On Tuesday evening, September 22, Rabbi Yissocher Frand, senior lecturer at Yeshivas Ner Yisroel in Baltimore and well-known speaker, shared his annual t’shuvah drashah on behalf of Just One Life. First, Rabbi Marty Katz, Executive Vice President of Just One Life, spoke about the holy work of this organization. He quoted the famous teaching in the Gemara that if you save one life you saved a whole world. You save babies, you save families, he stated. If a mother in pregnancy is in danger or in a difficult situation, the organization receives references. Shaare Zedek Hospital in Israel sends them referrals, as the government doesn’t pay for high-risk pregnancies. With the coronavirus, more cases have come to Just One Life. Rabbi Katz urged everyone, “Be part of our mission. Be part of our team.”
Next, the audience watched a short video about Just One Life. The organization has helped 500 clients over the year. It supports and empowers women who struggle with pregnancy for various reasons. The office has a warm, supportive atmosphere. Women have said that they felt so alone, and when this organization came to help them, they didn’t feel so alone anymore. Women have shared that when Just One Life stepped in to help them, they felt that somebody cared and somebody was there for them.
Next, Rabbi Frand began his shiur by stating that “we didn’t realize how successful our davening was last year when we asked Hashem to instill awe on all His creations. Now we know what that means. In the past, we wondered how that will happen. We see how it could happen.” Hashem gifted us by giving us a small preview of what will happen in the future. We heard people say that Hashem brought the world to its knees. In Aleinu we express this idea that everyone will accept Hashem’s rulership and bow to Him.
At the end of Yom Kippur davening, we shout “L’Shanah HaBaah BiYerushalayim.” This year, we really will mean it. We don’t all feel as comfortable in America as we used to. A half dozen shuls were vandalized during the BLM protests. Chabad in Delaware was burned to the ground. There is a sign in California on one of the highways that says “The Jews want a Race War, honk if you agree.” Rabbi Frand taught that this is eerily reminiscent of the Gemara where it says that we saw what we thought was an island covered in sand. In truth, it was a whale, but we didn’t realize this and we got off the boat and we went onto the “island” and we cooked and baked there. When it got too hot for the whale, it turned over and threw us into the sea. If we had not been close to the mother ship, we would have drowned. This is a mashal for Jews in galus. He noted what happened to the Jews in Spain and later in Germany.
Rabbi Frand then emphasized that there are three words to remember: “Have we changed?”
We are living through a life-altering event, where every aspect of our lives is affected. “If we come out of this year and nothing changed, it would be nothing short of a tragedy.”
The spies spoke lashon ha’ra about Israel shortly after the incident where Miriam was punished for lashon ha’ra. If we do nothing and we don’t change, then we will be like that. He then pointed out how Noach planted a vineyard after the flood. Rashi teaches that Noach made himself plain or unholy. He had to plant, but he didn’t have to plant wine. Don’t start with wine. The righteous Noach declined after the flood because he planted a vineyard. At that point, he is referred to as a man of the land. Rabbi Berel Wein taught that, under normal circumstances, there was nothing wrong with planting a vineyard. However, those weren’t normal circumstances. Noach was charged with rebuilding the whole world, so he should have thought in more elevated terms. “He thought “ordinary” so, as a result, he became ordinary.”
Rabbi Frand taught that “we are emerging into a different world. Every area of human endeavor has changed. We have seen so much death, sorrow, and pain – socially, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Yet, G-d has kept us alive. So, we can’t go back to being ordinary.” He added that, just as Jews after the Holocaust felt that Hashem saved them for a purpose, we too must live our lives differently. “We cannot go back to life as normal because these are not normal times!” He reiterated that there are times when regular behavior is not appropriate, and this is such a time. He shared the question the captain of the ship asked Yonah: “Why are you sleeping? We are about to die.” We lived through turbulent times and we must answer the captain’s question. How can we sleep?
Rabbi Frand then shared the story of Rav Yehoshua Y Neuwirth who was in Holland when the Nazis invaded in the 1930s. To escape, he had to board a ship and he had to be m’chalel Shabbos by being on the ship on Shabbos. So, he wanted to do something to rectify this and he decided to write his famous sefer, Sh’miras Shabbos K’Hilchasah. This event changed his life and caused him to do something that has had a tremendous impact on the Jewish world. Rabbi Frand shared that “it is incumbent upon us during these days of t’shuvah to ask ourselves what I learned about myself during these times, and what change will I make in my life as a result of this incredible year?”
He suggested we ask ourselves what we learned about our relationship with our spouse and family during this time, and how we can improve it and be better. He shared that he learned how many things we take for granted and he became conscious of how precious good health is. Also, he saw how much we need friends and human interaction. In addition, he realized a new appreciation of how grateful we want to be for what we have. He taught, “Never take anything for granted.” Rabbi Frand imparted that we should concentrate on the parts of davening that thank Hashem. In Modim, we state, “We are in Your hand.” We should concentrate on the brachah for good health, Asher Yatzar. The morning blessings make us aware of the gifts Hashem gives us. I can see. I can walk. I can stand up straight. Be more appreciative of the people around us: our spouse, our children, neighbors, teachers, and our rabbanim. Rabbi Frand taught that “one thing I always had. I had your Torah. If a Jew has a blatt Gemara, he’s never alone.”
He concluded that often in plagues Hashem creates a pause. He is giving us a chance to change. “Change something. Do something!”
By Susie Garber