Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim – Associate Roah Yeshiva – PTI – Passaic Torah Institute – Parsha Chaya Sara – Recognizing Hashem’s Kindness

Six years ago, on the 25th of Cheshvan (November 18), two Arab terrorists walked into the Bnei Torah shul in Har Nof, Yerushalayim, and attacked the people davening Shacharis. Five Jews were brutally massacred, as well as a Druze police officer who tried stopping the terrorists. This year, Shabbos Parshas Chayei Sarah coincides with the yahrzeit of these kedoshim (martyrs.) This time period covered by Parshas Vayera and Parshas Chayei Sarah also marks the yahrzeits of other troubling losses. Last Shabbos was the yahrzeit of the 11 Jews massacred inside the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. The 16th of Cheshvan was the anniversary of Kristallnacht, which started the violent aggression of the Nazis killing and deporting Jews across Europe.

Living with loss is very challenging. Parshas Chayei Sarah opens with the death of Sarah Imeinu. According to the simple interpretation of Rashi, Sarah passed away when she heard that Avraham took Yitzchak to offer him as a sacrifice to Hashem. The shock was too much for her system, and her neshama left before she could hear the positive end of the story.

Akeidas Yitzchak is considered by many commentators as the last and most challenging of the ten tests of Avraham. Clearly, this was a test for both Avraham and Yitzchak—one would lose his son, and one would give up his life. But Avraham’s test would not just be the fact of his son’s death. Yitzchak was the son of his old age; there would be no other. Further, Yitzchak was designated to ensure the continuity of everything Avraham had built up in his life. Without Yitzchak, there would seemingly be no klal Yisrael. It would all be over. This test, this sacrifice, was of epic proportions.

In this last century—even in this last decade—we have seen multiple akeidos (sacrifices). So many Jews were murdered just for being Jewish.

Rav Moshe Hillel Hirsch says these terrible tragedies are a challenge to our emunah and bitachon—our trust and reliance in Hashem. Hashem always has a plan. He decides who shall live and who shall die. Hatzur tamim pa’olo—Hashem’s actions are perfect (Ha’azinu 32:4). All those affected by a tragic test are also determined by Hashem. For reasons beyond our understanding, those affected needed those tests.

David Hamelech said, “… lehagid baboker chasdecha v’emunascha baleilos”—tell about Your (Hashem’s) kindness during the day and our reliance (emunah) in You (Hashem) at night (Tehillim 92:3). Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato explains that “daytime” is when there is light and clarity; we can see the kindness of Hashem. “Night” is when it’s dark and we cannot see Hashem’s kindness clearly. That’s when we need emunah. That’s when we are called to trust in Hashem.

The pasuk first mentions telling about Hashem’s kindness during times of clarity; afterward, it mentions having emunah during the dark times. I believe David Hamelech is teaching us how to build, develop and strengthen our emunah. Emunah at night only comes after we have the clarity of day. A clear observation of Hashem’s kindness is a necessary building block for our emunah.

That’s our tes: noticing in broad daylight all the kindnesses Hashem bestows upon us. All things big and small come from Hashem—life, health, children and even the unexpected parking spot close to the store. Be it a tax refund or a break from morning traffic, all are a gift. We need to take notice, give thanks and share with others our joy in receiving Hashem’s gifts. Recognizing and sharing news of the kindnesses of Hashem with others will give us the strong emunah at dark times, when it’s harder to see Hashem’s kindness. The emunah that we have through the dark night will in turn give us the merit to witness the next morning, when we will be able to see clearly that all that happened was for the good. We will have developed the confidence that Hashem loves us and is only interested in what is truly good and beneficial for us.

May Hashem elevate all those precious neshamos who were killed al kiddush Hashem and may we continue to witness the morning, when we can see the infinite kindness of Hashem throughout time.


Aleeza Ben Shalom – Four Ways To Create A Strong Relationship

Finding someone wonderful to spend time with is a huge blessing. Here are four core things you need to do to build a meaningful and happy relationship.

