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TorahAnytimes Newsletter Beshalach

Parshat Beshalach

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik


"The TorahAnyTimes" Newsletter

Parashat Beshalach                                                                                    Print Version
13th of Shevat, 5779 | January 19, 2019

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik

Rabbi Duvi Bensoussan 
Falling Into Life

“Are you alive?” the police officer asked rather solemnly. “Yeah, why not?” I replied. Those spoken words are the last memory I have of that night, September 17, 2009. The rest was all told to me later by my family.

It was the evening before Rosh Hashanah and I had just finished delivering a class in Lakewood, New Jersey. “Rabbi!” a man shouted. I turned to my side, immediately registering who it was that was calling my name. It was Rico, my dear friend who oversees the CD distribution of various Torah classes throughout several Syrian communities. “Before you head home to Brooklyn, would you be able to take these CD’s of yours? There are three hundred here. Take them and distribute them in different shuls.” “Sure, that would be great!” I enthusiastically replied, as I grabbed hold of them and placed them down on the front passenger seat. And with that, I began heading home.

70 mph… 75 mph… 80 mph… I sped down the Garden State Parkway. The next thing I knew, a police officer stuck his head through the window on the driver’s side and stared me straight in the eyes. “Are you alive?” he asked rather solemnly. “Yeah, why not?” I replied.

At 80 mph, my car had dropped 104 feet from the Garden State Parkway to the adjacent road down below. Astonishingly, the car continued moving and spinning until it wrapped itself around the highway divider.

The police arrived several minutes later, shocked at the sight that stood before them. The car was sandwiched like an accordion, leaving nothing left, save the driver and passenger’s seats. Not even an ambulance was called upon immediately, considering the likelihood of anyone surviving such an event. Without a doubt, the driver was dead, concluded all those around. All that was left to do was clear debris and fill out paperwork.

Until one lady volunteer on site gave a scream. “Look! Look! Someone’s in there… someone’s in there!” That was when the police officer approached me and asked if I was alive. And I was. At the moment, I didn’t even realize that I was in an accident. The shock was so great that it was as if nothing had happened… until just moments later when I blacked out.

When I awoke, there I was sitting in a hospital bed at Robert Wood John hospital in New Jersey. I looked around the room and focused my gaze on the many students and family members standing and sitting. It was a heartwarming sight. But just then, my brother walked in the room.

He had just come from the junkyard, where the few remaining pieces of my car were taken. My brother had specifically gone there to retrieve my tefillin, which had been in the car with me, and had not been spotted. Perhaps, we surmised, it was somewhere in the car. To our delight and surprise, it was.

“When I arrived at the junkyard lot,” my brother relayed, “the manager approached me and asked what I was looking for. I informed him of the car model and year and recounted the events of the previous night. ‘Oh yeah,’ he said, ‘that was some crazy accident last night! My condolences to your family on your loss.’ My brother turned to him with a serious and perturbed look. ‘What do you mean? My brother, he’s alive.’

The manager’s heart skipped a beat. ‘What did you say?’ he said in an outburst of disbelief. ‘There’s no way he can be alive! No one could have survived that drop off the Parkway at that speed!’ ‘He’s alive…!’ my brother repeated. ‘And I came here right now to retrieve his religious articles from the car.’

‘I made my way to the car,’ my brother continued, ‘and looked around at what was left. Honestly, barely nothing remained. Yet I climbed into the car and leaned down, grabbing your Tefillin, which still amazingly remained intact. But that is not what caught my eye most. It was something else.

‘All over the floor and seats were what looked like sparkling diamonds. Little pieces of what seemed like glass were sprinkled all over the place. I’m not sure if some part of the car shattered and broke. Duvi, do you have any idea what it may be?’

I looked at him, a blank stare enveloping my face. ‘I don’t know,’ I responded rather quickly. But then, after allowing the thought to settle with me, it hit me. ‘You know what?’ I said with a burst of life. ‘You know what that is? Before I left Lakewood, Rico gave me 300 CD’s of all sorts of Torah classes which he wanted me to distribute after arriving in Brooklyn. The CD’s and their covers must have broken due to the impact and shattered, and that’s what you saw.’

My brother looked back at me, now slowly taking out from under his jacket a CD. ‘Duvi,’ he said, a tone of genuine disbelief flooding his face, ‘look at this. It was the only CD that remained intact.’ I took hold of it in my hands and stopped breathing for a moment, as I stared at the title.

