Revach L'Neshama RSS feed for - Section: AVODAH Category:INNOCENT OBSERVATIONS Copyright 2007, Revach L'Neshama en-US Revach L'Neshama Logo 144 31 Thu, 02 Dec 2021 03:00:00 +0000 240 Leil HaSeder Alone in The Shadow of Corona The Chasidim were stunned when the Holy Defender of the Jews, Reb Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev announced just a few moments before starting Kiddush on Lel Ha'Seder that he would not begin the Seder until they gather together fifty Persian scarves, 10 pounds of Turkish tobacco, and one loaf of bread.

"But Rebbe they cried where are we supposed to get these items? The scarves and tobacco are all contraband and no one has any. Besides that you know it is Pesach. Where can we find a loaf of bread in Berditchev". The Rebbe said "as you wish but I will not start the Seder".

After going from house to house throughout the Jewish community explaining their strange request, the Chasidim met with little success. After two hours of searching they came up with only 5 scarves and no tobacco or Chametz. They laid their findings out before the Rebbe and pleaded with him to start the Seder but he insisted they meet the full quota without excuses.

This time the Chasidim were even more vigorous and pleaded with the members of the community to please be forthright for the sake of the Rebbe and the entire Kehilla, and hand over any of these items in their possession.

After a short while they returned to the Rebbe hoping that this time he would agree to start the Seder with what they found. They emptied out one bag with over 100 scarves and another bag with four times the quota of tobacco. "Very nice" said the Rebbe "but where is the Chametz". With tears in their eyes the Chasidim pleaded with the Rebbe "please Rebbe this is ridiculous where should we find Chametz in Berditchev"???

The Rebbe then lifted his eyes to the Heavens and said "Dear Father in Heaven. The Russian have made owning a Persian scarf punishable with 25 years of hard labor. They have policeman deployed throughout the city but nevertheless the Jews of Berditchev own at least 100 scarves. Furthermore there is a death penalty for anyone caught with Turkish Tobacco and the borders of Russia are guarded by hundreds of thousands of soldiers. Nevertheless there is plenty of Turkish tobacco to be found in Berditchev".

"You have Hashem have no visible army or police force, nor is there any physical signs of your heavenly court and your command of not possessing any Chametz was declared over 3000 years ago, yet there is not one speck of Chametz to be found in the entire city". "Mi K'Amcha Yisroel" he shouted as he began his Seder.

This year we start our seder in the eye of the deadly plague engulfing everyone in its path. By now everyone has taken refuge within the four walls of their home's hoping and praying to stay safe. We turn to Hashem and say indeed we have made many mistakes both spiritually and physically, and have brought this disaster upon ourselves. But please Hashem have mercy on your loving children.
We were told to stay home and not mix with crowds. We were threatened with fines and warned of the impending doom if we defy these orders. Yet we believed in "Netzach Yisroel Lo Yishaker" and hundreds chose to keep Klal Yisroel alive by marrying and building new Yiddishe homes while the Malach HaNaves ran amok. These young men and women sacrificed their dream weddings for the sake of continuity of your nation and settled for simple ceremonies with few in attendance. On the other hand next week the Sefira period will begin and you've declared that there should be no weddings. Not a single wedding will take place, not in the open and not in secrecy.

We were told not to go daven because it could spread the disease, and although misguidedly so, we nevertheless went to Shul because we couldn't fathom that you really didn't want us there. We were sure it was a test of our utter loyalty, and didn't realize it was a sign of rejection. We jumped at what we thought was an opportunity for our generation to give our lives for Tefila like so many stories we heard as children from days long gone. And we had no doubt that you would protect us. We were wrong. Oh how very wrong!

These were mistakes borne out of love and devotion for you, Hashem. Going to Shul erroneously was not to satisfy our physical pleasures. Who would have dreamed? We marched to Shul with the same burning determination that has kept our faith alive for two thousand years through this dark Galus.
Just like the pleas of holy Rebbe of Berditchev please look down at your faithful children and have mercy. Accept all our korbanos. Look deep in our hearts and see our mesiras nefesh and not our mistakes. Please watch over us and don't let the Malach HaMaves into our homes. On this night of Leil Shimurim please strengthen the healthy, heal the sick and console the broken hearted.

Tonight we all sit in quiet and loneliness. The older generation will miss the Sedarim of past years, surrounded by many generations of cacophony and nachas. They won't enjoy the clapping and cheering as the littlest ones perform the Ma Nishtana. They will proceed to eat the Afikoman without the tough negotiations with the school age "wiseguys." The younger generation will miss the regal presence of their grandparents at the head of their table. We will miss the give and take between grandfathers and grandchildren, and their mastery of life, as they expertly impart their experience and wisdom to the future generation through the prism of the Haggadah.

Just like our first Pesach long ago when the commandment, "No man may leave the front door of his house" was immediately followed by incredible turn of fortune and an unprecedented Geula, so too this year as we sit behind locked doors, we beseech you to please shine the rays of a new dawn and bring the final Geula, where all the hardships of our long and bitter galus will give way to days of unprecedented light.

Wed, 01 Apr 2020 03:00:00 +0000
Stopping Corona: Overwhelmed With Eitzos? In a city where we get our Hashkafa from Patchkevilim on the streets and musar from bumper stickers on the back of the car in front of us, it should come as no surprise that while we are all running scared from Corona, every serious Makom Torah, be it a Shul or Bais Medrash, has dozens of signs on the walls and papers strewn around the table with "Eitzos" on how to handle the current crisis. They are the ones with the big headlines screaming "Chovas HaSha'a", Eis Tzara He L'Yaakov" and the like. Thay clearly spell out and share with us the secrets of survival. Give Tzedaka, learn Torah, stop talking Lashon Hara, throw away your smartphone etc. They are usually well sourced either from a Medrash, Gemara, Zohar or a famous Gadol like the Chofetz Chaim, Yesod V'Shoresh HaAvodah and many more. There are also those age-old antidotes of saying specific Pirkei Tehilim, Parshas HaKitores, Nishmas, Perek Shira, Amein Yehei Shmei Rabba and the like.

We are all overwhelmed with all this advice as we grapple with the magnitude of the calamity and the uncertain future. Which is the most effective? How many of them can we possibly do? Do they really work?

Not to worry the answer is quite simple. Take for example the US Army. There are four main branches; army, navy, airforce and marines. Each one has many divisions with different roles. Each division has a huge arsenal of the most advanced weaponry in the world. Are the soldiers overwhelmed by the breadth and depth of the tools at their disposal? Of course not. Each soldier is given a weapon and instructed to go fight.

Similarly Hashem has provided us with the most advanced weapons to alter the face of nature and the world at large. Every Amein, every word of Torah, every kind word to a fellow Jew has the power to shake up the world and change the reality in which we live in a moment. Every "Eitzah" is a gold mine and an atom bomb wrapped up in one. It makes no difference which one you do. Just don't stand around, don't deliberate grab one and get going. Whatever you do will make a huge impact even if you don't see its results with your own eyes.

How do we know this is true? In the last year Bnei Yisrael was in the desert they started speaking Lashon Hara about Moshe and were swarmed by deadly poisonous snakes. What did Moshe Rabbeinu do to save them? He didn't tell them to learn two halachos of Shemiras HaLashon a day for the next 40 days. He didn't tell them to fast and say Tehilim. He put up a copper snake on a tall stick in the middle of the camp and told everybody to look at it and they will be cured. The Mishna in Rosh HaShana asks how can looking at a snake cure someone with poison in his blood. The Mishna answers that of course it can't, but when a person looks up towards the sky he remembers his Father in heaven and that is what cures him.

By performing any of the remedies being promoted by these signs we will look up and acknowledge the source of our troubles. That is what will ultimately make it go away. But therein lies the caveat. Chizkiyahu HaMelech, it says, did away with Moshe's copper snake and the Chachomim blessed his initiative. Why? Because it came to the point where people thought the snake was a magic cure for their ails and forgot that it was only a means to find Hashem. The wondrous snake that centuries before brought us close to Hashem, now became a full fledged Avodah Zara in its own right.

Similarly saying Nishmas will not help unless you read and marvel at how Hashem has always and will always protect us every second of our lives, and how we can't live without his hashgacha for a moment. Perek Shira will only be effective if it brings us to the realization that the world and all the creations are servants of Hashem that do his will and therefore so should we. Torah study only works if we see it as Hashem's most precious possession and our guiding light to live our lives. And so on and so forth with every remedy there is. They are all different flavors of the same medicine. Understand the truth of life, and the meaning of life, and start to live it. Only then we will truly be counted among the living and no little virus will bring us down.

Tue, 17 Mar 2020 03:00:00 +0000
The Problem With Asking for Money

In the short list of qualifications for judges that Yisro told to Moshe Rabbeinu, two of them seem to be in conflict with each other. A judge must be an "Ish Chayil", a man of great means and stature, and "Sonei Botza" a person who hates money. How can we reconcile these two traits?

In order to do so we need to understand why money is the root of all evil. We must figure out why man has such a great desire for money. Why does it drive so many people and their life's quest? And moreover why is it so bad? Why does the Torah tell us that money corrupts?

Imagine your seven year old child coming to you one morning and asking for ten dollars. Why, you ask? The child answers that he wants to make sure that he will have enough food to eat for the day. You give the child a pat on his cheek and tell him not to worry, you will provide him with food, just like every other day and he need not worry. The next day the child asks for 100 dollars. Surprised you ask what for this time. He explains that with rising medical costs he wants to be covered in case he needs to see a doctor.

While this scenario is preposterous, the same goes for us in our relationship with Hashem. Hashem is our loving father who provides us with everything we need. We don't need oodles of money sitting in our bank account. Sure we need lots of money to get all the things we need to get through life, but those things are concrete and have a price tag, however money per se is totally useless.

Just like your child can come to you and say, Daddy I need new books, and toys, and snack, and and and, so to Hashem waits for us to turn to him to ask him to give us all the things we need both big and small. You can ask Hashem for a nice clothing and a new car, and you know what, he even appreciates it and will reward you for asking. Do you know why? Because your request is proof that you recognize that Hashem is the source and the sole provider.

In contrast, money promotes the exact opposite feeling. Money is abstract and with money in the bank you have a feeling of confidence that whatever arises in life, your money can bail you out. The bigger your bank account the more confident and independent you feel. No matter what calamity arises, with money you will prevail. HaKesef Yaaneh Es HaKol, money is the answer to everything. We want money because we want independence, namely independence from Hashem! The idea of having money and being independent of Hashem is just as silly as the notion of our seven year old child being independent of us.

Interestingly if you look at the things we ask for in Shmoneh Esrei, none of them can be purchased with money. With money you can buy lots of books and have a huge library but you cannot buy wisdom. You can afford the best doctors and medical care but you cannot buy health or longevity. You can't even buy prosperity for the next year. You can buy access to Gedolim, but you cannot buy a true relationship. You can buy a big house but not a happy home.

The judges needed to be men of means and stature to gain respect from the people. But they were all Tzaddikim totally devoted to Hashem and therefore hated money. We see from here it is possible you can still be very rich and not be affected by money. Go ahead and spoil yourself to all the good things in life (although that isn't too healthy either but that is a different story), just don't lust after money itself because that will totally destroy you. If you are fortunate to have some extra hanging around put into good use so that it can bring you up rather than drag you down.

Mon, 20 Feb 2017 03:00:00 +0000
Shiduchim, One of Life's Hardest Tasks

Marrying off your children is probably one of the greatest challenges a person goes through in this world. If you live in Eretz Yisroel and are looking for a top learning boy, it will require astronomical sums by any standards and certainly for the average member of the frum community in Eretz Yisroel, even if they are working baalei batim. Most people are lucky to earn enough to get through the month. Even if one can save, how much can they possibly save? This is the hurdle after the engagement, and of course there are no shortage of hardships and challenges finding a the right boy and getting everyone to say yes.

But that is not it! That is not the aspect of Shidduchim that is actually difficult. That is the easy part, since it really has nothing to do with us. This is Hashem's job. "Hakosh Baruch Hu Yosheiv U'Mizaveg Zivugim." Parnasa is not in our hands either, it comes from Hashem.

So what makes Shiduchim so difficult then? Aren't we on this world to be challenged and to grow? Why does Hashem make Shiduchim such an energy spending force in our best years? Why distract us from working on true growth? The answer is that Shiduchim poses great challenges to us, as one of life's most important missions is to develop emunah, to understand that we are not in control. Marrying off children is the perfect vehicle for Hashem to teach us this lesson. Only the most arrogant can come out of it still believing that their destiny, and the destiny of their children, is in their own hands. The lesson is not only learned on the way to the Chupah, but continues to reverberate for years afterwards, as you deal with your young couple and your Michutanim whom you were sure you checked out down to the last T. The lessons in emunah taught through this process can't be learned anywhere else.

When a younger person starting shidduchim for their kids asks an older person how he managed to marry off children, the answer is always the same. "Don't ask me how I managed. I did it somehow, but unfortunately, what happened with me is a crazy story and it is not relevant to you." Someone once asked Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman why don't see open miracles in our day. He responded by looking around the room and asking, "Has anyone here ever married off a daughter?" No one needed to raise their hand, his point was self understood!

Kasheh Zivugan Shel Adam K'Krias Yam Suf. Kashem Parnasa Shel Adam K'Krias Yam Suf. Splitting the sea, marrying off children, and earning a living are all so hard. Yes indeed it is hard to see bleakness before your eyes with no earthly way out, yet somehow believe in a Hashem who you cannot see or hear, who can't in your mind be smart enough to figure it all out, when you know you are at a dead end with no solution in sight.

No one escapes the challenge of Shiduchim. For those who have already bought into this reality it is an exercise to push them to their limits as they give their guts, and sweat out the long uphill road to its successful happy conclusion. For others it becomes a road littered with painful lessons, twisting and turning their world from side to side, as they endure hardship and bewilderment at every turn, until they too come to accept the truth that awaits them at the end of the road. Either way it's a road you have no choice but to travel, and it will take you to a beautiful place.

Hatzalacha & Besoros Tovos!

Sun, 17 Jan 2016 03:00:00 +0000
We Will All Be Robbed One Day

There is a famous story about a professor who gets up in front of his class with a big empty jar. He fills it to the top with a couple of large rocks. He then asks the class if the jar is full and they all respond affirmatively. He then takes out a bag of pebbles and pours it in and the same scene repeats itself. He then pours in sand with same result. Only after finally pouring water into the jar is the professor satisfied that the jar is full.

Let's borrow this parable in a negative way. If someone loses his job and ends up using all his savings, he will tell you that he is broke. If that night burglars break into his house and steal all his valuable jewelry and silver, he will then realize that he wasn't really broke since he had valuables worth a small fortune, and only now is he truly penniless. If the next week a fire breaks out and consumes his home with all its contents including furniture and clothing, while standing bereft of everything in the street as the fire man pour water on the charred remains of his home, he will realize that yesterday he was rich and only now he has absolutely nothing.

But I ask you, is he correct? Not even close! Why? What possibly could be next? When a person dies his soul, his essence will stand outside the physical world and peer down longing for the only home, the only existence it is familiar with. His neshama will desperately try to re-enter his dead corpse, for how else can it function. It will hover over his home, for where else can he go. But it will all be to no avail. All things physical have been taken from him and he is powerless to participate in this world anymore. The physical world is no longer his oyster. His body which was given to him on loan has been taken back. Just like someone whose home was robbed, he will literally turn over heaven and earth to catch those responsible and have all that was his returned to him, but obviously to no avail.

Sometimes when we go through the bumps in life we wonder why it is all worth it. We lose our lust for life, as happiness fades far into the rear view mirror. But all that is quite narrow minded for we still possess the greatest possession of them all. Any given moment is a grand opportunity to celebrate life itself. So make the best of every minute, for it would be a shame to only reflect on it when it is too late.

Wed, 18 Mar 2015 03:00:00 +0000
True Bitachon: What Tuesday Parshas HaMan Reveals in Us Judging from the amount of email reminders each one of us received today reminding us about the supposed segula of saying Parsha HaMan on Tuesday of Parshas Bishalach it seem like many people feel that saying Parshas HaMan is like picking up a check in the bank. They cling to it, believing it to be the source of their income. Whether this attitude is correct or not is not the subject of this article but there is a great lesson to be learned in what real bitachon is about.

