Sunday, October 24, 2010

A Hidden Resentment

"כדי שלא יתפללו על בניהם שימותו..."

A certain bride was all set to marry her chosson when her father contracted a serious illness from which he needed to be nursed back to his health. Since her father was a widower, the most natural person to do the job was his daughter who was engaged to be married and had even set the date for her wedding. After all, why should the father hire help when his own daughter could do a better job? But of course this would delay the wedding and set back the plans the young couple had already made.
When the father asked his daughter for help, she explained that she would obviously need to ask the chosson. When this request was put to the chosson he said simply, “Ask a Rav. We will do whatever he says.”
This question was brought before Rav Chaim Kanievsky, shlit”a, who ruled that the couple should get married as planned. “I don't think the father should ask this of his daughter. This comes out of the gemara in Makkos 11. There we find that since those who killed a fellow Jew accidentally are freed when the kohein gadol dies, the mother of the present kohein gadol would give food and clothes to the inmates of the arei miklat to discourage them from praying for the death of her own son.
He concluded, “The same is true here. If the wedding is put off because of this problem, the chosson may very well wish in his heart that his wife’s father die from his illness!”

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

An Unformed Opinion

In 1951, a certain talmid chacham was asked to give a shiur Torah in a yeshiva geared toward less-committed students in Pardes Chanah. He did so for two days before he was beset with doubts. He had noticed one of the students seemed absorbed in something under his desk. After three warnings the maggid shiur approached the student’s desk and saw that he had a copy of the writings of Bialik under his desk. The teacher took the book and tossed it outside the classroom. The student got very upset by this and shouted, “Are we in a yeshiva which learns exclusively Torah? Today we have a test on Bialik and I must study. Since I am also required to be in this class, I obviously need to study during class. After all, why is Bialik less important than gemara?”
The more outspoken students agreed with the disgruntled student and the teacher felt that perhaps teaching in such a yeshiva was not for him. But of course such a decision was a very serious step to take. The maggid shiur packed his things and travelled to the Chazon Ish, zt”l, to ask for guidance.
When he met the Chazon Ish, he told him what had transpired.
“So what is your question?” asked the Chazon Ish.
“Do we not find that one should not teach a student who is unfit?”
“How old are your students?” asked the Chazon Ish.
“Between fourteen and fifteen,” was the answer.
“In such young student the term תלמיד שאינו הגון does not apply since they have not yet developed mature opinions. You can mold the future person and convince him of the error of his ways.”
The maggid shiur asked, “From what point is a young adult considered a תלמיד שאינו הגון, then?”
“From seventeen to eighteen is when they are more fixed in the way they see things and it is harder to convince them,” the gadol answered.
“I came here with a fully packed bag to ask whether I should go home to Yerushalayim or back to my position in Pardes Chanah.”
The Chazon Ish stated firmly, “Definitely go back. If you cannot succeed with all of them, you will convince half!”
Later on the maggid shiur calculated that he had indeed convinced exactly half of his students to join a full time yeshiva for yeshiva gedolah!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

“Hashem Delivers Man and Beast”

As is well known, causing an animal unnecessary pain is a Torah prohibition—and certainly killing an animal unnecessarily is forbidden. Although man is potentially above animals, the “crown of creation” formed after all other creatures, nevertheless the wicked are told that even the simplest creature was generated before them.
Once Alexander the Great was in north Africa, which was a distant land. While there he attended a very interesting court case. A certain man had purchased a field from his friend and had found a valuable gem. The buyer wished to return it to the seller but the seller refused, saying that it was obviously destined to be in the hands of the finder.
When this case came before the local king for adjudication he proposed a very brilliant suggestion. “Your son should marry his daughter. If you then give them the gem you will both be satisfied.”
Alexander was taken aback at this lenient ruling. “If it was me, I would chop off both of their heads and take the gem for myself!”
The local ruler looked markedly at Alexander, and, clearly disgusted, made a biting comment, “If the sun shines on countries under your domain it can only be in the merit of the animals there. Does it not say, 'אדם ובהמה תושיע ה''—‘Hashem delivers man and beast’?”
The Yad Efraim, zt"l, explains a well known halachah with this midrash. “Now we understand why one must feed his animals before himself. Even if a city is wicked its very survival can sometimes be in the merit of the innocent animals who dwell there!”

