Monday, June 30, 2008

Brevity—the Soul of Wisdom

Once, Rav Yechezkel Abramsky, zt”l, learned that a convention of prominent Jewish academics was set to be held in London and decided that he, too, would like to attend. When he arrived, he requested permission to speak in front of the group of respected personages. His request was granted. On the dais, Rav Abramsky spoke with great feeling regarding the paramount importance of strengthening Torah, and quoted liberally from the Shulchan Aruch to prove his point.
One of the most prestigious academics raised a very simple but controversial objection. “But Rabbi, all genuine scholars know that the Shulchan Aruch is outdated. So what you are saying is meaningless.”
At this outburst of audacity, a number of participants followed suit and voiced their objections to the Rav . Each person voiced his “proofs” and it appeared as though, instead of a Kiddush Hashem, the opposite would be the result of the Rav’s speech.
To everyone’s surprise, their objections didn’t faze Rav Abramsky in the slightest. Instead, he made a simple request. “Please have a pen and paper ready.”
Everyone wondered what this was all about. The Rav didn’t leave them in suspense for long. “You are all basing your views on your superior understanding, so you surely won’t object to a little test of your acumen. I am going to tell you a true story. Please summarize it in the most concise fashion that you can.” He started to relate a very complicated case replete with numerous details. When he finally finished, it was clear that even the best summary was rather long.
Then the Rav opened a book and read the most concise and clearly superior summary to the incredulous professors. Rav Abramsky then turned to the professor who had been first to object. “The advantage of brevity is known to all. See how this work managed to include every single detail and complexity without wasting a single word. How long your summaries were compared with that of the Shulchan Aruch in Choshen Mishpat—the ‘outdated’ work whose wisdom clearly exceeds your own!”

Friday, June 27, 2008

“Do Not Be Like Korach…”

Since this week is Parshas Korach from which we learn the prohibition of machlokes, I wish to share one of many favorite stories:
Rav Chaim Meir, the Imrei Chaim of Vizhnitz, zt”l, was known to be very sharp-witted; a trait common to those who had received semichah from the famous Maharsham, zt”l. There are countless stories of his penetrating insight and understanding from when he was the young Rav of the town Velchovitz, in the district of Maramures, Hungary.
By that time, the controversy between Misnagdim and Chassidim that had raged since the cherem of the Gra, zt”l, had already been in abeyance for well over fifty years due to the joint efforts of Rabbi Akiva Eiger, zt”l, and the Mittler Rebbe of Lubavitch, zt”l. It was thus with considerable consternation that most viewed the reprinting of old inflammatory “seforim” whose whole purpose had been to fan the sparks of the machlokes into a raging fire. At a time when all faithful Jews had to strengthen themselves against many foes from with in and without, such books could be a distraction that could cost spiritual lives!
The Imrei Chaim complained about those printers who had decided to print such works. He said, “The printers who publish these kinds of books can even be responsible for causing someone to violate the holy Shabbos! As everyone knows, the custom here is that kosher Jewish women place a holy sefer on the table with the Shabobs candles so that the table will serve as a base for that which is permitted (the book) in addition to serving as a base for that which is forbidden (the lit candles). Unfortunately, if the women will use one of these books that chiefly discusses various false claims about a defunct controversy as a means of ensuring that the table is not a bosis l’davar assur, her table will be a base to two forbidden objects: one that is forbidden only on Shabbos, and the other forbidden even during the week!”
In his customary sharp way, the Rebbe concluded, “Actually, this is a clear Gemara in Yevamos 60b. There we find that a ‘sign of sin is hadroken, the change in countenance that indicates a certain sinful change in personal status. The word hadroken can be read a different way, though. In Yiddish, ha-drukin means the printing press. So we see here that sometimes the printing press is the agent of sin—like when such destructive books are printed!”
Hashem should save us from needless machlokes!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Nature of Sin

