Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Waiting for Moshiach

It is well known that the Chofetz Chaim, zt”l, was very particular not to accumulate unnecessary belongings. He reasoned that since we are merely travelers in this world on a business trip to procure our place in the world to come we have no reason to hoard anything beyond our needs. As a matter of fact, for most of his life the Gadol Hador had a dirt floor, like the simplest of Polish Jews.
Somewhat uncharacteristically, the Chofetz Chaim did own one very respectable garment which was set aside and never used. When asked why he owned a frock coat that he never actually put on, he explained, “I have set this coat aside so that I will have a distinctive garment in which I will be able to greet Moshiach, bimheira b’yameinu!”
Someone once approached the Gadol and asked, “I heard that you have a coat set aside in which you plan to greet Moshiach. But doesn’t the Gemara say that Eliyahu Hanavi will come three days before Moshiach to herald his arrival? Keeping an extra coat seems superfluous since the Gemara indicates that you will have three days to procure one!”
The Chofetz Chaim patiently explained, “Our forefathers were supposed to be in Egypt for four hundred years. However, every child knows the Jewish people actually stayed there for only two hundred and ten years. Chazal explain that the calculation of four hundred years started from the birth of Yitzchak Avinu. So we see that what appears to be simple on the surface actually has an entirely different meaning!”
The Gadol continued, “So too with the arrival of Moshiach. Although the Gemara does indicate that it will be announced, Chazal also said that he will arrive suddenly, b’hesech hada’as. (Sanhedrin 97a) The fact is that anyone who prepared ahead for the sudden arrival of Moshiach will be able to greet him with due respect. Afterward, we will work out a solution to the problem of how he could have arrived so suddenly, without our having heard the announcement of Eliyahu Hanavi!”

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

“In the End They Were Created As One…”

An American avreich living in Yerushalayim once went to HaRav Yaakov Yisroel Fischer, zt”l, with what he perceived to be a big problem. “When my wife is expecting and nearing her due date, my mother comes to visit in anticipation of the birth but she stays with one of my siblings in a different area. Since she is very nervous about my wife’s condition, she calls the house often to check up on my wife. If, for some reason, my wife doesn’t pick up the phone, she calls me and insists that I make efforts to verify that she hasn’t gone to the hospital. My mother often tries to get me to call my neighbors to check on my wife and report back to us. As the Rav can imagine, all of this is very trying and makes a tense situation all the more difficult. I feel duty-bound to obey my mother, but every time I call my neighbor, my wife is understandably incensed. It is perfectly within her right to leave the house on occasion or lie down to rest—or ignore the phone, for that matter. My mother wants one thing and my wife another—what can I do?”
HaRav Fischer answered, “When your mother asks you to find out your neighbors number, explain to her that you can’t.”
The avreich protested, “But I can always call information to find someone who lives nearby!”
HaRav Fischer said firmly, “So forget the number. Or don’t find it, or discover that it’s busy. Or that they’re not at home. Kol tuv.” And he immediately dismissed the avreich by calling in the next questioner. “Arayn! Next!”
The young man was confused about why his wife’s needs should take precedence over his mother’s demands. He decided to ask his Rav.
The Rav explained, “The Gemara in Kesuvos 8a states that Hashem originally intended to create Adam and Chava separately but decided to create them as one being instead. The Rashbah explains that this was so that they would actually be one, that they would experience a closeness that surpasses the bond between a child and a parent. What Dayan Fischer was trying to tell you was that your mother has no right to cause discord between you and your wife, especially over such a trivial matter!”

Monday, December 29, 2008

Spirit of the Law: Chanukah #24

(Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 139:24) “...when Rosh Chodesh Teves falls out during the week…”
The Sfas Emes, zt”l, writes that Rosh Chodesh Teves receives the illumination of all the candles for the remainder of the month. Perhaps this is why we light thirty-six candles: to allude to the fact that the light of Chanukah rests on the days of Chanukah that precede Rosh Chodesh along with the entire month of Teves, which never total more than thirty-six days.
Rav Nosson of Breslov writes that the main avodah of the eighth day of Chanukah is to draw down and expand these spiritual illuminations into each day of the coming month and the year beyond. Hashem should help us begin anew on this most holy day!

Spirit of the Law: Chanukah #19

(Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 139:19) “If one is away from home and his wife lights for him at home, he should light where he is as well without a blessing. If he is certain that no one is lighting for him at home, he can either light for himself or pay the host where he is staying to add to their oil and wicks on his behalf.” (Some say not to actually add oil, but that he merely pays a share.)
The Mekor Chaim, zt”l, explains that a guest represents the extra soul-level that can become manifest within the “host” since the arrival of every guest brings a special opportunity to advance spiritually. For this reason, the Midrash states that the host receives more from the guest than the guest from his host. This is similar to the neshamah yeseirah—the extra portion of soul—that we receive on Shabbos. Of course, only those who desire it and prepare for it are able to tap into it and experience it. One of the ways that we prepare to receive this influx is by “remembering Shabbos all week long,” as the Yerushalmi prescribes.
On each day of Chanukah, we receive a special “guest-soul” similar to Shabbos. The only difference is that this special guest comes only once a year and we receive it on most days through the lighting of the menorah and reciting the Hallel of each day.
If a person is worthy of experiencing the effects of the arrival of his soul-guest, he feels inspired in a particular limb. It may be in his heart, in which case will feel great love for Hashem. Or he may receive such an illumination in his head, which will give him a deep understanding of a Torah concept that may have been difficult for him to understand before.
Receiving such an illumination from the extra soul-portion of Chanukah is the deeper meaning of our halachah, that the guest can either light for himself or contribute to the expansion of the host’s lighting. If the host feels an impression from his guest, he should begin fresh because of this feeling—this is “the guest lighting for himself.” If the host doesn’t really feel anything, this means that he is “in the dark” about the gift that has come his way. Nevertheless, he must at least do what little he can (represented by the guest’s minimal contribution to “expand the light” in the host’s home) despite the fact that he does not yet feel the deep holiness of Chanukah. In this way, he arouses this soul in an aspect of the Talmudic principle: “One who comes to purify himself is helped from on high.” Feeling the light of the extra soul-portion that visits us all on Chanukah is the manner in which Hashem helps us. We must do what we can, and Hashem does the rest!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Spirit of the Law (Based on Ben Ish Chai)

1. On the first night of Chanukah, immediately before lighting the menorah, we recite three blessings: “L’hadlik ner Chanukah—To light the Chanukah candle,” “She’asah nissim—He who did miracles,” and “Shehechiyanu—Who gave us life.”

First, we need to explain the word “berachah.” A berachah draws down blessing upon us; the word derives from the same root as the bereichah, which means a natural pool that flows with an abundance of pure water.[1] Our blessings reach the highest spheres and draw down abundant spiritual and physical blessings. The very word Baruch is an acrostic of beis for Binah, reish for Chochmah (as in the verse reishis chochmah—the head, or beginning, of wisdom), vav for Da’as (the vav means a connecting hook, and da’as always implies integrated understanding), and chaf for Kesser.

In reference to the first blessing, those who follow Nusach Ashkenaz say, “L’hadlik ner shel Chanukah,” with the addition of the preposition “shel—of.” This addition is not a problem since each person can definitely follow his custom without sacrificing the sacred intentions of the blessings.[2]

Rav Nosson writes that the light of Chanukah represents the pride that Hashem takes in every single Jew. Rebbe Nachman said that Hashem takes pride in every Jew no matter his or her level as long as that person takes pride in being a Jew. This is the light of Chanukah because tzaddikim arouse Hashem’s pride in us until this light is revealed for all to see. We see it in the tremendous providence the Jewish people experience through the miracles that secured the survival of the Jewish people throughout the ages.

The revelation of providence then gives rise to azus d’kedushah, or “holy chutzpah”—one of the main pathways to courage and joy even when things are difficult. Azus d’kedushah means I have the nerve to do what I know deep down is right even my circumstances would seem to impede me altogether. One needs to have a lot of azus, of chutzpah, to continue in the face of real adversity, because unless I really know and feel how right my goal is, human nature will instead drive me to take the easier way out and say, “Why should I bother?”

