Rabbi Rael Blumenthal

#תפשג #נצבים #וילך

Rav Zevin in his Moadim B'Halacha, quotes from Rav Aharon of Karlin that in the final mincha of the year – next Erev Shabbos – we are still going to say the words ברך עלינו את השנה הזאת – Bless us this year with a year of sustenance and abundance.

By that point in the year, there will be barely fifteen minutes left. Yet, our text remains the same, and our obligation to pray with honestly and intent is unchanging. The meaning behind this then, is our deep rooted understanding that in one minute, we can still transform this year.

So why should you buy a lottery ticket?

Chazal tell us that each year between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, Hashem determines the amount of bracha that He will be sending our way. This is calculated by the Master of All Worlds, and takes into account our prior utilization of His brachos, as well as our stated intentions from last year.

But it is entirely possible that we have not yet received our full allotment of Hashem's generosity and kindness. Why not?

Chazal (קידושין פב ב) explain:

רַבִּי שִׁמְעוֹן בֶּן אֶלְעָזָר אוֹמֵר, רָאִיתָ מִיָּמֶיךָ חַיָּה וָעוֹף שֶׁיֵּשׁ לָהֶם אֻמָּנוּת, וְהֵן מִתְפַּרְנְסִין שֶׁלֹּא בְצַעַר. וַהֲלֹא לֹא נִבְרְאוּ אֶלָּא לְשַׁמְּשֵׁנִי, וַאֲנִי נִבְרֵאתִי לְשַׁמֵּשׁ אֶת קוֹנִי, אֵינוֹ דִין שֶׁאֶתְפַּרְנֵס שֶׁלֹּא בְצַעַר. אֶלָּא שֶׁהֲרֵעוֹתִי מַעֲשַׂי וְקִפַּחְתִּי אֶת פַּרְנָסָתִי.

Rabbi Shimon ben Elazar says: Have you ever seen a beast or a bird that has a trade? And yet they earn their livelihood without anguish. But all these were created only to serve me, and I, a human being, was created to serve the One Who formed me. Is it not right that I should earn my livelihood without anguish? But I, humanity, have committed evil actions and have lost my livelihood.

Reb Itche Meir Greenwald once told this story of his father, Doctor Yaakov Greenwald:

“Before the wedding of a sister of mine, my parents needed twenty thousand dollars, and they didn’t have it. Then someone came to the house with a whole story. Many years earlier, he’d stolen money from my father and he’d always felt bad. He wanted to pay it back, and he gave my father 19,500 dollars.”

Reb Yankel Greenwald accepted the money and later mused to his wife, “I lost that five hundred dollars, which was meant for me; somehow I caused the flow from Shamayim to be blocked for that amount.”

Hashem has indeed sent the fullness of his Brachos to us. But we have erected walls of aveiros; we have closed ourselves off to His presence in our lives. The net result being that not all of that which we are due to receive actually makes its way to our wallets and bank accounts.

It stands to reason then, that if we use this final week of the year to remove the partition between us and Hashem, then any remaining brachos should arrive before Rosh Hashana. With earnest and heartfelt Teshuva, we can still earn our full share – provided we have done a modicum of Hishtadlus – even a tiny effort to make it possible. So, this week, do Teshuva, and buy a lottery ticket.

Of course, it is not just Parnasah that we have “left on the table”. Perhaps last year, Hashem decreed Refuah, or a child, or a shidduch. Perhaps He has already granted us wisdom, creativity and some brilliant new ideas. Or perhaps He already blessed us with Shalom Bayis, and nachas from our children. Perhaps He gave us the skill and will to master Shas and Poskim. Perhaps all of this is waiting just beyond our reach due to the walls of frustration, negativity and failure we have put up around us.

There is only one week left. One week to claim the gifts of 5783. By Rosh Hashana 5784 those brachos will ascend to Shamayim, and we will once again plead with Hashem to give us a year of live and love and success. But how foolish of us to wait until then?! Who knows what more there is left on the Gift-Card labeled 5783? Why not try to use it up? Hashem will certainly give us more next year – after all, He is infinite.

Of course, there is one final ingredient to make it work. We need to ask.

The Belzer Rebbe would tell his Chassidim: Stop Davening For Parnosah. You’re a Jew, Daven to be Rich! Parnosah – sustenance – is for poor people. A Yid is a child of the King. Ask for Ashirus, ask to be wealthy!

For many of us, we don't ask for what we want and need. We feel strange asking Hashem for things which we don't feel we deserve. But this is only because we have a weird idea of what it means to Daven. We think of it as a ritual, or an obligation. At its core, Tefillah is a conversation between parent and child. And children are not shy to ask their parents for ridiculous things. Sometimes, it even works out!

Two summers ago, our son Dovi came home from camp and declared “Abba, I want a hoverboard!” “Cool”, I replied. “Me too.”

He was frustrated with my response. “No, Abba, I want you to buy me a hoverboard.” “Yes, I know. And the truth is, I'd like you to buy me a hoverboard.”

He realized the conversation was getting nowhere. “Ok Abba. What can I do to earn a hoverboard?” “Aha! That's a much better question...” Six months later, through mitzvos, middos and helping around the house, he had earned his hoverboard.

Hashem wants to give everything to us; and He wants us to earn it. But we'll never get anything if we don't ask.

The Torah tells us of a conversation between Moshe Rabbeinu and Hashem at the burning bush. Hashem is attempting to persuade him to take the job of leading the nation out of Mitzraim. Moshe, for his part, has many reasons why he should not go, finally culminating in his complaint that:

בִּי אֲדֹנָי לֹא אִישׁ דְּבָרִים אָנֹכִי ...כִּי כְבַד־פֶּה וּכְבַד לָשׁוֹן אָנֹכִי

“Please, I have never been a man of words, either in times past or now that You have spoken to Your servant; I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.”

Moshe is telling Hashem, I can't do it, I have a speech impediment – How could I possibly be the person to speak to Paroah and the nation?

Hashem then tells Moshe, that He will send Aharon to be the spokes person instead. But the Ramban (Shemos 4:10) asks a simple question: Hashem is Hashem. Why didn't he simply heal Moshe's speech impediment?!

He answers devastatingly: Moshe never davened for it.

As we approach the end of the year, the Yismach Yisrael reminds us that picking up one end of the stick raises up the whole stick. Lifting up this Shabbos and this final week, with our Torah, Tefillah, Teshuva and Tzedaka will raise up the entirety of 5783.

So do Teshuva, fix what you need to fix, ask Hashem for what you want and need, and buy a lottery ticket. There might just be a little bit left waiting in our accounts in Shayaim.

#כיתבא #תשפג

Rav Tzvi Yehuda Kook once related a conversation that he had with Rav Mordechai Shmuel Kroll, the Rav of Kfar Chassidim: (שיחות הרב צבי יהודה – מועדים א, עמ' 319).

While growing up in Europe, Rav Kroll had been a Chossid of Reb Leibele Eiger in Lublin. Reb Leibele was well known to spend many hours in preparation for doing any mitzvah, and certainly for davening. And so it was, that one Yom Kippur night, the Chassidim waited until 11pm before beginning Kol Nidrei.

Rav Kroll turned to Rav Tzvi Yehuda and asked: “What do you think we did while we waited?”

Rav Tzvi Yehuda replied: “Most likely, those who could learn Gemara, spend their time learning Maseches Yoma. Perhaps some learned Mishna, and those who couldn't learn said Tehillim?”

Rav Kroll answered: “You don't understand Chassidim at all! For five hours we sang and danced! And do you know what we sang?”

