Monday, February 22, 2010

How is Torah Just?

Rav Shalom Shwadron, zt”l, taught, “Imagine someone as righteous as Rav Chaim Brisker, zt”l. He truly sacrifices for Torah and learns every second of the day with the intention of extracting every detail of halachah in every sugya—especially with regards to monetary matters. Now contrast this with some freethinker known to have very loose morals. If Rav Chaim were to take the freethinker to beis din claiming that he owed him money and the freethinker claims to have paid, who would we believe?

“We all know that Rav Chaim was famous for his great humility and that he gave every penny of his assets to help anyone in need. Anyone in search of a hot meal or a donation of money or firewood knew to go straight to Rav Chaim’s home. Everyone understands that Rav Chaim would never lie to receive a few dollars that do not belong to him, since he will not even partake of anything that has the slightest tinge of theft. Does anyone believe this freethinker against him?

“If left to our own devices we may have declared that we have a majority of opinion in Rav Chaim’s favor, and the overwhelming odds are that the maksil still owes the money. Why not just force him to pay it back? But this is not the halachah. The halacha is that Rav Chaim will only win if he is correct according to the halachos relevant to his case. Even though logic clearly favors him, the beis din may not. This is the meaning of the verse, 'כי המשפט לאלוקים הוא'. We do not follow our own understanding, like the non-Jewish courts. We follow Hashem’s law and leave Him to work out anything that is unfair. And He always does…”

Friday, February 19, 2010

A Temporary Remedy

The Chofetz Chaim, zt”l, recounted that once a certain gadol hador encountered a student who had been very diligent in the past but had fallen from his former good habits. The gadol rebuked him gently, “My esteemed pupil, it is true that you now have many children and can no longer learn like you once did. But why not at least learn one daf a day or a chapter of mishnayos like the rest of the baal habatim in your community?”
“I am used to learning ten daf a day in ten hours,” the former masmid explained. “When I am able to make the time I will go back to this. But what is one daf or a chapter of mishnayos for someone like me?”
The gadol tried to dispel his former student’s error with a parable. “Once, a certain person was very ill and after extensive treatment the doctor warned him that he must not go to the bathhouse for a full year since the heat and humidity could kill him. After a few months the sick man’s desire to go to the bathhouse overcame his natural caution and he went despite the doctor’s orders. While he was there he started to fall ill from overheating just like the doctor had warned and he realized that he must cool himself off immediately. He recalled that there was a cooler mikveh in one part of the bathhouse and he rushed to it, only to find the gate locked. But when someone noticed he was not well he immediately rushed outside and brought back a bucket of water from outside, with which he sprinkled this man’s heart and head to somewhat revive him. This sick man would surely never think to refuse this little bit of water because he really needs to immerse in the pool of cooler water. He needs whatever he can get and hopes it will be enough to revive him. The same is true with you. If you can’t learn with diligence, at the very least you should learn a daf a day since this will give you some relief in the next world. Every daf gemara or mishnah will be a great source of joy in the ultimate future!”

