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TorahAnytimes Newsletter Emor

Parshat Emor

Compiled and Edited by Rubin Kolyakov


"The TorahAnyTimes" Newsletter    Print Version

Parashat Emor
17th of Iyar, 5777 | May 13, 2017

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik

Mr. Nissim Black
From Seattle to Jerusalem

'ושמרתם מצותי ועשיתם אתם אני ד

And you shall observe My commandments and perform them; I am Hashem (Vayikra 22:31)

I grew up in Seattle, Washington and was exposed to a lot very early on. My surroundings were not the healthiest and most conducive to academic growth and excellence. And as it often happened, almost naturally, many children became a product of their unsafe and broken environment.

When I turned nine years old, my grandfather, a Sunni Muslim, came into the picture. He was the only one religious in my family, and was very influential in my life. He taught me how to pray, which I did with him five times a day, and exposed me to the Koran. Aside from that, I didn’t have any connection to religion at home. In 1997, my father ended up leaving my family, at which pointed I began searching. I wanted to find out what I was supposed to be doing in life.

I had always been passionate about music. In every way I could, I listened, learned and loved music. When I was around 13 years old, I was invited to a hip-hop program at a community center called the English Gospel Mission. At that point, I didn’t identify with any particular religion. If you would have asked me, I would have said that I am a Muslim, like my grandfather. But this center was a safe haven for me. It took me away from my environment and from all the dysfunction I knew about, and allowed me to be surrounded by very loving and supportive people.

The next I knew, I was asked if I would like to take part in their camp. Now, this camp was not just any camp; it was a Missionary camp. It didn’t take long for me to realize that I didn’t fit in. But it wasn’t so much about the camp as much as it was taking me away from my environment. And that was something it certainly provided. Hashem was working in mysterious ways to put me there.

Throughout the camp, many questions were thrown around. The purpose of life and what the afterlife is about were common topics discussed. They also had something called “Cabin Time,” during which we would get together with an older counselor and further break down and digest what we had heard and learned. The kids who participated during Cabin Time were inner city kids who came from the most broken situations and homes. For all of us to get together and speak built amazing comradery. It was the real first experience which helped put my guard down.

By the end of the camp, I was a so-called full-fledged born-again Christian. I was very devout and into Christianity for around eight months. When I returned home, I distanced myself from my friends and started getting involved in Bible studies. I couldn’t go to Church on Sunday, of course, because football was on Sundays. But slowly over time, I became a poster child for this community center and convinced nearly half of my high school to get involved in its clubs. I was pictured in all sorts of Christian magazines and served as a pillar of hope to my friends. Things were moving along pretty well in life. But then it hit me.

I remember it crystal clear. It was in tenth grade in high school when I one day walked through the gates and just felt out of place. I knew I didn’t belong. I felt something deep inside me that I knew no one else sensed, but I did. It was something separating me from everyone else. Of course, right afterwards, I ate a chicken nugget and that feeling went away, but I never forgot that experience. That was a turning point.

I continued moving along in school. I soon became the captain of the football team and devoted even more energy to remaining spiritually strong as a religious Christian. I tried getting just about my whole high school involved in these religious clubs, but I still met resistance. My friends would taunt me just to elicit an aggravated reaction from me. And they won a whole number of times.

When I entered my eleventh-grade year, things began to change. I started becoming less religious, and that was because I had been offered a half-million-dollar contract from a big record label named Virgin Records. I had a knack for rapping, but the label companies typically want you to throw in some profanity. And so, along with producing this edgier rap, I was getting connected to some big names. Yet, even after trying to get something going and even with all the time and effort I invested, nothing really worked out. But the deal I had made with Virgin Records picked up and we met some success. I also found myself on a few disc records and became the co-CEO of my independent record label. I started to put my music out, and things took off.

After my friend and I finished our first record, we headed out to see if we could receive some capital. As this occurred, we heard of another fellow who had made a record denigrating and demoting me in the hope that I would respond with a rap of my own. This back and forth would then become the talk of the city and would give him some fame. But, after giving some thought to it, we felt that producing another song attacking him was not something we wanted to do. And so, we decided we would outright confront him and try to put an end to his motives.

