Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim – Associate Rosh Yeshiva – PTI- Passaic Torah Institute – Shabbos Nachamu: The Comfort of Connecting With Hashem

Last week on Rosh Chodesh Av, the Passaic/Clifton community and klal Yisrael suffered a colossal loss: the sudden passing of Rabbi Shmuel Berkovicz, z”l, menahel—principal—of Yeshiva M’kor Boruch where my son attended, rav of Khal Yeraim, and for me personally, a rebbe and close friend. He was my counsel for many chinuch questions. He was suffused with love for each person, and he loved each child in yeshiva. We are bereft.

The Gemara says the death of a tzaddik is equal to the burning of the Beis Hamikdash. While they existed, both provided the means for forging a deep connection to Hashem. We are now left without the Beis Hamikdash and without the tzaddik. I personally feel the void so immensely.

This Shabbos is called Shabbos Nachamu because the haftorah starts off with the word nachamu—comfort. Hashem tells Yeshaya the prophet to go and comfort klal Yisrael after the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash.

Similarly, when a mourner is sitting shiva, there is a mitzvah called nichum aveilim to visit the mourner and offer words of comfort. Can we truly offer comfort to the mourner? Rabbi Daniel Schwab told me, in the name of his illustrious grandfather, Harav Shimon Schwab, that we can’t really comfort the mourner—only Hashem can do that. Indeed, these are the words we say to the mourner: “May Hashem comfort you amongst all the mourners of Tzion and Yerushalayim.” In this sentence, we refer to Hashem as Hamakom—the place—which is one of the names of Hashem, because when someone loses a close relative, there is a huge void. Only Hashem can fill that void.

Perhaps the following event relates to the comfort of Shabbos Nachamu, says Rabbi Daniel Schwab. Once he had to store a few items in his garage, but his garage was so cluttered, he had no room for them. He first had to clear everything out that wasn’t needed. On Tisha B’Av we clear out space inside ourselves. We first need to recognize the void in our lives and how much of Hashem we are missing. Once we have de-cluttered, we now have the space and the clarity to allow Hashem—Hamakom—to come fill that space inside us.

Our community feels the void without Rabbi Berkovicz. Which rebbe will love our children and care for them as deeply as he did? Who will lead his beautiful shul? Where will parents and rebbeim turn for chinuch advice? Where will I turn for my personal questions on raising my children in Passaic? There is a huge vacuum.

Perhaps there is another element to the nechama that is being offered on Shabbos Nachamu. It is almost impossible to console someone with regard to an irreplaceable loss. The Navi repeats the word nachamu twice, since there are two parties who need to be comforted concerning the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash: Hashem and klal Yisrael. Yes, Hashem also needs comforting.

The Gemara quotes an episode where Rebbe Yosse walked into one of the ruins in Yerushalayim to pray. Inside, he heard a heavenly voice saying, “Whenever I hear Jews saying the words yehei shmei rabba in Kaddish, I say, ‘Praise goes to the King because His nation praises Him in His home as such. Woe is to the father who has exiled his children and woe to the children who have been banished from their father’s table.’”

The sefer Bromo Shel Olam explains that Hashem also needs comfort for destroying the Beis Hamikdash, as His presence is now less felt in the world. Hashem is comforted when we express our yearning for Him and His dwelling place. We do this when we respond to people saying Kaddish.

The physical destruction is just temporary; the rebuilding will happen. Even in its destruction, the Beis Hamikdash retains its kedusha; the physical area remains holy and sacred. The loss of the Beis Hamikdash is not forever; we in fact “rebuild it” as we strengthen our connection with Hashem.

Similarly, upon the loss of tzadikim, the Gemara says they are considered alive even after their death, as their Torah is eternal. The lessons we have learned from Rabbi Berkowicz still live on. Living his lessons keeps him with us.

Just as Hashem grants a nechama to klal Yisrael after Tisha B’Av, so may Hashem grant a nechama to the Berkovicz family, our community and all of klal Yisrael.

Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim – Associate Rosh Yeshiva – PTI – Passaic Torah Institute – Parsha Pinchas – Acting Decisively for Peace

I’d like to dedicate this dvar Torah to a very happy couple, my daughter Malka and husband Tzvi Sontag, who recently gave birth to a baby girl!

Harmony in the home leads to great blessing. Let’s explore together.

