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TorahAnytimes Newsletter Vayelech

Parshat Vayelech

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik


"The TorahAnyTimes" Newsletter

Parashat Vayelech 
6th of Tishrei, 5779 | September 15, 2018

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik

Rabbi Mordechai Becher 
So What?

As is recorded in the Siddur HaGra, the Vilna Gaon once came across an inn owned by a Jew. After the Gaon had taken a seat and settled down together with his students, a supposed Jewish apostate entered inside and asked the innkeeper for some liquor. With the Gra overhearing the conversation, he approached the innkeeper and told him not to give anything to the man. Perturbed, the innkeeper asked why.

“This man has cast aside any observance of Torah and mitzvos, and if you give him something to drink, he will not make a blessing.” As soon as the man caught wind of what had happened, he approached the Vilna Gaon, shocked and incredulous. “Do you have any idea of what type of sins I commit! I don’t believe in G-d nor the Torah, and I don’t keep even a single commandment! What’s the commotion about me drinking something without making a blessing?”

The Gra looked back at the man and said, “So what? Even if you do not observe even a single commandment, that does not exempt you from keeping them, and require you to make a blessing before drinking. You are obligated to perform every mitzvah in the Torah no matter what you have done.”

And as the story goes, the man burst into tears and repented right there and then.

It is somewhat common to believe that once we have sinned and done things wrong, we are on a downhill slide anyway, so what difference does it make if we do a few other things wrong? We think to ourselves, “I am already sinning, so a little more, a little less... it’s all the same…” But nothing could be further from the truth. Even if a person has violated 612 of the 613 commandments, that has nothing to do with that last one commandment. It is not a matter of, “Well, I don’t keep kosher and I don’t keep Shabbat, so what difference does it make if I go to shul…!” Every little positive step taken, every mitzvah performed, every good action taken carries independent value and unbelievable reward. We ought to never feel that all because we do not do such-and-such, we cannot do our best in other areas.

Let me share with you a more contemporary story. 
A close friend of mine, Rabbi Karsh, was once sitting in the back of a taxi with Rav Moshe Shapiro, who was in the front seat. Some time in the middle of the ride, the taxi driver turned to Rav Shapiro and asked if he could quickly stop off to buy a falafel. Rav Shapiro agreed, and out hopped the cabbie to the falafel stand.

Upon returning a few minutes later, the driver peeled back the tin foil and paper wrap surrounding his falafel and was about to take a bite, when Rav Moshe Shapiro stopped spoke up. “Without Netillat Yadayim? Without a blessing?” The taxi driver strangely looked back at Rav Shapiro. “I’m not religious,” he said rather matter-of-factly.

“So what?” continued Rav Shapiro. “Look Rabbi,” said the cabbie, “I commit many severe sins…” “So what?” repeated Rav Shapiro. “That means you cannot make a blessing…?” “I will take all my punishments in bulk,” sardonically replied the cabbie. Rav Shapiro looked straight at him, not appearing amused in the least. “You know you are speaking foolishness.” “Yes,” the cabbie said, “I know.”

The driver proceeded to make a blessing and eat the falafel, as piercing silence remained for the rest of the taxi ride. 
To this day, I do not know what happened to that taxi driver, but I do know that those words of Rav Shapiro echoed exactly what the Vilna Gaon said years earlier.

“So what?” So what if you do not keep any mitzvah? Even if you do not keep kosher and you do not keep Shabbat, does that mean you cannot wear a head covering when you come home from work and sit in your house? Even if you fail to bentch after you eat bread, does that mean you cannot make a blessing before you eat? Each and every mitzvah has independent merit and value, and should not be viewed as part of an all-or-nothing package. Yes, the optimum and ideal goal is to adhere to every single mitzvah with utmost dedication and devotion, but does that mean you cannot in the process do what you can as best as you can.

Such is the lesson of the Vilna Gaon and Rav Moshe Shapiro. So what? Everything matters, everything counts. See what you can do and stick to keeping that. Don’t let your past hold you back and deter you from doing what stands before you. Search, strive and succeed in whatever you can. Because Hashem cherishes every little blessing, every little moment of Torah study and every little kind word you tell another. Even if you do a little, you are doing a lot.

Rabbi Zecharia Wallerstein 
Why Are You in the Ambulance?

