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Published by Congregation Israel of Springfield NJ, 2018-09-14 07:01:43

Rei'ach HaSadeh - Volume 2: Reaching Out

MASTER DOCUMENT FORMATTED v.WEBSITE

THE IMPACT OF PERFORMING
MITZVOS BEIN ADAM LECHAVEIRO

BY: ELANA EREZ

In a well-known joke, a yeshiva bocher finds that his milk cartons are
routinely stolen from the yeshiva dorm fridge by one of his fellow students.
After unsuccessful attempts to deter the thief by writing on the carton that
stealing is a Torah prohibition, the milk owner instead writes in big letters
‘NOT CHOLOV YISRO’EL!’ The next day, no milk is stolen from the
fridge and the problem is solved.

In Parashas vaEschanan we find a repetition of the Aseres HaDibros,
with a few minor changes.1 Chazal explain that the two sides of the luchos
(tablets) were focusing on different areas of the mitzvos.2 The first luach
consisted of mitzvos that relate to the realm of bein adam leMakom
(commands between Man and G-d, i.e.,belief in G-d, observing Shabbos),
while the second luach consisted of mitzvos that relate to bein adam leChaveiro
(commands between Man and Man, i.e. prohibitions against stealing, falsely
testifying). R. Moses Ben Joseph di Trani (the “Mabit”), in a remarkable
insight, points out that there were far more words on the first luach than on
the second.3 Because there was much less space on which to inscribe them,
the words on the first luach were far smaller than those on the second. The
Mabit explains that this contrast was made deliberately by HaShem so that
the side that discussed the bein adam leChaveiro mitzvos would be more
prominent than the side that focused on bein adam leMakom. The Mabit
explains that because the yetser hara is strongest in the area of bein adam
leChaveiro,4 HaShem wanted people to focus more carefully on these mitzvos,
since extra effort is required to overcome the yetzer haRa in this area.

The Gemara provides evidence supporting the Mabit’s argument in
discussing the various sins in which people stumble.5 Specifically, it tells us
that a minority of people stumble in arayos (forbidden relationships), a
majority stumble in gezel (stealing), and everyone stumbles in avak lashon
haRa (dust of forbidden speech). Forbidden relationships generally fall in
the area of bein adam leMakom since both parties are complicit, whereas
stealing and lashon haRa both clearly fall within the realm of bein adam

1 Devarim 5:6-18.
2See R. Yehonasan Gefen, “The Two Tablets,” AISH, August 7, 2011, http://www.aish.com
/tp/i/gl/127089113.html (citing Chazal).
3 Ibid.
4 Ibid.
5 BT Bava Basra 165a.

88 Rei’ach HaSadeh

leChaveiro. Thus, the Gemara is indicating to us that people are more prone
to sin in mitzvos that pertain to bein adam leChaveiro.

The Vilna Gaon, writing on various pessukim in Mishlei, observes
that every mitzvah stems from a specific good middah (character trait), while
every aveirah stems from a bad middah.6 In an article published by Rav
Yehonasan Gefen, he expands on this point. 7 He writes that often it
remains possible for a person to have certain bad middos and still observe
many mitzvos. For example, a person who has a tendency to lose his temper
will not necessarily be hindered by this bad trait in his observance of
Shabbos, kashrus, and many other mitzvos in the realm of bein adam leMakom.
However, he will be tremendously hindered in the area of bein adam
leChaveiro. Every time he raises his voice in an inappropriate fashion, he will
very likely transgress the prohibition of ona’as devarim (hurtful words) and if
he shouts at someone in front of others, he will transgress the extremely
serious sin of malbin penei chaveiro beRabbim 8 (embarrassing someone in
public). Similarly, a person who has an ayin rah (looking at the bad in people
and situations) will still be able to pray three times a day and learn Torah;
however, he will very likely stumble in lashon haRa and fail at favorably
judging others.

Extra effort is required in performing mitzvos bein adam lechaveiro
since the root cause of failing in this area is typically a result of bad
middos. Knowing this, it is essential to work on the trait(s) one finds in
oneself that interferes with performing certain mitzvos. Surely, if one makes
a strong and consistent effort to improve, it will be possible, with siyata
diShemaya (Divine assistance), to overcome the yetzer haRa’s attempts to
place stumbling blocks in one’s path. May we be zoche (merit) to clarity and
the ability to honestly perform a productive cheshbon hanefesh (personal
spiritual accounting), to gain insight into the middos we need to improve
upon. In the zechus of performing mitzvos bein adam l’chaveiro, (the ones which
come easily and even more so the ones that do not) may we be zoche to
rejoice in rectifying the destruction of the second Beis haMikdash and bring
the Third Bayis, speedily in our days.

6 See Even Sheleima, Ch. 1. The Sefer Bivavi Mishkah Evneh quotes the Vilna Gaon as saying: “If
a person does not work hard to break his middos, there is no purpose to his life.”
http://www.bilvavi.net/english/understanding-your-middos-16-depth-tikkun-hamiddos.
7 See R. Yehonasan Gefen, “The Two Tablets.”
8 BT Bava Metzia 58b-59a.

A KABBALISTIC VIEW ON COMMUNITY

BY: ADAM GREISS

In the Torah, it is written: “but you shall love your neighbor as
yourself. I am G-d.”1 This quote is one of the most famous verses in all of
Torah, and we know the numerous teachings around this – from Rabbi
Hillel2 to Rabbi Akiva3 – but what is the deeper, spiritual aspect of this?
What can we learn about loving our neighbor – our community – as well as
the people of the world as a whole?

While there are many great figures in the world of Kabbalah, with
R. Isaac Luria (the “Arizal”) generally acknowledged as one of the greatest,
this article is based on the writings of R. Shimon bar Yochai4 and Rav
Yehuda Leib HaLevi Ashlag.5 Among many other works, R. Shimon is the
author of the Zohar,6 and R. Ashlag is considered one of the greatest mystics
of the 20th century. R. Ashlag may be the lesser known of these renowned
Kabbalists, but his historical and spiritual significance is confirmed by his
translation of the Zohar from Aramaic to Hebrew, along with his Sulam
commentary on the Zohar, between the years 1943-1953. For this, he was
given the name Ba’al ha-Sulam (“Master of the Ladder”).

Although we have all learned that loving one’s neighbor as one’s
self is a basic precept of Torah, the state of the world shows just how hard
this has been to achieve.

The illusion of our existence is that we perceive ourselves as
separate from one another. We have our own bodies, our own homes, our
own space. We can go so far as our own blocks, our own towns, our own
cities, our own states, our own countries. There are boundaries that
separate us, as any map illustrates clearly. But are we really that separate?
What of our “enemies?” What of those other countries? What of those that

1 Kedoshim 19:18
2 BT Shabbat 31a-b.
3 JT Nedarim 30b. Rashi also quotes Toras Kohanim in his commentary on Leviticus 19:8,
regarding R. Akiva’s statement that “you shall love your neighbor as yourself” is “an all-
embracing principle in Torah.”
4 2nd-century Tannaitic sage in ancient Judea.
5 R. Ashlag, also known as the Ba’al ha-Sulam was an orthodox Rabbi and Kabbalist born in
Lodz, Poland. He lived in Israel from 1922 until his death in 1954 (except for a two-year
stint in England). He published numerous Kabbalistic books and essays and is known for his
Sulam commentary on the Zohar. R. Ashlag strived to spread Kabbalah to the masses.
6 The Zohar (meaning “Splendor”), originally written in the 2nd century, is a principle text of
Kabbalah. The book is a commentary on the mystical aspects of Torah.

90 Rei’ach HaSadeh

look different than we do? What of those that speak different languages?
Or more simply, what of our fellow Jews – even in our own community?
Springfield, New Jersey has three synagogues and a Chabad House – all
within a 5.193 square-mile radius7 – that could not be more different. How
do we feel about one another? How does the diverse global Jewish
population feel about one another?

There is a story in the Zohar in which R. Shimon teaches about the
importance of seeing the parts of community as a whole:

This is similar to the seafarers on a ship, when a fool
among them stands up and wishes to punch a hole in the
boat. His neighbor asks him: Why are you drilling and he
answers: Why are you concerned, I am only drilling under
my own spot. He replies: Because we’ll both drown in the
boat together.8

The story illustrates that in fact we are all connected: whether we
like it or not or whether we see it or not, we are all in the same boat. We are
all in this together. All our actions, be they positive or negative, affect
everything and everyone. And this reality is not isolated to property, blocks,
and towns. For example, destroying our environment locally has been
proven to impact the world over. We can no longer continue to live in this
world thinking that we are alone in this game of life. What we do within our
boundaries affects everyone else – in one way or another.

In R. Ashlag’s series of essays titled “On World Peace,” he
discusses this concept in a section he calls “The Entire World is One
Community and One Society.” 9 R. Ashlag teaches that the total
subservience of a person to a community is like a “small cog” that in turn is
subservient to a machine.10 The good of the individual and the good of
his/her community are one in the same. However, community is boundless,
and therefore the world must be looked at as one community. He writes:

It should not astonish you that I associate the peace and
wellbeing of a single community with the peace and
wellbeing of the whole world, because in reality, we have

7 http://www.mapdevelopers.com/area_finder.php (last accessed August 10, 2018).
8 Zohar, on Parashat Naso, Verse 19 (translation from R. Ashlag’s Sulam).
9 R. Yehuda Ashlag, “The Entire World is One Community and One Society,” in On World
Peace: Two Essays by the Holy Kabbalist Rav Yehuda Ashlag, (Los Angeles:Kabbalah Publishing,
2012), pp. 42-46. On World Peace was originally published in 1933.
10 Ibid.

Adam Greiss 91

reached such a level that the whole world is considered as
only one community and one society. That is to say, since
every individual in society derives his vitality and every
need for the people of the entire world, he is thereby
obliged to serve the entire world and care for it.11
He understood this in 1933!
To further expound on these ideas, R. Ashlag notes the following
in his introduction to the Sulam commentary to the Zohar:
…the will to receive for oneself alone that is in the body
was likewise only created in order for us to blot it out,
remove it from the world, and transform it into the will to
give. The sufferings that we undergo are simply disclosures
that reveal to us the futility and damage that overlies the
will to receive for oneself alone.12
According to R. Ashlag, we need to transform ourselves from
beings who want to receive for ourselves alone to individuals who share
with others.13
Much of the pain and suffering in this world is the result of one’s
ego and the selfishness that permeates our society (be it innocently or
ignorantly). Again, the thought that we are in this alone, and we need
therefore to think of ourselves first, is the problem. That belief is an
illusion, and a big part of our spiritual work is to fight against it. Once we
achieve this transformation, and we will see the world as one large
community, and the boundaries can finally come down. And as beings who
are co-dependent, we truly will be able love our neighbors as ourselves.

