“The TorahAnyTimes” Newsletter
Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik
Rabbi Avi Wiesenfeld
כל אשר נשאו לבו לקרבה אל המלאכה
Everyone whose heart inspired him to approach the work… (Shemot 36:2)
Living in one apartment above another in Jerusalem were two families. Both blessed to have large families, as the children grew up and reached various milestones, the many happy occasions were always delightfully celebrated. Yet for the family living in the apartment underneath, life wasn’t as easy. As the children became older and reached marriageable age, things seemed to come to a standstill. Few shidduch suggestions were made to the sons and daughters, a sure cause of frustration.
For the family living just above, however, circumstances were quite the opposite. As the children became young adults, they started becoming engaged and getting married one after another. Soon there was a bris, bar mitzvah and wedding with little time in between. The house was a happening place, full of constant visits from married children and relatives. Space was limited and tight, but it was without question a blessing.
One morning, the family living downstairs received a knock on the door. It was the father from the apartment just above. After exchanging greetings, the father asked if he could discuss something for a few minutes. “Baruch Hashem, our family is expanding day by day. As such, we think it is time to build an extension to our apartment. But before we do so, by way of government regulation, we need to ask permission from our neighbors. Would that be okay with you?” The father of the family downstairs paused for a moment. All he could think about was the contrast between their respective families. The neighbor’s family was happily growing and thriving, yet his family seemed to be staying more or less the same and not growing.
Unsure how to respond, the father of the downstairs apartment hemmed and hawed for the next few moments. Although he wished to be a kind and helpful neighbor, he struggled to come to terms with granting permission for such a project which would likely cause him and his family emotional turmoil. And so, the father went about expressing how he felt. “I am very sorry, but I don’t think it would be a good idea for you to do so.” And with that, the father bid his neighbor goodbye and gently closed the door.
When the father shortly afterwards saw his wife, she asked what had happened. “Well, the neighbor above us wants to build an extension to his apartment.” “And so, you allowed him, right?” “No, I told him that I don’t think it is the best idea.” “Why did you say that? I know it may be hard for you to see how well their family is celebrating one simcha after another, but you should overcome that resentment and be a nice neighbor.” Listening to his wife’s advice, the man decided that he would acquiesce to his neighbor’s request.
And so, without further delay, he headed back upstairs. After explaining to the neighbor upstairs that it would be fine if he wished to expand his apartment, the neighbor could not thank the father enough. “Thank you so much for understanding.” But there was one other issue to discuss. “Before you go, if I could just ask you one other favor. Since my apartment is directly above yours, it would be easiest if I could have my workers come through your apartment and organize their equipment on your balcony. Would you mind if they do that?” Now realizing that an even bigger inconvenience would be placed on his family, the father hesitated. But then he reminded himself once again of what his wife had told him. And so, he looked back at the father and said, “That is fine. We would be glad to help you as best as we can.”
At 7 am the next morning, a knock was heard at the front door. Wondering who it could be at such an early hour of the day, the father slowly walked over to the front door and opened up. Standing in front of him were eight broad-shouldered men with construction equipment in their hands. “Hi, we have been sent by your neighbor upstairs. He told us to come down here and set ourselves up.” Now realizing who it was, the father allowed them in and showed them to the balcony despite the early hour.
And then finally, the day came. All the work was completed. Finishing up with the final touches, the workers thanked the family for all their help and left for good.
Two weeks later, the father of the downstairs apartment received a phone call. It was a shidduch offer for his daughter. Pleasantly surprised, as this was the first suggestion his daughter received in quite a while, the father spoke about the proposed match with her. And in fact, not before long, she became engaged. The family was overjoyed and thrilled.
It was a few days later at the vort that the parents of both the chassan and kallah met for the first time. Yet when the father of the girl took one look at the father of the boy, he looked quite familiar. “Do I know you from somewhere?” “Sure, you do,” replied the boy’s father. “I was the contractor for your neighbor upstairs who built an extension to their apartment.” “That’s right!” enthused the father. “What made you think of my daughter for your son though?” “I’ll tell you,” he replied.
“When I saw you and your family so kindly and graciously open their doors to help a neighbor, I was touched. ‘Here is a family,’ I thought to myself, ‘who thinks outside of themselves and will go to great lengths to help someone else.’ When I saw how much you put yourselves out day after day, I said, ‘This is the type of family I want my son to marry into’ And so it was. Our children got to know each other and today, baruch Hashem, they are chassan and kallah. But it all began by the way you and your family acted with such derech eretz and middos.”
These man’s words say it all. The way we act and relate to others makes the greatest of impressions and speaks louder than anything else. And especially when it is difficult, if we nonetheless make the effort to show our concern for another and open our door, we have taken one small step, yet one giant leap. That gesture and thoughtfulness will begin paving the way for a beautiful life for ourselves and so many others.
Rabbi Yehuda Stern
ובחרשת אבן למלאת ובחרשת עץ
Stone-cutting for setting and wood-carving… (Shemot 35:33)
As a young man sat atop a massive mountain chiseling away little by little, he felt the blazing sun beating upon his back. Sweltering and aching from head to toe, the intense discomfort led him to begin pondering his life. “What am I doing here? What is my purpose?” Confounded by these piercing questions, he suddenly heard a roar of commotion from below. Inching his way to the edge of the mountain, he peered down and saw, lo and behold, a magnificent procession of men, women and children escorting the king. “Oh wow!” exclaimed the stonecutter, “if only I could be the king, I would be so much happier!” And so, drifting off into a deep sleep, he turned to G-d and made a request.
