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
Thursday August 19, 2021 




(Commentary of Haftaras Shoftim Isaiah from the Stone Edition Chumash Artscroll Series Published by Mesorah Publications Ltd page 197).  “The prophet alternates between vivid descriptions of suffering and lyrical evocations of joy and fulfillment for this is a microcosm of Israel’s history; no matter how dire the situation, hope is always at hand. Indeed, it is a principle of Israel’s faith that Messiah can come at any moment, and if so, while pondering the causes of exile and pain, we must always remember that G declares to us constantly, “It is I, I am He Who comforts you.” The day will yet come when Israel will hear G calling out joyously to Jerusalem, “Wake up! Wake up! Don your strength O Zion, don the garments of your splendor, O Jerusalem… “Exile is most painful when there is no tomorrow, but not when we take to heart G remembers us and longs for our return. Prophecies such as these have firmed Jews when their enemies tried to break them. Israel’s national existence has always been brightened by the knowledge that G is close at hand, longing for us to let Him bring the herald to proclaim, “Peace!” “Good!” “Salvation!”  Though this refers to Klal Yisrael as a whole, it surely can also refer to the existence, present and future daily lives of each of us. Life can be painful in so many ways. Spiritually, emotionally, and yes, even physically. Sometimes we can feel depressed, but not necessarily clinically depressed. Depression, anxiety, anxiousness are just some of the clinical aspects that can cause various symptoms having an impact on a person. There are so many meaningful programs and presentations that have been addressing the major effects of COVID and the variants that seem to be popping up. But if that wasn’t enough to rattle one’s nervousness, there are a host of other occurring situations locally, nationwide, and globally. As if that is not enough, in addition to people being fearful of walking the streets in neighborhoods that always seemed so safe, let alone being concerned about the various illnesses, variants, viruses and soon the flu season, we are now hearing or reading about possible terrorism due to the events in Afghanistan. In my last weeks article, I shared various questions and doubts people are having due to the viruses, variants, and the concerns many have on the effects on their lives.  Just yesterday Ohel Children’s Home and Family Services had a Therazoom (Support for families during challenging times) “Covid and its Variants: Understanding New Risks and Managing New Anxieties featuring Rabbi Dr. Aaron Glatt and Dr. Norman Blumenthal. But what about the zillions of other daily concerns of life rabbanim, rebbetzin’s and chaplains deal with that are presented by those they offer care to and are sought after for their guidance, understanding and meaningful inspiration/ chizuk. Of course, there are reasons to encourage or collaborate with a mental health professional when appropriate.   Shidduchim, parnasah, family situations, Shalom Bayis, business concerns and so much more. Who do we all turn to? Well, I just mentioned some where those who seek direction- the rav, the rebbetzin, the chaplain, the therapist, our friends, our mentors, those we trust and confide in. Most of all of course is the Ribono Shel Olam. “It is I, I am He who comforts you” “The prophet (Isaiah) alternates between vivid descriptions of suffering and lyrical evocations of joy and fulfillment for this is a microcosm of Israel’s history; no matter how dire the situation, hope is always at hand. It is no easy task bringing comfort, joy, and hope to one who is suffering. We must never give up. But we ourselves must have that emunah and betachem if we are to convey from our hearts the love H does have for Klal Yisrael and for each of us even during stressful times. The is so much negativity surrounding us with all kinds of reports we hear and read about practically every day (Thank G for Shabbos and Yom Tov).  Yet, there is much to find simcha. Just reading about the joy of the Gerer Rebbe coming to the USA, to New York bringing with him simchas hachayim, bringing and imbuing feelings of kedusha, spiritual uplifting just by his presence, but especially because he wanted to share not only with his Chasidim, but with other as well. With all the turmoil in the world, he brings to us serenity, holiness, and goodness. I am a Misnaged. I have relatives, friends and others who are Chasidic. When working with hospice, I had colleagues who were Chasidic and had many patients, care givers and family members who were Chasidic. I saw and felt the tremendous emunah and betachen they had and the love they had for their heritage, their customs/minhagim and especially for their Rebbe. I had patients who were Holocaust survivors and had pediatric cancer hospice patients.  My pediatric patients came from many backgrounds. But of the Chasidic children I witnessed a unique and loving way of dealing and accepting life, challenges, and difficulties in every moment of life by the parents and family members of those children. I was honored to have been invited to family simchas and receiving special brachos they the families held close to them and shared with me. I had patients throughout New York City and Long Island. No matter of the different customs, their minhagim, I found tremendous emunah, faith some in mysterious ways, but genuine. What I truly found rewarding was the comradeship, the sharing of caring for the patients no matter what their background might have been by the other members of the entire hospice staff at MJHS. Each population of hospice patients were special, but working with pediatrics was indeed challenging, but rewarding giving care, love, touching the lives and being touched by everyone especially the children of all backgrounds.

