Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim – Associate Rosh Yeshiva – PTI – Passaic Torah Institute – Nitzavim/Rosh Hashanah – United We Stand

Last month, a dream came true. Thanks to the help of some dear relatives, my son and I were able to go to Eretz Yisrael for a whole week before my son’s Bar Mitzvah. We went to learn in the Mir Yeshiva and Ponevezh. We davened at the Kotel. We met with Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, Rabbi Povarsky, Rabbi Binyamin Finkel and many great talmidei chachamim. And we had fun, too! Indeed, my father advised me to make sure to plan a fun activity to do there. My son chose jeeping in the Judean desert. On a Friday, we found ourselves bouncing around in the back of a jeep. It was spectacular! We were surrounded by the magnificent Judean desert mountains. We stopped on top of a mountain and our tour guide, Bentzy, told us, “Look at that mountain on the other side of the Jordan River. That is where the Bnei Yisrael stood before they crossed into Eretz Yisrael. That is where Moshe Rabbeinu, on the last day of his life, said, “Atem Nitzavim Hayom” – “You are standing here today.” We could not believe it! He was quoting and pointing to portions of my son’s Bar Mitzvah parsha — Nitzavim!

Parshas Nitzavim is always read the Shabbos prior to Rosh Hashanah. The parsha opens with the words,” Atem Nitzavim hayom…” The Zohar says the word “hayom” (today) is referring to Rosh Hashanah, as that is the day all Klal Yisrael stand before Hashem in judgment. The Nesivos Shalom explains that the parsha is giving us a strategy to approach this special day of Rosh Hashanah. It’s contained in the words “Atem Nitzavim” You are all standing! What was the purpose of this great assembly before Hashem?

The Ohr Hachaim Hakadosh says it was to unite all Bnei Yisrael, to create a pact that each Jew is connected to and responsible for one another. This is the principle of Kol Yisrael Areivim Zeh Lazeh. The Gemara tells us that “Arvus” gives a Jew the ability to make a blessing for another Jew, because he is responsible for him. But how is it possible to make a bracha for someone else, when you already fulfilled your own obligation? Reb Chaim Brisker says the root of the word Arvus is Areiv. An Areiv is a guarantor. When it comes to loans, there are two types of guarantors: a regular Areiv and an Areiv Kablan. A regular guarantor can only be approached after the borrower refuses to pay. However, an Areiv Kablan can be approached directly-it’s as if he personally borrowed the money. Reb Chaim says each Jew is on the level of an Areiv Kablan! If another Jew does not fulfill a mitzvah, we personally are missing that mitzvah. That is what gives a Jew the ability to make a bracha for another Jew, because it is our bracha. The Ritva says this new pact of Arvus united the Jewish nation together as one body.

Reb Yisroel Salanter goes even further. He tells us this concept of focusing on others is the only winning strategy in our impending court case on Rosh Hashanah. As directed by the Shulchan Aruch, we wear nice clothing, get a haircut, and eat a yom tov meal on Rosh Hashanah. Yet, it’s perplexing–shouldn’t we be too nervous to eat? So much is at stake!! No. The Jewish nation as a whole is guaranteed it will be meritorious in judgment. But…this guarantee is for the nation, not for each person.

For an individual to win his or her own case, Reb Yisroel tells we must leave self-absorption behind and sincerely look out for the needs of others. Helping others could be a family member or a neighbor or someone sitting next to you at work or in shul. We are all given different talents and personalities, and we’re to use these attributes to be kind to others around us. Hashem will judge us based on how well we use the abilities He gave us.

Will we succeed? Some people feel ill-prepared to help others. Reb Yisroel Salanter would emphasize an addition we say in our prayers during this time period: “Zochreinu l’chaim….” — may you remember us for life for your sake, Hashem. That is our ticket for success. If we dedicate our service for the sake of Hashem, Who is crowned on Rosh Hashanah, we will find that our efforts will succeed and we will be rewarded as well.

May we all stand truly united this Rosh Hashanah and translate into action, our focus on the needs of others, as we proclaim from the depth of our hearts, “Hashem is the King.” Wishing everyone a k’siva v’chasima tova – a happy, healthy and sweet new year.

Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim – Associate Rosh Yeshiva – PTI – Passaic Torah Institute – Parsha Ki Tavo – Having An Attitude Of Gratitude

Many store owners post a dollar bill on the wall behind the cash register to remember their first dollar of profit. We have a related concept in this parsha, where we take the first fruit from that year’s crop and bring it to the Beis Hamikdash. There, we recite a special thank you to Hashem for the bounty we received. Recognizing all the good things Hashem gives us—and saying thank you out loud—is fundamental to who we are as Jews. Every morning we wake up and immediately give thanks to Hashem!