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Benefit of the Doubt

Once there was an informer who was a thorn in the side of his community. One day, a peddler ran into him while bearing a load of eggs. The informer hinted that he expected free goods, but the seller made clear his demand for payment. Infuriated, the moser smashed all the eggs and left the seller covered in filth. The peddler went straight to the rav of the town, who sent his reluctant shamash to summon the moser to a din Torah. When the shamash arrived at the informer’s house, he was thrown out. The rav forced his shamash to return, this time with a threat that if he did not appear he would be excommunicated. The moser beat the poor shamash and threw him out.
On Shabbos, they called the moser to the Torah as usual, but when he approached the bimah the rav shouted, “Rasha! How dare you refuse to come to a din Torah?” The moser blanched and retreated, muttering threats. Several days later, the rav left to officiate at a bris in the next town with two students. On the road, the group noticed the moser following them on horseback. All the while, the rav was deep in thought. When the moser finally dismounted, the talmidim were baffled by his behavior.
In a choked and teary voice, he asked the rav, “Rebbi, may I thrash your talmidim?”
“Chalilah,” answered the rav.
“Can’t I at least give them a good slap in the face?” begged the moser.
“Don't touch them,” was the rav’s reply.
“Won’t you at least allow me to spit on them to teach them a lesson?” he pleaded.
“No,” the rav responded immediately.
The moser then broke down, “Rebbi, please forgive me for all the pain I caused you.”
“Pay for the eggs and appease the peddler and I will forgive you,” said the Rav.
The man acquiesced and turned back, and the group continued on their journey. One of the students asked the rav, “What happened here?”
The rav answered, “When I saw he intended us harm, I davened for help. Then I remembered an important principle: people reflect the feelings that we have toward them. Since I had hated his wickedness, he hated me in return. But when I started looking for his zechuyos, his attitude toward me changed. As he approached I thought, ‘Surely he absorbed evil from a bad environment and lacked for good examples. And perhaps he had really intended to pay for the eggs and was angry that the seller assumed he meant to take them by force. Maybe he was hurt because I summoned him like a criminal instead of setting a date as is proper? And he did not respond when I shamed him publicly; perhaps all his sins were forgiven!’ I am sure that on his end he also began to consider me in a better light. From moment to moment our hearts were drawn closer until he stood before me full of love in place of anger.”
The student asked, “If so, why did he wish to hurt the two of us?”
“Because you were thinking, ‘The wicked moser has come to kill our rav.’ He naturally felt the same hatred toward you. He really wanted to thrash you!”

Monday, February 15, 2010

“Loving and Pursuing Peace”

Rav Zelig Braverman, zt”l, learned together with a certain man who had very bad eyesight. One day, the chavrusah opened up his heart and told his tale of woe to Rav Braverman. “I have a very difficult time at home. My wife insists that I help her with the housework, but because of my poor eyesight this is impossible. She really needs the help however, and won’t take no for an answer. When she sees that I have not done what she requested she insults me terribly—it literally breaks my heart. I don’t know how to change the state of affairs. Please help me!”
A few days later, the chavrusah arrived in a much happier state of mind. “Rav Zelig, you must be davening up a storm. Today, my wife did not insult me at all. On the contrary, it appears as though she no longer has any complaints and my shalom bayis has returned.”
But the nearsighted man did not understand just how hard Rav Zelig had worked to restore their happiness. Rav Zelig had been observing their movements and had found that when the husband went to daven, the wife went out to shop. The moment he realized this he let himself into their home and got to work. During their absence Rav Zelig washed the dishes and did the floors—the very jobs the wife had demanded her husband do.
When the woman of the house came home, she figured that her husband must have done his chores after all, and the husband thought that she had seen how hard it was for him and had taken care of the tasks herself. Naturally, each admired the other for this sacrifice and peace reigned once again.
When Rav Shalom Shwadron, zt”l, told this story he remarked, “It is astounding to what lengths the gedolim would go to ensure that there would be peace in Jewish households. They were truly students of Aharon Hakohein who was 'אוהב שלום ורדף שלום'—he not only loved peace, he pursued it!”

Friday, February 12, 2010

The Importance of Fine Distinctions

Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, zt”l, once explained the importance of learning the laws of money to our avodas Hashem. “Our sages teach that if a guarantor obligates himself orally, he is required to repay the debt if the debtor cannot. Although this should by rights be asmachtah and therefore not binding, the pleasure that he receives when the lender gives the borrower a loan based on his word causes him to obligate himself.
“This seems to be the opposite of what simple logic would dictate, and is another example of, ‘He who wishes to become wise should learn the laws of money.’ Through learning the fine distinctions between different monetary cases, one is able to live like a good Jew, since the foundation of being a good Jew is the ability to act on fine distinctions. This is because the difference between light and darkness—and between living like a Jew and like a non-Jew— is merely a hairsbreadth.
He continued, “Fine distinctions are necessary for attaining and maintaining a proper worldview in our times. Although idolatry is practically extinct nowadays, a discerning person will understand that our challenge is whether we attribute the good in our lives to Hashem or to natural causes. For example, does a person who was ill and was healed by doctors understand that Hashem healed him? Or does he attribute his recovery to natural causes alone? Although we live in a physical world and our deliverance comes to us in the guise of the natural order, we must not be fooled. If one is completely focused on the natural world, how is he different from the idolaters in the time of Enosh? The Rambam tells us that they believed that Hashem was the ultimate source but felt that their deliverance came from an idol and not from Hashem. The same is true of money. Those who are preoccupied with the natural means of earning money and never give Hashem a thought worship gold and silver instead of Hashem. It is only through the clear discernment that comes from Torah study that a person can avoid such fallacies and truly worship Hashem.
Rav Shlomo Zalman concluded, “Hashem should help us see that the entire expanse of creation is a vehicle for the revelation of Hashem. As the verse states, ‘The earth will be filled with knowledge of Hashem as water covers the bed of the sea.’”

