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October 25, 2016 / 23 Tishri, 5777

Posts Tagged ‘chesed’

Thoughts On Hurricane Sandy

Friday, November 23rd, 2012

The following is a revised version of the speech Rabbi Rackovsky gave in his shul on November 10, Shabbos Parshas Chayei Sarah

Usually, when I begin a speech, I start with something interesting, lighthearted or funny – to get your attention and lead into the speech itself. Permit me to deviate from that this week, because there is nothing funny, lighthearted or interesting about what so many of us are experiencing, and if not us, than our friends, loved ones and neighbors, and if not them, than people a few miles away from us in Long Beach or Far Rockaway who have lost everything to 14 foot waves, or a little farther away where helpless Senior Citizens are living without water or power in high rises on the Lower East Side. The scope of the utter devastation, the loss of so much – property, money and memories – is too much to comprehend. So what is there to say when perhaps it is more appropriate to say nothing? I’ve been struggling with this for the past few days, so permit me to share some of what I’ve been thinking of that may give us a framework. I hope my words will be accepted, and apologize in advance if they are somehow simplistic, insensitive or inappropriate.

This morning, we read the incident of the Shunamite woman’s encounter with the remarkable prophet Elisha. On his way back from saving the family of the wife of one of the prophets, who was in danger of having her children taken into slavery by creditors, Elisha stopped in Shunam at the home of a self effacing woman who was so desirous of such an illustrious guest that she built an addition onto her home so he could rest there on a regular basis, and that is what he did.

On this particular trip, Elisha asked his assistant, Geichazi, to find out what this woman wanted. Geichazi perceived that she had no children so Elisha promised her that within a year, she would be hugging a child of her own. That is what happened. Then the Navi tells us that some time later, that child began to feel sick, and in his mother’s lap, he passed away. She lay him down and then sent for a young man and a donkey so that she could go to Elisha.

Her husband was surprised – after all, it was not a time that one would normally go to visit a prophet, but she said, “Good bye, I’m going.” The Haftorah ends with the child being resurrected by Elisha, but that is only in one tradition. If you look in your Chumash, there is another custom, that of Sephardim, Yekkies (German communities) and Chabad Chassidim. In their mesorah, they end the Haftorah reading when the Shunamite woman leaves to see Elisha.

I can understand the former custom, the one we adhere to here and in many other congregations. It brings the narrative to a satisfying resolution; a woman faced with the tragic loss of her only child is given that child back. But what is the meaning of the second custom? Why end there, right in the middle of the story?

My friend and colleague Rabbi Daniel Yolkut of Pittsburgh suggested that that is precisely the point of the pause. When we read biblical narratives, we know how they end. We know that Yitzchak, in the end is saved from the Akeidah, we know that Korach and his followers were all swallowed up by the earth, and we know that the Jewish people are saved from Haman. But we only know that because we have the benefit of hindsight, where we are privy to the entire narrative. But to really understand what the protagonists are feeling, we need to put ourselves in their place, and understand that to them, the narrative was far from over. The Shunamite woman was grasping at straws, and she had no idea how the story would end, whether Elisha would be able to help her at all during her darkest moments, but she turned to something and someone greater than her for help. It is in this unfinished ending, and where it leaves off, that we can learn some powerful lessons.

Rabbi Ariel Rackovsky

The Anonymous Eliezer: A Tribute to Zev Wolfson, Z”L

Wednesday, November 7th, 2012

“And the servant said to him…” (Genesis 24:5).

The biblical portion of Chayei Sarah comprises two chapters in the Book of Genesis. The first (chapter 23) deals with the death and burial of Sarah and the second (chapter 24) deals with the selection of a suitable wife for Isaac.

The connection between these two themes is indubitably clear: with the loss of his beloved life’s partner, a bereft Abraham understood both the tremendous significance of the role played by Sarah in his life as well as the awesome responsibility that lay before him to find such a suitable mate for his heir to the covenant, Isaac.

