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TorahAnytimes Newsletter Acharei Mot-Kedoshim

Parshat Acharei Mot-Kedoshim

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik


"The TorahAnyTimes" Newsletter

Parashat Acharei Mot-Kedoshim
10th of Nissan, 5780 | May 2, 2020

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik

Rebbetzin Chaya Sora Gertzulin
Hashem’s Month of Healing

These days, all discussions center around Corona. Even as I was speaking to my grandchildren, one of them asked, “Bubby, did you ever go through anything like this when you were a kid?” I had to answer “no – and, in fact, the world has never experienced a sweeping situation of this magnitude, a pandemic that stretches across the globe.”

Whomever I speak with has the same reaction. Our lives as we have known it before have drastically changed. We are under lockdown. Shuls and schools are closed. Indeed, no one can ever recall such a shutdown of normal life during any of our lifetimes. And it’s not just in my neighborhood or yours; it’s global.

We just concluded the month of Nisan, the month in which we celebrated the holiday of Pesach, the festival of freedom. Within the spelling of Nisan –ניסן is the word נס – nes, or miracle, for Hashem performed great miracles for the Jewish people during Nisan. But we also can find a hint of the Hebrew word נסיון – nisayon, or test. It is during this month that we have all been tested in one way or another, be it through lockdown, illness, loss of income, or unfortunately mourning a beloved family member or friend.

Nisan is followed by the month of Iyar, אייר. The Hebrew spelling of this month is an acronym for Ani Hashem Rofecha, I, Hashem, am your healer. Iyar is a month of healing and salvation. We beseech Hashem, “Please, we have been tested; now that Iyar is starting, only You have the power as the greatest healer to heal us all, to heal our souls, our spirits and our bodies.”

A couple of weeks ago, we read the Parsha of Shemini. We read about the tragic death of the two sons of the Kohen Gadol, Aaron. Can we possibly imagine the terrible pain and agony that Aaron felt at losing two sons whom he loved so much, taken from him in an instant? But what was Aaron’s reaction? The Torah tells us וידום, Vayidom – he was silent. But the question begs. Why does the Torah use here specifically the word Vayidom for silence. Why not the more common word וישקוט, Vayishkot, which comes from the root שקט – sheket, meaning to be quiet or silent?

Our Sages teach us that Hashem’s creations are comprised of four categories: דומם (domeim), inanimate objects, צומח (tzomeach), things which grow, חי (chai), living creatures, and מדבר (medaber), man, who speaks. When we think of domeim, inanimate objects, we think of stones, rocks, mountains. Aaron’s reaction was far more than just sheket, to be quiet. It was domeim, his reaction was one of strength, of determination, of fortitude.

We too must learn from Aaron, who reacted to pain and tragedy in his life with inner strength. Aaron carried on with his mission of avodas Hashem, serving G-d, being in the Mishkan, being there for his people, being a lover of peace and a pursuer of peace. It is precisely at times like this when we feel that the world is falling apart, when we don’t see how we can go on, that we may deem it acceptable to say, “I can’t find the strength, I can’t do it anymore.” Yet it is then that we must cry out to Hashem saying, “Please Hashem, help me be strong, help me strengthen my emunah, faith. Help me be tough as a domeim, strong like a rock.”

We can’t change the world’s circumstances, but we can be in control of our reaction. Will we crumble and fall apart, or will we strengthen ourselves and reinforce our faith in Hashem? That is our nisayon, our test.

I would like to share a quote from my mother, Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis, a”h. She said this years ago, but it speaks to us today. “At one time or another, we all experience crises. At such times we have the option of indulging in self-pity and succumbing to depression, or of remembering that we have a mission to perfect the world by giving. If we can live by that principle and commit ourselves to helping others even when we ourselves are in need of help, we will be able to weather the storm.” My mother would often say that we have a choice – to be bitter or be better. Together, we can work to try to make our world better, even during such challenging times.

The prayer of Ashrei is said three times a day. Its verses are organized according to the letters of the Aleph-Beis. However, there is one letter missing. The “nun”. Why is this so? It is because the word נופל (nofel), which means to stumble, begins with the letter “nun”. And, G-d forbid, we never want to be in a position of stumbling in life.

My mother, however, asked the simple question. Why is it that in the beautiful prayer of Aishes Chayil (Woman of Valor), which we say every Friday night, and is also arranged in the order of the Aleph-Beis, the letter “nun” is included?

