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TorahAnytimes Newsletter Vayechi

Parshat Vayechi

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik


"The TorahAnyTimes" Newsletter    Print Version

Parashat Vayechi
12th of Tevet, 5778 | December 30, 2017

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik

Rabbi Benzion Klatzko
Growing to Greatness

Growing up in Kew Gardens Hills, Danny was eleven years old when his sister unfortunately died. Helplessly, Danny watched her leave this world in front of his eyes, in a tragic way well beyond words.

Such a traumatic experience left a terrible effect on Danny. Spiraling out of control, he began failing and dropping out of school. With little connection to Judaism at this stage in life, he ended up joining an Irish gang in Kew Gardens. Although he was younger than the rest of the gang, they liked him. He was a skinny, trouble-making kid and perfectly fit what the gang needed. As a matter of course, the gang would break into a car, take it for a spin and then total it. Now left with a smashed car, they would leave it wherever they were and walk away from the scene as if nothing had happened. A violent gang indeed, Danny as a little lean kid was the best tool for maneuvering his way wherever needed and getting inside cars.

One day, amid one of their break-in attempts, Danny and another gang member noticed another gentleman walking towards them. Realizing that they had been caught and would now be turned over to the police or worse, they began to panic. Without thinking twice, the other gang member jumped out of the car and began running away, leaving Danny all alone.

Now standing at the car door was the man who had seen Danny break in. Grabbing Danny and pulling him out of the car, all of Danny’s attempts to wiggle his way out were to no avail. Holding Danny tight, the man threatened Danny and led him to the house of the owner of the car. As the house owner opened the door, the man reassured him, “I just want to let you know that I saw this boy trying to break into your car. He is part of a gang which vandalizes cars and crashes them. I live in your neighborhood and recognized your vehicle; but I took care of the trouble. Don’t worry, your car is fine now.”

Danny’s father eventually caught wind of the situation and realized that his son’s involvement with the gang was jeopardizing his life. “He is not going to survive if we don’t get him out if this gang,” said Danny’s father. And so, as summer was just around the corner, plans were arranged to send Danny to summer camp.

After sending Danny away, it was not long before Danny got himself into an unfriendly situation again. Although the camp had been treating him nicely for the most part, just two days after it had begun, another boy stared at Danny in the wrong way. Danny, hurt and scarred by a thug mentality, took matters into his own hands and aggressively acted out. But immediately after doing so, he felt terrible. It was not how he really felt, but considering that he had undergone so much, small little disturbances and insults shook him to the core. Now upset as to the way he handled the situation, he headed into the camp’s shul.

Entering inside, he found a boy who had just become bar mitzvah putting on his tefillin. Taking in the scene of the boy touched Danny and made him momentarily think where his life was heading. The boy’s purity, innocence and devotion was something Danny had never seen before. Turning to the boy, Danny softly and bashfully related what had occurred. “What can I do to improve?” he asked. “Try saying Shema,” the boy replied. Complying with the suggestion, Danny went on ahead to recite the Shema as heartfully and as best as he could. In some way, this encounter helped reorient Danny and come in touch, in a small way, with what type of life he could potentially lead despite his past.

Overall, the camp had a positive effect on Danny. Spiritually, emotionally and mentally, it helped him cope with his life’s situation and grow as a person.

As camp came to a close and the boys were returned to where their parents would pick them up, all but Danny’s parents arrived. Time went by as all the other campers reunited with their parents and family after a long summer. All except Danny. Sitting there alone and waiting, Danny kept an eye out for his mother and father for an hour. And then two hours. And then three… four…five.

Six hours later, a car pulled up. It was his father. “Hi Danny,” said his father. “I’m so sorry I am late, but I was at your mother’s funeral. Mommy just passed away.”

Danny had not been anticipating this, and he was certainly not ready to deal with it either. His already broken life was just about to fall apart even more. He was without words and only left with tears.

Wandering through the streets in a haze for the next stretch of days, a boy finally noticed Danny. “Hey, Danny, is that you? You remember me? I was in camp with you.” Hearing the voice of a familiar friend, Danny stood there. “You want to come along with me? There is a group called NCSY and they are making a barbecue now. Why don’t you join me?” With not much going for Danny at the moment, he complied.

