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TorahAnytimes Newsletter Shoftim

Parshat Shoftim

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik


"The TorahAnyTimes" Newsletter

Parashat Shoftim                                                                 Print Version
6th of Elul, 5781 | August 14, 2021

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik

Rabbi Ephraim Shapiro
Eternal Happiness

The Gemara (Taanis 22a) says that R’ Beroka was once walking in the marketplace when he came across Eliyahu HaNavi and asked if there was anyone there who was a ben Olam Habah (will go straight into the World to Come)? Eliyhau HaNavi looked around and said no. A bit later, Eliyahu HaNavi pointed to two people and said, “Those people, they are worthy of the World to Come.” R’ Beroka approached them and asked what they do that ensures them a place in the World the Come? They answered that we are badchanim, which means, according to Rashi, “S’meichim u’mesamchim b’nei adam – are happy and make other people happy”

Think about it. You are a ben Olam Habah if you are happy and make other people happy.

Tangentially, it doesn’t say that you merit a chelek (portion) in the World to Come, but that you are a ben Olam Habah. The difference is that the latter individuals go straight to Olam Habah without any form of judgment after they pass away. That’s not just having a share in the World to Come; it’s far more.

When you make people happy, encourage them, when you give someone purpose to live, you earn the title of a “ben Olam Habah.” But there’s a question. Why does Rashi need to add the words “other people” – b’nei adam – in his comment. Why can’t he simply say that these people are happy and make happy – s’meichim u’mesamchim – which we would know of course refers to other people.

Rav Elimelech Biderman explains that Rashi could be understood to mean how they made other happy. It was through calling them b’nei adam, by bringing back their self-esteem. So many people lack self-esteem and don’t feel good about themselves. What did these people do? They looked a person in the eye and made them feel, “You’re a ben adam – you’re worthy, you have value.” They restored faith and self-esteem to that person.

They built others up, by giving them reason to live and reason to accomplish. And if you do that, you are a ben Olam Habah. You really are.

Rabbi Eliezer Abish
The Value of Your Actions

We all can make a small kabbalah, commitment, as we enter the month of Elul and prepare for Rosh Hashanah. A person should never think, “My little kabbalah will never make a difference! I have so much I have to do!” In fact, a person should realize that his kabbalah to Hashem is very precious, and when we show that love to Him, He will show it to us.

In the late 1970s, Rav Shlomo Carlebach was invited to a prison to bring some life and joy to the Jewish prisoners there during the festival of Chanukah. Even though there were only a few Jewish inmates and he had only twenty-five minutes with them, he made sure to prepare something special for them – latkes and a music performance with a guitar. Entering a secure room, he saw a Jewish brother, and immediately gave him a big hug and a kiss. “How are you?” he asked. He then sat down, and started to play the guitar, and give them chizuk about Chanukah and about life. Then he gave out the latkes, and sang a little more. Before he knew it, the twenty-five minutes were up and it was time to leave.

Rav Shlomo got up and said goodbye to everyone. But on his way out, he said to one of the guards, “There are other people here. I need to say hello to them too.” The guard took a second look at the men Rav Shlomo was referring to. “Rabbi, they are not Jews…” But Rav Shlomo was insistent. “Please, let me say hello to some of the other people.” Being granted permission, Rav Shlomo headed towards the kitchen and went inside. “How are you, my brothers!” he said as he he walked right up to one fellow and gave him a big hug. He went on to speak to them for some time, after which he left.

Now it was finally time to leave. But before Rav Shlomo made it out, he heard footsteps behind him. Running towards him was a big, burly fellow. Immediately, he stopped running. “Rabbi, can I speak to you?” Rav Shlomo looked at the guards, as they looked back at him. “Rabbi,” he said, “I want to thank you for the hug you gave me.” “Of course, my pleasure,” said Rav Shlomo.

“Rabbi,” he went on, “I want you to know that that is the first hug I received in my life. I swear to you that if I would have ever received a hug like that before, I would never have committed those crimes that I am here because of today.” The man’s eyes, by now, had moistened with tears. “Rabbi, can I have one more hug?” Rav Shlomo walked over and gave him a big hug.
Isn’t that what we want from Hashem; to be enveloped in His loving hug? What would we do for that love from Him? When we accept something upon ourselves, through that kabbalah, we will feel His love.

When we get into the heart of what we can take on, we are often uncertain. We’ve all been here before and where to go is the question. Put simply, what should we do?

