בראשית ברא אלקים את השמים ואת הארץ
In the beginning of G-d’s creating the heavens and the earth (Bereishit 1:1)
When my father was a young man, he served in the 112th Airborne division in the United States army during the Korean War. Despite being drafted against his choice, he was tough-spirited and serious about anything he put his mind to. Particularly important to him was davening. Growing up as a young boy, I always used to sit next to him during davening. While my friends would go outside and play games, I remained inside sitting quietly next to my father. In hindsight, it was something which certainly instilled within me the value and importance of Praying.
Aside from this, my father owned a plastic shopping bag company. Now developed into a Wallerstein family business, many department stores which carry bags today are stocked by my family’s business. Years ago, my father’s biggest customer was Milton Petrie, a Jewish American-born retailer, investor and philanthropist. Owning a large chain of Petrie stores, which operated over 1,700 discounted women’s clothing stores; he invested and made millions of dollars. By the time of his passing, he was worth $1.5 billion dollars, even though he had donated enormous sums of charity to various organizations.
At one point, Milton Petrie asked my father if he could meet with him regarding his plastic bag company. Setting a time and date to meet at the Lou G Siegel restaurant in New York, my father and my mother, who served as my father’s secretary, planned accordingly. It was not too often that someone would get an opportunity to sit one-on-one with Milton Petrie.
Arriving at the restaurant, my father began talking about his exact business in exporting and importing bags. A little while into the meeting, my father turned to Mr. Petrie and said, “Please excuse me; I have to go out for a couple of minutes.” Covertly motioning to my mother to continue talking to Mr. Petrie, my father slowly walked away from the table.
Making his way towards the front of the restaurant, my father walked out of the building and began walking two blocks to the nearest shul to pray Mincha followed by Maariv.
Twenty-five minutes later, my father returned to Lou G Siegel and took a seat. Mr. Petrie, not naïve in any way, could only wonder where my father had disappeared to. “Mr. Wallerstein,” he said, “to go to the men’s room takes a couple of minutes. Where have you been for the last twenty-five minutes?” Not hesitating, my father looked at Milton Petrie and said, “I am really sorry; you are the chairman of the board of one of the biggest companies in America, but I had to spend some time with the chairman of the board of the world.”
Petrie was confused. “You know the chairmen of the board of world?” “Well, as a religious Jew,” my father said, “three times a day we have an appointment with the chairman of the world, and I cannot miss that appointment. I am really sorry. I wanted to make this appointment with you earlier, but it didn’t work out
Petrie looked back at my father. “Mr. Wallerstein, until I die or this company closes, you have our business. I never met a man who talks to the chairman of the board of the world.”
And true to Milton Petrie’s word, we received his business for years. Mr. Petrie had never met a man who walked out on him like that before. My father could have been walking out on millions of dollars and forgoing a once-in-a-lifetime chance to strike a deal with the chairman of the board of Petrie. But he realized that however much Petrie was worth, it didn’t compare to the chairman of the board of the world. And indeed, Milton Petrie himself understood and appreciated that quite well.
We can never forget that when we stand in front of Hashem, we are standing in front of the chairman of the board of the world. That is something which is worth more than all the money we are ever offered.
The Torah begins by telling us that Hashem created the world with all that is in it. The earth was initially dark, so one of the first things Hashem created was light.
וירא אלקים את האור כי טוב ויבדל אלקים בין האור ובין החשך
and Hashem saw the light, that it was good and He separated between the light and dark.
Rashi explains that Hashem saw that the light was good and that it wouldn’t be good for the light and dark to operate simultaneously, so He separated them. One’s time He made during the day and the other’s time during the night. Siftey Chachamim explains that it can’t really mean simultaneously, because that would be impossible, rather it means either that in one town it would be light and in another dark, or it means that it would be day for an hour or two and then night for an hour or two and then switch back. So, Hashem made it uniform that we have the daytime of light and the night of darkness.
