TorahAnytimes Newsletter Naso
Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik
Rabbi Benzion Klatzko
My Dear Student
For several years, I have had the humbling and eye-opening opportunity of taking college-age students to Poland. Our visit incorporates up-close views of the harrowing experiences and tragedies of the Holocaust, and offers inspiration and encouragement that will hopefully leave the students inspired to carry on the torch of Jewish destiny and tradition.
Some time before one of these trips, a dear student of mine, who had sadly lost her mother just months before, got engaged. Unfortunately, this was not the only tragic incident she had experienced in her life thus far, but one of many. I therefore knew that it would be most meaningful if I would attend her vort in Brooklyn, which I happily did.
Months later, I received a call from her. “Rabbi Klatzko!” this same girl exclaimed in a chipper tone. “Are you available next Thursday?” The truth was that I wasn’t. “Well, I will be in Poland with a group of students,” I replied. “Oh…” mellowed out her voice. “What is ‘oh’?” I asked, getting the sense that something was amiss. “I am getting married next Thursday.” I was caught off guard. For one, I hadn’t received any invitation, and moreover, even if I had, a trip to Poland had already been scheduled. Fifty students had signed up and thousands of dollars had been laid out. “I am so, so sorry,” I said, nearly choking on my words, “but I cannot cancel the trip. If I can make it up to you though, I would really love you and your chassan to come to my house the first Shabbos I return home…” The phone conversation soon thereafter ended, but I was just about broken.
I knew how much it would have meant for her if I would attend the wedding, but it was simply impossible for me to be in two places at once.
The following day, her chassan called me. “Rabbi Klatzko, I could be mistaken, but I’m not sure if my kallah was clear. She was hoping that you and your wife would walk her down to the chuppa.” My heart immediately dropped. I then realized what we were dealing with. Her mother had passed away, and she was therefore not merely asking me to attend the wedding, but fill the special role of walking her to the chuppa. I was torn. I sincerely wished to be there for her, but I also needed to be there for my other students on their trip. It would not be fair to them to cancel anything. And so, reluctantly, I reiterated to the chassan how much I would have loved to be at the wedding, yet I was deeply sorry I would be unable to make it.
A few days later, there I was in the Majdanek Concentration Camp in Poland. Standing in the same place that so many of our brothers and sisters once did, I and all the students were shaken to the core. Our hearts dropped as did tears from our eyes, leaving our cheeks wet and cool. The tour guide then spoke up. “You cannot imagine how many parents cried for the loss of their children here, and how many children cried for the loss of their parents here.”
It then, suddenly, hit me. There I stood, at the very place where young children who would never again see their parents shed endless tears. And thousands of miles away was my own student, who as well cried over the loss of her mother as she prepared to walk to her chuppa. “How could I not be there for her?” I asked myself. If I were to leave her alone and disappointed, I would be failing to act on the lesson I stood to learn from that concentration camp.
And so, later that evening, I stood up in front of the students and said, “Dear students, I hope you will understand, but I will need to leave you for a short while. I am going to fly back to Brooklyn on the next flight and walk one of my students down to her chuppa. I will soon return after the wedding. I am doing this because I must be there for her.” And that is exactly what I did.
Some time later, one of the students who had gone along on the trip approached me. “Rabbi Klatzko, I just wanted to tell you that you leaving to attend that wedding was the biggest lesson you taught us this trip. It demonstrated the importance and extent we are to care for our fellow brothers and sisters. That is something we will never forgot.”
That trip was one which I too will never forget. Not just the flight to Poland, but the flight from Poland. It forced to me to realize that our mission to eternalizing the legacy of our nation is championed when we not merely learn about the past, but live the past. As I heard how children cried for their parents, I realized that the same was happening for my student in the present. And I would only be fulfilling my responsibility as a teacher, a role model and a Jew were I to be there for my student. If I had only traveled all the way to Poland for that one lesson, it would have been all worth it. Yes indeed.
Rabbi Fischel Schachter
Sing Your Scroll of Gratitude
A few years ago, I was standing in shul as a young man walked up to the bima with the help of a walker. Before I knew it, however, he was honored with g’lila, and began rolling the Torah in preparation for returning it to the Ark. While this is a time-honored practice which is done every week after the Torah is read from, this scene was special. The young man had tears in his eyes, and everyone was singing and clapping enthusiastically. I had never seen so many people so excited about g’lila, until I approached the man afterwards and he told me the following.
