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.

Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim – Associate Rosh Yeshiva – PTI – Passaic Torah Institute – Parsha Lech Lecha – Influence Through Modeling

When my wife gave birth to twin girls 20 years ago, we did not realize what pattern she was setting in motion. Baruch Hashem, my twin daughters both got married this past year. The oldest twin just gave birth to twin boys last week! We believe that this week’s parsha provides us some guidance regarding our future relationship with our new grandsons.

In Parshas Lech Lecha, Avraham and Sarah travel to Egypt. Avraham tells Sarah he is worried that since she’s so beautiful, people there may kill him so they can marry her. He asks Sarah to tell everyone she is his sister (not his wife). Further, Avraham adds on another reason for the request: “In order that they should be good to me and I will live on your account.” Rashi says this means “they will give me presents.”

Could it be that at this dangerous time, Avraham is thinking about what he can do to receive presents?? Indeed, this is what happens! Pharaoh gave Avraham massive amounts of presents.

Why did Avraham want presents?

Here, Ramban lays down the fundamental principle of “ma’aseh avos siman lebanim”—the actions of the Patriarchs were models for their children. All the actions of the patriarchs were not just occurrences and challenges for their own personal lives but were enabling and empowering all klal Yisrael to be able to endure and overcome various challenges. Avraham went into exile in Egypt, and later so did the Jewish nation. In his exile, Avraham was preparing for his future generations to be able to withstand and endure their enslavement.

The presents Avraham was attempting to receive were for the purpose of gaining esteem in the eyes of the Egyptians as head of a special people that is unlike those found in Egypt. Rav Isaac Sher explains Avraham was interested in bringing people closer to Hashem. Yet, how could he be credible as an outsider, a foreigner? He realized his success lay in his being a respected man of means. Hence the need to receive presents. Similarly, in Tehillim (76:12) it says the nations of the world will give presents to Moshiach. Why does Moshiach need presents? Rav Sher says by giving Moshiach presents, the nations will connect to him and they will respect him. Moshiach will then be able to influence them positively.

Rav Yaakov from Lissa cites another example of “ma’aseh avos siman lebanim.” Avraham realized Egypt was an immoral society. Rashi points out that in the plague of the “first” born, many people died in each home! Why more than one? Rashi explains that the first born from each union of the wife in a household died. In order to protect his children from this decadent and licentious influence, Avraham told Sarah to pretend she was not married. When Egyptians, including Pharaoh himself, would offer to marry her, she was to withstand the challenge and maintain firm boundaries no matter what. By following through in maintaining those boundaries, Sarah gave the strength to her descendants to live in purity throughout their challenging years in Egypt.

Avraham and Sarah had a profound impact on the souls of their millions of descendants. We can do the same. Every day, as parents, we are modeling for our children. Every test we pass, every temptation we pass up, strengthens our children…and all their generations to come!

Just recently, my sister-in-law found a letter my wife and I wrote to my mother-in-law, Rebbetzin Singer, a”h. When our twin daughters were born, some 20 years ago, Rebbetzin Singer came to Eretz Yisrael for three weeks to help us. This letter was a thank you note to her. As I read it, I could not help but feel deep emotions, thinking of my own children who will be moving into our home for a month with their twin boys.

With an almost prophetic pen, my wife wrote, “Baruch, the girls and myself are so grateful for everything and I really don’t know how to thank you. All your future great, great, great-grandchildren will thank you because you just taught me what it means to be a mother! If only I can follow in your footsteps. Mommy, thank you for being a role model for me and my girls.”

May Hashem give us His blessing to be proper role models for our children (and my new twin grandsons!).

Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim – Associate Rosh Yeshiva – PTI – Passaic Torah Institute – Noach – Using Community For The Good

In 1887, a British Member of Parliament, Lord Acton, wrote, “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” These words may well describe what drove the builders of the Tower of Babylon.

