Friday, September 21, 2012

Avodas Yom HaKippurim: Fighting Today's Idolatry

Rav Wolbe, zt”l, once discussed the most dangerous idolatry of our generation. “Of all the heresy and idolatry that has reared its head in each generation those facing our generation are the lowest. The main idolatry of our generation is the denial of free will. “Among the nations this mistake is often used to free killers from paying for their crimes. Such people are viewed as sick and if there was any kind of specious psychological pretext for the crime, they are acquitted. Yet this same sickness has also penetrated into our enclaves. Who among us believe that he is not forced to sin due to circumstance? Who thinks that it is possible to live from one Yom Kippur to the next without sinning? It is even hard to find someone who believes that he can go one full day without sin. “We must work hard on Yom Kippur to internalize the belief that it is truly possible to choose live a sin-free life. We must know that the foundation of man is that he has a choice. This is the purpose of creation and, especially in our times we must strengthen our emunah in this iron-clad fact. We must believe that we are capable of overcoming our inclination to do evil, and that we are responsible if we fail to exert every possible effort toward this goal. “There are two levels of free will. Internalizing that every action is a choice which forms our portion in the next world, either spiritual life or spiritual death, chas v’shalom, is the first. The higher level of bechirah is choosing what brings to dveikus as an outgrowth of our love of Hashem and running away from what distances one from Him.”

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Spirit of the Law: Seventeenth of Tamuz

Kitzur Shulchan Aruch: 121:1 "From the 17th of Tamuz the tzaros of the churban started so the custom is to comport oneself a little like a mourner. It is fitting for anyone who fears heaven to say tikun chatzos after midday during this time…" The Gemara writes:all who mourn the destruction of Yerushalayim will merit to see her nechama .The Maharal explains two reasons why one must first mournto see the nechamah. the first thing to understand is that the world is in a very imperfect state primarily because it lacks its most basic component: the Beis Hamikdash.Mourning the Beis Hamikdash shows that we appreciate our loss and the reason for our loss. The more we appreciate how much we lack on because of our lack of a Beis Hamikdash the more we mourn and show our relationship with the true metsios of the world. For the world is really supposed to be a world of completion for a world with a Beis Hamikdash reveals the deep spiritual connection between the Creator and His creations . The second reason is because the rule is that only something lacking can come to a new level of completion. For example, a seed must decompose in order to grow into a tree. The contents of an egg must become putrid before a chick can be formed. We can learn this from a number of chazal’s as well: The yearning for Chachma makes one a suitable vessel to receive chachama. A woman’s yearning for children makes her a suitable vessel to have children. Even in the antecedents of the world we find that first there was tohu, vohu and choshech and only then could there be a creation. For this reason it is only one who feels that he is missing the Beis Hamikdash who will be able to access the spiritual levels of nechama, Hashem's comfort to us. Only one who truly knows his flaws has space to become more complete. One who feels complete cannot develop since “you can’t improve on perfection.” If he really doesn’t feel perfect why doesn't he yearn for completion? Failure to yearn shows that for one reason or another we relate to ourselves as if we were perfect . Intenllectual knowledge of our flaws is completely irrelvant just as one who "knows" that he needs to control his temper will continue to act the exact same way if his knowledge stays in his head and does not reach his heart. Our identity is revealed in our attitude. Refusal to emotionally acknowledge our imperfections by ignoring them and failing to yearn to improve them, condemns us to bear our faults.To explain this with a simple metaphor:if someone who takes a daily dose of live saving medicine knows he has run out he can try and get another prescription and purchase more. One who has no idea that he is almost out believes he has enough and will take no steps to rectify his situation until he notices that his supply is dwindling. Surely we would never fix something we don’t believe is broken. Often one doesn't yearn to improve his faults because he feels that his flaws and sins are so much a part of him that he will never change. This person also belives he is complete but in a different way. He feels that he is complete in the sense that he cannot possibly change so why yearn? If we really felt there was hope because Hashem can always improve us, we would yearn to access the levels of the holiness of the Beis Hamikdash continuously with our whole heart. In Brochos 32 we find that for although we no longer have the holy temple, regarding one who has true understanding the Beis Hamikdash is considered to have been rebuilt.If we yearn and plead with Hashem to improve our faults we will surely attain the level of completion Hashem wants for us. The first step of all spiritual ascent is an absolute belief that all failures can be turned around. All one needs to do is yearn to improve with his entire being whenever he can. One must also "tough it out" by patiently doing whatever good possible while waiting for Hashem's salvation. Rav Nosson of Breslov zt”l, wrote in a letter, “...Regarding the all important issue: your very bitter cry of pain (of your present spiritual state) as a result of your of sins and the thoughts that the Yetzer Hara attacks you with,the main tactic of the yester Hara, (since all illicit actions are the fruit of negative or unproductive thoughts which determine our attitudes and spiritual\ emotional state as well as how we will react.Bad thoughts are the prelude to all spiritual falls.) I have heard your cries and know your pain from before and now (so much that) my heart goes out to you since I feel every bit of your pain as if it was my own…but the very fact that you are crying out with such bitterness, literally until the heavens because of this, comforts and encourages me! My son; you must know and believe that Hashem hears every single cry and will surely deliver you in the merit of following the advice of the true tsadikim. That the deliverance is taking so long is on account of a hidden reason. But it is certain that failing to strengthen ourselves to overcome such bad thoughts is partially why your deliverance tarries.) Another reason this [often] takes so long is because Hashem loves to hear the tefilos of Yisrael, even the prayers of the lowest of the low! But even so; not even a single cry is lost so regardless of results, you must continue to cry out with all your might! … Know my son:there were people much worse off than you that I knew who were healed. Through the words I received from the Rebbi, they were completely rectified and their lot is the portion of those who merit eternal life… ! In another letter Rav Nosson signs off by saying, “May Hashem help us to weep and mourn the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash which principally means that we should mourn because of our sins that prevent the rebuilding of the Beis Hamikdash until we merit to change our agony and sighing into the happiness and joy of trust in Hashem’s kindness and great deliverance until everything turns into good! The words of your father, who is waiting for deliverance and praying for you, Nosson of Breslov . This sentiment was echoed by Rav Wolbe, zt”l, when he said, “I will give you a big sum of money if you can find even one bochur who believes that it is possible to come to the level whereby one can go an entire year without sins. I am not talking about trying to accept upon ourselves to go a year without sin. Quite the contrary! Kabalos have to be exclusively small. But we must at least believe that this is possible (after much introspection and toil.) I am not even talking about coming to gadlus which is a much greater level. I am talking about entering into our heads and hearts the genuine belief that it is possible to rid ourselves of all sin! This emunah is a prerequisite of true [teshuvah which consists of] charata of the past and acceptance for the future !”

Friday, July 6, 2012

The Beast of Burden

Around one hundred years ago, many great luminaries of the old yishuv attended a pidyon haben. At the meal was Rav Kook, zt”l, who served as the kohain, and Rav Yosef Chaim Sonenfeld, zt”l. Although they often didn’t see eye to eye, many are unaware how considerate and respectful each was of the other personally. The father invited Rav Kook to say a few words in honor of the affair. Rav Kook began to address the assembled guests. “Our sages give an answer to a puzzling question. Why was the donkey chosen to fulfill the mitzvah of pidyon peter chamor? After all, a donkey is a completely unclean animal! The gemara explains that the donkey was chosen because it bore the weight of the treasure that the Jewish people took out of Egypt. Rav Kook exclaimed, “Look at that! Even though a donkey is unclean and serves as a symbol for stubbornness, obtuseness and the like, it nevertheless receives a reward for carrying property to Eretz Yisrael. We see from here that even one who is defiled and has bad middos can gain a modicum of holiness if he participates in the process of bringing the Jewish people from the exile to Eretz Yisrael.” After Rav Kook completed his speech, Rav Sonenfeld immediately got up, unwilling to let the statement pass. “I had not intended to speak, but the Rav of Yaffo began his drashah without drawing the natural conclusion. It behooves me, in honor of his Torah, to complete the drashah. Rav Sonenfeld continued, “Firstly, it is clear that he is correct. The donkey merited holiness because it served as a beast of burden for Jews, despite it negative aspects. Nevertheless, the mitzvah of peter chamor proves that it is impossible for the holiness to remain with an unclean beast. There are two possibilities: either the holiness is transferred to a sheep, a clean animal, via the mechanism of pidyon. And if not, the only other alternative is that the donkey is killed!”

Thursday, July 5, 2012

So As Not to Swear

Once the Chavas Das, zt”l, was travelling incognito with a group of merchants. There was no way to tell that the man dressed as a poor wayfarer was one of the famous rabbinic personages of his time. As the coach neared the outskirts of a city one of the merchants discovered that he had been robbed. Everyone began talking at once, except the Chavas Das. One of the merchants accused him of the crime. “I bet the silent pauper stole it; he has sharp eyes like a fraud and is the only one who is silent.” Although the Chavas Das denied taking anything, the merchants brought him to the local Rabbi. Since he resembled a poor man, the Rabbi figured it likely that he took the money. “The halacha is that you must either produce the money or swear you didn't take it!” The Chavas Das considered his predicament. “I will pay half the money to avoid swearing,” he declared. The merchant figured that he must be the thief; otherwise why not swear? “Either pay the entire sum or swear!” The Chavas Das thought another moment and offered three quarters of the sum. When that was rejected, he offered to pay almost the entire amount, which the merchant also dismissed. “I can't pay more so I will have to swear,” the Chavas Das said. “But first I need time to prepare myself.” He went into the corner and began to cry, obviously doing intense teshuvah. After a few minutes of this, one of the merchants fainted. When he woke up he admitted that he had taken the money and rushed to return it. When the merchants left, the Rav demanded that the Chavas Das reveal who he was, which he eventually did, brushing aside the Rav's natural apologies. “Why apologize? You ruled according to halacha.” “Why did you first offer half, then more and finally almost the entire amount, before you agreed to swear?” the rabbi asked. “First I offered all my money; then my material goods. My final offer included all of my property. Since I can't raise more and do not have the strength to take on debts I agreed to swear.”

