Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Beams of One's House...

In Israel, many families choose to forgo an elaborate wedding so that they can invest in an apartment for their children who are about to marry instead. This ensures that the young couple will be able to stay afloat financially since most couples try to stay in learning for at least a few years after marriage. Experience proves that a kollel check cannot possibly support the family and pay rent too. Even those who do have an apartment of their own often just manage to cover minimal expenses.
Once the Imrei Emes, zt”l, had a short exchange with a new chosson to see how he was adjusting to married life and to spur him on to take a moral inventory.
“How is your learning going?” the Rebbe asked.
“Good, Boruch Hashem.”
“And how do you like your new neighborhood?” the Rebbe querried.
“Excellent,” the young man answered.
“And are you pleased with your new apartment?” the Rebbe probed.
“And how is your new apartment pleased with you?” mused the Imrei Emes.
“What does the Rebbe mean?” the young man wondered.
The Rebbe explained, “In Chagigah 16a we learn that the stones and beams of one’s house bear witness against him on the day of judgment!”
We find a similar incident with Rav Naftali Nosson Nata, zt”l, the Av Beis Din of Hosikov. When he knew that someone was acting in a way that did not become him, the Gaon would say, “It says in the verse: Nachpisa darkeinu v’nachkorah... Although this literally means that we should search out our ways and investigate them, it is possible to understand the word v’nachkorah as the conjunction of two small words. V’nach korah—and the beam (of the house) will be serene. In Chagigah 16a we find that the beams of ones house bear witness against him. So the verse can mean that if we will only search out our ways and change, the beam of the house will be able to relax and refrain from submitting incriminating evidence to the heavenly court!”

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Self-Sacrifice for Shabbos

A certain person once decided to emigrate to America from Poland. Since he lived near the Chofetz Chaim it was only natural for him to seek a blessing from the tzaddik before embarking on his journey. The great sage agreed to bless his endeavor on one condition: “You must promise never to violate the sanctity of Shabbos, and to seal it with a handshake.”
The man readily agreed and received the tzaddik’s effusive brochah.
He traveled to Baltimore and quickly found a job washing windows. After an extended period working in the company, his boss suddenly insisted that he begin to come in on Shabbos. The immigrant would not hear of this and refused. Predictably, his employer fired him on the spot.
The next week the man began searching for a job but found nothing. After a month of fruitless seeking, things started getting tight financially. When three months had passed without work, his situation was hardly bearable. After several months had transpired, the man was virtually starving.
One Shabbos after shul he decided to give in and work on Shabbos. After all, their destitution constituted a serious question of pikuach nefesh for himself and his wife and children.
He decided that he would approach his old boss and ask for his old job back on whatever terms were offered. But as he walked to his old place of employment he suddenly recalled that he had promised the Chofetz Chaim that he would not work on Shabbos no matter what.
He realized that although his family had much less food then they required, they would not literally starve and he was therefore obligated to keep Shabbos. He turned around and went home to his dismal Shabbos table.
That very night, his boss came to his door with another man. “Six months ago I told this gentleman that you would sacrifice to keep the Shabbos no matter what it took. He doubted this and we wagered to give you six months with no employment to see who was right. Today was the last day and I won the bet.”
His boss took a wad of bills out of his pocket and said, “Here is your full salary for the last six months. And of course you are welcome back to your job starting tomorrow!”

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Go to the Wise Man

Unfortunately, most are familiar with the distress caused by illness hitting a member of the family. One man whose son suddenly became very sick was beside himself since the doctors said that the child’s condition was ominous. After doing what he could at the hospital, the father rushed to his rebbi, Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, zt”l, for advice and to plead with him to daven for the helpless child. Rav Shlomo Zalman encouraged the father and heaped blessings upon his head. The moment he left, the rav took a sefer Tehillim off the shelf and began to daven in earnest.
The next day the father once again approached Rav Shlomo Zalman but this time he looked much happier. “Boruch Hashem, the doctors say there has been a marked improvement and I just wanted to thank you for davening. I came to tell you since I am sure it was your prayers that made all the difference and caused this remarkable improvement.”
Rav Shlomo Zalman smiled back at the happy father and remarked, “Our sages tell us that if someone has a sick person among the people of his household, he should go to the ‘chochom’ and ask that he beseech Hashem to have mercy on the sufferer.
“The language here seems strange. Why not direct someone to go to a tzaddik? Why a chochom? I once heard a tongue-in-cheek answer from Rav Eliyahu Kletzkin from Lublin. He explained that if a person goes to a tzaddik and the sick man recovers, the tzaddik could mistakenly think he is a baal mofes. For this reason it adjures one to go to a chocham. A wise man understands that this from Hashem and will not think of himself as a baal mofes!”

