Friday, March 26, 2010

A Tzaddik's Advice

A certain businessman purchased a large quantity of esrogim. He had two options for importing them but was unsure which was best. Although he didn’t know much about his options, he figured he would consult with Rav Simchah Bunim of Otbotzek, zt”l, regarding this question. After all, surely the tzaddik would steer him right. But when he did so, he received a very surprising reply. “Our sages recount that when Dovid HaMelech would go to war, he would first ask Doeg and Achitofel and consult with the Sanhedrin. The third step was for them to consult with the Urim V’Tumim. But why not circumvent the first two steps? Wouldn’t it be easier just to ask the Urim V’Tumim?
“The answer is that one must first do his utmost to check out a proposal through the light of his own understanding. He can consult with the Urim V’Tumim only after careful consideration. The same is true regarding your question. It is incumbent upon you to do your utmost to clarify which way is best. If, after all your efforts, you are still uncertain, then you can consult with me and I will do my utmost to help you make the best choice possible.”
Rav Yitzchak Moshe Ehrlenger, shlit”a, once pointed out, that people often make such mistakes regarding the place of a rebbe. “Some feel that the job of a tzaddik is to somehow remove their free will. These people will ask the strangest questions, like, ‘Should I go do my banking today?’ They fail to understand that that while a rebbe can often advise one and put him on a good path, he cannot—and should not—circumvent the need for his chassidim to think for themselves.”

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Rise to Greatness

“One time Rav Chaim, the av beis din of Linitz and the author of Divrei Mishpat, zt”l, ascended the bimah and announced that he was resigning his position as av beis din of their community. When the surprised congregation asked what had caused him to take such a drastic step, he refused to explain. All he would say is that he was no longer interested in being their rav.
The prominent people in the town immediately began to plead with him to reconsider his decision, and after quite a bit of arguing he agreed to be reinstated as their rav and av beis din. At that moment, they again asked him why he had decided to resign from his position in the first place. His reply was quite a shock to them.
“Our sages teach that one does not ascend to greatness until his sins are first forgiven. By abdicating and being reinstated, all my sins were again forgiven. Wasn’t this worthwhile?”
But why should attaining a position afford atonement to sins? When someone presented this question to the Noam Megadim, zt”l, he explained: “In Eiruvin 13 we find that Hashem uplifts those who humble themselves. It follows that one who was appointed to a holy position must have humbled himself. Since in Sotah 8 our sages teach that one who is humble is considered to have brought all the sacrifices it follows that his sins are also forgiven!”

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Do Gedolim Have Ruach Hakodesh? Can They Bring Heavenly Assistance?

Our Sages teach that Chaggai, Zechariyah, and Malachi were the last prophets. Yet Rav Chaim Kanievsky, shlita, points out that this statement hardly seems congruous with many other statements throughout Shas. He says, “For example, in Eiruvin 64 we find that Rabban Gamliel spoke with ruach hakodesh. The same is true of Rabbi Akivah in Nedarim 50 and other places.
“Even in Tosafos in Menachos 109, we find that Rabbi Kalonymus said three things before he died which where later discovered to be prescient. Rav Chaim Vital, zt”l, writes similarly, that people genuinely had ruach hakodesh in his times. And we have heard similar things about the Gaon of Vilna, zt”l, and the Chofetz Chaim, zt”l. To explain this apparent contradiction, we must say that there are many levels of ruach hakodesh. Sometimes, a chochom feels as though he has been enlightened by heaven and it is really so. This is clear from the writings of the Chazon Ish, zt’l, in Emunah and Bitachon at the end of chapter 2. ‘There is a level of bitachon through which one merits that ruach hakodesh rests on him and informs him that Hashem will surely help in a certain situation. This level is stronger or weaker in direct accordance to the greatness and holiness of the one filled with trust.’
“This is clear from the Ramban in Bava Basra 12. He writes that although prophecy has been taken from us, this is only true of the visions that prophets would experience. But the sages can know the truth through the ruach hakodesh that is within them. Such נבואת החכמים is definitely still extant.’ This is why we find that people who go to chachomim are often afforded heavenly assistance. Sometimes this is in the merit of the gadol, but at other times what brings the deliverance is the bitachon of the petitioner.”

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Spirit of te Law; Pesach: Kitzur 107

1) “During the entire month of Nissan one does not say Tachanun…” (Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 107:1)

The Mekor Chaim, zt”l, explains that Tachanun is usually said in order to bring about the downfall of the sitra achra, the “side” of spiritual impurity. We cast ourselves down to symbolize the descent into the sitra achra, and by the time we come up we have extracted holy sparks from the abyss. By doing this, the hidden light of holiness which has been swallowed by the other side reverts to the side of kedushah.

However, during Nissan—the time of the great miracles of the birth of the Jewish people—the sitra achra has already been subdued and there is no need to do this rectification. On the contrary, not only does the sitra achra have less power, but a little teshuvah during this holy month goes a very long way!

