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TorahAnytimes Newsletter Acharei Mot

Parshat Acharei Mot

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik


"The TorahAnyTimes" Newsletter

Parashat Acharei Mot                                                                              Print Version
29th of Nissan, 5779 | May 4, 2019

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik

Rabbi Yoel Gold 
A Dream Come True

It was February of 2011 when Rabbi Yotav Eliach led a trip to Israel for a group of fifty American high school students. The last stop of the trip before they went to the airport was the cemetery in Har Herzl. As you can imagine, walking through the cemetery and looking at the graves of the young soldiers who gave up their lives and hearing their heroic stories can be a very emotional and moving experience.

“The most difficult place to visit,” said Rabbi Eliach, “is Har Herzl. And that is because instead of the young burying the old, the old are burying the young.”

As Rabbi Eliach explained to the students the sacrifice that these young soldiers and their families had made, he suddenly noticed an elderly couple standing just a few feet away crying over a grave.

“Suddenly,” Rabbi Eliach noted, “everything I had been describing about what it means to parents and families and their loved ones, was right there. We saw a man and woman crying. It was very clear that this was a mother and father visiting their child’s grave.”

Rabbi Eliach observed how the tombstone included a picture of a young Israeli soldier named Erez Deri. Taken by the scene, one of the students leaned over and gently asked the mother, “Could you tell us a little bit about your son?”

Mrs. Deri began relating how Erez was a paratrooper in the Israeli army, yet was tragically killed in 2006. “I took a look at the kids’ faces,” said Rabbi Eliach, “and it was clearly discernable that they were all in pain.”

But then Mrs. Deri told the group of students something which left them speechless. “Last night I had a dream. Erez came to me and said, ‘You didn’t merit to lead me to down to my Chuppah in marriage. Instead, I would like you to dedicate a Sefer Torah in my name. If a Sefer Torah is written in my memory, it will be as if you are leading me down to my Chuppah.”

But that was not all Erez relayed to his mother. He had something even more surprising to say.

“Go to Har Herzl. There you will find good people who will help you write a Sefer Torah.” Those ‘good people’ who Mrs. Deri would meet the next day were these group of students. 

“Something about this woman,” one student remarked, “just sparked a connection with us, and we as a cohort decided to take on this project. We were determined to fundraise for a Sefer Torah and dedicate it in memory of Erez. ‘Next year,’ we told Mrs. Deri, ‘we will return with a Sefer Torah and dedicate it in Erez’s memory, just like you dreamed.’”

These were a group of secular kids and religious kids, along with kids from day schools and public schools. They all felt so strongly passionate about taking on this momentous project. 

The next year in February of 2012, the same group of students returned with a brand new Sefer Torah and headed to Ma’ale Adumim to write the final letters. They gathered in Erez’s room, noticing his uniform hanging pressed against the wall. On his desk, the Sefer Torah was laid down as the last few letters were written.

“I was in tears,” Erez’s mother later said. “I was so emotionally moved. I felt as if all of Am Yisrael was with us.”

Everyone felt the excitement as they concluded adding the last letters and began parading down the street. All types of Jews from all walks of life were there, dancing and singing in unison. Am Yisrael was there.

Such a story ought to make us feel proud to be a part of the Jewish people. Jews can meet anywhere in the world, whether it be in a cemetery in Israel, or in an airport in Beijing, China. It makes no difference where, but there is an immediate, warm feeling of connection regardless of how different we look on the outside.

Even if our homes are thousands of miles away, our hearts are so ever close. All of us are interconnected and inextricably bound to one other. We are one body and one soul.

Dr. Jack Cohen 
Humility and Self-Awareness

Our Sages relate that of all mountains to give the Torah upon, Hashem chose the smallest of them all, Har Sinai. As the mountain which remained humble, it served as the conduit for which the Torah would be transmitted to the world. A contrasting matter of fact is the site upon which the Beit Hamikdash was built, namely the highest point in the Land of Israel. With the Beit Hamikdash acting as Hashem’s resting place and the channel through which G-d and the Jewish people would interact and communicate, it was accorded prominence and grandeur by being situated as such.

