Monday, January 25, 2016

The Shofar and the Sap of Tu B'Shvat

On Tu B'shvat the sap rises in the trees. The word for Sap is Sraf. It is spelled shin reish fei. The same letters spell shofar, since the influence of Rosh Hashanah is what empowers trees to grow. It is also Reshef, which alludes to negative spiritual forces. We must chose our way in this life. Will we be like the holy shofar which sounds and sweetens judgements or like those who loudly cry out in a way that is not positive? This is one reason we pray for an esrog on Tu B'shvat. Our sages likened the esrog to our heart. Everything depends on what we do with our heart. When Rav Nosson spoke about the heartiness of Avrohom Avinu, someone demurred. "But he had such a special heart!" "You also have a special heart," retorted Rav Nosson. "But you do not yet use it correctly." Hashem should help us find our heart and use it correctly from this day on! [This piece was inspired by Rav Yitzchak Moshe Ehrlinger, shlita. Today in shiur when asked about Tu B'Shvat he said, "I know nothing at all. Just that the letter seraf spell shofar and Reshef..." This is some of what I understood.]

New Year of the Tree

Rosh Hashonah 14 discusses the argument between Beis Shammai and Beis Hillel regarding the exact date of the new year for trees. According to Beis Shammai it is on the first of Shevat. Beis Hillel disagrees. They hold that Tu B’shvat is the Rosh Hashonah for trees. The Chiddushei HaRim, zt’l, teaches the deep significance of their dispute even today. “On Tu B’shevat the seraf or sap rises in the trees. The word seraf is an acronym for shishim ribo pirushim, six hundred thousand explanations. On Tu B’shevat we draw down the ability to say chiddushei Torah for the entire year. The Avnei Nezer, zt”l, adds, “Although the halachoh follows Beis Hillel, Beis Shammai is also correct regarding special people who serve Hashem in an aspect of the middas hadin. They draw down this special influx from the first day of the month of Shevat.” Rav Tzadok Hakohein of Lublin, zt”l, explains why it is customary to eat fruit on Tu B’Shevat. “Tu B’Shevat is a day when we fix the sin of Adam and Chavah partaking of the Eitz Hada'as and lowering the entire world. We eat fruit and can draw such great holiness in our food that we fix every time we ate improperly for the entire year.” [Chidushei HaRim; Pri Tzaddik]

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Komarna, Rav Tzaddok and Zohar on Parshas Beshalach--Video Shiur

Parshas Beshalach Shiur Parshas Beshalach: Rav Tzadok: The deeper meaning of Hashem not taking us through the Plishtim; Why this week in particular is called Parshas Shirah while Yisro is not known as "Parhsas Matan Torah?"; Why not call it "Parshas HaMan"? The common denominator between Shabbos Shuva, Hagadol, Nachamu and Shira; The main Avodah of Shovavim--Tikun Habris is internalizing our intrinsic connection to Hashem Komarna: Plishtim are mockers; Avoiding wasting time; The problem with politics is we forget Hashem Zohar: The power of the Shira; Torah study nullifies decrees

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Parshas Bo

Parsha Shiur Rav Tzaddok: Plague of hail; Mitzvah to sanctify the new Month; do we sanctify Shabbos? Komarna: Parable of the Baal Shem Tov from Degel Machaneh Efraim; Why Moshe pleaded with the Jews to take the wealth of Egypt Zohar: Chometz and Matza

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Parshas Vaeira Shiur

Parhsas Vaeira Shiur It begins with the Komarna on what it means to know Hashem. He wonders why we learn deeper concepts since the true essence of G-d is not graspable. He also explains that when we internalize our knowledge of Hashem, we are able to leave the staits of spiritual or material Mitzrayim, Egypt. Pri Tzaddok explains the first seven plagues in a deep way. I expanded on it, but perhaps it is deeper than it should have been. Zohar teaches techiyas hameisim from the staff that transformed into a serpent. Enjoy and see the new Spirit of the concluding Chapter 1 of the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch. Have a joyous and illuminating Shabbos Kodesh!

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Spirit of the Law, Kitzur I: 5-6

Spirit of the Law Video Shiur I: 5: Why we should not recite verses-written Torah by heart; Rav Nosson explains the essence of Torah written on parchment and the oral law I: 6: The immense spiritual repucussions of a brochah and the negative effects of a brochah said in vain

Friday, January 1, 2016

Shemos-Shovavim Parshah Shiur

Parshas Shemos-Shovavim Komarna: Using the delight of dveykut, cleaving to the Creator to trascend pain and bitterness; We are the Staff--Snake; The seven aspects of life: Chessed--Kindness, expansiveness, Gevurah--Might, constriction, Tiferet--Truth, Torah; Netzach--Victory, the Capacity to win; Hod--Gratitude, Praise, Yesod--Foundation, what I do counts, Malchut--Kingship, Making Creator King when things are Difficult; Remembering we are G-d children in every aspect of our existence; Proper Balance of Body and Soul Rav Tzaddok: Shemot begins Shovavim; When is the best time to work on purity during Shovavim? Attaining Genuine Brit; Purity is only thorugh Positivity; Kushios, hard questions are for halachic works, not people Zohar: The Power of Tears; Why is there a gate of tears if tears open all gates? The Tikkun of Childlessness; A Segulah for having Kids Enjoy and have a great Shabbos!

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Parshas Vayechi, Komarna, Rav Tzaddok and Zohar

Parsha shiur Komarna: The power of Hope; The power of a minyan Rav Tzaddok: The essence of each tribe Zohar and Chessed L'Avraham: Vayechi Yaakov

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Spirit of the Law, Kitzur Shulchan Aruch I: 5 Video Shiur

Spirit of the Law: Kitzur Shulchan Aruch I:5: Chatzos, a time of deep connection and bliss with Hashem; One hour after Chatzos is like several during the day; When to stay in bed; Mishnah fixes our Nesahama, soul; Is it better to be up Chatzos or Vatikin.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Writeup Spirit of the Law Chanukah Part II, KItzur 6-10

(Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 139:6) “The custom in our country is to do as the ‘mehadrin l’mehadrin’—in the most scrupulous way. Everyone lights. On the first night, we light one candle, and on the second night tw,o and we add each night until we have all lit eight candles.”
Reb Nosson of Breslov writes in his Likutei Halachos that the flame of the Chanukah candles represent the fire of yiras shomayim—fear of heaven. Although fear normally diminishes one’s life, the fear of Hashem is different. As the verse says: “The fear of G-d adds to one’s days.” (Mishlei 10:27) This echoes the Vilna Gaon’s commentary on the verse. For this reason, if one’s fear of Hashem leads to worry and despair, it is a clear sign that this is not true fear of G-d. True yiras Hashem is called yirah l’chaim—“awe that enhances one’s life and spiritual vitality.”
This means that it brings one to feel joy. We can obtain this type by focusing on the good and not the bad. If one learns the importance of not talking slander, he can worry about it all day or he can thank Hashem for each time he didn’t speak slander and realize that the main purpose for the warnings against the habit is to encourage us to refrain. This is by our realizing that if doing it is so bad, refraining from it is that much more important and worthy of joy.
We light a new candle every day to teach that we must increase our devotion and longing every day. This is true yirah l’chaim. Through this, one is full of life and vitality. “The fear of G-d adds to one’s days!”


(Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 139:7) “The mitzvah of Chanukah is to light the menorah in the doorway closest to the public domain in order to publicize the miracle. This was the custom during the time of the sages. Nowadays, since we dwell among the non-Jews, we light inside. One should light at their window if they have one.” [In Israel, the custom of most is to light outside].
This halachah can be understood in the light of the Likutei Halachos. The Greeks and Hellenists tried to overcome us with tremendous brazenness. The Chashmonaim had to have even more chutzpah to challenge the strongest army of ancient times with a miniscule fraction of their strength. This is always how it is. The inner and outer forces of evil try to overcome the good with incredible brazenness and we need even stronger chutzpah to overcome them. This is what the miracle of the Chanukah lights represent.
And this is why it is best to light it in the most visible place available. We are not ashamed before anyone. Unless there is an actual danger, we should light in the most publicly visible manner. Rebbe Nachman, zt”l, writes that one achieves holy chutzpah through happiness. Happiness is not only inside. If one is truly happy, it will show on the outside. Someone who seems gloomy really is in a bad frame of mind—the inner and outer states are connected. Our happiness and joy should overflow into the lives of our families, friends, and everyone with whom we come into contact. This is also something we learn from placing the Chanukah lights in the most noticeable place. The light of our holy joy which enables us to have true chutzpah when it comes to opposing our evil inclination should uplift everyone who come into contact with us!

(Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 139:8) “It is a mitzvah to place the lights above three tefachim and below ten. If one placed them above ten tefachim, he nevertheless fulfills his obligation.”
Reb Nosson writes in his Likutei Halachos that Chanukah draws down an illumination from the future times of Moshiach every year to encourage even the most distant Jew. This light is to be discovered in the teachings of the tzaddikim, and by learning their works, even the most distant Jew is encouraged to trust in Hashem, start fresh, and keep trying until he merits true holiness and joy. This explains why it is a mitzvah to arrange his lights at a height between three and ten tefachim.
The truth is that anyone who wishes can draw incredible encouragement from the miracle of Chanukah itself. At the time of the miracle, we were not in the healthiest spiritual condition as a people. Even so, Hashem delivered us from our enemies and made the menorah burn for eight days to demonstrate that, no matter what our spiritual state may be, if we only wish to we can begin again and achieve closeness with Hashem. Since the candles represent Hashem helping even those who are spiritually weak, they should be set up below ten tefachim. Our Rabbis teach that the Shechinah never descended to the final ten tefachim of airspace above the earth. Those ten tefachim represent all of the places to which people fall, where they feel exiled from the nourishing and illuminating influence of the Divine presence. When the candles are lit there, those “places” receive an infusion of Hashem’s light.
Even so, the lights must be at least three tefachim off the ground. This symbolizes a fresh start. This represents a commitment to not “lying down” and giving up completely. At the very least, one must have the minimal “three tefachim” of motivation to make a fresh start. When we do what we can, Hashem draws the light of Chanukah upon us and we bask in His warmth.
(Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 139:9) “One should separate the candles so that they not melt down from their own heat. If one filled a bowl with oil and placed wicks in it, and if he covered it with a vessel, each wick counts like one candle. If one did not cover it with a vessel, it cannot count as even a single candle since this will surely become a conflagration.”
The Zohar Hakadosh writes that a raging fire represents evil. This is because one who does evil often cannot contend with his evil urge, which is similar to a blazing fire. This is why we cannot use a hearth fire or the like for Chanukah. Rebbe Nachman, zt”l, taught that there are two types of light. One is called me’orei eish, which means “illuminating bodies of fire,” or the raging fire associated with evil. The other is called me’orei ohr, or “illuminating bodies of light”—a  balanced and holy illumination. We must yearn to achieve the holy and reject the unholy. All our troubles are caused by our lack of true understanding. We can achieve understanding through having a connection to someone who does possess true understanding. This is why having a connection to someone without fear of heaven is so detrimental—he is a detour from arriving at true understanding!
The Gemara writes that for one with da’as or holy awareness, it is as though the Beis Hamikdash has already been rebuilt. One who has the true balance of holy illumination acts in a deliberate and considered way. Even if he makes a mistake, he will immediately repent and start again. He knows that we are here for a limited time only and that we have a purpose. One who lacks this balanced perspective is always falling and rarely repents; he is far from embarking on the path to change.
For this same reason we may not place the candles too close together. If they melt down in a blaze we have not discharged our obligation. If our Chanukah lights converge into me’orei eish—by becoming a conflagration—they represent the unholy burning for materialism or honor without any higher goal. We light individual candles to represent the balanced illumination of a light which does not damage but illuminates—the light of true understanding. (Based on Mekor Chaim and Likutey Halachos) 

(Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 139:10) “One lights the menorah at nightfall and not later.”
Reb Nosson of Breslov writes in his Likutei Halachos that the time when the me’orei eish (see Spirit of the Law: Chanukah #9) dominate is the night. This is because the night represents lack of clarity and confusion. How we feel and behave at times of uncertainly tell us a lot about where we are really holding. One who is truly internalizing and deepening his connection to Hashem will find that what used to be an insurmountable test will stop being a challenge. This is a sure sign that we are increasing our connection to holy illumination and moving away from unholiness. This is a balance; the more understanding we have, the more we slowly are distanced from unholy thoughts and deeds. Since the me’orei eish are associated with “dark times,” we do not light before the sun sets. (This is only if we have a choice. On erev Shabbos we light early since we have no choice, but we must place enough oil in the vessel to last until half an hour after dark. This is symbolic of the fact that the great descending light of erev Shabbos affords us an opportunity to “light the darkness” ahead of time and perform the proper rectification for the night that is to come.)


Sunday, December 6, 2015

Write up of Spirit of the Law: Chanukah part I

Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, Laws of Chanukah 139:1-4

1) “…One should give an abundance of charity on Chanukah because these days are propitious for rectifying blemishes on one’s soul through charity, especially if one gives to poor people who learn Torah.”

Through giving charity, it is possible for a person to break his unhealthy desire for money. This avariciousness, which has the power when unchecked to overwhelm a person completely, is actually symbolized by the ancient Greeks. We can see this alluded to in the verse, “Tavati b’yavein metzulah”—“I have sunk into a deep mire.”[1] The word yavein (the mire of the lust for money) can also be read Yavan (Greece).[2] Although this world is full of many beautiful things, as soon as a person places a coin or his hand in front of his eye, he isn’t able to see anything at all. Similarly, if a person’s entire existence is focused on pursuing money or ego-driven pleasure, he cannot see the light of spirituality and holiness.[3]
In addition, giving charity draws down the light of Providence upon the giver, and it happens middah k’neged middah—measure for measure. The giver demonstrates his trust in Hashem to provide for his needs despite the fact that he is sharing some of his material wealth. This reliance on Providence draws the light of Providence down upon the giver. This is one way to understand the significance of the light of the menorah—it represents the light of Providence. Especially when things are dark and we cannot fathom the ways of Hashem, the illumination of Providence lights up the darkness. The miracle of the menorah fills us with the vision that especially when things are difficult, during the depth of a spiritual winter, Hashem is always right here with each and every one of us.[4]
2) “We do not fast on Chanukah…”
The Mekor Chaim, zt”l, explains that the main purpose in fasting is to overcome one’s base physical nature, since this is the source of all evil. On Chanukah, however, the negative within us is subdued when we are open to receive the spiritual illumination that descends. Since the negativity inside of us has already been mitigated, there is no point in fasting. If, on the other hand, a person is not open to the illumination of Chanukah, then fasting is a waste of time in any case. As Rebbe Nachman, zt”l, explains, such fasting could be compared to carefully scrubbing a torn sack. Although it may get clean, the holes will remain and prevent its proper use.[5] If one wishes to achieve holiness during Chanukah, he will accomplish far more by focusing on the supernal influx that flows down during those precious days. Reb Nosson, zt”l, writes that the days of Chanukah (and Purim) were established to strengthen those who are so spiritually ill that they lack the energy to accomplish anything at all. Similarly, during the long winter of our exile we sometimes feel that we are making no progress spiritually. Through the light of Chanukah, Hashem shines into each of us individually to help us understand that we should not give up trying because everything we do is precious in the eyes of the Creator. This is one reason why the custom among Ashkenazim is for everyone to light their own menorahs—because the light shines into us all. At the root of the concept, this certainly includes women and girls. The Chasam Sofer zt”l, explains why it is that we do not find that in our time women and girls light for themselves. When the sages originally made the enactment to light, it included women. Since the original mitzvah was to light outside, however, no woman tried to do this mitzvah l’mehadrin; it was not considered befitting honor of a woman to go out in the early evening. Even in our time when most people light indoors, the custom has remained the same.[6] The Maharshal and the Elya Rabba explain the reason differently. Since most get married and the original enactment was for a man and his wife to light one candle, there is no reason for a girl under the age of bas mitzvah to light, since eventually she will not need to light. It was never customary for girls to light for themselves between the age of bas mitzvah and marriage, since they tended to marry young in any case. Even though in our times many women marry later than they used to, the custom hasn’t changed.[7]
3) “Although it is permitted to perform work on Chanukah, the custom is that women do no work while the candles are lit (that is, the minimum obligation of time—half an hour)… The reason why women in particular are strict about this is because of the decrees of the Greeks specifically about women… Also, the miracle of redemption happened through a woman…”
The Mekor Chaim, zt”l, explains why the Greeks enacted decrees specifically against women, and why the miracle of redemption happened specifically through a woman.
We find in the Zohar Hakadosh that the kingship of Antiochus represents the concept of orlah, the foreskin, which is cut away during circumcision. The orlah acts as a filter that prevents a man from grasping holiness. For this reason, a Jewish man who maintains his foreskin and does not submit to circumcision is liable to the Divine punishment of kares. His orlah keeps him powerfully tied to worldly pleasure that lacks a connection to the Source.[8]
This is why the Greeks forbade circumcision, the observance of Shabbos, and the declaration of the new month. These three mitzvos are diametrically opposed to the concept of orlah. Shabbos is the opposite of orlah because on Shabbos we delight in worldly pleasures for the sake of heaven. The truth is that there is no mitzvah to overeat on Shabbos, as the Shelah Hakadosh writes. However, the Arizal explains that even if a person overindulges on Shabbos, the food is still elevated to the Source. Rosh Chodesh is also the opposite of orlah since it is a time of arousal to the spiritual renewal found in sincere repentance. This is the opposite of the orlah’s power to blind a person from the holiness that is to be discovered within the physical world. And circumcision itself is, of course, the complete eradication of the orlah.
The Jewish woman represents the Shechinah, the Divine presence, which is the opposite of the orlah and its deadening effect on one’s spiritual existence. This is why it is only through marriage that a man can come to true completion. The orlah is a blemish that distances one from completion. This is why the Greeks made decrees to destroy the sanctity of Jewish marriage (the removal of the possibility of privacy), and this is also why the miracle was specifically through a woman. Yehudis subdued those who represent the klippah of orlah just as marriage to a G-d-fearing woman subdues this force of negativity within a man. Jewish marriage is how one comes to overcome the seemingly grossly material reality that we live in by discovering the true spiritual identity of all that is material. Reb Nosson explains further that as long as a Jewish man is connected spiritually through marriage to a Jewish woman, it is clear that he will not fall completely![9]
All oils may be used for the Chanukah lights. However, olive oil is the preferred way to do this mitzvah since that is the oil with which the miracle occurred in the Beis Hamikdash.”
What is the significance of the miracle occurring through olive oil? Reb Nosson of Breslov writes in his Likutei Halachos that just as oil is the “splendor” of the olive—the highest expression of its innate qualities—so too are the Jewish people the splendor of creation. Hashem takes pleasure in the Jewish people above all His works. The Greeks felt that they were the chosen people. For this reason, they wanted to obscure our special status as the Am Hanivchar by polluting us spiritually. Through the intervention of the righteous Matisyahu and his followers who are similar to the flask of oil which remained protected from being polluted by the evil influences of the Greeks, the splendor which Hashem takes from every Jew was revealed and the Greeks were defeated. This is one way to understand why the miracle occurred specifically with the oil. The “small flask” of those who are faithful to Torah and mitzvos will miraculously endure forever as the chosen people.
Although Hashem takes pride, so to speak, in the Jewish people no matter what, generally this pride only lasts as long as we are at least connected to those who remain unpolluted with false beliefs. Such a connection prevents us from falling away from Torah-true beliefs entirely. One who is exposed to false beliefs and won over to them, however, forfeits his status as a part of the chosen people. The reason for this that Hashem takes pride in each and every Jew only as long as he or she feels exalted by being Jewish. This is not some sort of ethnic or cultural pride. One must be proud to be a member of the chosen nation, gifted by G-d with a unique mission, responsibility, and the means to accomplish it. One who doesn't feel this pride is very disconnected from the essence of the Jewish people. As we say in the blessings of the Torah: “He who has chosen us from among all the nations...” Let us take pride in our Jewish identity so that Hashem will take pride in us!



