Rabbi Yehuda (Leonard) Blank MS, BCC
Vice President of Professional Development and External Affairs
Rabbinical Alliance of America/Igud HaRabbonim
====Thursday March 30, 2023, Nisan 8, 5783====
We cannot and should not give up. Avaraham Avinu didn’t!
Sometimes we must have patience. Sometimes we might have to wait years.
The importance of waiting for equine therapy for the daughters of H.
Starting at the Bottom
We always have to have hope, emunah and faith.
The importance of being sensitive and caring.
Many of us have gone through or are going through challenging times, whether it be financial, medical, emotional, illness or other difficult issues. Sometimes we feel we are at the bottom. Where to go next? Why me? What could possibly be next? But I shall not question the Ribono shel Olam.s decision. I love Him with all my heart and know He has a reason for everything that happens to me, to my loved ones, to every single person on this planet of ours. In our hearts mind and soul, we sincerely know how much He does care for us. We just have to open our hearts and believe there is a meaningful reason for everything but only He knows what is best for us. We must have trust in Him. In a friendship or in a marriage, there must be trust between one another. In every loving and caring relationship there has to be sincerity and truth. This is especially so between us and the Ribono shel Olam.
From Haggadah shel Pesach. Night of Emunah by Rabbi Binyomin Pruzansky. Artscroll Series Mesorah Publications Ltd. “Starting at the Bottom” Pages 114-117 “We open the story of yetzias Mitzrayim by declaring that our forefathers were idol worshipers, but we became servants of H. Why mention this unfavorable past? Why not skip directly to our more exalted status?
The Baal Haggadah delineates the Jewish nation’s unimpressive beginnings to teach us how to come close to H. We all have our unimpressive times in life, when we face difficult challenges and perhaps fail to rise above them. But just as our forefathers did, we can keep climbing. We can get to the top even if we start at the bottom. This is the very purpose of the tests H places in our lives.
Avraham went through ten tests in his lifetime, and each was precisely calculated to bring a different aspect of his greatness. Just as our forefathers trials strengthened them and enabled them to become worthy of founding our nation, we, too, should be strengthened by our effort to overcome the obstacles in our path. That is the only way to become great. As the Haggadah shows us, there is no such thing as skipping over the tests and going right to the exalted status.
When the Torah relates that Avraham went to war against the kings to save Lot, it specifies that he brought 318 of his disciples with him into battle. Rav Tzadok HaKohen says that 318 is a significant number, because the numerical value of “yei ush,” meaning hopelessness, is 347. Avraham wanted to show that a Jew is above yei ush. This refusal to despair is the inheritance of every Jew.
Avraham had every reason to give up. He was up against an entire world, fighting to cling to the truth of One H. Because he did this, we his children are here tonight (at the seder) bearing his torch of emunah and ahavas H, serving as a light to the nations.
“Trust Me” During his difficult years in Soviet prison camps, Rav Mendel Futerfas met a fellow prisoner with an unusual occupation. He was a circus tightrope walker.
Apparently, the man had been quite famous among circusgoers, but of course, Reb Mendel had never been to a circus. Nevertheless, he found the idea fascinating.
“Why would you risk your life like that?” he asked the man. ” It’s no longer a risk for me,” the man explained. “I’ve practiced and trained for many years. It’s become natural.”
The man’s interesting line of work faded into the background of Reb Mendel’s thoughts as the grueling, monotonous days of hard labor and suffering ground on. Then one day, the prisoners found out that Joseph Stalin, the Soviet Union’s brutal dictator, had died.
The oppression of prison life lightened ever so lightly. In this new mood, the prison warden informed the prisoners that they would be allowed to organize a circus performance. The tightrope walker volunteered to perform and urged Reb Mendel to attend.
On the day of the performance, everyone gathered in the prison yard to watch the tightrope walker climb to the top of a tall pole and step out onto a taut rope. As he regained his old confidence, he began swinging his arms. Along the way, he gave a few jumps and a one-footed hop before reaching the end. The thrilled crowd roared their approval.
