Category Archives: Archives 5771

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Tammuz 5771 – When the Wind Blows

 

When the Wind Blows Tammuz 5771
When the Wind Blows
by Mrs. Miriam Kahane

 

Mrs. Miriam Kahane hails originally from Memphis, Tennessee. She herself went to Michlalah for seminary and today she is a Mechanechet at Michlalah. Her special southern openness and appeal help to make her a popular teacher and confidante to her students. She lives in Yerushalayim with her husband and children.

In Tehillim (perek 92) we read: “tzaddik katamar yifrach k’erez balvanon yisgeh” – “A tzaddik will flourish like a date palm, like a cedar in Lebanon he will grow tall.” The Yalkut Shimoni explains that an erez, a cedar, has many roots and even if all the winds in the world would blow at it, it will not move from its place.

Imagine a wheat field. A wind blows. The stalks sway to the left. Another wind blows. The stalks sway to the right. Back and forth, back and forth, at the mercy of the wind. Now imagine a forest filled with cedar trees; big, strong cedar trees. A wind blows. The trees don’t move. Another wind blows. The trees don’t budge. Strong. Unwavering. Firmly rooted in their place.

This is a tzaddik. And this is why the tzaddik is compared to a cedar in Tehillim. A prerequisite for being a tzaddik is that you are strong like an erez, unmoving like an erez. A tzaddik stands strong even against the most powerful winds. A tzaddik knows what is true and right and he is not “swayed” from one side to the other.

This does not mean that we must become rigid, uncompromising people. A person can remain firmly rooted in her beliefs and principles and at the same time bend a little here, compromise a little there, but she is not being blown by the wind because she is bending as a result of her own conscious decision. Sometimes she compromises for the sake of shalom, sometimes for kibud av v’aim. Sometimes her da’as Torah told her to. But she is bending because she chooses to, not because of the power of the winds around her.

Some of you have returned from Seminary just a few short weeks ago. Some of you have been back from Seminary for years. You all have made commitments while in Eretz Yisrael. You all have grown in your ruchniyus, in your dikduk b’halachah, in your middos, tznius and tefillah. You must always keep your roots firmly planted in the Torah that you learned in Eretz Yisrael and when the winds get strong (and they will), be like an erez. Do not let the winds blow you from what you know is emess.

Chodesh Tov!

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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.

 

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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!