For this formidable and momentous task he chooses Eliezer, “his trusted servant, the wise elder of his household, who controlled all that was his” (Genesis 24:2).

The choice of Eliezer was indeed an excellent one. Eliezer demonstrated great skill in understanding what was primarily required for the wife of Isaac.

He understood she must be a member of the Abrahamic family and not be dwelling among the accursed Canaanites. He further understood the young woman had to be willing to live with Isaac in Abraham’s domain rather than removing Isaac to the home of her family – in other words, Rebecca had to come under the influence of Abraham.

Most of all, he understood the young woman had to have the character of Abrahamic hospitality, to the extent that she would not only draw water from the well for him (the messenger) but also for his camels.

And of course he needed to arrange for the young woman to take the journey to Isaac and live her life in the land of Israel under the tent of Abraham.

All of this Eliezer executed with wisdom, tact and sensitive understanding. He arranged a shidduch that would determine the destiny of God’s covenantal nation. Indeed, the Bible itself bears testimony that Eliezer set out for his mission “with all the bounty [goodness] of his master in his hand” (Ibid 24:10).

Rashi takes this to mean that Abraham gave Eliezer an open check; he would pay any price for the right wife for Isaac. Rav Moshe Besdin gives the verse a very different thrust: all the bounty and goodness that had been accumulated by Abraham was now placed in the hands of his most trusted servant since the future of Abraham was dependant upon Isaac, his heir apparent, and the future of Isaac was dependent upon the wife he would marry.

Strangely, throughout this lengthy biblical tale the name Eliezer is not mentioned. He is referred to as “the servant” (eved) ten times and as “the personage” (ish) seven times – but never once by his name, Eliezer. Would one not think that such an important individual entrusted with such a significant mission was deserving of having his name in lights for everyone to see and remember?

I believe this is exactly the point of the biblical record. Eliezer the individual has been completely overwhelmed by the enormity of this task: he is the servantof Abraham, committed to performing the one act which will determine the continuity of the Abrahamic vision; in this sense it is similar to the biblical description “and Moses the servant of the Lord died there in the land of Moab….” (Deuteronomy 34: 5). In fact, the Midrash even suggests that Eliezer had a daughter of marriageable age whom he had always expected would marry Isaac, giving him grandchildren who would inherit the Abrahamic dream and wealth.

Eliezer forgets any of his personal ambitions or goals; he is the consummate servant of Abraham, using all of his innate wisdom and ingenuity in order to carry out the will of his master Abraham.

To be sure, Eliezer in his own right was a magnificent personage of rare ability. In this fashion the Bible declares, “And this is the blessing that Moses the personage (ish) of God bestowed upon the children of Israel before his death” (Deut. 33:1). But Moses utilized all of his spiritual and intellectual prowess in the service of his Master, the Lord God of Universe. And just as Moses was an eved and ish at the same time, with his individual personality having been totally given over to God’s will, so was Eliezer an ish and eved at the same time.

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin

So Many ‘Things’: A Personal Account of Hurricane Sandy

Wednesday, November 7th, 2012

There it was, a backyard full of my basement furniture, and bags and bags of waterlogged papers. There is something very humbling about seeing your “things” laid out on the grass. Of course, my home in Manhattan Beach, Brooklyn, is just one of many in the region devastated by Hurricane Sandy. But since possessions are by definition personal, it gives one no comfort to know others have the same problem.

In my case this is just the beginning, because the water that flooded my house rose above the basement and came up to the first floor, causing major damage. So over the next few days my daily living items will also be making their way outside.

As I stood on my porch, many thoughts came to mind. Leaving aside the enormity of what I have to deal with, I couldn’t help but think of how much we accumulate over the course of years. I am not by any means a hoarder – but I was quite surprised to see how much I had saved. Whose lock of hair is that in the water-soaked bag? My sons are in their forties with children of their own, but I guess I couldn’t part with that little lock from a long-ago upsherin. Now I would have to.

