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Elul 5762 – The Power of a Mashal

1 Elul 5762

From the Desk of: Rav Hanoch Teller

The Power of a Mashal

How does one convey an important lesson? There are educators who deliver fiery talks with every sortie delivered with the excruciating solicitude of a physician confronted with a patient who is oblivious to his own terminal condition. Others prefer Whitmanesque intonations and nudges of moral suasion. Some are able to keep the imagination in gear long enough to access storybook reality. There are, I’m sure, plenty of alternate approaches.

The only constant is the audience, that is the students, i.e. existential us. The key question is do we really listen to what we are taught, absorb the message, or do we prove that our ear canals are connected?

Far be it from you, my brothers and sisters, the traumatic occurrence that happened to me. I was driving down a central artery of Jerusalem on my motor scooter when a late-model jeep with a snarling grill, long muscular front end and about all the reach the law of physics will allow began to barrel at me at break neck speed. My 50cc engine was never really a match-up for the 310 horsepower vessel locked on to me with the accuracy of a heat-seeking missile.

There was an unfriendly encounter that sent the other driver wondering, “What was that?” and sent me into the air. When I landed I was much the worse for wear with dislocated fingers, bruises and cement burns all over my body and a broken femur, although no where like the exaggerated (and unappreciated) emails which reported me to be in critical condition, in the ICU in a coma r”l et al. (Still the incredible outpouring of emotion and concern was very touching!)

I was a wreck that a Hollywood cosmetician would be envious to mimic ¾ except my head. There was not a scratch or a nick anywhere from the neck up.

This is thanks to G-d Who is my co-pilot, and to a helmet that I had purchased thanks to a mashal (analogy) that I heard from the noted educator from Monsey, Rabbi Yankie Horowitz. Rabbi Horowitz was speaking about chinuch but employed a mashal relating to how a helmet can prevent irrevocable damage. The next day I went to a high-end motor-cycle shop in Santa Monica, California.

Up until this point I had been wearing helmets that could be categorized as better-than-nothing or in the colloquial parlance, kasher l’brachah that fulfilled the legal requirement. Barely.

This time I went for the mehadrin, kaful shemona super-duper import on sale for $400. I broke the bank because of the mashal, but had I not internalized the lesson and allowed the parable to speak to me, I probably would not be writing these lines.

So here’s a real concrete (pardon the pun) lesson: The next time your rabbi or your teacher or your Torah tape tells you a lesson, listen up. It may save your life.

Rav Hanoch Teller

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Av 5762 – Is Bitachon Dependent on Your Actions?

1 Av 5762

From the Desk of: Rabbi Yaakov Bear

Is Bitachon Dependent on Your Actions?

We find in the Medrash Tanchumah (parshas Vayeitze, 2) as well as in Medrash Rabba (Vayikrah chapter 29, 1-2) regarding Yaakov’s ladder.

“And he dreamed and behold a ladder set up on earth… Reb Shmuel bar Nachman taught that Hashem showed to Yaakov Avinu the ministering angels of Bavel (Babylon) and Madai (Persia) and Yavan (Greece) going up and down and the angel of Edom (Rome) going up countless steps… Hashem asked Yaakov “Why don’t you go up the ladder?” At that point of time Yaakov was scared and said: “G-d forbid just as these angels go down so too I will also go down.” Hashem said to him “Don’t fear. If you go up you will not come down forever.”He didn’t believe and he didn’t go up… Hashem said to him “Were you to have believed and ascended you would not have come down but now that you didn’t believe and did not ascend, in the future your children will be subjugated by these four kingdoms in this world.” At that time Yaakov was scared and said in front of Hashem “Can this be forever?” Hashem answered him (Yirmiyahu 30) “Don’t be dismayed, O Yisroel, for, lo, I will save you from afar.”

This Medrash requires explanation, for were this Medrash not written, I wouldn’t have dared to write that Yaakov Avinu, the chosen of the Avos “didn’t believe and didn’t go up”. How do we understand this? Why did Yaakov disobey Hashem’s command to ascend the ladder?

The renowned kabbalist Harav Shlomo Eliashiv zt”l in his sefer “Leshem Shevah Vehachlomoh” explains the aforementioned Medrash and out of his explanation emerges what appears to be a new understanding of the concept of “bitachon bashem”- trusting in Hashem. However, in the course of our explanation we will demonstrate that he is walking a well-trodden path that was already blazed by the “rishonim” and “achronim”.

