Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Restoring the Altar on Chanukah

Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, zt”l, once explained the the custom in Israel to eat doughnuts on Chanukah is based on a statement of our sages. “We find that when the Chashmonaim rededicated the beis hamikdash, they found stones of the altar which the Greeks had defiled and were unsure how to purify them. So they were forced to hide the stones away.
“Unlike latkes, doughnuts require an על המחיה. This is preferable, since it includes a prayer that Hashem restore his altar. Each Chanukah we beseech Hashem to rectify the damage done specifically to the altar by the Greeks before they were defeated.
“As far as why we pray about the altar specifically in the brochah mei’ein shalosh, Rav Moshe Leib Shachor, zt”l, explained that this is based on the Mishnah in the end of Sotah. There we find that when the sanctuary was destroyed the taste was taken away from produce. It follows that the blessing on the seven species specifically contains a request to restore the mikdash so that the proper taste will also return to the fruits of the land.”
The Ramah MiPano, zt”l, learns a very powerful lesson from the continuation of the same gemara. “We see in Avodah Zarah that the pritzim came and profaned the sanctuary, literally made it חול. This teaches that even when the non-Jews come to destroy the mikdash, the holiness retreats and ascends on high. It follows that those who hate us do not have any mastery over the essence of the beis hamikdash.”
The Komarna Rebbe expands on this same theme. “This explains why we do not fast on the tenth of Av when the beis hamikdash was actually burned. Once the non-Jews set fire to the structure and the holiness ascended, the main mourning is already finished, since what they actually burned was merely the physical shell. The true tragedy was that the holiness ascended, which allowed the non-Jews to physically burn what remained.”

Friday, November 12, 2010

A Worthy Guest

Once, Rav Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, zt”l, paid a visit to the Maharam, who was the Av Beis Din of Pressburg. The Maharam was deeply involved with a question he had on Tosafos which perplexed him greatly. When the Berditchever Rav entered the Maharam’s home, the host asked his guest if he could learn.
Rav Levi Yitzchak answered, “Perhaps if I led a peaceful existence like the rav of Pressburg and I ate like he did, I could also learn."
The rav immediately rushed to bring food and drink to Rav Levi Yitzchak, who refrained from eating anything. After a while of puzzling over the Tosafos, the Rav noticed that Rav Levi Yitzchak had not yet eaten and asked him to explain why.
Rav Levi Yitzchak answered, “The gemara tells us that before one makes a brochah, the food is not really his. It is only after the brochah that he acquires ownership over the food. How can you give guests food you have not yet acquired and expect them to partake of it?”
The Rav of Pressburg immediately made a brochah and ate, and Rav Levi Yitzchak then did likewise. When the rav asked him again if he could learn, Rav Levi Yitzchak said, “If I am told a devar Torah I can understand. Let the rav tell me something…”
The Maharam told him his question and Rav Levi Yitzchak began reciting Tehillim in a very loud voice and was so filled with dveikus that he literally rolled under the table. When he finished the mizmor, he immediately told the rav a very beautiful explanation of Tosafos.
The Maharam was impressed, so he asked another question. “I see that you are a holy man who understands, so I will ask you something else. Rava says that a woman should daven to have children like Rav Shimon and if not, better that she should not give birth. What can this possibly mean?”
Rav Levi Yitzchak responded immediately, “We find that the verse says, 'ולשם ילד גם הוא'. This means that like Noach, Shem is considered to have given birth to himself due to his many good deeds. This is a genuine birth, since the person fulfilled his mission on earth. Similarly, a woman should pray that they have children that are so meritorious that—like Rabbi Shimon—it is as if they gave birth to themselves. And if they don’t, the children will not merit this level of birth.”

Thursday, November 11, 2010

“No Evil Will Befall One Who Fulfills a Mitzvah”

When the Steipler, zt”l, was a young man, he was trapped in communist Russia along with many other yeshiva bochurim in the many branches of Novardhok. Eventually he decided to attempt to cross the border along with a large group of students who wished to go to what was officially Poland. Of course this was dangerous, since if a border guard caught someone trying to cross the border he was within his rights to shoot to kill. Indeed, many people were killed while trying to escape the “worker’s paradise.”
When one group was already well on their way in the middle of the pitch black night, the Steipler suddenly needed to relieve himself. Although he knew his group would not wait for him and he also did not even know the way to the border, even if there had been any light, the Steipler immediately stopped and relieved himself. He reasoned that the dictum, "שומר מצוה לא ידע דבר רע"—“No evil will befall one who fulfills a mitzvah,” also applies to the mitzvah of לא תשקצו. After all, why was this prohibition any less important than any other?
When the Steipler finished, his group was far ahead of him yet he began to continue in what he thought was the same direction they had been travelling for quite some time. In the morning, after many hours of travel, he found that he was back where he had started and it took a whole year before he finally was able to escape to Poland.
He later explained that the first time when he had attempted and failed, he obviously did not have the merit to escape. It was only after the next Rosh Hashanah that it was decreed from heaven that he could cross over into Poland.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Only the Truth

Rav Yitzchak Zilberstein, shlit”a, one discussed how exceedingly careful Rav Yaakov Kaminetzky, zt”l, was to always tell the truth. “On Rav Yaakov’s final visit to Eretz Yisrael, his students asked him in what merit he had lived such a long life. He answered, ‘I never allowed a false word to pass my lips.’
“His students explained that by saying the word ‘never’ the rav meant even when he was halachically allowed to lie. For example, when Rav Yaakov was a bochur many young men would use a friend’s dispensation to avoid the draft. This ruse worked very often and saved many, but when this trick was suggested to Rav Yaakov he refused to consider it even though being drafted was literally a question of pikuach nefesh. Rav Yaakov got out of the draft another way, since ‘Hashem has many messengers.’
“Once, his students noticed him going into a silver shop with a beautiful silver cup. When asked why, he explained: ‘I have always been scrupulous to put every bit of revenue on my tax forms so as to pay taxes on everything, thereby fulfilling the halachah, ‘dina d’malchusah dina.’ Now that I am eighty the administrators of the yeshiva decided to give me this cup as a gift. According to my understanding, I must also list this cup on my form. I came in here to find out exactly what the cup is worth.’
Rav Zilberstein concluded, “In this manner a person gains many students even outside the beis midrash, since everyone who hears these stories of Rav Yaakov’s unbending honesty is inspired to be like him!”

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Using Every Moment

Rav Chaim Palagi, zt”l, wrote in his last will and testament to his children: “I call the heaven and earth to bear witness that from the time I was mature until I was twenty years old, I never wasted an instant on frivolous pursuits. My every available moment was taken up with learning Torah with diligence. From twenty until forty I had to support my children, so I worked as an agent for various lucrative businesses. Nevertheless, during every second that I was not otherwise occupied, I used to review my learning. I never wasted an instant on any frivolous or unnecessary pursuits, since to do so would have been a lost opportunity to review.
“From the age of forty I was appointed as a posek and dayan for our community. My position required me to make time to deal with the other needs of the community. But I was always concerned that this kept me from learning as much as I wished. I would therefore push myself to take advantage of any available time, even the short times between cases or questions, to learn.
“You should all learn from me and be as careful to use your time to the hilt, even if you are required to spend much time helping the community and aiding all individuals who require assistance. You must push yourselves not to waste an instant. Instead, you should wait for the precious moments between duties that you can grab for learning. Never squander these opportunities for spiritual growth.
“If you will follow my advice in this, you will see a huge blessing in your learning. As long as you are filled with yearning for Torah and you are careful to use any time you can, Hashem will send a great blessing in your Torah study. You will find time to learn everything you wish since you will achieve very much even if the available time is short.”

Monday, November 8, 2010

Complete Teshuvah

Our sages teach that genuine teshvuah is so strong that it can transform sins into merits.
Doing complete and permanent teshuvah is not simple however. In the words of Rabbeinu Yonah: “Even though one has admitted his sin and ceased his negative behavior he should still understand that he may not have done enough. In order to do a true teshuvah he must ascend many levels. Perhaps one day he will fail to attain the level necessary and instead he will begin to slip back into his old behavior. Another problem which must concern him is the possibility that his base nature will overpower him.
“The only way to be sure of victory is for him to increase his yiras shomayim every day. He must also continuously daven to Hashem for aid in doing teshuvah and that He help him to overcome his base nature.
He concluded, “It is due to a hardness of the heart that many people fall into the mistaken belief that they have done enough teshuvah and stop working on themselves. Sadly, in this manner one punishes himself since he falls into pride and is unable to honestly evaluate his level. When a person is no longer careful to work on his character defects, this is a sign that he has fallen to a low level. This person also has lost touch with his obligation to prepare himself for Hashem. He is indolent, so his base nature—always on the look-out for opportunities to cause him to fall—gains the upper hand and defeats him.”

