Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim – Associate Rosh Yeshiva – PTI – Passaic Torah institute – Parsha Kedoshim – Bringing Ourselves Into Hashem’s Presence

Pesach ended with a heavy heart for Jews around the world, as we were met with the horrific news of the attack on those davening in the Chabad of Poway in California, and the death of Lori Kaye a”h, along with the others who were wounded in that attack. On a personal level, I experienced the painful loss of my beloved grandmother, Mrs. Hansi Bodenheim a”h, who passed away the week after Pesach.

How does Hashem want us to act when informed of such tragic news?

It all happened in the week of Parshas Acharei Mos. It’s quite puzzling that Aharon was taught the laws of Yom Kippur, our holiest day, right after learning of the death of his two sons. Why that moment? Rav Gedalia Schorr quotes the verse, “And it was after the death of Nadav and Avihu, when they came close in front of Hashem and died.” Nadav and Avihu had an extreme desire to be close to Hashem and were “in front of Hashem,” but unfortunately took their attempt at closeness beyond prescribed boundaries. The lesson Aharon taught was that all Jews have the capacity to achieve this level of Lifnei Hashem – being in front of Hashem – on Yom Kippur, as the Kohen Gadol (High Priest) enters the Holy of Holies in the prescribed manner, as the representative of the Jewish people.

This Shabbos, we read Parshas Kedoshim. Often, Acharei Mos is read together with Kedoshim. They are connected. We use the term “kedoshim” (holy ones) for those who died for being a Jew. Yet, Parshas Kedoshim tells us that kedoshim also describes those who live their lives like a Jew.

The parsha begins with the order, “Kedoshim tihyu” – all Jews should be kadosh (holy). What does that mean? Rashi defines it as “perushim” – separate or unique. Why? Because “ki kadosh ani” – because Hashem is holy. Indeed, every Jew is special and unique, possessing an extra element of godliness in themselves. Every Jew lives “in front of Hashem.” The tragic loss of Aharon’s two sons and the tragic loss we read about in Poway tell us that those who die al kiddush hashem (to sanctify the name of G-d by being holy) effect an ability for us to come closer to Hashem. They give us the ability to become kadosh and appreciate the gift of being a Jew.

My Grandmother was a Holocaust survivor and lived her life feeling she was always with Hashem. Six million kedoshim perished in the war, but Hashem granted her life. She had many near-death experiences — strafing from German fighter planes, being captured by the Gestapo, living through Mengele’s section lines. Indeed, she was an extremely thin girl, but in the selection line, she stared him down and after a long pause, he sent her to the right, to a life as a concentration inmate with back-breaking labor. She told me she survived the horrors only due to her reliance on Hashem which she acquired from her parents. She saw so many die around her, but her connection to Hashem kept her going.

My grandmother lost her parents, grandparents, and many other family members. She suffered personal deprivation and torture throughout the war. She could have been bitter, angry, and depressed as a result of her devastating experiences, but she chose to live her life in a positive manner, as a believer in Hashem. She dedicated her life to living as a Jew. Instead of pain and hate, she exuded love and care. For close to fifty years, she served as a kindergarten teacher and librarian, and led the students in davening at the Torah Academy of Philadelphia. She was a true role model for the children she loved. Students from decades earlier would still stay in touch. On Fridays, her phone would ring constantly, with students, neighbors, and friends calling to wish her a good Shabbos. Each day, she would pack extra lunches in case children forgot their lunch — they knew to come to her. She lived with Godliness inside of her and saw the Godliness in all Jews, no matter their background or situation.

Kedusha is an approach to life. The more we are in touch with the uniqueness of our relationship with Hashem, the more we reflect that in our actions. Let us learn from those that passed away as kedoshim, by carrying on their legacy and living like kedoshim ourselves. Let the way we act, talk, walk and do business, always be “Lifnei Hashem.”


Aleeza Ben Shalom – Managing Post-Date Stress

As he smiled and waved goodbye, I wondered if there would be a second date. Are you interested or not? was the only thing I could think. A smile is nice, but how about a “I’ll give you a call” … something to indicate if there would be any follow up?

