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TorahAnytimes Newsletter Va'eira

Parshat Va'eira

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik


"The TorahAnyTimes" Newsletter    Print Version

Parashat Va'eira
26th of Tevet, 5778 | January 13, 2018

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik

Rabbi Paysach Krohn
Packing Your Parachute

For U.S. Navy jet pilot Captain Charlie Plumb, seventy-four combat missions had been successfully executed in the war of Vietnam. Having flown jet fighters from the aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk, Captain Plumb had one more mission, his seventy-fifth, to complete, after which he would return home to America. But, unfortunately, during this last mission, he was shot down by a surface-to-air missile. With his life endangered, Plumb ejected from the plane and parachuted down. Not to safety, however; but into enemy hands, where he remained a prisoner of war for the next six years.

Following these long and tortuous years, he went on to become a celebrated speaker and travel the world, sharing his story of trial and triumph with audiences far and wide.

One night, Captain Plumb related, he found himself in a restaurant in Kansas City, Missouri, eating alone. Looking into the distance, he noticed another man staring back at him, something which made him somewhat uncomfortable and uneasy. A few minutes later, the man came over. “You are Captain Plumb, aren’t you?” he said. “Yes, sir; how do you know that?” “You were on the Kitty Hawk and flew seventy-four missions; is that not correct?” “That is correct.” “I know that on your seventy-fifth mission, your parachute opened and saved your life.” Captain Plumb was taken aback by how accurate this man was with his information. But then the gentleman revealed his relationship to Captain Plumb.

“I was a sailor on the Kitty Hawk, and I packed your parachute.”
Captain Plumb could not believe it. “I prayed for you and your family after you had saved my life,” Captain Plumb just barely got out between breaths. Yet, shortly after leaving the restaurant, Captain Plumb felt awful. “I bet that I saw that sailor countless times on the Kitty Hawk,” he thought to himself, “but didn’t say hello because I was a fighter pilot and he was only a sailor. But he packed my parachute! I ought to have said good morning, thank him and be courteous to him.”

There are many people who pack our parachutes in life – our parents, our teachers, our family – and we ought to say thank you and express our appreciation. These individuals who have helped get us to where we are today are due our acknowledgment and gratitude.

As I have often wondered if this is a Jewish concept, I have reminded myself of something which occurred to me when I was fifteen years old. My father would regularly attend a Torah class given by Rav Yoshe Ber Soloveitchik every Tuesday night. It was a well-attended lecture, which provided excellent material for Rabbanim and laymen alike to share with others.

One Tuesday night, I went along with my father and grandfather to the weekly class. It was the week of Parshas Vayishlach, wherein the Torah states, “And Devorah, maidservant of Rivkah, died” (Bereishis 35:8). Yaakov Avinu went on to eulogize Devorah and name the site of her burial Alon Bachus, the Plain of Crying. Following this, Hashem returned to Yaakov Avinu and visited him again. What is the import of this passage? The Torah never makes mention of Devorah before this point and never does again.

Rav Yoshe Ber homiletically explained that Devorah, as implied by her name, represents the Queen bee. A Queen bee takes nectar from a flower and brings it back to the beehive. But, in the process of finding a flower, the bee will only land on a flower that it knows it can derive nectar from. It can travel over hundreds of flowers, but it will only choose the flower from which it senses it will gain nectar.

The same was true of Devorah, maidservant of Rivkah. Rivkah grew up in a household of deceitful siblings and parents, namely Besuel and Lavan. With Devorah a part of the same environment, she chose to raise, grow and develop with specifically Rivkah. She was the one whom Devorah drew nectar from and packed her parachute. That is why, explains the Ramban, Yaakov Avinu requested of Devorah to accompany him and his family when leaving the house of Lavan. Devorah had “packed Rivkah’s parachute,” in helping shape her into the extraordinary person she was, and Yaakov was especially appreciative for that. The Torah specifically makes mention of Devorah’s passing and her being eulogized because of her unique qualities and relationship to Rivkah and in turn, to Yaakov.

There are many people who have contributed to making us who we are today. Let us never forget to thank them, call them and give them the recognition they so truly deserve. For those who have packed our parachutes, let us humbly and respectfully say to them, “Thank you.”

Rabbi Yoel Gold
Praying for Barak

On a recent trip to Israel, my Aunt Betsy and her husband Simon decided to make a special visit to Herzliya. While there, they went out to eat at the well-frequented restaurant, The Meat and Wine Co. As they entered inside, they were met by a waiter, who led them to a table downstairs. Wishing to receive seating upstairs where they could enjoy the view, my aunt and uncle were immediately relocated elsewhere on the upper story.

