From the desk of Rabbi Leonard (Yehuda) Blank MS, BCC
Director of Programming, Chaplaincy Commission and External Affairs
Rabbinical Alliance of America/Igud HaRabbonim  917-446-2126
May 15th, 21

Before I begin, want to acknowledge and to remember all those who have given their lives for everyone else in Eretz Yisrael. Israel has thousands who are involved in defending, protecting as well as saving lives day and night. It is heartwarming when we hear of their bravery, but also the kindness others give to them. Being mekadeish H is not only for those who live here in America- Kindness and doing Gemilus Chasadim is universal. Whether of not we live or visit Eretz Yisrael, we should be grateful for all what  the “heros” do for one and all. 


The days of Sefiras Haomer in addition to the significance of the Omer counting leading us to Matan Torahseinu, these are also the days we reflect mourning the death of Rabbi Akiva’s 24,000 talmidim. There are various halachos and minhagim, especially as to when this mourning period begins and concludes. Yet, what can become controversial such as when can a wedding for instance be celebrated, and who can and should attend could bring machlokes, amongst Klal Yisrael, but it does not. Those who have halachic questions as to who can attend a simcha such as a wedding, or a vort with music really depends which minhag does a person follow and if someone is not sure what to do, should ask their rav for guidance. Rabbi Yissocher Frand at a recent shiur he gave discussed the importance of asking a shaila. It was unfortunate and tragic for those who were involved in the Eigel Hazahav, no one bothered asking Aharon Hakohen, Yehoshua or anyone else of that statute if making the Eigel for whatever purpose, whatever their original intentions were was appropriate or was permitted. He gave other examples as well, but the center of Rabbi Frand’s comments were how important it is, especially for something never done before, or one is in doubt al pi halacha to ask a shaila of a rav. 

I would like to revisit something I have written about in the past, and yet what I am going to share still exists. That is, the differences of opinion regarding the wearing of masks. Perhaps the CDC goes to extremes and appears to be overly cautious- maybe. Or perhaps it appears that elected officials make certain emergency laws that seem overbearing, constantly changing, without scientific guidance- maybe. I surely will not comment on such thoughts, as I am not an authority with scientific knowledge to make any judgements. However, being an American in a free country, I can share my thoughts as long as what I say doesn’t leads to anarchy, loshan hara or sinas chinan. Boruch H our boys and girls yeshivos are doing well, mispallim are able to daven with kavaneh choosing the shuls of their choices and overall, some restrictions are being lifted. However, there are still many, (no, I do not know how many equals many), but there are many who feel wearing a mask is important. What is important is to be understanding of the other persons opinion, reasons and decisions he or she has regarding masks. Boruch H there are many who have taken the vaccination and have slowly changed certain aspects of their way of life. You might call it“ getting their feet wet”. There are also those who for whatever reason they may have, remain status quo and very cautious. Also, there are many who live and work in neighborhoods where there are still cases of COVID in addition to those who have not taken the vaccination (because they have not been able to get it as of yet,or refuse to take it at all). Even if a person who has taken the vaccination according to various reports can still contract COVID, but with minimal or non serious illness related to COVID. Knowing that still doesn’t change the way “many” feel even though they have taken the vaccination. They are still concerned about contracting it or become a carrier. There still is the fear of becoming ill. The point I am making is for whatever reason a person has, we really have to try to be understanding. I myself have taken the vaccinations and at times have been amongst others without masks, especially family. Yet, to some degree, I too am still cautious, but I respect others on “both sides of the fence”. Each person can ask his or her own shailos and health care provider what he/she should be doing. I hope I have made a meaningful point. We all have to be caring and sensitive of the feelings of others. Isn’t that what we are all about. We recently benched Rosh Chodesh and recited the words “Chaveirim Kol Yisrael”. There is another thought I would like to share with you. I recently wrote in one of my articles about my experience while taking CPE and was interning at BIMC when a visitor to another patient in the room I was seeing a patient who wanted drink, but because of his medical condition was not allowed any liquids. The visitor felt I was being basically cruel for not giving this patient a drink as he was requesting. When you have a guest for a Shabbos meal for example and have prepared a sumptuous menu with very rich desserts, did it ever occur that maybe your guest is diabetic or unable to eat certain foods. Another wonderful attribute of my wife A”H was making sure there were choices of food on the menu our family or guest were able to partake and enjoy. Being a good host does not mean telling a guest to try certain foods or beverages he/she is politely declining. “Go ahead, try it you will like it “Or it’s good for you”. We once had a couple who were vegetarians. We did not have the usual cholent or other fish and meat items. My wife prepared  a plant protein cholent and other substitutions. My wife and I ate the same food items and we all had a delicious meal and wonderful time. Be sensitive, be caring, be thoughtful, be concerned for and about others. As I mentioned last week, life should not be “it’s either my way or the highway”. One last thought, there are individuals who due to their own medical conditions are really concerned about contracting any illness, whether it be the COVID, the flu any type of virus and so on. Don’t question or be intrusive as to why someone is cautious. Just be understanding.