Where’s your bulletproof vest? Where’s your pair of Tzitzit? Then and there, I realized what had happened. Hashem had caught me and saved my life in the merit of my wearing Tzitzit. It was the greatest protection and bulletproof vest to spare my life.

When the doctor later reviewed my medical report, I was in for another shock of my life. A sprained thumb. That was it. No breaks, no surgeries, nothing. 80 mph, a 104-foot fall and a sprained thumb. No broken bones, no dislocations, no surgeries. The verse I was familiar with immediately took on new, personal meaning, “All my bones shall declare, ‘G-d, who is like You?’ (Tehillim 35:10).

Unbelievable. Absolutely unbelievable. But the truth is that when the Creator of the world is at our side, nothing is ever too unbelievable. Even the greatest fall and the most unlikely of circumstances are possible, and the reason is simple. G-d is our safety and security every step of our way down the literal and figurative road of life.

Dr. Jack Cohen 
Sharing the Garment

Just under a year ago, Rabbi Benjamin Blech celebrated his 60th wedding anniversary in Los Angeles. Included among the various guests were several noted Hollywood producers and directors, all friends and confidants of Rabbi Blech. After slowly making their way inside, they comfortably settled in and began enjoying the pleasant ambiance and cheerful spirit in the room.

Aside from the many congratulations and good wishes given to Rabbi and Mrs. Blech, what stood out most was the one question asked by nearly all the guests. “What is your secret to a long and happy marriage?” Although one Hollywood personality playfully remarked, “Rabbi, to be married sixty years isn’t a big deal around here – it’s just that it takes us five or six wives to do it with,” the question remained. But Rabbi Blech was not without his answer; though as he noted, it isn’t much of a secret.

“Perhaps one of the very first lessons we are taught in school at the start of our Mishnaic and Talmudic studies is the Mishnah in Bava Metzia,” he said. “The Mishnah describes two individuals disputing ownership of a garment, each one substantiating that they found it first. ‘This one says I found it, and this one says I found it; this one says it is all mine and this one says it is all mine.’ In the face of such disagreement, the court requires them to swear to their claim, which if done, leads to the final ruling that they must divide it. Neither of them walks away with the entire garment. They must split it and share it.

“I used to wonder about the rabbinic wisdom that made this discussion the entryway into Talmudic study for little children,” Rabbi Blech continued. “Wouldn’t it have made more sense for children to be introduced to Talmud and Jewish law with the laws of blessings and prayers, ways to serve G-d or holiness and charity? But, as I know realize, there is good reason for our education beginning with this teaching.

“As young children, we are meant to learn the importance that we cannot always win because we say ‘it is mine.’ We must learn to share, recognize equal validity and give up that which we cannot have.

“Marriage is the exact same, and this has been my bedrock of success. ‘I’ is not as important as ‘we.’ This is fact may be the underlying, hidden meaning within the word wedding – it is about we. When such an attitude and perspective pervade every aspect of marriage, then your relationship will thrive. Even when a conflict of interest or desire arises, you will have the tools to work through it.”

Such words of wisdom may seem so simple, yet they are so true. A harmonious, blissful and blessed marriage begins when both husband and wife hold onto the same garment and say, “Let us share.” It’s not about me, but about we.

Rabbi Paysach Krohn 
We Are Brothers

On one occasion, my brother flagged down a taxi in Israel and hopped inside. After situating himself, he extended a greeting to the driver, who was clearly irreligious. Following a few brief introductory remarks, my brother remarked to the cabbie, “You know, we are brothers.” The driver turned aside to my brother, clearly a look of disagreement and confusion on his face. “We are not brothers!” he responded. “You are religious and I am not religious.” But that argument hardly held any water with my brother.

“I had a teacher,” explained my brother, “and he taught that we are all brothers, regardless of whether we are religious or not.” “And who was this teacher?” curiously inquired the cabbie. “Adolf Hitler,” he replied.

The taxi driver nearly lost control of the car. He did not believe what he had just heard, and was certainly caught off guard by the remark.

“You’re one in a million!” he said to my brother. “No, two in a million,” corrected my brother, “because we are brothers.”

This is how we ought to view our unity as Jews around the world. Religious or irreligious, we are brothers. No matter our background, religious level, customs or geographical location, we are inextricably bound to each other. The many millions of us there are around the world comprise one large family, and we ought to feel that truth throughout our body and soul and allow it to resonate within. Because yes, as we have been taught and we have learned, we are brothers.

