Sunday, August 31, 2008

Bilvavi Author's Schedule in the U.S now Available

I received the following email from my friend "Dixie Yid": B'Ezras Hashem, the author of the Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh seforim, Rav Itamar Shwartz,shlita, will be arriving in the United States next Sunday September 7th until the following Sunday, September 14th. He will be speaking in Boca Raton, FL, Manhattan, Baltimore, MD, Monsey, NY, Woodmere, NY for Shabbos, Five Towns/Far Rockaway, Northern New Jersey and Brooklyn. A full schedule can be viewed here
טעמו וראו

If Not Now, When?

Chazal exhort us to take advantage of the special accessibility to Hashem afforded us leading up to and during the aseres yimei teshuvah. Rav Chaim Brisker, zt”l, once explained this idea with a parable:
There was once a Polish town that lay close to the Russian border. Because of the constant skirmishes between the two countries, the border shifted several times. At one point, the border intervened between the town and its Jewish cemetery, and this caused great problems for the Jews. Every burial meant undergoing interrogation and cross-examination by the intransigent border guard.
The Jews appealed to the authorities, and managed to reach an agreement so that funeral processions would not be stopped as they crossed the border and the Jews could bury their dead without the indignity of delay. Some enterprising locals soon realized that this was a golden opportunity to smuggle contraband across the border. They dressed up as Jews, filled a coffin with illegal goods, and successfully carried it across. Delighted with their plan, they repeated it several times over the succeeding weeks.
One night, the border guard heard the merry sound of singing and laughing. Looking out from his hut, he spotted a group of “Jews” carrying a coffin towards the border. Suspicious, he stopped them and asked to see inside the coffin. The “Jews” refused to open it, saying, “Don’t we have an agreement that Jewish burial parties may pass?” The guard insisted, and discovered the contraband. Well aware of the deep trouble they had gotten themselves into, the smugglers all fell to their knees and began crying and pleading for mercy.
“Fools!” said the guard. “Had you cried before, you wouldn’t have to cry before me now!”
“Similarly,” concluded Rav Chaim, “When trouble descends on people in the middle of the year they cry and plead with Hashem. They don't realize that if they had cried during the auspicious time of Elul, and especially during the yomim noraim and aseres yimei teshuvah, they would not have had these troubles to begin with!”

Friday, August 29, 2008

Teshuvah and Elul

The Gemara teaches us that kings are judged prior to their subjects, and one reason for this is that the earlier one is judged the better. The later it gets, the angrier the Judge becomes, so to speak. The Toldos Adam, zt”l, says that the monarch of our Gemara refers to a righteous man who is compared to a king (Gittin 49). He works very hard to prepare himself for judgment, and starts long before the appointed day. Because he is more sensitive to the ramifications of being judged, he is prepared earlier, is judged earlier, and fares that much better for it!
Rav Chaim Solevetchik, zt”l, the Rav of Brisk, told a parable to illustrate this point.
“Once, a man wanted to smuggle some merchandise across the border. He met with a wagon driver who specialized in such operations and made all the necessary arrangements. Although there was time until the appointed day, the merchant was anxious from the first moment. His nerves were so bad, and his conscience so guilty, that he literally had to stop himself from looking over his shoulder for the long arm of the law even though, as yet, he hadn’t done anything illegal.
“The wagon driver was not disconcerted in the slightest. For him, it was all business as usual. Even so, when the day finally arrived to more the merchandise, he too was also petrified. He kept looking over his shoulder for anyone who might be guarding the little known path that he had chosen. He was startled by the slightest sound and was ready to bolt at any provocation.
Rav Chaim concluded: “The only ones who had a good trip were the horses!”
He explained, “Some start to tremble as soon as Elul begins because they realize that everything is at stake: life, health, livelihood, family, and peace of mind. Others are less sensitive, but they at least have the sense to feel some anxiety on Rosh Hashanah itself. Then there are those people who are as insensitive as the horses—their minds are focused on one thing only: the trough!”