Antonio Avizorone grew up in a small town in Italy. One day he came across a Jewish prayer book that was translated into Italian. He opened it up and read the first prayer, Modeh Ani, Thank You, Hashem for waking me up in the morning. He was startled. “This is how Jews start their day?” He was so moved and impressed, he decided to convert to Judaism and became Avraham Avizorone.

Parshas Ki Savo opens with the mitzvah of bringing bikkurim (the first fruits) to the Beis Hamikdash, to recognize that Hashem is the One who made the produce grow. The mitzvah of bikkurim is so critical, the Midrash Tanchuma tells us that Moshe was worried about this mitzvah the most when he foresaw the destruction of the two Batei Mikdash (Temples) and the resulting exile. This prompted him to start the practice that Jews should pray three times a day. This midrash is quite perplexing. How could it be that regarding the entire destruction of the two Batei Mikdash and exile of the whole Jewish nation, Moshe’s only concern was the inability to bring bikkurim??

I believe the midrash is teaching us the necessity for hakaras hatov—being grateful. Our survival in exile depends on this trait. Without observing the mitzvah of bikkurim, we are in jeopardy of losing our sensitivity and our focus on being grateful to Hashem and connecting with Hashem. To ensure the Jewish people would maintain its appreciation and express its thanks to Hashem, Moshe instituted the practice of davening three times a day. This was later formalized by the Anshei Knesses Hagedola to the davening we have today.

Rabbi Elazar Menachem Shach was always very careful to recite birkas hamazon from a bentcher and had great concentration. One time he finished saying birkas hamazon and began saying it all over again. Why? Rav Shach responded that while he was saying the second blessing of the bentching, Nodeh Lecha, which deals with thanking Hashem—he himself lost focus. And since this paragraph is thanking the Almighty, a mindless thank you would not suffice. He had to repeat it.

During these days of Elul there is a great emphasis on tefillah. This Motzei Shabbos we start reciting Selichos to ask Hashem for forgiveness. It’s our opening attempt to connect to Hashem and perhaps be worthy to ask for what we want. I’m sure we all have many requests! But we must not lose focus on the blessings and good that Hashem showers upon us on a daily basis and thank Him for it.

A friend of mine heard a great piece of advice from his rosh yeshiva, who said to pause a moment during the Modim part of our Amidah. That paragraph is all about thanking Hashem. The rosh yeshiva said to pause before saying the word v’tovosecha, “thank You for your kindness,” and to think of a specific kindness that happened to you that day and thank Hashem for that while saying the word v’tovosecha. This idea was reinforced by another friend who told me that while he was fully observant he did not feel a real connection with Hashem until someone suggested that he write down one or two items he was grateful for at the end of each day. As he saw the list of items build over time, he felt closer and closer to Hashem.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank Hashem as my first/only son celebrates his bar mitzvah this week!

As we enter the beginning of the new year, let’s focus on all the good we receive, thank Hashem for it and allow ourselves to feel a real connection with Hashem. We will all be the better for it.

Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim – Associate Rosh Yeshiva – PTI – Passaic Torah Institute – Parsha Ki Teitzei – It’s Time To Wake Up!

Last week, my wife woke me up at 1:30 am, saying “Get up quickly! Someone is knocking on the front door!” I was half asleep and tried to ignore reality. “Get up now! Somebody’s knocking on the door and I heard the phone and your cell ringing.” Sure enough, there was pounding at the door and the doorbell was ringing. At this point, we were both scared. What could be happening at 1:30 in the morning? So, I dialed the number that called my cell phone. It was the Passaic Police. “Why did you call me?” I asked. “We’re responding to a call about an attempted break-in at your house. The Police are at your front door right now!”

At that hour, my brain was still in a fog. A break-in? Here? Police? I looked out the window to see three police cars and several officers on my front porch. This wasn’t a dream. I opened the door to let the police come in. They had already checked the perimeter of the property and found nothing. Then with our permission, they did a sweep of our house. Nothing again. It seems the caller gave the wrong address – likely Crescent Place, not Crescent Ave. When they left, our hearts were still pounding. Baruch Hashem, no one broke in. Still…my wife said, “It’s Elul and Hashem sent these policemen in the middle of the night to wake us up! The shofar started blowing at shul, but we needed a greater awakening.” We recited Tehillim at our dining room table, with thanks for all of us being safe. What a night!

The shofar blasts reverberate throughout our communities every morning in Elul at the end of Shacharis. The Rambam says the reason we blow shofar is to wake us up from our slumber. We certainly got woken up at our house that night! Now, it’s time to take the message to a higher level to awaken our sleepy soul. Elul is the time to do that! Each day is precious.

