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November 24, 2014 / 2 Kislev, 5775
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘Kohen Gadol’

Torah Lengthens Life

Friday, September 28th, 2012

Chazal tell us that Torah is our life and the length of our days. Here is a story that proves this statement quite literally.

In Yerushalayim there lived a family in which all the children passed away at an early age. Everything possible was done to protect the children from illness and the slightest danger, however, it was to no avail. Not one child lived past the age of 18.

The family finally appealed to Rabi Yochanan:

“Please help us, help us to have children who will live to an old age like all normal children.”

Rabi Yochanan responded: “It is possible that you are descendants of Eli Kohen Gadol, whose family was cursed with death before old age. There is only one possible method of help. You must study Torah and make sure that your children study Torah. This is the only assurance of life, as it says: ‘For it is your life and the length of your days.’”

The family heard the words of Rabi Yochanan and all of the members began to study Torah day and night. Baruch Hashem, things changed and their children began living.

Overjoyed, the family met to discuss how to repay Rabi Yochanan.

“What can we give the great Rabi Yochanan for giving us this great lifesaving advice? We know that he will not accept money as he lives simply and is satisfied with what he has. Let us, therefore, repay him by naming our children after him.”

And that is exactly what they did, so much so that they eventually came to be known as the Family of Yochanan.

Rachel, Wife of Rabi Akiva

How often does a wife have the dominant influence over her husband, helping to guide him along the correct path? One woman who did was Rachel, daughter of Kalba Savua, the wife of the great Rabi Akiva.

In Yerushalayim there once lived a very wealthy man by the name of Kalba Savua. He not only possessed great riches, but was also honored greatly by the Jews of his time for he took part in all communal affairs. He had been blessed with a daughter, Rachel, who had great beauty and wisdom.

All the important families in Yerushalayim admired her and wanted her for their sons. They offered a great deal – all that any young maiden could desire. Rachel, however, was persistent in her refusal.

“Wealth is false and mere family lineage is vanity; what is truly important is to find a man who is truthful and of high moral character and principles,” she would say.

Days went by and Rachel continued to refuse the tempting offers of the wealthy families, looking instead for the one person who filled the requirements she considered important.

Her father owned vast numbers of sheep and cattle and Rachel was used to going out in the fields and looking over her father’s property. One time, as she walked she met one of the shepherds. Over time they got to know each other and Rachel was sure that this was the man she wanted to marry.

His name was Akiva the son of Yosef, and he was possessed of wonderful character and moral traits. Unfortunately, he had never been given the opportunity to learn and so he remained woefully ignorant of the Holy Torah. He promised Rachel, however, that if they married he would go and study Torah.

Rachel approached her father: “Father, I have found the man whom I desire to marry and I wish your blessings.”

When Kalba Savua heard these words he was overjoyed.

“I am very happy for you. Who is the man that is to be your future husband?”

“His name is Akiva Ben Yosef, and he is a shepherd who takes care of some of your flocks.”

Kalba Savua turned pale.

“What? I can hardly believe my ears. Do you mean to say that you have refused the hands of so many worthy young men and want to marry an ignorant and worthless shepherd? Stop talking such nonsense and put the thoughts out of your mind lest you bring shame down upon your head and upon that of your family.”

But Rachel only shook her head and said: “No, I have made up my mind and I intend to marry Akiva.”

Nicholas Tries To Russify The Jews

Friday, May 18th, 2012

In the 19th century, the heart of European Jewry – its centers of Torah learning, its crown of glory – was centered in the vast expanse of the Russian Empire. There, under the hand of the czars, lived millions of Jews – poor in material wealth but blessed with a love of Torah and a dedication to their faith that was unshakeable.

Czar Nicholas I, the evil tyrant who ruled over Russia and who instituted the infamous forced draft of Jewish children of eight and nine years old, was determined to Russify the stubborn Jews and to convert them to Russian Orthodoxy.

Seeing that his drafting of the children was failing to accomplish his purpose, the evil monarch now attempted a subtler plan. He would combine force with bribery; he would use both the carrot and the stick. To begin with, he decreed that all Jews who refused to convert must immediately leave such centers as Petersburg and Moscow, no matter what the economic loss involved would be. Those, on the other hand, who did convert, would be free from all restrictions.

