Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim – Associate Rosh Yeshiva – PTI – Passaic Torah Institute – Parsha Beshalach – Recognizing Hashem’s Open Miracles

Many years ago in Europe, a wealthy Jewish businessman made his living exporting lumber from Kovno to America. One time, an export official wouldn’t clear his shipment for export. His lumber was stuck at the port…for a long time. He was very apprehensive that he would lose a lot money because of the delay and in the interim he had to pay holding fees to store the lumber. Finally, after many weeks of aggravation and holding fees, the official agreed to release his lumber. The businessman then experienced a shock. Recent forest fires in America had now created a shortage and thus doubled the value of his shipment! He was thrilled!

Soon after, the wealthy businessman met the great Rav Chaim Volozhin and related his story of hashgacha pratis (Divine Providence.) Surprisingly, Rav Chaim responded, “As a wealthy man, you aren’t so used to seeing Hashem’s Hand coming to your rescue. For the poor man, it’s as clear as day in his daily struggles, from paying for his grocery bill, his clothes and other daily expenses. But Hashem is also involved with you — open your eyes fully and you will see the Divine Hand helping you in all your actions.”

In this week’s parsha, Hashem instructed Moshe to take a jug and fill it with Munn (manna) to preserve as a testimony for future generations that Hashem provides a person with his livelihood (Shemos 16:32). Rashi tells us that in the time of Yirmiyahu the prophet, this jug was taken out and displayed to the Bnei Yisroel,reminding them that it’s not a person’s business acumen or his connections or wealth that make him successful. Rather, it is Hashem Who provides everything we need, sending everything in ways which may seem ordinary or miraculous.

Rabbi Yeruchem Levovitz, famed Mashgiach of the Mir Yeshiva in Poland, tells us that the open miracles which Hashem performed at the time of Yetzias Mitzrayim (Exodus from Egypt) were not just a one-time occurrence. These miracles remain for Bnei Yisroel to this day, but in a concealed manner. Indeed, the Gemara Sotah tells us there are two areas which affect us daily, which are equal to the miraculous splitting of the sea: obtaining our food/livelihood and finding our proper mate for marriage. These processes might not seem like open miracles, but if we pay attention, we will recognize Hashem’s clear involvement and guiding Hand throughout!

Think about it. Hashem is not just involved in creating the shidduch (match). The greater [daily] miracle is in keeping and maintaining harmony in the home for the couple. With regard to livelihood, Hashem’s Hand is there not only in helping land a job, but He also stays to help maintain and grow the position! We need to realize it’s the Almighty Who is causing all the pieces in the puzzle to come together…and stay together.

Rav Tzadok Hakohen says this explains why Amalek attacked Klal Yisroel specifically after the greatest open miracle of the splitting of the sea. Why not attack before the splitting of the sea or later in the desert, as opposed to before the splitting of the sea or later in the desert.

It’s because a Jew needs to recognize Hashem’s involvement in every occurrence. The nation of Amalek represented the antithesis of that. They saw everything as mere happenstance, with no divine intervention. As is learned from the words, “asher korcha baderech” — which happened to chance [upon the Jews] while they were traveling. Amalek said even an obvious miracle such as the splitting of the sea was just a freak accident. They claimed the Jews were just in the right place at the right time. The foundation of Amalek’s evil was to deny Hashem’s involvement in the world. Our function as the Jewish people is to always see Hashem’s presence and active involvement in every aspect of life.

Every shidduch, every marriage and every food bill we are able to pay — let’s take notice and realize that it is all under Hashem’s orchestration. We should strive to do this every day. Maybe keep a notebook, like a Rebbe of mine did, where he wrote down various incidents that happened to him throughout his week in which he personally was able to detect the miraculous hand of Hashem. This exercise will strengthen our bitachon and emunah – our faith and reliance – in our Creator and help us achieve a deeper, loving connection to Him.

 

Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim – Associate Rosh Yeshiva – PTI – Passaic Torah Institute – Parsha Bo – Externals Matter

Someone once wrote a letter to the great Rav Moshe Feinstein, asking him if individuals should remove their yarmulkes when walking into places of questionable repute. Rav Moshe replied “no” — the whole reason the Eabbis instituted wearing a yarmulke is to remind us that Hashem is constantly watching our actions. It’s been said that the word “yarmulke” is a hybrid of the words yarei malka – fear of the King. In today’s age in particular, it’s important to want to wear the yarmulke to remind ourselves not to walk into inappropriate places.

Let’s remember that our way of dressing had a big impact on Klal Yisrael in Mitzrayim. The Midrash tells us the Jews were saved because of four merits: not changing their names, their language, their clothing and keeping harmony – there were no informers. Yet, we’re told the Jews worshipped idols and were on the forty-ninth level of defilement! What type of merit was their outer garb when inwardly they were in such a low place?