From Rosh Chodesh Elul through Yom Kippur is a forty-day period. The Chofetz Chaim says these days are most auspicious, since Moshe spent that amount of time in heaven writing the second luchos (tablets), which he brought down on Yom Kippur. Hashem providing the second set of luchos let us know that He accepted the repentance of the Jewish Nation regarding the sin of the golden calf and once more chose the Bnei Yisroel to be His nation by giving them the Torah.

The number forty is highly significant. The Bnei Yissaschar notes it’s the minimum volume of water required for a kosher Mikvah – 40 Se’ah (measurement of volume in the Gemara era). Each day of the 40 day period from Rosh Chodesh Elul until Yom Kippur corresponds to one Se’ah of the Mikvah and purifies one part of the person that became defiled. Forty days also corresponds to the development of a fetus and determines the gender of the baby. Each day is crucial. Each day is important

Rabbi Moshe Wolfson notes that in Parshas Ki Teitzei we also find the number forty in the punishment of lashes mentioned. Yet the offender, who transgressed a negative commandment, only receives thirty-nine lashes, for the sages extrapolate the verse to mean forty minus one-thirty-nine. Each of the lashes is meant to purify part of the person who was defiled. If we perfect thirty-nine areas of the person, then Hashem makes the final product, the fortieth portion, complete.

The same concept is found in Shabbos, since Shabbos is the day in which the world was completed. There are thirty-nine base melachosthat one may not do on Shabbos. The fortieth is Godly — that’s why Yom Kippur is the fortieth day of this time period. In each day of this time period the alarm sounds via the shofar, reminding us to wake up and make each day count.

Rabbi Nosson Wachtfogel (late Mashgiach of Beis Medrash Govoha) stressed that we should focus on the positive and not the negative during this time. Focusing on our faults is not useful. Rather, it’s the time period to be diligent about performance of mitzvos and Torah learning and to resolve to improve ourselves. Some people take on a little something extra. Every activity we do to better ourselves in Elul has extra power and impact.

The Shofar is blowing. Don’t require the police to be pounding on the door! Let us listen to the wake-up call! Do at least one positive action, as small as it might be, but let’s not press snooze and go back to sleep. In Elul, each day makes a difference.

Do at least one positive action, as small as it might be, but let’s not press snooze and go back to sleep. In Elul, each day makes a difference.

Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim – Associate Rosh Yeshiva – PTI – Passaic Torah Institute – Parsha Shoftim – Wholesome Simplicity

A friend of mine discovered a growth and underwent tests. The results put him into an exclusive club no one wants to join: cancer. He underwent surgery, chemo treatments and radiation. Throughout this ordeal, I was deeply moved by his attitude and trust in Hashem. In one conversation, he told me, “Hashem has a plan for me. Whatever happens is meant to be.” His words linger with me to this day.

Everyone has challenges and setbacks which at times can be overwhelming, even depressing, yet we can get our needed inspiration to bounce back, from individuals who undergo life-threatening situations and navigate their trials with courage and faith in Hashem. Their approach to life with such clarity in their belief in Hashem, gives us our needed comfort and focus.

This reflects a fundamental life lesson in Parshas Shoftim. “Tamim tihyeh im Hashem Elokecha” — you shall be wholehearted with Hashem, your G-d (18:13). Since there is no punctuation in a Sefer Torah, the reading of one verse can change by where one places a comma. The Ohr Hachaim Hakadosh says there are two ways to read this pasuk, depending where we place the punctuation. The word “tihyeh” can be read together with tamim – “You shall be wholehearted with Hashem …,” meaning that you should have unwavering belief in Hashem and then Hashem will be with you. Or, we can place the comma after the word tamim, with the end of the verse saying “tihyeh im Hashem” – if you will be wholesome, then you will be with Hashem. The Torah wrote this ambiguity on purpose because both readings are correct! The Torah is telling us that if one is “tamim,” then he is with Hashem. This explains Rashi, who comments that if we are “tamim,”then Hashem will be proud to consider us “Amcha and Nachlascha” – His nation and His representatives.

But what’s the true meaning of being “tamim” – wholesome? The root of the word is “tam” – simple. Yaakov Avinu is referred to as “Ish tam” – a simple man. One of the four sons discussed in the Haggadah on Seder night is the Tam – the simple son. Usually, this attribute connotes simple, as in not being learned, and is not referred to with the greatest sense of praise. So why the praise of simplicity??

There are two types of simplicity. Simplicity can come from plain ignorance, or it can be seen in someone who is very knowledgeable, yet acts in a simple, straightforward manner, without any deviousness. The latter person lives his life with a simple reliance on Hashem. Be it in business, communal affairs or in relationships, this person acts in a straightforward and wholesome way, without any trace of deviousness. It’s not an easy task! A person who is very intelligent can use this attribute to achieve an unfair advantage over his fellow man. It takes a special strength of character to be very learned and still put simple reliance in Hashem in every aspect of our lives, as did Yaakov Avinu, without any need to act in a devious manner.

