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Elul 5760 – Re’eh and Preparing for the New Year

1 Elul 5760

From the Desk of: Rav Chaim Pollock

Chasam Sofer helps us prepare our outlook as the coming year approaches. Commenting on the opening Posuk in Parshas R’eh, he directs us to read as follows: R’eh! See, understand and contemplate. Onochi nosein lifneichem hayom brocho u’kloloh. Hashem places before us each and every day endless choices about which we must determine our behavior. Each choice has two possibilities, blessing and curse. R’eh! Reflect upon it. (A similar idea is expressed in Kli Yokor.)

Certainly this reminds us of the words of Rambam in Hilchos Teshuva which have us look at every action we wish to undertake and to perceive that we can make a difference. We can add to our merits, and those of our community and the entire world, or Chas V’Shalom, we can detract. The Torah says, R’eh! Think about what you do and you will choose appropriately once you are aware of the consequences of your actions.

There is a difficulty, though. We have heard this message many times, perhaps in different ways, so often it seems beyond our reach.

The anticipation of the month of Elul is often joined with a sense of trepidation; so it should be. When we anticipate something we are aware of the newness, of the freshness of a situation or event. At the same time, we know that we cannot really fathom a situation until we live it, and, thus, a feeling of unease.

For young children that anticipation and trepidation focus of the new school year. On the one hand, we are promoted to a new grade level, we are older and more mature. On the other hand, we will have new challenges, perhaps we will be unable to meet them.

At an older stage of life we know that the responsibility of the new season extends far beyond new classrooms, teachers and friends. We are very aware that, again, we are faced with personal choices that we are bound to make.

What is fascinating is the way the Torah prepares us for the new. We do not enter the new unprepared, from a vacuum. Rather the new is escorted to its place by the old, completing its own era. Tishrei, the onset of the New Year, does not come upon us by surprise. We do not awaken one morning and say, “I cannot believe it is Rosh HaShanah again.” We say instead, “I cannot believe it is Elul again.”

There is a decided advantage in this method. One need not begin from scratch. One need not have to reinvent the wheel. We have a model to look at and a track record to contemplate. That is the purpose of Elul – to allow us to operate within a framework and not in a vacuum.

That purpose serves us well when we remember the interpretations of Chasam Sofer and the halochos of Rambam. We have significant preparation for the choices we make. We have amassed much experience throughout our lives, experience that can guide us, either by its success or its failure. The Cheshbon HaNefesh that Elul allows us is not merely for multiple recitations of Al Cheit, knocking ourselves for our sins. The Cheshbon HaNefesh of Elul allows us to plan our next step and to truly ponder what we are to do next.

We are told, R’eh. We are provided the tools by which we can study our decisions and their outcome from the vast amount of experience we have garnered. Elul is a time for review and evaluation. We learn from our past and we prepare ourselves for our future. There will always be trepidation as we approach a New Year, not knowing that which awaits us. On the other hand we can have confidence that we are capable of meeting the task with the month of Elul serving as the means of dealing with what the future will bring.

May we have the Siyata Dishmaya to have the vision to choose the life of Brocho.

Ksiva VaChasima Tova!
Rav Chaim Pollock

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Av 5760 – Tammuz and Nechama

1 Av 5760

From the Desk of: Rabbi Boruch Smith

Dear Bas Yisroel,

In the pursuit of our Kedushah we tend to ignore the damage along the way. Chazal teach us that only if you mourn the destruction will you merit seeing the joy. If you will plant with tears then you will reap with joy.

Tammuz is the Aramaic word for fire. Appropriately so as this is the hottest time of the year. The Maharal in Ner Mitzva writes on the four periods of the year where the equinoxes of Tishrei and Nissan describe the balance of light and dark, Kedushah and tumah. Chanukah time is where the darkness is at its zenith with the single candle representing the germination of light, leading up to the truth breaking ground and sprouting with Ytziat Mitzrayim. According to this idea Tammuz must represent the full glory of light over darkness, symbolizing a true giluy of Hashem. Why then is this time traditionally the time of destruction?

Rav Dessler writes that the purpose of Destruction and mourning is to give birth, in the heart of man, to the yiush of the power of man in this world. The result of this recognition is a germination of the revelation of an internal recognition of spiritual truth – this is the definition of nechama (consolation).

A fundamental principle expounded on by the Maharal in Netzach Yisroel is the idea that before the realization of any form of existence there has to be a lack of existence. The prototype being that the world was null, void and dark before the existence of light. The logic being that in the place of a complete existence, wholeness, without lack – there is no room for a new existence. The Maharal’s moshel being that of an egg that must lose its existence of being an egg to allow for the existence of the fledgling. Therefore in the words of the Maharal “before the Bais Hamikdash was destroyed it was not possible the existence of Mashiach in the world at all…once the Mikdash was destroyed now there exists a potential that never existed before.” It follows therefore that the one who mourns for Yerushalayim holds that he is lacking because of Yerushalayim. There is now a lack that will allow him to merit to receive the revelation.

