My Classmate Alan Rode Off On My Dime (value of small things often outweigh big)

Alan. He became a legend in my house.  During second grade he and I spent a huge part of our day rewriting the school library’s encyclopedia as punishment for our misbehavior.  Neither of us was of the goody-goody two-shoe variety.  Both of us had a vivid imagination and a dramatic flare.  To be quite honest, he was one-over on me on the attention-getting spectrum.  He could think of pranks and things that most of us couldn’t.

Therein begins my saga of my dime.  Included in my drama moments were days I spent as an explorer, finding “new” lands and lakes from within my own backyard and stretching way into the forest around us.  Marco Polo did not name as many newfound territories as I did on some of the good days.  Then, other days I was off on other quests, one of which was to find hidden treasures.  Our property was quite good for that activity.  There were antiques at every corner, from the old thirties refrigerator to washboards.  Then, one day, I was digging up the lawn and found a really old coin.  I thought it was a dime, but these days I tend to think it was what is called a Buffalo Nickel.

My treasure, at last.  I proudly brought my dime to school and felt sensationally good about showing it off.  Alan wanted it.  Well, how do you get a dime out of tight-fisted treasure-loving me?  He offered me a swap.  I’d get a horse from him for his dime.  I opened my fist, handed over my dime, and the swap was half-way done.  Except that no horse was tethered outside the next day.  I wonder in retrospect, did he even have a horse?  I asked for my dime back, but it had been lost somewhere within the depths of the kid’s pocket full of treasures.

I was out a horse and a dime; but earned a lesson. “A dime in hand is worth more than a horse.”

Many is the day that I get small opportunities for goodness to come my way.  And many is the day that I ignore those small treasures because I’m aiming for the big, grand one, which often doesn’t pan out.  “He’vay zaheer b’mitzvah Kalah” be careful with those “easy” mitzvos, don’t discount them so quickly.  The smile you give your spouse.  The compliment to the upset child.  The drink to the Tzedaka collector.

Hold on to the dimes.  To the small little treasures you have in your hand.  They might be more valuable than you think.

And in this week’s parsha we begin with the words “va’haya ekev”, if you keep the mitzvos that others would trample under the heels, those seemingly insignificant ones…wow, what a treasure we would have!

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Ten types of prayer — one being v’eschanan

This week’s Torah portion is called v’eschanan.  Moshe relates to the Jews how he pleaded and begged G-d to be allowed to cross the Jordan and see Eretz Yisroel.

V’eschanan –

RASHI:  Even though Tzadikim have merits, they daven for “matnas cheenum” they ask G-d to give them what they need, not out of merit but out of free gifts, just because Hashem loves to give.  V’eschanan is but only one form of prayer.  There are actually 10 forms of prayer. [ad kahn rashi..]

Think of times we are moved to pray:  Tza’aka is one – that time when we scream out in pain – that is one form of prayer.   There is a Reenah – a time when we are so overjoyed, we pray.  Times we are so overawed – birth of a baby, at a spectacular sunset- — that we are moved to pray from a place of awe.  This time, Moshe’s prayer takes on the form of asking “v’eschanan” – asking for free gift to go to Eretz Yisroel even though Hashem had told him he won’t go there.

Every moment in life has a connection point to Hashem.  Rabbi Y.Y. Jacobson recounts the story of the holy brothers Reb Elimelech and Reb Zushe.  They were once put into a jail block with other prisoners.  The holding cell had no bathroom facility.  Rather, there was a bucket put in the room where everyone did their business.  That meant the room reeked…and the holy rabbis would not be able to halachically daven.  Reb Zushe was very, very upset.  His brother, however, took him to task.  He said, ‘before, you connected to Hashem and cleaved to him through formal prayer.  However, now Hashem wants you to serve him and cleave to him by NOT praying, because that is the Halacha.  Be happy with this new opportunity to serve Hashem in a manner you haven’t yet done.”  Reb Zushe agreed with his brother….and out of joy of being able to serve Hashem now without davening, he began to sing a niggun and dance.  His brother joined…then one prisoner and then another.  Soon, the whole cell block was up and dancing a lively dance.  The prison guard came running.  “What is going on here?” he screamed, “why are you dancing.”  “Those Jews started it,” (ah, we know that answer from many scenarios, don’t we).  “Why are the Jews happy and dancing,” screamed the guard.  One prisoner explained, “It has to do with that bucket full of !@#$.”   “What?” exclaimed the guard, “How can that be?”  “Not sure that I understand,” explained one prisoner, “but it seems that the Jews had a relationship with Hashem pre-bucket. But now, with the bucket they have a whole new relationship with G-d and that is why they are happy, with being able to connect to G-d with a bucket of $%^.”  “Well, I’ll teach those Jews a lesson,” said the anti-Semitic guard.  He picked up the bucket and removed it from the jail cell so that the two holy Jews’ “bucket relationship” would be ruined.  Reb Elimelech now said, “nu, brother, now you can go daven.”

