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TorahAnytimes Newsletter Naso

Jun 15, 2024Parshat Naso

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik

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Rabbi Avi Wiesenfeld

An Unusual Favor

It was soon after the winds of the Holocaust had settled, though the remnants of hardship remained. Families dispersed, hearts ached, lives downtrodden. It was undoubtedly a hard time for many.

It seemed to be just another day for a steady community in America post-war. Until the members of the local shul opened the shul doors and were in for a surprise. A full-scale spread of food and pastries were set out. A three-course lavish meal, dessert included, awaited the entire congregation. They had casually been invited to a siyum the day before, and all assumed that it would be what it usually was. A small sit-down gathering with a few strewn refreshments to accompany the completion of a mesechta (tractate). The congregation members were more than taken aback. What had the man who intended to make the siyum do? Why so luxurious and sprawling?

The man, heading the siyum, took a seat and explained.

“I’d like to take you all back to a time and place years ago. Like many of you, I survived the harsh war years. I remember one particular gentleman who would sleep nearby my own bed, and for some reason unbeknownst to me, I’d always see him mumbling to himself. I figured that given the ravages of such inhuman conditions, he was troubled and he’d gotten into a habit of talking to himself.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

One night, before I turned in for the night, he called my attention and said in a gentle and tender voice. “Young man, I’d like for you to do me a favor.” I didn’t know what I could possibly do for him under our dire circumstances, but I was more than ready to listen. “I’m in the middle of studying Shas. I pretty much know Shas by heart, but there is one mesechta I’m missing—Mesechta Nazir. Please do me a favor. I’m not sure I’m going to make it. I don’t know how much longer I’m going to be alive. When you get out of here alive, could you please learn Mesechta Nazir for me and it will be as if I completed Shas?” When I heard this, I marveled at its sound. Here was a man, in the throes of the darkest place on earth, amidst the most ragged of circumstances, and what was he thinking? What was he worried about and what was his mind focused on? Shas. That’s where he lived, that’s where he breathed. Floored, I promised that I would do so.

The next morning, it was time for roll call. Pushing myself out of my tattered bed, I turned aside and saw it. The old man was motionless, his body lifeless, his soul having departed in the shadows of the night.

I inched myself forward with a heavy feeling, but with poise and purpose. I had a mission to live, a reason to carry on, a purpose to surge forward.

When the war came to an end, it took me some time to rehabilitate myself. But as soon as I felt strong enough, I opened it. I opened the Gemara Nazir and began to soak in the eternal words of our Sages. It was an ethereal experience, touching the soul of the man who handed off to me his dying wish, and for which I vowed to do right on. I pored my mind into the pages of Gemara day after day, with an involvement and investment that transcended the momentary experience. It was larger than me, calling me to carry on the life and legacy of a man whose life was suffused with the word of G-d, the love of G-d, and lived enwrapped with the Divine Torah. I delved into the Gemara in depth, doing my utmost to memorize the pages, just like the old man had done himself. I wanted my learning to mirror his own commitment and dedication and depth of knowledge. No, I wouldn’t learn it quickly or superficially, simply intending to make my way down the page. I’d learn it with enthusiasm and passion and strive to comprehend, master and remember it all.

So this siyum of Mesechta Nazir which you have before you today is more than special. It’s not just the siyum of one mesechta or the siyum of a random man. It is the siyum of Shas and the siyum of a man whose lips moved and heart stirred with the fire of Torah, and to whose merit and memory all the pages and pages he knew will accrue. He knew that the Nazis could strip us of everything we possessed, except one thing: our connection to Torah. The spirit of Torah, the life of our spiritual heritage, that they couldn’t extinguish.”

That was the message of the man who had survived the war. And that was why he was making so elaborate a celebration.

Years ago, I remember giving a talk in Netanya when a man approached me and said, “I must tell you this. I was diagnosed ten years ago with a terminal illness, r”l. At the time, I was down and depressed, and I didn’t know what to do with myself.

“But then I made a deal with G-d. I said, ‘G-d, I’m going to start learning Shas. But not only that, I’m going to start teaching Shas. Since then, I began a Daf Yomi class for older, retired men in Netanya. It’s now been ten years. The doctors gave me a year to live.”

Torah keeps us alive, both physically and spiritually. It is our lifeblood, our life source, the words we wake up to and fall asleep to, and sometimes, even die and pass on to the Next World to.

Rabbi Ephraim Eliyahu Shapiro

Make Peace, Give Life

It was a Motzei Shabbos one winter, and Chaya Cohen has just said goodbye to her mother, as she and two friends began an all-night road trip for a friend’s wedding the following day.

