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Friday, July 11, 2008

In Honor of Henna Gittels Wedding

There is no greater nachas then when your children not only listen and appreciate your Torah but expand and improve upon it. In this essay I present my son Rabbi Sender Haber of Norfolk VA. who spoke in honor of my daughter, Henna Gittel’s wedding, which took place in Jerusalem overlooking the Har HaBayit. It was not only an amazing view but an amazing spiritual experience. Thank G-d.


Rabbi Sender Haber

There is a mountain in the Talpiyot neighborhood of Yerushalayim overlooking the Har Habayis and the Makom Hamikdosh. It was called, for many years, “The Hill of Evil Counsel”. This was the location of the summer home of Keifa where Jesus was allegedly sentenced to death. Much later, the British Mandate built a palace there as a residence for the governing rulers.

Most importantly, this was the place where 3,683 years ago Avraham Avinu stopped on the third day of his journey to sacrifice his son Yitzchak. He tied up the donkey and left his servants Yishmael and Eliezer behind, as he continued up to Yerushalayim with Yitzchak. Rashi explains that it was at this spot that the test truly began. The Akeidah ceased to be an abstract concept and became a reality. The Torah records that Avraham stood there and “saw the place [of the Kodesh Hakodoshim] from afar”. The Medrash writes that Avraham Avinu saw the Shechina, the divine presence, as he caught his first glimpse of Har Habayis.

Last week, my sister got married on that exact same mountain high above Yerushalyim overlooking the Makom Hamikdosh.

Under the chupa my father explained that when Avraham gazed at the Beis Hamikdosh before making the last part of journey he saw the Shechina in a way that it can only be seen from afar. Like many things in life, when we look at the Shechina and the actions of Hashem from up close they are not always clear, but when we see them from afar we are able to see a broader, more understandable picture.

It was specifically from far away that Avraham was able to see the Shechina and it was in this way that Avraham Avinu drew strength to continue on his journey. By looking at the big picture, he realized that by overcoming his own overwhelming trait of Chessed, by overriding his own perception of right and of wrong, he could pass a test that would impact the world as we know it and affect all of his children and grandchildren for thousands of years.

Human nature is to judge good and bad, possible and impossible by the way we see it up close as it is happening. Hashem doesn’t see things that way. Hashem plans for our greater good, he looks at the big picture.

When something tough is going on it is hard to see the silver lining. Nachum ish Gamzu was able to say ‘Gam zu Letovah’ or ‘this too is good’ but most people will find it easier to follow Rebbe Akiva’s model of taking a step back and realizing that ‘Everything that Hashem does is for an ultimate good’.

In Parshas Chukas, the Jews in the desert complained to Moshe (again) and were subsequently attacked by snakes. People were dying and Hashem commanded him to put a copper snake on on a stick. If someone was bitten and looked at the snake, they would live.

The Mishna finds this incredible: Can a snake make someone live or die? After all, they were dying because of their lack of gratitude and their constant complaining; the snakes were just the messenger. The Mishna clarifies that, indeed, it was not the snake that caused life or death: if a Jew turned to Hashem and placed his hope in Hashem he would live; if he did not, he would die.

The commentaries ask the obvious question: Why put the snake on the stick at all? Why didn’t Moshe just instruct the Jews to put their faith in Hashem?

The Nefesh Hachayim writes, based on the Ramban, that this was an exercise in faith. The nature of a person who is dying of a snake bite is to become completely consumed by the issue at hand. Everywhere he looks he sees snakes, he dreams of snakes and he thinks about snakes constantly. He cannot think of anything other than the snake.

Sometimes something happens in our lives and we become obsessed and think only about it, to the exclusion of anything else in our lives.

The problem with the Jews’ in the desert was that they didn’t look at the big picture. They forgot that there were coming from the worst place in the world and going to the best place in the world; they only saw their momentary pain could not stop complaining about the lack of food.

Moshe wanted to teach the people to realize that the uppermost issue on a person’s mind is not necessarily the most important one. He told the people dying of snake bites to stare at the snake, look it straight in the eye, and say “it is not the snake that decides whether I will live or die; it is Hashem”.

When we are confronted with a situation and we cannot get past our initial justified feelings of hatred or of despair, we need to force ourselves to see the big picture.

Shalom means peace, but it also means perfection. After Davening and speaking to Hashem about our many needs, we take three steps back and realize that ultimately there is a bigger picture. He who makes everything perfect on high can also make every perfect for us and for all of the Jewish people.

Hashem sits on high, yet He lowers himself to watch and look out for every person and every creation in the heavens and the earth.

In the same way, we need to develop the ability to look at all the little things – to sweat the small stuff. At the same time we need to be able to take three steps back and, like Avraham, gaze from afar and see the Shechina.

Posted on 07/11 at 05:06 PM • Permalink
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Meet Rabbi Yaacov Haber

Rabbi Yaacov HaberRabbi Haber has been a leading force in Jewish Outreach for the past 25 years. A founding trustee of AJOP, the Association of Jewish Outreach Professionals, he was the founder and director of the Torah Center of Buffalo from 1980-1990 while serving as a community rabbi in Buffalo. From Buffalo he and his family traveled to Melbourne, Australia where as a project of Kollel Bais HaTalmud he founded the Australian Institute of Torah, a national outreach and adult education program. He directed that program from 1990-1995, at which time he was sought out as National Director of Jewish Education for the Orthodox Union in the United States where he created the Internationally acclaimed and highly successful "Pardes Project."

In addition to his duties at the OU, in 1996 he replaced Rabbi Berel Wein as the spiritual leader of Congregation Bais Torah in Monsey, NY. In keeping with the position of Congregation Bais Torah in the Monsey community, Rabbi Haber was involved in issues involving the greater Monsey community, and counseled hundreds of individuals in the surrounding area.

Rabbi Yaacov Haber is the founder and driving force behind TorahLab. Through TorahLab, Rabbi Haber is bringing together educational and media specialists to create dynamic learning experiences which will be accessible to adults of all backgrounds and levels. Rabbi Haber has published numerous articles and books and is a sought after international lecturer.

Rabbi Haber and his family are presently living in Ramat Beit Shemesh where he is the Rabbi of Kehillas Shivtei Yeshurun.

Rabbi Haber can be contacted at