Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Beams of One's House...

In Israel, many families choose to forgo an elaborate wedding so that they can invest in an apartment for their children who are about to marry instead. This ensures that the young couple will be able to stay afloat financially since most couples try to stay in learning for at least a few years after marriage. Experience proves that a kollel check cannot possibly support the family and pay rent too. Even those who do have an apartment of their own often just manage to cover minimal expenses.
Once the Imrei Emes, zt”l, had a short exchange with a new chosson to see how he was adjusting to married life and to spur him on to take a moral inventory.
“How is your learning going?” the Rebbe asked.
“Good, Boruch Hashem.”
“And how do you like your new neighborhood?” the Rebbe querried.
“Excellent,” the young man answered.
“And are you pleased with your new apartment?” the Rebbe probed.
“And how is your new apartment pleased with you?” mused the Imrei Emes.
“What does the Rebbe mean?” the young man wondered.
The Rebbe explained, “In Chagigah 16a we learn that the stones and beams of one’s house bear witness against him on the day of judgment!”
We find a similar incident with Rav Naftali Nosson Nata, zt”l, the Av Beis Din of Hosikov. When he knew that someone was acting in a way that did not become him, the Gaon would say, “It says in the verse: Nachpisa darkeinu v’nachkorah... Although this literally means that we should search out our ways and investigate them, it is possible to understand the word v’nachkorah as the conjunction of two small words. V’nach korah—and the beam (of the house) will be serene. In Chagigah 16a we find that the beams of ones house bear witness against him. So the verse can mean that if we will only search out our ways and change, the beam of the house will be able to relax and refrain from submitting incriminating evidence to the heavenly court!”

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Self-Sacrifice for Shabbos

A certain person once decided to emigrate to America from Poland. Since he lived near the Chofetz Chaim it was only natural for him to seek a blessing from the tzaddik before embarking on his journey. The great sage agreed to bless his endeavor on one condition: “You must promise never to violate the sanctity of Shabbos, and to seal it with a handshake.”
The man readily agreed and received the tzaddik’s effusive brochah.
He traveled to Baltimore and quickly found a job washing windows. After an extended period working in the company, his boss suddenly insisted that he begin to come in on Shabbos. The immigrant would not hear of this and refused. Predictably, his employer fired him on the spot.
The next week the man began searching for a job but found nothing. After a month of fruitless seeking, things started getting tight financially. When three months had passed without work, his situation was hardly bearable. After several months had transpired, the man was virtually starving.
One Shabbos after shul he decided to give in and work on Shabbos. After all, their destitution constituted a serious question of pikuach nefesh for himself and his wife and children.
He decided that he would approach his old boss and ask for his old job back on whatever terms were offered. But as he walked to his old place of employment he suddenly recalled that he had promised the Chofetz Chaim that he would not work on Shabbos no matter what.
He realized that although his family had much less food then they required, they would not literally starve and he was therefore obligated to keep Shabbos. He turned around and went home to his dismal Shabbos table.
That very night, his boss came to his door with another man. “Six months ago I told this gentleman that you would sacrifice to keep the Shabbos no matter what it took. He doubted this and we wagered to give you six months with no employment to see who was right. Today was the last day and I won the bet.”
His boss took a wad of bills out of his pocket and said, “Here is your full salary for the last six months. And of course you are welcome back to your job starting tomorrow!”

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Go to the Wise Man

Unfortunately, most are familiar with the distress caused by illness hitting a member of the family. One man whose son suddenly became very sick was beside himself since the doctors said that the child’s condition was ominous. After doing what he could at the hospital, the father rushed to his rebbi, Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, zt”l, for advice and to plead with him to daven for the helpless child. Rav Shlomo Zalman encouraged the father and heaped blessings upon his head. The moment he left, the rav took a sefer Tehillim off the shelf and began to daven in earnest.
The next day the father once again approached Rav Shlomo Zalman but this time he looked much happier. “Boruch Hashem, the doctors say there has been a marked improvement and I just wanted to thank you for davening. I came to tell you since I am sure it was your prayers that made all the difference and caused this remarkable improvement.”
Rav Shlomo Zalman smiled back at the happy father and remarked, “Our sages tell us that if someone has a sick person among the people of his household, he should go to the ‘chochom’ and ask that he beseech Hashem to have mercy on the sufferer.
“The language here seems strange. Why not direct someone to go to a tzaddik? Why a chochom? I once heard a tongue-in-cheek answer from Rav Eliyahu Kletzkin from Lublin. He explained that if a person goes to a tzaddik and the sick man recovers, the tzaddik could mistakenly think he is a baal mofes. For this reason it adjures one to go to a chocham. A wise man understands that this from Hashem and will not think of himself as a baal mofes!”

Monday, December 21, 2009

A Surprise Visit

The love that Rav Meir Shapiro of Lublin, zt”l, demonstrated for his many students was remarkable. One time, a bochur in Yeshivas Chachmei Lublin fell ill. When the Rosh Yeshiva noticed that he was not in the beis midrash he immediately inquired as to his whereabouts, and when he heard the young man was ill he rushed to his bedside.
But when he entered the room he saw something quite shocking. Although he had heard that the young man had a mild fever and was feeling chilled this had not prepared him for what he saw. The student was literally trembling as if in fear or shock.
Of course, Rav Meir immediately calmed the young man and explained that he had nothing to worry about since he was suffering from only a mild ailment. He reassured him that he had simply come to visit and give the sick young man chizuk.
When the young man calmed down and began to smile, Rav Meir asked why he had been so terrified when he had first seen him enter the room.
The bochur answered, “I come form Lita and in most yeshivos the Rosh Yeshiva never visits a student who has merely taken ill. They only visit if the student is in very serious condition which is likely to be terminal. That’s why when the Rosh Yeshiva came in I was so shocked. I thought that my condition must be much more serious that I had originally understood. I thought that everyone must be hiding from me that my time had come!”
Rav Meir replied in his usually loving way. “The difference in approaches is easy to understand. In our yeshiva every student is like a son to me. Obviously, any father who hears that his son is ill rushes to his bedside even if he knows it’s nothing serious. He must visit to check his condition and encourage his sickly child, to help him recover!”

Sunday, December 20, 2009

For Heaven’s Sake!

Rav Yisrael Salanter, zt”l, would warn his beloved students, “At the very least, don’t make yourselves out to be acting l’shem shomayim!”
He would explain, “A person who turns a blind spot to his natural ulterior motives and thinks he acts only for the sake of heaven is a terrible hazard to himself and others. If things do not go according to his plan, he naturally feels angry. After all, he is certain that his every movement is one hundred percent for the sake of heaven, so why isn’t Hashem allowing his altruistic plans to come to fruition? It is equally obvious to this person that anyone who is an impediment to his plans for whatever reason is in the wrong and may be crushed or pushed aside in any form he can get away with!”
Rav Yisrael would use this principle to explain the Mishnah in Avos in his uniquely pithy manner. “The sages taught, ‘Any conflict that is l’shem shomayim—סופה להתקיים—it is destined to exist in perpetuity.’—Talk about a thing that is sure to last forever!”
He explained this will a very direct parable. “Let’s say two competing shopkeepers are in a fight. Each one blames the other for stealing his customers. Even if they fight the whole year round, when erev Yom Kippur comes, they will surely regret their petty squabble and wish to make up. It is more than likely that one merchant will enter his friend’s shop and say something like, ‘Listen, Reb Chaim. Today is erev Yom Kippur. Let’s drink a l’chaim and forgive each other!’
“But if they fight ‘l’shem shomayim,’ will they make up erev Yom Kippur? Absolutely not! On the contrary, on erev Yom Kippur each will feel that he has the license to pursue his friend mercilessly. After all, each one already knows that he is completely l’shem shomayim. Keeping up the fight with his friend is nothing less than a mitzvah!”

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Chizuk and Chanukah

[This post is a response to Theresa and Shorty in the comments]
No one is "unworthy," even though we all make mistakes at times. If we keep getting up and doing what we can we will fulfill our spiritual mission in the world.
The main thing is to beg Hashem to light up our life and show us His will. Easier said than done but Rav Nosson writes that even five minutes (or thirty seconds) a day is also very efficacious. As Rebbe Nachman explains the verse: "Hashem is close to all who call to Hashem in truth." Every sincere prayer said with as much truth as a person can muster immediately brings one close to Hashem no matter what level he is on, as implied in the verse.
Feeling unworthy is just an illusion; a tactic of the yetzer to paralyze us and prevent us from finding the way out of spiritual darkness through sincere prayer. Even if we can't say a word, we can surely cry out: "Help me!" Or at least, "Help me." Another gem of Rebbe Nachman is that if we feel distant for whatever reason we should talk out such feelings with Hashem. This often becomes a prayer truly from the heart, the precursor to many more.
We need to learn to ignore discouraging feelings and all negativity which bring on such feelings, until a time when we have a lot of joy and "merit to see the evil of our sins." This means that we finally see our importance, but we realize that such actions are not appropriate for a son or daughter of Hashem. This feeling of importance is the foundation of all divine service, as Rabeinu Yonah writes. One who feels insignificant, is not only denying the truth, he or she feels unable to make a difference and does much less. Why should we allow the negative to disable us? Although such feelings are the result of our sins which obscure the divine, we need not allow such negativity to hold us back. We can always reconnect through heartfelt prayer in truth on whatever level we are on.
As with anything precious, learning how to navigate past the negativity takes time, but every effort is worthwhile in and of itself.
Hashem should help us feel the light of Chanukah and forge a joyous connection to Hashem through prayer during this special time!

How the Chazon Ish Viewed Sickness

After recovering from suffering we are less self-absorbed and more open to Torah and kedushah. A certain Rosh Yeshivah recounted, “When I was a boy of eleven, I sustained a wound and became very ill. First, I went to our family doctor who ordered that I lie down in the hope that everything would work out on its own. After two weeks, I was still sick and the doctor came to our house. The moment he checked my lungs he immediately sent me to the hospital. I was there for sixteen days but subsequently went home. Unfortunately, I again felt sick and went to the hospital for a check up and x-rays. The doctor removed three cups of fluid from my lungs but afterward, the doctors found that there was an abscess on the lungs and I required an immediate operation. A second professor claimed that the abscess was not actually in my lungs and after several tests I was discharged for the final time. After two months, I recovered.
He continued, “After the first time I was discharged from the hospital, the doctor gave me a certain medication which made me violently ill. I turned completely red for three days and when the doctor checked me he pointed out that I must stop the medication immediately since I was clearly allergic to it. On the Shabbos before Rosh Chodesh Nisan תש"ו I was surprised by a visit from the Chazon Ish, zt”l. The gadol was very close to my father, and he came to visit and to check on my progress. The Chazon Ish entered the room—my mother cried to Hashem and my father was filled with worry for my wellbeing—and he soothed me in a very loving manner. While he stroked me gently, he said, “Suffering is good, suffering is good. Don’t cry at all. You will merit much Torah because of your present difficulty!”

