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TorahAnytimes Newsletter Ki Tavo

Parshat Ki Tavo

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik


"The TorahAnyTimes" Newsletter

Parashat Ki Tavo                                                                        Print Version
21 Elul, 5782 | September 17, 2022

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik

Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair

The Last Circumcised King

King Charles III and I don’t have a lot in common. And even though as a child, I remember strongly identifying with him, I realized pretty soon that the silver spoon in his mouth was considerably more silvery than mine. We do have one similarity, though. We're both circumcised. King Charles and before him, the sons of George V –  Edward VIII, the Duke of Windsor; George VI; Henry, Duke of Gloucester; George, Duke of Kent; and Prince John were all circumcised.

Now, legend has it that Queen Victoria believed that she was descended from King David and thus commanded her family to be circumcised. Now, whether this is true or not, in December 1948, Rabbi Dr. Joseph Snowman was invited to Buckingham Palace to circumcise Prince Charles. In fact, circumcision was widely performed on British middle and upper class male infants from the 1890s through the 1940s.

Things have changed a bit since then.

In 2010, activists against infant circumcision began an initiative to put a measure on San Francisco's November 2011 ballot that would ban all non-medically necessary circumcisions of minors. The group also published a rabidly anti-Semitic comic about a “superhero who battles circumcisions.”

Hermann Rauschning in his book Gespräch mit Hitler, published in English as “Hitler Speaks,” writes that Hitler said to him, “Conscience is a Jewish invention. Like circumcision, it mutilates man.” It's interesting that Hitler linked conscience with circumcision. Conscience requires us to think about the consequences of our actions, to focus on the future and not the present. The body's interest is only the present. The place of the circumcision, brit milah, is the place from which our future flows.

The Hebrew name for the womb is rechem. You can rearrange the letters of rechem to read machar, which means tomorrow. The word in Hebrew for circumcision is Brit Mila. But it also means a covenant. Avraham Avinu made a brit, a covenant, with God. And in this covenant, Avraham dedicated everything he would ever be to his future, his progeny, and their progeny, throughout all the generations to God. And God, so to speak, dedicated His future, everything that He would ever be in this world, to come about through Avraham. Avraham Avinu and his children, the Jewish people.

Rabbi Zecharia Wallerstein zt”l
The End of the Story

Many years ago, well before I opened the Ranch at Bethel, a girl by the name of Rachel called me one Thursday morning and mentioned that she was working at a center with kids using equestrian therapy. She loved the kids and loved the work with horses, but also knew that the environment was not one suitable for a Jewish girl. She was torn as what to do.

As soon as she started detailing what exactly was going on, it became crystal clear that she needed to get out right away. It was a toxic and dangerous environment. But it was hard for Rachel to pull away, especially after she held a contract with the agency and felt a deep sense of responsibility to the kids and staff. She’d need to give them notice and enough time to hire someone else. But I wasn’t sure she’d make it that far and remain true to her Jewish identity and mental and emotional health. There are certain times where a clean break is necessary and time is of the essence. This was one of those.

After sensitive deliberation, she made up her mind. She’d leave. It wasn’t by any means an easy decision for her, but it was the right one, and she knew that. She would text her boss that she wouldn’t be continuing to work, not even for one more day, and that was it.

But that didn’t away from the strain and turmoil it caused Rachel.

“This is so hard!” she confided at one point, between her heaving sobs. I knew it to be true. It absolutely was. “You know what Rachel?” I said, giving voice to the bind she found herself in. “What about catching a plane Saturday night and heading to Israel for two weeks? There, you’ll have a complete change of environment and your boss won’t be able to reach you and attempt to convince you to come back.” “Really? Go to Israel?” Rachel was unnerved by this whole situation. Everything was happening so fast and it all seemed so unpredictable.

But, to her credit, she stopped working that very day and never returned the following morning. And just a couple days later, on Sunday, she was in Israel. 

From that point on, we lost touch. All that I kept was her phone number, which was identified under the name ‘Horse Cult’ in my contacts. That had been the issue and had kept me remembering who I was speaking to during our few days of exchanging phone calls.

For years after this, in traveling to various communities, I spoke about the importance of opening a Jewish rehab for girls. There had been Jewish rehab centers opened for boys on the east and west coasts, but nothing for girls. Utah was the primary place they’d be sent. But that needed to change. We needed to have our own rehab center for Jewish girls where they could eat Kosher food and maintain their Jewish identity, along with making strides in their mental and emotional well-being. It was my dream.

One day, I received a call from a friend who mentioned that there was an estate for sale right outside Monsey. It sounded ideal. “The property is eighteen acres, marked by greenery and wildlife, and overseen by a herbologist.” I grew excited at this prospect. “And by the way,” my friend added, “just down the road there is a horse farm and it’s also for sale.” “Wow!” was all I could think to myself. It all sounded like a dream come true. If I could buy the eighteen acres and the horse farm for the girls, this rehab would be a haven for Jewish girls. Everything therapeutic was found there. The one drawback was that there were four properties in between the eighteen acres and the horse farm. But, not deterred, I drove to the estate to take a look.

Arriving there, I was immediately mesmerized by what I saw. It was like heaven on earth. And then I drove down to the horse farm. Once there, a woman led me around, showing me the stables where the horses were kept and the arena where the horses could be ridden. But I remained wondering where any outdoor trail was.

