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TorahAnytimes Newsletter Shoftim

Parshat Shoftim

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik


"The TorahAnyTimes" Newsletter

Parashat Shoftim                                                                           Print Version
7th of Elul, 5779 | September 7, 2019

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik

Rabbi Yoel Gold 
Exiting the Highway of Life

Years ago, I was driving with my wife and kids from Los Angeles, California to San Diego to the Legoland amusement park. We decided to drive there at night, given that if we would sleep at the hotel right next to Legoland, we would be given permission to enter the park an hour earlier before it opens for the public and go on any ride we wanted.

We set out for San Diego at around 9:30 at night, with all my kids piled into the back. It was not an easy ride, although it should have been. My kids were bickering and fighting, with one of them pushing the other’s seat, and another shoving the other’s arm for rights to the armrest. It began feeling like one of those experiences where I would need a vacation from the vacation.

I turned to my wife and said, “I can’t believe this. We’re spending so much money and time investing in coming closer together as a family, and here they are fighting! It’s just not worth it. I feel like turning around.” I instinctively pulled off the freeway to a random exit, not knowing where I was, and stopped the car. I got out from the driver’s seat and opened the passenger door, telling everyone to step outside. My kids turned their heads in my direction, almost uttering in unison, “Are we here yet?” “No,” I said. “But everyone, please get out of the car.”

There was a patch of grass just off to the side, where my kids and I sat down. “Look,” I said to all of them, “we are going on this trip to come closer together as a family. It’s unfortunate that all of you are fighting. We can do this the short way or the long way. The long way is that each of you tell me what someone else did to you; the short way is each one of you tell me what you did to everyone else.” There was silence.

Finally, one of my kids piped up in a low voice, “I kicked Yosef Chaim’s chair.” “Okay, that’s a good start,” I said. “Who’s next?” Slowly, each one of them began to take responsibility and a conversation began to flow. And then I knew my job was done. 
I said to my kids, “I’m going back into the car. When you finish the conversation, come back and we’ll continue on to Legoland.” 
I headed back into the car, and my wife and I began to wait. All of a sudden, as my wife stared out the passenger side of the car, she yelled, “Yoel! Look!” I looked out the window and I saw my kids… hugging each other…

I quickly yelled back at my wife, “Quick, the phone! We need a picture!” We took a picture, and shortly thereafter all my kids were back in the car and we were on our way to Legoland. 
The rest of the story is not that they never fought again. However, we actually took the picture of them hugging, blew it up into a full-sized photo, hung it up in our playroom, and wrote three words above, “Peace. Anytime. Anywhere.” Since then, when my kids have gotten into an argument, I remind them of that picture. We have a moment which turned into a memory and continues to remind us all, “We can handle this.”

As I have thought through this story from time to time, I have come to realize something. The only reason we had that moment was because we took the exit off the highway. In life, when we talk about slowing down in a fast-paced world, we need to learn to take exists off the highway of life. We cannot keep on speeding. We need to have built-in exits.

And in fact, if you think about it for just a minute, you will realize that we have an exit every six days… Shabbos. Nothing more need be said. We all know what it feels like. Indeed, it is an exit during which we are able to recalibrate and realign our lives, keeping ourselves on course for the rest of our journey.

Rabbi Moshe Meir Weiss 
Working Hours, Working Decades

I once heard from R’ Eliezer Ginsburg the following story, which occurred with my Rebbe, Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l during one summer he spent at a camp.

Rav Moshe used to write his Torah insights and novella on a special printed stationary, with a fountain pen, which he would refill from an ink well that was next to him. Given that he would write with a fountain pen, he would need to leave the papers to dry for some time after he would write. This would prevent the ink from smudging and making the writing illegible.

On one occasion, he had just finished writing three pages of his Torah thoughts over the course of a few hours, after which he got up and left his paper stationary to dry. Shortly thereafter, three yeshiva boys came by Rav Moshe’s table to glance at the work of the gadol hador, though accidently, the ink well somehow spilled over and poured onto the papers, ruining them all. When they saw what had become of Rav Moshe’s papers, they couldn’t believe their eyes. Appalled, they took off in a sprint.

Learning of what had happened was one of the camp rebbeim, who approached them. The boys confessed and owned up to what had happened, and from there went to Rav Moshe himself to apologize.

Standing before Rav Moshe nervously, the three boys expressed regret and their apologies over what had happened. Rav Moshe made nothing of it, and soothed the boys’ fears, reiterating that it was not their fault and that he accepted their apology and forgave them.

Some time later, Rav Moshe was asked how he was able to control his disappointment and frustration and not get upset at all? It had taken him hours upon hours to write those papers. Rav Moshe’s response is worth remembering for a lifetime. 
“I worked for hours on writing those novella, but I worked for decades on not getting angry.”

There are those instances in life when we have spent considerable time and effort investing in something, and it doesn’t work out the way we wanted. For whatever reason, we are left in a position which could arguably warrant losing our cool. It is in that moment when we could let our rage flare that we ought to remember that while we may have worked for hours on that project, venture or investment, we can be on our way to working for decades at refining our character. For Rav Moshe, trading in his temper for those papers, which were already ruined and nothing more could have been done anyway, was not worth it. All that remained was showing anger to these boys. But more valuable than that, and an even greater lesson to the boys and triumph for himself, was to remain perceptively poised and calm amidst the frustration.