Rav Huna made a fairly well known statement. One who did a sin and “shanah bah,” repeated it, the sin has unfortunately become “k’heter,” something that no longer smacks of sin to the sinner himself.
Someone once asked Rav Baruch of Mezhibuzh, zt”l, about this, “Since one can always repent, what does he mean by ‘the sin is permitted to him?’ Surely the person will still repent for the sin on Yom Kippur since he does really know that it is a sin?”
The Rebbe explained, “On a simple level it means that it is harder to do teshuvah for a sin once it has become habitual than for a ‘fresh’ one. But there is also a deeper lesson in Rav Huna’s statement. ‘V’shanah’ also means, ‘and learns.’ When viewed this way, the Gemara is really saying that one who sins and learns afterward is ‘hutra,’ or released from his guilt! With this, we can more readily understand Chazal’s statement that if one sees a Torah scholar sinning at night one should not suspect him the next day since he has surely repented by then. How do we know that he will have already repented? From the fact that he is a Torah scholar—he will have learned, and his learning will bring him to repentance!”
The Satmar Rav, zt”l, had an entirely different view of Rav Huna’s words, however. He would say, “There are some people whose lack of yiras shomayim drives them to try and ‘purify a sheretz’—to illegitimately rationalize improper behavior. Such people think that they are accomplished scholars, and they are willing to concoct a ‘halachic’ way permit almost any wrong. Rav Huna means that if one did a sin and knows how to learn (v’shanah), he will find a way to justify his misdeed. Then he can say in all innocence, ‘hutra’—it’s permitted. His ability to learn is what keeps him sinning!”

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Belzer Rebbe’s Garden

Rav Aharon of Belz, zt”l, had decided to settle in Tel Aviv. It was always his practice to spend a great deal of time immersed in his spiritual preparation for davening. In general, that involved learning a large amount in an enthusiastic voice, and he generally stood the entire time. One of his daily sedarim was to learn Maseches Berochos from cover to cover! He never wasted time on mundane matters since he was always busy either learning, davening, or helping people by offering his blessing or advice. For this reason, it came as a big surprise to his followers when shortly after settling in, the Rebbe asked his assistants to arrange for the planting of a garden near his home for his private use. He specified that the garden should contain trees, vegetables, and flowers. This seemed very uncharacteristic of a tzaddik who was so particular about not wasting a single moment or glance. Those assistance well remembered the Rebbe’s response to a doctor who asked that he gaze at the sky to enable him to examine the Rebbe’s eyes. “My whole life I have never looked out of my dalet amos, and I don’t plan on changing for the worse at this late date! I am afraid that you will have to forgo this.”
So what could such a kadosh want with a garden?
But since the Rebbe had made his request, the gabbaim made sure that a splendorous garden was planted, replete with fruit trees and flowers as ordered.
After several years, the garden grew lushly with every possible source of delight. The Rebbe announced, “This year is shemittah. It is time to publicly declare its fruits hefker.” He took the time to carefully explain to the workers who tended the garden that since this year is shemittah, it is forbidden for them to work there.
The Rebbe’s actions had the effect that he had hoped for when he first came to Tel Aviv: a wonderful kiddush Hashem was made, and many who had never meant to do so were encouraged to observe the halachos of shemittah!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Strong Words