The Gemara Brachos (4a) draws a parallel between the redemption from Egypt and the redemption from Babylonia. When they left Babylonia, there were no open miracles. Why? Because while they did keep most of the laws of the Torah, they had changed their names, language, clothing and had intermarried.

Clearly, there is something special about being careful with the externals, but what does it entail?

Rabbi Meir Simcha of Dvinsk gives a deeply penetrating explanation. Hashem told Yitzchak He was granting him Eretz Yisrael and all the blessings promised to Avraham because Avraham “observed My safeguards, My commandments, My decrees, and My Torahs.” (Toldos 26:5) Here, the safeguards are referring to Rabbinic prohibitions instituted to protect us from violating any mitzvos. For example, they expanded the circle of relatives one may not marry and put in many rabbinic safeguards regarding the laws of Shabbos.

We see now that the promise that Hashem granted to Avraham and the Bnei Yisroel was specifically for creating a safeguard. When something is precious in our eyes, we take steps to protect it. The halacha illustrates this point in the following case: Someone paid a person to guard an attaché case stated to contain ten thousand dollars. Alas, the guard was negligent, and the case was stolen. If the owner would then inform the guard that actually, there was one hundred thousand dollars in the case, the guard would still only be responsible for ten thousand dollars, since he could claim he would have been much more vigilant regarding this larger sum of money.

Our precautions, the steps we take to protect, are proportionate to how precious the item is to us.

Clothing matters. Externals matter. They communicate how much we value what’s inside. The Jews in Egypt walked, talked and looked like Jews by their manner of dress, even if their actions were lacking. It showed they identified as Jews and wanted to protect their kedusha (holiness.) They had challenges and blunders, but they valued their Judaism.

The opposite was true of the Jews in Bavel. The Jews dropped their unique outer appearance because they wanted to mix with the other nations. This demonstrated that they did not value their Judaism, even while still performing most mitzvos!

The coming week will be vacation time for many Yeshivos. Many call it “Yeshiva week.” To me, it’s a contradiction. It’s really “No yeshiva week!” Yet, the name sticks and perhaps for good reason! The name Yeshiva week reminds those of us who attend yeshiva, to act like people who attend yeshiva, even while we are not in a yeshiva. To maintain proper outer attire reminds us that we are bnei yeshiva and a “light unto the nations.” Our clothes and presentation on vacation — or in the workplace — constitutes our safeguard for our Jewish identity.

For example, placing filters on our computers and phones for the internet is not because we are weak, but because we are strong and value what we have. We don’t want to take any risks or chances with our precious souls.

Wearing a yarmulke is not one of the 613 mitzvos. It was added by the rabbis because they knew we need an ongoing reminder of who we really are. More importantly, it demonstrates that we want to remember to be on a level that demonstrates how a person should behave. Our outer garb demonstrates that we value and cherish our connection to Hashem and want to keep that strong.

Wherever we are — at home, at work, at play, on vacation — let our modest outer garb for both boys and girls, men and women, remind us of our commitment to Hashem and his mitzvos, and help us in our multitude of activities, to reflect a person who cherishes his relationship with Hashem.

 

Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim – Associate Rosh Yeshiva – PTI – Passaic Torah Institute – Parsha Va’eira – How to Resist Pressures

Last week, I made an amazing discovery. It’s called the silent mode on my cell phone. No ringing for incoming phone calls, no vibrating noises for new emails, no pinging for new texts or WhatsApp messages. I tried it out for an hour while I was studying with my chavrusa. Not surprisingly, my focus and concentration were phenomenal! I did check afterwards – absolutely nothing urgent had transpired. This refreshing revelation made me calmer and more accomplished each subsequent time I employed “cell silence.”

I call ours the “not enough time generation.” We perceive ourselves to be ever so busy. The Bnei Yisroel in Egypt experienced this phenomenon also, but in their case, it wasn’t mere perception.

There’s a huge anomaly in this Parsha. The verse says “Vilo Shomu El Moshe mikotzer ruach umeavodah kasha” (Va’eira 6:9). They did not listen to Moshe’s message that Hashem will take them out of Egypt, due to shortness of breath and from the hard work. This is quite puzzling, for the Bnei Yisroel had cried out to Hashem to save them and the Torah says Hashem heard their cries. Moshe conveyed the answer to their plea. If they didn’t believe Hashem would save them, why did they pray to Him in the first place?

Further, when Hashem told Moshe to go again to Pharaoh to ask him to send the Jews out, Moshe responded that the Bnei Yisroel did not listen to him, so why would Pharaoh be any different? But the logic here seems flawed. The Bnei Yisroel did not listen to Moshe because of kotzer ruach and avodah kasha — but Pharaoh wasn’t short of breath or burdened by hard work, so why the comparison?!

