This week has been an overwhelming week for the Jewish people. From the devastation and anguish of witnessing the most horrific attack on our people since the Holocaust, to seeing so many around the world celebrate the pain of our people. But it has also been a week of extraordinary heroism, with every Jew wherever they are getting involved somehow in helping out. I didn’t have time to write a new Shabbos email, but I did find one from 2017 that was very apropos for this exact week.
Dr. Shmuel Gillis was a respected hematologist, loving father of five children ages three to thirteen, loyal IDF reservist, and doting husband, but even more, he was the Dr. most beloved by his community of Carmei Tzur, in the Gush Etzion area of Israel. He was the doctor whose house they went to on Shabbos afternoon when a child split their chin open on the playground. He was the doctor who would get calls at 3am from a mother with feverish infant. And he was the doctor who was always staying late at the hospital trying to save just one more life.
On the evening of February 1, 2001, after staying late at the Hadassah Ein Karem hospital to save a young Palestinian patient’s life, he finally headed home, stopping at a grocery store to pick us some food items to bring home. He called his wife to see if she needed anything else, and said that he would be home in about 20 minutes. Tragically, that never happened. This was in the height of the Second Intifada, and as he was driving home, a passing car filled with Palestinian murderers opened fire on his car with automatic weapons. Eleven bullets struck Shmuel in his neck and chest, and he died on the spot.
Only ten days later, on February 11, 2001, Tzachi Sasson, an electrical engineer who worked in a high-tech plant in Jerusalem, was driving home to Kibbutz Rosh Tzurim. His wife, Osnat, a social worker who dealt with terror victim’s families and the disabled, and his two children, 4 and 7, were holding off on dinner, waiting for his arrival. That too never happened. As he was driving on the highway, Palestinian murderers opened fire from the side of the road, wounding him. As rescue workers came to the site, the murderers kept on firing at the rescue workers as well, slowing down the process. By the time Tzachi got to the hospital, it was too late and he succumbed to his wounds. His wife, who for years had counseled families of terror victims, was shocked to find herself at the receiving end of the same terror.
The communities of Gush Etzion were reeling. In so short a time, they lost two beloved fathers, leaving behind seven orphans, two widows, and thousands of overwhelmed community members. What could Ruthi Gillis and Osnat Sasson do? The pain was searing, there was nowhere to go, nothing that could console them.
A few months later, Ruthi and Osnat came together and decided to create a living memorial to their husbands, and a short while later, they opened up Pina Chama, “The Warm Corner.” It started as a little trailer with two large square holes punched into its side for windows. It was placed on the corner of a very highly traveled junction in Gush Etzion. Any IDF soldiers or Israeli policemen who were passing by, could walk up to one of the windows and they would be served a warm drink, and a fresh piece of home baked cake. Ruthi and Osnat asked the local communities for volunteers and found an outpouring of support and volunteers. The soldiers and policemen deeply appreciated Pina Chama, not just for the coffee and cake, but for the smiles and support, the kindly volunteers who truly cared about them.
As winter approached, they raised some funds and built a roof over the area adjacent to the trailer so that soldiers wouldn’t have to stand around waiting in the rain. A few years later, they put some walls around the sitting area, and now had an indoor space about the size of two dining rooms, filled with tables and chairs, and still being served out of the two windows punched out of a trailer.
In the fifteen years that Pina Chama has been around, it has grown considerably, and all through donations and volunteers. People donated air conditioners and heaters, so that it would be warm in the winter and cool in the summers. Young men and women would take on Pina Chama as their bar and bat mitzvah projects, and raised money to put nice wood paneling inside, to buy slush machines, specialized coffee machines, and all sorts of other amenities.
Today, hundreds of soldiers come in every day, and are served by roughly twenty volunteers, who come in for shifts throughout the day from 7am to 9pm. The residents of the area bake hundreds of cakes, and make massive cauldrons of hot soup in the winter. Pina Chama has free falafel every Tuesday afternoon, when a chef comes in and donates his entire day to Pina Chama. They make a massive BBQ on Israeli Independence Day, and ship out the food to thousands of soldiers on bases all over the area. Speaking to the soldiers, they all describe the place as lifesaving, a morale booster, a place of rest and respite for soldiers patrolling one of the harshest environments in Israel, the Gush Etzion, where hundreds of villages are filled with Palestinians being taught to hate and kill. Pina Chama is the place where they see what it means to love and give.
I was fortunate to visit the Pina Chama on Partners Detroit’s recent Destination 4 Dads trip to Israel. It was an extraordinary and life changing trip for all forty five of us, and one of the high points was our time in Pina Chama. The entire room is festooned with flags of appreciation from almost every unit in the IDF, there is a wall filled with IDF unit tags that soldiers cut off their uniforms and tacked to the wall, and there are dozens of letters from boys and girls that made Pina Chama into their bar and bat mitzvah project and were so appreciative of the opportunity.