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Rav and the Dishonest Collector

Chazal tell us that we really ought to appreciate false solicitors of charity. Were it not for them, we would be held accountable for turning away any person in serious need. Since there are some rogues who do prey on the well-intentioned, we are no longer duty-bound to assume that everyone we meet who asks for our assistance is actually in desperate need. The Rif, zt”l, on Ein Yaakov explains we express our appreciation to the phonies…by giving them charity!
The Satmar Rav, zt”l, gave a great deal of tzedakah. It was well known that if one really needed money, the Rav could be convinced to pay out huge sums. Once, a man came before him and told him a heartbreaking tale about how his wife was sick and his children were also ill in different, horrific ways.
The Rav was exceedingly moved. On the table was a small bag that held a huge sum that one of his wealthy Chasidim had left as a pidyon nefesh, together with a kvitl. The Rav, clearly in distress from hearing the man’s tale of woe, immediately thrust the bag of money into the poor man’s hand. The man tearfully thanked the Rav and raced from the room, presumably to rush home and tell his family that their money problems at least were over.
A few minutes after the man had left, the Rav’s gabbai ran in, obviously flustered, and exclaimed, “Where is the man who was dressed in such-and-such a way?” He was obviously referring to the man with the sob story.
The Satmar Rav replied, “He just left.”
“But Rebbe, we must find him! He is a faker, a phoney! How will we get the money back from him? Did the Rebbe give him a large sum of money?” Although the gabbai was frantic, the Rebbe suddenly seemed to relax again.
The Rebbe asked, “You mean that story wasn’t true? Boruch Hashem—at least no Jew is suffering that kind of agony!” exclaimed the Rebbe.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Rebbe's Kindness

When the Ponevezh Yeshiva built its new building, Rav Kahanaman, zt”l, assumed debts of massive proportion on his shoulders. The only conceivable way to cover this was an extended trip to collect funds in America.
This was his first visit to America, and he was fairly unknown in the New World. Not surprisingly, although he collected for many months he didn’t make much headway at all. As the day of his departure drew near, he decided to bid the Kapischnitzer Rebbe farewell.
The Rebbe asked, “How much did you succeed in collecting?”
The Ponevezher Rav burst into tears and confided to the Rebbe that he had not succeeded in making a fraction of what he owed and didn’t know how he was going to deal with the crushing burden of debt that remained on his shoulders.
After the Rav dejectedly left, the Rebbe started making phone calls. An hour later he had $10,000 for the Rav. The Rebbe’s son who told this story was not sure if this vast sum of money was borrowed or donated.
In those years this was a veritable fortune. The Rebbe asked his son to accompany him to the home where Rav Kahanaman was staying to give over the money.
When the Rav saw the money he again burst into tears. “In all the many weary months I spent soliciting donations I didn’t make anywhere near this sum!”
The Ponevezher Rav once said, “If I were to turn into a chossid I have a ready-made Rebbe, the Rebbe of Kapischnitz!”

Monday, August 25, 2008

The Mistaken Messenger

Once, a fairly wealthy man was in the middle of davening with the minyan of the Kotzker Rebbe, zt”l, when a breathless messenger burst into the shul. He pounced upon the wealthy man and said, “I am sorry to have to tell you this, but there was a fire on the edge of town and your factory was burned to the ground!”
The factory was the wealthy man’s sole source of livelihood. Apparently, the blaze had dragged him down from riches to rags. Completely overwhelmed by grief, he fainted dead away. After a few minutes, his fellow worshipers managed to revive him. As soon as he regained consciousness and he realized that all his wealth was lost, he fainted yet again.
When he woke up for the second time, he again recalled his loss and seemed on the verge of losing consciousness once again. At that moment, the Kotzker Rebbe, zt”l, interjected. He reassured the prostrate man, “Don’t worry, your factory is intact.”
The wealthy felt bolstered by the Rebbe’s words and slowly seemed to come back to himself. Just then, a second messenger arrived. He burst into the shul and trumpeted, “What the first messenger reported was a mistake! Your factory is safe.”
The relieved man was astounded that the Rebbe had known the truth and asked him whether this was ruach hakodesh.
The Kotzker Rebbe replied, “No, it was nothing like that. I could see that the challenge was far too much for you to handle, so it wasn’t possible that the first messenger had told the truth.”
The Chidushei HaRim, zt”l, explained this concept further, “In Kesuvos 33b, we find that if Chananiah, Mishael, and Azarya had actually been subject to torture they would have indeed bowed to Nevuchadnezzar’s idol. Why does the Gemara record this apparently insulting hypothesis? Clearly the object is not to denigrate these great tzaddikim! Chazal shared this with us so that we would understand that these three were not subject to torture because Hashem knew they couldn’t overcome the trial of torture! We learn a very important lesson from our Gemara: Hashem doesn’t give us more than we can handle!”

