Search

Loading...

Blog Archive

About Me

Rabbi Chaim Coffman
Rabbi Coffman has helped people from all across the spectrum to prepare themselves properly for Orthodox Conversion to Judaism. His students admire his vast knowledge and appreciate his warm, personal attention and endearing sense of humor.
View my complete profile

Followers

Welcome to Rabbi Chaim Coffman's Blog!

I would like to thank you for visiting my blog, Beyond Orthodox Conversion to Judaism.

The conversion process can be a lengthy and daunting one to say the least and I want you to know that I am here to help you through it.

I have been teaching newcomers to Judaism for over a decade and over the last few years I have seen that conversion candidates really lack the support and knowledge they need to navigate the conversion process and successfully integrate into the Orthodox Jewish community.

I created my mentorship program in order to help make this whole experience as smooth and as painless as possible! (Can't do much about the growing pains, though ;)

Feel free to get to know me a little through the posts on my blog and visit the mentorship and syllabus page if you are interested in possible joining us.

I sincerely wish you all the best in your search for truth and spiritual growth.

Looking forward to meeting you,
Chaim Coffman

My Rebbe, Rav Moshe Sternbuch

In case you were wondering why I have all of these articles written by Rav Moshe Sternbuch, he is my Rebbe, and one of the gedolei hador (greatest Rabbis of our generation).

Rav Sternbuch fully endorses me and supports my mentorship program.

He is the address for all of my halachic or hashkafic (practical and philosophical) questions that I or my students may have.

The articles are based on his weekly talks on the Torah portion that the Rav gives in Jerusalem in his kollel. As a member of the kollel I get first dibbs on the photocopies and I type them up for my blog so you can all benefit from the Rav's erudition and insight.
Friday, May 27, 2011

Revealed and Concealed Torah

By Rav Moshe Sternbuch

Walking with Hashem

“If you walk in My statutes.” Rashi: “You
must toil in Torah.”


Some people behave differently when they are at home or in shul than they do in the workplace or when travelling. Our observance of the mitzvos should be identical, irrespective of time, place or circumstance. What we put into our mouths or utter with our speech organs, and what we focus our eyes on should not be determined by the environment we happen to be in. A Yid is expected to maintain the same standards of kashrus, tznius and honesty everywhere even when out “walking.”

Moreover, we must not distinguish between different types of mitzvos and decide on the basis of our own judgment - as opposed to clear halachic guidelines - which mitzvos take priority over others. For this reason, the posuk focuses on chukim (statutes) to teach us that, ultimately, all mitzvos are G-d-given decrees, even those whose rationales seem obvious to our human comprehension. Since we are not privy to the concealed reasons and effects of mitzvos, we cannot treat one mitzvah more lightly than another.

“Walking” also refers to a unique human characteristic. Unlike angels who are completely static spiritually speaking, human beings are in a constant state of motion. Every day, we either come closer to Hashem or become further removed from Him. As the Chazon Ish zt”l pointed out, just like physical weeds grow on their own without any special effort, so too will negative middos sprout up and accumulate, unless we take positive steps to prevent this from happening. Only if we actively toil in Torah and avodas hamiddos can we prevent a downward spiral in our spiritual state.

Quality of our learning

Rav Sternbuch’s rosh yeshiva, Rav Schneider zt”l, expounded Rashi literally: Even when you are walking, you must toil in Torah by thinking and talking about what you have been learning. This is the true sign of a ben Torah. Rav Schneider felt that this was such an important aspect in the conduct of a ben Torah that he would personally make sure that his students were talking in learning even when eating and on the way to their dormitories.

“…and keep My commandments.”

The Torah does not refer here to mere observance of the written rules (kiyum),
but to a type of observance which knows no limits (shmirah), in which fences and safeguards are always being added to ensure optimum compliance. The more a person toils in Torah to the best of his abilities, the more is expected of him in terms of punctilious mitzvah observance, since intense and continuous Torah study elevates a person to higher intellectual and spiritual levels. Such a person lives with the awareness that the Torah is the greatest treasure, which must be safeguarded in any possible way.


Content of our learning

“But if you will not listen to Me.” Rashi: “To toil in Torah.”

How does a refusal to “listen to Me” allude to insufficient toiling in Torah? We may take this as a reference to the contemporary situation, where yeshiva bochurim exempt themselves from genuinely toiling in the whole Torah, preferring instead the easier and more immediately stimulating path of being mefalpel (engaging in in-depth analysis) of sevaros (theories). In this way, they hope to acquire the name of a lamdan (analytical scholar). Intellectual enjoyment in Torah learning is a positive thing, but such bochurim are not listening to Hashem and learning his Torah because they have been commanded to do so and in order to fulfill His will, but solely for their own intellectual enjoyment, and Torah study not for His sake makes you forget that He gave us the Torah and commanded us to delve therein. Such studies can, chas veshalom, lead to a churban (destruction).

Rav Eliyahu Lopian zt”l was once privileged to hear the Chofetz Chaim zt”l expound Chapter 31 of Mishlei ( Aishes Chayil) on Shabbos. When he reached the posuk of “Her husband is known in the gates when he sits among the elders of the land,” the Chofetz Chaim stopped and translated it into Yiddish. He explained that the Aishes Chayil is the Torah, and her husband is the talmidei chachomim. In this world, talmidei chachomim can pretend to be erudite Torah scholars, and when asked about a Gemara or a Tosafos they will recall a Ketzos or Nesivos (or an Avnei Miluim in Seder Noshim), but when they reach the Heavenly court, the talmidei chachomim of the generation will be asked to recite what they have learnt, masechta after masechta, and it will be revealed who the real talmidei chachomim are. This is “the husband known in the gates when he sits among the elders of the land” (according to this interpretation a reference to the Mesivta Derakia). The Chofetz Chaim went on to talk excitedly about yeshiva bochurim who are not completely conversant even in two sedorim of Gemara. What, he concluded, will they say when they stand in judgment before the Almighty?

Eternity of Torah

“And I will bring the land into desolation.” Rashi: This is a favor for the Jewish nation, in that their enemies will not enjoy their country, which will remain desolate for its inhabitants.”

The statement of Chazal constitutes testimony to the eternity of the Torah. As already noted by the Ramban (on posuk 16), it is an historical fact that mighty nations have ruled this country, and many have competed to conquer it, but even after succeeding in that, they never invested funds into rebuilding it, notwithstanding the fact that the members of the various religions also consider Eretz Yisroel to be their holy country. Not even the church,
with its vast financial resources, opened its coffers to build up the Holy Land. Nor did this situation change in the many centuries since the Ramban.

There are many other testimonies to the eternity of the Torah. For example, the Torah
states unequivocally that with the exception of the camel and two types of rabbits, every animal that chews its cud also has cloven hooves, and that every animal that has cloven hooves also chews its cud except the pig. In the past thousand years or so, many countries have been discovered, and they are inhabited by animals whose existence scientists were not even aware of, yet no animal has been discovered with only one of the signs of a kosher animal other than the pig, the camel, and the two types of rabbits mentioned by the Torah. However, we believe in the truth of the Torah and do not feel the need to search for such proofs. On the other hand, they are not sufficient to convince our wayward brethren who choose to go after their hearts’ desires rather than acknowledge the truth.