11 Id. at p.46.
12 R. Avraham Mordechai Gottlieb, The Path of the Ladder: Principles in the Service of God
(Tzefat:Nehora Press, 2012)(quoting R. Ashlag Rav Yehuda Ashlag as he received these
teachings from his teachers R. Yehuda Leib haLevi Ashlag and R. Baruch Shalom haLevi
Ashlag (his son), available at http://www.nehorapress.com/the-path-of-the-ladder.html.
13 While this is a principle theme repeated in all of R. Ashlag’s works, this quote is taken
from an extract of The Path of the Ladder: Principles in the Service of God. See also, Pirkei Avot
1:14 (reciting Hillel, who said “when I am only for myself, what am I?”).

GEMILUT CHASADIM:
MORE THAN RANDOM ACTS OF KINDNESS

BY: ROBERT GOLDBERG, PH.D.
Ask any Jew what chesed is and you are likely to get a wide variety of
answers. For some, the term means selfless kindness. To others, it
describes a range of community service activities. More recently, chesed has
been appropriated as a label to certify that anything defined as ‘social
justice’ is an expression of this Jewish value.
However, chesed – as well as the phrase gemilut chasadim – has almost
nothing to do with the commission of random acts of kindness on the one
hand and egalitarian activities or politics on the other. Rather, according to
Elinoar Bareket, chesed refers to actions that turn a covenantal arrangement
between a powerful person or deity and their subject(s) into partnerships to
achieve broader purposes.1 More specifically, G-d’s enduring chesed is what
makes the berit (covenant) with the Jewish people possible and allows it to
serve as software for improving and sustaining the moral climate needed to
allow families, communities and nations thrive.
Similarly, it is clear from a wide range of sources, that gemilut
chasadim is not merely the approximate human expression of chesed. Instead,
it is a reciprocal act of gratitude that ensures that human relationships,
communities, political systems evolve justly.
Chesed is Foundational
The first mention of the term gemilut chasadim in the Mishnah
occurs in Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers): Shimon the Righteous was from the
remnants of the Great Assembly. He would say, “On three things the world stands: on
the Torah, avodah (service), and gemilut hasadim.” 2
This statement is quoted quite often to justify or encourage
community service or, as noted, social justice activities which, as
proponents argue, are necessary for tikkun olam (used herein as repairing the
world). But Shimon’s observation cannot be understood in isolation. We
need to read the very next saying if we want a working definition of gemilut
chasadim and the important role it plays in Judaism and human history:

1 Elinoar Bareket, Chesed: A Reciprocal Covenant (2017).
2 1:2.

Robert Goldberg, Ph.D. 93

Antigonos, man of Sokho, received from Shimon the
Righteous. He would say, “Do not be as servants who are
serving the master in order to receive a reward, rather be
as servants who are serving the master not in order to
receive a reward; and may the fear of Heaven be upon
you.”3
This statement is taken to mean, as Bartenura notes: “A person
should not serve his Creator even for the hope of a reward such as this, but
rather out of love alone.”4
But it also provides a concrete example of what kind of
relationships gemilut chasadim promotes. More importantly, serving the
master not in order to receive a reward is how G-d behaves in order to
make a brit with the Jewish people possible and, in turn, is the relationship
we should have to each other.
This is how Moses ben Maimonides (the “Rambam”) understands
gemilut hasadim and chesed. In his Guide for the Perplexed, Rambam – while
referencing his own commentary on Pirkei Avot – explains chesed as
denoting an excess [in some moral quality]. It is especially
used of extraordinary kindness. Chesed is practised in two
ways: first, we show kindness to those who have no claim whatever
upon us; secondly, we are kind to those to whom it is due, in a greater
measure than is due to them. Chesed occurs mostly in the sense
of showing kindness to those who have no claim to it
whatever. For this reason, the term chesed is employed to
express the good bestowed upon us by G-d: “I will
mention the chesed of the Lord” (Isaiah 63:7). On this
account, the very act of the creation is an act of G-d's
chesed. “I have said, The Universe is built up in Chesed”
(Psalms 89:3); i.e., the building up of the Universe is an act
of Chesed. Also, in the enumeration of G-d's attributes,
Scripture says: “And abundance in Chesed” (Exodus 34:6).5
Rambam makes it clear that gemilut chasadim are human actions or
attitudes essential to sustaining the world:

3 Id. at 1:3.
4 See R. Ovadiah ben Abraham of Bartenura’s commentary on Pirkei Avot 1:3.
5 Guide for the Perplexed, Sec. III, Ch. LIII. (emphasis added).

94 Rei’ach HaSadeh

...with wisdom, and that is the Torah; and with
enhancement of [good] traits, and that is gemilut hasadim;
and with the fulfillment of commandments, and that is the
sacrifices [referred to in the Mishnah as service] - there will
be a continuous refinement of the world and ordering of
its existence in the most complete way.6
The Rambam goes on to note that chesed is not a kind act but a
unique attribute of the covenantal relationship upon which the world was
created: “We have thus shown that chesed denotes pure charity ; zedakah is
kindness, prompted by a certain moral conscience in man, and being a
means of attaining perfection for his soul.”7
Gemilut Chasadim and Gratitude
What is pure charity and how does it improve our “traits”? To
answer those questions we must turn back to the statement of Antigonos,
which I argue is his characterization of how G-d relates to the Jewish
people in order to make the berit a framework for building a world that
operationalizes G-d’s attributes: be as servants who are serving the master
not in order to receive a reward.
To be sure, as Rambam concludes, chesed is showing kindness to
those who are not expecting it. But it is not the kindness a powerful ruler
shows his or her subjects even though he has absolute power. Rather, chesed
is special form of kindness designed to engender a special type of gratitude.
Chesed is the act of elevating others. And gratitude is not merely a show of
thanks, it is responding to ‘extraordinary kindness’ to gemilut chasadim by
serving others without regard to getting compensated.
This attitude of gratitude is at the core of Jewish continuity. We
know this because of the angry reaction lack of gratitude generates from
G-d. Without gratitude chesed cannot flourish. And when that happens
covenants collapse.
As Jon Levenson points out:

6 Rambam’s Commentary on the Mishnah, Pirkei Avot 1:2. Translation from Sefaria, available at
https://www.sefaria.org/Rambam_on_Pirkei_Avot.1.2.1.
7 Guide for the Perplexed, Sec. III, Ch. LIII. Further, the while we have established that chesed is
beyond measure, the Rambam is focusing on the where and how one performs chesed, while
the Mishnah in Pirke Avoth is focused on the why.

Robert Goldberg, Ph.D. 95

That is why, immediately following the command to love
G-d, G-d sternly warns Israel of the danger of forgetting
him when he has brought them into the promised land and
they benefit from cities, houses, cisterns, and vineyards
that they did not produce (Deuteronomy 6:10–15).
Complacency and a sense of entitlement, by counteracting
gratitude, undermine the profound supra-legal motivation
for observance. By mistaking gifts for possessions, those
who harbor these destructive attitudes deny the moral
claims of the divine giver and miss the behavioral
implications of the great national narrative in which the
laws have come to be embedded. 8
Gemilut chasadim are expressions of gratitude without which the
world would not have been created. And lack of gratitude makes G-d’s
chesed towards us more difficult. In light of this interpretation of ingratitude,
it is not surprising to find the following statement made by the Maharal: “it
is forbidden to do acts of chesed for one who will not respond with gratitude.
For this reason, it didn’t rain until man was created to pray for the rain.”9
It is for this reason and out of a concern that world would not
exist, let alone stand, without gemilut hasadim that R. Yitzhak Hutner states:
When a person receives a benefit from his fellow, a seed of
chesed is planted in his world. If the nature of Chesed is
functioning healthily and properly, this seed cannot but
give rise to additional chesed. But if the person is an ingrate,
it is as if he uproots the sprouting of chesed with his bare
hands. Without a doubt, uprooting a planting of chesed is
even more antithetical to the essence of chesed than is
simply being uninvolved in matters of chesed…An ingrate
damages and destroys the very attribute of chesed…One who
is ungrateful to his fellow; it is as if he is ungrateful to G-d, because
his denial is a response not just to the particular act of chesed that
was done for him, but also to attribute of chesed in the broadest
sense.10

8 Prof. Jon D. Levenson, The Shema and the Commandment to Love God in Its Ancient Contexts
(2016).
9 Gur Aryeh commentary on Genesis 2:5 on “veayn maker betovosom.”
10 Pachad Yitzchak, Rosh Hashanah, #3 (reflecting on the Maharal regardingthe seriousness of
ingratitude writes of the seriousness of failing to be grateful)(emphasis added).

96 Rei’ach HaSadeh

In fact, R. Hutner points out that chesed makes creation possible:
In judgment, in the law governing creation, evil is precisely
equal to good, but in the world of chesed, a certain
measurement of good has a greater value than the same
measurement of evil. They are equal – but not entirely
equal. The possibility thus exists of taking a balanced
scale, with the two sides perfectly equal, and tilting it in
favor of kindness – because goodness is worth more.11
Conclusion: Berit and Chesed, Together Always
Gemilut hasadim is a unique concept that cannot be fully understood
or actualized outside of the covenant or Judaism. As Daniel Elazar wrote:
The idea of covenant is perhaps the most daring in the
Bible and one of the most daring in all of human history.
The idea of covenant is that G-d, the omnipotent and
omniscient, enters into a partnership with humans for the
conduct of affairs on earth in this world.12
A berit requires chesed from G-d because, as Elazar further points
out:
A covenant requires that the partners to it be roughly equal
or at least equal with regard to the task at hand for which
the covenant is made. Thus G-d not only makes space for
humans to exist, but gives them a certain equality in
matters of this world in a situation where otherwise
equality is unthinkable.13
The resulting equality is not equality of outcomes or individual
opportunities. Rather, it is parity for partnerships that perpetuates chesed.

11 R. Ezra Bick, “Rav Chesed: The seventh of the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy is called “rav
chesed”, VBM Haretzion, available at https://www.etzion.org.il/en/shiur-06-”rav-chesed”
(emphasis added).
12 Daniel J. Elazar, HaBrit V’HaHesed: Foundations in the Jewish System, Jerusalem Center for
Public Affairs, http://www.jcpa.org/dje/articles2/britvhesed.htm (Citing Perry Miller, The
New England Mind: The Seventeenth Century (Boston:Beacon Press, 1939); The New England
Mind: From Colony to Province (Boston:Beacon Press, 1953); Errand into the Wilderness
(Cambridge:Harvard University Press, 1956).
13 Ibid.

REACHING IN TO REACH OUT

BY: BEN HOFFER

There is a famous teaching in Pirkei Avos that states in the name of
Hillel: “Im ein ani li, mi li? u’ch’sheAni leAtzmi, mah ani?”-“If I am not responsible
for myself, who will be responsible for me? And if all I am focused on is myself, what am
I?”1 This Mishnah seems to establish a dual responsibility for every person.
We are all simultaneously responsible for our own well-being, while also
being tasked with doing whatever we can to ensure the well-being of others.
For now, let us focus on the second half of this teaching that clearly
establishes a social responsibility to “reach out,” which falls in line with the
principle of “kol yisra’el areivim zeh laZeh,”-”All Jews are responsible for each
other.”2 Since the obligation to help others is well established in Jewish
literature,3 tradition,4 and law5, the question that begs to be answered is,
“WHY are we responsible for others?” I believe the answer may be more
focused on the person performing the act of chesed rather than the person
who is the perceived beneficiary of the act of chesed.