Some Jews where not able to withstand the temptation and did, indeed, leave the faith of their fathers. The vast majority, however, scorned the offer and defied the threats. It was then that the czar brought into play another weapon.

The New Schools

The czar and his advisors realized that it was the total dedication Jews had to Torah that kept them firm in their faith. Children in Jewish schools were totally immersed in Jewish learning and free from any alien influence. Perhaps, if some method could be devised, whereby a new type of school – one that would teach Russian culture – could be introduced, the exposure of these children to the general culture would inevitably lead to their Russification and conversion. It was worth a try.

To that end, the czar chose a young German Jewish intellectual, Dr. M. Lilienthal, whose job it would be to travel throughout the towns and cities of the Pale of Settlement where the masses of Jews lived, to explain and persuade the Jews to send their children to the new schools.

Vilna

As his first stop, Lilienthal chose Vilna, known as the “Jerusalem” of Lithuania. Here, he called together the leaders of the community – men of wealth and prestige, and began to explain to them how Jews would benefit from the new schools.

“It is of great importance that the Jewish children attend these schools so they can become literate in the language of the land. In this way, they will become successful businessmen and will be able to meet the outside world in a more prepared manner. We should be thankful to the czar for this wonderful opportunity to teach our children.”

The leaders of Vilna sat in polite silence, not wishing to publicly disagree with the man they knew was the czar’s agent. One of the elderly leaders, however, Reb Chaim Nachman Parnas, could not restrain himself and rose to his feet:

“Worthy doctor, we are indeed impressed with the desire of the czar to raise the educational standards of his subjects. I am puzzled, however, at his reasons for choosing the Jews. There is hardly a Jew who does not, at least, know how to read and write Hebrew. The Russian peasants, however, are almost totally illiterate, not even knowing the alphabet. Surely they are in greater need of culture than we are.”

Lilienthal, seeing Vilna would not be a very successful stopover, nevertheless persisted. He dwelt on the theme that every Jew had an obligation to learn a foreign language and attempted to bolster his argument with proofs from the Bible. In particular, he cited the case of Mordechai.

“Do you remember,” he said, “how the Bible tells us Bigsan and Seresh plotted to kill King Achashveirosh? How was the plot foiled? The Bible tells us Mordechai informed the king, but the Talmud goes deeper. In Megillah (13b) it tells us Bigsan and Seresh were Tarseeim and were speaking in their native tongue. Mordechai, however, being a member of the Sanhedrin knew 70 languages and was able to understand what the plotters were saying.

Achrei Mos/Kedoshim: ‘Going To The In-Laws’

Friday, May 4th, 2012

In sixteenth-century Cracow, there lived a Jew named R’ Isserl. He was a scholar, philanthropist, and a well-respected community leader, who made a fine living manufacturing and selling fine silk. Many member of the Polish nobility were his customers.

Late one Friday morning, a nobleman entered Isserl’s store to make a substantial purchase. He spent a great deal of time picking out various amounts of expensive materials. By the time he had chosen his fabric it was already noon, and the fabric still had to be measured and cut.

Isserl explained to his customer that he did not operate his store past noon on Friday, because he had to prepare for Shabbos. He promised to open his store early on Sunday morning so that they could complete the purchase.

The nobleman became incensed. He was not used to waiting for anything and he surely did not want to wait until Sunday to get his order. He insisted that the order be completed immediately. He reasoned that it would only take another fifteen minutes and Isserl would be netting a tremendous profit on the deal. The nobleman threatened that if he did not get his order immediately he would take his business elsewhere.

Isserl humbly apologized again and insisted that he was not going to change his mind. “In all my years of business I have never deviated from my practice of not working after noon on Friday. I cannot compromise on that now.”

The nobleman stormed out in a huff. The deal was off.

Sometime later Isserl and his wife were granted a son, whom they named Moshe. It was revealed to Isserl that Moshe would become a great Torah leader in the merit of the sacrifice he made for the honor of Shabbos. Indeed, that son became the legendary Rema , the foremost Ashkenazic halachic authority during the past five hundred years.

