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TorahAnytimes Newsletter Lech Lecha

Parshat Lech Lecha

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik


"The TorahAnyTimes" Newsletter

Parashat Lech Lecha                                                                      Print Version
11th of Cheshvan, 5778 | October 20, 2018

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik

Rabbi YY Jacobson 
Much Forgiveness, Much Fear

One of the most oft-recited chapters in Tehillim is that of “Shir Ha’Maalos Mi’mamakim – A song of ascents. From the depths have I called you…” (130:1). While this chapter of Tehillim has found a special place amidst the prayers of those beseeching for an individual to be healed from their sickness or alike, one specific verse therein peculiarity stands out. “For with You is forgiveness, that You may be feared” (130:4). How does this make sense? Generally, when you forgive someone, it increases their love for you, not fear of you. The teacher who is easygoing and quick to forget and forgive typically evokes love from the students, whereas the strict, militant disciplinarian engenders fear. Why then does the Pasuk here state that Hashem’s forgiveness is done so that we fear him?

The Baal HaTanya offers an especially enlightening explanation, which can be understood with the following example. 

It is 2006 and the real estate market is doing quite well. Deciding it is time to make a big splash financially, you take out a loan for $50 million and begin building condominiums in Manhattan, expecting to make around $70 million in return in a couple years’ time.

But then 2008 arrives and the market devastatingly crashes. No one is interested in buying such largely expensive property, and you are left with tons of apartment complexes under your name and an outrageous loan needing to be repaid next month. The catastrophe can get no worse than it already is. The manager of the bank schedules an appointment with you for next Wednesday and all you can do is shiver with fear. When you finally walk in, he says, “It doesn’t make a difference what happened; we must be repaid every cent with interest. Your first payment is due next Tuesday when we will be expecting $5.4 million. The same will be true for every single upcoming month.”

You look at the bank manager and do nothing more than laugh. Turning aside, you call your wife and say, “This manager is off his rocker. Don’t even begin to worry because there is nothing we can do.” The next few days go by and you still don’t begin worrying. The expectations to repay such large amounts are literally impossible and so beyond any semblance of reality. You know that even if they summon you to court, you will fight to push it off for twenty years, and by then, the bank or bank manager will be long gone.

But what happens if you walk into the bank and the bank manager looks at you and says, “I am so sorry; we all have to bite the bullet. I know you were wiped out, and so were we. Let’s make this work. Firstly, I will release you of the interest you owe. Secondly, I will cut you 30% of the entire loan. Now tell me what you can do. Let’s work together.”

If this is how the bank manager approaches you, then you need to start worrying. You call your wife and say, “I have to pay back the loan. The manager is a fine fellow and he wants to work with me. I can’t just run away.”

This is the meaning of the above Pasuk, explains the Baal HaTanya. “For with You is forgiveness…” Hashem knows that we are human and have our share of failures and foibles. He knows very well that we are going to make bad deals and decisions. But He wants us to amend and correct those errors. He therefore comes to us and says, “I love you and cherish you, and just want you to be successful and happy. Let’s make this work. I forgive you, and know you can do better.”

When this is how Hashem approaches us, then we have much to fear, as the verse concludes. We cannot escape, but must take stock of our lives and engage in serious self-introspection and thought. Hashem empowers us with accountability and we then feel responsibility. There is forgiveness, but with it comes fear. And that is because we know that change and improvement is not impossible. G-d wants us to return and helps us to do so. And when the door is wide open, we would only be wise to enter.

Rabbi Duvi Bensoussan 
Praying for Whom?

I vividly remember the day. I was a young boy in second grade and recess was just beginning, when my close friend, Jesse Sutton, came over to me. “Duvi,” he said, “we are not going to recess today.” I looked at him with a strange stare. Recess was the highlight of my day. “Huh?” I muttered. “What do you mean? I want to play ball! What else is so important to do?” “My mother was rushed to the hospital today as I left to come here to school.” My demeanor immediately changed. “I’m very sorry to hear that,” I solemnly said. “Is everything okay?”

“Yeah, yeah,” Jesse said. “My mother went to give birth.” Now what had seemed to be bad news turned into good news. “Oh wow, Mazel Tov! That’s great!” But now I was confused. “So what’s the problem?” I asked. “Duvi,” he said, getting a little antsy. “Don’t you get it? I have five sisters. We need to pray that this one is a boy! We can’t go to recess today, but need to stay inside and say Tehillim!” As soon as I understood what Jesse was referring to, I knew what I needed to do. “If that is the way you put it,” I told him, “then this is a code red.”

