Category Archives: Archives 5763

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Elul 5763 – On 9/11 – by Rebbetzin Tzipporah Heller

Elul 5763

From the desk of: Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller

Dear Girls,

Our lives cannot/will be the same as they were last year. So much has happened! 9/11, the war in Iraq, the terror that has reached unprecedented levels of savagery. Let’s look at one of the most fascinating and inspiring to the years cataclysms. When Bracha Toporowitch lost her infant granddaughter in the 21 of Av terrorists attack, the press came to get her input, and they came in full force. After all, she is American, and speaks their language. One of the most significant questions that she was asked was “How do you feel about the terrorist”?. Her answer was “I never gave much thought to him, or my feelings towards him. The thought that recurs in my mind is that we all have a mission, which is to make ourselves better people, and the world a better place. If we would all do this, things like this would not happen”. One of the newsmen, a Black journalist from the States, stayed on after the interview was over and discussed what she meant earnestly and at length. “You mean that we must bring G-d into our lives”, he concluded. “Yes. Only when we let Him direct our lives can we expect to see any real changes”. “Yes”, he replied and left with an entirely different perspective.

It is tragic, but true, that we often discover who we are and what we really want, and most importantly, how we can bring our vision for the future into this-worldly reality, only when we are forced by circumstances to look at life more deeply.

We can make other choices! We can commit ourselves to our mission out of love of good, not only out of dread of being on the wrong side of the equation when the score is finally added up. Defining good and evil is far from easy. Intuitively we look either towards social consensus, or towards our inner sense of truth, both of which are corruptible. It’s Elul. We can find Hashem more easily now than at any other time. We can find Him if we are willing to break down walls. Our egos are fragile, so we protect them by “defending” ourselves: by fighting against our awareness of G-d’s sovereignty by holding Him up to our expectations (where was G-d) rather than doing the opposite (where was I), and denying the fact that His presence is in the hearts of every other human.

Let us use this unique time be more open than we have ever been before. Let us explore our posibilities of improving ourselves, and the world, by integrating what we have learned until now. Let us use the Torah’s truth to free us from the clinches that we may have absorbed from the outside. May next year be one of growth, self-discovery and ultimately redemption for the klal, which is the result of the personal redemption of each one of us.

With every wish for each of us to have a year that is sweet in every sense,

Tziporah Heller

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Tammuz 5763 – Lessons From the Life of My Father Ztl – by Rav Yehudah Bulman

26 Tammuz 5763

Lessons From the Life of My Father ztl

By Rav Yehudah Bulman

HaRav Nachman Bulman ztl (1925-2002) was a gadol of world renown. For over fifty years he served his people faithfully in his many roles as Rabbi, Rebbi, teacher, speaker, writer, translator – and a passionate, loving leader to Jews of all walks of life.

Of particular interest to our JemSem readers is the fact that, over the years, Rav Bulman ztl was the inspiring and unforgettable teacher of thousands of talmidos. In his last years he was the heart and soul of Darchei Bina seminary. He cared deeply about each and every talmida as though she was his own daughter.

In honor of the Rav ztl’s first yahrtzeit, 26 Tammuz 5763, we have asked Rav Yehudah Bulman shlita, one of the Rav’s sons, to share with us a few lessons from the Rav’s life.

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My father ztl had many qualities, and, admittedly, many of them don’t seem applicable to our lives. What can be learned from the fact that someone was a genius or that he was blessed with a beautiful voice? But, as he might have taught, there is no point in writing about somebody if there is nothing to be learned from that person’s life. We have no choice, then, but to attempt to learn from his unique life, even if those lessons seem applicable only to somebody who was born a talented genius, to chassidishe parents, in the Lower East Side, in the 1920’s.

I. Speaker, Teacher
My father ztl was a phenomenal speaker. By the time he was nineteen, his Yeshiva had already sent him for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur to a community in Delaware to be their “Rabbi” and speaker. But his power of speech began much earlier. A classmate of his from elementary school remembers my father, at age nine, walking down the hallway in school with a group of kids following him to hear his chochmos.