All the commentators are extremely bothered by this very question. I would like to suggest a solution. First, let’s look at the Jewish source of their rejection of the message. Kotzer Ruach literally means shortness of breath. Avodah Kasha means hard labor. Isn’t it really one reason, i.e., hard work made them short of breath? And if so, the order should be reversed — hard work first and then shortness of breath. But the Maharal explains that kotzer ruach refers to emotional pressure – just thinking about the bricks quota. Avodah kasha refers to the actual hard labor.

Perhaps we can now understand the logic of Moshe’s comparison of the Jewish people’s rejection of Hashem’s message to the way Pharaoh would react.

The Ohr Hachaim Hakadosh says the Bnei Yisroel should have listened to Moshe because they believed in Hashem and they would be freed, which they desired! Pharaoh, on the contrary, had strong reasons not to listen to Moshe: he did not believe in Hashem and he did not want the Bnei Yisroel to go free. The logic is clearer now: the Bnei Yisroel were held back from believing Moshe’s message from Hashem because of the pressure they were under — which could be overcome. Pharaoh, on the other hand, resisted because he had a huge amount at stake!

For the Bnei Yisroel, it was monumental pressure. Their minds and souls were wound too tight to listen to anything. For Pharaoh, Moshe represented an existential threat to his throne — Mitzrayim was one big prison for the Jewish people and it had to stay that way.

Today, we are also plagued with our modern, high tech version of pressure and tension. We feel compelled to access and connect to anyone and anything potentially affecting us, 24/7. This drive is so demanding that it sometimes paralyzes and immobilizes us. This is our Kotzer ruach and avodah kasha – The urge to answer the phone and connect regarding any and all current issues!

But there is a way out.

We need to build for ourselves pockets of free time – free of this plague. A few years ago, a student of mine told me that when he goes inside a shul for Mincha, he leaves his phone in his car. “I can’t answer the phone anyway, so why bring it in?” he told me. Since then, I started to leave my phone outside of shul also. It’s up to me – up to all of us – to unequivocally create times when it’s just us and Hashem – the world can wait.

We fortunately have “silent times” built into our schedules with Shabbos every week. It’s a breath of fresh air. But we need some of that air each day. When we daven, study Torah, and spend time with our spouses and children, let it be a time free of outside pressures, when we are connected only to individuals and spiritual matters that truly matter in our lives.

 

Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim – Associate Rosh Yeshiva – PTI – Passaic Torah Institute – Parsha Shemos – Building A True Torah Home

Parents invest thousands of dollars in the education of their children, seeing it as a critical tool in their success. Schooling is not the only component in the development of successful children, however. A Yeshiva will give the child a good education, but the relationship of parent to child and the environment and atmosphere of the home is what truly molds a child’s character.

Our children spend many hours a day at school, but it’s their home that serves as their foundation for a happy, well-adjusted and productive life.

Looking at our leaders involved in bringing us out of Mitzrayim, we see Moshe Rabbeinu, who led us out and brought down the Torah, Aharon HaKohen who was Moshe’s partner and became Kohen Gadol, and Miriam, the leader and role model for all the Jewish women. Remarkably, all these unparalleled leaders…were siblings!

How did Amram and Yocheved, the parents of these three, merit that their children be the leaders and pillars of Klal Yisrael? What components of their home helped nurture these spiritual giants?

Let’s look at Yocheved. Pharaoh decreed that she and her daughter, Miriam—the midwives of the Jewish people—kill all the Jewish boys at birth. Yet, Yocheved and Miriam defied their orders, ignoring the most powerful ruler on earth. The verse says, “Vatireina Hamiyaldos es HaE-lokim.” (Shemos 1:17) “The midwives feared Hashem.” Their fear of Heaven (“Yiras Shomayim”) would simply not allow them to perform such a terrible crime, no matter what the penalty might be.

It’s very rare that the Torah specifies the reward for an action in this world. Here, the Torah does so. It says because the midwives feared Hashem, He made houses for them. These are not physicalhomes, but rather, the three empires of Klal Yisrael:Kehuna (priesthood), Leviim (Levites) and Malchus (Royalty).

Why are these virtual empires called “houses?” The Kotzker Rebbe quotes Yeshaya Hanavi saying, “Yiras Hashem hi otzoroh”(Yeshaya 33) – the fear of Hashem is the storehouse… for one’s Torah and mitzvos. Anything precious that we own, we keep in a safe place.  We don’t want it to disappear or get damaged. Yiras Hashem surrounds and keeps fresh our commitment to Torah and mitzvos.

