Rabbi Yehuda (Leonard) Blank MS, BCC
Vice President of Professional Development and External Affairs
Rabbinical Alliance of America/Igud HaRabbonim
<<<<< Thursday September 1 ,2022, 5 Elul, 5782>>>>>
Is the cup half full or half empty or is it really full?
Counting ones blessings.
Shoftim ve shotrim the first two words in this weeks Parsha.
Shotrim the name of the NYC Housing Authority Police Jewish Fraternal Society
Loneliness vs Emptiness
The importance of praying and doing for others, not just oneself.
How do we go though life? When a person is going through difficult and challenging times perhaps the loss of a loved one, financial challenges, a loved one is ill, so on and so forth. How can we offer hope? How can a person feel a cup is full let alone half full? Where are those blessings? Here are important quotes that will shed some light on blessings. From Kol Dodi on the Torah by Rav Dovid Feinstein ztk”l by Artscroll Published by Mesorah Publications Ltd Parshas Re’eh Pages 270-271 “See! I am placing before you today a blessing and a curse (11:26).” “We may ask, why does Moshe say re’eh, see, in the singular form? He was, after all, talking to the whole assembly, as we see from the use of the plural work lifneichem, before you, rather than the singular form lifanecha. Furthermore, why does he use the word ”see” at all when he could have said more simply, “ I am placing a blessing and a curse before you”?
In answer, we can say that each person has his own idea of what is a blessing (or its opposite, Heaven forbid). Some would say that mild sickness is really a blessing, since it warns us to examine our lifestyle and make healthy changes before there are worse consequences; while others say that health is always a blessings. Some feel the greatest blessing is children, others say it is wealth, and so on.
When Moshe said re’eh, see, in the singular, he meant that each individual will be given whatever he personally considers a blessing. However, sometimes the things that people think are blessings turn out not to be good for them, such as wealth, which may expose its owner to temptations best avoided, or may make him a target for dangerous criminals. Conversely, things that seem bad can turn out to be great blessings, such as situations we hear of in which people miss travel connections and thereby avoid fatal accidents.
This is why Moshe used the word re’eh, see. Not only will you be given blessings, but you will actually see how they are blessings and why they are good for you, even though others may not agree, In this vein, someone once defined a shana tova umesukah, a good and sweet year, as a year so sweet that even a child understands that it is good.”
From Rabbi Yissocher Frand on the Parsha Artscroll Series Published by Artscroll Publications Ltd”. Parshas Re’eh “Seeing is Believing, See, I am setting before you, on this day, blessings and curses (11:26). “See, I am setting before you, on this day, blessings and curses. (11;26) “QUIRKS IN THE GRAMMAR OF THE TORAH’S VERSES hold many lessons for us. H tells the Jewish people, “See (re’eh), I am setting before you( lifneichem), on this day, blessings and curses.” The word re’eh is the singular form of the verb, but the preposition lifneichem is plural. Why the discrepancy ?
Furthermore, why was it necessary to preface the gift with the word “see”? If you give someone a present, is it necessary to tell him, “Look, I am giving you a present”? Is it necessary to point out the obvious?
The answer is that blessings are not always so obvious. If we don’t make and effort to “see” them, to perceive them, we may not even be aware that we have been blessed. If we think about it, life is full of blessings. In fact, life itself is the greatest blessing. But we take all these things for granted and do not realize how blessed we are. Therefore, H reminds us to “see” the blessing He has given us.
The Kotzker ‘rebbe points out that blessings can be given collectively to many people, but each individual will perceive it in his own way, depending on his own particular personality and outlook. Blessings can be universal, but the perception of them is always individual. Therefore, when H tells us to “see” He uses the singular form, but the placement of the blessing is expressed in the plural.
The parsha of Re’eh begins with the posuk,”Re’eh Anochi Nosein Lefneichem Hayom Es Habrocha Ve’es Haklala”. See that I have given you today the blessings and the curse .” yet there are no Brochos, blessings, and kelolos, curses in the Parsha Re’eh Anochi, if you only look and think about yourself it is the klolah,curse. If you do “Nosein Lefneichem”and do for others, it is the brocha, blessing. Re’eh-See what you can do to help others and you will have blessings in your life.