This is why it is preferable to light the Chanukah candles at night, when darkness reigns. Lighting the candles outside the house represents lighting when I feel completely distant from Hashem and vulnerable, since the public domain is an unprotected area that spiritually is the realm of the forces of negativity. The aspect of “publicizing the miracle” is brought even more into focus when lighting outside, since I show by my very actions that I am willing to do what is right even if I have to suffer the censure of hostile neighbors, and even though I am “in the dark” and without security and protection. Despite all this, I do what is right because I am a Jew who takes pride in my Jewishness, just as Hashem takes pride in me.[3]

This is the meaning of the first blessing: “…Who sanctified us with His commandments”—we take pride in the fact that Hashem chose to grant us the commandments through which we are consecrated to Him—“…and commanded us to light the Chanukah light.” We light the candles of Hashem’s pride in us by taking pride in being His chosen nation. In the merit of this pride that we take in being Jewish, Hashem’s providence is revealed and we are sent hidden and revealed miracles that sustain us through our exile.

This brings us to the second blessing: “Who did miracles for our forefathers in those days, in this time.” We feel uplifted by all that Hashem has done for us “in those days,” and it arouses us to act with true Jewish pride “in this time.”

This concept carries over to the third blessing, of Shehechiyanu—“Who gave us life…” Through the Jewish pride that reveals Hashem’s pride in us, we draw down miraculous providence. This is the source of our life in exile. We have endured so much persecution that our very survival is only in the merit of hidden and open miracles. When we contemplate this truth, we are astounded and filled with gratitude.

Even today, considering the number and power of our enemies, the survival of the Jews is a complete miracle. Nowadays, the true enemy of Judaism’s survival is the tidal wave of assimilation, immorality, and the valorization of character defects that are part and parcel of popular culture. This is especially true of Jews who were not raised in a religious environment, but it is true of all our people. Everyone has to endure formidable tests of character and is hard-pressed to be a spiritual person, to adhere to Hashem’s mitzvos, and to serve Hashem with joy. The fact that we are here studying Torah in the twentieth century is in and of itself a great miracle.

Rav Nosson explains that the three elements in the blessing “Shehechiyanu” relate to person, place, and time. There is always a barrier preventing us as individuals from connecting to Hashem and surviving physically and/or spiritually (this is “person”) because of one’s spiritual or physical “place” (the challenges presented by one’s environment), and “time” (the temptation of procrastination). All of these limitations are overcome by grabbing hold of the opportunity to perform any mitzvah, especially those mitzvos that only apply infrequently.[4]

The more holy chutzpah that we have, the more pride we show in being Jewish and the more we drawn down Hashem’s providence on us. The Chashmonaim were willing to die for the sake of Hashem’s Name. They did not expect to live. They were a handful who stood against a world-class army and were willing to die for their Judaism. This demonstrated their true Jewish pride, and it was the ultimate act of holy chutzpah that resulted in the miracle of Chanukah. The same is true for every generation. The more Jewish pride that results in holy chutzpah and the self-sacrifice it engenders, the more miracles we draw down.

After the communists came to power in Russia and it became clear that religious persecution was their goal, the Chofetz Chaim said, “When it first started, the Jewish community should have fought with a willingness to die if need be. They would have won out just as the Chashmonaim did so many years ago.” The more “l’hadlik” there is, the more “she’asa nissim,” in person, place and time. Chanukah enables us to reconnect to pride in our Jewishness and tap in to true holy chutzpah. The more we do this, the more miracles we will be privileged to witness.

[1] Rav Chaim of Volozhin, Nefesh HaChayim
[2] This is the opinion of the Arizal in Sha’ar Hakavanos, as brought in the beginning of the third section of Mishnas Chassidim and in many Siddurim.
[3] Based on Likutei Halachos, Birkas Hamazon 4:9.
[4] Based on Birkas Harei’ach 4:5.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Spirit of the Law: Chanukah #25

(Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 139:25) “When Rosh Chodesh falls out on Shabbos we remove three Torah scrolls from the holy ark for reading...”
The Maggid of Kozhnitz, zt”l, said that our taking out three Torah scrolls on this day has great of significance. Shabbos Chanukah which is also Rosh Chodesh is connected to Rosh Hashanah, since in both cases there are three books open—on Rosh Hashanah they are the books of the righteous, the wicked, and those who are suspended between them. Also, the name Matisyahu has the same numerical value as Rosh Hashanah (861). This can be easily understood in light of what many great Chassidic masters (the Kedushas Levi, the Bnei Yissaschar, the Beis Avrohom, the Tzemach Tzedek, the Imrei Noam, the Yismach Yisrael, and many others) have stated that the final sealing of the judgment of the high holidays is on the last day of Chanukah!
Rebbe Nachman, zt”l, writes that in accordance to the “s’lach na”—the cry of “Forgive, please!”—of Yom Kippur, we merit the light of Chanukah. Reb Nosson of Breslov, zt”l, once wrote to his son, “Even if your ‘s’lach na’ was not as it should have been, if you do teshuvah now you can still rectify whatever was lacking in it!”

Chanukah Event Anouncment from Yehudis

Hello my friends, a freilichen Chanukah!

For those who inquired (and for those of you who didn't), the women of my community are staging a production of Rebbe Nachman's "Story of the Diamond." It is open to the public, it is in Hebrew, and I can vouch for the fact that it is wonderful. I saw it originally last summer, and I highly recommend it. Even if your Hebrew is not so strong, you can review the story first so that you are familiar with it, and you'll be fine. It is a great show to take your daughters to see--very professionally done, great acting, and deep life lessons.
They will be performing on Sunday evening, the last light of Chanukah, at Michlelet David Yellin in Beit HaKerem. The tickets cost 35 shekel, there is no assigned seating, so the best places will go to those who arrive in good time. Tickets go on sale at the auditorium in Beit HaKerem an hour before the performance. (It's called for 7:30 PM I believe, but check with the municipality at 106. The show is appearing as part of the Chanukah "Torah Culture Week" sponsored by the municipality.) If you want to get a bunch of tickets ahead or need more detailed information, call Yael Katz (the event organizer) to arrange for purchase. Her number is: 02-627-4775.

I can't emphasize enough what a great opportunity this is. Enjoy! And please pass on the information to anyone you think might like to attend. Have a wonderful, lichtige, Shabbos.


p.s. An event schedule can be found here but it's missing details. You can either call Yael for more information, or the municipality at 106.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Spirit of the Law: Chanukah 139:17-18

(Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 139:17) “On erev Shabbos we first light the Chanukah lights and then the Shabbos lights.”
The Arizal explains that the function of the Chanukah candles is to bring the light down to us. The function of the Shabbos candles is to lift us up to the source of the light. This Shabbos we go even higher than usual because we are bringing the illumination of Chanukah down to us before we pick ourselves up with the light of Shabbos. For this reason, Shabbos Chanukah has especial power to serve as a vehicle for the revelation of the Shechinah, and this uplifts the whole of creation in an amazing way. Perhaps this is why Rav Pinchas of Koretz, zt”l, said that on this Shabbos one can feel an even greater than usual illumination of the otherworldly exaltation that we will grasp in the time of Moshiach!

(Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 139:18) “After Shabbos, one first makes havdalah and only then lights the Chanukah candles.” (The Mishnah Berurah cites alternative opinions who hold that one should first make havdalah and only then light Chanukah candles. The Mishnah Berurah concludes that either way is acceptable.)
The Me’or V’shemesh, zt”l, writes that the second way is preferable. Since we remain in an elevated “Shabbos” state until we make havdalah, it is better to first descend from Shabbos and elevate the weekday with havdalah. Then we can bring on an illumination—the light of Chanukah—during a newly elevated work-week.
There are those, like the Chasam Sofer, who hold the opposite. They believed that it is worthwhile to hold onto the sanctity of Shabbos even another tiny bit of time than to hurry to make havdalah so that one can light the candles. They held this way even though the illumination of Chanukah may well be greater if the menorah is lit during an actual weekday.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Spirit of the Law: Chanukah #21-23

(Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 139:21) “We say the Al HaNissim prayer during all eight days of the holiday.”
Rav Nachman of Breslov, zt”l, writes in his Likutei Moharan that the days of Chanukah are days of praise and thanksgiving. This is the main element of the next world, to praise and thank the King, since it is through gratitude and acknowledgement of His kindness that we begin to discern Him and draw close to Him. The more we know and recognize Hashem, the closer we are to Him.
Rav Nosson, zt”l, writes that the miracles that can inspire our gratitude are very numerous, and the greatest of them are those that enable us to achieve and hold on to true emunah. Genuine emunah enables us to stand fast and do what we can. We need to appreciate and be joyous because of every single good point, since each represents an eternal connection to Hashem. Rav Tzaddok HaKohein of Lublin notes that one can never sell his mitzvos since they are inextricably bound up with one’s soul and can never be detached from it. We must feel deeply thankful to Hashem for each and every good deed we have done until we find ourselves encouraged and changed for the better!

(Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 139:22) “We recite the full Hallel all eight days of Chanukah.”
Reb Nosson of Breslov, zt”l, writes that we say Hallel all eight days of Chanukah because the main way to overcome the force of the heresy of Yavan is through holy speech.

(Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 139:23) “On each day of Chanukah we read from the offerings of the tribal chiefs which were brought to dedicate the Mishkan.”
The Mekor Chaim, zt”l, brings the Midrash which states that when Haman cast lots to determine which month to make his decree against the Jewish people, Kislev was rejected because the tribal chiefs brought their offerings to inaugurate the Mishkan during that month. The Midrash illustrates the great protective power of their act of self-sacrifice. For this reason, and also because we are re-dedicating the Beis Hamikdash on Chanukah, we read from the parshas hanesi’im on these precious days.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Spirit of the Law: Chanukah #20

Note: since #17-19 of the Kitzur relate to Shabbos Chanukah, they will be posted presently b'ezras Hashem.
(Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 139:20) “The oil and wicks left over from the mitzvah of Chanukah must be burned.”
The Bnei Yisaschar, zt”l, explains that we burn the oil and wicks because they produce the light that is set aside for the world to come. This light may only be used on Chanukah. For this reason, many tzaddikim were known to spend hours gazing at the candles. Reb Nosson of Breslov, zt”l, writes that this light of the next world is full of tremendous mercy. This is an illumination which comes to us to give us life even in this long and difficult exile. We often haven’t got the strength to do anything. This is like a king who visits his trusted servant who is sick. The servant can really do nothing, but he is very encouraged that the king himself came to his very own home to comfort him. With the light of Chanukah, Hashem Himself comes to comfort us and strengthen us on the spiritual sickbed of our exile—and we are strengthened indeed!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Spirit of the Law: Chanukah #15-#16

(Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 139:15) “We light the Chanukah candles in the synagogue in order to publicize the miracle, but with the public lighting one still does not discharge his obligation to light the candles in his own home.”
The Belzer Rebbe, shlit”a, said that we light the menorah in our house to draw the Beis Hamikdash to us. This is to show us that if we want to, we can elevate our house to the level of the Beis Hamikdash. We each light because each person has a specific portion in Torah that no one else can reveal. Reb Nosson of Breslov, zt”l, writes that we must encourage ourselves with the idea that we each have a unique mission in life. What we can accomplish, not even the most righteous who has already entered into his reward in Gan Eden can claim. As the verse says: “The living, the living, shall praise You, as I do this day!” We can now understand why we light the candles in the synagogue. The whole point of the candles is to draw the Beis Hamikdash to our home. We light in shul because before we can draw the Shechinah into our home (which represents our everyday existence), we must first draw the Shechinah to us when we are in shul (when we pray)!

(Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 139:16) “A blind person should pay someone to be included in his lighting of the Chanukah candles. If he is unable, then his wife should light for him. If that is not feasible, he should light with someone else helping him.”
The Mekor Chaim, zt”l, writes that a “blind” person is one who does not endeavor to correct his negative character traits. Such a person cannot possibly feel the light of Chanukah on his own. If he joins with someone else who can, he has a chance of regaining his spiritual sight. If not, then at least his wife may be able to help him. Even though he is in his own environment with his wife every day and has remained oblivious, perhaps she can help him discover what he needs to correct in himself. If not, he certainly is not worthy of lighting for her! As a last resort, he should light with the aid of someone else. Maybe this will wake him up. However, since he is still in his own environment and his helper is only a transitional figure in his life, it seems exceedingly unlikely that he will succeed. May Hashem help us all to go from darkness into light!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Spirit of the Law: Chanukah #14

(Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 139:14) “One may not derive practical benefit from the candles during the entire half-hour period when it is a mitzvah for them to stay lit.”

It is only a mitzvah to see the Chanukah lights, but not to use them—as we say in the song HaNeiros Halalu after candlelighting: “And we have no right to make use of them, rather only to look upon them.” In a deeper analysis of this halachah, Reb Nosson of Breslov writes in his Likutei Halachos, zt”l, that first thing one must realize is how far he is from holiness. Once a person is aware of how far he has to go, he won’t get so off-kilter when he finds himself experiencing the natural ups-and-downs of spiritual growth.
Even when we are sometimes gifted with a feeling of spiritual illumination, this is not proof positive of our actually being on the level to deserve such light. Rather, it is an expression of Hashem’s kindness that we feel uplifted.
On the other hand, awareness of one’s distance from Hashem should not make a person feel insignificant. On the contrary, he can transform all his worry and anguish into joy when he realizes how precious and wondrous every bit of spiritual attainment is. One comes to appreciate all of the many opportunities for holiness that come along—every change to perform an act of kindness, to make a blessing, to learn or pray. One feels privileged with the opportunity to put on his tefillin, and the undeserved gift of being able to light the Shabbos candles in his home. We should feel encouraged by the light of Chanukah that fills our homes, despite our imperfections. It demonstrates that Hashem is with us at all times, and gives us reason to rejoice. With this awareness, we can be happy at all times—we long to praise Hashem for the gifts of His many opportunities for closeness—and this is the root of our Hallel prayer on Chanukah. With the right perspective, we can transform anguish and despair into joy!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Spirit of the Law: Chanukah #13

(Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 139:13) “We hold that the mitzvah is fulfilled by lighting the menorah (and not by merely putting it in place). The candles must be in their place before we light.”
The Mekor Chaim, zt”l, explains that we learn from the verse, "אֵין צַדִּיק בָּאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר יַעֲשֶׂה טּוֹב וְלֹא יֶחֱטָא", that there is no truly righteous person who does only good and never bad. The inner dimension of the halachah brought above really concerns how one merits the kind of teshuvah that can transform this bad to good. There are two facets to teshuvah. The first is distancing oneself from evil—“sur mei’ra.” The second is the further good that teshuvah inspires—“asei tov.” The Rambam explains that the ultimate proof that a person has completely turned away from his former evil is to undergo the same temptation, in the same place, without falling again. However, even such a sincere teshuvah does not actually transform the sin into a good deed. In order to do that, the sin has to arouse the sinner to do a lot of good. In that case, since the sin is responsible for such a significant change in the sinner, the bad is changed into good.
This is the inner meaning of the statement that “the lighting is the mitzvah.” This means that merely placing the menorah in position (being in the same place but not falling into the same temptation) is not enough. It is the lighting that is the mitzzvah. This refers to one’s Torah study which is compared to fire, and the mitzvos one does which are also compared to fire.
The main element of teshuvah is how much it galvanizes us to do good deeds and learn Torah. Of course, one who does good merely to placate his guilty conscience is not doing this for Hashem and is not rectifying the sin, since he is actually ignoring it. We must know where we are holding and truly repent the bad we have done so that it becomes reprehensible to us—that way, we won’t repeat it. On the other hand, one must not spend time sulking about a former sin. Reb Nosson of Breslov, zt”l, taught that any truth which distances us from Hashem should be cast away since it leads us to the biggest lie of all: despair. Rebbe Nachman taught that “there is no despair at all.” Our teshuvah should just help us approach the real truth—that Hashem waits expectantly for us to return to Him, and appreciates all of the good that we do.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Spirit of the Law: Chanukah #12

(Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 139:12) “On the first night one makes three blessings. 1) להדליק—‘To light...’; 2)שעשה נסים —‘He Who performed miracles...’; and 3)שהחיינו —‘That He has given us life...’. The latter blessing is only said on the first night.”

