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TorahAnytimes Newsletter V'etchanan

Parshat V'etchanan

Compiled and Edited by Meir Sommers


"The TorahAnyTimes" Newsletter       print version

Parashat V'etchanan 
13 of Av, 5777 | August 5, 2017

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik

Rabbi Zecharia Wallerstein 
From Struggle to Success

נחמו נחמו עמי

Comfort, comfort My people… (Haftorah, Yeshaya 40:1)

Some time ago I received a phone call from an inpatient hospital for eating disorders. “Rabbi Wallerstein,” the nurse said, “we have a girl here who would like to meet with you. After consultation, we are willing to grant her a waiver and allow her to see you for a few hours, if you would be willing to do so.” Knowing that seldom are patients with severe eating disorders discharged from the hospital for even a short period of time, except to be transferred to a different hospital or visit a therapist, I was quite surprised. “She would like to meet with you, Rabbi,” the nurse reiterated. “Last week you called her, and she has been a different person ever since. We think it would help her with therapy if you could see her.” I didn’t need to hear any more to convince me. If I could be of help, I most certainly would.

When the time to meet arrived, I took one look at her and knew what I was facing. She looked extremely anorexic and was as thin as could be. But, as I told her, I was very impressed and honored that she wanted to see me. We continued talking about her therapy, routines and programs, until I concluded what I believed would be a good fit for her. “You know what?” I said, “I think that after you remain in the hospital for another three to four weeks, you will be ready to come to my ranch I have built for girls and equestrian therapy. We will keep you there as long as you need, and between the horses, ducks and chickens, you will do very well and get better.” But she didn’t like my plan.

Looking back at me with a cold and blank stare, she said, “I’m not going to the ranch, rabbi.” “If it’s because of money,” I interjected, “don’t worry, we’ll work that out.” But she stood her ground. “No, no, rabbi, I don’t want to get better. My life is so painful and miserable. I don’t want to get better. I’m not coming to your ranch. I am scared to get better, because if I do, I will have to go back into the world, which is a scary place. When I’m in a hospital, I’m protected. I don’t want to get better.”

This was the first time in my entire life I had ever heard someone tell me that. “If you don’t want to get better, then why are you here?” “I just wanted to talk to you,” she said, “but don’t make me better.”

As I let her words sit with me for a few seconds, I began wondering what I could ever tell her which would help. Many people I met before struggling with an issue had their worries about full recovery and told me, “I will try to get better, although maybe I won’t make it and I’ll relapse…” but outright stating that you don’t want to get better was something I had never heard before. What would I tell her? She had made her decision and didn’t seem willing to budge.

“Please listen to me carefully,” I said. “I have met thousands of girls, and never before have I been told by someone that they do not want to get better.” My words, though, fell on deaf words. “There is nothing you can say, rabbi, that is going to make me better.” “Can I at least tell you what I want to say?” That much, at least, she allowed me.

“I have to tell you,” I began, “that I have never met someone so sick as you. But, if you turn around and come out of this in one piece, and make a life for yourself, you will be the biggest superstar in healing anorexic girls. You will be able to show them your charts and your pictures, and tell them how you went to this hospital and that hospital and weighed seventy pounds when you were twenty years old. You will be able to stand in front of the worst eating disordered girls and tell them, ‘Here is a picture of my child, here’s my husband, I’m at a normal body weight, and I have a degree and I am happy.’ Because you are so far down, if you turn your life around and change, you will be the most powerful speaker, therapist and teacher for girls with eating disorders. I don’t know if I can find someone like you again because everyone wants to get better, but you don’t even want to get better.” I then stood still and allowed for silence to settle in between us. And then the girl spoke up.

“I never thought of it that way, rabbi.” “You think about this,” I told her. “You need to get healthy. I need you on my ranch and I don’t care what it takes to make that happen.” At this point, I knew I was getting somewhere and making, at least, some small degree of progress.

“And if you think I like you and I am doing this because I am a tzaddik, first of all I am not really a tzaddik, and I don’t really know you so I can’t say I like you. So why do you think I would be doing this? Why am I meeting you? Why do I care if you get better or not?” The girl didn’t know what to respond.

