Parashat Acharei Mot-Kedoshim 5781 Print Version
12th of Iyar, 5781 | April 24, 2021
Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik
Rabbi YY Jacobson Inspiring the Commander
Years ago, I was in Tzfat, sitting on a rooftop of an institution for kiruv called Ascent, where different students attend classes. One night, I was speaking to several students, when a yeshiva bachur approached me and asked if he could talk to me. “Sure,” I said. He then went on to relate a personal story that had occurred just weeks before.
Friday afternoon, during the hours before Shabbos, his yeshiva spends time visiting one of the nearby army bases, where they motivate and inspire the soldiers. They provide them challah for Shabbos, put Tefillin on them, and share with them some words of Torah.
Yet, after some time, this yeshiva boy realized that the army base was so close by, it would be a nice idea if he could visit the soldiers every day during the week when he had a lunch break. He would be able to put Tefillin on the soldiers who didn’t have Tefillin and provide them with some words of encouragement and inspiration. And so he did. For the past few years, he said, he has gone to the army base every day and become close to many of the soldiers.
While many soldiers move on and leave the army, those who tended to remain for longer were the higher commanders and leaders, whom he had also befriended. One such commander, however, despite the boy’s many friendly overtures, never reciprocated in kind and returned the pleasantries. He had always been cynical and cold. Whatever the case was, the commandeer would decline the boy’s offer and tell him to go somewhere else. This went on for months and months.
“Not long ago,” said the boy, “I approached him and asked if he wanted to put on Tefillin. He declined as usual, but he added that he would be willing to make me a deal. If I would never again approach him to put Tefillin on, he would put Tefillin on just this once. However, after this one time, I would need to stay away from him and he would never, ever put Tefillin on again in his life.
“This is my dilemma,” the yeshiva bachur told me. “Would it be worthwhile to take him up on his offer and put Tefillin on now? On the other hand, if that happens, I will never be able to try and teach him about Judaism and positively influence him again. Perhaps it is worth forgoing the opportunity to put Tefillin on him now given this latter consideration.”
Yet the boy soon realized, just as the Rambam (Hilchos Teshuva 3:4) articulates, that a person should view himself as having half mitzvos and half sins; if he performs one mitzvah, then he tips the scales in his favor and in the world’s favor. “I cannot evaluate the importance and power of this one mitzvah,” he said. “It’s not my place to worry about the future, and I must focus on the present opportunity he has to perform an incredible mitzvah. You never know, maybe he will never get another chance to put on Tefillin and this will be his last chance.”
The boy decided that now was the time or never, and he went on to accept the commander’s deal. The man put on the Tefillin and said Shema, after which he said, “Remember? Never again in my life! Never again do you come back here! Enough!” Alright, figured the boy. What’s done is done, and that was the agreement.
The following day, the boy returned to the army base, and his conscious began to unnerve him. “Maybe I did the wrong thing,” he wondered. “I can never walk over to him again. One time of wearing Tefillin and I now sacrificed this man forever. Maybe it was wrong.” But the boy kept to his word, and attended to all the other soldiers except this man.
“At the end of the week,” continued the boy, “the commander called me over. He took hold of the Tefillin in my hands and began putting on the Tefillin.” The boy had no idea what had happened or why the commander had reneged and changed his mind. The boy said nothing, but merely observed how the commander put Tefillin on and said the Shema.
Afterwards, the commander said, “You’re probably wondering what happened. I didn’t forget my end of the deal, but I’ll tell you the truth. I watched you for the last few days, and I noticed how broken-hearted you were that you couldn’t come over to me. I saw the pained looked in your eyes that wished you could approach me. Once I saw that, I realized that you were being genuine the entire time. I understood that you were coming to the army base and going around from soldier to soldier for no other reason than wishing to inspire your fellow Jews. I thought that I was merely another project of yours. But as soon as I saw how sincere you wished to come over to me, I understood that your intentions were pure all along. You really did care about me. You can come now to me every day; from now on, I’m going to put Tefillin on every day…”
Rabbi Zecharia Wallerstein Where Will You Daven?
Some time after I got married, my wife and I looked into going away to the Bahamas. We were both looking forward to this vacation very much, and we both anticipated it being a fabulous trip.
