Category Archives: Archives 5771

letters

Av 5771 – What Are We Mourning For?

 

What Are We Mourning For? Av 5771
What Are We Mourning For?
by Rabbi Dovid Ostroff

 

Rabbi Dovid Ostroff was born in South Africa and moved to Eretz Yisroel many years ago with his family. He is a Moreh Hora’ah in Har Nof. He taught in Bnos Sarah for several years, and is currently a Rav and Co-Menahel in Me’ohr Bais Yaakov. He lives in Yerushalayim with his wife and family.

We are always told that a Yid must be besimcha, how is that harmonious with three weeks of mourning?

Atzvus and depression are supposed to be anathema to Yiddishkeit, but isn’t that the essence of the three weeks?

The possuk says נשכחתי כמת מלב I am forgotten from the heart like the deceased, because there is a g’zeira that one forgets the deceased, why then are we constantly reminded of the Beis Hamikdash?

Supposedly, the time of the churban was the epitome of Hashem‘s wrath against His people, and yet the enemy found the keruvim embracing each other – a sign of Hashem‘s fabulous love for us, how is that compatible with what we believe?

The Slonimer Rebbe says that our crying and mourning are of a different nature than regular mourning; it is one of hope and longing. It is with aspiration to bring back the glory of Hashem and the Beis Hamikdash.

It is this mourning that will restore the Beis Hamikdash. A seed planted in the ground first rots to almost nothing, and from this nothingness grows a beautiful plant. But it is only because it became nothingness is it able to grow. When Am Yisroel realize that they are at rock bottom without the Beis Hamikdash and Hashem‘s constant presence, their prayers will restore the Beis Hamikdash.

But how does it work, why will mourning restore the Beis Hamikdash, and more important, what are we lacking? The Beis Hamikdash was destroyed so many years ago – it is called aveilus yeshana – old aveilus, so what’s the point? What do Chazal want from us?

As long as one mourns the loss of a loved one, it demonstrates that the loved one is sought after and missed; when the mourning ceases, the loved one is no longer yearned for. We continue to mourn and mourn, because we must never think that we can manage without the Beis Hamikdash. But what do we lack?

We mentioned that the foremost purpose in life is to cling to Hashem – ובו תדבק, and this is done by adhering to His Mitzvos, with Shabbos at the peak. An extraordinary tool to cling to Hashem was the Beis Hamikdash.

Picture yourself coming from different parts of Eretz Yisroel and upon reaching Mevaseres, the hill overlooking Yerushalayim, you gaze towards the “Old City” and you see a pillar of smoke rising high into the sky, straight as an arrow. It is raining heavily, the wind is blowing and lo and behold, the pillar of smoke is not phased by the rain or smoke. Rising proudly to our Father in heaven, the scent of our korbanos pleases Hashem Yisborach – ריח ניחוח.

Oh how we want to belong; how steadfast are our commitments. We suddenly feel that our regular, mundane battles with the Yetzer Hara are so puny, so belittling, how could we allow ourselves to succumb, and so easily?

We almost swear that we will never let ourselves be led astray again, never will we let ourselves do anything but רצון ד’.

We draw near; we join the throngs of people entering the “Old City” and the excitement, the tension builds up. We see Cohanim, running with a holy fervor offering korbanos, uttering holy prayers, and we are caught up in this holy fervor; forgetting our silly problems, the overdraft in the bank, the row we had with our neighbor. Oh they are all so unimportant, so ridiculous. How could we occupy our da’as with anything but our raison d’être?

We enter the Holy Courtyard, only to see adults, of all sizes and ages, prostrating before the Kodesh Hakodoshim. The line moves quickly and soon it becomes our turn to lie flat in front of Hashem. OMG – but He sees everything inside me. He knows when I thought bad thoughts, had wicked intentions, did not feel like serving Him. How can I bow down before Him, I’ll turn to ash, I’m so impure…

I must be better, I must improve, and this is the last chance. With a pure, deep resolution, I decide to change, to never be the same. I will be totally dedicated to doing Hashem‘s will without any self-centered motivations – everything for Him. It is now someone else’s turn and I stand up a different person.

