Thursday, December 31, 2009

How Can You Tell That Christians Have No Daf-Yomi Equivalent?

Sent to me by my friend R' Yaakov Ben Avigdor to add to the "holiday cheer":

The Cohen family was on very good terms with their Roman Catholic
neighbors, the O'Briens. In fact, little Yaakov Cohen and Christopher
O'Brien from next door would play together from time to time. Or at
least they used to.

Well, one late December's day, Duncan O'Brien came storming in to the
Cohen's house holding poor Yaakov by the ear. "Your son is not going
near my Chris again; he just has no respect for us and our religion!"

"What's the matter; what did he do?" inquired Mr. Cohen. "I'll tell
you" said Duncan "he saw our Christmas tree and started making fun."

"Really, what did he say?" continued Mr. Cohen.

Duncan said, "He saw our tree and started asking all sorts of
ridiculous questions - which kinds of pine trees can be used for a
Christmas tree? What's the minimum required height? How close to the
window does it need to be? Do too many decorations render it unfit?
What if it's under a neighbor's balcony?!"

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Asarah Biteves

A friend recently invited me to his wedding but I will NOT be attending! It says on the invitation "Modest Dress Required". I will do A LOT to gladden a Chosson and Kallah but I will NOT wear a modest dress. That is going too far!!

Anyway, that is to break the depression that this fast day may bring. But we must remember that the "ikker" of the day is teshuva and tzedaka. Here are some halachos of the day. Most [if not all] of the halachos apply to our fast day. One comment: He writes that a "baal nefesh" should refrain from taking a haircut on a fast day. However I looked in the responsa he cited as the source for this ruling [Tzitz Eliezer Vol. 7 Simman 49] and he says that it is completely permitted and there is no reason to be machmir.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Tzvi Moshe On The Parsha

Our Parsha opens up with Yehuda approaching Yosef, attempting to convince Yosef to release Binyamin. With Hashem’s help, through analyzing some of the conversation between Yehuda and Yosef we will learn more about the mind-state required for spiritual growth and how to look at the world around us as a constant motivator for Teshuva.

When Yehuda begins his appeal on Binyamin’s behalf, the Passuk describes the situation as follows: “Vayigash Eilav Yehuda VaYomer Bi Adoni YiDaber Na Avadecha.” ‘And Yehuda approached him (Yosef) and said ‘Please my master, with your consent your may your servant speak.’ Then, trying to convince Yosef to release Binyamin, Yehuda goes on to add no new plea whatsoever! He merely repeated the chain of events that had transpired up to this point and recalled the conversations that they had had previously. Yehuda says to Yosef (again) “We came for food. Our father is elderly. Please don’t take our younger brother, the loss of him will kill our father.” He had said all these things already! What was Yehuda trying to accomplish?

The answer is ‘Try, try again.’ The Mei HaShiloach explains here that Yehuda was making a point. When it comes to the world or repentance and Teshuva, there is no giving up. Nothing can stop you. There is nothing to worry about. If it doesn’t work the first time, go at it again- and this time even more forcefully.

What do we mean by ‘more forcefully’? Rebbe Tzadok HaCohen brings down that VaYigash is a Lashon Tze’akah, it is a language that references screaming. All the information that Yehuda was now re-presenting was obvious, but this time his presentation was radically different.

The Beis Yaakov explains that this type of an outcry is fundamentally different from any other form of communication. Why? Yelling demands the most metal energy from a person- because it comes from the deepest place. When I scream it should mamash come from my gut. He continues to explain that Yehuda begins his supplication by saying Bi Adoni, which is translated to mean, ‘Please, my master.’ But this is only correct up to a point. ‘Bi’ literally means ‘Within me’ and thus ‘Bi Adoni’ really can mean ‘My Master is within me! Who is the Master? Hashem! I have a Chelek Eloka MiMa’al! I have a soul; God is always with me! When I cry out to you right now, under standwhat I am doing- I am tapping into my deepest, most powerful spiritual resources.

It’s brought down in numerous sources that the soul is comprised of several parts, the highest of which is called the Yechida, which we often refer to as the Pintele Yid, an indestructible spark of Jewish purity. The Arizal brings down that when we say that Yehuda cried out by reaching deep withing his essence, we are talking about this - a place of total Godliness.

Rebbe Nachman writes, ‘Ein Shum Yeiush Ba’Olam Klal. There is no despair in thw world at all. This was turned into an anthem of sorts, and when the Breslover Chassidim sing it they give an introduction; Rabbeinu Tza’ak B’Kol Gadol: EIN SHUM YE'USH BA’OLAM KLAL! ‘Our Rebbe screams with a powerful voice: There are no worries in the world at all!’ The only place where 'giving up' exists is in your head, and if you expel it from there, it does not exist at all.

This ties everything that we have seen together beautifully. When I focus myself and decide to do Teshuva, I have to make a Tze’akah. I have to burst forth from the deepest place inside of my soul. I have to totally disregard anything that is seemingly preventing me. If I gather enough personal strength nothing will be able to stand between me and the ultimate purity that is already present inside of me.

(There is an interesting Zohar in Parshas Nasso which says that every day a voice emanates from Har HaBayis and calls out to us “Return you wild sons”. The only problem is that no one hears it. Let’s put this information on hold for a minute and come back to it.)

Eventually Yosef can’t take the pressure anymore and thus reveals himself. He does so simply by saying, “Ani Yosef ‘I am Yosef’ and with that everything was flipped on its head. The brothers could not answer because suddenly everything made so much sense! The Mei HaShiloach brings an unbelievable insight. Speaking in strict situational terms, the two seconds before Yosef’s revelation and the two seconds after were identical; none of the events changed. The day was saved for the brothers not because their oppressor perished, or because he was removed from his throne. Everything was exactly the same- the only difference was context. Everything was now settled for the Shavtim because they realized how everything was operating all along.

This is a reflection of a fundamental idea elaborated on by the Ramchal. We can explain his words based on the Passuk, BaYom HaHu Yihiyeh Hashem Echad U’Shmo Echad (Zecharya 14:9) that on the day that Hashem reveals his full and complete dominance over the totality of creation - nothing about the course of history will be different - but what will be radically different is our perspective on everything and with that every aspect will fall into place.

Let’s tie it all together. What we have said plays out on three levels. First: When Yehuda reaches into himself - Yosef opens up and everything makes sense. This plays out on the historical level as well. When Hashem brings out the ultimate revelation - we are going to see how all aspects of creation were pushing forward towards God all along.

But we need to focus on the personal level- How does this relate to me?

The answer is this: just like it was only when Yehuda charged Yosef with a Tze’akah Gedola did it open the door for Yosef to make everything make sense. The same is true for Teshuva. Rav Kook explains that when I reach deep into myself, it opens up the whole world around me. Teshuva is re-entering into the rhythm of the world, to feel how everything is really moving closer to Hashem. I’ll be able to hear that Heavenly Voice that everyone else can’t. No one is saying that it is easy, and no one is saying that I’ll get it the first time, but I have to plug away.

Spiritual growth requires effort. It’s not going to come by itself. But worrying is not going to do anything for me either. No matter where I end up I have to try my very best to focus, gather together all my resources and charge. There is no reason to delay! Being okay with just being okay is a recipe for never accomplishing anything. But when I pull myself together and realize that on the inside I am totally pure, nothing can stop me from attaining my goals.

