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TorahAnytimes Newsletter Balak

Parshat Balak

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik


"The TorahAnyTimes" Newsletter   print version

Parashat Balak
14th of Tammuz, 5777 | July 8, 2017

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik

Rabbi Lazer Brody
Your Blemish, Your Beauty

For one elderly Jew who lived on the border of Ukraine and Romania, his job as the local watercarrier required him to walk down the paths of the Carpathian Mountains to the nearby river, fill up two buckets, and head back up with them thrust upon his shoulders. Just about all day long, he would bring the townspeople their fill of water. Yet, there was something special and unique about this particular town. The residents were especially pious individuals, and incredibly, even their buckets could talk. And on one occasion, one of the conversations a bucket had with another bucket led to a remarkable realization.

One bucket was brand new with a nice and sturdy surrounding rim, encased in iron and decorative polished wooden slats. The other bucket, however, was old and rusty, aside from which it had a hole, causing it to leak. Every morning, by the time the poor watercarrier would reach the top of the mountain, the old bucket would only be one-third full. And so, one day, the new bucket struck up conversation with the old bucket.

“I don’t wish to insult you, but haven’t you been serving our owner for many years? You look like you could use a long-term retirement. Besides, you have a hole and leak every time you’re filled up. I only imagine our boss will want to get rid of you soon. Don’t you think so?” The old bucket was discernably upset and taken aback by this realization. “Look,” replied the old bucket, “I’ve been working for our owner for thirty years. Although I may be old, I have much experience. Despite me not being perfect, who says our owner will throw me away?”

As the new bucket took in the words of the old bucket, he realized that he had misspoken. But, in the back of the old bucket’s mind, he still remained worried about his job’s security. “Just maybe,” he thought to himself, “this young bucket is on to something. Perhaps my owner really wants to get rid of me even after so many years of loyal service…” And so, the old bucket decided he would approach his owner about this concern.

One day, as the owner made his way to the top of the hill with his two buckets, he set the young bucket down, allowing for the rare occasion of spending a few moments alone with the old bucket. The old bucket, having waited for this opportunity, quickly realized that now or never was the time to ask his question.

“My dear owner,” began the bucket, “are you going to get rid of me? Do you not like me anymore? We have been together for so many years…” The elderly man, caught off guard by the bucket’s comment, was not hesitant to reply. “Get rid of you? You’re my beloved bucket who I’ve been using for thirty years! You and I are going to the Next World together. I’m never going to give you up!” “Well,” continued the bucket, “I just wanted to make sure, because the young bucket did mention how I am quite old and have a hole. I myself have begun to wonder, why in fact do you continue to use me if I have a hole? Why don’t you buy another bucket?”

The owner, looking down at the bucket, let out a smile. “Let me tell you something, my dear bucket. I am an old man myself, and it is difficult for me to walk up and down the hill and fill up water. But you know where I gain the strength to do so every day? Just look down at the path leading up and down the hill. You see those beautiful flowers blossoming along the path? You know who made that path of flowers? That little hole of yours. Every time I carry you up the hill, by the time I reach the top, there is only one-third of water left. But where has the rest of the water gone? One little drop of water falls here and another little drop falls there. Sooner than later, a flower begins to grow, and then another flower and another.

Whenever I see those beautiful flowers you produced all along the path, I forget how my back is aching and legs are tiring and I continue walking forward with renewed vigor and optimism. By virtue of your hole, I gain the strength to continue on with my job every day. What you consider to be your blemish is your beauty. And so, you are not something I would ever sell, but something I will always cherish.”

In our own lives, we often look at our flaws and failures as imperfections and deficiencies we wish we never had. We feel that we do not measure up to the benchmark of perfection we ought to. But then, one day, we come to realize that in fact our blemish is our greatest source of beauty and blessing. Our “hole” is not our problem, but our perfection. All that goes into who we are as a person is precisely what we need to fulfill our mission in life. We need not wish we were someone or something else. Exactly the way we are is exactly the way we need to be. And there is nothing more beautiful and precious than that.

Rabbi Zecharia Wallerstein
The Beautiful Tattoo

For a number of years, I was privileged to teach 8th grade boys in the Crown Heights Yeshiva in Mill Basin, New York. With the student body primarily comprised of non-religious boys, emphasis was put on imbuing them with a genuine appreciation of Torah and Yiddishkeit. As it so happened, during one of my years teaching, one of the 7th grade students, Howey, was asked to leave the school due to his repeated disruptive behavior. The school ideally wished they could avoid doing so, though they felt it was necessary.

