Category Archives: Archives 5760

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Adar I 5760 – Divrei Chizuk

1 Adar I 5760

From the Desk of: Mrs. Suri Garfinkel

Chodesh Tov!

A goal of Judaism is for us to create a close relationship with Hashem. One way we see this goal manifested is through Tefilla. During our davenning it is us speaking directly to the Creator of the world. Our connection can be compared to a direct telephone line or immediate internet access. Brachos are of a similar idea. Numerous times throughout our day we thank Hashem for the bounty that he has bestowed upon us, whether it be the food or drink we have enjoyed or the fact that our bodies know how to get rid of the materials that aren’t needed. Marriage is a beautiful parable of how our relationship with Hashem should be. Just as husband and wife work hard on building their relationship, so too we must invest much time and effort to create our relationship with Hashem. Although most of you are not in situations where you are able to learn as much as you want to, remember that within our every day actions there are numerous opportunities to draw closer and closer to Hashem and to enable you to tap into the vast amount of Kedusha that there is available. This coming Shabbos as you are sitting around the table singing Yedid Nefesh, listen to the words your soul has been saying for years and allow the words to help you draw closer to your Creator.

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Shevat 5760 – Ki Ha’adam Eitz Hasadeh

15 Shevat 5760

From the Desk of: Rabbi Yehoshua Freilich

Jerusalem
Erev Shabbat
29 Tevet 5760

Dear Alumna,

I am writing this dvar torah on Erev Rosh Chodesh Shvat. It has been pouring for the last two days. The Gemara says that by this time of the year the ‘majority’ of rain – rov gishmei hashanah should have fallen.

We have hardly seen any rain this winter. We have added a special tefilla in Shmoneh Esrei for rain during the last two months. B”H since yesterday approximately 100mm has fallen in the Galilee and 50mm in Jerusalem together with some sleet and snow. Unfortunately, we have not seen (the ‘majority’ of) rain for the season. Forecasters say most of the precipitation is yet to come. And now we are getting ready for Tu B’Shvat.

The Gemara in Rosh Hashanah has a machloket between Beit Hillel and Beit Shamai. When is Rosh Hashanah for the trees? Beit Shamai said Rosh Chodesh Shvat and Beit Hillel says 15 Shvat. Why do trees need a Rosh Hashanah, or is the Rosh Hashanah for us? Furthermore, what is the reason for such excitement and simcha that is associated with Tu B’Shvat?

On the technical level – Rosh Hashanah L’Ilanot/Tu B’Shvat is the cut off day for shnot maasrot of the fruit trees, Maaser Sheini/Maaser Oni/Shmita. It is the first day of the new fiscal year, that is January 1, April 1 or July 1. But why make a holiday?

Let me share some thoughts with you on this matter. All events whether historical or natural are important to us. Everything that is going on in the world of nature should talk to us on some level. Hashem is speaking to us, and we need to be able to respond. “Hashamayim mesaprim kvod kel umaasei yadav magid harakia” (Tehillim Ch. 19 – study it when you have a chance).

The Shem Meshmuel discusses why this particular time of the year is suitable for the blossoming of the fruit and trees. We are now one third into the year. If we count from Rosh Hashanah – Tishrei, four months have passed. In the world of nature – the “hidden” forces now push themselves through to the surface and reveal themselves in productivity of real blossoms and the first fruit. The Gemara describes how the sap in the tree is ready to push out the fruit and help the trees blossom.

Man is compared to a tree. Parshat Shoftim, 20:9: “Ki adam Etz Hasadeh”. A tree is connected to the ground to the beautiful fruit. It takes raw material from the dirt and creates a most outstanding product. Human beings also take physical objects in this world and transform them into spiritual objects, spiritual fruits – objects of mitzvot. [See Note 1.] Just as in the ‘natural’ world, the ‘action’ begins at this point. So too in the metaphysical world, Jews who have been working on themselves from Rosh Hashanah, can begin to “feel” and internalize real peiros – the effect of the mitzvot. (Even those who have not been working can also begin to feel this.) But let us go a step further.

