Thursday, April 4, 2019



TED Talk delivered by Mark Bezos[2]:
“I’m a volunteer firefighter in Scarsdale NY. In Scarsdale, the professional firefighters are always on duty, and they are the first responders. After they are already on their way to the fire, the volunteers are called as well. Because we are supplementing a highly skilled career staff, we have to get to the fire scene pretty early to get in on any action.
“I remember my first call well. At around 3 am my charger went off. At first I didn’t know what it was, and I was running around my room searching for the source of the noise, until my wife told me it was a call about a fire.
“I quickly ran out to my car and sped off. It was terrible weather that night; rain was coming down horizontally, and visibility was terrible. I arrived at the scene, put on the gear, as flames were shooting up from the home. The homeowner was standing next to the Fire Chief, in her pajamas, barefoot in the rain watching her house burn. She was very excited, screaming that her dog was still in the house.
“So, I rushed up to the captain to receive my orders. But there was another volunteer who had arrived moments before me. The captain asked him to go inside and get the homeowners dog.
“You do a lot of training to become a volunteer, and you have visions of having the opportunity to go into a fire and save someone from a burning building. Then you come back home, and your children look at you like you’re ten feet taller, and bullet proof.
“But that’s not what happened.
“I must admit that at that moment I was very jealous. The volunteer before me, some lawyer or money manager would, for the rest of his life, get to tell people that he went into a burning building to save a living creature, just because he beat me by five seconds. 
“Then the captain waved me over, and said, "Bezos, I need you to go into the house. I need you to go upstairs, past the fire, and I need you to get this woman a pair of shoes." 
“It was not exactly what I was hoping for, but off I went -- up the stairs, down the hall, past the 'real' firefighters, who were pretty much done putting out the fire at this point, into the master bedroom to get a pair of shoes.
“I brought the shoes out and handed them to the homeowner and remarked, "You might be more comfortable if you put these on.” She didn’t even acknowledge them, still very excited about her dog, who was now being carried out of the house by the volunteer who beat me by a few seconds.
“Then I headed home, feeling like I went from hero to zero.
“But then a few weeks later, the fire department received a letter from the woman whose house was on fire. In it she effusively thanked everyone for all they had done for her, in saving her house, property, and dog. Then she noted, that someone had even gone into the building to get her a pair of shoes, which touched her greatly.
“In both my vocation at an anti-poverty group, and as a volunteer firefighter, I am witness to acts of generosity and kindness on a monumental scale. But I'm also witness to acts of grace and courage on an individual basis. I learned that they all matter.
“My message to people who either have achieved, or are on their way to achieving, remarkable levels of success, is to offer this reminder: don't wait! 
“Don't wait until you make your first million to make a difference in somebody's life. If you have something to give, give it now. Serve food at a soup kitchen. Clean up a neighborhood park. Be a mentor.
“Not every day is going to offer us a chance to save somebody's life, but every day offers us an opportunity to affect one. 
So, get in the game. Save the shoes.”

The mishna[3] notes that Rosh Chodesh Nissan is one of the four “Roshei HaShanah – New Years” during the year. Nissan is the first of the months, and on Rosh Chodesh Nissan the cycle of months begins anew.
What is the nature of this “Rosh Hashanah” and how does it contrast with the holiday we refer to as Rosh Hashanah at the beginning of the month of Tishrei?
The New Year of Tishrei is the day when every individual’s actions are analyzed and scrutinized by G-d, and the of every being on the following year is determined. Therefore, we engage in a process of introspection and repentance prior and following that great Day of Judgement, in the hope that we will emerge meritoriously from the painstaking judgement. Once we have analyzed our personal actions and our behaviors during the previous year, we seek to broaden our perspective and determine if we have properly cared for our brethren and whether we are sufficiently unified with others. This is symbolized by the fact that when we recite viduy (confession) it is in the public tense (e.g. “we have been guilty, we have betrayed, etc.), and the Four Species taken on Succos symbolize four categories of Jews. We hold them together to symbolize national unity.
During the days of Nissan, we employ the opposite focus. While on Tishrei our focus is from inside outward, during the days of Nissan our focus is from the outside inward.
The pasuk says, “Or has any god ever miraculously come to take for himself a nation from amidst another nation, with challenges, with signs, and with wonders, and with war, and with a strong hand, and with an outstretched arm, and with greatly awesome deeds, such as everything that Hashem, your G-d, did for you in Egypt, before your eyes?”[4] The Jews’ state in Egypt was analogous to a fetus within its mother’s womb, which lacks any external identifiable features and is completely reliant on its mother for sustenance and life.[5] The exodus was the national birth and genesis of the Jewish people. That was the moment when we became a people, whose destiny would shape and drive that of all of humankind.
Therefore, the month of Nissan warrants a focus on our national vitality, and how each individual is associating himself and contributing to public needs and growth.
All of the laws of Korbon Pesach contain this focus. The lamb/goat used for the Korbon Pesach was brought by families and neighbors. They had to pre-register and it had to be eaten together in jovial celebration.
The laws of the Korbon Pesach were instructed to Moshe on Rosh Chodesh Nissan 2448, just two weeks prior to the exodus. G-d prefaced the instruction about the Korbon Pesach by stating: “This month shall be for you, the first of the months.”[6] It was to be a new beginning and the nation needed to be aware of the incredible transformation that was about to take place. The preparation entailed unifying in defiantly offering the god of their former captors and assertively serving G-d with joy.
The Rosh Hashanah of Nissan is a time for us to contemplate whether we have been faithful members of our people, and whether we have sufficiently invested enough in the spiritual, physical, emotional and psychological welfare of our brethren. Do we think about others and seek to improve their lives, and are not only focused on our own personal growth and religious commitments? The main focus is on our national identity and whether we as individuals are doing our part in that regard.

