Category Archives: Archives 5766


Kislev 5766 – Making Music with What We Have

4 Kislev 5766
Making Music with What We Have
From the desk of Rabbi Eliezer Liff

Central to Chanukah is the miracle of the one day supply of oil burning for eight days. There are over a hundred answers to the famous “Bais Yosef question” who points out that in reality the miracle was only seven days. The first day was not a miracle at all since there was always enough oil for the first day.

One answer given is as follows:

The fact the Jews had the courage to initiate the lighting of the Menorah in the first place when all logic and reason dictated that it wouldn’t last anyway, was the miracle.

But this begs the question. Why try? What’s the point?
The Chanukah lights speak to us, and one the menorah’s messages is that the secret of our survival throughout the ages, lies in reaching out and doing even when it appears we won’t succeed. Who would have thought in their wildest imaginations seventy years ago that Torah would thrive in America? A handful of pioneers refused to listen to the” logic and reason” of the pessimists that Torah Judaism was doomed in America. They built Yeshivas and day schools even when society dictated that they would not last. They reached out to the impossible and unattainable. It is our mission to emulate them.

Chanukah teaches us that we are the eternal people because we believe, and because we believe, we can dream the impossible, and perhaps because we dream the impossible we achieve the incredible.
That is the story of Jewish People and the story of each and every one of us.
In our private lives there are times we feel like giving up because things get too tough. Here again the Chanukah candles whisper to us to never stop dreaming the impossible

The following article appeared in the Houston Chronicle, February 10, 2001, by Jack Riemer. It beautifully echoes our idea:

“On Nov. 18,1995, Itzhak Perlman, the violinist came on stage to give a concert at Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center in New York City. If you have ever been to a Perlman concert, you know that getting on stage is no small achievement for him. He was stricken with Polio as a child, and so he has braces on both legs and walks with the aid of two crutches. To see him walk across the stage one step at a time, painfully and slowly, is an awesome sight. He walks painfully, yet majestically, until he reaches his chair. Then he sits down slowly, puts his crutches on the floor, undoes the clasps on his legs, tucks one foot back and extends the other foot forward. Then he bends down and picks up the violin, puts it under his chin, nods to the conductor and proceeds to play. By now, the audience is used to this ritual. They sit quietly while he makes his way across the stage to his chair. They remain reverently silent while he undoes the clasps on his legs. They wait until he is ready to play.

But this time, something went wrong. Just as he finished the first two bars, one of the strings broke. You could hear it snap – it went off like gunfire across the room. There was no mistaking what the sound meant. There was no mistaking what he had to do. People who were there that night thought to themselves: “We figured that he would have to get up, put on his clasps again, pick up the crutches and limp his way off stage – to either find another violin or else find another string for this one”. But he didn’t. Instead, he waited a moment, closed his eyes and then signaled the conductor to begin again.

The orchestra began, and he played from where he had left off. And he played with such passion and such power and such purity as they never heard before. Of course anyone knows that it is impossible to play a symphonic work with just three strings. I know that, and you know that, but that night Itzhak Perlman refused to know that. You could see him modulating, changing, recomposing the piece in his head. At one point, it sounded like he was de-tuning the strings to get new sounds from them that they never made before.

When he finished, there was an awed silence in the room. And then people rose and cheered. There was an extraordinary outburst of applause from every corner of the auditorium. We were all on our feet, screaming and cheering; doing everything we could to show how much we appreciated what he had done

He smiled, wiped the sweat from his brow, raised his bow to quiet us and then he said – not boastfully, but in a quiet pensive, reverent tone, “You know, sometimes it’s the artist’s task to find out how much music you can still make with what you have left.” What powerful line that is. It has stayed in my mind ever since I heard it. And who knows? Perhaps this is the definition of life-not just for artists but for all of us. Here is a man who has prepared all his life to make music on a violin of four strings, who, all of a sudden in the middle of a concert, finds himself with only three strings; so he makes music with three strings, and the music he made that night with just three strings was more beautiful, more sacred, more memorable, than any he had made before when he had four strings. So, perhaps our task in this shaky, fast changing, bewildering world in which we live is to make music, at first with what we have, and then, when that is no longer possible, to make music with what we have left.”