Rav Gedalia Schorr adds that fear of Hashem is also called “home.” Just like a house surrounds and protects a person, so too does Yiras Hashem safeguard a person. Further, a home is much more than just a building. It’s the environment that helps create us in an ongoing manner, an evolving and growing expression of who we truly are. In the case of Yocheved and Miriam, their home was totally suffused with Yiras Shomayim. This was the atmosphere that nourished Miriam, Aharon and Moshe to grow into the spiritual and leadership giants they became.

Reb Yerucham Levovitz zt”l, the renowned Mirrer Mashgiach, explains that Fear of Hashem is not a possession that we own. It’s a trait that we gradually acquire, reinforce and expand. We have an obligation to build our Yiras Shomayim.  Even for Yocheved and Miriam, it was a product of hard work to reach their lofty status, which allowed them to stand up to the threats of Pharaoh.

 By working on our spiritual development, we create a legacy for our children and grandchildren. Indeed, among the first words we teach our children to say each morning are, “Reishis chochma Yiras Hashem”— the first step to wisdom is Fear of Hashem. While we should always make our best efforts, it’s the Almighty who ultimately decides all that happens in the world.. But what’s always in our control is what we do and how we react — that must always reflect our Yiras Hashem.

Life will often present us with choices and it’s tempting to opt for the easier path. Yet, our decisions not only impact us; they affect our offspring as well. My paternal grandfather, Mr. Helmut Bodenheim, emigrated from Germany to America in 1938. He was told he had to work on Saturday to hold any job. But my grandfather wouldn’t hear of it and remained firm in his faith and his principles. A week ago, my family got together for his yahrzeit. As I looked around the table, with a large Torah-observant family from both America and Eretz Yisrael, I was amazed at the beautiful legacy my grandfather created. No doubt, it was the commitment to Torah and Yiras Shomayim in his home, that nurtured the values thriving in the homes of his descendants.

Our schools and our Yeshivos are vital partners in the growth of our children and families, but it all starts in the home. Making clear choices for ourselves, based on love and fear of Hashem, builds a “home” that children will be anchored to forever and will pass on to their own families as well.

Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim – Associate Rosh Yeshiva – PTI – Passaic Torah Institute – Parsha Vayechi – A Guaranteed Return On Investment

The calendar year is coming to a close. Investment firms are reminding us to contribute to our IRA’s before year-end. Non-profits are sending emails to contribute now to gain our tax deductions. Everyone is looking to get the biggest bang for the buck. In our lives, and in our Parsha as well, the theme is getting our affairs in order to better secure the future.

Although I am not a financial advisor, I would like to share the best investment advice which the Torah reveals to us.

Yaakov gathers all his children together before he passed away and gives a specific bracha (blessing) to each of them. Upon careful scrutiny, however, some of those brachos seem not to be blessings at all. For the first three sons, it was more of an admonishment! Rav Yerucham Levovitz explains that Yaakov was actually giving his children the greatest gift: a deep, penetrating insight into the nature of their character. This prophetic insight would serve as a pivotal tool to help achieve their success in life.

The tribe of Yissachar, which Yaakov compares to a donkey carrying a heavy burden, is compared to one who dedicates himself to rigorous Torah study and who bears the responsibility – the burden — to understand and explain the Torah correctly to all of Bnei Yisroel. The tribe of Zevulun, symbolized by a ship setting sail on a voyage, represents people in the business world embarking on new business ventures. The relationship between the two is apparent, as Yaakov Avinu groups them together.

The Chofetz Chaim explains that Hashem — the source of all good and kindness — knew that it’s impossible for the people of theentire nation to solely dedicate themselves to the study of Torah all day. Some would need to work and earn an income! Yet, the Gemara Nedarim says, “If not for those who toil in Torah day and night, the heavens and earth would cease to exist.” Moreover, Rav Chaim Volozhin says the world only spins because of the words of Torah that are being learned. Therefore, Hashem made different time zones to ensure that even while it’s night in one part of the world, it is day somewhere else and people are awake learning Torah.

Still, this Torah existence cannot survive independently without support. Therefore, Hashem created the Yissachar-Zevulun partnership. Yissachar studies day and night and Zevulun is the businessman who generates the income. It’s a true partnership. Both are essential – Zevulun is the business partner of Yissachar. Further, the Shach quotes the Zohar which tells us this partnership is so binding that the special reward for studying Torah is shared equally between the two. Supporters of Torah learning receive the best in this world and the next!

The Sfas Emes adds that Zevulun should be truly excited in each new business venture, for he is guaranteed success because his partner Yissachar is studying in yeshiva. Reward in this world comes with business success; reward in the next world comes with the Torah learning he shares. It’s a great proposition!

