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.