April 10, 2024
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April 10, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

I’m always amazed that when visiting Eretz Yisrael things seem to fall into place to make our experiences more meaningful, even without planning.

A few years ago, my wife and I were in Eretz Yisrael visiting our children. Hashem “directed” me to a few destinations—kevarim (grave sites) of special tzaddikim—that were not on my original list, and these visits made a big impact on us. We went to Har HaMenuchos to daven at the kevarim of my wife’s grandparents. It’s a very challenging place to navigate, and luckily our aunt Sarah Eiferman gave us expert directions. She said that right when you enter Har HaMenuchos, there’s a building with a dome on top of it. It looks like an office building, but it’s really the grave site of the famous “Chida,” Rabbi Chaim Yosef David Azoulay, who was born in Yerushalayim but spent much of his life traveling and writing many major seforim. Visiting that rebbe’s gravesite was a “bonus” of our cemetery visit.

On Sunday, my wife and children wanted to go for a tour of Machane Yehuda (a very large market), famously known as the “Shuk Tour.” I thought this was a scam. Why do I need a tour guide to show me the different stalls of roasted nuts, dried and fresh fruit, and many meat and fish delicacies? But they prevailed. I was pleasantly surprised when our expert tour guide, Tzvi Weiser, gave us an incredible tour that showed us how the Machane Yehuda neighborhood was developed, the back alleys, and related the entire history and importance of the area. He then took us across the street and opened a door to a little courtyard which had two kevarim. They were the kevarim of the Imrei Emes and his youngest son, the Pnei Menachem—two of the Gerrer rebbes! In the middle of a little neighborhood!! In 1948, when the Gerrer rebbe passed away, war was raging and they couldn’t bury him anywhere else.

I am a big fan of the Gerrer seforim: Chiddushei HaRim, Sfas Emes, Lev Simcha, and Pnei Menachem. It was amazing to daven at the kevarim of these two holy tzaddikim, asking to be able to understand more of their beautiful Torah.

At that very spot I was inspired with the following thought on Parshas Shemos. Parshas Shemos opens with a pasuk introducing a list of the names of Yaakov’s family members who went down to Mitzrayim. “Ve’eileh shemos Bnei Yisrael habaim Mitzraymah…” The word “habaim” is written in the present tense: “who are coming,” which contrasts with the conclusion of the pasuk, “…ba’u,” which is in the past tense: “they came.” The Chiddushei HaRim, the great-grandfather of the Imrei Emes, explains that the exile of Egypt represents all the exiles the Bnei Yisrael will endure. The word “Mitzrayim” is derived from “meitzar”- a tight, narrow constriction. The exile to Mitzrayim, with its subsequent slavery, represents all the times of difficulty and challenges we have experienced and continue to experience even now.

The Chida notes that the numerical value of the word “Mitzraymah” equals 385, which is the same numerical value of the word “Shechinah” (presence of Hashem). This teaches us that any time we are in a state of distress, we should know that the Shechinah is right at our side. This concept is also expressed when Yaakov was traveling down to Egypt. Hashem told him, “I will go down with you, and when you leave, I will leave with you.”

Shemos is the parsha in which the physical slavery in Mitzrayim started. The enslavement and torture of our people were enormously difficult. It’s interesting to note, however, that the number of pesukim (verses) that discuss our enslavement and oppression are very few in contrast to the number of pesukim that discuss the process of freedom from Mitzrayim. Why does the Torah focus so much more attention on the redemption?

The answer is that Hashem is giving us a core message: Exile is a forebear of redemption. Experiencing difficulty prepares us for redemption. Hashem orchestrates all world events and the experiences in our daily lives to bring us to redemption.

When I was davening Shemoneh Esrei at the Kotel, I was very moved by the words, “Please Hashem, let our eyes see when You, Hashem return to Zion.”

Let us feel that although we are in exile both here and in Eretz Yisrael, we can still experience closeness with Hashem through our learning, our davening, and being kind to others. May our prayers be answered to return the Shechinah to Tziyon.

Good Shabbos! I look forward to seeing each of you at our special Melave Malka Annual Dinner on January 6!! (https://thechesedfund.com/pti/reception).


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.

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