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Hello and Chodesh Tov!

Starting this week, which is Parshat Va’Era, we will be emailing out a weekly dvar Torah.

If you are subscribed to this blog and would like to receive one of Rabbi Menachem Raab’s divrei Torah on the parshah straight to your inbox, please send an email to avizimmerman@icloud.com and you will be added to the list.

Have a good Shabbos,

Avi

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Rabbi Dr. Menachem Raab Interview

In 2014, Rabbi Raab was profiled by the Yeshiva University Office of Alumni Affairs. A copy of that profile can be found below. (Source)

Rabbi Dr. Menachem Raab ’44YC, ’47R, ’70BR: Nine Decades Long and Still Going Strong

Raab1

On the occasion of his 70th reunion from Yeshiva College, Rabbi Dr. Menachem Raab reflects on a life that took him from his hometown of Philadelphia, to New York to pursue a YU education followed by an array of professional jobs in New York, New Jersey, and Florida, to making Aliyah not once, but twice.  Of course, there were many memorable moments in between – some positive such as the growth of his family which includes 16 great-grandchildren, and some less so including watching his family be taken hostage for weeks as passengers on a hijacked plane. Throughout it all, Rabbi Raab had tireless energy, and though he is retired now, he certainly isn’t slowing down.

“I might not understand the more advanced computer applications these days,” said Raab, “but I work at my computer all day writing different shiurim and articles that I send out to people who subscribe to my e-mails.”

This tireless energy and dedication to being productive are trademarks of Raab’s personality. Born in 1923 and raised in Philadelphia, Raab attended public school—there were no Jewish day schools in those days, he recounted—and supplemented his Jewish education with Talmud Torah classes in the afternoons, but always looked forward to the day when he could attend Yeshiva University. “I was excited to have the chance to immerse myself more fully in Jewish studies,” he said.

Raab arrived on the Yeshiva College campus in 1940, and, in addition to his intensive Jewish studies, majored in both math and philosophy. Because he and his fellow students were exempt from the army due to their religious studies, Raab helped the war effort in other ways through volunteering. He also served as gabbai for the student minyan and was active in other extracurricular activities.

“I fondly remember the Thursday night gemarah learning sessions, which would continue through the morning and then we would just go on and have a regular day having not slept at all the night before,” said Raab with a laugh. “And, one night before a critical calculus exam, many students were panicking and so I invited them all to my room and went through the entire course with them until 2 a.m. I think every single one of them passed the test.”

In his spare time, Raab worked to help pay for his education. “I didn’t have much financial support from my family when I attended YC and semicha, and neither did many of my peers, since we were attending school in the wake of the Great Depression,” said Raab. “Many of us worked when we could between and after classes to make extra money.”

Following his undergraduate and semicha studies, Raab attended Columbia University, where he obtained his Master’s in Educational Administration, and afterward, began a long career in both the rabbinate and in Jewish education.

In Rochester, NY, for nine years, followed by eight years in Trenton, NJ, and then in Miami, Raab not only worked as a pulpit rabbi and Jewish educator in the local day schools but also helped organize regional gatherings of the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA). Raab ran conferences and monthly meetings of local rabbis to discuss pressing issues facing them in their small Jewish communities, and issues of national importance facing the Jewish people. “I like to keep busy, and not just sit back and be an observer,” said Raab simply.

It is this quality, perhaps, that came in most handy when a certain woman caught his attention right after he finished his rabbinical studies at RIETS.

“I frequented a certain cafeteria for lunch, and one day a girl comes in with a friend of mine from yeshiva, and he comes over to me and asks me if I know of a job for her,” recalled Raab. “I said, ‘Let me talk to her,’ and he said no and I said forget it. The next morning I meet them again, and when he left her to make a call, I went over and made a date with her right then and there.”

After a couple of months, Raab and Sarah Hammer got engaged and today, they have five children, 19 grandchildren, and 16 great-grandchildren.

Aside from being part of a family that played a part in the history of Israel (Raab is the grandson of one of the founders of Petach Tikvah, a major city in Israel), the Raab family also possesses a unique significance in the history of the entire Middle East, as former passengers on a plane that was hijacked by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) terrorist group.

During a family trip to Israel in the summer of 1970, Raab flew back a week before his wife and children to officiate at a wedding at the synagogue he led in Trenton. The TWA plane on which his wife and children were aboard a week later was hijacked—one of four coordinated hijackings—and re-routed to Jordan.