Friday, June 29, 2012

Daily Bread

Rav Yisrael Salanter, zt”l, provides an incisive explanation of a statement of our sages. “On Menachos 103 we find that the curse in the verse 'ואל תאמין בחייך'—‘And you will not believe in your life’—refers to one who must purchase bread daily from a baker. “On the surface this seems very difficult to understand. Surely during our sojourn in the desert when the manna came down each day we were not in this category. Yet wouldn’t a person who had children wonder about his livelihood for the next day, since he was relying on another miracle for his family’s food? How can we understand this? Is it plausible to say that Hashem told us about a punishment which what will happen in terrible times if it was a curse we suffered daily for forty years? “The answer is that it all depends on one’s attitude. As our sages say, one who has sustenance for today yet worries about tomorrow is a person of little faith. For such a person, lacking food for the future is surely a terrible curse since he spends his time worrying. But for one who has faith, this is not a curse at all. Since he trusts in Hashem he does not worry. Instead of being a curse, this situation will be a blessing since it forces him to turn his heart to Hashem. “This is the meaning of this curse. The curses will only come upon us if we do not obey Hashem. For such people, even being required to rely on the baker for food is a terrible curse since they worry each day whether there will be food for the next. But for the generation of the desert this was no curse. They were on a high spiritual level and rose to the challenge, honing their bitachon through this difficulty and until they had no worry at all. Instead they continued to live the verse, 'ויאמינו בה' ובמשה עבדו'—‘And they believed in Hashem and in Moshe His servant.’”

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Source of the Tzaddik's Blessings

Many were those who came to the Ohev Yisrael of Apt, zt”l, for advice and to ask him to daven for them. Interestingly, he would often take breaks while people were waiting for him. During these times he would take out a gemara and learn with great diligence. After some time immersed in the subject he would agree to begin to see people again. Then he would take another break. And then another. He once explained the reason behind this apparently strange custom. "No one should think that I do not understand the importance of avoiding keeping Hashem’s people waiting. Yet I also know that they have come to me for help. I know that the main way to open up channels of bounty is through the Torah. For this reason I take breaks to learn with intensity. In this manner I am most likely to succeed in helping those who come to me in whatever way needed.”

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

It is surely significant that Rav Chaim of Volozhin, zt”l, didn’t sign on the famous cherem of the Vilna Gaon against the chassidim. Some posit that this was for technical reasons. But Rav Shalom Schwadron, zt”l, explains the real reason. “Rav Chaim of Volozhin refrained from signing due to his gratitude to a certain great rebbe. He held that just as Moshe rabbeinu did not hit the Nile due to having received a favor from it, the same held true regarding himself and the chassidim. “Once when he was just a young man he went wandering in exile, much like his rebbe the Vilna Gaon. When he arrived in Alik, a chassidic town, he went to the beis midrash and began learning—without even asking for food. The people saw that he was learning with diligence and sent him food, as was normal in those days. Shortly after he arrived in the city, he became violently ill. Rav Hirsch of Alik, zt”l, the rebbe of the city, ordered his chassidim to send for a doctor and deal with all of Rav Chaim’s needs. They paid the high doctor’s fees and procuring everything necessary for Rav Chaim’s convalescence in the town’s hospital. Even when Rav Chaim felt somewhat better, Rav Hirsch insisted that he remain in the hospital until he was entirely recovered. Because of their efforts, Rav Chaim felt that signing the cherem would be forbidden since it is a marked lack of hakaras hatov.’

Monday, June 25, 2012

The Atoning Table

Many are confused as to why chassidic rebbes conduct tischen. After all, isn’t this bitul Torah for those who could learn? They would likely be surprised to hear that the Avnei Nezer, zt”l—a great lamdan—would praise the greatness of chassidic tischen. “What the tables of the rebbes achieved we shall only comprehend when our righteous Moshiach arrives.” Rav Elchonon Halperin, shlit”a, explains this practice with a statement brought of our sages. “In Menahcos 97 we find that one’s table atones for him. Rashi explains that one’s table atones in the merit of feeding poor people at the table. Yet imagine the embarrassment of destitute people who have no choice but to take their meals as charity as another’s table. Surely only a very rare person can give the poor food in a manner which will not be a huge embarrassment. Most people eating at the table of another out of necessity feel nothing less than bitter darkness. “But at the table of tzaddikim, everyone eats for free. Both the poor and the wealthy join together and one who is hungry can obtain as much food as he wants in an honorable manner. No one feels above his friend, since everyone is there for the same reason and is treated the same way. All those who attend a tisch feel a sense of togetherness that emerges out of holy love and companionship. With such a pleasant atmosphere is it any wonder that we cannot imagine the great atonement of a chassidic tisch?”

Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Source of the Question

While it may be common for a person who has a sharp intellect to feel distinguished when he comes up with insightful questions on what he learns, it is a wrong-headed behavior. The Meor Einayim, zt”l, mentions this tendency and explains that it shows a marked lack of perspective. He asked, “How could a person studying the Toras Hashem not understand his learning? If he has a strong question, this is merely a reflection of his own flaws. I therefore don’t understand the mindset of lamdanim who are proud of their questions—the more difficult the question the more pride. Shouldn’t one feel ashamed if due to his sins he doesn’t understand? Being prideful instead of introspectively thoughtful about this is nothing less than an error. Who knows if he has a strong question due to a serious spiritual failing?” The Rav of Dzikov, zt”l, explains why this is not difficult from a statement on today’s daf. “In Menachos 95 we find that a man asked a question as hard as iron. Who was it? Rav Sheshes. Apparently, asking a difficult question is a reason to take pride. But according to the Meor Einayim having a question is a disgrace since it highlights the questioner’s sins! He concluded, “In order to understand why this is not contradiction, we must consider who Rav Sheshes was. The gemara tells us that he was blind. Of course a blind man is not obligated in mitzvos. The Pri Megadim adds that this includes even negative mitzvos. This is why specifically Rav Sheshes can take pride in his question. Since he is not obligated in Torah his question cannot be a result of his sins!”

Friday, June 22, 2012

The Power of Community

The Avnei Nezer explains the atonement of the mitzvah of shekalim, “The atonement of shekalim is not for sins per se. Shekalim atones for a person’s tendency to separate himself from his fellow Jews. Through giving shekalim he unifies himself with the community of the Jewish people.” Rav Nosson of Breslov, zt”l, explains why shekalim serve to unify every Jew with the community. “We give specifically half-shekels to teach an important lesson: that without the community we are nothing. Since every individual has a mission to fulfill which no one else can achieve, it is easy to feel uniquely different. We must never feel separated form our friends since, at the root, all Jews are one. “To teach that we all need each other, each person gives half a shekel—which is only completed through another Jew’s half shekel. This shows that we are only complete when we are unified with our friend. This brings to great feelings of brotherhood and nullifies our natural tendency towards feeling uniquely alone.”

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Reciting Shema without Tefilin

A certain person was up late, learning Torah. By the time he got to sleep, there wasn’t much time until he had to recite Shema. His usual practice was to wake up shortly before the time of Shema, dress quickly and say Shema on time. But there wasn’t enough time for him to put on tefillin before reciting Shema. When he reached the sugyah in Berachos which states that one who says Shema without tefillin is compared to one who gives false testimony, he was very devastated and wondered if he was required to change his habit. At the same time, he wondered if this statement was relevant to him. He said to himself, “After all, I do put on tefillin while I daven. So perhaps it is not likened to giving false testimony. On the other hand, I don’t have tefillin on when I recite Hashem’s command to bind them on your arm and head, so maybe that is the problem?” When this question reached the Chozeh of Lublin, zt”l, he permitted the man to continue his practice. “This is clear from the very gemara you quote. We find that that saying Shema without tefillin is like bringing a sacrifice without the wine libation. But the halachah regarding a libation is that it is still valid if it is brought within ten days after bringing the sacrifice. We see that as long as one brought the libation within its halachic time framework, the sacrifice is not considered to be without a libation. The same is true regarding Shema. Even if one said Shema without tefillin, if he put on tefillin that day as the halachah requires he is not likened to one who gives false testimony.” The Eretz Tzvi, zt”l, proves this from the halachah in Rosh Hashanah. “From the Maharsha in Avodah Zarah 4 it is clear that one need not wear tefillin when saying Shema as long as he puts it on afterwards. He explains how we say יום תרועה during shachris before blowing shofar. Since we will blow later, this is not considered false testimony. The same is true regarding tefillin.”

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Making a Fresh Start

It is surely significant that although only a kohein can prepare the lights, even a non-kohein is permitted to light them. The Imrei Avraham learns an important lesson from this halachah. “The lights in the menorah symbolize one’s neshamah. As the verse states, 'נר ה' נשמת אדם'—‘The soul of man is the candle of G-d.’ The main time to prepare the lights was when they went out. The kohein would remove the remaining oil and wick in each lamp and replace them. This signifies making a fresh start when things fall apart. The first thing is to remove the wreckage caused by one’s fall by strengthening his resolve to ‘turn from evil and do good.’ This is the same way in which the sacrifices would atone by removing the filth of sin to enable a fresh start. This is clear from Rashi on the verse, 'אכפרה פניו במנחה'—‘I will attain an atonement before Him with a minchah offering.’ He continued, “Although making a fresh start after sins are atoned for is of paramount importance, it is also much easier than cleaning up the mess. Only a kohein can remove the filth. Although it is a mitzvah for a kohein to prepare the lights, and only a kohein may prepare them, rekindling them and starting over can be done by anyone.” But this need not only apply to those who sinned and fell. Even a complete tzaddik has to continuously make a new start so as not to rest on his laurels, no matter how great they are. As Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, zt”l, said, “It is forbidden to be old! Even an old chassid or an old tzaddik is not good. We must continuously begin fresh in avodas Hashem!”

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

No Wasted Letter

Our sages actually teach a lesson sourced in the dot over the vav of the word עשרון; one of nine places where we find a vowel in the Torah itself. It is surely significant that the Torah is written without vowels. When someone asked the Radvaz, zt”l, why the Torah lacks vowels he gave an interesting response. He said, “To understand this we must realize why the angels asked Hashem not to give Torah to mankind, since they wanted Hashem to give it to them. Moshe refuted them with an apparently simple reply, ‘What does it say in the Torah? Do not kill; do not commit adultery. Can angels murder? Is it possible for an angel to commit adultery? Why do you need the Torah, then?’ He continued, “Not surprisingly, the angels conceded this point. What is strange is what they had in mind in the first place. It seems clear that the angels had a very different way to read the Torah. When read in this manner it had much to teach them, and they wanted it so that they could it receive it in the manner suited to them, on their level. Our sages tell us that the entire Torah is formed of Divine Names. The angels wished to read it spiritually at one time without interruption. In this manner, the Torah makes up one long shem Hashem. “Moshe explained to them that this is not the purpose of the Torah. The point of the Torah is for us to fulfill its material reading, by keeping mitzvos: eating kosher, avoiding non-kosher, and the like. Since there are many ways to read the Torah it is obvious why it is written without vowels or notes—to leave it open to an infinity of possible readings. The Radvaz concluded, “This also explains why the oral Torah was not recorded within the body of the Torah itself. It also explains why some stories or statements appear unnecessary while other essentials are virtually left out. This apparent discrepancy is because the Torah has many levels. Believe me, there is not one superfluous letter in the entire Torah. Place this principle before you always and you will always succeed.”

