Divrei Torah

From the Rosh Yeshiva, HaGaon HaRav Yosef Rubinstein, shlita

מאהבה – service of Hashem from love

עבודת ה’ מאהבה – service of Hashem from love

Chazal say, קיימו וקיבלו היהודים – קיימו מה שקיבלו כבר “‘The Jews undertook and obligated themselves.’ (Esther 9:27) – They undertook and obligated upon themselves what they had accepted already.” (Shabbos 88a) At the time of the Purim miracle, Klal Yisroel voluntarily accepted upon itself to keep the entire Torah that it had been compelled to accept at Har Sinai. At Har Sinai the nation was coerced שכפה הקדוש ברוך הוא עליהם את ההר כגיגית “The Holy One, Blessed be He, held the mountain over them like a barrel.” (Shabbos 88a) So it’s in the air now, to keep the Torah for our own good, with cheishek and a love of Hashem.

We know that עבודת ה’ מאהבה – service of Hashem from love – is a huge madreigah. However, that all depends on how much we apply ourselves to this concept. There is still בחירה and it’s our choice to connect ourselves to this wonderful opportunity. It’s similar to how Pesach is זמן חירותינו, but one still needs to connect oneself to the concept. We can explain with a mashal: cell phone reception depends on where you are, the closer we are to the antenna and without barriers the more reception we will have. The more we connect with Hashem, Torah and people involved in Torah, the more clear is our reception and the more we can touch base with אהבת התורה והמצוות.

To Praise Hashem

קאַפּיטל ל of Tehillim מזמור שיר חנוכת הבית לדוד speaks of our crying out to Hashem in our struggles and against our enemies. 

 3: יְהֹוָ֥ה אֱלֹהָ֑י שִׁוַּ֥עְתִּי אֵ֝לֶ֗יךָ וַתִּרְפָּאֵֽנִי׃

Hashem, my God. I cried out to You and You healed me 

 9: אֵלֶ֣יךָ יְהֹוָ֣ה אֶקְרָ֑א וְאֶל־אֲ֝דֹנָ֗י אֶתְחַנָּֽן׃ 

I called to You, Hashem to my Lord I made appeal  


  11: שְׁמַע־יְהֹוָ֥ה וְחׇנֵּ֑נִי יְ֝הֹוָ֗ה הֱֽיֵה־עֹזֵ֥ר לִֽי׃

Hear, Hashem, and have mercy on me Hashem, be my help 

At the last passuk of the perek, we learn why:


        12: הָפַ֣כְתָּ מִסְפְּדִי֮ לְמָח֢וֹל לִ֥֫י פִּתַּ֥חְתָּ שַׂקִּ֑י וַֽתְּאַזְּרֵ֥נִי שִׂמְחָֽה׃

You turned my lament into dancing you undid my sackcloth and girded me with joy

        13: לְמַ֤עַן ׀ יְזַמֶּרְךָ֣ כָ֭בוֹד וְלֹ֣א יִדֹּ֑ם יְהֹוָ֥ה אֱ֝לֹהַ֗י לְעוֹלָ֥ם אוֹדֶֽךָּ׃

So that [my] soul might sing hymns to You endlessly; Hashem my G-d, I will praise You forever

The reason for the challenges of life is for us to praise Hashem for His salvation. There are tests after tests, struggles after struggles. We get backed into a corner from which Hashem saves us. And why does it work this way?  It is so that my “soul might sing hymns to You endlessly.”

Dovid Hamelech is teaching us that the goal is to express gratitude. Our neshamos should praise Hashem. That’s where we should invest most of our emotional energy. If after we see the yeshua we don’t get around to that – and in a big way – we wasted an opportunity. A mashal: Reuven loaned Shimon a million dollars for investment purposes. Shimon was negligent and squandered the funds. That’s a wasted opportunity. 

As the Ramban (Shemos 13:16) explains, this is also the reason for the creation of Man and all the mitzvos. He cites Pirkei Avos (2:1) which says that we should be heedful of all mitzvos, even the ones that seem “light” or more easily fulfilled. Why?

שכולן חמודות וחביבות מאד, שבכל שעה אדם מודה בהן לאלהיו. וכוונת כל המצות, שנאמין באלהינו ונודה אליו שהוא בראנו, והיא כוונת היצירה, שאין לנו טעם אחר ביצירה הראשונה, ואין אל עליון חפץ בתחתונים מלבד שידע האדם ויודה לאלהיו שבראו.

“For they are all exceedingly precious and beloved, for through them a person always expresses thankfulness to Hashem. And the purpose of all the mitzvos is that we believe in Hashem and be thankful to Him for having created us, for we know of no other reason for the first creation and Hashem has no desire for the lower creatures other than that man should know and be thankful to Him for having created him.” 

Says the Ramban, this is also the reason for tefillah and for shuls!

וכוונת רוממות הקול בתפלות וכוונת בתי הכנסיות וזכות תפלת הרבים, זהו שיהיה לבני אדם מקום יתקבצו ויודו לאל שבראם והמציאם ויפרסמו זה ויאמרו לפניו בריותיך אנחנו

“The purposes of raising our voices in prayer and of the service in synagogues, as well as the merit of public prayer, is precisely this: that people should have a place wherein they assemble and express their thankfulness to Hashem for having created them and supported them, and thus proclaim and say before Him, ‘We are your creations.'”

We are living in a time where there is much crying out. It is not random. It is not for no reason. Like the mitzvos, like tefillah, like the very creation of the universe, the reason for the challenges is so that we say to thank Hashem for creating and supporting us. We all enjoy so many wonderful chasodim that Hakb”h bestows upon us, so much shefah, and the goal is that we praise him.

The Crown of Torah

Let me share with you a moiradika dvar Torah that I discussed on Shabbos in the yeshiva. Reuven lost the crowns of Bechor, Malchus and Kehunah because of his actions. Those crowns became limited to Levi and Yehudah. However, there’s a crown which is greater than all of them, the crown of Torah. As the Mishnah in Avos says גדולה תורה יותר מן הכהונה ומן המלכות. And yet Chazal say, כתר של תורה מונח כל מי שרוצה יבא ויקח. (See רמב”ם הלכות תלמוד תורה פרק ג’ הלכה א’ וכן בגמרא יומא עב.)  The crown of Torah is open to ALL. We can all chap as much as we want. Hashem does not set any parameters and boundaries, how much, when, it’s unlimited. What an opportunity!

Yaakov vs. Esav

I would like to share with you a short vort on parshas Toldos. It says ועשו איש שדה. Rashi explains that as איש בטל. My rebbe Rav Leib Bakst ztl used to say that this was the root of Eisav’s issues. At the base of all the other despicable things he did, he was a groisah batlan.

How do we understand this, that batalah is the root of evil? And it’s in chazal בטלה מביא לידי שיעמום בטלה מביא לידי זימה .

We can explain as follows: why does an open apple rot, but a stone does not? It is because an apple is a living species and when it does not fulfill its purpose it decays. So, too, a Yid is a neshama, חלק אלוק ממעל a living spiritual species. When we don’t fill our time with positive activities we ch”v decay. That was Eisav. Yakov was the exact opposite. By being a יושב ביה”מ he was invigorated with life even to a point where Chazal say תענית ה: יעקב אבינו לא מת. That signifies that the Talmid Chochom is so full of life from his Torah that his spirituality keeps him alive forever.

