Friday, July 31, 2009

Spirit of the Law: Shabbos 72:17 and 18

Labor on Shabbos by a Non-Jew for a Jew [Kitzur Shulchan Aruch: Shabbos 72:17]

One must be careful to remove food cooking (on coals) from the coals before Shabbos. If one forgot to remove the food from the coals before Shabbos, one may not remove the food from the coals (since the pot is resting on the coals this would certainly at least partially extinguish the coals and this is forbidden on Shabbos). A non-Jew can remove the pot for the Jew (since he is not trying to extinguish the coals but the extinguishing is unavoidable because of the act that he is doing. The sages permitted a non-Jew to do this type of de facto melacha.)

Since we have already seen how important it is to refrain from halachic labor on Shabbos, it seems quite strange that we are sometimes permitted to do halachic labor via a Gentile. Why should this be permitted? It is true that we learn from the verse that a Gentile has not ability to be a sheliach, halachic messenger, yet since it is so important not to do labor on Shabbos, how can we do labor in any way at all? Why isn't this at the very least not in keeping with the sanctity of Shabbos and prohibited across the board, just like the labor of a Jew?

In order to understand this we must delve into why Yitzchak wished to give the blessings to Eisav. After all, it is not as though he was not already a completely wicked person. How is it that Rivkah saw through him yet Yitzchak did not?

The Likutei Halachos explains that Yitzchak figured that Eisav would act as the administrator of worldly goods and provide for the material needs of Yaakov, while Yaakov toiled in Torah, much like the famous arrangement between Yisachar and Zevulun. This would have been ideal if only Eisav had been willing. The Arizal actually writes that if only Eisav had gone over to the side of holiness he would have been much greater than Yaakov since his source was much higher, since he had a harder time becoming a tzaddik. But in truth Eisav had absolutely no inclination to use his strengths to serve the side of holiness. He wanted the blessings all to himself.

The Zohar writes that this was a very dangerous time since if he had received the brochos, Yaakov, and his children after him, would have had no way to support themselves, since all materialism would have to go through Eisav, and he was completely unwilling to give anything for the support of Torah or holiness. It was only thanks to Rivka that Eisav did not prevail and Yaakov received the brochos.

This explains why Rivkah could not just tell Yitzchak her fears. Yitzchak knew that Yaakov was more righteous. He wished to give the brochos to Eisav since he saw the wondrous rectification Eisav would have made had he done teshuva. Eisav fooled his father into thinking that he was on the path to holiness when his entire interest in holiness was only to rob the brochos from his holy father.

The Zohar further explains the reason why Yaakov had to be forced by Rivkah to trick Yitzchak into giving him the blessings. Rivkah was a reincarnation of Chava who tricked Adam into eating from the fruit of the tree of knowledge, so this was her way of partially rectifying her blemish. She was tricked by the side of evil and she tricked the side of evil into relinquishing the brochos.

But what does this have to do with the halacha? The answer is that the original plan of Eisav working in the material and supporting Yaakov is still intact. Although Eisav rejected it, in times to come the righteous Gentiles will be in charge of materialism while Jews who merit this will bask in the light of true spiritual development in the ultimate future. Now we understand why the Torah permits a Gentile to do prohibited labor for a Jew on Shabbos. Shabbos represents the ultimate future, when Jews will no longer be involved in material pursuits. Just as Gentiles will be dealing with these pursuits in times to come, they are permitted to deal with them now as well.

The only reason the sages were so stringent regarding telling a non-Jew to do halachically prohibited labor on Shabbos is because this will naturally desensitize them from doing such labor themselves. But in certain situations, such as our halacha, a non-Jew is permitted to do what is forbidden for a Jew.

Connecting to Hashem on Shabbos [Kitzur Shulchan Aruch: Shabbos 72:18]

Foods that are left to cook in the oven before Shabbos to cook, are permitted even though the door to the oven is not sealed with mud (or something else. I would have thought one needs a reminder not to open the oven). It is prohibited to open the oven at night since maybe one of the dishes is not fully cooked and by closing the oven one is cooking on Shabbos (because now it will cook faster).

It is significant that the Torah specifies only the halachic labor of fire while discussing the prohibitions of Shabbos. Rav Nosson, zt”l, explains that everything Hashem created can be used to recognize and come closer to Hashem. This can be done only by mankind. Only humans have enough understanding to recognize the Creator. This is the purpose of Creation, that we recognize Hashem through every experience even the most physical.

This is why Hashem brought all His creatures to man to give them a name. The name is the essence, the way we can grasp the thing is through a name. Since mankind’s purpose is to search for the sublime in everything, the first man was the one to give names to everything.

For this reason as well, everything was created lacking completion. This is the purpose of all the melachos during the week, to complete the physical world which lacks wholeness.

For example, how much hard work and how many steps must one invest merely to plant a field with seeds, until he has harvested the wheat? But even then he is not nearly done. He must then do a whole new series of steps until he is finally able to enjoy some freshly baked bread. The same is true regarding garments we wear. It takes hard work to grow the wool or flax, etc., and even then we must still put in huge efforts before we finally have a garment.

Let's take the example of turning wheat into bread. If one looks at wheat kernels, he will likely have just as difficult a time recognizing the greatness and kindness of the Creator as an inedible plant. But once one partakes of bread it is much easier to see the greatness of Hashem (if he considers it). Clearly it is easier to appreciate the Creator through bread which is the work of man, than through a kernel of wheat.

Had Adam been worthy, he would have been able to complete all of Creation with such ease. His only task was to daven on erev Shabbos, until Shabbos. If he had only done so without ignoring Hashem's one commandment, he would have recognized Hashem through the entire creation with great ease. In this way, he would have fulfilled the purpose of creation.

But instead of davening, Adam sinned. As a result of his blemish, everything was damaged and it was no longer possible to attain completion through prayer alone. This is the deeper meaning of Hashem's decree that, "He shall eat bread with the sweat of his brow." We would now have to toil to get bread from wheat. In our imperfect world, it is only through rigorous effort that most can appreciate the Divine through the physical world. And even the most refined have to do many physical tasks and chores. It is virtually impossible to live without this.

Most people must work for a living and everyone has to contend with our very physical world. We must eat and attend to physical needs. We all must have food cooked for us, clothes woven for us, etc. It is only through the thirty-nine forbidden Shabbos labors that we can bring the material world to completion.

Every person has an inner fire which can be used for good or bad. Before Adam's sin, one was not drawn towards overindulgence by the material reality. But Adam's sin lowered the material world. He gave power to the forces of evil which strengthened the inner fire of illicit desire for unnecessary material indulgence. This can be food, other lusts, honor, money, etc.

Rebbe Nachman calls the negative destroying fire meorei eish. When the fire is a balanced flame used to better a person's connection to Hashem it is meorei ohr.

Of course every person must also use the negative fires to serve Hashem. He needs to pray passionately, and arouse this kind of might when setting boundaries. But this needs to be used sparingly and with great care.

Our sages taught that Adam only survived in the merit of Shabbos. This teaches that for us today, as well, the main way to rectify any blemish is through the holiness of Shabbos. The reason why is because on Shabbos the forces of evil have no power at all. The light of Hashem illuminates all the worlds and the venom of the snake of the fire of lust is pushed aside since, in a sense, the sin of Adam is rectified just before each Shabbos.

