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September 2, 2014 / 7 Elul, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘mitzvah’

The Day Netanyahu Helped an Old Man to Take Out the Trash

Wednesday, December 4th, 2013

The following article was written by Daniel Estrin, published on PRI (Public Radio International) and disseminated by JTA.

Last Saturday, I was pruning some plants on the balcony of my fourth-floor apartment in Jerusalem when I tossed a dead leaf over the ledge and saw Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu standing below.

I was surprised. The prime minister’s official residence is just up the street, but he usually gets around by motorcade. It was the first time I had seen him walking around the block since he took office.

What surprised me more was why he (and his son and about 15 armed guards) had stopped below my building. He was on a Sabbath stroll in the neighborhood, wearing sneakers and a black shirt, and had stopped to help an old man take out the trash.

So the man lives next door, I thought to myself. It was the old man I always see shuffling around the neighborhood with a walker, the tongues of his Velcro shoes sticking up out of place. I always felt sorry, and worried, for him. Once, I helped him cross the street, but I never struck up a conversation.

And there was Netanyahu, chatting with the man for minutes. At one point, Netanyahu asked an aide for a notebook and pen, jotted something down, and pocketed the small piece of paper. [Netanyahu is not Sabbath observant – ed.]

He shook the old man’s hand, and left. And the old man shuffled back to his apartment, alone.

It took a whole week before I finally ran into the old man at the corner convenience store, and introduced myself.

Turns out the old man is not very old at all. Rami Yizraeli is only 69-years-old. A stroke left him barely able to walk, but it left his mind sharp.

Last Saturday, when he looked up to see Netanyahu standing before him, Yizraeli pounced on the unexpected one-on-one with the Israeli leader to share his greatest dream: to memorialize the 1,000 Jews, fighters and civilians, who were killed in Jerusalem in the 1948 Arab-Israeli war that led to the establishment of Israel as a state.

Many of those killed were never memorialized, Yizraeli said. Their names were not properly recorded on memorial plaques, and their families were never given proper compensation, as the Israeli government does with the families of war victims.

Working as a historian for the Ministry of Defense in the 1990s, Yizraeli scoured burial society archives, met with families and, with luck and coincidence, discovered the names of people who had been killed but never properly recorded and remembered. These included the two brothers who had arrived from Canada to fight in the war and the baker who was killed by a bomb while walking in the street. Thanks to Yizraeli’s sleuthing, numerous Israeli families began receiving government compensation.

His dream, he told Netanyahu, was to list those victims, whose names were now known, on a stone that commemorates the war and is displayed — but etched with no names — near Israel’s Supreme Court.

Netanyahu jotted down Yizraeli’s name and phone number on a piece of paper.

“Thank goodness I had remembered my new number,” Yizraeli said. And the very next morning, Netanyahu’s cabinet secretary phoned him, saying the matter was important to the government and that he was interested in implementing Yizraeli’s idea, and that they would be in touch.

His dream may come true — all because of a serendipitous encounter with a prime minister helping him take out the trash.

“My entire life has been about coincidence,” Yizraeli said to me on the bench, and smiled.

The Story Of Chanukah: ‘I Think I Can’

Thursday, December 6th, 2012

Chanukah is just about upon us and Jews across the planet are looking forward to family gatherings, delicious food (you can’t feel too guilty eating oily latkes and high carb donuts on the chag – hey, it’s practically a mitzvah to do so); giving and receiving gifts and in general celebrating our survival – our spiritual continuance as God-fearing Jews. (Our physical survival is an event we acknowledge on Purim.)

Chanukah commemorates two unlikely events – the triumph of the Jews over the Greeks and their pagan culture, and the lasting of a small jar of kosher oil – meant to burn in the Temple menorah just a day – for an extra seven days until more kosher oil could be produced.

Anyone betting on a rag-tag of Jews, led not by a trained warrior, but by a Kohen, a peaceful cleric, to defeat a vastly superior armed Greek forces would have been viewed as crazy.

So too, anyone betting the Temple oil would burn longer than 24 hours.

But, despite the mind-boggling odds of either event happening, the Jews were not deterred and went ahead with their plans. They had faith, both in themselves and in Hashem.

