Category Archives: Archives 5763

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Elul 5763 – Show Me the Magic

1 Elul 5763

Show Me the Magic

From the desk of Rav Lipman Podolsky

The new Yeshiva year is about to commence. The walls and benches of the Bais Medrash are radiant with excitement in anticipation of their new occupants. How much Torah will be learned! How many young people will be guided toward lives of fulfillment and achievement and happiness! How can one help but feel excited!

But growing can be painful. It is much easier to run away from challenges than to face them. We are far more accustomed to passively receiving than actively achieving. True, deep down we want to grow, but are we willing to do what it takes? Why can’t the rabbi just push the magic button? “Rebbe, show me the magic!” Why can’t we just take the pill of perfection? Why can’t we just wait for a lightning bolt of inspiration?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“You shall not see your brother’s donkey or his ox falling on the road and hide yourself from them; you shall surely stand them up, with him (Devarim 22:4).” In Judaism, you cannot stand aside and watch someone suffer. A Jew is either part of the problem or part of the solution. A message well worth remembering.

Look carefully at the verse. Notice anything extra? See the last two words, “with him.” Why was it necessary to write that?

Picture the scene: Reuven’s fully loaded donkey falters on the path. His friend Shimon, perceiving the opportunity to help his friend and fulfill a Torah commandment, runs to his aid. While Shimon huffs and puffs under the heavy load, Reuven lets go and lies down on the ground, sticking a long blade of grass between his teeth. Shimon, straining under the heavy burden, looks with disbelief at his friend. “Reuven! What are you doing? Get over here and help me hold up your donkey!”

But Reuven doesn’t budge. “Oh no, my friend. The Torah clearly commands you to help me. It’s your mitzvah, not mine. Tizkeh l’mitzvos!”

This is why the Torah adds “with him.” If the owner of the donkey isn’t going to help himself, no one else need help him.

The Chofetz Chaim extracted from here a vital lesson related to each Jew’s personal growth in Judaism. Every year we try to do Teshuva. We spend all of Elul and the Ten Days of Repentance begging Hashem to make us into better Jews. We cry and weep in our supplications. We realize that without Hashem’s limitless help we will never succeed, and so we turn to Him.

Yet, we fail. Our Teshuva is short-lived at best. Why is that? What are we missing? What more need we do?

Answered the Chofetz Chaim, if you want Hashem to help you, first you have to help yourself. If you want to get close to Hashem you have to take the first step in Hashem’s direction. “Return to me, and I will return to you (Malachi 3:7).” Hashem will help us; but only if we help ourselves.

And this our mission this Elul: “Ani l’dodi v’dodi li — I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine (Shir haShirim 6:3).” If I am my beloved’s, if I bring myself close to Hashem, then He will be mine, He will draw close to me, as it were.

There it is, then. We cannot wait for inspiration to strike. No one can show us the magic. It’s up to us to make the first step in the right direction. Hashem will help guide us on the path to our destination, have no fear. But if we don’t start walking, if we kick back with a long blade of grass, we will surely never get there. “If a person doesn’t take care of himself, who will care for him (Mesillas Yesharim chap. 1)?”

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Av 5763 – Taxi Tales

From the desk of Rabbi Menachem Nissel

1 Menachem Av, 5763

Dear Students,

Remember Yerushalayim? No doubt your mind is filled with sweet memories of this extraordinary city. The Kotel and its golden stones. The gedolim, rebbes and hidden tzaddikim. The stunning sunsets and inspiring vistas. And of course its taxi drivers.

Taxi drivers?

Yes taxi drivers. One of the joys (and woes) of living in Yerushalayim is traveling by taxi. Eventually, everyone has a “taxi-experience” that could only have happened in Yerushalayim.

For example, before Pesach I was traveling in a taxi and the driver was saying wonderful and positive things about everything. He was thanking Hashem for the rains, lauding the beauty of nature, proclaiming that Klall Yisrael will prevail and so on. It was starting to get annoying. I am used to grumpy old drivers who constantly complain about, “If the government would only listen to me” or “did you see that crazy driver?” while simultaneously eating falafel dripping with rancid “charif” while asking me if they mind if they smoke. I asked him why he was so strange. His answer blew me away.

He explained that he worked for many years for a non-shomer Shabbos taxi company. During the boon year of the mid nineties, he was working ten hours a day, seven days a week. He noticed that no matter how hard he worked he had so many unexpected expenses that he always ended the month in the red. One day a friend challenged him to keep Shabbos, promising him that his financial fortunes would change. With nothing to lose, he started keeping Shabbos and lo and behold – he started ending the month with a profit. Furthermore, he rediscovered his marriage and the joys of parenthood. It deeply transformed his life and made him in to the incredibly optimistic person that he is today.