Any person who is interested is afforded great spiritual connection on Shabbos. No matter how much he has sinned, even if he transgressed the whole torah, chas vishalom he can recognize Hashem and do true teshuvah by connecting to the holiness of Shabbos. No matter how low one may have fallen, even if he is on the lowest possible level, chas vishalom, he can return through keeping Shabbos and connecting to tzadikim (at the very least this means learning their advice and following in their ways.)

Now we understand why we are prohibited from doing the 39 halachic labors on Shabbos. Since one can find Hashem on Shabbos, without being involved in material pursuits, one who does such labor regardless is clearly denying the sanctity and holiness of Shabbos.

One who lights a fire on Shabbos is causing a meorei eish. This is one reason why the melacha of making fire is singled out and mentioned when Hashem tells us to keep Shabbos. We are commanded about this since this is the sad result of forbidden halachic labor.

This also explains why Chazal were exceedingly strict with restrictions about safety measures to ensure that we will not come to forget ourselves and make illicit use of fire on this holy day.

Meorei ohr is a feeling of balanced connection. Kind of like when we do something good or we get nachas from someone. We feel a steady balanced pleasure, “a warm glowing feeling inside”. This is how we should feel when doing mitsvos and at all times. This comes (slowly!) from true connection to Hashem through Torah and mitsvos. Of course there are very many levels. Sometimes it is much stronger, and more powerful, but it is always balanced. It is not a consuming fire at all. It is the opposite of one who feels his adrenalin rushing and gets an intense feeling of self. This type of feeling should be channeled into avodas Hashem which transforms the feeling into a balanced connection.

Meorei ohr is when we are filled with happiness, emunah, bitachon, joy, self-worth and anavah. These are the middos which come from the Sefira of Malchus, genuinely accepting the kingship of Hashem, which is easily accessible on Shabbos to all of us.

Meorei ohr is the opposite of anger jealousy conceit or feeling a “burning” physical desire. When we feel any of these things it is our job to have the courage to “reboot” because of a problem with “our system”. We realize that if we fell down, it is time to start again, since our meorei ohr went out and all is darkness.

Eventually one gets the negative fire less and less. He has already felt the sweetness of true connection and really does not want to get angry or display other unfortunate midos, since he knows that this will cause him to lose his connection. Of course, anyone may regain it at any time, but this takes the humility of a new start.

As the Likutey Halachos writes all sin and distance from our Creator comes from the place we are in or the time we are at. We feel that we cannot connect from our physical or emotional starting point. Of course this is just an outright lie. There is no time or place in which we cannot connect to Hashem!

May we merit the true connection of Shabbos which is meorei ohr and may this influence us during the days of the week. May we merit the connection of the true Talmedei Chachamim for whom the illumination of the light of Shabbos shines onto the six days of the week!

Cohen or Kohein?

A certain young man returned to the faith of his fathers. As he learned more he adjusted his behavior to comply with his new understanding. Although this baal teshuvah’s last name was Cohen and he had always assumed he was actually a kohein, after he heard a shiur on the subject he was no longer so certain. He had heard that his paternal grandfather had married a non-Jewess. Not only that, but family rumor had it that this woman remained a practicing non-Jew for her entire life and was buried in a non-Jewish cemetery. According to the shiur that he had just heard then, he was no kohein at all. When he broached this subject with his rabbi, the rabbi ruled that he is not a kohein in any regard and may even marry a divorcee.
But when he told this to someone else, it got even more confusing: “How could your rabbi say this? Who told him that we trust your family rumors? There are halachos that determine who is acceptable for bearing witness. When we believe things or not is a complicated matter…”
This second person consulted with Rav Shmuel Wosner, shlit”a, regarding whether or not the first rabbi consulted was correct, and if not whether they should protest the psak. Rav Wosner answered, “It is well known that there is a dispute about how we are meant to understand the gemara in Kiddushin 69. The gemara tells us that Nechemiah refused to give kodshei kodoshim to the children of kohanim who could not procure documents proving their lineage. Some authorities learn from here that since our kohanim do not have such proof of their heritage they are all questionable kohanim. Other authorities counter that they were kosher for avodah, but Nechemiah had more established kohanim available so he disqualified them. According to this view, had there been no other kohanim to perform the avodah they would have been valid. In our case, although we cannot be sure of this young man’s true situation, it would appear as though we should believe what this young man heard. This is especially true since he may be able to track down his grandmother’s grave in the non-Jewish cemetery…”
Rav Wosner concluded, “G-d forbid that we should be lenient in other cases, but if someone rules in this case that he should not be treated as a kohein, we should not reject that rabbi’s ruling. As for the name Cohen, this is irrelevant to his status. While it is true that he has a chazakah in his name, he does not have one in his kehunah!”

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Spirit of the Law: A Meaningful Tisha B'Av

Introduction: Many people believe that it is virtually impossible to have a meaningful Tisha B'Av. Yet most do not make much effort to prepare themselves to receive the light of this holiday by learning about what it really means so that they can be emotionally moved both by what we mourn and what we have to gain on this special day. It is not for nothing that Tisha B'Av is called a moed by many Rishonim.

Rav Yisrael Salanter, zt"l, once said, "It is possible to advance spiritually on Tisha B'Av just as much as on Yom Kippur."[1]

But as the Zohar states, holiness can only be accessed through preparation…

Ben Ish Chai: Parshas Devarim

#18: It is forbidden to learn Torah after Midday on Erev Tisha B'Av. The only material which may be studied is that which is permitted on Tisha B'Av itself…

[Note some poskim permit on Erev Tisha B'Av until bein hashemashos, close to nightfall. It is important to note that it is permitted to learn works of Mussar on Tisha B'Av.]

The Yesod V'Shoresh Havodah, zt"l, teaches that we see from the prohibition to learn on this day despite our perpetual obligation to learn Torah, teaches the paramount importance of focusing on the mourning of the loss of our holy temple. The way one can manage this is to do his best to refrain from speaking unnecessarily to anyone. One who is truly careful from forgetting the tragic loss of the Beis Hamikdash for the entire day, will certainly merit to see the comforting of Tzion.[2]

But isn't that depressing? After all, the most disgusting defilement is sadness since this pushes away Hashem as we see in the Talmud?

We can answer this question with the words of Rav Nosson of Breslov, zt"l, in Likutei Halachos, who typically turns this entire problem around and makes what seemed to be depressing into a fight of depression and worry over one's sins.[3]

He explains that the three weeks are a time of terrible judgment as we find in countless sources. But dinim, judgments are actually an aspect of "fallen fears." Fallen fears are a panic-like fear or depression brought about by anything that is not Hashem.

The Ramak, zt"l, writes in Tomer Devorah, that one who fears punishment or the like is not afraid of Hashem. He is actually afraid of the outer forces that administer punishment. But that is not true fear of Hashem at all. True fear of Hashem is a feeling of tremendous awareness and alacrity to avoid anything that can make a person slip away from Hashem. [We find this definition in Likutei Halachos and it is later echoed by Rav Yerucham Levovitz, zt"l.]

In this context we do not merely mourn in a general fashion that we are so far from Hashem. Instead we should mourn the bad we have done and work assiduously to rectify what we have blemished and stop our negative behaviors. As long as we continue to act in a manner that we know is wrong, it is as if we are destroying the Beis Hamikdash right now since our sins prevent the Beis Hamikdash from being rebuilt.

