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Dec 25 2012

Six Flags and the Flash Pass Should We allow a Caste System in our Amusement Parks?

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Six Flags and the Flash Pass


Should we allow a caste system in amusement parks?


·        One moment of patience may ward off great disaster.  One moment of impatience may ruin a whole life.  ~Chinese Proverb


·        Genius is nothing but a great aptitude for patience.  ~George-Louis de Buffon


·        Patience and perseverance have a magical effect before which difficulties disappear and obstacles vanish.  ~John Quincy Adams


·        Patience is something you admire in the driver behind you and scorn in the one ahead.  ~Mac McCleary


·        How can a society that exists on instant mashed potatoes, packaged cake   mixes, frozen dinners, and instant cameras teach patience to its young? ~Paul Sweeney

  As I read these quotes, and the many like them, I bemoan the fact that I never had the opportunity to take counsel with any of these erudite gentlemen, so that I could learn from them the secret of this wonderful attribute. For when I ponder my own difficulties and daily frustrations, I have no doubt that their insight would have substantially improved my quality of living.  


Observe, if you will:


My barber, whom I have been visiting for the past ten years, gets a rather handsome holiday gift from me, come the proper season His secret? He has earned such high esteem in my eyes, simply because he is cognizant of the fact that it is difficult for me to sit for an extended amount of time, and he makes every effort to expedite the process.


One night while shopping   I gave serious contemplation toward calling security in Shoprite, because the gentleman in front of me had eleven items, and not the express line limit of ten. (If you get two bottles of Coke, is that one item or two?)


Remember, going back about a year and a half ago, when a few Jet Blue planes remained on the tarmac, for up to nine hours? The last time I took a flight, I realized that I no longer had a phobia of flying, rather now, a phobia of waiting.


I share all of this with you, my readers and dear friends, not to expose my Foibles

and Idiosyncrasies, but rather as a prelude to an observation I made, while on my families annual three day, end of summer getaway.


This year we chose Six Flags New England, a no brainer, since we had won tickets in a reading contest. As always, we stay in a beautiful hotel, which is important to the kids, and the huge discount I get from Priceline, makes it amenable to me too. They swim, have races to the ice machine, and as long as they stay young at heart, I won’t have to constantly come up with greater and more exciting destinations.


As we drove up to the park, the next morning, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the crowd levels did not look too bad, even though it looked as if it was going to be a gorgeous day. Being that we had tickets already, we were ushered straight into the park, and as I took in the scenes, I was mighty pleased with our itinerary for the day. I gazed around to see guest relations in front of me. There were two souvenir Shops to my right, a ticket window a stone’s throw away; and then I saw it, it was a small

Sign, hanging over the ticket window in an unobtrusive, yet clearly noticeable manner. The sign read quite simply “buy your flash pass here”


What was a flash pass? I wondered, perhaps it was one of those stations where        one goes to buy a picture that was taken of them when they rode the flume?


Or maybe the Flash Pass was a fancy version of a park map, designed to help guests navigate through its rides and attractions, lest they spend their visit perpetually asking for directions.


Much to my surprise, the Flash Pass was neither of these two of my conjectures,       but rather, a shockingly different concept, after all.


The concept as described, word for word by the Six Flags website.

“Pack in all the thrills and excitement you can with The Flash Pass. Six Flags’ virtual ride reservation system holds your place in line electronically, so you can spend more time having fun and less time waiting for our most popular attractions. When it’s almost time for your turn to ride, an alert is sent to your Flash Pass device. It’s that simple.

·        A Regular The Flash Pass allows you to enjoy your day at Six Flags by avoiding long lines at your favorite rides. With a Regular The Flash Pass, you wait as long as everyone else is waiting, but not in line— you can enjoy your free time elsewhere in the park.

With a GOLD Flash Pass, you enjoy a reduced wait time of up to 75%—allowing you to ride more and wait less.


·        Hmmm…what a novel idea! Don’t like to wait? Want to maximize your visit, which after all, you paid good money for?  Then just double or triple your entrance fee, and you will be off on your way to a guaranteed experience of non stop, spills and thrills!

Wow! Perfect for someone like me! If I can’t sit in a barber chair, how will I stand on lines that read “45 minutes from this point?”


 What a brilliant concept, this flash pass was. The park makes more money, I don’t have to wait, and the poor guy I cut in line, he is guaranteed to go next, as two “flash pass” customers aren’t allowed to ride back to back.

Then I got to thinking about what the implications might be, if we created for ourselves, a “Flash Pass society. While some of the applications are obviously far fetched, who would have though of an amusement park selling such passes, twenty years ago?

Patient A is lying on a gurney, in the middle of cardiac arrest. The Dr is trying valiantly to save him via the use of chest compressions. Just as it seems that the patient is coming to, in rushes an ambulance with a young man who has suffered three broken ribs, but is nonetheless conscious and healthy.

As the patient with the rib injury complains about his pain, and urges the Dr. to hurry, the Dr. reminds him, that he’s here because of a rough basketball game, while the patient on the table may become an organ donor within minutes, the rib patients, has had enough, so he painfully reaches into his pocket and retrieves – you got it – His Flash Pass.

Where else do we wait? Movies, Ballgames, Circus, Toll Booth?  Waiting has become an essential and timely part of our lives. Commuting, for example, is a glorified manner of waiting, we just “wait” until our mode of transport gets us to our destination.

Cutting lines, or getting preferential treatment, represents a value system that is an anathema to what Judaism stands for. It leads to Chaos, and eventually a breakdown in societal function.

Which is why when we see the Lord Almighty in the Torah, we find that he has little tolerance for division or strife. Our Rabbis tell us that each one of us is created in God’s image, and because of that, if one individual harms another, be it physical, emotional or in some other capacity – it is akin to destroying an artist’s painting – you have insulted the artist – who in this case is God. We are also told that our job in this world is to be God like – kind, merciful and just – and therefore when I do hurt someone, I have not complied with this other tenant either.

The Bible tells us that God told Noah to build an Ark, unless he felt like treading water. It took Noach 120 years to complete this massive construction, which according to the commentaries, was on display for so long. Unfortunately, the generation, instead of taking advantage of God’s magnanimous opportunity, they continued to sin, and became more decadent and immoral, day after day. Despite these actions, God relented, holding out hope that they would “hop on board” Finally the Bible tells us that the rains began, but the verses that immediately precede the unleashing of the flood, tell a shed a remarkable insight on God’s system of justice. The great and sagely commentator Rashi, remarks – that the verse immediately preceding the waters, states that the Jewish people were infested with corruption. Says Rashi, God had patience for other since, idol worship, immorality, etc. But when it comes to interpersonal matters, that we value ourselves more than we do others, that’s when he has had his fill, and it begins to pour.

Conversely, at the end of the portion, we are told of another, arguably more egregious sin, which perhaps should have also ruined the world.  The sinners who attempted to build a tower, to somehow “fight the Lord. In this case, the people are unified, which is exactly why their punishment was the name Bavel, or mixed up. No where, do we find, however, that God even contemplates wiping out mankind again, despite the fact that this was, arguably, a greater rebellion.