Spirit of the Law: Chanukah #5

(Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, Hilchos Chanukah 139:5)
“If one lights in an earthen vessel, it becomes ‘old’ [after a single use]. Since it is blackened and disgusting, it may not be used for another night. Therefore, one must have a menorah of metal [since less porous substances like glass or metal can be cleaned if they get full of soot and oil].”
The Shulchan Aruch explains that one has two options if an earthen vessel is the only one available. One can either use a new one each day of Chanukah, or put the blackened vessel into the oven and reconstitute it into a new vessel through the agency of high heat which will burn away the accumulated filth.
The Mekor Chaim, zt”l, defines a vessel as an object that is designed to hold something else. Our limbs are the vessels that hold the nefesh, our souls. An earthen vessel represents a limb that is imperfect. Pottery cannot be koshered and it porosity makes it absorb more of what cooks in it than other vessels. This represents the part of a person that still requires a lot of refinement. This might be the tongue of the slanderer, the heart of the cruel person, or the hand of the one who strikes his friend. This can also refer to a particular organ that serves as the “abode” of a negative character trait.
For example, anger is said to be “seated” in the liver and depression in the spleen. The present halachah regarding the use of an earthen vessel parallels the situation of a person who tries to correct a fault by paying attention to how damaging the trait is and praying for help to uproot it. We “illuminate” the limb by working on the particular problem which is aroused by that limb or which that limb enables. However, this only works for a while—which parallels the fact that the earthen vessel can only be used once. After a while, this form of spiritual work tends to get stale. It is somewhat discouraging to work on a particular area for a time and to still feel as though one is getting—which parallels the blackened and repulsive state of the earthen vessel after having been lit for a night.
In such a case, one has two choices. The first is to work on a different area that requires attention. Since my realization of the damage this other trait does is fresh for me I don’t feel discouraged working on this new trait for a new period of time. Such “switching” is represented by the use of a fresh vessel for the next night’s lighting. The other choice is to place the new trait “in the oven.” That means “firing oneself up” about how important it is to change and receiving a new injection of energy by realizing every effort made to change a bad trait is very precious to Hashem. In this way, one “reconstitutes” the vessel and renews it, so that it is possible to continue the spiritual work without feeling “blackened” and disgusted with oneself.
The Vilna Gaon, zt”l, said about the hardest traits to overcome: “One who is stubborn will succeed!”





[1] Tehillim 69:3
[2] Likutei Halachos, Hilchos Aveidah U’metziah 3:8
[3] Likutei Moharan I:133
[4] Likutei Halachos, Hilchos Shluchim 3
[5] Likutei Moharan I:17
[6] Chiddushei Shabbos 21b
[7] Maharshal 85; Elya Rabba 671:2, end of subsection 3.
[8] Mekor Chaim 670:1
[9] Likutei Halachos, Hilchos Bechor Beheimah Tehorah 4:26

Friday, December 4, 2015

Parshas Vayeshev

Komrana How could Yosef suspect his brothers of such serious sins?
 Rav Tzadok: How could the brothers be certain that Yosef was not a special tzaddik who they had misunderstood? Why does the verse mention that they broke breead immediately after they threw him in the pit? 
Zohar: Dinah was exceedingly rigtheous

Friday, November 27, 2015

Parshas Vayishlach, Komarna, Rav Tzaddok and Zohar with link fixed

Link to Parshas Vayishlach Shiur Komarna: Generating an Altar Like Yaakov While Eating: Through a Broken Heart Rav Tzaddok: The Importance of Shabbat: Why Did Yaakov pay for his Campground? The Greatness of the Graves of Tzaddikim Zohar: Why Yaakov Feared Eisav: The Special Prophecy of Obadia the Convert And see the new and updated Spirit of the Law post below. Good Shabbos!

Spirit of the Law I: 4 With Link

Link to Spirit of the Law I:4 Some of what is discussed in this week's Spirit of the Law: Fighting Warped Reasoning: Getting Genuine Perspective:The Importance of Spiritual Development: Seeing your Direction Sorry initially forgot link, fixed now.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Zohar and Komarna on Parshas Toldos

Boruch Hashem there should be a link to Micha's weekly parshah shiur posted here.
https://emunahchannel.com/parshas-toldos-k
Enjoy and check out the new Spirit of the Law shiurim in the most recent post.

Spirit of the Law on Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 1:1-2

Here are a few shiurim that were recorded within the last short time. With Hashem's help there will be at least one per week.
Enjoy!


Thursday, November 7, 2013

Here are some shiurim on Spirit of the Law, explaining Ben Ish Chai, on Parshas Toldos. Year 1 is about morning washing of the hands. Year 2 is about Shabbos day prayers. These shiurim are in WAV form and are pretty big files. If I have time I will try to compress them to MP3 and repost.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Parshas Chayei Sora

In honor of Parshas Chayei Sora, there are a few new audio shiurim of the Ben Ish Chai's teachings: The parsha in its relationship to the laws of tefillin The parsha in its relationship to Minchah-time of Shabbos.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Broken Shards of Bein Hameitzarim

On Makkos 21 Rav Yanai makes a seemingly strange statement to Rav Yochanan: “If I had not lifted the pottery, would you have found the pearl beneath it?” Tosafos wonders why Rav Yanai specifically chose to use pottery as a metaphor for a place where a gem is concealed. Why would one find gems beneath shards of pottery? Rabbeinu Tam explains that on the ocean floor there are rocks which appear to be large shards of pottery under which are found precious pearls. We find a similar expression in Bava Kama 91: “You swam in such deep waters and all you brought up was mere pottery?” That which is precious is understood to be secreted within something of little value—mere refuse. The Baal Shem Tov, zy”a, used this concept to explain why it is said that great spiritual light can be found during the three weeks of Bein Hameitzarim. He said, “If a person has precious stones, he must be extra careful that they are not stolen from him. But how can he be sure to safeguard them? A wise person will put his greatest treasures where he keeps old and broken-down junk. This is the safest place, since no thief would ever think to look in such lowly places for treasure. Similarly, during the three weeks, when people feel the pain of our lowly status in exile, their hearts are broken and it is much easier to truly connect with Hashem. The treasure is hiding there within the lowly refuse.”