When he spoke, he used his own niggun. It was his own tune and special tone. He would start very softly, but suddenly he would roar passionately to get his point across. He often cried in the middle of a speech. Indeed, his eloquence was riveting. Where did he learn to speak? It was a gift.

But, then, what can we learn from it? We can learn that if we have been blessed with a talent, we should use it for avodas Hashem. What do I mean? Isn’t it obvious that gifts should be used for avodas Hashem? The answer is that it is not that obvious if your talent could be used for other, more popular things. My father once told me that he could have turned out very differently had he followed the route taken by many of his classmates. With his talent, he had plenty of options. If someone decides early in life, “I’m going to give my life to klal Yisrael, and to avodas Hashem,” that is something we should learn from.

He did not use notes when he spoke. On the rare occasion that he did use notes, his points all fit on one short piece of paper, and it was not even an outline – it was just a list of few pesukim or ma’amarei Chazal. My brother pointed out that whenever my father spoke – no matter what the forum or the occasion – the kernel of what he had to say was always a ma’amar Chazal or a passuk. The basis for his remarks had to be a d’var Torah. This is why he could speak about current events, and somehow it sounded like Torah. Because it was. He would see every event through the lens of a passuk. This is the second lesson: If we do have to speak or comment about some topic, we should pause to think of how the Torah might relate to the issue.

The third lesson from his speaking ability is that d’varim ha-yotz’im min ha-lev, nichnasim el ha-lev. Much of his secret in speaking was that he put his heart into it. We all have to communicate with people, but if we want to influence people positively, we have to talk with our hearts, not just our minds.

II. Ba’al Teffila, Menagain.
He was a beautiful ba’al tefilla. He davened with a combination of a soaring voice, a haunting nusach, and an overflowing heart. How can that be replicated? It can’t. But we can learn from him to daven with our hearts – “Rachmana leeba ba’ee”, “The Merciful One wants our hearts”.

One day (I think this was in 1992), I walked into his study and I saw that he was very excited about something. What had put him in such a good mood? He told me about a sefer he had just read that gave an eitza on how to improve one’s davening. The technique was to focus on a maximum of three or four words of the Siddur at a time. With genuine joy, he told me, “I tried it, and it really works!” That day I learned an important lesson – beyond the technique – that a Yid struggles his entire life to become a better Jew. Here he was at almost seventy years old trying to improve his kavana. That is something we can certainly do. We can struggle.

III. Mechaneich – Educator
He was a master mechaneich. “I am a teacher,” he would often say. In fact, he considered teaching his main occupation. Whatever he was doing, it was to be mechaneich. For him that meant to exercise the primary meaning of “chinuch” – to set people up for life. R’ Yitzchak Chai Yosef (a former member of his kehilla in Migdal HaEmek) told my family an amazing story of how my father made him into a teacher. For weeks, my father tried convincing R’ Yitchak that he must become a teacher. How did my father know that this fellow could be a good teacher? Because one time, on Shabbos, my father saw him organize and direct the kids of the shul as they were preparing for the shul kiddush. He saw how he related to the children. “Ah,” my father said to himself, “this person is going to be a mechaneich; this person can be a leader!” Finally, just two days before the new school year, my father pulled him aside, and said to him, “Yitzchak, you’re starting kitah Bet (second grade).” This man never had any training, but he very quickly grew into the job. Today this man is a star teacher. How did my father see this? Because he was a mechaneich.

To be the mechaneich he was, my father needed several characteristics. He had to recognize potential in people, and he had to know and understand other people. To understand them meant to see them as human beings who are inconsistent, to see where they were coming from, and to see where they are headed. His words on this topic are more powerful than mine could ever be, so let me quote him directly. Here he was discussing the idea of taking small steps towards stronger observance (it is part of a long essay, written in 1961, about his early years in the Rabbinate):

When my own people say: “But Rabbi, everybody says we are hypocrites.” I give them this example: Two people are on a ladder and one is on one rung and the other is on another rung. Who is on the higher rung? You will say the one who is on the highest. Actually, it all depends which way the two people are facing. If one is facing up and the other one is facing down, it is only a matter of time before they change rungs.

