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TorahAnytimes Newsletter Bamidbar

Parshat Bamidbar

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik


"The TorahAnyTimes" Newsletter

Parashat Bamidbar                                                                         Print Version
5th of Sivan, 5778 | May 19, 2018

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik

Rabbi Avi Davidowitz 
A Reuniting Promise

Over thirty years ago, as Rav Shlomo Carlebach sat on a return flight from San Francisco to Israel after participating in a wedding, he decided to head to the back of the plane and see if he could get something to drink. He softly pushed the curtain apart which closed off the galley from the rest of the plane, and noticed something surprisingly odd. A stewardess was standing with what appeared to be a siddur in her hands, mumbling words under her breath.

Rav Carlebach had never seen such a sight before, and decided to wait a few minutes until she finished and turned back around. “If I may ask,” Rabbi Carlebach said, “were you just praying?” “Yes, I was,” the stewardess replied. “I am a religious Jew,” she continued, “and in fact converted just a few years ago.” Rabbi Carlebach was moved and delightfully surprised to see such a woman. “What can I do for you Rabbi?” she asked. “If I could please have something to drink…” And with that, she handed Rabbi Carlebach something, and he returned to his seat.

Two hours later, as the stewardess headed down the aisles, checking in on passengers to ensure their comfortability, she stopped next to Rabbi Carlebach’s seat. “Can I ask you something?” she said to him. “Sure, what can I do for you?” “Well,” she began, “recently I converted and have had some of my friends try to help me find a shidduch. I went out with one boy, and it had been going well, until I was told by the shadchan that he wished to stop. I was shocked. I was told that it was the boy’s father who did not want us to continue seeing each other. I proceeded to call the boy and ask for an explanation. He profusely apologized, but reiterated that it was his father who was preventing the shidduch from moving forward.

“Rabbi Carlebach,” the stewardess continued, “could you do me a favor? Considering my background, I do not have many connections who can help me in this regard. Would you be able to call the father of the boy and tell him your impressions of me and see if that would help change his mind?” Rav Carlebach was unsure if he would be so effective, though he empathized with the woman’s difficult predicament. Rav Carlebach went on to take down the father’s information and exchanged numbers with the woman, ensuring her that he would remain in touch.

A few days later, Rav Carlebach phoned the father. “A few days ago,” Rabbi Carlebach described, “I met a very nice girl on my flight…” Rav Carlebach did not get too far in describing the girl’s dedication to Yiddishkeit, politeness and respectful character until the father interjected. “Rabbi, it sounds like someone my son already went out with… but I’m sorry, I cannot let him continue.” The father then hung up. Rabbi Carlebach was in no position to push any further.

Calling back the girl, Rabbi Carlebach explained how he had attempted to persuade the father, but it was to no avail. Rabbi Carlebach felt lost, but there not much more he could do, which the girl understood and accepted.

It was but a few months later that Rabbi Carlebach received a phone call. “Hello…” the girl said, with a tone of timidity, “Rabbi Carlebach? You may remember me. This is the stewardess who you met on a flight a few months ago…” “Yes, I remember,” Rabbi Carlebach reminisced. It appeared as if she had some good news to share, the likes of an engagement or wedding, though the girl quickly clarified the intent of her calling. “Rabbi, I am calling you because things changed.” “What do you mean?” Rabbi Carlebach wondered. “Well, a few weeks ago my mother called me. This was the first time we had spoken in four years, ever since I converted. For years, both my father and mother had been furious at me for converting and cut all ties with me. Yet, now my mother called me from the hospital, relaying to me that she is seriously sick. I was silent and sad to hear of her current condition. She mentioned that she would like to see me one last time before she leaves this world.

“I quickly packed my bags and headed to the South of Israel, where she was located. As soon as I arrived and looked over at my mother, she stared back at me and said, ‘Please accept upon yourself to bury me in a Jewish cemetery.’ I was startled. ‘What do you mean?’ I asked. ‘Why would you like to be buried in a Jewish cemetery if you are not Jewish? And besides, wouldn’t Dad be the one you would want to ask?’ My mother paused, clearly giving off the impression that something was beneath the surface.

“I never told you,” my mother slowly said, “but your father and I are in fact Jewish. We survived the Holocaust.” The girl’s heart dropped. “Afterwards, however,” continued the mother, “we wished to disassociate ourselves from all traces of Judaism, as we had seen and suffered persecution, and we didn’t wish to be a part of a nation that would be subject to such oppression. We didn’t want you to suffer, but wanted instead that you live a good life. We therefore brought you up as a Christian and led you along the path of a good life. Of course, you would never have suspected this, but that is the truth. Dad may not admit to being Jewish though and would likely not agree to bury me in accordance with the Jewish practice, which is why I asked you.”

