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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.
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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.
Thursday, December 26, 2013

Parshas Vaera: Educating our Children: They don't grow up by themselves

"And Amram took him Yocheved his father's sister as a wife and she gave birth to Aharon and Moshe and the years of the life of Amram were one hundred and thirty-seven years" (Exodus 6:20).

Rav Moshe Feinstein z"l in Derash Moshe asks why does the Torah not mention the names of Moshe's father and mother until it was known that he would redeem the Jewish people and take them out of Egypt?
The reason Rav Moshe explains is that one should not overly praise their son even if he has tremendous ability to succeed in spiritual endeavors.

This means that even if after he was born and filled the entire house with light, nonetheless a person shouldn't say 'since my son does all these good things, I don't have to look after him with his education, he will learn it all anyway!' This is a mistake that may people make that when seeing their children go in the right direction with regards to Torah and mitzvos, they think that they will continue on their path easily without having to continually educate them!

Just the opposite is true. The greater the person becomes in learning and Torah observance, the more the evil inclination wants to snare him and stop them from reaching high spiritual goals. The evil inclination would want nothing more to see this genius fail and not reach their full potential!

Therefore it is incumbent on the parents to educate them even more, keeping this strong connection insuring that the child continues to go in the right direction. At the same time, prayer always helps that G-d should give us the ability to help our kids grow spiritually as much as possible.

There is the story with the Steipler Gaon, Rav Yisrael Yaakov Kanievsky z"l who would pray three times a day that his son Chaim would go in the path of the Torah and mitzvos. This was well after Rav Chaim was a great Torah scholar himself!

Yes we should learn with our children and instill in them the ability to succeed. Even if they are going in the right path and doing the right thing, it does not exempt the parents from continuing to educate them. The evil inclination is very strong and has many ways to get people to make mistakes and veer off the right track.

Parents today are at a tremendous disadvantage trying to fight the onslaught of secular society. We pray that our children continue in the path of their forefathers to strive in Torah and to love Torah. This is certainly not an easy task today but with G-d's help, every Jewish child gets what they need to be worthy servants of G-d!

Shabbat Shalom

Ethics of our Fathers: Chapter 2 Mishna 8: Doing the Right Things has Benefits

"He used to say, 'the more flesh the more worms (in the grave); the more property the more anxiety; the more wives the more witchcraft; the more female servants the more lewdness; the more male servants the more thievery; but the more Torah study the more life; the more schooling, the more wisdom; the more counsel the more understanding; the more righteousness, the more peace. One who has acquired a good name, has acquired it for himself; one who has acquired for himself Torah has acquired for himself the life of the world to come'"

The beginning of the Mishna teaches us that a person should not indulge one's self in the vanities of this world especially when it comes to food. A person should eat so that they can strengthen themselves to be better able to serve G-d.

The other issue that the more one eats the more embarrassed one will be after they die. The reason is because it will cause more worms to eat their flesh (appetizing) which is like having a needle dig into one's flesh. Even if we are destined to die and be eaten by worms, we should minimize what the worms will eat which will help not to cause our soul intense suffering.

The next part of the Mishna tells us that wealth does not bring us any rest. The reason is that the more  property and things that one acquires in this world will cause a person more worry of how they are going to be able to hold on to them and sustain them.

Although money and wealth can certainly make one's life easier, it nonetheless causes them a lot of stress as well. How many wealthy people are there that are not paranoid about money?

The next part of the Mishna explains that even though one has more wives or female servants or slaves, the offshoots of their potential bad actions is reflected on the owner of them. This means that even if a person has many wives and servants and they themselves do terrible things, it is as if the master had done these things himself.

Rabbenu Yonah explains that the master had the opportunity to prevent this and make sure these things don't happen. Since he does not do so properly, it is as if he himself has done the action!

The next part of the Mishna that when a person increases Torah he increases life corresponds to the beginning of the Mishna,  Rabbenu Yonah explains. When a person eats a lot it certainly can shorten a persons life while learning Torah extends life in the next world.

Having lots of property and wealth can shorten a persons life while worrying about Torah thoughts and how to properly keep halacha actually extends his life. The reason is that even if someone is worried about how to perform a specific action in conjunction with halacha, a person on such a level, no harm will befall him for that.

Just the opposite. The more he learns Torah and delves into the intricacies of it will only grow spiritually and raise himself to higher levels and aspirations. This will be a benefit to him and his family as well.

The next part of the Mishna tells us that the more wisdom one has the more understanding they have. This means that when they learn and give over information to their students, they sharpen the ideas of the teacher making his lessons even more potent.

Even if a person has a lot of knowledge, it becomes even greater by the questions of their students. The more they ask the more they make their rebbe stronger!

The next part of the Mishna tells us that the more charity one gives the more peace he brings to the world. This means that when one is able to help another regarding financial matters, that person gets the benefit of the help and loves the person for what he has given him.

This combined with other good deeds that the person does earns him a good name. Others will want to be close to him and will want to be their friend. This helps promote peace and love among people!
Friday, December 20, 2013

Parshas Shemos: Beware of the Influences around us

"Now there arose a new king over Egypt who did not know Yosef" (Exodus 1:8)

The Gemara in Sotah 11a brings a difference of opinion of whether this was a new king or it was the same king but he made new decrees. If we say that this king made new decrees it seems that even before that there were decrees and now there were new ones.

Rav Moshe Sternbuch Shlita in Chochmah V'Da'as explains that at the beginning, Pharaoh wanted the Jews to integrate into Egyptian culture and not to live in a different place within the country and have their own laws.. He wanted them to be just like the Egyptians in the sense that they would dress the same, go to their schools..

When Pharaoh saw that they would not change their names, language or their clothes he made new decrees. They would not have the same freedoms as regular Egyptians. Not only that, but if they did not want to be like everyone else, they would suffer the consequences!!

This happens over and over in all generations. The non-Jews nations in Europe wanted the Jews to be separate in their ghetto and not to mix with the non-Jews because they were not considered equals in society. In essence they could not be part of that society nor were they welcomed either.

Afterwards when the non-Jews nullified the ghetto and gave the Jews freedoms like everyone else and it did not take long before the Jews were "regulars" in society which caused much assimilation and intermarriage. As the saying goes, the more the Jew becomes more like the non-Jew, the more he loses his identity and his closeness to his priceless.

This same idea is applicable as well to the situation in the state of Israel. The Satmar Rebbe z"l was afraid that the non-religious in Israel would make decrees against the chareidim (ultra-orthodox) there. The Chazon Ish (Rav Avraham Yeshay Karelitz) z"l answered the Satmar Rebbe by telling him that he was not worried about the bad decrees that the non-religious would make against the chareidim but rather he was worried about the "candies" the non-religious would give them which would cause more problems.

The Chazon Ish was worried that the more contact we have and befriend them, then the more they could have influence over us. This shows how much we have to be aware of the influence of our non-Jewish society and guard ourselves as best as possible against it.

Shabbat Shalom
Thursday, December 19, 2013

Ethics of our Fathers: Chapter 2 Mishna 7: Judgment Measure for Measure

"He saw a skull floating on the surface of the water. He said to it: 'Because you drowned others, others have drowned you; and those who have drowned you, shall themselves be drowned [ measure for measure]'"

The reason for this is because there is a judge who runs the world and there is also judgement. This means that if a person killed someone and spilled innocent blood, then too the same thing should happen to him.

Rabbenu Yonah explains that because someone has killed, someone else is not allowed to take revenge and kill them for what they have done. Even if they would be obligated to die by a rabbinical court in this world, still one is not allowed to go out and act as a vigilante to offset the death that has occurred.

At the same time, the heinous action that this person did to someone else should be done to that individual. This means that when G-d judges a person and punishes them for the wrongful actions, He judges them measure for measure for what they have done.

Things in this world do not happen haphazardly and for no reason. We in our limited intelligence for what we see may not explain the actions of others and why things occur. G-d in His infinite wisdom will only allow us to understand the workings of what transpires in the world and in our own lives when we are a pure soul.

This is because since we are created from the impurity of the ground in this world, our soul is dulled because of it. Only when we are involved in spirituality through Torah and mitzvos, do we gain special insight. We get a glimpse in this world but it so hard to understand it because of all the tragedies that surround us.

This is the age-old question of why bad things happen to good people. The Torah is clear in many places that a person receives punishment measure for measure for what they have done. This makes sense because G-d is good and his ways are good. He judges and acts accordingly due to our actions. The judgement is fair and the punishment always fits the crime even if we are not able to fathom it.

We live in a very complicated world. It seems like utter chaos and no rhyme or reason for things to happen the way they do. The Torah is a blueprint to our very existence and gives us the tools to better be equipped to deal with life's challenges.

A student once came to Rav Moshe Shcneider, the famed Rosh Yeshiva of Etz Chaim in London. The student asked for a blessing from his rebbe. Rav Schneider asked him what blessing he would like. The student said he wanted a blessing that everything should go easy.

The Rosh Yeshiva answered, "I cannot give such a blessing. That would be a blessing in vain. Instead I give you the blessing that whatever trials and tribulations you have in this world you should be able to overcome them!"

This is a true lesson for all of us. Even if things are difficult they are ultimately for the good even if it is difficult for us to understand. The silver lining is there, we just have to know how to look for it.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Parshas Vayechi: Exile is a Terrible Thing!

