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Thursday, July 18, 2013

Competing With Ramadan

About fifteen years ago, I joined a group of ten Yeshiva Bochurim and we went on vacation. We rented a house on Hunter Mountain in Upstate New York and we planned daily activities for ourselves.

There was a tiny, old, shul in Hunter and (even though we had our own minyan) we made our way there for Mincha. The shul was totally empty except a few elderly men who looked like they had been waiting for a minyan since 1950, and Rav Malkiel Kotler, the Rosh Yeshiva of Lakewood.

It did not cross our minds that Rav Malkiel was in Hunter on vacation. We approached him and asked if he would be willing to give us a shiur. He good naturedly agreed. That night was Tu B’av, and we gathered in the tiny shul and he gave us brilliant shiur on the Mitzvah of Talmud Torah and the Mitzvah to get married. He explained that one is allowed to push off marriage for the sake of learning, but it is not because one mitzvah is more important than the other (although it might be). It is just that the mitzvah of Talmud Torah is so encompassing that it takes over our entire lives. One who is busy with one mitzvah is exempt from doing another.

He then explained that Tu B’av is a Yom Tov for the Jewish people. It was a day when matches were made and celebrations were had. But, there is also a judgment that takes place on that day. The Mishna tells us that in the months leading up to Tu B’av the people would be busy preparing wood for the Bais Hamikdash. They were too busy to learn. On Tu B’av they would stop preparing wood and, suddenly, their evenings would be free.

Rav Malkiel explained that Tu B’av is a night to reveal our true desires. Our busy lives excuse us from constant Torah study, but when we bump into some extra spare time we need to use it properly. The time is a gift – and a challenge - from Hashem. It is a chance to show where our interests lie.

One of the speakers on the CCHF Tisha B’av video told an interesting story about the Kapishnitzer rebbe. The rebbe once noticed a Jewish fellow sitting and eating in a non-kosher restaurant on Yom Kippur. He opened the the door and walked straight up to the man, looked him in the eye, and said, “es mit apetit”, or “enjoy your meal”.

The rebbe explained that there are two types of sinners. The punishment for those who sin out of spite is much greater than the punishment of someone who just can’ control his desires. He encouraged the man to eat with hearty appetite, thus downgrading the level of his sin.

I suspect that the rebbe had more than a cute loophole in mind. He was encouraging the man to think about what he really wanted that Yom Kippur. Did he want a hamburger or did he want a life of meaning and a connection to Hashem?

One year ago, ninety thousand Muslims gathered on the Temple Mount to begin Ramadan. Just as we were bringing our sneakers to shul and getting ready to sit on the floor and mourn the destruction of the Bais Hamikdash, ninety thousand Muslims were standing on the site of the destroyed Bais Hamikdash.

I have no idea what Muslims do to prepare for Ramadan, but I am sure that whatever they did not come close to what ninety thousand Jews did that same week at the Siyum Hashas in Metlife stadium.

Even if you don’t learn Daf Yomi, it was impossible not to be impressed by ninety thousand Jews united to honor Torah and to celebrate the study of Torah.

The height of the siyum for me was the address of Reb Yitzchak Scheiner. “You people have done something amazing”, he said, “now you just need to be nice to each other so that we never have to mourn another Tisha B’av”.

We showed Hashem what we want and what we are capable of doing. In that merit we pray that Hashem will say, “I want those 90,000 people to gather in Yerushalayim, right there on Temple Mount with the rebuilding of the Beis Hamikdash!”

Posted on 07/18 at 09:03 PM • Permalink
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Meet Rabbi Sender Haber

Rabbi Sender Haber is the Rabbi of the B'nai Israel Congregation in Norfolk, VA. He is well known throughout Hampton Roads, having arrived over twelve years ago as one of the original four members of the Norfolk Area Community Kollel. In that capacity, Rabbi Haber was involved in community wide programming, teaching, and outreach. He has inspired many Jews to expand their Jewish identity and increase their love of Torah and commitment to its observance. Everyone who knows Rabbi Haber is touched by his breadth of Torah knowledge and his ability to convey the wisdom of the ages in such a way as to make those esoteric writings accessible to persons of all levels of experience and a variety of backgrounds.

Rabbi Haber has served in a number of capacities during his years in Norfolk. Since 2003 Rabbi Haber has been a teacher of Jewish Studies at Toras Chaim Day School in Portsmouth, teaching boys and girls of all ages, with a focus on Gemara, Halacha, and Chumash. He has also taught at Yeshivas Aish Kodesh and Bina High School in Norfolk, and served as Assistant Rabbi of B’nai Israel for 6 years. He also serves as the Rabbi of the “Lost Tribe,” Tidewater’s Jewish Motorcycle group! While handling all of these responsibilities, he has continued to participate in numerous Chavrusos (one-on-one learning partnerships) covering a wide range of topics and writings.

Rabbi Haber and his wife Chamie have been married for thirteen years. They have four children, Minna (9), Moshe (6), Ely (4), and Akiva Meir, born in August of 2012. They both come from rabbinic families steeped in Torah, Kiruv and Chesed. Rabbi Haber received his Rabbinic Ordination (Yoreh Yoreh) from Rabbi Sender Rosenbloom and Rabbi Mordechai Freidlander of the Jerusalem Beth Din. He was awarded a Teaching Certificate by Torah Umesorah Association for Jewish Day Schools in 2004 and again in 2009. In addition, Rabbi Haber has spent over a decade studying Talmud, Jewish Law, and ethics in some of the world’s most prestigious Yeshivos including Beth Medrash Gavoha in Lakewood, NJ and Yeshivas Mir in Jerusalem.

Rabbi Haber can be contacted through the Synagogue office at 757-627-7358, or through e-mail at