Friday, August 18, 2017

Parshas Re'eh Messages 5777


פּרשׁת ראה:
The Sages Say:
 
Only be strong to not eat the blood…’ (Devarim 12:23)
 
Rabbi Shimon ban Azzai says:  The verse did not come except to warn you and to teach you until what you need to strengthen yourself with Mitzvos.  If with the blood, which is [relatively] light (easy) to guard from [eating], for a person does not desire it, it needed to strengthen you with regard to its negative Commandment, all the more so for the rest of Mitzvos! (Rashi HaKadosh from Sifri).
 
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A “Lamdanishe” Insight:
 
You are children to Hashem your G-d; you shall not cut yourselves, and you shall not make a bald spot between your eyes for the dead.’ (Devarim 14:1)
 
The Midrash uses a play on the word for not cutting ourselves (תתגדדוּ) and says that we should not make different groups (אגדוֹת) and be arguing with each other.  
 
One time, the Chofetz Chaim זצ"ל was asked by someone, why does the world need Chassidim and Misnagdim (non-Chassidim, in this case)?  And even amongst Chassidim there are many different sects.  There are those who engage more in learning, others more with Davening, and there are yet others who put a strong focus on song and praise or dancing.  What is the world lacking -- couldn’t there just be one group of Judaism with the same customs, etc.?
 
To this the Chofetz Chaim זצ"ל answered that before he asks about the sects with us, he should go and ask about the Emperor of Russia.  Why do they need so many types of army?  Foot soldiers, cavalry, navy, etc.  And what is the world lacking -- couldn’t there just be one type of soldiers using one kind of weapon, with one general over them all?  
 
Answering his own question -- and thus the question of the man, The Chofetz Chaim explained that since the army needs to defeat the enemy, they need different ways, and each way has its own special thing that other ones don’t.  
 
So it is with the war with the Yetzer Hara, said the Chofetz Chaim:  All the types of Chassidim -- aside even from the Misnagdim; all are soldiers in the army of Hashem, part of the war against the Yetzer Hara, and everyone does something to vanquish the Enemy; this one with their Davening and this one with their learning.  These with their praise and others with their blowing of Shofar (i.e. using music as praise to Hashem; an aid to serving Him, an expression of it, etc.).  Provided, he concludes, that the intentions of their heart is to their Father in Heaven. (Chofetz Chaim al HaTorah).
 
This piece is an especially important one for today:  Many people, if they disagree with someone else’s way of serving Hashem, they think that way is wrong.  But we need to understand what the Chofetz Chaim זצ"ל is teaching us; there are many good paths and many ways to serve Hashem properly, and they are all right -- as long as they are within the Laws of Torah and Halacha.  Indeed it is said ‘These and these are the words of the Living G-d.’
 
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Mussar Message:
 
See I put before you today a blessing and a curse.’ (Devarim 11:26)
 
Writes HaRav Zelig Pliskin שׁליט"א:  On the first word of this verse, Reaih, Ibn Ezra comments: “He (Moshe) is talking to each one individually.”
 
Although Moshe was speaking to the entire Jewish People, says Rav Pliskin, he started off in the singular to tell everyone to listen to what he had to say as if he were speaking to him alone.  When someone is delivering a lecture or giving a class, it is easy to think, “He is speaking to everyone else here.  I don’t have to take what he says seriously since he is not really directing his words to me.” But this is an error.  The way to grow from lectures and classes is to view the words of the speaker as if they were directed only to you.  Try it out.  The next time you are in an audience listening to inspiring words tell yourself, “The speaker has me in mind.  Let me see how I can utilize what he says for self-improvement.” (Growth Through Torah).
 