“I’ll tell you. It’s because I’m selfish.” The girl stood confused and looked at me as if I was crazy. “What?” “You don’t know how selfish I am.” “Rabbi Wallerstein,” she interrupted, “you’re not selfish!” “I am so, so selfish,” I repeated. “You see, you are going to help me. Instead of me going and talking to girls with eating disorders, you are going to do it. I cannot talk to these kids, because I definitely do not have an eating disorder. But if you get better, I am going to mold you and you are going to work for me. You are going to help me so I don’t have to fly all over the place, but you will. And you will help so many girls, you will not believe it.”

Although I’m not sure if she was ready to hear that or understood what I meant, G-d willing, this girl will one day help many people. Today, she is living a life no one wishes to lead. But eventually, she will come out of this fire, and when gold comes out of the fire, it is that much shinier than before.

Whenever you experience hard and challenging times in life, peer inside yourself and tap into that inner strength that is uniquely yours. When a person has sunken so far and fallen so low, that is precisely why they will emerge that much of a stronger and incredible person afterwards. I myself cannot help girls with eating disorders like this girl can. I cannot get up in front of an audience and say, “I’ve been there and done that,” but she can.

The greater the struggle, the greater the success. The greater the fall, the greater the feat. The greater the tragedy, the greater the triumph. If we can take that struggle, take the fall and take that tragedy and turn it into success, a feat and a victory, we have climbed from the lowest of abysses to the highest of ascents. And there is no greater achievement than that.

The greatest thing we can do is take our losses and lapses, and use them to help another undergoing the same struggle. Instead of giving in and telling ourselves that we cannot get better, if we convince ourselves that we can overcome our struggle and thereby become the perfect person to educate, encourage and guide others, we have made the best from the worst. We have taken something bleak, and made some beautiful. And there’s nothing more inspiring and uplifting than that.

Rabbi Dovid Kaplan 
Dotting the i

A number of years ago, I had the opportunity of talking to a young man who had come to visit the yeshiva Ohr Somayach. After talking to him for some time, I decided I would dive right into the heart of the matter and ask him a very provocative question, which stumps many people. “What is your goal in life?” I asked in all seriousness. He looked back at me for a few seconds, and then said the following.

“I am a member of the Ohio State University marching band where I play the tuba. At one point during the biggest game of year, when Ohio State plays Michigan, the marching band lines up in formation and spells out the word ‘Ohio State.’ While the many musicians configure themselves here and there, the senior tuba player receives the singular honor and distinction to be the one who dots the “i” in the word Ohio. That, Rabbi, is my goal in life. I want to become the senior tuba player and earn the privilege of dotting the i.”

At the time I heard this, I began humoring myself, “Wow, that is very impressive. What is next? Maybe he will be asked to cross the t.” But then, after some time of contemplating the meaning behind his words, I realized that there was indeed a profound life message waiting to be extrapolated.

In Hebrew grammar, a dot is referred to as a dagesh, literally meaning “emphasis.” The soft letter chof, for example, turns into the hard letter kof when a dagesh is added. The same was true for this boy. He was merely serving as a spokesman for society.

In today’s day and age, undue emphasis is placed on “i.” It is about what I want, I like, and I need. The question we are meant to ask ourselves, however, is if we can take that “i” and turn it into “we.” Can we learn to reach outside ourselves and extend our individual world to include others? Can we emphasize not our own lives, but everyone else’s around us?

This does not mean that we should squelch our individuality and suppress our own personal lives. It merely requires that we ask ourselves, “What can I do for my fellow Jew? How can I help him or her? How can I shift the focus from i to we?” 
To dot the i or not dot the i? That is the question.

Rabbi Reuven Epstein 
The Price of Life

The Mishna in Pirkei Avos (5:1) tells us:

With ten utterances the world was created. Could Hashem not have been created the world with one utterance? This was however done in order to exact punishment from the wicked who destroy the world created through ten utterances and to reward the righteous who uphold the world created through ten utterances.