Monday, June 18, 2012

The Ways of the Wealthy

Many have commented on wealthy people who cannot seem to part with a dime for any worthy cause. In the words of Rav Yankel Galinsky, shlit”a, “It often seems easier for a miser to cut off a limb then to give a penny to even the worthiest charity!” The Imrei Chaim of Vizhnitz, zt”l, also spoke about this tendency. “I really have no gripe with a wealthy man who is frugal. After all, he is merely acting in keeping with the words of our sages that wealthy people are frugal. I do, however, have a word against more moderately wealthy people whose miserliness is all out of proportion to their assets. This is the way of misers and it is simply wrong. The more wealth such a person amasses, the more he wants, and the stingier he gets. “For example, if a person earns one hundred thousand coins or the like, he begins to want ten times what he owns. The trouble with this is that he becomes an even greater miser. If he used to give a certain percent of his earnings to tzedakah, he starts to give half, since in his mind he is already a millionaire and that percentage of his ‘wealth to come’ is a very great sum. The sum of tzedakah looms so large in his imagination, that he pares back what he gives of his actual earnings! I have a strong opposition to this behavior since the stinginess is not in keeping with his assets.” Rav Yisrael of Vizhnitz, zt"l, would also comment on this phenomenon. “When a shiduch is completed or during other simchos it is customary to say, 'סימן טוב ומזל טוב'. When it comes to raising money for a cause, we come across an interesting paradox. Wealthy people who are actually able to support the cause do not wish to give—as we find in Menachos, they tend to be stingy. Poor people who have no assets want to help but can’t. “Our sages say that there are three סימנים—signs—that are common to Jews: they are bashful, merciful and kind. Since the poor want to help, they have a סימן טוב. Our sages also teach that wealth depends on mazel. The wealthy clearly have מזל טוב. For this reason, we bless at every simchah סימן טוב ומזל טוב, to impart both mercifulness and wealth to us and all of the Jewish people!”

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Going to Market

The Ran explains that kabbalas haTorah was the greatest possible experience for mankind. In order to expunge all doubt of its veracity Hashem first delivered us from Egypt, the heart of sorcery, with great miracles. If there had been any trickery, surely the sorcerers there would have figured it out. It is specifically in such a place that Hashem demonstrated that He can completely overide nature when He desires. After the sorcerers admitted this, it was clear that Hashem is G-d without a shadow of a doubt. Rav Moshe Ludmir, shlit”a, brings this Ran and applies it to a statement of our sages regarding Moshe's reaction to the Egyptian Sorcerers. “This is the meaning of the exchange between the Egyptian sorcerers and Moshe. The sorcerers mocked Moshe for bringing what they thought was mere magic into Egypt, the capital of such things. Moshe responded that people say that if one has vegetables to sell he should bring his produce to a vegetable market. Moshe is saying that precisely because the Egyptian's are expert sorcerers, it will become clear as day that what Hashem empowered him to do would far exceed that which they could do. It is specifically in this manner that they will recognize Hashem and admit that He is above all powers.” Interestingly, the Chazon Ish taught a practical lesson from this statement. It was when yeshivos were still struggling that Rav Hillel Vitkind, zt”l, asked the Chazon Ish, zt”l, what should be done to keep his yeshiva in Tel Aviv going. The Chazon Ish surprised him by suggesting that he move the yeshiva to Bnei Brak. “But Bnei Brak is filled with yeshivos!” responded Rav Hillel. The Chazon Ish answered, “On the contrary, that is exactly why you should move your yeshiva to Bnei Brak. Don’t our sages say that one should bring vegetables to a vegetable market?”

Friday, June 15, 2012

The Brazen Chazzan

Not many are aware that the Bach, zt”l, had a big detractor who always worked to undermine him. This person was none other than the chazzan of the community. The two had wrangled before since the chazzan was quite vocal about his belief that studying gemara was unnecessary for arriving at the correct pask. In his opinion, learning Tur, Shulchan Aruch and their commentaries was sufficient for this. The Bach disagreed strongly. When the Bach came out with his heter to eat the new grain of chutz l’aretz, this chazzan felt certain that he had erred. Although the Bach points out that gedolei olam had permitted chodosh and even beer made from chodosh, this chazzan began to denigrate the Bach. He would go from group to group, wondering aloud how long they would continue to have, “an ignoramus for a rav.” One Shabbos, the chazzan noticed an error in the sefer Torah from which they were reading and ordered them to take out a new sefer. The Bach disagreed, explaining that it was a minor error and they could continue to read from this sefer. The chazzan cursed the Bach out in public, accusing him of being ignorant of the halachah. It was only when the Bach announced that the man deserved to be put into a form of cherem that cannot easily be revoked that the chazzan finally slunk out. The chazzan ran to the Rav of Lublin and succeeded in convincing him to give a psak not to call the Bach up to the Torah. The Bach wrote this rav a sharp letter explaining that the chazzan was an ignorant sinner who only knew how to read from the Torah. He demanded the Rav of Lublin to repeal his psak, which he eventually did. When Rav Nosson Gestetner, zt”l, told over this story he commented, “We must learn a lesson from this. Despite the Bach’s greatness he was confronted with terrible difficulties. Despite such hardships, he strengthened himself. Even with these obstacles, he taught Torah and wrote works that give us vitality to this day!”

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Simple Folk

Perhaps one of the most important contributions of the Baal Shem Tov was to build up the downtrodden masses. The simple folk who couldn’t learn much are also an integral part of the chosen people. They too have a spiritual mission here on earth. During one of the many times that Rav Meir Arak, zt”l, met with the Imrei Emes, zt”l, of Gur, he asked the rebbe a question that was troubling him. “I do not understand why our sages draw a distinction between the wine libations and other sacrifices. Regarding other sacrifices we find in Menachos 110 that anyone who learns the laws of the sin or guilt offering is considered to have brought that sacrifice. Clearly the same is true regarding other sacrifices. And presumably, this is also the case regarding one who learns the laws of the libations. “Strangely, when the sages mention a person who wishes to bring nesachim they do not recommend studying the halachos. Instead, they say that one who wishes to pour libations on the altar should fill the throats of Torah scholars with wine. Why is this second point necessary?” The Imrei Emes replied with characteristic clarity. “Telling people that learning the laws of sacrifices is likened to bringing a sacrifice is only helpful to those who can learn. What about the simple folk who are unable to delve into the complexities of kodshim? It was for them that our sages said that one who supports Torah scholars by providing them with wine is considered to have poured libations on the altar. Doesn’t a simple person also need a way to draw near to Hashem while there is no beis hamikdash?”

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Bitachon and Hishtadlus

Our sages teach that if the bread of the todah is not consecrated, it is invalid. The Meorah Shel Torah applies this statement to avodas Hashem. “If a person feels that that he needs to bring a korban todah for all the miracles he has experienced but not for his everyday bread which in truth he receives as a gift from Hashem, he has not sanctified his bread. The efforts he makes to secure his livelihood have not been consecrated by pure emunah.” Rav Yankeleh Galinsky, shlit”a, illustrated this through a lesson that a certain woman once taught the bochurim in his yeshiva. “It used to be that the average yeshiva boy was required to eat at the homes of various local families otherwise he would have nothing to eat at all. In Novaradok, the bochurim would pay a few pennies and the families would feed them. There was a certain woman who would receive the bochrim kindly and provide a hearty meal for whoever wanted. She also provided a marked lesson in how to view the relationship between parnasah and hishtadlus. “Whenever a bochur would come to her home she would say, ‘You should know that you are eating for free.’ “When they would pay she would say, ‘You are giving me this money for nothing.’ The Beis Halevi, zt”l, explained the need for hishtadlus very well. ‘After the sin of Adam, the evil inclination was put in mankind. From then on a person who was not incessantly occupied with something would be drawn to all sorts of things which are negative for his soul. As our sages say, 'בטלה מביאה לידי זימה'—‘Idleness leads to impropriety.’ To ensure that most people avoided such pitfalls, people must work As the Mishnah states, 'יפה תלמוד תורה עם דרך ארץ שיגיעת שניהם משכחת עון'—‘Torah study and working for a living are good together, for laboring at them both makes a person forget to sin.’ But we should realize that it is not our efforts that support us; it is Hashem who supports. He should work as one who fuflills Hashem’s decree that one who does not work will not have parnassah. Yet one should still look to Hashem, since it is He who provides one’s livelihood.”

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Thanksgiving Offering

Perhaps the most difficult middah to acquire is bitachon, real trust in Hashem that is expressed in action. The Mishnah Berurah writes that we recite the Torah portion detailing the arrival of the manna every day, “so that one should believe that all of his sustenance comes from Hashem’s providence. As the verse writes regarding the manna, ‘And the one who added did not gain, and the one who depleted did not lack.’” Yet the Zohar uses the manna as a paradigm of an even higher level of bitachon—the person who is so aware that everything he has is from Hashem that he doesn’t keep food in his possession from one day to the next. It is well known that the Baal Shem Tov, zy”a, never kept any extra money in his possession overnight. He would give it all away to the poor on the day that it came to his hands, relying on Hashem that he would have enough for the next day. Although this is a very great level, the Meorah Shel Torah writes that there was a time when a similar level was demanded of one who brings a sacrifice. He wrote, “We may wonder why the breads of the korban todah may not be left over to be eaten the next day. One who brings a thanksgiving offering must be emotionally moved to closeness to Hashem since the todah is an admission of His amazing providence. One who truly appreciates that Hashem has made a miracle for him must redouble his bitachon. It is not appropriate to leave over from this sacrifice because this shows a lack of faith that Hashem will provide for him the next day. This is forbidden; holding over the todah breads is a demonstration of a lack of bitachon that contradicts the very meaning of the offering and blemishes it.”