It is said that God helps those who helps themselves. But the person has to take the initiative, that first crucial step.

Many of us are familiar with the popular children’s story of the little engine that takes on an undertaking that bigger, stronger, more “qualified” engines refuse to accept. They are realistic in their refusal to attempt something they feel is extremely difficult, if not impossible to do. They are convinced they will fail, so why bother?

The little engine, however, despite the fact he was not designed to pull a large train, thinks he just might be able to do so. At the very least, he will attempt this formidable challenge. If he doesn’t try, then for sure he won’t succeed.

Fuelled by a positive attitude and great optimism, he is willing to give it his best shot – even if the laws of physics are not in his favour.

There is a life-enhancing lesson here that we should take to heart: Do not let the facts on the ground ever deter you from trying to reach a goal.

It might be amusing for some to discover (like I did) that this message of “going for it,” despite the “facts” staring you in the face, was often brought forth decades ago in the very popular science-fiction series, “Star Trek.” Frequently, the chief engineer of the spaceship exploring the galaxy would be ordered by the captain “to get us out of here.” Depending on the theme of the episode, the spaceship would be in imminent danger of being destroyed by an exploding asteroid; swallowed up by a space monster the size of a planet; about to be blown up to smithereens by alien forces or trapped forever in another dimension – unless it immediately went to warp speed and high-tailed it out of there.

Often the captain would tell the chief engineer that he had several minutes to repair the disabled warp drive. And the chief engineer, in a reproachful voice, would tell the captain that he needed at least a few minutes to do so – that he “couldn’t change the laws of physics.” But he would always try, and he always succeeded.

Of course this was television, and a happy ending was necessary for the show to continue. But the lesson to be gleaned here, as exemplified by the story of Chanukah, is that you can’t let pessimism stop you from taking on a difficult challenge, you can’t admit defeat before you even attempt what seems likely to be futile.

You may be faced with seemingly insurmountable odds: you are an older single; you have a physical handicap; you have learning disabilities; you have kids off the derech; you have severe shalom bayit issues, you have been out of work for a long time. There is no shortage of problems to tackle and goals to achieve. But it is crucial to make the effort to “fix” the situation.

Often multiple attempts to resolve your issues end in failure. You want to give up – no more putting yourself in an uncomfortable, even demeaning situation, like continuing to ask friend and casual acquaintance alike if they can think of a shidduch for you or a job. Or going for marital counselling- again, or for yet another invasive, costly fertility treatment.

Daf Yomi

Thursday, December 6th, 2012

For Whom The Bell Tolls
‘Royal Children May Go Out With Bells’
(Shabbos 66b)

Our mishnah states that princes may go out on Shabbos with ornamental bells on their clothing. Since nobility often wear such bells, the Sages were not concerned that princes would remove them to show their friends and then accidentally carry them in the street.

The Gemara elsewhere states that the Sages prohibited playing musical instruments on Shabbos lest one mistakenly fix them when they break. The Rema (Orach Chayim 338:1) rules that included in this prohibition, referred to as hashma’as kol, is the use of any device which is designed to make noise, such as a door knocker.

Noise, Melody, Or Ornament

The Shiltei Gibborim (to the Rif on 30b, also cited by Rema, O.C. 301:23) comments that a person may not wear bells on his clothing unless the clappers are removed because bells are designed to make noise. The Magen Avraham (O.C. 301:35) distinguishes between children and adults. He asserts that the Shiltei Gibborim only requires the removal of clappers from bells on children’s clothing because children shake bells to produce a melodious sound. Adults, however, who are not interested in the sound of bells and only wear them for ornamental purposes, are permitted to wear them with their clappers.

Eliyahu Rabba (O.C. ad loc. and cited by Biur Halacha ad loc.) takes issue with the Magen Avraham’s leniency, and asserts that regardless of intent, one may not produce sounds with a bell because it is an instrument that is designed to make a melodious sound.

The Taz (O.C. 338:1, Y.D. 282:2) maintains that bells attached to a paroches or crown of a sefer Torah must have their clappers removed since the intent of those bells is to produce noise to signal to the congregation to rise when the Aron Hakodesh is opened and when the sefer Torah is carried.

