Category Archives: Archives 5765

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Nissan 5765 – Eradicate Chometz and Find the Real You – by Rabbi B. Gershenfeld

4 Nissan 5765
Avoid the Pesach Rush:
Eradicate Chometz and Find the Real You
By Rabbi B. Gershenfeld

Nisan has arrived and the Pesach rush is in full swing. We are busy cleaning our apartments, buying Pesach foods, shopping for new clothes, inviting friends and preparing for seders.

These activities magnify a constant dilemma of modern life; we are always so busy that we don’t have time to think about important spiritual issues. In Nisan this tension increases because on one hand we are especially busy with mundane chores and yet we know that Nisan starts a new year and that this is the time when we must also focus on our spiritual growth. Pesach celebrates the birth of the Jewish nation. It also marks the birth of spring during which trees and plants begin to blossom. Creation and creativity are in the air. Where in the midst of this pre Pesach rush can we find the time to personally blossom?

Chazal direct us to begin our Pesach preparations by searching even in the nooks and crannies to eradicate chometz. Our first step on the road to redemption occurs when we become sensitive to the existence of chometz. Chometz is what prevents us from taking the first steps of growth — it constricts, blocks and confounds our creativity. But why is chometz the symbol of stagnation and evil? The Rashba explains that the word chometz does not mean “leavened bread” but that chometz is a general term used to describe objects that have become so complicated they have lost their original value. For example, with proper fermentation a cluster of inexpensive grapes becomes a fine wine. But, if the process is not monitored and the purpose of the fermentation is forgotten the sweet valuable wine becomes cheap, bitter vinegar. Its natural greatness is lost. This state is called vinegar or in Hebrew — “chometz”. The first step to redemption on Pesach and our own personal growth is to recognize that we have become lost in complications. We must each search for the chometz in our lives and destroy it. We are always rushing and working hard but we have forgotten the essential goal of our labors. We must rid ourselves of our mindless rush after the externals and refocus on the essence and purpose of our lives.

The term matzah articulates this same vision positively. Matzah does not mean simply “unleavened bread”, rather it denotes anything that is “essential”. For example, the Talmud (Shabbas 79a) calls raw leather matzah because it is “essential”, it is neither tanned nor oiled, just plain leather.

Matzah rivets our attention on the essence so that we don’t get lost in the complications. We shouldn’t get caught up in the superficial. When we focus on what is real and essential only then will our personal and spiritual growth begin.

Through the laws of Pesach Hashem directs us to begin anew. We should avoid chometz, unnecessary complications, and we must eat matzah — just flour and water without sugar or leavening — to awaken us to our essence, our most basic human and spiritual needs.

The mitzvas awaken us but we must apply their lessons to our lives to take complete advantage of their power. To find our deeper selves we must avoid becoming distracted by unimportant decisions, between Gucci’s and Pucci’s, between Polo and LaCoste. The trap of wealthy American society is that holiness is lost in the rush for non-essential luxuries and complications. We are so busy shopping for the nicest object we forget to spend time working on the essential problems of our lives – how can we grow more, how can we strengthen our connection to Hashem, how can we express our tzelem elokohim. It’s Nisan and it’s springtime; we must blossom, we must strive for personal growth. But in order to begin we must focus a little bit each day of Nisan on these essential questions and specifically outline new areas of spiritual growth for the coming year. We cannot allow ourselves to get caught up in tangential matters. At first, moments of introspection and consideration, spiritual accounting and theorizing, appear to be powerless to impact our hectic lives. However, the power of small daily repetitions to produce change is familiar to all who exercise or diet, and it is no different in spiritual matters and personal growth. Involving our neshamas and brains in this effort connects us to the greatest dynamos of life. Finally with siyata dishmaya and the segula of zeman Pesach we can be optimistic about our ability to make new beginnings and develop our latent potential.