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Chassidishe Vort:
 
The Festival of Succos you shall make for yourself seven days… And you shall rejoice in your Festival… and you will be only happy (והיתה אך שׂמח).’ (Devarim 16:13-15)
 
The Rashei Teivos (first letters) of the words ‘אך שׂמח’ can spell the word ‘אשׁ’ (since the and can be interchangeable).  This alludes to us the fact that true happiness comes -- and we can be ‘only happy’ -- when we light up a spiritual Aish Kodesh (holy fire) within ourselves.  A burning love for Hashem and His Torah and Mitzvos; a burning desire to serve Him; and an overall warmth. (Tal U’Matar).
 
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Chazak V’ematz:
 
If there will arise in your midst a prophet or a dreamer of a dream… saying: “We will go after other gods… and we will serve them.” You shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of a dream… and that prophet or that dreamer of a dream shall be put to death…’ (Devarim 13:2-6)
 
We now read the portion dealing with a meisis u’meidiach -- someone who, Rachmana Litzlan (may Hashem save us) tries to lead people to worship idols.  
 
Says the Alter of Kelm (HaRav Simcha Zissel Ziv זצ"ל):  We have a principle that G-d’s reward for a good deed always outweighs His punishment for a bad deed.  Now a meisis u’meidiach, who tries to lead Jews to idol worship, is punished with death even if his efforts were unsuccessful.
 
From here we can deduce, says the Alter זצ"ל, how great is the reward of one who tries to bring his friend closer to G-d. (Sparks of Mussar).
 
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Maaseh B’Rabbi…
 
The Tzemach Tzedek (the third Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson זצ"ל -- not to be confused with the seventh one, who had the same name) would tell the following story:  
There was a very simple farmer who lived in a village near Yerushalayim.  Every week, when he would come to Yerushalayim to sell fruits, grains, and other produce, he would visit one of the Rabbanim in Yerushalayim, taking along his beloved Siddur.  The Rav would show him what to say from the Siddur until the next time he would come to Yerushalayim.  If Rosh Chodesh was approaching, the Rav would show him what he should say on Rosh Chodesh, and so on.  
Once, on one of his weekly trips to Yerushalayim, he found the streets deserted and the stores closed. "Is it Shabbos today?" he wondered.  He saw people walking with their Tefillin, so he knew that it wasn't Shabbos. "What happened today?" he asked them. "It's a fast day," they replied.  
The simple villager quickly went to his Rav and said, "Why didn’t you tell me that there was a fast day today?  I've already eaten by mistake.  I also didn’t say the special prayers for a fast day."
The Rav explained that this fast was decided upon only a couple of days earlier, and he didn’t know about it when they spoke last week.  "What's the fast for?" The Rav replied: "Since the onset of the winter, it hasn't rained.  The Rabbis of Yerushalayim decreed a fast day, to arouse Hashem's compassion so it will rain." "For a lack of rain you declare a fast day?" the farmer asked. "Yes.  Do you have another recommendation?" "When my field needs rain, I go outside, and I pray and it immediately begins to rain." "Do that now, too," the Rav said.  
The villager raised his eyes Heavenward and said, "Father in Heaven.  Your children need rain.  Will You let Your children die from thirst, Chalillah?" Immediately, the clouds came and it began to rain. (Meoros HaParsha).
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A Gut Shabbos to all!

