Category Archives: Archives 5761


Elul 5761 – Life vs. Sleep – A Message for Rosh Hashana

15 Elul 5761

From the Desk of: Rav Hanoch Teller

Life vs. Sleep – A Message for Rosh Hashannah

Everyone says that they want to live. What could be more important than life? If you ask someone what do you enjoy most about life they’ll tell you sleep. “I want to live so that I can sleep.” If that’s the case, then they’ll really enjoy death!

As Reb Dovid Orlofsky points out, it is always around Rosh Hashanah that the clock changes. At that time of year everyone is in the very thrust of requesting life, entreating chaim and supplicating to be inscribed in the Book of Life. The changing of the clock is heralded with the cheer that “Now I can sleep an extra hour!” There is nothing closer to death than sleep.

If you really want to live than you must show it. This is why you get up early for slichos. If you can’t get up early than life can’t be that important.

On Rosh Hashanah when your life is being determined you do not nap during the day light hours for it is incongruous.

Consider: no one who vacations in Disney Land wakes up late for they do not want to miss out. Everyone is on time for the 4:30 A.M. departure for the ski trip.

Similarly, why is it when you marry off a child you go to sleep so late that night? All of the preparations are already finished; the party is over, and on any other night at that hour you would have long ago retired!

Napoleon barely slept explaining, “When I sleep I am not Napoleon.” The night of the wedding you are the baal hasimcha and the mechuttan once you go to sleep you lose this status.

We have an opportunity around y’mei hadin to show that life really counts to us, hence we get up early for slichos. Not only do we wish to demonstrate, as Rabbi Orlofsky points out, that life really has meaning for us, but also why we seek to live.

The word for “give” in Aramaic is hav. In lashon hakodesh the onomatopoeia for barking is hav. The Midrash says that we sound like a pack of dogs as we bark out the Avinu Malkeinus repeating over and over again hav hav!

“…Give us a life free from pestilence, sword and famine
“Give us a life free from willful sins
“Give us an inscription in the book of Good Life
“Give us an inscription in the book of Sustenance and Support
“Give us an opening to the gates of Heaven with our prayer…”

How can we have any dignity if we are akin to dogs? The answer is to focus on the operative word “l’maancha.”

Zachreinu l’chaim, melech chafetz b’chaim v’kasveinu b’sefer hachaim l’maancha Elokim chaim. I seek life and its blessings for Your sake, O L-rd. If we are encumbered by war I will be unable to focus on my worship and service the way that I should. I wish to teach Your Torah but if I am plagued with laryngitis I will be unable to convey Your teachings.

I can have dignity and legitimate cause to live if the purpose of my life is l’maancha, even if it means, — even though it does mean — getting up earlier.


Av 5761 – Think Big

1 Av 5761

From the Desk of: Rav Menachem Nissel

Dear Students,

I would like to share with you a memory of an NCSY regional shabbaton in Creve Coeur, Missouri.

The climax of the weekend was the motzai Shabbat “kumsitz”. In time-honored custom, high school seniors bid their farewell. They expressed gratitude for what they had achieved in the past and shared their fears, hopes and ambitions as they prepared to navigate the stormy waters of their future. Candlelight seemed at times to radiate warmth and reassurance and at times to be mysterious, dancing and mocking. The experience is a rite of passage. A collective catharsis of youth.

As I sat cross-legged on the floor, I noticed parents standing in the corner of the room, watching the spectacle with bemused detachment.

What were they thinking? If I could have looked into their minds, I imagine that they were very proud of their children and the “good job” that NCSY was doing. But the scene had no direct relevance to their selves. They were, after all, parents. They were busy with things that parents do – laundry and carpools, making money and keeping up with their neighbors. And making sure they can give their best to their children.

But wasn’t it just yesterday that they too were children? What happened to their dreams and ambitions, their idealism and enchantment with life? At what point did they just get apathetic and say, “We are getting too old for all this, lets pass the torch to the next generation. The kids at the kumsitz will learn Torah. The kids at the kumsitz will have dreams”…

Someone passed me the candle. I didn’t plan on speaking, but a voice from deep down inside spoke. I looked into the candle, put on my finest British accent and imitated myself as an eighteen year old.

