Sunday, November 30, 2008

Stop Terror II

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 28, 2008

Spirit of the Law Rosh Chodesh and Chanukah III

3) “Although it is permitted to perform work on Chanukah, the custom is that women do no work while the candles are lit (that is, the minimum obligation of time—half an hour)… The reason why women in particular are strict about this is because of the decrees of the Greeks specifically about women… Also, the miracle of redemption happened through a woman…”

The Mekor Chaim, zt”l, explains why the Greeks enacted decrees specifically against women, and why the miracle of redemption happened specifically through a woman.

We find in the Zohar Hakadosh that the kingship of Antiochus represents the concept of orlah, the foreskin, which is cut away during circumcision. The orlah acts as a filter that prevents a man from grasping holiness. For this reason, a Jewish man who maintains his foreskin and does not submit to circumcision is liable to the Divine punishment of kares. His orlah keeps him powerfully tied to worldly pleasure that lacks a connection to the Source.[8]

This is why the Greeks forbade circumcision, the observance of Shabbos, and the declaration of the new month. These three mitzvos are diametrically opposed to the concept of orlah. Shabbos is the opposite of orlah because on Shabbos we delight in worldly pleasures for the sake of heaven. The truth is that there is no mitzvah to overeat on Shabbos, as the Shelah Hakadosh writes. However, the Arizal explains that even if a person overindulges on Shabbos, the food is still elevated to the Source. Rosh Chodesh is also the opposite of orlah since it is a time of arousal to the spiritual renewal found in sincere repentance. This is the opposite of the orlah’s power to blind a person from the holiness that is to be discovered within the physical world. And circumcision itself is, of course, the complete eradication of the orlah.

The Jewish woman represents the Shechinah, the Divine presence, which is the opposite of the orlah and its deadening effect on one’s spiritual existence. This is why it is only through marriage that a man can come to true completion. The orlah is a blemish that distances one from completion. This is why the Greeks made decrees to destroy the sanctity of Jewish marriage (the removal of the possibility of privacy), and this is also why the miracle was specifically through a woman. Yehudis subdued those who represent the klippah of orlah just as marriage to a G-d-fearing woman subdues this force of negativity within a man. Jewish marriage is how one comes to overcome the seemingly grossly material reality that we live in by discovering the true spiritual identity of all that is material. Reb Nosson explains further that as long as a Jewish man is connected spiritually through marriage to a Jewish woman, it is clear that he will not fall completely![9]

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Spirit of the Law Chanukah II

2) “We do not fast on Chanukah…”

The Mekor Chaim, zt”l, explains that the main purpose in fasting is to overcome one’s base physical nature, since this is the source of all evil. On Chanukah, however, the negative within us is subdued when we are open to receive the spiritual illumination that descends. Since the negativity inside of us has already been mitigated, there is no point in fasting. If, on the other hand, a person is not open to the illumination of Chanukah, then fasting is a waste of time in any case. As Rebbe Nachman, zt”l, explains, such fasting could be compared to carefully scrubbing a torn sack. Although it may get clean, the holes will remain and prevent its proper use.[5] If one wishes to achieve holiness during Chanukah, he will accomplish far more by focusing on the supernal influx that flows down during those precious days. Reb Nosson, zt”l, writes that the days of Chanukah (and Purim) were established to strengthen those who are so spiritually ill that they lack the energy to accomplish anything at all. Similarly, during the long winter of our exile we sometimes feel that we are making no progress spiritually. Through the light of Chanukah, Hashem shines into each of us individually to help us understand that we should not give up trying because everything we do is precious in the eyes of the Creator. This is one reason why the custom among Ashkenazim is for everyone to light their own menorahs—because the light shines into us all. At the root of the concept, this certainly includes women and girls. The Chasam Sofer zt”l, explains why it is that we do not find that in our time women and girls light for themselves. When the sages originally made the enactment to light, it included women. Since the original mitzvah was to light outside, however, no woman tried to do this mitzvah l’mehadrin; it was not considered befitting honor of a woman to go out in the early evening. Even in our time when most people light indoors, the custom has remained the same.[6] The Maharshal and the Elya Rabba explain the reason differently. Since most get married and the original enactment was for a man and his wife to light one candle, there is no reason for a girl under the age of bas mitzvah to light, since eventually she will not need to light. It was never customary for girls to light for themselves between the age of bas mitzvah and marriage, since they tended to marry young in any case. Even though in our times many women marry later than they used to, the custom hasn’t changed.[7]

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Preparing for Chanukah

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

Based on Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, 139:1
1) “…One should give an abundance of charity on Chanukah because these days are propitious for rectifying blemishes on one’s soul through charity, especially if one gives to poor people who learn Torah.”