But his story does not stop there. He started challenging his colleagues at the taxi company to keep Shabbos, claiming that they too would see a profit in their income. One by one they tried it and one by one they were astonished to see their fortunes turn and they too started keeping Shabbos. Today, his taxi company is overwhelmingly shomer Shabbos. All in the merit of an “ordinary” Yerushalmi taxi driver that wanted to share his beautiful discovery.

What inspired me was how once my taxi driver hero recognized the new blessing in his life, he was propelled to spread the blessing further.

In the beginning of Parshas Lech Lecha, Hashem speaks to Avraham Avinu for the very first time and lays out the terms of contract between Creator and created. Hashem promises Avraham absolutely everything one could dream of in this world. And as Daas Zekenim explains, Avraham in turn has one simple command: “Veheyay berachah” – spread the blessing.

The challenge of a Jew in this world boils down to something quite simple. Recognize that Hashem bestows infinite blessing in your life. Then teach the world about HaShem until everyone recognizes He is the source of blessing.

Your year in Yerushalayim helped you focus on how blessed you are to live a Torah life. But you can’t stop there. You have to fan the flames and share the inspiration with others. Let your enthusiasm be contagious. Let everyone say, “What is her secret? How come she is so happy? I want to be like her…”

Make people excited about Shabbos. Fascinate people by studying Torah with them. Share the joy of yiddishkeit around. Perhaps you can even convince people to experience the beauty of Yerushalayim for themselves.

Just warn them about taxi drivers.

Behtzlachah!!

Menachem Nissel

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Tammuz 5763 – Seminary Roots

1 Tammuz, 5763

From the desk of: Rabbi Gamliel Shmalo

I was trimming trees and pulling up weeds out in the garden the other day, quite happy that my pomegranate was flourishing after a hard winter pruning. This tree gives particularly large, tart, and deep red fruit; but the wood of the tree is unusually soft, and by the end of the summer the branches tend to sag excruciatingly low under the weight of the crop. This winter I finally decided to cut the trunk back hard and now it appears that the experiment worked. Several weeks ago new branches developed with fresh young leaves, almost purple as they first opened, delicate yet powerful factories that began turning solar znergy, water and CO2 into sugars. As the last blossoms of the season fade, those complex sugars are forming the earliest of the young fruit, and by Rosh Hashanah we should have an above average yield.

“And you shall rejoice in all the good that Hashem your G-d has given you…” Summer in the Judean hills.
This tree has been with our family for ten years now – it’s four months older than my oldest sons – and we’re all well acquainted with this yearly cycle of this faithful tree: leaves to sugars, blossoms to fruit.

But then the Midrash refers to an odd “tapuach” tree. I don’t know what species this is, although (despite the translation) it is clearly not a Malus domestica, the domesticated apple familiar to us all, nor is it a pomegranate. The fantastic midrashic tapuach breaks the logical cycle that our beautiful pomegranate both demonstrates and shares with all the other fruit trees on our planet: the tapuach is unique in that every year it bears its fruit before its leaves develop. But if the tapuach doesn’t have leaves, where does it get sugars and starches to produce fruit?

To explain the phenomenon, the Rabbis cited the verse from Tehillim 103: “Bless Hashem, His angels, those powerful in strength, who act on His word, who listen to the voice of His word.” The fresh young leaves of most deciduous fruit trees are also made of complex sugars, which the tree stores in its roots during the winter. In the spring, the tree uses its stored energy to build new leaves, which in turn generate more sugars, which are the building blocks of the fruit. But it seems that there are some creations that are so powerfully strong – they have so much stored up energy – that they can sprint straight to the goal, the production of the fruit, and then take care of the “means” well afterwards. In the case of the angels, they go straight to the action – “who act on His word” – and only afterwards meditate on the wisdom behind the commandment – “who listen to the voice of His word.” In the case of the tapuach, the tree draws on its stored energy and immediately produces fruit. It germinates its leaves only afterwards.
And Israel is the tapuach of the nations, because we also placed goal before means, when we proclaimed “na’asseh – we shall do” before “nishmah – we shall listen.” Normally, the motivation to act (the fruit) follows the conviction engendered through contemplation (the leaves): first comes listening and only then acting. In the case of Israel, powerfully strong, we sprint to the goal – the action – and then return to contemplate the wisdom of the commandments.