The main thing a Jew has to know is that there are no “flash passes” in life. There are no entitlements in this world, and if I lack something that others have, God is the ultimate accountant, and every portfolio will be straightened out in the long run. We are Jews, the people who do the most Chased, or kindness, than any nation in the world. Check the major hospitals in NYC on Friday afternoon, and you will find stocked refrigerators for patients and their families, not to mention hospitality, courtesy of the Sat mar Chasidim, Bikur Cholim and others. Thank goodness, we don’t know from it, but the amount of pure kindness and energy, not to mention funding, that goes into so many project is absolutely mind boggling.  For all that ails us, and for the areas in which we need to grow, there is something remarkable about the feeling of responsibility of one Jew to another. Rich, poor, well, or ill, ours’ is a nation that, like no other, tries to emulate God, and to realize that our fellow humans are his creations too. We are all worthy of this status, and no one has the right to take it from us.

There is no room for the “Flash Pass” in our parks of amusement.


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Dec 09 2012

Baseball, Steroids and the Longest Rain Delay in History

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Baseball, Steroids and the Longest Rain Delay in History

“Everybody standing here at 24 Willie Mays Plaza. An armada of nautical craft gathered in McCovey Cove beyond the right-field wall. Bonds one home run away from history, and he swings and there’s a long one. Deep into right-center field. Way back there. It’s gone! A Home Run! – Into the center-field bleachers to the left of the 421-foot marker. An extraordinary shot to the deepest part of the yard – And Barry Bonds with 756 home runs.  Has hit more home runs than anyone who has ever played the game – Henry Aaron, the home run king, 755. He hit his last one 31 years ago. And now tonight in downtown San Francisco, Barry Bonds hits number 756, one more than Aaron.”

– Jon Miller’s radio call of No. 756

August 8th, 2007 – A moment baseball had seemingly been waiting for it, for the past 23 years, ever since Hammerin Hank Aaron took Al Downing “yard”, in 1974. Yes, this was truly a touching moment one of genuine human emotion, as Bonds rounded the bases and first saluted his father in heaven, and then embraced his son

A perennial moment for sure, but the added level of excitement for such an event was noticeably missing. The reason for that, of course, was Bond’s purported use of steroids. Bonds, while adamantly denied the allegations, somehow had dramatically increased his offensive production at an age where others were already in decline. Bud Selig, the game’s commissioner was ambivalent about attending and instead of being there to “pass the torch”, as is usually done, Henry Aaron chose to record a perfunctory congratulatory message which was displayed on the scoreboard. No doubt, Bonds had the record, albeit with an asterisk, according to many, because he is alleged to have cheated. As a result of this situation, there has been much controversy as to who really holds the HR record. Even of those who recognize Bonds as the leader, feel that perhaps there should be an asterisk next to his name in the record books, so as to denote the allegations surrounding him.

Surprisingly, this is not in fact, baseball’s first asterisk in the record books. In 2001, Billy Crystal chronicled the famous summer of 1961, which featured the home run chase between Yankee teammates, Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle toward the elusive record of 60 home runs hit in a season by the immortal Babe Ruth. On the last day of the season, in true dramatic form, Maris surpassed Ruth and became the all time record holder for most HR in a single season.

Except, for one problem – you guessed it –

The “asterisk”

It seems that when Maris played the game, the season had been extended from the 154 games that Ruth played, to a 162 contest campaign – an increase of eight games. Maris, therefore, went into the record books with an asterisk, which detonated the fact that it took him eight games longer to set the mark. After much deliberation and outcry from some fans, Commissioner Fay Vincent decided, after 30 years, to finally remove the asterisk. The record, until it was surpassed seven years later, now belonged solely to Roger Maris.

In this week’s Torah Portion, the Bible tells us the famous story of Noah and his Ark. While the tale has been fodder as of late for Hollywood, there are some remarkable lessons that can be learned from Noah’s character. The Bible tells us that ” Noah was a righteous man, complete in his generation” Many of our sages deduce from this that in his generation, he was a great and righteous man – however, had he lived in a different era – such as the generation of Abraham, he might not have been held in such high regard. What the Torah is telling us, I believe, is that while Noah was great, his legacy was tainted with an asterisk! Noah.”Noah, meet Barry and Roger, as you are all in the same BOAT” (Pun intended)

As further proof of Noah’s deficiencies, the Biblical narrative offers a very peculiar incident. After building the Ark for 40 Years, after gathering 7 pairs of Kosher species, and 2 pairs of non-kosher – after enduring ridicule from his friends and neighbors – the verse tells us ” and Noah entered the Ark, because of the waters of the flood. The great commentator Rashi states ” Noah was a man of small belief, he believed, but he didn’t believe”

Amazing! A man builds the ark for 120 years, he collects the animals and devotes his life to this mission, and then, when push comes to shove – he has to be “forced” into the ark, because the water level becomes too high for survival. How could such an individual with his history, have doubts that the rain was coming? Noah should have been the first to enter the ark, as he would have been keenly aware of what was going to transpire. Says Rashi, “he believed, but he didn’t believe” – there was something lacking in his character, a sense of ambivalence, perhaps that compromised even his great accomplishment to some degree. Yes, Noah was righteous, but only because he was measure by his generation’s yardstick.

Every person in life has a choice as to what type of standards he or she wants to hold themselves to. Honesty in Business, Torah study, observance of Mitzvot, and so many more, are all arenas that define who we are, and perhaps more importantly, what type of individual we aspire to be. The question is, how do we set standards for ourselves? Do we look at all around us and say to ourselves that in comparison with our society which is ridden with problems, that our shortcomings are not too bad? Or should we demand a different yardstick for self evaluation, that being – living up to our full potential, regardless of anyone else’s. Our Rabbis tell us that one of the pangs of death is that we are shown an image of what we could have been and what we could have accomplished. This revelation is too painful for the soul to bear.

Noah, despite being the sole surviving family of a wicked generation, and therefore is all in all, one of our Biblical Heroes, nevertheless, he goes down in history with an asterisk attached to his name. A man who (pun intended) ends up being a “fair weather” servant of the Lord.

We may not live in a time of world annihilation, but we too are “flooded” by the perils of our world. Life is serious business, and one has to decide for him or herself, what type of legacy they want to leave behind. Do we want to be a run of the mill Noah, someone with an asterisk, or do we want to live as undisputed champions of our Judaism.

Schedules are tight and demands from family and work can be overwhelming, but we need to set our priorities if we are to accomplish what we need to. We go to the gym for Physical health, shouldn’t we therefore dedicate at least a time toward our spiritual health? We can even do it on our way to work with tapes, which are readily available on any Jewish subject one wants to learn.

Deep down each of us want to grow in our Judaism, no matter how far removed we are now. Everyone has equal opportunity – so let’s make adjustments, commitments, and most of all –

Don’t Miss the Boat!

