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TorahAnytimes Newsletter Special Shavuot Edition

Parshat Special Shavuot Edition

Compiled and Edited by Rubin Kolyakov

TAT Shavuos 2

“The TorahAnyTimes” Newsletter   Print Version

Special Shavuot Edition
6th of Sivan, 5776 | June 12, 2016

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik

Rabbi Daniel Mechanic
Meeting Larry David

In 1998, I was invited through Aish HaTorah to UCLA by Jason Alexander. Playing the role character of George in the highly acclaimed television series Seinfeld, Jason Alexander asked me and my colleagues to present a seminar from 9:30 in the morning until 7:30 at night demonstrating the truth of Torah. Before a gathered audience of seven hundred and fifty Jews from all walks of life, we presented an enthralling all-day class.

Three weeks later, as I relaxingly sat down in my office reading the Jewish Press and eating a danish, my secretary mentioned to me that someone from California was on the phone. Thinking to myself, “California? California? Who could be calling from California?” my secretary finally told me. “His name is Larry David.” Hearing that Larry David, the producer of Seinfeld, was calling me, my heart began to race. I knew that he was well-recognized in the film industry. According to Forbes Magazine, he has made over two million dollars just off reruns of Seinfeld at 2 am. And so, I quickly finished off my danish and picked up the phone.

“Larry, how are you?” I said. “Rabbi, let me tell you something before I begin. I don’t like rabbis.” That was my first introduction to Larry David and how our relationship began. “I want to tell you that although I am Jewish, I have never done a single Jewish thing in my life. I never had a bar mitzvah and have never been inside a synagogue. The only Jewish thing I ever did was marry a Jewish woman. And even that was an accident. In any event, I have some serious questions about Judaism, but since I don’t like rabbis, I have never gotten them answered. But after attending the Jason Alexander seminar and hearing you and your friend speak, I decided that I would like to speak to you. So, tell me, when you are going to be in California next?”

Hearing what Larry had to say, I immediately replied, “You know what? That’s unbelievable; I happen to be coming tomorrow.” The moment I hung up the phone, I spared no time in contacting my travel agent and booking a ticket to LA.

Arriving in LA on a Thursday, I rented an old jalopy car and planned on meeting Larry David at the Pat’s Restaurant on Pico Boulevard. Waiting for Larry outside, he eventually pulled up in his limousine with two bodyguards. We exchanged a cordial greeting and then entered inside. As we walked through the door, within seconds, nearly one hundred and fifty religious Jews with forks in hand froze in midair. And then they stared. Not at me, but at Larry David.

Walking to the back corner of the restaurant, away from the purview of everyone, we took a seat. I remember thinking how I could not believe I was actually sitting where I was. I used to be just a normal yeshiva boy. “Rabbi,” he said, “feel free to order whatever you like.” I began thinking that maybe I should ask him to buy the restaurant. After all, it was probably only five Seinfeld reruns. And so, we ordered our steak and the moment of truth arrived.

I figured that he would start asking me about my life. But he got straight to the point. “How do you know G-d exists?” I looked at him and said, “Larry, how do you know G-d does not exist?” As I said that, he looked at me with utter disdain. I knew what he must be thinking. “I brought you all the way from Brooklyn to ask you a question and you act like a Jew and answer me with a question?” “Rabbi,” he repeated, “how do you know G-d exists?” And so, I imitated him and repeated myself too. “Larry, how do you know G-d does not exist?” And then I stared at him. “So you see Larry,” I went on to say, “we have a problem. You believe G-d does not exist and I say He does. Guess what Larry? One of us is right and one of us is wrong. There is no third possibility. And you know when we are we going to know who is right for sure? The second we die. Either I am right that G-d exists and we will live on for eternity, or you are right and when we die, there is nothing left.”

I had Larry in a trance. He was listening so carefully and intently that he did not even take his fingers out from where he had stuck his napkin in his shirt. Then I went for the kill.

“Larry,” I said, “let’s look at the consequences of who is right and who is wrong. If I turn out to be wrong along with all the Jews who keep the Torah, honestly tell me, what did I lose out in life? So I didn’t do a few sins? Meanwhile, I lived a whole life thinking I was right, helping people, giving tzedakah, enjoying the bliss of Shabbat and holidays. What a life of meaning, pleasure and purpose. What did I lose out on? But Larry, what will happen if the second you die, G-d appears on the scene. What are you gong to say for eternity? Oops! Just think about it. If you’re wrong, the consequences are catastrophic. You missed out on the purpose of life and the greatest relationship you can have with G-d.” And then I concluded, “Considering that the repercussions of making a mistake in this area are so great, you better do your research.”

