Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim – Associate Rosh Yeshiva PTI – Passaic Torah Institute – Parsha Achrei Mot-Kedoshim – Keeping The Torah On One Foot

As the covid-19 situation continues, we are charting new territory. Many are coping with loss and others are trying to heal. Some are home all alone and have difficulty accessing food and provisions they need, in addition to having feelings of loneliness. Others who are blessed to be healthy, still have their challenges. While working from home, many are helping their children with all their “homeschooling“ needs – juggling phones and various devices to ensure their children can listen to their classes, and printing out and picking up papers needed for their school work. In addition, they are ensuring there is enough food in the house, given the limited shopping abilities.

Many of us are feeling strained; I certainly am. That’s why I started a new short (2-3 minute) daily shiur called the “Daily Bitachon Builder — the key to peace of mind,” as a WhatsApp group: https://chat.whatsapp.com/Cbc0Ckj9xZY2xBTUPgOvZd. Further developing our reliance on Hashem will give us peace of mind. Whatever happens in our life is not up to us.  Hashem placed us in this scenario and we need to do our best to deal with it. The rest is up to Hashem.

Sometimes we may feel like we’re falling short. Particularly now, during Sefira, we’re supposed to be enhancing ourselves spiritually, but we may feel we’re far from reaching our spiritual goals.

Take a deep breath. There is a very reassuring concept learned from an episode mentioned in the Gemara regarding Shammai and Hillel. Someone approached the great sage Shammai and asked to be converted while standing on one foot.  Shammai pushed him away with a builder’s measuring stick. The person then approached Hillel, who agreed to convert him by teaching him one concept. “What you don’t want done to you, don’t do to others” based on the pasuk in Parshas Kedoshim, “V’ahavta lereacha kamocha (Love your neighbor like yourself).”

What’s the significance of standing on one foot and why reject the prospective convert by pushing him away with a builder’s measuring stick? Rav Avrohom Schorr, in the name of the Maggid Hagadol, explains the prospective convert’s intention in his insistence on standing on one foot. When we stand on two feet, we can move either closer or away from a destination. But if we stand on one foot, we are stationary. He was asking to be converted on condition that he stay on steady ground, with no unwanted ‘ups and downs.’ Shammai pushed him away with the builder’s stick to signify one can’t ‘build’ his service of Hashem this way. Nothing stays put. Hashem created the world with various waves: sound waves, light waves, magnetic waves, etc. Waves are the way of the world. When a person in the hospital is hooked up to an EKG machine, it displays the person’s heartbeat with waves. If the waves go flat, the heart has stopped beating.

Our service to Hashem also has waves, with lots of ups and downs. Hillel agreed to convert him by teaching him one concept: “What you don’t want done to you, don’t do to others.” This is the key to the Torah. If you master this, you can learn the rest.

How so? The Sfas Emes explains Hillel was teaching that the way to ensure consistent performance in the service of Hashem is by always taking other people’s needs into account. If we are sensitive to the needs of others, if we can put others first, then we are also showing we are open to making the service of Hashem the highest priority. The way we can stabilize ourselves if we personally have a slump, is to connect with others and with Hashem. That’s the way one is able to stand on one foot and weather the ups and downs of life.

This week is Pesach Sheini. During the first Pesach after leaving Mitzrayim, those who were unable to offer the sacrifice because they were tamei, were given a second opportunity by Hashem one month later — on the eve of the fifteenth of Iyar.

Part of being a Jew is having a second chance to do what is required. We all have ups and downs and these experiences can in fact make us better! We learn and grow from our mistakes. While we might not be performing to the standard we want and we might be in a slump, that’s part of life. We need to pick ourselves up so we can ride the next wave upward. Let us thank all those who are going out of their way to keep us healthy – nurses, doctors and healthcare workers. Let us think about others who are also having a hard time, perhaps even more challenging than ours, and see how we can help them. Let us reach out to one person today to see how we can help, even if it’s just to provide a friendly ear.

Together, we can strengthen each other.

Yacov Nordlicht – Parsha Achrei Mot-Kedoshim – What Is Kedusha

This week’s parsha begins with a commandment from HaShem to be Kadosh. The Ramban on this pasuk says that throughout the Torah, there are many negative commandments which prohibit us from doing certain things. However, this commandment isn’t necessarily saying not to do something, rather it’s telling us how to use that which is muttar to us.

What’s the pshat in this? The general mindset when one sees such a Ramban would to be somewhat skeptical. As a Rebbe of mine once said, this is the type of Ramban people want to just skip over. There are so many things we can’t do, now there are also restrictions on that which we can do!? What’s the Ramban trying to teach us?

Chazal tell us that Ya’akov Avinu was the chosen one of the Avos. A medrash even recounts that his face, is d’mus, is engraved on the kisei hakavod. Why was Ya’akov Avinu considerably more special than the other two Avos? Why was it his face engraved on the kisei hakavod and not Avraham or Yitzchak?

Meforshim tell us that there was an inherent difference between the Avodah of Yaakov and the Avodah of the other two Avos. The other two Avos we find being immersed completely in ruchniyus. Avraham was fully involved with kiruv and gemilas chasadim, while Yitzchak was involved constantly involved in tefillah. Ya’akov Avinu, on the other hand, is the one we find involved in gashmius. He was the “ba’al-a-bus”, involved in working for Lavan, making money. He’s the one with the four wives and tons of children.

The Ba’alei Mussar say this distinction and point out that it’s a very high level to emulate Avraham and Yitzchak and immerse yourself completely with ruchniyus. However, there’s a higher level. To take the gashmiyus and elevate it. To make the material world kadosh. That was the level of Ya’akov Avinu. That was his essence.

I once saw a vort in Maseches Berachos which further brings out this point. As we know, Ya’akov Avinu was the one who was mesakein tefillas Arvis (Ma’ariv). The Gemara has a discussion whether or not ma’ariv is a reshus or a chovah (is it an obligation or is it something one can choose to do if he desires). According to the opinion that it’s a reshus, I once saw an explanation that this was a consequence of the essence of Ya’akov. Ya’akov’s mehus was to take the reshus and elevate it.

This is the yesod in the Ramban. It isn’t saying that Kedusha is to be abstinent. In fact, the Messilas Yesharim says that Abstinence is the level before Kedusha. A person reaches kedusha through being a poreish, but they definitely exist as two separate states. The reason is because Abstinence means refraining from things; Kedusha is taking that which your allowed to have and elevating it. This was the Darga of Ya’akov Avinu and its the one of the highest levels we can strive for.

In order to be like Ya’akov Avinu and to have our d’mus engraved on the kisei hakavod, we need to ingrain within ourselves this yesod of the Ramban. The only way to connect to HaShem is if we become like Him. Something which is Tahor can’t come into contact with something which is Tamei. So too, if we want to be davuk to HaShem, we need to become like Him, Kadosh. There are things in this world which are muttar to us. But if we want to truly establish ourselves with an essence of kedusha, it means not just refraining from that which is assur but elevating that which is muttar. With this yesod in mind, it’s possible to become like Ya’akov Avinu and truly connect to Hakadosh Baruch Hu.