“My name is Menachem Nissel. I am eighteen years old and have just completed Hasmonean Grammar School in London, England. I plan to study in Yeshiva for a year and then study Medicine. I hope to repay all the people who have helped me reach this stage in my life by becoming the best doctor I can be…

“I am at this stage in my life totally unaware that I am about to meet a Rabbi who will change my outlook on life. He will teach me the most important message I will ever learn:


“Believe that you can do more than what society expects from you. Dream a dream and then believe you can go further than your dreams. Every Jew has unfathomable potential. Every Jew can make a powerful and unique contribution to Klall Yisrael. Never stop dreaming. All you need is willpower of steel and the capacity to think big…”

Who do you identify with? The bright-eyed NCSYer or the parent who is too busy to dream? In seminary (remember seminary?) you had time to think about what made you special and what your life was all about. And you too met inspiring people who challenged you to “think big”. Don’t allow your hectic lifestyle to suck you in to becoming “just a parent”.

Don’t let go of the candle. It’s hidden light is bigger than you can ever imagine.

Rav Menachem Nissel


Iyar 5761 – Parshas Shemini – Why Do We Need An Eighth Day?

15 Iyar 5761

From the Desk of: Rav Lipman Podolsky

Parshas Shmini 5761
Don’t Pass Over!

After a whole week devoting themselves to their self-consecration in the Mishkan, one would have thought that Aharon and his sons had had enough! Of what significance, then, is the eighth day – the title of our Parsha? Is seven not sufficient?

After a whole week of celebrating Pesach, is it not enough? Must I truly bind the festival, as it were, to the corners of the altar? What exactly is the point of “Isru-Chag”, which seems to be a virtual extension of the holiday?

You know, it’s not easy being a kid. You ask questions, but the grownups don’t seem to hear. The wise son posed a very wise question: “What are the testimonies and the statutes and the laws that Hashem our G-d has commanded you?” Does the father answer his question? All he does reply is: “One may not eat desert after the Korban Pesach.” How does the response fit the query?

Once upon a time, I had the great fortune of learning with a very strong-willed chavrusa (study partner). He never missed a learning session. He never came late, never left early, and took no breaks. He pushed himself till he could push no more. His stated goal was to uncover the Truth concealed within the Gemara. We would typically spend several days plumbing the depths of a sugya (topic).

Finally, when I felt I had a decent understanding of the material and was more than ready to move on, he would plead, and sometimes even demand to spend just one more day on this particular sugya. “You’ll see,” he would say, “the real truth will show itself if we just give it a chance!” Invariably, he was right. As much as I thought I understood the Gemara, after that extra day angels would descend and shine upon us the light of Heaven. Had we concluded prematurely, we would have remained in the dark; but, I am ashamed to admit, we would have thought that we truly understood.

The problem with time is, it passes. After a while, all we have are memories. How can we keep the experience alive? How can we prevent Pesach from passing over? How can we transcend time, plugging into the eternal?

This is Isru-Chag. We don’t just pass through a holiday, we live it, and try to take it with us. No, seven is not sufficient. Just one more day, one more moment of basking in the divine presence, will solidify the glue. Pesach will become part of us, part and parcel of our psycho/spiritual DNA.

This is the answer to the wise son. All these mitzvos that we do on Pesach are not a one-time deal. The goal is to keep them alive long after we performed them. Thus we eat no desert after the Korban Pesach. We want the taste of Pesach to linger in our mouths, to linger in our lives.

As we grow, as we build on yesterday, we keep yesterday alive, today. Sefiras HaOmer symbolizes this process. Shavuos stands on Pesach’s shoulders. As such, Pesach still lives.

This is the eighth day. Seven is ephemeral; eight is forever. The Divine presence for which they so yearned appeared only on the eighth day. Aharon and his sons thus became forever bound to the Divine. And so can we.

The Yetzer HaRa would love to see us drown in the quagmire of time, to behold us bogged down in the morass of materialism. But we can outsmart him if we so desire. Bind ourselves! The more secure, the better! Don’t throw away the past; build on it!

The heights we attain will more than recompense us for our struggle.

Infinitely more.

