Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim – Associate Rosh Yeshiva – PTI – Passaic Torah Institute – Parsha Matot-Massei – Managing Life’s Journeys

I had the great zechus (privilege) to live in Eretz Yisrael for eleven years, both as a single person in yeshiva and for six years as a “young married” with four children, including twins! Fourteen years ago, we moved to America, dreaming one day to return to our beloved land…but we’re still here. This past week, I experienced a slice of the dream, as I spent an amazing week in Eretz Yisrael with my son, who becomes a bar mitzvah after the summer.

It was beyond incredible – a walk back in time. I was able to visit all the places of my early married years. We roamed through Maalot Dafna, where we lived and sent our children to gan (nursery). We walked the streets of Har Nof, where I spent many a Shabbos with relatives, rabbis and friends. We met with many of my close Rebbeim. We also toured various parts of the country.

This trip coincided with Parshas Maasei, which lists all the different journeys of Bnei Yisrael from the time they left Egypt until they were to enter the Chosen Land. The Torah even commands us to remember the entire journey – forty-two stages in total. The Sfas Emes says all individuals in their own lives, also have forty-two different stages through which they must journey. As it says in the second sentence of Parshas Maasei, “…v’eileh maaseihem – …” …and these are their travels. The numerical value of “v’eileh” is forty two, indicating there will be forty-two legs in every individual’s life journey.  

The forty-two legs of a person’s life are also alluded to in the first paragraph of Shema, which contains forty-two words and directs us to be close to Hashem and His Torah. From this we learn that throughout our life’s journeys, we must always remember it is Hashem Who is directing our path. This paragraph of Shema also says, “… vedibarta bam,” – “…you shall speak concerning them.” The word “bam” equals forty-two. The Gemara tells us this mitzvah is specifically referring to Torah learning. One must instruct and teach his children in the ways of the Torah. It can also mean one must teach his children about the forty-two different stages of life.

The Imrei Emes says there is a constant mitzvah to remember the Bnei Yisrael’s travels, as the Torah tells us, “Vezacharta es kol haderech,” – “You shall remember your entire journey.” There are different challenges in life and each one is a book in itself, as illustrated in Parshas Beha’alosecha, with the upside-down letter “Nun” bracketing the journey away from Har Sinai.

On my first day of this trip to Eretz Yisrael, I was going to the Koteland Yeshivas Mir Yerushalayim, where I learned for ten years. But where would I go first? The answer should be the Kotel, but my inner self led me to Mir Yerushalayim. I realized the Kotel represents the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash and the exile of the Jewish People. For me, the Mir Yerushalayim, where I spent ten years immersed in Torah study, day and night, represented a place of incredible personal growth for me. This was my foundation stone for everything else I have since accomplished in life. Before I could confront the immeasurable destruction of the Beis Hamikdash and the exile of the Jewish People, I first needed to connect with my own inner source of direction and strength. I realized that rebuilding requires tools, and the Mir served as my inner toolbox.

We all have different stages and phases in our lives. In fact, as mentioned above, we have forty-two of them. Within these stages and phases, we have experienced various challenges that contributed to our development. In some cases we triumphed and in some cases we may have failed, but we learned from that failure. Wherever we find ourselves in our journey, it’s important to remember our accomplishments so far — they will give us the fortitude to move forward. Any failures, on the other hand, serve as a necessary pause for reflection, redirection and rededication, to move to the next leg.

As we mourn the loss of the Beis Hamikdash in this period of the Three Weeks, let’s not forget to tap into our inner reserves, review lessons we have learned from our experiences and goals we have accomplished on our journeys. This will help prepare us for the rebuilding of the Beis Hamikdash, may it happen speedily in our days.

Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim – Associate Rosh Yeshiva – PTI – Passaic Torah Institute – Parsha Pinchas – Creating A Foundation Of Holiness

A few years ago I experienced pain in my neck, shoulder, upper back and knee. I rubbed in a warming ointment, but it did not alleviate the pain. Massage helped, but only momentarily. I didn’t know what to do. I asked a doctor friend of mine for direction. He told me to stand straight with my feet slightly apart so he could observe me. “You are leaning slightly to one side, so you are out of balance” he said. He placed a little padding in one shoe, made a minor adjustment to my orthotics and the next day the pain was gone! Simple adjustments to put my body back in balance relieved me of all my pains. What a savior! I had been ready to go for a battery of tests, but a minor lift in my shoe and an adjustment of my orthotic resolved the issue.

I learned from this episode how important it is to operate with a “solid footing.” This is true both physically and spiritually, in our observance of Torah and mitzvos, as is demonstrated in Parshas Pinchas.

