Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Write-Up Spirit of the Law Elul: Kitzur Shulcan Aruch Chapter 128 Completed

Deeper Dimension on Elul: Chapter 128: #1-16 1) The days of Elul are days of spiritual favor… We all wish to take advantage of the holy days of Elul, but wonder how we may do so? The Chidushei Harim and the Bas Ayis, explain that the Hebrew word, Elul makes up two words, לא לו which means not and for him. The message here is the more one is nullified to Hashem, the more he is able to take in G-dliness and connect himself heart and soul to Hashem. But sometimes this takes a pure hearted reminder. Rav Moshe of Kobrin recounted that when he was a child he was playing with other children when his older sister, who was the firstborn, said something that made an indelible effect on him. “Don’t you know that today it is already Elul and even the fish in the sea tremble out of fear of the upcoming Day of Judgment? How can you play with your friend’s like usual today?” She said this in such with such palpable fear and love of Hashem, that I was immediately filled with trembling for several hours. And I have never forgotten this warning.” In this vein we find that the Chazon Ish would say that yiras Shamayim cannot be learned from a book alone. Like a candle that must be lit from another flame, one must receive yiras Shamayim from someone who already has it.” But it is never too late to start again! 2) The custom is to blow the shofar during this month... The Chidushei Harim, zt”l, explains that we blow shofar during Elul as a kind of drill for the real thing, on Rosh Hashanah. It is only by preparing during this month by allowing the daily shofar blasts to slowly enter our heart, that we will feel a powerful inner movement to teshuvah when the shofar is blown on Rosh Hashanah.[1] Rav Yisachar Dov of Belz, zt”l, explained differently. On Rosh Hashanah we are so filled with dread that it is only on account of having blown the shofar in the course of the month of Elul that we can possibly fulfill this holy mitzvah on Rosh Hashanah. [Of course this fear must be balanced and must bring one to a feeling a great alacrity and care not to lose the great spiritual opportunities of these days, upon which our entire year is hinged. 3) It is the custom of Anshei Ma’aseh, people who embody the spirit of holy action, to check their mezuzos and tefilin, during this month... Although this is an excellent practice, it should never cause us to forget about the essentials. First and foremost we must rectify ourselves by repenting our sins and improving our character. Sadly, some people are not anshei maaseh at all but they use practices such as checking their mezuzos etc, since they prefer to focus on such things, then to even acknowledge their painful character defects. For someone who does not consider the results of his actions, there is truly no limit to the irreparable damage he can cause. Rav Wolbe, zt”l, recounted that when he was in Mir he stayed with a certain baal habayis for quite a while. When Elul came around, this man re-inspected all of his mezuzos and tefillin to ensure that they were 100% mehudar. When the young Rav Wolbe saw this he was frankly jealous of the man’s scrupulous attention to mitzvos. One day, when the lady of the house returned home, she confessed to her husband that she had paid quite a bit extra for vegetables in the market. Disregarding the young scholar’s presence, the man became livid and embarked on a tirade which lasted an hour. His beleaguered wife was terribly distressed by his outburst, and soon complained of a headache. She excused herself and went to lie down. A short time later, the poor woman died. Hashem Yishmor! Years later, Rav Wolbe was known to comment on this tragedy, “For an extra twenty cents spent on tomatoes this man indulged his terrible temper and killed his own wife, Rachmanah litzlan! Even with all of his attention to mitzvos, the fact that it was Elul didn’t mitigate his bad middos in any way at all!” 4) During the seven weeks from after Tisha B’Av until Rosh Hashanah we read a different haftorah of comfort... Even if Rosh Chodesh Elul falls on a Sunday we do not recite the usual haftorah of machar chodesh, which is recited when Shabbos is the day before Rosh Chodesh, since it does not discuss the comfort of Jerusalem... During Tisha B’Av we confronted the negative within which each of us which prevents the rebuilding of the Beis Hamikdash. But our great focus on the negative could bring to feelings of despair. For this reason we are so careful to specifically recite the seven haftoros of comfort. We each have to understand that eventually every Yerushalayim will be rebuilt and we will merit true teshuvah. As Rebbe Nachman cried out, “there is no despair at all.” Rav Tzaddok Hakhain of Lublin explains that the seven weeks of comfort correspond to the seven lower Sefiros[2] which correspond to the emotional drives in every person: joy and expansiveness, fear, pride, the will to prevail and the desire to show off one’s attainments. But of course, each of these can be used to serve Hashem. One can serve Hashem with love and fear. He can feel proud to be a Jew and give Hashem pride as it were. He can work hard to be victorious over the evil within and feel grateful to Hashem for his spiritual attainments. Through the holiness of each Shabos we build another one of these drives and are enabled to clarify them and use them to serve Hashem.