From where does the tapuach get its strength if not from the leaves? From the energy produced by the previous year’s leaves, stored in the roots. And from where does Israel get its motivation to act if not from the contemplation of the commandment at hand? From our roots as well: from our connection to the Patriarchs and Matriarchs; from the clarity of the Exodus; from previous experience, study and enlightenment.

Your time in seminary was an easy time for developing your roots. You produced through both study and experience the clarity and conviction that has been stored through cold – but passing – winters. Now, when called upon to act, you can draw upon the energy of the “powerful in strength,” and produce immediate fruit.

But the cycle must not end there. Steeled by the commandment successfully performed, you must continually reflect upon the commandment’s significance, unfold a new leaf, generate more energy, and grow the root even deeper. Store through the next winter; produce in the spring.

May you continue to act, to study, to reflect: to grow your roots. And may your fruit be always fragrant and sweet.

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Sivan 5763 – Naaseh Venishma

1 Sivan, 5763

From the desk of: Rabbi Bentzion Kermaier

Sivan is approaching, and with it comes Shavuos. Those same portals of connection between the Heavens and the Earth that opened for Maamad Har Sinai are once again ready to be unlocked. Our quest for the keys of Naase V’Nishma has now begun.

Rabbenu Yonah addresses the essence of Naase V’Nishma in his commentary to the third chapter of Avos. Rav Elazar ben Azaria (Avos chapter 3 Mishna 17), in exploring the interrelationship between scholarship and actual deeds, makes what would appear to be a bizarre observation. He states that one whose scholarship outweighs his actions is compared to a tree whose branches are more numerous than its roots. This imbalance leaves it susceptible to being easily uprooted by the wind. The individual whose actions, however, exceed his knowledge is compared to a tree that will not be moved by all the winds of the world.

The logical difficulty is glaring. How can a person’s deeds exceed his knowledge? Rabbenu Yonah explains that the Mishna is not addressing the issue of practice but rather that of commitment. One who is dedicated to fulfilling all that the sages will instruct him has shown his personality to be Torah-committed beyond the scope of his own comprehension. Such an individual lives in a world where the aspiration to understand does not preclude the desire to observe. Precisely for this reason his “potential deeds” are ascribed to him as already performed, and therefore outweighing his learnedness. This, says Rabbenu Yonah, is the fundamental of Naase V’Nishma.

We still are confronted with the difficulty in implementing this attitude. How does one sincerely proclaim Naase V’Nishma? Once again the Mishna in Avos will supply us with much food for thought. The source for the metaphor comparing the two types of trees is found in Yirmiyahu 17,5-8. The prophet compares the person who places his trust in Hashem to a healthy tree planted in lush surroundings, while the one who places his faith in man is compared to a lone barren tree planted in an area of great desolation. The dual usage of the tree-metaphor in both the realms of faith and Torah commitment tells us that there must exist an integral relationship between these two systems. This interrelationship is eloquently described in the Siach Yitzchak’s (by Rav Yitzchak Maaltzin) commentary to Ahava Rabba. It is in this prayer that we beseech Hashem to grace us and teach us the Torah “in the merit of our forefathers who placed their trust in You”. The Siach Yitzchak explains that the primary difficulty in our acceptance of the Torah’s precepts is caused by inability to believe that only Hashem knows our best interests. This lack of trust breeds confusion and anxiety. The Avos were not, however, plagued with these doubts. It was their unflinching trust that formed the basis of Hashem’s covenant to teach them the ultimate guidelines of life – the Torah.

As we approach Zman Matan Toraseinu in an era filled with confusion and divisiveness let us be especially thankful that we have been chosen from amongst all the nations to receive the Dvar Hashem. Never was it clearer that only the Torah holds the answer to the human predicament. Now, perhaps more than ever, our response must be equally as clear – Naase V’Nishma.