But of course it is impossible to correct every bad at once. Rebbe Nachman advises picking one thing and working on that. It should be something that is not too hard for us to change. We must also realize that even the effort and desire for change is very precious to Hashem.

We must judge ourselves and truly notice how much this activity does not suit a person who wishes a spiritual lifestyle and the entire day we should mourn and yearn mostly regarding this problem.

The more we work on changing ourselves, the more we rebuild the Beis Hamikdash.

Now we can understand how a person can focus on the terrible losses of the Beis Hamikdash without being depressed or feeling despair. We only need to do what we can. Why should we give up without even trying hard? Just as the teshuvah of Yom Kippur helps even if we fall back into our negative behaviors, the same is true regarding the mourning on Tisha B'Av. In certain ways the mourning is even more powerful, since we are focusing on our actions "on the ground." On Yom Kippur we are lifted up to the highest heights. On Tisha B'Av we realize how far we have to go and that it is time to stop giving up on truly changing ourselves a little at a time.

19) [Discusses the well known halachos for the meal immediately proceeding Tisha B'Av]

But what is the point of such self denial?

We can understand what is behind this halacha from the words of the Yesod V'Shoresh Havodah.[4] He writes that even during the nine days it is fitting that we avoid any kind of delicacy, whether food or drink during these days. This is fitting since it brings home to us that we lack the holy Temple. It is so easy to just ignore this. We can mindlessly follow the halachos of these days (which is also very precious since it is an aspect of yiras Shamayim albeit a small one as Rav Yerucham Levovitz writes,) or we can try to connect to what is behind the prohibitions.

The Maharal writes that the Beis Hamikdash is the place where Hashem connected to the tachtonim, the Jewish people here in the physical world.[5]

That sounds so lofty, but what does it really mean? The Maharal explains.[6] The Beis Hamikdash lifted up the entire world to a higher spiritual reality, since it was a G-dly place that had an effect on the entire world. This is similar to a person who has true understanding. He is no longer only concerned with the material. This person understands that the material is very ephemeral, while the spiritual is forever. Naturally his actions show that the spiritual is paramount in his eyes. When there was a Beis Hamikdash, it was much harder to forget Hashem. And it was so much easier to elevate the material.

This is why no one understood how the temple could have been destroyed. Rav Nosson explains that the underlying reason why it was destroyed was because people took it for granted. They figured that with all the closeness afforded to them they could do whatever they wanted and that Hashem would never really destroy the holy temple. Even with all the warnings they were afforded, they never even thought to do teshuvah because why should they? Of course they were wrong since there was one thing that could destroy the Beis Hamikdash: apathy towards becoming more spiritual. It is our job to correct this by working to change for the better as much as we can.

Today, we are without a Beis Hamikdash and the world seems to be a completely material place to so many of us. How sad! Even the most religious have such a hard time remembering the real purpose of creation.

But if we miss the Beis Hamikdash, Hashem will return it to us. It all depends on how we comport ourselves on these most holy days…

20) We do not make a mezuman, during bentching.

The Ben Ish Chai himself explains why. Zimun shows a sense of permanence. But we do not want a sense of permanence during a meal to commemorate our mourning the holy temple, since we want this state to end. We still hope that our righteous redeemer will come and take us out of exile and rebuild our holy temple speedily in our days. Amen! Then we will make a meal of joy and gladness!

21) One should not go absolutely barefoot on Tisha B'Av. He should at least wear socks…

Rav Nosson of Breslov, zt"l,[7] explains that the main thing is what a person wants with his entire self. This is the identity of a Jew since although one can be forced to act in a certain manner his desires cannot be forcibly changed; although he sometimes can be convinced. (This concept also emerges from the Maharal.)

We cry on Tisha B'av because of Eisav's tears. Just as when Eisav cried it was because he lost absolute dominion in the physical world, when a person chases materialism with his entire self, he "cries the tears of Eisav" as it were, since the very name Eisav stems from the root, asiya, which means action and refers to the material world of action. This is the ultimate destruction of the holy temple since one makes an end in itself of materialism and completely fails to show an interest in spiritual attainments. What about holiness? What about goodness? In Rebbe Nachman's words, the sophisticate says, "There will be time for that." Yet we see that he never finds any time for an honest consideration of spiritual truths.

When we mourn the Temple, we mourn our having blemished our holy desire. Like Eisav we scream a mighty cry for our lusts and foolishness. But of course such attainments are empty since they do not at all satisfy the soul, our lasting selves. Instead overly much materialism merely leads to depression and a feeling of emptiness inside. We then try to fill this with another empty physical conquest and another but nothing really helps.

We deprive ourselves of shoes because we finally understand that we have been going places that are absolutely empty and we wish to mend our ways. But we should not go absolutely barefoot since this would pain us and pain is not the point. The point is to have a day to make a true evaluation: have I been yearning for holiness or is the material the most important element in my life? We halt ourselves and stop mindlessly wandering in the same old paths. From today we are going to stop destroying the Beis Hamikdash, the ultimate source of deep soul searching yearning for Hashem. We will stop crying for materialism and begin to truly search for a little more spirituality each and every day.

22) …We do not say the blessing, "who has fulfilled for me all my needs" on Tisha B'Av since we do not have shoes. [Most Ahskenazic authorities rule that we should say this blessing. Even those who do not, hold that one should say it that night when he puts on his shoes.]

Rav Nosson of Breslov, zt"l, explains:[8] We remove our shoes on Tisha B'Av because this embarrasses us and embarrassment is an excellent catalyst to enable one to see his sins and do teshuvah. Through finally seeing our sins and doing teshuvah we are lifted up to the aspect of Binah, which is an aspect of a neder (vow). This teaches that we are enabled to finally let go of and absolutely reject the negative within. Through teshuvah we are rectified so we can put on our shoes.

Yom Kippur symbolizes the culmination of this process while Tisha B'Av is the start. We take off our shoes on Tisha B'Av to really recognize and begin to throw out our negatives and negativity. On Yom Kippur we finally reach true teshuvah and (hopefully) transform the sin into an asset since we work much harder to overcome our tendency to slip back into the abyss of spiritual descent. This ironclad commitment generally comes on Yom Kippur.

24) It is forbidden to do melacha, labor on Tisha B'Av [so as not to distract one from mourning]

The Yalkut Shimoni writes that when the Jews sat on the banks of the rivers of Bavel they saw that Yirmeyahu was going to leave them and they burst into heartfelt tears.

Yirmeyahu replied to them, "I call as my witness the heavens and the earth! If you had only cried one time when you were still in Tzion, there would have been no destruction or exile."

This is a very important day. Rav Pinchas of Koritz said that when we are on the floor we are very close to Hashem and it is a very auspicious time to ask for whatever we need.

There is so much that each of us needs! Let us take to heart the words of Yirmeyahu and beg Hashem to help us truly draw near to Him and His Torah. Let us ask for even our physical needs since He is the One who truly provides for us.

Let us not allow ourselves to be distracted on this most holy day. To paraphrase the words of Rebbe Nachman: although it appears to be a day of distance, the distance is actually completely to draw near and not to distance at all.