A 30-year-old Sefardi woman had been dating for many years without a match. She was a successful lawyer and decided to take a year off to spend with friends in Eretz Yisrael. She rented an apartment in Yerushalayim, and one day a friend invited her for Shabbat in Tel Aviv. She was reluctant, but her friend was convincing. “It’s nice here. Please come for Shabbos. I am sure you will be thankful for coming.” She agreed. On Shabbos morning, the single lady remembered it was her grandmother’s yahrzeit. “I have a custom to sponsor a kiddush l’iluy nishmas my grandmother on her yahrzeit. Can that be arranged?” They asked their shul’s gabbai who readily agreed.

After Shabbos, the gabbai, who was single, inquired about the lady who sponsored the kiddush and asked if it would be possible to arrange a date. This was an Ashkenazi shul, but the gabbai was …Sefardi. They went out and sure enough it was a match. Amazing! This lady had been dating for years in America and Hashem arranged for her to go to Tel Aviv for Shabbos, sponsor kiddush in an Ashkenazi shul and there meet the Sefardi gabbai who would be her match! Hashem puts us where we need to be.

In truth, every match works that way. Hashem puts people from different places together. In addition, if Hashem orchestrates the couple to meet and marry, then Hashem also wants them to stay together.

A healthy and happy Jewish marriage is a key concept depicted in Parshas Pinchas. When the Torah relates the zealous act of Pinchas killing Zimri and Kozbi, who brazenly consorted with Midianite women, it traces Pinchas’ lineage to Aharon Hakohen. The Nesivos Shalom explains that the Torah is emphasizing that Pinchas was rooted in peace, like his grandfather Aharon.

But what was peaceful about Pinchas killing those two individuals?

I believe the answer lies in defining the nature of shalom/peace within Aharon. When Aharon died, the Gemara tells us that 80,000 children all named Aharon participated in the levaya (funeral). They were named after Aharon for he was known as the peacemaker who was constantly helping married couples maintain harmony and peaceful relationships. If we make a calculation of 40 years in the desert and 80,000 children, that means Aharon counseled between five and six couples a day! (Likely, there were many more, as the number doesn’t include the baby girls…)

The brazen behavior of Zimri and Kozbi gave a stamp of approval for married Jewish men to have illicit relations with the Midianite women. That had to be stopped. A marriage is a sacred commitment, not a casual relationship. Zimri was initiating a total breakdown of the Jewish home and the future of klal Yisrael. He was creating chaos. Pinchas acted decisively. He thus restored the concept of the sanctity of marriage and peaceful relationships, just like his grandfather Aharon. For this, he was blessed with peace.

Klal Yisrael enjoyed three special miracles each day in the desert. The mun was in the merit of Moshe, the wellspring of water was in the merit of Miriam, and the “clouds of glory” were in the merit of Aharon because of his devotion to shalom in klal Yisrael. Upon Aharon’s death, the clouds of glory protecting the Jewish nation for 40 years dispersed, leaving the nation vulnerable to attack.

At times, couples will disagree, but they must be very careful not to let it develop into a full-fledged argument. The Hebrew word for such an argument is machlokes. The Shelah expounds on the letters of machlokes: mem, ches, lamed, kuf, tav. These letters show us how arguments start and fester. Usually, arguments start with something small like the letter mem, which is entirely closed and has only a little split on the bottom—as arguments start with a little rift. If not stopped, arguments expand like the bottom of the letter ches, which is entirely open. They then develop into full feuds, as signified by the tall letter lamed—as the flames of argument go flying to the sky. Next is the letter kuf where the leg extends downward, signifying that arguments bring us way down. The last letter is tav, which has two feet strongly standing on the ground, signaling an argument that is not going away.

Peaceful relationships give stability and joy to our lives. They do need purposeful nurturing and care. Hashem put us together and wants us to have shalom bayis—harmony in the home—which will serve as the bedrock for a bayis ne’eman b’Yisrael, a happy home that is faithful to Jewish traditions.

Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim – Associate Rosh Yeshiva PTI – Passaic Torah Institute – Shelach – Maintaining the Strength Of Our Convictions

When one of my daughters was four years old, she was looking out the front window and shouted in delight, “Daddy! Look! The chocolate truck is here!” I looked out the window and saw a UPS truck. To her, a brown truck was…the chocolate truck! People can look at the same thing and differ in their interpretation of it.