There’s another point to bring out in this verse. In the Sefer Torah, the letter Tav in the word “tamim” is written larger than all the other letters. The Baal Haturim explains this means someone who behaves with temimos is considered as if he fulfilled the entire Torah, which is comprised of all the letters from Aleph to Tav.

It’s a most appropriate lesson for these early days of Elul. Rav Avrohom Schorr quotes Rabbeinu Ephraim who points out the numerical value of the words “tamim tihyeh” is 910 — the same numerical value of the word Tishrei. Tishrei ushers in Rosh Hashana. Tishrei begins our New Year. It’s a powerful reminder that as we begin a whole new cycle of life with Tishrei, our focus should be on making ourselves tamim –wholesome and simple in our faith in Hashem and in our practice of the Almighty’s mitzvos.

 

Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim – Associate Rosh Yeshiva – PTI – Passaic Torah Institute – Parsha Re’eh – Beginning Near The End

Last summer, my wife and I went to Lake Placid, NY and toured the Olympic bobsled track training center. We learned a very interesting detail: the competition in this sport is so close that the race is won by a mere 1/1000th of a second! A crucial part of the race is the loading – how quickly the bobsledders run and load themselves onto the bobsled. If they are a second too slow, the race may already be lost. The opening move is pivotal; speed means either victory or certain defeat.

Parshas Re’eh begins with the words, See, I have placed in front of you today the various blessings and the curses.” Why the emphasis on the word today? The Chidushei Harim explains “today” is there to teach us that each day is a new beginning. Even if yesterday did not go as planned, today is still a new day with its own potential for mitzvos and blessings.

Ever wonder why Hashem made day and night and the need to sleep? It’s all part of the Divine Plan. We wake up in the morning to a fresh new start. Each day, Hashem renews our ability to make proper and correct decisions. We see this in the first of the morning blessings — hanosen lasechvi binah — Hashem gives man a new perspective every day. The same is true for each new week and each new month.

This Shabbos, Parshas Re’eh occurs on Rosh Chodesh Elul. It’s time for a fresh start in this very last month of the year. Earlier, in Parshas Eikev, it says Hashem is watching over from “Reishis hashana ad acharis shana” – from the beginning of the year until the end of the year, Why does the first mention of the word shana have the letter “heh” in front of it and the second mention doesn’t? The “heh” at the beginning of a word refers to a specific item or event. – the year.

The Satmar Rebbe, Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum, gives a most insightful explanation. Our sages tell us Reishis Hashana – the beginning of the year, is referring to Rosh Hashana. At the start of a new year, it is common for people to say this year is going to be “the year.” Last year was not so great. I didn’t meet my goals or accomplish all that I planned or wished for, but this year I’m going to make it happen. This year is going to be “the year!” That why Reishis Hashana — the beginning of the year — is spelled with a “heh.” However, at the end of the year, it often happens for people to realize they did not make it “the year they wanted it to be.” It was just…another year. That is why it says acharis shana – at year end, without the “heh”; it was not “the year,” but just another year.

The Sefard version of Kedusha in Shabbos Musaf, says “Hein goalti eschem acharis k’reishis“– the redemption will come when the end of the year is like the beginning of the year. Indeed, this is the formula to achieve redemption – when we carry through to the end of the year the development of the plans we began at the beginning of the year, making the current year into “the year.”

We are now at the beginning of the month of Elul, the last month of the year. By giving us a new perspective each day, Hashem is telling us, – “You can start again today!” Even if we have not yet met our goals and expectations, we can still start again now, today. Unlike the bobsled race, a quick start is not critical. Today is still a fresh opportunity. We can look back and review the plans we set for ourselves last Rosh Hashana, see what has been completed and do our best to accomplish more or even all of our goals. We still have a chance to make “the end like the beginning” and with this opportunity, we can make it “the year.”

And how do we do that? What is a key activity that will enable us to link our noble beginning to our humble “now? It’s easy:” Torah study. We start the day reciting Modeh Ani and conclude with the words “Torah tziva lanu Moshe” — Moshe taught the Jewish nation Torah. If we haven’t yet made a sufficient effort, Elul is a special time to reconnect to Hashem’s Torah. Let us begin this opportune month of Elul with a great start and make the last month of the year even more successful than our first. In this way, may we merit that this year really be “the year,” And welcome Moshiach as well!

Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim – Associate Rosh Yeshiva – PTI – Passaic Torah Institute – Parsha Eikev – Is It Easy To Fear Hashem?