Monday, December 21, 2009

A Surprise Visit

The love that Rav Meir Shapiro of Lublin, zt”l, demonstrated for his many students was remarkable. One time, a bochur in Yeshivas Chachmei Lublin fell ill. When the Rosh Yeshiva noticed that he was not in the beis midrash he immediately inquired as to his whereabouts, and when he heard the young man was ill he rushed to his bedside.
But when he entered the room he saw something quite shocking. Although he had heard that the young man had a mild fever and was feeling chilled this had not prepared him for what he saw. The student was literally trembling as if in fear or shock.
Of course, Rav Meir immediately calmed the young man and explained that he had nothing to worry about since he was suffering from only a mild ailment. He reassured him that he had simply come to visit and give the sick young man chizuk.
When the young man calmed down and began to smile, Rav Meir asked why he had been so terrified when he had first seen him enter the room.
The bochur answered, “I come form Lita and in most yeshivos the Rosh Yeshiva never visits a student who has merely taken ill. They only visit if the student is in very serious condition which is likely to be terminal. That’s why when the Rosh Yeshiva came in I was so shocked. I thought that my condition must be much more serious that I had originally understood. I thought that everyone must be hiding from me that my time had come!”
Rav Meir replied in his usually loving way. “The difference in approaches is easy to understand. In our yeshiva every student is like a son to me. Obviously, any father who hears that his son is ill rushes to his bedside even if he knows it’s nothing serious. He must visit to check his condition and encourage his sickly child, to help him recover!”

Sunday, December 20, 2009

For Heaven’s Sake!

Rav Yisrael Salanter, zt”l, would warn his beloved students, “At the very least, don’t make yourselves out to be acting l’shem shomayim!”
He would explain, “A person who turns a blind spot to his natural ulterior motives and thinks he acts only for the sake of heaven is a terrible hazard to himself and others. If things do not go according to his plan, he naturally feels angry. After all, he is certain that his every movement is one hundred percent for the sake of heaven, so why isn’t Hashem allowing his altruistic plans to come to fruition? It is equally obvious to this person that anyone who is an impediment to his plans for whatever reason is in the wrong and may be crushed or pushed aside in any form he can get away with!”
Rav Yisrael would use this principle to explain the Mishnah in Avos in his uniquely pithy manner. “The sages taught, ‘Any conflict that is l’shem shomayim—סופה להתקיים—it is destined to exist in perpetuity.’—Talk about a thing that is sure to last forever!”
He explained this will a very direct parable. “Let’s say two competing shopkeepers are in a fight. Each one blames the other for stealing his customers. Even if they fight the whole year round, when erev Yom Kippur comes, they will surely regret their petty squabble and wish to make up. It is more than likely that one merchant will enter his friend’s shop and say something like, ‘Listen, Reb Chaim. Today is erev Yom Kippur. Let’s drink a l’chaim and forgive each other!’
“But if they fight ‘l’shem shomayim,’ will they make up erev Yom Kippur? Absolutely not! On the contrary, on erev Yom Kippur each will feel that he has the license to pursue his friend mercilessly. After all, each one already knows that he is completely l’shem shomayim. Keeping up the fight with his friend is nothing less than a mitzvah!”

