Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim – Associate Rosh Yeshiva – PTI – Passaic Torah Institute – Parsha Ki Teitzei – Taking Positive Steps With Compassionate Hearts

I recently attended a seudas hoda’ah—a meal of thanks to Hashem—hosted by a friend. His family had experienced an extremely challenging year, with accidents and health issues. Thankfully all are well now. The teenage son, who was involved in two accidents, thanked Hashem publicly for the two miracles he experienced. He told us how he heard from a rebbe that he should accept upon himself a small commitment to express gratitude to Hashem. After the first accident he accepted upon himself to be vigilant about not speaking while someone recites Kaddish. After the second accident, he accepted upon himself to recite Birkas Hamazon (blessing after a meal) from a siddur/bentcher rather than from memory.

These were small commitments, but each can be challenging to do consistently! I was so impressed that a young man understood that small but firm actions of commitment are the road to progress.

This lesson is taught in Parshas Ki Seitzei, with the mitzvah to remember Amalek. The Torah stresses that Amalek attacked us while we were traveling on the road. What was so terrible about the “on-the-road” aspect? Rashi points out the word “karcha” is used to describe Amalek approaching klal Yisrael to attack them. The root of the word is kar, cold. After the splitting of the sea, klal Yisrael was untouchable. The nations of the world were terrified of us. Yet, Amalek attacked us specifically to break the image of our being invincible, to “cool down” the other nations’ fear of us. The Midrash compares this to a bubbling hot bath; the first person to jump in gets scalded, but the water is somewhat cooler for the next person.

Amelek does not just represent a nation; it’s an attitude of “cooling down” that pulls us away from Hashem. At times we may get excited by an inspiring event or a shiur or dvar Torah we read. But that inspiration can be fleeting! If we don’t act on it we may cool down and lose that excitement. This is the message of asher karcha baderech for us: continuing on our regular day-to-day course cools us down over time. The only way to keep our fire and inspiration for connecting with Hashem going is to make a positive commitment. Just like my friend’s son did, we need to stop for a moment and change course ever so slightly so we can use the momentary inspiration for actual change.

Another detail the Torah stresses about Amalek is their attacking the individuals traveling in the rear of the group. Amelek could not attack klal Yisrael directly; we were surrounded by the “Clouds of Glory” that created a force field that intercepted every arrow. The only people Amalek was able to attack were those few people who had been expelled from the protection of the Clouds of Glory because of serious sins.

But was Amalek so evil in attacking these sinners? After all, one may argue they created their own fate. It’s not so simple…

I had the privilege of driving Rabbi Yaakov Bender back home to Far Rockaway after giving a shiur at our yeshiva. As we were passing Rikers Island, the famed jail, Rabbi Bender said, “It’s so unfortunate; there are so many Jews incarcerated there.” I was a little taken aback, and asked him, “If someone was incarcerated incorrectly, that’s unfortunate. But those individuals who committed crimes are there for a reason. Why do you feel bad for them?”

“Yes,” Rabbi Bender replied, “but it’s still sad that they are incarcerated and we should still have feelings for them.”

This idea totally expanded my concept of ahavas Yisrael—loving every Jew—to include even loving sinners. Yes, they committed crimes and are being punished. But we still need to care about them. Hashem cares about every Jew, even considering Amalek evil for attacking those who sinned.

Not everyone makes the right decisions or acts properly at all times. Anyone can make a bad decision at a given time. But he’s still a fellow Jew and we still need to feel for him.

This message is one of the keys to prepare for Rosh Hashanah. We are going to plead to Hashem to judge us favorably. Hashem will take out the video and replay our actions from last year. In some cases we will be ashamed to watch. We want and need Hashem to look favorably on us. Rav Moshe Cordevero tells us that the way we relate to others is how Hashem relates to us. Although we might have committed certain sins, we still want Hashem to have compassion on us.

Let’s start with that concept. Recognize that we all need to be forgiven for one or more past actions, so we should take the initiative and open compassionate hearts to those around us. Hashem in turn will do the same for us.

Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim – Associate Rosh Yeshiva – PTI – Passaic Torah Institute – Taking The Initiative In Elul

Family vacations can be fun and exhausting at the same time. We returned from ours very late Thursday night. Our heads hit the pillow around 1 a.m. when suddenly all our smoke alarms went off! “Fire, fire, fire,” they blared throughout the house. We all ran outside, despite seeing no fire and smelling no smoke. Big fire trucks with sirens wailing came rushing to our house. However, it turned out that one of the smoke detector units had malfunctioned. Thankfully, all was well and we went back to sleep!

On Shabbos, my wife commented that last year, just prior to Rosh Chodesh Elul, we were awakened during the night by a loud banging on our door. The police had received a distress call and were given an address similar to ours. Baruch Hashem all was fine then as well.

It seems that two years in a row, Hashem sent us our own personal shofar blast.

