July 14, 2024
Search
Close this search box.
Search
Close this search box.
July 14, 2024
Search
Close this search box.

Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Following a Path of Torah Observance and Truth

Next week is the yahrzeit of my paternal grandfather, Mr. Helmut Bodenheim, Naftoli ben Avraham, z”l. My grandfather was born in Mannheim, Germany, and attended the yeshiva of Rav Samson Rafael Hirsch in Frankfurt. He was fortunate to be able to get a visa to immigrate to America in 1938 when he was 20 years old. He was a man of truth who faced many challenges, but did not bend or compromise in his adherence to Torah and mitzvos. He was drafted into the army in 1943 and fought in the second wave of D-Day. After the war, he married my grandmother and they eventually settled in Washington Heights in the KAJ community of German Jews. He attended the shiurim of Rav Breuer and of Rav Shimon Schwab. My grandfather used to type up the shiurim afterward and maintained a folder for each parsha.

At all junctures in his life he sought the guidance and ruling of his rav. When he was drafted in WWII, he obtained advice on what he should do for kosher food, since the army did not supply kosher meals. When his workplace was relocating to Philadelphia, he asked if he should move his family away from his beloved community in Washington Heights in order to maintain his job. He was told he should go if he finds a good Jewish community in Philadelphia. They ended up moving across the street from the famous Philadelphia Yeshiva and became known for their hachnosas orchim (hosting guests).

What helped my grandfather be so strong in his observance of Yiddishkeit as a young man in a new country? I believe we see the answer in observing the guidance Yaakov received regarding his descent to Mitzrayim. On his way down to Egypt, Hashem appeared to Yaakov in a night vision and told him not to be afraid. “I will be with you, and I will take Bnei Yisrael out of Mitzrayim.” Why the emphasis on the vision being at night? Rav Meir Simcha of Dvinsk explains that daytime signifies a situation where one can see one’s path clearly. Night is a time of darkness, when the future seems unknown. Avraham and Yitzchak received prophecies during the day, as they did not experience exile, whereas Yaakov received his prophecy in darkness; he was leaving Eretz Yisrael knowing this was the start of an Egyptian exile where his people would be enslaved, but Hashem assured him that He would be with him even in the darkness of exile.

Hashem appeared to Yaakov at night to teach him that the secret to his survival in the darkness of exile was to keep himself attached to the ideals of his father and grandfather, Avraham and Yitzchak, who received their prophecy during the day. My grandfather did just that and steadfastly was guided by his proper Jewish upbringing.

The significance of this continuity can also be seen from the following: Besides their major roles in Jewish history, the Avos also established the three daily tefillos that correspond to the korbanos (offerings) of the day. Avraham established Shacharis, which corresponds to the korban tamid brought in the morning. Yitzchak established Mincha, which corresponds to the korban tamid brought in the afternoon. Yaakov established Maariv. But…korbanos were not permitted to be offered at night! The Gemara explains that Maariv corresponds to the limbs and fats of the offerings from earlier in the day, which were still not burnt. Burning these items at night was permitted as a mere continuation of the daytime korbanos.

One of my grandfather’s sterling qualities was honesty. In business, he always paid his debts in full, right away. If he ever made a commitment, he would see it through. He kept his word. This quality of truth made him a trusted person and a confidante of many people, since he would never divulge any private information.

The importance of truth is demonstrated in Parshas Vayigash. I always wondered: Did Yaakov ever find out the true story about his sons selling Yosef? Ramban says Yaakov never found out. However, Rav Shimon Schwab has a different take, based on the Midrash that says that when Yaakov’s sons told him that Yosef was alive and was the viceroy of Mitzrayim, Yaakov did not initially believe them. The only way they could convince Yaakov was to reveal the entire story of the sale of Yosef. This is implied from the words in the pasuk that says, “They told Yaakov all the words of Yosef.” “All” means they told Yaakov the entire story. The Midrash warns a person not to lie because in the end no one will believe him when he tells the truth. Yaakov knew his sons had lied and only believed them when they told their father the full truth.

Life is a winding path, but truth and following the ways of Hashem serve as a reliable compass. My grandfather lived each day that way, and may we all emulate his approach to navigating the twists and turns of life.


Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim is the associate rosh yeshiva of Passaic Torah Institute (PTI)/Yeshiva Ner Boruch, where he leads a multi-level Gemara-learning program. PTI has attracted adult Jews of all ages from all over northern New Jersey for its learning programs. Fees are not charged but any contributions are always welcome. Beyond PTI, Rabbi Bodenheim conducts a weekly beis midrash program with chavrusa learning in Livingston plus a monthly group in West Caldwell. Rabbi Bodenheim can be reached at [email protected]. For more info about PTI and its Torah classes, visit pti.shulcloud.com.

Leave a Comment

Most Popular Articles