Friday, September 26, 2008

Short Break

Off to Uman; see you in a week or so b'ezras Hashem. (That is next year!)
Kesivah v'chasimah tovah!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Two Edged Sword of Azamra

The Likutei Halachos zt”l brings the Medrash about the red heifer, “Let the mother come and clean up after her child.” The child of the heifer is the golden calf, the paradigm of willful sin, and the cleansing from the impurity of death symbolizes the internal cleansing of teshuvah. This is achieved by focusing on our good points and returning to our real identity, which makes the negative fall aside. Just as the red heifer is completely unblemished, the good within us is absolutely unsoiled by whatever bad we may have done.
But this focusing on the good is double-edged; like the ashes of the heifer, it can defile the pure even as it purifies the impure. Seeking out our own good points is appropriate for when we are feeling discouraged and far from Hashem, because it ensures that we won’t fall completely. However, when we are in a good state, such a focus can easily lead to arrogance. Knowing when to focus on the good in ourselves and when to focus on how far we have to go is a great challenge. Perhaps this is what Shlomo Hamelech referred to when he said that although he had tried to understand it, the mystery of the red heifer remained, “far from me.”
One Motzei Shabbos, during Elul, Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer zt”l spoke in his Yeshivah, the famous Yeshivas Etz Chaim. When they heard his moving words, his listeners could not help but cry along with him.
“When a Sefer Torah is found to be pasul, the law is that we put a belt on its outside so that everyone will know that it invalid. This will keep people from reading from it, because to do so would be a sin.”
At this point the Rav himself burst into tears. “Since this is the case, who knows how many belts I need to bind around myself, so that people will know that I am pasul? How will they otherwise be warned away from learning from me?!”

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Likutei Halachos on Teshuvah

The Talmud tells us that a convert is like a newborn.
The Likutei Halachos learns a very powerfully encouraging lesson from this. A convert has to sincerely want to become a Jew and immerse in the mikveh. A male convert must also become circumcised. After going through these processes, the male or female convert is like a newborn baby. But have they come to some sort of perfection through this process? Does immersion or circumcision automatically erase their character defects? Not by a long shot! Even so, the fact that they have acted on a genuine desire to become Jewish is transformative. Although this desire alone is not enough, one who doesn’t have it is not accepted as a convert. We must be assured of the purity of his intentions. From this we can learn the preciousness of one who keeps trying to be a good Jew and do the right thing even if he falls. Surely he is much more of a newborn than a convert since he has continued to yearn to move forward many hundreds of times!
We can also learn this from teshuvah. Even if one regrets his sins and wishes to improve on the last day of his life, his repentance is accepted. How much more precious is one who does teshuvah many hundreds of times! And one who repents every day is even more laudable. The main thing is to keep yearning to be better until we merit the help from Above that we need.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


One time a chossid of the Karliner Rebbi zt”l complained bitterly to his Rebbe: “All my fellow chassidim seem to be making great progress, while I feel as though I’m not really getting anywhere!”
The Rebbe responded, “Sadly enough, I can’t find the right key to open your heart.”
The chossid, besides himself, cried out, “What need is there for a key? Break it open with an axe if that’s what it takes!”
“There is no longer any need even to find a key,” the Rebbe smiled. “Your heart is already open!"

Monday, September 22, 2008

“I Will Sin, and I Will Repent Later...”

Anyone who says that he will sin now and take advantage of his ability to repent later is prevented from doing teshuvah later. The Lev Eliyahu zt”l explains that this is not so much a segulah as it is a result of human nature. Since sin pollutes the soul and dulls its holy sensibility, the person who sins is not in the same state that he was before his sin. Beforehand, he had enough sensibility to know that what he was about to do demands repentance. Afterward, the sin affects him so that he no longer has the same resolve to repent. If before he indulged he failed to control himself, how can he possibly manage it now that his heart is blocked?
On the very last erev Yom HaKippurim of his life, a group of bochurim came to visit the Chazon Ish zt”l. One of the boys asked the gadol, “On Yom Kippur everyone does teshuvah, but didn’t we repent of the same flaws last year already? If we persisted in the sins that we repented of last year, and if it is likely that we’re going to fall into the same temptations again this year, doesn’t this coming teshuvah of Yom Kippur make us like someone who says, ‘I will sin and Yom Kippur will atone for me?’”
The Chazon Ish responded with a question of his own. “Why did Hashem create man with innate weaknesses? He did it for this very reason; that he will sin and repent, and sin again and repent again. This cannot be compared to a person who eases his guilty conscience by resolving to repent later on for a sin he is about to do. On Yom Kippur, we really do want to repent fully, and we sincerely take upon ourselves to change our ways. The one mentioned in the gemara who says that he will sin and will repent later does not really want to repent at all.”