I hand over my sheep to the Cohen, who immediately checks it and tells me to lean on the sheep’s head with all my might. I do, and at that instance I transfer my entire being into the animal and when the Cohen slaughters the sheep, I feel as if every ounce of gashmius is banished forever, drained with the sheep’s lifeblood.

I walk out in a daze. I see a fellow Jew who needs help, and without a moment of hesitation, I rush over and fulfill his every need. I do not have a single self-centered desire left in me; I did not look to see what I was to gain from that encounter.

I continue walking and my eyes are tempted to look at something I’m not supposed to. In a flash I turn my head and fill it with love and admiration for Hashem Yisborach, my father in heaven. To upset Him? To Cause Him anguish? I now live for a different cause, other than to fulfill my heart’s desires.

This, my dear friends, is what we’re missing. This incredible tool to bind us to Hashem Yisborach is lacking.

We mourn and pray that it will return soon, speedily in our days.

When we daven ולירושלים עירך, we must say to Hashem that we need the Beis Hamikdash to be able to get close. We don’t want to constantly have petty battles with the Yetzer Hara, nor do we want to be so self-centered, and it is the Beis Hamikdash and Hashem‘s presence that will aid in our growth.

During these three weeks, whenever we encounter ירושלים in our prayers, or in bentching, we must think these thoughts and yearn for a better future for all of us.

ממקומך מלכנו תופיע because מחכים אנחנו לך. The Slonimer Rebbe says that longing for Hashem will bring the Beis Hamikdash.

It is therefore crying and mourning of hope, of longing, not of despair and atzvus.

May we be zoiche to greet Moshiach Zidkeinu bimheiro b’yomeinu – all of us together in Yerushalyim.

 

letters

Elul 5771 – Of Loggers, Forest Rangers and Elul

 

Of Loggers, Forest Rangers and Elul Elul 5771
Of Loggers, Forest Rangers and Elul
by Rabbi Moshe Rosenstein

 

 

The Shulchan Aruch [Orach Chaim 607, 4] writes that each year we may say vidui and do further teshuva for sins that were committed in the past, no matter how long ago they were committed. What is astounding, though, is that the Shulchan Aruch writes clearly that this is even if we have already successfully done teshuva for these old sins and have not repeated them. The Mishna Berura quotes from the Gemara that not only is this something that one may do, but, in fact, is something that Chazal say is “harei zeh meshubach,”a “praiseworthy practice.” At first glance, this seems very strange to us. Haven’t we been taught to believe that the teshuva process actually works? Don’t we know that if we have truly done teshuva out of love for HaShem, teshuva me’ahava, that our sins are not only forgiven, but actually turn into merits for us? Not only that, but this is something that even sounds disheartening! If my teshuva last Yom Kippur – and the one before that, and the one before that – was not enough, who says I will get anywhere this Yom Kippur? I think it is critical that we properly understand this halacha; and what the ramifications for our own teshuva process are.

There is a well known story about Rav Saadya Gaon. He would frequently afflict himself (specifically by rolling in the snow, as the story goes) in his effort to atone for his sins and seek teshuva from HaShem. His students would ask him why he does this – surely he is not such a great sinner so frequently that he needs to go to this degree to achieve teshuva! Rav Saadya Gaon explained with the following story. He was once travelling the land “incognito.” He would arrive in a town and find the local inn and stay for a few nights, then move on to the next town. [This process of putting oneself in “galus” was practiced by the great tzaddikim of old.] As a way to gain humility, he would travel around anonymously so everyone would treat him like a common pauper. However, on one of his travels, after he had already stayed one night in the local inn, someone recognized him and told the inn-keeper who he was. That night when Rav Saadya returned to the inn, the inn-keeper threw himself at Rav Saadya’s feet, begging for forgiveness for, out of ignorance, not having treated him with the respect he deserved. “Even though he committed no wrong to me at all,” concluded Rav Saadya, “just the very fact that he didn’t recognize who I truly was, itself was something worthy of begging for forgiveness. I am constantly realizing more and more about HaShem Yisborach! I am constantly realizing how inadequately I recognized Him until this point – and for that I need to do teshuva.”