According to one Rashi, they wanted to wage war against Hashem! Rav Hirsch explains it a bit differently. He says the building of the tower itself was not a sin, but rather the purpose of the tower was the crime. Their goal was, “Let us make a name for ourselves” (11:4). This statement was directed against Hashem’s control of the universe. Their intent was to create a society with their own goals and morality, a society in which they would decide what is right and wrong and not based on the dictates of Hashem. They knew they could organize themselves well as a community and wanted to use that power for a nefarious purpose.

More recently, Rav Sorotzkin in his sefer Oznayim LaTorah offered a novel explanation for the tower project. That generation was living on top of Mount Ararat, where the ark of Noach landed. The land was rocky and difficult to cultivate. Many wanted to find lush pastures in the valleys. However, they were afraid to move to the valley, since they knew they were not living their lives the way Hashem wanted and were afraid the valley made them easier targets for punishment, such as flooding. On top of Mount Ararat, they felt relatively safe. But life was rough. Their “brilliant” idea was thus to build a huge tower in the lush valley. This tower would be higher than the mountain, and even if a massive flood came, they would be safe on top and wait it out!

They worked together as a community and indeed made great progress. They were proud of the fact that as a community, they could accomplish much more than each individual. Indeed, throughout history, we’ve seen that a society can unite to protect its way of life, even if it is corrupt. It was the goal of the generation of the Tower of Babylon to create a society independent of Hashem’s will, as expressed in their declaration, “Let’s make a name for ourselves.” Be it waging war against the Almighty, or making all their own rules, they wanted absolute power over their lives and no accountability to a higher source.

Unity is indeed a powerful and effective tool when used for serving Hashem! A united society, community, shul or yeshiva holds individual members to the proper standards they set. The people want to be part of the community, which means they must endeavor to be a part of the high level of spirituality and Torah observance maintained in that community.

The power of unity and the creation of a tzibur (community) is highlighted in multiple places in the Torah. “Kol Yisrael arevim zeh lazeh” – each Jew is responsible for one another. There is the requirement to daven with a minyan, which is facilitated by a tzibur. The middle twelve blessings of Shemoneh Esrei in which we pray for intellect, forgiveness, health, livelihood, etc. are all requests in the plural – grant us, heal us, bless us. The reasoning for this requirement is that praying on behalf of yourself is not in the same league as praying for all of Klal Yisroel.

Rav Chaim Friedlander further explains the difference between unity in general and the unity desired by Hashem. The generation of the Tower of Babylon was similar to partners who join together to finish a project and make money. Yes, they are working together as a team to accomplish their goals faster; however, they are working for their own self-interest. This unity is good and has tremendous power. In fact, many companies promote team effort in their operations, just like sports teams, as studies prove it helps people work better However, Hashem asks more of mankind than just serving their own self-interest. There is only one Absolute in this world — Hashem. Building towers or amassing fortunes alone, are efforts that fall short of Hashem’s mandate. True success and true happiness, come from submitting ourselves to the will of the Creator.

Joining a group is healthy whenever it serves a positive purpose. However, let’s ensure that one or more of the groups we join help us fulfill our lives as Hashem has instructed us.

 

Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim – Associate Rosh Yeshiva – PTI – Passaic Torah Institute – Breishis – How To Experience Hashem’s Presence

Amos was attending a week-long Arachim Seminar. At the concluding Motzei Shabbos symposium he was one of the few asked to describe his experience at the seminar. The Arachim Seminar helps secular Israelis discover the truth and beauty of Hashem and the Torah. The organizers did not realize they were in for a surprise. “My name is Amos Shabu, and unbeknownst to everyone here I am a journalist for a popular secular newspaper in Eretz Yisrael.”