Appreciate your partner. People often think they appreciate their partner and are surprised to discover that their partner doesn’t feel appreciated. It’s one thing to appreciate your partner, and it’s an entirely different skill to show that appreciation, through words and actions, in a way that truly registers. A generic comment of appreciation like, “Thanks so much,” or “That was great,” probably won’t hit the spot. But if you can articulate what you’re grateful for, your words will go a lot further. Show appreciation by being specific: “Thank you, Joe, for choosing a great restaurant. I really enjoyed the meal – and your company even more so!”

When you are tuned in to what is meaningful to your partner, s/he will feel loved, understood, and appreciated. An added bonus is that your partner is likely to start showing you appreciation as well.

Don’t be artificial, just be you. Have you ever met someone and then somewhere along the way they changed? You may wonder what happened to them and who they really are. Or have you ever put on airs or pretend to be something that you’re not just because you thought someone else would want that? Instead of simply being yourself, sometimes you’re acting like someone you’re not. Why do we do that?

Sometimes it’s because we are afraid that who we are won’t be what someone else wants. However, what someone should want is the genuine you. We all want someone to like the real us. That’s crucial to forging an authentic connection and relationship.

If you pretend to be someone or something else, your date won’t know the real you. They may be drawn to who you’re pretending to be, but is that ultimately what you want? A phony relationship means no relationship.

The best advice is don’t be artificial – just be yourself. The person who is meant for you will love and appreciate you. Anyone who doesn’t like you is obviously not for you. And remember, being yourself includes being your best self, and that’s not being artificial at all!

Pay attention, notice what bothers someone. Have you ever been in a relationship and felt like someone was doing something purposely to bother you? It’s more likely that what they were doing was a nervous habit rather an attempt to intentionally bother you. Or maybe you were in a relationship where you felt like the other person didn’t care enough about you because they wouldn’t stop doing the thing that bothered you even after you asked them to stop. Why can’t someone just stop the offending behavior after you tell them the first time?

Pay attention to what bothers your partner and stop the offending action. Sometimes someone will tell you in a straightforward way that something bothers them. Other people you date may expect you to just know. Either way, start to pay more attention to verbal and nonverbal cues. Paying better attention is key to building and maintaining a loving and caring relationship.

Kindness is everything. Develop the habit of being kind. Thinking positively about your partner may make you feel good, but it doesn’t show him or her how you feel. Use kindness to show your partner how you feel about them. You can use any method you prefer. If you’re a writer send them a note. If you enjoy buying small tokens or gifts, go shopping for them. Remember to be thinking of them as you’re doing the act. Be sure you’re doing the kindness for them and not for yourself. Random or little acts of kindness will build your connection and help you solidify your relationship.

May your relationship grow stronger and be built on a foundation of connection and joy.

Originally published on Aish.com


Yacov Nordlicht – Parsha Chaya Sara – The Middah Of Giving Your Whole Self

In this week’s parsha, Avraham sends out Eliezer to find a shidduch for his son Yitzchak. Beforehand, Avraham makes Eliezer swear that he’ll find a girl from the land where Avraham was born, and not from eretz Kna’an which was where they were residing at the time. Why? What was so terrible about the people of Kna’an?

The drashos Ha’Ran explains that the reason Avraham wanted to distance himself from the people of Kna’an was because the people of Kna’an had bad middos. Imbued in their nature was negative character traits which Avraham didn’t want to be incorporated into the gene pool of Klal Yisrael. As a result, Avraham made Eliezer swear to go back to his homeland to find a wife for Yitzchak.

However, it doesn’t seem to make any sense at all. We know that Avraham fled his original homeland because the inhabitants there were worshipers of Avoda Zara. When he came to Kna’an, he became a massive mekareiv. All the people would flock to hear him, he was truly “Vayikra bsheim Hashem”! In contrast, the Medrash tells us that the people of Avraham’s birthplace sought to kill Avraham for his “heretical” teachings.

These were the type of people who Avraham wanted for his son as a shidduch? These people are better than those who believe in Hashem, yet have bad middos? It can be compared to a father who looks for a shidduch for his son and two prospects emerge. One is a really nice guy, yet he happens to be buddhist, and the other is a little rude but is yid and shomer mitzvos. Of course, a father would go with the latter! The former isn’t even a considerable option. So how could Avraham request such a thing from Eliezer? Even though the people of K’naan had bad middos, they should still have been better prospects than the people of Avraham’s birthplace, for they did seem to genuinely believe in Hashem?!