The Medrash tells us that when Hashem commanded a trapped Bnei Yisroel to go into the raging sea everyone stood at the edge scared to go in. Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz asks how is it that the children of Avrohom who were imbued with a a willingness to sacrifice their lives in Hashem's honor, were suddenly hesitant to listen to His clear command?

He answers that Yitzchok's command was to die Al Kiddush Hashem, whereas at the Yam Suf Hashem did not ask Bnei Yisroel to drown themselves in the Yam, on the contrary, He told them to go into the Yam and walk on the Cherava, the dry land. He demanded not a sacrifice but unequivocal belief in His ability to totally change nature on a moments notice. Until Nachshon ben Aminadav jumped in, no one was capable of putting their foot in the water with one hundred percent belief that they were going onto dry land.

In our job and our lives there are times where Halacha or Hashkafa seem to stand in the way of our parnassa. There are many fine people that past these tests and do not submit to there fears and desires. They are willing to sacrifice their jobs and careers not to violate Hashem's will.

Yet there is a much higher level of bitachon, the belief in the word of Hashem. The belief that following the Torah guidelines does not conflict with our ability to earn parnassa but rather advances it, even if it doesn't look quite that way. The belief that the Torah created the world and is the secret to success in nature not in spite of it. V'Chai Bahem says the pasuk, Torah gives life! Im Shamoa Tishma, if you heed my command, you will be blessed with an abundant crop. Hahsem promises real Gashmiyus!

Our belief in Parshas HaMan shows us that we are capable in believing in the Divine as a fact of life. Our challenge is to believe in more basic desires of Hashem. We need to express this same belief when putting borders on our work, knowing when to start and when to stop. Knowing when to learn and when to daven and when to spend time with our family. Knowing which business practices to accept and which to reject, even if it looks like we can turn a quick profit. We need to do these things as a business strategy, believing full well that the business rules that the Torah teaches are far more effective than what they teach in the best universities. That is called V'Chai Bahem. That is Mesirus Nefesh as we learned it at Krias Yam Suf.

Tue, 27 Jan 2015 03:00:00 +0000
Seeing The World Straight When the light that enters our eye reaches the back of the lens to form a picture the objects appear upside down and backwards. Only when the image reaches the brain is the image corrected, allowing us to see right side up.

As we know, "nothing is for nothing" and everything was created with Hashem's infinite wisdom. This begs the question of why would Hashem make our visual experience so roundabout? Why would our initial viewing experience be, out of all things, upside down?

The gemara (Bava Basra 10b) tells the story of Rav Yosef the son of Rav Yehoshua who became very ill and lost consciousness. When he awoke his father asked him, "What did you see?" He told his father, "Olam Hafuch Ra'isi Elyonim L'Mata V'Tachtonim L'Mata", I saw an upside down world. The rich people who are regarded here as the upper echelons of society were considered lowly people, while the poor wise people who do good deeds and are considered the lower class here were considered the upper crust over there. His father answered him that he was mistaken. He did not see an upside down world, but rather the world as it truly is. The world we live in is the upside down world.

Every one of our 248 physical limbs mirrors a spiritual limb. Our eyes are our main interface with the world beyond us. Yet the image the world projects is upside down. Only when the image enters our brain and we use our mind to process it, do we make heads and tails of it. The same holds true for the story behind the picture. What we see at first glance without using our Sechel is always upside down. Just like the brain processes images and straightens them out, so too our brain must use its unbiased intelligence to make sense of the things we see.

Just like flipping an image, understanding the story is meant to be simple and a routine operation as the Pasuk (Koheles 7:29) says, "Asa HaElokim Es Ha'Adam Yashar", Hashem made a person straight. Unfortunately we all have forces within us that interfere with this process, be they poor Middos or selfish motives. We let these things take over our brain, as the pasuk concludes "V'Heima Bikshu Cheshbonos Rabbim". But the choice is our to see the world with clarity if only we choose to do so.

Tue, 07 May 2013 03:00:00 +0000
The Secret of the Steps There is a concept called Schar Pesios, which means that we receive a reward for each and every step that we tread on the way to Shul. This is not mere encouragement but very real. The halacha even says that if there are two Shuls, it is better to trek to the further one, in order to get more Schar Pesios.

Wouldn't one think that getting to Shul is more important than racking up frequent flyer bonus points? Moreover the whole idea of each step being a separate mitzva is hard to understand.

Maybe there is a lesson to be learned here. In life most of the things we do are very repetitive and we don't really see results. This is true for many things among them raising children. This can be very frustrating and destroy our desire and motivation. We learn from Schar Pesios, that our outlook is wrong. There is a famous and meaningful quote saying "The journey is the destination".

Walking to Shul is not about traversing the distance that separates us, it is a journey where every step brings us closer to Hashem. We need to consciously think during every step that we are doing the will of Hashem even if this is the only step we take. Each step should uplift us and inspire us. If we do this we will want to hang to the journey as long as we can, and never let go. The journey is the destination. Arriving in Shul closes one chapter and opens up a brand new one. It is not the culmination of our journey, but rather what happens when the journey is over. We want it to last. We want to savor it.

Humans have an incredibly long road in raising their offspring to independence, including many menial tasks like doing laundry, cooking food, cleaning the house over and over again, day in and day out. Why? For what? Nothing ever changes in this recurring nightmare. We try teaching them the same lessons ad nauseum, but they never seem to get there.

Just like the long walk to Shul, we need to remember two things. First, believe it or not one day we will actually arrive. Just like when walking to Shul each step is the same and doesn't seem to bring us closer, yet at the end we find ourself standing face to face with our destination. The same thing happens with our children. After years of repetition, one day we find our children have indeed grown and absorbed all the love, toil, and lessons we have painstakingly invested in them, and stand before us as a beautiful fully built edifice.

Second we must remember that "The journey is the destination". We must know that each lunch we pack and each sock we fold is not going make the sky light up, but yet it does. Each and every task we endure is a precious step on our journey and we must savor it. We must realize that this is our mission and this is our destiny. Each and every small repetitive chore is jewel that will one day be revealed to us, and we will wish we had been given an even longer route.

Thu, 10 Jan 2013 03:00:00 +0000
How Can The Baalei Batim Always Be Wrong? There is a famous adage from one of the early Acharonim that says, "Daas Baal HaBayis Hepech Daas Torah", meaning the opinion of the layman is always the opposite of the opinion of the Torah. What does this mean? Are the Baalei Batim alway, but always, wrong? How can that be? Do they ever get right? Even being as Daas Torah is always right, do the Baalei Batim always say the opposite? Do they never by chance agree? This adage was for years a most enigmatic Chazal in my mind, but let's take a crack and unraveling it.

The typical layman views life in a very natural manner. He sees each outcome as the result of many decisions and happenstances along the way. For example if suppose a person had an interview for a job he really wanted. That morning his alarm clock did not go off and he woke up late so he couldn't shower and freshen himself up. Already running late, he gets stuck behind an accident and finally darts into the interview five minutes late, disheveled and out of breathe. Not surprisingly the interview did not go well and he is rejected.

In his mind, if only the alarm clock went off, and if only the driver in front of him wasn't on the phone while driving, and if only... His worldview is that the job could have been his, but a string of bad luck stole it from within his grasp. He spends the next few days thinking what went wrong and how things could have been so different if only...

Daas Torah sees things totally differently. This job was not his, and was never meant to be. The rest is only Hashem's way of playing out the scenario so that he does not get the job. The alarm clock was sabotaged from above and the accident was meant to stop him from coming on time.

Think about everything in your life. How do you view it? if you are spending your days lost in thought figuring out how to change what already happened, replaying life as it should have happened, and swimming in regret, you are a full fledged Balabus. If you are calm and relaxed not breaking your head to decipher what went wrong and why, then pat yourself on the back, you possess a great deal of Daas Torah. Daas Torah sees cause and effect in what we would call a totally backwards manner, where the outcome is the cause, and the steps along the way are all just effects.

A Daas Torah outlook helps us cope with setbacks and supposed failures in the big things in life like health, shidduchim, and parnassah. It also helps a hundred times a day when you are cut off on the road, stepped on in shul, trip on your kids toys, or any other of life's little annoyances.

Life is a journey, and our starting point is pure Daas Baalei Batim. We then proceed through a maze where every first glance just reinforces this misguided outlook. But if we take time to think and look more carefully at the big picture rather than handling each disappointment one by one, we will see a beautifully woven tapestry where each part enhances the beauty of the whole. Through the eyes of Daas Torah the picture will appear to be the complete opposite of the frustrating mess seen through the eyes of Daas Balei Batim. You will stop trying to redraw the picture of your life because it wasn't you who drew it in the first place. It was carefully planned and laid out from far above, with much more wisdom and insight then we can ever possess. May Hashem grant us all the wisdom to see, hear, and comprehend Bisuros Tovos!

Tue, 18 Dec 2012 03:00:00 +0000
A Closer Look at Torah vs. Mivater - Leveling The Playing Field One of the hardest things in the life, and something we don't achieve often enough, is to be Mivater, to give in when we know we are right and the other party is wrong. The completion of this great act is holding our tongue, and keeping our righteousness to ourselves. We may do it often for small things, but how many times in our lives can we say that when push comes to shove we act with true nobility, crushing our overwhelming emotions, and letting the other side win?

This is one of the great acts that a person can do in this world. In fact Chazal say that the world hangs on such moments. Toleh Eretz Al Blima, which Chazal interpret to mean the world hangs on the merit of the person who puts the brakes on his mouth during an argument.

Yet at the same time Chazal tell us that Talmud Torah Kneged Kulan, Torah is the greatest mitzva of them all. This means each and every word of Torah.  So how is it that a person can learn for many hours each day as part of his daily routine and each word he learns is greater than this rare event that requires such a tremendous amount of courage?

Maybe the question is based on faulty assumptions but let's try to answer it on its face. Where does the courage to stifle oneself come from? It comes from a belief that there is more to this world than meets the eye, for if one didn't believe that they would never give in. We would need to win every point in life since nothing is to be gained from losing. This all comes from true belief in Hashem which comes from learning Torah. So in essence, being mivater is the fruit of Torah learning. For if one were to learn Torah and never be mivater it would show that the Torah is merely an intellectual exercise and not what Hashem had in mind. Being Mivater a single time is the product of hundreds or thousands of hours of Torah study. It is what gives each word that we learned its life.  Being Mivater is an act that validates our Torah and is not separate from it.  Only now does our Torah outweigh everything else.

Another possible approach is that while each mitzva carries its own weight, not every time we do the mitzva is it the same. There are many factors that go into the type of mitzva that comes out, mainly how much effort was put in. So you can have words of Torah that are worth more than others. The same applies to all mitzvos. In order to make a fair comparison between two mitzvos one would have to make sure all other variables remain the same. In our case by definition being mivater is done with incredible Mesiras Nefesh. One is nullifying himself completely at the moment of Vitur, which take remarkable character. Surely every word of Torah learned with the same dedication is worth more, but maybe not so the ones learned casually.

Sun, 02 Dec 2012 03:00:00 +0000
Racing The Wrong Grand Prix

Last week I took my son to a "Grand Prix" track set up in a parking garage. Each of us and two others got a souped up go cart and were let loose on the track. My little son was on my lap so I made sure to give him a fun ride. We took turns at fast speeds and passed everyone on the track. We did as many laps as we could.

After our time was up, the manager of the track called us all over to a computer screen. On it was the fastest lap of each driver. Lo and behold, I didn't have the fastest lap, a little kid beat me my half a second. What went wrong? The problem was that I had no idea that this is what they were measuring. I thought passing the other cars and doing the most laps made you the king of the track. There wasn't a single lap that I focused on doing the fastest time from start to finish.

My other son who drove his own car and lagged back in the pack was more upset about my "loss" than I was. He so badly wanted to go back and try again. I explained to him that the saddest thing that can happen to a person in his life is that he runs the wrong race. We often confuse what is important, and we try to compete from supremacy in areas that at the end of our lives we will find out simply did not matter. We spend our lives trying to pass others, and when we get up to Shamayim we will find out that the only thing that counts is that we did our best on each and every lap... and that we were on the right track. And by then it will be too late to come back and try again.

Sun, 01 Apr 2012 03:00:00 +0000
The Winners & Losers in the Battle For Your Bucks

I am not a posek and don't know much detailed Halacha, but while our mitzvos should be guided first and foremost by halacha, it should also penetrate deeper than the letter of the law and touch something within us. Hashem is interested in our heart more than our hand.

Today there is so much competition from so many different organizations for our tzedaka budget. While competition is usually good for the consumer, in this case it complicates matters and takes a lot of Ahavas Hashem and Ahavas Yisroel away from our Mitzva of tzedaka. We are bombarded with all kinds of incentives from free cars, money, and even apartments, to more sublime paybacks like brachos for good children and easy shiduchim.

As emissaries of Hashem to give out HIS money to the right causes and the right people, can we say that we are unbiased and are doing a great job with the tzedaka money we control? Are we giving it to the cause that we find most important and halachicly necessary without being blinded by incentives? Do inquire where the money will go and how efficiently it is spent, or do we ask when the raffle date is and are they serving buffet or sit down? Do we want to know what font size our name will printed in in the journal or where our plaque will be placed?

The sad fact is that every important and legitimate organization is under pressure to cover their budget and has no choice but to offer incentives in order to compete, so the next question we must answer after deciding on the right cause, is what percentage of our contribution can we consider tzedaka money.

Again I want to emphasize that the following is not a halachic answer, and a posek should be consulted, but rather I am talking to your heart and you conscious if you are really interested in giving tzedaka properly. This is only an innocent observation and I think the following story can provide some insight.

The Volozhin Yeshiva had a Mishulach that they would send around Europe to collect funds for the Yeshiva. Before one trip the Mishulach came to Rav Chaim Volozhiner and told him that he feels his tattered clothing and broken wagon are diminishing his respect in the eyes of the donors and therefore they give less money to the Yeshiva. Sharpening him up would improve the image of the Yeshiva and would bring in more money. lRav Chaim agreed and he paid for a new fancy suit and nice wagon to take the Mishulach on his travels.

A few weeks later the Mishulach returned with less money than ever. He explained to Rav Chaim that one of his biggest donors refused to give anything because he didn't want his money going for the Mishulach's clothing and wagon.

I don't remember the exact details but Rav Chaim's response to the donor was that each donation ends up being used for as holy a cause as was the intention of the donor. Betzalel's greatness in constructing the mishkan was knowing whose money should be used for the Aron Kodesh because his thoughts were purely L'Sham Shamayim while other money was given for reasons of honor. Similarly said Rav Chaim if your donation was given for the honor of Torah you can rest assured that you money will go for Torah and not for travel expenses.

Based on this thought we have nothing to fear. If we give tzedaka to a worthy organization L'Shma we can feel at ease that it went to the cause itself and not to the marketing expenses. You will be credited in Shamayim with a great mitzva of tzedaka. If however you give it for the new car, then let's hope you win because that is where your money went.


Sun, 26 Feb 2012 03:00:00 +0000
Where Were You When Rav Elyashiv Was Sick?

I have no recollection or memories of ever standing before the Heavenly Court, so I am not an expert on what goes on there other than the little I've seen of what Chazal tell us. Beyond the words of Chazal there are many frightful stories about the Omek HaDin, the depth and exactitude of the Heavenly judgement, that surprised even the greatest tzaddikim. Based on this I think it is safe to say that when each one of us stand before Hashem on our day of reckoning one question that will certainly come up is, "Where were you when Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv was lying in the hospital clinging to life by a hairsbreadth?"

This will not be a simple accusation like other "failure to help another Jew" offenses that we will be charged with. It will be far more serious than that. One may ask, "Rav Elyashiv is over 100 years old, do we expect him to live forever?" This attitude misses the point completely. The severity of the charge is on a number of levels. First and foremost if you've ever been to Rav Elyashiv for a bracha you owe him some of your time. Throngs crowded his home every day to recieve brachos for Refuah, marriage, children, and parnassa.