By a Goy, it would work somewhat differently. By a goy as well, idleness is not healthy. הבטלה מביא לידי שיעמום applies to all people. Idleness has negative results. But it’s different with a Yid in various ways. A) What’s considered wasting time? A Goy was created to build the world יישוב העולם, so as long as he’s doing that he’s fine. A Yid was created for Torah and maisim tovim. B) The decaying process works differently. Their makeup is not like ours. A Yid is much more sensitized as we see from the concept of טמטום הלב, so when a Yid ch”v decays there’s a much worse result.

אבינו מלכנו זכרנו בזכרון טוב לפניך

What is this remembrance ?

ר”ה טז. אמר הקב”ה אמרו לפני בראש השנה מלכויות וזכרונות ושופרות, מלכויות כדי שתמליכוני עליכם זכרונות כדי שיעלה זכרוניכם לפני לטובה 

Hakodesh Baruch Hu said…recite before Me on Rosh Hashanah verses that mention Kingships, Remembrances, and Shofaros. Kingships so that you will crown Me as King over you. Remembrances so that your remembrance will rise before Me for good.

אבינו מלכנו זכרנו בזכרון טוב לפניך

This matter needs explanation. How will mentioning posukim raise our memory for the good? And in general, what is this remembrance before Hakodesh Baruch Hu? When is there forgetting such that He needs to go back and remember? And either way, a Jew is worthy or not worthy.

Harav Chaim Friedlander, zt’l, the author of שפתי חיים, brings the Rishonim who point out that we say in Zichronos: ‘Elokim will remember Noach, and Elokim will remember the covenant of Avraham, Yitzchok, and Yaakov.’ This activates His compassion and His covenant. With Hakodesh Baruch Hu, there is no forgetting. Rather, the meaning is that the time comes to activate one of His middos. “And Hashem remembered Noach.” Rashi explains that the middah of din turns to rachamim through the tefillah of tzadickim. Also in Mitzraim, before He remembered and exercised His mercy, Klal Yisroel suffered due to hester panim. But since ויעל אנקתם (their cries went up), which the Ramban explains to mean because of their crying, their tefillos were received in mercy.  

We are living through a world tumult that is unprecedented in our lifetimes. It is time to cry out to Hashem that He turn the din into rachamim. We cry out in the name of Noach. We cry out in the name of the Avos.

May Hashem bentch you with a sweet year, one in which all the difficulties and bitterness of the last year turn into bracha v’hatzlocho. May you have good health, simcha, nachas, parnassah, and the freedom to pursue Torah and mitzvos as you have had in the past.

Emunah Opportunities

Shir Hashirim (1:4) says משכני אחריך נרוצה הביאני המלך חדריו נגילה ונשמחה בך נזכירה דודיך מיין “Draw me after you, let us run! The king has brought me to his chambers. Let us delight and rejoice in your love, Savoring it more than wine.”

Rashi explains that we followed Hakb”h into the wilderness without food and water totally reliant on His love for us and He brought us into the anani hakavod (clouds of glory, Divine presence). So, too, even today after thousands of years in galus Klal Yisroel is still on that level.

Rashi: “They did not say, ‘How will we go out into the desert, which is not a land of seed or food,’ but they followed Him, and He brought them into the midst of the chambers of the encompassment of His clouds. With this, they are still joyful today and happy in Him despite their afflictions and distress, and they delight in the Torah, and there they recall His love more than wine and the sincerity of their love for Him.”

How delightful to experience such emunah and bitachon to the point where one places his entire life in the hands of Hashem. Such constitutes an entirely different existence than that of the usual lot of humanity with all its fear, jealousy, and greed. How do we get there?

אָמַר רַבִּי טָבִי טַעְמָא דְּרַבִּי שִׁמְעוֹן בֶּן גַּמְלִיאֵל מִסְמָךְ גְּאוּלָּה לִגְאוּלָּה עָדִיף – מגילה ו:

מִסְמָךְ גְּאוּלָּה לִגְאוּלָּה says the Gemara. “Connect redemption to redemption,” specifically Purim to Pesach. These yomim tovim work together to create value that is greater than the sum of their parts. Why is that?

We all know that the neis of Purim and the neis of Pesach are totally different in nature. Purim is nistar. It is hidden. וְאָנֹכִ֗י הַסְתֵּ֨ר אַסְתִּ֤יר פָּנַי֙ בַּיּ֣וֹם הַה֔וּא – דברים ל״א:יח . All the events seem natural. Achasverosh killed one wife and married the other. The anti-semite Haman plotted genocide. Esther got the king to listen to her. However, we know from Chazal that it was all Hashem’s hand moving the pawns – an extreme showing of hashgacha prati.

Conversely, Pesach is all about open miracles — dam, tzefardeih, kinim, arov, dever, shechin, bard, arbeh, chosech, kriyas yam suf. The question arises, since Purim and Pesach comprise two radically different programs, why mismach geulah l’gulah?

The Mechilta quotes Rebbe Eliezer, “a shifcha saw at the sea what Yeshayah and Yechezkel did not see.” And the question is, what happened to the shifcha and all the others who experienced such elevated levels of nevuah at krias yom suf? To where did they disappear?

Rav Chaim Shmulevitz explains: because she remained a shifcha. A person has to absorb lessons and be changed by them, applying them to the various areas of life. For example, many people are destroyed by insults. A ma’amin, a person of faith, has the tools to be less affected by insults. He has a broader perspective. He realizes the insult was coordinated by Hashem for a reason. He looks beyond the sting of the insult. The nisim at krias yam suf were sensational, but witnesses to the event needed to build permanent emunah from it.

Studying the Megillah gives us exercises in seeing Hashem’s hand in life. With this in place, we can better apply the nisim of Pesach to our lives. The nisim have a greater impact on us. As a result, Pesach is worth much more and Purim is worth much more. The combination is powerful.

We should be thinking already now in the days before Pesach, in what areas can I improve my emunah and bitachon. How will I do that? What are the challenges stopping me? Then, when Pesach comes and we retell all the stories, they will have a profound effect on us and be translated into mayseh.

May Hashem bentch us all with the ability to connect Purim to Pesach and to make emunah and bitachon a reality in our lives, indeed the core reality, the crux of our outlook and our living. And may you and your entire family be zoiche to simchas yomtov and be bentched with nachas good health and prosperity.

The Way to Serenity

The makkos demonstrated the power of Hashem. Nevertheless, the Mitzrim concocted all sorts of ways to deny the mofsim behind the makkos. Some they wrote off as magic. Others they wrote off as teva. At times, Pharaoh’s heart was like stone — “caveid lav” — and at other times, as indicated by the word “vaychazeik,” he rationalized what was obvious even to him because a change of policy would hurt his political and economic interests.

The whole purpose of the creation is that people should recognize Hakodesh Baruch Hu. Many of our mitzvos such as pesach, sukkos, shabbos, tefillin, mezuza, tefillin, and krias shema strengthen our emunah. In Mitzrayim, Hashem put on a tremendous show with the makkos. It was a one time display to establish emunah for all of history. And He commanded us to give this over to our children. Chazal say there are ten words used to describe navuah. One of them is masa, or burden. As the Rambam explains, navuah burdens the prophet with the duty to share his vision. During the Pesach seder, a father is much more successful in giving over the message of emunah if he views it as a duty, a burden.

