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TorahAnytimes Newsletter Mishpatim

Parshat Mishpatim

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik


"The TorahAnyTimes" Newsletter

Parashat Mishpatim                                                                                  Print Version
27th of Shevat, 5779 | February 2, 2019

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik

Rabbi Ephraim Shapiro 
The Tattooed Torah Scholar

It was a few years ago that Ari, a student at a particular yeshiva in Israel, struggled with one question he had formulated after learning a passage of Gemara. Prompted by his teacher to look through their library of meforshim (commentaries) who perhaps would deal with the question, Ari took off perusing through the yeshiva’s collection of books.

After some opening and closing of seforim, he came across a relatively contemporaneous author who addressed the question. But not to Ari’s satisfaction. As Ari saw it, the author had overlooked crucial points and offered an answer that insufficiently argued his opinion. Returning to his teacher, Ari was open-handed. “I found an answer, here in this sefer,” Ari remarked, pointing down to the book in his hands, “but I have a few questions about it.”

His teacher smiled. “Well Ari,” his teacher began, asking if he could look inside the sefer. “Yes, it seems you’re in luck,” he said with another grin. “The author lives right here in Israel. Why don’t you go ask him your questions?” Ari shook his head with a startling wave. “Me? Go ask him?” “Sure, here in Israel, you have that kind of opportunity. You can locate the author’s address, hop on a bus and go ask him whatever you’d like.” Ari was less than enthused to run around asking his questions to the author of a book he had picked up for a few minutes, but he figured it would lead him to a resolution and perhaps be a good experience. “Alright,” Ari perked up, “I’ll take you up on the idea. I’ll go.”

Ari set out without delay, finding the nearest bus which would take him to the author’s address. After a short trip, he found the street, and then the home and gave a knock. An elderly woman opened the door. “Hi,” Ari softly said, “my name is Ari and I learn in a yeshiva nearby. I was looking for Rabbi Yosef, the author of a sefer I was learning. I was looking to ask him a few questions…” The woman stared keenly back at Yosef and then let out a sigh. “Yosef has not lived here for ten years… But I can give you the address of where he lives now…” “Thank you,” Ari replied, a slight trace of uncertainty in his voice. “I think I’ll head over there now and speak to him.” Handing Ari a slip of paper with another address scribbled on it, the woman wished him success.

Two bus stops later and a short walk, Ari was standing before another house. He rang the bell and the door was opened. A man with long hair, piercings, tattoos and a tie-dye shirt stood big and tall at the doorway. “I’m looking for Rabbi Yosef?” Ari asked sheepishly. “Yeah, that’s me. What do you want?” Truth be told, what Ari wanted more than anything else at that moment was to run the other direction, but he held his ground. “You must have written the sefer,” Ari surmised aloud. “I read something that you wrote and I didn’t quite agree with it. I came here to ask you about it.” “Wait one minute,” interrupted the man, now known to be Yosef. Holding up his hand to Ari to indicate patience, Yosef scurried off.

A minute later he returned. Nothing seemed to be different, until Ari looked up and noticed that Yosef was now wearing a yarmulke. “Okay,” Yosef said, clasping his hands together, as if ready to dive into something. “What are your questions?” Ari began detailing the way he had understood the particular Talmudic topic under study and explained his interpretation of it. With that, he digressed into his questions which had led to looking at Yosef’s sefer. And then he posed the questions he himself had with Yosef’s explanations.

Yosef took everything in, listening intently. And then it was his turn to respond. Ari had no idea what to expect, but from the way Yosef appeared, he would never have even considered what he was about to witness. Within a moment, Yosef broke out into animated brilliance, throwing diverging proofs at Ari and supporting the arguments he set forth in his sefer. Ari was, literally, blown away by the energy and passion exuded by Yosef, who wouldn’t back down from the originally developed ideas he had penned. Ari stood there incredulous. He could not believe that he was seeing such a reality unfold before his eyes. Yosef’s Talmudic genius didn’t seem to match his outer appearance in the slightest.

After the dialogue had quieted down and Ari and Yosef arrived a mutually, and now deeper grasp of the Talmudic topic under heated discussion, Yosef had his question to ask. “Would you happen to have a copy of my sefer? I don’t have one…” Ari peered into Yosef’s eyes, glimmering with the twinkle of a little child deeply longing for a prized possession. “I do,” replied Ari. “I have it here with me.” Taking out the sefer, Ari handed it to Yosef, who beamed with admiration and awe of his own work.

