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TorahAnytimes Newsletter Toldot

Parshat Toldot

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik


"The TorahAnyTimes" Newsletter

Parashat Toldot                                                                          Print Version
2nd of Kislev, 5779 | November 10, 2018

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik

Rabbi Dovid Orlofsky 
Your True Character

There are a few very specific ways it is possible to discern and detect the true character of a person. For one, notes the Rabbeinu Yonah (Shaarei Teshuvah 3:148), it is by what qualities they praise. If they admire someone of refined and kind character because of who they are, then it safe to presume that they hold in high regard and wish for themselves those same attributes. Whatever a person speaks highly of tells you a great deal about themselves.

Yet there is something else, which oftentimes escapes our purview, which also speaks volumes of a person’s character. And that is how a person spends the day of their death. Now, just about no one is aware of this day; yet if we were, and for those who are, it is most certainly a telling piece of information. 

Rav Yisroel Salanter, founder of the Mussar Movement, was someone who dedicated his entire life to introspection and character development, both as it related to himself and the world over. As he lay on his deathbed with just hours left in this world, he was accompanied by a shomer, a boy who had been designated to look after his body from the time he would expire. The boy looked pensive and nervous, something which caught Rav Yisroel’s attention.

“Are you nervous that you are going to be left with a dead body?” Rav Yisroel somewhat rhetorically inquired. “Yes, I am,” the boy gulped. Rav Yisroel looked back at him, his eyes tender and body waning. “Do not worry,” Rav Yisroel comfortingly said, “do not be afraid…” Moments later, the great Rav Yisroel Salanter returned his soul to Heaven.

How were the last minutes of this great sage spent? Comforting and reassuring a young boy that everything would be alright despite his nerves and uneasiness. During his last moments on this earth, instead of spending it on himself, he spent it on making someone else feel better. That is how Rav Yisroel ended it.

Such care and concern is what exemplifies a Jew, and our gedolim (leaders) in particular. Their entire life is filled with love and compassion for another Jew, and it literally extends until their dying moment.

Yet allow me to share with you another instance where such sensitivity was likewise displayed.

When Rav Shimon Schwab zt”l, leader of the Jewish community in Germany and later in America, visited the Chofetz Chaim, he brought along his younger brother, Rav Mordechai. After waiting some time for the Chofetz Chaim who was learning, he finally came out. “Who were you learning with?” asked Rav Mordechai intriguingly. The Chofetz Chaim was offset by the question. There had been no one learning with the Chofetz Chaim, or so it seemed. “I saw an old man with a long white beard,” exclaimed Rav Mordechai. The Chofetz Chaim looked at Rav Shimon. “Watch your younger brother,” he said. “He is a little young to be seeing Eliyahu HaNavi…” Suffice it to say, Rav Mordechai Schwab was a special, holy person.

Years later, Rav Mordechai Schwab was elderly and had become a recognized and reputable Torah giant. One day, he received a phone call from a young man with a request. “Would I be to speak to the Rav? It is an important matter…” Rav Schwab inquired as to when would be a good time for him to meet. “Monday would be fine for me,” replied the man. Rav Schwab agreed to such an arrangement, though asked if he could come before seven in the evening. The man confirmed that he could come at six, to which Rav Schwab reiterated that they must be finished by 7 p.m. sharp.

Shortly thereafter, the young man mentioned to someone else that he had scheduled a meeting with Rav Schwab. But the other fellow persuasively discouraged him from going through with it as it would likely disturb Rav Schwab, who was already advanced in years. Perhaps he could seek advice from some other respectable Rav and avoid burdening his issues on Rav Schwab at this time. The young man agreed, and went on to cancel the appointment.

The following morning, the announcement was made that Rav Schwab had passed away the night before – at 7 p.m.   

How Rav Schwab knew that he had only until 7 o’clock to meet with this fellow goes beyond us. Somehow, he knew how much time he had left in this world. Yet what remarkably stands out is not that fact.

It is the fact that he was willing to spend his last hour in this world helping someone else in need. Rav Schwab knew that as long as he had life, he can something left to give and something else he could do. Time was not over. It was not too late. And what he was ready to do with those remaining precious minutes was express his love, care and compassion for a fellow Jew. That was Rav Schwab’s true character. And his last hour of his life said it all.

