Thursday, January 7, 2010

Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Shemos 5770

שבת טעם החיים שמות תש"ע
Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Shemos 5770

Have compassion now for future generations

ויפן כה וכה וירא כי אין איש ויך את המצרי ויטמנהו בחול, he turned this way and that and saw that there was no man, so he struck down the Egyptian and hid him in the sand(Shemos 2:12).
The Torah records how Moshe went out to his brothers and witnessed an Egyptian hitting one of his fellow Jews. Moshe looked both ways and then struck the Egyptian, killing him. The Midrash states that when Moshe witnessed the Egyptian striking the Jew, he looked into the future to see if there would be any descendants who would be able to justify keeping the Egyptian alive. After Moshe came to the realization that the Egyptian would bear no such descendants, Moshe killed him.
Why did Moshe need to think twice about killing the Egyptian?
The Egyptian was guilty of engaging in an affair with the Jew’s wife, sinning with idolatry, and committing murder and persecution. Why was it necessary for Moshe to pause and contemplate whether the Egyptian deserved to be put to death? Could there be no better indictment than the Egyptian’s own actions? Why would Moshe have needed to consider the Egyptian’s descendants? Wasn’t his indiscretion egregious in its own right to deserve this punishment?
Rabbi Shmuel Birinbaum saves a boy’s future
Rabbi Yaakov Bender, Dean of Yeshiva Darchei Torah, was once addressing parents regarding the dangers of the internet. With the intention of imparting to parents that their children’s spirituality was at stake, Rabbi Bender related the following incident involving the late dean of the Mir Yeshiva, Rabbi Shmuel Birinbaum of blessed memory.
One of the students at the Mir became addicted to gambling. A group of older students were concerned about the boy’s potentially negative influence on them and believed that it would be prudent to ask Rabbi Birinbaum to expel that student. “I will never forget Rabbi Birnbaum’s response. After hearing us out, he had one question: ‘Did you fast for forty days? ‘Prior to making such a critical decision, you must realize that if we expel this boy, we may be the catalyst for his complete abandonment of Judaism. One who could fathom making such an essential decision would surely fast for forty days!’”
Subsequent to this discussion, Rabbi Birinbaum relayed that his personal intervention was necessary. Rather than expelling the student, Rabbi Birinbaum took him on as a personal study partner. The warmth that the rabbi demonstrated had a profound impact on him. With time, a complete transformation took place. That student eventually became an accomplished Torah scholar and a teacher of note.

Fast for forty days and pray for his successes
“The story doesn’t end here,” continued Rabbi Bender. “I related this incident while eulogizing Rabbi Birinbaum at his funeral. Months after the funeral, a woman with a son in our yeshiva, who had been having a very rough time, received a call from the principal to inform her of her son’s considerable improvement. The mother proudly explained what she thought was the cause of the dramatic turn-around.
“‘After hearing the incident with Rabbi Birinbaum and the troubled boy,’” the mother said, “‘I realized that one should never despair. I took it upon myself to fast for forty days and prayed for his success. It certainly was not simple, and I had to refrain from eating at luncheons and on a long airplane flight. Nevertheless, I saw it through and feel that HaShem has answered my prayers.’”
This incident might shed light on why the Midrash finds it necessary to inform us that Moshe looked into the future to see if the Egyptian would have any worthy descendants. While it is easy to jump to condemn someone for his wrongdoing, we must always contemplate the potential future of that person. Though his actions may not warrant special consideration right now, his future can be most promising.
The Shabbos connection
Throughout the week we are focused on earning a livelihood and raising families. Shabbos is a time when we can step back and observe other people’s needs. Shabbos is referred to as a semblance of the World to Come, thus Shabbos reflects the future of our people. HaShem should allow us to focus on helping others and then we will ultimately help ourselves, when we witness the arrival of Moshiach Tzidkeinu, speedily, in our days.