But the tightrope walker wasn’t finished. “I want a child volunteer,” he announced. “For your entertainment, I will wheel that child across the tightrope in a wheelbarrow!”
His announcement was met with dead silence. The prisoners looked around uncomfortably for a moment, until they noticed a young boy coming forward. He climbed the pole and sat down in the small wheelbarrow. Step by step, the tightrope artist effortlessly pushed the boy across the wire. When he was done, the man and the boy slid down the pole and took a bow together. Everyone, including Rabbi Futerfas, crowded around the tightrope walker and his young volunteer.
“Weren’t you scared?” one of the prisoners shouted out to the boy.” How could you trust your life to that man?
“For me it was easy,” the boy replied. “That man is my father. I know I’m in good hands.”
Years later, Reb Mendel would retell this story with a message: When you trust the One Above Who accompanies you, you aren’t worried. You know you’re in good hands.
“Throughout our lives there may be times when we feel alone. We keep stumbling while others seem to glide though life. In reality, however, every person has his specific nisayon-the tests given specifically to him to overcome. Some of these tests may seem difficult or even impossible, but when we are confident that H is at our side, we have nothing to fear. We know that we are in great hands.”
But why must we wait so long for our bakashos, our prayers to H to be answered ? Some requests are answered immediately, and some take years. Patience is a virtue, but we must trust that someday one’s requests will be answered. Sometimes the answer is yes and sometimes it is no . H knows what is best for us.
“Just wait and See” “Rabbi Zechariah Wallenstein zt”l is renowned for the great work he has accomplished with Ohr Naava and the many other programs he ran. These programs enabled many girls to turn their lives around.
When young minds are confused and hearts are broken, there’s one type of therapy that seems to have a special healing power. It’s called equine therapy, which involves learning to care for and ride horses. Rabbi Wallerstein has seen it work in non-Jewish settings, and now he was determined to bring this highly effective method to Jewish girls in a kosher setting.
He just needed one thing” a ranch. Not just any ranch, but one big enough to house a weatherproof arena. After all, he wanted the program to run year-round, rain or shine. After five years of searching for the right location, Rabbi Wallerstein seemed no closer to his goal. He encountered one problem after another, until he began to wonder if his dream would ever become a reality.
Five years after his search for a ranch had begun, Rabbi Wallerstein spent Yom Kippur at the Kosel. He was inspired to turn to H and beg for help in finding a place for the precious girls he believed could be saved through equine therapy.
He said: “I am working my hardest for You, trying to find a ranch to help Your daughters to recover. But every time I come close, it doesn’t work out. I’ve looked at horse farms all across the country and not one has proper facilities for both the girls and the horses. H, they’re Your daughters! I need You to help me make this happen. Your daughters are among non-Jews, and we are losing them. Please help me to help them!”
Two months later, a real estate sales agent called Rabbi Wallerstein.” I have a property in upstate New York that I think might be right for you,” he said.
“What town?” Rabbi Wallerstein asked.
“It’s called Beth-El,” the agent answered.
Hearing that name, Rabbi Wallerstein thought of the original Beth-El, where Yaakov had the dream of the melachim ascending and descending the ladder that stretched from earth to Heaven. “This must be the place,” he decided.
When Rabbi Wallerstein arrived at the property, he couldn’t believe his eyes. It had a large indoor arena with enough stalls for all the horses they would need. The house was a sprawling, luxurious mansion of unique design. Amazingly it seemed to be brand new. The kitchen had never been used. The oven grates were still in boxes. The bathroom sink was wrapped in plastic.
“Hasn’t anyone ever lived here?” Rabbi Wallerstein asked. “Nope,” said the agent.” The owner built a dream house for his prize horse. He spent five years building this place brick by brick, and then died of a massive heart attack the day he finished.”
The price was right and the deal was made. Rabbi Wallerstein came to the startling realization that while he was standing at the Kosel asking H why He wasn’t taking care of His daughters, H was building for him a perfect, beautiful home in a perfect location.” Sometimes we think we’ve been forgotten,” Rabbi Wallerstein says, “but with proper bitachon, we realize that H is building the yeshuah behind the scenes.”
