Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim – Associate Rosh Yeshiva – PTI – Passaic Torah Institute – Parsha Bamidbar – The Sustaining Environment Of Torah

On Lag B’Omer I was invited to participate in two Zoom weddings. One was in the Barn Estate in Clayton, Ohio. Yes, the wedding was taking place…in a barn! Only family attended, but since they had many brothers and sisters, they needed a large open area. This huge farm facilitated social distancing. The other wedding took place in the rural hills of Pennsylvania on a huge open field. Although the setting of either wedding was not what the chasan and kallah had dreamt of, each wedding was one of great joy.

In truth, this reminds me of my grandparents’ wedding. Theirs was the first wedding to take place after the war in the Eisenmann Shul, the only shul in Antwerp, Belgium, that was not destroyed by the Nazis. There were 35 people at the wedding, and unfortunately their parents were not in attendance since they did not survive the war. Yet, my grandmother told me the wedding was incredibly joyous.

Having a wedding in an isolated place is nothing new to klal Yisrael. The first Jewish “wedding” was in the middle of the desert at Har Sinai, with the giving of the Torah! Only the marrying parties were there: the Jewish nation and Hashem. The wedding was broadcast to the entire world. The entire world shook when Hashem said “Anochi, I am Hashem.” This was the first Zoom- equivalent wedding!

But why does the Midrash not mention a baser element that is free for the taking, air?
The Ben Yehoyada brings a Gemara that tells us that when Hashem was giving the Torah, He took the mountain of Sinai and held it over klal Yisrael “as a barrel” and said, “If you accept the Torah, good. If not, I will place the mountain down over you.” The Maharsha comments on the comparison of the mountain to a barrel. When placing an inverted barrel down, it traps whatever is underneath it. Klal Yisrael would not be squashed by the mountain; rather, they would be stuck inside the hollowed-out part of the mountain. Since fire was blazing as Hashem gave the Torah, the fire would suck up all the oxygen and there would be no air to breathe inside the mountain.

That’s why the Torah is not compared to air, because without the acceptance of the Torah by klal Yisrael, there would have been no air! Why the threat to remove the air? It signifies that the Torah is our oxygen and we can’t live without it.

But I would suggest a different approach. The Torah way of life creates its own life-supporting environment. Rabbi Akiva compared a fish needing water to a Jew needing Torah learning. Fish live in a different environment from humans. They have an entirely different way of breathing. Fish also need oxygen, but they get it from the water, something human bodies can’t do. In an analogous way, the Torah provides a life-supporting environment for its followers within klal Yisrael.

At the start of Sefer Bamidbar, the Torah outlines the journeys of the Jews in the desert. We see a unique nation, not yet arrived at its promised land. This is a nation defined by its marriage to the Almighty, with the Torah being the marriage contract. The message for us is clear: We may live in the world together with other nations, but we in fact live in an entirely different environment. We get our oxygen through Torah study and fulfillment of its mitzvos.

Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim – Associate Rosh Yeshiva – PTI – Passaic Torah Institute – Lag B’Omer The Radiance of Torah Learning

When I lived in Eretz Yisrael, every year on the morning after Lag B’omer, my apartment in Yerushalayim smelled like smoke from all the bonfires which burned the night before. I would still feel the heat of the bonfires near the forest when I rode the Egged bus in Har Nof in the morning. What’s the big deal about bonfires on Lag B’omer?

The Bnei Yissaschar explains that the day that Rebbi Shimon bar Yochai taught the Zohar, the sun didn’t set, thereby lighting up the night. We therefore light bonfires to commemorate the bright light that came from the Torah of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. Lag B’omer itself starts the final third of the Omer, which totals 49 days from Pesach to Shavuos. The Omer is divided into trimesters. The second trimester ends on day thirty-two, which is the Gematria of “lev” (heart.) In this part of the Omer, we focus on developing the lev. The last trimester is the one closest to Shavuos, when the light of Torah was revealed to the world. The Shem Mishmuel says just like the sun starts to illuminate the world before the day starts (at dawn), so the period of time prior to an event receives light from the upcoming period. The last trimester starts receiving light from Shavuos, when the Torah was given.

