Dedicated in honor of my wife Sylvi by Joey Esses
Towards the end of this weeks parasha in Perek 6 Passuk 4, the Torah brings us the familiar words, "Shema Yisrael Adonai Elokenu Adonai Echad!" which we recite three times a day: "Hear, O Israel: Hashem is Our G-d, Hashem is the One and Only"! Rambam comments that the importance of the recitation of the Shema every morning and every night is indicated by the fact that the Torah places it immediately after the Ten Commandments. According to Rav Chasman, cited in Rabbi Twersky's book, this is more than just a statement of our personal faith. The 'Shema Yisrael' is the acceptance of the responsibility that we will live our lives in a manner that will convince others that Hashem is the One and Only G-d. We must be a living example in this world by emulating His Midot of Hesed. Through Kiddush Hashem we must sanctify Hashem’s name to the nations. In 'Pirke Avot' there is a passage in which each Rabbi is associated with a quote which is the essence of his teaching. The phrase “hu haya omer” means “he used to say”, but looked at literally, the three words mean, “he was said.” In other words, the Rabbi was what he said; he ‘walked the talk'. He personified his teachings.
Our obligation is not just limited to say the words of "Shema Yisrael" for ourselves, but to spread it to our Jewish brethren and to be a light among the nations, showing that we are the people of Hashem so we may set an example and make a Kiddush Hashem (sanctifying Hashem's name) to the world. We must continue this as we have throughout history until we eventually will see the coming of the Mashiach when the world will recognize Hashem as the One and only G-d!
Another question that's asked is, why do we cover our eyes when we say "Shemah Yisrael"? The answer is that we want to show that we have Emunah in Hashem. We can't see when we cover our eyes. This is a sign that despite the fact that we also can't see or understand Hashem's ways, nevertheless we still believe that everything that Hashem does is only good, even though we may not understand His ways today.
The Shema goes on to say: "veahavta et Hashem Elokecha be’chol levavcha u'bechol nafshecha u'bechol meodecha." "You shall love Hashem with all your heart, with all your soul and with meodecha." What does meodecha mean? The word is hard to translate. The closest root is Meod, or “very”; hence, “with all your might” is a common translation. But the word can also refer to possessions. This means that we acknowledge that everything we possess comes from Hashem.
As we learned from Rabbi Diamond, we have to thank Hashem for everything He has done for us throughout our lives! Just look back at your life and see the parents and family that Hashem gave you, the opportunities, the house and the business that He gave you, and the community He put you into. Your health, your appearance – all that you possess is from Hashem. And this includes the adversities and the tests that He sent your way to challenge you and to help you grow by. Also, look at the Rabbis who helped to guide you and the mentors who inspired you throughout your life up until this very day!
Rabbi Diamond gives this example: Does anyone walk around boasting, “I have great kidneys?" No, because that was a gift from Hashem, and just as we can't be proud of our kidneys, we also can't be proud of anything else that Hashem gave us, whether our business, our appearance, our spouse, or our family, because they were all given to us from Hashem!
The ayin of the word “shema” and the daled of the word “echad” are written large in the Torah scroll. These two letters spell edor “witness". By reciting the 'Shema', the Jew is a witness to Hashem's Oneness and to His creation of the world!
Earlier in the Parasha Moshe says (4:5-6), “See, I have taught you decrees and ordinances, as Hashem has commanded me, to do so in the midst of the land to which you come, to posses it. You shall safeguard and perform them, for it is your wisdom and discernment in the eyes of the peoples, who shall hear all these decrees and who shall say, Surely a wise and discerning people is this great nation!” Rashi comments on this, “Only if you remember the laws and perform them perfectly will you be respected by the nations, but if you permit forgetfulness to pervert your proper performance of the commandments, you will be regarded as fools.” The Torah is not a grab bag from which one may pick and choose. It’s like a blueprint of a complex edifice and unless every part is constructed according to instructions, the building will collapse. Rabbi Diamond says something similar, that the Torah laws are like a spider web, and you can’t move it even one millimeter because if you try, it will all fall apart!
Rabbi Diamond taught us this last Shabbat a Meshesh Chochma from Parashat Bechukoti that teaches that Hashem made a decree from the time of Yaakov Avinu when B’nei Yisrael were sent down to Egypt and we were taught how to survive amongst the gentile nations. From Yaakov we learned to dress differently and have different names to protect our identity so we don’t intermarry and lose our identity as a Jewish nation, as we learn in this week’s Parasha in Perek 7 Pasuk 3: “You shall not intermarry with them, for they will cause your child to turn away from Me to worship other Gods.” We also learned from Yosef that we should be buried in Israel because that’s our ultimate home.
We are bound to feel in other countries that we are guests or foreigners because it’s not our home. As an example in Germany before the war, many Jews would be Jewish in their homes, but not in public, while the Nazis were proper in public but were monsters on the inside. When we are more spiritual, Hashem’s Shechina is closer but when we are not as spiritual then Hashem’s Shechina and His protection of B’nei Yisrael is diminished.
There’s an amazing story that occurred during the Holocaust with the Klausenberger Rebbe. The story is told in his book called “The War Years”. The Rabbi recounts that while in the concentration camps, forty-two people were stuffed into the small barracks so many had to sleep on the floor. Within two weeks, the Rabbi writes, only I and one other person were left alive. The other forty had died of starvation and disease. The other man, who came from Budapest, and I slept on the ground, enveloped in darkness and surrounded by insects and rodents.