It is certainly plausible that HaShem, in his role as Ribono Shel Olam
(Master of the World) and Avinu ShebaShamayim (Our Father in Heaven),
established the obligation to help others merely for the purpose of creating
a social framework that organically addresses communal needs by
prioritizing a selfless culture. There are no shortage of commentaries who
have suggested that various mitzvos (commandments) are based on this line
of thinking.6 One example of a mitzvah that is generally perceived this way is
tzeddakah (charity), which some suggest is primarily a construct to re-
distribute means from those with excess to those who are lacking.7 Another
example is bikkur cholim (visiting the sick), which obligates one to visit a sick
person for the purpose of relieving the pain of the person suffering with an
illness.8 The assumed premise here is that acts of chesed are done by one
person seeking to help another who is in a less fortunate situation.
However, perception is frequently not very well connected to reality. One
of the many other beautiful lessons taught in Pirkei Avos is that one should
not assume a certain mitzvah or aveirah (sin) is either minor or major because

1 1:14.
2 BT Shavuos 39a.
3 Vayikra 19:18.
4 Passover Hagaddah. See c.v. “Ha Lachma Anya.”
5 Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh De’ah 249:7.
6 See, e.g., Pirkei Avos 3:21.
7 Marshall Breger, Public Policy and Social Issues: Jewish Sources and Perspectives
(Westport:Greenwood Publishing Group, 2003), p. 133.
8 See BT Nedarim 39a-b.

98 Rei’ach HaSadeh

only HaShem knows the true impact/value of each mitzvah or aveirah.9
Similarly, as a result of our limited understanding of HaShem and the
world, we can never be sure that we understand the purpose of any given
mitzvah or aveirah. Therefore, to assume that acts of kindness or chesed have
been enshrined in our laws and ingrained in our culture as a construct to
address the inequities that invariably exist in society may be nothing more
than fool’s gold.

In order to perceive a different perspective on why HaShem might
have commanded certain halachos with an emphasis on helping those in
need, we need to first try to attain a better understanding of how each
individual relates to everyone else. Since the destruction of the second Beis
haMikdash (the Holy Temple in Jerusalem) if not earlier, Jews have been
talking about the concept of achdus (unity) and the primary pitfall that
prevents achdus, namely sinas chinam (baseless hatred). I have long believed
that if we could persuade each member of Kelal Yisra’el (the entire Jewish
People) to acknowledge that all Jews have more in common with one
another Jew than the differences that divide us, we could make serious
progress in addressing this spiritual cancer that affects our people. If we
only saw the pintele yid10 that burns at the epicenter of every Jew, we would
never chas veShalom (heaven forbid) want to create any kind of separation,
distance, or divide between us and another Jew. In fact, exactly the opposite
would occur. We would be drawn towards every Jew and his or her pintele
yid despite whatever other differences may exist.

However, I now believe that this thinking is critically flawed. True
Jewish achdus does not emanate from common interests or values. If this
were the case, achdus would not be particular value for Jews but would
rather one for all humankind. Just because people are “members of the
Tribe,” it does not mean that they will have more in common with Jews in
terms of values and interests.11 One does not need to look very far to see
the incredibly broad spectrum of Jews who live in the world today.12 Rather,

9 See Ch.2:1. (Author’s interpretation).
10 Loosely translated from the Yiddish as “the Spark of Jewish Holiness Within” and
explained in detail below.
11 Pirkei Avos teaches us connectivity based solely on shared interests is fundamentally
flawed and destined to fail. See Ch. 5:16. The achdus I am suggesting is specifically suggesting
the pintele yid as the commonality all Jews share that does not fluctuate and cannot be abated.
12 There are undoubtedly connections between many people based on shared history or
common interests. We do not need to look any further in society than when two fans of the
same sports team meet each other and have instant chemistry; or the sense of kinship that is
felt by two people who discover, after meeting each other, that they have grown up in the
same town. However, those bonds are superficial in that they are limited to this world and
exist on a physical or emotional level. Conversely, the connection that exists between each

Ben Hoffer 99

the true basis for achdus is that all Jews are part and parcel of each other. We
are one, living, breathing organism; hence, “Am Yisra’el Chai” (The Nation
of Israel “lives”).13 In this framework, what Jews have in common is not
their ideals and/or aspirations or experiences; rather, it is that they are all
spiritually connected by their pintele yid.

The Tanya explains the verse in Sefer Iyov as suggesting that the soul
is a “chelek Elokah mima’al, mamash,”-“a piece of G-D from above,” is meant
to be taken quite literally. 14 The Tanya develops this thought by
referencing the pasuk (verse) in Parashas Bereishis that states, “vaYipach bApav
nishmas chayim,”-“And G-D blew into his nostrils the breath of life” and applying
the Zohar, which teaches us a beautiful lesson on this pasuk.15 According to
the Ba’al haTanya, when the Torah uses the metaphor of the soul being
“blown in,” the Torah is teaching us “that G-D has a deep, inward
attachment with the soul, in distinction to the rest of creation, which arose
through the more superficial ‘speech’ of G-D.”16 The Tanya goes on to

Jew extends to the spiritual level and has an impact both in this world and Olam Haba (the
World to Come).
13 I experienced this firsthand on a trip to Israel. I was staying in a hotel in Jerusalem where
the aveilim (mourners) who had lost loved ones in a recent terror attack in a Paris
supermarket were sitting shiva. The crowds that came to console them were huge and were
pouring out of the hall where the families were sitting. After waiting for some time, I made
my way to the front and sat directly in front of the aveilim. A man who had lost his son asked
us (those sitting closest to him) where we were from. We each took turns saying what part of
the world we were from. The visitors came from the four corners of the world and from the
seventy faces of the religious spectrum as well. There was really nothing to say and we all just
sat there crying.

It was in that moment that I simultaneously understood why the customary words
of consolation to an avel are “HaMakom y’nachem etchem b’toch sha’ar avlei tzion v’Yerushalayim,”-
”May HaMakom (a name of HaShem) comfort you amongst the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem,” and
why at the memorial in Paris for those who were killed in the terror attack, people were
singing “Am Yisra’el Chai.” We use the name “HaMakom” since the word literally means
“The Place” and connotes the aspect that HaShem is everywhere. We do this to tell those
who have just suffered a loss that they are not alone. We remind them that just like HaShem
is everywhere, they are part of a Jewish family that spans the world. Not only are we telling
the aveilim that they are part of a larger Jewish family, but this family, this People of Israel, is
alive. It is alive in the way that when Jews feel pain in Paris, Jews from all over the world
share in that pain and feel that suffering and, while an avel might have a hole in their hearts,
they should feel comfort in knowing that they are really part of something much bigger than
themselves. The connection between the pintele yid is so real that an individual can feel pain
vicariously through someone with whom they have no apparent direct relationship other
than a shared identity/people.
14 Tanya, Ch. 2 (quoting Iyov 31:2). The Tanya was authored by R. Shneur Zalman of Liadi
(founder of the Chabad Chassidic movement) and first published in 1797.
15 Ibid. (quoting Bereishis 2:7).
16 R. Chaim Miller, The Practical Tanya - Part One - The Book for Inbetweeners (New York:Kol
Menachem, 2017), p. 45.

100 Rei’ach HaSadeh

discuss the bond that exists between all Jewish souls17 and states “veLachein
nikra’u kol Yisro’el achim mamash,”-“and that is why all Israel are called brothers,
literally,” since the source of the soul of all Jews is the One G-D.18 It is a
branch of the original elevated soul that G-D placed in Adam haRishon that
is the pintele yid living inside of each and every Jew, wherever he or she may
be, both physically and spiritually. This pintele yid, this elevated soul, this
piece of G-D Himself, is like a completely renewable source of spiritual
energy that no matter what the body housing this soul experiences, it
cannot be sullied, its fire cannot be extinguished and, like the infinite light
of HaShem that sourced this soul, its ability to affect the world is infinite.
Therefore, the pintele yid exists as a constant connection between each and
every Jew and Avinu ShebaShamayim.

Returning to our original question of the Mishnah in Pirkei Avos
with this new perspective on the deep relationship shared by Jews, we come
to a very different understanding. When the Mishnah says “u’ch’sheAni
leAtzmi, mah ani?” we are being taught that someone who fails to recognize
the common thread that binds all Jews together and directly to HaShem is

17 One could challenge this premise by pointing out that the passuk quoted by the Tanya to
confirm the level of spirituality/holiness of a Jew’s soul is from the creation of Adam
HaRishon. Whether Abraham or someone else is the first Jew is debatable. However, other
than a reference in the Talmud that any biblical reference of Adam refers to Jews (See BT
Bava Kama 38a, c.v. Tosfos on “Eleh HaAdam”), there is no commentary that I am aware of
that claims Adam HaRishon was Jewish. Therefore, how then can it be that we, the Jewish
people, have inherited some heightened level of a soul from Adam HaRishon, but the nations
of the world have not?

One answer brought down by the Arizal states that when HaShem created the
world, culminating with Adam HaRishon, there was only one neshama (Kitve Ha Arizal, Shaar
Ha Gilgulim, Fifteenth Introduction). However, when Adam HaRishon ate from the Eitz
HaDa’as (Tree of Knowledge), he brought fracture and brokenness into the world (Ibid.).
This pirud (division) was so deep that it broke Adam HaRishon’s soul into different souls
(Ibid.). The Jewish people, whom HaShem designated as His children and with whom He
entered into a covenant, have been tasked with being the Ohr La’Goyim (Light Unto the
Nations), having inherited an elevated soul. Although the idea of Jews having an elevated
soul as compared to non-Jews seems to be a general principle supported by the corpus of
Orthodox-Jewish literature, my own conscience wants to believe that a more literal reading
of the verse is appropriate and that all people are created with an equally elevated soul. What
each person does with their own piece of G-D is up to every individual and that is the
ultimate metric for measuring the greatness of any person.

Spiderman (or more accurately his Uncle Ben) teaches the lesson that “With great
power comes great responsibility.” (Spider-Man [Columbia Pictures, 2002]) However, based
on the language we use when making a blessing of “asher kidishanu b’mitzvosav”-”that we have
been made holy through Your commandments,” we learn that it is accepting great responsibility that
gives one greater power. Therefore, the holiness of the elevated soul possessed by Jews is
available to anyone accepting the responsibility of observing HaShem’s commandments as
set forth in our Torah and developed by our mesorah.
18 The Practical Tanya at p. 362 (quoting Ch. 32 of the Tanya).

Ben Hoffer 101

so lacking that the Mishnah questions “what” this person is. It is almost as if
those who lack the proper understanding of the role played by the pintele yid
are, by definition, at risk of losing their identity; and without question, those
who are not in touch with who they are will be seriously limited in their
capacity to help others.

