Category Archives: Archives 5759

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Elul 5759 – Chizuk for Chodesh Elul

15 Elul 5759

From the Desk of: Rabbi Yehudah Bulman

Dear Talmida (tichyeh),

For many generations, “Elul” meant cherdat ha-din (fear of the judgement) and cheshbon ha-nefesh. Is that what you feel? Or do you feel dejected that (in your opinion) another year has passed and you haven’t accomplished what you had set out to do in avodat Hashem?

Perhaps you’ve even slipped.

Who hasn’t?

True, we should never be satisfied with our madreiga but that just means that we are expected to aspire to greater madreigos, not half give up and krechtz about it. Let me ask you, what good will it do if you’re despondent? If you are full of yiush and atzvut you certainly cannot serve Hashem properly. “Ivdu es Hashem b’simchah!”

So let’s try to change our perspective. Rav Wolbe writes in Ale Shur, “Rosh Hashana is the day of man’s creation, and that is what is special about the day – that every person can become a new creation” (Alei Shur II, p. 413).

“A new creation.” How much we must thank Hakadosh Baruch Hu for the tremendous chesed of being able to start again! Yet we sometimes feel that we can’t start again, that it’s just too late. The Chafetz Chaim has something to tell us about this feeling:

When the yetzer ha-ra sees someone who did several serious sins and is afraid that [the person] will do teshuvah, he uses the strategy of exaggerating [the seriousness of the sins] way more than they really are and deludes the person into thinking that he no longer has any way of correcting himself and, therefore, he might as well enjoy himself in this world.
This form of yetzer ha-ra is mentioned in Yechezkel, “And you, son of man, tell the house of Yisrael: ‘You say “our sins and iniquities are upon us, and because of them we are rotting away, so how can we live?”‘ Say to them, ‘As I live — the words of my Lord Hashem/Elokim — I do not desire the death of the wicked one, but only the wicked one’s return from his way that he may live; repent, repent…'” (Yechezkel 33:10-11)

The truth is that when someone returns to Hashem, Hashem comes back to him as well and draws him near as if he had never sinned, and none of his sins will be recalled. Chazal say on the possuk, “Hashem, Hashem Kel Rachum”: “I am He before the person sins and I am He after the person sins and repents” (Rosh Hashanah 17b). [Chazal] mean by this that Hashem treats us differently than humans treat each other. If someone offends another human and then returns and apologizes, nevertheless, their level of friendship will never be the same as it was at first, but by the Holy One this is not so, for it is as if the person had never sinned.

So, dear talmida, please remember that this is a time when you can start again and go right back to the madreigos you yearn for.

*** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***

But I haven’t spoken with you in a long time, so why should I assume that you’ve slipped at all? More likely you haven’t slipped, but as time goes on, it’s getting harder to “hold on.” Perhaps your environment is pounding on your inner spiritual fortress which you so painstakingly built while you were here. Or perhaps you’re having a hard time remmebering what you’re fighting for.

If this is the case, allow me to share some of the Chafetz Chaim’s advice:

In these [challenging] times, it is a mitzvah for those who fear Hashem to get together sometimes and give each other chizuk in matters of avodas Hashem, and all their words will be recorded in the “book of rememberance” before Hashem.” (Shem Olam (ibid, Chapter 1))
So, if you can, get together with some of your friends who, like you, aspire to avodas Hashem and give each other chizuk. Even if you live (or go to school) far away from your friends, you can “get together” by phone, and you can spend time with them on a Shabbos.

What will you gain by these discussions? The Chafetz Chaim says this is like lifting an object. Most people can lift light objects. A strong person can lift a heavier load. If it’s a very heavy load, even a very strong person won’t be able to lift it by himself. But if he calls a few friends they can lift even that heavy load together. That’s what you’ll gain. Together you will be able to overcome even the “heaviest” nisyonos.

The Chafetz Chaim adds that “the main hischazkus should not be just in thought but in deed.” I must admit that I don’t know exactly what he meant, but perhaps he simply meant that your hischazkus has to be concrete: practice doing something which will make you stronger in your avodas Hashem. For example, if you decide that you want to daven better, then decide which aspect or part of davening you will work on first, and do it.

So strengthen yourself and your friends, take a deep breath, and start again!