25) On Tisha B'Av it is fitting to put on Talis and Tefilin of Rashi and Rabeinu Tam and recite the Shema at home and then go to shul. [But the prevalent Ashkenazic custom is to put on Tefilin only during Mincha.]

Rav Nosson of Breslov explains[9] that tefilin specifically correspond to the Beis Hamikdash since both are refered to as our splendor. We do not wear tefilin during the morning of Tisha B'av [or at least publicly according to the sefardic custom quoted by the Ben Ish Chai] since both temples were destroyed on this day. (We refrain from wearing a talis as well, since our talis is generally paired with tefilin except on days when we do not wear tefilin at all, like Shabbos and Yom Tov. On such days we are lifted to a much higher level than tefilin and are therefore forbidden to wear them.)

But the moment the temple was finally destroyed, the splendor of the Jewish people was revealed in a very powerful way. This is the deeper meaning of the Midrash which states that Moshiach is born during the afternoon of Tisha B'Av.

The moment the Beis Hamikdash \splendor of the Jewish people was destroyed this showed that there was still a tremendous amount of good in the Jewish people. After all, Hashem chose to destroy the temple but not His chosen nation. This sweetened His anger as it were and revealed our tremendous good points in a very powerful way.

Similarly, immediately after the destruction of the temple it is our job to immediately focus on the good points and be comforted. We must believe that we have achieved the highest rectifications from this holiday and that the negative will turn to positive through the influence of Atik, the highest aspect of Kindness with which Hashem favors the Jewish people, His nation that is intrinsically connected to Him for all eternity.

26) Here in Bagdad, the custom is for people to skip Shiras Hayam, and say ha'azinu instead. Although I personally say Shiras Hayam and only say Ha'azinu after davening, and this is the custom of those who are wise, I do not protest this practice.

The Yesod V'Shoresh Ha'avodah[10] gives a striking parable to understand this day: This can be compared to a father who has lost a beloved child Hashem yishmoreinu! Surely the other children will do what they can to comfort the father of his suffering. Receiving comfort from the many is a well known to afford a mourner half the comfort he needs to continue with life and let go of bitterness. But if the siblings are indifferent this will surely add to the misery of the bereaved parent.

Similarly, it is our job to truly internalize that the Beis Hamikdash is a loss. How many lives were lost on this unfortunate day? How much terrible suffering came into the world because of this day?

But the Beis Hamikdash was not only a loss for us collectively as Jews, but for Hashem since he "suffers" (as it were) whenever any Jew anywhere suffers.

One who spends his day internalizing this loss will merit great reward. Not only will he be rewarded for the mitzvah of actually fasting; he also mourns our Father's loss and also the suffering and loss of His children who are very precious to Him. (It is important to note that one who can fast and does not loses much more than a person who did all the avodah in the world but did not fast. It is better not to daven on Tisha B'Av if by doing so one will be unable to fast. Of course a sick person is an exception but that is the next paragraph in the Ben Ish Chai).

27) A sick person who must not fast should say nachem during bentching…

The Shem Mishmuel zt”l once wrote to his son-in-law Rav Yaacov Tsvi zt”l: “I heard from my daughter…that the doctor feels that you are recovering, may Hashem send you complete recovery. Yom Kippur is approaching and I want to warn you not to act overly righteous by fasting if the doctor tells you to eat. If he says that eating less than a shiur is not potentially dangerous to your health, then do so. If he says that this is not enough for you, G-d forbid that you should be stringent and endanger yourself. He who commanded us to fast on Yom Kippur commanded us to eat for health reasons. Do not think that only an immediate danger allows one to eat. Even when there is the shadow of a doubt, one must eat… This is the meaning of the gemara in Yoma: If the sick person says that he doesn’t need to eat but the doctor says he does, we listen to the doctor. This is even in the case of a sick person who himself understands the nature of sickness…even if he is a real expert, we still listen to the doctor.

“I am certain that you recall what you have heard from me many times that the main element of Judaism is to nullify one’s own understanding before that of the Torah and the chachomim. Even if they tell you that your left is really right. This is the most important avodah of a Jew, and by eating as ordered by the doctor you will be doing this distinguished avodah. Therefore you should feel no pain in the event of your having to eat, because in such an eventuality you will actually be doing a more precious avodah than one who fasts!”

This is why one who must eats says Nachem on Tisha B’Av, just like he says during Mincha. By not fasting he has achieved even more than fasting and can certainly say this holy prayer.

28) One should be careful to sanctify the moon after Tisha B'Av with joy and say, Dovid melech Yisrael Chai v'kayam!

Rav Nosson explains that the underlying character of Tisha B’Av is that we believe that Hashem will comfort us and redeem us from our exile. We should never allow the evil within to use Tisha B’Av as an excuse for causing despair. We must always remember: Dovid melech Yisrael Chai v'kayam!

[1] From Sifsei Chaim III:pg.294

[2] Yesod V'Shoresh Havodah 9:12

[3] Likutei Halachos, hilchos Shlichus V'harsha 3

[4] 12:9

[5] Netzach Yisrael, chapter 52

[6] Nesiv HaTorah, chapter 14

[7] Likutei Halachos Areiv #3.

[8] Ibid. Hilchos Yibum #3

[9] Likutei Halachos, Hilchos Reishis Hagaz #4

[10] Yesod V'shoresh Ha'avodah 9:11

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Value of a Half-Penny

As is well known, the Chazon Ish, zt”l, would make time to go to the sea since swimming is a very healthy pastime which he believed was important for his wellbeing. At other times, he would go to the sea to immerse. When he went on such trips he would take a companion along with him.
Once the Chazon Ish, zt”l, went with someone to the shore near Tel Aviv to immerse. In the place where they went there were two options for swimmers to put their clothing. Swimmers could either pay out a full grush, or penny, and place their clothes in a shaded changing booth, or they could leave their garments in an open box under the baking summer sun for half as much.
To the surprise of the person accompanying him, the Chazon Ish made his way for the boxes in the open sun. When the companion suggested they take a shaded booth, the Chazon Ish continued making his way towards the open boxes as though he had not heard him.
After they immersed they made their way to the boxes under the harshly beating sun. When they finally reached them, the companion commented, “Too bad we didn’t take a changing booth…”
The Chazon Ish looked down at his walking stick and said softly “We can give the other half a grush to tzedakah.”
When the companion told over this story he remarked, “That trip taught me the greatness of even half a penny of tzedakah!”

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Lashon Hara L'Toeles

A certain group of students were learning in a yeshiva in Israel that was known as an environment where false dei’os flourished. These students knew that the only way to convince their fellow students of the folly of such opinions was to speak against the rabbis who championed such opinions. But they wondered if this was halachically permitted. After all, talking against a talmid chacham is a very serious sin.
To their surprise, when they went to the Chazon Ish, zt”l, and asked him if this was permitted he refused to answer them. They decided to return a second time but the Chazon Ish was silent yet again.
On their third visit, he began to ask them numerous questions “What are your names? Where are you from? How long have you been learning?”
When he was finally satisfied with their answers he said, “In terms of the halachos of a talmid chacham... Although the rabanim you have named have a position, they do not learn every free moment. The Chofetz Chaim rules that only one who knows how to learn and whose Torah study is his exclusive occupation is a talmid chacham. These people are like tailors and shoemakers that work to earn a living.
“But that’s only regarding the question of whether disparaging these particular rabbis constitutes embarrassing a talmid chacham. If you spread negative opinions about them, you will still violate the prohibition of lashon hara. You wish to speak l’toleles? Let me tell you how to speak lashon hara l’toeleles. Rav Chaim Brisker only attended the first Agudah convention because, during the proceedings, someone spoke against a certain communal activist and claimed that something he had done had caused trouble. Rav Chaim immediately stood up and proclaimed, ‘It is prohibited to sit here since people speak lashon hara!’
“But why was this lashon hara?” asked the Chazon Ish. “The person speaking was addressing an important concern and every word he spoke was absolutely true. It was forbidden because the person spoke in a judgmental and self-righteous manner. If the speaker at the convention had said instead, ‘Rabbosai! This person’s error has brought about a terrible problem! Let us all work together to try and rectify it!’ this would have been lashon hara l’toeles.”

