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Visiting the sick good for our spiritual health

There is a fundamental mitzvah that is alluded to in this week’s parsha. When Moshe addresses the Jewish people in the stand-off against the rebel faction led by Korach, he says the following, “If these die like the death of all men, and the visiting of all men is visited upon them, then it is not Hashem Who has sent me.” (Numbers 16:29)




Rabbi Yonatan Landau, Ohr Somayach Savoy

The Talmud in Nedarim 39B discusses these mysterious words. What is Moshe referring to when he says, “the visiting of all men is visited upon them”?

The Talmud explains that this alludes to the mitzvah of bikkur cholim – visiting the sick.

What exactly does this mitzvah entail, and what are some of the benefits we reap from it?

Torah authorities tell us that there are two main components of this mitzvah. First, we must take care of the needs of the ill person. This entails making sure that their health is looked after, and that they have adequate food and clothing. The Talmud recounts a story of the great Rabbi Akiva, who visited a sick student and took care to clean the room of its dust. This helped the student to recover. Furthermore, often the extra effort can make a difference to a person’s recovery.

Second, we must daven for the ill person. When we plead with Hashem, he recognises that the fate of the ill person is in divine hands, and thereby invokes divine compassion. Our rabbis teach us that as Hashem, so-to-speak, visits the sick, the divine presence is more concentrated above the bed of the ill person, and therefore it’s particularly powerful to daven in their room.

Those who perform this mitzvah acquire four main benefits.

In Parshas Vayeira, our rabbis teach that Hashem visited Abraham after his bris. This means that one who practices bikkur cholim is in fact acting like Hashem, who is the epitome of kindness and love. This is a fulfilment of the mitzvah of walking in Hashem’s way.

Performance of this mitzvah on a regular basis also helps you to become a kinder and more considerate person as the classic work, the Sefer ha-Chinuch, explains it – a person is influenced by the activities he involves himself in.

The commentator, Kli Yakar, adds that visiting the sick reminds us of our mortality, which serves as a stimulus to improve our ways.

Rav Avigdor Miller says that when we see others with an illness absent in ourselves, we acquire an appreciation for the myriad kindnesses that Hashem performs daily with our bodies.

Hashem should bless us with health especially in these difficult times, and let us try, albeit from a distance, to fulfil this vital mitzvah.

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Why we refuse to forget

Devarim is the parsha associated with Tisha B’Av, the Jewish national day of mourning. This Shabbos, we read the famous Haftarah of Chazon, the vision of Isaiah. And, next Thursday, we will recall the destruction of our holy temple nearly 2 000 years ago.




Rabbi Yossy Goldman, Sydenham Shul

But why remember? The world cannot understand why we go on about the Holocaust, and that was only 75 years ago! For more than 19 centuries, we have been remembering and observing this event, and it has become the saddest day in our calendar. Why? Why not let bygones be bygones? It’s history. What was, was. Why keep revisiting old and painful visions?

They say that Napoleon was once passing through the Jewish ghetto in Paris, and heard sounds of crying and wailing emanating from a synagogue. He stopped to ask what the lament was about. He was told that the Jews were remembering the destruction of their Temple. “When did it happen?” asked the Emperor. “About 1 700 years ago,” was the answer. Whereupon Napoleon stated with conviction that a people who never forgot its past would be destined to forever have a future.

Elie Wiesel once said, “Jews never had history. We have memory.” History can become a book, a museum, and forgotten antiquities. Memory is alive, memories reverberate, and memory guarantees our future.

Even amidst the ruins, we refused to forget. The first temple was destroyed by the Babylonians. As they were led into captivity, the Jews sat down and wept. “By the rivers of Babylon, we sat and wept remembering Zion.” What did they cry for? Their lost wealth, homes, and businesses? No. They cried for Zion and Jerusalem. “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand lose its cunning.” They weren’t weeping for themselves or their lost liberties, but for the heavenly city and holy temple. Amidst the bondage, they aspired to rebuild, amidst the ruins, they dreamt of returning.

And, because we refused to forget Jerusalem, we did return. And, because we refused to accept defeat or accept our exile as a historical fait accompli, we have rebuilt proud Jewish communities the world over while our victors have been vanquished by time. The Babylonian and Roman destroyers of old are no more. Those nations became history while we, inspired by memory, emerged revitalised and regenerated, and forever it will be true that am Yisrael chai.

Only if we refuse to forget can we hope to rebuild one day. If we are to make our return to Zion successful and permanent, if our people are to harbour the hope of being restored and revived internationally, then we dare not forget. We need to observe our national day of mourning next Wednesday night and Thursday. Forego whatever entertainment options your COVID-19 lockdown allows. Sit down on a low seat to mourn with your people, and perhaps even more importantly, to remember. And, please G-d, He will restore those glorious days, and rebuild His own everlasting house. May it be speedily in our day.

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Strength in diversity

The double portion of Matos/Massei deals with Moshe divvying up the land for the Twelve Tribes of Israel.




