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Of Giants Men and Grasshoppers

                     “There we saw the Nephilim, the sons of the giant

                                     from among the Nephilim; and it came to pass that in our eyes
      [we were] like grasshoppers, and so we were in their eyes.”  Bamidbar, 13:33


             The military reconnaissance of the Land presaged a battle that  appeared hopeless as it would pit  the weak and small  against the strong and mighty. The spies – meraglim – in  answering the questions posed to them upon their return, seemingly did no more than state the obvious danger;  yet we know that they committed a grave sin in so doing.  What can we learn from this tragic event in order to avoid the errors of the meraglim?
The first step is to understand the nature of their failing. The commentators acknowledge that the meraglim recognized  Hashem’s power but suggest that the spies thought that Hashem was going to limit Himself and act in accordance with nature and therefore B’nei Yisrael would be unable to triumph.
 Yehoshuah and Caleb, men of complete faith, demonstrated what it takes to remain men – anashim – even in the face of  vastly stronger and more powerful enemies. Yehoshua faced the distraught assembly that was weeping and entreating Moshe to return to Egypt and told them a simple but profound truth.  He did not deny the obvious size and strength of the giants, but exhorted that “If  Hashem is pleased with us then will He bring us into this land  and will give it to us . . . and you , you should not fear the people of the land for they are our bread; their protective shadow is departed from them as G-d is with us . . . “ (Bamidbar 14: 8-9).
           It all depends on the lens through which we view the test. The meraglim saw the inhabitants of the land as being too daunting and the land as being unconquerable, because they used their own personal discernment, Yehoshua and Calav viewed the inhabitants of the land through the lens of daas Torah and thus perceived them as presenting no meaningful obstacle.  
Unless a Jew sees himself as a representative of G-d who is All Powerful, he will see himself  not as a person facing his adversary, but rather as a “grasshopper” facing a “giant”. The way in which we perceive our relationship to  Hashem is the deciding factor in how we view ourselves.
 Referring to the spies’ encounter with the giants, the  Torah says “vanehi b’eineinu k’chagavim” and   “and in our  eyes [too] we were like grasshoppers.”  “Nehi” connotes weeping or crying and suggests a diminished, disheartened and despairing emotional state.  Although the  meraglim were initially described as ‘anashim’  righteous men — heads of the tribes of  Israel,  their lack of faith now surfaced transforming them from human beings into a more demeaning form of life.  
As is all too apparent from our experiences during this long difficult galus, if our belief in Hashem weakens, our Jewish self esteem is diminished undermining our ability to see and appreciate our unique mission in this world.
            The Kotzke Rebbe explains: The spies had no right to consider how the giants viewed them. As Jews and emissaries for the Jewish people, they should have thought only of their mission, not of what anyone else thought of them.   How many times do we become discouraged because of what we feel or perceive that other people think?
When, in that diminished psychological state, if we should be confronted by a difficult challenge, it takes on the hugeness of a giant in our eyes and as such has the power to discourage us from achieving our true potential and fulfilling our destiny. How can we overcome this challenge?
First we should realize that there is no barrier so  large or overwhelming that we cannot hurdle it,  if it is Hashem’s will  that we do so. The Maraglim saw themselves as grasshoppers. Why grasshoppers? Perhaps to teach us that every challenge gives us the opportunity to choose our direction and destiny in life. When threatened, the grasshopper can  jump away, as did the meraglim who counseled the nation to jump far away from their  “giant” challenges.  The grasshopper however has another option. It can leap over the barrier that lies before it.  When we take up a challenge for Hashem’s honor,  He will empower us to easily hurdle the barriers in our path.
The Torah is teaching a profound lesson in attitude and choice. Does challenge bring with it retreat and despair or does it elicit feelings of courage and optimism? It all depends on our connection to Hashem and His will.

All articles appearing on this blog are copyrighted by Rabbi Yehoshua Binyamin Falk. All rights reserved. Permission is granted to share/download/copy this information as long as it is accompanied by the copyright. Separately authored/copyrighted materia



     This world is filled with treasure
hunters—people looking for riches in all of its forms –wealth, power, position
and glory.  They search high and low for
clues and directional signposts to show them the way. A successful hedge fund
manager, whose fund returns a whopping 36% a year  uses 
a  vast array of sophisticated
computing equipment reputed to be worth over 600 million dollars and 150
employees who hold doctoral degrees in fields as diverse as  astrophysics and linguistics rather than in
finance.  All of this combined brain
power is used to sift through huge amounts of raw data eliminating what appears
to be irrelevant information or “noise” 
and  scrutinizing what remains for
patterns with the goal of  discerning   investment trends and directions.  If we think about it, the tools for this
search may be  new, but the methodology
is not. It is the age old process of mining for minerals and gold by clearing through
tons of dirt and rock  to reveal the riches
within, using computers rather than digging tools.

            So much of mankind is on a
seemingly never ending search for success and fortune, however, at best, their
endeavors  produce only transitory gains.
This is in contrast to the enduring legacy of our nation which we acquired 3300
years ago when we merited to receive the durable, eternal wealth of our holy
Jewish teachings (Torah).

the giving of the Torah, we were not asked to be searchers seeking out subtle
clues and vague directives.  We did not
have to explore the heavens and plumb the depths of the seas.  We did not even have to climb to the top of
the lowest mountain upon which it was given in order to receive it. It was
brought down to us—by our leader and emissary, Moshe Rabbeinu. The question
then as now was not how to find it,  but
rather how are we to comprehend, appreciate and incorporate its treasured value
into our lives?  There are maps and
guideposts that are available to help us with this exploration.  All it requires is for us to take a fresh
look at some old familiar landscapes.

