Monday, August 22, 2011

Peace and Harmony

Rav Meir Shapiro, zt”l, was a captivating speaker. The following speech, given to the Agudas Harabanim in Poland, is worth repeating. “There are two types of feelings of peace and harmony. The first—which stems from the heart and mind—comes from the pure springs of the nefesh, expressed in the verse, 'כמים הפנים לפנים כן לב האדם'. This is the kind of real peace that we all strive to attain. We are all waiting eagerly for the fruition of this peace. As the verse states, 'וגר זאב עם כבש ונמר עם גדי ירבץ'—‘And the wolf with live with the lamb and the leopard will lie down with the kid.’
“But there is another, lower kind of peace which emerges instinctively from camaraderie. For example, when people are caught in an unexpected downpour and rush quickly to the only available shelter, they feel a kind of connection.
“This is how we can understand the exchange between Bilaam and the nations when Yisrael received the Torah. When the nations saw the powerful unity that we achieved prior to matan Torah, They were unable to fathom how this could be and figured that matan Torah had to be a sign of impending danger which naturally brought the Jews together.
“This explains why they ran in fear to Bilaam, exclaiming, ‘Perhaps another flood is coming to the world?’ The non-Jewish nations only know about unity that is inspired by the instinct for self-preservation, not the absolute unity of being as one man, with one heart.
“Bilaam assured them that they had nothing to worry about since there was no impending flood, neither of water or fire. It is just that for the Jewish people there is a different type of unity— 'ה' עז לעמו יתן'. This peace is the strength of all Jews, to unite through dedication to Torah. The non-Jews responded, 'ה' יברך את עמו בשלום'—Hashem shall bless His nation with peace’—a different type of peace completely foreign to their experience.”

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

“Seek Hashem When He is to be Found”

Rav Aharon Kotler, zt”l, explains how, when Hashem treats his tzaddikim with strict justice, He is feared and exalted and praised. “Our sages teach that—like Yom Kippur—the death of the righteous atones for sins.[1] It follows that just as Yom Kippur does not atone without teshuvah, the same is true regarding the death of tzaddikim. But where do we find that one does teshuvah when tzaddikim die?
“The answer can be found on Zevachim 115. There we find that the verse 'נורא אלוקים ממקדשיך'—‘Hashem is Awesome from Your Mikdash,’ can be read instead as, ממקודשיך—from Your holy ones. The gemara learns from this that when Hashem punishes tzaddikim, He is feared, exalted, and praised. This means that people are catalyzed into doing teshuvah when Hashem’s stern justice is manifest in the world.
“Just like during the ten days of teshuvah the verse states 'דרשו ה' בממצאו'—‘Seek Hashem when He is to be found,’ when tzaddikim leave the world and are eulogized properly, this inspires people to do teshuvah as well. It is easier to do teshuvah during aseres yemei teshuvah precisely because during this time middas hadin is revealed in the world. When tzaddikim pass away, the eulogies cause distress and are easily aroused to teshuvah. This time is auspicious from on high and it is easier to do teshuvah than at other times.
“This explains why a heavenly echo proclaimed that all who had attended Rebbi’s funeral merited olam haba. They all merited olam haba since during that holy time they all became complete ba’alei teshuvah!”[2]

[1] מועד קטן דף כ"ח

[2] משנת דרבי אהרן, שמיני

Monday, August 15, 2011

Withholding One’s Blessings

The Alter of Kelm, zt”l, discusses the awful consequences of being penny-pinching. “Miserliness is a reprehensible middah. Rabbeinu Yonah teaches that this defect is the source of all bad middos, since a person afflicted with it is liable to do any evil to avoid paying money. One who is enthralled with making money will eventually fall into very low places. His greed will make it easy for him to lose touch with what is important, as Rabbeinu Tam writes in Sefer Hayashar.
“Kayin was one of the first human beings and was clearly very spiritually developed. He understood why we bring korbanos from his own intellect and he brought a sacrifice. In addition, Kayin knew that only Hevel’s sacrifice was pleasing to Hashem.
The Alter continued, “Nevertheless, despite all of his advantages, Kayin killed his brother. What caused this? His lack of open-handedness, since if he had been generous, his korban would have been accepted. Kayin reasoned that beauty in serving Hashem was unnecessary, since the main thing is one’s intention. If what Hashem wants is what is in a person’s heart, why waste resources?
“Although this is true regarding someone who has nothing or very little to give, it is an error for one who has more means to use this an excuse. He should give what he has, in accordance with his means, to Hashem. It is only by bringing the best we can that we show that we are willing to give anything we have for Hashem.”
This is the meaning of Moshe’s words to Yisrael: “When you ascend to the land, sacrifice yashrus, not chovos.” This teaches that one should bring a sacrifice which is fitting, not a cheap offering that is below his means.
But the Bamidbar Yehudah, zt”l, explains differently. “Moshe was telling them the right way to approach Hashem. We must always focus on yashrus, what is righteous about the Jewish people. Never chovos, their sins or deficiencies.”

