Friday, February 27, 2009

Purim Audio Classes for Women

Yehudis' Sunday night class on Breslov chassidus for women can be accessed here.
Anecdotes from Siach Sarfei Kodesh, Likutei Moharan II:74 and I:10.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Out of Harm’s Way

The Shelah Hakadosh, zt”l, exhorted us to be vigilant never to harm another. “In Berachos we find that Chanah pleaded with Hasehm, ‘Master of the universe, nothing in Your creation was made in vain: eyes to see with, ears to hear, and a nose to smell with. You created a mouth to speak with, hands to do labor, and feet to go places...’ We see that everything has a purpose for which it should be used. How much more so should we refrain from causing damage, since one who does so is even worse than one who sits around doing nothing…”
The Chazon Ish, zt”l, was well known for his remarkable ability to solve any problem by virtue of the Torah’s wisdom. People were astounded by his erudition and his ability to understand any topic—from psychology to surgery—from his Torah learning. This was not only a result of his diligence or his breadth of knowledge. He merited this because every detail of his life was addressed according to the Torah’s dictates. Even the simplest action was carefully considered to ensure that it was in accordance with the Torah.
Rav Yechezkel Bertler, shlit”a, recounted: “Even the most mundane matter like walking through the streets reminded the Chazon Ish of Torah. Whenever he walked on a street without a sidewalk, he would veer to the side of the road as cars approached. He would always explain why with the same wry comment, “Perhaps the driver has forgotten the Tosafos in Bava Kama 23 that states that one must be even more careful to guard against damaging another than to guard his own self from sustaining damage.”
In this way he fulfilled his obligation to safeguard his own life while reminding himself and whoever accompanied him of this powerful lesson!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Spirit of the Law: Purim 141:6

(Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 141:6) “On Purim…one says Al HaNissim.”
Reb Nosson, zt”l, explains that the “Al HaNissim” prayer was instituted because we overcame the kingdom of Yavan and the evil Haman, who were jealous of us and wanted to keep us from serving Hashem. Haman didn’t even want any Jew to be left alive! However, Hashem in His great mercy didn’t abandon us. He turned our grief and anguish into joy. Not only did they fail abysmally, but we gained two holy festival—Chanukah and Purim—which have sustained us throughout our long exile. We see, then, that their very attempt to destroy us has actually been the means through which we have gained the strength we need to survive until the redemption. The events that led up to our deliverance have made us worthy of receiving new and powerful spiritual illuminations and new mitzvos: the lighting of the menorah, recitation of Hallel, and the special Torah readings on Chanukah; and the reading of the megillah, sending of mishloach manos, contributions to the poor, and the festival meal and drinking on Purim.
The descent turned into an ascent—this is the character of Chanukah and Purim, and it can also be true for everyone, all the time. Every day, and at every moment, Hashem is orchestrating events in the most miraculous way to prevent us from falling completely. On the contrary, He turns all of our falls into ascents if we are only willing and try our best to begin again. This is the essence of doing teshuvah our of love—through which all of our sins are transformed into merits. This is how we can rise ever higher in our service of Hashem!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Spirit of the Law: Purim #5

Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 141:5
“The custom is to use a half-coin of whatever currency is customary in one’s area. This is to commemorate the half-shekel that was donated for the communal sacrifices in the time of the Beis Hamikdash. The custom is to give three such half-coins since the offering is mentioned three times in parshas Ki Tisa.”
The Arizal taught that, at first, only G-dliness was revealed, but since Hashem wanted to create the world so that we would have free choice, He constricted the revelation of Himself. The Ramchal writes that this means that Hashem “veiled” the revelation of Himself so we would not be overwhelmed. If there was too much revealed G-dliness, we would not have any free choice at all. Everything would be clear to us and doing something evil would be like doing something truly destructive to ourselves. If we knew what sin does to us and how it prevents us from ascending to Hashem, we would never sin. It is only because of the fact that G-dliness is hidden that we have a choice to pay no attention to what we intuitively know is right and do evil. This veiling can be compared to a candle which is in front of a person. No matter how many veils are placed between the person and the candle, it still gives off the same light. It is just very well hidden from the person.
If G-dliness was veiled too much, however, we would not be able to act properly. Our instincts would rule us so strongly that we would have no choice but to act in an animalistic way.
In Likutei Moharan, Rebbe Nachman zt”l, cites a Talmudic teaching that every person is a whole world. This means that every aspect revealed about the creation of the world relates to each person individually. In that lesson, he discusses the fact that every Jew has burning desire for G-d in his heart that is endless—literally, “to the Ein Sof.” However, this burning desire to join one’s Source is so powerful sometimes that it is paralyzing. Sometimes this fire then burns the other way, and one feels a fervent longing for some material thing or experience. This is the reflection of the Divine Endless Illumination (אור אין סוף) in each of us. It is our job to constrict this fire and create vessels to contain it and work with it so that we can accomplish what we need to. We have to learn to sit down and focus on what needs to be done and can be done right now. That might mean learning something, or praying, or performing an act of kindness. However, constricting one’s inner fire and longing for Hashem even for good purposes can result in the generation of distracting thoughts and feelings. If that happens, one must use the tools that Rebbe Nachman taught about to re-direct one’s thoughts. (This has been discussed at length in other postings.)
This is how Reb Nosson, zt”l, explains the concept of the machatzis hashekel, the half-shekel offering. We give a half-shekel to represent that building the Mishkan (the original reason why we gave the offering) or donating money for a communal sacrifice (our prayers and Torah study are both compared to communal sacrifices, as chazal tell us). When building holiness, we need to “halve” our burning desire to serve Hashem, to constrict our endless yearning so that we can serve Hashem, each one according to his level.
We give three half-shekalim because this is the amount of times that the offering is mentioned in the parshah. Of course, doing this once is not enough. We must keep on doing this until it is second nature and we are not allowing our fiery desire for our Source to hinder us in our journey to Hashem. Most spiritual backsliding happens to those who, in a sudden burst of enthusiasm, take on more than they can handle. “Take hold of too much and you have taken hold of nothing.” Doing a little at a time is the way to go.
Once, a certain chassid was sitting with a group of chassidim and their Rebbe, the Imrei Menachem of Alexander, zt”l. The chassid told the group, “I was always very busy and I didn’t have a lot of time to learn. However, every day after the morning prayers, I would learn ten minutes of Orach Chaim. After a period of time, I found that I had accumulated a huge reserve of important facts in this vital area of study. I couldn’t believe it! In ten minutes a day I became a talmid chacham!”
This is also a way for us to understand the purpose of Parshas Shekalim and why

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Spirit of the Law: Purim #4

[#2 & #3 will be posted closer to Purim b'ezras Hashem.]
Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 141:4
“On Purim one should don Shabbos clothes…”
The Avodas Yisrael, zt”l, writes that the sefirah of Chochmah shines with great clarity on Shabbos. For this reason, the great tzaddikim wrote that it is important to do teshuvah before Shabbos, to become worthy of receiving such a powerful light from on high. One first washes his body, then he immerses in the mikveh, and only then does one don his Shabbos finery in honor of the day and the spiritual light he is about to enjoy. On Shabbos, we are uplifted and are called, “holy unto Hashem.”
In the days of Mordechai and Esther, this illumination was revealed upon them despite the fact that it was a weekday and not Shabbos by virtue of their repentance, and through the fact that the Jews accepted the Torah anew from love. This is the deeper meaning that the Jewish people would continue to observe the days of Purim, “just like the days upon which the Jews rested...” The days of Purim are to be a perpetual observance, for they are like Shabbos, our day of rest.
The essential difference between Shabbos and Purim is that on Shabbos we are elevated to a place where this illumination of Divine providence shines upon us. On Purim, this illumination is drawn upon us at our weekday level. This is why on Shabbos we refrain from creative labor. We are in a place which is an aspect of the next world where no work will be necessary. On Purim, we are living in this world. Even so, Hashem does us the kindness of bestowing the light of His providence upon us and gracing us with closeness to Him. Since this is a kindness of Hashem which has nothing to do with our souls being raised up to higher places, we do not refrain from mundane labor.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

spirit of the Law: Month of Adar

Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, Chapter 141, 1

1) From the onset of Adar one should magnify his joy. (Mishenichnas Adar marbim b’simcha.) If a Jew has an altercation with a non-Jew he should take him to court during Adar since it is an auspicious time.