The Shulchan Aruch says the custom is to start blowing shofar from the first day in Elul, and the commentaries say the purpose is to awaken us from our slumber. The Shelah says the pasuk “When a lion roars, who won’t be terrified” is referring to the blasting of the shofar. He also says the word aryeh—lion—is comprised of four Hebrew letters, all referring to a different day during this time period: Aleph—Elul, reish—Rosh Hashanah, yud—Yom Kippur, heh—Hoshana Rabbah. Each of these days has its own roar.

This past summer, we unfortunately heard many “sirens.” There were a number of untimely deaths of young yeshiva men in different tragic drowning accidents. It’s a sobering wake-up call to each of us.

Yet, many people miss out on beneficial actions they can take during Elul because they don’t like focusing on their shortcomings. Rav Nosson Wachtfogel tells us not to wallow in our mistakes during Elul, but rather to increase our good deeds. Grab every opportunity to learn Torah and do mitzvos. Sephardim increase their prayer with Selichot during each day of Elul. Ashkenazim add an extra chapter of Tehillim, “L’Dovid Hashem ori.” (Psalm 27)

The parshios we read during Elul teach us specific areas to focus on. In Parshas Shoftim, a pasuk says, “Tzedek tzedek tirdof,” righteousness, righteousness you shall seek. My great-uncle Meyer Thurm passed away a few weeks ago. A few stories that were told about him left a big impression on me. When he was 15 years old he found a wallet in front of his apartment building with $300 in it and no identification. He could have kept it, but instead went knocking on each apartment door, asking if they lost money. No one claimed it, so he went to the next apartment building and found a painter in the hallway who said he indeed lost his wallet. The painter started crying. “You saved me! I’ve been saving to bring my son back from Europe, working day and night. I was devastated to lose the money.” The painter offered a reward for his righteous deed, but Uncle Meyer said, “I can’t take a reward for being honest. That’s what I’m supposed to do!”

Another form of tzedek (righteousness) is giving tzedakah. Uncle Meyer was known for his caring heart, and many people came to his office to collect charity. Not only did he give each person a gift, but he sat with each person and listened to his story. One of his family members asked, “I understand you want to help each person, but how do you have the patience to sit and listen to each person?” He replied, “As long as I can sit on this side of the table, that’s what I’ll do.”

Perhaps we can glean this lesson from the double use of the word tzedek in the foregoing pasuk, “Tzedek, tzedek tirdof.” It is saying that there are two aspects to a gift: first, giving the actual tzedakah money, and second, the manner in which it is given. The Torah is imploring us to give to each individual with care, respect and dignity.

In Elul we recall the roar of the lion, the shofar blasts and the recent tragedies. I recall my smoke alarm also! Let’s act positively and grab all the mitzvah opportunities we can find in this special month. In doing so we will merit the conclusion of the pasuk, “Chase after righteousness so that you shall merit to live and inherit the land that Hashem, your God, gives you.” (16:20)

Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim – Associate Rosh Yeshiva – PTI – Passaic Torah Institute – Parsha Re’eh – Achieving True Wealth by Giving

Rabbi Sorotzkin runs the organization Lev L’Achim in Eretz Yisrael, an organization specializing in being mekarev (bringing closer to Judaism) those who don’t have a religious background. He received a strange phone call one day. “Hello, this is Menachem Dvir. Every month I have been donating ten dollars to Lev L’Achim. Now I would like to increase that to eleven dollars each month.” Rabbi Sorotzkin encouraged the man to call his office to handle the change. “Please, Rabbi Sorotzkin, I want you to handle it,” said Menachem. Sensing there was more to the story, Rabbi Sorotzkin said, “OK, tell me, what prompted you to increase your monthly donation?” Menachem explained, “I have a small income and I give what I can to Lev L’Achim. I really feel what you do is so important. A few months ago, my wife gave birth to a healthy baby. Now that things are calmer at home, I am able to come on time to my evening kollel. I just received my first stipend for coming on time and I’m giving maaser (a tithe) on it!!”

Rabbi Sorotzkin was taken aback. Here is a Jew who is making a very minimal income, yet he wants to make sure he is always giving the appropriate amount to charity based on his income. A few months later, Rabbi Sorotzkin was speaking with a wealthy donor and shared this moving story. The man had already written a check, but then re-thought his donation. “Rabbi, I’m so impressed by that individual’s attitude to charity that I’m increasing my own donation by $5,000!”

This same wealthy donor was visiting Eretz Yisrael and asked Rabbi Sorotzkin to allow him to see more of Lev L’Achim’s work, as well as meet some of the great Torah leaders. At the end of the trip he wrote another check…for $90,000!! In the end, Lev L’Achim received a total of $100,000, all inspired by the one-dollar monthly increase of Menachem. This one dollar became worth one hundred thousand! This story is written in Sefer Zera Shimshon [English Edition] by my cousin, Rabbi Nachman Seltzer.