Therefore, in order to reach out to our fellow Jews, we must first
reach within and understand who and what we truly are. At our most basic
level, we are pintele yid – a unique piece of G-D Himself. It is only by
developing and cultivating our awareness of, and our connection to, our
pintele yid that we will be empowered to reach out and help others. Then,
we will be in position ont only to meet their physical needs, but to connect
to them spiritually as well. Significantly, this connection will not only
elevate the growth of those performing acts of chesed, but also those who are
the beneficiaries of acts of chesed. I would like to suggest that HaShem
commands us to look after one another specifically to nurture the spiritual
essence, the pintele yid, that all Jews share.

May HaShem bless us all to connect in a genuine and passionate
way with our own pintele yid so that we can access this immense spiritual
power that will enable us all to reach out spiritually and physically to
improve the world around us. If we can be successful in viewing all of life’s
interactions through this lens, our everyday actions will be imbued with a
sense of spirituality and purpose that will bring our individual and collective
service of HaShem to heights previously thought unattainable.

OUR STANDARD OF TZEDDAKAH

BY: DANIEL KRAUSZ

The Torah warns us to be vigilant in our consumption and our
appreciation of abundance:

[L]est you eat and be satisfied, and you build good houses and settle.
And your cattle and sheep and goats increase and you increase your
silver and gold for yourselves and everything that you have will
increase… And you say in your heart my strength and the might of
my hand made me all this wealth.1

A careful examination of these verses illuminates a clear
progression. The Torah starts by telling us our basic needs will be taken
care of; we will have food and shelter. But not just any food and shelter; our
food will be “satisfying” and our houses “good.” From there we see that
our assets (for desert wanderers those would be cattle and sheep) will
increase and thus our ability to generate further wealth will, too, be
abundant. Finally, our desire for luxury and opulence will begin to intensify,
as satiation and success lead to an amassing of gold and silver. Interestingly,
the Torah does not, in any way, explicitly prohibit the amassing of such
wealth, but rather cautions us is in our attitude towards that wealth. The
Torah warns starkly against taking the attitude that it is our strength and
might that generated such wealth. The question HaShem is imploring us to
ask is; do we view such abundance as ‘for us and by us’, or do we view it as
a conduit for good in the world?

Unfortunately, history tells us that this warning is not simply a
ceremonial note of caution, but rather a nearly universal truth: without
giving constant thought to the use of our material wealth we are doomed,
perhaps even without intention, to pursue the above-described sequence of
progressively negative behavior. In fact, lest we think we are not susceptible
to such foreign thinking, we read in Melachim that the wisest of all men,
King Solomon, succumbs to this very temptation. 2 As King Solomon
piously seeks to build a Temple for HaShem, we see he forms a contract
with Hiram, King of Tyre, to supply the raw materials for the building
project and in return for twenty thousand measures of wheat annually,
among other things. 3 While the details of this agreement may seem
somewhat mundane, there is one clear and important takeaway: the Jewish

1 Devarim 8:12-17.
2 I Malachim Ch. 8-10.
3 Id. at 5:24-25.

Daniel Krausz 103

people were materially satiated. A nation would never trade away food for
building materials unless it had an excess. Interestingly, here the food is
being traded precisely for the materials to be used to build a “good” house,
i.e., a house for G-d--though as we see later in Melachim, King Solomon
will eventually turn toward building his own, lavish palace as well. As R.
Alex Israel notes in his elucidation of Melachim, the nation of Israel had
undergone a significant socioeconomic change during Solomon’s reign. 4
Ancient Israel had transitioned from a successful agricultural economy to
one focused on amassing gold and silver. 5 Ultimately this leads to the
downfall of the kingdom and its leader, King Solomon. A few chapters later
we see that the country has become so indebted to Hiram that the wheat
alone is not sufficient to needs; eventually, he is also given land.6 Finally, we
see the ultimate result of this indulgence in luxuries of wealth: the kingdom
descends into idolatry, forgetting the explicit warning the Torah provides.7

Whether we realize it or not, our generation faces this similar
challenge of avoiding the pitfalls and trappings of great wealth. We live in
some of the wealthiest suburbs of some of the wealthiest cities in the
wealthiest country in the history of the world. We have been blessed with
abundance, unfathomable to those even one or two generations prior. This
wealth, of course, is a great berachah, but one whose challenges must not be
quickly forgotten. If the wisest of all men fell prey to these very
circumstances, how are we to prevail? Luckily, the Torah gives us a path.
In sefer Hagai, which is famously quoted at the beginning of Tractate Avodah
Zarah, the navi tells us “Li haKesef veLi haZahav, ne’um HaShem tzeva’ot,”-
“Mine is the silver and Mine is the gold, says HaShem.”8 This passuk should serve
as a constant reminder that we are but stewards of HaShem’s capital. As
those stewards, the Torah tells us to enjoy the blessings HaShem has given
us, but to always remember what and Who is primary. One obvious way we
demonstrate to HaShem our recognition of this responsibility through
giving our money to tzeddakah.

The Rambam states that we must be careful with our performance
of the mitzvah of charity as it is a “siman leTzadik zera Avraham,” because “it
is a mark of a righteous person, a descendant of Avraham.”9 There he quotes from
Genesis: “For I [HaShem] have cherished him [Avraham] because he
commands his children and his household after him that they keep the way

4 R. Alex Israel, I Kings: Torn in Two (Jerusalem: Maggid, 2013), pp. 113-116.
5 Ibid.
6 I Malachim 9:10-14.
7 I Malachim 11:1-10.
8 Haggai 2:8; BT Avodah Zarah 2b.
9 Mishnah Torah, Halachot Matanot Aniyim, 10:1.

104 Rei’ach HaSadeh

of HaShem, doing charity and justice.”10 Rambam further quotes sefer Isaiah
that Israel will ultimately be redeemed through charity.11

With respect to the amount one should give to charity, the
Rambam states: “How much? The most desirable way of performing
the mitzvah is to give one-fifth (20%) of one’s financial resources. Giving
one-tenth (10%) is an ordinary measure.”12 The Shulchan Aruch agrees with
this statement of the Rambam and in Yoreh Dei’ah notes:

If one cannot afford to give all the poor as much as they
need, one can give up to 20% of one’s possessions and that
is the ideal mitzvah (mitzvah min hamuvchar); 10% is the
average way (midah beinonit) to fulfill this mitzvah; less than
that is considered miserly.”13 The Rama goes on to clarify
the statement of the Shulchan Aruch and specify that one’s
family and neighbors should take precedence over
strangers when it comes to the distribution of charity. The
Aruch haShulchan reiterates the statement of the Shulchan
Aruch stating: “However, it is obvious that a person who
earns a prosperous living, like an important householder –
who eats bread, meat and other cooked items as befits
him; and clothes and cloaks himself appropriately – is
obligated to disburse 10 or 20% of his income in charity.14

There is much discussion about the apparent dispute between the
Bavli and Yerushalmi regarding whether 20% is, in fact, a ceiling for
giving.15 Various Rishonim and Achronim seem to differ in which cases one
should be willing to give more than 20%, though most seem to agree that
there are exceptions to the 20% limit.16

We have been programmed to believe 10% is the proper amount to
give to tzeddakah and that 20% is the maximum. However, it seems clear
from a multitude of different sources - including the Rambam, Shulchan
Aruch and Aruch Hashulchan - that 10%, in fact, is simply the average way to
perform this mitzvah. As noted above, we do not lead average lifestyles and
hopefully we do not seek to serve HaShem by what Rambam calls

10 18:19.
11 1:27 (“Tzion b’mishpat t’fedah v’shveya b’tzeddakah”-“Zion shall be saved in the judgment; Her
repentant ones, in the retribution”).
12 Mishnah Torah, Halachot Matanot Aniyim 6:5.
13 249:1(emphasis added).
14 251:5.
15 See, e.g., JT Peah 1:1; BT Kesubos 50a.
16 For a more in-depth discussion of the 20% limit see the Minchat Asher on Parshat Vayetzei.

Daniel Krausz 105

“ordinary measure.” HaShem has blessed us with the ability to live in great
comfort, with great conveniences, luxuries and wealth. Our communities
are bastions of the American dream, evolving from a group of destitute
immigrants to the highest levels of society within just a couple of
generations. It is important, though, to always remember “Li haKesef, veLi
haZahav ne’um HaShem tzevaot,” that we are the descendants of Avraham and
that tzeddakah is our “siman leTzaddik.” We must ask ourselves, if we are
giving tzeddakah commensurate with our lifestyles, or are we establishing
our lifestyles around our ability to give to tzeddakah? In determining this, we
should heed the above Rishonim and not view 10% as a target for charity
but as a bare minimum given our standard of living. We have gotten to
where we are, in part, because as professionals we do not accept mediocrity
as a goal. So too, as a community we should continue to strive to overcome
the temptation to be average in our service of HaShem, and deeply
internalize the statement of Isaiah that through charity will Israel ultimately
be redeemed.

AHAVAT HAGER: LOVING OUR FELLOW CONVERTS*

BY: DANIELLE PEPPER

“Love cannot be attained without the capacity to love one’s neighbor, without true
humility, courage, faith and discipline. In a culture in which these qualities are rare, the

attainment of the capacity to love must remain a rare achievement.” 1

Three times we are asked in the Torah to love converts. The first
time we are told that the convert is to be considered a friend, and is
therefore included in the mitzvah,”You must love your neighbor as (you
love) yourself”-“veAhavta LeRei’acha Kamocha.”2 HaShem commands us a
second time to love those who choose to attach themselves to the Jewish
people: “The stranger who resides with you… you shall love him as
yourself”-“haGer haGar Itchem – veAhavta Lo Kamocha”.3 And then for a third,
seemingly repetitive time, we are told: “You must also show love toward the
foreigner, since you were foreigners in the land of Egypt”-“veAhavtem et
haGer.”4 Examining each of these nuances will reveal the many aspects of
this important mitzvah.

Those who make the choice to follow the laws of the Torah take it
upon themselves to, submit to the will of HaShem in their thoughts, beliefs
and actions. It is quite a different matter to compel oneself to love another
in order to fulfill a mitzvah. In fact, the mitzvah to love another is a paradox
because love is not only extremely individual and intimate, but the ultimate
expression of the freedom of our souls. Further, love is almost impossible
to understand; even the world’s greatest thinkers, poets and artists cannot
fully capture its depths. We learn from experience that the deeper and
stronger love is, the rarer it is; and that it tends to fade outside the “natural”
circle of love between relatives, spouses, community and friends. Obligating
Jews to feel the emotion of love for another, and specifically for the

*This essay is adapted from a collection of essays written by my grandfather, Rav Zev
Gotthold, titled Tach’kemon, which was published after he passed away. After he made Aliya
in 1951, he worked for the Ministry of Religion and devoted himself to both helping the
orphans of the Holocaust and guiding converts. He would find much pride and joy in the
knowledge that his grandchildren are continuously learning from his teachings. “Tzadikim
words serve as their memories.”
1 Erich Fromm, The Art of Loving (New York:Harper & Row, Inc., 1956), p. vii. I decided to
read Fromm because this famous psychoanalyst approached my grandfather to deepen his
understanding of the Jewish Torah.
2 Leviticus 19:18. Translation from R. Aryeh Kaplan, The Living Torah, (New York:Maznaim
Pub. Corp., 1981), p. 350.
3 Leviticus 19:34. Translation from The Living Torah at p. 352.
4 Deuteronomy 10:19. Translation from The Living Torah at p. 526.

