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.

Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim – Associate Rosh Yeshiva – Passaic Torah Institute – Parsha Vayishlach – How To Be A Winner

In Parshas Vayishlach, we have the greatest wrestling match of all time:  Yaakov Avinu vs the Angel of Esav.  It’s worth noting the word used to describe this wrestling match, Vaye’aveik Ish – and a man wrestled (32:25). The root of the word Vaye’aveik is Avak – dust.  Rashi (quoting the Gemara Chullin) explains they wrestled with each other to the extent that they kicked up a tremendous amount of dust and the dust rose all the way up to the Throne of Hashem.

What is the significance of the dust rising all the way to the throne of glory?

This story will help us understand the answer. Boruch Hirschberg was a successful, young man, well-liked by his peers.  As he was unfortunately nearing the end of his battle with cancer, he said to his father, “I know my time is near and I’ve decided I want my second grade Rebbe, Rabbi Yitzchok Morgenstern to eulogize me.  Only him, except for family.” The father agreed, but asked, “Why only your second grade Rebbe? You had many other terrific Rabbeim over the years?”

“Because I owe all my success to him,” replied Boruch.  “Let me explain. One day, when I was in second grade, Rabbi Morgenstern walked in with a big smile.  He handed out a piece of paper to each of us with all the names of the boys in the class and asked us to write down next to each name a special quality of that boy.  When we finished, the Rebbe collected the papers. The next day, he handed each of us a paper with all the list of qualities that the boys in the class had said about each of us.  I never felt so good about myself!  Wow, I thought, Yanky really believes I’m smart and Shloimy says I’m a good ball player. There were many other complimentary opinions.  From that point on, I had a new self-confidence; I realized the person I really could be.”  

Boruch then pulled out an old folded piece of paper from his wallet and showed it to his father.  “This is the paper that Rabbi Morgenstern gave me,” he said. “Since that day, I kept this paper in my wallet and whenever I doubted myself, I took it out and read it.  This is how I was able to climb the ladder of life.  Rabbi Morgenstern really believed in his students and he made me focus on my unique qualities and talents.”

A few days later, Boruch passed away and Rabbi Morgenstern was the only non-family member to eulogize Boruch.  The shiva house was packed with many of Boruch’s classmates.  Someone asked Rabbi Morgenstern why he was the only non-family member to give the eulogy.  After a nod from Boruch’s father, Rabbi Morgenstern related the story. As he was finishing, all of Boruch’s former classmates reached into their wallets and pulled out their precious piece of paper. (Rabbi Spero, Touched by A Story 2).

Rav Gedalia Schorr sheds light on the Gemara that tells us the face of Yaakov was inscribed on Hashem’s Throne of Glory.  This indicated the true level of perfection that Yaakov had:  his reality mirrored his potential self on Hashem’s Throne.   Looking back at the wrestling match, the angel of Esav kicked up the dust to blur Yaakov Avinu’s vision of what he looked like, and mostly, what was his true potential.  This was Esav’s attempt at victory:  preventing Yaakov from seeing his own true nature.

Now we can understand why Yaakov Avinu’s name was changed to Yisrael after the match.  He had battled and overcome the greatest challenges that the spiritual world could offer: the threat to lose sight of his potential greatness, the greatness that is latent in every Jew, waiting to be brought out. The angel of Esav is a manifestation of the Yetzer Harah (evil inclination), which seeks to obscure our vision of who we really could be.  

This is a timeless message.  Every Jewish soul emanates from the Throne of Glory.  We each have the potential to reach great heights.  We have an image in Heaven which represents our true potential.  Our mission in life is to perfect our deeds, speech and thoughts so they mirror our image in heaven.

Our job is never to lose focus of who we can be. We can learn from Rabbi Morgenstern and Boruch that the greatest gift we can give people is to help them see their own potential for greatness and encourage them to reach that potential. Our spouses, our children, our friends and co-workers:  love them, encourage them, compliment them and most of all, believe in them.

And never forget:  believe in yourself and do all it takes to be what you can be!

Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim – Associate Rosh Yeshiva – Passaic Torah Institute – Parsha Toldos – All You Have To Do Is Ask

Have you ever brought an awesome proposal to your boss – one that would make your work easier, the company more efficient and bring in more clients – only to have it REJECTED? You are convinced it’s a winning idea, so you present it again. You lay out all the data, explain the principles behind the changes and believe the chief “gets it.”  And again, you are REJECTED. You’re disappointed, but you try again. Should you now be surprised when he throws you out of his office, saying, “Stop wasting your time and get back to your job. No means NO!”

Our Parsha opens by telling us that Yitzchak and Rivka were extremely persistent people: “Vaye’etar Yitzchok lenochach ishtoh“, “Yitzchok entreated Hashem opposite his wife” (Toldos 25:21). The word vaye’etar is rare, so Rashi defines it: Yitzchak and Rivka kept imploring Hashem, over and over, to grant them a child. This seems to border on being disrespectful and insolent: why keep asking after Hashem has clearly said “NO!”?

Let’s be honest.  This question doesn’t just apply to Yitzchak and Rivka. It applies to the tefillos (prayers) of each and every one of us. We daven three times a day and repeat the same requests over and over- perhaps for a sick person, perhaps for a marriage partner, or perhaps for one’s livelihood.  Why is it okay to ask for the same things over and over; shouldn’t we just make our requests and trust that Hashem has heard them and will do as He wills? I believe the following story (from With All Your Heart by Rabbi Binyomin Pruzansky) will help us understand.

There was a young boy named Dovi who had difficulty keeping up with his class. Dovi tried hard, but his mind would constantly wander; he simply could not follow the reading and discussions. When Dovi’s class started learning Gemara, he was completely lost.  To make matters worse, the boys in his class teased and made fun of him. Finally, the day came when he told his mother he just could not go to school.  After much cajoling, Dovi reluctantly went back to school, continuing to suffer.

One day, the Rebbe asked a question and Dovi uncharacteristically raised his hand to answer. The Rebbe called on him, jumping at the opportunity to build Dovi’s confidence.  To everyone’s surprise, Dovi gave the correct answer.  The next day, his Rebbe noted that Dovi followed along in the Gemara for most of the class.  He was steadily improving. The Rebbe was very pleasantly surprised and he called Dovi’s mother to ask what had led to this wonderful transformation.  

The mother told him, “A few weeks ago, the situation was so bad that Dovi refused to go to school. On that Erev Shabbos, I called Dovi over and suggested that since candle lighting time is an opportune time to daven for Hashem’s help and I was about to light candles, we should daven together that he will merit from Hashem to see the light of Torah in his learning. We davened and cried together.  We did this for a few weeks and, with Hashem’s help, it worked!”

The Gemara in Yevamos 64 explains that the sole reason Hashem created both Yitzchak and Rivka biologically unable to have children, is that Hashem desires the tefillos of the righteous. Rav Shimshon Pincus zt” l explains there is a big difference between asking a person for something and requesting something from Hashem. A person who considers a request and says “no” usually means no.  However, when Hashem does not answer our tefillos for something that is essentially good for us, it’s not because Hashem wants to deny our request.  Rather, it’s to prompt us to ask again. . Hashem wants us to pray to Him and get close to Him, so when we get what we prayed for, we realize that it came from Hashem.

Rav Pincus learns a novel idea from this. The term “masmid” is generally used for someone who sits and studies Torah at every opportunity, with diligence and without interruptions. From the Rashi defining Vaye’etar, we now learn of a new type of “masmid“:  a “masmid” in tefilla!

Hashem does not get annoyed at such a masmid. On the contrary, this is what He wants, that every one of us should be turned to Him at all moments for all of our needs, asking and asking. Our very first request, even before the beginning of Shemoneh Esrei, is: “Hashem sefosai tiftach…” – Hashem, open my lips.  – Hashem, give me the ability to turn to you and pray to you.

Hashem’s door is always open. His appointment book is never full.  We just have to ask and if it’s really important, to keep asking.

Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim – Associate Rosh Yeshiva – Passaic Torah Institute – Parsha Vayera – Choosing Your Academy

Everyone would love to be trained by the best experts, be it in school, college, work, or Yeshiva. People pay top dollar and even intern for free to be trained by the best in their profession. Often that can mean the difference between success and failure in what we do.

After learning about Avraham Avinu, wouldn’t we want him to be our spiritual guide and anchor as we attempt to grow in our closeness to Hashem? The truth is…we can. Looking at a Mishnah in Pirkei Avos, we discover how. “Whoever has the following three traits is among the disciples of our forefather Avraham … a good eye, a humble spirit and a meek soul.” (5:22)

There’s a flipside to the Mishnah: “Those who have an evil eye, an arrogant spirit, and a greedy soul are among the disciples of the wicked Bilaam.” Apparently, the time gap is not an issue and we can join the “academy” of either Avraham Avinu or Bilaam, learning from the qualities of either individual. The Parshiyos of Lech Lecha, Vayeira and Chayei Sarah are replete with lessons we learn from Avraham. Conversely, Parshas Balak is replete with negative lessons that can be learned from Bilaam!

Why are Avraham and Bilaam singled out? What’s the common denominator of the three positive qualities of Avraham and the three negative qualities of Bilaam?

The Maharal explains that both Avraham and Bilaam were founding fathers. Avraham is an acronym for “av hamon goyim,” a father of a multitude of nations (Rashi, Lech Lecha 17:5). Bilaam was also a leader and father of nations. He was the first gentile prophet. However, their ideologies and lifestyles were polar opposites. They represented a distinct fork in the road for a person choosing his direction in life.

The Maharal opens our eyes to the root of the ideologies of these “founding fathers” by examining a seemingly inconsequential detail about both Avraham and Bilaam. The Torah mentions that Avraham and Bilaam rode on a donkey.  However, different Hebrew words for donkey are used in each case. Avraham saddled his chamor – male donkey, while Bilaam saddled his asson – she-donkey. This small difference highlights the basic difference in their ideologies. The root of the word Chamor is the same as the root of Chomer – physical matter/ physicality. The donkey in effect represents physicality.

The Torah is depicting a very fundamental difference in how Avraham and Bilaam related to the physicality of the world. Avraham Rochev al Hachomer; he rode on top of the physical. He showed an ability to harness the physical world as a tool for spiritual growth. Conversely, Bilaam related totally to the physicality of this world, in a very intimate, very attached and deeply connected manner. He even harnessed the spiritual to feed his desire for the physical.

Keeping in mind the Maharal’s analysis, having a “good eye” means using one’s efforts to help others and to be humble and content, instead of seeking to please oneself. To Avraham, that meant setting up a free “bed and breakfast,” housing and feeding all passersby and using that opportunity to nourish their neshamos (souls) as he introduced them to the realization that Hashem is really the One who blessed them with food and housing.

Bilaam was the paradigm of selfishness.  His three motivating qualities–evil eye, arrogant spirit, and greedy soul, are manifestations of the three base negative urges: jealousy, lust, and the pursuit of honor. Bilaam always felt he was missing something and always sought to feed his desires. This exemplifies someone who is interwoven with the physical. He always feels he is lacking and wants more.

We see the end result of their divergent paths when the Torah describes Avraham and Bilaam toward the end of their lives. Avraham died at a good old age, mature, and content and left this world with a multitude of positive accomplishments. Conversely, “Bilaam rose and returned to his place,” lame, blind in one eye and disgraced as a result of his total failure to accomplish anything positive.  

The lesson for us is clear.  Many people would love their children to attend their alma mater, be it yeshiva or university. The Mishnah, however, lists only two academies, Avraham or Bilaam.  Our perspective towards the physical world will determine of whom we are disciples and which academy we are attending and learning from. Let us adopt the warm and giving personality of Avraham and utilize our efforts for true tikun olam– using the physical world for the spiritual development of ourselves and our fellow man. May we merit to be not just children of Avraham, but his disciples as well.

Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim – Associate Rosh Yeshiva – Passaic Torah Institute – Parsha Lech Lecha – GPS Not Required

The Parsha opens with Hashem commanding Avraham Avinu, “Go to the land which I will show you.” The obvious question is: why the vague directive?  Why did Hashem not immediately tell Avraham his exact destination? Rashi quotes the Midrash that it was to give Avraham reward for every step that he took. Yet the question seemingly remains: wouldn’t Avraham still receive reward with every step, just for following Hashem’s command, even if he knew his destination?

Let’s explain with a story.  It was a beautiful morning in the old city of Jerusalem. Rachel Auerbach was leaving her house to pick up some fresh rolls for her children and almost tripped on a basket on her front doorstep.  She looked down and there was a cute little baby sleeping in the basket, with a letter attached.  The letter read, “Dear Mr. and Mrs. Auerbach.  I am a young mother and I have a severe emotional and mental disorder. I am incapable of caring for my child.  You have a reputation of being warm, compassionate and hospitable.  I plead to you to take care of Dovid.  I know you will raise him well.  Thank you.”

The Auerbachs searched for the mother, but no one had a clue who she might be.  They considered the situation and decided to adopt Dovid as one of their own.  Years passed.  Dovid graduated high school.  The Auerbachs felt it was time to let Dovid know the whole story.  Dovid was shocked.  Dovid took the news pretty hard and although the Auerbachs took wonderful care of Dovid, he felt a sense of abandonment.  Dovid’s schoolwork and behavior deteriorated dramatically. As much as the Auerbachs tried to help, nothing seemed to work.  By Elul, his Rosh Yeshiva told him that he needed to “shape up or ship out.” His misbehavior continued, and he was asked to leave the Yeshiva.  The next yeshiva also turned out to be a failure.  He floundered.

Elul came again, and Dovid joined a new yeshiva.  Now he soared, becoming a top student.  The Auerbachs were ecstatic!   What caused the sudden turnaround?  Time went by, and Dovid was about to get married.  The night before the wedding, he sat down with his stepparents and thanked them for raising him.  “I owe you an apology and an explanation,” Dovid said. “I know you are probably still wondering what caused my erratic behavior and the sudden change for the better.  During the month of Elul, I was reciting L’Dovid Hashem Ori and said the pasuk “for my father and mother have abandoned me.”  I began to cry.  I pictured my mother leaving me.  But then I considered the end of the pasuk, “but Hashem has gathered me in.” Suddenly, I was overcome with a tremendous sense of calm.  That was my turning point. I went from feeling unwanted, to feeling incredibly precious and cradled in the hands of Hashem, Who gave me you as my parents!  Feeling Hashem’s presence allowed me to turn my life around.”

Now we can see the answer. If Hashem had told Avraham where to go, he would still have gotten his reward for each step, but by accepting to “go to a land that I will show you,” Avraham walked into the unknown, placing himself completely in Hashem’s hands. We can now better understand why Hashem elaborated, “from your land, and from your birthplace and from your father’s house.”  Avraham was abandoned by his parents spiritually and now he was leaving any connection with them. “For my father and mother have abandoned me, but Hashem has taken me in.”

One of the most unsettling feelings in life is not knowing what will take place in the future.  We make plans but we never know what will actually happen.  Leave early to work and there is major traffic that makes you late. Go to sleep early to be well rested for the next day, and your child wakes you up in middle of the night.

We constantly live in a state of uncertainty – “To the land that I will show you.” There are two ways to handle this. We can get anxious, over-plan and be upset when plans sometime don’t work out…OR we can put our total trust in the hands of Hashem and feel secure that Hashem is leading us in the proper direction.  Which approach do you think will give you a true sense of calm?

This week’s Parsha helps us walk in Avraham’s ways, teaching us that Hashem is always leading us in the way that is best for us. We needn’t worry because every step we take is with Hashem’s guidance. Google Maps and Waze are useful tools, but Hashem is our ultimate Guide!