Monday, June 11, 2012

The Altar at the Bris

The Toras Chaim, zt”l, provides a beautiful explanation of milah and the wine that is drunk immediately after the bris is preformed. “Our sages teach that circumcising a child is likened to bringing a korban olah on the altar. This explains the custom to circumcise a baby on the northern side of the synagogue, since the olah was slaughtered in the north. It follows that the knees of the sandak are likened to the altar. For this reason, the sandak should be the one to drink the wine since this is likened to pouring wine down the two holes in the southwest corner of the altar’s base. “Although the prevalent custom today is that the one making the blessings drinks the wine, this is an error. Instead, the sandak should hold the baby on his lap during the recital of the blessings and drink the wine himself.” It is important to consider carefully before choosing the sandak for one’s child. A baby’s sandak has an effect on the boy for the rest of his life. Once, the Chazon Ish, zt”l, was asked to be sandak at a bris. When the grandfather—who had traveled from outside of Eretz Yisrael and was himself a prominent person—heard about this he was none too pleased. The newborn’s father was himself unsure what to do, and so he went to the Chazon Ish and asked if he was willing to forgo the honor. The Chazon Ish gave a startling reply. He said simply, “For myself, of course I am willing to forgo the honor. But for the baby’s good, it would be better if I was the sandak. I am mevater, but the baby is not mevater!”

Sunday, June 10, 2012

The Children of Avraham

Boruch Hashem, a new book has just been released by my friend A Simple Jew, which I had the privilege of reading before publication. פנים חדשות באו לכאן--His book is a completely novel exploration of the inner dynamics of the conversion process, one that will help prospective and accomplished geirim on their way, and also help the Jewish community better understand these precious souls in its ranks. Here is the link about the book, with segments of approbations, from A Simple Jew's blog, along with purchasing options. May Hashem help his work to spread far and wide, and breath life into the souls of geirim and born Jews everywhere.

G-d's Chosen People

The Ohr Chadash explains why non-Jews cannot offer a korban shelamim. “Most non-Jews have very different ideas about life than Jews. They do not work so that every detail of their lives will be in consonance with the spiritual reality of Torah and mitzvos. Unlike the inner workings of Jewish hearts, they do not yearn that their every step will be made according to the spirit of Hashem’s will. Although they believe in two worlds, they separate the two as much as possible. They spend a modicum of time thing about the spiritual world in their houses of worship but, by and large, do not imbue their everyday lives with spiritual content. On the contrary, they lead lives rooted in the natural world with hardly a thought of the spiritual. Their lives are often filled with deceit, vice and illicit desires, with no connection to emunah. “This is why a non-Jew can only bring a korban olah, not a shelamim. He is willing to take off some time and sacrifice a burnt offering which is entirely consumed, but he cannot understand bringing sanctity into daily life, which is the purpose of shelamim. He added, “But a Jew can bring a korban shelamim. A Jew is always working to sanctify the mundane since every step he takes is guided by Torah. He is always surrounded by mizvos that conform to human reason, in addition to mitzvos that we cannot understand. A Jew never has an instant which is not guided by Torah. Every breath he takes is filled with G-dliness. He is filled with joy since his whole life is one story of revealing the honor of heaven in whatever way he can. If one uplifts the material by always thinking about Hashem and the Torah, whatever he does has the status of a korban hatamid, beloved to Hashem.”

Friday, June 8, 2012

In Its Time

The sefer Vayedaber Moshe explains how we can still bring korabanos even today. “The Midrash explains that the verse regarding the korban tamid: 'תשמרו להקריב לי במועדו'—‘Take care to sacrifice to Me in its time’—is linked to the verse in Mishlei, 'צדיק אוכל לשובע נפשו'—‘A tzaddik eats to satisfy his soul.’ On a simple level this seems difficult. What possible connection is there between the korban tamid and how a tzaddik eats? “The key to understanding this puzzle is a statement of our sages which explains the word במועדו—‘in its time.’ The tamid must be offered on time, even on Shabbos and even when the Jewish people are ritually impure. We see that the word 'במועדו' connotes that the korban tamid must be brought twice daily, at all times and for all time, without exception. One may well wonder how the tamid has been brought twice daily since the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash so many years ago? The answer is that when we eat with sanctity this is likened to a sacrifice. One who eats for the honor of Hashem so that his body is healthy and the energy afforded from what he consumes is used to serve Hashem and learn Torah is in this category. His morning meal is like the morning tamid to Hashem and his dinner is the tamid shel bein ha’arbayim. This is the meaning of the verse in Yechezel: 'זה השלחן אשר לפני ה''—‘This is the table which is before Hashem.’ When one eats with sanctity his table is like the altar since his food is like a sacrifice to Hashem. “This is the connection between this verse regarding the korban tamid and the verse that a tzaddik eats to satisfy his soul. A tzaddik does not eat to satiate his body. He eats for his nefesh. This is the meaning of the surprising statement Hillel would make when going to eat, ‘I am going to bestow chessed upon the hostel that houses my soul.’”

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Binding the Shema

The Shem MiShmuel, zt”l, offers a deep analysis of an interesting halachic practice.“Our sages teach that the people of Yericho would not pause while reciting Shema. In Pesachim, Rabbi Meir and Rabbi Yehudah explain that they did not pause between Shema and Vi’ahavta. Although the sages didn’t agree with this practice, they did not protest. Many questions present themselves. Why did the people of Yericho deviate from the opinion of the sages? And why didn’t the sages protest? “To explain, we must first understand that every human being is a microcosm, as we find in the midrash. Our heads parallel the upper world while our bodies mirror the lower world. One’s intellect alludes to the sun, while his heart is like the moon which receives its light from the sun. Like the sun, one’s intellect should be used to illuminate proper conduct. His heart should only desire that which his intellect knows is fitting. “It is impossible to be a whole person without these two faculties working in concert. If the intellect knows what is good but the heart is drawn in the opposite direction, it would be better for him not to have intellect at all. In Mishlei we find that such a person is compared to a pig with a golden nose ring—a valuable adornment graces an unworthy object. The same is true when the heart follows the directives of the mind when that mind is crooked. This is why in ancient times people clung to idolatry. Their hearts followed their intellects, but their minds confused light for darkness and darkness for light. This is worse than those whose intellect is straight but their hearts do not follow its directives. The Shem MiShmuel then explained the connection with the practice of the people of Yericho. “The first verse of Shema straightens the intellect, since the very word Shema means to listen carefully and understand. Vi’ahavta clearly refers to the heart, as the verse continues, ‘…upon your heart.’ The people of Yericho didn’t pause at the juncture in order to deepen their awareness that the heart must follow after the well-guided mind. The sages, on the other hand, would pause to remind themselves that without toil it is easy to disconnect the heart from the intellect. He concluded, “Although the way of Chazal was more correct, the sages did not protest against the practice of the people of Yericho because, in essence, their meaning was the same.”

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Working the Dough

The Hagadah Shel Pesach Ishei Yisrael explains a famous halacha in an inspiring manner. “Our sages teach that matzah must be made from one of the five grains, since only the five grains can become chometz. Matzah may not be made from other species since, although something happens when they are left, it is not the same chemical process as leavening. Instead of becoming chometz, other species ferment or spoil. Rav Yisrael of Modzhitz, zt”l, explained the practical lesson from this as follows: rice and other substances that cannot become chometz represent the person who is in the grips of depression. Even if in his lethargy he doesn’t sin outright and does do good when he moves at all, his mitzvos are spoiled. These acts are done out of depression and lack vitality. Like a spoiled thing, the depressed person sits on his couch and goes through life in spiritual slumber. He feels certain that he has done all that is incumbent upon him in avodas Hashem. He added, “But a person with a joyous heart is the exact opposite. He is filled with inner happiness and strength. Although such a person is more susceptible to sinning because the yetzer hara wants especially to bring such a person down, if he stays joyous he is freed. As the verse states, 'כי בשמחה תצאון'—‘For you shall go out [of exile] in joy…’ As long as he acts for holiness in whatever way he can, he will never come to the chometz of sins. This can be compared to dough that cannot become chometz as long as it is worked.”

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

A Corruption of Judgment

The author of the Sefer HaChinuch explains that reasoning behind the mitzvos which ensure we do not cheat should be obvious to any thinking person. “The root of not cheating another in business is self-evident; every person understands this from his intellect. Even if this halachah had not been recorded, everyone would understand that it is fitting to write it. It is obvious that it is improper to use deceit to deprive our fellow human beings of their property. Everyone must earn money by working with whatever skills and opportunities Hashem sends his way—honestly and with integrity. He continues, “Everyone benefits if people don’t cheat. Just as one can cheats, he can also be cheated. Although a certain person may be exceptionally adept at deception, it is still not worthwhile to engage in the practice. He may be a skilled swindler but perhaps his children will be less skilled and will be robbed. Clearly this mitzvah is for the public good and is essential for the maintenance of civilized society. Hashem, blessed is He, created the world so that it would be a settled and civilized place.” The Panim Yafos, zt”l, offers food for thought for the person who does cheat others. “The verse states, 'לא תעשו עול במשפט'—‘Do not do corruption in judgment.’ This prohibition is also directed at the person who falsifies his weights and measures. Every person who weighs or measures merchandise is like a judge, since he must fairly calibrate how much he dispenses to his customers. Failing to give the exact amount even by a slightly is also a corruption of judgment.”

Monday, June 4, 2012

The Need for Repetition

Someone once asked the Divrei Yechezkel of Shinova, zt”l, to explain the custom to say the invocation of “Askinu Seudasa” of Melaveh Malkah three times. “After all, we say a similar nusach at every other meal on Shabbos only once. Why specifically regarding melaveh malkah do we say this three times?” The Divrei Yechezekel’s reply was based on a halachic practice described our sages. “The sages enacted a very interesting ceremony for the cutting of the omer. When it grew dark, each reaper would ask if it was night and the crowd would answer, “Yes.” This was repeated three times. The reapers would ask “Is this a sickle?” Again the crowd would answer, “Yes.” This was also repeated three times. “Should I reap?” “Yes.” “The Mishnah explains why such elaboration was deemed necessary. The Baitusim only believed in the validity of the written Torah. Since the verse says to bring the omer, 'ממחרת השבת'—‘the day after Shabbos,’ they believed that we should wait until the Sunday after Pesach. To ingrain in the simple folk that our sages had a tradition that the omer must be cut the day after Pesach, each question and answer was repeated three times. “The same is true regarding melaveh malkah which is highly neglected by the masses. Chassidim say the Askinu Seudasa of Melaveh Malkah three times to ingrain in anyone nearby that the fourth meal of Shabbos is also obligatory. This emphasizes the importance of this mitzvah to a person and his family so that he will not learn from the ignorant who ignore this precious mitzvah.”