"And Yaakov lived in the land of Egypt seventeen years so the whole age of Yaakov was a hundred and forty-seven years" (Genesis 48:28)

Rashi asks why this parsha is considered a closed one. He answers that Yaakov's eyes were closed as well as the hearts of the Jewish people due to the pain and suffering of the servitude in Egypt. Rav Moshe Feinstein in Derash Moshe asks how this can be if Yaakov was still alive and the servitude in Egypt only began when Yosef and the brothers died?

The reason Rav Moshe answers is although they were in exile living under the good conditions set up by Pharaoh, they did not feel that the exile was bad. Since they were dependent on Pharaoh and the Egyptians for their good fortune, isn't this the worst type of exile that exists?

Had they felt the exile as a terrible thing, the eyes of Yaakov would not have been dimmed because of their suffering at the hands of the Egyptians. After Yaakov died things changed as they saw that they did not have the same goodness from the Egyptians as had been before!

We can take a great lesson from what Rav Moshe is telling us. Even if we live in a country that grants us the greatest freedom to have Yeshivas, girl schools, kosher food and the like, we are still beholden to that place. We even feel comfortable in such a place and forget that we are still suffering this bitter exile we find ourselves in!

We are not looking for pogroms or anti-semetism G-d forbid against the Jewish people but when we think we fit into that society and want to partake of the customs of that society, it is a recipe for disaster. As we have witnessed over the millennium, the more the Jewish people integrated into their society, the more the non-Jews around them hated them more

We are forced to live in certain societies and be part of them for livelihood...but at the same time we have to recognize that we are guests there. The problem is that we don't feel the exile and live it up too well in our country of residence!

When we feel too comfortable that is usually the time that the tide turns against us and we are forced to realize the bitterness of our exile. May we learn this lesson through keeping Torah and mitzvos and growing closer to G-d rather than through pogroms and the anti-Semites!

Shabbat Shalom

Ethics of our Fathers: Chapter 2 Mishna 6: Be Quick to Learn from all People

"He used to say, 'A boor cannot be fearful of sin; an unlearned person cannot be scrupulously pious; the bashful person cannot learn; and the quick impatient person cannot teach; anyone excessively occupied in business cannot become a scholar; and in a place where there are no leaders, strive to become a leader"

A boor is someone who has not learned Torah, does not keep mitzvos and certainly does not work on fixing bad character traits. This person will not have fear of heaven because since he is unlearned, he does not know what to guard himself against or what to fear. Lack of knowledge and awareness causes this individual to only worry about himself and nothing else.

An unlearned person because he has contact with others has some character traits that are good and can guard himself from doing bad things. This can lead him to be righteous  but it won't lead him to piety. .The reason for this is because he is unlearned in Torah.

Torah scholarship gives one the ability to continue to grow spiritually while at the same time gives the individual a special awareness. This allows one to reach higher spiritual levels which will lead him to piety.

The next part of the Mishna tells us that someone who is bashful cannot learn. The reason is because they will say how can someone who is stupid like me speak in front of such a great Torah scholar. In their bashfulness they will think that they are not capable of understanding the intricacies of what is being spoken about and their true lack of knowledge will come out.

They will be embarrassed and afraid of rejection and ridicule even if in reality it would not happen,. Every person to be successful need to have some level of self-esteem. If they are bashful they will look down on themselves and be afraid of giving over information or trying to teach because of the fear of being exposed as a fool.

A person that is quick tempered and impatient cannot teach because they quickly get angry and lose patience for every little thing. This will come out to hurt himself in the eyes of who they teach whereby information will not be able to given over and their students will not gain.

The students will be afraid to ask questions and the teacher will have no benefit from what he is doing. The purpose of teaching is to have an open heart for their students and help them understand and digest the information being presented. If one is quick to get angry and has no patience then they don't have the ability to give over anything they propose to teach.

The next part of the Mishna tells us that if a person is preoccupied with business they cannot be a Torah scholar. The reason is because they are so busy with business that they make it the essence of their lives and do not have fixed time for learning.

Business certainly can take up a lot of a person's time but a person is not their business. They need to grow spiritually as well and without fixed times for learning this will not happen. One should look at business as a way to make a living but not the essence of their lives!

The last part of the Mishna tells us that a person has to try and be a leader if there are no leaders. This means even if that person thinks they do not have the ability to do so, they should work hard to get these skills. The reason is in certain situations where there is no one to take action, then we have to try and step up and do what we can.

Many think they do not have the ability to do so but G-d puts people in certain situations that they use character traits that they don't think exist! That is the purpose of why G-d puts them in that situation int he first place!!
Friday, December 6, 2013

Parshas Vayigash: Know how to use your wealth

"And you should tell my father of all my glory in Egypt and all that you have seen and you shall hasten  and bring my father down" (Genesis 43: 13)

How could it be that Yaakov would be that impressed that the non-Jews honored Yosef and made him second in command to Pharaoh? Rav Moshe Sternbuch Shlita in Chochmah V'Da'as explains that even though Yosef was in charge of Egypt, he never forgot the teachings of his father and of the holy Torah.

Sometimes a person in their life has the trial of poverty or wealth. Yosef tells his father that he had both trials and even though he was now very wealthy, he didn't leave the path of his forefathers. Rav Sternbuch further explains that the gemara Brachos 32a tells us that Moshe claimed to G-d that all the silver and gold that the Jews took out of Egypt caused them to sin and make the golden calf.

After the trial of poverty in Egypt, G-d gave them great wealth and specifically they were not able to withstand it until G-d wanted to obliterate His chosen nation. This can also be explained by what transpired at the end of World War Two where many Jews were slaughtered just before the war ended.

Rav Sternbuch heard from the Telzer ilui (genius) Rav Mordechai Pogramansky that now was the beginning of the test of wealth. There were thousands of wealthy Jews that had tremendous fear of heaven and this is the final trial before the coming of the Messiah. The test will be if these Jews will use their wealth to help out other Jews and help fund the yeshivos and girls schools. If they give to Jewish causes, Rav Pogramansky said, then the final redemption will come quickly.

Yose was able to succeed in the trial of wealth and made known to his father that with all his honor and grandeur that befell him in Egypt, he still remained steadfast in his beliefs in Torah! Yosef was able to do what he wanted in Egypt without interference and would be able to organize and help his father in all his spiritual endeavors. This would be able to be done even in a society that was filled with immorality!

Wealth is a tremendous test and not everyone succeeds in doing the right thing with their money. Many try to guard their wealth to make sure it will stay intact for generations when in reality the healthiest way to insure that would be giving to Torah institutions and helping needy people. The problem is that the more we have the more we want.

We should learn from Yosef who had such a trial that he was able to retain his humility and stay close to the Torah even though he had tremendous wealth and power.

Shabbat Shalom
Thursday, December 5, 2013

Ethics of Our Fathers: Chapter 2 Mishna 5: Be careful what you say and use your time wisely

"Hillel said, 'Do not separate yourself from the community; be not sure of yourself until the day of your death; do not judge your fellow man until you have been in his position; do not say anything that cannot be understood at once, in the hope in the hope that it will ultimately it will be understood; and do not say 'When I shall have leisure time I will study,' for you may never have leisure time"

The first part of the Mishna tells us that one shouldn't separate themselves from the community. Rav Ovadia Bartenura explains that the reason is because if one does not join the community and share in its suffering then they themselves will not be comforted at their time of sorrow. This means that one aspect of the community is to share and help when others suffer whereby it helps to soften the blow so-to-speak when others display solidarity.

The Rambam in the hilchos teshuvah (laws of repentance) tells us that this is one of the 24 things that stop a person from doing teshuvah. The reason is because if one is separates themselves from the community it shows that they only care about themselves. When one is self-centered and thinks everything is coming to him, then why should they do teshuvah?

The next part of the Mishna explains that man can never rely on themselves. The reason is because we all have evil inclinations and it can sometimes overpower us to act in a way that is against what the Torah wants for us. If we look at Yochanan the High Priest, even though he served in the Temple for 80 years, at the end of his life he became a heretic.

This is hard to understand at many levels. Someone so righteous, serving in the Temple can end up a heretic? This is exactly what the Mishna here states. Never rely on what I did yesterday. Today is a new day to grow and fight against my evil inclination. It is a constant battle that doesn't end. Relying on what we previously did may still not help us!

The next part of the Mishna tells us that we cannot hastily judge someone until we have been in their shoes. This means that if we see someone fail at a certain trial or tribulation that they may have, we are not allowed to cast judgement because we don't know what they are going through. Many are quick to judge without knowing the whole story!

Even though it is easy to condemn someone for their actions we have to consider the circumstances under which something was done. Although it does not condone the wrong action done, nonetheless it gives us awareness and helps us to show compassion for others.

The next part of the Mishna tells us that we should be careful in what we say to people. The intention is that what we say should be clear and understood lest someone misinterpret and make a mistake. How applicable this is today!

There are many times that we may give someone directions or advice but they are not clear. Often this will lead to a misunderstanding that could cause disastrous results. When speaking to someone we must be so careful what we say and how we say it. Clarity speaks millions!

The last part of the Mishna tells us that we have to use everyday to try and reach our true potential. We shouldn't say that I will learn when I have time or when I get around to it because we may never have the time. We have all kinds of obligations that need to be met so we need to use our time wisely.

This is why it is so important to have fixed times for learning Torah every day. These times have to be cut in stone so that nothing deters us. When we are steadfast in what we do we gain a lot and teach others the importance as well. When our children know that at certain times there father is learning and they are not allowed to disturb it shows the tremendous importance of what learning is all about!
Thursday, November 28, 2013

Parshas Miketz: The Connection between the Physical and Spiritual

"Joseph answered Pharaoh saying, 'That is beyond me, it is G-d who will respond with Pharaoh's welfare" (Genesis 41:16)

Rav Yaakov Kamenetzky in Emes L'Yakov explains this verse through the lighting of the candles on Chanukah before Shabbos. The Shabbos candles we are allowed to get benefit from but not the Chanukah candles. Not only that but one is not allowed to use the light to read words of Torah or for any other mitzvah as well.

