Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A Doctor's Obligation

A certain doctor was having a rather difficult time. People would come to his house at all hours and expect him to be available to treat them. Very often this interfered with his personal life and he wondered if he could possibly refuse to treat a patient unless it was a real emergency. There were no others doctors in his neighborhood but he was tired of being everyone’s “korban.”

It is rather well known that when the Satmar Rav, zt”l, was a resident in Yerushalayim many people came to him for advice. This doctor too approached the Satmar Rav for help. The hapless physician asked, “Perhaps I can refuse, since the language of the gemara is that a doctor has permission to treat. If so, I have no obligation to treat unless it’s a case of pikuach nefesh.”

The Satmar Rav disagreed. “A doctor is obligated to heal any sick Jew that approaches him. This obligation is included in the mitzvah of hashavas aveidah…”

When a certain talmid chacham heard about this exchange he was very amused. The next day he went to Zichron Moshe to daven and while there he recounted the “Rebbishe chiddush” he had heard from the Satmar Rav. When he was finished he began to chuckle.

Although even from his tone it was clear that he felt this psak was shoddy scholarship at the very least, one of the many erudite scholars present put an end to his fun. “Please don’t laugh at the one who knows better than you. Instead, just listen to the words of the Rambam’s commentary on the mishnah.”[1]

This scholar then proceeded to read the golden words of the Rambam: “A doctor is obligated from the Torah to treat sick Jews. This is included in the verse, והשיבו לו—‘And he shall restore it to him’—which teaches that when we see another Jew is ill, we must help him with our bodies, money, or knowledge.”[2]

Monday, June 29, 2009

The Power of Tears

Today the Belzer Beis Medrash is very well known for its vast beauty and majesty. But many are unaware that the Sar Shalom of Belz, zt”l, also built a famously majestic shul in the city of Belz.
When the shul was almost complete people requested permission from the rebbe to make a chanukas habayis. “After all,” they insisted, “The only part not yet built is the women’s section. That is surely not a reason to hold off on making the celebration.”
But to their surprise the Sar Shalom absolutely refused to allow the chanukas habayis until the women’s section was complete. ”We find in Bava Metzia 60 that ever since the Beis Hamikdash was destroyed the gates of prayer have been locked. But the gates of tears have not been sealed. So even if we daven here it is not worth too much since our prayers will not ascend through the gate of tears, which is the only path that is still open.
“But it is well known that women often daven tearfully. So if we lack a woman’s section and they have nowhere to daven in our shul, whose tearful davening will elevate all of our prayers on high? Clearly this is not yet a shul until we have a women’s section through which all of our prayers will ascend through the gates of tears!”[1]
The Imrei Chaim of Vizhnitz, zt”l, would say, “We find that although the gates of prayer are sealed the gates of tears are not sealed. It comes out of this that when someone davens with such intensity that he actually sheds a tear, this is more efficacious than several fasts!”[2]
But Rav Simcha Bunim of Peshischa commented, “If tears are so effective, why do we need ‘gates of tears’ at all?”
He then answered his own question, “There are gates to prevent some fool from crying painfully to Hashem to do what is not fitting. These prayers are rejected, despite their accompanying tears!”[3]

[1] אמרי דבש, ע' ק"ן
[2] בטאון ויז'ניץ, אלול תשס"ה, ע' 6
[3] שפתי צדיקים, ע' צ"ז

Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Whole Truth, and Nothing but the Truth

A certain person asked Rav Yaakov Kaminetsky, zt”l, for a favor. “I am sick and need a very expensive operation. Although I can not possibly afford the medical treatment that I need, the government will not pay for it because I own a house and am considered to be in the category of one who has assets to pay for the operation and hospitalization. So I would like to ask the Rav a favor. I want to write up a document stating that I owe the Rav a giant sum of money. If I can show the government that my house is not free and clear, the entire procedure won’t cost me a dime! After the procedure, we will nullify the document. I am asking the Rav because I trust him not to take unfair advantage of me.”
Rav Yaakov replied gently but firmly, “I cannot possibly comply with your wishes in this matter. I never say a lie, and I certainly will not commit one to writing. This is a serious prohibition and in addition it goes against my grain.
He concluded, “If I would not do this for my own benefit, how can I be expected to do so for anyone else’s?”

