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TorahAnytimes Newsletter Metzora

Parshat Metzora

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik


"The TorahAnyTimes" Newsletter

Parashat Metzora                                                                                 Print Version
8th of Nissan, 5779 | April 13, 2019

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik

Mrs. Sandy Eller 
Always Live Smiling

When brothers Shimon and Rubin Kolyakov launched TorahAnytime in 2006, their goal was to bring a wealth of knowledge to Jews by making Torah classes available, any day, at any time. Starting with CDs before progressing to videos and the Internet, they envisioned giving people the ability to review shiurim by a multitude of speakers as often as they wanted, even if they couldn’t attend the lectures in person.

But never in their wildest dreams did they imagine that their organization would become a lifeline to an extraordinary Monsey rabbi whose unprecedented battle against Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, would defy the odds and astound doctors.

Rabbi Avrohom Dovid Weisz was just 31 years old when he was diagnosed with ALS in 2005. Significantly younger than the typical ALS patient, Rabbi Weisz and his wife Ruchie, who was then expecting the couple’s sixth child, were told that his life expectancy was a year, maybe 15 months if he was lucky. Stunned by the devastating diagnosis, the Weiszes, Viznitzer chassidim, returned home. It took Rabbi Weisz just three days to decide that he would live life on his own terms.

“My husband decided to change his diagnosis by redefining ALS,” said Mrs. Weisz. “From now on ALS would stand for ‘Always Live Smiling.’”

Rabbi Weisz was in yeshiva and working towards his CPA when he received his diagnosis. Using his analytical mind, he told his wife he understood why ALS had been a death sentence for Lou Gehrig.

“Gehrig’s whole life had been about baseball, but our lives are dedicated to learning Torah,” said Mrs. Weisz. “Our lives are ki heim chayeinu v’orech yameinu – Torah is our lifeblood and he intended to keep learning Torah, even with ALS.”

Having spent significant amounts of time researching ALS, Rabbi Weisz realized that while the rest of his body might deteriorate, his eyes would continue to function.

“He told me that our lives would be v’haer eyneynu b’sorasecha, an existence illuminated by the study of Torah,” said Mrs. Weisz. “He warned me that we were heading out to the battlefield, but we were going to be strong soldiers and we were going to do it.”

That spirit of positivity would sustain the Weisz family through the months and years ahead. Rabbi Weisz ordered a wheelchair while he was still able to walk, so that if his mobility would become compromised, he would be, quite literally, ready to roll. Rather than looking at his wheelchair as a symbol of his declining health, he jokingly referred to it as his throne. And when Rabbi Weisz was no longer able to swallow, he called it a positive development, announcing that it gave him more time to learn Torah.

Over the last 13 years, Rabbi Weisz has devoted his entire existence to his learning, and as his mobility and muscular strength began their inevitable decline, technology took up the slack. For the first nine years of his illness he relied heavily on his computer, at one point saying that he wanted to meet Mary Maxwell Gates so that he could thank her for giving birth to the man who created Microsoft.

When his movements became further limited, Rabbi Weisz began using a computer that picked up his eye movements, later transitioning to specialized Hebrew and English charts that allowed him to communicate with his eyes, choosing letters of the alphabet, one by one. Far from letting his hardships slow him down, Rabbi Weisz has eight chavrusas daily and is about to complete his second pass through Shas using just his eyes, his first siyum having inspired many others to take up Daf Yomi. He is part of the daily Dirshu program and takes all of the scheduled tests, deliberately avoiding a perfect score, something his wife said he does to sidestep ayin hara.

Through it all, Rabbi Weisz has continued to amaze doctors. In one instance, Rabbi Weisz was in Columbia University Medical Center’s intensive care unit and, despite being placed in isolation, his chavrusas were allowed to visit, his doctor saying “they are keeping him alive.” In another instance a doctor making his daily rounds described Rabbi Weisz as someone who had been very sick with ALS for many years.

“We had a computer hooked up and my husband wrote with his eyes, ‘I’m not a sick man. I just have a sick body,’” said Mrs. Weisz.

While the medical community had long thought that ALS does not weaken patients’ eyes, they are only now discovering the difficult truth.

“No one ever knew that the eyes are ultimately affected because no one ever lives that long with ALS,” explained Mrs. Weisz. “My husband was heartbroken because all he does is learn and how could he do that if he couldn’t see? For a while we had nurses keeping his eyelids open, but his eyes became so dry that it was painful.”

