Our community is fortunate to have a place for nursing care and rehabilitation that caters to the Orthodox community. The local rabbanim visit, and many have sent relatives to the facility. There is an Orthodox rabbi on the premises, the food is under the Vaad Harabonim of Queens, and there are Shabbos and holiday programs as well as daily minyanim. In addition, Rabbi Haim Alcabes recently began a weekly learning program of M’silas Y’sharim followed by a Gemara shiur. There is a regular group of participants, which includes community members who come on Friday for the class together with residents at Margaret Tietz. The shiur originally took place at Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim, and when Rabbi Alcabes’ father came to Margaret Tietz, the idea to move the shiur to Margaret Tietz was met with a lot of enthusiasm. It is a special opportunity for the community and for residents at Margaret Tietz. The shiur takes place at 9:30 a.m. on Friday in the small shul on the first floor of the nursing home. The shiur on Shushan Purim focused on some review of concepts taught previously, as well as some new material from M’silas Y’sharim. The give-and-take and lively discussion showed how engaging and well-received this shiur is for the participants.
Rabbi Alcabes taught, “We talk about imbibing musar concepts. It’s not enough. If you really want to succeed, you need a rebbe.” He shared a personal story of taking an early flight to be able to be on time for teaching his shiur. He said he learned this z’rizus from his rebbe, Rabbi Shmuel Neiman zt”l, Mashgiach of Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim, who would step off the plane from Israel at five a.m. and show up in time to teach his shiur at the Yeshiva. “Having Rabbi Neiman’s example is how I succeeded in this effort. I saw Rabbi Neiman do this again and again. Each time, he gave his shiurim with such enthusiasm. That’s the key. You need to have that rebbe who lives it and puts it in front of you.” He continued, “Living with and serving chachamim helps you become the best person you can be.” He shared that that is how one grows, and it’s based on p’sukim from the Gemara.
When asked by one of the participants, “But you want to be yourself, not a carbon copy of the rebbe,” Rabbi Alcabes agreed. “We don’t want to create clones or monkeys. Take stock of your own abilities. Know your strengths and weaknesses, and that in itself is self-esteem.” He elaborated, “Self-esteem is taking stock and knowing very well my G-d-given gifts. Hashem gave me certain abilities, and putting them to good use at the proper time is self-esteem.”
He pointed out that Moshe Rabbeinu didn’t make a big deal about it. He stepped up and did the job when it was needed. Rabbi Alcabes explained that “I need a rebbe, but I must be the best that I can be. No one can do my job but me.” He noted that if a boss gives you a job, it must mean you can do it. The boss has confidence in you to pull it off. Hashem is the boss, and He is asking you to do a job. Rabbi Alcabes taught that the rebbe’s responsibility is to provide education according to the individual’s needs.
He then taught how to increase enthusiasm. You can build that fire from an internal way or an external way by performing more actions. He shared that if you are where you are supposed to be at the right time, this helps with getting things done. “Learn M’silas Y’sharim and you can accomplish anything you want to.”
He then taught three ways that mitzvos occur. There is z’man, or Hashem puts a mitzvah in front of us, or we are inspired from within to do something. Rabbi Alcabes noted that when the decision came to have this shiur at Margaret Tietz, it was up and running in a week. “We didn’t let it wait, because that’s when the yeitzer ha’ra comes in.”
One of the participants noted, “That’s the story of Purim, acting and not delaying.”
Rabbi Alcabes taught that the Ramchal’s definition of z’rizus is before, after, and at the time of the mitzvah.
A lively discussion followed about the definition of rest on Shabbos. Then Rabbi Alcabes taught that the purpose of our existence is to derive pleasure that comes from closeness to Hashem. The question was posed, “How do you fix a lazy head?
The answer given was to create an environment around yourself that helps you accomplish. Rabbi Alcabes read from the M’silas Y’sharim: “When one energizes himself in the performance of mitzvos just as he quickens himself with his outer physical movements, that will affect his inside, as well.” Rabbi Alcabes spoke about the inertia factor, since we are made from the ground; so we are pulled towards the earth, and that’s the inertia factor that kills z’rizus. We must ask ourselves: What does Hashem expect of me at this moment? “It’s His world and I’m here to serve His desires.” Rabbi Alcabes taught, “Expectations are to do the best you can. That’s the goal and that’s how we evaluate success. If you can answer yes, you get an A-plus.”
He reviewed a teaching from Tomer Devorah (by Rabbi Moshe Cordovero, 16th century kabbalist) that was taught by Rav Oelbaum. The purpose of man is to emulate HaKadosh Baruch Hu. That is the essence of what man is. Tomer Devorah doesn’t say that we are commanded to emulate our Creator. This is because it is fitting for a person to do this. That is what we are created for. It’s not a mitzvah; it’s the essence of a human being.
The community is grateful to Margaret Tietz and Rabbi Alcabes for this wonderful new program.