Parashat Va'eira 5781 Print Version
2nd of Shevat, 5781 | January 16, 2020
Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik
Rabbi YY Jacobson Fire and Water
I was once speaking in San Francisco about the mitzvah of immersing in a mikvah, ritual bath. It was a speech which centered around what ostensibly seems like a strange commandment. But I put it in the following way.
There are two types of marriages, I said. There is a “fire marriage” and there is a “water marriage.” A “fire marriage” is exactly as it sounds: fire! Nuclear energy! It is full of interaction, passion and attention. And when a fight erupts, it's explosive on every level.
Then there's a water marriage. It is calm, peaceful, and reserved. It flows like a nice river, with no major explosions, either positive or negative.
Every couple I’ve asked wants both a balance of passion and peace, commotion and calm. But there's one problem. Nobody in history has ever invented a method to bring together fire and water.
Or maybe there is a method.
3,500 years ago, G-d told us how to do it. For two weeks, when a husband and wife can be in contact, there’s fire. And for the two subsequent weeks, when the laws of Family Purity are in place and a husband and wife refrain from physical contact, there’s water. It becomes a laser-focused time to talk, communicate, share what's going on, experience boundaries, and allow for space.
In this vein, the remark of the Kotzker Rebbe is apropos. “If I am I because you are you, and you are you because I am I, then I am not you and you are not I. But if I am I because I am I, and you are you because you are you, then I am I and you are you.”
Space, boundaries, respect. That is fire and water. That is you and I. Separate, but together.
This recipe of Yiddishkeit, 3,500 years old, is still working wonders. It allows every Jewish couple which follows it to maintain a fresh, vibrant and alive relationship. It allows men and women to have personal boundaries and feel self-respect. And it allows a couple to grow together with a healthy balance of closeness and distinctiveness.
Rabbi Ari Bensoussan
The Five Dollar Check
Imagine a billionaire came up to you and said, “Look, I heard you are going through a tough time. I have something to offer you. Come down to my office tomorrow morning, and I’ll cut you a check.”
The following morning, excitedly, you go down to his Manhattan office on the 190th floor. He has a big and beautiful, panoramic view. The billionaire walks out to you, and sits down. “I’m so happy you're here. Let me grab my check book.”
He whips out his checkbook, and begins grinning as he picks up his pen. “I can't wait to see the smile on your face.” He snaps it off and gives it to you. You look at it. It’s five dollars.
But he’s a billionaire. Something doesn’t add up. A billionaire only gave me five dollars!
Now let’s plug this into life.
If Hashem only gave you food, money, a house and children when He can give you infinite goodness, then it would be akin to the above selfish billionaire. Think about it. If that's all Hashem gave you – a nice house, food, children – then that’s the same as a five-dollar check to Him, because Hashem can do everything with anything.
So then what is the truth? Did G-d really give us a bad deal?
The answer is far from it. G-d granted us infinite good, in this world. In what way? He gave us a part of Him, a piece of G-d Himself. He gave us a soul.
What we can achieve with it in this world and earn with it for the World to Come is infinite and endless. The reward cannot be fathomed. We are here to rightfully earn that share, and we will. And that is far, far more than a five-dollar check. Even more than a billion-dollar check. It’s infinity. It’s eternity.
Rabbi Yossi Bensoussan Choose to Live
Every human being has a master. It’s a fact and there’s nothing wrong about it. There is, however, a difference between people. And that difference is which master you serve.
The first person sits idly by and doesn’t do much with his life. He thinks he is making decisions, but he is just going along with the humdrum of day-to-day life. Such a person is reactive, and passive to life. Life, or whatever occupies his day and night, is his master and he feels out of control. His “master” of life pulls him there, drags him here. He doesn’t live in a way that is organized, disciplined or purposeful. Days turn into weeks, which turn into years and there isn’t a plan, a vision or a context to his life.
The second person is proactive, makes decisions, and doesn’t sit by waiting for life to happen to him. He has responsibilities and obligations, but he exercises and exhibits an active stance to life, as opposed to waiting for opportunity to knock on his door. He doesn’t allow the daily grind of life to rule him or overwhelm him in ways that seem above and beyond his control.
The first person chooses his life, while the second person gets chosen by his life.
Choose to live. Don’t let life overrun you.