And then I pulled out a book – Permission to Believe by Rabbi Lawrence Kelemen – and handed it to him. Giving him a total of around five books to read, I put him up to the challenge. “Larry, if you can disprove everything in these books, I will take off my yarmulke. But you won’t be able to because G-d exists and I can prove it to you.”

I continued to show him different pieces of evidence for the existence of G-d. And then he asked me a very important question. How do we know that the Torah is true? What I went on to tell him is the most important piece of information every Jew should know. It is the foundation of Judaism.

“Larry,” I said, “let me tell you a true story that happened to me. There was a course given in Princeton called Comparative Religion. Thoroughly researching and comparing various religions, the objective was to come out with a clear categorization of a number of religions while examining similarities and differences between them all.

The professor of this class was a sixty-year-old man with a PhD in theology and in philosophy. Making a handsome salary of $150,000 a year, the five religions his class was researching were: Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hare Krishna and Mormonism. Of the fifty students in his class, forty-nine were gentiles and one was Jewish. His name was Steve. The non-Jews consisted of all types of ethnic races – African Americans, American Indians, Koreans, Japanese, Chinese. And then there was Steve.

Three weeks before the end of the semester, the professor came up with a brilliant idea. He would invite a representative of each religion to prove to the class that their religion is the true one and the other four are false. After the representatives from the other four religions presented their ideas from Monday through Thursday, I went last on Friday.

As I walked into the room, I could tell that the students were jaded. After all, for the past four days, they had listened to four long presentations about the religions they had studied. But I got straight to work. Not even introducing myself, I immediately turned to the large class and said, “Tell me something, the other four speakers that came here this week, how did they describe to you the founding moment of their religion?” A Korean boy raised his hand. “They all began with one man.” That was the correct answer and what I was looking for. The entire religion of Christianity, Islam, Hare Krishna and Mormonism is predicated upon the dream and vision of one man. And one man only. “G-d spoke to me!” so they claim. But no one else saw anything.

After the Korean boy had given this answer, another boy yelled out, “Yeah Rabbi, that’s why religion makes no sense. It teaches you that if you don’t believe in ‘my’ man, we will ransack your city and start a pogrom.” Another girl then raised her hand. “Rabbi, every religion thinks that ‘their man’ is the man. But not every man can be ‘the man.’” I had now positioned the class exactly where I wanted them.

“Let me tell you something,” I said to the audience. “Every single religion in the history of mankind, of which there have been approximately 15,000, begins the same way, “The L-rd spoke to me!” There were no other witnesses though. At this point, my heart was beating really fast. I could have said, “And what about Judaism?” but I wanted to have some fun with the professor, who was sitting in the classroom and observing me. Instead of therefore asking what they learned about Judaism, I framed the question by saying, “And what did your professor teach you about Judaism?”

A nineteen-year-old Chinese girl raised her hand. “Well, the professor taught us that the L-rd gave the Bible to Moses.” That was my cue. “Okay,” I said, “let me get this straight. You mean that you learned in Princeton that Judaism is just like all other religions in the world where Moses claimed that G-d gave him a book. Right?” Everyone nodded their head.

Having brought along with me an overhead projector with a slide show, I proceeded to show them at least fifty Pesukim in the Torah. With the Hebrew text and English translation underneath, for seven or eight minutes, I just read them verse after verse. Every Pasuk pointed to the same idea. Maamad Har Sinai was a national revelation where G-d spoke to the entire Jewish nation consisting of three million people. Nowhere throughout the Koran or New Testament is this found. Only the Jews claim to a national revelation of such proportion. I didn’t look at the professor because he was probably turning thirty different colors.

As I showed them these verses to their utter astonishment, the Chinese girl immediately stood up. “Hold on a minute!” she yelled. “Are you saying that according to Judaism, G-d introduced His Bible to a bunch of people?” I walked over to her and said, “I would not say a ‘bunch;’ it was three million men, women and children.”

“You know what this Chinese girl said to me?” I said as I looked straight at Larry David. It was a moment I will never forget for the rest of my life. She said, “Rabbi, does the world know about this?” “No, they don’t,” I told her. “Millions of people have seen the movie The Ten Commandments produced by Cecil B. Demille portraying G-d as giving the Torah only to Moses. But that is a mistake. G-d spoke to three million Jews and gave us all the Torah loud and clear.”

