Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Online Pesach Shiurim for Women

Here are the links for three of Yehudis' pre-Pesach classes. And, no, she is not talking about how to clean your oven!
Pesach #1
Pesach #2
Pesach #3

Monday, March 30, 2009

Respecting Your Rebbi—On Pesach Too!

Once, a student of Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt”l came to visit his rebbi at home on Pesach. When Rav Shlomo Zalman offered his visitor a glass of wine, the student refused. He said, “Our family’s minhag is never to eat at anyone’s house on Pesach.”
Rav Shlomo Zalman countered, “You have to admit, though, that you don’t make your own wine at home anymore the way it used to be done; you buy your wine from the store just as I do. So even if your family did follow this custom and were even makpid about something like wine, one should nevertheless act with discretion and derech eretz and not refuse a gesture of hospitality so bluntly. And all the more so, when you are my student and I am your rebbi—how could one possibly think that such behavior is proper?”

Friday, March 27, 2009

Avoid Humiliating Another

One of the signs of a truly great person is that he is exceedingly vigilant regarding the honor of his fellow man in all circumstances.
Once, the Beis Halevi, zt”l, was returning home from shul on Pesach night when he almost collided with a man stealthily slinking away from his own house with all the silverware and vessels stacked precariously in his hands.
When the caught man noticed the Beis Halevi, he turned white. But the Rav was determined to find a way to avoid embarrassing his fellow Jew—even if he was a thief. The rav beamed on the man and said, “Pesach kasher v’sameach! You are probably bringing me vessels to use as collateral to borrow money from me after Yom Tov. Why don’t you leave them here and return during chol hamoed for the loan…”
The thief, who had not disguised himself in any way, breathed a deep sigh of relief and immediately returned the stolen objects.
When one of the students of Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, zt”l, was slated to get married, it was automatically assumed that the Rav would attend as the mesader kiddushin.
The rav arrived early as was his wont. When Rav Shlomo Zalman noticed that a prominent Yemenite rabbi in attendance, who was part of a sect that did not accept the authenticity of the Zohar, he asked the family if this Rav would receive a kibud. “He is slated to be one of the witnesses,” he was told.
Since many authorities hold that the members of this sect are not fit to be witnesses, Rav Shlomo Zalman immediately approached this Yemenite rabbi and insisted that he officiate as the mesader kiddushin instead. Although the rav balked a little at accepting, Rav Shlomo Zalman was so insistent that this rav finally complied and Rav Shlomo Zalman was a witness in his stead.
In this manner, Rav Shlomo Zalman ensured that there was no question about the status of the kiddushin and that the Yemenite rav was not embarrassed in public.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Spirit of the Law: Month of Nissan

1) “During the entire month of Nissan one does not say Tachanun…” (Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 107:1)

The Mekor Chaim, zt”l, explains that Tachanun is usually said in order to bring about the downfall of the sitra achra, the “side” of spiritual impurity. We cast ourselves down to symbolize the descent into the sitra achra, and by the time we come up we have extracted holy sparks from the abyss. By doing this, the hidden light of holiness which has been swallowed by the other side reverts to the side of kedushah.

However, during Nissan—the time of the great miracles of the birth of the Jewish people—the sitra achra has already been subdued and there is no need to do this rectification. On the contrary, not only does the sitra achra have less power, but a little teshuvah during this holy month goes a very long way!

The Chesed L’Avraham, zt”l, writes that between Purim and Pesach we escape the forty-nine levels of impurity a little at a time. Each day, we are removed from a bit more defilement. By the time Rosh Chodesh Nissan arrives, we are sufficiently removed that we don't even need to say Tachanun to be worthy of a true connection with Hashem. As we have already seen, Tachanun clears away our blemishes. The Arizal explains that although our Shemona Esrei is a connection to Hashem, it is incomplete without the Tachanun prayer. It is Tachanun that removes the sins swallowed by the other side that block our ability to really connect with Hashem. First, we do teshuvah. Then we “fall” in order to show that we are rectifying the damage done by our sins. Only after this process is our connection to Hashem through our Shemona Esrei truly consummated, since the sins impeding us have been removed.