I believe the foregoing story gives insight to a pasuk in Parshas Re’eh. Hashem instructs Bnei Yisrael to give a tenth of their produce to support the tribe of Levi. The Torah then repeats the directive “aseir te’aseir,” to give a tenth. The letters in aseir—tenth—can also be pronounced as osheir—wealth. The Gemara (Taanis 9a) explains that the Torah is instructing us to give maaser—a tenth—in order that you become ashir—wealthy.

Simply, Hashem is promising that those who take care of the needy with the money with which they are blessed will receive an additional monetary blessing! The wording of the Gemara seems to suggest a directive to give maaser in order to become wealthy. Having more monetary wealth than one needs is a blessing, but it’s not supposed to be a focus of life. Why then should we focus on becoming wealthy when giving maaser?

Referring to the earlier story, we can offer an explanation. The promise of wealth is referring not only to monetary wealth but also to spiritual wealth. The reward for the tzedakah we give is much greater than the amount donated. Any help the recipient receives monetarily as well as emotionally accrues to the giver as a reward. And when the donation encourages others to give as well, the original giver’s reward includes all the additional donated money. Menachem’s additional monthly dollar donation became worth the reward for a gift of $100,000, since it was a catalyst for that donation. In the same vein, the Torah is telling us to give maaser to become spiritually wealthy, because the ultimate reward is much greater than the initial monetary investment.

Rabbi Shimon Schwab gives another perspective. Pirkei Avos tells us, “Who is an ashir—(wealthy person)? Someone who is happy with what he has.” True wealth is a feeling inside that I have all that I need. That is a true blessing. Hashem promises that when you give maaser He will ensure that you have a feeling of contentment with all your possessions.

We live in an era with an abundance of luxuries and comforts. The amount of possessions we amass and continuously purchase is enormous. Yet, having more doesn’t necessarily make us happier. In fact, it can make us feel poorer, for the more we have the more we want. Wealth can be a great blessing, but a true feeling of wealth is when we feel we have what we need. That’s the true blessing Hashem promises to those who give maaser: if you give the amount you should, I will bless you with a true feeling of wealth. You will feel truly content with what you have.

Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim – Associate Rosh Yeshiva – PTI – Passaic Torah Institute – Parsha Va’etchanan – Making Ourselves Into Holy Vessels

Ezzy and Milt were neighbors in an apartment building. One day, Milt asked Ezzy to tell him why he has a small “case” hanging on his doorpost. Ezzy explained the mezuzah represents God watching over the people who live in the home. Milt was taken aback. “Where can I buy one? Do they sell them in a Judaica store?” It was a strange encounter.

When Milt rang Ezzy’s bell a few days later, Ezzy saw Milt holding a mezuzah case in his hand. “I bought this from the Judaica store downtown. Can you tell me how to hang this up?” Ezzy took a closer look. “Where is the paper that was inside the case?” he asked. “Oh, you mean the instructions? They were all in Hebrew and I can’t read Hebrew. I left it on my kitchen table!” Milt did not realize the special parchment inside the casing, with a paragraph of Shema from the Torah on it, is the real mezuzah. The case is just a holder for the parchment and not even necessary!

Parshas Va’eschanan contains the first paragraph of Shema and we’re told to affix a mezuzah on our doorposts. We’re also instructed to wear tefillin on our arm and head. The Sfas Emes teaches us something remarkable. The tefillin shel rosh (for the head) contains four individual parchments with four different portions of the Torah written on them. The tefillin shel yad (worn on the arm) contains one parchment with the same four portions of Torah written on it. The four parchments of the shel rosh represent the first four books of the Torah. The single parchment in the shel yad represents the fifth book of the Torah—Sefer Devarim. Taken together, the five parchments represent the whole Torah. Just as a Jewish king is commanded to have his own personal sefer Torah to carry with him at all times, each Jew beginning at the time of his bar mitzvah has his own tefillin—a “mini sefer Torah”—that he “carries” with him each day (except for Shabbos and Yom Tov), to remind him of his commitment to Hashem.

The tefillin is different from the mezuzah. The parchment of the mezuzah is essential, while the casing is just a recommended protective cover. However, the boxes of the tefillin that contain the parchment are required and have many laws about the specific material, the construction of the boxes and their straps. Having suitable casing and parchment are essential, as the casing of the tefillin and its straps, although perfectly made, are not kosher without the proper parchment inserted inside them. If the words on the parchments are missing a letter, or if a letter is misspelled, they are disqualified. While the structure of the boxes and the straps are required, the words of Torah inside the boxes are what truly empowers them.

The boxes and the parchments have a parallel to people. The Gemara (Makkos 22) relates that the people in Bavel used to stand when a sefer Torah was carried in shul, but would not rise when a talmid chacham (Torah scholar) walked by. The Gemara points out the foolishness in this behavior, as the talmid chacham is greater than a sefer Torah since he contains and lives his life according to the full direction of the Torah. The talmid chacham is in effect a living sefer Torah!

