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Sivan 5765 – Channeling Your Strengths


8 Sivan 5765
Channeling Your Strengths
By Miriam Kahane

Chazal tell us that Hashem chose Har Sinai as the place on which the Torah would be given because Har Sinai was a small, humble mountain. The question arises: Har Sinai may have been a small mountain, which symbolizes humility, but it is still a mountain. Why not give the Torah on the ground or, better yet, in a valley? Surely a valley seems more “humble” than a mountain, even the smallest of mountains.

The answer is that although Har Sinai was small, it was a mountain nonetheless. Humility means realizing that you are small yet knowing that you are still a mountain. Humility should not be confused with lowliness. The ground is lowly. A valley is lowly. A mountain, no matter how small it may be, is still grand.

If the place on which the Torah was given was not sufficient enough to teach us that acknowledging your greatness is not a contradiction to humility, the person to whom the Torah was given certainly would. Moshe Rabeinu was “anav mikol adam”. We know that Moshe Rabeinu was well aware of who he was and understood his greatness. Yet his humility was not a contradiction to this knowledge because he understood that all of his greatness came from Hashem.

The Ibn Ezra asks why Moshe Rabeinu had to be raised in the house of Pharoh. It seems quite strange. He answers that Moshe was to be the future leader of klal Yisroel which takes strength, courage and self confidence. To ensure that Moshe would acquire these traits, Hashem had him grow up in the palace of the king as a prince. This would give him the confidence and strength that he would need to become the leader of the Jewish people.

In Parshas Bamidbar the Torah tells us that each shevet had a degel. Why? What was the significance of the degalim? Each degel portrayed a symbol of that particular shevet’s koach. The degalim reminded each shevet to utilize their kochos properly and to channel them towards avodas Hashem. If the shevatim needed a reminder to utilize their unique kochos, how much more so do we. And to ensure that they would not forget what their main koach was and what Hashem expected from them, they had flags. Each one of us must search inside ourselves until we understand what our personal flag is. And as we raise our eyes towards our flag, we will be reminded to channel our kochos towards heaven.

This is our challenge. To realize our greatness, yet to recognize that it is all a gift from our Creator. This is anava. Before Shavuos, take a piece of paper and a pen and find a quiet corner somewhere. Start making a list of your good qualities. Think hard- very hard. You have good qualities. Everyone does. Are you kind, patient, a good listener, loyal, empathetic, orderly…What midda tova comes naturally to you? What makes you special? What unique contribution can you make to the world? Hashem gave you gifts so that you can use them in this world. Study your list. Memorize your list. Tape it to your mirror. This is the single most important exercise you will ever do.

Last week a taxi driver had the radio on and the news reported the following story. A man went out into his garden with a suitcase containing three million shekel cash…and burned it! Was he crazy?! He must have been insane! No normal person would ever think of doing such a thing. He had so much and he just threw it all away. Hard to believe.

We are all walking around with treasures inside of us- a wealth of kochos just waiting to be discovered. Don’t make the same mistake that crazy man did. This Shavuos, renew your commitment to recognizing your gadlus by finding your strengths, realizing that they are a gift from Hashem and utilizing them properly. If we do this, we will be zocheh, as Moshe Rabeinu and Har Sinai were, to be the vessel through which the Torah can be received.

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Iyar 5765 – Post Pesach Blues

1 Iyar 5765
Post Pesach Blues
By Rabbi Yisrael Cohn

Last night was a late night; it is one of the busiest of the year. It was a night of cardboard boxes and wrapping paper as we put away the Pesach dishes and restored all of our Chametz utensils to their correct places. The bagel shop was open across the road and the smell of freshly baked bread wafted into our home. As I looked out of the window I saw a queue of people waiting to take their first bite of bread after Pesach. I thought of all the scrubbing and cleaning that we have been doing over the past month. I thought of all the schlepping and shopping. All that work for just one week of Pesach and now it is all over.

As the first breadcrumbs fall behind the couch, some of them destined to remain undetected until our next mammoth cleaning operation next year IYH, we need something that can help us deal with Post Pesach blues. Let’s talk about Shabbat, at least the wait is shorter.

Imagine that you are stranded in a desert. You are cut off from communication with the outside world and worst of all; the battery on your watch has just died. There are probably a thousand problems that one would face in this situation; I would like to look at one. You don’t know the date, nor do you know what day of the week it is. It might be Monday or Wednesday or Friday, you have no way of knowing. Now here is the catch. Perhaps it is Shabbat. If it is Shabbat, you’ll need to make Kiddush, avoid 39 Melachot you’ll need to keep Shabbat. The problem compounds, because tomorrow is equally likely to be Shabbat, and the next day too. Should you avoid Melacha every day, perhaps that day is Shabbat.