After Yaakov blessed each tribe, the verse says,” Ish k’virchaso barech osum,” – he blessed each person according to his nature. Rashi tells us Yaakov gave an additional blessing to the effect that each tribe will have an intrinsic element and quality of all the other tribes. As such, Zevulun – those who work – also have an aspect of Yissachar and also need to dedicate time themselves to study. The Chofetz Chaim says further that everyone — even those who study all day — are also obligated to donate to help further Torah study.

So, as we look to make our year-end donations, let’s remember that the best investment — with a guaranteed return on investment — is Torah. The more shares one buys in a company, the more of a portion he has in that company AND the more dividends and revenue he will receive when the stock value increases. The same is true for our investment in support of Torah. The resulting continuation and spread of Torah learning will benefit us personally, the Jewish people as a whole, and even the rest of the world! What a payoff!

 

Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim – Associate Rosh Yeshiva – PTI – Passaic Torah Institute – Parsha Vayigash – Jewish Sensitivity And Caring

A few years ago, I discovered I had celiac disease, which means I cannot eat gluten. No more regular challah, cookies and cakes. At home, it’s fairly easy — there are now many gluten-free options at the supermarket. However, when going to a simcha (celebration) or to someone else for a meal, the challenges multiply. Most people don’t think of gluten being everywhere: soups thickened with flour, croutons in the salad, matzah balls, breaded chicken. It can get complicated!

This past week, I spent Shabbos with my mechutanim (my daughter’s new in-laws) for the Shabbos Aufruf. I brought my gluten-free roll and figured I wouldn’t starve, but I wasn’t sure what I would be able to eat. At dinner Friday night, my mechutanim told me they had gluten-free options for all the courses! I could eat the soup, the main dishes, and even the kugel. It made me feel so welcome and comfortable!

This illustrates a novel explanation of an occurrence in Parshas Vayigash.

After Yosef revealed himself to his brothers and sent them back to his father with gifts of food, it says, “And Yaakov saw the wagons that Yosef sent him, and Yaakov’s spirit became revitalized.” (Vayigash 45:27) What was so special about these wagons that gave Yaakov a new spirit? Rashi says Yosef was communicating a subtle message to Yaakov with the wagons.

The last Torah topic that Yaakov learned with Yosef before Yosef was sold, was the topic of Eglah Arufah, which deals with the responsibility of two adjacent towns for the death of a traveler whose body was found between the towns. The word agolos – wagons – is similar to eglah – calf, thus assuring Yaakov that Yosef was still immersed in his Torah learning, even after twenty-two years in a foreign nation. The fact that Yosef was physically alive would bring great joy to Yaakov, but it would have been a great disappointment for Yaakov if Yosef had deteriorated spiritually, for then his dreams of Yosef being the future of Klal Yisroel would be smashed. Seeing the wagons and the message that Yosef was sending, rejuvenated Yaakov. His joy knew no bounds.

Still, there are deeper messages here beyond word similarity. Rabbi Yisroel Belsky zt”l explains that the wagons Yosef had sent were demonstrating to Yaakov that Yosef still understood the underlying message of the Eglah Arufah. Put simply, when a traveler was found dead in between two cities, the last city in which the traveler had entered is held responsible for his death, as they did not take care to send him on his way safely and did not provide him a meal for the road. Their lack of forethought and kindness makes them guilty of his death. Rav Belsky explains that traveling then was fraught with danger. There was no GPS, no rest areas for coffee or snacks, and there were many robbers waiting in ambush. When a city gave a traveler food for the road, it gave him a sense of security, a feeling of being cared for, and hence the calmness and clear mindedness to navigate the roads and protect himself from robbers.

A pivotal quality of the Jewish nation is chesed (kindness.) When Yaakov heard Yosef was alive, he was concerned that Yosef had absorbed the Egyptian nature and lost his Jewish character traits. A Jewish leader needs both Torah knowledge and the good middos (character attributes) that go with it. These wagons for Yaakov, laden with food for the journey back to Yosef, embodied the message of the Eglah Arufah, demonstrating kindness and consideration for the physical and emotional well-being of another individual. The wagons showed Yosef was still alive, engrossed in Torah, and he fully possessed the inner sensitivities of a Jew. Despite twenty-two years in exile, he was untainted by Egypt and dedicated to the values Yaakov had instilled in him.

When my wife started working full-time, I took upon myself the responsibility of packing lunch for my children for school each day. Sometimes, I think some of my children are now old enough to do this on their own. But then I remember my mother making lunch for me, even when I was in high school. I remember how good that made me feel. The food was great, but the sense of security the packed lunch gave me was priceless.

Packing a meal seems like a classic Jewish mother thing to do. But it’s a lot more than that. It’s an expression of giving, an expression of love which provides security for the children. Pack a lunch for your kids, and the underlying message of love and caring – as reflected in our parsha – will last a lifetime and will help motivate your children to do the same for their children – a wonderful legacy!