The author of the “Leshem” brings from Tehilim chapter 32 verse 10: “Rabim machovim l’rashah v’haboteach bashem chessed yesovavenu”. “Many are the agonies of the wicked but the one who trusts in Hashem, kindness surrounds him.” He brings the explanation of the Yalkut Shimoni- “Many are the agonies of the wicked ” since he doesn’t place his trust in Hashem, “but the one who trusts in Hashem” even if he is a rashah (wicked person) kindness surrounds him. Similarly the Ramban in his sefer entitled “Haemunah Vehabitachon” chapter 1 quotes another verse from Tehilim 37, 3: “B’tach Bashem v’asay tov”. “Trust in Hashem and do good”; trust is mentioned before do good in order to emphasize that bitachon is not dependant at all on good deeds. Rather, even a sinner, a roshoh, who has not as of yet done any good has the right to trust in Hashem’s mercy. However, afterwards the verse states “and do good” in order to teach that the sinner must not continuously depend only on Hashem’s mercy without correcting his ways by doing good. If he will not do good Hashem will eventually extract payment. Whilst Hashem patiently waits for the sinner who trusts in Him to do teshuvah, Hashem finds a suitable time to extract payment. Bitachon, trust in Hashem, buys the sinner time and protection in order to do teshuvah, to change his ways.

The author of the “Leshem” explains the aforementioned Medrash and answers the question as to why Yaakov Avinu disobeyed a command of Hashem to ascend the ladder just as he witnessed the angels doing in his prophetic vision. He explains that Yaakov Avinu did not believe that he was worthy enough that Hashem should perform miracles on his behalf. Whilst Yaakov was correct that fear of sin is the most praiseworthy attribute as it states in Mishlei chapter 28 “Ashrei adam mefached tamid”, “Fortunate is the man who constantly fears Hashem.” Nevertheless he should utilize his fear of sin to prevent him from sinning as opposed to using it to remove the protection of bitachon, trusting in Hashem. Permitting oneself to worry that perhaps a sin will intervene is not the characteristic of tzaddikim.

This concept that “bitachon”- trusting in Hashem, and worry, “deagah” are mutually exclusive was taught by Harav Refoel Levine zt”l (son of Reb Aryeh Levine zt”l) who pointed out that “deagah” consists of the first five letters of the Aleph Beis except for the letter Beis- Beis represents “bitachon”, trust in Hashem. Whoever trusts in Hashem doesn’t fear and whoever fears is lacking in his trust in Hashem. This is also illustrated by the following joke: What sits at the bottom of the ocean bed and shivers and shakes? A nervous wreck. The way not to become one is to place one’s full trust in Hashem. Harav Hagaon Moshe Sternbuch shlita says “Don’t worry as 1) there is no need; 2) it doesn’t help; 3) the reward for worry is high blood pressure or a heart attack G-d forbid.”

In his sefer Kovetz Ma’amarim page 22, Rabbi Elchonon Wasserman brings another approach based on the Gemmorah in Menachos. When Moshe Rabbeinu ascended to heaven Hashem showed him each generation and its sages. He was shown Rabbi Akivah and his students… Moshe Rabbeinu asked Hashem: “I’ve seen his Torah, show me his reward.” Hashem showed him Rabbi Akiva’s skin being combed with burning irons. Moshe Rabbeinu asked: “Is this the Torah and is this its reward?” Hashem answered: “Be silent. That was my original plan.” This Gemmorah requires explanation. The Shloh explains that at the beginning Hashem intended the world to be created only with Elokim, the attribute of judgement, “din”. He saw that the world could not exist for mankind as a whole on the basis of judgement alone therefore He joined the attribute of mercy to the attribute of judgement so that the world could exist. However, Rabbi Akiva and his colleagues were capable of living according to strict judgement.

Similarly Yaakov, who was greater than Rabbi Akiva and his colleagues, requests from Hashem to deal with him only with the attribute of strict justice. Bereishis 28, 21: “V’haya Hashem li l’Elokim”. “And may Hashem be for me Elokim” and therefore he was scared perhaps sin would remove his promise of Divine protection.

