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?”

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Value of Consistency

The importance of learning a set amount of Torah each day cannot be overstated. It is sufficient to mention that our sages teach that the first question asked at one’s heavenly judgment is קבעת עיתים לתורה—“Did you set aside fixed times for Torah study?” Rav Yechiel of Alexander, zt”l, explains the language of the Mishnah in Avos: "עשה תורתך קבע"—“Make your Torah fixed.”
“This is similar to the halachah regarding kevias seudah. Even if one leaves in the middle of his meal and returns, as long as he did not forget his intention of returning he can continue to eat. So too, one should have a set time to learn as early in the day as possible. Then when he goes to his business or other concerns, as long as he intends to return to learning the moment he can, it is as if he never left since he is returning to his original kevius.”
Rav Yisrael Hagar, shlit”a, once explained his father’s insistence that every chassid have a set time to learn Torah every day. “People say that prayer achieves half of one’s goal, as we find in the midrash that Moshe’s prayer achieved half of what he sought. Rav Meir of Premishlan, zt”l, liked to say that this is why the word for ‘half’ in Yiddish is nearly the same as the word for ‘help.’ Prayer, which achieves half of the goal, really helps.
“We can similarly explain the halacha that that 'קבועה כמחצה על מחצה דמי'—‘A set reality has equal standing.’ This can be explained to mean that when a person is absolutely committed to learning his daily sedarim, the time may be relatively short in duration but it assumes a status that is ‘half.’ This means that through doing whatever he can to learn his daily sedarim, he receives Divine assistance. Even if it appears as though he only has time to complete part or half of his seder, Hashem will give him the other half of the time and he will complete his sedarim.”
But the Boyaner Rebbe, zt”l, explained this in a very different way. “The fixed learning that a person does each day often seems nullified by the vast amounts of time he spends on other matters. But if he never misses his commitment it is considered kavuah, which is not nullified.”

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Shabbos in Breslau

Once during the summer, Rav Yisrael of Ruzhin, zt”l, was in Breslau, Germany for Shabbos. Breslau was a spa town where one could convalesce and strengthen his health, and that was the purpose of the Rebbe’s visit.
On Friday, he saw the town’s large Jewish population heading home from shul while it was still light. This was the custom in Germany then and is still the custom in many places where one needs to eat early, especially when there are many families with young children. To the Rebbe’s shock, the people were carrying despite the town’s absolute lack of an eruv. It was clear that they felt no inhibition for their sinful behavior.
He wondered aloud, “Twenty-four hours of chilul Shabbos is not enough for them so they extend Shabbos to desecrate it for a full twenty-six hours?”
But his next comment showed how to react when Shabbos is desecrated by those who don’t know better. “Our sages teach that Moshiach will only arrive in a generation that is completely righteous or completely wicked, or חייב. But how could a generation be completely righteous? And we know that a generation cannot be completely wicked since we are promised, 'כי לא תשכח מפי זרעו'—‘For the Torah shall not be forgotten from the mouths of his children.’
He continued, “Obviously this statement means that Moshiach will come in a generation where people are either completely wicked or completely righteous. It seems clear that the people here are ready for Moshiach, since they completely disregard the Torah. But we must also be truly ready from our side, by eradicating any negative behavior and fulfilling the mitzvos perfectly, so that we are completely righteous and Moshiach can come.”

A Mistake in Judgment

Rav Yisrael Salanter, zt”l, was very clear that one must take responsibility for his actions. He pointed out that even learned people often rationalize away what is clearly their halachic responsibility. One must always be aware that he is accountable for his actions to Hashem and his fellow man.
In a certain place there was a man who learned with amazing diligence. He was so careful to use every instant to learn that he when he was tired he would hold a lit candle in his hand to ensure that if he fell asleep he would wake up in a short time and continue learning.
One night he was especially tired, and instead of the candle waking him, he dropped it and continued to sleep. Sadly, the wooden shul in which he dozed went up in a blaze of fire. Although eventually it was doused, the flame caused a huge amount of damage.
When people found out how much this dedicated masmid had pushed himself to learn, they praised his superhuman dedication to Torah, calling him an angel. But Rav Yisrael Salanter, zt”l, vehemently disagreed with this approach. “See how this kind of ‘hasmadah’ is likely to have ruined this man’s ability to learn undisturbed for the rest of his life! Obviously it is forbidden for him to continue learning as was his wont, since he must now work full time to repay the vast damage that he caused. Due to an error in judgment of a single night he now is bound to pay the community back for his negligence.”

Monday, July 5, 2010

The Basis of Shalom Bayis

Rav Michel Yehudah Lefkowitz, shlit”a, once explained how a ben Torah should treat his wife. “I heard that whenever there was thunder and lightning, my rebbe, Rav Shlomo Heiman, zt”l would stop the shiur and rush home. What was behind this strange custom? Very simple. His wife was afraid of lightning and thunder so he felt responsible to run home to calm her.”
When asked how to build a good relationship with one’s wife, he replied, “Shalom bayis all depends on how the husband relates to his wife. If he treats her right and honors her, she will see that he recognizes everything she does and appreciates her efforts in the home. Naturally she will also relate to him in kind.
“But the way to win the respect of one’s wife is to be careful not to waste time. If she sees that her husband uses every spare moment to learn, she will think the world of him. Sometimes we find a relationship where the wife is reluctant to allow the husband to spend much time learning. Most often this is because he does not help her around the house. A husband should realize that time spent helping around the house is not wasted, since if one helps he will usually find that his wife will allow him to learn more.
“Our sages teach that it is our sacred duty to love our wives as ourselves and to honor her even more than ourselves. Practically this means that one should compliment his wife as much as possible both for whatever she does as a partner, for building a family together, and for every second she allows him to learn Torah. Even when the husband doesn’t really feel like it he should still compliment her, since this encourages her and builds their relationship. When an avrech reaches a certain milestone in his learning, he must inform his wife to allow her to share in his simchah. She is a partner in every iota of his learning and has every right to know!”

Sunday, July 4, 2010

For the Sake of Heaven

Rav Chaim Kanievsky, shlit”a, recounted that when his former Mashgiach, Rav Eliyahu Dushnitzer, zt”l, was in Minsk there was a seemingly simple man who was a pharmacist by trade who very much attracted his attention. Interestingly, every holy endeavor in the town was invariably brought to the fore by this pharmacist, who was the driving force for them all.
Rav Dushintzer asked the pharmacist how he had merited this unusual distinction.
The pharmacist recounted the following fascinating story:
“One time, the Chofetz Chaim was in Minsk and needed to purchase some medicine. Naturally, he found his way to my pharmacy and asked me for what he needed. After he paid for the medication he exclaimed, ‘I am jealous of you; every instant of the day you are involved in saving lives!’
“I was a bit embarrassed by this accolade and told him the truth. ‘This is just my way of supporting my family.’ But the Chofetz Chaim rejected this attitude out of hand. ‘You must be mechavein l’shem shamayim and l’shem mitzvah. Although it is true that you are forced to take money to support your family, you must always remember the greatness of what you are doing and focus on this.’”
The pharmacist concluded, “Ever since then I have made this my avodah, and now I can honestly say that I live for devarim she’b’kedushah. Over the years I have slowly gotten involved in different projects to raise the spiritual level of the community until I am as you see me here today.”
With just a little focus and spiritual awareness one can easily become a person who is rosh v’rishon lichol davar she’bikedushah!