להדליק נר חנוכה: The Arizal explains that the initials of the three primary words of the blessing spells out a particular triad associated with the Divine Name—נחל. Even if one’s custom is to add של to the phrase, this does not disrupt this triad since it is not an integral element of the blessing. Reb Nosson of Breslov explains in his Likutei Halachos, zt”l, that NaChaL stands for נפשנו חכתה לה'—“Our souls wait for G-d.” Rebbe Nachman, zt”l, taught that Chanukah is a time for thanking Hashem—it is the time “l’hodos u’lihallel”—to offer thanks and praise for all of the good that He does for us. It is through the miracle of Chanukah that one accomplishes this, because the miracle heightens our awareness of the fact that all of the good we experience is a miracle. We must make ourselves aware of the myriads of good things that the Creator provides at all times. The truth is that this path of gratitude is a powerful method to come close to the Creator no matter what we are going through. This material world is full of challenge, pain, and anguish. Because of this, it is hard to come close to the Creator. It is even difficult to pray for closeness and to speak about our problems with our Creator because our hearts are so sealed. Such obstacles prevent a person from serving Hashem in a complete way.
The way out of this difficulty is to praise Hashem and thank Him for all the good that He has done for us and our ancestors. The primary focus of our gratitude is the very fact that we are Jewish and that we received the Torah and have been separated from the nations. If we were to pay attention to all that we go through, we would see that everything we face is still characterized by boundless kindness. We must not allow ourselves to be confused by our tests—we must instead focus on the many kindnesses which the Creator bestows upon us at all times. After all, we are privileged to put on tefillin every day and say the lofty Shema prayer twice a day. We should thank Hashem for this in and of itself! We must get into the habit of always expressing our gratitude to our Maker. We must first thank for the good we have received, and only afterward plead about that which we lack. Through this, one experiences a taste of the next world where we will derive pleasure from praising the King of Kings. This is the meaning of the phrase in Tehillim: “Our souls wait for Hashem,” whose initials spell NaCHaL. Through praising all the good in our lives and all of the favors the Creator has bestowed on us, we fortify ourselves to yearn and wait for Hashem to deliver us.
The Chid”a, zt”l, and the Vilna Gaon, zt”l, write that in the merit of trusting in Hashem, He saves even one who is not worthy of being saved! Praising Hashem arouses our trust in Him and results in our deliverance. Each Chanukah is an opportunity to renew our commitment to follow this path that can release us from our troubles. It is for this reason that we recite the blessing of Shehechiyanu on the first night. We set upon the path of gratitude on Chanukah by thanking the King for allowing us to live until this point and to light the menorah!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Spirit of the Law: Chanukah #11

(Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 139:11) “The custom of lighting is as follows: on the first night, one lights the candle which is furthest to the right. On the second night, one adds a second candle and lights the new candle and moving towards the right, lights the candle at the far right. On each night one adds a candle more to the left and lights that first. He then proceeds from left to right.”
Rav Nachman of Tcherin wrote in his Nachas Hashulchan, zt”l, that this halachah relates to the first lesson in Likutei Moharan, where Rebbe Nachman of Breslov teaches that one must search for the “intellect” within everything in order to come closer to Hashem. We must contemplate deeply into every situation and realize in a deep place that this situation was tailor made for me by the Creator. For this reason, I can come close to Hashem through anything. If one merits this understanding, he will feel incredible illumination and be able to elevate anything to Hashem. However, since the light of true understanding is very great, one can only receive it through constriction. This means that the light of true understanding comes to one slowly, level by level. I may know that I must overcome a certain weakness but that alone will not help me do it. I have to progress slowly, step by step, until I have achieved my goal. Sometimes this can take many years.
It is well known that Rav Yisrael Salanter, zt”l, said that it is easier to learn through the entire Talmud than to truly master a bad character trait. Many people feel discouraged when they hear this. However, the truth is that one who thinks about it will be very encouraged by this statement. We all know that it is impossible to finish Shas in a few months, or even a few years, of hard effort (at least for the first time)—and that such accelerated study usually means that the material hasn’t been learned in depth. So too, we must realize that it is impossible to overcome our negative character traits overnight with some sort of quick-fix solution.
Reb Nosson, zt”l, said that one who breaks a bad character trait is left with two! Rav Yisroel of Ruzhin also made a similar statement and explained that the two are the original, in addition to a new dose of arrogance, since the person mistakenly believes that he has overcome the bad inside of him. The way one overcomes a bad character trait is by yearning to change and praying about it and searching for advice about how to change it. This way, one slowly takes in the understanding necessary for lasting change. This is the concept of constricting one’s understanding. One has a lot of patience and does his best, realizing that any real change comes only from the Almighty. We must do our part but we must remember that “Hashem is not a tyrant.” Improving our character takes time because that is the Creator’s will. In the meantime, we keep starting over until the correct time for the change comes.
This is the reason why one orders the candles from right to left in the menorah, but lights from left to right. We start with whatever understanding we can take in (from the right) and slowly overcome the bad (which is represented by the left side) with our ever increasing understanding. The truth is that there are two other opinions brought in the Mishnah Berurah regarding which candle to start with and what the meaning of “all of your turnings should be to the right.” The common denominator is that all agree that you start with the right which represents the light of understanding. As the verse says, “The heart of the wise one is to his right.” Then one overcomes the challenges that were originally generated by acting without the light of understanding. Slowly we increase the light, adding one candle a night, as we steadily rectify our bad tendencies a little at a time.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Spirit of the Law: Chanukah #10

(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.)

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Spirit of the Law: Chanukah #9

(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)

Friday, December 12, 2008

Spirit of the Law: Chanukah #8

(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.

Rabbi Akiva Eiger's Humility

Once, Rabbi Akiva Eiger, zt”l, and the Nesivos, zt”l, were in the same town for Shabbos and they chose to daven Minchah in the same shul. The poor gabbai didn’t know whom to call for shlishi, so he approached the two great sages and asked them what he should do.
In the meantime, a certain talmid chochom who was irked at the delay approached the bimah himself and proclaimed: “Ya’amod Rabbi Akiva Ben Moshe, shlishi!”
Rabbi Akiva Eiger approached the bimah and made the blessing in a broken and low voice, obviously very distressed that he had outshone the Nesivos. The Rav’s anguish was so great that he as soon as the davening finished, he fainted dead away! The other mispallelim were horrified and tried unsuccessfully to wake him.
The Nesivos then approached Rabbi Akiva Eiger’s prostrate form and whispered something in his ear, which caused him to revive immediately. As soon as the gadol got up smiling, it was clear that his distress had completely disappeared. The assembled group of men wondered what message had been able to revive him.
The Nesivos explained, “I merely told him that there was no insult to me at all since they hadn’t chosen him because they felt he was greater. As you know, he is the Rav of Posen which is a far larger community than Lissa where I preside. He was honored for his more distinguished community, not for his personal greatness!”

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Penetrating Analysis

Once, a simple man came to the famous Yismach Yisroel, zt”l,. The man was obviously in great distress and poured out his heart to the Rebbe. “My wife received a nasty burn a few days ago and it seems to have gotten worse. It’s so bad now that she has trouble sleeping. She is in so much pain we just can’t take it anymore! Rebbe, please daven that she recover!”
“I will definitely daven for you—Hashem will surely help!” said the Rebbe to the dismayed man.
“But,” the Rebbe added, “You must promise me that from now on there will be no more chilul Shabbos in your house!”
The man promised that from that moment they would start keeping Shabbos properly in his home.
After the man left, the Chassidim in attendance expressed their amazement, “How did the Rebbe know that the man needed to be encouraged to observe Shabbos properly? Surely this was a ‘mofes,’ a wonder!”
The Rebbe smiled and said, “This was no mofes, I merely listened carefully to what the man was saying. He said that today, Monday, the pain has gotten worse. I understood that today was probably the third day, as the verse says: ‘And on the third day, when they were in pain.” Do you think it likely that she got burned on Shabbos from her pot of cholent that is kept in the communal oven in the bakery? Most likely she had a fire going and got burnt while being mechalel Shabbos. Clearly, it was incumbent on me to adjure him to learn from this and keep Shabbos properly from now on!”

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

It all depends on your thoughts and attitude

I was reminded of this favorite story by a question posed by Dixie Yid on A Simple Jew's blog here.
Once, Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer, zt”l, was part of a group accompanying the Chofetz Chayim, zt”l, on a train ride. In those days, people had a difficult time making a living and would try almost any method to make a small profit. Poor Jewish women would sometimes board trains to sell peanuts at a cheap rate. Such a woman boarded the train and approached the Choftez Chayim, who bought some peanuts. Not surprisingly, the entire group with him followed suit.
After the woman left their compartment, the Chofetz Chayim commented, “Do you know how silk is manufactured? You take strands of silk and put them together to make threads. No normal person would take silk thread and unravel it until they are left with weak and fragile strands.
Similarly, if you bought peanuts to enable this poor woman to make a living, it is like taking separate strands and making strong and lasting silk thread from them. But if you meant solely to give yourself a moment’s physical pleasure, you lost the opportunity to fulfill a precious mitzvah. You would be like the fool who unravels silk to its basic components and renders it unfit for real use!”
It comes out of Rebbe Nachman’s teachings that with our every mundane action we can either weave the strands of our everyday actions into a brilliant spiritual garment by having the right intentions, or we might unravel our spirituality by focusing on our own selfish needs. For example, if while at work we consider that our real purpose is to fulfill the mitzvah of chessed by providing for our families and enabling ourselves to give charity to others, our mundane acts take on a spiritual character. Every physical act is potentially a spiritual pearl! It all depends on what we focus on. Will our mundane actions be worthless shards or precious pearls? The choice is ours!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Spirit of the Law: Chanukah #7

