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.

Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim – Associate Rosh Yeshiva – PTI – Passaic Torah Institute – Parsha Yitro – Fulfilling Our True Desire

A well-known yeshiva high school discovered one of their students might not be Jewish. The parents had raised the child as a Torah-observant Jew, but the lineage of the mother was in question. The yeshiva looked into the matter and confirmed that the mother’s mother was not legitimately Jewish. As such, their Torah-observant student was not Jewish either!

The rosh yeshiva called the 16-year-old young man into his office. After a few minutes, the rosh yeshiva said, “I’m about to tell you something that will change your whole life. You need to think long and hard about what I’m going to tell you. Ultimately, it will be your decision what to do. As shocking as it sounds, we have discovered, with certainty, that your mother…is not really Jewish. That means that you, also, are not Jewish! You can take off your yarmulke and tzitzis with a clear conscience. You don’t have to come to davening tonight or tomorrow. You certainly can’t put on tefillin in the morning. Although you were raised “Jewish,” you’re not. You can leave yeshiva, go to public school, buy a sandwich at McDonalds, and marry a non-Jewish girl.”

The rosh yeshiva continued: “Or, you can decide you want to be Jewish and go through a conversion process, which will be easier for you as you know many of the halachos. But you need to think about this. Let me know in a reasonable amount of time what you want to do.”

Imagine you were that young man; what would your decision be?

I experienced a similar story but in reverse, with a person who came to our yeshiva saying he was Jewish, but something seemed questionable. After investigating, we determined he was not Jewish. He was feeding off the kindness of others, with free lodging in the neighborhood and lots of invitations for meals. When I confronted him, he took off his yarmulke and threw it to the floor, then yanked off his tzitzis and slammed them on the table and stormed out of the building. He never came back.

This story is central to understanding the receiving of the Torah in this week’s parsha of Yisro. As the Jewish people stood at the base of Har Sinai, the Gemara Shabbos (88a) comments on the pasuk “….vayisyatzvu b’tachtis hahar,” the Jews stood underneath the mountain. Rav Dimi bar Chasa says Hashem literally placed the Jews under the mountain, picking up Har Sinai, holding it over their heads and saying they could accept the Torah and be His people, or refuse and have the mountain dropped on their heads.

All the commentators have a field day with this. The Bnei Yisrael had already expressed their acceptance of the Torah by saying “na’aseh v’nishmah (we will observe and we will listen).” Why this show of force? The question is compounded by the Chazal that says Hashem offered the Torah to all the nations before He offered it to the Jews. They all refused. The last nation Hashem approached was klal Yisrael, who accepted without question. Everyone had their chance. The Jewish nation said yes. So why hold the mountain over their head?

Rav Gedalia Schor gives a fundamental explanation based on the Maharal. The Maharal says it was to teach us a crucial lesson. We must accept the Torah because if not, the world will cease to exist! As Rashi in Parshas Bereishis says, the world stood in limbo until Har Sinai. If klal Yisrael would not accept the Torah, the world would implode. So, although you may choose to accept, you really don’t have a choice; acceptance is imperative.

When Hashem held the mountain over our heads, it seemed like force. In truth, it was a reality statement. The Jewish people wanted the Torah. How so? The Rambam explains that a person can be forced to do a mitzvah, yet it’s not considered coercion because deep down a Jew always wants to do the will of Hashem.

Although I know many people who made the choice to be Jewish, those who were born Jewish don’t have a choice. Sometimes we can think or feel that we are restricted and not free to do as we please. However, the lesson Hashem was teaching us by holding the mountain over our heads was that although you are forced, you are only being forced to do what you really want to do. How do we know? You said na’aseh v’nishma.

Let us wake up each day and be in touch with our true selves, dedicating ourselves to do the will of Hashem as we did at Har Sinai, with complete faith.