Many of the Bnei Yisroel got involved in two major sins. Many began to serve the idol Baal Peor. Additionally, many started to intermarry with Midianite women. Hashem sent a deadly plague as a punishment for Bnei Yisroel serving the idol Baal Peor and He instructed Moshe to impose capital punishment on those found guilty of idol worship. However, the plague continued and only ceased after Pinchas bravely and boldly killed Zimri, the Nasi (leader) of the tribe of Shimon, and Kazbi, the Midianite princess with whom he engaged in illicit behavior, to punish their decadence.

The intertwinement of Pinchas’s act with the end of the plague is quite puzzling. The Torah clearly states the cause of the deadly plague was a punishment for idol worship and Hashem specifically instructed Moses to kill all the offenders. So why should only the zealous act of Pinchas curb the plague and not the punishment of the idol worshipers? Further, the punishment for idol worship is capital punishment; however, illicit relations with a non-Jewish woman is a violation not culpable of the death penalty. So why did the halting of the immorality (by killing Zimri and Kazbi) save the Jews, rather than stopping the idol worship?

The Slonimer Rebbe answers with a fundamental principle from our great Rabbis. There are two major foundational areas in our service of Hashem – Emunah (Faith in Hashem) and Kedusha (sanctification of Hashem’s name through our elevated actions). When Jews strengthen themselves in these areas, it brings growth in all areas of Torah and mitzvos. When we slack off in either of these areas, the opposite is true. It has a negative effect on our whole approach to Torah and mitzvos.

With regard to Emunah (faith), our sages tell us all Jews have Emunah. Even when a Jew does not sense his Emunah, it is there deep down inside; it’s just covered up. Sometimes the root of a problem with Emunah is hard to locate. It could be an area seemingly unconnected. The evil inclination (yetzer harah) doesn’t attack Emunah directly. Hashem told the primal snake (which represents the evil inclination), “Man will pound your head and you will bite his heel.” Man will be in control of the area of the head – the mind, where Emunah is located. However, the way the snake will be able to attack man is through his heel. The heel represents Kedusha, as referenced with regard to the burning bush, where Hashem told Moshe to remove his shoes because he was walking on holy ground. When the evil inclination succeeds in lowering our adherence to Kedusha in our conduct, that is the opening for it to cause doubts in our Emunah.

The greatest strength of the yetzer harah is defeating us in areas of holiness. This is reflected in the order in which the Torah lists the two sins. First, it tells us the nation started to involve themselves in illicit relations and only after that does it mention the nation served Baal Peor.

With this principle we understand why the zealous act of Pinchas curbed the plague, and not the punishment of the idol worshipers. It’s because the sin of observing false ideologies is rooted in one’s inclination to lower his level of Kedusha. Once the root of the problem was eliminated, the plague was halted.

Let us focus on creating a solid footing for ourselves by infusing our everyday lives with Kedusha, which will protect our faith in Hashem and strengthen our adherence to Torah and mitzvos.

Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim – Associate Rosh Yeshiva Of PTI – Passiac Torah Institute – Parsha Balak – Honoring The Dignity Of Man

Judaism places great importance on human dignity. We are, after all, created in the image of the Almighty. Many times, it takes extra care to preserve dignity, but failure to do so can result in tragedy. Let’s look at a couple of examples.

There was a man who had done some terrible things and was not welcome in any shul in town.

One day, he entered a shul anyway and sat down. Someone soon alerted the Rabbi, who had a choice to make. He could stop the chazzan and make an announcement that they would not continue until the individual leaves. Undoubtedly, this would totally humiliate the person. Instead, the Rabbi chose an option that would preserve the man’s dignity. The Rabbi took a seat next to him and quietly whispered, “You and I both know you can’t be here. But I want you to save face. Please exit the shul quietly and I’m certain no one will notice or pay attention.” The person realized there was no room for negotiations. He quietly got up and walked out.

A similar incident occurred but concluded in a very different way. Someone was in a shul collecting funds, but had not received permission to do so. The rabbi was not present that morning. The collector was approached by someone davening and told in a very loud voice to leave. A big commotion ensued, with the collector being yelled at and publicly humiliated. In fact, he was pushed and shoved and forcibly removed in a most undignified way.

In our parsha, we meet Bilaam, who was a very talented person- smart, powerful and influential. He was the prophet for the non-Jewish nations. Yet, he let jealousy, lust, and the pursuit of honor govern his life. All of his actions were rooted in these traits. As the Mishnah in Pirkei Avos says, anyone who possesses these qualities is a disciple of Bilaam.