With help from Hashem and some effort from ourselves, we, like Yehuda, will be able to reach deep within the wellsprings of potential that lay inside of us, and with that all of the universe will become a harmonious symphony being beautifully directed towards Hashem with us at the lead. When we do this there is no doubt we will live lives of meaning moving ever-closer to the Creator and thereby the REDEMPTION!

Where The True Battle Takes Place

The whole course of human history may depend on a change of heart in one solitary and even humble individual - for it is in the solitary mind and soul of the individual that the battle between good and evil is waged and ultimately won or lost.

M. Scott Peck

People often think that their challenges lie OUTSIDE of them. This is a critical error! ALL of lifes battles take place within our soul. We cannot always control external occurences but we do have the ability to control how we deal with the situations that present themselves. We can choose to feel happy or sad, despair or hope.

Indeed, "Hakol bidei shomayim chutz miyiras shomayim" - Everything is in the hands of Heaven except for fear of Heaven.

Love and blessings for a blissful Shabbos!!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Do We Wish You A Merry......

Find what Rav Kook liked or didn't like about Christianity, here. [We also have a Part 2]

Some amazing ideas about Vayigash and Asara Biteves including some COOL gematriyos, here!

Love and Blessings!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Tzvi Moshe On Miketz

This week’s Parsha opens up with the events that lead to Yosef’s release from prison and subsequent rise to power. The Passuk reads as follows, “VaYehi Miketz Shnasayim Yamim, U’Pharoh Cholem.” ‘And it was at the end of two year’s time, and Pharoh dreamt.' We all know that these dreams afforded Yosef the opportunity to prove himself in the court of the king and the importance of that, but perhaps with further analysis we will be able to see it from a new angle and from that, the intrinsic importance of ourselves as well.

We should begin by sighting the Passuk in Iyov 28:3 that says, “Keitz Sam LaChoshech U’Lchol Tachlis Hu Choker.” ‘He sets a limit to the darkness, and he investigates the end of everything’

The Sfas Emes relates the important background information required to fully understand the implications of this Passuk. He says that it is scientifically logical to assume that darkness is simply the absence of light. If this were the case then darkness would not be an entity unto itself, rather it is only a vacuum created when there is no light present. But this cannot be so, for the Passuk in Yeshaiya 45:7 states, “Yotzer Ohr, U’Boreh Choshech.” God ‘formed light, and on the other hand he‘created’ darkness. The Passuk continues, “Oseh Shalom U’Boreh Ra.” God ‘makes’ peace and ‘created’ evil. Light and peace are formed and made. They are eternal. This is in contrast to darkness and evil which are created only after formation of the positive counter-parts. (Yotzer Or U’Boreh Chosech, Oseh Shalom U’Boreh Ra. The creation of darkness and evil are predicated on the formation of light and peace before them.)

As the Passuk clearly states, darkness and evil are not the absence of good and light; it is quite the opposite actually. The light that Hashem sends forth reaches all places, darkness and evil are actual creations used for the purpose of temporarily covering up that light and peace. They are not a lack of existence. They are ‘created’ veils with the distinct purpose of their eventual uncovering (like we saw from Iyov).

With this in mind we can try to understand the Midrash Rabba which ties the Passuk from Iyov back to our issue with Yosef: Yosef was only supposed to be in jail for ten years. But he, at the end of that decade turned to the bartender, his fellow inmate with the words, “Zchartani” and “V’Hizkartani” ‘Remember me and make me noted.’ Because of these two words, God added two more years to his sentence. The meaning of the Passuk in the beginning of our Parsha specifying that two years had passed is because it is the count of the two extra years that Yosef spent in the Egyptian Dungeons. After this time had elapsed, it was only then Pharoh had his dreams, and that set in motion the events that led to Yosef’s release.

The Ohr G’Delyahu says that what the Midrash is really doing is revealing the purpose of Pharoh’s dreams. We would think that that Yosef’s release came about as a result of Pharoh’s midnight-musings, but the reality is the opposite. The deadline was put on the darkness of Yosef in jail, and once the timeline expired the dream came about to release him.

The Nachlas Dovid brings all of this out of our Passuk in a very clear way. “VaYehi Miketz Shnasayim Yamim” ‘And it was after the time of two years of Yosef’s imprisonment (of which the decree had now ended), “U’Pharoh Cholem.” And Pharoh had dreamt the dreams that would lead to Yosef’s release. Of what relevance are the years of Yosef’s imprisonment to the date of Pharoh’s dreams? Now we know it is of all the meaning in the world! It is only because of the end of the captivity of Yosef had arrived that Pharoh merited to have these dreams in the first place! Because it was time to release Yosef, Pharoh had the dreams; not the other way around!

The veil is pulled off of every specific light to reveal it at its proper time. And when that time arrives there is no delay whatsoever in its revelation.

We see this come out when Yosef was actually released. The Passuk says (41:14), “VaYikra Es Yosef, VaYirtzuhu Min HaBor.” ‘And Pharoh summoned for Yosef and theyrushed him out of the dungeon. There was no delay! Once the heavenly decree was issued that Yosef no longer needed to remain in prison- he was rushed out immediately!

The Chofetz Chaim explains here, by a similar token to what we have already explained above, that when the pre-established time for Yosef’s imprisonment had elapsed, he was released with great haste. This is true for all of God’s actions. When the time arrives, there is no delay!

This is the best one-liner ever: Rav Kook says that the moment you were born is the exact moment that HaKadosh Baruch Hu decided that the world could no longer function without you!

Perhaps we can relate this back to our Passuk: Just like Yosef was in jail for more than a decade, his transition into freedom and power occurred in a flash, so too even though pregnancy takes months of development, the mark between a child not yet being in this world and then coming into it is nearly instantaneous. Meaning that the mark of Hashem’s decision that the world needs you specifically, though it takes months of planning, occurs in a flash.

This has to be put into the lens of an obvious-yet-overlooked teaching of Rebbe Nachman. This moment right now? No moment like this ever has been. And now that it is gone, there will be a never moment like it. The power encapsulated in every single 'now' is irreplaceable- I NEED TO TAKE ADVANTAGE!

Hashem took Yosef out of the confinements of jail and thrust him into opportunity.Hashem has done the same for me! He pulled me out of the womb, and thrust me into a world full of opportunity. There is a certain plan for me, right here, right now. Now that God took me out of the womb and placed me in the world, that in and of itself should be enough of a motivator to shake off the dust of mediocrity, step up and make something of myself.

If I can begin to appreciate the fact that HaKadosh Baruch Hu has given me the here and now, and with that the ability to make a unique difference, when I tap into my awareness of the fact that I exist it will skyrocket the focus with which I approach my inborn need to accomplish in and improve the world around me.

With help from heaven and some effort from ourselves, we will be able to tap into the strength inside of us, that is waiting to be exposed. If we can do this, there is on doubt that we will live lives of meaning andgrowth moving ever-closer to the Creator and ultimately the REDEMPTION!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Mean What You Say And Say What You Mean

Yavan is "noi" [beauty] spelled backwards. They distort the meaning of beauty. For them [and all of western society] beauty is purely external. For Jews, physical beauty must reflect a deeper spiritual beauty. Every Friday night we sing in a lilting tune "sheker hachein vi'hevel hayofi" - beauty is false and charm is vain. How come, then, when a frum boy looks for a wife, her externals are [often] at the top of his list?

