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TorahAnytimes Newsletter Terumah

Parshat Terumah

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik


"The TorahAnyTimes" Newsletter

Parashat Terumah
4th of Adar, 5780 | February 29, 2020

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik

Rabbi Zecharia Wallerstein
Unmask Your Inner Beauty

A year ago, I was approached by a girl who asked me an honest and straightforward question. “Rabbi Wallerstein, I went to high school and seminary, and we had many talks and classes about tznius (modesty), and I understand that it is important. But let’s get real…” As soon as she said those words, all I could think was, “Okay, here we go…”

“The bottom line, Rabbi, is that the girl who puts on make-up and nail polish and has colored streaks in her hair receives attention. It is that type of girl who I see getting married often. I’ve been dating for a while, and I dress modestly, and no one ever looks at me in the same way. I don’t get dressed like some of these other girls, nor do I do my hair that way. I feel like I am doing everything right as I am supposed to do, but no one is taking interest in me. At the end of the day, I feel that the girl who is not so modest in dress and character is getting married and I am not.”

Before I addressed the girl’s particular question, I wished to clarify a general concept that I felt she was touching upon. “If Hashem tells us to do something,” I said, “such as dressing modestly, don’t think that you will lose out because you are doing the right thing. If you believe that you will not find a shidduch because you are dressing modestly, you cannot be talking about G-d. Hashem never punishes you for doing what is right. That is not why you are not married. It can neither be true that someone is honest, and is poor because he is honest. There must be a different reason. But one thing is for sure: it is not because you are honest. Do not make the mistake in believing that because someone dresses provocatively and attracts attention, that she is therefore married, and you who do not act that way, are not. Your modesty is not the reason you would not get married. That is the first thing to take to heart.”

And then I continued.

“Let me share with you a comment from Rashi. The Torah says that as Avraham Avinu came close to Egypt when traveling from the Land of Israel because of the famine there, he remarked of Sarah, his wife, ‘Now I know that you are a beautiful woman’ (Bereishis 12:11). Rashi, bothered why Avraham Avinu would only realize now that his wife is beautiful comments, “Until now he had not noticed her beauty because of their modesty; but now he recognized her beauty as he caught a glimpse of her reflection in the water.”

The difficulty with the simple reading of the Pasuk – i.e. that only now Avraham recognized Sarah’s beauty – is that the Gemara (Kiddushin 41a) states that it is forbidden to marry someone until you have looked at them, for otherwise, you may later come to despise them because of their unappealing physical appearance to you. That being so, how could Avraham have not known what Sarah looked like, if he needed to see her before he married her?

Allow me to share a story with you.

There once was a hunchback whose body and facial features were twisted, yet he sorely wished to get married. The problem, however, was that no one wanted to get near him. Except one girl, who found it within her heart to marry him. While her decision shocked her family and friends, she went through with it. Yet soon thereafter, she realized that she could not carry on. “I really wanted to make this marriage work, but I’m unable. He is just too horrendous to look at. I’m sorry to break his heart.” Yet before any final decision was made, they agreed to visit Rav Chaim Halberstam of Sanz, also known as the Divrei Chaim, and discuss the matter.

While the woman understandably explained her predicament to the Divrei Chaim, she found no way she would be able to continue living with him. “Do you think you’re beautiful?” asked the Divrei Chaim. “Why don’t you take a look into the mirror,” he said. Stepping over in front of the mirror, the wife let out a shriek. She looked like a hunchback herself. She couldn’t believe it. In her mind, the Divrei Chaim had done something to make her look as horrible as she did.

“I didn’t do anything to you,” remarked the Divrei Chaim. “But let me tell you who this person is that you want to leave. Before the two of you were born the same day, you both were waiting to come into this world. The angel turned to you and said that because of what you had done in your previous life, you will need to reenter this world as a hunchback as an atonement. Yet the neshama of this man was behind you, and said to the angel, “Don’t do this to her! I’ll take the punishment instead.” That man was supposed to be born handsome, yet he took on your twisted figure and now he looks like he does because of you.

As soon as the woman heard this, all she could think of was, “How could I walk away from such a man? I’ll have to make it work… I’ll never leave him.” Her one request was that the Rebbe return her to the way she looked before. “You never changed,” replied the Rebbe. “Take a look in the mirror.” And sure enough, she looked as she always had. It was merely a mirage in the mirror.

This is a peculiar and startling story. Yet this same story happened in Ohr Naava eight years ago.