Sunday, October 24, 2010

A Hidden Resentment

"כדי שלא יתפללו על בניהם שימותו..."

A certain bride was all set to marry her chosson when her father contracted a serious illness from which he needed to be nursed back to his health. Since her father was a widower, the most natural person to do the job was his daughter who was engaged to be married and had even set the date for her wedding. After all, why should the father hire help when his own daughter could do a better job? But of course this would delay the wedding and set back the plans the young couple had already made.
When the father asked his daughter for help, she explained that she would obviously need to ask the chosson. When this request was put to the chosson he said simply, “Ask a Rav. We will do whatever he says.”
This question was brought before Rav Chaim Kanievsky, shlit”a, who ruled that the couple should get married as planned. “I don't think the father should ask this of his daughter. This comes out of the gemara in Makkos 11. There we find that since those who killed a fellow Jew accidentally are freed when the kohein gadol dies, the mother of the present kohein gadol would give food and clothes to the inmates of the arei miklat to discourage them from praying for the death of her own son.
He concluded, “The same is true here. If the wedding is put off because of this problem, the chosson may very well wish in his heart that his wife’s father die from his illness!”

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

An Unformed Opinion

In 1951, a certain talmid chacham was asked to give a shiur Torah in a yeshiva geared toward less-committed students in Pardes Chanah. He did so for two days before he was beset with doubts. He had noticed one of the students seemed absorbed in something under his desk. After three warnings the maggid shiur approached the student’s desk and saw that he had a copy of the writings of Bialik under his desk. The teacher took the book and tossed it outside the classroom. The student got very upset by this and shouted, “Are we in a yeshiva which learns exclusively Torah? Today we have a test on Bialik and I must study. Since I am also required to be in this class, I obviously need to study during class. After all, why is Bialik less important than gemara?”
The more outspoken students agreed with the disgruntled student and the teacher felt that perhaps teaching in such a yeshiva was not for him. But of course such a decision was a very serious step to take. The maggid shiur packed his things and travelled to the Chazon Ish, zt”l, to ask for guidance.
When he met the Chazon Ish, he told him what had transpired.
“So what is your question?” asked the Chazon Ish.
“Do we not find that one should not teach a student who is unfit?”
“How old are your students?” asked the Chazon Ish.
“Between fourteen and fifteen,” was the answer.
“In such young student the term תלמיד שאינו הגון does not apply since they have not yet developed mature opinions. You can mold the future person and convince him of the error of his ways.”
The maggid shiur asked, “From what point is a young adult considered a תלמיד שאינו הגון, then?”
“From seventeen to eighteen is when they are more fixed in the way they see things and it is harder to convince them,” the gadol answered.
“I came here with a fully packed bag to ask whether I should go home to Yerushalayim or back to my position in Pardes Chanah.”
The Chazon Ish stated firmly, “Definitely go back. If you cannot succeed with all of them, you will convince half!”
Later on the maggid shiur calculated that he had indeed convinced exactly half of his students to join a full time yeshiva for yeshiva gedolah!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

“Hashem Delivers Man and Beast”

As is well known, causing an animal unnecessary pain is a Torah prohibition—and certainly killing an animal unnecessarily is forbidden. Although man is potentially above animals, the “crown of creation” formed after all other creatures, nevertheless the wicked are told that even the simplest creature was generated before them.
Once Alexander the Great was in north Africa, which was a distant land. While there he attended a very interesting court case. A certain man had purchased a field from his friend and had found a valuable gem. The buyer wished to return it to the seller but the seller refused, saying that it was obviously destined to be in the hands of the finder.
When this case came before the local king for adjudication he proposed a very brilliant suggestion. “Your son should marry his daughter. If you then give them the gem you will both be satisfied.”
Alexander was taken aback at this lenient ruling. “If it was me, I would chop off both of their heads and take the gem for myself!”
The local ruler looked markedly at Alexander, and, clearly disgusted, made a biting comment, “If the sun shines on countries under your domain it can only be in the merit of the animals there. Does it not say, 'אדם ובהמה תושיע ה''—‘Hashem delivers man and beast’?”
The Yad Efraim, zt"l, explains a well known halachah with this midrash. “Now we understand why one must feed his animals before himself. Even if a city is wicked its very survival can sometimes be in the merit of the innocent animals who dwell there!”

Monday, October 11, 2010

Paining a Child for Chinuch

There are many sources which indicate that at times a light hit is warranted to properly fulfill the mitzvah of chinuch habonim.
But it is important to note the numerous potential pitfalls in fulfilling this complex mitzvah. The Sefer Habris explains that one who hits his child too hard, or pains him for no reason, violates both positive and negative Torah commandments.
In addition, the Shulchan Aruch HaRav rules that one may not strike a child unless he does so to give moral direction. With any other intention—like when striking a stranger’s child—it is forbidden since this is not for the child's benefit.
When Rav Chaim Kanievsky, shlit”a, was asked if one should hit nowadays, he replied, “You certainly must hit, but only at very rare intervals. If a child does a very serious action this is appropriate as the verse states clearly, 'חושך שבטו שונא בנו'—‘One who spares his rod hates his child.’ Yet one may only hit with great discretion and understanding, since one who foolishly hits every day renders this punishment completely ineffectual and pointless.”
Rav Aryeh Carmel, zt”l, once asked his Rebbe, Rav Dessler, zt”l, "Physiologists say that hitting breaks a child’s self-confidence, since his parent acts like his enemy if only for an instant. In addition, surely many people are prone to hit out of anger and not really to help their child?”
Rav Dessler replied to both claims. “As far as hitting in anger, this is absolutely forbidden, so it is not a consideration. A ‘baal middos’ or even someone who follows halachah never hits his child out of anger. As far as breaking a child’s self confidence, perhaps the very minimal amount of erosion as a result of proper hitting is the best thing for the child, since his feeling of absolute confidence is actually negative. If he feels that he knows best, how will he receive from his parents or teachers? In addition, too much self-assurance is one of the main reasons people reject Torah.
He concluded, “We must also consider that our desire to avoid hitting a child in any circumstance as a result of our great love for him may be a violation of 'חושך שבטו שונא בנו'. Perhaps our desire that the child have an overinflated self-confidence is the opposite of what is truly best for the child!”
But Rav Wolbe, zt"l, held that potching a child is virtually never advisable. "Although the verse states,'חושך שבטו שונא בנו'—‘One who spares his rod hates his child,’ this need not be taken literally.After all, what a parent says or even a sharp look can sometimes sting like a blow and is sufficient for one who educates properly."

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Hashem and Human Suffering

Rav Tzadok Hakohein of Lublin, zt”l, explains the detrimental results of inflicting pain.“One must be very careful to avoid causing even the slightest pain to any person even for a mitzvah. The proof of this is that the verse, 'על כל חולציו'—‘I will punish all who oppress him.’ The sages taught that even a gabbai tzedakah may not cause pain to another.
“Tana D’vei Eliyahu writes that even the stone used for סקילה and the tree a person was crucified upon will be judged for being the vehicle of such pain. This also means in a case where one was rightly sentenced to capital punishment in beis din. This explains why the Sanhedrin must fast on the day their sentence is carried out. They fast to atone for causing pain, even though it is deserved.
“Now we can better understand the statement that a Sanhedrin who kills more often than once in seven years is considered ‘bloody.’ Even if their ruling was in exact accordance with the halachah, this does not mitigate their status. Similarly, we find that one who accidentally kills someone who deserved to die must nevertheless also be exiled to the city of refuge.
He concluded, “The pain he must atone for in such cases is that of Hashem Himself. Our sages teach that Hashem is not happy with the suffering of the wicked since when the wicked suffer, Hashem also suffers as it were. How much more so does Hashem suffer, as it were, for the pain of tzaddikim who experience pain to fulfill the mitzvos!”

Friday, October 8, 2010

True Regret

The Kol Mevaser explains that we can learn the meaning of true regret from Rabbi Yehudah ben Tabai's reaction when he learned that he had mistakenly sentenced a man to death. As soon as Shimon Ben Shetach explained his error, Rabbi Yehudah got up like a lion and cried out, and never forgot his terrible error for his entire life. He ran to the dead man’s grave, not once or twice, nor was he satisfied with going daily for a year or two. Every day of his life, he spent time there. He cried out there with such bitterness that they heard him throughout the city.
But this too, was not sufficient. He also took on concrete actions to ensure that he never repeat such a horrendous error. He would not rule capital cases if Shimon ben Shetach was not present. This shows genuine regret.
But of course there are many levels of regret. The rebbe of Rachmastrivka, shlit”a, once recounted the words of the Rebbe of Zlatopolia, zt”l, about how to attain tehuvah through true regret. “One should imagine he was a very wealthy businessman who was guaranteed to make a fortune provided he could transport his merchandise to a place over the seas. Instead of prudently splitting up his abundant merchandise, he sent it all along in a single ship that sank, immediately transforming him from a millionaire to a pauper.
“It is very obvious that this person will be filled with remorse for his lack of foresight and feel very foolish for risking all in one ship instead of sending part of the merchandise in one ship and the rest later on in another ship. This is how one should feel when he regrets his sins.!”