Oy, those Yevanim still have us in their grasp!

A VERY important shiur [not delivered by me]. Please listen.

A Freilichin Chanukah!

Rav Nosson And The Disappearing Candles


There is a Machlokes between Bais Shammai and Bais Hillel whether we start with eight candles and take one away each day or we start with one and another one each day. Rav Nosson of Breslov asks, since the miracle was greater every day why would Bais Shammai that we light fewer candles?

Rav Nosson answers that we know Shammai's middah was Din. A person cannot get more than he deserves. This Shitta was the driving force of him throwing out the three people seeking geirus but asking for more than they can have specifically to learn only Torah SheBichsav, to learn the whole Torah on one foot, and to be a Kohen. Hillel on the other hand was the middah of Chesed. Chesed means giving someone more than he deserves. In the above cases that meant the time and patience to set them straight.

The light of Chanukah is the Ohr HaGanuz, the hidden light of the Torah. This light is reserved only for tzaddikim. Yet on Chanukah Hashem lets it burn for all to see. Each day the light gets brighter with the intensity of the Nes. Shammai held that as the light gets brighter we must hide it from the undeserving therefore each day we light one less candle. Bais Hillel however makes no connection between how much light we see and how much we deserve. Therefore as the lights burn brighter each night, Hillel holds that despite our lowly stature, we too may light an extra light and enjoy the special light of the Shechina.

The lesson for us, says Rav Nosson, is that in this world we pasken like Bais Hillel and we must share our love an our light with even the sinful and undeserving.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

De Ja Vu All Over Again

Sweetest friends - The following post might sound familiar. I just copied what I recently wrote and have, to date, received a number of replies that strangely remind me of a BAGEL! So if I didn't succeed I will try and try again:

From time to time I try to perform various mitzvos by means of this blog. Usually, it involves asking for tzedaka. I don't particularly enjoy asking people for money.

So I won't.

But I will ask this: There are many many religious singles in the NY, NJ area. I would love to see all of them married. But I am not a shadchan. So far I have only had my hand in one shidduch. My own.... I have tried many other times and failed.

However, due to the gravity of this situation, I am going to try to help someone I know. She is in her mid-twenties and is a PHENOMENAL young woman but is not a typical run of the mill case. So if you know a very religious [not necessarily Charedi/Black Hat], responsible, kovea itim latorah, mentsch who is willing not to marry a first-timer, or you know someone who does - please contact me: 646-461-1628 or It is sad how many singles feel neglected by people in their communities who are just "too busy" to help .

I also want to take this opportunity to thank those tzaddikim and tzidkaniyos who have helped me in the past.

Love and blessings!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Torah From Tzvi Moshe Kantor

This week’s Parsha deals with Yaakov attempting, finally, to settle in Cna’an. The Pasuk says, “VaYeshev Yaakov B’Eretz Megurei Aviv, B’Eretz Cna’an” ‘And Yakov settled in the land where his father dwelled, the land of Cna’an.’ Contained within this Passuk are the tools we need to serve Hashem in every facet of life.

The Zohar explains that the world is in a state of spiritually disunity. It is difficult to see “Hashem Echad” in the world because there are seemingly so many different forces pulling the world in different directions. It is man’s job to pick out different aspects of physicality in the world and draw them towards the Source, thus reunifying the vastness of creation towards a common goal of the knowledge of Hashem. In much of Chasidus these bits of purity waiting to be redirected are called Nitzotzei Kedusha, Sparks of Holiness.

Based on the same idea, the Sfas Emes explains the essence of our Passuk. The word VaYeshev has the root Shav, to return. A person is only able return the holiness of every object, to elevate the Nitzotzei Kedusha if he nullifies himself to Hashem. Only when a person’s whole life is centralized around Hashem’s will is he able to fulfill the grand task of the world. He goes on to explain that the ability nullify oneself before Hashem is really the power of Teshuva. (Note the common root of VaYeshev and Teshuva)

The Maharal basing himself on a Midrash says that Teshuva is so purely spiritual that it defies all logic and would seemingly have no place in a physical world. Teshuva in its nature comes from such a high place that it surpasses and supersedes the boundaries of nature. Even though the sins themselves were physical it defies thought that feelings regret for one’s past deeds can undo their harmful effects. This is crucial to our understanding: Teshuva causes, and is in and of itself, nothing short of a miracle. Thus with the power of Teshuva, a person’s ability to unify the diversity of the world under God is empowered only by the amount he channels himself to God, which we have explained is the essence of Teshuva.

Let’s bring this all into the context of the way the Degel Machaneh Ephraim expounds our Passuk. He explains that when a person merits truly focusing on the presence of Hashem, all of the physical world bends to his will. No longer do material concerns and superficial fears plague him. When a person puts his mind totally and constantly in ‘God-Consciousness,’ picking out and elevating Nitzotzei Kedusha becomes second nature. He brings this out of our Passuk as follows:
“VaYeshev Yaakov”, When Yaakov settled his mind…
“B’Eretz Megurei Aviv” In the dwelling place of his Father (i.e. in heaven, [brought out from the Passuk in Tehilim 26:4 Shivti B’veis Hashem, To dwell in Hashem’s house. - again notice the common root between Shivti and VaYeshev.])…
“B’Eretz” - within the Artzius, meaning within the physicality of the world…
“Cna’an” - as in Lehicana - to submit, all of the material facets of the world bent to his will to draw the holiness out of them.
Our Passuk “VaYeshev Yaakov B’Eretz Megurei Aviv, B’Eretz Cna’an” now comes to mean, “When Yaakov settled his mind within the construct of ‘God-consciousness’ all of the physicality of the world bent to his will to draw holiness out of them.”

Let’s raise a totally different idea, and see if perhaps we can relate the two.

The Passuk in Tehilim 60:6 says “Nosata LiYreiacha Neis LiHitnoses.” The literal meaning of the Passuk is that Hashem gives to those who truly fear Him a banner to be waved. But we know that word for banner in Hebrew, Neis also means miracle. Thus the Passuk can mean “Nosata LiYreiacha Nes LiHitnoses.” Hashem gives those who fear him, miracles to make other things miraculous.

The Sfas Emes ties this Passuk to Chanuka. Hashem does miracles to draw the Jews out of nature. But it most fitting do be done only if we make ourselves ready for such an elevation. By tapping into ‘God-consciousness’ and seeking out purity, the Chashmonaim made themselves ready to be exposed to the miracle of the Menorah.

How is this so? We can understand based on the question of the Pnei Yehosua ( Messeches Shabbos 21:b). The topic of his question is regarding the efforts of the Chashmonaim to secure a single jug of pure oil: There are two reasons that they would not have had to put forth the effort to that they did. The first is that there is a concept of ‘Tumah Hutrah B’Tzibur.’ We can be lax on certain purity laws for the sake of the community. If Am Yisrael needs oil for the Menorah and we only have impure oil, then it may be used! Secondly, there is another concept of ‘Ones Rachmana Patrei’ The Torah lessens the restrictions on those who are forced into situations that they cannot control- If there is no pure oil, then they would not just be able to light with impure oil, it’s okay if they don’t light at all!