(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!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Update: Menschie's Treatment

For those of you who put up links, who donated, and who prayed for the Landons to be able to raise the amount they needed to start their two year old son "Menschie" on the new treatment program at Sloan Kettering, they have raised the amount they needed! See here for more information.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Questions Arising From the Tragedy

I was asked the following questions by a reader and decided to post my answers.
Your questions are good ones.
Before I begin to answer them, I wish to explain something very essential: I have no idea why such things happen to tzaddikim while the wicked seem to flourish. We don't understand Hashem's calculations. As my father always says, "Until you see Hashem's books, as it were, you cannot possibly understand how He runs His business!" The Arizal revealed that we are all recycled souls. He said that although usually one who goes in the way of Torah and mitzvos has a fairly smooth life even in a physical sense, if things go very hard (Hashem protect us!), this is for reasons that have to do with an earlier lifetime which he does not now recall and everything is for the best. He explains a lot about the pain and suffering both in general and endured specifically by various people from Biblical until after the a very deep work called "Sha'ar Hagilgulim."
Although there are very powerful and compelling answers to your question, the Shela Hakadosh explains (in a very different context) that such answers are above the intellect. Even if it seems to make perfect sense to one, these answers are general and can never be applied clearly to a situation unless someone on the level of the Arizal reveals that person's unfinished business from an earlier life. Even then, Rebbe Nachman said that even a tzaddik can make a mistake.
This is part of why one who loses a loved one (Hashem protect us!) must suffer pain and mourn. The Sefer Chasidim writes that one who is unaffected by such a loss is clearly cruel. This is not a manifestation of faith at all. It is a sign that one is not in touch with himself. (Sometimes such mourning was done in private, but it was always done.)
I am not going to explore even the little I know of such things but I will try to answer your questions.
1) It is important to realize that the concept of atonement through the suffering of tzaddikim is not a Christian concept--it is a Jewish concept that was twisted by the followers of the Nazarene to bring in more Jewish followers.
The moment we understand this from a Jewish perspective, we see that the Christian version of the concept bears little relationship to its original source in Judaism.
Rav Nosson explains (based on the Arizal) that our job is to sanctify Hashem's name. This can either be done by our deeds or through the suffering or death of Jews for being Jewish and especially tzaddikim. In this manner they are like sacrifices for the community. The main thing is to change as a result of the sacrifice. The collective pain we feel about it is itself a great atonement. Everyone sees that there is a lot of pain in the world. The Vilna Gaon explains that without suffering it would be impossible for most to attain the next world. (Again I don't pretend to understand this but this is what is says.) Rebbe Nachman said that it is only through connecting to the tzaddik or at least the teachings of the tzaddik--that one can bear the pain and suffering of this world.
Countless Jews have died to sanctify Hashem's name for thousands of years. The midrash even states that Jews would commonly declare:"Either live as a Jew or die by crucifixion!" (The common way to administer capital punishment in ancient Rome.)
Our sages tell us that "Yeshu" (if he was the same man that our sages discussed--there is over a hundred year discrepancy between the lifetime of the person they discussed to the non-Jewish claim of when he was born) was an idolater.
Either way, he was a false prophet and false messiah who claimed to bring permanent changes to the Torah, and he was soundly rejected by the knowledgable Jews of his time. So his death is irrelevant, and certainly brought no atonement since he was no tzaddik.

By the way, there is a limit to the power of even the greatest tzaddik's atonement. We never find that even a big massacre of thousands or even millions of Jews would insure that everyone was atoned for for all of eternity.
From our point of view he was a Jewish idolater put to death by the Romans. He had a big soul and could have done very great good (as the Kamarna Rebbe writes), but he and we didn't merit this. Instead, he lost out and so did the entire world.

2) Why do good people suffer when the wicked (and even just those who are much less good) prosper?
As far as the suffering of the righteous is concerned, our rabbis explain that Hashem first wished to create the world with strict justice.But when He saw that the world would not be able to exist He joined mercy with the justice to create the world. Of course this teaching is very difficult: surely Hashem already knew that human beings could not survive under a regimen of strict justice alone?
The Maharal (and many other sources) explain that the tzaddikim serve Hashem on the level of strict justice with which the world was originally created. Our rabbis write in many places that the world exists in their merit. We cannot even understand the calculation of regular people, certainly not tzaddikim.
All we know is that for them there is an entirely different calculation. In terms of reward this is worthwhile but it is often hard for us regular folk to bear their loss...

3) If people really die only for their sins, then how is anyone's death an atonement? Presumably he died for his sins?
Let's start with Nadav and Avihu. Aharon caved in to to the Erev Rav's demand that he fashion the golden calf in the hope that Moshe would come down before they were done (and to prevent the magnitude of Divine wrath if they were to kill him for refusing.)
When Aharon's sons died, the Midrash recounts that Moshe said, "I thought you would lose all four of your sons because of the golden calf. I begged Hashem and he took only two."
So we see already that there was a big judgment because of the sin of the golden calf. Before this the Jewish people were on the highest level and had completely overcome death. When they didn't resist the temptation of the Erev Rav, they were tainted and death took hold of them again.
This loss of connection caused a great judgment which was partly mitigated by Moshe's prayer.
Our rabbis also teach that Nadav and Avihu died because they were unmarried. In addition the prohibition to do service while drinking wine is also immediately following their deaths. Based on the juxtaposition, the sages taught that they did the service while inebriated. (This need not mean that they literally drank, but that there was a conceptual relationship between their state of mind and attitude and what we would call intoxication.)

So they did things that were sins *on their level*. They tried to make a big rectification and did, but only at the cost of their lives. If they had not sinned according tot their level, they would likely have lived.
There are very very few exceptions who truly only died becasue of the first sin. This is complicated but generally it is very unlikely that even the greatest tzaddik of today merit this towering level. Even from biblical until Talmudic times only a handful managed this. It is important to remember that what might be considered sinful for a tzaddik could be a great mitzvah for us. Generally, the sins of the righteous are at the more subtle level of intent.

4) What about us? What possible purpose for the greater good does losing the tzaddikim help? After all, when they die we lose their guidance?
We all see that this terrible loss brought about a big feeling of great unity among all Jews. Even the most avowedly secular Jew sees that to these maniacs all Jews--religious or not--are targets of "the Religion of Peace." This is a very great accomplishment.
Another way to generate kiddush Hashem is a feeling of achdus, solidarity between all Jews.Even during the reign of the idolatrous King Achach we were always successful in war because of achdus.
Perhaps this achdus is the main tikkun of the death of the tzaddikim. Certainly someone who is completely unmoved by it gains no protection.
Rebbe Nachman writes that there are some questions which can never have a satisfactory response because of our limited understanding due to the physical nature of this world. He explains that in the next world we will truly understand. He says that if we were to understand cosmic questions regarding Hashem we would have too much of deep grasp of reality to ever sin. In order for there to be fee will there must exist many paradoxes and inexplicibles from our point of view.
Rav Nosson explains that those who choose to immerse themselves in the the material world use these paradoxes to bolster their rebellion (often unknowingly.)
Those who make the mistake of Yishmael feel that no matter what they do G-d will take care fo them and protect them. His "proof: Is not everything from Hashem no matter how we act?
Edom gave up when he fell spiritually at age thirteen. Why did he give up? He said, "It's all a matter of choice. If I blew it I can never correct that."
Of course both points are true although we don't know how to resolve the paradox.
Rav Nosson explains the true attitude of one who really wants closeness to Hashem: We must do our best because everything is depends solely on our choice. If we fall, we must start again, since everything is entirely from Hashem!"
Those who want to connect to their true selves as children of Hashem use their faith to leap over this gap from our perspective. Faith relates to what we cannot understand intellectually.
As Rav Noson of Breslov writes, one must use his intellect to find what is fitting to believe in. As the Midrash states: One who searches for truth Hashem, sends an angel to show them the way...
We should hear only tidings of joy,

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Spirit of the Law Chanukah 6

(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!”

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Spirit of the Law: Chanukah V

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!”

Monday, December 1, 2008

Spirit of the Law Chanukah IV

Kitzur chapter 139:4 "All oils are kosher for the Chanuka lights. However, olive oil is the preferred way to do this mitsva since that is the oil with which the miracle occurred in the Beis Hamikdash."