“G-d spoke to Moshe saying: Speak to the entire assembly of the Children of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for I am holy, Hashem, your G-d. Every man shall revere his mother and his father and you shall safeguard My Shabbos – I am Hashem, your G-d.” (19:1-3)

The Torah juxtaposes the commandments that one reveres his parents and Shabbos observance. Rashi explains that it is to teach us that although one is obligated to honor and respect his parents, that obligation does not supersede one’s obligation to observe Shabbos. If one’s parents instruct him to violate Shabbos he may not obey.

The Chofetz Chaim offers an alternative, extraordinary explanation:

Shabbos is referred to as a bride, and the Jewish people as its groom. If a groom adequately honors and cares for his bride then his father-in-law will take care of him and provide for his needs. Seeing that his daughter is well cared for fills him with joy and he will want to shower his son-in-law and daughter with gifts.

So too, when we honor and glorify Shabbos – the daughter of G-d as it were – He showers us with blessing, as the verse says, “And G-d blessed the seventh day and He sanctified it.” The pasuk juxtaposes fearing one’s parents with the mitzvah of Shabbos to symbolize the idea that in a sense G-d is the “father of the Shabbos Queen” and if we care for His daughter He will provide for us.

The Gemara (Shabbos 118a) states, “Anyone who delights in the Shabbos is given an inheritance without boundaries… Anyone who delights in the Shabbos is granted all the requests of his heart.” All of the delicacies and customary foods that we eat on Shabbos are not extraneous, but are vital components of our Shabbos observance.

What is the meaning behind the concept of Oneg Shabbos (enjoying and “taking delight” in the Shabbos)? If Shabbos is such a holy day, why don’t we spend the day in meditation and prayer, as we do on Yom Kippur? Isn’t indulgence in food and physical enjoyment antithetical to spirituality and holiness?

Rav Shimshon Pincus zt’l explains that there is a fundamental difference between the holiness of Shabbos and the holiness of Yom Kippur. In Parshas Achrei Mos the Torah details the lengthy service that the Kohen Gadol performed throughout Yom Kippur. At the conclusion of its narrative the Torah states, “For on this day He will forgive you, to purify you, from all of your sins, before G-d you shall be purified.” Yom Kippur is a gift that G-d granted us as a means to purify our tainted souls so that we can achieve atonement. In order to express our desire to reconnect with G-d and right the wrongs we have committed, we temporarily forfeit our earthly needs to symbolize our true desire.

Shabbos on the other hand, is not our day. Shabbos is G-d’s day!

The Great Civil War

Wednesday, January 25th, 2012

After the Chasmonaim defeated the Greeks their descendants assumed the throne of Eretz Yisrael and ruled over Bnei Yisrael. In the first years of their reign, they followed the path of Hashem and He was good to them.

The country was prosperous and the wheat grew tall in the fields and the grapes hung heavily on the vines. The rains came as the Almighty had promised, in their proper time, on the eve of the fourth day of the week and the eve of Shabbos. The people were happy and Hashem was happy with them.

In the days of Yannai, however, all this changed. There arose amongst Bnei Yisrael a group known as the Tzeddukim, who rejected the divinity of Torah Sh’Baal Peh and this led to a great split in Klal Yisrael. The story of the beginning of this civil war is told below.

A Great Victory

When King Yannai saw that the land was blessed by Hashem, he said to himself:

“All that I do is blessed with success. I shall now go to war and gain for myself great glory.”

So speaking, he gathered a mighty army and went to war. He succeeded beyond his wildest imaginations and 60 fortified cities with great wealth fell to his soldiers. Returning home in triumph he decided to celebrate with a great feast. Calling the Chachamim to the palace he said to them:

“When our fathers returned from the exile in Bavel they built the Bais Hamikdash again but were so poor that they could eat only humble bitter greens. Now, however, we have been blessed and we are wealthy. No longer must we eat humble foods but we can load our tables with the most delicious of foods and the most expensive of wares.

“I propose, however, that we also eat some of the bitter greens in remembrance of the days of our poverty.”

When the Chachamim heard this they nodded in agreement.

“What you say is good, King Yannai. It is wise that we should remember the days of our poverty now in order that our hearts not become haughty and that we both remember our poor brethren still among us and the fact that all our wealth is dependent upon the bounty of the Almighty, not the strength of our hands.”