Friday, June 26, 2009

“It is Forbidden to Lie!”

The Chazon Ish, zt”l, was very careful never to promise anything to ensure that he didn’t go back on a promise if for some reason he could not fulfill it.
Even when Rav Wolbe, zt”l, asked him if he would be able to make it to the out-of-town bris of his newborn son, the Chazon Ish merely said, “I would very much like to come see the yeshiva…”
Rav Tzvi Oberlander, shlit”a, recounted how the Chazon Ish helped him in a tricky situation that seemed to require that he promise what he really could not deliver. “My elderly uncle was childless and he wanted a ben Torah to say kaddish for him. It was natural that he should try to designate me to say the kaddish. But I really did not wish to do this. As a yeshiva bochur it would be distinctly uncomfortable to be saying kaddish even for my uncle when the time came. In addition, my mother was still alive at that point and I did not know how she would feel about such an obligation. I was willing to learn mishnayos for him, however.
“I went to the Chazon Ish and explained that I wanted my cousin, who was not a ben Torah, to say the kaddish, while I would learn mishnayos for his neshamah.”
“‘So tell him you will learn mishnayos for him,’ said the Chazon Ish decisively.
“I explained that my uncle was a simple person who would not understand the importance of mishnayos. To his understanding, the main thing is kaddish. If I tell him that I will merely learn mishnayos for him, this will likely pain him…
“The Chazon Ish had been lying in bed as I asked my question, but at this he stood up and spoke in a very strong tone of voice. ‘It is forbidden to lie! It is forbidden to lie!’
“He made this statement three times and besides causing me to lose all interest in promising my uncle what I had no intention of fulfilling, this also imparted powerful yiras shamayim that lasted me for months!”

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Honesty, the Only Policy

The Chavas Da’as, zt”l, was experienced in business from his youth. He knew all the tricks and equivocations people did, without any regard for the truth, often violating clear halachos for a small gain. It is no wonder that that in his long will he warned his children against such sharp business practices.
He wrote, “I also warn you, if you have some business to conduct with a person who you feel does not fully understand what he is getting himself into, you must explain to him all the details of the transaction before he obligates himself. You must not say to yourselves, ‘What difference does his lack of comprehension make to me if he is clearly willing to sign?’
“Such thoughts should not even enter your head since you can violate לא תונו with the greatest of ease. And even if technically you do not violate this prohibition, what about the often quoted, yet more often ignored verse: ואהבת לרעך כמוך?
“Instead of tricking someone into doing what he may not wish to do, act with honesty and integrity… Be very careful never to borrow more than money than you have since Hashem can help you earn a profit whether you have a large sum of money to invest or a small sum. Even if you see with your own eyes that your capital is so small that you cannot possibly make a profit, you should not borrow. Better to take a partner who invests his money and receives half all profits then to borrow money in the hopes of making it back.”

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Importance of Integrity

Rabbi Yisrael Salanter, zt”l, waged war on those who were careful regarding mitzvos between man and Hashem while disregarding mitzvos between man and his friend. As a matter of fact, he felt that one should work the most on mitzvos that deal with his fellow man.
Not only did he believe that such mitzvos are paramount, he also held that one who is exceedingly careful in these mitzvos can reach the highest spiritual levels. He would bring many proofs to this from chazal and the entire expanse of Torah. “As is well known, Chanoch was a shoe maker. We find that while he would sew his shoes he would say, ‘Boruch shem k’vod malchuso l’olam v’ed,’ over every stitch, since with every act he sanctified himself and the entire world.
“Don’t think this ma’amar refers to some kind of kabbalistic mediation,” Rav Yisrael would explain. “It means quite simply that Chanoch would carefully check that each strip of hide he used was in good condition and that every single stitch was stitched carefully. Through the very act of taking care to be honest in all of one’s dealings in money matters, he declares Hashem’s Kingship and sanctifies himself and the entire world!”
Rav Yisrael would warn the rabbanim of various cities to be alert regarding the level of honesty and integrity in business matters in their communities. “One is required to follow the halachah in money matters just like he must eat kosher food. Everyone understands that it is a rav’s responsibility to ensure that the shochet in his city slaughters properly by checking his chalef for blemishes, since the rav’s job is to ensure that people follow the halachah. Yet many are unaware that a rav is also obligated to walk from store to store in his jurisdiction to check the scales and measuring devices of those under his authority and ensure that they are not violating the prohibition of ona’ah!”