Balak, the king of Moav, sent special representatives to Bilaam with the goal of hiring him to curse the Jewish nation. Hashem told Bilaam he may not go with these men for that purpose. Bilaam’s conceit led him to misinterpret Hashem’s message and he replied that Hashem would not allow him to be escorted by people of this [inferior] stature. Balak therefore sent a new envoy of greater officials and a promise of great prestige and a fortune of money. Bilaam’s desire for honor blinded him and he went along with them, convinced Hashem would allow him to curse the Jews. Clearly, the pursuit of kavod (honor) was leading him to make irrational decisions.

We find another scenario in Tanach where the drive for prestige led to a noted person’s downfall. Yeravam ben Nevat, the wicked king of Northern Israel, was offered by Hashem the chance to do teshuva and was promised that he would stroll in Gan Eden, together with Hashem and King David. Yeravam asked if King David would be in front of him. Hashem responded yes. Yeravam then refused, since he felt it would be slight to his honor.

There’s no denying that seeking honor is a driving force in man. Pirkei Avos lists the three most destructive character traits: jealousy, lust, and the pursuit of honor – each of which can destroy a person’s marriage, career and friendships. Rav Wolbe noted that these traits are listed in the order that they are most dominant in a human. At a young age, jealousy is strongest, for the youngster wants what the other has. Lust then dominates in the teen years. And after twenty, honor (which is intertwined with money) is often the strongest force. Long after a person’s physical senses are dulled, the desire for honor still remains.

Yet, honor has its place. The parsha has the donkey of Bilaam actually speaking aloud in words of rebuke to Bilaam! This donkey was created at the beginning of creation, with its miraculous ability to speak, yet Rashi notes that Hashem made this donkey die afterward, lest people point to it and be reminded of the rebuke to Bilaam. Amazing- preserving the dignity that is an essential characteristic of every man, was enough cause for Hashem to intervene to save the honor of this most wicked man who tried to destroy the Jewish people.

So how should we deal with honor? According to Rav Chaim Shmulevitz, the pursuit of honor should only be for the honor of others- not for the honor of oneself. When we act in ways that preserve the kavod and dignity of those around us, as was the case where the Rabbi intervened in the first incident we opened with, we distance ourselves from the ways of Bilaam and emulate the ways of Hashem.

Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim – Associate Rosh Yeshiva – PTI – Passaic Torah Institute – Parsha Behar-Bechukotai – Shmita – Learning Reliance On Hashem

When I was a bachur learning in Eretz Yisroel, I returned to America in the summer to earn money for the following year in Yeshiva. One summer, I was working as an intern for an investor on Wall Street. The salary was quite good, but it was not enough cover all my expenses for the following year. Still, the internship was valuable, and the salary was better than anywhere else. As I thanked my boss on my last day, telling him I was going back to Israel to study, he handed me a wad of bills saying this was a “bonus.” When I came home to count the bills, I was floored: it totaled the exact amount of money I still needed for the next year.

I often think of this episode when learning the laws of Shmita (leaving farmland fallow every seventh year). Truthfully, it’s hard for us in the Diaspora to appreciate the challenges of Shmita, because how many Jewish farmers do we know? Yet, anyone who owns his own business can begin to visualize what it would mean to close shop for a week, let alone for an entire year. What will happen with his clients? How will he pay the mortgage or rent with no money coming in? How will he survive such a challenge? It’s virtually inconceivable. And really…it’s not just a year. The next year, he has to start from scratch with nothing on the shelf and no money in the bank.

It’s easy to understand why the Midrash labels the topic of Shmita as the paradigm of placing one’s reliance on Hashem.

The commentators ask a very compelling question. The Torah says explicitly “If you shall say ‘what shall I eat during Shmita,’ I will give a blessing and the sixth year will bear enough fruit to eat for three years.” How could anyone then be worried? The bumper crop of the sixth year will produce three times the normal amount, filling the storehouses. What is the major need for bitachon (faith) in Hashem?

The Kli Yakar answers that Hashem can give blessings in different ways. One of them is to make a small amount last for a long time. For example, when I was in my teens and twenties, I had an extremely fast metabolism. I needed to eat large quantities of food for each meal. Yet, I wouldn’t gain a single pound! When I got married, my wife had to cook as if we were four! On the other hand, I had a friend who was full after eating just one slice of bread. This is what Rashi is referring to when he explains the blessing in Parshas Bechukosai — the food will be blessed in one’s stomach. Just a little will fully suffice.

This is the blessing of Shmita. The produce of the sixth year will be the regular amount, but it will last for three years. This requires bitachon – a belief that Hashem will provide as promised, even though it looks like the blessing is not there. It takes true faith to expect the income of just one year to stretch for three. It would seem that this degree of bitachon is reserved only for people on a very high level; however, the requirement of Shmita is for every Jew. Apparently, then, every Jew is able to be on this level, with the proper effort.