This is the first idea I presented to the students at Princeton. Every religion in the world begins where one person makes a claim. But such a premise is fatally flawed because there are no witnesses to substantiate that claim. We are the only religion in the history of mankind which believes that G-d spoke to an entire nation.

Five years after this talk, I learned that Steve, the one Jewish boy in the Princeton class, no longer goes by Steve. His new name is Shalom. He went on to learn in a yeshiva in Israel and turn his life around. Keeping Torah and mitzvot as an Orthodox Jew, I can honestly say that something in that talk got him going.

As I laid these facts down before Larry David, he didn’t know what hit him. Now he finally understood why he had brought me to LA all the way from Brooklyn.

Rabbi Lazer Brody
Triumph Over Tragedy

On a recent flight I took with Dr. Zev Ballen from Chicago to LA, I discussed with him the following case and asked for his opinion on the matter.

Living in New York was a wonderful family with an illustrious ancestry. Having five sons, as the wife began expecting a sixth, her husband grew suspicious. Denying the paternity of the child, from the day he was born, the father did everything possible to make the boy’s life miserable.

The family lived in a nice neighborhood, although the father did not want to send the boy to the local cheder. He instead made him take a bus to an out-of-town school all by himself. Confronted on a number of occasions by bullies, the frightened five-year-old boy continued making the daily trek to school. Although the father did not wish to leave his wife and family altogether, he set his eyes on ruining the life of this boy.

For years, the same type of lifestyle continued. One day, when the boy was twelve years old, he was confronted by a group of bullies. Unnerved, the head bully walked over to him and threatened that if he would not hand over his money, he would suffer grave consequences. Instead of simply giving in, however, the child did something surprising. Although no one else was aware, the boy had grown street-smart over the past number of years. Having been exposed to life on the street, he learned how to stand up for himself and face unwelcoming surprises.

Pulling out a stiletto, he firmly told the man that if he would come any nearer he would be sorry. Adding that the police would be inclined to favor his argument as a young boy as opposed to a suspicious-looking robber, the man turned around in a heartbeat. But matters did not improve. Continuing to live this way, the father’s death wish for his purported illegitimate son only persisted. Showering his five other sons with all their needs and wishes, the boy was not only underprivileged; he was rejected altogether.

Amazingly, though, the boy developed into the best student in yeshiva and earned the admiration of his peers. Athletic, studious and mentally gifted, he was a wonderful boy despite his life’s experiences.

When he turned eighteen, he looked to get married. His father, however, was not interested in marrying him off in the least. He was not willing to give him a single cent.

His Rosh Yeshiva, however, had been keeping his eyes on him. Consulting with his Rebbe if this boy would make a suitable shidduch for his daughter, he was told that he most certainly would. When the boy’s family heard that such an offer had been presented, they could not resist. Although his father refused to financially assist in the wedding expenses whatsoever, the Rosh Yeshiva agreed to take care of it all. Not too long afterwards, the boy got married.

Enrolling in his father-in-law’s kollel, he earned a sterling reputation. Once a week, his father-in-law used to deliver a lecture to the entire yeshiva relating to the particular piece of Gemara being studied. And without fail, this young man would always have rebuttals for his father-in-law’s questions and answers. This did not bode too well for him though. And not before long, his father-in-law actually grew to dislike him. Now he had a father and father-in-law who hated him.

But it didn’t end there. With such feelings filtering down, the young man’s own wife soon began despising him as well. His father-in-law proceeded to throw him out of the kollel and force his daughter to divorce him. Now, he was back on his own.

But he didn’t break. He single-handedly married himself off without any support from his father and entered into another kollel. Being blessed with two sons, by now, he had grown into a considerable talmid chacham and received rabbinic ordination. Deciding to open his own yeshiva, he began to rebuild himself and inspire the lives of many students. Hiring his best childhood friend from yeshiva to help administrate the registration, students and funding, the yeshiva began to flourish. With the man dedicatedly serving as its Rosh Yeshiva and his friend caring for the physical needs of the boys, the yeshiva prospered beyond all expectation.

But then, one day, the administrator financially undercut the man and undermined his leading position as Rosh Yeshiva. Now he was, once again, on the streets.