The days prior to Pesach are a time for doing chasasdim for others and for ourselves. We give maos chitim for those who surely could use the money to purchase necessary items. Being kind and thinking of others is so important, but we must be kind to ourselves and our family members as well. Getting ready for Pesach can be stressful and it is easy to lose one’s cool. However, when all is said and done, it is time to enjoy the seder. We look back at what we accomplished, not just for our own mishpachah, but for those who need our empathy, our understanding both financially and emotionally. Is there anyone who is homebound that would benefit from a phone call or a visit? Is there anyone who needs assistance preparing for Pesach? Is there anyone who is feeling lonely or is lonely and could use a pick me upper? Thinking of others is important, whether it be congregants, neighbors or even family members. Doing chasadim with loving kindness with one’s heart is important.
From Reb Michel’s Shmuessen by Rav Michael Barenbaum zt”l (English version) the Mashgiach of Yeshiva Mesivtha Tifereth Jerusalem whose yartzeit was this past week. Published by Mesorah Publications Ltd. Pages 44 -50 (parts of his shmuessen)” “The servant Abraham’s love for performing acts of chessed (loving kindness) was one of his greatest attributes. In this parsha (Vayeira) the Torah devotes a significant number of verses to illustrate this trait, and thereby clarifies why Abraham merited to become the spiritual father of all mankind.” Rav Barenbaum discusses (from Genesis 18:1) Abrahams’s bris at his age of 99 years old, despite his frail physical condition he wanted to invite guests and continue to do chasadim. “Just think: Since no one asked Abraham for assistance, why was he so bothered? Why didn’t he simply conclude, “It seems that no one needs my help today?”
Obviously, the answer is that Abraham did not view chessed as a mode of behavior to be adopted when and if the need arises, but as a way of life, a spiritual need emanating from the depths of his being. Unlike us, he did not exempt himself from the obligation to do chessed due to his physical discomfort. Just as an ill person does not deny himself food or water, so Abraham could not fathom forgoing the spiritual need to do chessed because of his pain.
This urge to do chessed is something we must all strive to attain, as is evident in the prophet’s words: ‘Mortal!’ He told you what good and what H is demands of you-nothing more than to act justly, love kindness, and walk modestly with your G” (Micah 6:8). “To love kindness” means to feel an intense desire to perform acts of chessed. It is a mindset where chessed becomes an integral component of one’s life, where a lack of opportunity to help another human being makes one feel as though one was missing limb and where one does not live only for himself.”
“The servant [Eliezer] ran towards [Rebecca] and said, ‘Let me sip, if you please, a little water from your jug.’ She said, ‘Drink, my lord,’ and quickly she lowered her jug to her hand and gave him a drink. When she finished giving him a drink, she said,’ I will draw water even for your camels until they have finished drinking.’ So she hurried and emptied her jug into the trough and kept running to the well to draw water; and she drew for all his camels. The man was astonished at her, reflecting silently to know whether H had made his journey successful or not” (Genesis 24:17-21).
According to Sforno, “the man was astonished at her” means that Eliezer was astounded at the alacrity and enthusiasm with which Rebecca performed chessed (10 camels drink approximately 140 gallons of water). “Reflecting silently” means Eliezer held his tongue and did not chivalrously protest her excessive generosity, for he wished to seek whether her chessed was sincere, or whether in the end she would demand payment for her labor. Only when the last camel finished drinking and she turned to go on her way did Eliezer become convinced that he had found a suitable wife for Isaac: “When the camels had finished drinking , the man took a golden ring… and two bracelets for her arms.”
Part of our obligation to do chessed includes noticing the manner in which H does chessed with the Creation. As the Sages said, “[The verse says] ‘H will confirm you for Himself as a holy people, as He swore to you if you observe the commandments of H, your G, and you go in His ways’( Deuteronomy 28:9)-just as He is kind and compassionate, so must you be kind and compassionate” (Sotah 14).
