From the desk of Rabbi Leonard (Yehuda) Blank, MS, BCC
Director of Chaplaincy Commission and External Affairs
Rabbinical Alliance of America/Igud HaRabbonim
December 31, 2020
Last week, Harav Yissocher Frand gave a shiur via zoom from Baltimore “Vayigash- Should you or should you not take the Corona Vaccine? It also included halacha, sources from Gedolim through the centuries dealing with various pandemics and plagues until the present and concluded with the importance of shalom, and not to have machlokes. He ended off with Sim Shalom in the shacharis and musaf Shemoneh Esrei. He mentioned we are mispallel for kindness, righteousness, blessing, compassion, life, and peace, but it is important to first establish peace Sim Shalom. I once wrote that I would not get involved choosing sides about how different communities and individuals consider the seriousness, concerns, fears, or not of COVID-19 and the threat of not only a new wave but a different variant of this virus. I have been asked my opinion whether we should believe any of the doctors and specialists about the vaccine and new direction the virus is taking. I wear a mask, daven in a shul where wearing a mask and social distancing is mandatory, and when it will be my turn for the opportunity to take the vaccine will listen to what my doctor advises me to do. In Israel many of the Gedolim and Chasidik Rabbeim have already taken the vaccinations. In the buildings I reside in management and board are taking the concerns of the virus very seriously. They distributed a list of instructions and precautions everyone must adhere to coming and going to and from the buildings including, how many are permitted in an elevator at one time. They even distributed instructions what to do if someone has the virus. Everyone must wear a mask in all public areas. Unfortunately, there are already some residents and staff who have the virus. However, we must be respectful of all opinions. At Rav Dovid Feinstein’s many hespeidim were rabbonim and askonim from many communities, Litvish, Chasidish and so on. As, I mentioned in previous articles, through the years, learning in the beis medrash and attending his many shirurim including his famous Friday morning chumash shiurim, Megilas Esther and Pesach shiurim were talmidim and balei batim who came from diverse yeshivos and backgrounds. Everyone felt welcomed in the MTJ beis medrash. Whether or not he agreed on everyones perspective, he gave respect to all.
Another important area is making a Kiddush H. It is difficult for neighboring communities to understand why there are different opinions regarding the precautions that are being conveyed to the entire public to take. Many Gedolim through the centuries have warned Klal Yisrael not to flaunt their lifestyles, their way of living, their status in life public and private. On Chanukah for instance not to have the blinds or curtains (except for safety reasons) wide open that when someone passes by opulent homes with expensive items which might make other jealous or envious should not be displayed. How we respond, how we convey our own feelings and opinions to those from other backgrounds and affiliations can also be the difference between a Kiddush H or Chilul H. We are ambassadors of H and Klal Yisrael. This is especially so when there are questionable news reports about current events or even politics. We should not make light, justify, or even try to explain the actions of others. However, we must give thought of how and what we say. Surely, we cannot be judge and jury -best yet, not to take sides or get into any discussion, good or not so good that could lead into loshon harah, sinas chinan and Chilul H. Many should take note of how chaplains deal with patients and others when drawn into a controversial topic. How to listen, when to engage or not to engage in various discussions. Chaplains are seen in a compassionate role caring for others no matter what the patients or others they are dealing with think, say or want to know. A common occurrence is when someone asks another what do you think about that person. Is it possible to suppress one’s thoughts about what he/she thinks about another person or persons? How often do people tell themselves or Heaven Forbid, share their thoughts, feelings, and opinions about another person such as how that person(s) look, speak, clothing, does things with others and yes, even smells. How often have students, been put down by their friends, teachers, and administration for being worthless, no future, won’t amount to anything and yet turned into well known individuals, personalities, rabbonim, leaders in their fields and so on. In “A Vort from Rav Pam” by Rabbi Shalom Smith Artscroll Series Mesorah Publications, Ltd pages 76- 78) from Vayigash “I am Yosef” This is regarding Yosef informing his brothers who he was. “The commentators try to explain where the reproof was in Yosef’s words. Did he angrily berated