So it is with these people – perhaps, they are not hypocrites, only inconsistent – a blessed inconsistency. Would not that more should become a little more inconsistent. For, when they become blessedly inconsistent, there is tremendous achievement.
– Hebrew Day School Education, p. 164

He understood that people are people and that they are not perfect. We are inconsistent. But there is a “blessed” inconsistency that is the mark of someone who is trying to improve, of someone heading in the right direction.

Perhaps what we could learn from him as a mechaneich, is that we should accept the fact that we are sometimes inconsistent, yet we must know which way we are headed.

IV. His Efforts at Self-Knowledge
My father ztl was on a constant quest to discover his true self. One of his favorite pieces in the Meshech Chochma was on the words Lech lecha, which the Meshech Chochma explained meant that Hashem told Avraham to literally, “Go to yourself” – go to Eretz Yisrael so you can discover who you really are. (This vort, especially the way he elaborated on it, captured much of his attitude towards living in Eretz Yisrael, but that is beyond the scope of this essay).

An extension of his search for self was his merciless self scrutiny. I remember him telling a group of seminary girls at a shana bet mesibat siyum: “Don’t trust yourselves. You think you know who you are, or you think you’re doing the right thing. Question yourself. Who says your motives are pure? who says you’re doing the right thing?” He was not just preaching, it was the standard by which he lived his life.

V. Blending the Parts
What happens to a Jew who constantly searches for Truth, constantly seeks his true self, and constantly struggles to become a better Jew? He becomes a Jew who rejoices in mitzvos, for each one is a victory.

And what happens to a Jew who understands and accepts the fact that humans are inconsistent – as long as they are headed in the right direction – and who understands that his motives may not be pure? He becomes a Jew who is truly nichna (subservient) to Torah and talmidei chachamim; he will show utmost kavod to lomdei Torah; he will be mivakesh shalom; and he will be a bridge between all types of Jews.

My father ztl was all of this, and more.

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Nissan 5763 – Struggling With Bitachon – by Rabbi Label Sharfman

13 Nissan 5763

Struggling With Bitachon
From the desk of Rabbi Label Sharfman

Dear Students,

For those of us who were spared the experience of living through the Holocaust of World War II, the events currently taking place in Eretz Yisrael and around the world are perhaps the most difficult, heart wrenching and emunah shaking experiences that we have ever lived through – certainly on a national level.

Although, in the past, we have often contemplated and discussed the tragedies of Jewish History and how much our people have suffered since the enslavement in Mitzrayim, and especially since the destruction of the Bais HaMikdash, perhaps this is the first time in our lives that we actually can relate to what it is really like to be a victim and to feel totally helpless.

Now, when we think of Tzaddikim of the past who, as the result of pogroms and anti-semitism, lost everything that they had cherished – their wives, husbands and children; their homes and all of their possessions, but continued to have complete faith in the Ribbono Shel Olam, we appreciate and revere their accomplishments through a totally new level of understanding.

The torch has unfortunately been passed on to our generation! We thought that Jewish History had passed us by. We were the lucky generation, sandwiched between the miseries of the past and the promises of the future. We had it all – freedom and the financial independence to enjoy it.

Now it is our turn to display emunah and bitachon. We have become another link in the sad chain of Jewish suffering. Nevertheless, we must be strong and move on. We must graduate from theory to practice and implementation. But, how? How do we cope? How do we live in a world where there is no righteousness, only self interests; where we witness lives and families of innocent, loving and good people torn asunder?

As we have always learned, having true emunah and bitachon is not easy. But it is possible and the prize that awaits us is the glorious title “Baal Bitachon.” It is ours for the taking. WE CAN BE VICTORIOUS!

Firstly, we must remember the definition of bitachon. It does not mean that everything will work out fine. When a patient is sick and has bitachon, it means that he believes that whatever happens is the will of HaShem. Whether it ends up good or, what we consider not so good, this is what HaShem wants. A Baal Bitachon is one who believes with all his heart that all is in the hands of heaven (HaKol B’Yedai Shamayim).