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Dec 09 2012

OU bris book

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Parshat Emor -Holiness

Published in OU/Artscroll book

Entering the Covenant

In a world dominated by the pursuit of physical pleasure and material satisfaction, there has emerged, over time, a new school of thought. From the widespread study of Kabbalah, to the followers of the Dali Lama, many in our society have become preoccupied with the quest for spirituality. In Judaism, the Torah places great emphasis on the ideal of spirituality and the definition of holiness. Our religion however, has a unique and decidedly different view of this quality, than one might at first imagine.

The Torah tells us in Parshat Emor, that the Kohen is prohibited from defiling himself by coming into contact with a dead body. Of all the things that come to mind, isn’t it strange that the Torah’s definition of spiritual purity is contingent upon life and death? Is this the basis on which we judge our closeness to God? No mention of prayer or Torah study? Of sacrifices or fasting? How are we to understand the Torah’s directive to the Kohen? What is it about the Kohen that requires him to be kept away from the dead? And if there is a concept of Tumat Hamet, why aren’t the rest of the Jewish people given this Mitzvah? Weren’t we all commanded in the previous Parsha to be a holy nation?

It is not coincidental that the Jewish view of purity and contamination is a widely misunderstood phenomenon. Indeed, as many outreach professionals will attest to, ours is a system that is often maligned. The word impure conjures up images of filth and dirt, and is therefore an area that needs a great deal of explanation. Yet, isn’t it interesting, that while we ponder the meanings of these terms, we never stop to question the practice of washing our hands upon leaving the cemetery? We know that washing is for the purpose of purity, but what is impure about a dead body?  Clearly, an explanation is in order.

The commentaries explain that there is a unique relationship that exists between the physicality of the body and spirituality of the soul. Each has particular needs that have to be satisfied. What is unique about Jews, however, is that we believe that physical and spiritual pleasure need not be a contradiction. Our mission is to build a relationship with God through the physical trappings of this world. This, to many, is a foreign concept. In other faiths, physical pleasure is seen as a weakness of the flesh, and is eliminated as a means of seeking out the holy. One who wishes to achieve the ultimate in  holiness, is encouraged to remain celibate, to abstain from earthly pleasures.

But Jews do not subscribe to this philosophy of asceticism. Our job is to live a physical existence, and to inject holiness into our everyday lives. Hearty Shabbat meals, a restful vacation, a long run in the park, all of these are avenues through which we can achieve higher levels of spirituality. The key to this mission is to channel our actions toward the service of Hashem. As we say in the prayer, “Anu ratzim v’heim ratzim,” we run as does the rest of the world, but only our efforts are in pursuit of eternity.

With this explanation in mind, we can now address the problem at hand. A body is only considered to be holy, so long as it houses the soul that drives it. As the soul departs, so does the spirituality that accompanies it. What is left is the total physical nature of the body. This absence of spirituality is known as Tumah. The Kohen, as Rav Moshe Feinstein Zt’l, explains, was the epitome of holiness. His full time job was the service of Hashem, and therefore he could not subject himself to defilement by the corporeal body. Ordinary man, who is involved in the more mundane matters of life, has the obligation of tending to the dead.
The opportunity to direct one’s actions toward the service of Heaven is what makes our heritage so meaningful. To have purpose in life is a basic, yet often unmet, need of human existence. Without it, life is reduced to a series of trivial and inconsequential events, which span the course of merely a few decades. Man works and struggles; in a short time it is over, and all he is left with is physical and transient. But if we realize that by directing our efforts we can achieve immortality, the effects on our behavior will be remarkable. Such an attitude will make us better spouses, better parents, and ultimately, better servants of the Almighty.

The birth of a child, aside from being a momentous occasion, brings with it an awesome amount of responsibility. The decisions we make as parents today, are ones that will shape the course of generations to come. Our job is to ensure that the lives of our offspring are infused with direction and meaning. A Bris is the event in which we begin to give life its definition. It is the distinction we give to the most carnal part of the body, which elevates it to the realm of the spiritual.

My dear parents, you have spent your entire lives preparing for this moment. Your devotion and dedication toward the Ribono Shel Olam are about to undergo a huge transition. For you no longer function as individuals, but as the Matriarch and Patriarch of future generations. May you continue to live your lives with purpose and may your new son carry on your legacy and be a great source of pride and nachas to you and your entire family. Mazel Tov!

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Dec 09 2012

The Days Of the Omer : Making them count

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The days of the Omer: Making them “Count”

The story is told of the middle aged man who was an extremely traditional Jew, and had never missed a Passover Seder, since he could remember. Aside from Judaism, his other passion was his beloved hockey team, the NY Rangers. As fate would have it, one year the Rangers were to play in a crucial playoff game, and  thee man was in a state of shock when he found out that it would take place on Seder eve. As he sat there in a cationic state, his wife advised him that perhaps he ought to speak with his Rabbi about how to deal with this crises. Upon opening his study door, the Rabbi could immediately see that all was  not right.” Sam, he said, I’ve never seen you like this, you look as pale as a ghost” Sam shared his dilemma with the Rabbi and explained that no matter which path he followed, he would have endless guilt and frustration regarding missing the other. The Rabbi thought for a moment.” Sam”, he said, do you remember a sermon that I gave last year, about how everything in God’s world can help us observer God better. I spoke about technology, and how in our generation, we need to put it to good use.” Yes Rabbi, I remember, but what has that have to do with me?” Have you ever heard of video tape?” asked the Rabbi with a twinkle in his eye. All of a sudden, Sam’s face lit up, like it hadn’t in days. He thanked the Rabbi profusely, and headed home to tell his wife the good news.” Laura, that Rabbi of ours is wonderful, an absolute genius!” Wow, that’s great, what did he say?” The Rabbi said that I should go ahead and tape the Seder!”

Sometimes in our lives’ as Jews, many of us feel that our observance is likened to a video tape. After all, we go through the same motions every day, and outside of perhaps, the major holidays, it is quite easy for our enthusiasm in serving God to become stale. If we pray daily, Tuesday’s prayer is much like Wednesdays. Shabbat, as wonderful as it may be, can also feel repetitive, as though we can put it on auto pilot and it will keep itself. I always mention in my classes, that the Talmud says that a “Baal Yeshiva” someone who does the Mitzvoth, who was not brought up in a fully observant home, has greater merit than an FFB, From (observant ) from birth. He has an excitement and freshness  to his worship that it is sometimes hard for others to emulate. The purpose of a Jew, therefore is to approach his or her service to the almighty, as though he/she is performing it all over again for the first time. This means, basically, that a Jew needs to be in a constant growth mode, always figuring out ways to reinvent and add freshness to his or her service. This year’s Seder should not be the same as last year’s and likewise, next year’s has to have its own special feeling.

On the second night of Passover, the Jewish people began the ritual known as the “counting of the Omer” Although the Omer is probably best known for the tragedies that transpired during it, in the era of the Rabbis, hence the popularity of “Lag Baomer”, the day in which there were no deaths, the actual directive of the counting is found in the book of Leviticus. For the purposes of this article, we will stick with the Biblical angle of this Mitzvah, while next time we will explore the mourning of the tragedies during these days, in the next newsletter we send out. The Torah tells us that the Omer was an offering of the first of one’s wheat, which symbolized a person’s recognition, that all his sustenance ultimately came from above, and therefore there was no hesitation to give some away as per God’s directive. The Torah continues the from the night of the Omer, one counts 50 days, that is until the fiftieth day, which is Shavuot, the days we received the Torah at Mount Sinai
It is interesting to note, that this period of time, has no name accorded to it by the Torah, nor do we find by any other holiday, the concept of a “countdown” toward its celebration.

