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TorahAnytimes Newsletter Va'eira

Parshat Va'eira

Compiled and Edited by Torah Time

"The TorahAnyTimes" Newsletter Parashat Va'eira 28th of Tevet, 5776 | January 9, 2016 Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik Rabbi Zecharia Wallers



"The TorahAnyTimes" Newsletter

Parashat Va'eira
28th of Tevet, 5776 | January 9, 2016

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik

Rabbi Zecharia Wallerstein
From Abbey to Avigail

וידעתם כי אני ד' אלקיכם

And you will know that I am Hashem, your G-d (Shemos 6:7)

Rabbi Zecharia Wallerstein relates the following story:

A post-rehabilitation center was opened in Brooklyn called “Judah’s Place” in which Jewish boys and girls who had undergone drug rehabilitation and were now clean could remain safely off the streets. The biggest problem with addiction is that it is very likely for one to fall into relapse. A center was therefore opened for kids providing them with pool tables, ping pong tables, computers, music and couches. The intention was to allow kids who had a history of drug abuse to be given a place to have a safe and fun time until midnight and then return home to sleep.

One day I received a phone call from a man in charge of Judah’s Place. “Rabbi Wallerstein,” he said, “could you do us a favor? Tisha B’av is coming up and it is a long night for the kids. Would you be able to talk to the boys and girls at midnight?” Now, I had been teaching eighth-grade boys for the past twenty-six years in what could be called a kiruv school. The boys primarily came from non-religious homes and were trying to receive a Jewish education. Teaching was nice and quiet. They learned Gemara, were given sports activities and pizza and so on. But I had never before spoken to kids who were completely irreligious or those who were religious but had become resentful of Judaism. But I wasn’t going to say no, so I complied.

As the night of Tisha B’av arrived, I got ready and made my way to Judah’s Place. As I entered inside, at first I saw three girls and three boys sitting on a couch. Taking a seat opposite them, I looked across and said with a big smile, “Hi, my name is Rabbi Wallerstein.” The way it works on the streets is as follows. If you are a rabbi and there are a group of boys or girls who you want to talk to, there will always be one person who will try to knock you down. If that one child wins that initial debate, then all the kids will walk away from you as if you have just lost. If you win the argument, however, then you will earn their respect and they will curiously lean over and say, “Rabbi, we like you; what do you have to say?” Of these three girls, one of them was a fourteen year old named Abbey. As I introduced myself, she immediately jumped off the couch and walked up to me. She was pierced with earrings all over her face. Her eyebrows, her nose and her tongue to name a few. She had so much metal on her face that I am lucky I didn’t walk inside with a magnet. I would never have gotten out of there. We would have been stuck together for life.

I had never seen anything like this before. As she boldly approached me, I could tell she was fuming with anger. She began to furiously yell, “You know what Rabbi?” And then I began to hear words I could not believe I was hearing. Expletives were being uttered every other word. Nobody in my life had ever talked to me that way. She was putting me down, Judaism down and G-d with the most debased of words. I felt like saying, “Okay, thank you very much; be well,” and walking out the door. I was so beyond myself. I had never heard such words.

As I remained sitting there, I thought to myself, “Hashem, a telegram right now would be a big help. I don’t know what to say.” Turning to Abbey, I said, “Abbey, you are really special.” As I said that, she started again with the curse words. “No, no, no,” I tried to assure her, “I really mean it. You see, Abbey, I came here tonight to sit for an hour with you and prove that there is a G-d. But you already believe in G-d. You cursed Him. You didn’t say ‘Curse the Martians.’ You may not like G-d and are angry at Him, but you know He exists. You have an emotional feeing that He is in charge of the world. Abbey, do you know how much time I spend with kids on the streets trying to prove G-d to them? You already believe in Hashem! You are far more advanced than all these kids. You’re amazing!”

I could tell that all the girls on the couch were thinking to themselves, “We like this Rabbi.” Abbey then stared at me. I knew that this was the moment. If she would say, “No, you’re wrong; I disagree with you;” then everyone would walk away. I would lose the battle. If, on the other hand, she would give in, then I would stand a fighting chance to get in another word. She said, “You’re cool.”

I stayed at Judah’s Place until 4am. As I was finally readying to leave and closing the door, Abbey turned to me and said, “Rabbi Wallerstein, can I ask you something?” “Sure,” I said. “Can I be your chavrusa? Can we learn together?” I smiled as I said that at the moment I didn’t have any chavrusas. And with that I gently closed the door.

But there was one thing which really, really bothered me...