 

Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim – Associate Rosh Yeshiva – PTI – Passaic Torah Institute – Parsha Beshalach – Miracles And Otherwise

Two years ago on Friday, Parshas Beshalach, I was traveling to Long Beach with my wife and father-in law, Rabbi Singer, for the Shabbos sheva brachos of our cousins Pinny and Hadassah Fried. We were fifteen minutes away when the transmission of my relatively new car died, in the middle of a busy four – lane road, with no shoulder to pull onto. My car was on the side of the road, sticking out like a sore [broken] thumb into a busy lane. No tow truck was available for hours, and Shabbos was fast approaching. We needed to solve this – move the car somewhere and get to our hotel right away!

A repair shop across the street kindly offered to let us leave the car there for the weekend. Getting the car across those four lanes was our challenge! I had a broken foot and could only hop! Neither my wife nor my father-in-law were able to push the car.

Just then, a police car stopped and told us we had to move the car! We explained the problem. He turned on his lights and parked his car in the middle of the road, blocking all lanes and stopping traffic on both sides. Yes, on Parshas Beshalach, the path across the four-lane road split! A few men from the repair shop helped push the car across the street, while I hopped across alongside my wife and Rabbi Singer. It was a sight to see. And we made it to the hotel with just a few minutes to spare before Shabbos.

I’ve heard many people say, “If I would witness miracles like the Ten Plagues or the splitting of the sea, then I would believe in Hashem. How come Hashem doesn’t perform miracles anymore?” In truth, even obvious miracles aren’t enough. Let me share a shocking midrash in Yalkut Shoftim. The Midrash explains the verse at the end of the long tachanun prayer, “To you, Hashem, is tzedakah and we are ashamed.” This is referring to Klal Yisrael at the splitting of the sea. Why the shame? A man named Micha had taken an idol with him when he left Mitzrayim and carried it in his pocket as he walked through the split sea. What an embarrassment that a Jew should carry an idol while Hashem is saving our lives! Yet, Hashem did an act of charity and with His infinite kindness, split the sea despite this rebellious act.

But how is it possible for Micha to carry an idol when he is witnessing such awesome open miracles?

Rabbi Chaim Shmulevitz explains that any level in clarity regarding Hashem that is attained without effort, simply won’t last. It was true with Micha and with many others. Chazal tell us everyone present at the splitting of the sea had a vision of Hashem superior to that of the great prophet, Yechezkel, yet many were not changed by the experience. The key to change is the effort we make to work on ourselves, not a wondrous experience itself.

When I was in yeshiva in Eretz Yisrael, a group of boys told me they miraculously escaped a terrorist attack unharmed. A terrorist with a machine gun opened fire at people sitting outside the many restaurants on the street. People ran, hid and cried. One boy told me that when the coast was clear, he quickly ran to a beis medrash to say tehillim and thank Hashem for saving his life. However, another person had a very different reaction. After the coast cleared, he went back to the restaurant to order another beer!

We all experience things that can inspire us to make a positive change. But do we act on it? We can hear an inspiring lecture, shiur, or attend an uplifting Shabbaton, but if we don’t make an effort to change as a result of these experiences, we will remain the same.

One can walk out of Egypt and into the sea and stand at Har Sinai with an idol in his pocket!

We experience Krias Yam Suf (splitting of the sea) daily in our lives in different ways. True, it’s not everyday we have a major road split for us, but things like getting a raise, a new job offer, a shidduch for a child, a refuah sheleima or even just experiencing less traffic on a commute to work one day, — these are all the Almighty reaching out to us. It’s up to us to recognize His ongoing assistance…and act on it.

We all have a metaphorical idol in our pocket—an area in our lives we need to work on, such as attaching too much importance to monetary matters or worrying too much about our self – image. Let’s try to toss bad influences and bad traits out of our lives. Opportunities to get closer to our Heavenly Father are abundantly there for the taking—if we just make the effort to reach out and grab them.

Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim – Associate Rosh Yeshiva – PTI – Passaic Torah Institute – Parsha Va’era – Redemption Through Emunah

To enter the White House, you need permission from your member of Congress and an appointment several months in advance to get the security clearance required. Even in our own shuls nowadays, there’s often a security guard and code-locked doors due to increased anti-Semitic attacks. In Eretz Yisrael, all holy sites, bus stations and malls have both metal detectors and security guards present in order to enter.

The parsha of Shemos closes with Moshe and Aharon entering Pharaoh’s palace without getting stopped and then continuing to enter and exit the palace in Vaera, but how was this possible? The Midrash tells us there were lions and wild animals guarding the entrance. Fierce guards were everywhere. Yet Moshe and Aharon just repeatedly strolled in and out without an appointment!

The Midrash describes the amazing scene. When Moshe and Aharon approached, the armed guards were terrified of them and just stepped aside. Meanwhile, the ferocious lions followed Moshe and Aharon into the palace like little puppies. This was an open miracle! Our simple understanding would lead us to think that the great spiritual levels of Moshe and Aharon led to this miracle. However, the Alter from Kelm says the words in the pasuk indicate otherwise. When Moshe returned to Egypt, he came to the elders and told them Hashem has remembered the Jews and is going to take them out. “Vaya’amein ha’am”—the nation believed (Shemos 4:31). It then says v’achar ba’u—only after the nation believed Hashem’s promise, were Moshe and Aharon able to enter the palace. Accordingly, it was the merit of emunah (faith) of the Bnei Yisrael that allowed Moshe and Aharon to enter the palace so easily.

Indeed, emunah in Hashem was the critical merit the Bnei Yisrael needed in order to be redeemed. We see this emunah tested when Moshe and Aharon came to Pharaoh and asked him to let Bnei Yisrael go. The response was not what they hoped for: Pharaoh declared that the Jews were lazy and he decreed they would now have to gather their own straw and still keep the same quota of 300 bricks each day. Moshe felt awful; he had made things worse!

Why was there the need to increase the workload and oppression before Hashem redeemed klal Yisrael?

Rav Chaim Friedlander explains, based on the words of the Alter from Kelm: To merit the full redemption from Egypt, the Bnei Yisrael needed a deep level of emunah in Hashem. Therefore, Hashem tested them by increasing their slavery and oppression. Would their emunah stay strong despite the seemingly horrible turn of events?

The Sforno explains that the four terminologies of redemption mentioned in the Torah—v’hotzeisi, v’hitzalti, v’ga’alti, and v’lakachti—are different levels of redemption, ranging from physical bondage to totally leaving Egypt and receiving the Torah. Each level of redemption was achieved by a higher level of emunah attained by the Bnei Yisrael.

That is why Hashem said to Moshe after Pharaoh increased his oppression of Bnei Yisrael, “Now you will see….” Because now the greatly increased burden on Bnei Yisrael served as the needed catalyst to strengthen their emunah and thereby merit full redemption.

We all see a similar pattern in our own lives, where things can go well and then suddenly nosedive. We wonder why Hashem is doing this to us. In fact, all events are precisely calculated by Hashem to strengthen our emunah. To gain the zechus (merit) to be taken out of these challenges, we need to be tested and prove our faith in Hashem. The Zohar says that we will face a great challenge to our emunah in the generation before the coming of Moshiach.

This message of redemption is further illustrated by the enigmatic transformation of a stick to a serpent and back. What’s the significance of Aharon’s stick, after turning into a snake, turning back into a staff before consuming the staffs of Pharaoh (which had also turned into snakes and then back to staffs)?

The Chasam Sofer and Baal Haturim explain that Pharaoh referred to himself as the big snake of the Nile. (See haftorah, Yechezkel 29.) Specifically, Pharaoh called himself a tanim—which Rav Hirsch defines as a big sea creature. Hashem was telling Pharaoh that while He was currently using Pharaoh as an instrument to challenge the emunah of Bnei Yisrael, Hashem would eventually destroy him.