The Magen Avraham (ad loc. sk5), however, claims there is no need to remove the clappers since these bells are not made with the intent to emit a melodious sound, and the individual who opens the Aron Hakodesh does not have any intention to shake the bells and make noise.

Mitzvah Purposes

The Shach (Y.D. 282 sk4, citing Rabbenu Manoach found in the Beis Yosef’s commentary to the Tur, Y.D. ad loc. s.v. “e’kasav”) also permits carrying a sefer Torah with bells and clappers on Shabbos, but on different grounds. He states that the rabbinic issur against making music was lifted for mitzvah purposes. The bells on a sefer Torah serve an important function, that is, to signal to all that the sefer Torah is passing by and that all should rise in its honor. Rabbenu Manoach derives this from R. Yosef (Kiddushin 31b) who, when he heard the footsteps of his mother, would say “Let me rise before the Shechina.”

The Mishnah Berurah (O.C. 338:6) rules that one should conduct himself in accordance with the Taz and remove the clappers from the bells of sifrei Torah before Shabbos or stuff the bells with cotton. However, if for some reason this is not possible, or one forgot to do so, the Mishnah Berurah rules that we may rely on the lenient view.

Let Us See What People Do

The Shulchan Aruch Harav (O.C. 338:1) and Aruch Hashulchan (ad loc. sk3) maintain there is no problem and no need to act stringently. To the contrary, they say. An important purpose is served by these bells – that is, they signal to the members of the congregation that a sefer Torah is being carried. They therefore know to stand up and show honor to it. The Aruch Hashulchan states that leaving the clappers in the bells is the common custom throughout the world.

Q & A: The Sandak (Part VI)

Thursday, December 6th, 2012

Question: I was at a brit where the father and grandfather of the boy argued over who should be sandak. The grandfather had served as sandak once before, but he persisted and, as they say, “might makes right.” I am curious as to your view on this matter.

M. Renkin
(Via E-Mail)

Answer: The Midrash (Tehillim pg. 723) contains the term “sandikus,” a Greek word meaning “companion of child” or “advocate.” Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech Spira of Dinov explains that sandak is an acronym of “sanegor na’aseh din kategor – the defense emerges victorious vis-à-vis the prosecutor,” referring to the brit’s function as a protection from Satan.

The Rema (Yoreh De’ah 265:11) writes that the sandak is given the first honor of being called up to the Torah, even before the mohel. The Rema explains that the sandak is compared to a kohen who offers incense in the Beit Hamikdash. All kohanim wished to benefit from the blessing of the incense, which enriched the one who offered it. Therefore, a lottery was established to assure that all had an equal opportunity to perform it. Similarly, it is customary not to give the role of sandak to someone more than once.

The Shach (Yoreh Deah ad loc. sk 22) clarifies that the Rema does not mean that a person may not serve as sandak more than once. Rather, he should not serve as sandak for more than one boy per family.

The Rema also talks about the honorary role of the kvaterin and kvater, the female and male messengers who bring the baby to the synagogue for the brit.

We quoted Rabbi Ari Enkin’s discussion of sandika’ot in his new sefer, Shu’t HaShulchani. He writes that serving as a sandak enriches one with material wealth, as well as long life full of spiritual wealth. Rabbi Enkin cites several authorities who argue that a person may serve as sandak twice; he states that the custom not to do so certainly does not apply to relatives. In fact, a father shouldn’t hesitate to serve as sandak for all of his children should he so desire. In some communities, the local rabbi is designated as the exclusive sandak for all children.

Rabbi Enkin concludes his discussion by pointing out that the custom of restricting someone from serving as sandak more than once is not found in the Talmud, and therefore is not truly binding.

We then returned to the original question about the dispute over who would serve as sandak. Proverbs (3:17) states, “Deracheha darkei noam vechol netivoteha shalom – Its ways are ways of pleasantness and all its paths are peace.” A mitzvah should bring about pleasantness and peace; if it doesn’t, it has not been fulfilled properly. Therefore, strife over the sandika’ot detracts from the full fulfillment of that mitzvah. The Rema (Yoreh De’ah 265:11) refers to sandika’ot as an actual mitzvah that one should actively pursue.