It amazes me how palpable the Divine providence is in Eretz Yisrael. During my trip there recently, I felt Hashem guiding me with each step. On my first day, my cousin Aviva called me out of the blue, thinking I might be interested to know that Rabbi Binyamin Finkel — otherwise known as Rabbi Binyamin “Hatzadik” — was having minyanim in his apartment, since he was feeling weak. By Shacharis the next day, my son and I found ourselves there, delaying our plans to see Tzfas and Meron up north. My cousin had called me again to confirm I could see the Rebbe after the Shacharis minyan, and I felt Hashem was presenting me with this golden opportunity.

The morning that we went to Rabbi Finkel’s apartment was special. We got up early and took a taxi from Har Nof to Givat Shaul. Rabbi Finkel’s walls were totally lined with shelves filled with seforim. My son and I watched in admiration how the great tzaddik davened. My son remarked how Reb Binyamin was so absorbed, focused and happy while he davened. After Shacharis, we introduced ourselves to Reb Binyamin and I asked for a bracha for my son, whose bar mitzvah was coming up in two months. He gave him a beautiful bracha and then told us something that made a deep impression on both of us. He said people are always happy to earn money and they work very hard to do so, even when it’s difficult. But people realize that to accomplish their goal of earning money, there are hardships to endure, so it’s worth the effort. The same is true in performing mitzvos and learning Torah. Many times, it’s hard and it has its challenges, but the rewards are plentiful. Reb Binyamin smiled ear to ear, saying, “We have to always realize we are so lucky to perform mitzvos. They are the greatest gift – they connect us with Hashem!”

This idea is expressed in a puzzling pasuk in Parshas Eikev. Moshe tells Bnei Yisrael, “All that Hashem is asking of you is to fear Him.” Moshe makes it sound as if fear of Hashem (Yiras Hashem) is an easy goal. Fear of Hashem – to always be cognizant Hashem is watching and to have a true sense of being one with Hashem at every moment of the day – is not so easy at all! Indeed, fear of Hashem is fundamental in Judaism, as reflected in the first prayer of the morning, Modeh Ani (thanking Hashem for another day), which concludes with the words, “Reishis chochma yiras Hashem” — the first step to wisdom is fear of Hashem. The Shulchan Aruch also opens with this concept, quoting the words of King David, “Shivisi Hashem l’negdi tamid” — a person must always be cognizant that Hashem is with him every moment. It’s   easy to say, but not so easy to do. So why does Moshe refer to Yiras Hashem as something easy? Indeed, the Gemara Brachos asks this question.

Sefer Tzror Hamor gives a phenomenal explanation. If we look at the next pasuk, it says all that Hashem asks from us is “for your good.” People are willing to do things which are difficult and challenging when they know there’s a great benefit at the end! People work long hours, travel to remote locations and are apart from their families to earn money. People grunt and sweat at the gym for exercise. Yet, they don’t mind doing all these things, since they know it’s for their direct benefit.

That is what Moshe was telling Bnei Yisrael. It’s true that developing a true sense of Yiras Hashem is not easy, but it won’t be so hard if we truly and deeply realize it’s for own our good. It means spending time thinking about the concept, internalizing it and making sure that our actions match our noble thoughts.

Meeting and speaking with Reb Binyamin Finkel, with his tremendous joy in davening and performing mitzvos, provided me with a living role model to help me internalize the concept that performing mitzvos with joy, fearing Hashem and being cognizant of his presence at all times, is all for our own good.

 

Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim – Associate Rosh Yeshiva PTI – Passaic Torah Institute – Parsha Va’etchanan – Sharing The Love – A 9/11 Story

Russell Moskowitz grew up with very little knowledge about being Jewish. He was living the American dream, working at a nice job for Fuji bank in the World Trade Center, on the 79th floor of 2 World Trade Center. In three days, he would turn twenty-five. He was making his mark at a young age. On Tuesday morning of September 11, 2001, he felt the giant tower shake…a little. People heard something about a plane hitting 1 WTC. No one panicked – it must have been an unfortunate accident. Yet suddenly, a coworker on the floor came in yelling, “Everyone evacuate.” There were no PA announcements, so people were hesitant. In hindsight, that warning saved his life. Everyone headed towards the stairs to begin the very long trek down. As they reached the 44th floor, an announcement from the Port Authority came over the speakers. “There is a fire in building one, building two is secure. You may return to your desks.” Most began returning to work. Russell did not. He’s not sure what drove him on, but now thinks it was G-d pushing him forward. When he reached the 33rd floor, he heard the loudest sound of his life, felt the entire building shake and fell to the floor. He now wondered if these would be his final moments. He remembered as a young boy in camp being told that people who are going to die recite the Shema. Russell kept repeating the first line of Shema over and over, praying he would live. He safely made it out of the building. He soon found out that the second plane had flown into the 79th floor, exactly where his office was located.