Generally speaking, the sages were very careful not to speak in a sharp way even if they disagreed with their colleagues. When the Pri Chadash was first printed and reached the Jewish community in Egypt, the Chachamim there were amazed at the insight in the sefer. Despite their high regard for its scholarship, they placed a ban on it and didn’t allow anyone in their community to purchase it. What turned them against the sefer? The fact that when the Pri Chadash argued on the Beis Yosef, he adopted a patronizing tone!
When the Torah Temimah related this, he said, “One would think that the printers would have placed the Pri Chadash on the page in full like they did the Ketsos and Nesivos in Choshen Mishpat. I think the fact that it is only either found in an abbreviated form on the page or relegated to the back of the Shulchan Aruch is because that ban made an impact in heaven!”
However, Yevamos 9 is an example of the exception that proves the rule; when there was a valid reason, the sages could also be known to speak with great acerbity. Someone once asked the Chavas Yair, zt”l, “Why do we find in Yevamos 9a that Rebbi says that Rav Levi has no brain in his skull? Isn’t that a little harsh when all Levi did was ask why there are fifteen women who discharge their tzaros from yibum, and not sixteen?”
The Gadol responded, “This is where the Rambam learned that a Rav must show anger with his disciple if he feels that the student’s failure to understanding is due to a lack of diligence and care in his learning. Since Rebbi felt that his student was careless, showing anger was a means to goad him to be more diligent in the future.”
There could be other reasons for the occasional harsh word. For example, the Chasam Sofer, zt”l, also once blasted someone named Aharon Choriner publicly. This Aharon Choriner was a “progressive Rabbi” who had an agenda to weaken traditional observance in Hungary.
The Chasam Sofer pointed out, “I noticed that in the many petitions this man has submitted to the government, he signs his name: ‘Aharon Choriner, Rabbi.’ See for yourselves—the name and title bears the initials ‘Acher!’”

Monday, June 23, 2008

The Effects of Shatnez

When the Mirrer Yeshiva was temporarily sheltered in Shanghai during World War II, the entire yeshiva felt a powerful stirring to learn Torah and Mussar and pray with special intensity. Although they had been fortunate enough to escape the Germans, they knew that living under the Japanese was no guarantee of safety since the Japanese were allied with Nazi Germany and could turn against the Jews any day. Furthermore, there was no protection against the Allied air raids of Shanghai. The only protection was clearly to be secured from their Father in heaven, through heartfelt prayer, introspection, and diligent learning.
On Yom Kippur, the intensity of the tefillos was hard to imagine. Oddly enough, in the middle of the davening, a certain very prominent student left the beis medrash for a short time and then returned in his weekday outfit. He resumed his tefillah and remained in his place until the end of the long day.
After Yom Kippur, another bochur asked the one who had left why he had done such a strange thing.
The first bochur explained, “When I was davening, I felt that my tefillos were just not flowing with even the kind of intensity that I have gotten used to during an ordinary weekday. I couldn’t understand what I was doing wrong, and so I tried to learn a little mussar. Although this usually is very helpful, this time it did nothing for me. I suddenly realized that my new Shabbos suit might be the culprit. I saw in the Tzionei on Chumash that wearing shatnez prevents ones prayers from ascending. I quickly went to change into my weekday clothes, and as soon as I returned I could tell that my suspicions were right because all the barriers just melted away.”
“But didn’t you check your new clothes for shatnez?” the other bochur asked.
“I did, but my feeling on Yom Kippur made me certain that the one who had checked had missed something.”
The following day, the suit was thoroughly re-examined, and sure enough there were parts that had been processed with linen in a way that was very difficult to detect. The suit was simply riddled with shatnez!

Friday, June 20, 2008

Is There Ruach Hakodesh Nowadays?

Rav Baruch Ber Lebovits, zt”l, once asked his Rebbi, Rav Chaim Soleveitchik, zt”l, if the Chofetz Chaim actually possessed Ruach HaKodesh or not. The gadol responded by citing Yoma 9b, “Chazal said that since the death of Chagai, Zacharya, and Malachi, Ruach HaKodesh has departed from the Jewish people. On the other hand, they also tell us in Eruvin 64b that Rebbi Yishmael received insight via Ruach HaKodesh. The Rambam, zt”l, lists twelve levels of Ruach HaKodesh, so it is difficult to discern what exactly departed from the Jewish people and what elements remained.” He then continued with the following illustrative anecdote:
In Padua a long time ago, two wealthy business partners lost a great deal of their merchandise and property when a blaze broke out in their place of business. Among the things missing and presumed destroyed was the ledger that recorded exactly who owned what. They went to the Rama of Padua, zt”l, for arbitration since they were at a loss as to how the remaining property ought to be divided.
The Rav said, “Provide me with a list of everything that is left and come back tomorrow morning.”
When they returned the following day, the Rav provided them with a list of the remaining property divided to the last penny that was clearly unequal in its distribution. Although this seemed quite strange, the two followed the Rav’s advice and divided it up as he had ordered.
Several days later, the original ledger was found singed, but intact, among the debris. To everyone’s amazement, it proved that the Rav had divided up the estate exactly in accordance with the record!”
Rav Soleveitchik concluded, “For this, one needs Ruach HaKodesh!”

