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TorahAnytimes Newsletter Va'etchanan/Tisha B'av

Parshat Va'etchanan/Tisha B'av

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik


"The TorahAnyTimes" Newsletter

Parashat Va'etchanan/Tisha B'av                                               Print Version
9th of Av, 5780 | July 30, 2020

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik

Rabbi Zecharia Wallerstein
Don’t Let Go

One day in early June of 2013, my phone rang. It was a woman requesting permission to forward my number to a mother of a three-and-a-half-year-old girl who was not doing well. From stomach aches to blood tests to a diagnosis of leukemia. Penina, a beautiful young girl, was dying.

The mother’s call to me was a crying plea for support, and I unhesitatingly offered to meet with her and her daughter. When they walked in together, my eyes fell upon Penina, a youthful, spirited Jewish girl with beautiful hair, big eyes and a squeaky voice. I sunk in my chair.

“Hi Rabbi Wallerstein!” came her voice. I trembled as I replied with my own hello. I am not a doctor, nor a therapist, and so I knew the reason for their visit. Chizuk, encouragement.

But I wanted to give Penina and her mother something more than words. Thinking for a moment, it came to me.

Some time before, Rav Meshulam Feish Lowy, fondly known as the Tosher Rebbe, sent me a few gebentched’ hei’s, as they are called. These are silver pieces in the shape of the letter Hei, representative of the name of Hashem, which the Rebbe would give to people as a token of blessing. They can be attached to a necklace or the like and are intended to be a symbol and sign of heavenly blessing and goodness for the recipient.

Asking for a minute, I went upstairs and returned with one of these hei’s and stuck out my hand. “Paulette,” as I called the young girl, “do you see this hei?” She nodded. “Attach this to your necklace, and for the rest of your life, never take it off.” “What’s the hei for?” she curiously asked, a gentleness stroking her voice. “It represents Hashem. He will protect you and always be with you in your life and in your heart.”

Five weeks later, Erev Tisha B’av, I received another call. “Rabbi Wallerstein…” I noticed whose voice it was. Penina’s mother. “I have to tell you what happened.”

“Penina, in undergoing a series of tests, needed to have a port placed in her shoulder for the chemo to be put in. But before doing so, they needed to place her under anesthetic. When the nurse told Penina that she would need her to remove the necklace for the purposes of the operation, Penina, who you know as a sweet, quiet-minded girl, began to scream. I had rarely seen her this way before. ‘You can’t take my necklace off!’ she refused. ‘Why not?’ asked the nurse. ‘Because Rabbi Wallerstein gave me this hei and I am never going to take it off.’ ‘We would like to remove it just for the operation and then we will put it right back on.” But Penina would not see to it. “No one is allowed to touch it.’

“Rabbi,” explained the mother, “Penina was so adamant about having it removed, because every time she felt pain from the chemo, she would hold the hei and say, ‘Hashem, take away my pain.’”

In life, we need to feel the same way. Always hold on to Hashem and say, “Hashem, take away my pain.”
But the story is not over.

The nurse realized that she wouldn’t be able to remove the hei from Penina. There was no choice but to proceed forward with the operation with it on.

The anesthesiologist put her out, and only afterwards removed the hei, and placed it in a little plastic bag next to Penina’s head. After finishing the operation, the hei was replaced on her neck, just as it had been before. The doctor and nurses knew that the necklace belonged there, around her small neck, resting against her heart.

Waking up, the first move Penina made was to feel her hei. It was there.

“Rabbi Wallerstein,” cried the mother to me, “I want to thank Hashem for giving me my daughter back.”

But she had one more piece of information to share with me.
My heart began beating unnervingly, as if the moment of awaiting her next words was lasting for eternity.

“The tests came back, and there is not one cell of leukemia left in her body.”

I stared speechless into the distance, a look of peaceful resonance overwhelming my face and sinking into my heart. I knew the truth, and this mother and Penina knew it too.
Don’t let go of that hei. Don’t let go of Hashem. Ever.

Rabbi YY Rubinstein
The Greatest of the Great

I remember the early years of the wonderful organization, LINKS, which helps support orphaned individuals who have lost a parent. On one of their annual Shabbaton events, the founder, Mrs. Sarah Rivkah Kohn, approached me and mentioned that one of the girls attending had a father who passed away from a heart attack when she was twelve years old. Now, three years later, her mother was diagnosed with liver cancer. She wanted to speak with me. Would I be willing to do so? Of course. Did I know that to say? Of course not.

I went on to speak with her for some time, after which we parted ways, though kept in touch from time to time.

Two years later, I was on a flight back from Israel, at a time when I felt flu-like symptoms and fatigue. When the plane touched down, I flipped my phone on, and received the news that the girl’s mother had just passed away. She was sitting shiva in New Jersey. I was in New York and not feeling well. But I felt compelled to go and see her.

The entire drive I pondered what I could say to this girl, who had lost her father, and now her mother. I figured that whatever came from my heart would need to be what I would say, if anything.
I entered inside, facing only her and her sister. Staring blankly, I didn’t know what to do. But, while I thought I had come to give chizuk, I had in fact come to be given chizuk. “Rabbi Rubenstein,” she said, “I know this is all from Hashem. Even if I don’t feel it.”

On occasion, we believe we are out to give something to someone else, yet often we find ourselves being given to by the other person. We are helping them, but they too – and sometimes even more so – help us in ways that deeply move us within.