“G-d, can You please make me the king? I don’t ask much, but I know I would be so much happier if that would be my lot in life.” The next thing the stonecutter knew, he was sitting in the royal carriage draped in majestic garments and shimmering with gold and silver accessories. The young man could not believe it. It was literally a dream come true. He was in fact the most powerful person in the world. No one was greater than the king in all his honor.
But it did not take long before the heat began to beat down with even greater intensity and make him feel terribly uncomfortable wrapped in layers upon layers of heavy clothing. And so, he turned to G-d once again. “G-d, I spoke a little too soon. I know I said I would be the happiest person as the king, but now I see that there is something even more awesome than the king, and that is the sun. The sun’s rays are overwhelming and even more powerful. If you would please make me into the sun.” And indeed, within seconds, the man’s wish came true. He was transformed into the sun.
Now sitting up high as the bright shining sun casting down rays here and there, life was perfect. “Thank you G-d; there could be nothing better than this.” But his glee was short-lived. Out came the clouds and blocked the sun’s rays. As much as the sun tried piercing through the clouds, it was unsuccessful. Turning to G-d once more, the sun said, “G-d, I know we’ve been through this exchange before, but I have another request. Please make me into the clouds. Then I will truly be happy.” Poof! The sun turned into the clouds.
Now soaring around as cool clouds and dropping buckets of rain all around, there could be no greater experience. “G-d, I love You; this is the best. There could be nothing better!” But before long, along came a gust of wind and pushed the clouds. Even with the clouds attempting to resist the pressures of the wind time and again, it was to no avail.
“G-d,” said the clouds, “what is happening? If you can please make me the winds, then I think I will be in the perfect position.” And so, on went the clouds and turned into the wind. Now blowing the ocean waves and green leaves with unrestrained gusto, the wind was having the best of times. Except for one little detail. As much as the wind tried, it could not move the mountain. Even after blowing against the mountain with all its might, it came up empty-handed. The mountain would not budge one inch.
“G-d, I am sorry for coming to you again, but you have to make me into this mountain. Look at it! I never realized the enormous power of the mountain. There is nothing greater than that!” And so, without further delay, poof!
Now, firmly grounded as the tallest and strongest mountain, nothing could outdo it. It was impervious to the sun’s rays, reached higher than the clouds, and the winds could not make it move one bit. Everything was absolutely perfect. Until…
Bang… bang… bang… The mountain began sensing a sharp, penetrating feeling of pain on its back. Hard to believe that someone would be disturbing it in such a way, it yelled out, “Who is more powerful than I?” Slowly looking up, the mountain caught sight of a young man sitting on top chiseling away little by little. And then he realized. It was a stonecutter.
Oftentimes, we wish we could be someone or something else. If only I could be like him or like her, or have her talents and his smarts and her beauty, I would be happy. But then we come to realize that, in fact, we are perfectly beautiful just the way we are. We need not wish to be the sun, the clouds, the winds or the mountain. We only need to wish to be ourselves. Because, indeed, there is no one more beautiful and perfect than that.
Dr. David Pelcovitz
As Moshe Rabbeinu grows up, the Torah tells us, “וַיִּגְדַּל מֹשֶׁה וַיֵּצֵא אֶל אֶחָיו וַיַּרְא בְּסִבְלֹתָם – And Moshe grew up and went out to his brethren and observed their burdens” (Shemos 2:11). Rav Chaim Shmulevitz (Sichas Mussar, Maamar 67) notes that the Pasuk uses the verb “see” – וַיַּרְא – to connote how Moshe empathized with his fellow brethren. Rav Chaim explains that it is through vision and face-to-face contact that empathy is developed.
Along these lines, research has proven something fascinating. When a person performs a movement, such as moving his hands, there is a very specific motor neuron that fires in the prefrontal cortex of the brain specifically designed for this movement. Research has shown that when an outsider sees the movements, the same motor neuron activity occurs in the viewer’s head. Observing the body language of one person triggers an identical reaction in the observer. This specific activated neuron is called the “mirror neuron.”
The implications of this research are profound as it relates to human interaction. Human beings are hard-wired for what our Sages term “nosei b’ol im chaveiro,” bearing the burden of our friends. We are predisposed to empathizing and identifying with the emotions of another. However, as the above research has indicated, this happens through visual contact. It is when a person makes eye contact with another that the mirror neuron is activated.
This is what Moshe experienced when looking at the Jews in Egypt. He closely and carefully looked at their suffering and took to heart their pain. It is therefore most important that parents and children give their undivided attention to each other and make eye contact when attempting to efficiently communicate and emotionally empathize with each other’s feelings.
A Short Message from
I remember years ago entering my bathroom in the basement of a three-story house and noticing that I could bounce up and down on the tiles. Unsure what to attribute the unusual feeling to, I phoned a plumber, who informed me that the tiles were situated on top of a tiny water pipe which had burst and been leaking for at least ten years. The whole foundation was filled with water and had we waited a bit longer, the floor would have collapsed. As I heard the plumber relate this information, I realized one of the great truths of life. It had taken no less than a decade for this little pipe to make an impact, but it finally did. Consistently day after day it was leaking, and the problem eventually grew from something little to something big. In life as well, it is the small, consistent and daily efforts which create the biggest of impacts. And then, before we know it, those little efforts will have grown into something we never imagined we would achieve.