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

“One Honors His Parents in Life and in Death”

Every morning we are reminded that honoring parents is one of the mitzvos for which one enjoys the fruits in this world while the principle is preserved for the world to come. Our sages teach that this mitzvah applies not only when parents are still alive, but even after they leave the world. Rav Itzele Peterburger, zt”l, even said that the main time to honor one’s parents is specifically after they have left the world and are helpless because of their powerlessness to do mitzvos. It is precisely after death, when their child’s every action redeems them from Gehinom and elevates them in Gan Eden, that a dedicated child will always strive to do everything possible to give the departed true nachas.
The gaon and tzaddik, Rav Yosef Tausig zt”l once told a story about how a certain gadol once traveled to Mattersdorf, and he asked Rav Tausig to come along with him to the cemetery to pray at his late mother’s grave. When they got there, this gadol took out his walking stick and laid it on the grave, saying, “Mama, I’m here with the silver stick.” It was customary in those days for prominent Rabbonim to walk with a silver-headed cane. To Rav Tausig’s wonder, this gadol then explained that he wanted to fulfill the mitzvah of honoring his mother and bringing her joy, because during her lifetime she had always been pained over the fact that her son had yet to serve as a prominent Rav. Even though he only took the position after her petirah, he had traveled a great distance to her grave to give her the news and honor her even in death, to let her know that, with Hashem’s help, her desires had been fulfilled and her son has received his “silver stick.”

Monday, December 14, 2009

Staying Married

Our sages teach that a shotah, halachic imbecile, cannot be divorced from her husband because she keeps on returning to him. The Chidushei HaRim, zt”l, learned a powerful lesson from this principle. Just as the shotah cannot be divorced, so too does one remain “married” to spirituality as long as he “keeps coming back” by acting as a ben aliyah would despite his shortcomings. One is only divorced from spirituality when one gives up on spiritual ascent because of his flaws.
A young bochur once came to Rav Wolbe, zt”l, feeling very confused and frustrated. He said, “I don’t know what to do with myself! Sometimes I feel very drawn to spiritual matters like learning with a fire and davening. At other times I act in ways not befitting a ben Torah. What is my avodah worth if I keep falling into the same spiritual morasses?”
The Mashgiach replied, “Your feelings are the result of a simple fact: as long as one is young, one finds in himself various contradictions. On the one hand, you may be very drawn to spiritual matters. You have a taste in davening and can literally pour out yout heart to Hashem. You may feel an incredibly intrinsic identification with the Torah that you learn. On the other hand, you also might enjoy joking around and making fun of things with friends.
The Mashgiach continued, “So what should you do? Just because you enjoy joking around and sometimes even wander into the realm of leitzanus, is that an excuse not to daven with kavanah? Surely this path only leads to complete estrangement from spiritual growth! Quite the contrary—since you notice this flaw in yourself and this bothers you, this should be a reason to exert yourself all the more to daven with a geshmack and seek spiritual growth in any way you can! In time you will be drawn more and more after spiritual elevation until you outgrow your spiritual immaturity altogether.”
The Mashgiach concluded, “Until then you must learn to bear the unflattering assessment of your peers and even consent to be the brunt of their jokes. If you persevere, however, you will overcome your weaknesses and flourish!”

Dreaming of Wealth

Once, a destitute man came to the Chofetz Chaim, zt”l, for a brochah. He started describing the terrible poverty in his home. “My floors are made of dirt, the house is often freezing, and I can hardly put bread on the table. The Gemara in Yevamos 92b, brings the verse from Iyov 36: ‘A poor man will have his afflictions removed,’ and explains that those who suffer destitution in this world have the tribulations of Gehinnom removed from them in the next world.
The poor man continued, “So we see from this Gemara how difficult acute poverty is, since one who suffers it suffers their fair share of Gehinnom in this world! Isn’t it fitting for me to request a blessing for wealth?”
The Chofetz Chaim, however, disagreed. “Quite the contrary! We see from the Gemara how worthwhile poverty is, since through the difficulties of acute poverty one is purified and need not see Gehinnom! Surely being exceedingly poor and bearing your suffering in this world is worthwhile since it means that you will never see Gehinnom!”
It was well known that the Chofetz Chaim practiced what he preached. For virtually his entire life he suffered from dire poverty and had no wish to be wealthy. He too had a dirt floor, his house was also often freezing, and like others suffering from want he also had trouble putting food on the table.
One time, the Chofetz Chaim didn’t eat, and he explained to his students who asked that he was fasting a taanis chalom, to mitigate an evil dream. When asked what he had dreamed, the Chofetz Chaim answered, “I dreamed that I became wealthy. So either way, I must fast. If this is a message from above that wealth has been decreed upon me, I certainly must fast to avert such an evil decree. And if not, then dream was the result of some random thoughts flitting through my head during the day. And if I am thinking anything that makes me wish to be wealthy, it is even more important that I fast!”

Friday, December 11, 2009

Why People Suffer

The Torah tells us that a slave goes free if his master takes out his eye or tooth. Chazal learn from this a kal v’chomer: if one liberates himself from physical slavery through suffering, how much more is one redeemed from the spiritual suffering of the next world through experiencing pain in this one!
Rav Nisim Yagen, zt”l, once shared a true story to illustrate how one should relate to suffering. “A certain talmid chacham has a son who hates to get a bath. Every time he is taken to bathe is literally a battle. He kicks and screams and is always on the lookout for any opportunity to squirm out of his mother’s hands and run away. He must be physically grabbed and forced into the bath and washed with great force. Unfortunately, because the boy continuously squirms, the soap often gets into his eyes and exacerbates his already extreme discomfort.
“Even after the bath he keeps crying as if he had undergone a terrible emotional ordeal—which his antipathy for baths really does precipitate. Once, after a half hour of crying, the young man’s father approached the now happily playing child and said to him, ‘Tell me the truth. Do you love your mother?’
“‘Of course,’ the boy immediately replied.
“‘But she forced you to bathe just now. She pained you and you cried. How can you still love her?’
Rav Yagen explained, “Although the child did not know how to answer, it was clear that he loved his mother still. The reason behind this is clear. The child knows in the depths of his heart that his mother truly loves him and that everything she does to him must be for his own good. He does not comprehend why but he knows that she forced him to bathe only because she loves him.
“This is how one who has a difficult time should feel towards Hashem. We must know so deeply that Hashem loves us that we truly feel that whatever we experience is for our good even when we cannot understand why. It is only one who feels absolutely certain that Hashem loves him who can experience yesurim with love!”

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Achieving Shalom Bayis

Rav Nissim Yagen, zt”l, recounted: “It truly pains me that many times shortly after marriage husbands approach me with complaints. ‘Rabbi, my wife is simply not what I though her to be before our marriage.’
“I invariably reply in precisely the same manner: ‘You too, are not precisely as she thought you to be before your marriage!’
“The truth is that this feeling betrays a marked lack of bitachon. In Moed Katan 18, Chazal bring three proofs from Tanach that Hashem sends one’s wife to him particularly. The ben Ish Chai, zt”l, asks why the gemara specifically discusses shiduchim. Is not everything from Hashem?
“He explains that specifically in these areas one eventually sees clearly with his own eyes that the woman Hashem has sent him is truly his shidduch, since like the splitting of the Yam Suf, natural law does not reign when it comes to shidduchim.
“But one needs a lot of patience until he sees this, especially at the beginning. I still recall my first trip to America thirty years ago. I saw a slogan that pithily explains how to build and maintain a good marriage. It was on a billboard that proclaimed a message from Kennedy’s inauguration address: ‘Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.’ This is the secret to marriage. Ask not what your spouse can do for you. Ask instead what you can do for your spouse!”

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Returned to Sender

When the Chofetz Chaim, zt”l, was young he was forced to teach to make a living. Although he could certainly have held a respectable position as the rav of a town, he was absolutely unwilling. He also refused to teach those who were older than himself. This left him with very few possibilities for parnasah and he eventually found a job teaching gemara to older bochurim.
When his admirers noticed how absolutely destitute the Chofetz Chaim was, they often pleaded with him to accept a monthly stipend to alleviate his poverty. They tried all sorts of ways to give the money to the Chofetz Chaim in a very respectable manner, but to no avail. Even at a young age he was already resolved not to take money from others. He literally preferred to go hungry.
When he was older and already famous, Rav Meir Hillel Kolotzsky, one of the most respectable people in Grodno, wished to donate a sizable sum of money for the Chofetz Chaim’s personal use. But he already knew that the Chofetz Chaim never agreed to take gifts from others, so he planned to send the money anonymously so it could not be returned.
He sent the money to his mother in Eishishok to send it off to the Chofetz Chaim in an unmarked envelope with a note that said that the money was a gift freely given for the Chofetz Chaim’s use. But the Chofetz Chaim refused to use the money. He left it on one side for almost two years until he finally uncovered a tenuous clue that helped him determine from where the money had come. The moment he understood who the donor had been he sent it back. Exactly two years after the gift had been sent, every penny was returned to the disappointed donor.”