Danielle Pepper 107

convert, seems to be an immense moral and emotional test. In many
English translations of the pasuk above the word “reia” is defined as
“neighbor,” and the word “love” as “befriend.”5 How will the Torah weigh
the mitzvah to love against a Jew’s nature and mental powers?

The language used to convey this mitzvah reveals the varieties of
love that people experience. In the first two pessukim from Vayikra, the
convert is meant to be loved in relation to ourselves – “veAhavtem Lo” –
whereas in the third pasuk, in Devarim, we are commanded more directly to
love the convert - “veAhavtem Oto.” The syntax corresponds to two types of
love: a deep, mutual love, versus affection, sympathy, friendliness and
fondness. In addition, the first two pessukim command us to love the
convert “kamocha,” as we would love ourselves. The sages asked, “How can
the love of another be compared to self-love?” They answered, “We should
act toward the other as we would want things done for ourselves.” When
the Rambam encountered this difficulty, he solved it by explaining we
should love the other by seeking what is best for him, just as we wish to
attain what is best for us.6 This kind of love does not obligate us to love the
other’s actual self, but rather to seek to fulfill his wishes and needs as we
would our own—without, however, putting at risk our own welfare. Finally,
the Rambam offers another interpretation: we are meant to love the other
as we love our own bodies.7 The Rambam highlights the practical side of
this love in the form of acts of benevolence – visiting the sick, comforting
mourners, dowering the bride and taking care of burial needs. Again, all the
things that we wish to be done for us, we should do for others.

Against this background of the mitzvah to love our fellow man, we
can understand another aspect of the commandment to love the convert: its
relationship to the mitzvah to love HaShem. We see this in the similarity
between the phrases “veAhavta et haGer” and “veAhavta et Elokecha.” The
Rambam teaches that the emphasis on loving the convert--which some
might say is included in the mitzvah of loving our fellow man--isn’t mere
repetition, but rather a lesson in the level of love we should show them.8 If
love for our fellow man is on one end of a scale, and love of HaShem on
the other, love for the convert should be somewhere in the middle, or even
closer to that of HaShem. This teaching leads us to a clearer understanding
of direct love, such as the love we are obligated to feel towards HaShem,

5 See Deuteronomy 10:19 in the JPS Hebrew-English Tanakh (Philadelphia:The Jewish
Publication Society, 1999), p. 398.
6 Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot De’ot 6:3.
7 Ibid.
8 Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Book of Mitzvoth: Positive Commandments, Mitzvah 207.

108 Rei’ach HaSadeh

and indirect love, as it is expressed in the desire to want the best for our
fellow man.

Loving ourselves is crucial to the success of any loving relationship,
as it enables us to confidently express our love for others and do whatever
is required to enable them to grow. A love such as this allows both parties
to fully be whole and is characterized as “Rei’acha Asher keNafshecha”9 – your
friend is equal to your own soul. David and Yehonatan’s love for each other
was this type of love; as we learn, “and Yehonatan’s soul was tied with
David’s soul.”10 This intimacy is a higher and deeper kind of love than
simply loving others as we would ourselves. On the surface, achieving this
type of love for complete strangers seems impossibly challenging—how
could we possibly love them as we do our own souls? In fact, we must love
our own souls, understand our own needs; and once we do, we will find the
key to unlocking the paradox of loving others “kamocha.” Armed with self-
knowledge, we can identify the struggles and needs of others, and respond
by showing kindness, sympathy, empathy--and doing so while maintaining
their dignity and pride. These are all traits we should strive toward. We
should always treat the other as an equal, in stature and respect.

[L]love, in principle, is indivisible as far as the connection
between “objects” and one’s own self is concerned.
Genuine love is an expression of productiveness and
implies care, respect, responsibility and knowledge. It is
not an ‘affect’ in the sense of being affected by somebody,
but an active striving for the growth and happiness of the
loved person, rooted in one’s own capacity to love.11

The most popular interpretation of the mitzvah to “love our fellow
convert” emphasizes the connection we should feel with him, as we were
strangers in Egypt. Having been in a similar situation, we should know how
it feels to be in alien surroundings; and we should try to help others feel
welcomed and accepted. The Torah reminds us many times of our
experience in Egypt, and how much we should appreciate our delivery from
slavery. Yet our own promised land of Israel does not fully belong to us,
and we are forever “leasing” it from HaShem. This never-ending sense of
being foreigners in our own land is intentional, in part so that we will never
forget our past and therefore always strive to seek out those in a similar
position and help them.

9 Devarim 13:7.
10 I Shmuel 18:3.
11 The Act of Loving at p. 55.

Danielle Pepper 109

The Jewish way of showing our love for HaShem is through the
fulfillment and observance of the mitzvot He gave us. We are commanded,
“veAhavta et HaShem Elokecha bechol levavecha uvechol nafshecha.”12 Respecting
and loving the convert is another way of showing HaShem that we love
Him. Moreover, following God’s will leads to increased intimacy with and
desire for God. According to the Rambam, Abraham was the first to find
HaShem, and the first to bring others into the covenant with HaShem
through his actions. 13 His unconditional love of HaShem, manifested
through his love of all who surrounded him, brought people to believe in
his God.14 The Rambam therefore includes the mitzvah of Giur with the
mitzvah of loving God, as from his immense love of God, Avraham
transformed the people around him into believers.

The commandment to love the convert is best described as a
cherishing love. This love implies taking care of or providing directly for
the other—and it is exemplified through the act of welcoming, opening our
hearts to and including the other. We should ask ourselves not what we
feel, but rather what we do: “Love isn’t something natural. Rather it
requires discipline, concentration, patience, faith…It isn’t a feeling, it is a
practice.”15

The extra emphasis on the mitzvah to love those who have chosen
to forsake their backgrounds and attach themselves, body and soul, to the
Jewish people, seems to be a part of the larger mitzvah to love HaShem.
Converts are challenged when they first approach the process of conversion
and must go through a long and arduous process in order to become Jews;
but once they emerge from the mikvah, they are considered full and equal
members of the Jewish people. Our love of HaShem, expressed every day
in the way we conduct ourselves in the world, should bind us all together
forever.

.

12 Devarim 6:5.
13 Rambam, Introduction to Perek Chelek.
14 Ibid.
15 The Art of Loving at p. 109.

'‫ושמחת לפני ה‬: PURE JOY

BY: WILLIE ROTH

The Rambam famously writes that:

‫שבעת ימי הפסח ושמונת ימי החג עם שאר ימים טובים כלם אסורים‬
‫ וחיב אדם להיות בהן שמח וטוב לב הוא ובניו‬.‫בהספד ובתענית‬
...'‫ואשתו ובני ביתו וכל הנלוים עליו שנאמר “ושמחת בחגך” וגו‬
‫ והנשים קונה להן‬.‫ הקטנים נותן להם קליות ואגוזים ומגדנות‬.‫כיצד‬
‫ והאנשים אוכלין בשר ושותין יין‬.‫בגדים ותכשיטין נאים כפי ממונו‬
‫ וכשהוא אוכל ושותה‬,‫שאין שמחה אלא בבשר ואין שמחה אלא ביין‬
‫ אבל‬.‫חיב להאכיל לגר ליתום ולאלמנה עם שאר העניים האומללים‬
‫מי שנועל דלתות חצרו ואוכל ושותה הוא ובניו ואשתו ואינו מאכיל‬

...‫ומשקה לעניים ולמרי נפש אין זו שמחת מצוה אלא שמחת כרסו‬

Lamentation and fasting are forbidden during the seven
days of Pesach, the eight days of Sukkos, and the other
holydays. One is required to rejoice and be cheerful on
those days, along with his wife, children, grandchildren and
all his dependents, as it is written: “You shall rejoice at
your festival…” (Devarim 16:14). The children, for
example, should be given parched grain, nuts and
sweetmeats; the womenfolk should be presented with
pretty clothes and trinkets according to one’s means; the
menfolk should eat meat and wine. While eating and
drinking, one must feed the stranger, the orphan, the
widow, and other poor unfortunates. Anyone, however,
who locks the doors of his courtyard and eats and drinks
along with his wife and children, without giving anything
to eat and drink to the poor and desperate, does not
observe a religious celebration but indulges in the
celebration of his stomach.1

Two questions emerge from the Rambam’s statement. First, from
where did the Rambam derive the law that including the downtrodden in
one’s celebration is a necessary component of the obligation to rejoice on
holidays? Second, why does one’s failure to feed these members of society
detract from one’s fulfillment of the mitzvah of Simchas Yom Tov (rejoicing
on the festivals)?

1 Mishnah Torah, Sefer Zemanim, Rest on a Holiday 6:17-18. Translation from Sefaria, available
at https://www.sefaria.org/Mishneh_Torah%2C_Rest_on_a_ Holiday.6.17-18.

Willie Roth 111

Although none of the Nosei Keilim (commentators) on the Rambam
identify the source for the Rambam’s statement, it appears that the
Rambam derives this halakhah from Devarim which says, “ ,‫ְו ָש ַמ ְח ָת‬
‫ ֲא ֶשר ִב ְש ָע ֶריָך‬,‫ ְו ַה ֵל ִוי ְו ַה ֵגר ְו ַה ָיתֹום ְו ָה ַא ְל ָמ ָנה‬,‫ ְו ַע ְב ְדָך ַו ֲא ָמ ֶתָך‬,‫ ַא ָתה ּו ִב ְנָך ּו ִב ֶתָך‬:‫ ְב ַח ֶגָך‬.”-
“And you shall rejoice in your festival, you and your son and your daughter and your
man-servant and your maid-servant and the Levite and the stranger and the orphan and
the widow, who are within your gates.”2 The Rambam’s specification of ,‫ יתום‬,‫גר‬
‫ ואלמנה‬and his usage of the imagery of ‫( מי שנועל דלתות חצרו‬locking the doors of
one’s courtyard) appear to refer to the aforementioned passuk, which also
includes the ‫ ואלמנה‬,‫ יתום‬,‫ גר‬and refers to them as being ‫( ִב ְש ָע ֶריָך‬within your
gates). While this passuk is written in the context of Sukkos, a similar passuk
is written several pesukim earlier in the context of Shavuos:

‫ ְו ַה ֵל ִוי ֲא ֶשר‬,‫ ַא ָתה ּו ִב ְנָך ּו ִב ֶתָך ְו ַע ְב ְדָך ַו ֲא ָמ ֶתָך‬,‫ְו ָש ַמ ְח ָת ִל ְפ ֵני ה' ֱאֹל ֶהיָך‬
'‫ ֲא ֶשר ִי ְב ַחר ה‬,‫ ַב ָמקֹום‬--‫ ְו ַה ֵגר ְו ַה ָיתֹום ְו ָה ַא ְל ָמ ָנה ֲא ֶשר ְב ִק ְר ֶבָך‬,‫ִב ְש ָע ֶריָך‬

.‫ ָשם‬,‫ ְל ַש ֵכן ְשמֹו‬,‫ֱאֹל ֶהיָך‬

And you shall rejoice before the Lord, your God, - you, and your son,
and your daughter, and your manservant, and your maidservant, and
the Levite who is within your cities, and the stranger, and the orphan,
and the widow, who are among you, in the place which the Lord, your
God, will choose to establish His Name therein.3

While the textual formulation of the mitzvah of Simchas Yom Tov is
not identical among the Shalosh Regalim, it is generally understood4 that the
concept is uniform among all the festivals. A deeper analysis of these
pesukim can illuminate the relationship between caring for the downtrodden
of the community and one’s personal fulfillment of Simchas Yom Tov.
Specifically, I would like to present three approaches to the Rambam’s
formulation of this mitzvah that emerge from the Rishonim and Acharonim.