Let us look (focus) at a fruit tree and see what lessons we can learn from it. Firstly, look at the intense activity that goes on inside the tree – real hard work to bring up all the water and other nutrients through the … pully – elevator system to its destination, in order to transform all the ingredients until we get to the final product nifla’os haBorei. On the outside we see a beautiful tree with its delicious fruit to eat, beautiful leaves which give shade when you get too hot and a strong trunk to lean on when you get tired. What chasdei HaShem! Man must also work hard on himself inside, constantly working on his middot and character. On the other hand, to the outside world he must all be kulo chesed with a smile for all. As the Chovot Halevavot brings down – Chosid – daagah belev vezahalato al panav – zehu haadam. The pious man has worry in his heart but a shine on his face.

Secondly, it takes a long time until a tree grows to maturity. It needs a lot of investment of time and effort to produce the beautiful fruit. For man to reach his fruition, it also takes a lot of effort and time.

Thirdly, It’s winter and the tree seems to be dead. But HaShem introduces nitrogen and whatever other elements needed to regenerate the tree. We also have low periods in life when we seem to be dead – (natural) but we also have the necessary ingredients, Torah and Mitzvot and stength to pull us back up. Sometimes we must just try harder.

Finally – fruit is considered the king of the food-growing world with its most beautiful forms, majestic shapes together with its naturally sweet tastes. Think of the last delicious apple, pear, or orange that you ate. We just finished eating a most magnificent Pamella. (Do you know what that is?) Leave out all the exotic fruits. These are part of the cheap luxuries we have in this world. HaShem could have gotten away without giving us these extras. We could have managed with some bread, water and a couple of vegetables. This is a true demonstration of Hashem’s love and generosity. Many times it is the small unnecessary gifts in life that truly show a person’s true love and affection for another. (Was it flowers, a postcard, a walkman or a tchachke?) [See Note 2.]

When we make brachot over fruits that we have on Tu B’Shvat this should be a true expression of the special and glorious relationship with Hashem. Ashreinu! It may be cold and rainy outside, but internally we should be able to warm ourselves up. The Minhag of making brachot on fruit during this cold season should warm us up. It should be done with tremendous Simcha, feeling the special connection with Hashem. As the Lubavitcher Rebbe zt”l points out, one can many times feel more simcha when performing a minhag than a mitzvah. The chavivus comes because I don’t have to do it – but because I want to do it.

May our thinking about the lessons of the tree and the eating of the fruit spur us on to higher levels of Simcha in our avodat Hashem.

Tu B’Shvat Sameach. Aleh Vehatzlach!
Rabbi Yehoshua Freilich

PS: Some of the ideas were inspired by a shiur that I heard from Rav Noach Orlowek.

Note 1: The Shem Meshmuel says that each third is important. Man is divided into three parts – the first third of his body ends at the heart.

Note 2: Tosafot in Tr. Brachot 38A point out on the words of “Boreh nefashot rabot vechesronan al kol mah shebarata..” are necessities and “al kol mah shebarata” refers to luxuries like apples.

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Shevat 5760 – Ki Ha’adam Eitz Hasadeh

15 Shevat 5760

From the Desk of: Mrs. Shani Gibraltar

“Ki Ha’adam Eitz HaSadeh” Shoftim 20:9 – Yalkut Shimoni

“Man is like the tree in the field.”

How?

Divrei Torah are compared to a tree – just as a little tree is used for kindling a big tree, so too a little talmid chacham sharpens (and ignites) the minds of bigger talmidei chachamim.

“D’amar Rebbe Chanina – Harbei Torah lamadti mayrabosai, umaychaverai yoser mayhem, umitalmidai yoser mikulum.” Rebbe Chanina learned a great deal of Torah, but gained the most from his talmidim, whose minds challenged him.

We see that many times Torah is compared to a tree, i.e. “Eitz Chaim he lamachazikim boh.” Someone just explained to me that from the moment a tree is a seed it is always in a state of growth. The minute that the tree stops growing – it will of course die. There is no such thing as stagnation.

Dovid HaMelech writes in Tehillim, perek alef: “V’haya k’eitz shasul al palgay mayim asher piryoh yiten b’ito v’olayhu lo yibol.” The tzaddik is compared to a tree that is planted near water (i.e. Torah) and is fruitful at the right time, and the leaves (even the mundane) connected to this tree (i.e. tzaddik) do not wither. The Malbim explains that the word “shasul” is different than “natua.” “Shasul” means transplanted – taken from its original place. “Natua” means planted in its original place.