It’s during the first thirty-two days of the Omer, ending on Lag B’omer, that the disciples of Rabbi Akiva perished. They died because they did not have sufficient respect for each other; they were held to very high standards since they represented the future of Torah observance for the next generation. This teaches us the lesson that an essential part of our Torah observance must include focusing on developing our compassion and caring for others. Lag B’omer starts our focus on enhanced Torah learning and reaffirming our unwavering commitment to performing Hashem’s mitzvos. The purpose of leaving Mitzrayim was to receive the Torah on the Sixth of Sivan. Part of our preparation for this event includes the custom of studying Pirkei Avos on Shabbos afternoons during the Omer period, as these Mishnayos focus on character development. With all this background in mind, we have a new understanding of why precisely on Lag B’omer was this light of Torah revealed.

There’s an amazing insight from the B’nei Yissaschar who says Rebbi Yochanan ben Zakai told his top five disciples to discern how to achieve the best path in life. Rebbi Eliezer ben Aruch said it was to have a “good heart.” Rebbi Yochanan said this was the best approach because it included all the other opinions. A good heart in Hebrew is ‘lev tov,’ whose numerical value is 49. Lev is 32 and tov is 17. In the first 32 days of the Omer, we work on our heart — having care and concern for others. In the last part of the Omer, we prepare for the giving of the Torah on Shavuos.

The Bnei Yissaschar teaches us a fundamental idea. The first time the word tov is written in the Torah is at the completion of the first day of creation. “Hashem saw the light was tov / good.” The word tov is the 33rd word in the Torah. What was so good and special about the light? Rashi  says this was not the light of the sun, which wasn’t created until the fourth day. This was a special light that gave tremendous illumination and clarity of purpose regarding how Hashem operates the world. This light was so powerful, one could see clear across the world. But Hashem saw that this light would be dangerous in the hands of evil people, so He hid it in the Torah. If someone applies himself exceptionally well in his Torah learning, he attains this clarity. Rebbi Shimon bar Yochai revealed elements of this clarity with the Torah he taught to the world.

Now we can better appreciate our bonfires on Lag B’omer. No matter how deep the darkness around us, learning Torah will illuminate and give clarity and purpose to all. Dovid Hamelech prayed for special divine help in understanding Torah as expressed in the pasuk in Tehillim –  Gal einai – open my eyes so that I may see the wonders of your Torah. The three-letter word “gal” has the same letters as Lag, just spelled backwards, and they both have the numerical value of 33, alluding to the special revelation of Torah that starts with the period of Lag B’omer. There is nothing that illuminates more…than Torah.

Now is the time to make a commitment to enhance our Torah study. May Hashem grant us the great clarity of purpose to follow his Torah and mitzvos. And as we conclude the first blessing of Bircas Krias Shema each morning, may we merit the clarity from the New Light that Hashem will bring to Tzion!

Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim – Associate Rosh Yeshiva PTI – Passaic Torah Institute – Parsha Achrei Mot-Kedoshim – Keeping The Torah On One Foot

As the covid-19 situation continues, we are charting new territory. Many are coping with loss and others are trying to heal. Some are home all alone and have difficulty accessing food and provisions they need, in addition to having feelings of loneliness. Others who are blessed to be healthy, still have their challenges. While working from home, many are helping their children with all their “homeschooling“ needs – juggling phones and various devices to ensure their children can listen to their classes, and printing out and picking up papers needed for their school work. In addition, they are ensuring there is enough food in the house, given the limited shopping abilities.

Many of us are feeling strained; I certainly am. That’s why I started a new short (2-3 minute) daily shiur called the “Daily Bitachon Builder — the key to peace of mind,” as a WhatsApp group: https://chat.whatsapp.com/Cbc0Ckj9xZY2xBTUPgOvZd. Further developing our reliance on Hashem will give us peace of mind. Whatever happens in our life is not up to us.  Hashem placed us in this scenario and we need to do our best to deal with it. The rest is up to Hashem.

Sometimes we may feel like we’re falling short. Particularly now, during Sefira, we’re supposed to be enhancing ourselves spiritually, but we may feel we’re far from reaching our spiritual goals.

Take a deep breath. There is a very reassuring concept learned from an episode mentioned in the Gemara regarding Shammai and Hillel. Someone approached the great sage Shammai and asked to be converted while standing on one foot.  Shammai pushed him away with a builder’s measuring stick. The person then approached Hillel, who agreed to convert him by teaching him one concept. “What you don’t want done to you, don’t do to others” based on the pasuk in Parshas Kedoshim, “V’ahavta lereacha kamocha (Love your neighbor like yourself).”