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Theft by Another Name

Our sages recount that a certain thief wished to do teshvuah but was discouraged when his wife said to him, “Empty one! If you repent, even the avneit, the fancy belt around your waist, will no longer be your own!”
The Brisker Rav, zt”l, commented on this, “We see from here that even a respectable person who wears an avneit may still be a thief!”
Of course most people do not steal in its more prosaic sense. Yet the Chazon Ish, zt”l, pointed out an area where even honest people are often “moreh heter” and withhold money belonging to another, G-d forbid. In the Chazon Ish’s words, “The most prevalent form of theft today is failure to pay shadchanus. A shadchan has the halachic status of a laborer, and one is obligated according to Torah law to pay him for his services the customary fee in one’s area.”
On many occasions the Chazon Ish refered to shadchanus as “kosher gelt”—well-deserved earnings.
A certain person approached the Chazon Ish with a very painful problem. Although several years had elapsed from the wedding, he and his wife still had no children.
“Did you pay the shadchan?” asked the Chazon Ish.
“It is virtually certain that he is halachically not entitled to a penny in our particular case.”
The Chazon Ish pushed this claim aside. “Even so, go and pay the customary fee.”
The very next year the couple had their first child!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Rebbe Nachma's Rebuke Without Words

A reliable sign of whether the mentor we are attached to is truly righteous, and whether the connection between us is as solid as it should be, can be seen in how we feel in his presence. Does being with him, even when our conversations focus on mundane matters, inspire a powerful yearning for self-improvement and transformation?
During the years of the early spread of Enlightenment thought in the Ukraine, the three prominent atheists of Uman made a solemn pledge: they would bolster their new ideology by swearing to never allow the Name of G-d to pass their lips again. Several years later, they met Rav Nachman of Breslov zt”l when he was passing through their town. They were intrigued by a distinctly un-Rabbinic way of his; although he would spend time talking with them about everyday matters, he never lectured them about religion or rebuked them for their heretical beliefs and behavior.
Eventually, these three returned to a certain degree of observance. But at the beginning of their relationship with Rav Nachman, the leader of this band of maskilim was known to wonder aloud, “I can’t understand it! How many years has it been since I’ve said G-d’s Name? Yet every time I spend a few hours conversing with this Rav Nachman, I feel as though he is pulling at my coat tails and shouting: Hirsch Ber! There is a G-d in the world!”

Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Power of Prayer

Our sages teach: “The prayer of the tzaddikim is like a pitchfork because it overturns Hashem’s attribute of judgment into mercy.” The Divrei Torah zt”l asks, “Why should prayer effect any change at all? One would think that since Hashem orchestrates events, shouldn’t we just learn to accept His will instead of trying to overturn it?” He answers that since we have been commanded to pray, Hashem’s true will is that we use prayer to change our fate. We can see this in the image of the pitchfork.
A pitchfork is not used to move hay from one place to another, but rather to turn the hay and expose it to the air. Similarly, Hashem sends challenges our way not to make our lives difficult, but so that we will be goaded to turn to Him in prayer and remove the challenges. The heavenly decree is meant to last only as long as it takes us to “turn it over” to mercy through prayer. This sometimes needs to be done many times, just as the hay needs to be turned a number of times before it is dry.
The Chofetz Chaim zt”l writes, “The sole reason for all the difficulties which have come upon us is that we have not prayed enough. If we had prayed more, we would have been answered. The three daily prayers are simply not enough. One should pour out his heart to Hashem with intensity several times a day. The reason why the three regular prayers are not enough is because we are so used to them that it is difficult to say them with intensity. But a prayer from the depths of the heart will surely be answered.”
Rav Nosson of Breslov wrote the same thing long before.
Rav Nachman of Breslov zt”l explained that this is like someone traveling on the highway; since bandits also know the “high road,” he must take precautions. “But one who forges a new path through the wilderness need not fear highwaymen. The regular prayers are the “high road”—easy to travel, but unsafe. Personal prayer is a newly-trod path—no heavenly accusers lie in wait to prevent one from pouring out his heart to Hashem!”

Friday, December 4, 2009

True Emunah

The Chofetz Chaim, zt”l, was a paradigm of living emunah. He would often say that even if one is beset with difficulties he must never say that things are bad, since such statements contradict the truth that everything Hashem does is for our good. Instead, one should say that things are very bitter, since medicines are also bitter but they are certainly good for a person since they heal him. In addition, one who complains that things are bad has lied, since he says that what is ultimately for his good is bad simply because he does not see how it is for the good.
It is not surprising that when Rav Michel Shurkin, shlit”a, asked Rav Yisrael Portnoy, shlit”a, what he learned in Radin, his simple reply comprised a single word: “Emunah.”
The Chofetz Chaim would say over a vort that he enjoyed in the name of the bathhouse attendant in Radin. “The verses states, 'ואנחנו עם מרעיתו וצאן ידו'—‘And we are the people of His shepherding and the flock of His hand.’ The intention of צאן ידו is that He always guards us without a moment’s break. This parallels the teaching of our sages that the people of Nehardea would not leave their sheep to find their own way to the shepherds’ houses unsupervised for fear of thieves. Instead, the owners would go to the shepherds’ shacks and hand over the sheep from hand to hand.
“This is the meaning of the verse. Divine providence does not leave the Jewish people for even an instant. This is similar to the gemara in Kidushin 72. There we find that before Eli left the world, Shmuel’s light had already begun to shine, since Hashem does not leave the world bereft of tzaddikim to protect and guide us.”

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Don't Push!

Although chassidic “tischen” are very often inspiring, sometimes the pushing that goes on at such places is scandalous. At times, certain rebbes have done their utmost to limit the shoving so that everyone is able to best experience the holiness afforded to those with enough menuchas hanefesh to feel it.
During one of the many weeks that the son of the Me’or VaShemesh, Rav Aharon of Cracow, zt”l, spent Shabbos by his rebbe, the Tiferes Shlomo, zt”l, the rebbe praised him publicly. It was at the tisch and many of the chassidim were jostling each other trying to get as near to the rebbe as possible. Despite the pushing, Rav Aharon remained in a corner of the room, listening intently but not making any effort to procure a closer spot.
After the rebbe concluded his deeply inspiring Torah lesson, he commented on Rav Aharon’s behavior. “Our rabbis teach in Bava Basra 99 that although all the vessels of the beis hamikdash took up space, the aron did not. Yet it is surely significant that the luchos were kept in the aron which didn’t take up any space, and not in the other vessels which did.
“This parallels what we find with Rav Aharon standing in the corner there. Although he did not jostle to make himself closer, you will find that he knows the Torah very well. This is precisely why: when a person doesn’t push ahead and attempt to take up anyone else’s space, he will find that the luchos, the Torah, is within him!”

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Don't Let Enthusiasm Prevent Lasting Change

Rav Yisrael Luria, shlit”a, explains the words of our sages with a fascinating parable brought in the Toras Avos:
“We find in Mishlei 25:4, 'הגו סיגים מכסף ויבא לצרף כלי'—‘Take away the dross from the silver, and there comes forth a vessel for the refiner.’ This can be explained in terms of avodas Hashem. If a person puts silver in the fire to remove impurities, doing so was worthwhile. But if a person places silver into a fire which does not remove any impurities, this is simply a waste of time. To an ignorant bystander, it might appear that in both cases the same worthy action has been done, but this is not the case at all.
“The same is true with what each person accomplish by firing up his emotions. Some people learn and daven with enthusiasm to better themselves and smelt out their character defects. Sadly, others wish to live a life immersed in materialism. But of course sometime these people feel guilty when they see that they are not upwardly mobile in spiritual terms. So what do they do? They daven or learn with enthusiasm to prove to themselves that they are on a high spiritual level. In this manner they mollify themselves and are able to continue to plod along in the same pedestrian path, with limited or no spiritual growth.
“Our sages teach that diluted wine is not really wine at all. Tosafos explains that when wine is only a sixth of the total liquid mixed with five-sixths of water, it merely manages to ruin the taste of the water, not confer on the water the taste of the wine. Wine represents spiritual enthusiasm, as the verse states, 'הביאיני אל בית היין, כי טובים דודיך מיין'—‘He brought me to the “house of wine,” Your love is better than wine...’ But this enthusiasm must pervade one’s day to such an extent he is elevated as a result of it. It cannot be so dilute that it ‘ruins the water,’ that it just serves as a foolish excuse to avoid genuine change!”

Monday, November 30, 2009

Clarifying the Obvious

Rav Avraham Chaim Naeh, zt”l, used to publish important halachic rulings in a certain Torah journal. Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, zt”l, took great pleasure in perusing the halachic opinions whenever they came out in the journal. But one time Rav Shlomo Zalman noticed an exceedingly obvious halachah which didn’t seem to belong in the journal at all. The article mentioned that it is clearly forbidden from the Torah to squeeze grapes for any reason on Shabbos. Since this is clear from the gemara to the halachah it seemed absolutely superfluous and out of place among the many novel issues discussed in the journal.
Rav Shlomo Zalman wondered what it was doing there and at his first meeting with Rav Naeh he politely requested that he explain why it was there at all.
“I am glad you asked,” said Rav Naeh. “Unfortunately, I have found that to some this halachah is anything but simple. Not too long ago I was very pained that a certain talmid chacham who is involved in the difficult mesechtos of nezikin but has not really learned much Orach Chaim was confused on this point. When we finished praying on Shabbos night we had a delightful conversation which ended with a shock. The man declared joyously, ‘And now I will go home to fulfill Rava’s statement in Bava Basra 97: “a person can squeeze a cluster of grapes and say kiddush on it...”’
Rav Naeh continued painfully, “I learned from this man that this halahcah is by no means straightforward to all. I felt that I had to teach those that he may have mislead, so I included this halachah in the journal. We both know that Rava squeezed the grapes on Erev Shabbos, but sadly this man erred in this and we need to make a clear statement so people will know that his ‘interpretation’ is a violation of a Torah prohibition!”

Sunday, November 29, 2009

“Your Eyes Are Like Doves”

Once while Rav Chaim Berlin, zt”l, was saying Shir Hashirim, he suddenly burst into tears as he said the verse, “Behold you are beautiful, my love; behold you are beautiful, your eyes are like doves.”
After he completed the sefer those who had witnessed his outburst asked him what had made him cry and this elicited a fascinating story from the Rav:
“One time I was when I was still in Russia, a certain assimilated Jew approached me and me in secret and revealed that he had just had a son and he desired a bris milah for him, but he was afraid to do this ceremony in public. He requested that I come surreptitiously to his home and pose as a doctor to do the mitzvah.
“I agreed, and when I came to the house I found not a vestige of Jewishness—even mezuzos were lacking. I was so shocked that I asked him why he was so insistent on giving his son a bris since he obviously felt very distant from the Jewish people. His reply astounded me, ‘Well, I know that I was born to Jewish parents and got a bris according to Jewish law. Although I am distant now, the way back is always open to me and if I choose, I can return.
‘But if I do not circumcise my son, this will stigmatize him and prevent him from returning even if he wishes since he will be required to circumcise himself as an adult or remain outside the pale. In order to afford him the ability to return whenever he wants, it is my job to get him a bris.’
“On Bava Basra 24, we find that a fledgling dove never walks out of sight of its nest. This is why I cried when I read the verse that compares us to doves. Just like doves do not wander too far from their nest so they will be able to find their way back, even the most distant Jew does his best to keep the way open for his son to return home!”

