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Parshat Bo

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik


"The TorahAnyTimes" Newsletter

Parashat Bo                                                                                                 Print Version
6th of Shevat, 5779 | January 12, 2019

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik

Dr. Meir Wikler 
Appreciative Words

It is almost axiomatic that one person cannot live in close quarters with another person without sometimes offending them, irritating them or annoying them. It may not be done spitefully or with any intent to cause hurt, but if such a reality is true of a roommate, it certainly is true of a spouse. Yet the balm to heal the wounds of such minor kinks and bruises consists of compliments, positive affirmations and praise. Consider the following thought.

We are all familiar with how a bank account works. In a checking account, for example, you make deposits and withdrawals. You are able to make as many withdrawals as you would like and write as many checks as needed, so long as you have enough money in your bank. If, however, you write a check that is even one dollar above the amount you have in your account, you risk incurring a fee due to the bounced check and the money will not be transferred.

The same applies to a marriage. Withdrawals are similar to criticisms, complaints, and anything which causes frustration, disappointment and annoyances. In order to ensure that the bank account does not close down, you must make certain that there are more deposits, in the form of compliments and praises, than there are withdrawals.

Some time ago, I was privileged to hold a private conversation with the Novominsker Rebbe, shlita. Amidst our discussion, he offered a very enlightening insight into the mitzvah of bikkurim, which requires a Jewish farmer to bring his first fruits to the Beis Hamikdash and recite a specific passage delineated in Parashas Ki Savo which highlights one’s historic and personal appreciation to Hashem.

It is interested, noted the Novominsker Rebbe, that the Jewish farmer is required to actually verbalize his appreciation. The purpose of bringing bikkurim is to demonstrate one’s hakaras hatov, gratitude, to Hashem. But if so, isn’t making the trip to Jerusalem enough of a demonstration? Not every farmer lived in such close proximity to the Beis Hamikdash; it could take a number of days and entail significant effort to make the trip there. Why does the Torah specifically demand that the farmer express his appreciation in words?

The Novominsker Rebbe explained that the Torah means to teach a very fundamental lesson when it comes to hakaras hatov. Demonstrating one’s appreciation is certainly important; yet there is more than goes into it than action. A Jew must open his mouth and actually verbalize such gratitude. Words of appreciation are especially unique and impactful and go a very long way when communicated. The farmer thus not only brings his fruits to the Beis Hamikdash, which shows his appreciation in action, but expresses such an emotion in speech.

In marriage as well, offering genuine compliments and approval is of incredible importance. In my practice as a psychotherapist, I make a point of having the husband and wife preface any complaints they have about each other with positive words of praise. It is so ever important to train ourselves to notice and expressly call attention to that which our spouse positively does.

I remember working with one couple where this situation played itself out. The husband began speaking, though he immediately dove into criticizing his wife. “You remember the rules here,” I said; “before mentioning any complaints, you must say something positive.” “But I can’t think of anything positive,” he said. “Nothing at all?” I prodded. “No!” he stammered, “I am so upset and angry!” I continued gently encouraging him to find something nice to say about his wife. Eventually, after much thinking, grumbling and mumbling, he did.

“The cholent was good this week,” he said. “Okay,” I replied, “you complimented your wife’s cooking.” He then continued enumerating his frustrations and complaints.

The next time around, the husband began as he did before, lodging complaints and criticisms. “Before you begin,” I reminded him again, “start with something positive.” “Okay,” he said, “the cholent was good this week.” “You said that last week!” I said. “Is there anything else nice you can tell her?” It took him some time, and it was clearly difficult for him to come up with something, but eventually he did.

When offering criticism, it is often natural to go to great lengths and speak in extensive detail about that which bothers us. However, we must learn to do the same with compliments. It is not sufficient to vaguely express our appreciation, but we rather ought to express it in detail and focus on specifics. Why did you like the cholent? What about it was especially good? 
It is integral that detailed words of appreciation be used in order to offset some of the criticism and negativity that often comes with any marriage.

Some time ago, I was approached by an experienced educator who confided in me that his wife was struggling with depression. For years, she had difficulty functioning as a wife and mother, and he was beside himself. The gamut of available options was explored, yet nothing seemed to significantly help. After reviewing with him what had been done in the past, I realized that there were not many further options. “I don’t know what to tell you,” I said; “I just wish your wife a speedy refuah sheleimah.”