              To start we might wish to consider the place
of its presentation. The desert is a place that is separated from the busyness
of the world—a place where the world’s standards and distractions do not
impinge—a place where we lacked the ability to be self sustaining, but in fact
had to rely upon the Creator’s (Hashem’s) kindness and protection.  In this place, greatness is measured in
humility rather than in power and wealth for ones’ very survival depended upon
the willingness to humbly accept the direction of the Creator of the Universe.  And thus we find our first  prerequisite for “mining” the treasure that is
our Torah—that is the ability to allow the Torah to guide us rather than us
making determinations that impose our own limitations upon it.

          Another key for accessing the Torah’s
eternal wisdom and guidance is derived from the fact that it was given from above
but was received below.  This
alludes to the fact that the Torah emanates from a place that is “above
natural law, but in order for us to benefit from the wealth of our Torah these teachings
need to descend into all facets of our lives.

             How does this happen? Ordinarily, it is difficult
to evoke changes in habits and behavior, therefore perhaps the intense roaring thunder
and streaking lightening bolts at Har Sinai may have been much more than just an
introduction of the giving of the Torah but actually served to “jolt” the whole
nation out of their old mind set in order to elicit the new spiritual revelation
that was to follow.  For us it can serve
as a lesson reminding us that  before
valuable growth in the service of Hashem) can occur, there often comes a
challenging “storm” – ie: a difficult situation or person that  jolts us and in so doing actually helps us to
realign with Torah directed sensibility and sensitivity. 

             This perhaps explains the fact that the entire
nation experienced a transposition of the senses in which they heard
what they saw and saw what they heard. We, who are the beneficiaries of the
Sinai revelation, can continue to benefit from this vital experience, if when hearing
of some else’s difficult problems – we see what we can do to help them.
Likewise when we see someone struggling – if we allow ourselves to hear
our inner voice guiding us as to how we can react most sensitively to their
needs, we will hopefully bring closer the final redemption (geula), may it be
soon in our days.


© Yehoshua Binyamin Falk

All rights reserved

First publication: Hamodia

All articles appearing on this blog are copyrighted by Rabbi Yehoshua Binyamin Falk. All rights reserved. Permission is granted to share/download/copy this information as long as it is accompanied by the copyright. Separately authored/copyrighted materia



                  Even when change involves something longed for – marriage, a promotion, a new job, a new house – there is often a reluctance to leave the old and familiar.  The story of yetzias Mitzrayim, Kriyas Yam Suf, the midbar and the entry into Eretz Israel are all narratives about the challenges that accompany transformation. They teach profound and enduring lessons about change and what it means in terms of development and growth.

                 During the forty year journey in the midbar, whenever the pillar of fire stopped, the nation began a period of temporary encampment before moving forward to the next level. Each stage of the journey, although demanding, was a golden opportunity to reach even greater heights in faith and submission.  

       At various stages of our lives we also have our “protective clouds” lifted from us and are then directed with a “pillar of fire” to move from our “comfort zones” in order to meet the challenges that engage us along the way. Our biggest asset in development is when we overcome the barriers and inconveniences that hinder our growth. Transcending these impediments requires a redefining of self, therefore it is precisely when we allow those tests to remold our consciousness from a position of complacency and over confidence to a place (encampment) of humble acceptance that we are most rewarded. 

            As we progress through life, we find that some of our most difficult changes involve shifts in attitude. A very common feeling is that hard work should be rewarded with achievement and benefits. When lack of seeming accomplishment follows on the heels of tremendous effort, a person can go into a paralysis of sorts.  Whether we are pursuing a new job, a shidduch or better davening, when we have put forth much effort it is natural to feel we are entitled to some measure of success. This is especially true because our society around us puts such a premium on results, rather than on effort.

         So let us travel through the Yam Suf together now, cleansing ourselves of the old ideologies in order to make room for the Sinai experience that will follow. We were all surprised when we first learned that the Israelites did not cross over to the opposite side of the Yam Suf, but rather traveled in a half circle, emerging from the Yam Suf on the same side that they had entered in.  Although it would seem that the Bnei Israel were going “around in circles” and did not actually proceed on their journey, yet this proved to be of the greatest benefit.  As a result of this circuitous passage, the possessions of the Egyptian pursuers washed up at their feet; with the Chazal informing us that this treasure was even far more valuable than the wealth that the Israelites brought out of Mitzrayim. Here is a lesson for all generations that when we follow the path of the Torah, accepting Hashem’s  will irregardless of the results, we become beneficiaries of  the greatest of treasure which is closeness to Him.

   Perhaps we can also learn another valuable insight from the fact that each of the twelve Shevatim traveled in their specified positions both through the Yam Suf as well as during the forty years in the Midbar. This can help to teach us never to feel envious if a sibling, fellow student, co-worker or neighbor looks to be in a better “position” in life, as illustrated by the following:  In a jewelry store, the gold and diamonds are placed behind the glass counters, while the silver ornaments are more frequently handled because they need to be polished. The conclusion that could be mistakenly drawn by a stranger unfamiliar with the values of precious stones and jewelry is that the silver items that receive the “shiny” attention are more valuable. Therefore a possible lesson that we can derive from the individual positioning of the Shevatim is to realize that following our perfectly divinely crafted pathways in life will lead us to the development of our own unique “golden” talents which are truly our most cherished possessions.