Every bit of Torah we learn helps create within us a living sefer Torah. We become like the tefillin with the parchments inside. However, in addition to the Torah knowledge we acquire, we must ensure that our behavior is refined and positively reflects one who learns Torah and is a Torah-observant Jew.

Parshas Va’eschanan also contains the giving of the second set of the Aseres Hadibros (“Ten Commandments”). While Hashem fabricated the first luchos (tablet), Moshe was commanded to carve out from stone the second luchos on two separate tablets. With Moshe’s luchos in mind, we must not only instill the Torah within us, but also develop ourselves and our behavior to be a proper “casing” for the words of Torah we have learned. By developing our middos (positive qualities) Hashem will help etch the Torah’s words into us so they are part of our essence. We can then aspire to be a true living sefer Torah.

 

Rabb Baruch Bodenheim – Associate Rosh Yeshiva – PTI – Passaic Torah Institute – Tisha B’Av Enhancing Torah and Avodah Through Chesed

Last year, a phenomenal organization called Chesed 24/7 asked my wife to help them. In most major hospitals in the New York City area, it provides rooms fully stocked with delicious kosher food for patients, their families and visitors. (Indeed, they helped my family so much when my mother-in-law, Rebbetzin Singer a”h, was in the hospital.) They wanted my wife to host a Shabbos box packing event, where neighbors and friends would come pack boxes filled with all the necessary items for Shabbos – challahs, grape juice, kiddush cups, candles and tablecloths – that sick patients and families would need. My wife was excited to help! What a great zechus (merit) to host this as a merit for her mother’s neshama!

Only one problem – the 9:00 pm start time coincided with the nightly women’s phone conference that learns the sefer Ahavas Chesed written by the Chofetz Chaim. The conflict was quickly resolved. Someone suggested starting the Chesed 24/7 event by a reading from the sefer on chesed and jumping right in to dochesed!

At 9:00 pm, my wife welcomed the ladies and started to read the lesson. The opening words sent shivers down her spine. “When parents pass into the next world, the child’s ability to honor and serve them does not disappear. In the months following their passing, the parents’ souls undergo intense scrutiny and the child’s help is much needed. The help needed then and forever after, can only be provided through the child’s acts of kindness.”

“Wow. What a message from Hashem,” my wife thought. “This event is giving such a benefit to my mother by all of us getting together to pack Shabbos packages for hospitalized patients.”

That same night, I attended a siyum by my neighbor’s son, Yaakov Shimon Spira. While there, Rabbi Spira showed me a Vilna Gaon (Shir Hashirim 6:4) on the relationship of chesed to the loss of the Beis HaMikdash. In Pirkei Avos it says there are three pillars the world stands on: Torah, avodah [service/prayer] and gemilus chasadim [acts of kindness]. With the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash, two of the pillars were destroyed. We lost the pillar ofavodah, as the Beis HaMikdash clearly was the pillar of avodah. In a sense, we also lost the pillar of Torah, as the verse in Eicha (2:9) says “… there is no Torah.” Although we do currently pray and learn Torah, and we have shuls and yeshivos, the nature of prayer and Torah when the Beis HaMikdash stood was at an extraordinarily higher level. The pillar of kindness, however, remains.

Our world needs the three pillars, but it seems the pillar of chesedcan support the world in the interim. This is reflected in the verse in Tehillim, “Hashem built the world based on kindness.” For almost 2,500 years, Hashem supported the world with his infinite kindness, before he gave us the Torah in 2,448. With the destruction of our Temple almost 2,000 years ago, the world went back to being supported by Hashem’s chesed, and the morechesed we do, the more chesed we merit to receive from Hashem.

Kindness precedes all. We see that from the key attributes of the three Avos. Avraham – chesed, Yitzchak – avodah, Yaakov – Torah. Avraham was first, perfecting the quality of chesed by providing food and shelter to those in need, plus attempting to create peace and harmony and teaching the world about Hashem and His kindness.

Chesed is built into our very lives! A child is born totally helpless. Parents selflessly perform chesed all day for their baby. It’s the chesed parents perform that helps the child to be successful. From this presentation by the Vilna Gaon, we see clearly that one key pillar of the world, kindness, remained intact since the loss of our Beis HaMikdash.

When someone is having a difficult day or his world seems to be crumbling, the helping hand we provide that person may be the key support he needs to overcome his difficulties. Chesed is not just a nice thing to do – it’s essential to our mutual existence. Everyone is entitled to chesed, whether they deserve it or not. We emulate Hashem by going above and beyond in our kindness to all of our fellowmen.

That special day last year brought it all together: First, my wife agreeing to host the box-packing event for the chesed organization in the merit for her mother’s neshama. Then the message of the Chofetz Chaim that acts of kindness are the crucial merits that parents need in the next world from their children. And finally, the teaching of the Vilna Gaon that the pillar of kindness is the only pillar remaining after the loss of the Beis HaMikdash.