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Undeserved Punishment

The Rambam writes, “Anyone who strikes his fellow Jew for no reason, whether child or adult, man or woman, violates a negative commandment. As the verse states, "לא יוסיף להכותו"—‘He shall not continue to strike him.’ If the Torah forbids us to add blows to a sinner who deserves Makkos, it is all the more true that we are prohibited from striking a tzaddik who does not deserve to be hit at all!”
When the Beis Halevi, zt”l, was forced to give a divorce to his first wife due to a trick played on his father-in-law, he was unsure how to spell his nickname, "יושע בער". Of course, the proper spelling is with a shin, but since Lithuanian Jews normally pronounced it “Yosse Ber,” perhaps it should really be spelled with a samech? The dayanim held one way, while the Beis Halevi argued differently. Finally, they agreed with him and wrote it as he felt was correct. That night he suddenly realized that it was possible that the dayanim had been correct after all and his proofs were not really compelling. The next morning he asked the dayanim to write another get just in case, but they refused.
In order to be certain he had freed his ex-wife entirely the Beis Halevi decided to travel to Brody and ask the renowned Rav Shlomo Kluger, zt”l, his opinion on the matter. But the Beis Halevi did not have the funds to travel and was forced to take on a position as an assistant to a wagon driver heading for the large town.
During the ride over it became clear that the rav was inexperienced at holding the reins and every slip resulted in a blow administered to the Beis Halevi. When they finally arrived and the Beis Halevi met Rav Kluger, he was asked to deliver the drasha on Shabbos. The entire crowd was in the shul for the drasha and when the wagon driver saw that his assistant was actually a prominent rav he regretted his actions. After the drasha he begged the Beis Halevi to forgive him since he had not known that he was a talmid chacham.
The Beis Halevi responded, “One who strikes his assistant also violates the prohibition against striking another Jew!”

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Nullifying Divine Anger

Our sages teach that as long as there are thieves in the world, Hashem’s anger will be in the world. Rav Yonasan Eibeschitz, zt”l, wonders why thieves are worse than anyone else. He explains, “One cannot deny that every wicked person brings Hashem’s anger into the world when he acts against the Divine will. But it is well known that that a thief who acts with care that he not be caught by mere people is worse than an armed ruffian who robs openly, fearing neither man nor Hashem.
“On the other hand, it is known that one who gives tzedakah in secret nullifies Hashem’s anger. We may well ask why this is so. The obvious reason is because the person giving does so solely for the sake of heaven, since he knows that Hashem sees even where others do not. Although the sinful deeds of most wicked people also are the result of willful ignoring Diving providence, nevertheless, thieves who act as though Hashem’s providence does not exist at all are the exact inverse of the kind actions of one who gives in secret. For this reason, the mitigation of Divine wrath their good deeds accomplish do not extend to the furtive pilfering of the burglar.”
“The ultimate teshuvah is when one repents from sins between man and his fellow man such as theft. This is why we say at the end of Yom Kippur, 'למען נחדל מעושק ידינו'—‘That we might refrain from oppression at our hands.’ The main thing in teshuvah is to erect fences and strict boundaries to ensure that one does not return to his sinful behavior.”

Monday, October 4, 2010

The Holiness of Yerushalayim

Rav Nosson Gestetner, shlit”a, recounted, “My ancestor, Rav Yisrael of Shklov, zt”l, was one of the greatest students of the Vilna Gaon. He authored the Pe’as HaShulchan, which discusses the halachos relevant to those living in Eretz Yisrael, and Tiklin Chaditin, on Meseches Shekalim. In addition, he prepared the Biur HaGra on the first half of Shulchan Aruch for publication as well as the Gaon’s commentary on Shekalim.
He moved to Eretz Yisrael and settled in Tzfas with virtually all Jews during that time. Tragically, there was an earthquake that killed many people and wreaked terrible damage. Rav Yisrael was one of the survivors and he wrote a long letter describing the catastrophe to the Chasam Sofer, zt”l.
The Chasam Sofer was so shaken by this calamity that he gathered everyone together and eulogized the many casualties, ‘This was the result of people moving into Tzfas and ignoring holy Yerushalayim! Har HaMoriah is in Yerushalayim. On this mountain, Yitzchak was offered for a sacrifice and Yaakov slept and had the dream of the angels ascending and descending a ladder to heaven. The Beis Hamikdash was there, and we still have the Kosel, from which the Shechinah never moved from the time of the destruction.
“Around one hundred years ago, people began to move to Eretz Yisrael en mass. They reasoned that since the Rashbi is interred in Meron and the Arizal in Tzfas, it was preferable to move to Tzfas or Meron, but this was an error. Even today, Hashem’s name is in Yerushalayim and there is a mitzvah to at ascend for the three festivals even for those who do not live in this most holy city!”

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Nature of Humility

Our sages teach that even a tzaddik who is haughty will lose out in the next world, since Hashem will only crown those tzaddikim who have true humility. When Rav Shmuel Rosenberg of Unsdorf, zt”l, traveled to Kashoi for Shabbos he was met with vast honor which caused him no end of pain. On Shabbos, he explained, “Now I understand why we ask Hashem to give us honor in Birkas Hachodesh. Honor causes an honest person pain since he knows that he doesn’t deserve it at all. Nowpain in itself atones for sin and it also makes one have a broken heart which leads to teshuvah. It is because honor is such a wonderful catalyst to enable any thinking person to return to his Source that we beseech Hashem for honor.
He went on, “Rav Meir of Premishlan, zt”l, once explained the verse in Tehillim in a similar fashion, applying it specifically to when people are given honor while they travel. The verse states: 'ואדם ביקר'—when a person gets יקר, honor, 'בל ילין'—and he ‘does not take time to repose’ and consider his ways in the tent of teshuvah, 'נמשל כבהמות נדמו'—he is no better than a thoughtless beast!”
As is well known, the Chofetz Chaim, zt”l, would run away from any honor. Once his son asked whether this was really the proper path to take. “After all, each month in Birkas Hachodesh we ask Hashem for a life of wealth and honor?”
The Chofetz Chaim explained that his son really had not understood the true intent of that line of davening. “This is a request for the klal that Jews be wealthy and respected. Similarly, we find in the Yomim Noraim prayers, 'ותן כבוד לעמך'. It is not a request that one be more distinguished than an average Jew!”

Friday, September 17, 2010

Yom Kippur, Shabbos and Suspension of Existence

The verse says about Yom Kippur: "שַׁבַּת שַׁבָּתוֹן הִיא לָכֶם וְעִנִּיתֶם אֶת-נַפְשֹׁתֵיכֶם..." (ויקרא ט"ז:ל"א) Chazal explained that the term שבתון implies שבות, in this case refraining from more than just food and drink. Rav Hirsch zt”l brings Rashi’s explanation that the word "לכם" in this verse means that the “resting” of Yom HaKippurim goes beyond the demonstration of Hashem’s authority embodied in the resting of Shabbos. The word שבת simply means “suspension,” but the word שבתון in our verse gives license to the Sages to add other elements of restraint onto eating and drinking.
On Yom HaKippurim, this expanded form of restraint is meant to demonstrate that our entire existence, even the furnishing of the bare necessities of life, is purely an act of kindness on the part of Hashem. Enacting our complete dependence on Hashem’s mercy is an admission that nothing is “coming” to us, and it is the ultimate act of accepting upon ourselves the yoke of the kingdom of heaven. It places on us the burden to expend every effort to do His will. If everything, even our existence, is a gift from Hashem, don’t we at least owe Him the effort it takes to repair our character defects?
When Rav Eliyahu Lopian zt”l would speak during the Yomin Noraim, he would remind his listeners to make resolutions during Neilah: “It is impossible to pass through the day of judgment in peace without making genuine and practical resolutions to improve in some way.”
Similarly, many would flock to Rav Yehuda’le of Dzikov zt”l on Erev Yom Kippur to receive a blessing for the coming year. The atmosphere was very intense, and the crowd would literally tremble with awe of the upcoming day.
The Rebbe would say, “My grandfather, the Rebbe of Dzikov zt”l, always asked: on erev Yom Kippur you cry? Now is the time to rejoice in our acceptance of the yoke of the kingdom of heaven through the avodos of the day! Tomorrow night, you can cry to Hashem to help you uphold the lofty level you reach during the day throughout the rest of the year!”