Through giving charity, it is possible for a person to break his unhealthy desire for money. This avariciousness, which has the power when unchecked to overwhelm a person completely, is actually symbolized by the ancient Greeks. We can see this alluded to in the verse, “Tavati b’yavein metzulah”—“I have sunk into a deep mire.”[1] The word yavein (the mire of the lust for money) can also be read Yavan (Greece).[2] Although this world is full of many beautiful things, as soon as a person places a coin or his hand in front of his eye, he isn’t able to see anything at all. Similarly, if a person’s entire existence is focused on pursuing money or ego-driven pleasure, he cannot see the light of spirituality and holiness.[3]

In addition, giving charity draws down the light of Providence upon the giver, and it happens middah k’neged middah—measure for measure. The giver demonstrates his trust in Hashem to provide for his needs despite the fact that he is sharing some of his material wealth. This reliance on Providence draws the light of Providence down upon the giver. This is one way to understand the significance of the light of the menorah—it represents the light of Providence. Especially when things are dark and we cannot fathom the ways of Hashem, the illumination of Providence lights up the darkness. The miracle of the menorah fills us with the vision that especially when things are difficult, during the depth of a spiritual winter, Hashem is always right here with each and every one of us.[4]
[1] Tehillim 69:3

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

[3] Likutei Moharan I:133

[4] Likutei Halachos, Hilchos Shluchim 3

Urgent Help Needed

Please visit our friend Dixie Yid's post about a family requiring urgent assistance. If you cannot help financially, you can still help with your prayers.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Admitting an Error

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

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Letter of the Law

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

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Fear of Hashem

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

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Quiet Kindness

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

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

“Talmud Torah Outweighs Them All”

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

Monday, November 17, 2008

Talmud Torah and Chinuch

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

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Overcoming the Bad Within

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

A Question of Priorities

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

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Rewards of Letting Go of Anger

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

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Merit of Torah

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

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

A Call for Help

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

A Spirit of Folly

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

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Your Thoughts and Yourself

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

Monday, November 10, 2008

Serving a Tzaddik

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

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Why do we Eat?

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

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Native Sons of Israel

During World War I, Palestine was under Turkish jurisdiction and the Ottomans made life very difficult for the citizens. Press gangs would roam the streets arbitrarily drafting anyone in their wake. The conditions of these forcibly drafted soldiers were exceedingly difficult. They were subjected to hard labor, and since food was exceedingly scarce they were severely underfed.
These circumstances could all be circumvented by paying bribes to officials. However, there was one decree that was exceedingly difficult to avert. The Turks declared that anyone not born in Palestine would be deported. This was more difficult to deal with than forcible conscription, since the only way someone born out of the country could get around this was to lie on the government forms.
Since everyone knew that Rav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld, zt”l, was very careful to avoid falsehood in any form no matter what it might cost, people were afraid that he would forbid people to lie on the forms. During those difficult times, simple honesty would result in the sundering of many homes. When someone ventured to ask the Rav’s opinion about this issue, he surprised everyone in the Old Yishuv. “It is certainly permitted!”
“But why is this different from any other falsehood which the Rav prohibits?” the questioner asked.
Rav Sonnenfeld explained, “This is explicit in Kesuvos 75 on the verse, ‘U’l’Tzion ye’amer ish v’ish yulad vah’—‘And of Tzion it shall be said, each and every man is born therein.’ The Gemara learns from the redundancy of word Ish, each and every man, that one who yearns for Tzion is as one who was born there. We see clearly that any Jew who yearns for Tzion is actually considered as one who was born in Tsion! So to write of those who came up to Tzion out of longing for her holiness that they were native citizens in no lie at all: it is a declaration of the absolute truth!”

Friday, November 7, 2008

Bris Milah in the Warsaw Ghetto

It was the winter of 1943 in the Warsaw ghetto. The bris for the child who was already several months old was to be conducted by the expert mohel, the Piacezner Rebbe, Rav Kalonymus Kalman Shapira, Hy”d, Rebbe of the Warsaw ghetto. Every single person who attended the tiny minyan had put himself in mortal danger because the ghetto had been transformed by that time into a Nazi concentration camp. Anyone who was caught in the streets of the ghetto was likely to be shot on sight. But the mother of the child had wept and pleaded with the Rebbe to finally circumcise the child; she could no longer stand to raise an orel. At first she had hesitated because she thought that she might hide him with a gentile family, but now she saw that she really wanted to perform the mitzvah, come what may.
Rivers of tears flowed at that bris, the participants were overwhelmed by sorrow and despair. The father was gone—taken by force to a death camp near Lublin. Filled with fear for his safety, the child’s mother cried out in prayer before the assembled group, “Ribbono shel olam, in the merit of this bris, please save my husband…wherever he is!” The minyan burst into tears at the sound of her cries.
Just then, Rav Alexander Zusia Friedman, hy”d, one of the members of the group, began to sing an inspiring Chassidic melody. Little by little the rest joined in, the mood of despair lifted, and the small minyan slowly rose to the heights of impassioned devotion to Kiddush Hashem. And in that elevated atmosphere, the child entered the bris of Avraham Avinu.
Although the Angel of Death himself roamed the streets of Warsaw outside, nothing could stop that small group of Jews from feeling and demonstrating their love of the mitzvah of milah.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Parshas Lech Lecha and Elections