Pride leads to security

“And I will make you fruitful and multiply you.” Rashi: “Walking tall.” (Also see the Rashi at the end of posuk 26:13).

If we keep the Torah and mitzvos properly and with pride, Hashem will make us “walk
tall” in the eyes of the nations, and make it apparent to all that we are the Am Hashem. Nationalists would have us believe that national pride consists of practicing the non-Jewish values espoused by them and “standing up” to the nations of the world. Doing so, they are convinced, will result in our security and prosperity. Liberals, on the other hand, argue that by adopting enlightened universal values, the rest of the world will respect us and let us live in peace. Both camps are puzzled that after so many decades of independence, anti- Jewish hatred, even from supposedly friendly countries, only seems to increase, and instead of drawing conclusions about their outlook or way of life, they seek to attribute the worrying situation to tenuous factors, such as faulty public relations.

The Torah is telling us that both our physical and spiritual well-being depend precisely on not adopting non-Jewish values antithetical to the Torah. If we, as a nation, were to be proud of the Torah and mitzvos and observed them as befits the Am Hashem, not only would the security situation improve dramatically to the point that it would no longer be an issue at all, but the nations’ loathing of us would turn into genuine respect. They would become more than receptive to our moral message and we would finally become an effective light unto the nations.

Concealed rewards

“And I will give your rains in their season.”

The Rishonim ask why the Torah does not explicitly mention the spiritual rewards and
punishments of the World to Come. (See the Kli Yokor on 26:12 who sets out seven different answers suggested by the Rishonim.) If the Torah would have specified the severe long-term spiritual ramifications of not keeping the Torah properly, this would have increased the claim against those who nevertheless fail to take note of the severity of sinning to such an extent as to endanger the very existence of the nation. For this reason, Hashem, in His mercy, wanted to conceal the main reward and punishment awaiting us. Moreover, this way, the reward of those who keep His Word even without knowing the full extent of the reward awaiting them will be incalculably greater than any reward that would have been their due had they known all the details of the rewards and punishments in the afterlife.

Lag Ba'Omer: The Concealed Torah

The Ibn Ezra in Parshas Ha'azinu, says that matters relating in the World to Come are so profound that they cannot be comprehended by most people because material beings finds it difficult to grasp spiritual concepts, and for this reason the Torah concealed these profound matters from the masses.
Similarly, until Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, the conealed part of the Torah was only studied by exceptional individuals in every generation. After Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, the Toras Hanistar (concealed Torah) became more revealed. On Lag Ba'Omer, we do not "celebrate" his death, but rather the illumination produced by the Toras Hanistar revealed to the world by him in the same way that we celebrate the Toras Hanigleh (revealed Torah) on Shavuos. Of course, not everyone is worthy of studying Toras Hasod in depth (and if one lacks sufficient Torah knowledge and requisite character traits, such study can only be harmful), but all of us must at least be aware of the consequences of our actions in the upper worlds, for the good and for the bad, and that those worlds are in fact determined by our actions (see e.g.Nefesh Hachayim). Internalizing this reality properly is awe-inspiring and should affect our conduct immensely.

The Vilna Gaon zt"l said that anyone who denies the concealed Torah also denies the revealed Torah. In the time of the Chasam Sofer zt"l, someone publicly ridiculed the chocmas hanistar. The Chasam Sofer said that if someone denies the secret aspect of the Torah in an open ("revealed") manner, it is a sign that he secretly denies also the revealed Torah.
We are awaiting the day - may it be very imminent - when all of the concealed aspects of the Torah will become revealed to everyone.
Thursday, May 26, 2011

Ask the Raavad: Haircuts for Women During Sefirah

Questions may be sent to editor@yated.com and selected answers will be printed in this column. Answers are transcribed by Rabbi Daniel Yaakov Travis. The answers given here are the general rule, but each case has its merits and drawbacks and must be referred to a posek.


Haircuts For Women During Sefirah


Question: My teenage daughter’s hair has grown longer than she has ever worn it. It does not conform to her level of tznius. May she trim it during Sefirah so that it doesn’t appear so long? Thank you.
D. Weiner

Answer: The minhag is that women do not get haircuts during Sefiras Ha’omer. However, in a case such as yours, where tznius or some other great need is involved, a woman may take a haircut during Sefirah.


FEMALE MOURNERS


During the times of Chazal, 24,000 of the students of Rabi Akiva passed away during the time from Pesach until Shavuos because they did not honor each other properly (Yevamos 62b). As a result, there are a number of customs of mourning that we follow every year during this period. Since the minhagim of Sefiras Ha’omer stem from the halachos of aveilus, in order to clarify any question, we must look at the halachos of mourning. When a man’s parent passes away, it is forbidden for him to take a haircut. He is only allowed to get a haircut when his hair is so long that his friends comment about it and thirty days have passed. Otherwise, he may not take a haircut for the entire year (Yoreh Deah 390:4)

Do women have the same restrictions? Many Rishonim (early commentators) permit a woman to get a haircut after the seven days of aveilus have passed. The Shulchan Aruch follows these opinions and rules that as soon as shivah ends, a woman may cut her hair (Yoreh Deah 390:5). In contrast to the Shulchan Aruch, the Rama (Rav Moshe Isserles) rules stringently and forbids women from getting haircuts during the first thirty days of mourning. However, the consensus of most poskim, including Rav Moshe Feinstein (Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 2:137), is that since refraining from haircuts during Sefiras Ha’omer and the Three Weeks (with the exception of shovuah shechal bo, the week in which Tisha B’Av falls) is only a minhag, it is likely that even the Rama would permit haircuts during these times. Nonetheless, since women have accepted upon themselves not to take haircuts during Sefirah, a woman should avoid getting a haircut unless it is a question of great need.

MAINTAINING TZNIUS

Although the accepted custom is that women do not cut their hair during Sefirah, if there is a pressing reason she may take a haircut. Certainly, a married woman whose hair is too long and is not covered properly may cut her hair. In regards to an unmarried girl, if she is dating for marriage, maintaining the proper level of tznius is reason to permit getting a haircut. What does this include? Anything which a woman does in the street that attracts attention to her and causes others to look at her (e.g.,perfumes, brightly-colored or tight-fitting clothing, long shaitels, etc.) can be considered a breach in tznius. Therefore, in a situation where her long hair causes her to stand out from other girls, this can be considered a breach in tznius and she may also get a haircut. Parents are obligated to make sure that their daughters follow the proper guidelines of tznius, and we should not take such matters lightly. As much as one tries to watch one’s daughters’ tznius, it is not enough to ensure that they stick to them. In addition to keeping an eye on the way they dress, parents should make sure that their children do not frequent places where others breach tznius through the way they dress, speaking nivel peh, and other actions which do not meet the elevated standards that the Torah expects of us.