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Chizuk and Chanukah

[This post is a response to Theresa and Shorty in the comments]
No one is "unworthy," even though we all make mistakes at times. If we keep getting up and doing what we can we will fulfill our spiritual mission in the world.
The main thing is to beg Hashem to light up our life and show us His will. Easier said than done but Rav Nosson writes that even five minutes (or thirty seconds) a day is also very efficacious. As Rebbe Nachman explains the verse: "Hashem is close to all who call to Hashem in truth." Every sincere prayer said with as much truth as a person can muster immediately brings one close to Hashem no matter what level he is on, as implied in the verse.
Feeling unworthy is just an illusion; a tactic of the yetzer to paralyze us and prevent us from finding the way out of spiritual darkness through sincere prayer. Even if we can't say a word, we can surely cry out: "Help me!" Or at least, "Help me." Another gem of Rebbe Nachman is that if we feel distant for whatever reason we should talk out such feelings with Hashem. This often becomes a prayer truly from the heart, the precursor to many more.
We need to learn to ignore discouraging feelings and all negativity which bring on such feelings, until a time when we have a lot of joy and "merit to see the evil of our sins." This means that we finally see our importance, but we realize that such actions are not appropriate for a son or daughter of Hashem. This feeling of importance is the foundation of all divine service, as Rabeinu Yonah writes. One who feels insignificant, is not only denying the truth, he or she feels unable to make a difference and does much less. Why should we allow the negative to disable us? Although such feelings are the result of our sins which obscure the divine, we need not allow such negativity to hold us back. We can always reconnect through heartfelt prayer in truth on whatever level we are on.
As with anything precious, learning how to navigate past the negativity takes time, but every effort is worthwhile in and of itself.
Hashem should help us feel the light of Chanukah and forge a joyous connection to Hashem through prayer during this special time!

How the Chazon Ish Viewed Sickness

After recovering from suffering we are less self-absorbed and more open to Torah and kedushah. A certain Rosh Yeshivah recounted, “When I was a boy of eleven, I sustained a wound and became very ill. First, I went to our family doctor who ordered that I lie down in the hope that everything would work out on its own. After two weeks, I was still sick and the doctor came to our house. The moment he checked my lungs he immediately sent me to the hospital. I was there for sixteen days but subsequently went home. Unfortunately, I again felt sick and went to the hospital for a check up and x-rays. The doctor removed three cups of fluid from my lungs but afterward, the doctors found that there was an abscess on the lungs and I required an immediate operation. A second professor claimed that the abscess was not actually in my lungs and after several tests I was discharged for the final time. After two months, I recovered.
He continued, “After the first time I was discharged from the hospital, the doctor gave me a certain medication which made me violently ill. I turned completely red for three days and when the doctor checked me he pointed out that I must stop the medication immediately since I was clearly allergic to it. On the Shabbos before Rosh Chodesh Nisan תש"ו I was surprised by a visit from the Chazon Ish, zt”l. The gadol was very close to my father, and he came to visit and to check on my progress. The Chazon Ish entered the room—my mother cried to Hashem and my father was filled with worry for my wellbeing—and he soothed me in a very loving manner. While he stroked me gently, he said, “Suffering is good, suffering is good. Don’t cry at all. You will merit much Torah because of your present difficulty!”

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

“One Honors His Parents in Life and in Death”

Every morning we are reminded that honoring parents is one of the mitzvos for which one enjoys the fruits in this world while the principle is preserved for the world to come. Our sages teach that this mitzvah applies not only when parents are still alive, but even after they leave the world. Rav Itzele Peterburger, zt”l, even said that the main time to honor one’s parents is specifically after they have left the world and are helpless because of their powerlessness to do mitzvos. It is precisely after death, when their child’s every action redeems them from Gehinom and elevates them in Gan Eden, that a dedicated child will always strive to do everything possible to give the departed true nachas.
The gaon and tzaddik, Rav Yosef Tausig zt”l once told a story about how a certain gadol once traveled to Mattersdorf, and he asked Rav Tausig to come along with him to the cemetery to pray at his late mother’s grave. When they got there, this gadol took out his walking stick and laid it on the grave, saying, “Mama, I’m here with the silver stick.” It was customary in those days for prominent Rabbonim to walk with a silver-headed cane. To Rav Tausig’s wonder, this gadol then explained that he wanted to fulfill the mitzvah of honoring his mother and bringing her joy, because during her lifetime she had always been pained over the fact that her son had yet to serve as a prominent Rav. Even though he only took the position after her petirah, he had traveled a great distance to her grave to give her the news and honor her even in death, to let her know that, with Hashem’s help, her desires had been fulfilled and her son has received his “silver stick.”