Tisha B’Av commemorates the loss of both Temples, the second of which was destroyed because of baseless hatred. Through our present acts of kindness, the opposite of baseless hatred, we can merit to have the Temple rebuilt and the pillars of Torah and avodah restored in their full strength.

 

Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim – Associate Rosh Yeshiva – PTI – Passaic Torah Institute – Parsha Matot-Massei – Chasing Peace – A Goal Worth Pursuing

One night, as I was davening Maariv, I saw two professionals who have the same type of medical practice sitting at a table learning Torah together. “Wow,” I thought to myself, “this is very special. Two competing professionals learning together as chavrusa.” The next time I met Dr. Z., I remarked how beautiful it was to see the two of them learning together. He told me their story.

“We’ve been chavrusos now for over three years! My practice was running for a while, when one day, Dr. B. walked into my office. After we exchanged greetings, Dr. B. said, ‘I came here to tell you personally that I am opening my own practice this year locally. I didn’t want you to hear this from someone else. I also want you to know that I intentionally chose a location in the next town so I don’t infringe on your practice and your clientele.’

“I was floored. I told Dr. B. he was so considerate to open his office in the next town and to come speak with me personally. We both live here, so he’s entitled to practice here as much as I am. I was really touched by his consideration. Later, when I joined a night learning group and was looking for a chavrusa, the rabbi in charge told me Dr. B. was also looking. I jumped at the chance to have such a caring individual as my chavrusa.

“We’re not in competition,” said Dr. Z. “Rabbi Singer told me that Hashem has a lot of money. He will give me what I need and will give Dr. B. what he needs.”

Parshas Masei mentions the death of Aharon Hakohen, which occurred on Rosh Chodesh Av. We know that Rosh Chodesh Av starts the Nine Days—the period when the mourning for the loss of the Beis Hamikdash intensifies. What is the connection between the death of Aharon Hakohen and Rosh Chodesh Av?

The Gemara Rosh Hashana tells us the loss of a tzadik is equal to the loss of the Beis Hamikdash. This is alluded to in Parshas Masei (33:49), in the way the Torah describes the last place the Bnei Yisrael encamped in the desert—between Beit Hayeshimos and Avel Hashittim. Instead of the Torah listing the name of the actual place, as it does with the 41 other locations, here the Torah lists two surrounding markers. Why?

The Kli Yakar explains the word hayeshimos is from the word shmama, which means desolation—referring to the loss of the Beis Hamikdash. The word avel is from the word aveilus—which means mourning [for the loss of Aharon Hakohen]. The Torah juxtaposes these losses to teach us that the loss of a tzadik is comparable to the loss of the Beis Hamikdash, since we are left bereft, without the direction we had been receiving.

That’s one reason for citing the losses, but there’s more. Rav Avrohom Schorr quotes the Mishna in Avos: Hillel says be like the students of Aharon Hakohen: love peace and pursue peace. He points out from Eicha that the “pursuers” of klal Yisrael won when we did not “pursue” peace. Pursuit implies action and passion. The second Temple was destroyed because of sinas chinam, baseless hatred (Gemara Yoma). Clearly, there was a lack of active pursuit for peace. This, more than anything, made our enemies successful in attacking klal Yisrael and destroying the Beis Hamikdash.

People have many pursuits in life: happiness, pleasure, financial success… Aharon Hakohen taught that peace must be a primary pursuit. Interpersonal harmony doesn’t happen naturally; we need to pursue it.

We may get along well with some people easily, but others take work. This is even more important with regard to family: parents, children, spouses, siblings and in-laws. Achieving true harmony in our relationships takes continuous work on our part.

On Rosh Chodesh Av, the Jewish people lost their spiritual guide to pursuing peace, and intense mourning began. Still, the day of a yahrzeit of a tzadik serves as a time when we can make an effort to connect to the positive qualities he manifested in his lifetime. Hashem orchestrated the death of Aharon precisely at this time so we can all focus on the quality of Aharon as the pursuer of peace. Being more like Aharon can improve all of our relationships.

Let’s learn from Dr. Z. and Dr. B.—potential competitors who went out of their way to be peaceful and harmonious toward each other. They became friends and chavrusos. Let us each choose at least one additional person with whom we will actively pursue a harmonious relationship. Such a sincere effort will change us and signal to Hashem that we want to work toward the final redemption.

 

Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim – Associate Rosh Yeshiva – PTI – Passaic Torah Institute – Parsha Pinchas – Obtaining Positive Yields

When Yaakov Grossman got engaged to his fiance Aliza, their dream was to start the beginning of their marriage in Eretz Yisrael, with Yaakov spending his day immersed in Torah learning in the Mir yeshiva. The challenge was how would they be able to afford this dream?! Even with Yaakov giving haircuts, as he did when he was single, and his wife working, they still would not have enough income to meet their monthly expenses. They decided they would use the money they would receive as wedding gifts to finance their stay in Eretz Yisrael for as long as they could. Afterward they would move back to Montreal, where Yaakov would start his career. They felt this would be a worthy investment of their wedding gifts.