Sunday, June 3, 2012

The Worst Form of Impurity

Rav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld, zt”l, gave a penetrating analysis of a famous Talmudic statement. “In Menachos 64 we find that when the Chashmonai kings were at war, every day the besiegers would bring lambs which would be lifted over the wall and used for the korban tamid. An old man turned traitor and told the besiegers that they would not conquer as long as the occupiers continue to supply the besieged with animals for the offerings. The next day the besiegers sent up a pig instead of the lambs. When it was halfway up the wall it stuck its hooves into the wall and an area of three hundred square parsah in Eretz Yisrael quaked. “This gemara is surely thought provoking. We may wonder why they sent specifically a pig. Also, what is the meaning of the term that Eretz Yisrael shook, ‘three hundred parsah by three hundred parsah.’ “We can understand the answer by considering that even from ancient times there was always a fight between those who lean towards foreign secular wisdom and those faithful to Jewish tradition. These enemies were the forerunners of the various ‘reforming’ movements of today. They chose a pig specifically since a pig has split hooves, the outward sign of a kosher animal. It is specifically when the pig displays it hooves, trying to show that it is kosher, and endeavors to scale the city walls and defile the mikdash that the very land quakes. Such duplicity is dangerous for our nation’s very survival. “The danger presented by people distanced from the Torah who act as though they are faithful is much greater than that presented by outright apostates or the like. It is precisely because the pig has split hooves yet is not kosher that it alludes to the worst impurity. Our sages warned us to stay away from the hypocrites who destroy many more souls than those who are openly against us.”

Friday, June 1, 2012

Keeping Your Word

The Chazon Ish, zt”l, was exceedingly careful to always fulfill everything that came out of his mouth. When someone asked if he must keep an agreement when the man had explicitly said 'בלי נדר', the Chazon Ish explained that this stratagem didn’t help much. “Although saying 'בלי נדר' ensures that the statement was not a vow, one is still obligated to fulfill what he agreed to do! Better to say that you hope to do it or the like which is clearly not a commitment.” As is well known, the Chazon Ish tried to form a minyan to daven Minchah Gedolah in his beis midrash. Once there were only nine people and after fifteen minutes’ effort, they located a man willing to serve as the tenth. But he insisted that in order to stay he required a psak halachah that he was permitted. “I invited someone to my house for an appointment in very few minutes. I can either daven and be late, or go and disband the minyan…” The Chazon Ish did not hesitate, “This is no question at all. It is better for you to keep your word even if as a direct result of this there is no minayn today.” And that is exactly what happened. The man hurried home and there was no minyan that day.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Identifying the Problem

Perhaps, in its own way, the hardest test for every Jew is to own up when we have failed so that we can really change our ways. Rav Yaakov Galinsky, shlit”a, points the challenge inherent in this with his usual biting humor. “In Novardohk they would tell a story of a certain young man who was always late for cheder. Day after day this child was punished, only to be tardy yet again the following day. One day the melamed asked the boy directly. ‘Why are you late every day?’ He answered, ‘Rebbe, my problems are that I am disorganized and forgetful. When I go to sleep each night I drop my clothes wherever and go to bed. The next morning it takes me a long time to get dressed. Is it any wonder that I come late?’ “The melamed offered practical advice. ‘All you need to do is to write a list of precisely where you dropped each article of clothing. The next morning when you wake up, consult the list and you will know exactly where you left your clothes the night before.’ “The boy went home with a lightened heart. The next day the child didn’t come at all. As soon as he was able, the melamed rushed to the young man’s house. He found the boy at his house, fully dressed but obviously very bewildered. “’What happened?’ he asked. “’I did exactly what you said. I wrote down that my tzitzis were in the garden, my shirt on the chair, my pants on the floor etc, I said hamapil with great joy and went to sleep. This morning I woke up and got dressed quickly but I still cannot locate the final item. It says clearly that I am in bed, but I checked my bed—and everywhere else—many times and cannot seem to find myself…’ Rav Yaakov concluded, “This is obviously a joke, but it is so sad. How many of us are looking to find ourselves but cannot seem to do so! The very first question we will be asked in the next world is, ‘Ayekah?’ Where did you go and what did you do? Where did you plant yourself and what happened with you?”

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Land of Light and Wisdom

Shortly after the Holocaust, when Rav Yisrael Grossman, zt”l, paid a visit to the Abir Yaakov of Sadigura, zt”l, he was surprised to find him in an exceptionally joyous mood. When the rebbe noticed Rav Grossman’s surprise, he used a parable to explain why he was filled with joy despite the recent tragedy. “Imagine a poor Jew, beaten down and sickly, who has nowhere to even rest his head. If people have mercy and open their homes to him, he will surely be filled with boundless joy from gratitude. “The Jewish people today are likened to this poor man. Although we endured such cruelty which resulted in the murder of millions of Jews, we must never lose sight of the positive. Now that we have entered Eretz Yisrael, which is our homeland, we are exactly like a poor displaced man who has finally found a home. He added, “You might argue that the spiritual level here is not exactly optimal. Nevertheless, the very fact that Hashem has brought us back home after such a tragedy is also enough to make us joyous!” The Kaftor V’ferach, zt”l, learns the greatness of Eretz Yisrael from a statement of our sages. “The Midrash Rabbah explains that the verse, 'וזהב הארץ ההיא טוב'—‘the gold of that land was good,’ refers to the spiritual gold of Torah. ‘There is no Torah like the Torah of Eretz Yisrael and there is no wisdom like the wisdom of Eretz Yisrael.’ In Bava Basra we find that the very air of Eretz Yisrael imparts understanding of Torah. In Menachos we see that when Rav Avin told over a teaching to Rav Yirmiyah, his hearer criticized those who live in Bavel saying that they were fools who lived in a place of darkness. This is in contrast with Eretz Yisrael, whose very air is the breath of Hashem.”

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

A Perpetual Loss

The Apter Rav, zt”l, was more commonly known as the Ohev Yisrael due to his vast love for his fellow Jews. At his request, his grave is not marked by any honorific other than, “Here lies Admor Ohev Yisrael” and his name. His home was open to anyone and he would always encourage and help those who came to him in any way that he could. A certain merchant in oxen suffered a reverse in his business and traveled to the Ohev Yisrael in the hopes of receiving advice as to how he might improve his situation. “My business was a burgeoning for many years and until recently provided me with an excellent living. Suddenly it took a turn for the worse. Now I have lost all of my money and don’t know what to do…” When the Apter Rav heard about this he groaned and offered excellent practical means for this man to find a parnassah, heaping blessings on his head all the while that things would get better. When he saw that the merchant’s spirits had been revived he changed the direction of his words. Rav Yehoshua Heschel said with bitterness, “You talk about your business troubles but forget completely that a huge tragedy occurred this very day for the entire Jewish people. Today, another day has passed and we have not brought the korban tamid! We have no Beis Hamikdash, no mizbeach and no kohein! You are worried about your oxen and your business. How can it be that our failure to bring the korban hatamid doesn’t bother you?”

Monday, May 28, 2012

The Power of the Shabbos Table

Our sages teach two important halahchos regarding the shulchan. Firstly, the shulchan may only be inaugurated on Shabbos. In addition, the showbreads are also only sanctified if they are placed on the shulchan on Shabbos. Rav Shmuel Aharon Lider, shlit”a, learns a beautiful lesson from this. “We see from this that Shabbos is the time for us to sanctify and educate our children at the table. The best way to be mechanech and sanctify our children is through the zemiros that we sing and the divrei Torah that we say at the Shabbos table.” Rav Shach, zt”l, had a neighbor—a simple baal habayis who was not too learned—whose sons grew to all be exceptional masmidim and great talmidei chachamim. Rav Shach himself lived and breathed Torah all the time, yet his neighbor’s children appeared to surpass his own in certain ways as far as Torah study was concerned. Rav Shach himself commented on what seemed to him at the root of the distinction. “My neighbor spent a long time at the Shabbos table interacting with his children and singing zemiros. I, on the other hand, was always very engrossed in working through a difficult Rambam or some other intricate Torah argument. One should never underestimate the power of filling the children with a spirit of holiness through the simple singing of zemiros and speaking divrei Torah at their own level at the Shabbos table!”

Friday, May 25, 2012

To Uman or not to Uman?

My friend over at A Simple Jew wrote an intriguing post about Uman here. But one man made a comment which is fascinating and requires a post all its own. Anonymous 2 wrote: "We don’t go to Uman for chizuk – Uman is a Tikkun, if you weren’t there for better or worse you didn’t get it. If you were – you did. There are other mitzvos and there is so much we don’t understand about Uman Rosh HaShanah but there are countless stories passed down that prove this point over and over." You put a lot of stock in stories, but we find that one cannot learn from stories unless he knows the reasoning behind the story and that his application is correct (see Bava Basra 130.) Yes, there is a tikkun no matter what. But do you think that one gets the same whether he davens quickly and fritters Rosh Hashanah away as one would if he davened with intensity and comported himself with profound yiras shamayim? How do you suppose Breslover's in Uman always acted on Rosh Hashanah? Do you think they wasted their time? You think the famous: whether you davened, ate or slept or not don't miss Rosh Hashanah, means that one who doesn't feel like davening made the tikkun?? So although one who missed going lost out, who is to say that someone not there got less than one who made it? This is like Rebbe Nachman's teaching that one connected to the tzaddik is higher than one who is not. But do you really think you are greater than Rav Shach? Or the Lubavitcher Rebbe? Rav Wozner? Rav Karelitz? Rav Eliyashev? Who will be greater in the next world? One who served Hashem with mesiras nefesh his entire life, or one who went to Uman but didn't do much else? Rebbe Nachman merely means what I wrote here: that one connected to the tzaddik has an advantage over others. Not that you should go to some Breslover for a brocha over the greatest tzaddik who is not connected to Rebbe Nachman. The Rebbe means that if these great personages connected to the tzaddik, they would have much more. Not that small fry like myself--even supposing I truly am connected-- are on a higher level than giants of Torah and avodah who are not Breslovers. Rav Levi Yitzchak told that the Breslovers would work to bring accomplishments to Uman for Rosh Hashanah. One man would not go to the tziyun until he had completed Shulchan Aruch. This was the custom of Breslover old timers. They recalled that Rebbe Nachman says that he wipes the slate clean, but only if we accept not to do the sin ever again. Does going help and make a huge tikkun part of what we cannot begin to understand, even if one is not on this level. Of course! Is it as strong as one who does profound teshuvah? Of course not! One who goes for a kind of mini-vacation also receives a tikkun. Sadly it is only a tiny fraction of what he could have attained. Yes we have no understanding of the meaning and greatness of Uman. But it is not equivalent to "being saved" for the year chas v'shalom. I have met enough fools who say, "Don't need to learn or do much of anything this year; I went to Uman! Rebbe Nachman and Rav Nosson say so!" I know you don't mean this, but what you write plays right into this crazy philosophy. True Rav Nosson says to be happy the entire year that one merited Uman, no matter what. But that is not equivalent to taking a vacation from any toil in avodas Hashem and learning for a year b'zchus Uman chas v'shalom. Are you really saying that one doesn't need to work to deepen his experience of the tikkun in Uman? That other mitzvos he does,have no bearing on the tikkun he receives? Yes Rebbe Nachman said that for him a great person and a regular guy are both very much missing (another reason why a Rav who sends others has an argument.) He said they are the same to him, yet he also makes a distinction between a great neshamah and a lesser one. Perhaps they are the same since they are both devoted to him and both had their place in the tikkun but did not make it. Maybe if they would have been there Moshiach would have come. Who knows? Do you really think one who killed himself to connect--a tzaddik who worked hard-- and wastrel are the same in terms of this tikkun? Rav Berland, shlita, once said that one who yearns with his whole heart, but doesn't make is more part of the tikkun than one who didn't yearn and was there but not yearning. Perhaps the key to when people are the same in this tikkun is whether they yearn with their entire heart for Hashem and connect with their whole souls. For such people--chasidim of Rebbe Nachman of old-- maybe the tikkun is the same. But how many people who need to be pushed to go feel that way? You wrote: 'The yearning is to say what the Rebbe really means and strive for it, if we don’t get there we have to be mechazek but we don’t start off by saying that it is lav davka that the Rebbe wanted us there – I don’t feel this is the emerser emes."