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Making Time

The Chofetz Chaim told the following story:
Once there was a shopkeeper who was very successful and made a fortune off of the people of his city and the surrounding environs. Virtually every waking minute was taken up with work. Not only did he lack time to learn one word of Torah, this gentleman didn’t even have enough time to daven. Since he worked until late at night it was hard for him to get up on time in the morning; he invariably arrived at shul around the time of Borchu. Of course, since he always needed to rush to his business, he would leave davening early and never remained until Aleinu.
When this businessman grew older he started to notice that his hair was turning grey. The shock of his own encroaching mortality inspired him to make a rigorous cheshbon hanefesh. “One day it will be time to leave the world and I will be required to give an exact accounting for every action. All the money in the world will surely be worthless then…”
He decided that from that day on he would have a daily seder of several hours after davening no matter what. The very next day he went to bed early, got up on time, and for the first time in years arrived on time for a weekday davening. He stayed until the end and began learning with great enthusiasm.
Meanwhile, his partner wondered why this man, always so regular in the past, did not come to help the moment the store opened at 7:00 AM. When he finally arrived a little after ten, his partner was a little annoyed with him. “Where were you?” blurted the partner.
“I couldn’t make it on time today,” he replied vaguely.
The next day the partner in the store anxiously awaited the reformed businessman, but to no avail. After an hour he decided to search for the twice tardy man. When he finally found him in shul he was furious, but decided to wait for him to complete his seder before exploding. He returned to the store.
At 10:00 AM, when this man finally completed his few hours of learning and arrived at the store, his partner virtually pounced on him. “Are you crazy? The store is filled with customers. I simply cannot manage alone and you sit and learn? As you know we don’t really need the money but not having enough salesmen is like tossing our valuable customers out the door...”
The partner who had done teshuvah did not mince words. “Listen carefully. What would you have done if the malach hamaves had come for me? Would you also insist that I simply may not die because our store is filled with customers? So I want you to imagine that, during those first three hours of business in the morning, I have left the world. Why should it bother you if after a couple of hours I am revived from the dead and come to help out in our store?”
“This is the meaning of the gemara in Gittin 57,” the Chofetz Chaim concluded. “Words of Torah only remain with someone who kills himself for them. This means he never misses his regular times to learn because he acts as though he has already left the world— then all excuses that he has no time no longer apply!”

Thursday, September 18, 2008

The Ten Days of Teshuvah and Eating with Holiness

The Tikunei Zohar states that each of the nine vowels symbolizes a different sefirah, a different mode of Divine expression, but the sefirah of malchus is likened to a letter without a vowel. This is the unarticulated yearning to draw close to Hashem. These “vowel-less letters” of our innermost desires are inscribed on Rosh Hashanah, the first day of the year. During the remaining nine days of repentance, we focus on the greatness of our Creator and His love for us, and this helps us to breathe life into those letters and articulate our desire to return to Hashem. Yom HaKippurim represents the sefirah of Kesser, the “crown,” and embodies the inner nature of the vowel komatz—the awareness of how precious is it to be close to Hashem, and the deep pain of the sins that distance us from Him. On that day, we are inspired to verbally express all of our longing for repentance, and this brings about the forgiveness of all sin.
Since physical and spiritual pleasures are opposites, we arouse the inner state of spiritual longing by refraining from the five main categories of physical pleasure. The five inuyim parallel the five areas that serve as the channels for speech—the tongue, the lips, the teeth, the palate, and the throat. What is clear is that all year long, these five zones are either devoted to the service of Hashem, or are drafted for the purpose of physical gratification.
Rav Chayim Cohen zt”l once asked the Chazon Ish zt”l, “How can I overcome my ta’avas achilah so that I will not even feel the physical taste of the food that I eat?”
The Chazon Ish answered, “I cannot offer you any advice about how to achieve this. However, I can tell you one thing. You are only preoccupied with something until you have an even greater thing to marvel over. As soon as the stronger emotional stimulus enters your being, the lesser one ceases. When a person feels genuine delight in Torah, he cannot really notice his food.”
The Chazon Ish concluded, “I don’t believe that the K’tzos HaChoshen zt”l even tasted his little piece of kugel!”