Friday, August 22, 2008

You Must Really Make an Effort!

{When I first saw this story I was reminded of this post:
Rav Shach, zt”l, said, “When one person asks another for help, often the person being asked says that he will ‘try.’ This expression is said automatically in an offhand manner and is not seen as assuming an obligation at all. Often people believe that making no more than the slightest effort on his friend’s behalf is sufficient. They think that agreeing to make an effort means any kind of effort or no effort, but this is incorrect…”
Rav Shach would use the following story to illustrate why:
A young man once approached Rav Eliyahu Kamai, zt”l, the Mirrrer Rosh Yeshivah and requested financial aid for a worthy cause.
“I cannot give you the entire sum that you need,” Rav Kamai replied. “I will give you…” and he named a generous sum.
The bochur was not satisfied, though. “Please give the full sum. If you cannot, at least agree to try to procure the remainder from another source.”
Rav Kamai completely refused this request.
The bouchur was confused. “But all I ask is that you try. Why refuse such a small request?”
Rav Kamai replied, “Do you know the meaning of saying ‘I will try?’ In Gittin 30 we find the case of one who gave his wife a conditional divorce which will only take effect if the condition is fulfilled, and said, ‘This divorce will take effect if I do not appease you within thirty days.’ Rav Yosef explains that even if he tried to appease her but she was not amenable, the divorce takes effect. Surely, if he had given her a chest full of coins or made other great efforts, she would have been appeased! We see that Chazal understood ‘making an effort’ to mean something very different than what most people intend today. Today, people believe that this is just an expression without true meaning, but this is inaccurate. In light of this, how can you ask me to make an effort? Who can say he has fulfilled his obligation to ‘try’?”
Hashem should help us mean what we way and say what we mean.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Israel is Like a Mirror...

Rav Yisroel of Ruzhin, zt”l, was known to be as sharp as a blade. He was a very pious and brilliant young man who amazed everyone who met him, from academic to Torah gaon to simple chassid.
Once, one of his Chasidim made the trip to Eretz Yisrael and visited with Rav Yisroel upon his return. When this chassid approached him, Rav Yisroel said, “Shalom Aleichem!” After the chasid responded as is customary, Rav Yisroel asked, “Nu, so how was it?”
The chassid, smart enough to realize that if he said one word against Eretz Yisrael, he would be in for a scathing rebuke, merely said, “Better I say nothing…”
“Do you know why we call ‘the Promised Land’ Eretz Yisrael?” asked the Rebbe.
“No,” replied the chassid.
“We call it Eretz Yisrael because every Jew who goes to this land sees the truth about himself. The land acts as a mirror reflecting his true spiritual status back at him. The reason you feel cold about Eretz Yisrael is not because that is the land’s true identity, since nothing could be further than the truth. You feel cold because you are spiritually apathetic! If a Jew who goes to Eretz Yisrael can’t find any good attribute which he can report, this bears a very telling witness about the true state of his spirituality!”