For almost a year, I have been writing many personal reflections during my wife’s illness and after she was nifteres. I have received very positive comments of how beneficial, comforting and meaningful those reflections have been for those who have gone through or going through their own challenging times. For many have seen what life has been like for my wife and I and after her death, which has been an eye opener and given a more vivid and clearer understanding of the journey of grief and bereavement. I have shared my own transitions and challenges. It is impossible not to have moments of tearful memories which can and does pop up during and following certain situations. The months have changed from sadness to more joy and happiness knowing and believing I am doing those things which meant a lot to her. As the days get closer to her first yartzeit and hakamas hamatzei of course raises many recollections. This has been especially so having been involved with family regarding the inscriptions on the matzeiva.  I was preparing to discuss all the aspects of the inscriptions for the matzeiva with Rav Dovid ztkl, but as time went on, as he became more weak further discussions about the nusach with him was not to be. Following his instructions of my putting to paper the many attributes of my wife A”H, after the sheloshim it was decided to give those attributes to Rav Reuven for his recommendations. Our family has had a close relationship with the Rosh HaYeshiva Rav Reuven for many years and he and his Rebbitzen Sheila A”H knew my wife. Rav Reuven sol zein gzundt recommendations for the nusach was absolutely so meaningful and brought out the essence of all of my wife tremendous attributes. We are grateful to Rabbi Isaac Brach of Brach’s Hebrew Monuments and his staff for their exceptional patient, understanding, professional work regarding the inscriptions and taking care of all the aspects of the matzeiva. After the hakamas hamatzeiva, I will share with you the inscription.  I am truly grateful for my wonderful stepsons, their dear wives and my children and dear spouses. All so caring and supportive of each other and myself. They are sincerely keeping the mesorah of my wife with their erlichkeit and desire following all the precepts of Torah, Avodah and Gemilus Chasadim and being kind to others and to each other. None of what she encouraged, inspired and nurtured in the family achdus dwindled. On the contrary, the essence of emunah, betachen, ahavas Torah and ahavas Yisrael continues to remain strong and steadfast. Each child has the love of the Ribono Shel Olam, as she did. Keeping her spirit of family achdus is a way of life.  She remains a beacon of light and forever a role model for family and Klal Yisrael. 

Some additional personal reflections, from the lens of being a widower. Interesting that, I have rarely referred myself using the word as a widower. Pride, joy, happiness, independence. No, I am not writing about July 4th, Independence Day but a continuation of being of what life has been for me. My wife and I always had our Shabbos and Yom Tovim meals at home. Aside from my wife being a great cook, we just enjoyed our company being at home together and whenever we had family or guests join us Of course we enjoyed being with our children and grandchildren at their homes too for an occasional Shabbos, Yom Tovim or special occasions. I mentioned though things changed with the progression of her illness and the Coronavirus lockdown – going away was no longer possible. This past Pesach I was with family for the first days and returned home for the remainder of Chol Hamoed and last days as well. Though, my children invited me for the last days, I nevertheless wanted to be home. After my wife was nifteres, I received invitations from truly wonderful friends and relatives in my neighborhood. However, I declined. I am not a recluse, nor depressed, but I am in my home for the same reasons I was home with my wife. “Home Sweet Home”. So one day, I got the nerve to mention to a couple, why not join me for a meal (they were vaccinated by the way)? The response was they always have their meals at home. Well I said, that is why I also like to be home. Anyways, I am sharing this with my readership as another side of a spouse who wants to keep that independence and will invite every so often family and guests to where I live. I hope whoever I will invite will like my cooking too or at least a nice treat to eat or drink.  Do I want a guest once in awhile, because I might feel lonely? Absolutely not. Because, I too take pride and will look forward for family and others to visit me where I live. Sure there are times of loneliness especially late at night, but bringing life to my home is important. I really do appreciate having received the invitations for meals and for their sincerity, sweetness and their kindness. Their food must be delicious, but I still want to be home. Once again, I want to thank everyone for taking the time to read my articles. By the way, visiting those who are homebound is a wonderful mitzvah and whenever possible should consider it a true chesed. There is a lot to learn from each other and I hope there is something of a positive nature you can glean from my articles. 

