Rabbi Yehuda (Leonard) Blank MS, BCC
Vice President of Professional Development and External Affairs
Rabbinical Alliance of America/Igud HaRabbonim
Thursday July 13th, 2023, Tammuz 24, 5783
Why wait for Elul when now is the time for reconciliation, forgiveness,
understanding, compassion, and love thy neighbor.
The congregant asks his Rabbi, the patient asks the chaplain, can I be forgiven for my sins? The shofar can help us and awaken us. The chaplain shares with the patient G is forgiving, but it is up to Him to decide and it is up to us to believe.
There is always hope.
The teacher had her students role play to feel, to be empathetic of those who|have many types of disabilities and learn how those with disabilities can live
productive and successful lives.
Rav Pam’s thoughts about the will of a person to be successful.
Can I be a somebody great someday? Am I capable of being that somebody?
Maybe I really am a somebody and valuable right now!
Rabbi Paysach J. Krohn’s special words of inspiration and blessing.
From Kol Dodi on the Torah by Rav Dovid Feinstein zt”l, Artscroll Series, Mesorah publication Ltd, Parshas Pinchas Page 242 “And in the seventh month, on the first of the month, there shall be a holy convocation for you…a day of shofar blowing. And you shall make an elevation-offering for a satisfying aroma to H (29:1-2).” “It is interesting to note that in discussing the offering of Rosh Hashanah, the Torah uses the term vaasisem, you shall make, while concerning all the other festivals it says vehikravtem, you shall offer. What can we learn from this discrepancy?
The Sages taught (Yerushalmi, Rosh Hashanah 4:5) that on Rosh Hashanah, each person should feel that he makes himself into an offering before H. The purpose of blowing the shofar, which has the sound of a person crying in spiritual agony over his sins and imperfections, is to raise us up to the level of offering ourselves totally and sincerely to H. Thus, after telling us that Rosh Hashanah is to be a day of shofar blowing for us, the Torah uses the expression making, to indicate that the shofar will make us reach that level.”
From Rav Pam and Chumash by Rabbi Sholom Smith. Artscroll Series, Mesorah Publications Ltd Parshas Pinchas, Pages 185-186 “A ben Torah has the desire to become a great talmid chaham, to be fluent in all of Shas, to become a marbitz Torah and/or a posek. Unfortunately, these dreams often remain unfulfilled. The young man evaluates his potential and concludes that he lacks the intellect necessary to achieve greatness in Torah. Many uncertainties trouble him. He wishes to have the privilege of teaching Torah. But how can he be sure that he has the skills to become a mechanech? Who knows if he will find a suitable shteller (position)? How will he be able to live on the meager salary that a rebbi usually earns? These and many other self-doubts fill his mind and depress his spirit until he regretfully concludes that he must choose a different, more secure path in life. “How wonderful I would be if my life would be devoted to Torah,” he sighs, “but there are just too many question marks to deal with …”
It is important to realize that the root of such an attitude is a lack of true ahavas haTorah. If the young man sincerely desired to attain Torah greatness with every fiber of his being, he would not have so many doubts. Even if his intellectual capabilities are below average, his resolute desire for achievement would earn him great siyata diShmaya to achieve his goal. H grants wisdom, and from His mouth comes knowledge and understanding (Mishlei 2:6). It all depends on a person’s will to succeed.
A true and unwavering love for Torah would resolve the issue of parnasah as well. Rashi (in Shemos 16:32) quotes an incident from Yirmiyahu (2:31). The navi rebuked the people of his time for not engaging in Torah study. They responded, “If we would lay aside our work in order to learn, from where would we have parnasah?” Yirmiyahu too out the jar of manna, which Aharon HaKohen had put away centuries earlier as a safekeeping for future generations, and said. “With this manna your forefathers sustained themselves in the Wilderness. H has many emissaries to prepare parnashah for those who fear him!”
This principal is not limited to Torah study. It often occurs that a person is inspired to do something for the benefit of Klal Yisrael. It could be a kiruv effort, a chesed project, a tzedakah campaign, an attempt to strengthen the observance of a particular mitzva, or to increase the awareness of the seriousness of a certain aveirah. The person perceives a need in the community and has an idea for how to deal with it. What often happens is that he is quickly overcome by doubts and uncertainties.” “Am I qualified for this task? Will I be successful? Why has no one else broached this idea until now? Will the community support my plan?” These and many other doubts cross his mind, often negating the idealism to do something. The lesson of the daughters of Tzelafchad is that a person’s intense love for something will shake off the inevitable uncertainties that crop up and will give the drive to accomplish great things for the benefit of Klal Yisrael and Reb Yisrael.”