The Chofetz Chaim, however, says the posuk is trying to teach us about separation when things are intermingled: how we have to separate between the profane and the sanctified. In Eastern Europe, traveling peddlers would come to town selling tzitzit, siddurim, mezuzot and other holy articles. They would set up a table in the back of the shul near the furnace; when prayers ended, the people would come and buy what they needed. Once, at a shul in Poland, the Rav, Reb Chaim Leib Mishkovsky, approached the table to buy something and was shocked to see that, among the holy items were books of heresy, haskala literature. Without hesitation, he took the books and threw them into the furnace. The peddler complained; “rabbi, not only did you just cause me the loss of the cost of the books; you don’t let me make a living; those books were my biggest profit.” The rabbi replied, “I will pay you the full retail price for the books I burned. Now that you say you won’t be able to support your family, I will help you find another job.” The next day, the peddler went to the rabbi to ask him if he found him a job. The rabbi answered, “yes, he was working on something and with the help of the local priest, he might have something for him.” “How can the priest help?” asked the peddler. “Well, last week I met the priest and he told me that the man who used to ring the church bells every morning, died. I will ask him to offer you the job. It’s a respectable and decent paying position.” The peddler was shocked and insulted! “Rabbi, do you think I would sell my soul to be an assistant to the priest?” The rabbi replied, “listen to yourself. To ring bells to wake up non-Jews to go to church is unthinkable in your eyes, but to sell heretical books that will entice young Jewish children to idolatry is permissible?!” How often do we do this in our own life? We put custom on a pedestal while transgressing real Torah laws without a thought? This is why, says the gemara, that we have havdala – the bracha of separation. Additionally, the bracha of chonain hadaat contains the word wisdom, for if there is no wisdom, there is no separation. We have to realize that just as, between day and night, the difference is obvious, so, too, the difference between the holy and the mundane, the Jew and the Gentile, must never be blurred. Let’s take this new beginning, a fresh start to the year, to focus on what’s important in our lives, to be able to make the differentiation between right and wrong, holy and profane and not have them intermingle, so we will merit the eternal light!
By Yitzy Adlin
Chaim Yankel checked into a hotel for his first ever hotel stay. He goes up to his room and five minutes later, he calls the desk and says, “You’ve given me a room with no exit. How do I leave?”
The desk clerk says, “Sir, that’s absurd. Have you looked for the door?”
Chaim Yankel says, “Well, there’s one door that leads to the bathroom. There’s a second door that goes into the closet. And there’s a door I haven’t tried, but it has a ‘do not disturb’ sign on it.”
Barbie and Spike | אי הבל אחיך – Where is Hevel your brother? (Bereishit 4:9)
A number of years ago, I was hired to work for NCSY. Running various programs when I lived in Seattle, San Diego, and then later when I moved to New York, I became involved with their JSU (Jewish Student Union) program. JSU clubs include high school teaching curricula, which had me teaching kids the basics of Judaism in a public high school. When I was single, I had been teaching at the LaGuardia High School in New York, yet my experiences only expanded and varied after I got married.
At one of the schools I taught, I was given a nice group of twenty-two students who were intrigued and engaged in learning. However, within the class, there were two particular girls who stood out. And that was because they were literally arch enemies. While one of the girls was more ambivalent towards the other and did not openly express any feelings of aversion, the other one was intensely hostile and antagonistic. She only wished the very worst for the other girl.
Now, while I usually think and relate to my students by their names and as they are, with these two girls, I mentally gave them two names. One I named Barbie, and the other, Spike. Barbie was the classic Barbie doll. She was an adorable girl with long and lovely blond hair and led the cheerleading squad. Yet, what really caught everyone’s attention when looking at her was her clothing. From head to toe she wore pink. Pink boots, a pink poodle skirt, a pink scarf, huge pink hoop earrings and pink lipstick. But, even with all her pink, she was very sweet and considerate.