There was a girl who used to sit in front of my class every week who had Down Syndrome. Each week, she used to bring me water, but besides that she used to sit very quietly and not say a word.

One night, I was speaking about the logo of Ohr Naava being that a butterfly, which symbolizes how a person figuratively undergoes the process of entering a cocoon, going through a metamorphosis, and emerging as a beautiful butterfly. The Zohar in fact says that the caterpillar’s old body dies and a new body forms inside a protective shown, called a chrysalis, from which a butterfly develops. Hashem intentionally created the process of a butterfly’s formation in this way to underscore the process of Techiyas HaMeisim, the Resurrection of the Dead, whose process mirrors that of a butterfly’s old body decomposing and a renewed life force emerging.

In life, our process of growth involves us discovering our “wings,” our unique talents and strengths and growing into the person we are capable of becoming. The butterfly, to this effect, is the paradigm example of such a life-changing growth process. It is scary to go from a crawling caterpillar to a flying butterfly, but such growth is the greatest change that could ever occur. Yet, all the while the butterfly doesn’t realize that it has wings, another butterfly comes to its side and tells it, “You know, you have wings just like I have… and you can fly.” The mission statement and vision of Ohr Naava was to teach girls and women that they have wings and can achieve extraordinary accomplishments in their lives.

After I finished this class, this girl who always sat in front of me and had never said a word, walked up to me. “Rabbi Wallerstein, could I tell you a story?” “Sure,” I said. As I took a seat, she stared right into my eyes with a very serious look and said, “Rabbi Wallerstein, do you know the story of the moth?” “The moth?” I said with surprise. “Yeah, the story about the moth.” “Okay…” I wondered. “What’s the story of the moth?”

“There was once a girl,” she began, “and she was sitting with her grandmother on the porch, when a big, ugly moth landed on the porch. Without hesitating, the little girl took off her shoe, ready to kill the moth. But before she had a chance, the grandmother cautioned the girl, “Don’t kill the moth.” “Why not Grandma? Don’t they eat clothing?” “Do you know the story of the moth?” asked the Grandma.

“When Hashem created the world, He created butterflies, and He gave them all of His colors. But then all of humanity sinned, and Hashem decreed that He would destroy the world. Though, at the same time, Hashem swore that He would never destroy the world again, and to prove that, He created the rainbow. Yet, the only problem was that Hashem had no colors left, because He had given them all to the butterflies. He therefore couldn’t make the rainbow. Hashem then called back all the butterflies, and said, “I am looking to make a rainbow; would you be able to give Me some of your colors back?” Some of the butterflies replied to Hashem, “We will give You of our colors so you can make the rainbow.” And those are the moths… They are butterflies who have no color because they gave it to Hashem to create the colors of the rainbow.

“And that’s why,” finished the Grandma and concluded this girl to me, “you should never kill a moth. It is really a butterfly which gave its colors to Hashem to make the rainbow.”

All I could wonder after this girl finished was, “Who told you that story?” She looked at me and said, “I’m not telling you.” I looked back at her with a pleasant smile, and asked again if she would be willing to tell me where she heard the story from. “I’m not telling you,” she insisted. I could not ever find out where this story originated from.

Knowing that everything happens at a specific time for a specific reason, I could only wonder what this girl really meant to tell me. This story is not a Midrash, and neither is it true. But I was sure that there was something more for me to learn from this interaction with this girl.

When I was later in Israel vising my Rebbe, R’ Gamliel Rabinowitz shlita, I asked what he believed Hashem wished to show me in this encounter with this girl. R’ Gamliel said, “Maybe she was telling you her story. Maybe she was trying to tell you that she may have Down Syndrome, but she is no different than the moth who is really a butterfly, but just gave her colors to somebody else. She was trying to convey that although people may look at her differently, she is really no different. If anything, she did something so incredible. She gave her colors to someone else. She’s been sitting in front of you every week when you speak for years for a reason. Don’t ever look at her differently than anybody else.”

The hunchback. The moth. They both gave something so dear to them away – their beauty. Never look at them as any different. If anything, they are far greater than you could ever conceive.

Now we can answer our original question. How could Avraham Avinu say that only now, as he neared Egypt, that he noticed Sarah’s beauty?

My brother explained to me as follows. Avraham Avinu was telling Sarah that he never married her because of her physical beauty. He married her because of her internal beauty and what type of person she was. While Avraham definitely saw Sarah before he married her, her physical beauty wasn’t his focal point. Yet now was the first time in his life that Avraham saw Sarah’s reflection in the water, and a reflection has no inner beauty. It merely portrays one’s physical image. It is bereft of the person and simply recreates a reflected picture. It was the first time that Avraham ever saw Sarah’s outer beauty and outer beauty only. And that is what Rashi means.