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

You Only Need to Do Your Best

Rav Zalman of Volozhin, zt”l, was a child prodigy. At fourteen he learned in the great beis medrash in Vilna, and was well known for his brilliance. Once, a certain man came to him and expressed a desire to say over a, “peirush tov on a Mishnah in Maseches D’mai.” Since the man, like so many Lithuanian Jews of that time, pronounced his shin as a sin, what he said sounded like, “peiros tov.”
The young Rav Zalman heard his visitor out, but he felt that the man’s interpretation was off. He felt a bit annoyed at having such bitter “peiros tov” thrust upon him, and he responded sharply after the man finished, “That isn’t peiros tov—it’s peiros d’mai!” Meaning, this is the awful “fruit” of the scholarship of an ignoramus.
As soon as the abashed man left, Rav Zalman was filled with remorse. How could he shame a fellow Jew who was talking in learning to the best of his ability? Even though they had spoken one on one and Rav Zalman hadn’t shamed him in public, there was no excuse for such behavior. He frantically started to search the town for the man to beg his forgiveness but to no avail. The man was nowhere to be found.
Rav Zalman searched for this man for well over a decade but still couldn’t find him. It was only with great difficulty that Rav Zalman’s son-in-law was able to stop him from undertaking a personal exile and taking up wandering throughout Lita so that he could admit his sin in every shul throughout the land in the hope of finding the wronged man.
When the Vilna Gaon heard about this, he summoned Rav Zalman to try and comfort and encourage him. The Gaon closed their conversation by saying, “You did everything you possibly could to find the wronged party and make amends. About just such a case the Chovos Halevavos writes in the tenth chapter of Sha’ar Hateshuvah, “If a person earnestly repents after having sinned against his friend bodily or monetarily, Hashem will cause a broad-mindedness and a love to enter his friend’s heart until he forgives him….”
Such was Rav Zalman’s faith in the Gaon, that although he certainly was already familiar with these words of the Chovos Halevavos, he was instantly comforted as soon as the Gaon uttered them!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

How about Kibud Av?

Yitz asked an incisive question on my latest post: "What Will I Eat Tomorrow?"

"I have a lot of difficulty with the rationale of the punch line.

if you are really a baal bitachon, it's on HaShem's cheshbon...

isn't that the whole point?

if there is a cheshbon involved, why was his father not, not being a 'baal bitachon' on the chesbon of the other people less fortunate than himself?

how is he making a point that isn't challenging his father's point? as I assume he must be, out of kibud av."
My reply: "The answer is that bitachon is not so simple. Either you are achieving the level required or not, but it is exceedingly easy to fool yourself and immagine you are on the level when you are really not there at all. In this spirit Rav Nosson of Breslov said to his son, "I have enough bitachon for myself and my family but not for yours as well. You must work on your own bitachon."
Similarly, the Alter of Novardok would borrow money even when he didn't have any observable way to return it. When asked how he could do so, he explained that he was relying on bitachon. A thoughful man who was in debt asked him if he was also permitted to borrow money on his "bitachon account." The Alter's reply is very illuminating: "Only if you would lend that kind of money to someone who had absolutely no observable way to repay..."
The same is true regarding purchasing the needs of Shabbos with money one doesn't have (amd doesn't forsee is coming.) Although the gemara states that purchases for Shabbos etc. aren't deducted from the money designated for a person on Rosh Hashannah, The Chazon Ish and others explain that this is only true of someone who has bitachon...
The Birsker Rav's son didn't wish to certainly take away from his father's food and doubtfully bring in more for himself as a result of his bitachon (especially since it was a hard time.)
The question of why the Brisker Rav didnt act that way is not valid since different tzaddikim often take different paths. The Gemara even records that Shamai would save any unusual delicacies he encountered during the week for use on Shabbos while Hillel relied on bitachon...
His father wished to guide his son to work more on bitachon but the son had a different derech. One need not listen to his parent if he is drawn to a different path in Avodas Hashem just like he need not listen if his father insists that he learns in one yeshiva and he feels he will not do as well there as in another that his father doesn't like as much. (Interestingly, the Chazon Ish and Rav Shlomo Zalman Aurebach both said this regarding children drawn to Breslov whose parents objected.)
Thank you for your question. This is a very broad topic and there is much more to say about it but the above should suffice for now.