Monday, December 14, 2009

Staying Married

Our sages teach that a shotah, halachic imbecile, cannot be divorced from her husband because she keeps on returning to him. The Chidushei HaRim, zt”l, learned a powerful lesson from this principle. Just as the shotah cannot be divorced, so too does one remain “married” to spirituality as long as he “keeps coming back” by acting as a ben aliyah would despite his shortcomings. One is only divorced from spirituality when one gives up on spiritual ascent because of his flaws.
A young bochur once came to Rav Wolbe, zt”l, feeling very confused and frustrated. He said, “I don’t know what to do with myself! Sometimes I feel very drawn to spiritual matters like learning with a fire and davening. At other times I act in ways not befitting a ben Torah. What is my avodah worth if I keep falling into the same spiritual morasses?”
The Mashgiach replied, “Your feelings are the result of a simple fact: as long as one is young, one finds in himself various contradictions. On the one hand, you may be very drawn to spiritual matters. You have a taste in davening and can literally pour out yout heart to Hashem. You may feel an incredibly intrinsic identification with the Torah that you learn. On the other hand, you also might enjoy joking around and making fun of things with friends.
The Mashgiach continued, “So what should you do? Just because you enjoy joking around and sometimes even wander into the realm of leitzanus, is that an excuse not to daven with kavanah? Surely this path only leads to complete estrangement from spiritual growth! Quite the contrary—since you notice this flaw in yourself and this bothers you, this should be a reason to exert yourself all the more to daven with a geshmack and seek spiritual growth in any way you can! In time you will be drawn more and more after spiritual elevation until you outgrow your spiritual immaturity altogether.”
The Mashgiach concluded, “Until then you must learn to bear the unflattering assessment of your peers and even consent to be the brunt of their jokes. If you persevere, however, you will overcome your weaknesses and flourish!”

Dreaming of Wealth

Once, a destitute man came to the Chofetz Chaim, zt”l, for a brochah. He started describing the terrible poverty in his home. “My floors are made of dirt, the house is often freezing, and I can hardly put bread on the table. The Gemara in Yevamos 92b, brings the verse from Iyov 36: ‘A poor man will have his afflictions removed,’ and explains that those who suffer destitution in this world have the tribulations of Gehinnom removed from them in the next world.
The poor man continued, “So we see from this Gemara how difficult acute poverty is, since one who suffers it suffers their fair share of Gehinnom in this world! Isn’t it fitting for me to request a blessing for wealth?”
The Chofetz Chaim, however, disagreed. “Quite the contrary! We see from the Gemara how worthwhile poverty is, since through the difficulties of acute poverty one is purified and need not see Gehinnom! Surely being exceedingly poor and bearing your suffering in this world is worthwhile since it means that you will never see Gehinnom!”
It was well known that the Chofetz Chaim practiced what he preached. For virtually his entire life he suffered from dire poverty and had no wish to be wealthy. He too had a dirt floor, his house was also often freezing, and like others suffering from want he also had trouble putting food on the table.
One time, the Chofetz Chaim didn’t eat, and he explained to his students who asked that he was fasting a taanis chalom, to mitigate an evil dream. When asked what he had dreamed, the Chofetz Chaim answered, “I dreamed that I became wealthy. So either way, I must fast. If this is a message from above that wealth has been decreed upon me, I certainly must fast to avert such an evil decree. And if not, then dream was the result of some random thoughts flitting through my head during the day. And if I am thinking anything that makes me wish to be wealthy, it is even more important that I fast!”

