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TorahAnytimes Newsletter Ki Tetzei

Parshat Ki Tetzei

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik


"The TorahAnyTimes" Newsletter    Print Version

Parashat Ki Tetzei
11th of Elul, 5777 | September 2, 2017

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik

Rabbi Yehuda Stern
The Animal School

Once upon a time, a group of animals decided to do something heroic to meet the problems of a new world. And so, they decided to organize a school. After adopting a curriculum of running, climbing, swimming and flying, the school was ready to go. One important proviso was added, though, to make it easier to administer the curriculum: everyone needed to attend all the different classes.

That being the case, here’s how it went:

The duck was excellent in swimming, in fact better than his instructor, although he just barely received passing grades in flying and was poor in running. Considering his slow timing in running, he needed to stay after school and also drop swimming in order to practice running. This schedule continued until his webbed feet were badly worn and he was only average in swimming. His intense regimen of exercise and practice in order to become a better runner damaged his webbed feet, and now instead of being a great swimmer, he was only an average swimmer.

The rabbit started at the top of the class in running. But he was forced to drop the running course because of so much make-up work in swimming.

The squirrel was excellent in climbing until he developed frustration in the flying class where his teacher made him start from the ground up instead of from the tree-top down. He also developed charley horse from overexertion and then earned a C in climbing and D in running.

The eagle was viewed as a problematic child and was disciplined severely. Why? In the climbing class, he beat everyone else to the top of the tree, but insisted on using his own, “quicker” way of getting there.

At the end of the year, an abnormal eel that could swim exceedingly well and also run, climb and fly had the highest average and was valedictorian.

The prairie dog stayed out of school because they would not add digging and burrowing to the curriculum.

And so, the eel and prairie dog apprenticed their children to a badger and later joined the groundhogs to start a successful, private school.

This may seem like an odd anecdote, yet there is much truth underlying it. We all have certain abilities unique to us. Some of us are meant to run, some of us are meant to climb and some of us are meant to swim. But we are not all climbers, we are not all swimmers, and we are not all runners. Yet if the swimmer will spend too much time trying to run and the climber will spend too much time trying to swim, not only will the swimmer and climber not excel in that respective skill, but they will hold themselves back from progressing in their own area of expertise and passion, and no longer be as good in their own distinct area of strength.

Above all else, we must learn what our strengths are and learn to focus on them, instead of counterproductively struggling to become someone we are not. Be unapologetically yourself and develop your own beautiful strengths and capabilities to their maximum capacity. Because if you do, there’s nothing stopping you from becoming your absolute best and attaining your dreams.

Rabbi Yoel Gold
Safe with Shema

כי ד' אלקיך מתהלך בקרב מחנך

For Hashem, your G-d, walks in the midst of your camp to rescue you (Devarim 23:15)

Iraq War, 2003.

Jordan Schwartz sat atop his Humvee in gunner’s position, overlooking a neighborhood next to the Syrian-Iraqi border. He and his unit were at the moment driving through a marketplace which was usually teeming with people, yet on this Friday morning was particularly quiet. Too quiet. Jordan was eerily unsettled. Something didn’t feel quite right.

Worried about the safety of his unit, he wished he could recite some sort of silent pray that they would all return home alive and well. But with no connection to his Jewish heritage, Jordan was at a loss of what to say.

But then he remembered…

Jordan was born into an irreligious home in Dallas, Texas, though at the age of seven, his family moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico. It was there that his family became close to the Jezmer family, which included Mrs. Jezmer and her two children, Rivkah and JJ. Jordan became best friends with JJ, while Rivkah would often babysit Jordan while Jordan’s parents stepped out of the house for a few hours.

As part of Rivkah’s routine of ensuring that Jordan got ready for bed and went to sleep on time, she taught him the Shema. She figured it would put him at ease and make him feel calm and protected before he went to bed.

