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TorahAnytimes Newsletter Chayei Sarah

Parshat Chayei Sarah

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik


"The TorahAnyTimes" Newsletter

Parashat Chayei Sarah 5781                                                 Print Version
27th of Cheshvan, 5781 | November 14, 2020

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik

Rabbi Zecharia Wallerstein
Meet William Ahdout

William Ahdout was not your usual businessman. Having co-founded FXCM Inc., a retail foreign exchange broker, and served as its Chief Dealer and Managing Director since 1999, William was doing quite well in life. The corporation was making hundreds of millions of dollars and exceeding all expectations.

How I ever became familiar with FXCM began with a man named Eduard Yusupov, or Eddie as I called him. In looking to raise some money for my high school, I came across Eddie, who was an irreligious Russian Jew living in Queens. At that point, he had been in the trading business for some time, but it was not always that way. Eddie had in fact befriended William Ahdout years before as a taxi driver.

Eddie had escaped Russia with his mother and arrived in America with just about nothing. As a young twenty-year-old, he took up driving as a taxi driver, which brought in a reasonable source of income. As it turned out, he would drive William Ahdout to and from his work every day. After picking up William from his mansion in Saddle River, New Jersey, he would drive him to work, and then spend the rest of his day taking care of whatever was needed until he would pick up William again and drive him home.

Eddie at the time barely spoke English, but he enjoyed driving William. This was because, aside from the revenue it brought in, he enjoyed hearing William talking on the phone about his work in the foreign exchange market. Eddie found it fascinating. This went on for a year and a half, with Eddie chauffeuring William around and enjoying his company and conversations. Eventually, after spending hours together, Eddie and William became close friends.

As matters developed, FXCM was founded. The astonishing part was that out of the six founders, five were Jewish: Drew Niv and Ken Grossman (American Jews); David Sakhai and William Ahdout (Iranian Jews); Eduard Yusupov (Russian Jew); Michael Romersa (Italian). Despite the Jews being only 2% of the American population, they dominated 83% of the largest retail forex dealer in the world. The Jews in this firm generously donated large funds to numerous tzedakah organizations.

On February 6, 2017, however, that all changed. The NFA (National Futures Association) barred three of FXCM’s top principals from membership, including Drew Niv and William Ahdout, and the majority owner of the firm changed its name to Global Brokerage Inc. The firm also agreed to pay a $7 million penalty to settle a suit from the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) due to fraudulent misrepresentation by FXCM to its customers and to regulators. FXCM withdrew its CFTC registration and agreed not to re-register in the future, which summarily prohibited them from trading in the United States.

Some time after this incident, I was introduced to William Ahdout. I could immediately tell that he was a very connected and passionate Jew even considering the great loss he experienced with his multi-million-dollar corporation. But that was exactly it. What made me most curious was how he had coped with the loss. “How did you handle it?” I asked him. “What gave you the strength and perseverance to continue forward in life after what happened?” “Rabbi Wallerstein,” he said to me, “let me tell you…

“Many years ago, when I first learned about trading funds, I began working in a small, close-knit company of thirty traders. I remember the man who used to sit to my right, next to my desk.
He one day received a call from a large and prestigious company on Wall Street. ‘We heard that you trade funds,’ the Wall Street corporate manager began, ‘and so do we. Why don’t we get together and merge our teams and become the biggest corporation in the country?’ Now this man who received the call from Wall Street was someone I had known for five years and had become very close to. I figured that he would certainly hire me onto this dream team he was going to form and my salary would triple or even quadruple.

“As our company later sat down to a meeting together, the man mentioned the proposition of merging our companies together, which would skyrocket everyone’s success. He then began listing the various people who would fill in the needed positions. One by one, he went down the list enumerating those who would form this group. He began mentioning everyone except me, though I figured that he would eventually call upon me last. But then he reached fifteen people and said that was it. The team was complete.

Except that I was not on it.

“I was dumbfounded,” William said. “That was my chance. I was making a modest salary at the time and was sure this opportunity would promote and propel me so much further than I ever imagined. Even more significantly, I was almost certain that my good friend wanted me a part of the new company to be.
“But I was left out. I felt alone, betrayed and sensed my future was bleak.