The Rambam writes that in his time, it was normal for women to leave the house one or two times a month (Ishus 13:11). Today, many of the boundaries between men and women have been torn down, and women must be very careful in today’s society regarding interaction with men. Especially when a woman takes a job as a secretary or in another context where she is surrounded by men, she must be extremely wary to maintain separation so that she does not stumble. Tznius is one of the foundations of educating Jewish girls and is the way to make sure that they will maintain a life of kedushah. In our times, the tests in tznius are very great and we need to make whatever fences we can to keep our children from being pulled by these negative influences. Teaching girls the halachos of tznius is the only way to make them aware of what is expected of them Many girls get swept away by the tide of fashion and forget about the laws of tznius. It is extremely difficult when everyone is acting a certain way to disregard their behavior and cling to the ways of the Torah. Your daughter should be complimented for her concern with tznius, and you and your wife should certainly do whatever you can to strengthen this attribute.
Thursday, May 19, 2011

Bitachon

By Rav Moshe Sternbuch

Torah min Hashomayim

“And Hashem spoke to Moshe on Har Sinai.” Rashi quotes the following Medrash: “Why is Shmittah juxtaposed to Har Sinai? After all, all the mitzvos were stated on Sinai. This teaches us that just as all the general and specific rules of Shmittah were stated at Sinai, so too were all other general specific rules [of the Torah] stated at Sinai.”


It seems strange that the Torah makes this point with respect to a mitzvah which only applies in Eretz Yisroel, only when the Bais Hamikdosh is standing, and even then only once every seven years. We would have expected a more universal mitzvah to be chosen as a paradigm for the whole Torah. The mitzvah of Shmittah contains an explicit promise from Hashem that if we observe it, the produce of the sixth year will be sufficient for two years, and in a Yovel year for three years. Moshe Rabbeinu would not have dared to make such a promise unless he had heard it from Hashem, and just like the mitzvah of Shmittah could not have been fabricated by him, so too all the other mitzvos were conveyed to Moshe at Sinai directly by Hashem. Thus, the mitzvah of Shmittah is proof of Torah min haShomayim.


Hashgacha protis

On another level, Shmittah teaches us a basic article of faith, since observing it requires absolute dedication. A farmer whose livelihood is totally dependent on his field suddenly renounces his ownership altogether and retains no more right to his produce than anyone else. He is prohibited from working the field and is expected to trust Hashem absolutely that this is His will and for his benefit. Acting in this manner, he is saved from various misfortunes. Such a person puts into practice the abstract belief that events in this world are the result of Hashgacha Protis (Divine Providence) and not our actions. The Medrash is telling us that this fundamental principle was taught at Sinai, the smallest of mountains, which symbolizes
Hashem’s “humility” in agreeing to dwell with us when He showers each and every person with personal and unique Providence. Although this message is clearly a universal one not limited in place or time, Shmittah only applies in Eretz Yisroel, which enjoys special Providence “from the beginning of the year to the end,” and in this country we are obligated to prove our faith to ourselves and others even more, especially when wayward brethren would have us believe in kochi ve’otzem yod , in the strength of our own actions. It is in a situation where we are imbibing the sanctity of this country and of the Bais Hamikdosh, when Hashem’s Presence is so manifest, that we are commanded to observe the mitzvah of Shmittah, so that Hashem’s bounty may be showered on His holy nation in the holy country.


Counting

We are currently counting the days of the Omer. This serves to connect us to Kabbolas HaTorah and to prepare us for it. Similarly, each year, bais din declared with much publicity where the forthcoming year was in the Shmittah and Yovel cycles. This focus on Shmittah served to inculcate the message that our sustenance is only dependent on the blessing of Hashem. Each weekday, too, revolves around Shabbos: “Six days you shall work and complete all your labor, and on the seventh day is Shabbos for Hashem, your G-d.” There is no commandment to work on weekdays, but the Torah is telling us to be aware of the sanctity of Shabbos, which is reminiscent of the World to Come, on weekdays too. If we live with the constant awareness that Hashem sustains us constantly, just as He does on Shabbos¸ then the otherworldly sanctity of Shabbos will flow over to the rest of the week and we will enjoy a taste of such sanctity even in our mundane actions. Some non-Jews have claimed that the reason for Shmittah is to give the soil a chance to rejuvenate and thus produce better-quality produce. Whether or not there is an element of truth in this contention in agricultural terms, we know the real reason behind this mitzvah.

The Torah connects Shmittah to Shabbos: “The land shall keep a Shabbos to Hashem.” Non-Jews or irreligious Jews assume that it is a day of rest, since this is the only concept they are familiar with. In reality, however, although this may be a pleasant side effect of Shabbos, it is actually an ois, and both Shabbos and Shmittah are signs reminding us that Hashem created the world and continues to rule it with Hashgachah Protis.


Putting it into practice

So much for the theory. What about the practice? Clearly, much depends on the level we have attained in our avodas Hashem. Just after the Second World War, Rav Sternbuch met a Holocaust survivor who told him that when he was in a concentration camp, they were starved, yet they still were expected to work like slaves in the constant fear of imminent death should their state of health fail to satisfy their taskmasters. They had no beards or peyos, and this particular survivor
had no access to tefillin, but he still made a point of davening before starting work every day. Once, he overheard one fellow inmate tell another that he was incapable of saying the bracha of “Who has taken care of all my needs,” because he felt that this did not reflect the reality of his situation. However, the other Yid, who was apparently a talmid chochom, did not accept this, reasoning that everything Hashem does is for the good. Hashem is merely testing our fortitude, said the talmid chochom, and eventually He will award us a high position with the ministering angels. He then proceeded to make the bracha and the other Yid answered, “Amein.” The survivor whom Rav Sternbuch met noted how awe-inspired he had been to witness such a faithful soldier of Hashem’s army. The Alshich Hakadosh comments on the posuk, “And those who seek Hashem will lack no good,” that it does not say that they will possess everything good, but only that they will be not be lacking anything, because the righteous do not desire material possessions which have no substance, and they do not feel a lack of them. That talmid chochom in the concentration camp showed that it is possible to feel this even in the most extreme circumstances.

In a similar vein, it is related that the Alshich once gave a drasha in which he said
that someone who dedicates his time entirely to avodas Hashem will not have to worry at all about making a living, because Hashem will take care of it. A simple coachman was greatly affected by the statement and resolved to try it out. He immediately stopped working, went to the bais medrash, and said Tehillim all day. After only several days, he found a golden treasure trove. The students of the Alshich were amazed and asked him the following question: “We are also busy with Torah and prayer, so why have we not merited such Divine assistance?” The Alshich replied that the Yid had simple faith and believed absolutely that Hashem would take care of his needs. He did not have the slightest doubt in his heart, and he therefore enjoyed corresponding Hashgachah without any effort on his part. “Your level of bitachon¸” concluded the Alshich, “is not so high. You are still testing Hashem as to whether He will provide you with all your needs. Such bitachon is not sufficient to exempt you from making hishtadlus (human effort).” This point is evident from Parshas Behar.

The Torah says, “And you shall sow in the eighth year.” Lest we think that after enjoying the miracle of Shmittah, Hashem will continue to send us what we need while we sit by idly, we are taught that we are still subject to the curse of “By the sweat of your brow shall you eat bread.” The Medrash states that even the monn could not be eaten without making the effort of walking to receive it. Most of us are not on the level of the talmid chochom in the camps or the devout coachman. How much hishtadlus, then, are we expected to make? Rav Sternbuch’s mother asked Rav Elchonon
Wasserman zt”l this question when she was a young widow faced with bringing up nine children. He told her that she must make at least minimal hishtadlus in accordance with her circumstances, which also required her to educate her children. He added that the main aspect of bitachon is to realize that there is no “chapping” (grabbing). Whatever is set aside for us will reach us, irrespective of our actions. If we spend a lot of time and effort making a living, we may see returns in the short term, but this might come at the expense of our health, long life, nachas from our children, and so on in the longer term. If we do no more than absolutely necessary, we will not gain one cent less than we would by making more hishtadlus. For this reason, the prohibition against dishonest business dealings appears in the middle of the parsha of Shmittah. The person who has observed Shmittah has seen with his own eyes that Hashem is perfectly capable of seeing to all his needs without any effort on his part at all. Such a person knows that success does not depend on his talents, business acumen, or slyness. Even when required to make hishtadlus from the eighth year onwards, he will be scrupulous in his business dealings, knowing
that his earnings are predetermined and bear no relation to the extent of his efforts.

