Rabbi Rael Blumenthal


#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.