Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim – Associate Rosh Yeshiva – PTI – Passaic Torah Institute – Parsha Ki Tisa – A Purifying Process

Two weeks ago, I wrote about a good friend with a long-time employee who left my friend’s family business, taking all the customers with him. It was devastating, but my friend stayed amazingly calm. After Shabbos, he wrote me a post-script, listing a few corrections and wonderful insights.

“For the sake of accuracy, I’d like to correct some details in last week’s story. The ‘employee’ had worked for my family for over 40 years. Before he left, he did not convince my clients to leave me. Rather, he downloaded all their information to use with his new employer. Months later, clients who had been with my firm for decades began leaving in droves. I felt as if the rug had been pulled out from under me. The ‘losses’ were adding up to tens of thousands of dollars.”

“Baruch Hashem, I have strong relationships with my rebbeim from yeshiva. One person I called quoted his father who said, ‘Nisyonos (challenges) of money are the cheapest form of nisyonos a person can have.’ Another rebbe of mine told me, ‘Someone can take your clients, but not your parnassa (livelihood).’ With these insights, I have been able to calm the raging storm in my head. Hashem has compensated me for any losses (I think I incurred), with new clients. So, if you ask me, ‘What is your best investment tip?’ I’d say, to invest in your relationship with a rav or rebbe. Nisyonos take many forms to rock your boat, but a rebbe is your anchor.”

This week is Parshas Parah. Rav Shimon Schwab points out that the source of our practice is from the beginning of Parshas Chukas, which discusses the laws of the parah adumah (red heifer). “This is the law of the Torah…speak to the Bnei Yisrael.” We understand from this pasuk the need to read the current section of the Sefer Torah and explain the importance of the parah adumah (red heifer).

The Midrash compares the impure person who becomes purified with the sprinkling of the ashes of the parah adumah, to Avraham, the child of Terach who worshiped idols. The Sfas Emes discusses the concept of someone impure becoming pure. Avram, the child of Terach, became Avraham our forefather. Yisro, the priest of Midian, became Yisro the father-in-law of Moshe Rabbeinu. A Jew is never stuck in a state of impurity—he can always become pure.

My friend and Yossi Hecht were both blessed with rebbeim who were able to give them the guidance they needed to take their own personal challenges—money and health—and use these to lift themselves up and become closer to Hashem.

Yossi Hecht further inspired me with a new insight on our parsha. When we eat food, our body breaks down the food and absorbs the nutrients from it. Our kidneys filter out all the toxins and the cleansed blood then perfuses our organs, while waste is expressed out. The good and the bad, the pure and impure are all sorted out inside us. Another parallel to the parah adumah.

With the outbreak of the coronavirus spreading globally, many people are scared. What can we do? Let us learn from the parah adumah and the words of Rav Pincus. At the very least, let’s stand focused while reciting Asher Yatzar, thanking Hashem for filtering out the toxins from our system and leaving the pure to nourish us. We can do this many times each day.

Yossi tells me his phone is ringing off the hook asking for the magnets. I ordered some to send out as a merit for refuah sheleima for Rafael Tzvi Lipa ben Esther Raichl, Rabbi Heshy Hirth, the beloved dean of my children’s yeshiva.

With this merit of meaningfully reciting Asher Yatzar, may we all be healthy and well.

Yacov Nordlicht – Parsha Ki Tisa – Seize The Light

This week’s parsha recounts the event of the cheit haegel. Chazal tell us that the effects of this grave sin are still felt today. That is, in every sin there exists a latent nekudeh derived from the cheit haegel. What is this nekudeh, and how did it become part of our every sin we do?

In order to answer this question, we have to understand the depths of the cheit haegel.  Meforshim provide countless explanations as to the nature of the sin. Maybe we can offer our own mahalach.

Chazal liken the giving of the Torah at Har Sinai to a chuppah between HaShem and klal Yisrael. The Gemara in Yevamos teaches us that a person cannot be called a “man” unless he’s married. That is to say, that the nature of marriage is to complete a person. The Zohar haKodosh points out this idea and says that before the creation of a person, HaShem tears a neshama in two, places one half in a male body and the other half in a female body. The marriage is the unification of these two parts of the soul. In this sense, they complete each other.

The same is true by the “chuppah” of Matan Torah. Before Matan Torah, klal yisrael was incomplete. The definition of klal Yisrael didn’t come into its actualized completeness before the matan Torah. Matan Torah achieved this shleimus, this completion of our spiritual definition.

Along these lines, we can understand why the nekudeh of the cheit hagegel exists within each and every one of our sins today. The cheit haegel represented a divide from HaShem. Even though we experienced HaShem only forty days earlier, the cheit was as if we were divorcing ourselves from this marriage with HaShem. Chazal tell us that a person only sins when a “ruach shtus” has grabbed a hold of him. That is, even if he could be so clear of emes and the right thing to do in a certain situation, a person could still slip because he becomes temporarily enshrouded in darkness. This nekudeh is one we see from the cheit haegel. Rav Chaim Shmulevitz goes through midrashim dealing with the circumstances surrounding klal yisrael at that time. The world turned bleak and gray and the Satan showed kal yisrael the coffin of Moshe Rabeinu descending form the mountain. They thought he had died! To them, all was lost. In that moment of bleakness and darkness, klal yisrael was able to sin, even though they had experienced the most intense revelation the world has ever seen forty days earlier. Even though they had so much light, the darkness still blinded them and they were able to sin.

Rav Yerucham Levovitz says that a person sin has deep roots. It doesn’t merely exist as an external action, rather it comes from a deep seeded shoresh which predestines a person to sin. This root is that a person allows himself to be clouded by darkness; that he isn’t strong enough to repel the “ruach shtus.” The avodah of a person is to constantly connect to HaShem’s light. To be a “light unto the darkness” doesn’t just mean showing morality and middos in a world which has gone insane. It means being the light within one’s own darkness. That even when all seems bleak and lost, to realize and connect to the flickering light of a neshama that we have inside of us. When we connect to that light, then the darkness, the “ruach shtus” can’t grab a hold of us. Only then can we truly change and free ourselves from sin.