The table and chairs sitting outside were connected to a chesed I had done a while back. Actually, it was only the first part of the chesed. That probably is why we are told that if one starts a mitzvah, one has to finish it. I will not be able to finish that one.

I suppose some of the things in the basement were junk, but so many others were dear to me. There was the set of my father’s machzorim with larger print for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur that my mother gave me after my father died, with a beautiful inscription that only my mother was capable of writing. I still remember what she wrote, and that will have to be the memory I hold onto now that I can no longer hold those machzorim.

As I stood there, another memory came to me. It was about thirty-three years ago that my dear Aunt Sylvia died, and while my mother sat shiva it fell to me to empty out Aunt Sylvia’s small apartment. Everything Aunt Sylvia owned was in those two and a half rooms. And there I was trying to figure out what was valuable and what was not. Then again, valuable to whom?

I picked some things I thought my mother and my sister would like and I took some of the things that had special meaning to me. Much of the rest I discarded. But it wasn’t easy. I was crying as I worked on it. And when I was finished I promised myself I wouldn’t save so many things. Now, all these years later, I ask myself how it is that I indeed saved so very many things.

I think the answer is that while we live, different things have meanings to each of us. I saved the little card my son Zevie made for me when he was three years old in nursery school because I never could forget the joy on his face when he presented it to me.

I saved my children’s report cards, from first grade on, even those of the daughters who are now grandmothers themselves because – well, just because. I saved some of the birthday cards my parents gave me over the years because, as I mentioned above, my mother had such a wonderful way with words. And the list goes on and on.

My husband’s medical school diploma and other items related to his medical achievements were in the basement along with some of his other things. In a strange way I would feel a sense of comfort in touching them. It will soon be his second yahrzeit, and I miss him very much.

My eyes filled with tears as I stared at what was in those clear garbage bags, but then I quickly admonished myself. How could I tear up over “things” when I have my life and my health? But I stopped beating myself up about it almost as soon as I started.

Naomi Klass Mauer

When All Else Fails, Play Gin Rummy

Sunday, November 4th, 2012

He recognized me before I recognized him. We were in Yerushalayim on different sides of the street. He was six foot two waving and yelling my name. “Noach, Noach, Noach Schwartz, the social worker! It’s me Yechiel Klein! Don’t you remember me?” He was wearing a hat, white shirt and suit and looked like a regular bochur from the Mir or Brisk. He did not look like the Yechiel I had met ten years earlier at a clinic in Boro Park.

I was the new clinician, right out of school, at my first job. I had so much to learn, no experience and no time. It was on the job training. I was still trying to make heads and tails out of goals and objectives when my supervisor explained that my goal was not to get fired and my objective was to finish my notes daily in order not to get fired.

On a cold January afternoon, an angry couple in their late fifties came in for an intake. They had with them a 15-year-old teenage boy who looked like he was nine. He looked bored with this whole thing. They told me that they were here because Yechiel’s yeshiva was threatening him with expulsion. They painted a picture of a defiant teenager who missed classes often, and was caught smoking, stealing and hanging out with the wrong crowd. His father, a rabbi, told me that until six months before Yechiel was at the top of his class both in Limudai Kodesh and Limudai Chol. He told me he gave up on him and it was now my job to find out what was bothering his son and to fix it. Thank you.

I prepared for my first session with Yechiel and thought I had a good plan. I would tell the kid that I too had been a troublemaker in high school and had also been threatened many times with suspension and look at me now. I figured that Yechiel would relate to me, and change immediately – because I told him to. He would become an A student. His parents would send me a big mishloach manos, the yeshiva would write a letter to my boss, I would not have to write notes and Schwartz would be the greatest psychotherapist since Freud.