Friday, September 21, 2012

Avodas Yom HaKippurim: Fighting Today's Idolatry

Rav Wolbe, zt”l, once discussed the most dangerous idolatry of our generation. “Of all the heresy and idolatry that has reared its head in each generation those facing our generation are the lowest. The main idolatry of our generation is the denial of free will. “Among the nations this mistake is often used to free killers from paying for their crimes. Such people are viewed as sick and if there was any kind of specious psychological pretext for the crime, they are acquitted. Yet this same sickness has also penetrated into our enclaves. Who among us believe that he is not forced to sin due to circumstance? Who thinks that it is possible to live from one Yom Kippur to the next without sinning? It is even hard to find someone who believes that he can go one full day without sin. “We must work hard on Yom Kippur to internalize the belief that it is truly possible to choose live a sin-free life. We must know that the foundation of man is that he has a choice. This is the purpose of creation and, especially in our times we must strengthen our emunah in this iron-clad fact. We must believe that we are capable of overcoming our inclination to do evil, and that we are responsible if we fail to exert every possible effort toward this goal. “There are two levels of free will. Internalizing that every action is a choice which forms our portion in the next world, either spiritual life or spiritual death, chas v’shalom, is the first. The higher level of bechirah is choosing what brings to dveikus as an outgrowth of our love of Hashem and running away from what distances one from Him.”

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Spirit of the Law: Seventeenth of Tamuz

Kitzur Shulchan Aruch: 121:1 "From the 17th of Tamuz the tzaros of the churban started so the custom is to comport oneself a little like a mourner. It is fitting for anyone who fears heaven to say tikun chatzos after midday during this time…" The Gemara writes:all who mourn the destruction of Yerushalayim will merit to see her nechama .The Maharal explains two reasons why one must first mournto see the nechamah. the first thing to understand is that the world is in a very imperfect state primarily because it lacks its most basic component: the Beis Hamikdash.Mourning the Beis Hamikdash shows that we appreciate our loss and the reason for our loss. The more we appreciate how much we lack on because of our lack of a Beis Hamikdash the more we mourn and show our relationship with the true metsios of the world. For the world is really supposed to be a world of completion for a world with a Beis Hamikdash reveals the deep spiritual connection between the Creator and His creations . The second reason is because the rule is that only something lacking can come to a new level of completion. For example, a seed must decompose in order to grow into a tree. The contents of an egg must become putrid before a chick can be formed. We can learn this from a number of chazal’s as well: The yearning for Chachma makes one a suitable vessel to receive chachama. A woman’s yearning for children makes her a suitable vessel to have children. Even in the antecedents of the world we find that first there was tohu, vohu and choshech and only then could there be a creation. For this reason it is only one who feels that he is missing the Beis Hamikdash who will be able to access the spiritual levels of nechama, Hashem's comfort to us. Only one who truly knows his flaws has space to become more complete. One who feels complete cannot develop since “you can’t improve on perfection.” If he really doesn’t feel perfect why doesn't he yearn for completion? Failure to yearn shows that for one reason or another we relate to ourselves as if we were perfect . Intenllectual knowledge of our flaws is completely irrelvant just as one who "knows" that he needs to control his temper will continue to act the exact same way if his knowledge stays in his head and does not reach his heart. Our identity is revealed in our attitude. Refusal to emotionally acknowledge our imperfections by ignoring them and failing to yearn to improve them, condemns us to bear our faults.To explain this with a simple metaphor:if someone who takes a daily dose of live saving medicine knows he has run out he can try and get another prescription and purchase more. One who has no idea that he is almost out believes he has enough and will take no steps to rectify his situation until he notices that his supply is dwindling. Surely we would never fix something we don’t believe is broken. Often one doesn't yearn to improve his faults because he feels that his flaws and sins are so much a part of him that he will never change. This person also belives he is complete but in a different way. He feels that he is complete in the sense that he cannot possibly change so why yearn? If we really felt there was hope because Hashem can always improve us, we would yearn to access the levels of the holiness of the Beis Hamikdash continuously with our whole heart. In Brochos 32 we find that for although we no longer have the holy temple, regarding one who has true understanding the Beis Hamikdash is considered to have been rebuilt.If we yearn and plead with Hashem to improve our faults we will surely attain the level of completion Hashem wants for us. The first step of all spiritual ascent is an absolute belief that all failures can be turned around. All one needs to do is yearn to improve with his entire being whenever he can. One must also "tough it out" by patiently doing whatever good possible while waiting for Hashem's salvation. Rav Nosson of Breslov zt”l, wrote in a letter, “...Regarding the all important issue: your very bitter cry of pain (of your present spiritual state) as a result of your of sins and the thoughts that the Yetzer Hara attacks you with,the main tactic of the yester Hara, (since all illicit actions are the fruit of negative or unproductive thoughts which determine our attitudes and spiritual\ emotional state as well as how we will react.Bad thoughts are the prelude to all spiritual falls.) I have heard your cries and know your pain from before and now (so much that) my heart goes out to you since I feel every bit of your pain as if it was my own…but the very fact that you are crying out with such bitterness, literally until the heavens because of this, comforts and encourages me! My son; you must know and believe that Hashem hears every single cry and will surely deliver you in the merit of following the advice of the true tsadikim. That the deliverance is taking so long is on account of a hidden reason. But it is certain that failing to strengthen ourselves to overcome such bad thoughts is partially why your deliverance tarries.) Another reason this [often] takes so long is because Hashem loves to hear the tefilos of Yisrael, even the prayers of the lowest of the low! But even so; not even a single cry is lost so regardless of results, you must continue to cry out with all your might! … Know my son:there were people much worse off than you that I knew who were healed. Through the words I received from the Rebbi, they were completely rectified and their lot is the portion of those who merit eternal life… ! In another letter Rav Nosson signs off by saying, “May Hashem help us to weep and mourn the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash which principally means that we should mourn because of our sins that prevent the rebuilding of the Beis Hamikdash until we merit to change our agony and sighing into the happiness and joy of trust in Hashem’s kindness and great deliverance until everything turns into good! The words of your father, who is waiting for deliverance and praying for you, Nosson of Breslov . This sentiment was echoed by Rav Wolbe, zt”l, when he said, “I will give you a big sum of money if you can find even one bochur who believes that it is possible to come to the level whereby one can go an entire year without sins. I am not talking about trying to accept upon ourselves to go a year without sin. Quite the contrary! Kabalos have to be exclusively small. But we must at least believe that this is possible (after much introspection and toil.) I am not even talking about coming to gadlus which is a much greater level. I am talking about entering into our heads and hearts the genuine belief that it is possible to rid ourselves of all sin! This emunah is a prerequisite of true [teshuvah which consists of] charata of the past and acceptance for the future !”

Friday, July 6, 2012

The Beast of Burden

Around one hundred years ago, many great luminaries of the old yishuv attended a pidyon haben. At the meal was Rav Kook, zt”l, who served as the kohain, and Rav Yosef Chaim Sonenfeld, zt”l. Although they often didn’t see eye to eye, many are unaware how considerate and respectful each was of the other personally. The father invited Rav Kook to say a few words in honor of the affair. Rav Kook began to address the assembled guests. “Our sages give an answer to a puzzling question. Why was the donkey chosen to fulfill the mitzvah of pidyon peter chamor? After all, a donkey is a completely unclean animal! The gemara explains that the donkey was chosen because it bore the weight of the treasure that the Jewish people took out of Egypt. Rav Kook exclaimed, “Look at that! Even though a donkey is unclean and serves as a symbol for stubbornness, obtuseness and the like, it nevertheless receives a reward for carrying property to Eretz Yisrael. We see from here that even one who is defiled and has bad middos can gain a modicum of holiness if he participates in the process of bringing the Jewish people from the exile to Eretz Yisrael.” After Rav Kook completed his speech, Rav Sonenfeld immediately got up, unwilling to let the statement pass. “I had not intended to speak, but the Rav of Yaffo began his drashah without drawing the natural conclusion. It behooves me, in honor of his Torah, to complete the drashah. Rav Sonenfeld continued, “Firstly, it is clear that he is correct. The donkey merited holiness because it served as a beast of burden for Jews, despite it negative aspects. Nevertheless, the mitzvah of peter chamor proves that it is impossible for the holiness to remain with an unclean beast. There are two possibilities: either the holiness is transferred to a sheep, a clean animal, via the mechanism of pidyon. And if not, the only other alternative is that the donkey is killed!”