Why was the miracle specifically with oil? The Likutey Halachos, zt"l, writes that just as oil is the splendor of the olive so too the Jewish people are the splendor of creation. Hashem takes pleasure in the Jewish people above all His creatures. The Yavanim felt that they were the chosen people. For this reason they wanted to obscure our special status as the Chosen People through polluting us with all sorts of spiritual blemishes. Through the righteous Tsadik 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 oil. This represents the fact that the small flask of those who are faithful to Torah and mitsvos will miraculously endure forever as the Chosen People. Although Hashem is proud (as it were) of 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. This prevents one from falling away from Torah true beliefs. One who is exposed to false beliefs and won over to them, forfeits his status as a part of the Chosen People. The reason for this that Hashem is proud of each and every Jew only as long as he or she feels proud to be Jewish (Rebbi Nachman, zt"l, in Likutey Moharan). This is not some sort of ethnic or cultural pride in Jewish cooking or the like. One must be proud to be a member of the Chosen Nation. One who doesn't feel this pride is very disconnected from the essence of the Jewish people. As we say in Birchas Hatorah, "asher bochor banu mikol haamim…!" Let us take pride in our Jewish identity so Hashem will take pride in us!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Stop Terror II

What can we say after the bitter tragedy that took place in Mumbai? May Hashem comfort the mourning families together with the rest of us who mourn over Tzion and Yerushalayim.

The Chazon Ish zt"l once said bitterly to his brother-in-law Rav Shmuel Greineman zt"l, "Heaven hid the decree regarding the Holocaust from me. Because I did not know that the destruction of the Jews of Europe was hanging over our heads, I could not even make efforts to nullify the decree through prayer!"
Unlike the Chazon Ish, we can see how tenuous our situation is now. Unfortunately, we are so preoccupied with material concerns that we really don't yet feel that the tragedy has to do with each and every one of us personally.

It's time to truly change. We must learn to value ourselves. Every little bit of emunah and yearning for Hashem and every word of Torah and prayer makes an indelible impression on high and protects from such horrors.
Of course we will never understand why Hashem allows such a thing to happen until Moshiach comes to explain every single tragedy and how it was part of the larger fabric of redemption. For now, we need to cry, pray, and improve ourselves. We must have true emunah that what we do counts and that the Jewish weapons of faith, prayer, Torah study, teshuvah, and commitment to mitzvos is what will protect us and our brothers and sisters throughout the world.

It is well known that the Chofetz Chaim once said, "To miss a ma'ariv today when so many do not fulfill mitzvos is tantamount to a soldier slacking in his duty. The Jewish people as a whole needs every little mitzvah now that so many are distant from Torah." How much more so in our times.
As Jews, we all have a spark hiding within us that we always have the power to coax into a roaring flame. It's time to truly understand that doing what we can is literally a matter of life and death!

Friday, November 28, 2008

Spirit of the Law Rosh Chodesh and Chanukah III

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]

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Spirit of the Law Chanukah II

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]

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Preparing for Chanukah

Since the light of Chanukah is already beginning to descend, I am going to try and post a piece of "the Spirit of the Law" each day.
The Kotzker writes that we attain the spiritual illumination of the chag in direct accordance with how much we learned about it before hand. Rav Nosson of Breslov addis that it also depends how much we live the teachings by davening to fulfill them. Hashem! Please help us glimpse the radiance of the light of Chanukah!

Based on Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, 139:1
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]
[1] Tehillim 69:3

[2] Likutei Halachos, Hilchos Aveidah U’metziah 3:8

[3] Likutei Moharan I:133

[4] Likutei Halachos, Hilchos Shluchim 3

Urgent Help Needed

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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Admitting an Error

Rav Ya’akov Ades, shlit”a, the Rosh Yeshivah of Kol Ya’akov, once recounted the following:
Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, zt”l, related that the administrators of Kol Torah requested that he give a shiur to determine if he was the worthy of becoming the Rosh Yeshivah. As he was giving his first shiur, Rav Yonah Marzbach, zt”l, one of the Roshei Yeshivah, asked him a very penetrating question on the very foundation of his argument. Although Rav Auerbach immediately thought of three ways to answer his question, in his heart he felt that perhaps Rav Marzbach was right and his underlying premise really was faulty. So he simply said, “I was mistaken,” and sat down.
When he went home and his wife asked him how it went, he replied simply, “I tripped up.”
Rav Shlomo Zalman, concluded, “Until this day, the administrators never informed me whether my shiur was considered a success or not...”
Years later, Rav Yonah Marzbach also recounted the very same incident. “The moment he publicly admitted his mistake I decided that he should be our Rosh Yeshivah. Someone who is able to say, “I was wrong,” in a public shiur before the Yeshivah, during his very first shiur yet, deserves to be our Rosh Yeshivah. This is the exactly the kind of person we were looking for!”
On a different occasion they asked Rav Chaim Brisker, zt”l, if a certain very erudite scholar was eligible for a certain prestigious position. To their surprise, Rav Chaim immediately responded that he was not. When asked why this man was not qualified, Rav Chaim explained, “In order to be worthy of being a Rosh Yeshivah or the like one must be willing to step down from a shiur if mistaken. It is true that your candidate is very erudite, but I don’t believe he has the character to step down if mistaken. So this position is not for him…”

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Letter of the Law

In the town of Dvinsk, a certain member of the Ohr Someach’s minyan arrived without a coat. Since the man always wore a fur in winter, Rav Meir Simcha inquired why he had none.
He replied, “Every year I take a loan from a certain wealthy man here in Dvinsk and use my overcoat as collateral. Until now I have always had enough business to repay my yearly loan before the advent of winter. Unfortunately, this year business was not as good and I can’t yet afford to repay the entire sum. The gevir is not willing to relinquish my coat until every cent is repaid. So I am forced to go out in the cold without it…”
Rav Meir Simcha was clearly very upset. “Summon him to a din Torah before me,” he recommended.
When the two arrived, Rav Meir Simcha asked the gevir, “Why haven’t you returned his coat?”
“I gave him an interest free loan,” the wealthy man replied. “Why should I relinquish the coat until it is repaid to the penny? I don’t intend to compromise. According to the letter of the law I am right.”
The poor man said, “I will repay it all when business picks up, G-d willing. At the moment, business is slow—but I am in dire need of my coat…”
Rav Meir Simcha turned to the wealthy man and said, “On Gittin 58 we find that Shulia the carpenter told his teacher slander about his wife. This teacher agreed to divorce her but couldn’t afford her kesuvah. Shulia offered to lend his teacher the required amount of money and the teacher accepted it and divorced his wife. The student immediately married her.
When the time came to repay the loan, the teacher could not cover the sum. So the student took him as a worker to pay off the loan.
Shulia would eat and drink with his teacher’s former wife, while the poor man waited on them with tears rolling down his cheeks the entire time… The gemara tells us that as a result of this cruelty, the Churban Beis Hamikdash was sealed.”
The Rav concluded, “Do you see the result of insistence to follow the strict letter of the law without mercy: a tremendous gezar din!”
Rav Meir Simcha’s heartfelt words made a deep impression on the gevir and he immediately returned the coat!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Fear of Hashem

In 5637, the Chofetz Chaim’s son was learning in the “Kovetz Prushim” in Eisheshok when he heard that his worthy father in nearby Radin had contracted some kind of illness. Understandably, he made the short trip home. He found the Chofetz Chaim in bed with intestinal colic looking into a Tur Orach Chaim propped open in front of him.
The moment after greeting his son, the Chofetz Chaim poured out his troubled heart: “How foolishly people always push off doing teshuvah until ‘later’ when they will supposedly finally have time. They figure that returning one day before they die—literally—is good enough. I see on my own flesh that this is a very great error. Here I am, disabled in bed. Although I cannot preoccupy myself with other matters, and try again and again to make an exact chesbon hanefesh and do teshuvah, I cannot muster up enough clarity to do a precise reckoning with myself. The reason I cannot is unfortunately simple: my head is heavy and my body’s suffering makes it next to impossible for me to concentrate. All of my thoughts are drawn to my physical ailments and I cannot remember what happened so may years ago…”
The Chofetz Chaim concluded, “How correct were Chazal when they commented on the verse, ‘Fortunate is the man who fears Hashem’—when he is still an ‘ish,’ while he is still young and strong…”
It is important to note that Rav Nosson of Breslov, zt"l, explains that one must have "yirah l'chaim." This means fear of Hashem which moves him to greater spiritual vitality not nervousness or worry.If thoughts of yirah make one melancholy this is a sign that he should work on attaining chizuk first.
One who worries incessantly due to his "fear of Hashem" likely needs a psycologist, as the Steipler, zt"l, remarked.
Hashem should grant us yirah l'chaim!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Quiet Kindness

