Rabbi Yehuda (Leonard) Blank MS, BCC
Vice President of Professional Development and External Affairs
Rabbinical Alliance of America/Igud HaRabbonim
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Thursday March 16, 2023, Adar 23, 5783
From Darash Moshe Artscroll Judaica Classics Mesorah Publications, Ltd Page 143-145 Parshas Ki Sisa “When you take a census [lit. when you raise the head] (30:12)
“Why did the Torah choose to describe the taking of a census with the strange expression, when you raise the head? Even more puzzling is the teaching of the Sages (Bava Basra 10b): Moses said before H, “With what will the pride of Israel be uplifted?” To this H replied, “With Ki Sisa- With raising up,” meaning that the pride (literally, horn) of the Jews can best be elevated by giving charity. Why did H express His answer with this part of the verse when seemingly He was referring to the ending, every man shall give an atonement for his soul, a much clearer reference to tzedakah?
(cont.) We can suggest another reason for the Torah’s use of an expression of “raising up” for the census taking. Certain people try to excuse themselves for neglecting their studies or being lax in doing mitzvos with the claim that since they are on such a low level-unable to learn properly, inadequate in the mitzvos they do- it would be presumptuous of them to even attempt these things. Objectively, of course, this humility is nothing other than a ploy of the yetzer hara, a (unfortunately) usually successful attempt to keep people ignorant and devoid of mitzvos.
To counter this strategy, the Torah comes and tells us, “Lift up your head and be counted along with everyone else! You count as one person, one Jew, no less than the biggest tzaddik and the biggest talmid chacham. Therefore, just like everyone else, you are expected to do as much as you are capable of-no less and no more. Don’t be so humble as to think your abilities are less than they are.” From this we can understand that all we need to grow in Torah and mitzvos is a willingness to work and a burning desire to improve ourselves. With these alone, we can become great, in accordance with our nature and abilities, as the greatest scholars and tzaddikim.
Thus when H wished to count the Jews, He did it in a way that would make each person feel uplifted by the counting and would make him see himself as equal in number even to Moses. Each of us must therefore undertake to work in Torah and mitzvos to reach the level of the tzaddikim, for everything depends on us alone.”
(cont.) “We may say, then, that passage holds an important lesson concerning our attitude towards Torah and mitzvos; namely, that the Torah expects us to learn Torah and perform mitzvos with the conviction that it would be totally impossible for us to do otherwise. Therefore, there is no reason ever to expect honor for doing these things or, conversely, no reason to avoid doing them for the sake of avoiding honor.
This is the principle underlying Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai’s dictum (Avos 2:8): If you have studied much Torah, do not take credit for yourself, because that is what you were created for. In this way we can also understand the humility of Moses; although he realized full well that he was foremost among all the prophets, he saw no reason to be proud of his accomplishments, since he knew that he had done no more than everyone is required to do; namely, to use all of his powers to become as great as he could. Thus, he said (Bamidbar 11:29), If only all the people of H could be prophets.”
Rabbi Dr Twerski speaks about happiness, self-worth, self-esteem and abilities a person can achieve.
“Happiness is self-fulfillment. If a person neglects fulfilling any capacity or trait that he has, there is an inherent feeling of unhappiness.”
“If we took the effort to realize, what we really are, the strength and the capacity that we have, the wonderful traits that we have, and develop them to the fullest, then we will be happy.”
Interpretation: According to Rabbi Dr. Twerski, self-awareness is the key to happiness. When you get to know and understand yourself in the deepest sense, you will realize what your true strengths and desires are which will help you attract the right people, the right circumstances and the right opportunities into your life leading to fulfillment and happiness.
“Building self-esteem is necessary for happiness, you can’t really be happy in life, if you are delusional about yourself and you don’t think well of yourself.”
“Self -esteem is tied into sense of responsibility. The more we are aware of our strengths and abilities, the greater we have the obligation to fulfill them.”
Interpretation: Rabbi Dr.Twerski believes that a healthy self-esteem is absolutely essential for a happy life. This is because, you don’t know yourself and your concept of yourself is flawed, you will automatically attract things into your reality that are not in alignment with your true nature.