“Perhaps the words that Chazal say were sung in the Beis HaMikdash on Sukkos: אַשְׁרֵי מִי שֶׁלֹּא חָטָא, וּמִי שֶׁחָטָא — יָשׁוּב וְיִמְחוֹל לוֹ – Happy is one who hasn't sinned, and one who has should do Teshuva and be pardoned?”

Once again Rav Kroll responded: “You still don't understand Chassidim!” He continued, “the great principle of Chassidus is to serve Hashem with joy. Being that Yom Kippur requires the highest level of Avoda, it must begin with the greatest joy. For five hours, hundreds of us danced and sang the Purim song, Shoshanas Yaakov!”

I'm not sure how many of us are looking for such a Yom Kippur experience. Mind you, our hesitation with this type of Yom Kippur is not just because our emotions on Yom Kippur are usually more sobering. Many would have a hard time doing this on Purim. For most of us, it's hard to imagine being so thoroughly “into it” for such an extended period of time.

A few weeks ago, there was a Yid told me honestly that dancing on Simchas Torah for more than a few minutes was mind-numbingly boring to him. He asked if we could perhaps go back to the abridged Hakafos of COVID?

While I appreciated the honestly, it saddened me to hear it. We cannot mandate religious exuberance, but Moshe Rabbeinu this Shabbos, reveals the result of a Yiddishkeit devoid of Simcha.

Deep in the painful pesukim of the Tochacha, we discover the central reason for our exile and persecution:

תַּחַת אֲשֶׁר לֹא־עָבַדְתָּ אֶת־ה' אֱלֹקיךָ בְּשִׂמְחָה וּבְטוּב לֵבָב מֵרֹב כֹּל

Because you did not serve Hashem, your God in joy and gladness over the abundance of everything.

The end of the Pasuk – “מֵרֹב כֹּל” – seems unnecessary. Ostensibly, we are punished for failing to serve Hashem with joy. What need is there to add “over the abundance of everything”?

The simplest reading of this pasuk is that as a result of the many blessings Hashem had given to us, we became spoiled. In order to return us to the simple joy of Yiddishkeit, Hashem will take away those pleasures which ruined us.

Perhaps this is a piece of the story, but the Sfas Emes (כי תבא תרמ”ג) quotes from the Arizal that there is far more going on here:

מרוב כל: להיות שמח בעבודת הש”י יותר מכל מיני טוב שבעולם

The words “מרוב כל” mean that we are to be happier with serving Hashem than the happiness we experience from all the other good in the world.

The central question of Jewish life is: What brings you the most joy? A life of service or a life of stuff?

The Torah is setting up a comparison, a hierarchy of Simcha. Moshe Rabbeinu is telling us that there is nothing wrong with enjoying physical pleasures. There is nothing problematic with enjoying good food, sleeping in a comfortable bed, and taking full advantage of our material success.

Indeed, the pasuk in our Parsha (כו:יא) tells us:

וְשָׂמַחְתָּ בְכׇל־הַטּוֹב אֲשֶׁר נָתַן־לְךָ ה' אֱלֹקיךָ וּלְבֵיתֶךָ

And you should enjoy all the bounty that Hashem your God has given to you and your household...

Yet, in a profound and painful way, the Torah is telling us that equating our pursuit of happiness with our pursuit of “things” is a recipe for sadness, brokenness and destruction.

The Torah is not advocating a life of asceticism and abstinence. There is no inherent value in deprivation. But there is most certainly a value in aligning our priorities so that we find our greatest enjoyment in purpose rather than in possessions.

I dare say, but this is a radical departure from most of our religious experience and aspiration. Especially as we approach the Yamim Noraim, we are conditioned to think of this season as being filled with obligations. Of course, this is true. We cannot escape the reality that Hashem has expectations of us. The Shulchan Aruch is replete with details discussing how exactly to ensure that we are in fulfillment of our obligations.

But how tragic would it be if we never succeeded in transcending the obligations to truly enjoy these moments of closeness and engagement with Hashem? Is it not the height of dysfunction for partners in a relationship to dread the time they spend together? To view each others' presence as a chore?

Imagine a couple coming home from a date night, and one spouse turning to the other and insisting that they need some down time, because spending time together was so draining.

The pasuk is bemoaning a world in which Klal Yisrael leaves shul exhausted at the end of Shabbos or Yom Tov only to “recharge” by binge watching some (hopefully kosher) nonsense online.

Reb Leibele's world was one in which people don't count the minutes until Havdalah; where they don't get annoyed when the Rabbi's Shema or Shmoneh Esrei forces us to wait another thirty seconds. It's a world in which Shabbos lunch is filled with Zemiros and Divrei Torah, and not simply a highway to taking a nap. It's a world where Yiddishkeit is joyful, enjoyable and enriching. It's about finding the meaning and value in mitzvos, even more than we find in our other pastimes and hobbies.

Rav Soloveitchik related that:

Not far from where our family lived in Warsaw there was a Modzitzer shtiebel where I would occasionally go for shalosh seudos. The Chasidim would be singing Bnei Heichala, Hashem Ro’i Lo Echsor, again Bnei Heichala, again Hashem Ro’i. It occurred to me that they weren’t singing because they wanted to sing, they were singing because they did not want to allow Shabbos to leave…. I remember an encounter in this shtiebel as a small child. One of the men who had been singing most enthusi­astically, wearing a kapoteh consisting of more holes than material, approached me and asked if I recognized him. I told him that I did not, and he introduced himself as Yankel the Porter. Now during the week I knew Yankel the Porter as someone very ordinary wearing shabby clothes walking around with a rope. I could not imagine that this individual of such regal bearing could be the same person. Yet on Shabbos he wore a kapota and shtreimel. That is because his soul wasn’t Yankel the Porter, but Yankel the Prince. Well after nightfall I naively asked him, “When do we daven Ma’ariv?” He replied: “Do you miss weekdays that much that you cannot wait to daven Ma’ariv?”

Perhaps we are not yet ready for this kind of Yiddishkeit, but with a little preparation and effort we can aspire to find real joy in some part of our Avodas Hashem. At the very least, we can hold back our frustration when the Chazzan takes an extra minute in Kedusha, when someone bumps into our chair on Yom Tov or the AC is not set to our liking. We can enter the Yamim Noraim with hopeful anticipation, rather than boredom and dread. And if none of this seems attainable yet, perhaps we could begin our journey towards Rosh Hashana with a simple Tefillah:

Please Hashem, help us to find meaning in the words that we say and in the mitzvos that we do; open our hearts so that we can talk to you honestly and help us to enjoy this time that we're going to spend together.

#כיתצא #תשפג

This Shabbos, the Torah tells us the most tragic parenting story imaginable: the story of the Ben Sorer U'moreh. It's the story of a child, who, just before his bar mitzvah, begins down a road that will lead to his total spiritual destruction. Ultimately, the pesukim describe, his parents will bring him to the Sanhedrin to be executed.

It's an impossibly painful saga for anyone to fathom. Thankfully, the conditions for a boy to become a Ben Sorer U'moreh are incredibly difficult to satisfy. The Sanhedrin will need to prove that there was not a single external contributing factor to explain this boy's behavior. He must have had access to a stellar education, wonderful, harmonious and loving parents, excellent health for himself and his parents, etc... Only when everything in his life is perfect, can the Torah conclude that he is fully culpable for his actions. Absent of even one detail, he cannot be a Ben Sorer U'moreh.