The Mechaber (supra, Yoreh De’ah 260:1) states that the right to bestow any honor or segment of the mitzvah of brit belongs to the father alone. Thus, a grandfather may not “grab” this honor for himself if it goes against the father’s wishes. Even the mitzvah of kibud av has limits, and a parent is prohibited from insisting on specific honors from his child.

Last week we cited a case discussed by Rabbi Moshe Stern, the Debreciner Rav, zt”l (Responsa Ba’er Moshe vol. 1, 60:9), in which an individual accepted sandika’ot, only to be faced with his father’s strong opposition. Rabbi Stern cites the Knesset Yechezkel (Responsum 35) who rules that a son is not duty-bound to accede to his father’s demands in such a case. The Knesset Hagedolah writes in the name of the Ohr Zarua that if a father tells his son to disregard a mitzvah without offering an explanation, the son should not to listen to him. He cites Tosafot (Bava Metzia 32a sv “d’kavod”) as a source for this ruling.

Rabbi Stern explains that in case of sandika’ot, a father might object because, as the Mechaber states (Yoreh De’ah 257:7), in any situation that involves the assumption of financial responsibilities, a mishap can occur, perhaps leading to false accusations. Rabbi Stern suggests that a father might worry that by his son serving in the capacity of sandak he is taking on some sort of financial responsibility, such as when appointed a guardian for orphans.

The Ever-Amazing Reb Elimelech (Part XV)

Thursday, December 6th, 2012

Reb Elimelech maintained that just for him alone they will have to make a new Gehinnom, for the one that already exists is not adequate enough. He also commented – in his infinite humility – that the reason people come to him and request his assistance with children, health and parnassah is because it is his sins that are responsible for the absence of these blessings.

“I am not afraid of Gehinnom,” he used to say, “For once I know that it was the Holy One and His Heavenly Court that ordered that I descend there, I will jump in joy to fulfill the Heavenly command.”

Still, he did say about himself that he was certain that he would have a small portion in the World to Come. He came to this conclusion, so characteristically, because of how he envisioned the entrance exam. When the Heavenly Court will ask, “Did you learn Torah?” I shall reply, “no.”

When they will ask, “Did you daven?” I will be forced to respond in the negative as well. As to the query, “Did you perform any mitzvos or kind deeds?” honesty will compel me to reply “no” yet again.

At this point they will say, since you have been honest and spoken the truth, you are deserving of a small portion in the World to Come.

Reb Elimelech once went to visit his chassidim in a particular village, and when he departed all of his students escorted the master out of the town. He was riding in a wagon and soon more and more thronged to escort the great tzaddik.

Suddenly someone noticed that the wagon was empty – and Reb Elimelech was walking with the crowd! “Why has the rebbe descended from the wagon?” all wanted to know.

“When I saw,” responded Reb Elimelech, “how such a large group of Jews had joined together with such enthusiasm, I felt that I must also join them in this mitzvah…”

Although intense humility personified Reb Elimelech, he did not believe that this should be exclusively his domain. He maintained that the very root of one’s spiritual service and conduct must be humility, and by this he meant “honest humility,” for the opposite also existed.

There are those who portray themselves as humble and take pride in convincing others that they are humble. Reb Elimelech saw right through this and would call the fakers to task. Feigning humility, while feeling pride, was a cardinal offense to Reb Elimelech, for aside from the inexcusable dishonesty pride is a double-edged evil that leads to divisiveness.

Tradition has it that Reb Elimelech would only sleep in the beginning of the night until midnight. Then he would arise for his devotions, berating himself for having squandered time on sleep. It was also his custom not to retire until every coin that had made it into his home had been distributed to the poor.

Reb Elimelech was actually unable to fall asleep as long as there was a piece of currency – of even the slightest value – within the walls of his home. Whenever he was unable to fall asleep the house would undergo a thorough search for the errant coin. This inspection would encompass the floorboards and every pocket, drawer and surface until the coin was eventually discovered. Only when the money was dispatched to a poor family was the rebbe able to fall asleep.