Instead, when you start to become aware of yourself, know what your real strengths and abilities are, you can then let go of all the limiting beliefs and ideologies that you accumulated over the years and start to bring your life in alignment with your true desires. This is the beginning of a fulfilling life which leads to being happy.” (Torahweb.org)
Having a positive attitude in life. From Motivated by the Maggid by Rabbi Paysach J. Krohn Artscroll Series Mesorah Publications Ltd. Pages 59 – 62 “Simchas HaChaim” We all know the Mishnah that states, “Mishenichnas Adar marbin besimchah” (Taanis 29a); when Adar comes, our happiness increases because of the miracle of Purim. It’s interesting, though that the same Mishnah also says something else: “Mishenichnas Av mema’atim besimcha, in the month or Av, we minimize happiness.: Rav Shimon Schwab noted how interesting it is that in Adar we increase happiness, and in Av we decrease happiness; but we always have to be happy. A Jew must always be happy.
Rav Schwab compared happiness to a pilot light, the kind you would find on an old-fashioned gas stove: The pilot light is always on. When you cook, you have to increase the flame of the pilot light, and when you stop cooking, you minimize its flame, but the pilot light always stays on.
The Novominsker Rebbe once pointed out to me the benefits of simcha as summed up in one pasuk. Misheli (17:22) tells us Leiv sameiach yeitziv geiha veruach necheiaw teyabesh garem, A happy heart is the best medicine, but a broken spirit dries out the marrow. Medical studies have shown that two people with the same disease can have radically different recovery rates. I read an amazing 30 -year study that compared the recovery rates of people with a particular illness. The study found that those patients with a positive attitude healed much more quickly and stayed healthier longer that those with a negative attitude.
Straight to Olam Haba: How do we achieve that positive attitude, that simchas hachaim? There is a fascinating Gemara in Taanis (22a): Rav Beroka was walking with Eliyahu HaNavi through the marketplace. Two men passed them. Eliyahu HaNavi said to Rav Beroka, “Those two men are going straight to Olam Haba.” Rav Beroka was surprised, as the men looked quite ordinary. After Eliyahu HaNavi had departed, Rav Beroka went to search for those men. When he found them, he inquired after their livelihoods, hoping that would explain their special merits.
They told him, “We are happy people, and we have the capacity to make others happy as well.”
Now, imagine that you have the ability to walk into a crowd and find the person who is feeling down and make him feel better, or to cheer up friends who are depressed. You do that, and you go straight to Olam Haba.
The Me’am Loez (Devarim 28:47) analyzes this Gemara. He points out that they didn’t just answer, “We make people happy.” They began, “We are happy people,” and then stated, “We make others happy too.” The Me’am Loez says this comes to teach us that if you want to make others happy, you must be a happy person. If they were depressed and sad, then they would not be able to make others happy even if they wanted to.
To bring simchas hachaim to our spouse, our children, our colleagues, our friends, we must first learn how to be happy ourselves. The problem, of course, is that simchas hachaim is so elusive. We have so many pressures and problems, and often we feel overwhelmed by issues of family, finances, health, shidduchim, etc. We may ask why H is giving us all these problems, and how we can possibly be happy with all of them on our heads.
Happiness Despite Difficulties: If only we could be convinced that H is always with us , every moment, everywhere, in every situation, we would be so happy. How can we achieve that conviction?
One way is to start reading, listening to, and telling stories of hashgacha pratis. When you hear a story describing how H is watching out for each of us individually, it makes you feel great! Here’s something that happened right in our own neighborhood, in Kew Gardens, New York. One year there was a terrible snowstorm shortly before Purim, in March. The garbage trucks couldn’t get through until the storm stopped and the snow was plowed. Around me is Yeshiva Shaar HaTorah. The Rosh Yeshivah, Rav Kalman Epstein, told me that he learned that sanitation trucks were coming up the street at 2 a.m., so he ran out to make sure the garbage would be taken. While he was bringing it out, one of the men asked. “Are you a rabbi?” After being assured that he was, the man told Rav Epstein that his mother had passed away a few hours before, but he hadn’t yet told his siblings, who lived far away. He knew that they would insist on cremation, but their father had been buried in a Jewish cemetery, and this man believed that his mother should be buried there as well. “She wasn’t religious, but she lit candles every Friday night-Rabbi, what should I do?”