Friday, November 27, 2009

False Claims

A certain Rav Moshe proposed marriage to a widow who happily accepted. Shortly afterward, a certain Reb Yaakov approached Rav Moshe and claimed that he had already married the widow himself! Rav Moshe was shocked. How could she have possibly agreed to his proposal if she was already a married woman? Rav Moshe decided that this was very farfetched, so he asked Reb Yaakov, “Who were the witnesses to her acceptance?”
The man hemmed and hawed, “Actually, I am not one hundred percent sure...”
When Rav Moshe asked his new bride about this, she denied it categorically. “It is true that he proposed to me, but the only proposal I accepted was yours.”
Reb Yaakov continued to pester the couple, however. He even found a witness who he claimed that he saw the whole thing. Oddly enough, the witness he brought denied that the widow had accepted the proposal.
“Well, I proposed twice…” was Reb Yaakov’s evasive reply.
After Rav Moshe married the widow, the wife’s relatives decided to fake a divorce from Reb Yaakov. But their plan to try and salvage the woman’s good name was exposed.
Reb Yaakov exclaimed, “If I never married her, why were they trying to fake a גט?”
Eventually the Rosh, zt”l, was consulted about this case. “This Reb Yaakov is very unscrupulous indeed. He has sullied the reputation of a bas Yisrael, and to what purpose? It is clear to anyone that his claims are false. He says he married her. But it has been our long-held custom for to make a big wedding party with beds set and people entering and exiting, as we find on Gittin 89. Why has no one ever heard anything about such a wedding party arranged for the couple? Why doesn’t he even remember his own witnesses’ names? Why doesn’t even the one witness he presents support his claim?
“From the very fact that he claims to have proposed twice, it appears as though he is simply out to trick her. Maybe he figured he would give her something without proposing and subsequently propose. Although this is not a valid marriage, perhaps he hoped that the witnesses didn’t know that. The fact that he claims to have tried a second time when there was no change of heart in the widow is very suspicious.
The Rosh concluded, “It is fitting to punish him to ensure that people avoid such behavior in the future!”

Thursday, November 26, 2009

A Proper Jewish Greeting

On of the hardest habits to acquire is always greeting one’s fellow Jew with a radiant smile. Rav Avraham Grodzinsky, zt”l, a great gaon and ba’al mussar, worked two full years to acquire this middah. Even in the ghetto during WWII, his face was always shining.
Despite the challenges, it is not surprising that Rav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld, zt”l, also mastered this trait and greeted everyone with a smile. He was exceedingly careful to fulfill every detail of halachah or middas chassidus with great joy, so why should this be different? Even at a very advanced age when the Rav was already quite frail, he would go to any lengths to act in accordance with what he understood to be Hashem’s will. The Rav was always very careful to greet everyone he met, friend or self-proclaimed foe.
On the last motzei Shabbos of a year during which Rosh Hashannah came out in the middle of the week, Rav Sonnenfeld was on his way home when he encountered a neighbor who wished him “gut voch.”
The Rav responded warmly in Yiddish by wishing him a good year: “Gut yohr.”
The man had hardly continued on when the Rav called him back. “In Gittin 62 we find that if one receives a brocho should give an even greater brocho back. The custom is to respond to those who wish us a good week with ‘a good year’ since this is a bigger blessing. This particular week is the exception to the rule, since Rosh Hashanah is on Tuesday and the week extends until motzei Shabbos. So my brochah was less than yours.” He looked at the man with his shining, happy countenance and proceeded to heap brochos on the gratified man until he was satisfied that he had fulfilled his duty.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

“Women are Exempt from Tefillin...”

In recent times, the baal teshuvah movement has generated numerous halachic questions that have never been dealt with before. It takes a true Torah giant to delve into the sources, find true parallels, and rule.
One woman, after attending an Arachim seminar in Israel, was inspired to become observant. Her husband was not as interested. Although he was not overtly against religion, he was fairly indifferent. Since he seemed slightly interested in the mitzvah of tefillin, his wife asked him to put on tefillin every day.
He answered, “Tefillin are expensive and I am simply unwilling to spend that much money just for a mitzvah.”
The woman was very conflicted about this. On the one hand, she felt certain that if he only had a pair, he would comply and put them on each day without fail. She really wished to just take the money without his permission and purchase a pair of tefillin. After all, he did have an obligation. On the other hand, it wasn’t as if she was obligated in the mitzvah of tefillin and he had to provide a pair for her. Could she purchase tefillin from his money for him?
When she asked this question of her rabbi he had no idea where to even start finding an answer. But he said, “I am not sure but I will ask this question of Rav Yosef Shalom Eliashiv, shlit”a. I will let you know the moment I get an answer.”
When consulted, Rav Eliashiv immediately ruled, “She definitely may not purchase tefillin for him with his money against his will. First of all, it is regarding tzedakah that the Nodah B’yehudah states that a woman may not take money from her miserly husband to give charity when he doesn’t allow her to do so. Although beis din forces one to give tzedakah, who appointed her to oversee this?
Rav Eliashiv concluded, “Besides, in our times, she can procure tefillin free in a gemach and he can put these on. She has absolutely no right to pay for tefillin without his consent.”

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Making a Spiritual Inventory

The Magid of Dubno, zt”l, tells a beautiful parable:
Once there was a merchant who slowly built himself up until he was doing business with very large sums of money. Strangely, this merchant really didn’t know exactly how much money he had of his own since he was not very adept at making the complicated calculations that would provide the information. In any event, he was very busy and could not make the time to clarify the exact extent of his personal capital investment.
One day, this merchant heard that a fellow businessman who had at one time been very wealthy lost all of his money and even left over many debts which he could not pay. Understandably, this made the merchant anxious about his own standing and he began the laborious process necessary to determine exactly how much money he had. What was his exact status?
The Maggid continued, “The same is true in spiritual terms, as we find in Bava Basra 78. One must make a careful calculation to grasp the vast importance of every mitzvah and the terrible loss incurred by every sin.”
Rav Dessler, zt”l, taught that we find in the Torah that, “The moshlim say: באו חשבון—‘Let us make an accounting.’” This is in plural form to teach that one cannot truly succeed in making an honest cheshbon hanefesh unless he is part of a group—even if they are on a lower level than himself. Alone he will almost certainly fail.
One Elul, Rav Leib Chasman, zt”l, the mashgiach of Chevron Yeshivah, delivered a very important lesson regarding cheshbon hanefesh. “In Bava Basra 78 it states that a fire will emerge from those who did a cheshbon hanefesh which will burn those who did not.”
Rav Leib thundered his message with great feeling, “From here we see that a true cheshbon hanefesh must be done with the intensity of a roaring fire!”

Monday, November 23, 2009

When Must One Close His Gemara?

The Chofetz Chaim, zt”l, was unusually scrupulous that his weights and measures should always be exactly correct. Despite his zealous care not to waste a moment unnecessarily, adjusting his scales was the one business need that took him out of the beis midrash every weekday without fail.
Each day, he would close his gemara to visit his store and check that the weights and measures were exactly correct. He would never rely on his having checked them the day before, since he saw it as his holy duty to be absolutely certain that he was not cheating anyone, even for one day.
Reb Yosef, zt”l, a student of the Chofetz Chaim and also the ironmonger of Radin, recounted an amazing story which demonstrates the care that his rebbe took in this area. “The Chofetz Chaim gave me the honor of making his weights for him and replacing them when they wore out, but he would not allow me to make the marks signifying the exact position of each weight. This task he left to himself. If I had not seen how he dealt with those weights I would never have believed it.
“It took him hours to make one siman on a weight. In order to ensure that the weight was exactly correct he would spend hours before he was finally satisfied that it could be used.”
“It is well known that I was a very poor man in those years,” Reb Yosef continued. “But I tell you now that I would not have agreed to mark those weights with the scrupulous care of the Chofetz Chaim if he had paid me twenty five ruble an hour! Even for what was a veritable fortune for me, I would never have been able to replicate the intense focus that the Chofetz Chaim put into what otherwise would have been a simple task, with a much less honest result.”

The Rewards of Diligence

A certain man once traveled to a far-flung country to make his fortune. He claimed that he knew of a place where they could mine a king’s ransom in valuable gems for a very small investment since such trinkets were fairly common in this distant land.
But he didn’t wish to go alone, so he requested all eligible young men in his city to join him in his adventure. When they heard how far away his destination was, they declined, since they really didn’t want to exert themselves to such an extent. And could they really be sure this man was not mistaken? Who knew what they would really achieve after putting in such Herculean efforts?
Yet there was one young man from their town who agreed to accompany this entrepreneur in his venture and the two went off together. Many years passed while the two off together, presumably digging up jewels.
Of course, one day the two returned. The original businessman who put in all the capital for their project had amassed an immense fortune in jewels. And even his assistant came back a big millionaire. How do you think the other young men felt when they saw the stunning success of this venture? They felt foolish for not putting in the effort which would have made them as rich as their friend. After all, he was from the same town and had no great advantage over them. He had merely taken the opportunity that had come his way since he was willing to work hard.
The Chofetz Chaim, zt”l, told this parable to illustrate to his son that everything really depends on how hard one works. “This parable explains the statement of our sages that the elders lamented, ‘The face of Moshe is like the sun and the face of Yehoshua is like the moon. Oy, such a shame! Oy, such an embarrassment!’ Yehoshua shines like the moon, but he was one of us. The only reason he got ahead was that he never left the tent of Moshe. We could have done the same and attained a similar distinction. Is this not humiliating?”

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Importance of Chessed

We find in the Avos d’Rav Noson that Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai was once leaving Yerushalayim, followed by Rabbi Yehoshua. When Rabbi Yehoshua caught a glimpse of the destroyed Beis Hamikdash he exclaimed, “Woe to us that the place that atoned for the sins of Israel has been laid to waste!”
Rav Yochanan ben Zakai responded, “Do not be too distressed, for we still have one act that atones as the Beis HaMikdash once did: chessed.
Once, a certain chossid came to Rav Chaim of Sanz zt”l and lamented that he lacked the money to cover his daughter’s dowry. The Rav sent him to a wealthy and learned follower with a written request to help the poor man raise the sum.
When the poor chossid presented the letter, the wealthy scholar demurred. “I don’t have the time, I’m too busy learning!”
A few months later, this man came to Sanz but the Rav didn’t shake his hand. When it was time for him to take his leave, the Rav said, “We find that when Yaakov struggled with a “man,” it was the angel of Eisav. But when it says that a “man” found Yosef, it was the angel Gavriel. How did Chazal know which “man” was which? When a “man” comes to show Yosef the way when he was lost, he’s a holy angel. But when a “man” refuses to give Yaakov a blessing because he is in a rush to sing shirah, he’s an angel of Eisav! Chessed, you do at all times!”