             May we all always merit to pass through our personal Yam Suf challenges with joy, gratitude and appreciation for the opportunity to experience change and the growth that accompanies it, transforming ourselves into vessels worthy of holding the Torah. May our inner and outer essence be as pure as refined gold, inlaid with sincere humility.

               Zeh Keli V’anveihu!

All articles appearing on this blog are copyrighted by Rabbi Yehoshua Binyamin Falk. All rights reserved. Permission is granted to share/download/copy this information as long as it is accompanied by the copyright. Separately authored/copyrighted materia








All articles appearing on this blog are copyrighted by Rabbi Yehoshua Binyamin Falk. All rights reserved. Permission is granted to share/download/copy this information as long as it is accompanied by the copyright. Separately authored/copyrighted materia


    This  true story, written in the first person, happened to  a young Jewish man who, at twenty four, knew very little about Yiddishkeit  and was finding his way home. This incredible story teaches that there is no detail too small for Hashem’s kindness and Providential Guidance.

   It is a hot summer day in Bnei Brak.  As a beginning Bal Tashuva struggling to put aside my former carefree ways and accept the mantle of Torah with its obligations and discipline, I experienced many ups and downs.  On this day, I was losing the battle.  The unrelenting heat made me very uncomfortable.  My feet were hurting because my only pair of shoes was worn out and  tight .  The painful bruise on my heel refused to heal. In my old life, I would have taken off my shoes but decided that that would be inappropriate.   In our Holy Books we are told that every  new spiritual gain [alia ]  is preceded with a challenging test  [yoreda ].

            Late that afternoon, I decided to take  a short walk and found myself  on one of the side  streets  of this holy city  whose people are filled with Torah and  the fear of Heaven.  In the middle of one such block, I heard a faint voice calling out. I turned toward the sound and saw an elderly lady dressed in the clothing of my great grandmother’s day with a high collar, long ruffled sleeves and a black taffeta skirt.  I was the only one on street when she called out and motioned in my direction.  I did not know why she was calling to me, but  approached her thinking perhaps that she needed something and I could help her.

            She lived in a small one family home that was centered in the middle of a large piece of property, with a large sagging porch wrapping around the front  door.   When I reached the porch, I noticed that she a small box in front of her.   She said nothing, merely gestured and after a  moment or two I realized  that she wanted me to take the box. When I told her that  I had no money, she said it was a gift.    Normally, I would have been suspicious of such an offer, but her sincerity and kindness was apparent so I accepted the gift graciously and went back to the Yeshiva. The whole way back I thought about  the mysterious box in my hands.  What, I wondered, could be inside the box: perhaps precious stones or money and even maybe a pair of shoes I chuckled to myself.

            Back in my room, I closed the door and like a detective cautiously opened  this unusual gift. Lo and behold my chuckling thoughts were right on the button- a brand new pair of black, low cut shoes.  The ordinariness of the gift became a lot less so as I removed my worn out, uncomfortable shoes and slipped my feet into what was to be the best fitted, most comfortable  pair of shoes I have ever owned. The shoe had a latticed  front that allowed air to circulate and the back was cut low so it did not  rub against my bruise.

My  summer job as a shoe salesman- had taught me that getting a pair of shoes that fits just right involves a great deal of effort and “mazel” even in a store filled with shoes to choose from — so  as I am telling you this  story  these many years later, I get goose-pimples just  thinking about this inexplicable “miracle”.

          Let us ask: Why did she choose to give me the shoes?  Although I don’t think the bruise made me limp, even if you want to imagine that she noticed a barely perceptible change in my gait and saw how old my shoes were and decided to do me a kindness and quickly find a me a new pair of shoes somehow in her house; How did she know my exact size and needs?     What connection do I have with her in this life time or previous one that would inspire her to give me those shoes? What was I supposed  to learn from this miraculous  event?

         Of the first three questions I have no answer, but many thoughts have filled my mind and heart over the years as to what to learn from this  wondrous event.

            First allow me to continue to shed some more light that will help us all in closing that gap between seeing events as a chain of accidents or realizing life is an act of Divine providence. Time passed, I married and eventually with my growing family moved to New York. About ten years after this amazing incident, I was in Bnei Brak for a few days and decided to return to the kind elderly women and thank her. Much to my chagrin, the house had been torn down and all that remained was a large empty lot. I assumed that she ascended to the Heavenly realm, so I offered a prayer for her. There was a large sign on the property which indicated what was to be built there. I went on my way not to return to that area for another five years. This time my visit to that spot was filled with elevated emotion as I saw a large three story building filling nearly the entire property. On the front a sign read— Yeshiva of —————- .

          I walked inside the Bais Hamidrash and merited to see, hear and feel the “kol Torah” of this generation reverberating in every corner. I was so very elevated to realize that this kind elderly lady merited to a have a living monument to her memory in the same place she lived her life in holiness. The mitzvoth and acts of kindness that no doubt permeated her life would surely be good advocates for her in the World of Truth.

            I don’t know why I merited this amazing experience but it surely   brings a great uplift in being able to see an example of [Hashkaka Partis] Divine Intervention in one’s life. We should all come to merit not only to be on the receiving end of [chesed] acts of kindness as I was, but to be worthy to be on the giving end of good deeds as was this gentle soul who was truly  an emissary of The Creator.                       


