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TorahAnytimes Newsletter Lech Lecha

Parshat Lech Lecha

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik


"The TorahAnyTimes" Newsletter

Parashat Lech Lecha                                                               Print Version
13th of Cheshvan, 5781 | October 31, 2020

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik

Rabbi Yehonasan Alpren
Knowing Where to Look

There is an expression, “Finger on the Pulse.” But what does it mean?

We all can appreciate the expertise of a professional in his or her field of practice. An amateur views matters more superficially, whereas a professional sees matters with greater depth. Perhaps, in this sense, we can apply ourselves directly to the analogy of “Finger on the Pulse.”

As a doctor walks around the ward with his students aside him, he enters into a hospital room and attends to Mr. Cohen who is resting in bed. “Mr. Cohen,” asks the doctor, “how are you feeling?” “Well, my leg hurts me, I don’t have much of an appetite and I haven’t been sleeping well.” What is the first thing the professional doctor does? He feels the pulse of Mr. Cohen.

But think about it. Mr. Cohen never said his pulse is hurting; why would the doctor check it? The answer is that the doctor is not distracted by extraneous matters. He heads straight to the source. He looks to the core and life-giving essence of Mr. Cohen. It is true that Mr. Cohen may not have an appetite or sleep at night; yet his pulse will clue the professional into knowing that the patient’s heart is still beating and that he is dealing with a patient who does not have a more urgent problem which is immediately life-threatening. He knows what to focus on.

In life, there are many extraneous distractions that will turn us aside from focusing on what really matters or what will bring us to success. The key is to place our fingers on our pulse and focus on what truly matters and what will give us life.

Rabbi David Ashear
In Control

The Pasuk (Tehillim 147:17), which is recited each day during our morning prayers, states, “Hashem hurls His ice like crumbs; before His cold – who can stand?” Rashi (ibid.) explains that Hashem sends the ice and cold in accordance to the amount of covering and blankets a person has to protect him or herself.

With this verse, Dovid Hamelech teaches us that although there is a general cold which exists in the atmosphere, every single individual experiences the cold differently. Hashem controls the temperature of the cold in accordance with the particular circumstances of each individual.

Life works like this on the whole. Within large and broad experiences or events of life, there is always a catered, personal experience which Hashem takes into account.

Just take the current pandemic being experienced.

There are those who are completely unaware that they have it, and there are those who do have it, yet exhibit only minimal symptoms. And yet, unfortunately, there are those who are in critical condition. Every individual’s experience of the virus as it is today is from Hashem, and in accordance with what and how He wishes for them to experience it.

In Hashem’s eyes, our personal lives are not overshadowed and overlooked by big, national occurrences. If we experience something in some way, that is precisely how it is meant to be.

Rabbi Simcha Barnett
Choose Life

The Torah (Devarim 3:19) states, “I have placed before you life and death, blessing and curse; and you shall choose life so that you will live.” With this verse, the Torah frames our choice of free will as a choice between life and death. Now, at first glance, we would not have said that the struggle of free will is a struggle between life and death. Who is faced with the decision to choose between life and death on a constant basis?

Secondly, we would have assumed that the only way to die is to choose death. However, here in the verse, the Torah seems to emphasize that we must choose life in order to live, implying that if we do not actively choose life, we will automatically be in a state of death. But why would that be so? It should be that unless we choose death, of course we are going to live. That is the state we were in before and the state we should be in after.

Rav Noach Weinberg zt”l use to remark that people who wish to escape life tend to do so when they are overwhelmed with pain. He or she looses a sense of perspective, and the pain becomes unbearable, making it seem that the only way out is to escape it.
When viewed in this manner, we can better understand the intention of the above verse. While we may not go as far as to actually take our lives, many people “kill” themselves in installments. We have all heard the expression, “Killing time.”

Yet, as we know, time is life. Killing time is essentially killing life. These expressions of disengagement bring us further away from life. In this sense then, we choose death so long as we do not deliberately and actively choose life. Just “living” without purpose is the road to living as a “dead person.”

What the Torah is so powerfully teaching us is that we have the opportunity on a moment-to-moment basis to either engage or disengage in life. The decision is ours.

Rabbi Yisroel Brog
The Pinpoint Presence

When Rabbi Mordechai Pogromaksy, who was fondly called ‘Rav Mottel’, was in the Kovno Ghetto, he came across a group of yeshiva students who were huddled around and involved in discussion. Inquiring as to what the conversation was about, they relayed that they had been debating as to what news from the Germans which had been circulating was accurate.