The Ohev Yisrael, zt"l, writes that the word “b’simcha” has the same numerical value as the word “shana,” year.[1] The more b’simcha, joyous, one is during Adar, the more joy one will experience the entire year!

The Chidushei HaRim, zt"l, states that just as we go into the illumination of Tishrei through Elul, we attain the dveikus, or intimate connection with Hashem, of Nisan through Adar. In Adar, our repentance is born of love and is stronger than the teshuva of Elul which is rooted in fear.

The Divrei Shmuel explains the deeper meaning of the preference to take a gentile to court during this month. On a deeper level, this refers to judging the non-Jew within us which is the aspect of Amalek within. One who has difficulty struggling with the negative inside himself (and who doesn’t in our generation?) overcomes this with much greater ease during Adar.

The Chidushei HaRim writes further that Adar is a conjunction of the phrase Aleph-Dar (א-דר=אדר). Aleph refers to Hashem, sometimes known as Alufo Shel Olam, the lofty One of the universe, and dar literally means dwells.[2] This means that during the month of Adar, due to the boundless joy we experience, it is easier for us to become a dwelling place for Hashem.

Chazal say, “One who wishes to preserve his property should plant an Adar on it,” which could mean either planting a type of tree known as an adar, which is usually understood to be a maple, or to plant the tree during the month of Adar. As it says in Tehilim (93:4,) "Adir bamarom Hashem”—“Hashem is All Powerful on High." But what does the verse have to do with securing one’s material wealth? The Chashva L’teshuva, zt"l, explains that the needs of every Jew are allocated from heaven. The reason why people lack is because their heavenly allotment is being withheld. What should one do to avoid losing out, then? “Plant an adar.” Adar refers to one who is steadfast as a mighty maple in his faith that Hashem is All Powerful!

Once, two friends met and one complained to the other that things were very difficult financially. He was literally at the end of his rope and didn’t know what to do or where to turn.

“Well,” responded his friend, “Rebbe Nachman writes that ‘one who is always happy will succeed.’ So I recommend that you strive a to feel happy all the time.”

“But that is one of the most difficult things to do! How can I possibly work towards such a lofty goal?” complained the disgruntled man.

“Nu, what won’t people do to make a living?” his friend answered.

[1] Both equal 355. (ב=2 ש=300 מ=40 ח=8 ה=5 & ש=300 נ=50 ה=5)
[2] To this day an apartment in Hebrew is called a “dirah.”

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Life in the Big City

One shochet went to the Divrei Chaim of Sanz, zt”l, for advice. “I live in a small town and eke out a minimal living through my occupation, but have been offered a position in a certain large city. I am really in a quandary whether I ought to accept the new position or continue toughing it out where I am. Perhaps the Rav can advise me.”
The Rav looked at the man in a surprised manner, “What is the question? In a big city you will make an ample living. Furthermore, it is well known that the city which has offered you the position is much more filled with Yiddishkeit than your present town which has a much smaller community. Why would you hesitate for an instant?”
“Well, my question actually stems from the gemara which states clearly that living in a big city is difficult. We are managing. Perhaps this is enough of a reason to turn the job down?”
The Divrei Chaim responded, “That is not what the Gemara means at all. The true meaning is that moving to a big city is very costly since the cost of living is far higher there than it is in a small town. Since not everyone has the money to afford the inflated costs of city life, it is generally a hardship. This doesn’t mean to say that living in a big city is not good. On the contrary, for one who can afford it, it is very good indeed!”