Thursday, June 19, 2008

True Integrity

The Shelah Hakadosh zt”l writes that a gabbai tzedakah should not assume that, since he is known to be trustworthy, he need not keep a clear record of who gave what and where it went. The medrash recounts that even Moshe Rabbeinu was under suspicion by some until he gave a full account of all the money he had received and what it was used for. How much more true of us is the need keep clear records and share them with the people, as the verse says: “You should be blameless in the eyes of the Jewish people.” Ensuring that people are happy with us is part of our obligation to love our fellow Jews, but the Pele Yoetz points out that scholars often neglect this point. They believe that if they are truly blameless, they don’t have to worry about others wrongly suspecting them of questionable behavior. But the truth is that one who doesn’t act to assuage the suspicions of others is putting a “stumbling block before the blind!”
When the Beis Halevi zt’l was the Rav in the town of Slutsk, the Russians instituted a new currency, and prohibited the use of the old. Knowing full well that the Rav was steeped in learning all the time, the shamash decided to take advantage of the situation. He would pocket the Rav’s salary paid in new currency, and exchange it for an equal amount of the old. Upon receipt of the money, the Rav thanked him as usual, and the unscrupulous shamash figured that the Rav suspected nothing. In actuality, the Brisker Rav did know—he merely kept silent to spare the man embarrassment. For weeks, not only did the Brisker Rav refrain from using the illegal currency, he was also careful to ensure that no one else would either. Until the shamash thought better of his actions and changed to the new bills, the Rav took the time to bury them every payday!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

“In Holiness, There Are No Questions…”

Once a certain person had a single cow with which he made his living. A very great mitzvah was presented to him that demanded an investment of money and he wasn’t sure what to do. Perhaps he should he sell his precious cow to fulfill the mitzvah? On the other hand, how could he sell his only source of livelihood?

The poor man brought this dilemma before the famous Rav Elimelech of Lizensk, zt”l. After hearing the question, Rav Elimelech immediately proclaimed, “You should not sell your cow.”

The man protested, “But Rebbe, the same mitvah once came your way and you sold your cow. Why am I different?”

Rav Elimelech shot back, “Unlike you, I didn’t ask!”

Rav Elimelech worked on his trust in Hashem to such an extent that he had the necessary inner strength to act with self-sacrifice without a need to ask any shailah. The opportunity to fulfill the mitzvah came, and he did whatever he could to fulfill it, without any hesitations.

The Aryeh Sha’ag, zt”l, said, “It is possible to learn this from Nazir 9. The Gemara states, ‘Ein sh’eilah b’hekdesh.’ Although this literally means that one who consecrates a sacrifice may not nullify this by post-facto regret, this can be read another way. ‘There are no questions regarding hekdesh.’ If someone questions the advisability of doing a holy deed that extends beyond their basic obligations, they are not holding by doing that mitzvah!”

Monday, June 16, 2008

Should Women Learn Gemara?

The Mishnah in Sotah states that one who teaches his daughter torah it is as if he teaches her folly. But why should this be so? The simplest reason is because learning aspects of Torah that have no application for her and will not bring her to greater yiras and ahavas Hashem can lead to arrogance. This is as true of women as men—when a person adopts a practice that goes beyond his duties and which sets him apart from others, he is vulnerable to yoharah, or arrogance.