The whole world is searching for happiness, serenity, personal security, financial security, self-confidence, healthy relationships among many other needs of the human being. As the Chovos Helevavos explains, the person who lives with ideals of emunah and bitachon should feel such serenity. In the womb, we are safe. All is taken care of. And we as adults, live in a womb as well. Hashem guides us. He takes care of us. He helps us with our parnassah and our relationships. He gives us what we need just as we experienced in the womb. We will see this to the extent that we internalize emunah. We must do the opposite of what the Mitzrim did. They denied that the tumult in their lives was caused by Hashem. We have to work to see that everything is from Hashem, big events and small.

Our fantastic connection to Torah

וַיָּבֹא֩ יַֽעֲקֹ֨ב שָׁלֵ֜ם “Yaakov arrived safely.” (Bereshis 33:18) Rashi explains:

“And Yaacov arrived safely: unimpaired in his body, healed of his limp and whole with his money. He did not lose anything because of the gift that he had given [to Esav]. [He was also] whole with his Torah, for he had not forgotten [any of] his studies in Lavan’s house.” 

Earlier, Yaakov had instructed melachim to tell Esav, עִם־לָבָ֣ן גַּ֔רְתִּי “I have sojourned with Lavan.” Rashi explains:

“גַּרְתִּי has the numerical value of 613. That is to say: I lived with the wicked Lavan, but I kept the 613 commandments, and I did not learn from his evil deeds.”  

This is most impressive as the Rambam says a person is נמשך אחרי סביבותיו, pulled by his environment. We do what the crowd is doing. So how did Yaakov stay sane and honest in the house of Lavan? Lavan changed his contract every three weeks, 100 times over 6 years. That’s approximately 17 times annually. On top of that, there was avodah zara in that house, traife fortune pieces, and all kinds of craziness about which the Torah didn’t elaborate. Yet, Yaakov stayed totally honest, Torah observant  and unharmed by the abuse.

We may explain as follows; Chazal say, Yaakov went to yeshiva for fourteen years before traveling to Lavan even though he had a mitzvah to get married. He knew he needed a few solid years of pure Limud HaTorah before embarking on that project. Why? 

Says Koheles (2:9) אַ֥ף חָכְמָתִ֖י עָ֥מְדָה לִּֽי  “Also my wisdom remained with me.” The Rambam explains: חָכְמָה שֶׁלָּמַדְתִּי בְּאַף הִיא עָמְדָה לִי “The Torah that I learned under duress stood by me.” (Hilchos Talmud Torah, 3:12) It builds us up. We needn’t look for the easy way. We should exert ourselves. This exertion builds up our muscles, so to speak. Every Jew has extraordinary spiritual strengths. We just need to tap into them. אדם לעמל יולד 

It’s the same as all relationships. The more we invest in them the stronger they become. Relationships with one’s spouse, friends, and chavrusos need to be tended to, but the effort enhances the relationship and both sides benefit. So, too, the more we invest in the Torah relationship, the Torah reciprocates and benefits us. 

Rav Aaron Kotler says that the Torah is a living entity. (תעזבני יום יומיים אעזבך (ראה אג”ק ח”א “If you leave me for a day, I’ll leave you for two.” We can form a relationship with it and she benefits us. יַֽעֲרֹ֤ף כַּמָּטָר֙ לִקְחִ֔י תִּזַּ֥ל כַּטַּ֖ל אִמְרָתִ֑י כִּשְׂעִירִ֣ם עֲלֵי־דֶ֔שֶׁא וְכִרְבִיבִ֖ים עֲלֵי־עֵֽשֶׂב  “My lesson will drip like rain; my word will flow like dew; like storm winds on vegetation and like raindrops on grass.” (Devarim 32:2) Rashi says: 

“like storm winds: This is an expression similar to “storm wind (סְעָרָה)” [the ס and שׂ are interchangeable. The Targum translates it as כְּרוּחֵי מִטְרָא, “like winds [that bring] rain.” Just as these winds maintain the plants and promote their growth, so too, the words of the Torah cause those who study them to grow.” 

Rav Chaim Volozhner quotes from the Zohar; “Beloved by HaKodesh Baruch Hu is he who is osek b’Torah. He who is osek b’Torah need not fear the dangers of the world. He is guarded from above. He is guarded from below.” (Nefesh HaChaim)

 The yeshiva schedule is demanding  – Shacharis at 7:30, 1st seder 9-1, 2nd seder 3:45-7:15, night seder 9-11. Yeshivos require refined princely conduct 24/7. It’s not simple, yet Yaakov did that for fourteen years without leaving the yeshiva campus! And the yeshivos are following in his footsteps. Boys develop into princes, into leaders and develop protection from the craziness of today’s world.  

Now, not everyone has the opportunity to sit in yeshiva or Kollel full time for an entire lifetime. However, anyone can be dedicated to our holy Torah on his level, exerting himself with a chavrusah for another 10 minutes, another half hour. And we need not just the daf gemarah but also Mesilas Yesharim, Chovos HaLevavos, or parsha with Rashi – and to internalize their lessons. And that relationship benefits us.  

We also form a relationship with Torah by supporting Torah institutions, yeshivos and kollelim. Rav Yitzchok Elchonon Spector zt’l writes, that Zevulun, in supporting limud Torah, is considered an osek b’atorah as well and enjoys all the benefits of shmirah, kaparah, and deveikus in Hashem that result from limud Torah. One can also build a relationship with a yeshiva by davening for it, taking an interest in its welfare and news and the progress and simchas of its bachurim  and by enjoying the divrei Torah that it shares. 

Achieving High Goals

When learning the parshiyos in Chumash Bereishis we learn valuable life lessons and especially those that define who we are and who our ancestors were. When Hashem told Avraham Aveinu lech lecha, leave your homeland and go to Canaan, Avraham didn’t have the luxury of first making a pilot trip. But he was a baal emunah so off he went. And in Canaan he set up houses of kiruv in every town he passed through and delivered inspirational speeches. The world at the time was drenched in idol worship and other abominations, yet Avraham challenged it all and the Rambam says he was successful and had tens of thousands of followers. Then he waged a military war against four mighty kings and according to Chazal he did this single handedly with only Eliezer to assist him and won. The question arises, from where did Avraham Aveinu get this energy and confidence to set out on these seemingly unrealistic goals? Is emunah the simple answer?

The Chovas Halevavos/Duties of the Heart in Shaar Avodas Elokim, perek 3, lays out two paths that people should pursue. The first is following the shulchan aruch and schar v’onesh. There a person does what the Torah dictates and is motivated by a fear of punishment and desire for spiritual reward. It’s a productive and worthy prompt for excellence even if it is more external. A higher level involves understanding of ratzon Hashem. A person wants to do Hashem’s will. The ratzon Hashem becomes part of the person’s inner logic. There the nefesh is the energiser and provides an inspirational push. This prompt is more internal to the person and achieves better results.