I hope that none of us will need to deal with this scenario, but for those nervous readers, you will be happy to hear that there is a discussion in the Gemara on this topic- Shabbat (69b) Rav Huna teaches that the lost traveller should count six days and then observe the seventh day as Shabbat. Rav Hisda answered this question differently. If you lose track of time in the desert, observe Shabbat on the very next day and only then should you count six days. This is not a trivial argument; their argument concerns the very essence of Shabbat. They are debating the most basic question- what is Shabbat?

Rav Shmuel Bornstein, author of Shem Mishmuel elaborates. He explains that there are two aspects of Shabbat, both mentioned in the Torah and reflected in the Kiddush we say on Friday night. Firstly, Shabbat reminds us that Hashem created the world in six days and rested on the seventh. Shabbat is the final stage of the week, just as it was the final stage of creation. We achieve Shabbat after completing a week of work. Shabbat is a reward at the end of the week. Rav Huna said count towards Shabbat; it represents the culmination of the week.

Rav Hisda looked at the other aspect of Shabbat. We remind ourselves of Yetziyat Mitzraim each time we say Kiddush on Friday night. Shabbat reminds us of how Hashem took slaves, suffering unbearable hardship and led them out of slavery to begin a new journey. Their journey lead to Matan Torah and then Eretz Yisrael. It is the journey that we continue today. Yetziyat Mitzraim marks the start of a process; likewise Shabbat marks the start of the week. Just as Yetziyat Mitzraim was Gods gift to Am Yisrael. It was the foundation upon which Am Yisrael built and developed into a nation. In the same way, Shabbat is Gods gift to us it is the foundation upon which we build ourselves, our relationship with others and our relationship with Hashem. Rav Hisda told the lost traveller to start his week with Shabbat.

According to Shem Mishmuel, Shabbat contains both aspects. It is both the reward at the end of the process; coming after six days of work, it is also a gift, a head start to help us start the process.

Perhaps we can take this theme and think about it as we enter Iyar. Shem Mishmuel offers the perfect cure for Post Pesach Blues. Pesach is the festival of Yetziyat Mitzraim. It is the festival of the beginning. Our homes may be full of chametz again, the smell of freshly baked bread may be wafting through the air, the crumbs may begin to accumulate in those hidden spots in the kitchen, but Pesach is far from over, the process of Pesach has only just begun. We have received the gift, the foundations are in place.
Now it is time for us to start building.

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Nissan 5765 – The Lesson Spring Teaches

1 Nissan 5765
The Lesson Spring Teaches
by Rav Shmalo, Michlalah

Spring has returned to Israel after the harshest winter in my memory.

For several months now we have all been suffering through an unending series of national and global upheavals. War dragged on in one continent, genocide raged in another. In Israel brothers and sisters debated politics with the threat of civil violence articulated openly and ominously. Scandals rocked the rabbinate and ugly controversies spread through yeshivas. Questions of faith mutated into a full-blown crisis of authority. Respect gave way to mockery. Cynicism eclipsed reverence. Even the forces of nature seemed to turn against each other: tectonic plates crashed, the earth shook, the waves rose, and thousands were suddenly washed out to sea. From where I sat, I witnessed not the destructive force of one group or another – be it eleven highjackers or even an army – but the relentless unraveling of society in general.

A chilly winter indeed.
Although Israel received a below than average rainfall, the Jerusalem area got more than its share, so the wildflowers here are truly spectacular. Red anemones are everywhere, mixed in among the purple irises and the golden crowns of the giant fennel. The plants, at least, haven’t lost their heads. Their beautiful variety is a welcome reminder of the chessed of Hashem – His constant desire to give, seemingly without reason.

My teacher once pointed out that for many years all television programs were produced in black and white and that worked just fine. We humans could have lived and operated in a world of black and white, and many color-blind people do. Why then did Hashem give us a world of color?

Because He loves us, and wants to give to us.

When Hashem cares for our needs, we see His power and his mercy; but because He is then reacting to our wants, we are less aware of His spontaneous desire to just give – what we call chessed. For example, an orange has vitamin C that we need to survive, and in that aspect of the orange we see Hashem’s wisdom and mercy. But the flavors of the orange, the beauty of the orange tree are almost gratuitous little gifts, and so in them we see Hashem’s chessed.