And then there was Spike. Spike was Barbie’s total antithesis. She was akin to a Gothic Queen. She was also charming and beautiful, yet she wore black from head to toe. She had black hair, black eyeliner and lipstick, a black leather coat even in mid-summer and a black skirt. I called her Spike because every day without fail she wore a giant necklace with huge spikes.
If Barbie as much as breathed, Spike became enraged. It was a little bit ridiculous. One day, I decided to give a class about the power of speech and words. I had been talking about working on ways to foster harmony and peace between people and the importance of overextending ourselves to create such feelings of love and care. After the class came to a close, Barbie approached me.
“Mrs. Biton,” she said, “Can I ask you something?” “Sure,” I said, “what is it?” “I don’t want to speak lashon hara, but there is a girl in the class who not only does not like me; she hates me.” “Oy vey,” I said, “that’s terrible.” I of course knew she was referring to Spike. “I don’t know what to do, but I need tactical advice. I just want to have shalom.” Listening to Barbie broach the subject, I knew what I had to do.
“Are you ready to do something pretty hard?” “Yes,” she said, “anything for the sake of shalom.” “Chazal tell us,” I continued, “that if we overlook the hurt done to us by another person and go out of our way to treat them with kindness and compassion, we will merit tremendous blessing in our life.” “So what can I do?” asked Barbie. As I stood there and quickly began thinking what Barbie could practically do to make up with Spike, it suddenly occurred to me.
“Do you by any chance know what kind of food she likes? “Well,” said Barbie, “it is really funny that you ask that, because just two days ago in the cafeteria, I overheard a conversation between her and a few other girls. I was standing just a few people behind her, and she said that her favorite all-time food is homemade chocolate chip cookies.”
“So are you prepared to make homemade chocolate chip cookies?” I asked. “I never baked before,” Barbie said, “and my mother is also a health guru.” “Okay, but I think you are capable of baking really good cookies.”
Barbie returned home that night and searched high and low for the best chocolate chip cookie recipe. Finally, after three hours, she found it. As it turned out, it was Nestle’s Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe. Heading out to the supermarket, she purchased butter, vanilla, eggs, sugar and chocolate chips. And then she got to work. Without question, she made absolutely fantastic cookies on her very first try. For the rest of that year, all I heard about was how proud she was to have baked the perfect cookies.
Barbie didn’t bake just a few cookies though. She baked four dozen cookies. Aside from this, she went out and purchased a huge platter and a decorative ribbon. Of course, the platter and ribbons were pink with purple polka dots.
The plan was for Barbie to present the gift to Spike the next day. And so, as scheduled, the next day fifteen minutes after I began teaching and was writing something on the board, all of a sudden, I heard the slight opening of the door. Glancing over in that direction, I caught sight of Barbie with all her pinkness. There she was with the pink platter and pink ribbons and sparkles. “Should I give it?” she quietly whispered. Nonchalantly nodding, I continued on with what I was doing as if nothing was happening.
And then Barbie walked in the classroom, and ever so casually placed the beautiful arrangement of cookies on Spike’s desk and ran to her seat.
Out of all the students in the class at the time, every single one of them sat there bewildered. They could not imagine Barbie and Spike interacting with one another, especially in this way. And so, there laid the platter of cookies before Spike. Spike looked at the cookies and then took hold of the note nicely attached which read:
“Dear Spike, I don’t know what I ever did to hurt you or offend you so much, but I just want to say that I am sorry, and I hope that one day you and I can be friends. I really love you. Love, Barbie.”
The next thing I knew, Spike ripped open the wrapping paper and took a bite of one of the cookies. Within moments, she got up and walked straight over to Barbie. In front of the entire class, she said to Barbie with tears streaming down her face, “First of all, those are the best cookies ever! Second of all, that was downright the nicest thing anyone has ever done for me in my life!” Barbie just looked at her with a smile. “Can I give you a hug?” asked Spike. By this point, the entire class was beside themselves. They could not imagine that what they were seeing was actually real and not a dream. One of the girls even shouted out, “Mrs. Biton! Mrs. Biton! I think the Messiah has come!” I couldn’t agree with her more.