Friday, November 20, 2009

Rav Zusia and the Miser

Once when Rav Zusia of Anapoli, zt”l, went around collecting tzedakah with another rav they had a singular experience. It was when they went to visit a certain miser whom the rav knew never donated to any cause, not matter how worthy. When the two were invited into the wealthy miser’s home and he predictably refused to donate a penny, Rav Zusia asked him why.
“What do you mean, why?” barked the man. “I picked up my conduct from a clear gemara in Bava Basra 9. There we find that while one who gives charity receives six blessings, one who speaks kindly to the poor gets eleven. Isn’t it better to honor the poor man without giving a cent? After all, one who does so is granted almost double the blessing, so obviously he is doing the main avodah!”
While the rav who had accompanied Rav Zusia stood speechless at the man’s callousness to the plight of others, Rav Zusia drily replied, “You have not learned the gemara correctly. After all, why would the one who honors the poor be afforded greater blessing when the actual money given to him feeds him and literally saves his life?
“The root of your error is that you think that the money you give the poor is a gift from your resources, but in truth this is not so. We find in many sources that the money that the wealthy man gives the poor is actually the poor man’s which has been deposited with him for the express purpose of returning it to the poor person. One who gives the deposit back is blessed, but someone who refrains from donating to a worthy cause when he can well afford it is nothing less than a thief. If, besides giving a donation, a person also speaks kindly to the poor man he is afforded extra blessings since in this manner he gives the poor man from his own. He has gone beyond merely returning the poor man’s property that has been entrusted with him from on high!”

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Say Tehilim or Learn Torah?

A certain merchant from Metz would earn his living by selling furs, primarily at the seasonal market fair in Vilna. Everyday this merchant, who knew how to learn a little, would finish selling for the day and go the beis midrash of the Vilna Gaon and say Tehillim.
The Gaon noticed that he was no ignoramus and was a bit perplexed as to why he said Tehillim instead of using his time to learn. He decided to ask him why.
The merchant replied, “I do this because of something I heard from our Rav in Metz, Rav Yonasan Eibeschitz, zt”l. He taught from our sages that Dovid Hamelech asked Hashem that Tehillim should be considered like learning the hardest areas of Torah. Surely we see from this the greatness of Tehilim since Hashem certainly did not refuse Dovid Hamelech.”
“But why do you think that Hashem would not refuse Dovid Hamelech?” countered the Gaon. “In Bava Basra 17 we find that the gemara entertains the possibility that Hashem did refuse Dovid a request. There we see that the gemara entertains the possibility that Dovid was one of the very few whom the worms could not overcome after death. One opinion cites Dovid’s prayer in Tehillim 16 where he pleads that his flesh be protected from worms. The other opinion disregards this proof out of hand since this was merely what Dovid asked for, not what he got. Please ask your Rav how he answers this question which seems to show clearly that a request of Dovid’s may not have been accepted?”
The next year, the merchant was back and sure enough he had an answer from Rav Yonasan. “My Rav said that that is not how he learned the gemara at all. The opinion that says that this was merely prayer does not mean that Dovid was not protected from the worms. He requested this in Tehillim and surely it was granted. This opinion merely posits that Dovid should not be included in the list of those who were protected because of their righteousness since Dovid was merely protected because of his prayers, not because he deserved it as a result of his personal purity. Similarly, no one would really believe that Dovid requested something from Hashem which he did not receive without a clear proof that he was not answered. Since we see no indication that Dovid was not answered you may definitely continue to say Tehillim in the beis midrash, and have it considered Torah study.”

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Bitter Medicine

Rav Rafael of Bershad, zt”l, explained that when a person slips up or makes an error in davening or is embarrassed, he should not allow himself to be vexed by this in the slightest. “This is just like a person who is sick and requires a bitter medicine to heal him. Although he would prefer to avoid taking the medication altogether, if he is sick he will take it and thank the doctor for administering it.
“Similarly, Hashem arranges for a person to err when he falls into arrogance. In order to rectify this, a person is made to stumble and this naturally makes him feel very small. Although such failings are a direct result of Hashem’s mercy upon us, we are better off searching for a simpler anti-dote to our hubris so we will not be required to endure such embarrassing moments. If a person yearns to attain humility with his entire heart, Hashem will help him attain it.
“But when we fail we must never give in to feelings of depression which distance us from Hashem. Rav Pinchas of Koretz, zt”l, once encouraged me on just this point with the words, ‘Just don’t be afraid.’
“I always understood this to mean that a person should never allow anything to depress or frighten him. Instead one should thank Hashem for the difficulty, saying, ‘Master of the world. You have sent this trouble so I should attain humility and be healed spiritually, and for that I thank you from the bottom of my heart! Please protect me from stumbling in this manner in the future. Instead, protect me from the defilement of arrogance by awakening a desire within me to attain a truly humble spirit, so there is no longer any need to cause me to stumble and fall in the future.’”
When someone asked Rav Rafael for advice to help him conquer his ego, Rav Rafael answered, “Hashem created a person so that he would spend his entire life searching for ways to be saved from pride!”

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Either Spiritual or Material

Our sages teach: “If it weren’t for the sound of the sun in motion, we could hear the clamor of the throngs of Rome. And if it weren’t for the clamor of the hordes of Rome, we could hear the sound of wheel of the sun.” The Afikei Yam zt”l explains that the noise of the sun is the consciousness that time flies past us so quickly, and the present is just a transient moment without substance. It is this awareness of the limited nature of our lives in this world that brings the wise to fear heaven, and fills them with the fortitude to serve Hashem in purity before the opportunity slips away. The antithesis of this is the clamor of Rome that represents the vapid pleasure of the material world and the complacency of the wicked. These two sounds are mutually exclusive; the worldly “static” blocks out the voice of conscience and the exhortation of our evanescence, but when we recall the finite nature of the material world it loses its allure.
This can be understood with one of Rebbe Nachman’s parables: The evil within,יצר הרע is like a practical joker who races through a crowd showing off a clenched fist. He approaches first one person and then another, taunting, “Wouldn’t you like to know what I have in my hand?” Everyone he meets imagines that the clenched fist contains his heart’s desire. They all chase after him with abandon… They finally catch up with him, but when this joker opens his hand, he laughs at the consternation of his victim. His hand is completely empty!
When time runs out, the “joker” has no need to hide the truth any longer—that what he has to offer, the temptations he presents, are just illusions. We either hear the sound of the sun, or the sound of the hordes of Rome—we cannot listen to both at the same time!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Generous or Miserly?

Rav Shalom Shwardron once gave a very inspiring lesson regarding true generosity. “Many businessmen are truly kindly and run after opportunities to give tzedakah, but when it comes to business they will not give up even one penny. Why? Because of a ‘bad eye’—a grasping tendency.”
“Why can’t these baalei tzedakah surrender an extra few cents to someone in business dealings? The difference is clear. In tzedakah, I am the giver. But in business, someone is taking. How can I give in and allow him to profit? I don’t really care, but why should I allow him to get ahead?”
Rav Shalom continued, “I once heard from Rav Meir Chodosh, zt”l, a very relevant lesson from Bava Basra 15. The gemara brings a verse in which we find that among other things, Iyov is referred to as ‘one who turns from evil.’ Rav Abba bar Shmuel explains that he is called this because he was able to let go when it came to money.
“For example, it was normal for one who owed a worker half a perutah to purchase an inexpensive loaf of bread and give half to the worker and take half. But Iyov would give the entire perutah to the worker since it was despicable in his eyes to be so grasping regarding such an insignificant amount of money.
Rav Shalom continued, “How does such a seemingly insignificant monetary gift reveal that Iyov ‘turned from evil?’ The answer is clear. One who avoids evil does not have a bad eye. He is not pained when his friend profits even at his own expense. How can one know where he is holding in this area? From the little things that will be unnoticed. We all know that people often say, ‘I can surrender on any matter but business is business.’
“Rav Meir brought a story to illustrate. A certain woman was very careful to give generously to tzedakah, even going to much trouble so that yeshiva students should eat at her house at no charge. One time a certain student used a bit more water than necessary to wash his hands. The woman began to scream, ‘Kloiznikim! Good-for-nothings! These people are not careful to conserve water!’
“This is a classic case of petty miserliness. If I give, that it fine, but if someone takes even a little unexpectedly, I am willing to heap insult and shame on his head!”

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Spirit of the Law, Chapter 72:23

23) One should check through his garments Erev Shabbos to ensure that he did not inadvertently leave something muktzeh, forbidden on Shabbos, in his pockets.

The Mekor Chaim explains that Erev Shabbos can refer to the time before one leaves the physical world since Shabbos is likened to the next world. In this context our halacha teaches that one should do a careful moral inventory a day before he dies.

This accounting must include every limb, like that of Chizkiyahu Hamelech who said to Hashem, “I have looked over every limb and have not found any with which I have angered You.” This is our mitzvah the day before we leave the world.

Our sages teach us that one should always carefully check his deeds, y'mashmesh b’maasav. They use this same language when discussing searching through one’s pockets before Shabbos—y’mashmesh—to teach the connection between the two.

But as Rabbi Eliezer teaches, since we do not know what day we will leave the world, we should be involved in teshuvah every day. This is especially true regarding the day before Shabbos, since we are expected to bear witness that Hashem created the world. How can we be considered a proper witness when our actions during the week seem to declare the opposite of our testimony, chas v’shalom?

Even if one finds that he has blemished with every limb he must never give up since “Hashem is not a tyrant.” Rav Nosson of Breslov teaches regarding this: even a person who has violated the entire Torah eight hundred times can still do teshuvah and rectify everything. Yet, we must at least make a special effort to repent before we declare Hashem the Creator on this holy day.

We must do our utmost to cast away any behavior or “baggage” which we would not want to have with us in the next world.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Spirit of the Law, Chapter 72:22

22) Near sunset one should gently tell the member’s of his household to light the Shabbos candles.

The source for this is the Mishnah which tells us to ask our household before Shabbos, isartem, if they tithed, eiravtem, and dealt with the eiruv. Then we are to remind them to light the candles.

The Komarna Rebbe explains that each person needs these two essential elements in order to merit the light of Shabbos in his soul.

First isartem. This means to imbue ourselves with G-dliness through a deep abiding faith in Hashem. On this level one truly feels that with every step he is with Hashem at all times. Clearly there are many levels to this emunah. One who works on attaining this will eventually be so filled with emunah that he will have imbued emunah in his ten essential strengths which represent the ten Sefiros. In this way he fulfills isartem, which can be explained as “have brought G-dliness into the ten.” To explain in simple terms this means that every pore of one’s being is filled with the joyous knowledge of Hashem.

