Friday, July 28, 2017

Piece from Chofetz Chaim Al HaTorah on Devarim

Parshas Devarim Messages 5777

Baruch Hashem, we have the privilege of beginning to learn Sefer Devarim together, which is largely a speech and words of Mussar from Moshe Rabbeinu:  As one of my brothers shlit”a pointed out, we can learn from here the importance of learning Mussar.

 The Sages Say:

 These are the words that Moshe spoke to all of Israel on the other side of the Jordan, in the plain, opposite the [Sea of] Reeds, between Paran and between Tophel, and Lavan and Chatzeiros and Di-Zahav.’ (Devarim 1:1)

 Because they were words of rebuke, and it counts here all the places that they caused anger before the Omnipresent, therefore, the words are vague, and it mentioned them in a hint, because of the honor of Israel. (Rashi HaKadosh).

I.e. Moshe Rabbeinu was rebuking the Jewish People for sins which they had committed, but in order not to humiliate them, he merely alluded to their sins with names of places -- (see his commentary to them). 


A “Lamdanishe” Insight: 

These are the words that Moshe spoke to all of Israel…’ (Devarim 1:1) 

According to Chazal (our Sages), there is a fundamental difference between Sefer Devarim -- which is also called Mishneh Torah -- and the rest of the Torah.  So, what is the difference? 

The Dubno Maggid (HaRav Yaakov Krantz זצ"ל) posed this question to his great teacher, the Vilna Gaon זצ"ל.  Answered the Gaon:   

With the first Four Books of the Torah, the words were heard straight from Hashem, in His Glory, just through Moshe Rabbeinu’s mouth.  As Chazal say “The Shechinah spoke from the midst of his throat.” This level of prophecy was only reached by Moshe.   

But, with the prophecies of Sefer Devarim, they were told over to Bnei Yisroel in the same form as later prophecies.  Moshe Rabbeinu would receive a Prophetic Revelation, and then he would tell it over to the Bnei Yisroel. (Ohel Yaakov, quoted in Talelei Oros). 


Mussar Message: 

How can I alone carry your trouble, your burden and your strife?’ (Devarim 1:12) 

In the annual cycle of Parshiyos, says HaRav Avraham Leib Scheinbaum שׁליט"א, we always read Parshas Devarim, on the Shabbos preceding Tisha B'Av, our national day of mourning.   

An obvious connection to Tisha B’Av, he notes, is the word ‘Eicha’, ‘how’ (in the above quoted verse), which appears in Megillas Eicha, the Book of Lamentations, that is read on Tisha B’Av.  The Vilna Gaon zt”l sees a deeper connection between this Parsha and Tisha B’Av in the third word of our verse ‘levadi’ (alone) -- ‘Eicha esa levadi’, ‘How can I alone carry?’ He noted that a form of this word appears in the beginning of Megillas Eicha, ‘Eicha yashvah badad’ -- ‘How the city sits alone.’ This gives us a clue to the essence of our national tragedy. 

Alone, loneliness, isolated, forsaken, deserted:  Says Rav Scheinbaum שׁליט"א, these synonyms may shed light on Moshe Rabbeinu’s critique and, by extension, Klal Yisroel’s tragedy.  Moshe was used to bearing the nation’s burden.  His complaint was that he was alone.  We may add that certainly Moshe did not need any assistance.  He was quite capable of leadership -- even alone (with Hashem’s Help, of course).   

Is anybody aware of the responsibility placed on the shoulders of our leadership, a responsibility which they shoulder all alone?  Do we empathize?  It would be so much easier to shoulder the responsibility, if he knew that he was not really alone. 

This same problem occurred in Yerushalayim.  In the first chapter of Eicha, a variation of the phrase ‘ein menachem lah’ -- ‘there is none to comfort her’ (Yeushalayim), occurs no less than four times.  This is what we mourn.  Yerushalayim is alone, without anyone to comfort her.  We may suggest that the loneliness which Yerushalayim experienced was not only a product of Klal Yisroel’s seclusion from the other nations.  It was the separation from within, their divisiveness and discord resulting from the Sinas Chinam, unwarranted hatred among them, which was the cause of the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash. 

We cannot change what has happened.  We can, however, focus on the source of our suffering, the reason for our misery, in order to attempt to correct our problem so that it happens no more.  Perhaps, with a little more Ahavah, love, for our fellow people, we can reverse the trend of isolation from one another which has caused so much of our suffering.  Let us share the burden with our fellow, ease their plight, or just be available for moral support.   

When we are present for our fellow, he concludes beautifully, we can hope that Hashem will, likewise, be present for us. (The Peninim Anthology). 


