PAIN-FREE IN EXILE
My personal physician has a good sense of humor. The first time I met him, he told me, “If you wake up one morning and you don’t have a new pain, dial 911!” I thought this was just a good line, until I realized it's wisdom. Over the years, I have frequently awakened with new pains, often in limbs I didn’t know existed. I realize that one can actually bless G-d for all these pains, because they mean that you are alive!
THE LAND IS THIRSTING FOR WATER
“Jacob … took from the stones of the place, which he arranged around his head …” (Genesis 28:11) “because he was afraid of dangerous animals” (Rashi).
How does a row of stones protect a person from dangerous animals?
THE COVENANT OF THE FATHERS
“Baruch Ata Hashem - Blessed are You... our G-d and the G-d of our forefathers, G-d of Abraham, G-d of Isaac and G-d of Jacob, the great, mighty and awesome G-d, the supreme G-d, Who bestows beneficial kindnesses and creates everything, Who recalls the kindnesses of the Patriarchs and brings a Redeemer to their children’s children for His Name’s sake, with love. O King, Helper, Savior, and Shield, Blessed are You, Shield of Abraham.”
KEDUSHA ON SUTPHIN BOULEVARD
“Yitzchak instituted the mincha prayer, as it is stated, ‘And Yitzchak went out to speak in the field toward evening.’ (Beraishis 24:63) ‘Speech’ [in this verse] means nothing other than prayer….” (Berachos 26b)
ABRAHAM'S PLAN FOR THE END OF HISTORY
As I said last week, it is astounding how relevant Biblical events are today. We can understand our own world only by reference to the words of Torah. The phrase “ma’ase avos siman l’bonim - the deeds of the fathers are a sign for the sons” is a signpost illuminating our pathway. Any other attempts to understand today’s world will lead us into darkness. As King David says, “You have preserved me from my descent to the pit” (Psalm 30).
THE MAN WHO DISCOVERED REALITY!
It is amazing how relevant Biblical events are today. The events surrounding the Garden of Eden and the Flood are totally relevant, beacons illuminating today’s dark world. And so, of course, are the events surrounding the life of Abraham. This Hero of the Ages refused to waste his life by adhering to mindless lifestyles and bestial behavior.
He thought about life! Yes, my friends, he thought! Thinking is an almost-lost, but essential art.
"YOU ARE BANDITS!"
Within the last few months, two great rabbis said exactly the same words to me: “Moshiach had better come soon, or else there will be no one around for him to come for.” Did they mean there will be no people around physically or spiritually? I am not going to speculate, but, whatever the meaning, these are frightening words!
STAY IN THE SUKKAH
“Achas shoalti … one thing I asked of G-d, that shall I seek: to dwell in the House of G-d all the days of my life, to behold the sweetness of G-d and to contemplate in His Sanctuary” (Psalm 27).
In this world, are we really able to dwell in His Sanctuary? I believe the answer is “yes,” especially during this season. When we sit in the sukkah, we are enveloped by His Presence.
THE PROOF THAT OUR PRAYERS ARE NOT IN VAIN
“Shir hama’alos … Song of Ascents...When G-d will return the captivity of Tzion, we will be like dreamers” (Psalm 126).
One of our biggest problems during the Ten Days of Return may be that we have trouble believing G-d will grant us complete victory. We have trouble believing that our troubles can really become blessings, that our weaknesses can become strengths, that exile will become redemption.
"THEN THOSE WHO FEAR G-D SPOKE TO ONE ANOTHER"
The Days of Judgment are approaching and we should be afraid.
There is a startling transition in this week’s Torah portion from the depths of Amalek to the heights of consolation in the reading from the Prophets. The Torah portion dealing with Amalek bears a great deal of thought. This is the nation which hates us most, the nation whose presence will trouble the world until the time of the Messiah.
SALVATION FROM ABOVE
Last week I wrote about the heroic life of Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis a”h.
We were in Israel when we heard the news of her passing. We knew that we had to fly back to America, but the funeral was the next morning. We tried to book the midnight flight, but it was full, so we wound up taking the first flight the next morning.
THE MECHANICS OF TESHUVA
I believe that doing teshuva - returning to G-d - is the most difficult thing in the world.
“Difficult” does not mean “bad.” As the Bostoner Rebbe of Far Rockaway, Rabbi Yaakov Horowitz Shlita”h, told me some sixteen years ago, when I was trying to get my first book published, “If it’s easy it’s not emmesdik (truthful)!” Important things are difficult to accomplish.
AN HEROIC LIFE
I write these words about one hour after the passing of Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis.