“We have a trail,” she said. I looked around, but saw nothing. “It’s not right here,” she clarified. “Do you know the piece of property nearby that is eighteen acres and run by a herbologist?” “Yeah, I was just there,” I said. “The back of his property and the back of my property are connected.” I paused for a few good seconds. “Can you say that again?” She did, and then it clicked for me. “So if I buy those eighteen acres and this horse farm, I’d have access to a trail and wouldn’t need to buy these four intervening properties?” “That’s right,” she affirmed. I was amazed. Everything seemed to fit perfectly.

And then, suddenly, it hit me. “Oh my,” I mumbled under my breath, barely audible. My mind raced backward, to years and years before. I recalled a girl who lived just outside Monsey, and was working at an equestrian center. But most outstanding of that whole story was her involvement in a dangerous horse cult. Could it be this same one? How many horse farms could there be in this area? The feeling was eerily unnerving.

Stepping aside, I immediately looked through my contacts, found the one named ‘Horse Cult,” and sent a text message: please call me as soon as possible. If it turned out that this adjacent property belonged to the woman in charge of this cult, I wanted nothing to do with it.

For hours, I heard no response, leaving me to figure that the likelihood of it being the same place was slim. However, it still remained in my mind as a possibility and gnawed at me.

Two days later, my phone rang and up on the screen appeared a number from Israel. I wasn’t expecting any call, and was about to defer it to voicemail, when I picked up. “Hi, who is this?” came a woman’s voice. I was confused. Why would someone call me and then ask me who I am? But the woman continued. “You texted me last week. Who are you?” “It’s Rabbi Wallerstein,” I said, without giving much more away. “Rabbi Wallerstein! How are you?” Now, it all came back to me. This was Rachel, the girl whose name was saved as ‘Horse Cult’ on my phone. But I remained unsure about something. 

“I don’t understand, why are you calling me from Israel?” “I never came back,” she said. I couldn’t believe it. “You mean you’ve been there since that Sunday years and years ago?” “Yeah, and I’m doing amazing. It was the best decision of my life!” I couldn’t have been happier to hear this. But then she brought me back to my point of reaching out to her.

By now, my heart was racing. “I have something to ask you. I’m looking to buy an estate and I’m really interested in it. But right next to it there’s an equestrian center, and I know you worked in one and didn’t have a good experience, to put it mildly. I wanted to make sure it’s not the same one.” I raised my eyebrows, hoping her answer would not nix my dream of buying this estate which seemed so idyllic.

“No,” she said. “Are you sure?” I prodded further. “Of course. I remember where I worked. That’s not the place.” I then mentioned the name of the instructor who worked at the equestrian center next to the property I was looking into. “Oh her? She’s amazing!” Rachel enthused. By now, my heart had settled and I was breathing with ease.

And then came my next question.

“Do you plan on ever coming back to America?” “Probably after Pesach,” she speculated. “And you’re really good with horses?” My question was more rhetorical, as I knew she’d been excellent at her work with kids and horses. “Guess what,” I went on. “G-d willing, I’m looking to open up a Jewish rehab for girls where we’d have equestrian therapy, and I’d like you to join our team.” She was through the roof when she heard this news.

As I thought this through, I was amazed by the sheer hashgacha pratis that was guiding it all. Rachel had reached out to me, realizing that her Yiddishkeit was threatened. And knowing this, she went on to make the tough decision of dropping everything she loved and leaving everything she knew to travel away to Israel. With that move, she turned her life around and charted a completely new future, devoted to Hashem and filled with the happiness she went on to experience.

But then again later, as I was on my own course and trajectory of helping Jewish girls in America, G-d orchestrated that Rachel be the one to come on board and live out her love of working with horses and people. Her old passion and dream were revived, except now it would be experienced in a healthy and spiritual way, and she’d be helping her own Jewish sisters.

And she only came on my radar to begin with because she took the initiative to stand by her Judaism years before. That seriousness of devotion is all what it came down to. It launched an unbelievable future for her and brought her around full circle.

No one could have scripted this but G-d. This couldn’t have been planned any other way.

“Look how amazing this all is!” I said to her. “You gave up your job years ago, and with that, you set your life into motion that led you now back here, to where you can work with Jewish girls for the rest of your life.” The realization was incredible.

There is one Parsha in the Torah where the opening words are not indented, but rather “closed off” and immediately positioned after the closing of the previous Parsha. That one section is Parshas Vayechi, in which Yaakov Avinu wished to reveal the end of days and Mashiach’s arrival to his sons, but was withheld from doing so by G-d Who removed his prophetic revelation. For the rest of human history, when Mashiach comes will remain closed off and hidden. There will always be sequences of events which allude to his imminence, but never will we have absolute clarity as to when that day is.

Life operates under these same premises. Of course, Rachel would have wanted to know that if she’d leave her job, it will lead her to a new, bright future. But that’s not how G-d designed for life to work. Hashem doesn’t want us to know the end of the story, because if we did, it would take away from the journey to get there.

And yet, there always is an end to the story. If you do the right thing for the right reason, Hashem will take care of you.

And in this case, Rachel saw just how incredible that end of the story could be.

Rabbi Label Lam
My Light

We have all either heard about or witnessed the unfortunate fallout that can occur when there is a blackout. The looting, the chaos, the wanton destruction. And so, too, when the light of the conscience is dimmed. And therefore Dovid Hamelech says, “Hashem Ori – Hashem is my light.” Without that light of Hashem in our lives, then who knows what can happen inside the human mind? Dovid Hamelech says “Hashem is my light; He saves me. What should I be afraid of?” Without that light, it's a fearful place. But with the light, there's nothing to be afraid of.

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