The month of Nissan, the month of spring, is a blessed reminder of this divine kindness. The distinction between Hashem’s mercy and his kindness is crucial, and symbolized in the Exodus itself. Moshe emphasized that we were led out of Egypt in the spring: “Today you have set out, in the month of spring” (Shemos 13 :4) On this verse Rashi comments: “note the kindness (chessed) that you were given, that He took you out in a month that was fitting: not too hot, not too cold, and no rain…” We have to wonder if the Jews really cared so much about the weather. They had suffered centuries of cruel slavery, infanticide, blood baths. Wouldn’t they have welcomed an Exodus in December?

Rav Chaim Goldwicht zt”l pointed out that the very fact that the good weather was almost gratuitous highlights that chessed drove the redemption. Hashem was not just giving what we needed or what we deserved; He was simply giving. And when Hashem gives with chessed the gifts are abundant, both large and small. Had He given what we deserved we probably never would have left Egypt. Had we been given was we needed – based on divine mercy – we might have been redeemed even in the heat of the summer, but we certainly wouldn’t have been marched through fields of wildflowers. Instead, the redemption was based on chessed, Hashem’s desire to give graciously and freely, and so we traveled first class, in the best of weather, in the season of growth both bountiful and beautiful.

Jewish society is in a terrible mess right now. I certainly pray that Hashem is not looking to see what we deserve. Fortunately we were redeemed in the month of chessed and we will be redeemed in the month of chessed, based less on what we deserve and more on Hashem’s abundant flow of kindness. This kindness is already all around us. If you have any doubts and you are anywhere near the Judean hills, just step outside.

We must never be complacent, and this holds true today more than ever. We must steel ourselves against cynicism and mockery. We must redouble our efforts to confront challenges with respect and tolerance. Most of all, we must do what we can to invigorate divine kindness by acting towards other with a kindness that approaches the divine.

In the end, we can all take comfort in the lesson that the spring teaches. Even as we feel drained by trauma from within and without, we can take comfort in the knowledge that Hashem loves us with a graciousness that is both absolute and inexhaustible.

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Adar II 5765 – A Higher Level of Simcha

4 Adar II 5765
A Higher Level of Simcha
by Rabbi Bezalel Borstein (Machon Gold)

The Gemara in Taanit (29a-b) compares the emotion of happiness one is to experience during Adar with the sadness that we feel during the month of Av. Just as from Rosh Chodesh Av, our joy is continuously lessened until the ninth of Av, so too from Rosh Chodesh Adar until Purim we must increase our happiness each day.

Mishenichnas Adar Marbim B’simcha. During the month of Av, Chazal set up laws of mourning that become more severe as we approach Tisha B’av, which automatically give us an expanded feeling of grief. But from Rosh Chodesh Adar until Purim there are no specific guidelines as to how to internalize a gradual development of joy!

Perhaps the mitzvos on Purim are meant to be the hints that teach us the building blocks of pleasure. Connecting to Hakadosh Baruch Hu brings contentment to an individual. Deracheha Darchei Noam (Mishlei 3:17) – “Her (Torah’s) ways are ways of pleasantness” On Purim, there was a higher level of acceptance of Torah (Kiyimu V’kiblu) and we are meant to re-experience that. In addition, the Mitzva of reading the Megilla on Purim is a type of a “Hallel” (See Megilla 14a) – a high level of praise/tefilla for Hashem. We praise and daven to Hashem not only because of who He is, but also – because of what he is capable of. The Megilla forces us to focus on the fact that we are praising a G-d for whom NOTHING IS IRREVERSABLE. (V’nahapech hu). No matter what current troubles I have, no matter how difficult my situation, you Hashem have the power to reverse it. Perhaps the time between Rosh Chodesh Adar and Purim should be used to sharpen our focus in our Torah learning and our Tefillot with regards to this awesome capability of Hashem. This will certainly give a person a certain serenity of the soul, and satisfaction at the deepest level.

The other three mitzvoth of Purim – Purim Seuda, Mishloach Manot and Matanot L’evyonim are meant to strengthen our ties with our fellow Jews. A Jew who gives to others, unconditionally, will himself experience the greatest joy! (See Michtav Me-eylihahu Kuntras Hachesed) The Ktav Sofer writes that the reason for the Mitzva of Mishloach Manot is for “Chiba, Shalom, V’rayut” as the Megilla writes “Umishloach Manot Ish L’ray-ayhu”. He concludes that one does not completely fulfill the mitzvah of Mishloach Manot if the sender remains anonymous for how can an anonymous gift increase joy and friendship between two people? In addition, the mitzvah a Tzedaka is slightly different on Purim than on the rest of the year. During the year, one who gives tzedaka may decide to whom he gives tzedaka. On Purim NO OPPORTUNITY MAY BE LOST TO CONNECT WITH ANOTHER JEW!