The Ramchal in Mesilas Yesharim explains that the neshama doesn’t like Olam HaZeh at all. The neshama is “chaylek elokah mima’al,” and in reality she has no place in this world. Just as fire always burns upwards, so too the neshama always desires to return to the upper spheres, from whence she originated. In fact, the neshama feels as a stranger, suffering galus in this world. On the other hand, a person who is a “rasha” – feels that this world is THE LIFE! Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow it’s all over. The “rasha” is “natua” – planted in this world – he feels that this is the place to be. A person whose life is steeped in Torah – “u’v’soras HaShem cheftzo u’v’soraso yehegeh yomom valayla,” feels that he has been transplanted into this world. In fact, he sees himself as an upside down tree.

A tree has its roots in the ground and from there it receives nourishment and then it goes into the trunk and the branches. A tzaddik has his mind and heart constantly seeking nourishment from above, spiritual sustenance, that he then passes on to his extremities. His roots are the neshama that are always looking higher, upwards, to the heavens – to his source, “tzaddik katamar yifrach… sh’sulim b’vais HaShem.” A tzaddik, or the whole Jew, is connected with his source, he is always planted in the house of Hashem. Then the next possuk tells us – “u’v’chatzros Elokeinu yafrichu.”

And even when he is not actually “b’vais HaShem” – the beis k’nesses, beis medrash, etc., but when he leaves, goes to work, school, etc., he blossoms and one can still see the connection that this Jew has to his source and to HaShem.

Many people leave yeshiva, seminary, learning, etc. and forget where they came from. As the old time Reform Jews said, “Heyay Yehudi b’vaisechoh v’ish b’tzaysechoh.” “Be a Jew at home, but a man when you leave it.” This is, of course, antithetical to the Torah.

Wherever a Jew is, others should be able to detect the tzelem Elokim on him, the “chelek Elokah mima’al.” May we be zocheh to make the transplant of the neshama in this world a worthwhile and successful operation.

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Teves 5760 – Surviving Galus

15 Teves 5760

From the Desk of: Rabbi Shlomo Borenstein

As we read the last parshios of Sefer Bereishis and the beginning of Sefer Shemos, a gloomy picture starts to develop as Klal Yisrael enters into its first, of what seems to be a history, of everlasting galuyos. Mitzrayim will be the first taste for Klal Yisrael of leaving a homeland and being under the authority of another people.

When Yaakov Avinu returned from Charan with his family and began his role as the Av of Klal Yisrael in Eretz K’naan, the nation seemed to have found its home and began to grow and take shape as the Shevatim. Yet after the news that Yosef is alive and well in Mitzrayim, Yaakov makes the decision to bring the entire family to Mitzrayim to join his long lost son.

Rashi (VaYigash 46:3) tells us that Yakov was greatly troubled about going to chutzah la’Aretz. Yaakov seemed to sense that the beginning of a very dark period in Klal Yisrael’s history was about to begin. HaShem Himself came to Yaakov in order to comfort him and reassure him that his decision to move was correct.

It seems strange then, that despite his great apprehension about leaving Eretz K’naan, and his feeling that danger is looming in the near future, Yaakov’s last seventeen years of his life – the years spent in Eretz Mitzrayim, chutzah la’Aretz – are, according to the Zohar, “Me’ein Olam HaBa.” According to the Ba’al HaTurim (beginning Parshas VaYechi) they were “yamim tovim b’lo tza’ar,” good days without any pain. How can a man who sees Galus Mitzrayim on the horizon live a life of peace and tranquility?

The answer to the question is the lesson that Klal Yisrael has learned to follow from their first days in Mitzrayim until today, iy”H our last days of galus. Yaakov Avinu was the symbol of pure emunah in Hakadosh Baruch Hu. Despite living in a land that wasn’t his, despite being surrounded by goyim who wouldn’t even begin to fathom the life he was striving to live, despite having a painful yearning to return to the home that he so sorely missed, Yaakov Avinu not only continued to live in galus, but even flourished and grew until he reached a level of Me’ein Olam HaBa. If HaKadosh Baruch Hu wanted him in Mitzrayim, chutzah la’Aretz, then that’s where he would continue his avodah and personal growth.