I awoke from my dreams pretty quickly. Yechiel did not talk. Our sessions were forty-five minutes of silence. It was brutal. At first I talked, but even people like me get tired of hearing themselves talk. By week five our sessions were limited to games of gin rummy. It was extremely difficult writing notes on silent sessions. However, the kid was a good gin player. I could not win a single round. One day, out of desperation, I told him he should play gin rummy with his mom, and beat her too.

He then told me his mom was dead. He began to talk. He said the lady that came with his dad for the intake was his father’s new wife. He told me she slept in his mom’s bed. Gin!

Yechiel told me his mom died of cancer. She came to his bar mitzvah and then passed away. Slowly, he told me the story of her life and her death. He told me that he had six older siblings – all married. He told me that his mom loved him, because she told him so three days before the levaya. He told me that his mom was dead for eleven months when his father remarried. Gin!

He told me he did well in school through out his mom’s illness and even after the aveilus. He told me he davened for the amud daily in yeshiva and never missed a kadish. Gin!

Yechiel said his father’s second marriage was more devastating to him than his mom’s death. The pain of his mother being gone, and his father having a new roommate was just too much for him to handle. He told me he was trying alcohol and drugs and skipping school. He said he had a morbid joy witnessing the pain of his father and stepmother. He said he had a fantasy that his father would divorce his wife in order to prevent Yechiel from going completely off the derech. Gin!

Noach Schwartz

Keep Up The Good Work

Friday, November 2nd, 2012

Dear Dr. Yael:

I feel extremely guilty about my elderly father and am filled with anger toward my sisters and brothers in regards to his care.

First the latter: My five siblings give me, the youngest child and one of three daughters, little help in caring for our father, instead they provide me with constant advice and criticism. Unfortunately I am the only one who takes care him (I visit every day); my father lives near me and has a full-time attendant. Some of my siblings live nearby and others further away, but they only visit him occasionally – and basically expect me to do everything.

My three brothers feel that as sons, they are obligated to do less. My two sisters claim that they are busy with their married children. Well, I also have married children but somehow find the time for our elderly father. One of the things that angers me is the remarks they make. For example, they’ll say that since I was his favorite child, I am the one obligated to care for him. As our parents were wonderful to all of us, I cannot understand how they can turn their backs on him now – just when he needs us most.

At the same time, I feel guilty that I don’t do more for him. My father complains a lot, causing me to sometimes become angry with him. I find it hard to spend a lot of time with him, although I visit every day, take him to doctors, cook his favorite foods, and make sure he has everything he needs.

I need your advice on how to deal with my anger toward my siblings and guilt about my father.

Angry and Guilty

Dear Angry and Guilty:

It is amazing that one father is able to care for six children, but six children cannot care for one father.

I am impressed by your devotion to your father and your adherence to the mitzvah of kibud av. What I would suggest is that in dealing with your father’s complaining try to validate his feelings. You may find that this helps decrease his complaining. Often when people complain, the natural response from the person forced to listen is to say, “It is not so bad, so stop complaining.” This usually makes them complain more. Saying to your father, “I know how you must feel; it is not easy to feel that way,” may make him realize that he’s being heard and understood. As a result, he may complain less.

With respect to your siblings, you should confront them in a nice manner. At a minimum, you will feel better having told them how upset you are and why. They may be rationalizing to themselves that you enjoy having all of the responsibility.

Use the “I feel” message, as others are usually less defensive when confronted with that strategy. Say something like, “I know that you all have busy lives, Baruch Hashem, and you probably do not realize that I feel I end up having to take care of most of Daddy’s needs. Let’s make a schedule whereby everyone can chip in, so that none of us feels overwhelmed.” If they don’t increase their involvement in your father’s care, at least make it clear that you feel bad when you receive their advice and criticism, especially when you are the one handling most of the heavy lifting. Unfortunately, it is generally the one who does the most who winds up receiving the most criticism. But please take solace in the sechar that you are receiving for honoring your father.