At the end of his life, Rav Yochanan of Rachmastrivska, zt”l, had to be hospitalized. Unfortunately, he was assigned a very anti-religious roommate, one who insisted on listening to a secular radio station all day long. It is well known that one can still come across individuals in Israel from the “old school” who are almost violently secular. Many others have a great antipathy towards religious people, especially Rabbonim. Not surprisingly, when a private room was requested for the Rebbe, the department head categorically refused the request.
The Rebbe and those close to him were at a loss as to how they ought to proceed. The Rebbe was really not well and quite possibly would need to remain in the hospital for an extended period of time. How could they allow him to be subjected to a steady stream of secular music and chatter which would surely impede his convalescence?
The Rebbe’s son and the Tolna Rebbe, shlit”a, broached the topic on a visit with the Lev Simcha of Gur, zt”l. After all, although the Rachmastrivka Rebbe was virtually unknown in the secular world, the Gerer was a famous religious leader. Perhaps he would succeed where others had failed. Although the Lev Simcha inquired after the Rebbe’s health with great interest, he was not so optimistic that he could help. “I doubt anything I do will change this,” he said.
A little discouraged, the two took their leave. After Minchah, they traveled to the hospital and arrived about an hour after their meeting with the Lev Simcha. To their surprise, the Rebbe’s bed was empty and all his effects were already gone.
When they inquired, they were told that a little less than an hour ago, the director of the hospital himself had arrived at the department and ordered the Rebbe brought to a private room. “The Rebbe of Gur called!” the administrator tersely explained.
The Tolna Rebbe said, “The Gerer Rebbe has fulfilled the Gemara in Nedarim 62, that one should only do good deeds ‘l’shem poalam’—solely because Hashem commanded. The Gemara concludes that mitzvos are ‘not a tool for digging,’ they’re not vehicles to enhance our prestige. Had the staff not told us, do you think that the Gerer Rebbe would have ever mentioned that he had effected the change?”

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

“Talmud Torah Outweighs Them All”

Once, some yeshiva bochurim asked the Chazon Ish, zt”l, if they should attend a bris if invited by the baal simchah. The Gadol responded, “A yeshiva bochur has only two mitzvos to focus on. The first is learning Torah. The second is taking care never to speak lashon hara!”
When Rav Bergman, shlit”a, was a young man, he was very close to the Chazon Ish, zt”l. He even often slept in the gadol’s home. The young Rav Bergman was also very close to Rav Yerucham Karlenstein, zt”l. The latter took care of his laundry and nursed him when he was sick.
After a time, Rav Bergman moved to the yeshiva in Petach Tikvah. Not surprisingly, when the Karlenstein’s had a boy, he received a special message informing him of the time and place of the bris. Rav Bergman felt a great deal of gratitude to the Karlensteins. To demonstrate his feelings, he got up early the day of the bris, davened, and got on a bus to Pardes Katz. From there he walked to the place of the bris and arrived on time.
The Chazon Ish was also wont to be on time for semachos. When the young bochur noticed the gadol, he went to greet him. The Chazon Ish returned his greeting and said pointedly, “What are you doing here?”
The bochur didn’t understand. He replied, “I came for the bris.”
The gadol again asked, “What are you doing here?”
The bochur explained that he was very close to the family and since they sent someone to notify him of the bris, he felt an obligation to be there.
The Chazon Ish once again repeated his question and the young man felt flummoxed.
They brought the baby in and said “Boruch Habah.” The Chazon Ish repeated, “What are you doing here?” Only then did the bochur understand.
He stammered, “Should I go back to yeshiva?”
The Chazon Ish affirmed this and shook hands with him to send him on his way. He didn’t even stay for the bris!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Talmud Torah and Chinuch

Although Chazal teach the greatness of Torah study, many contemporary mechanchim point out that spending time with one’s children is not considered bitul Torah. In recent generations, this has been emphasized by gedolim such as HaRav Mordche Gross שליט"א, HaRav Yisroel Kleiner שליט"א (a talmid of the Brisker Rov זצ"ל), HaRav Moshe Sternbuch שליט"א, among many others.
A certain man came to his Rav to discuss his son. The man said that he just did not have a close relationship to the boy and it worried him.
After some probing, it emerged that the father sat at the Shabbos table with his nose buried in a sefer. Despite having an ideal opportunity to build a close relationship with his son, the father was more interested in his learning. Needless to say, this was one of the prime reasons for the distance between them. The Rav suggested that the man spend more time with his son and take him out to the zoo or on some other trip.
The father duly followed the Rav’s instructions. Some time later, the man came back to the Rav and said that although he had taken the boy on outings, it had not helped one whit.
The Rav asked, “Where did you go and what did you do while you were out together?”
The father said, “We went to the zoo.”
The Rav asked, “Didn’t your son enjoy the trip?”
The father answered, “I believe so.”
The Rav was confused, “What do you mean, ‘You believe so.’ Weren’t you with him?”
The father admitted, “Of course I was with him…but naturally I brought along a sefer.” While the father spent the time learning, his son looked at the animals!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Overcoming the Bad Within

Shorty wrote in the comments to "The Rewards of Letting Go of Anger": "Hashem granted us to power to choose - we can choose to be angry or to be happy - to seek revenge or let things go.
The second is often the most difficult one..."
Since letting go is hard for all of us, I decided to jot down a little regarding how to choose happiness over anger.
First of all, we must realize that all true change takes time. We need to be very patient with ourselves while davening and yearning for Hashem to help us truly change.
The Ba'al Shem Tov (and many earlier sources) taught that during a spiritual challenge, Hashem takes away our understanding; that's why it's so hard.
In light of this the Chidushei Harim explains that we must build the strength to withstand spiritual tests before they happen and our understanding is intact. We must recognize our weaknesses and spend as much time as we can begging Hashem to help us and learning about the importance of change.
Of course, the main element of all spiritual work is to internalize that even a single baby step of advance, especially in an area of weakness, is very precious to Hashem, as Rav Nosson of Breslov writes.
He writes further that we prepare for the next test immediately after failing a test, by our reaction. One who picks himself up without delay and starts again will be much more likely to pass the test eventually. After every spiritual fall there is a second test: will he disassociate himself from the negative effects of the sin by making a new start, or cling to the spiritual stink of his original failure.
In Breslov failing a spiritual test is compared to someone who has fallen into mud. Everyone understands that self recriminations will not avail him.Instead, he must put all his energy into doing what he can by pulling a foot out of the muck. Although this often causes the other foot to sink further down, if he keeps struggling he will eventually get out.
Hashem should help us focus on the positives and keep struggling until we get out!

A Question of Priorities

Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel, zt”l, the Alter of Slobodka, immigrated to Eretz Yisrael when he was already at an advanced age. He was healthy for a time, but eventually got very sick and was bedridden for quite some time. Until the last moment of the Alter’s full life he was always striving to draws nearer to Hashem and to continue his life work: to educate others to ever-increasing sensitivity to the needs of their fellow men.
When he was very sick he stayed in a hotel in Yerushalayim. There were always at least two devoted students who were at his sickbed at all times, ready to attend his every need.
One Friday night, one of the students casually mentioned that there was a minyan in the very same hotel. The Alter understood that the young man wished to attend and said, “Feel free to go if you wish.” He then turned to the second attendant and said, “You also have my complete permission to go.”
The second attendant had a feeling that this was the wrong decision. After all, he had come to attend to the famous Alter of Slobodka in his time of great need. How could he just get up and leave him alone? The Alter merely offered because he was a tzaddik. This doesn’t mean that the correct decision is to leave him even to daven with a minyan. The second attendant said with resolve, “I will daven here.” His friend left, and he remained.
When the first attendant returned, the Alter spoke sharply to him, “How could you have left? Don’t you know that the Rambam writes that one who visits the ill removes one sixtieth of the patient’s sickness, while one who fails to do so sheds the patient’s blood? Don’t you think your job was to stay with me like your friend? What makes you think that davening with a minyan was more worthwhile? Surely staying here would have been a much greater zechus!”