What’s the significance of standing on one foot and why reject the prospective convert by pushing him away with a builder’s measuring stick? Rav Avrohom Schorr, in the name of the Maggid Hagadol, explains the prospective convert’s intention in his insistence on standing on one foot. When we stand on two feet, we can move either closer or away from a destination. But if we stand on one foot, we are stationary. He was asking to be converted on condition that he stay on steady ground, with no unwanted ‘ups and downs.’ Shammai pushed him away with the builder’s stick to signify one can’t ‘build’ his service of Hashem this way. Nothing stays put. Hashem created the world with various waves: sound waves, light waves, magnetic waves, etc. Waves are the way of the world. When a person in the hospital is hooked up to an EKG machine, it displays the person’s heartbeat with waves. If the waves go flat, the heart has stopped beating.

Our service to Hashem also has waves, with lots of ups and downs. Hillel agreed to convert him by teaching him one concept: “What you don’t want done to you, don’t do to others.” This is the key to the Torah. If you master this, you can learn the rest.

How so? The Sfas Emes explains Hillel was teaching that the way to ensure consistent performance in the service of Hashem is by always taking other people’s needs into account. If we are sensitive to the needs of others, if we can put others first, then we are also showing we are open to making the service of Hashem the highest priority. The way we can stabilize ourselves if we personally have a slump, is to connect with others and with Hashem. That’s the way one is able to stand on one foot and weather the ups and downs of life.

This week is Pesach Sheini. During the first Pesach after leaving Mitzrayim, those who were unable to offer the sacrifice because they were tamei, were given a second opportunity by Hashem one month later — on the eve of the fifteenth of Iyar.

Part of being a Jew is having a second chance to do what is required. We all have ups and downs and these experiences can in fact make us better! We learn and grow from our mistakes. While we might not be performing to the standard we want and we might be in a slump, that’s part of life. We need to pick ourselves up so we can ride the next wave upward. Let us thank all those who are going out of their way to keep us healthy – nurses, doctors and healthcare workers. Let us think about others who are also having a hard time, perhaps even more challenging than ours, and see how we can help them. Let us reach out to one person today to see how we can help, even if it’s just to provide a friendly ear.

Together, we can strengthen each other.

Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim – Associate Rosh Yeshiva – PTI – Passaic Torah Institute – Parsha Ki Tisa – A Purifying Process

Two weeks ago, I wrote about a good friend with a long-time employee who left my friend’s family business, taking all the customers with him. It was devastating, but my friend stayed amazingly calm. After Shabbos, he wrote me a post-script, listing a few corrections and wonderful insights.

“For the sake of accuracy, I’d like to correct some details in last week’s story. The ‘employee’ had worked for my family for over 40 years. Before he left, he did not convince my clients to leave me. Rather, he downloaded all their information to use with his new employer. Months later, clients who had been with my firm for decades began leaving in droves. I felt as if the rug had been pulled out from under me. The ‘losses’ were adding up to tens of thousands of dollars.”

“Baruch Hashem, I have strong relationships with my rebbeim from yeshiva. One person I called quoted his father who said, ‘Nisyonos (challenges) of money are the cheapest form of nisyonos a person can have.’ Another rebbe of mine told me, ‘Someone can take your clients, but not your parnassa (livelihood).’ With these insights, I have been able to calm the raging storm in my head. Hashem has compensated me for any losses (I think I incurred), with new clients. So, if you ask me, ‘What is your best investment tip?’ I’d say, to invest in your relationship with a rav or rebbe. Nisyonos take many forms to rock your boat, but a rebbe is your anchor.”

This week is Parshas Parah. Rav Shimon Schwab points out that the source of our practice is from the beginning of Parshas Chukas, which discusses the laws of the parah adumah (red heifer). “This is the law of the Torah…speak to the Bnei Yisrael.” We understand from this pasuk the need to read the current section of the Sefer Torah and explain the importance of the parah adumah (red heifer).

The Midrash compares the impure person who becomes purified with the sprinkling of the ashes of the parah adumah, to Avraham, the child of Terach who worshiped idols. The Sfas Emes discusses the concept of someone impure becoming pure. Avram, the child of Terach, became Avraham our forefather. Yisro, the priest of Midian, became Yisro the father-in-law of Moshe Rabbeinu. A Jew is never stuck in a state of impurity—he can always become pure.