And so, as the other boys filed out of the room to play football and basketball, I stayed behind with Jesse and pulled out my Sefer Tehillim. And then I began praying, “Hashem, you need to give my friend a baby brother! Please, please….!” We continued praying our hearts out, until our Rebbe reentered the classroom and confusedly looked at the two of us heavily swaying.

“What are you both doing here?” he asked. “Rebbe,” I said, “this is an emergency. Jesse’s mother went to the hospital this morning to give birth.” ”Oh, Mazel Tov!” he exclaimed. It was clear that he had not yet caught on to the urgency of this matter. “Rebbe, don’t you get it? Jesse has five sisters… we are praying that he will have a baby brother!” Our Rebbe simply smiled at the “emergency” we were taking care of and allowed us to carry on.

When recess was eventually over, everyone returned to class and took their seats. Just about an hour later, the door opened. It was Jesse’s father, and he was back from the hospital with news. By now, the entire class had learned of what Jesse and I had done, and as well hoped that we would receive “good news” that it was a boy.

Jesse’s father, quickly catching on that we are all waiting for the news, said, “It was… a girl!” The whole class immediately let out a gruntled sigh. “What?” I said, standing up to my full height. “What do you mean! I gave up my recess and prayed my heart out! Why didn’t Hashem listen to me?” But, the reality was the reality. That day, Jesse gained another little sister, to make it six in total.

Years went by for me, Jesse and his new sister, who they named Naomi. But today, her name is no longer Naomi Sutton, but Naomi Bensoussan, my wife. Could you imagine if it would have been a boy? Hashem knows exactly what do with every prayer uttered. Little did I know that in that classroom that day, my prayers were not going to lead to the birth of a new baby brother for Jesse, but the birth of my bashert. Such are the amazing ways of Hashem.

Rabbi Zecharia Wallerstein 
Creating a Superhighway

One of the great challenges faced by countless individuals and families in the world today is that of addiction. It comes in various shapes and fashions and has different meaning to different people, but ultimately, it never leaves one in a good position. It can take a wholesome life and shatter it into a myriad pieces. It is in response to this reality that the question must be asked as to what we can do.

In truth, by appropriately understanding how addiction works, we can better understand how to counteract it. Although countless professional books and articles have been written about the subject, each with its own level of insight and instruction, consider the following.

Every encounter and interaction we have in life creates what we can call a “road” in our psyche. Our life experiences do no less than embed themselves in our mind and, for better or worse, remain there. A happy occasion creates a heartwarming memory in our mind, and in the reverse, an unfortunate experience leaves us with a bad memory.

It is often thought that a one-time experience will do no harm and is nothing to be alarmed by. In fact, though, while that one occasion unto itself may not leave any noticeable deleterious effect, it creates this “road” in one’s psyche with its associated feeling.

In example, you are a teenager and decide to have a little alcohol to drink. It tastes good and you enjoy the time spent drinking. Nothing more happens, and you go about your everyday life for quite a while. Some time down the line, you are stressed and pressured and need an outlet. You begin thinking what you can do to relax and release some anxiety. You then remember the time long ago that you had that one drink, and how it made you feel good and relaxed. You don’t think twice, and have another drink. It feels good again.

A few months later, you are up against another highly stressful and pressurized situation. You remember now the two times you drank and how it calmed you down. You felt good then and you want to feel good now. You have another drink. It feels good again…

This is how addiction begins. From that one “innocuous” time drinking, a “road” was created in this individual’s psyche which associates drinking with a good feeling. Now, whenever faced with a stressful predicament, they go back down that road and reexperience whatever result that road provides. This is why even a one-time experience is extremely, extremely powerful.

Now, after this addiction paves a road in one’s psyche and the individual realizes that they must get rid of it, something else happens. They know what the road is, but they close it. They place orange cones at its entrance and avoid going there. The road of every life experience cannot be eradicated, but it can be closed and blocked off. Here is where the attempt to rid oneself of the addiction comes into play.

But, as is so often seen, relapse occurs. What is relapse? It is when you have closed the road, yet because of something happening in your life, you go back to that road and remove the orange cones. The road is not done away with, but merely sectioned off. But since it exists, with some willpower, it is reopened.

For those individuals who have never created such a road to begin with, they do not personally know what it is like and don’t go looking for it in a time of discomfort or stress. They will though resort, as every human being does, to something which provides them comfort. Everyone has a “road” in which they travel down when needed. For many of those who survived the difficult war years, turning to Hashem and reciting Tehillim is what they turn to. It is what provided consolation and relief in their painful past, and remains to this day as their source of coping. That is their road.