Russell was privileged to turn twenty-five that week, and the open miracles he saw on 9/11 prodded him to learn more about Torah and mitzvos. He now resides in New Jersey with his wife and four children. Russell took that powerful life event as a Divine message to connect to Hashem and now dedicates his free time to leaning Torah and helping others connect as well.

The first paragraph of the Shema is written in Parshas Vaeschanan. We say this fundamental prayer each morning, evening, at bedtime and in times of danger or fear of impending death. Orthodox Jews recite Shema about eighty thousand times in a lifetime, but do we truly know its meaning? The words Shema Yisrael mean “Hear O’ Israel.” To whom are we talking? This line was first recited by the sons of Yaakov, when they gathered around their father before he passed away. Yaakov was concerned that some of his children were not fully committed to Hashem, so they said in unison, “Listen Yisrael” (which is another name for Yaakov) –we all believe Hashem is our Hashem and He is one.

Are we then speaking to Yaakov when we say the Shema? The Zohar says indeed we are referring to Yaakov, our grandfather who is in heaven, and we are affirming that we also are his children and 100% committed to Hashem, just as the twelve tribes were.

However, this translation is not what we see in most English siddurim.There, Shema implies we are addressing all B’neiYisrael. This, too, begs an explanation. Shema is a personal acceptance of the sovereignty and absolute control of Hashem. Why are we addressing all Israel and making a public proclamation?

The answer is connected to a major question regarding the first paragraph of Shema. It says, “V’ahavta es Hashem” — You shall love Hashem. But how can Hashem command us to have an emotion? How can we be ordered to love?

The Sifri says Hashem is commanding us to cause others to love Him, just like Avraham did in his time. The Rambam echoes this point and adds that when someone receives so much good from someone, it is only natural to tell others how special is that someone. If we really believe that Hashem gives us absolutely everything that we truly need and we recognize all the infinite kindness Hashem bestows upon us every minute, then we would not be able to contain ourselves! We would be shouting Hashem’s glory from the rooftops!

Russell took his life-changing experience and is using it to continuously become closer to Hashem and inspire others to do so as well. We do not need to have a near-death experience to appreciate the incredible kindness Hashem showers upon us. Let’s take stock of all our blessings and the everyday miracles that we and others constantly experience, recognize thereby how much Hashem loves us, and do our best to share this feeling with others each day.

Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim – Associate Rosh Yeshiva – PTI – Passaic Torah Institute – Tisha B’Av – Tears Of Introspection

There are countless stories of Jews of all backgrounds who start sobbing uncontrollably upon first seeing the Kotel. Most don’t even know what overcame them and have difficulty articulating their feelings. Two weeks ago, I went to Eretz Yisrael for the first time in fourteen years. When I reached that pivotal moment of seeing the stones of the Kotel, my eyes welled up with tears. I sensed the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash at my very core.

Tears are deeply interwoven with the day of Tisha B’Av. The origin of Tisha B’Av is the tragic day when the meraglim – spies – returned from spying out the land of Eretz Yisrael and presented their slanderous report to B’nei Yisrael. The nation accepted their words and refused to enter the land. As a punishment, Hashem said, “You, Yisrael, cried tears for naught. I will designate this day (ninth of Av) as a day of crying for generations.” (Gemara Taanis)

This is a very troubling Gemara. Just because B’nei Yisrael cried for nothing, is Hashem, our loving fathergoing to make us cry generation after generation? Hashem is not interested in causing us needless pain. Furthermore, the crime of B’nei Yisrael was believing the unfavorable report of the spies which showed their lack of trust in Hashem. Why the emphasis on crying as the reason for punishment?

Rav Hirsch notes that the word bechi – crying – has the numerical value of thirty-two, as does the word “lev” – heart. Crying comes from something deep within us and, in effect, is the window into one’s heart. If the B’nei Yisrael cried, it means that deep down they did not have faith in Hashem to lead them into Eretz Yisrael and conquer it. Therefore, Hashem punished B’nei Yisrael measure for measure by making each generation cry.

This precise form of punishment serves to correct the area at fault. Our current tears have the ability to fix the sin of the original tears! Hashem wants us to cry not as punishment, but rather to fix the root of the problem. If we cry, it shows we really care about correcting our faults. The Hebrew word for a teardrop is “demah.” The Sfas Emes notes that if we formulate the Hebrew letters differently, it spells moed – which means a designated time or place of meeting. A teardrop represents a connection to something deep inside of ourselves.