One night, Reb Elimelech was unable to slumber. The family members searched frantically in any place that a coin might have been overlooked – but they searched in vain. Reb Elimelech proposed that maybe a chassid had arrived in town with money to be distributed but had yet to fulfill his mission.

The custom in those days – when travel was difficult, protracted and expensive – was that if a chassid were to travel to the rebbe, he would bring along with him pieces of paper with the names of the chassidim from that town together with money for pidyon nefesh that was to be handed to the rebbe.

Reb Elimelech suspected that this might be the cause for his inability to slumber. Thus, members of the household began to search all of the inns to see if anyone had recently arrived with pidyon money. Sure enough, someone fit the bill.

A Generation In Need Of Rededication

Wednesday, December 5th, 2012

The strength and numbers of Orthodox Jews in America have never been greater, and yet those of us concerned with Judaism’s future must admit we confront a future no less frightening than the future that was evident to Hannah’s noble sons in Modi’in all those centuries ago.

Then, Jewish ritual and belief was crushed by a dominant Greek culture that had been imposed upon but – let’s be honest – gladly borne by the Jewish populace. As much as we might want to argue otherwise, we must wrestle with the understanding that the majority of the Jews of the Hasmonean Era embraced Greek culture.

While in America there is no military or cultural imposition that demands a compromise of Jewish values or practice, there is no less of an embrace of the larger, secular, non-Jewish culture. The sad fact is we are losing many of our children. To believe otherwise is to willfully place blinders upon our eyes and shackles on our hearts. Anyone who is honest and who works with Orthodox teens – even teens who have received a yeshiva education – knows that too many do not find meaning, fulfillment or purpose in Judaism. They do not feel the beauty of Judaism, or the power of the halachot.

Instead, they chafe against a “lifestyle” they feel is restrictive and complain that being religious simply is not “fun.”

Orthodox Union President Dr. Simcha Katz outlines some examples of the malaise affecting our young people in his Jewish Action (Winter 5773/2012) article, noting how they text on Shabbat and argue that the use of the ubiquitous technology is morally indistinguishable from adults speaking in shul. He identifies an “underground” teen Shabbat culture that even allows for Friday night parties in empty houses or basements; parties organized by text or Tweet and always unsupervised; parties that often involve music and, too often, drugs and alcohol.

Was the threat to Judaism any greater during the Hasmonean Era? Was the pain Judah Maccabee felt when he looked upon his Jewish brethren any more acute than the ache a caring rosh yeshiva feels today? Yet what army do we fight to save Judaism? Where is our enemy?

Our Jewish children seem lost – determinedly so. Rather than the warmth of a small minyan, they feel embraced by their hundreds of Facebook “friends,” seemingly unable to appreciate the power of what having a true friend actually means. Imagine – hundreds of friends. More than a thousand even!

I am nearing retirement age, having lived a good life, and yet I require just the fingers of one hand to count the number of my friends; friends I know, cherish, love and respect. Hundreds of friends? Ridiculous! These are not friends. They are faceless faces; ciphers on an iPad or a smartphone. The relationship is no deeper than the pixels found on the computer monitor. These “friends” offer but a shallow glimmer of what life and relationships should be.

Those pixels shine only outward, never inward. Yet this is what draws our children.

And therein lies the challenge we face if we want to redeem this generation and to bring about a genuine rededication. How do we help our children learn to shine their light inward as well as outward?

Tractate Shabbat teaches that, “It is a mitzvah to place the Chanukah candles outside the door to one’s home, but in times of danger, it is sufficient to place the candles on one’s table [inside].” On its face, this text is a simple directive for a practical matter – the proper place for the menorah to be placed.

Kol Yisrael arevim zeh lazeh – every Jew is responsible for the other. Judaism is, first and foremost, a communal expression. No Jew should live isolated from the rest of his community, nor should he be concerned only with his own existence and survival. Each Jew is obligated to reach out to his fellow Jews. In this regard, placing our menorot on the outside of our houses symbolizes this essential lesson. We bring our light to those who are still in the dark; we seek to enlighten those who have not as yet had the opportunity and privilege to be on the inside. Our light shines outward.

