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TorahAnytimes Newsletter Chukat

Parshat Chukat

Compiled and Edited by David Hong


"The TorahAnyTimes" Newsletter    Print Version

Parashat Chukat
10th of Tammuz, 5776 | July 16, 2016

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik

Rabbi Label Lam
The Shas Jew

אין דברי תורה מתקיימין אלא במי שממית עצמו עליה שנאמר זאת התורה אדם כי ימות באהל

Torah only endures within a person who tirelessly toils over it, as the Pasuk (Bamidbar 19:14) says, “This is the law of the Torah regarding one who dies in a tent…” (Berachot 63b)

Let me introduce you to David.

Years ago, I used to deliver lectures along with a close friend of mine on topics relating to Jewish philosophy in the home of a fiery Moroccan, Israeli woman. A gracious hostess, she would gather together large groups of people to come and hear the engaging seminars we would regularly give. Leaving everyone inspired and engaged, it was a huge success.

While her husband, David, would as well attend the classes, he was clearly not too interested. He would politely enter the room where the class was given with his yarmulke and try as best as he could to listen to the lecture, but as soon as it was over, off came the yarmulke. Seminar after seminar, nothing seemed to touch him. He neither put on Tefillin nor kept Shabbat. Indifferently allowing his wife to observe Shabbat and carry along as she wished, our speeches seemed to fall on deaf ears. He was simply uninterested.

One day, his wife approached me. “You have to speak to my husband!” she pleaded. After explaining that pushing him too much may not be the wisest decision and that allowing him to grow at his own pace would be preferred, she understood. But, being the good wife that she was, she hoped that he would come around and embrace the beautiful life of Yiddishkeit she so deeply identified with.

It was then that I decided we would try something new. Before everyone gathered together to hear the philosophical lecture, I would give a small Gemara class. Hoping that just maybe this would intrigue her husband, I was right. David started attending the classes. And he liked them. Really liked them. Considering his background in computers, the systematic logic and thinking processes which made up the Talmud struck a chord within him. And indeed, he began to take up the study of Gemara and become more and more familiar with its beauty and depth.

And then the day for the 10th Siyum HaShas, September 28,1997, arrived. Asked by a friend who had an extra ticket if he would like to attend the grand Siyum at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Long Island, New York, he complied. Surrounded by thousands of other people, David was mesmerized by the fantastic scene of Jews who had gathered together to celebrate the accomplishment of those who had learned through the 2,711 pages of the Talmud. And then came the moment which would start him on a life-changing journey.

“Did everyone here learn through the entire Talmud over seven and a half years?” “I don’t think everyone did,” replied his friend, “but I am sure a high percentage of them did.” “Are they all rabbis?” asked David. “No. Many of them are doctors, lawyers, computer technicians and other professionals.” Carefully listening to his friend and taking in the breathtaking spectrum of thousands of dedicated Jews, David was immensely moved.

And so he got started. The next morning, he began attending a Daf Yomi class. And so he did the next day. And the next day. And then for the next three weeks and three months. While his wife knew that something had inspired him, she was beyond surprised when she heard what exactly he was doing and how far he had progressed in just a matter of months. Every morning after attending the Daf Yomi class, he was continuing on to daven with a minyan and put on Tefillin.

Seven and a half years later, David was not merely a spectator at the Siyum HaShas; he was a participant. Dedicatedly learning the daily Daf every morning, he accomplished something he years before would never have contemplated.

It was the night before the Siyum that I called David’s house. His wife picked up the phone. “I just wanted to wish David a Mazel Tov on his tremendous accomplishment. I am so proud of him. But you, as his wife, should also know how privileged you are. Your husband is ‘Shas Yid!’ He is someone who has devoted hours upon hours to the most precious and meaningful endeavor.” All I could hear were tears on the other end of the line. “I know,” she said, “thank you.”

But David did not stop there. He continued to finish Shas a second time around and delve deeper into understanding the background and underpinnings of each piece of Gemara. Now an even more accomplished computer analyst and more accomplished Torah learner, David had pushed beyond his furthest dreams.