All articles appearing on this blog are copyrighted by Rabbi Yehoshua Binyamin Falk. All rights reserved. Permission is granted to share/download/copy this information as long as it is accompanied by the copyright. Separately authored/copyrighted materia




The rain 
washed down the windshield in torrents undeterred by the wipers. The
driver wiped his bleary eyes and the world swam. Only a few more miles, he
thought and I will be able to deliver the medicine from the pharmacy and go
home.  He glanced at the directions
scribbled on a wrinkled paper.  Here’s
the turn.  There’s the house.  He wearily unlatched the car door, hitched
his jacket over his head and moved quickly through the Spring storm to the
front door.  As the door bell rang , he
heard   the sound of small feet running
in his direction.

The door opened and he blinked to adjust his eyes
to the dim light inside.  He looked and
nearly giggled, “It’s nighttime, he thought, “do you know where your children
are?”  If you don’t , they are probably
here tiptoeing one behind the other in a long uneven line, following a man
carrying a candle near to the ground, squinting as he stoops down and peers
into the back of a sofa cushion.   No one
paid attention to the stranger at the door, except for one small boy who seemed
to be



motioning him to join in. The young delivery man stood there awkwardly
staring at this odd sight, early memories stirring deep within him.

What could he be thinking – this stranger? What
could he understand of this Jewish law and time honored custom of (bedikas
chumetz) – the searching for any grain product, such as bread and cake, that
has risen.  Now, we know what it is all
about, we are used to it, we understand it – or do we?

 It is  Erev Pesach.  
We have just spent weeks cleaning our homes from top to bottom, making
certain that not one crumb of chumetz remains anywhere in our realm.  We have scoured  every crevice, turned each pocket inside out
and emptied our children’s secret treasure troves of cookies and pretzels.  And just 
as we have begun to feel that unique once- a -year feeling, that sense
that we really have managed to rid ourselves of every crumb — at that  moment – we assign someone to secretly hide
(the custom being ten) pieces of chumetz throughout our homes and possessions.
Then specifically in the darkness of  the
night we make a candle light “search”– and as we find each piece, we carefully
sweep it triumphantly away with the help of a feather and a wooden spoon into a
guarded place.

Why are we doing this?  Is it merely symbolic?  What is going on?

What would this soggy stranger think, if we told him that we were
regaining our freedom with those ten pieces of bread?

Yet, it is actually true.  The night of bedikas chumetz,  like every other meaningful event in life has
three components, the person, that is ourselves,  place and time.  The Creator is referred to as HaMakom , the

   Place,  because there is no place devoid of His
Presence.  However Hashem has made room
for us and allows us and our possessions to exist in His world. When we do
bedikas chumetz, we are proclaiming that 
it is His world and we are his invited guests.  When we accept this upon ourselves and fulfill
the commandment that requires us to 
relinquish a kosher, ordinarily innocuous possession , that is when we
begin to taste freedom.  This is because
it  is difficult to pull away from the
lures of this world which can enslave us, and addict us and  remove our freedom of choice. But when Hashem
directs us to do so, and we comply, He provides us with the ability to let

The third component of this event is time
which  plays the major role in our Pesach
preparations.  It is only time that
separates chumetz from matzah, for they both start with the same ingredients,
flour and water.  Chumetz, leaven, is
created through a process of fermentation that causes pockets of air to form in
the flour and water mixture, expanding the dough and making it grow large.  Like dough, egos can also be inflated.  The leavening agents can be  money, power, vanity or fame, together with
the flattery that catalyzes them into a bubbling brew that pumps up our sense
of self importance. One extra moment can mark the difference between leavened
and unleavened –one moment can be enough to transform  the mixture of flour and water from
permissible matzah into forbidden chumetz. And it only takes but a moment of
time for us to feel achieved and

congratulate ourselves for our accomplishments thus improperly taking personal
credit for that which Hashem has given to us.

So as we make our bedikas
chumetz or any other mitzvah, we should try to do so with the un-self conscious
innocence, inspiration and joy of a child.

          Now with a better understanding of the need
for the bedika, let us ask but why search in the darkness of night? We might
think that it is not such a good idea as evening symbolizes the powers of the
dark side- the sitra achra.  However, on
this special night, we are given the assignment and ability to enter its realm
on a “search and destroy mission”.  In
those moments, that ner/candle is a holy spiritual beam that is able to
penetrate deeply to expose any sign of ego inflation. In the esoteric tradition
the Ner represents a vessel for the – shefa – the holy influence that channels
the Divine Radiance thereby illuminating any dark or hidden places, allowing us
find, identify and remove any impurities. Through the removal of any “excess
baggage” we are then prepared  to
receive  the special (kiddusha) holiness
that permeates  the night of Passover.

                  One final thought on the multifaceted
value of the bedikas chumetz. The ideal way to perform this minhag is to allow
some member of the house or close friend to hide some small portions of bread
or mezzonos. Many have the custom of 
placing ten pieces for esoteric reasons and also to insure the finding
of some chumetz in an already thoroughly clean home.  But this practical reason is not necessarily
the only explanation.

hunt for chumetz is a joint mitzvah that gets everyone involved in an effort to
accomplish this task.       So in the years when my children were
young, we would use this night to send a not-so-subtle message to them.  Chumetz  would be put in places where old battles were
fought.  So, for the child who would
leave his shoes in the middle of the room for others to trip over, chumetz would
be put in that shoe.  For another

child, a messy closet
was the battle ground and she would find a piece of chumetz there.  We would all end our bedikas chumetz laughing
over things that frustrated us during the year. Pesach is a time of unity and
what better way to nurture this idealistic state than making a bedika  from within and without.  

captivating ritual of bedikas chumetz,  one of the many heart warming mitzvot of
Pesach, transforms a mundane cleaning process  into a sacred and mystical rite. This creates
the atmosphere in which Pesach is renewed each year – And as Pesach is renewed
– so are we. As for the young delivery man who was standing at the entranceway,
may that glimpse into the Pesach experience be just the right “prescription”
for his transformation.