When I lived in Manchester, the Rebbetzin of the head of the Beis Din, Rebbetzin Kraus, phoned me and mentioned that a young woman was expecting a child in just a few months and her husband had just been killed in a car crash. The family requested to speak to a rabbi, and particularly me. Without knowledge of the family or why they wished specifically to talk to me, I got in the car and drove twenty minutes away to a town on the outskirts called Whitefield.

I fully anticipated that this family, which I presumed were not religious, wished to vent their hurt and frustration of what had tragically happened to such a young man and his newlywed and expectant wife.

I could not have been more wrong.

All the mourners gathered in an inner circle, and simply wished to ask basic questions about Hashem and Judaism. Again, I believed I was going there to give them something, and there I was being inspired by the firm acceptance and strong belief this family exhibited, amidst this most tragic of times.

A year later, I found myself in Stenecourt, Manchester’s Great New and Central Synagogue, on Yom Kippur, and as I exited the shul to give a talk, I noticed a young lady helping what looked like her young daughter put on her coat and toggle its buttons.
The following day, I parked my car, and again caught sight of this same lady, who had now just finished buckling her daughter into her car seat. She stared at me with a look that spoke words for themselves. “You don’t remember me, do you?”

She was the woman who had lost her husband, while expecting her daughter.

“I just want to let you know that I’m getting married next week.”
She indeed married and became, as I know today, a frum woman raising a frum family.

You might have thought that, under her circumstances, she would have given up on everything. Finished with Judaism and finished with G-d. But as she showed me, amidst the toughest of times, that is when we Jews produce our greatest.

And when we produce our greatest, it is the greatest of the great.

Rabbi Yisroel Majeski
Somebody Needs It

One Friday afternoon, a few months ago, I received a call from a fellow living in New York. He relayed that during the earlier stages of the Coronavirus, prior to Pesach, many families were in need of purchasing food for Yom Tov, but were at a loss to do so.

One particular storeowner had taken the initiative to contact this man, a noted askan who devoted time and energy to helping Jewish individuals and families with their financial needs, and asked that he do what he could to collect some money, which would be given to the storeowner, and enable him to freely provide needy families with whatever necessary and use the funding provided by the askan as payment.

The man got to work, and came back to the storeowner days later with a check for $26,000.

But just as he handed over the check, which was graciously accepted, the owner slipped in that eighteen more families had come to him, needing food for Yom Tov. Looking back at the askan, who had now shown his capability to raise needed funds, he requested that he go back for another round. “I don’t know what I can bring in, but I will try,” replied the askan.

Days later, on a Thursday afternoon, the man returned with a check for $18,000. The storeowner looked at him, a smile breaking out across his face. “Thanks, but no thanks,” he said. The askan was puzzled. “It might be hard for you to imagine what it took for me to raise this. Maybe you can just hold onto it, and if some other families need it, you’ll have it ready for them.” But the storeowner would not hear it. “Thank you, but I don’t need the money.” The man didn’t understand. The storeowner would need to explain.

“Monday afternoon, a woman was shopping and she paid in cash, and I was supposed to give her $50 in change. As I was gathering the bills together, she said to me, ‘You know what? Keep the change. I’m sure there will be another family who needs it.

“The lady standing behind and hearing our dialogue followed suit, swiping her card and telling me, ‘Add on another $300; I’m sure there will be somebody else who needs it.’

“People started talking to one another and, I don’t know how, but from Monday to Thursday, our store raised over $100,000 for people in need.

“As of now,” the storeowner concluded, “I don’t need your $18,000 check.”

Mi K’amcha Yisroel. Who is like our nation, the Jewish people.

Rabbi Yechiel Spero
Don’t Forget It

A special tzaddik by the name of Rav Gadola Eisner, the Mashgiach in the Gerrer yeshiva in Tel Aviv, was beloved by many. Having gone through the war, he not only survived, but helped other survive as well. You may assume it was his prayers or dedication to mitzvos, and I am sure he did both of that.

But one of the main ways he survived and helped others survive was… humor. Encouraging others to be upbeat when everything around them reminded them to be broken and sad.

One night, Rav Gadola laid down on a concrete slab along with eight others in the barracks. It was the middle of the night, and Rav Gadola, who was situated on one end, turned to his friend and gave him a little jab, right near his rib cage. The other fellow looked up, perturbed. “What do you want?” Rav Gadola let out a slow smile. “Pass it on…” “Pass it on?” the fellow questioned. “Yeah, go ahead…!”

Not probing any further, he went along and gave the fellow closest to him a slight nudge and passed along the same message. This went on until everyone awoke and looked to Rav Gadola. “Rebbe,” they all said even without speaking a word, their facing calling with curiosity, “what do you want?”

“In some time, we’ll all be out of here. We’ll be back at the Gerrer yeshiva, dining at a large tisch, basking in all the singing and delights we can imagine. We’ll be pushing and shoving, and squished like sardines. I don’t want you to forget what it feels like, so I gave you all a little push, a little reminder.”

They all let out a hearty smile and warming laugh, heading back to sleep, their spirits lifted.

When going through difficult times, the likes of Tisha B’av, a pandemic or both, one way to make it through is with an uplifted spirit. A positivity which looks towards great times ahead, and carries with it unrelenting optimism and belief that it is right around the corner.

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