Friday, November 12, 2010

A Worthy Guest

Once, Rav Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, zt”l, paid a visit to the Maharam, who was the Av Beis Din of Pressburg. The Maharam was deeply involved with a question he had on Tosafos which perplexed him greatly. When the Berditchever Rav entered the Maharam’s home, the host asked his guest if he could learn.
Rav Levi Yitzchak answered, “Perhaps if I led a peaceful existence like the rav of Pressburg and I ate like he did, I could also learn."
The rav immediately rushed to bring food and drink to Rav Levi Yitzchak, who refrained from eating anything. After a while of puzzling over the Tosafos, the Rav noticed that Rav Levi Yitzchak had not yet eaten and asked him to explain why.
Rav Levi Yitzchak answered, “The gemara tells us that before one makes a brochah, the food is not really his. It is only after the brochah that he acquires ownership over the food. How can you give guests food you have not yet acquired and expect them to partake of it?”
The Rav of Pressburg immediately made a brochah and ate, and Rav Levi Yitzchak then did likewise. When the rav asked him again if he could learn, Rav Levi Yitzchak said, “If I am told a devar Torah I can understand. Let the rav tell me something…”
The Maharam told him his question and Rav Levi Yitzchak began reciting Tehillim in a very loud voice and was so filled with dveikus that he literally rolled under the table. When he finished the mizmor, he immediately told the rav a very beautiful explanation of Tosafos.
The Maharam was impressed, so he asked another question. “I see that you are a holy man who understands, so I will ask you something else. Rava says that a woman should daven to have children like Rav Shimon and if not, better that she should not give birth. What can this possibly mean?”
Rav Levi Yitzchak responded immediately, “We find that the verse says, 'ולשם ילד גם הוא'. This means that like Noach, Shem is considered to have given birth to himself due to his many good deeds. This is a genuine birth, since the person fulfilled his mission on earth. Similarly, a woman should pray that they have children that are so meritorious that—like Rabbi Shimon—it is as if they gave birth to themselves. And if they don’t, the children will not merit this level of birth.”

Thursday, November 11, 2010

“No Evil Will Befall One Who Fulfills a Mitzvah”

When the Steipler, zt”l, was a young man, he was trapped in communist Russia along with many other yeshiva bochurim in the many branches of Novardhok. Eventually he decided to attempt to cross the border along with a large group of students who wished to go to what was officially Poland. Of course this was dangerous, since if a border guard caught someone trying to cross the border he was within his rights to shoot to kill. Indeed, many people were killed while trying to escape the “worker’s paradise.”
When one group was already well on their way in the middle of the pitch black night, the Steipler suddenly needed to relieve himself. Although he knew his group would not wait for him and he also did not even know the way to the border, even if there had been any light, the Steipler immediately stopped and relieved himself. He reasoned that the dictum, "שומר מצוה לא ידע דבר רע"—“No evil will befall one who fulfills a mitzvah,” also applies to the mitzvah of לא תשקצו. After all, why was this prohibition any less important than any other?
When the Steipler finished, his group was far ahead of him yet he began to continue in what he thought was the same direction they had been travelling for quite some time. In the morning, after many hours of travel, he found that he was back where he had started and it took a whole year before he finally was able to escape to Poland.
He later explained that the first time when he had attempted and failed, he obviously did not have the merit to escape. It was only after the next Rosh Hashanah that it was decreed from heaven that he could cross over into Poland.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Only the Truth

Rav Yitzchak Zilberstein, shlit”a, one discussed how exceedingly careful Rav Yaakov Kaminetzky, zt”l, was to always tell the truth. “On Rav Yaakov’s final visit to Eretz Yisrael, his students asked him in what merit he had lived such a long life. He answered, ‘I never allowed a false word to pass my lips.’
“His students explained that by saying the word ‘never’ the rav meant even when he was halachically allowed to lie. For example, when Rav Yaakov was a bochur many young men would use a friend’s dispensation to avoid the draft. This ruse worked very often and saved many, but when this trick was suggested to Rav Yaakov he refused to consider it even though being drafted was literally a question of pikuach nefesh. Rav Yaakov got out of the draft another way, since ‘Hashem has many messengers.’
“Once, his students noticed him going into a silver shop with a beautiful silver cup. When asked why, he explained: ‘I have always been scrupulous to put every bit of revenue on my tax forms so as to pay taxes on everything, thereby fulfilling the halachah, ‘dina d’malchusah dina.’ Now that I am eighty the administrators of the yeshiva decided to give me this cup as a gift. According to my understanding, I must also list this cup on my form. I came in here to find out exactly what the cup is worth.’
Rav Zilberstein concluded, “In this manner a person gains many students even outside the beis midrash, since everyone who hears these stories of Rav Yaakov’s unbending honesty is inspired to be like him!”

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Using Every Moment

Rav Chaim Palagi, zt”l, wrote in his last will and testament to his children: “I call the heaven and earth to bear witness that from the time I was mature until I was twenty years old, I never wasted an instant on frivolous pursuits. My every available moment was taken up with learning Torah with diligence. From twenty until forty I had to support my children, so I worked as an agent for various lucrative businesses. Nevertheless, during every second that I was not otherwise occupied, I used to review my learning. I never wasted an instant on any frivolous or unnecessary pursuits, since to do so would have been a lost opportunity to review.
“From the age of forty I was appointed as a posek and dayan for our community. My position required me to make time to deal with the other needs of the community. But I was always concerned that this kept me from learning as much as I wished. I would therefore push myself to take advantage of any available time, even the short times between cases or questions, to learn.
“You should all learn from me and be as careful to use your time to the hilt, even if you are required to spend much time helping the community and aiding all individuals who require assistance. You must push yourselves not to waste an instant. Instead, you should wait for the precious moments between duties that you can grab for learning. Never squander these opportunities for spiritual growth.
“If you will follow my advice in this, you will see a huge blessing in your learning. As long as you are filled with yearning for Torah and you are careful to use any time you can, Hashem will send a great blessing in your Torah study. You will find time to learn everything you wish since you will achieve very much even if the available time is short.”

Monday, November 8, 2010

Complete Teshuvah

Our sages teach that genuine teshvuah is so strong that it can transform sins into merits.
Doing complete and permanent teshuvah is not simple however. In the words of Rabbeinu Yonah: “Even though one has admitted his sin and ceased his negative behavior he should still understand that he may not have done enough. In order to do a true teshuvah he must ascend many levels. Perhaps one day he will fail to attain the level necessary and instead he will begin to slip back into his old behavior. Another problem which must concern him is the possibility that his base nature will overpower him.
“The only way to be sure of victory is for him to increase his yiras shomayim every day. He must also continuously daven to Hashem for aid in doing teshuvah and that He help him to overcome his base nature.
He concluded, “It is due to a hardness of the heart that many people fall into the mistaken belief that they have done enough teshuvah and stop working on themselves. Sadly, in this manner one punishes himself since he falls into pride and is unable to honestly evaluate his level. When a person is no longer careful to work on his character defects, this is a sign that he has fallen to a low level. This person also has lost touch with his obligation to prepare himself for Hashem. He is indolent, so his base nature—always on the look-out for opportunities to cause him to fall—gains the upper hand and defeats him.”