The Chesed L’Avraham, zt”l, writes that between Purim and Pesach we escape the forty-nine levels of impurity a little at a time. Each day, we are removed from a bit more defilement. By the time Rosh Chodesh Nissan arrives, we are sufficiently removed that we don't even need to say Tachanun to be worthy of a true connection with Hashem. As we have already seen, Tachanun clears away our blemishes. The Arizal explains that although our Shemona Esrei is a connection to Hashem, it is incomplete without the Tachanun prayer. It is Tachanun that removes the sins swallowed by the other side that block our ability to really connect with Hashem. First, we do teshuvah. Then we “fall” in order to show that we are rectifying the damage done by our sins. Only after this process is our connection to Hashem through our Shemona Esrei truly consummated, since the sins impeding us have been removed.

During the month of Nissan, we are already elevated to such an extent that we do not need this process to remove the residue from our sins which would otherwise stand in our way. At this time, our teshuvah and dveikus during the Shemona Esrei alone is enough to merit true connection. This is because Hashem has sufficiently removed us from our personal forty-nine levels of defilement that keep us from living the fulfilled and joyous lives that we all instinctively know we should be living. Our ego gets in our way with its harmful pride and we cannot enjoy our blessings. So we go down in Tachanun to represent the fact that we are nothing at all and that nothing is coming to us. We then remove the sparks which the other side grabbed hold of because of our tremendous arrogance. This is why in earlier times people would literally lie prostrate on the ground during the prayer—complete prostration is the embodiment of humility. (Based on Likutei Halachos).

2) “We do not fast during the month of Nissan, even for a Yahrtzeit…” (Ibid., 107:2)

Rav Pinchas of Koretz, zt”l, explains that everything in the natural world comprises an aspect of katnus (“smallness” / “immaturity”) and gadlus (“greatness” / “maturity”). The katnus of the thing is always in inverse proportion with its real significance in the scheme of things. For example, although a day-old calf can already walk, although its katnus state is quite advanced, its gadlus state is spiritually undeveloped. In contrast, a day-old infant can do nothing and must be well swaddled and protected to ensure its survival. Even if it takes a baby as long as two years to master walking, this is still within the range of normal. There is no creature with as undeveloped katnus as a human being. The reason for this is because once a person comes to gadlus, he can come to great levels of gadlus. Mankind rules over all of creation. If he is worthy, a person can even rule over angels!

Sleep is also an aspect of katnus and so there is also a difference between creatures in this area. A horse, for example, sleeps standing up. Most beheimos tehoros sleep on their knees (at least part of the time). A human being, however, lies down to sleep—the most vulnerable and “undeveloped” position. The katnus of the sleep state is in an inverse relationship with the gadlus one attains while awake and mentally active. As the verse says, “chadashim la-b’karim”—“one is renewed each morning.” A person is renewed each day with increased understanding and more maturity. An animal’s mentality is negligible compared with that of a person; their gadlus is limited, so the katnus of their sleep state is far less and they need not lie down.

Another example of the katnus that precedes gadlus is this seemingly endless exile that we are enduring. When Moshiach comes we will merit intensely strong gadlus, and so we must first endure overwhelming katnus at great length. Fasting is also an aspect of katnus as we find in Pri Etz Chaim. For this reason, a bride and groom fast on the day of their wedding, and this is why it is very important to fast in general. Without experiencing the requisite degree of mochin d’katnus, one is unable to receive the mochin d’gadlus that are in store. This is one reason why there are a minimum number of fasts throughout the year. Rav Pinchas of Koretz even recounted that he had known several cases of people who were chronically ill because they had blemished their mochin d’katnus. He told them to fast and they subsequently enjoyed quick recoveries.

During Nissan, we are gifted with an abundance of holiness from on high. This is the wrong time to be fasting to correct the state of katnus. During Nissan, we are in an aspect of gadlus and fasting would only blemish this state. This is true of all fasts except for that of the firstborn on Erev Pesach (see Spirit of the Law—Pesach 113) and the fast of a bride and groom. This latter fast is a very important means of preparing for the couple’s new life together. Without marriage, one is a broken half. We need a fully rectified state of mochin d’katnus to be able to receive this intense gadlus for life called marriage. Even though we are in an aspect of gadlus in Nissan, our level before marriage compared with our level after marriage is like entering the greatest gadlus from the greatest katnus. Therefore, a bride and groom should fast on the day of their wedding.

3) “During Minchah of Shabbos Hagadol, one should recite the Haggadah instead of Barchi Nafshi since this Shabbos was the beginning of the miracles and the salvation…” (Ibid., 170:3)

Rav Nosson, zt”l, writes that all miracles come in the merit of Shabbos. This is because all miracles are a result of Hashem’s special providence over the whole world which is an aspect of the world to come. Shabbos is a mini-taste of the world to come in this world. Therefore, all miracles come from Shabbos, and this is why the miracles and the salvation of Pesach started on Shabbos.

This Shabbos is called Shabbos Hagadol since miracles are referred to as “gadol”—“great things.” (We see this in the verse: “Recount to me the great things that Elisha wrought.” [Melachim II:8:4]) All of these miracles were achieved in the merit of the special providence that is drawn into the world on Shabbos.