them or threaten to take revenge for all the misery they had caused him over the last 22 years? Everything he said to them then and in all ensuing conversations were words of consolation and forgiveness, to calm their fears and show them that he had no hard feelings for what they had done. If so, how could the very first words he spoke to them after revealing his identity be considered sharp reproof? Perhaps the answer is that Yosef did not intend to castigate them, but they were nonetheless shaken up when they heard him say, I am Yosef! Those words made them realize for the first time who Yosef truly was and how 22 years earlier they had been totally mistaken in their assessment of him. They had thought of Yosef as a dreamer with delusions of grandeur, creating fantasies of how the whole family would bow down and be subservient to him. They now saw that every part of those dreams had come true. Yosef was nothing less than a navi (prophet)! Furthermore, he had been chosen by H to be the sustainer of the entire world; he had, made Egypt the breadbasket of mankind. They had thought of him as a rodeif(pursuer), while in reality, he was a tzaddik yesod olam (righteous one who is the foundation of the world). Yosef’s reproof was the brother’s realization of how utterly wrongly they had judged him; now they saw him in all his greatness. There is a very practical lesson in this insight. No one can judge the true value of another person, and thus it is prudent to treat every person with respect, courtesy, and honor. The actions of people are often hidden from others. A person who is considered by his neighbors to be a “nobody,” unworthy of respect, can be someone with enormous achievements and merits to his credit. How often has it happened that a mediocre student (who many considered “least likely to succeed”) becomes a distinguished rav or Rosh Yeshiva, to the disbelief of his former classmates who thought he would never amount to much, and therefore mistreated him and verbally abused him. How they will have to hide their faces in shame! A person’s biggest punishment in the World of Truth will be when he is shown the towering place in Gan Eden attained by a friend whom he had ridiculed and mistreated. What will he answer to that”?
What about in shiduchim. How does a son or daughter who went out on a shidduch describe that man or woman? Is the description in a pleasant and meaningful way, or is the description Heaven Forbid in
a derogatory manner and what will the response be from the parents? I once read a story of a young woman riding on a bus in Israel and a group of other young woman within earshot of this person overheard them speaking about a young man this person was to be with. Their discussion was amongst themselves, but loud enough to be heard. It was surely not appropriate and hurtful to this other young woman. (There might be another version of this story, but the moral is the same). There is an expression, the world is small, what we say can be heard around the world and today with social media, can be heard in an instant and throughout the world. Some of the many attributes of Rav Dovid Feinstein ztkl were being strict about loshon harah, to treat others with respect, to be courteous, and sincere no matter what their status in life was, what they looked like and what one’s economic status was. He was also very firm on privacy. Here is an example given in the Yated Neeman (page67 November 13, 2020) by Ira Zlotowitz. Rav Dovid taught the Zlotowtzes about the importance of privacy. Ira Zlotowitz recalled an Erev Shabbos when his father was enjoying his weekly call with Rav Dovid. Zlotowtz was put on hold for a few minutes while the rosh yeshiva took another call before continuing their conversation. It was several days later when his son- in- law shared that he had contacted Rav Dovid recently to ask a shaalah. “My father commented that it was interesting that Rav Dovid had not even told him about their phone call, and as the discussion continued, my father realized that my brother-in-law’s call was the one he had been put on hold for, yet Rav Dovid said nothing to him!” said Ira. “It teaches a level of confidentiality that he didn’t say, “I just spoke to your son-in-law.”
So, as I asked in my previous article what does the Ribono Shel Olom want from us? What do we want from the Ribono Shel Olom? We all want achdus, we all want shalom but even with the many trials and tribulations we go through, must remember how He loves us and to convey to Him our love for Him. No one says going through life challenges is easy. Life can be a bitter pill to take, and how we can face life’s ups and downs cause us to seek all the blessings, all the chizuk all the help we can give whether it be from each other, from the guidance and counseling of the rav or when necessary, a mental health specialist or the spiritual inspiration and guidance of a chaplain, but most of all from the Aibershta.