Rabbi Yaakov Rahimi The Broken Clock
The great nephew of the Chofetz Chaim once had a chance to visit the Chofetz Chaim for a Shabbos. But it wasn't a scheduled Shabbat meal. The boy was supposed to be somewhere else. He heard that his train would be stopping in Radin, where the Chofetz Chaim lived, just hours before Shabbos, and he figured that his great uncle would take him in for Shabbos. Sure enough, he knocked on the door, and his great aunt welcomed him in.
After inviting him into the house, she told him, “Why don't you go rest up a little bit… Put your head down and soon you'll be able to go to shul.”
The boy followed along accordingly. He readied himself for Shabbos and laid down to rest for a bit. When he awoke, the Chofetz Chaim had already gone to shul, and was by then sitting down at the Shabbat table. It was very dark, and figuring that he already missed Maariv, he davened.
Minutes later, his great aunt walked into his room. “I’m sorry,” she said. “You looked very tired. I didn't want to wake you earlier.”
After finishing his prayers, he headed into the dining room, where he was welcomed by the Chofetz Chaim.
They started the meal, which turned out to be beautiful. Afterwards, the Chofetz Chaim headed to sleep, and the boy turned in for the night too. But to no avail. The boy kept on tossing and turning, unable to fall asleep. Heading into the kitchen, he noticed the clock, which said 4:00. “The clock must be broken,” the boy figured. “We didn't have that long of a meal! It was a beautiful meal, but it didn’t last until 4:00.” Heading back to bed, soon enough, he fell asleep. In the morning, after waking up, he asked his great aunt, “Before I went to sleep, I walked into the kitchen, and saw it said 4:00. I think the clock is wrong.”
“The clock is right,” she said. “It really was 4:00.”
“What do you mean?” asked the boy. “I arrived here, put my head down for a few minutes, woke up, and we had a meal. How was it 4:00?”
“Actually, it wasn't for a few minutes. It was for a few hours.”
The boy had slept for almost the entire night. The Chofetz Chaim patiently waited for the boy to wake up, and finally when he did, only then was the Chofetz Chaim ready to make Kiddush. Such was the Chofetz Chaim’s great sensitivity and care he showed towards others.
Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair The Code is Shabbat
A couple of years ago, my wife and I were in Cyprus on a short winter break, and one morning we went to the local Chabad house to pray. It was winter, and the shul was more or less empty, though, as we came to learn, every Shabbos in the summer months it is packed with young, secular Jews from all over the world. For some of these Jews, this may be first time they experience a real Shabbat.
The Rebbetzin told me of a conversation she once had with one of these students. One Shabbat, one particular young girl came over to her and asked, “What’s the code for the Wi-Fi?” The Rebbetzin replied, “it’s Shabbat.” To which girl then asked, “How do you spell that?”
The four sons the Haggadah Shel Pesach speaks of are the Chacham (Wise Son), Rasha (Wicked Son), Tam (Simple Son) and She’einah Yode’a Lish’ol (Son who doesn’t know how to ask). They represent four generations of Jews. The first generation is the generation which was privileged to receive the Torah tradition from its parents which stood at Mount Sinai. But if that father does not teach the wise son properly, teaching him the minutiae of halacha and its underpinning meaning and beauty, down to the smallest law of, “One may not eat anything after the Afikoman,” then the next son, the next generation, will be the generation of the rasha, the wicked son, who sees no spirituality in Judaism. All he sees is a lot of work and sweat, which leads him to comment, “What is this work to you?”
Now, although the rasha has some connection to Judaism, albeit negative, the next generation, the son of the rasha, will be Jewishly a simpleton, a tam. All he will remember is a grandfather with a white beard and a yarmulke who sat him on his lap, tickled him under the chin and asked him questions in a foreign language. All he can say is, “What is this?”
The next generation, however, will have no direct memory of a religious grandfather. The connection of that fourth generation to Judaism will only be the sentimental second-hand Fiddler on the Roof warmth of his father’s memories. That son has no idea what to ask. He is the Einah Yode’a Lish’ol.
But notice there is no fifth son at the Seder. Cultural memories last for four generations, and that’s that. But yet, all is not lost. Something deep in the memory, something deep in the soul still calls, “These are the appointed festivals of G-d, the holy convocations, which we shall designate in their appointed times” (Vayikra 23:4). The root of the world Convocation or Mikraei (as in Holy Convocation or Mikraei Kodesh) is the same as the root for vocal, or kol. The Jewish holidays “call to us.”
However far away we are from Shabbat and the Jewish Holidays, they call us to holiness. And even if the only question on our minds is, “What’s the code for the Wi-Fi?” the code word will always be “Shabbat.”
