From the desk of Rabbi Leonard (Yehuda) Blank MS, BCC
Director of Chaplaincy Commission and External Affairs
Rabbinical Alliance of America/Igud HaRabbonim
December 3rd, 2020 ^
I am dedicating this article in memory of my mother Rivka Leah bas Yehuda Leib A”H whose yartzeit is this Shabbos Yud Tes Kislev. Yes, just about 2 weeks after my father’s yartzeit, but years apart. My mother was very close with Rebbitzen Shima Feinstein A”H and the Feinstein family. There is much history beginning with her family living across the street from the Yeshiva MTJ. Her father an erlicha person in business, a magid shiur giving shiurim since he was 13 in Minsk Russia, a chavrusa with Rav Henkin and her mother who was known to be tzadeikis and founder of a tomchei Shabbos program. Years later, my mother became a president of the MTJ Sisterhood and with her devoted women volunteers, raised thousands of dollars every year. Their reward was going to Rav Moshe in his apartment for a bracha and later Rav Dovid. I remember on one of the occasions my mother was a patient in a hospital, Rav Moshe came to be mevaker choleh her. She was not only a driving force of goodness for the yeshiva, but her family beginning with caring for her brothers after her parents had died when she was much younger and all through the years caring for her own children. She never received any renumeration for her volunteer work, but much joy and happiness for what she did and nachas from her family. The stories I mentioned last week about my father, I also must attribute to his Aishis Chayil, my mother for all her support and care for him. Doing mitzvos, loving the Aibershta, caring for others was just part of their lives. Life was sometimes difficult, caring for my father with Parkinsons, and going through her own medical emergencies later in life. Yet, I grew up not looking as if all the challenges or for that matter, our Jewish way of life was a tircha, a burden, but rather it was what kept us going. I remember my father’s store was broken into numerous times. The phone would ring repeatedly on the Shabbos. My mother felt heartbroken for my father but kept his spirits up high. Interesting, the street where the butcher store was in a safe neighborhood, but as time went on those streets became a haven for the local gangs. Today, that building no longer stands, the gangs are gone and tremendous gentrification in that neighborhood. On the day of my son’ bar mitzva held in the MTJ Yeshiva, my mother was in the hospital. She had surgery and was so upbeat not only about the bar mitzva, but that it was occurring in the yeshiva with Rav Dovid. The surgeon told my sister and I what a remarkable and spiritual woman she is. The whole time prior to and after her surgery she could only speak about G, doing kind deeds, mitzvos, her love for the yeshiva and being close to G. The doctor was curious to know who this Rabbi Feinstein was she kept humming about. I grew up on two sides of the Lower East Side, separated by Houston Street amongst men, women and children of diverse Jewish backgrounds and others who were not Jewish. My parents and family showed me how to retain my Yiddishkeit and grow in my Yiddishkeit, yet never forsaking the essence of caring for all and the meaning of Kiddush H. May she be a malizta yeshara for the family and Klal Yisrael.