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Needs of Orphans

Rav Bentzion Yadler, zt”l, founded the pioneering Beis Yaakov HaYashan in Yerushalayim. Although today it is a well established school with hundreds of students, when he was first starting out, he had few students and money was very tight. Understandably, he went to any address he could to procure much needed funds for his fledgling institution, but even with all of his efforts, he only managed to eke out the minimum expenses to prevent the school from closing.
When Rav Yadler approached Rav Yitzchak Yerucham Diskin, zt”l, the head of the well established Diskin Orphanage, he was astounded to receive not only encouragement, but a large donation from the coffers of the orphanage.
Rav Yadler could not stop himself from blurting out, “It is true that every penny makes a big difference, but how can I possibly accept this generous donation? Do our sages not teach that one may not take money from orphans even for mitzvos?”
Rav Diskin immediately reassured Rav Yadler. “This donation is for the orphans, since if there are no suitable schools for girls, how will I find then brides with yiras shamayim?”
Rav Diskin then told a story about his father, Rav Yehoshua Leib Diskin, zt”l. “My father would take this much further. It was his practice to hire avreichim to go from apartment to apartment checking people’s mezuzos. When I asked him how he justified this he explained that regarding mezuzah the verse states, 'למען ירבו ימיכם וימי בניכם'. Since good mezuzos lengthens the life spans of parents, making sure mezuzos are valid is an excellent way to ensure that there are less orphans and therefore more money for each individual orphan!”

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

“I Hated and Abhor Falsehood...”

Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, zt”l, was exceedingly careful that his every word or action should never appear false in even the slightest degree. Many times a day, he was heard to repeat to himself the verse from Tehillim: "שקר שנאתי ואתעבה"—“I hated and abhor falsehood.” We can see to what degree Rav Shlomo Zalman fled from untruth from a conversation that he had with a student. The student asked him a question which the Rav did not comprehend, and the Rav used the usual Hebrew equivalent of “I’m sorry” which is, "אני מצטער"—“I am pained.” Rav Shlomo Zalman at first said, “אני מצטער that I did not understand what you are asking.” But then he immediately corrected himself. “סליחה, excuse me. I am not truly pained, but nevertheless I did not understand your question...”
Chazal tell us that eating olives causes one to forget his learning, but since they also say that olive oil is conducive to remembering, the prevalent custom is to put oil on the olives and eat them that way. When Rav Shlomo Zalman saw in one of Rav Chaim Kanievksy’s many seforim that olive oil does not mitigate the ill effects of olives on memory, he stopped eating olives.
However, when he was close to the end of his life and Rav Shlomo Zalman had a difficult time eating most foods, he decided to go back to eating olives with olive oil since they were one of the few foods that still agreed with him. Rav Shlomo Zalman immediately sent a message to Rav Kanievsky, ילט"א, informing him of this change. The moment Rav Shlomo Zalman stopped acting in accordance with this chumrah, it was abhorrent to him that Rav Chaim Kanievsky should believe that he still did.

Food Under the Bed and Sundry

Someone asked Rav Moshe Sternbuch, Shlita, “If some food was left under a plane seat while a person slept in it, does the food have the same problem as food that was left under a bed?”
Rav Sternbuch replied, “The Nachalas Avos cites the opinion of his father’s uncle, the Vilna Gaon, zt”l: ‘Even food left beneath a sofa or a box that was later slept upon should not be eaten since we are more stringent with things that are dangerous than halachic prohibitions. Even though we see that one who eats this doesn’t seem to be damaged in any way, Chazal were not necessarily discussing danger to the body only, but predominately that which could impact the nefesh. For this reason, everyone should be exceedingly careful to wash mayim achronim even though we don’t find in today’s day and age the ‘salt of Sodom’ that can cause physical blindness.’
Rav Sternbuch continued, “I therefore rule that food left under an airplane seat which was then slept on is permitted. It is even possible that the Gaon would permit this, since he only prohibited food left beneath an object on which one sleeps in the usual fashion and not on a chair where one cannot really stretch out.”

