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”.

Kislev 5771 – En-Lightening Strikes

En-Lightening Strikes Kislev 5771
En-Lightening Strikes
by Mrs. Shani Gibraltar

Mrs. Gibraltar has been in education for over thirty years. She is presently teaching at Bnot Torah Institute (Scharfmans), at Chedvas Bais Yaakov, and  Michlelet Esther. She is also a guest lecturer for various learning groups in and about Jerusalem. She BH!!! lives in Yerushalayim with her husband, children and grandchildren.

 

I have an admission to make. Having grown up in America, whenever I think of Chanuka I also automatically think of other “lights” of the season. (Anyone out there identifying with me??) My children, on the other hand, being products of Eretz Yisrael have no such associations, to the point where they have no qualms hanging those lights in the Succa!

Chanuka and Purim are two holidays enacted by D’Rabbanan. Purim celebrates the rescue of the Jewish body and Chanuka celebrates the rescue of the Jewish soul. When the Greeks ruled in Eretz Yisroel, their philosophy was that man’s intellect reigns supreme, and that man can create for himself a life of pleasure. Western society today espouses a similar dogma. (It’s interesting that the more things change the more they stay same.) The Torah Hashkafa is that Hashem controls the world and we exist to serve him.

The miracle of Chanuka was that the flask of oil that was recovered lasted for eight days instead of the expected one day. The significance of the oil is that it does not mix with water, rather, the oil floats on top. This is symbolic of the role of Am Yisroel in the world. “Hein am levadad yishkon, u’vagoyim lo yischashev.” They are a nation who live alone and are not counted among the nations of the world. The message of Chanuka should be crystal clear.

It is written in Chumash Bereishis: “Vi’ha’aretz hay’sa sohu vavohu vichoshech al p’nei s’hom.” Bereishis Raba: “Darshu Chazal – ‘sohu’ Galus Bavel. ‘vavohu’ Galus Madai. ‘vichoshech’ Galus Yavan.”

R’ Shimshon Pincus zatzal explains the following: All the exiles that the Jews suffered are compared to “Ohr” – light, because throughout all of these exiles the Jew had a clear perception of his uniqueness and role versus the nation that enslaved them. When the Jew was in Mitzrayim and the Mitrzim hunted the newborn boys to drown them, the Jew was happy that he was the persecuted one and not the persecutor! In the exile of Babylon and Media, the Jew probably said “Shelo asani goy with great kavana and sincerity.

With the Greek invasion of Eretz Yisroel, – that was DARKNESS for the Jews. The spread of Hellenism that the Greeks offered appeared to be a substitute to the Jewish way and Torah. On the surface, it looked like it could even be an exchange of equal measure. Hence, the Jew living in those times felt that he could incorporate the ways of the Greeks into his Jewish existence. That was when darkness descended and confusion reigned. The Jew became neither fish nor fowl. Some new hybrid Judaism became the norm and they saw nothing wrong with this. When the war was fought by Mattisyahu and his sons it really was the few against the many, because the majority of the Jews were stumbling around in this darkness.

The Chanuka candles come to dispel all these notions. We must assume the role of being ohr lagoyim, a light onto the nations of the world. These candles represent the light of Torah, which needs to be publicized and proclaimed, hence the mitzvah of pirsumei d’nisah.

The Baal Rokeach, R’ Eliezer of Metz zatzal, points out that the amount of candles that are lit during the eight days of Chanuka totals thirty six. (Go ahead, figure it out.)

He explains that this corresponds to the first thirty hours of creation when a special light filled the earth. “Vayomer Elokim yehi ohr vayehi ohr.” However, this light was too intense for the world so Hashem hid it away. Yet, this light continues to exist. It is found in the Holy Torah. The Torah is called Ohraysa, as if to say that it is the source of light.

The question remains, though, as why create this powerful light if Hashem meant to hide it? The answer is simply that is it is better for this wonderful light to be hidden than not to exist at all. In every generation, you do have the select few that recover this light. They are known as the thirty six hidden righteous of every generation (Lamed vav tzaddikim). Every Jew must know that anyone who studies Torah can also be exposed to this ethereal light.

Chanuka and the act of lighting the candles is a public demonstration against western ideology. We say “Haneiros halalu kodesh heim, v’ein lanu reshus lehishtameish bahem”. The Halacha states that we may not count money by the light of the candles. Why did our sages specifically use this example and not for example to read by the light of the candles? Another Halacha states that you are permitted to light the candles as long as there are people in the marketplace “Ad sheyichleh regel min hashuk” – until the market places are empty.

These halachot are in order to teach us what the essences of the candles are. As long as man persists in his pursuit of money, and thinks only of how he can control the affairs of the world then he is need of this lesson. If there are people in the “marketplace” who their focus is only on creating a life of ease and luxury, then you can and must light the candles and spread the message of the light of Torah. Someone counting money next to the candles is contradicting all of this.

The culture of western society insists on darkening out existence. There is so much confusion. We think that just maybe we can make it work with a Torah life. Perhaps the pursuit and attainment of material wealth has a place in Judaism. I know that those other lights that are lit around this time are pretty, but they surely do not belong to us.

Go out this Chanuka and look at the candles flickering and introduce your real selves to yourselves. “Ki ner Elokim nishmas ha’adam.” Your soul is the light of G-d. You, a Yiddishe neshama must try to separate from this mentality and thinking. Reaffirm and confirm your connection to the true ideals of Torah and Yirat Shamayim. Let the warmth of the light of these glowing candles penetrate and remind you who you are and what you are here for. “A Lichtige Chanuka“—loosely translated — May you have a Chanuka filled with light.

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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.