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Learning to Blow Shofar

Once, before Rosh Hashanah, the Chozeh of Lublin, zt”l, ordered all baalei tokei’a to come see him. It was time to decide who would blow the shofar that year and to instruct him in the deep significance of this holy mitzvah.
Rav Simchah Bunim of Peshischa, zt”l, joined the group of hopefuls even though he had no training and couldn’t blow the shofar.
When the Chozeh saw him he was very glad. He said, “In Rosh Hashanah 29b we find that blowing shofar is a chochmah, wisdom. Rav Bunim is a chacham, wise man, so he should blow shofar for us.”
The two met privately and the Chozeh taught him all the kavanos, the mystical intentions, of blowing shofar. At the end of their last session, the Chozeh offered a shofar to Rav Simchah Bunim saying, “Take a shofar to be mechaven with.”
Rav Simchah Bunim demurred, “But I don’t know how to blow.”
The Chozeh got angry with him. Rav Bunim really was a chacham. He said, “How can the Rebbe be angry with me? I learned this hanhagah from Moshe Rabbeinu. First, Moshe said to Hashem, ‘What will I tell them if they ask me Your name?’ After Hashem answered, Moshe Rabbeinu said, ‘I am not a man of words,’ and asked Hashem to send someone else!”
The Chozeh looked at him in a marked manner and said, “How can you compare yourself with Moshe Rabbeinu?”
Rav Bunim shot back, “The Rebbe is also not Hashem…”
When Rav Shamai Ginzberg, zt”l, told this story over he said, “Although this seems a difficult ma’aseh to understand on the face of it, there is a source for it in Yevamos 105b: When Rabbi Yishmael arrived in the beis medrash of Rav Yehudah HaNasi as a disciple, he said, “…I am Yishmael b’Rebbi Yossi, and I have come to learn Torah from Rabbeinu HaKadosh.”
Avdan asked him, “Are you worthy to learn Torah from Rebbi?”
Rabbi Yishmael answered, “Was Moshe worthy to learn Torah from Hashem himself?”
“Are you Moshe?” was Avdan’s immediate response.
Rabbi Yishmael shot back, “Do you think Rebbi is Hashem?”

Monday, September 15, 2008

Bringing the Redemption

Every year between Rosh Chodesh Elul and Sukkos, three distinguished chassidim would stay with Rav Sinai of Zmarmrad, zt”l.
They didn’t waste a second of their time and would learn with tremendous intensity the entire night and most of the day. They would fast until midday every day, and all day long on Mondays and Thursdays. The group spent much time in heartfelt prayer and each man worked to refine his character and come closer to his Creator.
Once, the eldest chassid said to the Rebbe, “If I may ask, were there greater avodos then what we are doing right here in exile when the Beis Hamikdash stood?” (He meant could it be that anything else needs to be improved upon to bring the final redemption?)
The Rebbe replied, “Do you think that when the Beis Hamikdash stood people only excelled in their learning and davening? The main thing when the Beis Hamikdash stood was the joy of the mitzvos, and this attitude would naturally lead people to help those less fortunate then themselves. People would feed the poor and help them to rejoice. They were not only concerned with their own spiritual growth; they were concerned for those less fortunate!”
When the Rebbe’s son would tell this story, he would add, “...My father was telling his chassidim that they were far indeed from bringing the ultimate redemption!”

