Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Spirit of the Law: Shabbos #11

Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 72:11: “One is obligated to review the parshah of the week; one reads the text of the chumash twice, and the Targum of Onkelos once.”

The first question that springs to mind when one learns this halachah is, what is the purpose of reviewing the chumash twice? Shouldn’t once be sufficient?
Rav Shmuel Hominer, zt”l, states in the introduction to his work Eved HaMelech on the chumah that reviewing the parshah in the way indicated here makes it as if one fulfilled all the mitzvos revealed in that parshah, even those which they cannot do or which cannot be performed presently. The second review demonstrates that the study is not just learning, but is avodah.
Rav Moshe Soleveitchik, zt”l, of Switzerland explained that we say the verses of the parshah twice because this shows that we recognize the endless depth of the Torah. The first time corresponds to whatever commentaries we learn, and the second time is like learning the verses alone without any commentary. Even with all the deep commentaries we may learn, we still recite the text a second time to internalize that we have not yet begun to enter the depths of the written Torah.
Rebbe Nachman, zt”l, brings a “proof” of the infinite levels of the Torah. The Tikkunei Zohar comprises seventy profound chapters filled with the deepest Kabbalistic secrets, seventy facets of interpretation of a single word—the first “Bereishis” of the Torah. Rebbe Nachman says that we see from it that a book like this could have been written about each and every word of the holy Torah!
There is another way of understanding why we review the text of the chumash twice. The Chid”a, zt”l, quotes the Rabbeinu Efraim, zt”l, one of the baalei Tosafos, who writes that the first words of Sefer Shemos—ואלה שמות—form an acronym of the phrase: וחייב אדם לקראות הפרשה שניים מקרא ואחד תרגום—“One is obligated to read the parashah; twice its verse, and once its Targum.” The Chid”a then goes a step further. He explains why is this halachah is hinted at specifically in the first words of Parshas Shemos. It is well known that the purpose of our exile to Egypt was to raise up the sparks of holiness that had been exiled there through our physical labor in clay and brick-making. The Arizal writes that we review the parshah in this way to clarify holiness from klippas nogah which is comprised of things with both a potential for holiness and a potential to be used for impurity (like eating, business, sleep, etc). Klippas nogah is expressed in the language of the nations that can be sanctified through their use in Torah study. [See Likutei Moharan I:19] This is why the numerical value of Targum equals 649—the same as the numerical value of tardeimah. [This is the deep sleeping state of spiritual unawareness, which requires clarification.] Based on this teaching of the Arizal, it is fitting that the mitzvah of reviewing the Torah with the Targum is alluded to at the beginning of Parshas Shemos, the parshah which discusses our exile in Egypt, whose purpose was also to clarify sparks and raise them up from exile.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Spirit of the Law: Hilchos Shabbos #10

(Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 72:10) “From nine halachic hours after daybreak onward, it is a mitzvah to refrain from sitting down to a full meal (at which one eats more than a beitzah-volume of bread). (Note: We divide the daylight hours into twelve equal parts. This provides us the number of minutes in a halachic hour.) This includes a meal which one would ordinarily eat at the same time on a weekday. An extravagant meal of which one would not usually partake is prohibited from the ninth hour onward unless it is a seudas mitzvah that cannot be conducted on a different day. (For example, the meal celebrating a bris which was performed after midday on Friday.)”

