Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim – Associate Rosh Yeshiva – PTI – Passaic Torah institute – Tzav – The Best Investment

As we delight in the warmer weather that is finally arriving, we’re also feeling a lot of pressure this time of year. Pressure on our pocketbook! It’s registration time for all the yeshivos. It’s time to pay hefty deposits for our girls going away to seminary in Eretz Yisrael. It’s only a month away from the pricey holiday of Pesach and the budget keeps getting tighter. Oh yes, April 15th (Tax Day!!!) is coming close too…

Believe it or not, money was also a topic of concern back in the days when korbanos (sacrifices) were brought. In our parsha, Moshe is instructed to teach Aharon and his sons (the kohanim) the various laws of the bringing of the korbanos. The opening Rashi of Parshas Tzav notes that the word tzav – command – is used in the context where there is a need to encourage a person and his future generations to be diligent with a particular task. Rebbe Shimon explains that the concern about a slackened attitude with regard to the korban Olah – burnt offering – is because there is a chisaron kis – a loss of money.

This Rashi is very difficult to understand. What is the loss of money? The instruction is for the kohanim to bring the korban Olah, which is entirely consumed by burning on the mizbeach (altar). Although the kohanim do not get to eat any of the meat, since it is fully burned, it’s not a loss to the kohanim personally –they didn’t buy it! They are just doing their job by bringing it on the mizbeach.

The Baal Haturim explains that the command to Aharon and his sons is really directed at being diligent in studying of the laws of the korbanos and the korban Olah. Additionally, the Gemara Menachos (110a) notes on this pasuk, “Zos toras ha’Olah” — this is the Torah of the korban Olah. Why does the pasuk add the word “toras” — the Torah of the Olah? Simply, it is to teach us that when someone toils and studies the laws and concepts of thekorban Olah in the Torah, it is as if he brought a korban Olah as a sacrifice.

I believe we can now explain the chisaron kis – the loss of money – with regard to a korban Olah. Studying the Torah of the korban Olah needs encouragement, particularly because we want it to be passed on to our children. Look around and you’ll see that your children are copying your actions, not your words. If you do something with enthusiasm, your children will embrace it enthusiastically!

Dedicating oneself and one’s children to Torah study … costs a lot of money! Sending a child to yeshiva, and a good healthy Torah summer camp, comes with a price. Our bank accounts can deplete quickly. This is exactly what Hashem was telling Moshe. Aharon and his sons needed specific reminding to never see dedication to Torah study as a financial burden. This would communicate to the next generation that Torah study is just costly, rather than a prized and treasured privilege.

Our perspective on the cost must be a positive one. The wording our sages use is very specific. The simple translation of the words chisaron kis is a loss of money, but the exact translation of these words is – chisaron — lack, kis– pocket /wallet- purse. Our money is not being lost, it’s just a chisaron kis in our wallet. In truth, the money has been deposited in a different account! It’s like a 401k plan, where an employer deducts a certain percentage of their employees’ monthly salary and deposits it directly into a 401k account. The employee brings home less money each month, but the money is not lost. It’s saved for him when he needs it later.

The Gemara Beitzah 15a tells us there are two expenses which are not deducted from one’s income. Money spent for children to learn Torah and Shabbos / Yom Tov expenses. For these, Hashem will repay us in some way.

Investment companies never guarantee financial security with regard to the principal. However, money spent on Torah study is the surest investment, as the principal is always guaranteed by Hashem. The profits are sure to happen if we follow the formula of Tzav. We need to be excited and enthusiastic about Torah study and feel it is the ultimate investment. If our approach shows enthusiasm, then it will carry over to our children!

 

Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim – Associate Rosh Yeshiva – PTI – Passaic Torah Institute – Parsha Zachor – A Lesson In Values

Rav Elchonon Wasserman visited a wealthy supporter of his yeshiva, and since his shoes were muddy from the road, he knocked on the side door where workers entered instead of at the grand front entrance. When the wealthy man heard Rav Wasserman had entered through the side, he was aghast! “You are ruining my daughters by entering through the side door! How can you do this to me?” he exclaimed.