But Rav Mottel had a different perspective about all that was going on. “You know what I see here?” said Rav Mottel. “I see the presence of Hashem in all of its glory.” Looking at Rav Mottel bewildered, the students asked for an explanation. “Do you see that German soldier over there?” pointed Rav Mottel. “Do you see him holding a rifle?” “Yes,” replied the boys in unison. “Could he murder Jews?” “Yes,” they all replied once again. “If one Jew would walk past him, and try to escape this ghetto, would he have any qualms taking out his rifle and sending that Jew to the Next World?” “No,” they replied. “So why doesn’t he shoot us all now?” asked Rav Mottel.

“You know why,” said Rav Mottel, “because the only One and the only power that exists is Hashem. And Hashem wants to show that the reason that German guard is not taking lives right now is because He is not allowing it. And if you would walk past the guard, and he would then take your life, it would also be because Hashem is allowing it to happen. The difference therefore between the German not killing any Jew now and him killing a Jew were he to walk past him is nothing but Hashem. I see the pinpoint presence of Hashem.

“It looks like it is the middle of the night,” concluded Rav Mottel, “but to me, I see daylight.”

Rabbi Benzion Klatzko
Growing to Greatness

Growing up in Kew Gardens Hills, Danny was eleven years old when his sister unfortunately died. Helplessly, Danny watched her leave this world in front of his eyes, in a tragic way well beyond words.

Such a traumatic experience left a terrible effect on Danny. Spiraling out of control, he began failing and dropping out of school. With little connection to Judaism at this stage in life, he ended up joining an Irish gang in Kew Gardens. Although he was younger than the rest of the gang, they liked him. He was a skinny, trouble-making kid and perfectly fit what the gang needed. As a matter of course, the gang would break into a car, take it for a spin and then total it. Now left with a smashed car, they would leave it wherever they were and walk away from the scene as if nothing had happened. A violent gang indeed, Danny as a little lean kid was the best tool for maneuvering his way wherever needed and getting inside cars.

One day, amid one of their break-in attempts, Danny and another gang member noticed another gentleman walking towards them. Realizing that they had been caught and would now be turned over to the police or worse, they began to panic. Without thinking twice, the other gang member jumped out of the car and began running away, leaving Danny all alone.

Now standing at the car door was the man who had seen Danny break in. Grabbing Danny and pulling him out of the car, all of Danny’s attempts to wiggle his way out were to no avail. Holding Danny tight, the man threatened Danny and led him to the house of the owner of the car. As the house owner opened the door, the man reassured him, “I just want to let you know that I saw this boy trying to break into your car. He is part of a gang which vandalizes cars and crashes them. I live in your neighborhood and recognized your vehicle; but I took care of the trouble. Don’t worry, your car is fine now.”

Danny’s father eventually caught wind of the situation and realized that his son’s involvement with the gang was jeopardizing his life. “He is not going to survive if we don’t get him out if this gang,” said Danny’s father. And so, as summer was just around the corner, plans were arranged to send Danny to summer camp.

After sending Danny away, it was not long before Danny got himself into an unfriendly situation again. Although the camp had been treating him nicely for the most part, just two days after it had begun, another boy stared at Danny in the wrong way. Danny, hurt and scarred by a thug mentality, took matters into his own hands and aggressively acted out. But immediately after doing so, he felt terrible. It was not how he really felt, but considering that he had undergone so much, small little disturbances and insults shook him to the core. Now upset as to the way he handled the situation, he headed into the camp’s shul.

Entering inside, he found a boy who had just become bar mitzvah putting on his tefillin. Taking in the scene of the boy touched Danny and made him momentarily think where his life was heading. The boy’s purity, innocence and devotion was something Danny had never seen before. Turning to the boy, Danny softly and bashfully related what had occurred. “What can I do to improve?” he asked. “Try saying Shema,” the boy replied. Complying with the suggestion, Danny went on ahead to recite the Shema as heartfully and as best as he could. In some way, this encounter helped reorient Danny and come in touch, in a small way, with what type of life he could potentially lead despite his past.

Overall, the camp had a positive effect on Danny. Spiritually, emotionally and mentally, it helped him cope with his life’s situation and grow as a person.

As camp came to a close and the boys were returned to where their parents would pick them up, all but Danny’s parents arrived. Time went by as all the other campers reunited with their parents and family after a long summer. All except Danny. Sitting there alone and waiting, Danny kept an eye out for his mother and father for an hour. And then two hours. And then three… four…five.

Six hours later, a car pulled up. It was his father. “Hi Danny,” said his father. “I’m so sorry I am late, but I was at your mother’s funeral. Mommy just passed away.”

