Thursday, March 31, 2011

Teshuvah for Thought and Teshuvah for Deed

The Rama, zt”l, explains why an olah is completely burned up, while a sin-offering is eaten partially by the kohanim. “The chatas is eaten by the kohanim since a chatas is brought to atone for a sin. It is only through enduring this embarrassment that the sinner will do a true teshuvah. It is obvious why the sinner himself may not partake of the korban: how can he have any benefit from his sin? Surely this would show that he does not take his failing seriously.
“Another reason why kohanim would eat the korban was to supply those who serve Hashem with food, since this too atones for sin. Although it comes to atone for a sin, a korban chatas is still kodshei kodashim. This is to show that in the place which ba’alei teshuvah stand, even a complete tzaddik cannot stand. If this man’s teshuvah was complete, no man can stand where he stands. A korban olah is kodshei kodashim for the same reason.
“But when an olah comes to atone, it is completely consumed. An olah is not eaten by the kohanim since it comes to atone merely for thoughts in one’s heart. Because the sin was not revealed, it does not require the embarrassment of the kohanim publicly partaking of the flesh of the korban. Korbanos which do not atone yet are kodshei kodashim are brought by those who are on a high level of wholeness and are themselves kodesh kodashim.”

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Burning Flame

During the third meal of Shabbos, the Beis Yisrael of Gur, zt”l, was known to deliver very inspiring Torah that was strong enough to fire his chassidim for at least the coming week. One week he gave a lesson from a statement on today’s daf. “On Zevachim 43 Rav Yitzchak teaches that pigul, nosar or tamei which was brought up on the altar has their prohibition removed from them. Rav Chisda makes an oath and bemusedly wonders, ‘How can the altar remove issurim?’ Rav Zeira explains that it is discussing a case where the various offerings actually caught fire.
“This teaches us a very important lesson in avodas Hashem,” the rebbe enthusiastically exclaimed. “When one is filled with holy fervor, all inner evils that are like pigul, nosar, and tumah, fall away. All the filth and dirt is removed.”
We can understand this in light of a parable brought in the Toras Avos: “Once there was a man who owned a huge forest. Since developing the area was the best way to earn money from his land, he decided to remove the trees. To this end, the owner began to cut down the forest tree by tree. After many long days, he noticed that he was hardly making any progress. If he did not manage to increase his efficiency, it was quite plausible that the trees would grow back before he had a chance to cut down the rest. What did he do? He set fire to the forest and within a short time he achieved his goal.
“The same is true in spiritual terms. One who fights day in and day out against each illicit thought and spiritual challenge eventually realizes that he must find a better method to overcome his base nature. He will only prevail if he ignites a holy fire in his heart. As long as he is on fire with longing for Hashem, he will soon incinerate every base thought and failing.”

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Empty Prayer

We know that a mitzvah that is done without kavanah is like a body without a neshamah—surely an aspect of pigul, as the Tifers Shlomo, zt”l, writes. Yet many people have a hard time directing their thoughts. Rav Wolbe, zt”l, illustrated this failing with a true story,
“Once, a certain avreich was in the grocery, looking for various items required at home. He put aside one item after another. Strangely, just as he was reaching for the eggs, he felt a curious pain in his chest. After a moment he felt another pain and suddenly found shul davening shemonah esrei. The pains had been nothing more the obligatory rap on the chest during selach lanu!”
Although prayer without kavanah is very precious since it reaches the highest heights as the Nefesh Hachaim explicitly writes, it is also an aspect of pigul, since it lacks a neshamah.
Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, zt"l, along with Rav Aharon of Karlin, zt”l, explain that—unlike actual pigul—such a tefilah is redeemable since it can be imbued with kavanah later. “Even when a person cannot daven with kavanah he must never refrain from davening in whatever way he can. Although for the present the tefillah without kavanah cannot ascend on high, when he will say a tefillah with kavanah he will revive all the ‘empty’ tefillos, enabling them to ascend on high on the ‘coattails’ of the prayer said with kavanah.”

