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TorahAnytimes Newsletter Bo

Parshat Bo

Compiled and Edited by Rubin Kolyakov


"The TorahAnyTimes" Newsletter    Print Edition

Parashat Bo
8th of Shevat, 5777 | February 4, 2017

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik

Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis
The Call of the Rooster

'ויאמר לכו עבדו את ד

And he said, “Go, serve Hashem…” (Shemot 10:24)

Around forty years ago, at a reception dinner for the Hineni organization, a lady came to see me. She was currently in her second marriage and had an important issue she wanted to discuss. “Rebbetzin,” she said, “I need your help. My teenage son is absolutely brilliant. He is in fact so brilliant that he obtained a position on Wall Street despite his young age. But his smarts got him into trouble when he managed to embezzle tremendous sums of money and was caught. Taken to court, the judge said that since he was a minor, he would release him through custody if an organization was willing to accept responsibility for him.”

And then the woman looked straight into my eyes. “Rebbetzin, would your organization be able to accept responsibility for my son?” Thinking about it for a moment, I knew that it would be an awesome challenge to do so. But then I realized that here was a yiddishe neshama which needed help. And so, I said to the mother, “Let me meet him.”

When the boy was later brought to see me, I looked at him and said, “My dear child, let me tell you something. If you will join our organization, you are going to learn a new way of life. You are going to pray regularly, and the first blessing you are going to say in the morning is, ‘Hanosein la’sechvi vinah – Blessed are You, G-d, Who grants wisdom to the rooster.’” Without a moment’s delay, the boy looked at me. “The rooster? You are thanking G-d for the rooster?” “Yes,” I said, “the wisdom of the rooster. I know what you are thinking. You believe that the rooster is this brainless creature G-d created. But let me tell you that you can learn three life lessons from the rooster. And if you always remember this, you will be set for life.

“First and foremost, as we say in the blessing, the rooster possesses the capability ‘Le’havchin bein yom u’vein laylah – To distinguish between day and night.’ The rooster can discern between light and darkness, between right and wrong and between truth and falsehood. A person can have the most gifted of minds, but such brilliance can be warped and misused. You can be the greatest physician or scientist and build gas chambers and crematoriums. It is only through the knowledge of G-d that a light is cast into the darkness and matters become clear.

“Secondly, the rooster crows every morning, rain or shine, summer or winter. The rooster is always in uniform even when it is not in the mood. The same is true of you. You are a Jew every single day of your life, in illness and health, in poverty and wealth, in Auschwitz and Jerusalem. Never forget who you are; you have a purpose and a mission as a Jew.

“And lastly, the rooster knows that no matter how dense the darkness is, morning will always come. There is always hope, irrespective of where you find yourself in life.”

And then I shared with him the following anecdote.

“When the Nazis ym”s arrived to deport my family along with many others, they knocked on our door and shouted that we have a few minutes to get out of the house. Anyone who resisted would be shot or beaten. While panic filled us all, my father’s mind was preoccupied with something very dear to his heart. He wished to smuggle out the tefillin of my great-great grandfather, the Menuchas Asher, and the manuscripts of Torah novella on multiple Talmudic tractates from my great-grandfathers, Rav Mordechai Bennet and the Be’er Yitzchak.

“But let me ask you,” I said to the boy, “what was my father thinking? Would those manuscripts be published in Auschwitz or Bergen-Belsen? Wouldn’t my father have been more prudent to smuggle out a can of sardines, a piece of jewelry or some money?

“But the rooster knows,” I continued telling this boy, “that no matter how dense the darkness is, morning will come. My father wasn’t the only one who thought this way. The Piacesner Rebbe, as well, while in the Warsaw Ghetto never put down his pen from continuing to write divrei Torah. When asked by his students, ‘What is the Rebbe doing? They will kill us all! For whom is the Rebbe writing this?’ The Piacesner Rebbe replied, ‘As long as I am alive, I have a mission to write Torah and teach Torah; the rest is up to G-d.’

“When the war came to a close, amid the rubbles of the ghetto where my family used to live, a Polish gentile boy found the manuscripts of my great-grandfathers. And what can I tell you? When an American soldier recognized the Hebrew writing, he said to himself, ‘My Jewish chaplain would be so happy to have this.’ And with that, he purchased the manuscripts off the little boy for a bar of chocolate. The rest is history. The manuscripts have been published and are now being studied in yeshivos all around the world.