Similarly, the Chofetz Chaim (in his work “Shem Olom” in his section “Nefutzos Yisroel” chapter 8) writes: “Know furthermore that the attribute of mercy is not dependent on his merits, for even if he is an unworthy man, however, if he strengthens his trust in Hashem – the power of bitachon alone protects him and Hashem performs kindness with he who places his trust in Him.” So too wrote the Vilna Gaon (unlike the Chovos Halevavos) and I heard that similarly this is the position of the Medrash on the verse of Tehilim 32, 10: “Rabim machovim l’rashah v’haboteach bashem chessed yesovavenu”.”Many are the agonies of the wicked but the one who trusts in Hashem, kindness surrounds him.” And similarly this is the simple understanding of Tehilim 33, verses 18-19: “Hineh ayn Hashem el yerayav l’meyachalim l’chasdo. Lehatzil mimoves nafsham ul’chayos b’ra’av.” “Behold the eye of Hashem is on those who fear him, upon those who await His kindness. To rescue from death their soul and sustain them in famine.” From the fact that it didn’t write “yerayav hameyachalim l’chasdo” it is implied that these are two categories. We may deduce that even if he is not yet included in the category of “yirei Hashem”, those who fear Hashem, he is only hoping for the “chesed”, the kindness, of Hashem- even so Hashem will protect him.

If so, we have learnt that the attribute of trusting in Hashem, “bitachon bashem”, that whoever places his trust in Hashem, even a rosho, kindness surrounds him as it is written in Tehilim 32: “v’haboteach bashem chessed yesovavenu”. And we also learnt that the attribute of bitachon and the attribute of chessed are inextricably bound together as we end “hodu” with the words “Va’ani b’chasdechoh batachti, “And I trust in Your chessed.”

Why should it be that because a person who places his hope in the chessed of Hashem finds Hashem’s chessed? This concept is well illustrated by a famous parable. There is a story about a hermit who walks into a clearing in the forest and walks into a beautiful mansion for the very first time. He has neither seen a mirror in his life nor his own reflection. As he walks into the mansion he sees a large mirror and sees someone approaching him. He doesn’t know if he is friend or foe. He makes a fist and the approaching person also makes a fist. He runs toward him and the approaching person runs to him. He swiftly covers the ground and punches him on the nose, thereby breaking the mirror. The owner of the mansion walks in and asks him “why did you break my mirror?” He answers “it’s a pity you didn’t come in a minute earlier then you would have seen that it was a matter of self-defense.” The owner answered “it’s a pity you didn’t kiss him for he would have kissed you.” So too Hashem is “haytiv maytiv yaytiv lanu”.”He was good, He is good and He will always be good.” This concept is simple pshat in the possukim: 1) “Hashem tzilcho”, “Hashem is your shadow”. The explanation is just as man’s shadow unerringly copies his every movement, so do Hashem’s actions toward each man reflect man’s actions towards Hashem and towards his fellow man. 2) “Baruch hagever asher yivtach Basem v’haya hashem mivtacho.” “Blessed is the young man who will come to have bitachon in Hashem and in turn Hashem will be his security.”

The Kli Yakar brings how the taskmasters take Moshe Rabbeinu to task asking him “why did you come? Ever since you came things only got worse.” Moshe Rabbeinu passes on the complaint to Hashem who answers Moshe “now you will see what I will do to Pharoah.” The Kli Yakar explains that the darkest part of the night is just before the dawn. Similarly, the strongest contraction is just before the birth. This insight should enable us to strengthen our faith when we witness daily bloody tragedies. Hashem dialed emergency number 911 September 11th to wake us up to call to Him from the USA and daily tragedies in Eretz Hakodesh. As the intensity and frequency increases we must strengthen our faith as we are close to the dawn after the long night of Golus.

“Tamim tihyeh im Hashem Elokechah.” “Have complete/simple faith in Hashem.” (Devarim 18,13) Rashi says “al tachkor achar ha’asidos.” “Don’t investigate the future.” How is this possible? My friend Rabbi Rashi Simon asked this question to Harav Simcha Wasserman zt”l who answered just as a child in Eretz Yisroel who wants to cross the road trustingly puts his hand in yours so too must we put our hand in Hashem’s and ask Him to help us cross the road of life. In our tefillos we refer to Hashem as “avinu”, our father. “Hashivaynu Avinu Slach lanu Avinu”. Rabbi Leib Chosman zt”l explained most people only have a connotation of a King of strict justice. However, when we say Avinu Malkeinu we have a different perspective: every father wants to give but not every father has the means to give. Every King has the means to give but doesn’t necessarily want to give. We approach Hashem first as our loving, merciful father who not only wants to give but also is our King who can give. So please Avinu Malkeinu grant each of us the biggest gift of bitachon, peace of mind, menuchas hanefesh, and please bring Moshiach tzidkeinu now as a pure act of undeserving chessed.