Chizki V’imtzi

B’virkas kesiva v’chasima tova,
Yehudah Bulman

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Elul 5759 – The Benefits of Aloneness

1 Ellul 5759

From the Desk of: Rabbi Noach Orlowek

It’s a cold July evening here in Hartbeesportdam, South Africa, a 90-minute drive from Johannesburg. It’s the dead of winter in the Southern Hemisphere. There are plenty of ducks and geese here, and my wife and myself are spending a day of quiet and relaxation, and sublime solitude. My wife has brought with her a copy of Rabbi Nissel’s Women and Tefilla pamphlet, and it reminded me that I am due to have the honor of appearing on JemSem. I guess the topic that would be most suitable is how we need, from time to time, quiet and solitude.

We need quiet to think, and to remind ourselves of the truths of life that often become forgotten during the everyday rush of life (in the West, at least). We need quiet to appreciate anew the gifts that we take for granted, whether it be the people closest to us, our physical and intellectual gifts, and, most of all, our connection to Hashem.

People are composed of intellect and emotion, and it is the intellect, because it can project, that bears responsibility for decision making, considering, of course, our emotional realities. The problem is that the emotion works much more quickly than the intellect and, especially when taken unawares, we act on our emotions before the intellect has a chance to give its input and decision. The rule of thumb is that that which is slower must start earlier. So we must use our quiet times to utilize our intellect to try to project and not be taken by surprise.

This, by the way, is why I think girls should come to Israel for a year (or two), in order to have that quiet time, before embarking on the path of life. It gives the intellect a chance to work out what is important in life, before the journey begins in earnest. It is a reflection of the “real world,” the world that reflects timeless truths, and the key to a meaningful, and therefore happy, life. For happiness is not a goal, it’s an asset, whereby we have the energy to do worthwhile things, and a byproduct of a life lived correctly. This is how my Rebbe, zt”l, Rav Simcha Wasserman, put it: We would not be commanded to hope for the days of Moshiach if those days meant “happy life.” It’s because in Moshiach’s time we will live a “correct life” (“happy” and “correct” were his words) and therefore a happy life that we hope for Moshiach’s days to draw near.

We therefore need to take, even after our return from Israel, time each day, or at least each week (I recommend right before Shabbos has ended, for then we have “detoxified” the most from the previous week’s crazinesses.) to reflect on the happy truths of life and realign ourselves with those truths. But we must be careful that we leave these periods of quiet refreshed and looking toward a better spent week, for if we become depressed from our times for reflection, we must stop immediately and figure out why we get that way, for being in touch with the truth is always invigorating, for it is synonymous with being in touch with Hashem, remembering that the soul that He gave me is immutably pure, and can therefore regenerate into its pristine closenes to Hashem, no matter what.

I want to thank Leibish A. and his wife for allowing us the use of their cottage here, and for giving me the quiet time I needed to write this for you.

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Av 5759 – Ani L’dodi V’dodi Li

15 Menachem Av 5759

From the Desk of: Rabbi Avishai David

The days after Tisha B’Av already presage the onset of Chodesh Ellul. Chazal note that Ellul is an acronym for “Ani L’Dodi v’Dodi Li.” The relationship between the Almighty and the Jewish people is one of a dual nature. There are periods when the Almighty initiates the encounter with Klall Yisrael and, hopefully, we respond. This is reflected in the expression “Dodi li v’ani lo.” At other times we are enjoined to seek out the Almighty who responds to our initiative with love an compassion. That phenomenon is embedded in the expression that highlights Chodesh Ellul – “Ani l’Dodi v’Dodi li.”

My revered Rebbe, HaRav Tzvi Dov Kanatopsky zt”l, often noted that it’s most striking that in the context of Shir HaShirim, where these two expressions occur, they are utilized very precisely. In the second chapter, where the Shulamit hears the approaching of their beloved:

“Kol Dodi hinei zeh ba m’daleg al heharim m’kapeitz al hageva’ot… anah Dodi v’amar li kumi lach ra’ayati yafati u’l’chi lach.” The Dod or the Almighty is beckoning to the Klall Yisrael to repond to His overtures. The fitting conclusion to this Divine initiative is “Dodi li v’ani lo haro’eh bashoshanim.”

In Chapter 5 of Shir HaShirim, the voice of the Dod is heard knocking on the door: “Kol Dodi dofek, pitchi li achoti ra’ayati…”

Unfortunately, our response is often one of indifference or apathy. We are presently preoccupied and involved in other pressing matters.

“Pashat’ti et kutonti, aichacha elbashenah. Rachatzti et raglain aichacha atanfeim.” Only after I have tended to my own selfish egotistical needs do I respond.