Chassidishe Vort: 

These are the words that Moshe spoke to all of Israel…’ (Devarim 1:1) 

The Nikolsburger Rebbe (Rebbe Yosef Yechiel Michel Lebovits שׁליט"א) brings a beautiful story on this verse:   

One day, during the imprisonment of the Baal HaTanya (Rebbe Shneur Zalman of Liadi זצ"ל), an influential Russian minister who was well-versed in Scriptures came into his cell and asked if he could present a question on the Torah that had been bothering him for a while.  

The Torah relates that after sinning with the Tree of Knowledge, Adam and Chava hid out of shame, and Hashem called out to Adam and said to him: "Ayeka -- where are you?" (Bereishis 3:9). "How could it be that Hashem, Who created the entire world and knows exactly what goes on everywhere, had to ask Adam where he was?" the minister asked. "Didn't He know? 

Reb Shneur Zalman replied: "Before answering your question, please tell me if you believe with all your heart that the holy Torah is not a storybook or history book; each and every word in the Torah has an eternal message that is applicable to each person in every generation." 

"I believe," said the minister, "that the Torah is eternal and applies to everyone at all times."

The Baal HaTanya said: "Now you'll be able to understand this verse.  Hashem created each person with a purpose.  Every person has a mission to fulfill, and as the years go by Hashem calls to him and asks: 'Ayeka -- where are you?  What have you accomplished?  What have you done to fulfill your mission?'" The Tzaddik continued: "You are so many years old, with so many months and so many days.  G-d is asking you, 'Ayeka -- where are you?’ What have you done with your life?"

The minister was very moved by Rebbe Shneur Zalman זצ"ל’s explanation, and even more so when he heard the Tzaddik tell him his exact age to the day.  The penetrating question of ‘Ayeka - where are you?’ shook him to the core.  He promised the Tzaddik to do everything possible to free him from prison.

Says the Nikolsburger Rebbe שׁליט"א:  The same applies to all of us.  When Hashem created the world, He had an exact plan for each creation.  Everything He created serves a special purpose.  We must ask ourselves:  What purpose do I fulfill?  When Hashem created the world, He made a special spot for me, so what am I doing about it?  A person who thinks this way will utilize his time in this world and try his utmost to accomplish his life's mission.  Each year that goes by serves as a reminder to listen to Hashem's call. "Another year went by," we tell ourselves, "But Ayeka -- where am I?  What have I accomplished?"
               Each year as we approach Tisha B'Av, he continues beautifully, we must make a collective reckoning:  Another year has passed, and another, and we are still in exile.  The Beis HaMikdash still hasn't been rebuilt.  What have we done this year to change that?  What have we done to bring the Redemption, to spread the glory of Hashem's Name throughout the world and rebuild the Beis HaMikdash?

And now the Rebbe שׁליט"א brings this all to the verse:  The first letters of the Hebrew words for ‘הדברים אשׁר דבּר משׁה אל כּל ישׂראל -- ‘The words that Moshe spoke to all of Israel’ (if you mix them up) spell two words; אדם (Adam), and איכּה (Ayeka):  Moshe Rabbeinu is telling us that Hashem is calling every single person individually -- every Adam -- asking the searing question: "Ayeka -- where are you?!" The word איכּה (Ayeka) has the numerical value of the word לוֹ -- to him.  This question is being asked of every single person individually.  Hashem is speaking to him directly!
                   The word איכּה has the same spelling as the word איכה (Eicha), concludes the Nikolsburger Rebbe, the sorrowful question with which the Tisha B'Av Lamentations begin.  If only we would have paid more attention to the question of Ayeka and thought more about our purpose in life, we wouldn't have to mourn this Tisha B'Av by sitting on the floor and saying Eicha!
May Hashem help all of us that we should be able to fulfill our purpose in life.  We should finally merit seeing these days transformed into days of joy. ‘Call upon me a holiday.’ (Eicha 1:15).  The day will come when Tisha B'Av will be transformed into a Yom Tov, a day of rejoicing.  When will this happen?  When we will all hear Hashem's call; when we will realize that He is "calling upon me!" The time will come when "the lost ones in the land of Ashur will come, as well as the dispersed ones in the land of Egypt; they will bow down to Hashem on the Holy Mountain in Jerusalem" (Yeshaya 27:13).  Everyone will do Teshuva and each person will be helped with whatever he needs.  May we indeed be zoche to greet Moshiach together, may it be speedily in our days, Amein. (
Chazak V’ematz:
One of the overall themes of Sefer Devarim (see above) -- and especially Parshas Devarim -- is Moshe Rabbeinu giving Bnei Yisroel Mussar: 

We can actually see a big Chizuk just from the concept of Mussar -- self-improvement -- itself:  A person is not stuck in one place; we can always get better!  You can be one way, and, with hard work and Hashem’s Help, scale to a much higher level!   

