife to finish lighting her own candles.

And then they waited some more. And then some more. It appeared as if she was davening for everyone she knew. This one needed a refuah sheleimah, this one a child, this one a shidduch. The list went on and on and on. A number of minutes later, the wife removed her hands from her face and glowingly looked at her two special guests. Turning to the girls, she welcomed them and introduced herself as Miriam. And then she asked the question the girls were waiting to hear. “Do you want to know why I am wearing a wedding gown? Let me tell you my story:

I grew up in the south side of Chicago. As a young 9-year-old girl in fourth grade, my family was irreligious and far from any strong affiliation with Judaism. However, my parents still felt that I should be familiar with my Jewish heritage and know something about my roots. They therefore decided to send me to Hebrew school on Sundays. The school was staffed with religious teachers who, for the most part, emphasized Jewish history when teaching the classes. Yet in spite of everything else, one hard-and-fast rule the school stood by was that the religious teachers were not allowed to invite any students to their homes for Shabbat.

However, one particular teacher took a liking to me. Deeply wishing she could expose me to the beauty of Shabbat, she went on to call my parents. “Would it be okay if I invited Miriam to stay at my house for Shabbat? I would love to have her.” “Sure,” said my parents. And with that, my teacher invited me over despite knowing that she would likely be out of a job on Sunday for violating school regulations.

As I arrived at my teacher’s house Friday afternoon, I quickly settled in and got myself ready. With Shabbat just minutes away, I observed my teacher arrange the candles. I had never before seen Shabbat candles lit as my mother had never done so. Standing there amazed, I turned to my teacher and asked, “Can I also light candles?” “It’s okay, Miriam, I can light for you.” But I wanted to light candles myself. “I do not know if I will ever get another chance to light Shabbat candles,” I said. “Would it be okay if I do so myself?” With my teacher kindly granting me my request, she carefully prepared two little candles for me to light.

The rest of Shabbat was a beautiful experience. Immensely enjoying it, I went home afterwards uplifted and inspired. The next day, not wishing to hide any facts from the administration, my teacher informed them what she had done. And yet, to her surprising delight, she was not let go from her position. She was simply told not to do it again.

Years later…

I was by now attending public school with Hebrew school on the side. Finally, though, my parents decided to send me to a private Catholic school. Although I was not forced to pray with everyone else, I slowly began making non-Jewish friends and identifying myself more and more with my surroundings. By eleventh grade, I was no longer Miriam, but Mary. And by then, I was even praying with my friends. Sadly, I had become heavily identified with the Catholic way of life.

Matters didn’t improve. After graduating high school, I enrolled in a private Catholic college. And then life changed. I fell in love with Vinney and decided to get married. Setting the wedding date on Shabbat in a church with a priest, Vinney and I were soon to be husband and wife.

When the fateful day arrived, I entered the limo that was to take me and my bridesmaids to the church. While in the car, the bridesmaids had something to tell me. “We bought you a present; close your eyes.” Following instructions, I closed my eyes as my friends took out a necklace with a cross and placed it around my neck. When I moments later opened up my eyes and saw what they had given me, I graciously thanked them.

A few minutes later, we arrived at a red light. Standing at the corner were four girls from Brooklyn affiliated with JEP (Jewish Education Program). They looked lost and desperately in need for directions. Rolling down my window from the back seat, I called out, “Can I help you?” “Yes,” they said. “We are trying to find the Orthodox synagogue around here. Do you happen to know where it is?” “Sure I do. Hop in the limo and I’ll take you there.”

But then I realized the problem. These girls would be unable to come into the car considering it was Shabbat. And so, I quickly changed plans. “If you cannot do that, then just follow alongside the car and I will lead you to the synagogue.” As I was talking to them, though, one of the JEP girls noticed my necklace. It clearly was inconsistent with my familiarity of Judaism and synagogues. “How do you know anything about a synagogue?” the girl asked. “What do you mean?” I said, “I am Jewish!” Looking back at me and subtlety hinting to the cross hanging around my neck, the girl found it hard to believe. “I am really Jewish,” I repeated. “It’s just that I am now on my way to marry Vinney.” “Oh,” said the girl. “What’s your name?” “They call me Mary, but my name is really Miriam.” “Really?” said the JEP girl. “My name is also Miriam.”

