Let’s face an uncomfortable fact; your information is out there. Your name, date of birth, social security number, address, and probably some of your credit card numbers. The fifteen largest hacks of the 21st century compromised over 4.5 billion accounts in the developed world, with many people being breached multiple times. 

Even if you never use the internet, your info likely leaked during the hacks of banks, chain-stores, and credit agencies that maintain credit scores for everyone with a social security number. Sure, it’s a bit scary knowing that your information is floating around somewhere on the dark web, but on the bright side, it’s one more thing to daven for. We now know clearly what we should have known all along, that our financial peace of mind is only in His hands. 

But let’s zero in on the largest financial hack ever, the Chase Bank hack. Eight years ago, somewhere in Russia, a computer nerd was crowned 2014 Hacker of the Year. When news of his mega-hack hit the world media, the hacker no doubt reveled in the adulation of hackers around the world. 

His audacious success was not simply that he got through the cyber defenses of the largest bank in the US, but it was also how deeply he got into it. He got root access (total control) to more than 90 servers containing information from over 76 million personal accounts and 9 million small business accounts. He also got a file containing all the software applications held on pretty much every Chase computer, which meant that he could test them all from the privacy of his basement and find even more vulnerabilities. 

Our family banks with Chase, and it’s pretty safe to assume that our bank account was one of the 76 million that were breached by the 2014 Hacker of the Year. We were probably also breached in the Target hack of 2013, the Yahoo hack of 2014, and the Equifax hack of 2017. We likely were also hacked with the Zoom hack of 2020, the Comcast hack of 2021, and the Uber hack of 2022. 

It might just be time to go hide our money under the floorboards just like my Alter Zeidy did back in the shtetl. (That was a joke, my Alter Zeidy lived in Rochester, and when his grandparents lived in the shtetl, they didn’t have floorboards. So please don’t come by my house and dig up my floorboards… but you might want to look under the mattress!) At this point I’m not sure what’s safer, leaving money hidden in a sock drawer or leaving money in the largest bank in the US!

But I can assure you that my concerns upon finding out about the Chase hack were nothing compared to the concerns of Jamie Dimon. Dimon was the chairman, president, and CEO of JP Morgan Chase, and he had a tough few years. After the “London whale” scandal where one rogue trader managed to lose a cool $6.2 Billion dollars in one day of trading, Jamie Dimon was hauled before congressional committees where he was summarily drawn and quartered for his banks “unsafe and unsound practices”. The bank was fined over $1 Billion dollars, and Jamie was forced to take a multi-million dollar pay cut (don’t worry about his kid’s college fund, he still made $20 Million that year). And then a few years later, Jamie Dimon had to deal with what might be the worst financial cyber hack of all time. 

It’s safe to assume that Jamie spent quite a few sleepless nights working on the problem, the PR cleanup, and the massive job of beefing up security so that the breach got closed despite it being so deep. Surely, Jamie was filled with concerns, but they might not be what you would think they were. He was probably not worried about the hackers getting a few billion dollars out of Chase customers, his bank had $2.5 Trillion in assets, and they could afford to lose a few billion here and there (the year they lost $6.2 Billion in the London whale scandal, they still made a record profit of  $21.3 Billion). And he probably wasn’t worried that the hackers would get into his personal accounts and clean him out (he probably banks with Wells Fargo). All those concerns are small fry. 

What was keeping Jamie Dimon up at night was the fear that the bank hack would create such a loss of confidence in JP Morgan Chase that people would no longer want to deposit their money there. It’s not loss of money, but loss of faith that causes banks to go under. People need to trust their banks, that’s the only reason they faithfully bring deposit their paychecks each week. If a bank fails to properly maintain that trust, its customers- the ones who enable the bank to make all of its profit, will simply walk away, and the bank is doomed to shut down. 

This coming Wednesday is Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, and in some ways the most important day of the year. It is the day on which we can literally wipe the slate clean, and start afresh, unencumbered by our past mistakes, but also a day in which we can fail to make the right moves, and leave worse than we came in. 