We are confronted with concerns and challenges every day. How will we afford our current and future expenses? How will we be able to fulfill the demands of our jobs? If we follow the lesson of Shmita — to place our reliance on Hashem – we may then find that the resources we have will, with Hashem’s help, be more than adequate to deal with all our issues and needs. Hashem has many ways and means to provide for our needs. Let us follow the advice of King David in Tehillim (55:23): “Cast your burdens on Hashem and he will sustain you.”

 

Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim – Associate Rosh Yeshiva – PTI – Passaic Torah Institute – Putting On The Proper Face

Young children enjoy standing in front of mirrors and making funny faces. Why? Because the funny expressions stare right back at them! On a deeper level, a person’s facial expression speaks volumes about his or her life. And it’s fascinating that the Torah uses the word “faces” to describe the show bread – Lechem Hapanim – the “bread of faces.” We know the bread did not look like an emoji, so why is it called faces?

An answer may emerge from the discussion in the Torah about the Lechem Hapanim. At the end of Parshas Emor, there is a very strange episode. A Jewish man “went out” and committed blasphemy. The verse tells us he went out, but it doesn’t say from where. Rashi brings two opinions. Rebbe Levi says he left his world. Rebbe Brachya says he left the topic that was just discussed in the prior paragraph, which was the service for the Lechem Hapanim. Fresh-baked bread would be placed on the Shulchan (table) in the Mishkan every Shabbos. The bread would remain there for a full week. The following Shabbos, the week-old bread would be replaced with the fresh-baked bread and the old bread would be eaten by the Kohanim. The blasphemer mocked this procedure, challenging the whole idea by asking, “Would a king give week-old bread to his priests?”

This challenge is puzzling, since the Gemara relates that miraculously, the week-old bread was as fresh as the new bread replacing it. In fact, the Ritva says the old bread was so hot, it was steaming! Further, during the busy Yom Tov period, the Kohanim would hold up the old Lechem Hapanim to highlight the miracle, demonstrating how much Hashem loves Klal Yisrael.

The Gerrer Rebbe comments that the name Lechem Hapanim is quite fascinating. The exact translation is, “bread of faces.” Simply put, the bread was baked in a very interesting shape; it was curved on both ends, so the ends faced each other as if the bread had two faces. The significance of the two faces of the Lechem Hapanim relates to the quality of this bread. Just like a mirror reflects the face looking at it-whether it’s happy, sad, angry or glad — the Lechem Hapanim was a reflection of the face of the person looking at it. If someone approached the Lechem Hapanim with a cold attitude, then to him it actually looked old. If he approached with a warm attitude, however, then it appeared fresh and warm. This blasphemer was actually saying the truth: the bread looked old and stale to him. However, the issue of the staleness was not with the bread, but with the person approaching the bread.

Based on this new insight, the two explanations of Rebbe Levi and Rebbe Brachya are two sides of a single coin. This blasphemer left his world in the sense that he left the natural world of happiness and warmth, to enter a world that is stale and cold. This explains why the miracle of Lechem Hapanim was specifically displayed during Yom Tov to all Jews. The terminology the Gemara uses is, “to display their love,” i.e., to show how much they love Hashem. It was a barometer for each person. The perceived quality and freshness of the bread reflected their individual attitudes toward Hashem.

Remember also: the Lechem Hapanim was placed on the Shulchan in the Mishkan, which symbolized the livelihood of man, since bread is a basic staple of life. I believe the “two-faced bread” reflected one’s attitude to Hashem and guided our perception of how Hashem is providing for our livelihood. Hashem is the infinite Giver and loves us more than we love ourselves. Sometimes, we can be struggling painfully and we may think Hashem is unhappy with us. Really, we need to adjust our perception. It’s more likely that it’s we who are not happy with Hashem. Even when we are experiencing great challenges, Hashem loves us immensely. By recalibrating our perspective to a natural state of love and appreciation for Hashem, we will be able to see even in our negative experiences, the reflection of how much Hashem loves us and how each of our experiences is truly a blessing.

Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim – Associate Rosh Yeshiva – PTI – Passaic Torah Institute – Parsha Acharei Mot-Kedoshim – How To Deal With The Satan

Some of us feel a little strange discussing Yom Kippur in the springtime. What’s the connection between Yom Kippur and Acharei Mos? Rav Dessler helps to resolve the dichotomy by showing how the lessons of the Yom Kippur service apply each day of the year.

One of the central parts of Yom Kippur in the Beis Hamikdash was the service with the two goats. Two identical goats were selected and brought into the Beis Hamikdash. Lots were then drawn. One was sacrificed and its blood was sprinkled inside the Holy of Holies, while the other goat called Seir l’Azazel (the goat for Azazel) was led to a distant precipice and cast off the steep rocky cliff.  