Friday, September 12, 2008

A Few Grapes

Rav Eliezer Don Ralbag, zt”l, once passed by the home of the tzadekes Savta Elka of the Old City on his way to selichos and heard her weeping. “How could my sweet grandson, who was always such a good student, suddenly lose his ability to understand the gemara?”
Since Rav Eliezer Don held a ta’anis dibbur from Rosh Chodesh Elul until after Yom Kippur, he knocked softly and handed her a note. “I will look into the matter.” Savta Elka immediately felt relief; she knew that she could rely on the Rav.
Unfortunately, Rav Eliezer Don forgot his promise, and it wasn’t until Yom Kippur that he remembered. As soon as the fast ended, he rushed to the Talmud Torah and spoke with the boy’s rebbi, who explained that although the boy could remember his learning, he had almost no comprehension for months. Rav Eliezer Don then went to the boy and asked, “Son, tell me what you know about the Savta’s cries.”
Thinking that the Rosh Yeshiva was referring to the sugya of that name in Sukkah, the boy began to recite it by heart.
Moved to tears, Rav Eliezer Don kissed the boy on his head and said, “I see what a wonderful boy you are. Now tell me why your rebbi says that you are not the student you were.”
At this, the boy began to cry. “I have been davening but my prayers go unanswered. I don’t know!”
“Tell me about your day,” the Rav pressed.
The boy related his schedule and added, “After cheder, I go to a neighbor’s house to play with the small children. Their father always gives me a bunch of grapes for babysitting, because his brother has a vineyard.” Such grapes were quite a luxury.
Despite the late hour, Rav Eliezer Don sent for the neighbor. To soothe him, the Rav opened with a bracha for the coming year. He then asked about the man’s brother.
“He is unfortunately not so observant, but he has come closer to yiddishkeit during the past year.”
Rav Eliezer Don asked, “And what about terumos and ma’aseros?”

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Spirit of the Law: Rosh Hashanah II

Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, chapter 129:2 “On Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, during Shemoneh Esrei (the silent prayer), there are those who remain bent over in a bowing position from beginning to end.
Although they are stooped the entire time, they must nevertheless stand erect before and after the four points in the tefillah where one is obligated to bow. This serves to distinguish between bowing which is obligatory and that which is not.”

Reb Nosson explains that when we bow at the four points of our obligation, we transform our spiritual descents into ascents. The act of bowing physically comprises first a fall, followed by a conscious recouping of stature.
In prayer, we accomplish this by subduing our egos and admitting that we need help—by prostrating ourselves physically and spiritually before Hashem. After the fall, Hashem helps us to rise up once again.
The places in the Shemoneh Esrei where we bow are seminal points in the tefillah; we are instructed to bow at precisely these moments so that we can receive the supernal illuminations sent down by Hashem at exactly those points in the prayer.
One who fulfills his duty and bows with the express purpose of transforming his “falls” into ascents merits a new level of spiritual awareness, the direct result of the spiritual light he receives at those times.
Why do we bow? To demonstrate that we are willing to go to any lengths to become more fulfilled human beings with a true spiritual connection to Hashem and His will. We do it even if this demands the ultimate nullification of our selves—manifest by bowing down before Him.
It is now clear why a sharp distinction must be made between the four obligatory bows, and any optional bowing.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

parshas Ki Teitzei and Hakoras Hatov

Since Rav Wolbe, zt”l, was committed to giving mussar shmuessen throughout the month of Elul in many different yeshivos, he used to take time to personally prepare for the Yomim Noraim during Av. Elul itself was naturally very busy, and so Rav Wolbe rarely had time to respond to late-summer queries in writing until after the Yomim Noraim altogether. Many of those responses open with Rav Wolbe’s profuse apologies for the delay, but we have an interesting letter on record that serves as an enlightening exception.
A certain man who had provided Rav Wolbe with assistance while the Rav was living abroad received his response during Elul itself. Since the letter offered an opportunity for Rav Wolbe to express his gratitude, there was no possibility of delaying a warm and effusive response. He wrote, “…My heart compels me to write these few lines to you as the Yomim Noraim approach. My dear friend! I will not soon forget the friendship and dedication you showed me when I was with you. May Hashem pay you back in full!
“The aliyah of the day is the fourth of parshas Ki Teitzei where we find the laws of conversion. I was very inspired that the entire difference between an Amonite, a Moabite, an Edomite, and an Egyptian is only in how much hakaras hatov they had toward us and how much gratitude we must have toward them. We know that the nations of Amon and Moav who did not show their appreciation for Avraham Avinu’s rescue of their forefather are to be forever kept at a distance (see Ramban). Although the Egyptians drowned our children, they did harbor us in an emergency, and so they may marry into the Jewish people after the third generation. And even though Eisav went out to greet us with the sword, his progeny are permitted immediately because he is our brother! How wondrous it is to contemplate the far-reaching consequences of showing gratitude!”
Rav Wolbe closed the letter: “From your friend who loves you and is grateful to you for the rest of his life!”