Parshas Tazria contains the laws of tzara’as which afflicted a person primarily for violating the sin of loshon hora.
The poignant underlying message to be gleaned from the Torah’s warnings about tzara’as is that what we say matters! If a vagabond mulling in the dirt says something against the king, no one pays him any attention. However, if a high-ranking minister maligns the king that will have far more severe consequences, because what he says carries far more weight. The very fact that any individual would be afflicted with tzara’as even for a comment said in private, demonstrates that the words I utter matter, which of course means that I matter.
Rabbi Dovid Orlofsky muses that during the 1950s and 1960s hardly any student was ever expelled from yeshiva. If a student threw a brick through a window, or shot a spit ball at a teacher, he might have been severely reprimanded, but he wouldn’t be kicked out. At that time the feeling was that we needed every student to rebuild the world destroyed by the Nazis. So many Jews had been murdered, and so many more were assimilating. No student was dispensable, even if he was challenging, and required extra effort and attention.
Today however, the attitude has changed. G-d has blessed us with miraculous resilience and our yeshivos are bursting and can’t extend quickly enough to keep up with the demand. There is an unverbalized message that difficult student’s sense – “we don’t need you! We can easily feel your spot with a more conscientious student who won’t make trouble!” 
Girls applying for seminaries often have their self-esteem destroyed, because they know that there are eight other applicants vying for their spot. The girl may be intelligent and have wonderful middos, but she doesn’t get in to the school of her choice because there were other girls who were ‘better’ than she was.
This is a very serious challenge that we must contend with. It is our responsibility to ensure that every child - and adult - recognizes his value, and that no Jew is replaceable or dispensable. The Torah relates that our inestimable value is not in our numbers, but in our intrinsic greatness. “It is not because you are the most numerous from the nations that G-d desires in you and has chosen you, for you are the smallest of all the nations”[7].
The renewal of Nissan is a stark reminder of the value and importance of every single Jew, on whatever level he or she is on. If a toxic and damaging word of loshon hora which we utter is so damaging, how much greater is the value of every word of Torah, prayer, and encouragement that we share.
The recognition of how special we are is an importance preface to redemption. It helps us to recognize that G-d loves and values us, and that was why He chose to save us from bondage, and raised us to become His eternal, chosen people.
In addition, the Torah refers to matzah as ‘lechem oni’[8]. The gemara[9] offers two explanations of what that means. The first is that oni is similar to the word ani (poor), in the sense that matzah is ‘poor man’s bread’. We fulfill this explanation at the Seder during yachatz, when we break the middle matzah, symbolizing the fact that the poor consume scraps and broken pieces of bread, not complete loaves.
The second explanation is “lechem sheonin alav devorim harbei – bread upon which many words have been spoken”. We fulfill this explanation by having the matzah uncovered on the Seder table while the haggadah is recited. We subsequently eat the matzah over which the haggadah had been recited.
Parshas Tazria and Metzora remind us of the value and potency of words. During a leap year[10] that lesson serves as a perfect introduction to Pesach, the holiday when we learned how to express ourselves [11], which was the key and foundation for freedom. The night of the Seder is a time when the more one tells over the more praiseworthy he is[12]; the power of words at their best! 

“This month shall be for you, the first of the months.”
“G-d desires in you and has chosen you”

Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW
Rebbe/Guidance Counselor – Heichal HaTorah
Principal – Ohr Naftoli- New Windsor

[1] The following is the lecture I delivered at Kehillat New Hempstead, Parshas Tazria/Hachodesh 5776, in honor of the bar mitzvah of Tzvi Pesach Kohl
[2] March 2011
[3] Rosh Hashanana 1:1
[4] Devorim 4:34
[5] The gemara (Gittin 23b, Chullin 58a) rules that a fetus is considered part of its mother – "עובר ירך אמו"
[6] Shemos 12:2; these are the opening words of the special reading for Parshas Hachodesh
[7] Devorim 7:7
[8] Devorim 16:3 "...שבעת ימים תאכל עליו מצות לחם עני..."
[9] Pesachim 115b
[10] During regular years, Tazria and Metzora are read together the second Shabbos following Pesach
[11] As the Arizal famously noted that “Pesach” contains the words “Peh sach – a soft mouth”. A slave lacks freedom of expression and speech. In Egypt we didn’t even know how to properly pray. The Torah relates that we groaned and cried out to G-d. At the time of the exodus we sang shira, a symbol of our newfound expression and connection.
[12] Loose translation of the words recited in the haggadah "כל המרבה לספר הרי זה משובח"


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