Using these ideas I think we can understand that any level of accomplishment that we achieved in our year of seminary, to the degree that there are components of perceived shlaimus, must suffer some form of destruction in order to allow for the next level of accomplishment. This destruction need not take on the painful dimensions of a fall but can be accomplished through deep introspection of the foolishness of our belief in the security of physical accomplishments and the recognition of the lack of Shechina in our lives. This recognition will allow for the nechama of a germination of an internal recognition of spiritual truth.

In this way we can now answer our question concerning the revelation of Tammuz. The consequence of a powerful revelation of a potential Kedushah, if opposed by any form of an illusion of perceived perfection, must shatter that illusion. This is also what is meant by the medrash in the Yalkut Shimoni, that in the future Hashem will take the sun out of its sheath. The wicked will be burnt up and the righteous healed. May we all merit to see the rebuilding of Tzion and Yerushalayim speedily in our days.

Be blessed,
Rabbi Boruch Smith

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Sivan 5760 – K’ish Echad, B’lev Echad

15 Sivan 5760

From the Desk of: Rabbi Eliezer Langer

It doesn’t seem fair.

The very famous Medrash tells us that the opportunity for Kabbalat HaTorah was not just for the Jewish people. As the Pasuk in Devarim 33:2 tells us, Hashem came to Har Sinai only after having first appeared at Seir and Paran, the dwelling places of the decendants of Esav and Yishmael. There He first offered the Torah to them. Before being willing to accept, they asked, what does this Torah of Yours contain?

Amazingly, Hashem chooses an example for each nation that was the exact opposite of their nature and heredity. To Yishmael’s children He said Lo Tignof, when their progenitor was told that he will live from stealing and pillaging. To bnai Esav Hashem responded, My Torah says Lo tirtzach knowing full well that their ancestor’s blessing was to live by the sword. And to Amon and Moav, whose whole existence resulted from incest, He said Lo tinaf. In fact the Midrash says that Hashem knocked on the door of every nation before He came to Bnai Yisrael.

While it is true that we responded properly, and the others rejected Hashem’s treasure, why did He select the specific law which would have been most difficult for that nation to observe? Would we have responded with the resounding Naase Venishma if we were faced with the challenge of our most difficult task? And what in fact is that area that presents the greatest difficulty for us?

Rav Goldvicht o”h gave the following answer. The truth is that at Har Sinai we in fact did overcome our greatest yetzer hara and we did meet the challenge that remains until this day our greatest stumbling block…

In preparation for Kabbalat haTorah we are told (Shemot 19) …they came to Midbar Sinai, they journeyed from Refidim and they arrived at the wilderness of Sinai and they camped in the desert – each time the Torah uses the plural form of the verb “they did x”. However at Har Sinai it says Vayichan – and he camped (in the singular form). Rashi quotes the Mechilta which comments they camped “k’ish echad, b”lev echad.” They were at this moment like one person with one heart.

What in fact seems to always be our greatest challenge and, unfortunately, our greatest stumbling block – the one ideal which has been for us the most difficult to achieve? It is to act and to be as one. Our predilection has been to quarrel among ourselves, to disagree with our each other and from that to never achieve what what could as one. Our inability to act upon the belief of elu v’elu divrei Elokim Chaim causes machloket, disrespect, and ultimately the sinat chinam that has been the bane of our existence.

However at the time of Kabbalat haTorah we passed the test – we showed that we were able to overcome our greatest challange. We were able at that moment to be “k’ish echad, b”lev echad,” to change our character and to overcome our desires and in that zechut we were able to receive Hashem’s treasure and become His people.

Interestingly enough, there is another mention in Chumash of ish echad and lev echad. When the Egyptians were pursuing Bnai Yisrael at yetziat Mitzraim the pasuk says (Shemot 14:10) behold Egypt is chasing after them. Since here the Torah also changed to the singular form of the verb (nosea) Rashi again quotes the Mechilta which explains “b’lev echad k’ish echad.” At first glance, it appears to be the same comment as was made about Bnai Yisrael at Kabbalat HaTorah – they were as one. Rabbi Simcha Wasserman ztz”l points out a major difference between the two explainations of the Mechilta. In regard to Bnai Yisrael it says, “k’ish echad, b’lev echad” while in regard to the Egyptians it says, “b’lev echad k’ish echad.”