After their wedding they moved to Eretz Yisrael and Yaakov went back to full-time Torah study in Mir Yerushalayim, a dream come true. Together with their wedding money and the money they earned, they were able to stretch their stay for close to two years. They moved back to Canada with a young baby, Yaakov looking for a job, very little savings and the need to purchase all the furnishings for their apartment. Shortly after they arrived, Aliza attended a Chinese auction and purchased a ticket for a furniture package. She was extremely surprised and delighted when they called out her name as the winner of the furniture package! This set was much fancier than they ever would have imagined or dreamed of being able to afford. It was a clear reward from Hashem for their decision at the start of their marriage to dedicate themselves to Torah study in Eretz Yisrael.

A similar payback occurs in our parsha. Pinchas observes the serious desecration of Hashem’s name by the Jewish prince Zimri and the non-Jewish princess Cozbi, who engage in open illicit relations. Pinchas runs into their tent and spears the two of them in a zealous act to restore the sanctity of klal Yisrael. In return, Hashem blesses Pinchas with the gift of peace and harmony. But how could the reward for this violent act of vengeance be peace and harmony?

Our parsha is not the only place where we have this seeming contradiction. We find the same incongruity with the Ir Hanidachas—the city of Jews who are worshipping avoda zarah (idol worship), where the Torah commands us to wipe out all the inhabitants of the city. Yet, Hashem promises that all the participating soldiers will be blessed afterward with a compassionate and merciful nature (Parshas Re’eh). We know that killing develops a nature for cruelty, yet the Torah blesses all those involved in annihilating this town with the character trait of compassion!

Rav Tzadok Hakohen explains that doing a mitzvah does not create negative tendencies. In fact, it is just the opposite. When one participates in actions that normally develop a tendency for cruelty, but currently is done to fulfill a mitzvah, one’s inclination for compassion will be enhanced.

This is why Pinchas received the blessing of peace in exchange for his violent act.

Rav Tzadok says we find a similar phenomenon in the case of investments of money for a mitzvah. The Torah instructs individuals to give a tenth of their produce to the tribe of Levi. From here, the rabbis derive the mitzvah of ma’aser—giving a tenth of one’s earnings to charity. Understandably, giving charity to the needy is important and a key action in our developing compassion. However, the Gemara Taanis (9a) says shockingly that donating a tenth of one’s earnings to charity will actually make one rich. How is this so?

Similarly, the Gemara Shabbos (119a) attributes the wealth of the Jews in Eretz Yisrael during the Gemara era to the fact that they would spend large amounts of money to honor Shabbos.

Rav Tzadok explains that these results are rooted in the concept above, that an action performed for a mitzvah will only help generate good results, even when it normally might generate negative results. The same applies to an investment of money for a mitzvah. Spending money for a mitzvah, while temporarily depleting monetary resources, is really an insurance policy to be blessed with more and more wealth.

However, there is one condition for this formula to be successful: the mitzvah must be performed lishma—solely for the sake of fulfilling Hashem’s will—and not for any ulterior selfish motives.

The next time we are confronted with the opportunity to perform a mitzvah that involves a physical or monetary investment, let’s remember this lesson. The ROI—return on investment—of a mitzvah is not just in the next world, but even in this world! It’s a win-win situation.

Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim – Associate Rosh Yeshiva – PTI – Passaic Torah Institute – Parsha Chukat – Receiving Full Credit For Best Learning Efforts

Rav Mordechai Gifter worked very hard to remember the Torah he learned. As he aged, he was stricken with an illness affecting his memory. This troubled him terribly. “How will I be able to answer the questions I’ll be asked by the Heavenly Tribunal when I come to heaven?” he would lament. Rav Gifter went to a specialist and expressed his anguish for not being able to recall his Torah learning. The doctor said, “There are two parts of the brain: one for retaining information and one for recalling the information. The recall part of your brain is compromised, but you still retain all the information. When you get to heaven, you won’t have this physical challenge and you will be able to recall all that you learned!” Rav Gifter told the doctor, “You have comforted me.”

Many of us feel similarly when we learn Torah, especially after spending a lengthy time delving into a topic we still do not comprehend. We sometimes wonder, “What am I accomplishing? I don’t understand the material, let alone remember it!”

