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TorahAnytimes Newsletter Ekev

Parshat Ekev

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik


"The TorahAnyTimes" Newsletter

Parashat Ekev                                                                              Print Version
23 Av, 5782 | August 20, 2022

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik

Rabbi Zecharia Wallerstein zt”l
Don’t Stop, Don’t Drop

I’d like to share with you a story that moved me deeply, taken from Chicken Soup for the Soul in the Classroom: Middle School Edition and written by Chick Moorman. I wish I had done this with my own eighth grade students years ago. Perhaps now, you will be able to implement it with your own students and children, and help make a profound difference in their lives.

Donna was a fourth grade teacher at a small school in Michigan. One day, she assigned her class the following project.

They were to fill a piece of paper with thoughts and ideas and place it in their notebook or binder. In specific, these thoughts were to be about things each student believed they could not do. With these instructions in place, the students got to work.

Some time later, the students’ papers had been filled. One student wrote, “I can’t kick the soccer ball past second base. I can’t do long division with more than three numerals. I can’t get Debbie to like me.” Another student had put down, “I can’t do ten push-ups. I can’t hit the ball over the left-field fence. I can’t eat only one cookie.”

The teacher too was completing this assignment herself. She had written, “I can’t get John’s mother to come in for a PTA meeting. I can’t get my daughter to put gas in her car. I can’t get my son Allen to use words instead of fists.”

At this point, all the students had finished. Donna then continued with her instructions. “Fold your papers, bring them up to the front and place them in this empty shoe box.” All the students followed along. And then Donna headed to the classroom’s door. “Now follow me,” she said. Out into the hallway she went, where she and her students made their way straight to the janitor’s closet.

Halfway down the hall, she opened the closet, rummaged around, and there she found it. A shovel. With now a shovel in one hand and a shoe box in the other, she marched outside to the farthest corner of the playground, alongside her students. And there, the students began to dig.

They were to bury their papers stating everything they couldn’t do.

It took quite a few minutes, as all the fourth graders wanted a turn, until a nice sized hole had been made. The box, stuffed with all the papers written by the students, was then placed at the bottom of the ditch and covered with dirt. Thirty-one fourth graders stood around the gravesite, each of them having at least one page of “I can’ts” now buried underground.

Donna then spoke up. “Boys and girls, gather around in a circle and stand with your heads bowed. The students followed along, positioning themselves close to one another, the gravesite situated in the center. And then they lowered their heads, as Donna began the eulogy.

“Friends, we have gathered today to honor the memory of ‘I can’t. While he was with us on earth, he touched the lives of everyone, some more than others. His name had been mentioned in every public building, every school, and throughout the state halls, city capitals, and homes and rooms in our country. Now, we have provided “I can’t” with a final resting place and a headstone.

“He is survived by his brother and sister – ‘I can’ and ‘I will. But they are not as known as their famous relative, ‘I can’t.’ Perhaps one day, with your help, they will make an even bigger mark on the world. May ‘I can’t’ rest in peace and may everyone present pick up their lives and move forward in his absence. Amen.”

These students would never forget this day. The activity was symbolic of life. Writing “I can’t,” burying it and delivering a eulogy drove a powerful message into the hearts and minds of every student.

But Donna wasn’t done yet.

As the eulogy concluded, she led the students back to the classroom. And there, they held a celebration with cookies, popcorn and fruit juices. As part of the celebration, the teacher cut out a large tombstone, wrote the words “I can’t” at the top, added “Rest in Peace” in the middle, and included a date at the bottom.

The paper tombstone hung on the teacher’s classroom’s wall for the rest of the year. On that few occasions when a student forgot and said that they can’t, Donna simply pointed to the tombstone. The student then remembered that “I can’t” was dead and chose to rephrase themselves.

Years later, whenever these students heard those words “I can’t,” they’d see images of that funeral and remember that “I can’t” is dead.

There is no such thing as “I can’t.” There is “I won’t” or “I don’t,” but not “I can’t.” I remember this growing up.

My father was in the marines, and in the home he raised our family, the message of the above story rang true. There was no such thing as “I can’t.”