Abbey became part of my family. She used to stay at my home quite often. But there was one thing which really, really bothered me: her tongue ring. Every time she talked, you could see it moving up and down. Whenever Abbey would eat soup, my daughters would lean over in their chairs trying to look into her mouth. It wasn’t the greatest education. So I told her, “Listen, Abbey, give me the tongue ring. You are learning and growing in Judaism. Give it up.” But she wouldn’t budge. She said, “Rabbi, the tongue ring is my identity. It makes me different. You will never get my tongue ring.” While I felt bad that she was so emotionally attached to a little tongue ring, I didn’t push her.

A couple weeks later I asked again. And again she responded in the negative. She was in no way going to part from her beloved tongue ring. I then tried making an offer I thought she wouldn’t refuse. She had no money as she was basically living on the streets. I said, “Abbey, here is five-hundred dollars; give me the ring.” But it still didn’t work as she reminded me, “Rabbi Wallerstein, you don’t understand. If I give it up, I don’t exist. It defines who I am.”

It was Simchas Torah night. She had been staying at my home throughout Sukkos, and now we were on our way home from Shul standing at the corner of Avenue K and East 22nd Street. I was reminding myself how I had heard the story of someone involved with baalei teshuva in Israel. He was working with children from all sorts of backgrounds, including those who had earrings and all other piercings. He had taken all the metal of the piercings and adorned the paroches (curtain) in front of the Sefer Torah with them. Thinking of this idea, it suddenly hit me. “Abbey, I’ll make you a deal.” “What is it?” she asked. “If you give me your tongue ring, I will put it in my Tallis bag. I will put it in my Tallis bag and look at it every day. I will see that little ring and will remember Abbey for the rest of my life.”

Looking back at me, Abbey puzzlingly wondered, “You’re going to put my tongue ring in your Tallis bag?” “That’s right,” I assured her. “People are going to be asking questions, but that’s what I’m going to do.” As I said these words, she told me, “Close your eyes and put your hand out.” And right there on the corner she took the ring out of her tongue and dropped it into my hand. I felt like saying ‘Uuh!’ and shaking my hand clean, but this ring was the most precious thing of all.

And now in my Tallis bag, there is not just one tongue ring –there are about thirty. There are many Abbeys today.

Years later, my wife and I took a trip to Eretz Yisrael. It was Erev Shabbos, the day before Lag Ba’Omer. As we were walking up a hill, all of a sudden I heard a familiar voice. “Rebbe?” Turning around, I couldn’t believe what I saw. It was Abbey. There she was with her hair covered so much that her eyebrows were covered. And standing next to her were three little chassidish children with her husband. “Abbey,” I said, “is that you?” “No, it’s Avigail.” I hadn’t seen her in years. “Where are you living now?” “We live in the West Bank on a Moshav. And Rebbe, you are not going to believe it.” “Yeah, tell me?” I eagerly asked. “I’m a Morah who teaches a third-grade class.”

As I continued to stand there amazed, she all of a sudden began to raise her voice and say, “Rebbe, what’s wrong with you?” I thought that perhaps she was reverting to her old self. “No, no no; here we go again,” I thought to myself. I began to look for a ring hidden somewhere on her face, but I couldn’t see anything. “Rebbe,” she said, “I don’t understand why you don’t live in Israel. Don’t you know that every step you take is a mitzvah!”

From Abbey to Avigail, from hatred of Hashem to love of Hashem, from a tongue ring to a Jewish wedding ring and beautiful children, a neshama reconnected to its Creator. Hashem’s daughter returned home. But what was Abbey looking for all the while? Recognition. Once she was told, “I will think about you every day; I care about you,” her tongue ring was much better in a Tallis bag than in her mouth. Every Jewish neshama is a precious jewel in the eyes of Hashem. He loves it and only wishes for it to return to Him. And He patiently waits and waits until that day arrives. And then finally, something ignites. Those same emotions of repulsion towards Hashem and Judaism become feelings of supreme yearning for holiness and connection with Torah. Life turns around for the better and begins anew. Abbey is no longer Abbey; she is now Avigail, a wonderful teacher educating Jewish children and changing lives. Even the neshama far, far away from any semblance of Yiddishkeit and relationship with Hashem can find its way home with love, attention and care. Our Father is waiting with open arms.

Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis
Hearing the Cries

The Pasuk in Parshas Va’eira says, “וגם אני שמעתי את נאקת בני ישראל” – “And I have also heard the cries of the Children of Israel.” With this Pasuk, G-d declares that He has heard the suffering cries of the Jewish people and is ready to redeem them. What peculiarly stands out in this verse, however, is the word “also.” What does it mean that Hashem has “also” heard the cries of the Jews? Who else heard besides Hashem?

