From the desk of Rabbi Yehuda (Leonard) Blank MS, BCC
Director of Programming, Chaplaincy Commission and External Affairs
Rabbinical Alliance of America/ Igud HaRabbonim
917 446 2126
December 9th, 2021

97 Days Until Erev Purim and 126 Days Until Erev Pesach
Facial and body movement what signs are being shown?
How do we as Rabbi’s, Rebbetzins’ and Chaplains respond?
Empathy, Compassion, Sincerity, Understanding, Respect, Chizuk.
Is it possible to bring light and warmth during the winter months?
Is showing care for a fellow Yid only for Rabbi’s Rebbitzens and Chaplains?
Another personal reflection of being Mekadeish H

Well, this is the time we wish each other “ah gutten vinter.” Except for Rosh Chodesh, which is like a minor yom tov, there are no other yom tovim until 97 days for Erev Purim. That is a long stretch of time, with many cold days and long dark, cold nights. Well, one could throw in a simcha or two, even a nice kiddush with a little socializing. For those who attend a shiur, another type of getting together for a holy sake in person or on zoom. However, loneliness can be devastating especially during these winter months. For those who are going through difficult, challenging, personal times their facial expressions and body movements can be felt but seen. Also, what they convey in their speech. I have recently spoken to several people who shared with me their sadness that can be felt with some tears. Is it not possible for these individuals to find any happiness, any joy, any fulfillment, any meaningful days of achievement? What can our responses be for those who only feel gloom in their lives?

From the book “Shabbos with Rav Pam -The Rosh HaYeshiva inspiring thoughts on the weekly Torah readings.” By Rabbi Sholom Smith, Artscroll Series Mesorah Publications Ltd Sefer Noam Avraham Al HaTorah – Parshas Vayigash (pages75- 79) “All for the Best (5742/1981)” (Please note the following are excerpts from these pages) “Parshas Vayigash is usually read around the time of Asarah B’Teves which commemorates the beginning of the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash. The daylight hours are some of the shortest of the year; the full brunt of winter is being felt. It is a challenging time of the year as the glow of Chanukah fades away and there is a long stretch of time until the next yom tov, Purim. It is an opportune time to strengthen ourselves with the realization that even in the intense darkness of galus, H is with us and, as the navi Yeshayah (63:9, read as the haftarah of Parshas Nitzavim) says, in all their troubles, He was troubled, so an angel from before Him saved them. With His love and with His compassion He redeemed them; He lifted them and bore them all the days of the world.” Pharoh said to Yaakov,” How many are the days of the years of your life?” Yaakov answered Pharoh, “The days of the years of my sojourns have been a hundred and thirty years. Few and bad have been the days of the years of my life and they have not reached the life spans of my forefathers in the days of their sojourns” (47:8-9)” As soon as Pharoh was introduced to Yaakov, he immediately asked him how old he was. Yaakov replied that he was not as old as he looked. His premature aging was due to a lifetime filled with tzaros, giving him the appearance of an extremely aged person. Ramban (47:9) wonders about the propriety of Yaakov’s complaining to Pharoh about his difficult, trouble-filled life and about his statement that he had not reached the life spans of his father and grandfather. In all his years on the Egyptian throne he had never seen a person who looked as old as Yaakov did. To this Yaakov replied that the tragedies he had suffered had caused him to age prematurely.” “The faces of many people mirror the feelings of their hearts. It is a mark of greatness when a person can conceal the pain and difficulties he may be enduring and be able to greet every person with a smile and cheerful countenance. As R Yisrael Salanter put it, “A person’s heart is a reshus hayachid (Private domain). But his face is a reshus harabbim (public domain)”