Many morals to this tale.  One, that sometimes when we embrace our pain and difficulty, at that precise moment often Hashem removes that pain, since we have done our emotional work of accepting His will.  Another:  that even @#$% can connect us to Hashem.  In fact, we sometimes gain a deeper connection through the yucky parts of life.  You speak to folks who have gone through the valley of death and they talk of G-d’s presence in the operating room, in the midst of their grief, etc.  You can serve G-d with the bucket, if that is what He demands.

Prayer is our tangible method of reaching out to G-d.  Ten ways to do so.  Scream from pain, dance with joy, marvel with awe…and sometimes, like Moshe, beg for free.

And no prayer ever is returned empty, as G-d points out further in the chapter.  While Moshe cannot cross over the Jordan for now (until Yemos HaMashiach), he is allowed his second request — that of seeing Eretz Yisroel.  Hashem makes a miracle for Moshe to enable him to see that which he wanted to see.  A sneak-peek preview in a private showing of a beloved place.

May we all realize that no matter what life flings our way or where it flings us, on G-d’s contact info webpage, there are 10 different ways to get in touch with Him!

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The Owl Gives a Hoot About Us — Perek Shira

[continuing in Perek Shira, the Song of the Universe, we come to the Ritzeefee, an owl, and find out what they give a hoot about.]

When the world is asleep, you can hear the Shechina weep

From behind the Western wall

From forests dark and deep when there isn’t any peep

Comes forth an echoing call

The cry goes out, where are my children found?

And from the woods comes hoo-hoo a wailing sound


When hope seems far away, and you can’t imagine another day

Stuck in pain and all seems wrong

Listen well to what G-d does say, hardships are not here to stay

And soon dawn will come along

Listen well to the echo-song of the Retzeefee

Mirroring G-d’s “Nachamoo Nachamoo Amee”


The exile seems so long, and our pain just feels so wrong

How much more can we endure

But a whisper of a song, tells us hold on and be strong

For soon we’ll be secure

Our people will yet have a salvation

“Be comforted, be comforted, my nation”


And a beautiful song on this theme is here:

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The Bird Sings – -Perek Shira

“Gam Tzipor Matza Bayis…”(Psalms 84:4)

A twig, a string, some mud and spit

With random things a nest is built

With much love and lots of care

The bird builds a home to share.

Snugly secure in its parents’ nest

Little hatchlings warmly rest.

Why then, my Lord, were we shoved out

Forced in Exile to wander about?

Like a parent bird beats its wings

Shielding its young from dangerous things

We know the day will come when You

Will give us complete protection too.

Not forever will we be forced to roam

Soon G-d will return us safely home.

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Rest in Peace, Faigy Mayer…

We have lost another soul.

OTD kids and adults, please be honest about issues you are running from or the issues run with you.  Your quarrel is not with Hashem and His Torah.  I know that — I know the pain many of you are running from.

Faigy was not happier there OTD.  She was tortured.  Wish someone would have told her the pain she got from home and community was not that prescribed by the Torah.  Wish she had a chance to come back and build a home and have some children.  So many wishes.

May her Neshama find comfort there from “HaMakom” and may we wake up and extend understanding and compassion to those full of pain they don’t admit to or acknowledge.

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Parshas Devarim and Shabbos Chazon (Isaiah)


 This week is Parshas Devorim – we begin the book of Deuteronomy.

This sefer (book) is the repeat of all the laws and the things the Jews went through, final rebuke of Moshe before he dies, and warnings for the future – a review course, so to speak, given by Moshe before he died.