Barbie just continued to stand there without saying anything to Spike. But then, looking at Spike, she said, “I’ll give you a hug, but only if you take off your necklace.” And so, there was Spike removing her necklace which she had worn every single day and never took off. Yet now for Barbie, that would have to change. Placing it down next to her, Barbie and Spike went on to hug each other for what seemed to be eternity. In my entire class, there was not a dry eye. We were all moved by the love expressed between these girls who been the greatest of adversaries. In a moment of mutual love, their hearts which had been so distant from one another joined together. And sure enough, it brought all of us to tears.
To this day, Barbie is married with a growing family. And every other Shabbat, Spike can be found at Barbie’s table. The two girls who could barely talk to one another peacefully now share hours of quality time together. And it all began because Barbie wished to face the uncomfortable challenge of seeking resolution and reunion. But without question, it was well worth it, and has paid and continues to pay wonderful dividends to this very day.
While we may at times vent with anger and frustration at our brother, sister, family or friend, that which we ought to strive for is peace and harmony. It may be difficult and uncomfortable and we may even be in the right, but ultimately, the benefit of reaching reconciliation is well worth it for all parties. It ensures communal peace, familial peace and surely, peace among all of Klal Yisrael. There is nothing more important than that.
By Mrs. Jackie Biton
First Aliyah: This section recounts the story of creation in six days. On the first day G‑d made darkness and light. On the second day He formed the heavens, dividing the “upper waters” from the “lower waters.” On the third day He set the boundaries of land and sea and called forth trees and greenery from the earth. On the fourth day He fixed the position of the sun, moon and stars. Fish, birds and reptiles were created on the fifth day; land-animals, and then the human being, Adam, on the sixth. G‑d ceased work on the seventh day, and sanctified it as a day of rest.
Second Aliyah: This section discusses the events of the sixth day of creation in greater detail. After Adam was formed from the earth, G‑d placed him in a garden just east of Eden. G‑d permitted Adam to eat from any tree in the garden, with the exception of the Tree of Knowledge. Adam named all the animals and birds, and G‑d decided that Adam needed a mate.
Third Aliyah: G‑d caused Adam to fall into a deep slumber and formed a woman, Eve, from one of his sides. Adam was delighted with his new mate. The serpent, at the time the wisest of all animals, sweet-talked Eve into eating from the fruit of the forbidden Tree of Knowledge. Eve shared the fruit with Adam, and imbued with a new sense of knowledge and awareness, they were ashamed of their nakedness and clothed themselves. The fallout was quick to come: G‑d cursed the serpent, Eve, and Adam too, with various maledictions.
Fourth Aliyah: Adam and Eve were then expelled from the idyllic Garden of Eden. Eve gave birth to two sons, Cain and Abel. When Abel’s offering to G‑d was accepted, while Cain’s was rejected, Cain murdered his brother in a jealous rage. G‑d punished Cain, designating him to be a lifelong wanderer, but postponing his ultimate punishment for seven generations.
Fifth Aliyah: The sixth generation descendent of Cain was Lemech, who fathered several children — seventh generation descendents of Cain.
Sixth Aliyah: Lemech accidentally killed his great-great-great-great-grandfather Cain in a hunting accident; the blood of Abel was finally avenged. Adam and Eve gave birth to a third son, Seth. This section then chronicles the first seven generations of mankind, from Adam to the righteous Enoch.
Seventh Aliyah: The next three generations are chronicled in this section — concluding with Noah, the tenth generation from Adam. At this point in time, the wickedness and immorality of the people on earth reached such proportions that G‑d regretted creating man. G‑d gave the world 120 years to clean up their act or be destroyed. Noah, on the other hand, was an exception. He was righteous and found favor in G‑d’s eyes.