The Mekor Chaim, zt”l, explains that even one who has done teshuvah should not think that he need not pay close attention to what he eats and drinks. On the contrary, one must pay be very careful to avoid overeating because there is nothing as bitter and evil for the soul than overeating. After all, this was the sin which caused all our troubles in the first place. Adam and Chava ate from the tree of knowledge, thereby bringing evil into themselves and causing their eviction from Gan Eden. In addition, the verse states: “And he will eat and he will be satiated and he will be pampered (with delicacies) and he will turn to serve idols!” We see that overeating leads to idolatry. The Vilna Gaon, zt”l, writes that bitachon is the opposite of overeating. This is because one with true trust in Hashem does not feel the need to overindulge in physical luxuries. Overindulging implies that one draws comfort from the food and not from Hashem. For this reason, eating too much is the first step down a very slippery slope which ends in denying Hashem. Our job is to regulate how much we eat and guard ourselves from overeating, turning to Hashem for comfort instead of food.
We internalize that our stay in this world is only a means to the next world and is not an end in and of itself through fulfillment of the opening halachah of this lesson. Just as erev Shabbos leads to Shabbos and if one doesn’t prepare before Shabbos he will have nothing for Shabbos, one should refrain from eating an extravagant meal on erev Shabbos after the ninth hour even if it is a meal one would usually eat on another day. Limiting what we eat in a healthy balanced way helps us to do teshuvah. This limiting our normal intake is not obligated since the main element of teshuvah is regretting the past and resolving to do better next time. If the meal is extravagant, this will surely misdirect us from our goal of teshuvah since this detracts from our ability to enjoy the Shabbos meal that is to come. This would certainly only draws us further away from Hashem. If the meal is for a mitzvah and one intends for the sake of heaven, however, the eating will not damage one’s connection with Hashem.
It is worthwhile to note that Rav Nosson, zt”l writes that it can take a long time to merit true teshuvah, and we must keep starting again until we merit true teshuvah. The Alter of Slobodka, zt”l, uses this very concept to explain the verse in Tehillim: “By virtue of the many tumultuous thoughts within me, Your comforting will give my soul pleasure.” It is only through exerting the effort of doing teshuvah many times that we merit to do a genuine teshuvah. Rebbe Nachman, zt”l, explains that this is like a pot of dirty water. Until a fire is lit beneath the pot, all of the dirt that has settled to the bottom isn’t recognizable. It is only after the fire of enthusiasm and yiras shomayim is going strong that the dirt begins to rise to the surface. One should never be discouraged when one’s efforts in avodas Hashem only make one’s flaws more obvious. It is only when the dirt rises to the surface that one can, bit by bit, skim it off and get rid of it.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Spirit of the Law: Shabbos #9

Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 72:9: “One should not do creative labor (which is prohibited on Shabbos) that demands one’s fixed attentions for an extended period on Friday from the time of Minchah ketanah onward. One may, however, do creative labor (that is not needed to prepare for Shabbos) if it is not very absorbing. To prepare for Shabbos, one may even do labor that demands one’s fixed attentions for an extended period.”
The Mekor Chaim, zt”l, explains why the 39 melachos are prohibited on Shabbos. Hashem made the whole of Creation in order that Yisrael accept the Torah. Torah and mitzvos are also called melachah, just like the paradigmatic forms of creative labor which are prohibited on Shabbos. Our original task was to perform the melachah of Torah and mitzvos and not the mundane activities through which we make a living. When we made the golden calf, however, we failed to live up to our original calling and needed to build the Mishkan instead to atone for our sin.
We therefore preserve one day in which we refrain from doing physical creative labor, and try to live in our intended, original spiritual state. On Shabbos, we work in the main on spiritual labors. There are even some Rishonim (including the Meiri) who hold that those who can learn must be more careful to learn the maximum on Shabbos. This is because of the precious nature of one’s learning on Shabbos. The Ben Ish Chai, zt”l, writes that one hour of learning on Shabbos equals 1000 hours of learning during the week.
The first rule about spiritual labors is that they must be a pleasure, hence the emphasis on oneg Shabbos. Mundane creative labor is prohibited to make room for spiritual endeavors, but these must be enjoyable. As we say in the blessings over the Torah: “Please, Hashem our G-d, make the words of Your Torah sweet...” We ask that the Torah should be sweet to us. The same is true of every other avodah. The Maharal, zt”l, explains that we find that we are to love Hashem with our whole heart. Nowhere does it say that one should fear Hashem with his whole heart. This is because love can arouse one’s whole self to Divine service. A human being cannot fear Hashem with their whole heart unless this fear is connected to love, because this sort of fear is unhealthy and will cause a person to collapse emotionally. All avodah must be infused with love, and for this reason we are specifically commanded to make the Shabbos enjoyable through indulgence in delicacies. We should enjoy our service of Hashem. Although sometimes one must deny himself a degree of pleasure to overcome his base physical nature, this is only a phase. We must come to the level of using our physical urges and pleasures to come closer to Hashem.
To return to the Mekor Chaim, we refrain from creative labor on erev Shabbos to remind ourselves of the next world which is represented by Shabbos. Each day of the week represents ten years of our lives. Friday represents the last ten years of an average life span. As it says in Tehillim 90: “The days of our lives are seventy years...” This is another reason why we refrain from creative labor on Shabbos. We do this to represent that we will ultimately come to a world where all physical labor will come to naught and we will only be left with our spiritual achievements. Rebbe Nachman, zt”l, writes that only the humility, sincerity, and true holiness of the person will be resurrected. Even sincere desires cause us to live in connection with Hashem for eternity. So the end of Friday represents the very end of our lives. It is only fitting to at least dedicate this period to serving Hashem and weaning ourselves away from this physical world! For this reason, even absorbing creative labor for Shabbos is still permitted after the time of Minchah ketanah.
Each and every week we remember how limited are our years until we journey to the world of souls. Yet we feast and enjoy because in the end everything will surely turn out well. Even if we only acted with sincerity once in our lives, even if we only did good once in our lives for the sake of heaven, our lives are worthwhile and our souls are worthy of eternity. The very fact that we keep the Shabbos is already a reason to celebrate!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Spirit of the Law: Shabbos Chapter 72: #8

Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 72:8: “Even a poor person should make efforts to enjoy Shabbos even if this means that he must limit his spending during the week in order to be able to afford the simplest pleasure. Even if he doesn’t have money, he should borrow using his belongings as security in order to be able to obtain delicacies to bring him pleasure on Shabbos. About such a case the rabbis said (in Hashem’s Name): ‘Children, borrow and I will surely pay! The resources to pay for all of one’s food is fixed on Rosh Hashanah, except for Shabbos and Holiday expenses. If one adds to these, the money is added to his account!’ If one’s situation is very difficult, if he cannot borrow and the only way of getting delicacies for Shabbos is to take charity and this person has never taken charity, he should rather make his Shabbos like a weekday and not make use of his fellow man by becoming a burden to the community. However, one should make an effort to have at least a little something which is special in honor of Shabbos.”

The exact language in the Gemara in Beitza quoted here is, “Believe in Me and borrow, and I shall pay.” The Ben Ish Chai, zt”l, and the Chazon Ish, zt”l, both learn that a person should only borrow if he is also sincerely working on his trust in Hashem. One who is not on this level should not borrow. Perhaps he will not be worthy and will not be repaid.
Working on bitachon (trust in Hashem) is an ongoing struggle that takes much effort. The bigger the financial burden, the more bitachon is required.
There is an interesting exchange between Rav Nosson of Breslov and his son in this regard. After Rav Yitzchok, zt”l, had married and learned for several good years with his father’s support, Rav Nosson told him that the time had come for him to fend for himself. “The number of years that I committed to support you are over, and I cannot carry the load of you and your family any longer,” he said.
When Rav Yitzchok asked why, his father explained, “I have enough bitachon for myself and my own family, but I can’t work on bitachon for you and your growing family as well. That is for you to do!”
The Mekor Chaim, zt”l, explains that we attain tremendous spiritual reward through taking pleasure on the Shabbos. One of the rewards of a person who has pleasure in Shabbos is a boundless spiritual inheritance—נחלה בלי מיצרים. This represents a higher level of existence. During the days of the week we exist at a soul-level that is connected with the lower spiritual worlds of Beriyah, Yetzirah, and Asiyah. Since these worlds are a mixture of good and bad, the levels of the soul procured from them need clarification. On Shabbos we receive our soul-level from the world of Atzilus which is completely holy without any admixture of bad. This represents our deep inner spiritual connection to the Almighty which can never be truly severed whatever we may have done. Taking physical pleasure on Shabbos represents the awesome holy delicacies in which our souls partake in the merit of Shabbos. One who does not celebrate the Shabbos meals with any delicacies is being punished for failing to honor the Shabbos at an earlier time (sometimes this is even from an earlier life). This changed their Oneg Shabbos to Nega—a plague (נגע = ענג). In light of this, a person in straightened circumstances should consider the importance of correcting this fault and at the very least save up to have a little something on Shabbos to distinguish it from the week. The greatest rectification of this is one who casts their whole burden on Hashem, strengthening their bitachon until they completely rely on Hashem and He carries their burden. Hashem then sends them the bounty to pay back all their debts and purchase many delicacies in honor of the holy Shabbos.