Our sages explain that ideally, the Jewish people should have received the Torah immediately after crossing the Sea. After all, this was the sole reason for leaving Egypt, to become the Lord’s people. But there was a serious problem. The Jews had been in a foreign culture for so many years, that the Egyptian society and its value system, had rubbed off on them, to the point that they were at the 49th state of levels of impurity, had they fallen one more rung, they would have been beyond salvation. Indeed, all of us would readily admit that we are products of our society, and it is because of this that we try to be careful that we, and certainly our children, do not soak up the undesirable influences that are part of our culture. And although the Jewish people were ultimately redeemed because they preserved “ their names, their dress, and their language”, nonetheless, they suffered tremendous attrition and spiritual damage, as any nation that would have resided in the decadent nature of Egyptian society, would have.

Therefore, said the Lord that the Jews needed to purify themselves, to shed them of the Egyptian mindset, before they could merit the gift of the Torah. They would count forty nine days, each day they would rise a level from the lowest level of impurity, thereby preparing them to greet the Almighty on the fiftieth day. Perhaps this helps explain why we count upward from one, rather than downward from forty. Aside from the fact that starting with forty nine might seem depressing, if we understand that each day of the Omer we rise a degree in spirituality, it makes perfect sense that we count upward, that is to say. Today we are one level higher than yesterday..two levels in our growth in purity. All the way up to the highest level and the opportunity to experience national revelation.

There is an interesting discussion in the Talmud, as to whether the Mitzvah of the counting is one long Mitzvah of forty nine days, or whether each and every single day is considered a Mitzvah unto itself. This discussion emanates from the Torah’s ambiguity in its description of the counting. “ Seven full weeks you should count…..count fifty days.

Depending on which way one learns the verse, there are some ve3ry important differences that arise, when it comes to the actual law. If we say, for starters, that each day is a Mitzvah unto itself, then it would stand to  reason that one would be required to recite a blessing on each night, and subsequently would continue to recite the counting each night with a blessing, even if he skipped a night. Since every night is its own Mitzvah, missing the third night, should not affect my obligation for the fourth night.

The other logic that is advanced, is that the Torah told us that it is a counting of seven weeks, and therefore, one long Mitzvah. If so, there would be no need to recite a blessing on each night, just as we do not recite a blessing on each bite of an apple, as it is one “Mitzvah session” According to this approach however, if one missed a night of the count, he has not fulfilled his obligation in this long Mitzvah.

So how do we practice our counting, as one long Mitzvah, or as forty nine separate Mitzvahs?

Most of us know the old story of the two litigants who come before a judge. The first one advances his case, and upon conclusion, the judge says “You are right”

The second man goes on for fifteen minutes, the judge furrows his brow and proclaims “You are right”

Suddenly the usually quiet stenographer leaps from her perch and exclaims “they can’t both be right “

Not missing a beat, the magistrate responds, “You are also right!”

When it comes to the practical Mitzvah of the Omer, we take points from both positions of the sages, and practice elements from both sides of the spectrum. We say that every day is an individual Mitzvah, and therefore a blessing is recited each and every night. On the other hand, we acknowledge that it is also one long Mitzvah, and therefore, if a night is missed ( and not counted during the following day without a blessing ), then can only continue counting without a blessing, because the link in the seven week chain was broken. In short, we consider each day in itself worthy of a blessing, but only when it is in the context of an uninterrupted counting, based on the directive of “Seven weeks”.

The wonderful thing about Jewish law, is that if we examine it closely, we can’t help but realize, that it’s practice is not a mere set of calisthenics, but rather, it serves to accomplish the very theme that it seeks to convey.

The entire concept of  waiting forty nine days, was for the Jewish people to rise in their spirituality, one rung of the ladder at a time. This is not merely a historical perspective, but as we know, each holiday is not only a commemoration, but is designed to for us to accomplish its themes and its lessons as  they relate to us in the present, as well as in the past. A person who wants to raise his or herself in levels of spirituality, needs to approach his goal with a double edged sword. Each and every day of growth needs to be a “Mitzvah” in its own right, yet he/she must complete the task without the usual unsteadiness that undermines our goals.

The Talmud relates the very famous story about Rabbi Akiva, who at the encouragement of his holy wife Rachel, went to study in Yeshiva despite being a Hebrew illiterate at the age of forty. When the Rabbi arrived at his doorstep after twelve long years ( no email then ), he overheard a neighbor chastising his wife for allowing her husband to leave for twelve years. “If I had it my way”, said Rachel, “I would have him go back and stay another twelve years. Right away, says the Talmud, he turned in the other direction, and “re – upped” for another dozen.

The obvious question that must and is asked by the late Dean of the famous Mirer Yeshiva, is, why didn’t rabbi Akiva at least come in and say hello? Would it have been so bad to have had shared a cup of coffee with his righteous bride? Why was it necessary for him to “about face” when clearly on the surface it didn’t seem natural>

explain the rabbis, that indeed, for a regular person, such a break would have well been warranted. But this was Rabbi Akiva, we are speaking about – a man whom Moses asked God, why he Moses was giving the Torah and not Rabbi Akiva. For a man of Rabbi Akiva’s stature, explain the sages, had he entered the house and then returned to study, he would have studied 12 year plus another 12 years. By not entering the house, he studied 24 uninterrupted years. 12 plus 12, for a Rabbi Akiva, does not equal 24.

A spiritual growth ,In order to be successful, it must be contiguous. We can’t take one day on and one day off. While certainly we need to take it slowly, and not be resigned to all or nothing, our attempts must be consistent or else we will never succeed. Of the three questions that the Lord will ask us in heaven, on will be, “did you set aside time for Torah study. God won’t ask us simply if we studied, but rather was there a time in your week, even 20 minutes, that was set aside for my Torah, as you would set aside for an important client. Our job is not necessarily to accomplish everything, but to be consistent on what we set out to accomplish. As anyone who frequents a gym will attest to, if one is not consistent, he/she will not fully benefit and will ultimately drop out. Similarly, offer the Rabbis, if I turn the fire on from beneath the kettle, and I shut it off 30 seconds before it hits boil, then I let it cool down and repeat the process time after time – in the end I will have had the fire on for 90% of the time, but I never followed through, hence no boil.

Perhaps this is the idea behind the “ one long Mitzvah” of the Omer. Each day of the Omer, we strive to achieve a higher level. We work on ourselves, striving to improve. But the moment that we lapse and our spiritual growth misses a day, so on such a growth, one that is no longer contiguous, we can no longer recite a Beracha. We never give up of course, and therefore we continue to count, albeit without the blessing.