Friday, July 24, 2009

Spirit of the Law: Halachos of the Three weeks I

Kitzur Shulchan Aruch: 121:1 "From the 17th of Tamuz the tzaros of the churban started so the custom is to comport oneself a little like a mourner. It is fitting for anyone who fears heaven to say tikun chatzos after midday during this time…"
The Gemara writes:all who mourn the destruction of Yerushalayim will merit to see her nechama .The Maharal explains two reasons why one must first mournto see the nechamah.

the first thing to understand is that the world is in a very imperfect state primarily because it lacks its most basic component: the Beis Hamikdash.Mourning the Beis Hamikdash shows that we appreciate our loss and the reason for our loss.
The more we appreciate how much we lack on because of our lack of a Beis Hamikdash the more we mourn and show our relationship with the true metsios of the world. For the world is really supposed to be a world of completion for a world with a Beis Hamikdash reveals the deep spiritual connection between the Creator and His creations .
The second reason is because the rule is that only something lacking can come to a new level of completion. For example, a seed must decompose in order to grow into a tree. The contents of an egg must become putrid before a chick can be formed.
We can learn this from a number of chazal’s as well: The yearning for Chachma makes one a suitable vessel to receive chachama. A woman’s yearning for children makes her a suitable vessel to have children. Even in the antecedents of the world we find that first there was tohu, vohu and choshech and only then could there be a creation.
For this reason it is only one who feels that he is missing the Beis Hamikdash who will be able to access the spiritual levels of nechama, Hashem's comfort to us. Only one who truly knows his flaws has space to become more complete. One who feels complete cannot develop since “you can’t improve on perfection.” If he really doesn’t feel perfect why doesn't he yearn for completion? Failure to yearn shows that for one reason or another we relate to ourselves as if we were perfect . Intenllectual knowledge of our flaws is completely irrelvant just as one who "knows" that he needs to control his temper will continue to act the exact same way if his knowledge stays in his head and does not reach his heart.
Our identity is revealed in our attitude. Refusal to emotionally acknowledge our imperfections by ignoring them and failing to yearn to improve them, condemns us to bear our faults.To explain this with a simple metaphor:if someone who takes a daily dose of live saving medicine knows he has run out he can try and get another prescription and purchase more. One who has no idea that he is almost out believes he has enough and will take no steps to rectify his situation until he notices that his supply is dwindling. Surely we would never fix something we don’t believe is broken.
Often one doesn't yearn to improve his faults because he feels that his flaws and sins are so much a part of him that he will never change. This person also belives he is complete but in a different way. He feels that he is complete in the sense that he cannot possibly change so why yearn? If we really felt there was hope because Hashem can always improve us, we would yearn to access the levels of the holiness of the Beis Hamikdash continuously with our whole heart.
In Brochos 32 we find that for although we no longer have the holy temple, regarding one who has true understanding the Beis Hamikdash is considered to have been rebuilt.If we yearn and plead with Hashem to improve our faults we will surely attain the level of completion Hashem wants for us. The first step of all spiritual ascent is an absolute belief that all failures can be turned around. All one needs to do is yearn to improve with his entire being whenever he can. One must also "tough it out" by patiently doing whatever good possible while waiting for Hashem's salvation.
Rav Nosson of Breslov zt”l, wrote in a letter, “...Regarding the all important issue: your very bitter cry of pain (of your present spiritual state) as a result of your of sins and the thoughts that the Yetzer Hara attacks you with,the main tactic of the yester Hara, (since all illicit actions are the fruit of negative or unproductive thoughts which determine our attitudes and spiritual\ emotional state as well as how we will react.Bad thoughts are the prelude to all spiritual falls.) I have heard your cries and know your pain from before and now (so much that) my heart goes out to you since I feel every bit of your pain as if it was my own…but the very fact that you are crying out with such bitterness, literally until the heavens because of this, comforts and encourages me!
My son; you must know and believe that Hashem hears every single cry and will surely deliver you in the merit of following the advice of the true tsadikim. That the deliverance is taking so long is on account of a hidden reason. But it is certain that failing to strengthen ourselves to overcome such bad thoughts is partially why your deliverance tarries.)
Another reason this [often] takes so long is because Hashem loves to hear the tefilos of Yisrael, even the prayers of the lowest of the low! But even so; not even a single cry is lost so regardless of results, you must continue to cry out with all your might!
… Know my son:there were people much worse off than you that I knew who were healed. Through the words I received from the Rebbi, they were completely rectified and their lot is the portion of those who merit eternal life… !
In another letter Rav Nosson signs off by saying, “May Hashem help us to weep and mourn the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash which principally means that we should mourn because of our sins that prevent the rebuilding of the Beis Hamikdash until we merit to change our agony and sighing into the happiness and joy of trust in Hashem’s kindness and great deliverance until everything turns into good!
The words of your father, who is waiting for deliverance and praying for you,
Nosson of Breslov .
This sentiment was echoed by Rav Wolbe, zt”l, when he said, “I will give you a big sum of money if you can find even one bochur who believes that it is possible to come to the level whereby one can go an entire year without sins. I am not talking about trying to accept upon ourselves to go a year without sin. Quite the contrary! Kabalos have to be exclusively small. But we must at least believe that this is possible (after much introspection and toil.) I am not even talking about coming to gadlus which is a much greater level. I am talking about entering into our heads and hearts the genuine belief that it is possible to rid ourselves of all sin! This emunah is a prerequisite of true [teshuvah which consists of] charata of the past and acceptance for the future !”

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Waiting for Moshiach

Rav Kahaneman, the Ponevezher Rav, zt”l, recalled how he became the youngest member of the kodshim kollel of the Chofetz Chaim, zt”l, in Radin.
“A short while after I had joined the yeshiva in Radin, I left the Beis Medrash one day after Shachris, and I noticed the Chofetz Chaim, zt”l, standing by the door with his tallis bag in his hand. He looked at me in a marked manner as the baalei Mussar generally do when they want to speak with someone. Naturally, I immediately approached the Gadol.
He took me by the arm and said, “You are a kohein, so let me ask you a question: In Taanis 17 we find that since the Beis HaMikdash can be rebuilt on any weekday, it is proper nowadays for kohanim to refrain from drinking wine. We kohanim must be ready to do the avodah at all times, and since it is prohibited to do the avodah while drunk, we really shouldn’t be drinking at all. Yet the Gemara then says that our ‘kalkalah,’ that which might otherwise be our ruin, is also our rectification. Since the kohanim don’t know to which mishmar they belong now, there will be a big wait until each kohein will be told this vital information by Eliyahu HaNavi.”
The Chofetz Chaim went on, “We are taught that drinking too much wine wears off by sleeping or walking. For this reason, any negative effects of the wine will wear off by the time each kohein gets to his turn on line. Now, that’s all very well with regards to wine. But what will a kohein do who is not familiar with the seder avodah? A kohein who is not proficient in all aspects of the avodah will certainly not be able to serve! Is he not much worse off than a drunk? Traveling or sleeping will correct inebriation, not ignorance! You are a Kohein. We are waiting for Moshiach every instant. How will you do the avodah when he comes? It is incumbent upon you to learn seder kodshim right away!”
“As you can imagine, I joined the Chofetz Chaim’s kodshim kollel that very day!”