The Weiszes traveled to Miami where a renowned surgeon placed scleral lenses in Rabbi Weisz’s eyes to keep them open, something that had never been done before with an ALS patient. 
“He was crying, begging them, writing with his eyes, ‘keep my eyes open so I can learn Torah,’” said Mrs. Weisz. “The doctor told me ‘I have been looking into eyes for 42 years and I can tell you that these are holy eyes.’ I told him ‘Of course they are holy eyes. All they do is study the Torah and the Talmud all day long.’” 
In addition to having 60 people daily in their in-home shul, where Rabbi Weisz still corrects the baal korei if he makes a mistake while reading from the Torah, the Weiszes have a constant stream of visitors who come to be inspired, to learn with Rabbi Weisz and to receive his blessings.

“Yeshivos come here,” noted Mrs. Weisz. “Rabbonimcome here; everybody, every rov. I had to hire my nephew as his personal secretary because we have people coming the whole day and the whole night. My husband is always learning, day in and day out and he is happy. His neshama is happy. You can actually feel the happiness and it is electrifying. People who come here heartbroken walk away with chizuk.”

In between chavrusas, Rabbi Weisz immerses himself in the world of TorahAnytime, a 72-inch screen making it seem as if the magid shiur is physically present in the room. The Weiszes downloadshiurim from TorahAnytime whenever they have to travel so that not a single moment is wasted.

“Our home health aides know that if they pause a shiur, they have to restart it at exactly the same point so that he doesn’t miss a single word,” said Mrs. Weisz. “It literally keeps him alive.” 
It was an emotional night when Reuven Kolyakov and Yosef Davis of TorahAnytime paid a personal visit to the Weisz home several weeks ago. Rabbi Weisz signed “thank you for coming” with his eyes, his sons placing his hands on his visitors’ heads in order to give them a bracha.

Kolyakov was visibly moved by his meeting with Rabbi Weisz, noting that running TorahAnytime is an extremely time-consuming endeavor. “Many times throughout the years I have been tempted to stop because it is so much work, but I can tell you now that everything was worth it,” Kolyakov told Rabbi Weisz. “You have given us so much chizuk and the energy to keep on going. I don’t know if I have ever been so inspired in my life.”

Kolyakov accepted several suggestions from the Weisz family, vowing to do his best to implement them. Thanking the TorahAnytime representatives for coming to visit, Mrs. Weisz told the two men “you are mamash family now.”

In addition to having far outlived doctors’ predictions, Rabbi Weisz bears yet another important distinction from the medical perspective: the only full-blown ALS patient who can smile. While doctors may not be able to explain that phenomenon, the answer seems clear to Mrs. Weisz.

“It takes between 14 and 17 muscles to smile,” observed Mrs. Weisz. “He hasn’t been able to take a sip of water or have a bite of food for 13 years, but my husband can still smile because, to him, ALS is Always Live Smiling. This is a neshama, not a body, a neshama that serves Hashem with such simcha and such ahava and is so happy to be able to just learn and learn and learn.”

This article was originally published in The Jewish Press.

Dr. Jack Cohen 
Keep to your Values

Rav Ovadia Yosef zt”l was known for his towering brilliance and supreme piety. As the previous leading and late Torah sage of our generation, his guidance and rulings were sought by Jews worldwide and heeded to with absolute respect. However, what few individuals know is the story involving a shidduch of his, as was related by his son.

Rav Ovadia was initially set up with a shidduch, which some time thereafter materialized into an engagement. Rav Ovadia became a chattan. Days later, his kallah approached him and asked if he would like to go to the movies later that night. Rav Ovadia was unclear as to what his kallah was referring, and so he questioned her. “They are playing Tarzan at the movies, and I would like to go with you to see it.”

Once Rav Ovadia understood what she was referring to, he politely told her that he could not go. “What do you mean?” she asked. “You mean you are not going to go to the movies with me when we are married?” Rav Ovadia explained that he would not watch a movie. Period. It was non-negotiable. And with that, his kallah walked away.

Two days later, Rav Ovadia received a summons to the court, at the request of his kallah, who wished to receive monetary remuneration for being misled in her expectation for marriage. She argued that she had been fooled into believing that Rav Ovadia would attend movies with her, when such was not the case. Compliantly, Rav Ovadia appeared at the court. Once there, he did everything in his power to mitigate the situation and reach a quick settlement. Approaching the court, he relayed that he would reach out to his Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Ezra Attiah, for a job in putting away sefarim in order to pay his kallah the money she requested. The court consented to Rav Ovadia’s request, as he went along to repay the amount she demanded. 
Fast-forward seventy years later to 2012, a year before Rav Ovadia’s passing.