Locating his whereabouts one night, we approached him. Of course, an altercation ensued between me and this other fellow. The police got involved in the case and accused me of attempting to shoot the other man, but as it was clarified, it was my good friend who had acted in my defense and tried to take the other guy’s life. As it so happened, he missed the man and instead hit a pole.

The next thoughts which raced through my mind had me frightened for my life. Fighting is one thing, but once a gun is brought into the situation – even though here it was not directly me – it is a completely different picture. One person is going to remain standing and the other is not. For the first time in my life, I paced back and forth in my living room in tears thinking to myself, “If I don’t go and take this guy’s life, he will take mine.” I felt my life breaking down before me. This was not the type of person I was. “G-d,” I began saying, “what is going to be?” I couldn’t stop pacing back and forth worrying that the worst of the worst was up ahead. My phone kept on ringing, but I didn’t pick it up. All I could do was cry and ask G-d if there was a solution. Was I going to skip town? What would I do?

One day, my phone rang and I picked up. It was the other guy. And to my relief, he was just as afraid as I was. He also said that he thought that if he didn’t take action against me, I would against him. Thank G-d, Hashem allowed us to talk to one another and sort the situation out before it escalated any further. At this point, I started having major reconsiderations about the direction of my life.

I stopped answering my phone and taking calls from my friends. For hours on end, I would just sit and think. I kept on praying every day to G-d, and as the days went on, the conversations continued getting longer and longer. I started to ask questions and become inquisitive about G-d and religion. With these questions, other questions about Christianity began resurfacing which I had asked when I went to Bible study groups as a kid yet nobody could ever answer. Every day I would learn something new. I bought a Chumash and spent eight hours a day in front of my computer and books trying to find the truth.

Yet, I continued to feel broken. I was fasting for periods at a time and going outside speaking to Hashem from my heart for hours. With each passing day, I felt more in love with G-d because I was now discovering the truth. I kept on telling myself, “I am going to learn G-d brand new.” I began to learn through all of Tanach and open my eyes.

And then the day arrived. I sat across my wife on the couch and said, “I don’t want to celebrate X-Mas or Easter and be a Christian.” She was very shocked. She had sensed all along that something was going on, but she didn’t want to ask. She had grown up in a much stronger Christian home, and so I knew it would be much more difficult for her to give anything up. But I needed to tell her the truth. “Listen,” I said, “I am not pushing my beliefs on you, but this is how I feel deep down in my heart.”

To my surprise, my wife began studying on her own. “Let me see for myself just exactly what you are talking about.” One day, she finally approached me. “I feel like I have been lied to my entire life.” She was upset that she had never been exposed to the truth. “So what are we going to do?” she asked me. I myself wasn’t sure. All I could say was, “I don’t know, but it says that you are not allowed to work on the Sabbath. I think I won’t do the dishes on Saturday.” To me, that is what it meant not to work on Shabbat. I would refrain from taking out the garbage or washing the dishes. But I knew there had to be more to everything. And so, I began to search further.

At this point, my wife and I felt like we were on an island all by ourselves. We were not in touch with anyone and felt no sense of community. So we decided to reach out. After some research, I began to learn more about the Jews for J. Yet, after stepping in their church just once, I knew it was not for me. It seemed to be a stepping stone and one way of learning more about Jews, but I sensed that something was not right. And so, the search continued.

Until we finally found it. My brother and I went to a rabbi on the East Side and began exploring and learning about Orthodox Judaism. It resonated with us and we felt that we had struck a chord of truth. In fact, the more we became familiar with Orthodox Judaism, the less any aspect of Jews for J sounded sensible. And so, one day, my wife said to me, “I would like to undergo an Orthodox conversion.” As soon as I heard this, I grew flustered. I had grown up in a Jewish neighborhood where religious Jews were walking all around, but I thought they were all Amish. I wasn’t so sure if I was ready to jump into this so fast, despite my strong feelings for it. It seemed to be a difficult transition, especially given my unique appearance as an African American.