The Shabbos candles are lit so there will marital harmony between husband and wife and the Chanukah candles are lit because of the miracle of what happened in the Temple. Nonetheless, if one only had money for either Shabbos candles or Chanukah candles, one should buy Shabbos candles because marital harmony outweighs even the great miracle of what transpired by Chanukah. Why should this be so?

The great miracle of Chanukah shows the tremendous Hashgacha Pratis (Divine Providence) and miracle that G-d did for the Jewish people but Shabbos candles show the connection between the physical world and spiritual world through the meals that we consume.

We also know that by keeping the laws of Shabbos, it is a gateway to what will be in the next world regarding the awesomeness of the spiritual experience. The question though is how this eating and drinking on Shabbos is part of what the great spirituality of the next world.

The answer is because the spiritual worlds are connected one to the other.  This is how our holy ancestors used the physical world for spiritual means. This explains what Yosef said to Pharoah in their seemingly mundane conversation,

Pharoah tells Yosef that he is a great interpreter of dreams whereas Yosef pushes him off saying that it is beyond him and it is only G-d who will explain the dream to him and the subsequent dream as well, This is incredible because Pharaoh being the ultimate denier of G-d's power agrees and says that Yosef has the spirit of G-d within him!

This is the power that our ancestors have passed on to us this idea that physical things even have spiritual realities. The fact that Yosef can interpret dreams is only because it is G-d who shows him what the dreams mean.

This is a tremendous lesson for us because we can take a mundane act such as eating and drinking and make it seemingly part of what the next world experience will be like!

May we always see that connection between the physical and the spiritual in everything that we do.

Shabbat Shalom

Ethics of Our Fathers: Chapter 2 Mishna 4 An Upside Down World

"He used to say, 'Do G-d's will as you would do your own will, so that He may do your will  as if it were His; sacrifice your will for the sake of His will, so that He may undo the will of others before yours"

Rabbenu Yona explains that just like one has the desire to do his own will so too one should want to do the will of G-d.  Not only that, but one should strive to make his will and the will of his Creator to be the same. This sounds like a great idea, but how do we accomplish this?

The more we learn and incorporate the Torah's values into our own lives, we begin to change. This means that when we envelop the values of the Torah, they change us into spiritual people. This in turn leads us to want to continue to act in such a way which will bring us to a higher awareness of what G-d wants from us.

The Mishna continues by explaining G-d gives us everything that we need. By doing the will of G-d ie by keeping His Torah and commandments, He in turn gives us what we need.. This may seem difficult as most people do not have easy lives and have trials and tribulations to contend with.

At the end of the day though, we have a roof over our heads and food to eat. This is what the Mishna means. Although we may think we need more or deserve more, nonetheless, G-d gives us what He feels we need and can handle, not the other way around.

The last part of the Mishna teaches us that when we do G-d's will, he keeps our enemies at bay so that they cannot hurt us. This is also difficult to understand because we don't always witness this first hand or second hand or even know about the great things that G-d does for us.

We will find out later (in the true world, ie the next world) all the things that we went through and why. Not only that but G-d will reveal what He did to take care of us and thwart the plan of our enemies. We can only understand this as a true soul without a body because in this physical world our minds are clouded and we don't see reality as we should.

At that time when our soul is not part of our bodies things are seen with greater clarity. In essence we live in an upside down but G-d runs the show and will show us why He did things the way He did.

The thing we have to do is continue to grow and sanctify His name in this world through the mitzvos that we do which should change how we look and interact with others.
Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Chanukah: Let the Light of the Torah Shine Bright

Chanukah is upon us once again. As we light the candles and eat our donuts and latkes, what is the real reason we celebrate this holiday? After all, even though it is the last revealed miracle that we know about in Jewish history, how do we relate to it today?

We know that the Maccabees fight and beat the mighty Greek army. As they go back to the Temple, they find one crucible of oil that still has the seal of the high priest which had not been contaminated by the Greeks. That crucible of oil miraculously stays lit for eight days when it only has the natural ability to stay lit for one!

After that miracle, the rabbis decreed that we should make a festive holiday for 8 days in memory of the oil that stayed lit for that amount of time. The Greeks have all but disappeared and the Jewish people are still here. As we see the candles lit, what should we be thinking about?

One thing to keep in mind is that today even though the Greeks are no longer among us, nonetheless, they have left their mark on society since a lot of what surrounds us today is the legacy of the Greeks. Education, philosophy, sports and especially the worship of the bodies are all things that the Greeks have left for our modern society.

Even though we are surrounded by Greek culture, nonetheless we look at it as a time of darkness. The obvious question is how can we view it as darkness if in reality it was a time of great enlightenment and scholarship?

When we look at the Greeks, we have to understand that they were interested that Jews should keep their customs in their house...but they should go to Greek schools and participate in the gymnasium. This would lead to more integration into their society which is the most dangerous thing that could happen to the Jewish people!

The result is intermarriage and assimilation. The more we participate in their culture, the more we lose our special identity as Jews. According to the Greeks, that is exactly what they wanted. The more the Jew will be outside his culture and laws, the more susceptible he will be to the non-Jewish way of life!

This has proven to be our downfall. The reason is because the more we participate and are active in that society, the more we tend to assimilate. The biggest thing that the Jewish people have to fight against is illiteracy of Jewish texts and customs.

The more the Jewish people stick to their beliefs and ideals, the more they will stay together and continue to grow. With that in mind, as we watch the candles burn, we should keep in mind the miracles that G-d has done for us.

Not only that, we should realize that the Greek ideals unfortunately are very much alive today and our job is sanctify G-d's name by learning His Torah and keeping His mitzvos.

May we strengthen ourselves during these festive days and enjoy the light that the Torah brings out of each one us.

Have a meaningful Chanukah!
Thursday, November 21, 2013

Parshas Vayeshev: Everything happens for a Reason

These are the generations of Yaakov, Yosef was 17 years old was tending the flocks with his brothers, the sons of Bilhah and the sons of Zilpah, his father's wives, and he brought their father a bad report about them." (Genesis 37:2).

The Seforno explains the when Yaakov came back to the land of his father, what happened to him was similar to what happened to our forefathers in the time of the destruction of the second Temple and the final exile. 

Rav Moshe Sternbuch Shlit'a asks in Ta'am V'Da'as what the connection is to what happened by the destruction of the second Temple and what occurred during the life of Yaakov?

Yosef ends up going to Egypt because of the hatred of his brothers and then his brothers and father go down there as well. We too went into exile after the destruction of the Temple because of unlawful hatred between people. This hatred between people has kept us in this exile until today.

What was the purpose of Yaakov going down to Egypt? He went there Rav Sternbuch explains because he needed to bring out the sparks of holiness among the most immoral of all societies. They did not change their names, language or clothing and sanctified G-d's name.

Rav Moshe Schneider, Rav Sternbuch's Rosh Yeshiva of the famed Toras Emes Yeshiva, explains that in our days, when a Jew keeps Torah and mitzvos while living among people that are not observant, they have the ability to sanctify G-d's name. 

They do so by keeping G-d's will even in a place that is far away from a Torah center or observant Jews! The fact that these people see Orthodox Jews acting in such a way certainly has a positive influence on them.

The fact that today Jews are spread all over the world and are surrounded by immorality and all the negative influence that comes with it, nonetheless, they hold strong the principles of the Torah and sanctify G-d's name.

The Chofetz Chaim said that the hatred of the brothers caused Yosef to go into exile, ending up in Egypt but in the end it was G-d's will for him to be there to be able to save his brothers and family. The same thing is true today that in the end of this long terrible exile we will see that the suffering did have a purpose and everything will be made clear to us.

In the time of Ikvesa d'Meshicha (the birth pains of the coming of the Messiah) may we be able to withstand all the trials and tribulations of the coming of the Messiah and he should come speedily in our days.

Shabbat Shalom

Ethics of our Fathers: Chapter 2 Mishna 3: Don't rely on man, only on G-d

"Be cautious of the ruling authorities  for they befriend a man only for their own interests; they appear as friends when it is to their own advantage, but they do not stand by a man when he is in distress"

This Mishna explains what has happened over the millennium. The ruling authorities of any country, state...always look out for their own interests. Even in the most democratic countries, the one's in charge call the shots even though they are elected by the people.

They talk a good game, promise the world and more but in the end satisfy their own needs and not that of their constituents! When they need something from people they will go out of their way to be friendly and nice and do what it takes to get what they want. If not, their is no end to what they may do.

Just think of any company that requires money from an individual. They will do whatever it takes to get the money out of the person. On the other hand, if the company owes someone money, see how quickly they are in returning it!

Even in times when a man most needs help, they are often not their for them because it is not in their interest! We can think of many a war or two that the United States did not get involved in where there was tremendous bloodshed and loss of life. 

This does not mean that America has to run around the world and help everyone but rather we see that when there are no American interests at stake, America does not get involved even at the expense of mass genocide!

On the individual level, don't we act in a similar way? Mankind in general is selfish and acts in their own interests for their own motives. Whether it be in business, sports or entertainment, we look out for ourselves. Torah and the observance of mitzvos make us realize that this is not the proper way to act.

