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TorahAnytimes Newsletter Toldot

Parshat Toldot

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik


"The TorahAnyTimes" Newsletter

Parashat Toldot 5781                                                               Print Version
5th of Kislev, 5781 | November 21, 2020

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik

Rabbi Ephraim Shapiro
A Little Light

My father z”l, Rav Mordechai Shapiro, was fond of relating a story with Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Heschel, the Kapishnitzer Rebbe.

It was Yom Kippur on the Lower East Side of New York. After a long morning davening which continued into the afternoon, the Kapishnitzer Rebbe decided to take a short walk down the street. If you can picture the scene, the Rebbe must have looked angelic as he walked wrapped in his kittel and tallis.

As the Kapishnitzer Rebbe made his way down the street, his eye caught sight of a Jewish man, clearly recognizable as such, yet there he sat eating away inside a restaurant whose view was visible to the street bypassers. The Kapishnitzer Rebbe knew what he would do next.

Opening the restaurant door, the Kapishnitzer Rebbe walked over to the Jewish man sitting by himself, and bent down next to him. “Gut Yom Tov, Reb Yid!” exclaimed the Rebbe in Yiddish. “Eat with a hearty appetite!” And with that, the Rebbe turned back around and left the man behind.

Now outside, the Rebbe’s attendants stood awestruck. “Rebbe,” they curiously asked, “what was that all about?”

Listen to what he answered.

“On Yom Kippur,” replied the Kapishnitzer rebbe, Hashem views a person’s actions as on one of two levels: either as a mumar l’hachis or a mumar l’tei’avon. The former is when you sin deliberately and maliciously; the latter is when you give into your temptation and desires. Obviously, both are acts of indiscretion, but the latter is not as severe. When I walked by, I saw that this man was eating deliberately, as a mumar l’hachis. I therefore said, “Gut Yom Tov, Reb Yid; eat with a hearty appetite.” If he would now eat with an appetite, his act of eating on Yom Kippur would only be considered as done out of temptation and not with deliberate intent to transgress.

Who would have thought of such a thing?

Many people would just have walked by, turning their heads and hearts away from the undesirable act of a fellow Jew. Or, others, perhaps would have responded very differently, castigating or berating the man. But the Kapishnitzer Rebbe had a different take. “How can I help my brother?” he wondered. “How can I speak to him from the heart and with care, and bring him to some merit?”

That is how, in a small measure, we remove darkness from our world and infuse a little light.

Let me share with you a beautiful gematria, calculated Hebrew numerical value, articulated by the Chasam Sofer (Derashos, Simchas Torah).

There are, as we know, 613 mitzvos. As our Sages tell us, the first two of the Aseres HaDibros were uttered directly by Hashem to the Jewish nation, whereas the remaining 611 commandments were transmitted to Moshe Rabbeinu, who relayed them to the Jews.

Now, adds the Chasam Sofer, if you found yourself living alone, how many of the 611 mitzvos would you be able to perform? The Chasam Sofer remarkably calculates… 60. Roughly ten percent of all the mitzvos. The remaining 551 (the balance from 611 and 60) need the Jewish people to unite. A Kohen, Levi, Yisroel, minyan, Land of Israel, and so on, are needed for the remaining ninety percent of mitzvos to be completed. That is an exceedingly overwhelming majority.

What do we say in davening? “Torah tziva lanu Moshe morasha kehillas Yaakov – the Torah which Moshe commanded us; an inheritance of the Congregation of Yaakov.” The gematria, numerical value, of Torah is 611. Those are the commandments which Moshe received from Hashem, and he transmitted to us. But not all of those mitzvos can be done at every time, in every scenario. Only 60 can be done when we are alone, by ourselves. “Morasha kehillas Yaakov,” for the remaining 551 commandments – the gematria of morasha – to be able to be performed, we must unite as kehillas Yaakov, as a community, as a congregation.

When we bind together as a Jewish community and care for one another as we would for our biological brother and sister, then we are able to dispel darkness and bring life and light to so many people and the world.