When HaRav Yaakov Moshe Shirkin zt”l had to travel across Europe as a bochur to raise the funds to buy his way out of the draft, he met the Rav of a little town with whom he was able to speak in learning. The elderly talmid chochom took out a manuscript of chiddushim on the Minchas Chinuch, and when the younger man asked if it was his own, the Rav answered, “No, it’s my daughter’s.” The Rav then began to cry.

He explained to the young Rav Shirkin, “When I came here, I could not find a chavrusah. My only daughter was brilliant, so she and I learned together day and night. When it came time to find her a shidduch, I sent word to the most prestigious yeshivos: send me your best student, and if he is the right boy, he can have both my daughter and the position here.”

“A bochur arrived, and they got along well. But then my daughter asked: ‘Nu, how do you understand the Rambam’s p’shat regarding tum’as ha’tehom?’ The boy didn’t know the first thing about it, and she dismissed him. And this happened again, and again. As you can see for yourself…” Just then an older woman came walking in with a cane, “…she never married.”

And he wept bitterly.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Lessons for the Living

On the 20th of Adar 5761, an “atzeres hisorrerus,” was arranged in the memory of a certain talmid chacham who had passed away. Rav Tzvi Yavrov, shlit”a, approached Rav Chaim Kanievsky, shlit”a, and asked, “It says: ‘Thirty days before Pesach one may not eulogize.’ What is the exact definition of hisorrerus as opposed to hesped? What is the demarcation between arousing one to repentance and eulogizing?”

Rav Kanievsky replied, “A hesped is about the deceased. Hisorrerus is a discussion of issues about which the tzibur needs a wake-up call. Saying what we can learn from the niftar is also in this category.”

“But regarding what should the speakers issue their wake-up call?”

Rav Kanievsky responded, “Ask the rabbis what they think.”

“But what topic should be discussed, in the Rav’s opinion?”

Rav Kanievsky replied, “One of the four things the Mishnah warns brings pestilence in its wake is partaking of fruit of shevi’is, of the shemitah year. It warns, ‘Motzei Shevi’is on account of the fruits of shevi’is. The security situation in Israel now, during this year after shemitah, is like a plague! Arabs surround us, so we need to strengthen shemitah observance for protection!”

Rav Yavrov asked, “But aren’t the attendees are all careful regarding shevi’is?”

Rav Kanievsky answered, “Nevertheless, learning about it and discussing it has an affect on the rest of the Jewish people. As Rav Yisrael Salanter, zt”l, said, ‘When the one learning all day in Eishyshok slackens from his Torah study, a student in Paris decides to break Shabbos!”

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Pomegranate’s Shell

Someone once asked the Maharil Diskin, zt”l, “Why is the pomegranate used as a symbol of being filled with good points? Why not an orange, or a banana, or any other fruit with a peel?”

Rav Diskin explained, “The pomegranate has a hard exterior and also a lot of waste in between the seeds. True, the apparently ‘empty ones’ among the Jewish people are filled with mitzvos like a pomegranate, but you still have to break through the hard exterior and sift through the bad in order to discover the good!”

When the Belzer Rebbe, zt”l, first came to Israel, he decided to settle in Tel Aviv. This was very disconcerting to some, because they felt that it would have been more appropriate for him to settle in an established observant community. Someone even had the nerve to question the Rebbe as to why he had settled in the middle of a non-religious area of Tel Aviv as opposed to Yerushalayim. “After all, Tel Aviv is full of goyim!” the man posed.

The Rebbe was deeply disturbed by those words. “How can you say that?” he thundered. “You have no idea how wonderful this city is! One goes down the street and sees a person who appears to be a goy coming his way. Suddenly, one realizes that it is actually a Jew, because all the ‘goyim’ here are Jewish! We know that the minute that we hear the shofar of Moshiach, the hard shell surrounding such a person will break away and his real self will surface. As long as being here does not harm those who are faithful to Torah, why shouldn’t we serve as an example to such people that there are plenty of religious Jews who are waiting for them to find their true selves and come back to their source?”