This is the story of the spies. Twelve highly esteemed leaders, one from each tribe, were chosen to scout out Eretz Yisrael. Ten of this group returned and gave an unfavorable report about Eretz Yisrael. The Jewish nation accepted this report. For this crime, Hashem decreed the Jews would sojourn in the desert for 40 years before entering Eretz Yisrael! Only two of the spies, Kalev and Yehoshua, gave a favorable report.

So, were the spies really outstanding leaders? The Torah at the beginning of Parshas Shelach calls them “anashim”—men—which Rashi explains to signify great stature and righteousness. Yet Rashi seems to change his mind when they return. Rashi quotes the Gemara that interprets the words, “They went and they came”: Just as they were wicked when they returned, so too were they were wicked when they set out for the mission. So—were they really good or bad?

Each spy witnessed the same events and sights, yet their interpretation was very different. They each saw funerals in all the cities they scouted. Ten of them perceived high mortality and gloom. Yet Kalev and Yehoshua saw the Hand of Hashem making the people preoccupied with their losses so they wouldn’t notice the spies. All 12 spies saw that the fruits of the land were gigantic. Ten interpreted this as abnormal, indicating a land of fearsome giants. Yet Kalev and Yehoshua saw the land as abounding in blessing. Public sentiment caused the spies to interpret the circumstances and sights in different ways.

The opinion of the public is an incredibly strong influence. We see this in our daily lives with the clothes we wear and the cars we drive. Of course, there’s no reason to completely stand out. We don’t need to make our children feel like outcasts with clothing choices. Still, it’s important to be confident in our choices and decisions without being unduly swayed by public opinion.

In the current COVID situation, we feel certain pressures. Do I need to wear a mask? Should I make the effort to maintain social distancing? What are the neighbors doing? Do I make decisions based on our rabbinic leaders’ guidance, formulated with the advice of local medical health organizations, or are my decisions based on local public behavior?

The bigger picture is subject to fluctuation as well. Groups are lobbying the governor and mayors to allow additional public activities. Should economic and political pressure influence decisions on public safety? There are multiple ways to interpret the same data, and our interests are affected by how the numbers are interpreted. As individuals and as groups, it’s easy to get swept along by public pressure.

How do we make the right choices? Rav Moshe Wolfson says we need to pray to Hashem for divine guidance. Kalev and Yehoshua would have been swept away by pressure from the nation if not for special measures that protected them. Yehoshua’s name was initially Hoshea. Moshe added the letter yud to his name (the letter yud signifying Hashem’s name), making it Yehoshua, which stands for Kah Hoshiacha, Hashem will save you. This constituted a prayer for Hashem to give Yehoshua extra support.

During the spying mission, Kalev went to daven at the Me’aras Hamachpela (the Cave of the Patriarchs) as a merit to not be swayed by the pressure of the other spies and the nation.

There are two connections that can give us the courage to withstand social pressures: A strong connection and adherence to the direction of our rebbeim, and a connection with our parents and grandparents.

Yehoshua was the dedicated disciple of Moshe. His rebbi, Moshe, prayed for him and thereby helped give him the strength to advocate his true opinions. Kalev connected to his grandparents. Our rebbeim, our parents and grandparents—these are the anchors we need to maintain our own value system, which allows us to act appropriately even if our actions differ from those around us.

Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim – Associate Rosh Yeshiva – PTI – Passaic Torah Institute – Parsha Naso – Dealing With Life’s Challenges

My rosh yeshiva in Israel, Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel, zt”l (late rosh yeshiva of Mir Yerushalayim), was stricken with Parkinson’s disease for his entire tenure as rosh yeshiva. Under his leadership, the yeshiva grew from 1,000 students to 6,000 and increased from one building to seven! He gave shiurim, met with students and carried the whole yeshiva’s budget on his shoulders. In his advanced stages of Parkinson’s, he still traveled to America to raise funds, meeting donors in their offices despite the strain. Once, the rosh yeshiva asked a supporter for a much larger donation than usual. The donor wanted to excuse himself with a nicety, but shocked himself when the word “yes” jumped from his lips! It was clear, he said later, that seeing the rosh yeshiva push himself beyond his limits for the love of his students, he could not say no. The rosh yeshiva’s challenging illness actually helped him raise the millions of dollars he needed for the maintenance and growth of the yeshiva.