I remember hearing from my father father z”l that the words neshama (soul) and neshama (desolation) are spelled the same, yet their vowelization makes a world of a difference. Neshama, as in soul, is spelled with a kamatz underneath (which looks, for the sake of imagery, like a T) and neshama is spelled with a patach (–) which is similar to a straight line. The underlying reason for such a distinction is that the kamatz vowel, so to speak, has support underneath its horizontal line, yet the patach doesn’t. When there is no support, and there is just a flat line, a person feels desolate and lonely. Yet, with just a small amount of support to another, you can give them back their life, their neshama. It makes an extraordinary difference.

Now what does this look like practically?

A widower once came to the Vizhnitzer Rebbe in Bnei Brak a day before his daughter was going to get married. He wished to receive a beracha from the Rebbe for his daughter and future son-in-law. The Rebbe kindly and gladly did so, giving the man a blessing and wishing his family well.

Very late the next night at 3 a.m., the Vizhnitzer Rebbe turned to his attendant and motioned that he should follow along, as he was going to the home of this particular widower.

As the Rebbe and his gabbai arrived at the widower’s home, the widower himself was just returning from his daughter’s wedding.

The widower, surprised to see the Rebbe so late at night, took a seat and so did the Rebbe. The Vizhnitzer Rebbe then proceeded to ask the man a whole slew of knitty-gritty questions relating to the wedding. “How was the chuppa? How did the band work out? How was the caterer? Flowers?” All the little details of the wedding were discussed and exchanged between the man and the Rebbe. After quite some time, the Rebbe and the gabbai left.

The gabbai, baffled as to why the Rebbe did such a thing, asked why all of this was necessary. The Rebbe replied, “What does a man do when he comes home from his daughter’s wedding? He goes over all the little details of the wedding with his wife. This man, unfortunately, didn’t have a wife to do that with, so I decided to do so.”

That is how you disperse darkness from the world and bring forth light.

Rabbi Reuven Epstein
How to Get Up

When I was an eighteen-year-old bachur, I took a trip with my friends to Montreal, to the ski resort of Sommet Saint Sauveur.

There the mountains are primed for serious skiing. We bachurim from New York, though, were very unaware as how to ski.

There was night skiing, and we were told that because it was nighttime, everything is closed except for the black diamond run and the double black diamond. These are the hardest ski slopes to maneuver, especially if you have no idea what you are doing. My friends and I from New York were hoping to go on the bunny slope, but that wasn’t going to work out, evidently.

The instructor briefly showed us how to point out skis and all, but I simply had one question. “I know I am going to fall dozens of times; just teach me how to get up.”

We had a great time, skiing until the wee hours of the morning. And I learned, to a large degree, how to ski.

Many people go through life and are beaten down. But if you can get back up, move on with life and appreciate all the goodness that Hashem has given you, you can go miles.

Rabbi Eytan Feiner
Sleep and Eternal Life

The Gemara (Berachos 57b) states that sleep is a sixtieth of death. While the analogy of one-sixtieth is not exact, as the Maharsha and Maharatz Chayos note, this terminology is used to be reminiscent of the same way that a drop of milk is nullified in sixty parts of a meat stew, as Chazal calculated (see Rashba, Toras HaBayis). Sleep is the same, in that it is indeed a sixtieth of death, i.e. there is a ‘taste’ of the experience of death every time one goes to sleep.

In my humble opinion, this fits well with the fact that we find two people in Tanach who were able to go without sleeping. Rashi (Bereishis 28:10) cites the famous Midrash that Yaakov Avinu went fourteen years in the Yeshiva of Shem and Ever without sleeping for a moment. Yaakov Avinu introduced the concept that a person can go years without sleeping (see Gemara, Nedarim 15a and Shavuos 25a, which states that a person is lashed and told to go to sleep if he vows to stay awake for three days, given that it is an oath impossible to upkeep and thus taken in vain. See commentaries who explain that Yaakov’s ability to remain awake contains a miraculous component indeed).

Moreover, the Gemara (Berachos 3b) tells us that Dovid Hamelech would not sleep, but would rather doze off like a horse until midnight, at which point the wind would blow and cause his harp to play, and he would arise to the study of Torah.
It is no coincidence that the two people who were able to go periods in their lifetime without sleep are the same two individuals who, we are told, never died and live on forever. (While Derech Eretz Zuta, Ch.1, does state that nine individuals entered Gan Eden alive, that is different than not dying, and we do not find these nine great people mentioned in Chazal as not dying).