He explained as follows. When Reuven and Shimon are partners in business, why does Reuven want Shimon to be successful and make a handsome profit? It usually is so that Reuven himself will reap the benefits of the joint success. Reuven really isn’t interested in whether Shimon is well off. Reuven is primarily interested in himself. Since his own desire for himself is dependent on Shimon’s success, he wants Shimon to do well. This is the unity of the Egyptians. Since they had lev echad, similar desires for themselves, they acted at this time as a unit, k’ish echad. Bnai Yisrael, however came to another madrega. We were like the partner who so much cares for, and desires the success of the other, for the sake of the other that he acts on his behalf and in this way they are one – “k’ish echad, b’lev echad.” They were like one person, each so concerned about his fellow, that they therefore acted as one.

Our relationship to others should be modeled after that of Bnai Yisrael at the time of Kabbalat HaTorah. Our concern for the next person should be because we want the best for them. Our desire to share the beauty of our learning and experience in Eretz Yisrael must be because of a true inner feeling and respect for the other’s right to their derech to Torah and Hashem.

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Nissan 5760 – The Secret Behind Hagalas Kelim

15 Nissan 5760

From the Desk of: Rabbi Yosef Azar

The Secret Behind Hagalas Kelim

One of the main features of pre-Pesach preparations is hagalas kelim, when we kasher many of our utensils for Pesach, usually those which became treif during the year. As a child, it was always a thrill to collect stones in my backyard and watch my father place the stones in a boiling pot and hopefully see my kitchen blow up. Yet as we grow older, hagalas kelim takes on a much greater significance, so let’s try to understand the seemingly coincidental relationship with Pesach.

The source for hagalas kelim is found in Parshas Matos 31:21 following milchemes Midyan – “Vayomer Elazar hakohen el anshei hatzava haba’im lamilchama zos chukas haTorah asher tziva Hashem es Moshe” – Elazar says to the men who returned from battle that the mitzvah of kashering the utensils of the Midyanites is “chukas haTorah”.

Why does the Torah speak in such broad terms and state that this is the chok of the entire Torah instead of being a chok for the specific mitzva of hagalas kelim (as the Torah uses the local expression in reference to the sacrifice of the Pascal lamb, “zos chukas haPesach”-Shemot 12:43)?

Perhaps we can understand the deeper meaning of hagalas kelim by reexamining yetzias Mitzrayim 3,300 years ago. When looking at the ten makkos, we see that in the first five makkos the Torah uses the lashon of “Vayachbed Paroh es libo” (Shemot 8:28)-Paroh hardens his own heart. However, after the makka of shechin (the sixth makka), the Torah states, “Vayechazek Hashem es lev Paroh” (ibid 9:12)- Hashem hardens the heart of Paroh. If Hashem would have allowed Paroh the opportunity, he would have chosen to send out the Bnai Yisrael right then and there. Why was it necessary to have an additional five makkos?

Obviously, one answer is that the first five makkos were not enough of a punishment for the heinous crimes of the Egyptians. Another five makkos were needed to justly punish them. The Bais Halevi, however, offers a different explanation. Paroh and the Mitzrim inflicted two evils on Klal Yisrael. The first evil was the physical enslavement of mortar and bricks. The second and more significant evil was the spiritual contamination of the souls of Klal Yisrael. One of the reasons for the makkos, says the Bais Halevi, was not only to punish the Egyptians, but to instill in Klal Yisrael a sense of yiras Hashem, and uproot the evil planted in their hearts during their long period of enslavement. After the first five makkos, much of the evil instilled in them was still present. Therefore, the Egyptians had to suffer an additional five makkos in order to cleanse the souls of Bnai Yisrael which they had contaminated. In this light, we now see that hardening Paroh’s heart for the last five makkos was more for the benefit of the Jews than for harm to the Egyptians!

However, just as Bnai Yisrael felt they were on the road to perfection and went on to accept the Torah, the sin of the golden calf occurred. What happened? If the ten makkos had refined Bnai Yisrael and the last five makkos came to specifically wipe out the poor values and morals of Mitzrayim, then how can we explain this fall? With another insight from the Bais Halevi we can understand what happened. After the sin of the golden calf, Moshe says to Hashem, “Lamah Hashem yechereh apcha b’amecha asher hotzeisa m’eretz Mitzrayim” (Shemot 32:11)- Why are You, Hashem, angry against Your people whom You took out of Egypt? The question seems to have an unnecessary phrase attached to it. What does “asher hotzeisa m’Mitzrayim” tell us? What does that have to do with Hashem getting angry at Klal Yisrael?

The Bais Halevi infers what Moshe was expressing. Even though on the surface yetzias Mitzrayim and the 10 makkos wiped away the idolatrous and immoral nature of Klal Yisrael, You, Hashem, still took them out too early! There still remained in Klal Yisrael a small trace of Egyptian culture and foreign values that every now and then rose to the surface. If only Hashem would have performed a few more makkos, then any trace of tumah would have completely left them and Bnai Yisrael would have reached their full perfection.