In a similar vein, spiritual growth, as with any goal, must be worked on each and every day. It is not enough to say that we will transform ourselves by seven weeks from the second Seder. Each and every day has to yield results, as it is a Mitzvah unto itself. For if we set long term goals, but are not careful to work on them each and every day, we are setting ourselves up for failure. The person who goes on a diet and proclaims that within two months, he/she will drop 15 pounds, will not succeed merely by looking at his long term goal, rather each and every day he/she must struggle, because it is the individual days that contribute to success.

We all have a unique opportunity over the next five weeks, to develop ourselves, not only as Jews, but as better human beings. Undoubtedly, we all want to develop spiritually, the problem is that there are so many other things on our plate, that religion gets lost in the shuffle. I had a Rabbi who used to tell the class, to pick one Mitzvah, no matter how easy it seems, and to make that your Mitzvah. Become proficient in it, “Google” it, and learn it’s parameters and philosophies behind it. Spend two minutes a day, but makes sure to do it every day. Focus on what we do, rather than on what we do not do.

I would suggest that the message of the Omer, and of the anticipation we have of the arrival of Torah, serves to remind us that each and every Jew has an equal right, opportunity, and obligation, to revel, study, perform and be proud of our heritage. There is no class system among us Jews, each of us are allotted the same stature and opportunities. Indeed, one needn’t be a Rabbi in our day and age, in order to study the most in depth works, for they all for the most part are available in English. So head over to Wesley Hills, drop in on a Torah lecture, or listen to a class while you commute.

So let us take the individual days and the entire set of weeks that lie ahead, and make our count more meaningful as we prepare to embrace our Torah.

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Dec 09 2012

Yogi Red Sea

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The Exodus and the Man who wore Ten Rings



  •  He is one of only four men to manage both the NY Mets and the NY Yankees
  • · One of only four players to be named the Most Valuable Player of the American League three times, and one of only six managers to       lead  both American and National League teams to the World Series.
  • ·  He played in 14 World Series contests, his Yankees winning ten of them. Fourteen All Star game appearances, and as if that isn’t enough,    he is the only man to catch a World Series Perfect game.

 But as mind boggling as these accomplishments might be, Lawrence Peter “Yogi” Berra, is known more for his quirky observations on life, or “Yogiisms”, than he is for his incredible accomplishments on the field. Yogi has always had a way of phrasing things in his own original manner, a style that few could ever hope to imitate.

Some of his quips, which have made him one of the largest product pitchman for products on TV, include:

·    “Never answer an anonymous letter.”

·    “It’s like déjà vu all over again”

·    “No one goes there anymore – it’s too crowded”

·    “You better cut the pizza in four pieces because I’m not hungry enough to eat six”

·    “Always go to other people’s funerals, otherwise they won’t go to your’s”

But as witty as these lines were, perhaps there is no more famous one as Berra’s battle cry to his NY Mets team of 1973, who trailed the Chicago Cubs by 91/2 games in the National League and won the division on the second to last day of the season.  Berra told his roster of players the remarkably simple, yet not always adhered to phrase, “it ain’t over, till it’s over” This mantra became part of the team’s lexicon, and served to help them persevere despite the immense pressure and the overwhelming odds.

This coming Shabbat and Sunday will mark the final days of this year’s Passover. The Torah tells us, that it was actually on the seventh day of the holiday on which we experienced the miracle of the parting of the sea. The Jewish people fled as far as they could, God told Moses to cast his rod on the sea, the waters parted – we escaped, and the Egyptians drowned and were defeated.

That is the Hebrew school version.

Whenever we encourage someone to learn more about their heritage,  we point out that just as our education in worldly matters; finance, relationships, politics – did not end at the age of twelve or thirteen; so too, we owe it to ourselves to seek deeper meaning into their heritage, and to gain an understanding of our roots, and how it is relevant to us. The lessons we learned in Hebrew School were meant for our primary grade level, as mature, sophisticated adults, we have an opportunity, perhaps a responsibility, to take our exploration to the next step.

The Bible tells us that when Moses cast his rod, initially nothing happened. Immediately, the people of Israel panicked. They proclaimed that it would have been better to have stayed in Egypt, than to perish now at this point. The situation began to deteriorate, until suddenly, one man – Nachshon Ben Aminadav, the head of the tribe of Judah, began to enter the waters. First the waters came up to his ankles, then his knees, his waist, then his shoulders. Finally, as he was in up to his nostrils, to the point at which entering further, he would drown, then and only then, the waters parted and the deliverance occurred.

What emerges from this account is a most powerful lesson. The commentaries offer that Nachshon was confident in doing what he did, because after seeing all the miracles that God had done in Egypt, he knew it was impossible for it all to end now. He also knew however, that ours is a partnership with the Almighty, we must do as much as we possibly can, and then and only then, will God take over.

The story is told of the king who announced a contest throughout the land. He promised his fortune to any who could run up the fifty flights in tallest building in town. Naturally, hundreds entered the contest, but almost all dropped out by floor twenty. As the leaders progressed only one remained, as he scaled the thirtieth floor. He too, however, was running out of steam, but he told himself that if the king offered this reward, it must be a doable task. He decided to push himself five more floors and then to re evaluate his condition. As he reached floor thirty five, and realized he was simply out of gas, he could not believe his eyes, as he saw an elevator, which could take him to the top. He had done his utmost to achieve, and now the king, upon seeing his effort, would help finish the job.

Our world is full of challenges, physical, emotional, and spiritual. It is hard to make a living, and even if for some, it isn’t, it is hard for many to stay “out of the office” for too long. We live in a world full of sickness, despair, emotional and physical pains that are too painful to even begin to imagine, and impossible to do so unless they are happening to us. Yet, after all is said and done, we have a tradition, a long history that dates back to our forefathers, to Egypt and to Sinai. It tells us that despite our long exiles, our pain, our frustration, ultimately, both personally and nationally, we will be redeemed. Sometimes, however, that redemption doesn’t come until we have done everything humanely possible on our part, until we have buried ourselves “up to our necks.”

We have just concluded the nights of Seder, the ritual that more Jews celebrate than any other. For so many of us, however, the next time we will greet our Rabbis, will be on the High Holidays, nearly half a year away. Religion is difficult, and observance or at least Torah study seem impossible, in light of our hectic, and often impossible days. Yet, most of us do have priorities, and no matter what, somehow we do manage to fit them in, because of their great importance to us. The gym, business trip, hobbies, etc. Would it be possible, perhaps to take 20 minutes a week to learn Hebrew, Talmud, or whatever else strikes our fancy? It may sound impossible, but perhaps if we start with a small commitment, and enter the waters up to our necks, our Sea will also part, and it will become easier to inculcate Torah into our lifestyle.

As that legendary backstop, with ten rings once said:

“It ain’t over till it’s over.”

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Dec 09 2012

The Importance of the Individual : Why Eleven Jews Don’t Make a Minyan

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Parshat Vayeira

In this week’s Torah portion, known as V’yeira, the Torah recounts for us a flurry of activity involving the Patriarchs – all of it having ramifications on the story of the Jewish people for generations to come. As usual, however, the Torah does not tell us tales to serve simply as a History book, but rather to serve as a guide and a manual for Jewish life.  While it is crucial to know the stories and commentaries in depth, one who simply learns the Bible on a scholarly level, without absorbing the ethical and moral teachings it offers, is missing out on a major part of the task of a Jew.