Yom Kippur, and Suspension of Existence

The verse says about Yom Kippur: "שַׁבַּת שַׁבָּתוֹן הִיא לָכֶם וְעִנִּיתֶם אֶת-נַפְשֹׁתֵיכֶם..." (ויקרא ט"ז:ל"א) Chazal explained that the term שבתון implies שבות, in this case refraining from more than just food and drink. Rav Hirsch zt”l brings Rashi’s explanation that the word "לכם" in this verse means that the “resting” of Yom HaKippurim goes beyond the demonstration of Hashem’s authority embodied in the resting of Shabbos. The word שבת simply means “suspension,” but the word שבתון in our verse gives license to the Sages to add other elements of restraint onto eating and drinking.
On Yom HaKippurim, this expanded form of restraint is meant to demonstrate that our entire existence, even the furnishing of the bare necessities of life, is purely an act of kindness on the part of Hashem. Enacting our complete dependence on Hashem’s mercy is an admission that nothing is “coming” to us, and it is the ultimate act of accepting upon ourselves the yoke of the kingdom of heaven. It places on us the burden to expend every effort to do His will. If everything, even our existence, is a gift from Hashem, don’t we at least owe Him the effort it takes to repair our character defects?
When Rav Eliyahu Lopian zt”l would speak during the Yomin Noraim, he would remind his listeners to make resolutions during Neilah: “It is impossible to pass through the day of judgment in peace without making genuine and practical resolutions to improve in some way.”
Similarly, many would flock to Rav Yehuda’le of Dzikov zt”l on Erev Yom Kippur to receive a blessing for the coming year. The atmosphere was very intense, and the crowd would literally tremble with awe of the upcoming day.
The Rebbe would say, “My grandfather, the Rebbe of Dzikov zt”l, always asked: on erev Yom Kippur you cry? Now is the time to rejoice in our acceptance of the yoke of the kingdom of heaven through the avodos of the day! Tomorrow night, you can cry to Hashem to help you uphold the lofty level you reach during the day throughout the rest of the year!”

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Turning an Opponent

Rav Mordechai Shraga of Ossatin, zt”l, the ben zekunim of the illustrious Rav Yisrael of Ruzhin, zt”l, became rebbe at the tender age of twenty. His father had left the world four years before he was invited to come to Ossatin and did so, establishing a beis midrash with numerous chassidim. A certain older man in the town objected vociferously to the young rebbe’s appointment and made this known to his supporters as often as he could.
Once, when Rav Mordechai Shraga was passing on the road, he noticed this man arguing with one of his chassidim about his own suitability as a leader. Since the rebbe had not heard their discussion he called the chassid aside later and asked him to tell what they were arguing about. The chassid was afraid to divulge the subject since he did not want to insult his own rebbe, but when Rav Mordechai Shraga promised him that he would not take offense the chassid repeated the entire conversation.
To the chassid’s surprise, the very next day the rebbe made a very optimistic declaration about his implacable enemy. “His objections are surely diminished.” The next day the rebbe said that his opponent had relented even more and the following day the rebbe indicated that his attitude had improved yet again. This continued until the rebbe declared that this man felt no opposition to him whatever.
This chassid was astounded at what appeared to him to be an open miracle but the rebbe denied that there was anything supernatural about it. “The verse states, 'כמים פנים אל פנים'—‘Like faces are reflected in water.’ I realized that he hated me so much only because he had never met me. He could only maintain such hatred if he did not see me and feel that I really had nothing against him at all. When he saw me the first day and discerned that I had no complaint about him this calmed him a little. The next day I showed him that I felt a great deal of love for him and this assuaged him even more. Every day I made sure to meet him and focus on my love for him until he entirely abandoned his prior opposition!”

Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Eishes Chayil

The Tchebiner Rav, zt”l, recounted that when Rav Yizchok of Vorke, zt”l, passed away, some of his chassidim became followers of his son, Rav Yaakov Dovid of Amshinov, zt”l. But most of the chassidim decided to follow Rav Mendeleh of Vorke, zt”l, since he was more down-to-earth and was more involved with the common folk.
But on the day when Rav Mendeleh became rebbe he changed drastically. “Our sages teach that Ohn Ben Peles’ wife saved him from Korach. She did this by frankly saying, ‘What difference does this dispute make to you? No matter who becomes rav, you will still remain the student.’ Although the gemara attributes great chochmah to his wife, we may certainly ask what wisdom was necessary to make such a simple point?
“The answer is that Korach claimed that the entire nation is holy and that there should be no leader at all. But she was intelligent enough to see through this ruse since she understood that there would always be someone people must nullify themselves to and receive from.”
From that day, Rav Mendeleh changed his ways, speaking very little even to those who were close to him.
Rav Yehudah Rabinowitz, zt”l, a student of the Tchebiner Rav, compared Ohn’s wife to the wife of Korach. “Ohn’s wife saved him by uncovering her hair when Korach arrived. Korach’s wife, by contrast, talked him into making a machlokes in the first place. It is possible that some allow the hair of a woman to remain uncovered on her wedding day to symbolize that she should be like Ohn’s wife and steer her husband away from machlokes. We can also explain a similarly why we send the new chosson a tallis. This symbolizes to him that he should never allow himself to be drawn into a machlokes like Korach who foolishly listened to his wife. He should never be like Korach who made an argument by claiming that a tallis that is all techeiles is not obligated in tzitzis.”

Friday, August 27, 2010

The Hot Springs of Teveria

The hot springs in various cities in Europe were considered an excellent way to convalesce for the ill. Unfortunately, many people lost their spiritual bearings in the materialistic environment of the spas, making it seem hardly worth the effort. After all, they went to recover from physical illnesses, not to contract new spiritual maladies.
When Rav Dovid of Dinov, zt”l, was in a certain town that featured such a spring he was horrified to see that many people absolutely lost any vestige of Torah or fear of heaven. They cast off all inhibitions and acted exactly like the non-Jews around them.
Rav Dovid wryly commented, “Our sages teach that the hot springs of Teveria were a vestige of the great floodwaters that destroyed virtually all of creation. On the surface this seems strange. For what purpose did Hashem leave over a remembrance of the flood in this form? Presumably the answer is that Hashem foresaw that people would have claims on Him for destroying an entire generation. After all, what exactly could they have done to warrant such severe punishment? He left waters such as these to form spas where people will again descend into the moral bankruptcy of the flood, since thousands of people flock to these places and act in a reprehensible manner. These springs are spread all over the world to demonstrate time and time again how people acted during the generation of the flood. In this way, we see their corrupt behavior and understand that Hashem’s ways are all just.”

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Loyal Servant

Our sages teach that there was a time when Dovid HaMelech sought to worship idolatry. The Malbim, zt”l, explains this astonishing statement with a parable.
There was once a very cruel king who was a slave to his nasty temper. He would sentence his subjects to death for the slightest insult or offense to him. The royal butler, a very loyal servant, once spilled a little bit from the king’s cup on the table in front of his royal highness. When he saw the king’s face twist into an expression of wrath he immediately poured the remaining contents of the glass on the table.
Everyone was astounded at this outrageous chutzpah, but when asked to explain his conduct the butler explained that he had done it for the sake of the king. “I knew from the look on your majesty’s face that I would not be forgiven. But what will those who hear that I received capital punishment for such a minor error say? They will surely claim that the king is absolutely ruthless. Because of my great love for the king I have purposely poured the drink onto the table. In this way, I have saved him from scorn from potential criticism, since any king would kill a royal butler who has the nerve to purposely pour the contents of the king’s glass onto the table in front of him.”
When the king heard this he was overcome with the extent of his butler’s love. With no thought of self he had zealously guarding the king’s reputation. Not only was the butler’s life spared, he was also elevated above all other officer’s because of his great love for the king.
The same is true regarding Dovid HaMelech. When Hashem decreed that he be executed by his own son, he feared that people would complain about the seeming injustice of this punishment. After all, since he had done a complete teshuvah, how could they possibly reconcile the punishment with the sin? Dovid was even willing to pretend to worship idols to avoid the greater chilul Hashem.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

True Empathy

During one of the conventions of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah around the year תשי"ב, the gedolim wondered what to do about the terrible decrees of Stalin against the Jewish people in the Soviet Union. Should they organize a protest outside the Russian consulate in the United States? Or would it be wiser to just try to help their unfortunate brethren as quietly as possible? After all, any protest could potentially be harmful for Jews under Soviet rule.
Rav Aharon Kotler, zt”l, and Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt”l, the Boyaner Rebbe, zt’l, and the Kopitzhnitzer Rebbe were among those who felt that vigorous protest was the proper path to take. Most delegates disagreed. Suddenly, the Bluzhiver Rebbe, zt”l, got up and explained why they were obligated to protest despite knowing that their protest will be ignored. “Our sages recount that Pharaoh consulted with three advisors about his plan to persecute the Jews: Bilaam, Yisro, and Iyov. Bilaam concurred with Pharaoh’s vision and was killed for it. Yisro ran away and merited that his descendants sat in the Lishkas Hagazis. Iyov remained silent and endured suffering.
“We may well ask what the connection is between Iyov’s silence and his suffering. Are we not taught that Hashem punishes measure for measure? The answer is that Iyov—like Yisro—knew that Pharaoh should be stopped. He refrained from protesting because he was sure that any protest would be in vain. Hashem judged him with suffering to show him that if one truly suffers he cries out even though he knows that his cries are futile. He cries out because it hurts, without a thought of whether this will help. This taught Iyov that if one sees suffering and he does not cry out, this shows that it does not hurt him. If he was in pain over the other’s trouble, a cry would burst out with no conscious thought at all.”