Friday, August 11, 2017

Parshas Eikev Messages 5777


פּרשׁת עקב:
The Sages Say:
Your garment did not wear out from upon you and your foot did not swell this forty years.’ (Devarim 8:4)
The Clouds of Glory would rub their clothes and press them, like pressed vessels (garments).  And their young, also, as they would grow bigger, their clothing would grow with them, like the clothing (shell) of a snail, that it grows with it. (Rashi HaKadosh from Midrash Shir HaShirim Rabbah).
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A “Lamdanishe” Insight:
And it will be if you will surely forget Hashem your G-d, and you will go after gods of others and you will serve them and prostrate yourself to them; I bear witness in you today that you will surely perish.’ (Devarim 8:19)
It really bothered me that this verse, which describes a tragic, tragic, possible occurrence, begins with the word והיה, which, we are told, connotes joy!  What is it doing here?  
I posed this question to the Bostoner Rebbe of Yerushalayim (Rebbe Mayer Alter Horowitz שׁליט"א).  He looked into the matter, and found in a Sefer (book) an answer given by the Chozeh of Lublin (Rebbe Yaakov Yitzchak Horowitz זצ"ל), photocopied it, and sent it to me. 
Says the Chozeh זצ"ל:  If a person commits a sin (like the avodah zarah described in the verse), and is still joyous and does not regret doing it; in this state, they will get the terrible punishment of surely perishing.  If they do not feel pain or regret over sinning, they will likely not come to do Teshuva.  
However, says the Chozeh, if the person does understand the magnitude of the sin and they do feel pain over it, they will be helped to do Teshuva.
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Mussar Message:
And now O’ Israel, what does Hashem your G-d ask from you but to fear Hashem your G-d, to go in all His ways, and to love Him, and to serve Him with all your heart ad with all your Soul?(Devarim 10:12)
The Midrash Rabbah says that ‘ועתּה’ -- ‘And now’, is a language of Teshuva.  What does that mean, and furthermore, what does it go to teach us?  
Explains the Chofetz Chaim (HaRav Yisroel Meir HaKohen Kagan זצ"ל):  We are able to say that the intention is that the main strength of the Yetzer Hara is to try to delay people and argue that they can wait until tomorrow (or any later time) to be engrossed in Torah and Mitzvos, etc. And it continues day after day saying, “tomorrow”...
And now, with all this, he says, we can explain well with the Help of Hashem, the Midrash, as it appears to me, that the intention of the verse ‘And now O’ Israel… etc.’, it is to encourage a person that he should not go after the argument of his Yetzer Hara who tries to delay him the learning and the meditation in upholding the Torah to a later time.  And to this, Scripture comes and says ‘And now O’ Israel, what does Hashem ask from you,’ -- ‘And now’, specifically, meaning that at all times, he should think what the Blessed Hashem asks from him now. (Ahavas Chesed).
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Chassidishe Vort:
And it will be because you will listen to these Ordinances…’ (Devarim 7:12)
This first verse in our Parsha begins ‘והיה עקב תּשׁמעוּן...’ (‘And it will be because you will listen...’).  Gemara Megillah (and other places in Chazal, as well) explains that the word והיה is always a language of joy.  
The above verse thus hints to us a message for life:   If we are B’Simcha -- joyous, we will be able to keep the Mitzvos and serve Hashem a lot better. (Tal U’Matar).
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Chazak V’ematz:
And it will be because you will listen to these Ordinances…’ (Devarim 7:12)
The word for ‘because’ used in this verse, עקב, actually usually means ‘heel’.  Explains the Biala Rebbe שׁליט"א:  This refers to these final generations of Ikvesa d’Meshicha (the Footsteps of Mashiach), which are as lifeless as a calloused heel… We are so blind to spirituality that we can hardly tell if we are rising or falling…
Contrary to what we might think, the greatest of all rewards is reserved for just such a generation.  We remain steadfast in our commitment to Hashem despite our inability to sense His Presence.  We cling to the one lifeline that remains for us -- simple faith.  We continue to obey the Torah’s commandments even though we do not find them as thrilling as we would like, because we know it is the right thing to do.  Thereby, we prove our utmost loyalty to the Creator, fulfilling the hardest of all tasks which has been imposed upon this final generation before Mashiach’s arrival.  
He continues:  Rashi explains the above passage as a reference to the “minor mitzvos that people tread underfoot.” Certainly, he does not mean to differentiate between one mitzvah and another, since all mitzvos are equally important as our Sages tell us in Pirkei Avos (2:1): “Be as careful with a minor mitzvah as you would be with a major mitzvah.” Rather, -- quotes the Rebbe from the Toldos Adam and Toras Rebbe Yerachmiel -- he refers to times when people will tread mitzvos underfoot, viewing them as uninspiring, unfulfilling and thus unimportant, Chas V’Shalom.
Concludes the Biala Rebbe שׁליט"א:  In reward for fulfilling the Torah and mitzvos in these difficult times we are assured with all the blessings in this week’s parshah. (Mevaser Tov).
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Maaseh B’Rabbi…
One day, when HaRav Chaim Kanievsky שׁליט"א was young, the Kanievsky’s washing machine stopped working.  The technician said that one of the machine’s parts had broken, and they needed to buy a new spare part from a store in Tel Aviv.
Rav Chaim’s sister was sent to Tel Aviv to buy the part.  She decided that while in the city, she would take care of another matter as well.
“I’m going to Tel Aviv to buy a part for the washing machine.” She told their father, the Steipler Gaon (HaRav Yaakov Yisroel Kanievsky זצ"ל).  The Steipler added, “You should say, ‘im yirtzeh Hashem’!”
After an exhausting trip, Rav Chaim’s sister returned home.  While she had, Baruch Hashem, managed to complete her other errand, she had not managed to buy the spare part for the washing machine.
From that day on, Rav Chaim and his sister paid attention to a “small”, but very significant “spare part”, that directly affects one’s success, and, if absent, Chas V’Shalom, seems to remove success.  
From that day on, they understood to say ‘Im yirtzeh Hashem’ to every future action, as their father did. (A Gadol in Our Time: Stories about Rav Chaim Kanievsky).
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A Gut Shabbos to all!