It was sometime later that I met David at a seminar over Shavuot. He had come to listen to the numerous lectures being given. But he was accompanied by someone very important in his life: his chavruta (study partner). “Rabbi,” he said, “I apologize for not being able to attend your class, but I came here with my chavruta. We are going through Shas a third time b’iyun (in depth with its commentaries), and we scheduled a time to learn now...”

Now you know who David is.

Every single Jew, no matter where he finds himself on his journey in life, has the opportunity to turn himself around and forge a new path. Especially when it comes to the area of Torah learning, no one should ever feel that they are too old or unlearned to begin uncovering the beautiful concepts and lessons the Torah has to teach us. Even a few moments spent on a daily basis will add up little by little until one has achieved something he never could have believed he was capable of. And it is all because every one of us is surely capable of plummeting the depths of Torah and coming into contact with the greatest gift we have in this world. Yes indeed, little old you can become greater than ever imagined.

Rabbi Doniel Kalish
Living the Legacy of Aharon HaKohen

וימת אהרן שם בראש ההר

Then Aharon passed away on the top of the mountain (Bamidbar 20:28)

In depicting the great leader that Aharon HaKohen was, the Mishnah relates that he “loved peace and pursued peace; loved people and brought them close to Torah” (Pirkei Avot 1:12). Yet the Mishnah reveals no more. We are not informed as to how he exactly went about so successfully fostering peace and bridging the gap between people and Torah.

Yet the Rambam does not let us down. Insightfully revealing Aharon’s effective methodology, the Rambam (ibid.) states:

“They said about Aharon, that when he would feel or hear that someone possessed bad character and had sinned, he would proceed to greet him, befriend him and speak to him at length. The individual would then become self-conscious and think to himself, ‘What have I done! If Aharon would know my inner thoughts and hidden deeds, he would never wish to look at me, let alone speak to me. But he holds me to be someone of refined character, and therefore associates with me. What should I do? I will make his words true.’ The person would then repent and become one of Aharon’s students and learn from him.”

As made clear by the Rambam, the way in which Aharon was successful in effectuating a real change in people was through developing a close relationship with them and treating them with esteem and admiration. Going out of his way to invest time and effort in those he felt could use a change in lifestyle, he set out on validating and respecting even the most indecent of people. And inevitably so, it was not long before such individuals began thinking what type of person was actually taking interest in them. Why would someone so great as Aharon show interest in someone like me who is so coarse and brutish? Taken aback by the incongruity between their true behavior and the way Aharon perceived them, they were left feeling awkward and misread. What naturally followed was the desire to substantiate Aharon’s view of them. Instead of carrying on in their wicked ways, they would turn to mending their behavior. Simply put, that was the key to Aharon’s success. With an attitude and approach that uplifted and valued others, he improved lives and forged new futures.

But there are a few apparent issues. As any primed educator knows, there are no tricks or shortcuts when it comes to chinuch. Subterfuge will not yield positive results. How then was Aharon effective? Why didn’t anyone suspect that Aharon was simply playing a trick? Quite likely, one could have sensed that Aharon did not truly feel the way he presented himself to be. Maybe, after all, he was projecting warmth and respect simply in order to win people over? Perhaps, in the hope of uprooting people’s irreverent ways, he was feigning friendship and offering insincere praises?

Moreover, why was the response to Aharon’s efforts an emphatic declaration, “I will make his words true!” In wishing to prove Aharon right in his judgement of character, people looked to take the necessary steps to improving. Yet why wasn’t the reaction just to the contrary? Why didn’t anyone feel, “Aharon is a bad judge of character and incorrect in his assessment of my personality”? What triggered the response to be one of positive reinforcement instead of cynical pessimism?

In truth, however, Aharon was adhering to one of the greatest principles of positive instruction and life coaching. In the words of Shlomo Hamelech, the wisest of men, “אל תוכח לץ פן ישנאך הוכח לחכם ויאהבך” – “Do not rebuke the scoffer, lest he hate you; offer rebuke to the wise and he will love you” (Mishlei 9:8). What does it mean, asks the Ran (foremost early Talmudic commentary), that one should avoid reproving the scoffer? Just as there is a positive commandment to don Tefillin and observe Shabbat, there is an obligation to give rebuke when necessary. How therefore can Shlomo Hamelech say that only the wise individual should be reproved?