Years later, I was invited to the wedding of his older brother, who had been my student while in 8th grade. Despite it not being a fully religious wedding, I nevertheless decided to go for a short while and pay regards to my former student.

As I entered inside the wedding hall, I found my table number and headed over to take a seat. To my surprise, Howey was sitting at the table. I could sense that even now, years after he was thrown out of school, he was considerably upset at the administration’s decision. Sitting next to him was his girlfriend as well, who was clearly not Jewish. I quietly took a seat and minded my own business, not wishing to intrude and offset him. Howey, however, completely ignored me and the few other rabbis seated at the table, subtly conveying his annoyance and aggravation at his former rabbis, school and religious Jews.

When the time for the first dance began, I knew what to expect. A mechitzah would be put up, and the first song would be hava nagila where the rabbis would have the opportunity to dance with the chassan, after which they would leave. I planned on joining the dancing, although I had someone in mind whom I wished to greet beforehand.

Approaching Howey, I extended my hand and let out a smile. “Howey, shalom aleichem! How are you?” Howey, caught off guard, looked at me startled. “Listen,” I said, “it’s the hava nagila dance. I didn’t throw you out of school, and in fact you were never in my class. Please don’t be angry at me. Come, let’s dance!”

Howey turned aside to his girlfriend for her approval. “Do you think I should dance with the rabbi?” “Sure,” she happily replied, “go ahead. Just don’t leave me here for too long.”

Howey joined us, with me and his brother dancing alongside. A short while later, I was left dancing with just Howey himself. I knew that now was the time for me to say something. Pulling him close, I gave him a big kiss on his right cheek and whispered into his ear, “Howey, I apologize for what happened to you in yeshiva, but I just want you to know that I love you and you are a very special boy.” As I said this to him, I could tell he was moved. But I wasn’t finished.

Pulling him close again, I gave him a kiss on his left cheek and whispered into his ear, “But you need to know something else. You really cannot stay with that girl.” I then finished dancing with him and headed back to my seat. Slowly gathering my things together, I proceeded to leave the wedding hall.

Howey continued to trail behind me and walk outside too. He wanted to tell me something. “You know Rabbi Wallerstein,” he began, “I am a Buddhist. I traveled to the Himalayas and met this girlfriend of mine who is a Buddhist.” I know understood why his head was completely shaved and he had huge tattoos of a Buddha on both his arms. I listened to what Howey had to say, after which I made the following offer.

“You know, Howey, Buddhism is an interesting religion. I do not know much about it, but maybe you would like to come to my Tuesday night class and tell us about it.” Howey was taken aback, yet oddly interested. “You really would let me do that?” “Sure,” I said, “I am very open. You never know; maybe I’ll become a Buddhist. I don’t know if I like that zero haircut, but you can tell us all about Buddhism.” Howey was extremely excited to hear this, as was his girlfriend. “That would be amazing!” she cried out. “Can I come too?” “Let’s start with Howey,” I said, “and we’ll see what happens.”

The next Tuesday night, there was Howey standing in front of my class, lecturing all about Buddhism. After he spoke for quite some time, I got up and offered my own input. I first wanted to break the ice, so I began making light of Buddha. “Look Howey, “I said, “there is one thing which is bothering me. How can Buddha be g-d? He is extremely overweight and he hasn’t lost one pound in two thousand years. If he’s a g-d, he should be able to figure out a way to lose some weight!” I then continued with a more serious rebuttal of the many ideas he mentioned, which put my class back on track.

From that night on, Howey and I started talking to one another about Buddhism and Judaism. The next Tuesday night, lo and behold, Howey showed up to the class again, and so he did the next Tuesday night and the next Tuesday night. Three months later, he was no longer in touch with his Buddhist girlfriend. It was at that point that I suggested he leave America and go to Israel. “Let’s go to Israel together and find a yeshiva that is suited for you.”

Howey agreed to make the trip and enter a yeshiva. After spending some time in one place, he relocated and wound up in a different yeshiva, where he fell in love with Chassidus and changed his entire life around.

