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TorahAnytimes Newsletter Ki Tisa

Mar 2, 2024Parshat Ki Tisa

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik

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Rabbi Fischel Schachter

Building Blocks

I had the privilege of staying with the Holzer family on the occasion of visiting Melbourne, Australia. During my time there, Mr. Holzer relayed the following to me about his father and his life during the war years.

Forcibly, the Nazis appointed him with the task of going from cemetery to cemetery and breaking apart the graves. The pieces of concrete and stone were needed to fill many gaping holes on roads so that the German trucks could transport soldiers and materials as needed with no issue. It was by no means a job Mr. Holzer wanted to have anything to do with, but he was under duress. Mr. Holzer would smash stones, mix concrete and prepare the cement, all the while despising this job he was given.

Years later, Mr. Holzer wound up in Melbourne, and a discussion arose regarding the rebuilding of the community mikvah. The land to build the mikvah was ready to go, with the structure that was already there arranged for demolition. When Mr. Holzer discovered this, he approached the project managers and asked if he would be able to take care of the demolition himself. “Go for it,” he was told. He did just that.

The skills and techniques developed during those years of demolishing graves and stones during the war all came to the fore. He took an active role in the demolition and rebuilding process, his knowledge of construction and building stemming from those dark and difficult war years now being put to use for the good. “This was my saving grace that gave me life,” he later expressed. Disturbed and distressed over his fate at being tasked to destroy the graves of his own brothers and sisters, it was only much later through this redeeming work of utilizing his understanding of construction that he found a dose of solace and saw the Divine process at work.

In a similar vein, I heard a story from my friend, R’ Yonasan Shippel, who shared with me the following. A stranger once showed up at a particular yeshiva and said, “I’m a retired printer; can I run off the papers you need each day for all your students on the copy machine?” The man looked a bit too old to be a copy boy, but he was insistent. “I’d also like to donate new copy machines, as the machines here are outdated.” Graciously accepting his offer, the fellow helped the yeshiva run off all their papers for many years.

At one point, the man approached the head of the yeshiva and announced he was retiring. “Did we say something wrong?” asked the principal. “No, not at all. I’ll tell you why I want to retire specifically now. Years ago, the Germans made me work in a printing shop and print up all their propaganda. For a long time, what I had done really bothered me. I then went to a rav who told me that I should do exactly the opposite. I should take my understanding and experience of printing and use it for the good. Channel it in the positive and specifically take what had been a bad and bitter experience and let it fuel me toward goodness and holiness. I had a calculation of how long I had worked in the printing shop during the war, and now I have worked for the same number of hours here in the yeshiva. I have redeemed the hours.”

This is the meaning of making a dwelling place for Hashem in this world. The building blocks of your future are your past. When a person realizes that Hashem is with him in his life all along—even if in a hidden way, the likes of the month of Adar and Purim—he can then take his pain and convert it, transform it, and build it into something good. And then something painful and a cause of anguish turns into something meaningful and a cause of blessing.

Rabbi Eli Scheller

The Police Officer

Since Richie was a little boy, he always wanted to be a police officer. When he was two years old already, he would wear his police uniform and tell his parents, “Look, I'm a policeman!” and walk around with his handcuffs. Whenever he went to family gatherings too, he would wear his police uniform. It was to be expected, like every other two-year-old who wants to be a policeman.

But Richie was a little different. Richie turned four years old, six years old, and never lost his dream. At sixteen, he bought an auxiliary police bike, and volunteered for the police. Just like he imagined since he was a little boy, he held onto a walkie talkie, went on calls, and drove around the streets wearing his uniform. When he turned twenty years old, it was time to decide. Was being a police officer just a hobby or a career?

Fortunately, Richie was invited to a weekend retreat with dozens of police officers, consisting of training exercises and tactical operations. Physically demanding and emotionally taxing, Richie wasn’t sure if he was actually cut out to be an officer.

On his way back from the retreat, driving through the mountain roads and through the rain, his mind fixated on that one question: “Am I going to make this happen or not?”

And then it happened. He wouldn’t remember exactly how, but it happened. Richie saw something on the highway, made a short stop, and then realized. “Oh my goodness… I just hit somebody.” His whole life, he wanted to be a police officer, and now he had just hit somebody.

With the ambulance taking the fellow to the hospital, Richie couldn’t believe it. How did he hit somebody? He couldn't sleep through the night, tossing and turning until seven in the morning. At this point, he had enough. He went back to the hospital and found the head doctor. “How’s the man who came in last night?” “It looks like he's going to survive, but there's another issue. He doesn't remember anything. He can't remember his name.” “Can you just check his pockets? I'm sure he has a license with his name on it.” “He came with nothing,” said the doctor. “No credit card, no license.” “Let me go into the room,” Richie said. “I'll try to jog his memory.”