Anyone who asks for tzedaka is considered legitimate. Giving with an open heart will help internalize a feeling of immense happiness. Perhaps Chazal meant for us to learn from these miztvot and begin to increase our level of “social action” from Rosh Chodesh Adar. Meshenichnass Adar Marbim B’simcha? Yes, we can experience elevated levels of joy for each passing day of Adar. We can internalize higher levels of Simcha due to an increased level of connection to Torah. We can strengthen our understanding of the awesome unlimited power of Hashem. (A power that is meant to protect me!) We can increase our awareness of our responsibilities to a fellow Jew and begin taking action.

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Adar I 5765 – Mishenichnas Adar Marbin Besimcha

7 Adar 1 5765
Rabbi Barry Goldfischer
(Be’er Miriam, Midreshet)

Mishenichnas Adar Marbin Besimcha..

Why during the month of Adar are we instructed to increase the simcha in our lives? Furthermore, how should we view this transition in the context of the month that we just experienced – Chodesh Sh’vat? Rashi informs us that Adar is unique becauseYemei Pesach hayu l’yisrael: Purim vePesach. Rashi hints that we should increase our simcha because in Adar we experience the miracles of Purim and Pesach. At first glance, Rashi is very perplexing. Adar showcases the miracle of Purim which serves to enhance our happiness; however, the miracle of Pesach – the exodus from Mitzrayim – took place in Nissan!

Let us begin by examining Hashem’s motive for redeeming Bnei Yisrael from Mitzrayim. The point of the Exodus was for Bnei Yisrael to accept the Torah. When analyzing the story of Kabbalat HaTorah, we are struck by some very contradicting elements. On the one hand, Bnei Yisrael accepted the Torah with enthusiasm – Naaseh v’nishma. However, the Gemara Shabbat records a very different acceptance. Hashem threatened the Jewish people with death if they did not accept the Torah! In fact, the Gemara continues to compare this forced acceptance to a shtar moda’a – a contract that someone is forced to accept under duress. Such a contract is not halachicly binding! Was the Torah accepted willingly or forced upon Bnei Yisrael?

The Medrash Tanchuma suggests that the enthusiastic acceptance of Torah was on Torah Shebichsav, whereas Torah shebaal peh was forced upon Bnei Yisrael. Since Torah shebaal peh was forced upon them, it was not halachicly binding for many generations. When did this change? The Gemara Shabbat concludes that in the generation of Achashveirosh, Bnei Yisrael reaccepted the Torah mi’ahavas haneis. What type of love generated the acceptance of Torah shebaal peh? When one is in love, one recognizes the importance of details – her favorite ice cream topping, a particular flower to buy her before Shabbat, the one song to play to cheer him up – there is no question, that attention to detail is an expression of profound love.

Purim was not a blatant miracle. The average Jew had to look deeper to recognize the presence and involvement of Hashem. By piecing together the details of the Purim story, it became evident to B’nei Yisrael that Hashem was molding the salvation the entire time. It was the details of the miracle that led the Jews to reaccept the Torah SheBaal Peh. When we learn Torah SheBaal Peh, we look beneath the surface of Torah Shebiksavand analyze Hashem in every facet of life. We engage in a love affair with Hashem as we study every detail of His and our existence.

The simcha of Purim was two-fold; it contained a celebration of the moment and a celebration for the past. The Jewish people’s resounding victory over her adversaries was the celebration of the moment. More importantly, however, Bnei Yisrael celebrated the completion of the Pesach story. Several generations after the Pesach story, the Jews of Purim re-experienced the miracle of Maamad Har Sinai with the enthusiastic and loving acceptance of Torah SheBaal Peh. Ultimately, the story of Purim completes the story of Pesach. In this vein, Adar actually does contain the miracles of both Purim and Pesach.

The simcha of Adar, therefore, can be understood as a simcha of Kabbalat Hatorah. Why does this simcha of Kabbalat Hatorah follow the month of Sh’vat? Sh’vat can be viewed as the point of physical maturation on the calendar. This can be seen on Tu B’sh’vat when the trees begin to blossom and the fruits begin to bud. In the same light, the Shem M’shmuel teaches that the fruits that bud are actually a metaphor for our own fruits – our Mitzvot – which also begin mature at this point on the calender. Since Tishrei, our spiritual growth has been gradual. During the month of She’vat, however, we begin to blossom and mature spiritually. The Ba’alei Mussar tell us that the Month of Shvat is unique for the study of mussar and for self growth. On Rosh Chodesh Shvat, Moshe began to deliver the greatest Mussar drasha of all time: Sefer D’varim. He spoke for 37 days until his death on 7 Adar. Having undergone a month of self growth and spiritual maturation, we are now prepared to begin the avodah of the acceptance of Torah in the month of Adar.