Now, this is obviously a story about a person who operated on a level that we can’t even really conceive of. But I think there is a very fundamental point here that we can consider. A point that can really affect a person’s approach to Elul. Sometimes around the Yomim Noraim, we spend a lot of time focusing on our shortcomings – our aveiros, our middos that need improvement, our many promises to HaShem (and ourselves) that we did not keep. And the truth is, there is a place for that. But, to use a cliché (you know, they do become clichés for a reason): that sort of a focus is spending a lot of our kochos focusing on the trees, perhaps not realizing that there is a whole forest that needs tending to as well. What is the “forest” that is made up of all those trees that we examine so closely? We need to make sure to check the “State of the Union” of our general relationship with HaShem.

Elul is the time for focusing on that relationship. Ani lidodi viDodi li. The very name of the month alludes to the foundation for a person’s whole avodah during Elul – cultivating, nurturing our relationship with HaShem. Let’s understand this a little better.

When someone in a close, healthy, loving relationship – be it with a spouse, parent, sibling or friend – does something selfish that ends up being upsetting or hurtful to “her beloved,” she doesn’t need a mussar schmooze or a sefer to feel badly about what she did. She doesn’t need to spend a day fasting and concentrating on her shortcomings in order to wish she hadn’t made the choices that lead up to this discomfort. Why? Because she realizes that she has done something that is not what a person in a loving relationship should do. The “process” of teshuva for her is not something technical; it is something that she has a desire to do for her own sake. Depending on the severity of the insult, she may feel that she would do just about anything in order to show that the relationship is something that she values, and does not want to take for granted.

This is what the avodah of Elul is all about. Ani liDodi viDodi li! This is a month set aside for focusing on the forest, before we get to examining the individual trees in greater detail. That time will come in Tishrei. On the Aseres Yemei Teshuva and Yom Kippur, I can be a logger in the forest, searching for the appropriate trees to chop down, trying to figure out how to remove the ones I can, and what to do about the ones with the really deep, stubborn roots, and how damaging they are to the rest of the trees around them. But right now, I am a forest ranger, keeping my eye on the big picture. My priority is examining my relationship with HaShem. Do I appreciate, truly appreciate, even a small amount of the kindness that I received over this past year? How much of my life – what I have, who I am, my relationships – do I simply take for granted? Do I live my life, day in and day out, really thinking about the fact that everything good I have, and every positive experience I live through, big or small, is a personalized gift, directly from HaShem to me?

If someone truly focuses her concentration in Elul on what she can do to enhance her relationship with HaShem, she can walk in to Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur with a sense of the feeling of Rav Saadya Gaon. To whatever extent I now appreciate HaShem more than I did last year this time, to that degree my attitudes and feelings towards teshuva will change. And upon reflecting on my current appreciation of HaShem and His love and care for me, I may very well come to realize an even greater level of selfishness or lack of hakaras hatov in certain actions I did, even years ago.

Perhaps that is what Chazal and the Mishna Berura are referring to when they say that one who repents for the same sins year after year is praiseworthy. If someone is experiencing deeper feelings of regret over things she had already thought were “behind her,” that means that she has deepened her relationship with HaShem. She has come to appreciate her direct connection with HaShem that much more than she did before, and is lifted up that much higher. And now she needs to do teshuva from this new vantage point. She truly experienced an Elul of Ani liDodi viDodi li – harei zeh meshubach!

Cheshvan 5771 – Filling the Vacuum

Cheshvan 5771
Filling the Vacuum
Rabbi Zave Rudman

Rabbi Rudman was born and raised in Brooklyn, NY. He has learned in the Mir in NY, and Chofetz Chaim both in Yerushalyim and Queens. His major influence in Yeshiva wa Rav Moshe Chait ZT”L, the Rosh Yeshivah of Chofetz Chaim in Yerushalayim. In addition he studied under Rabbi H. Liebowitz and Rav Laizer Ploshinsky ZT”L, and continues to be a Talmid to the great Rabbonim in Yerushalayim. He teaches in several of Yerushalayim’s seminaries, and he lives in Ramot, Yerushalayim with his wife and children, and grandchildren nearby.