If you scan through this week’s Parsha, you see Moshe talks about how he led the Jews through the desert and how they rebelled and how they got to this point of being just on the verge of finally entering the land of Israel.  Why is Moshe rehashing old history?  My father always pointed out the lesson learned from this intro that Moshe gave – until you do good for someone, you cannot really rebuke them nor can you tell them which end is up.  If, however, you have stood by someone, it is more acceptable to then be able to censure them.  Moshe is showing the Jews how he stood by them, led them, defended them – so that when he will rebuke them or when he will tell them what is good to do in life, they will be more likely to say, “he cared about us, so we should give credence to what he is telling us about our behavior.

The first verse says that Moshe spoke these things to “all of the Jews” – what is the significance of the word ALL – to show us that no one can say, this doesn’t pertain to me.  I can’t say, ‘I’m just a debt-laden, floozy living in NY, Moshe didn’t mean me’.  Nope.  He meant me.  And you.  He meant each and every Jew.  The words of Torah, the words of rebuke against sin, are for all of us.


 The Haftorah this week is the final of the rebuke weeks and is extremely harsh – being that this week is the week of Tisha B’av.  The portion read is from the book of Isaiah (Yeshayahu).  This Shabbos is referred to as Shabbos Chazon, which is the word that begins this week’s Haftorah.

Chapter 1: “The vision of Yeshayahu…”

Verse 2:  “listen heaven and hearken earth, because G-d has spoken, ‘Sons I’ve reared and raised and they rebelled against me.”  This is the beginning of the end, the curses that Moshe said would happen to us if we didn’t listen.  Way back when Moshe was about to die, he had brought as witness heaven and earth that if we don’t do the Mitzvot we would be punished.  Therefore, at this time when the punishment is coming, Yeshayahu calls to the “witnesses”, to the heaven and the earth, to hear the final warning that if we don’t repent, it will be bad for the Jews.

Verse 3:  “an ox knows his buyer, the donkey is familiar with his owner’s barn, but the Jews they don’t know and don’t think.”  Dumb animals sometimes act smarter than mankind.  You give a dog warmth, some food, some companionship and it becomes loyal.  You buy an ox and feed it and it recognizes you.  The donkey knows how to return to its stall in the barn where it is safe.  And we, do we recognize our “owner”, the Power that gives us our food and safety?

Verse 4:  “woe to a nation that sins, a people heavy with crimes…sons who destroy, they left G-d…they strayed backwards”  Disraeli once was jeered at for being a Jew, and he said, “when my ancestors were in the desert receiving the word of G-d, your ancestors were naked savages worshipping idols” or something of that ilk.  When we move away from a G-d centered life we are actually slipping backwards into uncivilized chaos.

Verse 5:  “Why should you be hit more…every head has an illness and all hearts are in anguish.”  G-d doesn’t want us to have pain.  He wants us to return.  Yet, even as the punishment begins to be meted out, we are stubborn, not letting go of our wickedness, necessitating more punishment.   Does each and every person need to have heartbreak in order to wake up to G-d??

The next few verses describe how desolate, destroyed and alone the land of Israel was from the destruction .

Verse 9:  “Had G-d not left over some remnant, we would almost be like Sodom…”

We are promised that “netzach Yisroel lo Yeshaker”  — the eternity of the Jewish people is no lie – there will always be Jews, not because we are such hardy survivors able to withstand destruction, but because G-d in His mercy always leaves a remnant of our people to begin building again after each time we need to be punished.

Verse 11:  “Why do I need your many sacrifices, says Hashem, I’m sated…the blood of animals I don’t want.”  Verse 12:  “when you come before Me, who asked this from your hands, tramplers of the courtyard.”  Verse 13:  You shall no longer bring meaningless offerings, it is an repugnance to Me, your Rosh Chodesh and Shabbos and Holidays…” verse 14:  “….it was upon Me as a burden which I am sick of carrying.”

We often think we are doing G-d a favor with our praying, our learning, with our “spirituality” but when we trample on the values G-d gave us, He doesn’t want us being spiritual with Him.   When someone robs others and gives a tithe of that to charity, what is he saying?  G-d says that He is sickened when wrongdoers play righteous, doing “favors for G-d” by praying or keeping Shabbos….THEREFORE

Verse 15: “And when you hold out your palms, I will hide My eyes from you, even if you pray much, I will not hear, your hands are full of blood.”