After sitting down to their new table, a new waiter approached them and began explaining the daily special. They went on to casually engage in some short conversation with the waiter, after which he slowly began walking away. “By the way,” he yelled out, “if you need anything else, my name is Barak.”

“I immediately felt something resonate with me,” my aunt related. “The name Barak rang a bell. I turned to my husband, Simon, and said, ‘We need to find out what his mother’s name is.’” Without delay, Simon called Barak over again and asked, “Barak, does your mother’s name happen to be Orna?” “Yes, it is!” Barak enthused. But Barak was at the time a bit surprised. “What did you just say?” he asked. At that point, my aunt interjected. “By any chance, did you fight last summer in the war with Gaza, Operation Protective Edge?”

“How did you know?” piped up Barak. “Well,” said my aunt, “I have your name on my kitchen cabinet. During the war, I received your name, Barak son of Orna, to pray for.”

What was even stranger, my aunt later relayed, was that two weeks beforehand, she walked into her kitchen in Los Angeles and saw his name hanging up and began praying for him. As she did so, she whispered to G-d, “I don’t know if he is even alive, but it would be nice to find out how he is doing.”

“We went to Israel,” my aunt mentioned, “which wasn’t planned; we went to Herzliya and it wasn’t planned. We went to The Meat and Wine Co. restaurant, which also wasn’t planned. We finally chose a table where out of all the waiters, Barak was the one to help us. It was a powerful reminder that Hashem is involved in the affairs of the world, from one end of the globe to the other.”
Three weeks after my aunt returned home, she received an email from Barak. “The next day after meeting you,” he wrote, “I started putting Tefillin on. I have not done so in years, but I see how this event was orchestrated by G-d and is something for me to take to heart.”

We may often think to ourselves, “We live in a world of seven billion people. It is hard to imagine that the Creator of the Universe would be looking after little old me.” The truth of the matter, though, is that Hashem orchestrates each event in every one of our lives. There is nothing which occurs that is coincidental or accidental. Every breath we take is His special way of telling us that we matter, and we in turn ought to reach out and ask that He help us along every step of our journey in life. Because, without question, He is waiting to hear from us.

Dr. Jack Cohen
Living with Hashem

Allow me to share with you the words of one lady who related the following:

As it turned out, I was born to emotionally unstable parents. They were incapable of working or running a household, not to mention that my siblings and I were neglected. I don’t know how I survived as a child with no guiding hand and little warmth or love. My parents were indifferent if we children went to school, prompting my brothers and sisters to choose the option of not going. I, on the other hand, was happy going to school because I knew that its environment was better than my home. I prepared my own food every morning, providing there was bread in the house, and also bought my own clothes or borrowed from others.

My father passed away when I was seventeen, and from there life went downhill. My family just about fell apart, and a year later, my mother was hospitalized, leaving me totally on my own. I decided to go to work cleaning houses in Israel. I also made sure to keep up with my studies, even though I couldn’t do much considering my work schedule. I continued going to school and keeping up with my friends. When I turned twenty-one, my friends set me up with someone who seemed like perfection on earth. This may sound unreasonable, but I think one reason I liked him so much was that he had a family. I had grown up with no family, and what most people took for granted was a big deal for me.

We eventually got married, though afterwards it became clear that even though my husband had a family, they didn’t have him. It turned out that he was the black sheep in the family. All my life I dreamed of building a home that would be the opposite of the house I grew up in, but now I was getting the same type of husband. I would say that he had a good heart, but he was at the same time apathetic and very unmotivated. My dream of who my husband would be was shattered.

A while later, we were blessed with a beautiful baby boy. When he turned six, I started noticing some strange things. I brought him to the doctor, who ran tests and confirmed our worries. Our baby was deaf. Stone deaf, that is. I wondered how I would ever be able to cope, but somehow I did. My baby was adorable, and I learned how to love him and bond with him. My husband was not interested in the baby at all, though I am not sure if his deafness had anything to do with it. I found myself doing everything around the house and for our son, which was certainly tasking.

A year and a half later, we were blessed with another child, a baby girl. I was told to have her hearing checked, which I did, though the results were sad but true. My daughter was stone deaf too. The doctors figured that is must be genetic, which gave my husband now more reason to abandon us and run away, which he did. I was now alone with all my troubles after having a difficult childhood, a poorly chosen husband, two children severely afflicted with total deafness, and now complete abandonment and divorce.

I don’t know how I had the strength for it, but G-d helped me and I gave my children all I had. How I mustered to find all the love I gave them was beyond me. I had tried getting their father to take them out once in a while, and take our son to shul to learn with, but it was like talking to a wall. Fortunately, I received educational and welfare support to accommodate my children’s deaf needs, but life was still trying.