Shortly thereafter, I happened to bump into him, with some news to share. “I just heard of a new treatment program that is available called Neuro Care, which may help your wife. It is a non-invasive treatment which has proven to be effective and produce sound results.” But the man also had something important to share with me.

“You won’t believe it Doctor!” he exclaimed. “My wife is, thank G-d, doing completely better.” “That’s fantastic!” I said. “What was the treatment?” He then answered me with words that said it all. “I was the treatment,” he replied. “You were the treatment?” I asked. “Please explain.”

“I did some serious soul searching and realized that I hadn’t been treating my wife as I truly should. From thereon in, I began treating her differently and made a concerted effort to offer her words of appreciation. And lo and behold, the depression which had been unresponsive to any prior treatment subsided and she reverted to her fully functional capacity.”

The impact of complimentary words and expressions should never be underestimated. It carries much weight and most certainly paves the way for a taking a marriage which may have been full of conflict, hostility and pessimism and turning it into one which is built upon consideration, happiness and praise.

Mr. Charlie Harary 
Know Who You Are

Let me tell you a little bit about how I got my first job.

The way it works in the world of law firms is straightforward: after receiving your first grades during your first year of law school, you begin searching for a position. And so, after my first year at Columbia University, it was my time. But considering the overabundance of students, it would not work to simply let everyone run to find jobs at the various law firms. Nor would it be respectable for the firms to come visit the law schools and look for suitable candidates for a job. What is therefore done is “off-campus interviewing.” All the law students and all the law firms gather together for three days of intensive interviewing.

In my case, the Double Tree hotel in Times Square, New York was the chosen venue. In general, for all young, aspiring lawyers, it becomes a question of where to place your focus on when looking to land a job. Which firm should you attempt to can get into? If you apply to a firm way above your paygrade, you will never get in; yet if you apply somewhere below your standards, you may be selling yourself short.

I will never forget it. I was well into my year in school, and I had been doing quite well. I set my sights on getting into my dream firm, Davis Polk & Wardwell. I had my doubts if I would make it as far as landing a job with them, but I would give it a fair try. I spent the entire three days at the Double Tree hotel, until the very end. It was at that point that just about everyone had gone, except me and a small handful of others.

I stood in the main massive room looking at the huge board on the wall. All the interviews currently going on and those with openings were flashing. To both my shock and excitement, the last interview of the day was with Davis Polk & Wardwell, and there I noticed the board light up with the word “open.” My heart fluttered. “Should I do it?” I thought to myself.

A few minutes later, there I was heading down to Davis Polk & Wardwell. “Here goes nothing,” I said to myself.

I walked into the suite, though I almost immediately realized that this would be the worst interview ever. The interviewer they sent in was a partner they had just brought in from China. He spoke no English, and I spoke no Chinese. This would make for a great interview.

“What’s your name?” he asked me as soon as I stepped foot inside. Not having heard him correctly due to his Chinese accent, I asked him to repeat the question. Great way to start off an interview. “What’s your name?” he repeated. “N-a-m-e.” Now I understood. “Charles Harary,” I answered. He then continued. “Why do you want to be a lawyer?” Unfortunately, all I heard was, “Do you want to be a lawyer?” The conversation thus sounded like, “Why do you want to be lawyer?” “Yes.” I was doing great answering his questions.

At this point, I realized that there was a significant language barrier. He then put down his paper and remained silent for twenty minutes. For twenty minutes it was unbearable. He was studying my resume intently with as much eye for detail as he could. After twenty minutes of painful silence, he looked up at me with a surprised look on his face. “Talmud?” he said. I immediately did a double-take. “Talmud? Did he just say Talmud?” I quickly began thinking if any other words rhymed with Talmud. “You know Talmud?” he asked. All I could think is that he imagined I was some advanced Talmud expert. I wasn’t sure where he was going with this. “Yes,” I replied.

“I just got to America,” he said. “My first week here, I was taken throughout all the different departments, one of them being the tax department. I went in to meet a Jewish man, who had a beautiful bookcase situated behind him and filled with all the tax codes. In the corner of the bookshelf, I noticed something with a different binding. “What is that?” I asked. “That’s a Talmud!” he said. “If you think the tax codes are hard; this is ten times harder.”