Tevye in the Promised Land, Chapter Twenty-One: Reunion

Sunday, December 2nd, 2012

The journey from Zichron Yaacov to Jaffa took almost three days. For Tevye, it was a chance to see another part of the Land of Israel, the sandy, swamp-infested coastline bordering the Mediterranean Sea. Most of the landscape was barren, with only an occasional settlement along the way. The colonies of Hadera, Kfar Saba, and Petach Tikvah were like oases where the Jews could find a prayer minyan and stock up on supplies. Otherwise, the land lay in abandonment and ruin. Toward the end of the third day, the movement of ships out to sea told them that they were nearing the busy port city of Jaffa. In the distance, they could see the hill overlooking the harbor and the tower of the citadel which had been built during the Crusades. At the outskirts of the city, a new village consisting of rows of wooden houses and tents was being constructed on the beach. Someone said it was called Tel Aviv.

“Are they Jews?” Tevye asked.

“Free thinkers,” one of the winery workers said in a deprecatory tone.

“Free-thinking Jews,” Lishansky, the Zichron work foreman added, out of respect for all pioneers.

“You can’t be free thinking and still be a Jew,” the religious wine worker said.

“You can’t be a Jew without being free thinking,” Lishansky corrected, enjoying a little intellectual debate to pass the monotony of the journey.

“A Jew is obligated to do what God instructs him to do,” Tevye argued.

“That may be true,” Lishansky agreed. “But that in itself is the greatest freedom.”

The clang and pounding of hammering punctuated their talmudic discussion. Stone buildings and wooden frames were being erected along a dirt roadway, which was to become Tel Aviv’s main thoroughfare, Disengof Street. Within a short time, they reached the clustered dwellings of Jaffa, passed Rabbi Kook’s neighborhood, and continued on to the Rothschild wine warehouse. Tired from the journey, Tevye decided to spend the night sleeping between the rows of barrels. For a wine connoisseur like Tevye, he couldn’t have found a better hotel. The mosquitoes were merciless, but after purchasing a wholesale bottle of a vintage red brew, he managed to drift off to sleep. In the morning, Tevye and Goliath said so long to their comrades and kept heading south with the children. As they left the port city, a few settlers from Rishon hopped on the back of the wagon with bundles of food and supplies.

“Thank the Almighty,” Tevye said, “for sending us angels to help guide us on our way.”

“We are only simple Jews,” one of them answered.

“Can there be such a thing?” Tevye asked, in a philosophical mood. “Aren’t we all sons of the King?”

Moishe climbed into the front seat of the wagon and leaned sleepily against his grandfather. The mosquitoes in the warehouse had kept the boy awake all through the night. Not wanting to be left alone in the rear of the wagon with the strangers, Hannie followed after her brother and rested against Goliath’s secure, sturdy frame. Soon they had left the bustling port city behind.

Arriving in Rishon LeZion after sunset, they found Ruchel and Nachman at home in their small wooden cottage. How ecstatic the young couple was to see them! Since their wedding, it was the first time that family had come for a visit. While Ruchel hurried to set freshly baked cakes on the table, Tevye and Goliath carried the sleeping children to a corner where a spare bed was waiting.

“I have ordered another bed from the carpentry shop,” Nachman said, beaming with the happiness of a man who had found his niche in life. He even looked a little rounder around the belly, in praise of Ruchel’s cooking.

“Sit, Abba, sit,” he said to Tevye, motioning him to a chair. “You must be tired from the long journey. Please, by all means, take some cake. Ess, ess. Eat. Honor our house with a blessing over the food that God has so graciously given us.”

The guests sat down at the small table to eat. The sweet, creamy pastry was just what Tevye longed for after the long dusty trail. A picture of the past flashed in his eyes as he remembered his wife, Golda, and the delicious cakes she always had waiting when he trudged home from work.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/books/the-book-shelf/tevye-in-the-promised-land-books/tevye-in-the-promised-land-chapter-twenty-one-reunion/2012/12/02/

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