The Feast

And so it was agreed to do as the king proposed. On the golden dishes of the royal house there were placed also bitter greens and the people partook of them.

As the celebration moved forward, however, an evil man, one of the Tzeddukim who was jealous of the fact that the Chachamim were held in such high esteem by the king, decided that he would do something to poison the atmosphere.

The man, whose name was Elazar ben Poirah, approached the king and said to him:

“How long will you persist in believing that those Chachamim, the Perushim, are truly your friends and advocates?”

The king looked at him in amazement:

What do you mean? Are you saying that they are secretly my enemies?”

“That is precisely what I am saying,” replied the evil man. “I say that in their mouths they speak peace but in their hearts they secretly despise the king.”

The King Is Fooled

The king was taken in by the scheme of the evil Elazar and he asked him,

“Can you prove the serious charge that you allege?”

“Indeed, I can. Let the king put on his forehead the golden tzitz with the Immutable Name of Hashem on it, the one that can be worn only by the Kohen Gadol. Why cannot you also assume the mantle of the Kohen Gadol? Are you not from the Chashmonaim?

“Do this, and then see if the Chachamim are truly your friends or your secret enemies.”

The king agreed to do as the cunning plotter suggested and when the people saw that he wore the gold tzitz they rose in awe.

Remove It

When the Chachamim saw that Yannai had placed on himself the golden tzitz and that he meant to assume the role of the Kohen Gadol in addition to that of the king, one of them, Yehuda Ben Gedida called out:

“Yannai, the king! It is enough that you wear the crown of the king, remove the crown of the Kohen Gadol.”

The people were shaken and the king was furious.

“What are you saying? Am I not of the seed of the Chasmonaim and were they not descendants of Aharon, the Kohen Gadol?”

“It is true that you are a Kohen,” replied Yehuda Ben Gedida, “but your mother was captured in the wars and she was defiled. You are therefore forbidden to be the Kohen Gadol.

Yannai Kills

Yannai was livid with anger at these words. The evil Elazar, seeing this, approached the king again and said:

The Translation Of The Torah

Monday, January 2nd, 2012

King Ptolemy of Egypt had heard that the Jews possessed the Torah, the five books of Moshe, which contained much wisdom and excellent laws. He desired to have this Torah translated into Greek so that he, too, might learn its contents.

He decided to prepare a wonderful gift for the Jews. He ordered his artisans to fashion: a table of gold, two gold vases, two silver ones and two golden cups. He had exquisite figures carved upon them and had them studded with 5,000 gems of various sizes. The king personally supervised the construction and when it was finished he was very pleased.

The king placed these presents in a chest and he wrote a sealed letter to Elazar Kohen Gadol, which he entrusted to the hands of his loyal servant, Aristeas. The servant arrived in Yerushalayim and delivered to Elazar the presents and the letter, which read as follows: “Ptolemy, King of Egypt, sends to Elazar Kohen Gadol peace! “As I have heard that you Jews possess an excellent law, I therefore beg of you to send me 72 of your wise men who understand the Torah in order that they may translate it for me into the Greek language. In gratitude for your friendly consideration, please accept the gifts that I am sending you with my servant Aristeas.”

The Priest Accepts

When the Kohen Gadol received the letter and presents from Aristeas, he was elated and rejoiced exceedingly. He said to the king’s servant, “I beg of you, please remain here for several days while I choose the 72 wise men who will return with you to Egypt.”

Aristeas remained in Yerushalayim viewing the sights including the avodah in the Beis Hamikdash. He was so impressed that he wrote a long letter to the king describing the scenes. He described the long gowns that the kohanim wore, which covered their bodies down to the ankles. He described the mizbayach upon which the kohanim ascended to offer korbanos, the pure marble that covered the floors and the sparkling spring waters that washed the floors continuously.

Part of the letter read as follows: “The sincerity and zeal of the priests is indescribable. Not a word was spoken as they did their work, realizing that it was holy work. I was privileged to see Elazar Kohen Gadol. His robe was magnificent; its hem was ringed with golden bells that chimed beautiful melodies as he walked. On his chest was the plaque of law, studded with 12 scintillating diamonds encased in solid gold. I was overawed by its majesty and beauty. From there I viewed the city, its walls and fortifications. In every street I found gardens and vineyards and thousands of sheep and cattle roaming the fields. Israel is truly a prosperous nation and a blessed people, dwelling in the protection of their G-d. Lucky are the people who possess such a G-d.”