We are all a bank. Ha-shem deposits an enormous amount of talents, resources, and capabilities in us, with the hope that we pay Him back with regular dividends. The way we pay Ha-shem dividends is by improving His world, making it into a kinder, more selfless, more holy, more honest, purer, more sacred place, by making the world a place Ha-shem feels comfortable dwelling in. We are supposed to put up really powerful barriers to keep the ultimate Hacker, the Satan, out of our lives.  But sometime we don’t keep those barriers strong, and when the Hacker gets in through some vulnerability of ours, he wreaks all kinds of havoc on our lives, turning us into people who lean to the negative, jealous, resentful, dishonest, unholy, and insensitive. When the hacker Satan gets in, he slows down our whole system, he manipulates us easily, and we become people we barely recognize.

But our fears when we look back at the year shouldn’t be the small fry, “I’m afraid G-d’s going to give me a bad year, He’s going to take away my stuff, He’s going to make me get sick, etc.” What should be concerning to us on Yom Kippur is that by allowing this Hacker in, we’ve put a strain on our relationship with the most important Being out there- the One who gives us everything we have. If we lose our relationship with G-d, we are truly in bad shape, as He is the Source of all life. It’s not the smackdown we should fear, but the lost relationship.

When we are in shul on Yom Kippur, our primary objective shouldn’t be to get forgiveness so that we can avoid punishment, but to clean out our system so that we can remove the blockages we’ve set up between ourselves and G-d by letting the Hacker in. On Yom Kippur, if we truly come clean to G-d; tell Him where we went wrong, tell Him how the hacker got in, tell Him about which of our files were infected, and tell Him how we plan on changing our defense system in the coming year, He will totally remove the Hacker from deep inside us, and let us be free.

And what a joy it is to be free, which is why right after Yom Kippur is Succos, the holiday described as Zman Simchaseinu, the time of our joy, the time we can revel in the joy of being virus free. Our sluggishness removed, we rush back into the embrace of G-d, the Succah, and we spend eight days doing what we do best, celebrating the investment G-d made in us, and paying back dividends- improving His world.

Gmar Chasima Tova!

Parsha Dvar Torah

The Dvar Torah this week comes from Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky’s wonderful piece on Torah.org

Parshas Vayelech has Moshe handing the reign of power to his beloved disciple Yehoshua, who now will grasp hold of the destiny of the Children of Israel. Moshe does not leave him without first guiding him through the difficult mission of leadership. At the end of Parshas Vayelech, (Deuteronomy 31:7), “Moshe summoned Yehoshua and said to him before the eyes of all Israel, ‘Be strong and courageous and do not be broken before them, for Hashem your G-d — it is he who goes before you.'” 

The Torah does not specify what “strong and courageous” actually means. I conjured my own visions of how to be strong and courageous when dealing with a “stiff-necked” nation. It entailed exacting demands and rigid regulations. The Medrash, however, offers a totally diametric explanation. 

The Yalkut Shimoni, a compendium of Midrashim compiled in the Middle Ages, discusses a verse in Hoshea. “Israel is but a beloved lad and in Egypt I had called them my child.” It quotes the verse in Deuteronomy 31:7, and explains the words “strong and courageous.” Moshe explained to Joshua, “this nation that I am giving you is still young kids. They are still young lads. Do not be harsh with them. Even their Creator has called them children, as it is written, (Hoshea 11:1) “Israel is but a beloved lad.” 

Can the Midrash find no better words to translate the phrase telling Joshua to “be strong and courageous” other than be patience and understanding? In which way does forbearance show strength? How does courage translate as tolerance? 