Monday, August 16, 2010

Learning for the Sake of Heaven

Rav Chaim Volozhiner, zt”l, explains, “Our sages teach:'לעולם'—‘one must always’ learn Torah not lishmah, since it is only through learning not for the sake of heaven that one comes to learn lishmah. This means that although it is virtually impossible to begin learning for the sake of heaven, one must focus on coming to learn Torah l’shmah. If he does not think about coming to lishmah, however, he is all too likely to spend his entire life learning shelo l’shmah.
“This can be compared to a king who orders his servant to ascend to the top floor of a tall building. It is certainly obvious that the servant cannot jump so many flights on his own steam. He must obviously take the stairs and ascend story by story until he finally arrives at the top floor. It is self-evident that the king would have no right to be angry at his servant for beginning his climb up the stairs from the ground floor. Nevertheless, if the king were to see the slave loitering from side to side on the steps and not really ascending at all, he would be furious.”
The Alter of Kelm, zt”l, similarly explains that one must learn shelo lishmah that will bring to lishmah. “If one learns for ulterior motives but he is also motivated by a deep desire for spirituality, his she’lo lishmah is somewhat lishmah already and he will eventually learn lishmah. But if one’s entire motivation is for a shallow desire for honor in this world or other material concerns, he will likely never learn lishmah. The reason for this is since although this person appears to be serving Hashem, this is really just a façade that is as shallow as a Purim spiel. Just like one’s actions on the stage on Purim do not necessarily reflect who he really is, so too, a person learning Torah only for material benefit without a thought for Hashem cannot come to lishmah. Nevertheless, we must not refrain from doing mitzvos or learning merely because we have ulterior motives, since although this is a very puny level compared to lishmah, one will still be rewarded for every mitzvah or Torah learning, even shelo lishmah.”

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Value of Every Effort

Rav Yaakov Meir Shechter, shlit”a, taught a very inspiring lesson from a statement of our sages “In the midrash we find that Hashem wished to return the world to primordial chaos because of the heinous acts of Yehoyakim. It is therefore not surprising that the gemara asks why Yehoyakim is not on the list of kings who have no portion in the next world. The gemara explains that he received atonement due to the humiliation of not being buried. Rav Preida’s grandfather found a skull near the gates of Yerushalayim. On the skull was imprinted, ‘This and another.’ He buried it but it resurfaced. When this happened again, he understood that this was the skull of Yehoyakim, regarding whom the verse states, ‘He will be buried like a donkey.’ This was the first act of recompense that was alluded to in the inscription. But despite this curse, Rav Preida’s grandfather figured that it was inappropriate for a king to be dishonored in this manner and he wrapped it in silk and placed it in a chest. His wife found it and her neighbors reasoned that it was likely of his first wife whom he could not forget; in a fit of jealousy she burned it in the oven. This was the other act of recompense imprinted on the skull.’
“We learn from this gemara the vast importance of every action in this world. If this humiliation after death was enough to atone for Yehoyakim’s many sins, it is obvious that every embarrassment or effort one makes while still in this world certainly helps rectify one’s sins. But of course one requires great siyattah d’Shmayah to merit such atonement.
“Our main hope and prayer must be that Hashem shine His face upon us and be gracious to us, as the midrash learns from the verse, 'האר פניך ונושעה'. Sometime a ha’aras panim is shined on one and through one experience or thought he can change himself from one extreme to the other!”

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Drawing Others Closer

Rav Shlomo of Bobov, zt”l, recounted, “Our sages teach, 'גדולה לגימה שמקרבת הרחוקים'—‘Great is drink, for it draws those who are far closer.’ This was the way of the chassidim and anshei maaseh of every generation, to draw those distant closer through food and drink. They would gather together at a meal and bring them close to the Shechinah. This was the path followed by Avraham Avinu who would first serve food and when his guests thanked him he would say, ‘Did you eat from mine that you thank me? You ate from the food created by the Master of the Universe! Praise and thank the One who spoke and the world was created.”
The Beis Yisrael, zt”l, was very well known as a dynamic force for kiruv and mussar in his generation. He was especially effective working with people in the morning hours. He would invite people who were in his shul to join him for an early morning tea at his home. As they sat down the rebbe was often heard humming, in a low tone, the verse, "לחמו נתן מימיו נאמנים"—“His bread shall be given, his waters shall be sure.” Many chassidim would mentally supply the rest of the verse, "מלך ביפיו תחזינה עיניך"—“Your eyes shall see the king in his beauty.”
The rebbe used this time to fill those who visited with yiras shamayim. Some would get a “psak,” while others received chizuk. Yet others required only a penetrating look to inspire them to change. Over the years thousands spent this special time with the rebbe and all were elevated, each according to his level.
His tisch was also a place where many people attained inspiration. These included some of the most broken Holocaust survivors. Somehow, going and getting shirayim from the rebbe uplifted people who might have fallen into despair and gave them a new lease on life.
When these remarkable results of his daily tea and his tisch were brought to his attention, the rebbe’s answer was modest but short and to the point. “It’s not the tea time or the shirayim. It’s just that our sages said that הרחוקים" "גדולה לגימה שמקרבת.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Merit of Building Eretz Yisrael

When Ashkenazim began making aliyah to Eretz Yisrael in the modern period, groups were formed to purchase as much land as possible from the Arabs. After World War I, a group called “Neve Sha’anan” was established for this purpose. This group acquired an abundance of land in Yerushalayim. It was on land acquired by this group that the Kenesset and the original government complex was built. It should be noted that the majority of such groups at that time were founded and run by observant Jews.
On one occasion when Rav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld, zt”l, was present at one such purchase he gave a very moving speech. “Our sages teach that Omri became king because he added a city to Yisrael. From here we see the great merit of those who are occupied with the mitzvah of building up the holy land: due to this, one merits to rule.
“In our day we see that the Zionists add many cities and yishuvim in Eretz Yisrael and this certainly gives them merits. It is possible that due to this development they will merit to rule the holy land before Moshaich comes. If this is the direction that we are heading in, it is incumbent on all of us to build religious neighborhoods and moshavim throughout the holy land, since only in this way will we stand up to those who wish to swallow up all religious sentiment, emptying the land of all holiness to form a profane state.
“Our answer can only be resounding if we have a strong presence here. We will then be able to proclaim: ‘Your plans will never come to fruition!’”
He completed his speech with the verse, 'סולו סולו המסילה סלקו מאבן'—‘Cast up, cast up the highway; gather out the stones!’” As he finished he quickly slipped off the podium, removed his coat and bent to the ground. With alacrity and enthusiasm, he began to clear away the stones, intoning the verse 'סולו סולו המסילה סלקו מאבן' over and over again, with the crowd soon following behind until a broad path was cleared.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Untainted Rebuke

Rav Shalom Schwadron, zt”l, once explained how to properly offer rebuke. “Our sages teach that Yeravam become king because he rebuked Shlomo HaMelech. But he was also punished because he rebuked Shlomo in public. The obvious question is that the verse tells us that Yeravam was punished because he caused his subjects to worship idolatry, presumably not on account of how he rebuked Shlomo HaMelech.
“The Maharsha asks this question and explains that the character defect of arrogance which caused Yeravam to publicly rebuke Shlomo HaMelech also brought about his downfall. It was this selfsame pride that caused him to prohibit the Jews from ascending to the temple and erect a calf for them to worship instead.
“We can better understand this when we consider what my rebbe taught about the mitzvah of rebuke. He says that rebuke is very close to lashon hara, since the one who rebukes his friend attempts to deal with his friend’s errors. The essential difference is that rebuke is a result of one’s desire to save the sinner while lashon hara is when such an interest is absent.
“Clearly, rebuke is not lashon hara only when the one giving the rebuke is careful to honor the person who erred since he rebukes solely for the benefit of the person who stumbled. But if one rebukes publicly, he has not considered the honor of the person rebuked and has violated the prohibition of lashon hara. Although Yeravam was rewarded for rebuking Shlomo HaMelech, he was given as a test to see how well he would withstand temptation in the same situation. Because he failed to rebuke with the proper care, he was severely tested and failed.
Rav Shalom concluded, “He only failed so abysmally because the kingdom was handed over to him as a test, not a gift!”