But he didn’t despair. He moved to a different neighborhood and began a new yeshiva. Meeting success for more than twenty years, his two sons meanwhile got married and earned their own rabbinic certification. Working under their father for some time, finally, the day arrived when they felt it was enough. “We do not need the old generation,” they said, “we are talmidei chachamim in our own right.” If it was not enough that his father disenfranchised him and his father-in-law disenfranchised him, now his two sons did the same. They ousted their own father from the yeshiva.

He is now out on the street again.

After relating this all to Dr. Zev, I asked him what he thought should be the result of this man. “Well,” he said, “there is no doubt that he is a psychopath, a sociopath, dysfunctional and addicted. He is undoubtedly in the gutters. Who can withstand something like this?”

And then I revealed to Dr. Zev who this person was. This person wrote a poem. In fact, he wrote a whole book of poems. And this book of poems is the greatest bestseller in history.

It is called Tehillim. And that Rosh Yeshiva is Dovid Hamelech.

When Dovid Hamelech was born, his father thought he was illegitimate and sent him out to the field to be killed. Dovid proceeded to ward off a bear and lion (Shmuel I 17:34-36). And if that wasn’t enough, he was given a present in the form of a confrontation with Goliath. Goliath said, “I am going to wipe you off the face of the earth!” But Dovid Hamelech said, “No you are not; Hashem is at my side.”

But it didn’t end there. King Shaul took him as a son-in-law and tried to kill him. And Dovid’s wife, Michal, as well disparaged him. He had his kingdom and closest advisor, Achitofel, try to overthrow him. And his own two sons, Adoniyahu and Avshalom, mounted a rebellion against him and sought to overthrow him. What more could there be?

Dovid was kicked out of Jerusalem, only to later find refuge in Machanaim where Barzillai Ha’Giladi warmly accepted him in and provided him a safe haven. It was then that Hashem finally pitied Dovid and looked to bring him back to his old kingdom. On his return to Jerusalem, Dovid requested that Barzillai accompany him and receive special royal treatment in lieu of his benevolence in providing for Dovid earlier. However, Barzillai was already an elderly eighty-year-old man at the time and preferred that Dovid offer such preferential treatment to his son, Chimham, instead (Shmuel II 19:32-41).

While Dovid Hamelech may have provided Barzillai’s son with the most delicious food and comfortable amenities, Dovid’s own life had never been quite as exquisite. Sitting in exile, Dovid said of himself, “For me my tears were sustenance day and night…” (Tehillim 42:4). Just imagine what David Hamelech ate for breakfast and dinner while banished from Jerusalem? He would fill a cup with tears and drink it as he nibbled on a meager meal of parched bread.

But Dovid Hamelech did not become a psychopath, a sociopath or an addict. He wrote a masterpiece called Sefer Tehillim. And in Psalm 100, he exclaimed, “A song of thanks! Let the entire earth call out to Hashem. Serve Hashem with joy!” Despite being chased out of Jerusalem by his own son, Avshalom, he recited a song of thanks to Hashem. Dovid was not a social misfit and not someone who gave up on life; he was someone who lived a life full of gratitude and joy. He was someone who overcame the hardest of challenges and triumphed over tragedy. This is Dovid Hamelech. This is the forebear of Mashiach.

Every human being undergoes ups and downs through life. For some, they may pass easily and last only a short while. For others, they may be quite trying and endure for what seems to be forever. Yet, Dovid Hamelech was one individual whose entire life from beginning to end was fraught with challenges. And despite it all, he never gave up. He persevered and weathered the tumultuous storms that confronted him. And that was because he realized that no matter what life presents to a person, deep within the human spirit lies the resilient conviction to prevail. It is precisely those painful, dejected moments of our life that pave the way to our greatest triumph.

Mrs. Esther Wein
A Failed Plan?

As we know, Shavuot commemorates the momentous day of the Giving of the Torah. Forty days after Hashem revealed Himself and directly communicated with us at Har Sinai, Moshe Rabbeinu returned with the Luchot and the entire Torah ready to be taught to Klal Yisrael. But then tragedy struck. Seeing the Jewish people worshipping the Golden Calf, Moshe smashed the Luchot.

When we view Mattan Torah in this light, the entire Yom Tov of Shavuot becomes perplexing. Are we celebrating a failed plan? What we received from Hashem on Har Sinai with the first set of Luchot seemingly did not remain with us for the long term. Moshe on a later ascent to Har Sinai would go on to carve out a new set of Luchot. It thus seems odd that we would be memorializing something which never actually reached its intended goal?