The Chanukah battle has never ended and we find ourselves living in a world surrounded by the glorification of the external. Fill in the blank. This struggle affects our times perhaps more than others in so many ways, no matter where we live.

When we light the Chanukah menorah, let us take some time to actually meditate upon and look at the candles, perceiving the eternal and internal messages the lights are whispering .The lights are talking to us and have powerful messages how we can bring light into the darkness of this world, and also into our own personal lives.

May we merit a world when our fellow brother’s and sister’s Jewish spark ignites into a flame (including me and you) with the hidden light for the tzaddikim being revealed, and that we merit to perceive that light.

Wishing you a meaningful and inspiring Chanukah!

Rabbi Eliezer Liff


Cheshvan 5766 – “Bodies at Rest”

7 MarCheshvan 5766
“Bodies at Rest”
Rabbi Chaim Pollock

Though it sounds like a variation on the Pesach Seder, serious B’nei Torah grapple with the same question from the beginning of Elul until the conclusion of the Yomim Tovim: Why will this year be different than any other year?

This question reflects a sense of deja vus. We recited the same vidui last year. We promised that this year would be different. If in the intervening span between last year and this year I fell fall short of my goals, why should I take upon myself pledges and promises? Who am I fooling? I feel hopeless!

This question is magnified after the Yomim Tovim conclude. There is such a stark contrast to the feeling of Torah and Mitzvos that we have in those seven weeks of contemplation, prayer and commitment and the emptiness that seems to be our lot for the next weeks. Could there be a greater emphasis of this point than the month of Cheshvan that is bereft of holidays? Isn’t that one of the reasons ascribed to calling it MarCheshvan-the Cheshvan that is Mar, bitter, without days of rejoicing?

Most of have learned the physical theory of inertia. Simply put, this theory states that “a body at rest tends to stay at rest and a body in motion tends to stay in motion”. That means that if there is no outside influence (such as gravity to restrain movement and a push to cause movement) objects will not change their state. If they have stopped they do not possess power to re-start themselves. It as if everything is dead and unable to influence itself from its own nature.

The Halachic idea of “Chai no’sei es ‘atz’mo” (Masseches Shabbos 94 a) stands in opposition this idea. “Chai no’sei es ‘atz’mo” means that a living creature supports part of its own weight even when being carried by others. Life has its own vigor. People are dynamic and vital and even when they appear to have stopped, they can generate movement and activity on their own. That is a message that we read in Parshas Noach, the Sidra that always begins the month of Cheshvan. “…v’chit’chem yi’h’yeh ‘al kol cha’yas ho’o’retz” (Perek 9/Posuk 2). The literal translation is that Noach was told that the animals will fear him and he does not have to be afraid of them when he exits the Ark.

Rashi brings an alternative explanation. In this explanation, the word “chit’chem” comes from the word “chai”-life and the verse means your (Man’s) life will be over that of the animals. Citing Chazal, Rashi reminds us that a one-day old infant, in all of its frailty, is better protected against attack of a rodent than the once-mighty King Og in his death. Life possesses its own strength and enthusiasm.

And, of course, this is the underlying idea of the seminal concept that “ho’o’ron no’sei es no’sov” (Masseches Sotah 35 b). The Aron HaKodesh of the Mishkan appeared to be supported by those assigned to carry it. In fact, the Aron HaKodesh carried those upon whose shoulders it rested. Certainly, the Gemara concludes, it carried its own weight. What could be more alive, vital and dynamic then the Aron Kodesh upon which the Shechina “rested”?

What did we learn these past weeks from the inspiration of the Shofar, the dedication to Tefilah and the true joy of Simchas Torah? We learned that we can raise ourselves from the state of lack of motion in which we often find ourselves. We discover the life that flows from our Neshama. It is able to re-ignite itself on its own, raising itself from a death-like trance to activity that is valuable and worthy.