As R’ Yochanan tells us (Taanis 5b) Yaakov Avinu did not die; and as the Gemara (Rosh Hashanah 28a) relates about Dovid Hamelech, he is known as Dovid Melech Yisroel Chai V’kayam – Dovid, the king of the Jewish nation, lives on for eternity.”

Both Yaakov Avinu and Dovid Hamelech, who went for periods in their life when they did not taste sleep, were the same individuals who are noted to have never died. The relationship can be perfectly understood, based upon the aforementioned Gemara (Berachos 57b) which correlates the experience of sleep with death.

Rabbi YY Jacobson
One Box, One Form?

Our Sages tell us that the city of Sodom had a bed, and for every guest, if they were too long, they cut off their feet; and if they were too short, they stretched them.

Now, it is noteworthy that the word Sodom (samech, daled, mem) and the word for institution –Mosad (mem, samech, daled) – share the same letters. Sometimes, unfortunately, an institution does the same as Sodom did.

They have one bed for everybody. Everyone has to fit into one box, into one framework. But what if he or she is too long? Or too short? What if they are too creative? Sometimes, the attitude taken is, “We will cut you down from top to bottom or stretch you!”

But I ask you, “Why should we take an infinite G-d and infinite Judaism and believe it is so small that it can only accommodate people of a particular size in a particular box?” We have to bring out the deepest creativity in each of our children. They will transform the future.

Mr. Charlie Harary
Reset and Restart

In life sometimes, we all wish we could have the opportunity to press reset. Do you know that feeling you have when the computer has too many tabs open and there is too much going on, and everything freezes? What do you do when this happens? You restart the computer.

At times we would like life to work that way. We could restart and reset our fractured relationship with someone or with G-d. That reset button is a gift.

What we are experiencing right now is a restart. Hashem is pressing the restart button for the world, and we are being enabled to reset our lives, realign our priorities and set our sights on our potential opportunities for a more meaningful life. And the changes we are endeavoring to make all begin right now, during this time. Not tomorrow, not next week, not next month. But right now.

I will never forget the time I was in law school and it was time for finals. As crowds of students gathered together in the library, forging forward to make it through the tough material we all needed to know, the lights went out. There was a total blackout. While it was still daytime, so we could more or less see, it certainly threw everyone off balance and caused a tumult.

As dozens of students, including myself, picked themselves up and starting walking outside for a quick conversation and breath of fresh air, I noticed a classmate of mine sitting in a nearby room undisturbed and typing away, preparing for the test. He looked up, scanned the room and noticed the disarray... and went back to studying.

I still remember that image in my mind. I could just about read the students face and see what he was thinking. It dawned on him, “I have a final, and I can’t afford to lose precious time now… I need to stay focused and locked in.”

During these times, with all the unfortunate tumultuous disarray surrounding us, we must remain focused and locked in on what really counts. Now is the time to reset our lives, and we do so by placing our laser-focus attention on that which we know is most important in our lives. At a time when there is a so-called blackout, it is our opportunity to make incredible strides in life. And we all can do it.

Rabbi Eitiel Goldwicht
G-d’s Number

“Rabbi, I have to share a story with you, and you have to share it with the whole word.” These were the words of an elderly man who came up to my father after one of his classes. “I was in the Holocaust and they took away everything from me,” he began. “And then the worst came when I arrived in Auschwitz, and they stripped away by basic human identity and gave me a number. I was no longer a person; I was just a number.

“As I laid in the barracks that first night, I didn’t know what to do. I then looked down at the numbers on my arm, and I started adding up the value of the numbers. And I couldn’t believe it… they added up to 26, the same numerical value of G-d’s name. I then realized that G-d is with me even in these darkest of times. Every time things got hard for me, I would look down at my arm and say, ‘G-d, lift me up!’”

This was the message of this elderly man. In life, almost everything can be taken away from us, besides one thing. We can lose our money, we can lose our job, we can lose our freedom to walk around the streets and the world can be upside down. Everything will be stripped away from us besides… our own choice of how we want to look at life.

Will we look at it with despair? Or will we find G-d on our arms, and see that Hashem is truly taking us through these bitter times and we will make it through. The entire world is undergoing difficult days, but these are the moments when we look inward and choose to see Hashem’s name and number in everything in our lives.

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