But He Doesn’t Deserve It! – Yad Binyamin

“But He Doesn’t Deserve It!”

Home to around 4000 people, Moshav Yad Binyamin was founded in 1962. Originally a ma’abara (immigrant absorption camp), the Poalei Agudat Yisrael built it into a flourishing settlement with a well-regarded Yeshivah. After the Gaza disengagement, many families from Gush Katif made their new home in Yad Binyamin. Belev Echad has been helping the Moshav strengthen its residents in Torah for 4 years.

Avraham Cohen was an apple that had fallen miles from the tree.

Teenaged Avraham loved helping people. You could usually find him doing a favor for someone or making someone else smile.

A bit surprising, to those who knew Avraham’s father.

Avraham once approached Belev Echad teacher Rabbi Uri Masala after a Torah class, his usually cheerful face clouded with bitterness.

“Rabbi, I think I should be exempt from the mitzvah of honoring my father.”

Rabbi Uri raised his eyebrows. This harsh proclamation didn’t match the generous, dedicated boy he knew. “Why, Avraham?”

“Because I don’t respect him at all, and I don’t believe he deserves my respect.” Avraham gave a stormy sigh. “He’s a real deadbeat, my father. I mean, he works, he brings in money, but he won’t bother himself to do anything else.

“He comes in from work, plops himself down on the couch, and ignores everyone – except when he wants to order us around. 

“You know what? My mother also works hard. She has a part-time job, and then she has to pick up the kids from school and shop and cook and clean and take care of everyone. But my father doesn’t lift a finger to help. When she asks him for the smallest favor, like bringing in the mail or even taking a drink of water to one of the little ones at bedtime, he snaps at her to leave him out of her responsibilities.” 

He stopped, thought a minute. “Actually, I can’t remember the last time she bothered to ask him for something. She probably realized it’s just not worth it.” He gave a humorless laugh.

“Guess who does what normal fathers do in my house? Me,” he continued. “I help my mother with the heavier housework. I help my brothers with homework. I stop at the store and take out the garbages and run around taking care of things before Shabbat.”

He kicked at a pebble on the ground. “You know me, Rabbi. I don’t mind helping out. But I can’t stand seeing how my father treats my mother. She doesn’t deserve all this. Neither do the rest of us.” He looked up at Rabbi Uri. “So tell me – how am I supposed to treat him with kibbud av? Don’t you think he lost his rights to it?”

Rabbi Uri stood quietly. He could feel the pain radiating from Avraham’s raw voice. Slowly, he put a hand on the boy’s shoulder.

“Avraham… that doesn’t sound easy. It actually sounds very, very hard.”

Avraham gave a short nod.

“But the truth is, you’re still obligated to treat your father with kibbud av. Even if he isn’t doing what he should, the fact that he’s your father means you still need to fulfill the mitzvah of honoring him.”

Anger flashed across Avraham’s face. He clenched a fist, then started cracking the knuckles on it.

Rabbi Uri searched for the right words to help Avraham feel ready to accept the truth.

“What’s the hardest mitzvah?” he asked.

Avraham looked up and shrugged.

“It might not seem obvious on first thought, but we’re taught that kibbud av v’eim is one of the hardest mitzvot to keep. Even when a person’s parents fail miserably, even when it seems totally unreasonable to honor them, the Torah still asks us to work on ourselves and treat them properly.

“I know it’s a challenge. But we need to try. You want so badly to talk back to him – but try to hold yourself back. He asks you for something and you want to ignore him – but try to do it anyway.

“Of course it isn’t easy. But I know you, Avraham. You can do it.”

Avraham thanked him, but he didn’t look too sure.

Rabbi Uri made sure to keep the conversation in mind over the next several days. After the next week’s Torah class, he stopped Avraham at the door and asked subtly how things were going. 

Avraham hung back as his friends filed out, then turned to Rabbi Uri.

“It’s not easy, Rabbi,” he said.

“I know,” Rabbi Uri responded.

“But I’m trying.” He looked down.

“That’s wonderful.” Rabbi Uri clapped him on the shoulder. “May G-d bless you with more and more strength!”

A few weeks later, when Rabbi Uri gently checked in again, Avraham broke out in an excited grin.

“You know, Rabbi, it still isn’t easy. But I see how G-d must be happy with me. Since I’ve started being more careful with kibbud av, so many things have started going right for me. Some things in school were hard, but suddenly I’m getting better grades. I keep winning sports games. I’ve been dying for an electric bike for two years, and suddenly now there’s money for it.”

Rabbi Uri happily celebrated with Avraham, basking in the blessing G-d sends when a child commits to doing his Father’s will.

Cocoon of Growth

The only part of Belev Echad Torah classes Ariel didn’t like was… the Torah part.

He came because of the other perks – time with friends, good food, something to do. But as the other boys started to connect with the material and even make changes in their lives, Ariel tuned it all out.

He did keep showing up, though. And he stayed respectfully quiet, waiting till the end of the class to cash in on the schmoozing time with his friends. Noticing those two things, Rabbi Uri, the class’s teacher, knew that one day, things could change.