VOICE OUT OF THE FIRE
As I write, Tisha B’Av has just ended, and I am weak to exhaustion. The words have shattered me. The lamentations are so devastating that I have no strength left. How can any nation survive what we have survived? And how can it be that the Nation of Israel still remains as a distinct entity after the destruction upon destruction which we have endured?
WHERE IS THE NECHAMA?
Tisha B’Av has passed.
Where is the nechama - the consolation?
THE CRAFT OF OUR FATHERS
Now we have arrived at the tragic week, the tragic day. Every year at this time an ominous cloud descends upon us, but this year it is especially palpable. Something so powerful and overwhelming is going on in the world that many would prefer to think about other things, which is one reason that so many choose to lose themselves in the daily affairs of life. But we must try to confront reality.
THE PLAINS OF MOAB
“These are the journeys of the Children of Israel ….”
High drama! This epic journey has inspired the entire world!
WHAT'S SO IMPORTANT ABOUT MORALITY?
“Pinchas, son of Elazar, son of Aaron the Priest … stood up from amidst the assembly and took a spear in his hand. He followed [them] into the tent and pierced them both … and the plague was halted from upon the children of Israel…”
“Behold! I give him My covenant of peace” (Numbers 25:7-12).
HOW PLEASANT ARE YOUR TENTS, O JACOB
At a recent wedding, I saw an amazing sight. The groom was standing under the wedding canopy with his arm around his father’s waist. I was extremely moved.
"SEEK G-D WHEN HE CAN BE FOUND"
“Seek G-d when He can be found. Call upon Him when He is near” (Isaiah 55:6).
So begins the Haftarah reading from the Prophets we say at the afternoon prayer on fast days.
"UNDERSTOOD ONLY BY G-D"
We are not going to be able to unravel the mystery of the Red Heifer. If King Solomon could not fathom this, how can we expect to? Nevertheless, I would like to think about this unique commandment.
CITY OF THE ANTS
“When [Moses] finished speaking all these words, the ground that was under them split open. The earth opened its mouth and swallowed them and their households and all the people who were with Korach and the entire wealth. They and all that was theirs descended alive to the pit; the earth covered them over and they were lost from among the congregation” (Numbers 16:31-33).
MY BEST FRIEND
In this week’s Torah portion we learn about what could be termed “depression.” Its effects are so serious that they lead directly to the greatest catastrophes in Jewish history. Its essence is expressed by the following words of the Spies : “There we saw the Nephilim, the sons of the giant … We were like grasshoppers in our eyes, and so we were in their eyes” (Numbers 13:33).
We have now passed through the holiday of Shavuos and have entered what the non-Jewish world calls “the long, hot summer.” When I was younger, that meant trouble. As a kid, I remember the long, hot summer meant that bored kids, out of school, were looking for trouble.
WHY DAVID MUST COME FROM THE MOST REVILED NATION
There is a magnificent chapter in The Book of Our Heritage (the classic translation of Sefer HaToda’ah by Rabbi Eliyahu Kitov zt”l), which I have the custom of reading aloud to the family on Shavuos. It is called “Ruth and David,” and I cry every time I read it.
SURVIVING THE REBUKE
Every word in the Torah reaches infinitely upwards. The more we understand, the closer these words carry us toward the Gates of Heaven. The rebuke particularly stands out, to me at least, as among the most optimistic passages in the entire Bible.
“The seventh year shall be a complete rest for the land, a Sabbath for G-d …” (Leviticus 25:4). After six years of toil, the Land rests.
At this season, just after Passover, I mark two personal occasions, and I would like to tell you about them.
CRACKING THE EGG SHELL
As we travel from Egypt to Mount Sinai during these days of Sefiras haOmer, we are reminded of the challenges of this season. Indeed, as I mentioned in a recent article, the ceaseless and almost-irresistible power of the evil inclination is constantly trying to pull us back into Egypt.
"A KINGDOM OF PRIESTS AND A HOLY NATION"
(Note to Readers: From Shabbos Chol ha Moed Pesach until Shabbos Dvarim (which will occur on 9 Av/August 13), there will be a discrepancy between the parsha which is read in Israel versus that which is read outside Israel. Our articles will follow the order of the parsha which is read outside Israel.)
When car windows were smashed in Far Rockaway during Passover, a resident was quoted in the news as saying: “I don’t really [care] about the … window. They didn’t touch a thing in [the car]. … It was obvious vandalism, and the question is, was there a motive? Why was this neighborhood targeted on Passover, our holiday?”