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Guarding Your Speech

It is quite common for people to slander a worker or employer who failed to fulfill his commitments. These people figure that this type of slander must be a mitzvah to help others avoid a business connection with a person who does not fulfill his obligations. Yet the Chofetz Chaim did not think this was a simple matter at all.
He said, “One must be very vigilant not to give himself license to recount to others how when he did business with so-and-so, the person robbed or cheated him, or publicly shamed him. Even though he knows that he is telling only the absolute truth, he cannot do it unless he needs assistance catching the thief to retrieve his stolen property.
“Clearly he is not telling this story to others to protect them from being cheated or stolen from. His motivation stems from a desire to embarrass the person who did him wrong. The more this person’s words are accepted by others, the happier he will be. The reason why this is prohibited is because one can only tell another lashon hara to benefit the hearer if he is not doing it out of hatred or spite.”
The Chofetz Chaim continued on this topic, “One must be exceedingly careful even when asking others to help him apprehend the thief, since if he does not take great care he will easily stumble on this heter into the trap of his yetzer hara and transgress the Torah prohibition of lashon hara.
“In addition, he must be absolutely sure that he was robbed and that his friend is certainly not entitled to what he took. This detail is exceedingly difficult to verify since no person sees his own faults. But if he is mistaken and then goes around to others ostensibly for aid to apprehend a thief, he is actually violating the prohibition of motzi shem ra!”

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

A Loan With Interest

It is hard to imagine the poverty of yeshivah bochurim of earlier generations. By the time the zeman was over most had not one penny to pay their traveling expenses home. In Mir, the administration had a system to deal with this problem. The bochurim would take a loan from Rav Yerucham Levovitz, zt”l, the famed Mirrer Mashgiach, and repay it at the beginning of the new zeman.

At the end of the first zeman, Rav Shimon Schwab, zt”l, found himself without money to travel home and asked the mashgiach for a loan. Rav Yerucham gave him the money and Rav Schwab naturally thanked him.

To the young man’s surprise, this common courtesy upset the normally soft-spoken mashgiach. “Don’t you know that it is forbidden to say thank you for a loan?” Rav Yerucham asserted. “Do you think that because of your ‘yekkish’ mentality you are permitted to violate an explicit halachah in Shulchan Aruch?”

At the end of his second zeman, Rav Schwab once again required a loan to get home. But this time when he received the money he understood not to thank the mashgiach.

To his surprise, the mashgiach, a mechanech par excellence, was once again upset at him. “Aren’t you ashamed? You receive a loan and you fail to show any interest in thanking me? Does this not reveal a lack of the most basic derech eretz and manners?”

This time, Rav Schwab was at a loss to understand what the mashgiach meant. “Last time the mashgiach said that expressing gratitude is a blatant violation of the Shulchan Aruch and must be suppressed. And now the mashgiach states that a failure to say thank you betrays a lack of basic menschlichkeit?”

Rav Yerucham explained. “It should be apparent on your face that you would like to say thank you since it is only common decency to thank another for any kindness granted, but in this case you cannot because the Shulchan Aruch forbids it. But looking at your face it was clear that you received this loan with the feeling that you have fulfilled your entire obligation by merely refraining from saying thank you. This error must be corrected!”[1]

Monday, July 20, 2009

Expressing Gratitude

Even a borrower who blesses someone who lends him money is in clear violation of rabbinic interest.
It is very normal for people to borrow money to cover the expense of printing a sefer. Naturally, the author wishes to give some kind of thanks or bless the lender in his book, since without his generosity there would be no publication.
Yet the Erech Shai, zt”l, prohibits this. Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt”l, suggests a simple way around this prohibition. One can certainly write that “the lender will be blessed from heaven.” The reason this is permitted is because the borrower is not blessing the lender, he is merely writing what will be as a result of his generosity.
Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, zt”l, pointed out that although people know that one may not thank another, they say, “Tizku l’mitzvos.” He continued, “This is not a halachically permitted alternative, since Tosefos in Kiddushin 8 says clearly that tizku l’mitzvos is rivis. It seems to me that they would be better off saying thank you, since this in not a blessing and may be different from giving a brachah which is clearly prohibited.”
But when someone showed him that the Shulchan Aruch HaRav Baal HaTanya explicitly prohibits saying “thank you,” Rav Shlomo Zalman backtracked. “I thought that the rabbis only prohibited giving a blessing or praising the lender since he has pleasure from this. But thank you is no brachah at all, and how can one take a loan and act as though the lender did him no kindness? This is surely a contradiction to derech eretz and is presumably prohibited. But when I was shown the Shulchan Aruch HaRav I changed my mind.”

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Greatness of Hashem

“In the place where you find the greatness of HaKadosh Boruch Hu, that is where you find His compassionate humility.”

The Arvei Nachal, zt”l, explains this with a parable. “Once there was a great king who was traveling to a certain destination. As he was descending from his royal coach, a very coarse commoner had the audacity to approach the king and start to praise. In his own simple way, he tried to express his feelings about the greatness of his majesty. It is obvious that the servants of the king removed this commoner from the scene as soon as they could, since such primitive praise from such a lowly person is not considered a compliment to the king no matter how well meaning the man was. Everyone would understand that the fellow’s imposition on the time and attention of the king is really a huge affront—what nerve, for such a simple person do think that he has the right to approach the king! Has he no fear of his sovereign? He should have be afraid to make an advance toward the king unless he had some indication that the king wished to speak to him. Not just anyone is on an elevated enough station to praise the king. This is what bards or noblemen do with grace and eloquence, not commoners who have not even been summoned before the monarch!

“Yet Hashem is not like this at all. To approach Him, even the most exalted personage must rely on His great humility, otherwise it would be no more fitting than the lowliest commoner making an advance to speak with the mightiest ruler. Even the fact that we can call Hashem by any Name is only because of His compassionate humility! This is why Chazal sad that anywhere you see Hashem’s greatness, that is where you see His humility!”
When Rav Rafael of Barshud, zt”l, was asked about this he would say, “This means that when you find a person who hold Hashem in the highest possible esteem (gedulaso shel HaKadosh Boruch Hu), you will always find that the person is exceedingly humble (anvesanuso—of the person). And the inverse is also true: a person who lacks humility has no inclination to see the greatness of Hashem!”

Monday, July 13, 2009

Is There Ruach HaKodesh Today?

