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TorahAnytimes Newsletter Tazria

Apr 13, 2024Parshat Tazria

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik

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Rabbi Zechariah Wallerstein zt”l

The Silent Hero

I once heard the following story, which was confirmed to be entirely true. The man, in fact, who relayed it knew the individuals involved.

Before the Holocaust, the vast majority of families were very poor. There was the occasional exception, but by and large, the Jews were peasants with close to no money. One known family in Poland was a bit more well off than others. Though not rich, the father decided to purchase a pair of boots for his son to make it through the cold winter months. In those days, under such otherwise impoverished conditions, a pair of boots was a gift above and beyond. The father knew that his son would gain a lot of good use from them, and wear them through until they were worn out on every stitch.

And so he did. The father bought the pair of boots for his son, and off he went to school. Two days later, the son returned from school wearing his shoes. His boots were not on his feet nor in his knapsack. “Meir, where are your new boots?” “Well, there is a boy in my class and his father died, and they have no money and no food. His shoes have big holes in them, and my shoes don’t, so I gave him my boots.” Hearing this, the father didn’t know what to do. Should he tell his son to ask for his boots back? That wouldn’t be a great lesson in chinuch (educating his son). But to allow his son to so easily forego a new pair of boots was not a simple matter. Money was short and hard to come by, and the decision to buy his son these boots had made sense because his son could really use them. What was he to do?

After thinking it over for some time, he decided that he’d say nothing. On his own, his son would come to weigh the value of his own actions and see their merit. Every time it would be cold and his feet would be freezing and wet, he’d remember the chesed he did by giving up his shoes. That action would mean something to him, whether positive or negative, and the father awaited what lesson it would be for his son.

The following year, the father bought a new coat for his son. The winter months had rolled around once again, and a nice, warm coat would do the job of staving off the bitter cold. A few days later, though, the son returned with no coat. “Where’s your coat, Meir?” asked his father. “Remember the boy I gave my boots to? He’s freezing, and I have a coat from last year, so I gave him my new one.” At this point, the father began growing curious. It was one thing for his son to give away his boots, but now his coat? But what was he to do? He knew he didn’t have the money to buy another coat.

But that was that. Just like he had done with the pair of boots, he’d do with the coat. He’d let his son be. And he was. His son layered himself up with several sweaters and walked around that way.

One day, the son returned home and told his father the following. “The boy I gave my boots and coat to just lost his mother and he doesn’t have a place to sleep. He has no parents. Could he stay with us?” Immediately, the father thought of all the implications and ramifications of opening his home to this orphaned boy. There was minimal space in their house and, moreover, they didn’t have enough money to support another child. “That I can’t do, Meir. Maybe you can find someone else in the class who can do so? We don’t have any room.”

Later that night, the son was nowhere to be found. He had left the house earlier in the afternoon, but he never returned. The father, as the minutes ticked by, turned more and more nervous. It was Poland and it was dark outside! “Where could he be?” wondered the father over and over. Had his son been kidnapped? It wasn’t a far-off possibility, however dreadful the thought was. Perhaps something had happened at school and it had bothered him, so much so that he wanted to be alone. With these thoughts swirling in his mind, the father along with a small group of other neighborhood families began looking for him.

Until the father found him. The boy had been in the Ezras Nashim (women’s section) of the shul, sleeping on a bench together with the other boy whose mother had died. He didn’t want the boy to sleep alone.

Fast forward to years following the Holocaust …

Both boys survived, with the boy who had given the boots and jacket away moving to Israel, and the other boy whose mother died immigrating to America. The latter boy in America wound up becoming very wealthy, whereas the former boy ended up studying for several years in yeshiva and becoming well-learned. He also was blessed with a large family. That being said, he lived in a relatively small apartment in Israel.

One day, in walked a wealthy American to the yeshiva where the other now grown man was learning. Remembering what had happened many years before, the American inquired if his old childhood friend was around? He indeed was. Being pointed in the direction of where he was studying, the American approached the man. Introducing himself, the American reminded the Israeli man who he was. “Remember, many years ago… we used to attend at the same school? You bought me a pair of boots and a jacket. You remember that one time when you kept me company at night, and your father found us…?” “I can’t believe it!” exclaimed the Israeli man. “I’ve thought many times about you. I didn’t know if you’d make it out of the war, and here you are now!” “Come outside,” then said the American. “I want to talk to you.”

“I knew that you were alive and living here. And I came here to tell you something. But I must preface my words by letting you know that I am not taking no for an answer. You have nine children, and I am going to pay for their nine weddings. Not only that, but all of the clothing for these weddings is on me. You gave me your boots and you gave me your coat. In addition, I will buy every one of your children an apartment when they get married because of that night you came to join me in the shul and you didn’t let me sleep alone. I am never going to let you be alone.”

This man did exactly as he said he would. For nine weddings, everything was covered, including the wedding attire and apartment.