The Sages Are Chosen

Elazar Kohen Gadol chose 72 of the sages of Yerushalayim and he presented them to the king’s servant and said to him: “Treat the men with respect and grant them whatever they may request of you. After they are through with their translation, let the king not detain them even one day.”

Elazar continued, “If I did not consider the blessings that the translation of the holy Torah can bring to all humanity, I would not permit these Sages to depart from here. My soul is entwined with theirs and only with the greatest of reluctance do we part from each other.”

Greeted By The King

Aristeas and the sages arrived in Alexandria, Egypt. The king and a large multitude of people turned out to greet them. A parade was held in their honor and when they arrived in the king’s palace the king greeted them and gave them his blessing.

“Have you brought the Torah scroll with you?” the king asked.

“Here it is,” they answered.

They took out the sefer Torah that was encased in a golden mantel and was inscribed in golden letters. As they unrolled the parchment, the king noted the beautiful penmanship and the fine texture of the parchment as each part was sewn to each other. He was impressed and awed as he regarded it. He blessed the 72 sages and also the Kohen Gadol and he bowed before them seven times. He clasped the hands of each sage and said: “Today is the happiest day of my life. I will not forget it.”

The Banquet

The king then ordered a magnificent feast to be held in honor of the sages. He invited all the ministers, officials and leaders of the country to participate in the festivities. Because they were strangers the Jewish sages sat apart, for that was the custom in Egypt.

Before the banquet began, one of the sages arose and offered the following prayer:

Shemayah and Avtalyon

Monday, December 5th, 2011

An Unlikely Rise To Greatness

From the descendants of Sancherev, a heathen King of Ashur who attempted to destroy Yerushalayim, arose great teachers in Israel — Shemayah and Avtalyon. At an early age, they became proselytes and devoted their lives to the study of Torah. Eventually they became great scholars. Wher­ever they went, people followed them to hear them expound the living words of Hashem

One day, the Kohen Gadol came out of the Beis HaMikdash and began walking home. When people saw the Kohen Gadol they began following him. Soon a large multitude of people gathered behind him and one of the leaders called out: “Make way and give honor to the crown of priesthood!”

At that moment the Sages, Shemayah and Avtalyon, hap­pened to pass by. Immediately, the entire crowd left the Kohen Gadol and began to follow them. Again the leader’s cry rang out: “Make way and give honor to the crown of Torah!” The people thought more of the Sages than they did of the Kohen Gadol as they pressed close behind them to catch some pearls of wisdom.

 

Kohen Gadol Jealous When the Kohen Gadol saw the way the people honored the Sages, he became envious and angry. He kept his tem­per and ignored the Sages. The Sages, however, greeted the Kohen Gadol

“Greetings to you, Kohen Gadol,” they called out. “Will you be kind enough to give us a blessing?”

Angrily, the Kohen Gadol retorted:  “Let the descendants of our people go in peace and be blessed.”

The people heard this remark and they kept quiet. They realized that the Kohen Gadol was insulting the Sages by re­minding them of their heathen birth.

Shemayah and Avtalyon didn’t feel offended, and in a humble tone replied: “True, let the descendants of our people go and come in peace and be blessed, provided they follow in the footsteps of Aharon Kohen Gadol (who loved peace and pursued peace). But let not the son of Aharon go in peace, if he does not follow in his footsteps and emulate his good traits.”

The Kohen Gadol realized that he had committed a sin by insulting the Sages and he remained silent. The crowd, how­ever, began heaping insults upon the Kohen Gadol, who was forced to retire ignominiously; then they followed the Sages and ac­corded them the greatest honor.

Therefore, our Sages state: “A scholar, although he may be of illegitimate birth, takes precedence over a Kohen Gadol who is an ignoramus.”

 

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Rabi Shimon Ben Gamliel

Pride And Honor Chazal teach that a man should always be gentle and avoid honor and haughtiness. It was because this advice was not followed that a grave dispute arose amongst some of our Sages.

