“Mikol m’lamdai his’kalti – from all those I have taught (or, have tried to teach ;-), I have become wise” [Psalms 119:99]. My most recent email, with some political leanings towards the left, was not received with open arms by all my readers (who would’a thought?) and many of my good friends, engaging in civil discourse, have asked me to “please stick to the divrei Torah”. Since (almost) no one has ‘unfriended’ me because of these Torah thoughts J, I have decided that they may be on to something and that discretion is the greater part of valor! I hope you will enjoy the amazing story which follows, as well as some additional thoughts.
When the Jewish people stood at Har Sinai “as one man with one heart” – bonding one to the other in the presence of the Shechinah, putting aside their differences – the Jews were zocheh to receive the greatest gift ever: the Holy Torah, G-d’s ‘Blueprint for Creation’ [Zohar] and our key to bonding with the Creator, the Master of the Universe, Torah being the Light which will show us the road towards spiritual perfection b’ezras Hashem.
However, during the sefirah period leading up to Shavuos (when we received the Torah), we remember the death of thousands of Rabbi Akiva’s students, who died because “they did not show kavod (proper honor and respect) one to the other.” And in the upcoming period of the three weeks (between the fasts of Shiva Asar b’Tamuz and Tisha b’Av, commemorating the destruction of both Temples, as well as other national calamities), we mourn and remember that the Temples were destroyed because of sinas chinam – ‘hatred for nothing’ – while we also make note that the Temples will IY”H be rebuilt (speedily in our days) when we treat each other with great respect and ‘love for nothing.’
Clearly, when we leave our differences aside, we are showered with great blessings; while when we fight and argue, there is only misfortune. With this in mind, this week’s divrei Torah are dedicated to
The Best Birthday Ever
The following story was written by Rabbi Yoel Gold, rabbi of Congregation Bais Naftoli in Los Angeles, CA and a ninth-grade rebbe. It was published in the May 28, 2017 edition of Ami Living magazine. Thanks to my dear wife for showing it to me:
When Dovi Twerski (not real name) went to learn in Eretz Yisrael, he found his place almost immediately among a group of friends who loved chessed. While they learned regular sedarim (times and classes set aside for Torah study), they spent their spare time in the poverty-stricken neighborhoods surrounding the apartment, running activities for the young boys and helping out where they could. At the end of the year, Dovi and his friends decided that instead of going home for the summer to make some money, they would stay in Eretz Yisrael and open a free day-camp for the neighborhood kids who would otherwise be unable to go.
It was an eye-opening experience. For the first time in his life, Dovi met children who wore torn shoes and tattered pants. What bothered him the most, though, was lunch time. Most of the boys brought something, even if it was just a piece of bread. But sometimes they didn’t, and that was worse. “You had lunch yesterday,” he asked one boy. “Did you forget it today?” “Oh, no, the boy said innocently, “it’s just not my turn today.” Dovi had never seen such poverty, and his heart ached. He began preparing five-course lunches, sandwiches and salads and omelets, loudly announcing, “I’m full; does anyone want my leftovers?” There was never a shortage of takers.
On little boy, Noam, was even poorer than the others. He was also somewhat loud and annoying, and the other boys avoided him. No one shared their snack with him, and when they chose teams, he was always the last. But, he always wore a big smile, and on the first day of camp he bounced through the door yelling, “My birthday in in three weeks!” “We know,” the other boys mumbled, rolling their eyes.
The counselors made sure to include him in the games, but they couldn’t force the boys to like him. Undaunted, the next Sunday Noam announced, “My birthday is in two weeks!” With every passing day, he counted down: “My birthday in is eight days!” “My birthday in is three days!” By Wednesday, he could hardly contain himself. “My birthday is tomorrow!” When Thursday morning dawned, Noam didn’t even have to open his mouth – every counselor and camper wished him a happy birthday as the filed into the building.
Camp began, as it did every morning, with Shacharis. The counselors had decided to designate one room for tefillah, a room whose door was slightly off-center so that the children couldn’t see if anyone was peeking in. As the morning prayers were in full swing, Dovi saw a woman’s face in the door crack. Rather than disturb the children, he quietly stepped outside. “Can I help you?” he asked (in Hebrew).
She answered the young man, “My son is in your camp and today is his birthday. I wanted to give him these cookies and lollipops to give to the other children at lunch. It wasn’t easy for us; we don’t usually buy treats; but this is something he really looks forward to and we felt he would really appreciate it – he’s a very special boy.”