Unfortunately, I missed the golden opportunity to rendezvous with my beloved. “V’Dodi chamak avar.”

At that juncture, the Klall Yisrael is tragically destined to search for the Almighty, a search that is saturate with sadness and pathos, reflecting golden opportunities that were foregone. That yearning and searching for my Beloved reaches its acme with the words “Ani l’Dodi v’Dodi li” that reflect the pain and disappointment of a lost opportunity.

The Netziv, in his commentary to Shir HaShirim, notes the dialectical nature of these two expressions. There are historical periods, e.g. Yetziat Mitzrayim, that epitomize “Doi li v’ani lo.” In Egypt it was the Almighty who initiated, cajoled, concretized, and executed the redemption: “Ani v’lo malach, Ani v’lo saraf…ela HaKadosh Baruch Hu b’chvodo u’v’atzmo.”

The Yom Tov of Pesach is the quintessence of “V’hotzeiti, v’hitzalti, v’ga’alti, v’lakachti, v’heiveiti” – in short, “Dodi li v’ani lo.”

Conversely, when Avraham Avinu searched for the Almighty and discovered Him in the complexity of the cosmos, the heavenly constellations, and the nebulae that religions experience, relected “Ani l’Dodi v’Dodi li.”

HaRav Kanatopsky zt”l remarked that even a cursory examination of Sefer Devarim reveals this dialectic. The early parshiyot of Devarim, V’Etchanan, Eikev focus on the beneficience and bountiful chessed of the Almighty in our sojourn in the midbar. Subsequently, our entry to the Promised Land was exclusively the handiwork of the Almighty. The subsequent parshiyot obligate us to respond to the boundless chessed vouchsafed to us by the Almighty – “l’schino tidrishu u’vata shamah.”

This dialectic is embedded in the warp and woof of Jewish history and destiny. Chodesh Ellul lovingly beckons to us to initiate dialogue with the Almighty at a propitious moment when “Melech b’sadeh” – the King of kings is accessible and immanent. It behooves us not to lose the opportunity but to seize the moment to rendezvous with the Shechinah. We can accomplish this through a variety of modus operandi: daven and articulate the words carefully and methodically, recite brachot with precision and forethought, and perform mitzvot with painstaking care. By attempting to improve our avodat HaShem, we will be testifying to our commitment and love – “Dodi li” and, hopefully, the Almighty will respond to our overtures – “V’ani lo” – and embrace the Klall Yisrael with love and compassion.

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Tammuz 5759 – Tzarchei Tzibbur

15 Tammuz 5759

From the Desk of: Rabbi Bezalel Borstein

The concept of tzarchei tzibbur is an important theme in Judaism. Chazal define tzarchei tzibbur to include:

1) the gashmius of a city – fixing roads, putting down telephone lines, building sewers, collecting garbage, etc.
And

2) the ruchnius of a city – giving Psak Din, helping to mend rifts between people, helping to unite different segments of society, etc.

Anyone involved in tzarchei tzibbur is promised tremendous s’char. At the end of the Y’kum Purkan prayer we say (“V’chol mi she-oskim…”)

Amazing!!! We are promised that such a person will be physically healthy “v’yasir mehem machala, v’yirpa l’chol gufam.” He will be spiritually healthy “v’yislach l’chol avonam”!! And to top it all off, he will be successful as well – “v’yishlach bracha l’chol ma’aseh yideihem.”

SO WHAT IS SO DIFFICULT?! Anyone can do it!! Don’t we all do tzarchei tzibbur? Doesn’t the doctor help his patients, doesn’t the lawyer defend his clients, doesn’t the computer whiz make new products that make the lives of all the inhabitants of the city just a little easier? Isn’t that tzarchei tzibbur??

The question is strengthened by a particular act of the Nisi’im. When the people were asked to give terumos to the Mishkan, the Nisi’im, as the leaders of the people, were naturally expected to make their donations first. Instead they declared “mah shemichasrim hatzibbur anu mashlimim.” We won’t give any money now, but whatever money is neeed at the end we will fill in. But as it happenned, there were no gaps!!! Klall Yisrael brought everything needed!!!

Rashi, commenting on the pasuk in Vayikra 38:27, states that the reason the word Nisi’im is written without a “yud” in the middle of the word and at the end, is to highlight this hesitation. The Avnei Ha’Eizel explains that the “yud” is a sign of plural (ex: it makes “gadlam” into “gedolim”). The “yud” is taken away from the Nisi’im because they didn’t share with the rabbim – they didn’t become part of the whole. They were punished with the missing “yud” in their name to show that as mmbers of Klall Yisrael and certainly as leaders – they have to participate in the joy and the happiness of the people as well as their pain, sufferings, and burdens.