I would like to share this from Darash Moshe -A selection of Rabbi Moshe Feinstein’s choice comments on the Torah from Parshas Vayeitzei “ Then Rachel and Leah replied and said to him: Are we then still a share and an inheritance in our father’s house ? Are we not considered by him as strangers (31:14, 15). The sisters reply arouses a question: Once Jacob related to them H’s command to leave Laban’s house and return to his native land, they should have answered simply that they would comply with His will, and not given other reasons for wanting to do with Jacob. From their point of view, however, they should have ignored all those reasons and merely said that they would do as H had ordered. Why did they respond with complaints about their position in their father’s house? However, their reply shows that they had no desire to take any credit for fulfilling H’s command. This teaches that we should not look upon any mitzva as a trial, something difficult to perform. If we are able to do mitzvos with this attitude, we will find that they will indeed become easy to observe. Really, a mitzvah never costs anything to perform; since our livelihood for the whole year is decreed in advance on Rosh Hashanah, it follows that working on Shabbos, hurrying through our prayers (or engaging in dishonest business practices) will bring us no more money that we would have had otherwise. H will surely allow us to earn the same money in ways the Torah permits, and we would not earn any more than was decreed for us in any case. If we keep this faith constantly in mind, then keeping Shabbos should not seem in any way difficult or trying. Furthermore, if we can inculcate this attitude in our children, it will be easy to teach them to keep the mitzvos. While those who boast about the trials and tribulations they suffered for the sake of keeping Shabbos- in times when it was far more difficult for a Shomer Shabbos person to hold a job than it is now- may instill a pride and strength in their children, they may also be doing a great disservice. The message they may convey is that it is hard to be a Jew, and that keeping Shabbos requires great suffering and endurance. Their children may easily come to think that since they do not have the same fortitude as their parents, keeping Torah and mitzvos will be beyond their power. Their parent’s attitude may well discourage them from making the effort to keep Shabbos or to find the time to go to shul three times a day. For this reason, parents must be careful to emphasize the rewards involved in keeping the Torah, rather that the difficulties, and even when speaking of the difficulties, they should convey them in a proud triumphant tone. In this way they will instill in their children the attitude that, for one who has faith, every mitzva is easy and enjoyable to perform. To appreciate the above words, it is important to remember the enormous trials and difficulties that the one who wrote them underwent, not only to observe the Torah but also to spread it and strengthen its influence in the hearts of his fellow Jews during his years as Rav in Stalinist Russia, as is recounted in his biography; Reb Moshe Mesorah/ArtScroll 1987). If he could take such an attitude after guiding his family and followers through such times, how much easier should it be for us, most of who have known only comfort and tranquility in our lifetimes.”
Torah, Avodah, Gemilus Chasadim are the tenants of our religion- but to do so with joy not with the feeling of hardships. We are only human and should there ever be a time of feeling overwhelmed, or ones plate is overfilled, It is ok to step back, take a breather, take a rest, and if necessary, it is good to talk it over with someone you know who could give some sound wisdom or just to listen to a once in a while kvetch. That is sound advice for any position or job, not just religious observance. If you look at the many pictures of Rav Dovid, they convey his pastoral, calm, soothing, and loving smile. His great pleasure in life was Torah and meaningful observance of Judaism. Anyone in his daled amos, would witness his seriousness in his tefilos with much undivided kavaneh, especially when reading the list of names who he was beseeching the Ribono shel Olom for a refuah for each person .Following in the ways of the Aibershta brought him much content and simchas hachayim even during challenging times in his life. We are going though difficult times. The Coronavirus COVID-19 is not over. I personally know of individuals who have had it and others presently in the hospital and need a refuah sheleimah. It is true, there are hospitals that have many COVID patients. Though treatments have changed, the medical community is more advanced in their knowledge than the first months of the outbreak of the Coronavirus. Many are still out of work, families are still going through difficult and challenging times. Finding joy and not kvetching while remaining true to one’s faith is not easy. But Boruch H there are many organizations, and individuals who are giving of their time, money and love for others showing and giving much needed care in different ways. And there are the Rabbonim, the Rebbitzens, the Chaplains who have saved many neshamos. They have often been the first ones many go to seeking guidance and advice. It is also comforting to know there are also professionals who have been extremely helpful to those in their emotional time of need. There is a famous saying “we all need each other “. What is so important is achdus and Kiddush H. It is enormously important for everyone to be respectful of each others opinion regarding wearing a mask and social distancing. We all must be understanding.
At the recent Virtual Agudath Israel convention Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel in his address spoke very eloquently and his words so profound and meaningful. I have included part of what he conveyed.
“The same way we have to be moser nefesh to keep the yeshivas, l’lamdam Torah, we have to be moser nefesh not make a chillul Hashem and until then we have to be ru’ig that we’re totally in the hands of the Ribono Shel Olam – He’s the one that’s in control,” said Rabbi Goldberg.
“That theme was echoed by Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel, executive vice president of the Agudah, whose heartfelt explanation of two distinct meanings of the words “Shivisi Hashem l’negdi tomid” addressed COVID-related fears as well as the sensitive issues of compliance. Rabbi Zwiebel observed that in addition to reminding us that even in our darkest hours we are never alone, Dovid Hamelech’s timeless words are also a clear mandate that must guide us as we strive to fulfill our collective mission of being a shining example of positive behavior and action, particularly now, when the eyes of world are laser-focused on our community.
