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TorahAnytimes Newsletter Rosh Hashanah Edition

Parshat Rosh Hashanah Edition

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik


"The TorahAnyTimes" Newsletter

Rosh Hashanah                                                                          Print Version
1st of Tishre, 5780 | September 28, 2019

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik

Rabbi YY Jacobson
Bill Clinton’s Teshuva

Some time ago I received a call from a man named Rabbi Michael Paley, who shared with me the following personal experience he had.

It was the end of 1998, and President Bill Clinton was going through a hard time, as he had come close to being impeached due to certain alleged acts of misconduct. It was the very end of 1998, and Clinton traveled to Cincinnati to have a night with members of the clergy. It was none other than Michael Paley who was invited to represent the Jewish clergy.

Michael knew that while getting a picture with the President would do much for his own personal career and future, he had something much more important and pressing in mind. He wanted to share with the President a meaningful message.
And indeed, as Clinton passed by and extended his hand, Michael shook it and said directly to the President, “It’s time for you to do teshuva.” Michael was about to explain to the President of the United States the meaning of teshuva, typically translated as repentance, when Clinton suddenly opened his mouth and said, “Rabbi Paley, that’s so interesting, but I have a question. When you speak about me doing teshuva, do you mean teshuva from the perspective of Rabbi Soloveitchik or do you mean teshuva from the perspective of Rabbi Kook? Which teshuva do you mean?”

Now, I must interrupt the story. As Michael relayed this story to me, I questioned him if it was fictional. “This is 100% true,” he said. “These were his exact words.” “Well, what did you do?” I asked further. “I almost fainted,” he said. “First of all, I thought to myself, how in the world do you know about Rabbi Soloveitchik and Rabbi Kook; and second of all, how do you know about the difference between the teshuva they describe? Third of all, you may very well know more about teshuva than the majority of American Jews.”

What in fact is the difference between the teshuva of Rabbi Soloveitchik and that of Rabbi Kook? Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, who passed away in 1993, was the Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva University, and stemmed from the great Lithuanian rabbis, known as the Brisker dynasty. Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook passed away decades earlier, in 1935, and was the first Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi in Israel. Both Rabbi Soloveitchik and Rabbi Kook were Lithuanian Jews, but there existed a distinct ideological difference between them.

Rabbi Soloveitchik was a proud product of the Lithuanian and analytical Talmudic dynasty. Rabbi Kook was also a great halachic authority, but he was also a poet and mystic. He wrote extensively on topics related to Jewish mysticism, based on the teachings of Jewish thought, philosophy and Chassidic practice. In particular, Rabbi Soloveitchik and Rabbi Kook spoke about repentance in two different ways.

In the opinion of Rabbi Soloveitchik, based on the words of the Rambam, the primary component of teshuva is about accountability, remorse, confession and resolving to change your behavior in the future. It is a very halachic, systematic and rigorous process. According to Rabbi Kook, the focus of teshuva has a different twist. He writes, based on the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov, that teshuva is in fact about returning to the untainted self. It is the discovery that one’s core self has never been alienated from truth and from G-d. One’s soul is a fragment of Divinity, and therefore sin is essentially an aberration from one’s internal spiritual chemistry. Teshuva simply means reclaiming who you always were and discovering the positive core that was never tainted nor tarnished, and embracing it.

President Clinton wished to know which teshuva Michael Paley was referring to. Michel was clever, and responded, “Mr. President, of course, the teshuva of Rabbi Kook!” to which Clinton responded, “That’s interesting; most people I speak to believe that I need to do the teshuva of Rabbi Soloveitchik.” But Michael held his ground. “Mr. President, I feel that you should do the teshuva of Rabbi Kook.” Clinton looked back at Michael and said, “If that’s so, we should talk.”

After the official meeting with the clergy concluded, Michael Paley was asked to a side room by the President, whereupon they spent time conversing privately about how Judaism looks at teshuva.

Beyond the humor of this story, there is a very profound message. Very often, we look at these days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and there is a strong element of dread and fear. We refer to them as the Yamim Noraim, the Days of Awe. And it is absolutely true; there is a component of awe. But underlying the story of awe, there is a story of intense and intimate love. It is a story about the ultimate belief of Judaism that all of one’s insecurities, pains, jealousy, depression, agony and anger, while they are real, they do not constitute one’s core self. Our core self remains powerful, confident, optimistic and sacred and no experience in life, not even mistakes made, can compromise the truth of our internal wholeness. Thus, the main process of teshuva is to work through the debris of sin and not allow ourselves to be defined by those external layers of transgression. We excavate and search to locate our core self, which is an ambassador of G-dly love, light and liberation. Of course, there are other voices within us that contraindicate these redemptive qualities, but they never define us as people.

