Sunday, June 27, 2010

Living a Life of Kiddush Hashem

Rav Shach, zt”l, would explain how one can fulfill the mitzvah of Kiddush Hashem his entire life. “People mistakenly believe that sacrificing oneself to sanctify Hashem’s Name only applies to actual martyrdom. This is based on the well known halachah: If one must either transgress the mitzvos of the Torah or die, he should transgress except for the three cardinal sins for which one must give up his life. Rav Yochanan adds that during a time of religious persecution, even if they demand one to violate a minor mitzvah he must die.
“Yet one who delves a bit deeper will realize that self-sacrifice has a much more common application: to live a life through which one sanctifies Hashem’s Name. Although dying to sanctify the Name is a very great merit, we are also required to sanctify His name every instant of our life by living with self-sacrifice. The proof to this is from the verse, 'וחי בהם'—‘And you shall live by them.’ Our sages learn from this that one should live through the mitzvos, not die on account of them. We see from here that Hashem wants one to live fulfilling the mitzvos, not die in their fulfillment. The Torah values life to such a great extent that our sages tell us that one who commits suicide forfeits his portion in the next world.
“But how can one live a life of self sacrifice? Life is filled with tests, especially for those who keep Torah and mitzvos. We have a clear precedent for virtually every step of life. What we can and cannot do, and how to do that which we must. Those who withstand the many trials of life and fulfill Torah as it should be kept live with self-sacrifice. We have six hundred and thirteen mitzvos which teach us how to live our lives. How to eat and how to sleep; every detail is explained. Non-Jews are free to do as they please. Nevertheless, a Jew who overcomes his base urges feels filled with joy. Like a general returning from a victorious battle, he sees the positive and rejoices in his success. Most importantly, he rejoices in his portion as one of the chosen of Hashem, a son of the King.”

Thursday, June 17, 2010

A Critical Period

Rav Yechiel Michel Stern, shlit”a, explained the significance of becoming bar mitzvah in a very inspiring manner. “Imagine people watching a film in a dark room. Someone walks in and wonders what will happen if he shines some of his own light on the screen. Will the images be sharper or dimmed? Of course, the moment he flips on his powerful flashlight and shines it on the screen, the image is seen for what it really is: a collection of lights that does not represent reality. People will likely insist that he stop ruining the image with the extra illumination.
“The same is true regarding illicit desires and sin. The image seems compelling only as long as one refrains from shining the light of the intellect on the image. The moment he puts it into proper perspective, it is shown to be nothing more than an illusion.
“Our sages say that the yetzer hara is compared to a fly. Like a fly which thrives on a wound or rot, but does no harm to healthy skin, our yetzer hara needs an opening to make his mischief. If one is vigilant and seals any possible entrances with his newly acquired yetzer tov, he has nothing to worry about.”
Now we can understand why a ben sorer u’moreh is only punished from bar mitzvah until three months after bar mitzvah. This time is so essential for setting safeguards and becoming a mentch that if one follows in the ways of a ben sorer u’moreh during this time, he will certainly follow an evil path for the rest of his life. Of course the rule is that the good outweighs the bad. We see from this that one who uses these three months properly, to strengthen his connection to Hashem and accept the yoke of heaven, he will surely go in a good way and live an upright life!”

Wednesday, June 16, 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, June 1, 2010

The Rabbi and the Bible Critic

A certain rabbi once ran into a “freethinker” who considered himself quite a scholar. With hardly a word of introduction, the non-believer declared that he was learning Bible criticism and had spoken to many religious people who were unable to reply to the compelling questions he posed.
The rabbi asked the academic what Rishonim he had learned. The academic was obviously taken aback and his halting reply showed that he had never studied rishonim at all. He defended himself with the statement, “Clearly, the Torah must be a work that is complete in and of itself, requiring no added exposition by the rabbis...” he began.
“Anyone who thinks so has not learned it carefully,” replied the rabbi. “For example, the verse tells us, ‘and you shall slaughter of your I have commanded you,’ yet nowhere in the rest of the Torah do we find instructions as to how we are meant to slaughter animals. Obviously, the accompanying instruction was transmitted orally—the oral Torah of the rabbis that you find superfluous.”
The academic was flustered for only a moment before blurted out his ignorant response, “There is no such verse.”
“Try parshas R’ei,” the rabbi replied. “And it’s not just there. Many mitzvos cannot possibly be fulfilled with only the written instructions. We are told to put ‘a sign’ on our arms and ‘a totafos’ between our eyes. What are these? How are we to manufacture the tzitzis that are to be placed on the corners of our garments? The list goes on and on and demonstrates clearly that the written Torah cannot be understood without the oral Torah.”
“But why was there an oral Torah?” asked the academic. “Why not write it all down?”
“Excellent question! The Maharal explains that the Torah is meant for every level, from small children to the deepest minds. It therefore has many levels of oral tradition imbedded into the text. In this manner the chumash relates to everyone since as one advances he learns what he can understand and not more. He also says that because there are so many details of the oral law it would be impossible to write everything down in any event.
“From Rabbi Eliezer in Sanhedrin 68 we see an example of this great abundance of halachos. He said that although he had learned much from his teachers, what he absorbed can be compared to a dog lapping at the sea. He was discussing the many details of each and every law, which cannot possibly be recorded without countless books. Life is complex, so why assume G-d’s word is not?”