“We can’t be quiet when we see things that lead to chillul Hashem,” said Rabbi Zwiebel adding, “Rabosai, davka achshav, let’s concentrate and do the things that show kiddush Hashem not the opposite, chas v’shalom. Let’s remember our mandate is ‘Yisroel asher b’cha espa’ar’ – we want to bring glory to Hakadosh Baruch Hu’s name. Hakadosh Baruch Hu takes so much pride in us.”
I would like to point out another type of achdus. The Orthodox Union has a website called “All Daf” created under the auspices of the OU, “All Daf is a revolutionary learning platform where users experience the Daf from both an individualized and holistic perspective. All Daf’s broad range of topics are channeled through personalized, user-friendly feeds, which adapt to each learner’s interests. The platform has been specifically designed to enrich the learning of learners of all stripes and backgrounds, regardless of skill level or interests”( from the All Daf site) The All Daf has well known Litvish and Chasidish maggidie shiur in English and Yiddish all under this OU website.
Of course, there are many other well known Daf Yomi online sites with hundreds of maggidie shiur. The point I am conveying is the wonderful achdus in the many different venues. In fact, there is one site which I have used for hospice patients. Their family wanted their loved one to be able to continue to learn as if with a chavrusa. Live Daf has a wonderful magid shiur where he is facing the screen. This enables the patient to better focus. Thereby being able to see and listen to the magid shiur as if he is saying the daf to or with him. Anyone can choose the gemaras of your choice including the daily daf. If anyone is interested in how and why I used this site, please contact me.
Chasidish, Litvish, Orthodox – the Rabbinical Alliance of America, the National Council of Young Israel, the Rabbinical Council of America, Agudath Israel of America, the Orthodox Jewish Chaplains Roundtable and many other organizations “ we all need achdus, we all need Kiddush H. we all want the coming of Moshiach, In this month of Kislev, let us go from darkness to the light of the Menorah.
Yes, it is difficult to have that joy with so many difficult times, with so many things we have lost, and challenges that might come our way, but with our continued emunah, our faith in the Ribono Shel Olom we will see the light at the end of the tunnel. There is hope. Where there is a will there is a way Rav Dovid always shared inspirational stories with me, finding hope even in challenging times and always with kindness and emunah in the Aibershta. After, I had gone for a job interview in the last year of my wife’s illness with her encouragement as it was a part time with an enticing salary and position, my wife was uncomfortable with the travel conditions and schedule. I found out I could have had that position, but felt in the end, would not have worked out, Rav Dovid’s advice was for me to be honest as to why I was unable to accept the position. I did listen to him and the schedule would not have worked out as I went with my wife to every appointment and treatment she had, and the travel conditions also did not make her feel comfortable. The medical visits schedule changed and came out on the days I would have been hired for. Rav Dovid’s words to me was “Yehuda, keep on being busy and helping others” I continued my learning as schedule permitted, continued with my various programs, I was working on for the RAA and most of all, continued to have quality time with my wife for as long as possible which was until the very end. I find this quote from Keila Lutza bas Shalom HaKohein A”H comforting for she had that hope and believed in her heart her faith and love in the Ribono Shel Olom. Knowing she is in Hawolom Habaw- in Gan Eiden, I can continue with my faith in the future as all of us can have faith in the future as well. We in turn can convey that same spirit in those we care for. “When things look blue it helps to remember that tomorrow is another day and will be a brighter day”.
A SPECIAL CHUNKAH APPEAL: The first light will be in a week, December 10th. Please think about anyone who is alone for Chanukah. Perhaps, that person lives alone, perhaps that person family is unable to visitbecause of COVID restrictions. Whatever the reason, please arrange for a friendly visit if the person is ok with having a visit. Bring or send throughout the week, not just one time, Chanukah treats (dietary permitting) singing, or even an inexpensive gift. For whatever reason, a person is alone, cheering him/her is a wonderful mitzva. This is especially so if there is are children whose parent recently died this year.
May we all be zoche that the days ahead be filled with the warmth, light, and brightness of maysim tovim, good health, happiness, brachos and hatzlacha. Amain
Thank you. Sincerely, Yehuda Blank