With the limo proceeding ahead, the girls and I finally arrived at the shul. Now, the girls needed to figure out what to do with me. Time was of the essence. Without delay, Miriam, the JEP girl, turned to me and said, “Miriam, you know what? Why don’t you come inside the synagogue and get a blessing from the rabbi?” “A blessing from the rabbi?” I said. “Yeah, they are in the middle of Shabbat services. Come inside and you can ask the rabbi that he bless you to have a future successful marriage.”

After thinking for a second, I agreed. Looking back at my friends in the limo, I told them, “Just wait two minutes. I’m going inside and I’ll be right back.” And with that, I entered the shul together with Miriam. As we began heading towards the Ezrat Nashim, the women’s section in the shul, Miriam, the JEP girl, paused. Turning to me, she softly said, “I don’t think you should wear that cross around your neck in the synagogue. It might shock everyone.” Realizing that I was still wearing the necklace, I profusely apologized. I immediately slipped it off from around my neck and placed it on a nearby chair.

Upon entering the women’s section, everyone’s attention turned towards me. Here I was walking into shul on an ordinary Shabbat in Chicago wearing a wedding gown. They likely assumed that I was from out of town and had taken the term “Shabbat Kallah” quite literally. Sitting there was the Rebbetzin, the wife of the rabbi of the shul. Immediately seeing me, the Rebbetzin got up and gave me a big hug. “Welcome,” she said. “What’s going on?” She was clearly referring to my unexpected entry with a wedding gown. Shyly, I told the Rebbetzin, “I’m wearing this because I’m getting married to Vinney today.” “Is he Jewish?” she asked. “No,” I said. “And where are you getting married?” “In a church,” I replied.

Quickly catching on to my story, the Rebbetzin said, “We are almost finished praying. My husband is the rabbi of the synagogue. Wait here just a little while longer and perhaps he will give you a blessing.” And so, I stood there waiting. Of course, I later realized that the Rebbetzin and the other Miriam were well aware that the rabbi would certainly have something else in mind for me than a blessing to marry out of the faith. But, at the time, I just patiently stood there. While I could hear from a distance the sounds of my friends persistently beeping the horn and screaming, “Mary, where are you?” I ignored their yelling and remained standing in the shul.

A few minutes later, the rabbi walked in. Being told of my situation, he said, “Listen, I will not tell you if you should or should not marry Vinney. However, for your own sake, before you marry him, come and spend a Shabbat or two with us. Then, if you still want, you can marry him. But if you marry him right now, you will never again experience a Shabbat. Push off the wedding for a few weeks and look into Judaism a little bit.” Taking the rabbi’s words to heart and not wishing to make an impulsive decision which would throw away my Jewish heritage forever, I headed back outside.

There I saw my friends continuing to frustratingly beep and call for me. While I slowly walking up to the car, the girls only persisted to scream, “Where have you been?” Telling them what had occurred and informing them of my decision to call off the wedding, they were not surprised. “We knew it! We knew that the minute you started talking to those Jewish girls, that was the end of it. You Jews can never make up your mind!” Turning to the girl sitting in the front, I said, “Susie, for a long while, I suspected that you wanted to marry Vinney. Now you can do so. The hall is waiting for you and is already paid for.” Sorely aggravated by my antics, the girls drove away.

Now left alone before the shul, I stood in my wedding dress I had put on to marry Vinney. But now, that was all going to change. The rabbi took me into his house, taught me about my rich Jewish heritage and showed me the beauty of Shabbat and Yiddishkeit. Eventually, he raised enough money to send me to the Neve Seminary in Israel. Incredibly enough, I continued learning in seminary for not only one, but two years. After doing so, I became engaged to a wonderful chassidish boy. It was no longer “Vinney and Mary;” it was now me and my chassidish husband. And here I am today with a beautiful family living in Me’ah Shearim.