If we go on a trip on Chol HaMoed and it rains, we didn’t have bad luck. It was the Ratzon HaShem (the will of HaShem). As the Gemora in Meseches Chullin (7B) teaches, “a person does not stub his toe down here without it being decreed from above”.

We may not like what is happening nor are we able to understand why. Nevertheless, this is the Ratzon HaShem – every single detail of what transpires.

We believe that all that HaShem does is, in fact, for the good; despite what our emotions may be feeling. David HaMelech, who lived a very difficult life, never complained. He wrote a psalm that declares 26 times Ki L’Olam Chasdo – His kindness endures forever! This was not a song. It was a Tefilla!

Still and all, our duty is to protect ourselves as best as possible and to do whatever is in our power to alter the current heavenly decree. Despite our saying that all of HaShem’s actions are good, there are times that He must use a stick to prod us towards the proper path. We can avoid this by rectifying our behavior and actions. This can be accomplished by our davening with better Kavanah, the improving of our Shmiras HaMitzvos and certainly in the strengthening of our Mitzvos Bein Adam L’Chaveiro.

Remember the episode of Yosef and his brothers. Yosef, as the Viceroy of Egypt, was tormenting and mentally torturing the Shevatim. They could not understand anything that was happening. It didn¹t make any sense. Why was the Egyptian Viceroy treating them so cruelly? Why was Binyamin being singled out for slavery? Why were they suffering so much? They couldn’t figure anything out. And then The Viceroy said, “Ani Yosef” and everything became perfectly clear. All of the questions and frustrations simply vanished. They understood everything.

Chazal teach us that the day will come when HaShem will say, “Ani HaShem” and we too will experience the clarity that is totally unimaginable at the present time. All will be clear. The tears and pain and questions will be wiped away.

May this Pesach, the Chag HaGeulah bring the declaration of Ani HaShem and may Klal Yisrael know no more suffering.

Chag Kasher V’Sameach!

Rabbi Label Sharfman Dean
B’not Torah Institute (Sharfman’s)

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Adar II 5763 – Raising Up Our Spirits – by Rabbi Leonard Oppenheimer

6 Adar II
Raising Up Our Spirits

FROM THE DESK OF RABBI LEONARD OPPENHEIMER

Dear Students,

Purim is once again around the corner, and we look forward to the joy, the fun and good cheer that it brings. After all, one of the main themes of Purim is Venahafoch Hu, that there was a great “turnabout.” And do we ever need one!

We live in a very difficult time. Surely, if we ever needed the added joy that the month of Adar is supposed to bring, it is now.

The joy of Adar, however, is a mitigated one. We do not say Hallel on Purim, nor do we wish each other Good Yom Tov. The joy of Purim is preceded by the pain of Ta’anit Esther and Parshat Zachor, in which we remember the frightful & everlasting enmity of Amalek, our untiring nemesis who seeks to do us harm in every generation. While we can no longer precisely identify this “national body,” there is no question that the Hamans, Hitlers, Stalins, and a few current European leaders are it’s spiritual, if not blood, descendants.

Our Sages foretold that in pre-Messianic times the descendants of Amalek will join forces with the descendants of Ishmael, and wreak great havoc upon the world. At such time, we would do well to look back at the first great battle with Amalek, and recall how Moshe Rabbeinu conducted a successful war against them.

We read on Purim morning from Exodus 17, which recounts the encounter with Amalek: “And Amalek came and fought with Israel at Refidim.”

Why did they come? The standard practice of Amalek is an unprovoked attack on those who stand for the G-d of Israel. The forces of Amalek take any opportunity to assault a weakened Jewish people, without thought to advantage or gain of any kind. Whence Refidim? Our Sages say that Refidim comes from the words Rafu Yadayim, which means, “loosening of the hands.” Which hands? Our hands had become weakened, or less energetic, in their exercise of Torah and Prayer. They point to the previous verse, where we are told that the thirsty Israelites demanded water in Masa Umri’va, named so “because of the quarreling of Israel, and on their testing of G-d saying, ‘is there or is there not a G-d amongst us?'”