We all have faults; but they do not have to stay -- and we do not have to continue in their path.  A person can erase past sins with Teshuva, and change themselves into a whole new person.  And learning, and following the path of Mussar helps us with this, and also to continue to improve.

What a joyous thing it is to know that we are never “out of reach” or forever stuck with a certain bad way! (Tal U’Matar).


Maaseh B’Rabbi… 

One time, HaRav Leib Chasman זצ"ל was invited to the Chofetz Chaim's  home for the Shabbos evening meal.   

To his surprise, upon returning from Shul, the Chofetz Chaim זצ"ל did not sing the customary Shalom Aleichem (welcoming the Angels which Hashem sends to escort you from the Shul to your home on Shabbos), and he recited Kiddush immediately.  Only after they had eaten the preliminary Gefilte fish did Rav Yisroel Meir start to sing Shalom Aleichem.  

Rav Chasman couldn't help but ask why he had changed the customary order of things.  The Chofetz Chaim זצ"ל smiled, and answered "You were surely hungry, and I wanted you to eat a little something first.  But the Angels (that escort Jews home on Shabbos eve) are not hungry, and they can wait a little." (Sparks of Mussar). 


A Gut Shabbos and a meaningful Tisha B’Av to all!

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

The Three Weeks 5777: Achdus -- a need

When saying the Akeidah in Shacharis this morning, I noticed something that I probably should have contemplated before:  The phrase that Avraham Avinu and Yitzchok Avinu 'went together' is really emphasized a lot. 

And this got me thinking; look at how important being together and united is.  Avraham and Yitzchok Avinu certainly could not have properly performed Hashem's Will and pass this difficult test if they were, Chas V'Shalom, fighting and disputing along the way.  Only when they went together...This goes for every one of us as well:  

We will not be able to properly fulfill Hashem's Will -- and we are not properly fulfilling His Will -- if we, Chas V'Shalom, are fighting amongst ourselves.  We must unite and be together.

And on the other hand, if we do come together and have Achdus, we can overcome even the hardest test...


This is an especially good time to think of the importance of Achdus:  We are now holding in the time known as 'Bein HaMitzarim', or 'The Three Weeks' -- and even further, the saddest part of these weeks, The Nine Days.

Why are we mourning now?  Why is it sad?  Because, as we probably know, both Batei HaMikdash were destroyed at this time.

But what is one of the reasons we are told (Yoma 9b) why the Second one -- the one right before this Exile -- was destroyed?  Why are we in this Galus?  Because of Sinas Chinam -- baseless hatred.  Unfounded hatred between Jews.

If anything, this problem is perhaps greater -- or worse -- today.  Look at how much fighting, strife, etc. in our midst -- and maybe even some, if we look, coming from us! We can call our strife and dislike of other Jews whatever we want and give many reasons, but when it comes down to it, it is still 'Chinam' -- 'baseless'.

So what we must do is concentrate on the message we saw from the Akeidah -- one of the great moments of Jewish History -- and try to take it to heart and, B'Ezras Hashem, put it into action.  Can we correct everyone else's strife?  Perhaps not -- right away.  But what we can do is work on ourselves, trying to come together with others, to not cause strife, and to live with Achdus.  This, in turn, will also influence and help others to do so as well.  And in that merit, we will all merit the Ultimate alleviation from problems and tribulations -- the Geulah Shleimah.  May Hashem help everyone to come together with Achdus, rectifying the reason for this Galus, and may He make this Tisha B'Av an incredibly joyous one, Amein.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Quick Motzaei Shabbos Thought

As this Shabbos was coming to a close, I heard a very sad perspective from a man with whom I am very close about how many people are sad and depressed about their lives. 

And it really got me thinking; #1 about trying to help people to not be as depressed, etc., but #2; when we see people, we often jump and judge them, for whatever it might be.  But do we stop and think about the fact that their "imperfections" could perhaps stem from problems and difficult things which they are, Rachmana Litzlan, going through?... If someone says or does something perhaps offensive to us, maybe they aren't just trying to make us upset... Maybe we shouldn't get angry or retort, but consider the fact that perhaps there is something making them upset and try to help their life to be more pleasant, and not, Chas V'Shalom, less...