When my now-husband and I were dating, we weren’t yet working with a matchmaker, so I had no one to ask, no one to tell, no one to help me work through all the thoughts that were swirling in my head. So about ten minutes into my drive home, I was frantically searching for my cell phone. I was going to call him and ask, “What’s the story?” I hadn’t thought about what he would say next. To be honest, I wasn’t thinking clearly at all.

I found the phone, found the listing GERSHON and was about to hit call when my phone rang. Oh, good, I thought, he’s calling me. Nope! It was a friend just calling to shmooze. I sighed, then took a deep breath and realized that this call was divine intervention saving me from looking like a fool.

Giving yourself a little space from the date is not only helpful, it’s necessary.

After years of working with my clients, I have found that I am not the only one who has struggled with not immediately knowing what the other person is thinking. Not knowing drives many of us crazy. But I have found that giving yourself a little space from the date is not only helpful, it’s necessary. What is the other option? Frantically calling 10 minutes after the date ends to find out if the other side wants to go out again? Not so appealing. If feeling desperate and impatient is something you struggle with, here are five strategies for dealing with the post-date in a healthy way.

  1. Patience  – Have patience with yourself and with your date. Getting the right words out at the right time is an art. Your date may not know what to say even when there is a good connection. Sometimes nerves and excitement keep a person from thinking clearly. If the date ends and you don’t know if another one is on the horizon, give it time. Don’t jump to any conclusions. Sit with the unknown and wait it out. While this can be frustrating and unsettling, sometimes being patient is the best thing you can do.

2. Sleep on it  – You just came back from a nice date, but it ended in a nebulous way. You are very eager to know if the person wants to go out again. My first question is: Do you want to go out again? Sometimes clients answer, “If the other person wants to try again, I will too.” To me, that’s not a clear answer. It will be more helpful for you to take a night to think over whether or not you really liked the person you just went out with.

Don’t leave the question in someone else’s hands. You decide first what your preferences are. If you don’t want to go out again, I want to know. If you are undecided and would be open to trying again if they are also interested, that’s good information. If it’s a definite yes, you’ll still be interested in the morning. No matter your answer, you should still sleep on it and clearly understand your reasons for wanting to move ahead or not.3.

3.  Distraction – Your date ended. You’re crystal clear that you want to go out again. The other person seemed to be on the fence. Whether you are waiting for a call or dying to call and ask for a second date, your goal for today is distraction. Give the unsure party 24 hours to figure things out. Allowing them time is the best thing for both of you because then their response will not be influenced by your desires, but will just be their real answer. Keep yourself busy enough that your thoughts don’t get the best of you and drive you up the wall. Waiting for an answer can drive anyone crazy and you are likely to do something desperate and probably not smart unless you distract yourself and keep busy. Focus on a hobby, read a book… do anything other than think about this dating situation. Since you’re crystal clear, there is no need to review the situation in your head any longer.

4. No rehashing the date – Don’t run to tell the world what just happened on your date. Rehashing the date isn’t likely to change the fact that you still don’t know what is going to happen next. Truthfully, talking about it won’t make you feel better. Besides, if you don’t get a favorable reply, how will you feel when you need to break the news to your friends that your first date was your last? If you need to clarify your feelings, you can verbalize your thoughts to a friend. This isn’t storytelling. Sometimes we just need to talk things out. Set a time limit, and tell your friend that this is a one-way conversation where you are going to talk some things out for the sake of mental clarity, but you’re not looking for feedback.Keep a journal

5. Dating is definitely one of those times where journaling can be helpful. Sometimes things need to be thought out; other times, writing things out will help set your mind at ease. Don’t have a journal? No problem! Send yourself an email and read it the next day. You’ll be surprised at how nice it is to see your thoughts waiting for you in your inbox.

The best thing you can do is know yourself well and have a plan in place to keep you in the best frame of mind while you figure things out. What you do post-date is not as important as having a plan for keeping yourself distracted, patient and calm.

Originally published on Aish.com.

From The Editor – A Survivor’s Insight

Last night I was privileged to attend a Yom Hashoah commemoration. A Holocaust survivor discussed his experience in Buchenwald Block 66, also the place where Elie Wiesel and Rabbi Lau were held.

