Category Archives: Archives 5771

Tishrei 5771 – Scaling New Heights (pun intended)

Tishrei 5771
Erev Yom Kippor Special Thought
Scaling New Heights
(pun intended)

Rabbi Reuven Lauffer

Rabbi Reuven Lauffer teaches in Ohr Somayach and several seminaries around Yerushalayim. He also answers questions about anything and everything via email for both Ohr Somayach and Gateways in New York.

I would hope that all of you are feeling slightly terrified(!) just as I am at the thought of all the approaching Yamim Tovim. My feelings of trepidation are actually a lot less to do with the fear of judgment, Teshuvah can always be done at any time of the year, and a lot more to do with a much simpler question – where did the year go? It really does not feel as if it was so long ago that it was Rosh Hashana and now it is Rosh Hashana again.

As everyone is aware, I am sure, the Mazal for the month of Tishrei are a set of scales. The symbolism is so obvious that it really requires no explanation. Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, Hoshana Rabbah are all looming up over the horizon and they are all centered around the concept of justice.

But I think that there is something much deeper as well. The Torah commands us not to own scales that are not accurate, see Parshas Kedoshim and Parshas Ki Tetze. The Torah teaches that it is not just forbidden to use inaccurate scales (which would not, presumably, require its own pasuk because to do so is stealing) but that it is forbidden to even have them in your home! They can’t even sit on a shelf gathering dust, rather, they have to be completely removed from one’s home.

What’s the big deal? Why are we being instructed by the Torah to go to such extremes? I think that the answer is quite simple – because in a person’s home there is no room for any dishonesty.

The Mazal of Tishrei is a set of scales. During the month of Tishrei that set of scales has to be found in every single person’s “home”, in their heart. But those scales have to be absolutely calibrated down to the very last millimeter otherwise they are not Kosher. Otherwise we are just kidding ourselves into imagining that we are just fine as we are.

What an incredible lesson! In the month Tishrei, the month of the Yamim Noraim, we are not allowed to try and fool ourselves as we have done over the rest of the year. We have to measure ourselves and weigh ourselves constantly – but according to Hashem’s standards not ours.

The verse in Partsha Eikev states, “M’reishis hashanah ad achris shanah”. The Alter Satmar Rebbe, Rav Yoel Teitelbuam, points out that there is a grammatical inconsistency in the verse. The verse should either read, “M’reishis hashanah ad achris hashanah” or “M’reishis shanah ad achris shanah” but it should not read as it does. The Satmar Rebbe explains that in Hebrew grammar the letter “heh” at the beginning of a word is the “heh hayediyah” – the definitive article. When the year begins we are convinced that this year is going to be the year. It will be the year that I live up to all my resolutions. It will be the year that I remain attached to Hashem throughout the year (not just when I am in trouble and need Him). It will be the year that I am better, kinder, gentler and more thoughtful person. And yet, when the end of the year rolls around it transpires that the year was just another year like all the other years that came before it. It wasn’t the year at all.

That needs to be our battle cry for the new year that is almost upon us! That, regardless of where we are, this year really will be the year. That we measure ourselves with scales that are absolutely and consistently accurate every single day of the year!

Hakadosh Baruch Hu should bless each and every one of us that we should be zoche that this time next year we are able to make a very small but extremely significant change to the Torah. That we are able to add a small “heh” to the beginning of the word “Shanah” so that the verse reads –

“M’reishis hashanah ad achris hashanah”.

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Teves 5771 – Lighting Up The Darkness

 

Lighting Up The Darkness Teves 5771
Lighting Up The Darkness
by Rabbi Avraham Brussel

Rabbi Avraham Brussel is an educational coordinator at Midreshet Tehilla as well as a popular lecturer at various seminaries in and around Yerushalayim. He was a Rebbi in Yeshiva Orchot Chaim for several years, and he is one of the educational tour leaders on Legacy/ Nesivos tours to Poland and Eastern Europe.

 

The Rambam in his introduction to The Guide for the Perplexed explains that when Hashem created man in this world He placed him in the dark. “And the darkness became night,” this refers to this world that is similar to night. It is a world where truth is concealed from a person. It can only be discovered after a person works to perfect his character and refine his mind with Torah study. The spiritual level of a person is defined by the amount of light he brings into this darkness. There are those whose night is light up by one lightning bolt after another. He has turned his nights into day. This was the level of Moshe Rebeinu, about whom it is written, “And you stand here with me.” Then there are those who have flashes of light to illuminate their night, but then they sink again into darkness. Then there are those who never see bolts of lightning, yet they still see sparks of light that leap out before them as they walk and then disappear. About the wicked it is said, “They do not know or understand. They walk in darkness.” Truth is hidden from them completely. They can not see value in anything that occurs to them, and are blind to the beauty of the world around them. A Tzaddik sees an infinite value in all that he experiences and in all that he sees. He lives in the light and illuminates the night for others. He has the gift of enabling others to see.

