Friday, April 30, 2010

Parshas Emor: Picking and Choosing Tzaddikim

Once, when Rav Yochanan of Rachmastrivka, zt”l, visited a certain city, a huge throng came out to greet him. Among the crowd were all the Jewish notables and virtually every Jewish man, woman, and child in town. A certain person who fashioned himself an opponent of the rebbe was also present and was very distressed to see such an impressive welcome. This man was so furious that he actually approached the rebbe and brazenly said, “You are supposed to be modest and hold yourself to be of no consequence. If this is so, why has everyone come out to greet you? What have you done to deserve such honor?”
“I also have no idea why they are giving me such distinction,” the rebbe shrugged. He immediately added, “Yet if this is how they are treating me, it is clear that this is heaven’s will and if that is the case, you should be as afraid to provoke me as you would a raging flame!”
A similar thing happened to Rav Meir of Premishlan, zt”l, when a chassid of Rav Yisrael of Ruzhin, zt”l, spent time with him. When it was clear that the chassid was judging Rav Meir and found him wanting compared to other tzaddikim, Rav Meir said, “Do you know why the mekoshes eitzim deserved to die? The word for wood, עצים, can also refer to tzaddikim. As our sages explain on the verse, 'היש בה עץ'—‘is there any tree there?’—the spies wanted to know if there is a tzaddik in Canaan whose merit will protect them. It is possible to explain that a mekoshesh eitzim is one who picks and chooses between tzaddikim and arbitrarily decides that one tzaddik is worthy and deserving while another is not. The punishment of such a person is very severe...”

Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Love of the Ohev Yisrael

A shochet holds a position of responsibility and can be removed at any time if he is deemed unfit. There is much discussion in the poskim regarding exactly what blemish disqualifies a shochet and in what circumstances his contrite repentance will allow him to retain his job.
One time, a certain shochet was caught doing the sin for which Pinchas held Zimri to account. Although this man had a large family of dependents, many people wished to remove him from his post. Rav Meir of Premishlan, zt”l, vehemently agreed with them. However, the Ohev Yisrael of Apt, zt”l, insisted that they give the repentant shochet another chance, especially since he did his job carefully and had no other way to support his family.
When the Apter Rav told Rav Meir his opinion, the latter asked him how he could possibly justify such a position. “Our sages tell us that this sin is so severe that 'קנאים פוגעין בו'—zealots may dispense justice just like Pinchas did with Zimri. What relevance does his livelihood have in our situation where he violated such a serious transgression?”
“That is not how I learn that gemara at all,” the Ohev Yisrael replied. “The word פוגעין also means to pray. I understand the statement, 'קנאים פוגעין בו'—those who are zealous must pray for the unfortunate sinner and induce him to repent sincerely. We can learn this from Moshe Rabbeinu’s response to Pinchas as well. He told Pinchas, 'קריינא דאיגרתא'—‘is this how you read this letter?’ Moshe meant to explain that he did not act as Pinchas because he understood that his job was to tearfully pray for the wretched sinners.
“Even so, Moshe did not stop Pinchas from acting on his pshat. He said to him: 'לכן היה אתה השליח בה'—since you understand this halachah differently than I do, you are certainly within your rights to carry out your understanding of the law.”
The Ohev Yisrael concluded, “You are certainly within your rights to have this man deposed since, according to your understanding, he may not be retained as a shochet. However I will take no part in this since I do not understand that way at all!”

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Minyan

Rav Yaakov of Amshinov, zt”l, worked to fulfill the mitzvah of pidyon shevuyim. Once, he returned home at an inordinately late hour. It was so late that when he sought a minyan to daven Maariv, it was hard to find anyone who still hadn’t prayed.
Completely nonplussed, the Rebbe ordered his gabbai to go to the local hangout. Any Jews in there would likely not have davened maariv—perhaps not for many long weeks or months! Sure enough the gabbai found several Jews there whom he convinced to complete the minynan. Most of them were so divorced from Yiddishkeit that the gabbai had to provide some kind of head covering so that they could join the minyan.
When the Admor of Amshinov from America, zt”l, told this story he would conclude. “Our sages teach that the Divine presence rests with ten Jews. Even if they are completely wicked, if they join a minyan to daven, the Shechinah rests upon them.”
A similar thing happened in the famous Zichron Moshe shtibel in Yerushalayim. Known for having a minyan even at very late hours, several very busy Jews found that there is no guarantee of a minyan at all times. When they poured out their heart to Rav Gutfarb, the gabbai, he presented a very simple solution to their problem. He dialed a local cab company which only employed Jewish drivers and ordered a whole bunch of taxis. When they got there he met them and asked them to put on a kipah, turn on the meter, and join the minyan in prayer. Of course there were exactly enough drivers to make up a minyan and after a very enthusiastic davening Rav Gutfarb asked them what he owed them for the privilege of making a minyan. Not one driver would take a penny. Instead they thanked him. One remarked that perhaps they owed him.
He wondered aloud, “Do you know how long it’s been since I have been in a shul...?”

