When Bobby Shafran showed up for his first day of college, he seemed quite popular upon arrival! People were coming over to him and giving him hugs and high fives, but bizarrely they kept calling him Eddy. Within a few hours he learned that someone named Eddie Galland was at that same college the previous year, and despite being really popular, had dropped out over the summer. Evidently Eddie looked just like Bobby, so much so that some further sleuthing was warranted. It turned out that they were both adopted, and that they both shared the same birthday, July 12, 1961!
Bobby called Eddie and they arranged to meet that night! Bobby drove over as fast as possible, getting there at two in the morning, and when Eddie finally opened the door, it was like the boys were looking in a mirror! The story immediately made the news and soon Eddie and Bobby were being featured in every New York area newspaper.
But the story only got stranger; a young man in Queens college named David Kellman was reading the newspaper article and he saw two men that looked just like him! He came home to his mother and she had a different newspaper with more details that showed the twins to have the same birthday as David, July 12, 1961! It turns out they were identical triplets!
The triplets grew up their whole lives within 45 minutes of each other and until they were 19 years old had no idea of each other’s existence! When the third brother was discovered, they became national celebrities, they toured the country as guests on prominent television shows, their identical smiling faces were emblazoned on the front pages of newspapers across the US and abroad and everywhere they went people recognized them. They made commercials, were featured in music videos, and were invited to society functions and charity events.
For a while they partied pretty hard, but then they settled down and opened a trendy SoHo steakhouse called Triplets, and moved in together to a Manhattan apartment. After the initial shock wore off, they began to investigate how they came to be, and their investigations turned up some troubling information. They were all put up for adoption by an agency known as the Louise Wise Services, where an Austrian psychiatrist, Peter Neubauer, the director of the Child Development Center of Manhattan, had been running a secretive experiments on separated twins.
All of the triplet’s parents were told they could have a baby as long as they were OK with allowing the baby to continue the study they were enrolled in on childhood development. Monthly, these children would have psychiatrists or their young students come and film the children, photograph them, and run all sorts of psychiatric tests on them. We now know that besides the triplets, at least five other sets of twins were given up for adoption in the same way. The twins were given to parents from diverse backgrounds to see how they would grow up in a Nature vs Nurture study. In the triplets case, David was given to affluent parents, Eddie to middle class parents and Bobby to a blue-collar working class family. No one knew but the researchers.
It was after the bright lights of the media faded that cracks started to show. The siblings couldn’t get along, they had to shut down their restaurant, and move out of their shared apartment. They all suffered from mental health issues at different times in their lives, possibly from the separation anxiety of losing two of their siblings at the age of six months, but some were better able to tackle those issues than others. Unfortunately at the age of thirty four, Eddie Galland took his own life, after years of struggling with his demons.
The two remaining brothers have an on and off relationship. David sells insurance and annuities and Bobby is a lawyer. Recently, they had a spike in media attention when a documentary about them was released on Netflix in July of 2018, but otherwise they try to live as normal lives as possible, not easy when you’ve been separated at birth from your identical siblings, studied for years like a lab rat, pushed into momentary celebrity, and them dropped to obscurity.
While David, Bobby, and Eddie were relatively unique in that they were triplets, there are currently hundreds of cases of twins who were separated at birth, and then meet years later. The similarities they often express is remarkable, twins who name their children the same exact names, choose the same professions, dress the same way, share mannerisms, have the same haircuts or facial hair, drive the same car, have the same medical conditions, hobbies or eating habits.
There is even a famous set of twins, Jack Yufe and Oskar Stohr, one of whom was raised Jewish and eventually served in the Israeli Navy while the other was a Nazi, but still they both dressed the same, made fake loud sneezes when they were nervous and had the same mustache and wire rimmed glasses. But their personalities and beliefs about the world were very different and they never could quite get along. Genes may account for an awful lot, but at the core we all still have our unique neshama, and the choices we make on the morality scale are not the same.
On Yom Kippur, at the height of the mussaf prayer we read about the service performed by the Hight Priest in the Temple as prescribed by the Torah in the Book of Leviticus. There is a very strange practice that is at the height of the Temple service involving a lottery over two goats. Two goats are brought into the Temple, they must be identical in cost, age, appearance, and height, basically as close to identical goats as you can get. They are brought before the High Priest who places one on his right side and one on his left. Then he puts his hand in boxes which each contain two placards, one reading TO G-D and one reading TO AZAZEL and he draws a card for each one (miraculously, the two cards never came up the same despite that being a 50% probability).