The noteworthy question is why the discrepancy. Why would the site where the Torah be given be the lowest mountain, and the place where the Beit Hamikdash stand be the tallest mountain? 

Shlomo Hamelech referred to the day of Mattan Torah as the “wedding day” between the chattan (i.e. Hashem) and the kallah (i.e. the Jewish nation). It was a marriage ceremony, which ushered in a future deep relationship that would last for eternity. Mattan Torah spoke to the core relationship which we share with G-d. The Beit Hamikdash, on the other hand, functioned as the home in which we, the Jewish people as the wife, would dwell together with our husband, Hashem.

Considering the contrasting symbolic purposes of Har Sinai and the Beit Hamikdash, we can begin to appreciate their difference. As individuals in a relationship, what is essential to exist is humility. The Giving of the Torah, which spoke to the relationship of the Jews and Hashem, therefore took place on the humble mountain of Har Sinai to drive home this point: a healthy and real satisfying relationship requires humility. In contrast, the framework for where this honorable and supremely important relationship will exist must be in the most grandiose of places – in the Beit Hamikdash – located on the highest point in Israel. 

To better understand, it is important to clarify what humility is and is not.

Humility does not mean little regard for oneself and the presence of unworthy feelings. To the contrary, it speaks to an inner self-awareness of one’s true value and self-worth coupled – and here is where humility exists – with the honest recognition of one’s skills and abilities. In other words, do not confuse self-esteem with self-image. Self-esteem relates to one’s feelings of self-worth, whereas self-image relates to one’s feelings of confidence in their own skills, talents and abilities. Humility does not mean low self-esteem. It rather rests in the realm of self-image – not self-worth – where one healthily and truthfully appreciates their strengths and weaknesses, their abilities and inabilities. Humility relates to what one can or cannot do; not who they are.

Understanding this important Torah idea lends key insights into healthy aspects of a relationship. And that is humility. An arrogant individual will find little to no fault in their skills and capabilities. They will find it difficult to accept honest feedback, for they blow up to an unreal proportion that they are a real know-it-all of many things in life. They may profess to know much about finances, when they have little experience. The may hold their own opinion above that of professionals and experts by undercutting their expertise and questioning their views. They essentially look into a mirror of themselves and see someone way bigger than they truly are. Again, this does not relate to their self-worth – even an arrogant person deserves to be accepted for who he is and should never be rejected – but rather to their self-image. They have an inflated self-image and often have a hard time being able to receive honest feedback.

The reason this is so central to bear in mind when looking to getting married is because it defines the bedrock of a relationship. For one, you must be self-aware, and your date must be self-aware if any chance of a healthy close relationship will exist. If you want to know what the hallmark of a great relationship is, it is this: honest feedback. The main qualities of a healthy relationship are thus: being comfortable in examining one’s behavior with others; being comfortable in being honest with others; and being comfortable accepting feedback. If these are not present within your date, do not pursue the shidduch further. You will be getting into a relationship with someone defensive whose go-to reaction is, “It’s your fault, not mine!” Defensive people never ask, “What am I missing? What part of the picture don’t I see?” They are unaware of the way they come across and view feedback as criticism instead of openly receiving it as a valuable reflection of themselves.

The remedy for such lack of self-awareness is showing the individual the truth about themselves, which is meant at enabling them to develop a more accurate self-image. However, do not marry someone who is not at this stage because they are not ready for marriage until after they are self-aware. A primary characteristic of maturity and readiness for a relationship is this very self-awareness and lack of defensiveness. Its absence indicates immaturity.

That is where humility plays a priceless role in an individual and particularly in a relationship. They recognize where they need to make improvements, and if they do not know, they are open to seeking such insight and taking action. That is a healthy individual which you can be comfortable marrying.