Friday, December 11, 2009

Why People Suffer

The Torah tells us that a slave goes free if his master takes out his eye or tooth. Chazal learn from this a kal v’chomer: if one liberates himself from physical slavery through suffering, how much more is one redeemed from the spiritual suffering of the next world through experiencing pain in this one!
Rav Nisim Yagen, zt”l, once shared a true story to illustrate how one should relate to suffering. “A certain talmid chacham has a son who hates to get a bath. Every time he is taken to bathe is literally a battle. He kicks and screams and is always on the lookout for any opportunity to squirm out of his mother’s hands and run away. He must be physically grabbed and forced into the bath and washed with great force. Unfortunately, because the boy continuously squirms, the soap often gets into his eyes and exacerbates his already extreme discomfort.
“Even after the bath he keeps crying as if he had undergone a terrible emotional ordeal—which his antipathy for baths really does precipitate. Once, after a half hour of crying, the young man’s father approached the now happily playing child and said to him, ‘Tell me the truth. Do you love your mother?’
“‘Of course,’ the boy immediately replied.
“‘But she forced you to bathe just now. She pained you and you cried. How can you still love her?’
Rav Yagen explained, “Although the child did not know how to answer, it was clear that he loved his mother still. The reason behind this is clear. The child knows in the depths of his heart that his mother truly loves him and that everything she does to him must be for his own good. He does not comprehend why but he knows that she forced him to bathe only because she loves him.
“This is how one who has a difficult time should feel towards Hashem. We must know so deeply that Hashem loves us that we truly feel that whatever we experience is for our good even when we cannot understand why. It is only one who feels absolutely certain that Hashem loves him who can experience yesurim with love!”

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Achieving Shalom Bayis

Rav Nissim Yagen, zt”l, recounted: “It truly pains me that many times shortly after marriage husbands approach me with complaints. ‘Rabbi, my wife is simply not what I though her to be before our marriage.’
“I invariably reply in precisely the same manner: ‘You too, are not precisely as she thought you to be before your marriage!’
“The truth is that this feeling betrays a marked lack of bitachon. In Moed Katan 18, Chazal bring three proofs from Tanach that Hashem sends one’s wife to him particularly. The ben Ish Chai, zt”l, asks why the gemara specifically discusses shiduchim. Is not everything from Hashem?
“He explains that specifically in these areas one eventually sees clearly with his own eyes that the woman Hashem has sent him is truly his shidduch, since like the splitting of the Yam Suf, natural law does not reign when it comes to shidduchim.
“But one needs a lot of patience until he sees this, especially at the beginning. I still recall my first trip to America thirty years ago. I saw a slogan that pithily explains how to build and maintain a good marriage. It was on a billboard that proclaimed a message from Kennedy’s inauguration address: ‘Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.’ This is the secret to marriage. Ask not what your spouse can do for you. Ask instead what you can do for your spouse!”

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Returned to Sender

When the Chofetz Chaim, zt”l, was young he was forced to teach to make a living. Although he could certainly have held a respectable position as the rav of a town, he was absolutely unwilling. He also refused to teach those who were older than himself. This left him with very few possibilities for parnasah and he eventually found a job teaching gemara to older bochurim.
When his admirers noticed how absolutely destitute the Chofetz Chaim was, they often pleaded with him to accept a monthly stipend to alleviate his poverty. They tried all sorts of ways to give the money to the Chofetz Chaim in a very respectable manner, but to no avail. Even at a young age he was already resolved not to take money from others. He literally preferred to go hungry.
When he was older and already famous, Rav Meir Hillel Kolotzsky, one of the most respectable people in Grodno, wished to donate a sizable sum of money for the Chofetz Chaim’s personal use. But he already knew that the Chofetz Chaim never agreed to take gifts from others, so he planned to send the money anonymously so it could not be returned.
He sent the money to his mother in Eishishok to send it off to the Chofetz Chaim in an unmarked envelope with a note that said that the money was a gift freely given for the Chofetz Chaim’s use. But the Chofetz Chaim refused to use the money. He left it on one side for almost two years until he finally uncovered a tenuous clue that helped him determine from where the money had come. The moment he understood who the donor had been he sent it back. Exactly two years after the gift had been sent, every penny was returned to the disappointed donor.”