There was a knock on the door to Rav Ovadia’s home and his gabbai, Tzvi, opened up. Standing at the doorstep was an elderly woman with a cane. “How can I help you?” kindly asked Tzvi. “I would like to speak to the Rabbi,” she said. “Tell him that his first shidduch is at the door.” The gabbai shortly thereafter returned to let the woman inside.

Rav Ovadia and the woman exchanged pleasantries, after which she went on to talk about the many hardships she experienced throughout her life, financial and otherwise. She had no family, she explained. Rav Ovadia listened to her every word with utmost attention and care, shouldering her heavy burdens and providing his support.

After some time, she thanked Rav Ovadia, bid him farewell and got up to head out. However, as she approached the door, she turned around straightaway and looked back at Rav Ovadia. “I just want to tell you Rabbi that you have great mazal (fortune). After I broke the shidduch, I went for a routine doctor checkup and received a number of blood tests. To my misfortune, I was told that I was physically incapable of bearing children. I was devastated. But you should know that had you married me, your many G-d fearing children would never have come into this world…”

That is what happens when an individual sticks to his or her values in life and doesn’t waver. Along these lines, Rav Avidgor Miller z”l once made an fantastic remark: “You are not born a winner in life, nor are you born a loser; you are born a chooser.”

The choices you make are going to define and shape your future. If those choices are aligned with Torah values and ideals, you are bound for success. Rav Ovadia’s choice was clear; he knew what was right to do and where his values stood. And as a result, he made the right choice and set himself up for unbelievable success. Had he set aside his value system and gone along with her, he likely would never have become who he actually did become. His greatness was defined by the choices his made, and those choices were defined by the values he held so steadfast to.

So if you are looking for a straight ticket for success in dating, in marriage and in life, here it is: Keep to your values and don’t budge. They will lead you to the greatest life you can lead.

Rabbi Moshe Don Kestenbaum 
A Rewarding Search

As I once cleaned out some of my personal drawers before Pesach, I found what was no less than a real mess. Tags from the cleaners coupled with piles of papers was the least of the clutter. It was underneath all that mess that I found what I assumed would be inconsequential, yet turned out to be a real goldmine.

I found change. In fact, quite a bit of change. I slowly began gathering it together and placing it into a Ziploc bag, which I then took to the laundry mat and inserted into the coin machine. I generously estimated that the coins would turn out to a nice sum, perhaps $30. Lo and behold, to my sheer surprise, I walked out of the store with $41.67. I was very happy to say the least. But as I quickly realized, there was a valuable lesson to be learned here.

While we are enjoined to not merely rid our homes of chametz in preparation for Pesach, but as well remove the chametz – i.e. ego, self-centeredness, unrefined character – from ourselves, we would be wise to not simply examine our flaws and shortcomings, but our strengths and positive attributes as well. We cannot overlook and miss the treasures we possess in the process of engaging in self-introspection of our failures. Even amid my messy drawer, full of unnecessary and unclean trash, there was a treasure trove of coins hidden. Had I simply searched for the garbage and neglected to pick up the shimmering coins embedded there, I would have forgone a cherished opportunity.

Imagine a car that is in great need of a car wash inside and outside and some touching up over dents and scratches. While the dents most certainly need to be attended to, it would be remissive to avoid noting the beauty of the car and instead only focusing on its flaws. Moreover, it is only important to clean and fix the car altogether because it is inherently beautiful and valuable.

The same is true of us as individuals. Each one of us is so valuable that it would be a waste to allow the cracks to just sit there and not be attended to. Our inherent value and potential is such that we are worth all the investment to perfect ourselves. But such improvements are made only when we recognize our value and find reason to go through with whatever work is necessary.

In this vein, Dovid Hamelech’s instruction in Tehillim takes on new meaning. “Stay away from evil and do good” (Tehillim 34:15). While the simple reading implies two commands of eschewing bad and pursuing good, the verse can alternatively be interpreted, “How does one stay away from bad? Through doing good.” When we focus on the positive and highlight the goodness inherent in ourselves and others, we are in perfect position to only grow increasingly more and more and discover the many inner beautiful treasures we all carry within our hearts.

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