This feeling of working and not accomplishing can be depressing. I once read a story about a Jew who was sentenced to back-breaking labor in Siberia. His job was to push a heavy piece of wood outside a millhouse all day long in subzero temperatures. He was told his labor turned a millstone in the millhouse, grinding grain into flour. For 30 years he worked tirelessly. One day, the guard came and told him, “Good news. Your time in Siberia is up. You are being released.” He was so excited! The guard escorted him through the millhouse, but the man saw no trace of grain. “Where is all the grain? Where are all the piles of flour?” asked the man incredulously. The guard said, “This is Siberia. There is no grain here! We just make people work for no reason to torture them.” Upon hearing that his 30 years of labor produced nothing, the man collapsed on the floor. The thought of all those years of fruitless labor was too much to bear.

Laboring in Torah is different. Even if we don’t fully comprehend the Torah we learn, we are still accomplishing tremendously! This lesson is learned from Parshas Chukas. “Zos haTorah adam ki yamus b’ohel, this is the law about a person who dies in a tent.” The Gemara Brachos provides a novel interpretation to this verse. The Torah is giving us a formula on how one needs to learn Torah. Zos haTorah—this is the way to learn Torah. Adam ki yamus b’ohel—a person needs to kill himself (in the sense of pushing himself tirelessly) to understand and learn the Torah. It’s back-breaking labor! The Gemara is sharing a great secret. If we toil in Torah, even without understanding it fully, our extreme effort allows us to “acquire” the Torah we are working on. What counts is the effort we put in!

The parsha starts off with the same word, “zos.” “Zos chukas haTorah”—this is the law of the Torah. The word chok means a law without a rationale. Chok also means to etch or to inscribe.

We can thus say that every time we exert ourselves in Torah, even if we do not understand the reasoning, we are etching the Torah deeper and deeper into ourselves, as every effort makes an impression.

The Chofetz Chaim echoes this sentiment. He says that whenever we learn a topic that we don’t understand fully, when we come to the yeshiva in heaven our limitations will be gone and we’ll be able to fully grasp what we tried to learn down here.

This is the profound lesson of zos chukas haTorah. The world around us operates on the concept of “show me the money!” Results. Facts on the ground. No one cares about the time and effort it took you. Torah is not like that at all. Hashem treasures every minute you spend; every moment you sacrifice for His Torah. Your effort…is everything! It helps complete your soul’s mission.

Ultimately, if we put in the effort that we can, Hashem will give us maximum credit for our efforts! But the true reward for our efforts in learning Torah is the resulting closeness we feel with our Creator.

Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim – Associate Rosh Yeshiva – PTI – Passaic Torah Institute – Parsha Korach – A Goal Of Peaceful Conflict

Rav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld, the Chief Rabbi of Yerushalayim, and Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook, the Chief Rabbi of Eretz Yisrael in the early 1900’s, embodied very different views concerning the Jewish people and the development of the State of Israel. One time, they were both asked to attend a bris. They reached the door of the shul at the same time. Rav Sonnenfeld said to Rav Kook, “You are the Chief Rabbi of Eretz Yisrael — you should enter first.” Rav Kook responded, “We are in Yerushalayim and you are the chief rabbi of this city. You should go first.” In the end, they agreed to walk in at the same time. These two great rabbis, despite their many disagreements, had tremendous respect and feelings of friendship for each other.

When learning the parsha of Korach and Korach’s revolt, we picture a rabble rouser who attempted a coup against Moshe and Aharon. The Mishna in Avos (5:20) contrasts the dispute between Hillel and Shammai with Korach and his assembly. Any argument for the sake of heaven is like that of Hillel and Shammai – it will have a constructive outcome. But any argument that is not for the sake of heaven is like that of Korach and his assembly – it will not have a constructive outcome. This Mishna is puzzling: the only description the Mishna can find about the argument of Korach is that it wasn’t for the sake of heaven! Isn’t it obvious the whole scenario was based on pure greed and inflated ego?

Rav Yeruchom Levovitz explains the Mishna is teaching us that Korach was indeed a very righteous and worthy person and had a special desire to come close to Hashem. This inner drive propelled his wish to be Kohen Gadol and leader of Klal Yisroel. Korach truly believed he was disagreeing with Moshe being Kohen Gadol for theright reasons! However, deep down, Korach’s argument was rooted in an ulterior motive. His true motive of desiring honor was very subtle and almost undetected. If not for the Mishna revealing it to us, we would not have known. This is illustrated by the fact Moshe had to request a public miracle from Hashem to clearly demonstrate that Korach and his entourage were incorrect. Therefore, the earth miraculously opened and swallowed up Korach and his assembly to demonstrate to all, Hashem’s choice of Moshe and Aharon.

This is a very telling lesson. People have disagreements, arguments, and disputes. Yet, who can truly say that their disagreement is one hundred percent for the sake of heaven? The Maharal says that machlokes – argument – has a magnetic pull that draws others in. People will rationalize and justify, but in truth, they would be better off realizing machlokes is like a burning fire we should run away from. Even more so when we know we are right!