My father’s first real experience as a solider in the U.S. Army was in Savannah, Georgia. In the scorching heat and surrounded by murky swamps, my father needed to carry an eighty pound backpack for twenty six miles. My father was very slender and didn’t have a strong frame that would make it easy to carry something heavy so far. Lifting it and remaining at a standstill was a feat. To carry it for miles and miles was something else.

“There’s something else I should tell you,” added the General. “As you make your way through the swamps to your destination, remember the deadly crocodiles and venomous snakes. You might meet one of them. So we have a saying: ‘Where you drop is where you stop.’ Be mindful of this. We will not pick you up and we will not carry you. Where you give up and drop to your knees, that will be where you stay.

“It was my first time carrying eighty pounds,” my father recounted. “I completed the twenty six miles, through moments I was wide awake and half asleep. At any point I felt like giving up, I reminded myself, ‘Where you drop is where you stop.’ I thought that for sure there is no way I could do it. But I was wrong. There was no such thing as ‘I can’t.’”

Such is true of our physical life and its challenges. But he same can be said of our spiritual struggles too. Sometimes, we must carry an eighty pound backpack, despite us feeling way too overwhelmed and fatigued. “I can’t!” you’ll shout. “I just can’t do it!” When you say that, remember the above. Where you drop is where you stop.

We must bury the “I can’t” in our lives and believe that whatever we set our minds to, we can make it. Every neshama is part of G-d, and He’s blown that into our bodies to give us life. We are therefore part of G-d. And there’s one thing about G-d that we must always remember: He doesn’t have the words “I can’t” in His vocabulary. He buried that a while ago. There is nothing in the world that G-d says “I can’t” to. And that part of G-d exists in all of us individually and as a nation.

We are a people that is stiff-necked. But with that, the first words we ever said to G-d as a nation were, “Naaseh v’nishma – We will do and we will hear.” Naaseh is an affirmative. I can. I will do it.  That is who we are as a people. Relentless, unstoppable, always moving. G-d saw in us a nation who all said, “We can.”

Even if your backpack is bigger than you, put it on and march onward. You’ll make it. There isn’t “I can’t.”

You will.

Rebbetzin Chaya Sora Gertzulin
My Mother

It is hard to believe that it’s already six years since the petirah of my beloved mother, Rebbetzin Esther Bas HaRav Avraham HaLevi, a”h. Ima was – and through her teachings continues to be – my light and my inspiration. It was Ima whom I turned to for advice and a listening ear. No matter how busy Ima was, there was always time for us.

During times of need, how reassuring it was to hear my mother’s voice. “Chaya Sorale, sheifeleh, everything will be okay. My Tehillim is already open.”Every visit, every phone call, ended with words of berachah. “Let me give you just one more berachah.” Ima always knew what was in our hearts, and the words we needed to hear.

How I miss her berachos.

It is said that the Shabbos of the week in which one is niftar is reflective of their life. Ima was nifteres during the week of Parshas Eikev. The messages of Eikev were Ima’s life messages to us.

“V'hayah eikev tishma'un…, And it will be, if you will listen to my mitzvos…” (Devarim 7:12). The Or HaChaim teaches that the word “v’hayah – and it will be” connotes simchah, happiness. Teaching us to live our lives doing HaShem’s mitzvos with joy.

My mother learned the importance of simchah when she was just a little girl in Bergen-Belsen.  My Zeide zt”l told her that she had an important job – to smile. To smile even in the most difficult of times. Zeide explained that as a little girl with a smile on her face, she can warm another’s heart, even if it’s for but a fleeting moment.

That smile, that simchah, stayed with my mother always.

Year later, my mother was speaking at Oxford University. When she opened to questions, a young woman asked: “Rebbetzin, you are always smiling. Does your smile start on your lips, or does it start in your heart?” What a question, my mother thought. She shared that her life was not always easy, but she smiled through it, and that smile, that started on her lips brought happiness to her heart.

Rabbi Nachman of Breslov teaches, “Mitzvah gedolah l’hiyos b’simchah tamid, it is a great mitzvah to always be in a state of joy.” Tamid – always, not just during the easy times, but no matter how challenging a situation may be, one should strive to be joyous.