Shabbos Stories
Anything to avoid shaming someone
Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky writes: My 2nd grade rebbe, Rabbi Chaim Follman, asked his Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetzky, to officiate at the wedding of his daughter. Reb Yaakov checked his appointment calendar and shook his head slowly. "Unfortunately I have a prior commitment and cannot fulfill your request." He wished Reb Chaim and his daughter a heartfelt Mazel tov, showered them with blessings, and added that if his schedule would open he would gladly join them at the wedding.
On the day of the wedding, Rav Yaakov was informed that his original appointment was canceled. Immediately, he made plans to attend the wedding. Assuming he would come after the ceremony, he arrived at the hall long after the time that the invitation had announced that the ceremony would commence.
Upon entering the wedding hall, Rav Yaakov realized that for one reason or another, the chupah (marriage ceremony) had not yet begun. Quickly, Rav Yaakov went downstairs and waited, almost in hiding, near the coat room for nearly 40 minutes until after the ceremony was completed. A few students who noticed the Rosh Yeshiva huddled in a corner reciting Tehillim (Psalms) could not imagine why he was not upstairs and participating in the chupah. They, however, did not approach him until after the ceremony.
Reb Yaakov explained his actions. "Surely Reb Chaim had made arrangements for a different misader kedushin (officiating rabbi). Had he known that I was in the wedding hall he would be in a terrible bind --after all, I was his first choice and I am much older than his second choice. Reb Chaim would be put in the terribly uncomfortable position of asking someone to defer his honor for me. Then Reb Chaim would have to placate that rabbi with a different honor, thus displacing someone else. I felt the best thing to do was stay in a corner until the entire ceremony had ended -- sparing everybody from the embarrassment of even the slightest demotion."
Planning for the future
In the early 1920's, Silas Hardoon, a Sephardic Jewish millionaire, made his fortune living in China. Childless, he began to give his money away to Chinese charities. One night his father appeared in a dream and implored him to do something for his own people. Silas shrugged it off. After all, there were hardly any of his people in China. But the dreams persisted, and Silas decided to act. The next day he spoke to Chacham Ibraham, a Sephardic Rabbi who led the tiny Chinese Jewish community. The Chacham's advice sounded stranger than the dreams. He told Silas to build a beautiful synagogue in the center of Shanghai. It should contain more than 400 seats, a kitchen, and a dining room. Mr. Hardoon followed the charge to the letter. He named the shul "Bais Aharon" in memory of his father. A few years later Mr. Hardoon died leaving barely a minyan to enjoy a magnificent edifice, leaving a community to question the necessity of the tremendous undertaking.
In 1940, Japanese counsel to Lithuania Sempo Sugihara issued thousands of visas for Kovno Jews to take refuge in Curaçao via Japan. Included in that group was the Mirrer Yeshiva. They arrived in Kobe but were transported to Shanghai where they remained for the entire war. The Mirrer Yeshiva had a perfect home with a kitchen, study hall and dining room -- Bais Aharon! The building had exactly enough seats to house all the students for five solid years of Torah study during the ravages of World War II. The dream of decades earlier combined with action, became a thriving reality.
What can I do?
The holy Chafetz Chaim zt”l (R’ Yisrael Meir Kagan, 1838-1933) used to tell the following story: The famous Maggid of Dubna zt”l (R’ Yaakov Wolf Krantz, 1740-1804) was once strolling in the streets of Dubna when he saw something that caught his attention, stopping him in his tracks. Ahead of him, a blind man was being lead through the city thoroughfare by his young son. From their dress, it was obvious they were poor.
Some people might have passed the pair by without giving them much of a thought. One with a more sensitive heart might stop for a moment, reflecting sadly on the hard life this man and his son must lead. Someone else might take the opportunity to silently thank HaShem for the blessings of good health, before continuing on. “Tomorrow,” he would promise himself, “I will say ‘Blessed are You, HaShem…Who gives sight to the blind,’ with extra concentration!”
The Maggid had a sensitive heart, and knew how to count his blessings, but above all he had compassion. Despite realizing he was unable to solve all the world’s woes, he felt compelled to do something to help this unfortunate pair.