A simple reading of this Mishna leads to an obvious difficulty. Why would the righteous and wicked be rewarded and punished for their actions based upon a world which was created through ten utterances when it really could have been created with one? It is akin to demanding that someone pay $100 for a chair because the owner bought it for $100, yet in truth it is only intrinsically worth $2.

Using an accounting concept called LCM as an analogy, the meaning of this Mishna becomes clear.

In 1998, Major League baseball players Mark McGwire of the St. Louis Cardinals and Sammy Sosa of the Chicago Cubs were vying to break the home run record for most home runs hit in one season, previously set by Roger Maris at 61. Yet, aside from waiting for this record to be broken, fans were also waiting for something else: the opportunity to catch that home run ball and become a millionaire within minutes.

And then came September 8, 1998 and Mark McGwire and the St. Louis Cardinals faced none other than Sammy Sosa and the Chicago Cubs. Fans would not need to wait any longer, as McGwire connected with Chicago Cubs’ Steve Trachsel’s pitch, sending the ball 341 feet just over the left field wall. Out of all people to locate and pick up the ball, it was the groundskeeper, who later went on to give the ball, now worth millions, to Mark McGwire himself. (Following the home run, Sammy Sosa did no less than run in from right field and congratulate McGwire with a celebratory hug).

If you would have walked into a store the following day and purchased a baseball, how much would you have spent? A few dollars. Yet how much was that home run ball which would be inducted into the Hall of Fame worth? Millions. The former ball would be tossed around and thrown to your dog, but the latter million-dollar ball would never even be considered for such trivial play.

The accounting concept of LCM (lower of cost or market) dictates that a business records the cost of inventory at whichever cost is lower – the original cost or its current market value. The baseball may have been purchased for a few dollars, yet it now is worth millions.

The Mishna is conveying the same concept. The world we live in offers us the incredible potential to achieve the greatest of accomplishments. We can develop and build an invaluable relationship with Hashem filled with davening, teaching and learning; we can share and shower others with kindness and compassion; and we can marry and build beautiful families and communities. The world we live in can be valued as a world of “ten utterances” where we view every day as a breathtaking opportunity filled with unbelievable beauty and potential, or we can treat it as a world created with “one utterance” and devalue all the beauty which exists.

As underscored in this Mishna, Hashem whispers to us the answer. The greatest reward is to value a million-dollar ball as a million-dollar ball, and not foolishly toss it away as if it is only worth a handful of quarters. The biggest reward or punishment depends on our valuation of what we are holding in our hands. We would be wise to steer away from valuing life at the “lower cost,” and instead striving to actualize and harness the unlimited potential it offers by maximizing its full opportunity and value. And when that is done, nothing short of a beautiful life results.

A Short Message From 
Rebbetzin Chana Goldstein

In general, we tend to view optimism as something which enhances life, making it more enjoyable and pleasant. In truth, however, numerous studies have pointed to profound, and at times life-altering benefits to living life with optimism.

In the 1990s, American psychologist Martin Seligman documented how salesmen who worked with optimism and anticipated successful sales sold 37% more of their product than those who had a more pessimistic work attitude. In addition, the famed Nun Study, a continuing longitudinal study involving 678 participants averaging 85 years old, indicated that happiness and positive emotions lead to a longer life. Based upon their degree of happiness, as indicated by the positive or negative emotion words used in their autobiographical sketches written in early adulthood six decades earlier, participants were divided into four categories from the most cheerful to the least cheerful. Results showed that 54% of the cheerful nuns reached 94 years old while only 15% of the least cheerful nuns reached that age.

Lastly, a 2008 research study divided terminally ill patients into three groups, with one-third regularly talking about the challenges of their sickness, another third daily writing down three beautiful and positive things in their life and the last third serving as the control group. The group who had better odds at beating the illness and surviving longer was indisputably the one who had consistently written about the goodness and positive in their lives.

There you have it. If you’re ever wondering if it’s worth living a life full of positivity and optimism, the answer is a resounding yes.



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