In the “Shabbos with Rav Pam by Rabbi Sholom Smith Artscroll series, Mesorah Publications Ltd. Vayigash (pages 76 -78) “R. Chaim Shmulevitz discusses about what was said between Pharoh and Yaakov when they first met. What was it that prompted Pharoh to ask how old Yaakov was? It was because he looked at the creases and folds of Yaakov’s face and could “read: the tzaros and hardships he had gone through of which Yaakov shared with him. What was Yaakov complaining about? “According to Daas Zekeinim. Yaakov had gone through many difficult situations in his life but had overcome them.” It is a frequent occurrence in life that what seems like a terrible crisis and tzarah turns out to be a blessing in disguise. The eternal kindness of H come in different forms, some obvious, and some not so obvious. It may take years, decades or even a lifetime to discern that what seemed like a catastrophe was a great blessing. Conversely, there are times in a person’s life when he fervently desires something, thinking that its attainment will bring him success and happiness. But who can know what is truly good for the person? What may seem to be beneficial can turn out to be extremely detrimental. This idea is noted in the Blessing of the New Month, recited on the Shabbos before Rosh Chodesh. “Give us…. A life in which H will fulfill our heartfelt requests for the good.” The word “good” is stressed because a person does not always know what is in fact good for him and may pray for things which he incorrectly perceives as good, Therefore, we pray to H to only fulfill the heartfelt requests that are truly good for us. The Gemara (Berachos 60b) says,” Whatever the Merciful One does, He does for the best.” This teaches us that a person should not say things are going badly for him. Bitter, yes, but not bad. This is why we pray on Rosh Hashanah for a Shana Tova Umesuka, a good and sweet year. H always does good for us. At times, the doctor prescribes a beneficial medicine, but it is a bitter pill to swallow, if this happens, we can ask the doctor for a better-tasting prescription.” I mentioned in my hesped I gave on the sheloshim for Rav Dovid at MTJ Yeshiva when I once asked him for a bracha about a certain shidduch, his response was to give a bracha whatever the Ribono Shel Olom wants for you should be makayim. If a person is deserving to be granted by H something he wants which he may thinks is good for himself, maybe H will grant it, but does it mean that is what H wants him to have. The same could be applied seeking a certain position. One should be mispallel to have a position the Ribino Shel Olom wants what is best for the person.
May we all be zoche to have the wisdom, to do good, to speak well of others, to be caring, sincere and have a heart filled with kindness and goodness. May our lives be filled with joy and happiness. May we have the wisdom to convey wisdom and may we seek the wisdom of others as well. May we be zoche when times are challenging or sad to be able to find the light at the end of the tunnel. May we be able to share with each other many simchos and be a source of comfort to those in their time of need and a source of inspiration. May we be zoche to make a Kiddush H and bring much achdus and shalom.
Yes, I often feel compelled to conclude the following quote from my wife Keila Lutza bas Shalom HaKohein A”H because it meant so much to her as it does for me and for so many who have read it. She said those words with such a beaming smile on her face, especially when I told her I would be including it as she requested in my weekly article. She felt a closeness to the Ribono Shel Olom even during her last days of her life and she is now with Him with all the other holy neshamos in Gan Eiden Hawolom Habaw. She was so full of hope and emunah. There are so many who have family members who are ill, have been ill, might have been nifter, loss of positions and jobs, challenges with children of all ages, so many bumps in the road. But we do not give up. That spark of emunah that small light inside of us, can keep us going- for 120 good years to continue. We should all feel close to the Aibershta as His love for Klal Yisrael is forever. May the end of all the different strains of the COVID !9 and all types of illness throughout the world happen very soon. Here is her quote. “When things look blue it helps to remember that tomorrow is another day and will be a brighter day”. May our emunah and hope continue to be bright everyday of our lives. Amain. Sincerely, Yehuda Blank