“Shalom aleichem, peace to you, my brothers! How are things?”
The blind man, resentful of his bitter lot, did not return the greetings, nor answer the Maggid’s query. The son looked up at the distinguished rabbi with eyes full of pain and suffering. “This is my father,” he said quietly. “My mother is dead. We live at the far end of town. Our house is run down, and very cold. We cannot afford wood to light the oven.”
Hearing his son’s words, the blind man chimed in: “Shloimie, who are you talking with? Come, let’s go—there’s no time to waste on such idle chatter.”
“My dear brother,” the Maggid said, “please, there’s no rush. Tell me, have you eaten?”
“I’m just now taking father to the soup kitchen. We will receive a hot meal, and then we will go back home. That’s why my father’s in a rush—he doesn’t want to miss our one hot meal.”
“Then please, come to my house. I promise to serve you a fine meal—even better than the soup kitchen!” With his offer, the young lad’s sad eyes lit up with the slightest spark of joy. For a moment, the Maggid saw through the sadness. Beneath those mournful eyes, he realized, a radiant soul lay dormant.
At first, to his son’s disappointment, his father refused the offer. It was beggarly enough, it seems, to be served by the anonymous workers of the soup kitchen. But the Maggid would not take no for an answer, and eventually the father was convinced of his sincerity; he consented to come.
The Maggid brought them into his warm house, and prepared them a sumptuous meal. He did everything he could to make them as comfortable as could be. Slowly, the blind man’s icy demeanor began to thaw. “Not bad,” he said quietly after the meal, “it’s nice being here.”
The delicious meal and first-class service could not possibly have prepared him for the rabbi’s next words. “Perhaps you’d like to move in with me?” he asked matter-of-fact. “I’ve got a spacious, heated, guest room for you to sleep, and we eat three meals a day. Thank G-d, I can afford to share with others. This way your son can learn in cheder with other boys his age.” The mere thought of living in a normal, warm home, and being able to go to school with other children brought a gleam to the young boy’s eyes. His father wasn’t sure. But after some sincere words of encouragement from his host, he consented to move in, “…on a trial basis!”
Despite the upgrade in living conditions, the blind man remained lonely and self-pitying; at times his grumpiness was almost too much to bear. Yet the great Maggid did bear it all, with a smile. “Welcoming guests is even greater than receiving the presence of the Shechina (Shabbos 127a),” he would remind himself when things got particularly rough. Rabbi Krantz’s home was to be the man’s last; it was there, a few years later, that he breathed his final breath.
As time passed, the young boy’s true potential began to emerge. After quickly catching up to the other students, he overtook them. He was blessed with what some called a photographic memory, able to recall almost everything he had ever learned to near perfection. And his remarkable diligence became a matter of wonder among the townsfolk. He approached his studies with a sharp, penetrating mind-set; he was never satisfied until he understood a topic to its absolute depth. With time, he began to compile his own novellae, which were in turn discussed by the eminent Torah scholars of the city, much to the satisfaction of his step-father, the Maggid.
When the time came for him to marry, the Maggid arranged a suitable shidduch. With his help, the young man began building his own family and home, much to our eternal gratitude. You see, after a short while, he was asked to become the Chief Rabbi of the famed city of Brody. His name? R’ Shlomo Kluger zt”l, eminent halachic authority and prolific author.
Let us imagine, for a moment, that things had worked out differently. That the Maggid, in a rush to get somewhere—had sighed in silent sympathy with the unfortunate father-and-son, regretting there was nothing much he could do for them—and then continued on his way. They too would have continued on to the soup kitchen, just like they did every day. No one would ever have known—what we would have lost, what the boy would have lost—what the Maggid would have lost! A single moment of contemplation, of asking, “How can I make a difference?” changed all that for eternity. (

Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Shemos 5770
I will be giving a class in Navi on Shabbos afternoon at Bais Haknesses HaGra 14561 Lincoln in Oak Park, half an hour before Mincha.
Have a wonderful and delightful Shabbos.
Prepared by Rabbi Binyomin Adler.
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