           La Shana Haba bi-Jerusalem    La
Shana Haba bi-Jerusalem

All articles appearing on this blog are copyrighted by Rabbi Yehoshua Binyamin Falk. All rights reserved. Permission is granted to share/download/copy this information as long as it is accompanied by the copyright. Separately authored/copyrighted materia





     In a few  verses (pesukim) in the beginning of the
Book of Exodus (Sefer Shemos) , the Torah sets in motion the political
and emotional forces that were to keep the children of Israel in bondage for
the next two hundred and ten years. 
These same forces which were aimed at keeping this nascent people
enslaved to  materialistic pursuits,
goals and values have operated as a snare throughout history and are present
today, only the stage setting has changed and the fact of the bondage has been well

The mindset that led to the
subjugation of the Children of Israel in Egypt was their yearning to be like
everyone else – to assimilate into the Egyptian culture.  In their eagerness to be a part of that culture,
many mistakenly replaced their service of the Creator (Hashem) with loyal
service to the governing regime in a manner far beyond and above that which is
required by the ordinary dictates of good citizenship.                     

            Pharaoh, who personifies the Jewish
nemesis, the yetzer hara, understood that as long as the Jewish people
were living in accordance with high standards of spiritual development,” he
would not be able to subjugate them. 
They were the beneficiaries of Hashem’s promise to Avraham our
forefather  – a promise which was to be
eternally evidenced by the bris mila, covenant of circumcision.  However, after Joseph died, some of the Jews
stopped circumcising their sons because they wanted to emulate the
Egyptians.  (Midrash Rabba
I:8).  In order to prevent their assimilation,
Hashem transformed the appreciation the Egyptians previously had into a feeling
that the Bnei Israel had become a threat to them.

The yetzer hara, in the
guise of Pharaoh, then changed its form, face and presentation in order to
subjugate the Israelites and turn them into servants of the state. 

To induce the Israelites to participate in their building
program, the Egyptians hung a brick kiln around Pharaoh’s neck, inviting the
Jews to join him in brick making.  Each Israelite
man went to work making as many bricks as possible, which thereafter became the
expected quota. The Jews thus became willing accomplices in their own
enslavement, wooed and won over by this appeal to “love of country.” This
technique, oft repeated in Jewish history, trapping them into assimilation and
distancing them from their connection to the teachings (Torah) of the

              Modern society today poses a
different but equally challenging test, by placing the modern equivalent of the
brick kiln around the necks of those who act as role models teaching that true  value can be measured only in terms of money
and or  fame.


to Bondage

By the time the Israelites began
to see the futility and hypocrisy of their alliance with Pharaoh, it was too
late. The bondage had become an addiction.   The Bnei Yisrael were given the task
of building arei miskenos, cities, whose names were Pisom and Ra’amseis.
The word miskenos has the same root as the word miskein which
means misfortune or poverty.    Pisom
means sudden or immediate.  It also can
refer to the mouth of the abyss, pi tehom (Midrash Rabba
I:10).  Ra’am means loud, like a

            In our hectic lives, where sudden and
immediate claims upon our time are an all too frequent occurrence, if we are
not discerning, we may find that we are building Pisom.  We may also necessarily be building Ra’amses,
since these calls to duty are usually loud and very difficult to ignore. One of
the ploys of the yetzer hara is to persuade us that we must accomplish everything
we have set out to do which can lead to feel overwhelmed. Pharaoh well
understood that working without respite on purposeless tasks that could never
be completed would weaken the physical, mental, emotional and most importantly
spiritual health of the Nation.

         Acting too
quickly and assuming excessive obligations without enough considered thought as
to their value and purpose can make a person feel like a slave. The connection between
such a distressing state of affairs and the bondage in Egypt is apparent. We
can now readily see how these words of our eternal Torah apply to anyone at any
time:  “They embittered their lives with avoda
, hard work, bechomer, with mortar and with leveinim,
bricks, and with every labor of the field; all the labors that they performed
with them were with crushing harshness” (Shemos 1:14).   The work was kasha, hard.  This word is related to the word for straw, kash,
to hint to us that work is hard when it is like straw to us, that is, when it
is commonplace and purposeless.   Mortar,
chomer, which in Hebrew also means material, represents that which is stripped
of spiritual content and inspiration. 
Even without purpose and without inspiration we can still produce leveinim,
bricks, but when one works under those circumstances they are reduced to field
laborers (avoda basadeh) deprived of higher motivation, dignity and joy.



But take heart; there is a way out.  There is an answer that may surprise us.  Moshe Rabbeinu told Pharaoh to release us
because we are being called upon to serve Hashem.   Service of the Creator is not always easy,
but it has all of the components that make it humane and perfect.  It provides meaningful obligations that have
an eternal reward.  It provides periodic
rest periods on Shabbos and Holy Days dedicated to  joy and rest for our weary souls. 

           When we
stop and take stock of our options and our strengths, the time we have, the
things we must do in order to fulfill our obligations as Jews as opposed to
those things that we may be doing to serve some other cultural demand, we may
be pleasantly surprised by the result. 
We may be able to simplify our lives and our goals and live in greater
harmony then we ever thought possible.

 The job of the Egyptian taskmasters was to
maximize the burdens upon the Israelites which ultimately shortened their
servitude and enhanced their purification in the caldron that was Egypt.  It is precisely when the “task masters of
time” bear down upon us that we have the opportunity to cull the necessary from
the unnecessary and focus upon those matters that are essential to our spiritual
work.  This level of discernment can be  achieved by sincerely asking for Hashem’s
help in the process. 