This is a powerful perspective in our understanding of people in general. How often is a child (or adult!) simply reacting to some unseen challenges that they are facing? Are we so convinced that the negativity we’re seeing in someone truly originates in them?

Indeed, creating such an ideal environment is so nearly impossible that the Talmud (סנהדרין ע”א א) suggests: בן סורר ומורה לא היה ולא עתיד להיות – throughout Jewish history, there has never been a Ben Sorer U’moreh, nor will there ever be.

But let’s suspend our disbelief for a moment, and imagine the story playing out: The perfect child, from a perfect family, in a perfect community; who nevertheless chooses the path of rebelliousness and destruction.

Imagine the tears, the horror, the despair. No doubt, his rebbeim and teachers would've have been discussing him for years. He's bounced from class to class, teacher to teacher. His parents have dedicated hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars to multiple attempts at therapy. And despite all efforts, this child is relentless and incurable.

Imagine that child – determined, defiant, arrogant, angry. With no options left, his parents bring him to Yerushalayim as the Torah describes. The judges call witnesses, consults psychologists, and reach the impossible conclusion that he is a bona fide Ben Sorer U’moreh. The Sanhedrin is about to rule that he must be executed. But just before the sentence is handed down, his parents begin to cry uncontrollably. Please, they beg, despite everything, we forgive him, we want him, we love him. Don't sentence him!

The Gemara in Sanhedrin (88a) tells us:

בן סורר ומורה שרצו אביו ואמו למחול לו מוחלין לו A stubborn and rebellious son whose father and mother wish to forgive him, they may forgive him.

Even in the last moment. They can pick him up and take him home.

This idea, while beautiful, is troubling. Why indeed is this the Halacha? Chazal tell us that a Ben Sorer U'Moreh is not judged based on what he has already done, but for what he will do if he continues down this now inevitable path.

After all, what exactly are his crimes? Thus far, all he has done is theft, eating too much meat and drinking too much wine. In any other case, these crimes are not deserving of the death penalty, but the Torah declares with Divine certainly (that only Hashem Himself could claim): Such a child, at this age and stage of life will become a menace to himself and society. Better that he die now, rather than destroy himself, his family and the world any further.

But if the Ben Sorer U'Moreh is judged on what he will become, what difference does it make if his parents forgive him for what he has done?! How are they given this power? Hasn't the Torah declared that his future is a forgone conclusion?

The Shem Mishmuel (כי תצא תרע”א) explains:

כשאביו ואמו מוחלין לו הנה הוא עדיין נקשר בשלשלת הקודש, שוב אינו נהרג, שיכול להיות שעוד ישוב בתשובה שלימה המתקבלת

The moment that his parents forgive him, he is reconnected to the Jewish people, and his fate is not yet sealed. He can no longer be killed, because now it is possible that he will do Teshuva.

As long as his parents believe in him, he has a chance at returning and repairing. Only one who is completely disconnected from Klal Yisrael, from his parents and friends can be deemed a lost cause. But for this child, his parents' forgiveness alone plugs him back in to eternity.

Of course, this truth is not limited to our relationship with our children. No Jew's life experience exists in a vacuum. When we relate to people with love, with respect and with graciousness, we transform who that person is, and impact who they can become.

This influence – the effect that our confidence in other has on those around us – is not only transformative, it’s the primary Avoda of our generation.

The Mishna in Avos (א:ב) famously tells us:

שִׁמְעוֹן הַצַּדִּיק הָיָה מִשְּׁיָרֵי כְנֶסֶת הַגְּדוֹלָה. הוּא הָיָה אוֹמֵר, עַל שְׁלשָׁה דְבָרִים הָעוֹלָם עוֹמֵד, עַל הַתּוֹרָה וְעַל הָעֲבוֹדָה וְעַל גְּמִילוּת חֲסָדִים:

Shimon the Tzadik was from the remnants of the Great Assembly. He would say, “On three things the world stands: on the Torah, on Service and on Acts of Lovingkindness.”

During the summer months the Sfas Emes would learn Pirkei Avos with his son, later to become the Imrei Emes. Commenting on that Mishna, the Imrei Emes explained in the name of his father:

The world stands on three things: Torah, Avoda and Chessed. But our history has shown that we have not always worked on these pillars simultaneously. Before Hashem gave us the Torah, the world did not have Torah. And since the destruction of Yerushalayim, we no longer have the Avoda of the Korbanos. Therefore, we must conclude that the world stands on either Torah, or Avoda, or Chessed – depending on the era.

The Sfas Emes then quotes in the name of Reb Elimelech of Lizensk: Until the time of the Arizal, the world stood on Torah. Now the world stands on Gemilus Chassadim – taking care of other people. Our job is to love each other.

It's our mission for life, our mission for the school year ahead, and quite acutely, it's our mission during the month of Elul. If we want Hashem to grant us this Chessed, we need to emulate it in our own lives as well.

A young man once came to the Klausenberger Rebbe and told him that he was thrown out of his yeshiva. The Rebbe summoned for the mashgiach of the bachur’s yeshiva and asked him why he threw this bachur out. The mashgiach told him all the terrible things that the boy had done, and concluded, “It’s impossible to keep him in the yeshiva if he does these things.”

“That’s true,” the Rebbe agreed, “but I spoke with the bachur, and he told me that he’s ready to change.”

The mashgiach said in exasperation, “This bachur promised me a thousand times that he will improve and he never keeps his word!”

The Rebbe held his white beard and said softly, “Throughout the many years of my life I promised Hashem even more than a thousand times that I will improve, and I haven’t done so yet. According to what you’re saying, I should give up. And Hashem should give up on me. But that's not how it works. As long as a Yid lives, he still has potential to change...”

Hashem should help us to internalize this message for ourselves, and emulate it for each other. Or as Viktor Frankel would say:

“If we take man as he is, we make him worse. If we take man as he should be, we make him capable of what he can be.”

#שופטים #תשפג

Rabbi Yitzhak Tuvia Weiss zt”l, was the Av Beis Din of the Eidah Charedis in Yerushalayim. He grew up in a small town just outside of Presburg, and when the Nazi's came, he was one of the privileged 669 children to be evacuated to Great Britain on the famous Kindertransport.

When he arrived in England he was taken to an orphanage, along with many of the other boys. Many years later he recalled the following:

He was living in an orphanage with other refugees, when one day the teacher entered in a state of excitement and proclaimed that King George VI was coming. All the children were ordered to their room to put on their best shorts and scrub their faces and knees in preparation for their meeting with the king.

Along with all the other residents of the street, the school children turned out on the pavement and there was a great sense of anticipation. However as the other spectators were aware, the 'meeting with the king' was not quite as the children had imagined. Instead they were merely part of the welcoming party as the king's fancy car turned the corner and proceeded down the street.

Nonetheless the children joined in the cheering and flag waving as the car passed them at a processional pace. However, Rabbi Weiss, recounting the story explained that for the boy standing next to him in line simply watching was not enough and he broke ranks and proceeded to chase the car down the road. When he reached the vehicle which was still at processional pace he began banging on the boot with all his might, when finally the car stopped and lo and behold the door opened and the boy stood face to face with the king.

King George asked what was the problem and the boy explained that he had been told he would meet the king and very much wanted to thank him for having brought him to this country and rescued him from Europe. “However”, continued the boy, “you see, I'm terribly lonely as my parents are still over there.” The king responded by asking the boys name, the name of his parents and where he was from. He thanked him and bid him on his way back to the rest of the children.