 

Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim – Associate Rosh Yeshiva – PTI – Passaic Torah Institute – Chanukah – Bringing Hashem Into Your Home

I can still remember spending a Shabbos Chanukah with my grandparents. My grandfather lit his father’s large silver Menorah, taken when he escaped Germany in 1938. For a child, there is something mystical about the sight of a parent or grandparent lighting a Menorah. Maybe it’s the association of Chanukah with family get-togethers, special fried foods, singing and laughter. Of course, every Yom Tov is best enjoyed with family, but why Chanukah specifically?

Our answer becomes clear as we delve into the origin of lighting the Menorah.

Normally, the Torah reading is centered around the holiday, but since Chanukah is rabbinic, there are no explicit verses in the Torah that mention the holiday. Still, the Torah reading touches on the overall theme of the day. For example, on Purim where we were victorious over Haman and his nation Amalek, the Torah reading is about the war that was fought against Amalek in the desert.

For Chanukah, one would assume the Torah reading would be about the lighting of the Menorah in the Beis Hamikdash. Yet, that is only read on the eighth day of Chanukah. For most days, the Torah reading is Parshas Naso, which lists the korbanos (sacrifices) brought by the nesi’im (princes) on the day of the inauguration of the Mishkan in the desert. How do these symbolize Chanukah?

Rav Gedalia Schorr gives an incredible explanation. We know the construction of the Mishkan in the desert was completed on the twenty-fifth day of Kislev (the first day of Chanukah) but Hashem told the Bnei Yisroel to postpone the Chanukas Hamishkan (dedication of the Tabernacle) until Rosh Chodesh Nissan. The day of the Chanukas Hamishkan was the happiest and most joyous day since the creation of heaven and earth (Megillah 10b), thanks to a new and more palpable manifestation of Hashem’s presence in the world.

During the construction of the Mishkan, Aharon Hakohen complained to Hashem that he would not be part of the dedication ceremony and felt left out. However, Hashem told Aharon that his involvement will be greater than that of the Nesi’im (princes of each tribe), for he alone will light the Menorah (Midrash). The Ramban explains that the Menorah was an appeasement to Aharon, for the princes’ participation applied only to the time when the Mishkan was in use, but Aharon’s role regarding the Menorah would extend way beyond that, alluding to the miracle of Chanukah and the mitzvah instituted for all homes to light a Menorah on Chanukah. This prophecy was told to Aharon the day the Mishkan was completed — the twenty-fifth day of Kislev and first day of Chanukah!!

Aharon Hakohen’s pure desire to connect to Hashem on the day of the prophecy foreshadowed the future, for on that precise day a thousand years later, the Chashmonaim would recapture the Beis Hamikdash and light the Menorah on the twenty-fifth day of Kislev. On that day, Hashem’s presence would once again come back into the world. The Chashmonaim established the holiday of Chanukah and set in motion the fulfilment of the prophecy to Aharon Hakohen years prior, that every year on the twenty-fifth of Kislev, a Menorah would be lit in each home.

This is precisely why we read the portion detailing the sacrifices the princes brought at the Chanukas Hamishkan on Chanukah. Just like Chanukas Hamishkan brought the presence of Hashem into the world, so too, the lighting of the Menorah on Chanukah brings Hashem’s presence in the world even when there is no Beis Hamikdash!

The Bnei Yissaschar points out the root word of Chanukah and chanukas – dedication – is chinuch. Chinuch is the education and raising of our children. The word chinuch means to train, to give a child the ability to continue practicing the values and actions he has learned, when he comes of age and can perform them on his own.

This explains the prevalent custom to have a family get-together on Chanukah and for children to come home for Shabbos Chanukah. It all starts with the home. We spend time with family on Chanukah to strengthen the connection between Hashem and our lives and family at home. Although this year I will be away from my wife and children for Shabbos Chanukah, to join my future son-in-law for his Shabbos aufruf, I will be with my new family that raised a wonderful son who will marry our daughter. May Hashem bring His presence into the home of my daughter and her chosson as they wed on the eighth night of Chanukah. Indeed, may Hashem’s presence be brought into each and every Jewish home, during Chanukah and during every other day of the year!

Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim – Associate Rosh Yeshiva – PTI – Passaic Torah Institute – Parsha Vayishlach – How To Combat The Yetzer Hara

 

 

My friend’s father was a paratrooper in the Israeli army during the Six-Day War. He was dropped off in middle of the desert with orders to blow up the Egyptian planes while they were still on the tarmac. The miraculous success of the destruction of the Egyptian air force, before they were able to take off, gained the Israeli army full control of the sky during the war. This key tactical move is now studied in many military academies worldwide.