The Zohar says Korach, with his argumentativeness, did not follow the true concept of Shabbos. The Sfas Emes explains that Shabbos is the symbol of peace – shalom. The two go hand in hand. In the Friday night tefilos (prayers), we conclude Lecho Dodiwith the words Bo’i beshalom – come in peace – as we welcome in the Shabbos. Indeed, we greet each other on Shabbos with Shabbat Shalom.

Shalom is a sign of true harmony. There is a special attribute of peace and harmony which is present on Shabbos. No matter what happens in a particular week, Shabbos comes and brings shalom. Shabbos is a time we can recognize that even when having a disagreement with someone, we are both servants of Hashem. And Hashem wants…that we get along!

The litmus test to determine whether an argument is for proper reasons is whether we can sit down at the same table together and enjoy the other person’s company. This is expressed on Shabbos as families come together and eat Shabbos meals together. Communally, we come together to daven on Shabbos. If we can’t sit together, there’s a problem. Remember that Rav Sonnenfeld and Rav Kook were able to walk through the door together and have a wonderful friendship, despite their diametrically opposed views.

 

Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim – Associate Rosh Yeshiva – PTI – Passaic Torah Institute – Parsha Shelach – A Covering Of Significance

A close friend of mine is the head of an out-of-town yeshiva high school. One day, one of the parents sponsored a “tzitzis project” so the boys could learn to tie their own tzitzis. When the supplies arrived, the tzitzis strings were already attached to the garments! The rosh yeshiva quickly switched gears. The new plan was now for the boys to decorate the tzitzis garments, each in their unique style, since the Gemara Shabbos says one should have beautiful tzitzis, which Rashi explains is a nice garment for the attachment of tzitzis. It was a huge hit! Even the boys who were reluctant to wear tzitzis were now wearing them proudly.

Hashem instructs the Bnei Yisrael with the mitzvah of tzitzis at the end of Parshas Shelach. This mitzvah was given to Bnei Yisrael as a reward for the actions of their great-grandfather Shem. When Noach became drunk and was standing unclothed in his tent, Shem and Yefes took a blanket and covered their father. Rashi says that in reward for clothing their father, they both received a “type of a covering” in the future. Yefes will be rewarded in the final war of Armageddon, where all his descendants who perish will be buried and not lay as corpses in the fields. Shem was rewarded with his grandchildren (Bnei Yisrael) being given the mitzvah of tzitzis. Chom, who ridiculed and degraded his father and did nothing to cover him, was punished with his descendants becoming slaves.

Why was the reward for Shem and Yefes different, since they both acted to clothe their father? Rashi notes that Shem initiated the idea to clothe their father, as is hinted in the word vayikach—and he (Shem) took, rather than vayikchu (pl.)—and they took (since Shem and Yefes both carried the blanket together). And why specifically are Shem’s descendants rewarded in their lifetimes with the mitzvah of tzitzis, as opposed to Yefes, whose descendants will be rewarded with respect in a specific instance after their demise?

The Shem Mishmuel enlightens us on the three sons and their differences. Chom was unfazed and unabashed by his father being unclothed, as he related to man no differently than to an animal. Just as animals do not wear clothing, neither do humans need clothing. Therefore, he was punished to be a slave to serve his fellow man, just as animals function for the service of man.

Yefes recognized the beauty and dignity of man and felt it was out of place for man to be unclothed. Therefore, his reward was to be accorded the proper respect for men to be buried and not lay as carcasses in the open field.

Shem recognized something deeper. Shem saw the neshama (soul) inside man and his inner spiritual beauty. He recognized that the body of a human is like a garment to the soul. Not only was it undignified for Noach to be unclothed, and a disgrace to the holy neshama that’s inside, but he also recognized that the body itself is holy and needs to be covered. This prompted him to jump and initiate the covering of his father. Therefore, Shem was rewarded with a garment that not only clothes his body, but also has the dimension of a mitzvah. The tzitzis transforms and gives a new life to the garment, recognizing that the body-soul relationship adds sanctity to the body itself.

Chom, Yefes and Shem’s view on the human being is alluded to in their names. Chom is rooted in the word cham—heat. Chom connected to the base urges and desires of man as an animal. Yefes means yafeh—beautiful—as he recognized the beauty and dignity of man. Shem means “name,” which defines the essence of something, as Shem recognized the spiritual essence of man.

The mitzvah of tzitzis reminds us of the reality that we are a neshama that is clothed by a body and that our body itself is therefore holy and special. The strings attached to the garment elevate the garment to be a mitzvah; it not only clothes a person, but gives him eternal reward. The Torah says, “One shall see the tzitzis and remember all the mitzvos of Hashem.” The tzitzis have the ability to remind us of all the mitzvos, as they are the reward for Shem’s recognizing the spiritual essence of man and how it elevates man’s body. This recognition is to be expressed in the way we act, talk, walk and dress.

Let us always realize that we were created to be holy and elevated. Every action we take and every word we utter can have sparks of kedusha (holiness.) This awareness will ensure that our behavior reflects our refined status.