“Ah,” my mother would say. “It is because the aishes Chayil, the woman of valor, is a chayil – a strong soldier, a warrior, who goes from chayil to chayil, from strength to strength, ready to face the battles of life. The aishes chayil therefore has Hashem’s protection not to fall nor to stumble.

We have to be chayalim, soldiers. We have the power to bring the light of blessings into our homes. We can be a source of strength to our families, to our friends and neighbors, and yes, even to ourselves.

Rosh Chodesh was just upon us last Shabbos. Even though we were hunkered down and continue to be, let’s set a beautiful Shabbos table. Let’s sing beautiful zemiros, songs. Let’s make Shabbos a beautiful and uplifting spiritual experience. Rosh Chodesh was given as a special gift to the Jewish woman. Let’s utilize that gift to bring blessings into our homes and our communities. And especially as we find ourselves amidst the month of Iyar, let’s partner with Hashem in bringing healing to the world. We will, with G-d’s help, get through this. We can be the aishes chayil, the woman of valor, armed with our prayers, our faith and trust in Hashem. Let us remember that we are never alone. Hashem is always with us, giving us the strength to confront our challenges.

This also might be a time of social distancing. But let us use the opportunity to reach out to others – to call people, to check up on family, the elderly, and others who may be alone.

We are in the time of year when we count Sefira, the days of the Omer. We are counting the days until Shavuos, the festival which commemorates the Giving of the Torah to the Jewish nation. Let us make each day count by bringing peace and blessings into the world.

It is no coincidence that during this very time of the year some 2,000 years ago, 24,000 students of Rabbi Akiva perished in a devastating plague. Rabbi Akiva’s reaction at that time was to reach out to others with unconditional love and kindness. We have the opportunity to follow Rabbi Akiva’s ways during these challenging days, and emulate his strength which continued to build and teach Torah despite the devastating loss of his students. Instead of giving up, he chose to carry on.

During this month of Iyar, let us daven to Hashem, the Rofeh Ne’eman, the trusted healer. Let us be like Aaron, who continued on in the service of Hashem and the Jewish nation. And let us be like Rabbi Akiva, determined to go on and rebuild. And in that merit, may we emerge stronger and better from these terribly challenging times and witness the ultimate redemption and the coming of Moshiach speedily in our days.

Mrs. Shira Smiles
Living in the Moment

One beautiful concept in Yiddishkeit is for an individual to take upon themselves a particular mitzvah which deeply resonates with them and they feel a special connection to. Whatever it may be, that one mitzvah is something which a person adheres to carefully and closely and holds dear to his or her heart.

For one elderly 87-year-old grandfather, that mitzvah was tefillin. Since his bar mitzvah, a day had not gone by in which he missed the cherished opportunity to don his precious tefillin. One day, though, his tefillin were accidently swapped with the tefiliin of another man in shul, leaving each of them with the other’s tefillin. And as it so happened, the other man decided that day to have his tefillin checked, as he had not done so in many years. But of course, little did he know, that they were really not his own.

When the report came back about his tefillin’s status, he was obviously taken aback. They were invalid, and in fact had never been valid even to begin with. Yet rather quickly, it was realized that a slight mix-up had occurred. They were not his own tefillin, but rather those of the 87-year-old man.

Now, the obvious dilemma arose as how to break the news to the elderly man, whose entire life had been marked by devotion to this special mitzvah. With a group of family and friends gathered around him, they proceeded to gently relay the news, slowly but surely.

And then there was silence.

Worried that he hadn’t heard them clearly, one of the family members repeated the news about the invalid tefillin, raising his voice just a bit louder. But that wasn’t the problem. “I heard you the first time,” replied the grandfather. Unsure what to make of everything, the family remained silently still.

And then the grandfather began to dance. Now thinking that he had really lost it, just about everyone looked at each other with a blank and confused stare. But then the grandfather began to explain the motivation behind his behavior.

“For my whole life, I was under the impression that I was performing the mitzvah of tefillin to the utmost degree of refinement. Yet now I have discovered that such has not been the case. But you know what? Now I have much reason to rejoice. For the first time in my life, I will finally be able to perform the mitzvah of tefillin correctly with a kosher pair of tefillin. Shouldn’t I be happy and dance?”