Now we can understand the relationship between Pesach, yetzias Mitzrayim and hagalas kelim. Baruch Hashem, our utensils are clean, free of any treif or potentially treif food particles. Everything seems like it’s fine. Yet hiding beneath us, inside the pores, there sometimes remains the foreign culture and distorted values to which we were exposed . The idea which hagalas kelim expresses is that we very often don’t even realize that the danger or impurity is there! How can there be a piece of treif in a pot washed three times! But the Torah tells us that it is there, and to truly eradicate these anti-kedusha concepts the Torah instructs us “kol davar asher yavo ba’esh ta’aviru ba’esh” (Bamidbar 31:23) – anything which comes in with fire, which comes with such force as the western culture of today, we must pass through fire, i.e. we must fight with effort and mesirus nefesh, to find the tumah within and kasher our bodies and souls. In this way we can achieve a complete yetzias Mitzrayim without the golden calves in the closet and may we utilize this Pesach to be mechazek ourselves and be zocheh to reach the final geula bimheira b’yamenu.

Chag kasher v’sameach!

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Adar I 5760 – Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh

15 Adar I 5760

From the Desk of: Mrs. Miriam Kahane

You can still picture so vividly in your mind’s eye the happiness and contentment you felt during your year in Seminary. The growth in Torah, in Yiras Shamayim, in Avodas Hashem. Kedusha seemed to surround you somehow, enveloping you at every turn. And now, your thoughts turn to worry and despair – “How can I ever achieve those ruchnious heights again? It seems so impossible! In Eretz Yisrael it seemed so much easier. With college, work, and so many gashmius distractions here in chutz la’aretz it seems impossible sometimes.”

Don’t despair! Just because Seminary has come to an end it doesn’t mean your ruchnious has as well. How can we build upon the strong foundation that we built in Seminary?

“Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh…” We sing it with our mouths but what we must do is contemplate it with our hearts. We are proclaiming that we are going to build a Mishkan in our hearts. What does this mean?

In the Parshios that we are reading now we see Hashem command B’nei Yisroel to construct a Mishkan. Rav Chaim Freedlander zt”l writes in Sifsei Chaim that before Adam Harishon sinned, Shechina dwelled everywhere. After Adam sinned, the Shechina went up to the first “rakiya”. As the generations got worse and worse the Shechina went up higher and higher, away from the earth. Then each of the Avos, with their maasim tovim, came and brought the Shechina down,closer and closer to the physical world. Until Matan Torah, when Moshe Rabeinu brought the Shechina completely back to the earth. Then what happened? Chayt Ha’aygel! At Chayt Ha’aygel the Shechina went back up to Shamayim. Immediately after that, Hashem commands Bnei Yisroel to build a Mishkan so that there can once again be a special place for His Shechina to dwell on this earth.

The purpose of the Mishkan was to enable Hashem’s Shechina to dwell on this earth as well as in the hearts of each and every Jew. “V’asu li Mikdash Veshachanti B’sochum”.

It’s interesting to note that THE place where Hashem’s Shechina dwells, the place of intense ruchnious and kedusha, was made out of VERY PHYSICAL MATERIALS! Gold, wood, copper and the list goes on and on. Not only that, but the activites that would take place there would be VERY PHYSICAL ACTIVITIES! Slaughtering animals, eating Korbanos (steak every night for dinner!)… Just go through the parshios (Truma, T’tzaveh, Ki Sisa) and you will find that we are being told about gems and metals and vessels and animals and clothing. It seems so contradictory if what we are talking about is building a place of ruchnious and kedushah.

But that is exactly the point. Hashem wants us to use PHYSICAL MATERIALS in order to create a place for His Shechina to dwell. He wants us to create ruchnious from gashmious.

And this is the special talent of a woman. Throughout Jewish History we see that the nashim tzidkaniot have had this ability to elevate the gashmius. The kiyor in the Mishkan was made out of the mirrors that the women in Mitzrayim used to beautify themselves for their husbands. The women were always eager and willing to donate their jewelry to the mishkan. Women are always found by wells throughout the Torah. Why? Because in wells, water moves upward. This symbolizes the idea that women are able to elevate the gashmious.

We always have to remember that we are able to take the physicality around us and use it for kedusha, l’shaym shamayim. We don’t have to close ourselves off from the physical world to achieve spirituality. And b’ezras Hashem, when all of you are wives and mothers, you will have even more of an opportunity to elevate the world around you. The 3 special mitzvos of women are: Challa, ner shabbos, and niddah. Challa elevates physical sustenance. Ner Shabbos elevates time. Niddah elevates the guf.

So whenever you get those “Post-Seminary Blues” just remember “Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh” – that you can build a mishkan in your heart by taking gashmious and using it for kedusha just as bnei Yisroel did in the Midbar to build the mishkan. In this way you will forever be building on the beautiful foundation of kedusha that you built in Seminary.