The boy was sure he would be severely punished for his actions but surprisingly the school did not make anything of the incident. Until a few weeks later the headmaster summoned the boy to his office, to which the boy was sure he was to be reprimanded. The headmaster wished to talk to him about the incident that had taken place but instead of punishment he explained that the boy had made quite an impression upon the king. So much so in fact that King George had sent a gift.

With that the headmaster opened the side door to the office and standing there waiting was the boy's parents.

Rabbi Weiss added that for the past 60 years he has asked himself, “why did I just stand there watching like everyone else? Why did I not seize the moment and chase the king? Maybe if I had I might have seen my parents again and not lost them to the gas chambers...”

Hashem is Close By

We have just entered the month of Elul – a month of closeness to Hashem. The famous expression of the Alter Rebbe (ליקוטי תורה פ׳ ראה) is already on our lips and in our hearts – המלך בשדה – The King, Hashem, is in the field. He is not yet in the palace, and He is more accessible than any other time.

The Navi (Yeshayahu 55:6) tells us: דִּרְשׁוּ ה׳ בְּהִמָּצְאוֹ – Seek Hashem while He may be found, קְרָאֻהוּ בִּהְיוֹתוֹ קָרוֹב – Call upon Him while He is near.

Chazal (יבמות קה א׳) explain:

יָחִיד אֵימַת? אָמַר רַב נַחְמָן אָמַר רַבָּה בַּר אֲבוּהּ: אֵלּוּ עֲשָׂרָה יָמִים שֶׁבֵּין רֹאשׁ הַשָּׁנָה לְיוֹם הַכִּפּוּרִים.

For an individual, when is the time that God is close to him? Rav Nachman said that Rabba bar Avuh said: These are the ten days that are between Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur.

But the Hafla'ah (Rabbi Pinchas HaLevi Horowitz – פנים יפות פ׳ אחרי) adds: Chazal are telling us that “When he may be found – בְּהִמָּצְאוֹ” is the Yamim Noraim, but when is the time of בִּהְיוֹתוֹ קָרוֹב? When is Hashem is closest? That happens in the month of Elul.

The special nature of Elul as a time for connection with Hashem is well known as the acronym for this month: “אני לדודי ודודי לי – I am for my Beloved and my Beloved is for me”. But this is not simply an acronym, there is real Avoda to be done, and there are even Halachik implications:

The Maharil (אות ל״ג) writes that, as opposed to a regular Shabbos or Yom Tov, one is not allowed to “take in” Rosh HaShana early. We need to wait until nightfall to begin Maariv. The reason for this, he explains, is that the moment that we say “מקדש ישראל ויום הזיכרון” we have transformed the moment from Elul – which is Rachamim, to Rosh Hashana – a day of judgement.

To that end, so as to ensure we are not losing the opportunity, we need to understand the nature, the obligation and lifestyle of אני לדודי ודודי לי that Elul prescribes.

Making it Real

In the simplest and most profound way, the Avoda of Elul is expressed in our Parsha: תָּמִים תִּהְיֶה עִם ה׳ אֱלֹקיךָ – You should be wholehearted/wholesome with Hashem.

Rashi explains that our attitude towards Hashem determines our relationship; how much Hashem is with us:

הִתְהַלֵּךְ עִמּוֹ בִתְמִימוּת, וּתְצַפֶּה לוֹ, וְלֹא תַחֲקֹר אַחַר הָעֲתִידוֹת, אֶלָּא כָּל מַה שֶּׁיָּבֹא עָלֶיךָ קַבֵּל בִּתְמִימוּת וְאָז תִּהְיֶה עִמּוֹ וּלְחֶלְקוֹ:

Walk before Him whole-heartedly, put your hope in Him and do not attempt to investigate the future, but whatever it may be that comes upon you, accept it whole-heartedly. Then you will be with Hashem and become His portion.

How do we live whole-heartedly with Hashem? What does that entail? Perhaps we could illustrate with a story (שיח שרפי קדש ח״ב אות רס״ג):

It once happened that the Yid HaKadosh of Pshischa was dangerously ill. The town came together to pray for their Rebbe, and declared a day of fasting, tzedaka and tefillah for his recovery.

That morning, a simple Jewish traveller arrived in Pshischa, exhausted and famished. He knocked on the door of the local tavern looking for food, a stiff drink and a bed to rest on. To his shock and horror, he was informed that no such request would be honored. No-one was available to serve him, and the entire town was fasting that day.

“Fasting?! Why?!”

They explained to him the dire condition of the Rebbe, and his need for Divine Mercy. At this point, the traveller looked up to the Heavens and cried:

“Master of the Universe! Please help and heal the Yid HaKadosh so that I can get myself something to drink!”

When the Rebbe eventually recovered, he explained that the most powerful tefilla offered for his Refuah was that of the thirsty traveller. It was simple, honest and had no agenda. That tefilla was the epitome of תָּמִים תִּהְיֶה – a wholesome relationship with Hashem.

Our Avoda this Elul, the time of אני לדודי ודודי לי – is to understand that Hashem is not foreign to us. He is right here; not even a phone call away. The more we make Him part our lives, the more He is with us.

He's waiting for us to call out, to run down the street, to knock on the door of His car, and say “HaMelech BaSadeh – please give us everything we need; for us, for our families, for our community, for Klal Yisrael and the world.


Every year when the month of Elul arrived, the Rav of Yerushalayim, Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank, used to relate a childhood memory from when he was still living in the city of Kovno. Rav Yisrael Salanter was also a resident of Kovno, and Rav Tzvi Pesach retained a vivid memory about Rav Yisrael one Elul when he was eight years old.

A sign had been posted in the main shul of Kovno that Rav Yisrael Salanter would be giving a drasha in the afternoon of Shabbos Mevarchim Elul.

“I went to shul at the designated time,” said Rav Tzvi Pesach, “and I couldn't find a place to sit. With the innocence of a child, I decided to sit on the steps leading up to the aron kodesh. A few minutes later, Rav Yisrael entered the shul and walked past the aron kodesh to speak. He called out, ‘Rabbosai, we have already bentched Chodesh Elul.'”

“At the moment that Rav Yisrael cried out the word “Elul”, he fainted from the awesomeness of the month, and as he fell, he landed on top of me. Everybody in the shul stood up in shock, and brought water to revive Rav Yisrael from his faint.”

Rav Tzvi Pesach added, “I was only a boy of eight when this happened, but since that day, I have felt the weight of Rav Yisrael Salanter's Elul.”

Every year on Shabbos Mevorchim Elul, I come back to this story, hoping to pick up just a little of that experience. It's not the intensity and dedication that draws me, but the feeling of “this is real; this is meaningful.”

Our Elul experience quite a distance from those palpable overwhelming emotions. Of course, we also work to rededicate, refocus and refine ourselves; but somehow we are often falling very short of feeling anything, and even the fleeing highs of inspiration seem short lived.

The solution to this problem, however, might be hiding in an unlikely place. The Torah, this Shabbos instructs Klal Yisrael to eradicate Avoda Zara from Eretz Yisrael:

וְנִתַּצְתֶּם אֶת־מִזְבְּחֹתָם וְשִׁבַּרְתֶּם אֶת־מַצֵּבֹתָם... לֹא־תַעֲשׂוּן כֵּן לַה׳ אֱלֹהֵיכֶם Tear down their altars, smash their pillars, put their sacred posts to the fire, and cut down the images of their gods, obliterating their name from that site. Do not do this to Hashem your God.

The end of the Pasuk is bizarre: “Do not do this to Hashem your God.” Of course not! Why would any think that we should do this to Hashem?