There is an obligation of giving tzedaka and helping those less fortunate than ourselves. There is an obligation of helping the community and getting involved in communal affairs. The Torah teaches us that we have to look beyond ourselves without receiving any benefit for what we do!

This Mishna teaches that we have no one else to rely on except our father in heaven and not to rely on the actions of man. At the same time, we still have to change ourselves and our mentality and help one another even though it really goes against our nature. This is precisely the reason that these mitzvos were given to us!!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Parshas Vayishlach: Fight the Yetzer Hara and Become Pure

"But he got up that night and took his two wives, his two handmaids, and his eleven sons and crossed the ford of the Jabok" (Genesis 32:23)

Rashi brings from the Midrash and asks where was Dinah at this time? The Midrash answers that she was placed in a locked box so that Esav would not look at her. Yaakov is punished for this because he prevented his daughter from marrying Esav. The reason is that she could have possibly influenced him to be better and do teshuvah so she was taken and defiled by Shechem.

Many commentaries are baffled by this and ask why Yaakov would have to give his daughter over to someone so evil? Rav Moshe Sternbuch explains in Chochma V'Da'as that Esav was truly evil and understood how to trap women to be with him. He never forced the women but was able to cajole them and convince them until they agreed to speak with him and do his wishes.

Dina was righteous and there wasn't any reason we should think that she would marry Esav but Esav would try his best to convince her. Maybe then she could have had a positive influence on him. This would have taught her how to speak to people like Esav and that would have prepared her better and she would not have fallen with Shechem.

This may have been ok for someone of the spiritual stature of Dina but the future generations would not have been able to withstand the test and certainly would fall in such a situation. Rav Sternbuch further clarifies and tells us that there are two types of ways to educate children.

One way is to totally separate from evil people and have nothing to do with them because they could have a negative influence on us. Another way of educating our children is that if we know their nature and they are strong in their beliefs, maybe they will have a positive influence on others and will not be effected by them.

Even so this is a dangerous option. Rav Shimon Shkop would tell his students that were interested in learning more worldly things about the danger it entails. He would explain that if a person put themselves in danger and then under the circumstances fell because of onus they were still held liable.

There is also the story of a student of the Ba'al Hatanya who went to learn a little bit in university. The Ba'al HaTanya warned him about the dangers lurking there. The student answered that when he learned by the Ba'al HaTanya he did not turn into such a righteous person so too by learning in university, it wouldn't effect him negatively.

The Ba'al HaTanya answered him that impurity makes one impure through touch but holiness is a hard thing to acquire and a vessel does not become holy unless it envelops the sacrifice and not through touch. The reason is because holiness is a hard thing to grasp while impurity happens just by being touched by it.

We see the power of the evil inclination just how far it is willing to go to trap us. May we learn and strengthen ourselves to fight against it and purify ourselves through the learning of Torah and keeping mitzvos!

Shabbat Shalom
Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Ethics of Our Fathers Chapter 2 Mishna 2: Don't Sell out the Family for the Sake of the Community

"Rabban Gamliel, the son of Rabbi Yehuda Ha'Nasi said, 'It is well to combine Torah study with some worldly occupation, for the energy taken up by both of them keeps sin out of one's mind; all Torah study which is not combined with some trade must at length fail and occasion sin. Let all who work for the community do so from a spiritual motive, for then the merit of their fathers will sustain them, and their righteousness will endure forever. "I credit you with great reward (G-d says) as if you accomplished it all"

There is a disagreement among the rabbinical authorities what the first part of the Mishnah is talking about. Does it mean that one needs to learn combined with work or that it refers to learning with proper ethical behavior? If we say that it means that one needs to work, there is another Mishnah later Chapter 3 Mishna 22 that tells us that without a livelihood one cannot work.

While this is true, the Mishnah here explains that even if one learns Torah, he should combine it with something that will help him earn a living so that he won't come to sin when there is free time. The reason is that Torah study weakens a person and if a person when not learning does something to help earn a living, he keeps the evil inclination at bay because he is busy all the time.

This aspect of the Mishnah indicates that one must be busy so as to not fall in the clutches of the evil inclination. Even if that means when one is tired and not learning one should work to stay out of trouble.

This leads to the next part of the Mishnah which tells us that one should work for the community for the sake of heaven. The connection is keeping one's self busy while at the same time helping out others. Here we learn that the reason one helps the community is for the sake of helping the community and not for the sake of honor, or to get benefit from it or to have power over others.

There are many people that give to their all to help different aspects of the Jewish community. While this is good and even praiseworthy, one must know how to balance that with their familial responsibilities. As the saying goes, chesed (acts of loving kindness) start at home. A person must work very hard to keep his home structure strong and functional.

This means that even though they help the community-at-large, it doesn't mean every last second must go to that at the expense of their family. At all times, family must come first. This may be obvious but sometimes the goals of the individual cloud the person's thoughts and they end up sacrificing their family in the process.

This is why it is critical to have a rabbi or mentor to guide them in this process. Helping out and working for the community is an amazing mitzvah, but their must be clear boundaries when it comes to family.
Thursday, November 7, 2013

Parshas Vayetize: Be Thankful for what we Have

"And Yaakov vowed a vow saying, 'If G-d will be with me and will keep me in this way that I go and will give me bread to eat, and clothing to wear" (Gemesis 28:21)

The Medrash Tanchuma tells us that every claim that Yaakov had to G-d, G-d answered. When Yaakov said if G-d will be with me, G-d answered I will be with you. Then Yaakov said You (G-d) will guard me, G-d answered that I will guard you wherever you will go. When Yaakov said give me bread and don't forsake my livelihood G-d answered if I promise you that I will supply you with food but why do you ask for more? This G-d did not promise.

Rav Moshe Sternbuch in Ta'am V'Da'as explains that Yaakov was worried that maybe he would sin  and G-d's promises to him would not be fulfilled. This is why Yaakov said if G-d will be with me and give me bread to eat. G-d did not promise this so that Yaakov would continue to pray for his needs.

This Midrash Rav Sternbuch tells us is a fundamental principle of Judaism. In reality, G-d does not owe mankind anything even if he is righteous like Yaakov but rather one should pray for one's needs. The rich person should pray that he will be able to sustain his wealth and not lose it while the poor person prays that he will have some money with which to live.

A father prays for his children that they should be healthy and that he should be able to educate them properly in the ways of Torah. A person should remember that prayer always helps even for our basic needs.

G-d desires our prayers and this is why sometimes people may have a hard time with livelihood or with their children so a person should be dependent on G-d and pray for these things. The primordial snake looks like he had it easy. After the sin of eating from the tree of knowledge, the punishment for the snake was it's legs were chopped off and food would readily be available for him.

If food is readily available for him, what is so great about the punishment he received? He doesn't have to work so hard to eat! The answer is that because of this, the snake will have no connection to G-d. All his needs will be provided for and he won't ever have to pray for anything.This is G-d saying that I don't want your prayers and stay away from me.

G-d doesn't owe us anything. The fact we exist and depend on Him is enough. He gives us the ability to pray to Him and draw close to Him. We need to be thankful for the things that we have and realize all the goodness that G-d gives us.

This week I became a grandfather for the first time. After seeing my daughter in the hospital and seeing that beautiful baby boy, I couldn't help but to think of all the goodness that G-d has bestowed upon me. It became even clearer one day this week while I was on the bus and I saw a sick child suffering from a terrible disease. This made the reality for me even more obvious how much more we have to thank G-d and be happy with what He has given us.

Shabbat Shalom

Ethics of our Fathers: Chapter 2 Mishna 1 The Results of our Actions

"Rabbi Yehudah Hanasi said, "Which is the right course that a man should choose for himself? One which is creditable to the person adopting it, and on account of which he gains respect from men. Be careful to perform a minor mitzvah just as well as a major one, for you do not know the reward for each mitzvah. Balance the loss sustained by the performance of a mitzvah against the reward secured by its observance and the profit of a sin against its injury. Consider three things and you will not come into the grip of sin - know what is above you: a seeing eye, a hearing ear, and a book in which all your deeds are recorded"

The first part of the Mishan teaches us that when we do what G-d wants us to do and follow his commandments properly, then we not only give Him nachas but others will want to emulate us as well. The reason is that the Torah has the ability to change us and when internalize the Torah's timely messages, we become closer to G-d.

Growing in Torah and changing bad character traits transforms us. When people we come in contact see this, they witness something extraordinary. They notice something is different and want to be a part of it.

The next part of the Mishna tells us that we have to be careful with all mitzvos. The reason is that even though we know the punishment for transgressing different mitzvos, ie either being cut spiritually off from the Jewish people, lashes or one of the 4 severe deaths, strangulation, stoning, having molten lead thrown down your throat or having one's head chopped off, nonetheless we don't know what merit we receive when we do the mitzvos.

The reason we do not know what the merit of the mitzvos we do is because if we did, we would only concentrate on those mitzvos that give us the highest reward and we wouldn't bother with the "smaller" mitzvos at all. This is the reason that we must be careful in performing all the mitzvos which will make us into a more complete individual.

This also ties into the next part of the Mishna that a person may think if I perform this mitzvah and it costs me a lot of money, why should I do it? A person has to realize how important the mitzvos are regardless whether they cost a lot of money or not. The idea is that when G-d gave us the Torah and we took G-d to be our G-d, it didn't matter what was written in the Torah; we will do whatever G-d tells us regardless how much a particular mitzvah may cost us to do.