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Defender of Orphans

In January 1903, Rav Shalom Ber of Lubavitch, zt”l, traveled to Vienna with his son, Rav Yosef Yitzchak, zt”l. The next morning, instead of conducting the business for which they had come to Vienna, the Rebbe asked his son if they had any money. Their funds were tight, but since his father obviously needed some money, Rav Yosef Yitzchak went and pawned his silver-headed cane. He gave the proceeds to his father, and the Rebbe left.
Later, a series of deliveries arrived at the hotel, all of them filled with trousseau articles. Rav Yosef Yitzchak assumed they were meant for their family. Later that evening, Rav Shalom Ber returned and told his son to make preparations for another journey. It was only at the station that the Rebbe indicated he wanted to travel to Pressburg. When they arrived, instead of hiring a carriage, Rav Shalom Ber insisted on traveling by foot. While walking down the street, they met a yeshiva bochur who was in a great hurry. When the Rebbe stopped him and asked for directions to a particular hotel, the young man said, “Walk that way and ask someone else. I have no time.”
Rav Shalom Ber asked, “Is this the way you treat strangers?”
The young man felt chided, so he accompanied them. When they arrived at the hotel, they saw that the proprietor’s wife and three daughters were sitting shivah. They checked in, rested, and then the Rebbe headed out for a walk. They soon found themselves at the local yeshiva; the Rebbe spoke in learning to a number of the bochurim (including their guide from the day before), and seemed especially taken with one particularly apt student.
Over the next few days, the Rebbe made several condolence calls to the grieving family under the guise of being a distant relative. Eventually, the Rebbe broached the subject of shiduchim for her two unmarried daughters. The widow moaned, “What can I do for them now?”
The Rebbe made two suggestions: the promising yeshiva student, and the young man whom he had scolded in the street. As for trousseaus, he said, “Why should you worry when I already have everything prepared for them?” Having arranged the two marriages, the Rebbe and his son left Pressburg and returned anonymously to Vienna!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Torah and Reality

Although Rav Yechezkel Abramsky, zt”l, only spent a year in Novhardok, the Alter, zt”l, left an indelible impression on him. At times he recounted with great emotion the Alter’s words to him: “Mustar’l! (This was the Alter’s nickname for Rav Abramsky, since his hometown was Must.) If you want to know how to go through your entire life in this world doing the ratzon Hashem, I will tell you. You must always place upon your heart and know absolutely that there is no real existence except that which is written in the Torah. This is the lesson in Gittin 56. The Gemara tells us that when Rav Yochanan ben Zakai met Vespasian, he greeted him as a king even though he had not ascended to the throne. Vespasian pointed out that Rav Yochanan was liable to the death penalty for calling him king when he was merely a general. Rav Yochanan ben Zakai explained that he knew that Vespasian would be a king because of a verse and a gezeirah shavah that indicate that the one who conquers Yerushalayim will be a king.
The Alter continued, “But how could he take the chance and put his life in danger? We see that when Rav Yochanan ben Zakai approached Vespasian he saw a king. For him, there was no reality besides the Torah!”
The Biala Rebbe, Rebbe, zt”l, applied this same gemara to the following well known story: When the Baal HaTanya, zt”l, was imprisoned, he was interrogated on numerous occasions. One day, the Czar of Russia decided to disguise himself and meet this rabbi to decide for himself if the charges against him were true or false. Despite the fact that he was incognito, the i Baal HaTanya greeted him as one greets a monarch.
“But I am not the Czar, so why are you giving me this honor?”
“But of course your majesty is the Czar,” the Baal HaTanya respectfully parried. “Earthly kingship is likened to heavenly dominion. Just as the heavenly beings are filled with fear and awe, I was filled with awe the moment your majesty entered the cell. Although I was interrogated by a number of noblemen and officers, I never felt such intense fear inspired by any mortal before!”