Why specifically on Yom Kippur do we cast a goat off a cliff? The Ramban brings the Zohar which tells us the Azazel goat was a bribe to the Satan. Certainly, it’s timely to learn a piece from the Zohar, as this week is Lag Baomer, which marks the yahrzeit of Rebbe Shimon Bar Yochai – the author of the Zohar. A bribe to the Satan!! What is that supposed to mean?

I believe the following is a good analogy to help us understand the concept that Rav Dessler says the Zohar is alluding to. As a boy, I was very interested in the martial arts. Martial arts help harness our energy and deliver focused strikes. One doesn’t need to be muscular to defend himself from a strong opponent. Many forms exist, but the method I liked most was Akido, which uses the opponent’s own energy to gain control over him.

This is an analogy to our everyday encounter with the yetzer harah(evil inclination), the force inside us which is constantly attempting to ensnare us in its evil web. Rav Dessler explains there are two methods one can take to defend oneself. The first is a head-on approach, using strong willpower to overcome our urges and temptations. The challenge with this method is it’s very difficult to constantly go head-on. In a moment of weakness, we are likely to find ourselves flat on the floor before we even realize what happened.

The other method is to bribe to the Satan–the Seir to Azazel–by using the yetzer harah’s own tricks against itself. The approach of the yetzer harah is often to convince us to do something small, with its goal to slowly desensitize the person and to keep increasing the bad deed. Sometimes, it presents an “opportunity” as urgent, something that must be done immediately! We can, however, appease the Satan by saying “yes” I will do what you are asking … in a few minutes. We can therefore push it off indefinitely. This diffuses the impulse, using the yetzer harah’s own tactics against it.

We can use this Akido-like strategy when we are being tempted to sleep late, or to say a sharp comment, or to check our phone during davening. True, we can go head-on by saying “no”, but we can use the appeasement approach by saying “yes” … in a few minutes. A friend of mine employed a variation on this tactic. He really enjoyed steak dinners, but he also wanted to learn more. So, he resolved that every time he would complete a Gemara, he would grill the choicest steaks. The Satan heard “eating steaks”, but my friend used this potentially base motivation for the higher goal of learning Torah. He delayed it with learning Gemara first. This approach helped him to complete many masechtos of Gemara.

This whole approach, says Rabbi Hirsch, is alluded to in the word Azazel. The word Azazel is a hybrid of two words. Az – strong – and Azal – to move. We should utilize the strength of our opponent to move forward in a positive direction.

In many years, including the current one, Parshas Acharei Mos is read together with Parshas Kedoshim. Upon closer examination, we see the two are linked by our above concept. Kedusha is not accomplished by abstinence, but utilizing both our strengths and weaknesses for a special purpose that is noble and brings us closer to Hashem. On Shabbos, we eat our best foods and drink our best wines. On Yom Tov, we wear our finest clothes. On Seder night, we fill our table with silver and crystal. We utilize our opponent’s energy to propel us forward, by transforming what could be materialistic into holy acts to honor the Almighty.

Let us resolve to not let our yetzer harah control us, but rather to use its cunning for holy accomplishment.

Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim – Associate Rosh Yeshiva – PTI – Passaic Torah Institute – Shabbos Hagadol – Promoting Faith And Harmony

To the outside world, preparing Thanksgiving dinner for family and a few guests can be amazingly stressful. It’s once a year, with so many expectations and so many traditions, including all the shopping, cooking, and cleaning up afterwards. Okay–you’re probably laughing right now, thinking, “that’s just a regular Shabbos dinner we do every week!” Pesach is in a category all its own-cleaning the whole house, kashering everything, shopping, cooking and paying many more expenses can cause some legitimate stress. People can become on edge from the many demands.

Rav Yitzchak Zilberstein relates the following story about a tense week before Pesach. Yisroel Goldbaum bought an expensive diamond-studded ring for his wife Esther, as a present for the upcoming Yom Tov of Pesach. Esther was deeply touched and felt so special.

A week before Pesach, she noticed the ring wasn’t on her finger. She searched thoroughly and again came up empty handed. Naturally, she was very upset and began to cry. Learning that the ring was missing, Yisroel also got very upset and said, “How could you be so careless That was a very expensive ring.”

The tension increased over the next few days as the ring still had not turned up. Noam, their teenage son, saw what was happening and wanted to help. He went to the same jeweler where his father had purchased the ring and asked to purchase an identical ring, explaining the circumstances. The jeweler was impressed with Noam and agreed to sell it for a reduced price, with Noam paying $100 a month until it would be paid off in about two years.