On one occasion, Jordan asked Rivkah what this prayer was about and why it was important to recite. “It is a declaration of our belief in G-d,” Rivkah said. “We acknowledge that G-d is almighty and powerful and that He is the only force Who has any control in the world.”

It now hit Jordan. “Recite the Shema,” he told himself, “recite the Shema.”

And he did.


Shrapnel went flying in all directions, sparing no one in the immediate vicinity. Jordan was hit, but fortunately survived. Had he been standing upright and not bending down, he would probably not be here today. But thanks to reciting Shema and placing his faith in G-d, he is alive and well to tell the story.

Some time later, Jordan was stationed at his base and instructed to work on repairing one of the army’s tanks. Without notice, the chaplain of his unit, a tall, burly gentleman appeared. “Hey, are you Schwartz?” The chaplain proceeded to hand Jordan a head covering and a book. Jordan later recognized these articles to be a yarmulke and siddur. “I found this in the chaplain box,” the chaplain said, “and thought you might want it.”

As Jordan took hold of the yarmulke and siddur and realized what he was holding onto, he began to think. “I’m listening to Your messages,” he quietly muttered to G-d. There had been many situations of close to death calls, yet Jordan believed that it was whatever faith he had and the recital of Shema which had brought him to where he was that day. “When I complete my army service, I think I will travel to Israel and learn a little bit about Judaism,” he told himself.

Jordan ended up enrolling in a yeshiva following his years of duty. And sure enough, the very first day he entered the yeshiva’s building, he noticed a familiar face. Quite familiar.

“JJ…?” “Jordan…?” The minute Jordan and JJ’s eyes made contact, they instantly recognized one another. JJ’s sister, Rivkah, was the one who babysat Jordan and taught him the Shema, and now here was JJ years later studying at the very same yeshiva Jordan had decided to attend.

JJ would end up becoming Jordan’s mentor and teacher, guiding him back home to his roots and reconnecting him to his long-lost heritage. JJ’s sister had taught Jordan the Shema, and now JJ himself would teach Jordan much, much more.

No one would have predicated the far-reaching consequences that Rivkah would have on young seven-year-old Jordan, but indeed, her little efforts produced large results. That little seed she planted years before now began to sprout and become something so wondrous and so beautiful. And to this very day, that little seed continues to flourish.

Rabbi Mashiach Kelaty
Two Brothers, Two Numbers

כי ישבו אחים יחדיו

When brothers dwell together… (Devarim 25:5)

It was following the difficult years of the Holocaust that Jerry, who had been living in America all the while, decided to make the move to Israel. Wishing to join the many Jews who were building a new life for themselves in a new country, Jerry sailed across the ocean in anticipation of beginning a new life for himself as well.

It wasn’t long before Jerry found a kibbutz to settle in, and met a man who had also just moved there, named Yehuda. Yehuda had come from Europe and was considerably quiet and reserved, something which was understandably the result of having personally undergone the pangs of the Holocaust. Yet Jerry was friendly and warm to Yehuda, hoping that perhaps some friendship would spark between them and Yehuda would open up.

One day, Jerry noticed something about Yehuda that he hadn’t noted before. Tattooed on his arm were numbers. Recognizing them to be the numbers he was given in the concentration camp, Jerry began thinking how tender and uncomforting Yehuda’s past memories must be. And then Jerry realized something strange. The last four numbers on Yehuda’s arm – 7146 – were the same as the last four digits of his social security number.

Wishing to break the ice and seize the moment to converse with Yehuda, Jerry turned aside and said, “Yehuda, it must be terrible for you, but I noticed the numbers on your arm and I’m not sure it’s coincidence that the last four numbers are the same as the last four numbers of my social security.” Jerry wasn’t sure how Yehuda would react to this comment, though all he wished was to befriend him and start conversation. Before he could do that, though, he first needed to find a topic which would be of some meaning and relevance to Yehuda.

