Friday, April 15, 2011

Bedikah, Bitul, and Burning the Chometz

#1 In the household of Rav Meir of Premishlan they had many unusually
strict practices when it came to Pesach. For example, they were not
content with merely scrubbing even the doorknobs. Instead, they would
pour boiling hot water on them to do hagalah on any possible trace of
chometz—even though any visible chometz would have been removed
altogether before this process.
The Sar Shalom once gave a tongue-in-cheek source for this practice
from a statement on today’s amud. “The Rosh writes in Pesachim that
Yisrael are kedoshim and they therefore scrub and remove any trace of
chometz, even the slightest amount. The Shulchan Aruch brings this
excerpt and adds 'ויש להם על מה שיסמוכו'. Perhaps the Premishlaner
understood this to mean that they should even clean what they lean on,
that is the door knobs, in an especially rigorous manner!”
The Beis Halevi once noticed his wife doing a very thorough job
cleaning the walls in their home. Although the Shulchan Aruch on
today’s amud writes that the custom is to clean even the walls from
the slightest speck of chometz, she was scrubbing so rigorously that
the Beis Halevi feared for her health.
“You know that if you keep scrubbing with such vigor you will break the wall…”
His wife didn’t take a moment to deliver her scathing reply. “I tell
you, if we relied on you in these matters we would end up eating
chometzdike rolls on Pesach too!”

#2 Once, during bedikas chometz in the house of the Chazon Ish, a
bochur found a bottle of whiskey. Obviously, the young man was
gratified at having found it but wondered whether it should be sold or
thrown out.
As always, during bedikas chometz the Chazon Ish, was in a very
exalted state of mind. When the bochur showed him this find and asked
what was to be done, he was surprised by his reply. “Tell all the
bochurim to stop checking the house for chometz and come here, since
there is a l’chaim to be drunk.”
That is exactly what happened. The bochurim came over and the Chazon
Ish poured each a drink. When they were all supplied with one, the
Chazon Ish drank l’chaim with each of them.”
On another occasion, a bochur climbed on top of a closet in the Chazon
Ish’s house and stood there scrubbing for a few minutes. When the
Chazon Ish noticed how long he was at his labors, he asked him what he
was doing.
The young man replied, “I found a cookie here and have been trying to
remove any trace that may be left...”
The Chazon Ish’s good-natured reply was accompanied by a bright smile.
“Get down fast,” he said. “If not, you yourself will turn into chometz
which must be sold to a goy!”

#3 The Chakal Yitzchak of Spinka checked for chometz even in places
that seemed highly unlikely. He would often invite Rav Tzvi Yosef
Hoffman to help him during the many hours exhausting hours it took to
peer into any possible place where chometz might be found.
One year, as they were searching, the rebbe decided to climb up a
precarious clock which was quite high and was not a place where most
people put their hands, to say the least. Despite the huge efforts
necessary to get to the top of the clock the rebbe would not be
deterred from his purpose and slowly scaled the clock.
As he rested for a moment from his exertions, Rav Tzvi Yosef brought
up his usual objection that arose during their joint searches year
after year. “Rebbe, this clock is surely a place where no one put
chometz. Why make such efforts to check it when there is no halachic
As always, the rebbe didn’t reply. Instead, he continued climbing
until he reached the clock’s face. When he began to check between the
hands and the clock he actually found a small object nestled there. It
had obviously been placed there on purpose, but what was it? When the
rebbe unwrapped this, he found a small roll, indisputably chometz
After a small series of investigations, he found that this roll had
been one of the twelve challos with which he would begin the Shabbos
meals. He had given this one to his grandson who had wedged it in the
clock for safekeeping.
The rebbe, who was ecstatic at this find, turned to Rav Tzvi Yosef and
said, “Now you understand why I work so hard to check even places not
obligated by the letter of the law. This challah is a case of chometz
which the owner wants and is not included in his bitul If this is the
only thing I find, all of my extra efforts were well worthwhile!”