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Theft by Another Name

Our sages recount that a certain thief wished to do teshvuah but was discouraged when his wife said to him, “Empty one! If you repent, even the avneit, the fancy belt around your waist, will no longer be your own!”
The Brisker Rav, zt”l, commented on this, “We see from here that even a respectable person who wears an avneit may still be a thief!”
Of course most people do not steal in its more prosaic sense. Yet the Chazon Ish, zt”l, pointed out an area where even honest people are often “moreh heter” and withhold money belonging to another, G-d forbid. In the Chazon Ish’s words, “The most prevalent form of theft today is failure to pay shadchanus. A shadchan has the halachic status of a laborer, and one is obligated according to Torah law to pay him for his services the customary fee in one’s area.”
On many occasions the Chazon Ish refered to shadchanus as “kosher gelt”—well-deserved earnings.
A certain person approached the Chazon Ish with a very painful problem. Although several years had elapsed from the wedding, he and his wife still had no children.
“Did you pay the shadchan?” asked the Chazon Ish.
“It is virtually certain that he is halachically not entitled to a penny in our particular case.”
The Chazon Ish pushed this claim aside. “Even so, go and pay the customary fee.”
The very next year the couple had their first child!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Rebbe Nachma's Rebuke Without Words

A reliable sign of whether the mentor we are attached to is truly righteous, and whether the connection between us is as solid as it should be, can be seen in how we feel in his presence. Does being with him, even when our conversations focus on mundane matters, inspire a powerful yearning for self-improvement and transformation?
During the years of the early spread of Enlightenment thought in the Ukraine, the three prominent atheists of Uman made a solemn pledge: they would bolster their new ideology by swearing to never allow the Name of G-d to pass their lips again. Several years later, they met Rav Nachman of Breslov zt”l when he was passing through their town. They were intrigued by a distinctly un-Rabbinic way of his; although he would spend time talking with them about everyday matters, he never lectured them about religion or rebuked them for their heretical beliefs and behavior.
Eventually, these three returned to a certain degree of observance. But at the beginning of their relationship with Rav Nachman, the leader of this band of maskilim was known to wonder aloud, “I can’t understand it! How many years has it been since I’ve said G-d’s Name? Yet every time I spend a few hours conversing with this Rav Nachman, I feel as though he is pulling at my coat tails and shouting: Hirsch Ber! There is a G-d in the world!”

Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Power of Prayer

Our sages teach: “The prayer of the tzaddikim is like a pitchfork because it overturns Hashem’s attribute of judgment into mercy.” The Divrei Torah zt”l asks, “Why should prayer effect any change at all? One would think that since Hashem orchestrates events, shouldn’t we just learn to accept His will instead of trying to overturn it?” He answers that since we have been commanded to pray, Hashem’s true will is that we use prayer to change our fate. We can see this in the image of the pitchfork.
A pitchfork is not used to move hay from one place to another, but rather to turn the hay and expose it to the air. Similarly, Hashem sends challenges our way not to make our lives difficult, but so that we will be goaded to turn to Him in prayer and remove the challenges. The heavenly decree is meant to last only as long as it takes us to “turn it over” to mercy through prayer. This sometimes needs to be done many times, just as the hay needs to be turned a number of times before it is dry.
The Chofetz Chaim zt”l writes, “The sole reason for all the difficulties which have come upon us is that we have not prayed enough. If we had prayed more, we would have been answered. The three daily prayers are simply not enough. One should pour out his heart to Hashem with intensity several times a day. The reason why the three regular prayers are not enough is because we are so used to them that it is difficult to say them with intensity. But a prayer from the depths of the heart will surely be answered.”
Rav Nosson of Breslov wrote the same thing long before.
Rav Nachman of Breslov zt”l explained that this is like someone traveling on the highway; since bandits also know the “high road,” he must take precautions. “But one who forges a new path through the wilderness need not fear highwaymen. The regular prayers are the “high road”—easy to travel, but unsafe. Personal prayer is a newly-trod path—no heavenly accusers lie in wait to prevent one from pouring out his heart to Hashem!”