“What Will I Eat Tomorrow?”

It is hard for us in our comparatively wealthy society to imagine the destitution of Warsaw between the two World Wars. A debilitating shortage of food and the most basic amenities of life is something which virtually no one needs to deal with today outside of the third world. In Warsaw, people literally starved. A person who could afford to bring home enough bread for his family was considered very fortunate indeed. Understandably, most people would eat only the minimum of any food purchased so as to make their meager stores last as long as possible. Virtually no one knew where their next crust of bread would come from, literally.
Interestingly, the Brisker Rav, zt”l, would eat his fill and wouldn’t limit himself to save food from one day to the next. He constantly worked on bitachon and felt that leaving over was not appropriate for him. After all, in Sotah 48 Rabi Eliezer Hagadol proclaims that anyone who has bread in their basket yet asks, “What will we eat tomorrow?” has little faith.
In sharp contradistinction to the Brisker Rav completely eating his fill, his son, Rav Yosef Dov, zt”l, ate virtually nothing. The Brisker Rav could not chew the hard crusts of the breads. His son would eat only those and nothing else.
The Brisker Rav scolded him. “The only reason why we don’t have enough food for you too, is because you insist on eating only the crusts and not your full share of the bread. If you ate as much bread as you need, we would have enough for both of us.”
Rav Yosef Dov continued his practice of only eating the crusts however. Years later he explained, “I didn’t want to be a ba’al bitachon on my father’s cheshbon!”

Monday, August 18, 2008

The "Kilo" of Butter

Many years ago, in a small town outside of Israel, people lived quite harmoniously. The town had a Jewish baker, a Jewish dairyman, and so on. When the baker needed butter, which was often the case, he would go to the dairyman and purchase a kilogram block.
Once, when he purchased his usual measure of butter, he was struck that it seemed to be quite a bit lighter than a full kilo. The baker was very practiced at weighing amounts by feel since he needed to put the same amount of flour and water to produce equal breads of consistent quality every time he baked. The baker figured it was a fluke, however, and waited for his next purchase to see if the measure would be off again. On the following occasion, he was sure that he was being cheated. By the third time, the baker couldn’t control his anger and confronted the dairyman.
He accused, “I am paying you for a kilogram so why are you selling me much less? Maybe your scale is off.”
“This stick of butter is a kilo!” replied the indignant dairy seller. “If you think it’s less, then take me to a din Torah.”
Since the baker had plans to travel that very day to a nearby city where he would have access to a very accurate scale, he took the butter along and weighed it. What he saw infuriated him. The butter weighed precisely 800 grams.
The baker didn’t waste a moment. He hurried home and summoned the dairyman to a din Torah.
In front of the dayanim the baker intoned, “I weighed this butter on the accurate scale in the city. Although he claims it’s a kilo, it’s actually 800 grams.”
To the surprise of all, the dairy seller still denied it. “I will rush to bring the counterweight for my scales and your honors can see for yourselves if I perpetrate an injustice…”
When he reentered the court he held a loaf of bread in his hand. “I purchase this bread from our friend here every day. As everyone here knows, he claims it’s a kilogram loaf. If you place my butter against this bread on the scale you will see that the two are exactly even!”
The baker’s face turned beet red with embarrassment. How could he present a claim against the dairyman, when his “kilo loaf” weighed precisely 800 grams?