#4 In Slonim there was a certain wealthy miser who would not give a
penny to charity no matter how worthy the cause. Perhaps the best way
to heal someone of this flaw is to find a way to bring home how
utterly despicable it is to ignore the poor when one has ample means
to help them. Of course, one must find the right time and manner to
convey this message and Rav Aizel Charif, the Rav of Slonim, was known
to be very adept at finding creative and effective ways to reach such
Early on Erev Pesach, Slonim was very busy. People would check their
pockets for chometz before going to burn their chometz. Rav Aizel made
sure to meet this miser while he was cleaning out his pockets from any
possible crumbs of chometz. The rav acted surprised to see the miser
fulfilling this halachah and said in a gentle tone with utmost
sincerity. “You do know that you don’t have to check your pockets for
“Why not?” asked the surprised miser. “Isn’t it clear in Shulchan
Aruch that one must check his pockets? All of my neighbors do it and
have always done it. Why am I different?”
“In Shulchan Aruch 333:7 we find that if there is a hole between a Jew
and a non-Jew it is not obligated in bedikas chometz. Since everyone
knows that you are a Jew only until your pockets, clearly these don’t
need to be checked for chametz!”

#5 Every year, when the Rebbe burned his chometz in Belz, the
chassidim knew it was an opportunity for deep introspection. His
followers would crowd around and the Rebbe would give over a very
inspiring Torah to arouse the assembled to teshuvah. During one such
gathering, Rav Yissachar Dov of Belz gave over a Torah explaining the
He said, “Our sages teach in hilchos Pesach that one blessing suffices
for the search of several homes. The Ridvaz famously teaches a
striking reason why the Torah has special requirements regarding
chometz. Unlike most other prohibitions we are required to hunt out
and eradicate all chometz, since even owning chometz is a violation of
the prohibition 'לא יראה חמץ ולא יראה שאר בכל גבולך'. In addition our
sages required both inspection and nullification for even a miniscule
amount of chometz is prohibited.
“The Ridvaz explains this in light of the sages’ teachings that
chometz represents the yetzer hara, the infamous ‘yeast in the dough’
that prevents us from doing Hashem’s will. This explains why we
eradicate even the smallest amounts of chometz and why we must also
actively search it out. This alludes to removing the evil from within
“But we must understand that a single blessing can cover many houses.
This alludes to one sincere effort to come close to Hashem and change
our ways in general. It is not always the right time to dredge up all
of one’s sins and work on each one. At times, we need only make one
brochah, one sincere thought of teshuvah, in order to search out many
houses. We remove vast quantities of filth with one genuine teshuvah,
and rectify more than we can possibly fathom!”

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Never Forget the Tachlis

It was motzei Shabbos and Rav Yosef Dov Soleveitchik, zt”l, known by most simply as “the Rav,” needed a minyan for ma’ariv. He wandered into a Modzhitzer shtiebl where, despite the lateness of the hour, the chassidim were singing with intense dveikus. After waiting a time he asked when they would daven ma’ariv. “What, you want to bring in the week already?” was the indignant reply.
The Modzhitzer chassidim worked hard for their livelihood often with physical labor, as water carriers and the like. It would certainly be fair to wonder where they got the strength to be so involved in spirituality despite their heavy involvement in materialism the entire week. The following words of the Divrei Yisrael of Modzhitz, zt”l, answers sheds light on the question. “The olah offering represents Torah and prayer, as we can learn from Menachos 110. It is kodshei kodshim, unlike the shelamim which is kodshim kalim and alludes to making a living. Through this we can understand the Mishnah we say during davening that Shelamim are kodshim kalim and their blood must be applied in a double application that is really four. The word damim, blood, can also refer to money. One must work and make money to enable him to learn Torah and daven, both of which are double-fold. Torah is doubled because there are two elements to Torah—written and oral—and they each contain both positive and negative mitzvos. Prayer is also doubled since we daven day and night. These are the two applications that are four to which we must apply our money.
“We must know that the time we spend learning and davening does not cause us a financial loss since the purpose of working is to learn and daven!”