Temporary residents

“For you are strangers and settlers with me.” Toras Kohanim: “If you are strangers with Me in this world, you will be settlers with Me in the next world, but whoever is a settler in this world will be a stranger in the next world.”


As we said, although the mitzvah of Shmittah only applies in Eretz Yisroel, it is of universal significance. It teaches us not to rely on our strengths or possessions, as do the nations of the world, which only have one world. A Yid lives with the awareness that he is a temporary resident in this world and is only concerned with preparing his soul for eternal life in the next world.One time, a tourist from America visited the Chofetz Chaim zt”l in his house. He was amazed at the lack of furniture in the Chofetz Chaim’s home and expressed amazement that the leader of the Jewish nation lived in such conditions. The Chofetz Chaim asked his guest why he had not taken any furniture with him. He responded that he did not need any, because he is only a passing tourist and had fit everything he needed for the journey in his suitcase. The Chofetz Chaim responded, “I am also only a passing tourist in this world and what I have here is more than enough.” The Chofetz Chaim would say (based on a Zohar) that some people imagine that the world belongs to them and that they will live forever. Rav Sternbuch recalls how Rav Elya Lopian zt”l would chant the Toras Kohanim quoted above in the special tune used by the baalei mussar¸ and this had a deep effect on his listeners. Living our lives in accordance with this fundamental saying of Chazal should both protect us from sinning and inspire us to perform actions conducive to acquiring permanent residence status in the next world.

Advantage of accepting VeAhavta before Davening

As noted before, the Ari Zal requires us to accept the commandment of loving our fellow before we daven. We can explore a more practical, more personal advantage to the concept of being connected with Klal Yisrael by doing some act of kindness before davening: we need this connection to those around us in order to daven well. This can be shown to be true for a number of different reasons.

First, we will not daven well if we do not also consider how other people will feel about our davening. It's wrong for us to just daven as if we are all alone and don't care about others.

We learn about this from Rashi's explanation of Moshe Rabbeinu's davening when his sister Miriam had tzora'as (Bamidbar 12:13). He provides two explanations for why Moshe Rabbeinu made so brief a prayer at that time:

1. So that the Bnei Yisrael would not consider him to be so insensitive to
the needs of his sister that he spent all his time in prayer instead of attending
to her.

2. So that the Bnei Yisrael should not think the opposite, and criticize him for
spending more time davening for his one sister than he did praying for all of
them.

Likewise, we must always consider how our prayer will make others feel.

The other deeper reason for us to feel connected to Klal Yisrael in davening is because of what it will do to our feelings of our own selves: It will raise us up.

If we think of our position in Klal Yisrael, we will have more self-esteem. As the Nefesh HaChaim says, "No one would have an issue with having proper kevana if he were fully aware of the power inherent in his prayer. Not would he be lax in his actions were he to be aware of their consequences, as it says in Pirkei Avos (1:4), "Know what is above you..."

Feeling connected to Klal Yisrael, which is what happens when we do acts of kindness before davening, will bring upon us exactly this awareness of how great Klal Yisrael is, and that will build up our own self-esteem and build our awareness of this power inherent in our prayer. all this comes from doing acts of kindness before davening.
Saturday, May 14, 2011

Ask the Raavad: Shailos uteshuvos with Rav Moshe Sternbuch

Questions may be sent to editor@yated. com and selected answers will be printed in this column. Answers are transcribed by Rabbi Daniel Yaakov Travis. The answers given here are the general rule, but each case has its merits and drawbacks and must be referred to a posek.

Question: What is a Torah perspective of the killing of Osama bin Laden?

Answer: In America, there is sason vesimcha, great joy, regarding the killing of Osama bin Laden. They view the finding and slaying of this terrorist mastermind as a great accomplishment, as if they have successfully accomplished a major military victory. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth.


WEAKNESS OR POWER

Over the past ten years, America has employed thousands soldiers and spies to try and find Osama bin Laden. They spent millions, if not billions, of dollars trying to identify his whereabouts. The outcome of this monumental effort brought no major results, and America was not able to find him. During the interim period that America was searching for Osama bin Laden, a number of other terrorist acts took place, and many people were killed as a result. Meanwhile, Osama bin Laden had been living for years undisturbed in one of America’s ally countries. In the midst of all of this searching, he had been continuing business as usual, comfortably and like a king, in a compound the size of a palace. Even when America did locate him, it was not a result of their efforts. Rather, he virtually fell into their hands when they discovered one of bin Laden’s couriers. For anyone who takes the time to think about what happened, it is quite clear that this “victory” came from Above and not as a result of American prowess. Other than the Borei Olam, there is absolutely no reason for anyone else to take credit for what happened. The message that the Jewish people should take from this event is that victory does not come as a result of one’s strength, but only when Hashem wills that it should happen. Kochi ve’otzem yodi, attributing success to one’s own strength, is futile, for all of the money and manpower that America put into finding this killer did not directly bring the results. When Hashem decided that the time had come for his demise, Osama bin Laden met his downfall.


GOOD FOR THE JEWS?

Most people see Osama bin Laden’s death as a major blow to the terrorist infrastructure and a great victory for the western world’s fight against terrorism. While this may be the case, it is not a reason for celebration. This event could easily be a cause for increased terrorist activity. The Arab world hailed Osama bin Laden as a martyr and a hero. His house in Pakistan is already becoming a shrine. Only Hashem knows what the repercussions of this killing will be. Yishmoel wants our complete annihilation and Osama bin Laden’s death could, chas veshalom, incite their anger to cause more terrorist activity. There is only one reaction that we should have towards such an event. We should turn our eyes upward in prayer and teshuvah, and beseech Hashem that we should not see any Jewish casualties as a result of what transpired.


RELYING ON HASHEM


Osama bin Laden’s death was a decree of Heaven and a message to us. After witnessing such an act of Providence, we should turn our hearts to the heavens in teshuvah. How can we ensure that our actions will find favor in Hashem’s eyes? The haftorah that we read on Shabbos Shuvah lays down the guidelines for doing teshuvah: “Return to Hashem, the Almighty, for you have stumbled in sin. Take with you words and go back to Hashem, say to Him forgive all transgression, and receive us graciously.. Ashur shall not save, we will not ride on horses, nor shall we say the work of our hands, You are our gods” (Hoshea 14:2- 4). The Novi stresses that a precondition for our teshuvah to be accepted is for us to recognize that the work of our hands is not a god. As long as we think that our successes and failures are a result of our own strengths and weaknesses, we are still far from our goal. Only when we unequivocally recognize that Hashem is our only source of salvation will the geulah come. The Mishnah at the end of Maseches Sotah states clearly that Moshiach will only come when we recognize that we can depend on nothing and no one other than our Father in Heaven. All of the tribulations that the Jewish people face can disappear in an instant. If we strengthen our emunah that there is no such thing as nature and that only Hashem runs the world, we will merit seeing miracles greater than those of Yetzias Mitzrayim.
No one has any idea what the future holds for Klal Yisrael. We hope that the death of Osama bin Laden is a step towards the downfall of Yishmael. May it be Hashem's will that everyone in Klal Yisrael recognize that Osama bin Laden's death was a result of Hashem's decree and that He should complete all the steps towards redemption quickly.