Friday, April 24, 2009

The Danger of Philosophizing

The Bnei Yissaschar taught, “...even that which we can learn from our understanding like a kal v’chomer is still completely above our understanding. We learn the Torah with the thirteen middos because this is Hashem’s will. Not because Hashem wants us to philosophize about the Torah.”
He delivered a parable to illustrate this idea. “Once there was a hungry man who was abandoned in a lonely field, far from any town or village. There was absolutely no food except for a nearby field of wheat. This man was no fool, however. The moment he thought about his situation he realized that if he didn’t find some way to make the sheaves into bread, he would starve to death. He immediately got to work. First he cut the stalks down. Then he gathered them together. He subsequently threshed the grain out of the chaff and selected the good grains. He then ground them up, sifted them, added what liquid he could find, kneaded the dough, and baked it over a fire he built of found twigs and branches. After all this effort, he had a good meal of bread and felt very thankful for this little bit of food. He then sat down to plan his next step.
He continued, “There was also a ‘philosopher’ who was in the same position. Not interested in doing the hard work necessary to get bread out of the grains, he indulged in pondering abstractions: Why didn’t the Creator make ready-made cakes of loaves of bread? Why does this process have to be so labor intensive? By the time this man was truly hungry, he hardly had energy for the work of getting bread out of the wheat. Worse, if he fails to move quickly, he might even die since raw wheat is not edible in its natural state.
The Bnei Yissaschar concluded, “The same is true regarding Torah and mitzvos. They are beyond our ability to grasp, much as we don’t really understand why things were not created differently. Philosophizing will get us nowhere!”

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Spirit of the Law: Shabbos 72:7

Spirit of the Law: Shabbos #7
(Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 72:7) “One should prepare in honor of Shabbos high quality meat and fish, delicacies, as well as fine wines. It is a mitzvah to eat fish at every meal on Shabbos, but only if one enjoys eating fish. If one does not enjoy eating fish or eating it is harmful for him, he is required to do so. Shabbos was given for pleasure and not for pain…”
The Chida, zt”l, writes that one should have special intentions when eating the fish and chicken or meat of one’s meal. While eating these three dishes during the week one can merely be demonstrating the fact that one is enslaved by one’s passion for food. This is why in the Hebrew the first letter of these three foods spell slave—עוף בשר דג. However on Shabbos whatever we eat we are Hashem’s slaves. So Basar is the numerical value of 502 which is the exact value of the combined lives of all our forefathers Avraham Yitschak and Yaacov in whose merit we eat the Shabbos meals. Oaff, has the numerical of 156 which is the numerical value of Yosef. Yosef represents the sefira of Yesod. Dag is the numerical value of 7 which can mean the seventh sefira of Malchus. In this manner every time we partake of the Shabbos delicacies we are concentrating on the Holiness of Shabbos.
The Chida would often say during his Shabbos meal “In honor of the Shabbos Queen!”
“For pleasure and not for pain…”
Rav Levi Yitschak of Barditchev, zt”l, explained “The best way to be absolutely sure that you never transgress the holy Shabbos is to tie yourself up in a chair for the whole duration of Shabbos! The only trouble is that since Shabbos was given specifically for pleasure and not pain, this would be the ultimate violation of Shabbos! We have to do the best we can and be certain that we not violate this very important halacha. We must enjoy the Shabbos!”
Rav Nosson discusses at great length the concept which is first brought in the Ramban in Eyov that one who focuses on what’s worrying them draws the problem on themselves while one who focuses on the good and kindnesses in one’s life draws this into their life. This is because the mind is very powerful indeed. We must learn to harness our thoughts and think good positive thoughts. We must not dwell on the difficulties in our lives. “Dieya tsara bishaata,” it is enough to deal with our difficulties when they crop up. We need not relive them needlessly. Sometimes we must get something out of our system by discussing it or reliving it. The only question is: where does the healing of this confiding end and damaging non wholesome focusing on bad begin? This is a question which everyone must decide for themselves. In general we must try with all our might to focus on what’s good and holy in a positive way. We should live with joy and vitality. Let’s start again right now! This very instant we can connect to the Creator by wanting Him and calling out to Him! “Hashem is close to all who call out to Him in truth!”