At Jerusalem’s Angel’s Bakery decisions abound — white, dark , rye, bagels, laffa, pitas, whole wheat, seven grain, dieter’s special, Italian, garlic or spelt. This array of goodies is fine for the rest of the year, but for Nisan it is a distraction. For these seven days of Pesach it is not a decision between bagels and pitas. We are commanded to choose matzah, and find our deeper selves. When our only bread is matza we can begin to discover what’s really important in life?

How can we grow? How can we begin?

If we avoid the Pesach rush and find some time daily to examine our essential ideals, then we will experience the deep joy of freeing ourselves from the shackles of hectic modern society and be able to open our hearts to rejoice this Pesach in our holiday of freedom.

Chag Kasher V’sameach.

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Adar I 5765 – Elusive Achdus – by Rabbi Ilan Segal

14 Adar I 5765 – Purim Katan
Elusive Achdus
By Rabbi Ilan Segal

Ever since the conclusion of Yom Echad of Brias Haolam, the world has faced a challenge of finding Achdus. That day was called Yom Echad– not Yom Rishon. It was the day of complete achdus when there was no challenge to the concept of Hashem Echad. And we await the day that the Navi Zecheria prophesied “Bayom hahu y’hiye Hashem Echad uShmo Echad.” But in between the first day and the last day, we live with conflict and dichotomy.

“Hachodesh Hazeh Lachem Rosh Chodashim”. We calculate our calendar by the lunar cycle, unlike the rest of the world who follow the solar cycle. With this mitzvah of Kiddush Hachodesh, Hashem separated us from the nations. Mekadesh Yisrael veHazmanim. Through the Kedusha of Zeman He sanctified Yisrael. It would seem that these two cycles of the year should each be left to follow its own track. Let Pesach fall in winter as long as it is the first lunar month. But Hashem added a Mitzvah of Ibur Shana which requires us to ensure that Pesach will be in the time of Aviv and Succos at the time of gathering. And so we have an extra Adar this year. This leap month ensures that the month of Nisan on the Lunar calendar will match the time of Nisan on the Solar Calendar. In a sense we superimpose our months over the solar cycle.

The sun and the moon split time into two separate cycles, two realms of existence. The world of the sun is described by Shlomo Hamelch “Ain chadash tachas hashemesh” a constant existence which is unchanging and unchallenged. The world of the moon is all new always changing waxing and waning “Ulevena amar shetishchdesh” We have a mitzvah of Ibur Shana to align the year of the sun and the year of the moon, to make it all one. This theme of taking different facets of the Beriah and uniting them into complete achdus in serving Hashem runs through the building of the Mishkan. The Mishkan is erected on the first day of the first month. In Shemos 13:36 the Posuk states “Vehaya haMishkan echad”.

The magnificence of the Mishkan was its uniting everything into one. Animal vegetable and mineral all fuse into one entity of Kavod Hashem. The Mishkan is built by Betzalel from Shevet Yehudah, the leader of the Shevatim and Ohaliav from Dan, the least of the tribes, to show that all of Klal Yisroel from biggest to smallest unite in the construction of the Mishkan. It is not coincidental that the parshiot that we read during Adar Alef are the Parshiot of the Mishkan. The theme of Achdus, uniting the different facets of Briah into Avodas Hashem is what this month represents. The climax of the month comes with the full moon. In Adar Alef we mark Purim Katan on the 14th and15th.

In the final siman of Orach Chaim, the Rema raises the machlokes of Rishonim whether a Seuda is required on Purim Katan. Although the Halacha follows the opinion that there is no mitzvah of Seuda, the Rema writes that a small addition to your regular Seuda is appropriate in order to fulfill the Machmir opinion. The Rema then concludes with the words “Tov Lev Mishteh Tamid” The Shaarei Teshuva discusses this concluding posuk in the Rema. He explains that there is a difference between the words ‘Lev’ and ‘Levav’. In Maseseches Berochos, Chazal explain the words Bechal Levavecha that we say in Shema to mean Bishnei yetzarecha, to love Hashem with both your yetzer tov and yetzer ra. Levav implies two hearts, one good and one bad. Lev denotes only one united heart, devoted to Avodas Hashem. For this we daven in the Berocha before Shema every morning. ‘Veyacheid levaveinu l’ahavah v’yirah es Shemecha…’ unite our hearts to love You. Hashem, help us to make our levav into a lev.