Thursday, July 5, 2012

So As Not to Swear

Once the Chavas Das, zt”l, was travelling incognito with a group of merchants. There was no way to tell that the man dressed as a poor wayfarer was one of the famous rabbinic personages of his time. As the coach neared the outskirts of a city one of the merchants discovered that he had been robbed. Everyone began talking at once, except the Chavas Das. One of the merchants accused him of the crime. “I bet the silent pauper stole it; he has sharp eyes like a fraud and is the only one who is silent.” Although the Chavas Das denied taking anything, the merchants brought him to the local Rabbi. Since he resembled a poor man, the Rabbi figured it likely that he took the money. “The halacha is that you must either produce the money or swear you didn't take it!” The Chavas Das considered his predicament. “I will pay half the money to avoid swearing,” he declared. The merchant figured that he must be the thief; otherwise why not swear? “Either pay the entire sum or swear!” The Chavas Das thought another moment and offered three quarters of the sum. When that was rejected, he offered to pay almost the entire amount, which the merchant also dismissed. “I can't pay more so I will have to swear,” the Chavas Das said. “But first I need time to prepare myself.” He went into the corner and began to cry, obviously doing intense teshuvah. After a few minutes of this, one of the merchants fainted. When he woke up he admitted that he had taken the money and rushed to return it. When the merchants left, the Rav demanded that the Chavas Das reveal who he was, which he eventually did, brushing aside the Rav's natural apologies. “Why apologize? You ruled according to halacha.” “Why did you first offer half, then more and finally almost the entire amount, before you agreed to swear?” the rabbi asked. “First I offered all my money; then my material goods. My final offer included all of my property. Since I can't raise more and do not have the strength to take on debts I agreed to swear.”

Friday, June 29, 2012

Daily Bread

Rav Yisrael Salanter, zt”l, provides an incisive explanation of a statement of our sages. “On Menachos 103 we find that the curse in the verse 'ואל תאמין בחייך'—‘And you will not believe in your life’—refers to one who must purchase bread daily from a baker. “On the surface this seems very difficult to understand. Surely during our sojourn in the desert when the manna came down each day we were not in this category. Yet wouldn’t a person who had children wonder about his livelihood for the next day, since he was relying on another miracle for his family’s food? How can we understand this? Is it plausible to say that Hashem told us about a punishment which what will happen in terrible times if it was a curse we suffered daily for forty years? “The answer is that it all depends on one’s attitude. As our sages say, one who has sustenance for today yet worries about tomorrow is a person of little faith. For such a person, lacking food for the future is surely a terrible curse since he spends his time worrying. But for one who has faith, this is not a curse at all. Since he trusts in Hashem he does not worry. Instead of being a curse, this situation will be a blessing since it forces him to turn his heart to Hashem. “This is the meaning of this curse. The curses will only come upon us if we do not obey Hashem. For such people, even being required to rely on the baker for food is a terrible curse since they worry each day whether there will be food for the next. But for the generation of the desert this was no curse. They were on a high spiritual level and rose to the challenge, honing their bitachon through this difficulty and until they had no worry at all. Instead they continued to live the verse, 'ויאמינו בה' ובמשה עבדו'—‘And they believed in Hashem and in Moshe His servant.’”

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Source of the Tzaddik's Blessings

Many were those who came to the Ohev Yisrael of Apt, zt”l, for advice and to ask him to daven for them. Interestingly, he would often take breaks while people were waiting for him. During these times he would take out a gemara and learn with great diligence. After some time immersed in the subject he would agree to begin to see people again. Then he would take another break. And then another. He once explained the reason behind this apparently strange custom. "No one should think that I do not understand the importance of avoiding keeping Hashem’s people waiting. Yet I also know that they have come to me for help. I know that the main way to open up channels of bounty is through the Torah. For this reason I take breaks to learn with intensity. In this manner I am most likely to succeed in helping those who come to me in whatever way needed.”

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

It is surely significant that Rav Chaim of Volozhin, zt”l, didn’t sign on the famous cherem of the Vilna Gaon against the chassidim. Some posit that this was for technical reasons. But Rav Shalom Schwadron, zt”l, explains the real reason. “Rav Chaim of Volozhin refrained from signing due to his gratitude to a certain great rebbe. He held that just as Moshe rabbeinu did not hit the Nile due to having received a favor from it, the same held true regarding himself and the chassidim. “Once when he was just a young man he went wandering in exile, much like his rebbe the Vilna Gaon. When he arrived in Alik, a chassidic town, he went to the beis midrash and began learning—without even asking for food. The people saw that he was learning with diligence and sent him food, as was normal in those days. Shortly after he arrived in the city, he became violently ill. Rav Hirsch of Alik, zt”l, the rebbe of the city, ordered his chassidim to send for a doctor and deal with all of Rav Chaim’s needs. They paid the high doctor’s fees and procuring everything necessary for Rav Chaim’s convalescence in the town’s hospital. Even when Rav Chaim felt somewhat better, Rav Hirsch insisted that he remain in the hospital until he was entirely recovered. Because of their efforts, Rav Chaim felt that signing the cherem would be forbidden since it is a marked lack of hakaras hatov.’

Monday, June 25, 2012

The Atoning Table

Many are confused as to why chassidic rebbes conduct tischen. After all, isn’t this bitul Torah for those who could learn? They would likely be surprised to hear that the Avnei Nezer, zt”l—a great lamdan—would praise the greatness of chassidic tischen. “What the tables of the rebbes achieved we shall only comprehend when our righteous Moshiach arrives.” Rav Elchonon Halperin, shlit”a, explains this practice with a statement brought of our sages. “In Menahcos 97 we find that one’s table atones for him. Rashi explains that one’s table atones in the merit of feeding poor people at the table. Yet imagine the embarrassment of destitute people who have no choice but to take their meals as charity as another’s table. Surely only a very rare person can give the poor food in a manner which will not be a huge embarrassment. Most people eating at the table of another out of necessity feel nothing less than bitter darkness. “But at the table of tzaddikim, everyone eats for free. Both the poor and the wealthy join together and one who is hungry can obtain as much food as he wants in an honorable manner. No one feels above his friend, since everyone is there for the same reason and is treated the same way. All those who attend a tisch feel a sense of togetherness that emerges out of holy love and companionship. With such a pleasant atmosphere is it any wonder that we cannot imagine the great atonement of a chassidic tisch?”

Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Source of the Question

While it may be common for a person who has a sharp intellect to feel distinguished when he comes up with insightful questions on what he learns, it is a wrong-headed behavior. The Meor Einayim, zt”l, mentions this tendency and explains that it shows a marked lack of perspective. He asked, “How could a person studying the Toras Hashem not understand his learning? If he has a strong question, this is merely a reflection of his own flaws. I therefore don’t understand the mindset of lamdanim who are proud of their questions—the more difficult the question the more pride. Shouldn’t one feel ashamed if due to his sins he doesn’t understand? Being prideful instead of introspectively thoughtful about this is nothing less than an error. Who knows if he has a strong question due to a serious spiritual failing?” The Rav of Dzikov, zt”l, explains why this is not difficult from a statement on today’s daf. “In Menachos 95 we find that a man asked a question as hard as iron. Who was it? Rav Sheshes. Apparently, asking a difficult question is a reason to take pride. But according to the Meor Einayim having a question is a disgrace since it highlights the questioner’s sins! He concluded, “In order to understand why this is not contradiction, we must consider who Rav Sheshes was. The gemara tells us that he was blind. Of course a blind man is not obligated in mitzvos. The Pri Megadim adds that this includes even negative mitzvos. This is why specifically Rav Sheshes can take pride in his question. Since he is not obligated in Torah his question cannot be a result of his sins!”