One day, the following mishna was taught in the Acad­emy: When the Prince (nasi) enters, all the people rise and do not resume their seats until he requests them to sit. When the Rosh Sanhedrin enters, the people occupying the two rows of seats facing the entrance rise and remain standing until he takes his seat. When the Chacham enters and remains stand­ing, everyone whom he passes rises until the Sage has taken his seat.

This mishna was taught during the time Rabi Shim­on ben Gamaliel was the nasi, Rabi Natan was the Rosh and Rabi Meir was the Chacham. When Rabi Shimon ben Gamaliel would enter, all the people would arise and remain standing un­til he took his seat. Likewise, the same honor was accorded to Rabi Natan and Rabi Meir.

Rabi Shimon, wanting to increase the prestige and influence of the prince’s office, said: “If all the people arise for all three of us, there is no difference between me and the others, and I would prefer that a distinction should be made to elevate the prince’s office.”

He thereupon issued a decree and enacted the rules laid down in the above mishna. However, he did so in the absence of Rabi Meir and Rabi Natan. They following day, when they entered the academy and saw that the people did not rise for them, they asked for a reason. They were told that Rabi Shimon had issued a decree order­ing these variations.

Rabi Meir became angry and he said to Rabi Natan, “I am the Chacham and you are the Rosh; let us also en­act some rules in our behalf.”

 

Attempt To Trap “What can we do?” asked Rabi Natan.

“Let us ask Rabi Shimon to teach us the Talmudic tract Uktzin. We are well aware that Rabi Shimon is not versed in this tractate and when he will not be able to answer our questions, we will say to him: ‘Who can utter the mighty acts of the Lord?’ (Tehillim 106:2). He who can teach all of His praises. We will then depose him and you will take his place and become Prince and I will take your place.”

The Sword In The Tongue (Readers Respond)

Wednesday, November 17th, 2010

I’ve received an inordinate amount of mail in response to the letters I published two weeks ago regarding onas devarim – painful and abusive language. It seems this problem is prevalent in many circles, among children as well as adults, indicating this is a societal condition that is unfortunately reflective of our culture.

We live in a time in which sarcasm is an acceptable mode of communication, in which people lack sensitivity for the feelings of others and everything is legitimized as long as it brings on “a good laugh.”

I received letters from wives who wrote that they dread going out socially because their husbands seem to take pleasure in putting them down in front of their friends. The ridicule touches upon many aspects of their lives – their cooking, their appearance, their clumsiness on the tennis court, etc. Bottom line – the remarks are very hurtful and these wives have to take it silently lest they be accused of being “poor sports.” They wrote of the devastating effect this has on their marriages and the tranquility of their homes.

The letters also described the sarcastic jibes and cutting remarks wives make regarding husbands, such as “My husband always looks like a shlump – nothing he puts on ever matches”; “He can’t hold a job”; “He snores so loudly the walls rattle and he wakes up the whole house”; “He never remembers my birthday or our anniversary, but if by some miracle he does, you can be sure he will buy me something tasteless, something I have no use for, and then expect me to thank him profusely”; and on and on.

Parents wrote that their children address them in the most disrespectful and reprehensible manner: “You don’t know what you’re talking about!” “Get off my back!” “It’s none of your business!” and other expressions best not repeated in a Jewish publication. All the parents who wrote seemed to agree that seldom do they hear a kind word or an expression of appreciation – but are instead subjected to a barrage of nasty and inflammatory words.

The complaints did not stop there. Teachers and rabbis also wrote in relating their stories. They too feel assaulted by disrespectful language, and, sadly, the opposite also seems to hold true – it appears that teachers and parents can be equally guilty of resorting to offensive, painful language.

Obviously, meanness and sarcasm have become accepted modes of communication, leaving terrible damage in their wake.

I have summarized all this because I cannot possibly publish the many letters and e-mails that crossed my desk, but I am certain you get the picture. It is time for us to do a good housecleaning and learn to speak as Jews should. I will share one heartbreaking letter that, Baruch Hashem, had a good ending – though I must emphasize such endings are the exception rather than the rule.