As we were finishing our time there, one of our group asked the people of Pina Chama what was on their wish list. They told us that they wanted a radiant heating wall, so that in the winter, when soldiers who are patrolling outdoors come in sopping wet, they can stand in front of the wall, and warm up, as well as dry off. We asked them how much it would cost, and they told us about 2,800 NIS. We immediately passed a basket around and raised 3,400 NIS. This winter, the thousands of soldiers that pass through the Pina Chama will find it an even warmer place, thanks to the generosity of forty-five Dads from Detroit. And we hope to continue that tradition with every subsequent trip!
Directly from the Pina Chama, we travelled to another extraordinary operation, Uf Kadima. Uf Kadima is an organization housed in the house of the Kalangel family, a warm Sephardic family living in Elazar, a moshav in Gush Etzion. Their oldest son, Major Yochai Kalangel, was a true soldier’s soldier. A fiercely loved commander, he would find out about the personal lives of each of the men in his command and work strenuously to make sure that not only did the IDF meet their needs, but that their families were being taken care of.
When he found out that certain soldiers in his unit did not have washing machines or dryers, he would find the funds and have the appliances delivered and installed. He would spend his own paycheck to buy food and toiletries for his soldiers and their families. One time, in middle of an important three day training, one of his cadets asked if he could go home to do some day jobs so that he could provide for his family who simply did not have what to eat. Major Kalangel told the cadet that he could not go on leave, the IDF can’t run as an army with soldiers leaving whenever their family needed them. But that Friday, when the cadet came home after his training, he found the refrigerator filled with food, and when he asked his family how that happened, they said, “Oh, your commander came by last night and delivered everything for you!”
On January 27, 2015, Major Kalangel came home for his daughter’s first birthday party. He celebrated, enjoyed the cake and a short conversation with pregnant wife, and then headed out to rejoin his unit. The next day he was killed by a missile from Syria that hit his jeep as he was heading to the Northern Border. The Kalangel family was devasted, but a few months later they opened up Uf Kadima, which means “Fly Forward,” an organization dedicated to continuing Yochai’s mission of caring for the soldiers in his unit as well as their families. We met the Kalangel family, personal friends of Yochai, and his mother in law, who is now helping her daughter through the pain of being a single mother, with two children, one of whom has never seen her father.
After meeting this incredibly warm family, we went on to pack boxes with all sorts of food staples; oil, rice, coffee, beans, sugar, etc., and that food was then sent to families of IDF soldiers.
Going to Uf Kadima right after going to Pina Chama was like a one-two punch to the jaw. We all left in a daze. Thank G-d, we live in relative safety here in the US, but in Israel, every family faces the real possibility that any birthday party can be the last, that their entire life will be upended in a second. And yet, even though these families went through tragedies of proportions we can’t even imagine, all they want to do is help other people. Murderers tried to snuff out the light in their lives, but they are fighting back with more light.
No one ever volunteers for pain, but pain has a way of bringing out strengths that people never knew they had before, and that strength can be used to bring enormous good to everyone around them.
In this week’s Torah portion, we read about the creation of the world. We generally think that the first thing created was the light, but in reality, there was darkness before light. As a matter of fact, the Talmud considers the statement of “Let there be light!” to be the second statement of creation. The first statement was Beraishis, in the beginning, and in the beginning the only thing was “chaos and bewilderment, and darkness on the surface of the deep.” Yet from that G-d said, “Let there be light,” and everything else came out of that.
Rav Yitzchak Hutner ob”m (1906-1980), in one of his discoursed on Succos, talks about how this was setting up how life would run in this world, the darkness comes first and from the darkness comes the light. It is precisely the pain that the Gillis, Sasson, and Kalangel families went through that enabled them to start organizations that are positively benefiting tens of thousands each year. It was the darkness that engulfed these families that made the space for the intense light that followed.
We all have darkness in our life. Sometimes it came early in life, sometimes later, but we all have it. It feels like something that can stifle us, and it can, but it can also empower us to bring out great light for ourselves and others. We need to ask ourselves how are we using the dark in our life, are we running away from it still, or are we using it as fuel to propel us forward?
If we want to be really great, we may just need to tap the power of the dark side, for from it comes the greatest light. Let there be light.
Parsha Dvar Torah
This Parsha is the most fundamental of all Parshios. Just as every physical trait a person has is coded in his DNA at the moment of conception, so too, the summation of the human experience is coded in this week’s Parsha, Bereishit. One could spend an entire year studying this Parsha and its copious commentary, and still not finish even a fraction of what it contains. In it we find; Creation, the first man and woman, the first sin, the first Repentance, the first murder, the first degeneration of society as a whole, and much more. But perhaps the most perplexing aspect of this Parsha is the first sin.
G-d put Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, and gave them everything they could possibly need (it was always spring weather, food grew ready to be eaten on trees, there was no sickness…). G-d spoke to them (an incredible experience in its own right), and requested only one thing of them: Don’t eat from the fruit of one tree. Yet, before their first day was over, they disobeyed G-d! How can we understand this original error which impacted the world more fundamentally than any other single action in history?