Friday, June 22, 2012

The Power of Community

The Avnei Nezer explains the atonement of the mitzvah of shekalim, “The atonement of shekalim is not for sins per se. Shekalim atones for a person’s tendency to separate himself from his fellow Jews. Through giving shekalim he unifies himself with the community of the Jewish people.” Rav Nosson of Breslov, zt”l, explains why shekalim serve to unify every Jew with the community. “We give specifically half-shekels to teach an important lesson: that without the community we are nothing. Since every individual has a mission to fulfill which no one else can achieve, it is easy to feel uniquely different. We must never feel separated form our friends since, at the root, all Jews are one. “To teach that we all need each other, each person gives half a shekel—which is only completed through another Jew’s half shekel. This shows that we are only complete when we are unified with our friend. This brings to great feelings of brotherhood and nullifies our natural tendency towards feeling uniquely alone.”

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Reciting Shema without Tefilin

A certain person was up late, learning Torah. By the time he got to sleep, there wasn’t much time until he had to recite Shema. His usual practice was to wake up shortly before the time of Shema, dress quickly and say Shema on time. But there wasn’t enough time for him to put on tefillin before reciting Shema. When he reached the sugyah in Berachos which states that one who says Shema without tefillin is compared to one who gives false testimony, he was very devastated and wondered if he was required to change his habit. At the same time, he wondered if this statement was relevant to him. He said to himself, “After all, I do put on tefillin while I daven. So perhaps it is not likened to giving false testimony. On the other hand, I don’t have tefillin on when I recite Hashem’s command to bind them on your arm and head, so maybe that is the problem?” When this question reached the Chozeh of Lublin, zt”l, he permitted the man to continue his practice. “This is clear from the very gemara you quote. We find that that saying Shema without tefillin is like bringing a sacrifice without the wine libation. But the halachah regarding a libation is that it is still valid if it is brought within ten days after bringing the sacrifice. We see that as long as one brought the libation within its halachic time framework, the sacrifice is not considered to be without a libation. The same is true regarding Shema. Even if one said Shema without tefillin, if he put on tefillin that day as the halachah requires he is not likened to one who gives false testimony.” The Eretz Tzvi, zt”l, proves this from the halachah in Rosh Hashanah. “From the Maharsha in Avodah Zarah 4 it is clear that one need not wear tefillin when saying Shema as long as he puts it on afterwards. He explains how we say יום תרועה during shachris before blowing shofar. Since we will blow later, this is not considered false testimony. The same is true regarding tefillin.”

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Making a Fresh Start

It is surely significant that although only a kohein can prepare the lights, even a non-kohein is permitted to light them. The Imrei Avraham learns an important lesson from this halachah. “The lights in the menorah symbolize one’s neshamah. As the verse states, 'נר ה' נשמת אדם'—‘The soul of man is the candle of G-d.’ The main time to prepare the lights was when they went out. The kohein would remove the remaining oil and wick in each lamp and replace them. This signifies making a fresh start when things fall apart. The first thing is to remove the wreckage caused by one’s fall by strengthening his resolve to ‘turn from evil and do good.’ This is the same way in which the sacrifices would atone by removing the filth of sin to enable a fresh start. This is clear from Rashi on the verse, 'אכפרה פניו במנחה'—‘I will attain an atonement before Him with a minchah offering.’ He continued, “Although making a fresh start after sins are atoned for is of paramount importance, it is also much easier than cleaning up the mess. Only a kohein can remove the filth. Although it is a mitzvah for a kohein to prepare the lights, and only a kohein may prepare them, rekindling them and starting over can be done by anyone.” But this need not only apply to those who sinned and fell. Even a complete tzaddik has to continuously make a new start so as not to rest on his laurels, no matter how great they are. As Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, zt”l, said, “It is forbidden to be old! Even an old chassid or an old tzaddik is not good. We must continuously begin fresh in avodas Hashem!”

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

No Wasted Letter

Our sages actually teach a lesson sourced in the dot over the vav of the word עשרון; one of nine places where we find a vowel in the Torah itself. It is surely significant that the Torah is written without vowels. When someone asked the Radvaz, zt”l, why the Torah lacks vowels he gave an interesting response. He said, “To understand this we must realize why the angels asked Hashem not to give Torah to mankind, since they wanted Hashem to give it to them. Moshe refuted them with an apparently simple reply, ‘What does it say in the Torah? Do not kill; do not commit adultery. Can angels murder? Is it possible for an angel to commit adultery? Why do you need the Torah, then?’ He continued, “Not surprisingly, the angels conceded this point. What is strange is what they had in mind in the first place. It seems clear that the angels had a very different way to read the Torah. When read in this manner it had much to teach them, and they wanted it so that they could it receive it in the manner suited to them, on their level. Our sages tell us that the entire Torah is formed of Divine Names. The angels wished to read it spiritually at one time without interruption. In this manner, the Torah makes up one long shem Hashem. “Moshe explained to them that this is not the purpose of the Torah. The point of the Torah is for us to fulfill its material reading, by keeping mitzvos: eating kosher, avoiding non-kosher, and the like. Since there are many ways to read the Torah it is obvious why it is written without vowels or notes—to leave it open to an infinity of possible readings. The Radvaz concluded, “This also explains why the oral Torah was not recorded within the body of the Torah itself. It also explains why some stories or statements appear unnecessary while other essentials are virtually left out. This apparent discrepancy is because the Torah has many levels. Believe me, there is not one superfluous letter in the entire Torah. Place this principle before you always and you will always succeed.”

Monday, June 18, 2012

The Ways of the Wealthy

Many have commented on wealthy people who cannot seem to part with a dime for any worthy cause. In the words of Rav Yankel Galinsky, shlit”a, “It often seems easier for a miser to cut off a limb then to give a penny to even the worthiest charity!” The Imrei Chaim of Vizhnitz, zt”l, also spoke about this tendency. “I really have no gripe with a wealthy man who is frugal. After all, he is merely acting in keeping with the words of our sages that wealthy people are frugal. I do, however, have a word against more moderately wealthy people whose miserliness is all out of proportion to their assets. This is the way of misers and it is simply wrong. The more wealth such a person amasses, the more he wants, and the stingier he gets. “For example, if a person earns one hundred thousand coins or the like, he begins to want ten times what he owns. The trouble with this is that he becomes an even greater miser. If he used to give a certain percent of his earnings to tzedakah, he starts to give half, since in his mind he is already a millionaire and that percentage of his ‘wealth to come’ is a very great sum. The sum of tzedakah looms so large in his imagination, that he pares back what he gives of his actual earnings! I have a strong opposition to this behavior since the stinginess is not in keeping with his assets.” Rav Yisrael of Vizhnitz, zt"l, would also comment on this phenomenon. “When a shiduch is completed or during other simchos it is customary to say, 'סימן טוב ומזל טוב'. When it comes to raising money for a cause, we come across an interesting paradox. Wealthy people who are actually able to support the cause do not wish to give—as we find in Menachos, they tend to be stingy. Poor people who have no assets want to help but can’t. “Our sages say that there are three סימנים—signs—that are common to Jews: they are bashful, merciful and kind. Since the poor want to help, they have a סימן טוב. Our sages also teach that wealth depends on mazel. The wealthy clearly have מזל טוב. For this reason, we bless at every simchah סימן טוב ומזל טוב, to impart both mercifulness and wealth to us and all of the Jewish people!”

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Going to Market

The Ran explains that kabbalas haTorah was the greatest possible experience for mankind. In order to expunge all doubt of its veracity Hashem first delivered us from Egypt, the heart of sorcery, with great miracles. If there had been any trickery, surely the sorcerers there would have figured it out. It is specifically in such a place that Hashem demonstrated that He can completely overide nature when He desires. After the sorcerers admitted this, it was clear that Hashem is G-d without a shadow of a doubt. Rav Moshe Ludmir, shlit”a, brings this Ran and applies it to a statement of our sages regarding Moshe's reaction to the Egyptian Sorcerers. “This is the meaning of the exchange between the Egyptian sorcerers and Moshe. The sorcerers mocked Moshe for bringing what they thought was mere magic into Egypt, the capital of such things. Moshe responded that people say that if one has vegetables to sell he should bring his produce to a vegetable market. Moshe is saying that precisely because the Egyptian's are expert sorcerers, it will become clear as day that what Hashem empowered him to do would far exceed that which they could do. It is specifically in this manner that they will recognize Hashem and admit that He is above all powers.” Interestingly, the Chazon Ish taught a practical lesson from this statement. It was when yeshivos were still struggling that Rav Hillel Vitkind, zt”l, asked the Chazon Ish, zt”l, what should be done to keep his yeshiva in Tel Aviv going. The Chazon Ish surprised him by suggesting that he move the yeshiva to Bnei Brak. “But Bnei Brak is filled with yeshivos!” responded Rav Hillel. The Chazon Ish answered, “On the contrary, that is exactly why you should move your yeshiva to Bnei Brak. Don’t our sages say that one should bring vegetables to a vegetable market?”