The Hebrew letters of the word b’simchah, meaning with simchah, can be rearranged to spell the word machshavah, thought. The Baal Shem Tov teaches that yes, we do have the power to think ourselves happy.

The word eikev means heel. We only have to take the first step. Make the first move, and HaShem will help with the rest. My mother was never intimidated to take the initiative. She always had emunah that HaShem will help.

Stacy was a young woman, living alone, with no one to turn to. When she was diagnosed with cancer, her friend reached out to my mother and asked if the Rebbetzin could visit Stacy. Ima never met Stacy, but she was a fellow Jew in a time of need. Thus began their visits together, with Ima giving Stacy berachos and words of chizuk.

When Stacy began losing her hair, my mother saw a need for a good wig, and did something about it.

After a few phone calls to several sheital dealers, one of them offered to provide a free wig to Stacy. Ima now had the wig to take along on her next visit. When I asked Ima who would style it, my mother answered, “HaShem has His ways of making everything work out.”

That week, when my mother went to visit Stacy, she found herself waiting for the elevator alongside a young woman.

Always friendly, my mother struck up a conversation. “Hello, how are you?”  “I’m fine”, replied the woman, “and how are you?” My mother answered as she always did, “Baruch HaShem”. “What does that mean? I never heard that before.” Ima explained that that’s how Jewish people respond. “Baruch HaShem. Thank G-d. Thank G-d I’m alive. Thank G-d for another day.”

As they entered the elevator, Ima explained that she was a Torah teacher, a Rebbetzin, on her way to visit someone. “And what do you do?” asked my mother.

“I’m a hair stylist.”As soon as my mother heard those words, her eyes lit up. It didn’t take very long for Ima to explain the reason for her visit, and that the stylist was exactly who was needed at that very moment. And so, Stacy got a professional styling for her new wig.

We only have to take the first step. HaShem does the rest.

From the youngest age, we were raised with the understanding of where we came from, and what our responsibilities were to continue that chain. Our home wasn’t decorated with Judaic artwork or abstract murals, but with beautiful paintings of our zeides, reflecting their hadras panim, shining faces with majestic countenance. “Remember who your zeides are”, was a message that Ima told us, time and time again.

My mother would bring along to all our family simchos bags filled with seforim authored by our zeides. As Pirkei Avos teaches, “Dah mei’ayin bosoh, u’le’an atah holech, Know from where you came, and to where you are going.” What an important message: If we know from where we come, if we appreciate our past, we will have direction in life for ourselves and our future generations.

Our zeides’ seforim were always given a place of honor on the head table, to constantly remind us of where we came from – whom our ancestors were. “Eikev” – a responsibility to follow in the footsteps of our zeides and bubbas.

Ima, every Friday night, as I light the Shabbos candles, I think of you. How you would light a candle and recite a special tefillah for each child, for each grandchild and great-grandchild. How you would daven for Am Yisroel and Eretz Yisroel. You would have tears in your eyes as you said special tefillos for us all.

Ima, I know you are now in a lofty place in Gan Eden. That you are standing before the Kisei HaKavod, the Heavenly Throne, continuing to do what you did throughout your lifetime – davening for us all.

May the day come soon when HaShem will say to you, as He said to Rochel Imeinu, “Min’i koleich mi’bechi v’einayich m’dimah… Cease your voice from weeping, your eyes from tearing,” (Yirmiyahu 31:15)

May we merit to see the coming of Moshiach, speedily in our days.   

Rabbi Label Lam
A Smart Man

For whatever it's worth, Albert Einstein became the icon of intelligence, the symbol of Jewish genius. I don't know if it was for his work on the atomic bomb or for his theory of relativity. But I can tell you one thing.

When the state of Israel was beginning, he was offered to become the President of the State of Israel. And he declined, saying, “I know a lot about math, and I know a lot about physics. But about politics, I don't know anything. And the Talmud says that a wise man recognizes his place.”

So I don't know whatever else Einstein did to prove his intelligence, but I think that was pretty smart.

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