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Chizuk from the Mishkan

The Toras Kohanim explains that when Moshe erected and took down the Mishkan throughout the week of miluim, this symbolized that he erected all seven future placements of the Mishkan: in the desert itself, at Gilgal, in Nov, in Givon, and in Shilo, as well as the first and second Batei Mikdash.
The Beis Yisrael, zt”l, explained this in a very powerful manner. “Despite the Toras Kohanim, the exact purpose of Moshe erecting and taking down the Mishkan seven times is still unclear. After all, what as the point of this elaborate symbolism?
“It seems to me that Moshe made a spiritual impression in each of these Mishkenos. This impression enabled us to keep going despite these destructions. To bring this down to Jews in every generation, there are always difficulties and hardships facing us both in spiritual and material concerns. Moshe himself erected and took down the Mishkan to imbue in us the ability to start again and keep moving no matter what challenges and falls we may face. Even if we are weakened in avodah and put upon from within and without, we will always be able to get back up again. As the verse states, 'שבע יפול צדיק וקם'—‘A tzaddik falls seven times and gets up.’”
Rav Nosson of Breslov, zt”l, explains in a similar manner. “Moshe himself put up and took down the Mishkan to give it the power to imbue holiness in even the most desolate spiritual wilderness. The Mishkan was erected all over the wilderness where we wandered, a place of snakes and scorpions. This gave us the strength to start again, no matter the form of spiritual desolation in which the person is caught. No matter where a person finds himself, he can always start again and reconnect to Hashem.
Rav Mordechai of Lechvitz, zt”l, taught a similar lesson. “Chassidus depends on understanding the importance of every spiritual action. It follows that one who loses track of the vast greatness of every good act has lost touch with what it means to be a chassid.
He concluded, “To put it bluntly, one who cannot daven minchah with enthusiasm immediately after committing the worst sin, chas v’shalom, has not yet stepped on the doorstep of true chassidus!”

Friday, August 12, 2011

The Reason for Sacrifices

As is fairly well known, the Rambam and the Ramban argue about the meaning behind korabnos. The Ramabam maintains that since the Jews lived among non-Jews who worshiped animals it was necessary to sacrifice animals on the altar to eradicate their influence.
The Ramban argues that if the Rambam was correct, why did Adam and his sons bring sacrifices? Surely not to remove some insidious influence, since at that time no one worshiped animals!
The Ibn Ezra explains that sacrifices come to help the sinner visualize that his sacrifice is being slaughtered in his own stead. After bringing this Ibn Ezra, the Ramban concludes that the korbanos are brought for hidden esoteric reasons.
The Meshech Chochmah, zt”l, explains the Ramban and attempts to reconcile both opinions. “The Ramban means that sacrifices can be likened to generating electricity in the upper worlds. Through sacrifices, the kohein joins the heavenly spheres together—he ‘closes a circuit’—and achieves great things on high.
“As far as the questions on the Rambam, these can be reconciled by explaining that the Rambam in Moreh Nevuchim was only discussing the reason behind sacrificing on private altars. But the Rambam never meant to explain sacrifices brought in the Mishkan or the Beis Hamikdash.”
It seems clear from the Rambam himself in Hilchos Me’ilah that sacrifices accomplish much more than merely removing the influence of non-Jewish idolaters. “All sacrifices are included in the chukim. Our sages taught that the world rests on the merit of sacrifices. It is by doing the chukim and mishpatim that the righteous merit a portion of the next world.”

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Developing the Positive

The Alter of Kelm, zt”l, explained that even positive attributes that one was born with require work. “The good character traits also require development. If a person does not work to build up the good—and even more so if he acts contrary to a good middah—it atrophies and is eventually completely ruined. Later, even if he desires to arouse the good, it will be virtually impossible and he will have to start cultivating it as if he had never had it in the first place.
He explained further, “Every quality has a particular ‘statute of limitations’ during which it can still be revived even if its strength has waned. But if one does not begin to work on awakening these positive attributes while there is still time, it will be too late. This is another meaning of the verse, 'ככלות כוחינו אל תעזבינו'—‘Do not allow us to wait until we are abandoned and cannot really rectify the damage we have done...”
Rav Yisrael Salanter, zt”l, explained this with a vivid parable. “It is well known that if one sits on his hand or foot and stops circulation by avoiding any movement it is only a matter of time until he can no longer use the motionless limb no matter what he does to restore its vitality. Emunah is no different than the physical world in this regard. If one does not develop his emunah or any a positive character trait due to his laziness or any other reason, it dissolves into nothingness and unfortunately writhers and dies.”