Friday, December 4, 2009

True Emunah

The Chofetz Chaim, zt”l, was a paradigm of living emunah. He would often say that even if one is beset with difficulties he must never say that things are bad, since such statements contradict the truth that everything Hashem does is for our good. Instead, one should say that things are very bitter, since medicines are also bitter but they are certainly good for a person since they heal him. In addition, one who complains that things are bad has lied, since he says that what is ultimately for his good is bad simply because he does not see how it is for the good.
It is not surprising that when Rav Michel Shurkin, shlit”a, asked Rav Yisrael Portnoy, shlit”a, what he learned in Radin, his simple reply comprised a single word: “Emunah.”
The Chofetz Chaim would say over a vort that he enjoyed in the name of the bathhouse attendant in Radin. “The verses states, 'ואנחנו עם מרעיתו וצאן ידו'—‘And we are the people of His shepherding and the flock of His hand.’ The intention of צאן ידו is that He always guards us without a moment’s break. This parallels the teaching of our sages that the people of Nehardea would not leave their sheep to find their own way to the shepherds’ houses unsupervised for fear of thieves. Instead, the owners would go to the shepherds’ shacks and hand over the sheep from hand to hand.
“This is the meaning of the verse. Divine providence does not leave the Jewish people for even an instant. This is similar to the gemara in Kidushin 72. There we find that before Eli left the world, Shmuel’s light had already begun to shine, since Hashem does not leave the world bereft of tzaddikim to protect and guide us.”

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Don't Push!

Although chassidic “tischen” are very often inspiring, sometimes the pushing that goes on at such places is scandalous. At times, certain rebbes have done their utmost to limit the shoving so that everyone is able to best experience the holiness afforded to those with enough menuchas hanefesh to feel it.
During one of the many weeks that the son of the Me’or VaShemesh, Rav Aharon of Cracow, zt”l, spent Shabbos by his rebbe, the Tiferes Shlomo, zt”l, the rebbe praised him publicly. It was at the tisch and many of the chassidim were jostling each other trying to get as near to the rebbe as possible. Despite the pushing, Rav Aharon remained in a corner of the room, listening intently but not making any effort to procure a closer spot.
After the rebbe concluded his deeply inspiring Torah lesson, he commented on Rav Aharon’s behavior. “Our rabbis teach in Bava Basra 99 that although all the vessels of the beis hamikdash took up space, the aron did not. Yet it is surely significant that the luchos were kept in the aron which didn’t take up any space, and not in the other vessels which did.
“This parallels what we find with Rav Aharon standing in the corner there. Although he did not jostle to make himself closer, you will find that he knows the Torah very well. This is precisely why: when a person doesn’t push ahead and attempt to take up anyone else’s space, he will find that the luchos, the Torah, is within him!”

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Don't Let Enthusiasm Prevent Lasting Change

Rav Yisrael Luria, shlit”a, explains the words of our sages with a fascinating parable brought in the Toras Avos:
“We find in Mishlei 25:4, 'הגו סיגים מכסף ויבא לצרף כלי'—‘Take away the dross from the silver, and there comes forth a vessel for the refiner.’ This can be explained in terms of avodas Hashem. If a person puts silver in the fire to remove impurities, doing so was worthwhile. But if a person places silver into a fire which does not remove any impurities, this is simply a waste of time. To an ignorant bystander, it might appear that in both cases the same worthy action has been done, but this is not the case at all.
“The same is true with what each person accomplish by firing up his emotions. Some people learn and daven with enthusiasm to better themselves and smelt out their character defects. Sadly, others wish to live a life immersed in materialism. But of course sometime these people feel guilty when they see that they are not upwardly mobile in spiritual terms. So what do they do? They daven or learn with enthusiasm to prove to themselves that they are on a high spiritual level. In this manner they mollify themselves and are able to continue to plod along in the same pedestrian path, with limited or no spiritual growth.
“Our sages teach that diluted wine is not really wine at all. Tosafos explains that when wine is only a sixth of the total liquid mixed with five-sixths of water, it merely manages to ruin the taste of the water, not confer on the water the taste of the wine. Wine represents spiritual enthusiasm, as the verse states, 'הביאיני אל בית היין, כי טובים דודיך מיין'—‘He brought me to the “house of wine,” Your love is better than wine...’ But this enthusiasm must pervade one’s day to such an extent he is elevated as a result of it. It cannot be so dilute that it ‘ruins the water,’ that it just serves as a foolish excuse to avoid genuine change!”