My friend and Yossi Hecht were both blessed with rebbeim who were able to give them the guidance they needed to take their own personal challenges—money and health—and use these to lift themselves up and become closer to Hashem.

Yossi Hecht further inspired me with a new insight on our parsha. When we eat food, our body breaks down the food and absorbs the nutrients from it. Our kidneys filter out all the toxins and the cleansed blood then perfuses our organs, while waste is expressed out. The good and the bad, the pure and impure are all sorted out inside us. Another parallel to the parah adumah.

With the outbreak of the coronavirus spreading globally, many people are scared. What can we do? Let us learn from the parah adumah and the words of Rav Pincus. At the very least, let’s stand focused while reciting Asher Yatzar, thanking Hashem for filtering out the toxins from our system and leaving the pure to nourish us. We can do this many times each day.

Yossi tells me his phone is ringing off the hook asking for the magnets. I ordered some to send out as a merit for refuah sheleima for Rafael Tzvi Lipa ben Esther Raichl, Rabbi Heshy Hirth, the beloved dean of my children’s yeshiva.

With this merit of meaningfully reciting Asher Yatzar, may we all be healthy and well.

Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim – Associate Rosh Yeshiva – PTI – Passaic Torah Institute – Parsha Terumah – The Best Investment Tip Ever

A close friend told me of a major challenge in his business. An employee of several decades recently left his company to work for a competitor. Before leaving, this ex-employee convinced many clients of my friend’s business to transfer their accounts to the new company. My friend had helped this person in so many ways, and yet, the employee stole these clients and as a result, countless thousands of dollars were not earned. A lawsuit made sense, but the time and aggravation weren’t worth it.

I was struck by how calm my friend was as he told me this story. This was a colossal mess! He replied by quoting the advice of his rebbe, “The best challenge to have is money. Baruch Hashem, you are healthy, and your family is well. Your children are progressing nicely in yeshiva and you have a great relationship with your wife. True, the money is a challenge…but it’s only money.”

When I heard this, I was a bit incredulous. I thought, “How do you remain calm when it comes to so much money being taken away from you?”

I believe the source of my friend’s attitude is in the first Midrash Rabbah of Parshas Teruma. The pasuk says, Veyikchu li teruma—you shall take contributions of teruma [for the Mishkan]. The Midrash explains this is referring to the Torah. Rav Gedalia Schorr explains that the contributions to the Mishkan were essentially a contribution for the Torah itself, as the Ramban tells us the Mishkan’s purpose was to create a place where the revelation of Torah can continue daily in a private manner. The Kodesh Hakodashim—the inner sanctum of the Mishkan—housed the Aron, which contained the luchos (tablets). From on top of the Aron, Hashem’s voice emanated. It was a Sinai revelation happening daily in a private way. Therefore, contributions to build the Mishkan were really contributions for the revelation of Torah!

The Midrash continues: Hashem tells Klal Yisrael, “I sold you my Torah. You got a great deal, a real fire sale! The Torah contains gold, silver and bronze.” That’s strange…gold, silver and bronze?? Rav Schorr says these are all symbolic. Gold represents financial security. Indeed, the American government backs the U.S. dollar with gold bullion. Silver represents desire, as the Hebrew word kesef (money) also means desire, as is found in the words nichsof nichsafti. The word kesef in our vernacular often connotes the love of money. And copper represents brazenness, as illustrated by the covering of the mizbeach with copper, which Rashi explains gives atonement for brazenness (which in this case is negative).

Hashem is telling us that the Torah is the source for all blessings. People are always looking for lucrative investments that yield high returns with minimum risk. The Torah is it! It is true: People need ambition to achieve. Desire, stamina and brazenness (used in a positive way) propel a person forward in business and personal achievements, and can also result in accomplishment in Torah!

If we apply ourselves in Torah and utilize our natural urges and drive in our Torah learning, the chances are that material success will also follow.

I witnessed this with my own eyes as I listened to my friend. A long-time employee robbed him under his nose, yet he remained calm and relaxed. He knew with certainty that Hashem is in charge. He was able to sleep at night, have conversations and spend quality time with his kids and wife. He did not let the situation make him tense and unhappy. It was a test, but he put it in proper perspective.

