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TorahAnytimes Newsletter Vayakhel

Parshat Vayakhel

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik


"The TorahAnyTimes" Newsletter

Parashat Vayakhel                                                               Print Version
25th of Adar I, 5782 | February 26, 2022

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik

Rabbi YY Jacobson
The Happiest Man on Earth

Eddie Jaku was born as Abraham Jakubowicz in Leipzig, Germany, in the year 1920. He grew up as a Jewish child in Germany where his father used to tell him, “Abraham, I want you to always remember that there is more joy in giving than there is in taking.” In 1938 on Kristallnacht, Eddie was beaten, almost to death, by ten SS soldiers. And then the series of trying events began. He was then sent to Buchenwald. He escaped Germany and went to Belgium. When Hitler invaded Belgium, he was placed on a train to Auschwitz. He stole a hammer and screwdriver from the platform, and over the course of nine hours on the train, managed to unscrew the boards of the carriage and escape back to France and Belgium, where he reunited with his family, who also escaped from Germany.

But in 1943, the Gestapo discovered the hiding place of the family and put them all on a train to Auschwitz. Dr. Mengele sent both of Eddie’s parents to the gas chambers immediately; Eddie was sent to work. He was one of the few Jews who managed to escape the death camp, but then he was shot in the forest by a Polish farmer. He realized he had no choice but to return. And indeed, he returned to Auschwitz. A Jewish doctor took the bullet out of his calf, and then he was placed on the death march in January of 1945. After a few days with no food and no water, Eddie realized he would not be able to continue on, but he also knew that if you stopped, you got a bullet in your head. Eddie noticed a ditch. He managed to escape into the ditch, and he survived in the ditch for six months on raw snails. Until he was poisoned by the water flowing in a nearby creek, and couldn't stand anymore. He was deathly ill and began crawling to the nearby road, hoping that a Nazi soldier would detect him, shoot him and take him out of his misery.

But he then saw an American tank and the U.S. soldiers lifted him up, wrapped him in a blanket and sent him to the hospital. They didn't think he would survive, but he did. Six weeks later, he was out of the hospital.

He bought a ticket to go back to Brussels, hoping maybe somebody of his family survived. He found his sister, Henni, who had also survived Auschwitz. A few months later, he met another young Jewish woman, a survivor by the name of Flora. They got married and relocated to Sydney, Australia, and in 1950, their first child was born. Eddie describes that until then, he was bitter and angry and depressed. But when his child was born, his happiness came back to him in abundance and he made a decision: “I'm going to live a happy life, full of gratitude and kindness. I'm going to be polite, sensitive, compassionate and empathetic, and I'm going to help bring kindness to the world.”
Last year, Eddie celebrated his one hundredth birthday, and following that birthday, he decided it's time to write a book. He published his first book and he titled it, “The Happiest Man on Earth.” It became an international bestseller. One story of that book touched me so deeply.

It was shortly after the Holocaust. He'd just lost most of his family. He was living in a flat in Belgium, and he opened a newspaper where he began to read about two Jewish girls who tried to commit suicide. They jumped off a bridge in Brussels. They tried to fall on a barge, but instead fell into the water. They survived, they were arrested, and they were put into a mental hospital. Eddie decided, “I have to help these two girls.” And despite the fact that he had nothing – he lost almost everything – he went to the hospital. The conditions were appalling, and he met these two girls and he realized that they are perfectly normal and balanced, intelligent and wonderful people. But they lost their entire family. They had been in Auschwitz and Birkenau.

Everybody was murdered and they simply didn’t want to live. They did not have the stamina, the desire to continue to live, so they decided to take their lives. Eddie met with the head of the hospital, and said, “These girls don't belong here. Let me take care of them. Let me nurture them back to health. Besides that, the conditions here are horrific for anybody. If you come in normal, you leave three months later mad.” The man let him take them. Eddie raised them along with his sister, and he encouraged them. He fed them and he nurtured them. And being also a survivor of Auschwitz, he empathized with them. And finally, he managed to give them back that hope, vigor, inner fortitude and resilience they needed, and they went on to marry Jewish husbands and build beautiful families. Eddie, for life, maintained a connection with them.