This will actualize Pharaoh’s
fear that we will  “go up [be raised up]
from the land.”  “The land” which
represents our physical and mental attachment to this world will no longer have
a hold on us.  When we cleave to Hashem
through His Torah, we will be elevated to a higher level of consciousness
referred to as “the children of (Bnei) Israel.”

The Torah teaches us that the
more the Jewish nation was afflicted the more they increased and spread out.
This means that even during this period when we, as a nation, were far from
reaching the perfect service of Hashem, His Divine Radiance was still with
us.  In the dark and immoral environment
of Egypt,
Israelite slaves, who were deprived of all the benefits that culture and civilization
are thought to bestow, were being forged into a holy nation.  The very harshness of the bondage actually
strengthened the potential in each Israelite, so that when the time was ripe,
Hashem would redeem us. The teaching here is very profound as it is a lesson to
us that suffering and affliction can have very beneficial results. We do not
ask for tests, but if they come, they can inspire our best performances. From
this spiritual plateau we will not only be free from Pharaoh and Mitzrayim but
we will be able to fulfill the will of the Creator in the holy land of Eretz Israel.

               May we
merit this soon in our days.  

All articles appearing on this blog are copyrighted by Rabbi Yehoshua Binyamin Falk. All rights reserved. Permission is granted to share/download/copy this information as long as it is accompanied by the copyright. Separately authored/copyrighted materia





  It’s the night of the first seder and your grandfatheris sitting at the head of the table. He breaks the middle matza, wraps it upand hides it behind his  pillow. This isthe afikoman which is destined to become the highlight of the seder.

  You are still very young and don’t yet appreciate its value. Your grandfather gets upfor a moment and when your uncle points to the pillow saying, “Get it now,quickly, while he’s not looking,” you hesitate, feeling quite shy.

Itisn’t just this unfamiliar prompting, but it’s everything –the house looks sodifferent. The table is much longer than usual– it’s white and beautiful withlots of shiny glasses, sparkling silver and guests. All the table tops andcounter tops are covered with colorful plastic and the sink has some kind ofmetal tub inside it. Nonetheless, you finally get up and  with a burst of courage you move closer to yourgrandfather’s chair, hesitating, until some one prompts you, “Quick, grab itand run.”

Fora second, you feel afraid, but as soon as it is in your hand, your brothertells you to quickly run and hide it. You run to do what he says and you startto feel excited and happy.  The sedermoves ahead. Everyone has eaten. Just when  you are starting to feel very sleepy, yourgrandfather asks you for the afikomen. You go to get it, and your big brother tells you to wait, and explainsthat you must ask for a really big present and get a promise  before you give it back. This scene isrepeated in tens of thousands of Jewish households across the world on Passovernight.

Doesn’tit seem a bit odd?  Here we are seeminglyallowing our small children to take something that doesn’t belong to them and ontop of that extort a prize for their efforts. All this takes place on one ofthe holiest nights of the year.  How canwe possibly understand this conduct?

  Usually the evil inclination tries to lure aperson into improper behavior using thrills and excitement. Even though we wantto avoid such conduct, the problem we face is that we simply cannot discard theevil inclination.  As in the well known Medrash,when the Sages prayed to remove the yetzer hara and Hashem answered their prayers,even the chickens stopped laying eggs. The evil inclination is necessary but needsto be controlled. The challenge to us is to sur mei ra, avoid evil, yetpreserve our enthusiasm and direct it to our good deeds.  But how do we do this? 

     We are, perhaps, doing precisely this whenwe encourage our children to take the afikomen. We are allowing our young and pure children to experience the excitementthat is motivated by the evil inclination when engaged in risky, dangerous andthrill seeking conduct.  We do this bygiving them a controlled dose of the “taste of desire.” As the child grows up,that spiritual inoculation that was administered in the name of Heaven and withlove continues to act as an antidote against the infectious powers of the evilinclination.  Indeed, that small dose, onPassover Night, affords the child the ability to rekindle those exuberant feelings directing them in a positive mode while learning Torah, performing mitzvos and good deeds.

How can the same small “taste of desire” act as a vaccine shielding the child from harm, while at the same time inspiring the child with enthusiasm for all things that are Holy? It is because of the setting in which this taste is given.  The seder night is called, lay’l shemurim,the night of watching – the perfect night for this process to take place. It isa time when the forces of evil are subdued. 

    You may be wondering, how can this spiritualinoculation continue to protect us into our adult years?   Possiblythe answer is we use booster shots!  Oh,we are not suggesting that this Pesach you grab the afikoman, however we shouldwatch the child who is taking it and allow that small child inside of us torelive and rekindle those feelings of joy, exuberance and enthusiasm. Thatalone will allow us to tap into our wellspring of positive emotions.

Maywe all merit to bring the korbon Pesach,Passover sacrifice, to the Holy Temple inJerusalem soon in our days.

All articles appearing on this blog are copyrighted by Rabbi Yehoshua Binyamin Falk. All rights reserved. Permission is granted to share/download/copy this information as long as it is accompanied by the copyright. Separately authored/copyrighted materia




Children will often ask, when
they’ve gotten old enough, “Who am I named after?  If a grand parent is within earshot, they
will answer, perhaps with a lump in their throats, “You’re named after your great grandfather or great grandmother. Sometimes you will see a grandmother or grandfather at a bris
weeping openly, thanking Hashem that their beloved parent finally has a name.
Then there are Jews whose parents and even grand parents, had through no fault
of their own, drifted so far from their Jewish roots that they don’t realize
any significance in giving their children Jewish names.  This is the true story of one such child and how the facts of his Jewish name unfolded after he grew up.