[3] 5) We begin Selichos from Sunday... Most people begin to say selichos, either after midnight on motzei Shabbos or early Sunday morning. Rav Yissachar Dov of Belz, zt”l, explains that we start to say selichos after Shabbos, even if it means almost a week more than the four days minimum, because we want to begin to say the selichos while the light of Shabbos still shines upon us. We can also explain that the Zohar writes that one cannot feel holiness without preparation. What better way to find time to prepare to begin the selichos, then to have a full day of spiritual pursuits to focus on this mitzvah. 6) ...One should at least stand while reciting Kel Melech yoshev and the thirteen attributes of mercy... Rav Nosson of Breslov explains[4] that when one says the thirteen attributes of mercy, he should especially focus on Hashem’s kindness, in that he judges us favorably even though we have sinned. This is the deeper meaning of notzer chessed l’alafim, which literally means that Hashem rewards for good deeds until a thousand generations. Rav Nosson explains that Hashem guards the little bit of good a person has done and uses this to sweeten even thousands of accusers. Of course he must repent the evil he has perpetrated but Hashem waits for him to do so. This is the meaning of the rest of the sentence, nosay avon vafesha v’chata’a v’nakey. He carries sin, blemish and iniquity and cleanses it. This means in our context that Hashem supports the evil offspring of the sins, and waits for one to do teshuvah.[5] 7) One should choose the most worthy person to act as the prayer leader for Selichos and the high holy days... These prayers are so powerful and important that we should be very careful to find the best person to represent us. Yet the Baal Shem Tov said, that if one knows that his prayer leader is not worthy, he should make efforts to pray with as much concentration as he can muster and rely on Hashem. Although it is certainly fitting to daven in a place where the prayer leader is worthy, one should not worry overly much if his leader is unworthy. As always, he should just do what he can and hope to Hashem. 8) A mourner should not be the prayer leader if there is another as worthy as he is... The cantor in the Maharil Diskin’s shul, died shortly before the month of Elul leaving a widow and children. Strangely when the gabayim approached the Rav to discuss finding a new cantor, he put them off and would not discuss this. Since they knew that their Rav had certainly thought it through before reacting in this manner, they let this issue slide. When the first day of Rosh Hashanah arrived they asked the Rav who he had in mind to daven. To their great surprise he replied that the deceased cantor’s son should daven. After the services they asked the Rav how he had ruled against the Shulchan Aruch which states clearly that a mourner may not be a cantor when there is another as worthy. “After all, there are many people as worthy as he is, who could have served as cantor.” But the Rav disagreed. “Think of the widow of our old cantor. She is surely feeling her loss very keenly just now. How would she feel if instead of hearing her husband’s davening as she has been accustomed to do for all these years, she heard a stranger daven. Surely this would have caused her untold grief. The only replacement which would not pain her is her own son. Surely this is also a case where there is no one else who is as worthy as the son!” 9) Someone who says selichos without a minyan may not recite the thirteen attributes of mercy... Rav Nosson explains that the thirteen attributes of mercy give a person a balanced understanding of true mercy, through which he learns when to act with audacity and when not to.[6] This is a degree of tremendous understanding, which can only be attained through carefully examining one’s motives over and over again. One must have holy brazenness but only when this is appropriate. It is for this reason that we recite this prayer many times. This is also why one who has no minyan may not recite this prayer since it is only in through connecting to a “Jewish community” of at least nine other Jews that one can access this level of mercy and learn holy audacity. As our sages say, Hashem does not despise the prayer of the many. 10. A mourner may not leave his home to recite selichos except on Erev Rosh Hashanah . As is well-known, mourner have many restrictions, but many are unaware that mourning is an avodah. One reason a mourner may not leave the house is since this is likely to distract from his avodah. Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe, zt”l, imparts some of the avodah of a mourner. “I hadn’t heard that your mother, a”h, had passed away. When you were here I understood that she bore severe suffering in her illness. And now she has gone to the place of her menuchah. “Mourning is surely a great avodah for you. Your main work is to strengthen mightily the realization that your mother is not gone—she lives in the world of truth and she requires your help. Your avodah, Torah and mitzvos are of more importance to her now that she has gone and can no longer help herself. In the next world she has to face din and mishpat and her eyes are to you to save her from the judgments with your good deeds. The year of mourning can—and must!—be a year of ascent and spirutal chizuk for you.” Since the lengthy avodah of selichos on erev Rosh Hashanah will surely uplift a person, it is permitted for a mourner to leave home to join them. Since the rest of them are relatively short, the likelihood of distraction that is not rectified by the selichos is too great and this is forbidden. He should definitely say the selichos at home, but it is better to avoid the distraction of a social scene except during the very uplifting atmosphere of selichos erev Rosh Hashanah. 11. A sheliach tzibur and the toke’ah on Rosh Hashanah should separate himself from anything that leads to impurity from three days before the holiday, learning as much as possible about the davening and the halachos of teikyas shofar. They should also learn works of mussar… Once, before Rosh Hashanah, the Chozeh of Lublin, zt”l, ordered all baalei tokei’a to come see him. It was time to decide who would blow the shofar that year and to instruct him in the deep significance of this holy mitzvah. Rav Simchah Bunim of Peshischa, zt”l, joined the group of hopefuls even though he had no training and couldn’t blow the shofar. When the Chozeh saw him he was very glad. He said, “In Rosh Hashanah 29 we find that blowing shofar is a chochmah. Rav Bunim is a chacham, so he should blow shofar for us.” The two met privately and the Chozeh taught him all the kavanos, the mystical intentions, of blowing shofar. At the end of their last session, the Chozeh offered a shofar to Rav Simchah Bunim saying, “Take a shofar to be mechaven with.” Rav Simchah Bunim demurred, “But I don’t know how to blow.” The Chozeh got angry with him. Rav Bunim really was a chacham. He said, “How can the Rebbe be angry with me? I learned this hanhagah from Moshe Rabbeinu. First, Moshe said to Hashem, ‘What will I tell them if they ask me Your name?’ After Hashem answered, Moshe Rabbeinu said, ‘I am not a man of words,’ and asked Hashem to send someone else!” The Chozeh looked at him in a marked manner and said, “How can you compare yourself with Moshe Rabbeinu?” Rav Bunim shot back, “The Rebbe is also not Hashem…” When Rav Shamai Ginzberg, zt”l, told this story over he said, “Although this seems a difficult ma’aseh to understand on the face of it, there is a source for it in Yevamos 105b: When Rabbi Yishmael arrived in the beis medrash of Rav Yehudah HaNasi as a disciple, he said, “…I am Yishmael b’Rebbi Yossi, and I have come to learn Torah from Rabbeinu HaKadosh.” Avdan asked him, “Are you worthy to learn Torah from Rebbi?” Rabbi Yishmael answered, “Was Moshe worthy to learn Torah from Hashem himself?” “Are you Moshe?” was Avdan’s immediate response. Rabbi Yishmael shot back, “Do you think Rebbi is Hashem?” 12. Many people fast during the ten days of teshuvah. Since they are missing four days they also fast during the four days we recite selichos… [Note: in most places today people do not fast a full day when this is not required. At most they fast half a day, generally on Erev Rosh Hashanah as we find in the beginning of seif 14] Someone once asked Rav Shmuel Avraham Shapira of Slaviyta, zt”l, why the prevalent custom is not to fast voluntarily. “If a person feels that he can tolerate fasting, why shouldn’t he? Especially since the Gemara in Taanis 11 concludes that one who can tolerate extra fasting is indeed considered holy. It is only one who cannot tolerate such additional fasts who is considered a sinner!” The Rebbe replied, “My grandfather, Rav Pinchas of Koritz, zt”l, said something which answers your question quite well. He explained that sometimes the word גוי, gentile, can be read as body, as in the Hebrew word geviyah. This is one way to explain the verse in Tehillim (83:5): ‘אמְרוּ לְכוּ, וְנַכְחִידֵם מִגּוֹי וְלֹא-יִזָּכֵר שֵׁם-יִשְׂרָאֵל עוֹד.’ Imru refers to the evil inclination, who says: ‘Let us uproot them from their bodies, mi’goy/mi’geviya.’ How does it accomplish this? By destroying the health of person with a weak constitution through tempting him to observe extra fasts. ‘…And the name of Yisroel will not be mentioned anymore’—because the Jew who persists in this debilitating behavior cannot do anything then to serve Hashem!’” “Now you have your answer,” explained the Rav. “Today, it is forbidden to fast and engage is self-mortification since the generation is weak. This is certainly the advice of the yezter hara and will not lead to more holiness, which is the natural outcome of true Torah and avodah. On the contrary, this will only keep us from actualizing our potential. Instead of fasting, learn more and daven with more concentration!” 13. It is customary to visit the graves of Tzaddikim on erev Rosh Hashanah… It is an ancient Jewish tradition to visit the graves of tzaddikim or of one’s ancestors especially on erev Rosh Hashanah. The Chidah, zt”l, records that as a very young man, he accompanied his rebbi, the Ohr Hachaim Hakadosh, zt”l, to the graves of tzaddikim in Yerushalayim. When Rav Yonasan Eibeschitz, zt”l, was appointed Av Beis Din of Metz, he arrived much later than the community in Metz had anticipated. Since he expected that his knew community would be waiting for him, he sent a message forward to Metz to explain his tardiness. “I have a chovas gavrah, a personal duty, to go to Eibeschitz in distant Silesia to prostrate myself at the graves of my forefathers. They will surely petition Hashem for mercy on my behalf.” The Chasam Sofer, zt”l, recounted that before the Gaon, Rav Mordechai Bennet, zt”l, died he said, “If the community needs anything after I am gone, they should come to pray at my grave…” When commenting about the status of a cemetery the Chasam Sofer remarked, “It is likened to a shul, since the living often pray there.” The Maharil, zt”l, writes that although the custom is to pray at the holy graves of tzaddikim, one must be very careful not to place his trust in the dead. One should petition Hashem in the merit of the departed righteous. Although this is brought in the Chayei Adam and the Mishnah Berurah, when someone once asked Rav Shmuel Hominer, zt”l, regarding this issue he said, “I never understood this psak. In Sotah 34 it says clearly that Kalev went to the graves of the Avos and said to them, “My fathers! Plead for mercy from on high that I be saved from the wicked advice of the meraglim!’ Rav Huminer concluded, “We see from here that one may even ask the tzaddik to daven on his behalf as Kalev did. Surely if there was anything improper about this the gemara would have mentioned it!” 14. On erev Rosh Hashanah everyone fasts until after mincha. They eat afterwards so as not to enter the holiday while suffering. He should use this precious day to learn Torah, do mitzvos and repent. This is especially true regarding sins between man and his fellow man. He should not wait until erev Yom Kippur instead asking his friend to forgive him today… The Chazon Ish, zt”l, was wont to say: “The velt divides the Torah into two parts: mitzvos between man and Hashem, and mitzvos between man and his fellow. This division is not precise, however, and is misapplied for the most part. “The truth is that the main difference between these two groups is mere semantics... Every person must understand that if we transgress an interpersonal mitzvah, we create a barrier between ourselves and our fellow human being, which raises a barrier between us and Hashem. If we have no compassion on our friend’s Divine image, we are automatically distanced from Hashem. “This explains why Rabbi Elazar ben Azaryah learns that Yom Kippur doesn’t atone for sins between man and his fellow man from the verse, ‘lifnei Hashem titharu’--'You will be purified before Hashem.' One who sins against his fellow man is not considered lifnei, before Hashem, due to the barrier formed by his sin. The verse states that those who are before Hashem are purified, not him.” Nevertheless, even if one cannot ask forgiveness, we need to wait and beg Hashem to assist us, as is clear from the following story: Rav Zalman of Volozhin, zt”l, was a child prodigy. At fourteen he learned in the great beis medrash in Vilna, and was well known for his brilliance. Once, a certain man came to him and expressed a desire to say over a, “peirush tov on a Mishnah in Maseches D’mai.” Since the man, like so many Lithuanian Jews of that time, pronounced his shin as a sin, what he said sounded like, “peiros tov.” The young Rav Zalman heard his visitor out, but he felt that the man’s interpretation was off. He felt a bit annoyed at having such bitter “peiros tov” thrust upon him, and