“A few years ago, I was in a car with my friends, until one moment, when everything went blurry. The next thing I knew, I was in a hospital laying down on a bed. I was later told that the driver had swerved to avoid a deer, and instead hit a tree. My eyes were bandaged shut and casts covered most of my body. I could not move at all, nor could I speak. Almost every bone in my body had been broken or fractured and chances of my recovery were questionable.
I was at an extreme low point, until I recalled a conversation I had with one of my teachers years before. I had asked him how a person can deal with the various challenges in life that set him back. My teacher responded that a man had just come to him yesterday with the same question. He had told the man that by focusing on the good in his life and thanking Hashem for it, he would be able to appreciate what he does have, and build the determination to overcome the negative feelings over that which he didn’t have.
‘But there’s nothing good in my life!’ the man said. ‘Then dig deeper,’ encouraged my teacher. ‘My health, finances and marriage are not good! I have problems with my children. I don’t see anything good!’ ‘Dig deeper,” my teacher pressed. He thought for longer, and then said, ‘There is one thing. I have a good chavrusa (study partner). He is a lifelong friend of mine and we learn extremely well together.’
“As I lay in the hospital bed reminiscing this incident I remembered from years before, I began thinking about what I could personally be grateful for. Almost every bone in my body was broken, but I was able to move one shoulder. I began moving my shoulder slightly, and while doing so, concentrated on thanking Hashem that I was able to do so.
“Over the course of weeks, I became capable of moving other parts of my body and the doctors removed the bandages from my eyes. I underwent multiple surgeries, but with each one, I made up a song of gratitude with a tune that I would sing to Hashem. My shoulder was the first body part I could move, but I made my way from there.
“Within a few months, I had made unbelievable progress, so much so, that the doctor who checked on me thought he had mixed up my medical file with someone else. He couldn’t believe that given my extent of injuries, I had recuperated in such a short amount of time. But I knew that my mental and emotional state had contributed to my physical recovery, and it blossomed out of my singing and saying thank you to Hashem.
“Now you understand,” said the young man to me in shul, “why my g’lila brought tears to my eyes, and why the entire congregation celebrated. I used my very own shoulders to roll the Torah, and that was the ultimate testament to how far I had come, with the help of G-d.”
In life, it is not easy to find things to be grateful for, and oftentimes we must dig deep to discover something. But when we do, we can document it and continue to search for more and more blessings in our life, until we have completed a scroll of thank you’s to Hashem. And when we roll that scroll together, full of our gratitude, and lift it up to revel in all that we have in our lives, there is nothing sweeter than that.
Rabbi Sinai Yakobian
Learn How to Shoot
The year was 1910 and a young man from a religious family was drafted into the Russian army. Concerned about his welfare, the entire family began thinking of ways he could avoid the draft, but nothing materialized. Finally, with all options running out, the boy’s parents decided to visit the Chofetz Chaim and seek his advice and blessing.
Upon arriving in Radin, where the Chofetz Chaim lived, they made their way inside and recounted the situation their son was facing. The Chofetz Chaim looked at the parents and said, “What’s the problem if your son learns how to shoot a gun?” The parents couldn’t believe what they had just heard. “Rebbe,” they said, “this is the Russian army…!” But the Chofetz Chaim had nothing to say but reiterate his previous words. “What’s the problem if your son learns how to shoot a gun?” The Chofetz Chaim had nothing more to say, and sent the parents on their way without even a blessing for their son’s survival and success. Without any explanation, the parents went home and did nothing more.
The son eventually went on to get drafted and serve time in the Russian army, during which he learned how to shoot a gun. With G-d’s help, he survived the war while remaining religious, and went on to get married.
Unfortunately, World War II soon broke out, and he and a group of his friends were forced to escape to the woods and hide. While there, they met up with a group of Jews, who were hesitant to allow anyone to join them, for fear of getting caught. But the young man had something to offer.
“I know how to shoot a gun,” he said, “and I can train you all to do the same.” Indeed, that was what happened. The man taught the other members how to be prepared to defend themselves, and they went on to survive the war.