Our Rabbis tell us that “the actions of our forefathers are signs for their children.” This can be taken literally – Abraham went to Egypt and so did we, the Jewish people were in exile for many years, and we their ancestors have followed in their footsteps. But I believe that this statement can and should be taken figuratively as well. Perhaps it is not only the physical actions that are a sign for us, but the spiritual, ethical and righteous characteristics, that these devout men and women possessed, have been  transmitted throughout the generations in the form of so to speak, a Jewish DNA.

There is, arguably, no greater example of this phenomenon that the incident of the destruction of the wicked city of Sodom, recounted for us in this week’s reading.

The scripture tells us that people of Sodom were beyond salvation, they were wicked – particularly in the  way they treated each other ( which is a paradigm is Jewish behavior ) Nonetheless, before going ahead with his plans, the Lord informs Abraham of his intentions, as he knows that Abraham will try to defend these cities. What happens next is a fascinating dialogue between Abraham and Hashem, one of my favorite passages in the Torah. (Not sure if one is allowed to have favorites )   

God, says Abraham, I know there are thousands of wicked people in Sodom, but let me ask you, if we could find fifty righteous people among them, would you save the city?

Yes, answers, the Almighty, for fifty righteous, I’ll save the city.

Hashem, please don’t be angry with me, but what if we are short five from the fifty.

Yes, says the Lord, I’ll save the city for forty Five.

Abraham, seeing that he’s on a roll, and that God seems to be in a merciful mood – pushes the envelope again…

What about forty

Yes, says the Almighty





And finally , What if we find ten righteous people in the city

Yes, Abraham, for a Minyan, ten good people I will save the city.

In the final outcome, we are told that there were no ten righteous, and the cities were eradicated and never rose again.

Rabbi Berel Wein, my revered Rabbi and teacher points out a fascinating insight into the story of Sodom and into human character and nature. Sodom, says my Rebbe, was not destroyed because of the thousands of corrupt and immoral people. It was destroyed, in fact, because there weren’t to be found, ten good people. What a novel concept…thousands of citizens who committed some of the greatest atrocities known to mankind, yet ten righteous among them would have prevented their annihilation.

What emerges from this insight is the importance of each and every person in the world, and that in the Jewish world each person’s contribution is unique, and therefore essential to carry on our mission. We live, unfortunately, in a society where people do not value their individuality and most don’t feel that they make a difference. We live in a democratic society, a country that allows us to make our opinions know, yet less than half of the population votes on Election Day, even though their voice could make a difference. We live in a world of statistics, instead of real numbers. Polls are taken by using sample data instead of real evidence.

There is the famous story of the town that had exactly ten Jews in it. Every morning in synagogue they managed to get a Minoan. (Quorum of ten to pray in a communal service) Everybody knew that they counted, so they made absolutely sure to be there, lest the people couldn’t begin the service. One day an eleventh Jew moved into town, and the next day there was no Minyan! Because everybody said that now we have an extra person, and therefore they don’t need me.

In Judaism we say, that we do need you. There are no extra Jews in the world, and therefore each and every one of us has a unique task and contribution that we can make to this world. The Talmud says, that just as no two people look the same, which to me is one of the marvels and a virtual proof  of creation; so too, no two people have the same intellectual, spiritual or philosophical components as anyone else in this world. What I can offer to the world, you cannot, and what you can offer, I cannot – and therefore, everyone must see themselves as personal ambassadors of God who were put on this earth for a very special mission.

Abraham is able to get God to, so to speak, acquiesce, if he finds ten who are righteous. Ten who are righteous can save the city, because if there is a quorum of good people. One individual group – they have the strength to overturn a heavenly degree, on the basis that they can reform the city. All too often, we underestimate our strength and the influence we can have over others. Whether we know or not, whether we like it or not – every Jew is a light, not only to the nations, but to his/her fellow Jew. If we act in an appropriate manner, strive for nuggets of spirituality, and aim to live as moral, decent and honest people, so these virtues are contagious, and have an exponential and cosmic effect to all who are among us.

If ten of us have the power to save a Sodom, what shall we say about the potential that the twelve million Jews in our world have to change the universe by adding to their spirituality? Adding, by learning a bit more and by slowly committing to take on an extra Mitzvah when they are ready.
How do we maximize our spiritual potential, and make the world a better place?

One Jew at a Time!

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Dec 09 2012

Is it Better than to Sin and Repent Than to Never Have Sinned At ALL

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Jacob and Esau, brothers in flesh, adversaries in spirit. One a dweller of tents – a scholar; the other, a hunter of game. Our Rabbis tell us that their ideological struggle with one another can be traced back to when they were in the confines of the womb. Theirs was not merely a personal struggle, but a harbinger of events for future generations.

The Torah tells us in the portion of Toldot that the brothers were not alone in their differences. The Bible tells us “and Isaac loved Esau because he did eat of his venison, and Rebecca loved Jacob”. Was there family derision among the patriarchs? Was Isaac, the individual who nearly sacrificed himself on Mount Moriah, actually fooled by Esau’s “piety”? What was it about this wayward son that left him with hope for Esau’s future??

The Torah tells us that when Isaac announced that he was going to give his blessing to Esau, Rebecca dressed up Jacob to look and feel like his brother, as Isaac was blind, and could be fooled. Is it possible that this venerable Tzadik – righteous man, could be so easily deceived? Indeed, if one looks through the words of the Bible, Isaac seems to question the identity of the son claiming to be Esau, no less than six different times. The simplistic version of Isaac being fooled is one that we learn in Hebrew School, but for the sophisticated Jew, it calls for deeper explanation.

Among the many theories that our commentators espouse, is a reference to the philosophical debate of the sages, as to who is greater, a ” Tzadik Ben Tzadik” or a Tzadik Ben Rasha” That is to say, which individual has a greater spiritual capacity – A righteous person who was born into a righteous household, or a righteous person, who did not grow up in a righteous home, but “bucked the tide” and became a devout Jew. In our times, we would ask the question ” who has achieved more, the Baal Teshuva (person who takes on full observance) or the “FFB” – ” frum (fully observant ) from birth”. Surprisingly, there are valid arguments and much support for both of these positions, that are gleamed from various locations throughout the written and Oral Torah.

The Gemara in Berachot states that ” in the place that a  Baal Teshuva
stands, even a totally righteous person cannot stand”. The implication being,
that while a person who was born into a Torah lifestyle, knows of no other
way of life, it is somewhat easier for him / her to remain steadfast to his / her
faith, The Baal Teshuva, by contrast, who has tasted the pleasures and the
lack of restrictions that Judaism demands – when he/ she decides to take
the plunge and agrees to take on the Mitzvot of his/her own volition, this
is the most powerful display of commitment to the Almighty  that a Jew can demonstrate. It is for this reason that the Talmud proclaims, that the
Baal Teshuva stands alone, for he/she has taken a proactive stance in terms
of observance.