Eating and other indulgence in the physical world always endanger our ruchniyus. Mishteh Tamid, constant feasting, is a grave danger to healthy ruchnius. Darka Shel Torah requires Pas BeMelech. But one who has Lev Echad, who has defeated his Yetzer Horah to the point that there are no contradictions in his existence. Such a person is Tov Lev and can have ‘Mishteh Tamid’ Feasting will not contradict his holiness.

You spent a year in Eretz Yisroel immersed in Kedusha of Torah and Avodas Hashem.
A year of Lev Echad Le Avinu Shebashamyim. Post seminary reality includes many distractions. School, work, family obligations all compete for our attention threatening to split our Lev Echad into many. Ibur Hashana teaches us to impose the reality of a torah existence on everything else and to make it all one. We don’t have a time for Kodesh and a time for Chol, a time for Torah and a time for college. We have one ‘time’ and that is time for Avodas Hashem. We build a Mishkan in our lives where all facets fit into a single structure of achdus, of doing Hashem’s will.

As we each strive to unify our hearts and our lives in love of Hashem we move towards the time when Hashem will unite everything into complete shelemus.
“Bayom Hahu Y’Hiyeh Hashem Echad uShmo Echad”

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Shevat 5765 – French Toast, Without the Syrup – by Rabbi Hadar Margolin

2 Shevat 5765
“French Toast, Without the Syrup”

By Rabbi Hadar Margolin

After I returned home from a recent trip abroad, my friend asked me: “in what did you find the greatest illustration of ‘galus’, on your trip”? Meaning: after being somewhat immersed in western culture by virtue of just being in the States, could I point out anything that was a real symbol of USA culture, one little episode that says it all?

Indeed, there was such a happening, which I want to share with you.

It happened in a hotel at breakfast. The main table was set shmorgasboard style (I’m not sure I spelled it right, but that’s definitely what it sounds like), with everything you could possibly want to eat, all so easily available. There it all was – eggs, cheeses, veggies, fruits, drinks, all of them in every different variety. There was also french toast, which will feature prominently in our story.

A man was standing near the whole spread, taking in – and carefully weighing – all the available options, until he finally expressed the problem that had caught his attention. “They gave french toast, but there ain’t no maple syrup”, he said.

The guy standing near him neatly caught the tragedy in its entirety, as he added a sigh and commented: “it’s been a long, bitter galus…”.

I myself was too entranced by the huge variety of breakfast options available. I didn’t even notice what was missing, nor that maple syrup was so prominently and simply not there.

Gashmiyus does have its place. It is true that we are expected to partake of Hashem’s creations. But when the focus on gashmiyus becomes too pronounced, when it occupies a vital – or central – location in one’s life, then it has gone too far. Often in galus it becomes harder for us to tune into ruchniyus, to feel the closeness to Hashem. This is not to say that if you live in America you are doomed. Rather the challenge, which we all have the ability to overcome, becomes intensified. We have to have to fight harder so that the American standards of gashmiyus to overtake them. It is our responsibility to maintain the balance expected of us by Yiddeshkeit, and no other culture.

Pursuing the extravagant delicacies of galus blurs a person’s vision of the true life goals of a Yid. Simplicity has little to do with pleasure, but it has a lot to do with happiness, with true simcha. The Maharal writes often about pshitus (simplicity), and how this is the true life as it should be (see, for example, Netzach Yisrael Chap. 13). This is a deep concept, not easy to understand or explain.

Somehow, I feel my understanding was made easier by a simple comment on the missing maple syrup.


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Kislev 5765 – Becoming Baalie Bitachon – by Brocha David

2 Kislev 5765
Becoming Baalei Bitachon
By Brocha David, Michlala


The names we give each month (i.e. Tishrei, Cheshvan, Kislev, etc) originated in Galus Bavel. Each name is meant to be a lesson as to the unique spiritual potential of that month. What is the meaning of the name “Kislev”?