“It was a horrible time,” recalled Raab, “and none of us knew what was happening.”

The hijacked plane was one of four coordinated hijackings, and David Raab ’70YUHS—Raab’s eldest son, who was 17 at the time—was removed with other Jewish passengers to a safe house in a Palestinian refugee camp near Amman. He was the last hostage to be released, and when he finally landed at JFK Airport in New York, thousands of people had gathered to greet his arrival, including a large contingent of YU and YU High School students who had been praying for three weeks for the hostages’ safe release.  David later wrote a book, Terror in Black September: The First Eyewitness Account of the Infamous 1970 Hijackings.

In 1973, the Raabs made Aliyah for a few years before taking up residence in Miami, where Raab was hired by the Central Agency for Jewish Education of Florida to initiate a new Jewish day school department which was to advise the Jewish federation on funding the Miami day schools and to help the day schools in all of Florida with their educational programs, teacher supervision and fund raising by creating and organizing events and programs. Raab’s tremendous success in Florida led him to be hired as principal of Hillel Day School, where he nearly doubled enrollment and raised the academic level.

When Raab retired, he and his wife returned to Israel, where they now live in the French Hill neighborhood of Jerusalem. True to his restless nature, Raab was eager to take over the RCA region in Israel when asked, and he quickly whipping a lagging group into one with strong membership and well-attended monthly meetings. “Being an organizer is one of my biggest strengths, and when I think back on my career, I am proud to say that no matter where I was, I helped get things done.” He also maintains a database of popular divrei Torah for each parsha and yom tov—13 years’ worth—at https://torahportion.wordpress.com.

Raab will celebrate his 70th college reunion this May. Upon reflecting over the decades of change and transformation that have taken place since he was a college student, Raab has many thoughts on the nature of a changed society. “My grandchildren bought me a Smartphone, and I think it’s smarter than me,” he joked. But, on a more serious note, Raab said, “I think something that will remain timeless is the importance of sincerity. Be sincere in all that you do, whatever field you enter and whatever direction your life might take, and you can’t go wrong.”

Dvar Torah Parshat VaYera 5777 2016 – Being a Mentsch

Avraham was informed by the angels that came to his tent that Hashem was about to destroy the corrupt cities of Sodom and Amora. We are told that he did not accept this without a plea to save them. He pleads with Hashem and starts his appeal to save the city by pleading if there are only fifty righteous people there would Hashem destroy the city.

Hashem answers: אִם אֶמְצָא בִסְדֹם חֲמִשִּׁים צַדִּיקִם בְּתוֹךְ הָעִיר, “If I find in Sodom fifty righteous people in the midst of the city…” (Gen. 18.26) he would not destroy the city. It is noteworthy that Hashem emphasized that He wants to find fifty people “in the midst of the city”.
This can serve as a good example for a Jewish city. It may not be difficult to find righteous people in the synagogue or in the Bet Midrash. Hashem wants to find righteous people in the midst of the city. He wants to find them in their businesses and in their actions with other people, in their normal activities.

It is not too challenging to be moral and virtuous in the synagogue. It is in the daily mundane activities of interaction with people where one must also display his honest and upright dealings with others.

Parshat Lech Lecha 5777 2016 – It’s Time To Come Home

When Hashem tells Avraham to leave his home and go to the Promised Land, He does not tell him where it is. He simply says he should go: אֶל הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר אַרְאֶךָּ, “…to the land that I will show you.” (Gen. 12,1) Why does He not tell him to which land He wants him to go?

One answer given to this question is that had he been told the name of the land his friends would have tried to discourage him from going. They would have told him it is a barren land; all desert, wild animals, wild people, bad weather and so on.

It is interesting that today when people say they are going to make Aliya and move to Israel people immediately try to discourage them.
When I notified a leader of a Zionist organization that I was making Aliya I got a strange response from him. He was working to help Israel, yet, his remark to me was, “Hishtagata”, “Are you crazy?”

Perhaps they feel guilty for not making Aliya themselves and as a protective justification they try to discourage others. Everyone who can, should do what Avraham did.