In a piercing insight, R' Tzvi Elimelech of Dinov (אגרא דכלה ראה ג׳) notes that the Torah is telling us the deepest form of destruction – the one we so desperately need to avoid: לֹא־תַעֲשׂוּן כֵּן לַה׳ – Don't “Yes” (כֵּן) Hashem.

We've all been “yessed” at some point. Sometimes by a parent, a child or a spouse. I dare say that we're all probably guilty of it as well. It's that moment when someone comes to you exasperated, looking for care, concern and validation, and we answer with “yes dear.” It's painfully and frustratingly dismissive. In one “yes” we manage to convey the full force of: “I'll do the thing you want, but it's annoying. And I don't want to talk to you about it, because it's not important to me. And the fact that this is important to you is your problem.”

That's the greatest destruction possible. It rips apart relationships and friendships while maintaining the guise of dedication. It drives a wedge between our mind, heart and actions, while we adamantly insist that we are doing all we can. Be beneath the surface, we know it's lip service.

Moshe Rabbeinu is begging us: You should destroy the Avoda Zara in Eretz Yisrael, but don't destroy your relationship with Hashem.

Do we ever ״Yes״ Hashem?

We have a laundry list of mitzvos, obligations, schedules and sedorim. We think to ourselves: “if I get this done, Hashem will leave me alone. He'll give me what I need and stop bothering me.” It's possible for a person to be engaged in Torah and mitzvos all day and, Chas V'Shalom, still be engaged in destroying Hashem's presence in their lives.

It's also possible for a person to achieve the opposite. All it takes is a single moment of speaking to Hashem, learning His Torah or doing a Mitzvah with gratitude and love. It requires living as a Jew because we want to; a relationship with Hashem that is conscious and emotional, not simply transactional.

Hashem is, so to speak, reaching out to us in Elul saying “I know you're doing as much as you can. You're good, you're dedicated and I love you, I care about you. But please, can we just talk?”

Our Avoda this Shabbos is to find the space and place within our Torah and Mitzvos to recultivate meaning, purpose and our shared vision.


One cold winter day, the Tzadik of Yerushalaim, Rabbi Aryeh Levin was walking outside when he noticed the boys from his Yeshiva playing outside. Towards the end of the game, they ran over to a caretaker, each one buying a cup of hot tea. All but one boy.

Reb Aryeh walked over to the boy, and asked why he wasn’t getting a tea. “Rebbi,” he exclaimed loudly, “I hate tea!”

Reb Aryeh nodded his head slowly and smiled. He walked over to the caretaker, and taking a few coins out of his pocket, he instructed the caretaker to bring a cup over the boy, who, to the amazement of the caretaker, drank it immediately.

The bewildered caretaker turned to Reb Aryeh “The boy said he hated tea.”

“Yes, he did say that” said the Rabbi. “But if only you would have heard him, you would have known that he was really saying “I’m cold and I’m thirsty and I have no money to buy tea. And I’m too embarrassed to ask my friends. So I’ll say that I hate tea instead.””

“My dear friend,” Reb Ayreh continued, “You cannot just listen with your ears...״

The Torah tells us this Shabbos that listening begins with the ears, but doesn't end there:

וְהָיָה עֵקֶב תִּשְׁמְעוּן... (Literally) If your heels will listen

Of course, the common translation of this phrase is that “as a result of listening, Hashem will bless you”... But the simple reading of the Pasuk is telling us something quite different: If “our heels would listen”, then Hashem will shower us with bracha.

Reb Shalom Ber of Lubavitch once told a story explaining this literal translation (A Treasury of Chassidic Tales pg. 498):

“When Reb Menachem Mendel of Lubavitch – later to become the Tzemach Tzedek – was a little boy his grandfather, The Alter Rebbe, examined him on the Chumash which he had recently begun to study. They came to the pasuk עקב אשר שמע אברהם בקולי 'Because (eikev) Avraham listened to My voice.'

Asked to explain it, the child said; “Avraham heard God's command even with his “eikev,” his heel!' [As if to say: So utterly permeated was his whole body with an awareness of the divine spark that animated it, that with his very eikev (heel) Avraham listened to My voice'!]

The grandfather, Reb Shneur Zalman of Liadi, was more than pleased with this answer, and said: 'In fact we find this very command in another verse – וְהָיָה עֵקֶב תִּשְׁמְעוּן (literally: 'And it shall come to pass that if you listen, then as a result ... '. This verse tells us that we should strive to attain a level at which our hells should listen – that even our heel should hear God's command and hasten to fulfill it!'”

Listening is not simply a process by which we absorb information. It's a process of being transformed by the information we encounter.

The need to listen with our whole selves is the goal of Talmud Torah. But it's also essential when listening to each other, and it's just as important when listening to our own needs.

When I started running, the best advice I received was to “listen to my body”. I was told “Pay close attention to how you feel, when you feel differently and analyze the actions and habits that preceded this feeling.” I've been working on doing so ever since. But itequires constant consciousness, questioning how I'm feeling and what it is that made me feel that way.

In every area of life, we ignore the subtleties of the messages around us at our own peril. So much illness, pain and injury could be avoided by listening to the quiet early warning signs in our bodies, families and careers.

But even when we are listening carefully, these critical and soft sounds are not easily heard over the noise echoing in the world around us. So the Yetzer Hara convinces us to focus only on that which is loudest and largest, ignoring the small details that might hold the keys to our future success and happiness.

How can we possibly contend with it?

Practically speaking, there are two ways to ensure that we get better at listening. We can either strain our ears to hear over the noise, or perhaps, a better way is simply to turn down the volume, or move to a quieter spot.

There was a moment in the middle of COVID that someone approached me looking for some assistance on how to deal with his growing anxiety. I asked him what the problem was, to which he explained all of his concerns about the State of the Union and the future of the USA. He confided that it was becoming clear to him that the political damage of COVID would irrevocably lead the world to to a path of violence and starvation. With all of this, he was struggling to sleep at night.

I asked him how his kids were doing. Were they healthy? Were they making it through zoom-school ok? How was his marriage? What about his parnassah?

To all of this, he told me that it was going well. In some cases, even better than before.

“This sounds amazing” I said. “Baruch Hashem you guys are doing so well. I don't understand what the problem is.”

He repeated his concerns about the world and the future of humanity. At this point I asked him simply what might happen if he deleted his news apps and stopped doom-scrolling through social media. He chuckled nervously and agreed, “Rabbi, I think most of these problems would go away...”

Hashem should help us to get better at listening. But at the very least, He should bless us to turn down the noise.

This Shabbos is one of comfort – Shabbos Nachamu, so named for the opening words of the Haftarah: נַחֲמוּ נַחֲמוּ עַמִּי – The Navi is instructing us to be comforted in the wake of the devastation of Tisha B’av. But what is this comfort? What are we supposed to feel?

“Making someone comfortable” means something very different when you hear it in a nursing home. There, the sadness of comfort becomes very real. I can still vividly recall the first time I asked what what “making him comfortable” meant, and since that day, I can no longer feel comfortable with being comfortable.

Comfort, as we know it, is a fairly recent consideration of humanity. For most of our history, life was decidedly uncomfortable. Heat and cold were aspect of nature to contend with, to mitigate if possible. Sickness, ailments, pain and aging, were parts of life.

But in the past century, we have moved beyond mitigating these discomforts. Indeed, with the wonders of modern science and technology, we have all but eradicated the major discomforts of our ancestors. And now comfort reigns supreme. Comfortable beds, shoes, clothes, seats, cars, shuls, schools and couches.