Dovi accepted the bag and thanked her. At lunch, he handed the bag to Noam. “You ima brought this for you to give out to the other kids,” he said. Noam was thrilled! He took the bag and visited each boy in turn. “Here’s a cookie for you, because it’s my birthday!” he announced. “Here’s a cookie for you, because it’s my birthday!” he proudly proclaimed over and over again. One of the counselors said, “C’mon everyone, let’s sing yom huledet samay’ach (happy birthday) to Naom!” As the boys launched into a loud, off-key rendition of the well-known song, Noam was glowing.
Later that night, a few hours after Dovi had returned home to his apartment, his phone rang. It was an Israeli woman who introduced herself as the mother of one of his campers, Eitan. Dovi wondered why this particular mother was calling; he began by assuring her that her son was a fine boy and doing well in camp. She said, “When Eitan came home from camp today, he said to me, ‘Ima, today at camp I had the best birthday ever!’ And so I asked him, ‘Did you have fun giving out the treats?’” Hearing this, Dovi froze; but the mother went on: “Eitan told me that by mistake, my counselor gave the bag of treats to one of the other campers. Eitan continued, ‘But, Ima, he doesn’t have any friends, so I didn’t say anything.’”
Finally, Dovi found his voice, “But, why didn’t he tell me?” “I asked him that, too,” Eitan’s mother said. “But, he just answered me, saying, ’Ima, you should have seen how full of joy Noam was – how he was smiling! He was so incredibly happy; I just didn’t want to ruin his birthday.’” So, Eitan’s mother offered to give him some more treats to give out on Sunday – but Eitan refused. He said to her, “Ima, if you do that, then everyone will know what happened and the mix-up with the treats, and it will end up that Noam will be terribly embarrassed.” The mother’s voice cracked. “My Eitan told me, ‘Ima – I had the best birthday every. Because this year on my birthday, I got to give away a special birthday present … to Hashem.’”
Hadran A’lecha Maseches Ta’anis
B”H I was just zocheh to complete Maseches Ta’anis (the Talmudic tractate entitled “Fasting”) together with my Partners-in-Torah chavrusah, Ray Smith. A big mazal tov to Ray – this is the very first gemarah tractate he has completed and we are looking forward to making a siyum together soon! This Tractate deals with the rainy season in Eretz Yisrael and the series of fasts that were ordained on individuals and the public if the life-giving rains did not appear. Of course, the Masechta also deals with other various rabbinically ordained fast days throughout the year on the Jewish calendar, and ends with a detailed discussion of the three weeks and Tisha b’Av. The very last page of the Tractate talks about different kinds of chessed/ahavas-Yisrael that the Jews did and will do for one another:
“Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel said: Israel had no days as festive as the fifteenth of Av and Yom Kippur. It is understandable that Yom Kippur is an especially festive day, since it is a day of forgiveness and pardon (and also the day on which the second Tablets of the Ten Commandments were given). However, what is the significance of Tu b’Av (the fifteenth day of Av)?” The Gemarah then quotes the Mishnah and proceeds to give no less than 7 answers; but the last and most beautiful answer is that “on the fifteenth of Av the maidens of Jerusalem would go out dressed in white garments [to find a shidduch!] – in garments that were borrowed one from the other so as not to embarrass anyone who had none” [Taanis 31a]. Looking out for your neighbor, even though she may be in ‘competition’ with you, is true ahavas Yisrael; it is the best antidote to the tragedy of Tisha b’Av!
Finally, “Ulla Bira’ah said in the name of R’ Elazar: In the future the Holy One, Blessed be He, will make a circle of all the righteous people and He will sit among them [in the middle of the circle] in the Garden of Eden; and each and every one will point with his finger toward Him, as it says [Isaiah 25:9], ‘He shall say on that day, ‘Behold! This is our G-d; we hoped in Him and He saved us: this is Hashem to Whom we hoped; let us exult and be glad in His salvation!’” [Taanis 31a]. All yidden, bound to the Torah and bound to one another tightly in a circle of friendship and forgiveness. There is no enmity and no divisiveness, no petty squabbling and no machlokes (argument) that is not l’Shem Shamayim. Just as Bais Hillel and Bais Shammai had vastly different opinions about Torah and engaged in milchamta shel Torah while in the study hall, outside the walls of the yeshiva, inside their communities, they were as one, ‘like one man with one heart’. This is our real goal and life’s purpose.