If you validate your father’s feelings and he continues to complain, validate your own feelings. This does not mean that you should limit your visiting time with him and beat yourself up for sometimes feeling annoyed and frustrated. Remember that taking care of an older person is very difficult, as he or she often does not feel well and thus may be more critical and irritable. With this in mind, let yourself off the hook when you are feeling upset.

While it is certainly important to treat your father with loving care and not show him your annoyance in any way, if you sometimes feel that way (which is only normal), do something nice for yourself instead of feeling guilty. Also, remember two things: your reward may not be evident in this world, and your children will probably accord you the same respect that you are demonstrating to your father.

Dr. Yael Respler

The Uniqueness Of Modern Orthodoxy (Part I)

Friday, October 12th, 2012

Question: What is unique about Modern Orthodoxy?

Answer: In the Middle Ages, theologians analyzed Judaism to assess its essential nature. Their concern was to locate a component that, if missing, would render Judaism something other than Judaism. A modern example of such an inquiry would be to seek the essential component of a car. A car without air conditioning or a radio is still a car. A vehicle without a motor, however, is not.

What is the essential component of Modern Orthodoxy? Some have suggested chesed. But chesed is not unique to Modern Orthodoxy. Many Jews and non-Jews consider kindness essential to their way of life. Anyone hospitalized in New York City will attest to the wonderful service of Satmar women who provide kosher food to patients free of charge. I still recall one woman who travelled with two different busses for over an hour each way to bring kosher food to my wife.

If not chesed, then, what makes Modern Orthodoxy different than other streams of Orthodoxy?

First, we must narrow down the possibilities. It is well known that we say a berachah upon meeting a great scholar in worldly wisdom. HaRav Yitzchok Hutner, zt”l, however, argued that we don’t say this berachah if the great scholar is a Jew (Pachad Yitzchok, V’Zot Chanukah, 9:2 and 9:5). One only says a berachah over a Jew who possesses Torah knowledge, not a Jew who wins the Nobel Prize in chemistry, for example. Conversely, one does not make a berachah over a non-Jew who possesses tremendous Torah knowledge.

Rav Hutner argued that this is implicit in the wording of the Shulchan Aruch, which list two separate halachos: that we say one berachah over a non-Jewish scholar with worldly wisdom and another berachah over a Jewish scholar. The two berachos are “Blessed are You…who has given of His wisdom to those who fear Him” and “Blessed are You…who has given of His wisdom to human beings.” The two berachos are separate and should not be confused. One only makes a berachah over a Jew with Torah knowledge and only over a non-Jew with worldly knowledge.

Why? In regards to berachot, there is a guiding principle of ikar and tafel (essential and secondary). For example, one only recites a blessing over spices if the spices were originally designated to provide fragrance – their main purpose. If the spices, however, were designated for another purpose, one would not recite a berachah over them even if one enjoyed their fragrance.

So too, contends Rav Hutner, in regards to the blessings over scholars. The prime purpose of a Jew is to learn Torah. This is the goal of his existence. Everything else, including secular scholarship or scientific knowledge, is of secondary value to the Jewish soul. It may be important. It may even be vital to life, but it is still secondary to Torah. As such, one only recites a berachah over a Jew who excels in his primary role – Torah. So too with non-Jews. One does not say a berachah over him if he is an expert in Torah because Torah is not his primary role in life.

Getting back to Modern Orthodoxy: Since Torah is the distinctive character of a Jew, the uniqueness of Modern Orthodoxy must lie in Torah. We then must reformulate our original question. What makes the Torah of Modern Orthodoxy uniquely different from the Torah of the yeshiva or chassidic world?

(To be continued)

Rabbi J. Simcha Cohen

Our Holy Visitors

Tuesday, September 25th, 2012

Sukkos comes to us as a beautifully wrapped gift from Hashem, right when we can use some pampering. Having just completed an exhaustive round of appeals to our Father in heaven to forgive our iniquities and grant us yet another chance to prove ourselves worthy of His beneficence and mercy, we emerge as newborns – clean and pure and free of the stain of sin.

