Friday, October 07, 2022

We all have people in our lives who have inspired us at some point. This past Sunday, I attended the funeral of a person who played such a role in my life: Mr. Naftali Itzkowitz z”l. I practically grew up in the Itzkowitz home and was given the honor to speak at his levayah. I mentioned that at the very beginning of this week’s parsha, Parshat Bamidbar, Moshe is told to count the Jewish people, and the heads of the tribes were assigned to execute the counting. Interestingly, the word used to describe counting is “s’eu,”which also means to “lift up.” The Ktav Sofer explains that Moshe was instructed to lift up the spirits of the leaders of the tribes. The leaders felt that they had distanced themselves from Hashem because of their involvement with the sin of the golden calf. The Shela elaborates on this idea by suggesting that Torah focuses on the importance of each and every individual Jew. We are all considered a “rosh,” a head, in some way. We are all considered to be important and significant in the eyes of Hashem. If we apply this concept to our interactions, it may be easier to look at people in a positive light. If we remember that every one of us is significant to Hashem, we will inevitably treat others with grace and dignity. When we ignore people, we elevate ourselves above them and come across as arrogant. Only when we humble ourselves to respect and greet others with a friendly smile can we grasp the greatness that is hidden within them and within us.

The Itzkowitz home was a place that was open to all. A smile and delicious meal could be found on any given Shabbos. Growing up, when I would walk into the house, I was always impressed that people were welcomed in a non-judgmental way, regardless of how they appeared. It was as if they were part of the family before Kiddush even began. I always wondered why the table was always covered and ready, but place settings were never set until people sat down. I am still not sure why, but it was the type of home where Naftali and his wife Zelda (tbl”ch) wanted to make sure that none of their guests would be insulted if a place setting wasn’t prepared for them. They wanted people to feel at home. If you came into the Itzkowitz home downtrodden, you left with your spirit lifted. I will forever remember the chesed that this incredible couple performed just by being themselves. We all have a part of us that makes us unique and beloved to Hashem.

As we approach the holiday of Shavuot and earnestly await the giving of the Torah, let us keep two thoughts in mind. The first is that Hashem values each and every one of us, and that we all have our own individual part of the Torah that is waiting for us to adopt. The second thought is that it is so crucial for us to remember that the way we relate to other people is a core value of the Torah. We cannot commit to a life of Torah if our behavior does not reflect Torah ideals. As we conclude the count of sefira, Rabbi Akiva’s words echo in our ears: “Ve’ahavta l’re’acha kamocha.” When we truly feel that Hashem has a special affinity for each of us individually, we can accept and celebrate the Giving of the Torah with devotion and sincerity.

By Rabbi Eliezer Zwickler

Rabbi Eliezer Zwickler is senior rabbi of Congregation AABJ&D in West Orange, NJ, and is a licensed clinical social worker in private practice. Rabbi Zwickler can be reached at [email protected]


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