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Apex of Beauty

One of the residents of Yerushalayim was once fleeing for his life from a non-Jew who was out to kill him. In a panic, he ran to the Maharil Diskin, zt”l, and asked what he should do. The Maharil gave him advice that seemed strange. “Learn maseches Middos and you will be saved.”
This man immediately fled to the safest place he could think of and learned through maseches Middos. Surprisingly, the non-Jew completely gave up on him and went home. Many local talmidei chachamim heard about what had happened and wondered if there was some kind of source for the Maharil’s directive, but no one could find any teaching of chazal that shed light on the subject.
When the Satmar Rav, zt”l, visited Yerushalayim in תרצ"ב, everyone was astounded at his vast bekiyus and deep understanding. Eventually he was asked if he knew of a source for this strange segulah.
“Of course,” replied the rebbe without a moment’s hesitation. “When Dovid fled from Shaul, the verse in Sefer Shmuel tells us that Dovid sat with Shmuel in Ramah. The gemara explains that Dovid sat in that ‘high place’ and occupied himself with building the Beis Hamikdash, the apex of beauty in the world. He worked to find and prepare its location.
“I believe that this was the Maharil Diskin’s source. Just like when Dovid was chased he learned Middos and was saved, the same is true for all time. The reasoning behind this is that the Beis Hamikdash was above nature. It follows that one who needs a supernatural salvation should learn about the Beis Hamikdash!”

Sunday, April 10, 2011

The Foolishness of Pride

Many great tzaddikim explained that, in a certain way, arrogance is the worst character trait. Even when a person truly improves himself, he can easily fall into the trap of feeling excessive pride in his accomplishments. Once he starts feeling this way, it is very difficult to help him. But what should one do to avoid such pitfalls? The Kedushas Tzion, zt”l, learns practical guidance on this issue from a statement in the Mishnah.
“If one works hard to advance spiritually, he still must overcome the kinds of thoughts that invalidate his avodah just as thoughts of pigul invalidate an offering. These thoughts revolve around how much he as grown, but they are tainted by conceit. To counter them we need only consider the root cause of pride. Our sages teach that arrogance is a sign of poverty in Torah. As people are wont to say, ‘A baal gaavah is nothing more than a fool.’ The person who fell in this area will then understand that the only way to overcome his flaw is to begin learning Torah with renewed intensity. If he learns Torah with this intention, the arrogance will quickly pass away.
“This is the meaning of the statement in the Mishnah, 'עלה בכבש'—‘One who has ascended in being kovesh yitzro, in overcoming his yetzer hara, and attains a level of kedusha; 'ופנה לסובב'—He understands that he has veered off the path of holiness by indulging in prideful thoughts; 'ובא לו לקרן דרומית'—‘He will then come to the south corner.’ This should be understood in light of the teaching in Bava Basra, ‘One who wishes to become wise will turn to the south,’ which was the place of the menorah, the light of the Torah. The only thing for him to do is to learn Torah with renewed intensity so that he can rectify that which caused the arrogance in the first place: poverty of Torah.”

Friday, April 8, 2011

“How Did He Ascend?”

Many great rebbes were loath to deliver Torah discourses in public. Their avodah was an inner battle from which they refused to be distracted, even to give inspiring Torah to their chassidim. Many wonder what could possibly be behind such a seemingly odd custom. When this was asked of Rav Yaakov of Pshevorsk, zt”l, he explained it very well.
“Our sages teach that while a word is worth a sela, silence is worth two. Now this cannot be discussing a meaningless word, since why would such words be worth anything? The obvious lesson here is that even if a word is precious it is only half as good as silence. Even if the word is Torah or tefillah, even if it is so good that every word is worth a gold coin, remaining quiet is twice as good as speaking. From here we see the greatness of the midah of silence.”
Rav Yitzchak of Skver, zt”l, was careful never to speak unnecessarily. He even spoke words of Torah with great reservation. Once a certain person pestered him so much to give a dvar Torah that he felt he had no choice but to obey. Yet he decided to give this person a bit of a lesson. He taught a Torah on a Mishnah, which explained why it is often better not to share Torah at all.
“The Mishnah states, 'כיצד עלה'—'How did he go up?' We can understand this to mean: how did Moshe ascend on high? 'בכבש'—through being koveish his face in the ground. 'ופנה לסובב'—through this he was able to connect to Hashem who surrounds all worlds. 'ובא לו לקרן'—in this manner he attained the level of 'קרן עור פניו'. And he also attained, 'מזרחית'—which alludes to the Torah which shines, זורחת, on the entire world. 'צפונית'—but this Torah which he understood must remain hidden and should not be revealed to anyone.”

Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Nighttime Offering

Rav Shach, zt”l, once traveled to the Kotel with a close student. He was obviously very moved by the visit and offered a very heartfelt prayer. When they were on the way home Rav Shach explained what had touched him so deeply. “I remembered that a certain person is very ill but I also recalled the Nefesh Hachaim who writes that Hashem renews the world every instant of each day. I pleaded with Hashem, ‘Master of the world! Just like you renew creation at all times, you can make it that this man will have a complete recovery. After all, the world is completely recreated. Surely in this new world You can cause that he feels entirely better!”
The Rama, zt”l, provides a similar explanation for why we only offer sacrifices by day, yet we may bring the innards and limbs of the animals on the mizbeach at night. “Korbanos allude to Hashem’s complete recreation of the world at all times, which is the foundation of emunah. The person who brings an offering affirms that there is Divine providence and that he is in Hashem’s hands like a defenseless animal. For this reason they are offered by day whose light is called good. As the verse states, 'וירא אלוקים את האור כי טוב'. Since the night represents the darkness when we do not perceive Hashem’s kindness, it is not fitting to offer sacrifices which teach Hashem’s renewal of the world.
“But bringing the fats and limbs onto the altar which is not essential for the atonement represents the material nature of this world, which obscures Hashem’s renewal. For this reason these can be brought at night which represents the apparent darkness of this world.”

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

An Obvious Blemish

Rav Dovid of Skver, zt”l, explained how to ensure that one’s children grow up pure. “The main thing in chinuch is the quality of outside influences on one's children, especially their friends. This is what my father zt”l, would emphasize: only if there is a genuine 'סור מרע' can there be continuity to the children’s 'עשה טוב'. The way we fulfill 'סור מרע' with children is to protect them from bad friends, because they have a huge influence, especially while one is still young and easily swayed.
“My father even recounted that one of the great tzaddikim of his generation worked very hard to educate his children to yiras shomayim but was only partially successful since he was not discriminating about his children’s friends.”
The Rama, zt”l, learned a similar lesson from a halacha regarding halachic leprosy. “Our sages teach a paradoxical-seeming halachah. Although if one contracted צרעת that is larger than the size of a גריס he is defiled, if the צרעת spreads over his entire head or body, the leprosy no longer defiles and does not require quarantine.
“This halachah teaches us a very essential lesson about impurity. It is only when the impurity is not readily obvious that the impure can have an influence on the unwary or naïve. When the person only seems to be slightly blemished, one is prone to learn from his negative actions, rationalizing that he must not be so bad. But if his impurity is readily apparent, everyone knows that he is wicked and acts out of wickedness. Since no one will copy his evil ways there is no longer any reason to quarantine him!”

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Mind over Matter

The Sefer HaChinuch explains that the body is likened to an animal which should be under the command of the mind, which is the real essence of the person. This is one reason why we do semichah on sacrifices. We lean on them with our entire strength to show that the animalistic body was formed to support our intellect, nothing more.
Sadly, some people are likened to animals as Rashi explains in Yonah. Hashem tells Yonah why Ninveh was spared, 'ואני לא אחוס על נינוה העיר הגדולה אשר יש בה...ובהמה רבה'--'Shall I not have pity on Ninveh, the great city which has in it...many beasts?' Rashi explains that the “many beasts” of Ninveh are people who are like animals since they do not recognize Hashem who created them.
The Alter of Kelm, zt”l, once said, “Everything can be divided into four categories: inanimate, plant, animal, and human. When plant life decomposes, it reverts to inanimate substance and the same is true of the other categories. Similar to physical death, when a human being lowers himself and acts without the guidance of his mind, for that moment he lets go of his human character and falls into an animal state. Even when a person is alone he should be ashamed of such a debasement of his higher self.
“One may wonder, then, why people are not ashamed to act in ways that are surely the opposite of intelligent! The answer is that since so many comport themselves this way, before whom should one feel embarrassed? Other people who also act no better than animals?”