Danny had not been anticipating this, and he was certainly not ready to deal with it either. His already broken life was just about to fall apart even more. He was without words and only left with tears.

Wandering through the streets in a haze for the next stretch of days, a boy finally noticed Danny. “Hey, Danny, is that you? You remember me? I was in camp with you.” Hearing the voice of a familiar friend, Danny stood there. “You want to come along with me? There is a group called NCSY and they are making a barbecue now. Why don’t you join me?” With not much going for Danny at the moment, he complied.

Following the other boy, Danny finally arrived at the backyard of a nicely furnished home. With boys all around eating and enjoying themselves, Danny himself decided he would also take a little bite. Walking over to the table with the food, he didn’t get too far until the owner of the house walked outside. “Hey!” the owner screamed at Danny, “what are you doing here?”

Looking up, Danny was startled. The owner of the house was the very same man whose car Danny had broken into a while ago. “I’m sorry,” immediately replied Danny, “I didn’t know it was your house. I’ll leave right away!” Gathering himself together, Danny prepared to leave when the owner stopped him. “It’s alright, you can stay. Stay here and have eat a little bit.” Although hesitant to listen to the owner, Danny stayed put at the home.

For the next few minutes, the owner began to engage Danny in conversation. Politely and considerately, the two of them enjoyed a conversation over a nice meal. And indeed, by the end of their talk, Danny and the owner took a liking to one another. In fact, as time progressed, the owner invited Danny to stay at his home for Shabbos. And then a second Shabbos, and then a third. By then, the two of them had built a close relationship as Danny continued to grow and mature as an identified Jew. Beginning to observe Shabbos and connect to a life of Torah, Danny felt something special he never experienced before.

And indeed, Danny continued to grow in his connection to Yiddishkeit. Despite his upbringing and challenging past, Danny eventually attended the yeshiva Shaar Yoshuv and developed as a reputable student seriously dedicated to his Torah studies. Even with all that he had gone through, he matured into a kind and very special Jewish boy.

Rabbi Label Lam
Little Threads, Marvelous Masterpiece

Eli, a close friend of mine, once related the following story to me:
A number of years ago, I traveled to Hartford, Connecticut for a wedding. The wedding was held downstairs in the social hall, where a large crowd had gathered to share in the joyous occasion. At one point during the dancing, a few men began readying various props for what was then called the ‘Techiyas Ha’meisim’ dance. It entailed a few men running around and chasing each other and was done for fun in order to enrich the joy of the wedding and bring levity to the chassan and kallah.

At the time, I decided to head upstairs to see if I could find a kittelwhich would be used for part of this little show. I began searching around the main shul in various places, until the gabbai who oversaw the day-to-day care of the shul entered inside. It ostensibly appeared that I was rummaging around the room with the intent of stealing something, a scene which obviously offset the gabbai. But I quickly reassured him that I was only there looking for a kittel with which to perform the dance.

As we briefly introduced ourselves and I tried to deescalate any tension which would arise from my unwelcomed presence, I was curious as much as to ask where the gabbai was originally from.

He appeared to be an elderly gentleman and replied that he was from a certain city in Hungary. As I heard the city’s name, I was quite amazed. I knew for a fact that my own family had once lived there too. “What is your family’s name?” the gabbai asked me. “Friedman,” I replied. “As in Dovid Friedman?” continued the gabbai. “Yes,” I said, “Dovid Friedman was my grandfather.” “You look just like him!” enthused the gabbai. “You know, he was a very wealthy man who graciously supported many organizations.” “I never had the privilege of meeting him,” I said, “as he perished in the war. But I would love to learn more about his life.”

The gabbai by now had turned ashen white. “Let me tell you something,” he said, “I am one of the few survivors from that town in Hungary. After the war, I returned there to see if I could find any remnant of Jewish life. But everything was gone. I could not even come across a page from a siddur. The only article remaining was your grandfather, Dovid Friedman’s, shtender (lectern) where he used to stand. I walked over and looked inside. The only thing I could find was his kittel. I wondered to myself what I could do with it, and then I realized. I could provide poor grooms with the customary kittel worn during a wedding. And so, I took it with me and used it to perform hundreds of weddings in the DP camps in subsequent years.

“And now, here you are decades later as his grandson, searching for a kittel to perform the mitzvah of rejoicing with the chassan and kallah at a wedding. It reminds me of your father’s legacy and kittel which was also used to bring joy to many, many Jewish grooms and brides.”

The tapestry which Hashem weaves together in the world to produce stories and events which surprise and amaze us are readily available for us to open our eyes and see. More than we can imagine, Hashem pulls together such little threads, which come together to form a beautiful masterpiece.

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