Skip to content


TorahAnytimes Newsletter Bechukotai

Parshat Bechukotai

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik


"The TorahAnyTimes" Newsletter

Bechukotai Edition                                                                         Print Version
27 Iyar, 5782 | May 28, 2022

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik

Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair
Break Your Limits

With its abundance of retirement homes for the elderly, Miami Beach, Florida is often called with macabre humor, “G-d's Waiting Room.” Retirement isn't as notorious as heart disease or cancer, but it's still a major killer. Studies show that people who don't retire but stay involved in their work, at the level that befits their age, have longer life expectancies than those who retire and relax into their golden years.

My father, may he rest in peace, passed away well into his 93rd year. He was a very hard worker and he never retired. Every morning he'd still go to the office and do the post. He went in later and came back earlier, but he kept relevant. Nothing is worse than the feeling that the world has passed us by and we're just cluttering up the wings of life's stage.

My rebbi, may G-d lengthen his days and years, opened an extremely successful yeshiva for boys when he was well into his eighties. Our Sages teaches that G-d conceals our time of death from us so that we should remain active to the last moment. The Midrash moreover tells the story of the Roman Emperor Hadrian.

He was once passing through the city of Tiberius, in the land of Israel. Hadrian noticed an elderly man exerting himself, tilling the soil around his fig tree. “Saba, Saba!” called out Hadrian. “Old man, why are you working so hard? When you were young, you had to make a living. Now it's time to relax. Anyway, you'll never live to enjoy the fruits of your neighbors!” The old man retorted, “My task is to accomplish whatever my age allows. The Almighty will do as He sees fit.” “Tell me, please. Saba,” continued Hadrian, “how old are you?” “I'm 100 years old.” “100 years old! And you actually expect to reap what you sow?” The old man had what to answer to that too. “If I merit to eat the fruits of my labor, that will be well and good. And if not, my efforts will benefit my children, just as I have benefited from the toil of my forebears.” “If you ever eat those figs that you're planting,” Hadrian said, “surely come and let me know.”

In due course, the figs ripened and abounded with fruits. The old man filled the basket with figs and traveled up to the palace. “The emperor wishes to see me,” he announced to the guards. The guards followed suit, and led him before Hadrian's throne. “Who are you?” asked Hadrian. “Does the Emperor remember how years ago, in Tiberius, you passed by an old man tending his figs. G-d has granted me the pleasure of eating those figs that I planted, and I brought the Emperor a basketful as a gift.” Hadrian turned to his servants and said, “Take the figs from this elderly man and refill his basket with gold dinars.” His courtiers questioned the emperor's generosity. “Why such a lavish gift for an old Jew?” Hadrian replied, “His Creator honored him with longevity. Is it not proper that I too should accord him honor?”

G-d has no waiting room. Every moment of our lives is a gift that must be maximized to the limit.

But the limit we may set for ourselves, no matter our age, may in fact be limiting to just how much we can accomplish.

When I was a youngster in the 1950s, the world of sports was shocked when on May 6th, 1954, Roger Bannister broke the four minute mile barrier. His time was 3 minutes, 59.4 seconds, barely less than 4 minutes. But he changed the whole of distance running in a single afternoon. After that, in the late fifties and the sixties, track records fell like ripe apples.

Bannister's mile remains a touchstone in the history of athletics, but not because Bannister set an unreachable record. Currently, the fastest mile is a good 15 seconds less than Bannister's time. But for generations, 4 minutes was thought of as an intrinsic physiological limit, as if muscles could not be made to move any faster or lungs breathe any deeper.

But Bannister proved was that intrinsic boundaries are mythical. What he broke permanently was not a limit, but the idea of limits.

Rarely are we limited by our limitations; usually we are limited by the limitations we place on our limits. And as true as this is in athletics, it's equally true in our own lives, in the realm of our life ambitions, our relationships with our spouse, our friends, our fellow man, and with Hashem.

If we would but realize that each one of us is capable of reaching not only further than we think, but further than we could possibly dream, we would run our own life four-minute mile in record time.

Rabbi Zecharia Wallerstein zt"l

Your Children, My Children

Years ago, after my parents moved from Washington Heights to Boro Park, a woman by the name of Adele Taub befriended my mother and taught her a lot about life as a Jewish woman and how she could create a warm home atmosphere, filled with love and delicious Jewish food.

Adele was originally from Hungary, but had been transported to Auschwitz and survived. She herself had no children, though she quickly developed into a sort of a grandmother to my siblings and me.

One day, my mother approached her and asked a question that had been on her mind for some time. “Adele, I know you are very religious and strong in your faith. But I’ve always wondered how you cope with having no children of your own. Does it bother you that you’ve gone through the Holocaust and seen so much atrocity, and yet you don’t have children of your own to experience the joys of life with? How do you deal with it?”

“Oh, I have children,” Adele replied, casually and without much hesitation. “What do you mean?” my mother prodded further. “I know you’ve always said that my children are like your children, but I thought you don’t have any actual children of your own?” “I have children in Israel,” Adele said. My mother wasn’t understanding. “Let me tell you,” Adele continued.

“I was a young girl in Auschwitz, and one of the girls I knew couldn’t take it anymore. She had reached her limits. One day, she made a dash for the barbwire surrounding the camp and began climbing. But, as she knew, it wouldn’t lead her to freedom, but death. Many others in Auschwitz had attempted the same out of emotional distress, knowing what their end would be if they didn’t regret their action soon enough and couldn’t make it down from the barbwire. They’d get caught, and the Nazis would leave them hanging in agonizing pain until death.

