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!”