Rabbi Reuven Epstein 
The Template of Life

When looking at the totality of Judaism and mitzvos, the question is often asked why Hashem in fact cares about everything we do. Why is it so integral that we observe the laws of Shabbos, avoid speaking lashon hara and carefully abide by a plethora of commandments?

Were a group of people to gather together on an island and need to fend for themselves, a leader or counsel would likely be elected, who would go about formulating a set of rules to live by. It is understandable that every society requires rules whereby they can lead successful and productive lives. In our day and age, we often envision that we have American rules and Jewish rules. The rulebook in this case would be the Torah, which consists of six hundred and thirteen rules. Our Sages, however, clue us in to another way of viewing the makeup of Yiddishkeit.

The Zohar states, “Hashem looked into the Torah and created the world.” The blueprint of the world is the Torah. Yet, it seems puzzling. If the Torah is the “rulebook,” then the rules must have been created before the need for them. But why would that be the case? It is akin to living in the Eighteenth Century and seeing someone riding on a horse alongside a sign which mentions that the speed limit is thirty miles an hour. Wondering about the incongruity, you ask for an explanation. “Well,” the gentleman says, “one day in the future there will be cars, and this sign is to caution them not to drive faster than thirty miles an hour.” Such a scene would be no less than odd. In that respect, what does it mean that Hashem looked into the Torah to create the world?

Rav Elya Lopian explains the above statement of our Sages beautifully. Hashem possesses a view of what it means for man to achieve perfection. He would possess perfect speech where every word uttered is measured, and perfect eating where there is perfect intake of food in which what is necessary to healthily and happily live is consumed. The same is true of all other areas of life. We human beings have been endowed with the potential abilities inherent in achieving perfection. The reason Hashem granted man the ability to speak, for instance, is because there is a perfect way to speak and he is capable of attaining that perfection. The capability was granted to man to reach perfection in that realm.

Let’s take this one step further.

Many years ago, I was invited to a conference where a small group of people had gathered to network and brainstorm about various ideas for helping Jews become more identified with their Yiddishkeit. Amid conducting my own research, I came across an interesting idea which sent a strong message home.

Beginning with Walt Disney, the creative mastermind behind the world of Disney animation, Disney saw a progressive development in the manner of how their animation was put together. Animated film consisted of one slide followed by a second slide followed by a third and so on. The subsequent slides maintained the same background scene as the previous slides, with the only distinction being the change in the presentation of the characters.

In 2001, DreamWorks Studios decided to rewrite the rules of animation, and came up with a new method of animated film. A rulebook, or framework, was created which outlined how various scenes would be portrayed across the board. These ways of presenting animated scenes became the model for all films. If, for example, a specific scene was meant to include rain, which would entail the ground getting wet and puddles forming, the template for such a scene would be incorporated into the film.

Or, alternatively, if a scene called for the wind blowing, the leaves would rustle. Various virtual rules were set in place which detailed and streamlined how animation would be presented. The characters would simply be inserted into these frameworks, where, in example, when the wind would blow, the character’s hair would move a certain degree.

The import of this is significant to our lives as Jews. We exist within the framework of what Hashem has devised in the Torah. It is not the laws of animated film or the laws of nature, but the laws of the Torah. The Torah’s view of an ideal, perfect world and perfect life is the template and framework which we exist in and constantly strive to live in sync with. It preceded the world because it created and outlined the very fiber of the world. It details what perfection is, and provides us with the necessary tools and information to attain that perfection.

We all wish to maximize our life in this world. The many mitzvos which we have and the care we perform them with are the underlying mechanics which enable us to match the perfect templated world Hashem has designed. The more we study the framework of the Torah and delve into its depth both in study and action, the more we will recognize what perfection is, what our abilities are, and how we can link them together. When this is done, we are in position to lead lives of closeness to Hashem and reach closer and closer to a life of perfection we are all capable of.

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