The other school of thought is actually predicated on a comment of Rashi,
found at the beginning of Toldot. The Torah tells us that Rebecca, as most
of the matriarchs were, (there is an explanation for this that hopefully we wil discuss one day) was barren, and that she and her husband Isaac,
poured their hearts out to the Lord.  The Torah goes on to say that the
Lord heard Isaac’s prayer, with the implication that it was his prayer and not Rebecca’s that was accepted in the heavens. The great commentator Rashi offers, that “the prayer of a righteous person who comes from a wicked
family, cannot be compared to a person who came from arighteous family.” Rashi, is in effect saying that an FFB, is actually at a higher level than a Baal Teshuva. In light of the persuasiveness of our former philosophy, this latter perspective requires much explanation.

What is it about a Baal Teshuva that makes him/her so special? As we mentioned earlier, it is because he/she made a conscious decision to accept a Torah lifestyle, and therefore have achieved more, in certain ways, than someone who was born and brought up this way. Indeed, it is often easy to spot the Ballei Teshuva. The excitement in their eyes when Shabbat has arrived, The way they conduct themselves during the prayer service, and the fashion, in general, in which they approach their Judaism with zest and zeal. They have this freshness about them, this look in their eyes, as they have finally found what they have been searching for and cherish it deeply.

Now, how about the FFB”? The one who has been brought up with this way of life from the beginning. The one who did not actively choose this lifestyle, but rather it was chosen for him/her. In this case, the ability to do Mitzvot with the zeal and freshness of the Baal Teshuva, is much more challenging to the FFB. As I often mention in my classes, I am thank God, at the point that I rarely forget to make a blessing when I eat. It is so ingrained in me from all my years in the Yeshiva, that it is almost automatic, I don’t give it a second thought. The flip side of this, of course, it that to the extent that it is automatic, unfortunately I am usually rattling off the blessing with little or no concentration as to what I am saying. A person, however, who is learning these blessings for the first time, will undoubtedly recite them more deliberately and with greater concentration, than someone to whom this has become in some ways an act of repetition.

But what if an individual, who was brought up in a righteous home, and is  therefore more likely to take observance for granted – what if that person does approach Mitzvot with the thirst and passion of the Baal Teshuva, so then, in effect says Rashi, that that person is at a higher level than the B.T. The reason being, is that the FFB has had to constantly struggle to keep his/her observance fresh, and has therefore accomplished worlds when being able to meet this challenge.

This was the case with Isaac our Patriarch. He was brought up in a righteous home, indeed, the first Jewish home of all time. Isaac’s greatness was not only who he was, but how he approached his heavenly service, like a newcomer to world of Mitzvot. This, says Rashi, is a greater achievement than the Baal Teshuva, and therefore his prayers, and not his wife’s are listened to first.

With these two opposing philosophies in mind, perhaps we can revisit our original question, regarding the Rebecca and Isaac’s differing view as to which son should receive his father’s blessing. This explanation was told to me by my 10th and 12th grade Rebbe, (He liked so much, that he taught us twice!) Rabbi Yitzchak Heimowitz, whom I hold in high esteem until today.

Rebecca looked at her husband Isaac. She saw how holy a person he was, he was someone who was cut down from the alter of God, and he was the second of the forefathers of our nation. Isaac, she reasoned, came from the greatest of homes, and he was therefore born into a certain way of living. But she saw that despite the fact that his observance could have been stale, he was someone who was careful and meticulous in his Heavenly service. This, she reasoned, was the greatest of traits, a trait that she identified in her son Jacob, who was also an FFB and clung to his observance with fervor. Because of Rebecca’s level of esteem for the piety of her husband, she was certain that the blessing should belong to Jacob.

Isaac, on the other hand, was enamored by his wife Rebecca. He was in awe of the piety she displayed, despite the fact that she came from a house of moral corruption. If such a person, who had the odds stacked against them, and turned it around to become his wife, then others who achieved similar obstacles could also rise to levels of greatness Isaac knew that Esau was terribly flawed, but he also recognized his hidden potential for leadership, the ambitious manner in which he carried out his activities, and his limitless capacity for doing the Mitzvah of honoring his parents. Isaac reasoned that if Esau could just overcome his challenges, as did his mother Rebecca, that he had the potential to be the leader and therefore receive the blessings. Upon learning that he had erred in his assessment, Isaac cries a bitter cry, for he realizes his miscalculation and is faced with the painful reality that his hopes for Esau are dashed.

In truth, it doesn’t really matter whether we were born into one situation or the other, nor does it matter what gifts and talents come to us naturally, or which we have to work harder to attain. The main goal of this world is to take that which is God given and to use it to serve him, in our own special and unique fashion. There are no guarantees in life, not for Esau or for Jacob. Either one can rise above the other, it’s a level playing field right from the start. Talents and inclinations can all be used for the positive or for the negative. There are no absolutes in the Jewish world, which is the wonderful trait that separates us from other religions. Our task is to channel our energies toward the good, and thereby sanctify the name of the Lord.

The Chofetz Chaim, a Torah giant who lived at the beginning of this century, was someone who was very careful about not speaking “Lashon Horah”, slanderous tongue. It is said that for the last 40 years of his life, he refrained from gossip. Upon hearing this, one might think that he was a very quiet person. After all, how social can one be and refrain from gossip? History tells us quite the opposite. He was a very gregarious man who quite frequently engaged in conversation. The key was that he chose about what to converse. Similarly, in our times we need not change our likes and pursuits, we simply need to direct them toward the service of God.

If the heinous Esau had the capacity for blessing, what message does that send to the Jews of today? Each of us is capable of unlocking our spiritual dimensions, as observance need not be an all or nothing proposition. We don’t need the background, we don’t need special skills. All we need to do is to make a proactive choice and realize that each and every Jew can reach the loftiest of heights.

Call us for a class, a private lesson, or just a chat, and together we will grow to our fullest potential!

Shabbat Shalom!

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Dec 09 2012

Jewish Continuity : Ensuring Our Children Follow the Home Team

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The story is told about the woman who is driving slowly down the highway. All of a sudden she hears the blare of a siren behind her, and she sees a police office who is pulling her off to the side of the road.

“Maam”, says the policeman, “do you realize that you were doing 22 Miles per Hour on this highway. The minimum speed limit here is 45 – you were driving at a very dangerous speed “.
“But officer”, says the woman, the sign over there says “22”, as she points to a marker on the other side of the Road..
“Maam, you are mistaken “that sign means that you are on Route 22, it does not mean that the speed limit is 22 Miles per hour.”
“But since you made an honest mistake, says the officer, I’m going to let you go without a ticket”
As he prepares to go back to his car, the policeman notices that the woman looks a bit shaky, and that she is quite pale.
“Maam, he says, are you ok in there?, you look a bit shook up “
“No, that’s ok…I’ll be fine in a little while.”
I only look this way because I just came off  Route 125 !

In this week’s Torah reading, the Torah tells us the story of Sarah Eemainu – Sarah our Matriarch’s death, and the search for her successor, the woman who would build the new generation of the Jewish people. During the recounting of these events, there seems to be an emphasis on the importance of signs, and how to properly interpret them. Sometimes in life, we are presented with two similar situations, yet there is a need to be able to correctly decipher each one’s signals, and to act on each accordingly.