Rav Elyashiv, from all the gedolim, was a quiet private man. He never asked anything of anyone, his sole desire was to sit and learn uninterrupted. Yet when we came to Eretz Yisroel he let his precious time be monopolized by all of us who felt he was a tourist attraction that we couldn't afford to go home without being able to say we visited. To us it's not a big deal but to him every second was precious, yet he complied with the wishes of the tzibbur. Not only that, but many of us benefited from his brachos.

He now needs us for the first time in his life. Are we there for him or are we too tired or too busy to help? Just like we believed in the power of his brachos under impossible circumstances, we'd be hypocrites to say our Tehilim can't help in his moment of truth, even against all the odds.

Secondly, to give up hope and not to beseech the Heavens for his recovery is a denial of what Rav Elyashiv has contributed to Klal Yisroel over the past century. Not only has he been our guiding light in psak Halacha, but his Torah and unparalleled Hasmada has protected the generation from all sorts of evil. We may not be privy to the Chesbonos of Shamayim but for some reason things have been far better for us as a whole than we can understand why, and Rav Elyashiv is surely a big piece of the puzzle.

Lastly we live in time of great uncertainty and danger. On the national level we have many enemies in the world and few friends. Even our friends don't act out of generosity but rather of self interest, and that means that differences can arise at any moment leaving us alone and stranded. Financially we are in crisis as the world is in flux, and the future holds no promises. On the individual level raising children that follow our footsteps is as challenging as ever. The world is pulling them from there roots with ferocious strength. We should shake and tremble as we ask ourselves what would the world look like without Rav Elyashiv at our helm? In whose merit will we carry on?

Whether our tefilos will be answered in the affirmative or not, whether our wishes are rational or we are asking for miracles, we have plenty of good reason to storm the Heavens with tefila and cry our eyes out. If we don't, we have many questions to ask ourselves now, and many more to answer later.

Fri, 10 Feb 2012 03:00:00 +0000
Scientifically Speaking, The Good Life of Torah & The Misery of Sin

We find that whenever the Torah warns us about not keeping the Mitzvos, the consequences are always earthly punishments. Similarly when the Torah speaks about the rewards of Torah observance it is always about prosperity, security, and happiness. Yet in our minds when it comes to matters of religion we generally link reward and punishment to our after life. Rav Chatzkel Levenstein (Ohr Yechezkel 6 -Yirah UMussar) says based on the Mesials Yesharim that thinking about the consequences of the after life does not move of to change. The only thing that can actually make an impression on us is our status in this world, our pain and suffering and our rewards. Therefore the Torah encourages us through words that can have an impact.

The problem is that our minds eye does not really believe that our actions, both for good or bad, have a direct physical impact on the good and bad that we face in our daily lives, be it in matters regarding health, wealth, or happiness. We view the connection as purely cosmic and not rooted in science. After all what does shaking a lulav or wearing tefilin have anything to do with how my year or day goes?

Yet Chazal tell us that this is absolutely so. Hashem made the world based on the Torah, and matters of the world spin on the axis of Torah. If the world spins on science, then it is precisely this science that revolves around the words of the Torah, so indeed it must be true that our mitzvos and aveiros affect us in a worldly manner. So how does this work?

Rav Chaim Vital in Shaarei Kedusha asks why is it the Torah doesn't command us to have good Middos? There is no explicit Mitzva or Aveiros among the Taryag that demands good character. He answers that Middos are the foundation upon which the Torah is built. It goes without saying, says Rav Chaim Vital, that with bad character keeping the Torah will be quite a struggle, while if you have good character Torah observance will naturally flow from you. Moreover says Rav Chatzkel, if you have bad character even you Mitzvos stem from a bad place. So for example if you do a Mitzva because you are seeking honor, although the deed is what is commanded by Hashem, in essence you are not doing his mitzva but rather a strange manifestation of your lust after honor.

With this we can better perceive the link between our mitzvos or aveiros and our lot in life on this world. True we would be challenged if we were to tie our fate to individual commandments which we don't even understand their significance. However if we dig deeper and look at our health, wealth, and happiness in light of our character, we can probably see a correlation. Have you ever tried eating a full meal after blowing up at someone? Can you enjoy Shabbos and Yom Tov and your children for that matter if chasing money is your most importnat goal? Can you enjoy a geshmakeh davening if you are busy looking around shul to see who has what, is saying what, and who is getting all the attention and honor. How long can you maintain good health no matter much you work out, if you lack emunah and spend day and night worrying or if eating is a sport rather than a health ritual.

In this generation many of us have slightly skewed impressions of happiness and a good life when we are younger. But as we get older and experience the trials and tribulations of life, it doesn't take a deep thinker or a big tzaddik to look around and see all the really happy and satisfied people. These are the same people that we used to laugh at wondering how they sit in the darkness and let the world and its "real" pleasures pass them by. These are the people that saw the correlation between doing Hashem's will and achieving happiness while they were still young enough to change themselves. For the rest of us it's never to late, only a lot harder, especially as we bemoan all those precious years gone by and the hard work we put in that brought us only misery and suffering.

Mon, 12 Dec 2011 03:00:00 +0000
Fighting For Your Spot On The Bed

The other night I was taking my younger children to bed and sat down on one of the beds to read them a story. My eight year old was on my right and the six year old on my left. In walked the four year old and started pushing the eight year old away screaming that she needs to hear the story and needs to sit there.

I told the four year old the her sister was there first and she can't push her out of the way. Instead she should just say she would like to hear the story and ask me where she can sit, because I have a special seat for her. She was not interested and continued pushing and screaming, claiming that there is nowhere to sit! Later I told her it was shame she acted like that because the special seat that I had for her was right on my lap.

At the time I was a little surprised and disappointed that her stubborn behavior made her lose out. Why did she not listen to me when I told her not to fight because I was saving her a better seat than both the others had?

Then I realized I also behave the same way. When it comes to business we look at our competitor and say, "Hey that's my space!" We suddenly get tunnel vision and don't beleive there is any other possible way of making a living without pushing our competitor out of the way. At the same time our Father in Heaven is looking down at us and pleading with us to stop fighting, kicking, and screaming. "There is plenty for all of you, and I have a very special something just for you without taking from the others." If only we'd be mature enough and smart enough to listen.

Mon, 28 Nov 2011 03:00:00 +0000
Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel Ztz"l - The Great Obligator

The gemara in Yuma (35b) tells us that when you come before Hashem after your lifetime ends, no excuse will be accepted for not learning Torah. There are three men, says the Gemara, whose example will invalidate any kind of excuse you can come up with. If you say you were too poor and were busy earning a living, Hashem will point to Hillel who was even poorer but climbed on the roof in the snow to learn Torah when the guard wouldn't admit him because he couldn't pay. If you claim you were too rich and were to busy handling your affairs, Hashem will point to Rebbi Elazar ben Charsum who was far wealthier yet spent his precious time learning Torah. If you are busy with you physical desires Hashem will point to Yosef who was willing to live life as a slave rather than violate the Torah.

11 Cheshvan was a tragic day for Klal Yisroel as we lost a very special gadol in Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel. Rav Nosson Tzvi's life set an example that obligates us in every to become a Gadol BaTorah. Rav Nosson Tzvi reached the pinnacle of greatness in the Torah world and was esteemed by every Gadol. Growing up in Midwest America is no longer an answer as Rav Nosson Tzvi also did, yet he reached the top.

Being too poor is also not an answer as Rav Nosson Tzvi spent his life constantly facing multi million dollar deficits that he needed to close quickly if the Yeshiva were to survive. Yet when he opened a Gemara he was in another world transformed by its sweet song to a place where money did not exist and there wasn't a worry in the world.

Are you too rich? Even if you run a multi million dollar corporation you surely don't have the responsibility that he faced every day when he woke up. Rav Nosson Tzvi built an empire of buildings, Yeshivos, and created dozens of program to fuel the efficiency and productivity of his empire, the production of pure and holy Torah. Yet the Torah he brought to the world through his innovation and hard work did not minimize his desire to rise above everyone, with his sweet torah into which he poured his heart and soul. He was the greatest product of the Mir Yeshiva while carrying tens of thousands of Talmidim on his back for over two decades. He towered above them yet spent his days lifting them to their own heights. He had the responsibility of running a major corporation that generated zero revenue and supported thousands of "employees" and their families.

Does your Yetzer Hara and your physical desires stop you from focusing on learning? Rav Nosson Tzvi had no body only a shadow of one, that was racked with constant pain unimaginable to most of us. Anyone that ever caught a glimpse of him twisting, turning, and contorting could only marvel what this man was doing out of bed. When we have slight headache we close the gemara without a second thought, yet he battled his body everyday and learned Torah.

Rav Nosson Tzvi's example lit the way in Yegias HaTorah. In his wake we swam with ease holding on to his mighty coattails. He is no longer with us and now the heavy lifting is our task. There is no longer someone to accept on himself yissurim for all of Klal Yisroel and we must bear on own burden. And to say it is impossible will no longer work after he showed us it can be done.

May he be a Meilitz Yosher for his son and successor Rav Lazer Yehuda Shlit"a who should have the strength and Siyata Dismaya to carry on and continue to grow the empire his father nurtured as well as for all of Klal Yisroel who will dearly miss catching a glimpse of his living legend.

Wed, 09 Nov 2011 03:00:00 +0000
Your Best Friend the Rabbi

The Mishna in Pirkei Avos (1:6) tells us "Aseh Licha Rav U'Knei Licha Chaver". All the meforshim ask why when it comes to a Rav we "make" for ourselves a Rav while a friend we must "buy".

The Pashut Pshat is that the Rov and friend are two separate people. But maybe we can offer B'Derech Drush that they are one and the same yet two different aspects of our relationship with the Rov. When it comes to asking Shailos and learning Torah we can choose any Rov we like and the Rov will not refuse. But Chazal are urging us to create a much stronger bond with our Rov, the bond of true friendship.

There is a Mitzvas Aseh of "Uvo Sidbak", we must attached ourselves to Talmidei Chachomim, stand by their side and learn from their every move. This say the Rambam in Sefer HaMitzvos includes spending time with them and not leaving their side, even during mundane activities like eating and drinking. A relationship of this closeness cannot be demanded of a Rov. While Chaver means friend it also mean to attach. It is incumbent on us to "buy" this attachment by ingratiating ourselves to our Rov.

Rabbeinu Yonah says friendship includes three things, learning Torah together, encouraging each other to perform mitzvos, and give advice and be a confidant. No one is more properly equipped to be a true friend more so than your Rov.

Thu, 01 Sep 2011 03:00:00 +0000
Busy With Personal Troubles As Disaster Looms on the Horizon

"Eretz Yisroel is in Sakana." We've been hearing this from our gedolim for the past few years and never have things seemed so ominous. We are not talking about a doomsday scenario of nuclear war which is a bit beyond our capability to grasp. We are talking about easy to imagine threats from those next to us. We have already suffered from these in small doses in the past, including terror and outright attacks from those living inside our borders, as well as missile barrages from our neighbors. Even those were very painful and now we are facing all that and much more, in a way that make those outbreaks look pale in comparison.

Yet as we approach this very real fear, no one seems to seems to really be concerned about it. Why? Will history judge us as naive as we have judged our predecessors who sat idle in the face of annihilation? The truth is that history only sees big things and does not possess the tools to see the fine lines. Nowadays how could anyone be concerned about potential threats when we live with real problems, daily? Who doesn't have them. Some families are struggling with parnassa, while others R"L are dealing with illness. Most of us are struggling with the Chinuch of our children in a world gone mad, and all of us are working on improving ourselves as we watch our generation sink into a moral abyss and we ourselves don't seem to match up to generations gone by. We simply don't have any room on our overflowing plate of tzorus for doomsday predictions on the political front.

This makes you wonder. Why then in this critical juncture of history, when Hashem is preparing a huge storm on the horizon, potentially the biggest storm ever, would He distract us with so many of our own personal problems. Why wouldn't Hashem awaken our hearts to focus on how we can head off a catastrophic future?

The answer seems simple and the fact that we are so quiet seems to indicate that deep down we understand this. It is clear as our Gedolim have told us over and over again the past few decades, we are living in Ikvisa Meshicha, the generation that bridges the galus and the days of Moshiach. We are living in the absolute physical and spiritual blackness before the dawn. To successfully cross the bridge and skip over this deep and dangerous ravine we need two things. First we need to show we have rid ourselves of the cause of the destruction many years ago, Sinas Chinam. Second in order to be zocheh to greet Moshiach we must fill ourselves with complete Emunah in Hashem.

If we are actually standing at the threshhold of the last and most painful step that will herald the Geula, Hashem has indeed done us a tremendous service by sending us these waves and waves of distractions. Focusing on potential war would be not only fruitless as we are not in the position to to do anything about it, but it would even be counter productive. What would we do, go on a PR offensive? Take self defense courses? Arm ourselves and prepare to defend our lives? Nonsense. It would just serve to exacerbate our lack of emunah.

The generation before Moshiach is called Chevlei Moshiach because Chevel means rope. We are all hanging by a rope that is shaking violently trying to throw us off. Only those who manage to hang on will survive this brutal period. Only the strongest among us will hang on, the rest will fall into the abyss. And what is this rope attached to, that will save us? Emunah! The rope has never shaken so violently in history. Mankind has determined we are the masters of the world. For money, dial education and acumen. For health, see modern medicine. For model children, choose from an assortment of self help books. We are the self help generation. We truly believe that we can have whatever it is we set our heart on. It is up to us! And it is, each man to his own, stoking the flames of Sinas Chinam.

So instead of letting us lead tranquil lives and let us focus on winning the next big war, Hashem has let us sink so low in Sinas Chinam that we no longer follow the news, and unfortunately we are the news. Instead of shedding light on the nations, we are enveloping the world in darkness that no one has ever expected from Hashem's chosen nation, murdering our own children and murdering our own Holy men. Maybe Hashem is taking us to lowest point so we can finally after 2,000 years understand the implications of Sinas Chinam.

Maybe our health, livelihood and families are crumbling around us so that despite our mighty efforts, we understand before tragedy strikes, that we must live a life of self responsibility but not self help, as help comes only from one place high above us.

Our personal lives are not a distraction from the events ahead, they are the perfect lead up to them. We should appreciate these lessons, as only a true recognition of what we are being taught us will save us from the ultimate day of rage. And then with our Ahavas Yisroel and Emunah in hand, we will survive that day and live to dance before Moshiach Tzidkeinu in a world of Giluy Shechina, bimheira biyameinu, Amen!

Tue, 09 Aug 2011 03:00:00 +0000
The Day That Leiby Died

Ever since the tragic levaya of Leiby Kletzky I've davened and feared for his life. After Leiby's death his name was on everyone's lips twenty four hours a day, and the subject of every conversation. Yet I knew it couldn't last. Leiby's death was tragic and maybe more horrific then any death that most of us remember in our lifetimes, no matter how old or young we are. But at the end of the day his death to unfortunately most of us was just a piece of news.

All news no matter how sensational eventually gives way to staleness and makes way for fresh news. Some news lasts longer than others but at the end they are all archived and put in the back of our collective memory, fading into the past.

So too while Leiby was very much alive and in our minds for the past month, for many people in Eretz Yisroel Leiby "died" with the horrific news of the murder of Baba Elazar. To the Yidden in America since Leiby was in our backyard and Baba Elazar was not Leiby may still live on, for the time being. He may remain alive through the summer, but eventually its back to work and back to school and Leiby we be no longer.

How can we keep Leiby alive? Surely not by following every twist and turn, every new rumor, and every update of the story. If that is all Leiby means to us then he is already dead, whether we are obsessed with him or not. The only way to keep Leiby alive is to change ourselves in a meaningful, however so slightly.

While writing Sifrei Torah and starting a Tzedaka fund is surely a great Zchus for the Neshama, do we really think Hashem said, "I need Klal Yisroel to get together and write another Sefer Torah, how can I do that? Hmmm.... lets take a child is a most horrific manner and then surely we can get this Sefer Torah done!" I doubt it and so do you. Hashem sent us a wakeup call and demands change. Real change, and not a few tears and back to our routine. If the only thing we learned from Leiby is the experts opinions on how to protect our children, then we learned very little, and Leiby's blood was spilled in vain.