In the question and answer session, he was asked how he kept his faith in such difficult times. He answered by referencing a story with Promo Levi. Primo Levi, an Italian Jew, and part of the Holocaust experience, once said that “those” people (Jews) in the corner who are praying are going to survive, as they have something to hold onto and live for. With this was the question answered.

Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim – Associate Rosh Yeshiva – PTI – Passaic Torah Institute – Sefiras Haomer/Acharei Mot – Building Our Character

I took my children to an indoor video game arcade on a rainy day of Chol Hamoed. Most of the people there were children and teenagers, but two people really caught my attention. One was an elderly man playing video games all alone in a motorized wheelchair with an oxygen tank. The second was an elderly lady in a wheelchair, accompanying her daughter, son-in-law, and grandchildren. Clearly, this was not an easy trip for either one. The elderly grandmother seemed to have various aches and pains, but I saw the visible pleasure on her face as she watched her grandchildren play and choose prizes, while she encouraged and congratulated them. The elderly man was laboring to breathe, exerting himself to play game after game. The similarity — and the contrast — between the two was striking.

I pondered: What makes a person exert himself – his own pleasure or that of others? In parshas Acharei Mos, Hashem instructs Moshe about the Yom Kippur service: Take two identical goats in the Beis Hamikdash and cast a lottery. One will be slaughtered, with its blood sprinkled inside the kodesh hakodashim – the Holy of Holies. The other will be pushed off a steep cliff. Although both goats will be killed, on first glance it seems the slaughtered one represents a greater atonement. Yet, the pasuk (verse) says the goat pushed off the cliff “will stand in front of Hashem alive to achieve an atonement” (16:10). Clearly, they were both an integral part of the service to Hashem, to effect forgiveness for Klal Yisroel – they each had an important role.

In a similar way, our “lot,” i.e., our current condition, is determined by Hashem, but what we do with it is up to us. We can choose to serve Hashem with our current resources. Both of these elderly individuals were handicapped. Both were challenged. Both were entitled to enjoyment, but the grandmother elevated her challenged “lot” by focusing on the joy of others.

This vignette also adds perspective to the days of Sefiras Haomer (counting of the Omer.) We started counting from the second day of Pesach towards Shavuos. Many ask: Why do we count UP and not count DOWN towards our goal of Shavuos? At races, at rocket launches—we always count down!

Rav Shimshon Pincus says that typically, when there’s a gap of time between two events, we count down because time is a barrier and we want to rid ourselves of it. However, the time between Pesach and Shavuos is different: it’s a build-up, where each day is crucial, and each day can mean another accomplishment!

This is illustrated in the wording of the pasuk, “Usefartem Lachem” – you should count for yourselves. (Emor 23:16) What does it mean for yourselves? The Chasam Sofer explains that the counting is to build ourselves up! With each day, we should try to develop ourselves further, so we can be ready to acquire the Torah on Shavuos.

Parents feel this all the time with small milestones: a baby’s first rolling over, first time sitting, crawling, speaking…Each stage is an achievement. No one wants the child to be stuck. It is exciting for a baby to start crawling, but very concerning if they are three years old and can only crawl. Crawling, walking, talking- each stage is crucial in developing the individual.

Each day of Sefira is available to build us up to approach Shavuos. Each week as well. We count both the days and the weeks of the Omer. This is why if we forget to count one day, we can no longer count with a blessing, because each day is crucial to the counting! But the Torah doesn’t guide us much regarding our focus. That’s because every person is different. It’s a personal counting where we need to determine and work on the areas in which we need development. We need to make our own plan of action. We can help ourselves with the custom of learning Pirkei Avos each Shabbos of Sefira. As Rav Chaim Vital tells us, working on our character traits is the key pathway to instilling Torah in ourselves.

We all have our own personal challenges and difficulties. During these days of sefira, we need to choose to make each day count —to do something greater than achieving our own personal pleasure. Pick one area. Do something very small and work on it. It’s our choice: are we like the elderly man laboring to play and enjoy another video game, or like the wheelchair-bound grandmother exerting herself to give enjoyment to her family? Let’s exert ourselves to make others happy. This will make us much happier as well and help lead us to a state of readiness to receive the Torah on Shavuos.