Parshas Naso discusses the Nazir, who accepts upon himself to refrain from drinking wine, consuming grape products, cutting his hair and touching the dead. The Torah describes the act of becoming a nazir with the words “Ish ki yaflei” a person who accepts upon himself something wondrous. The wonder of the nazir is to go against the flow. Most people engage in worldly pursuits, while ignoring the neshama (soul). The nazir, to elevate himself spiritually, accepts the challenge of undertaking to focus on his neshama and not let his body be in the driver’s seat.

Rav Gedalia Schorr notes that we say the same word (derived from the word “pelah”) daily in the bracha of Asher Yatzar after we use the restroom. The bracha concludes with the words “mafli la’assos.” The Rema (Shulchan Aruch 6:1) explains that in addition to thanking Hashem for normal bodily function, we are thanking Hashem for the wonder of keeping two opposite forces together. Man has a body and a soul, which have two opposite agendas, and Hashem makes them exist together in harmony. Indeed, the success of the soul is only due to the body, and the success of the body is only due to the soul.

In our own daily life, we sometimes let our challenges temporarily overcome us. We need to recognize that any challenges that come our way are from Hashem and therefore, in some way, for our good. Dealing with these challenges effectively might in fact be the key to our ultimate accomplishments and success.

The bracha of borei nefashos that we say after eating certain foods is an incredible bracha; it describes this exact point: It indicates that Hashem creates many different people with all their needs and sustains them with all that He created. We have our needs and Hashem provides for them.

The Bobover Rebbe would go to visit people after Shabbos morning davening in their homes. He would drink a l’chaim, pass out cake to all the people there, make a bracha, eat a small piece and then move on to the next home.

One Shabbos on his rounds, the Rebbe stopped to see Reb Zishe, who was rosh kollel of Bobov. Reb Zishe was married for 10 years but had no children. Also present was Reb Zishe’s gabbai (assistant), Reb Shmuel, who had no children after nine years of marriage. The Rebbe gave out a l’chaim and piece of cake, then uncharacteristically drank the entire cup. He motioned to Reb Zishe and Reb Shmuel and loudly recited the bracha Baruch atah… borei nefashos rabbos v’chesronam—Hashem creates many people each with their needs—l’hachoyos bahem nefesh kol chai—to give each of them life. All answered “amen!!” Within the year, Reb Zishe had a baby girl and Reb Shmuel had a baby boy. It was clear the Rebbe purposely drank a full cup to require him to say this after-bracha so he could ask for Hashem to fill their void and get all to answer amen.

Twenty years later, the Bobover Rebbe visited Reb Zishe and Reb Shmuel to drink a l’chaim on the engagement of their children to each other. Their void of being childless for so many years was destined to be filled by each other’s simcha and give them a joyous life together.

Instead of letting our difficulties hold us back, let’s instead realize the wondrous ways of Hashem and use the resources given to us by Hashem to achieve success as we conquer these difficulties.

Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim – Associate Rosh Yeshiva – PTI – Passaic Torah Institute – Parsha Bamidbar – The Sustaining Environment Of Torah

On Lag B’Omer I was invited to participate in two Zoom weddings. One was in the Barn Estate in Clayton, Ohio. Yes, the wedding was taking place…in a barn! Only family attended, but since they had many brothers and sisters, they needed a large open area. This huge farm facilitated social distancing. The other wedding took place in the rural hills of Pennsylvania on a huge open field. Although the setting of either wedding was not what the chasan and kallah had dreamt of, each wedding was one of great joy.

In truth, this reminds me of my grandparents’ wedding. Theirs was the first wedding to take place after the war in the Eisenmann Shul, the only shul in Antwerp, Belgium, that was not destroyed by the Nazis. There were 35 people at the wedding, and unfortunately their parents were not in attendance since they did not survive the war. Yet, my grandmother told me the wedding was incredibly joyous.

Having a wedding in an isolated place is nothing new to klal Yisrael. The first Jewish “wedding” was in the middle of the desert at Har Sinai, with the giving of the Torah! Only the marrying parties were there: the Jewish nation and Hashem. The wedding was broadcast to the entire world. The entire world shook when Hashem said “Anochi, I am Hashem.” This was the first Zoom- equivalent wedding!

