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Haftarah: Hoshea 14:2-10, Yoel 2:11-27, Micah 7:18-20

SEPTEMBER 18-19, 2015 6 TISHREI 5776


“Remember us for life, O King who desires life” (Amidah - Ten Days of Teshubah)

During the Ten Days of Teshubah we ask Hashem for life. During our busy schedules we tend to take life for granted. On the night of Yom Kippur, all Jews around the world recite the Kal Nidre. Kal Nidre is another form of hatarat nedarim, which is an annulment of vows. Tradition has it that the Kal Nidre service originated in Spain. The Jews had a glorious period of growth and prosperity until the terrible Spanish Inquisition began. Many good Jews were forced to accept Christianity in order to save their lives. On the night of Yom Kippur they would secretly gather in caves and basements. There they would recite in front of all the people the words of Kal Nidre, to annul all of the vows of Christianity that they were forced to accept. What a struggle these people went through! How fortunate are we.

As I have mentioned many times, we must ask Hashem on a daily basis for long life with good health. In our prayer of ohhjk ubhrfz, Remember us for life, we ask for life. However, we must have a clear definition of life in our minds as we ask for it. Rabbi Matityahu Solomon once said: life means different things for different people. For most people it means simply to live. However, to some people their house is their life. To some their car is their life, and to others, their baseball team is their life. A person must avoid making these things so important that they become that person’s “life-wish,” prompting Hashem to answer this foolish wish instead of granting him the most important gift of life.

May Hashem grant us all long life in good health, Amen. Shabbat Shalom. Rabbi Reuven Semah

The Gemara tells a story. There was once a drought in Israel which was causing a tremendous famine. R' Eliezer, the great leader of that generation ordered fasting and special prayers with twenty-four blessings, but they weren't answered. R' Akiba then got up and said "Abinu Malkenu, Our Father our King, please have mercy on us," and rain came down. The students began to whisper, "How come the great R' Eliezer wasn't answered and R' Akiba, who was his student, was answered?" A voice came down from Heaven and said, "Do not think the student is greater than the Rabbi, rather the student overcomes his character traits which merited this miracle."

R' Salanter asks the obvious question: Doesn't this mean that R' Akiba is still greater, since he overcomes his character traits? He answers that R' Eliezer came from very noble stock and therefore his personality was very refined from birth. His character traits were all positive. R' Akiba, however, whose ancestry had converts in it, had to overcome personality traits which he inherited. He had to perfect himself by overcoming his nature. Therefore, he merited to have miracles that Hashem also "overcame his nature" (so to speak) and allowed rain to come, even if not deserved.

We see here the power of overcoming one personality trait. If we refrain from responding when insulted, or hold back our anger when provoked, we can bring about miracles since we controlled our nature. We have experienced a difficult year and we all want to see Divine mercy and compassion. If we exhibit these very same traits then Hashem changes His nature and will bring us a year of health, happiness and prosperity. Tizku Leshanim Rabot! Rabbi Shmuel Choueka


Gather together the people - the men, the women and the small children. (Debarim 31:12)

Rashi quotes Hazal who explain the reason for gathering the men and the women as an introduction for his upcoming question: Why bring the children? The men come, so that they will learn. The women come, so that they will listen.

We wonder what benefit is derived by the women who come only to "listen." Obviously, they do not understand the Torah which is being taught. Otherwise, they would be included among the men who have come "to learn." Apparently, there are those who learn and those who listen, and it probably applies across the board. There might be men who, for some reason, had not been availed of an education, and, thus, did not understand the Torah that was being taught. This does not, however, answer the question. What is to be gained by attending if one has no clue concerning comprehension?