Monday, October 11, 2010

Paining a Child for Chinuch

There are many sources which indicate that at times a light hit is warranted to properly fulfill the mitzvah of chinuch habonim.
But it is important to note the numerous potential pitfalls in fulfilling this complex mitzvah. The Sefer Habris explains that one who hits his child too hard, or pains him for no reason, violates both positive and negative Torah commandments.
In addition, the Shulchan Aruch HaRav rules that one may not strike a child unless he does so to give moral direction. With any other intention—like when striking a stranger’s child—it is forbidden since this is not for the child's benefit.
When Rav Chaim Kanievsky, shlit”a, was asked if one should hit nowadays, he replied, “You certainly must hit, but only at very rare intervals. If a child does a very serious action this is appropriate as the verse states clearly, 'חושך שבטו שונא בנו'—‘One who spares his rod hates his child.’ Yet one may only hit with great discretion and understanding, since one who foolishly hits every day renders this punishment completely ineffectual and pointless.”
Rav Aryeh Carmel, zt”l, once asked his Rebbe, Rav Dessler, zt”l, "Physiologists say that hitting breaks a child’s self-confidence, since his parent acts like his enemy if only for an instant. In addition, surely many people are prone to hit out of anger and not really to help their child?”
Rav Dessler replied to both claims. “As far as hitting in anger, this is absolutely forbidden, so it is not a consideration. A ‘baal middos’ or even someone who follows halachah never hits his child out of anger. As far as breaking a child’s self confidence, perhaps the very minimal amount of erosion as a result of proper hitting is the best thing for the child, since his feeling of absolute confidence is actually negative. If he feels that he knows best, how will he receive from his parents or teachers? In addition, too much self-assurance is one of the main reasons people reject Torah.
He concluded, “We must also consider that our desire to avoid hitting a child in any circumstance as a result of our great love for him may be a violation of 'חושך שבטו שונא בנו'. Perhaps our desire that the child have an overinflated self-confidence is the opposite of what is truly best for the child!”
But Rav Wolbe, zt"l, held that potching a child is virtually never advisable. "Although the verse states,'חושך שבטו שונא בנו'—‘One who spares his rod hates his child,’ this need not be taken literally.After all, what a parent says or even a sharp look can sometimes sting like a blow and is sufficient for one who educates properly."

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Hashem and Human Suffering

Rav Tzadok Hakohein of Lublin, zt”l, explains the detrimental results of inflicting pain.“One must be very careful to avoid causing even the slightest pain to any person even for a mitzvah. The proof of this is that the verse, 'על כל חולציו'—‘I will punish all who oppress him.’ The sages taught that even a gabbai tzedakah may not cause pain to another.
“Tana D’vei Eliyahu writes that even the stone used for סקילה and the tree a person was crucified upon will be judged for being the vehicle of such pain. This also means in a case where one was rightly sentenced to capital punishment in beis din. This explains why the Sanhedrin must fast on the day their sentence is carried out. They fast to atone for causing pain, even though it is deserved.
“Now we can better understand the statement that a Sanhedrin who kills more often than once in seven years is considered ‘bloody.’ Even if their ruling was in exact accordance with the halachah, this does not mitigate their status. Similarly, we find that one who accidentally kills someone who deserved to die must nevertheless also be exiled to the city of refuge.
He concluded, “The pain he must atone for in such cases is that of Hashem Himself. Our sages teach that Hashem is not happy with the suffering of the wicked since when the wicked suffer, Hashem also suffers as it were. How much more so does Hashem suffer, as it were, for the pain of tzaddikim who experience pain to fulfill the mitzvos!”