The Advice of the Tzitzis

A certain man heard that the Zohar calls the mitzvos six hundred and thirteen pieces of advice or “eitzos,” and couldn’t fathom what this implies. When he asked the Chidushei HaRim, zt”l, about this he explained that this reveals the greatness of every mitzvah. “This teaches that each and every mitzvah teaches us to overcome our natural state of being sunken in materialism. Through every mitzvah it is possible to attain wondrous elevation. This can be understood in light of the gemara in Menachos 44. There we find the story of a man whose tzitzis ‘hit him in the face.’ And eventually he became a true ba’al teshuvah…” In his last will and testament the Sifsei Tzaddik, zt”l, teaches how to access the guidance contained in mitzvos. “Accustom yourselves to approach every mitzvah as a precious commodity which should make you feel joy—much like a man who finds a fortune. Remember your smallness, and that despite this Hashem has chosen you to serve Him through this mitzvah. Even though He has myriads of angels to serve Him, he prefers the service of Yisrael, the people He has drawn close to Him. It is only fitting that you fulfill the verse, ‘One heart mirrors the other like a face is reflected in water,’ and value each opportunity by serving Hashem with your entire heart. “Every time you don your tallis, you should be filled with profound joy. We attain this by recalling the greatness of this mitzvah, which our Torah reveals gives us the ability to recall all the mitzvos. In Menachos we find that the tzitizis hit a man about to sin on the face and this caused him to ascend from the lowest depths to the highest heights. He felt like he was crushing his entire self by resisting his urge to sin, but in the end he merited a great illumination and became a complete tzaddik. “Every person should beg Hashem that the mitzvah of tzitzis should protect him and his offspring from plummeting into the darkness of this world. One who works on this will eventually feel a huge illumination in the mitzvah of tzitzis.”

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Hundred Blessings

The Imrei Emes, zt”l, would work hard to draw young students closer to Hashem, dedicating a lot of his precious time and many efforts for this cause. These young men would seek the rebbe’s guidance in many areas, talking to him in learning and asking whatever questions they had. Once, when a yeshiva student asked the rebbe how to attain fear of heaven, he received a simple yet profound reply. “You become G-dfearing by being careful how you say the hundred blessings that we say daily. This is clear from the words of the sages in Menachos 43. There we find that regarding the verse, 'מה ה' אלוקיך שואל מעמך כי אם ליראה'—‘What does Hashem, your G-d, ask of you but to fear Him?’ our sages tell us to read מאה instead of מה. They explain that this refers to the one hundred blessings that we say every day. We see that being careful to focus when reciting them is the way to acquire fear of heaven.” Rav Eliyahu Roth, zt”l, would plead with everyone he knew to say the hundred daily blessings aloud with intense focus. Once when he was giving a derashah during the yahrzeit of Rav Shlom’ke of Zvhil, zt”l, he explained the vast importance of this practice. “We must know that when every Jewish soul is required to go down to the material world it resists. Who would want to leave the Source for life as we know it? The only way to convince the neshamah to acquiesce to descend to this physical word is by explaining that it will have one hundred daily opportunities to declare Hashem’s kingship in this world. “These blessings are a way to remind ourselves of the Creator one hundred times a day. From Menachos 43 we can understand that Hashem actually asks us to focus on them since this is the way to attain fear of heaven. We are reminded one hundred times a day that there is a Creator who created everything, and there is nothing but Him.”

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Vigilance to Wear Tzizis

Rav Chaim Shaul Kaufman, zt”l, once gave an incisive lesson regarding tzitzis. “In Menachos 41 we find that an angel pointed out to Rav Katina that he always wore garments which were not obligated in tzitzis. When Rav Katina inquired whether punishment is meted out for this, the angel replied that when Hashem is angry one is punished due to this. The obvious question is why? Why punish for failing to fulfill a voluntary mitzvah? “The answer is that failing to seek out ways to fulfill voluntary positive commandments displays a marked lack of ahavas Hashem. Yet one is not punished for this alone. But when Hashem is angry with him because he deserves punishment for some other reason, he will not be spared. This is mida k’neged mida. He only serves Hashem according to the letter of the law so he gets what he deserves. But one who is careful with voluntary mitzvos goes beyond the letter of the law. Correspondingly Hashem will have hold back the avenging angels even when he deserves punishment.” But the Chasam Sofer, zt”l, explains this differently. “Rashi in Chumash explains that—like the four cups we drink on Pesach—the four corners of tzitzis correspond to the four expressions of redemption mentioned in the verse. The last of these four expressions is 'ולקחתי אתכם לי לעם'—‘and I will take you as My nation;’ a reference to the giving of the Torah. “But there is a fifth expression, 'והבאתי אתכם אל הארץ'—‘and I will bring you to the land.’ The reason we do not have a fifth tzitzis tzitzis tassel corresponding to this term is so we will not mistakenly think that Torah is only obligatory in Eretz Yisrael. “Yet there is a difference between the mitzvah of tzitzis in Eretz Yisrael and outside the land. When we are in exile, which the gemara in Menachos 41 calls a time of anger, we are obligated to go out of our way to wear a four cornered garment which requires tzitzis. Failure to wear tzitizis when we are in exile results in punishment. But when we are redeemed from galus we will not need to be particular to wear a garment obligated in tzitzis.”

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

A Questionable Violation

A certain man wished to purchase a new woolen suit in a bargain-priced store. But he wondered whether he was allowed to try it on. After all, what if the garment he chose was shatnez? Surely it was no simple matter to even try on a garment which is shatnez, since clearly wearing shatnez owned by another is forbidden. The fact that it is only questionable shatnez is most likely irrelevant since the halachah is that one must also avoid a questionable violation of a Torah prohibition. But he decided to ask despite his many misgivings. When this question reached the Chochmas Adam, zt”l, he ruled that it is indeed forbidden. “You certainly may not put on a garment which may be shatnez even if one only wants to verify that the garment is the right size. Since the person intends to wear it for that short time, he transgresses the prohibition if it is shatnez. This is equally true regarding people who purchase hats or other garments with the possibility of shatnez.” But the Minchas Yitzchak, zt”l, disputed this conclusion. “According to the authorities that one may wear shatnez to fool a dishonest tax collector since wearing this garment is a פסיק רישיה דלא ניחא ליה—an unavoidable result of a different purpose—just trying on a garment that may be shatnez may also be permitted since this too is merely an unavoidable result of his need to ascertain if the garment is his size. Since we hold that an unavoidable result of an action that may or may not be a prohibition is permitted, it follows that he may try the garment on.”

Monday, May 21, 2012

Preparing for Kabalas HaTorah

Rav Zalman Sorotzkin, zt”l, offered a deep explanation of why we count the omer. “The first sefirah was after the Jewish people left Egypt. Its purpose was to purify the Jewish people from spiritual defilement so that they would be fit to receive the Torah. Kabbalists and the standard commentators both explain why we could not receive the Torah immediately after leaving Egypt. We first needed to count seven weeks to purify us from the defilement of Egypt. “But Hashem knew that we would fall into the sin of the golden calf soon after we received the Torah. He therefore commanded us to celebrate Pesach for all generations. The day after Pesach we are to bring the omer which is composed of animal feed. We then count forty-nine days and bring the two loaves which are food for humans on Shavuos. He explained, “We bring the omer to symbolize the first step of purity: recognizing in what manner we are still drawn after animal desires that compel us to act without understanding. We then begin to prepare ourselves to receive the Torah through deep contemplation and by rectifying our actions. Since the time we left Egypt, the days between Pesach and Shavuos have become a special period to fix negative character traits, attain purity and ascend to ever higher levels. Perhaps this is why, according to Rav Yochanan ben Nuri, the main judgment in Gehinom is between Pesach and Shavuos. Since this time is set aside for deep change it is also the time when souls are punished for failing to use this time properly. He concluded, “Chassidim and anshei mase live lives of completion; not one instant of their day is wasted. During this time even regular people work on themselves. We are adjured to recognize our lowliness and use these days for elevation. We count each day, considering how we have used our time and how many of these precious days remain until kabbalas haTorah. We must make a plan and set goals that we will work to attain during the remaining days so that we will be worthy of receiving the Torah.”

“Go and See…”

The Sifsei Tzaddik, zt”l, offered a profound explanation of a famous statement of our sages. “We often find in the gemara the statement, פוק חזי מאי עמא דבר—‘Go and see what people are doing.’ Yet we may well wonder what this means. Should we then look to the simple and uneducated or those without much yiras shamayim to learn how we should act? “The answer is that this refers to looking at the actions of those who are above the simple folk. They are called עם to show that they are cherished, as we find in the verse, 'עמי זכור נא מה יעץ'—‘My people, please remember what he advised.’ He continued, “This is also the meaning of the mishnah in Avos, 'איזהו דרך ישרה שיבור לו האדם כל שהוא תפארת לעושיה ותפארת לו מן האדם'. This seems very difficult. Should we then keep Torah to impress others? The meaning of this mishnah is that if one is unsure what to do he should follow what is accepted practice since this is a sign that this is the way of Hashem. Conversely, the way that is not agreeable to the informed klal is generally the path which leads to sin. The reason why what the opinion of the majority do is so important is because the rabim do not err, as we find in the masores recorded by the Teshuvos HaRan and brought in the Beis Yosef. This is why the verse writes, 'אחרי רבים להטות'. In every place the halachah is like the majority since it is highly unlikely that they err. He concluded, “This is also why we find thatמנהג ישראל תורה הוא . This means that through looking at the custom of the faithful Jewish people we can lean to fear Hashem just as we do from looking at the Torah—the custom is one with the Torah.”