A certain melamed once asserted to his students in the middle of a shiur, “The commentary of the Ohr Hachaim Hakadosh was most certainly not written with ruach hakodesh since prophecy was lost to the Jewish people long before the Ohr HaChaim lived.”
When the people of the town heard this they were infuriated and removed their children from the melamed’s instruction. They decided to consult with the Divrei Chaim of Sanz, zt”l. “Is this man’s view a valid opinion? If it is not and he is unfit to teach, what should be done with his back wages?”
The Divrei Chaim replied, “I see no room for doubt regarding this man’s opinion: he is definitely incorrect. This emerges from numerous sources. For example, in Gittin 6 we find that Hashem ‘agreed with’ Rav Eviasar. Rashi explains: Hashem agreed to reveal a secret to him, as we see from the fact that He enabled Rav Evisar to understand what transpired in private correctly. The Midrash Rabbah says even more than this: ‘Once there was a woman who stayed too long at Rav Meir’s Friday night shiur. Her husband refused to allow her into the house until she spat three times in Rav Meir’s face. Rav Meir saw with ruach hakodesh…’ Rav Meir lived well after the end of the age of prophecy yet the Midrash tells us that he saw with ruach hakodesh.
The Divrei Chaim continued, “Another proof: Rashi explains the gemara in Kiddushin 72a that Rebbi had a prophecy on the day he died. The only person who could deny all this is a heretic. Not only was the Ohr Hachaim Hakadosh surely written with ruach hakodesh, but any truly worthy author, even in our generation, writes his works with ruach hakodesh. Interestingly, the Tumim applies this fact halachically: ‘One may not say that he holds like an opinion which argues on the Shulchan Aruch to excuse himself from paying money, since the Shulchan Aruch was written with ruach hakodesh.’
The Divrei Chaim concluded, “You were definitely correct to remove your children from the influence of this man, but as for his wages this can only be ruled upon when he is present. Perhaps his statement was a mistake? In this matter you should rely on our community’s halachic authority.”

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Another Person's Money

Although a certain milkman who lived not long ago, Rav Betzalel Hachalban, zt”l, was very poor, it seemed that he hardly noticed. Even as he did his work he was always absolutely immersed in Torah. In addition to knowing Shas, gemara, Rashi, and Tosafos by heart, he possessed profound yiras shomayim. A certain talmid chacham once found Reb Betzalel clearly preoccupied with a deep question while he held a sack of money in his hands.
“What’s on your mind?” he asked Reb Betzalel.
The milkman answered, “I am considering whether the mitzvah of hashavas aveidah of a large sum of money is one big mitzvah or a separate mitzah per perutah returned. If the latter is true, I stand to fulfill thousands of mitzvos with this one deed….”
The talmid chacham pointed out another option. “Perhaps you are not obligated to return the money at all. I don’t see any clear siman.”
Rav Betzalel was appalled at this possibility. “But according to my calculation, I can fulfill many thousands of mitzvos when I return this aveidah. I will return it regardless. How can I possibly enjoy money that some poor unfortunate lost and mourns? If you are correct, I will lose out on so many mitzvos and gain absolutely nothing!”
“But if you are not obligated to return it, why not keep it?” asked the talmid chacham. “After all, you are so poor.”
“How am I poor? I have bread to eat in the morning and at night, and I even dip my bread in salt water. Is that the life of a truly poor man?”
“But you could have butter with your bread!”
Rav Betzalel was horrified. “What kind of taste would butter have if it was bought with money that is causing another Jew pain?”
When the talmid chacham understood how much this meant to Reb Bezalel he took a completely different track. “But maybe we can find some kind of siman after all...”

Thursday, July 9, 2009

True Comfort

The following is from a letter that Rav Wolbe, zt”l, sent to another gadol who lost his mother in 1977:
“...During your shivah I was unable to visit and comfort your precious family…so I write the following lines in an effort to comfort you. Comforting a mourner does not entail enabling him to forget his mourning, as many mistakenly believe. We see this from the verse in Parshas Chayei Sora, ‘And Yitzchak was comforted after his mother…’ He was comforted when he returned to the tent and saw that everything was on exactly the same spiritual level as when his mother was alive. From here we learn the definition of true nechama. When someone loses a relative, they often find that they had been leaning on the parent to enable their spiritual level. For this reason, people often fall spiritually after the death of a close relative. This then is the definition of nechama: to encourage the mourners and help prevent them from falling spiritually.
The letter continued, “…Your mother, the daughter of gedolim, surely helped you stand at your present exalted level… To one as understanding as yourself, it is surely apparent that this is an opportunity for spiritual growth to ensure that the new generation without her will not fall short of the earlier generation in any way, but will continue to grow spiritually, maintaining the high standards of the past. This is an aspect of: "כי אבי ואמי עזבוני וה' יאספני"—‘for my father and mother have abandoned me, but Hashem will gather me in’…”

Rav Shach once made a shivah call to a man who had lost his wife. It is not unusual for men to be completely debilitated after sustaining such a devastating loss. Not surprisingly, this man was completely crushed.
“You must remember that a Jew is never alone!” Rav Shach exclaimed. To encourage him, Rav Shach told him the following Midrash:
A certain Jew was traveling on a ship filled with gentiles. When the ship reached a strange port, the other passengers asked the Jew to go down and make purchases for the rest.
“But I know no one here,” the Jew protested.
“But a Jew is surely never alone, since wherever he is his G-d is always with him,” they replied.
These words comforted the forlorn widower.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Rav Shlomo Zalman and Peaceful Shabbos Protests

During 1988, many protested against cars that drove through religious neighborhoods in Yerushalalyim on Shabbos. A coalition called ‘Sheves Achim” was formed to try and hammer out a compromise amenable to all parties. The goal of the group was that Jews of all stripes join. Formed of individuals who ran the gamut from completely non-observant to fervently Orthodox across entire political spectrum, it was hoped that if they sat together and sought a solution, they would find one.
When one of the organizers approached a chareidi member of the Knesset to join this forum he said he would consider it. He immediately contacted Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, zt”l, with the obvious question: “Should I join?”
“Definitely,” declared Rav Shlomo Zalman. “They should not think we are ‘perei adam’ [unbridled and uncivilized.]”
After several sessions, the organizers of the group expressed an interest to incorporate a member of the Reform clergy as a member of the group.
Once again, the charedei member approached Rav Shlomo Zalman. “What should I do? Should I stay? But If I go, what can I say that will not be insulting and make a chilul Hashem?”
“You definitely may not stay,” ruled Rav Shlomo Zalman. “To explain your departure in a peaceable manner you should point out in a pleasant way that while religious Jews can definitely sit with non-religious, they cannot remain with authorities who counterfeit Judaism. This is especially true since there is a big struggle in America between the Orthodox on one hand and the Reform and Conservative on the other. To sit with such a rabbi in a single organization gives his movement credibility and detracts from the efforts of the religious Jews abroad.”