The first approach focuses on the thematic overlay of Yetziat
Miztrayim (exodus from Egypt) on the mitzvah of Simchas Yom Tov (the
obligation to rejoice on the festivals). Devarim 16:12, which immediately
succeeds the passuk of '‫ ְו ָש ַמ ְח ָת ִל ְפ ֵני ה‬states, “‫ ֶע ֶבד ָה ִיי ָת ְב ִמ ְצ ָר ִים; ְו ָש ַמ ְר ָת‬-‫ ִכי‬,‫ְו ָז ַכ ְר ָת‬
‫ ַה ֻח ִקים ָה ֵא ֶלה‬-‫ ֶאת‬,‫ ְו ָע ִשי ָת‬.”-“And you shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt,
and you shall keep and perform these statutes.” Ibn Ezra asserts that the obligation
to remember that we were slaves in Mitzrayim connects specifically to the
obligation in the preceding passuk of “‫ ְו ַע ְב ְדָך ַו ֲא ָמ ֶתָך‬...'‫ ְו ָש ַמ ְח ָת ִל ְפ ֵני ה‬,” to

2 16:14.
3 Devarim 16:11.
4 See, e.g., Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Yom Tov 6:17.

112 Rei’ach HaSadeh

rejoice with one’s servants. R. Asher Weiser suggests that rejoicing with
one’s servant will remind one of his past as a slave, will prompt him to
thank HaShem for being redeemed and propel him to fulfill the mitzvos. 5
However, the directive of ‫ ֶע ֶבד ָה ִיי ָת ְב ִמ ְצ ָר ִים‬-‫ ִכי‬,‫ ְו ָז ַכ ְר ָת‬may instead refer to the
entire preceding passuk, including the obligation to rejoice with the stranger,
orphan and widow. Indeed, R. Shimshon Refa’el Hirsch explains that the
concept of remembering the slavery in Mitzrayim obligates one to
incorporate the stranger, orphan and widow into one’s fulfillment of ‫ְו ָש ַמ ְח ָת‬
'‫ ִל ְפ ֵני ה‬.6 Because these individuals lack a family framework, just like a slave,7
when one ascends to the Beis haMikdash to fulfill the mitzvah of Simchas
Yom Tov, one must bring these individuals with him to celebrate the Yom
Tov with him. According to this approach, because of one’s personal
history and redemption, one’s personal obligation of Simchas Yom Tov
requires one to include others in his rejoicing.

A second approach focuses on the nature of simchah generally in the
Rambam. The Rambam, with respect to the mitzvah on Purim of Matanos
leEvyonim (gifts to the poor) writes:

‫מוטב לאדם להרבות במתנות אביונים מלהרבות בסעודתו ובשלוח‬
‫מנות לרעיו שאין שם שמחה גדולה ומפאורה אלא לשמח לב עניים‬
‫ויתומים ואלמנות וגרים שהמשמח לב האומללים האלו דומה לשכינה‬

.‫שנאמר 'להחיות רוח שפלים ולהחיות לב נדכאים‬

One should rather spend more money on gifts to the poor than on his
Purim banquet and presents to his friends. No joy is greater and
more glorious than the joy of gladdening the hearts of the poor, the
orphans, the widows and the strangers. He who gladdens the heart of
these unhappy people imitates God, as it is written [Isaiah 57:15]:
“I am…to revive the spirits of the humble and to put heart into the
crushed.”8

Similarly, in Hilkhot Chagigah with respect to the mitzvah of eating
the Shalmei Chagigah and Shalmei Simcha (peace offerings of the holiday and
rejoicing, respectively) the Rambam writes:

5 Torat Hayyim, Ibn Ezra, Devarim 16:11, n.61.
6 The Hirsch Chumash, trans. Daniel Haberman (Nanuet: Feldheim, 2009), p. 361 (elucidating
Devarim 16:11).
7 Although R. Hirsch does not specify the nature of the connection between the ‫גר יתום‬
‫ ואלמנה‬and a slave, but merely states that there is one, presumably this is the connection.
8 Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot Chanukah U’Megillah 2:17. Translation from Sefaria, available at
https://www.sefaria.org/Mishneh_Torah%2C_Scroll_of_Esther_and_Hanukkah.2.17.

Willie Roth 113

‫כשיזבח אדם שלמי חגיגה ושלמי שמחה לא יהיה אוכל הוא ובניו‬
‫ אלא חייב לשמח העניים‬,‫ וידמה שיעשה מצוה גמורה‬,‫ואשתו בלבד‬

.‫והאומללים‬

When a person brings the Shalmei Chagigah and Shalmei Simchah
as a sacrifice he should not eat with his children and wife alone and
think that he will perform a complete mitzvah. Rather he is
obligated to gladden the poor and the downtrodden.9

Based on these three statements of the Rambam, R. Joseph B.
Soloveitchik explains that in the Rambam’s view the ultimate expression of
simchah – ‫ – שמחה גדולה ומפוארה‬is being mesmaie’ach of others.10 Therefore,
wherever the Torah or Chazal mandates simchah, whether Simchas Yom Tov,
Simchas Purim or Shalmei Simchah, the fulfillment of such Simcha includes the
notion of making others, and specifically the downtrodden, happy.

The idea that being mesmei’ach others is part of the definition of
Simchah, or at least Simchas Yom Tov, may be related to another perspective
of R. Soloveitchik on the mitzvah of Simchas Yom Tov. Elsewhere, R.
Soloveitchik posits that the obligation of rejoicing with others as a
precondition to the fulfillment of the mitzvah of Simchas Yom Tov indicates
that the mitzvah of Simchas Yom Tov is a communal mitzvah calling upon the
collective to rejoice.11 Therefore, in the Rambam’s eyes, if one “locks his
doors” in front of the community, and certainly in front of the
downtrodden, thereby separating himself and preventing others from
fulfilling the mitzvah, then one certainly cannot be considered as partaking in
a communal mitzvah. Instead, his actions are merely hedonistic. It emerges
that the communal mitzvah of Simchas Yom Tov not only requires each person
to rejoice, but to ensure that others have the same opportunity.

Perhaps a third approach to the Rambam stems from another
approach developed by R. Soloveitchk that emerges from the Torah’s
formulation of the mitzvah of Simchas Yom Tov. R. Soloveitchik focuses on
the Torah’s emphasis of '‫ ְו ָש ַמ ְח ָת ִל ְפ ֵני ה‬. He writes that “on a festival all
Israel stands before G-d, and the festival’s importance is identified with
man’s rejoicing before his Creator. The joy is merely an emotional
expression of the human’s experience of standing before G-d.”12

9 Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot Chagigah 2:14.
10 Harerei Kedem, 1: p. 338-339.
11 Joseph B. Soloveitchik, Out of the Whirlwind: Essays on Suffering Mourning and the Human
Condition, (Jersey City:KTAV, 2003), p. 81.
12 Id. at 78-81.

114 Rei’ach HaSadeh

The concept of '‫ לפני ה‬also appears in the context of Yom Kippur
about which the Torah says, “‫ ִת ְט ָהרּו‬,'‫” ִל ְפ ֵני ה‬-“before HaShem you shall be
purified.”13 On Yom Kippur we stand as a community before HaShem to
seek atonement, an idea captured by the introduction to Kol Nidrei in which
we say “‫”העבריינים עם להתפלל מתירין אנו‬-“We seek annulment of our vows to pray
along with the sinners.” We seek annulment at this point because communal
atonement cannot be achieved without the presence of the entire
community, even those members whose actions do not appear to
contribute to receiving atonement. Similarly, when we stand before
HaShem and rejoice in His presence as a community, such joy cannot be
experienced without the entire community, even those whose personal state
does not appear to contribute to the collective joy. Part of our obligation is
to ensure that all members of the community are included in the celebration
'‫ ִל ְפ ֵני ה‬because the experience of '‫ – ִל ְפ ֵני ה‬standing before our Creator –
cannot be achieved without the participation of all members of the
community. In our relationship with HaShem as our Creator everyone is
equal, and everyone has a role. As we say during the Yom Kippur
davening, “‫”אנו פעולתך ואתה יוצרנו‬-“We are Your handiwork and You are our
Maker.”

As we once again enter the Yamim Noraim season, we should use
the principles that emerge from the Rambam as a guide when focusing on
the important notion of reaching out to others. Being mesmei’ach of others –
including others in the celebration of the Yamim Tovim and generally – is our
obligation, it enhances our simchah and it helps us achieve the status of
being '‫ ִל ְפ ֵני ה‬.

13 Vayikra 16:30.

Reflections

JOHN GLENN: A MAN OF HIS WORD *

BY: HOWARD N. APSAN, PH.D.**

Kindness and truth will not forsake you. (Proverbs 3:3)1

John Glenn, who died in 2016 at the age of 95, didn’t need Tom
Wolfe to tell him that he had The Right Stuff,2 and he certainly does not
need me to stand up for his integrity. He was a Marine fighter pilot in the
Pacific during World War II. He flew combat missions with Ted Williams
in Korea. He got The Right Stuff appellation as one of the seven Mercury
astronauts and the first astronaut to orbit the earth. He served in the
United States Senate for 24 years. He became the oldest man in space
when he flew on the Space Shuttle Discovery at age 78. And these are just
some of the highlights.

Clearly, John Glenn stood in the pantheon of American heroes and
statesmen, yet he managed to keep his mortal feet firmly grounded. As the
scriptural verse above suggests, in spite of all his success, the attributes of
kindness and truth never left him. In fact, it is because of these traits that
Ethyl Kennedy asked him to perform his toughest duty: to break the news
to her children that their father, Bobby Kennedy, had been assassinated.3
John Glenn referred to this assignment as “one of the hardest things I’ve
ever had to do.”4 Still, it remained a little known act of kindness because
“Glenn himself, not wanting to violate the privacy of those boys and girls,
chose not to elaborate on it.”5 Fifty years later, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.
summed it up: “John Glenn had great courage, both physical and moral, but
what many people don’t know is what a compassionate and tender man he
was.”6 And as the following story demonstrates, his compassion was not
limited to the rich and powerful or to family and friends.

