From the desk of Rabbi Leonard (Yehuda) Blank MS, BCC
Director of Chaplaincy Commission and External Affairs
Rabbinical Alliance of America/ Igud Harabonim
October 29,2020

A rabbi and a chaplain must be able to look beyond the possible shortcomings, the difficulties and the challenges of the congregant or patient they are offering care too. It is possible that person might have done things in his or her life past or present which could be construed as being wrongful, sinful, or according to that person guilty of what he or she feels might have done or is presently doing. The rabbi and or chaplain cannot be judgmental. We are never to be thought of by anyone especially ourselves to be judge and jury in our minds, our thoughts nor in our beliefs. Our hearts and minds, are always open minded with sincerity about the person we are offering care to. There is so much turmoil in the world today. We must remain strong and steadfast in our beliefs, our love of H and to care for others. We can be very knowledgeable in the psycho social, the dynamics of the human mind, of human behavior, of human nature, but we seek the ways of the righteous to help guide us to help and guide others in their times of distress, in their times of need and possible misunderstandings. We try to uplift the spirits of others with open hearts and minds.

I would like to share with you from Rabbi Chaim Wasserman, formally Rabbi of Young Israel of Passaic Clifton NJ and presently president of National Council of Young Israel in Israel some of his thoughts on Parshat Lech Lecha found in the sefar of Divrei Torah, A collection Torah on the Parshiyot and Yomim Tovim, thoughts by the rabbanite of the Young Israel Movement of the NCYI 1993

‘Echoing Rashi’s comments to the Torah, the Maggid of Kosinitz, in an attempt to define the essence of Torah, also wondered why the Chumash began with Bereishit and Noach and not with Parshat Lech Lecha. For only in Lech Lecha do we learn about the activities of Avraham Avinu, the first Jew; everything else in the two preceding parshiyot are of universal significance without any content that is specifically Jewish.

The Maggid, much like Rashi, realized that these seemingly unnecessary sections do indeed contain vital lessons by which one must understand the Torah which follows. He offered the following explanation. Three highlights of the two parshiyot preceding Lech Lecha are (1) the murder perpetrated by Cain, (2) the generation of the great flood in the days of Noach, and ( 3 ) the plans for the tower of Bavel.  Each person, said the Maggid, possess the very human qualities which were the root of each of these three occurrences. And these traits must be faced and dealt with even before the rest of Torah, the specific lessons for Jews.

In the case of Cain it was jealously (kin’ah) of his brother’s grace in the eyes of G that led him to commit such a dastardly act. The generation of the flood was destroyed because of the unbridled lust for possessions (ta’avah) which was characterized every social transaction (vatimalay ha’aretz chamas). And it was only insatiable hunger for honor (kavod) which motivated the building of the tower of Bavel (na’vaseh lanu shem).

Every person is touched by each of these three attitudes: jealousy, a lust for possession and a drive for honor. And until one comes to proper grips with these three human dispositions, one cannot effectively approach the study of Torah or the Torah way of life, explained the Maggid. The Gerrer Rebbe (in S”fat Emet to Pirkei Avos 4:21) explained upon the Maggid’s approach by citing here the dictum of Rabbi Eleazer haKappar: Jealously (kin’ah) unbridled lust ( ta’avah) and uncontrollable desire for honor (kavod) obliterate nearly all traces of a Divine image (tzelem Elokim) in which all humanity was fashioned. The Jew, therefore, must first learn to be a “mensch” before being able to grapple with the imperatives of Torah living. This, claims the S’fat Emet, is what Chazal meant when they taught that “Drech eretz kodmah laTorah”.