Rabbi Ryan Goldstein, West Street Shul

Moshe didn’t choose land based on population size, demographics, or even agricultural usefulness, it was all decided through the casting of lots. Leaving such an arduous task in the capable hands of Hashem was the best way to dodge any farribles.

The Twelve Tribes, once settled in the Holy Land, could finally bring to fruition the mammoth task of being a light to the rest of humanity. As the prophet Isaiah foretells, “Ki mitZiyon tetzei Torah [Torah will come forth out of Zion].”

The harmonious unity of the Twelve Tribes in one centralised place was very much like an orchestra, with multiple sounds coming together to form a beautiful symphony.

In fact, that’s how Hashem prefers things. He displays this to us through the diversity of nature. If Hashem wanted only one way of doing things, then nature would have sufficed with one type of fauna. For example, there would be only penguins around or zebras. Forget about the beautiful and intricate multitudes of glorious beasts, big and small, that inhabit our earth and deep seas. Hashem makes it obvious that He wants unity to thrive out of diversity.

The same is true of the tribes of Israel. Hashem wasn’t happy with Israel being represented by an Avraham figure, an Isaac, or even a Jacob alone. And even though Jacob was called Israel, that wasn’t our legacy until we became bnei Yisrael (the children of Israel). Why? Harmony through diversity. The tribe of Yehuda was earmarked for kingship, Yosef were to be the politicians, Issachar could sit and learn Torah all day, Zevulun were the sea-faring merchants, Shimon were the educators, and Levi were the priests and temple workers. One man/identity couldn’t be all things.

And so it should be today. Our job is not to judge, and to be tolerant of the paths and journeys each person has in trying to make their legacy within the realm of Judaism and Torah.

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Humility is our strongest suit

Two centuries ago, Polish noblemen would do anything to avoid giving business to a Jew. Ivan the poretz was willing to make an exception. He needed to have an exquisite suit made for an important personal celebration, and Moshe was the best tailor in the region. As much as it nauseated him, the squire knew he just had to use Moshe.




Rabbi Ari Shishler, Chabad of Strathavon

Moshe was, in fact, the best. And he knew it. Moshe revelled in the irony: the crabby landholder beholden to a Jewish tailor. “Ah, and what a suit it would be,” Moshe mused, “Old Ivan will surely engage my services again, as will half the neighbouring squires.”

Moshe worked quickly. Two days ahead of schedule, he proudly presented the finished product to the squire. He smiled inwardly, as he waited for the squire to step out wearing his magnificent handiwork. Moshe’s excitement turned to horror as the squire re-entered the room. The suit didn’t fit at all. One sleeve was too long, and the waistline threatened to explode under the pressure of its wearer’s girth. The squire was furious. He spewed antisemitic vitriol, and threatened to have Moshe killed. Panicked, Moshe pleaded for a chance to repair the damage and fled home, his ego shattered.

Moshe was dumbfounded. He knew that he had measured everything perfectly and simply couldn’t understand what had gone awry. Worse, he couldn’t conceive of a way to salvage the suit – and his future.

Without a plan, and with the squire’s dire threats ringing in his ears, the desperate Moshe hurried to the great spiritual master, Reb Elimelech of Lizhensk. In the rebbe’s study, Moshe poured out his heart, and begged for a blessing to be able to turn things around. Reb Elimelech listened carefully, then spoke emphatically, “Go home and undo every single stitch of that garment. Then, sew it all back together, exactly as you had originally done. Do not modify any part of the suit.”

Moshe was completely perplexed, but wouldn’t dare to question the rebbe. He obediently followed the rebbe’s advice, and anxiously returned a day later to the squire. This time, the suit fit perfectly. The ecstatic squire handed Moshe a handsome sum, and even complimented the Jewish tailor on his handiwork.

Moshe, confused as before, returned to the rebbe to try and unravel the mystery of what had transpired.

“Moshe,” Reb Elimelech explained, “You surely appreciate that the suit didn’t change from the squire’s first fitting to the second. All that changed was you. When you originally presented the suit to the poretz, you were gushingly proud of your handiwork. Arrogance repels Hashem’s blessings, which is why the suit was a disaster at that point. When you undid every stitch, you then remade the suit with deep humility and a profound appreciation of the need for Hashem’s blessing to guarantee the success of your talent and expertise. Your newfound humility aligned you with the blessings you needed.”

COVID-19, and the lockdown it has brought, has made us all introspective. We feel uncertain about the future, about our families’ well-being, and about our financial security. This is a deeply disconcerting period. Perhaps, Hashem has offered us a chance to undo, stitch by stitch, the fibre of life as we have known it. We now have a chance to re-tailor our lives with a new hierarchy of priorities and a fresh appreciation for our relationships. Rather than leave us despondent, hopefully this trying time will leave us feeling humbler. Humility, Judaism teaches, is the gateway to Hashem’s richest blessings.

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