The girl was taken aback by the news. “But Mom, if I was always Jewish, then why were you so upset with me when I converted?” “Your father and I wanted to save you from a difficult life, and we could not come to terms with the future that becoming Jewish might bring for you.” The girl looked back at her mother, staring deeply into her eyes. “Of course I will do as you wish. I will see to it that you are buried in a Jewish cemetery.”

“As it stands right now,” the girl continued telling Rabbi Carlebach, “my mother is alive and improving slightly. But I am calling you because I was wondering if you would be able to call that father of the boy again and explain to him that I am actually not a convert, which I know was holding back the shidduch beforehand.” Rav Carlebach agreed to give it one more try.

As soon as the father heard Rav Carlebach’s voice again, he presumed that he was just bringing up the same old news. “Wait, wait,” Rav Carlebach interjected, “there is a new story.” Before the father could hang up, Rav Carlebach continued. “The girl was always Jewish, and she converted because she was unaware of that.” But the father found that hard to believe. “Rabbi, you really believe that story…?”

“I’ll tell you what,” said Rav Carlebach. “I will bring her and her father to your home where you can meet. If you come to like her, that will be great; if not, I will leave you alone.” The father hemmed and hawed, greatly hesitating at the idea, though Rav Carlebach eventually succeeded in convincing him.

The next day, there was Rav Carlebach along with the girl and her father. The boy’s father opened the door, ushering the girl inside with slight hesitancy. The father then began looking over Rav Carlebach’s shoulder, interested in seeing who the girl’s father was.

And then they made eye contact. “David, is that you? “Saul?” The girl’s father and the boy’s father fell in full embrace of each other. They had been best friends during the Holocaust, after which they were separated and lost all contact from each other. One of them turned out becoming more strongly identified in his Yiddishkeit, while the other gave it all up. But here they were reuniting. They both could not believe it.

Taking a seat together, they both drank a l’chaim, reveling in the moment of unexpected reunion. “Saul,” David finally said, “I think it is time that we keep the promise that we made.” Saul looked at David. “I forgot what it was; I don’t remember.” “You don’t remember? When we were kids, we told each other that we would live near one another and promised that our children would marry into each other’s families…” Saul now remembered… and of course, their promises came true…

Mrs. Esther Pearlman 
The Secret of Ay-Ay-Ay

As a man made his way over from Europe to America following the Second World War, he looked to build a family of his own and forge a new bright future. And indeed, he did. Over the years, he comfortably settled down, got married and had a number of children.

But there was something unique about this man. He would always, without fail, utter the phrase, “Ay-ay-ay.” While such a line is typically accompanied by a sigh, that was not the case here. Whether something unpleasant or even pleasant occurred, these words were constantly at the tip of his tongue. His family often wondered what the underlying reason for such behavior was, yet the father never divulged any information.

Finally, when the time arrived for his son’s wedding, so did the day to uncover the real reason for his bizarre comment. At one point, when the chattan noticed his father utter his favorite refrain, “Ay-ay-ay,” he stopped him. “Abba,” he said, “ever since I lived at home, I have heard you say this over and over. No one has ever approached you about it though. But now, please tell me, why do you say it?” And without further ado, the father revealed his story:

During the war, the only source of motivation and hope which kept me and my friends going was that we knew there was a purpose to our lives. We understood that Torah was our very life source and our most precious gift. Without Torah, nothing else would have breathed life into us. Throughout our stay in the barracks, we maximized every opportunity to audibly recite all sorts of Pesukim, chapters in Tehillim and Talmudic passages amongst ourselves. We hoped that doing so would enable us to continue our connection to Torah learning. And in fact, it fueled us and kept us going. But no sooner than later, the German soldiers caught on to our antics and grew suspicious. We could tell that they were unhappy with us learning Torah secretly.

When this occurred, one of my friends devised a catch phrase: “אי-אי-אי” – “Ay-ay-ay.” It does not mean what it sounds like. It is an acrostic which formulates a secret code that only we Jews in the barracks understood. It refers to the “Six Constant Mitzvot,” for which a person fulfills a positive commandment every moment he ponders them. Each Hebrew letter refers to a different Pasuk or concept which discusses a particular mitzvah. The Aleph stands for, “Anochi Hashem Elokecha” –“I am Hashem your G-d;” the Yud represents, “[Lo] Yihiye Lecha Elokim Acheirim” –“You shall have no other g-ds.” That was the first word. Anytime anyone of us would say it, we were prompted to remember these two fundamental mitzvot.