We also have to be aware that when we transgress any commandment of the Torah for whatever benefit we may get, we have to keep in mind that at some point either in this world or the next we will have to pay for that bad judgment. This is a world where we can have the ability to acquire eternal life by keeping the mitzvos but if we transgress them, then we will have to pay later.

This leads to the last part of the Mishna that we have to realize what our purpose is in this world and where we came from. We have to realize that G-d knows the thoughts of man and what we will do in the future. Therefore even if we transgress in this world, G-d knows it and will judge us for our actions in the next world.  Not only that, G-d witnesses what we do and has angels following us around recording our actions.

These angels will come to give testimony in front of the heavenly court and then G-d will judge us based on that. Nothing we do in this world goes unrecorded. Thousands of years ago we could not have imagined this but with the advance of technology it is not that hard to fathom.

This is indeed scary which means that we must be careful what we do in this world as we try and make the greatest kiddush Hashem we can. This is done by performing the mitzvos to the best of our ability which will transform us and the influence the ones around us!
Thursday, October 31, 2013

Parshas Toldos: Why did we Waste our Time in this World?

"Then Yaakov gae Esav bread and porridge of lentils, and he did eat and drink and rose up and went his way and Esav despised the birthright" (Genesis 25:34)

The Torah speaks disparagingly against Esav because he despised the birthright. Why should this be so?  On that same day the commentators tell us he committed five sins so why should the Torah go out of its way and condemn him for his actions of selling the birthright when on that very same day he committed worse transgressions?

Rav Moshe Sternbuch Shlita in Chochmah V'Da'as answers that Esav knew very well the severity of the transgressions that he committed as he grew up in the home of Yitzchak but it was better to fill his desires without any impediments or guilt. The issue with selling his birthright for a bowl of lentils proves that the birthright was of no value in his eyes if he was willing to give it up so cheap.

Esav knew full well the value of Torah and mitzvos as we see by his great desire to receive the blessing from his father but for the sake of receiving something of value right now (the bowl of lentils) he was willing to sell the birthright.

He was willing and prepared to sell some of this world even for a quick fix than to wait and receive his true reward for the performance of mitzvos in the next world. Even though Esav realized the value of what the birthright meant, he wanted the lentils NOW and the ability to fulfill all his desires as well without any repercussions!

Rav Sternbuch continues and tells us that this is no different with us. When we transgress and give into our desires, we disgrace the sanctity of Torah. When we have time to learn and instead waste it on things that detract from our ability to be close to G-d, we also give into our desires for our quick fix at the expense of our reward for the performance of mitzvos in the next world.

We do all kinds of things to justify our actions in this world. Some of them may be legitimate but at the end of our lives, we will have to give an accounting of our actions. Just like Esav who was willing to give up his birthright for a bowl of lentils, we will have to answer for all the time we have wasted when we could have been learning Torah and doing mitzvos.

Shabbat Shalom
Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Ethics of Our Fathers Chapter 1 Mishna 18: Absolute Truth leads to World Peace

Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel said: 'The world is established on three principles: truth, justice, and peace, as it is said, 'You shall administer truth, justice and peace within your gates."

Why is the character trait of truth so important? Isn't it permissible to lie under certain circumstances and is recommended for the sake of peace? On the other hand, if truth was not so important wouldn't the world look even worse than it does?

The Rambam in the first of the 13 Principles of Faith tells us there is an obligation to believe in the existence of the Creator that is perfect and absolute. The reason that G-d must be absolute is because His existence is crucial for the world to exist. Not only that but if the values that He wants to administer to the world are not concrete and can change with time, then He cannot be G-d.

Therefore absolute truth must be based on something that is everlasting and does not change. If that would be the case, then we would live (which we do) in a world where moral relativism is king. This means that if I feel doing something fine, if not also fine but just don't tell me what to do. It is a world where values can change by what society dictates.

Forty years ago, euthanasia may have been viewed as murder but today if a person will not have what the doctors define as quality of life, then they will pull the plug on the patient. We could also justify other things that would never been considered years ago to be the norm today. This is the danger if we live in a world that does not have the guide of absolute truth!

The next part of the Mishna emphasizes the importance of justice. There is a difference how justice is looked at in the secular world and the Torah world. In the secular world you need laws and regulations to keep society orderly. Otherwise there would be chaos and the world would not be able to function.

In the Torah world, you need justice and regulations not to only bring order but to actually have the individual the ability to reach their true potential through spiritual growth. This means that laws are designed for the sake of benefiting the person in his quest to become closer to G-d, not just for the keeping society orderly and functioning.

The last part of the Mishna speaks about the importance of peace. Aharon Ha'Kohen had the unbelievable character trait of making peace between people. He would tell one person how much the other person he was angry at had regret for what they had done and only wanted to make up with their friend. He would then tell the other person the same thing and when the two met they forgot about what they were angry about and became fast friends again.

The problem is that we often are stubborn and will hold grudges even over something that may be able to forgive someone. We don't want to give in for we feel that is exposing ourselves to weakness and we don't want to show that to others.

Before Yom Kippur we ask others for forgiveness for anything we may have done wrong to them. When someone comes to us and asks forgiveness, we should immediately grant it to them. The reason is because if overlook what someone has done to us, G-d will overlook at the wrongdoing we have done to Him and will accept our teshuvah (repentance) and write us in the book of life and give us a good judgement for the upcoming year.

Peace is so important that we end the Shemoneh Esrei with the prayer for peace. May we be able to incorporate these character traits into our everyday lives and strengthen the world through our actions.
Thursday, October 24, 2013

Parshas Chayei Sarah Act without Worrying what we will get in Return

"And after this, Avraham buried Sarah his wife in the field of the cave of Machpela, before Mamre the same is Chevron in the land of Canaan" (Genesis 23:19).

The Ibn Ezra writes that the Torah here mentions the land of Canaan to demonstrate the greatness of the land of Israel more than any other land for people that are alive and dead. The Ramban tells us that one of Avraham's trials was finding a burial place for his wife. The Talmud Bava Batra15b explains that this trial was said by the Satan to G-d in order to test Avraham even though the sages do not count this as one of Avraham's ten trials!

The Avos pf Rebbe Nasan (Chapter 33 letter 2) writes that this was not one of Avraham's trials since the children of Chet tell Avraham that they cannot stop someone of his stature from burying his dead there. Nonetheless Avraham did not accept this because he did not want to benefit from others. If a burial place was being offered to Avraham why would this be considered a test for him?

Rav Yaakov Kamenetzky in Emes L'Yaakov explains that the idea of finding a burial plot for his wife and his whole discussion with the children of Chet was to demonstrate his character trait of generosity and openhandedness.  The reason is that they were willing to give him a burial place for the sake of his honor, whereby Avraham did not want to benefit from others.

We can understand this better from the end of the negotiations between Avraham and Ephron. At the beginning, Ephron was willing to give the field to Avraham for free but when Avraham did not want to take it, he agreed to pay for it in full for an astronomical amount of money.

Rav Yaakov continues and tells us that this is not the only place where we witness this character trait of Avraham.  We see it by the fight between Lot's and Avraham's shepherds where Avraham tells him to pick a piece of land and go there so there will be no friction between their two parties. There is also the aftermath of the war of the 4 kings against the 5 kings where Avraham tells the king of Sedom that he wants no benefit from him to make him rich.

Another place that demonstrates this character trait is the beginning of parshas Vaera by the story of Avraham looking for guest after the third day of his circumcision. This ability to give one's heart to others without benefiting from them could be the reason that he merited to having Yitzchak.

The Torah goes out of its way to demonstrate this character trait over and over again to show its importance. We should try to the best of our ability to be ones that give and help to others without any compensation for what we do.

Have a good Shabbos

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Ethics of Our Fathers Chapter 1 Mishna 17: Do Something, Don't Philosophize!

"Shimon his son said, 'All my life I have been brought up among the sages, and I have found nothing better for a person than silence;; study is not the most important thing but practice and whoever talks too much brings about sin"

Rabbenu Yonah tells us that there is no greater character trait than silence. The problem he tells us is that when a person speaks they could help themselves in one way but could damage themselves at the same time by saying something inappropriate. Even if a person speaks about something that they have to like about livelihood  or other things, nonetheless a person should minimize what they speak about.

The reason is that a person even if speaking about things that they have to, one should be careful and not go beyond what they speak about because it could turn out to be something that they would regret. This would go against conventional wisdom because after all, everyone has to talk, otherwise how do you accomplish what you need to do.

The Chofetz Chaim when he wrote his work on Shemiras Halashon (the laws of Loshon Hara) did not tell people they weren't allowed to talk but rather the purpose of his book was to teach people how to talk. Here the Mishna tells us that if you have to speak and get information, the best way is to minimize it in the best way possible.

The next part of the Mishna tells us an important idea in Judaism and that is the idea of action, not just thoughts. We learn here that the purpose of study is to put what one learns into action. There is no better way than to show and display to others good character traits than by the actions of the person himself.

Many people say that as long as they are Jewish in their heart and are good people, then that is enough. Judaism demands much more than that. Learn, continue to learn and put what you learn into action because otherwise it is like mental gymnastics. We are here in this world not to be philosophers but rather as doers who accomplish.

The last part of the Mishna explains that one should not speak too much when it comes to things of halacha. This means that when answering questions in halacha one should be careful and get to the specific idea that needs to be addressed because if there are others miscellaneous things added, it could confuse a person and come up with the wrong answer.

This is where talking too much will bring a person to the wrong conclusion. This doesn't mean that one should not talk things out to make sure that the conclusion is accurate but to ensure that no extraneous ideas come in that would confuse the issue.