What is Moshe’s response to Amalek’s attack? Twofold: To Joshua Moshe says, ‘choose some men and go fight.’ In the meantime, he climbs a rock and raises his hands in prayer. As we all know, the Torah then describes how Moshe’s arms faltered, and how Amalek prevailed momentarily, but that, with the support of Aharon & Hur, Moshe then kept them raised until sunset. And as long as those arms were raised, the Israelites were successful. “And Joshua weakened Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword!” The Mishna in Rosh Hashana famously comments, Moshe’s hands are symbolic of the hearts of the Jewish people: So long as they looked up and subjugated themselves to the will of Heaven, they would be victorious-and vice versa.

One of the greatest privileges I had while sojourning in Israel was to attend the weekly shiur given by Rav Moshe Shapira shlit”a, a spiritual giant in our midst. As part of a much longer presentation, Rav Shapira quoted Rabbi Akiva Eiger (at the very beginning of Hilchos Tefilla), who explained that we ceased raising our hands in prayer, as it became part of pagan practice. Nevertheless, we must ask: what was the original purpose of raising our hands in prayer?

For, surely it is one’s heart and mind that prays, not one’s hands! Furthermore, it is fascinating to recall that Yitzhak (Isaac) famously pronounced: “The Voice is that of Ya’akov (Jacob), while the hands are that of Eisav (Esau).” A well-known Midrash takes this as prophetic: The power of Jacob’s descendants will be in their prayerful voices, while that of Esau’s descendants will be in the use of their hands! Since we look not to the power of our hands as our ultimate power – why then the mixed metaphor of “raising our hands in prayer”?

But in fact, that same verse is key to the answer. Our “voice” is representative of our inner lives: providing a clue to what is in our hearts and minds. After the voice stops, the ‘voice’ ends. There is no permanence to it. In contrast, our hands represent our deeds, which may or may not reflect our inner being, whose impact remains permanently. To effect the world with one’s voice is only to plant an idea, while to fashion it with one’s hands is to attempt to physically alter it. One of the most important lessons we must learn in life is that the effect of our actions in this world is limited. All we are called upon to do – all that we can in fact do – is to plant seeds. Whether those seeds ultimately bear fruit; which fruit they will bear; how the fruit will further affect the world – none of this is in our ‘hands’. Our hands can only initiate; it is up to Hashem whether and how things will turn out. The nations of the world believe in the permanence of their actions. “Their idols of silver and gold are the work of human hands.” (Ps 115:4)

In the Refidim incident, the Israelites had been guilty of a “loosening of the hands.” As Rav Shapira explained it, this denoted a lowering of standards: what they ought to have done is to symbolically hold their hands at bay, remembering that their mission lay in planting seeds only and then to consciously hold back their hands, allowing Hashem to direct the outcome of events. Instead, they questioned Hashem’s efficacy and their need for having Him in their midst. They in effect said to Him, “we will use our hands to solve our problems. We have it in our power to take care of business. All we ask of you, O Lord, is to get out of the way and let us do what needs to be done.” Enter Amalek, descendant of Eisav, the Master of Hands.

In correcting this, Moshe sends Joshua to fight. It is true, we cannot be passive, we must do our part in the effort that uses our hands. But that is the less important of our tasks. More importantly, Moshe ascends the hill at Refidim , and lifts those very hands in prayer to Hashem, and with the help of the community (represented by Aharon and Hur) supporting him, those hands were “emuna until the sunset.” (Ex 17:12). Explains Rashi: “And Moshe’s hands were spread out in Emunah prayerfully to the Heavens, in a “Tefilla Ne’emana U’nechona”, a prayer that was loyal and proper. What is Rashi emphasizing to us?

Explains Rav Shapira, “Loyal” clearly refers to our being totally loyal to Hashem, symbolically raising our Hands to Him and saying “these hands are but Your loyal servants – They know that they can only begin – They are not the master of our destiny! “Proper” refers to the essence of prayer: “All of me is directed to You, and You alone!” Nechona has the same letters as Kavana – “with deep intent, directed to You”. It is the Voice of Jacob, together with our Hands raised to Heaven, united in Prayer, that ultimately defeats Amalek and his prodigal son, Haman.