‘Are you Jewish?’ I asked my companion.
‘Of course! Why else would I be here?’ he answered. ‘Who are you?’ I probed.
‘I am the president of the National Bank of Hungary.’ This was the most important position in finance in Hungary; it meant that this man’s picture appeared on all Hungarian currency.
‘I asked again, ‘Are you Jewish?’ This time he answered, ‘No.’ Didn’t you just say that you were?’ I queried in surprise.
The man quickly explained himself: ‘I converted to Christianity!’ Clearly he had abandoned the faith of his ancestors in order to move up the social ladder.
It was impossible to fall asleep, so I continued the conversation, gazing pityingly at him. ‘Are you married?’ Yes, but my wife is a Christian,’ he answered. ‘And she did not join you here?’ I asked with mild astonishment. Angrily, the man responded, ‘How could you even think of such a thing? Why should she have come here? To suffer as much as I am?’
Innocently, I responded, ‘I do not understand. Doesn’t a good devoted wife follow her husband wherever he goes, even to Gehenom if necessary? Would a good wife leave her husband alone in this state?’ Without pausing for breath, I continued, ‘Tell me, did you live well?’
‘What kind of a question is that? In the thirty years we lived together, I bought her the best of everything. I gave her all that was good in the world!’
‘If so, I am really shocked,’ I said. ‘How is it possible that you treated your wife so well for thirty years, and she is only willing to share the good times with you? In hard times like this, she leaves you to deal with it alone?’
We stopped talking then. The night passed and in the morning we were called to work again. The next night, I struck up a conversation again. ‘Tell me, did you accomplish important things for the Hungarian government?’
‘Certainly,’ the former banker responded. ‘When I was hired to manage the National Bank, the economy was very depressed. The forint’s value had gone way down. With one thousand forints you could hardly buy anything. I made it into a real currency, a strong currency. Hungary became prosperous, thanks to my hard work, and it began to trade with the whole world. I accomplished great things in the fields of finance and business. You never heard of me?’
I shrugged my shoulders apologetically. ‘I am not involved in such matters. I am not a businessman or a banker.’ The banker asked in surprise, ‘You really mean you don’t know who I am and what I was? To this very day you won’t find a single gentile in Hungary who doesn’t recognize my name.’
‘Then how is it that you were sent here, and the Hungarian nation did not protest? After all you did so much for them. How could a person as important and as accomplished as you be run out of the country and into a concentration camp without any legitimate reason?’Why are you provoking me so much?’ the banker exploded. ‘Perhaps you can tell me why you are imprisoned here?’ I am just a poor rabbi,’ I answered. ‘They hate me. But you did so many good things for them. How can they hate you? I would expect them to carry you on their shoulders, not send you to a concentration camp.’ ‘Well, as you can see they did not carry me on their shoulders.’
‘I simply cannot understand it. After all, you converted to Catholicism and became a complete non-Jew in order to be like them and to be accepted by them – and they ignored it all.’ As aside, I asked, ‘What about your children? What do they do?’
‘My children? One is a doctor, the other a lawyer, and the third a successful businessman.’
‘Did you also provide for them?’ ‘Of course!’ the banker answered. ‘I sent them to the best schools so that they would be well educated.’
‘And why did your children not come after you?’ I pressed. Even when a person dies his children follow the casket to the cemetery. ‘Your children have left you to be exiled in shame…. They didn’t follow you to the border. Not a single one has come here to see where their father is and what is happening to him.’
‘You are hurting me very much with your worlds. You want to annoy me. ‘I don’t want to annoy you, God forbid I just want to understand how bitter your situation is.’
We continued talking until late at night. My words began to penetrate the assimilated banker, for on the third night, he initiated the conversation. ‘You know, Rabbi, I’ve been thinking about your words all day… I have come to the conclusion that you are right!’ He expressed genuine regret for having converted, for having married a non-Jewish woman, even for spoiling his children so much. The banker saw clearly that absolutely nothing from his pathetic life remained with him. ‘I made a mistake,’ he cried in a choked voice. ‘I made a terrible mistake with my life.’
‘On the fourth night, the banker was no longer among the living. I was grateful for the opportunity that had been sent my way. He had at least done teshuvah and regretted his deeds a day before his death.
May we all accept upon ourselves to use the 'Shema Yisrael' as a reminder of our responsibility to look to always make a 'Kiddush Hashem' and may we always remember that everything that Hashem does for us is good, even though we may not understand it at the time. Also, may we realize who we are as a Jewish Nation and that our responsibility is to be a light unto the other nations of the world and bring Kedusha to the world by following the ways of our holy Torah so that we may sanctify Hashem’s great name forever until the coming of the Mashiach! Amen!
Rabbi Amram Sananes as written by Jack Rahmey
Eliyahu Ben Rachel Rabbi Shimon Chay Ben Yaasher
Sarah Bat Chanah Esther Bat Sarah
Shulamit Bat Helaina Rabbi Meyer Ben Chana
Batsheva Bat Sarah Esther Rafael Ben Miriam
Rav Haim Ben Rivka Moshe Ben Mazal
Yitzchak Ben Adele Avraham Ben Mazal
Chanah Bat Esthe Ovadia Ben Esther
Moshe Ben Garaz Rahamim Ben Mazal
Avraham Ben Garaz Avraham Ben Mazal
Yaakov Ben Rachel Avraham Ben Kami
Meir Ben Latifa Moshe Ben Yael
Malka Bat Garaz Mordechai Ben Rachel
Yaakov Ben Leah
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