Monday, April 4, 2011

Slaughtering in the North

The Alter of Kelm, zt”l, explained that honor is dangerous for even the greatest tzaddik. “It is clear from the command, 'והצנע לכת עם ה' אלוקיך'--'And walk humbly with Hashem your G-d'--that honor makes an impression on even the greatest person. It is human nature to willingly trade the eternal honor afforded to those who keep Torah and mitzvos for honor in this world—even honor bestowed by people of insignificant spiritual stature or even lacking worldly fame. A person is naturally drawn to do whatever it takes to get a little honor, even a heinous sin if necessary! It is for this reason that the verse must warn us to be as modest as possible in our avodah.”
“Rav Yisrael Salanter, zt”l, would always hide as much of his avodah as possible,” the Alter recounted. “The midrash regarding Shmuel HaNavi applies to him equally: ‘Look at this creation which I created in My world. All other humans work to magnify their name, while he toils to diminish his name.”
Rav Dovid of Skver, zt”l, learned just this behavior from a Mishnah we say during korbanos. “We say each day during davening, 'איזהו מקומן של זבחים? קדשי קדשים שחיטתן בצפון'. The Mishnah alludes to the best way to serve Hashem. It directs us that 'שחיטתן בצפון'. The best place to serve Hashem is to do whatever good he can and slaughter his evil impulses in צפון. In addition to meaning on the norther side this word also means hidden, as in צפון in the Haggadah. This teaches that specifically mitzvos done privately overcome our natural desire for honor, and they are in the category of kodesh kodashim. Precisely these mitzvos are the highest avodah.”

Sunday, April 3, 2011

How to Serve Hashem with Joy

Rav Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, zt”l, offered practical advice how to serve Hashem with joy. “The main purpose of creation was to take pleasure in one’s Divine service. In order to feel this pleasure one must consider that when one davens or learns Torah this gives Hashem great joy. This fact is readily apparent from the Mishnah which lists of six things for which a sacrifice must be brought. 'L’shem reyach, l’shem nichoach'--Rashi explains that this means that Hashem takes pleasure when we bring sacrifices since we are following His commands. This is our main task: to give nachas to Hashem.
“We need only consider that every positive action draws down bounty from on high. Every good action we do matters so much! Our hearts will be enflamed with enthusiasm and we should all say to ourselves, ‘Here I am, a human being formed from a putrid drop; one day I will leave this world and my body will rot in the grave, yet right now I can give pleasure to the Creator! My every mitzvah makes such a difference!’
“Every Jew is obligated to feel immense joy and satisfaction that he merits such favor from on high. But what if he is filled with doubts due to humility, and wonders to himself, “Yet what am I that I should think that Hashem has bestowed upon my avodah such importance?’ He must respond to this question in the following manner, ‘This is a kindness from Hashem which has nothing to do with anything I have done. It is truly a wonder that a human being fashioned from mere flesh and blood can give pleasure and joy to the King of kings!”

Friday, April 1, 2011

The Laws of the Future

Many people wonder why there are so many halachos which don’t seem to have any application today. Of course on a simple level they explain the halachos of what used to be, and we can certainly learn various halachos from how these cases where dealt with. Nevertheless, why learn what is mostly not applicable today? The Chasam Sofer, zt”l, answered this question while dealing with a different query.
“Once a certain Rav asked me to explain what will happen to the parshah of Amalek in the ultimate future. Surely this evil nation will be eradicated, so why have verses discussing this in the Torah? To me this did not present a problem since there are many parshios in the Torah which will not apply in times to come on a simple level. Take Parshas Terumah, Tetzaveh and the like, which discuss the halachos of building the Mishkan. How could this possibly apply in the ultimate future?
“The answer can be understood through of our sages. They wonder why we learn the tractates dealing with sacrifices; after all, these halachos will not apply until Moshiach arrives. The gemara responds that although they are truly laws that will only apply with the coming of Moshiach, we should still learn and expound them since we will be rewarded for their study.
“The same is true regarding all other parshios that apparently no longer apply. We will receive reward for learning them since we can learn many lessons in the realm of derech eretz, mussar, and yiras Shamayim from them even if do not apply right now in the simple sense. Is learning lessons of midos tovos, derech eretz, and yiras Shamayim any less important than learning actual halachos?”