Thursday, August 10, 2017

A Rebbe Story: The Power of Words


The Chofetz Chaim (HaRav Yisroel Meir HaKohen Kagan zt”l) once set out on a trip with another Rav for the purpose of a Mitzvah.  Along the way, they stopped at an inn, whose impeccable Kashrus standards were well-known, to have dinner. 

After the meal, the proprietress of the restaurant came over and asked them if they were pleased with their dinner.  The Chofetz Chaim immediately responded in the affirmative.  The other Rav concurred, but added that a bit more salt would have helped.  

 As the woman left, the Chofetz Chaim turned white and exclaimed: “I cannot believe it.  All my life I have avoided hearing or speaking Lashon Hara.  Now I travel with you, and I hear Lashon Hara……” 

When his companion saw his reaction, he became frightened and said: “What did I say that was so bad?  I only mentioned that a bit more salt would have been appreciated!” 

“You do not realize the impact of your words,” cried Rav Yisroel Meir zt”l. “Our hostess probably does not do her own cooking.  Her cook could very well be a poor widow who has been forced to take this job to support her family.  As a result of your criticism, the owner will complain to the cook, who, in self-defense, will deny the claim and say that she did put in enough salt.  This will escalate to an all-out argument between the owner and the cook, resulting in the poor widow’s dismissal.  So, you have caused unnecessary strife between two people, as well as a loss of livelihood for a widow and her orphans.  Look how many sins you committed with your “innocent” words.  You spoke Lashon Hara, and you caused the owner and myself to hear Lashon Hara.  You caused the owner to repeat the Lashon Hara, which created a situation in which the cook was compelled to lie.  You also caused pain to a widow and an argument between the owner and the cook……” 

The Rav looked at the Chofetz Chaim, smiled and said: “You know, you are carrying this a bit far.  Surely a few words could not have caused such harm.” 

Rav Yisroel Meir said: “Come, let us go to the kitchen and see for ourselves.” 

They went and entered the kitchen, only to see and hear everything that the Chofetz Chaim described would happen:  The owner was berating the cook, who, amid tears, was gathering her few things together and preparing to leave the employ of the restaurant.   

The Rav absorbed all this and felt terrible.  He immediately went over to the cook and begged forgiveness for any distress he caused, and pleaded with the owner to reconsider her position against the cook, which she did. (The Peninim Anthology; p. 69-70).