Monday, March 28, 2011

The Power of the Community

Our sages teach a fascinating parable: “A king was angry at his beloved friend. Because of his love, he minimized his friend’s wrongdoing.” Rashi explains that this beloved friend is the tzibbur. The Maharal explains that a tzibbur is not rendered unworthy of Hashem’s regard by sin in the same way that an individual is. One reason a tzibbur is cherished is because when they work together, they can perfect themselves with relative ease. The bigger the tzibbur, the easier the change—if there is a sincere desire and unity among them.
The Alter of Kelm, zt”l, stressed the advantage of working on one’s defects together with a tzibbur over working alone. “The foundation of working on our middos is to repair our congenital moral weaknesses. To do this, we must know the truth of how our negative traits fool and us influence our actions. Since by nature we all tend to overlook our inherent weaknesses, we are much better off working together with like minded-friends, who can offer objective views of our challenges and responses. Without friends to help us see the truth, we could easily declare a sheretz ritually pure. Left to our own devices, we can invent endless rationalizations.
“Just as Hashem imbued the world with the principle of interdependence—every person both contributes and receives from others materially—the same is true in spiritual matters. It is impossible to truly rectify our middos without help from our friends. Here in Kelm everyone works with his friend to help rectify their collective faults. I am very moved and amazed by the vast progress the students have made over time due to this seder. This is exactly what Rav Yisrael Salanter, zt”l, told us to do when we were with him in Kovno. What a pity that it took us so long to follow his instructions and develop a practical program so that we could all work together!”

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Reconnecting to the Source

Someone once asked the Ohr HaChaim Hakadosh, zt”l, a very painful question. “If someone fell and did a sin for which the punishment is kares, why should he continue to keep Torah law? After all, since he has uprooted his entire nefesh from Hashem, how can keeping Torah and mitzvos help him?”
The Ohr Hachaim explained that this man had a great misconception. “You should never think that if you did one evil act that is chayav kares—or even many such sins—that he has completely uprooted his nefesh from Hashem. This is a fallacy. Every Jew has many roots that extend on high, corresponding to all the mitzvos of the Torah. When he violates something which entails kares, this cuts him off only regarding the branch which relates to that mitzvah, not completely, chas v’shalom. So, of course, keeping Torah helps him regarding the rest of his nefesh even if he never does teshuvah.
“In addition, even if he has ripped out one spiritual limb’s connection through sin, there remains a trace of holiness which still extends to the kisei hakavod. It is incumbent on every Jew to teshuvah, thereby undoing the kares and restoring his connection to what it was before the sin.”
Rav Hirsch, zt”l, explains similarly regarding the blood of sacrifices poured on the foundation of the altar. “Kares entails uprooting oneself from his spiritual source. The foundation of the altar alludes to reconnecting to our foundation, to our fellow Jews and Toras Hashem. After bringing a sacrifice, we pour what remains of the blood on the foundation of the altar to symbolize a change of direction. We go from kares, chas v’shalom, to restoring our connection through teshuvah and resolving to change our ways in the future.”

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

No Matter What

Rav Yechezkel Abramsky, zt”l, was an extraordinary scholar as well as a great tzaddik, yet he also made time to give a daily shiur for baalei batim in the Bayit Vegan neighborhood of Yerushalayim.
One of the regular attendees once approached Rav Abramsky and said sheepishly, “I really love your shiurim since what you say really speaks to me. But your words are so sweet that within a few minutes I fall fast asleep for the rest of the shiur. Do you think that I should continue coming?”
Now anyone ought to know that it is better to go to a shiur even if he falls asleep than to waste the time in idle pursuits. But Rav Abramsky also understood that his job was to convince this discouraged baal habayis to continue coming to the shiur. Merely telling him he was better off staying certainly would not give him the chizuk to persevere. So Rav Abramsky chose to give an inspiring answer instead.
“The gemara states that a kohein must sanctify his hands and feet when entering the Azarah. The gemara there discusses various questions of when one must sanctify himself and what type of action works to sanctify him. Interestingly, the Rambam writes that one who sanctified his hands and feet at the laver and then falls asleep must sanctify himself again when he wakes up. The Sefas Emes explains that since when one slumbers his neshamah goes on high, this is the same as leaving the azarah. It follows that he must again sanctify his hands and feet.
Rav Abramsky appealed to the baal habayis, “Think about it. When you fall asleep at the shiur, your soul ascends on high and you can be melamed zechus on our shiur before the heavenly tribunal and point out that there are still some Jews who love Torah and attend shiurim even when doing so is difficult for them!”
His words were spoken with such warmth and they entered this man’s heart and encouraged him to stay. Eventually, he began to remain awake during the shiur and he later became an accomplished scholar thanks to this shiur.