Now, you hear this and think, “Wow, what an amazing story!” But I want to tell you something that hit me when I thought about this. What is incredible about this story is not what you might think it is. What’s incredible comes back down to the father of the boy who gave away the boots and coat. Had the father made his son retrieve the boots, all that happened never would have. The father understood what education to a child means. Even though he just bought him a pair of boots and he gave it away, if he would have told him to take them back and not to share, what would have been gained? The few dollars that he spent.

Now how much does a pair of boots cost? Let’s just say ten dollars. And what about a coat? Fifty dollars. So this father lost sixty dollars in total. He feels bad that he bought boots and a coat for his child when money is limited, and he lost it all because his son gave it to a friend. It would certainly be a lot of money in those days. But what did Hashem give him back? Hundreds of thousands of dollars, perhaps even millions.

Think about it. You give away sixty dollars and get over a million in return. Now that’s a very different picture when you think of it this way. Why did the father do this? Because he understood that chinuch (educating a child) comes before personal wants and needs. The immediate, natural reaction might be, “Don’t give away the boots I especially got for you!” But this father took an entirely different route. He lived for something bigger than himself. He had Hashem and the Torah in his life, and that led the way to educating his son in a way that perhaps was less conventional.

But less conventional sometimes means more impactful.

The boy did an incredible act of kindness. But as it goes for the father, he would often be overlooked in this story. But when you really think about it, he is the true, quiet, silent hero.

Silent literally and silent figuratively, but loud and clear in the Heavens Above.

 

Rebbetzin Chaya Sora Gertzulin

Listen to Your Messages

Pesach. A night of recalling the miracles of our past, and recognizing the miracles in our lives today.  The words “b’chol dor vodor, in every generation and generation” appear twice in the Haggadah, reminding us that while we may be experiencing times of darkness, the miracles continue. HaShem is with us.

B’chol dor vodor, In every generation and generation, “omdim aleinu l’chaloseinu, they rise against us to annihilate us, v’HaKodosh Boruch Hu matzileinu me’yadam, HaShem rescues us from their hands.”

Later in the Haggadah, we are also told to feel as if we, ourselves left Mitzrayim, “B’chol dor vodor chayav odom lir’os ess atzmo k’ilu hu yotzo me’Mitzrayim”. Miracles past and present, merge into one.

Each one of us, in our own way, has a Mitzrayim. A challenge, a difficulty. But know that HaShem is there, helping us, then and now. Seder night is a night of sharing our miraculous, magical history. “V’higgadeta l’vincha, And you shall tell it to your children.” A time for family to sit around the table. It is a night to cherish the children. A night when parent and child together share stories, divrei Torah, and the melodious songs of the Haggadah. A night to continue the chain, link by link.

 The very name of the yom tov, “Pesach”, alludes to that. Peh, meaning mouth, sach, meaning to speak. Pesach is about finding our mouth, our voice and learning how to truly speak about our nation’s history. To transmit the story of our people from Egypt to Sinai, from cruel slavery to sweet freedom, culminating with HaShem’s gift of our eternal Torah.

The Seder table has room for the Arba Banim, the Four Sons. Each one different, yet, each one has his own place, each one has his own question, and each one is given an answer. In this spirit, I think of the little ones at the Seder, and the flavor they add to the table. Songs they learned in pre-school… “Frogs here, frogs there, frogs jumping everywhere.” Another favorite is “Pharaoh in pajamas in the middle of the night”. A song depicting Pharaoh, running through the streets of Mitzrayim, calling out “Moshe, Moshe, you can go now”. Even while Mitzrayim was suffering from the makkos, Pharoah put on pajamas. He got into bed. He went to sleep. Only when the situation became intolerable, did he get up and seek out Moshe, “Vayokom Pharaoh lailah, and Pharaoh rose in the middle of the night.” (Shemos 12:30). Rashi comments “me’mitoso, from his bed”. We may ask, from where else does one rise in the middle of the might? Rashi is bringing out an important point. Pharaoh had no qualms about going to sleep as his country was burning. As the pasuk tells us, “Ain bayis asher ain shom meis, there was not a house that was free from death.”

I think of the Chofetz Chaim, who during World War II did not rest in his bed. I think of my own grandmother, my father’s mother, Chaya Sora hy”d, after whom I am named. When her son, Yosef Dov hy”d, was forced into the Hungarian army, she wouldn’t get into her bed, but would sit on her chair, night after night, reciting Tehillim and crying over the devastation befalling Am Yisroel at that time. My father would plead with her to go sleep, but to no avail. She would say, “How can I sleep, how can I get into a bed, when my Yosef Dov is not here.”

Today, we must ask ourselves that very same question. How can we rest, how can we go to sleep, when the Jewish world is on fire. A war in Eretz Yisroel, Anti-Semitic attacks all around us, threats to our physical existence that we have not seen since the Holocaust.

Unlike Pharaoh, we are not a nation that gets comfortable in bed, while our brothers and sisters are in pain. Everyone, each one of us, in our own way, is in “miluim”, reserves. Each one of us is doing what we can. From those on the frontlines, to those taking on extra Torah learning, increased concentration in tefilla, being more meticulous in the observance of mitzvos, doing more chesed and giving more tzedaka. All for the sake of Am Yisroel.