Rav Wasserman was bewildered and replied, “I am so sorry, but I didn’t want to dirty your carpets with mud.”

The rich man replied, “I am a wealthy businessman, but I love Torah and love to support Torah study. How will my daughters know how valuable Torah is when they see the great Rosh Yeshiva enter my house through the side door?” So Rav Wasserman walked back outside, knocked on the front door, and walked across the expensive carpet with muddy shoes in front of the smiling rich man and his daughters. This demonstrated to the girls the value their father placed on honoring great talmidei chachamim (Torah scholars) above any material wealth and possessions.

And his daughters ended up marrying great talmidei chachamim.

This Shabbos we read Parshas Zachor—to remember that Amalek’s existence in this world attempts to obscure the presence of Hashem. Bilaam prophesized about Amelek, “Reishis goyim Amalek v’achriso adei oved.” (Bamidbar 24:20) “Amalek was the first of the nations, and his fate shall be everlasting destruction.” Amalek is called the first nation since it was the first nation to attack Klal Yisroel after they left Egypt.

Shlomo Hamelech defines Amalek as a leitz—a mocker (Mishlei 19:25) Where do we see this quality in Amalek, and why is this quality one which must be destroyed?

Rav Hutner gives a penetrating insight into the essence of Amalek. To scoff or to mock is to attempt to remove importance from something of value. A scoffer searches for a flaw in something important in order to tear it down and lower its importance in the eyes of the public. Amalek is the ultimate scoffer. Klal Yisroel had just been clearly led by the Hand of Hashem out of Egypt, through the desert and across the parted Red Sea. Hashem thereby demonstrated His choosing the Jewish nation and according them the status of Ambassadors of Hashem. The entire world was terrified of Klal Yisroel! Yet Amalek attacked Klal Yisroel precisely at this time, knowing Amalek would be harmed and lose the war, but they didn’t care. Lowering the “untouchable” status of Klal Yisroel was more important.

But what lowered Klal Yisroel’s connection to Hashem to make them vulnerable to attack?

Amalek fought Klal Yisrael in Refidim, which is a hybrid word for rafu yedeihem—their hands slackened. When something is precious, such as Torah, you hold on very tight. A looser grip indicates it’s not so important. That was the opening for Amalek.

The opposite of a scoffer is a person who praises things that have true value. Rabbeinu Yonah quotes Shlomo Hamelech, “Ish l’fi m’halelo,” (Mishlei 27:21) “Each man according to what he praises.” That is, whatever is important to a person defines who he is.

The Sfas Emes tells us Amalek is not just a nation but also an attitude toward life. Amalek is the approach of derision and scorn, labeling anything good that happens a coincidence, rather than the hand of Hashem. The urge to deride anything good is the Ameleki attitude. There is no room for that in this world.

During the Purim story, Haman was defeated at precisely the time Klal Yisroel re-accepted the Torah willingly, out of love. This willing acceptance defined who we are and what is important to us. Similarly, how much a person values Torah is not necessarily seen in how much time he spends studying but rather in how much he inwardly values Torah. Is Torah uppermost in his value system, or does he more admire successful businessmen or celebrities?

On Purim, the Rema says, one should drink more wine than he is accustomed to. This loosens a person’s tongue, allowing him to articulate what he really feels and thinks. But we must be very concerned about what we might say! Only if we have a pure attitude, an attitude centered on Torah values, can we be certain the right words will emanate.

Whether we drink on Purim or not, we always want to channel our energies to Torah values, which can be accomplished by learning and acting in ways that are befitting for children of Hashem. Just as Klal Yisroel lovingly recommitted itself to Torah on Purim, we have the ability to recommit ourselves to Torah every day.