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Banishing Pride

Rav Ya’akov of Lissa, zt”l, the author of the famed Nesivos, had a very unusual custom. Before he gave his shiur he would close himself in a room without any seforim. Everyone wondered what he was doing all alone in this room for such a long time. There were many speculations. Some felt that was davening for success while others believed he was reviewing the shiur by heart and testing its mettle to see if there were any weaknesses. One curious student couldn’t control himself: he secreted himself in the room to see what the Nesivos would do. What he saw didn’t leave him until his dying day.

The Nesivos, zt”l, entered the room and locked the door. He then prostrated himself on a thin board on the floor and started to admonish himself in a powerful voice repeating again and again the verse in Tehilim (50: 16): "ולרשע אמר אלוקים מה לך לספר חקי ותשא בריתי עלי פיך"“And Hashem said to the wicked: Why should you speak of my laws and bear the covenant of My Torah upon your mouth?”

For the entire half hour he continued to intone this with more and more feeling. At the end of the half hour, the Rav stood up and took some water out of a cup to rinse away his tears. After drying off the water, the Rav went to give his shiur, completely oblivious to the student whose life he had completely changed. For how could the talmid not be transformed when he saw with his own eyes what it means to accept literally that pride is a form of idolatry?

Sunday, June 8, 2008

The Purifying Waters

Immersion in the Mikveh Shavuos night is perhaps the highest tevilah of the entire year. Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, zt"l, writes that through this immersion one accesses the 50th gate of purity. Rav Nosson of Breslov, zt"l, explains that attaining the 50th gate of purity enables one to yearn for Hashem from any spiritual level, even the most distant.
When the Sha’arei Deah, zt”l, was passing through Frankfurt, he naturally met with the famous Rav Shimshon Rapael Hirsch, zt”l. During his visit, Rav Hirsch asked him a deep question which he recorded for posterity.
“When exactly does the mikveh confer taharah? Is it from when the one immersing is in the water, or when he leaves the water?”
When discussing this question, Rav Marzbach, zt”l, Rav of Darmstadt, recounted, “This surprised me very much. Anyone acquainted with Rav Hirsch’s approach towards Torah study knows that theoretical halachic investigations such as when tevilah actually takes effect were not his way. He immediately had a hunch that the purpose of Rav Hirsch’s inquiry was not to find out the answer for the sake of theory alone, but as part of his research for his monumental work on the meaning behind the mitzvos.”
Sure enough, after some checking, Rav Marzbach found that at the time that Rav Hirsch asked the question, he was working on the meaning behind the purifying powers of the mikveh for his epic Horev. The Rav explained, “What Rav Hirsch wrote includes two ways to understand this phenomenon. We can understand that entering the mikveh represents removing oneself from all ties to impurity. The person enters the world of renewal and removes the impurity by rejoining his source. He is submerged in water that was not drawn by man and is thus reborn.
“There is another way to understand this, however. It is possible to say that his leaving the state of self-nullification experienced in the water to a new life is what purifies. The Rav concluded, “It is more than likely that Rav Hirsch’s language includes both of these considerations, because either can be true. This was his way in his writings. To work out the halachah and explain the significance of the subject in accordance with what man’s understanding can grasp.”

Friday, June 6, 2008

The Yichus of Poverty

A certain wealthy man with an eligible daughter had two promising possible shidduchim. Both were great scholars with sterling middos. The only essential difference was their yichus. One came from a very famous line of scholars and gedolim while the other was from simple stock. The wealthy man was at a loss whom to choose. After much deliberation the only thing that emerged was that he needed help! Since the man lived in a town close to Kovno he decided to put his dilemma before the famous Rav Yitzchak Elchonon Specter, zt”l.