That evening was bedikas chometz and Noam placed the ring on the kitchen windowsill. “Yisroel–come quick! I found the ring,” called out Mrs. Goldbaum. It was a Pesach miracle-courtesy of Noam. Mr. Goldbaum apologized to his wife for his criticism, and all the tension that had prevailed, disappeared.

It’s easy to “lose it” when we’re stressed. One might erroneously think Hashem wants us to be tense with all the preparations Pesach requires, but the truth is quite the contrary. Harmony in the home is the deeper mandate for Pesach, as is indicated in the special name given to the Shabbos before Pesach, Shabbos Hagadol. The Tur (R Yaakov Baal Haturim) explains the reason this Shabbos is called Shabbos Hagadol is because Hashem instructed the Jews to take sheep–the Egyptian deity–on the 10th of Nissan (which was Shabbos that year), tie it to their bedposts and on the 14th of Nissan, slaughter it as a korban Pesach to be eaten that evening. This was considered a great (“gadol“) miracle, as the Egyptians saw what was going on and did not attack or even protest!

Rav Avrohom Schorr brings an incredible explanation of the emphasis on tying the sheep to the bedpost, from the Sefer Beis Yitzchak. Many religions serve their deities in a shrine or temple, where they practice their religion, but day-to-day life is up to them. Hashem was giving the Bnei Yisroel an important message: You are now becoming the Jewish nation, where serving Hashem is not reserved for the synagogue or study hall. It’s the way we must live and interact every day–in the street, in our homes and in our bedrooms. Seeing the sheep each day when they went to sleep and woke up, the Jews absorbed this message of daily service to Hashem.

Hashem places a lot of emphasis on the home with regard to the mitzvos of Pesach. The korban Pesach is to be taken “seh leavos seh labayis” – by each family, each home In fact, we learn a halacha from here that the korban Pesach has to be eaten entirely inside one’s house; we cannot eat it partially in one house and the remainder in a different one. Similarly, cleaning and searching for chametz takes place in our home.

There are challenges when families get together in a home, especially for an extended time. Parents and children, in-laws, siblings, extended relatives-it’s a complicated mix! Perhaps the emphasis on harmony in the home is because Pesach is a unique opportunity for the father to convey his feelings of faith and belief in Hashem in conducting the Seder.

Everyone should remember that Hashem places us in a particular family because He knows what’s best for us. It’s our responsibility to work positively on our relationship with family, with both our speech and our actions. May we utilize this powerful time period and search for ways to promote tranquility in our homes and families, like Noam, who put himself into debt to replace his mother’s lost diamond ring and re-establish harmony in his home. May this Pesach reflect true harmony in our homes and herald in the ultimate redemption!

 

Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim – Associate Rosh Yeshiva – PTI – Passaic Torah Institute – Parsha HaChodesh – Consecrating Our Time

America has lots of expressions involving time. Time is money – Time flies – Ahead of his time – Killing time. Time is a concept that preoccupies us a lot! Since I broke my foot a couple of months ago, I find myself …well … more “pressed for time.” Just getting dressed and getting ready in the morning takes an additional twenty minutes. I still have the same things to do each day, but I need to plan and budget time so much more.

What we do with our time indicates what’s important for us in life. A few months ago, the missile alert alarm was set off in Hawaii. One man recorded a video for his family, of what he thought would be his last few minutes in life. As he wished his family goodbye, he said, “At least I am dying playing golf.”  

The concept of time came into being with the creation of the world. Prior to that, it did not exist. This week, as we read Parshas HaChodesh,Hashem instructs Moshe that the Jewish court will determine the new month by the sighting of the moon, thus setting the Jewish / lunar calendar in motion. In effect, Hashem is giving us the gift of being a full partner in setting time. And notice that this mitzvah was given to Klal Yisroel while they were still in Egypt–before Har Sinai and before the giving of the Torah. Why was this mitzvah so critical to moving forward?

The Seforno explains that the gift of HaChodesh (setting the month) involved a lot more than determining the new moon. Until this point, the Jews were slaves with no control over their time. Their Egyptian masters could call them to work at any time of the day or night. Hashem was now removing a key part of their bondage, allowing them to control time and become attached to Hashem, through the mitzvah of creating their own calendar. Every second going forward would be a moment with Hashem. In each of our steps, we would be walking with Hashem. This is the real start of time with a spiritual connection.

Remember back in the days of 9/11, when President Bush announced to the world, “You’re either with us, or against us”? A similar notion is expressed by the Chovos Halevavos: everything we do is either a mitzvah or an aveirah (sin). It’s either the will of Hashem or it’s against His will. The gift of time by Hashem, through having us set the calendar, was an eternal gift, consecrating every moment of every day and thereby presenting us constant opportunities to connect to Hashem, even while sitting at our computer at work, shopping in the store, doing carpool or eating supper.