The Chinese interviewer now looked at me with an incredulous stare. “You must be really smart!” I didn’t want to brag, though I let him in on a little secret. “I have been studying the Talmud since fifth grade!” “It’s an honor to meet you!” he exclaimed. At this point, I felt as if I was redeeming myself from the initial mix-up I had when introducing myself. I walked out feeling great. The next stage was the firm taking me out to lunch for a final interview.

There I was seated across from a woman my age and a man who was a good ten years my senior at Prime Grill in New York City. The woman was sweet and gentle; the man, on the other hand, was rough, tough and intimidating. While the woman and I engaged in some light conversation, the gentleman didn’t utter a word to me.

Halfway through the meal, though, he finally opened his mouth. “So I see you are Jewish,” he says. “Here we go again,” I thought to myself. I remembered how my initial introduction with their Chinese representative went, and I only hoped that this wouldn’t turn out the same way. “Yes, I am,” I said. “Well, it is an honor to meet you,” he replied. I was shocked to hear that. 
“Before I went to law school,” he said, “I was a U.S. Marine. And we Marines respect nobody but Israeli commandos.” As he said that, I wondered if he thought I was an Israeli commando. Sure, I was an Israeli commando repelling off the Mediterranean with a Talmud in my hands. But he had a point to make.

“If I may ask,” I said, now getting more comfortable with myself, “why is it that the U.S. Marines respect no one else aside from the Israeli army?” That was a loaded question, which he went on to elaborately answer.

“I grew up breathing red, white and blue. My grandfather, uncle and father served this country. I too was a great Marine who fought for this country. I was free and believed in justice and freedom, liberty and equality. I was then selected to join an exercise program with the Israeli commandos for two weeks in Israel. I spent two weeks there, after which we all went to this hill called Masada. It was there that the main commando sat us atop the hill in a semi-circle and said the following words which I will never forget.

“Do you know why we are here? It is because many years ago we had a fort here, and it was destroyed. The Jews escaped, but you know what they ultimately wanted? They just wanted to be Jewish, but the Romans wouldn’t have it. They surrounded the mountaintop, and the Jews looked to the left and looked to the right, and there was no one to help them.

“Do you know why we are here today?” concluded the Israeli commando. “Because Masada doesn’t fall again. We are done asking others for help. We will never leave our country again.” The U.S. Marine then added his own few words.

“I always wondered about you Jewish people. As I sat in Israel with a number of Israeli soldiers, I couldn’t stop thinking to myself, ‘Why are we learning from them? Why are we learning about their strategies and tactics of war?’ And then I realized. It is because you know who you are and what you are fighting for. You are not fighting for merely an ideal; you are fighting for your mother’s backyard. If you lose a border, you lose a country. And when you know who you are and what you are fighting for, you can accomplish anything.”

There is not a day that goes by when I don’t hear that voice. “If you know who you are and you know what you are fighting for, you can accomplish anything.”

A Short Message From 
Mrs. Chani Juravel

In Sefer Yeshaya (33:13), we interestingly read how the Prophet Yeshaya cries out to the Jewish people to mend their ways in the hope that they will improve. “Hear, faraway people, what I have done; and you who are close by, recognize My might.”

It is noteworthy that Yeshaya divides the people into two such categories of those who are “far” and those who are “close.” If we would have to guess about whom Yeshaya speaks when addressing those who are “far” and whom he refers to when mentioning those who are “near,” we would likely argue that the former refers to baalei teshuva, those who have come close to Judaism later in life, and the latter refers to those who have always felt a closeness and personal identity to Hashem and Torah.

The difficulty with this, however, is the terminology used in the Pasuk. If the above were true, it would make more sense for those who are faraway to be depicted as coming to “recognize and learn” about G-d, while those who are close as those who are merely “listening,” as they already have knowledge of G-d. Yet the exact opposite words are used in the sequence of the verse.

Rav Shimshon Pincus explains that it is just to the contrary. With this Pasuk we are taught that those who are distant are those who have been doing mitzvos since their youth, and have since grown slightly stale and stagnant in their performance. Those who are close, on the other hand, refers to those who are coming closer to Hashem at a later stage in life.

In practical terms, this has significant application in our lives. Wherever we are in life – whether having grown up in a Torah-based home and always been familiar with Torah ideals and values, or having recently come close to a Jewish lifestyle – we must always incorporate freshness and newness into our service and connection to Hashem. We must be cognizant of how easy it is to allow our daily activities to become perfunctory and routine. If such thoughts constantly remain with us, we will be on our way of leading a life of genuine connection to Hashem every moment of our day.

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