We must learn that many times the best thing to do is be quiet, rather than answer and say things that one shouldn't. Not only that, we have to know that we need to do more and act rather than philosophize since we will take our good deeds and actions to the next world to testify for us to our benefit in the next world!
Friday, October 18, 2013

Parshas Vayera: The Desire to Keep Mitzvos

"And the L-rd appeared to him by the plains of Mamre as he sat in the tent door in the heat of the day" (Genesis 18:1)

Rashi tells us that Avraham sat by the entrance to his tent and was troubled that there were no guests coming and then the angels in the form of men came. Rav Moshe Feinstein in Derash Moshe tells us that this is a wonder because why should Avraham be upset that there are no guests and not be able to fulfill the mitzvah of hachnas orchim (having guests)? After all if there are no guests around, then there is no mitzvah of hachnasas orchim.

Not only that, Rav Moshe tells us but this is more of an onus even when one could have performed the mitzvah and was not able to. The reason is because under these circumstances, there was no mitzvah to be done here at all since there were no guests! This is similar to someone who is troubled by the fact that during the week he cannot perform the mitzvah of keeping Shabbos; since it is not Shabbos at that time then there is no obligation to keep it!

The reason that Avraham is upset over here is because of his great desire to do chesed and being unable to do so. Here he had the great desire to have guests and was upset that he could not fulfill the mitzvah in the Torah of hachnasas orchim.

This is similar to Moshe Rabbenu's desire to set up the cities of refuge even though he could not establish the mitzvah without setting up all six of them. He had the desire to do so but was unable to fulfill the mitzvah. The fact that he could not do it was not a deterrent rather it was a show of desire to keep the mitzvah even though under the circumstances he could not do so.

This teaches us a tremendous lesson. Even though in the cases of Avraham and Moshe they were exempt from the mitzvot that they wanted to keep because the circumstances did not allow for it, nonetheless they showed a strong connection to the mitzvah even though they couldn't keep it. The lesson we need to learn is to love the mitzvot that we do regardless of how hard they may be and how much they cost.

Mitzvos have the ability to draw us closer to G-d and do His will regardless of the circumstances we find ourselves in. Whether we are tired, not in the mood...or whatever the yetzer hara (evil inclination) throws at us, we have to be "on call" to fulfill the mitzvos day and night to the best of our ability.

When we say the Shema twice a day, we say "V'ahavata es Hashem Elokecha..." that we should love the L-rd your G-d..." The root of the word V'ahavta is ahav or to love. If we break the root of the word down further we have the two letters hav. In Aramaic this means to give. If we want to have a connection to G-d and grow to love Him, we must give of ourselves. This will lead us to want to do more, keep more mitzvos and develop ourselves into people that are givers and leaders.

Shabbat Shalom
Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Ethics of Our Fathers Chapter 1 Mishna 16: Don't be Afraid to Ask for Advice

"Rabban Gamliel said, 'Provide yourself with a teacher and avoid doubt; and do not make a habit of giving tithes by guesswork"

There is nothing worse than having a question come before you and there is a doubt in your mind which way the halacha should be. This Mishna teaches us that a person should have a colleague either more knowledgeable or not to exchange ideas with it to come up with the right conclusion.

Rabbenu Yonah learns that even if this person does not match your level of wisdom, nonetheless it is worthwhile to have their counsel so there will be no doubt what the halacha is. The reason this is so important is because one does not want to permit something when it should be forbidden or forbid something that would be permitted. Therefore, you should appoint your friend as your rav to take one's self out of doubt.

This takes great humility because in essence one is saying that they don't know the answer and they have to seek guidance from others even if they are less learned. This also shows the importance of having someone to guide them and to learn from.

I have had the good fortune of being around great rabbinic figures where I gained practical knowledge as well as seeing their humility and righteousness in action. By witnessing great people in everyday life, it certainly changed my life and showed me what the great potential that man has!

The last part of the Mishna tells us that if one has a doubt regarding tithes that one should be stringent and take more will certainly make a mistake and cause one to lose out on their decision. Therefore, one should have a rav or someone they can get advice from who will be able to help them and steer them in the right direction.

Many people in different situations would have been helped had they asked advice from someone else who is capable of helping them. Two heads have the ability to prevail on a difficult task than one trying to figure things out on their own.

We have to try and be more humble and say that we don't know everything and sometimes ask others for advice. Rav Sternbuch Shlita told me in the name of the Brisker Rav that it was more important to say that they did not know the answer to a question than give an answer that was not truthful. Even the greatest scholars who say I don't know teach this valuable lesson of humility.
Friday, October 11, 2013

Parshas Lech Lecha: Obeying the Boss

"And G-d said to Avram, 'Leave the land of your birthplace, the house of your father to a land that I will show you'" (Genesis 12:1)

Rashi tells us that G-d sends Avram to a new land that will be for his benefit, goodness and he will receive tremendous blessings there. Rav Moshe Feinstein in Derash Moshe asks why is this considered such a trial, after all many people travel to far off countries for the sake of livelihood even if he has a doubt whether he will be successful there.

The trial here Rav Moshe tells us is that Avram does not question what G-d tells him to do even though he does not understand why G-d is sending there.  Can't G-d give Avraham the blessings even where he is? Why does Avraham have to travel to a far off land to receive these blessings?

This is also true by the trial of the binding of Yitzchak. G-d promised to Avraham that he would have a son born to him and Sarah who would be his spiritual heir. After the miraculous birth G-d then gives Avraham the command to sacrifice him. Avraham does not complain or ask why G-d is doing this and received tremendous reward for listening to G-d.

There is a difference between both trials though, Rav Moshe explains. The trial here seemingly does not causes any suffering on Avraham's behalf. Yes he is leaving his homeland and everything he needs but ultimately he will attain great wealth and prominence and does not question G-d's ways.

 The binding of Yitzchak, though caused Avraham great anguish and he still did not question why G-d wanted him to do this. Rav Sternbuch shlita has told me many times  that we are considered to be in G-d's army. Regardless of what the king tells us to do we must listen and obey even if the command does not seem to make sense to us.

This is not just flippant belief in something not comprehensible and we have to keep torah and mitzvos because of a leap of faith. We have to try and understand all the laws of the Torah to the best of our ability. We must remember that the Torah is called 'chochmas elokim' G-d's wisdom and there are things that are beyond our capability of understanding.

This teaches us that we must be humble and realize our human limitations.  We learn from Avraham that even when G-d tells us to do something that seems incomprehensible we still must obey the "Boss" and do His bidding.

Shabbat shalom

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Ethics of our Fathers Chapter 1: Mishna 15 Live the Torah that way it should be

"Shammai said, 'Make your study of the Torah a regular habit; say little but do much; and receive all men cheerfully"

Rabbi Ovadia Bartenura explains that the most important aspect of a person's day should be focused on learning Torah. Learning Torah has the ability to transform a person and change them. If we spend all our time in pursuit of the physical then a person will quickly lose their connection to G-d. 

The reason is because the soul needs spiritual nourishment and if it is not fed probably then it dies. This also teaches a lesson to our children. If they see that the father goes out to regular classes even after a long day at work, it demonstrates what is most important in a person's life.

The next part of the Mishnah is there to teach us that we are obligated to act, not just talk about what we are going to do. There are people that are talkers and there are people that are doers. Judaism is about taking action. This is easier said than done because there are obstacles that are thrown in our way to try and stop us in our spiritual endeavors.

A person has to be a dreamer with a plan to reach their lofty goals. One thing is for sure; one does not rest on their laurels but one continues to grow and seek guidance to help themselves reach their potential.

This has been demonstrated over and over again in my own personal life. Great rabbis that I have had the privilege to know and receive their guidance has been nothing short of unbelievable. They have collectively taught me to continue to strive and grow regardless of what "the world" may throw at you. With that kind of inspiration and seeing first hand their righteousness and knowledge, it certainly has transformed me into the person that I am.

With this type of inspiration and desire, how can one not look at someone cheerfully? After all, we have so much to be thankful for even if we are faced with difficult times why ruin it with a sour face? What did that person deserve to see our sour face?

This cheerfulness comes from a true desire to give over the best of themselves to others. This will result in others thinking highly of you and show true camaraderie. When someone exudes cheerfulness it is something that makes others feel good and brings the best out of them as well.

Let us use these ideas and live by them by incorporating the Torah into our lives to the best of our ability! 

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Parshas Noach: Was he really great or not?:

"These are the offspring of Noach - Noach was a righteous man, perfect in his generations; Noach walked with G-d."  (Genesis 6:9)

Rav Yaakov Kamenetzky in his work Emes L'Yaakov brings the disagreement in Rashi whether Noach would have been even more righteous had he been in the generation of Avraham or whether he would not have been considered much at all. In reality, Rav Yaakov tells us that there is no disagreement between these two explanations because had he been in a generation of righteous people, he would have been considered even greater. The disagreement comes in what the words 'in his geneations' means; either to praise him or to deride him.

The question is why would we want to interpret Noach's character as in the negative when we could praise him for his righteous acts? Rav Yaakov explains that Noach could not have been truly righteous or he would have been able to save his generation. Not only that, but the Midrash implies that he did not know how to give rebuke to that generation and therefore was not successful in saving anyone else!

This is why there is the negative interpretation to Noach's righteousness. In reality though, why is this a knock on his righteousness, isn't it just a deficiency of wisdom? The answer is that this lack of judgment in wisdom is a blemish to his righteousness.

Had Noach been able to find the means to give rebuke properly, he would have found a way to explain it to his generation, thereby saving them. This is an important thing to keep in mind for us as well. We sometimes get caught up in the heat of the moment and forget about what we are here in this world to accomplish.

