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TorahAnytimes Newsletter Bo

Parshat Bo

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik


"The TorahAnyTimes" Newsletter

Bo Newsletter
6th of Tevet, 5780 | February 1, 2020

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik

Rabbi Zecharia Wallerstein
The Beautiful Tattoo

For a number of years, I was privileged to teach 8th grade boys in the Crown Heights Yeshiva in Mill Basin, New York. With the student body primarily comprised of non-religious boys, emphasis was put on imbuing them with a genuine appreciation of Torah and Yiddishkeit. As it so happened, during one of my years teaching, one of the 7th grade students, Howey, was asked to leave the school due to his repeated disruptive behavior. The school ideally wished they could avoid doing so, though they felt it was necessary.

Years later, I was invited to the wedding of his older brother, who had been my student while in 8th grade. Despite it not being a fully religious wedding, I nevertheless decided to go for a short while and pay regards to my former student.

As I entered inside the wedding hall, I found my table number and headed over to take a seat. To my surprise, Howey was sitting at the table. I could sense that even now, years after he was thrown out of school, he was considerably upset at the administration’s decision. Sitting next to him was his girlfriend as well, who was clearly not Jewish. I quietly took a seat and minded my own business, not wishing to intrude and offset him.

Howey, however, completely ignored me and the few other rabbis seated at the table, subtly conveying his annoyance and aggravation at his former rabbis, school and religious Jews.
When the time for the first dance began, I knew what to expect. A mechitzah would be put up, and the first song would be hava nagila where the rabbis would have the opportunity to dance with the chassan, after which they would leave. I planned on joining the dancing, although I had someone in mind whom I wished to greet beforehand.

Approaching Howey, I extended my hand and let out a smile. “Howey, shalom aleichem! How are you?” Howey, caught off guard, looked at me startled. “Listen,” I said, “it’s the hava nagila dance. I didn’t throw you out of school, and in fact you were never in my class. Please don’t be angry at me. Come, let’s dance!”

Howey turned aside to his girlfriend for her approval. “Do you think I should dance with the rabbi?” “Sure,” she happily replied, “go ahead. Just don’t leave me here for too long.”

Howey joined us, with me and his brother dancing alongside. A short while later, I was left dancing with just Howey himself. I knew that now was the time for me to say something. Pulling him close, I gave him a big kiss on his right cheek and whispered into his ear, “Howey, I apologize for what happened to you in yeshiva, but I just want you to know that I love you and you are a very special boy.” As I said this to him, I could tell he was moved. But I wasn’t finished.

Pulling him close again, I gave him a kiss on his left cheek and whispered into his ear, “But you need to know something else. You really cannot stay with that girl.” I then finished dancing with him and headed back to my seat. Slowly gathering my things together, I proceeded to leave the wedding hall.

Howey continued to trail behind me and walk outside too. He wanted to tell me something. “You know Rabbi Wallerstein,” he began, “I am a Buddhist. I traveled to the Himalayas and met this girlfriend of mine who is a Buddhist.” I know understood why his head was completely shaved and he had huge tattoos of a Buddha on both his arms. I listened to what Howey had to say, after which I made the following offer.

“You know, Howey, Buddhism is an interesting religion. I do not know much about it, but maybe you would like to come to my Tuesday night class and tell us about it.” Howey was taken aback, yet oddly interested. “You really would let me do that?” “Sure,” I said, “I am very open. You never know; maybe I’ll become a Buddhist. I don’t know if I like that zero haircut, but you can tell us all about Buddhism.” Howey was extremely excited to hear this, as was his girlfriend. “That would be amazing!” she cried out. “Can I come too?” “Let’s start with Howey,” I said, “and we’ll see what happens.”

The next Tuesday night, there was Howey standing in front of my class, lecturing all about Buddhism. After he spoke for quite some time, I got up and offered my own input. I first wanted to break the ice, so I began making light of Buddha. “Look Howey, “I said, “there is one thing which is bothering me. How can Buddha be g-d? He is extremely overweight and he hasn’t lost one pound in two thousand years. If he’s a g-d, he should be able to figure out a way to lose some weight!” I then continued with a more serious rebuttal of the many ideas he mentioned, which put my class back on track.

