Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Dread of Death

Rabbeinu Yonah, zt”l, writes that one who is happy only on people’s birthday but is deeply saddened for the deceased on the day he dies lacks true understanding. Rav Moshe Shmuel Shapiro, zt”l, explains, “Why should one be sad for the departed? We believe that every person has a mission to fulfill in this world and when it is done he is recalled. Rabbeinu Yonah alludes to a famous parable to illustrate this concept. Once there a merchant who sent his son out to do business in a distant land. When the son has completed his time abroad and returned home to his father, is the departed to be pitied? Surely not! On the contrary, it is good that the son returns to his father since the purpose of his leaving in the first place was to make a profit and return home.”
So we should not feel that death is a great loss for the one who dies. But sometimes people take this too far, as Rav Zalman Sorotzkin, zt”l, explained regarding the purpose of melikah as opposed to shechitah. “Why does shechitah suffice for he rich man’s sacrifice but the poor man’s must have melikah? Why not do shechitah on bird korbanos like we do for animals? To understand this we must consider why sacrifices are slaughtered. This is to break the heart of the sinner since he will contemplate that it is fitting to kill him instead of the animal. That is enough to break the heart of a wealthy man who brings an animal, but what about a poor man? He has such a hard life that he may literally prefer death. After all, once it’s over he will stop suffering and eventually enjoy his eternal reward. This is why we do melikah which is much more painful. This is to show that until one dies things can also be very bitter. And death itself can also be very painful. It is only in this way that the poor person will also break his heart and do teshuvah.”

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Likutei Halachos on the Three Weeks

Here is a lesson from Otzar Hayirah on the significance of the Three Weeks.
May we see the complete consolation soon, with the arrival of Moshiach Tzidkeinu.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Greatness of Tzaddikim

We cannot understand the greatness of every good action, word, and thought since we hardly discern their impact in this physical world. How much less do we have a grasp of the greatness of a tzaddik who struggled to overcome his yetzer hara and live in absolute accordance with Hashem’s will.
This is how the Pri Ha’aretz, zt”l, explains an apparently enigmatic statement of our sages. “Our sages teach that while a live ram has one voice, a dead ram forms seven sound producing instruments. This alludes to the tzaddik who will be recognized as is fitting only in the ultimate future. Although while in this word he attains a certain degree of renown, this is not nearly as much as it fitting since we cannot discern with physical eyes his vast greatness. To us, great and small tzaddikim appear essentially the same. In the world to come we will see the precise greatness of each tzaddik in accordance with how much he toiled to come closer to Hashem. The praise of true tzaddik—even those who attain great prominence in this world—will be at least seven-fold. It is only then that each tzaddik will be treated as he truly deserves.”
But the Ohel Yosef Yitzchak, zt”l, explains differently. “We find in the Midrash that the Jewish people are compared to a vineyard. Just like a vineyard is propagated upon dead branches, so too, Yisrael survives on the great merit of the Avos. The Midrash adds that our prayers are also only accepted due to the merit of the Avos. This is clear from the prayers of Eliyahu on Mount Carmel. Although he petitioned Hashem with many prayers he was only answered when he mentioned the departed.
“This is the meaning of the words of our sages that the live ram has one voice but the dead ram has seven. ‘Seven voices’ alludes to diversity among the Jewish people. Even though we are very diverse, we are still unified because we stem from the live ram, the Avos, whose voice is only for the Creator. Although there is much apparent diversity, at our source the Jewish people are one.”

Monday, July 4, 2011

The Children of Keturah

Once when Rav Shimon Sofer, the Rav of Krakow, was in Warsaw, some rabannim and scholars met with him. Among the crowd was a certain rav who said over many new and interesting Torah concepts, but Rav Sofer understood that although his words sounded very brilliant they were not really true.
Rav Sofer said to his visitor, “We find in the the gemara in Zevachim 62 that the nephews of Rabbi Tarfon were sitting in front of their uncle. Rashi explains that they remained silent. But how could this be? This must mean that they were speaking in learning, but Rashi calls it silence since their words were not the absolute truth. Rabbi Tarfon misquoted the verse, 'ויוסף אברהם ויקח אשה ושמה...'—‘And Avraham went on and took for a wife...’ However, instead of saying Keturah he said Yochni. His nephews immediately corrected him, ‘She was called Keturah!’
“‘You are like the Bnei Keutrah,’ Rabbi Tarfon answered back. Could it be that the great Rabbi Tarfon accidentally misquoted a verse? It is clear that he did so intentionally so that his nephews should break off speaking Torah not directed towards the truth, by correcting him that her name was actually Keturah, which is one hundred percent true. In this manner he taught them that truth is better than the sharpest vertlach that are not founded on absolute truth. It is better not to have lived if all one is occupied with is essentially false Torah.”
The Pnei Menachem, zt”l, explains differently, “He called them Bnei Keturah since he saw that they were immersed in the wakeful slumber of one who is completely focused on material matters. He therefore arranged to call them Bnei Keturah to teach them that they should not be like the children of Hagar. Rather they should act like the children of Sorah who make good use of their time since they value every minute and every hour of each day.”

Friday, July 1, 2011

The Power of Longing

Rav Nosson of Breslov, zt”l, explains that all avodah is predicated on lighting a fire in one’s heart and understanding that we can accomplish whatever spiritual goal we set for ourselves. In the words of the Alter of Kelm, zt”l, “Greatness of the heart is a foundation of every Jew’s avodah, since everything, both material and spiritual is predicated on it. Consider the manner in which the Mishkan was fashioned. How could these Jews, who had been slaves all their lives, craft such beautiful workmanship? The answer is that their hearts was filled with a fiery desire to build the house of Hashem. This was so powerful that they cried, ‘Yes, we can!’
“This took such surprising courage in the sense of strong-heartedness that Moshe himself was surprised to see it. As the verse states, 'וירא משה והנה עשו ככל הצוה ה''—‘And Moshe saw that, behold, they had done as all that Hashem had commanded.’ The word ‘behold’ is superfluous. It serves to express Moshe’s wonderment that such untrained laborers achieved results.
“Where did this strength come from? It emerged from the fiery longing in their hearts to do the will of Hashem at all costs. This desire stems from one’s understanding, since there is no longing without awareness. Yet arousing this fire also depends on how we act on our holy desire. As we push ourselves to act we will achieve siyaata d’Shmaya and expand our yearning and achieve more and more amazing results.”