Following the other boy, Danny finally arrived at the backyard of a nicely furnished home. With boys all around eating and enjoying themselves, Danny himself decided he would also take a little bite. Walking over to the table with the food, he didn’t get too far until the owner of the house walked outside. “Hey!” the owner screamed at Danny, “what are you doing here?”

Looking up, Danny was startled. The owner of the house was the very same man whose car Danny had broken into a while ago. “I’m sorry,” immediately replied Danny, “I didn’t know it was your house. I’ll leave right away!” Gathering himself together, Danny prepared to leave when the owner stopped him. “It’s alright, you can stay. Stay here and have eat a little bit.” Although hesitant to listen to the owner, Danny stayed put at the home.

For the next few minutes, the owner began to engage Danny in conversation. Politely and considerately, the two of them enjoyed a conversation over a nice meal. And indeed, by the end of their talk, Danny and the owner took a liking to one another. In fact, as time progressed, the owner invited Danny to stay at his home for Shabbos. And then a second Shabbos, and then a third. By then, the two of them had built a close relationship as Danny continued to grow and mature as an identified Jew. Beginning to observe Shabbos and connect to a life of Torah, Danny felt something special he never experienced before.

And indeed, Danny continued to grow in his connection to Yiddishkeit. Despite his upbringing and challenging past, Danny eventually attended the yeshiva Shaar Yoshuv and developed as a reputable student seriously dedicated to his Torah studies. Even with all that he had gone through, he matured into a kind and very special Jewish boy.

Rabbanit Yemima Mizrachi
A Mother’s Warmth

As I was once giving a lecture to a group of women on the yaartzeit of Rav Yitzchak Kaduri, I asked if anyone knew a story about him. Within moments, his granddaughter stood up in front of the audience and shared the following incident:

Every Motzei Shabbat, my family used to gather together for a Melaveh Malkah while people from all walks of life would come to my grandfather and request a blessing. On one occasion, a woman expecting a child walked in looking distressed.

“What is wrong?” asked my grandfather. “The doctors told me,” said the woman amid tears, “that I am may be carrying a child with a severe medical condition. I am very nervous and don’t know what to do! I am not sure if I am going to be able to handle it. I already have a large family and little children at home.” Listening to the words of the woman, my grandfather told her, “Listen to me. All you have to do is give birth. Once you have done so, just bring your baby to me. I have plenty of granddaughters who will help you take care of your child.”

“Are you serious, HaRav Kaduri?” perked up the woman. “Yes. Just give birth to this neshama and my family will help ensure that it is cared for.” Lifting a heavy burden off the heart and mind of this woman, she returned home somewhat relieved.

Three months later as my family once again sat around the table with my grandfather, a woman walked in carrying a baby. “HaRav Kaduri,” said the woman, “do you remember me? I greatly appreciate your offer to help take care of my child, but I think I will be able to do so myself. Here is my baby. He is, thank G-d, healthy.”

My grandfather smiled and told her, “All a child needs is to feel that his mother loves him. When I told you that all you needed to do is bring this neshama into the world and I could help you raise him, you went home and started thinking, ‘If Hashem has given this child to me, I will have the strength to love and care for him exactly the way he is.’

“And now,” concluded Rav Kaduri, “your baby is happy and healthy. It indeed felt your warmth and care and developed into a wonderfully healthy newborn.”

It is a mother with her softness and gentleness that puts her child at ease and opens his heart. That is all a child needs to feel at home: the tender love and warmth of his mother.

Rebbetzin Slovie Jungreis-Wolff
Teaching Gratitude

Upon the joyous occasion of holding a newborn baby for the very first time, any parent’s mind begins to wander. Strollers, school, camp, after-school activities. And then they wonder to themselves, “Where should I begin?”

Yet there is another very important question that can easily be overlooked at such an early stage in a child’s life. Character. The question of, “How will I mold my son or daughter into someone with good character?” can quickly get lost in the shuffle of all the other issues and cares we provide for our developing child. Yet it is precisely this question which will influence the child most significantly. How will I teach my child gratitude, honesty, compassion and sensitivity? How will I teach my child to feel the pain of another, open their heart for another and give to another? A baby is born into this world with its fists clenched, and it is a parent’s job to open each finger one by one until a child learns how to give.