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Invalid Conversions II--Chizuk and Truth

[Mostly part of a response to "Spiritual Dan's" incisive comments]
...The truth is that people who converted without kabbalas mitzvos are often offended by being "disqualified" so unilaterally, since
they feel that this devalues all their hard efforts to draw nearer to Judaism. As should be apparent by now, (with all the chizuk we have discussed in the past,) this is completely false.
Quite the contrary. The holy Zohar states that no good desire is ever lost. Rebbe Nachman clearly applies this to non-Jews as well as to Jews. (The sources for this are brought in the notes to the first tefillah of the Sason V'Simcha section of Kochvei Ohr.)
As we have already discussed, Hashem doesn't want us to do more than we can. This definitely includes conversion. Although we often have no way to determine whether another is truly unable to convert according to the halchah, the potential convert must search deep into his or her heart to determine what Hashem wants their next step to be. (If they cannot bring themselves to even consider Orthodox conversion, this signals that there is a problem in the person's Torah education up until that point.)
Yes, we need to do our utmost to grow, but we also must be happy with who we are even as we strive for more. Sometimes a person honestly cannot convert Orthodox for whatever reason. Does this mean that doing what they can is valueless? Heaven forbid! Every effort and even desire to draw closer is very very precious. And sometimes that is the path they need to take to merit to eventually convert with a genuine acceptance of Torah and mitzvos, in accordance with Jewish law and tradition.
So that is the chizuk--but we must nevertheless be clear that our standards for conversion do not, and cannot, change because we are worried about causing offense. Even though every little bit is very precious, a convert without kabbalas mitzvos--even if performed by a misguided Orthodox Rabbi or dayan--is not yet Jewish.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Permitted Flattery

Although flattery is generally a very serious prohibition, there are exceptions to the rule. For example, one may flatter the wicked in this world. The Chidah adds that one may flatter his Rebbe, spouse, or parent. However, one may only flatter if his intention is l’shem shamayim.
At the end of his life, the Chazon Ish, zt”l, rarely attended simachos. And those he did attend were close to home. Unless there was a really exceptional reason, he didn’t go to affairs outside of Bnei Brak. And even in Bnei Brak, he rarely stayed for long.
Once he asked Rav Shlomo Lorenz, shlit”a, to accompany him to a bar mitzvah in Tel Aviv. This in and of itself was a big enough rarity. Another unusual thing about this bar mitzvah was that the Chazon Ish had very little to do with the parents of the bar mitzvah boy. It seemed as though the grandfather, a prominent Rav in the Rabanut HaRashit with broad influence, was presumably the motivating factor in the Chazon Ish’s decision to veer from his regular practice and attend a simchah in Tel Aviv. An even greater anomaly was that the Chazon Ish spent an inordinately long time at the affair compared with other events, even when they took place in Bnei Brak.
Rav Lorenz couldn’t help but ask why the Chazon Ish chose to stay specifically at that particular simcha for so much longer than his wont.
The Chazon Ish replied, “You know that right now there is a big altercation regarding drafting religious young women into the army and this issue is about to be resolved. The bar mitzvah boy’s grandfather’s opinion carries great weight with the other leading Rabanim of the Rabanut. I wished to give him a ‘bribe’ of kavod, to be sure that he will vote against this measure…”

Monday, April 20, 2009

“No One Considers Himself Wicked!”

At one Seder in the home of Rav Chaim Kanievsky, shlit”a, a guest told one of Rebbe Nachmn’s stories that also appears in the works of the Ben Ish Chai, zt”l.
“Once, a businessman was on the journey home after a successful stint at a fair. In one abandoned stretch of road, he spotted another person. As soon as the businessman drew closer the other man shocked the businessman by pointing a loaded gun right at him. In a gruff voice, the bandit said, “Hands up! Give me all of your money.” The businessman did as he was told and handed over all of his hard-won earnings.
As the bandit made to leave, the businessman said, “Wait! I am really in a bind now. Won’t you help me?”
“Nu?” said the bandit, clearly in a rush to make his getaway.
“That’s not only my money that I gave you—it is also the return on the investments of others! They will never believe that I was robbed.”
The bandit openly sneered, “Are you trying to ask for some money back?”
“No, no. All I am asking for is that you shoot a few holes in my hat.”
“What?” asked the surprised bandit.
“If you shoot my hat there will be no denying that I was really robbed.”
“Fine,” said the thief. “Take off your hat and hold it away from you and I’ll do it.”
“Can you shoot another hole so no one will doubt my story?” asked the businessman.
“Please fire again,” begged the traveler.
“Could you do a couple more so it looks completely realistic?”
“I think three bullet holes is enough,” demurred the thief, “But if you really want me to…”
“Just one more,” begged the victim.
“Alright, but then I’ve got to go.”
“You fool,” shouted the thief. “Now I’m out of ammunition!”
The merchant grinned and said, “If that’s the case, I’ll take back my money!” He beat the bandit soundly and retrieved his property.
After everyone at the table finished laughing, Rav Kanievsky spoke up. “Don’t forget what the bandit told the merchant as he was taking the money: ‘It’s not enough that you finished my ammunition and beat me up—you’re taking my money too?’ Even a bandit thinks that he’s in the right!”