This concept explains an anomaly in Parshas Vayishlach. When Yaakov returned for the small jugs he had left behind, he encountered a man who attacked him. The Midrash tells us this man was really the ministering angel of Eisav—represented by the Satan—who was attacking Yaakov upon his return to Eretz Yisrael.

Yet, why did the angel not start up with Avraham or Yitzchak? Why only Yaakov? Rav Elchonon Wasserman quotes the Chofetz Chaim, who explained the military tactic mentioned earlier. If one wants to defeat a powerful enemy, he must destroy their arsenal. In this way they won’t even have the ability to fight!

Each of the three patriarchs perfected a different quality. Avraham was the pillar of chesed; Yitzchak perfected his fear of Hashem, and Yaakov was emes (truth) and Torah. The arsenal of klal Yisrael is Torah, and with Yaakov being at the forefront of Torah learning he became the primary target of the angel. Every day we wage war with our evil inclination (yetzer hara), and the Gemara Kiddushin quotes Hashem as saying, “I created the Torah as the antidote to the yetzer hara.” Indeed, the yetzer hara will let a Jew do all kinds of mitzvos without a problem, but gets very nervous when a Jew engages in Torah learning.

It’s worth noting the terminology the Torah uses to describe this cosmic battle. “Va’yei’aveik ish imo.” Rashi explains the root of the word va’yei’aveik—to wrestle—is avak—dust. Chazal say the dust being kicked up from their feet as they wrestled rose all the way to the throne of Hashem. How is that significant?

I read an incredible explanation from Rabbi Dani Kunstler. He said, “One day, I noticed a huge commotion on a sidewalk, and as I approached I heard the sound of police sirens. The crowd dispersed, leaving one person lying on the floor. There had been a street fight and the winner had fled with everyone else. The police arrived and arrested the losing street fighter.”

In a wrestling or boxing match, the winner is the one who is left standing and the loser is the one on the mat, who was knocked to the floor. However, Hashem views our struggle with the yetzer hara differently. It’s true that many times we struggle with our temptations or urges and end up on the floor. We feel that we lost. But there’s a lesson to be learned from the dust rising all the way to Hashem’s throne. The dust represents that deep struggle, and it is truly precious to Hashem, Who places it right before Him. Even if we end up flat on the mat, our struggle endears us to the Almighty.

But we must be in the ring!! We do so by designating time for Torah study and sticking to the schedule. This is our challenge—we must be on guard and protect our “arsenal” at all times. Our weapon—our Torah—is the greatest weapon we have against the yetzer hara.

Remember, even if we lose a struggle from time to time, every one of our struggles is precious to Hashem.

Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim – Associate Rosh Yeshiva – PTI – Passaic Torah Institute – Parsha Vayetze – Unblocking Our Prayers

When you’re a father in a house mostly filled with girls, you put on the fixer-man hat quite often. Last week I was Baruch the Plumber, sent to unclog a sink drain full of hair. I rolled up my sleeves, gathered my strength, and went into the bathroom with my trusty snake to clear that drain. Baruch Hashem, I emerged successful!

Believe it or not, this little episode reminded me of an incredible insight from the Sfas Emes on Parshas Vayeitzei.

Yaakov arrives at the outskirts of Charan and sees many shepherds gathered around a well. They are all waiting for extra hands to appear to lift the massive boulder covering the well. As Yaakov comes closer, he sees a young girl approaching the well with a flock of sheep. He confirms this girl was Rochel, the daughter of Lavan, his uncle. Seeing she will need water for her flock, Yaakov walks over to the well and removes the boulder all by himself. Rochel and the other shepherds are in awe. Rashi quotes the midrash that says that Yaakov removed the rock from the well like a cork from a bottle. Why did Rashi describe it this way—like a cork from a bottle? How was Yaakov able to do this when many shepherds together could not?

The Sfas Emes explains the symbolism of the stone on the mouth of the well. The well represents our ability to draw forth tefillah (prayer) and Torah from within ourselves. The stone represents the blockages that prevent us from opening our mouths in prayer or Torah study. Often, we want to daven or learn Torah, but we find we just can’t focus. The shepherds needed a lot of help to move the stone—similar to our needing a minyan (a group of at least 10 men) to gather together to pray.

The same can be said of learning Torah. It’s much more easily done in a group.

So how was Yaakov able to remove the heavy boulder by himself? There was a fundamental difference between Yaakov and the shepherds. The shepherds viewed the rock as a heavy obstacle blocking their access to water. Yaakov viewed the rock as a cork in a bottle. A cork serves a very important function—it protects the contents of the bottle. The rock wasn’t just preventing access to the water; it was also protecting the water in the well from foreign substances falling inside.

Similarly, we may sometimes feel the words of prayer are blocked from our mouths. In truth, it may be Hashem helping us to slow down. When we are compelled to dig deeper and work harder at our davening, our words gain a new dimension of sincerity and meaning.