The next day, Ari reported back to his teacher what had transpired. “Go call the woman!” exclaimed the teacher. “She is obviously his mother and Yosef moved out ten years ago. Go tell her what happened!” Ari, not knowing what to expect, phoned the elderly woman, whose number he procured. “Hello, this is Ari, the yeshiva boy. I was at your home yesterday and…” “Stop! Stop!” interrupted the woman. “Ari, I don’t know who you are and what happened when you left my home, but Yosef is my son, and I haven’t seen him in ten years. I just received a phone call from him and he told me that he is coming home to me. In just a few minutes, my Yosef will be walking through my front door…”

When a person is willing to believe in someone and show them validation and acknowledgment, the places it can lead are unknown. And just sometimes, that place is none other than home. Home to religion, home to your family and home to yourself.

Rabbi Zecharia Wallerstein 
The Boy at Cornell

Over a year ago, I visited Cornell University’s psych ward to speak to a particular girl I had been asked to see. As our conversation ensued, I noticed a boy sitting in the opposite corner hunched over with his head on a desk. He was dressed as a very religious Jewish boy, and it was clear that something was wrong. I continued talking to the girl for some time, all the while observing how the boy moved not an inch. He remained motionless.

After concluding my conversation, I approached one of the attending nurses and asked if the boy in the corner was alright. “I can’t divulge any information about him,” she said, “but his parents are expected here in half an hour, and you are more than welcome to wait and speak to them.” I did exactly that.

As his parents sadly told me, their young fourteen-year-old son had been abused as a child multiple times. Unfortunately, the experiences had taken such a toll on him that he had repeatedly contemplated taking his life, for which he was admitted to the ward. “He has already been here close to three weeks,” the parents told me. “They wanted to release him, but felt it was unsafe to do so. He continues to say that if he is discharged, he will take his life.” Hearing this sorrowful story, I looked at the parents and asked if they would mind me talking to him. They nodded their heads in approval. I arranged for a time to meet him the following day and informed his parents that I would keep in close contact.

The next day, I arrived at the psych ward with chocolates. Locating the young boy, I walked over to him and introduced myself. Before I got too far, though, the boy picked up his head and asked me straightaway, “Am I going to get out of here? Because if I do, rabbi, I’m going to kill myself.” Unclear as to his motives, I simply asked why he felt that way. “Hashem doesn’t want me in this world,” he answered.

I had heard that line from other people I had spoken to before, and so I was prepared with a response. “May I tell you something?” I asked the boy. “If the two of us were walking outside right now, and a bus was about to hit a little kid in the middle of the street, you know what the difference would be between you and me? Without hesitation, you would jump in front of the bus and save the kid. You don’t mind dying, and so you wouldn’t hesitate running after the boy to save him. For me, on the other hand, it would be a harder decision and I would hesitate. So think about it. You would certainly save that kid, but likely I wouldn’t. Now when you save that boy, you will be saving the kid himself, his children, his children’s children and on and on. With that one effort of yours, you saved a whole world. And you would do that before anyone else precisely because you don’t care about your life! The very life you want to end could be used to save another person’s life!”

Now I had the boy’s interest.

I then repeated my question. “Why don’t you want to live?” To this day, what he answered me blows me away.

“Rabbi,” he said, “after what has happened to me, I am never going to touch a woman. I am never going to get married and fulfill the mitzvah of having children. So let me die, and Hashem will reincarnate my body in the form of another boy who will have children.”

Sitting next to me was the boy’s psychologist, ensuring that our conversation would not traumatize the boy even more. It was clear that she had never heard anything like this before, and neither had I. However, I could relate to what he meant to say. It was deep, heavy and profoundly sad.

As I took in what he said, I felt as if a wave had crashed over me. I paused for a moment, trying to catch my breath and compose myself. “You know what,” I said, “would it be alright with you if I go grab something to eat and come back in a few minutes?” “Sure,” the boy replied, his spirits now showing some relief. “I’d like to continue talking to you.”