If we want to try and help someone but we are not successful, we have to try and think of other possible ways. Who is to say that there is only one way? Maybe our judgment has been skewed and we are not thinking clearly or just have made a mistake in handling the situation.

Sometimes we may have to go out of our comfort zone to be successful. There is a question as to who was better at hachnasas orchim (having guests) Job or Avraham. Rav Dessler tells us that Avraham was greater because when a guest came to the house of Job, he served him what he himself liked to eat where by Avraham, he served his guests what they themselves wanted to eat.

May we learn to give of ourselves and help others the way they need to be helped and what they need to hear rather than what we think they need to hear.

Shabbat Shalom
Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Ethics of Our Fathers Chapter 1 Mishna 14: Let's Change Now!

"He used to say, 'If I am not for myself who is for me? If I care only for myself, what am I? If not now, when"

Rabbenu Yonah explains that if I don't desire to want to change and fix my bad character traits, then who will be there for me? In other words, other people can help them change their bad habits but in reality, the greatest encouragement comes from the individual himself. If that person inspires himself, he will then continue to have positive thoughts about change and become the person that G-d wants him to be.

This helps us understand the second part of the Mishna because if I am only for myself, even if I help others, what I have I accomplished? The person has still not reached even the minimal level that he is capable. What is this comparable to? It is like a king who gives a field of 30 Kor to his servants to work for the year.

The servants work really really hard and at the end of the year, they harvest produce of 50 Kor. The king asks them, if I gave you a field of 30 Kor, how could you only produce 50 Kor in return? The servants tell the king that the field that you gave to us was of inferior quality and even though we worked really hard, we were only able to produce a little bit. So too we say in front of G-d, 'the nature of a person from when he is young is bad'. Even if a person works really hard on themselves, we only accomplish a little when there is so much to be done!

This teaches us an important lesson. We know that even if a person works really hard to fight the evil inclination, it still causes us to sin. If a person does not work hard on themselves to change then they will be empty of mitzvos. This is compared to the inferior field, if you don't fertilize it and plow it, nothing will grow from it.

The last part of the Mishna teaches us that if a person would say I have too much work to do today and  tomorrow I will pay attention to my bad character traits and work on them. Maybe they won't have time and will do nothing. Even if one does have time, maybe it will be wasted on other things when they should be working on themselves and doing mitzvos.

A person can't put off today what he could do tomorrow. We shouldn't be lazy and use each day to its fullest. The more we put things off, the less we will do them. The evil inclination does not sleep and continues to attack a person even when they sleep. we live lives of many wasted opportunities.

Let us use our time wisely and productively and become the great people that we are capable of being.
Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Sukkos: Living in a Temporary World

As we have become pure and atoned for all of our sins, we go into our temporary hut (sukkah) to bask in the glory of G-d's protectiveness. The purpose of the sukkah is to show that this world is temporary and that is why the holiday of Sukkot has to be in the fall when the weather is not so good and most likely cold, depending on where you live.

We also read the book of Koheles (Ecclesiastes) on shabbos chol hamoed. The reason this is read is because King Solomon reminds us that this is a temporary world and that this world is a world of vanity. As King Solomon has searched the world, the only thing he found truth in is Torah.

This is a very interesting idea because many people today look at this world as the ultimate. This means that they live their lives according to what they think and want without regard for any real meaning in life. As the Mishna in Ethics of our Fathers tells us this world is just like a hallway for the next world. The Ramchal tells us in Path of the Just that G-d could not have created this world just for its own sake.

When we see things that don't make sense, like senseless suffering, there must be a picture. How can the righteous suffer or young children die if there is something on a higher plane going on. Sukkos is a time to dwell on the temporariness of this world and focus on our spiritual lives.

We put a white sheet around our Sukkah to represent the Ananei Ha'Kavod (the Clouds of Glory) that followed us in the desert. These clouds gave the Jewish people everything they needed as their clothes never wore out and all their needs were cared for.

According to Kabbalah, the clouds of glory represent what we call the Tzel D'Hemnusa, the shade of faith, so-to-speak. It is our faith that G-d's runs the world and that is a temporary world in which we live. Not only that, but if change the letters around from the word tzel (shade) to leitz (mockery) we see that in a split second we can change from our faith in G-d to making a mockery G-d forbid of Him.

This means that the sukkah is holy, there should be no frivolous speech in it, not to mention speaking lashon harah etc. If we don't use the sukkah properly and focus on its true meaning, then we make it into a leitz ie we mock everything that it stands for.

As we get ready to go into the sukkah, we are reminded by the holiness of the sukkah and how this world is just temporary.

Have a meaningful sukkos.
Thursday, September 12, 2013

Yom Kippur is upon us: Let's Change

Yom Kippur is just a day away. This is the culmination of the month of Elul and the ten days of repentance. We have had this whole to prepare deciding which things we are going to try and work on and setting up a plan in which to do so.

This is the holiest day of the year but an inspiring and uplifting one as well. We act like angels where we don't eat or drink and we say the confession a number of times. It is a solemn day where we realizes our weaknesses and prepare to rectify them.

We can't dwell on the past of what we have done because one who does that has no future. This means that the more I think about the bad that I have done and the seemingly futility of trying to change can destroy a person's will and want to forget about the whole thing.

The point of Yom Kippur is to realize that I have wasted my potential but not be broken by it. Realize that I have made mistakes but try and make constructive ways to change. As the Rambam tells us, if I just admit that I have done something wrong, that is the basic mitzvah of teshuvah.

The reason for this is because we are great at rationalizing why we do bad things. We can justify why we spoke lashon hara against someone; we can make excuses about our bad character traits but at the end of the day, admitting I have done something wrong is a tremendous thing!

Obviously we have to do more than that but the idea is to say I have made a mistake. G-d is not interested that people serve Him out of fear lest they do something wrong, they will be dealt severely in gehinom (hell). G-d wants us to serve Him out of love of His mitzvos and wants us to cling to Him to receive His benefit in this world.

As we pray in synagogue for most of the night and day, we must realize what the goal of the day is. The goal of the day is to admit we have done things wrong (when they apply)  and really really want to change our actions. This means we have to have a well thought out plan of what we want to change and then go out and make those changes.

This is easier said than done but we are showing G-d that we are serious in our quest to change. When we show G-d our true colors of who we want to be even if we don't always act that way, He will have mercy on us. The reason is because He draws us even closer after we sin.

This is truly miraculous because if I have already sinned towards Him, how can I now be closer to Him if I do teshuvah? If I stole from someone and then tell them later I did it and apologize, is that person going to ever look at me in the same way? Most likely not but G-d looks at us in even a better light because of it.

As we look at the viduy (confession) and see all the things that we have done wrong it should inspire us to want to change and become close to G-d. Even if we are sometimes broken by our actions and think that we can never change, never lose hope because G-d has a tremendous amount of mercy and only wants to see us succeed.

In the last few hours before the holiday, let us think in retrospect of what we have done and what we can do to change. May this inspire us to become the great people that we can.

Have a meaningful and easy fast
Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Ethics of Our Fathers: Chapter 1 Mishna 13: Don't abuse the Torah

"He used to say, 'He who seeks greater reputation loses his reputation; he who does not increase his knowledge decreases it, he who does not study deserves death; he who makes unworthy use of the crown of learning shall perish"

Anyone looking for fame wanting to make their name great through arrogance and sheer power will not find it. Even if they are at first successful and they have fame, they will lose it and not be remembered. The "famous" people whose names remain etched on society are often the ones not looking for attention.

This fits into the next part of the Mishna because someone who is satisfied with what they have learned and are not interested in adding to his wisdom will decrease their knowledge. If the purpose of Torah is to learn its ways and change ourselves so we reach our true potential, how could someone just rely on what they learned and go on autopilot? How will they be able to impart these ideas to the next generation if their own knowledge and learning is faulty?

This is why the Mishna says that one who does this will decrease their knowledge. In reality, how does such a person grow in spirituality if they are happy where they are? It reminds me of the story of someone I have known for many years and unfortunately is happy where they are holding and been holding over all those years!

How sad, still lacking basic knowledge in things that could have been learned years ago. Still doing the same things after all those years without increased knowledge.  Sad, real sad. This is what leads to the next part of the Mishna which states that if one does not study he deserves death.

The reason for this is because someone who does not learn Torah is compared to an animal. Isn't our purpose in this world to learn Torah and keep G-d's mitzvos? If this is true and one does not do this their entire life, what is the purpose of it all? Just to acquire money, the prophet Isaiah tells us eat, drink and be merry lest tomorrow I die.

This reminds me of another story that someone once told me. They said that the more money they paid for tickets to get into the services for the High Holy days, the closer you get to the air conditioning. I said that's great, why not get a portable air conditioner and bow down to it?

The last part of the Mishna tells us that one who makes unworthy usage of the crown of Torah will die. The reason is that Torah is supposed to be studied and learned for its own sake for the purpose of changing ourselves and reaching our true potential.

If we use our Torah knowledge to disparage others and abuse our position, then this is obviously what Torah was not created for. This abuse of Torah can cost you your life! Torah is called life to those that guard it and cherish it but if you use it for the wrong reasons and abuse it, then it can be deadly!

