FROM OUR RABBI SALFER'S MESSAGES.....................
Recently, on April 14th, Rabbi Eli Mansour, of Deal, New Jersey, was the featured guest speaker for the Annual M. Leo Storch Memorial Lecture at Bais Yaakov. Rabbi Mansour’s topic illustrated how self-esteem is anchored to personal accomplishment. Simply showering people with material objects or undeserved compliments does not do the trick! People know the score and only see themselves positively when they receive recognition for those actions that are actually completed.
Actor, Zero Mostel, who starred in “Fiddler on the Roof” was once asked about his unusual first name. How could his parents have named him “Zero?” His answer was that they did not give him that name. When he was in fourth grade, he was not the best student, and throughout the year his teacher would tell him that he was not accomplishing anything and that he was not doing his work. For an entire year, she would tell him that he was a zero!”
As he started becoming a successful actor, he changed his stage name to “Zero”, with an implied message to his teacher, “Look at what I have become!!” That teacher’s comment was eating away at him all those years. He even used to relate this story as a ‘sort of tribute’ to that teacher ‘whom he remembered SO FONDLY. ‘
As The Jewish People, we are blessed to have the direction of Torah and Mitzvos. Each of us has the opportunity to add worth and meaning to our lives and to the lives of our families through the fulfillment of these divinely inspired Mitzvos.
Recently, we read a portion of the Torah that begins with the following words: “Kedoshim Te’hiyu” (You should be Holy) and our Sages tell us that, in fact, our Torah is not just giving us guidelines and instruction, but rather reminds us of that it is our divinely inspired “Neshoma” (Soul) which gives us value and worth and which is, indeed, Eternal.
The upcoming holiday of Shavuos, that we will celebrate on Wednesday and Thursday, the 15th and 16th of May, commemorating the Giving of the Torah – gives us the opportunity to reconnect with that awesome experience 3600 years ago. It was at that time when G-d Himself spoke to each of us, reminding us of our great and divinely given responsibility in this world.
Each year since that time, on this date, the A-mighty renews his personal COVENANT with us, both collectively and individually. It is not just a commemoration or a remembrance of a date in the distant past. That moment is virtually recreated each year as the A-mighty, once again, opens His arms and invites us into His sacred circle.
Thoughts on the ‘Days of Awe’
There is a beautiful, lilting melody that was put to the well-known words in the Rosh Hashanah- Yom Kippur Machzor… “K’Vakoras Ro-eh Edro” ---(“Like a Shepherd, pasturing his flock”). The melody was first composed and sung by Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach OBM, approximately 40 years ago. The first part is haunting and awe-filled and inspires trembling, but then it changes to a soothing and graceful composition - that is the mood it evokes as it ends.
At first the sheep are frightened. The shepherd had a staff that ensures no escape. This , of course, conveys fear. Yet, the message at the end is clear: The shepherd is there for each of his sheep and he will never abandon them. This is some of the mood that this time of year inspires.
The problem is that our hectic lives don’t give us the opportunity to stop, think, feel and grow, although we all have the capacity to do so.
That is this generation’s “Yetzer Horah” (Evil Inclination) So, we need to sit down and have a serious conversation – with ourselves.
‘Am I a better ‘spouse, parent or grandparent’ than I was a year ago?’
I should never be tied down to who I was yesterday. Spiritually, a person is constantly either rising or falling. A Jew must constantly be vigilant to avoid slipping backwards. Life, as many have pointed out, is like walking ‘up, a down escalator’. There is no standing still. If a person is not pressing upwards, it is inevitable that he will slip downwards, and there is no telling where he may end up.
Rosh Hashonah and Yom Kippur are gifts of the A-mighty to encourage us to have that “conversation”. “Shonah” from Rosh Hashonah means “change” – a time for re-evaluation. But, all too often, we are more than ready to re-evaluate our friend, neighbor, co-worker, sibling or other family member … “not ourselves.” How much better our lives would be if we were to ask “Am I the best husband, son, daughter, brother, sister that I can be?” We need to conduct our lives so that spiritually we are always improving. For example, someone who does not daven particularly well, but who is constantly improving his davening from day to day, is actually greater than his friend who davens well today, but whose level of concentration is on its way down.
The important thing in changing is not where you’re standing at the moment but the direction where you are heading.