In the years of World War I, a young student who was fleeing the war-ravaged city of Slabodka sought refuge in Tiktin, a village near Lomza, Poland. A prodigious Torah scholar, he compensated for room and board by becoming a simple cheder teacher. He gave his lecture in a small schoolhouse, but the townsfolk were quite suspicious. There were no shouts from inside the one-room schoolhouse as it was with other teachers; the boys seemed to be listening. Rumor had it that the young man even let the children play outside for ten minutes each day in the middle of the learning session. 

They decided to investigate. They interrupted his class one morning and were shocked. The kanchik(whip) used by every cheder-Rebbe was lying on the floor near the trash bin. Upon interrogating the children the parents learned that this radical educator never used it. 

Outraged, the townsfolk decided to call a meeting with their Rabbi to discuss the gravity of the situation. Who knows what ideas a teacher who would not use the kanchik was imbuing in our children? They worried. 

The local Rabbi pointed to a picture of Rabbi Isaac Elchonon Spector, the leader of Lithuanian Jewry. “Do you see that picture of the Kovno Tzadik?” He asked the townsfolk. “One day thousands of homes across the world will have this young man’s picture hanging on their walls.” 

The elderly Rabbi was right. The young man became the leader of a generation, teacher of thousands and dean of Yeshiva Torah Vodaath. It was the beginning of, Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetzky’s career in education. 

Moshe, the guide and architect of Jewish leadership, was empowering his disciple with a message of guidance. The words “be strong and courageous” embodied leadership of love and understanding. One can not talk of forbearance and patience without talking of strength and courage. But more important: one can not show true strength and courage if he is not patient and understanding.

Parsha Summary

The Parsha Summary this week was taken from Chabad.org

General Overview: This week’s reading, Vayelech, recounts the events of the final day of Moses’ terrestrial life. Moses transferred leadership to Joshua and wrote a Torah scroll which he handed over to the Levites. Moses commanded the Israelites to gather following every Sabbatical year, and informed them of the suffering which will be their lot when they will abandon the laws of the Torah.

Moses addressed the people, saying that he is 120 years of age on that day, and he is not permitted to cross the Jordan River together with them. Instead, Joshua will lead them, and G‑d will go before them and destroy their enemies.

Moses continued his talk: G‑d will vanquish the inhabitants of Canaan as He did the Emorites and Bashanites. Moses enjoined the Israelites to be strong and not fear their enemies. 

Moses summoned Joshua and told him to be strong and courageous, for G‑d will be going before him and will not forsake him. Moses then wrote the entire Torah and gave it to the Kohnaim (priests) and the Israelite elders. 

Moses gives the commandment of Hakhel (assembly), whereby every seven years, during the holiday of Sukkot which follows the Sabbatical year, all men, women, and children assemble and the king publicly reads sections of the Torah. 

G‑d commanded Moses to enter the Tabernacle together with Joshua. G‑d appeared to them both and informed them that a time will come when the Israelites will abandon G‑d and stray after alien gods. At that time, G‑d will hide His countenance from the nation, and they will be subjected to much evils and troubles. Therefore, G‑d says, “Write for yourselves this song, and teach it to the Children of Israel. Place it into their mouths, in order that this song will be for Me as a witness…” This ‘song’ is narrated in next week’s Torah reading. 

When G‑d’s wrath will find the Israelites as a consequence of their evil actions, they will claim that the misfortunes are befalling them because G‑d has abandoned them. At that time, the song which Moses and Joshua wrote will bear testimony that these events are in fact punishment for their sinful behavior.

Moses took the freshly concluded Torah scroll and gave it to the Levites. He instructed them to place it beside the Ark which contained the Tablets. Moses then gathered the entire nation to hear the song, wherein he would call upon the heavens and earth to be witnesses that the Israelites were forewarned regarding their fate.

Quote of the week: I am not afraid of tomorrow, for I have seen yesterday and I love today. ~ William Allen White

Random Fact of the Week: There are 293 different ways to make change for a dollar.

 Funny Line of the Week: I imagine if you knew Morse Code, tap dancing would drive you crazy!

Have an Introspective Shabbos,

R’ Leiby Burnham

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