The Tomer Devorah expounds on this point and delineates the 13 Divine Attributes that we are bound to emulate. Regarding the Attribute of loving kindness, the Tomer Devorah explains that H continually provides life to every living thing. Were He to withhold life from man for even a moment, he would immediately cease to exist, Further, in His great kindness, H provides all men with life, including the wicked. How difficult it is for us to emulate this attribute!
“Even though performing acts of chessed is of utmost importance, we must also take great care to carry out these deeds with sensitivity. For example, the Sages said, “He who gives a perutah to a poor person is blessed with six blessings, but he who says words of solace to him is blessed with 11 blessings” (Bava Basra 9). This implies that the mitzvah of giving charity includes empathizing with the needy individual, as well as encouraging and caring for him on a personal level.”
The Sages said that if someone’s tree should shed its leaves out of season, he should paint the tree with sikra, a red dye. This way, a passersby will notice the tree and beseech H to have mercy upon it. The Saba miKelm would cite this ruling to illustrate the immense obligation incumbent upon us to show concern for our fellow Jews-the Sages assumed that any Jew who would see the afflicted tree would naturally stop and pray to H on behalf of the tree’s owner. How great is our obligation to care for the welfare of our fellow Jews!
Rambam writes: “It is a rabbinically ordained positive commandment to visit the sick, comfort the mourners, take out the dead, provide a bride with the means to marry, escort one’s guests, make burial arrangements, carry [the body]with one’s shoulder, walk before it, eulogize the deceased, and bury him…These are physical acts of chessed [which earn a person] untold reward. Although all these mitzvos are rabbinically ordained, they are included in the mitzva of “Love your fellow like yourself” (Hilchos Aveilus 14:1). He adds, “The reward for escorting [one’s guests] is greatest. It is a directive instituted by our father Abraham, a way of the chessed that he followed: He fed, gave drink, and escorted them is even greater than welcoming the countenance of the Divine Presence… Escorting them is even greater than accommodating them, as the Sages said, ‘Whoever does not escort them, it is as if he spills blood”.
From Haggadah Shel Pesach Night of Emunah by Rabbi Binyomin Pruzansky Artscroll Series Mesorah Publications Ltd. “Soul Food” pages 73-75 “Another way to understanding the concept of inviting the hungry to our Seder is that we are inviting those who are spiritually hungry. So many Jews throughout the world have never tasted the sweetness of Torah and mitzvos. This is true hunger, as the pasuk (Amos 8:11) states, “Lo ra’av lalechem v’lo tzama lamayim ki im l’shmoa es divrei H- Not a hunger for bread, not a thirst for water, but to hear the words of H. “Tonight we invite those whose souls are so hungry to taste true freedom- the knowledge of H that fills our souls with a greater satisfaction than anything this world can offer.”
“A child in need” “ The Bensoussan family didn’t have far to go when the ominous shout issued from the back seat. One of the children needed a restroom. The family was en route to Brooklyn from Lakewood, and the nearest place to turn off the highway was the Monmouth Mall.
Rabbi Duvi Bensoussan took his child into the mall, found the restroom, and waited in the public area outside. As he stood there, he noticed a young woman making her way to him from the hair-care kiosk she had been manning. She launched into a conversation in Hebrew.
“ I came from Israel a few months ago,” she said. “When I got out of the army, I was promised that I would have a chance to go to America where we could make a lot of money. The sponsors said they’d set us up in the mall and train us how to sell their products. It sounded like a dream. I could see America and make some money besides.
“But the agency didn’t take good care of us. A bunch of us are sharing a small basement apartment and I don’t have anything I need to live like a Jew. At home, we were traditional. We had Shabbos and Yomim Tovim. But now we have to work on Shabbos and holidays. And tonight is Pesach, right?
The girl seemed near tears. When Rabbi Bensoussan confirmed that it was in fact Erev Pesach, the tears began to roll. “I used to sit with my family and eat the matzah and read the Haggadah and now look! There’s nothing!”
“Is there anyone who could cover for you over Pesach?” Rabbi Bensoussan asked.
The girl said she could get a substitute, but still, where could she go on such a late notice?