 

Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim – Associate Rosh Yeshiva – PTI – Passaic Torah Institure – Parsha Tetzaveh – Bringing Hashem’s Presence Through A Peaceful Home



At every moment of each day, we are making decisions about what is most important to us. What gets to the top of the list can be very telling about where our priorities lie. Last week, I was the focus of a story published in one of the weekly magazines by my famous cousin, Rabbi Nachman Seltzer. About a year ago, I was organizing a big Shabbaton for teens at a large mansion. It took a lot of work, and I had to raise some real dollars to make it happen. By Thursday night, close to Shabbos, I was still $1,500 short and I needed to make more calls to raise the balance. It was 10:40pm, I had just finished giving my late evening parsha shiur, and my wife called to ask me to get some missing items for Shabbos from the grocery store.

The timing was not the best! But I made the call – my wife takes priority. I got all she asked for and right at the checkout line, I met a person I had wanted to ask to contribute to the Shabbaton. He gave me a check for the whole balance on the spot!

As I told this story later on, someone else offered to help pay for the next Shabbaton. Amazing dividends resulted from my helping my wife with the shopping! And now, after this story was published in the magazine a week ago, I expected more of the same. It didn’t quite happen…yet. But I did get a call asking me about the mansion for a family vacation! And much more importantly, a lady called me saying that now, when she asks her husband for help, he jumps up and says, “I’ll take care of it! Rabbi Bodenheim taught me what to do!”

The ability to create harmony in a couple, Shalom Bayis, is a fantastic accomplishment – even better than obtaining sponsors for a Shabbaton! And similarly, building the Mishkan (Tabernacle) was all about bringing the presence of Hashem into this world — to create a closeness and intimacy between Him and His people. While we unfortunately don’t have a Mishkan or Beis Hamikdash today, we nevertheless have the ability to bring down Hashem’s presence through Shalom Bayis.

The Gemara Sotah (17a) highlights the words for Man and Woman – Ish and Isha. There are two different letters in these similar words: “Yud” in ish and “Heh” in isha. These two letters together spell out Hashem’s name, and Rebbi Akiva concludes, “When there is peace and harmony between a man and his wife, then the presence of Hashem rests between them.”

That is such a powerful statement! Rebbi Akiva is teaching that a harmonious home is literally the resting place of Hashem. A peaceful house is a current-day Mishkan!

Further, the presence of Hashem is especially felt on Shabbos. Three major vessels in the Mishkan were the Menorah, the Shulchan and the Mizbeach. Our lighting Shabbos candles corresponds to the lit candles of the Menorah. The tasty challah we serve on Shabbos corresponds to the Shulchan with its 12 fresh loaves of challah. The delicious food we serve to our families and guests on Shabbos corresponds to the offering of korbonos (sacrifices) on the Mizbeach. In addition, The Nesivos Shalom says that we wear our nicest clothing on Shabbos to emulate the kohanim, who wore their special clothing in the Beis HaMikdash. And of course, the need for continuous Torah study corresponds to the Aron (ark) inside the Kodesh Hakodashim (Holy of Holies), which contained the luchos (tablets).

Every Friday afternoon, the Satan knows Shabbos is coming and Hashem’s presence will be deeply felt when there is harmony between husband and wife. That’s why the Satan instills moments of tension on Fridays, hoping to create discord and friction. Our job is to anticipate this mischief by planning ahead, getting the cleaning done earlier, and having everything ready in plenty of time to ensure the sparks of tension can’t even light.

Indeed, my wife’s grandmother would have the table set for Shabbos by Thursday night, and by noon on Friday, the challah, chicken, soup etc. were all done! The house was clean and the smell of Shabbos delicacies wafted across the home Shabbos entered in sweet harmony.

It takes work. It takes planning. But the payoff of a harmonious home is truly priceless. It’s akin to having the Mishkan here with us. Wishing

Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim – Associate Rosh Yeshiva – PTI – Passaic Torah Institute – Conquering Jealousy With Two Adars

Rosh Chodesh this week was extra exciting. We started Adar Rishon—the beginning of two months of Adar required for a leap year. A curious thing happens in the Musaf Shemoneh Esreh for Rosh Chodesh during a leap year: we add the words “ulchaparas pesha” – (and for atonement of willful sin.) Why specifically is this added during a leap year? The Pri Megadim says it’s added only until the end of Adar. Why not continue until Rosh Hashanah?