The one upon whom the card FOR G-D was picked became a sacrifice that was offered up in the Holy of Holies, the most sacred place in the world, a place that was only visited by one person, one day a year, the Hight Priest on Yom Kippur! The one that pulled the card FOR AZAZEL was brought to a barren desert cliff, where it was pushed off the cliff and would be shattered before it was halfway down. What is the meaning behind this strange ritual, and why was it so fundamental to the Yom Kippur service?
One way to understand this ritual is that the identical goats represent the different sides of our selves that can come out of this Yom Kippur. We have an IQ, we have personality, we have a healthy body, we have a variety of assets, and we can take all of those things and dedicate them to leading a G-dly lifestyle, to leading an ethical and moral life, to building our Torah knowledge, to developing ways to bring more kindness into our world. But we can also take those exact same talents, assets, and abilities and use them in ways that will undermine those lofty goals, we can use our assets in ways that cause jealousy, we can use our gift of speech to jab and poke at people, we use our brains and IQs to come up with sophisticated rationalizations for not having to change ourselves for the better.
The two me’s standing there on Yom Kippur, much like two identical twins, or two identical goats, have all the same mannerisms, talents, hobbies, fashion sense, medical conditions, and eating habits. But now we stand at a crossroads and decide where we want to take those assets, do we want to use them FOR G-D or do we want to use them FOR AZAZEL, do we want to dedicate them toward the lofty service of G-d and mankind, or do we want to use those talents and assets selfishly, essentially throwing them off the cliff of life, where they make their way down a mountain doing nothing for no one?
If we can commit to taking just one talent of ours that has been left barren in the previous years and using it FOR G-D, we can be a totally different human being by next year! If we normally just “kill time” every Sunday morning, but instead we decided that each week we’ll whip up a triple recipe of our delicious muffins and bring it to the local home for the elderly (perhaps after COVID) and distribute muffins and smiles for a few hours on Sunday morning, that’s switching from FOR AZAZEL to FOR G-D! If we have an five minute period each night that is our cool down Candy Crush time, and we instead think of who needs a boost and then call them just to say “Hi! I was just thinking of you! How are you?!” that is switching from FOR AZAZEL to FOR G-D.
On the outside we look no different, we have the same hairstyle, the same mannerisms, the same height, age, and food preferences, but we’ve changed the most fundamental part of ourselves, the unseen part, the Neshama, and we’ve taken one small step forward for man, but one great leap forward in our pursuit of being a G-dly person.
May G-d give us the insight this Yom Kippur to examine our lives thoroughly and find any empty spaces in our lives and commit to filling them for the coming year with light, love, meaning, and joy!
Gmar Chatima Tova!
Parsha Dvar Torah
This week’s parsha is mostly comprised of a song which Moses related to the Jewish people on the day he passed away. Melding past, present, and future, the beautiful and at times haunting song is about the Jewish people and their relationship with G-d. In the beginning of the song Moses proclaims, “Let my instruction flow like rainfall, let my saying drip like dew; like storm winds upon vegetation, and like raindrops on grass” (Deuteronomy 32:2). The Vilna Gaon asks why Moses describes his teachings, the Torah, as being like rainfall.
While falling on a field, rain will water the whole field equally. However, what the rain will cause to grow is dependent on what was put into that earth. If the person toiled and planted fruit or grain seeds, he will soon have an orchard or a field of grain growing beautifully. If he planted nothing, having frivolously wasted the planting season away, he will find his field quite empty despite the prodigious rain. Worse yet, if he planted deadly plants such as the foxglove, he will find that the rain helped secure a poisonous crop.
Torah, the Vilna Gaon explains, has the same attributes. It is an incredible receptacle of Divine wisdom that is given to humans to interact with and explore. What we get out of it however is dependent on what we put in. If we invest ourselves in the Torah and expend the necessary time, energy, and emotion into capturing its truth, if we approach it with respect, and are honest with ourselves as we study it – even when it calls upon us to make meaningful changes in our lives, the Torah will then lead us to levels of knowledge and spiritual joy we could not have imagined possible. On the other hand, if we leave our field of Jewish knowledge fallow (i.e. we take an unhealthy approach or we don’t cultivate it), we will be left bereft of the most incredible inheritance we have as a people – the Torah.