But why does the Midrash not mention a baser element that is free for the taking, air?
The Ben Yehoyada brings a Gemara that tells us that when Hashem was giving the Torah, He took the mountain of Sinai and held it over klal Yisrael “as a barrel” and said, “If you accept the Torah, good. If not, I will place the mountain down over you.” The Maharsha comments on the comparison of the mountain to a barrel. When placing an inverted barrel down, it traps whatever is underneath it. Klal Yisrael would not be squashed by the mountain; rather, they would be stuck inside the hollowed-out part of the mountain. Since fire was blazing as Hashem gave the Torah, the fire would suck up all the oxygen and there would be no air to breathe inside the mountain.

That’s why the Torah is not compared to air, because without the acceptance of the Torah by klal Yisrael, there would have been no air! Why the threat to remove the air? It signifies that the Torah is our oxygen and we can’t live without it.

But I would suggest a different approach. The Torah way of life creates its own life-supporting environment. Rabbi Akiva compared a fish needing water to a Jew needing Torah learning. Fish live in a different environment from humans. They have an entirely different way of breathing. Fish also need oxygen, but they get it from the water, something human bodies can’t do. In an analogous way, the Torah provides a life-supporting environment for its followers within klal Yisrael.

At the start of Sefer Bamidbar, the Torah outlines the journeys of the Jews in the desert. We see a unique nation, not yet arrived at its promised land. This is a nation defined by its marriage to the Almighty, with the Torah being the marriage contract. The message for us is clear: We may live in the world together with other nations, but we in fact live in an entirely different environment. We get our oxygen through Torah study and fulfillment of its mitzvos.

Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim – Associate Rosh Yeshiva – PTI – Passaic Torah Institute – Lag B’Omer The Radiance of Torah Learning

When I lived in Eretz Yisrael, every year on the morning after Lag B’omer, my apartment in Yerushalayim smelled like smoke from all the bonfires which burned the night before. I would still feel the heat of the bonfires near the forest when I rode the Egged bus in Har Nof in the morning. What’s the big deal about bonfires on Lag B’omer?

The Bnei Yissaschar explains that the day that Rebbi Shimon bar Yochai taught the Zohar, the sun didn’t set, thereby lighting up the night. We therefore light bonfires to commemorate the bright light that came from the Torah of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. Lag B’omer itself starts the final third of the Omer, which totals 49 days from Pesach to Shavuos. The Omer is divided into trimesters. The second trimester ends on day thirty-two, which is the Gematria of “lev” (heart.) In this part of the Omer, we focus on developing the lev. The last trimester is the one closest to Shavuos, when the light of Torah was revealed to the world. The Shem Mishmuel says just like the sun starts to illuminate the world before the day starts (at dawn), so the period of time prior to an event receives light from the upcoming period. The last trimester starts receiving light from Shavuos, when the Torah was given.

It’s during the first thirty-two days of the Omer, ending on Lag B’omer, that the disciples of Rabbi Akiva perished. They died because they did not have sufficient respect for each other; they were held to very high standards since they represented the future of Torah observance for the next generation. This teaches us the lesson that an essential part of our Torah observance must include focusing on developing our compassion and caring for others. Lag B’omer starts our focus on enhanced Torah learning and reaffirming our unwavering commitment to performing Hashem’s mitzvos. The purpose of leaving Mitzrayim was to receive the Torah on the Sixth of Sivan. Part of our preparation for this event includes the custom of studying Pirkei Avos on Shabbos afternoons during the Omer period, as these Mishnayos focus on character development. With all this background in mind, we have a new understanding of why precisely on Lag B’omer was this light of Torah revealed.

There’s an amazing insight from the B’nei Yissaschar who says Rebbi Yochanan ben Zakai told his top five disciples to discern how to achieve the best path in life. Rebbi Eliezer ben Aruch said it was to have a “good heart.” Rebbi Yochanan said this was the best approach because it included all the other opinions. A good heart in Hebrew is ‘lev tov,’ whose numerical value is 49. Lev is 32 and tov is 17. In the first 32 days of the Omer, we work on our heart — having care and concern for others. In the last part of the Omer, we prepare for the giving of the Torah on Shavuos.