This is a good thing. Without the constant barrage of daily frustration, we now have the time, headspace, and wherewithal to devote ourselves to loftier pursuits on both personal and national levels. Right?


But if we’re honest, we know know that’s not true.

A number of years ago, a close friend of mine told me the story of his grandmother, a Holocaust survivor who made her way to the United States. With the characteristic perseverance of a woman who would not allow Hitler to win, and despite her poverty, she raised her children with to value life, learning, Torah and the Jewish people.

At some point in the mid sixties, after a number of a years, saving penny by penny, she had finally saved up enough to buy an electric washing machine. On that day, she called her children together and told them, “Now that I no longer need to spend all day at home – we’re going to the library. If we have free time, it’s to be used for learning.”

I dare say that we don’t live that way. I’ve often joked to my Talmidim that if aliens from outer-space would land on earth, they’d see us carrying these glass/plastic rectangular slabs in our pockets. They’ll ask us “what are those?” And we’ll respond “These are smart phones. (Oooooh!) They give us the ability to connect to our friends, and families, and almost anyone on the planet. With these marvelous devices we can access all of human knowledge. We can use them to learn skills, languages, and art.” “Amazing,” they will say. “And what do you all use them for?” “Netflix, Lashon Hara and memes...”

It's a frustrating truth to admit, but we should be asking ourselves: Why do we live our lives with such cavalier disregard for our own values?

We could explain it by a simple lack of commitment, but I think there is more going on here. The constant barrage of influences, celebrities and edutainers have convinced us that the greatest values of our generation is the all impossible goal of achieving a successful and comfortable life. We chase after independence, freedom and the absence of pain as an inherent value.

Aside from the harsh truth that these dreams are often a facade, we know that even if we do manage to emulate these lifestyles, there is still no guarantee that our lives will be pain-free. Regardless, such aspirations are not the meaning of comfort in the Torah.

Rashi (בראשית ו:ו) tells us the meaning of the word נחמה does not mean the removal of pain. Instead, he writes:

נהפכה מחשבתו ... וכן כל לשון ניחום שבמקרא לשון נמלך מה לעשות

A change of mind and perspective... Every נחמה mentioned in the Torah means a reevaluation of what to do now.

Nechama is an invitation to look at ourselves, the world and our circumstances with a fresh perspective. Rather than becoming stuck in our pain, or seeking to avoid it, Nechama grants the possibility of transcending it.

This is true on a national level as well as on a personal level.

Moshe Rabbeinu tells each of us this Shabbos: וְאַתֶּם הַדְּבֵקִים בַּה׳ אֱלֹקיכֶם, You, who stick to Hashem your God, חַיִּים כֻּלְּכֶם הַיּוֹם, are all alive today.

Rabbi Moshe Yechiel Epstein, the Ozharover Rebbe explains this strange phrase (באר משה – דברים עמ׳ נג):

The Yetzer Hara tries to persuade us that there is no way for us, regular people, to achieve closeness to Hashem in this world. After all, we are bound by the needs and pressures of the body. Any attempt is ultimately futile and predestined to fail. Perhaps there are great tzadikim who can overcome their desires and natural inclinations – but that's certainly not me.

“Not so”, says Moshe Rabbeinu. “You – everyone – can, and must, connect to Hashem. This is the meaning of your life today, here, now, in this world, in this moment.”

In the deepest sense, Moshe Rabbeinu is talking is us when we are feeling most stuck. He tells us that life itself is earned, discovered and enjoyed in the pursuit of growth and Godliness. It is achieved when we are brave enough to face discomfort head on and push ourselves to become better today.

Our desire for comfort does bring us a mixture of resilience and acceptance. But at it’s core, this kind of comfort is about resignation and a loss of sensitivity. We paper over our pain by saying “it doesn't matter anyway.”

Nechama, on the other hand profoundly and boldly demands responsiveness and responsibility. Nechama asks us to live with the tension of navigating a broken world, while never capitulating to a broken reality. Or in the words of Dylan Thomas, Nechama asks us to “Rage against the dying of the light.”

In Oros HaTechiyah (פרק ה׳) Rav Kook explains that there really is no other way. Our basic nature, as Jews, demands that we live up to our potential:

גדולים אנחנו וגדולות הנה משוגותינו ובשביל כך גדולות הן צרותינו, וגדולים גם תנחומותינו

We are so great and therefore our meshugasim (our insanities) are great as well. And because of this, our pain is great. Just imagine how great will be our eventual Nechama...

Hashem has given our generation a level of material comfort that humanity has never seen before, and we dare not waste it on “making ourselves comfortable.” Tisha B’av should leave us with deep discomfort, but not despair. Hashem should help us to begin changing our reality. This the true meaning of Shabbos Nachamu: Be comforted with the knowledge that you can fix this. But please, don't get comfortable.

This past week on Monday night – around 2am – I was quasi awakened to find our toddler, Yudi, with his head burrowing into my neck, running a fever while tossing and turning in discomfort. Needless to say, neither Aliza nor I got much sleep over the next 48 hours.

Baruch Hashem, Yudi is doing much better. Turns out – as the pediatrician told us – there was nothing wrong with him. (Which is a great thing, I guess...) His daycare, of course, has chosen to differ with the doctors on this point (yay Science?), which means we spent a few days playing “who's holding the screaming baby”.

To be completely honest, it's not exactly a fun game. It's made less fun when the other cars on the road don't know that it's your turn to play, and that Florida rain has already thrown the game into overtime by 45 minutes.

None of this is news to anyone trying to raise a family. We all know those desperate calls and texts “ETA? I need you home asap!”

Truthfully, of course, we're all in good company. Moshe Rabbeinu himself seems to have the same problem. As he relates the trials and tribulations of forty years in the Midbar, he tells our ancestors this Shabbos:

לֹא־אוּכַל לְבַדִּי שְׂאֵת אֶתְכֶם... ה' אֱ-לֹקיכֶם הִרְבָּה אֶתְכֶם... And I said to you at that time, saying: 'I am not able to carry you by myself alone. Hashem, your God has multiplied you, and, you are this day as numerous as the stars of the heavens.

The meforshim grapple with pinning down the exact event that caused Moshe to complain. When did he crack? The Meraglim, the Misonenim, the Egel? Or perhaps when Yisro suggested that Moshe appoint judges?

The Meshech Chochma (דברים ד״ה ואמר), however, suggests an entirely different interpretation, arguing that Moshe wasn't complaining at all. In fact, he was expressing his deepest gratitude!

לדמיון, כאשר יש לאדם ברכה מופלגת בעושר ובנים, ויש לו טורח הרבה מגידול בניו, ממניקות ושפחות וכיוצא בזה די סיפוקן, אז יאמר: מה גדלה עלי הטורח מכם, יתן ה' כי כן יהיה לכם מבניכם ובני בניכם טרחות כאלה, וטורד כזה לא יופסק מכם! כן משה רועה נאמן אמר: ה' הרבה אתכם, והנכם ככוכבי השמים בריבוי ובמעלה מופלגת על דרך נסיי, אמר שכן יאמרו רועי ישראל ומנהיגיהם ונביאיהם תמיד עליכם ויתלוננו תלונות כאלה! וזה שאמר “ואמר אליכם בעת ההיא לאמר” – שכן יאמרו תמיד עליכם, כפי אשר אתם במצב העת הזה, רועי ישראל ישעיהו וירמיה וכיוצא בזה.