It was 3:30 am and I had just finally finished a very long day of work. It was one of those moments when you treasure the cold side of the pillow, and just fade away into a deep slumber before you can count to ten.

But then my phone rang.

While my phone is usually on silent at night, amidst my extreme exhaustion, I had forgotten to do so. And so, despite my fatigue, I leaned over with my eyes half-open and grabbed the phone, squinting to see who was calling. I didn’t recognize the number though. That was of concern.

“Hello?” I said with a crack in my voice. “Rabbi Wallerstein, this is Hatzalah of Mill Basin calling…” I immediately froze. The word Hatzalah woke me up in a split second. “We have one of your high school students here. She overdosed and needs to be taken to the hospital, but she refuses to go anywhere without you.”

Here I was, hearing at 3:30 in the middle of the night how my student needs to be rushed to the hospital and wants me to come along. I was beyond tired, had just gotten comfortably in bed, and didn’t feel like getting dressed again and sitting in an ambulance and hospital for who knows how long. My consolation was that Mill Basin was around twenty minutes from my home, so perhaps I could sleep for a few more minutes before they arrived.

“Where are you now?” I asked. “In your driveway,” they said. 
Tiringly, I got dressed and hobbled down the stairs, wondering why this needed to happen now. Why couldn’t Hatzalah have called me on my way home, hours ago? I was enervated and didn’t know how much more I could handle for one night, which would soon turn into the next day.

Pulling myself up into the ambulance, I took a look at my student laying on the gurney as I took a seat on the bench alongside. She was not doing well, to say the least.

But then, almost suddenly, a flashing thought raced through my mind. Every moment of our future is written on Rosh Hashanah, and sealed on Yom Kippur. This past year on Rosh Hashanah, it was written, “Zecharia Wallerstein will be in an ambulance at 3:35 am on a Thursday night.” That was Hashem’s Divine decree, and nothing I could do would change that.

Except, as we say during the Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur davening, “Teshuva, tefillah u’tzedakah ma’avirin es ro’a ha’gezeirah – Repentance, prayer and charity move the evil of the decree.” Interestingly, we make mention here not of Hashem erasing the decree, but being ma’avir it. Ma’avirin, in its literal sense, means “move.” Ultimately, we are not stating that the decree become annulled, but rather move and apply differently to the same context. That decree – “Zecharia Wallerstein will be in an ambulance at 3:35 am on a Thursday night” – was written and sealed and would no matter what remain. Why and how I would be in an ambulance, though, would depend on what I do in my life. If I would be doing the right thing and helping people, then those words would take on a more positive connotation. I would be in an ambulance in the middle of the night doing a mitzvah of comforting a girl who felt scared and alone. On the other hand, were I to do the opposite, that Thursday night may have looked like a ride in an ambulance because of a broken bone or heart attack, chas v’shalom.

It is our choice and in our hands to move the decrees for our future one way or another. It all depends on what we do with our lives. Fill them with kindness, goodness and caring for others, and the ambulance could be a vehicle for you to perform an incredible mitzvah. It’s all up to us.

Rabbi Asher Sinclair 
Meeting the King

During this time of year, the beseeching requests of Avinu Malkeinu echo and ring in our ears. We implore Hashem for compassion, blessing and salvation, hoping and pining that our prayers ascend on High. But one line among the many particularly stands out – “Our Father, our King, act for Your sake if not for our sake.” What does this mean and what exactly are we asking of Hashem?

When this question was posed to Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman zt”l, he replied with the following story:

Years ago, there was a Jew who lived in an apartment in Paris, just two flights down from the son-in-law of the king of Morocco. The Jew and his Moroccan neighbor over time befriended one another and slowly began taking a like to each other.

When news that the king of Morocco planned a visit to his son-in-law, the Jew began wondering if, just possibly, he could arrange for the opportunity to personally meet him. With close connections to the son-in-law, perhaps it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to have just a few minutes with the king. And he was right. The neighbor arranged for the Jew to have the chance to privately greet and meet the king.

Sure enough, at 9:00 am the next morning, the Jew knocked on his Moroccan neighbor’s door and was ushered inside. Stepping foot into the living room, the Jew looked over at the king, reverently acknowledged him and recited the customary blessing over seeing a non-Jewish monarch.

The king was intrigued to notice that the Jew mumbled some blessing under his breath. Inquiring as to the nature of the blessing, the Jew explained that it was said in relation to none other than the king himself. We praise G-d Who sees it fit to apportion grandeur and glory to human rulers.