The value of our actions is not determined by their quantity, but quality. It may seem that what we decide to improve upon is small, perhaps too small, and of no real consequence. And while we’ve heard this countless times, that’s because it’s worth repeating countless times.

Let’s take one characteristic – recognizing the good others have done us. Even being more conscientious about the kindnesses done towards us and living in ways that show our recognition and appreciation is of huge value. Consider what the Torah tells us in Parshas Beshalach, where we read how the Jewish people were taken out of Egypt, brought to the Red Sea and saved. The Pasuk tells us, “Hashem led the Jews towards the Yam Suf, and the Jews came out of Egypt armed.” Rashi explains that ‘armed’ refers to having weapons.

But if the Jews had weapons, then when they saw the Egyptians pursuing them, why didn’t they turn around and fight?
Many commentaries ask this question, and the Chasam Sofer offers a beautiful answer.

It all is based on a Pasuk in Sefer Devarim (23:8), which tells us, “Do not reject an Egyptian, because you were a stranger in their land.” Because we had hospitality in the land of Egypt, we cannot reject an Egyptian convert. But what does the Torah mean by hospitality? We were slaves in the land of Egypt! We didn’t want to be there. So why does the Torah tell us that we must allow them to join the Jewish nation?

The answer is that gratitude, of which we are meant to show the Egyptians, is not a simple ‘Thank you,’ but as in its Hebrew form – hakaras hatov – which means recognizing the good that done to us. It is more than thanking someone for what they did; it is a deep-rooted acknowledgement and appreciation that extends into our behavior and way of life. And even though we didn’t want to be in Egypt, the bottom line is that we took up residency there, and even with all the pain and suffering we experienced, we still received that benefit of living there. That is a benefit we cannot deny, no matter what.

In truth, our experience in Egypt has defined in many ways our lives as Jews who have hakaras hatov. If we have a leftover piece neveilah, a piece of meat, we are commanded to give it to the dogs, because they didn’t bark during the plague in Egypt. Why do we have a mitzvah of peter chamor, redeeming the first born of a donkey? Because every family had 90 donkeys’ worth of valuables when we left Egypt. Do the donkeys of today know what happened to their great-great grandparents, thousands of years ago? Of course not. But we have to realize that we benefited, and we must show our appreciation in that way
It is the same thing with the first two plagues. Moshe didn’t hit the Nile or the ground, because he was saved by them. Would the Nile cry if it was hit? How does a river cry anyway? The answer is, as the Gemara (Bava Kamma 92b) says, you do not throw stones into a well that you drunk from, because as Jews, our behavior must be an expression of the gratitude we have, regardless of the recipient’s intention or inanimate, lack of feeling.

This is why, explains the Chasam Sofer, we were told to leave Egypt with weapons. It was so that when the time comes to fight and we don’t pick up our weapons, we would demonstrate our hakaras hatov and not just be saying it. It would be real; it would be how we live our lives as Jews, as demonstrated in action.
Years ago, a fellow and his wife went to visit their grandchildren in a bungalow colony. As they were sitting there and relaxing, having a very good time, the grandfather noticed his nine and eleven-year-old grandchildren chasing after a rat. “Stop, stop!” he yelled out. They looked up. “Zaidy, it’s a rat!” But the grandfather was adamant. “If you don’t stop chasing it, I’m going to leave!”

“Come here…” said the grandfather. “I want to tell you something.” The grandchildren looked up in wonder. “Many years ago, I was in a terrible place called Auschwitz. When you get older, I will tell you more about it. I want you to know that when I came to Auschwitz in the winter of January 1944, it was terribly cold. We would sleep on slabs of wood, four levels high. We would just have to lie there. But it got so crowded that we could no longer just lie on our backs or stomachs, but we had to lie sideways. In addition, only a few barracks had heaters. Most had nothing, and it was freezing cold. But, because we each lied next to one another, we were able to benefit from each other’s body heat, and that is what kept us alive during those freezing nights.

At the edge of the wood board would be the people who did not have anyone next to them. And so, there was a lottery every week, and whoever was selected, would need to sleep at the end of those rows. Very often, they would freeze to death. One time, it was my turn, and I had to sleep on the edge. That night, I said goodbye to my friends, said Shema and Viduy and I went to sleep. At 5 a.m., I heard dogs’ barking and the Nazis guards screaming, and I was startled.