Of course, Avraham had seen Sarah before. But he never thought to himself, “Look at her physical beauty,” but rather, “This is a beautiful person.” It was only now that he saw her reflection, which has no inner beauty, and only displays outer beauty, and to that alone, Avraham said, “Wow! Even just your outer beauty is truly beautiful.”

I then concluded telling this girl who asked me her question about tznius, “A girl who is not modest is just a reflection. There is no inner beauty. You may have gorgeous make-up and beautiful hair, but that is only a reflection in the water. Tznius shows your inner beauty, and someone who appreciates you for that is attracted to you as a person and values you much more than your outer beauty. And the longer you are married, the more your inner beauty develops. Outer physical beauty fades and wanes with time. But inner beauty glows and grows with time.

“You remain as modest as you are,” I told this girl. “That inner beauty is everything you need. And believe me, Hashem will take care of you. You will find your Avraham Avinu…”

Rabbi Zev Leff
The Land of Israel Outside of Israel

Once the Jewish people left Egypt, they began setting their eyes on their eventual destination: the Land of Israel. But the process of arriving there was progressive, explains the Sforno. The exodus from Egypt formed the preliminary steps to the Jewish nation arriving at a clear understanding of G-d and their mission as His people. The purpose of settling in Israel was to create a society which would be insulated from the nations of the world and allow the Jews to devote themselves to G-d’s overarching mission for mankind. We would form different ideals and values, those which would provide a beacon of light and spirituality to the rest of the world and reflect a life of kedusha. But achieving such lofty standards required that we first go through the process of exile and slavery, and come full circle to understanding our place in this world as G-d’s priestly nation and holy representatives.

As we have it today, we still remain in exile. Though we may not physically be living in Egypt and may have homes in Israel, we live in exile nevertheless. What though replaces that spiritual experience we once had of living in the Land of Israel, wherein G-d’s presence was acutely sensed and perceived?

“And I have been for them a small sanctuary in the lands where they arrived” (Yechezkel 11:16) – This refers to the synagogues and study halls outside the Land of Israel (Megillah 29a). The Jewish communities, made up of shuls, schools, yeshivos, seminaries and places to learn and grow insulate us from the culture and nations of the world and promote our spiritual growth. They provide us with an environment akin to the Land of Israel of yesteryear and put us in touch with G-dliness and holiness.

But there is also one other very important place which allows for such spiritual growth. The Midrash (Paneiach Razah, Parshas Noach) says in reference to the verse, “According to their families they left the Ark of Noach [after the flood]” (Bereishis 8:19) that “from here we derive that when leaving shul one should leave family by family.” Simplistically, the Midrash is drawing upon the similar usage of the word teivah, ark, which refers both to the Ark of Noach in the Torah’s vernacular and an Ark which houses a Torah scroll in Mishnaic terminology. What though is the deeper meaning behind this?

We live in a world wherein if we do no insulate ourselves, we will drown within the cultures surrounding us. The Meiri writes that “evil in the world is akin to the sea, and the way to escape it is with a boat.” Ostensibly, the Meiri’s words make little sense. You escape the sea not by means of a boat, but with an amphibious raft which can make its way onto dry land.

The words of the Meiri, however, are precisely correct and exactly as they seem. It is impossible to escape and isolate ourselves from the negative influences in our world today. They exist in every corner of the globe. We cannot escape the raging waves of the sea. The best we can do is insulate ourselves. What we must therefore do is build a boat that is water tight and does not allow those negative influences to seep in.

What are these boats made of? As mentioned, Jewish communities which comprise of shuls, school, yeshivos, seminaries and places to learn and grow. But there is one problem. Most of us will not be spending our entire day in a shul or school or the like. How can we then temporarily leave these bastions of spiritual growth and step into our world yet still remain protected? To that, the Midrash states, “from here we derive that when leaving shul one should leave family by family.”

We can leave the mother ship and still remain safe if our life boats consist of our families. If our families maintain the same standards and values as the larger Jewish community and shuls, then we can still physically leave these places for the moment, yet stay spiritually afloat. If our homes and personal families are built upon the same fundamental values as reflected by our shuls and study halls, then we will continuously lead spiritual lives filled with Torah, holiness and connection to Hashem.

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