“Rav Pam’s grandfather, the Shedlitzer Rav, would tell a story about a Jew, R’ Moshe Rieger, who was a great talmid chacham and who had received semicha (rabbinical ordination) on all four sections of the Shulchan Aruch. Nevertheless, he refused to take a position in the rabbinate and instead ran a very successful business with members of his family. Once, he received a telegram with the shocking news that a ship he owned had sunk on the high seas, and with it a major shipment of goods. He was suddenly facing financial ruin! The family members burst into tears, but Reb Moshe was smiling. His wife thought perhaps he had lost his mind due to the tragic news. “What are you smiling about? she asked him. I just received my k’sav my rabbanus (rabbinical contract), he replied. “This telegraph is a sign from Heaven that I become a rav and leave the business world” “Yaakov saw his favorite son in all his glory as the viceroy over the land and provider to all the people of the land (42:6), who made Egypt the breadbasket of the world. What was there to complain about “. It is a frequent occurrence in life that what seem 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 in reality a great blessing.” 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 the things which he incorrectly perceives as good. Therefore, we pray to H to only fulfill the heartfelt requests that are truly good for us (I discussed this in previous articles regarding Rav Dovid Feinstein’s view when requesting a bracha what the Ribono shel Olam feels is the best for a person).” The Gemara (Berachos 60b) says, “Whatever the Merciful One does He does for the best.” “This teaches that a person should not say that things are going badly for him. Bitter, yes, but not bad. This is why we pray on Rosh Hashanah for a Shanah Tova Umesukah, 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. The Chofetz Chaim mentions “People have questions on how H runs the world and cannot fathom why certain events take place, why some people are successful while others are failures, why some are blessed with wealth and good health while others suffer poverty and illness. Why is it that righteous people are faced with times of crushing tzaros? We cannot know the answers to these and similar questions. Only H knows the entire picture of history: past, present, and future. Only He knows how everything that happens fits in perfectly with the master plan of Creation.”

Rabbis, rebbetzin’s and chaplains cannot fix a situation. We do not always, nor should we believe we know or must have an answer to everything when being presented with the concerns of a patient or congregant. There is a time and a place for everything. There is always the need for empathy, for compassion, for understanding, for sincerity, chizuk and always respect. There are also those who are mental health professionals we can seek guidance and direction for concerns that should be addressed, but with professionalism. Chaplains are also a good source for understanding. For those chaplains who took Clinical Pastoral Education, and any other professional and recognized education can often be of assistance.

Rav Dovid Feinstein ztkl was an amazing listener. Through the years, I have witnessed his remarkable patience, giving much of his precious time to hear the challenges, difficulties of those going through difficult times. Often, he would spend time with those seeking his guidance or chizuk in his office, just listening to their sometimes heart wrenching stories, often with tears flowing from their eyes, but his heart was filled with such care and sincerity. Often there were those who had obvious symptoms who needed more than just his ear or his chizuk. Yet, he was patient with them. More than once did he recommend an individual or family to seek professional guidance from a mental health provider. As difficult as it was dealing with certain individuals, Rav Dovid had tremendous empathy, compassion, sincerity, understanding and respect. I will repeat this episode as shared by one of my nephews Rabbi Chaim Finkelstein*. There was a man sitting next to Rav Dovid at a shiur he was giving. That person put his head on Rav Dovid’s arm. Rav Dovid did not move his arm nor make any comments to him. Nothing seemed to faze Rav Dovid – that is until this person started to make some noise. Only then, did Rav Dovid shush this person to please be quiet. He responded ok, put his head back on Rav Dovid’s arm and was quiet for the remainder of the shiur. Rav Dovid did not try to diminish a person’s plight but showed his concern and care for that person.

The following are quotes from Rabbi Dr. Twerski ztl. (Aside from his many books he authored, interviews and quotes can be found on the internet under Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski)

“Building self esteem is necessary for happiness, you can’t really be happy in life if you are delusional about your-self, and you don’t think well of yourself” (Abraham Twerski)

“Happiness is self fulfillment. If a person neglect fulfilling any capacity or trait that he has, there is an inherent feeling of unhappiness.” (Abraham Twerski)

“Feeling for somebody else is sympathy but empathy means to be able to see things from the other person’s perspective. “(Abraham Twerski)

