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Monday, April 20, 2015


At the very end of my second Seder, my wife rose to count Sefirah and took a moment to explain how we are counting our way to Shavuos and growing each day of the forty nine days ahead of us. Everyone at the table counted, but one woman was puzzled. “I enjoyed this seder very much”, she said. “I’ve never stayed until the end before, but I’m glad I did. You need to explain to me, “What is this other thing coming up? What is Shavuos?”

Of course we explained that just leaving Egypt wasn’t good enough (even though we say ‘Dayeinu’). G-d took us out of Egypt to give us the Torah and that will be our ultimate celebration and the culmination of our goals. We celebrate the giving of the Torah on Shavuos after counting toward it for forty-nine days. “Will the meal be as long?” She asked. At that point, my son helpfully chimed in, “no, it’s only 2:00 now, on Shavuos we stay up all night long”.

The truth is that we should stay up all night on Pesach as well, but the point remains. As we finish our seder and our Pesach, as tired as we may be, we need to think about what is next. What is going to follow after Pesach?

I think we all know that Shavuos is coming up, but I’d like to talk about the days of Sefirah. These are days in which we mourn the students of Rabi Akiva. Twenty-four thousand students died because they did not act respectfully to each other. They all celebrated Pesach but did not make it to Shavuos, because they didn’t show proper respect. We aren’t talking about respect for Rabi Akiva or respect for their parents. We are referring to respect with one another. After all of the explanations, the Gemara’s account remains frightening. Twenty-four thousand students died because they did not act respectfully to each other.

When the Kollel in Toronto opened, Rav Shneur Kotler was asked his advice. He recommended that when the fellows in the Kollel speak to each other they should address one another as Rabbi. That is the definition of Nahagu Kavod Zeh B’zeh. And it doesn’t just apply to rabbis. We all need to learn to respect each other.

The Arizal writes that the impurity of Egypt was based in Haughtiness, on the inability of people to see beyond themselves and to recognize that someone might have something to offer. We need to spend forty-nine days of character refinement shedding that self centeredness.

We need to spend time every day of Sefira finding one thing to respect about one person. Do that for forty-nine days, and you will find that your life and your interactions with people will change. You will change as a person, and your Torah will change.

Rav Yosher was the first biographer of the Chofetz Chaim. In his book he writes an account that he heard from Rav Don Plotzky, author of the Kli Chemdah. Rav Don Plotzky was given the task of accompanying the Chofetz Chayim to the Knessiah Gedolah in Vienna in 1923.

They traveled by train and all of the Rabbis sat in second class. The Chofetz Chayim insisted on travelling third class and so he was in a different carriage than the other rabbis. At every town on the way to Vienna, hundreds of Jews would be gathered at the train station to greet the great rabbis on the train, which included the Gerrer Rebbe and the Sokolover Rebbe. We can imagine the scene. The Rabbis would come out onto the platform and greet the people, who would crowd around for blessings and to catch a glimpse of these Tzadikim. When the whistle blew, they would reboard the train and continue on their journey. This happened at station after station and it was a beautiful sight to behold. The Chofetz Chayim would have none of it. He stayed in his seat, far away from any windows and paid no attention to what was going on. At one city in Poland, the people had a little more chutzpah. They formed a committee of Rabbis and lay leaders and sent them onto the train to request that the Chofetz Chayim step outside a moment to greet the thousands of people who had travelled miles just to see him. The Chofetz Chaim refused.

At this point Rav Don Plotzky decided to act. He sat down next to the Chafetz Chaim and asked him why he was being so adamant about not going outside.

“All my life”, the Chofetz Chaim explained, “I’ve run away from honor. You are asking me to stand up and walk toward it. I just can’t. Furthermore“, he continued,”Rav Yehudah Hachasid writes that any honor that we receive in this world is deducted from the honor that we receive in the next, why would I do that?”

Rav Don Plotzky did not back down. “Rebbe”, he said, “isn’t it worthwhile to give up a little bit of the next world to make so many Jews happy? And besides I don’t understand how this could deduct – “

“Enough!” the Chofetz Chaim said. “Your first reason is good enough”. He rose and walked out onto the platform. Thousands of people started to press toward him and he was in danger of being trampled, so he raised his hand and called out “Sholom Aleichem Yidden”, explaining that one did not have to shake hands to receive a bracha.

When they re-boarded the train and stopped at the town of Chestechov, the Chofetz Chaim was already very weak from his journey. Apparently, he felt like he had made all the effort required of him and he begged his companions to close the doors and windows of the train car so that he could rest a little bit. They gave in and the Chofetz Chaim began to rest while the other Rabbis went out on the platform to greet the people. Suddenly, the door opened and the conductor came running into the car. An axle had broken on the track and everyone needed to disembark and switch to a different car.

The Chofetz knew that he had been beat. “The strength and willpower of so many people is impossible to overcome.” He explained, “If they want to see me, Hashem will make sure that they see me.”

On that same day, he arrived in Vienna and was videotaped by a reporter covering the convention. Sure enough, we all got to see him.

This story is all about honor. It is about the Chofetz Chaim’s discomfort with honor, but it is also about people wanting to honor the Chofetz Chaim. When people genuinely want to show respect, the Chofetz Chaim couldn’t say no.  Even G-d couldn’t say no.

At the convention the Chofetz Chaim spoke at length about showing honor to Hashem. We beg Hashem, Show us your face, show us how you look. Bring us close to you. Help us understand and keep your Torah. Hashem, as it were, can’t say no. If we honor Him and respect him and yearn to see him we will eventually get what we want, because we will never be satisfied until we do.

Let us work on honor. Foregoing our own honor, learning how to honor others – one person a day for forty-nine days adds up – and running to honor Hashem.

We pray to G-d,”Pull us toward you and we will run.” We need to find within ourselves to request a little help both from G-d and from others. We know that once we receive it we will run with it, but until we recognize that we need help from G-d and others, we will be nowhere.

We declare משכני אחריך נרוצה, - “Please G-d, pull us toward you”, and in the end we will be given the capacity to truly rejoice: נגילה ומשמחה בך.

Posted on 04/20 at 04:13 AM • 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