A deep idea is embedded within this one extra word. In fact, the impetus for the Jewish nation’s eventual redemption is alluded to here. Prior to being freed, no Jew ever escaped Egypt. Run by a caste system, children born into servitude in Egypt would remain under such conditions for life. No Jew expected to leave the bitter state of enslavement. If one’s father was a slave, the son would also be a slave as would all subsequent generations. What happened that changed this miserable situation? What engendered the Jewish people’s extrication from bondage?

That is what the word “also” comes to address. Hashem “also” heard the cries of the Jews in addition to someone else. And who was that someone else? Each Jew feeling the pain of another. If one Jew felt he could no longer bear the insufferable conditions of slavery and cried out, “I cannot go on any longer! I have no more strength; I can’t!” his fellow Jew took such pain to heart. He would comfort him and say, “I will help you; we will walk together.” Two Jews, full of blood, lacerations and wounds would support each other. It was when G-d saw this empathetic lovingkindness that He said, “I see one Jew in pain helping another Jew in pain; I also am in pain at the suffering of My children. Now is the time to redeem My Nation.” Chesed, kindness, is the greatest gift a person can give another and was the redeeming trait of the Jews in Egypt.

In today’s world, this translates into meaning that when we hear the cries of another, we identify with their needs. “Can you help me find a job? Maybe you know a suitable shidduch for me? I haven’t had a date in years.” How do we react when we hear these pleas? We are to commiserate with our fellow Jew’s pain, and like our ancestors in Egypt, extend ourselves in supportive care.

They took their problem and helped a fellow Jew.

My father, of blessed memory, always used tell me when I had a problem, “My child, you know why G-d sends you a problem? It is so you should know how it feels and be able to help others.” This is what the Jews did in Egypt. They took their problem and helped a fellow Jew. It was in that merit that they were freed.

When my husband, of blessed memory, laid sick in the hospital towards the end of his life, he underwent three surgical procedures in seven weeks. He was never sick before; he had always been healthy. About two weeks before he passed away, it was discovered that staying in the adjacent room was a Jewish young man who had become a Buddhist. My husband, upset that a Jew had given up on his faith, wanted to visit him. I reminded my husband that he could not talk as he had colon cancer and was attached to countless tubes and intravenous. But that didn’t stop him. “No, no,” he said, “I want to go see him.”

Procuring help from nurses and doctors to enable him to go from one room to another, after a half an hour trip, we arrived at the adjacent door. Entering the room of the young man, my husband extended a warm “Shalom Aleichem!” But the congenial welcome did not go too far. “I’m not Jewish,” the young man said. “What is your Jewish name?” asked my husband. “I don’t have one!” “Did you ever have a bubby (grandmother)?” “Sure I did,” he replied. “And what did she call you? Try to remember it.” “She used to call me by some crazy name! Feivel; it’s a crazy name.” “Feivel!” jumped up my husband. “How can Feivel be a Buddhist? Feivels are not Buddhists! Come here; let me give you a hug.”

And with his hands full of IVs and needles, my husband put his arms around Feivel. And from then on they became friends. Very good friends.

A few days later my husband and I heard the unfortunate news that Feivel was told to move to a hospice as the hospital could no longer provide his needs.

Hearing that he would need to be admitted into a hospice, Feivel began to cry. My husband then made another trek to Feivel’s room. “Rabbi,” Feivel said, “I am so afraid! What will I say when G-d will see me? How will I answer for my life?” Looking back at Feivel, my husband told him, “Feivel, don’t worry, just say the Shema. Tell G-d that you learned the Shema late in life but you say it twice every day, morning and night.” Sitting there in tears, Feivel reiterated, “But I won’t be able to open up my mouth; I will be so scared.”

And then my husband looked at Feivel again. “Don’t be afraid, Feivel, I will be coming there soon and I will be there to hold your hand. We will be together.”

This is what happened in Egypt. As one Jew cried, another comforted him, “Come, I will hold your hand. We will go together.” Instead of turning the other way when seeing a fellow Jew crying, one would hug the other and say, “I know what it feels like; let me help you.” That is the greatest achievement man can have: saying to another person, “Let me help you.” That was the beginning of the redemption.

Can we feel this way today? Before we go to sleep, we must ask ourselves, “Do I feel the pain of someone else? Do I cry for them? Do I reach out to them?” Tragic events that we see, hear and read about are meant for us to stop and pray and shed a tear. Do we say, “I also hear their cries”? That is a question we should all answer.

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