The Bnei Yissaschar teaches us a fundamental idea. The first time the word tov is written in the Torah is at the completion of the first day of creation. “Hashem saw the light was tov / good.” The word tov is the 33rd word in the Torah. What was so good and special about the light? Rashi  says this was not the light of the sun, which wasn’t created until the fourth day. This was a special light that gave tremendous illumination and clarity of purpose regarding how Hashem operates the world. This light was so powerful, one could see clear across the world. But Hashem saw that this light would be dangerous in the hands of evil people, so He hid it in the Torah. If someone applies himself exceptionally well in his Torah learning, he attains this clarity. Rebbi Shimon bar Yochai revealed elements of this clarity with the Torah he taught to the world.

Now we can better appreciate our bonfires on Lag B’omer. No matter how deep the darkness around us, learning Torah will illuminate and give clarity and purpose to all. Dovid Hamelech prayed for special divine help in understanding Torah as expressed in the pasuk in Tehillim –  Gal einai – open my eyes so that I may see the wonders of your Torah. The three-letter word “gal” has the same letters as Lag, just spelled backwards, and they both have the numerical value of 33, alluding to the special revelation of Torah that starts with the period of Lag B’omer. There is nothing that illuminates more…than Torah.

Now is the time to make a commitment to enhance our Torah study. May Hashem grant us the great clarity of purpose to follow his Torah and mitzvos. And as we conclude the first blessing of Bircas Krias Shema each morning, may we merit the clarity from the New Light that Hashem will bring to Tzion!

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.

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.

Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim – Associate Rosh Yeshiva – PTI – Passaic Torah Institute – Parsha Terumah – The Best Investment Tip Ever

A close friend told me of a major challenge in his business. An employee of several decades recently left his company to work for a competitor. Before leaving, this ex-employee convinced many clients of my friend’s business to transfer their accounts to the new company. My friend had helped this person in so many ways, and yet, the employee stole these clients and as a result, countless thousands of dollars were not earned. A lawsuit made sense, but the time and aggravation weren’t worth it.

I was struck by how calm my friend was as he told me this story. This was a colossal mess! He replied by quoting the advice of his rebbe, “The best challenge to have is money. Baruch Hashem, you are healthy, and your family is well. Your children are progressing nicely in yeshiva and you have a great relationship with your wife. True, the money is a challenge…but it’s only money.”

When I heard this, I was a bit incredulous. I thought, “How do you remain calm when it comes to so much money being taken away from you?”

I believe the source of my friend’s attitude is in the first Midrash Rabbah of Parshas Teruma. The pasuk says, Veyikchu li teruma—you shall take contributions of teruma [for the Mishkan]. The Midrash explains this is referring to the Torah. Rav Gedalia Schorr explains that the contributions to the Mishkan were essentially a contribution for the Torah itself, as the Ramban tells us the Mishkan’s purpose was to create a place where the revelation of Torah can continue daily in a private manner. The Kodesh Hakodashim—the inner sanctum of the Mishkan—housed the Aron, which contained the luchos (tablets). From on top of the Aron, Hashem’s voice emanated. It was a Sinai revelation happening daily in a private way. Therefore, contributions to build the Mishkan were really contributions for the revelation of Torah!

The Midrash continues: Hashem tells Klal Yisrael, “I sold you my Torah. You got a great deal, a real fire sale! The Torah contains gold, silver and bronze.” That’s strange…gold, silver and bronze?? Rav Schorr says these are all symbolic. Gold represents financial security. Indeed, the American government backs the U.S. dollar with gold bullion. Silver represents desire, as the Hebrew word kesef (money) also means desire, as is found in the words nichsof nichsafti. The word kesef in our vernacular often connotes the love of money. And copper represents brazenness, as illustrated by the covering of the mizbeach with copper, which Rashi explains gives atonement for brazenness (which in this case is negative).

Hashem is telling us that the Torah is the source for all blessings. People are always looking for lucrative investments that yield high returns with minimum risk. The Torah is it! It is true: People need ambition to achieve. Desire, stamina and brazenness (used in a positive way) propel a person forward in business and personal achievements, and can also result in accomplishment in Torah!

If we apply ourselves in Torah and utilize our natural urges and drive in our Torah learning, the chances are that material success will also follow.

I witnessed this with my own eyes as I listened to my friend. A long-time employee robbed him under his nose, yet he remained calm and relaxed. He knew with certainty that Hashem is in charge. He was able to sleep at night, have conversations and spend quality time with his kids and wife. He did not let the situation make him tense and unhappy. It was a test, but he put it in proper perspective.