he responded sharply after the man finished, “That isn’t peiros tov—it’s peiros d’mai!” Meaning, this is the awful “fruit” of the scholarship of an ignoramus. As soon as the abashed man left, Rav Zalman was filled with remorse. How could he shame a fellow Jew who was talking in learning to the best of his ability? Even though they had spoken one on one and Rav Zalman hadn’t shamed him in public, there was no excuse for such behavior. He frantically started to search the town for the man to beg his forgiveness but to no avail. The man was nowhere to be found. Rav Zalman searched for this man for well over a decade but still couldn’t find him. It was only with great difficulty that Rav Zalman’s son-in-law was able to stop him from undertaking a personal exile and taking up wandering throughout Lita so that he could admit his sin in every shul throughout the land in the hope of finding the wronged man. When the Vilna Gaon heard about this, he summoned Rav Zalman to try and comfort and encourage him. The Gaon closed their conversation by saying, “You did everything you possibly could to find the wronged party and make amends. About just such a case the Chovos Halevavos writes in the tenth chapter of Sha’ar Hateshuvah, “If a person earnestly repents after having sinned against his friend bodily or monetarily, Hashem will cause a broad-mindedness and a love to enter his friend’s heart until he forgives him….” Such was Rav Zalman’s faith in the Gaon, that although he certainly was already familiar with these words of the Chovos Halevavos, he was instantly comforted as soon as the Gaon uttered them! 15. We immerse and don Yom Tov garments… The Ben Ish Chai, zt”l, imparts the kavanah of the mikveh on erev Rosh Hashonah. “One reason for the custom to immerse erev Rosh Hashonah is to bring in the sanctity of the Yom Tov so we live a good, long and peaceful life. The first immersion one should have in mind that he wants to purify himself for the holiday. The second immersion focus on fixing any time you were angry. Think that you want to sweeten the judgments while immersion for a third time. One should meditate while doing the fourth immersion that he is removing the weekday garb of his soul. He should have in mind that the year and its cursed aspects should cease. The fifth immersion is to take on the sanctity of Yom Tov. While doing this immersion one should intend that the New Year with its blessings should begin.” [7] [Ben Ish Chai, Year I, Nitzavim] 16. It is customary to annul vows on erev Rosh Hashanah The deeper works explain that this is similar to teshuvah since it removes all hold the other side has on one. Many Kabalists annul vows each week before Shabbos and before Yom Tov for this very reason. One explanation of the connection is that complete teshuvah is all about nullifying oneself completely as illustrated in the following: The Ramasim Tzofim, zt"l, brings a fascinating exposition on teshuvah. "The Arizal reveals that when we say, 'Forgive our sins, ki rav huh, for they are great,' we are actually referring to the halochah that Rav says in Bava Kama 64. There we find that one who admits that he is obligated to pay a fine and then witnesses come to court and obligate him he is discharged from the fine. Since his confession obligated himself to pay the principle he need not pay the fine. Similarly, one who confesses obligates himself and is therefore patur, discharged from his sin. "Yet this is somewhat difficult. Although one who merely repents in his thoughts is a complete tzaddik, this is only if he had a deep awakening, as we find in Brochos, taking something to heart is stronger than one hundred hits. This shows that true teshuvah must move one on a very deep level, from the depths of his heart. "Now we understand why the Rebbe, Rav Bunim of Peshischa, zt"l, said that teshuvah is literally like killing oneself. If one does not reach this level he has to put in vast efforts to atone for his sins. "The Rebbe of Kotzk, zt"l, similarly declaimed that he is unsure if there is a true ba'al teshuvah in his generation. For one who does teshuvah must leave this world completely and ascend to the place of teshuvah. But on another occasion he said that teshuvah is a small level like a shoe. "We can explain this apparent contradiction when we realize that he was talking about two different types of teshuvah. Teshuvah from love is the higher form of teshuvah he was unsure if anyone in his generation truly reached. The lower level of teshuvah from fear, is the level of a shoe. For the only way to truly attain teshuvah through yirah is to be humble before all, like the dirt beneath everyone's shoe. If teshuvah from yirah does not bring one to this level of profound humility it is incomplete." [Ramasim Tzufim, p. 342]

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