As the nefesh is connected to Hashem via the kisei hakavod one taps into enormous powers when his nefesh is driven by a desire to serve the ratzon Hashem. The Chovas Halevavos in Cheshbon Hanefesh perek 3, cheshbon 21 adds that Hashem extends extraordinary spiritual mental and physical powers to the person who desires and strives to accomplish higher spiritual pursuits. Koheles says ולאשר טוב לפניו נתן חכמה ודעת ושמחה In his desire to do ratzon Hashem, Avraham Aveinu was given extraordinary powers to challenge and battle the world on many fronts. All those special individuals we know who accomplish great achievements in Torah, chesed, and middos were not born with these strengths. Rather, they have a real desire to reach high goals and Hashem rewards these people with capabilities way, way beyond their natural strengths.

We the descendants of Avraham Aveinu have these genes and opportunities and can accomplish far beyond what we might estimate or predict. We only need to want.

Welcoming address to the bochurim

We wanted to share with you an excerpt from the Rosh Yeshiva’s welcoming address to the bochurim for the new zman. The original was given in lashon hakodesh.

Baruch Hashem we are zoche to return to yeshiva and the beis hamedrash. It is a tremendous chesed of Hakodesh Boruch Hu that amongst the world tumult He set aside a special capsule where we can continue to study torah. We should appreciate these chasodim and not take them for granted. And an additional chesed is that we can continue within the yeshiva campus with all its amenities. The health authorities can come along and say; you want to learn, fine, pack up into a dessert away from society, without modern facilities. Dovid HaMelech said שׁוּבִ֣י נַ֖פְשִׁי לִמְנוּחָ֑יְכִי כִּ֥י יְ֜הֹוָ֗ה גָּ֘מַ֥ל עָלָֽיְכִי Return, my soul, to your rest, for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you. (Tehillim 116:7) Ibn Ezra explains that Dovid Hamelech was speaking to his stormy soul. He endured many persecutions, wars and turbulent times. When the storm calmed down, he reflected and said, yesterday Hakodosh Baruch Hu arranged all matters for me and all was well. Yes, there is a new war today with new challenges. Calm yourself and sit, Hashem will reward me with goodness, even now. My soul returns to its rest.

And so, too, for us today, dear bachurim, do not be shaken up by all the warnings that soon there will be a third wave and other dangers. Even as the whole world turns upside down Hashem keeps us in a special cloud, the yeshiva and torah. We can see this situation as a form of ענני הכבוד in the Midbar.

Certainly, we face daunting challenges beyond that which most of us have faced before. I speak not merely of the public health situation but also of the restrictions that have been imposed upon us. I speak of restrictions on weddings, visits with family, shutdowns of businesses, limitations on shul attendance, and even locked shuls and yeshivas. All of this is genuinely painful.

Connection to the Torah can ease the discomfort and pain. וּלְלֵוִ֣י אָמַ֔ר תֻּמֶּ֥יךָ וְאוּרֶ֖יךָ לְאִ֣ישׁ חֲסִידֶ֑ךָ אֲשֶׁ֤ר נִסִּיתוֹ֙ בְּמַסָּ֔ה תְּרִיבֵ֖הוּ עַל־מֵ֥י מְרִיבָֽה: הָֽאֹמֵ֞ר לְאָבִ֤יו וּלְאִמּוֹ֙ לֹ֣א רְאִיתִ֔יו וְאֶת־אֶחָיו֙ לֹ֣א הִכִּ֔יר וְאֶת־בָּנָ֖ו לֹ֣א יָדָ֑ע כִּ֤י שָֽׁמְרוּ֙ אִמְרָתֶ֔ךָ וּבְרִֽיתְךָ֖ יִנְצֹֽרוּ: “And of Levi he said: “Your Tummim and Urim belong to Your pious man, whom You tested at Massah and whom You tried at the waters of Meribah, who said of his father and his mother, ‘I do not see him’; neither did he recognize his brothers, nor did he know his children, for they observed Your word and kept Your covenant.” (Devarim 33:9) It seems that Levi’s attachment to Torah helped ease other attachments.

In his hesped for Rav Shach zt’l, Rav Boruch Mordechai Ezrachi, shlita, tells the story of how he once met Rav Shach and asked him how he was feeling. When Rav Shach responded that he felt weak, Rav Ezrachi advised him to give two shiur clali’s [shiurim for the entire yeshiva] a week at the yeshiva instead of only one. Rav Shach followed the advice and found that indeed he did feel better.

Rav Shach as a young man in Vilna suffered a tragic loss in his family and Rav Chaim Ozer noticed he was dejected. He remarked to Rav Shach, Reb Leizer, לולי תורתך שעשועי אז אבדתי בעניי. “If not for your Torah to gladden me, I would be lost in poverty.” So, too, for us, connecting to Torah helps us to find solace.

All things pass and this crisis will pass. Let us utilize the time to strengthen our connection to Torah.

Parshas Bereishis – Life Lessons Right from the Start

בְּרֵאשִׁ֖ית בָּרָ֣א אֱלֹהִ֑ים אֵ֥ת הַשָּׁמַ֖יִם וְאֵ֥ת הָאָֽרֶץ — בְּרֵאשִׁ֖ית א:א
In the beginning of God’s creation of the heavens and the earth. (Genesis 1:1)

The first Rashi in Chumash presents the question of Rav Yitzchok who asked why the Torah did not start with a commandment. After all, one of the main purposes of the Chumash is to teach Klal Yisroel the commandments. The many stories of the Avos, Imahos, and birth of the nation culminate at Har Sinai where the commandments are given.

בראשית: אמר רבי יצחק לא היה צריך להתחיל [את] התורה אלא (שמות יב ב) מהחודש הזה לכם, שהיא מצוה ראשונה שנצטוו [בה] ישראל, ומה טעם פתח בבראשית

And he answers, “So that if the nations of the world say to Israel, ‘You are thieves, for having conquered the lands of the seven nations,’ they can reply to them: ‘The entire world is G‑d’s; He created it, and He grants it to whoever He desires. It was His will to give it to them, and it was His will to take it from them and give it to us.’

The second Rashi offers a different explanation. He says the world was created, “for the sake of the Torah, which is called (Mishlei 8:22): “the beginning of His way,” and for the sake of Israel, who are called (Jer. 2:3) “the first of His grain.”

Both of these explanations have practical application. The first gives Klal Yisroel the support and logical basis for settling the land when prophets tell us to do so.

The second starts us off with a productive working perspective on the world. Hashem created it for people who serve Him via Torah study and mitzvos and the nation who does that is Klal Yisroel. The Gemara says: אין פורענויות בא לעולם אלא בשביל ישראל “Misfortune comes upon the world for the sake of Yisroel” (Yevamos 63a). Rashi explains that it’s כדי ליראם, in order to put a fear into them so that they should do teshuva. So an earthquake in Asia is intended first of all to awaken Klal Yisroel to do teshuva. We shouldn’t ignore it. It’s for us to learn.

These are important lessons. The Chumash tells many interesting stories, particularly in the first two books. Their purpose is not entertainment. The stories are intended to instruct so that we start off our days, our lives, and history with the proper mindset.

When newlyweds are starting off their lives and have to choose between a city where parnassah is better and one where their Torah lives and the husband’s Torah learning will get a firmer start, it is often better to choose the latter place. If you have chicken and cutlery, it doesn’t make sense to give away the chicken to keep the cutlery. The purpose of the cutlery is to help you to eat the chicken. When we don’t have our priorities straight, we can get into lots of trouble.