During these last weeks we have discovered our lives and that discovery is not limited to a few weeks every year. That discovery tells us that wherever we are at, no matter how we feel, we can change the situation. Life is what you make it, because it is in your control to make it.

We can take the “mar” out of Cheshvan by imbuing it with accomplishment and achievement that flows from the very life Hashem has given us.

Chodesh Tov
Rabbi Chaim Pollock


Elul 5766 – Coronation of the King

4 Elul 5766
Coronation of the King
By Rabbi Zave Rudman

As a Ba’al Kriah on Rosh HaShanah for many years, I was always bothered by the parts that we read that seem to be ‘additions’ to the regular Laining. On the second day we read from the end of Parshat VaYera, Akeidat Yitzchak. This parsha seems to be the main point of the Kriah. It also has sufficient pesukim for five Aliyos (which is the maximum since the second day of Rosh HaShanah cannot be a Shabbos), that there is no need to read beyond it. However, we finish the Akeida, and read the pesukim which describe the message that Avrohom receives at the birth of Rivka . The parsha itself is difficult, and in the context of Rosh HaShanah even more puzzling. We are not only informed of Rivka’s birth, but we are told of all of the descendants of Avrohom’s brother Nachor. Not only does the Torah tell us about Rivka’s grandmother and father, but even about her grandfather Nachor’s concubine, Reuma, and her four sons. What is the purpose of these pesukim, and why on Rosh Hashanah. In fact, these pesukim seem so redundant, that when the Ma’or VaShemesh is looking for an example of a part of the Torah that seems completely unnecessary, this is the example that he brings!

Rashi is bothered by this and tells us two things. First he deals with the positioning of this Parsha after the Akeida, by telling us that when Avrohom saw that Yitzchak almost passed away without progeny he decided that the time had come to find a wife for him. Hashem then told him that Rivka was born from his own family and there was no need to look at the daughters of Canaan. In order to explain the need for the entire genealogy, Rashi quotes a Midrash that Nachor’s family was parallel to Avrohom’s descendants; twelve children, divided eight from wives and four from concubines, just like Yaakov. This why the Torah taught us all this now.

The Ramban also seems to try to be answering this question by telling us that the Torah is retelling the entire message that Avrohom received. This entire missive was brought to him since any of the descendants of their daughters could marry into Avrohom’s family . This explanation is still a bit obscure, because actually none of them did, so why do we need to be aware of theoretical possibilities. This is even more difficult in a theological sense because: since when is Hashem planning for Plan B? Rashi may give us a framework, but why is this important that there should be this equivalency?

There is a cryptic Midrash which explains the names of the children of Reuma as different synonyms for destruction . Tevach is related to slaughter; Gacham to being cut up; Tachash from being weakened; and Ma’acha from being crushed. In order to clarify these issues we need to explain the Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh in this parsha . He says, that whenever there is a revelation of the Neshama of a Tzadik, there is almost a Newtonian equal and opposite reaction. Since the time of Adam all physical and spiritual good only comes with a counterbalance. Just as the wheat was cursed that it comes with chaff, so too spiritual benefits must come with an inverse shell. Since Rivka was being born, perforce there must be a counterbalance. This counterweight is the progeny of Nachor who do not join Avrohom. The Megaleh Amukos adds another point in connecting these four sons to the four kingdoms that are the inverse of Klal Yisroel. He adds that Tachash is a version of the word Nechoshet (only the Nun is missing and he explains why), which in Daniel represents Yavan- Greece. Therefore, we can recreate the entire structure of these four sons of Reuma and what they represent; with Ma’acha opposite Edom- Rome.

Therefore the Midrash is telling us that to counterbalance Rivka who would be one of the Mothers of Klal Yisroel, there were created four forces of destruction which represent the Kingdoms that attempt to usurp the place of Klal Yisroel in the world.