The portion begins with a remarkable insight into Sarah’s character, and that of similar righteous people. The narrative is all about Sarah’s death, yet the portion is entitled, “Chayei Sarah” – “The life of Sarah.” Our sages tell us that righteous people keep on living through their legacy even after they are no longer physically on this earth. Although Sarah was gone, anyone who knew how to read the signs was able to grow and reap the benefits of her legacy.

The Torah continues that Avraham goes to find a burial spot for his departed wife, and he decides upon the Mearat Hamachpela, the cave which would eventually be the resting place of most of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs. Abraham comes to Efron Hachiti, who seems to graciously offer him the cave for nothing. “What is 400 hundred shekel between you and me? Efron proclaims. Not wanting to cast any doubts on his proprietorship of this burial ground, Avraham reads the sign loud and clear, and promptly hands over the best of the currency that Efron alludes to.

As we move on in the story, perhaps the ultimate sign is employed. Avraham’s servant Eliezer is entrusted with the monstrous task of finding a Shiduch for Yitzchak. Eliezer approaches his mission, which he knows is vital to the perpetuation of the Jewish people, by appropriately turning to Hashem for a sign. He arrives at the conclusion, that the girl who shows compassion and hospitality to both himself and his animals, she will be the one that God has chosen. The fact that Eliezer’s top priority was to find a girl full of Chesed, or kindness, above all other traits, is a fascinating insight into what qualities are essential in the service of the Almighty. We will try to address this extensive topic in a future class or email.

And finally, at the end of the Parsha, the Torah shares with us yet another, example of the importance of signs. The verse reads, that Yitzchak brings Rebecca into his mother’s tent, and he is then comforted over the loss of his mother.

What seems strange, however, is why the Torah points out to us the fact that Yitchak is only consoled when he enters his mother’s tent. Surely he should have had some gladness that God had undoubtedly shown Eliezer his true Shiduch. One would think that just getting to see and to know Rivka, would have given him some consolation. Why does the scripture emphasize that it was only after he brought her into Sarah’s tent, was he consoled.. And to strengthen the question, why was it specifically Sarah’s tent that consoled him, and not any other address?

The great commentator Rashi seems to address this enigma, by noting that there were three special signs that were present in Sarah’s tent that ceded to exist upon her death. The first was “Brocho Shebaisa “– a special blessing in the Challah. The second – “Ner Doalaik Mishabas lshabas” – that the Shabbos candles stayed lit the entire week – as everyday was infused with holiness, and finally, “Anan Kasher Al Hohel”, the protective cloud of God’s spirit, hovering above her domain. When Sarah died, says Rashi, these special signs stopped, and it was only until after Rivka took up residence in the tent, that the signs reappeared.

Perhaps with this explanation can sharpen our understanding of the events as they happened. I would like to suggest, that from the time that Sarah died, a tremendous burden fell onto the shoulders of every one of the players in the Patriarchal dynasty. Sarah was gone, Abraham was aging, and it was clear that Yishmael was not going to be the progenitor of the Jewish people. There had to be a worthy successor to Sarah, in order to perpetuate God’s promise of the continuity of the Jewish people forever and ever.

When Eliezer returns with Rifka, there is no doubt that Yitzchak feels gladness, But the ultimate test of her worthiness, comes only after she enters the tent. When Yitzchak sees that she restores the special signs that were present only when Sarah was alive, so then and only then, is he truly comforted. It is only at this point, says the Chumash that he realizes that the chain of the Matriarchhs remains in tact and that Jewish continuity is alive and well.

This concept of ensuring Jewish continuity is nothing new to the Jewish people. In an age where Kosher food is abundant, and there are laws that prohibit employers from coercing their staff from working on Shabbos; in a time where it is much easier to function as a Jew, we are losing more and more Jews than ever, and the statistics are staggering.. Clearly, we must do everything in our power to ensure the transmission of our heritage to future generations.

I’d like to conclude with a simplistic, example of what I think to be an example of the concept of Jewish Continuity, one that I share with our Hebrew School students, and other youth groups that I am involved with. I trust that you will forgive me for such a rudimentary illustration.

Imagine for a moment that I am fanatical Yankees fan. I  own season tickets, watch all the games, and keep up with the team on a daily basis. When my nine year old son becomes interested in baseball, I continue with my devotion to the team, and serve as an example to him. Is there a guarantee that when he grows up that he will also love the team? Certainly not, but most would agree that the chances are fairly high for him to follow in my footsteps, being that I have demonstrated such loyalty to the club while he was in his formative years.

But what if, however – I slip in my devotion. I only take him to three games a year – we only talk about it occasionally. So even if he remains a fan, chances are that he will be a weaker, less committed one that I was. His son, my grandson, may still go to an annual game, out of respect for his granddad. Until we get to the next generation – where the devotion is now really watered down, and Great Grandpa has taken his traditions with him to his grave. Then, comes the worst blow of all, tragedy of tragedies, the great grandson becomes a dreaded Red Sox fan!!

My friends, this simplistic analogy, in fact, tells the story of the Jewish people. I began my writing this article about the concept of signs, not only that they need to exist, but of the need to read them correctly. So many of our rituals are built into Jewish Law, to keep us on the “road”, to continuity, so to speak, and not let us veer off it. It is no coincidence that Passover, for example, is from the most celebrated holiday among our people. This is no doubt, because we celebrate with so many established traditions that have served to concretize the holiday within our collective psyche. We remember how Bubbe prepared the Charoset, how we used to steal the Afikomin, and how dad, always wound up with wine stains on his Kittel. The holiday has lasted because it contains tangible actions that can be passed from father to son and from mother to daughter. Judaism cannot be transmitted through osmosis. It is not enough to be a “Jew at heart” , a.k.a. “ A cardiac Jew” Just as with no tangible show of commitment, the family will eventually turn toward the Red Sox, so too, the story of our people, with a 52% intermarriage rate, has undoubtedly developed because we have not lead by example and brought concrete Judaism into the home. The words Bar/Bat Mitzva indicate that it is time to be a full fledged Jew and learn more about one’s heritage. How ironic that this milestone has come to represent the exodus from Hebrew School, and usually the conclusion of any meaningful commitment to study.

We can, however, stem the tide, simply by reading the signs. By learning from our mistakes and successes, we can rejuvenate ourselves, our families, and ultimately, through example, the myriad of Jews that surround us. A Rabbi of mine used to say “Pick one Mitzvah, and make it yours.” We don’t need to start with everything, but we mustn’t sit and do nothing. Pick a mitzvah that appeals to you. Out of 613, one must strike a chord. Study up on it, Google it, look at  or contact our office for book suggestions. So whether you start with Shabbat candles (even though you may not  be at the point of observing every aspect of Shabbos.), uttering a prayer, which can be in your own words and in English, or taking the laws of Tzedaka more seriously, the signs that we will be demonstrating, will not only be pleasing to the Almighty, but will help ensure the transmission of these actions, and the ones we will eventually add to these, throughout the generations for Years to come.

Shabbat Shalom!

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