“One day, my friend went too far and actually got stuck to the point that she couldn’t maneuver her way down. There was no way for her to change her mind now. Her death was on its way.

“As I realized what she had done, I didn’t think twice. I knew that I would be risking my life if I ran out and tried pulling her off the fence. But I didn’t hesitate. I raced to her and ripped her off the barbwire. My friend started screaming and kicking, pleading for me to let go of her and let her die. She was done with life. But I didn’t give way to her pleas, and held her tight as I stumbled my way back to the barracks. A Nazi guard ended up beating me for attempting to save this girl, but fortunately, I was left with no more than cuts and bruises. He let me live.

“This girl went on to move to Israel after the war, but all the while I stayed in touch with her. When she got married and had children and grandchildren, I became like a second mother to them all. I loved them so dearly and deeply.

“I would always tell my friend,” Adele said, “that you were staring death in the face and I saved you. Your children are my children. She couldn’t agree more.”

Sometimes, there isn’t time in life to contemplate and calculate our every move. We must simply take action and do it. And with it, we can be saving another life, another family, another world.

One action, when the right time calls for it, can mean the difference between life and death and the future of the Jewish nation.

Quite literally.

Rabbi Zecharia Wallerstein zt"l

Never Give Up

In my early days as a rebbe at the yeshiva of Mill Basin, I had a student named Rafi who lost his mother, and had a father who was not part of his life. As a result, his older sister took care of him. After middle school, he went to a couple of high schools, where he was thrown out, until he landed in one that suited him well. But as he progressed beyond high school in yeshiva, he struggled. He didn’t really find much satisfaction or purpose to it, and in time, left yeshiva and moved on with his life in other ways.

Five years later, his sister was getting married and I attended. As I arrived and kept an eye out for Rafi, I saw him sitting on his Harley Davidson motorcycle in front of the wedding hall. Soon thereafter, we walked right into another. “Rabbi!” he said exuberantly, “what’s up!” I took a good look at him, noticing his leather jacket with the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club logo embossed on the back, tattoos all around, a full ponytail and rubber band holding his beard together, his wallet chained to his pocket and a few piercings hanging on his ears. He was a real biker in the full sense and scope of the word.

“Rafi, how are you doing!” I yelled back. I immediately began regretting that I hadn’t stayed in touch with him. He was a student I had really loved and invested in, and I felt badly not having kept up with him. “I got to show you something!” he said. I wasn’t sure what he could show me at a wedding hall, but I went along with it.

He began taking off his jacket and rolling up his sleeve. And then I saw them. Tattoos stretching from his wrist to shoulder, a graphic illustration of all the interests and pursuits that meant something to him.

But then he rolled up his left sleeve. “No tattoos Rebbe,” he said, staring right at me. “What’s with this, Rafi?” I curiously asked. “You remember when I was in your class and you brought tefillin for everyone to put on? That day, I brought my grandfather’s tefillin with me. I still remember that day. So, when I was in the tattoo parlor, I started thinking that it would really make my grandfather and Hashem happy if I didn’t put tattoos on my left arm, where I put my tefillin on.”

There was not one tattoo on his left arm.

For the next few years, I told this story to my eighth grade classes every year, and always, without fail, it inspired and touch them.

But it didn’t end there.

Years later, I received a call. It was coming from Florida and I wasn’t expecting anyone to reach out to me from there, but I still picked up. “Hi, is this Rabbi Wallerstein?” “Yes, it is.” “This is Rafi’s sister.” As soon as I heard those words, my heart dropped. I had lost a few students that year in car accidents and to cancer, and I knew those words coming from a relative of my student generally meant bad news.

“You remember my brother, Rafi?” she asked. Immediately, I placed my hand against my forehead, reminding myself how I had not stayed in touch. “Yeah, I do, what’s going on?” “My brother,” she went on, “got married a year and a half ago. He was thirty-eight.” I still wasn’t sure where she was going with this, my inkling being that she was about to share some saddening news.

“He just had a baby boy and held a bris today.” I was super surprised to hear that. “Is his wife Jewish?” I never envisioned Rafi marrying a Jew, by the way he had been living his life for years. “Jewish?!” his sister shot back. “Are you kidding me? He’s building the Jewish community in Plantation, Florida. He’s one of the main guys!” “He’s frum and keeps Shabbos?” I continued to ask. I still couldn’t wrap my head around it.

“One hundred percent!” “Wow…” I was stunned. I asked for his number, figuring that I would give him a call as soon as I could. “Rabbi Wallerstein, I have to tell you something else.” At this point, I knew it. Now I would hear the news.

“He named his son Zechariah.” I knew she was referring to me and my name. “But I’m alive?” “I know, and we’re telling everyone that Rafi just likes the name. But, in truth, so you know, he named him Zechariah after you. And he did so because you never gave up on him.”

Sometimes, all it takes for someone to transform a life is believing in them. One person never, ever giving up on them and having unrelenting optimism that they have what it takes.

Think about all the people you know. All the faces of family and friends who find a place in your life and room in your heart. And then ask yourself if you are ready and willing to fuel them forward and positively shape their future.

At the very heart of it all, it takes deep belief.

And with that, these individuals will look to the person who communicated such confidence in them and never gave up, and will thank them from the bottom of their heart.  

And that person they’ll be looking at and thanking … is you.

Picture of newsletter
100% free

Subscribe to our Weekly Newsletter

Timely Torah insights, stories, and anecdotes from your favorite TorahAnytime speakers, delivered straight to your inbox every week.

Your email is safe with us. We don't spam.