The final piece in this puzzle is found in the Koznitzer Magid’s Torah . He writes that he found in an ancient manuscript the following. MACH”AH is the Hebrew acronym for “King of the entire universe”. And that is why we read this on Rosh Hashanah the day of the coronation of the King. As we say in the Tefilah of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, “And let Your dominion be over the entire world.” The true sovereignty of Hashem is not only when we accept Hashem, but when those who opposed Him bend their knee and submit. The Midrash says that Edom is called a Chazir- pig . The word chazir is related to Chazara- to return. In the end Edom who rebelled against HaShem’s rule will be the ultimate symbol of the acceptance of His Kingdom. Therefore, Ma’acha is a name of destruction, the final one, who is the inverse of Rivka. But through him we will see the absolute dominion of Hashem, when on Rosh Hashanah, everyone will coronate the King.

This is the lesson of these pesukim of the Krias HaTorah of Rosh Hashanah. Not only do we Klal Yisroel accept Hashem as the descendants of Avrohom and Yitzchok who joyfully went to the Akeida, but even those who originally opposed Hashem will ultimately, and BE”H speedily accept him as the true King.


Sivan 5766 – Secrets of Sivan

Sivan 5766
Secrets of Sivan
by Rabbi Shlomo Borinstein

In his Sefer Yitzira, Avraham Avinu reveals to us some of the deepest secrets of our aleph-beis. Although this work is way beyond most of our understanding we can extract parts and try to learn from them to the best of our ability.

Sefer Yitzira writes that Chodesh Sivan corresponds to the letter zayin. What does that mean? What does the letter zayin mean and what does it have to do with Sivan? Let’s try to understand.

We know that there are six directions in the world: north, east, south, west, up, and down. These directions represent everything that goes on in this world. Now imagine for a minute. If a person was standing in a certain place and took a crystal bowl and smashed it into pieces it would splatter all over to such an extent that it would be difficult to see where it started from. There would be pieces in all directions but quite possibly none from where the person was standing. It would take a lot of analyzing to discover its source.

This is the number seven, or the letter zayin. Six is all the directions but we don’t see the original source. It might well have come about through a Big Bang. Seven comes to teach us that all the directions of the universe, everything in this world, all come from an Original Source. HaKadosh Baruch Hu was here from the beginning and He, and He alone, created all the six directions.

Similarly, it wasn’t by chance that shabbos was on the seventh day. Hashem could have rested after any of the days and continued afterwards. Shabbos was specifically on the seventh day to teach us a lesson. Each day of creation seemed to be an entity in itself with little to do with the other days. Came along shabbos to show us that everything returns back to the Original Source. HaKadosh Baruch Hu created it all with a plan in mind.

But there’s another meaning the letter zayin. Zayin comes from the root zan, or to give sustenance. We understand that everything was created by Hashem. But there is a philosophy out there that after Hashem created the world He left it and it runs by itself now. We control everything that goes on here and if He’s out there at all anymore it’s only to watch the show and not to interfere. We live in a world of survival of the fittest with no Heavenly intervention. This is what the letter zayin comes to refute. Not only did He create this universe but He is constantly watching over us giving us sustenance to continue. We couldn’t exist a moment without His on going care and He is personally involved in all that happens in this world.

The meforshim explain that the ten plagues corresponded to the ten statements of creation. By the time the dust had cleared in Mitzrayim the Jews had a clear understanding that Hashem was the creator of the universe. And when they started their travels through the desert, with Hashem giving them everything they could need, they came to the realization that it was He who sustains us all.

When Klal Yisrael reached Sinai on Rosh Chodesh Sivan they had the two prerequisites that were needed for kabalas haTorah. They had the understanding that He was the creator of the world and that He keeps us alive every moment. This is “naase v’nishma”, we will do because we want to emulate Him as the creator and we will listen because He runs the show. This may be why the sign for the month of Sivan are the twins. Each one represents one of these important ideas.

May we internalize these ideas and experience Chodesh Sivan with a new “naase v’nishma” and be zoche to a new kabalas haTorah.