Wednesday, October 26, 2016

A Rebbe Story: Dedication to the Holy Torah

A Rebbe Story: Dedication to the Holy Torah:

Gut Isru Chag everyone!  It has been a long time since I last posted, and now I would like to, B'Ezras Hashem Yisbarech, share a great story and lesson with you all from Gemara Yoma 35b, that is really very proper for post-Simchas Torah: 

Hillel HaZakein a"h use to only earn half a dinar a day, half of which he would give to the guard at the Beis Midrash, and the other half he would use for his family, for food, clothing, etc. 

One day, however, he couldn't earn any money, and he couldn't pay the guard at the Beis Midrash, so he would not let him in.  What did Hillel HaZakein do?  He climbed up the building, and sat on the skylight, in order to still be able to hear and drink in the holy words of Torah from Shemaya and Avtalyon, both a"h. 

And the Gemara tells us that it was winter at the time, and snow fell on him.  So, when the sun rose, Shemaya a"h realized that the Beis Midrash was dark, when it should be light, and he voiced this to Avtalyon a"h.  They looked up and saw the shape of a man on the skylight. 

They went up and checked on the roof, and lo!  Hillel was on the skylight - covered by three cubits of snow!  They took him down, bathed him, anointed him, and put him near the fire, and said "This man deserves to have the Shabbos broken for him." (I.e. they were saying how extremely great  he was).  

What an inspiring story!  Hillel HaZakein was just so, so dedicated to the holy, precious Torah, that he was willing to be in absolute discomfort, and even risk his life for it!  His only desire was to serve the Blessed Hashem and learn His Holy Torah.  He understood how great the precious Torah is (or maybe even just a little bit of how precious it is)!  We just don't seem to; which is likely why we aren't as dedicated to learning it. 

So we need to take the message of this story, B'Ezras Hashem, and really internalize it.  The greatest gift that Hashem could give us - and, in fact, gave us, in His Great Kindness - is the ability to serve Him and to learn His Holy Torah.  No matter who you are or what you do, you must try your best to learn Torah.  We must always truly try to find ways to learn Hashem's Holy Torah as much as we can, and drink in it's pearls of wisdom. 

May Hashem help everyone take to heart the holiness and preciousness of the greatest treasure out there - the Torah HaKedosha, Amein vi'Amein.  And in the merit of truly learning Torah Li'Shem Shamayim and with happiness, Hashem will certainly send Mashiach Tzidkeinu, very, very speedily in everyone's days.  May He do so, Amein, vi'Amein. 

Have a wonderful, wonderful day everyone! 

Refoel Berel

Friday, October 14, 2016

Parshas Haazinu

This Week’s Parsha – Haazinu:

This week’s parsha is Haazinu, and, though this will be a short parsha report, I would like to, B’Ezras Hashem/with the Help of Hashem, discuss a very basic concept of Haazinu: This parsha is a song. What is the significance of this? Well, one thing we can perhaps say is that it is no coincidence that it is a song, seeing as it usually falls around Succos. But a song is supposed to be implying happiness, yet this parsha talks a lot about the punishments we will get for acting badly and doing the wrong things. So the question is asked; why is this parsha a song? It mostly seems to show bad things that will happen!! B’Ezras Hashem/with the Help of Hashem, I will try to share some good answers with you to this question:

1) The Berditchever Rebbe (Rebbe Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev zt"l) explains that since this parsha talks about the punishments we will get for sinning (i.e. being put in Galus/Exile), it is really very fitting that is a song! Why? Well, he quotes from Gemara Pesachim 87b, which says that the reason (one of them, I guess) we were put in Galus/Exile among the nations is to attract the converts among them, i.e. so that the non-Jews will see us, and want to become Jews too. There are sparks that are trapped, says the Berditchever zt"l, among the goyim/non-Jews, and when these people convert; it elevates those holy sparks back to their sources. And he continues further even and explains that the Jews’ enemies draw on these holy sparks among them for energy. But when these sparks are gone from them, the enemies don’t have any power anymore! This is indeed reason for joy and song, concludes the Berditchever zt"l.

2) The Ramban zt"l explains a different possible reason: He says that, although this parsha talks about the punishments we will get, those punishments are really only Hashem’s love, in truth! This parsha really talks about the relationship between Hashem and the Jews, he says further, but sometimes He just has to be a little "harsh" on us to remember. This is very important.