Sunday, August 8, 2010

One Day at a Time

The Chasam Sofer, zt”l, learns a very practical lesson about one’s daily avodas Hashem from Sanhedrin 100. “Our sages teach that one should not worry about tomorrow since perhaps he will no longer live by then. Why worry about a world he has no part in? This is very valuable advice that shows how to overcome our yetzer hara. If one focuses on the long struggle he will have throughout his entire life, he can easily give up on himself. Just thinking about the unrelenting effort required to overcome the evil within is enough to discourage anyone, since who knows that he will be able to keep up the struggle?
“Instead, one should focus on the day he is in right now. He should act as though he only has this day to live, since he really has no guarantee that he has a moment longer. He should tell himself that just for that day he will refuse to listen to his yetzer hara. After all, one day is really not too difficult. The next day he should once again focus only on that day. In this manner he will be able to overcome his yetzer hara with relative ease.
“This is the meaning of the verse, 'ואתם הדקבים בה' אלקיכם חיים כלכם היום'—‘And you who cleave to Hashem your G-d, your are all alive this day.’ Those who wish to attain true dveikus with Hashem can do so through focusing exclusively on living and overcoming the evil within only on the day he is now living. In this manner he will truly cleave to his Creator and never need to feel overwhelmed by the task ahead of him.”
Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, zt"l, also adjures us to live only in the present. In his words, "Yesterday and tomorrow are man's downfall. Today we may be inspired to come close to Hashem but yesterday and tomorrow hold us back."
This is one of the many paths Rebbe Nachman shared with us to come to joy when things are hard. Just focus on the present, as if we were born today.

Friday, August 6, 2010

The Place of Baalei Teshuvah

Once Rav Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, zt”l, met a Jewish sinner in the street. To the man’s surprise, Rav Levi Yitzcak grabbed him and lovingly exclaimed, “Do teshuvah and I will be very jealous of your stature. As is well known, you have sinned greatly. But our sages teach that that one who repents out of love transforms his sins to merits. If you change all your sins to merits you will be way ahead of me!”
When the Sifsei Tzaddikim, zt”l, records this story he adds, “It is possible to apply to this the famous gemara that even absolute tzaddikim cannot stand in the place of baalei teshuvah.”
But the Chofetz Chaim, zt”l, once explained this statement differently. “If a tzaddik gives a sinner moral direction the sinner may well think or even say, ‘Easy for him to tell me to change, since he has never tasted the pleasure of the sin he warns about.’
“However, a baal teshuvah who gives moral direction properly is often much more effective. He can say, ‘My precious fellow Jews! I have sinned plenty in my life and I know what it feels like. Nevertheless, I have seen that all sin leads to absolute emptiness. Living a life of sin merely harms one’s soul while affording no true benefit. On the contrary: being shackled to sinful behavior, like heretical thoughts or illicit desires, brings one to depression and ruins his life. Is it any surprise that I decided to let go of such harmful behavior and do teshuvah? I appeal to you, too, to return to the straight path of righteousness.’
“This is why the gemara tell us that a tzaddik cannot stand in the place of baal teshuvah. This means that he cannot be an example to a sinner to change. But a baal teshuvah has a much better chance of standing up as an example to which even a hardened sinner can relate!”

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Generation of Moshiach: Entirely Righteous or Entirely Guilty

Rav Yechiel Mordechai Gordon, zt”l, the Rosh Yeshivah of Lomza, was always filled with a burning desire for Moshiach. It is no surprise that such a sensitive person was also very concerned at the low state of spiritual development in the average Jew, especially among the disaffected. He was always filled with love for every fellow Jew and was quick to be melamed zechus on others.
He once wrote in a letter to a student: “Our sages tell us that Moshiach will come in a generation that will either be completely righteous or completely wicked. We can understand this statement in context of the verse in Shmuel which tell us that Hashem struck down, ‘seventy men, and fifty thousand men’ after they had gazed inappropriately at the ark that had returned from the Pelishtim. Our sages explain that each of those seventy was like fifty thousand. A second opinion is that each of the fifty thousand was like one of the seventy sages who sat on the Sanhedrin.
“Either way, this teaches that in heaven, numbers can sometimes work very differently than in mundane terms, especially if there is a pressing need. In this context it is quite possible that a small group of people could count like most of the generation, since quality is what will be counted. Indeed, the Zohar teaches that even one congregation that does true teshuvah can bring the ultimate redemption. It is therefore possible to fulfill a generation that is completely obligated: that is the overwhelming majority are in spiritual low places. Yet at the same time it is completely righteous since the quality of avodah of a smaller group counts like a majority.”
The Shem MiShmuel, zt”l, learns this differently. “It means that the generation will have two polar extremes. Either people will be completely righteous or the opposite.”
The Chiddushei HaRim, zt”l, taught that the statement is actually a goad to self-reflection. “It means that people will think they are completely righteous. This is the greatest failing possible!”

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Moshiach: the Meaning of Inattention

Rav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld, zt”l, would deliver a daily shiur in the shul in Batei Machseh between Mincha and Maariv. Once one of the regular attendees of the shiur asked him a question about how Moshiach will arrive. “Our sages teach that Moshiach will only arrive when we aren’t paying attention. But how can that possibly be? After all, Moshiach’s coming is a core belief mentioned in ani ma’amin which we recite daily. In addition, we daven for the advent of Moshiach in every shemonah esrei; how could we possibly forget him? ”
The Rav replied with a question of his own. “What is ‘hesech hada’as’? If someone were to tell us sitting here in shul discussing Moshiach that he has actually arrived and is standing on our street, we would be astounded and would all instinctively cry out in our shock: ‘Can it be true??’
“This is the state of distraction to which our sages referred.”
The Shem MiShmuel, zt”l, asked a similar question but offered a very different answer. “Our sages revealed that Moshiach will only come when we have given up on the redemption. Of course this cannot be literal. It can be understood in the context of a revealing statement once made by the Maggid of Mezritch, zt”l, ‘Even if I were to fall and violate a terrible sin, chas v’shalom, I would never fall away from my avodas Hashem. The reason why is because I do not serve Hashem to avoid gehinom or to attain the world to come. I serve him like a slave serves him master with no thought of reward for doing his duty.’
The Shem MiShmuel continued, “This attitude is laid down by the Mishnah in Avos: ‘Be like slaves who serve their master with no thought of reward.’ Of course serving Hashem brings one vitality and eternal life,but one should not serve Hashem only on condition of receiving reward. As our sages say in the Sifri: ‘One should not learn only to be a ben olam haba. Instead, he should act from love and the honor due to him will come.’
“This is what it means to ‘give up’ on the redemption: people will focus on serving Hashem out of love, not the reward they will receive after Moshiach arrives!”

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

For the Sake of Heaven

“How great is an action for the sake of heaven!”
The Chofetz Chaim exclaimed this and explained that that we learn it from a statement of our sages. “If one offers a gift to a king of flesh and blood, he must consider the possibility that his gift will be rejected. And even if the king accepts his gift, he cannot know how much of an impact it will make on him; perhaps in the king’s eyes, his gift will be of little consequence. But to Hashem, every good action done for His honor is very precious.
“Our sages recount that when the king of Bavel sent a letter to Chizkiyahu Hamelech he wrote, ‘Shalom to King Chizkiyahu, Shalom to Yerushalayim, Shalom to the great Hashem.’ Nevuchadnezzar, who was at that time the Babylonian king’s usual scribe, had not been present when the letter was drafted. When he returned and heard the above text it upset him. “The ‘great Hashem’ should be first! We must write instead, ‘Shalom to the great Hashem, Shalom to King Chizkiyahu, Shalom to Yerushalayim. Nevuchadnezzar then ran a few steps after the messenger and called him back, giving them a letter with his text instead.
“In the merit of this slight exertion, he became king of the entire world and was given many other benefits listed there. From this we see the greatness of every action that we perform for the sake of heaven. Is it so difficult to pay attention to our many mitzvos and focus on acting for the sake of heaven? We will fulfill them regardless. It is surely worthwhile to add the simple thought that we wish our deeds to be for the sake of heaven!”