An answer is brought by Rav Avraham Schorr in HaLekach V’HaLibuv. The Chashmonaim were not seeking to get out of the Mitzvah! They only desired to fulfill it in total purity. So they expended and exhausted limitless efforts to locate just a few little drops of oil. (They realized the importance of taking something as physical as fuel and drawing out the Nitztotzei Kedush from it, by turning it into the light of the Menorah, the epitome of spirituality!) Because they tried so hard to tap into the will of Hashem, Hashem granted them a Neis, by making their efforts to find purity grow to the miraculous burning of the Menorah for eight days! In essence, the physical object of oil bent itself to the needs of the Chashmonaim due to their desire for Ruchnius B’Shleimus, perfection in spirituality.

So everything fits! This is exactly what we saw from the Degel Machaneh Ephraim above: “When Yaakov settled his mind within the contstruct of ‘God-consciousness’ all of the physicality of the world bent to his will to draw holiness out of them.” So too by the Chashmonaim! They tapped into the mindset of totally focusing on the will of Hashem, and nature bent to help them fulfill it. And thus their and our spirituality is raised by it (As we saw from our explanation from Tehilim) because we have merited celebrating Chanuka!

So what comes out of all of this? We have to train our eyes to see the Nitzotzei Kedusha in everything! When we fully push ourselves to make the most of every situation HaKadosh Baruch Hu will help us succeed! When we attempt to line up our desire with Hashem’s, it is a guarantee that we will be able to respond accordingly to every situation that he gives us! Everything we have said is explicit from the Mishna in Pirkei Avos 2:4 ‘”Aseh Ritzono K’Ritzoncha Kedi She’Ye’aseh Ritzoncha K’Ritzono” Do Hashem’s will like it is yours, and He will make your will like it is His. When We strive to serve Hashem, He will facilitate us doing so!

If we can open our eyes to the Nitzotzei Kedusha that are waiting for us, if we search for them, if we do our best to utilize them then of course Hashem will help us. If we begin to do this, there is no doubt we will lives of greater meaning, moving closer to the Creator and ultimately the REDEMPTION!

Sfas Emes

Dr. Leff Shlita on the Sfas Emes from

Sfas Emes, Zechuso Tagein Aleinu, Vayeishev, 5631

Here we are again. It is Shabbos, and the Sfas Emes is speaking to his chassidim. Full-time learning -- i.e., kollel -- is not an option for them. First, they are too poor to afford it. Second, I have been told that Gerrer Chassidus does not believe in kollel for all, forever. This approach should not come as a surprise after last week's ma'amar of the Sfas Emes . As we saw there, the Sfas Emes does not view our activities (our "asiya") during the week ("yemei ha'ma'aseh") negatively, as a curse. On the contrary, he sees our asiya as having the potential for positive spiritual value. Thus, in the Gerrer approach, after marriage, most men go to work.

But these people face a daunting task: How to suffuse their lives with kedusha (sanctity) without full-time learning? A properly experienced Shabbos can be a great help in dealing with that difficult assignment. For this reason, the Sfas Emes's ma'amar often discusses Shabbos and its potential for ruchniyus (spirituality). For a reason that will soon become apparent, on this Shabbos, parshas Vayeishev, the Sfas Emes dealt with Shabbos not as a collateral topic, but rather as his central theme.

The Sfas Emes begins by noting the linguistic link between the words VayeiSHeV and SHaBBos. (This link is obvious once the Sfas Emes pointed it out. But how come I never noticed it until he showed it to me?) The Sfas Emes is not playing a word game here. Rather, the link in language has alerted him to a connection in meaning -- in this case, a connection that is telling us something about the substance of Shabbos. Namely, that we should view Shabbos as an opportunity to ('nisyaSHeiV') -- i.e., to 'settle into', 'to return' to our shoresh (our 'root'): to our primal selves , including our relationship with HaShem.

The Sfas Emes goes on to tell us that Shabbos is (or can be) a time for "habitul lashoresh"; that is, a time for deleting our personal agenda, and replacing it with the desire to do retzon HaShem (HaShem's will)... The Sfas Emes proceeds to develop this line of thought. He does so by quoting the first paragraph of Medrash Rabba on Vayeishev. The key phrase here is: " kinuso vekinus banav hitzilo." (That is, Ya'akov Avinu's "kinus" and the "kinus" of his progeny saved him from Esav.) Some commentaries understand "kinus " as meaning tefila (prayer). Other authorities -- including the Sfas Emes -- understand "kinuso" as meaning "coming together."

A question. According to the authorities who understand "kinuso" as "coming together", who is coming together with whom? The mainline answer is: Ya'akov and his sons came together. That is, Yaakov Avinu and the Shevatim put aside whatever difficulties they may have had, and united to confront Esau. By contrast, the Sfas Emes reads the Medrash very differently.. As noted, he understands it as telling us that what saved Ya' akov Avinu was his coming together with his shoresh -- i.e., with his primal, true self..

'Coming together with one's primal, true self' may seem unremarkable, unimportant, and irrelevant in life. But consider the opposite state -- one in which a person is not all together -- at one -- with his/her self, with nature, and with HaShem. That state is called 'alienation'. And alienation is the name used to characterize many of the individual and social problems of today's world.

The Sfas Emes buttresses this perspective by citing a phrase (from the Zohar Hakadosh) that Nusach Sefard recites just before ma'ariv on leil Shabbos: "Beshabbos is'yachadas beraza de'echad." (That is, on Shabbos, she -- Knessess Yisroel -- comes together with the secret of HaShem's yichud (unity) . For, HaShem's yichud is in fact a secret. Note how few people are aware of it.)

The text in the Zohar continues: 'Ve'ahl yedei zeh, kohl dinin mis'abrin minei.' That is, by coming together with our true nature - i.e., when we recognize that we are created in the image of HaShem, and what that implies for the way we should live our lives -- all harsh judgements depart and leave us alone. And as the Sfas Emes points out, induced by Ya'akov Avinu's "kinus," Eisav did in fact depart, and Ya'akov was saved.

The Sfas Emes moves on now to another theme. As we have seen, a word in the parsha's first pasuk , "Vayeishev", called to the Sfas Emes's mind the word "Shabbos ", and triggered a discussion of that topic. Similarly, a word in the parsha's second pasuk leads the Sfas Emes (and hence, us) to a new line of thought. Which word is the trigger in the second pasuk? "Yosef", which, translated literally, means: " he will increase" . What will "he increase"? The Sfas Emes tells us: "Shabbos"! Thus, the association of words just noted leads the Sfas Emes to a brief discussion of "tosefes Shabbos".

What is "tosefes Shabbos"? The term refers to the practice of bringing Shabbos in early -- before the time that halacha mandates. The Sfas Emes commends this practice. As he phrases it: 'Vezeh avoda gedola, le'havi kedushas hashabbos toch yemei ha'ma'aseh mamash': ("This is a great avoda -- to bring the sanctity of Shabbos into weekday time." [1]).