Our answer begins with knowing why we have a Jewish leap year. Quite simply, it’s to realign the lunar calendar with the solar calendar. This ensures Pesach will always be in the spring.

And why are the calendars different? The Gemara (Chullin 60b) explains that Hashem initially created two great luminaries, the sun and the moon, to be equal- both giving the same amount of light. The moon approached Hashem and complained, saying, “Two kings can’t share one crown. ”Hashem responded to this by shrinking the moon. From this point on, the moon became a reflection of the sun, with no light of its own.

Rav Matisyahu Salomon explains that the initial plan—both luminaries being equal—indicated total harmony in the world. But the moon didn’t want to share the spotlight. Hashem reduced the moon’s size to demonstrate the bitter consequence of jealousy. But the moon’s “complaining to Hashem” was just an indication that jealousy would be a powerful force in the world, that needed to be reckoned with. To return to the original plan of equality, humanity must eradicate jealousy. Doing so would allow both great luminaries to be equal once again, after the coming of Moshiach!

 The Shelah haKadosh indicates that the solar and lunar calendar were originally identical. This changed when the moon was shrunk after its jealous outburst. Thus, the extra month makes us remember what happened to the moon and be cognizant that Creation was made imperfect by jealousy.

I believe this is why kapparos pesha – atonement – is only inserted until the end of Adar, because after the second month of Adar, the lunar and solar calendars are synchronized and symbolize the perfection of the world. In times of persecution, this is what gave the Jews so much encouragement. As they saw the waxing and waning of the moon, they realized the forces of evil only had power temporarily. They realized the time will come when evil will fade away and the forces of good will reign forever.

The choicest month for this synchronization is the month of Adar. Why? The Tur (Orach Chaim 417) says each month relates to ashevet (tribe.) Rav Schorr says Adar corresponds to Yosef Hatzadik, who was given a double portion in the land of Israel by virtue of his two children, Ephraim and Menashe, who became shevatim (Bereishis 48: 5 and 22). Similarly, Adar can also be doubled!

Further, Rav Avrohom Schorr points out that Yosef is the ideal person and Adar the ideal time to combat the sin of jealousy. He quotes Ovadia (1:18) “Vahaya Beis Yaakov aish, beis Yosef lehava, beis Eisav lekash…” (The House of Yaakov will be fire and the House of Yosef a flame, and the House of Eisav will be straw…) In the Hebrew word “aish” (fire), the letters aleph and shin stand for “ahavas shalom” (love of peace), while “kash” (straw) spelledkaf and shin is an acronym of “kinah and sinah” (jealousy and hatred). Yosef is the focal point of Yaakov’s love of peace, which will “burn away” jealousy and strife as fire burns straw. Indeed, everything Yosef did to his brothers when they came to Egypt for food during the famine, was only done to help them atone for their actions of jealousy towards him Therefore, Yoseph represents the ultimate “son of Yaakov,” who strives for peace and brotherhood.

That’s why Adar (Yosef!) is the month to be doubled. Ephraim and Menashe embody the concept of brotherly harmony – the antithesis of Eisav – as we see that Menashe never bore any jealousy toward his younger brother Ephraim, whom Yaakov blessed above him. So, too, we bless our children to be like Ephraim and Menashe.

The month of Adar is a time for peace and harmony for Klal Yisroel. Let us think of one person with whom we lack harmony and go to that person to foster love and reduce conflict between each other. May we merit to see harmony and peace amongst all Klal Yisroel, which will surely bring the Redemption and hasten the Tikkun Olam, bringing a state of perfection to the world and returning us, and the glorious lights in the sky, to their original pristine state of harmonious Creation.