Rabbi Yitzchok Fingerer 
Holding Up the World

A number of years ago, the well-respected psychiatrist Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski was giving a tour of a psychiatric ward to several medical students. It was certainly a jarring and eye-opening experience for many of the students to see what life was like for such patients given their conditions. Yet one of the patients particularly stood out for his strange medical anomaly, the likes of which even seasoned doctors had a hard time working with. He was a real conundrum.

The man was positioned in a catatonic state with his hands positioned upward in what looked almost like a “V” shape. For decades he had held this same position, save the few times he collapsed from exhaustion. But every other waking moment was spent in such a way. As to why he did so, he would not communicate.

As the students passed by this fellow, they as well could not help but stare and wonder. Included among the medical students was one Orthodox Jew, who had something in mind. “Dr. Twerski,” he piped up, “would it be alright with you and the staff here if I go over and speak to this patient?” Dr. Twerski agreed, though dubious if it would lead anywhere.

The Jewish student headed over to the patient, his arms up and body poised. “How do you do it?” whispered the student to the fellow. “You are working so hard on our behalf to hold up the world! Without you, the world would collapse. I just wanted to extend appreciation on my behalf and on behalf of the whole world for all that you have been doing for so many years. But now I am going to take you over to the side, because you deserve to rest for a bit. Allow me to hold up the world for you for just a few minutes.”

The man sat down. Everyone was shocked. As medical staff rushed over to attend to the patient, they all turned to this new medical student for an explanation. They were waiting for some wild secret to be disclosed as to how he changed the man’s mindset and convinced him to sit down. Where did such a line of thinking come from?

“I’ll tell you,” replied the student. “For so long, you’ve probably been looking at him as some sick man whose medical condition is an enigma. Every time you’ve tried working with him, it was done with the understanding that he was abnormal. Yet that never worked for him because he felt he was doing something so noble and worthy and none of you appreciated his hard work. In his mind, he was far from sick, but rather someone more important than even you all, the medical staff. It was only when he heard from me that he was indeed admired and respected that he felt comfortable allowing me to continue his important mission of holding up the world, and he relinquished his catatonic position for me to take over.

“So long as he was treated as a patient, as a statistic, as another insane individual, he could not be helped. What he needed was to feel important and treated as a person deserves, and with that, my words entered his ears and penetrated his heart. And that is how, I believe, after so many years he was finally able to sit down.”

Sheer brilliance, we might say. Or sheer simplicity. Both are true. It’s something so simple that often goes overlooked, and thus comes as a brilliant explanation. Sometimes it takes the new student on the block to enlighten an experienced medical staff to what stood in front of them all the time. For years, this man was holding up the world, but no one was holding up him. Yet once the roles were reversed, everything became clear.

Rabbi Gabi Fried 
Our Lease on Life

As we say Modeh Ani every morning upon arising from bed and thank Hashem for returning our soul to us, we conclude by stating, “Rabba emunasecha – Great is Your faithfulness.” Simply understood, when we deposited our neshama with Hashem at night as we went to sleep, we placed our faith in Him that He would return it to us in the morning. It is in respect to this that we declare Hashem’s faith to be great, for He fulfilled His “side of the bargain.” We returned our neshama to Him and He returned it back to us.

Yet it would seem a bit presumptuous. Hashem gave us life to begin with and is in no way obligated to return our neshama to us in the morning. Even if He does not return it to us, it would not make Him “unfaithful,” for after all, it is His decision. What then do we really mean with these concluding words?

In fact, we would be better suited were we to understand the analogy of depositing and returning in the following way.

Imagine you decided to go on a three-month vacation and gave permission to a close friend of yours to borrow your car during that time. A month into your trip, you return back home for just a couple of days for some necessary reason, and ask your friend if you can use your own car. “Of course,” he complies. As soon as you take a look at it, though, you know something is amiss. There are scratches and a few dents along the exterior and the inside is not as clean as you left it. After a few days of using it, you wonder what you should do. Should you return it to your friend, who has until now not been treating well, and risk even further damage? Or should you allow him to continue using it in the hope that by the time you return in two months, any dents and damages will be repaired? You decide on taking the latter approach.