It happened after a class Rabbi Uri taught about barriers to spirituality. He explained that _______.

After closing every class, Rabbi Uri stayed around to address one-on-one questions. Today, for the first time, Ariel sidled up to his chair.

Rabbi Uri looked up, hiding his surprise. “How can I help you, Ariel?” he asked with a smile.

The teenager shrugged uncomfortably and dropped into the chair next to the rabbi.

“Were you talking about me today?”

“Why do you think so?”

“Because that person who just doesn’t feel anything – that’s me. Judaism, spirituality – I don’t connect with any of it. It doesn’t resonate. It feels so… foreign.” 

He sighed. “My parents are very traditional. They keep Shabbat, and they love it. Me? I just don’t feel it. So I struggle with keeping it. And my parents are furious. We fight about it all the time.”

Rabbi Uri nodded quietly. “First of all,” he started. “You should know, Ariel, that it’s not just you. There are many, many people all over the spectrum of Judaism that struggle to feel connected. (explanation why…)

While Ariel digested this, Rabbi Uri reached into his briefcase and pulled out a thin book.

“This is called Pirkei Machshava (Chapters of Thought). It was written by a very smart Rabbi, Rav Yaakov Ades. Rav Yaakov does a good job explaining this issue and helping people feel more connected to Torah and mitzvos. Why don’t you look it over?”

It isn’t always easy to get a teenage boy to read a book on philosophy. But when Ariel entered next week’s class with a new light in his eye, a new set to his shoulders, Rabbi Uri knew he’d made the right recommendation.

“Rabbi…” Ariel wove his way through the chattering boys toward Rabbi Uri’s chair. Handing him the book, he asked, “Can you order me my own copy?”

“You found it helpful?” Rabbi Uri smiled.

Ariel nodded. “I feel different. I understand things better. I feel like there’s a path forward for me.”

Ariel got his copy. And with Rabbi Uri supporting him from the sidelines, he slowly transformed. His apathy toward religion started melting. He started connecting with Torah, with mitzvos.

Belev Echad had created a safe space for him to ever-so-slowly get to know himself and his personal relationship with Judaism. Today, that relationship is deep, strong, and ever-growing.

Money in the Garbage – Moshav Yishai

Money in the Garbage

Moshav Yishai

Pesach was coming. Rabbi Glasner, who delivered Belev Echad youth classes at Moshav Yishai, had just started teaching his eager students about the laws of chametz.

Moshe, an athletic young body-builder who spent lots of spare time at the gym, approached him after class one day holding a flashily colored bottle.

“Rabbi,” he said, “I just ordered a case of this super-high-level energy drink from America. It cost me $100. There’s no reason I have to worry it has chametz in it, right?”

Rabbi Glasner’s stomach clenched a bit as he took the expensive beverage from Moshe and started reading the ingredients list. Please let me not have to tell him it’s forbidden…

But indeed it was. Rabbi Glasner quickly noticed a few ingredients that made the drink “chametz gamor,” real leaven.

“Well,” he said gently, “It actually looks very much like chametz, Moshe.”

A stormcloud gathered on Moshe’s face. “Alright.” He stuck out his chin. “I’ll leave the case in my backyard over Pesach. I’ll cover it up. If anyone tries to touch it…” he shook his head threateningly.

Rabbi Glasner smiled. “Moshe… it doesn’t work that way. Hiding chametz doesn’t make it okay to keep.” He didn’t press his point any further. He knew his hot-tempered, fiercely independent student well. Moshe was far from ready to hear more, even about doing the work of selling his precious chametz.

When Rabbi Glasner returned to the moshav for his first pre-Pesach class, Moshe accosted him somewhere near the Moshav entrance.

“Rabbi!” he yelled. “I lost $100, and it’s all your fault!”

“What did I do?” Rabbi Glasner blinked.

“My energy drinks!” Moshe shouted. “Right before Pesach, I took the whole case and chucked it into the dumpster!”

Rabbi Glasner’s breath caught. Then he smiled broadly. “Moshe! That’s incredible!”

Mi k’amcha Yisrael, he thought. How great is Your nation Israel! Down to her hotheaded teenage bodybuilders.

The Littlest Protestors – Moshav Zecharya

Named for the nearby ancient town of Beit Zecharya, Moshav Zecharya has an interesting history. The current community was founded by Kurdish Jewish immigrants. Its early years were punctuated by bloody strife between the area’s Jewish residents and neighboring Arabs in the area. Since then, the moshav has grown into a peaceful, successful agricultural village. Belev Echad has been drawing its residents closer to their Creator since for 17 years.

The Littlest Protestors

Kids! Rabbi Elchanan shook his head. He loved his learning group of preteen boys on Moshav Zecharya. But he also had a problem.

The boys were – boys. Rowdy. Rambunctious. Mischievous. Though they seemed to enjoy the learning sessions Rabbi Elchanan organized for them in the moshav’s shul, they also seemed unable to hold themselves back from highly un-shul-like behavior.