Sunday, April 18, 2010

“The Sinners of Israel”

A certain maskil once met with a tzaddik and asked him to explain the meaning of a seemingly difficult midrash. The midrash recounts that Hashem showed Moshe a fiery coin, and said, “Give your tzedakah like this.” Why not show him a coin of silver, which is what the machatzis hashekel was actually made?” The tzaddik was unsure of what this could mean, so the maskil himself offered an interpretation. “This means that when one gives charity he should do so with warmth and fiery enthusiasm!”
When the tzaddik heard this explanation from the maskil he felt discouraged since he had not thought of this lovely pshat. A certain visitor to the Beis Yaakov of Ishbitz, zt”l, told him this story and then asked, “What merit did the maskil have to say such an inspiring pshat on the midrash?”
The Beis Yaakov was not at all surprised that the maskil had come up with such a lovely chiddush. He explained why by quoting a famous statement of our sages. “We are taught that even the sinners of Israel are filled with mitzvos like a pomegranate is filled with seeds. Hashem does not write off any Jew. Even the people who are very distant from Hashem feel an inexplicable desire to donate money to tzedakah, thereby earning a portion in the next world. Is it any wonder then that in the area where this maskil excels, he had an unusual insight?”
When Rav Eliyahu Chaim Meisel, zt”l, came up against ignorant and impudent Jews who refused his requests for help that was well within their means, he remarked. “A tzaddik knows that he is very far from perfection and is always on the lookout for opportunities to improve. Conversely, our sages remark that even the sinners of Israel are filled with mitzvos like a pomegranate. A person who is almost empty of mitzvos feels so filled spiritually by the little he does that he has no drive to improve himself!”
But Rav Boruch of Mejbuz, zt”l, learned an even more biting lesson from this statement. “We see that a person who is truly filled with mitzovs like a pomegranate, can still be considered a sinner, פושע ישראל,”

Friday, April 16, 2010

The Power of Tzedakah

A certain man experienced an absolute miracle and was told that he should consider making a seudas hoda’ah. Since he was unclear what the exact source of this custom is he decided to ask Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, zt”l, if this was correct and, if so, for the exact source of this practice.
Rav Shlomo Zalman replied, “There is no real source to do so, but that is the custom. Obviously, you must give thanks and making a meal is one way to do so. But if you give tzedakah instead, this is a much better way to give thanks to Hashem.”
A certain man who had been very sinful and wished to repent his misdeeds consulted with Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach about how to atone for his many wrongs. Although this man was sure that he would be instructed to fast or do some kind of painful penance, what the Rav told him would never have crossed his mind. After giving some very pointed advice to ensure that this man strengthen himself to prevent a relapse to his old ways Rav Shlomo Zalman added, “Give as much tzedakah as you can to poor talmidei chachamim and institutions of Torah and Chessed.”
A certain baal teshuvah would give large sums of money to tzedakah and was very gratified with all the good that he had done throughout his life. As he got older he felt that it would be a good idea to be buried with the many receipts he had received for his generous donations, but he wondered if this was halachically permitted.
When he asked Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach this question, he received an answer that surprised him. “It is permitted to do it, but it would be inane. In heaven, everything is revealed and they have no need of any decomposed receipts!”

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Visiting the Sick

Once, a group of people encountered Rav Chaim Chizkiyahu, zt”l, the illustrious Sdei Chemed, walking under the beating sun on a hot summer’s day. The people asked him where he was headed and, knowing how careful he was never to waste a moment, they were surprised by his reply.
He said, “I am going to visiti so-and-so who is sick and lives not far from here.”
The group immediately pointed out that the sick man did not deserve this distinction since he was a well known sinner. The Sdei Chemed disagreed.
He argued, “First of all, our sages tell us that even the sinners of Israel are filled with merit like a pomegranate is filled with seeds, so he is certainly worthy of the visit in his own right. Secondly, we learn from the verse that the Shechinah is above the head of a sick person. So even if he were not to deserve a visit, we are not only going to visit him, we are also going to visit the Shechinah which is with him.”
The group was so moved by the words of the Sdei Chemed that they decided to accompany him to the sickbed. When the group was ushered in to the patient, he girded himself and sat up in their honor. A few days later he walked the streets, completely healed. From that day on, this man turned over a new leaf and left his bad ways behind. No fault was ever found in him again

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Yielding the Right of Way

When the government of Israel wished to pass a law requiring all girls to serve in the army, the Chazon Ish, zt”l, and many other gedolim were steadfast in their ruling that the girls should literally die rather than allow themselves to be conscripted for any reason. Ben Gurion met the Chazon Ish in an effort to force him to submit to the law, or at least to convince him to withdraw his psak that conscription of girls was an issue of יהרג ואל יעבר.
When Ben Gurion asked the Chazon Ish how the secular and charedi elements of Israeli society could possibly find a way to bridge the gap between them, he replied with a parable from the gemara. “Our sages teach that if there are two wagons on a narrow road, one full and one empty, which wagon must accommodate its counterpart? Surely the empty one must make space for the full wagon to pass first. The wagon of the chareidim has been filled with Torah and mitzvos for thousands of years, ever since the revelation at Mt Sinai. Your wagon is empty since you only began to fill it a comparatively short time ago. You must make space to accommodate the religious community.”
But because the Chazon Ish did not want to insult Ben Gurion, who was a guest in his home, he added, “You should not misunderstand me when I say our wagon is full and yours is empty. Our wagon is full of the many halahcos such as Shabbos and kashrus that we are required to observe. Your wagon is ideologically flexible enough to accommodate us, since you are not required to eat non-kosher and you need not profane Shabbos to be an upstanding member of secular society. You can give in to our approach and lose nothing by it. We cannot."