Our job today is to recognize and utilize this beautiful connection. The Shulchan Aruch opens with shivisi Hashem l’negdi tamid — Hashem is constantly with me. This realization is truly powerful if we truly internalize it. It’s alluded to in the mitzvah of kiddush HaChodesh(blessing the New Moon) in the words, HaChodesh hazeh lachem – this month shall be for you. The word hazeh connotes pointing to a specific item. At the splitting of the sea, Klal Yisroel sang “zeh Keli” – This is my Hashem. Every Jew was able to point to Hashem, such was the awareness and clarity they attained at that moment.  

At Pesach, this theme is echoed with our response to the famous question of mah nishtanah halailah hazeh (how is this night different?). The numerical value of “zeh” equals twelve. Pesach, in the month of Nissan, signifies the start of the twelve months and the twelve tribes. It’s a fresh start…a new beginning. There’s no looking back. From now on, every moment is one in which we are walking with Hashem.  

This powerful message is integral to Rosh Chodesh Nissan. Time, calendar, freedom, redemption, connecting in a new way to the Almighty-it all comes together at this juncture in time.

As we start this wondrous month of Nissan, we may feel a bit (a lot??) pressured by the time demands on us from all the cleaning, shopping and cooking that needs to happen. Yes, this month of freedom has a sprinkle of irony as we enter it. But the message is clear: our calendars are full, our responsibilities are many, but we are the keepers of our own time clocks. We set the priorities. Keep in mind with responsibility comes opportunity. Let’s answer the call of Nissan, the call of the Chodesh. Let’s use our time to build a stronger connection to Hashem. True freedom is just around the corner.

Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim – Associate Rosh Yeshiva – Chanuka – A True Source Of Torah Inspiration

There really is something special about Chanukah that tugs at the Jewish heart.  Regardless of how observant (or not) they are, Jews around the world observe the lighting of the menorah.  Why is Chanukah the holiday that is so widely observed by Jews of all backgrounds?  The following story will shed some light.

Joe Wallis was a non-observant Jew living in Israel.  His wife asked him to pick up dinner for the family.  On his drive home, he stopped at the Elephant Steakhouse, famed for selling non- kosher meat.  Waiting patiently in line, his mind began to wander to a story his mother had told him.  His grandfather, Rabbi Shraga Feivel Winkler, was in the slave labor camp of Debrecen during World War II.  One morning, the head Nazi guard assembled all the Jews and said, “The war is almost over.  In a few hours the Russians will be here and you will be free.  But before we go, I have one final test of how religious you think you are.”  He ordered Joe’s grandfather to step in front of the assembled crowd.  “Rabbiner, eat a piece of this pork and you will be free to go. If you refuse, I will shoot you on the spot,” said the guard as he placed his pistol on Rabbi Winkler’s temple. “No, I will not,” said Shraga Winkler.  “You stupid Jew,” yelled the guard, “eat the pig now and you shall live and restart your life.  If you refuse, I will shoot you and you will be the last Jew to be killed at Debrecen”.  Rabbi Winkler refused and fell to the floor, dead from the bullet in his head.

Joe Wallis thought to himself, “Here I am standing in line to purchase pork to feed my wife and children!  And my grandfather chose to be killed rather than eat a piece of pork!”  He left the restaurant and picked up burgers for dinner instead.  Thus began Joe Wallis’s search to learn about Torah and mitzvos. Now, Rabbi Joseph Wallis is the CEO of Arachim, an extremely popular and successful Kiruv organization.

Let’s look at the Chanukah story. The Chashmonaim were just a few men that waged war against the mighty Greek army.  The Greeks were the superpower of the world.  The Chashmonaim, meanwhile, were kohanim trained for the service in the Beis Hamikdash.  They were most definitely not trained or skilled warriors.  They did not have any hope of winning. They fought because they wanted to demonstrate that keeping Torah and mitzvos was worth dying for.

If we observe a mitzvah today, it’s because our parents were dedicated to that mitzvah and passed it onto their descendants.  That is why Jews from all backgrounds connect to Chanukah and the menorah. Although Shraga Winkler surrendered his life, he implanted a seed of pure love and caring for Hashem’s mitzvos, which germinated years later in his grandchildren.  Similarly, the Chashmonaim implanted a deep connection to Yiddishkeit by preserving the purity of all mitzvos.

The Nesivas Shalom explains the conviction of the Chashmonaim to preserve the absolute sanctity of Torah and mitzvos is seen once again in their refusal to light contaminated oil, even though there was a halachic exception which would permit it under the circumstances.  Additionally, they could have shaved the wicks down into an eighth of the thickness, allowing the oil of the one flask to naturally last for eight days.  However, the Chashmonaim wanted to perform Hashem’s will to the fullest.