Monday, June 22, 2009

Oneg Shabbos

On today’s daf we see the importance of oneg Shabbos.
A close student once invited Rav Yisrael Salanter, zt”l, join him leil Shabbos.
“I never go to anyone for Shabbos until I find out their custom during the meal I shall be attending,” answered Rav Yisrael Salanter.
This student very proudly recounted that his table was filled with both physical and spiritual oneg shabbos of the very best kind. “We only procure our meats b’tachlis ha’hidur. The cook in our house is a G-dfearing woman, the widow of a renowned talmid chacham. Our table is resplendent with the best foods, yet we are very careful to sing and say an abundance of Torah between each course. We even have a regular seder in Shulchan Aruch. Understandably, our table ends only very late into the night.”
Rav Yisrael accepted his student’s invitation, but with a surprising condition. “I will come, but only if you cut two hours off the meal.”
The student complied with his mentor’s strange request and the meal from start to finish took slightly under an hour. At the very end, right when they were preparing to wash mayim achronim, the student could not contain his curiosity, “Please teach me what is wrong with my regular meal that the Rav would not come until I cut it to such an extent.”
Instead of replying, Rav Yisrael merely asked that the cook be brought the table. When the modest woman arrived, Rav Yisrael apologized to her. “Please forgive me for rushing you this evening since on my account you were forced to serve course after course with no break between them.”
“Hashem should bless the Rav with all the brochos!” replied the gratified widow. “I only wish that he came to us every Friday night. My boss usually has a very lengthy meal, and after a hard day working on my feet in the kitchen, I am so weak that I can hardly stand. But, thanks to the Rav, I can get some much needed rest.”
Rav Yisrael turned his student and said, “In this poor widow’s reply you have an answer to your question. It is true that the way you set up your table is very meritorious...but only if your tzidkus isn’t attained at the expense of another!”

Friday, June 19, 2009

The Spiritual Shot of Whiskey

Rav Naftoli of Ropshitz, zt”l, once traveled to a certain town with Rav Feivel of Zebruzh. After a fiery intense davening, the two sat down for coffee. Before partaking, Rav Naftoli sat for a moment and recounted his yichus all the way back to the Shelah HaKadosh.

Rav Feivel looked at Rav Naftoli and said, “I can only assume that you list your yichus so that the merit of your holy ancestors will help your tefillos ascend on high. But does your honor really stand in need the merit of his ancestors after such an intense davening?”

Rav Naftoli smiled and said, “Since you, my respected friend, have asked, I will explain why I list my ancestors. You got up at midnight and recited Tikkun Chatzos to mourn over the exile of the Shechinah and the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash. You then immersed in a cold mikveh and learned until the morning. At dawn you started preparing yourself in earnest for Shacharis by saying Tehillim, learning Mishnayos, and generously giving tzedakah. When it came time to daven, you joined the tzibur for a davening full of intense deveikus. After davening, you sip a cup of coffee and feel fulfilled, knowing that you have outstripped your ancestors who never served Hashem as you have.