After describing the entire situation the wealthy man concluded, “I am leaning towards the young man with the yichus but they insist on an exorbitant dowry…”

The Gadol said, “If you want to hear what I have to say, take the one without the yichus. The yachsan is the child of a house filled with Torah; it’s no wonder that he grew to such an extent in Torah. His parents have been molding him for greatness from birth. He never achieved his scholarship on his own steam. After marriage he will be separated from his parents and be confronted with the need to earn a living. Who knows if he will continue to ascend spiritually? The young man who comes from a poor and simple ‘balebatishe’ family and has nevertheless achieved so much demonstrates that he has strong character. Such a young man will surely continue to ascend until he becomes a gadol b’Yisrael!”

Thursday, June 5, 2008


In Teplik lived a man named Feivel who was a sincere servant of G-d. Each night without fail, he would arise at midnight to say Tikkun Chatzos. He would feel so happy that he would then dance a great deal and sing with great fervor, “Ashreinu ma tov chelkeinu!” People thought that he was strange for rejoicing so much in doing mitzvos, and because he took such delight in the simple fact of his Jewishness. As a mark of their derision they started to call him “Feivel Ashreinu.”

When Rav Nosson of Breslov, zt”l, would visit Teplik, Reb Feivel would always greet him joyously. One time, however, Reb Feivel failed to meet him when Rav Nosson came to town.

When Rav Nosson asked “Where is Feivel?” the townspeople wondered which Feivel he meant. When he made clear who he meant, they said in a dismissive tone, “Oh, him? Since you were here last, ‘Feivel Ashreinu’ passed away.”

Taking note of their disrespectful attitude, Rav Nosson spoke to them sharply. “One of the punishments of the next world, the experience that is called Olam HaTohu, is that one is forced to repeat the acts that one did in this world for what seems an endless time. Generally, this is very humiliating, because after a person is no longer blinded by his this-worldly self-interest, the repetition brings home to the person how exceedingly foolish his actions really were. Most of us spend almost all of our time without having a sense of how privileged we are to be part of the Chosen Nation. So why should you denigrate Rav Feivel? Do you think he will be ashamed in the next world when he is dancing ecstatically as he sings joyfully, ‘Ashreinu ma tov chelkeinu?’”

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Food Fights

Years ago, a certain friend of Rav Tzvi Kovalsky, zt”l, approached him privately.

“As you know, I’m not married that long, but I’m already having terrible problems with my wife. We have different tastes. What I want her to prepare she doesn’t enjoy and doesn’t want to cook, and all of the ‘delicacies’ she prepares aren’t to my liking at all. We keep getting into arguments, and I don’t know what to do.”

Rav Kovalsky answered, “Let me tell you a little story. Once upon a time, when I was a young bochur, I came home one day from yeshiva and my mother served me vegetable soup. It was so horrible, I thought that I would have to vomit. Somehow I got it down, and when my mother asked me how I liked it, what could I say? How could I upset her after she had gone through the trouble to cook it for me? So I praised it to the skies, and when I saw how pleased she was, the awful taste didn’t bother me a bit. I even managed to accept seconds! To my dismay, I found that since my mother thought I had enjoyed it so much, the same soup was waiting for me every single day. I ate it despite all, and prayed that I would be released from the torment when I got married. Lo and behold—my devoted mother had shared my ‘favorite’ recipe with my kallah, and sure enough, the soup followed me into marriage. And so it is until today—I can barely swallow the soup, but she always is so happy when I eat it, I keep up the pretense.”

He concluded, “And you are telling me that you have problems because your tastes don’t match exactly???”

Years later, after Rav Kovalsky passed away, that same avreich told the Rav’s widow, “Rav Kovalsky’s words saved my marriage!”

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

A Humble Spirit

Some are familiar with the story of one mother who called to her young son, “Moshe Moshe,” while in the presence of Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt”l. When he heard her call he immediately assumed that she was calling him, so he turned around and asked her what she wished. It is less well known that Rav Moshe’s reaction could be considered the rule regarding the gedolim, not the exception to the rule.

Once, the secretary of the prestigious Kollel Hod in Batei Machse in Yesrushalayim called to his shamash and said, “We have received money for Mrs. Rosenfeld. Please call her to come for the money right away.”