Friday, June 15, 2012

The Brazen Chazzan

Not many are aware that the Bach, zt”l, had a big detractor who always worked to undermine him. This person was none other than the chazzan of the community. The two had wrangled before since the chazzan was quite vocal about his belief that studying gemara was unnecessary for arriving at the correct pask. In his opinion, learning Tur, Shulchan Aruch and their commentaries was sufficient for this. The Bach disagreed strongly. When the Bach came out with his heter to eat the new grain of chutz l’aretz, this chazzan felt certain that he had erred. Although the Bach points out that gedolei olam had permitted chodosh and even beer made from chodosh, this chazzan began to denigrate the Bach. He would go from group to group, wondering aloud how long they would continue to have, “an ignoramus for a rav.” One Shabbos, the chazzan noticed an error in the sefer Torah from which they were reading and ordered them to take out a new sefer. The Bach disagreed, explaining that it was a minor error and they could continue to read from this sefer. The chazzan cursed the Bach out in public, accusing him of being ignorant of the halachah. It was only when the Bach announced that the man deserved to be put into a form of cherem that cannot easily be revoked that the chazzan finally slunk out. The chazzan ran to the Rav of Lublin and succeeded in convincing him to give a psak not to call the Bach up to the Torah. The Bach wrote this rav a sharp letter explaining that the chazzan was an ignorant sinner who only knew how to read from the Torah. He demanded the Rav of Lublin to repeal his psak, which he eventually did. When Rav Nosson Gestetner, zt”l, told over this story he commented, “We must learn a lesson from this. Despite the Bach’s greatness he was confronted with terrible difficulties. Despite such hardships, he strengthened himself. Even with these obstacles, he taught Torah and wrote works that give us vitality to this day!”

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Simple Folk

Perhaps one of the most important contributions of the Baal Shem Tov was to build up the downtrodden masses. The simple folk who couldn’t learn much are also an integral part of the chosen people. They too have a spiritual mission here on earth. During one of the many times that Rav Meir Arak, zt”l, met with the Imrei Emes, zt”l, of Gur, he asked the rebbe a question that was troubling him. “I do not understand why our sages draw a distinction between the wine libations and other sacrifices. Regarding other sacrifices we find in Menachos 110 that anyone who learns the laws of the sin or guilt offering is considered to have brought that sacrifice. Clearly the same is true regarding other sacrifices. And presumably, this is also the case regarding one who learns the laws of the libations. “Strangely, when the sages mention a person who wishes to bring nesachim they do not recommend studying the halachos. Instead, they say that one who wishes to pour libations on the altar should fill the throats of Torah scholars with wine. Why is this second point necessary?” The Imrei Emes replied with characteristic clarity. “Telling people that learning the laws of sacrifices is likened to bringing a sacrifice is only helpful to those who can learn. What about the simple folk who are unable to delve into the complexities of kodshim? It was for them that our sages said that one who supports Torah scholars by providing them with wine is considered to have poured libations on the altar. Doesn’t a simple person also need a way to draw near to Hashem while there is no beis hamikdash?”

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Bitachon and Hishtadlus

Our sages teach that if the bread of the todah is not consecrated, it is invalid. The Meorah Shel Torah applies this statement to avodas Hashem. “If a person feels that that he needs to bring a korban todah for all the miracles he has experienced but not for his everyday bread which in truth he receives as a gift from Hashem, he has not sanctified his bread. The efforts he makes to secure his livelihood have not been consecrated by pure emunah.” Rav Yankeleh Galinsky, shlit”a, illustrated this through a lesson that a certain woman once taught the bochurim in his yeshiva. “It used to be that the average yeshiva boy was required to eat at the homes of various local families otherwise he would have nothing to eat at all. In Novaradok, the bochurim would pay a few pennies and the families would feed them. There was a certain woman who would receive the bochrim kindly and provide a hearty meal for whoever wanted. She also provided a marked lesson in how to view the relationship between parnasah and hishtadlus. “Whenever a bochur would come to her home she would say, ‘You should know that you are eating for free.’ “When they would pay she would say, ‘You are giving me this money for nothing.’ The Beis Halevi, zt”l, explained the need for hishtadlus very well. ‘After the sin of Adam, the evil inclination was put in mankind. From then on a person who was not incessantly occupied with something would be drawn to all sorts of things which are negative for his soul. As our sages say, 'בטלה מביאה לידי זימה'—‘Idleness leads to impropriety.’ To ensure that most people avoided such pitfalls, people must work As the Mishnah states, 'יפה תלמוד תורה עם דרך ארץ שיגיעת שניהם משכחת עון'—‘Torah study and working for a living are good together, for laboring at them both makes a person forget to sin.’ But we should realize that it is not our efforts that support us; it is Hashem who supports. He should work as one who fuflills Hashem’s decree that one who does not work will not have parnassah. Yet one should still look to Hashem, since it is He who provides one’s livelihood.”

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Thanksgiving Offering

Perhaps the most difficult middah to acquire is bitachon, real trust in Hashem that is expressed in action. The Mishnah Berurah writes that we recite the Torah portion detailing the arrival of the manna every day, “so that one should believe that all of his sustenance comes from Hashem’s providence. As the verse writes regarding the manna, ‘And the one who added did not gain, and the one who depleted did not lack.’” Yet the Zohar uses the manna as a paradigm of an even higher level of bitachon—the person who is so aware that everything he has is from Hashem that he doesn’t keep food in his possession from one day to the next. It is well known that the Baal Shem Tov, zy”a, never kept any extra money in his possession overnight. He would give it all away to the poor on the day that it came to his hands, relying on Hashem that he would have enough for the next day. Although this is a very great level, the Meorah Shel Torah writes that there was a time when a similar level was demanded of one who brings a sacrifice. He wrote, “We may wonder why the breads of the korban todah may not be left over to be eaten the next day. One who brings a thanksgiving offering must be emotionally moved to closeness to Hashem since the todah is an admission of His amazing providence. One who truly appreciates that Hashem has made a miracle for him must redouble his bitachon. It is not appropriate to leave over from this sacrifice because this shows a lack of faith that Hashem will provide for him the next day. This is forbidden; holding over the todah breads is a demonstration of a lack of bitachon that contradicts the very meaning of the offering and blemishes it.”

Monday, June 11, 2012

The Altar at the Bris

The Toras Chaim, zt”l, provides a beautiful explanation of milah and the wine that is drunk immediately after the bris is preformed. “Our sages teach that circumcising a child is likened to bringing a korban olah on the altar. This explains the custom to circumcise a baby on the northern side of the synagogue, since the olah was slaughtered in the north. It follows that the knees of the sandak are likened to the altar. For this reason, the sandak should be the one to drink the wine since this is likened to pouring wine down the two holes in the southwest corner of the altar’s base. “Although the prevalent custom today is that the one making the blessings drinks the wine, this is an error. Instead, the sandak should hold the baby on his lap during the recital of the blessings and drink the wine himself.” It is important to consider carefully before choosing the sandak for one’s child. A baby’s sandak has an effect on the boy for the rest of his life. Once, the Chazon Ish, zt”l, was asked to be sandak at a bris. When the grandfather—who had traveled from outside of Eretz Yisrael and was himself a prominent person—heard about this he was none too pleased. The newborn’s father was himself unsure what to do, and so he went to the Chazon Ish and asked if he was willing to forgo the honor. The Chazon Ish gave a startling reply. He said simply, “For myself, of course I am willing to forgo the honor. But for the baby’s good, it would be better if I was the sandak. I am mevater, but the baby is not mevater!”

Sunday, June 10, 2012

The Children of Avraham

Boruch Hashem, a new book has just been released by my friend A Simple Jew, which I had the privilege of reading before publication. פנים חדשות באו לכאן--His book is a completely novel exploration of the inner dynamics of the conversion process, one that will help prospective and accomplished geirim on their way, and also help the Jewish community better understand these precious souls in its ranks. Here is the link about the book, with segments of approbations, from A Simple Jew's blog, along with purchasing options. May Hashem help his work to spread far and wide, and breath life into the souls of geirim and born Jews everywhere.