“These are the messages the rooster sends with his crow,” I concluded telling the boy. “We must always look to discern between that which is right and wrong by consulting with our Torah leaders and Jewish law; be aware of our mission as Jews; and remember that no matter what life sends our way, we are an eternal nation who never gives in or gives up.”

The call of the rooster is a call to each of us. It calls us to stand up straight, peer into our lives and proudly march forward with a sense of purpose. Each and every morning, bright and early, the rooster reawakens us and reminds us of our purpose in life. All that is left for us is to answer its call.

Dr. David Pelcovitz
Your Uniqueness

ולכל בני ישראל היה אור במושבתם

But for all the Jewish people there was light in their dwellings (Shemot 10:23)

One of the most important global themes in the world of chinuch is the power of expectations to shape our children’s uniqueness. Although the nature of this impact is often invisible, it plays a key role in building a foundational and deep relationship with our children.

Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky zt”l once commented that parents are more than simply mechanchim, educators; they are mashpiim, influencers. The word mashpia stems from the root shipua, referring to an incline or slope. The function of a parent is quite the same. The subliminal messages transmitted to one’s children on a daily basis form expectations which they seek to live up to. Our expressed thoughts and actions are like an inclined slope, which mold the way our children act and react.

Along these lines, Dr. Daniel Kahneman in his bestseller work Thinking, Fast and Slow speaks of a concept called “priming.” In one research study, the audience was divided into different groups and given five random words to memorize. They were then asked to walk to the front of the room where they would be tested on how well they remembered the specific words. The words given to each group were kept entirely arbitrary except for one group which was given particular interrelated words focusing on getting older: Florida, wrinkled, shuffleboard, retirement and gray.

The results of numerous experiments, as corroborated by Dr. Kahneman, showed that the behavior of specifically the group given these five words was notably impacted. The time it took them to reach the other end of the room was twice as long as the other groups, in consonance with the connotation of the words they had in mind. Unconsciously, they were influenced by what they had thought about and internalized.

In examining this study, Dr. Kahneman pointed to the notion of thoughts affecting behavior. Translating this theme into the realm of parenting and education, it is clear that the impression we have upon our children – from the values conveyed to the ideals articulated – involuntarily shapes their thoughts, feelings and actions.

But let us go further.

In the early 1900s, word got out that on a farm in Germany there was a genius horse in arithmetic and mathematics. Colloquially named “Clever Hans,” the horse could be asked any arithmetic question and responsively tap out the answer. People were hailing from all around just to catch a glimpse of Clever Hans.
When psychologist Oskar Pfungst heard about Clever Hans, he was quite taken aback. “If Clever Hans is really such a genius as people make him out to be, we need to rethink our understanding of human intelligence,” he said. Making his way to the farm, he asked if he could test Clever Hans to determine what exactly made him tick.

And what did he discover? What was the secret of Clever Hans? Human signals. After carefully studying the horse’s behavior, Dr. Pfungst realized what it was. Clever Hans was not a genius at math, but a genius at reading reflexive cues. The instinctive body language of the trainer would give away what the answer was. In fact, when Dr. Pfungst used blinders to block the purview of Clever Hans, he became incapable of answering the questions correctly. But as long as Clever Hans could see, when an involuntary look of expectancy would break out in the eyes of the trainer, he took the signal that it was time to stop tapping. Unbeknownst to the trainer, with the onset of his pupils dilating, breathing varying and posture changing, Clever Hans knew he had tapped enough and finally reached the correct answer. It was this that Clever Hans was a genius at.

In parenting, teaching and community leadership, the same is true. When looking to bring out the uniqueness of another, especially our children, we must first and foremost realize our role in identifying their unique spark. In the words of Rav Nachman of Breslov, each child has their own special “niggun,” tune. Every Jewish soul has a unique song which produces a beautiful melody blended by personality, strengths and potential. It is the role of a Jewish teacher, leader and parent to identify the notes which bring about this melody and encourage their expression.

But how exactly can we accomplish this? What is the formula to engendering this motivation and drive within ourselves, our children and our community to reach their goals and achieve their aspirations?

Perhaps even before we teach our children the Aleph Beis, there is something else we teach them. And that is Modeh Ani. Together with our children each morning, we inculcate the recognition that we have been granted the precious gift of life for another day. Yet what exactly do we say?