Two years later, he had made tremendous progress in his growth and devotion to Yiddishkeit, and wore the part with a long beard and peyos. He then gave me a call. “Rebbe,” he said, “I need to come back to America.” Strongly suggesting that he stay in Israel as it provided him with the best and healthiest framework for continual growth in Judaism, I got the message across, although sensed he was still concerned about something. “Here in Israel I will never find a shidduch. I have a Buddha on one arm, another Buddha on the other, and plenty of other tattoos on my back and chest. Who is going to marry me in Israel? Maybe in America I will find someone who would be willing to put up with me.” Hearing Howey’s worries, I compromised. “Just give it a couple more months. If by then you don’t find a shidduch, you can come back to America.”

A month later, I was back on the phone with Howey, who was now known as Chaim Simcha. “Rebbe, you won’t believe it! One of my teachers set me up with someone and she seems to be a good match.” But Howey was still very worried about something. “She comes from a regular family, though, and I have no idea how I am going to explain the story behind all my tattoos.” In the past, Howey could be seen walking down the streets of Israel on the hottest day with a long-sleeve turtle neck, just so he could hide all the tattoos. They were literally all over his body. “As soon as I tell her about them, she is going to run…”

“Look,” I said to Howey, “you have come so far in Yiddishkeit. Don’t say anything until you’ve gone out a few times, and if things are going well and she really likes you, maybe she will then understand and it will not be as bad as you think.”

A little while later, I got a call from Howey. He had gone out five times and everything was going very well. “Rebbe,” he nervously said to me, “what am I going to do now? I like her and she likes me, but I know that if I tell her about the tattoos she will jump out of the car that very minute.” “Howey,” I gently yet firmly said, “Hashem runs the world. You have to do what you have to do.” He was understandably anxious about the situation, but there was no other option. He needed to tell her the truth.

At the end of the next date, as Howey pulled up in front of Kfar Chabad, he turned to her and said, “I have to tell you something.” As soon as Howey said that, the girl’s mind began to imagine one thing: marriage. “I think he is going to propose now,” she thought to herself. “I need to tell you this,” continued Howey, “but please don’t react right away.” By now, the girl was almost certain that Howey was going to propose, so much so that she was nearly sticking out her finger, waiting for a ring to be slipped onto it. “Don’t worry about it,” she said, trying to allay his fears. “Just say what you have to say.”

“There is something about me which is a little different.” “What do you mean?” she asked. “Well…wait a minute.” Howey proceeded to pull his arm out of his jacket sleeve. And then she saw his tattoos. “Wait,” Howey interjected, “that’s not the only one I have. I have another one on my other shoulder and more on my chest and my back.” The girl sat there silently, taking everything in.

“I understand and accept the fact if you do not want to see me again. This was my past and it has left its consequences.” Howey continued rambling on and on, until the girl interrupted him. “Okay, I heard everything you have to say. Now let me tell you what I have to say.

“I only see one tattoo, and that is the tattoo on your soul. You are so spiritual. I see that you have G-d’s name of Y-K-V-K tattooed on your soul and that is the only tattoo I see. Don’t you worry about anything else.”

Howey let out a sigh of relief. “By the way,” he said, “will you marry me?”

Today Chaim Simcha lives with his beautiful family in Bnei Brak.

Here was someone who saw past this boy’s outer appearance. She saw beyond the external tattoos and discerned the one true and beautiful tattoo of spirituality and G-dliness. The same is true of us all. Embedded deep within each and every Jew lies a pristine neshama full of purity and potential. All we must do is learn to see beyond the outer façade and perceive the real person which lies beneath. And when we do so, we will unquestionably find a world of inner beauty awaiting to shine.

A Short Message From
Mrs. Aviva Orlian

After extensive research, Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck, author of the bestselling book Mindset, fascinatingly documented what appears to be the psychological makeup which contributes to both failure and success. She found and identified two distinct mindsets: the fixed mindset and the growth mindset. The fixed mindset believes that talent and ability are genetic and predestined. People are entitled to success without much effort, either resulting from societal standing, intellectual capacity, social connections or genetic disposition. For one with the fixed mindset, however, when failure occurs, they withdraw and become emotionally and intellectually paralyzed, finding great difficulty imagining they will ever be able to embrace challenges in the future.

The growth mindset, on the other hand, believes that success is not the product of predisposed characteristics, but effort and hard work. Those who possess the growth mindset therefore do not typically fear failure, but rather grow from it. Corroborating such findings was further research conducted by one neuroscientist, who discovered that when one engages in the process of logical problem solving, and experiences failure yet tries again and again, neurons continuously fire in their brain, thereby creating new neural pathways. True to the colloquial adage, “You learn from your mistakes,” such phenomenon is in fact physiologically evident in our brain.

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