Monday, August 2, 2010

A Special Visit

Our sages tell us that after Yaakov reached Charan he regretted not having davened at the place where Avraham and Yitzchak had prayed, so he decided to return. The Chidushei HaRim, zt”l, addresses this teaching with a pointed question. “How could Yaakov Avinu, the bechir ha’avos, miss such an obvious opportunity to daven at the holiest place in the world?”
His answer highlights a very practical lesson. “Yaakov Avinu was a true tzaddik and understood that when he was passing by the makom hamikdash on his way to Charan, a random visit was not the right way to visit the holiest site in the world. He knew that such a holy place should merit its own exertion. It was therefore not spiritually valuable for him to just make a short stop over on the way to Charan. He preferred instead to first pass it by and arrive at his destination and only then to turn back and make a special journey to this most holy place.”
He concludes that every person should learn from this. Many chassidim did not visit when passing their rebbes or great tzaddikim on their business travels and the like. Instead, they preferred to visit the rebbe on a special visit when the only purpose of their trip was to see the tzaddik.
Nevertheless, it should be pointed out that a person must know himself truly and determine if he is on a sufficiently high level to implement this kind of advice. As the Chovos Halevavos, zt”l, points out, the yetzer likes to use a person’s desire to do a mitzvah perfectly to prevent him from doing anything. For example, although it is better to do a mitzvah in private, sometimes a person will refrain from doing a mitzvah publicly but will also not have the strength of will to do it privately, despite his good intentions. The same is true in this case.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Where Credit is Due

Before he was well known, Rav Zusia of Anapoli, zt”l, was very poor and not respected. Although he lived in a city where there was no lack of wealthy people, they would not respond to the entreaties of a poor person unless he literally begged them for bread. Even when grudgingly donating they would only give the bare minimum. And they certainly never checked to see if one of the destitute of the community required assistance.
After many years of avodas Hashem spent in dire poverty, Rav Zushia started to be known as of one of the greatest students of the Maggid of Mezeritch and a tzaddik in his own right. Shortly after Rav Zusia became renowned, one of the wealthiest men in the community decided to make a banquet in honor of the town tzaddik. He invited all of the most worthy people in the town to honor Rav Zusia. Although this man was very generous when it came to what interested him, he was very stingy with the poor.
During the feast, Rav Zusia put some meat and soup on his spoon and smeared it on his resplendent garment strangely intoning, “Take, bekeshe, since it is only in your honor that this meal has been convened…”
When he noticed the other guests staring at him, Rav Zushia explained his strange behavior. “I was just thinking about why I have suddenly become a guest of honor here. Why, until now, although I was starving it was very difficult to get even a little food. Now look at this meal—surely this is inexplicable.
“It can’t be because of anything I have done since, due to my sins, I do not discern any way that I have improved spiritually, so it must be the new garments I am wearing. Isn’t it only fair that I share the meal with what apparently prompted it?”
After telling this story, the Munkatcher Rav, zt”l, applied it to a famous gemara. “In this context we can understand why Rav Yochanan called his garments, מכבדותי. He saw all the honor directed at him which he felt was undeserved and could not understand why they were honoring him until he realized that this was on account of his garments. They must be the reason he was afforded such honor!”

Friday, July 30, 2010

A Subtle Sense

Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt”l, once applied a statement of our sages to the leaders of the Jewish people in every generation. “Our sages teach that Moshaich will have the power to ‘sniff out yiras Hashem.’ Similarly, during a din Torah the judge must have this special sense, since it is not enough to merely rely on what he sees and hears. He must also be able to distinguish between a false claim and a true one through his ‘sense of smell.’
“Genuine Jewish leaders in every generation have had this special sense and have used it to determine in every new approach whether its adherents are l’sheim shamayim or not.”
One time a group of respectable people from a certain political party spent some time with the Chofetz Chaim, zt”l. After they left, a bochur was called in and he heard the Chofetz Chaim say to himself, “They think they have successfully deceived me…”
People have a tendency to take such statements to mean that gedolim are somehow infallible since they are definitely afforded great siyaata d’shmayah. Such people can become very disillusioned when confronted with what seems to be a clear error on the part of a gadol. The simple truth is that no human being is infallible. As the Toldos Adam, zt”l, explained, when listing various errors: “From here we see that no person is infallible since even the greatest sages can make a serious error. This does not detract from the greatness of these sages in the slightest. But it does teach that no person is infallible since errors abound.”
Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, zt"l, similarly observed, “People say that a tzaddik must always be correct and if he errs this shows he is not a tzaddik.But this is not true. The truth is that even if a tzaddik errs, his mistake remains a mistake but the tzaddik is still a tzaddik."

Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Praises of Nevuchadnezzar

Rav Meir of Premishlan, zt”l, answered an obvious difficulty through a parable. “On the surface the gemara in Sanhedrin 92 is very difficult to understand. We find there that when Nevuchadnezzar said a couple of words of praise to Hashem an angel struck him and had it not done so he would have disgraced the entire book of Tehillim. What could this possibly mean? Even the phrases he chose are a direct translation into Aramaic of two verses from Ashrei which is part of Tehillim? First he said, 'גדול ה' ומהלל מאד ולגדולתו אין חקר', followed by: 'מלכותך מלכות כל עולמים וממשלתך בכל דור ודור'.
“Most difficult of all: How can this rasha who was so steeped in idolatry that he even forced others to worship idols be compared to Dovid who arose at midnight every night to sing Hashem’s praises?
“This can be understood through a parable. Even if one cooks the most delectable dishes in the best manner, he still must be careful where he places them. If he uses a very disgusting vessel to store them in, the vessel will entirely ruin even the best ingredients. The same is true here. Even if a person says the praises sung by Dovid Hamelech, if he is impure—especially one as sullied a Nevuchadnezzar—he degrades the psalms by saying them.
“The angel slapped Nevuchadnezter not because he could somehow outdo Dovid Hamelech. He was slapped so as not to continue dirtying Tehillim with his disgusting mouth!”

The Power of Song

When Rav Meir of Kretchnif, zt”l, was a young boy his father, the Rebbe of Nadvorna, zt”l, would often travel. During one of his many trips, his young son Meir felt a burning desire to learn the alef-beis, so he walked into the town’s cheder and asked the melamed to teach him the letters. The melamed readily complied.
When his father returned the young child immediately showed off his knowledge by holding an open sefer next to his father and naming the letters. When the rebbe heard that the town melamed had done so, the rebbe complained to him. “He is my son and his education is my responsibility. How could you teach him without my prior consent?”
The rebbe wished to teach his son with the enthusiasm imbued to him by his father. In order to do this he ordered his son not to open any sefer until he forgot what he had been taught. All berachos and the like were taught to him by heart, but because he had a phenomenal memory it took a very long time for him to forget. In the meantime he felt inferior to his peers who all could read but when he complained to someone who told his feelings to the rebbe, the rebbe explained why he was waiting. “With Hashem’s help this will be for the best. He is now focusing on tefillah and he will learn to daven better than thousands of Jews.”
The child did indeed pray with great fervor. In addition his energies and yearning caused him to design a violin and play the most beautiful and inspiring songs. His playing was so inspirational that his father would often wake him to play a heart-rending melody to arouse him in avodas Hashem.
When he ascended higher and higher in avodah, he elevated his music with him and he also taught his son to use a violin in his avodah. To this day, this avodah made an impression in his descendants known for using music to inspire themselves and others in avodas Hashem.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

True Greatness

Rav Aharon Yosef Luria, zt”l, authored “Avodas Hapanim,” a very deep work filled with deep chassidus and concepts in avodas Hashem. It is not surprising that the Beis Avraham of Slonim, zt”l, praised him highly. “Rav Aharon Yosef was of the rare few who toiled to an unusual degree in their Divine service.”
Despite his great accomplishments, Rav Aharon Yosef was also filled with humility. When a certain young man addressed him in Yiddish using the plural form as a sign of respect, he demanded to know why he addressed him so. The young man replied, “It is a sign of my esteem of an older Jew who is always learning Torah.”
The rav immediately demanded that the young man cease speaking to him in this manner. When the young man asked why, Rav Aharon Yosef replied, “Speaking to me in the third person creates distance between us and could damage our friendship.”
When people would come to him to learn chassidus, he would groan out of his innate recoil from receiving honor. On more than one occasion he said, “I feel like a person who has the reputation of being a very wealthy entrepreneur and is always being solicited for donations. In truth, he can not afford to give a penny since his entire wealth is nothing more than a front and he himself must collect in secret to maintain his own household.
“The same is true about people who come to me to learn chassidus. They figure that I am a respected elder who is filed with chassidus. Although they think I am very wealthy, I am actually quite poor and am nothing more than a beggar myself!”