During the month of Nissan, we are already elevated to such an extent that we do not need this process to remove the residue from our sins which would otherwise stand in our way. At this time, our teshuvah and dveikus during the Shemona Esrei alone is enough to merit true connection. This is because Hashem has sufficiently removed us from our personal forty-nine levels of defilement that keep us from living the fulfilled and joyous lives that we all instinctively know we should be living. Our ego gets in our way with its harmful pride and we cannot enjoy our blessings. So we go down in Tachanun to represent the fact that we are nothing at all and that nothing is coming to us. We then remove the sparks which the other side grabbed hold of because of our tremendous arrogance. This is why in earlier times people would literally lie prostrate on the ground during the prayer—complete prostration is the embodiment of humility. (Based on Likutei Halachos).

2) “We do not fast during the month of Nissan, even for a Yahrtzeit…” (Ibid., 107:2)

Rav Pinchas of Koretz, zt”l, explains that everything in the natural world comprises an aspect of katnus (“smallness” / “immaturity”) and gadlus (“greatness” / “maturity”). The katnus of the thing is always in inverse proportion with its real significance in the scheme of things. For example, although a day-old calf can already walk, although its katnus state is quite advanced, its gadlus state is spiritually undeveloped. In contrast, a day-old infant can do nothing and must be well swaddled and protected to ensure its survival. Even if it takes a baby as long as two years to master walking, this is still within the range of normal. There is no creature with as undeveloped katnus as a human being. The reason for this is because once a person comes to gadlus, he can come to great levels of gadlus. Mankind rules over all of creation. If he is worthy, a person can even rule over angels!

Sleep is also an aspect of katnus and so there is also a difference between creatures in this area. A horse, for example, sleeps standing up. Most beheimos tehoros sleep on their knees (at least part of the time). A human being, however, lies down to sleep—the most vulnerable and “undeveloped” position. The katnus of the sleep state is in an inverse relationship with the gadlus one attains while awake and mentally active. As the verse says, “chadashim la-b’karim”—“one is renewed each morning.” A person is renewed each day with increased understanding and more maturity. An animal’s mentality is negligible compared with that of a person; their gadlus is limited, so the katnus of their sleep state is far less and they need not lie down.

Another example of the katnus that precedes gadlus is this seemingly endless exile that we are enduring. When Moshiach comes we will merit intensely strong gadlus, and so we must first endure overwhelming katnus at great length. Fasting is also an aspect of katnus as we find in Pri Etz Chaim. For this reason, a bride and groom fast on the day of their wedding, and this is why it is very important to fast in general. Without experiencing the requisite degree of mochin d’katnus, one is unable to receive the mochin d’gadlus that are in store. This is one reason why there are a minimum number of fasts throughout the year. Rav Pinchas of Koretz even recounted that he had known several cases of people who were chronically ill because they had blemished their mochin d’katnus. He told them to fast and they subsequently enjoyed quick recoveries.

During Nissan, we are gifted with an abundance of holiness from on high. This is the wrong time to be fasting to correct the state of katnus. During Nissan, we are in an aspect of gadlus and fasting would only blemish this state. This is true of all fasts except for that of the firstborn on Erev Pesach (see Spirit of the Law—Pesach 113) and the fast of a bride and groom. This latter fast is a very important means of preparing for the couple’s new life together. Without marriage, one is a broken half. We need a fully rectified state of mochin d’katnus to be able to receive this intense gadlus for life called marriage. Even though we are in an aspect of gadlus in Nissan, our level before marriage compared with our level after marriage is like entering the greatest gadlus from the greatest katnus. Therefore, a bride and groom should fast on the day of their wedding.