The month of Cheshvan (or even more clearly Marcheshvan- the bitter Cheshvan) is a difficult month to approach. It is the end of the period of the chagim, and the beginning of the shorter and darker days of winter. Every other month has something going for it, at least a fast day (which will be recycled as a Yom Tov), but Cheshvan seems to have nothing. However, a closer examination of Tanach finds a whole different story.

The month of Cheshvan features in the beginning of Melachim. Shlomo builds the Bais HaMikdash. After years of effort it is finally completed in the month of Bul, which is the original name for Cheshvan. However, HaShem tells Shlomo to wait to dedicate it till Tishrei, the month of the Avos. And Cheshvan remains bereft and empty of what could have been its own special Yom Tov.

There is a similar process when the Mishkan was built. It was completed in Kislev; however HaShem said to wait to till Nissan to dedicate it. When Kislev came to HaShem to redress this iniquity, HaShem comforted it by replacing the dedication of the Mishkan with the dedication of the Bais HaMikdash in the time the Chashmonaim. Similarly, the Yalkut says that ultimately the third Bais HaMikdash will be dedicated in Cheshvan when Moshiach arrives speedily in our days, and that is its repayment. But what is the power that Cheshvan carries within itself to fulfill that destiny?

As we began, Cheshvan is an ‘empty’ month. But there are two kinds of emptiness. There is the feeling of nothing, languor, ennui; and being satisfied with being nothing. And then there is the emptiness of a vacuum. This second type of lack, leads to a feeling of desire and drive to fill that hole up with something worthwhile. The emptiness is not the goal, but the engine to fill it up, and the greater the vacuum, the more powerful the drive to fill it.

Cheshvan comes on the heels of Sukkos. Sukkos itself ends with Hoshsanah Rabbah- the day of the Arava. The Sfas Emes points out a depth of thought that is found in the Arava. On the one hand it is the instrument of the Tefilos on Hoshanah Rabbah, the last chance to call out for mercy from HaShem. On the other hand, of the species of the Arba Minim it is the one which has nothing; neither taste nor smell, neither Torah nor Mitzvos. If so what can be the power of the Arava that it used on Hoshanah Rabbah?

The day of Hoshanah Rabbah is the Ushpizin of Dovid, and the Arava is in the shape of lips. Dovid is the paragon and essence of Tefilah. As Dovid himself says, Va’Ani Tefilah- I am a Tefilah! How does Dovid daven? “My heart thirsts for You- HaShem.” I am lacking and empty, but all I want to be filled with HaShem is You. Tefilah is the realization, that with all I have- I am totally dependent on HaShem. The power of the Arava on that day is to cry out to HaShem and realize that without HaShem I am totally empty and nothing. That emptiness is not the emptiness of ennui or nothing, but the vacuum waiting to be filled. Therefore those are the Tefilos of Hoshanah Rabbah for water and rain to fill our empty lakes and rivers. What is more appropriate to utilize for this Tefilah than the empty Arava yearning to be filled.

This feeling continues into Cheshvan. Cheshvan could have been the month of the dedication of the Bais HaMikdash, but it lost that. What is left? It could be the emptiness of nothing, but we turn it into the yearning to be filled again. That desire and yearning is the power of Dovid, which will rebuild the fallen Sukkah of Dovid- the Bais HaMikdash. The Chasidim explain that the word MarCheshvan is a play on the word in Hebrew to murmur. It is month of constant murmuring and an undertone of Tefilah, waiting to refill that gap and emptiness.

Even myself, every Cheshvan I feel a certain emptiness and yearning. The Zman is starting and the new Mesechta is being learned. And I am not part of that world, with all that I am zoche to do. Winter is beginning, darkness is setting, we all feel the loss of sunshine and warmth of the summer. Those of us, who remember those years of Seminary, remember that Cheshvan is the real beginning when we settle in to accomplish and grow. Wherever HaShem has taken us, let the darkness as the winter begins not be a sense of languor or world weariness, but a vacuum that we fill with Tefilah and longing for our own personal growth and the fulfillment of the words of the Yalkut, that in Cheshvan the third Bais HaMikdash will be rebuilt.

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.

letters

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.