Dedicated Leilui Nishmat Abraham Ben Nazirah A’h by Scott Betesh and Family
This week’s parasha opens with the words “vehaya ekev tishmeun et ha’mishpatim ha’eleh — This shall be the reward when you hearken to these ordinances.”
According to the midrash, since the word ekev also means the heel of a foot, this verse alludes to the sort of commandments that people may consider unimportant. In other words, these are mitzvot that people may think they can tread on with their heel or treat lightly. But the truth is that we don’t know the value of any of the mitzvot, so we can’t relate to any of them as being less significant than the others. As it says in Pirke Avot (2:1) “Be scrupulous in performing a ‘minor’ mitzvah as in a ‘major’ one, for you do not know the reward given for the (respective) mitzvot.”
The following pesukim continue: “Hashem will love you, bless and multiply you, and He will bless the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your land; your grain, your wine, your oil; the offspring of your cattle and the flocks of your sheep and goats.” The pesukim continue with an abundance of berachot for our children, our health, and our livelihood.
Just look at the Jewish population today all over the world; we are a population of just around 15 million, even after so many centuries. We are but a small fraction of one percent of the world’s population, yet we have seen beracha among our people that’s drastically disproportionate to the rest of the world. We can clearly see the fulfilment of the berachot in this week’s parasha by the disproportionate number of Jews that have achieved great things, whether in medicine, law, the humanities, technology, and so many other fields, and the tremendously high proportion of Jewish Nobel prize winners.
After only seventy years, Israel also leads the world in technology, agriculture, and so many other areas, despite the numerous disadvantages and setbacks that come from being a tiny country in a constant state of war surrounded by enemies that continuously threaten to destroy us. Let’s not fool ourselves, there’s great power in these berachot, and they only come from following in the ways of Hashem and our holy Torah!
On a recent trip to Russia, the Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel, Yitzchak Yosef, met with the Russian president Vladimir Putin. The Rabbi thought it would be just a quick “photo op” type of meeting, but Putin wanted to talk with the Rabbi at length. They sat and spoke for close to ninety minutes.
Putin told the Rabbi that he considered himself a historian and had studied all of the great nations of the past — the Egyptians, the Babylonians, the Greeks and Romans, and so on. He said that it had always amazed him that the Jews have outlived all these dynasties, despite their small number and the endless persecutions that they had to endure over the centuries.
He asked Hacham Yitzchak the secret to this amazing success and perseverance. The Rabbi was about to answer Putin’s question, but President Putin decided to give his own answer. He said, “I believe the reason the Jewish people have outlasted all those other nations, is that they have always followed their Torah and because they listen to their Rabbis!”
We can see this clearly from a passuk in last week’s parasha, Va’et-hannan, where it says “You shall safeguard and perform them [the mitzvot], for it is your wisdom and discernment in the eyes of the people, who shall hear all of these decrees and who shall say: Surely a wise and discerning people is this great nation (4:6)!”
Rabenu Bahya comments: “The Torah states that universal acknowledgement of Israel’s wisdom will result even from its adherence to the decrees — the commandments for which no reason is revealed — because the wisdom inherent in the parts of the Torah that are accessible to rational study will convince intellectually honest people that there must be great divine wisdom in the decrees as well.”
Birchat Hamazon with Kavanah
Rabbi Elimelech Biderman told over a story in his Torah Wellsprings pamphlet about Reb Meir Shapiro who lived in Poland before the Holocaust. One day Reb Shapiro tested his students and after the test he offered them a gift they should carry with them for the rest of their lives. He said the gift was that they should be very cautious with saying birchat hamazon. He said to them that the Ba'ch says that birchat hamazon is a segulah for protection, and that the Chinuch says birchat hamazon is a segula for parnassah b'kavod. He also said to them that the Be'er Heitav writes, "Those who are cautious and will always say birchat hamazon from a siddur, with kavanah and not by heart will merit much beracha and will always be successful, and they will lead tranquil lives."