Monday, February 8, 2010

Avoiding Anger

The Imrei Chaim of Vizhnitz, zt”l, would conduct his tisch with a great deal of fervor. After learning with diligence the entire day as usual he would devote every ounce of his remaining strength to the tisch that would last for hours. By the time he reached the door of his house, he was depleted. After one tisch, he got home but the man in charge of bringing the key to the house was late. It was winter, and freezing rain showered down as the Rebbe and his companion waited. Throughout the downpour, he told the following inspiring story:
“Rav Raphael of Barshad, zt”l, yearned to wear a tallis katan woven of the high-quality wool raised in Eretz Yisrael. After a long period of toil, he finally obtained enough wool to use as a tallis katan. He was overjoyed with his good fortune and he immediately gave the wool to one of his chassidim to sew him a proper tallis katan. Unfortunately, the chassid folded the garment a second time before cutting the hole for Rav Raphael’s head. The result was two large holes, which rendered the garment absolutely unfit for use.
The chassid was very afraid to show this to his rebbe, but what choice did he have? When he finally got up the courage to explain his error, Rav Raphael was obviously pained, but he responded in a very surprising manner. “Why does Raphael require two holes in his tallis katan? One for his head and the second so that Raphael should not get angry!”

Sunday, February 7, 2010

The Greatness of Israel

The Sefer Habris, zt”l, explains the greatness of living in Eretz Yisrael. “We find in Bava Basra 158 that the very atmosphere of Eretz Yisrael imparts wisdom. Any person who is pure of heart and who has any option to immigrate will surely wish to move to Eretz Yisrael. I have never understood the wealthy among us who have the means but don’t bother to ascend to the land on which ‘the eyes of Hashem are at all times.’ How can they be so foolish? Surely if anyone who moved to Eretz Yisrael was granted a large sum of money they would have moved long ago. It is surely fitting for any person who is able to run to the land, just like a young child races to his mother’s lap with great longing and joy. The Jewish nation is only called an am echad when we are on our land. This is clear from the verse, 'עשיתי אותם עם אחד בארץ בהרי ישראל'—‘I have made them one nation in the land, in the hills of Yisrael.’
But what should one do if he truly cannot immigrate to Eretz Yisrael? He must visit, of course. Since even treading four cubits in the land with the intention of accepting its unique holiness affords one a portion to the world to come, surely one visit impart wisdom as well.
Once, when the Imrei Emes, zt”l, visited Eretz Yisrael, He met Rav Kook, zt”l. When Rav Kook asked him if he could feel the wisdom imparted by the holy land entering into him, the Rebbe responded with characteristic sharpness. “Don’t our sages teach that 'סייג לחכמה שתיקה'— ‘silence is a protective fence for wisdom’?”

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Chizuk for Dangerous Times

A certain Gerrer chassid was serving in the Israeli army during wartime and was often in situations of mortal danger, so he went to asked his Rebbe, the Beis Yisroel, zt”l, for some badly needed chizuk. The Beis Yisroel, zt”l, encouraged him with the words of our sages: “The Mishnah brings the verse that discusses our battle with Amalek and says that when Moshe raised his hands, the Jewish people were victorious. It goes on to ask rhetorically, can the hands of Moshe bring victory or defeat in battle? It answers that the verse is meant to teach us that when the Jewish people looked up and subdued their hearts to their Father in Heaven, they would triumph but when they faltered, they would suffer losses.
Similarly, we see that Moshe Rabbeinu was told to forge a copper serpent and place it on a banner so that the Jewish people could gaze at it and recover from their wounds. The Mishnah again asks the same basic question: does a copper snake on a banner have the power to give life or take it away? Once again, we are taught the same lesson: when they looked at the copper snake on the banner, they would subdue their hearts to their Father in Heaven and be healed. If not, they would die.”
The Rebbe concluded, “We see from this that when one directs his heart to his Father in heaven, he need not fear even snakes and scorpions! Even when you are in the middle of a battlefield, any place of danger, if you place your trust in Hashem, direct your hope to Him, and wait for His salvation, nothing can harm you!”