Hesitantly, Richie began. “I'm the guy who was driving the car.” “Sorry about what?” asked the fellow, confused. “I hit you, and you came to the hospital.” “I don't know what you're talking about.” The man remembered how to talk, but didn't remember anything. “Where are you from?” asked Richie. The man couldn’t remember. “Where did you go to school?” He had no idea.

Unsure what to do, Richie decided on taking out a full-page ad in the newspaper, stating, “If you know this person, please call.” But nobody called. Maybe someone reported him missing in one of the police stations, Richie wondered. Somebody surely knows him. He researched across a 100-mile radius of the accident, but no one reported a relative missing.

A few weeks later, the man was finally ready to go home. The only issue was that he didn't know where to go. Realizing this predicament, Richie knew what he wanted to do. “I caused this, and I think I should bring him to my house,” he thought. So Richie approached the man. “Would you like to stay with me? You have no place to go, and I think we're similar in age.” “Okay,” the man replied, unsure what else to do and going along with whatever he was offered.

So there they were at Richie’s house. Deciding to call him Danny, it was a new and unexpected turn of events, but what else could Richie do? “What am I going to do the whole day?” asked Danny. “I'm trying to be a police officer,” Richie said. “Why don't you be a police officer with me?” Danny, with not much else going on, figured he had nothing to lose.

It was an arduous process that resulted in getting into the police academy. At this point, Richie and Danny began driving in a police cruiser together. Months went by, and even years, until both Richie and Danny became best of friends and moved from one promotion to the next. Soon, the FBI reached out to them both to help with the most wanted criminals.

His name was Scott. Little information had been gathered on him and it had been far more complex a process than anticipated. All that was known was that Scott was part of a gang. Eventually, the leader of the gang was located and contacted, and told that Richie and Danny wanted to find out what Scott was up to. “Meet me at the park at 10:00 p.m.,” the head of the gang said.

The exchange was brief, with the head of the gang providing an envelope with information and the officers providing money.

Back at the office, Richie opened the envelope, and out rolled a picture. Richie instantly froze. It was a picture of Danny. “How could that be?” “What’s the matter, Richie?” asked Danny. Suddenly, it all came back to Richie. Danny, or Scott, was part of the gang and meant to be in jail for the past 25 years. That night when Richie had hit him must have been because he was running away and ran recklessly onto the highway.

Richie looked Danny in the face. “If you're really dedicated to being a police officer and taking bad guys off the street, you should take yourself off the street.” Danny placed his hands behind his back, as Richie put handcuffs on him and slid him into the backseat. “We got him,” Richie said to the FBI.” Arriving at the FBI headquarters, the FBI looked around but came up confused. “Where is Scott? We see Danny, we see Richie, but not Scott.” Richie pointed to Danny. Soon enough, all the information came out.

Months later, a court case was held. It was lengthy and detailed, until it reached close to its finality.

Danny was on the precipice of being charged with over two dozen violations and sentenced to twenty-five years in prison. Until Danny’s attorney said something that would change the course of the case, and alter Danny’s life no less.

“Your honor,” began the lawyer, “for the past ten years, Danny has entirely changed his life. He is no longer the way he was. The man who was Scott is no longer Scott. He’s Danny. I believe that such a life transformation deserves consideration.”

The judge granted the appeal, as Danny went on to serve as a police officer for years.

In life, you can take what has happened and recreate yourself. You can become a different person. Don’t find yourself saying, “I don’t do those things. I can’t do those things.” No, you can recreate yourself today. You can just switch your life around. And when you do that, Hashem forgets your past. Hashem says to you, “You're a different person.”

Rebbetzin Chaya Sora Gertzulin

Intertwined Souls

This week’s parsha, Ki Sisa, tells of the tragic episode of the Eigel HaZahav, the Golden Calf.

Imagine Moshe Rabbeinu, descending from Har Sinai with the Aseres HaDibros. He heard sounds of partying, and sees his beloved people celebrating around the Eigel. Overcome with pain and heartache, Moshe casts the Luchos, shattering them at the foot of the mountain.

As distraught as he was, Moshe remained first and foremost “Rabbeinu”, the devoted, loving leader of Bnei Yisroel. I think of a dedicated, caring father, painfully aware of his child’s acting up in school. Yet, the father has his son’s back, and stands before the principal on his behalf.