From The Grandeur of the Maggid by Rabbi Paysach J. Krohn Artscroll Series, Mesorah Publications Ltd. Pages 269-270 (The last two pages of this book) “The Meiri, the Rishon Rav Menachem ben Shlomo (1249-1306) authored the classic Beis HaBechirah, a multivolume commentary on many masehtos. In his introduction to Masechta Berachos, he states that one must grow from every experience he goes through, be it happy or sad. One must ponder, “Why did H make me go through this? What must I learn from it?”
The Meiri writes that the same applies to every holiday as well. It is not enough to eat matzah on Pesach or sit in the succah on Succos; one must be different after the Yom Tov than one was before it. For if one merely goes through the halachic motions without any development or progression, then he is like a donkey who carries barley in the barley season, oats in the oat season, and wheat in the wheat season, but always remains the same donkey.
I once attended a conference for people who had suffered misfortune. The cover of the conference brochure had one phrase in large letters, “Don’t just go through it. Grow through it.” Exactly what the Meiri teaches.
I once saw this one-sentence poster in an airport gift shop. “It’s never too late to become the person you could have been.”
A number of years ago on my birthday, Tu B’ Shevat, someone said to me, “The day you were born is the day that H decided that the world can no longer exist without you.” I was awed and invigorated, and that thought inspires me to this day.
When I relate this to audiences, I always add, “This concept is applicable to each of you right here in this room.”
I once related this to three hundred Bais Yaakov high school girls at a Shabbos Shabbaton. A few days later, the principal called and told me a girl had come to her office and in a discussion about the Shabbaton said,” When I heard that thought, I realized that I really was important. Not only in school but at home, too. I am important, and H really cares about me.”
It brought tears to the principal’s eyes. The girl had many siblings and many classmates, and she often felt marginalized, reflecting on this idea gave her a sense of self-esteem.
And of you, dear reader, I ask that you put down this book for a moment and consider this as well. The day you were born was the day H decided the world can no longer exist without you. It should make you feel special. Know that you can make a difference in someone else’s life, as you are H’s emissary to bring good into His world.
Rav Chaim Volozhiner would often say, “Lo leatzmo nivra, You were not created for yourself, rak lehoil leachrinei kechal asher yimtza bechocho la asos, but to help others in any capacity you can.
I hope and I pray that the stories and insights in this book will inspire you to reach this lofty goal so that together we all merit to see Mashiach in our day.”
The beautiful and moving story Rabbi Krohn wrote about that student who felt marginalized until she heard what Rabbi Krohn said at the Bais Yaakov Shabbaton, reminds me of the magnificent stories shared with me by the well known Principal, Rebbetzin Malkie Machlis and how she helped uplift the spirits of hundreds of talmidos whose lives were changed by her love, caring and inspiration. In fact many of those students have not forgotten her kindness. Many not only keep in touch with her but invite Rebbetzin Machlis to their chasunas or call to share about their own children’s nachas or difficulties, seeking her advice. (Please note that all stories shared by Reb Machlis were without mentioning the names of any student or family name.)
We understand, we accept, what the “Three Weeks” are about. But what does the Ribono shel Olam want from us in our understanding? In previous articles I’ve shared about patients going through traumatic medical situations who are fearful for their future. Will they pull through or not? What will their lives be like? It is not unusual for patients to have such fears from something as innocuous such as a bone fracture. This especially can present itself when a surgeon or specialist shares that there might be some risk with the procedure whatever it may be. Chaplains can have a patient who truly is fearful and they can have a calming effect and minister to the patient with tremendous empathy. The same can be said when a congregant seeks the guidance, the advice and connection with his or her rabbi or rebbetzin. The chaplain shares with the patient that G is forgiving, but it is up to Him to decide and it is up to us to believe.