“Now,” concluded Miriam looking back at her two guests, “you might be able to understand why I am wearing a wedding gown. It is because I was rewarded on Shabbat. It all began with my teacher inviting me over as a little girl and allowing me to light the Shabbat candles. Shabbat saved my neshama. And because I found Hashem on Shabbat wearing this wedding dress, I made a neder (vow) that for the rest of my life, I would always light my Shabbat candles in this dress.”

Here is a story of a moment which all began at a red light. At a red light which lasts for seconds, a girl went from the lowest point to the highest point. We all experience sometime in our lives red lights. The only question is what will we do with them. For Miriam, she stopped at the red light and offered her help. She could have said, “I am sorry, but I am off to my wedding.” Had she done so, the light would have eventually turned green and Miriam’s life never would have been the same. Quite likely, she would have forever remained Mary. But she didn’t. She looked outside of herself and helped another. And little did Miriam know that the person she would be helping most was none other than herself.

Rabbi Mordechai Becher
The Moment of Truth

As I once entered a taxi in Israel, I requested of the driver to take me to a yeshiva called Mishkan HaTorah in Unsdorf. Turning to me, the driver said, “You study there?” “Yes, I do,” I replied. “Whose class do you attend?” Considering that he did not seem to be religious, I was surprised that he would be familiar with the names of the rabbis in the yeshiva. But I nevertheless answered his question. “Rabbi Moshe Shapiro.” “You should know,” said the taxi driver, “that because of him I keep Shabbat.” Intrigued by his response, I asked him to tell me his story.

“Not long after I moved into an apartment building on Rechov Uziel, Rav Shapiro also moved there. One morning at eight o’clock, I noticed him heading outside. Besides the fact that it was pouring rain, he looked very harried. And so, I figured I would help him and offer him a ride. “Rabbi,” I called out, “come into the taxi; I’ll take you where you need to go.” Happily accepting my invitation, he thanked me and sat down in the front seat.

“While I proceeded to take out the car key and put it into the ignition, Rav Shapiro placed his hand on my hand. I looked at him and he looked at me. And then he said, “Do you drive this taxi on Shabbat?” As he said those words, I was faced with a major dilemma. The truth was that I did drive on Shabbat, but I could not summon the audacity to look him straight in the face and say yes. On the other hand, I was not going to lie and say that I did not drive. And so, there I was. It was pouring rain outside, the key was in the ignition and I could not say yes and I could not say no. I was stuck.

“At that moment of truth, I summarily decided that I would no longer drive on Shabbat. And with that, I said, ‘No, I do not drive on Shabbat.’”

After the taxi driver finished this story, he looked at me and said, “Rabbi Becher, I did not lie because ever since then I have not once driven on Shabbat. My life from that point on drastically changed. The Shapiros invited me and my family to their home for Shabbat, and afterwards Rebbetzin Shapiro even arranged for my children to attend Jewish schools.

“Now you know,” the taxi driver concluded, “what I mean when I say, ‘I keep Shabbat because of Rav Moshe Shapiro.’”

In the words of Rabbi Becher, “There are two major components in bringing a Jew back to his or her roots. First and foremost, you must believe in them. He or she is Jewish and has a neshama. Secondly, no matter how far a person is from Yiddishkeit and no matter what they have done in the past, that does not take away from their pristine standing as a Jew one iota.” Every Jew is precious and welcome to return home. Our Father in Heaven is always waiting with open arms.

A Short Message From
Mrs. Chana Krasny

Every morning and evening as we recite Shema, we mention in the first paragraph of V’ahavta, “Let these matters [words of Torah] … be upon your heart.” Peculiar is the expression, “upon your heart.” Wouldn’t it be wiser to place words of Torah within our hearts? The answer is that the process of ingraining Torah within ourselves is one of osmosis. Even if we do not possess the motivation and feelings for learning and growing at the present moment, if we continuously push forwards in studying Torah, it will eventually seep in. It may be a lengthy process, but as we learn from the story of R’ Akiva who recognized tiny drops of water having eroded a stone after a long time, we can achieve similar results. If we persevere and simply place Torah upon our hearts, sooner than later, they will enter inside us and fill us with spirituality and connection with Hashem.

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