Rav Lipman Podolsky

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(Reprinted with permission of Rav Podolsky)

(C) 5761/2001 by Lipman Podolsky and American Friends of Yeshivat Hakotel The information published here is protected under international copyright law. You are welcome to copy or print (intact) copies of this information for personal use only. You may also send (intact) copies to other people – whom you personally know – without prior permission. All other forms of reproduction or republishing are prohibited without prior written permission from the copyright owner(s). Such permission is usually given freely, but must be obtained.


Adar 5761 – Perceiving Hashem’s Blessing In This World

1 Adar 5761

From the Desk of: Rabbi Betzalel Borstein

Dear Talmidot,

How well do we perceive the blessings that surround us? Do we recognize the things that Hashem has done for us as individuals (comfortable place to live, good friends etc) and as a nation? (Medinat Yisrael, tremendous centers for Torah learning, etc)

“Re-ay Ah-nochi No-ten liphneychem Ha-yom bracha U-kllala” (Devarim 11:26) The Kotzker Rebbe asks – Why is the word “re-ay” written in the singular form, while the word “liphneychem” is plural? Both should be plural or singular? The answer is that a bracha isn’t obvious. It is left to each individual to recognize something as a bracha. Some people will be shown (Re-ay!) the greatest blessing, and scarcely notice it.

Clearly it is the responsibility of the individual to see Hashem’s blessing in the world, so why is it that some have the insight necessary to see a bracha while other people do not? Perhaps the person who can see Hashem’s blessing, has mastered the ability to focus on the beauty in his life. He knows that the only way to stem the tendency to simply live life without appreciating it, is to concentrate on the “little things”.

Everyone has heard of the famous story of how Rabbi Akiva began to learn Torah. He passed by a stream and he saw how the droplets of water were boring a hole in a stone. Upon seeing this he realized that if water succeeded in penetrating a stone, surely Torah could penetrate his head. Imagine for a moment the number of people who passed by this stone daily. How many of these people had a life changing experience because of what they observed?! Probably only those who had learned to appreciate life and to focus on the blessings around them. Failing to recognize the tremendous blessings that surround us may stunt our spiritual progress.

When Moshe announced that the hail that would fall on Mitzrayim would only kill those animals and people left in the fields (Shemot 9:19), the Torah describes two reactions of the Egyptians. The “Yareh Dvar Hashem” – the one who feared the word of Hashem brought his animals and servants inside and they were spared. The “Asher Lo Sam Libo” – the one who didn’t take the warning to heart, who ignored it, who refused to focus on what was happening around him, he left his animals and servants in the fields and they were killed. Those that do not fear Hashem are referred to as “Asher Lo Sam Libo” – they simply refuse to see what to other people is obvious.

Adar is a time of joy!! It’s a month that teaches us that even when things appear to be terrible Hashem will protect us. To feel joy, even in difficult times, we must focus on that fact. To feel happy and content is to recognize that we ALL are blessed!

Rabbi Betzalel Borstein


Shevat 5761 – Relating Tu B’Shevat to Our Avodas Hashem

Tu B’Shevat 5761

From the Desk of: Rabbi Ari Winter

The Mishna in Rosh Hashana states that Tu B’shvat is the Rosh Hashana L’ilan.
Why does it say Rosh Hashana L’ilan and not ilanot? The sefer Ohev Yisroel answers this based on another famous machlokes of when the world was created – Nissan or Tishrei? Both are correct. The world was created b’machshava in Tishrei and b’phoal in Nissan. Tishrei is “hayom haras olam”. Forty-five days before the conceptual creation is Tu B’Av the day of the shidduch between HaShem and His thought to create the world. Forty-five days before the actual creation (b’phoal) on Rosh Chodesh Nissan is Tu B’Shvat. Forty-five days before a human is born the fetus is fully developed. All that is left is for the sap to be filled in. Adam is forty-five in Gematria, the development of man culminated on Tu B’shvat. Rosh Hashana L’ilan is MAN – “ki ha’adam eitz ha’sadeh”.
Every year on Tu B’shvat we need to renew our commitment to Torah based on the Mishna that states you are not to take Ma’asser one year from the next. The Ma’asser are our Mitzvos and Hischadshus that need to take place every year. We can not rest on our laurels and must work hard to continue our growth.

Rabbi Ari Winter