Rabbi Elchanan wasn’t sure what to do. His normal class-control methods weren’t working. He couldn’t fathom putting an end to the group, but he also couldn’t allow its young members to keep disrespecting the beit knesset.

I won’t end the class, he thought. I’ll just tell them that because of their behavior, we need to take a break. Perhaps they’ll see I’m serious, and we’ll try again in a month or so.

Rabbi Elchanan sent his message to the boys through a different Belev Echad madrich.

He was completely unprepared for the boys’ reaction.

The next day, as he drove up to the beit knesset to deliver a mens’ class, he noticed a crowd of what looked like political protestors. They were brandishing handwritten picket signs and yelling hoarsely.

When he got a little closer, he gasped – and burst out laughing. The protestors were his little students! Their signs held slogans like “NO CLOSING THE SHIUR!” and “WE NEED TORAH!”

Rabbi Elchanan laughed harder as more signs came into view: “WE LOVE YOU RABBI Elchanan!” “THE SHIUR MUST GO ON!” “HOW WILL WE BECOME BAR MITZVAH??”

Suddenly, one of the boys spotted Rabbi Elchanan’s car. He motioned wildly to the others, who let out a collective whoop and rushed to surround the car.

Inside, Rabbi Elchanan wiped his eyes. Kids! Wonderful kids! Still chuckling, he pushed the door open and stepped into the small-but-mighty swarm.

“Okay, okay, boys, you win!” He put his hands up in the air. “I’ll make you a deal. You agree to behave as best you can – and we can have another learning session in an hour.”

The boys let out a cheer. When their time slot came, they tumbled into the beit knesset excitedly, looking comical as they tried to balance their enthusiasm with their promise to act respectfully.

Rabbi Elchanan watched them, heart swelling with gratitude. Belev Echad and its Torah classes were well beloved – and making a deep, genuine impact.

The Sign – Moshav Zlaffon

Moshav Zlaffon was founded by Yemenite refugees in 1950. Later joined by Moroccan immigrants, the ensuing decade saw a major decline in the community’s religious connection. Belev Echad has been working to bring the residents closer to their Creator for many years.

The Sign

Golden-hour sunlight slanted through the woods bordering Moshav Zlaffon. It played on the faces of Gavriel, a moshav teenager, and Ofir, his Belev Echad madrich, as they picked their way along the forest path.

It was time for Gavriel to apply for high school. Ofir, who’d been helping his younger friend rediscover his Judaism, wanted Gavriel to give the local religious school a try. They’d been strolling and talking about it for an hour, however, and Gavriel still didn’t seem ready.

“I don’t know, Ofir.” Gavriel stopped walking and turned back towards the woods’ entrance. “If G-d Himself sends me a sign, I’ll try the Dati school. Otherwise, I don’t think it’s for me.”

Ofir lowered his head. A shame. But there was nothing he could do if the boy simply wasn’t ready.

Less than 60 seconds later, as they trekked toward the woods’ opening, a middle-aged man appeared from between the trees.

“Hello,” he introduced himself. He was wearing the uniform of a forester employed by Keren Kayemet L’Yisrael (JNF). “You lost? Need any help?”

“We’re fine,” Ofir assured him with a smile, putting a hand on Gavriel’s shoulder. “We just needed somewhere quiet to talk about some important things.”

“Hm,” the forester nodded. His gaze moved over Ofir’s kippah and tiztzit, and Gavriel’s bare-head and shorts. “Well, young man, I have some advice for you.”

Gavriel raised his eyebrows. “Me?”

“Yep. Here it is.” He stepped up to Ofir and jabbed him in the shoulder. “Listen to these Dati’im. They know what they’re talking about.”

Now both Ofir and Gavriel were curious. “What makes you say that?”

The forester leaned back on a tree trunk. “Twenty-three years ago, I served in the army with two good friends. When we were discharged, they both headed to America to pick up the gold in the streets.

“Early on, one of them befriended a religious fellow, who told him: ‘When hard times come, stick with Hashem. Turn to Him. Listen to Him. And you’ll win.’

“My friend followed his advice – and his business boomed. The other friend, who went into the exact same business, failed. Why, I don’t know. But I do know this second friend ran away from involvement in his Judaism.”

“Nice story,” Ofir said. Gavriel couldn’t say anything. He just stared, speechless.

“I’m telling you, listen to this Dati fellow,” the forester repeated. “You won’t be sorry.”

And he strolled off.

Gavriel sank down onto the ground, head in his hands.

“Gavriel?” Ofir said gently.

It was a minute before the boy looked up. When he did, Ofir saw wetness on his cheeks.

“What do you know,” he said hoarsely, clearing his throat. “G-d sent me a sign.”

Gavriel sent off his application to the religious high school that evening. When he called Ofir to tell him he’d been officially registered, the madrich smiled.

Not that he needed a sign to know how pleased G-d was with Belev Echad’s work. But this story, and the hundreds of similar ones Ofir had seen and heard, were the clearest sign of all.

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