Friday, August 15, 2008

The Avodah of the Fifteenth of Av

A chossid once asked the Divrei Shmuel of Slonim, zt”l: “Why does the gemara in Taanis 26 state that there were no holidays like the fifteenth of Av and Yom Kippur? Why is the fifteenth of Av compared to Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year? Also, why isn’t Yom Kippur mentioned first?”
The Rebbe explained, “This is hinting that the days of teshuva begin on the fifteenth of Av and extend all the way to Yom Kippur! As he famous saying goes: Av is an acronym that spells Elul bah, Elul is on its way. Anyone who can arouse themselves to repent during these days of mercy should do so. Anyone who can’t should at least do so by contemplating the merit of their righteous ancestors. This will also work well. However, someone who simply cannot arouse himself to teshuva on the fifteenth of Av should take a different hint from the gemara. It tells us that the custom was that they would ‘borrow clothes one from the other.’ If a person feels uninspired to repent, he should ‘borrow’ inspiration from his friend or teacher who does feel aroused to change. Let such a person ask someone inspired what awakened him until he feels like he is beginning to wake up spiritually and start to do teshuva!”
The Lev Simcha, zt”l, answered differently: “There were no days for the Jewish people that could compare to the fifteenth of Av. The gemara is very clear that people would make matches on that day. So we see that one needs a very special measure of assistance from above to merit to make good shidduchim for oneself and one’s children. We should not take this for granted! Shidduchim are not a simple matter at all!”

Thursday, August 14, 2008

A World Without Wind

The Ben Ish Chai, zt”l, once told a story to explain the meaning of the Talmud’s statement: “Just as the world cannot exist without wind, so too can the world not exist without the Jewish people.”
Once there was a man who would always purchase exclusive rights from the royal crown to fish in a certain area. Since he made a comfortable living, he renewed his lease yearly for a number of years. One year, the king consigned the lease for this living to another of his subjects. When the man heard this he was shocked to the core, and ran to petition his case before the king.
“Is this fair?” he cried. “Is this just? How could his majesty take away my living without even informing me?”
The king agreed that it was unfair but could not repeal a decree that he had already written. Instead, he offered to grant the former lessee another man’s rights to a different living.
The lessee objected. “This would mean that I am stealing another man’s livelihood!” he claimed. He said to the king, “You are the absolute ruler here. I want you to lease me the wind for ten thousand gold coins instead.”
The king and his advisors thought that he man was mad, but the king granted his novel request.
The owner of all rights to the wind went to all the different smiths in his town and all the ship captains and forced them to pay for using their sails and bellows that harness the wind. He also charged a fee of anyone who opened his window to catch a passing breeze. Finally, he charged everyone for the right to breathe! He made a fortune in the year that he was allowed these rights to the wind!
This is why the Jewish people are compared to the wind. Everyone needs the wind of their breath—no one can survive without it. So too, everyone is dependent on the Jewish people to live since the whole world exists in the merit of the Jewish people!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

“Give Ma’aser, and You Will Become Wealthy…”

Someone once came to Rav Pinchas of Koritz, zt”l, and asked a question that was obviously troubling him. “In Taanis 9, we find that Chazal cite the phrase עשר תעשר, literally ‘you shall surely give a tenth of your earnings,’ and reinterpret the second word as t’asheir instead of t’aser. This alters the meaning to, ‘Give a tenth, so that you will become wealthy.’ Here we have an assurance that if we faithfully give away a tenth of our earnings, we will be successful financially. I have given ma’aser assiduously my whole life. Why, then, have I have not merited wealth?”
Rav Pinchas answered, “Let me tell you a true story about my neighbor that sheds light on your question. My neighbor is a wagon driver. He has good horses and he cares for them with great devotion, always providing them with the best food and shelter possible. As expected, the horses have always preformed well, and they run with great endurance in all types of weather. One time, the horses failed to follow orders. Although they were hitched to their wagon and primed to travel, they simply refused to move. Since their owner knew that his animals lacked nothing, their obstinacy infuriated him. He figured that they needed to be taught a lesson. He began to beat them, all the while repeating his command that they start moving. An onlooker shouted at the wagon driver, ‘You are cruel to your animals! They have done nothing wrong! How can you expect them to move if you have the brakes engaged?’”
“This is your problem too,” explained the Rav. “Giving ma’aser can propel one’s financial success forward just as the horses hitched to the wagon will propel it toward its destination. However, if the brakes are engaged at the same time, the driver won’t get anywhere at all. If you are braking by failing to observe Shabbos and kashrus properly, the horses are not to blame for your inability to reach your goal. You must release the break mechanism by doing teshuvah and changing your behavior!”