Jerry even as a very young child always knew he was Jewish but he didn’t
know what it meant or how to relate to it. His memories were mixed with him
eagerly awaiting to hearing the shofar on Rosh Hashanah, Pesach he excitingly
recalls crawling under the table to try to be the first to swap the matzah and
Chanukah he happily remembers lighting the candles, playing dradle and
receiving many gifts. However, all the other days of the year were without any
remnant of Jewish heritage or consciousness. Throughout his teenage years, he felt
restless somehow realizing that there was much more to life than just material
goals, therefore in the late sixties Jerry put on his backpack filled with
empty “containers of hope” and started to search for a way of life that would
be more meaningful and purposeful. After almost a full year of wandering and
exploration in cultures foreign to the West, Jerry fortunately, in a “last” ditch
effort to explore his Jewish ness flew to Eretz Israel and, B.H. began learning
in a yeshiva for ba’alei teshuvah. 

One day the Rav of the Yeshiva asked Jerry what his Jewish name was, to
which he shyly replied that he, among most of his peers in his temple, was only
given English name, whereupon the Rav compassionately and sensitively suggested
to him that he would be greatly spiritually enhanced if he would choose a
Jewish name.

After thoughtful deliberation, Jerry chose the combined names of Yosef
Dovid and at the very next reading of the Sefer Torah he was proudly called up,
at the age of twenty-fours years old, for his first aliya and the official
giving of his Jewish name.

           Twenty years later Yosef Dovid’s brother became
interested in   genealogy and decided to trace the family’s
roots.  This brother is a research scientist
and approached this task with all of the same energy and discipline of detail
that he has poured into his other projects. 
He began by researching their mother’s side of the family-tree being
able to only go back three generations. One day he called Yosef Dovid to inform
him of his progress, telling over the names a number of relatives that he had
discovered. Upon hearing the name Dovid in the list, Josef Dovid asked him
again which relative he was? His brother answered that he was their mother’s
grandfather. Yosef Dovid realized that if he had been given a Jewish name at
birth, he could not have been named after his grandfathers since they were both
alive at the time and his parents would have had naturally looked to one of the
great grandfathers for a name. This was an exciting revelation and helped Yosef
Dovid feel even more connected, because of one of the names he had chosen, to
the unbroken chain of his Jewish lineage.

              A few months later Yosef Dovid’s  brother, still in pursuit of genealogical information,
called  to share his latest discovery
which was the name of the small town near Strasburg, Germany named Dimerringen,
that had been home to their  father’s side
of the family for a number of generations. Located on the French boarder,
Dimmerengen’s cemetery and historical records including statistical lineage
were somehow amazingly preserved through two world wars and territorial
disputes between Germany and France over the last few hundred years.

On a subsequent trip from Eretz Israel to America, Yosef Dovid arranged
for a one day stop over in Strasburg. Immediately upon landing, he took a taxi
from the airport to the train station in Strasbourg. As he entered the huge
station with its vaulting ceilings, pre-conscious memories stirred. Then like
in a dream he was momentarily transported in time, watching wraithlike,
tattered remnants of a once proud nation filling the crowded platforms trying
to make an exodus to safety on trains bound for a very different destination.
He shook his head and the vision dissolved. The present day noise and bustle of
this busy station took its place. As he bought a ticket for the last train for
Dimerringen, the ticket agent told him to hurry because the train would be leaving
in just a few minutes.

           With heavy suitcases in hand, Yosef Dovid
moved briskly up a flight of stairs and as he approached the platform, the
train waiting there blew its whistle and started to pull ever so slowly out of
the terminal.  Realizing that this might
be his only opportunity in the near future to visit his ancestral home, he
began running toward the departing train that was still creeping along the
tracks. As he got closer and closer to the last car, he began to sweat and
could barely catch his breath.  His legs
wobbled and his knees nearly buckled under the heavy weight of his suitcases.
Just inches from the steps of the last car, with a last desperate surge of energy,
he reached out to grab the hand rail and haul himself aboard.  But, just at that moment, the train picked up
speed and moved out of his reach, leaving a sad and exhausted Yosef Dovid
standing helplessly at the edge of the platform.

 He sat down on a nearby bench to catch his
breath, rest his weary body and quiet his emotions. After a few difficult moments,
he tried to resolve to not feel disappointed, coming to the realization of
everything that happens is decreed from on High and therefore even if not
understood is good  and even beneficial.

As Yosef Dovid was in the middle of reframing his disappointment to submissive
acceptance of Divine will, another train pulled up on the same track. The loud
speaker announced in German some message which included the name Dimerringen.
He found an employee who spoke some English and this employee informed him that
this was the right train and added that the other train was going in a
completely different direction. Yosef Dovid then whispered a prayer of thanks
to the Creator as he happily and now unhurriedly boarded the train.

The entire ride was spent in praise of The Creator for allowing him to
miss the first train –what a switch of consciousness! Once in Dimerringen, he
took a taxi to the outskirts of the city where the Jewish cemetery was located.
As he brother had been told the entire Jewish cemetery had miraculously
remained intact. As he walked about looking for the family plot, his eyes fell
upon an entire section of about eighty monuments all bearing his family name. Based
upon some of the dates on the inscriptions, it was clear that the time line traveled
up the family tree for many generations.