How can a person bring about such a transformation? The Sfas Emes answers: a person's yearning and love for Shabbos can give him/her simcha (joy). And that joy gives a person the power to turn weekday time into Shabbos time.

A fair reaction at this point may be: "The idea that simcha can have this marvelous power sounds wonderful. But how does it work in the real world?" I say: 'a fair reaction' because the Sfas Emes always deals with the (real) real world. Hence, the question: how does this extraordinary process of transforming weekday time into Shabbos actually operate?

Apparently this question also bothered the Sfas Emes. How do we know? Because he provided an answer. He does so by quoting a pasuk in Mishlei (27:19): 'Kamayim ha'pahnim la'pahnim, kein leiv ha'ahdam la'ahdam'. (ArtScroll: " As water reflects back a face to a face,so one's heart is reflected back to him by another.') Thus, if we prepare for Shabbos with simcha, HaShem reciprocates with simcha toward us. And HaShem's joy -- likened to the joy of a choson after the chupa (Tehilim,19: 6) -- gives us the extraordinary power needed to transform weekday time into Shabbos.

A take-home lesson? One possibility comes to mind immediately. Go back to the beginning of this ma'amar, where I mentioned the difficult task that these chassidim face. They must try to live a life of kedusha even though they are out in the world, without full-time Torah learning. As you probably noted, we face the same challenge. For most of the people who receive the Sfas Emes e-mails are also out in the world. Indeed, we are even more vulnerable than the chassidim; for they have sources of protection that most of us lack. The sources of protection unique to chassidim include: tight social ties, which culminate in reverence for the Rebbe, shelita; and the levush (chassidic attire), which can help keep them out of unsavory environments.

Despite these advantages, the Sfas Emes made special efforts to emphasize the potential of a well-lived Shabbos to infuse his chassidim with kedusha. The take-home lesson is clear: that we focus on Shabbos as an avenue to kedusha. This may involve making the effort on Shabbos to come together with our true nature - i.e., to try to view ourselves as agents of HaShem's will.

That notion may initially seem strange to us. We live in a society that glorifies self-expression -- to the point of narcissism. In such a social context, the idea of subordinating our will to anyone else's will -- even HaShem's will -- may even strike us as morally repugnant. But the Sfas Emes is obviously on firm hashkofo ground when he commends this doctrine to our attention. Hopefully, by heeding his counsel, we will experience Shabbos not as a day to catch up on our sleep, but rather as Shabbos is supposed to be: 'yom menucha u'kedusha' -- a day of repose and sanctity.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

"Life is ten percent what happens to you and ninety percent how you respond to it."

Lou Holtz

The famous story in the gemara about R' Elazar Ben Durdaya [Avoda Zara 17]. Wow. Powerful. At the end - one of my favorite lines in Shas: "Ain hadavar talui ella bee". It is up to me. Responsibility. Taking my life into my own hands and not blaming others.

If people would take responsibility for their actions the world would look very different.

Love and blessings!!

PS - A shiur on Chanukah - here.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Overcoming Obstacles

Kobe goes Chabad.

Friday, December 04, 2009

The Heilige Rebbe Talks

New shiur in hebrew from the Rebbe Shlita, here. Including the Rebbe's comments on demonstrations against chillul shabbos.


Divrei Torah Based On The Sfas Emes From Dr. Leff

From Dr. Leff has a book on the Sfas Emes in english called "Emes V'emunah".

This ma'amar begins with a surprise. Almost always, the Sfas Emes starts his ma'amar with a comment on the parsha's first Medrash Rabba. This week, however, he goes well into parsha before he starts his discourse. Thus he begins with the Medrash Rabba's comment on the posuk (Bereishis, 33:18): "Vayavo Ya'akov shaleim ... va' yichan es penei ha'ir." (ArtScroll: "Ya'akov arrived intact" -- [i.e., whole] -- "at the city of Shechem ... and he encamped before the city.")

The Medrash to which the Sfas Emes skips also comes as a surprise. Usually, we have a sense of where the Medrash is coming from and what it is trying to teach us. Not so in this case. The message that the Medrash is trying to convey is not all evident. Likewise, the methodology -- how Chazal got from the text in the Torah to reach this message -- is also not clear. To see what I mean, here is the Medrash's comment (Bereishis Rabba, 79:6) on the posuk just quoted: "He arrived with the last glimmer of daylight on erev Shabbos"; 've'kava techumin'; 'and he set the limits on the space to which he had access on Shabbos'. The commentaries explain this as saying that he made an eruv techumin [1].

You see why I find this Medrash puzzling. Let us try to understand it, first the methodology and then the substance. The Sfas Emes's text for the year 5637 is more complete than the text for the year 5631, so we will work for a while with the Sfas Emes of 5637.

The Medrash speaks of a a link between Shabbos and Ya'akov Avinu's arrival at Shechem. The Sfas Emes easily deals with this link. He explains that the posuk's word "shaleim" implies shalom, i.e., Shabbos. The connection with eruv techumin is less apparent. The Sfas Emes tells us that the posuk's word "vayichan." can be taken as an allusion to eruv techumin. This allusion may be coming from the similar sound of the words 'techumin' and 'vayichan'.

We return now to the Sfas Emes's ma'amar for Vayishlach in the year 5631. Here the Sfas Emes focuses on the connection between Shabbos and the weekdays. The Sfas Emes usually refers to the weekdays as "yemei hama'aseh" -- the days in which we do "asiya": action. The Sfas Emes's choice of words signals his whole attitude toward the life that we live on days other than Shabbos .

Clearly, the Sfas Emes views "asiya" -- weekday activities -- positively. Indeed, he goes so far as to say that the quality of our Shabbos depends on our avoda during the week. (Note that the word "avoda" has two meanings. It can mean "work" and/or it can mean "serving HaShem". In the present context, the Sfas Emes is evoking both senses of the word.) Continuing in this vein, the Sfas Emes tells us that during the week, too, we can connect with the chiyus (vibrancy; vitality) of HaShem.

How? By the way we view performing our melacha (weekday activities). In fact, the Sfas Emes defines "melacha" as finding HaShem by action ("al yedei asiya mamash"). Doing mitzvos requires action ("ma'aseh"). This is why HaShem gave us mitzvos -- to enable us to relate to Him by the actions of our everyday life.

But there is a difference between Shabbos and yemei hama'aseh. During the week, we encounter HaShem in the form of forces of nature -- i.e., mal'achim ('angels'; messengers; agents). By contrast, on Shabbos -which HaShem blessed -- all creation is elevated, enabling us to have a closer relationship with Him. (Note an implication that follows from the Sfas Emes's formulation. To facilitate the closer relationship with HaShem on Shabbos, we abstain from contact with 'mal'achim' on that special day. Hence, to avoid engagement with the world of action (asiya), on Shabbos, doing melacha is prohibited.)

Understanding the connection between Shabbos and the weekdays is crucial. To aid our understanding on this subject, we go to the ma'amar of another year (5638), where the Sfas Emes sums up on the connection. During the week, we deal with Teva (i.e., the mal'achim, the forces of Nature). Doing mitzvos in the world of Nature requires action; in particular, actions in accordance with HaShem's will. Hence, by doing mitzvos, we subordinate the world of Nature and human actions to HaShem. Chazal express this mastery over the mal'achim by saying, in figurative term, that by performing mitzvos, we create 'mal'achim tovim' ('good angels').