The first step towards attaining this level is that one must truly yearn with his soul to truly serve Hashem. This leads him to use his wisdom, discernment, and understanding to understand how to remain with Hashem at all times. Through this feeling of imminence all of one’s natural tendencies towards kindness, and alacrity, are revealed as love and balanced fear of Hashem. Everyone who sees him is filled with a feeling of Hashem’s great magnificence and is influenced for the better. This combination of love and fear brings one the beauty of true dveykus and a true connection to the Torah. He will praise Hashem at all times and work to find the best method to declare Hashem’s kingship in the world with his every act.

But it is possible to explain this in a different manner. We can say that we must all tithe ourselves spiritually. Just as tithing literally means taking a tenth, thereby elevating the remaining produce and permitting it to be eaten, one elevates every experience through focus on declaring Hashem’s kingship. This level of Malchus is the entry point to every true level of divine service as the Tikunei Zohar explains. As Rebbe Nachman explains, the best way to imbue divinity in the mundane is to focus on the G-dly aspect of his endeavor. For example, when a person works for a living he should focus on the charity he will give from his salary and that he will be doing the great mitzvah of supporting his family, etc., through the money. In this manner one’s every instant is elevated to Hashem.

Either way, the Komarna explains that this element alone is not enough since one must also be among people, leading them to improve themselves by his example and helping them in any way he can. This is the second important essential, since the world eiruv literally means to mix, since the point of an eiruv is to make different rabbinical domains as one.

Through both of these steps “the candle will be lit,” one will be filled with the powerful light of Shabbos.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Spirit of the Law chapter 72:21

21) [Discusses proper way to do hatmanah, cover something in a davar hamosif hevel, material that increases the natural heat of the cooked object. The most prevalent example of this in our times is covering a pot that is on the stove from before Shabbos. It may not be covered completely on all sides. Instead one must leave one side exposed. This side should be covered with a board or the like which will ensure that there is space between any other covering and the pot on the fire. One then covers this board with old clothes which keep in the warmth.]
The Mekor Chaim explains that something which increases heat refers to lashon hara which makes a person feel “under fire,” filling his heart with feelings of resentment and anger. Although it is absolutely forbidden to listen to lashon hara unnecessarily, there are times, when this is permitted. For example, when one listens in order to protect himself or his fellow man from harm.
But, even if this is truly the reason why one allows himself to be exposed to what usually increases fire, he must be very vigilant that this merely galvanizes him to act as if this is true to ensure that he or his friend are not damaged by a potential fraud and the like. But we are not permitted to allow the natural heat to touch us “on all sides,” that is to believe the lashon hara, absolutely. We must separate ourselves from what we are being told.
But of course it is human nature to either get riled up about what we are told, and deal with it, or to apathetically disbelieve it entirely. How are we to act on what we are told, and yet not hate the person spoken about? The way to do this is to separate ourselves from being enticed to hate the other party, while at the same time believing what we are told just enough to suspect the possibly guilty party and act in a protective way.
We do this by separating ourselves from the lashon hara with a board, which we cover with clothes. In our context this alludes to reframing what the person allegedly did, until we understand that there are many ways to see how he is not really responsible for his actions. Perhaps he does not understand or he is in great pain and can hardly control his impulses. In this manner his actions are seen in a very different light, since one has placed him in different spiritual garments even if he actually did the forbidden deed.
But we can only do this through living the Mishnah: “Do not judge your friend until you have come to his place.” Rebbe Nachman of Breslov explains that since no mortal can ever really be entirely in another’s place, this Mishnah teaches us never to stand in judgment on the actions of another person. Even if we see the bad actions we must never condemn another person absolutely.
Only Hashem can truly know who is really responsible for his actions and can determine what are the proper measures to deal with such a person.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

When is it Forbidden to Borrow?

The Sefer Chassidim records an interesting story of a certain wicked person in relation to the verse: “לוה רשע ולא ישלם”—“A wicked man borrows and does not repay.”
A certain person was destitute and needed money for expenses. Of course he could have asked for charity like most indigents but he shied away from this drastic step. “How can I take money from public funds and deprive a poor family?” he reasoned.
But the bills needed to be paid. Finally, when he really had no choice, he borrowed a large sum to cover his most basic expenses. He reasoned that this was better than taking charity since he was certainly not depriving those who could not afford to give. In any event, he was comfortable borrowing so this is what he did.
Day by day his loans mounted and when anyone would request money from him he would explain that he could not pay. After all, sometimes people borrow in good faith but then find themselves unable to repay the debt as planned. In this man’s case, it eventually became clear to all that he was borrowing with no real plan to pay any of it back—unless Hashem sent him a windfall, which he felt certain would definitely come one day. In that case, he would repay all of his outstanding loans and everyone would be happy with him.
But strangely, this man continued to request loans from unsuspecting prospects even though he had not yet returned a penny of his many prior debts and still had no means to repay any of the loans. When people noticed his strange behavior they confronted him. “How can you possibly borrow when you have not yet repaid such a fortune of money? Aren’t you ashamed to borrow money in such bad faith? Why not take what you can from tzedakah if you are qualified to receive it?”
But this man was unperturbed. “Is it better for me to take tzedakah and rob a poor man who has no way to support his family? This way, I take from those who don’t need the money as much and everyone is happy. And I do hope to repay the loans someday with Hashem’s help...”
The Sefer Chassidim comments: “This man is very wicked since not only does he make a tremendous chilul Hashem, he also causes people to refrain from lending other indigents who would repay their loans, making their lives much harder!”

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Another Way

One of the most vocal proponents of the need for “shemiras einayim” in recent times was Rav Eliyahu Lopian, zt”l. Once, a certain young man wished to travel a long distance from the yeshiva for a wedding. Since he was learning in Kfar Chassidim, he required permission to travel from the mashgiach, the venerable Rav Eliyahu Lopian. But when he requested permission, he was surprised that Rav Lopian did not look on this favorably.
“Aren’t you afraid that you will see what is unseemly and spiritually damaging?” he asked.
“Not really,” the young man replied. “I have never found that seeing such things have any real effect on me.”
The mashgiach then made what seemed to be a very strange request. “May I have your mother’s name please?”
The bochur was flummoxed, “But why?”
The mashgiach clearly pitied the young man when he said, “I am eighty years old and I tell you truly that even walking a little bit in the street effects me adversely, and you, a young man in the prime of life, feel nothing? Obviously you are sick, so I need your mother’s name to daven for your complete recovery!”
On another occasion, when Rav Lopian was still living in Yerushalayim, a group arrived exactly on time for a va’ad and joyously shared with the mashgiach that they had cut through the Machaneh Yehudah market in order to make it on time.
To their dismay, the mashgiach was not pleased with this discovery, since it is virtually impossible to avoid seeing the unseemly in such a crowded area. “How could you have possibly cut through the shuk?” he thundered. “The Rashbam says clearly that if there is another way, one who takes the shorter path paved with pritzus is wicked even if he closes his eyes and sees nothing since he should have distanced himself from potential sin, not drawn it nearer to him. The gemara tells us that we must distance ourselves from what is unseemly!”

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Hidden Treasures

A certain nobleman once asked a great tzaddik about the stories recounted by Rabba bar Bar Chana in the fifth chapter of Bava Basra. “How can such obvious exaggerations possibly teach anything meaningful?”
The tzaddik replied, “I will explain this with a parable. Once there was a wise king who was elderly and had only one young son. When the king saw that his days were coming to an end he worried about his child. The kingdom had vast treasuries and he fretted that his child would squander this wealth before he matured enough to understand how to use it properly.
“The wise king conceived of a plan to prevent such a disaster. He sent for artisans to make a magnificent picture of a lion in a certain part of the palace. But, strangely, the lion’s foot pointed towards a certain place in a very unnatural manner. This stood out, since the rest of the lion was completely life-like in every way. He had other similar works of art spread around the area of the palace where the prince would be.
“The purpose of this oddity was for his son to eventually notice it and wonder about it. When the boy matured he would understand that these anomalies must surely have a purpose, since the rest was done to perfection. He would eventually realize that these unnatural limbs point to something and search. In that very direction the old king cleverly placed a hidden cache of priceless jewels for his son to find when he was ready. In this manner his son would not squander the bulk of the treasure of the realm since he would only come into it when his wisdom was truly developed.
“The same is true for the deep teachings of the aggadata, of which the Rabba bar Bar Chana stories are an example,” concluded the tzaddik. “One who learns gemara sees the magnificent logic and depth of the Talmud and cannot understand how these strange sayings and stories are freely placed in the midst of the deepest sugyos. And for a while every student remains puzzled.
“But when the serious student matures, he realizes that these stories must have a deeper meaning and he begins to search for it. When he is worthy he finally recognizes that these stories hide the deepest secrets of Torah which only a truly mature person can appreciate and properly utilize.”