“Then I finally managed,” Eddie writes, “to experience what my father told me as a youth. ‘Abraham, there's much more joy in giving than there is in taking.’ When I saw these two beautiful girls come back to life, I realized that even in the depths of darkness, you can see miracles. And if you don't see miracles, you can become the miracle and you can create the miracle by giving life and hope and kindling a flame of love and faith in the heart of darkness.”

Just this past year, Abraham Jakubowicz, Eddie Jaku, returned his soul to its Maker. On October 12, 2021, 6th Cheshvan 5782, this 101 year old hero of the Jewish people, hero of the world, passed away in Sydney.

But Eddie, the flame that you and your generation kindled in the midst of the deepest darkness will continue to burn forever and inspire us for eternity.

Rabbi Yossi Bensoussan
You’re Selling Yourself

How can we raise children right … How can we find a shidduch … How can we have success in business … It's been proven time and time again. It doesn't matter what the product is, it doesn't matter what you walk in with. Billionaires have lost their money in 10 seconds.

It doesn't matter as long as you're selling you.

You’ll hear about millionaires with stories of no education, no college, no background, no protection, no help, no connections, nothing. And they became millionaires in a short amount of time because they understood this idea. It matters what's coming from you. If you want to raise your children right, there's only one way: showing them what to do. Not showing them what not to do. Not sitting on the phone for hours and then telling them that they have a limited amount of time on the phone. They have no idea what you're talking about. You want them to be happy, be happy yourself; you want them to be honest, be honest.

Be the man and woman you want your children to be, and the rest will fall into place. Children learn more from who you are than what you say.

Rabbi Dovid Orlofsky
Ask the Questions

I was once invited to a roundtable discussion, though it was really a square table, about kiruv rechokim (bringing Jews closer to a Jewish way of life), and a lot of professionals, representing different organizations, were in attendance. The people in the audience were all the top people in the field, and the speakers were professionals who helped the organizations. Each one talked about their organization and why we should support it. At the end, the chairman looked at me and said, “I want you to say something.” I replied, “Everyone's spoken, and there's really nothing I have to add.” He said “Okay” to me and his next words were, “I'd like now to introduce Rabbi Orlofsky to say a few words on this topic.” So there I was.

I stood up and said, “Someone once asked me a question, ‘Why are we spending so much money on kiruv rechokim? We have so many problems in our own communities. How many children cannot get into school, and are fighting to get in. I know people going to public school. Does this make any sense? So maybe we should be asking ourselves why we have to get involved in kiruv rechokim. Maybe, the answer is because we're in trouble.” I then started to talk about all the issues that were facing the Jewish community.

Rabbi Jonathan Rosenblum, who was in the audience, stood up and said something that has stayed with me to this very day. “Have you ever asked yourself why most of the books on Jewish thought are written by people who did not grow up in the frum, religious world? It’s because they went to school and asked a question in third grade and got an answer in third grade and were happy with that for the rest of our lives. And people who came in after a university education asked the same questions on a university level and demanded a university level answer. And they weren't content with “Just because … that's the way it goes.” It's not enough for us just to be able to feel like, “Uh, I don't know. That's what I always heard.” Can you answer this if somebody pushes you on this? Can you answer this question? Can you give the answer correctly?

If you can’t, then forget about answering it for anybody else; answer it for ourselves. Once we can answer it for ourselves, most of the time, we don't even have to answer the question. I've had students of mine who said, “Rabbi, I can say over your answer, but I can’t do that little laugh that you do at the end, and that's really what answers the question.” When people realize that you're not bothered by questions at all, it really shakes them up. They start to realize, “Wow, this person seems like he's intelligent, and he seems like he's having a good time, and this question seems to not to be so much of a question.”

The point is to clear the way of Maamad Har Sinai, of the path towards the truth of Torah, of the truth of life, and deal with the real issue. How can I live a happy, meaningful life? What does Judaism have to say to me that's going to make my life a better life? That’s the answer that we need to be able to find for them. And it starts by asking questions and being inviting for others to do the same – ask questions in their unvarnished form. We have nothing to be afraid of or hide.

And that’s because we have the truth of Torah. And the truth of Torah can stand up to any question or scrutiny.