Like you, I also get up for Chatzos sometimes and learn a little. I can also daven what seems to be a nice davening. But when I have my coffee after davening, my innards churn as I think how inadequate my avodah is. How does my davening compare to that of my ancestors before me? Have I come to a small fraction of the avodah of the holy Shelah? Now you will understand that I list my forefathers as a way of stimulating myself to start to truly serve Hashem. Think of it as a spiritual shot of whiskey to warm me up!”

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Intensity of Learning Halachah

Chazal tell us that Yosef warned his brothers not to learn halachah on the road to their father. Rashi there explains that their intense concentration on clarifying the law would very likely cause them to err on the way home. Someone who is deeply absorbed in his learning might fail to notice any number of landmarks along the way.

Reb Yaakov Rosenwasser was once privileged to travel with the Imrei Emes, zt”l, by train. At that time, the Imrei Emes was still a relatively unknown young man, but since Reb Yaakov had heard that he was the son of the illustrious Sefas Emes, zt”l, he decided to observe him closely during the course of the lengthy journey.

“I noticed that he learned the whole time. At one point, we had an unpleasant surprise. The train was derailed! No one was hurt and we waited outside for the technicians to come with the proper equipment to get the train back on track. Everyone was conversing or relaxing, some were sauntering around and others were enjoying the pleasant scenery. I was still observing the young prodigy. I noticed that although he got off the train like the rest of the passengers, he immediately made his way to a nearby tree and continued learning as if nothing had happened.”

Fixing the problem on the rails and getting the train back on track took several hours, but the Imrei Emes kept learning with the same fiery devotion all the while. Even when they brought a crane to place the train back on the rails and everyone else stood there watching in curious amazement, he did not even look up from his Gemara once! When the repair was finally done, one of the young men accompanying the Rebbe walked over to him and tugged on his sleeve. The Rebbe followed the young man back onto the train.

Reb Yaakov concluded, “It was then that I calculated that the Rebbe had been standing there learning with intense concentration for six straight hours. And he looked as fresh as before he started!”

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

“The Torah Was Not Given to Angels...”

One must always be exceedingly vigilant to avoid embarrassing any human being. Chazal compare doing so to murder, and they proscribed that one cast himself into a fiery furnace rather than fall into this prohibition. Although some Rishomin write that this is merely a middas chassidus, Rav Shlomo Zalman Aurebach, zt”l, rules like most Rishonim who take this at face value.[1]
This is one reason why Rav Fischer, zt”l, refused to test children while their teachers were present. Not only that, but he would test each student separately, lest one who was less prepared be shamed in front of his friends. When the melamed would naturally ask after their performance, Dayan Fischer would invariably reply, “They knew the material.”
He would immediately add, “Some knew more and some less, but they all knew…”
A certain father was very proud of his unmarried son who was studying for the first chelek of Yoreh Deiah in the hopes of becoming a rav. When the young man finished the first one hundred and eleven simanim—the customary test for a rav in those days—his father took him to the famous Rav Aizel of Slonim, zt”l, to be tested for semichah.
However, although the young man had covered all of the material, his method had hardly been thorough. Sadly, his “good answers” proved that he was not nearly ready for the rigorous test which was the only way to obtain semichah from Rav Aizel.
The test had not been given in a public place, but there were several scholars waiting to speak with Rav Aizel there who witnessed the young man’s performance. They wondered how Rav Aizel would manage to reject him without shaming him or his father. But they could never have guessed what the Rav response would actually be. He turned to the father and said, “Although I cannot give your son semichah now, you should know that he is a malach, an angel.”
The father was thrilled with this approbation, and floated from the room.
Afterward, one puzzled scholar asked Rav Aizel, “Whatever did you mean? The boy is clearly an am ha’aretz!”
Rav Aizel replied with a twinkle in his eye, “Does it not say in Kiddushin 54 that the Torah was not given to malachei hashares, to the ministering angels?”[2]

[1] עיין שו"ת מנחת שלמה, א'
[2] גן יוסף, עמוד קצ"ג

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Man or Angel?