Rav Chaim Pinchas Sheinberg answers this question based on a Rashi in Chagigah (a similair vort I heard a few years ago in the name of the Tiferes Yisrael in Parshas Toldos when Rivka says “Lamah zeh anochee”). Many people tend to think that emunah comes solely from a knowledge of Hashem. They believe that the greater a person’s mind, the greater level he can acquire in his belief. However, in Jewish consciousness, we believe there is a simpler level to our emunah which isn’t necessarily connected to the power of one’s intellect. In fact, Rav Elchonon Wasserman says (in the very first ma’imer found in the Kovetz Maimarim) that we see throughout history people who had tremendous minds yet were absolute kofrim of Hashem. The pshat, he says, is that the reason people tend not to believe is based on the individual’s negius. Because a person WANTS to believe in something which contradicts Hashem, he’ll end up denying Hashem’s existence; for his personal desires and Hashem ratzon can’t coexist.

Rav Chaim Pinchas Sheinberg says that the exact opposite was the essence of Avraham Avinu. Rashi in Chagiga 3a says that Avraham’s greatest asset wasn’t that he was smarter than everyone else. Rather, Avraham gave over his entire heart to Hashem. All of his negius, all of his inclinations, he channeled towards Hashem. All of his desires were just to do the ratzon Hashem. He never let his negius get in the way of his relationship with Hashem. He gave over his heart and pointed his desires towards Hashem. As a result, he alone was able to see clearly through the fogginess of the world and successfully attain truth.

This is also the pshat why Avraham told Eliezer to take a bride for his son from the land which he had come as opposed to Kna’an. Avraham understood that in order for the Jewish people to have nitzchiyus, we need to be able to give over our hearts to Hashem. We need to at least have the ability and the potentiality to point our desires to Hashem’s will. The people of Kna’an weren’t like that. They lacked this ability. They were people who were wishy washy. We see this from the fact that only 70 people ended up leaving Kna’an with Yaakov Avinu. What happened to everyone Avraham was mekareiv? The answer is that although they understood Hashem’s existence and were periodically inspired, they never fully gave themselves over to Hashem. Avraham saw this bad middah in them, and therefore made Eliezer swear to take a wife from his homeland. There, though the people knew of the miracles surrounding Avraham, like the surviving of the fiery furnace, they were still able to believe their own opposing beliefs. The only way this would be possible is if they were fully able to give themselves over to a certain ideal. Although they pointed themselves in the wrong direction, they still possessed this ability, to ignore their natural preferences and create a new personal preference of total self-nullification before something else. Avraham needed this middah for his children; he needed a woman who was able to give over her entire self for Hahsem, because only with that middah can a nation last.

The Ran continues to explain that middos are hereditary. They’re passed on from generation to generation since our forefathers. As a result, we have this middah of Rivkah Imeinu. We have the ability to truly give over ourselves for something. The only question is what we choose to give over ourselves to. For people who aren’t Jewish, it may be sports, jobs, girlfriends, liberal ideas etc… But for Jews it has to be different. Hashem chose us to be different. He chose us to give over ourselves to Him and find meaning and purpose in His service. It’s our avodah. It’s up to us to remove our personal negius, and wholeheartedly make the choice to truly do what Hashem wants from us.

I remember once talking to a non-religious acquaintance I had met through a Kiruv organization. We spoke about the Haskalah and if there could exist any Judaic truth in the belief system of the Reform. After a long discussion, I remember telling him that I wasn’t against the idea of reforming, but it needs to be the right reform. Instead of taking people with little connection to Judaism and alienating them further from their heritage under the banner of Reform Judaism, why not focus a reform to bring the person closer to his roots? Why not a change in the opposite direction? Even though it may not be admitted, a strong basis for Reform is to grant an individual more “freedom” within the stricter structure of Orthodox belief and practice. In essence, the person can now choose what to give themselves over to. I told him that I’m not against reform, but instead of trying to reform something kadosh to fit our desires, why not try to reform our desires to fit something kadosh? Instead of changing a religion, why not first try on changing yourself. This is the avodah of a lifetime, but it’s something we have the power to do. It’s in our genes. We inherited it all the way back from Rivka. It just requires the desire to do it. It requires us to make a conscious choice, that instead of giving oneself over to finite and limited ambitions, I will strive for something greater. Each of us has to consciously say, “I will be an eved Hashem”.

Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim On Parsha Vayera – The Power Of Caring

Zack was studying in Eretz Yisrael at a yeshiva for beginners in Judaism. He was having his doubts. “The whole religion thing is so intense! I don’t think it’s for me,” he thought. He made up his mind the next day to book a ticket back to America. When he came back to his dorm room that night, his roommate Michael said, “Zack you look unhappy. What’s going on?” Zack replied, “This religious way of life is not for me. I’m going to leave tomorrow.” “Truthfully, I have my own challenges with it as well,” said Michael. “If you leave, I don’t know if I’ll be able to stay here. You’re a great friend and roommate. How am I going to keep going without your company?”

Zack said he would think it over. He tossed and turned all night. The next morning, Zack told Michael, “I’m changing my plans. I’ve decided to stay in yeshiva.”

This story always troubled me. What was so compelling about Michael’s reasoning that caused Zack to stay? Michael didn’t offer any compelling arguments about the truth of Torah. I believe the midrash in this week’s parsha gives us a tremendous insight into human nature and better clarity regarding our story.

As Avraham and Yitzchak were walking up the mountain toward Akeidas (sacrifice of) Yitzchak, Yitzchak said, “Avi [my father]” and Avraham responded, “Here I am, my son” (22:7). Yitzchak proceeded to ask, “Where is the sheep for the sacrifice?” Why did Yitzchak initially call for his father? After all, they were walking side by side for days. There was no question of where Avraham was.

The Midrash (Bereishis Rabbah 22:4) tells us what really transpired. Heading toward the site of the akeidah, the satan approached Avraham to dissuade him from his mission but was totally unsuccessful. Next, the satan approached Yitzchak and said, “How can you allow yourself to be brought as a sacrifice? Do you know how your mother is going to feel when she hears you were slaughtered?” “She will be okay,” Yitzchak responded. The satan tried again: “Think about the challenges she had to overcome to raise you properly, even telling Hagar and Yishmael to leave to preserve your purity. Now Yishmael will inherit from Avraham. This will break your mother. How can you do this to her?”

Yitzchak started to waver. The satan was winning. So Yitzchak shouted “Avi!” as a cry for help: “Father, please strengthen me to overcome this challenge.” Avraham responded, “I am here for you, Yitzchak. I will help you. Trust in Hashem. Either He will show us a sheep to sacrifice, or you are meant to be the korban (sacrifice).”

This midrash is a beautiful explanation of the pasuk, but the persuasive arguments of the satan are puzzling. The satan only focused on Yitzchak’s concern for his mother. What about his own imminent slaughter?! He was about to die, along with all of Avraham’s plans for Yitzchak’s future!

Rabbi Chaim Friedlander explains that we learn from here a very important concept about human nature. We might be prepared to deal with a big challenge for the sake of Hashem, but we might not be prepared for related smaller challenges. The satan is very crafty and tries to catch us off guard. Yitzchak was prepared to give his life for Hashem, but was he prepared to cause pain and possibly death to his mother? The satan tugged on Yitzchak’s emotions. “How is your mother going to react when she sees her whole life’s struggles for the purity of klal Yisrael benefit Yishmael? She will be totally broken hearted.”

Some relatively small challenges, especially those that touch us emotionally, can be much harder to overcome. This type of situation happens in our daily lives. We might be prepared to perform a large favor for someone, but if we feel they will not appreciate it then we might choose not to follow through. We might be prepared to make a large commitment to Torah study, but if the rabbi or study partner doesn’t welcome us warmly we might shrug our shoulders and say, “It’s not worth it.”

The reverse is also true! Even a small amount of encouragement can get us through a big challenge. A warm smile, a nice greeting or kind word can be all it takes to help us make a commitment to do a favor, chesed or to commit to Torah learning. In our story about Zack, who was going to give up, Michael told him how much he enjoys his company and his friendship, and that was enough to turn Zack around to stay in yeshiva.

Remember the power we have to help each other through life’s hurdles. Feeling supported, feeling loved, gives everyone the needed strength to climb mountains.