3) Rebbe Menachem Feldman shlita says this one based on the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe (Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson zt"l): He says that though this parsha talks about how we will get punished for our sins, by making it a song, the Torah is teaching us that if we keep singing (i.e. we keep being happy in serving Hashem) even when "bad" things are happening to us, then things will end up happy like a song![1]

4) And finally, two last answers that I think we could say: As we know, even when Hashem has to punish us for our bad deeds, it is only for our benefit, and to cleanse us. So maybe this is one of the things of happiness in the song Haazinu: The Torah lists the punishments we will get, but remember; those punishments that Hashem has to put on us are only to cleanse us. Blessed is Hashem, Father of Kindness!

5) (The following is partly based on a comment of the Baal Shem Tov (Rebbe Yisroel ben Eliezer zt"l) I saw in the book Four Chassidic Masters, and also something that I heard from Rav Yosef Bronstein shlita): Perhaps another element of happiness and song of Haazinu is the punishments themselves (as I was saying before – just this is in another way): Punishments don’t come upon us by coincidence – they are Hashem giving us messages and cleansing us of our sins. On the surface it might seem dark; all those punishments having to come on us. But if you look at it with more of a Chassidishe eye, you will see that it is really brilliantly light! Why? Because just the fact that Hashem cares enough about us to punish us when we do wrong is sign of His great love for us. Meaning that He cares so much about us that He has to make sure we stay on the right track and He is always with us. Just Him punishing us is a sign that He is right here with us always.

May Hashem help everyone to take with them these thoughts of happiness, and to always serve Him with joy, Amein vi’Amein, so may it be His Will.

Have a wonderful Shabbos everyone and a Chag Sameach!!!

Refoel Berel

[1]©'Why Sing Sad Songs?'  Written by Rebbe Menachem Feldman shlita. 

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Yom Kippur 5777

Yom Kippur 5777:

Okay everyone:  This is also the week of the Holy Yom Kippur!  It is hard to believe!  The Aseres Yi’mei Teshuva/Ten Days of Repentance are almost over!  Elul, Rosh Hashanah, and basically all the Ten Days of Repentance are over. But it is not too late: It is never too late. We still have the holy day of Yom Kippur! And now, it is time to make some resolutions for the next cycle. Let’s not just leave Yom Kippur on the tenth of Tishrei; we need to, B’Ezras Hashem/With the Help of Hashem, take it with us throughout the entire year.

Now, Rabbeinu Yehuda HaNasi zt”l said in a Baraisa (recorded in Gemara Yoma 87a) that Yom Kippur itself atones for our sins by itself – whether we do Teshuva or not. But the Halacha/rule follows the view of the Rabbis, who said that we must do Teshuva to gain atonement. And, Baruch Hashem, as we are told, at this time, Hashem makes it easier to return to Him in truth. We must do Teshuva in order to be forgiven. And not fake Teshuva – actual Teshuva. Actually returning to Hashem! We likely all know that the root of the word ‘תּשׁוּבה’ is ‘שׁוּב’ which means to return. We have strayed from the Holy House of our Father in Heaven and it is time to return. Let us not, Chas V’Shalom/Hashem forbid, squander this great opportunity that Hashem has given us.

The founder of the Mussar Movement, HaRav Yisroel Salanter zt”l used to say that how great is Hashem’s mercy to us! For if He had given us Yom Kippur – the day when it is so much easier to do Teshuva – but once every 70 years, we would consider it our great fortune. “Now that this opportunity is given to us every year” concluded Reb Yisroel zt”l “How intensely happy we must be with Hashem’s kindness!”[1]

Arguably the holiest day of the year is almost upon us, and we must wake up. We cannot sleep any longer. Hashem has given us life, and it is up to us to live. I would like to, B’Ezras Hashem Yisbarech/With the Help of Hashem, He is Blessed, share with you an absolutely beautiful, heart-piercing explanation and parable from the Maggid of Yerushalayim (HaRav Shalom Schwadron zt”l), that honestly should melt the hardest of hearts, and make us all break down into tears: The passuk/verse says (Shir HaShirim 5:2) ‘I am sleeping, but my heart is awake. My Beloved’s voice – He is knocking; “Open for Me! My sister, My friend, My dove, My pure one!”’ Reb Shalom zt”l says that these words are directed specifically for this time of year, and he composed the following parable:

(Note: The father in this parable we’ll call Yaakov, and the son Yosef): Yaakov’s only son, Yosef, went to live in a far-off land. He got married, and he and his wife had children. Yaakov really wanted to see his son, and in every letter he sent to him, he invited him and his family to come for a visit. But every time that Yosef would try to come, something would happen and he ended up not being able to.