Maintaining our Spiritual Vitality

By Rav Moshe Sternbuch

Choice of words

“Speak (emor) to the kohanim and speak (ve’amarta) to them.”

Rashi cites the Gemara in Maseches Yevamos (114a) which explains this seeming repetition in the posuk. One “speech” by Moshe was directed to the kohanim themselves, and the other one to their children. The tone and the phraseology adopted by Moshe Rabbeinu when addressing the children must have been different to those adopted by him when conveying the same points to their fathers. This precedent teaches us that educators and parents, as well as anyone wishing to influence another person, must be careful to address each listener on the basis of his specific age and temperament. Some people are influenced by soft words and straightforward messages, whereas others are more easily affected by a stricter tone of voice or a more analytical approach. There are no hard and fast rules. If we want to communicate successfully, we must first become aware of our listeners’ minds and emotional makeup.


External trappings

“They shall not make baldness on their head...they shall be holy unto Hashem.

Rav Yehudah Leib Diskin zt”l commented that non-Jewish priests have the custom to change their external appearance in order to stand out from “ordinary” people. They have to do so, because inside they have no superior qualities distinguishing them from anybody else.By contrast, the Torah commands the kohanim to acquire sanctity through their actions and righteousness, so that anyone in their presence will sense the sanctity emanating from their very being, without the need for external signs, such as shaving their heads and cutting their flesh. The same applies to tzaddikim of every generation. All their actions and their entire lifestyle proclaim their moral superiority, thus making external signs totally superfluous. We have to be careful not to judge a book by its cover. The greatness of great people is evident for all to see, without the need for any external trappings.


Tumas Meis - human superiority

The prohibition of tumas meis (the impurity of a dead body) is a decree of the Creator, Whose ultimate reason is concealed from mortals. However, the meforshim do offer an explanation based on our necessarily limited understanding. Most of man’s actions resemble those of animals. He eats, drinks, lives and dies like an animal. The only source of his superiority lies in the divine soul planted in him and the concomitant powers of speech and thought. Once the neshama leaves the body and returns to its original abode, the remaining body retains no value whatsoever. On the
contrary, it becomes permeated with tumah. Tumas meis teaches those who are still alive that they must utilize their neshamos while they can, since only a person whose heart and mind cleaves to Hashem through Torah and mitzvos is spiritually alive and superior to the animals. With this explanation, we can understand Rabi Shimon bar Yochai’s statement that since non-Jews are not called adam (man), their corpses do not emit tumah. In their case, no change of status takes place upon death, since even when their souls are still inside their bodies, they do not exhibit signs of spiritual vitality. Their death does not cause a perceptible change or herald a lack of special superiority enjoyed hitherto by their bodies. On the other hand, the corpse of a Jewish apikores (heretic) or mumar (a habitual sinner or even a complete apostate) does acquire tumah. A Jewish neshama retains its pristine quality irrespective of what it may have endured whilst present inside the body. Thus, when it leaves the body, the body’s status does change and emits tumah. This fact should make us shudder. There are many examples of people who have been successful at demonstrating to the irreligious where their souls have come from, what their purpose in life is, and that this world is only a corridor leading to eternal life. It is incumbent upon us to do everything in our power to ignite the divine nitzotz (spark) residing within every Jew, even complete apikorsim, while they are still alive. This is the highest form of chessed possible.

Kareis

“He shall be cut off from people.”

The penalty for many transgressions in the Torah is kareis. Transgressors are cut off from Hashem and die early at the age of 50 or 60. However, we see many people who transgress the prohibitions against immorality, are mechalel shabbo (desecration of Shabbos), and do not even fast on Yom Kippur, yet they still live beyond the age of 50 or 60. We have to distinguish between the spiritual reality known as kareis, whereby the soul is cut off from its Divine source, and the punishment referred to by the posuk. The lives of people who are so steeped in sin that they repeatedly violate the most serious transgressions are devoid of any spiritual content. Only those who cleave to Hashem are alive today. We have seen that we must never give up on any Jew, but until these people undergo a transformation, they are spiritually dead for all intents and purposes already in this world, even if they live to a ripe old age. In fact, as Rav Saadya Gaon points out, staying alive for a longer time will only be to their detriment, since if they do not utilize the extra time granted to them, Hashem will reward them for any good deeds in this world and cut off their souls from eternal life in the next world. The punishment of kareis does not apply to such people, but rather to people who still maintain a connection to Hashem but have violated a transgression intentionally, which is punishable by kareis. There is a barometer to determine our spiritual state of health. If we feel no spiritual awakening in our avodas Hashem and never feel a yearning for closeness to Hashem,
not even during the Yomim Noraim, and we perform mitzvos completely by rote, we must be concerned that our neshamos are approaching, or chas veshalom have already reached, a state of kareis.


Justice

“And they brought the one who had cursed out of the camp and stoned him with stones. And the Bnei Yisroel did as Hashem commanded Moshe.”


In non-Jewish systems, the role of a public executioner is considered contemptible. This is because their laws are based on human ideas of justice, and, especially in modern times, people have found it difficult to reconcile the idea of killing another human being, however vile his actions, with the ethical norm proscribing murder. Here the Torah is emphasizing that the Bnei Yisroel performed this mitzvah with no compunction, the same way that they performed any other mitzvah commanded by Hashem. The Torah is not subject to ephemeral subjective values. (See this week’s Shailos Uteshuvos column for Rav Sternbuch’s comments on the demise of Osama bin Laden.)
Thursday, May 5, 2011

Kedushah

By Rav Moshe Sternbuch


HOLINESS WITHIN REACH


You shall be holy

We tend to associate the concept of holiness with exceptional tzadikim, and yet Hashem commands the whole nation to be holy. Although there are indeed different levels of holiness, it is within the reach of every Jew to attain complete holiness simply by keeping all the mitzvos properly. Every brocho contains the wording “who has sanctified us with His commandments". Someone who is careful not to speak loshon horo, or idle talk, and observes the halochos of ono’oh (overcharging) and ribbis (charging with interest) and so on becomes holy merely by virtue of his punctilious observance of halocho with joy and enthusiasm.

The Ramban in his famous comments about being a novol birshus hatorah (a depraved person acting within the letter of halocho) adopts another approach, according to which kedoshim tiyu is a directive enjoining us not to indulge in physical desires. We are to make ruchniyus the main focus of our lives, and utilize physical pleasures only in as much as necessary for the well-being of our souls. Kedusho according to this view consists in adopting safeguards to ensure that our actions remain not just within the letter but also within the spirit of the Torah.


HUMAN SANCTITY

For I Hashem Your G-d am holy.

Medrash Raba: “You shall be holy”, I would have thought like Myself therefore it says, “for I am holy", My sanctity is greater than your sanctity.
On one level, Hashem is telling us that we should not make the mistake of abstaining altogether from material matters in an attempt to emulate Hashem who is completely spiritual, because we have been commanded to attain sanctity as human beings who must eat and drink and satisfy our genuine material requirements. Our physical essence must be elevated, not negated.