 

Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim – Associate Rosh Yeshiva – PTI – Passaic Torah Institute – Parsha Mishpatim – Elevating Torah Study and Acts of Kindness

Naaseh v’nishma — “we will do and we will hear” — these are the famous words Klal Yisroel said when Hashem offered us the Torah. The Gemara Shabbos (88a) tells us when Klal Yisroel said these words, 600,000 angels descended from heaven and adorned the 600,000 Jews with two crowns each- one for the word naaseh and one for the word nishma. The Gemara also tells us that Hashem was very excited and asked, “Who revealed to my children the words the angels say?”- indicating Klal Yisroel achieved an angelic level in their connection to Hashem by declaring “naaseh v’nishma.”

Surprisingly, this famous quote is said at the end of Parshas Mishpatim — not in Yisro, where we find the actual giving of the Torah. In Yisro, it says “Whatever Hashem says, naaseh [we will perform]” (Yisro 19:8). Only at the end of Parshas Mishpatim do the Jewish People say, ‘Whatever Hashem says, naaseh v’nishma[we will do and we will listen.] (Mishpatim 24:7) Could it be that Bnei Yisrael only said these words after the giving of the Torah?

This is a big dispute among the great commentators. Rashi says these verses at the end of Parshas Mishpatim indeed occurred on the fifth of Sivan shortly before Hashem gave the Torah. However, this begs an explanation regarding why the quote is not found in its proper order!

The Ramban and the Ibn Ezra argue that naaseh v’nishma relate to a different event which occurred on the eighth of Sivan, which was after the giving of the Torah and therefore was recorded in the correct order. But this begs an explanation as to why the famous words naaseh v’nishma were only declared after Klal Yisroel received the Torah and not prior!

First, let’s understand the enormous significance of the statement made by these two words. The Beis Halevi, Rav Yosef Dov Halevi Soloveitchik, notes the Gemara emphasizes it’s the order of the statement that makes it important. Naaseh (to do) is said before the word nishma (to hear or understand.) The reverse would be more expected and logical (first you hear, then you act), as that would mean the learning Torah is done in order to learn to perform the mitzvos. However, with nishma following naaseh, we can understand nishma as learning Torah just for the sake of Torah learning, not simply as a means to knowing about the mitzvos. That is why Klal Yisrael merited two crowns — because there were two commitments: one for performance of mitzvos and the second for the study of Hashem’s Torah for its own sake.

 The Netziv (Rav Naftali Tzvi Berlin) gives a different explanation. He says what was added here in declaring naaseh, is the nishma — we will listen to something we have already heard and already done prior to the giving of the Torah, based on a sense of chesed(kindness) that was ingrained in us from our patriarchs. However Hashem was creating a pact with Klal Yisrael whereby chesed would be kindness based not just on a sense of morality, but rather based on the Torah itself, a heightened and more accountable form of chesed.

When Bnei Yisroel sinned with the golden calf, they lost their crowns (Gemara Shabbos 88a). The Midrash Rabbah (Shemos 27:9), however, tells us they only lost the one crown of naaseh because they failed in their actions. But the crown of nishma remained and still remains with us to this day. Rav Gedalia Schorr tells us the Midrash is teaching us that through diligence in the area of nishma (Torah study), we can restore the crown of naaseh!

Perhaps now we can better understand the order of naaseh v’nishma in Parshas Mishpatim, after the giving of the Torah. Whether it was said before or after Matan Torah, we can see that the Torah is emphasizing the importance of this new acceptance conveyed by nishma – an enhanced level of studying Torah and an enhanced level of chesed.

For the Beis Halevi, nishma conveys our commitment to diligent Torah study, and for the Netziv, nishma implies performing acts of kindness based on directives in the Torah rather than as a result of our own reasoning.

In our day-to-day life, we can relate to the mitzvos as important rules for the functioning of Jewish society — mishpatim. This is very important! But Hashem is also teaching us that after we accept the mishpatim, there is a higher opportunity for commitment. By declaring “naaseh” [we will perform] followed by “nishma” [We will learn Torah for its own sake and perform an elevated level of chesed]we seize the opportunity for a passionate commitment that lovingly binds our deeds to our study of Hashem’s words.

 

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!