3) “During Minchah of Shabbos Hagadol, one should recite the Haggadah instead of Barchi Nafshi since this Shabbos was the beginning of the miracles and the salvation…” (Ibid., 170:3)

Rav Nosson, zt”l, writes that all miracles come in the merit of Shabbos. This is because all miracles are a result of Hashem’s special providence over the whole world which is an aspect of the world to come. Shabbos is a mini-taste of the world to come in this world. Therefore, all miracles come from Shabbos, and this is why the miracles and the salvation of Pesach started on Shabbos.

This Shabbos is called Shabbos Hagadol since miracles are referred to as “gadol”—“great things.” (We see this in the verse: “Recount to me the great things that Elisha wrought.” [Melachim II:8:4]) All of these miracles were achieved in the merit of the special providence that is drawn into the world on Shabbos.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Elevating a Departed Soul

During the year that Rav Kovalsky ztz”l (Rosh Kollel of Sochatchov, and one of the students of the Chazon Ish ztz”l) was in mourning for his father, he arrived at the large shul one morning wanting to pray at the amud. It being the case that many minyanim follow one after the other there, and many people have a “chiyuv,” one naturally has to wait his turn, to grab an amud that isn’t already spoken for, and to wait there until the minyan finishes up so that a new one can begin. Rav Kovalsky stood and waited his turn, but in the meanwhile, he caught sight of an elderly man who had just finished davenning, who had very slowly removed his tefillin and folded his tallis, and who was now standing and asking someone, anyone, to help him home. But who has time for that on a busy morning, when everyone is rushing to finish up their prayers so they can get their day started? And this poor old man was looking at all the people streaming by him with pleading eyes and outstretched, trembling hands, but they ignored him. Rav Kovalsky pulled himself out of line, approached the old man, and gently took him by the hand. The elderly Jew took hold of it with his shaking hand, and they began their walk home together.
It was quite a long walk, they took a round-about way, and the old man walked at a snail’s pace. All the while, Rav Kovalsky murmured under his breath, “This should be for the elevation of my father’s soul…” Finally, they reached the old man’s home. He offered an emotional thanks to Rav Kovalsky, but the Rav’s job wasn’t yet over. Rav Kovalsky graciously supported the old man on his slow walk up the stairs. It was only when the man was safely inside his home that Rav Kovalsky turned back to the shul to catch the very last minyan, where another man had already taken over leading the prayers. This was the only time that Rav Kovalsky ever missed leading the minyan when he had a chiyuv to do so.
That night, Rav Kovalsky’s father appeared to him in a dream. “I’m willing to forgo every prayer of yours before the amud,” he said, “…as long as you do mitzvos like that in their stead!”

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Clouded Understanding

The Midrash tells a very striking story about how overindulgence in wine can warp one’s understanding: “When a drunk is inebriated he sits joyfully as though in Gan Eden. There was a pious man whose father drank publicly, much to the humiliation of his son. The pious man said, ‘Father, I will purchase fine wine and bring it to your house if you will only stop frequenting bars. When you go to such places you shame me and yourself.’ Each day he would bring his father spirits to drink in the morning and the evening. When his father would pass out, the son would place him in bed to sleep it off.
“One rainy day, as the upstanding man walked through the market on his way to shul, he noticed a drunk lying in the middle of the market place. Water was streaming over him as children hit him and threw dirt in his face and stuffed it in his mouth. The son thought, ‘I will bring my father here. Seeing the shame of this drunk will finally cure him of his obsession to drink wine.’ When his elderly father witnessed this spectacle, he bent down to the drunk and asked, ‘Tell me, my friend. In which pub did you procure such potent liquor?’ The mortified son cried, ‘Father is that what I brought you here for? Do you not see the incredible embarrassment this man suffers because of his habit?’
“The elderly father replied, ‘My son, I have no pleasure in life besides drinking. This is my Gan Eden.’”
Hashem yishmereinu!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Community is Pure!