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Lofty Level of Eretz Yisrael

Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, zt”l, emphasized the great importance of coming to Israel, even saying that this is the main objective of every Jew. When Rav Nosson, zt”l, asked him what he meant, he replied, “I mean the physical land...”
When Rav Aharon Menachem Mendel of Radzimin, zt”l, returned from his final visit to Eretz Yisrael, he could not stop enthusiastically praising the land. “The new Torah thoughts that I developed in the holy land were much deeper and I gained great insight that I never had before. Even the air and the earth and the sun shining in Eretz Yisrael are completely different than outside the land.”
When his student Rav Yisrael Weinstock, zt”l, asked him what he meant by this statement, the Rebbe responded unequivocally. “This can be compared to Shabbos kodesh. Even the simplest Jew experiences a difference even in the physical world on Shabbos. Even the wall of a person’s home is completely different during Shabbos, and the same is true of the physical matter of Eretz Yisrael.”
But Rav Weinstock was unsure what he meant by this explanation and continued to question. “But what does the Rebbe really mean?”
“I do not mean deep spiritual concepts that are abstract and mystical. I simply mean every person’s perception of the physical. Even the simplest Jew sees that everything is different on Shabbos, since everyone becomes very different then. The same is true regarding Eretz Yisrael.”
These sentiments were shared by Rav Chaim Brim, zt”l. His love for Eretz Yisrael was so intense that whenever he had to leave Israel he observed the same custom. Before boarding the plane—or immediately after disembarking on his return trips—he would spread out something on the ground, prostrate himself and kiss the holy earth of Eretz Yisrael.
Interestingly, the Chessed L'Avraham, zt"l, writes that the angel of death only operates outside Eretz Yisrael. Inside Eretz Yisrael, people leave the world in a much loftier manner. This is not only true for tzaddikim, who die misas neshikah. Even simple people who sincerely want to serve Hashem, leave the world in a much higher way.

Monday, July 19, 2010

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

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

A Portion in the World to Come?

Rav Elchonon Wasserman, zt”l, would recount a compelling teaching from the Chofetz Chaim, zt”l regarding a seemingly glaring contradiction: “The mishnah assures us that every Jew has a portion to the world to come. Yet immediately after this it lists exceptions. If there are exceptions, why does the mishnah make a blanket statement that implies that everyone has a portion unconditionally?
“The answer can be understood by way of a parable. Once there was a poor man who went from door to door collecting food and soliciting donations from kindly donors. A certain wealthy man had pity on him. He gave him a generous donation and a good meal. After this he brought the poor man into his pantry and filled the poor man’s sack with the best food that could be had. The poor man blessed his benefactor and left his home filled with joy especially since his sack was filled with food and his pockets were filled with coins.
“Unfortunately, the sack was old and had many small tears and there were holes in his pockets. Although these were not readily noticeable, they quickly expanded enough for the bountiful gifts to fall out of the sack one by one and his entire journey was littered with coins and valuable foodstuff which he needed, but had no way to contain.
“The same is true regarding one’s portion in the world to come. Every neshama’s spiritual pockets and pouches will be filled with spiritual illumination. But one who reads works of heresy makes one kind of rip while apikorsus cause a different type of tear. Lending money to a fellow Jew for forbidden interest makes yet another hole as does embarrassing talmedei chachomim... Unless a person does a heartfelt teshuvah, he will have no way of enjoying his portion in the world to come.”

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Improbable Thief

Towards the end of his life, Rav Yisrael Salanter, zt”l, stayed at the home of one his supporters. To the shock of his host, Rav Yisrael ordered that if he was taken ill on Shabbos he was not to do any prohibited labor to save his life. When his host asked what possible rationale he had for this, Rav Yisrael explained, “Our sages tell us that a professional thief is not saved with prohibited labor on Shabbos. Since I am afraid that I may be in this category, I beseech you not to violate this halachah and save me.”
“But why do you say that you suspect you might be a professional thief?” the man stuttered.
Rav Yisrael’s reply was astounding. “I am supported by people because they think I am a holy tzaddik. But the sad truth is that I am not at all. This means that the money given is theft and you may not violate Shabbos even if my life is in danger...”
The host was very reluctant to follow Rav Yisrael’s instructions but was equally hesitant about disregarding his psak without consulting a renowned posek. He chose Rav Yitzchak Elchonon Spector, zt”l, who disagreed with Rav Yisrael. “Despite what he told you, you are obligated to violate Shabbos to save Rav Yisrael’s life.”
When Rav Yaakov Kaminetsky, zt”l, would recount this story he would comment, “Interestingly, Rav Yisrael was never in such a situation on Shabbos. His condition worsened on motzei Shabbos and he died on erev Shabbos. This is a prime example of a fulfillment of the verse, 'רצון יראיו יעשה'—‘Hashem does the will of those who fear Him.’”

Monday, July 12, 2010

A Difficult Psak

Around the time of the establishment of the State of Israel, a boy of about fourteen lived on a moshav. When he noticed that his mother would slaughter chickens using a straight razor, he became despondent since he realized that his parents had been feeding him non-kosher food all along. Shabbos observance was also very weak, so the boy decided to leave home. He ultimately made his way to Yeshivas Chevron in Jerusalem.
One day, he received a letter from home. While plowing, his father had broken his back and was bedridden, and he wanted him to return home to care for him. The young men who had been involved with this boy wondered what was to be done. When Rav Yechezkel Levenstein, zt”l, heard their question, he said, “Ask the Chazon Ish!”
Rav Moshe Shtigal recalled, “I took the young boy with me and we traveled to Bnei Brak. I left the boy learning in the beis medrash in the home of the Chazon Ish, and I went alone into the room to speak to the gaon. I explained the whole story, and he said, ‘You didn’t have anyone in Jerusalem to ask—you had to come to me?’ I answered that I had already been to Rav Chatzkel, zt”l, and he sent me here. And then I could see the gravity of his expression.
“The Chazon Ish said: ‘This means that the son should abandon his sick father and not go, and that I should be the one to tell him so! How can I say such a thing?’ And his psak was that the boy should go home instead to care for his ailing father. I had the nerve to ask, ‘But they don’t eat kosher food there, and the Shabbos observance is not the best…?’ And he answered, ‘He should try his best to eat kosher.’ Then he asked, ‘Is the boy here?’ I answered that he was. The boy was brought in, and the Chazon Ish said to him in Hebrew: ‘Go home, and try to live a city life there, not the life of the moshav which is called death!’
“He couldn’t tell the boy not to go home, but he told the boy to do his utmost to solve the halachic problems he would face there.”

Friday, July 9, 2010

The Dangers of Drink

Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, zt”l, warned against falling prey to the mistaken notion that drinking copiously could possibly aid one in serving Hashem. With the exception of Purim and the four cups on Pesach, he held that drinking more than an occasional small amount is very spiritually detrimental.
In the words of the Kochavei Ohr: “One must guard vigilantly against his evil inclination’s tendency to ‘don a tallis of righteousness’ and push him to sin by skewing his common sense and convincing him that the sin is actually a mitzvah. One of the most prevalent examples of this is the tendency of the evil inclination to push one into drinking. Drink is like a powerful magnet drawing him to indulge even though in his heart he knows that drinking will not enhance his avodah, quite the contrary. Even on Shabbos and Yom Tov, with the exception of Kiddush, there is no reason to drink much at all. Some people believe that on Simchas Torah abundant drinking is worthwhile but this too is a fallacy.
“One Simchas Torah, Rebbe Nachman gave his two main students, Rav Nosson, zt”l, and Rav Naftali, zt”l, a very small amount of whiskey to drink. When Rav Nosson remarked, ‘A little is also good,’ Rebbe Nachman corrected him: ‘When it comes to hard liquor, only a little is good!’
The Kochavei Ohr concludes, “Since this is the proper attitude for Shabbos and Yom Tov it is obvious that during the days of the week drinking is even more detrimental. Although being joyous is very important, regarding joy induced by alcohol the verse states, 'ולשמחה מה זה עושה'—‘What does such joy accomplish?’ Such happiness is not true simchah shel mitzvah. On the contrary, this is nothing more than light-headedness and foolishness!”

Thursday, July 8, 2010

“Where there is Desecration of Hashem’s Name...”

After a very wealthy man passed away who was survived by a large family and a huge estate, his heirs began to argue about how to allocate their inheritance. They decided to go to the secular courts but, to their dismay, the lawyers’ fees cost a fortune and even after many trials, they were no closer to an agreement than when they had started. On the other hand, the estate was very much diminished and this pained them no end.
After some deliberation, they decided to go to the beis din of Rav Menachem Mendel of Vishaver, zt”l, for adjudication. After all, what could they lose?
Their case was very public so when they walked into the beis din, the Rav immediately understood why they had come. Straight away, he fired off a scathing remark based on today’s daf. “Our sages teach: 'במקום שיש חילול ה' אין חולקין כבוד לרב'—‘In a place where there is desecration of Hashem’s Name, one does not give honor to the Rav.’ But perhaps this can be read a bit differently to apply to the present case. 'במקום שיש'—in a case where there is a fortune of money involved—'חילול ה''—and the parties involved do not overcome their inclination to take their case to the gentile courts and make a chilul Hashem; 'אין'—if the money diminishes until hardly any remains; 'חולקין כבוד לרב'—then they have no choice but to come for adjudication in beis din!
He then turned to the litigants in an impassioned voice, “But the question is, why did you wait until this point? Why did you waste such a fortune of money and time while at the same time causing a terrible chilul Hashem?”