What Rashi is telling us is that the Chumash starts us off with life lessons. And these continue through parshas Noach, Lech Lecha, Vayeira, and beyond. We need to examine each story and draw out lessons for life. Rashi helps us to do this with his two very first comments on Chumash.


Zman Simchaseinu

The siddur refers to Succos as z’man simchaseinu, the time of our joy. Why are other yomim tovim not given such an appellation?

One answer is that Succos is the time of the harvest and an agrarian economy is built on the harvest. So the joy is significant.

We can learn from this the importance of expressing our gratitude to our family and friends from who we constantly benefit.

We can offer another explanation. The Chovos HaLevovos and the Ramchal tell us that Hashem created the world with two types of entities: spiritual and physical. However, these have different concerns and different interests. What speaks to the spiritual world does not speak to the physical world and vice versa. The spiritual seeks out HaKodesh Baruch Hu, Torah, mitzvos, and chesed. The physical seeks food, drink, sleep, and the like.

We are given a choice to choose the spiritual way and to use the physical to enhance the physical. It is an enormous challenge and we don’t all make the right choices all the time. We are not tzadikim and therefore we live in a world of confusion.

The Medrash in Tehillim says: לדוד ה’ אורי וישעי, אורי – זו ראש השנה. Rosh Hashana is a lighthouse. It dispels darkness as we reaffirm our highest values via the many tefillos and piyutim. As relief from doubt is the greatest simcha, אין שמחה כהתרת הספיקות, Succos becomes z’man simchaseinu. The work we do through Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur pushes away the clouds and leaves us with clarity.

Wishing all our friends a chag sameiach


Today’s Simchah

Rabbeinu Yona writes in Shaarei Teshuva (sha’ar 4) that we are commanded to eat a seudah erev Yom Kippur to display our longing for appeasement from Hashem. He says (sha’ar 1) that the desire of a tzaddik is to elicit this appeasement. Yet, he offers another reason, which may be more familiar to many of us, that Yom Kippur is a Yom Tov but since on Yom Kippur we afflict ourselves to promote teshuva, we cannot eat. Thus, we have the seudah the day before. The two explanations work together as his wording implies that the longing for appeasement is itself a simcha that we celebrate with a Yom Tov meal.

The Shelah HaKodesh and Rabbi Yitzchok Chover, a talmid of the Gra, write that in ימות המשיח a special taharah will fill the world. As it says in Yechezchel (36:26): וזרקתי אליכם מים טהורים וטהרתם ונתתי לכם לב חדש ורוח חדשה. והסירותי לב האבן מבשרכם “I threw pure water on you and I gave you a new heart and a new spirit. I will remove your heart of stone.” The explanation is that we will be given a natural yearning to do good. Yom Kippur is מעין ימות המשיח (just like the days of Moshiach) as a special light purifies us and the yetzer hara is reduced on that day, leaving us with an increased inclination to do good.

Perhaps we don’t appreciate enough what awaits us. Tomorrow, we will be able to experience a day like that of ימות המשיח where we naturally desire to do Hashem’s will. How wondrous this will be. We should dance with joy today!

A famous story is told of how HaRav Menachem Shach zt’l, when he lived in Yerushalayim, used to talk in Torah erev Shabbos with the Brisker Rav zt’l. One time, after heavy snow had fallen on the city, Rav Shach was seen dancing in the snow after his meeting with the Brisker Rav. When asked about this, he said that he danced with joy because of the Torah that the Brisker Rav shared with him. He then was asked, but why this time since he met with the Brisker Rav every week. Rav Shach answered that he feels like dancing every time but feared it would look crazy to people in the street. But since the street was deserted due to the snow, he figured it was safe to express his joy with a dance.

Likewise, we should be dancing for Yom Kippur. Since it is not our tradition, we will refrain from doing so. But inside, we leap with joy for what awaits us.

Wishing all our friends a gmar chasima tova.


Elul is a gift

These are challenging times. These are interesting times. And the challenges are an opportunity as challenges always are. The health regulations have complicated the lives of our bachurim, but they are not to be discouraged. At Yeshivas Ohr Yehoshua [Nesivos Hatorah] in Beit Shemesh, the bachurim are learning with bren and hasmada, particularly as we move through Elul. And they are getting exceptional assistance from recent additions to our excellent staff. Rav Dovid Yitzchok Peleg who leads shiur aleph and Rav Yehudah Bolag, who leads shiur beis, come with decades of experience and are leading the yeshiva to new heights. As a bonus, since they both live locally, they can be on hand for shacharis and for when the bachurim stay on campus for Shabbos and in general be more available to the bachurim.
The Chidushei HaRim zt’l said that Elul is a gift from Hashem that helps us to prepare for Rosh Hashanah. As Rav Elimelech Biderman, shlita, explains, Elul is like a crane that helps us to lift crates of bricks that normally would be too much for us.

Due to this extra help, Elul is a particularly good time for improving middos. As we all know, middos are difficult to fix. The Ammonim exhibited bad middos when they refused to supply the Jews with bread and water in the midbar. In addition to a lack of basic kindness, the Ammonim showed a lack of gratitude as they are descendents of Lot who Avraham, the ancestor of the Jewish people, saved from captivity. As Rabbeinu Bachya z’l notes, the Ammonim (and the Moabim) were saved through the kindness of Avraham, but they refused to show kindness of their own. As Rav Eli Munk, z’l, explained, “This lack of gratitude was the greatest of all their sins and was indicative of an ingrained selfishness that has no place among the Jewish people.” Interestingly, male Ammoni converts to Judaism are forbidden from marrying into the Jewish people, while Amaleki converts are permitted. Why might this be? Rabbi Yonosan Geffen proposes that the sin of Amalek was largely a sin of bad hashkafas. Amalek was consumed with jealousy but was also, through its heresy, an ideological opponent of Israel. While that can lead one to murder, it can more easily be corrected. Bad middos can actually be harder to correct.

Nevertheless the Vilna Gaon said that “All service of Hashem is dependent upon the improvement of one’s character” and “the prime purpose of man’s life is to constantly strive to break his bad traits. Otherwise, what is life for?” (Even Shelaimah 1:1-2)

So what are we to do? Elul comes to the rescue. During Elul, Hashem helps us in areas of life where we may not even be aware of our shortcomings. But we have to know that this help is available so that we utilize it. My father HaGaon HaRav Moshe Rubinstein, shlita, says that we often fail to benefit from the extra assistance because we don’t believe it is really available. If one hears that a pizza shop is giving away free slices, he might come to get one. But if he hears that a car dealership is giving away free cars, he won’t believe it, so he won’t come. In Elul, Hashem is giving away free cars.

May Hashem bless you with maximum hatzlacha in Elul and the Yamim Noraim so that we are at our best when we greet Moshiach, who can come any day. And the way things are going in the world, who among us will be surprised if he comes today or tomorrow? Let us seize this opportunity to prepare ourselves. Wishing you and your family a kesiva v’çhasima tovah.


Chizuk for Bein HaZmanim

Having recently read Parshas Yisro, regarding which we recite the daily blessing of “Asher bochar bonu mikol hoámim…”— “Who chose us from all the nations and gave us His Torah…”—this is certainly a favorable time to gain some chizuk through reflecting: What is man’s duty in this world? What am I created for? What is my soul’s mission in life?