* Copyright © 2018, Howard N. Apsan, Ph.D.
** The author serves as the University Director of Environmental, Health, Safety, and Risk
Management for The City University of New York, the largest urban university system in the
United States. He is also a faculty member at Columbia University’s School of International
and Public Affairs, teaches in Columbia’s Sustainability Management program, founded
Apsan Consulting, Inc., and writes and lectures regularly.
1 The English translation is from The ArtScroll Stone Edition Tanach, edited by R. Nosson
Scherman (Brooklyn:Mesorah Publications, 1996), p. 1571.
2 The title of the 1979 book by Tom Wolfe about the Project Mercury astronauts (New
York:Farrar, Straus and Giroux) and the 1983 movie adaptation.
3 Bob Green, “When RFK Died, John Glenn faced his Toughest Duty,” The Wall Street
Journal, June 6, 2018.
4 Ibid.
5 Ibid.
6 Ibid.

Howard N. Apsan, Ph.D. 117

John Glenn was a bona fide hero long before he orbited the earth
in 1962, but it was Astronaut John Glenn who caught the world’s fancy.
After that fateful splashdown, schoolchildren from every part of the
country and every walk of life—including each member of the second-grade
class at Park Avenue Elementary School in Port Chester, New York—
wrote to John Glenn to congratulate him and share their thoughts. Only
one of those second graders, Sara Youner, got a reply: a letter on NASA
stationary with the Mercury capsule logo and a signed photo of the
astronaut in his space suit.

These were treasured mementos to the young student, but over the
years, and the moves, and the show-and-tells, and the borrowing for this
reason and that, one was lost. Many years later—Sara and I must have been
married already—she told me this story. I have no recollection of how or
why it came up—maybe we went to see The Right Stuff at the movies
together—but it was a very touching story and I had a fleeting thought of
writing to John Glenn and asking for a replacement. Alas, yet another good
intention unfulfilled.

Many years later, John Glenn was once again in the headlines
when, as a sitting Senator, he became the oldest astronaut to participate in a
space mission. Some questioned the efficacy of Glenn’s research role in the
mission, but I think that most people were just happy to see John Glenn in
a space suit again. After the mission, he started to focus on his post-Senate
career, which included writing a memoir7 and promoting the John Glenn
Institute8 at The Ohio State University.

Around that time, I was a principal at a consulting firm in New
Jersey and teaching at Columbia University. One of my consulting
colleagues was a proud and loyal Buckeye alum, one who was always ready
to respond when his Alma Mater called. When she called this time, it was
for him to help organize a fundraiser in Manhattan for the John Glenn
Institute. He happily accepted, and one of his first acts was to try to recruit
me. I tried to demur, but he would not give up until I agreed to go—which
is what made him such a good consultant.

Once I agreed to attend, I immediately started working on my
escape. I assumed that any fundraising luncheon with John Glenn as the
keynote would be in the grand ballroom, so I planned to sit in the back and
leave as soon as the speech was over. At worst, I would be stuck on a

7 John Glenn: A Memoir (New York: Bantam Books, 1999).
8 The John Glenn Institute for Public Service and Public Policy became the John Glenn
School of Public Affairs in 2006 and is now the John Glenn College of Public Affairs.

118 Rei’ach HaSadeh

receiving line, shake hands and exchange pleasantries with John Glenn, and
quickly head for the exit.

On the day of the event, out of respect for John Glenn and a sense
of commitment to my colleague, I finished my morning tasks and dutifully
drove into Manhattan. The traffic and parking angels smiled on me that
day, and I walked into the lobby of The Mark Hotel on East 77th Street a
few minutes before show time. I asked the concierge for the ballroom
with the John Glenn event, and he pointed to the top of the staircase.
When I reached the top of the stairs, I quickly realized that my escape plans
were no longer operational.

“John, John” shouted an elegant woman to the man across the hall.
“John, Professor Apsan is here. Please come and say hello.”

And that’s how I met John and Annie Glenn.

Needless to say, there was no ballroom and no crowd. It was the
Glenns, my colleague, eight or nine multimillionaires…and me. And I must
admit, it was one of the most pleasant and memorable lunches that I can
recall.

John Glenn spoke to us between courses and shared his
thoughts on subjects ranging from the changes in the
Senate that he perceived over the course of his four-term
career to his favorite re-hydrated foods on the Space
Shuttle menu.

Whenever he spoke, he used Annie as his foil, his verbal
tennis partner. He would say “Annie, do you
remember…” and she would return the volley with “Oh,
you must be referring to…” without missing a beat. Now
it’s not surprising for a couple that has been together since
childhood, and that has been in the public eye since that
fateful blast-off in 1962, to engage in that kind of repartee,
and to do so comfortably and flawlessly. After all, we have
come to expect that of political spouses. But as most
people found out from The Right Stuff movie, Annie
Glenn (played by Mary Jo Deschanel) suffered from a
stutter that was so severe that she could barely talk on the

Howard N. Apsan, Ph.D. 119

phone to friends and family, much less speak in public
before an audience of strangers.9

Thanks to extraordinary commitment and mutual support
(described briefly in my article and in more detail in John Glenn’s
autobiography), there was no evidence of a speech impediment that day.
What we did see was a loving couple that had been through so much
together and continued to inspire each other. It was a marriage made in
heaven, or at least one that involved orbiting the heavens, and it lasted for
73 years. Which brings me back to my own marriage and the original point
of this story.

It turned out to be such a delightful and intimate lunch that
nobody wanted to leave. The checks were being written elsewhere and the
atmosphere was warm and friendly. We all said we should try to stay in
touch, although we knew that was unlikely, and there was genuine
camaraderie in the room. So I saw my opportunity and I took it. I
buttonholed John Glenn and regaled him with the story about the second-
grade class, and the letter, and the lost photo, and a possible replacement,
and on and on and on. But instead of nodding, smiling politely, checking
his watch and thanking me for coming, he said he would be happy to sign
and send a replacement photo. He asked for my business card and told me
to write Sara’s name and suggest a fitting inscription. I thanked him and
handed over the card. He placed it in his suit jacket pocket and we bid each
other farewell.

Several months passed without a letter or package. John Glenn is a
busy man, I thought, and he just hasn’t gotten around to it. Several more
months passed, and still nothing. I assumed that John Glenn must have
sent the suit to the cleaners and left the card in the pocket. Several more
months passed and I simply put the matter out of mind. It was a nice
gesture, but again unfulfilled.

More than a year passed. I was working for a different firm now
and my office was on Wall Street in lower Manhattan instead of New
Jersey. The old firm had been sold and it would have been understandable
if the new owners were less-than-zealous about forwarding mail to former
employees who are now competitors, if they even knew where to send it.
To the extent that I thought of it, I began to accept reality: The odds of
getting a photo in the mail from John Glenn were approaching zero.

9 Howard N. Apsan, “Neutralizing Liabilities: Risk Management Lessons from the Movies
and Real Life,” URMIA Insights, April 27, 2011.

120 Rei’ach HaSadeh

But then the craziest thing happened. I was at my desk one
morning and the receptionist called me to ask if I was expecting visitors. I
wasn’t, I told her, but the two women at the front desk were insistent so I
invited them in. They apologized for dropping by without an appointment,
but they were in New York for a quick, unplanned trip and before they left,
they had a delivery for me. They handed me a large envelope and told me
that Senator Glenn insisted that they find me, deliver the package
personally, and extend his apologies for taking so long to get it to me. I
thanked them, and when I opened the envelope, there was a signed and
inscribed photo to Sara of John Glenn in his orange Shuttle Discovery
space suit.

As you can imagine, it was very exciting; but instead of racing
home with the photo, I decided to have it properly framed. My plan was to
present it at an upcoming occasion and I wanted it to look special. Of
course, I never told Sara about any of this because I thought it would be a
great surprise—and I was afraid she would be disappointed in case it didn’t
happen.

When the moment came, I presented the framed photo to Sara and
told her that I remembered that she had lost the original Mercury photo
and was happy that after all these years I was able to have it replaced. She
thanked me, ran to her file cabinet, and brought back the original Mercury
photo of John Glenn and asked me to have it framed as well so that we
would have a matching set.

Apparently, John Glenn was a man of his word, but I wasn’t quite.
I hadn’t remembered that it was the letter with the NASA logo that was
lost, not the photo, so when I told this sad—and untrue—tale of woe to a
sitting Senator, I may have broken any number of rules. But meeting John
Glenn and seeing what lengths he took to deliver on a promise, I think he
would have forgiven me.

Epilogue. I did get the other photo framed, and both were on
display in our dining room for many years. When guests would ask about
our connection to John Glenn, we would refer to him as Uncle John and
proceed to tell the story. Over the years, Uncle John was crowded out by
pictures of sons-in-law, daughters-in-law and grandchildren. If those
grandchildren ever ask me about John Glenn, I will surely tell them about
his heroism and service to America, but I’ll also let them know that he was
a man of kindness and truth, a man of his word.

MRS. BLOOMBERG

BY: DIANE OSEN COVKIN

Kathy Palumbo was the first girl I ever knew whose family was
Italian. Of course, until I met her in homeroom, on my first day as a
seventh grader at TJ—Thomas Jefferson Junior High School in Teaneck—I
had never met anyone whose family was Irish or Protestant or Asian or
Latino or African-American, either. At Yavneh Academy, my elementary
school, and at the sleep-away camps where I had spent the previous six
summers, all the kids had been Jewish—and none of the girls, as far as I
knew, had dyed their hair or worn make-up or smoked cigarettes. Kathy
Palumbo apparently did all those things, and for just that reason her exalted
social status was evident even to a newcomer like me. It took me a bit
longer to identify the various other types of high-status girls at TJ: the
pretty, popular girls destined to be cheerleaders in ninth grade; the smart,
snobby girls whose clothes came from Bloomingdale’s; and the
unapologetically opinionated girls who went to CYO dances at St. Anastasia
on Friday nights. But despite her reputation, Kathy had no qualms about
taking under her wing an alien like me: an 11-year-old with the wrong
clothes and stringy hair who had never attended a class called Physical
Education, had never encountered a locker, and knew absolutely no one
and nothing that mattered at TJ.

But this is not a story about Kathy, whose friendly banter eased my
anxiety only for the 10 minutes each day we spent together in homeroom.

It’s about Mrs. Rae Bloomberg, the person who not only served as
my anchor during those years at TJ, but changed my life altogether by
embodying the famous teaching attributed to Rav Kalonymus Shapira, the
Piasczener Rebbe of the Warsaw Ghetto: “The greatest thing in the world is
to do someone else a favor.”