Once the Mabit, zt”l, was asked a difficult question: “Rebbi, everyone knows the famous story of Choni HaMe'ageil. When we desperately needed rain he drew a circle around himself and swore that he wouldn’t step foot out of it until rain fell.
But why did Choni HaMe’ageil make a circle in particular? And why is this fact considered significant enough to be recorded for posterity in the Mishna? Couldn’t it have simply stated that he refused to leave his place until rain fell?"
The Mabit explained: “There is a very deep message hidden within the circle of Choni HaMe’ageil. The sages taught that the world is round. For this reason, a circle alludes to the natural world or the natural order of things. Choni made a circle around himself to show that if Hashem would not help His children by sending rain, this would imply that we are subject to the natural order of things, to the cycle of nature. This is a tremendous desecration of Hashem’s Name, because we are His chosen people who have been uplifted to higher things. This is why Choni said that he would only leave the circle when the rain came. It was his way of showing that we are actually above the circular cycle of nature when there are tzaddikim among us. When such lofty people are in our midst, all natural cosmological and astronomical influences are suspended for the Jewish people. This is the meaning of Hashem taking Avraham Avinu out of the stratosphere of the world to gaze at the stars. This was meant to show him that Hashem had raised him far above the influence of the stars and the order of nature. And it was this that would allow him to have children, because by nature, Avraham was physically unable to bear children.
The Mabit concluded: “The verse says that Hashem took Avram outside, above the natural order of things, and said, ‘That is how your descendants will be.’ (Bereishis 15:5) When will your descendants merit to transcend the circular cycle of natural influence? When they are truly ‘your descendents’—when they are righteous like you!”

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The Power of Hope

The Ramchal zt”l writes that our whole vitality comes from hoping in Hashem. Someone who truly looks to Hashem, even if he has few good deeds, will not be shamed in the future world. As we see, there are many levels of trust in Hashem, from the trust of the wicked all the way to, l’havdil, the refined bitachon of the tzaddikim. It all depends on how much we look toward Hashem, and even within a single person this can change from moment to moment.
Once, Rav Chaim from Volozhin zt”l was feeling ill. As he sat with his Rebbi, the Vilna Gaon zt”l, he had on the leeches that were used in those days to remove the “bad blood.” The Gaon started to speak of trusting Hashem, and as he spoke, Rav Chaim felt a sudden and indescribable bolstering of his bitachon. Eventually, he felt that he no longer needed the leeches, and he removed them.
Afterwards, the Gaon moved on to another subject. Rav Chaim began to feel that he was no longer on such a high level of bitachon, so he put the leeches back on!

Monday, November 3, 2008

A Sensitive Heart

Our Rabbi’s teach that sin causes a desensitization of the heart, and Rav Shlomo Wolbe zt”l explains that this means indifference to spiritual influences. Kedushah, sanctity, is the ability to feel such influences deeply, like being sensitive to the damaging effects of sin, or even the ability to empathize with another’s pain. And just as there are subtle (and not so subtle) gradations within the realm of impurity, so are there endless levels of refinement and sensitivity that can be attained.
One Shabbos, Rav Baruch of Mezhibuzh zt”l unintentionally brushed against a burning oil lamp with his shtriemel, and the contact jostled the lamp. When the Rav saw this, he was so distraught that he fainted, and his followers were only able to revive him after much difficulty.
Everyone there was very puzzled by the obvious question: Why had the Rav fainted? He certainly hadn’t meant to move the vessel, and in truth, the action was only unintentional tiltul min ha’tzad, indirect movement of the lamp!
His followers asked their Rebbe what had caused his deep distress. He explained, “I was not upset by my action; as anyone could see, it didn’t count as a sin at all.”
He went on, “But know, my children, that even an inadvertently sinful action still causes the pollution of the heart that Chazal described, a deadening and a blockage of the light of Divine understanding that is perceived within the heart. This distances one from Hashem, and the distancing is in accordance with the act as well as the level of the one who performs it. One who has a big soul that is filled with holiness is cut off from his connection to Hashem even by a completely unintentional sin. This slight diminishment of my bond with my Creator is what made me faint!”