More generally, by going about our daily lives in full recognition that Nature is HaShem's handiwork (and not vice versa), we can achieve what the Torah (Shemos, 20, 9) has in mind (in the Sfas Emes's non-pshat reading): " Six days shall you work, ve'asisa kol me'lachte'cha". That is, on the six workdays, we can "create all of our angels". Then, having achieved this "Tikun Ha'ma'asim", we can come close to HaShem on Shabbos. We return now to the text of the Sfas Emes in the year 5637.

This text can help us address a basic question that we have not yet answered. What is the message that the Medrash and the Sfas Emes want to convey when they tell us that Ya'akov Avinu arrived in Shechem "at the last glimmer of light before Shabbos"?

The Sfas Emes explains that in conducting himself in this manner, Ya'kov Avinu was emulating his Master. For the posuk (Bereishis, 2:2) tells us that HaShem also continued with creation until the very last moment. As the Torah phrases it: "Vayechal Elokim bayom hashevi'i"! (ArtScroll: "By the seventh day, God completed His work ..."). So, too, did Ya'akov Avinu do melacha until the very last moment before Shabbos.

By continuing with melacha until the last moment before Shabbos, Ya'akov Avinu enlarged the period of time available for melacha. This is the very opposite of the idea of "tosefes Shabbos" -- commencing Shabbos earlier than sunset, and thus reducing the time available for doing melacha. I suggest the following further development of the Sfas Emes's exposition. Note what Ya'akov Avinu was doing in that last moment: He was preparing an eruv techumim [1]. That is, he was arranging to reach space that would otherwise be halachically inaccessible to him on Shabbos. Thus, by his actions in both dimensions -- space and time -- Ya'akov Avinu was enlarging the domain of feasible 'asiya'. Clearly, the Sfas Emes's interpretation here reflects his view of melacha and asiya as positively valued activities.

[1] What is an 'eruv techumin'? On Shabbos, we are not permitted to walk more than 2000 amos (cubits) from our place of dwelling (or from the last house in the city in which we dwell). However, if before Shabbos, we put out some food that we might, in principle, eat on Shabbos, we have in effect shifted our dwelling to that spot. We may then walk 2000 amos from that spot. Thus, an eruv techumin enables a person to reach space that would otherwise be halachically inaccessible on Shabbos

A Post -Script. What was right for Ya'akov Avinu -- doing melacha until the last moment before Shabbos -- is not necessarily right for us. On the contrary, most of us badly need to stop melacha well before sunset; for we need time to decompress and prepare ourselves spiritually to welcome Shabbos HaMalka.

PPS. You may be wondering: why does the topic of mal'achim ('angels'; agents) figure so prominently in this week's Sfas Emes? The answer is straightforward. Our Parsha begins: 'Vayishlach Ya'akov mal'achim...'(ArtScroll: 'Then Jacob sent angels...') On which phrase Rashi comments: 'mal'achim mamash' ' real angels'.) Further, the topic of 'mal'achim' leads directly to 'melacha', and hence to 'asiya'.

Divrei Torah From Tzvi Moshe Kantor

Our Parsha opens up with Yaakov's various preperations for his meeting with Eisav. One of the ways Yaakov prepared for the meeting was to call out to Hashem in prayer. If we can analyze the depths of this prayer, we will hopefully come away with a better understanding of how we are attacked by the Yetzer Hara.

When Yaakov cries out to Hashem , he says "Hatzileini Na Mi'Yad Achi Mi'Yad Eisav." Save me from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Eisav! We know that the Torah does not waste words. So why use a double Lashon? We already know that Eisav is Yaakov's brother. There is seemingly no reason to specify further.

The Chidushei HaRim (as brought in other sources as well) explains that Achi is Eisav’s ability to attack us with closeness and brotherhood. When he is simply referred to as Eisav we are pointing to the sheer physical dominance that he has. The Sfas Emes builds an unbelievable structure that will hopefully grant us some insight. Back in Parshas Toldos when Yitzchak is comparing Yaakov to Eisav he says, Va’HaYadaim Yidei Eisav, The hands are the Hands of Eisav. The Passuk there refers to Eisav’s hands in the plural. This is because Eisav has two separate functions of hands as two separate weapons, thus requiring that they be addressed in the plural. How is this so? When Eisav is growing up he is described in two ways: Ish Yodea Tzayid, Ish Sadeh: A man who knows trapping, a man of the field. The Man who knows trapping is Eisav’s ability to trap with words, to lie and swindle his way into closeness, as he did with Yitzchak. The Man of the field is the manifestation of Eisav as the hunter and murderer - the brute violence of Eisav.

This is the first step to understanding the situation of the repetitious Lashon in our Parsha. "Mi’Yad Achi" - From the hand of my brother, is referring to the tool of Eisav to ensnare us out of closeness. Through appealing to Yaakov (over the span of history) through culture and brotherhood, Eisav destroys the spirituality. And Mi’Yad Eisav the hand of Eisav is the Eisav in different colors: a murderer. In this way Eisav destroys Yaakov of the physical level as we have seen throughout the span of our history as well.

Let’s delve a few levels deeper.

In response to hearing the news that Eisav was coming, Yaakov split all of the families into two camps. The Nesivos Shalom explains that these two camps are going in parallel with two different drachim, modes of Avodas Hashem. The first camp is the camp of pure spirituality; those who cleave to God by living lives of unadulterated purity. The second camp is those who encounter God in the mundane; those who draw holiness into day-to-day activities.

This builds into the system that we are working with! The camp of pure spirituality is the flip-side of Achi Eisav’s attack on holiness has a camp of it’s own. The camp of serving God within the realms of nature is opposite of Eisav’s overpowering physical strength.

The Gemara in Sotah 46a says, ‘Forever it shall be Smol Dochah, V’Yamin Mikareves’ the left hand pushes away and the right hand brings close. In the sefer HaLekach V’HaLibuv Rav Schorr ties this back to our Passuk. The destructive force of the push of the left hand is the physical power of Eisav to damage us. The drawing close that the right hand is the deceitful ways of Achi to ‘culture’ us and corrupt our minds with twisted thoughts and negative Midos, a destruction unto itself.

There are two Psukim in Yeshaya that require examination. The first in 8:10 says “Utzu Eitza V’Sufar, Dabru Davar Vlo Yakum” The nations that arrange conspiracies and battle-plans and they will fall apart, they will speak their piece, but nothing will come of it. The second Passuk in 54:17 says, “Kol Kli Yutzar Eilayich Lo Yitzlach, V’Chol Lashon Tukam Itach L’Mishpat Tarshi’i” Any weapon sharpened against you shall not succeed and any judgmental speech that rises against you, shall you condemn. Perhaps we can surmise that these Psukim fit beautifully into the frame that we have put together up until this point. In the first Passuk we are challenged by the nations with conspiracies and words. In the second we are told of sharpened weapons weapons and speech. It could be that both of these Psukim follow our pattern. Eisav L’Doros (of the generations) tries to get us in two ways. Like we said, on one side he tries to attack us physically and on the other side he attempts ruin the spirituality. On the physical level, the Psukim tell us not to fear of the battle plans and swords - the theme of Ish Sadeh, Eisav as the damaging, left-handed, hunter. On the other side we also need not fear the damaging and corrupting words- the teme of Yodea Tzayid, Eisav as Achi who draws us close, the corrupting cultural brother.