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Spirit of the Law: Rosh Hashanah I

Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, Chapter 129:1. “In every Kaddish said between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, l’eilah (the phrase that begins with the word ‘above’) is said twice (l’eilah u’l’eilah).”
The Talmud states that Hashem created the world with ten utterances. Nine of these are direct utterances. (“And G-d said: Let there be light... And G-d said: Let there be a firmament...”) The first utterance, however, is indirect. This “hidden” utterance comprises the first words of the Torah: “In the beginning Hashem created….” The first “utterance” does not include any clear indication of Hashem speaking at all. Rebbe Nachman, ztz”l, revealed that this hidden utterance is no less than the underlying fabric of the universe.
The fact is that Hashem’s presence is immanent within creation. Creation’s apparent lack of direct connection with Hashem is only due to His having hidden the real fabric of the universe. When we see how distant we are in any given situation, and search for Hashem from wherever we are with a heartfelt, “Where are You—Ayeh?” we tap into the true fabric of the universe which is actually an emanation from Hashem. Although this is hidden on the surface, it only takes heartfelt searching to tear down the many barriers that block spiritual connection. This ma’amar sasum, this “hidden utterance,” is revealed when we search for Hashem no mater how distant we are from Him.
By saying “l’eilah min kol birchasa vishirasa” in Kaddish, and especially when we say the double,“l’eilah u’l’eilah” during the ten days of Repentance, we activate this potent spiritual tool. The statement, “Hashem is above all blessing and song,” is an expression of our deep understanding that Hashem is the only reality. What we see here in this world is really only an external manifestation of the Divine. The purpose of everything is to draw closer to Hashem, even when we are in the place that seems furthest from Him. Even in such a place, one can be close to Hashem merely by searching for Him. Seeking Him—in whatever we do—is the best way to leave the distant places of bad character traits and the spiritual morasses in which most of us find ourselves.
Since this search for the Divine from wherever I may be is the root of all teshuvah, we say l’eilah u-l’eilah during the Ten Days of Repentance. To merit true repentance and forgiveness, we must redouble our efforts to search for the Divine root of everything at this time especially.
The Shaarei Teshuvah writes that a person is given the opportunity to do teshuvah at all times, but all the more so during the month of Elul and the Ten Days of Repentance. Someone who doesn’t take advantage of the opportunity to escape from the confines of his own sins is like a prisoner whose cell walls were breached by his fellow inmates during the night. Everyone escaped through the tunnel—except the one who foolishly failed to grab his chance while it lasted. When the jailer enters in the morning and sees that one prisoner who didn’t bother to escape, he is so angry he beats him brutally. This prisoner clearly doesn’t understand the gravity of his situation; the conditions in his cell are so inhumane, his chances of long-term survival are minute. Here he had an opportunity to save his life by making a clean getaway and he didn’t bother!
Although we aren’t worthy of the privilege that the reprieve of repentance offers, we must nevertheless take full advantage of it. True repentance frees us from worry and anguish, the inevitable results of sin. Reb Nosson of Breslov, ztz”l, explains the verse, “I will worry because of my sins,” to mean that all worry and depression are direct results of sin. If we are truly appreciate that it is never too late and we can rectify our relationship with Hashem merely by searching for Him, why should we stay worried? The tunnel to exit the prison of our sins is always accessible. We just need to do a proper and balanced teshuvah to leave the prison of anguish and slowly enter the realm of true joy.
Reb Nosson explains that the search for Hashem from wherever we may have fallen is expressed in the cry of the shofar—a blast of pure pain and yearning that is so raw it requires no words. This is also how Reb Nosson describes the heartfelt prayers of the yomim nora’im, the “Days of Awe.” There is an essential character of searching to all of the prayers of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, since seeking Hashem despite what I may have done is the foundation of prayer.
One the one hand, the Jewish people cries out to Hashem, “Return us, Hashem and we will return.” On the other, Hashem responds, “Return to Me and I will return to you.” These two demands seem incompatible. How are we to accomplish reconciliation with Hashem if each “party” insists on the other first expressing regret? But Reb Nosson explains that there is no contradiction. Hashem wants us to return to Him by searching for Him no matter how far we have fallen spiritually. When we cry out to Him, “Return us, Hashem, and we will return to You,” we are actually fulfilling Hashem’s “precondition” that is found in the second verse. We return to Him through searching for Him with heartfelt prayer, and such prayer really comes down to only one word: “Ayeh!” “Where are You? Return us, Hashem, and we will return! We have grown distant from You. Please take us back and bring us closer to You.” This is the true path of repentance.
Reb Nosson writes that we haven’t been redeemed in the course of our long exile because we simply don’t believe that there’s no such thing as despair. If the Jewish people had internalized this message and continued to search for Hashem as hard as they could, no matter how far they had fallen, we would have been redeemed long ago!