Rav Yosef Yozel Hurwitz, the Alter of Novhardok, had a small house in the forest, where he would go to serve Hashem in solitude. Late one night he went there with a disciple of his to learn Torah. The house was cold, neglected and empty. The two of them went out to the fields to see if they could find some straw. As they walked the student asked the Alter why he went to such trouble to go to a house in the forest in the middle of the night. There was a full moon that night. The Alter raised his hands towards the moon and said, “Don’t you know that each Jew can light jup the world like the sun? and he began to cry. On Chanukkah we remember that there was a man named Mattisyahu Ben Yochanan who once lit up the world with his faith. We remember what he did, and we light candles to light up our own world with our faith.

 

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Shevat 5771 – Ever Seen a Two Legged Tree??

 

Ever Seen a Two Legged Tree?? Shevat 5771
Ever Seen a Two Legged Tree??
by Rabbi Shlomo Borinstein

Rabbi Shlomo Borinstein learns in Yeshivas Torah Ore with his chavrusa HaRav Noach Orlowek. He is also a Rebbi in Yeshivas Toras Simcha. Rabbi Borinstein is a popular teacher in Sharfmans and he lives with his wife and family in the Ramot section of Yerushalayim.

As we usher in Chodesh Shevat we also look forward to one of the four Rosh Hashanas of our calendar year, Tu B’Shvat. The Torah almost seems to request from us to look into the matter of trees. In parshas Mishpatim Chazal learn that the Torah is comparing us to a tree. It seems like a strange comparison but with closer analyzes we can find many important similarities.

The Maharal points out that a tree is firmly grounded in this world but then sours upward as if to connect itself with the spiritual world above. So too we are grounded in this world for our physical bodies come from it. We are not called “adom” (which means we originated from the adama) for nothing. But at the same time, through our seichal, we are able to rise high above this lowly world and to connect with Hashem in the Heavens. But there’s much more.

Trees are full of color and often fruits and provide so much for so many. And even though they seem to lie dormant for long periods of time, and appear to be nothing except dry wood ready to be burnt, they always awaken and blossom and encourage life to continue. And as long as their roots are firmly implanted they have the ability to reproduce branches that might have broken in earlier days. They are the symbol of never giving up hope for inside of them is the potential to grow even stronger than they had reached before.

The Torah tells us that we are “trees” as well. Full of personality and good deeds we have so much to offer to those around us. We might seem to have our up and downs and perhaps even go through sad and depressing times but in the end we wake up with a new vitality and thirst for life. We can heal our wounds and move forward for we are the symbol of never giving up and our potential has no limits.

Trees are truly incredible creations but if we stop for a minute and think we will realize that we are also. With Rosh Hashana arriving in a couple of weeks let’s prepare ourselves for another good year.

 

 

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Adar I 5771 – Practice Makes Perfect

 

Practice Makes Perfect Adar I 5771
Practice Makes Perfect
by Rabbi Michael Green

As a child, you invariably hear the schoolyard chant: “first is the worst, second is the best, third is the one with the polka dotted dress!” One common interpretation of this rhyme is that the first person isn’t in a desired position. Rather, the song reveals that it’s better to be in second place.

Likewise, at this time of year we sing: “Meshenichnas Adar Marbim B’Simcha, when the month of Adar begins happiness is increased.” Indeed, in years such as ours, in which there is a first and a second Adar, our Sages conclude that the second Adar is the best! Accordingly, we celebrate Purim and increase happiness—in the second Adar—not the first.

In light of the above, one might assume that the first month of Adar, is rather meaningless, as it merely acts to align the lunar and solar calendars. Hence, what can we do to not allow this entire month to lay fallow?

I believe the answer lies in the following analogy:

High school students typically dread studying for the SAT exam.

Why?