Rav Hirsch zt”l explains that the korbanos express the elevation of our moral free will up to the Will of Hashem. The fact that the tum’as meis of an individual impedes his ability to offer a sacrifice is a function of his coming face-to-face with his own physical mortality. What sets the community as a whole apart is that the tzibbur never dies. The material bodies of its members may disappear in death, but their moral free will, their G-dly spirit, go on living together, united for eternity as the soul of the tzibbur that transcends generations. For this reason if most of the community is defiled they may bring their korban Pesach in impurity.
In a conversation with Professor Blumenthal, the head of the Ophthalmology Department at Assouta hospital, Rav Shach zt”l once said: “You should know, if a person is not observant, he lives for seventy or eighty years and dies like a beast. They stick him into the ground, and the worms devour his flesh. He, himself, becomes nothing more than a worm…”
The professor was perplexed. “I don’t follow you. Even an observant person eventually dies, is buried, and decays.”
Rav Shach smiled and gently reproved him. “No, no! Let me explain myself. You could compare this to a man who riding a donkey—the animal suddenly collapses beneath him and dies. What will the man do? He’ll get up off the animal and keep on going. The scavengers will come and devour the donkey’s body, but they have no interest in the man!”
“Don’t you understand? For us, the main thing is the soul. It acquires the merit of Torah and mitzvos while it travels in this world, and when the body dies, the soul gets up and continues on its journey to the next world, where it is rewarded. You, on the other hand, are only interested in the physical world of the body. When it breaks down and disintegrates, what will remain?”

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

A New Man

“The individual’s obligation to bring a korban Pesach can be deferred until Pesach sheini, but not the community’s.” Rav Tzaddok HaKohen zt”l explains that a personal flaw caused the individual to miss bringing the korban in its time, and it is only an intensely personal teshuvah that will make him worthy once again of bringing it. This is why Moshe Rabbeinu could not answer the painful question of that first group to miss the offering: “Why should we be deprived of the opportunity to offer Hashem’s sacrifice?” Because their question is the quintessential cry of the baal teshuvah, and only Hashem Himself can answer it. What have we done wrong to deserve becoming tamei l’meis and losing the ability to bring the korban, and how can we possibly correct it? According to the letter of the law, there should not be another opportunity, but the broken-hearted plea to rejoin the holy Jewish people is itself teshuvah. The individual becomes a new man, one who is indeed worthy of bringing the korban.
Dr. Gordon zt”l, a close contemporary of the Maggid of Mezritch and a famous baal teshuvah, once came to the Maggid for advice. He found that thoughts about his former sinful life would sometimes return to haunt him, and he wanted to know how to be free of them. The Maggid offered a parable:
“A Jew once owned a tavern, and the peasants used to come around and drink—they would even show up quite late at night, disturbing the poor man’s rest. After some time, the Jew decided to leave that business and took up selling lumber. He was very successful and led a wonderful life…except for one small problem. The locals continued to come around to his home in the middle of the night, demanding their drink! The Jew persevered; each time it happened, he would patiently tell them that he had left the business, and eventually they learned that they had no reason to keep on pestering him.”
“You, my friend, must do the same thing. Every time these disturbing thoughts come to knock on the walls of your heart, you have to repeat over and over again: I am not the same anymore—I am a new man, and I have nothing to do with such thoughts! Eventually, they will stop coming around.”