“Interpretation: There is a lot of difference between empathy and sympathy. Sympathy is simply feeling sorry for someone, and anyone can do that. Sympathy does not solve anything. In most cases, people don’t even want your sympathy. But empathy is a notch above. Empathy is the ability put yourself in the other person’s place and then look at life or a situation from their perspective. Twerski explains empathy using a beautiful story. There was once a Rabbi who used to listen to people’s problems and give them advice. One morning when he was listening to his supplicants, the Rabbi’s aid noticed that he was sweating profusely. Upon asking the reason, the Rabbi told the aid that when someone comes and tells him their problems, for him to help them, he has to feel their problem. He has to take off his clothes and put on their clothes. Now that he understands their problem, he has to take off their clothes and wear his clothes again so he can look at the problem objectively and give them advice. The reason he was sweating so profusely was because he had been doing that (taking off and wearing clothes over and over again) all morning! So that’s what empathy is. The ability to deeply understand the other person (or put on his clothes as in the story). And this is why, empathy is an extremely powerful trait to possess. It is also the key to successful relationships.” (Abraham Twerski)

A personal reflection – Mekadeish H: This week I had to do a transaction and met with a banker from a local bank. I conveyed with the banker my appreciation for her professionalism, her kindness, her patience, and efforts helping me today and on previous occasions. I mentioned she uses her abilities helping people such as myself. She then started to cry and took tissues to dry her eyes. She told me she was going through a difficult day and having a tough time until I came and shared my inspiring thoughts with her. She was so thankful for my kind words to her and for helping feel so much better because of what I said to her and how I said it – she felt they were sincere and from the heart. She asked me about Jewish people not shaking hands and then said, she wanted to give me an air hug- no touching or other gestures. She also thanked me at the beginning of our meeting when I cleaned my hands with a hand sanitizer on her desk which she said was being very considerate. She also appreciated my sharing my positive experiences with her supervisor.

From the tefila of Ahavaw Rabaw in shacharis: Translation Artscroll Siddur Mesorah Publications Ltd. “With an abundant love have You loved us, H our G; with a compassion that is great and exceeding have You shown compassion to us. Our Father, our King, for the sake of our forefathers who trusted in You and to whom You taught the decrees of life, so may You be gracious to us and teach us. Our Father the merciful Father Who acts mercifully, have mercy upon us, in our hearts to understand and comprehend, to listen, learn teach, observe, perform, and fulfill all the words of the teaching of Your Torah with love. Enlighten our eyes in Your Torah, attach our hearts to Your commandments, and unify our hearts to love and to fear Your name, so that we not be ashamed for ever and ever, for in the Name of Your holiness that is great and awesome do we trust may we exult and rejoice in Your salvation”. (etc.) May we be zoche to be able to follow in the ways of the Ribono shel Olam as in the above tefila. May we be zoche to bring with our empathy, our compassion, our sincerity, our understanding, our respect, our chizuk and our achdus, simchas hachayim and meaning of life to our congregants, our patients, to each other, ourselves and to Klal Yisrael. May the Torah bring comfort, and the ability to lift the spirits bringing light and warmth during these winter months. May there be happiness and joy instead of days of gloom. May all Yidim be zoche to be Ambassadors of H, Klal Yisrael and to be Mekadeish H. All Yidim have a stake in caring for fellow Yidim and for helping to bring Moshiach. May we be zoche the coming of Moshiach Bimheiraw Veyawmeinu Amein. Thank you. Respectfully and sincerely. Rabbi Yehuda Blank

*Rabbi Chaim Finkelstein is a Rebbe at the Yeshiva Mesivtha Tifereth Jerusalem, an author of famous children’s books and prolific writer of articles for various Jewish newspapers and magazines).

Please read the Invitation to the Special Medical Halacha Event in New York “Special Growth While Working in Medicine. It is free but registration is required. Sunday December 19th at 6PM.


Special Medical Halacha Event in New York
Including the launch of “The Medical Halacha Chabura Series”
The event is free of charge.
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