Kol Yisroel Areivin Zeh LaZeh. This is the reason for our incredible unity in the days surrounding Leiby's death. When Leiby was murdered a small part of each and every one us was murdered with him. When Leiby's parents grieved, we all grieved with them as we all lost a child and we all felt their pain in a certain sense.

Yet on the other hand this same principle applies to the crazy cruel murderer, who as much as we'd like to distance him from ourselves, is also a part of Areivim Zeh LaZeh. That means that each one of us in a small way particiapted in the murder. We must all have at least one bad bone in our body and tinge of cruely in our heart. If not this murder would not have been possible. The goodness in us would have prevented the madman from carrying out his evil deed.

Are we compassionate enough to our own children? Do we ignore them at times purely for our own selfish interests? Are we concerned with children we see around us? What about the fellow in the street who looks a little off, do we smile and have the courtesy to say hello? Do you have any idea how it can change his world?

By finding and correcting the flaws within us, we can keep Leiby alive, as the new us will be directly attributed to Leiby and we will carry him in our heart and deeds. We can prevent the next murder, by softening the heart of any potential perpetrator with the goodness radiated from us into his own perverse soul. Will Leiby live or die? It is up to us.

Sun, 31 Jul 2011 03:00:00 +0000
What Was The Last Thing Created?

The Mishna in Pirkei Avos (5:8) says that ten things were created during twilight on Erev Shabbos, the sixth and final day of creation. The last thing mentioned in the Mishna is tongs, a work tool to build things. What is the significance of the twilight creations, and what is with the tongs out of all things? Moreover it says "also tongs with the original tongs were created", what does this mean?

The Meforshim explain that twilight is the time that things are wrapping up and all major work is already completed, except for the finishing touches. With this understanding maybe we can offer as follows. The whole point of the world is to create a situation that masks Hashem's control over every facet of the natural world, and every detail and happening in our life. To this end for six days Hashem created a nature that is used to deny his presence. Nature, to the blind, screams that a system is in place that runs on its own. Hashem needs not control everything all the time. He can take a break and let it run on auto pilot, which although terribly incorrect, seems to be the case to the undiscerning eye.

The last key to the ability to deny Hashem's control is the power of man himself. Each and every day we fight for our self survival and use serious brain power to accomplish it. Our power to think deludes us into believing that we are masters of our own fate. Where did this notion come from? The tongs! Animals do not need to work to earn a living and their needs are naturally supplied without much effort. Rebbi Shimon B"R Elazar says (Kidushin 82b), in my life I have never see a wise fox operate a store, yet the fox and all the animals sustain themselves without toil, while man, who they are meant to serve toils to survive.

The finishing touch of the world, which is meant to be a test for us, is the tongs. Without the tongs we would know that only Hashem sustains us. However with tongs in our hands, we ply our trade, thinking it is the tongs that sustain us. This was Hashem's final creation before he sent our Neshamos down for their big test.

Yet like everything else in the world, Hashem makes the truth abundantly clear to all who look past the surface, otherwise we'd be doomed to fail our test. In this case the Mishna teaches us by answering the question that we all need to ask, who made the first tongs? Obviously Hashem. Every subsequent tongs and all the fruits of our labor are nothing more than His decree and His will. As we play the game called Hishtadlus and survival in Olam HaZeh we need to ask ourselves, who made the first tongs? For He is the one who, with or without our hard work, is controlling everything, and our tongs are just a show.

Tue, 12 Jul 2011 03:00:00 +0000
When You Travel All The Way To Eretz Yisroel Don't Leave Money On The Table

Over the past decades Jews from all over the world have been flocking to Eretz Yisroel. Some come for vacation and some come to see the homeland that is always on the lips and prayers. Yet in recent years the frum community has started to come more and more frequently for another reason, to visit our great gedolim. Many come to get a bracha from the gedolim. Some come to ask for Yiras Shamayim for their children who are turning Bar Mitzva other come for Cholim.

Recently there is a trend to come to get a bracha for a business venture. Even people who consider themselves far removed from the world of Chasiddus wouldn't consider consummating a business deal without the blessing of their spiritual superman be they in Bnei Brak, Yerushalayim or locations further outside the periphery. In the high stakes world of business, 36 hours and a few thousand dollars can just be written off as a business expense since it is the key to making the investment flourish.

Seeing the gedolim and speaking to them is a great thing. There is a Mitzvas Aseh of U'vo Sidbak to attached yourself to a tzaddik. Merely looking at a gadol's face imbibes you with Yiras Shamayim. Yet when it comes to a bracha for wealth the Torah prescribes the ultimate Bracha, Birchas Kohanim. The three simple words uttered by the Kohanim on a daily basis in Eretz Yisroel, "Yivarechicha Hashem ViYishmarecha", may Hashem bless and watch over your assets, is as potent a bracha as can be had here in Eretz Yisroel.

Why do the riches flow through the fingers of the Kohanim? Rav Yitzchok Zilberstein (Tvucha Yabi'u Parshas Naso) explains that when Bnei Yisroel was commanded to ask their neighbors for their money before leaving Mitzrayim, Shevet Levi decided that they would not do so, since the money was really a payment for the years of slave labor from which they were exempt. They abstained on these grounds even though they had every right to participate in the grab for wealth since they were also commanded. Due to this abstinence Hashem said from now on all the wealth will flow though the Kohanim.

So when you arrive in Eretz Yisroel with your overnight bag and your attorney waiting with baited breath for the green light, don't run out of Shul in middle of Chazaras HaShatz to catch your long taxi ride up north or down south. Stop, think, and answer Amein with abundant kavana. This might be the bracha you were really coming for!

Sun, 05 Jun 2011 03:00:00 +0000
Life Is Like A Bowl Of Krias Yam Suf

Everybody has a good Sheva Brachos vort for the famous Chazal, Kashin Zivugun Shel Adam K'Krias Yam Suf, matchmaking is as difficult as splitting the sea (Sotah 2). There is another famous Chazal in that vain, Kashin Mizonosav Shel Adam K'Krias Yam Suf. The obvious question is what is the relationship between Krias Yam Suf and Shidduchim or earning a living. The latter seem quite natural and happens to almost everyone daily, while Krias Yam Suf was a rare historic event totally defying the laws of nature. Also why don't we ever see a direct comparison between Parnassa and Shiduchim, only each one with Krias Yam Suf.

Many answers take the approach that the difficulty with all these areas is from Hashem's point of view. Now of course nothing is difficult for Hashem, but Hashem made certain rules that make these things more challenging to implement easily. But if you look at it from our point of view it all seems pretty clear.  If we were the one's to ensure our own parnassa or finding our own zivug it would be an accomplishement akin to splitting the sea. Both these things seem possible to do on our own, but Chazal tell us that we are only fooling ourselves. No brains or connections will bring us to our goal in these areas, any more so than all our engineering prowess will allow us to tam the sea and split it.  Only Hashem can split the sea, only Hashem can help two half neshamos split at birth find each other among the crowd.  This why we compare each of these accomplishments directly to Krias Yam Suf.  We cannot do it ourselves.

Moreover when pursuing our daily bread or shidduchim there is fundamental lesson to be learned from Krias Yam Suf. On one hand Hashem says (Bishlach 14:14) "Hashem Yilachem Lachem V'Atem Tacharishun", leave it to me. On the other hand Hashem says "Mah Titzak Eilai Daber El Bnei Yisroel V'Yisau", why are you standing around screaming, keep moving forward.

Of course we know that Hashem determines each person's parnassa, but it is incumbent on us to actually do something to earn a living rather than stand around with a tehilim. On the other hand we'd be foolish to think that our effort has any direct correlation to the results. Brilliant people can be penniless while dummies can be billionaires. It is not up to us, just like Krias Yam Suf is not doable but we must move forward and not stand still Just like Krias Yam Suf.

Similarly with Shiduchim the gemara tells us (Kidushin 30b) that we must make our daughters attractive and marketable, yet we know it is Hashem who makes all shiduchim and makes two people find favor in each other's eyes. People that have everything going for them remain on the market forever, while less qualified people find their match right away.

The lesson is that whether its Krias Yam Suf, earning a living (Taanis 2b - Mafteiach Shel Parnassa), or finding a match, nothing in this world is in our hands. Yet as the Tanna says (Avos 2:21) "Lo Alecha HaMilacha Ligmor V'Lo Ata Ben Chorin Libatel Mimena", you are not responsible for results, but you need to make an effort and go through the motions. Without both, it just won't work (Niddah 70b). That is the way of the world and you need to play the game, but just like Krias Yam Suf don't be fooled into believing you efforts are the ones bearing the fruit.

Sun, 22 May 2011 03:00:00 +0000
Getting Drunk To Appreciate Life

On Purim we are commanded to do one of hte strangest mitzvos. We are obligated by halacha, not minhag, to become intoxicated. Why? Why is Purim such a happy Yom Tov? After all at the end of the story the Jews are still stuck under the iron fisted rule of the ruthlessly anti-semitic Achashveirosh, Esther is still for all practical purposes a hostage of King Achashveirosh, and Mordechai is burdened by the job of second in command, certainly not the way he hoped to spend his life.

Purim is a day of unbridled joy, whether you are spending it in a miserable prison under a life sentence, or if you are broke and being chased by creditors, or even if you are in the cross-hairs of death. How? Why?

Purim is the celebration of life itself. The fact that you are among the living is the greatest gift Hashem can bestow on you. We thank Hashem for the essence of our being. On Pesach we thank Hashem for our spiritual freedom and therefore our joy only encompasses our spiritual side. On Shavuos we celebrate the gift of the Torah, and our emotion is proportional to our excitement over it, and to the extent that we actually cherish Torah to the exclusion of all worldly pleasures. But on Purim we celebrate our existence, and each and every person can celebrate with every fiber of his being no matter what predicament he finds himself.

The Ramchal says that we get drunk because a sober Jew will never be totally happy and a side of him always mourns the destruction of the Bais HaMikdash and the Galus HaShechina. On Purim we much forget even that. We are living and nothing else makes any difference on this holy day.

Maybe if we are celebrating life Chazal wanted us to celebrate fully which can be done only by tasting death and then contrasting it. Real life is lived in the mind. A person must be of sound mind to be living. The absence of clarity is death itself. When a person drinks wine he is literally playing with fire. A measured amount brings additional clarity, while going over the line causes one to lose his mind. This may be why we say L'Chaim before drinking as we wish those drinking with us that the drink should bring life and not the opposite.

On Purim we are commanded to cross that line and taste death. Only then can we appreciate the gift of life and thank Hashem for the miracle he performed in the days of Mordechai and Esther by granting us a nation a new lease on life. This may explain why the Rema says that one can be Yotzei by having a little wine and taking a nap. Sleep is death, which is why a child that is so full of life refuses to go to bed. No one willingly submits to death not matter what you promise him after awakes from death.

And why is life so precious? Because it is all for the good! Above all we must realize on this day that even the most miserable life is a great gift and as such only good things happen to us whether we recognize the goodness or not. Surely those who clung to life in the valley of death in the concentrations camps understood this. We, whom the most unfortunate among us has a grand life compared to those emaciated tortured specimens of human bones, surely must cling to life and celebrate life and be thankful for life no matter what challenges life throws at us. Truthfully we all have what to be thankful for, we only need to get out of our drunken stupor and look past our problems to appreciate the good that we take for granted.

Mon, 21 Mar 2011 03:00:00 +0000
An Audacious Stranger Walking Around Hashem's Living Room

I won't easily forget the day many years ago right after having come to Israel. We needed something repaired or installed and called a repairman. About an hour later I heard loud talking in he stairwell followed by banging on the door. I opened the door and before I had a chance to say anything, a fellow comes storming in talking loudly on his cellphone without even acknowledging me. He then proceeded to pace around our living room in loud and animated conversation with the person on the other end of the line. Taken aback I tried to get his attention, but he angrily waved me off hinting annoyed that I was interrupting his very important conversation despite being an unintroduced stranger wandering around my living room making a racquet.

Sounds funny but why do we understand it more when the home is a shul, we are the repairman, and the homeowner is the King of all kings? Forget about in middle of davening, which we have by and large finally figured out is an unacceptable Chilul Hashem, but what gives us the right to walk into a shul or Bais Medrash talking on a phone, ever? Is it our house? If we are there is this what we were invited for? Do all the people learning or davening need to here our personal problems?

It is said that the great gedolim understood B'Ruach HaKodesh that the devastating massacres of Tach V'Tat were a punishment for talking in Shul. Based on this they were Misaken a special Mi Shebeirach, for those who do not talk in Shul, which can be found after Yikum Purkan in many siddurim.

In the height of the intifada I once suggested to the son of one of the prominent Rabanim in Yerushalayim that the Shul put a metal detector with a guard a the door to prevent security issues. He looked at like I was off the wall. I explained that these detectors would not be looking for guns and bombs but rather cellphones that can be the ultimate cause of the greatest churban possible.

Sun, 13 Mar 2011 03:00:00 +0000
Dressing Up For The Big Game

Rav Shimon Schwab had the great zechus of meeting the Chofetz Chaim. For him it was one of the memorable highlights of his life. He would often look at people and then them "look at the eyes that looked at the Chofetz Chaim." He felt his eyes were imbued with Kedusha becasue they had see the Chofetz Chaim, and that somehow that kedusha can be transferred to those who look at his eyes.

In Mussaf of Yom Kippur after the end of the Avodah of the Kohein Gadol we sing the beautiful piyut of Mareh Kohen, where we describe is majestical terms the radiance of seeing the Kohen Gadol on Yom Kippur. Ashrei Ayin Roasa Eileh, fortunate is the one who merited to see all this, says the Machzor. Fortunate are the eyes that have been imbued with the kedusha of these sights.

In this week's parsha (Parshas Titzaveh) the Torah describes the eight garments of the Kohein Gadol. These weren't ordinary garments. These begadim had the power to be Michaper on eight of the worst aveiros a person can commit, including all three aveiros chamuros as well as some of the worst character traits. They had a certain magic, a certain kedusha. Just by watching the Kohein in his avodah you became a different person.

How can eyes that are trained from youth for Torah and tahara relish watching a group of men dress up in "their" special uniforms as they prepare to fight each other like human beasts? What place does a Jew have among the tens of thousands of fanatical fans screaming like loonies cheering for one group or the other? How can a nation that Hashem chose as the Am Segula spend a few hours the same way as millions of people, glued to a television praying with every fiber of their being that their team comes out on top? Does it make any sense?

It is said in the name of great gadol that organized sports in America is pure Chesed of Hashem. In past generation the bored mobs would use us Jews as their sport. In America our heads and bodies are replaced with all shapes and sizes of balls that are kicked and bashed in our place. The last thing expected of us is to follow the masses it was meant to distract, so that we can live our lives in peace while they get the violence out of their system.

It was always rumored, true or not, to the astonishment of every frum Jew living today, that in Europe many very Frum women, even wives of certain gedolim, did not cover their hair. All those who hear this are dumbstruck. Could it really be? What were they thinking? One day history will look back at our generation and our active participation in professional sports and they will wonder, is it really true? Could it have been acceptable, or at the very least understandable even to Mechanchim, that we also joined the chorus of cheers together with those who hate us?

The Mishna in Yuma (7:2) by the Avodas Yom HaKippurim says that whoever watched the Par and Sa'ir bering burned could not see the Kohein Gadol read the Torah in the Azara. Not because it wasn't permitted by because they were too far away from each other. Watching the big game may or may not be assur (ask your Rov). But it seems likely that whoever watches the game will not watch the Kohein Gadol dress in his Bigdei Kehuna and perform the avodah. As the Mishna says, not because it is assur but because they are simply too far away from each other.

Sun, 06 Feb 2011 03:00:00 +0000
Very Important! Today Is Monday Of Parshas Bishalach, Don't Forget To Say Parshas HaMan

You probably think I am very confused, but actually I checked my calendar, the Shulchan Aruch, Mishna Brura, and the Yerushalmi, and believe it or not they all confirm that we should be sure to say Parshas HaMan today, on Monday.