Monday, March 16, 2009

The Importance of Rebuke

In the synagogue of Radin, a sign hung on the wall: “Anyone who dares to raise his hand against his friend will be placed in cherem!” Once, a notorious bully beat another Jew viciously and the Chofetz Chaim, zt”l, instructed the shamash to punish the offender accordingly. Fearing a reprisal, the shamash conveniently absented himself from shul for the following tefillah.
As soon as the Chofetz Chaim noticed the absence of the shamash, he took matters into his own hands. The gadol ascended the bima himself and declared, “In order to fulfill the mitzvah of ‘fearing no man,’ (Devarim 1:17) I hereby pronounce so-and-so in cherem until he repents and asks forgiveness!”
A few hours later, the bully entered the shul in a contrite frame of mind, admitted his sin before everyone, and publicly begged forgiveness of his victim!
The Chofetz Chaim often directed other Rabbonim to actively rebuke their congregations. He would say, “Picture the heavenly judgment of an average baal habayis. The court will ask him if he set aside time for Torah study, and he will also be asked all the other questions normally put before the deceased. The defendant will offer various excuses but none will be accepted because the heavenly court knows the absolute truth. Finally, the baal habayis will try to exonerate himself by saying that the rav of his community never told him anything was wrong! And this excuse will be accepted to a certain degree because you never rebuked your flock. Why allow the sins of all those people to rest on your shoulders?”

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Engagement and Marriage

The importance of marriage cannot be overstated. The Shem Mishmuel, zt”l, once said, “Torah is compared to a wife since Torah learning also brings one to completion.”
It is customary to make a party celebrating one’s engagement. Once, when someone invited Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, zt”l, to such a celebration, he called it an eirusin.
Rav Aurebach gently corrected him. “Although many refer to this celebration by that name, people should not do so. Eirusin refers to the first stage of marriage.”
When he gave a gift to Hebrew speakers celebrating such an affair, Rav Auerbach would refer to it as “kishrei shiduchin.” Of course, many refer to it by the Yiddish word “vort,” which means “word.”
Once, at an engagement party, someone commented that presumably the reason why many call an engagement party a “vort,” is because the groom gives a d’var Torah which is often interrupted.
But another guest brought a different rationale in the name of Rav Simcha Bunim Leiberman, shlit”a. “He explains that the name signifies that a person has finally come to completion, since a vort or dibur must be complete. We can extrapolate this from the gemara which brings the verse, "על פי שלשה עדים יקום דבר"—“through the testimony of [two or] three witnesses will the matter [davar] be established...” It then explains that witnesses must testify regarding a ‘davar,’ a full matter, but not a ‘half davar.’ In this sense, calling it the Yiddish word for davar can allude to completion. It is well known that the Zohar teaches that until a man is married he is likened to half a body. It is his task to search for his basheret, as we find in Kedushin 2: ‘This is comparable to one who loses an object. Just as he must work to find it, so must a man must seek out his match.
He concluded, “Now that the chasan is finally becoming a davar, a complete person, it is fitting to call this celebration a vort!”

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Spirit of the Law: Fast of Esther

2) On the thirteenth of Adar the Jews gathered together to defend their lives…Yisrael accepted this day as a fast day…

The Magid Meisharim told the Beis Yosef, zt"l one reason why we fast before Purim, "…to inoculate from the natural pitfalls of indulging in rich food and alcohol. [Fasting] prevents one from sin often caused by abundant food and drink and levity.”

The Tsefanas Paneach adds that the fast subdues the Amalek within and we have a chance to fulfill in a holy manner the halacha to get so drunk on Purim that we will not know the difference between Arur Haman and Baruch Mordehai.

The Liutey Halachos states that fasting can bring us to feel holy embarrassment which is the prerequisite of holy humility and drawing powerful vitality into one’s day. This holy bashfulness enables one to internalize that all food is from Hashem and undeserved. How can one consume more food than required? Doesn’t one realize that the entire strength of the yetzer hara stems from overeating?

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Learning with Pleasure

Very many gedolim would learn with a heartfelt melody such that anyone who overheard them could feel how enraptured they were with their studies. Interestingly, this was part of the test to see if one was worthy of entering the Yeshivah of the Vilna Gaon, zt”l. One was given a piece of Gemara to learn and review for several hours, and if after all that time the prospective student was still learning with the same nigun of enthusiasm as when he started, it proved that he was worthy of joining the Gaon’s Yeshivah.
Many years ago, a certain masmid in Camp Morris in the Catskills would spend the entire day learning devotedly, and his nigun was a pleasure for all to hear. One day, a member of the cleaning staff commented to someone passing by, “That guy doesn’t do nothing but sing the whole darned day!” The young man was clearly enjoying himself so thoroughly that the man was convinced that he was just “goofing off!”
When Rav Shmuel Huminer, zt”l, went to see Rav Eliyashav, ylt”a, he was very impressed with how completely immersed in his learning the gadol was. Rav Huminer would tell everyone he met, “He sounds literally like a malach!” This is the kind of learning that produces gedolei Yisrael.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Gaon's Midos