One can also distort Torah or selectively find a Torah source to find license for distorted perspectives or to justify their preconceived, inaccurate ideas. Our approach to Torah study makes all the difference as the prophet Hoshea cautions, “For the ways of the Lord are straight, the righteous shall walk in them, and the rebellious shall stumble on them.” (Hoshea 14:10)
Rabbi Avigdor Miller zt”l (1908-2001) was one of the greatest Torah teachers in America in the latter half of the twentieth century. His many books were fascinating and interesting yet taught many of the foundations of Jewish belief and philosophy. Tapes of his weekly Torah classes made their way all across America and allowed him to inspire many more than the thousands who attended his unapologetic, direct, yet uplifting Torah lectures. He even created the Telephone Torah Program, in ways a forerunner of Partners in Torah, whereby one individual would learn portions of Chumash and then would repeat them over the telephone to a partner on a weekly basis. After beginning with Parshas Bereishis and Noach, the program was expanded to include Pirkei Avos (Ethics of our Fathers) and Talmud. Where did Rabbi Avigdor Miller get his fiery love for Torah, Jews, and Judaism?
When he was in his early twenties, Rabbi Miller left the comforts of the US to go study in the famed Slabodka Yeshiva in Lithuania. There he dedicated himself to Torah study with an uncommon seriousness. During the first three hours of the day, he would talk with no one, wanting that time to be purely dedicated to Torah study. If people came to him to discuss something, he would motion to them to return later. He was busy planting his field with fertile seeds of Torah.
Yom Kippur is a day where we not only try to remove the weeds that have prevented our growth in the previous year, but a day where we plan for the future year as well. If we can commit to planting strong seeds of Jewish values and personal growth in our lives, we will surely have a year that flourishes with success.
As mentioned above, most of this week’s Parsha is comprised of a song. In the beginning Moshe calls out to the heavens and earth to hear his song, as they are witnesses that will exist forever, and they can be G-d’s messengers to reward the Jewish people with plentiful rain and bountiful crops, or punish them by withholding the bounty.
Moshe begins by talking about the greatness of G-d, in that He is out Creator, Father, and the Rock onto which we hold to maintain our stable existence on this shaky planet. G-d is incorruptible, hence the corruption we see on this world is the invention of His children. Just ask your elders, Moshe tells us, and they will tell of the greatness of G-d, and the miracles He performed while taking us out of Egypt. They will relate to you how G-d chose us and made us into His special portion.
There will come a time when the Jewish people will be living in a place where everything is working out for them, and they will become prosperous. They will then begin to kick out at G-d and deny His role in their success, and even desert Him entirely. When this happens G-d will become angry with the Jewish people and set enemies upon them, enemies that will scatter them all over the world. (If you read the history of our people, you will find this to be chillingly accurate. Every time the Jewish nation becomes too comfortable in their host nation, and they begin to assimilate and lose their Jewishness, a terrible calamity suddenly befalls them and forces them to recognize their identity. It comes in different forms, from expulsions, to Inquisitions, to libels, to a Holocaust, but unfortunately it is a pattern that has repeated itself many times in our challenged history.)
Then, the enemy will rejoice thinking they have great power. They will not have the wisdom to see that no one has been able to quash Judaism in the past, and it is only the G-d of the Jews that has allowed them the success they have had in persecuting us. At this point, G-d swears that He will lift up His sword (metaphorically of course) and take vengeance upon those who have wreaked havoc on His people. He will lovingly return His people to their land and once again they will bask in His presence.
Although this message has some frightening and sobering undertones, we have to understand that this is what makes it a song. A song in order to have real beauty must have both low parts and high parts, which when contrasted with each other form enchanting music. This is the song Moshe teaches us before he dies. It is the story of a nation that has lows, when we are afflicted and persecuted, but then rises from the ashes to take flight again and soar. No good song can be created in monotone, the challenges and lows are what make the highs so special and precious.
At the end of the Parsha, Moshe tells his prime student and successor, Yehoshua, to teach in front of all the Jews, so that everyone will witness Moshe giving the mantle of leadership to Yehoshua, and not question his authority later. The Parsha concludes with G-d telling Moshe to climb to the top of a Mt. Nevo from where he will see the Land of Israel, the land he will be unable to enter. From this vantage point, Moshe saw not only the land, but he also saw prophetically all that would transpire to his beloved flock from the time of his death until the time of the Messiah!
Random Fact of the Week: Michigan borders no ocean… but has more lighthouses than any other state!
Quote of the Week: The really great deeds are done in secret. – Samuel Fremont
Fact of the Week: In 2002, runner Tom Johnson ran an 80-Km race against a horse… and beat it by 10 seconds!
Funny Line of the week: Before you criticize someone, you should walk a mile in their shoes. That way, when you criticize them, you’re a mile away, and you have their shoes.
Have a Radiant Shabbos,
R’ Leiby Burnham