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Rewards of Letting Go of Anger

Chazal teach the negative consequences, in this world and the next, of indulging the terrible middah of anger. From this we can see that the inverse is true—there are many rewards, in this world and the next, for making the effort to master one’s temper.
One of the housewives in the old Yishuv of Jerusalem laboriously washed a load of linen by hand and hung it on a line across the courtyard, as was usual in those days. Her neighbor, who was in a bad mood over something that had happened to her, became frustrated when her way was blocked by a washing line. In her anger, she cut the washing line, causing the linen to fall in the mud and become soiled. Without one word of recrimination, the first housewife rewashed the full load and hung it out elsewhere. She did not even mention the incident to her husband.
That night, the neighbor’s child became seriously ill. The neighbor realized that her inconsiderate act that day was the cause, and rushed over to the housewife she had wronged. She begged her neighbor’s forgiveness, and pleaded with her to daven for her child. The first housewife did, and the child recovered.
The following year, the virtuous woman who had never yet had children was blessed with a son. This boy grew up to become Rav Elyashiv, shlit”a, one of the outstanding chachomim and poskim of this generation.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Merit of Torah

A certain well known sinner died suddenly. Although today the vast majority of sinners are not responsible for their actions and can be compared to kidnapped children, it wasn’t always so. In earlier times, people who were severe sinners separated themselves from the rest of the Jewish people through their actions, especially if they were set in their new ways and were unrepentant.
Understandably, people were very upset by this sinner’s behavior. One incensed young Torah scholar actually slapped the dead sinner’s face to show his disdain toward the rebel who had rejected Toras Moshe. The funeral proceeded and everyone forgot about the matter.
That night, the Torah scholar who hit the sinner had a terrifying dream. He dreamt that the sinner came to him and said, “You dared hit me in public? Come join me for adjudication for this terrible offense!”
The young man awoke trembling with fear, it had seemed so real. When he told his father he merely replied, “Don’t think a moment about this. It was a nightmare that could happen to anyone which has no meaning.”
The next night the dream recurred. On the third night the sinner was significantly more menacing which caused the young man even more alarm and despondency. As a different version of the same kind of dream continued to recur night after night, the young man, spent virtually every waking hour dreading them. It is not surprising that he fell ill and his family feared for his life. The Maharsha, zt”l, ordered the boy moved to his house.
The next day, he sent this the young man home. The last time he had the dream was the night at the Maharsha’s house.
When the family asked the Maharshah what had happened, he explained, “The rashah once saved a talmid chacham from drowning and even supported this person in learning for many years. It was this zechus that protected him from punishment. I reasoned with the spirit of the dead man that if his threats frightened your son to death it would allow all the accusing angels to pierce the barrier of this zechus since they would have an ironclad claim that although he saved a talmid chacham, he also killed one. Naturally, the deceased immediately stopped hounding your son!”

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

A Call for Help

Our friend Dixie Yid has passed along the story of his friends' child afflicted with neuroblastoma and in need of spiritual and material support. Please hit the link below to find out how you can help.
Dixie Yid's post...

A Spirit of Folly

Our sages teach that one doesn’t sin unless a spirit of folly enters him.
In today’s world no one would question how a spirit of folly could enter into a person. Perhaps we might instead ask how one prevents a torrent of such spirits from entering! But not so long ago many simple people who learned this gemara felt it was quite difficult. From where would someone who fears Hashem get a dose of a spirit of folly?
One person asked this question to the Rav of Levui, zt”l who immediately replied, “A spirit of folly needn’t start from what one perceives as bad. Very often this kind of spirit creeps up on one by removing his defenses through convincing him to do something out of ‘frumkeit.’ For example, a simple person with fear of heaven may have learned that pious people refrain from eating meat during the week. He wishes to separate himself from ta’avos so instead of eating meat he chooses to eat beans. He feels so filled with piety however, that he hardly notices himself consume three times as much as a normal person requires. This overindulgence can cause many other problems as well… This person’s entire calculation was a mistake. If he wished to keep away from ta’avos, let him eat meat. But no more than he really needs to stay healthy and have strength to serve Hashem. In short, one must eat like a Jew! This way he will be able to keep his wits about him and recite kerias shema al hamittah with proper devotion, as a Jew should. This will lead to him sleeping like a Jew.
The Rav of Levui concluded, “The Razhiner, zt”l, said that one who sleeps like a Jew awakens as a Jew, davens as a Jew, and his entire day is as the day of a Jew should be!”

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Your Thoughts and Yourself

It is interesting to what extent the words that people use reveal so much about them.
Once, a certain person who considered himself quite a scholar asked the Brisker Rav, zt”l: “Our Rabbi's teach that the color techeiles in one’s tzitzis resembles the sea which resembles the sky which should remind one of the throne of glory which the verse states is of a sapphire color.
He concluded, “I don’t understand how contemplating this will lead one to think of Hashem. After all, what is the correlation?”
The Brisker Rav responded with a question of his own, “Do you understand the teaching of our sages that one may not gaze at a woman’s colored clothes so as not to come to sin?”
“Yes,” the questioner responded.
“Nu, so we see that your head is working alright. So the only explanation has to do with the quality of your own thoughts. If your thoughts would turn to yiras shamayim, you would find it very easy to comprehend the connection. Your difficulty stems from the fact that your thoughts are elsewhere!”
People must know that what one thinks about is what determines where they are spiritually. Not surprisingly, the gedolim see yiras Shamayim even in the most mundane-seeming experiences.
Once, the Steipler, zt”l, was walking on his way to procure sechach for his sukkah near the Yarkon river. When he noticed plant life growing on the river, he excitedly called his son, Rav Chaim Kanievsky, shlit”a. When he came running, the Steipler exclaimed, “This is what the halachah is referring to when it states that the green vegetation that propagates upon the water does not receive ritual impurity!”

Monday, November 10, 2008

Serving a Tzaddik

Rav Chaim of Volozhin, zt”l, learned with tremendous diligence from a very young age. By the age of twenty-two, he had already mastered all of Shas and poskim. By the age of nineteen, he had already learned a huge amount and served two of the greatest sages of his generation: Rav Refael Hakohain, zt”l, and the famous Sha’agas Aryeh, zt”l.
Despite his vast knowledge and dedication, the young Rav Chaim did not rest on his laurels. He knew that he was still a long way to completion and yearned to grow. His greatest aspiration was to serve the man known to be the greatest sage of his generation: he wanted nothing less than to serve the famous Vilna Gaon, zt”l, himself.
But how does one approach the Gaon who never stopped learning in his private room? How can one merit to serve one whom everyone yearns to serve? His family was completely uninterested in his help; for them, serving the Gaon was a privilege and a pleasure.
But the young Rav Chaim who yearned so much for a chance to get close to the Gaon finally saw his chance. A close relative was getting married and the word got out that the Gaon would be attending the wedding in a different city. Perhaps there he would have an opportunity to serve the tzaddik? He decided to travel to the same town for the duration of the Gaon’s stay and discovered there that the tzaddik would be the guest of one of the mechutanim.
On Erev Shabbos, the mechutan’s house was as busy as a beehive. Rav Chaim understood that it was likely that they would forget to prepare warm water for the tzaddik’s washing in honor of Shabbos.
He attained permission to enter the house and waited with baited breath. Finally, the Gaon opened the door and looked out in an inquisitive fashion, like one who needed something. Rav Chaim immediately asked, “Perhaps I can serve his honor by bringing warm water in honor of Shabbos?”
The Gaon agreed, and from this modest start blossomed their thirty year Talmid- Rebbi relationship!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Why do we Eat?

One of the chassidim of Rav Aharon HaGadol of Karlin zt”l was with him when the Rebbe’s assistant brought him an apple. The Rebbe took it, made a blessing, and ate it. This prompted the chassid to think, “You know, I guess the Rebbe can also get a craving for an apple, just like me.”
At that moment, Rav Aharon turned to his chassid and said, “I was just thinking: what is the essential difference between you and me? I eat apples, and so do you. I make a blessing, and so do you! The difference is that when I get up in the morning, I contemplate the apple tree outside my window until I am filled with wonder and gratitude toward Hashem. I delve deeper, I recall the true meaning of what an apple is, and I become filled with a powerful yearning to make a blessing…but since I can’t without eating, I ask my assistant to bring me an apple.”
Rav Aharon continued. “You, on the other hand, see an apple tree and think how good its fruits look. You suddenly feel a burning desire to eat an apple, but since you’re good enough not to steal one, you spend a little money and buy one from the grocer. After you get home, you are all set to eat the fruit, but your fear of heaven stops you short. You worry that maybe you’ll lose your teeth as a punishment for failing to make a blessing! So you stop just long enough to make one before you eat.”
“You see,” he concluded, “I eat an apple just so I can make the blessing, and you make a blessing just so you can eat your apple!”