Friday, October 8, 2010

True Regret

The Kol Mevaser explains that we can learn the meaning of true regret from Rabbi Yehudah ben Tabai's reaction when he learned that he had mistakenly sentenced a man to death. As soon as Shimon Ben Shetach explained his error, Rabbi Yehudah got up like a lion and cried out, and never forgot his terrible error for his entire life. He ran to the dead man’s grave, not once or twice, nor was he satisfied with going daily for a year or two. Every day of his life, he spent time there. He cried out there with such bitterness that they heard him throughout the city.
But this too, was not sufficient. He also took on concrete actions to ensure that he never repeat such a horrendous error. He would not rule capital cases if Shimon ben Shetach was not present. This shows genuine regret.
But of course there are many levels of regret. The rebbe of Rachmastrivka, shlit”a, once recounted the words of the Rebbe of Zlatopolia, zt”l, about how to attain tehuvah through true regret. “One should imagine he was a very wealthy businessman who was guaranteed to make a fortune provided he could transport his merchandise to a place over the seas. Instead of prudently splitting up his abundant merchandise, he sent it all along in a single ship that sank, immediately transforming him from a millionaire to a pauper.
“It is very obvious that this person will be filled with remorse for his lack of foresight and feel very foolish for risking all in one ship instead of sending part of the merchandise in one ship and the rest later on in another ship. This is how one should feel when he regrets his sins.!”

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Undeserved Punishment

The Rambam writes, “Anyone who strikes his fellow Jew for no reason, whether child or adult, man or woman, violates a negative commandment. As the verse states, "לא יוסיף להכותו"—‘He shall not continue to strike him.’ If the Torah forbids us to add blows to a sinner who deserves Makkos, it is all the more true that we are prohibited from striking a tzaddik who does not deserve to be hit at all!”
When the Beis Halevi, zt”l, was forced to give a divorce to his first wife due to a trick played on his father-in-law, he was unsure how to spell his nickname, "יושע בער". Of course, the proper spelling is with a shin, but since Lithuanian Jews normally pronounced it “Yosse Ber,” perhaps it should really be spelled with a samech? The dayanim held one way, while the Beis Halevi argued differently. Finally, they agreed with him and wrote it as he felt was correct. That night he suddenly realized that it was possible that the dayanim had been correct after all and his proofs were not really compelling. The next morning he asked the dayanim to write another get just in case, but they refused.
In order to be certain he had freed his ex-wife entirely the Beis Halevi decided to travel to Brody and ask the renowned Rav Shlomo Kluger, zt”l, his opinion on the matter. But the Beis Halevi did not have the funds to travel and was forced to take on a position as an assistant to a wagon driver heading for the large town.
During the ride over it became clear that the rav was inexperienced at holding the reins and every slip resulted in a blow administered to the Beis Halevi. When they finally arrived and the Beis Halevi met Rav Kluger, he was asked to deliver the drasha on Shabbos. The entire crowd was in the shul for the drasha and when the wagon driver saw that his assistant was actually a prominent rav he regretted his actions. After the drasha he begged the Beis Halevi to forgive him since he had not known that he was a talmid chacham.
The Beis Halevi responded, “One who strikes his assistant also violates the prohibition against striking another Jew!”