He quickly jotted down the names and their dates of birth and death.
Time was short as he had to catch the last train back to Strasbourg before his
flight.  Just as he was about to leave,
he spotted a small monument in the corner of the plot that was almost
completely covered with vines. He quickly walked towards it, bent down and
cleared the greenery away from the stone. This stone was clearly the oldest of
them all, dating back over two hundred years. When Yosef Dovid managed to
decipher the worn and faded engraving that spelled out the Hebrew name, he
stood speechless and in awe in front of it. The name on the monument was Yosef!

 Later Yosef Dovid joyfully discovered  through his brother’s research that he was a
direct lineal eighth generation descendent of the Yosef whose resting place he
had found.

Those two great grandfathers, Yosef from his father’s side and Dovid
from his mother side waited patiently under the Heavenly throne and only when
this sensitive soul many generations later, who would eventually return to his
Jewish heritage, was born that the Heavenly realm decreed their names be
rekindled and eventually revealed through this soul.

 The soul
always knows who we are and why we are here, hopefully someday that knowledge
is also shared with us.  

The ways of Hashem are wondrous!

All articles appearing on this blog are copyrighted by Rabbi Yehoshua Binyamin Falk. All rights reserved. Permission is granted to share/download/copy this information as long as it is accompanied by the copyright. Separately authored/copyrighted materia





          Purim is the perfect time to invite guests who
think that Judaism is stodgy and restrictive.  
As we stomp all over Haman’s name during the Megilla reading, and then sit
down to a meal that’s more liquid then solid, I most enjoy watching Purim dismantling
all of their pre-conceived notions.   I don’t tell my guests (who are having too
much fun to worry about it) that even as we do something that seems strange or
unusual, we are making a powerful statement that reverberates through time in
order to bring the ultimate redemption.

            Stomping Out Haman 

             The custom of stomping at the sound of Haman’s
name begins at the feet, so let us take off our shoes and examine the bottom of
our “soles/souls”.  Most of us have a
live and let live relationship with our feet. 
If they do not bother us, we don’t worry about them.  We don’t usually buy special vitamins or
minerals to enhance their functioning and at best we notice them because we
need them as a place to put our shoes. 

Our feet don’t seem to  “kick up” much of a fuss about this attitude
because they are too busy either standing or walking.  Walking is an amazing process, that we take
for granted, which involves the foot’s ability to be rigid and calloused, yet
flexible and mobile:  taking steps begins
with the foot in a rigid state, the heel 
hitting the ground, it then continues 
with the foot unlocking and flexing so the knee can pass over it.  Our weight is then transferred to the ball of
the foot as we propel ourselves over the toes whereupon the foot again becomes
rigid to provide the momentum for the next step.  Although small in comparison to the body, the
foot is able to support its full weight using muscles, tendons sinews and
interestingly twenty six bones. 

The feet are furthest from the head and seem to be
unconnected from all the other organs.  Yet
according to a fairly popular alternative medical practice called reflexology, applying
pressure to designated points on the feet can restore health and well being to
each part of the body for a wide variety of ailments. According to this system,
there are said to be, even more interestingly, 7200 hundred nerve endings in
the feet which connect to zones so that each part of the foot corresponds to
some part or organ of the body.  For
example, the various organs and systems of the body are represented on the sole
of the foot while the big toe corresponds to the head.  The lungs correspond to the ball of the foot
while the waist is a line crossing the instep and the small intestine and
bladder are located towards the heel.  

The feet also seem to be the farthest removed from
that which is holy and pure.  Yet, it
would be very difficult to interact with the world in the fulfillment of many (mitzvoth)
specific good deeds without their assistance.  And it is that interaction with the world that
Purim is so much about as this holiday begins with an awakening from “below”.

Our generation’s place in history lies on that end
of Hashem’s time line that is embedded deeply within a mindset that often
connects itself to self gratification, that is at the bottom end of  the 
fourth of our four  exiles, [1]
yet, we play a “pivotal” role.  Like the
“soles” of the feet, most “souls” today are distant from the achievements of
earlier generations, yet it is our duty to lift ourselves up, “striding” ever
forward bringing the knowledge of Hashem into the here and now – which time is
referred to as the (ikvei) [heels] footsteps of the HaMasiach.  Although this last exile like our heels has
become somewhat calloused it is precisely that quality that gives us the opportunity
to illuminate this epoch in time so that the ultimate redemption can occur.

Interestingly, our feet play a crucial role in
this epic drama. They serve as the liaison between our “souls” and the ground.
By having “our feet on the ground” – ie. in this material world, we are
vulnerable to the nefarious plans of (Haman/Amalak) those who personify evil,
but at the same time this positions give us a solid “foot-hold” in this battle.

Although our physical “soles” are connected to
earthliness, our holy “souls” are unified with the true Source of All.  We therefore literally have the power to “stamp
out” the influence and memory of  Haman  and Amalek with each “step” bringing us closer
to their “de-feat” and the our ultimate redemption.




The Ari Hakadosh
teaches that the purpose of the four exiles was to repair the sin of Adam Ha
Rishon, the first man, with each exile corresponding to the various parts of
the Primordial Man. So the Egyptian and Babylonian exiles repaired the head,
the Persia
and Midai, the chest, the Greek exile was the lower part of the body and
finally the exile of Edom
was the feet.

All articles appearing on this blog are copyrighted by Rabbi Yehoshua Binyamin Falk. All rights reserved. Permission is granted to share/download/copy this information as long as it is accompanied by the copyright. Separately authored/copyrighted materia