Let’s probe even deeper. The first Beis Hamikdash was destroyed because the Jews were involved in the three cardinal sins of idolatry, adultery and murder. It’s hard to imagine that having the Beis Hamikdash, they could commit such horrible crimes. In the destruction of the second Beis Hamikdash, the Gemara reveals that the crime was baseless hatred. Even though there were hundreds of yeshivos and incredible chesed everywhere, that fatal flaw overshadowed it all. Why couldn’t they figure it out and correct themselves?

In the Haftarah reading for Shabbos Chazon (this Shabbos), we read a section in Yeshaya, whichRav Meir Simcha of Dvinsk translates as follows: “If your sins will be like crimson wool, I will clean them to be white like snow. And if they’re red like a worm, I will make them white like wool like snow.” He explains that the two analogies are referring to the sins of the time periods. During the first Beis Hamikdash, the sins were like crimson wool. Crimson wool is inherently white, but is dyed red. The sins of that time period were external. The second analogy refers to the second Beis Hamikdash. A worm is white, but inside its blood is red. The people looked great on the surface; they were learning Torah and doing great acts of kindness, but their inside was different. The sins were concealed; they were not in touch with their core and therefore did not recognize their major fault.

This year on Tisha B’Av, we will be sitting and eating a delicious meal, as the ninth of Av coincides with Shabbos and the fast is pushed off to motzei Shabbos and Sunday. How is it possible to eat, drink and act as if today is not the saddest and most tragic day of the Jewish year?

The Apter Rav says this Shabbos is really the greatest Shabbos of the year. On Shabbos, all public displays of mourning are lifted. Indeed, Shabbos can fix the relationship with Hashem even without the crying. Let’s utilize this Shabbos to review and repair our midos (character traits) so in the future we will not need to sit on the floor and cry on motzei Shabbos. Rather, it will be within our reach to be singing and dancing in Yerushalayim, with the coming of the Moshiach.

 

Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim – Associate Rosh Yeshiva – PTI – Passaic Torah Institute – Parsha Matot-Massei – Managing Life’s Journeys

I had the great zechus (privilege) to live in Eretz Yisrael for eleven years, both as a single person in yeshiva and for six years as a “young married” with four children, including twins! Fourteen years ago, we moved to America, dreaming one day to return to our beloved land…but we’re still here. This past week, I experienced a slice of the dream, as I spent an amazing week in Eretz Yisrael with my son, who becomes a bar mitzvah after the summer.

It was beyond incredible – a walk back in time. I was able to visit all the places of my early married years. We roamed through Maalot Dafna, where we lived and sent our children to gan (nursery). We walked the streets of Har Nof, where I spent many a Shabbos with relatives, rabbis and friends. We met with many of my close Rebbeim. We also toured various parts of the country.

This trip coincided with Parshas Maasei, which lists all the different journeys of Bnei Yisrael from the time they left Egypt until they were to enter the Chosen Land. The Torah even commands us to remember the entire journey – forty-two stages in total. The Sfas Emes says all individuals in their own lives, also have forty-two different stages through which they must journey. As it says in the second sentence of Parshas Maasei, “…v’eileh maaseihem – …” …and these are their travels. The numerical value of “v’eileh” is forty two, indicating there will be forty-two legs in every individual’s life journey.  

The forty-two legs of a person’s life are also alluded to in the first paragraph of Shema, which contains forty-two words and directs us to be close to Hashem and His Torah. From this we learn that throughout our life’s journeys, we must always remember it is Hashem Who is directing our path. This paragraph of Shema also says, “… vedibarta bam,” – “…you shall speak concerning them.” The word “bam” equals forty-two. The Gemara tells us this mitzvah is specifically referring to Torah learning. One must instruct and teach his children in the ways of the Torah. It can also mean one must teach his children about the forty-two different stages of life.

The Imrei Emes says there is a constant mitzvah to remember the Bnei Yisrael’s travels, as the Torah tells us, “Vezacharta es kol haderech,” – “You shall remember your entire journey.” There are different challenges in life and each one is a book in itself, as illustrated in Parshas Beha’alosecha, with the upside-down letter “Nun” bracketing the journey away from Har Sinai.

On my first day of this trip to Eretz Yisrael, I was going to the Koteland Yeshivas Mir Yerushalayim, where I learned for ten years. But where would I go first? The answer should be the Kotel, but my inner self led me to Mir Yerushalayim. I realized the Kotel represents the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash and the exile of the Jewish People. For me, the Mir Yerushalayim, where I spent ten years immersed in Torah study, day and night, represented a place of incredible personal growth for me. This was my foundation stone for everything else I have since accomplished in life. Before I could confront the immeasurable destruction of the Beis Hamikdash and the exile of the Jewish People, I first needed to connect with my own inner source of direction and strength. I realized that rebuilding requires tools, and the Mir served as my inner toolbox.