Chag Sameach
Rabbi Bentzion Kermaier

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Nissan 5763 – The Message is Clear

From the Desk of: Miriam Kahane

Nissan 5763
The Message is Clear

“Alexis, you’ve got to come look at this! It’s…beautiful!!! Look at the spectrum of colors in this rainbow. Do you have a camera? Never mind, I have my digital camera on me. (Snap, snap) These are gonna be great shots. I’m gonna email them to all my friends. I loooooove rainbows- they are so…special! They give me such warm and fuzzy feelings on the inside. Rainbows remind me of rainy days curled up on my sofa sipping hot chocolate with my friends…”

* * *

“And G-d said, ‘This is the sign of the covenant that I give between Me and you, and every living being that is with you, to generations forever: I have set My rainbow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between Me and the earth. And it shall happen, when I place a cloud over the earth, and the bow will be seen in the cloud, I will remember My covenant between Me and you and every living being among all flesh, and the water shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. And the bow shall be in the cloud, and I will look upon it to remember the everlasting covenant between G-d and every living being, among all flesh that is on earth.’ And G-d said to Noach, ‘This is the sign of the covenant that I have confirmed between Me and all flesh that is upon the earth.'” (Parshas Noach 9:12-17)

The S’forno explains that the rainbow will be a sign to the tzaddikim that their generation has sinned. It is a call to the righteous to do teshuva, to be mispallel and to teach their brethren to return to the proper path.

This S’forno teaches us an incredible lesson. He explains that the rainbow is for the RIGHTEOUS of the generation. Why is the rainbow for the righteous? Shouldn’t it be for everyone, or at least for the wicked of the generation? The answer is that when Hashem sends a rainbow, it is a message. But it is a message only for those who perceive it as a message. Not for the general populace, who see the rainbow as a scrapbook of memories of rainy days and hot chocolate. No. They do not hear the message. It is to the righteous of the generation that the rainbow speaks. It is to those who see past the pretty colors and understand that it is Hashem’s loving way of reminding us to better ourselves. It is a call for teshuva.

* * *

We have just entered the month of Nissan- the month of yetzias mitzrayim and kriyas yam suf. The Torah records the following :

“Yisro, the minister of Midian, the father -in-law of Moshe, heard everything that G-d did to Moshe and to Israel, His people- that Hashem had taken Israel out of Egypt.” (Yisro 18:1)

Rashi explains that Yisro heard about the splitting of the sea and the war against Amalek. After hearing about these two miraculous events, Yisro converted to Judaism.

Rav Eliyahu Lapian zt”l gives us a deeper insight into the greatness of Yisro. Chazal ask the following: Yisro wasn’t just your average type of guy, he was a minister of Midian, pretty high up there on the totem pole. He must have lived a very prestigious, comfortable life. Then one day, he hears about kriyas yam suf and the war with Amalek which leads him to leave his entire life behind and convert to Judaism. That being the case, obviously Yisro must have been the only one (besides b’nei Yisroel) who heard about these miracles being that he was the only one to convert. After all, if the news of these two miracles was so powerful as to cause the minister of Midian to convert, obviously if others had heard it, they would have converted as well. Chazal teach us, however, that this was not so! Others ALSO heard about the miracles that happened to b’nei Yisroel but what separates the men from the boys is that when Yisro heard, he let it IMPACT him as opposed to the others who heard but did not let it impact them. In fact, in Parshas B’shalach we read “Shamu amim yirgazoon…” “the nations heard (about kriyas yam suf) and trembled…” They heard but they did not let themselves be moved to action.

Yisro epitomized the concept of “v’yadatuh hayom v’hashayvosah el levovechoh”- “and you shall know this day and take it into your heart…” He heard, he knew and he let it penetrate his heart- he let the knowledge of Hashem’s greatness move him to action. Yisro had a moment of inspiration and acted on it. This is his greatness.

* * *

We are living in extraordinary times. Just look around at what is going in the world. But look deeper. The war with Iraq breaks out motzei Shushan Purim. Twelve years ago the Gulf war ended on Purim. It is a war between Aisav and Yishmael. And to top it all off, the day the war broke out there was a huge rainbow plastered across the Jerusalem sky. Yisro’s reaction would be, “Wow, the message is so clear. Hashem is running the world. Let me act on the inspiration and change myself.” The reaction of the others who heard but did not convert would be, “Wow, big things are happening. Hashem is really doing amazing things. Margaret, where are the car keys? I gotta run See ya later!”

Let us take a lesson from Yisro and realize that Hashem is sending us messages loud and clear. Let us be moved to action. As the S’forno said, it is to the righteous of the generation that the rainbow speaks because it is the righteous who hear the message.
As we approach Pesach, let us take positive steps towards improving our avodas Hashem. Let us take positive steps towards ridding ourselves of the yetzer harah. And let us take positive steps towards opening up our hearts to let the current day miracles move us to teshuva.

Chag kasher v’sameach and may we merit the geulah sh’leima and celebrate THIS Peasch in Yerushalayim with the Beis Hamikdash.

Miriam Kahane