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Invalid Conversions

A certain woman once came to Rav Avraham Yaffe-Schlessinger, shlit”a, the Av Beis Din of Geneva. She had received a divorce and had heard from friends that sometimes people in Israel have trouble remarrying unless their divorce is one hundred percent in order. Since she was moving to Israel, she wanted to make sure that she would not be troubled.
When Rav Schlessinger looked over the divorce he noticed that one witness was a notorious Shabbos violator. He explained to the disappointed woman that the divorce was indeed invalid. She would have to contact her husband and procure a kosher writ of divorce if she wised to remarry.
As they were speaking, the Rav noticed that the husband in question was named “ben Avraham.”
“Is your husband then a convert?” he asked.
“Yes,” she answered.
After the Rav asked a few questions it became readily apparent that the man’s conversion had been completely invalid at the outset. For one thing, the husband hadn’t really been Torah observant. In addition, the beis din had been questionable, to say the least.
Rav Schlessinger told the surprised woman, “Since this is the case, you need not get a divorce since there was never a halachic marriage to begin with!”
Rav Schlessinger wrote a document to this effect, and she moved to Israel. But the beis din in Tel Aviv refused to honor his testament unless it was affirmed by Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, zt”l.
When Rav Schlessinger went to see Rav Shlomo Zalman regarding this matter, the gadol was happy to issue his agreement in writing. He also expressed some surprise.
“You mean to say that the authorities refuse to annul her original marriage to such a convert? It is unfortunate that most converts under their own supervision do not accept Torah and mitzvos at all and are completely invalid!”

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Genuine Gratitude

Rashi writes that a person doesn’t have the nerve to be overly bold to one who did him a favor. Interestingly, the Ben Ish Chai explains that this element of hakaras hatov is precisely why Hashem put us in Egypt in the first place. He illustrates this with a parable:
There was a wealthy man who raised an orphan as one of his own children. This child’s every need was taken care for twenty years without fail. One day. a poor man came to the house and asked the wealthy man for a donation. The wealthy man gave him a generous donation and the poor man was so gratified by this kindness that he began to sing the wealthy man’s praises in a very gratifying manner.
After he left, the wealthy man’s wife said, “I don’t understand it. We gave a one time donation to the poor man and he burst into praise, yet we have paid many times that amount to the orphan yet he has never even said thank you.”
“This is because he takes all that he has for granted,” replied the wealthy man. “If you wish to inculcate in him an awareness of what we have given him he must be sent away.”
The wealthy man called the orphan and said, “I have supported you until now but you are already a man and can definitely support yourself. You should find your way to life and peace!”
The young man kissed his host’s hand as was customary, and left.
He found an abandoned bench to sleep on and the very next day found work as a laborer to earn his bread.
After three days of backbreaking labor, the wealthy man called the orphan back and said, “You may now return to my household if you wish.”
Now the orphan praised the couple effusively for every kindness since he stopped taking what he received for granted.
Similarly, Hashem first made us slaves in Egypt and only later brought us to Eretz Yisrael to ensure that we not take the good of Eretz Yisrael for granted.
One reason why we recollect our difficult slavery briefly every day and at length at least once a year is to enable us to hold on to our gratitude to Hashem for all His kindnesses to us. A former slave should take nothing for granted!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

The Limits of a Chumrah

It is well known that many non-observant Jews do a sale that is absolutely invalid. Their food purveying businesses may not be patronized until the chometz from before Pesach is presumed to have been sold.
Many people take this even further and—like the Gra, zt”l, —are unwilling to use even chomatz that they are certain was sold in good faith. Yet even though Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, zt”l, was also careful regarding this chumrah, he also set clear boundaries as to how far it extends.
Some students in Kol Torah asked Rav Shlomo Zalman permission to go home for Shabbos. The reason they gave was that they were careful not to use flour ground before Pesach even if it had been sold.
To their surprise, Rav Shlomo Zalman refused since he held that this was an unnecessary stringency. It’s not as if there was any evidence that the flour had been chometzdik before Pesach, so it was clear to him that there was no halachic reason to take this chumrah so far.
Those who do not rely on heter mechiras chometz after Pesach are often in a quandary regarding when the production is from new flour so that they would be permitted to purchase different items. Certain important rabbonim urged Rav Shlomo Zalman to join them in pressuring the va’adei hakashrus to publicize the dates that various products were finally produced from flour that was not sold for Pesach.
Although Rav Shlomo Zalman himself observed this chumrah, he refused to have any part of this. “On the contrary, I don’t want to put my name to anything that would implicitly invalidate the sale of chometz, since the geonim of earlier times relied on the sale after Pesach.
“Let those who wish to be stringent in this matter find out the dates themselves!”