The room went silent. “I was assigned to experience this seminar and write an exposé on how Arachim brainwashes secular Israelis. I would like to share what I plan on writing for the paper,” continued Amos. The room was abuzz; they couldn’t believe what they were hearing. Amos then read some of his notes from the conclusion of each day. He initially described his belief that he was being brainwashed, but as each day progressed he began to feel the speakers’ assertions about Torah observance were sound, intelligent, and logical.

And then came Shabbos. “The Shabbos experience,” Amos said, “coupled with the entire week, shook me to my core. I suddenly had an entirely new perspective on my life. I felt like I had experienced the various stages of creation. Day one—everything was dark. I couldn’t discern heaven from earth. Day two—I saw a glimmer of light. Day three—the universe started to take form. Each day, I discovered more. By day six I started to understand why Hashem created man. Shabbos was the climax; I felt like I was truly close to Hashem.” Amos said that he now believed beyond a shadow of a doubt that there is a Creator Who oversees and arranges every detail of the world and cares about each individual person. “I have decided,” he said, “to keep the Torah and the mitzvot. And regarding my article, I intend to submit it exactly as I have told it to you here tonight.” This story is told in “Incredible 2” by Rabbi Nachman Seltzer.

In Parshas Bereishis this week we learn how Hashem created the world and concluded Creation with the seventh day, Shabbos. The Gemara Shabbos tells us the world kept expanding until Shabbos, when Hashem commanded it to stop. What was the nature of this expansion? Rav Moshe Chaim Luzzato explains it was the concealment of Hashem’s rule by the earth’s complexity, the “laws of nature,” that made it seem as though the earth ran by itself. The Almighty hid His presence in the world to give man free choice to recognize Hashem. But there had to be a limit to the “laws of nature”; otherwise Hashem’s presence might have been totally concealed! That’s why the Torah describes the seventh day (2:2) in terms of Hashem completing His work and resting. Hashem rested from hiding His presence. Shabbos is a day where Hashem’s presence can be deeply felt.

Amos was introduced to Shabbos and experienced Hashem’s presence for the first time. But this feeling and recognition is not solely reserved for newcomers. We can all have this experience each and every week.

It says in our parsha (2:3) that “God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it…” The Ramban explains that the reason Hashem infused Shabbos with blessing and kedusha is, as the verse concludes, “…because it is the day that Hashem rested from creating…” In resting on Shabbos, Hashem stopped the concealment of His being the Creator, allowing us a heightened state of awareness of His presence on Shabbos.

In Gemara Shabbos, Hashem calls Shabbos a gift, telling Moshe, “I have a precious gift in my storehouse” to give to klal Yisrael: Shabbos. The Sfas Emes says the fact that Shabbos is in Hashem’s storehouse makes it something outside of the regular world. It’s part of Hashem’s “inner sanctum.”

Every week Shabbos allows us to reconnect and re-energize ourselves to regain appropriate focus in our lives. But to fully tap into this feeling it takes preparation and effort. The measure of our weekly spiritual transformation is how we spend our time on Shabbos. Having pleasurable, tasty Shabbos meals, singing Shabbos zemiros (songs) and speaking words of Torah all help our families connect more deeply to each other and to Hashem. Making family time precious, as we do on Shabbos, is an incredible opportunity to listen to each child and hear their opinions and thoughts. It’s a life-changing opportunity.

As a single yeshiva boy in Eretz Yisrael in my younger years I sat at many Shabbos tables. I learned what I liked and what I wanted to avoid at my own Shabbos table. We need to develop our own true enjoyment of Shabbos if we want our children, in turn, to see Shabbos as a treasure. As the long Friday nights of winter approach, we can plan how to capitalize on each moment to help our families soar! Good planning for Shabbos activities, tasty meals, engaging conversations with Torah references and inspiring zemiros can make each Shabbos a true Gan Eden on earth.

Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim – Associate Rosh Yeshiva – PTI – Passaic Torah Institute – Yom Kippur – True Confessions – G-d Wants To Hear Them

Yaakov approached his father the night before his wedding to talk. “What’s on your mind Yaakov?” his father asked. “I am getting married tomorrow,” he replied. “You are the best parents in the world, but I haven’t always been the best son. There are things I did I never told you about and I need to ask forgiveness. When I was in high school, I would sneak out of the house late at night and take your car,” he said. His father nodded his head. “On occasion, I took money from Mommy’s pocketbook for spending, and the hole in the carpet- it wasn’t from the cleaning lady. Truthfully, when you went away for a week’s vacation, I invited a whole group of friends over and…” Yaakov’s father just nodded. “Aren’t you upset?” asked Yaakov. “Aren’t you surprised?” His father looked back lovingly at Yaakov. “I knew you took the car and the money, had a party — all of it. But I am very happy to see you have matured and that these things are no longer part of who you are. I’m even happier that you feel comfortable enough to open up to me,” he said. Yaakov and his father then shared a big hug.

A central part of our tefillos (prayers) on Yom Kippur revolve around reciting Vidui (verbal confession) – one of the four integral components of teshuva — stopping the performance of the sin, expressing remorse, accepting upon oneself not to commit the sin again, and Vidui.

Rabbeinu Yona says Yom Kippur is THE day of the year for the mitzvah of teshuva. In fact, Rav Nosson Wachtfogel says it’s too overwhelming to consider our shortcomings during the rest of the days of the year. It’s only on Yom Kippur that we are really able to face our faults and rise above them.

The Mabit says Vidui can achieve a pardon only when accompanied by the other three components. Yet, the Bnei Yissachar surprisingly says that reciting Vidui by itself during Yom Kippur, may change us enough to affect a pardon! In the Beis Hamikdash, our path to purification was through the Kohen Gadol on Yom Kippur, as he brought the various sacrifices to effect a pardon for himself and for all of Klal Yisroel. The pardon was granted mainly as a result of the recitation of Vidui, as Targum Yonosan ben Uziel translates the words v’chiper ba’ado as, ‘he will achieve forgiveness through his words of vidui’ (Vayikra 16). The Rambam even lists Vidui as an independent mitzvah. Why is Vidui so key and how does it accomplish a forgiveness?

The word Vidui means to admit or confess. When we admit, we are exposing our shortcomings and faults to Hashem. This creates an honest relationship with Hashem – a true closeness.

On Rosh Hashanah, we will blow the shofar. At the conclusion of Yom Kippur, we will also sound the shofar. The Gemara Rosh Hashanah contrasts the two: the shofar of Rosh Hashanah should be bent, while the shofar of Yom Kippur in the Beis Hamikdash must be straight like a trumpet. The Gemara tells us the straightness of the shofar indicates that our focus on Yom Kippur is to be a ‘straight arrow’. Yom Kippur is about opening up to Hashem In a truly honest fashion.

Most of us have put up many walls between ourselves and Hashem. The Almighty wants those walls taken down. The Sfas Emes tells us each mitzvah corresponds to a specific day in the calendar. Yom Kippur corresponds to the mitzvah of bris milah (circumcision.) The orlah – foreskin – represents a blockage or barrier. Yom Kippur is all about removing the blockages that prevent us from connecting deeply with Hashem.

When we begin our Yom Kippur prayers, we will recite Vidui a total of eleven times!! Why the need to repeat Vidui so many times?

Rav Shimshon Pincus explains that Yom Kippur is a process. As the day progresses, our closeness to Hashem increases. Our words and our fasting help us recognize the greatness of Hashem. That’s when regret sets in – when we truly appreciate what Hashem does for us and recognize that we have not fully kept our part of the bargain. We don’t want our aveiros (sins) to get in the way of Hashem’s blessings. By the end of Yom Kippur, our clarity is excellent, and our regret truly sincere.

Remember — our Heavenly Father knows what we’ve done in the past year but is so happy we want to confide in Him. Confessing and being honest — that’s a relationship. On Yom Kippur, Hashem is our loving father waiting with outstretched arms and we should feel secure in furthering that beautiful relationship.

Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim – Associate Rosh Yeshiva – PTI – Passaic Torah Institute – Selichot: Due Unto Others

Avi is a young man who had an “I told you so” moment. His parents had warned him, many times, to drive within the speed limit. But finally it happened: he was pulled over by the police, issued a ticket and given a summons to appear in court. Sheepishly, he told his father, who was none too pleased, but kept his cool. “Do you know exactly where to go in court tomorrow?” his father asked. Avi said he would figure it out. “I did warn you about speeding,” said his father. “This will be a good lesson for you. Good luck tomorrow.”

The next day, Avi was waiting in line in court when his father showed up and said to him, “I was thinking about you this morning. I have been to traffic court before and I know this is your first time, so I wanted to make sure you knew where to go and what to say to the prosecutor and the judge.”

They approached the prosecutor, who offered to change the charge to a non-moving violation. This would not put any “points” on his license, but he would have to pay an additional $250. They accepted the offer. The whole episode would cost him a whopping $400, but no points on his license. Avi approached the window to pay the clerk the fine. He thought to himself, “There goes most of the money I made this summer.” But his father surprised him and said, “Here, use my credit card.”

Avi was shocked. He knew his father was upset with him. Certainly, he never expected his father to show up to help him in court, especially not in the middle of a workday. And actually taking care of his fine—amazing! He was very relieved…and touched by his father’s caring and generosity.

On Motzei Shabbos, we will start reciting Selichos, asking Hashem to forgive us for our wrongdoings. The central part of Selichos is the reciting of the 13 attributes of mercy of Hashem, whose recitation requires a minyan (quorum of ten men). The Gemara (Rosh Hashanah 17) tells us anytime klal Yisrael “performs this order,” Hashem will listen to their prayers. The Sefer Reishis Chashma notes that the wording of the Gemara is unusual. It should say “anytime we recite these attributes.” He explains that reciting the words of the 13 attributes is not enough. We all need to act, based on these attributes, with compassion, graciousness, tolerance, patience, kindness, etc., to be judged favorably by Hashem. Hashem promises that if we act on these attribute toward others, He will act toward us in a similar manner.

One of the 13 attributes is “bearing iniquity and sin.” The Gemara tells us that Hashem is tolerant and “maavir al pesha” for those who are tolerant. Rashi defines maavir al pesha as overlooking someone’s faults. If we are tolerant and overlook the faults of others, Hashem will focus on our good qualities.

Even though we know the mitzvos we need to perform, we all have areas where we know we have been lax. By accident, or on purpose, we overstepped our boundaries during the year. Like Avi, we “broke the speed limit.” We want the prosecutor and judge to be compassionate, to offer us a plea bargain on our court date on Rosh Hashanah.

Rav Moshe Cordovero translates maavir as “to cleanse and wash.” Hashem will scrub us clean from our sins. Reb Chaim Volozhin explains that every time we sin we create a damaging force in the world. It’s not something we can see, but it causes damage to the world. Besides obtaining forgiveness for our sins, we need Hashem to help remove these damaging forces. This is Hashem’s attribute of maavir al pesha. Not only does Hashem forgive us, but He even helps clean up the mess we created. Hashem is like Avi’s father, who came down to help his son in court.

When children make a mess, it’s part of a parent’s role to teach them to clean up  after themselves. Still, when a parent sees the child is sincerely sorry and needs help cleaning up, he will lovingly help get the job done. We all make mistakes. By imitating Hashem’s divine attributes, we invite Hashem to forgive us as well.

The next time we see a person in a difficult situation, even if they’re at fault, let’s choose the compassionate Godly approach and help them. We can then ask Hashem to act that same way with us. By us acting in a compassionate manner even when someone is at fault, we recognize the mess we sometimes make as well and merit forgiveness from Hashem.

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.