The shamash was preoccupied with a personal matter so he completely misheard his boss’ instructions. Instead of Mrs. Rosenfeld, he thought his boss had said, “Rav Sonnenfeld.” Understandably, he went to the venerable Rav of Yerushalayim, Rav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld, zt”l, who immediately answered the summons and climbed the many steps to the office of the Kollel.

The moment the shocked secretary saw Rav of Yerushalayim at his door he blurted out, “I don’t understand. If the Rav had need of me, why didn’t he summon me?”

“Actually I am answering your shamash’s summons to come for money left for me.”

At this point the secretary figured out what had transpired and furiously exclaimed that he would give the shamash a piece of his mind.

“But why?” asked Rav Sonnenfeld. “This kind of mistake could happen to anyone.”

At the Rav’s insistence the secretary agreed not to mention the mistake to the shamash.

But what is truly mind-boggling is what transpired immediately afterwards. A short time later, Mrs. Rosenfeld entered the Kollel to collect her money.

“But how did you hear?’ asked the puzzled secretary who in the heat of the moment had completely forgotten to summon the woman.

“What do you mean how? A few minutes ago the Rav of Yerushalayim knocked on my door and told me about it!”

Monday, June 2, 2008

Too Frum

Once, certain Yerushalmi Yid known to be an unusually pious talmid chacham, was discovered to uphold a very unusual stringency: he was so frum that he wouldn’t even speak to his own wife! At first, the poor woman didn’t tell anyone about this habit of her husband’s, but eventually it bothered her so much that she revealed her hidden sorrow to her mother. Both women eventually decided to go to Rav Yehoshua Leib Diskin, zt”l, the Rav of Yerushalayim, for advice. When they told him about the husband’s behavior, he was very upset. He sent a messenger to this man requesting that the man come to him at the time during the day when the Rav normally took a break for lunch at home.

The man arrived at the appointed time, entered the house and said, “Shalom Aleichem, Rabi u’Mori!”

Rav Yehoshua Leib ignored him and rudely left him standing there foolishly all the while that the Rav ate his lunch. Understandably, the avreich was very embarrassed to be marooned there for the course of the Rav’s meal without the slightest bit of attention paid to his presence. When the Rav finished eating, he said perfunctorily, “You may go.”

The avreich, who was no fool, immediately understood the lesson. Naturally, he began to speak to his wife at home as everyone understands is only right and fitting!”

Sunday, June 1, 2008


Rav Aryeh Adler, shlit”a, a student of Rav Shach, zt”l, once went to see his Rebbi. Immediately after they exchanged pleasantries, the Rosh Yeshivah asked him a question, “You work in chinuch, tell me how you explain the vast spiritual descent of our generation?”

Rav Adler was noticeably confused, “Does the Rosh Yeshivah really believe that I need to know the answer to that question in my capacity as a mechanech?”

“Absolutely,” responded the Rosh Yeshivah decisively. “Everyone in chinuch must understand this essential point.”

“I assume the reason is the natural yeridas hadoros from Har Sinai downwards,” responded Rav Adler.

Rav Shach disagreed. “It is true that there is a yeridah from generation to generation, but that surely doesn’t explain the extent of the present generation’s descent.”

Rav Adler did not respond.

After a short pause Rav Shach answered his own question. “The solution is simply a deficiency of shame and a natural sense of propriety in the present generation. When I was young, it is true that the haskalah was making inroads everywhere, pushing people to all sorts of follies and sin. They instigated all kinds of big changes in much of the populace and caused many to change priorities in a shocking and damaging way. But with all this, people had a natural sense of shame and this protected them from doing the terrible indecencies of the present generation. The curse of Ikvesah D’mishicha, a lack of common decency, has come upon us and there is no stopping the resultant yeridah.”

The Rosh Yeshivah concluded, “You are mistaken if you think we have reached the worst of it, Hashem should protect us. Where there is a marked lack of common decency, anything is possible. Who knows to what depths we can fall, Rachmana litzlan?”