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Aged Wine

The Minchas Elazar, zt”l, would often visit Rav Shlomo Alfandri, zt”l, on Shabbos afternoon. One time, The Rebbe took along a bottle of aged wine of excellent quality so that he could make a l’chayim with Rav Shlomo. A large number of his chassidim joined him as he made his way over to the other Rav’s home. When they arrived, the two great Rabbonim wished one another a warm and heartfelt ‘gut Shabbos,’ and the Rebbe offered Rav Shlomo some of the wine that he had brought.
Rav Shlomo said, “Usually I refrain from wine, since it is not good for my health. I am sure, however, that the Munkatcher Rebbe’s wine will not damage me!” Rav Shlomo drank deeply, and then asked that wine and fruit be set out for the visiting group of chassidim. Everyone there partook of the food and drink that soon appeared on the table.
Rav Shlomo said, “We find in Megillah 16b that Yosef HaTzaddik sent wine that ‘enhances the mind of the wise’ to his father, Yaakov Avinu. This phrase teaches that the mind of the wise is like aged wine. The more they age, the deeper their understanding. The deeper their understanding, the more strength of character they have.”
The Rebbe interjected, “Actually, Rav Shmelke of Nikolsburg, zt”l, said a similar thing on the Gemara in Shabbos 152a. There we see that food helps those younger than forty, and drink helps those over forty. Rav Shmelke said that one who is younger than forty must learn a lesson from food, for it spoils with age. So too, one who is younger than forty must understand that is it only by taking full advantage of every moment of his youth that he will be able to achieve what he needs to in this world. After forty, one should learn a lesson from wine, for it improves with age. So too, the older person must be heartened by the idea that even if he hasn’t attained all that he might have wishes spiritually, his chances are far better now because his mind has developed and he has a deeper understanding than he did when he was younger. If he will only apply himself from now on, he will surely achieve his spiritual goals!”

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Rav Shmelke's Humility

On a certain occasion, when Rav Shmelke of Nikolsberg, zt”l, was honored publicly, many townspeople present noted that the Rebbe did not seem affected one iota by the people’s adulation. How could he be so completely unmoved by homage that would have caused anyone else to be carried away by pride? After the public celebration, Rav Shmelke retreated to his room.
One of the followers who had wondered about the Rebbe’s comportment happened to be passing in the hallway just outside the room. As he walked past, he heard a strange voice from within. He couldn’t help but listen at the door and was quite shocked by what he heard.
In a sycophantic tone, one voice cooed, “Rebbe, how awesomely great you are! You are the tzaddik of the generation!” Another then said in a sickeningly sweet tone, “Rebbe, your word is like Toras Moshe M’Sinai!”
Thinking that there was a gathering of followers in the chamber, the chossid outside knocked. He was invited in, but was shocked to find that the room was empty, save for the Rebbe himself. Seeing the man’s clear discomfort, Rav Shmelke said, “Surely you were puzzled to hear me saying such things to myself?”
The man nodded.
The Rebbe continued, “I always find that speaking out the words of praise helps me feel how empty they really are!”

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Spirit of the Law: T'u B'Shevat II

On the subject of Tu B’Shevat, the Chidushei HaRim, zt”l, shares a very powerful concept: the “new year’s” judgment of Tu B’shvat primarily determines one’s access to novel Torah concepts (chidushei Torah) for the upcoming year.

Rav Nosson of Breslov, zt”l, writes that there are two levels of chidushei Torah. The first is the joy and rapture of bearing and sharing the fruit of one’s Torah learning, bringing down and sharing novel Torah concepts. This is the spiritual root of the sweetness of fruit to the palate. Without this feeling of sweetness, a person has virtually no genuine connection to Torah even if he or she learns assiduously and innovates novel interpretations. The second, lower, level of chidush is accessing a feeling of renewal and connection from every bit of Torah learning, prayer, and avodah even when there is nothing objectively novel about the concepts in which one is immersed. One still feels a powerful joy and connection, and this is the ultimate fruit of Torah study, as we say in the daily blessing: “Hashem, please make Torah learning sweet in my mouth.”

May we merit renewal and connection every day of the coming year, each person on his own level, in his own way. Tu B’Shevat is the time to pray for newness in Torah, especially in the Oral Torah, since Shevat was the month during which Moshe began to transmit the book of Devarim, which is the nucleus of all Oral Torah. This is the time that Moshe began to “Be’er es haTorah”—“explain the Torah”—but the word for explain is be-er, the well, which parallels the mazal of this month, the D’li, or water-bearer. May Hashem help us all to feel true joy and connection in our efforts to “draw up and pour out” the waters of the Torah! Without the joy, where are we?