“I give thanks before You…for You have returned my soul within me with compassion – great is Your faithfulness!” It is within these last words that one of the most encouraging and uplifting messages is conveyed. Each and every morning, explains Rav Tzadok of Lublin, Hashem returns our neshama to us. Yet He does not merely revive our soul within our body. He tells us something as well. “I have faith in you,” Hashem says. “You are so precious and so valuable. I believe in you.” The last words of Modeh Ani – “Great is Your faithfulness” – refers to Hashem’s faith in us that we can achieve, we can reach our potential and we can develop into that great person we truly can become. Hashem has faith in each and every one of us.

This is something we must realize and internalize. As Rav Tzadok beautifully articulates, “Just as we must believe in Hashem, we must believe in ourselves.”

Now, let me tell you a story.

Years ago, I gave a lecture focusing upon various psychological insights into dealing with challenges and stress. Interwoven within the talk, I briefly spoke about the unwavering dedication of the Piacesner Rebbe during the war to the study of Torah and his students. After I finished speaking, a man came over to me with tears in his eyes. “Doctor,” he said, “allow me to explain why I became so emotional as you spoke. It wasn’t so much what you said about the Piacesner Rebbe, but rather what he personally means to me.” And with that, the man went on to explain.

“The only reason I am here is because of the Rebbe. During those horrible war years, my father was thirteen years old studying in the yeshiva of the Piacesner Rebbe in Warsaw. My father was lonely, homesick and unsettled. One night, he fell asleep next to a window, allowing a cold draft to make its way in.

“At three o’clock in the morning, my father opened his eyes only to see the Piacesner Rebbe gently approach his cot and move him away from the chill to the middle of the room. The Rebbe then tucked my father in again and tiptoed away.

“Such was the care of the Piacesner Rebbe for my father. He viewed him as his own child and extended himself with the greatest love and warmth. But that is not the end of the story.
“Two years later, on the fateful day the Piacesner Rebbe and his students were taken to meet their end, my father, now a fifteen-year-old boy, stood in the selection line. And he knew what that meant. He was puny and malnourished and would almost certainly be sent to his demise. And that would be the end.

“But just as they were about to direct him to the gas chambers, an SS guard ran out and began loudly announcing, ‘Carpenters, carpenters, I need carpenters! Could anyone volunteer?’ My father thought to himself, ‘I am a klutzy young boy who can barely hammer a nail into a piece of wood. They will discover that I am unskilled and take my life. Forget it.’ So he decided he would not say anything.

“But then, almost involuntarily, an image flashed through his mind of two years earlier. He remembered the Rebbe so gently and lovingly moving him away from the cold and tucking him in. And then he thought to himself, ‘I am somebody! I am worth something! I am not just here one day and gone the next. The Rebbe cared enough about me to tuck me in…” And so, my father raised his hand.

“The SS guard selected my father to be a carpenter and his fellow Jews protected him. They taught him the trade and he survived.”

And with that, the man concluded telling me about his father. “Many times during those horrible years, my father was on the verge of despair. But, just as he was about to give up, the image of the loving tuck of the Piacesner Rebbe came forward to save him.”

We must believe in ourselves, our children, our students and our fellow Jews. We may not always fully appreciate it, but we convey our belief in what our children can do through the invisible lessons of how we look at them, listen to them and relate to them. As parents, educators and mentors, we hold the capability of lifting them up by providing loving guidance, encouragement and support and steering them towards an accomplished life, full of meaning and self-esteem. And just sometimes, we can breathe new life into them through one little action we may have thought so little about: tucking them in. That small, loving gesture may go far beyond our greatest expectations. We can never know, but just sometimes, it may in fact save their lives.

A Short Message From
Mrs. Bobbee Feiner

Chazal state that when Moshe Rabbeinu asked Hashem, “Show me Your glory” (Shemos 33:18), he was in fact asking Hashem to explain why bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people. What was Hashem’s response? “You will see My back, but My face you will not see.” What did Hashem mean by this answer? I heard my son, Rabbi Eytan, explain this along the lines of Chazal (Berachos 6a) who tell us that Hashem, so to speak, wears tefillin. Hashem meant to tell Moshe that in this world, one will not be able to comprehend the reasons for everything that occurs. It is similar to looking at the back knot of the tefillin, whose straps are intertwined. There is a lack of clarity. It is only when looking at the front of a person that the distinct tefillin straps are clearly discernable. Likewise, probing questions such as these will only be fully understood in the Next World, where we can see Hashem’s presence clearly.

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