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Partners in Torah

When someone wondered whether it was really worth it to make a Yissachar and Zevulun agreement with someone and asked Rav Shach, zt”l, he found that the rav was in favor.
Rav Shach answered, “You lose nothing by making such an arrangement. Therefore, even if you are eking by on your own, you should still sign this agreement, since the extra money will enable you to learn better since you will have less pressure from money, which leads to more mental clarity.
He added, “You need not worry about losing a portion of your eternal reward in the next world, since the reward of Torah in the next world is eternal and cannot be diminished by sharing it with another.”
To another student Rav Shach explained, “When it comes to making such an agreement we can apply the dictum of our sages, 'זה נהנה וזה לא חסר'—‘This one gains and the other loses nothing by it.’”
Rav Shach would also encourage laymen to take the initiative to support Torah study. “When a person who supports those who study Torah leaves the physical world—even if he himself never learned anything—he will know all the Torah that was learned with his support. You must know that the greatest bliss will be afforded those who learned Torah and those who supported those who learned.
He added, “If you think about it you will understand that if one was able to pay to know a mishnah or chapter or even a complete tractate, he would surely be willing to pay anything he could afford—even in this world where we don’t see the pristine greatness of Torah. How much more will this be true in the next world, where we will see the holiness and preciousness of every word of Torah. Surely, the one who gained the Torah will be thrilled with the Torah waiting for him, especially if he himself was unable to learn as is fitting.
“When a person thinks about this, he will surely race after those who learn to attain the merit of Torah. I am sure you will take these words—which emerge from the holy works of the Choftez Chaim—to heart and merit all the wondrous reward of those who support Torah.”

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

A Vital Tree

Rav Naftali of Ropshitz, zt”l, once found that the Chozeh of Lublin, zt”l, was troubled by something and asked him what it was. The Chozeh answered, “The verse states, 'השמר לך פן תשכח את ה' אלקיך'—‘Guard yourself lest you forget Hashem your G-d.’ Our sages teach in Zevachim 106 that anywhere the verse uses the words 'השמר', 'פן' or 'אל' this teaches that what is being discussed is a negative commandment. It comes out that one who forgets Hashem even for an instant violates a negative commandment. How is it that so many Jews forget Hashem throughout the day? Must we say that they violate a negative commandment every time they forget?”
The Ropshitzer replied that thankfully there was a way around this harsh judgment. “Regarding Peah the Mishnah teaches that a special olive which tends to drip oil but only does so in some years is special and therefore not in the category of שכחה. Chazal explain that Peah only applies to an ordinary tree which one tends to forget. But regarding a tree which one is sure to remember eventually, שכחה does not apply. This tree is important and the owners will surely come back for it. And the same is true regarding one who forgets Hashem, chalilah. If it is important in the eyes of the one who forgot and he plans to get back to it as soon as he is able this is not considered halachic שכחה and is not a violation of the לא תעשה.”

Monday, August 8, 2011

In Private and in Public

The Chofetz Chaim, zt”l, gives an excellent parable to encourage us to stay away from groups of people who indulge in lashon hara. “Imagine if ten people were once sitting together when the police rushed in and arrested one of them for some serious crimes. To their chagrin they are also taken in for questioning since they are obviously friendly with the criminal.
‘”When, after enduring hours of grueling interrogation, they are finally freed, you can be certain that they will be very careful to avoid being in the company of someone they even remotely suspect is a criminal. Why should they suffer for another’s misdemeanors?
“Similarly, when we are drawn to join a group of baalei lashon hara, we must consider the immense losses endured by a member of such a group. Very often there are one or two people who love to gossip and share all the lashon hara they can gather. But surely every person who is part of this group will suffer for being present during the sins of these unfortunate souls! We must internalize this fact and use it to resist the pull of time spent listening to lashon hara. Surely we have enough sins of our own to deal with in the next world; why should we accept even partial liability for another’s sins?”
On another occasion, the Chofetz Chaim explained the vast damage caused even by lashon hara told over in private. “If you want to send a letter to someone you may hardly know, you must first find out his correct address. Then you need to write the letter and send it. Some letters never reach the intended parties since people sometimes change addresses.
“But when one speaks slander, even in private, about someone he may not even know, the damage is virtually guaranteed. He may not have said the name, merely hinted at it, and he may not know his exact address but he can be sure that his slander will eventually reach the subject. Such is the power of slander!”