We are more than halfway through the winter, and before Springtime is upon us, we have an opportunity to assess — how wisely are we utilizing the time at our disposal? Will we make the most of the remaining days of winter, or are we going to let them slip through our fingers? As always, the choice is ours.

When I was young, I heard from my Rebbeim, that it is specifically towards the end of a zman that one can point out those who truly shteigen. At the start of a new Z’man, everyone rolls up their sleeves with enthusiasm. It’s a new beginning. But as time progresses, monotony sets in, and that’s when you see who remains connected, who refuses to become jaded. The one who studies with true passion, will only become more committed. He enjoys the sugyos and the learning even more. He’s like a guest at a wedding who enters the simcha hall in a generally happy mood, but the more the evening progresses, the more he warms to the occasion. By the time the meal’s over and the dancing begins, he summons every ounce of energy he has, so that he dances with joy with every fiber of his being.

Any person who sets himself a goal and finds himself deterred by the challenges at the outset, would do well to consider this natural progression. Once the initial hurdles are overcome, it becomes easier to continue with greater enthusiasm.

In Parshas Beshalach, Rabeinu Bechaye brings in the name of Rabbeinu Chananel an explanation of the verse (Shmot 13;17): “It came to pass… that G-d did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines for it was near…because G-d said: Lest the people reconsider when they see war and return to Egypt”.

The meaning of this verse isn’t that K’lal Yisroel were going to truly consider heading back to Egypt, for they would have been no better off at the hands of their oppressors. Back there, they were under constant risk of death! The meaning of this verse is that Hashem didn’t want the thought to even enter their mind that they could find another way out. By making them realize that there was simply no other option, Hakadosh Baruch Hu wanted B’nei Yisroel to place their complete and utter trust in Him, and Him alone. Achieving this level of total trust was a prerequisite for receiving the Torah, and they were to be the generation that would merit that lofty level.

To understand this concept, one needs to examine the famous Ramban from the previous Parsha, that tells us what we stand to learn from Yetzias Mitzrayim.

The Ramban says that the only purpose of the primary creation was for man to recognize his Creator. The entire entity known to us as K’lal Yisroel is wholly dependent on emunah. Our earliest formation in the Midbar was dependent on emunah, as is our wondrous survival throughout Golus. The halachos we keep are an ongoing testimony to our vibrant emunah — such as Shabbos, Shemitta and the laws of Ribbis. Even the middos we are meant to demonstrate in our dealings Bein Adam L’Chaveiro, our personal battles against envy, lust and a desire for honor — are all contingent on our ability to fully trust in Hashem. When a man wholeheartedly believes that the way he treats his fellow man, he will be treated in kind, and that he who manages to forgo his anger, will be forgiven all his sins… he is better equipped to conquer his internal conflicts; more capable of refining his character. The entire existence of K’lal Yisroel and its happenings through the ages is one huge miracle, and every dot and dash of our nation’s unfolding story is based on a deep, unwavering emunah that we are a living, breathing miracle.

The way this plays out in our daily life, however, will depend on the strength of a person’s faith; on the depth of his emunah that this is, in fact, so. Does he truly believe that by conceding a point for the sake of peace, he will never lose out? That if he makes a move to reconcile with someone, Hashem will make a similar move and he has nothing to lost, but everything to gain?

Anyone can parrot these truisms. Even giving a drosho is easy. Living it. Acting upon it. That’s already a whole different story. That takes genuine effort. It means stepping out of one’s comfort zone and shattering the laws of nature. This is precisely what the Mesilas Yesharim refers to in the chapter of Nekiyus, when he says that anything we strive to do that is beyond our nature, is a challenge. It’s hard.

As a Yid, we need to reflect on these ideas on a constant basis.

In his introduction to the Mesilas Yesharim, Ramchal writes about how everything is really so simple — “I don’t intend to bring anything new, just to [teach us how to] think consistently, by force of habit…”. This, then, is the secret to success!

And in the same work, in the chapter of Zehirus, i.e. caution, the Ramchal describes the state of darkness that besets a person who isn’t mindful about where he’s going in life. He says there are two kinds of darkness. The first is a dimness, a fog through which one can’t see the obstacles ahead. The second sort is so deceptive, that a person can look and think that a street pole is a figure of someone standing there, and a person seems to him like an inert pole. In other words, in the absence of a guiding light, this person can become so confused that he tags good things as evil and considers evil to be good. [Refer to the source for his wonderful exposition on this topic].

If a person truly wants to grow, to build his character, to become a person of note, he should mark a set time each day for the study of Mussar. Without this, he will inevitably end up groping around in the dark, like a blind man who can’t find his way.

“…And you shall be to Me a treasure….and you shall be to Me a kingdom of princes and a holy nation…” (Shmot 19;5-6). If we only knew to appreciate the meaning of these words; if we would only try to understand what it is that we embody; the awesome meaning of this incredible gift — collectively, as a nation and as every single Jew, we are Hashem’s beloved treasure! — we would never feel despondent. We would only know joy.

As we have said, winter is on its way out. Another season is passing. Another one is will soon be on its way. The steady march of time calls to us, asks us all to look inwards and assess: Where am I going? Where am I heading? Am I treading the path I set out to traverse? Am I achieving what I set out to achieve? Am I groping in confusion, or am I following a clear, Heavenly trail of light?

The more time we set aside for self-reflection, the more we plan our path to success and follow it with sincere emunah and inner determination, the greater SiyataD’Shmaya we shall merit to see, B’ezras Hashem.

Let us seize the moment
It is now the 22nd of Iyar, but it isn’t the same 22nd of Iyar as last year. The Pesach seder turns us into different people.  בכל דור ודור חייב אדם לראות  את עצמו כאילו הוא יצא ממצרים

Seeing ourselves coming out of Mitzrayim changes us. It’s like the way a young person feels after his bar or bas mitzvah or a chasson and kallah after their chasunah. They are not the same people as before. They feel hopeful, elated, and enthusiastic. They have become transformed. They have a greater sense of purpose and responsibility. They can feel an awakening of the neshama that makes them more capable and alive.

On Pesach we experienced the nisim of Hashem. In parshas Bo, the Ramban (שמות יג:טז) explains that the makkos countered the various heretical notions of the Mitzrim that either there is no Hashem, that Hashem was unaware of world events, or that Hashem was not involved with the world, Heaven forbid. We learned quite to the contrary that “There is none like Me (HaKodesh Baruch Hu) in all the land.” He rules over all and no power can limit Him or hold Him back.  

The Haggadah tells us of the incredible schar v’onesh that the Ribbono Shel Olam imposed before all of Mitzrayim. Hashem took our ancestors out of Mitzrayim and at the seder, this seder, we experienced it again. And Chazal say in Shabbos ·פח by the story with Ravah and the Tzadukie that internalizing all these lessons are required for a true kabalas HaTorah.

In a few weeks we will experience Mattan Torah. After Mattan Torah the entire briah changed. In parshas Beshalach, the Ohr Ha’Chaim  (שמות יד:כז)  says that after Mattan Torah sea splitting is no longer a miracle but is built into the טבע in order to support true b’nei Torah.