We see this dedication in how we light our Chanukah candles today as well.  In the laws of Chanukah, even though the base requirement is to light one candle per night per home, the actual law adopts the highest of the three tiers of observance found in the Shulchan Aruch – mehadrin min hamehadrin – the most beautiful way to perform, by lighting one additional candle each night.  This is part of our legacy from the brave Chashmonaim.

The willingness to surrender one’s life for one’s ideals is called mesiras nefesh (giving over one’s soul), as was the case of the Chashmonaim.  Mesiras Nefeshalso means to give everything we’ve got towards a mitzvah.

When we light the menorah, we should think about the sacrifice and dedication of our ancestors. As we add a candle each night, this should fan our flame of devotion and inspire us to go the extra mile for Hashem. May Hashem respond in kind by performing miraculous wonders and bringing us the ultimate redemption speedily in our time!

Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim – Associate Rosh Yeshiva – Passaic Torah Institute – Parsha Vayeshev – Redemption In Its Time

Let’s put ourselves in Yosef’s shoes right after he was sold by his own brothers as a slave. Can you imagine the feeling of betrayal and abandonment? He had to sit alone in a wagon, heading down to Egypt to be sold as a slave. Gone were his dreams of leading Klal Yisroel; his being the chosen child of Yaakov would soon be a fading memory. One can practically feel the total darkness and despair that must have enveloped Yosef at that moment.

The Jewish people felt this palpable feeling of doom just over 50 years ago, in the spring of 1967. Our precious little Eretz Yisrael seemed on the brink of destruction. Massive Arab armies were openly preparing to attack on all sides. Their intentions were very clear.

On June 1st, 1967, the Palestinian chairman Ahmed Shukairy shouted out from a podium in Yerushalayim, “We shall destroy Israel and its inhabitants. As for the survivors – if there are any – the boats are ready to deport them.” Egyptian president Nasser threw out the UN peacekeepers from the Sinai and ordered the Straits of Tiran blockaded to prevent Israel’s access to the Red Sea. Syria and Jordan called up all their armies to Israel’s borders. Panic ensued in the streets of Israel. Literally thousands of graves were being dug in public parks throughout the country. Another Holocaust appeared on the horizon.

But tefillos (prayers) from Jews around the world were many as well. They rose to the heavens, with the knowledge that there was only one source of salvation: Hashem, the Almighty, Who watches over His nation. The war that began June 5, 1967, and the victory that ensued was nothing short of Biblical in its proportion. The entire Egyptian air force was wiped out in hours. Yerushalayim and the Kotel were liberated. Within six days, the war was over and Eretz Yisrael was over four times its original size. Nations around the world could not deny the Hand of Hashem in what had just happened.

Getting back to Yosef, there is no denying how bleak the future looked for him when he descended to Egypt. Yet, the Midrash (Midrash Rabbah 88) informs us that Yosef did not despair. The Midrash reminds us of others that did not despair: Avraham and Sarah who waited so long for a child; and Yaakov who waited for Yosef’s return for so many years. Yosef, who kept his dear father Yaakov in mind when he was experiencing his trials, knew that his prophetic dreams would somehow come true. The Midrash calls on us not to lose hope in our everyday trials, for Hashem is rooting for us to overcome the challenges and pass the tests to emerge stronger and fully victorious.

Further, Rav Elya Svei zt”l tells us the Midrash, gives us a deep insight into the parsha, noting that, “Yaakov was watching the matter of discord between the brethren.” Rashi says the word shomar – watch – here means “wait.” Yaakov was waiting and watching eagerly to see how and when the prophecy that his son Yosef would become a ruler, would come to fruition even when it seemed impossible. He knew the ultimate goal was attainable, but how and when it would happen was hidden.

Based on this explanation of the Midrash, we learn an important lesson. The Midrash is not giving us comfort that Hashem is there for us through our struggle – though we know that to be true – but rather is teaching us a formula for salvation to come. In order for the ultimate redemption to occur, we as a people need to wait patiently, believing with certainty that it will happen and just waiting to see how it will transpire as we maintain our connection with Hashem.

We live in a rapidly changing world. Corporations that were “too big to fail” have gone bankrupt overnight. Countries change leadership and policies. Mighty empires have fallen suddenly. Technological breakthroughs change our world in a moment’s notice.

Today, we are still in exile and still awaiting Moshiach. When it will happen, we don’t know, but we can help make it happen! Hashem is orchestrating events for us. Like our forefather Yaakov, we need to keep watch and be patient for the plan to unfold and the deliverance to occur, all the while doing our part to gain Hashem’s benevolence to make it happen soon.