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Incomplete Angels

. The Arvei Nachal, zt”l, would inspire everyone he came into contact with to do mitzvos with as much kavanah as possible. He would say, “When a Jew learns Torah, davens, or does any mitzvah he creates a defending angel. At night when his neshamah ascends on high, these angels present themselves for inspection from above. If the Torah, mitzvos, or prayer are as they should be, these angels are allowed to join the heavenly host. A sign that the angels one has fashioned are accepted is that he does not focus on what he has achieved. Instead he moves on to new mitzvos, a new topic of study, or another meaningful prayer.
“But if the angel is not complete, it is rejected from the heavenly host. This angel remains with the one who brought it into existence. A sign of this kind of incomplete mitvah is that one focuses on this mitzvah until he is filled with pride. Since he is so full of the mitzvos he has already done, he has trouble moving on to new mitzvos or focusing on moving on in learning or davening. Instead he dwells on this mitzvah which gives him great pleasure but also holds him back from advancing.
“This is a deeper meaning of the statement on Zevachim 87, לינה מועלת. It can also be read as, ‘an angel that remains with one overnight signifies that he has transgressed the prohibition of meilah.’ Since this mitzvah or Torah takes up more than its share of space in one’s head it puffs him up and makes him arrogant, pushing him to fall spiritually.
“The continuation of the statement there, 'בראשו של מזבח', teaches that this problem is especially damaging if it happens to a tzaddik or talmid chacham, the head of the mizbeach. They must be extra vigilant to learn and do mitzvos with real devotion and completion to avoid creating blemished angels.”

Friday, August 5, 2011

The Ashes of Humility

One time a group of young men were traveling with Rav Gershon of Yadnik, Hy”d, when they met with a man who obviously suffered terribly. They stopped to speak to him and he described his excruciating pain. As he finished explaining what he experienced, he commented, “In all six thousand years of creation there has never been a person who suffered as much as I do.”
Rav Gershon comforted him for a long time to the amazement of the bochurim. When he finally went on his way Rav Gershon commented, “Look at the power of arrogance. As if it was not bad enough that he suffers, he is also a ba’al gavah who believes he is unique in all of history!”
The Alter of Kelm, zt”l, explains, “The verse in Mishlei states, 'גאות אדם תשפילנו'—‘A man’s arrogance lowers him.’ Why? Because when we find that a person has arrogance this is a sign that he is on a low spiritual level. Clearly he lacks a desire to better himself spiritually, since if he was longing to attain the next level he would not be filled with arrogance. One who understands that he must advance cannot entertain pride since he knows that he is not complete. This is why one who indulges in this disgusting character trait is lowered. Hashem diminishes him so he should be ashamed of his low level.”
The Maharal, zt”l, explains that this is the lesson of Terumas Hadeshen. “One should never feel that if he removes his arrogance and makes himself as דשן, ash, by humbling himself he is lowered. Quite the contrary, he is uplifted. As the verse states, 'והרים את הדשן'.
“The rule is that one who humbles himself is uplifted while one who is arrogant is lowered. If one nullifies his arrogance and is nothing in his eyes like ash, he ascends on high and is one with Hashem.”

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Otzar HaYirah on the Three Weeks

Click here to download the sixth shiur of Otzar HaYirah (Likutei Halachos) on the Three Weeks. In this lesson, we learn about the meaning of Kinos and the significance of sitting on the floor.

Residents of the Land

It is well known that the Chofetz Chaim, zt”l, yearned to move the Eretz Yisrael with all of his soul, and even made several plans to leave the diaspora for the holy land. The residents of Eretz Yisrael were so excited when they heard about this that they even built a shul for him. Sadly, his desire never came to fruition.
When the Chofetz Chaim’s son, Rav Leib, visited Eretz Yisrael and then returned to galus, his father rebuked him. “Why didn’t you stay? Returning was nothing more than a foolish mistake. We are in the time known as ikvesa d’mishichah, the end of days. When Moshiach finally arrives, we cannot be sure that we will have the merit to even enter eretz Yisrael. But if we are already living in the land before Moshiach arrives we can feel secure that we will not be evicted from our home...”
When Rav Yashar, z”l, recounted this story he commented, “One may well wonder about the Chofetz Chaim’s source for this surprising teaching. I believe that his source is from the gemara. In Kesuvos 111 we find that the land and holiness of Eretz Yisrael is compared to the altar. This is learned from the proof that one who is buried in Eretz Yisrael is considered as if he is buried under the mizbeach. We see this from the verse. On the one hand we find, 'וכיפר אדמתו עמו' and it also says, 'מזבח אדמה תעשה לי'. This equates the land of Eretz Yisrael to the altar.
“Since we find in Zevachim 84 that what is brought up on the altar is not removed except under exceptional circumstances, it seems clear that the same is true of one who is already in Eretz Yisrael before Moshiach comes!”