From that night on, Howey and I started talking to one another about Buddhism and Judaism. The next Tuesday night, lo and behold, Howey showed up to the class again, and so he did the next Tuesday night and the next Tuesday night. Three months later, he was no longer in touch with his Buddhist girlfriend. It was at that point that I suggested he leave America and go to Israel. “Let’s go to Israel together and find a yeshiva that is suited for you.”

Howey agreed to make the trip and enter a yeshiva. After spending some time in one place, he relocated and wound up in a different yeshiva, where he fell in love with Chassidus and changed his entire life around.

Two years later, he had made tremendous progress in his growth and devotion to Yiddishkeit, and wore the part with a long beard and peyos. He then gave me a call. “Rebbe,” he said, “I need to come back to America.” Strongly suggesting that he stay in Israel as it provided him with the best and healthiest framework for continual growth in Judaism, I got the message across, although sensed he was still concerned about something. “Here in Israel I will never find a shidduch. I have a

Buddha on one arm, another Buddha on the other, and plenty of other tattoos on my back and chest. Who is going to marry me in Israel? Maybe in America I will find someone who would be willing to put up with me.” Hearing Howey’s worries, I compromised. “Just give it a couple more months. If by then you don’t find a shidduch, you can come back to America.”

A month later, I was back on the phone with Howey, who was now known as Chaim Simcha. “Rebbe, you won’t believe it! One of my teachers set me up with someone and she seems to be a good match.” But Howey was still very worried about something. “She comes from a regular family, though, and I have no idea how I am going to explain the story behind all my tattoos.” In the past, Howey could be seen walking down the streets of Israel on the hottest day with a long-sleeve turtle neck, just so he could hide all the tattoos. They were literally all over his body. “As soon as I tell her about them, she is going to run…”

“Look,” I said to Howey, “you have come so far in Yiddishkeit. Don’t say anything until you’ve gone out a few times, and if things are going well and she really likes you, maybe she will then understand and it will not be as bad as you think.”

A little while later, I got a call from Howey. He had gone out five times and everything was going very well. “Rebbe,” he nervously said to me, “what am I going to do now? I like her and she likes me, but I know that if I tell her about the tattoos she will jump out of the car that very minute.” “Howey,” I gently yet firmly said, “Hashem runs the world. You have to do what you have to do.” He was understandably anxious about the situation, but there was no other option. He needed to tell her the truth.

At the end of the next date, as Howey pulled up in front of Kfar Chabad, he turned to her and said, “I have to tell you something.” As soon as Howey said that, the girl’s mind began to imagine one thing: marriage. “I think he is going to propose now,” she thought to herself. “I need to tell you this,” continued Howey, “but please don’t react right away.” By now, the girl was almost certain that Howey was going to propose, so much so that she was nearly sticking out her finger, waiting for a ring to be slipped onto it. “Don’t worry about it,” she said, trying to allay his fears. “Just say what you have to say.”

“There is something about me which is a little different.” “What do you mean?” she asked. “Well…wait a minute.” Howey proceeded to pull his arm out of his jacket sleeve. And then she saw his tattoos. “Wait,” Howey interjected, “that’s not the only one I have. I have another one on my other shoulder and more on my chest and my back.” The girl sat there silently, taking everything in.

“I understand and accept the fact if you do not want to see me again. This was my past and it has left its consequences.” Howey continued rambling on and on, until the girl interrupted him. “Okay, I heard everything you have to say. Now let me tell you what I have to say.

“I only see one tattoo, and that is the tattoo on your soul. You are so spiritual. I see that you have G-d’s name of Y-K-V-K tattooed on your soul and that is the only tattoo I see. Don’t you worry about anything else.”

Howey let out a sigh of relief. “By the way,” he said, “will you marry me?”

Today Chaim Simcha lives with his beautiful family in Bnei Brak.
Here was someone who saw past this boy’s outer appearance. She saw beyond the external tattoos and discerned the one true and beautiful tattoo of spirituality and G-dliness. The same is true of us all. Embedded deep within each and every Jew lies a pristine neshama full of purity and potential. All we must do is learn to see beyond the outer façade and perceive the real person which lies beneath. And when we do so, we will unquestionably find a world of inner beauty awaiting to shine.