G-d's Chosen People

The Ohr Chadash explains why non-Jews cannot offer a korban shelamim. “Most non-Jews have very different ideas about life than Jews. They do not work so that every detail of their lives will be in consonance with the spiritual reality of Torah and mitzvos. Unlike the inner workings of Jewish hearts, they do not yearn that their every step will be made according to the spirit of Hashem’s will. Although they believe in two worlds, they separate the two as much as possible. They spend a modicum of time thing about the spiritual world in their houses of worship but, by and large, do not imbue their everyday lives with spiritual content. On the contrary, they lead lives rooted in the natural world with hardly a thought of the spiritual. Their lives are often filled with deceit, vice and illicit desires, with no connection to emunah. “This is why a non-Jew can only bring a korban olah, not a shelamim. He is willing to take off some time and sacrifice a burnt offering which is entirely consumed, but he cannot understand bringing sanctity into daily life, which is the purpose of shelamim. He added, “But a Jew can bring a korban shelamim. A Jew is always working to sanctify the mundane since every step he takes is guided by Torah. He is always surrounded by mizvos that conform to human reason, in addition to mitzvos that we cannot understand. A Jew never has an instant which is not guided by Torah. Every breath he takes is filled with G-dliness. He is filled with joy since his whole life is one story of revealing the honor of heaven in whatever way he can. If one uplifts the material by always thinking about Hashem and the Torah, whatever he does has the status of a korban hatamid, beloved to Hashem.”

Friday, June 8, 2012

In Its Time

The sefer Vayedaber Moshe explains how we can still bring korabanos even today. “The Midrash explains that the verse regarding the korban tamid: 'תשמרו להקריב לי במועדו'—‘Take care to sacrifice to Me in its time’—is linked to the verse in Mishlei, 'צדיק אוכל לשובע נפשו'—‘A tzaddik eats to satisfy his soul.’ On a simple level this seems difficult. What possible connection is there between the korban tamid and how a tzaddik eats? “The key to understanding this puzzle is a statement of our sages which explains the word במועדו—‘in its time.’ The tamid must be offered on time, even on Shabbos and even when the Jewish people are ritually impure. We see that the word 'במועדו' connotes that the korban tamid must be brought twice daily, at all times and for all time, without exception. One may well wonder how the tamid has been brought twice daily since the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash so many years ago? The answer is that when we eat with sanctity this is likened to a sacrifice. One who eats for the honor of Hashem so that his body is healthy and the energy afforded from what he consumes is used to serve Hashem and learn Torah is in this category. His morning meal is like the morning tamid to Hashem and his dinner is the tamid shel bein ha’arbayim. This is the meaning of the verse in Yechezel: 'זה השלחן אשר לפני ה''—‘This is the table which is before Hashem.’ When one eats with sanctity his table is like the altar since his food is like a sacrifice to Hashem. “This is the connection between this verse regarding the korban tamid and the verse that a tzaddik eats to satisfy his soul. A tzaddik does not eat to satiate his body. He eats for his nefesh. This is the meaning of the surprising statement Hillel would make when going to eat, ‘I am going to bestow chessed upon the hostel that houses my soul.’”

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Binding the Shema

The Shem MiShmuel, zt”l, offers a deep analysis of an interesting halachic practice.“Our sages teach that the people of Yericho would not pause while reciting Shema. In Pesachim, Rabbi Meir and Rabbi Yehudah explain that they did not pause between Shema and Vi’ahavta. Although the sages didn’t agree with this practice, they did not protest. Many questions present themselves. Why did the people of Yericho deviate from the opinion of the sages? And why didn’t the sages protest? “To explain, we must first understand that every human being is a microcosm, as we find in the midrash. Our heads parallel the upper world while our bodies mirror the lower world. One’s intellect alludes to the sun, while his heart is like the moon which receives its light from the sun. Like the sun, one’s intellect should be used to illuminate proper conduct. His heart should only desire that which his intellect knows is fitting. “It is impossible to be a whole person without these two faculties working in concert. If the intellect knows what is good but the heart is drawn in the opposite direction, it would be better for him not to have intellect at all. In Mishlei we find that such a person is compared to a pig with a golden nose ring—a valuable adornment graces an unworthy object. The same is true when the heart follows the directives of the mind when that mind is crooked. This is why in ancient times people clung to idolatry. Their hearts followed their intellects, but their minds confused light for darkness and darkness for light. This is worse than those whose intellect is straight but their hearts do not follow its directives. The Shem MiShmuel then explained the connection with the practice of the people of Yericho. “The first verse of Shema straightens the intellect, since the very word Shema means to listen carefully and understand. Vi’ahavta clearly refers to the heart, as the verse continues, ‘…upon your heart.’ The people of Yericho didn’t pause at the juncture in order to deepen their awareness that the heart must follow after the well-guided mind. The sages, on the other hand, would pause to remind themselves that without toil it is easy to disconnect the heart from the intellect. He concluded, “Although the way of Chazal was more correct, the sages did not protest against the practice of the people of Yericho because, in essence, their meaning was the same.”

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Working the Dough

The Hagadah Shel Pesach Ishei Yisrael explains a famous halacha in an inspiring manner. “Our sages teach that matzah must be made from one of the five grains, since only the five grains can become chometz. Matzah may not be made from other species since, although something happens when they are left, it is not the same chemical process as leavening. Instead of becoming chometz, other species ferment or spoil. Rav Yisrael of Modzhitz, zt”l, explained the practical lesson from this as follows: rice and other substances that cannot become chometz represent the person who is in the grips of depression. Even if in his lethargy he doesn’t sin outright and does do good when he moves at all, his mitzvos are spoiled. These acts are done out of depression and lack vitality. Like a spoiled thing, the depressed person sits on his couch and goes through life in spiritual slumber. He feels certain that he has done all that is incumbent upon him in avodas Hashem. He added, “But a person with a joyous heart is the exact opposite. He is filled with inner happiness and strength. Although such a person is more susceptible to sinning because the yetzer hara wants especially to bring such a person down, if he stays joyous he is freed. As the verse states, 'כי בשמחה תצאון'—‘For you shall go out [of exile] in joy…’ As long as he acts for holiness in whatever way he can, he will never come to the chometz of sins. This can be compared to dough that cannot become chometz as long as it is worked.”

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

A Corruption of Judgment

The author of the Sefer HaChinuch explains that reasoning behind the mitzvos which ensure we do not cheat should be obvious to any thinking person. “The root of not cheating another in business is self-evident; every person understands this from his intellect. Even if this halachah had not been recorded, everyone would understand that it is fitting to write it. It is obvious that it is improper to use deceit to deprive our fellow human beings of their property. Everyone must earn money by working with whatever skills and opportunities Hashem sends his way—honestly and with integrity. He continues, “Everyone benefits if people don’t cheat. Just as one can cheats, he can also be cheated. Although a certain person may be exceptionally adept at deception, it is still not worthwhile to engage in the practice. He may be a skilled swindler but perhaps his children will be less skilled and will be robbed. Clearly this mitzvah is for the public good and is essential for the maintenance of civilized society. Hashem, blessed is He, created the world so that it would be a settled and civilized place.” The Panim Yafos, zt”l, offers food for thought for the person who does cheat others. “The verse states, 'לא תעשו עול במשפט'—‘Do not do corruption in judgment.’ This prohibition is also directed at the person who falsifies his weights and measures. Every person who weighs or measures merchandise is like a judge, since he must fairly calibrate how much he dispenses to his customers. Failing to give the exact amount even by a slightly is also a corruption of judgment.”

Monday, June 4, 2012

The Need for Repetition

Someone once asked the Divrei Yechezkel of Shinova, zt”l, to explain the custom to say the invocation of “Askinu Seudasa” of Melaveh Malkah three times. “After all, we say a similar nusach at every other meal on Shabbos only once. Why specifically regarding melaveh malkah do we say this three times?” The Divrei Yechezekel’s reply was based on a halachic practice described our sages. “The sages enacted a very interesting ceremony for the cutting of the omer. When it grew dark, each reaper would ask if it was night and the crowd would answer, “Yes.” This was repeated three times. The reapers would ask “Is this a sickle?” Again the crowd would answer, “Yes.” This was also repeated three times. “Should I reap?” “Yes.” “The Mishnah explains why such elaboration was deemed necessary. The Baitusim only believed in the validity of the written Torah. Since the verse says to bring the omer, 'ממחרת השבת'—‘the day after Shabbos,’ they believed that we should wait until the Sunday after Pesach. To ingrain in the simple folk that our sages had a tradition that the omer must be cut the day after Pesach, each question and answer was repeated three times. “The same is true regarding melaveh malkah which is highly neglected by the masses. Chassidim say the Askinu Seudasa of Melaveh Malkah three times to ingrain in anyone nearby that the fourth meal of Shabbos is also obligatory. This emphasizes the importance of this mitzvah to a person and his family so that he will not learn from the ignorant who ignore this precious mitzvah.”