Now we need to take this idea in a totally new direction.

Rav Elchonon Wasserman writes in his letters describing the difference between Chanuka and Purim. In Purim, the enemy came for our bodies. Haman simply wanted us dead. In the story of Chanuka the enemy didn’t want us dead, quite the opposite actually. All the Greeks wanted was to penetrate the barriers of the religion and attempt to indoctrinate Hellenism into Torah-Judaism. He points out further the difference of response of the two attacks. In Purim, where they threatened us physically, we went into Shul, fasted, prayed, and called out to Hashem- all spiritual responses. In the Chanuka story however, when the threat was spiritual, we responded by charging into a physical battle.

The break down of this idea interfaces with our construct flawlessly. The camp of the physical encounter with God is being attacked with the brute strength and force of Eisav on Purim, so Yaakov L'Doros responds with the strength of the camp of spirituality. The camp of pure spirituality is being attacked by Achi on Chanuka so Am Yisrael responds by implementing the worldly powers of the second camp.

What this means is that when the brute strength of our enemies is upon us, we must take the opportunity to turn to Hashem and strengthen on the spiritual level, as we did in Purim. But when it is our Avodas Hashem that is at stake, God places the battle in our hands, as we see on Chanuka.

With Chanuka around the corner, we would do well to take this lesson. The Yetzer Hara constantly fights us with this theme of Achi. With Times-Square-Hollywood-Makeup-Billboard-MTV-Culture bombarding me from every way I turn, I can only take the battle into my own hands. If the situation around me is detrimental to my spiritual growth, it us up to me to change it! It is up to me to walk away! It is up to me to shatter self-destructive behaviors. The world is so enticing, I don’t need this Dvar Torah to make me realize that the dangers of Achi can take everything from me.

On the inside I want holiness. I want closeness to Hashem. I want to feel like I’m living a life of meaning, and Hashem is begging me to make it happen.

Consider this your wake-up call. Don’t wait any longer to fix that problem that you keep delaying taking care of. If we can do this, there is no doubt we will live of meaning raising to greater heights, moving closer to the Creator and ultimately the Redemption!

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Major Mitzvah

From time to time I try to perform various mitzvos by means of this blog. Usually, it involves asking for tzedaka. I don't particularly enjoy asking people for money.

So I won't.

But I will ask this: There are many many religious singles in the NY, NJ area. I would love to see all of them married. But I am not a shadchan. So far I have only had my hand in one shidduch. My own.... I have tried many other times and failed.

However, due to the gravity of this situation, I am going to try to help someone I know. She is in her mid-twenties and is a PHENOMENAL young woman but is not a typical run of the mill case. So if you know a very religious [not necessarily Charedi/Black Hat], responsible, kovea itim latorah, mentsch who is willing not to marry a first-timer, or you know someone who does - please contact me: 646-461-1628 or It is sad how many singles feel neglected by people in their communities who are just "too busy" to help .

I also want to take this opportunity to thank those tzaddikim and tzidkaniyos who have helped me in the past.

Love and blessings!

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Center Of Attention

Torah from my beloved friend Tzvi Moshe Kantor:

In the start of this week’s Parsha we are shown one of the most powerful pieces of imagery that Torah has to offer. Says the Passuk, “Va’Ya’Chalom V’Hinei Sulam Mutzav Artza V’Rosho Magia HaShamaima.” ‘And Yaakov dreamt, and look! A ladder was set in the earth and its top was reaching heavenward.’

In Bereishis Rabbah we equate this incident of the ladder to Har Sinai. How is this so? First we should point out that the word Sulam (Samech, Lamed, Mem) and Sinai (Samech, Yud, Nun, Yud) share the Gematria, numerical value of one hundred and thirty. When the Sulam is Mutzav Artza, planted in the ground, this parallels when the Jews were (Shemos 19:17) “Va’Yis’Yatzvu Tachas Ha’Har” They stood at the foot of the mountain, at its lowest point. When The Passuk says Magia Shamaima, reaching the heavens it is a reference to the Passuk (Dvarim 4:11) that describes the scene at Har Sinai with the language “V’Ha’Har Boer B’eish Ad Lev Ha’Shamayim” A fire burned from the mountain until the heart of the heavens.

The Gemara in Shabbos 146:a says that upon their arrival at Har Sinai all the spiritual filth and impurities that was stuck to the hearts of the Jews departed and ceased to be. Why is this so? The Nesivos Shalom explains based on the ladder. The Sulam is not just an image, it is a system of religious growth. What the ladder represents is that everything in life is a stepping-stone, a rung for progress. Every single part of life is part of the greater framework of my Avodas Hashem. And this is why the Jews at Har Sinai left behind all their darkness. Because when I enter into Har Sinai and begin my deep bond with Torah, then it becomes clear that all parts of my life are part of the greater framework, and when my whole life is geared to Avodas Hashem it’s not such a far task to drop my darkness.

Man is described in many ways throughout Torah literature. Among those titles is a ‘Mehalech’ ‘One who goes.’ Man is a creature of constant movement, motion and development. Let’s spell this idea out further.

The Yismach Moshe explains that the ladder in Yaakov’s dream is a metaphor for man himself. The original man, Adam HaRishon was formed from dirt, and thus was set Mutzav Artza, earthward. On the other hand, Hashem blesses him with a Neshoma, a godly soul that is Magia Shamaima, reaching the heavens. When I allow my dirt (my body) do drag me down and dominate me, then I get caught up in Mutzav Artza. But if I tap into who I really am on the inside, my Neshoma, then I can start to be Magia Shamaima, reaching the heavens.

We are similar to a ladder in another way. The Chofetz Chaim says a beautiful idea. No one goes onto a ladder simply to hang out. A person on a ladder is doing one of two things: going up or going down. Every experience has the ability to bring a person up or drag him down, depending on the response. But no one is simply standing still. Says Rav Yisroel Salanter, man in the same way is like a bird. A bird can reach unbelievable heights as long as its keeps flapping its wings. The moment it stops to cognitively keep itself in the air, it can fall from those very heights.

Rashi points out that the ladder was on an angle. While this is a seemingly unimportant detail the sefer Ta’am V’Da’as brings out an unbelievable idea. Imagine a series of people simultaneously climbing the same ninety-degree straight ladder. Any person who looks straight up, sees only the people above him, and when looking down, only sees those below him. But this is not the case in the ladder of Avodas Hashem. If the ladder is slanted and you stare straight up, all you see is the heavens, and when you look down all you see is how high you’ve climbed. I don’t need to concern myself with spiritual accomplishments or shortcomings of others! It’s none of my concern! If I’m so obsessed with where everyone else is holding on the ladder that’s Magia Shamaima then I’ll never have any time for myself! I need to constantly push myself!