Someone once asked the Ben Ish Chai, “According to tradition, Eliyahu Hanavi occasionally comes down to this world and appears as a person to learn with the chachamim. Does he have the halachah of a human being when he is here or not? Can he be the tenth man in a minyan, for example?”
The Ben Ish Chai replied, “Although he sometimes appears to select few in human form, he definitely has the halachah of an angel. We can learn this from the halachah of tum’as hatehom, a completely unknown and hidden source of tumah that only came to light later on. Even if a nazir came in contact with such a source of tumah, it doesn’t disqualify him if he only found out about it after he completed his nezirus and shaved. The Rambam rules like the beraisa brought in Nazir 63 that if anyone in the entire world knows about this impurity, it is not a tum’as hatehom and the nazir is defiled from when he came into contact with it even if he only found out later.
The Ben Ish Chai continued, “Eliyahu Hanavi surely knows about all tumah in the world. If he really has the halachic status of a person, then there could never be a tumas hatehom from the time he went up to heaven in a fiery chariot. Since he sometimes comes to this world and he knows about all tumah, it must be that he has the halacha of an angel and not a person.
The Ben Ish Chai concluded, “May it be the will of Hashem that his merit guard us, Amen kein yehi ratzon!”

Monday, June 15, 2009

The Image of a Jew

When the Nodah B’Yehudah, zt”l, was first appointed Rav and Av Beis Din of Prague, the portion of the week was Parshas Vayikra. His very first drasha was a fiery sermon against shaving. This seems a little difficult to understand in light of some of his teshuvos.

For example, someone once asked if a person who shaves regularly is permitted to do so on chol hamoed. The Nodah B’Yehudah replied, “We find that Rabbeinu Tam permitted one who shaved erev Yom Tov to do so on chol hamoed. The Hagahos Ha’ashrei asks that if this were correct, why don’t we find this among the examples listed in the Mishnah in Moed Katan 14a of those who may shave on chol hamoed?

The Noda Biyehuda went on to explain, “Although shaving is a melachah, it should be permitted on chol hamoed. Chazal only prohibited it to prevent people from deferring shaving until chol hamoed purposefully.”

The Chasam Sofer zt”l, disagreed with the Nodah B’Yehudah, and there are several sources that claim that he changed his mind toward the end of his life. The Sdei Chemed, zt”l, argues this point straightforwardly. “The posthumous section of the Nodah B’Yehudah also contains a teshuvah that permits this. If the Nodah B’Yehudah had changed his mind, then at the very least this those responsible for the publication would have removed this particular teshuvah!”

One can resolve this apparent contradiction very simply. When the Chazon Ish, zt”l, was asked about shaving, he said, “The way of Jews everywhere, always, has been to have a beard. This is the image of a Jew!”

While the Nodah B’Yehudah apparently felt similarly, he also answered the queries about shaving not in terms of the ideal, but according to the strict letter of the halachah. As he once wrote to a Rav who vehemently opposed his leniency in this area, “Why should I not be matzdik the tzaddik Rabbeinu Tam when I agree with his words?”

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Shame and Chinuch

It is well known that the Chazon Ish, zt”l, was very careful to avoid causing even the slightest embarrassment to any person. As the Ramak, zt”l, writes, “One must respect all of Hashem’s creatures since they are formed with great understanding. Every creature should be very honored in his eyes, since if he embarrasses a creature this is disrespectful to their Creator.”[1]

Yet there were some exceptions. Sadly, there are times when someone acts in such a despicable manner that one is obligated to publicly shame him. One important example of this is chinuch. It is sometimes impossible for a mechanech to educate a child without shaming him.

At other times, one may not actively shame him but one may set a trap so that the person humiliates himself. This is similar to the halachah that one need not mark orla and the like for a thief since he may, “give it to the wicked one and let him die.”

Since embarrassing another is compared to killing him in the opinion of the poskim,[2] one must be very vigilant to never embarrass another without first asking a posek; this issur is a matter of life and death.

One time, the Chazon Ish, zt”l, noticed that someone was pilfering money from his wallet which was not kept on his person. It could only be one of those who were very close to him, but who? He certainly could not accuse anyone of this crime.