“Let me see what I can do”. The rabbi said. He called a friend in Deal and offered him the chance to truly fulfill kol dichfin yesei v’yeichol- the words of the Haggadah that invite all who are hungry to come and eat. “I know it’s the last minute, but this girl literally has nowhere to go.”
Rabbi Bensoussan didn’t have to plead his case. The friend was willing to open his home and provide a Seder for the young woman yearning for a taste of Yiddishkeit. The Pesach was the start of a warm friendship between the girl and her host’s family. There was a sweetness and happiness there that she wanted for her own life. She quit her mall job and went to work for her host’s company, enabling her to observe Shabbos and Yom Tov. Today, she leads a life that is fully shomer Shabbos u’mitzvos.
“And I thought I was stopping at the mall to bring one of my children to the restroom,” Rabbi Duvi Bensoussan remarks. “It was another child’s needs that I was there to fulfill, one of H’s lost children. Today, they are the ones who are hungry, the ones who need a place at our table.”
With all that was said and done, we always must remember to do our best in following the ways of H and the Torah. I will share with you some insights of Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky zt”l whose yartzeit was last week and how special he was and a wonderful role model for Klal Yisrael.
From Reb Yaakov the life and times of HaGaon Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetsky by Yonason Rosenblum. Based on the research of Rabbi Noson Kamenetsky Artscroll Series Mesorah Publications Ltd. Page 26 “The vast majority of those who came into contact with Reb Yaakov were overwhelmed by his concern, but the ease which they felt speaking to him, by the warmth of his smile. But even these qualities were not simply “natural”: They were what the Torah calls upon all Jews to aspire to- seiver panim yafos, showing a pleasant countenance to one and all. If most people knew Reb Yaakov as warm and kind, it was because that is what the Torah demands. Caring for others is such a good feeling.
(ibid page 248-249) Derech Eretz ‘Reb Yaakov’s remarkable care with respect to every aspect of mitzvos between man and his fellow man-his courtesy, his willingness to extend himself on behalf of others, his sensitivity to others’ feelings, his hakaras hatov (appreciation for the kindness he received)- had its source in his constant awareness that every human being is created b’tzelem Elokim. Slabodka cultivated this awareness about all else. It was, on the one hand, the means by which an individual elevated and refined his own behavior and thoughts – by making them ever more befitting someone bearing the Divine Image. In an shmuess in Torah Vodaath, Reb Yaakov once imitated the bovine appearance of a person chewing gum to bring home to the bochurim that it was not an activity consonant with their own elevated status. “When I first saw someone chewing gum, “he said, “I thought if was some terrible disease of the jaw.
At the same time, the appreciation of the Divine spark inherent in others governed all one’s interactions with them. Reb Yaakov was once talking to someone when a gentile funeral procession passed by. He accompanied the funeral cortege the required four amos. When the person with whom he had been talking expressed surprise that one is also required to accompany the body of a non-Jew, Reb Yaakov told him, “He too, was created b’tzelem Elokim.”
There was nothing abstract about his love of people: it was individuals in all their infinite variety he enjoyed, not just humanity in general. After one daf yomi shiur in Florida, the Rebbetzin interrupted a conversation with one of the men in the shiur to give him a glass of fruit juice.” The pleasant taste of talking to this Jew,” he told her, “is sweeter to me than all the juices in the world.”
He accepted people for who they were, and did not cause them to feel that they were being judged. As a consequence, people felt comfortable in his presence. One of his last students from Torah Vodaath recalls how he and his wife as a newly married couple got a ride together with Reb Yaakov in a crowded car: “Nobody in the car felt reticent about talking to the Rosh Yeshiva. He did not create a distance that required you to count every word in his presence.”
May we be zoche to be imbued with the wonderful qualities we learn from our Avos, of Torah, Avoda and Gemilus Chasadim. My we be deserving to be true ambassadors of H and Klal Yisrael with sensitivity, sweetness, gentleness, and kindness. May the days ahead leading to Pesach be filled with simchas hachayim and be blessed with all the necessary ease to be ready for the holy days and nights of Pesach. Sincerely, Rabbi Yehuda Blank.