Dvar Torah Parshat Noah 5777 – Words Can Kill

Because Noach had saved the animals during the flood, Hashem gave permission for man to kill animals for human consumption. Simultaneously, a prohibition was given against spilling human blood. The Torah uses a strange phraseology in stating this prohibition. The Torah says: שֹׁפֵךְ דַּם הָאָדָם בָּאָדָם דָּמוֹ יִשָּׁפֵךְ, “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed…’. (Gen. 9,6)

The Chafetz Chaim claims that this wording is the source for a certain Rabbinic statement. Chazal said: כל המלבין פני חבירו ברבים כאילו שופך דמים , “He who publically shames his neighbor is as if he shed blood.” (BM 58b) The Chafetz Chaim reads the verse thus: Whomever sheds the blood of man, בָּאָדָם, ‘in man’, it is as if he shed blood.

Before we speak publicly we must be extremely careful of what we say lest we hurt someone. At times we do not realize that our words embarrass somebody.

Dvar Torah Masey 5776 2016 – Israel, Know Your Past

We read a very strange passage in this week’s Portion: וַיִּכְתֹּב מֹשֶׁה אֶת מוֹצָאֵיהֶם לְמַסְעֵיהֶם, “Moshe wrote their goings forth according to their journeys…”. (Num. 33,2) It is strange that the Torah repeats and emphasizes the various stops the Bnei Israel made during their journeys through the Wilderness. What intrinsic value does it have for us?

It is extremely important that our people know our past. The Torah says elsewhere: זְכֹר יְמוֹת עוֹלָם בִּינוּ שְׁנוֹת דֹּר וָדֹר, “Remember the days of yore, understand the years of generation after generation…” (Deut. 32,7) This is telling us to know what happened in previous generations, in previous years.

The truth is that this is part of the history of the Jewish people and it is tremendously important that we know it. The world we live in today makes many efforts to change the facts of the past. Think of the effort made by many people and nations today to deny the Holocaust. Think of the effort to deny Jews were ever in the Land of Israel. Lies are offered to the world today and people are gullible enough to believe anything.

It is tragic that even many of our own people are unaware of our own Jewish history. The Torah tells us in no uncertain terms that we must know our past.

Dvar Torah Parshat Pinchas 5776 2016 – Elevate the Shabbat Day

Did you ever wonder why on Shabbat you go to Shul later than on weekdays? When instructions were given concerning the daily sacrifice the Torah says: אֶת הַכֶּבֶשׂ אֶחָד תַּעֲשֶׂה בַבֹּקֶר, “The one lamb you shall make in the morning…”. (Num. 28,4) When instructions are given for the Shabbat sacrifices the Torah says: וּבְיוֹם הַשַּׁבָּת שְׁנֵי כְבָשִׂים, “And on the Sabbath day two male lambs…”. (Num. 28,9) No mention is made of morning. It was thus permitted to bring later in the day. Hence the Shabbat services may start later and one has an opportunity to sleep later. This trivia is brought by no one less than the Rama in the Shulchan Aruch. (OC 281)

This is part of our Oneg Shabbat. It does not mean that you can sleep the entire Shabbat and do nothing. Shabbat is a time of rest but it is also a time to study and to improve your religious knowledge. It is a time to spend the day in a religious experience, something that is limited during the weekdays when we are preoccupied with our daily responsibilities.

The Shabbat should be spent by elevating our spiritual lives and increasing our knowledge of our Jewish existence.

Dvar Torah Parshat Balak 5776 2016 Power of Speech

Why did Balak call upon Bilam? He heard that Moshe had a great influence upon Bnei Israel with the many speeches he made. He thought he could counter Moshe’s success by bringing in another personality that had
a great reputation that he could affect many changes with his speech. Bilam was the right man for him.
Bilam was finally convinced to come at Balak’s bidding. A strange thing happened during his trip to Balak. The beast he was riding on suddenly started to speak. What was the message that Hashem was sending to Bilam? Plain and simple, Bilam was told that his ability to influence changes with his speech, is meaningless. He was demonstrated that even a beast can be made to speak.

There are many people who speak well and influence people. It does not mean that the message the speaker is sending is the right one. It depends on who is speaking and what he has to say. Moshe spoke in the name of Hashem so his words were heeded. Bilam spoke in the name of Balak and his words ended up ineffective.

We must be very careful what speaker we go to hear and what speaker’s words we take to heart.
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On this topic of Power of Speech, Check out this video from http://DropsofLightProject.com

Dvar Torah Parshat Shelach 5776 2016

When Hashem tells Moshe to send the men into Israel to tour the land, Hashem says he should send: אִישׁ אֶחָד אִישׁ אֶחָד לְמַטֵּה אֲבֹתָיו תִּשְׁלָחוּ כֹּל נָשִׂיא בָהֶם, “one man each from his father’s tribe shall you send, everyone a leader among them.” Num. 13,2. The Torah uses the word נָשִׂיא for “leader”.
A Rabbi once pointed out an interesting fact. The word נָשִׂיא contains the Hebrew letters: Nun, Shin, Yud, and Aleph. Using some of the letters from this word you can form the word אין, which means “there is not”. You can also select other letters from this word and form the word “יש”, which means “there is”.