Jerry hit the mark. Yehuda had something to tell Jerry.

“My friend,” Yehuda began, “when my family was taken to the camps, they lined up my father, my brothers and me. As we stood next to each other, we received consecutive serial numbers tattooed on our arms. Following that, my father and brothers were selected to go one way, and I was selected to go another way. Ever since then, I have never seen any of my family. I don’t know what happened to them. So here I am, alone, trying to make the best of everything. Life is very difficult, but I have no other choice than to move forward.”

As Jerry heard Yehuda speak for the first time and relate his past experiences, he was visibly moved.

From that day on, Jerry and Yehuda slowly developed a close friendship, sharing in each other’s daily activities and routines. Eventually, Jerry moved away from the kibbutz and became a tour guide. His job was to drive groups of tourists around the country and show them various historical and contemporary sites. He made a nice living and enjoyed meeting new people and sharing in their excitement and amazement in seeing the Holy Land.

Yet one day, as Jerry drove one older gentleman, he was in for a little surprise. The man appeared to be extremely irritable and kept on snapping and shouting at Jerry and nearby bystanders. Something was visibly bothering this tourist.

Jerry, by nature, was a very patient and calm person, though this man’s unruly behavior was getting a bit out of hand. “Is something wrong?” asked Jerry. “Pull over!” screamed the man. Jerry was startled. “Pull over!” he repeated. Not wishing to further upset the passenger, Jerry looked over his shoulder and slowly pulled over to the curbside.

“What would you like to tell me?” Jerry politely asked. The man paused for a moment, catching his thoughts and breath. “You probably think I am very arrogant and nasty,” the man said. “The truth is that I am really not. I have just had a very hard life. I went through the Holocaust and lost my entire family. Every night, I cry myself to sleep. My life is miserable.” Jerry was speechless. He now understood that the man was not merely having an unexplained fit, but was living a troubled life.

Rolling up his sleeve, the man turned to Jerry. “You see this?” Jerry looked at the numbers. And then he turned white.

The last four digits… 7147.

“Sir,” said Jerry, trying not to choke on his own words, “you are not alone. Those last four digits of your number… they have a match…”

Jerry took the man to the kibbutz and called for Yehuda. “Yehuda… your brother is here.”

And there, on a kibbutz in Israel, two brothers, with the consecutive numbers 7146 and 7147, reunited. Two brothers, who each believed they were alone and had no family to turn to, found one other.

Jerry probably never considered that his small gesture of conversing with Yehuda would lead to a remarkable result, but it is oftentimes when we are expecting the least in return, that we receive the most in return. Just do your small part, and Hashem will take care of the rest. And trust Hashem, He knows what He’s doing.

A Short Message From
Rabbi Chaim Dahan

Just about every afternoon, the great Rav Avraham Pam zt”l made a point of speaking over the phone to a sick woman who spent her days and nights in the hospital. He would give her hope and encouragement, and simply listen to whatever she had on her mind. On one occasion, Rav Pam’s grandson was visiting his grandfather when the phone rang. Picking it up, he listened closely to the voice on the other end of the line, trying to make out who it was. But the voice was faint, and didn’t seem to carry with it much strength. “Zaidy,” the grandson said, “I’m not sure who it is and I don’t know what to say.” It didn’t take long before Rav Pam realized that it must be the woman calling from the hospital, yet she was too weak and frail to speak.

As Rav Pam picked up the phone and confirmed that it was indeed the woman from the hospital, he realized that this time around, the course of the conversation would need to be a little different. It would not be a two-way conversation, but a one-way conversation. And that is exactly what Rav Pam did.

For the next thirty-five minutes, Rav Pam carried on speaking all by himself, conveying uplifting and reassuring words, despite hearing no response. But it made no difference. He knew that she was listening, and that was all that mattered. With sensitivity and care, he spent his precious time talking to someone who could hear, but not speak. Such is a mark of true greatness.

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