I would like to share with you this from Rav Moshe doing one mitzvah after another. From Darash Moshe by Rabbi Moshe Feinstein. (English version) An Artscroll series, Published by Mesorah Publications Ltd. (page 174) “It was on the eighth day, Moses summoned Aaron and his sons, and the elders of Israel. He said to Aaron: Take Yourself (9:1,2). Why did H command Moses to take these animals for sacrifice without preparation? Would it not have been more proper to prepare the sacrifices first, as by the daily sacrifice and the Passover sacrifice, which require examination four days prior to their being offered? Perhaps it is to demonstrate that as soon as we complete one mitzvah we must eagerly go on to the next. On the eighth day the Kohanim completed the week-long mitzvah of the milluim, the investitures, when they did all that Moses commanded, and immediately afterwards they were given another one. In order not to interrupt the sequence, H did not command them to first take the animals and to examine them for four days, but rather to sacrifice them immediately after the completion of the seven days. From here we can learn that when one completes a mitzvah, he should not be content that he is now finished with that mitzvah,but should immediately seek another mitzvah to perform. For this reason, when we complete the reading of the Torah on Simchas Torah, we immediately commence the reading of the Torah anew. This should be one’s attitude to all mitzvos”. 

There are so many ways of achieving new heights, going lchayil, lchayil with the golden opportunities HaKadosh Boruch Hu gives us each day of our lives and as rabbis, rebbitzens and chaplains, we can bring Klal Yisrael closer to the coming of Moshiach with the wonderful avodas H we do day and night throughout the year. There are so many opportunities of being mekadeish H as ambassadors of H and Klal Yisrael. We just have to find it in our hearts to be caring, compassionate, understanding, patient, erlich, sincere, kind, considerate and role models to our mispallim and those we offer care to. Most of all to our loved ones. To those who care about us. I often have written about some friendly things I have done and the reaction I have received. I wrote about holding the door, say thank you and you’re welcome ( not just “no problem” which is what many respond with). I was passing a parked car and an older man speaking was sitting in the passenger side of the front seat having a difficult time reaching out to close the door.  He tried pulling the handle with his cane. I went over and gently closed the door for him. He called out in Spanish thank you with a smile. Another few times when I would walk to the bus stop with a fellow congregant of the shul where I have been davening, after he would step up and go unto the bus, I would say good morning or have a good day to the driver of the bus, and each time receive a smile, or a big thank you. What one might think are minor or little things that are nice, are seen as big nice things – ways to be mekadeish H. We cannot change the world’s view of us, but showing respect, giving kindness to all everyone goes a long way. Whatever we do must be done with sincerity. 

On a personal note, my wife even in her last weeks on this world, continued all of the many attributes I have mentioned plus so much more. Remembering how much she cared for her family, for others and for me, I sincerely miss. She was so unselfish, giving to all of us with a heart filled with the love of life and the love for the Aibershta. All of our children and grandchildren continue to dedicate their lives as she did. Perhaps what I am requesting is for all of my readers to dedicate your lives with the same zeal she had for the meaning of life.  Her quote I have written many times would be another place to dedicate your lives knowing and sharing with others that even when things might be blue there will be another day filled with sunshine and goodness. H is there for us – for Klal Yisrael.When she shared her wishes for me and for the family was her sharing from her heart the love and care she had for us all, but how she found strength to convey the emunah and betachen everyone should have was phenomenal. May we all be zoche the kindness from H and the geulah sheleima. 

Here is her quote once again which she requested I share with all of my readers. “When things look blue it helps to remember that tomorrow is another day and will be a brighter day” That is how she lived her life as long as she could. There is an underlying message in that quote- to have emunah, hope and faith in the Ribono Shel Olam for the days ahead, as she sincerely believed in. May she be a malitza yeshara for Klal Yisrael. Thank you. Sincerely yours, Rabbi Yehuda Blank

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