Even though my wife was nifteres two years ago, I occasionally receive condolences and comments such as “ I did not know”, “I am so sorry for your loss” I did not know she passed away .” Time goes on, life goes on. I am reminded how special she was and accept those condolences graciously with a smile and pride in having had a wonderful and meaningful marriage to a remarkable woman who is still referred to as that special person with a wonderful smile. When I am asked how I am feeling or how am I doing from acquaintances, those who I have not been in touch with for a while, sincerely want to know how life has been for me since my wife’s death. Most still prefer to say passing rather than the word died or death. Some have wanted to know how lonely it must be, especially without a wife I was so close to. Yes, I am grateful to H for having such a remarkable marriage since she was always my co-pilot. There is also an important component of continuing with life, not being stuck in the past. The ability to move on, not just making the best of it, but making life as meaningful as possible, That was my wife’s wish and instructions. She wanted me to exude simchas hachaim with tremendous emunah and betachon in H. Whether it be with my position at the Rabbinical Alliance of America also known as the Igud Harrabonim with my weekly articles, webinar, presentations, outreach, networking, developing collaborations and partnerships with various organizations and agencies, giving me much satisfaction. I am also honored to have received a new title which will officially be announced at the RAA Chai Elul Siyum and Dinner on September 15th. My wife wanted me to continue being social, developing new relationships and taking pride in our children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. We were and continue to be a close knit and caring Brady Bunch plus one ( and more) family.. She was so proud of everyone of our family members and their accomplishments. Her faith, love and trust in H remained strong until the end of her life. Keila Lutza bas Shalom Hakohen A”H. Her greatest desire and wish was for the family and for me not to be stuck in the past but to go on in life with much happiness.
In previous articles I discussed Loneliness vs Emptiness. I share this with my readership to get a sense of what it might be for someone who is a widow or widower to share their feelings with their Rabbi, Rebbetzin or Chaplain. For example, I was away for two recent Shabbosim. One with my family and another for Sheva Brachos in Baltimore for close friends. This past Shabbos I was home. It struck me not for the loneliness, but the emptiness of not having my wife to care for as she did for me. One thought struck me, remembering the years before she was ill, how she had a lot of kavana, serious thoughts of others when she made challah dough and when she lit the Shabbos candles. Whether it be for those who are seeking shidduchim, children or those who are in need of a refuah sheleima. Even after she was diagnosed with a life limiting illness, while she was capable she prayed for others with such intensity to the Ribono shel Olam. When it was becoming more difficult for her to make the challah dough, she finally consented for me to purchase a bread/challah dough machine so she could return to shaping and making the challah dough and her brachos with extra prayers for others. These were amongst other remarkable things she did which gave her simchas hachaim, tremendous joy. So rather than feeling the emptiness, of missing her, I continue to think of others and how to bring simchas hachaim not just for myself, but for them too. I also follow how much it meant to her to be mispallel for others and not think of my emptiness. I therefore say extra prayers for those who want shidduchim, children and for those who need refuah sheleimas -minus the challah dough.. I could never compare myself to her greatness in whatever she did. My belief is for a husband to care for his wife with a heart of gold. To appreciate how special she is and to realize the greatness of ones wife. Caring for a wife with sincere and loving appreciation. Marriage is not a one way street. Both husband and wife together make a home that is full of warmth, exciting, happiness and full of joy. Sharing each others concerns in life, helping each other and making every moment special and full of meaning. . I shared with a chaver who was getting remarried to a wonderful woman. His first wife was nifteres several years before. To always convey to his new wife to be that she is the most important woman in this new life of theirs.
Counting ones blessings. There is much to appreciate the golden opportunities G gives us. If we appreciate and love Hakadosh Baruch Hu and think positive, then ones outlook in life will be with tremendous joy and happiness. There is so much to be thankful for which can and does give simchas hachaim. Finding satisfaction in every wonderful opportunity H gives is truly important. Thinking positively can really go a long way. Personally, I am grateful for the various opportunities of doing chesed, conveying and promoting the essence of Kiddush H and to appreciate my friendships and relationships that I have.
It is important especially at this time of year to be cognizant of the needs of those who Rabbi’s Rebbetzins and Chaplains offer spiritual and emotional support. Do not take for granted you know what a person might be going through, what his/her needs, desires, wishes and concerns might be. Some are too embarrassed to share or discuss their personal life and others cannot wait to share their life experiences . For those who invite guests for a Shabbos/Yom Tov meal, it is important to recognize that not everyone enjoys discussing their private lives. There was an article about a young woman’s experience as a guest. She knew what questions would be asked of her and at what specific times during the meal they would be asked. She had it down pat and was rarely off.. She mentioned in the article how personal some of the questions would be and she did not appreciate being invited to have to spill the beans” and tell it all. She preferred to be invited to a family where such questions were not required and had just pleasant conversations.
There are hosts who feel having a non religious guest that the meal should become a kiruv session. Some hosts who have guests that are not married should include during the meal a shidduch counseling session. Then there are hosts who discuss topics regarding their guests that should not be spoken in front of other guests or family members including children of any age. On the other hand, a guest might want to share his/her personal thoughts, concerns, shidduch desires or just about anything his/her hosts would be interested in hearing. It is always best not to become the fixer person, giving ideas or thoughts as to deal with a persons personal concerns in life.