The Torah Temimah, zt”l, told the story of a certain elderly man named Reb Binyomin whom he had once met as a child. This Reb Binyomin was of exceedingly old age, and it was well known that he was not particularly cautious about getting chilled or overheated. In other words, he didn’t take the normal precautions that even younger people do to safeguard their health, much less the great care that is normally taken by the elderly.
His acquaintances once tried to bring the matter to his attention, but to no avail. Reb Binyomin responded, “Unlike other people, I am not concerned about such matters. People, with good reason, worry that they might get overheated or catch cold and die, but I am confident that the blessing that was fortunate enough to receive from the Vilna Gaon, zt”l, will ensure me of a very, very long life.”
“I was a little boy when the Gaon was still alive, and I used to go to pray in his beis medrash. One time, after the prayers, the Gaon paced the floor of the beis medrash sunk deeply in his thoughts. On that day, I too was pacing the floor deeply immersed in reciting Tehillim, and without realizing it, the Gaon and I ran right into one another.
“I was completely dumbfounded that I had knocked into the holy Gaon, and stood there paralyzed in shock. Little did I realize that the Gaon could not move away from me either—because I was standing on his tzitzis! Eventually, the Gaon saw how confused and terrified I was and he had pity on me. He placed his hand on my shoulder and said lovingly, ‘You should live long, my son, but please…let my tzitzis go.’
“When the matter became known in the beis medrash and later in the city, people looked at me as if I was a rare find—a child that had been graced by the attentions and the blessing of the great tzaddik. My parents even made a great celebration that day and distributed charity to the poor!”

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Audio Class for Women: Purim #2

Yehudis' Sunday night shiur can be accessed here. Thanks, Dixie Yid!
This lesson wrapped up lesson #1, which was on Likutei Moharan II:74 and I:10. Ample anecdotes and jokes, and then a discussion of Parshas Zachor according to Reb Nosson.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Learning Consideration

The Alter of Slobodka, zt”l, was well known to be a mechanech par excellence. He always noticed what others did and would issue moral direction in exactly the right manner to help the student. His incredible success attests to his acumen. So many prominent rabbis and poskim emerged from Slobodka, that the Chofetz Chaim, zt”l, remarked that he was jealous of the Alter. When the surprised hearers asked why, the Chofetz Chaim replied, “I write seforim but he makes mentschen!”
One time the Alter was walking behind a bochur in the street when he noticed the young man go to the side of the sidewalk, stoop to the ground, and pick up a paper. After he gazed at the paper for no more than an instant he replaced it on the ground.
The Alter approached and requested that he explain his strange behavior.
“I noticed that the paper was printed in Hebrew and I figured it was sheimos from a holy sefer and required genizah. But it only took a moment to realize that the paper was not sheimos at all—far from it—and I put it back on the side. After all, it is very much to the side and no one will be damaged by it.”
The Alter looked at him gravely and gently said, “Tell me, what is the halachah for someone who causes his friend to fall to the ground?”
“He is responsible for all damage incurred to the person,” the young man replied.
“How did you fail to realize that another person may very well walk by and also mistakenly think this page is sheimos and bend over for nothing to lift up this paper? By throwing it back down—despite the fact that no one will physically trip over it—you have fashioned a bor b’reshus harabim. This is a stumbling block for your friend since what difference does it make if the bor makes a person fall to the ground or bend over for naught? The moment you picked up the paper and noticed that it was not sheimos, you should have kept it to throw in the garbage to save another some trouble!”