If you don't believe me I will go through the sources briefly. In Shulchan Aruch (OC 1:5) Hilchos Hanhagos Adam BaBoker says that it is good to say Parshas HaAkeida and Parshas HaMan. The Mishna Brura (13) writes that this will ingrain in us the belief that our parnassa comes from Hashem and that all our effort have no bearing on the outcome. The Yerushalmi Brachos says that whoever says Parshas HaMan every day will never lack sustenance.

So why does everybody make sure to say this once a year on Tuesday of Parshas Bishalach? I'll borrow an answer from a brief audience I once was zocheh to have with Rav Elyashiv and another one with Rav Shteinman. About ten years ago were trying to organize a program to help people earn Mishnayos for Niftarim. The idea was that you can taker a Masechta and pay a Talmid Chochom in Eretz Yisroel to learn it for you, since they needed the money and for many of us it is hard to commit to learning the harder Masechtos, and even when we volunteer we don't always do such a great job.

Someone convinced us to go to Rav Elyashiv to get his Haskama to make people more comfortable with our program. We were admitted to Rav Elyashiv's room and as soon as we opened our mouths before explaining anything he started to bombard us with questions. (Please do not draw any conclusions from this conversation as it was said specifically to us a that point in time and without hearing the nuances of the conversation which we ourselves may have misinterpreted Why should Kollel Yungeleit learning Mishnayos? What about gemara Nashim and Nezikin? Then we explained the program. As soon as we said the word "money" Rav Elyashiv became agitated and said, "money?, of course it is because of the money!, Now I understand!" (as an aside he then asked many more questions and said he needs to think about it. A few day later he ultimately signed his name on our letter).

Another time I joined a Rav who needed funds to support his "Vasikin Kollel" and went to Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman to ask for his endorsement of the Kollel so that it would be easier for him to raise money. Before this Rav finished his pitch, Rav Shteiman waved him away and said, "money in the morning, money in the night, money on Erev Shabbos, money on Motza'ei Shabbos, money money money that''s all everyone wants. I thought it was deja vu. Two gedolim and one attitude. Now of course both the Gedolim support Torah learning more than anyone and deeply understand the plight of the Bnei Torah in our generation. Few people in the world are moser nefesh like Rav Shteinman to raise money for Kollel Yungeleit.

So what was their point in disparaging desparately needed money for poor yungeleit? In one word "gimmicks". Not that learning Torah is a gimmick, but Torah must be learned for the sake of learning Torah without any considerations. When what you learn, when you learn, and where you learn are shaped by the big "M" that is where the problems start. Money is needed to support Torah. Torah is not a way to attract money.

Parshas HaMan is a gevaltige Segulah and it opens up the Shefa from Shamayim to rain down on us Parnassa B'Revach. It helps us look up and see clearly where the money comes from. It helps us keep our balance and maintain a level head when we get to our office in the morning. All this makes Hashem proud and he rewards His loving children.

But as soon as we choose a day for whatever reason, even if indeed it is a most auspicious day as a great tzaddik has revealed to us, and we treat it like some miracle potion, we can just forget about it. Not only are we wasting our time, but we are angering our Father in Heaven, both with our money chase and by thinking that we can somehow force the riches down upon us, even though we don't it say religiously everyday, and even though it is the only day of the year that we actually say Shnayim Mikra V'Echad Targum.

Here is one more thing for the overzealous who are makpid on Zrizim Makdimim L'Mitzva. Whatever you do, do not say it before davening. If you are going to says it, The Arizal says that we should only say it after davening because a person should not ask for his own desires before worrying about Hashem's needs and clearly with this behavior it is purely our own needs that we are serving.

Tomorrow when I receive frantic emails right before Shkia from friends and family reminding me not to forget to say Parshas HaMan, I will tell them not to worry I am already rich, I said it yesterday.

Mon, 10 Jan 2011 03:00:00 +0000
A Beggar With Nerve

This morning by Shacharis, Shmoneh Esrei took me a bit longer than usual. While I was still davening and the Shaliach Tzibur was saying Chazaras HaShatz, a person barged in to Shul to collect tzedaka. He was making a lot of noise with his change and his gruff pitch to each Mispalel. Then, as I was still clearly still davening Shmoneh Esrei, he got to me. Despite that my eyes were closed and I was shuckling, he jingled his change in my face and started mumbling about giving him Tzedaka. He didn't go away that fast. I was very tempted to open my eyes to see who he was so I could know to who never give, ever again.

Then the hypocrisy struck me. Here I was standing before Hashem asking him to help me. My Shmoneh Esrei took longer than usual. Why? Because while davening I came up with an idea to boost sales of my struggling business. So there I was standing before Hashem the King of all Kings and the owner of all riches, asking for a donation among other things, yet at the same time I was completely ignoring him because I was thinking I had my own way to make money without his help.

If I was angry at the collector could you imagine how Hashem felt about me? I hope Hashem closed His eyes and didn't get a glimpse of me the big Michutzaf, in order to make sure He never gives me a donation ever again. Maybe Hashem sent this fellow since He knew I wasn't davening anyway. Maybe He was telling me that giving small change to a person in need will yield a better return than my brilliant ideas that were hatched while I am supposed to be asking the real source of all good ideas and parnassa for His help.

The Rosh in Orchos Chaim says we need to ask Hashem forgiveness for asking for forgiveness in Slach Lanu without kavana. By the same token we should probably ask Hashem for forgiveness for dreaming about our parnassa instead of concentrating on Bareich Aleinu. And maybe we should also have a little more pity for the person lowering himself to ask us for help, no matter when or where, even if we are not in a position to give him that moment.

Wed, 05 Jan 2011 03:00:00 +0000
We Don't Do Avodah Zara Because We Aren't Smart Enough

Given the chance we would worship avodah zara? Of course we would, that is why the Anshei Knesses HaGedolah davened to abolish the Yetzer Hara for it. The gemara says this in no uncertain terms in Sanhedrin (102b). Rav Ashi referred to the wicked idol worshipper Menashe as a "friend" and did not give him respect. That night Menashe came to him in a dream and asked a simple question in Halacha which he could not answer. He then told Rav Ashi that not only was he not as great as him in Torah but her would would be a far greater worshipper of avodah zara had he lived in Menashe's time. Rav Ashi, the great amora! Where does that leave us? What does this mean they abolished avodah zara?

What was avodah zara, and how did such great men fall victim to it? In those days people lived on different level. There heads were more in the heavens than o earth, clinging to Hashem and understanding his ways and the way the world works. What they found was a system where Hashem controls the world through malachim with each one given a different task. Of course Hashem controls all these malachim who are mere extensions of His will. To believe otherwise is heresy.

The Seforim tell us that avodah zara meant to force these malachim to do as we wish. It meant to find the Malach in charge of rain and forcing him to give rain. Now of course this could not happened against the will of Hashem, but Hashem allowed it to be. That is part of the nisayon of the world. Although their initial intentions were purely Lishma, once they had these "keys" in their hands the temptation to manipulate it for good reasons became irresistable. And from this slippery slope they fell all the way to disobeying Hashem and still making sure they were blessed with everything they wished for. 

It came to the point where they understood that Hashem will not change the way of the world to thwart them and they believed themselves invincible. Until finally one day Hashem changed all the tasks of the malachim, so that now when they asked the malach of parnassa for money, he could not help. And when they became sick and went to the malach of refuah, it did not help. They became helpless and powerless.

In order to make sure this never happens again the Anshei Knesses HaGedolah davened for the haveans to be closed to the human mind. We now no longer are capable of manipulating the world from the heavens. Unfortunately as a result we no longer can soar the heavens and be as close to Hashem as we once were. Our wings were clipped and we are no grounded.

So it seems that there was an upside and downside in the abolishment of avodah zara. But was there really? Its true that we can no longer bring sustenance and abundance as we wish, but have we given up trying? Not at all, only unlike then when our evil inclination actually produced guaranteed results, we now cling to methods that are hollow and almost laughable.

Instead of opening the gates in heaven at the source, we think that with our silly earthly maneuvers we can open it from down here. We think that our brains will make us money. Is that better or worse than relying on a malach? We try every segula in the world instead of just davening to Hashem. After all Hashem is our only address nowadays, and He arranged this as a favor to us. Why look elsewhere?

Wed, 29 Dec 2010 03:00:00 +0000
Flying 50 Feet Off The Ground

Many people hate to fly. They feel couped up in a small cabin doing nothing and going nowhere for sometimes upwards of ten hours. Looking out the window provides no relief. It is just a long stream of nothingness. The irony is that the greatest thrills in life for many people involve traveling at high speeds and covering lots of ground. People love to drive fast, jump out of airplanes, glide down mountains, and soar through the air. One would think that traveling halfway around the world in just a few hours and crossing a good portion of the globe would be maximum excitement, but it is not.

Imagine if you were on an airplane that flew fifty feet above land. Now that would be a thrill! Zipping past oceans and mountains, foreign cities and beautiful landscape, and all at incredible speed. The difference here is that you can see it and you can feel it, whereas in your economy class seat you have no sense of what is going on below and therefore don't appreciate neither the speed nor the vast distances.

We are in this world to do Mitzvos and Maasim Tovim. Each and every mitzva we do makes our neshama ascend towards the heavens. Every one of our good actions change the world in a very definite way. Yet when it comes to doing mitzvos we feel stifled. We feel that no matter what we do, we aren't getting anywhere and we don't feel a rush. That is because we are on the ground and it seems we aren't moving.

If only we had a view of our neshamos soaring the heavens above at incredible speeds and advancing mind boggling distances, we would spend every moment of our lives with feet firmly pressing the pedal with all our might, trying to go faster and faster.

Mon, 13 Dec 2010 03:00:00 +0000
Life Without A Heartbeat

I will never forget the feeling that gripped me the first time my wife was pregnant and the doctor called me over to hear the baby's heartbeat. Tick-tock or whatever the sound was. It was incredible to believe that this tick-tock would need to continue without fail for the next century in order to sustain life. Many things can break down along the way but this tick-tock that I heard now was not negotiable. It could not stop and it could never ever rest. The tick-tock is the essence of life. It defines life. It is the first thing that signals life to its mother and the last sounds before life ends.

We were all created in the image of Hashem. Our bodies are a reflection of our neshama. Its various parts are not arbitrary, each limb is connected to a spiritual part of our neshama. Just like our physical life is totally dependent on our heart beat so is our spiritual life. Our arms can flail and our legs can kick, but if our heart is not ticking we are no better than chickens without heads.

Similarly we can lead our lives just going through the motions. We can add davening, chesed, and learning into our daily schedule in generous doses. But if there is no heart then we are doing our best dead man impersonation and it doesn't mean much. Hashem gave us a heart that is the most efficient workhorse in our body. Let's use it and put a little heart into everything we do, and make it alive.

Mon, 15 Nov 2010 03:00:00 +0000
The Difference Between A Paper Cup and A Sefer

I walked into a Seforim store in Yerushalayim a few months ago and noticed a large section of paper goods in the place where the bentchers used to be. Surprised at the strange mix, I asked the owner about this.  He told me that within two days all the seforim will be returned to the distributors and the entire store will sell only paper goods. He lamented that he couldn't make a living selling seforim and that paper goods were more popular.

Everyone is entitled to earn a living and I felt sorry for him and wished him much Hatzlacha. Nevertheless the irony of the situation really struck me. I once heard a story and although I have forgotten the exact details the general idea went something like this. Someone came to a great Rov to get his haskama on his new sefer that he just finished writing. The sefer was not impressive to say the least, yet the Rov wrote a warm haskama, saying that this sefer will be "Machzir Atara L'Yoshna", return the crown to its original form.

His talmidim were very surprised that he gave a haskama at all, let alone write such beautiful prose. He quipped as follows. Paper is made from worthless scraps of tree. Once it becomes paper it has potential to become very valuable depending what you write on it. This Michaber, explained the Rov, took good paper and returned it to its original form. It used to be paper but now once again has become worthless scrap. He was Machzir Atara L'Yoshna!

When you buy a sefer, you are buying more than a collection of papers, you are buying a piece of eternity. Open it up and read a few lines and it has potential not only to change your whole life, but it will earn you a piece of eternity as well. One of my high school rebbeim would always say in a sad tone when mentioning a classic sefer, "in days gone by it was on top of the best seller list".

Paper goods by contrast are the polar opposite of a sefer and the clearest sign of the times. In Eretz Yisroel it is called "Chad Pa'ami" or one time use. Use it once and throw it away. Instant gratification at its best. Our interest in things that last has disappeared. We care about here and now. Our paper is used to quench our immediate thirst or desire to eat. We don't even clean it for next time. We can worry about that then.

"Az Yiraninu Kol Atzei Ya'ar" (Tehilim 96:12). When Moshiach comes all the trees of the forest will sing shira. Only then will the trees once again be put to good use. We long for the arrival of Moshiach to truly be, "Machzir Atara L'Yoshna".

Mon, 08 Nov 2010 03:00:00 +0000
Why A Virus Doesn't Bring The Geula

Jews living in Eretz Yisroel live in the shadow of a constant existential threat.  Only through the Chesed of Hashem are we still around today after many wars and many plots.  Each one has been neutralized through the hand of Hashem who has granted us miracle after miracle against all odds.

Today's situation is scarier than ever.  An unchallenged process is marching forward that will leave our outspoken enemies with the capability of total destruction with the push of a button.  Maybe it is too late and maybe it is not.  But what if this threat could be terminated quietly without anyone gearing up for battle or entering a tank or war plane?  It could be from the most incredible Chasdei Hashem ever to occur.  No one would die, no one would be wounded, and no one would even look down the barrel of a gun even for a moment.  It would be the greatest victory since Chizkiyahu HaMelech's overnight under the covers defeat of Sancheirev's entire army.

This is the scenario touted in the street today with news of a possible crippling of our enemies weapons capability by a virus that was unleashed and has infected their systems.  However even if true this could be a Chilul Hashem of mammoth proportions.  

Even the greatest warriors knows that once you get onto the battlefield you need divine help to leave it alive.  We say "Hashem Ish Milchama Hashem Shimo".  The rest of the world echoes a similar refrain and says "there is no atheist in a foxhole."  When it comes to war your life is on the line and the line between life and death is so thin that every man understands it is beyond human control.

But what about when you are fighting locked in a room thousands of miles away from your enemy munching on popcorn behind a computer without the enemy having an inkling of what you are doing or any way to stop you.  There is no Mesiras Nefesh and nothing physically at stake.  That means that prayer and divine assistance may not even cross your mind.  And if you are victorious, you attribute all the credit to yourself, not even including Hashem in your celebration.  The Kotzker Rebbe says this is called ego or Avodah Zara which are one and the same.  There is no difference if you worship a statue or you worship yourself.

We know that Hashem empowers our enemies to stand up against us only to drive us back to Hashem.  That is because our only hope in life is if we recognize that "Ein Lanu Al Mi L'Hishaein Elah Al Avinu SheBaShamayim", we have no one to rely on except our Father in Heaven.

Surely it is true that years of fear living in the crosshairs of our enemies weapons of mass destruction can end in one second as our spouse mentions at the breakfast table that a virus wiped out the enemy's systems.  But that will only happen if upon hearing the news people would jump up from the table and run through the streets singing "Chasdei Hashem Ki Lo Samnu."  

Since I haven't seen that yet nor have a I heard anyone even mention this piece of news I am fairly sure the Geula hasn't come just yet, even if it could have been.  Chizkiyahu HaNavi was supposed to be Moshiach after defeating Sancherev, but the slight lack of emotion after passive victory that he experienced led him not to say Shira and therefore the Geula slipped through his fingers.  

We ask Hashem in Mussaf of Shalosh Regalim "Avinu Malkeinu Galei Kvod Malchuscha Aleihu", Father in Heaven reveal the honor of Your Kingdom upon us.  Hashem constantly does His part but the revelation of His Kingdom means we need to recognize it.  Until we do, we will continue to have to live under constant threat as we wait for something dramatic enough to catch our fancy.

Tue, 05 Oct 2010 03:00:00 +0000
Why Is It So Hot In Our Succah?