Two hours into the drive, amidst the black ice and treacherous stormy conditions, the car began to skid. A frightening and fearful moment to anyone. Thank G-d, all three girls survived. When the police officer, who only spoke in broken English, relayed the report to Chaya’s mother, he said the following: “Car dead. Miracle from G-d. Daughter not dead.”

Part of the miracle was that the strip of highway these three girls traveled on, there was no barrier to stop them from going over the embankment. Had there been, who knows what would have happened to the car upon impact. Unless coincidence is an eleven-letter name for G-d, it has no place in the life of a Jew, this included.

Now, let’s rewind to Shabbos afternoon.

Mrs. Cohen was taking a nap before Mincha, when she slipped into a dream. In the dream, her mother—who had passed on only recently—came to her. She had rarely seen her mother in a dream since she passed away, but today was one of those exceptional days. She was ornately dressed in white, and she began to freely carry on conversation with Mrs. Cohen. Until suddenly and unexpectedly, Mrs. Cohen’s mother began sobbing uncontrollably. It was too much to bear for Mrs. Cohen, let alone it taking place in a dream.

“You’ve got to call Mrs. Stein!” Mrs. Cohen knew very well who Mrs. Stein was. The Stein family and Cohen family were not friends, to put it mildly. They had gotten embroiled in embittered acrimony and the hostility had remained now for some time. Both families had yet to make inroads for peace and friendship.

“Okay, Mom,” said Mrs. Cohen to her sobbing mother. “I’ll call Mrs. Stein.” But Mrs. Cohen’s mother was forceful. “Promise me that you’ll call her! You must, must do so!” “You have my word,” let on Mrs. Cohen. “I’ll do it.” Only then did Mrs. Cohen’s mother stop crying and begin smiling.

The dream then ended.

Mrs. Cohen awoke to a startle, her mind traveling a mile a minute. She davened Mincha, ate Shalosh Seudos, and then finished Maariv and Havdalah. At this point, with Shabbos over, Chaya and her two friends left on their trip.

Mrs. Cohen, her mind still reeling from the dream, sat down. She first needed to recite some Tehillim to give her strength and encouragement to make the call to Mrs. Stein. It might have seemed simpe to just pick up the phone and dial a number, but there was a lot of water under the bridge, and this was no simple matter.

The call began. “Let’s put it behind us,” said Mrs. Cohen, her voice on the verge of trembling. “Let’s start again. Can we, please?” And then came the two magical words: “I’m sorry.” At the drop of that, Mrs. Cohen and Mrs. Stein became like two old friends rekindling a long-lost friendship, talking, laughing, reminiscing, their sordid history melting away. The impossible wasn’t impossible after all, winked Mrs. Cohen, her mind trailing upward to heaven where her mother reposed.

The time when everything changed between Mrs. Cohen and Mrs. Stein, if the time were to be pinpointed and boiled down, was 8:28 p.m.

A few minutes later, Mrs. Cohen’s phone rang. It was the voice of an officer, a police officer. “Car dead. Miracle from G-d. Daughter not dead.” Those were his words, pale and haunting.

“Officer,” asked Mrs. Cohen, just seconds later, as she composed her. “You took the report down. Please tell me, when did this happen?” A moment of silence held the line. “8:28 p.m., ma’am.”

This story is fact, not fiction.

When you undertake to calm the waves of hurt and hostility and replace them with peace and friendship, you are opening the door for blessing to rain down into your life and the life of your family.

Do it. You won’t regret it.

Rabbi Meyer Bodner

Worth Every Penny

Rav Meir Shimon Birnbaum, son of Rav Shmuel Birnbaum zt”l, shared with me the following.

“My brother has a yeshiva—though it’s not well-known—and he once went around with one other person to collect funds. He came to one man’s home who was an older doctor in New York. He had gone to this man before, and felt that he’d be fortunate again to receive some financial support.

Entering the man’s home, he explained the current financial situation and told the man what he was in need of. “You’re the son of the Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Birnbaum zt”l, right?” Rav Birnbaum nodded. “Yes, that’s my father.” “Wait here,” said the man, as he disappeared into a nearby room in the house.

A few minutes later, the man returned with a check in hand for $5,000. “I’m going to give you this check, but I’d first like you to come into my office. I want to explain why I’m doing so.”

Stepping into the office, Rav Birnbaum could not help but notice the first thing anyone would see upon entering. Behind the desk was a huge picture of Rav Shmuel Birnbaum, smiling.