For the next few minutes, the Jew and Moroccan king sat together and exchanged some light and courteous words. After finishing the conversation, the king sat up, shook the Jew’s hand and was just about to head off, when the Jew added in one more word. “Your Majesty, this Saturday morning, my son will be turning thirteen and having his bar mitzvah, during which he is called to the Torah. It would be a true honor and privilege if you could grace us with your presence this Saturday for just a few minutes.”

The king looked at the Jew, a small smile forming at the corners of his mouth and a twinkle glistening in his eye. “Well, I would love to, but I am very busy and I am sorry, but I will have to decline the invitation. But I have enjoyed speaking to you, and in honor of your son’s milestone, I would like to extend to him a present.” Taking out his check book, the king proceeded to write a check out to the Jew and hand it to him. The Jew caught a glance at the amount and gulped. 40,000 Euros. “Your majesty… it is so very kind of you, but I cannot accept this…”

“I understand, but I am a king, and it is beneath my dignity to give you anything less…”

As we stand before Hashem and recite the words in Avinu Malkeinu, “Our Father, our King, act for Your sake if not for our sake,” we mean to ask Hashem that He deal with us in a manner befitting His honor and His sake. As far as it goes for us and our sake, we have little to show to deserve another year of life. But when it is Hashem, the King of Kings, who hands us our futures and determines our judgement, it is done with graciousness and generosity. Despite our righteousness surely not being worthy of such extensive and expansive kindness and goodness, we are in perfect position. How fortunate we are to be together with Hashem, the true King, whose mercy is everlasting and compassion is boundless. When He hands us our gift of life, it is done with utmost gratuity and grandness.

Dr. Jack Cohen 
Our Time, Our Clock

It was the beginning of Year Eleven for hundreds of students in England. As they settled into their seats and allowed a hush to spread throughout the room, the headmaster began.

“Today’s assembly is about the start of a journey. The start of the rest of your lives. In two years, all of you will be graduating. In three years, you will be studying across the world, studying at the university of your choice. If five years, you will have started your careers. Many of you in this room will be working for the top institutions across the globe. You will then get married, after which you may buy a house. In ten years, your path, your life will be set for you.”

Within moments after the headmaster completed his final sentence, a student in the back raised his hand, prompting murmurs to circulate around the room.

Confidently yet respectfully, the student walked towards the front. 
“I’m sorry Mr. Headmaster, but let me tell you why that approach may fail you. I know people who graduated at 21 and didn’t get a job until they were 27. I know people who graduated at 25 and found work immediately. I know people who never went to university, but found what they love at 18. I know people who found a job right out of college making decent money, but hate what they do.

“I know people who took gap years and found their purpose. I know people who were so sure about what they were going to do at 16, but changed their minds at 26. I know people who have children but are divorced, and I know people who are married and had to wait 8 to 10 years to have children. I know people in relationships who love someone else, and I know people who love each other but aren’t together.

“My point is that everything in life happens according to our time, our clock. You may look at some of your friends and think they’re ahead of you, and maybe some of them you feel are behind, but everything happens at everyone’s own pace. We each have our own time and clock. Many well-recognized individuals achieved their goals at a later stage in life than one would expect. Richard Branson founded Virgin Airlines at 34 and Amancio Ortega launched the world-class chain of Zara clothing and accessories at 39.

“Getting your degree after 25 is still an achievement. Not being married at 30 but still happy is beautiful. Starting a family after 35 is still possible. And buying a house after 40 is still great. Don’t let anyone rush you with their timelines. Because as Einstein said, ‘Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that’s counted truly counts.’

“And this is the most important thing. You want to be able to create meaningful, purposeful lives for yourselves, and learn how to use that to make an impact and difference in the lives of others. That will be true success.”

Shlomo Hamelech tells us, “Everything has its season, and there is a time for everything under the heaven” (Koheles 4:1). In the world of shidduchim, especially, although it is extremely difficult, always remember that Hashem has the perfect time and place for you to meet your spouse. He knows who you are, He knows where you live, and He knows who will be the one for you. And equally so, never let anyone rush you into dating and marriage before you are ready. As Rav Elya Lopian zt”l remarked, your bashert will be perfect for you at the time you meet them. You will not lose out by developing and growing yourself into the person you want to become before you begin dating. You will only be better because of it.

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