Rabbi Yaakov Bear

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Shevat 5762 – Tu B’shvat – Day of Longing for Eretz Yisrael

15 Shevat 5762

From the Desk of: Rabbi Alan Haber

Tu B’shvat – Day of Longing for Eretz Yisrael

This month, we celebrate the joyous holiday of Tu B’shvat. To many of us, this means different things. Some may observe the custom (mentioned by Magen Avraham, Orach Chayim 131:16) of eating various types of fruits, particularly those that grew in Eretz Yisrael (perhaps accompanied by the singing of that all-time favorite song, “hashkediya porachat!”) Others may participate in some form of a “Seder Tu B’shvat” – a custom originally instituted by talmidim of the Arizal in Tzfat, some four hundred years ago. Still others will go out and celebrate by planting trees, or by raising money for trees in Eretz Yisrael. For all of us, at the very least Tu B’shvat means that when we daven on the fifteenth of Shvat (and the afternoon of the fourteenth) we must remember not to recite Tachanun (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 131:6).

Interestingly enough, however, the Gemara does not mention any of these customs, and gives us no reason to believe that Tu B’shvat was meant to be any sort of a holiday at all! The only context in which the day is even mentioned in the Gemara is in the first Mishna of Masechet Rosh Hashana, where it is in fact described as “Rosh Hashana L’Ilanot.” Contrary to popular misconception, though, this term does not connote some kind of a “birthday for trees” or even a “nature awareness day.” It is simply a date that has halachic significance regarding the laws of Orlah, Teruma and Maaser – fruits that blossom prior to Tu B’shvat are considered to belong to the previous year, and those afterwards to the following year. (So, for example, when taking Ma’aser from a pile of fruit, you can’t mix fruit from before Tu B’shvat with fruit from afterwards. This year is a little bit different because it follows the Shmitah year, but that is for another discussion.)

Therefore, Tu B’shvat is certainly a significant date as far as the halacha is concerned, but that doesn’t mean it’s a “holiday” or a time for celebration! Other than that, there is no mention in the Gemara of any other significance to the day. So where did all of these minhagim come from? Why don’t we say Tachanun?

Perhaps one answer may be found in the following question, mentioned in the Gemara (Masechet Sota 14a): “Rav Simlai asked, for what reason did Moshe Rabbenu desire to enter Eretz Yisrael? Was he interested in eating its fruit? Or being satiated with its material goodness?” Moshe Rabbenu, who went up to Har Sinai and lived without food or drink for forty days at a time, certainly was not interested merely in living in the land “flowing with milk and honey”! So, why was he so interested in going into Eretz Yisrael? Rav Simlai answered, “Moshe said, ‘there are many mitzvot which can only be fulfilled in Eretz Yisrael. Let me enter, so that I may fulfill them all!'”

For a Jew living in Chutz La’aretz, the pain felt by Moshe Rabbenu, the frustration of not being able to keep mitzvot hatluyot ba’aretz, can be felt most clearly on Tu B’shvat. For on this day, when according to the Torah’s laws one should be busy running around and dividing fruits for proper fulfillment of the various mitzvot, the Jew in Galut sits helplessly with no mitzvot to perform. As Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch wrote: “In Galut, Tu B’shvat is nothing but a day on the calendar. But how different from this is the spirit of Judaism in that place [Eretz Yisrael] where it is able to develop properly! [The Torah] places us in the midst of the expanse of nature, where a person is able to use his various kochot in partnership with nature… under the blessing and protection of HaKadosh Baruch Hu!”

So it is not surprising that, davka during the period of Galut, when Jews had been separated from their land for such a long time, they began to take special notice of the spiritual potential of Tu B’shvat. The minhag of specifically eating fruits of Eretz Yisrael (often in a dried form, so they could be transported to distant communities) expressed the same longings felt by Moshe Rabbenu, who desired to enter Eretz Yisrael, to “eat its fruit” and “be satiated with its goodness” only for the purpose of being able to fulfill its special mitzvot and exist in its unique spiritual atmosphere.

For those of us today who have been granted the privilege that Moshe was denied – to enter Eretz Yisrael, spending time here immersed in the unique holiness of Artzeinu Hakedosha, the observances of Tu B’shvat take on new meaning. (Indeed, even many secular Israelis who, unfortunately, are estranged from most aspects of Torah and Mitzvot, embrace Tu B’shvat as a day to express their appreciation for the beauty and uniqueness of Eretz Yisrael.)