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Halachic Process

Rav Wolbe, zt”l, once explained why absolute honesty must be attributed to the true chachamim of each generation. “Every Torah Jew must have absolute confidence in the great achronim of every generation. We must never suspect the Chofetz Chaim, zt”l, or the Chazon Ish, zt”l, of falsehood even in worldly matters and certainly not in the all important area of halacha.
“When the Chofetz Chaim rules in a certain way it is as if he says this in the name of his teacher and his teacher’s teacher all the way back to Moshe on Sinai. Someone who doubts this, doubts the veracity of Hillel and Rabi Akiva as well since what is the real difference? Even this confused person must concede that if the halachic process of our greatest authorities is based on falsehood, perhaps the same is true regarding the earlier authorities, chas v’shalom!
“When Hashem sent prophets to warn powerful kings that they would fall and their kingdoms would be destroyed, they did so fearlessly despite the terrible dangers involved. The word of Hashem burned in their hearts and they foretold these events without the slightest change. Even though some suffered blows or even imprisonment for telling people what they did not wish to hear, they would not falsify or even hold back their prophecy.
“Like the prophets, the sages valiantly taught Torah whatever the consequences, since their only interest was to promulgate the truth. There can be no doubt that regardless of pressure or political considerations, the great sages of each generations remained true to the halacha which burned in their hearts. It is not for nothing that Chazal teach in Shabbos 138b, that ‘devar Hashem’ refers to both prophecy and halacha! ”

Sunday, October 18, 2009

A Heavenly Advocate

A certain pious man had the practice of sequestering himself in a certain place to study Maseches Chagigah, and it was his way to review it over and over again. After he knew it well, he committed it to memory. Although the man was not learned in any other tractate, he spent all his days in the study of Chagigah until he had fully mastered it.
When the man passed away he was all alone in his home and no one knew of his demise. A strange woman soon arrived on the scene and stood over his body in a posture of grief. She raised her voice in a lament until all the townspeople gathered together to investigate her loud and mournful cries.
She called out to the people of the town, “Come, let us eulogize this man and bury him and honor his memory. Let us merit the life of the world to come! For this man honored me all his life long, and saved me from being abandoned and forgotten.”
Immediately, all of the women came to sit with her, and the town gathered and mourned him with great honor. The men provided shrouds and arranged his burial, and they honored him greatly at the funeral.
All the while, the mysterious woman cried and wailed and could not be consoled.
Finally, the people of the town asked her, “Who are you?”
She said to them, “Who am I? My name is Chagigah.”
As soon as the pious man was buried, the woman disappeared. All of the townspeople knew that they had been visited by Maseches Chagigah in the form of a woman, come to them to ensure the honorable burial of her devoted student. (Medrash Tanchumah HaYoshon, as brought in Menoras HaMaor, Ner 3, VIII:3:5)
The Chofetz Chayim, zt”l, would say: “Anyone who does a single mitzvah acquires a heavenly advocate. How much more is this so when a person studies a maseches so many times until he masters it and commits it to memory! Imagine to what extent it petitions on his behalf in the upper world to save him from Gehinnom and from all of the evil forces that pursue one’s soul. Imagine to what extent it uplifts him to attain all good, and to be bound eternally together with Hashem!”

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, Chapter 72

# 20) "When one needs to open an oven that is sealed with mud on Shabbos, this should be done by a non-Jew. If a non-Jew is not available a minor should open the sealed oven. But if even a minor is not available a Jewish adult may open the oven door but he should do so with a change from the usual manner in which he would have opened the seal.

The Mekor Chaim explains that an oven represents a person’s heart and mind, the seat of his thoughts and emotions. Sometimes we feel as though we cannot seem to access our true selves or change our most important attitudes regarding important things. How can we possibly repent if our hearts seem blocked?

The best way to clear out the blockages of our hearts is to rejoice that one is a Jew. This is Hashem’s decision, which we should certainly appreciate. Who can possibly fathom the greatness of being a member of the chosen nation of Hashem? Rebbe Nachman of Breslov stressed the great importance of internalizing a feeling of gratitude to Hashem for making us a Jew. As we say during the uva l’tzion prayer, “Blessed is our G-d who has divided us from those who err and has given us the Torah of truth!”

One morning, the Chassidim noticed that the holy Chozeh of Lublin zy”a refrained from saying the blessing, “She’lo asani goy…” during the morning prayers. They were dumbfounded by this apparently inconsistent behavior, but didn’t have the nerve to ask the Chozeh for an explanation. After Shacharis, the Rebbe turned to his followers and said, “I’m sure that you are all wondering why I failed to say the brochah ‘she’lo asani goy’ this morning, and so I will tell you my secret. I already said it early this morning when I woke up.

“As soon as I awoke, I did my usual cheshbon hanefesh but I was dismayed to find myself without a single merit to my credit! I felt like the lowest of the low, the very worst person in the world. But, just then, I found a way to console myself. I said to myself, ‘I am still a Jew! I may not act the way I should, but I am still so blessed that I am not a goy!’ My heart overflowed with joy, and I immediately made the blessing right then and there!”

But what if a person is not yet able to connect to his inner gladness of being a Jew? In that case, he can still unplug his heart by starting again like a little child. Just begin again as the Breslover song goes, “What was was, the main thing is from now on!” Of course one must change what he did wrong, yet one of the best ways to connect to Hashem is by making a completely new start of it. Rebbe Nachman of Breslov said that one must sometimes make many new beginnings in the same day. Surely a person who feels stopped up must keep starting fresh until he breaks though to his heart.

And what if one cannot open his blocked heart even by starting again? In that case, he must make a meaningful change. First he should change his attitude which is blocking him from fulfilling the other two methods of unstopping his heart.

At the very least, he should learn an extra daf gemara or do extra mitzvos with the express purpose of drawing nearer to Hashem though these actions, as much as possible. Doing a little more spiritually with the simple desire to connect to Hashem is a very effective way to rid oneself of the over-sophistication which prevents him from feeling the joy of being Jewish and starting fresh from scratch.

The Bubble Bursts

Rav Shmuel Tefilinsky, zt”l, once told a story about a wealthy investor from outside of Israel. This man arrived in Israel with six thousand lirot with which to invest in real estate. Since the rents at that time were very high in Tel Aviv, this man decided that it would be worthwhile to borrow another six thousand and purchase a building for the astronomical price of twelve thousand lirot.
The man did so and for a time everything went well but not long after his big purchase there was a terrible depression and no one was able to pay the exorbitant rents they owed. Not surprisingly, real estate in general fell precipitously and the building which a short time before had been worth twelve thousand lirot was now only worth four thousand.
Of course, the bank did not really care about this wealthy man’s bad luck; they just wanted him to either make the payments on his loan or return the money that he had borrowed. They sold his building for four thousand and the miserable man was thrown in jail because he was unable to raise the remaining two thousand lirot that he owed.
Rav Tefilinsky commented, “If only this man had been happy to purchase a more modest building for six thousand, he would have had a building worth two thousand lirot during the hard times. And later, when real estate picked up again, its value would be restored to six thousand.
“This is a mussar haskel. Never borrow if one can avoid it!”

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Spirit of the Law: Ben Ish Chai, Sukkos

1) A person is obligated to sleep under in the actual air space of the sukkah (i.e. under the sechach.) One who sleeps under a bed that is over ten tefachim high has not discharged his obligation...

Rav Nosson of Breslov explains that after Yom Kippur we flee the Amalek within by entering into the healing Sukkah which represents the ananei hakavod, clouds of glory. Just as the clouds of glory protected those within from Amalek, so too, the sukkah affords spiritual protection from Amalek which works assiduously to blunt one’s holy sensitivity. Since the easiest way to accomplish this blunting is when one is occupied with mundane matters, we lift up all our mundane pursuits by bringing them into the sukkah. In this manner we realize that it is in our hands to elevate every aspect of ourselves by remembering that Hashem is with us at all times and especially when we feel distant.[1]

But we must be careful to remain under the sechach. The Arizal teaches that the sechach should have spaces in between since it represents that Hashem sends down wondrous kindness into the mundane world.

We must internalize that Hashem is with us no matter what! Whatever place we have fallen to can be elevated. The moment we realize this, Hashem gives us tremendous loving kindness. In as much as a person is “under the sechach,” he remembers that Hahsem is with him, he draws down His providence and tremendous loving kindness even if this is not deserved—even if the one who truly realizes that everything is from Hashem is wicked as discussed in the Midrash.

But if one allows himself to be distracted from focusing on Hashem’s providence, he will be unable to access this kindness. Much like in the desert, he will be pushed out of the clouds of glory and vulnerable to Amalek.

Rav Nosson of Breslov explains that the main reason we have not been redeemed is because of our lack of encouragement, specifically when things are difficult.

But it is never too late to begin again! As Rebbe Nachman taught, in this world a person can make a huge profit with no real cost to himself at all. All he has to do is what he can, since every little drop of effort joins to form a big merit which helps one in his need, in this world and the next.

2) One must first build the walls of the Sukkah and only then put on the sechach...

The Mekor Chaim explains that one’s sukkah represents his portion in the next world, but it seems strange on the surface, that the sechach, the main element of the sukkah is primarily refuse. Rav Nosson of Breslov explains that we use refuse for the sechach, since this represents imbuing the joy of the next world into one’s experience in this world.[2] As Rebbe Nachman teaches this joy becomes so intense that one doesn’t feel any interest in attaining the next world, since his feeling in this world is so joyous that he only wants to be involved in another mitzvah.[3]

But of course such joy must be balanced and rooted in holiness, otherwise, most often one’s joy is a “strange fire,” as Rebbe Nachman teaches. First we need a basic structure of proper values and balanced connection. Only then can we experience the true joy of the next world in this world. First we build a structure, which represents fulfilling the mitzvos and avoiding transgressing the aveiros of the Torah. Only then will we be able to “put on the sechach,” in a genuine manner.

Yet even with a proper basis (or working towards attaining one if actually doing everything is as yet beyond one’s ability) the only way to attain the light of Sukkos is through joy, as the Beis Aharon of Karlin stresses. This explains why Sukkos is called, zeman simchaseinu, “Our joyous time.

3) The first [olive sized piece of bread] eaten in the Sukkah on the first night of Sukkos is a Torah obligation... [Note: the Mishna Berura learns from the Vilna Gaon that each additional morsel of bread eaten in the sukkah fulfills its own Torah obligation above and beyond the mitzvah fulfilled by merely sitting in the sukkah, similar to matza on Pesach.]

Rav Nosson of Breslov explains that the sukkah may not be a permanent structure since it represents the bare absolute truth. So many people fall away from closeness to Hashem because of their perception of the truth, since it appears to them that they are distant and bad. But the real truth is that this is a gross error, since Hashem is always near to anyone who calls to Him in truth as the verse states, “Hashem is close to all who call to Him in truth.”

Rebbe Nachman explains that this means anyone who calls to him from whatever level he may be on. It may appear to one that he is hopelessly mired in a spiritual quagmire and will never merit lasting change, because he experiences an aspect of the plague of darkness and can not see the many ways to find lasting improvement and change. But truly calling out to Hashem from whatever level one may be at brings down a powerful light and enables one to see the many exits out of the darkness.

Through calling to Hashem honestly from whatever level one is at one merits to dispel the darkness and he can truly see that Hashem is with him even when he is involved in mundane pursuits.[4] This explains why at least the first morsel eaten in the sukkah fulfills a Torah obligation: the entire object of Sukkah is to strive to sanctify all of our mundane pursuits, especially eating with holiness.

4) One makes Kiddush after nightfall...

The Mekor Chaim explains that we sit in the sukkah for seven days because each day represents another stage of ten years, which together make up the seventy most important years of one’s life, from birth until seventy, [the average life span in many places of the world.] One merits to sanctify these years, through the mitzvah of sukkah, just as one sanctifies the seven days of the week through Shabbos. This sanctification is drawn down through kiddush, the very name of which means "sanctify."