Sure enough, when you return two months later, the car looks just like new, if not better. You smile and feel good that you chose to allow your friend to continue using it.

The same is true of us. When we return our neshama to Hashem at night, it oftentimes comes with its dents and bruises. Throughout that day, we may have committed our fair share of mistakes and sins. So what choice do we leave Hashem with? Keep our neshama in Heaven and avoid it being even further tarnished, or return it in the hope that by the time our lease on life is over, our neshama will have been cleansed through teshuvaand it will look even better than before.

Hashem, until it is our time to leave this world, decides on the latter approach. He has faith that we will mend our ways, and therefore returns our neshama to us every morning, even if we have committed many mistakes and done wrong. But that is because He has the hope and belief that we will fix it all before our lease is over.

What must be done on our end, though, is ensure that we do not procrastinate and leave unfinished work for the time when it will be too late. It would be an extreme pity if we would continue putting off what we know we can fix and should fix, only to realize one day that it is too late and the time for us to turn in our lease has arrived. “Repent one day before your death,” exhorts the Mishnah (Avos 2:15). But this only happens if we view each day as our last, and with the attitude that we should make improvements now, not later. So long as we can do this, we will be in perfect position to return our neshama to Hashem in its pristine, beautiful condition, and in fact, even better than it was before we ever received it to begin with.

Rabbi Label Lam 
Dodging a Bullet

One of the very tempting yet elusive dreams many of us have is that of winning the lottery. “It would be so nice,” we think to ourselves, “if we could just win millions of dollars…” While of course we hear of the stories were such enormous wealth inundated its winner to the point of bankruptcy, we assure ourselves that we would not achieve the same fate.

Yet there is perhaps a more analytic and insightful reason that such wealth does not always lead to an easy future. The Orchos Tzaddikim writes that there are three reasons a person might be granted wealth from Hashem. Firstly, to punish him. Secondly, to reward him. And thirdly, to test him. The Orchos Tzaddikim continues to explain how an individual would know which category he or she falls into.

A person is being punished if the money is the cause of his undoing. In contrast, a person is being rewarded if the money is used to invest in the furtherance of Torah study, mitzvah performance and other meritorious acts. Lastly, a person is being tested if the money leaves him in an ambivalent and paralyzed state, by which he feels unable to bring himself to spend it on an indulgent lifestyle, yet simultaneously, cannot part with it to help others.

For this reason, explain the Baalei Mussar, wealth is an even greater challenge than poverty, for it presents one with testing opportunities and alluring frivolities on a constant basis. How and where the money ought to go is no simple question.

And so, although the enticement for wealth is great, we must realize that if Hashem did not grant it to us, it is because it is not in our best interest. While we may look at it as an enormous “prize,” just sometimes losing the lottery is as great as dodging a huge bullet.

A Short Message From 
Rabbi Moshe Weinberger

In every sports game, there are two types of participants: fans and players. Fans can come and go when they want and as they want. They are merely spectators who are there for a limited duration. On the other hand, if you are a player on the team, you don’t simply leave when you want. Even if you had a hard and bad game and your team lost, you must keep at it. It is your team and you cannot simply give in and give up.

The same is true of Yiddishkeit. We can either be a “fan” or a “player.” It can be that when we are up to it, we go to shul, learn or fulfill a mitzvah; yet when it is difficult or inconvenient, we are not so quick to jump at such opportunities. On the other hand, we can choose to join the team and be a player. We can choose to always put all our energies into Yiddishkeit in all areas of our life and never give up. We can choose to dedicate ourselves wholeheartedly to the point that, even when it is difficult and we just fell seven times and lost 7-0, we get back up and start again.

The difference lies as to whether Yiddishkeit is what we do or who we are. If it is something we simply do, we become a fan, and it is then easy to choose what we want to do and when we want to do it. Yet, if it who we are and defines our life, then we are a player, and even when it is not what or when we want to do it, we will still push ourselves. We are part of a team and we will always, always be on the field, pushing ourselves and putting forth our best.

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