He ordered someone to smear his wallet with a very pervasive ink so that whoever touched his wallet would be easily discerned. This was done and the young man who had done the deed suddenly had very black hands.

He was exceedingly shamed when he saw those from the Rav’s household who knew of the theft staring at his hands, which where very obviously black.... But he never stole again![3]

Monday, June 8, 2009

Safe Investments

Years ago, a certain Jewish investment broker went out of business. Sadly, he lost hundreds of thousands of dollars of other people’s money, often their entire life’s savings. Unfortunately, some avreichim also invested every cent they had based on this man’s assurances and became destitute with the loss. Many people felt pained by the predicament of these bnei Torah, since some had large families and absolutely no means of supporting them.
But when Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt”l, heard about this he was very upset at their foolishness. “Chazal in Bava Metzia 42 tell us what we should do with any capital we have. A third of the money should be left liquid, a third in land, and a third in an investment. Clearly, one should never sink it all into one place for this very reason.
“Although one who violates a rabbinical prohibition is a sinner, it is definitely possible that one who stubbornly refuses to listen to chazal’s advice is worse. How could they have felt they were smarter than chazal? These people are learned and surely knew chazal’s advice. It would be a good idea to check into their ideological leanings!”
Rav Elchonon Wasserman, zt”l, would say from the Chofetz Chaim, zt”l: “If a person is in a quandary regarding what to do he may be shocked to hear that he can ask Hashem. ‘What? How is that possible?’ the astounded person would likely reply. But you can tell him that in addition to the mitzvos and aveiros recorded and explained in the Torah, we also find advice regarding all the important issues of life.
“For example, regarding money chazal tell us to split what one has to invest into three portions. One is not obligated to do this, since it is just advice, but it is the tried and tested advice of chazal to ensure that one does not lose everything he has.”
Rav Elchonon would add, “If one person tells his fried that his face is dirty and another person says that his face is really clean, the confused man would surely seek out a mirror to see for himself. The Torah is our mirror. When one has questions the first thing he should do is look at what the Torah says!”

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Visiting the "Sick"

A certain maggid once arrived in a city which a number of well known “characters” lived. One was a wealthy man who was something of a scholar but never gave any money to the many poor people who approached him. This man had been so absolutely immovable in this regard for such a long time that everyone figured he may well stay that way until the day he died.
Which is why people were surprised when this maggid declared with confidence that he would successfully solicit a donation from the notoriously miserly man. When someone tried to discourage the maggid from attempting what so many had proven to be a waste of time, the maggid merely said, “You’ll see. I will definitely convince him, with Hashem’s help.”
When the maggid showed up at the wealthy man’s house, he was invited in. After all, the gentleman appeared to be a worthy individual and it was definitely possible that he was visiting for a valid reason.
As they were sitting together, the wealthy man asked, “To what do I owe the honor of this visit?”
“I heard you were sick and came to be mevaker cholim,” was the man’s strange reply.
“But I’m healthy as can be!” replied the flummoxed man.
The visitor demurred. “I am sorry to inform you that you actually are quite ill. Does it not clearly state in the verse, ‘A man to whom Hashem gives riches, wealth, and honor, so that he wants nothing for his soul of all that he desires, yet Hashem does not give him the power to eat of it...this is an evil disease?’”
The wealthy man didn’t really have an answer to that, so he remained silent and so did the maggid.
After a few minutes of introspection the somewhat uncomfortable man invited the maggid to leave. “Well, you have surely discharged your mitzvah of bikur cholim, so why are you lingering?”
“But I have not yet fulfilled my obligation,” replied the maggid. “In Bava Metzia 30 we find that each visitor to a sick person takes away one sixtieth of the sickness. So I need to remain here until you donate a sixtieth of your wealth to a worthy cause!”
There words spoken in a warm manner made such a good impression on the wealthy man that he gave a large donation for the first time in anyone’s living memory!