This, then is the Divine purpose of starting the Torah with Bereishit and Noach; so that a Jew understands first which human virtues are needed as a prerequisite for Torah study and Torah living. Without this introduction, the rest of Torah, starting with Lech Lecha and Avraham Avinu, would be seriously flawed.” Avraham was known for his tremendous love of H and doing gemilus chasadim. His nephew Lot, though he was cared for and lived in the daled amos of his uncle Avraham, learning, experiencing, all the virtues of G and how the essence of being a “mensch”. Yet, he decided to live a different style of life, leading all those with him to follow in his ways. Nevertheless, Avraham Avinu still showed much care for him and gave him first choice of where he would like live, what choice of land he wished to have. Later on, Avraham Avinu even went to battle to save his life when he was in jeopardy, continuously doing gemilus chasadim in many different ways with continued love in H. In Lech Lecha, Rav Moshe Feinstein in Darash Moshe regarding posuk 14:22. In his conversation with Malchizedek the king of Sodom regarding Avraham not accepting that which the king wanted him to have nor baring a grudge about the four kings. He wanted to convey that any wealth came from H. Rav Moshe mentions” from this we see the great faith and trust in H that underlay Avraham’s every action and formed the basis of his mission in life, publicizing H’s goodness to the world. By telling the king of Sodom that it was H who created heaven and earth, rather than merely rejecting his gift, Avraham conveyed the clear message that proclaiming his faith in H was far more important to him than addressing the insignificance of wealth.” (Darash Moshe, a selection of HaGaon HaRav Moshe Feinstein ztkl choice comments on the Torah by ArtScroll Judaica Classics published by Mesorah Publications, ltd).

Rabbonim and chaplains come across many from diverse backgrounds who often share in confidence personal trials, tribulations, challenges, and difficulties in life. They might be seeking forgiveness, a direction to take, guidance and perhaps, remorse, regret or none of those. Whatever the case, we have to be sincere, understanding and non judgmental. This can often be challenging especially when there might very well be differences of opinions. Here is an interesting topic that once again came into being. There was a recent shooting of an individual by the police in Philadelphia, PA and once again there were protests that carried over into other states. What should have been and there was an attempt for the protests to be peaceful, in many areas as shown in the various media, of many people who caused destruction of property, people got hurt and there were videos of hundreds of people breaking into stores, taking loads of merchandise from those stores. Should anyone be engaged in a conversation of what was happening, it is difficult to comprehend why, how and what should have been peaceful turned into what many would say a disastrous situation. Yet, there are those who might say, believe and justify significant reasons of what happened . It is often tempting to argue or get involved in a conversation of controversy which heaven forbid could even lead to a confrontational situation. As rabbis, as chaplains and rebbitzens, understand and know such a negative direction is neither helpful, meaningful or appropriate. Being a rabbi, chaplain and rebbitzen takes a lot of know how. Many are trained to listen and how to engage in a non confrontational and meaningful way. What we all have is the wisdom HaKadosh Boruch Hu has given us. What we continuously gain from the Torah as mentioned by Rav Moshe and Rav Wasserman. I have often stated, we all are ambassadors of the Aibershta. We are fortunate to have had and have presently many Gedolim who guide us and we convey to others the essence of achdus, the love of the Torah , the love of Yiddishkeit, the meaning of making a Kiddush H, not speaking loshon harah, doing gemilus chasadim, and the meaning of shalom. The Daf Hayomi continues throughout the world, new shiurim keep opening, day and night -seven days a week. And yet, each daf, every halacha, every commentary is as if it was the first time learning it. The thirst for knowledge, the thirst for truth, the love of H and love of His ways is never ending.

May H give us the guidance and the wisdom we seek. May our lives be filled with His kindness and may we be able to convey to all the same love as our Avos and our Imahos had for H.Today we remember Rachel Imeinu on her yartzeit. May our tefilos be answered and may we be zoche refuos, yeshuos, nechamos, hatzlacha, bracha. Moshiach Tzikeinu Bemhaira Veyawmeinu Amain Sela. I give thanks to the Ribono Shel Olom and continue to dedicate these articles to my wife Keila Lutza bas Shalom Hakohein A”H and our parents A”H. Thank you for taking the time to read these articles.

Sincerely, Yehuda Blank