Obviously, though, this cannot be the case. There must be more to the story. What then actually happened that we are commemorating?

In truth, what happened at Har Sinai was something so extraordinary that it transformed us as a nation forever. Hashem gave us His Torah.

Imagine a professor of literature gets up one day to deliver his lecture and says, “My interpretation of what the author meant in this book is such-and-such. This is obviously the case because of this and that. If you examine this verse and that chapter, you will see that there is irrefutable evidence.”

Presenting a cogent argument, the professor convinces the class into believing his theory. But then someone stands up in the audience and says, “Oh, by the way, I’m the author of the book and I didn’t mean that at all.” But the lecturer isn’t bothered at all. “That’s okay,” he says. “Your opinion is irrelevant because what matters is my interpretation.”

When we say that Hashem gave us His Torah, what we mean is that it is ours to interpret according to the basic hermeneutical and Masoretic rules handed down to us. How to prove certain laws and how to analyze the Torah is in our jurisdiction. Once our Sages analyze and interpret it, it is binding law even if a Heavenly voice says otherwise.

This idea is clearly brought to light from the following Talmudic passage (Bava Metzia 59b):

On that day, the Sages disputed with R’ Eliezer regarding the ritual impurity of a ‘Stove of Achnai.’ While R’ Eliezer adduced all the proof he could to his ruling that it was pure, none of the Sages accepted his argument. R’ Eliezer said to them, “If the law follows my opinion, let this carob tree prove it.” Whereupon, the carob tree uprooted itself and moved one hundred amot (cubits), and some say four hundred amot. Unconvinced, the Sages said to him, “You cannot bring a proof from a carob tree.” R’ Eliezer then said, “If the law is in accordance with my opinion, let the water of this canal prove it. Immediately, the water of the canal flowed backwards. “You cannot deduce proof from a water canal,” replied the Sages. R’ Eliezer said, “If the law follows my view, let the walls of this study hall prove it.” As soon as he said this, the walls of the Beit Midrash began to lean over. Immediately, R’ Yehoshua rebuked the walls for involving themselves in a dispute between the Torah scholars. In deference to R’ Yehoshua, the walls did not fall; however, they remained partially leaning in respect to R’ Eliezer.

R’ Eliezer then said, “If the law accords with my opinion, let heaven prove it. A Heavenly voice then proclaimed, “Why do you argue with R’ Eliezer whose opinion is followed in all places?” But R’ Yehoshua stood up and said, “Torah is not in heaven! The Torah is ours. A Heavenly voice has no bearing on how we rule here on earth.”

The expression “Torah lo ba’shamyim hi” –“Torah is not in heaven” is a reflection of the conferred authority we have over determining what stands as practiced halacha. The Giving of the Torah was much more than a mere transference of a book to be abided by. It was an empowerment of the Jewish people to create reality. Without overstepping our boundaries and infringing on any mitzvah whatsoever, the determination of how to expound and explicate Biblical passages was placed into our hands. The Torah was transplanted from heaven to earth forever. The Torah became ours at Mattan Torah to learn and live by, something which is ultimately meant to bring the world to its perfected state of recognizing G-d.

However, when giving us His Torah, Hashem wished to sear into our psyche the life-changing experience we were undergoing and concretize it for all of eternity. Although the Luchot we were given then would later be replaced, the historic experience of Mattan Torah would forever last. Its impression became part of our essential genetic makeup and would forever remain with us. In that extraordinary moment of revelation, we were eternally elevated and transformed.

Imagine a baby during its infantile stages. Ensconced within its mother womb, its very life force is a byproduct of its mother. It feels safe and entirely cared for. As the baby is later born and cuddled and caressed, it continues to build a life tied to its mother.

But such an idyllic life will not last forever. The child will eventually breakaway. But the impression of what life was like during those years will forever remain with the child. That initial surge of warmth and love creates the closest of connections between parent and child for eternity.

Mattan Torah was the same way. Although Klal Yisrael later slipped and went onto receive a second set of Luchot, the seminal event of Har Sinai forever imprinted into our essence an experience of G-d that no other event in history has matched. It is part and parcel of who we are as a nation. Embracing Hashem’s Torah and having it become ours was what we achieved on this wondrous day. That will never, ever be forgotten.