One of the students named Shimon, decided right then and there that he would always be careful with birchat hamazon. In cheder, his friends would bench quickly and go out to play, while he lingered, because it was important to him to bench properly. A few years later, the Nazis invaded Poland. Soon, Shimon found himself standing in line for a 'selektzia.' Whoever was short was being sent to the left for execution, and Shimon was short! He prayed that he be saved from 'wrath and punishment’ (שצף קצף חרון אף) in the merit of birchat hamazon. When it was his turn, he stood on his toes to appear higher. The Nazi signaled to him to go to the right. Soon, Shimon found himself standing in line once again. This time, each person had to tell the Nazi what job he could do. Shimon didn’t know what to say. He was only a teenager, taken away from yeshiva to this cursed place. As he waited in line, he prayed, "In the merit of birchat hamazon, which is mesugal for parnassah, Hashem, please support me..." Just then, the person behind him tapped him on the shoulder, "Say you’re a cook and that I'm your helper." He said this, and they were both sent to work in the kitchen. As the Chinuch promised, since he was careful with birchat hamazon, he always had enough food to eat.
In the camps, once a Nazi saw Shimon working in the kitchen, and he said, "What are you doing here? You look like a young child." "I work here," Shimon explained. "I’m the cook." The Nazi took Shimon outside and showed him a stony area, just outside the kitchen. "You have two hours to finish digging a two-meter ditch, or you will be buried in it." He just gave him a tiny shovel. At that time, the Nazis were digging trenches to hide in, in case the Russians would attack them. But this time, the task was impossible. The ground was covered with heavy stones, he was given a small shovel to work with, and the chore had to be finished in two hours! Shimon raised his eyes to Heaven and said, "I say birchat hamazon with kavanah. This is mesugal to save me from 'wrath and punishment.' I was saved before. Please save me again, in this merit."
A few moments later, a jeep filled with Nazis drove by and saw this young lad trying to dig a ditch with a small shovel. To tease him, they threw tomatoes, potatoes, carrots, and other vegetables at him. Shimon thought, "I see that in the merit of birchat hamazon, I once again received the brachah for abundance. Now I need the blessings for protection from wrath and punishment, too."
Shortly afterward, a jeep with Russian POW’s showed up. When they saw all the vegetables around Shimon, they stopped and asked for them. (They were hungry because the Nazis didn’t feed these prisoners, either.) With an authoritative voice, Shimon told the Russians, "When there is a pit two meters deep here, I will give you the vegetables." The Russians had the right tools for digging. They took them out of their jeep and began digging the trench. There were several Russian soldiers, and the job was completed in half an hour. The Nazi who gave Shimon two hours to dig the trench returned, and he saw that the task was completed. He said, "I always knew that G-d takes care of you Jews. I just didn’t realize to what extent." Shimon was saved once again, in the merit of birchat hamazon.
Years later when he came to Eretz Yisrael after the war was over, he continued to enjoy many blessings. He always had parnassah, and he married off all of his children honorably. He said that it was all in the merit of saying the birchat hamazon slowly and with Kavanah.
Parnassah Comes from Hashem
The Torah also wants to tell us to beware and not to get too proud of ourselves and our accomplishments. In perek 8 passuk 17 it states, “kohi ve’otzem yadi asa li et ha’hayil hazeh — My strength and the might of my hand made me all this wealth!”
We must realize that although we may consider ourselves great businessmen, Hashem is guiding us each and every day. Hashem gave us the brains and the talents to earn a living. He lets us believe that we’re making things happen, but the work that we do is just to let us think that we have something to do with the results.
In parashat Beshalah, when B’nei Yisrael were trapped between the Yam Suf and the Egyptian army, Moshe prayed to Hashem. Hashem responded, “Mah tiss’ak elai — Why do you cry out to me?” Hashem then instructed Moshe: “Speak to B’nei Yisrael and tell them to move forward!”
According to midrash, Nahshon ben Aminadav, a prince of the tribe of Yehudah, was the first one to take that leap of faith and jump into the water!
Rabenu Bahya explains that the Yam Suf didn’t split all at once, and therefore they were not able to see across to the other side. Rather, there was a wall of water in front of them, and with each step they took, the sea continued to split.
The same is true in our own lives. Usually a clear path through our trials and tribulations doesn’t appear all at once. We must move forward step by step, dealing with our challenges as they come, and overcoming them one by one. Only later can we look back and see with clarity at how we arrived where we are today!
We must constantly have emunah and bitachon that as long as we follow in the way of Hashem, He will be there for us and guide us through our lives, even though we can’t possibly see what lies ahead of us!
Hashem is saying to us: “Mah tiss’ak elai? — Why are you crying out to me?” Just take that leap of faith and have complete confidence and emunah that Hashem is always with us!