Rav Epstein recommended that the man call a Jewish funeral home and make all the arrangements, and then, when everything was set, call his siblings and tell them that the funeral would be later that day. Presented with all the preparations completed, Rav Epstein said no one would complain.
The man, Theodore (the other men called him Pip), phoned Rav Epstein the next day. “Rabbi, you were so right! I made all the arrangements, and then called my siblings, and they weren’t upset! The funeral will be in a few hours.” Then Theodore said, “Rabbi Epstein, you are the only rabbi I know. Do you think you could come speak at the funeral?” Of course, Rav Epstein did.
“In death,” Rav Epstein said, “a person reaps what they sowed in life. Because this woman had a feeling for Judaism, her son was able to arrange a Jewish burial for her.” Rav Epstein had to go to Lakewood that day and was not able to go to the kevurah, but before he returned home he visited Theodore, who lived in Islip, Long Island -115 miles from Lakewood.
The following week, the sanitation truck came again. Rav Epstien went to speak to Theodore but didn’t see him. Rav Epstein asked the other men if Pip was there. “No,” they answered,” he doesn’t work with us, he works on Long Island. He was never here before and he was only here last week because we were short-staffed.”
There is a reason for every conversation you have with another person. H is there with you every time you meet someone, and there is something you hear in that conversation that you might use in the future.
My rebbe, Rav Dovid Cohen, added a fascinating insight. Because this woman lit candles every Friday night and served H with fire, she was protected from fire, and she was not cremated!”
We can reach high levels, but what is that high level? To accomplish the best that we are able to and to be proud of those accomplishments. There is no need to boast of our abilities, our wisdom, our desire to achieve greater heights in our Torah knowledge, mitzvos or for that fact, anything we can accomplish. H gives us that ability. We just have to want to reach for those heights and realize that we do have those abilities and strengths.
All of Klal Yisroel can be good influences and most of all, can reach any heights in Judaism and in anything positive. We all have those abilities given to us by Hakadosh Boruch Hu. We have the potential for happiness even in times of difficult challenges. Of course, for more serious situations, one should seek the help of a mental health specialist. We all can offer encouragement, find solutions, and convey the goodness and kindness the Ribono shel Olam gives to us. The Ribono shel Olam loves us and wants us to have simchas hachaim wherever and however possible. We just have to know where and how to find it.
Regarding hashgacha pratis, we don’t have to look high and low, just take the time to think back at all of the situations that one goes through. A person will certainly find more than one occasion when something that did not seem feasible or possible, turned out for the best. One has to have real emunah, and real faith to recognize such unbelievable outcomes to those occurrences. Often a person will say it was meant to be either referring to something positive or heaven forbid negative. The outcome of how we accept those situations is also dependent on one’s attitude in life. It is important to have a positive and pleasant demeanor and outlook in life. A person should find positivity and not find fault in others and maybe him or herself. It is meaningful for a person to be sincere and have good relations with those who mean a lot to him or her. It is not easy to find happiness, but it is really not difficult to convey happiness to others as the two brothers in the story above, because they truly believed in the importance of happiness for others and not just themselves. Not all situations where a person is feeling depressed would he/she be diagnosed as being clinically depressed. That is a whole different matter. The two brothers had the ability of knowing when and how to convey their happiness to those who were in need of happiness. They were as sincere as can be. May each and everyone of us be able to succeed in helping others and in ourselves being happy with much simchas hachaim.
I welcome any of my readers to share a hashgach pratis story that I might choose to be included in my Moments of Inspiration.
From Between me and you. Heartfelt Prayers for Each Jewish Woman Compiled and adapted from the prayers of Rav Nosan Sternhartz by Yitzchok Leib Bell Published by Nachas Books, Jerusalem/New York.
“Please, G, let my body and soul
Act in harmony.
May my body become holy and pure
Until it is at one with my soul
And I can truly fulfill all of Your mitzvot.
Then I can achieve
Everything You desire of me,
Willingly and with great happiness.
My body and soul will be united
In love and peace
To do Your will in joy.
Then I will be able to reach a unity
Which is complete,
And present my prayers to you
In perfect peace and joy.
Sincerely, Rabbi Yehuda Blank