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Nullifying Divine Anger

Our sages teach that as long as there are thieves in the world, Hashem’s anger will be in the world. Rav Yonasan Eibeschitz, zt”l, wonders why thieves are worse than anyone else. He explains, “One cannot deny that every wicked person brings Hashem’s anger into the world when he acts against the Divine will. But it is well known that that a thief who acts with care that he not be caught by mere people is worse than an armed ruffian who robs openly, fearing neither man nor Hashem.
“On the other hand, it is known that one who gives tzedakah in secret nullifies Hashem’s anger. We may well ask why this is so. The obvious reason is because the person giving does so solely for the sake of heaven, since he knows that Hashem sees even where others do not. Although the sinful deeds of most wicked people also are the result of willful ignoring Diving providence, nevertheless, thieves who act as though Hashem’s providence does not exist at all are the exact inverse of the kind actions of one who gives in secret. For this reason, the mitigation of Divine wrath their good deeds accomplish do not extend to the furtive pilfering of the burglar.”
“The ultimate teshuvah is when one repents from sins between man and his fellow man such as theft. This is why we say at the end of Yom Kippur, 'למען נחדל מעושק ידינו'—‘That we might refrain from oppression at our hands.’ The main thing in teshuvah is to erect fences and strict boundaries to ensure that one does not return to his sinful behavior.”

Monday, October 4, 2010

The Holiness of Yerushalayim

Rav Nosson Gestetner, shlit”a, recounted, “My ancestor, Rav Yisrael of Shklov, zt”l, was one of the greatest students of the Vilna Gaon. He authored the Pe’as HaShulchan, which discusses the halachos relevant to those living in Eretz Yisrael, and Tiklin Chaditin, on Meseches Shekalim. In addition, he prepared the Biur HaGra on the first half of Shulchan Aruch for publication as well as the Gaon’s commentary on Shekalim.
He moved to Eretz Yisrael and settled in Tzfas with virtually all Jews during that time. Tragically, there was an earthquake that killed many people and wreaked terrible damage. Rav Yisrael was one of the survivors and he wrote a long letter describing the catastrophe to the Chasam Sofer, zt”l.
The Chasam Sofer was so shaken by this calamity that he gathered everyone together and eulogized the many casualties, ‘This was the result of people moving into Tzfas and ignoring holy Yerushalayim! Har HaMoriah is in Yerushalayim. On this mountain, Yitzchak was offered for a sacrifice and Yaakov slept and had the dream of the angels ascending and descending a ladder to heaven. The Beis Hamikdash was there, and we still have the Kosel, from which the Shechinah never moved from the time of the destruction.
“Around one hundred years ago, people began to move to Eretz Yisrael en mass. They reasoned that since the Rashbi is interred in Meron and the Arizal in Tzfas, it was preferable to move to Tzfas or Meron, but this was an error. Even today, Hashem’s name is in Yerushalayim and there is a mitzvah to at ascend for the three festivals even for those who do not live in this most holy city!”

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Nature of Humility

Our sages teach that even a tzaddik who is haughty will lose out in the next world, since Hashem will only crown those tzaddikim who have true humility. When Rav Shmuel Rosenberg of Unsdorf, zt”l, traveled to Kashoi for Shabbos he was met with vast honor which caused him no end of pain. On Shabbos, he explained, “Now I understand why we ask Hashem to give us honor in Birkas Hachodesh. Honor causes an honest person pain since he knows that he doesn’t deserve it at all. Nowpain in itself atones for sin and it also makes one have a broken heart which leads to teshuvah. It is because honor is such a wonderful catalyst to enable any thinking person to return to his Source that we beseech Hashem for honor.
He went on, “Rav Meir of Premishlan, zt”l, once explained the verse in Tehillim in a similar fashion, applying it specifically to when people are given honor while they travel. The verse states: 'ואדם ביקר'—when a person gets יקר, honor, 'בל ילין'—and he ‘does not take time to repose’ and consider his ways in the tent of teshuvah, 'נמשל כבהמות נדמו'—he is no better than a thoughtless beast!”
As is well known, the Chofetz Chaim, zt”l, would run away from any honor. Once his son asked whether this was really the proper path to take. “After all, each month in Birkas Hachodesh we ask Hashem for a life of wealth and honor?”
The Chofetz Chaim explained that his son really had not understood the true intent of that line of davening. “This is a request for the klal that Jews be wealthy and respected. Similarly, we find in the Yomim Noraim prayers, 'ותן כבוד לעמך'. It is not a request that one be more distinguished than an average Jew!”