HaKadosh Baruch Hu should give us all much Siyata D'Shmaya in our lives and pick everyone up from tough and depressing times.  Amein.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Mussar from Parshas Masei

These are the journeys of the Children of Israel, who went out from the land of Egypt, according to their legions…’ (Bamidbar 33:1)

 The Baal Shem Tov zt”l explains that all the forty-two journeys that Klal Yisroel traveled are analogous to a person’s life:  

 Birth -- leaving the womb -- can be likened to Yetzias Mitzraim (the Going out from Egypt), the beginning of the Jewish People’s travels through the Wilderness.  The ensuing journeys lead onward through life and to the ultimate destination, Eretz Yisroel -- or, for each individual Jew, Olam HaBah (the World to Come).  (Quoted in The Peninim Anthology).

 A person mustn’t just stay in one place and be satisfied with who they are now:  We all must continue journeying in the right direction on the road called Life, and always continue moving forward in our Service of Hashem.  May Hashem help everyone with this, Amein.


 And they journeyed from Rephidim and they encamped in the Wilderness of Sinai.  And they journeyed from the Wilderness of Sinai and they encamped in Kivros HaTaavah.’ (Bamidbar 33:15-16) 

Rephidim, we are told, is the place where the Jews ‘loosened their grip on the Torah’ -- (we were given some laws before coming to Sinai).  But, Rashi HaKadosh explains (Shemos 19:2) from Mechilta that just as our coming to the Wilderness of Sinai was with Teshuva, so too our traveling from Rephidim was with Teshuva.   

Based upon this, we may derive a lesson from the above verses:  With Teshuva, a person can go from not doing so good, to being on such a great level, as we were at Sinai.  With Teshuva, you can go from Rephidim to Sinai. 

But, the flip side is also true:  We can never grow complacent, because a person can go from a very high level -- Sinai -- and come to a level of Kivros HaTaavah, Chas V’Shalom.  We must always be careful and watch out for the Yetzer Hara’s traps… (Tal U’Matar). 

Chazak Chazak V’Nischazeik and a Gut Shabbos to all!

Mussar from Parshas Mattos

And the kings of Midian they killed upon their corpses, Evi and Rekem and Tzur and Chur and Revva…’ (Bamidbar 31:8)

In the Torah’s narrative of Klal Yisroel’s defeat of Midian, says HaRav Yissochor Frand shlit”a, we read a name that we are vaguely familiar with:  Tzur.  Tzur’s first appearance in the Torah was at the end of Parshas Chukas, as the father of Kozbi, the woman with whom Zimri sinned publicly.  

Midrash Tanchuma tells us that Tzur was the greatest of the five Midiani kings, but he was listed third by the Torah of the five because he readily sent his daughter to commit a public immoral act.  

We have to wonder, says Rav Frand, when we read such a Midrash:  Does Tzur really care?  Does it bother him in the least if the Torah lists the Midiani kings and places him third instead of first? (And a very similar thing happens with Ephron, he mentions).

Explains Rav Frand shlit”a, in truth, these questions stem from a false perception that we all possess to some extent:  As long as we are here in Olam HaZeh (this world), he says, the physical world seems so real to us and Olam HaBah (The World to Come) seems so far off that we consider the physical world a reality and the spiritual world somewhat fantastic.

In the physical world, one can blatantly ignore or shrug off even the greatest of insults.  In Olam HaBah, however, all the false illusions of “the Real World” are exposed.  Every single person, even a person who had no spiritual values in this world, suddenly realizes that spirituality is all that matters.

As long as Tzur was here on earth, he would have snickered if we would have told him that he was being punished by being mentioned disparagingly in the Torah.  
As they look down now, concludes Rav Frand, -- or up, as the case may be -- from their rightful spot in the next world, Tzur and Ephron suffer extreme anguish because of their stinging emotion. (Rabbi Frand on the Parashah 2).

And Moshe said to the children of Gad and the children of Reuven: “Shall your brothers come to war, and you will stay here?  And why do you dissuade the heart of the Children of Israel from crossing to the Land that Hashem gives to them?”’ (Bamidbar 32:6-7)

The Torah describes here how the people from the Tribes of Gad and Reuven had much livestock, and they saw the land right outside the Land of Israel, which was very good for animals.  So they brought the question to Moshe Rabbeinu; could they have that land as an inheritance, instead of a portion inside of Eretz Yisroel? 

And one of the things Moshe Rabbeinu replies (see the quoted verses) is that if they do so, they could cause others to not want to come across the Yardein.  
Rashi HaKadosh explains that he was saying that they would remove and hold back the hearts of the Jews from crossing over to Israel.  Because the People would reason that they are afraid of war and of the strength of the towns and people.  