Moshe was like a person who has been blessed with much wealth and children, and therefore has to work hard to support them. Sometimes he'll say “Wow, this is hard work, please God, I should always have these problems!” Likewise, Moshe continues, “Hashem has made you so numerous, Please God, may all Jewish leaders have these kinds of problems.”

Sometimes, says the Meshech Chochma, the greatest Bracha in the world, is calling your spouse and saying “I need your help here. Hashem has given us so much, it's too much for me to handle alone.” Please God may we always have these problems.

Two Ways to Look at The World

But as anyone listening to the Kriyas HaTorah this week will hear, we don't read Moshe Rabbeinu's words as gratitude. We read his words with the tune of Eicha – the tune of lament and mourning:

אֵיכָה אֶשָּׂא לְבַדִּי טָרְחֲכֶם וּמַשַּׂאֲכֶם וְרִיבְכֶם: Oy! How could I myself alone bear your issues, your burden, and your strife?

The question of course, is: If there are two ways to understand Moshe's words, why is our minhag to read Moshe's words as complaints?

The Shem Mishmuel (דברים תרע״ט ד״ה איכה אשא) explains:

We mourn this pasuk to recognize that not only did we fail to utilize our great strengths and brachos for good, we channeled them into negativity and animosity. From the privileged vantage of being Hashem's people, we expressed our dissatisfaction with Hashem's brachos, with Moshe Rabbeinu, and with a Torah lifestyle. All the tragedy of אֵיכָה comes from failure to look at the greatness of our lives with simcha and gratitude.

The Ben Ish Chai wrote a commentary on Megillas Eicha, called נחמת ציון. In it, he explains how we'll read Eicha when Mashiach comes: איכה ישבה בדד – How amazing is it that the Jewish people managed to survive all alone throughout history! We really are an incredible people. But we don't always feel that way now.

Likewise, Moshe's words: איכה אשא לבדי – How incredible that one person could handle all the complaints and issues of an entire nation – what an amazing leader! What a special group of people! But we don't always feel proud of our Jewish brothers and sisters, or our leaders.

The tragedy of Eicha is that we do not interpret our own lives with optimism and gratitude. We hear frantic phone calls to come home and help with the kids as intrusions, not as brachos. We see the hard work and effort that goes into raising a family and making a living as aggravating – as if we somehow deserve that life should be easier.

We forget how good our lives are; how Hashem has showered our generation with such tremendous prosperity. We don't always realize that the things which cause us so much stress and anxiety are indicative not of Hashem's absence, but His continued presence in our lives.

These disparate interpretations of reality are at the root of the Churban. Do we look at our lives and say Eicha! How amazing! Or Eicha, how awful!

Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky once ran into a talmid and inquired about how he was doing. The young man gave a krechtz, explaining that his child had kept him up several nights in a row. He then shrugged his shoulders and sighed, “I guess it's all part of Tzaar gidul banim – the pain of raising children”. The great gadol turned to his talmid and said, “That is not tzaar gidul banim, the pain of child rearing, it is simply gidul banim, child rearing.”

Imagine a World

Today, we yearn for a world of Mikdash. A world without anti-semitism. A world where the Jewish people are held in high esteem. A world, like Chazal describe, without hatred or bigotry, without infertility or miscarriages. A world where the rains, and stock-markets, come at just the right time, where everyone has a parnasa – and more! – and people are fulfilled in their work, and in their marriages.

This world existed once upon a time in Yerushalayim – the עיר שלם – the city of feeling complete and whole. But without appreciating it, without gratitude, Hashem took it away.

Our challenge then is still our challenge today. Chazal tell us that any generation in which the Beis HaMikdash is not rebuilt, it is as if we have destroyed it. Like in generations of old, the choice of how to interpret the “Eicha” of our lives is in our hands. Do we look at our world and say “It's amazing!” or do we kvetch and complain?

I've often noted to new parents that Hashem gives everyone sleepless night, and all we can ask for is that they are sleepless for good things. In those bleary eyed moments, nose to the grind, we shouldn't be so blind as to ignore that this is the sleeplessness with which Hashem has blessed me.

If we truly wish to see Yerushalayim restored, perhaps we should work on the emotions that will keep it that way. Hashem should help us to view our brachos as brachos, with humility, generosity and gratitude.

In the early twentieth century, a machlokes erupted between to giants of Torah; Rabbi Eliezer 'Leizer' Gordon of Telz and Rabbi Chaim Soloveitchik of Brisk.

The subject of the controversy was whether or not to produce a religious Jewish newspaper.

The Tezler Rosh Yeshiva was adamant that the newspaper should be created and supported to ensure that Yeshiva students got their news from a kosher source. It was obvious that the only way forward was an exclusively religious publication.

Reb Chaim countered that it was impossible to produce a newspaper that didn't contain Lashon Hara and secular or other questionable material – unless the editorial committee was made up by Gedolei HaDor; none of whom had the time or interest to play such a role.

The machlokes reached its apex when Reb Leizer proceeded with the publication despite Reb Chaim's protests. All of this led to an uncomfortable moment when Reb Laizer Gordon was not invited to the wedding of Reb Chaim's son, Rav Moshe Soloveitchik to Pesha Feinstein. (The parents of the Rav.)

In “The Soloveitchik Heritage”, Shulamith Soloveitchik Meiselman tells the story of the morning of the wedding (pg. 18):

Soon an uninvited guest, one of great distinction, appeared: Reb Eliezer Gordon, founder of the Telser Yeshiva... Reb Ele (Feinstein) was delighted by Reb Eliezer's sudden appearance in the hall and embraced him with open arms. Later, he approached Reb Chayyim and said, “Since Reb Eliezer is the oldest rabbi here, and since he is the founder and leader of one of the greatest Yeshivos in Eastern Europe, I must honor him with the most important blessing in the ceremony.” Reb Chayyim understood and did not object.

A number of years ago, one of my Rabbeim told me that when they asked Reb Laizer why he decided to attend, despite the obvious lack of invitation, he responded: Good friends don't need an invitation.

It's a thought and a value system which we are often too shy and/or too proud to embody. We are so easily insulted that we bristle at any critique, and we write off anyone who doesn't conform to our truths and perspectives. But that's not how friendship works; and we desperately need to reconsider how it does work:

As of 2021, a mere 13% of US adults reported having more than ten friends, while 12% reported having no friends at all. This, of course, is all the more troubling as the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services explains:

The physical health consequences of poor or insufficient connection include a 29% increased risk of heart disease, a 32% increased risk of stroke, and a 50% increased risk of developing dementia for older adults. Additionally, lacking social connection increases risk of premature death by more than 60%.

To address this painful reality, let's consider how Chazal describe one of the most painful and lonely experiences in all of Torah: The case of the inadvertent killer in our Parsha. This person has accidentally ended the life of another, and must now flee from his home and community; seeking asylum in a City of Refuge. There he must build a new life – a life of remorse, regret and reevaluation. But the goal is ultimately to rehabilitate this broken soul; to provide them with the means to a meaningful existence once again.

To this end, Chazal (מכות י׳ א׳) explain:

תלמיד שגלה מגלין רבו עמו שנאמר וחי עביד ליה מידי דתהוי ליה חיותא... א”ר יוחנן הרב שגלה מגלין ישיבתו עמו

In the case of a student who was exiled, his teacher is exiled to the city of refuge with him, so that the student can continue studying Torah with him there, as it is stated: “And he shall flee to one of these cities and live,” from which it is derived: Perform some actions for the unintentional murderer so that life in the city will be conducive to living for him... Rabbi Yochanan says: In the case of a teacher of Torah who was exiled, his Yeshiva is exiled with him.