An infant upon birth is immediately swaddled in blankets to protect it from the sudden change in temperature of its new confines. At the conclusion of Yom Kippur we are forgiven our transgressions and likened to a newborn; hence Hashem protects us with the sukkah, shielding our newly acquired holiness from becoming sullied by the vulgarities that surround us.

How apropos to celebrate a new beginning by inviting our elite leaders, our role models from time immemorial, to join us in the Sukkah. Enter the Ushpizin (Aramaic for guests) – the seven holy shepherds who blazed the trails for us to walk in, whose merits we invoke for our benefit at every turn in life.

The luminaries that comprise the Ushpizin are Avraham, Yitzchak, Yaakov, Moshe, Aharon, Yosef and Dovid, each representing one of Hashem’s divine attributes and each possessing a spiritual essence uniquely his own, along with the combined middos – the character traits – of them all.

Avraham Avinu represents the divine attribute of chesed (kindness) and is the epitome of the perfect host. He has served as our model for the mitzvah of hachnassas orchim ever since he invited the angels to “sit under the tree.”

According to a fascinating midrash, it is as a result of this gesture that Avraham’s children were rewarded with the mitzvah of sukkah. Shedding light on the correlation, the Zohar teaches that Avraham Avinu’s intent when inviting the malachim to rest beneath the tree was to teach his guests (the angels disguised as mortals) that one is to place Hashem before him always. The seven days during which we are commanded to sit in the sukkah correspond to the human lifespan of seventy years – during which time our every act and deed, physical or spiritual in nature, is to be done l’shem shamayim, for the sake of heaven. (Alshich HaKadosh)

Yitzchak Avinu represents the divine attribute of gevurah (strength). Who can possibly begin to fathom the remarkable strength of a young man who had allowed himself to be bound by his father, in readiness to be offered as sacrificial lamb to God per divine instruction? Their complete submission to the will of Hashem attests to both father’s and son’s unerring faith in their Creator. Their actions have spoken for all eternity and have achieved atonement for our weaknesses and failings time and time again.

Yaakov Avinu is aptly accredited with the divine attribute of tiferes (beauty). By integrating the qualities of his father (gevurah) and his grandfather (chesed), Yaakov managed to achieve the perfect blend of character traits to qualify him as progenitor of the twelve tribes of Israel.

Following Yaakov’s defeat of Eisav’s ministering angel, Hashem named him Yisrael – which contains the words yashar (straight, upright) and Kel (one of God’s names), thus validating Yaakov’s uprightness in his service of Hashem.

Moshe Rabbeinu, whose legacy lives on in teachers of Torah throughout the generations, personifies the divine attribute of netzach (eternity). The mere mention of Moshe Rabbeinu invokes the trait of humility. Yet if he was truly “more humble than any man on earth,” how is it that he did not have an issue with being summoned to ascend to the top of Mount Sinai to accept the Torah as an intermediary between God and the Jewish nation? Shouldn’t he have protested “Who am I to go…?” as he did when Hashem told him to approach Pharaoh?

Moshe knew Hashem had chosen the smallest mount for Mattan Torah and rationalized that it was fitting for him, as the smallest Jew, to be mekabel the Torah on the smallest mount. (Kedushas Levi)

Aharon HaKohen, bestowed with the majesty of the kehunah by the Almighty Himself, represents the divine attribute of hod (glory). The role of kohen gadol was most suitable for Aharon, whose love for his fellow man was legendary. He was close to the people and genuinely took their troubles to heart. As one who took upon himself the tza’ar of Klal Yisrael and constantly prayed that their burdens be lightened, he was the perfect candidate to wear on his heart the choshen – the breastplate that depicted the twelve tribes of Israel via precious gemstones set upon the woven square. (Be’er Mayim Chaim)

Rachel Weiss

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