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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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.

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Nissan 5771 – Tzei Ullmad – Our Special Relationship with Hashem

 

Tzei Ullmad - Our Special Relationship with Hashem Nissan 5771
Tzei Ullmad – Our Special Relationship with Hashem
by Rabbi Menachem Nissel

 

The Haggada’s choice of the words “Tzei Ulmad”, – “go out and learn (from the story of Lavan pursuing Yaakov)” seems strange. Why not just say learn from the story of Lavan, why do I have to “go out” in order to learn?

The Vilna Gaon explains that it is impossible to understand the events in this story without going outside of your personal perspective. On the surface, Lavan seems like your friendly sort of father-in-law. He is concerned for Yaakov, is hurt that he left without saying good-bye, and misses his daughters and grandchildren.

Only if you step outside of the story, can you see Lavan’s true intentions. Lavan wanted to totally destroy Yaakov’s household. Hashem came to Lavan in a dream and warned him not to hurt Yaakov. With this “inside scoop” we can now see that Lavan is worse than Pharaoh, who only wanted to destroy the males. And we see a powerful example of how Hashem constantly protects us behind the scenes.

This segues nicely with another idea of the Vilna Gaon on the siddur. We say at the end of the first bracha of Shemoneh Esrei “melech, ozer, umoshia umagen”, “the King, the Helper, the Savior and Shield”. The King watches over you on three levels. First, you try your best and He helps you. On the second level, you are helpless and He saves you. On the highest level He protects you behind the scenes without your realizing it. This level is called “magen” – shield. Only by stepping outside of what is happening can you see this level of Divine protection.

The first bracha of the Shemoneh Esrei represents the essence of the relationship between Klall Yisrael and Hashem. It climaxes and is summarized with the words “magen Avraham”. Avraham dedicates his life to Hashem and Hashem constantly works behind the scenes – even when He seems hidden – to protect Avraham.

On seder night we reconnect to this special relationship with Hashem. And it can be understood through the word “Tzei”. Perhaps these two ideas of the Vilna Gaon are alluded to by the use of the word “Tzei”. The gematria of “Tzei” is 91. When you add the two letters (a valid gematria method known as “kollel”) you get 93, which is the gematria of the word “Magen”.

Too often we feel lonely and sometimes abandoned by Hashem. Our lives are filled with stresses and challenges and Hashem seems distant. On seder night we are challenged to step out of our self imposed boxes and make an effort to observe hashgachah pratis. Then we see Hashem is everywhere. And even in our darkest moments he has been there all along, lovingly nurturing and protecting us.

Chag Kosher V’Sameach!
Menachem Nissel

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Iyar 5771 – Making Our Days Count

 

Making Our Days Count Iyar 5771
Making Our Days Count
by Rabbi Ilan Segal

 

Rabbi Segal hails from South Africa and has been in Chinuch for many years. He is the Menahel of Afikei Torah and he lives in the Har Nof Neighborhood of Yerushalayim with his wife and family.

A man planned to spend the day fishing and needed to buy some bait. He saw a shack on the shore with a sign that said “1 can of worms-$1.00”. Approaching the old man at the window, he wondered how much bait there was in a can and if just one would be enough for his day’s fishing. So he asked “How many worms are there in a can?” “Listen son,” said the bait seller, “I’ll do right by you, but life is much too short to be counting worms”.

Some things are counted and some aren’t. Eggs are sold by the dozen so each one counts. Beans are sold by weight; the number is not significant.

In the Halachos of Bittul there is a concept “Davar shebeminayn eino batel” Something that is counted cannot be Batel. Often, a small proportion of Issur that mixes with heter can be disregarded if there is a sufficient quantity of Heter. But if the Issur is an item which is sold by number, not in mass, then it can never be batel. Why? Because counting indicates that each individual object in the count is significant. Something which is important enough to be counted can’t be nullified.

One Succos I had a visit from a not yet religious family. I showed them my Lulav and Esrog and the husband was curious as to what an Esrog cost. I explained that prices range from 50 shekels to thousands depending on the quality of the fruit. He said: “So they’re not the kind of fruit that you would see in Supermarket for 6.50 shekel a kilo.” “Definitely not,” I said. He turned to his wife and said “See, I told you those fruit in Supersol weren’t Etrogim!”

We count Esrogim – we don’t count worms.

For 7 weeks we have an incredible Mitzvah which requires us to count our days. Through Sefiras HaOmer we go through an annual exercise to remind ourselves how precious every single day is. Days which are counted are days which are appreciated. They are significant and can never be Batel.

As Dovid haMelech said “למנות ימינו כן הודע ונביא לבב חכמה”.

We count our days so that our days will count!