As a corollary, unlike ”spiritual” recluses such as monks, who consider a withdrawal from society and self-denial to be prerequisites for a spiritual existence, the Jewish nation is told to “be holy" (in the plural) by living together in society, and not like Me, Who is alone, and lest you think that everyone should lead their own individual existence it says “for I am a holy", although I possess absolute unity and am alone, you, the Jews, become sanctified collectively, in one unified society, in which each individual, doing the will of the Creator, makes his own unique contribution.

Furthermore, we are being warned against the theory that by drawing closer to or cooperating with transgressors we are emulating Hashem who is close to all his creations. It therefore says “for I am a holy", my sanctity remains unaffected by my proximity to even the worst sinner, but the sanctity of both individuals and the nation as a whole is likely to be gravely prejudiced by contacts with transgressors. Hence, such contacts must only take place following consultation with the gedolim.
The main aspect of kedusha consists in erecting fences to ensure observance of both interpersonal commandments and mitzvos bein odom lamomok. The Torah proceeds to enumerate various examples.


HONORING DECEASED PARENTS

Every man shall fear his mother and his father, and you shall keep my shabossos

Just like one must fear Hashem and His judgment ("You shall fear Hashem your God”) so to person must always fear that he is not performing this fundamental mitzvah adequately. The Ksav Sofer says that a “man” (i.e. adult), who has left his parents’ house might imagine that he must now dedicate himself totally to his own family. The Torah therefore warns him that his obligations to his parents remain unchanged.

Moreover, even after our parents are no longer alive, we are still able to and must honor them every time we perform a mitzvah. The Zohar (parshas yisro) states that mitzvos performed by children greatly elevate their parents’ souls in the upper worlds. It is due to the vital importance of the mitzvah of kibud ove voem that it appears in juxtaposition to the mitzvah of shabbos, which is equal in importance to all the mitzvos put together. They say about Rav Alexander Ziskind, author of the Yesod Veshoresh Hoavodo, that before performing any mitzvah he would say that he is doing it for the sake of the mitzvah and for the sake of his departed parents.

CONCEALED IDOLS

Do not turn to the idols, nor make for yourselves molten gods (literally: “gods with masks”)

Even if someone does not actually serve an idol, but only begins to turn towards one, he violates a negative prohibition, and the gemoro in Shabbas (149a) derives from this possuk that even looking at idols is forbidden midoraiso. Reading heretical books by non-Jewish authors on topics such as philosophy and physics, is even worse than looking at idols, and anyone doing so surely transgresses this prohibition, and damages the sanctity of his mind and thoughts. Even works which at first sight appear not to clash with a Torah outlook must be shunned, since more often than not they will turn out to be “gods with masks”, i.e. seemingly harmless material concealing views denying the existence of a Creator or other heresy.

Hidden idols have also been especially prevalent in the last 200 years or so in the form of various ideological movements, which have sprung up starting from the Enlightenment, with the stated aim of improving society and other lofty goals. These include the haskolo, communism and Zionism. As Rav Elchonon Wasserman zt”l pointed out, these movements in reality constitute idol worship. Unfortunately, many Jews, including religious ones, believed that salvation would come from these movements and joined them. As diverse as they were, one element they had in common was their anti-religious and heretical nature. Such idol worship, which proclaims lofty goals, but conceals its true nature, is especially dangerous, and is covered by the prohibition in this possuk against gods with masks.

CHARITY CANNOT LAUNDER DISHONESTY

You shall leave them for the poor and stranger...you shall not steal

The Tiferes Shlomo says that the mitzvah of giving to the poor and the stranger appears in juxtaposition to the provision against stealing, because some people amass their wealth dishonestly, and then donate to charity liberally in the hope of finding atonement for their actions. The Torah therefore warns us that stealing is forbidden, irrespective of the motive for doing so and of what transpires with the stolen money. No amount of charity can make such money kosher.

BUSINESS

You shall not steal, nor shall you deal falsely, or lie to each other

The Torah expects us to be especially careful in monetary matters, where there are many potential pitfalls. Failing to disclose any deficiency in a sold object, even to a non-Jew, constitutes geneivas daas, not to mention overstating the supposed market value of the object. The halochos of gezel, ono’oh and ribbis are manifold and complex, and it is incumbent on rabbonim to ensure that their congregants are well versed in them.

A rav once came to Rav Yisroel Salanter zt”l and told him that he wanted to abandon the rabbinate due to the great responsibilities weighing on his shoulders, and that he had chosen to become a businessman instead. Rav Yisroel responded that the responsibilities of a businessman were even greater, since he was likely to chas vesholom transgress many prohibitions. Moreover, achieving atonement for interpersonal sins is more difficult than for sins bein odom lomokom.

LOVING THE WICKED

You shall not hate your brother in your heart...you shall love your fellow man as yourself

The Semak comments that the provision against hating one’s brother in our heart primarily means acting in a friendly manner towards him on the outside, but hating him in our hearts. This is a common phenomenon, and in reality the Torah obligated to us to behave in the opposite manner. We should make it clear to transgressors that we reject their behavior, but inside our hearts we must only pity them and feel no hatred whatsoever.

When someone asked the Satmarer Rebbe, Rav Yoel zt”l why he did not act towards his wayward brethren the same way as Avrohom Ovinu did towards the inhabitants of Sdom and Amora, he replied that the Torah does not tell us how he spoke to the inhabitants themselves, but only about his entreaties to Hashem on their behalf. Similarly, he told the questioner, you only hear what I tell transgressors, but you do not hear my supplications to Hashem to have mercy on them and show them the proper path.

Furthermore, the Chazon Ish stated that the commandment to hate someone whom we have seen committing a sin (Pesochim 113b) only applies after we have rebuked such a person properly and he has not accepted the rebuke, and since in our generation we are unable to rebuke properly, this commandment does not apply nowadays.
Rashi brings the medrash that Rabbi Akiva said that the commandment to love our fellow man as ourselves is a major rule of the whole Torah. This means that by merely loving our fellow Jew we have not fulfilled the obligation referred to in the possuk, unless it also leads to the love of Hashem, whom we have an even greater reason to love, since He sustains us throughout our lives, and showers us with so many favors. This love leads to a desire on our part to requite Hashem for His kindness and to come closer to him by observing all the mitzvos bein odom lomokom. Thus, this possuk is a major rule because it results in the performance of the entire Torah, both interpersonal mitzvos and mitzvos bein odom lomokom.


SANCTITY OF SHABBOS AND THE BEIS HAMIKDOSH

You shall observe My shabossos and have reverence for My mikdosh

It is for forbidden for a tome or zar to enter Har Habyis even bizman haze (today). Special precautions must be taken to ensure that we do not transgress this prohibition. The Re’em lists having a fear of Shabbos as one of the miztvos, and he learns it from the juxtaposition of the two mitzvos in this possuk. Just like we have to be careful to maintain its sanctity of the mikdosh, because the shechino resides there and because Hashem commanded us to observe the sanctity, so too must we take all precautions not to transgress any melochos Shabbos.