Rabbi Dovid Orlofsky
The Blank Check

In 2002, Howard Schultz, chairman and CEO of Starbucks, visited Israel. Together with a number of other prominent businessmen, he was privileged to hold a private audience with Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel zt”l, the late Mir Rosh Yeshiva. Not knowing anything at the time about Rav Nosson Tzvi, the group was nevertheless ushered into his study and sat down. And then they waited.

When the doors opened fifteen minutes later, in walked Rav Nosson Tzvi. Shocked to see that he suffered from Parkinson’s disease, the men found it difficult to stare at the Rosh Yeshiva. But then they heard a bang on the table. “Gentlemen, look at me, and look at me right now,” firmly said Rav Nosson Tzvi. “I know I only have a few minutes with you because you’re all busy American businessmen.”

As they sat there mesmerized, the Rosh Yeshiva continued, “Who can tell me what the lesson of the Holocaust is?” Asking the men what they believed the correct answer was, they fumbled to come up with anything. “We will never, ever forget?” one man said. The Rosh Yeshiva then called on someone else. “We will never, ever again be a victim or bystander!” But Rav Nosson Tzvi had a different answer.

In the words of Howard Schultz, the Rosh Yeshiva replied as follows:

“You guys just don’t get it. Okay gentlemen, let me tell you the essence of the human spirit.

“As you know, during the Holocaust, the people were transported in the worst possible, inhumane way by railcar. They thought they were going to a work camp. We all know they were going to a death camp. After hours and hours in this inhumane corral with no light, no bathroom, cold, they arrived at the camps. The doors were swung wide open and they were blinded by the light. Men were separated from women, mothers from daughters, fathers from sons. They went off to the bunkers to sleep.

“As they went into the area to sleep, only one person was given a blanket for every six. The person who received the blanket, when he went to bed, had to decide, ‘Am I going to push the blanket to the other five people who did not get one, or am I going to pull it toward myself to stay warm?’ It was during this defining moment that we learned the power of the human spirit, because we pushed the blanket to five others.”

And then the Rosh Yeshiva stood up and said to all of us, “Take your blanket. Take it back to America and push it to five other people.”

The words of the Rosh Yeshiva hit home and shook the hearts and minds of all those who were in attendance. But let me tell you the rest of the story that not everyone knows about.

Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel’s gabbai (personal attendee) attends my Chumash classes. One day, he told me that Howard Schultz later returned to Israel and went to visit Rav Nosson Tzvi again. At this visit, however, only the Rosh Yeshiva, Howard Schultz and the gabbai were present.

Howard Schultz proceeded to take out a blank check, sign his name and hand it to Rav Nosson Tzvi. “Here Rabbi,” he said, “fill it out for whatever you want.” At the time, the monthly budget for the Mir Yeshiva was $2 million. Rav Nosson Tzvi was responsible for raising the money despite his debilitating disease. He could have written $2 million on the check.

“I can do whatever I want with this check?” he asked Howard Schultz. “That’s right, Rabbi.” Filling the check out for $1200, he handed it back to Howard Schultz and said, “Take this check to that store across the street and tell them that I sent you to purchase a pair of Tefillin. And then put them on every day. That is what you can do for me.”

Rav Nosson Tzvi had a blanket called Torah and mitzvot. Instead of looking at Howard Schultz and saying, “What can I get out of him;” he looked at him and said, “What can I do for him.” We all have a blanket that we can push to our fellow brothers and sisters and change the world with. Whether it be our money, our time or a simple smile, we all have the ability to make a difference. People will try to convince you otherwise. But it is not true. You can change the world.

Mrs. Sarah Karmely
A Mikvah Gift

Throughout the past number of years, I have been to Thailand eight times. Living there in Bangkok is my husband’s cousin along with his wife, Ronit. On one of my visits there, Ronit told me how, years ago, there was no kosher mikvah in Bangkok. What was therefore commonly done by the religious Jews living there was take a two-hour drive from Bangkok to the nearest coastal village of Pattaya. There, people would ride on jet skies into the middle of the Andaman Sea, immerse in the water, and return to shore. Although it was an entire ordeal, it was the only option available for Jewish families wishing to observe the laws of Family Purity in Bangkok.

As Ronit told me about the tremendous sacrifice and dedication she and her husband had exhibited, I was deeply moved. “Let me tell you what happened one time though,” Ronit said.

“For the first two years after I got married, my husband and I were not blessed to have any children. Deeply wishing to start a family, we only hoped for the day we would happily cuddle our own newborn baby.