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Convalescence and Full Recovery

The Avnei Nezer, zt”l, provides a deep explanation of Pesach, Sefirah and Shavuos. “The Zohar explains why we absolutely refrain from chometz on Pesach, yet we specifically bring an offering of chometz on Shavuos. This can be understood with a parable of a king whose only son was very sick. The doctors said that the king’s son should eat a healing diet to help him recover. But when the son became well again, there was no need for him to confine himself to eating according to such a restricted plan. The Avnei Nezer explained, “The same is true regarding chometz. On Pesach we are ill and must eat matzah to heal us. But after the splitting of the sea, we are no longer vulnerable to chometz and can now bring it up on the altar. We can understand this in view of the words of the Ramban in Devarim 29:17. As is well known, chometz is likened to the yetzer hara. On Pesach we are likened to an ill person who cannot absorb foods that are difficult to digest. By Shavuos we are so completely recovered that we can serve Hashem with our yetzer hara. “In light of this we understand why the Lechem Hapanim—which was set up on Shabbos—must be matzah and may not be chametz. Although Shabbos is higher than Shavuos, it has a dual purpose. It is the pinnacle of the week that passed. But it is also the source of the blessings for the week to come, as we find in the Zohar. The showbread is set up on Shabbos to stay until the next week and is the source of material bounty for the next week, as the Ramban writes in Parshas Terumah. Clearly, this does not allude to the first aspect of completion of the week gone by. Lechem Hapanim, in its bearing of the blessing of the coming week, must be matzah to signify that it represents a new beginning which has not yet come to culmination. Shavuos is the culmination of Pesach and the Sefirah. Since it alludes to completion, we bring the offering of the two breads specifically from chometz.”

The Sign of Tefillin

Rav Yitzchak Elchonon Spector, zt”l, was the undisputed leader of all religious Jews during his times, and also enjoyed the respect and admiration of many non-Jewish noblemen of his day. Yet he had his share of enemies who sought to diminish his stature in whatever way they could. The people who wanted to destroy him were not above resorting to less than honest means. Rav Yitzcahk Elchonon would remove his tefillin at the end of davening each day—even when it was the custom in his country to say a misheberach for the king after davening, he would immediately remove his tefillin before they said this prayer. His enemies felt that they had finally found the opportunity to make him trouble, since there were numerous witnesses to this “offence,” which they thought could not be disputed or explained away. They filed a complaint with the king that Rabbi Spector clearly did not respect the monarch since he was brazen enough to remove his tefiljlin before praying for his welfare. This was obviously a sign that, to him, the davening was complete and the extra prayer was an unnecessary addition. When the rav was confronted about why he removed his tefillin before the prayer he based his reply on a famous halacha. “Quite the contrary, I remove my tefillin as a sign of my great respect and awe for our beloved monarch. The Talmud teaches that we do not wear tefillin on Shabbos or Yom Tov due to the special character of the day. Similarly, I remove my tefillin before the prayer for the king because to me this day is likened to Shabbos and Yom Tov when we do not wear tefillin due to our great respect and awe!”

Friday, May 18, 2012

“Why Did You Shame My Tefillin?”

There is a famous machlokes between Rashi and Rabbeinu Tam regarding the proper position of the last two parshios of tefillin. According to Rashi the third parshah is שמע ישראל followed by והיה אם שמוע. Rabbeinu Tam holds that והיה אם שמוע is the third parshah followed by שמע ישראל. Since the Shulchan Aruch writes that a G-dfearing person will wear both sets of tefillin, Rav Chaim Volozhiner, zt”l, wondered whether he should wear both pairs. When the Vilna Gaon advised that people should wear specifically Rashi tefillin the entire day, Rav Chaim asked him about tefillin of Rabbeinu Tam. “Since מר wears tefillin all day, it is understandable why he wears specifically Rashi since to put on Rabbeinu Tam even for a short time means missing that amount of time with Rashi tefillin which are the halachah. But someone like me who anyway goes for hours every day without tefillin should probably wear Rabbeinu Tam as prescribed by the Shulchan Aruch…” But the Vilna Gaon disagreed. “If so, you will need to wear sixty-four pairs of tefillin to fulfill this mitzvah according to all of the existing varieties of opinion…” Rav Chaim protested, “Yet in the Zohar we find that Rabbeinu Tam tefillin relate to the world to come?” The Vilna Gaon rejected this claim as well. “Firstly, that is not the pshat in the Zohar. Secondly, let one whose entire purpose in life is to attain the world to come wear them…” From that day on, Rav Chaim stopped wearing Rabbeinu Tam tefillin. Interestingly, towards the end of his life the Chofetz Chaim began to wear Rabbeinu Tam tefillin. When asked why he took this on he replied, “I am planning for the near future when I will go to the olam haemes. When there I will meet Rabbeinu Tam and he will likely ask, ‘Yisrael Meir. You learned an abundance of my Tosafos and you found my reasoning sound, imparting much vitality. Why did you shame my tefillin?’”

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Damasek Eliezer of Vizhnitz, zt”l, was very particular that the bochurim in his yeshiva should always kiss the mezuzah as they entered and exited a room. When asked why, he explained: “It is well known that when a lower ranking soldier encounters an officer he must salute him to show that he is under his authority. If a soldier refuses to do so for any reason he is in danger of being severely punished since he refused to recognize the officer’s rank. “The rule is that the supernal kingdom is patterned after earthly kingship. Since the mezuzah declares Hashem’s unity and Hashem sits outside and guards us through the mezuzah, we must be fastidious to kiss it when we enter or leave a room. In this manner we show that we accept Hashem’s kingship on ourselves.” Interestingly, the Maharil Diskin, zt”l, appointed messengers to go from door to door and check each house’s mezuzos to ensure they were really kosher. Since he used money slated for the orphans under his care for this as well, many people wondered how this was permitted. After all, the halachah is that money slated for orphans should not be used for other purposes. When Rav Bentzion Yadler, zt”l, asked the Maharil Diskin about this, he explained, “The verse states that we should put mezuzos on our doors 'למען ירבו ימיכם'. So if I ensure that people’s mezuzos are kosher, the parents will live longer and there will be fewer orphans. Obviously, this is permitted from the money slated for orphans since the less orphans there the more money there is for each one’s use!”

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Even Eliyahu…

The Satmar Rav, zt”l, teaches a powerful lesson from a surprising statement of our sages. “In Menachos 32 we find that if Eliyahu were to come and say that we may not use a soft shoe to do chalitzah we would not heed him since the custom is to use a soft shoe. This seems very difficult to understand. We would not listen to Eliyahu since our custom of many centuries should not be changed, and it would be wrong for him to come and try to change it. Yet if it should not be changed, why would Eliyahu say that we should change it? Surely he would refrain from telling us to do anything incorrect. So what is the point of this statement? Surely not merely to record a scenario that could never happen? “The answer is that the gemara also knew that Eliyahu would never tell us such a thing. But it also understood that even a gadol hador could err and believe that the custom is in error. Of course the entire Jewish world would likely follow this gadol, even if he is mistaken. It is to avoid such an error that the gemara writes that we would not even believe Eliyahu if he told us to change an old custom that was established by the consensus of gedolei Yisrael. “For this reason the gemara puts it unequivocally that we would believe no one, not even Eliyahu. This way even a gadol hador who errs won’t mislead people who have learned this lesson. If one considers this he will understand much that cannot be written explicitly…”

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Human Nature

Rav Aharon Leib Steinman, shlit"a, once discussed the terrible scourge of sinas chinam in a moving manner. Speaking in a pained tone of voice, he said, “It is sad that when a Jew wants to expand his apartment, his neighbor—even if the construction doesn’t affect his apartment in the slightest—will often find an ‘underground’ way to stop construction. Such a person often won’t even allow his neighbor to put up a sukkah for seven days a year. But why should he care? In many situations the protestor's apartment is in the north and the construction is in the south. Although there is no earthly reason why such construction should annoy them, they still protest. This is especially despicable when they oppose the building of a shul, claiming that this will cause the price of their apartments to drop. "Firstly, this is definitely false. Quite the contrary, in a religious neighborhood, building a shul can increase the value of apartments in the vicinity. But the most important reason why such conflict is wrong is more basic: why should they care? Why not rejoice in your neighbor’s good fortune instead of complaining? But what can we do; human nature is such that we tend to resent the success of others and it is hard to be giving. “This is explains why we find in Avos that one of the ten miracles in the Beis Hamikdash was that the kohanim didn’t think thoughts that would render sacrifices pigul. Why is this required? Clearly the kohein did not profit by invalidating the sacrifice of another Jew! This is one of the miracles because the nature of people is to be mean-spirited and act out of spite. Even in the holiest place on Earth, it required a miracle to protect people’s sacrifices from being ruined because of innate bad middos!”

Monday, April 16, 2012

No Atheists in Foxholes

There is a famous saying: “There are no atheists in foxholes.” This indicates that, despite a person's protests, the moment he is under pressure he instinctively turns to Hashem for aid. This is not an intellectual exercise, like some kind of a gamble; it is a nearly universal reaction that is very revealing. The Alter of Kelm, zt”l, explains this in depth. “If one observes, he will find that emunah definitely never leaves a Jewish heart. Those who claim not to believe—or for some reason act like one who lacks belief—simply cannot focus on faith in an honest way due to the ulterior motives of their physical drives. The moment they are confronted with hardship, they naturally turn to Hashem because the trial brings the emunah to the fore. Our job is to work to reveal the emunah from deep within, to recognize it and value it.” Although teshuvah is open to everyone, it is not always easy to return as the Mahartiz, zt”l, points out: “Our sages tell us that 'כל שפסולו בקדש אם עלו לא ירדו'. This means literally that anything which was placed on the altar but became defiled is not removed. We can learn an important lesson in avodas Hashem from this statement. Even if a person acts in a פסול or defiled manner, but he is still בקדש, still knows the truth of Torah and mitzvos despite his weakness;אם עלה –if he is hit with a thought to do teshuvah, לא ירדו he will succeed and not fall again. But the opposite is also true. If the pesul is not בקדש, that is one acts sinfully because he sees himself as a kind of חוקר פוקר or philosopher-skeptic, even if he has a thought to do teshuvah it will be very difficult for him!”