It bothers me when folks ask where was G-d during the Holocaust – -why didn’t He hear the anguished cries.  Folks, this verse says it – if we wrong each other, if we rob and steal and kill and maim and embarrass and taunt – G-d promises He will then so-to-speak stop up His ears to our most bitter of prayers and “ignore” us, allowing our enemies free reign.  What can we do, then?

Verse 16:  “Wash, cleanse, remove the bad from on you before My eyes, stop the bad.” Verse 17:  “Learn how to do good, search out justice, strengthen the robbery victims, have justice for the orphan and fight for the case of the widow.”

The steps to Teshuva – there are ten.  You need to get rid of bad, then do good.  If you note, it is about setting right injustices in the world.  Then, and only then, would G-d stop punishment that we deserve.

Then G-d says in the next few verses, that if we do that, setting injustices straight, then He will cleanse way our other sins as if they never happened.

Verse 19:  “If you are willing and listen, you will eat the best of the land.”

We could have it so good, Chevrah, if only we stood on the side of justice and righteousness, if only we took up the fight of the oppressed.

Verse 20:  “but if you refuse and rebel, swords shall consume you, for the mouth of G-d has spoken”

The choice is ours, in those days, as well as in our days – repent, have good.  Don’t, then don’t blame G-d when He fulfills His vow to destroy us in our wickedness.

The next verses blame the leaders, for they should have set the way for us, but were too busy chasing after fortunes, and thereby becoming corrupt.

Verse 25:  “I will turn my hand upon you, and I will purge away your dross like with lye, and I will remove all your tin.”

How does gold or silver become refined –through extreme heat or chemical processes that take away the bad from the good.  Punishment of G-d is not merely vindictive.  Rather it is a process of removing the bad Jews from the few who will end up purified from the hells we go through.  Just as silver must be purified by heat, if the Jews don’t return to G-d on their own will, G-d will purify our nation through extreme pressures.

Verse 27:  “Zion shall be redeemed through justice and will repent through charity.”

No injustice can be allowed in our nation.  Chevra, you see or hear about an injustice, set it right, champion the cause of the underdog, for that is what will redeem our people.  Not demonstrations in Times Square is what will redeem us and save our nation.  Not editorials and politicking.  Justice and Charity!

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Hawking Looking for Aliens

There is a really good children’s book called “ARE YOU MY MOTHER?” written way back in 1960 by P. D. Eastman and published by Random House Books for Young Readers.   If you have never read it, it is about this tiny bird that falls out of the nest and goes off in search of its mommy.  Every wrong thing that could possibly be asked, is asked if it is the bird’s mother…from a huge tractor to other species of animals.

G-d laments how we trade up G-d for isms that are nonsensical.  As ridiculous as a bird asking a tractor if it is its mother, is the quest of man to find replacements to G-d.

Why then do we do it?  Remember being five and rebellious.  Not liking either our bedtime or our dinner menu choices.  And deciding we’re adopted or something like that.  Switch up our current parents for a fantasy parents, where we can choose the rules.

We do that spiritually.  Don’t want to have to toe the line of Mitzvot and life outlines given to us by our Creator.  So, like dumb children, we rebel.

Why discuss today?  Because Professor Stephen Hawking, who is one of atheism’s champions, is in quest of his alien powers.  Instead of hearkening to G-d, Shema Yisroel, here is what he wants to hearken to:

Some little boy I know had a step-dad, as his father had passed on.  One day, the step-dad imposed some necessary rule…and the little boy stated the truth.  “You’re not my father,” he said with resentment in his tone.  The stepdad looked at him and pulled a sad face.  “If that’s so, if I’m not your father, then you’re not my son…”  The little boy’s eyes widened.  He thought of the hugs, the bedtimes stories, the snacks, the sense of security of this man’s whole persona.  And he burst into tears.  Running right to the stepdad, he screamed, “I am your son.  I am your son….I am…I am…I am!”

Chevra, G-d is our Father.  And the minute we stop realizing that, is the moment G-d is forced to say, “If you don’t acknowledge me as your Father, then you’re not my child.”  Don’t ever get ourselves into the position of having to cry, “oh, but yes, I am your child. I am, I am, I am…”

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