The root of Kislev is kaf-samech-lamed, “kesel,” which in various pesukim is used to mean trust:
“Ki Hashem Yihiyeh BeKisli” (Mishlei 3)
“Veyasimu Be-elokim Kislam”
(Tehillim 78)

Based on this, Rav Tzadok HaCohen teaches that the avodah of Kislev is Bitachon, “Vinireh she-eisek chodesh zeh she-kol echad meyisrael yihiyeh lo mivtach oz ba-Shem”. When Kislev arrives we have at hand a propitious opportunity to take strength in Hakadosh Baruch Hu. Although clearly a person can strengthen his bitachon at any time, during Kislev we get an extra boost from the spiritual energy of this month- the segulas hazman of Kislev.

The theme of bitachon is echoed in other areas connected to Kislev as well. Each of the twelve Shevatim is parallel to one of the 12 months and the Shevet of Kislev is Binyamin. When Moshe blessed Shevet Binyamin he said, “Yedid Hashem yishkon lavetach alav…” In the nachalah of Binyamin the Beis Hamidkash was situated, a bayis filled with Hashem’s shechina. Reb Tzadok HaCohen teaches that in Kislev we each have to look inside ourselves and recognize that deep down we too are connected with and surrounded by the shechina.

According to the Sefer Yetzira, every month is connected with a letter of the Aleph Beis and a specific human ability or action (e.g. walking, talking, thinking, etc). The letter connected with Kislev is “samech” and the action is “sleeping.” Samech, Chazal tell us, represents “someich”, as in “someich Hashem lekol hanoflim”, the One we can always be “someich” on. We can rely on Him unfailingly, He is always there supporting us.
Sleeping also connotes a form of letting go. We humans are not omnipotent – we have limited strength. At a certain point we need to sleep to gather the strength to continue. Sleeping reminds us that we don not have unlimited power, we are mortal. Hashem, however, never sleeps, “hinei lo yanum velo yishan shomer yisrael”!!! If you’ve ever seen a security guard asleep on the job, you know just how precious this guarantee is! Hashem’s powers are not limited in any way. He is always watching over us and we can depend of Him for everything.

These days in Yerushalayim the bus stops are swarming with security guards. At peak times, in busy places, you are likely to find one (or more!) at every stop. While of course we most appreciated deeply the hard work and efforts of these guards, we have to remember that they are just that – efforts, the hishtadlus we do. The outcome is in Hashem’s hands. The guards are called “Anshei Bitachon”; we strive to be “Baalei Bitachon” (or as someone recently remarked to me “The guards should be called Anshei Hishtadlus because that’s exactly what they are!). How often do we stop and remind ourselves of what we know to be true, “Im Hashem lo yishmar ir, shav shakad shomer”!

On the pasuk in Shir HaShirim, “Ani yisheina velibi air”, the Midrash Rabba explains that Hashem is called the “heart” of Bnei Yisroel. “Ani Yisheina mei-ha-geulah vilebo shel Hkb”h air le-gealuni” We look to Hashem during the dark of the galus knowing that everything s in His hands. We are sleeping. He is not. On Chanuka we relive the victory over Yavan, the victory that we won against all odds – the many in the hands of the few. Chazal compare Yavan to choshech, darkness – the dark of the night when we sleep but Hashem does not. The dark of the night is when we need our bitachon more than ever, “ve-emunascha baleilos”.

Chanuka provides the light that relieves the overpowering darkness, the bitachon to resolve our doubts. We are reminded that Hashem is indeed close by. As Rav S. R. Hirsch writes (collected writing, Vol. 2 Kislev 2) “The teaching of Shem… portrayed G-d in His infinite sublimity and sovereignty but at the same time pictures His infinite, omnipresent, blissful proximity. This sublime and merciful “One” whose word created the world whose well guides the universe, who nourishes every creature from worm to seraph. He is closer to you than anyone else, His kingship with you is unmatched”.
May we merit feeling that closeness and filling the world with the light of Chanukah!