Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim – Associate Rosh Yeshiva – Passaic Torah Institute – Parsha Vayishlach – How To Be A Winner

In Parshas Vayishlach, we have the greatest wrestling match of all time:  Yaakov Avinu vs the Angel of Esav.  It’s worth noting the word used to describe this wrestling match, Vaye’aveik Ish – and a man wrestled (32:25). The root of the word Vaye’aveik is Avak – dust.  Rashi (quoting the Gemara Chullin) explains they wrestled with each other to the extent that they kicked up a tremendous amount of dust and the dust rose all the way up to the Throne of Hashem.

What is the significance of the dust rising all the way to the throne of glory?

This story will help us understand the answer. Boruch Hirschberg was a successful, young man, well-liked by his peers.  As he was unfortunately nearing the end of his battle with cancer, he said to his father, “I know my time is near and I’ve decided I want my second grade Rebbe, Rabbi Yitzchok Morgenstern to eulogize me.  Only him, except for family.” The father agreed, but asked, “Why only your second grade Rebbe? You had many other terrific Rabbeim over the years?”

“Because I owe all my success to him,” replied Boruch.  “Let me explain. One day, when I was in second grade, Rabbi Morgenstern walked in with a big smile.  He handed out a piece of paper to each of us with all the names of the boys in the class and asked us to write down next to each name a special quality of that boy.  When we finished, the Rebbe collected the papers. The next day, he handed each of us a paper with all the list of qualities that the boys in the class had said about each of us.  I never felt so good about myself!  Wow, I thought, Yanky really believes I’m smart and Shloimy says I’m a good ball player. There were many other complimentary opinions.  From that point on, I had a new self-confidence; I realized the person I really could be.”  

Boruch then pulled out an old folded piece of paper from his wallet and showed it to his father.  “This is the paper that Rabbi Morgenstern gave me,” he said. “Since that day, I kept this paper in my wallet and whenever I doubted myself, I took it out and read it.  This is how I was able to climb the ladder of life.  Rabbi Morgenstern really believed in his students and he made me focus on my unique qualities and talents.”

A few days later, Boruch passed away and Rabbi Morgenstern was the only non-family member to eulogize Boruch.  The shiva house was packed with many of Boruch’s classmates.  Someone asked Rabbi Morgenstern why he was the only non-family member to give the eulogy.  After a nod from Boruch’s father, Rabbi Morgenstern related the story. As he was finishing, all of Boruch’s former classmates reached into their wallets and pulled out their precious piece of paper. (Rabbi Spero, Touched by A Story 2).

Rav Gedalia Schorr sheds light on the Gemara that tells us the face of Yaakov was inscribed on Hashem’s Throne of Glory.  This indicated the true level of perfection that Yaakov had:  his reality mirrored his potential self on Hashem’s Throne.   Looking back at the wrestling match, the angel of Esav kicked up the dust to blur Yaakov Avinu’s vision of what he looked like, and mostly, what was his true potential.  This was Esav’s attempt at victory:  preventing Yaakov from seeing his own true nature.

Now we can understand why Yaakov Avinu’s name was changed to Yisrael after the match.  He had battled and overcome the greatest challenges that the spiritual world could offer: the threat to lose sight of his potential greatness, the greatness that is latent in every Jew, waiting to be brought out. The angel of Esav is a manifestation of the Yetzer Harah (evil inclination), which seeks to obscure our vision of who we really could be.  

This is a timeless message.  Every Jewish soul emanates from the Throne of Glory.  We each have the potential to reach great heights.  We have an image in Heaven which represents our true potential.  Our mission in life is to perfect our deeds, speech and thoughts so they mirror our image in heaven.

Our job is never to lose focus of who we can be. We can learn from Rabbi Morgenstern and Boruch that the greatest gift we can give people is to help them see their own potential for greatness and encourage them to reach that potential. Our spouses, our children, our friends and co-workers:  love them, encourage them, compliment them and most of all, believe in them.

And never forget:  believe in yourself and do all it takes to be what you can be!

Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim – Associate Rosh Yeshiva – Passaic Torah Institute – Parsha Toldos – All You Have To Do Is Ask

Have you ever brought an awesome proposal to your boss – one that would make your work easier, the company more efficient and bring in more clients – only to have it REJECTED? You are convinced it’s a winning idea, so you present it again. You lay out all the data, explain the principles behind the changes and believe the chief “gets it.”  And again, you are REJECTED. You’re disappointed, but you try again. Should you now be surprised when he throws you out of his office, saying, “Stop wasting your time and get back to your job. No means NO!”

Our Parsha opens by telling us that Yitzchak and Rivka were extremely persistent people: “Vaye’etar Yitzchok lenochach ishtoh“, “Yitzchok entreated Hashem opposite his wife” (Toldos 25:21). The word vaye’etar is rare, so Rashi defines it: Yitzchak and Rivka kept imploring Hashem, over and over, to grant them a child. This seems to border on being disrespectful and insolent: why keep asking after Hashem has clearly said “NO!”?

Let’s be honest.  This question doesn’t just apply to Yitzchak and Rivka. It applies to the tefillos (prayers) of each and every one of us. We daven three times a day and repeat the same requests over and over- perhaps for a sick person, perhaps for a marriage partner, or perhaps for one’s livelihood.  Why is it okay to ask for the same things over and over; shouldn’t we just make our requests and trust that Hashem has heard them and will do as He wills? I believe the following story (from With All Your Heart by Rabbi Binyomin Pruzansky) will help us understand.

There was a young boy named Dovi who had difficulty keeping up with his class. Dovi tried hard, but his mind would constantly wander; he simply could not follow the reading and discussions. When Dovi’s class started learning Gemara, he was completely lost.  To make matters worse, the boys in his class teased and made fun of him. Finally, the day came when he told his mother he just could not go to school.  After much cajoling, Dovi reluctantly went back to school, continuing to suffer.

One day, the Rebbe asked a question and Dovi uncharacteristically raised his hand to answer. The Rebbe called on him, jumping at the opportunity to build Dovi’s confidence.  To everyone’s surprise, Dovi gave the correct answer.  The next day, his Rebbe noted that Dovi followed along in the Gemara for most of the class.  He was steadily improving. The Rebbe was very pleasantly surprised and he called Dovi’s mother to ask what had led to this wonderful transformation.  

The mother told him, “A few weeks ago, the situation was so bad that Dovi refused to go to school. On that Erev Shabbos, I called Dovi over and suggested that since candle lighting time is an opportune time to daven for Hashem’s help and I was about to light candles, we should daven together that he will merit from Hashem to see the light of Torah in his learning. We davened and cried together.  We did this for a few weeks and, with Hashem’s help, it worked!”

The Gemara in Yevamos 64 explains that the sole reason Hashem created both Yitzchak and Rivka biologically unable to have children, is that Hashem desires the tefillos of the righteous. Rav Shimshon Pincus zt” l explains there is a big difference between asking a person for something and requesting something from Hashem. A person who considers a request and says “no” usually means no.  However, when Hashem does not answer our tefillos for something that is essentially good for us, it’s not because Hashem wants to deny our request.  Rather, it’s to prompt us to ask again. . Hashem wants us to pray to Him and get close to Him, so when we get what we prayed for, we realize that it came from Hashem.

Rav Pincus learns a novel idea from this. The term “masmid” is generally used for someone who sits and studies Torah at every opportunity, with diligence and without interruptions. From the Rashi defining Vaye’etar, we now learn of a new type of “masmid“:  a “masmid” in tefilla!

Hashem does not get annoyed at such a masmid. On the contrary, this is what He wants, that every one of us should be turned to Him at all moments for all of our needs, asking and asking. Our very first request, even before the beginning of Shemoneh Esrei, is: “Hashem sefosai tiftach…” – Hashem, open my lips.  – Hashem, give me the ability to turn to you and pray to you.

Hashem’s door is always open. His appointment book is never full.  We just have to ask and if it’s really important, to keep asking.