I got up and began walking away, my mind pulsating with agony over this boy’s predicament. As I headed upstairs and purchased some potato chips to calm myself down, I wondered what I could tell him. “He was molested… and he doesn’t want to get married and have children… so he wants to die… and have someone else come back and replace him…?” I couldn’t get over the pain he was experiencing internally and the fact that he was eating himself up. All I could think of was turning to Hashem and asking for help. “Hashem, please put the right ideas into my mind to share with this boy! Look how much pain he is in…”

I went on finishing my chips, looking around at the parents and children in the food court. And then, suddenly, my eyes caught the sight of kid eating from a tub of ice cream. I stared at him for a few seconds… and then it hit me! “I love you Hashem, I love you Hashem!” I whispered to myself. I was well aware that I had no professional therapeutic training to help this suicidal boy, but I did know that I loved Hashem’s children.

Rushing back down stairs, I made my way over to my seat and looked the boy in the eyes. “Can I tell you a story?” I asked, a tinge of hope in my voice. “Okay,” he whispered.

“One day, a little boy came to his mother and asked if she could buy him a tub of ice cream. His mother, wishing to grant her son the delight of enjoying his favorite ice cream, complied. Later that evening, as the family circulated around the house, the boy said, ‘Mom, can you give me some ice cream?’ The father, overhearing his son’s request, marched over to the freezer, grabbed the ice cream and grasped his son. Then, without saying a word, he smushed the entire tub of ice cream into his son’s face! With the boy’s face completely submerged in the cold ice cream, he could barely breathe. Seconds passed, until the father released his hold and the boy just about fell to the floor gasping for air. “Next time you’ll say please,” commanded the father.

“Now,” I said, having ended the story and turning to the young boy, “answer the following question: Is ice cream bad?” The boy looked at me, unsure where this was leading. “What I just told you is a terrible story, but simply answer the question: Is ice cream bad?” “No,” replied the boy, “ice cream is good. Kids love ice cream. At least I know I did before the story…” “So,” I continued, “what is bad in the story?” “The father is bad,” the boy said. “Yes,” I affirmed, “the father is bad.”

“Getting married and having children,” I continued, “is the holiest act a person can perform in this world. The Shechina (Divine Presence) dwells in a home together with a husband and wife. It is the peak of holiness.” And then I tied it together for the boy.

Just as, in the story, it is not the ice cream which is bad, but the father, similarly, it is not the physical relationship of marriage which is bad, but the person who hurt you. Ice cream is not bad and a physical relationship with a wife is not bad. It is rather the person who hurts you who is bad.

That was it.

Today, the boy is dating.

The psychologist sitting next to me couldn’t believe it. She and her team had been working with this boy for weeks to help him, and nothing had worked. But the analogy I had drawn for him spoke directly to him and he took it to heart.

“Dr. Wallerstein,” she said, presuming on the spot that I was a doctor, “I’m astonished at your work. Where did you go to school?” I looked back at her, smiling and indicating that I was by no means a doctor, but rather simply someone who cared about his fellow Jew. “Mirrer Yeshiva,” I replied. “It’s a Rabbinical college.”

Today, Cornell University’s psych ward for sexual abuse includes a memorandum from a man named Dr. Wallerstein on how to treat children who, after sexual abuse, no longer want to engage in any physical relationship.

For this boy and his family, Hashem granted wondrous siyata Dishmaya (Divine assistance) to help him recover. It was not about me. It was about this boy’s life and Hashem, and I was simply the mouthpiece to let him know what he needed to hear. What all of us can do right here and right now is pray that the same assistance extend to all those suffering too. May they find recovery, life and connection to Hashem, to their families and spouses and ultimately, to themselves.

A Short Message From 
Dr. Dovid Lieberman

Let me share with you a simple formula that will help put a very fundamental idea into perspective. Here is how it works: Something happens – you take it personally – you get upset.

However, if something happens – and you don’t take it personally – then you don’t get upset. The difference between these exists in the realm of how we react to our experiences.

What typically determines that is our balance of self-esteem vs. ego. The two of them interrelate on a see-saw pendulum. When our self-esteem is low, our ego inflates. When our self-esteem is healthy, our ego deflates. The ego only exists to compensate for feelings of inferiority and weakness. It is a false self, a created illusion of how we want the world to desperately see us. Our true self, though, is measured by our inner worth and the esteem to which we hold ourselves. Therefore, the key to recalibrating ourselves is by inducing more self-worth into our lives. By feeling better about ourselves, we make better, smarter and more responsible choices, and take life’s challenges in stride, thereby decreasing the frequency and intensity of getting upset. In short, then, when we increase our self-esteem, we are more formidable in dealing with hardship and personal hindrances, and experience a happier and less upsetting life.

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