The Kol Simcha points out that the idea of the ladder is introduced with the language of Hinei, ‘behold’ (as opposed to Haya which is interchangeable), and this ‘Hinei’ repeated two more times! We know that this form of introduction always brings in a theme of joy. He goes on to explain that the ladder is showing me that I must, like a ladder, grow with the appropriate steps. But how do I know when it’s time to move on? How do I know when I can grow to higher levels? Only when I truly feel comfortable with me; when I am experiencing a ‘groove’ and an inner joy with how I’m doing, can I now re-exert myself! It’s mamesh a plague when people start to judge their accomplishments based on those above and below them. We are all on a slanted ladder! I need to grow based on me, not based on the guys above or below me- All I need to do it focus.

Rebbe Nachman Mi’Breslov says that when I fall, I have to pick up and start serving Hashem with the mindset that I have never served Him before in my entire life! If I fail to see the movement and progression that I expect of myself than there is an unlimited amount of times I can refresh my Avodas Hashem. My Father in Heaven never gets tired of hearing me say “This time will be different.”

I need to wake up and take an honest accounting to see if I am growing at a pace that is fitting for me. All too often, after a good gaze into the mirror I’ll see that I can do so much more, and when I see this there is only one piece of advice, and it is simple. It’s so simple that I can give it to myself without any guidance whatsoever. If I see that I can be doing more, START CLIMBING! As long as I keep pushing, utilizing all things in my framework of growth, I’ll always be okay.

The sooner I get in touch with who is really me, understanding and getting a grip on my surroundings, putting a focus on my strengths and working on my weaknesses, the sooner I’ll be able to be Rosho Magia Shamaima. I’m not going to tap into my Neshoma if I focus on everyone but me. I can’t worry about what other people wear do or say.

If we can put the focus on personal growth, there are no limits on the heights can we achieve. When we all do our personal best there is no doubt that we will live lives of satisfaction and fulfillment, moving closer to the Creator, and thereby closer to the REDEMPTION!

Dying With Dveykus

A repeat of an older post:

Rav Moshe Tzvi Neriah zt"l [the spiritual leader of B'nei Akiva] passed away on the 19th of Kislev, 1995. I once cut out an article written by Rav Chaim Sabbato Shlita[famous Rosh Yeshiva of Maale Adumim and acclaimed author] describing his final visit with the Rav. I decided to translate it for the benefit of a wider audience. I found it incredibly inspiring and I hope that you do, too.

A small note was hanging on the bulletin board in the Beis Medrash. Rav Moshe Tzvi Neriah needs Divine mercy. We immediately decided - we are traveling to Kfar Haroeh. We arrived in the afternoon and the village was very serene. Trees were seemingly taking their afternoon rest. A Moshavnik riding on a tractor pointed to his house.I recognized it from earlier visits.

The small house and garden outside. The courtyard where we sat and listened to edifying talks from Rav Neriah filled with insights and stories. We listened to his talks with great eagerness and the experience was thrilling and uplifting. This is the courtyard where thoughts were entertained that eventually brought to the building of the Religious Zionist Torah world. This time the courtyard was empty. Three simple wooden chairs were standing there and there was a notice attached to one of them on which was written: "We thank you for your visit. It is not possible to visit Abba. Please say tehillim for him as this is part of the mitzva of visiting the ill."

There were a few tehillim books there and we began to say tehillim with heavy hearts. How much we wanted to see him! The Rebbetzin came outside and gave us a drink. We made a shehakol nihiyeh bidvaro and the words took on new meaning. She answered amen and said "There is so much ink left in his pen" [he was a prolific author A.E.]. She lowered her eyes. We started to leave. His son Rav Nachum Neriah [former long time Rebbe in Yeshivat Hakotel A.E.] came outside. "Abba wants to daven mincha as soon as possible. One more tefilla in his lifetime while he still has the chance, maybe you can come into the room."

The room was completely filled with sefarim. Gemara, Halacha, Aggada, Pilpul, Mechkar, Drush etc. I tried to take in everything I was experiencing and felt holiness. Rav Neriah was on a bed in the room, connected to machines. His granddaughter was reading Pirkei Avos to him. "Ben shmonim ligvuros, Ben tishim lashuach ... Ben Bag Bag omer, hafoch bah vihapoch bah dikoola bah." The Rav motioned with his hand as if to say "More, more don't stop!"

We davened Mincha. Rav Nachum Shlita said the silent shmoneh esrei aloud so that his father could whisper along with him. "Rifa'ainu Hashem vineyrafey" the young boys from the Yeshiva were davening intensely. We then read chapters of tehillim with great emotion. "Mimaamakim kirasicha Hashem" [From the depths we call you Hashem].

In the throes of great suffering the Rav had moments of lucidity. On one side of the bed stood his wife with wondrous silence. On the other side stood his son and granddaughter. We stood next to them. There was a shining light in the room and special rays of kindness ["chut shel chessed"] emanated from his face. I said "Orech yamim u'shnot chaim" [long life]. He expended great effort and answered "We will continue, continue to spread Torah and fear of Hashem and we will succeed b'ezrat Hashem. Amen keyn yehi ratzon!" Amen keyn yehi ratzon. It seemed like he dozed off but then one of the Yeshiva boys asked "Niggun?" Rav Neriah with his last remaining strength motioned "Yes". "Which Niggun?" the boys asked. "Which Niggun?" Rav Nachum asked . "Which Niggun?" his wife asked.

Rav Neriah tried without success to hint to us. Then he started softly humming with tremendous internal power "Vi'yedu ... vi'yedu .... vi'yedu ... ki atah shimcha Hashem .... ki atah shimcha Hashem livadecha, elyon elyon, al kol ha'aretz, elyon elyon al kol ha'aretz..." [You should know that Hashem alone is elevated above the earth.] The niggun is soft and sweet and gets stronger and stronger as we go along, filled with faith. The Rav is singing along "Vi'yedu, vi'yedu, viyedu ki atah shimcha Hashem, livadecha ...." The Rebbetzin is holding his hand and singing softly "elyon, elyon al kol ha'aretz." On the other side of the bed stands Rav Nachum, with his eyes closed and sings with great intensity and dveykus "Elyon, elyon al kol ha'aretz." I stood there and was tremendously moved by the power of the moment. The room was filled with holy books. Books, notes as well as medications were still scattered on the wooden desk where Rav Neriah had written countless articles and books.

Rav Neriah, with a shining countenance, gathered all of his strength and sang "Vi'yedu .. elyon, elyon al kol ha'aretz." I remembered the saying of our Sages "The Shechina is above the head of the sick person." Little by little, the niggun petered out and the boys became silent.

Suddenly the head of Rav Neriah was lifted up slightly, and his voice was heard "elyon..." and he hints to us to continue. The boys sing this time even more powerfully, with more joy and optimism. The Rebbetzin, with a little smile of encouragement on her face, nods her head. "Elyon, al kol ha'aretz."

I have forgotten all of the events of the outside world and all I can see is the shining face of Rav Neriah as he sings "Vi'yedu ki atah shimcha Hashem, elyon al kol ha'aretz."

Oh Boy!! Oh Boy!!


[I thank my friend Rav C. G. for bringing this to my attention.]

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Segula - 40 days at the Kotel

About me

  • I'm Rabbi Ally Ehrman
  • From Old City Jerusalem, Israel
  • I am a Rebbe in Yeshivat Netiv Aryeh.
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