And then the man understood the words of the Chofetz Chaim. “What’s the problem if your son learns how to shoot a gun?”
For us all, while we may not know why we must go through some experience in life, later on down the line, we may come to understand. Just hold tight and trust G-d. He knows what He is doing.
Rabbi YY Jacobson
Throw it into the Ocean
I was once in Melbourne, Australia, planning to deliver a series of lectures. After landing in the airport, I was taken to the home of one of the prominent and senior leaders of the community, Rabbi Yitzchok Dovid Groner z”l. Rabbi Groner had founded dozens of educational institutions and sustained them over many decades.
During the course of our conversation, he disclosed to me that he used to struggle with depression. On one occasion, he visited New York and had an audience with the Lubavitcher Rebbe. Before departing the office, the Rebbe told him, “As you travel back from New York to Australia, you are going to fly over the Pacific Ocean. Take your depression and throw it into the ocean.”
Rabbi Groner went on to say, “As the Rebbe said that, I was moved. I understood it and it had a powerful impact on me. On the surface, it seemed like a cute and charming thing to say. Was I supposed to open the window of the airplane and throw my depression away? Is depression a bag that you just throw out? But I internalized it as a profound lesson in life, and personally as a way for me to view my depression.
“Our struggles and insecurities are not who we are. The stories we tell ourselves about ourselves are not who we are. They are what we say we are, but those are just words. Our fears, negative thoughts, predictions about our future and our internal self-talk do not constitute the truth of our core being. They are akin to an extra suitcase in our mind, and we all know that you don’t want to take extra luggage when traveling.
“We would be wise to tell ourselves, ‘I do depression,’ instead of telling ourselves, ‘I am depressed.’ For in truth, these realities and experiences are what we do, not who we are.
“What must be done is throw the suitcase out of the window and discard it, and focus on choosing the life based on who we really are. And certainly, the Pacific Ocean is big enough to hold all of our problems.”
Rabbi Ephraim Wachsman
Your Sweet Accompanying Music
The son of the Chofetz Chaim writes of an incident which occurred in Radin, at which the music band for a wedding was unable to make it. With no other option, the young men in the area gathered together some pots, pans and blocks and began banging away. The music was certainly not up to par of what would have been, but the men did as best as they could.
Watching the music procession from a distance was the Chofetz Chaim, who called over his son and asked, “What’s missing? Why doesn’t everyone look happy at the wedding? It’s a beautiful simcha; what’s wrong? Because there is no music, and if there’s no music, the ambiance of joy and celebration is not felt as much. Of course, the main simcha is that of the chosson and kallah, but the music is an essential component needed to uplift everyone’s spirits.”
The Chofetz Chaim then continued, elaborating on the above idea. “In the World to Come, a person can have accomplished a lifetime’s worth of Torah study and good deeds, but it is the challenges and difficulties which he experienced that add sweet music to his portfolio. Those valleys in a person’s life sweeten the judgement and amplify Hashem’s compassion on Him.”
Were you to observe a band setting up their musical instruments and equipment before a wedding, you would notice tiring hauling back and forth and carrying all sorts of appliances. As they then start tuning up, and each instrument sounds different, it seems like chaos. But, underlying all this preparing, you realize that there will be beautiful music soon enough. A person’s difficult situation is preparation for the music that will be played in his World to Come.
Rabbi Label Lam
Steal Some Golden Apples
The Chofetz Chaim once related how a vendor was attacked by a group of thieves, who managed to steal all of her apples. In desperation, she cried out for help, whereupon a neighboring vendor asked her what the matter was. “They are stealing all of my apples!” she exclaimed. “Why don’t you steal some apples yourself?” he replied.
Over the course of the day, a person thinks approximately 60,000 thoughts. We would imagine that in order for the Kohen Gadol to qualify entering the Kodesh Hakodashim, the Holy of Holies, on Yom Kippur, he must be thinking 60,000 holy thoughts out of 60,000 thoughts in the course of the day. Those are his golden apples. It is not likely that we can think 60,000 holy thoughts throughout our day; however, so that they do not get lost altogether, it is certainly worthwhile to steal as many golden apples for ourselves as we can.
Subscribe to our Weekly Newsletter
Timely Torah insights, stories, and anecdotes from your favorite TorahAnytime speakers, delivered straight to your inbox every week.