One way to understand Adam’s mistake is to realize that he thought he knew a better way to serve G-d, even though G-d indicated otherwise. Adam felt that to serve G-d simply by not eating a single species of fruit, in a place where G-d’s presence was palpable, was not the most he could do. He was capable of sacrificing so much more for G-d! He was willing and able to serve G-d in a world shrouded in darkness, where it would be much more difficult to see G-d and appreciate the importance of serving Him. Adam knew that if he ate from the fruit of the tree, it would be like turning off a celestial light switch, and G-d’s presence in the world would become much more hidden as a result of sin which had entered the universe. Certain that he could still serve G-d in such a difficult world, and confident that it would result in a far greater glorification of G-d, Adam ate the forbidden fruit.
But this was a colossal error, one that until today continues to challenge us! The truth is that when a person thinks like that, he is using his ego and believing that he know better than G-d. G-d said serve me by doing X, but I say that I can serve you better by doing Y. The truth is that there can be no greater service of G-d than doing exactly what He asks from us!
Today, we find this idea particularly difficult. We try to tell ourselves that G-d didn’t really mean that we should do everything he asked of us in the Torah, or that if He would see the modern world, He would certainly cancel a number of the “outdated” mitzvot. We feel like we can decipher what He really wants of us. The truth is that if we want to serve G-d, and not ourselves, we have to lower our ego, trust that He knows best, and realize that the best way to serve Him is to follow what He asks, not what we think He should have asked! If we do that, we will be able to reverse the effects of the primordial sin and bring the world back to the utopia it was before sin arrived on the scene!
Breishit starts off with the Creation of the Universe and all that is in it. G-d completed all His work in six days (this was way before zoning laws and building codes). Here is a quick rundown on the daily creating schedule for those first six days. On the first day He created light and darkness. On the second He created the heavens and separated the lower waters (oceans, which at that time covered the globe), from the upper waters i.e. the water found in the atmosphere.
On the third day G-d pulled the waters back to reveal dry land and created all vegetation (yup, Tuesday is when cauliflower, sprouts, and lima beans appeared on Mother Earth). On the fourth day G-d created all the celestial bodies, including the sun, moon, and all the stars. On day five G-d created all the flying creatures and water-based creatures. He even blessed them that they should multiply and be fruitful.
The sixth day of creation is special because not only did G-d create all animals of the land on that day, He also created mankind in His image. This special gift gives us an infinite amount of abilities that are unique to man, such as the ability to create, to give to strangers (generally, animals only take care of their own), and the power of speech. On the seventh day G-d ceased from all the work that He had done, and in order to emulate G-d we also rest on the Shabbos, and spend that time evaluating our week and seeing how we can grow in the coming one.
G-d obviously didn’t need the rest, He didn’t feel worn out from a week of creation, but rather for us he ceased to work to help us understand the concept that there are two distinct modalities, working toward a goal, and experiencing the goal. Shabbos is a time where we experience the arrival at the spiritual locus of our week, and we can experience it fully, while still engaged in the creative process.
When G-d created Adam (the first human being), He gave him everything he needed and only asked one thing of him – that he not eat from the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Man gave names to all the beasts and found no mate. After this experience, which taught man that without women he is totally lost, G-d created Eve (the first woman) out of one of Adam’s ribs. G-d didn’t create woman out of Adam’s head, lest she feel she could dominate him, nor out of his feet, lest he feel he could trample her. Instead, He created her out of his rib, right next to his heart, so that he would protect her, love her, and treat her with equality.
While still enjoying their honeymoon, Adam and Eve were led into sin by the serpent, which was the external representation of evil at that time. Through a manipulation technique still used by sleazy salesmen today, the snake enticed both Adam and Eve to eat the forbidden fruit. G-d punished them by making humans mortal, by giving women birthing pains and by forcing men to work for their sustenance (prior to that fully prepared pastries would grow on trees! Weight Watchers would have had a real crisis!)
Adam and Eve gave birth to two children, Cain and Abel. Cain was a farmer and Abel was a shepherd. They both decided to give gifts to G-d but, while Cain gave inferior fruit, Abel gave the best of his flocks. G-d accepted only Abel’s gift. (Quick lesson: G-d wants you to mean it when you give to Him, so save your week-old pancakes for your brother, and give to G-d with all your heart. He doesn’t need a lot, but He wants to see you putting up your best effort!).
Cain got angry and jealous, and quickly became the world’s first murderer by killing his brother. Back then there were no good trial lawyers, and Cain had to deal directly with G-d, who didn’t take his excuses but rather told him that there are two paths one can take after sin – repent and be forgiven or don’t improve yourself and sin will constantly hound you.
The Torah then goes on to mention the ten generations of mankind from Adam until Noah. After that description, the Torah tells us how human beings lost all morality, and people did whatever they pleased. It got so bad that soon only Noah was righteous from his whole generation. Next week, will tell us more about where the world went (hint: think underwater) and more about Noah (hint: think above water), but before we stop, one last tidbit about Noah: he invented the plow, thus saving mankind billions of man-hours in the field planting by hand!
Quote of the Week: The future is only the past again, entered through another gate. ~ Arthur Wing Pinero
Random Fact of the Week: Your thumbnail grows slower than any other fingernail!
Funny line of the week: A bargain is something you don’t need at a price you can’t resist.
Have a Stupendous Shabbos,
R’ Leiby Burnham