Shavuous is such an opportunity to experience, to bring into our bones, these occurrences. Imagine a person who was invited to join the inner circle of staff at the White House in Washington DC. He is invited to an orientation program, but he arrives late. Who would be so foolish? And we are invited to be  מַמְלֶ֥כֶת כֹּֽהֲנִ֖ים a Kingdom of Cohanim. Let us rise to the opportunity. And for this we must not only show up on time but prepare ourselves. In these final weeks of the Omer, let us strengthen our connection to our limud Torah, to whatever sugya we are working on, to sifrei mussar, to study of halacha and its implementation. We are so blessed. What an exciting time to be alive, between Pesach and Shavuos. Let us seize the moment. 


Soaring beyond our capabilities with Siata D’Shemaya

All good Jews have a trust in siata d’Shemaya, Divine assistance, to some extent. But they fall into one of two groups. The first looks at his capabilities and resources and thinks to himself that Hashem will help him to be matzliach in utilizing them. The other dreams beyond his capabilities as they presently appear and trusts that Hashem’s assistance will boost him beyond his present state. He trusts that Hashem can infuse his actions with nuclear energy. This thought process will cause him from the outset to set his sights higher and to undertake actions that can reach very far.

It is like a small businessman who gets an offer from the President of the United States to build a bridge across the Hudson River. The businessman knows that he lacks the resources for such a major project. However, he figures that the President, with the might of the government behind him, will provide what is necessary to make the project matzliach. By agreeing to the partnership, the small businessman finds himself boosted with massive resources that lift him to a level that far exceeds his prior capabilities. This applies to hatzlacha in performing mitzvos, raising a mishpacha, learning Torah, earning a parnassah, and every other part of life.

This idea helps us to understand why bas Pharaoh, as described in parshas Shemos, reached out her arm to grab hold of the basket containing the tinok as it floated down the river even though it was out of reach. The posuk (Shemos 2:5) indicates that bas Pharaoh’s handmaid went after the basket, but the Gemara (Sotah 12b) cites a view that it was bas Pharaoh herself that did it and “her arm was lengthened” to enable her to reach the basket. The Nile is hardly a stream. It’s a wide river. What’s the purpose of stretching out one’s arm when the object one wants to grab floats out of arm’s reach? There is no purpose unless one trusts in Hashem to provide assistance beyond one’s limitations. Bas Pharaoh, being a most unusual person for the home in which she was raised, had such bitachon. As a result, she was able to accomplish what would normally have not been physically possible.


The Chesed of the Avos and Eimahos

Avrohom Avienu actively doing chesed wasn’t taxing but davka built him up physically and that was the best way to convalesce from a medical viewpoint. Otherwise, what was his heter to ignore his physical need to rest on the 3rd day from the bris. ….וימהר…. וירץ

That’s how limud  hatorah – כי הם חיינו, can be understood and enjoyed by a yid. Learning a sugyah gives us life, refreshing and nurturing us. When the sevarah flows through our bloodstreams we can feel invigorated, refreshed and energized. 

This concept is taught in Derech Hashem from the Ramchal sha’ar aleph perek daled, how the light of the neshamah can elevate and light up the guf. 

A bachur who has difficulty waking up in the morning or doesn’t have enough cheishek, I advise as follows; start thinking in learning while you’re still in bed, or jump into the sugyah, and you’ll see that as the sevarah flows through your body you’ll feel more cheishek and awakened.

Post Chanukah Chizuk: Keeping the Flame Burning

The last candles have been lit, the last dreidels spun, the final Maoz Tzur sung… and now, it’s over.

But is Chanukah really over? After all, this holiday is all about extending beyond the finite parameters of time. So, though we may be putting away those menorahs for next year, the power and the message of Chanukah still lingers in the air, lighting our way through the months ahead.

Let us take a moment to listen to what it’s telling us.

The Pnei Yehoshua famously asks a question regarding the Kohanim’s efforts to locate a pure container of olive oil to light the Menorah. Why was all that effort necessary? After all, we have a principle that “Tumah hutrah b’tzibbur” – that when the majority is impure, it is permissible, meaning that they could have simply used any one of the many vessels of oil that the Greeks had rendered impure.

One possible explanation is that by insisting on searching for pure oil, the Kohanim taught us an enduring lesson about the value of perseverance and of hope. They weren’t willing to settle for second-best. They were determined to kindle the Menorah with the highest level of kedusha possible and trusted in Hashem that their efforts would be rewarded.

The Pnei Yehoshua adds that Hashem, in His turn, reciprocated this faith by not only allowing them to find the single pure vessel, but by miraculously making the oil burn for eight days. What, then, was the result of the Kohanim’s act of perseverance and faith? A massive kiddush Hashem, raising the spirits and kindling the hearts not only of the hundreds of thousands of Jews living at that time, but of countless Jews for all of the generations to come.

Their single act taught us that when a Jew persists even in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds, Hashem responds. The Chanukah flames thus became a symbol of faith throughout history, giving hope and strength to Jews even in the darkest of times to carry on with their mission. To persevere.  

And what about us? How often in our lives do we encounter a choice between doing what’s easy versus going the extra mile to do what’s best? Could anyone have blamed the Chashmonaim had they chosen the tumah hutrah b’tzibbur route? After all, it was halachically permissible, and the alternative seemed impossible. But they chose, instead, to follow the dictum of “le’yeshuoscha kivisi Hashem” – I will give it my all, and trust in You to do the rest.

Each time we push ourselves to make the extra effort for the ideal, rather than just ‘making do’ with our circumstances, we are choosing to be guided by the lights of Chanukah.

But there is another message for us here. And that is the impact that one action can have. Could the Kohanim possibly have anticipated the repercussions of their single decision to search for that pure oil? By the same token, we can never know the effects of our own acts.

As an example: A well-known talmid chochom relates that as a young bachur, he went through a period where he was experiencing difficulties in his learning. It got to the point where he decided he couldn’t handle it any longer; he needed to leave yeshiva. Soon after making this decision, he was walking down the stairs when one of the older bachurim reached out and gently straightened out his jacket collar.

It was a simple gesture, but the fatherly act touched the boy so much that he decided he would stay on in yeshiva. He eventually grew to be the marbitz Torah that he is today.   

Such a small act; such huge repercussions.

So, as we face the coming months, let us find chizuk in this message of Chanukah: in the value of making the extra effort to achieve the ideal, and in the enduring impact of one act of goodness.


The Essence of the Mikdash

“ועשית בגדי קודש” “And you should create holy garments.” Says the Malbim. “They were indeed teachers of internal garments. The Kohanim of Hashem should dress their souls with ideas, middos, and good qualities. These garments would not be made by the craftsmen. Hashem commanded Moshe to teach them how to correct their neshamos and their middos in such a way as to whiten them in majesty and splendor.” The Malbim is teaching us that garments affect and influence man.

Sefer HaChinuch, Parashas Terumah and Tetzaveh, explains that the Mikdash is to have a designated place to purify our thoughts. The special sacrifices, utensils, and clothing — all of these create a proper atmosphere to help us cut ourselves off from our prior situation and enter an atmosphere of purity so that we may gain control over our hearts through thoughts, speech, and deeds. אחרי הפעולות נמשכות הלבבות.

Due to our sins, we no longer have a Beis HaMikdash, but thanks to Hashem’s compassion we have the Beis HaMidrash, the Mikdash of exile. We have lomdei Torah. How good is our portion, how beautiful is our inheritance.