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

New Shiurim for the Three Weeks

Click here for the next two lessons from Otzar HaYirah on the Three Weeks.

Avoiding Harsh Decrees

Rav Zalman Sorotzkin, zt”l, explains the cause of the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash and how to avoid harsh decrees. “The verse tells us not to accept a blemished sacrifice from a non-Jew since 'משכתם בהם מום בם לא ירצו לכם'. This seems to be redundant. Rashi on that verse writes that you will not have atonement through a blemished sacrifice. This is puzzling since the context is that we bring the sacrifice for the non-Jews, not Jews.
“It is possible that this comes to defend the actions of Zechariah ben Avkulas. After Kamtza was humiliated in front of the sages, he ran to the Roman government and claimed that the Jews where rebelling. To test this assertion he suggested that the Roman emperor send a sacrifice to Yerushalayim to see if they would bring it on the altar.
“He brought it and made a blemish on it which is permissible for non-Jews but halachically forbids us offer it. Rabbi Zechariah refused to offer it and also ruled out the execution of Kamtza. This caused the Roman emperor to send troops to put down the supposed rebellion and led to the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash.
“Our verse is saying that even without Rabbi Zechariah’s psak the Romans would have found another reason to destroy the Beis Hamikdash. This is the meaning of the verse that we should not offer even those blemishes which are acceptable to them. Why not? Because 'משכתם בהם'. Their destructiveness—which stems from avodah zarah and gilui arayos—is within them. 'מום בם'—‘The Romans are the blemished ones.’ 'לא ירצו לכם'—Even if you bring their sacrifice they will find another pretext. If we fail to do teshuvah, we will be just like the myriad of nations trampled under the mighty foot of Rome.”

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

“According to His Path”

The Alter of Kelm, zt”l, gave a very decisive lesson about how we should comport ourselves at all times. “'חנוך לנער על פי דרכו...'. From this verse we see that each youth must be educated in the right path for him. We can understand from this that every person must vigilantly educate himself to act as is fitting in each situation.
“For example, we certainly must speak with restraint and are better off not speaking in front of one who is older and has more experience as we find in Avos. But that does not apply to those who scoff the Torah and its values. Regarding such people we must certainly speak if we can do so with understanding, enabling others to see how false their opinions are.
“As we find in Meseches Derech Eretz, one must not be sad where people are joyous or overtly happy when people are sad. We must learn to speak with talmidei chachomim as is fitting and with the ignorant in a different manner. To those who are truly wise and will appreciate it, we should give moral direction to help them improve. We must refrain from giving the ignorant rebuke since this will not help. On the contrary, they will resent such intrusion and react angrily.
“The same is true in every regard. Sometimes one action is appropriate and other times we must act in the exact opposite manner. We must learn how to deal with the challenges of every encounter. Sometimes the best path is to pretend to fall asleep. Sometimes, we must act with decisiveness. In other situations it is better to be deliberate. The main thing is to learn how to act in each situation and educate ourselves slowly but surely to improve.”

Monday, August 1, 2011

The Best Portion

The Rambam teaches an important halachic principle from the fact that the chelev of a sacrifice is reserved for Hashem. “Just like in a sacrifice the chelev, which is the best part of the animal, is reserved for Hashem, the same is true regarding other mitzvos. If you wish to build a shul, make it nicer than your house. When you feed the hungry, do so with the best and sweetest foods on your table. A person who provide clothing for those who need them should do so with his best garments. As the verse states, ‘And all chelev is for Hashem!’”
Once, a certain person came to the Imrei Emes, zt”l, and explained that he wished to daven but did not have tefillin and desired to borrow a pair. To everyone’s shock the rebbe took out a very valuable pair of tefillin which he had as an inheritance from his ancestors and loaned this pair to the man requesting tefillin.
The chassidim were astounded, “The rebbe himself rarely puts on these precious tefillin! How did he lend them, then, to the poor man?” they whispered among themselves.
But when they asked the rebbe about this apparently strange behavior, his answer was sharp and to the point as usual. “What kind of a question is that? Am I not fulfilling the mitzvah of gemilas chassadim when I lend that unfortunate fellow a pair of tefillin? The Rambam writes that we should use the best we own to do mitzvos. As the verse states, ‘And all chelev is for Hashem!’”