Monday, April 6, 2009

Marror Today

Someone once asked Rav Menashe Klein of Ungvar, shlit”a, “I don’t understand. Every time the Rav speaks –even at a simchah—he mentions the horrors of his suffering at the hands of the Nazis ימ"ש. Why does the Rav always mention this? At the very least, it seems to be more in keeping with the joyous character of the simchah to speak of joyous experiences.”
“You are making an error.” Rav Klein gently replied. “On Kiddushin 66 we find that when Yannai Hamelech returned from conquering sixty cities he made a great celebration and invited all of the sages. He said to them: ‘Our fathers ate salted vegetables when they built the Beis Hamikdash. We too shall eat pickled vegetables as a memorial to our fathers.’ They served preserved vegetables on golden tables… We see from here that one is obligated to mention the hard times, especially during times of joy.
“But don’t think that I made this up on my own,” the Rav elucidated, “We see that one is obligated to always mention the hard times from Rabbeinu Bachaya’s commentary on parshas Vayishlach. He brings the verse where Yaakov says, ‘I crossed the Yarden with my staff…’ and writes: ‘From her we see that one is obligated to mention the days of difficulty in times of ease so that he considers how much better things are and praises Hashem that things are better. Shlomo Hamelech also said in Koheles, ‘On a good day, be of good temperament; on a bad day, see.’ This is actually a single statement of instruction: on a good day, in addition to being of good temperament, one should ‘see’ the bad days.’
Rav Klein concluded, “Rabbeinu Bachaya’s language is ‘one is obligated.’ This is an essential part of proper praise to Hashem. This is similar to the obligation to eat the bitter herbs on Pesach we eat marror, since without recalling our difficulty the praise to Hashem for taking us out of Egypt would be incomplete…”

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Hekdesh, Chametz and Freedom

A mark of greatness is learning not only for the sake of understanding, but in order to apply the learning to one’s own life. The Chofetz Chaim, zt”l, noted that few people even learn Seder Nezikin with the attitude that this study is a means to develop respect for the property and money of others. In addition to searching for the simple application of their Torah study, many greats, such as the Vilna Gaon, zt”l, and the Baal Shem Tov, zt”l, sought how to apply their learning to everyday life. This is in keeping with the Maharal and Ramchal’s teachings; both emphasized that there is a much deeper meaning to every gemara that one learns.
When someone asked Rav Yosef Lieberman, shlit”a, to impart some mussar from Bava Kama 90, the Rav extemporized, “On the beginning of the daf we find that hekdesh, chometz, and freedom have the ability to uproot liens. We can learn a tremendous amount of mussar from this one statement. Firstly, one must realize that he is mostly ‘meshubad’ to his yetzer hara who always waits to ensnare him in sin. As the verse states, צופה רשע לצדיק ומבקש להמיתו—‘The wicked one scouts out for the tzaddik and seeks to kill him.’
Here, the gemara offers hints as to how we can overcome this ‘shibud’. The first is through hekdesh. This means that one should sanctify himself even in that which is permitted to him. One must be careful not to become a menuval b’reshus Hatorah, as the Ramban explains in the beginning of parshas Kedoshim. The second way is through being careful about chometz. Based on the Zohar, the Arizal taught that one who is careful not to have any chometz for the entire duration of Pesach will not sin the entire year. Of course this refers not only to physical chometz but also to the spiritual chometz of anger and arrogance. The third means, ‘shichrur,’ refers to learning Torah, since we find in Avos, "אין לך בן חורין אלא מי שעוסק בתורה"—‘The only free person is one who occupies himself with Torah study.’ This is because the only cure for the yetzer is limud haTorah, as taught in Kiddushin.
“So here is your mussar: One who is careful in these three matters will remove the yoke of the yetzer from around his neck and will attain true holiness!”