Monday, September 8, 2008

A Mitzvah with Mesiras Nefesh

Rav Eliezer Rokeach, zt”l, the Rav of Amsterdam, decided to move to Eretz Yisroel and booked passage on a ship that sailed toward the end of the month of Elul. On the first night of Rosh HaShanah, a gale blew up over the sea, and huge waves began to break over the side of the vessel. The storm grew worse as night drew on, and the small ship seemed doomed to never reach its destination. Water was already flooding the deck, and time was short.
The captain approached the holy man in a fearful state, pale and trembling. He begged, “Rabbi, our ship is about to break up and be swallowed by the depths. She cannot last in this wind much longer. Please, pray to your G-d to quiet the storm, because if He doesn’t, we are surely lost!”
Rav Eliezer heard the poor man’s pleas and asked, “Tell me, has the dawn broken yet?”
The ship’s officer answered, “Yes, a few minutes ago.”
Rav Eliezer took the shofar that he had brought with him and climbed out from the hold up to the deck. As soon as he verified that the dawn had indeed come, he immediately blew the shofar. Wonder of wonders! As soon as the sound blasted out into the dawn, the storm stopped and all was perfectly still. Sky and sea were completely becalmed.
The captain fell to the Rav’s feet, praising the G-d of the Jewish people and His faithful servants who saved them all from death at sea.
When recounting this story, the Rebbe of Peshischa, zt”l, would add, “Don’t think for a moment that the gaon would ever have exploited the precious mitzvah and wielded it like some kind of charm. G-d forbid! What happened was that as soon as the captain told him that the ship was about to go down, Rav Eliezer wanted to quickly grab one final mitzvah before dying. That was why he blew the shofar. And HaKadosh Boruch Hu saw his devotion to the mitzvos and repealed the death sentence!”

Friday, September 5, 2008

Tithing Oneself

The Beis Yisroel of Gur, zt”l, was in Kfar Ata on the 12th of Elul in 5716 (1956 according to the secular calendar) visiting with a community of his devoted followers there. Everyone sat together at a festive meal and the chassidim served many different varieties of fresh fruit in honor of the occasion. Since the produce of Eretz Yisroel must be carefully tithed before it can be consumed, a member of the group decided to eliminate all doubt in the minds of the rest of the group by declaring, “It has already been ma’asered and is fit to eat.”
The Gerrer Rebbe, famous for his incisive mind, shot back cryptically, “Every person must also ma’aser himself!”
Since the fruit was properly tithed and certainly didn’t need further tithing, no one understood what the Rebbe meant.
He explained, “We find in the opening mishnah of maseches Rosh Hashanah that the first of Elul is considered the new year regarding the tithing of one’s livestock. As we see on the daf, Rav Eliezer and Rav Shimon differ and hold to the opinion that the proper date is the first of Tishrei instead. The Noam Elimelech, zt”l, states that tithing represents fear of heaven. Seen from this perspective, the Tanna Kama is really saying that a person who wakes up to repent as late as Rosh Chodesh Elul is no better than a beast!”
The Rebbe went on, “Rav Elazar and Rav Shimon, on the other hand, maintain that one who starts repenting on Rosh Chodesh Elul is still within the category of a human being, however if he waits for Rosh Hashanah itself, he too is no better than a dumb animal! Rabbosai, we are in the middle of Elul and Rosh Hashanah is just around the corner. We must ma’aser ourselves and do teshuvah right away!”