There are many personal reflections I shared in past months. What keeps me going I am still asked? The future, day after day, to seek happiness, joy and meaning of life. Just this past Sunday a dear chaver of mine got married to a wonderful woman who even before their marriage was bringing simchas hachayim into their lives. A new beginning for both Boruch H. They have been a wonderful inspiration to me as have been by my other dear friends and family. But their simcha has brought much brightness into my own life. A neighbor who I have been spending time with and with his sister may she have a refuah shelaima, after many months we became Oorah Torahmates. Aside from the privilege of bringing them different foods for Shabbos which I pray gives her strength including challah, wine for him, and other Shabbos delights, they make their brachos bringing blessings to each other. They too are an inspiration . A famous saying I heard many times, “life is not a bowl of cherries”. We all know about the pits inside the cherries, but the delicious taste of the cherries and good for you too. The fruit makes up for the pit inside which is discarded. We all want happiness. But what is happiness ? There is a saying, beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. Degrees and types of happiness can be interpreted by everyone. In these days of Elul, we are already being mispallel for happiness and for whatever we are mispallel for before the Yomim Noraim. We do not have to look any further than our tefilos which describe our desire of relationship with the Ribono Shel Olam, seeking His kindness, His goodness, and his forgiveness. We wish each other a kesiva vechasima tova and a shana tova umesuka. The following are the last nine sentences of the tefilla Hodu L H kiruv vishmo we recite every shacharis. “Save Your nation and bless Your inheritance; tend them and raise them up forever. Our soul longed for H; our help and our shield are He. For in Him will be gladdened our hearts; for in the Name of His Holiness we trusted. May Your kindness, H be upon us, just as we awaited You. Show us H Your kindness, and Your salvation grant us. Arise! Assist us! And redeem us for the sake of Your kindness! I am H your G, who raised you from the land of Egypt, Open wide your mouth and I will fill it. Praiseworthy is the people that such is their lot; praiseworthy is the people that H is their G. But as for me, in Your kindness I trust; exult will my heart in Your salvation. I will sing to H for He has dealt kindly with me.” (Artscroll Series Siddur Mesorah publications Ltd).

May we all be zoche to be mekadeish H, to find goodness in each other, to instill and imbue achdus, emunah, faith and trust in H, with all our hearts and souls. May we all be zoche to find the happiness joy and meaning of life. May all those who seek a refuah sheleimah, a shidduch, parnasah, shalom, and simchas hachayim we pray with His kindness. May our love for Him bring us all the brachos we seek for ourselves, for each other and for Klal Yisrael. Let us find in our hearts the ability to extinguish loshan hora and sinas chinam. Let the flame of spirituality grow strong and bright and let us be happy not just for ourselves, but for others as well.  We must do as we wish for H does for us, chesed, loving kindness, helping others, being sincere, no hidden agendas. My mantra, “no strings attached except my tzitzis”. Words alone cannot bring or instill happiness. Often it means putting effort to make it happen. 

Let us always remember where H is. There is a famous song many children would sing, H is here, H is there, H is truly everywhere, up, up, down, down, right, left and all around, here, there, and everywhere that is where He can be found, up, up, down, down, right, left and all around, here, there, and everywhere that is where He can be found. But there is one more place He can be found and that is in our heart”. When a person is feeling alone that maybe H is not with him/her, look up at the sky and see how the moon seems to follow you as you walk. So too, H is always with you.    

This past parsha was Shoftim and the second word in the sedra is Shotrim. The name of the Jewish fraternal society of the NYC Housing Authority Police was the Shotrim Society. When I was the uniformed NYC Housing Authority Police Department Chaplain with the rank of Inspector, I was also the spiritual leader of the Shotrim Society. I mention this remembering the importance of being mekadeish H and being proud of who I was and what I represented. I wore my yarmulka with pride as I did my uniform. On either side of my lapel, I wore the Ten Commandments, the same as all military chaplains. Being an orthodox Jewish chaplain had at times certain challenges, but none that could not be resolved. In fact, there were many opportunities for being mekadeish H. The famous saying “where there is a will there is a way”. Whenever a person has an opportunity of being mekadeish H, of doing chasadim should grab that opportunity asap. Life goes on as well as changes in life hopefully for the best. A lot depends on how a person sees his or her life continuing and hopefully blossoming. All we must do is look hard enough and we can truly find hope in the horizon. A quote from Maurice Lamm’s the Power of Hope the One Essential of Life and Love by Maurice Lamm RA Rawson Associates Schriber Inc. “Looking for People Who Live on Hope? “Look around You” Hope is natural, We all posses it. It needs only to be uncovered, not discovered. “(page 23).  The last sentence of LDovid H Ori “Place your hope in H, strengthen yourself and He will instill courage in your heart, and place your hope in H”. ( Artscroll series Siddur Mesorah publications) 

I have often written about positive reflections. In our Rosh Chodesh benching we mention ahavas Torah and  Yiras Shamayim. A rav can convey the essence of teshuva and to be fearful of sin, but a rav can also inspire with the love H has for Klal Yisrael and the love we have for Him. Our Torah, our religion, our faith has so much to offer every Jew with love and beauty. In chaplaincy, patients especially those with challenging diagnosis often will share their fear of death, will they be forgiven, what will death and dying be like, what will happen to their souls, is there a heaven and so forth. Chaplains cannot give a clean bill of forgiveness, but can share the love, kindness of H and that He is a forgiving G. There are patients even with less challenging diagnosis have fears and doubts and if there is a possibility of hope. I have shared some aspects of hope. A chaplain and a rav have the ability of comforting a person with their fears, whatever they may be, especially in the days of Elul and the Yomim Noraim. 

In my forthcoming articles I will share some personal reflections how a chaplain and a rav could be an advocate for a patient, how diplomacy is important, how Chaim Aruchim and also the Director of Chaplaincy at MJHS were supportive and encouraging, how Disyata Dishmaya was so important and how much I continue to be inspired from my Rebbe, Rav Dovid ztkl who encouraged me to continue helping and caring for others. Amongst the many professionals I have worked with in my diverse positions, I have tremendous gratitude to a Mrs. Martha Pollock LCSW who I worked closely with and will share in my forthcoming article.

 We could always find some sweetness in life, even amongst any bitterness one comes upon. Leshana Tovah Umesuka.  Thank you.   Sincerely, Rabbi Yehuda Blank