Our relationship with Hashem is one that can never be locked nor compromised. We share an authentic relationship with Him that breaks all bounds and is never limited by what we have done or our shortcomings. We must listen to our inner cry, which years to open the gates to our own soul. We are connected and will forever be connected.

Rabbi Dovid Kaplan
The Perfect Product

Raising his family in Chicago, Mr. Kaplan owned a company called “Kofer,” literally meaning tar, named after the tar which was placed within and without Noach’s Ark. The company developed a product called Driveway Medic, developed by Phillips Petroleum. Driveway Medic functioned as a roll of asphalt on double-stick tape. If a person would have a crack in his driveway, by taking this roll of asphalt, cutting it any length desired, peeling off the backing and stepping on it, the driveway would remain repaired for the long haul. It was a great product.

As Mr. Kaplan’s children grew up, it was time to marry off his eldest daughter. He approached his Rebbe and said, “Rebbe, I don’t have enough money to marry off my daughter and I don’t know what to do. The product Driveway Medic is just starting up and I have not made enough money yet to afford a wedding.” Looking for advice, his Rebbe told him, “Hashem will help. Trust in Hashem and you will see that He will take care of you.” And with that, he left knowing two things: he would do his utmost to procure money for the wedding, but leave the rest to Hashem. He placed his trust in Hashem that everything would turn out alright.

The wedding was set for a date in November. Although he believed that matters would work out, time was ticking. It was now getting closer to the wedding and he was still short money. And so, he approached his Rebbe again. “Rabbi, what should I do now?” Faced with a difficult situation, his Rebbe told him that he would help him. He arranged that he would take a second mortgage on his house and give him some money. This arrangement would help, but Mr. Kaplan remained uneasy. He did not want to take handouts from others; he wanted to be able to pay for the wedding himself. But business for Driveway Medic wasn’t helping him enough.

During Chol Hamoed Sukkos, Mr. Kaplan approached his Rebbe a third time. “Rabbi,” he said, “thank you very much, but I don’t need the money.” “You don’t need the money?” his Rebbe exclaimed. “What happened?” Mr. Kaplan went on to explain.

“I was attending an entrepreneurial show for all sorts of businesses. There, I handed out brochures for Driveway Medic. I didn’t exactly know in whose hands the brochure would end up; I simply gave it to whomever came along. A little later, I received a letter. It was from a company in Abu Dhabi, capital of the United Arab Emirates. They said that they received my brochure and noticed that it stated I would send a sample of Driveway Medic for ten dollars upon request. And so, they wished for me to send them a sample. Thinking about it for a moment, I was at a loss of what to do. First of all, it would cost me more than ten dollars to send a sample all the way to Abu Dhabi. Moreover, what would they do with this product in Abu Dhabi? Driveway Medic is meant for those who live in a climate where the asphalt cracks. In Abu Dhabi though, you don’t need Driveway Medic. There, the temperature is warm all year round. There is no freeze-thaw cycle that would necessitate any repairs. And on top of all that, when they find out that my last name is Kaplan, that will be the end of the story. And so, considering all these points, I shoved the letter in the drawer and ignored it.

“Two weeks later, I received another letter. It was from this company in Abu Dhabi again. They said, ‘We previously sent you a letter with ten dollars to receive a sample of Driveway Medic. We would appreciate that you send it to us as we think we have a market here.’ Ever after reading the letter to myself a second time, I still figured it was ridiculous. What would they do with Driveway Medic in Abu Dhabi? And so, I put yet again this second letter into a drawer as I did to the first. And then I received a fax. ‘We sent you ten dollars requesting a sample of your product. We would like to do business with you. Here is a guarantee from the Bank of Dubai corroborating our request; we would like some of your product.’ After receiving this third letter, I figured that I would send them a sample even though I would be losing money. I didn’t want to make a Chillul Hashem (desecration of G-d’s name) if they would find out that my name is Kaplan. And so, I packaged a small roll of the product, sent it off to Abu Dhabi and forgot about it.

“A week later, the company sent me a fax. ‘Thank you very much for sending us your product. Can you please send us a shipping container load with ten thousand pieces of this product?” Included was a letter of guarantee from the Bank of Dubai.’ “Rabbi,” continued Mr. Kaplan, “you want to know something? The profit I made from that container I sent to Abu Dhabi is enough money to pay for my daughter’s wedding. I never would have imagined that I would be able to say this, but you need not take a second mortgage on your house. Thank G-d, I can pay for the wedding myself.”