The next two mitzvot, represented by the next two letters of Aleph and Yud are, “Ahavat Hashem,” love of G-d, and “Yirat Hashem,” fear of G-d. The last two letters stand for, “[V’lo Taturu] Acharei Le’vavchem V’acharei Eineichem” –“You shall not stray after your heart and after your eyes;” and finally, “Yichud Shemo,” the oneness of G-d’s name.

This is what carried us through the war, and has stayed with me ever since. From then on, day after day, I have repeated “Ay-ay-ay” and reminded myself of these mitzvot. They indelibly impacted me and my fellow Jews many years ago, and still do to this very day.

Such was the secret of “Ay-ay-ay.” It wasn’t the mere outcry of complaining; it was the cry of a neshama yearning to connect to its Creator amid the most miserable of conditions. The same should hold true for us today. That which is often perceived as “Ay-ay-ay” can equally be viewed as the greatest of opportunities. Instead of moaning and groaning, we can look to make the most of every situation and keep on smiling and singing, “Ay-ay-ay.”

Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim 
The Produce of Our Inheritance

Children from the youngest of ages are taught the ever-important words, “Torah tziva lanu Moshe morasha kehillat Yaakov” –“The Torah which Moshe commanded us is the inheritance of the Congregation of Jacob” (Devarim 33:4). Expressing a fundamental tenant of Judaism about our belief in the Torah, the description of the Torah in this phrase is quite notable. It is an “inheritance.” It is our legacy for life.

However, observes the Sefat Emet, when turning to the Mishnah in Pirkei Avot, we soon encounter a dilemma. “Prepare yourself for the study of Torah, for it is not an inheritance for you” (Pirkei Avot 2:12). What does the Mishnah mean that Torah is not an inheritance? Doesn’t the Torah itself say that it is an inheritance?

In order to understand this, let us first draw a distinction between an inheritance and a gift. The former comes about without the recipient doing anything concrete. Merely being the descendent of an individual reserves one entitlement to inherited property. No halachic acquisition is in fact required to substantiate one’s claim to the possessions either. It automatically falls into one’s estate.

Considering this, as we find ourselves soon to receive the Torah, what exactly is occurring? Are we receiving the Torah as an inheritance or not? Must we do something to prove ourselves worthy to obtain it or are we automatically entitled?

The Gemara (Rosh Hashanah 16a) states that we are judged on Shavuot with respect to peirot ha’ilan, the fruits of the tree. Why is the judgment focused on the fruits of the tree as opposed to the trees themselves?

The Sefat Emet explains that Shavuot is exactly that. The judgment is not on the tree itself, but on what it produces. In other words, the Torah – “The Tree of Life” – is absolute. Once we accepted the Torah at Har Sinai, we became its heirs forever. The Torah is our source of life to keep and no one can take that away from us. It is our inheritance.

However, what will be produced from the Torah is not an automatic inheritance. The novella, insights and advancement forged in Torah is renewed every year. Hashem on Shavuot judges what type of Torah will be produced this year. How many more sefarim will be written, what new ideas will be presented, how much new depth and breadth will be uncovered. It is in reference to this that the above Mishnah in Pirkei Avot cautions us, “Prepare yourself for the study of Torah, for it is not an inheritance for you.” Much dedication and application is necessary in order to delve into the many layers of Torah. It is not something which we inherit from our predecessors.

What thus occurs on Shavuot is two-fold. On the one hand, we automatically receive the Torah as heirs to our Jewish heritage. However, how much and to what extent the Torah’s wisdom and insights will be explicated and elucidated this year is left up to us. The “produce” of the “Tree of Life” is judged on Shavuot. We determine the results of that very important decision. How enthusiastic and ready we are to embrace the vast beauty of Torah and probe into its veritable gold mine is our choice.

A Short Message From 
Rabbi Ephraim Shapiro

As part of the the Yom Tov prayers, we express the emotion, “V’romamtanu mi’kol ha’leshonos,” which in a literal sense conveys that Hashem has “Exalted us above all the tongues [languages and nations of the world] …” Yet, as Rav Shlomo Heiman zt”l once noted, perhaps there is an alternative, yet very insightful way to view this phrase. 

At times during our lives, Hashem grants us precious and special moments which can neither be quantified nor qualified. The day of your child’s wedding or the birth of a son or daughter are moments where we are at a loss for words. There is nothing we can say to Hashem to properly express the other-worldly sensation we are blessed to be experiencing. There is no dictionary or thesaurus which captures our thoughts and feelings. All we can do is convey to Hashem that we will never forget this moment because it is etched in our hearts higher and more exalted than any words.

The experience of a Yom Tov elicits similar indescribable emotions. It elevates us, exalts us and encourages us to come higher and closer in our unique relationship with Hashem.

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