The first night after we arrived, I figured that I would give my parents a quick call and see how they were doing. I picked up the phone and spoke briefly to my father, telling him that we had safely arrived and everything was going well. I must emphasize that I was extremely close to my father and our relationship was very trusting and truthful. Neither of us shied away or avoided honestly expressing ourselves and being respectfully blunt with each other.
“Zecharia,” he said, “where are you?” “We’re away,” I said, “on vacation.” But my father was curious. “Where exactly are you?” he asked. “We’re in the Bahamas,” I replied. The phone immediately went silent. “I take it there’s a minyan where you are to daven…” Tefillah for my father was of extraordinary importance, and truth be told, there was not a minyan in the Bahamas that I was aware of. But we had just gotten married, and we were just going to be away for a few days and would return back to Florida for Shabbos. I planned on davening alone during this time.
My father was taken aback. “You mean there’s no minyan there?” “Yeah,” I said. “Zecharia, make sure you’re at davening tomorrow morning in Miami.” And with that, the phone went dead. My father had hung up.
I was shocked. This was not the type of relationship I had with my father whatsoever. I knew he was extremely devoted to tefillah, but this came as a surprise to me.
My wife looked at me, wondering what had happened. “I don’t know how to break this to you,” I said, “but I think we need to be in Miami tomorrow morning.” Now that was an unpleasant surprise. We had just gotten to the Bahamas and we were both so excited, and now we would need to turn around and go back? In my father’s mind, vacationing was fine, but finding a set place to daven with a minyan was even more important. And my father was being very serious with me. I knew I needed to be at a minyan tomorrow morning.
Stuck in this quandary, I came up with a master plan. I figured that the latest minyan in Miami was 9 o’clock, and so, we would at least head to the airport in the morning, and try to catch a plane. Likely, it wouldn’t be available, and I would still have tried, and thus everyone would be happy. I would stay in the Bahamas, having made the attempt to make the minyan as my father mentioned, and all would be good.
And so, the next morning, we arrived at the airport very early in the morning to see if any flight was available. The airline we had flown to the Bahamas and would be our best option for a flight back to Miami was Eastern Airlines. But guess what? The next flight out to Miami was at 1:30 p.m.! That was it! I wouldn’t make it to davening in Miami, but at least I tried. I would call my father and tell him I was at the airport and I could not make it back in time.
As my wife and I began walking out of the airport, however, we glanced over and noticed a small table with the name Bohemian Airlines. And what did it say? Miami, 7:00 a.m. At this point, I knew I couldn’t lie to my father. At the very least, however, I hoped that they wouldn’t have seats. I walked up to the table, and asked to buy two tickets to Miami on their upcoming flight. “Sure, we have plenty of room!” said the attendant. That was the last thing I wanted to hear. “Alright,” I said to myself, “this is what we are going to do.”
We were taken out onto the runway, and lo and behold, what did we see? A tiny plane which had just six seats. My wife and I looked at each other, both surprised and shocked, but we weren’t going to turn back now. We got onto the plane and my wife and I took seats next to each other.
All of a sudden, on walked a man with shorts and a colorful shirt. I figured that he was the steward. I was wrong. “Hi everybody! I’m the pilot.” At this point, I became a little nervous. But it wasn’t over. “You two,” said the pilot, pointing to me and my wife, “you need to move apart from each other. We need to have the weight distributed equally on the plane.” Now, the other four people on the plan from the Bahamas were much, much larger than both my wife and I put together. So there we were, flying back to Miami as newlyweds, with my wife in the front squeezed between two huge strangers, and me in the back sandwiched between another two huge strangers. I didn’t know if we would make it back alive.
But… I made it back to Miami on time and davened with a minyan.
That was my father. He understood that if I missed those four days of davening with a minyan while in the Bahamas, it will be the beginning of becoming lax in other mitzvah observances. This would have set the bar and allowed me to easily rationalize missing other minyanim during future trips in my life. I learned this lesson that day, and also witnessed the love that my father burst forth with for davening with a minyan, to the point that he was ready to have little to do with me if I wouldn’t have made it back to Miami. He wished to impress upon me what I already knew was deep down the right choice, and make me examine what I was doing. And he certainly did just that.
Years later, I related this story while I was giving a class. Afterwards, life moved on. But just a month later after that class something happened, and I came to a personally empowering realization.