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The Ohr Hachaim Hakadosh and the Yetzer Hara

When discussing the insidiousness of the yetzer hara, Rav Shach, zt”l, would say: “The Makneh explains that when chazal say that one’s yetzer is renewed each day, this means that as one grows older his yetzer gets stronger and stronger. This is the meaning of the verse, "יצר לב אדם רע מנעוריו". From its youth, the yetzer naturally gets worse and worse. Now we can understand the words of the Mishnah at the end of Kinim: “The older an ignoramus gets, the more foolish he becomes.
“Rav Shach would explain, “This does not mean that one literally has a new yetzer each day, since with what new action can a yetzer entice a very old man? This means that since one has a yetzer from a young age and has done nothing much to combat it, it becomes an eighty year old yetzer. If the yetzer which is bad enough at twenty is left unchecked, what do you suppose he will be like at eighty?”
Interestingly, the Ohr Hachaim Hakdadosh, zt”l, learns an inspiring lesson from this seemingly bleak fact. “On Bava Kama 39 we find that an ox that is trained to gore in a stadium is not put to death for goring a man to death. This is learned from the phrase "כי יגח"—‘if he will gore’—on his own, but not if others force him to gore. Similarly, a man has a yetzer from the moment he emerges from the womb, way before he has enough understanding to be disgusted by evil. His yetzer leads him from the beginning. By the time he is grown up he is already used to doing evil, much like the goring ox is used to attacking. Like the ox, it is not entirely his fault. But although this point diminishes the punishment, a man must not remain the same. Surely the difference between man and animal is that man can use his innate understanding to curb his desires and change!”

Monday, July 6, 2009

Common Thievery

As is well known, the great chassidic masters would try and find methods to help others—especially simple people—improve. They would carefully take the measure of each simple friend and work out what to say and when to enable them to realize where they were wrong and change. During the time when Rav Yitzchak of Vorki, zt”l, worked for Tamar’l of Warsaw, there was a simple coworker in whom he would confide.
One day Rav Yitzchak said, “You know, it is permitted to steal a little bit from the ba’al habayis. I am careful to take a little.”
The simple man grew very animated, “I, too, pilfer from the boss…” He began to innumerate various times when he had robbed their employer.
Rav Yitzchak of Vorki gazed at this man with a mixture of pity and horror and cried, “Oy vey! Is that what you thought I meant? How is it possible for someone to act in such a wanton manner? One who acts in such a way has violated some very serious Torah prohibitions. He must ask forgiveness and repay every penny.
He continued, “I was talking about stealing time to learn. This is surely permitted, since our boss is a G-d-fearing person who loves Torah and will not lose if we grab a little Torah whenever we can.”
These strong words spoken from a heart, filled with love and yiras shamayim, caused his simple coworker to become a ba’al teshuvah!
The Pele Yo’eitz, zt”l, discussed some people’s strange tendency to rationalize stealing from their employers, customers, or anyone else. “They falsely claim that nowadays times are so hard that if one does not steal he will not be able to provide even the simplest fare for his family. In this manner stealing seems to them as if it is permitted and no one even regrets these serious Torah violations… It is well known that the very first question Hashem asks after a person leaves this world is: ‘Did you do business in good faith?”

Sunday, July 5, 2009

“Thou Shall Not Covet”

Many people try to go to the most inspiring davening they can during the yomim noraim. Some make it their business to daven with their yeshivah or at least a yeshivah. Others go to their rebbe or an especially inspiring congregation.
One Rosh Hashanah, a certain man davened in a very worthy minyan and wished to purchase an aliyah. He bid a respectable price for it but his friend outbid him.
After Rosh Hashanah he was shocked to find that he still harbored a feeling of jealousy toward his friend who had procured the aliyah. He immediately wrote to Rav Chaim Kanievsky, shlit”a, to ascertain if he had violated the prohibition against coveting.
“It depends,” Rav Kanievsky replied. “If you are jealous because of the spiritual advantage that your friend attained by getting the aliyah on Rosh Hashanah, you did not violate the prohibition. But if you are jealous of the honor that was bestowed on your friend, it is quite possible that you have violated the lav.”
The Chofetz Chaim, zt”l, warned against a circumstance in which many people violate this prohibition. “This prohibition is often violated by chasanim who impose on their unwilling prospective in-laws by asking for material goods that were not agreed upon during the tanaim. Even though the in-laws give these articles as a gift to the new couple, the chasan still violates the lav of לא תחמוד when he employs pressure to secure material benefits for himself that were not part of their original agreement.”

Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Thief of Time

The Ahavas Yisrael of Vizhnitz, zt”l, was known to be a very diligent scholar who never wasted a moment of his time. During every available instant he was occupied with either Torah or avodah. This characteristic was so ingrained within his very nature that he actually felt pained by wasted time. The rebbe would often say, “The most difficult avodah for me is wasting time! Since even the smallest unit of time is an irretrievable segment of one’s life span, why let it slip away without any positive use?

On Yom Tov in his beis medrash there was a break between minchah and ma’ariv during which everyone went home. Since everyone cleared out to rest after a very fully packed day, the gabai would lock all the doors so he could also go home for a rest.

Once, just before such a break, a certain chassid fell asleep in a corner of the beis medrash. Understandably, the gabbai figured that the shul was empty and locked up. After a short time this chassid woke up and found that everyone had left and he was locked in. He frantically checked all the doors, and finally found that the gabbai had left the key on the inside of one of the doors. He opened the door and took the key with him with the intention of returning it to the gabbai that night.

When the gabbai arrived, he found that the key to the door on that side of the shul was missing and the door on that side of the shul remained locked. Understandably, the gabbai searched thoroughly all over the shul but could not locate the key. When the chassid finally retuned the key to the anguished gabbai, he was relieved but a bit annoyed. After all, this man knew his address. Why hadn’t he returned the key immediately?

After the chassid went his way, the Ahavas Yisrael, said to the gabbai, “Now I understand why chazal say a person who borrows without permission is a thief. It seems troubling why this should be so. After all, he intends to return it later. But now it is easy to comprehend. Borrowing without permission causes the owner to waste time for absolutely nothing. This borrower is a thief of the innocent man’s time, and a thief of time is also a thief!”[1]

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Absolute Honesty

Rav Shalom Shwardron, zt”l, was known around the world for his absolute integrity. When he was first starting out as a maggid, he developed a very scathing but hilarious routine making fun of the methods employed by the Zionist establishment to entice religious Jews away from Torah observance. Even though the speech definitely drove his point home, it was also received with an unusual amount of laughter at his mockery of the “progressives” who had distanced themselves and others from Torah.
After one such shmuess, someone pointed out to the young maggid that the lecture smacked of leitzanus to him. Rav Shalom was very dismayed and decided then and there to consult with the Chazon Ish, zt”l, regarding this question.
The Chazon Ish, zt”l, pointed out that he could hardly tell if the speech was problematic without hearing what he said. Rav Shalom gave over his entire routine and the Chazon Ish gave his hearty approval. “That’s not forbidden leitzonus—that’s exactly how one should speak about the subject!”
Because he was so honest in everything, Rav Raphael Meyerson was shocked when Rav Shalom asked a ridiculous price for a sefer he was selling.
It was on one of Rav Shalom’s many trips to London. As usual, Rav Shalom sold the most recent volumes of the Maharsham that he himself had annotated and reprinted. But the price was truly exorbitant. Nevertheless, Rav Meyerson decided that he would just have to trust Rav Shalom. If that was what he asked, it was clearly necessary money and would go to a worthy cause.
A few days later, Rav Raphael received a letter from Rav Shalom with a huge refund enclosed. “I had such pain when I realized how much you paid me that I could not sleep without righting the matter. I am used to Israeli currency and did not understand the huge difference between our lirot and the true British lira, which I now know to be pounds sterling. Please forgive me for mistakenly overcharging you. I hope you will understand my error and accept my apology.”