“Years ago, your father was visiting his son, your brother, when suddenly he heard loud screaming coming from next door. ‘Tatty,’ said his son, ‘could you go and check if everything is alright. They’re frum Jews.’ Rav Birnbaum headed to the adjacent room, and peered inside. There, around a bed with a young girl resting, stood what seemed to be the girl’s parents, sister and close relatives. Tears bundled under their eyes, the sound of muffled, hiccupping tears cutting through the air with piercing sharpness. “Rosh Yeshiva, the doctor just came in, and the results are not good. They’re not optimistic about her prognosis.”

Rav Birnbaum looked back at the family with a gaze that spoke as loudly as it did gently. “Listen to me. Don’t worry about what the doctor said. No doctor is G-d, and as Jews, we live on a plane higher than what’s expected and natural. Your daughter will make it, and I will come to her wedding.”  

Ten years later.

“Rosh Yeshiva, I want to thank you for the beracha you gave my daughter years ago. She recovered as you said, and she is now engaged, and we’d like to invite you to the wedding.” Rav Shmuel was overjoyed to hear the news. Baruch Hashem.

But if anyone knew Rav Shmuel, his time set aside for learning was non-negotiable. He was the legend of seder, of keeping to established times for learning, and would never fritter away a moment of Torah.

“I can’t miss Second Seder,” said Rav Shmuel, his apology following. The family wasn’t sure what to do. “You promised our family that you’d come. Please, Rosh Yeshiva, it would mean so much to us. Hashem enabled her to live on because of your beracha.”

After negotiating back-and-forth, a comprised time was agreed upon, which wouldn’t overly delay the wedding nor prevent Rav Shmuel from attending Seder.

But there’s another part to this all.

A few years later, Rav Birnbaum’s granddaughter was getting married. “Tatty,” said Rav Birnbaum’s son, “I wanted to let you know that we’re planning on making the wedding in Lakewood.” As soon as Rav Birnbaum heard this, he voiced his opinion. “Can you please make it here locally in Brooklyn, so I won’t need to miss much Seder?” “We would,” his son replied, “except it’s more affordable in Lakewood, so much so that even people who live here in Brooklyn make weddings in Lakewood.”

Rav Birnbaum was a step ahead. “How much is the difference in price?” asked Rav Birnbaum. “I’d love to do it, Tatty,” replied his son, “but I just can’t afford it. Believe me, if I could, I’d do it. I know how important it is to you.” “How much is the difference in price?” asked Rav Birnbaum again. “$5,000.”

“Okay,” said Rav Birnbaum. “It’s on me.” And just like that, he pulled out his checkbook and wrote out a check for $5,000, despite money not coming easy to him and this certainly posing a financial strain.

“Now,” said the old doctor, bringing his point to conclusion, “those were two stories of your father. And let me tell you. That girl laying in that bed was my wife. Your father came to my wedding, and I will never forget that. This picture you see behind me was taken at our wedding. It’s part of our life and legacy. We have so much hakaras ha’tov (gratitude) to your father. How much was it worth for your father to come to our wedding? I don’t know, but I do know that it was at least $5,000. So there’s your check for $5,000.”

A commitment to Torah is priceless. More than any expense, more than any inconvenience, every minute, hour and day of Torah is the most precious of all.

The question is: how much are you willing to sacrifice to stay true to your seder, to keep firm to your commitment to learn Torah?

That’s a question worth every penny.

Rabbi Shlomo Horwitz

Who’s Up First?

Parshas Naso begins by discussing the census of the three families of Levi and names them in order of their age—Gershon, Kehas and Merari. You would expect the Torah to first talk about the census of Gershon’s family, then Kehas’ and then finally, Merari’s. But the Torah doesn’t do that. First we learn about the census of Kehas. Why is that?

The Kli Yakar explains that it’s because they carried the Aron (Ark). They are placed first in order to show the importance and primacy of Torah. Torah, as represented by the Aron, must come first.

But if that’s the case, why didn’t Hashem give that job of carrying the Aron to Gershon’s family? If that was done, they still could have been counted first.

The Kli Yakar answers that by explaining that had Hashem done that, it would not have taught the lesson that Torah comes first. People would have otherwise said that Gershon was discussed first because of a different reason, namely that he is the firstborn. Therefore, by giving the job of carrying the Aron to a family which was not the oldest, that of Kehas, Hashem ensured that we learn this lesson of the prime position of Torah in our lives.

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