G-d gives us a beautiful new world each year, and He only asks us to appreciate it enough to grow closer to Him. Some of my friends have suggested “small” changes that they have made that have enhanced their lives, and they are available for all of us to try:
- Put your cell phone permanently on “vibrate” so it doesn’t go off in Shul or when you are speaking to someone who needs your attention.
- Do not check your Email before davening. Keep your mind clear of distracting thoughts.
- Do not check your Email until a half-hour AFTER Shabbos. Again, preserve your elevated spirituality without diversion.
- From Rosh Chodesh Elul (now) until after Yom Kippur, don’t go on Facebook.
- Every Erev Yom Kippur, my wife and I speak privately to each of our children. We ask for “mechila” (Forgiveness) and for how we can improve as parents. We also try to ask neighbors and friends to forgive our slights and to allow us to begin a fresh New Year.
If we hope for Hashem to forgive us, just as we have to be able to forgive our fellow man.
Wishing each of you good health and happiness, a L’Shona Tova!
May we make the most
of this coming New Year!
I took some time to reflect on the beautiful Yom Tov season that we have recently concluded. There are many lessons on qualities that we can, and should, take with us for our lives ahead.
One of the most basic lessons, one that translates into every aspect of successful and fulfilling living is
Hakoras Hatov----Gratitude. The entire Written and Oral Torah is filled with examples of this attribute. In fact, the word ‘Jew’ (Yehudi --which is based on the word
Hoda-ah) finds its source in this quality as it was so beautifully expressed by our matriarch,
Leah in her thanks to G-d, by naming her first –born son Yehuda, as an expression of her gratitude. Yehudah, as well, became a prime example of this in his own lifetime.
Our Sages, in fact, stress how important it is for us to ‘express’ our gratitude in all aspects of our lives. I emphasize ‘express’ because it is not enough to feel thankful; it is more important to verbalize it.
There is a mitzvah in the Torah that once a year, beginning in early summer (Shavuos) and ending in the fall (Sukkos), we are encouraged to visit the Holy Temple with some of the Bounty that the land has yielded to us. The Torah’s words are ‘V’armarta’ (‘Please say to Hashem.’) Rashi lets us know that real and genuine gratitude ‘must be verbalized.’
While this is true in all of our relationships, it is most important in Marriage. Often, though we think ourselves to be grateful spouses, we fail in this hectic world to “say it enough.” As Rabbi S. Wolbe. z’’l, put it:
“Love (Ahavah) without expressed Gratitude is not enough, even in a good marriage. Hakoras Hatov is the real glue that makes a good marriage into a great and lasting one.”
Of course, G-d knows what goes on in a person’s heart, but Hashem also knows how important it is for us to express fully that appreciation (and so the Torah states ”V’amarta Eilav”) thus the mitzvah of Bikkurim is just one example of this quality.
Children and grandchildren learn from hearing and seeing this in our homes, and, thus, they become the next generation of happy and fulfilled Jewish families.
Rabbi Boruch Brull wrote a book titled, “For Goodness Sake”, which includes this story. Rabbi Yaakov Horowitz, a teacher at Torah Institute, and his wife, Gitty, a Bais Yaacov teacher, are dedicated Baltimore educators. At the end of each year, Rabbi Horowitz would watch as his wife stayed up late into the night, writing individual notes of encouragement to approximately 90 graduates. She would attach a personal note to each graduate’s diploma. This went on for many years and Rabbi Horowitz felt that she was spending more time than was necessary until the following incident occurred:
Mrs. Horowitz received a letter from a former student who graduated over a decade
ago. She was now married with a beautiful family. The former student had
suffered a horrible car accident and was hospitalized for a lengthy time. After months, she sank into a depression and her family brought in all sorts of childhood mementoes to attempt to cheer her up. Attached to her diploma was Mrs.
Horowitz’s special note which stated: “You have great fortitude. You’ll never give
up because Hashem is with you and you will always strive to do great things.” That note inspired Mrs. Horowitz’s former
student with courage and determination. Later, she went on to write Mrs.
Horowitz a letter expressing her Hakoras Hatov for the note that had altered her life.
Needless to say Rabbi Horowitz recognized the importance of his wife’s dedicated efforts, so much so, that he started writing letters to his students each year after that.