There was a young man I befriended who was very estranged from Torah and mitzvos. He had been challenged with addictions and abuse for many years. One Yom Kippur, I was delighted to see him enter the shul. This was the first time he had walked into a shul in 10 years! I greeted him with a big smile. I kept glancing at him throughout the day and saw on his face that he was struggling. Yet, near the end of the day, at the powerful and moving Neilah prayer, I saw tears streaming down his cheeks.

The next time we met I told him how proud I was of him and asked him to share his Yom Kippur experience with me. He said, “I came into shul and wanted to pray, but I couldn’t do it. All my struggles were creating a wall in front of me. How could I pray after all I have done? How can I open my mouth in prayer to Hashem? Finally, at Neilah, I remembered the gates were fully open at that time. Hashem now wanted to hear my prayers and I started to cry. The words just started flowing. I was so happy—I was able to pray again!”

Whenever we struggle to find the words, or to capture the feeling in our davening, let’s remember not to view our struggle as trying to lift a heavy rock from a well, but rather removing a cork from a bottle, which was placed there to keep our prayers pure and sincere.

Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim – Associate Rosh Yeshiva – PTI- Passaic Torah institute – The Road To Developing Character

When visiting friends, I remarked that their main floor looked like it had quite a makeover. The wife laughed, saying there was a funny story behind it. “Our living room carpet was old and worn so we took the plunge and chose a replacement for $3,000. Then I realized the paint in the room wouldn’t match and was 15 years old, so we decided to paint the living room. Next, I couldn’t help noticing our old couches. And then there was the adjacent dining room—how would it look next to our new living room? So, we painted the dining room as well. In the end, we had entirely redone our living room with new carpet, paint job and furniture. And our dining room was repainted, a new hardwood floor was installed, and a brand-new dining room table and chairs were purchased. Our modest carpet replacement ended up as a $40,000 makeover!”

I am reminded of this story when I think of the mission Eliezer was sent on by Avraham to find a suitable wife for his son Yitzchak. Eliezer decided on a sign: he would ask an unmarried girl for some water to drink. If she then gave him water and volunteered to draw water for his camels as well, she would be the match for Yitzchak. Soon after, Rivka came by and he asked for a little water to drink from her pitcher. She gave him water, then refilled the pitcher for his whole entourage. Rivka then proceeded to draw buckets and buckets of water to fill the trough for all their camels to drink. Eliezer’s prayer had been answered.

Rav Hirsch explains this was the definitive sign of a future matriarch of the Jewish nation. She possessed the sterling attribute of kindness, part of the Jewish DNA, so she merited to be part of the foundation of klal Yisrael.

The Alter of Novardok asks a penetrating question. Certainly, Rivka demonstrated great hospitality and kindness. But maybe this was the one area in which she excelled, but other aspects of Rivka’s character might not be so praiseworthy.

The Alter of Novardok answers that when someone demonstrates perfection in one area, it shows they are on the path to perfecting other areas as well. Our inner qualities, he says, are all intertwined. Rivka’s display of perfection in the area of chesed (kindness) was proof she aimed for overall perfection. Eliezer was correct: her great chesed at the well showed she was the right mate for Yitzchak to become one of the matriarchs. Just like when someone starts to redecorate a room, it often ends up with an entirely new facelift, so too, when someone demonstrates refinement in one area, it indicates they are refining themselves in all areas.

Let me share another story of perfecting chesed. A close friend in Israel had to have a serious medical procedure to remove a growth. He was advised to have it performed in New York, as they had a technique that could hopefully remove the growth without the need for any other treatments. He managed with help to connect with a top specialist, flying in to visit this doctor at his home on a Sunday afternoon. The doctor reviewed the many scans and advised him that another surgeon from a different hospital would be a better choice to do this special surgery. This kind doctor refused any payment since he would not be performing the surgery, and personally contacted the other surgeon to make the arrangements.

As we were sitting in the waiting room at 6:45 a.m. to meet the other surgeon, the referring doctor walked into the waiting room. We were incredulous! This was a very busy specialist, head of a department in a competing hospital and someone who was not getting paid for this case. What was he doing here? He walked over to us and said, “This surgeon is the best. I want to make sure he is clear on what I recommend, to ensure you have a completely successful surgery without the need for any other treatments and a quick recovery.”

That’s called chesed to perfection. When a person strives for perfection in one area, it leads to a path of striving to perfect all areas.

All of us have areas we struggle with. We all want to improve! Often, we just don’t know where to start and we feel immobilized. The lesson we learn from Eliezer in choosing Rivka is that it doesn’t matter where we start. Start anywhere; once we work on perfecting one area of our character, that positively affects our attitude and approach to all other areas. May we all go from strength to strength.