But where did the Nisi’im fail? They certainly were involved in tzarchei tzibbur!! Why is there such disapproval for their slight hesitation???

One possible answer can be based on a Yerushalmi in Brachos. The gemara, in commenting on the mishna that states:

Ein omdim l’hispallel ela m’toch koved rosh. Lo ya’amod adam l’hispallel lo m’toch sicha v’lo m’toch devarim beteilim ela m’toch devarim shel Torah. (Perek 8, Halacha 1)
Before we begin to daven there should be some preparation time. The mishna defines this as koved rosh and the gemara tells us that koved rosh means Torah. The gemara then discusses what type of Torah is appropriate and comes to the conclusion that Torah means din shel halacha. Rav Yirmiya adds:
Ha’osek b’tzarchei tzibbur k’osek b’divrei Torah
One who works with the tzibbur before tefilla, has prepared himself as properly as the one who learns Torah!! According to Rav Yirmiya, it would appear, that an appropriate introduction to tefilla is fixing the roads or collecting the garbage! What does Rav Yirmiya mean? How does tzarchei tzibbur help me prepare for tefilla?
The Maharal explains that it is possible to work for the tzibbur for a variety of reasons.

-to make a lot of money
-to get kavod
-to avoid boredom
But acts done for these reasons says the Maharal, although the tzibbur may benefit from them are still labeled as
tzarchei yachid.

Rav Yirmiya is referring to an act of tzarchei tzibbur done in a specific manner – l’shem shamayim – with the proper intentions. Such an act is an appropriate preface for tefilla because it can bring a person extremely close to Hashem. If done l’shem shamayim, even fixing a road becomes a good way to prepare for communicating with my Creator.

If we look carefully again at the end of the “Y’kum Purkan” prayer, we may find this concept as well. The tefilla states, “v’chol mi she’oskim b’tzarchei tzibbur be’emunah.” It’s not for tzarchei tzibbur alone that we are promised these tremendous rewards. But only when it’s done be’emunah!! It has to be done l’shem shamayim!! Then I’m promised health, then I’m promised forgiveness, then I’m assured of success.

Perhaps this is the reason for the disapproval cite by Chazal of the act of the Nisi’im. Certainly they were involved in tzarchei tzibbur. Certainly on a daily basis they dealt with the problems of their comunity. But by hesitating to donate to the Mishkan, it indicated that in some small way the act was not one at the proper level – l’shem shamayim – that is to be expected of the Nisi’im.

Everyone will be involved in tzarchei tzibbur. No matter what profession in life, it somehow involved other people. The same act, with the same results can be defined as tzarchei tzibbur or tzarchei yachid. It is simply dependent on our mindset.

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Sivan 5759 – Maintaining Objectivity

15 Sivan 5759

From the Desk of: Rabbi Chaim Flom

A few years ago, during my meluim (reserve duty in the Israeli army) I came across an American who was lost. “Can I help you?” I asked. “I don’t speak Hebrew,” the stranger replied. “Can I help you?” I repeated. “I don’t speak Hebrew,” again he replied. “I am speaking English,” I said in total disbelief of the conversation. “Oh, when I saw your Israeli army uniform, I just assumed you were speaking Hebrew,” he answered embarrassingly. (I was glad my Pittsburgh accent wasn’t the source of the problem.)

We often hear and see what we are predispositioned to hear and see. When the spies went to Israel, G-d made a miracle that the inhabitants of the land were preoccupied with burying their dead so they wouldn’t notice the Jews. Rather than seeing their good fortune in this, the spies saw Israel as the land that “eats its inhabitants.”

In a Pittsburgh Pirates – New York Mets baseball game, when a Met would slide into home plate and be called out, it doesn’t take a navi to know which team would scream that he was really safe and which team would agree with the umpire. Why? Because when your orientation is to the Mets, your glasses get that tint in them. I am not talking about people blantantly lying, but on a close call, the Met fan would actually see his favorite player as safe. (Sorry if you don’t follow baseball, sorrier if you follow the Mets.)

Before we complain that someone isn’t good to us, or that Hashem gave us a raw deal, try to separate fact from bias.

Some people see the glass as half empty, others as half full, but I think we should see that the cup has exactly the right amount.