Addressing this simple yet penetrating question, the Maharam Shick beautifully explains the words of the above verse. There is of course a need for every individual to receive, at the proper time and place, constructive guidance and counsel. Shlomo Hamelech, however, is speaking to a different idea altogether. How should you view the person you are giving rebuke to? With what attitude should you address him?

It is in response to this that Shlomo Hamelech states, “Offer rebuke to the wise.” If you view the person you are rebuking as a “scoffer,” as someone who is inadequate, troubled and a failure, your words will not only be rebuffed, but will engender resentment. On the other hand, if you look at the person as someone who is “wise” – i.e. important, capable and highly respected – your words will be warmly accepted and embraced. You will be loved and your advice will happily be heeded. And that is because it was couched with genuine admiration, esteem and care.

When Aharon looked at another Jew, he saw more than meets the eye. He recognized that every Jew deep-down yearns to live an upright, moral life in consonance with the Torah’s dictates. He saw past the exterior facade and peered into their inner potential and beauty. And that, in truth, was the real person he was looking at. Hiding behind all the coarseness of character lied a Jewish gem. “Deep down,” Aharon hinted to the person, “you are someone with tremendous capability and greatness.” Aharon was not putting on a show; he was simply speaking to the person as per his true, inner quality as a pristine Jew. And it was to this effect that Aharon’s sincere gestures resonated. The person realized that Aharon was right. “I am important and I do have something to offer. I will now set my focus on making his words true. From now on, I will look to improve myself and absorb Aharon’s teachings.”

The method in which Aharon changed others and we change others is through enabling each individual to see the good within themselves. By highlighting their inner prestige and making them feel valued, significant and beloved, our words of guidance will pleasantly and peacefully enter their ears and reach their hearts.

Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein
Shabbat in Fernley

יען לא האמנתם בי

Because you did not believe in Me… (Bamidbar 20:12)

“Are there any other Jews in the world?” That was the question Kaily Ray’s granddaughter asked her grandmother before the Shabbos Project.

Fernley, Nevada is a small town with just under twenty thousand residents in total. There are hardly any Jews there. But Kaily Ray is one of them.

Kaily Ray emigrated there a number of years ago from Australia to live with her children and grandchildren. She knew of no other Jews in the city. And then she heard about the Shabbos Project, and wished she could reach out to some other Jews. But she didn’t know where to turn because Fernley has no Jewish organization, no shul and no Jewish school.

Posting a message online about the Shabbos Project, she wrote, “If there are any Jews in Fernley, please contact Kaily Ray for the Shabbos Project.”

Six families contacted her. Joining together for Shabbat, each family contributed something different. One family brought along Kiddush cups, another supplied candlesticks which had been inherited, and another provided delicious Shabbat food.

“And now,” said Kaily Ray, “my granddaughter knows the answer to her question.”

Deep within every Jew is a yearning to connect to Hashem and our beautiful Torah heritage. We are all “Maiminim b’nei maiminim,” believers the children of believers. Never are we to underestimate the power of one Shabbat to touch a Jew’s life, one word of Torah to inspire a Jew’s spiritual growth or even one person to change the world. All it takes is one little step. And before we know it, that one small step will have grown into one giant leap.

A Short Message From
Rebbetzin Tehila Jaeger

Rav Moshe Shapiro zt”l insightfully explains that in light of the miraculous splitting of the Red Sea, the common term used to describe the Jewish people, or Hebrews – (Ivrim) עברים – takes on new meaning. It can be read as a contraction of two words – עבר ים – “Cross the sea.” The spectacular event of Kriat Yam Suf was not only experienced by the Jewish people, but defines them. We are a nation whose natural existence extends to the supernatural. We are a people who live above and beyond the confines of nature. Never have we been or ever will be locked into statistics and prognosis. We defy all odds and indomitably surge forward as an inextinguishable nation guided by the omnipotent hand of G-d.

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