Today, we live in a time when it looks like the forces of evil have the power to make bad things happen. Jewish institutions are taking needed preventative measures and increasing security. Still, we need to remind ourselves that while we need to take necessary precautions, it’s Hashem Who grants the ultimate security and orchestrates all events in the world.

Let us respond to challenging current events by strengthening our emunah in Hashem, and with that we will merit the ultimate redemption!

Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim – Associate Rosh Yeshiva – PTI – Passaic Torah Institute – Parsha Yayishlach – Good Investment Strategy

A few years ago I visited someone to introduce him to our yeshiva for adults and ask for his support. He had never heard anything like it; honestly, he was impressed. He said he liked our unique approach that gives access to in-depth Torah learning and provides real skills to those who didn’t acquire that knowledge earlier in life. He liked our offering serious classes for women also. I asked him for a sizable gift. His reply reflected the successful businessman that he is.

“I give generously to various institutions. Yours was not on my list. However, after hearing about the great work you do and how many people you’re influencing, I would like to lend my support. You see, I view this as an investment. A good investor has a portfolio, reflecting a diversity of investment types. I am going to invest in your yeshiva and place it in my portfolio.”

His response reflected the words of Rav Dessler: A person needs to be a giver, not a taker. We all are recipients at some point, but we often feel unsatisfied when taking. Hashem made humans that way. Giving is what it’s all about: a husband to a wife, a parent to a child. Indeed, newborn infants are totally dependent on their parents. Parents give and give to their children. They feed them, clothe them, educate them, encourage them, soothe their aches and teach them skills. Being a parent is a life of giving!

A similar perspective is seen in Parshas Vayishlach. Yaakov went alone to fetch the small jugs he left behind. He was attacked by the angel of Esav. They wrestled throughout the night as the angel of Esav kept trying, without success, to harm Yaakov. Finally, the angel hit Yaakov in kaf yericho, the ball of his thighbone (Rashi 32:26).

Why does it say the angel was unsuccessful if he indeed hurt Yaakov by hitting his thighbone? The Zohar says he was unable to actually hurt Yaakov, but he struck at future supporters of Torah. The Chofetz Chaim explains that Yaakov himself symbolized Torah learning, and the angel of Esav attempted to stop Yaakov and his future children who would learn Torah. That he wasn’t able to do. But Esav was successful in dealing a blow to people who fund Torah learning. This is symbolized by the yerach, the hip, which supports the body, as the supporters of Torah hold up Torah study.

The angel chose this moment to attack—right after Yaakov had returned to get his small jugs. The angel sensed vulnerability; even though the jugs weren’t worth that much, Yaakov still seemed to value material items enough to spend a lot of time to retrieve them! But it didn’t work. Yaakov and his future offspring of Torah learners would not in fact diminish their Torah study to pursue money. Indeed, they would see monetary assets as gifts from Hashem to use to support their Torah study! Even the jugs were resources, not to be wasted. However, for working people who support the Torah study of others, the challenge is harder because they are in the financial world. They are pulled to focus their attention on many areas and objectives and it can be hard to keep their priorities in proper order. This was the target of attack for Esav’s angel.

The attack lasted all night. Interestingly, the Midrash says the night represents our time in exile. The struggle ended at dawn—alos hashachar—which refers to the time of Moshiach. My friends, this remains an epic struggle.

Giving is a key part of the human psyche. But Esav’s angel made it a challenge. It’s a battle, especially when the giving is to help further Torah study. I want to thank3 all those strong individuals who have won their battle of values, opened their hearts and invested in our yeshiva. Right now, the battle is on! Our dinner campaign, which is our major fundraiser to help cover a large portion of the Yeshiva Ner Boruch-PTI/ Neve PTI operating budget, is in its final hours. Our supporters are truly strong, committed individuals who invest in the quality Torah learning that takes place in our unique yeshiva, where over 200 men and women learn as a result of the various opportunities provided throughout the week.

May your investments yield tremendous dividends, both in this world and the world to come!

Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim – Associate Rosh Yeshiva – PTI – Passaic Torah Institute – Parsha Vayeitzei – A True Value

In 2017, a painting by Leonardo Da Vinci known as “Salvator Mundi” went on auction at Christie’s in New York. The winning bid, made by a Saudi prince, was $450 million. Incredible! Someone was willing to pay half a billion dollars for a rare painting.

In Parshat Vayeitzei, we also find a high price being paid. Yaakov worked day and night for seven full years tending to Lavan’s flock in order to earn the hand of Rochel in marriage. However, the pasuk says regarding Yaakov, those seven years seemed like just a few days.

Seven years…like a few days? Really? Yes, because Yaakov realized Rochel was his perfect match. Seven years of work was a small price to pay to marry the future mother of Yosef and Binyamin.

In Parshat Toldot, we have the opposite scenario—the biggest fire sale in history! For the price of a $5 bowl of lentil soup, the first-born twin, Esav, sold his full birthright, including the priesthood and the right to serve in the Beit Hamikdash (Rashi).

Some might wonder if this was a valid sale. The halacha states if someone over- or under-charges more than a sixth of the value of an item, the sale is null and void. The value or reward in the next world for serving in the priesthood is beyond imagination! As it states in Pirkei Avot (4:22), a single hour of olam haba (the next world) is far greater than all the pleasures a man could possibly have in his entire lifetime. How could Yaakov legitimately buy something so valuable for a bowl of lentil soup?

Rav Elchanan Wasserman explains that every mitzvah is priceless, but each person can assign it his own value. As such, the value we place on a mitzvah personally matches the reward we will receive for its fulfillment. For Esav, the spiritual empire of the priesthood and Beit Hamikdash was worth a bowl of soup. Therefore, Yaakov paid an honest price.

This gives insight to the Gemara which tells us that the wicked get rewarded in this world for their good deeds. How so? We know a lifetime of pleasure can’t compare to a moment in olam haba! Rav Wasserman explains that the wicked value their earthly pleasures more than a spiritual connection to the Almighty.

A few years ago at the PTI annual dinner, Rabbi Paysach Krohn told the story of Aaron Goldstein, who was visiting Eretz Yisroel. At 1 a.m., he was about to go to sleep but remembered he hadn’t davened maariv. Where could he find a minyan at this hour? He remembered a place called Zichron Moshe in the Geula neighborhood of Yerushalayim where one could find a minyan at all hours of the day. Aaron took a taxi there and saw two other guys. He opened a Gemara and reviewed the daf while he waited. After twenty minutes, there was still no minyan.

Suddenly, an idea popped into his head. He called Bar Ilan taxi, which has all Jewish drivers, to send seven taxis. “It’s 2 a.m., why do you need so many taxis?” asked the dispatcher, thinking this was a prank. “I have a big event and need a lot of taxis,” Aaron said. The seven taxis converged onto Zichron Moshe. “Where are all the people?” yelled one of the drivers. “Is this some prank?” Aaron came out with a wad of bills in his hand. “This is not a prank. I have yahrzeit and need a minyan for maariv and to say kaddish. Please come pray with me. I will pay your full fare. Start your meters now.” This was a first…for all of them! One taxi driver donned a yarmulke and entered the shul. The rest followed. Aaron davened maariv clearly and appropriately, not caring about the ticking of the meters. After the last kaddish, Aaron pulled out his wad of bills to pay each driver. The drivers refused. “We can’t take your money. We need to thank you for allowing us to daven maariv and answer amen to your kaddish. We will not take money for participating in this mitzvah,” they said.

In this story, davening maariv and saying kaddish with a minyan was worth 560 shekels to Aaron. To the taxi drivers, the mitzvah was priceless—no fare amount was worth it.

Each day, such choices present themselves. Which priceless item will we value most—a worldly pleasure such as a rare painting, or a mitzvah leading to a portion in olam haba? May we all have the good judgment to make choices which are truly beneficial for us.

Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim – Associate Roah Yeshiva – PTI – Passaic Torah Institute – Parsha Chaya Sara – Recognizing Hashem’s Kindness

Six years ago, on the 25th of Cheshvan (November 18), two Arab terrorists walked into the Bnei Torah shul in Har Nof, Yerushalayim, and attacked the people davening Shacharis. Five Jews were brutally massacred, as well as a Druze police officer who tried stopping the terrorists. This year, Shabbos Parshas Chayei Sarah coincides with the yahrzeit of these kedoshim (martyrs.) This time period covered by Parshas Vayera and Parshas Chayei Sarah also marks the yahrzeits of other troubling losses. Last Shabbos was the yahrzeit of the 11 Jews massacred inside the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. The 16th of Cheshvan was the anniversary of Kristallnacht, which started the violent aggression of the Nazis killing and deporting Jews across Europe.

Living with loss is very challenging. Parshas Chayei Sarah opens with the death of Sarah Imeinu. According to the simple interpretation of Rashi, Sarah passed away when she heard that Avraham took Yitzchak to offer him as a sacrifice to Hashem. The shock was too much for her system, and her neshama left before she could hear the positive end of the story.

Akeidas Yitzchak is considered by many commentators as the last and most challenging of the ten tests of Avraham. Clearly, this was a test for both Avraham and Yitzchak—one would lose his son, and one would give up his life. But Avraham’s test would not just be the fact of his son’s death. Yitzchak was the son of his old age; there would be no other. Further, Yitzchak was designated to ensure the continuity of everything Avraham had built up in his life. Without Yitzchak, there would seemingly be no klal Yisrael. It would all be over. This test, this sacrifice, was of epic proportions.

In this last century—even in this last decade—we have seen multiple akeidos (sacrifices). So many Jews were murdered just for being Jewish.

Rav Moshe Hillel Hirsch says these terrible tragedies are a challenge to our emunah and bitachon—our trust and reliance in Hashem. Hashem always has a plan. He decides who shall live and who shall die. Hatzur tamim pa’olo—Hashem’s actions are perfect (Ha’azinu 32:4). All those affected by a tragic test are also determined by Hashem. For reasons beyond our understanding, those affected needed those tests.

David Hamelech said, “… lehagid baboker chasdecha v’emunascha baleilos”—tell about Your (Hashem’s) kindness during the day and our reliance (emunah) in You (Hashem) at night (Tehillim 92:3). Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato explains that “daytime” is when there is light and clarity; we can see the kindness of Hashem. “Night” is when it’s dark and we cannot see Hashem’s kindness clearly. That’s when we need emunah. That’s when we are called to trust in Hashem.

The pasuk first mentions telling about Hashem’s kindness during times of clarity; afterward, it mentions having emunah during the dark times. I believe David Hamelech is teaching us how to build, develop and strengthen our emunah. Emunah at night only comes after we have the clarity of day. A clear observation of Hashem’s kindness is a necessary building block for our emunah.

That’s our tes: noticing in broad daylight all the kindnesses Hashem bestows upon us. All things big and small come from Hashem—life, health, children and even the unexpected parking spot close to the store. Be it a tax refund or a break from morning traffic, all are a gift. We need to take notice, give thanks and share with others our joy in receiving Hashem’s gifts. Recognizing and sharing news of the kindnesses of Hashem with others will give us the strong emunah at dark times, when it’s harder to see Hashem’s kindness. The emunah that we have through the dark night will in turn give us the merit to witness the next morning, when we will be able to see clearly that all that happened was for the good. We will have developed the confidence that Hashem loves us and is only interested in what is truly good and beneficial for us.

May Hashem elevate all those precious neshamos who were killed al kiddush Hashem and may we continue to witness the morning, when we can see the infinite kindness of Hashem throughout time.