One day, my son, Danny, fell and suffered some minor injuries. After Danny was helped and bandaged up, I took both of my children and sat them down in the waiting room as I went downstairs to take care of the payments. After I finished and returned upstairs, I noticed my two children seated next to a non-Jewish couple, Jack and Rachel, who were in their forties. They looked at my kids and my kids looked at them. They even began asking my children questions, not realizing that they were deaf.

My son tried answering the questions in sign language, but the man had a hard time understanding. Finally, his wife said, “They don’t hear you! They are deaf.” The couple began thinking of made-up gesticulations they could use to communicate with the kids. The children just laughed. I watched this scene unfold for a few minutes, whereupon I made my way over and introduced myself as the children’s mother. They were very impressed with how I managed to raise two deaf children and added that they felt more people should be acquainted with sign language. We went on to exchange phone numbers and wish each other the best.

A week later, I received a phone call. It was the woman we had met wishing to inform me that she and her husband had begun to take sign language classes. She asked if it would be okay to visit the children as they wished to speak to them in sign language. At this time, I realized that they were a well-off couple with no children of their own. The husband owned several gas stations and made a very good living.

They ended up adopting my kids and me, so to speak, and for the first time in my life they kept me afloat without having to worry about feeding the children at night. In a few months’ time, Jack and Rachel knew sign language very well, and started communicating with my kids. I can hardly begin to describe how nice Jack and Rachel were to us all.

One day, Rachel called and asked if they could take the kids out for a few hours. She mentioned that she would like to purchase presents for them for the holidays, which left me unsure how to respond. I stammered, only for Rachel and Jack to realize that their offer was being declined for religious reasons, which they fully respected. They said that they would instead stop by the next day and talk to the kids. I finally explained to them that I was an Orthodox Jew, and neither I nor my children celebrated non-Jewish holidays.

The next day, I went on to describe what it means to be a Jew and keep the Torah and six hundred and thirteen commandments. I also added how millions of Jews have given up their lives rather than break the laws of Shabbat and kashrut or cut off their beards and peyot. Jack and Rachel were so impressed and intrigued in learning about Judaism. Rachel even offered that her husband could start learning Torah with my son, Danny. However, I was well aware that learning Torah was very different from learning sign language, and I wanted to be careful of my children being influenced by non-Jewish values and ideals.

I suggested that they speak to the rabbi of the community, which they did. He explained everything about Judaism to them and opened a world that they had never before knew existed or ever imagined about. They were eager to learn more and become more and more aware of the details and nuances of Yiddishkeit. Eventually, they decided that they wished to convert.

I started to cry when I first heard this, whereupon Jack and Rachel asked what the tears were for. I explained that I was so touched that they wished to embark upon this road of conversion to Judaism. It would not be easy, but they reassured me that they were ready to do whatever it would take. Jack and Rachel foraged ahead courageously and sincerely committed themselves to a life of Torah and mitzvot despite any challenges they encountered.

A year and a half later, Jack and Rachel underwent a full-fledged conversion. Jack became Yaakov and Rachel became Sarah. Yaakov began consistently learning Torah, and after a while, he started studying with my son, Danny, as he had wished to do so earlier. Sarah became akin to a grandmother to my daughter, which filled a tremendous gap in all of our lives.

If there is any lesson I learned from this all, it is that you can never know what life will bring you. Yet, we must always retain our faith in Hashem and unwaveringly move ahead and embrace challenges in life. Because indeed, when we live with Hashem, there is always a silver lining that exists wherever we find ourselves.

A Short Message From
Rabbi Nosson Sherman

At times throughout the Torah, Moshe Rabbeinu’s name appears before his brother, Aharon; yet at other times, Aharon’s name precedes that of Moshe. This is so, explain Chazal, to demonstrate that Moshe and Aharon were of equal stature. But it is odd. Was that really so? Moshe Rabbeinu is known to be the greatest leader to ever exist and share a relationship with Hashem that no other human being ever experienced. What is even more strange are the words of the Rambam (Hilchos Teshuva 5:2) who writes that everyone can be as righteous as Moshe Rabbeinu. How can that be?

The matter of fact, though, is that these words of Chazal are very true. What it means that Moshe and Aharon were equal and that we can be as great as Moshe Rabbeinu is in relation to living up to our potential. Just as Moshe lived up to his full talent and potential given to him by Hashem, so did Aharon, and so can all of us. In that respect, even us many, many years later can develop into towering personalities with unlimited greatness.

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