Because for many, it requires countless hours of studying, preparation, stress, and so on and so forth. Fortunately, one doesn’t need to simply cram and show up on the day of the SAT test. Instead, a person can take a PSAT, a Practice SAT. The PSAT helps alleviate anxiety and shows a person which area(s) they need to improve upon to raise their score. By taking the PSAT, one furthers their ability to achieve the ultimate level of success on the real SAT.

Believe it or not the “J” in “Judaism” stands for Joy! Indeed, the legendary Chassidic Master, Rebbe Nachman of Breslov famously taught, “It is a mitzvah to be constantly happy!” Moreover, the Talmud expects us to be able to snap our fingers and actually increase our happiness in the second month of Adar!

And yet, let’s be honest.

The Western world, in which we are a part of, was founded upon the axiom of: “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” To that end, many of us seem to live a life chasing happiness—instead of living in a constant state of joy.

And so, how can we show Hashem in the second month of Adar that we are increasing our simcha, our happiness, if we haven’t even truly found happiness?

The answer is that we can use this first month of Adar as our spiritual PSAT. However, this PSAT stands for: Practicing Simcha All the Time! Sure, there will be periods in which this month seems like a difficult exercise in futility. That said, by the time the second Adar rolls around, we will have prepared and practiced, and by extension, will be empowered to confidently demonstrate to Hashem—and the world—our ability to be SAT: Simcha All the Time!

 

Rabbi Green is the Overseas Director of Bnot Torah/Sharfman’s where he is beloved for his powerful and enlightening approach to clarifying Jewish issues relevant to our daily lives. To that end, he responds to important life questions for JewishAnswers.org, and has been quoted by MSNBC.com to Mishpacha Magazine. His most recent writing is found on his website, www.rabbimichaelgreen.com, as well as in an anthology titled, Twitter Torah: Thoughts on the Hebrew Bible in 140 Characters or Less. His first book, 5 Ways to Increase Your Spirituality: Ancient Wisdom to Enhance Your Daily Life, was recognized by the Forbes Book Club. His forthcoming work, 9 Spiritual Months: A Treasury of Jewish Insights for Pregnancy, Birth & Beyond, has already received advance praise and approbation. Born and raised in Los Angeles, California, he resides in the Ramat Eshkol section of Yerushalayim, with his wife and children.

 

 

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Adar II 5771 – Purim – Inner Simcha

 

Purim - Inner Simcha Adar II 5771
Purim – Inner Simcha
by Mrs. Ilana Cowland

Mrs. Ilana Cowland has been living in Jerusalem with her family for seven years. Prior to that, she ran the Women’s Educational Programme in Aish UK. Mrs. Cowland is an international lecturer in women’s issues and relationships, and she has been involved in educational administration. She now works as a Rakezet and Inyanei Noshim teacher in Tomer Devorah and Baer Miriam in Jerusalem and runs sholom bayis workshops for married women in and around the Jerusalem area.

Us Jews get a big kick out of feeling so proud of ourselves that we have such a holy and focused new year whilst the rest of the world is partying and yet, when it comes to Purim, the holiday we consider our holiest, what do we do? We get drunk!! What’s going on?

The Orchos Tzadikim teaches us that simcha is inside all of us. That’s a very heavy statement. It means that simcha is not found outside, meaning it’s not my circumstances that make me happy. Two people can be experiencing the same difficulties in college, at home, whilst dating and one person is totally in tune with her internal sense of simcha whilst the other is feeling depressed. So if it’s not the circumstances getting in the way of me feeling happy, what exactly is? Read the next sentence slowly, it’s very important. It’s not the circumstances that get in the way, it’s the thoughts I process regarding the circumstances. We both had an impossible paper today. I say, it was so hard, I’m failing, you say, it was so challenging, I’m learning. Same paper? Yes, same paper. Your thoughts were in line with your sense of simcha and mine stood in the way. My ability to be healthy and happy is inside me, as we see it in every little child. I can create a script of thoughts that separate me from it and end up being defined by my negative thoughts instead of my natural simcha.

On Yom Kippor, the quick route to holiness, we remove ourselves from the pull of our body by fasting. On Purim, we take it one step further. To feel the power of my soul, the power of my joy and my joyful connection to Hashem, we remove ourselves from the pull of our thoughts, as symbolised by getting drunk. When my thinking is removed, I have access to joy. Even when you don’t get drunk this year, and even when Purim’s over and there’s a whole year to go before the alcohol reemerges, remember the lesson of Purim. When your negative thinking doesn’t distract you, you’re on the way to blissful simcha, health and well being that’s waiting inside of you for you to find.