Rabbi Yisroel Jungreis A Lifelong Blessing
During World War II, twenty-four Torah scholars attempted to make their way to Italy, though unfortunately, they were caught by the Italians who planned on handing them over to the Gestapo. With their lives in danger, news traveled to New York City to the great Rav Aharon Kotler zt”l. Rav Aharon’s right hand man, Irving Bunim, a great activist who went to great lengths to assist Jewish communities, after conducing some research, concluded that there was only one solution. They would need to contact the mafia, because it was the mafia which had connections in Italy.
As it worked out, they connected to the head or “g-dfather” of the mafia at the time, a man by the name of Joe Bonanno, or Joe Bananas as he was called. Joe Bonanno was staying at the Mainstay Hotel in New York city during those days. Matters were arranged and Rav Aharon Kotler and Irving Bunim eventually found themselves sitting in front of Joe Bonanno and his henchmen. As Irving Bunim relayed the information concerning the twenty-four rabbis in Italy, Joe Bonanno interrupted and asked, “Who is this man you brought along with you? He hasn’t said one word.” “This is Rabbi Aharon Kotler,” introduced Irving Bunim. ““This is the g-dfather of the Jews.” Joe Bonanno, clearly sensing that he was a man of G-d, turned to Irving Bunim and remarked, “Tell the g-dfather of the Jews that I will get these twenty-four rabbis out of Italy if he will give me a blessing.”
Irving Bunim turned to Rav Aharon and passed along the information, to which Rav Aharon replied in Yiddish, “Tell the g-dfather, if he gets these rabbis out of Italy, I give him a blessing that he will die of old age in his bed.” Such was usually not the way matters ended up for the individual in charge of the mafia, and it was thus a particularly meaningful blessing to Joe Bonanno.
Fast forward to 2015, and I came across a bookstand which was selling books for just a couple of dollars. Scanning around, I noticed a book which discussed all the famous mobsters in America. I purchased the book and took a look and saw the name Joe Banannos. And what did it say? Joe Bonnano died on May 11, 2002, of heart failure at the age of 97. He is buried at Holy Hope Cemetery & Mausoleum in Tucson… Just like the blessing of Rav Aharon Kotler zt”l.
Rabbi Ephraim Shapiro Small Steps
A few years ago, I headed off to shul one Shabbos afternoon with my seven-year-old daughter, Gila. Despite the heavy hurricane-like winds blowing and pelting rain, my daughter enthusiastically trailed alongside me, eager to attend the Torah class I was planning to give.
It was about halfway to shul that I turned to her and said, “Gila, do you realize that we are taking steps to hear the word of Hashem? Can you imagine how in Heaven they are counting every step we take. Each one is a mitzvah!” Looking back at me with a glowing smile, Gila had clearly heard the message. We continued briskly walking with a tinge of excitement accompanying our every step, until Gila turned to me. “Tatty, can I ask you a question then?” “Sure,” I replied, “what is it?” “If every step we take is a mitzvah, maybe then we can take smaller steps?”
The same is true on a broader scale as it relates to our journey in life. Spiritual growth and development takes place by taking small steps and making incremental changes and improvements. Big and grandiose accomplishments result from measured and minor growth. Once this is realized, we have already taken that first step along the road to greatness.
Rabbi Zecharia Wallerstein Ask Why
If you would ask what it takes to become a leader and change the destiny of a nation and even the world, it would come down to one word. Literally, one word. It is the word that engenders extraordinary breakthroughs and leads to incredible results. Moshe Rabbeinu, when noticing the Burning Bush not becoming consumed, turned aside in intrigue and asked, “Why will the Bush not be burned? (Shemos 3:3). His question was why.
Yosef HaTzaddik, after being thrown into prison alongside the butler and baker, noticed them downtrodden one morning and asked, “Why do you appear downcast today?” (Bereishis 40:7). His question was why.
Moshe Rabbeinu’s question led him to become the leader of the Jewish people. He turned aside to notice the pain of his Jewish brethren, represented by the consuming bush, and asked why. Yosef HaTzaddik’s rise to leadership too began when he saw his fellow inmates depressed and he turned aside to take note. He didn’t ignore what he saw. He looked straight at the problem and, despite every reason to turn away, turned towards it and asked, “Why is this happening? Why do you feel this way?” It is that one word – why – which holds the key to opening people’s hearts and paving the way for personal and national salvation. It is the “why” which will open reservoirs of willpower and motivation to help others and heal the world.
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