Iy”H our long glaus will soon come to an end and we’ll all be reunited again in Yerushalayim Ir HaKodesh. But until that day arrives we must learn from Yaakov Avinu to live a life of Me’ein Olam HaBa wherever HaKadosh Baruch Hu wants us in this world. It was with that yesod that we survived Mitzrayim and it will be with that yesod that we’ll continute to survive until the yemos haMashiach b’meheirah v’yameinu.

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Kislev 5760 – Chanukah Lights

1 Kislev 5760

From the Desk of: Rabbi Mordechai Kreitenberg

Dear Students,

I hope to shed some light on why we light candles on Chanukah. The light of Chanukah serves as contrast to the way of life of the Greeks who are referred to as “darkness.” Chazal explain that this concept, darkness, is the one which most embodies the Greek challenge to the values of Judaism and the Torah. This, however, is difficult to understand, for we all know that the Greeks were a very enlightened people. They introduced to the world the sciences of geometry, philosophy, architecture, astronomy, etc. This would seem to be anything but darkness! Why, then, were they referred to as “darkness” by Chazal?

Aristotle said, “I am only interested in knowledge from the sun and below.” Knowledge that described the metaphysical reality of the world did not interest him. That which could not be measured, quantified or fully grasped by the human intellect was not of interest to him, for he maintained that if it is not tangible, then it does not exist. This is darkness.

The word Torah comes from the word “harion” which means conception as in the conception of a baby in the womb. Conception is the point where the creative energies that form life come together; all that comes out of the union of the seed is there in potential. There are genes that “program” what sex, color, intelligence, etc., the new person will have. Torah, like the conception of a baby, teaches us that the world mirrors a deeper reality, one of direction and purpose; all that exists in the physical world is rooted in a higher world, one that we cannot see or touch despite the fact that it is real.

The greatest revelation of modern science lies in discoveries in the science of atomic physics, the realization that all matter can be broken down into energy. The majority of the size of any particular atom is not constituted by actual matter, but energy. The nucleus of the atom only constitutes 1/60 of the mass of the atom. This is a crucial message for the modern Jew. The physical world is not static as man once thought it was. In fact, the vast majority of all matter is composed of energy.

This is the reason we light candles on Chanukah; it is because the job of the Jew is to unlock the potential in the physical world and bring out the Holiness that lies within it. This world is not devoid of spirituality and purpose. This world acts as a veil that we are meant to remove in order to reveal an inner, more spiritual world that ultimately connects us to Hashem. The Hebrew word for world olam is the same etymology as the word hidden, ha’alam because it is the world that masks Hashem. We light candles to reveal this deeper world that lies in potential in the physical world.

Light is always the metaphor for wisdom, and yet we see that the nation that brought so much wisdom to the world is referred to as “darkness.” The metaphor for wisdom is light because light enables a person to relate to the reality around him. Similarly, by understanding the world better, one has more of a connection to reality.

The more I learn about the complexity of the development of a baby in the womb, the more joy I experience when my child is born. Only when I understand and recognize how all the millions of chemical processes must be perfectly executed, each one dependent on the other, in order for a baby to be born, do I appreciate it more.

The Greeks only used their wisdom to increase a “horizontal” understanding of the world — “only knowledge from the sun and below.” They answered many of the “how” and “what” questions with tremendous sophistication and depth but they did not believe that questions in the realm of “why” had any relevance to their lives. The Greeks understood the world as being devoid of a connection to the infinite. This is why the Greeks are referred to as “darkness” – because when you are in a dark room, all that you know that exists for sure is yourself and what you can touch, but nothing beyond that. This is Chazal’s picture of the “man-centered” world of the Greeks. A world devoid of meaning.

In contrast, we light candles with the realization that the greatest joy in life is realizing that this physical world is an opportunity for spiritual development. It is a world exploding with spirituality. And that our whole job in this world is to elevate ourselves, and the world, by bringing out the spiritual potential that lies within it.

The bottom line – all the latkes and all the dreidel playing can get pretty frivolous and we start to celebrate Chanukah as if it was just another excuse for a party. I once asked Rav Shlomo Wolbe, “How should a Jew ignite genuine simcha in his life?” He said, “Thank Hashem that He gave us the Torah that guides us how to live our lives according to ratzon Hashem.” Just take thirty seconds looking at the Chanukah candles that you just lit and think of all the bracha and good you have in your life because you had a year in Israel and because you still have a deep connection to Torah.

Sincerely Yours,
Rabbi Mordechai Kreitenberg