Here was a person who lived in the moment. He understood his past, yet more importantly, understood his future. Part of living in the moment includes not carrying the heavy baggage of past experiences and lost opportunities. We must never forget and disregard our past, yet simultaneously, we can never let it hamper us from optimistically moving forward. Life is not all about sighing, “What if…I should have… I could have…” Where you are today is exactly where you need to be. All that you are asked to do is pick yourself up, hold your head high and look brightly and vibrantly towards the future. Because without question, many wonderful opportunities await you…

Rabbi Moshe Tuvia Lieff
The Elixir of Life

As we find ourselves amid the days of Sefirat Ha’Omer and mourn the tragic loss of R’ Akiva’s twenty-four thousand students, it behooves us to gain insight into the underpinnings of what exactly occurred.

R’ Akiva is known to have espoused the famous maxim, “Love your fellow as yourself – this is the great principle of the Torah.” With this serving as his raison d’être, R’ Akiva exuded with love for each and every Jew. That being the case, how in fact did his students miss the message? If R’ Akiva infused his teachings and life’s mission with such an important principle, how could his students die because they “failed to accord honor to one another”? (Yevamot 62b). Where did they go wrong?

There is another essential Gemara (Bava Metzia 62a) to analyze in order to properly understand the essence of R’ Akiva.
If two people are sojourning together on the road, and one is carrying a flask of water, of which there is only enough water for one person to survive, what should be done? Ben Peturah says, “The two of them shall split it, and neither of them shall witness the demise of his friend.” R’ Akiva, however, rules, “The one holding the flask shall drink it himself, for his life precedes the life of his friend.”

This was another principle which R’ Akiva lived by. Your own survival is of paramount importance and is no less valuable than your friend.

R’ Akiva’s twenty-four thousand students learned the lesson of this latter statement quite well. They realized that Torah is the elixir of life, the lifeblood of the Jew. They lived, breathed and slept Torah. Taking this message to heart, they were unwilling to give up their “last flask of water” under all circumstances. They were unable to capitulate on their own opinions when studying Torah with a fellow student. They could not reckon with or tolerate someone else’s understanding. “After all,” they said, “how can I give up my elixir of life? My understanding of this Talmudic passage is my lifeblood; how could I acknowledge the validity of my friend’s view and forego my own precious opinion?

I would be giving up my life at the expense of my friend!” R’ Akiva’s students so greatly revered their understanding of Torah that they were unable to yield to another’s opinion one iota.

But the lesson R’ Akiva’s students were soon to learn and we today must take to heart is just the opposite. The survival of Torah is precisely through giving it away to others. It is precisely through validating another’s understanding in Torah and reckoning with someone else that Torah thrives and the Jewish people flourish. The Torah only functions as the elixir of life when it is shared with others. The ultimate dissemination of Torah can only take place when it is the collective Torah of all of Klal Yisrael and everyone’s opinion is respectfully considered. Only when this holds true, will the august prestige of Torah find true expression.

Rabbi Fischel Schachter
Mixing the Medicine

Polyethylene glycol, powdered cellulose, pregelatinized starch, propylene glycol, shellac, sodium starch glycolate, titanium dioxide…

If you have any idea what the above words are, you’re a step ahead. Many people have no clue. It’s the inactive ingredients in Tylenol. Why most of us have no idea what they mean is because we are not pharmacists. If we were, these ingredients would make perfect sense.

This fact should not come as a surprise to us. But think for a moment. Don’t we tend to mull over the ingredients in our own lives again and again and wonder why and how they are there? We ask and wonder why things happen in the world as they do.

The answer, though, is the same as above for the pharmacist. Hashem mixes the elements in our lives exactly the way they need to be. He knows what ingredients need to go in and exactly how much of each. We, in contrast, have no familiarity of the breadth and depth of the chemistry which makes up our world and lives, and cannot begin to assume we will comprehend it. Our job is rather to realize that the medicine has the perfect mix, and what happens to us and around us is with absolute rhyme and reason.

Just think about it. What is coffee? It is made up of bitter beans, sweet sugar, hot water and cold milk. A most tasteful drink comes together from the most basic of contrasts. In our lives too, one day we will look back and see how every contrast perfectly fit together. In the here and now, our vision becomes blurred. We often become convinced that the world is going haywire, and there is not much to hope for in our personal lives. We become frustrated and dejected. But, then again, Hashem whispers to us, “Trust me. I know exactly where you are and why you are there.”

The more we believe that, the more peace and serenity will be added to our lives. Hashem will help us. He is our Father and He will never ever abandon us. He is simply mixing the medicine that will enable us to become the best person we can become.

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