Though disappointed, Moshe was a faithful leader and felt a responsibility towards Bnei Yisroel. A duty that led him to tell HaShem, “If you do not forgive their sin, Macheini nah misifrecha asher kosavta, Erase my name from Your book that You have written.” (Shemos 32:32)

Moshe was not the first one mentioned in the Torah to face devastation. Generations earlier, Noach faced the destruction of the world due to torrential rains and floodwaters.

Two people. Two responses. When Noach learned of the impending flood, he listened to HaShem’s instructions and built a teiva that became a safe haven for him, his family and the various species of animals that he brought inside. While Noach was able to save his family, we do not find that he beseeched HaShem to save the world, to spare his fellow man. Not one prayer.

In contrast, after the sin of the Golden Calf, Moshe stood strong and steadfast before HaShem, asking for compassion and forgiveness on behalf of Bnei Yisroel. He was prepared to forfeit his own honor. A tefilla from the depth of his soul. A tefilla that saved the nation.

The Holy Arizal teaches that there are times when a part of a neshama returns to the world in order to fulfill mitzvos that were not performed properly. A gilgul neshamos, (from the word galgal, meaning a wheel, to come around), a reincarnation of the soul to return with the mission of rectifying past misdeeds.

Chazal teach that Moshe was a gilgul of Noach. We see many connections, an intertwining of the two neshamos. While Noach didn’t daven for the saving of his fellow man, Moshe pleaded and begged for his people.

There are many more soul connections. We find the word teiva used only twice in the Chumash. The teiva that Noach built as a refuge from the flood, and the teiva that Yocheved placed her baby Moshe in. Each teiva was a place of protection, of saving. Noach from the floodwaters, Moshe from the decree of Pharaoh – to throw every Jewish baby boy into the river. In both cases, the saving was from water.

In Noach’s time, it rained forty days and forty nights. Moshe was on Har Sinai for forty days and forty nights. Within Noach’s teiva, there was a tzohar, a source of light. And when Moshe was born, Rashi quotes the Gemara in Sotah that the home of Amram and Yocheved became illuminated with light. Furthermore, when Moshe received the Torah, his face radiated a Keren Ohr, a mystical, spiritual light.

Another parallel between Moshe and Noach is in Moshe’s plea, macheini, erase my name. The Hebrew spelling of macheini is mem, ches, nun, yud. One can rearrange the order of the letters to form the phrase mei Noach, the waters of Noach (mem, yud and nun, ches). Additionally, if we examine the Hebrew letters of macheini, we find Noach’s name within it, albeit, reversed (ches, nun). This signifies that Noach had it all backwards. He sought favor in HaShem’s eyes by doing only what he was told, doing for himself, and nothing more. He missed what it was all about, that HaShem wants us to be there for others.

Noach worked on his teiva for one-hundred-twenty years. Moshe lived to one-hundred-twenty. Finally, the Torah (Bereishes 9:20) refers to Noach as an Ish Ha-adama, a man of the earth, while Moshe was called an Ish HaElokim, a man of HaShem (Devarim33:1).

The Lubavitcher Rebbe teaches that though our neshama is a gilgul of a previous neshama, mitzvos whose observance was performed properly in a previous lifetime, come easy to us to fulfill. It is the mitzvos that were found to be difficult to observe in a previous lifetime, that we, as a gilgul, are now given the opportunity to rectify.

My mother would tell a story she heard from her zeide, Rav Zvi Hirsch Cohen zt”l. It was about the rov of Chernovitz, whose son had a rebellious streak. After much deliberation, members of the community decided that the rov must be told that his son should leave town, as he was a negative influence upon the youth of the village. A group was chosen to speak to the rov.

It was before Rosh HaShana. The delegation went to the rov’s home, where the gabbai asked them to please wait a bit, as the rov was davening in an adjoining room.

Suddenly, they heard the rov crying, pleading to HaShem. “HaShem, please find love, kindness and compassion for all of Klal Yisroel. They’re Your children. Please, love them and bless them. And, if you ask, who am I to say this, I will say that I have a son who falls and stumbles on Your path, who sometimes is very distant. But if someone would come and say ‘send him away’, I would fight for my son and not listen.”

Without saying a word, the contingent rose and left the rov’s home.

As Moshe looked beyond the misdeeds of Bnei Yisroel and pleaded with HaShem for forgiveness, so too should we look beyond the wrongs of others and be accepting and understanding. And, as HaShem forgave Bnei Yisroel, so too should we follow His ways, and be forgiving of others.


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