“As many other families had been doing, every month my husband would drive his jet ski out into the middle of the ocean, allow me to immerse in the water and then drive back to the land. On one such occasion, after we had driven out far into the ocean, my husband turned off the jet ski and I dipped into the water. Shortly thereafter, I ascended back onto the jet ski and was ready to head back home, but something was wrong. The jet ski would not start. My husband tried thrust the key into the ignition, but it would not turn on. He tried again, but no success. The engine was dead. Now we were stuck.

“While we were quite distressed, we were not overly hysterical as we figured that we would simply swim back to the shore. But as quickly as this thought came, it went. We soon realized that we weren’t swimming anywhere. The Andaman Sea is notorious for its massive waves and any attempt to swim places your life in severe danger.

“Although this thought crossed our minds, we did not appreciate the perilous predicament we found ourselves in until the heavy ocean currents began pushing our jet ski in the direction of massive rocks which lay in the middle of the sea. Now we knew we were in trouble. All that flashed through my mind was how my mother would react when she would hear how I had gotten stuck in the middle of the ocean and was smashed to pieces.

“As my husband and I realized that our lives were literally hanging in the balance, we turned to Hashem and began screaming, “Hashem, please don’t let people say that we were killed performing this mitzvah of mikvah! Please help us and save us!”

“I cannot explain how, but all of a sudden, the wind currents changed and the waves began pushing us toward the other direction. Before we knew it, we had safely reached the coastal shore.”

As Ronit related this riveting incident to me, I stood there beside myself. But that was not the only miracle which occurred at that time. “That very month,” concluded Ronit, “I conceived. And nine months later, I gave birth to a baby boy. Overwhelmed by the tremendous gift of life my husband and I received while at the ocean and grateful to be blessed with a child, we named our son Doron, meaning gift. His birth came about through a miracle in more than one way. He was truly a gift to us.”

We must never underestimate the far-reaching impact of dedicating ourselves to even one mitzvah. Besides for the rippling effects it can have on so many others, it protects and secures us from all harm (Sotah 21a). Even at a moment when we face the most perilous and harsh of situations, the winds can turn around and bring us safely home. With a heartfelt cry to Hashem from the depths of our heart, many gifts of life await us.

Mrs. Debbie Greenblatt
The Center of Our Lives

I remember as a young girl going on a trip to the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus. While one would expect such an excursion to be exhilarating and entertaining, as a child, I was quite frustrated. Being that it was a three-ring circus where three different acts were concurrently taking place, I didn’t know where to look. Every time I would glance in one direction, I felt as if I was missing something on the other side. And I most certainly did not want to miss anything.

It wasn’t until a subsequent trip to the circus that I realized how to gain the most out of the show. In a three-ring circus, the middle ring is where the main act takes place. Every show has only one center ring.

The same is true of our own personal lives. We all have numerous responsibilities, interests and priorities that consume large parts of our lives. However, above all else, there is one center ring which affects everything else. And in that center there is only one thing: Hashem or ourselves. Depending on what is in that center ring, the ripples reverberate and impact every other ring and arena in our lives.

מ”ח דברים שהתורה נקנית בהם

The Forty-Eight Ways to Acquiring Torah

Rebbetzin Aviva Feiner
Our Friend’s Shoes – Will They Ever Fit?

מכריעו לכף זכות

Judges Others Favorably

Although it is not an easy order to refrain from judging someone we meet, it is imperative to realize that we never have the whole picture of that person’s life before us. In the words of Rabbi Hanoch Teller, “Whenever you meet any person, you must assume that you are meeting them at chapter two.” He or she has already completed chapter one and much has occurred that you are unaware of. There is a whole story you are not privy to knowing.

Along these lines, Hillel states, “Do not separate yourself from the community; do not believe in yourself until the day you die; and do not judge your friend until you reach his place” (Pirkei Avot 2:5). Rabbeinu Yonah explains that the third clause of this Mishnah which instructs us to avoid passing judgment on others is a continuation of the previous statement of not believing in ourselves until we leave this world. Just as a person should not be confident in his impeccability until he dies because perhaps he would fail to overcome a particular challenge that would confront him years later in life, one should not judge his friend either.