As a rabbi and chaplain I went through this experience with my wife a”h when she was diagnosed with a cancer. Her prognosis was not very hopeful and I felt the brunt of her initial fear. Though we did not know what her life expectancy would be, the initial words of what could be and what might be, was hard to swallow. The doctor gave her hope that with the many treatment options that were available, everything was possible. We had tremendous emunah and betachon in H. However, it was the many brachos and words of wisdom and heartfelt words of encouragement from our Rabbonim and Rebbetzins that were calming and meaningful. My years of experience and training were helpful, but it was a roller coaster ride from the beginning of that first diagnosis and prognosis that changed the world for my wife, our children, family and of course myself. There are many diagnoses patients receive with challenging prognosis which can be very frightening. Choosing the right words, the most appropriate approach by a Rabbi, Rebbetzin and Chaplain can be extremely meaningful. There is always hope !
I once read about a teacher who wanted to teach her students about being empathetic for those who had challenging disabilities and not to think of them with pity or as second class citizens. They could be successful in life in many diverse ways. She had her students cover their eyes, have their arms tied together, their legs tied together, or stuffed their ears to simulate some of the disabilities other people might have. The students were asked how they felt, what it was like, how they would want others to treat them and if they thought they could be successful in life. They learned to be empathetic with people with disabilities. They were also asked to share how they could inspire those with disabilities to be successful in life.
In the Kol Dodi, Rav Feinstein zt”l discusses in Parshas Pinchas which is read in the summer, “a day of shofar blowing”. This helps to prepare us now, before Rosh Hashanah reminding us how the cry of the shofar can elevate us to reach the level of offering ourselves “totally and sincerely to H”. We can therefore feel there is hope for our future in a positive way. We therefore can and should offer hope to those who we minister to. H is there for us. The Rabbi and the Chaplain bring hope of a loving G and spiritual healing. For Klal Yisrael, this is the time of year we seek opportunities to bring kindness, goodness, understanding, compassion and love for our neighbor. Ahavas haTorah, siyata diShmaya, faith in oneself and trust in the Ribono shel Olam are so important. Everyone person is important just like every os in the Torah is important. Should one os, one letter, be missing or even partially missing, the whole sefer Torah can be posul. Every Jew is important and valuable. We all don’t have to be famous to be successful in life. We have to have siyata diShmaya, and know when we go through trying times, there is a reason for it. H has His reasons for everything that happens to each of us and our challenges. Sometimes we have to meet those challenges head on. The daughters of Tzelafchad showed us their zeal to have the mesorah of the land in Eretz Yisrael given to them. Moshe Rabbeinu taught us how he took their concerns, their requests seriously and brought their request to the Highest Authority, H Yisbarach.
There are many ways a person can be successful, achieve many accomplishments and come to realize that those accomplishments are not as insignificant as that person thought they were. We learn, grow and gain from our experiences. With the right words as Rabbis, Rebbetzins and Chaplains we can bring sunshine to a person helping to uplift his/her spirits, self-esteem and self-value. As Rabbi Krohn mentioned “The day you were born was the day H decided the world can no longer exist without you.” It should make you feel special. Know that you can make the difference in someone else’s life, as you are H’s emissary to bring good into His world. As Rav Chaim Volozhiner said, “You were not created for yourself but to help others in any capacity you can.” Rabbis, Rebbetzins and Chaplains have tremendous abilities of helping those who we offer our care with the special koach the Ribono shel Olam gives us to act as His emissaries. With siyata diShmaya all my readers can help others by saying a kind word, doing a chesed, having compassion, being empathetic especially during these weeks. I also want to mention that it is important for a Rabbi, Rebbetzin or Chaplain to acknowledge a person might need professional help to deal with their anxiety.
There aren’t enough times for me to say how much H loves us and how much we love Him. May H grant us the koach to do Avodas H, for Ahavas Torah, for doing the mitzvos, for doing gemilus chasadim , for making a Kiddush H, for achdus, for caring for each other, for praying for each other, for helping each other and for Sholom al Yisrael. Let us remember Am Yisrael Chai and Chaveirim kol Yisrael. May our thoughts of Rosh Hashanah and the upcoming sounds of the shofar bring us to the next level of closeness to H. May H grant us success in our endeavors, simchas hachaim, good health and much happiness in our lives. Sincerely, Rabbi Yehuda Blank.
(PS. Rosh Hashanah is just in a little bit more than 9 weeks.)