We do not raise our hands in prayer today, as per Rabbi Akiva Eiger. But we must ready ourselves for the final showdown with Amalek. We must know and declare that we are finally, truly ready to recognize Hashem’s role in running world affairs, and know that our effect on them is limited. We must do our part. We must try to help to protect and defend against the forces of evil in the world, with whatever means we can: military, diplomatic, financial, or otherwise. But we must also learn and teach the world that, ultimately, we can do no more than ‘plant the seeds’. We look & pray to Hashem to bring the Redemption to its fruition.

In Shushan of old, it was only once the Jews turned to Hashem in fasting and prayer, that the tide was turned. Then, they were able to use their hands to win over their enemies! It was only when they solemnly rededicated themselves to Torah, that Joy & Gladness again reigned. May we soon merit to see the darkness lifted from the world, and bask in the wonderful elation of being forevermore in Hashem’s presence

Happy Purim!!!

Rabbi Leonard Oppenheimer is the rabbi at Kesser Israel of Portland, Oregon. He recently enjoyed a sabbatical in Yerushalayim.

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Shevat 5763 – Q&As to Retaining “Kosher” Videos and Computer Games – by Rabbi Leib Kelemen

15 Shevat 5763

From the Desk of: Rabbi Leib Keleman

Questions and Responses to Retaining “KOSHER” Videos and Computer Games

Dear Rabbi Keleman,

If one has no games whatsoever on a computer, and Internet access is (voluntarily, not necessarily by rules) restricted to email and school/work/Torah related sites and articles, are computers still problematic? I would like to raise the question in regard to both children and adults separately. (I am particularly interested because my parnassa is in programming, and my place of work provides me with a computer and high-speed Internet access so that I can support from home… I spend hours every day on the computer, obviously, but I haven’t even played solitaire in at least 5 years. I would like to know what the Gedolim say.)

Thank you,
Name & Seminary Withheld

Dear Name Withheld,

In response to your question, in Israel the gedolim have come out strongly against any Internet access in the home, however I am not aware of any American gedolim who have reiterated this psak. It’s probably appropriate to ask your Rav what to do. Assuming that he permits Internet access at home, it would probably be prudent to get some sort of content blocker for your Internet browser and remove any resident game programs. Perhaps ask about these two moves as well.
Warmly,
Rabbi Leib Kelemen

Dear Rabbi Keleman,

Your piece on the negative influence of videos/computer games was very compelling.
I have three comments/questions:
1. I agree and see that videos/computer games can be destructive, although I must admit my own weakness towards them. Would the same problems apply to the web too?
2. How about the Das Torah of the Gedolei Hador that sit on the board of the Chafetz Chaim Heritage Foundation, and have appeared in the videos?
3. Do you know how I can get more info on Rabbi Applebaum’s work?
Thank you,
Roseanne Shoshana Greenberg

Dear Mrs. Greenberg,
Thank you for writing. To answer your questions:
1. Yes, although we have much less data on computer/web based applications (because the medium is much younger than TV), all the data we’ve seen matches the material on television. The medium is equivalent (CRT display, flashing images, quick cuts, etc.), and the content is often worse (both because there is no licensing procedure for websites parallel to broadcast and cable television, and because people tend to access the web more privately than they watch television).
2. I have also appeared on those videos. The halachic reasoning is that we don’t make gzaros that the community cannot abide by, and since American Jewry is not yet ready to accept a ban on these media, they remain technically permitted. As long as they are permitted, daas Torah recommends that we get into the “market” and compete for attention with Torah-based materials. However, daas Torah is simultaneously encouraging educators to create fertile ground for a ban on these media – hence my article. In Israel, the gedolim feel that the community is more prepared to accept a ban on these media, and consequently Rav Elyashiv banned the CC video in Israel.
3. I have on file this information for Rabbi Applebaum’s organization:

Parents Concerned with Media Influence
8950 Bathurst Street
Thornhill Ontario L4J 8A7
Phone 905-881-8438
Fax 905-886-6525
tvawareness@yahoo.com

Kol Tuv,
Rabbi Leib Kelemen