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Gemara and Parnassa

A chossid once came to Rav Moshe of Lelov, zt”l, with a plea for help: “Rebbe, I don’t know what to do. I try so hard to make a living, but my parnassa is just not what it needs to be! Sometimes I go through a better period when I make money, but then just when it seems to be going well I suddenly lose everything I’ve gained. How can I attain more stability in my finances?”
The Lelover Rebbe answered, “What you need to do is accept upon yourself to learn gemara every day, and then you will certainly succeed. I learn this out from the gemara in Taanis 25. There, the gemara relates that Rav Chanina’s dire circumstances influenced him to pray that he would be granted a part of his eternal reward in this world so that he could secure some degree of material ease. He prayed and his prayers were answered; he was given one of the gold legs from his table in the next world. When his wife saw in a dream that their table in the next world would be missing a leg, unlike the rest of the righteous whose reward was untouched and still whole, they decided to give it back and it was accepted. The gemara concludes that the fact that the heavenly table leg was taken back was an even greater miracle than the first. They said because, ‘we have learned that one who has something given to him from on high does not have it taken back.’ But this can also be explained a different way. “Gemiri”—one who learns his set seder of gemara every day will be granted success from heaven that will not be taken back!”

Monday, August 11, 2008

Seeing a Tragedy

During the period that led up to the outbreak of World War I, tensions in Europe were at an all-time high. The conflicting nationalistic aspirations of numerous groups threatened the stability of all of Europe, and many monarchies were on the brink of civil war at home, and war over territorial claims at their borders. During the summer immediately preceding the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand in Yugoslavia that began World War I, Europe was aptly compared to a powder keg, just waiting for the final spark to set it alight.
At that time, a number of gedolim proposed that a universal fast be declared over the Jewish community and circulated a petition to garner support.
When the matter became known, a certain communal leader declared that his vehement opposition. He publicly stated, “Right now, the Jewish Communists, Socialists, Zionists, and Bundists are presenting an unprecedented affront to G-d. Why should we, orthodox Jewry, have to fast because of their sins?”
The petitioners responded with an obvious answer. “The Medrash says clearly that since we are all in the same boat, it doesn’t matter if it is someone else’s fault that we are sinking because he has decided to drill a hole! To save ourselves, we have to undo the damage made by the other person.”
And, as for not waiting for disaster to strike but rather making an effort to pre-empt it, they had a perfect argument. “We find on Taanis 19a that Rabi Yosi said that the sages didn’t declare a fast because a tragedy had already happened. Rather, they declared a fast because they were able to see that a potential tragedy was looming on the horizon. ‘They declared a fast because wolves had devoured two young children on the far side of the Yarden. Rabi Yosi said: They weren’t eaten, they were seen…’ If the Chachomim felt that just spotting the wolves is enough of a reason to declare a fast, surely our situation is no less threatening! And we pasken like Rabi Yosi!”

Friday, August 8, 2008

The Keys of the Mikdash

The Brisker Rav, zt”l, would often receive inquiries from askonim and others who sought leniencies on the pretext that circumstances made them necessary to ensure the Jewish people’s survival. He would answer that even if it appears as though compromising the Torah’s integrity could safeguard its ultimate “survival,” we are still not permitted to “play G-d” and make changes that are not sanctioned by the straightforward halachah.
To better explain his uncompromising stance, he would make use of a proof from the following Gemara in Ta’anis: “During the destruction of the first Beis HaMikdash, the young kohanim took the keys to the sanctuary, climbed up to the roof, and threw them up toward heaven. They said that since they were no longer able to serve as faithful trustees, Hashem should assume the responsibility for the Mikdash. Something that appeared to have the form of a hand descended and took the keys, and the kohanim leapt into the flames.”
The Brisker Rav continued, “This teaches us a powerful lesson. The Torah is not our personal business concern over which we have independent control. In our own enterprise, we have the authority to sell off a product for a song in order to ensure that we have a good turnover until we build up the business and can sell at a profit. But the Torah is not something that we own, something that we can decide to alter by sacrificing certain halachos, to ensure that it will ‘sell’ for the time being until the ‘market’ is better!”
He concluded, “If we cannot accomplish our aims in accordance with the halachah, we accept that our hands are tied and do not act. We are only gizborim, trustees. We are not owners of the Torah with the latitude to alter it and do with it as we wish!”