This Succos has been especially hot in the largest Frum communities in the world. Why this year must we suffer with the oppressive heat? The gemara in Avodah Zara tells us that at the end when it is time for Bnei Yisroel to get their Schar and the Umos haOlam to get their just desserts, the latter will complain that they were not given a fair chance. Despite that they had an opportunity to receive the Torah but rejected it outright, Hashem will give then another chance. He will tell them to do the mitzva of Succah.

When they sit in it, it will become very hot and they will leave kicking the succah on the way out. Then Hashem will laugh. The gemara asks why are they punished since the Halacha explicitly says that a Mitztayer, someone who is suffering, is patur from the Succah. The gemara answers that they could have left but who asked them to kick the Succah?

What is the meaning of this gemara. Why Succah? If Hashem gave them another chance out of kindness why would He do a trick to make them fail by turning up the heat?

The Maharal MiPrague says that leaving our home and going into the Succah represents leaving the physical pleasures of the world and living in the intellectual and spirtual realm which is what is needed for Torah. Hashem told the other nations that they can have another chance to get the Torah but they must give up Olam HaZeh.

The gemara says that the sun represents the goodness of Hashem. It shines on everyone good and bad alike. The Tzaddikim find warmth and healing in it while the Resha'im find it scorching and limiting to their pursuit of wordly pleasures.

Maybe this is what the gemara means. Hashem tells the nations they must leave the world's pleasures behind and enter a new realm. This is what the reality of what the world will be when Hashem reveals Himself as we will all live in His shadow. Hashem will take out the sun.and constantly shine His Shechina on this world. It will be a permanent state of Succos. While we bask in the glow, the Resha'im will find this heat to be oppressive and will run out giving a kick to the succah on the way, since this setup just isn't for them.

There are two ways to view our Succah. It can be viwed as a place where we are forced to eat (and sleep). It is restrictive as we must figure out how to manage to keep our stomachs full while wandering far from our succos for most of the day. The other choice is to bask in our succah and really live there for eight days to the greatest extent possible given our individual circumstances.

Maybe this can help us understand the unusually hot temperatures this Succos. The end of time is very near and the big test for the other nations and their Succos looms on the horizon. If you find the Succah too hot, quietly get up and leave without fanfare. Don't make a fuss and certainly don't give it a kick on the way out. If you do, what will Hashem tell the other nations later on?

Mon, 27 Sep 2010 03:00:00 +0000
A Not So Exotic Way To Live

Zachreinu L'Chaim, Ksov L'Chaim, B'Sefer Chaim.  These days we pray that we will make through the year alive.  Aside from Tefila we also engage in many traditional customs like Kaparos.  Further down the food chain and unfortunately performed with even more seriousness come many questionable exotic segulos that we treat like Torah MiSinai.

The serious people are looking for more substantial ways to ensure they make through the year, and are undertaking various Kabalos to improve in areas that they feel they weak.  Since the oldest and most reliable source is our Torah, and there are very few mitzvos in the Torah that promise long life, why not make a Kabala to improve in one of them?  

Improving our Shiluach HaKen is not really practical since the gemara in Chulin (139b) says that one need not comb the mountains looking for bird's nest.  However for most of us fortunate to still have parents, surely there is something we can undertake going forward to improve our Kibbud Av V'Eim.

Even the great Amora'im who treated their parents like royalty and surely never spoke against them, admitted that they did not even get to halfway where they need to be in this Mitzva.  We who live in a culture where the young feel superior to the old, surely have what to improve in Kibud Av V'Eim.  If we can't change our mindset we at least behave as we should.  

This year make one small Kabala about how you will treat your parents.  Make sure to call at regular intervals or make sure to speak only with respect or decide never to say a negative thing about them even outside their presence.  Whatever it is big or small, just do it!  And may we all be zocheh to a Chasima Tovah and many happy and healthy years to come.

Tue, 14 Sep 2010 03:00:00 +0000
The Lesson Of The Untouchable Gemara
This morning in Shul I had an eery experience that reminded me of the following story about the Chozeh of Lublin.  When the Chozeh entered Yeshiva as a young boy, on Erev Shabbos he went to the kitchen because he wanted to prepare his own food.  He took out a piece of fish from a large pot, salted it and put it back in.  Th other talmidim laughed at him because there was no way to know which fish would end up on his plate later that night.

The Baal HaTanya was more curious than skeptical, so as soon as the Chozeh walked away he made a mark on the Chozeh's fish to see if indeed he would get that piece at the seudah.  At the Shabbos table, the Baal HaTanya carefully watched as the plate of fish was passed around. Everyone skipped over the Chozeh's piece until the person sitting right next to him.  After taking the Chozeh's piece onto his plate, he was suddenly hit with a wave of nausea and pushed his plate to the side, right in front of the Chozeh who then promptly ate the secretly marked piece.

This morning I came to shul and saw a Gemara on the table right next to me almost within arm's length.  What was unique about it was that it was an almost impossible to find treasure, it was the Masechta that is the current Daf Yomi.  Normally it takes me 10 minutes after davening to find where all the Daf Yomi gemaras are hidden, but here it was right next to me.  Since I wasn't feeling well and didn't plan on staying after davening to review yesterday's Daf I left it there.

In middle of Yehi Chivod I felt a little better and I decided that I will take advantage of this rare gift of an easily found gemara and review the Daf after davening.  I didn't bother to stretch and take the gemara, since I figured when I get up for Vayivarech Dovid I can just bend over and reach it.  Vayivarech Dovid came and for some reason I didn't bend over to grab the gemara, something was holding me back.  It all became clear to me when a minute later the person who sits in that seat and also scrounges around after davening for the Daf Yomi gemara, walked in.  You should have seen the smile on his face when he saw the gemara right in his place waiting for him.

The moral of the story is that everything that is meant for you is waiting for you and no one can take it away.  Whether a fish, gemara, parking spot, or apartment, what is yours is yours and is waiting for you.  If you don't get something there is no need to get upset with the person who ended up with what you believed belongs to you.  It was obviously not meant for you and no amount of pushing or conniving or great effort will get it for you.

The end of the story is that when I turned around by U'Va L'Tziyon the fellow wasn't there any more.  Turns out we were all winners.  He found his gemara in his place and I got to learn right after davening and also learn a valuable lesson along the way.

Tue, 24 Aug 2010 03:00:00 +0000
Time To Declare War?
After eight months of being stepped on and abused, being the subject of lies and rumors, a friend of mine who is one of the gentlest and mild mannered people I know, told me that he will tell the other party that he now realizes that a war is being waged against him and he is declaring war as well.  No more Mr. Nice Guy and no more will he delude himself into believing that their differences will be settled amicably.  Now he is ready to fight.

Shoteh SheBaOlam!  My dear friend you are a fool.  What will this declaration achieve for you?  Until now the other side is fighting with every dirty trick they can dream of, all this with the comfort of knowing that you are sleeping.  Can you imagine how much harder your adversary will fight when they realize you are rumbling about arising from your drunken delusional stupor?  Not only that, but your adversary has a carefully crafted war strategy and you have nothing but you hopeless innocence.  You don't begin to fathom what war even entails and you are far from prepared to carry it out.  Sorry my friend but you are no match for your adversary, certainly not with this attitude.

"Ki Seitzei LaMilchama Al Oivecha", when you wage war on your enemy (Ki Seitzei 21:1).  The Seforim HaKedoshim tell us that this enemy is the Yetzer Hara.  With the Yetzer Hara, it is war every single day of our lives.  How can we win this war against this evil genius who seems to know exactly which one of our string to pull at precisely the right moment?

The Klausenberger Rebbe once revealed his secret to success as a child in Yeshiva.  With this secret he managed to learn far more than all his friends.  What was his secret?  On the first day one kid would come in and say, this year I will learn the whole Masechta by heart.  Then the next one would then get up and declare his ambitious goals.  Down the line each one would would brag what they plan on achieving.  Me, said the Klausenberger Rebbe, I just kept quiet.  My plan was to come to yeshiva each day and learn the best I could.  Why did I end up learning more than all those who bragged, while they fell far short of their hopes and dreams?  When the Yetzer Hara heard their declarations he armed himself for war and made it his business to deter them.  With me there was nothing to bother with.  I waged war, they only declared it.

The Torah doesn't say Ki "Yachriz" Milchama Al Oivecha, when you declare war on the Yetzer Hara.  Declarations are meaningless at best and very harmful at worst.  Only when Ki Seitzei, when you keep your mouth closed and actually go out and fight the fight of your life, only then "U'Nisano Hashem Elokecha B'Yadecha", then Hashem will hand the enemy over to you and you will be victorious.

"V'Eilu Chayav L'Hachriz".  If you are only making Hachrazos or declarations, says the Mishna in Eilu Metzios, it is a clear sign that you have already lost.

Wed, 18 Aug 2010 03:00:00 +0000
Asking For A Month Of Riches And Honor?
Two of the world's deadliest vices are money and honor.  Why on Shabbos Mivarchim do we ask Hashem for Chaim SheYesh Bahem Osher V'Chavod, life full of riches and honor?  This is especially perplexing since we already asked for Parnassa, what more do we need?  Furthermore afterwards we ask for Yiras Shamayim for the second time and also Ahavas Torah which is seriously eroded by a love for money.

The answer may be that in this world a person who is willing to sacrifice and play by Hashem's rules is often deemed a loser if he struggles financially. Yet he chooses to endure shame in this world in favor of riches in the next, especially since his emuna tells him that breaking the rules would not help him defy Hashem's will regardless.

Aside from the hardship, one of the things that troubles him is people's attitudes around him.  It breaks his heart when he sees the Chilul Hashem when good guys finish last and bad attitudes rule the roost.  Therefore we ask Hashem for parnassa and Yiras Shamayim because for ourselves that is all we really need.  But what about the Chilul Hashem?  For that we ask for Osher!  Let all the Yirei Shamayim (shleppers) get really rich.  Why?  Because their Kavod, their honor is Your honor.

The problem is that once they have money and honor what will happen to their Yiras Shamayim?  For that we ask Hashem to send more Yiras Shamayim after the riches come, because they will certainly need all the help they can get. 

We then close and say SheYimalei Hashem Mishalos Libeinu, Hashem should fulfill our requests.  Why?  Because it is L'Tovah, we are asking for Your good Hashem.

Tue, 10 Aug 2010 03:00:00 +0000
Parshas VaEschanan: Ksav Sofer - Are We Weird Or Are We Brilliant?
"Ki Hi Chachmaschem U'Vinaschem L'Einei HaAmim" (VaEschanan 4:6).  The Torah tells us that when you keep the mitzvos, the nations of the world will admire your wisdom.  Strangely the next words say "Asher Yishmi'un Es Kol HaChukim", when you listen to all the Mitzvos that don't have logical reasons.  Why would the nations respect our wisdom and call us "Am Chacham V'Navon" by keeping illogical mitzvos?  On the contrary, they will think we are antiquated and strange.

The Ksav Sofer answers that if a person is considered wise and intelligent, if one time he does something that seems to make no sense, people will not doubt him but rather assume that his actions are based on deep wisdom beyond their understanding.  However if a person is not very wise, when people see him do questionable things they will say he is a fool.

The modern nations of the world know we won't mix milk and meat and won't eat their food.  They know about many of the strange traditions we have, like eating Matza, sitting in the Succah, and blowing our horn.  If we keep all the mitzvos and act scrupulously in business and are models of sterling and impeccable character, they will admire us as a nation of exalted people and never question our mitzvos.  
If our observance of mitzvos is confined to going through the motions of our age old traditions, while displaying bad character and unruly ethical behavior, they will look at us as an antiquated nation still stuck in the dark ages.  They will consider us totally out of place in modern world and will do their best to rid themselves and the world of an unwanted people that don't belong. 

Fri, 23 Jul 2010 03:00:00 +0000
An Am HaAretz's Appreciation Of Yerushalayim
In the time of the Second Bais HaMikdash the wall of Yerushalayim was extended to encompass Har HaZeisim.  However due to technical reasons discussed in Gemara Shavuos (16a), only the lower half of Har HaZeisim had Kedushas Yerushalayim, while the upper half did not, despite that they were both inside the wall.  

The gemara says that the Talmidei Chachomim would eat Maaser Sheini, which needs to be eaten in Yerushalayim, on the bottom half of Har HaZeisim, while the Amei HaAretz would not eat there but rather only in Yerushalayim proper.  When it came to eating from Korbanos that can be eaten anywhere in Yerushalayim, the Amei HaAretz would eat even on the top half of Har HaZeisim even though it was not Halachicly part of Yerushalayim, while the Talmidei Chachomim would eat only on the lower half.

Rashi explains this phenomenon as follows.  Since the Amei HaAretz believed that eating Maaser in Yerushalayim would bring them riches, they were not willing to eat it on a mountain outside the city, regardless of its halachic status.  They wanted to eat it right in the middle of the city to make sure the bracha is fulfilled.  When it came to Kodshim whose segulos they were unaware of or didn't care for, they were content to eat it within the wall even if they were told that this location was not technically Yerushalayim.  

Today's Yerushalayim is the epicenter of Judaism.  Every Jew loves to have a part of it whether to live, for a visit, or for Yom Tov.  We all look for every excuse to get ourselves here.  However that is where the similarities end.  Coming to Yerushalayim means different things to different people.  For some it is a great vacation spot with nice hotels and delicious dining.  Of course that only depends on the time of year and where the crowd is, as winter or summer vacations may be more suited to Miami or Colorado.  Others love it at as an exotic travel destination with all its attractions and tourist sites.  The only holy part of the city that they enter is a Gadol's home for a bracha for parnassa and shidduchim, coupled with a photo op.

There is a whole other side of Yerushalayim that many of us have not noticed and hat is where Yerushalayim's true beauty lies.  These attractions that are not listed on the top ten list of any travel guide.  Its Yeshivos where Torah emanates from to the entire world.  Its pious people who live in poverty, clinging to Hashem B'Mesiras Nefesh.  Its shuls where people poor their heart out, face to face with Hashem, crying over real tzaros.  Its many tzadikim who are not well known, who you can sit and talk to and be inspired.

Wed, 14 Jul 2010 03:00:00 +0000
I'll Start Davening When I Retire
As a working man I always dream about the day that life will throw me a break and I will be able to return to learning on a more serious and consistent basis.  Surely I am not alone.  Hopefully either one day we will become financially sufficient to just walk away, or at least when we retire (if there is such a thing by then) we can enjoy our golden years.  This is the dream of all Bnei Torah, each one on their own level.  

But what can we do for the time being when there is a family to support with many needs and we live in a very expensive world?  The pressure of earning what we spend is enormous.  It doesn't leave us time to really commit ourselves the way we'd like too.  And when we have a few moments, we are so worn out from life and rusty from learning, that our reflexes are just not fast enough.  The opportunity disappears as we are still mustering up the energy to seize the moment, and we lament another opportunity that slipped away.

Each and every one of us believe the above to be true.  But here is a question that I asked myself challenging the above premise, that I cannot answer.  The world is built on three things, Torah, Avodah, and Gemilas Chasadim.  Regarding Torah we have already discussed our limitations.  As for Chesed, by and large we all more or less get our fill whether in the home or outside, either one on one or through some wonderful organizations. 

But what about Tefila?  There aren't many excuses.  We all commit to davening in shul and invest the requisite amount of time, three times day.  Why don't we take advantage of that?  Why do I spend my time rushing though Shmoneh Esrei without kavana and then impatiently wait for the chazan to start his arduous Chazaras HaShatz?  What is my excuse for that?  I am anyway standing in shul armed with my siddur with nowhere to go.  Moreover as a working and family man there is plenty of help that I need from above.  Why dream about how to solve my problems when I just need to realize that I have come to right address, only I don't even notice?

Without minimizing Limud HaTorah which is Kneged Kulam, today it may be easier in a certain sense for us to draw Yiras Shamayim from Tefila, since the art of Torah Lishma is on the decline.  Tefila is an obvious connection to Hashem and when we place all our problems, hopes, and dreams at his doorstep, it certainly fosters a realization as to who the boss is and how the world works.  It helps us build a relationship with Hashem which improve all facets of our life.