Let us learn from this that we learn Torah to the fullest and try to uphold it's great ideals. Never rest on our laurels from what we learned, and continue to learn and grow in its ways.
Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Parshas Ha'azinu: Rely on G-d Alone

"When Hashem will have judged His people, He shall relent regarding His servants, when He sees that enemy power progresses, and none is saved or assisted" (Deuternony 32:36)

Rav Yaakov Kamenetzky in Emes L'Yaakov tells us that the gemara in Sanhedrin (97a) learns from this verse that the messiah will not come until we totally despair from the final redemption. This is amazing Rav Yaakov tells us because this is one of the 13 Principles of Faith that every Jew has to believe in!

Rav Yaakov explains that this means that when the Jewish people anticipate the final redemption as being something that will occur in a natural way, it is in reality not the redemption.  For example, the non-Jewish nations will have compassion for us and give us a place to build the Temple, to let us go back to our homeland...

In reality, this cannot be because acts of loving kindness that come from the non-Jewish nations is really a non-starter since they really do hate us. We have seen throughout the millennium what the nations have done to us; pogrom after pogrom, murdering, burning and plundering the Jewish people. So when we think that the nations of the world all of a sudden will have compassion upon us, is a fallacy.

We have to understand that the only being that we can rely on is our father in heaven. Once we place our entire faith in Him, then he will send the ultimate redeemer who will free the Jewish people from the more than 2000 year exile that they have been in!

This is also the reason why G-d sent Moses to go to Pharaoh and demand that he let the Jewish people go out from Egypt. Immediately after Moses told Pharaoh this, G-d hardened his heart so that he would not listen to Moses and let his people go. G-d wanted to teach us that ultimately it was up to Him to free the Jewish people and not Pharaoh!

We shouldn't think that it was Pharaoh's kindness or willingness to let the Jewish people go, but rather G-d Himself!  At that point, when it looked like there was no hope, that is when G-d brought the Jewish people out of Egypt. Only when the Jewish people were willing to be subservient to G-d alone, that is when the redemption occurred.

We see from here that the Jewish people have no one to rely on except their father in heaven. To Him alone we turn and pray for all our requests, whether it be health, livelihood...Sometimes we lose track of this idea and think that if we really become close to the nations they will help us. This is a grave mistake as we have seen throughout our history.

Shabbat Shalom

Rosh Hashanah: All the Preparation is done, are we ready for Judgment?

Rosh Hashanah has finally arrived. The month of Elul has helped prepare us for these awesome days. We have been reading Psalm 27 every day which we continue to do until the end of Sukkos and we have heard the shofar every day as well.

Ashkenazim last Saturday night began saying Selichos (Penetential prayers) while Sefardim have been saying them all month. We have had a month to start preparing and now we are in the final day before it all comes about.

Rosh Hashanah can be an awesome day as we prepare ourselves to crown G-d king. Even though we do this every day, twice a day by saying the Shema, there is a special obligation to do this on Rosh Hashanah. The reason is that we want to feel that G-d is king. If we take that attitude into every day, then there is less chance that we will sin.

We need to have the fear of heaven and actually feel the trepidation! There is the famous story of the Beis Halevi where he used to put his hands over fire to feel what gehenom (hell) would feel like. His hands were literally dark brown from all the years of doing this. He would live his life every day in fear of G-d.

The Ari Zatzal (Rabbi Isaac Luria) said that if a person does not feel the trepidation and fear on Rosh Hashanah, then there is a blemish on their soul! This means that we have to take stock of our actions and what we do. Not only that, but we don't know what our real potential is and if we are lazy and don't use our strength's to our fullest, then G-d could have complaints against us and punish us.

As we go through the machzor and chant these liturgical poems, we realize the importance of the day. It is all about judgment, G-d's awesomeness and what we hope to aspire to. We cannot take anything for granted. Just because G-d granted us life last year, does not mean we merit it this year.

As we say, who will die by fire, water, killed, eaten by animals...who will become rich, who will be made guarantees. Nonetheless, we have to work hard to the best of our abilities and want to change.

Although Rosh Hashanah is only a day away, we still have the ability to do mitzvos to have a good judgement. This reminds me of the story of a man who comes to synagogue Rosh Hashanah evening and finds out that someone had taken his seat. He was so livid, nothing could calm him down.

Even when he went home and ate his festive meal, he was still bothered by this incident. He went to sleep and had the follow dream, that he was being judged in the heavenly court. He saw in front of him a huge scale and then heard a heavenly voice call out, 'Bring out all his mitzvos.'

All of a sudden thousands of white angels came out, some stronger, some weaker and that side of the scale went way down. After that, he heard another heavenly voice call out, 'Bring out his sins.' All of a sudden, he saw these black angels, some stronger, some weaker as they jumped on the other side of the scale.

The scale was balancing back and forth and it seemed that the side of the black angels was going further down and they appeared ready to tear him apart limb from limb. The man screamed out, 'Aren;t there any more mitzvos?' Silence. The man petrified not knowing what to do, screams out, 'I will do anything, I will even take yissurim (suffering).

After that, there were a huge amount of white angels that started coming out and jumped on the scale and pushed the scale to the side of merits. At this point, the man awoke from his dream shaking realizing what just transpired. Needless to say, the next day when he came to synagogue, he didn't care that his seat was taken as he enjoyed thoroughly all the singing and prayers the entire holiday.

May we all merit to be written in the book of life and a happy, healthy meaningful Rosh Hashahan to all.
Monday, September 2, 2013

Ethics of our Fathers Chapter 1 Mishna 12: Don't be Stubborn, Change!

Hillel and Shamai received the oral tradition from the preceding. Hillel said, 'Be of the disciples of Aharon, loving peace and pursuing peace, be one who loves his fellow men and draws them near to the Torah.'

Rav Ovadiah Bartenura tells us how Aharon Ha'Kohen would make between two people that were arguing. Without knowledge of one of the combatants he would tell him how his friend had remorse for what he has done and is sad beyond belief for what he has done to his friend. He said to me that he will now go to his friend and ask his forgiveness for what he has done.

Aharon would tell the other friend the same story and when each one met up with the other, they would ask each other forgiveness. This is how Aharon HaKohen would make peace between two arguing people. What a lesson we can learn! The problem is that we stand on circumstance and refuse to budge and admit we have done anything wrong.

This leads us to be stubborn, not wanting to give in and change for the sake of peace. What a different world it would be if we could learn to overcome being adamant and not wanting to make peace with someone.

This leads to the second part of the Mishna where Aharon would draw people close to the Torah. How would he do that? If Aharon would feel that someone transgressed in private he would go over to them and draw them close and befriend them. The one who transgressed would say to himself, 'if Aharon knew what I had hidden in my heart, he would not want to befriend me but rather I am a good person in his eyes and full of mitzvos!

"If Aharon really knew who I was," he continues, "he would stay away from such an evil person!" This person would then feel bad and ashamed of what they had done and it would cause them to do teshuvah (repent) Aharon had the ability just by acting in a friendly manner to change others.

This reminds me of the story of when a Yeshiva student went to see the Chofetz Chaim. This student was found to be smoking on Shabbos and he was summoned to see the Rosh Yeshiva (head of the Yeshivah). The Chofetz Chaim took the boy by the and and cried tears saying the words, 'Shabbos'.
That is all he said.

From that time on, that boy never smoked on Shabbos! This is the power of our actions that can lead a person to teshuvah, true love and caring. When a person sees that, how can they not want to change?
Friday, August 30, 2013

Parshas Nitzvavim - Vayeilech - Each Jew is Responsible for each other

"For you to pass into the covenant of Hashem your G-d and into His imprecation that Hashem, your G-d seals with you today" (Deuteronomy 29:11)

The parsha begins in plural form (atem nitzavim) and ends in singular form (l'avdecha). Rav Moshe Sternbuch Shlita in Ta'am V'Da'as tells us that the covenant made between G-d and the Jewish people is so that the they will be considered like one unit in as much as if one Jew transgresses whether through his body or soul, the entire Jewish nation feels it.

This is what it means that the Jewish people entered the covenant with G-d, each one taking responsibility for their fellow Jew. There is a novelty here, Rav Sternbuch explains. Even if one Jew decides that they want to throw off the yoke of keeping Torah and mitzvos G-d forbid, they are not doing what we call actions of our people and thereby take themselves out of the category of being part of our nation.

We understand that no matter what a Jew does, they are still considered a Jew even if they convert to another religion. At the same time, there are things that a Jew can do that systematically take him away from his people. Therefore, there would be no mitzvah of giving rebuke to such a person. Similarly there is no mitzvah to give rebuke to evil people and wanton transgressors who do not keep Torah and mitzvos.

Nonetheless, the Jewish people are all interconnected and all of them are considered one entity and have all entered the covenant with G-d together. Therefore if one of the Jewish people transgresses, it makes a blemish for the entire Jewish nation who feel the pain of what this person has done. Also,  anyone who can protest against what these people do should do so in a way that they themselves feel the pain of their actions.

One may ask, what will this protest do? Won't it anger the people even more? Sometimes a person has to stand up and do something because he feels the pain of what this transgressor has done. This will strengthen the covenant between G-d and the Jewish people through His Divine Providence and compassion for his people and His land.

This is the eternal promise of the merit we have in the land of Israel today. This makes things worse in some ways because if one transgresses in the palace of the king, then the punishment and repercussions are much greater.

I have heard many times Rav Sternbuch say that he is not afraid of all the hostile nations that surround the tiny country of Israel. What he is more afraid of is G-d's anger for his people when they do not act as His people in the land of the Israel!

As a nation we have to look out for our ignorant brethren and try and educate them in the ways of the holy Torah. This will bring out love of Torah and create a tremendous kiddush Hashem (sanctification of G-d's name).

Shabbat Shalom