You Can Run, but You Can’tHide
Several weeks ago, a commercial airliner, traveling between two large cities, lost power in one of its engines. Fortunately, the pilot was able to direct the plane to an airport in an obscure location and land safely. All the passengers applauded this skill and their good fortune; even it meant a tremendous time delay in a community that none of them ever had intentions of visiting. One passenger wisely said, “The good L-rd must have intended for each of us to be here even if we have no idea of “why.”
There are times when Hashem, in His mercy, opens our eyes and we are given the answer to this question, “Why am I here … just now?”
Allow me to go back a few decades to the following:
A young fellow—let’s call him “Abe” got himself a job at an airport in a remote community in upstate New York, far from the Jewish home and surroundings in which he had been raised. He himself was not really sure why. He just wanted to get away, from his home, his parents and his conscience. Abe was rebelling against his family, his father, his religion, his people and he suspected, probably even more so from
His new job, as menial as it was, gave him a sense of self-worth. He now had
a picture ID which allowed him to
enter areas of the airport that “off limits” to others, for ‘Authorized Personnel ONLY.’ This airport was
utilized by many foreigners. That is an aspect
that Abe liked. He liked to interact. He received good ‘tips’, felt appreciated and came home at night to his small apartment where he was still trying to figure himself out.
When his father passed away, he put up a front, trying to appear that he
wasn’t affected. He didn’t seem to care. What really bothered him was that he, himself, was not sure. He talked himself into
feeling emotionally aloof, but the nagging feeling persisted.
He didn’t look Jewish and he was happy about
that. It helped him to blend into the crowd. Then came the night of his father’s first Yahrzeit and a relative called to remind him…. just when he thought that he had left all that behind.
That night he had a dream. His father appeared
and asked, ‘Why didn’t you say ‘Kaddish?’
He awoke, thinking, ‘This must be my imagination plaguing me’ and went back
to sleep. Once again, his father
appeared, asking him to recite Kaddish, but this time Abe answered back, “Even if I wanted to, there is no way that I could do it. I live and work in an area where there is NO
Jewish life at all, much less, having a minyan.” Then his father replied, “I will get you a minyan.”
Abe woke up, shaken from his startling dream, but finally he shrugged it off. He put on his uniform and reported to work. In a while, as he thought back over the experiences of the night before, he again pushed the thought out of his mind.
Later that morning, a plane departed from Cleveland, Ohio bound for New York City. On board was Rabbi Mordechai
Gifter, the world-renown sage, Dean of the
famous Rabbinical College in Cleveland and who, by the way, happened to be born and raised in Baltimore. Rabbi Gifter was with a group of his students on their way to New York City to attend the wedding of a fellow classmate. The wedding was taking place that evening in New York.
As it was, the A-Mighty had other plans for them. As King
David in Psalms writes, “I plan my day, but the A-Mighty decides exactly where He wants me to be, at any
given moment” He is giving us the opportunity to improve ourselves and do good.
The pilot’s voice over the intercom, announced,
“JFK is covered by a deep fog that does not appear to be lifting anytime soon. We are going to land at a remote airport that most of you have never heard of.”
The Rabbi and his group had to make the best of
things. They were promised quick service
to New York as soon as it was possible. Rabbi Gifter said, “The most important thing for us to do is ‘Daven Mincha.’ They searched for a room and found an unlocked Conference Room. They prepared to begin their prayers. In this room there was a fellow loading files onto a cart.
He seemed to be taken aback at the sight of these obviously Jewish passengers and he asked, “Can I help you?”
“Yes,” they replied, “We are grounded here for the afternoon and would like to use this room to pray for a few minutes.” “Oh, you’re going to have a service?!” exclaimed the worker.
“Well, not exactly, you see, we only have nine Jewish men and ordinarily we would need a tenth man, but we still would prefer to pray in a quiet place,” they replied.
Now Abe, did not look Jewish and, in fact, he was happy
about that, as it make it easier to get lost in a crowd. But, today was different. He approached Rabbi Gifterz”l, and whispered to him briefly about his turmoil of his
last 24 hours. The Rabbi smiled and said, “Hashem sent us to you and you to us.” So as it was, that Abe’s deceased father who sent the Minyan also sowed the seeds of his son’s eventual return to Jewish life.
One of the themes of the “Kaddish” is that we acknowledge the existence of Our Creator and the opportunities that He sends us to find renewed meaning in our lives. May we all listen to our messages and take advantage of those special times.