The Rambam states that the rationale for muktze on Shabbos is to accord an atmosphere of kedusha to the holiest day so that even if we are only engaging in activities permitted according to melochos deoraiso we will still be reminded that this day is different, and we must be careful to avoid any melochos. The Tumim says that anyone who does not study hilchos Shabbos over and over again will inevitably transgress melochos inadvertently due to lack of knowledge.

Behaving appropriately in shul is part of the obligation to have a moroh mikdosh. (fear of the Temple) The Imrei Emes said that the Sephardi communities were almost completely untouched during the Holocaust, because their reverence for botei keneisiyos resembled the reverence of the Beis Hamikdosh. This reverence found expression, inter alia, in complete absence of talking during davening. The massacres of Tach Vetat (1648-49), which were considered unprecedented until the Holocaust in their severity, were also attributed to the failure to accord sufficient respect to the sanctity of the botei keneisiyos, which is the closest institution to the Beis Hamikdosh in our times.

INVESTMENTS

You shall rise up before the aged man, and honor the face of the old man, and you shall fear your G-d


The irreligious have respect for modernity and what they consider to be progress, and consequently have little patience for the older generation. With us it is the opposite. Older people are closer to Har Sinai and to the gedolim of former generations. By honoring them we increase our yiras shomayim.
The Zohar interprets the obligation to rise up before the aged man as an admonition to rise up and repent before old age sets in. We should relate to the pleasures of this world with the outlook of an old person who has acquired wisdom and already experienced the vanities this world has to offer. This way we will reach the conclusion in good time that it is worthwhile to invest all our energy only in Torah and mitzvos.

MAINTAINING KEDUSHO

... so that the land to which I bring you to dwell therein, should not vomit you out

The Torah is telling us that if we keep the Torah properly, and do not tolerate any immorality in our midst, the inhabitants of Eretz Yisroel will not be spewed out. However, at the end of parashas acharei mos, the wording of the possuk is as follows: “that the land shall not vomit you out also, when you defile it”. We would have expected the reverse: if we defile the land, then we can expect it to spew us out.

The possuk is in fact telling us that if we fail to protest acts of immorality in our midst, those same transgressors against whom we fail to take action will not be spewed out of the country, and there can be no greater punishment than having to share the Palace of the King with sinners, especially those guilty of znus. We have not sufficiently protested the influx of non-Jews from various nations to this country to live here permanently, and this can have a terrible effect on the moral fabric of our society. Maintaining any degree of kedusho in such conditions can be extremely challenging.

There can be no greater blessing than dwelling in the holiest country without sinners. Let us pray that the day is close when this blessing will be fulfilled and we will have the privilege of living with the permanent protection of Hashem in a society where all human beings recognize Him and live their lives in accordance His will.

How to avoid imminent chevlei moshiach

By Rav Moshe Sternbuch


ETERNAL CERTIFICATE

The Chofetz Chaim once went to see a doctor during a period of particularly cruel pogroms against the Jews in the Ukraine. Men, women and children were slaughtered mercilessly. The doctor asked the Chofetz Chaim how Hashem could permit such things to take place, and added that he was beginning to wonder whether there was a G-d at all. The Chofetz Chaim responded by telling the doctor that he had doubts about whether he was a doctor. The doctor was taken aback. “But I have this certificate on the wall attesting to my qualifications!”. “Yes, said the Chofetz Chaim, but that certificate is 30 years’ old, how do I know about your qualifications today?”. The doctor was surprised: “I don't need to prove my skills again every day, once is enough, and anyway, everyone knows I'm a doctor”. The Chofetz Chaim concluded: "You should know, it’s the same with us. Before Hashem gave us the Torah, he showed us wonders and miracles in Egypt in order to convey to us that whatever trials and tribulations we will have to endure in the future, we must always remember that Hashem is in charge”.

So far from abandoning the world, as claimed by the ancient idol worshippers, Hashem continues to be intimately involved in His creation with divine individual providence. Yetzias mitzrayim (the coming out of Egypt) is Hashem’s certificate for all time that He rules the world and this is the message which we are obligated to inculcate in our children generation after generation on Pesach. The Or Hachayim says that we only fulfill this obligation if our children internalize the message to such an extent that they are able communicate it to others.

It is due to the fundamental importance of this message of blind and absolute faith in Hashem that many mitzvos, such as tefilin, tzitzis, and kiddush, are performed expressly in commemoration of yetzias mitzrayim. However, the story of yetzias mitzrayim has to be particularly emphasized on Pesach, and then only when matza and moror are in front of us. Some Jews say that they believe in G-d, but are not willing to keep the mitzvos. Pesach, i.e. faith, is valueless unless it is completely attached to Shevuos, i.e. Torah and mitzvos through the sefiras haomer, which prepares us and makes us worthy of receiving the Torah. After the first day of Pesach we only say half Hallel to highlight the point that the final goal of Shevuos still lies ahead.


SPIRITUAL BIRTH PANGS


Rav Mordechai Pogramansky zt”l, who went through the Holocaust, said that after having endured physical chevlei moshiach (the birth pangs preceding moshiach) we must now endure spiritual birth pangs, namely tests of faith. If we just open our eyes, we can perceive Hashem in a way that no previous generation could. On one day 160 missiles were launched, and not one single Jew was injured. This is a sequel to the miracles we experienced during the Gaza War more than two years ago, when thousands of missiles landed in the South causing little damage.

However, the powers of Amolek, which constitute the ultimate forces of tumoh, would have us believe that there is a natural explanation for everything, just like their spiritual progenitors argued that all the miracles of yetzias mitzrayim should be attributed to kishuf (sorcery). Until Amolek appeared on the scene, even idol worshippers acknowledged the existence of a Creator, but argued that He was too lofty to be involved in the affairs of men. Amolek denied the very existence of Hashem, and insisted that all phenomena were natural. The Rambam says that we are obligated to obliterate the memory of Amolek rather than Amolek himself. Reb Chaim deduces from this that our obligation consists in negating any force which argues that everything is nature.

Rav Mordechai Pogramansky noted that there is no hint either in tenach or in chazal that there will come a time when non-observant and anti-religious Jews will enjoy immense power in eretz yisroel itself. He posited that Yaakov ovinu was told about this situation, but had it been foretold to us, it would have caused unbearable despair.

However, we find that Rav Moshe Kordovero zt”l, who lived almost 400 years ago, does write in Or Yokor parashas noach that in the final generation Amolek will be represented by the leaders of the Jewish nation, who will endeavor to convince us that there is no such thing as yad Hashem. We cannot remain indifferent to the forces of Amolek in our generation, since their influence is unfortunately immense, and affects us too. If we remain strong and fight these forces we are fulfilling the commandment to obliterate Amolek.

Hashem peers through the lattice to watch our conduct. “From where (meayin) shall my help come”? Only if we acknowledge that nothing (ayin), no person, nation or force whatsoever, can be of assistance to us, will we be worthy of divine assistance. The purpose of the chevlei moshiach, in which we experience suffering on an unprecedented scale even in terms of our tortured history, is to instill the message that only Hashem can help us.