I couldn’t believe it; I was still alive. I looked down, and all alongside me, were a pack of rats. Evidently, they were also freezing at night and also wanted body warmth, so after I went to sleep, the rats snuggled against me. But while they were getting body warmth from me, I was getting body warmth from them.
The next week it also turned to be my night to sleep on the edge. And when I woke up again, the rats were there again. For the whole week, every morning, there was a row of rats. And that is how I survived my time at the edge of the row in freezing, bitter cold nights in Auschwitz. And now I cannot sit here and watch you chase around the rats. I have to have hakaras hatov for those rats. Those rats here are not related to those rats in Europe, but I have to have hakaras hatov.

That is what Hashem is showing us here. One of the first lessons when we leave Egypt was that we left armed. Why did we leave armed? So we have the wherewithal to fight the Egyptians and we don’t. If we didn’t have the weapons, then we couldn’t have demonstrated our hakaras hatov.

Having hakaras hatov may not be something which is openly apparent to the outside world. Sometimes, it requires of us not doing something out of respect for another person, and it’s a silent way of holding and comporting ourselves. But it runs deep.

The same is true of all kabbalos, of all new things we want to take stock of and work on during Elul and the next year. Think deeply. Accepting upon yourself, in example, to live a life of hakaras hatov doesn’t require any big purchases or necessarily hours of time. One day, it may be is acknowledging that your daughter took time out of her day to visit you, and you don’t let her leave without extending your deepest appreciation. But that type of kabbalah, that type of resolve to live differently, as a consistent way of life, is not superficial or done “just because.”
So think about your life and make the decision. And whatever it is, know that Hashem will embrace you in turn for looking inward and making the commitment to better your life.

Rabbi Benzion Klatzko
What’s Your Legacy?

What makes a person create, what’s called in Hebrew, a “Yad Va’Shem”? Literally, these words mean “a hand and a name,” and refers to the legacy a person creates and what will be written on their tombstone. What are your family and friends going to say when you are no longer here? “She changed the way people felt. She put things together where people were inspired and improved their lives…” As we move along in life, we must ask ourselves what we want to leave behind us. That day will come, and it’s time when we’re alive to plant the seeds from which our legacy will be made.

Rabbi Shmuel Reichman
A Journey of Excitement

A boy ran into a local store and asked the storeowner if could borrow the phone and make a phone call. The storeowner acquiesced and showed the boy to the back of the store, where the phone was. The boy dialed a number and a woman picked up. “Hi,” began the boy, “I wanted to know if I can mow your lawn? I’m looking for a job to mow people’s lawns. Is there a job available?” The woman replied, “Actually, we already have someone who mows our lawn and he does a great job. We’re not looking for anyone; I’m sorry.” But the boy stayed persistent. “Let me emphasize, I’m going to do an amazing job!” “It’s really okay; the boy who does our lawn actually does an amazing job.”

“You don’t understand,” went on the boy. “I’m not just going to mow your lawn; I’m going to pull out the weeds, water it and landscape it. Your lawn is going to be the most beautiful lawn you’ve ever seen.” The woman kept going with her point. “The boy who does our lawn does all that, and he does an absolutely amazing job. We’re not looking for anyone; I’m sorry.” The boy hung up the phone.

The storeowner, who had overheard the conversation, then asked the boy, “You really wanted that job, didn’t you…? I’m sorry it didn’t work out.” The boy smiled and said, “No, I already have the job; I just wanted to see how I was doing.”

This is really what Elul is. It’s when we make that phone call and see how we are doing. It’s when we check in on ourselves. One of the biggest challenges with self-development and self-analysis, and by extension with mussar and with Elul, is that we fear the process of acknowledging where we have gone wrong, because with that comes a big hit to our self-worth and self-image. We start to feel bad and say to ourselves, “All the things I wanted to work on since years ago… it’s always the same list for Elul.”

But there’s one idea that can help. And that is when you change your perspective on self-development and you understand that it’s not about, “What am I doing wrong?” but rather, “What can I become better at?” When you look at growth as an opportunity, when you learn to enjoy the process, when you fall in love with getting better at your middos, with your learning, your health, better relationships, with developing your mindset, with falling in love with Torah and with Hashem, it’s a completely different experience. When you fall in love with the process of growth, then Elul becomes this most exciting and amazing time of the year, as opposed to a time that we dread. It is not just a time of judgment, but a time when we re-establish our relationship with Hashem. We become our best selves and remember our dreams and visions. It’s about tapping into who we know we are destined to become and who we know we are capable of becoming.

So when we check in with ourselves we ought to turn it into a journey of excitement. We must remember who we are supposed to becoming, and learn to fall in love with the process.

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