So what am I waiting for to start davening like a mentch?  There are no limitation and no good excuses.  Fortunately and unfortunately I don't think retirement or winning the lotto is the answer for this one.  This one is purely up to us right here and now.  And to echo the sentiments of Reb Yisroel Salanter, if we do start to daven properly, we will probably find more time for quality Torah learning.

Mon, 14 Jun 2010 03:00:00 +0000
Please Call Me An Old Fashioned Nerd!
The more valuable our possessions the more diligently we guard it.  Our property is private and we don't want anyone to enter it, but most of us only protect it with a symbolic gate.  Our homes are more sacred and we keep our windows and doors tightly locked.  In our homes we keep our valuables in an unbreakable safe and then hide it for good measure.  Our cars have locks on the outside and codes on the inside.

Why is it that when it comes to our minds, which is our most valuable possession, and the  vehicle with which we climb to Shamayim, many people pride themselves that they keep it wide open?  Why do we sneer at those who vigilantly protect their minds from the onslaught of modern society?

Yiddishkeit has existed throughout the ages by successfully cutting off outside influences.  History shows that time and time again those who have "opened up", have been lost forever.   The only Jewish tradition that has stood the test of time and has continued to be viable throughout 2000 years of galus is the staunchly observant tradition.  All others have fallen by the wayside.  Sadly each generation thinks that they have finally found the magic formula, only to find their Jewish identity slowly erode over time.

What exactly is out there in the world that we need?  Has humanity improved to the point where us Bnei Yisroel need lessons and tips from other cultures?  Has the Mamleches Kohanim V'Goi Kadosh sunk so low that our Torah is no longer our only guiding like and we need it to be supplemented by the society we live in?

Even the most frum amongst us hear a voice within us whispering that the world has changed from Biblical times and some things in our Holy Torah are not meant for the today's generation. Hashem gave the Torah and knew all future generations and thus this assertion is not only  blatantly false but is historically inaccurate as well.  The Torah was already "out of sync" with the times from before it was given.  Avrohom Avinu was called Avrohom Ha Ivri because he kept the Torah which clearly put him on one side and the rest of the world on the other.  We never ever made a good fit with society from day one.

Imagine living in a palatial home on an exclusive island that has all the amenities, conveniences, and luxuries in the world.  It has everything one can want to see and do in this world.  Only the elite can even step foot on the island.  Your children only mingle with the finest people of society and enjoy the finest education.  Would you want to be open minded and open your paradise up to tourist and criminals.  Of course not.  Why would you want negative influences to enter your utopia?

The world we live in is, so to say, a figment of Hashem's imagination.  Hashem dictates morality, politeness, and every other good trait bar none.  In His infinite wisdom,Hashem had  created a perfect world that leaves us longing for nothing.  Albeit it is in a state of decay even in the most closed of our societies. This decay is a result of  the influence of the outside world  slowly seeping  in unbeknownst to us over time. To regain the purity and perfection of Hashem's world should we look to the outside world for guidance on how to get back on the right track?  Ludicrous!  

Enjoy our world by keeping your mind as tightly sealed as possible.  The gemara in Sanhedrin says that in the Ikvisa D'Mishicha, "V'Sar Meira Mishtolel" (Yeshaya 59:15).  Rashi explains that anyone who refrains from doing things that are assur will be called a Shoteh by the world.  Be called square, be a nerd, be rigid, be old fashioned, be called barbaric, uncultured, and poorly mannered.  But if you want to be called a Ben Olam Haba, just don't be called open minded! 

Mon, 07 Jun 2010 03:00:00 +0000
Parshas Naso: Kli Yakar - Don't Join The "Frummies" In Gehinom Rebbi Eliezer HaKiper famously states that the reason a Nazir Tamei brings a Korban Chatos.  The Meforshim explain that despite his holy agenda, still he restrained himself from drinking wine and indulging in a pleasure that Hashem gave us.  While this is a wonderful thing, nevertheless in a slight sense he did not live up to the order that Hashem created in the world.

The Kli Yakar asks, if so why is it that only a Nazir who became Tamei brings this Korban and not a Nazir Tahor who finished his term of Nezirus?

He answers that if he truly served his term of Nezirus and spent his days immersed in holiness like the Torah prescribes, then he is not a chotei and his abstinence is commendable.  When he ends up becoming Tamei and the days of his Nezirus go to waste and he must start again, then has he abstained from the pleasures Hashem brought to the world in vain.

The Kli Yakar says this peirush is "yakar".  Quite often we take on extra Chumros which we honor superficially.  It does not penetrate our insides and is purely an external exercise and a show of frumkeit.  One could wonder based on this Kli Yakar if at the end of day we will need to give a Din VaCheshbon on all the grief and pain our abstinence causes us that we did not take advantages of the conveniences Hashem blessed us with and we chose to give them up for silly reasons that have nothing to do with Hashem's will.

This may be pshat in the gemara Yuma (72b). The gemara says that a Talmid Chochom must be gold on the inside and on the outside, MiBayis U'MiChutz Titzapenu" (Shemos 25:11).  "Woe is to those who learn Torah but do not have Yiras Shamayim!"  Rava pleaded with his Talmidim not to live two Gehinom's, one on this world toiling in Torah and not benefiting from this world, yet earning a second Gehinom when they arrive in Shamayim and find out their efforts were not at all appreciated.

When sacrificing for a Chumra ask yourself two questions.  First is it really justified?  Secondly "why am I doing this"?  Don't be a martyr only to join the Nazir Tamei section of Gehinom.  Better to do it right and be Kadosh V'Tahor.  It is the same act and only a shift in mindset, but at the end it make a huge difference.

Fri, 21 May 2010 03:00:00 +0000
Rebbi Shimon Bar Yochai Teaches Us What To Do On Lag BaOmer, Learn Daf Yomi On Lag BaOmer we dance and sing the praises of the great Tanna Rebbi Shimon Bar Yochai, although we are light years away from comprehending the greatness of this Tanna or any Tanna.  In the gemara Shabbos (112b), Rebbi Zeira says about Rebbi Yochanan that if the previous generations were Malachim then we are people.  If they were people then we are like donkeys.  This is what one Amora said about an Amora of a previous generation, let alone a Tanna.  If so how can we sing the praises of a Tanna with any sense of honesty whatsoever?  Does Rebbi Shimon really need our song and dance (and bitul Torah)?  This being the case what could we do on this great day of his petira to properly honor him?

The gemara in Yevamos (96b) says that Dovid HaMelech davened to Hashem that he should live in two worlds, "Agura B'Ohalacheh Olamim"  (Tehilim 61:5).  How does one live in two worlds at the same time, asks the Gemara?  The gemara answers that Dovid davened that people should repeat the Torah that he was Michadesh after he is niftar, since that will make his lips move in his Kever, making him alive in both Olam Haba and Olam HaZeh.  Lo and behold, the one who says this Memra is Rebbi Yochanan in the name of... Rebbi Shimon Bar Yochai!

Rebbi Shimon Bar Yochai's great contribution was the Zohar HaKadosh.  Most of us are far removed from any command of the Zohar, and learning it today may not be the answer for us.  However Rebbi Shimon was a very prominent Tanna in the Mishna.  Since we are so enamored on Lag BaOmer with Rebbi Shimon, it behooves us to perk up during the year each time we see his name in the gemara or Mishnayos.  We should cherish his every memra and on Lag BaOmer with great luciidity remember every single Memra that we have come across the entire year.  Can there be a better way to celebrate?

Fortunately for us, Rebbi Shimon Bar Yochai is mentioned not once in today's Daf Yomi (Sanhedrin 79) but twice, and the entire Daf discusses his memros (Niskaven L'Horag Es Zeh V'Horag Es Zeh Patur and Nidonin B'Skila SheSreifa Chamura).  So today we will sing the sweet song of Torah by learning the Daf Yomi and and in turn bring Rebbi Shimon the joy and honor that we so wish to bestow upon him.  VaAmartem Koi Lechoi Adoneinu Bar Yochai!

Sun, 02 May 2010 03:00:00 +0000
Bedikas Chametz In The 21st Century There are two schools of thought on how to do Bedikas Chometz.  One is that we must get on our hands and knees and check every nook and cranny.  While we regale in the images of yesteryear, today this is an almost impossible feat.  We no longer live in one or two room homes with a few cabinets.  We have large homes filled with so much stuff.  Think about clothing and checking all the pockets.  We are talking about triple digit pockets for a large family.  Then think about all the various knapsacks, pocketbooks, briefcases, etc.  Drawers, toys, cabinets, under and behind heavy furniture.  

Then there is the food situation.  In days gone by you were lucky if you had three decent meals a day and a little food in the cupboard.  Today our pantries are overflowing trying to keep up with the children's never ending demand for more food.  Officially they only eat five times a day (Breakfast, Snack, Lunch in School, Lunch at home, and supper), but come on, who could hold out that long between meals?  This means that you need to search for the Bamba, pretzels crumbs, taffy wrappers, and other assorted residue that can be literally anywhere.  Even if you only make a cursory Bedika, as many hold to be acceptable, since the cleaning has been going on for a month or more, you have only spread your work over time but the task is still enormous.  I must sadly admit that every year in our house one Chol HaMoed activity is burning the Chametz we inevitably find during Pesach, whether an old sandwich in a toy box or a candy bar in a knapsack that somehow evaded inspection.

The Peleh Yoetz says that the Remez of Chametz is the Yetzer Hara of whom we must rid ourselves.  He says that the Remez is not just a Remez but it is the Pshat, the basic on the surface meaning of the mitzva!  The Shach in Po'el Tzedek says that the seven days of Pesach represent the seventy years of the life of man, which must all be free from the Yetzer Hara.  The key he says is Gaava or pride, the yeast which lifts the dough and allows the Yetzer Hara free entry.  Hashem warned the Bnei Yisroel that when they arrive to Eretz Yisroel and start gaining a measure of material success it will lead to forgetting Hashem.  Pride is the natural outgrowth of success.  Pride is a recipe for disaster.

Throughout most of the current Galus we have been beaten and battered at the hands of the nations, like the dough in the matza bakery at the hands of the people pounding it into flat discs.  Under those circumstances our homes and possessions were quite limited and so were our aveiros.  They were easy to spot with a short search and quickly rectified.

In the tail end of the Galus, Hashem has given us a totally different challenge. Although comfortable physically, it provides the hardest test spiritually.  Hashem has stopped the pounding and we sit on the table like dough, rising and overflowing with all material good without any oppression.  Our homes, hearts, and minds have become so distracted from all this  abundance that we have become so full of Chametz and we don't even know where to start looking.

There was once a concept called Cheshbon HaNefesh.  People would actually account for all there aveiros periodically, nightly, weekly, monthly, and yearly.  Life was slow paced and people were busy struggling to survive with their spirit intact.  They didn't have must time or opportunity to run up a long diverse list of sins.  In todays communication age we communicate so much through so many different means, we have know idea what we said in the last fifteen minutes, let alone be able to sit down at the end of the day and account for all we said and did.  Every time we get into our car we can commit countless transgressions of anger, impatience, and selfishness during a single five minute journey.  No wonder those crumbs are so hard to clean from the floor of the car and the crevices under the seats are unreachable.

We are a unique generation, challenged with unparalleled nisyonos.  If you don't believe me think for yourself how difficult it is to clean the Chametz, or ask your wife.  May we all be zocheh to rid ourselves of all the crumbs and burn them in the fire, watching them go up in smoke.  Then we will be zocheh to don our finest clothing for the Seder and raise our Kos of wine and enjoy the Geula.  Vayehi BaChatzi HaLayla!

Mon, 29 Mar 2010 03:00:00 +0000
Post Purim Sobering Afterthought

Rabba and Rebbi Zeira had a Purim Seudah together.  They both got highly intoxicated as the halacha requires.  So drunk that Rabba slaughtered Rebbi Zeira.  After sobering up and seeing the damage Rabba davened and brought Rebbi Zeira back to life. After this (near) fatal accident do you think they decided the next year that they would stay sober?  Of course not!  The halacha still demanded it.  However Rebbi Zeira opted to have his Seudah elsewhere as a safety precaution.

Sure drinking on Purim has its dangers, but are we smarter than halacha?  Is there a halachic reason not to drink or is it moral, ethical, and self righteous?  Of course you can find many peirushim that explain that getting drunk doesn't really mean getting drunk, but Ein Mikra Yotzei Midei Pshuto.

Boruch Hashem most of us don't drink or smoke or have some other unpleasant vices.  I personally don't like wine, am not crazy about getting drunk, and certainly do not like the physical after shocks.  But on Purim it is part of the Mitzvos HaYom.  The fact that I am not the biggest tzaddik when it comes to all other mitzvos doesn't exempt me from this one.  Why do I need to apologize for getting drunk on Purim?  

Why is there a mitzva to get drunk?  I will try to offer my own post Purim perspective.  At Seudas Achashveirosh it says "V'HaShisia Kadas Ein Ones".  No one forced anyone to drink.  Why?  Maybe because Achashveirosh knew that attending his feast would be a great aveira on the part of the Yehudim.  He didn't want them drunk.   He wanted them nice and sober so they would have to account before Hashem for every single moment of their attendance in sound mind.  "Ein Ones", they could not claim that their actions were taken while drunk.

The Seforim HaKedoshim tell us that Purim is the loftiest day of the year.  It is a time when hashem's love for us reaches its peak.  Anything we ask for, Hashem will grant us.  On Purim Hashem showers upon us Brachos Ad Bli Dai.  But Purim on the outside is a day of merriment which always spells trouble for us.  Our lack of awe like during Yamim Nora'im, our lack of Yiras Cheit like on Pesach create a carefree attitude that turn us from true Avodas Hashem.  Kedusha V'Tahara is not the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of Purim Seudah.

Hashem has a great way to deal with this.  Drink!  Listen to the words of the Chachomim, one of the great mitzvos that we can do.  Not only will we be Mikayem a mitzva by drinking, but when we are drunk we can do no wrong.  "Yesh Ones".  Unlike Seudas Achashveirosh, our actions at the Purim Seudah are not in sound mind, and it was not us that chose to become punch drunk.  This mitzva neutralizes us during these lofty hours and let's Hashem bestow his love upon us without us spoiling it.

So those who are mortified by our drunken stupors, you can sit around and spend these precious moments in a politically correct manner.  You can even laugh at us and call us silly.  "Mutav Li LiHikarei Shoteh Kol Yamai V'Lo Lei'asos Shaa Achas Rasha Lifnei HaMakom" (Eidiyos 5:6).  When you are running around with your segulos and brachos all year round, remember the big one that got away.  Most of all remember the one who laughs last, laughs best.

 Important Note:  This article does not come to deny that there are those who rightfully hold that halachicly one should not get drunk.  Nor does it absolve those who get drunk irresponsibly.  And of course we understand that there are many people who have a Seudas Purim without getting drunk who give great Nachas Ruach to Hashem.


Wed, 03 Mar 2010 03:00:00 +0000
Help! Someone Is Sitting In My Makom Kavua Have you ever been a stranger in a strange Shul?  Then you might know the unpleasant feeling of being asked to get up from a seat that you sat in.  What is ironic is that the basis (or justification) that people use to ask someone to vacate their personal seat is a gemara in Brachos 6b that says, "Kol HaKovei'a Makom L'Tfilaso, Elokai Avrohom B'Ezro", whoever fixes a permanent place for his Tefilos, the Hashem of Avrohom will save him.  

Having a Makom Kavua for Tefila is very important, as it shows a serious and a consistency in Tefila. But I ask you, wasn't Avrohom the greatest and most hospitable person to ever live?  Do you really think Avrohom ever asked someone to leave his seat in Shul,even if it meant that he couldn't daven in his Makom Kavua? Hard to believe.

So what is pshat is this enigmatic gemara?  Many Meforshim learn that Kovei'a Makom means that we direct our Tefilos to the right place.  We daven for Hashem's Kavod to be revealed in the world and other spiritual matters.  Even those who take the gemara at face value, don't necessarily interpret it to mean in the exact same spot with the exact same chair.  Others say that this importance of the same Makom has to do with thinking very Holy Kavanos in that specific spot, which is far beyond our madreiga anyway.