We all face hurdles at times; some bigger than others. That’s when we’re put to the test. Are Torah and mitzvos just nice things to do on good days, or do they constitute a way of life no matter what the challenges?

Let’s invest in the best investment tip we will ever get: Learn Hashem’s Torah. The dividends are endless and priceless.

Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim – Associate Rosh Yeshiva – PTI – Passaic Torah Institute – Parsha Yitro – Modeling the Character Of Hashem’s People

My busy schedule doesn’t allow much leisure reading, but each week I take a few minutes to peruse Rabbi Yoel Gold’s column in Ami Magazine. He relates inspiring stories of divine providence. A few years ago, he told the story of a Jewish man (we’ll call him “Isaac”) who was staying in a hotel in the West Coast for business. When placing his valuables in the hotel room safe, he was surprised to find a pouch full of expensive jewelry. Logically, the owners probably gave up hope on getting it back, so according to Jewish law, he might be able to keep the jewelry. What a find!

But then, Isaac remembered reading about Rabbi Noah Muroff from Connecticut who found $98,000 hidden in a $150 desk he purchased on Craigslist. Here too, Rabbi Muroff could have kept the money, but he called the lady who sold him the desk and returned the cash. Rabbi Muroff was featured in countless news articles nationwide. In one interview, he explained, “To me, the need to return money was clear. I am Jewish and I want to spread the message of honesty and integrity.” Isaac went down to the front desk and said in a loud voice, “I found this pouch of jewelry in my room. I am Jewish and I want to return it to its rightful owner. The hotel staff was stunned by this display of honesty.

Isaac was scheduled to be in the West Coast for Shabbos but didn’t know anyone. A contact helped set him up with a local family. Now it was Isaac’s turn to be stunned: his host was none other than Rabbi Noah Muroff, who had moved there earlier. Isaac realized Hashem was sending him a clear message that he did the right thing and was proud of him.

Parshas Mishpatim is replete with hundreds of laws: personal injury, property damage, returning lost articles, marriage, divorce, and interpersonal and monetary obligations. Each of these laws is discussed at length in various gemaras and the Shulchan Aruch. However, even cases where a course of action that might benefit oneself are technically permitted under the letter of the law, are subject to a higher code of ethics. This is referred to as lifnim m’shuras hadin—beyond the letter of the law. When finding a lost object that one might be able to keep, one should nevertheless try to locate the rightful owner. According to many opinions, this extra step is actually mandated.

The Beer Hagolah writes that it is praiseworthy to return even money that may be kept if there is an element of Kiddush Hashem in returning it. I have seen many people become wealthy from other people’s errors, he said, but then lose their wealth and have nothing left. Those who sanctified Hashem’s name by returning gains made by the errors of others became wealthy and left their wealth for their heirs.

Rav Shimon Schwab zt”l was very careful about his honesty in money matters. He was once audited by the IRS. Rav Schwab handed in all the requested papers with every cent accounted for. When he finished, the IRS agent told Rav Schwab “I have never met anyone so honest in my life.”

Rav Schwab would lament that too often we see Jewish people on the cover of the newspaper for illegal actions. We need instead to try to make a public display of how honest a Jew behaves.

And even though acting honestly and ethically doesn’t always gain the limelight, it is still incumbent upon us, as a reflection of our Creator, to do so.

The civil laws in Parshas Mishpatim are placed right after the Ten Commandments to teach us that all areas of mitzvos are important and need to be followed. In the same way we are diligent in keeping Shabbos and buying a beautiful esrog, so too we must be diligent in monetary matters and interpersonal relationships.

This Shabbos is also called Parshas Shekalim. Each person was obligated to give a half shekel of shekel hakodesh (holy shekel) to the Mishkan. What does “holy shekel” mean? Rav Schwab explains that it means every cent of that shekel needs to be acquired honestly, without any duplicity or cheating. The funds from the collection of the shekalim were used to create the sockets, the foundation of the Mishkan. They were also collected yearly to purchase the animals that were sacrificed daily on behalf of the Jewish nation. Using “honest money” was a must!

Let us be a shining example of a Torah Jew each day at work, at the store, with our neighbors—everywhere! This will bring blessing both in our business matters and in our homes, which are a mini Mishkan—a place where Hashem dwells. And with that, may we merit to rebuild the third Beis Hamikdash speedily in our days.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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