Rav Yisroel Salanter zt”l had a student who was famous for his diligence as well as his creative thinking; he had the distinction of being both a masmid and a mechadeish. This bochur studied many years under Rav Yisroel, but one day, to the shock and dismay of all the other students, the “prodigy” went off the derech!

When the terrible news was brought to the Rav, he displayed no surprise at all.

“During all the years that I oversaw this student’s progress, I never glimpsed the least glimmer of joy on his face. He worked very hard to grasp the depth of a subject, but it was obvious that he was never really moved by any of his chiddushim. He never allowed himself to be connected to the Torah, and so it was easy for him to fall away!”

Friday, February 6, 2009

Spirit of the Law: T'u B'Shevat I

Kitzur Shulchan Aruch Chapter140 #26) The fifteenth of Shevat is Rosh Hashana for trees...The custom is to eat many different species of fruit on this day.

Rav Nosson of Breslov, zt"l, writes that every human being is always longing for Hashem. A Jew's longing for connection to Hashem is even more powerful. Usually, this longing gets channeled into other areas. People mistakenly think they yearn for money, honor or physical pleasures such as food. Attaining these never satisfies in a lasting way however, since the source, the inner desire for closeness to Hashem has not been addressed, just stifled.

When the Maharil Diskin, zt”l, was asked why the gemara compares the sinners of Israel to a pomegranate, he responded “A pomegranate has a hard exterior upon which no good is noticeable. It is only if you open it up, and delve into it’s depths that one finds the many, many good seeds in the Rimon.” Even if you peel off the outer shell you see only the white insides. You only find the seeds by breaking through the bad. Similarly, every Jew is a neshama kedosha which is always yearning with a powerful longing for his source. "

On Tu B'Shvat the sap begins to rise in trees. It is partially due to this process that the tree later develops in the spring. This is why it is Rosh Hashannah for trees.

The verse states, "Man is as a tree of the field."The "sap" of each person is the hidden inner essence of each person, their fiery longing for Hashem. Like the sap of trees, the inner essence of each person is aroused on Tu B'Shevat. Connecting to our inner longing is the prerequisite for all spiritual growth.

This is one reason we eat fruits on this holy day. We acknowledge the correlation between bearing spiritual fruits and arousing our powerful yearning for Hashem. The more we connect to our powerful inner longing for Hashem, the more spiritual fruit we will bear in the coming year. The less we connect, the more this longing will be misdirected towards the material and the less spiritual growth we will yield. It is our choice.

May Hashem help us to grow and thrive, and bear an abundance of spiritual fruit.

To be continued...

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Igniting the Spark Within

The halacha is that on Yom Tov, one may not move an animal that has died. Chazal taught us that a materialistic person is compared to an animal, and they also said that the wicked are considered dead even during their lifetimes. This is because they do not move forward spiritually or morally. A “dead animal” of this kind who doesn’t even feel a spark of life or inspiration on Yom Tov cannot be moved by anything short of a miracle.
A group of maskilim once approached the famous Dubno Maggid, zt”l, with a strange request. “We would like to invite you to lecture to us, provided that you promise that you won’t lace your storytelling with mussar. We aren’t interested in that; we just want to hear a good tale.”
The Maggid heard them out and offered them a parable right then and there. “Once, a man from a small town visited the city for the first time. He saw many things that astonished him, but nothing came close to the wondrous device that the blacksmith used to keep his fires burning bright. The man had never seen a bellows before, and the fantastic apparatus seemed to manufacture fire from nothing at all.
He said to himself, “Such a device could save me so much time! I must get one!”
He bought a bellows off the blacksmith for what seemed a ridiculously low price and brought it back proudly to his little town. He summoned everyone to the middle of the town to demonstrate the magical power of his new acquisition. To his dismay and great shame, however, the bellows would make fire at all—it only blew air!
The simple man returned to the smith fuming with indignation. “How could you sell me this fire-maker when you knew full well that it doesn’t work?”
“What ‘fire-maker?’ This is just a bellows—everyone knows that it blows air that fans a spark into a flame. Am I to blame if you don’t know the simplest truth? If you want a fire, you need a spark!”
The Maggid thundered, “And you maskilim are exactly the same! A story is just like a bellows. Unless you have a spark of willingness to change, there is no moving you at all!”
But when Rav Nosson of Breslov heard this story he said: " Even the worst Maskilim actually do have a small spark within that can be fanned into a roaring flame. But one must know how to reach it..."