For those, though, who have created an unhealthy road even one time, or worse, are faced with the road of addiction, what can they do? If the road which they resort to is unsafe, are they stuck?

The answer is a resounding no. There is a way to heal and get better. The Rambam (Hil. Teshuva 6:3) writes, “It is possible that a person will commit such a grave sin or such a large quantity of sins… that the punishment will be that repentance will be impossible and he will be unable to amend his perverse ways…” What exactly does the Rambam mean by this?

Simply understood, the Rambam is referring to the condition of someone being so steeped and entrenched in sin, to the extent that they cannot extricate themselves from it in any which way. For such an individual, teshuva is unlikely and the natural course will only be more and more sinful conduct. The road this person created for himself is so large, in either quality or quality, that he invariably goes there consistently. He cannot stop, and the cycle continues.

But there is hope. And that is to do the exact opposite in the positive. Perform one special mitzvos or multiple mitzvos to such an extent that you create a superhighway. If your highway of addictive and recurring harmful behavior is so big, then create an even bigger superhighway that will want to travel on so much more than your simple and regular highway. When you are therefore looking for that meaning or thrill in life, you will not travel down that old highway of yours, because blocking it is an even bigger, more meaningful and more thrilling superhighway.

In essence, patterning the Rambam’s formulaic progression of recurring negative conduct is the inverse of positive conduct. To put it in practical terms, let’s take the following example.

After drinking once and finding it very satisfying and sedating, alcohol became a source of comfort and relief for one individual whenever times were tough. It became his outlet, or his “road.” Time and again, a sincere attempt was made to enter rehabilitation treatment and turn life around, but it never lasted too long. He simply relapsed and reverted back to his old drinking habits.

Were you to assist such an individual, what would be the course of action? Help him find a superhighway. Find something which provides a bigger so-called “adrenaline rush,” a greater source of meaning and more of a pull than drinking. It may mean throwing oneself into Torah study, or using one’s musical or artistic talents to cheer up others. The more one becomes immersed and attached to the other passionate activities, the more traveled and bigger that new superhighway becomes. It then doesn’t pay to engage in the addictive activity, for the superhighway is so much greater.

In short then, the rehabilitation process entails removing oneself from the detrimental environment and framework and placing oneself in a position to thrive. Secondly, in order to break away from returning to the old road, more must occur than simply closing it off. A new superhighway, in the form of a greater, positive, supercharged passion must take its place. When such intervention is set into motion, the chances of success are much more optimistic.

And lastly, yet most importantly, as the Rambam says (ibid. 6:4), “In this way… the righteous pray to Hashem to assist and guide them to the truth… asking Him, ‘Do not prevent my sins from enabling me to perform teshuva…’” While addiction may take away the keys to many areas of life and hamper an individual from fully embracing and actualizing their potential, what can open the doors to a new life and new potential is a master key. Even if all other keys are lost or damaged, if contact can be made with the manager who holds the master key, then hope is just around the corner. And that contact is made through tefilllah. If we pour our hearts out to Hashem, He may very well open the doors for us to reenter and reestablish a new life.

A Short Message From 
Rabbi Moshe Meir Weiss

My grandfather z”l, who was particularly knowledgeable and well-versed with many nuances in gematria (Hebrew numerical value), noted that the word er’eka (“I will show you”) in the verse, “Hashem said to Avram, ‘Go for yourself… to the land that I will show you.” (Bereishis 12:1) uniquely stands out. When each letter of the word er’eka is spelled out in full (aleph, lamed, pei – reish, yud, shin – aleph, lamed, pei – chaf, pei) it is exactly the gematria of the words Eretz Yisrael. Essentially, although not explicitly mentioned, embedded in the Torah is the allusion to the land which Hashem was leading Avraham Avinu.

Moreover, it is interesting to note that the only Pasuk in the Torah which equals the gematria of Eretz Yisrael is that of, “Hashem is a man of war; Hashem is His name” (Shemos 15:1-19) mentioned in Az Yashir, sung by the Jews after crossing the Red Sea. The message is clear. Although it may seem that we as a national army are the source of our security and success, in truth, it is all the doing of Hashem.

This concept is further seen, observed Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l, in the formation of the Jewish symbol of the Magen David. The six-sided star, which originally found its place on the shields of Dovid Hamelech’s army, points to all four directions and up and down to indicate that it is not man’s strength which wages and wins wars, but rather Hashem.

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