“For the next six months, I found it hard to pray. I had been becoming more and more religious, was giving tzedakah and connecting to Judaism, but now this hit me. ‘Hashem, how could this happen to me?’ I wondered over and over. I felt deeply lost and disheartened and didn’t know how I would bounce back. I could not connect the dots. It was not until a year and a half later that I finally did.

“Occupying the 101st to 105th floors of the World Trade Center in New York city was the financial services firm named Cantor Fitzgerald. Included among its 1,600 employees were those fifteen men who were selected from the previous thirty-person company I was a part of. Today, none of them are here.
“Rabbi Wallerstein,” William concluded, as his eyes turned glossy, “had my friend chosen me to be a part of that company, I would not be here today. I would have no family and no children. There would have been nothing left of me.

“So now, as you ask, how did I deal with Hashem when I woke up in the morning and FXCM was done away with? It’s not as difficult as you think for me. Every day of my life since September 11th, it is a day I shouldn’t be here. And so, if I have FXCM or I don’t, I don’t have any questions for G-d. I know He has a much bigger plan in mind for me than I could ever imagine.”

Everything that happens in our life, from the biggest and most debilitating challenge to the slightest nuisance, is not without an overarching purpose and plan in mind. Indeed, we all ought to view our world through the prism of a “9/11.” Every night we lay down to sleep and wake up the next morning, it is a pure blessing and gift. Life itself is the greatest privilege and opportunity, and so long as we have that, we know we can make it through our challenge. Because the One who gave it to us knows there is a purpose and plan to it all… Sometimes we just have to wait and see.

Rabbi Akiva Tatz
Clarity and Commitment

Let me tell you a story.

This is called the Bor and the Chuldah. In Nesiv Ha’Emunah, the Maharal explains this in very beautiful, elegant, straightforward Hebrew.

The story comes from an old work called the Aruch. A bor is a pit in the ground, and a chuldah is a wild cat, weasel, ferret, or some kind of small dangerous animal.

There was a young woman journeying to see her father, and she was dressed in her finest clothing. Along her journey, she strayed into a wilderness, got lost, and accidently fell into a very deep pit, which she could not climb out of. She certainly would have died there, but a young man happened to be walking nearby, and he heard her cries. He walked over to the pit, looked in it, and said, “Who are you?” She said her name; she was a Jewish girl. He was a young Jewish man, a Kohen in fact.

He said to her, “Are you a human?” He thought that maybe she was one of the twilight zone dark forces of the desert; a mere illusion. She said, “I am human.” He said, “Make an oath.” Why would an oath help? Wouldn’t a liar swear that they are telling the truth?

In Jewish law, to make an oath, you need to use Hashem’s name, and the dark side is not allowed to pronounce G-d’s name.

So she swore, to which he said, “Good, I believe you. If I save you, will you marry me?” The girl said yes. She didn’t have much choice, did she?

He lifted her out of the pit, and he wanted to consummate the marriage on the spot. “That is not decent,” she said. “That is not how we behave. I will go back to my town and get ready for the wedding, and you go back to your town. Give me time to prepare, then you come and meet my parents, and then we will get married.”

The young man agreed. But before parting, they wanted to make a vort, a commitment, an engagement. But in Jewish law, to do that, you need witnesses.

There were no witnesses; they were in a desert. They thus decided to take the only two things present to be their witnesses. The pit that she fell into and a chuldah that was running past. This is reminiscent, by the way, of Moshe Rabbeinu using heaven and earth to testify against us. You want something that is not human. Something that is reliable.

So they promised each other faithfully that we will get married, and the bor and the chuldah will be their witnesses. With that, they parted company. She went back to her town and began preparing for the wedding, and he went back to his town and forgot about it entirely. Even more than that, the Aruch says that as soon as she was out of sight, he forgot.

Sometime later, he met another woman. Eventually, they got married, and she had a child and the child fell into a pit and died. Then she had a second child, and the child was bitten by a chuldah. The woman said to her husband, “This is bizarre; why is this happening?” And then he remembered the story and told her.

She said, “If that is true, divorce me and you go back to the town that you remember the woman came from.”

The Aruch says that he divorced her, he made his way back to that town and he found the father, and said, “I have come to see your daughter.” But the father said, “Unfortunately, you can no longer see her; she has lost her mind. She has just become insane from waiting, and when people go near her, she shreds their clothing.” “Please, let me see her,” he insisted.

