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Sunday, February 08, 2009

On Heathens (and stories)

All of the waters in the entire world split. A few years later there was a tremendous earthquake accompanied by thunder and lightening and a prolonged blast. Scared that this was the beginning of a large scale Tsunami, All of the leaders and kings ran to their local “prophet” Bilaam. At the meeting Paroh and the other kings expressed concern that there would be another Flood. Yisro was also at the meeting because he was the priest of Midyan. Bilaam just laughed at them and explained that the commotion was because Hashem was giving the Torah to the Jewish people. The kings said “OK, that’s all it is” and went home. Only Yisro took a moment to consider that maybe if Hashem and the Torah could make the entire world shake, he should take it seriously. Like the boy who put on his sock, Yisro said to himself: “I think there’s something in it”.

Yisro arrived at the Machane Yisroel with Moshe’s wife and sons, Gershom and Eliezer reuniting the family in the wilderness. Interestingly, the Jews were then gathered at Har HaElokim - exactly the same spot where Hashem appeared to Moshe in the Burning Bush.

Initially, Yisro was barred entry into the camps. He shot arrows into the camp with messages. The first one said: “I am Your Father-in-law Yisro, I have come to you’, the second ‘…and your wife’, and the third ‘…and her two children are with her”.

Moshe decided to come out personally and greet Yisro. Of course, when Moshe went out to greet him, he was joined by Aharon and Nadav and Avihu and all of the Jewish people.  Moshe kissed and greeted his FIL and invited him into his tent where he told him the stories of the past few months in order to inspire him and bring him closer to Hashem. The Torah describes Yisro’s reaction with the word ‘Vayichad’, which means both happy and pained.

Yisro was so impressed and astounded that he became Jewish. Keep in mind that up until now Yisro had been a priest of many different idolatrous cults and had not been very nice to Moshe. Yisro insisted that Moshe’s first born son would be a pagan priest and did not even let him get a Bris! We learn from Yisro that a person must always be prepared to reevaluate and realize that they may have made a mistake. From Moshe we see that when someone seeks the truth we must give them royal respect, regardless of whether they threw you into a dungeon without food for ten years. (If they did something worse – see your Local Orthodox Rabbi).

Yisro noticed that the only Shofet/authority/advisor for the entire Jewish nation is Moshe himself. Concerned, Yisro forecasted ‘Navol Tivol’ - you will surely wilt.  Yisro suggested that lower judges be appointed to take care of smaller matters, and Moshe would attend to larger issues. Moshe accepted his advice after speaking with Hashem, and changed the face of Jewish leadership forever.

Yesterday, I explained a little too much to the man sitting next to me in Shul. He finally turned to me (with a smile) and said: “Rabbi! I may be a heathen, but I know the stories”.

He’s right. I don’t know very much about Heathen’s but I know that Moshe (at one point) had one for a Father-in-law. He stood to the side while his daughter’s husband started a religion and changed the world, but he finally came closer to Monotheism and G-d because he heard stories. When he came to join Moshe, they didn’t discuss philosophy and theology. They told stories.

Rav Nachman Breslover was a holy, if controversial, rebbe in the eighteenth century. For years, he tried to penetrate the souls of his Chassidim but without sufficient success. Finally he told his followers that he had a change of heart and realized that his old teachings were no enough. “And now”, he said, “I will begin to tell stories”.

My family owns one of the original collections of Rav Nachman’s stories. It reads like a fairy tale in Yiddish with princesses, spells, magic carpats, giants, treasure and far away castles. The stories contain no religious content at all, yet when the first Gerrer Rebbe came across this book he remained engrossed in its stories for one and a half hours. When he finally lifted his head, he told his shocked followers (who were waiting for him to perform a bris), I just reviewd the first section of the Kabbalistic work Eitz Chaim.

We are taught that observing a sage is greater than learning from one and that Torah in action is greater than Torah in print.

Stories are precious, and they have the ability to change a life. To quote the singular Ashleigh Brilliant: “Strange as it may seem, my life is based on a true story”.


Posted on 02/08 at 07:58 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