The centrality of Torah to a person's life insists that a student is not abandoned by his Rebbe, nor a Rebbe by his students. If we want a person to live, we cannot deprive them of their Torah community.

But with these values so firmly rooted in our understanding of failure, rehabilitation and Talmud Torah, there is a peculiar and glaring omission in the Gemara.

Nowhere – in all of Shas – is a friend commanded to go into exile with the inadvertent killer! A Rebbe must go, a Talmid must go. But the Chavrusa? Why should he be allowed to remain?!

Chazal certainly understand the great importance of friendship as Rava (תענית כג א׳) tells us: אוֹ חַבְרוּתָא אוֹ מִיתוּתָא – Either friendship or death. So why not obligate a person to accompany their friend into exile?

The Pnei Menachem of Ger explains: The Torah does not need to obligate a friend to go along. If you are a good friend, you'll go – whether or not there is some formal obligation. And if not, there's nothing to obligate – you're simply not a friend. Good friends, real friends do not need obligations or invitations. They come when they are needed.

This Shabbos we will be announcing the beginning of Chodesh Av – the most challenging month of the year. But our custom is to call it Menachem Av – which literally means, “Comforting our Father”, because there is nothing that comforts Hashem more than knowing that His kids are getting along with each other. The Avoda this month is to pick up the phone, make a call, send a text. Show up to help, to comfort, to celebrate. That's how we comfort Hashem.

Hashem should help us to be there for each other, with the hope and the tefillah that He will soon comfort us as well.

A number of years ago, I was teaching Hilchos Purim, discussing the halacha of when to read the Megillah if you’re traveling between Yerushalaim – a walled city – and anywhere else – unwalled cities.

At one point, a student raised their hand and asked: “What happens if you don’t read the Megillah?”

“Um...I don’t know,” I responded. “I guess you didn’t do a mitzvah.”

“But Rebbe, what happens?” It's a good question, but I was at a loss. “I have no idea. I don’t know how Hashem deals with that – it's up to Him.”

The student replied, “No, that’s not what I meant. I want to know, if I miss the Megillah – I didn’t hear it all of Purim – is there a make up date? Is there anyway to fix it?”

As far as the Halacha is concerned, the answer of course is no. Amongst the harshest realities of our existence, in almost every aspect of our lives, we don’t get do-overs.

The Baal HaTanya in his Igeres HaTeshuva (פרק א׳) writes that one can never fully atone for failure to perform a positive mitzvah, much like one can never catch a bus that they missed. (For this reason עשה דוחה לא תעשה). You can always get another bus, but that first opportunity is lost forever.

As the American author Kurt Vonnegut once said:

“Of all the words of mice and men, the saddest are, “It might have been.”

Missed Opportunities in Jewish History

The tragedy of missed opportunities is intensified and compounded when their is so much greatness latent in the moment that is missed. These days are commemorated in our calendar, at this time of year.

The day we call the 17th of Tammuz was the day that the Roman legion breached the walls of Yerushalayim, signaling the beginning of the end for a Jewish Capital city for almost 2000 years. Yet Chazal tell us that the tragedy of the day began many centuries earlier:

When the Jewish people were getting ready to build the golden calf, Aharon HaKohen tried to delay them. As the calf was completed, he stalled the people saying “חג לה׳ מחר” – Tomorrow will be a festival for Hashem. Seemingly, his hope was to delay so that Moshe would return in time, and the festival for the calf would be cancelled.

Rav Chaim Vital writes (ליקוטי תורה כי תשא ד״ה ויאמר חג) that:

Aharon HaKohen meant exactly what he said. The next day should have been a Chag for Hashem. On that day, Moshe was to descend with the Luchos – the symbol of the eternal relationship with God and His people. That was the power and uniqueness of the day. It was a moment that should have been commemorated as one of the greatest in the Jewish calendar. And one day it will be.

The power of the 17th of Tammuz, and indeed, these three weeks, returns to challenge us in each generation.

The Walls Were Always Coming Down

Chazal (פסיקתא רבתי א׳) explain that one day Yerushalayim will expand throughout Eretz Yisrael, and that Eretz Yisrael will expand throughout the world. In this way all of humanity will be able to experience the Kedusha of Yerushalayim.

Perhaps this is challenging to imagine practically, but at the very least, Chazal are describing a world where the walls of Yerushalayim have come down. A world where Yiddishkeit is not so defensive and apologetic; where Torah is celebrated and shared.

The Imrei Noam of Dzikov (מועדים ח״א ר״ח תמוז) explains that the walls were always going to come down in Tammuz. The only question is what happens when they do. Do we allow the enemy to invade, or do we reach out with confidence and conviction? Do we expand Jewish life, or shrink it?

The Greatest (and scariest) Opportunity in History

As Torah observant Jews, we are often quick to bemoan the “openness” of our generation. Walls that were so obvious and clear throughout human history have come down. People can think, speak and do things that were impossible to consider in previous decades. It feels like the walls have been breached.

But we should not forget, there are other walls that have fallen as well. The walls preventing Klal Yisrael from returning to Eretz Yisrael has all but disappeared. We can finally return home. The walls of language, skill and access to Torah have been pulverized with a proliferation of Seforim and online shiurim. We can learn more, and in greater depth than ever before. And the vasts distance between friends and family are closed with the press of a button – a call, a text, a conversation on FaceTime. We are more able to build and maintain relationships than ever before.

In the deepest way, the walls between us and Hashem have never been so easily traversed.

The Baal Shem Tov explained pasuk in Eicha: כל רודפיה השיגוה בין המצרים – All her pursuers reached her in the narrow places.

משיג השכינה ביותר בימים אלו Anyone who wants, can find Hashem's Presense even more in these days.

If we are more vulnerable, then our access to Hashem must be easier as well.

Whether we like it or not, Hashem has placed us in a generation in which all the walls have come down. Which means that He is asking us one simple question: Are we expanding Yerushaliyim outwards, or cowering behind the rubble hoping the enemy doesn't find us?

The Aish Kodesh in his personal diary (צו וזרוז ז׳) writes about the challenge of spiritual growth in a world of openness. He explains that when one is standing in a raging river, there is no option of standing still.

בלתי אם יאזור את מתניו תמיד בתורתו ועבודתו להוסיף ולעלות, לא ינוח ולא ישקוט, רק אל על יסע. The only way to grow is to strengthen ourselves in Torah and Avodah – relentlessly. Not to relax and be quiet, but to continue moving upwards and onwards.

Make no mistake, these are the only two options. Either we conquer our world with Kedusha, or risk being overrun by the alternative. When the walls come down, there is no option of pretending things are the same. They are not.

Our most destructive Yetzer Hara is to continue from day to day procrastinating important activities and decisions. Wasting hours, failing to harness great moments, not taking advantage of that which is in front of our eyes. But these moments will not return.

We daven every Shabbos before taking out the Sefer Torah that Hashem should rebuild the walls of Yerushalayim:

הֵיטִיבָה בִרְצונְךָ אֶת צִיּון. תִּבְנֶה חומות יְרוּשָׁלָיִם:

Do the good that You desire in Zion. Build the walls of Jerusalem...

We are anxiously waiting for the day that Hashem returns boundaries and borders to all things sacred. But in our generation, today and especially in these three weeks, we have the chance today to reach across all the boundaries – personal, interpersonal and spiritual. The walls are down. The gates are open. Now is our chance to make a move.

Enter your email to subscribe to updates.