In order to draw down this great holiness, we make kiddush at the onset of this holy chag.[5]

5) [Discusses the various customs of when one should say the blessing leishev baSukkah]

The Beis Aharon of Karlin explains that regardless of when one says the brocha, the main thing is one’s heart, since the sukkah represents partaking of the feast Hashem will make for the tzadddikim in the sukkah fashioned from the skin of the Levyasan in times to come. Since the word, Levyasan means to accompany or connect this alludes that we merit this level through connecting to Hashem in one’s heart. This includes both the joy in one’s heart and prayer which are called service of the heart. Yet the main focus of one’s divine service should be on attaining joy, especially during this special time.

[1] Likutei Halachos, Shabbos, #7

[2] Likutei Halachos, Hilchos Chezkas Karka’os, #3

[3] Likutei Moharan, I:5

[4] Likutei Halachos, Hilchos Ribis #5

[5] Mekor Chaim, Sukkah

Monday, October 5, 2009

Stories for Sukkos--Your Arba Minim

During the time of Rav Moshe of Rozvadov, zt”l, arba minim were scarce and so many bochurim and children did not have the privilege of having their own for the mitzvah. While the Rebbe would do the na’anuim, adults who had already finished that round of using their arba minim would pass them around to those children who did not have.
Once, one of the children pushed forward to receive an esrog from an adult and disturbed the Rebbe. He paused during the na’anuim and looked at the child for a moment, after which he finished up the remaining motions perfunctorily, not in the deliberate way that was his wont.
Afterward the Rebbe wondered aloud, “Why don’t the parents make sure their children do not disturb the adults? The na’anuim are very powerful and should be said with the utmost intention. The children who can shake the lulav are obligated—but not at the expense of someone else’s kavanah!”
When Rav Yisroel of Ruzhin, zt”l, was a child he spent a Sukkos with Rav Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, zt”l. As an impressionable young boy he saw how the Rav did the na’anuim with boundless love and joy. In his fervor, Rav Levi Yitzchak was all too liable to break his lulav unintentionally, and so he always had someone at the ready with another lulav to replace the one that had been shaken a little too enthusiastically.
After watching the proceedings, the young Yisroel held his arba minim close as he stood below the amud and remarked, “There is a person so full of love of Hashem that he breaks his lulav. Yet there is also a different type of person on whom you see nothing at all. Such a person is so full of awe in Hashem’s power that he hardly moves a muscle!”
The Mekor Chaim, zt”l, writes that lulav is a conjunction of two Hebrew words: לו לב, “he has a heart.” Who is like the lulav? The person who takes another Jew’s troubles to heart, who devotes his entire self to showing consideration for the other’s needs with the same sensitivity that he would appreciate if their roles were reversed.
Rav Meir Raful, zt”l, lived in the apartment right above the famous Rav Avraham Ades, zt”l, the great scholar of Aram Tzova-Haleb who later became the Rosh Yeshiva of the famous Rechovot HaNahar of the kabbalists in the Bucharim quarter of Jerusalem. Rav Raful once related the story of his aliyah to Jerusalem in the very difficult year of 1923:
“Work was scarce, money was hard to come by, and the barest necessities were difficult to secure. On many occasions, Rav Avraham would hire me to do a chore and pay me more than double the regular cost of the job. When I would protest such a lavish display of generosity, Rav Avraham would say, ‘The Torah teaches that we must love the convert. Those who have moved up to Jerusalem with such self-sacrifice are certainly included in this mitzvah.’
“This happened a number of times. One erev Sukkos, I was penniless and could not even afford vegetables for the holiday. I wandered through the streets seeing people buying various foods in honor of the coming yom tov and all I could do was cry. I felt invisible; no one even noticed my pain.
“Suddenly, the Rav passed by and called, ‘Meir, Meir! Come here!’
“I went over to him, and he said, ‘Come to my house. I want to work out how much I owe you.’
“I don’t understand,’ I said. ‘Not only do you not owe me a penny, but every time you’ve paid me, it was at least double the going rate!’
“The Rav nevertheless insisted that I come with him, saying that he must owe me something. When we got there, he handed me money over my loud objections. He then ushered me out of the house, instructing me to go and buy what I needed for yom tov. It was only twenty-five grush, but he lightened my heart so much that it felt like twenty-five coins of gold!”
The esrog represents a person’s heart. Our sages teach that the loss of the flesh of the esrog is only irredeemable when the hole pierces the fruit all the way through. As long as a person knows that his failings, his “holes,” do not penetrate to his essence, he will still be motivated to change his ways.
Once, just before Sukkos, Rav Yisroel of Ruzhin, zt”l, arrived at a certain town and all of the Jewish residents turned out to greet him. Among them was a certain “free-thinker” who was careless about mitzvah observance and liked to ridicule gedolim whenever he could.
Thinking that the arrival of the renowned Rebbe of Ruzhin would provide ideal material for leitzanus, he had decided to join the others. Just as he joined the crowd surrounding the Rebbe, Rav Yisroel began to tell a story:
“Once there was a great king who owned a very precious watch set with priceless gems. It kept perfect time, and it was always with him. One day, the king decided to travel and so he entrusted this prized possession to a favored nobleman. Before leaving, he warned the man: ‘Make sure to guard it with your life!’
“After the king set out, the nobleman just couldn’t resist. He took the watch out of its case and began to play around with it. Suddenly, it slipped from his hands, fell, and broke.”
The Rebbe then cried out, “Oy! The king’s watch! How can I return it to him this way?! What will the King say! How will I stand before Him!”
At this, the “free-thinker” fainted dead away!
Over his inert form, the Rebbe pronounced: “This man has fainted because he believes that his life, like the watch, cannot be repaired. But the truth is that this is what the straight-spined lulav comes to teach us: even though we’ve just passed through Yom Kippur and admitted our guilt for our many sins, we can still straighten ourselves out. We are not like the nobleman in the story! We can still repair all that we have destroyed!”
Rav Yissachar Dov of Belz, zt”l, was always careful to infuse all his interactions with other Jews with genuine love. He felt that the only effective way to reach out to estranged Jews and draw them back to Torah observance is through gentle and pleasant re-direction and education. However, one of the Belzer Rebbe’s most prominent chassidim was known to be a terrible kapdan, a harshly judgmental person.
One day, the Rebbe approached this chassid and tried to explain the error of his ways. “Abaye’s proof that the arba minim cannot include the lulav in its prickly kufra state is based on the verse, ‘The Torah’s ways are pleasant, and all her paths are peace.’ (Mishlei 3:17)”
The Rebbe explained, “This means that even the most beautiful lulav is disqualified if it pricks! Kal v’chomer that we should avoid jabbing at others in righteous indignation with painfully sharp words. Quite the contrary; the only way to achieve Hashem’s purpose is through gentle and loving persuasion.”
Sometimes, however, even gentle methods fail to bring positive results. Rav Naftali Amsterdam, zt”l, once asked his mentor, Rav Yisroel Salanter, zt”l, how to overcome the natural tendency to become frustrated when a wayward Jew refuses to accept moral correction.
Rav Yisroel answered, “Chazal said that the words of a person with fear of heaven are heard. This means that if the person offering gentle rebuke is being ignored, the one doing the talking must lack yiras shomayim. Why, then, should he be frustrated with his friend? Let the speaker instead direct his anger toward himself for lacking the requisite fear of heaven!”
Our sages teach that the willow of the arba minim must be of the arvei nachal with leaves that are elongated like a river, and not rounded like those of the tzaftz’fa that grows in the hills. The Kedushas Tzion of Bobov, zt”l quotes the medrash that the willow represents a Jew who lacks Torah and mitzvos who achieves atonement by binding himself together with others more worthy than himself. But, he says, this can only be effective if the less worthy Jew is not a tzaftz’fa, a grandiose person who places himself “in the hills” above others and “shoots his mouth off” (m’tzaftzef b’peh). The only way to deal with such a willow is by separating it from the other species and “putting it in its place,” lest it have a negative influence on the other three.
Once, a certain maskil from Minsk came to visit with the Beis HaLevi, zt”l, together with a large group of prominent Jews. During the course of a conversation about new Torah works, the man very self-assuredly turned to the renowned gadol and said, “One would think that a gaon of your stature would publish innovative leniencies, since you certainly have the knowledge and authority that demands.”
In a booming voice, the Beis HaLevi declared, “Absolutely right. And I’ve even published quite a few heteirim.”
Fairly bursting with pride from having secured the Beis HaLevi’s regard, and hoping to hear a few piskei halachah that would suit his ideology, the visitor urged his host to name a few.
Much to the delight of his listeners, the Beis HaLevi intoned in a voice laced with irony, “Some are machmir that only great scholars should wear tefillin d’Rabbeinu Tam, but I am lenient and permit them universally…While some are machmir and forbid Torah study when erev Tisha B’Av falls out on Shabbos, I permit it. Although some are machmir and prohibit fasting on Rosh Hashanah, I am lenient and allow that too.” By this point, the other people in the room could barely restrain their laughter.
The Beis HaLevi then delivered his makeh b’patish: “And even though some are machmir and forbid observing two days of Yom Kippur because of sfeika d’yuma, I am lenient and permit it!”
When our sages list the features which distinguish the kosher arava from the invalid tzaftz’fa, we find that one of these traits is color. While the true arava has a red stem, the tzaftz’fa has a stem that is white. Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt”l, explains that since the willow represents a person devoid of Torah and mitzvos, the redness of its stem symbolizes one of his main redeeming qualities: an honest awareness of the impropriety of his ways. In that sense, the “redness” of sin is actually a positive sign, since it proves that at least the person knows the difference between right and wrong. The tzaftz’fa, on the other hand, represents a person who lives in denial. All the bad he does, and all the good that he fails to do, is all “white” as far as he is concerned. Such a person is very far from repentance and repair.
Once, one of the followers of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, zt”l, asked whether trying to cover up one’s sins isn’t really a kind of hypocrisy. He received an interesting response:
“There is a common saying, ‘If a person is going to eat a davar acher, he should at least let the grease run freely down his beard.’ They mean, why should he add hypocrisy to his sins? But I say, ‘If a person is going to do such a thing, he should at the very least wipe the grease off of his beard! Let him show a little shame!”
An Israeli baal teshuvah was once asked what had inspired him to turn away from the lifestyle of the Shomer HaTzair kibbutz on which he was raised. He said, “I heard Rebbe Nachman’s saying about ‘wiping the grease off of one’s beard’ and took it to heart. I didn’t stop sinning right away, but I did stop flaunting my sins. And it ultimately changed my life completely!”