He walked into the room where the girl was, and she started shredding his clothing. He said to her, “Bor and chuldah,” and she recognized him, and then she revealed to him that she had been pretending to be insane so that no one else could marry her except him.

They got married, and had a happy life together.

The Maharal explains, what is being taught here?

Male and female. What is male? Clarification. Let’s get it completely and utterly clear, and then let’s have instant results. The man wished to immediately consummate the marriage right after raising the girl from the pit. Instant gratification, no patience, no staying power, zero.

What is female? No clarification. She wanders into a desert, and has no idea where she is, and she falls into a bor. But her staying power; that is unbelievable. You gave your word. You said you would wait. But, you’ll say, it has become illogical. But what does this have to do with logic? There is the strength of character; you made a commitment, and it is a life commitment.
Let me tell you a story, a true story.

In 1942, the Japanese invaded the Philippines, and in 1944, they left. But after the Japanese departed the Philippines, a strange series of occurrences took place in the Philippine jungle in which 30 people were killed. Why? Because one Japanese soldier got left behind. His name was Lieutenant Hiroo Onoda. He was a highly skilled, highly intelligent jungle survival expert, and you know that Japanese orders are no surrender and fight until death. Single handedly, having been left behind, he continued fighting the war himself. This went on for a long time – 30 years.

I saw a picture; he was 54 years old in his uniform with his gun, all patched up. In 1974, the Japanese government sent a Major Suzuki into the jungle and they found Hiroo Onada with his gun. Major Suzuki said, “What are you doing?” “I am doing my duty,” Onoda replied. “But do you know the war is over?” “Of course,” Onoda said. “But you are being illogical,” argued Suzuki. “A soldier’s duty is not to be logical; it is to do his duty,” Onoda said. “If every soldier would start thinking logically, what type of army would you have. I am loyal to my task.”

Talk about emunah? It doesn’t get better than that. Suzuki couldn’t convince him to go home. Suzuki left and Onoda continued fighting the war.

The Japanese high command put their minds together and came up with a solution. They found the elderly officer who had been his commanding officer during the war, and he was still alive. They sent him back into the jungle with the original Japanese demobilization order to lay down weapons. He read Onoda the orders, and called him to attention. Onoda handed over his gun and went back to japan.

The Philippines called him a hero. It was very emotional. Onoda came back to Tokyo to see his parents for the first time in 30 years. He saw a modern, industrial Japan. It was an amazing thing.

But imagine you are in the jungle and you say, “Onada, let’s go;” and he says, “No.” And you say, “Why not?” And he says, “I am doing my duty.” And you say, “You are being illogical;” and he says, “You are talking with your mind; I am doing the heart.” What would you say? It doesn’t get better than that.

But it is desperately wrong.

I asked a group of schoolchildren in London about this, and one young girl put up her hand and said, “He had emunah; but he did not have emes, truth.”

Right. You need both. It has got to be right and true, and then you’ve got to commit your life. One without the other is ridiculous. What if you have the mind, but not the heart? You have total clarity, but you cannot walk the walk? You are a hypocrite.

It is like the famous British philosopher of last century who taught the greatest morals and ethics. One morning, his students found him crawling out of a place of very disgusting, ill repute. They said, “Professor, how can you teach us such great morals and behave like that?” He said, “What’s the problem? Does a mathematician have to be a triangle?”

If you are Jewish, yes you do. And what happens if you have the heart, but no mind? You know who I am thinking of? Amazing emunah, ready to die at a moment’s notice; kill and die for your religion? Radical and extremists full of unbelievable idealism, but up here scrambled eggs. You need both. It has to be both right and true, and then you walk the walk.

The Jewish agenda is rigorous, logical clarification and historical veracity and corroboration. We tell young people who come to yeshiva to ask questions. We don’t just say, “Eat rhubarb and meditate and become mindless.” You can afford to ask questions when dealing with the truth. Our agenda begins with tremendous logical analysis, and thorough historical verification. It doesn’t get better than that. We don’t accept anything less than the best evidence.

But that’s only half the work; there is also a female work of walking the walk. And the person goes through what the Ramban calls Midbar Ha’amim, walking through the desert of life experience and human history, to get to a final Sinai, which takes both male clarity and female commitment.

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