We all have different stages and phases in our lives. In fact, as mentioned above, we have forty-two of them. Within these stages and phases, we have experienced various challenges that contributed to our development. In some cases we triumphed and in some cases we may have failed, but we learned from that failure. Wherever we find ourselves in our journey, it’s important to remember our accomplishments so far — they will give us the fortitude to move forward. Any failures, on the other hand, serve as a necessary pause for reflection, redirection and rededication, to move to the next leg.

As we mourn the loss of the Beis Hamikdash in this period of the Three Weeks, let’s not forget to tap into our inner reserves, review lessons we have learned from our experiences and goals we have accomplished on our journeys. This will help prepare us for the rebuilding of the Beis Hamikdash, may it happen speedily in our days.

Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim – Associate Rosh Yeshiva – PTI – Passaic Torah Institute – Parsha Pinchas – Creating A Foundation Of Holiness

A few years ago I experienced pain in my neck, shoulder, upper back and knee. I rubbed in a warming ointment, but it did not alleviate the pain. Massage helped, but only momentarily. I didn’t know what to do. I asked a doctor friend of mine for direction. He told me to stand straight with my feet slightly apart so he could observe me. “You are leaning slightly to one side, so you are out of balance” he said. He placed a little padding in one shoe, made a minor adjustment to my orthotics and the next day the pain was gone! Simple adjustments to put my body back in balance relieved me of all my pains. What a savior! I had been ready to go for a battery of tests, but a minor lift in my shoe and an adjustment of my orthotic resolved the issue.

I learned from this episode how important it is to operate with a “solid footing.” This is true both physically and spiritually, in our observance of Torah and mitzvos, as is demonstrated in Parshas Pinchas.

Many of the Bnei Yisroel got involved in two major sins. Many began to serve the idol Baal Peor. Additionally, many started to intermarry with Midianite women. Hashem sent a deadly plague as a punishment for Bnei Yisroel serving the idol Baal Peor and He instructed Moshe to impose capital punishment on those found guilty of idol worship. However, the plague continued and only ceased after Pinchas bravely and boldly killed Zimri, the Nasi (leader) of the tribe of Shimon, and Kazbi, the Midianite princess with whom he engaged in illicit behavior, to punish their decadence.

The intertwinement of Pinchas’s act with the end of the plague is quite puzzling. The Torah clearly states the cause of the deadly plague was a punishment for idol worship and Hashem specifically instructed Moses to kill all the offenders. So why should only the zealous act of Pinchas curb the plague and not the punishment of the idol worshipers? Further, the punishment for idol worship is capital punishment; however, illicit relations with a non-Jewish woman is a violation not culpable of the death penalty. So why did the halting of the immorality (by killing Zimri and Kazbi) save the Jews, rather than stopping the idol worship?

The Slonimer Rebbe answers with a fundamental principle from our great Rabbis. There are two major foundational areas in our service of Hashem – Emunah (Faith in Hashem) and Kedusha (sanctification of Hashem’s name through our elevated actions). When Jews strengthen themselves in these areas, it brings growth in all areas of Torah and mitzvos. When we slack off in either of these areas, the opposite is true. It has a negative effect on our whole approach to Torah and mitzvos.

With regard to Emunah (faith), our sages tell us all Jews have Emunah. Even when a Jew does not sense his Emunah, it is there deep down inside; it’s just covered up. Sometimes the root of a problem with Emunah is hard to locate. It could be an area seemingly unconnected. The evil inclination (yetzer harah) doesn’t attack Emunah directly. Hashem told the primal snake (which represents the evil inclination), “Man will pound your head and you will bite his heel.” Man will be in control of the area of the head – the mind, where Emunah is located. However, the way the snake will be able to attack man is through his heel. The heel represents Kedusha, as referenced with regard to the burning bush, where Hashem told Moshe to remove his shoes because he was walking on holy ground. When the evil inclination succeeds in lowering our adherence to Kedusha in our conduct, that is the opening for it to cause doubts in our Emunah.

The greatest strength of the yetzer harah is defeating us in areas of holiness. This is reflected in the order in which the Torah lists the two sins. First, it tells us the nation started to involve themselves in illicit relations and only after that does it mention the nation served Baal Peor.

With this principle we understand why the zealous act of Pinchas curbed the plague, and not the punishment of the idol worshipers. It’s because the sin of observing false ideologies is rooted in one’s inclination to lower his level of Kedusha. Once the root of the problem was eliminated, the plague was halted.

Let us focus on creating a solid footing for ourselves by infusing our everyday lives with Kedusha, which will protect our faith in Hashem and strengthen our adherence to Torah and mitzvos.