June 22, 2024
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June 22, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

One of my favorite books is “Incredible,” written by my cousin Rabbi Nachman Seltzer. It is the life story of Rabbi Yossi Wallis, current CEO of Arachim, a global organization that imparts the beauty of Torah and mitzvos to secular Jews. No one could have predicted this trajectory for Rabbi Wallis. His parents were Holocaust survivors with a strong Jewish identity, but they were not observant of Torah and mitzvos. In his youth, “Joe” established a Jewish gang that was feared on the streets of the Bronx. He was drafted by the Italian mafia and escaped by joining the U.S. Air Force, where he became a fighter pilot. He then became a fighter pilot in the Israeli army. Afterward, he became a very successful businessman dealing in various aircraft. Joe was married with a few children when he attended an Arachim seminar that opened up his inner desire for Jewish truth. A few years after becoming observant, he was encouraged by Rabbi Greinerman to use his talents and strengths to lead Arachim. He took the small fledgling organization and grew it into the worldwide organization it is today.

Another story of someone who took his difficult past and channeled it for the greater good is Nissim Black. His story is fascinating. Nissim’s original name was Damion Black, a non-Jew. His father was a famous rapper and his mother a drug user. His home was a mess. His father left when he was two and his mother was arrested. She died of an overdose when Nissim was 19. He was rapping and doing well, but the violence and threats from gangs took their toll. He looked for religion, eventually finding Judaism. After he converted, he left the music world but a few years later decided to channel his talents into Jewish music. Now he inspires many people with his unique blend of song and rap about his relationship with Hashem.

The life stories of these two individuals come to mind to explain one of the mysteries of the mitzvah of parah adumah (using ashes of a red cow for a purification ritual). Parshas Chukas recounts the happenings in the last year of the Jews’ sojourn in the desert and the death of Miriam and Aharon. The Shem Meshmuel notes it’s quite puzzling that the parsha opens with the mitzvah of parah adumah, which in fact was given to Bnei Yisrael in Marah at the beginning of their journey from Egypt… 40 years previously! Why join this mitzvah together with a discussion of the happenings of the last year in the desert?

Rabbi Moshe Wolfson explains that the final year of their 40-year wanderings parallels the last year of the current exile, before klal Yisrael will be redeemed and brought back to Eretz Yisrael. This time is called ikvasa d’mshicha—the footsteps of Moshiach, a time that the Chofetz Chaim said has already begun. As such, the earlier articulation of the mitzvah of parah adumah was a message that it would be needed during the time period right before Moshiach.

Why is parah adumah so crucial in our current time?

I believe the lesson can be understood with the explanation by Rabbeinu Bachya of parah adumah. The ashes of the parah adumah purify the impure. The midrash compares this to the pasuk in Iyov, “Mi yitin tahor mitameh—who will be able to extract the pure from amongst the impure.” He illustrates with many examples. Various tzaddikim were children of people with impure qualities: Avraham was born from Terach; Mordechai Hatzadik was a descendant of Shimi ben Gera. Klal Yisrael was chosen from among the other nations. And Olam Habah is awarded based on one’s accomplishments in this world.

Rav Tzadok Hakohen says the focus of the period before Moshiach is an attempt to extract all the beautiful neshamos (souls) that are tainted by surrounding impurities. This explains the incredible numbers of Jews and converts who have taken on Torah and mitzvos in the last 50 years—the unprecedented teshuva movement.

This is the message of parah adumah for the time before Moshiach. It’s needed to extricate an individual from among his impurities.

Rabbi Wallis and Nissim Black are just a few examples of people who extricated themselves from their own impure settings. Hashem created them with great talents and strengths. They used their pre-existing talents, lessons and expertise to later connect to Torah and mitzvos.

This concept of extricating the pure from among the impure can apply to everyone’s life. Although most people might not have had such extreme upbringings, we can still use our past or current life lessons to catapult us upward in our service of the Almighty. Our challenges may be many, but we always have the opportunity to extricate the proverbial gold nugget of true Jewish accomplishment with the talents given to us by Hashem. This act of transformation will help bring Moshiach speedily in our days.


Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim is the associate rosh yeshiva of Passaic Torah Institute (PTI)/Yeshiva Ner Boruch. PTI has attracted people from all over northern New Jersey, including Teaneck, Paramus, Fair Lawn, Livingston and West Orange. He initiated and leads a multi-level Gemara-learning program. He has spread out beyond PTI to begin a weekly beis medrash program with in-depth chavrusa learning in Livingston, Fort Lee and a monthly group in West Caldwell. Rabbi Bodenheim can be reached at [email protected]. For more info about PTI and its full offering of torah classes visit www.pti.shulcloud.com.

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