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Shavuot 5769

Shavuot (Exodus 19:1 - 20:23 )

by Kalman Packouz

GOOD MORNING! This week I would like to share with you a poignant story about one of the people I most respected and admired - Mr. Bernard (Dov) Hochstein. I am convinced that Mr. Hochstein, who passed away this past year in his late 90's, was one of the lamed-vavniks (one of the 36 righteous individuals upon whose merit the world stands).

Mr. Hochstein was born in Holland, escaped the Nazis by fleeing to South America and eventually settled in the United States. He came from a family of pipe makers and eventually sold his company to U.S. Tobacco. Over his lifetime he raised and gave millions of dollars for Torah institutions and causes. Aish HaTorah was one of his favorite organizations because of Aish's innovative and effective programs and projects to strengthen the Jewish people and help Jews come back to their roots. He was our International President for several decades.

Mr. Hochstein was a thinker and strategist always looking how he could best help an institution or motivate someone to donate. He was an elegant, serious and heartfelt individual. One time we visited a prominent and wealthy philanthropist. After a few minutes of getting to know each other, Mr. Hochstein said to the man, "We have come to seek your support for a very important cause to help the Jewish people. I feel that it is so important that I have written down what I wanted to say to you. I would like your permission to read it to you." He then pulled out three closely handwritten pages and proceeded to read.

Frankly, I cringed. This was not the suave, powerful presentation that I envisioned. But I was wrong. The donor was captivated - here was a man (Mr. Hochstein), a busy successful man, who cared so much that he put the time and effort into writing a cogent and convincing presentation. Here was a man who did not depend upon charm, quick wit or a silvery tongue to convince. Here was a man whose commitment, sincerity and heart emanated from every word. That was Mr. Hochstein!

And now that I have given a bit of background, here is the story: In the early years of Aish HaTorah, Yona Yaffe, one of the original students and a senior fundraiser for Aish, succeeded in getting a $150,000 commitment from an elderly lady to help Aish purchase three apartments in the Old City of Jerusalem. Yona received $50,000 in hand with a promise that the rest of the money would shortly follow.

Perhaps a well-intended friend planted a seed of doubt in the mind of the elderly lady. She thought that she had possibly been swindled by a scheme to defraud the elderly. She asked her lawyer to investigate and get back her money. The lawyer hired an eminent attorney in Tel Aviv to act on his behalf. The attorney contacted us - and we asked Mr. Hochstein to meet with the attorney.

The attorney's mandate was to clarify and verify that Aish HaTorah was a legitimate, bonafide organization. However, after a few minutes of conversation it became clear to Mr. Hochstein that the attorney was negative towards religious institutions and would take personal pleasure in denying the rest of the contribution and demanding the return of the initial $50,000.

Mr. Hochstein asked the attorney for a glass of water. Perhaps he was stymied as to what to say next. Perhaps he wanted time to find a persuasive argument - or perhaps he was just thirsty. The attorney apologized profusely for not being more hospitable, picked up his phone and asked his secretary to bring in two glasses of water.

When the attorney lifted his glass to drink, Mr. Hochstein said, "Wait a minute! I see something in your water." The attorney stopped, looked in the glass and didn't see anything. He then picked up his phone and asked his secretary to bring in another glass of water.

Mr. Hochstein then said to the attorney, "Look at that. I'm not sure that I saw something in your water, but you are definitely not willing to take a chance when it comes to your body. Why take a chance with your soul? You know we are a legitimate organization. It is not only in your power to approve us, it is the right thing to do - and you can earn your Olom Haba (World to Come) in one moment."

The attorney agreed and informed the Los Angeles lawyer. We received the remaining funds and purchased the three apartments. However, that is not the point of the story.

How about you and me? We are careful with our bodies - are we careful with our souls? Is it worth the chance? We should always ask, "What is the right thing that the Almighty would want me to do?" and then do it. We need to be at least as careful with our spiritual lives as we are with our physical lives.

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Torah Portion of the Week
Shavuos - (Yizkor is on Shabbat)
1st Day - Exodus 19:1 - 20:23

The Jewish people arrive at Mt.
The Almighty instructs Moses to tell us that we are to be "A Kingdom of
Cohanim and a holy nation." We spiritually and physically prepare to
receive the Torah. The Almighty speaks the 10 Commandments to everyone
assembled at Mt. Sinai.

2nd Day - Deuteronomy 14:22 - 16:17

The Torah portion starts with the explanation of the Second Tithe which was to be eaten in Jerusalem, the tithe for the Levite, the remission of loans every 7th year (the Shmitah year), the commandment to be warm-hearted and open-handed to the poor, the laws of a Jewish bondsman ... and concludes with the three Pilgrimage Festivals when every Jew was commanded to ascend to Jerusalem for Pesach, Shavuos and Sukkos - and that they should come with offerings. The Megillah of Ruth is also read.

* * *

Dvar Torah
based on Preparation for Sinai
by Rabbi Avraham J. Twerski, M.D.
- Twerski on Chumash

The first portion of Bamidbar (Numbers) is generally read before the Shavuos festival, which commemorates the giving of the Torah at Sinai. Inasmuch as there are no coincidences, we may assume that this portion is a prerequisite for receiving the Torah.

In relating the episode at Sinai, the Torah states:

"Israelites camped near the mountain" (Exodus 19:2).

However, the Torah uses the singular vayichan, "he camped" rather than vayachanu, "they camped." Rashi explains that the singular indicated that all the Israelites were united as one person. It is this unity that made them worthy of receiving the Torah.

There is nothing so dear to God as unity among His children. So much so, that the Talmud states that when Jews are united, God forgives even their gravest sins (Kallah 8).

The Sages teach, "You have no person without his hour and no thing without its place" (Ethics of the Fathers 4:3). One of the chassidic masters asked, "If every person has a specific time and place, why is there so much dissension among us?" He answered, "Because many people are envious of others, and wish to occupy their time and place." If we were free of envy, we might achieve the coveted unity.

This portion of the Torah describes the organization of the Israelites. "The Children of Israel shall encamp, each person by his banner according to the insignia of his father's household" (Numbers 2:2). Each person knew his place. The Kohanim had their place, the Levites had their place and every single person knew his rightful place. It was this knowledge and acceptance of one's place that enabled the Israelites to be a unit rather than fragmented.

We may conceptualize unity of a nation as a symphony orchestra, where each musician has a designated assignment. If the percussionist or the flute player would balk at his assignment because the violinist plays a better part, the performance would suffer. No one musician is of greater importance than another. This is equally true of the Jewish nation. We all have specific assignments: Kohanim, Levites, Israelites, men, women, Torah scholars, lay people. We are one harmonious unit.

The message of Bamidbar (Numbers) is the message of unity: "The Children of Israel shall encamp, each person by his banner." This is why the Torah reading of Bamidbar precedes Shavuous. Unity is the prerequisite for acceptance of the Torah.

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Jerusalem 7:03
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New York 8:00 - Singapore 6:39 - Toronto 8:31


Make your Torah study a fixed practice,
say little, do much and
receive everyone with a cheerful countenance.
--  Shammai

In Loving Memory of
My Brother

Sylvan Shaul ben Avraham

by Nathan Zemel

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Kalman Packouz

Click here for Rabbi Packouz's bio
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Copyright Rabbi Kalman Packouz 2009

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