Monday, March 26, 2012

Spilled Ink: A Pesach Story

Two representatives of a town in close proximity to that of Rabbi Aryeh Leib Yellin, author of the Yifei Einayim, traveled to the rav to sell all the chometz in their town. The rav sat down and began to meticulously record every item of chometz on their list, including all of the names and details of the owners, and the locations where the chometz would be stored. After filling an entire page with all of the details of the Jewish-owned chometz in their town, he was just about to read the document to them when one of the simple Jews accidentally knocked over the bottle of ink. The two representatives of the other town were petrified and wondered how they would endure the rav's scathing rebuke for this blunder—not only had they put all of the rav's time and effort to waste, but they had even deprived him of a full bottle of ink, itself an expensive commodity. To their surprise, Rabbi Yellin did not say a word. He got up, brought a new sheet of paper and rewrote the entire list from memory. He then began to read it back to them. To their surprise, it included every name and every possession they had told him before the ink was spilled. His granddaughter related that, similarly, when a child once knocked over a bottle of ink onto a page filled with chiddushim, Rabbi Yellin had been the one to calm the child down. Despite the immense time taken to write the page, all he would say is, "With Hashem's help, I will write it over!"

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

An Unusual Custom

In Belz, there were several customs that touched upon the baking of matzos. In the rebbe’s home there was a large room used to bake matzos where a built-in oven was used only for this purpose. They would bake on the first two days of Nisan as well as erev Pesach. They were particular to use wooden vessels and not to allow a minor to do anything at all. Everyone who helped was also required to immerse in a mikveh before doing his job. But perhaps the most unusual custom was that, after the matzos were baked and had cooled, the chassidim would take them and put them on the rebbe’s bed. When someone asked the rebbe’s son, Rav Mordechai Rokeach, zt”l, to explain this strange custom, he pointed to a Rashi on Chulin 54. He explained, “The mishnah in Keilim states that in Egypt, the Jewish people tied the korban Pesach to their beds. Rashi in Chulin 54 discusses that mishnah and writes that in later generations as well, they would tie their korban Pesach to their beds to commemorate the custom in Egypt. Since during our exile we eat matzah to commemorate the korban Pesach, they would place the cooled matzos on my father’s bed to fulfill this ancient custom.”

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Today's Pesach Stories: Seeking the Laws of Pesach; Chametz and Matzah

1) The Rebbe of Sanz-Klausenberg, shlit"a, gave a very inspiring talk. "The Rokeach writes that one should prepare himself with cheshbon hanefesh and teshuvah before fulfilling a mitzvah; he should beg Hashem that he merit to do the mitzvah as is fitting, without feelings of self-aggrandizement. Some would even fast before fulfilling certain mitzvos. The reason for these extra exertions is because a mitzvah done with genuine feeling as it should be makes huge rectifications in the upper worlds. Obviously there are many barriers that block the way of the person who wishes to reach this pinnacle. The least we can do before performing a mitzvah is to beg Hashem for help. "Now we can understand why every tractate in the Talmud begins with a shaar blatt, a page with a gateway, and then starts on a page marked as number two. Tzaddikim always petition Hashem for help to learn and do mitzvos. They plead with Hashem: 'I know in my heart that I am not as I should be. I have done much wrong. Nevertheless, You Hashem are gracious and merciful. I therefore plead with You to help me serve You in truth.' The first page is the gateway: we enter into the gates of learning Torah lishmah by begging Hashem for His aid. Only after entering this gateway can we begin the actual tractate on page two. "This is the meaning of the words of our sages that thirty days before the holiday one should begin studying the laws of Pesach. The language used there is,שואלין ודורשין בהלכות הפסח, which literally means to ask about and seek the halachos of Pesach. This indicates our asking Hashem for help. דורשין should also be understood in the context of verse, 'דרשו ה' בהמצאו'—'Seek Hashem when He is to be found,' since this alludes to seeking aid from Hashem. When learning hilchos Pesach, we must beseech Hashem for help to avoid the slightest trace of chometz and that we merit to fulfill the many mitzvos of the holiday properly." #2) The Hagaddah Ishei Yisrael writes:“Our sages teach that matzah must be made from one of the five grains, since only the five grains can become chometz. Matzah may not be made from other species since, although something happens when they are left, it is not the same chemical process as leavening. Instead of becoming chometz, other species ferment or spoil. Rav Yisrael of Modzhitz, zt”l, explained the practical lesson from this as follows: rice and other substances that cannot become chometz represent the person who is in the grips of depression. Even if in his lethargy he doesn’t sin outright and does do good when he moves at all, his mitzvos are spoiled. These acts are done out of depression and lack vitality. Like a spoiled thing, the depressed person sits on his couch and goes through life in spiritual slumber. He feels certain that he has done all that is incumbent upon him in avodas Hashem. He added, “But a person with a joyous heart is the exact opposite. He is filled with inner happiness and strength. Although such a person is more susceptible to sinning because the yetzer hara wants especially to bring such a person down, if he stays joyous he is freed. As the verse states, 'כי בשמחה תצאון'—‘For you shall go out [of exile] in joy…’ As long as he acts for holiness in whatever way he can, he will never come to the chometz of sins. This can be compared to dough that cannot become chometz as long as it is worked.”

Monday, March 12, 2012

Two Pesach Stories

I: Once, the expensive matzos slated for use by the Ahavas Yisrael of Vizhnitz were accidentally switched for much simpler matzos. Understandably, certain people were upset at the assistants who were supposed to guard against such an eventuality. The rebbe told the following story to convey his own feelings about such punctiliousness. “In many places the custom was to keep chickens set aside for Pesach away from any chometz. In the household of a certain rebbe, they would even dress the chickens in little mittens and place them in a special chometz-free henhouse. When a chicken from the regular flock jumped into the coop that housed the Pesach chickens, one of the rebbe's assistants began to shout. ‘Why aren’t these chickens watched as is fitting?’ “The rebbe of that place turned to the man who shouted and said, ‘Haven’t you heard that it is forbidden to get angry?’ “The man who had shouted tried to justify his behavior. ‘But on Pesach even the slightest amount of chometz is prohibited!’ ‘The tzaddik did not accept the man's reasoning. ‘I am talking about anger, regarding which our sages said that anyone who is angry is considered to have worshipped idols. And you justify yourself with a ‘chometzdik'e’ chicken?’” II: During the Yom Tov meals on Pesach, the Bobover Rebbe would exhort people to never veer from their family’s customs on Pesach. He would stress that even a stringency which is difficult to justify halachically must also be upheld. He would illustrate this with the following story: One of the young students of the Bobover Rebbe had to attend a family simchah during Pesach. Although most of the family were lenient and ate gebrokts, this young man did not do so. He reasoned that since his family custom was to avoid gebrokts, there was no basis to be lenient. When a certain non-chassidic gadol noticed that the young man refused the soup with kneidlach in it, he was outraged. “Rav Chaim Brikser ate gebrokts and you refrain? This is nothing but arrogance!” But when the Bobover Rebbe heard this claim he rejected it out of hand. “Keeping your family’s customs is arrogance? In Meseches Pesachim there is an entire chapter called מקום שנהגו which discusses customs Jews accepted upon themselves in various places. Why does it appear so simple to this admittedly great man that this young chassid may ignore his family’s custom? It is true that Rav Chaim Brisker was a gaon and had profound fear of heaven. Nevertheless, it is also clear that he would have never have discouraged a bochur from keeping his family’s customs. And he would certainly never have accused a person who is simply fulfilling his halachic obligation of pride!”

Friday, March 9, 2012

A Speck of Chometz

The Shulchan Aruch rules that a prayer intoned without kavanah is like a body without a soul. This rule applies equally to how one fulfills the mitzvos. If he uses the mitzvah to connect to Hahsem, they reach the highest spheres. Although fulfilling a mitzvah without thinking is also very precious, when compared to doing a mitzvah with kavanah, it too is like a body without a soul. That is the main element of the mitzvah is lacking. This is one reason why many people say לשם יחוד before fulfilling mitzvos. In this manner, they attempt to recall that one is not only obligated to fulfill the mitzvos. To paraphrase the Shelah Hakadosh, “He must also remember the One who gave the Torah.” But how is one to remember Hashem while involved in the many physical preparations of the chag? Rav Avraham Ladau, Av Beis Din of Zembin, would always send a short message to Rav Shmuel Dovber of Porisov with the wagon driver that would go to that town before Peasach. The message would reveal what the rav was thinking about while involved in all the preparations and mitzvos of Pesach. One year the message was, “Chometz on Pesach is אסור במשהו, even a tiny amount. Emunah—failing to remember Hashem—is also אסור במשהו, even for an instant!” When Rav Shmuel Dov Ber heard this message he said, “This short message can easily be expounded on for a full year!”

Monday, March 5, 2012

A Purim Story

One Purim, after shachris, Rav Shmelkeh of Nikolsburg, zt”l, noticed a very wealthy man lingering in shul. This person said much more Tehillim than was his wont and then began to slowly learn the day’s Chok L’Yisrael and recite Zohar. Rav Shmelke approached this wealthy man and immediately got to the point. “You should know that you are nothing more than a soldier who has deserted his post. This is true despite the Torah you are learning since one who runs away from a battlefield where his unit is fighting is a deserter even if he joins a different unit in different circumstances. Why are you different from a foot soldier who suddenly turns up at the stables where the cavalry keep their horses and tries to join them? The moment they realize that he is a member of a different unit he will be tried for treason or at least sent back to his unit with a warning. You are just the same. Your job is to be at home now and wait for the many poor people who will visit your house and give them a generous donation in accordance with your great wealth. Doing anything else, even learning in the beis midrash, is abandoning your post!” After he told this anecdote, the Rebbe of Vitzhnitz added, “I knew a certain wealthy man who would visit my father every Purim day. He would wander around the beis midrash and hang around with the gabaim specifically on this day, since he felt that every moment spent away from home was more money he could keep in his bulging pockets. This person was a ‘kamtzan l’mehadrin!’” The rebbe continued, “This is how I understand the gemara in Bava Basra 10. There we find that Rabbi Elazar gave tzedakah and only then davened. This was to remove any suspicion on the part of observers that he was davening at length to get out of fulfilling the mitzvah of giving charity!”