Mrs. Bloomberg had begun favoring me with her love and kindness
many years earlier. I don’t know how we met or when I began visiting
her—uninvited—on weekdays as well as Shabbos afternoons, when my
parents took a lengthy, inviolable nap. I suppose she was in her 60s then,
and she lived with her husband Abe, a silent retiree, in a small one-story
house with a screened-in porch situated diagonally across the street from
our split-level. Mr. Bloomberg, typically attired in a gray cardigan, button-
down shirt, slacks and slippers, spent virtually every waking moment in his
armchair, a tray table to his right and his mutt Pixie wheezing at his feet,

122 Rei’ach HaSadeh

watching television. I was standing beside him when Jack Ruby shot Lee
Harvey Oswald onscreen.

Mrs. Bloomberg, on the other hand, was always busy with one
domestic project or another, and loved to chat. Like her husband’s, her
appearance rarely varied: she wore belted shirtdresses and glasses, and her
hair was a swirl of pale brown atop her broad face. If she and Mr.
Bloomberg had any children, I recall neither meeting nor hearing about
them. Her pet name for me was Skinny Mirink—though instead of trying
to fatten me up, she offered me nothing but fresh fruit at every visit,
bowing to her notions of my parents’ standards of kashrut. This respect did
not stop her, however, from occasionally wondering aloud why I was not
permitted to ride my bicycle on Shabbos, a question I never dared repeat at
home.

After starting junior high, I saw Mrs. Bloomberg more than ever.
It no longer took an hour to return home after school, as it had from
Yavneh in Paterson; and I had much less homework, as I was no longer
occupied with Limudei Kodesh (Judaic studies). Further, I had been placed in
the least demanding classes because of my indecipherable yeshiva transcript,
an error that took some time to rectify. I did not allow myself to
contemplate my mortifying transformation from a confident, carefree sixth
grader into a social and academic misfit at TJ, and I never spoke about it
with anyone, including Mrs. Bloomberg. Even if it had occurred to me to
confide in her, she was not a woman who invited intimacy. In fact, she was
quick to correct any unbecoming speech or behavior, revealed little
curiosity about my activities, and never hugged or kissed me or told me I
had made her proud. But that is exactly what made her such a perfect
friend for such an imperfect girl: she made me feel loved for no reason
whatsoever. Whether I droned on about my school day, or listened intently
as she entertained our non-Jewish neighbors, or read a mystery on the sofa
while she prepared supper, it was all the same to her. Being together was all
that mattered.

It is a wonder that my parents never objected to my visits with Mrs.
Bloomberg. I had been taught, obliquely, to keep our family life private out
of respect for my father, the cantor of one of the largest congregations in
New Jersey at that time. I felt certain that neither he nor my mother had
ever been to her home and knew for a fact they had never gotten to know
her at shul; like all the Jewish families in our immediate neighborhood, she
and her husband were neither religious nor regular shul-goers. Fortunately,
despite what must have been some misgivings about our dedication to
discretion, my parents allowed me to see Mrs. Bloomberg day after day,

Diane Osen Covkin 123

year after year, asking and hearing nothing about my favorite person in the
whole world. I like to think they perceived, as she surely did, how much I
needed a friend who would do me the great favor of caring for me simply
because I was alive.

By the time Kathy Palumbo and I traded goodbyes on the last day
of ninth grade homeroom, I was no longer amazed by her attention. While
I had never become an “it” girl like her—my singular status as the cantor’s
daughter and the only religious Jew at school had made that impossible—I
was thrilled when I opened our yearbook and saw that the editors had
selected the much-coveted caption “Love at First Sight” to accompany my
photo. I did not pause to consider how implausible this characterization
would have seemed to classmates seeing me for the first time in seventh
grade. Rather, I chose to view it as a validation of my success at making
many different kinds of friends in a secular setting, dressing and styling my
hair fashionably, and competing enthusiastically at field hockey and all the
other sports we never played in Yavneh or the Catskills—a self-reinvention
achieved with the unvoiced yet unconditional support of Mrs. Bloomberg.

Nevertheless, I could not deny that something ineffable but
essential was still missing from my life; and soon I would ask my parents to
end their experiment with my education and send me back to yeshiva—
where, ironically, my stint at public school would make it necessary to prove
myself all over again. But the task would be much less daunting, as I would
be leaving TJ with a deep desire to connect with others, and a moral
imagination transformed by my astounding discovery that Jews are not the
only people on earth subject to baseless hatred.

It was Mrs. Bloomberg, however, who taught me the lesson I
needed most to learn during those turbulent years: that there is no greater
good than kindness. From the time I was a child until my departure for
college at 17, I knocked on her front door thousands of times—yet no
matter what she was doing or how she was feeling, she never turned me
away. She asked nothing of me and gave me everything she had.

Ever since my own daughter went away to school, I have been
hoping for the chance to be a Mrs. Bloomberg for someone else’s little girl.
But whatever happens, I pray to HaShem that I will never forget how she
favored me with extraordinary kindness and love, and never cease wishing
to emulate her incomparable example.

GLOSSARY

Ahavat/Ahavas Yisra’el – Love of Jewish People
Avodah – Divine Service
Beis/Beit haMikdash – The (1st or 2nd) Temple
Benei Yisra’el/Benei Yisra’el – The Jewish people
Beracha, berachos/berachot – Blessing/s
Davening – Prayer
Gemara – Talmud
Halakhah/Halachah – Jewish law
Kehillah – Congregation
Kelal Yisra’el/Klal Yisra’el – The entirety of the Jewish people
Kohen/Kohanim – Jewish priest/s
Malach – angel
Mashi’ach – The Jewish Messiah
Mesamei’ach – to bring joy
Mishpacha – family
Mitzvah (Mitzvos/Mitzvot, pl.) – Commandment/s
Olam haZeh/Olam haBa – This World/World to Come
Passuk (Pessukim, pl.) – Verse/s
R., Rabbi, Rav – Terms used to denote a rabbinic title

Glossary 125

Rasha – evil doer
Sefer – Book
Simchas yom tov – joy of the festival
Talmud Torah/limmud haTorah - Study of Torah
Tanach – The 24 books that comprise the Jewish Bible
Tefillah (Tefillos/Tefillot, pl.) – Prayer/s
Tosafot – Talmudic commentary of the French, German and English
rabbis of 12th and 13th centuries
Teshuvah – Repentance
Vidu’i – Confession
Yamim Nora’im – The Days of Awe (From Rosh haShanah until Yom
Kippur)
Yasher Koach – Congratulations
Zoche (Zechut/Zechus) – Merit
Zt’l – zecher tzaddik livracha, may the memory of the righteous be blessed

RABBINIC BIBLIOGRAPHY

Ashlag, Rav Yehuda Leib haLevi – (1885-1954, Jerusalem); known as Ba’al Ha-
Sulam, authored commentary by that name on the Zohar.
Ba’al haTurim – (1269-1343, Spain); Jacob ben Asher, prolific author,
including Arba’ah Turim, a compendium of Jewish laws of which Yoreh De’ah
is a section.

Ba’al Shem Tov – (1698-1760, Ukraine); Israel ben Eliezer, mystical rabbi
considered the founder of Hasidic Judaism.
Heschel, Rabbi Abraham Joshua – (1907-1972, New York); one of the leading
Jewish theologian and Jewish philosophers of the 20th century, professor of
Jewish ethics and mysticism at the Jewish Theological Society in New York.
Hirsch, R. Shimshon Refa’el – (1808-1888, Germany); proponent of Torah Im
Derech Eretz model; prolific author, including commentary on the Torah.

Hutner, Rabbi Yitzhak – (1906-1980, New York); Roshy Yeshiva of Mesivta
Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin, author of Pachad Yitzhak.
Ibn Ezra, Abraham – (1089-1167, Spain); prolific author on topics ranging
from religious philosophy to mathematics, authored Biblical commentary.
Kaplan, R’Aryeh – (1934-1983, New York); prolific author and original
thinker who authored over 25 books, including a translation of Torah.

Karo, Rabbi Joseph – (1488-1575, Tzefat); prolific author, including the
Shulchan Aruch, a comprehensive and authoritative code of Jewish laws.
Luria, Rabbi Isaac Luria – (1534-1572, Tzefat); commonly known as the Ari,
Ari haKodseh or Arizal, considered father of contemporary Kabbalah.

Kook, R. Avraham Yitzhak haKohen – (1865-1935, Jerusalem); prominent
Religious Zionist thinker, prolific author on halachah and Kabbalah.

Mabit – (1500-1580, Tzevat), acronym for R. Moses ben Joseph Di Trani,
author on philosophy, commentaries on the Torah, Talmud and Rambam.
Maharal – (1512(?)-1609, Prague); acronym for Moreinu haRav Yehuda
Loew, author of works on philosophy and supercommentary Gur Aryeh.

Maharsha - (1555-1632, Poland); acronym for Morein haRav Shmuel Eliezer
Eidels, author of Talmudic commentary entitled Chiddushei Halachot.

Rabbinic Bibliography 127

Rambam – (1134-1204, Spain/Egypt); acronym for Moshe ben Maimon or
Maimonides, prolific author, including Mishneh Torah on halacha and Guide
for the Perplexed on Jewish philosophy.
Ramban – (1194-1270, Spain), acronym for Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman or
Nachmanides; prolific medieval author, including commentary on the
Torah.
Ramchal – (1707-1746, Italy); acronym for R. Moshe Chaim Luzzatto;
author of numerous works incorporating ethics and mysticism, including
Mesillat Yesharim and Derech Hashem.
Rashbam – (1085-1158, France); acronym for R. Shmuel ben Meir, prolific
author, including commentary on the Torah.
Rashi – (1040-1105, France); acronym for R. Shlomo Yitzhaki; prolific
commentator, including definitive commentaries on the Torah and Talmud.
R. Schneur Zalman of Liadi – (1745-1812, Russia); founder and first Rebbe of
the Chabad branch of Chassidism, author of the Tanya.
R. Meir Simcha HaKohen of Devinsk – (1843-1926, Lithuania); prolific author,
including novella on the Torah entitled Meshech Hochma.
Rebbe Nachman of Breslov – (1772-1810; Ukraine); author of Likutei Maharan,
influential in Chasidic revival in 18th century through today.
Sacks, Rabbi Lord Jonathan – (1948- , England); former Chief Rabbi of
England; prolific author, world reknown theologian and philosopher.
Soloveitchik, R. Yosef Dov – (1903-1993, Boston); seminal figure of 20th
Century Modern Orthodox Judaism, prolific Talmudist and philosopher,
Rosh Yeshiva of Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary at Yeshiva
University.
Vilna Gaon – (1720-1797, Poland/Lithuania); Eliyahu ben Solomon, also
known as the Gra, foremost leader of mitnagdic Jewry and prolific
commentator on Tanach and halacha.
Vital, Rabbi Chaim – (1543-1620, Tzefat); foremost disciple and transmitter
of the teachings of R. Issac Luria.

Congregation Israel of Springfield
www.congregationisrael.org


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