P.S. Two months later, after the wedding had already been paid for, Mr. Kaplan received another fax: We realized there is no market for Driveway Medic in Abu Dhabi. Would you consider buying back your product?”

While at times we may wonder how we will be able to manage, we need not be all too disconcerted. Probably the last thing on Mr. Kaplan’s mind was that he would make a nice profit selling his product to a country thousands of miles away. But when Hashem is on our side, even a long distance is short.

Rabbi Fischel Schachter
Special Admission

Years ago, Rabbi Alter and his wife traveled from Chicago to Toronto for a wedding. At that time, airports were just beginning to introduce the use of full body scanners as part of their security system instead of metal detectors. They were installed with the intention of ensuring greater safety for all those traveling.

As Rabbi Alter and his wife got into line, they took note of the body scanners. It was clear that security was trying to accustom travelers to the scanners as a big yellow ribbon was taped across the metal detector. They both assumed that passing through the metal detector was not an option. As they inched closer to the scanner, Rabbi Alter’s wife turned to her husband and said, “I’m not really comfortable going through the full body scanner. Is there any way of going through the metal detector?” Trying to reassure his wife that he had spoken with a Rav in Chicago who clarified that there was no impropriety in going through the scanner, she still remained sensitive to doing so. “Even so,” she said, “I would prefer the metal detector.”

Getting out of line and walking up to the TSA agent who stood in front of the line, Rabbi Alter asked if passing through the metal detector was an alternative option. “It actually is,” the TSA agent said. “The only thing is that if you choose to do so, we will subject you to a full body pat-down. We have strict protocol dictating that everyone goes through the scanners and if anyone wishes to do otherwise, we will just have to complete the procedure ourselves.” Thanking her for the information, Rabbi Alter headed back to his wife.

As Rabbi Alter relayed what the TSA agent had said, it was not long before his wife changed her mind and agreed to go through the fully body scanner. “I would rather go through a scanner than receive a pat-down,” she said. Slowly moving closer to the scanner, it was now Rabbi Alter’s turn to go. Speedily and without any issues, he made it through. Within seconds, though, he heard some commotion coming behind. The TSA agent who had a walkie-talkie attached to her shoulder and an earpiece in her ear put her hand up in front of Rabbi Alter’s wife as she listened intently to a message on her earpiece. “What? Fifteen minutes lunch break…okay fine, no problem.” She then said in a loud voice to everyone standing in line, “Ladies and gentlemen, the full body scanner is closed. Everyone should now please move aside to enter through the metal detector.”

Rabbi Alter’s wife was the first on line… and now, she walked through the metal detector without receiving any pat-down. After all, it was not she who had changed the protocol, but the airport security. Looking at each other, Rabbi Alter and his wife both realized that this was a moment of Divine providence. Her silent prayers to go through the metal detector had been answered immediately. They continued on to Toronto both knowing that they had just seen a small part of G-d’s hand.

Shortly after arriving in Toronto, Rabbi Alter and his sat down with a number of other people who had also traveled from Chicago, and Rabbi Alter decided to share what had happened at the airport. As he neared the end of the story, a man from a nearby table tapped him on the shoulder. Surprisingly, it was a close friend of his, Heshy Wangrow. “Heshy, what are you doing here?” he said enthusiastically. Looking back, Heshy asked, “Do you want to hear the rest of the story?” “There is more to the story?” Rabbi Alter curiously replied. “Yes, please tell me.”

“Well,” Heshy began, “I was standing a few people behind you as you were going through security. As you probably know, right after you passed through the scanner, the TSA agent put up her hand and signaled for the rest of us to file through the metal detector. Being that your wife was first on line, she quickly went through the detector. But just then, the TSA agent again put up her hand as she listened to another message on her walkie-talkie. Speaking back into her microphone, she said, ‘Oh, in fifteen minutes. I’m sorry; I misunderstood. You are going on a lunch break in fifteen minutes.’ And with that, she said to all of us now standing on line for the metal detectors, ‘Ladies and gentleman, I am very sorry to trouble you again. If everyone can please move back into the line for the full body scanner. The metal detectors will be closed for another fifteen minutes.’

“And so,” concluded Heshy, “your wife was the only one who went through the metal detector.”

There is no such thing as coincidence in life; everything is orchestrated by Hashem above. We should never feel we are alone without Divine security. Looking down upon every one of His children closely and lovingly, our Father’s eyes never turn away from helping us reach our destination happily and safely.

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