Yet one day, as I stood in standing in line at the grocery store, I heard a man call out ten feet behind me, “Shabbat Shalom, brother!” I turned around and saw an African American fellow with a kippa and tzitzit. His name, as I soon learned, was Yaakov and he had grown up a block away from my house as a kid. From that one encounter at the grocery store, we became very close friends as he would invite my wife and me to their home quite often. We then began receiving invitations from other friends and seeing that we could in fact integrate ourselves into the Orthodox community.

Wondering how we could distance ourselves from the Jews for J congregation, as both my wife and I were searching for the authentic way of serving G-d, we soon heard that a large conference was upcoming for all different affiliates of the Jewish world. Attending this conference would be a representative party of the Jews for J, and my wife and I were in fact chosen to be the ones. As we were informed that religious rabbis would be there who would look to convince us of the “real truths” of Judaism, we were prepped with various line with which to counter.

Yet, my wife and I decided to go for an entirely different reason, aware that we would slightly be sabotaging the reason the Jews for J sent us. We figured that here would be a perfect opportunity to speak to real Orthodox rabbis and in fact learn about the true view and life of Yiddishkeit. And that is exactly what we did. Our questions were answered and clarity was gained relating to a number of troublesome and conflicting issues we were having. It was an eye-opening and amazing experience.

It was from that day on that our true connection to Judaism and various rabbis began. I recall one of the rabbis telling me, “Your love for G-d reminds me of Ruth. Just like her, you have said, ‘Your G-d is my G-d and your people are my people.’” We never returned to the other Jews for J congregation, for my wife and I found our place comfortably situated amid the Orthodox community. And Baruch Hashem, around two-and-a-half years later, not only my wife and I converted, but so did my brother-in-law, who had been my best friend since kindergarten, and his wife. All four of us converted. It was a most beautiful journey.

Now, my family and I live in Jerusalem. And that is my story.

Rabbi Avi Matmon
A Good Day

As part of an industrial food factory, one man’s job was to overlook the ins and outs of the building. Yet, with one holiday weekend arriving and everyone rushing out from the office, the manager went into the big refrigerator to put something away. Considering that by now nearly everyone had left the building, the other manager of the plant locked the refrigerator door. Little was he aware that not just about everyone had left yet.

And so, as the manager tried to exit from the refrigerator, he was met with difficulty. The door was locked and wouldn’t budge. Banging on the door again and again and yelling for help, his cries were heard by no one except the walls. Cold and unsure what to do, he began to wait.

But there was still one person in the building: the doorman. With the job of making the final rounds around the building and ensuring that everything was safely put away, something disturbed him. He knew that the manager had not yet left. How so? Because every day the manager entered the building with a smile and said, “Good morning; have a good day,” and every afternoon he left with a smile and said, “Good afternoon; have a good rest of the day.” The doorman was still waiting for his afternoon goodbye.

Heading upstairs, he was met by an empty room. Going downstairs, he also saw no one. But then he thought about one last place to look: the refrigerator. “You never now,” he said to himself. Opening the door, sure enough, the doorman spotted the manager laying on the floor all frozen over. After rushing the manager to the hospital, he was administered various medical treatments and nursed back to full health.

Everyone is important and deserves to be respectfully acknowledged. Sometimes, all it takes is a short and sincere, “Good morning; have a good day.” That little smile and hello goes a long way; and at times, it can even save a life.

A Short Message From
Mrs. Feigy Lieberman

The Gemara (Yevamos 62b) tells us that a husband must love his wife as much as he loves himself, yet honor his wife more than he honors himself. Why in fact must our Sages tell us this? And if there is something to it, why don’t our Sages emphasize that we should love our brother and sister as well? Loving another is a tall order since most people are very close to themselves. Our ego tells us that we are number one. Moreover, a husband-wife relationship is not a natural relationship, as it the case with siblings, but one which spans huge distances and needs to be brought together through hard work. Brothers and sisters might not see each other for three or four years, yet they can still feel a deep connection the entire time since they share a natural relationship. A husband and wife, in contrast, do not share an innate, natural relationship, and must therefore exert much work and energy to create and maintain those feelings of love and care. It is on this account that it must be emphasized that a husband love his wife as much as he loves himself.

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