 

Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim On Parsha Vayera – The Power Of Caring

Zack was studying in Eretz Yisrael at a yeshiva for beginners in Judaism. He was having his doubts. “The whole religion thing is so intense! I don’t think it’s for me,” he thought. He made up his mind the next day to book a ticket back to America. When he came back to his dorm room that night, his roommate Michael said, “Zack you look unhappy. What’s going on?” Zack replied, “This religious way of life is not for me. I’m going to leave tomorrow.” “Truthfully, I have my own challenges with it as well,” said Michael. “If you leave, I don’t know if I’ll be able to stay here. You’re a great friend and roommate. How am I going to keep going without your company?”

Zack said he would think it over. He tossed and turned all night. The next morning, Zack told Michael, “I’m changing my plans. I’ve decided to stay in yeshiva.”

This story always troubled me. What was so compelling about Michael’s reasoning that caused Zack to stay? Michael didn’t offer any compelling arguments about the truth of Torah. I believe the midrash in this week’s parsha gives us a tremendous insight into human nature and better clarity regarding our story.

As Avraham and Yitzchak were walking up the mountain toward Akeidas (sacrifice of) Yitzchak, Yitzchak said, “Avi [my father]” and Avraham responded, “Here I am, my son” (22:7). Yitzchak proceeded to ask, “Where is the sheep for the sacrifice?” Why did Yitzchak initially call for his father? After all, they were walking side by side for days. There was no question of where Avraham was.

The Midrash (Bereishis Rabbah 22:4) tells us what really transpired. Heading toward the site of the akeidah, the satan approached Avraham to dissuade him from his mission but was totally unsuccessful. Next, the satan approached Yitzchak and said, “How can you allow yourself to be brought as a sacrifice? Do you know how your mother is going to feel when she hears you were slaughtered?” “She will be okay,” Yitzchak responded. The satan tried again: “Think about the challenges she had to overcome to raise you properly, even telling Hagar and Yishmael to leave to preserve your purity. Now Yishmael will inherit from Avraham. This will break your mother. How can you do this to her?”

Yitzchak started to waver. The satan was winning. So Yitzchak shouted “Avi!” as a cry for help: “Father, please strengthen me to overcome this challenge.” Avraham responded, “I am here for you, Yitzchak. I will help you. Trust in Hashem. Either He will show us a sheep to sacrifice, or you are meant to be the korban (sacrifice).”

This midrash is a beautiful explanation of the pasuk, but the persuasive arguments of the satan are puzzling. The satan only focused on Yitzchak’s concern for his mother. What about his own imminent slaughter?! He was about to die, along with all of Avraham’s plans for Yitzchak’s future!

Rabbi Chaim Friedlander explains that we learn from here a very important concept about human nature. We might be prepared to deal with a big challenge for the sake of Hashem, but we might not be prepared for related smaller challenges. The satan is very crafty and tries to catch us off guard. Yitzchak was prepared to give his life for Hashem, but was he prepared to cause pain and possibly death to his mother? The satan tugged on Yitzchak’s emotions. “How is your mother going to react when she sees her whole life’s struggles for the purity of klal Yisrael benefit Yishmael? She will be totally broken hearted.”

Some relatively small challenges, especially those that touch us emotionally, can be much harder to overcome. This type of situation happens in our daily lives. We might be prepared to perform a large favor for someone, but if we feel they will not appreciate it then we might choose not to follow through. We might be prepared to make a large commitment to Torah study, but if the rabbi or study partner doesn’t welcome us warmly we might shrug our shoulders and say, “It’s not worth it.”

The reverse is also true! Even a small amount of encouragement can get us through a big challenge. A warm smile, a nice greeting or kind word can be all it takes to help us make a commitment to do a favor, chesed or to commit to Torah learning. In our story about Zack, who was going to give up, Michael told him how much he enjoys his company and his friendship, and that was enough to turn Zack around to stay in yeshiva.

Remember the power we have to help each other through life’s hurdles. Feeling supported, feeling loved, gives everyone the needed strength to climb mountains.