Maybe we can say pshat B'Derech Tzachus as follows.  Our shuls, especially in Eretz Yisroel, are very crowded.  There aren't always enough seats for the members and their children, let alone the guests that fill the Shuls on Shabbos.  If you own a seat you can help someone out by letting them sit there, especially if they are already sitting there.  You have wonderful chance to do the Mitzva of Hachnosas Orchim in the holiest of places, Hashem's home.  Avrohom was the greatest Machnis Orach of them all and will surely beseech Hashem on your behalf if you follow in his hospitable ways.  But you can only do that if you actually have a Makom Kavua!  "Kol HaKovei'a Makom L'Tfilaso, Elokai Avrohom B'Ezro."

All that not withstanding, if you are a guest in a Shul, it probably isn't Mentchlich to come early and plop yourself down in the seat that suits your needs best.  Better to go over to the Gabbai and ask him if he can recommend an empty seat for you sit.  You may need to wait until Borchu, but it is a small price to pay for a little Sholom.  Then maybe your grandfather Avrohom and even Aharon HaKohen will have a few nice words for you as well.

Thu, 04 Feb 2010 03:00:00 +0000
Thanks, But We Only Want To See The Magic Show The pasuk tells us that after Krias Yam Suf, "Vayaaminu BaShem U'B'Moshe Avdo", Bnei Yisroel believed in Hashem and in His servant Moshe.  It didn't seem to last especially long, as three days after they left the Yam Suf and ran into their first rough patch, they complained to Moshe that they were thirsty.  This started a pattern of complaints against Hashem and challenges to Moshe that we find throughout the rest of the Torah.  In Tehilim (78) it discusses in length all the rebellions and mistrust that Bnei Yisroel showed towards Hashem in the Midbar, Vayidabru BeLokim (78:19), Lo He'eminu BeiLokim (78:22).  What happened?  What went wrong?

We often exhibit a strange kind of schizophrenia when it comes to relating to our Gedolim.  On one hand when we need something beyond our reach, we go running to them for Brachos and the hopes that they can pull off a miracle for us.  Yet when it comes to matters of halacha we apply selective hearing, and tend to listen to those Psakim that conform to our need.  If they don't we are off to shop for a different Psak.  And when it comes to hashkafa we tune them out completely.  What do they really know about the real world anyway?  Or, they didn't really say it and it was made up.  Or, it doesn't really apply to me.

Shem Havaya is the Shem Hashem of Rachamim, of Nissim, of Hashem beyond the teva of the world.  We love when Hashem deals with us with the Shem Havaya.  It makes for glorious miracles beyond human comprehension.  We love the attention and the rachamim that Hashem bestows on us.  The Shem Elokim however, is a totally different story.  It is Hashem's way of working cloaked behind the veil of nature.  Elokim is gematria HaTeva.  Elokim is the not so good things that happen to us.  Although really good, we don't really appreciate them, since we refuse to see the Yad Hashem behind it.

Paroh was the ultimate manipulator of nature. He knew that based on the laws of the world, he had Bnei Yisroel in a suffocating death lock.  He knew Elokim, he knew the nature of Bnei Yisroel's enslavement and the total impossibility for them to ever break out.  When Moshe came and warned him about Hashem, the ability of the creator of nature to break its laws and turn it on its head, Paroh laughed.  No such thing!  "Mi Hashem Asher Eshma BiKolo" (Shemos 5:2) there is no such power as Hashem, the world works in accordance with a certain system.

We, Bnei Yisroel, on the other hand, who have been the beneficiary of the Yad Hashem, yearn to see Him and His mighty hand once again.  It is Elokim that we have trouble with.  We need to be told, Anochi Hashem, I Hashem - I am Elokecha, it is Me who stands behind everything, including the good and the bad.

Krias Yam Suf was fun.  It was soooo cool.  We saw the Yad HeGedola, the Yad Hashem and we were able to point and say "Zeh Keili".  Moshe was the greatest, as he stood there so nobly with his staff thrust into the air, as Hashem's agent, splitting the raging sea. But now tachlis, it is three days later and we are dying of thirst. Where is the big miracle?  We don't want to hear Moshe the very human Tzaddik preaching about bitachon.  We don't want to hear a mussar shmuess by someone who seems to be above nature.  We are human and we need water now.  We need food now.  We want Moshe the Eved Hashem to do what he knows how to do best.  Bring us a miracle from Hashem and keep the hashkafa to yourself.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Thu, 28 Jan 2010 03:00:00 +0000
From Parshas HaMan To Az Ashir Why is today so special?  Because well meaning Jews all over the world will be saying Parshas HaMan twice with Targum Unkelus once, to merit the segula of Parnassa revealed to us by Rav Menachem Mendel of Rimanov.  Does it work?  Of course it does if this great tzaddik said so.  However it is not so simple.  What would you say if you saw someone putting on the sneakers of a world champion sprinter and claiming that he now can run faster than anyone in the whole world?  

First of all for all those who knock Chassidim, you really shouldn't bother with this since it is a Chassidishe minhag. Or perhaps to have a chance to rake in a couple of bucks you are ready to don a shtreimel?  More importantly whether you are Chasidishe, Litvish, or Sfardi, you need to do this right.  Let's start by reminding you that it is not enough to say the parsha once, but you must say it twice and you must also say Targum Unkelus.

I am not sure that this is sufficient though.  I would assume that the way this segula is structured it is predicated on the fact that you are always Maavir Sedra and you are up to Parshas HaMan, on time for this big day.  Before you rush out to get a chumash (as opposed to just reading the parsha itself on one of the many websites that are considerate enough to post Parshas HaMan for emergency situations) remember you need to start from the beginning of the parsha if you haven't started Bishalach just yet. After all Maavir Sedra means the whole parsha and not just the lucrative parts that are segulos.  Actually you better get a Chamisha Chumshei Torah since you must say every sedra from the beginning of Bireishis.  

Here is another thing you should be careful about.  Unkelus is just not that easy to read.  It would be a shame to have our riches denied just because we made a couple of reading mistakes on the really hard words.  Make sure to read it nice and slowly and carefully just to be on the safe side.  Also make sure you get a Chumash that has Rashi since many poskim suggest that the reason we say Unkelus is to explain what the Torah says, and nowadays our Aramaic is not that great (unless of course we learn Zohar online).  

Here is another issue to consider.  How much money do we get exactly for this exercise?  Shouldn't we know that before we invest our precious time?  Maybe instead we should run out to buy the lotto?  Rav Mattisyahu Solomon relates about the time he walked into a Bais Medrash in Boro Park on Parshas HaMan day and saw a man sitting and saying Parshas HaMan with great kavana.  Another man walked in and saw this as well, and he turned to the fellow and said, "Why are you wasting your time?  I said it for fifty years already and believe me it doesn't help."  At this point Rav Mattisyahu walks up to the fellow and says, "Tell me, how have you been living for the past fifty years?"  Our food, our clothing, our money is all a bracha of Man from the Shamayim.  Parshas HaMan does not promise anything more.  It says nothing about new cars and expensive vacations.

If you want good advice, listen to the gemara (Brachos 8a) and be maavir sedra the right way every week.  It may not make you rich but it will surely enrich your life.  And not too worry, the gemara promises a goodie for that as well, long life.  So if you were maavir sedra yesterday and learned the Parsha of Az Yashir, you probably aren't too concerned about today, and are already singing Az "Ashir", a thanks to Hashem for a truly rich life.

Tue, 26 Jan 2010 03:00:00 +0000
Yerushalayim Today, A City Under Siege? Two thousand four hundred and thirty four years ago this time, Yerushalayim came under siege from Nevuchadnetzar's army.  Today once again we the citizens of Yerushalayim feel like we are under siege.  Chilul Shabbos, immodesty, and host of other issues are the enemy which we fear will ultimately bring down our glorious Ir HaKodesh both physically and spiritually.  The non-religious and other outside forces are wreaking havoc on the Holy spirit of the city, or are they?

The gemara Yuma 9b says that the first Bais HaMikdash was destroyed because we committed the three aveiros chamuros, the three cardinal sin.  But why asks the gemara was the second Bais HaMikdash destroyed if we were learning Torah, doing Mitzvos, and being Oseik in Chesed?

This begs the historical question.  At the time of the Churban, the Peirushim as defined by Yosefun in his historical notes of the time, were but a small minority o the overall population.  There were the Tziddukim and many who simply fell under the spell of the Roman culture not to mention the lingering lure of Hellenism.  How can the gemara wonder why the Bais Hamikdash was destroyed and claim that we were all tzaddikim at least in the fundamental areas?

(If these facts are indeed correct) the answer may lie in something I heard years ago from a great Rosh Yeshiva.  He said that the tzorus we face today are not the bitter fruit of the aveiros of the non-religious.  It is purely a result of our own less than stellar adherence to the Torah.  They are who they are, but Hashem is counting on us.  How foolish to point fingers at people lost decades ago and are all Tinokos SheNishbiu.  We are the guilty ones and apparently we lack in all these areas or else we would not suffer.

Rav Yisroel Salanter stated it eloquently when he said when a Yid puts on Tefilin in Russia it has an impact on a non-religious Jew walking the streets of Paris.  It is said that Rav Shach once took a walk with some talmidim to the border of Bnei Brak and Ramat Gan on Shabbos.  He asked his talmidim why on one street there were cars driving but on the neighboring street which was Bnei Brak there were no cars?  "Because this is Bnei Brak and that is Ramat Gan", answered one talmid.  "Wrong" said Rav Shach.  "Because the Hashpa'a of your Torah only reaches until here.  Learn a little more and learn a little harder and there will be no cars on this street as well!"

The frum world is a microcosm of the Jewish world.  Yom Kippur, says Rav Shimshon Pincus, is a day kept by even Jews far removed because we still feel the Kedushas Hayom and therefore our Hashpa'a reaches the heart of our brother's far removed.

Rav Shimshon once said that it is still possible to find a bochur who knows how to daven Shmoneh Esrei the right way, but it is almost impossible to find someone who knows the meaning of Kedusha Shabbos and spends it the right way.  What about our own modesty?  Is it still up to the standards of the past that we expect our streets to continue to be clean.  What about all the horrible things happening in our society to children and adults alike, that are swept under the rug?  Why are we so sure that this is not the cause of the scenes imposed on us in the street?  Why do we expect the non-religious in the streets to reflect our purest ideals when our own homes and schools do not?

I remember as a young child on the city bus on my way home from Cheider one day.  There was a Vietnam Vet wearing army fatigues reading a not clean magazine.  Many of the kids crowded on the standing room only bus were stealing quick glimpses over his shoulder.  Finally frustrated and angry the man stood up holding the magazine waving the Magazine over his head screaming, "You want to see it, here you go.  Just don't peek and make believe you are nice little boys.  Take a good look in front of all your friends!"

The Mishna in Pirkei Avos says, "Kol HaMichallel Shem Shamayim B'Seser Nifra'im Mimenu B'Galuy", whoever disgraces Shem Shamayim in private will get their payback on a public stage.  Maybe it is time to stop pointing fingers and instead take a long look at the public drama, and say, "Oh my goodness is this what we have become?"  What has become of our Shabbos?  What has become of our Kedusha?  What has become with all the things we accuse our brother's of who have long ago stopped believing and have no reason to play by our rules, when they perceive a lack of sincerity on our part.

The gemara says that on a Taanis, part of the day is to be spent doing public soul searching.  We need to sit around and discuss where we have gone wrong as a society.  Only then will Hashem turn our tears and mourning into a day of joy.   Only then will the siege of Yerushalayim will be lifted, and we will see the light of the Shechina, a reflection of our newly clean inner selves.

Sun, 27 Dec 2009 03:00:00 +0000
Why The Vilna Gaon Did Not Light An Electric Menorah On one hand in the history of mankind the geniuses of the past towered over today's leading figures, both in the Jewish and non-Jewish world.  Has there ever been another Aristotle?  What about a Rambam?  Can we comprehend a Rava or Abaye?  Galileo or Newton?  A mind like the Vilna Gaon?  Yet even the richest men alive back then lived what we consider pathetic lives compared to the luxuries that we considered fairly average today.  How can we explain this paradox?

In Parshas Mikeitz there is a story that is hard to fathom.  Yosef. who was a slave and had been imprisoned in a dungeon for 12 years, is taken before the King of the world's mighty empire.  Why?  Well, the King had a weird dream and rumor has it that Yosef is good with weird dreams.  Yosef explains the dream, the King likes his interpretation, and and just like that Yosef is made the second most powerful person on planet earth.  How do you explain that?!?

The answer to both these questions may lie in the shifting aspirations of man throughout the ages.  Rav Chatzkel Levenstein says that once upon a time people were spiritual.  They understood there was a Hashem and yearned to be close to Him.  They actually gained more pleasure and satisfaction that way than through any other means.  Of course the Yetzer Hara was hard at work and confused them, leading to grave blunders in the world's thinking and bringing on the era of Avodah Zara.  However these people remained spiritual and that was their life's entire pursuit.

Not so coincidentally at around the time the Anshei Knesses HaGedola abolished the Yetzer Hara of avodah zara, Greek culture rose to prominence.  The only way to get rid of avodah zara was to quench people's desire for Godliness and spirituality.  Out of the ashes was born a new yetzer hara, tricking and trapping people within the realm of their new life's pursuits, namely the worship of the human body and mind.  This is a cycle that continued throughout the ages as the intellectuals of each generation focused on various pursuits with which to enrich their lives.

Necessity is the mother of invention, goes the saying.  In all the generations gone by, the most powerful minds were put to use exploring different fields of intellect and emotion.  There was no need or desire to harness electricity.  Whatever for?  Do you not beleive that Socrates or the Rashba or the Vilna Gaon were not capable of discovering electricity?  Maybe they could have and maybe they even knew about it.  But how would it help them in the long run?  Socrates was interested in ethics, logic, and pedagogy.  The Rashba was busy moving mountains in Shas.  Neither of them thought worthwhile to spend their life developing a car.  Who needed to go anywhere when you can explore Heaven and earth right where you are.

Nowadays, not only is spirituality passe, but so is the pursuit of intellect.  Our lone pursuit today is of pleasure, and instantly at that.  Society's lives are devoid of any deeper meaning.  Good food, good music, pretty sights and a few thrills are the epitome of what mankind seeks.  All the minds in the world are focused on creating the tools to bring these things immediately within our grasp.  In the Dor of prior to the coming of Moshiach, says the Braisa (Sotah 49b), Bais Vaad Yihiyeh L'Znus, the intellectuals will gather together to create means to satisfy our basest desires.

In an incident  that happened around ten years before the outbreak of World War II, which witnessed the death of 60 million people at the hands of mankind, the Chofetz Chaim's granddaughter came to visit him on a break from university.  Seeing the lights of academia and seeing her grandfather toling over Torah in modest surroundings, she asked him, "Zeidy, you are the wisest of all the Jews.  Why do you live in the dark?  Why do you not come to the university and use your mind to see the light?"  The Chofetz Chaim answered her, that in university all the brain power is used to create tools to destroy mankind.  In Yeshiva the mind is used to build each inidividual man.  Chochom Adif MiNavi!

Although we cannot relate to the days of old and we do not fathom the yearning for spirituality, as soon as Paroh, who was the most spiritual man alive, (in a bad sense), saw Yosef and heard what he had to say, he recognized his spiritual superior, regardless of his stature and his past.  He needed him as his number two man and he needed him to be subservient to him.  To this end he elevated him from the lowest of depths to highest peak.

Spirituality is deeply buried but it is not dead.  It can still be found in the eternal Torah that doesn't change with the times.  Its power does not erode even if the people learning it do.  On Chanuka we turn the clock back and we light the little flames from good old fashioned olive oil and wicks.  These lights represent the flame of Torah that has not changed.  It is as precious and spirtual as ever.  It is an oasis in a world of more convenience and less substance.  We kindle the flame of Torah and with it we chase away the darkeness cast upon the world that grows darker every day.  It is the festival of light and our job is to use these days to contemplate our lives, to take ourselves out of the darkness and bask in the true light.

Tue, 15 Dec 2009 03:00:00 +0000