I was davening with a minyan one morning, when I noticed a man continuously staring at the Tallis bag which was situated in front of me. Little did he know that I was not standing in front of my own Tallis bag, but someone else’s. I wondered if I should ask if he was looking for something or someone or even mention that it was in fact not my own Tallis bag, but I remained quiet and said nothing.
When I finished davening, the man turned to me and asked, “Are you Zecharia Wallerstein?” “Yes, I am,” I said. “I have to tell you something,” he continued. I wasn’t sure what surprise he was about to tell me, but I was ready for whatever it was. “I haven’t been davening with a minyan for many, many years. Since the story you shared on TorahAnytime a month ago about your trip to the Bahamas and your father, I haven’t missed a minyan.” Now, I understood. He had been staring at the Tallis bag because he had seen my face on the video, but it didn’t match the name on the bag. ‘Thank you very much for telling me,” I said.
Reflecting further, I wondered to myself what message I could take away from the story altogether and this follow-up incident. And then I realized. The camera placed in front of me and recording is a sophisticated piece of metal with a battery and lens. Yet this camera had caused this man to hear this story, and because of that, not miss one opportunity for davening with a minyan already for an entire month. That was a simple lesson that we all easily appreciate. But it was more meaningful once I thought about this for just a minute more.
This story took place thirty years ago, and what my father told me on that phone call then affected someone now. This man might have been under thirty and not even born at the time that the story occurred. But now, thirty years later, look at the effect it is having… From my father having one conversation with me on the phone, to me making the decisions I did, to me retelling the story on camera, to this man hearing and internalizing the message. That is powerful.
A person must realize that one decision they make in life can affect someone completely unrelated to them and their family even decades later. Perhaps, now because of this story, this man’s children will go on to daven at a minyan consistently, and so, the story’s effect continues even further. Never underestimate the long-lasting impact that a few words or one action can have on so many people for so many years.
Rabbi Yaakov Mizrahi Priceless Reward
The Mishnah (Avos 1:3), states, “Antignos Ish Soco received from Shimon HaTzaddik: He used to say, ‘Do not be like those servants who serve their master in order to receive reward; rather be like those servants who serve their master not to receive reward.’”
At our optimal level, our service of Hashem is meant to be done l’shem shamayim, for the Sake of Heaven, and not for any ulterior motives. There were, in the history of the Jews, however, two students who misconstrued this message, making it out to mean that no reward exists at all for what we do. They used this argument to discount the notion of reward and punishment and deny the existence of the World to Come, wherein we are rewarded for all that we have done during our lifetimes. These two students became the forerunners for the two cults of the Baitosim and Tzedukim.
While our intent as we perform mitzvos is not to be for the reward, we can never lose sight of the incredible reward that is awaiting. Hashem will pay us back, and when He does so, it is done in such gracious measures. We cannot imagine how much Hashem will repay for every single, small action that we did in this world. One second in this world is eternity in the World to Come. It is priceless.
I remember hearing from Rabbi Eli Mansour that it is impossible to receive reward in this world for any mitzvah we do. We may receive the reward for the dividends or fruit of our actions, or the peirot. But the principal of our mitzvot, the keren, that cannot be repaid to us in this world. Were we to take all the money which every individual has in every bank across the globe, it would still not be enough money to repay us for one mitzvah which we did. That is how valuable a mitzvah is.
My daughter was once wearing a buttoned shirt on Shabbat, which got caught by the back of her hair and remained tangled. I tried getting her hair out from the button which it had gotten twisted in, but it was to no avail. We weren’t able to cut it either, as it was Shabbat. There thus wasn’t much else to do except for her to wear it or hope that it would somehow come undone by itself.
With little option, my daughter decided to sleep with her shirt on. The next day, sticking out and above her dress was the shirt still tied to her hair. You could tell that it was pulling slightly on her hair. I asked if she was alright, and she was as happy as she could be and beaming with a smile. “It’s a little heavy on my hair, but it’s okay.”
I told her, “It so beautiful what you are doing. You have no idea how precious and dear your keeping of Shabbat under these circumstances is to Hashem. Chazal tell us that ‘L’fum tza’ara agra – According to the pain is the reward.’ But in your case, we could as a pun, say, ‘L’fum “sa’ara” agra – According to the hair is the reward.’ She appreciated hearing this and remained positive and happy.”
We have no idea how much Hashem pays us back for the mitzvos we do in this world…
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