Hashem lets us think that it’s our strength and our business acumen that’s accomplishing things for us, but it’s really Hashem testing us! This has been proven thousands of times throughout our community and around the world. We have seen how Hashem controls every step that we make.
Last week, parashat Va’et-hannan included the first part of the Shema immediately after the Ten Commandments. Rambam helped us to understand the importance of saying Shema twice daily to solidify our faith in Hashem. One of the sections in this week’s Parashat Ekev is the second paragraph of Shema, which discusses following Hashem’s commandments in times of joy as well as in times of difficulty. Hashem said to his ministering angels, “I will personally have compassion on Klal Yisrael more than any other nation, for only they coronate me twice a day.”
Rabbi Yoel Gold told an incredible story about how even during a time of war and destruction, faith in Hashem can truly result in miracles. In 2003 during the Iraq War, Jordan Shwartz was sitting on top of his Humvee patrolling a neighborhood next to the Syrian-Iraqi border. The men in his unit were driving through a marketplace that was usually teeming with people. But that Friday morning, it was deserted. Jordan felt a sense of impending doom.
He was worried about his team, and he wanted to pray that they would all make it back home safely. But Jordan was not religious at the time, and he didn’t know how to pray. All he remembered from his heritage were six words that his babysitter had taught him back when he was just seven years-old and living in New Mexico. Jordan and his friend J.J. Jesmer were very close as children, and J.J.’s older sister, Rivka, used to babysit for Jordan. She would say the Shema with him when she put him to sleep, and she taught him that it was a prayer for protection.
As Jordan felt the sense that something was very wrong, he leaned forward and said, “Shema Yisrael Hashem Elokenu Hashem Ehad.” And as he leaned down and covered his eyes, a huge explosion went off. Some shrapnel landed in his arm because he was covering his eyes to pray. If he hadn’t been saying Shema, the shrapnel would have landed in his eyes, and he would’ve been killed.
He immediately made the decision to travel to Israel to explore his heritage after the war. He enrolled in a yeshivah, and as he was walking into the bet midrash for the first time, someone familiar crossed his path. Their eyes lit up. It was Yaakov (J.J.) Jesmer. He was to be Jordan’s rabbi in yeshivah.
Jordan’s emunah in Hashem enabled him to take that leap of faith, and Hashem orchestrated this miraculous event. The Shema is our mission statement for all Jews no matter their level of religion. Those six words will wake all of us up as it did after the Holocaust when rabbis used the words of the Shema to bring back Jewish children that were being hidden in Christian Monasteries.
May we all realise that Hashem is in control, and that as long as we follow the ways of the Torah, He will bless us beyond our greatest expectations with children, health, and parnassah. May we also be very careful with birchat hamazon to say it slowly and with Kavanah to benefit from its Berachot all of our lives. But we must always know that it all comes from Hashem, and we must be careful not to delude ourselves into thinking that it’s our efforts that produced anything, because all the gifts that we have are truly berachot from Hashem!
Rabbi Amram Sananes as written by Jack Rahmey
· Deep down, do we feel that we “make a living,” or that Hashem gives us our parnassah?
· Do we say the Birchat Hamazon with Kavanah or do we rush reading through it?
Eliyahu Ben Rachel
Rabbi Shimon Chay Ben Yaasher
Avraham Ben Garaz
Sarah Bat Chanah
Esther Bat Sarah
Avraham Ben Mazal
Shulamit Bat Helaina
Rabbi Meyer Ben Chana
Rahamim Ben Mazal
Batsheva Bat Sarah Esther
Rafael Ben Miriam
Ovadia Ben Esther
Rav Haim Ben Rivka
Moshe Ben Mazal
Moshe Ben Yael
Yitzchak Ben Adele
Avraham Ben Mazal
Meir Ben Latifa
Chanah Bat Esther
Yaakov Ben Rachel
Malka Bat Garaz
Moshe Ben Garaz
Avraham Ben Kami
Yaakov Ben Leah
Mordechai Ben Rachel
Chacham Shaul Rachamim Ben Mazal
Natan Ben Rachel
Saadia Ben Miriam
Eliyah Ben Latifa Simhon
Margalit Bat Mazal
Ovadia Haim Ben Malaky
Rabbi Aharon Chaim Ben Ruchama
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