Rabbi Shlomo Farhi
You Can Win

Why do so many people feel like failures and how can their perception of themselves be changed?

From the time we're young, we're taught to win – win on the court, win in the classroom, win at life. It becomes this all-consuming aspiration by which we define ourselves. But the Torah has a very interesting view on winning. The great struggle is depicted between Jacob and the Angel. They struggle all night, and eventually the name of Yaakov gets changed to Yisrael, because he's won. He's overcome the angel. But the verse says it in a very peculiar way.

“Ki Sarita Im Elokim v’Im Anashim Va’tuchal – Because you have struggled with G-dly beings and with man and you prevailed.” The fascinating point to notice is that if you look at the story itself, Yaakov doesn't win. If you like boxing, there's two ways you can win. One way you win is by knockout. You actually knock the other opponent out. That means that the other person is completely down on the floor, down for the count. Clearly, you've won that battle. There's another way, and that is to win by decision, where we mark on the cards how many times you hit the other man and calculate who inflicted more damage, who landed more blows.
Yaakov definitely doesn't knock out the angel. In fact, what we learn is that the angel is struggling with Jacob, and he sees that he cannot defeat Jacob, so he hits him in the thigh, in his sciatic nerve. This is fascinating. Effectively, the angel didn't win, but neither did Jacob. At best, it was a draw. And if you don't knock the man out, how else do you win? By decision. Well, who hurt whom more? Yaakov is the one who walks away limping, so it would seem the angel is the one who won this great battle. Why then would Yaakov be called Yisrael for winning this battle if he didn't actually win?

The takeaway is that the Torah does not consider winning to be winning. Winning is rather: never giving up. It's the angel who couldn't get Jacob to back down. If the Angel couldn't win, then Jacob had won.

This idea is a complete shift in perspective of what winning is. When people feel like failures, it's because they feel that they haven't won enough. They weren’t the best in the class, they weren't the best at relationships. They don't have the best jobs. They haven't won. But winning doesn't mean winning. Quite often, that's not up to you. People could come from the same backgrounds, the same socioeconomic circles, the same classrooms and schools and could have graduated with the same grades from the same university and had all the same opportunities, and for some reason, one person is more successful than the other. Ultimately, success lies in the hands of G-d.

What we have is the ability to decide that we will not give up, that we will do everything in our power, and put in as much effort as we humanly can to achieve the desired result. What happens after that is not up to us at all. The Torah uses the word “Va’tuchal,” which means, “And he overcame,” but it is noteworthy that this word – Va’tuchal – matches the other word in the same verse. “V’lo yachol lo – And the angel was not able to overcome him.” These two words are used specifically to drive home this message. It doesn’t seem like Yaakov Avinu won the battle, but neither did the angel. In truth, though, Yaakov did win. And that’s because winning is the unyielding decision to never give up. And Yaakov didn’t give up.

If we taught our children and drilled into ourselves that winning is not about results, but it's about the effort that we expend, then feeling like a failure is actually not really an option. The only thing that should make us feel bad is if we haven't given as much as we can, and that's always something that we can correct.

The Mishnah in Pirkei Avot teaches, “L’fum tzaara agra,” which is typically translated as, “According to the pain is the reward.” Most people think that this means that there's a reward for the mitzvah, but if you've tried harder, then the reward that you receive is commensurate to the pain that you experience. But I think that it's saying something deeper. We paid for pain. We get paid for effort. “According to the effort is the price.” The determining factor of what we're trying to do is attempt. Yisrael doesn't refer to the people who win over g-dly forces; it means the people who struggle with it. That struggle defines every human being's life.

Jim Carrey is a famous comedian, and he tells a story about his father. His father, he says, is hilarious. He could have been a comedian himself, but he chose a safer option. He chose instead to become an accountant, and when Jim was 12 years old, his father got cut from that safe job. Jim Carrey himself went on to a very successful career as an actor and comedian. And the lesson he learned from his father was this: “You can fail at something you don't like, so you may as well take a chance on something you love.”

If we focus on trying to do the things that we wanted instead of only attempting the things that we were sure we'd succeed at, our lives would look remarkably better. This is the message of success and failure that we learn from the very name and persona of Am Yisrael.

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