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Burning Coals

Chazal teach five halachic distinctions between a coal and a flame. At bottom, the difference between the two is that while a flame is transient and ephemeral, a coal is substantial and lasting. This can be understood metaphorically as well—our commitment to Yiddishkeit demands the more permanent and settled warmth of hot coals, rather than the quick flash of enthusiasm that burns brightly but has not basis or substance. And the main thing is to keep the fire inside the coal alive.
Rav Yerucham Levovitz, zt”l, was the Mashgiach in a number of renowned yeshivos at a time when many Jews were unfortunately abandoning the Torah path. There was one bochur in particular who struck the Mashgiach as especially vulnerable, and so he invested many hours trying to inspire and encourage the young man in his observance. This was a never-ending uphill battle since the bochur was beset by a number of family and social influences that were literally driving him away from the Torah.
The struggle continued throughout Elul, and did not let up over Rosh Hashanah either. In the yeshiva itself, the atmosphere was permeated with heavenly awe and repentance, the bochurim were learning with special intensity, and the prayers were profoundly intense. However, this weaker boy, the Mashgiach’s special object of attention, hardly seemed to be affected by the charged atmosphere.
On Yom Kippur, the Mashgiach approached the young man and asked, “Tell me, what is today?”
The bochur shot back, “Today is Wednesday.”
On hearing those words, the Mashgiach burst into tears.
Later, he was asked by others why he had cried at just that moment. Rav Yerucham said sadly, “Until now, I had been hoping to slowly encourage him to yearn for true holiness. But he has gone so far that he has even lost whatever warmth he once had for Yom Kippur! How can I possibly help him now? The fire is already out!”

Monday, February 2, 2009

Absolute Integrity

Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, zt”l, interprets the Mishnah in Yoma 22 in a surprisingly novel way: “In earlier generations, anyone who wanted to rise (לתרום-להתרומם) and take a position of authority could do so just by wanting to (רצין-רצון). If there was competition, whoever ascended to higher levels in avodas Hashem (בכבש-כבשונו של עולם) and proved the greater master of halachah (בארבע אמות—בד' אמות של הלכה) prevailed. If both were equally qualified, the yetzer hara (ממונה) would suggest falsely flattering the community (הצביעו) to secure the position. The evil inclination would rationalize that a bit of hypocrisy is nothing to worry about (ומה הן? מוציאין אחת או שתים...)—one can always regain one’s integrity after the contract is signed. But the righteous of earlier generations wouldn’t budge an iota, since they knew that their duty was to the Creator alone (אין מוציאין אגודל במקדש)!
Rav Yehoshua Leib Diskin zt”l was a thorn in the side of the Maskilim of Brisk. He saw them as a poisonous threat and did everything he could to obstruct their progress. In desperation, they planted counterfeit money in the Rav’s home and informed on him. Rav Diskin was arrested, and the loyal Jews of the town hired a famous lawyer to prove him innocent of this capital crime. True to his conviction that one may not gaze upon the wicked, the Rav refused to look his own attorney in the face during their conversation in his cell. At the trial, the lawyer opened with a strange statement:
“Before I present my arguments, acquaint yourselves with the nature of this defendant. The Rabbi knows that I hold his fate in my hands, that a wrong word from me can cost him his life. Yet he never looked directly at me during any of our conferences because, in his opinion, I am a wicked man! How could it be that such a principled man committed the crime of which he is accused? It must be that this is a trap laid by his many opponents, who would do anything to silence him!” The court was convinced of the truth of this statement, and acquitted Rav Diskin.