The Ben Ish Hai explains that when one listens to Torah being taught, regardless of his or her ability to understand, the mere listening with sincerity warrants that in the World of Truth, he or she will be availed the opportunity to understand the depth and essence of what he or she heard. He cites the Zohar HaKodesh in Parashat Shelah that describes the myriad of nashim sidkaniyot, righteous women, who sit by the Heichal of Gan Eden, engrossed in studying profundities of Torah being taught by such distinguished morot as Bityah bat Pharaoh, Serah bat Asher, Yochebed, Miriam and others. This is, indeed, the purpose of nashim ba'ot lishmoa, women coming to listen. Their listening for the purpose of picking up divrei Torah provides them with the chance to attain the Torah's profundities one day. One who wants to learn values every opportunity for learning - even if it is beyond his ability or prior knowledge to grasp.

I think the reason for this is that the Torah talks to one's neshamah. True, the physical mind grasps a part of it. Some minds grasp more than others. What one learns, however, remains forever ingrained in his psyche, so that when the time comes, it all becomes revealed to him. Torah is spiritual knowledge. There might be a physical aspect to it. Based upon one's endeavor in this wonder, it will be determined what he will be granted to understand in the next /real world. This applies equally in this world. One who applies himself with proper yegiah, toil, will be rewarded with an understanding of Hashem's word. Mere acumen will not catalyze achievement. Hashem's word cannot be grasped through conventional methods.

I am reminded of a poignant story quoted by Horav Chaim Beifus. There lives in Yerushalayim a ger tzedek, righteous, sincere, convert. A while ago, he was queried with regard to his conversion: Why did he choose Judaism? He explained the following: After World War II, he was living in Amsterdam. Upon reading about the atrocities committed by the German people during World War II, he became terribly distraught. How could his people have acted so demonically? He then decided that, as his personal act of contrition, he would move to the Holy Land and serve the Jewish People. He was able to obtain a position in a home for severely challenged children. These children were, for the most part, incapacitated both physically and mentally.

For a number of months, he had noticed a woman who came daily to spend time with her sixteen-month-old child. The baby was severely handicapped, unable to move or think. Sadly, it just lay there, for all intents and purposes totally oblivious to its surroundings. His mother would take three busses for two hours each way to come to the home to visit with her son. When she came, she went over to the child and kissed him on his forehead. She combed his hair and then placed a tallit katan on him, while reciting the accompanying blessing. She then proceeded to recite Modeh Ani, Shema and various blessings with him. This was followed by reading stories from the Torah and Midrash to him.

Watching this for three straight months, the man decided that this woman had, sadly, lost her mind. After all, she was going through this daily ritual for a child that had no ability to acknowledge anything that she was doing. After a few months, the man gathered together his courage, approached the woman and asked, "Giveret, why are you doing this? Every day you come amidst much hardship to visit your son. You act toward him as if he could listen and understand you. Are you not aware that he is not well? Your son's body does not function. Why are you doing this to yourself?"

The woman looked deep into the man's eyes as she replied, "You think I am speaking to his body. Do you think that I am unaware that his body does not hear nor understand what I am saying? Do you think that I am insane? No! I am very normal. I am speaking to my child's neshamah, soul. His soul is eternal and, thus, transcends the constraints of his limited body. It is not impeded by mental or physical infirmity. It is that miniscule part of Hashem, our G-d, which resides in every human being. I am talking to my son's neshamah, which derives great spiritual pleasure and satisfaction from the words of Torah and tefillah."

The ger tzedek concluded by saying, "I then decided to join the Jewish People. I want to be part of a nation that talks to the soul." (Peninim on the Torah )

The Hafess Hayim would say, "It is not the one who pounds on his chest who is forgiven, but the one whose chest pounds within him because of the sins which he has committed."

* * * * *

A quick tip to boost the power of your prayer. Hazal tell us (Masechet Baba Kama Daf 92A) that Hashem loves the tefilot of one Jew for another so much that anyone who prays on behalf of a fellow Jew with similar needs will have his prayer answered first. A special service has now begun to provide people with names of others who find themselves in a similar predicament. You can call with complete anonymity and get the name of someone to pray for and give the name of someone that needs our prayers. The name of the service is Kol Hamitpalel. Categories include: Marriage; Income; Health; To have children etc.

Call to 646-279-8712 or email (Privacy of email limited by the email address)

Please pass this message along. Tizku L'misvot.

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