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Proper Tochachah: with Sensitivity

Rav Shmuel Huminer, zt”l, of Yerushalayim once noticed a very sincere ba’al teshuvah who was obviously proud of his long hair, which was then all the rage in the secular world. Rav Huminer offered to learn halacha with him so that he would know what to do. The two started a regular seder. When they got to the part that discusses that long hair is a chatzitza to tefilin, the young man was shocked. “My hair is a chatzitza?!” he exclaimed.
The next day he showed up to their seder with a short haircut.
One of Rav Huminer’s children asked him, “But why didn’t you just tell him that his hair is a chatzitza?”
The gadol answered, “I was afraid he would take it personally and be put off. When we learn it inside, it is clearly not personal and will not offend him.”
Of course, sometimes what is called for is to be strong. A well-known outreach Rabbi from Yerushalayim was once taking a walk with a fairly new student who sported a very long braid. During a pause in their heartfelt talk, the young man asked, “Rabbi, I get a lot of flak from people about my hair. But tell me the truth: what does Hashem really think of my hair?”
The Rabbi smiled and said, “Hashem? You really want to know what He thinks?”
“Yes, of course!”
The Rabbi shouted in a way that also conveyed humor, “He hates your hair! Cut off that braid!”
Fortunately, the Rabbi understood his talmid enough to know that the young man had merely been looking for a final push to adopt a more frum appearance! Caught once in a similar circumstance, Rav Huminer merely grabbed the young seeker by the sidelocks and cried joyfully, “Ah! Such beautiful peyos.” The young man understood on his own that the rest of it would have to go!

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The Main Weapon is Prayer

Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, zt"l, teaches that our main weapon to overcome bad behaviors is prayer. This is why we daven extra during the month of Elul. Sincere prayer is the most powerful way to rectify our sins.
Rav Tzvi Hirsch Zaks, zt”l, recounted that one of the students of his grandfather, the illustrious Chofetz Chaim, zt”l, noticed that his Rebbe would often slip out of his house every night after midnight, enter a shul, and remain there for many hours. This student burned with curiosity: what could his Rebbe be doing alone in the shul? Learning? Surely he could do that at home. His mind abounded with possibilities… Tikkun chatzos? Perhaps he was davening heartfelt prayers for the sick and unfortunate?
Finally he could no longer stand the pressure of his curiosity and he hatched a plan to find out what the Chofetz Chaim was actually doing after midnight alone in the shul. He entered the women’s section of the shul somewhat before midnight so he would be able to observe the area easily. He would be unnoticeable, but would surely see and hear everything that the Chofetz Chaim did.
Around midnight, the Chofetz Chaim entered the shul, proceeded to the front, and threw open the holy ark. He began to cry profusely. In a voice chocked with tears he cried, “Ribono Shel Olam! Yisroel Meir is a kohein and kohanim are easily angered. So please, Hashem, help me overcome my tendency to get angry…”
The Chofetz Chaim stood there for hours petitioning Hashem over and over again to protect him from anger—the cause of so much destruction and machlokes!
(Story from:שאל אביך ויגדך, חלק ג' ע' קס"ז)

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Shalom Bayis and Elul

The Ramak, zt”l, writes that a sure sign that one is not relating properly to Hashem is if he has a dysfunctional relationship with his wife. All of our Gedolim honored their wives and went out of their way to help them.
When the Rebbetzin of Rav Shach, zt”l, was once ill, she expressed a very strong desire for watermelon. The Gadol (who was over seventy years old at the time,) did not hesitate for a moment. He quickly left their small apartment, went on foot to the local fruit store, and purchased a large watermelon, which he then carried himself. People walking down the street in Bnei Brak could hardly believe their eyes. The Rosh Yeshivah walking with a watermelon tucked beneath his arm only to gladden his wife!
The Rebbetzin enjoyed a certain Yiddish magazine which could only be purchased in a distant shop in Shikun Gimel, a neighborhood that was about two kilometers away from their apartment. Despite the distance, the Rosh Yeshivah would walk there every day to pick up the daily paper. Rain or shine, heat wave or frost, the Rosh Yeshiva did not miss a single day.
When a certain young girl offered to do this chore for him, he refused. “What do you think? Do you imagine I have so many mitzvos that I can afford to give out what little I have? If you want mitzvos, you will have to search for your own. There are definitely enough to go around, but my mitzvos you may not take under any circumstances!”
During Elul let us not forget to strengthen our shalom bayis; an essential component of all true closeness to Hashem!