Rabbi Yoel Gold
The Quarter

It was some time ago that I headed out shopping for Shabbos at La Brea Kosher Market, one of the local supermarkets in Los Angeles. After I checked out and grabbed my bags, I began walking out the door, though suddenly, I heard my name being called. “Rabbi Gold! Rabbi Gold!” I turned around and there stood a middle-aged woman. “Rabbi Gold, I have a story to tell you!” As soon as I heard that, I was all ears. I have often remarked that what a good piece of real estate is to an investor, a good story is to me. If someone has a moving story to tell me, I will literally drop my bags and eagerly listen in. So, true to my calling, I placed my shopping bags down and asked her to go ahead.

“My fifteen-year-old daughter was recently walking down the street, when all of a sudden, she noticed that a police officer was issuing a ticket to a car parked next to an expired meter. My daughter looked at the car, looked at the officer and then looked at the shul which was just a few feet away. It was around five o’clock in the afternoon and my daughter figured that the man owning the car was inside davening Mincha and would not be able to come outside at the moment and refill the meter.

“My daughter proceeded to head over to the police officer and ask, ‘Officer, I think this car belongs to one of the Jews inside. Do you mind if I put a quarter in for him?’ The officer looked at my daughter and smiled. ‘I am very impressed that you would do such a thing. Guess what? It’s your lucky day. I haven’t yet printed the ticket, so go ahead and stick in a quarter.’ My daughter went ahead and put in a quarter, thanking the officer.”

As I stood there listening to the woman relate this story of her daughter perform a wonderful act of kindness, I began to reach down for my bags. “That’s a beautiful story,” I said. “It reflects the amazing education and values you provided your daughter with and it’s beautiful to hear about.” As I said this, I began wondering in the back of my mind if such a story would be good material to make into an inspirational video, the kinds of which I have made in the past. I told myself that I didn’t think so. Although it displayed true thoughtfulness for another Jew, I wasn’t sure how sensational or emotional it was. “I think we’ll let it be,” I told myself.

I continued to pick up my bags and thank the woman for sharing the story with me, until she blurted out, “Rabbi Gold, where are you going? The story is not over yet…” “It’s not?” I said. “No… listen to the rest of it.” With no other option than to listen to the remainder of the story, I put my bags back down yet again.

“After my daughter put the coin in the meter, she thought to herself, ‘Wait a second. Maybe this car really doesn’t belong to a Jew in the shul! Maybe it belongs to someone else who is walking down this large boulevard.’ My daughter, now curious as to whose car it was, decided that she would wait a few minutes until the men filed out of the shul.

“Sure enough, ten minutes later, out came everyone. And guess whose car it was?” At this point, I really wondered why I was still standing in the supermarket listening to this story. What did it have to do with me, and moreover, it didn’t seem like it would turn out to be overly inspirational. By now, I had spent a few minutes with the woman, and I needed to get going.
“Rabbi Gold,” she said, “it was your car.”

Within half a second, the story became sensational. At least to me. “Really?” I exclaimed. “It was my car! I had no idea that your daughter spared me a ticket. That’s so thoughtful of her.”
I went on to purchase the girl a gift card to Coffee Bean in appreciation of her considerateness.

As I dropped off my small token of gratitude, I came to a profound realization. How many people stand behind the scenes and do things for us that we are completely unaware of? How many people, so to speak, drop quarters into our meter when we ourselves forget to add enough change?

As these thoughts raced through my mind, I came to appreciate that there are many things that we do not know about, yet we take for granted. Parents spend inordinate amounts of time and effort thinking and caring for their children as do spouses for one another. And above all else, how much does Hashem do for us that we are unaware of and take for granted? Every minute, He orchestrates events and happenings behind the scenes for our benefit. We may never learn of the countless acts of kindness which are silently done on our behalf every day and every moment, but we would be wise to at least pause and take a step back, appreciating that they do occur.

So as we look forward towards another year of life and much bountiful kindness up ahead from our Creator, let us as well take a look back and remind ourselves of all that we received. For the past year, many quarters have been dropped into our hands, and there are certainly too many to count. All that we can do is appreciate all that we have and tell ourselves that we will use our precious gift of life to better ourselves, our families, our community and our world.

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