Rebbetzin Ivy Kalazan 
Our Personal Exile and Redemption

The Gemara (Berachos 3a) records how R’ Yossi once entered a churva, a demolished and uninhabited hovel to pray. Having noticed R’ Yossi’s entry, Eliyhau HaNavi chastised him for endangering his life by standing in a near-collapsing shack. “You should have prayed on the road!” said Eliyahu. “I acted as I did,” R’ Yossi explained, “because I was afraid of wayfarers distracting me.” “If you were worried about such disturbances,” replied Eliyahu, “you should have recited a short prayer instead.”

What is the deeper meaning behind this Talmudic passage?

R’ Yossi and Eliyahu HaNavi were delving into the philosophical issue of churban, destruction. While R’ Yossi prayed to Hashem that he be extricated from the troubles plaguing him in life, Eliyahu argued that he was taking the wrong approach. “If you are trying to understand why you feel stuck in life and constricted, the way to deal with it is not by asking Hashem why you are in it. These very struggles are a road to your ultimate greatness and what you need is heavenly assistance to grow from them instead of being floundered by them.”

Hearing Eliyahu HaNavi’s advice, R’ Yossi answered that he was afraid that living a life fraught with challenges and exposure to negative influences would prevent him from spiritually thriving. “If that is the case,” said Eliyahu, “you should have offered a small prayer to Hashem that He help you along your path of struggles. Ask Hashem to give you the strength and wisdom not to be overwhelmed by your surroundings, but grow from them.”

We often wish that life would be care-free without so many challenges and impediments which derail us. Yet, in truth, those very difficulties do no less than form the path towards our ultimate destination. The extra effort we must make will bring us to attain our accomplishments, which we otherwise may have fallen short of.

This is the story of Klal Yisrael in slavery and at the threshold of Exodus. The Jewish people’s exile in the land of Egypt mirrored their inner exile of constriction and limitation. Ensconced in a spiritual wasteland, they doubly struggled to spiritually develop and become the great Jewish nation. But those very trials and tribulations are what built them into Am Yisrael. The same applies to us all. When we are forced to tap into our inner resources and muster resilience to overcome our challenges, we discover our true potential which lead us down the road to greatness.

In one of my seminary classes, I asked the girls to think about somebody they respected and admired. Asking that they list the strongest qualities of this person, I received answers such as, “She is selfless and giving,” “She is a good listener and a great friend,” “She has extreme integrity and truly lives up to her values.” I expected to hear all of these answers. But I didn’t expect one particular girl’s response. “I respect her because she is normal.”

As I listened to what this girl said, I began thinking that it is especially meaningful to meet someone who is spiritually uplifted and engaged in the world of Torah, yet at the same time very grounded and relatable. One who uses his or her unique personality to serve Hashem holds true potential for greatness. Such a person will be able to look at the exile in his or her life and know how to bring out the redemption within the worst of predicaments. They will live normal lives yet achieve extraordinary heights.

A Short Message From 
Rebbetzin Chana Goldstein

In general, we tend to view optimism as something which enhances life, making it more enjoyable and pleasant. In truth, however, numerous studies have pointed to profound, and at times life-altering benefits to living life with optimism.

In the 1990s, American psychologist Martin Seligman documented how salesmen who worked with optimism and anticipated successful sales sold 37% more of their product than those who had a more pessimistic work attitude. In addition, the famed Nun Study, a continuing longitudinal study involving 678 participants averaging 85 years old, indicated that happiness and positive emotions lead to a longer life. Based upon their degree of happiness, as indicated by the positive or negative emotion words used in their autobiographical sketches written in early adulthood six decades earlier, participants were divided into four categories from the most cheerful to the least cheerful. Results showed that 54% of the cheerful nuns reached 94 years old while only 15% of the least cheerful nuns reached that age.

Lastly, a 2008 research study divided terminally ill patients into three groups, with one-third regularly talking about the challenges of their sickness, another third daily writing down three beautiful and positive things in their life and the last third serving as the control group. The group who had better odds at beating the illness and surviving longer was indisputably the one who had consistently written about the goodness and positive in their lives.

There you have it. If you’re ever wondering if it’s worth living a life full of positivity and optimism, the answer is a resounding yes.

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