And for those of you who, after experiencing the spirituality of Eretz Yisrael during an entire year of seminary, now find yourself once again in Chutz La’aretz, the observance of Tu B’shvat can serve the same purpose it did centuries ago – to remind us of our longing for Eretz Yisrael, for its unique holiness and the opportunity to perform unique mitzvot which we can only dream of in other places. These longings, taught to us by Moshe Rabbenu himself, have the singular power to stir us to Teshuva and Tefilla, to remind us of our kesher with Eretz Yisrael and encourage us to return as quickly as we can, and to ultimately help all of us do what is necessary to bring the Geula speedily. And then all of us will once again be able to observe all the mitzvot in their entirety.

Rabbi Alan Haber

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Tishrei 5762 – Achieving Happiness

15 Tishrei 5762

From the Desk of: Rav Hadar Margolin

Dear Students,

The Maharal explains that happiness is essential in our relationship with God:

“The purpose of an act of mitzvah performance is to bring man to a state of completeness, [and] joy is an outgrowth of completeness. The reason the Divine Presence dwells only in an atmosphere of joy is because Hashem can connect only with that which is complete, since He Himself is complete in the ultimate sense of the word. The joy puts the crowning touch on man’s completeness, thereby enabling the Divine Presence. “

Our state of happiness, therefore, is what enables Hashem to dwell among us. Hashem, as it were, can not fully relate to us when we are not happy, for the incompleteness we express when we are unhappy prevents Him from making a full connection with us.

Therefore, in the season of our happiness, as the Torah defines Succos, we should all make it our primary objective during this time to grow closer to Hashem. Let’s explore one enormously effective way to gain a high level of happiness, which will open us to a closer relationship with Hashem.

THE HAPPINESS WISH

“If you had one wish, what would you wish for?”

The most common wishes would likely be for health, wealth, power or prestige. Underlying our one wish would be the desire to have what we perceive as a key to happiness. In reality, though, beneath our pre-programmed desires, we all have an awareness that there is no true happiness in these material pursuits – on the contrary, they are often the source of much misery.

There is, though, one wish, that if granted, would absolutely deliver happiness: a wish that we would have the constant ability and opportunity to give to others. Why? Because our greatest happiness is in our making others happy. There is no question that when we are told that we have made a positive impact on someone’s life it gives us the highest level of satisfaction.

King Solomon illuminates this truth in Mishley, his book of Proverbs. There King Solomon writes that “the soul that blesses will be saturated [with delight], and one who sates others will himself be sated.” The Vilna Gaon explains the uncommon wisdom in this statement, which is the corollary of another verse elsewhere in Mishley that states “jealousy rots bones.” When one relates to another with jealousy, that is, when one feels ill will due to the good his friend has attained, those feelings of jealousy actually define and permeate the atmosphere that surrounds him, ultimately penetrating into his own self causing his bones to rot – so to speak. The opposite of a jealous person is “a soul that blesses.” Such a person is not only at peace with his friend’s merits and attainments, but he actually rejoices in his friend’s good fortune, wishing him even more goodness. Therefore, states King Solomon, this is what will return to him. The good will he has toward others will define the environment ultimately penetrating his being. Thus, “the soul that blesses” that seeks to saturate others with delight, will itself “be saturated with delight”. What we radiate towards others will in turn define our essence.

Using more contemporary language, the Rosh Hayeshiva, Rabbi Yitchak Hutner, observed this reality that one’s pleasures are directly connected to his giving. In a letter to an acquaintance he explains: “Of course I was satisfied with the knowledge that I was able to encourage you in difficult times, for what pleasure is there for a person except to help people in their times of need.”

The Rambam in his Mishneh Torah also brings out this explanation as to the basis for joy that comes from giving. There he writes that “there is no greater and more wonderful joy than gladdening the hearts of the poor, downtrodden, orphans and widows. That is because then one so closely resembles the spirit of Hashem.”

HAPPINESS ON ONE FOOT

We are all familiar with the famous story of the student who asked Hillel to teach the one foundational principle upon which all Torah rests while he, the student, stood on one foot. In other words, encapsulate the Torah’s essence into a sound bite. Hillel did so, and his answer, that which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow, has earned a significant place in the world’s wisdom.

Had our sages been asked to teach the one foundational principle upon which all happiness rests, they would have similarly replied: Seek to make others happy! This is the single most important key to happiness.

During this chag we should all work intensely to help each other develop the happiness and consequent closeness to Hashem that will support us and all of Klal Yisrael during the coming year.

Chag Kosher VeSameach
Rav Hadar Margolin