Dear Rebbetzin Jungreis,

The letter written by the woman who decried the insensitive and cruel manner of communication that has become the norm in our society touched a very painful chord in my heart. If not for the mercy of Hashem, I could be a basket case today or a nasty, angry person as a result of all the suffering I was subjected to by my school, my schoolmates, and, sadly, even my parents.

As I write this letter, I still feel tormented by the many torturous memories that come to mind. Just the same, despite it all, I felt I should write in the hope that others might benefit from my experiences, re-think their words, and, as you wrote, utilize Hashem’s gift of speech discretely.

You pointed out that the tongue is a mighty sword, and therefore Hashem gave us two gates to protect ourselves from its deadly effects – our teeth and our lips so that we might lock those gates and contemplate whether we should allow our tongues to go loose or we should keep them under lock and key. If we could only learn that discipline, we could save many lives including our own. And now to my story:

I was born into a difficult family. My parents never had shalom bayis. They were always shouting and fighting. Although my father had a good profession, he was never successful and that made my mother very angry. We lived in a good neighborhood and she resented that she couldn’t keep up with her friends, shop where they shopped and do the things they did.

As young as I was, I was impacted by all this. I too felt dowdy next to my friends. When we got together socially, they were dressed in the latest – their mothers took them to the best shops while I wore hand-me-downs from my cousin. I felt them looking at me and whispering behind my back. Admittedly, they never said anything directly to me, but I always felt left out and ignored.

Soon, I became a problem child and began to act out, which resulted in my mother screaming even more and slapping me around. I was tagged a “troubled kid,” but the more abuse that was hurled at me, the more of a problem I became. I stopped studying, my grades dropped, and I was forever in the principal’s office. And then one day, the roof caved in – someone in the class was stealing! The principal called a meeting and asked whoever took the items to return them. He added that he didn’t want to put anyone to shame, so the guilty party should just leave the stolen things on the teacher’s desk.

A few days passed and nothing was returned. Once again, the principal made an appeal, but still, nothing was returned. And then my ordeal began. All eyes were cast upon me! Everyone was positive I was the thief – and my life became a living nightmare. Even now, as I write about it, I feel a need to defend myself and to tell you that while I had a lot to grapple with and I may have been a tough kid, in my life I never stole! But now I was labeled a thief by my classmates and by the school administration.

At home I was subjected to further accusations, shouting, screaming, and name-calling. I wanted to die! In fact, very often I contemplated suicide. Then came a letter from the principal asking my parents to find another school for me. Well, that was another nightmare. No school was willing to accept me because as soon as they investigated my past, they closed the doors, so my parents had no option but to enroll me in a school for troubled children.

I hit bottom. I hung out on the street smoking and drinking – one day was worse than the other. I met a boy who had also gone through a similar experience. We connected and hung out together. Someone in the community – a very good woman – reached out to us and invited us for Shabbos. We spent many Shabbosim in her home and then, one day, she asked that we go with her to your class. To be honest, we were reluctant to go, but she had been so kind to us that we couldn’t refuse her.

As you read these words, I am certain you recall us. I remember the first time we met you and you gave us berachos. No one had ever given us a beracha before. You assured us that if we willed it, these berachos could change our lives, heal our scars, and wipe out the bitter past. To this day, I can hear your voice telling us these berachos came straight from the Torah – from Hashem, from Aaron the Kohen Gadol, from our Avos and Emahos, our Patriarchs and Matriarchs, and they have the power to overcome all the craziness of our world. We discovered the many treasures that Hashem gave us and slowly but surely became Torah Jews and decided to get married.

As you know, today we live in a warm Jewish community in New Jersey. We have three wonderful children who go to yeshiva. We would like to come to your classes again, but the distance is too great and we can’t afford baby-sitters, but we never miss watching your classes on the Internet.

I have written this letter because I feel a responsibility to share my story. When I hear of young people falling through the cracks, living shattered broken lives, becoming addicted to the most horrific habits, I say, “Thank You, Hashem, because there, but for Your grace, goes me.”

I hope my story will teach parents, educators, young and old, to be ever so careful with their words because those words can actually destroy a person and the damage they can inflict is incalculable.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/rebbetzins-viewpointrebbetzin-jungreis/the-sword-in-the-tongue-readers-respond-2/2010/11/17/

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