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Sunday, April 19, 2015

Devarim Nechmadim on Avos: Introduction

We read Pirkei Avos between Pesech and Shavuos because it prepares us to properly accept the Torah. This is the period when the students of Rabi Akiva perished because they did not have proper respect for one another. Apparently, it is possible for a person to possess vast Torah knowledge and yet lack the ethical behavior that should accompany it. In order to be a true vessel to receive and transmit the Torah we need to refine our character traits to reflect those found in Pirkei Avos.

The custom is to begin the recital or Pirkei Avos with a quote from the final chapter of Sanhedrin: “כל ישראל יש להם הלק לעולם הבא”. All Jews have a portion in the world to come.

This quote is somewhat perplexing. It seems obvious that there have been Jews in our history who did not merit a portion in the world to come. As a matter of fact, the very Mishna in Sanhedrin that is quoted ends with a list of those who have no portion in the world to come. The quote at the beginning of Pirkei Avos seems somewhat disingenuous.

I believe the answer lies in a famous volume of the Berenstein Bears. Sister Bear had trouble with Nail Biting. No incentive seemed to work. They even tried offering Sister a penny for each nail that she did not bit over the course of a day. It was ineffective. Finally, Grandma Bear had Sister put ten pennies into her pocket at the beginning of the day. As she walked around and heard the coins jingling in her pocket, Sister was able to control her nasty habit.

In that very same way, G-d puts very one of us into this world with a portion in the World to Come. Some of us will get to use it; some of us won’t. But having that portion is incentive to make something of our lives and to keep our eyes on the prize., After all, we already have it, It’s just a matter of holding on to it.

This important lesson about the potential of every Jew is the perfect introduction to Pirkei Avos. As we prepare to receive the Torah and to avoid the mistakes of Rabi Akiva’s students, we need to recognize that every single Jew has a portion in the world to come. We needed to learn to respect one another.

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Devarim Nechmadim is a commentary on the first five Mishnayos of Pirkei Avos by Rav Tzvi Elimelech Shapira of Dinov (1783 - 1841). This essay is loosely based on his work. For more essays based on Devarim Nechmadim please see http://www.torahlab.org/calendar/C126/

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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 senderhaber@gmail.com