Seeing that it was very hard for his son to visit him, Yaakov decided to travel and visit him. So he made preparations, and boarded a ship. It took a long time, but finally he reached the port, and the ship docked. Yaakov was ecstatic – he was about to see his son! But, to his surprise, Yosef, his son, was not waiting for him at the dock.

He was disappointed, but immediately began making excuses for Yosef: He likely was busy, making preparations for his arrival, so that’s probably why he couldn’t greet the ship. Yaakov found a train quickly, and rode it to his son’s city. But when the train reached the station, Yosef and his family were not waiting for him! Now Yaakov was worried; maybe something was wrong.  His heart was full of worry, and he hired a taxi to take him to his son’s address. But when he arrived there, everything in the house was dark except for a weak light. Now Yaakov was extremely, extremely worried. Was everybody alright? Was somebody ill? His hands were shaking as he knocked on the door; once, then twice. Finally, a voice called “Who’s there?”

Now Yaakov relaxed, recognizing his son’s voice, and said “Your father, who has made such a long trip to visit you, is knocking; open up the door my son!”

There was a moment of silence, before Yaakov heard his son reply “Father, I have already gotten into my pajamas and washed my feet. It’s awkward for me to get out of bed and come to the door now. Please, if you don’t mind, there is a hotel next door. Spend the night there, and in the morning we will meet.”

When Yaakov heard his son’s reply, he almost collapsed. His head began to reel, and he thought about how he had wanted to see his son for so long. And he saw that his son couldn’t visit, so he decided to come to him. He kept making excuses for him and everything, but should he stay at a hotel? Certainly not! Yaakov took a taxi back to the train station, took a train back to the port, and then booked a return trip on the very first ship. Yosef awoke in the morning, full of regret about his foolish behavior the previous night. He quickly got dressed got out bed, and ran to the hotel. But his father wasn’t there. His pain was deep when he realized that his father was nowhere to be found.

Adds HaRav Yaakov Yisroel Beifus zt”l in his masterpiece, Lekach Tov: Hashem waits for us the entire year to return to Him. But we don’t – each with our own excuse. He comes to us on Rosh Chodesh Elul, and the days of Elul are imbued with Hashem’s Mercy; days when it is so much easier to return to Him wholeheartedly. Yet, many are not wise enough to take advantage of this great opportunity.

But Hashem, in His Great Mercy sends us Rosh Hashanah, and the Ten days of Teshuva, when He moves even closer, and makes it even easier to feel Him and return. Isn’t it strange that a lot of people seem to ignore this gracious gift?[2]

Yet Hashem, the Blessed King, goes further still: On Yom Kippur (this is the climax) He knocks on the very doors of our hearts, asking us all to return to Him in truth!

Wow! This is so powerful, and the message is heart-piercing. It is almost hard not to start crying after reading this! Hashem. Our Beloved Father has been waiting patiently for us to come back to Him and stop sinning. And right now is the time!

May every single Jew take the message of this parable, return to Hashem completely, and stay with Him always, Amein. And if we do so, Hashem will write and seal all of us for a year of good life. May our Father and King, HaKadosh Baruch Hu, help everyone to return to Him in total truth, and then write and seal everyone for a year of good life, Amein, vi’Amein, so may it be His Holy Will.

I wish every single person a wonderful, wonderful Yom Kippur, full of meaning and Teshuva!!

G’mar Chasima Tovah, si’kaseivu vi’sichaseimu, li’chaim tov everyone!!!

[1] Sparks of Mussar, page 46.  By HaRav Chaim Ephraim Zaitchik zt"l.  Feldheim Publication Ltd©.
[2] The Torah of Brisk and Other Gedolim: Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur, pages 46-50.  By HaRav Shimon Yosef Meller shlita.  Cited in Yalkut Lekach TovFeldheim Publication Ltd©.