Thursday, August 7, 2008

“The Precepts of Hashem… Gladden the Heart”

Chazal teach that it is forbidden to learn words of (most areas of) Torah on Tisha B’av because they make a person joyous and such a state is incompatible with the nature of the fast day. The proof for the Torah’s ability to lift one’s spirits is taken from the verse: “The precepts of Hashem are right; they gladden the heart.” (Tehillim 19:9)
Unfortunately, some people don’t really feel the joy of learning. The Ohev Yisroel, zt”l, writes that although learning Torah gladdens the heart, one who pushes himself to proceed faster than he can realistically manage is in too much of a rush to enjoy his learning. We must be upwardly mobile spiritually, but only one step at a time.
A number of chassidim once asked Rav Mendel of Vitebsk, zt”l: “Why do we find ourselves depressed by unholy thoughts? We are learning and praying to the best of our ability. Doesn’t the verse say that Hashem’s precepts gladden one’s heart?”
Rav Mendel responded, “It says in Pirkei Avos that a person is considered wealthy when he is happy with what he has. This also refers to one’s spiritual attainments. Even though the Tanna D’bei Eliyahu writes that we should always ask when our deeds will come to those of the Avos, this does not mean that we should be unhappy with what we have accomplished. It is just meant to goad us to always strive for more!”
He concluded, “One who truly wants to serve Hashem will be thankful for every little bit of learning that he has achieved while he continues to yearn for more. It is only this type of Torah study that can save a person from depression and negative thoughts. This is what the verse means when it says that the Torah’s precepts gladden one’s heart. As Chazal tell us, the Torah is like an elixir; if one is worthy, it is an elixir of life, but if not it is like poison. One must always be happy with what he learns, for ‘Torah study is equal to all the other mitzvos!”

Monday, August 4, 2008

The Words of a Tzaddik

Chazal tell us that a righteous person makes a decree and Hashem fulfills it (Moed Katan 16.)
Once, a very simple Jew who lived in Bnei Brak had a serious problem. A short time before Shabbos, his pipe burst and the only way to shut down the water in his own apartment was through closing the main, which would deprive many other families of water. It seemed that the only thing he could do would be to leave the water on throughout Shabbos, with all of the attendant loss of water, money, and the damage that it might entail. Since it was much too late to call a plumber before Shabbos, the man felt that he had no other choice but to leave the water running. Just before Shabbos, he was struck with another idea.
The man ran to the Chazon Ish, zt”l, and told him his trouble.
“But how can I help you?” asked the Gadol. “I’m not a plumber!”
“Please just say that the water will stop flowing in my house.”
Bemused, the Chazon Ish repeated this phrase and wished the man a good Shabbos.
Amazingly, the water remained off only in this man’s house throughout the entire Shabbos.
After Shabbos, this man went back to the Chazon Ish with a different problem.
He implored, “Rebbi, I need my water back on now that it is Motzei Shabbos and I have easily found a plumber to fix the trouble. Please turn it back on—I have no water in my house!”
Surprised, the Chazon Ish asked, “But how do you expect me to help you now?”
The man responded, “I would like you to say that my water should start to flow again!”
No less bemused than before, the Gadol did so and then wished the man Gut voch.
And the water started to run again through the repaired pipes!

Friday, August 1, 2008

Spirit of the Law: Chapter 122: 1 Chizuk and Beyn Hamitzarim

1 "From the 17th of Tamuz the tzaros of the churban started so the custom is to comport oneself a little like a mourner. It is fitting for anyone who fears heaven to say tikun chatzos after midday during this time…"
The Gemara writes:all who mourn the destruction of Yerushalayim will merit to see her nechama .The Maharal explains two reasons why one must first mournto see the nechamah.

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