Some leaders “have it” and some leaders “do not have it”. That is, some leaders who think they have it and are capable may not have it, and some who do not think they have it may, indeed, really have it.

It is up to the people who choose the leaders to know who is suited for the job and who is not. The results can be drastic if the wrong people are given power.

Dvar Torah Parshat Naso 5776 2016

The Torah talks about the obligations of one who takes upon himself to be a Nazir or a Nazarite. The Torah says: לְאָבִיו וּלְאִמּוֹ לְאָחִיו וּלְאַחֹתוֹ לֹא יִטַּמָּא לָהֶם בְּמֹתָם, “To his father or to his mother, to his brother or to his sister, he shall not contaminate himself to them upon their death…”. (Num. 6,7) This is strange since a Kohen must retain his holiness at all times yet he is permitted to come in contact and attend the funerals of these relatives. Why may the Kohen and not the Nazirite?

The “Sefer Hachinuch” which explains the Taryag Mitzvot (the 613 Mitzvot) makes an interesting distinction. These prohibitions were placed on the Kohen without consulting him if he is willing to accept them. They came upon him at birth when he was born a Kohen. He may not be strong enough to adhere to these restrictions. The Torah realizes the frailty and does not place upon him this stringent law. The Nazir, on the other hand, took these restrictions upon himself so he knows his abilities and must know that he can abide by them. He thus must obey these laws.

When committing oneself to certain obligations one must know that he can carry them out. He must think twice before he makes a commitment. It is regretful that at times in haste we promise things that obligate us to carry out tasks or promises that we find later they are too difficult for us to fulfil.

Dvar Torah Parshat Bamidbar 5776 2016

Bnei Israel are ready to enter into the Promised Land and Hashem instructs Moshe to take another census of the people. Moshe is told, when the counting was to take place: וְאִתְּכֶם יִהְיוּ אִישׁ אִישׁ לַמַּטֶּה, “And with you shall be one man from each tribe…”. (Num. 1,4) There had to be a representative for every tribe present when his tribe was being counted. In the Book of Exodus a census was also taken as we read in the Portion of כִּי תִשָּׂא. There we find no mention of a tribal representative. Why the difference?

The first counting mentioned in the Book of Exodus in כִּי תִשָּׂא took place soon after the Exodus from Egypt. It did not matter what the population of every individual tribe was. The purpose was to know the total number of the People of Israel. There was no need for tribal representation.

The census in this week’s Portion had a different purpose. Here the reason for counting the tribes was to know its size and how much land was to be allocated for each tribe when the land was to be divided up amongst them. For this reason a representative of the tribe had to be present so that there be no dispute about its size.

In our daily dealings we must also be very mindful and careful to act in such a manner so as not to leave any doubt in someone’s mind about what we are discussing and what the appropriate facts are. This prevents later troubles and arguments.

Dvar Torah Parshat Bechukotai 5776 2016

In last week’s Portion Hashem relates to Moshe numerous laws which he should relay to Bnei Israel that they must observe. This week’s Portion continues with Hashem’s words to Moshe, and Hashem says: אִם בְּחֻקֹּתַי תֵּלֵכוּ, “If you will follow My decrees…”. (Lev. 26,3) Rashi quotes the Midrash and says that this “is an admonition that you should study the Torah strenuously”.

There is an interesting story told about the Chafetz Chaim. A young man once came to him and bemoaned the fact that he has been studying Torah strenuously for many years and he still does not see any scholarly blessing in his studies.
The Chafetz Chaim said to him, “Did the Torah ever say we must be scholars? The Torah tells us that we must study Torah strenuously. We do not have to become scholars.”

Every person today must allow time to study. Some may find it difficult to set aside time for study but we must recall that years gone by in Europe Jews would work hard all day to earn a living. Yet at the end of the day’s work they would hurry to the Synagogue or Bet Midrash to pray and to learn.

We must all adopt the habit of devoting some time in our daily activities to study at our own level and fulfill the Mitzvah of Talmud Torah.