Rav Elya Lopian once remarked that when dealing with negative character traits, one must extinguish the “pilot lot.” His intent was that by doing away with such undesirable traits, when an incident later occurs which could ignite it (e.g. a frustrating incident which could cause anger), nothing will follow. Since the core trait has been a focus of improvement, it cannot be reawakened by any subsequent event. There is no “pilot lot” for the anger to grow out of.

For Rav Moshe, he had spent day in and day out reminding himself of the importance of staying in control of himself, that the value of controlling his temper far outweighed any temporary relief that losing his temper would yield. That hallmarked his character and is a model from which we can all draw inspiration.

Rabbi Chaim Eisenstein 
Start with One Step

My father grew up in Western Canada and was trained as a young boy to be a runner. Now, in his eighties, he continues to run. As a child, I remember running with my father and learning the value of persistence.

Now, my father is a naturalist and does not like using the treadmill to run. Given that to be the case, he only runs in the warm weather of New York city. He begins at the start of Spring, putting on his sweatpants, sweatshirt and sneakers, and driving out to the local park about half an hour away. His first run at that point is 100 feet. That is the most he can do.

The next day, he gets ready again and this time runs 120 feet. By the end of the summer, he is able to run 5 miles, passing most of the young people who are running on the track. It is a very simple strategy that he has set for himself. He wants it badly enough and believes that he is capable of attaining his final goal, so he sets out for this and works towards it step by step.

Amazingly, every spring my father starts again by running 100 feet, after which he incrementally moves along little by little until five miles. He does not have the expectation that he will be able to run miles right away. He knows that he will not reach his goal immediately, but he is still succeeding because he is on his way there.

Just imagine how many times you could complete the entire Six orders of the Mishnah throughout your entire life if you would start today with learning just one or two Mishnayos? It is more than you would guess. The problem is that the enormity of something dwarfs our belief that we can do it all, so we decide to do nothing.

My father had a childhood friend, Menachem Marder, who was known to be an amazingly well-rounded individual. He excelled in both Torah and general studies, and had a brilliant mind and beautiful heart.

Menachem Marder went on to learn at the yeshiva Ner Yisroel, under the great Rav Ruderman zt”l, where he became an even more dedicated and astute learner. He then went to learn at the Mirrer Yeshiva in Israel, where he was beloved by the Roshei Yeshiva. Unfortunately, Rav Menachem Marder z”l passed away in his early forties, after having been learning in the Mirrer Kollel for several years.

My father always speaks about Menachem Marder. But what has personally stayed with me about Rav Marder was a story related to me by someone else who was personally close with him. 
Rav Menachem Marder passed away from brain cancer, r”l. In going through treatment, the doctors informed him that he needed to undergo surgery. At the same time, the doctors were hesitant that the surgery would even be effective. The prognosis indicated that he was going to pass away from this sickness anyway, and thus there was nothing to lose with undergoing the surgery. But, there was also the risk that were he to stay alive for some time thereafter, the surgery could likely cause brain damage.

Menachem and his wife realized that his chances of survival were slim, and thus surgery was the best viable option. 
When Menachem Marder woke up from surgery, most of his cognitive functioning was normal, although his memory was entirely gone. One of the most respected and brilliant minds of the Mirrer Yeshiva no longer knew how to read. Yet, what was the first thing he did after he was discharged from the hospital and had enough strength?

He entered the Mirrer yeshiva, took his old seat where he had previously spent hours learning day and night, and had someone teach him the Aleph-Beis. With renewed vigor and energy, he devoted himself to learning the letters of the Aleph-Beis. He passed away in the middle of learning Eilu Metzios, the typical first chapter that initiates a child into the learning of Gemara.

For Rav Menachem Marder z”l, his love for Torah superseded what he was learning. It was his love for Hashem that underscored his Torah study, so no matter what he was engaged in, whether it be a difficult passage of Gemara or the Aleph-Beis, he was enthusiastically connected to Hashem.

If a person desires to know what one word of Torah means, or wants to thoroughly know a page of Gemara, or learn through all orders of the Mishnah or the entire Shulchan Aruch, he can do it all. Step. By. Step. At first, he runs 100 feet, then 120 feet, and then soon, he can run five miles, and he does. But it all begins with a step in the right direction. And underlying it all: hard work and dedication. It requires self-discipline and a realistic understanding that no hard-earned feat will be accomplished quickly. Everything valuable in life takes time and work. But if you are willing to put in all that you’ve got, you will go far. 
Start today with one step, and in due time, you will have traveled miles.

Rabbi Label Lam 
What to Look Forward To

Nobody has seen the Next World, and even if they did, they wouldn’t have the sufficient vocabulary to describe it. Rabbi Avigdor Miller zt”l though once remarked that if you want to gain an inkling of what the Next World is like, just pass by a sports stadium and hear the giant roar and applause of the fans. That is a small sample of what to expect in the Next World.

Now, I do not know if Rav Miller ever visited a sports stadium, though when I was a child, my father ran the concession stand at Yankee Stadium, and I attended hundreds of games. I was there many times for Old-Timers Day, and the one of the great thrills would be when they would call out the old players and they would receive a smattering of an applause.

I vividly remember the time they called upon the Brooklyn Dodgers’ Catcher, Roy Campanella, whose career was cut short after he was in a car accident and became a quadriplegic. They wheeled him onto the field and the people showered him with a 15-minute standing ovation. You could see how he would take in their love with his eyes. That is all he could move.

I can only wonder if that scene is a small sample of what the Next World is all about and what we have to look forward to.

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