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Ki Tisa 5767

Ki Tisa (Exodus 30:11-34:35 )

by Kalman Packouz

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GOOD MORNING! Nine years ago my close friend and tzaddik, Jerry Burstyn, passed from this world. This coming week is his Yahrzeit, the commemoration of his passing. I thought it would be a fitting memorial to share with you some reminiscences with hopes that the memory of his character, deeds and love of people will inspire you. In Pirke Avos, Ethics of our Fathers (4:1), Ben Zoma asks "Who is the wise person?" and answers, "He who learns from all people." There is much to learn from the life of my beloved friend.


When I first came to Miami in the early 80's as a circuit-riding fundraiser for Aish HaTorah, I met Jerry Burstyn. Amongst his first words were, "Call me Yirmiyahu ... you're one of the few people who can pronounce it." After that he asked me, "So, who do you want to meet and how can I help you?"

When I moved to Miami in 1990, Yirmiyahu came up to me after shul (synagogue), "I have some dressers and beds. Do you have need for any?" The next thing I know Yirmiyahu is driving up with a truck and a helper to move the dressers upstairs.

Yirmiyahu was like a brother to me - always there to listen, to advise, to help. I truly suspect that everyone who knew him felt the same way. He was never rushed and always had the time. He had the amazing ability to appear that he had nothing else to do but to talk with you. Then after you finished he would pull out one of his 3 x 5 cards crowded with things to do and people to call. His pockets were stuffed with notes and reminders; every desk and chair was covered with piles of papers; every warehouse filled with things that some day someone might need. (Yirmiyahu once gave a man 30 wrecked bikes to fix - 1 for the man to keep, 29 to give to children who needed a bike.)

Yirmiyahu was always there to help with whatever needed to be done. No task was too small or too hard if it could help another person. Yirmiyahu once spent three days going to used car lots with a widow on a tight budget.

A poor, little old lady, alone in the world, once mentioned to Yirmiyahu that she wanted to be buried with her family in Connecticut. She had no living relatives and no money. When she died, Yirmiyahu made all of the arrangements, accompanied her back to Connecticut and performed the burial service for her.

There was "magic" that surrounded Yirmiyahu. Out of the goodness of his heart he would help someone and many times miraculous things would result from his kindness. One time, as a meter maid approached, he put a nickel in the expired parking meter of a Rolls Royce belonging to a man who had many times rebuffed Yirmiyahu's requests to meet for support of the Talmudic University. The man came running and puffing having seen the meter maid and wanting to save himself from a ticket. "Why did you do that?" he asked. "No reason you should get a ticket," replied Yirmiyahu. "Come into my office; I'd like to know you better" responded the man. Yirmiyahu walked out from the meeting with a check for $25,000 for the Talmudic University.

When Yirmiyahu would hear of someone passing, he would immediately go to the family to be there for them - to help with arrangements, to run the Shiva (mourner) home, to be there everyday, to bring them out of Shiva and back into the world. He would call them periodically or visit them to give them strength - to let them know that someone cared. Before every holiday Yirmiyahu would pull out his list of widows and orphans to call. "It's most important to call before the holidays. That's when the hurt is the greatest and the loved one is missed the most."

Yirmiyahu will always be an inspiration for me. Selfless help for others. Loving others. Taking care of others. Thinking about and worrying about others. To be in his presence was to be filled with caring, love and warmth.

I think Yirmiyahu knew the secret that the truly "selfish man" is the truly selfless man. To look out for the needs of others is to have the most fulfilling, meaningful life. We are commanded to emulate the Almighty, the Master of giving. By emulating the Almighty we come closer to the Almighty. I think Yirmiyahu managed to come very close to the Almighty.

Most of us have our limits - how much we'll do, how much we'll help, how much we can stand. We say, "That's it; I've got to look out for myself." I don't know if Yirmiyahu had limits or felt limits. He lived with the understanding that "One man and the Almighty is a majority - if God helps you, then you can do anything."

Perhaps that's why he said, "Call me Yirmiyahu." Yirmiyahu means "God will uplift me." "Call me Yirmiyahu - give me the blessing that the Almighty will help me." And the Almighty did bless him and help him. And the Almighty also uplifted, exalted our beloved Yirmiyahu in the eyes and hearts of all who knew him. May his memory be an inspiration for many others to help others and perfect the world!

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Torah Portion of the Week
Ki Tisa

The Torah portion includes: instructions for taking a census (by each person donating a half shekel); instructions to make the Washstand, Anointing Oil, and The Incense for the Mishkan, the Portable Sanctuary; appointing Bezalel and Oholiab to head up the architects and craftsmen for the Mishkan; a special commandment forbidding the building of the Mishkan on Shabbat (people might have thought that they would be allowed to violate the Shabbat to do a mitzvah ...).

The Torah portion continues with the infamous story of the Golden Calf. The people wrongly calculated that Moses was late in coming down from Mt. Sinai and the people were already seeking a replacement for him by making the Golden Calf (there is a big lesson in patience for us here). Moses sees them dancing around the calf and in anger breaks the Two Tablets; he then punishes the 3,000 wrongdoers (less than .1% of the 3 million people), pleads to God not to wipe out the people, requests to see the Divine Glory, and receives the second set of Tablets of the Ten Commandments.

* * *

Dvar Torah
based on Growth Through Torah by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin

The Torah states regarding the gathering of gold to make the Golden Calf:

"And Aharon (Moses' brother and the Cohen Gadol, High Priest) said to them, 'Remove the golden earrings which are on the ears of your wives, sons and daughters, and bring them to me.' " (Exodus 32:2)

How is it possible that Aharon would help make an idol?

The commentator, Daas Zkainim, explains that Aharon's intentions were righteous. This is what he said to himself: "Now that Moshe has not returned, if I will appoint Caleb or Nachson as the leader in Moshe's absence, when Moshe returns they will not be eager to give up their position of leadership. This will cause a major quarrel. If I do not appoint anyone as leader, they will choose a leader themselves and this will also cause a major quarrel. If I will assume leadership until Moshe returns, perhaps he will feel when he comes back that I tried to usurp his position. Therefore, until Moshe returns I will keep them busy with talk about making a meaningless golden calf. The women will be reluctant to give up their jewelry and therefore I will be able to stall for time."

This is an incredible lesson on judging people favorably! Next time you see someone doing something absolutely inexplicably despicable, before condemning him for his behavior, ask yourself, "What positive motivations and intentions could he possibly have had?" Maybe if you were to know his true motivations, you'd realize that he meant nothing wrong and even tried to prevent something negative from happening.

(or go to

Jerusalem 5:07
Guatemala 5:54 - Hong Kong 6:12 - Honolulu 6:20
J'Burg 6:12 - London 5:35 - Los Angeles 5:38
Melbourne 7:32 - Mexico City 6:26 - Miami 6:10

New York 5:38 - Singapore 7:01 - Toronto 5:58


The purpose of life is a life of purpose.
-- William Trump

In Memory of
Rabbi Jerry Burstyn
with love, his family


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