Rav Eliyahu Dessler (Michtav Me’Eliyahu, Vol. 5, p.87) further explains that the Mishnah’s meaning of “until you reach your friend’s place” refers to four aspects of a person: his soul, intellect, life situation and environment. Were a person to have the exact same combination of these facets as the person he wishes to pass judgment upon, he would be “stepping into his shoes.” But, as we all know, such a probability is nearly impossible. No two people are created the exact same way and no two people share the exact same set of characteristics and life circumstances.

When my husband as a young, earnest yeshiva bachur returned after a year’s study in Eretz Yisrael to his home in Lawrence, New Jersey, he heard that the White Shul would be hosting a breakfast to benefit the Shuvu Organization. Being told that none other than the great Rav Avraham Pam zt”l planned to grace the organization with his presence, my husband and his younger brother eagerly headed there that morning. While it would certainly be a privilege to simply see Rav Pam, my husband was intent on finding a window of opportunity to ask him a personal question.

And indeed, the opportunity availed itself. After the breakfast came to a close, somehow, Rav Pam momentarily sat all by himself at a table. While my husband had just finished one year of yeshiva at the time and was looking into taking a certain psychology course, he wished to ask Rav Pam if he should do so. My husband was speculative if the course would be aligned with Torah hashkafa (outlook) and wanted to know what Rav Pam thought.

Walking over to Rav Pam, my husband explained his situation and asked the question. And then Rav Pam gently looked at him and said, “I would love to help you, but I don’t know you.”

Rav Pam realized that in order to properly answer a question and address a person’s specific needs, one must know the individual well. Whether it pertains to providing guidance, rebuking another or evaluating a situation, all variables of the case at hand must be understood. Before we can judge another person, we must literally step into their shoes. And if they don’t fit, well, maybe it would be wise to avoid forcing our feet inside.

Rabbi Paysach Krohn
The Shabbat Message

לב טוב

A Good Heart

There is a beautiful organization called Links. Aimed at caring for teenagers who have unfortunately experienced the loss of a parent, Links provides emotional and social support for numerous individuals and families. I myself am involved with Links because I know what it means to be without a father and mother even before you are married.

The first time I looked into the organization, I inquired as to how many children would perhaps be interested in receiving an automated telephone message every Friday before Shabbat. I would prepare a two-minute recording which anyone who so desired could listen to. It would consist of a one-minute thought on the weekly Parasha followed by a blessing of “Yesimcha Elokim k’Efraim v’k’Menashe” for boys and “Yesimeich Elokim k’Sarah Rivkah Rachel v’Leah” for girls. I would then recap what I said about the Parasha and wish everyone a good Shabbat.

The first time I presented this idea to a group of forty girls, twenty raised their hands and said that they would like to receive the beracha every Friday. And so, the first week, I followed through as accordingly planned.

On Motzei Shabbat, I received a print-out of how many girls actually picked up the phone and listened to the message. I was shocked when I looked at the results. Only ten out of the twenty picked up. Wondering what had happened, I called Mrs. Sarah Rivkah Kohn, founder and director of Links, and asked for an explanation. “Why would these girls register if they do not pick up the phone?”

“Rabbi Krohn,” Mrs. Kohn said, “don’t you understand? These girls let the message go onto their cell phones so they can listen to it numerous times before Shabbat. They are so desperate to receive a beracha that they want to listen to what you say over and over again. The only way they can do this is if they do not pick up the phone the first time and allow the voicemail to record the message.”

As I heard the true reason for these girls’ behavior, I was moved.

I confirmed this to be true when a woman later approached me from the Samcheinu Organization, a support group for young widows, and said, “Rabbi Krohn, I just want to tell you how much my entire family appreciates your phone calls. Every Friday at one o’clock, my whole family gathers together around the phone and listens to your message. And then again, before Shabbat, we listen to your kind words.”

The first and foremost way to developing a Lev Tov, a good heart, is by thinking about others. It is as simple as that.

Rebbetzin Batsheva Alpert
How Do You Drink Your Coffee?

I once heard Rabbi Elimelech Biderman beautifully say, “When you make your coffee in the morning, you take bitter coffee, sweet sugar, hot water and cold milk. And then you say the blessing of ‘She’hakol nihiye bidvaro’ – ‘Everything came to be through Hashem’s word.’ Everything that happens to you in life emanates from Hashem – the bitter, the sweet, the hot and the cold.”

As you stir your coffee on the night of Shavuot, consider the implications of this idea. And then carry it with you every subsequent time you drink your delicious coffee. It will surely provide you with a dose of encouragement and inspiration, and keep you coasting along awake and full of life.

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