Each of the plagues came with a message to Pharaoh and the Egyptians. Messages they chose to ignore.  

Dom – blood. The Egyptians shed the blood of Bnei Yisroel… the Egyptians’ water turned to blood. Tz’fardaya – frogs. The Egyptian taskmasters croaked orders to Bnei Yisroel… now, they heard frogs croaking. Kinim – lice. Bnei Yisroel were subjected to deplorable living conditions, bringing on lice, vermin, etc.… the Egyptians were treated to a lice infestation of their own. Orov – wild beasts. Bnei Yisroel were forced to collect wild animals for the Egyptian circuses… now wild animals filled the streets, roaming and attacking Egyptians at will. Dever – pestilence. Egyptians stole sheep and cattle from Bnei Yisroel… now, their cattle became ill and perished. Sh’chin – boils. Bnei Yisroel were forced to collect and heat water for Egyptian bathhouses… the Egyptians became covered with boils, wounds that made it painful to bathe. Borod – hailstones. Egyptians threw stones at the Jewish people… now, hailstones rained down upon them. Arbeh – locusts. Bnei Yisroel were forced to scrounge for their own food in the field… a swarm of locusts attacked the Egyptian fields. Choshech – darkness. As slaves, Bnei Yisroel were confined, deprived of the liberty to move about as they pleased… during the plague of darkness, the Egyptians were locked in place. Makas B’choros – plague of the firstborn. Pharaoh ordered all newborn baby boys to be cast into the river… now a plague causing the death of the firstborn sons of Egypt.

Defying all logic, Pharaoh chose time and time again to ignore these messages. Not only when he was warned, but even when they actually happened. Today, let’s look at messages HaShem is sending us. Just think, a war that started on Shabbos, perhaps a message to elevate our Shabbos, to appreciate this special gift from HaShem. A tragedy that occurred on Simchas Torah. Perhaps a message to increase our Torah study, to find fulfillment in observance of mitzvos. 

In that z’chus, may it be this year, when we open the door for Eliyahu Hanavi, we should hear news of the geula, the final redemption. May we see the realization of L'Shana Haba'ah B'Yerushalayim, Next Year in Yerushalayim.

Rabbi Yossi Bensoussan

Daughter of Dignity

I coined what I like to call the “Bubby System.” My grandmother was living years ago in a nursing home in Brooklyn, and one Friday afternoon, my sister went to visit her. As she walked into her room, surprisingly, she noticed my father was already there. My father, a Torah scholar in his own right, was seated near my grandmother, who in her later years had trouble seeing and would often have tremors in her hands. But he wasn’t there to just say hello or catch up with her and tell her how the family was doing. He was there putting on her makeup for Shabbos.

My sister, seeing this, was taken aback. If you knew who our father was to us, the last thing we’d expect was to catch him putting makeup on someone. “Abba, what are you doing?” asked my sister. “This is a dignified woman. She’s not meeting the Shabbos Queen looking like this,” he said. He then continued applying her makeup.

My grandmother was a woman who lived and breathed dignity. She wasn’t someone who wanted to put makeup on for Shabbos because she needed to look dazzling for others. Real dignity isn’t about external appearances and impressions at all. It’s when you do something that is perhaps uncomfortable, difficult or you are bound to be made fun of, yet you still do it because it needs to be done. The Beit Yosef, cited at the outset of the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 1:1), writes that there are times when exhibiting boldness is necessary, and those times are when you are being mocked in the performance of mitzvot, of G-d’s commandments. Dignity leverages you above those petty comments, it raises you a notch above what people think about you to do what you know needs to be done.

My other grandmother too was an exemplary model of dignity. I met her in Israel when she was older, and not once would you find her—even when she was sick in the hospital—not looking her best. Her mitpachat (headscarf) was always situated just right. She understood what it means to be a dignified woman; what it means to be special.

Every time Rav Shlomo Freifeld zt”l would talk to his rebbe, even on the phone, he would talk standing up and be wearing his jacket. He knew that it meant to act with kavod, honor, toward others. What about the fact that his rebbe wasn’t around to see him standing up for him? How is it showing respect if his rebbe couldn’t see the respect being afforded him?

Dignity of oneself and respect of others is far bigger than acting a certain way around and toward other people. It’s about ourselves. It’s not about being dignified in front of others. Rabbi Yitzchak Berkovits has said more than once that you can discover the spirit of human dignity from the fact that even a person who is alone in his home still closes the door when he uses the restroom. No one may be around, but that doesn’t matter. It’s about dignity, and dignity needs no other people to shine.

We stand a certain way, we carry ourselves as we do, and yet we don’t need the world to know who we are. We don’t need the world to know who we are from the way we dress. We affect the world who we are through the way we dress. And there’s a very big difference. Dignity is about oneself; no one else.

Whether you are away from home or in the privacy of your room, dignity comes down to yourself. It’s a personal decision, and one which hallmarks the Jewish soul and spirit.

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