We all face hurdles at times; some bigger than others. That’s when we’re put to the test. Are Torah and mitzvos just nice things to do on good days, or do they constitute a way of life no matter what the challenges?

Let’s invest in the best investment tip we will ever get: Learn Hashem’s Torah. The dividends are endless and priceless.

Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim – Associate Rosh Yeshiva – PTI – Passaic Torah Institute – Parsha Yitro – Modeling the Character Of Hashem’s People

My busy schedule doesn’t allow much leisure reading, but each week I take a few minutes to peruse Rabbi Yoel Gold’s column in Ami Magazine. He relates inspiring stories of divine providence. A few years ago, he told the story of a Jewish man (we’ll call him “Isaac”) who was staying in a hotel in the West Coast for business. When placing his valuables in the hotel room safe, he was surprised to find a pouch full of expensive jewelry. Logically, the owners probably gave up hope on getting it back, so according to Jewish law, he might be able to keep the jewelry. What a find!

But then, Isaac remembered reading about Rabbi Noah Muroff from Connecticut who found $98,000 hidden in a $150 desk he purchased on Craigslist. Here too, Rabbi Muroff could have kept the money, but he called the lady who sold him the desk and returned the cash. Rabbi Muroff was featured in countless news articles nationwide. In one interview, he explained, “To me, the need to return money was clear. I am Jewish and I want to spread the message of honesty and integrity.” Isaac went down to the front desk and said in a loud voice, “I found this pouch of jewelry in my room. I am Jewish and I want to return it to its rightful owner. The hotel staff was stunned by this display of honesty.

Isaac was scheduled to be in the West Coast for Shabbos but didn’t know anyone. A contact helped set him up with a local family. Now it was Isaac’s turn to be stunned: his host was none other than Rabbi Noah Muroff, who had moved there earlier. Isaac realized Hashem was sending him a clear message that he did the right thing and was proud of him.

Parshas Mishpatim is replete with hundreds of laws: personal injury, property damage, returning lost articles, marriage, divorce, and interpersonal and monetary obligations. Each of these laws is discussed at length in various gemaras and the Shulchan Aruch. However, even cases where a course of action that might benefit oneself are technically permitted under the letter of the law, are subject to a higher code of ethics. This is referred to as lifnim m’shuras hadin—beyond the letter of the law. When finding a lost object that one might be able to keep, one should nevertheless try to locate the rightful owner. According to many opinions, this extra step is actually mandated.

The Beer Hagolah writes that it is praiseworthy to return even money that may be kept if there is an element of Kiddush Hashem in returning it. I have seen many people become wealthy from other people’s errors, he said, but then lose their wealth and have nothing left. Those who sanctified Hashem’s name by returning gains made by the errors of others became wealthy and left their wealth for their heirs.

Rav Shimon Schwab zt”l was very careful about his honesty in money matters. He was once audited by the IRS. Rav Schwab handed in all the requested papers with every cent accounted for. When he finished, the IRS agent told Rav Schwab “I have never met anyone so honest in my life.”

Rav Schwab would lament that too often we see Jewish people on the cover of the newspaper for illegal actions. We need instead to try to make a public display of how honest a Jew behaves.

And even though acting honestly and ethically doesn’t always gain the limelight, it is still incumbent upon us, as a reflection of our Creator, to do so.

The civil laws in Parshas Mishpatim are placed right after the Ten Commandments to teach us that all areas of mitzvos are important and need to be followed. In the same way we are diligent in keeping Shabbos and buying a beautiful esrog, so too we must be diligent in monetary matters and interpersonal relationships.

This Shabbos is also called Parshas Shekalim. Each person was obligated to give a half shekel of shekel hakodesh (holy shekel) to the Mishkan. What does “holy shekel” mean? Rav Schwab explains that it means every cent of that shekel needs to be acquired honestly, without any duplicity or cheating. The funds from the collection of the shekalim were used to create the sockets, the foundation of the Mishkan. They were also collected yearly to purchase the animals that were sacrificed daily on behalf of the Jewish nation. Using “honest money” was a must!

Let us be a shining example of a Torah Jew each day at work, at the store, with our neighbors—everywhere! This will bring blessing both in our business matters and in our homes, which are a mini Mishkan—a place where Hashem dwells. And with that, may we merit to rebuild the third Beis Hamikdash speedily in our days.