For the past fifteen years, I have had the privilege of teaching Hineni young couples about skillful and effective parenting. After all these years, I have come to one simple conclusion. We try so hard to give so much to our children, and our children have more than we could ever imagine. Especially in the realm of technology, the plethora of gadgets are endless. Yet still, children always want more and tend to never find satisfaction with what they have. There is always one more item that they need to make them happy.

Moreover, the technologically advanced age we live in today has most keenly impacted the modes of communication today within the home. As one article in The Wall Street Journal put it, when a father comes home at night, he enters a “dead zone.” Amid a world of swirling noise from computers to emailing to texting, the lines of verbal communication have been cut short and silenced.

The question which therefore occupies the mind of every parent today is how to go about successfully raising wholesome children? What can we do as parents to inculcate our children with refined character traits?

In one of the chapters in my book, Raising a Child with Soul, I mentioned what the foundation of every Jewish home ought to be based upon. What is the one outstanding trait which forms the framework of a Jewish home? In short, it is gratitude. Why is this so?

If a child grows up being grateful for everything they have, they will not take life’s pleasures and privileges for granted. “If I am grateful for my parents,” they will tell themselves, “I will speak to them respectfully and politely.” With such values inculcated at home, everyone and everything is respected and recognized. Why in fact, though, is it so difficult to teach our children gratitude?

It is because we live in a disposable and entitled society.

A few years ago, I made a little arts and crafts party for my daughter. When the children left, I noticed how quite a few coats still remained hung on hangers. Turning to the person in charge, I said, “I am so sorry we have to wait here a bit longer until all the parents come back and pick up the coats.” Do you know what he told me? “Oh, don’t worry Mrs. Wolff. Nobody is coming back; they just buy new ones. At the end of the year, I just have a big bag which I send to Good Will.”

We just throw away old items. Yet when children grow up in such a society, they can easily be led to overlook and value what you have. Items and clothing become disposable, and after a while, friendships and people become too. What was dear and precious one day becomes old and antiquated the next.

How do we therefore teach our children to feel true gratitude and be thankful? How can we instill good character into our children?

The first words out of our lips as we awake in the morning are Modeh Ani, which colloquially means, “Thank you.” The import and implication of this statement is extraordinary. It means that I have a gift and opportunity here. But, even more so, Modeh Ani does not just mean thank you, but means “I admit.” We must do more than verbally thank Hashem, but must feel in the deepest recesses of ourselves, “I admit.” I admit that I owe You, Hashem, my life. I must make the most out of this day, because my life is not something I am entitled to.

People may find it difficult to say thank you for a simple reason. Placing ourselves in position to owe something can be uncomfortable if not set against the appropriate backdrop of why we are expressing it. What we have is not disposable and neither are we entitled to what we have in life. Life is a privileged gift meant to be cherished and used to its fullest.

Imagine you tell your child, “Would you like some more food?” “Would you like to go to the store after school to look for sneakers?” If the answers to these questions are “Whatever” or “Fine,” at that time, capitalize on that very moment to correct them and redirect the way they express themselves “Yes, thank you, I would appreciate that;” “Please, can you take me to play soccer?” There must be an appreciation for everything, even the littlest things in life. How can it be that a child says to a parent, “You owe me twenty dollars”? A parent gives everything to a child, including the very gift of life; how can a parent possibly owe something to a child? Teach gratitude to your children for even the smallest things in life.

The teacher is supposed to teach and the doctor is supposed to check, but that does not mean that our children do need to say thank you even for these expected services. It sounds so simple, but that is the first step. Teach, teach and reteach gratitude and appreciation. That is how we go about ingraining within our children this finest and most important of character traits.

A Short Message From
Rabbi Dovid Orlofsky

As we grow older, the excitement and enthusiasm we once felt about many things in Judaism can begin to wane. The challenge which arises is if we can find that special feeling wherein we tap into the unique energy provided by that mitzvah or time of year? It is akin to a lawyer who has ten years of experience or a lawyer who has one year of experience ten times. The same is true, for example, of the Pesach Seder. There are those who have had ten Pesach sedarim, and those who have had one Pesach seder ten times. For the latter, there is no innovation and contemplation about it. It thus grows dull and unengaging. The trick to making the most of such occasions is innovation and newness. Add something unique and special each time. Find a special message you would like to convey this year. Think, plan, create and make each opportunity a time for extraordinary spiritual growth.

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