From this it is possible to see the great power of influence that every person holds:  Moshe Rabbeinu was afraid that the children of Gad and Reuven could influence the rest of the Bnei Yisroel to not want to go into Israel -- and we too must be very careful to never, Chas V’Shalom, give any bad example.  
 But it also goes the other way:  If we can have such a negative effect on people if we act badly, Chas V’Shalom, then we also can influence so many people for good if we just make sure that we behave properly.  By doing as we should, we can help the entire world!

Often people like to tell others to do good.  But perhaps more important than that, is to show them to do good… (Tal U’Matar).

A Gut Shabbos to all!

Friday, July 14, 2017

Chofetz Chaim Al HaTorah piece

This is a photo of the original piece from Chofetz Chaim Al HaTorah which I quoted in the previous post:

Chizuk from Parshas Pinchas

Chizuk from the Parsha: 

These are the children of Binyomin according to their families, according to their countings, forty-five thousand and six hundred.’ (Bamidbar 26:41)

 These are the children of Don according to their families… sixty-four thousand and four hundred.’ (Bamidbar 26:42-43) 

Says the Chofetz Chaim (HaRav Yisroel Meir HaKohen Kagan zt”l): Here the Torah reveals to us that there is no wisdom and no advice opposite Hashem.  To Binyomin there were ten sons… and to Don -- only one son, Chushim son of Don, and this one son was deaf…  

And from this there is to learn, that whomever Hashem desires in him, He is able to make him successful from one son more than one who has ten sons… (From Chofetz Chaim Al HaTorah). (Not to say, of course, that Hashem did not desire in Binyomin).

 Adds HaRav Avraham Yaakov Pam zt”l: In life, one can never predict how things will eventually turn out.  At times, the accomplishments of a ben yachid (an only child) can be more than that of ten children.  Even in a large family, the ben zekunim’l (the youngest child born to older parents) can be the one who eventually brings his parents the most joy and nachas.   

One cannot give up on a person, no matter what the handicap or disability.Continues Rav Pam zt”l: It often happens that the one who is considered “least likely to succeed,” is the one who produces the greatest achievements.  Hashem has endowed every human soul with immense treasures.  Parents of handicapped children should take inspiration and chizuk from the accomplishments of Chushim, and realize that they, too, can see great nachas from their offspring. (From The Pleasant Way). 

A Gut Shabbos to all!

Friday, July 7, 2017

A Message for Life from Parshas Balak

One of the first things we say in our morning prayers is ‘מה טּבוּ אהליך יעקב משׁכּנתיך ישׂראל-- 'How goodly are your tents O' Yaakov!  Your dwelling places O' Yisroel!'.

 The name Yisroel, we are taught, can refer to B'nei Torah and Gedolim, and the name Yaakov can refer to “regular” Jews.   

Also, it is of note that a tent is more of a temporary place, while a dwelling place connotes a more permanent place.  However, they both imply a place of Torah study, just one more temporary and one more permanent.  Now let us put this all together:

 How goodly are your Tents O' Yaakov!':  One might, Chas V’Shalom and Rachmana Litzlan think that if they are “just a regular Jew”, and they go to learn Torah only sometimes, the Beis Midrash (or any place they learn) being only a temporary dwelling place for them, it is not that good or important.   

But the above verse teaches us otherwise:  Every single good thing which we do is precious to Hashem; He does not overlook anything.  Thus, even if you have to be working most of the day, and then you come home pretty late, and go learn even a little; that is extremely precious to Hashem!  Don't get discouraged and think that your Torah is not important; it is very important!

 And the proof for this:  If you take the Gematria (numerical value) of the words ‘מה טּבוּ אהליך יעקב’ it equals 310.  What does that correspond to?  The word ‘ישׁ’ (which means literally ‘there is’ or ‘there are’).  ישׁ’ is the opposite of ‘אין’ (nothingness).  Meaning that whatever Torah you are able to learn -- it is not nothingness, Chas V’Shalom.  It is the very opposite. ‘There is’ much, much importance to it.

 And on the other hand, the verse says ‘Your Dwelling Places, O’ Yisroel!’:  To all people who can and are involved in Torah study etc. most of the day, realize just how important it is to Hashem.

 But there is something else we can see from the above verse:  A person is not stuck in one place; you can be in the first category which we discussed, and, with hard work and the Help of Hashem, enter into the second category.

 Perhaps these are some of the very reasons why מה טּבוּ is one of the first things we say in our daily Davening (prayers), as their importance is vital to realize early each day. (From the Introduction to Rays of Light: Adar).

A Gut Shabbos to all!