COURAGE OF OUR CONVICTIONS


Last week Rav Sternbuch visited his brother-in-law, Rav Dovid Soloveichik shlita, who asked Rav Sternbuch the following question. Why is it that the Labor Party with a mere four seats in the Knesset, enjoys immense political power, whereas we have six seats, and are continuously taking a beating. On the educational scene they insist on introducing the core curriculum, the yeshivos and kollelim are being subjected to close scrutiny. Licenses galore have been issued to stores to open on Shabbos in Yerushalayim. After bringing in close to a million Russians, many of whom are not Jewish, thousands of avowed Christians are currently being brought here from Ethiopia. Why are we keeping quiet in light of all this, notwithstanding our political power?


Rav Sternbuch answered that it is because we are embarrassed, and lack the quality of our hearts being “lifted up in the ways of Hashem”. We lack the realization and conviction that any victory is due to our learning and prayers. We must tell our wayward brethren in no uncertain terms that the events transpiring before our eyes are the yad Hashem (the hand of G-d) and not them, and that they are taking place in the merit of the holy Torah and the tens of thousands of Torah learners. We are acting as if they are indeed all-powerful, whereas in reality they are nothing. The army with all its proclaimed power was not able to conquer Gaza, and could not win the war. Any failures on the political level are attributed to faulty public relations, and any success on the military front to our wonderful boys. They do not realize that every bullet or missile has its address, irrespective of actions taken on our part.


The headlines in the morning paper should say "Missiles were fired, no one was injured, this is one of the wonders of Hashem, and is due to the merit of the holy Torah and the prayers of the Jewish people”. In practice the media attribute events to happenstance or good fortune, and by our silence we implicitly accept this position. The Zohar (it appears in many hagodos before the seder) says that not only on Pesach, but any time that Hashem performs wonders and miracles for us we are obligated to relate them and talk about them. Of course, Hashem does not need this, but every time we react this way, the Zohar says that He convenes the angels and tells them: “Listen to what My children are saying, they are attributing these events to Me, and not to anything else”.

Dozens of professors from the Jerusalem and Haifa universities signed a proclamation declaring that the Arabs are right in their demands and they should all be met. These anti-Zionist actions do not bother anybody, and they feel totally at liberty to say whatever they want. They feel all-powerful and we feel powerless, whereas the reality is the opposite. We must have the courage of our convictions, we must lift up our hearts in the ways of Hashem, and declare the truth unabashedly, that without us, without our Torah and prayers, they are nothing. If we act this way, we will be worthy of experiencing the wonders of Hashem. This is what Hashem is waiting for.
Although there is no dearth of signs of the yad Hashem, we are unfortunately influenced by the media. Why should we wait until chas vesholom any of the various terrible scenarios facing this country will transpire before acknowledging the yad Hashem in both national and personal events, when we can already see it clearly here and now if we only open our eyes? Moshiach will come when we reach a sufficiently high degree of emuno.

Rashi brings the medrash that out of 10 million Jews, 8 million died during the plague of darkness. By this stage we had already experienced almost all the plagues, so those Jews must surely have believed strongly in Hashem and his omnipotence. However, they did not have complete faith in hashgocho protis and how the yad Hashem is evident in all aspects of our daily lives. This should serve as an important lesson for us in the future redemption. If we acknowledge and internalise the fact that only Hashem can help, and that everything that happens is due only to hashgocho protis, we will not have to endure all the terrible chevlei moshiach, but if we are influenced by Amolek and the media, we are actively destroying ourselves and the future of the nation.


UNPRECEDENTED DANGERS


In the hagodo, the chochom, unlike the rosho, knows that Hashem commanded us to observe the mitzvos, but he does not understand why we need this leil shimurim, why we commemorate something that happened thousands of years ago. We answer him that the seder night is a vehicle for instilling abundant dosages of emuna into our children, and perhaps also into ourselves, for the rest of the year. There has never been a period in our history where we have been in such dire need of boosting our emuna. The potential dangers confronting us are unprecedented, and should not even be uttered. The one thing we are lacking is emuno that Hashem is the only reality, and anything else possesses no power. Hashem peers through the lattice, and is yearning to redeem us as soon as we yearn only for Him. “My beloved knocks: ‘open to me’”.

Amolek derives his power from any weakness in our Torah learning. If we strengthen ourselves in Torah and all the mitzvos, if we learn hilchos shabbos, we will experience miracles and wonders that will make the miracles and wonders of yetzias mitzrayim pale into insignificance. Chazal and the Zohar tell us that at that time Hashem will reveal to us what happened in each generation, how moshiach was about to come, but we lost the opportunity. Let us utilize the spiritual elevation of Pesach to increase our emuno so that we may experience the wonders of Hashem speedily.
Monday, May 2, 2011

Asiyah

Modeh Ani (I thank you G-d...)

At a recent medical convention a cardiologist warned abut the danger of jumping out of bed immediately upon awakening. according to his research, he reported the optimal amount of time to remain in bed before standing up is twelve seconds.

A religious doctor pointed out that there are exactly twelve words in the Modeh Ani prayer, saying oe word every second is the healthy way to get out of bed in the morning.

There is an interesting history to this prayer. Although it seems to us that this prayer has been a universally accepted custom for a long time, in fact the forst documented version of this prayer is only four hundred years old found in the Seder Hayom. The source for the prayer is a verse in Lamentations "chadashim labekarim..." which can be understood as saying "New ones in mornings, great is your emunah..."

It is fascinating to note that a significant number of the cells in our bodies reproduce and replace themselves every twenty-four hours. So when we wake up every morning and thank Hashem for restoring our souls to our bodies, we actually are new beings to a great degree.

Giving Tzedakah before Davening

The Ari Zal requires us to accept upon ourselves the mitzvah of "Ve'ahatah l'reacha camocha," "you shall love your neighbor as yourself", before davening. Perhpas this is the source of our custom to give Tzedakah before davening.

Explaining how kindness is one of the three pillars upon which the world stands, the Avos d'Rebbe Nosson brings a verse Hoshea (6:6), "I desired kindness, not sacrifice," and a verse in Tehillim (89:3) saying that the world was originally created with kindness.

The Beraisa goes on to elate how Rebbe Yohoshua one day accompanied Rebbe Yochanan ben Zakai out of Yerushalayim. When they beheld the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash, Rebbe Yehoshua groaned and said, "Woe to us that it is destroyed, that place where the sins of Yisrael were atoned for.

Rebbe Yochanan ben Zakai comforted him, saying, "My son, do not be so despondent. There still remains for us a comparable method of atoning for the sins of Yisrael, kindness as it says, "I preferred kindness to sacrifice."

We find this also by Daniel Ish Chamudos, who was unable to offer sacrifices because he lived in Bavel (Babylonia). He simply performed kindness instead of the sacrifices. And what was the kindness that he did? He would make a bride happy by preparing her for her wedding. He would see the dead to their final resting place. He would give a coin to tzedakah. And he would daven three times a day and have his prayers accepted willingly in the Heavens.

The Binyan Yehosua, in his commentary on the Avos d'Rebbi Nosson, explains this connection between giving tzedakah before davening and having one's prayers accepted. He quotes a verse from Tehillim (17:15): "With charity I will see Your face".

This deed of giving tzedakah ensures that the Heavens will protect one's prayers from the interference of prosecuting angels, because the Heavens do have mercy on someone who had mercy on others.

In fact, the giving of tzedakah before davening is one explanation of the cryptic Gemara in Brachos (8a) that tells us we must wait the length of two door openings when entering shul before we daven. These two 'openings' are a hint to the verse about giving charity, "You shall surely open your hand to the poor!"