Feeling for another person does not mean having pity, having rachmanos. It means being empathetic, sincere, caring and understanding for the other person. Often all that is needed is to be a good sympathetic listener and respond when necessary.
Whenever we come to this Parsh the word shotrim brings back very special and meaningful memories. Before the merge of three NYC police departments, there was NYPD, Housing Authority Police Department and the Transit Police Department. I was a uniformed police chaplain for the NYC Housing Authority Police Department. I often was required to wear a police uniform which I did proudly. I wore the eagle insignia that was on each epaulet of my uniform which showed the rank of Inspector and on each lapel were the Ten Commandments. That insignia was worn by all Jewish uniformed chaplains such as military, police etc. Every department has a Jewish fraternal society, The Transit was Gonem, NYPD Shomrim, Fire Department Ner Tamid and the Housing Police was the Shotrim and I was the Spiritual Director and chaplain for the Shotrim. As a police department chaplain, amongst my various duties were to give pastoral care and counseling to police and civilian members of the department , addressed role calls, ceremonies, hospital visitations, respond to various emergencies and funerals. I also visited every Housing police precinct and sometimes NYPD when requested. My visitations and counseling would take me to every borough throughout NYC. I also appeared and participated in many community functions and activities. I met with police and new recruits at the Police Academy. I gave invocations and spoke at various functions at City Hall and other locations throughout the City including the Jacob Javits Center at graduation. I was always assigned a driver in a marked or unmarked vehicle going to and from various functions or activities. It was truly rewarding caring for the men and women of the police, being an ambassador at many community functions, and meeting many dignitaries, clergy and elected officials of all backgrounds, faiths, cultures etc. I was on call for any emergency 24/7 and was respected regarding Shabbos and Jewish Holidays. There were times when police personal required specific advice and intervention and would visit me at my home on Shabbos. Due to my rank I was saluted and I returned the salute as required. I was often asked if I rode in police cars with lights and sirens. My responses were only for serious situations and not joy rides. Being a police chaplain was a serious position and not to be taken lightly. I never wore my uniform on Purim as it was not a costume. One of the most important things was to remember never to compromise my religion and to be Mekadeish H whenever and however possible. I was proud to wear my yarlmuka with my uniform and to be respected for who I was as an observant Jewish chaplain/rabbi. I was proud to serve my City during my years beginning as a Chaplain for the NYPD Auxiliary Police, as a NYC Housing Police Dept Chaplain and when I was called to active duty on 9/11 and for days thereafter. It was truly rewarding. If I were to be called again to return to active duty, even though I am older, I would be proud to do so. Not only did I have training when I was a NYC NYPD Auxiliary Police Chaplain I am also a Board Certified Chaplain who took CPE -Clinical Pastoral Education which was very intense, but rewarding. To be Board Certified by NAJC I had to fulfill many requirements. In addition to the work I was doing at a snf and a social service agency, I interned at a known medical center for three years. This is in addition to my regular university BA and MS degrees and ordination. I am grateful to the Ribono shel Olam for the many diverse professional positions I have held .
One of my recent collaborations I had with two remarkable professionals Lianne Forman and Devorah Shabtai LCSW regarding substance use and addiction for an article that will soon be published in a major Jewish Organization’s periodical . I hope to share more of this collaboration and an event to be announced in the near future. Another par excellent professional whose reputation is remarkable is Rebbetzin Malkie Machlis whose husband is the Chashuva Rav Moshe Machlis shlita Moshe ben Chanah Esther may he have a refuah sheleima. Both Rabbi and Rebbetzin Machlis are remarkable inspirations.
As Rabbonim, Rebbetzins and Chaplains we are role modes who convey the importance of loving kindness, sincerity, achdus and having a smile on our faces. To be understanding, empathetic, to be Mekadeish H, to have emunah, true faith with hope and most of all, to have trust in H.
May we all be zoche to be mekabeil and mekayein the taryag mitzvos, not to speak loshon harah which could Heaven Forbid lead to sinas chinam and to be mispallel for all those in need of our brachos, our prayers for them, a helping hand and perhaps a shoulder to lean on. “Nosein Lefneichem” and do for others, it is the brocha, blessing. Re’eh-See what you can do to help others and you will have blessings in your life. May we be zoche to help uplift the spirits of those who are feeling sadness and feeling down for what ever the reason might be. May this month of Elul lead us to righteousness and to recognize all the good blessings. To feel and to know the cup is always full. To have a sweet and good year and to be inscribed in all the “good books” . Sincerely , Rabbi Yehuda Blank