The Ksav Sofer says based on the gemarah in shabbos :קמה, the Jews of Bavel wore distinctive clothing in order to preserve their uniqueness. The clothing of the ben Torah is the clothing of kingship. Through the thousands of years of our exile, in our yeshivas we were very careful about unique clothing for b’nei Torah in order to preserve our virtue and glory, because we are students of the Torah.

ואתם תהיו לי ממלכת כהנים וגוי קדוש …. והייתם לי סגולה מכל העמים  

We are to HaShem a nation of Kohanim, a holy nation. Our shuls are furnished in a way and a Jew dresses in a way that will influence and enhance this special status. If we dress like those who don’t engage in Torah in mitzvos, we might be influenced by them, Heaven forbid, to follow their way. On Shabbos and Yom Tov we dress in a manner to bring out the special feeling of Shabbos. When we daven and learn Torah we dress in a way that will facilitate concentration on the ideas in order to bring them into our hearts.


We are but a few days away from receiving the Torah — days of special significance.

Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer used to quote the Shlah HaKadosh as saying that Shevuos is the Yom HaDin for how we receive the Torah. A famous parable is brought by Rav Shalom Schwadron zt”l, of Berel, the wagon driver who dabbled in smuggling. A busy trader entrusted Berel with a wagonload of precious fabrics to smuggle across the border. He knew the run would only take place a month later, but from that moment onwards he didn’t have a moment’s peace. “Will the smuggler manage to keep up the act?! All it takes is for one guard to sense that something’s wrong and I could be tried for treason!” With a fortune in profits resting on the success of this enterprise, and his personal safety hanging by a thread, he paced the floor at nights in dread. But Berel had no such qualms. Smuggling was his business, and he considered himself quite the pro. And yet, even Berel found himself wiping sweat off his brow when his trusty brown stallion finally cantered towards the border crossing. Even Berel couldn’t ignore his loudly beating heart as he accosted the guards with a wagonload of winter apples and the contraband buried beneath them. One creature, however, chomped noisily on his bit, eager to continue and still quite oblivious to the danger — Berel’s brown horse.

The meaning of this mashal is self-evident…

Shavuos may be a day of judgement, but it is still, ostensibly, different from the judgement days of Tishrei. In Tishrei everything in our lives awaits Hashem’s decree – children, life, sustenance. Only prayer and our heartfelt pleas, infused with repentance can help overturn the judgement.

The judgement of Matan Torah, however, depends totally on us! Hakol bidei shamayim chutz mei’yiras shamayim!

It depends on how deeply a person wants, aspires and toils towards feeling a connection to Torah. It depends on how genuine he is. The portion he is granted in Torah is a reflection of his innermost yearning. It is this yearning that impacts the importance he places on Torah in his daily life. To the extent that he strives and toils, studies and respects Torah — to this extent he will be zoiche to the crown of Torah that is available to any yid, any place, any time. It is a prize that’s free for the taking.

In light of this, I have reached a new understanding of the Sefer HaChinuch regarding the mitzvah of Sefirah, “which is designed to demonstrate our boundless thirst for the great event. Torah is the reason we were redeemed from Mitzrayim! It is to this end that we were raised from our lowly slave status, to be transformed and elevated into a holy nation! And it is for this Torah that the heavens and earth — the entire universe — was created!”

According to what we have said before, the act of demonstrating our yearning isn’t a mitzvah that stands alone. Rather, it is an inseparable component of Kabolas HaTorah.

If a person wishes to succeed, if he truly wants to aim high and be on the receiving end of a bountiful downpour of Torah, now is the time to make some new resolutions.

Success rests on feeling connected. And that connectedness stems from clarity. And clarity is achieved through stamina. When a person is willing to go the distance, to repeat what he has learned not once, not twice – but three times and even four, until the Torah is as much a trademark of his soul as a flowerbed is embedded in the earth, then he will gain clarity and he will feel connected.

It is the willpower, the aspiration and the labor that testifies to the truth of one’s desire for Torah and it is in direct proportion to our desire for Torah that we will, Iy”H, be zoiche to a great Matan Torah this Shavuos.


Hashem leads the way

Tehillim 107 tells us of Hashem’s mercy and the different ways He rescues people in different situations. We hear of those lost in the wilderness: תָּע֣וּ בַ֖מִּדְבָּר בִּֽישִׁימ֣וֹן דָּ֑רֶךְ עִ֥יר מ֜וֹשָׁ֗ב לֹ֣א מָצָֽאוּ “They strayed in the desert, on a road of desolation; they did not find an inhabited city.” (107:4) We hear of those who are locked in a prison: יֹ֣שְׁבֵי חֹ֥שֶׁךְ וְצַלְמָ֑וֶת אֲסִירֵ֖י עֳנִ֣י וּבַרְזֶֽל “Those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, prisoners of affliction and iron.” (107:10) 

Those are two different kinds of situations. A person can walk out of the wilderness, but he needs instruction and guidance. He needs to be shown the correct way to go. He needs to see path markings. And so the posuk describes the solution that Hashem provides: וַיַּדְרִיכֵם בְּדֶ֣רֶךְ יְשָׁרָ֑ה לָ֜לֶ֗כֶת אֶל־עִ֥יר מוֹשָֽׁב “And He led them on a straight road, to go to an inhabited city.” (107:7) However, a person cannot walk out of prison. His rescue must be more miraculous, unexpected, and unpredictable. And so the posuk describes the solution that Hashem provides: כִּֽי־שִׁ֖בַּר דַּלְת֣וֹת נְחֹ֑שֶׁת וּבְרִיחֵ֖י בַרְזֶ֣ל גִּדֵּֽעַ “For He broke copper doors, and cut off iron bars.” (107:16)

Hashem responded to us in both of these ways. We received unexpected help in the form of major campaign fund matchers and of inspired campaign leadership. They came out of the blue, unplanned. We were also shown by Hashem the correct way to go; we received guidance on how to run the campaign, what targets and timelines to set, and how to market it. 

And in confronting any future challenges with parnassah, chinuch, shidduchim, health and anything else, let us all daven and thank Hashem. He shows us the way out of confusion and can rescue us in surprising ways.


Longing for Geulah

In a thought-provoking mashal by the Dubno Maggid,  a couple waited many years for a child and when the yeshua finally came the mother’s pregnancy was in danger. The doctor informed her that she and her baby cannot both survive childbirth. Only one of them can make it and the mother can choose which it will be. The mother decided that the baby should live and so it was.
When the boy reached the age at which he could say Kaddish for his mother who sacrificed her life so he could live, the family who had waited so many years to hear a Kaddish joined him in shul for the upliftment of his mother’s neshamah. However, the child said Kaddish quickly and without any special spiritual awakening. The tzibbur was appalled until someone explained that this boy never knew his mother. So what could be expected from him?

This mashal enlightens us on the struggle people may encounter trying to generate emotions to mourn the loss of the Beis HaMikdash. Two thousand years after its destruction, we never saw it nor do we know anyone who knows anyone who ever saw it. 

Yet there is a mitzvah to mourn its destruction, so how do we understand this? 

The Rambam says in Hilchos Teshuva (9:2) that all of Israel, our Prophets and Sages, longed for the days of mashiach so that they would be freed from gentile kingdoms that do not allow them to engage in Torah and mitzvos properly. In those days ahead, wisdom will fill the earth and hearts of stone will be softened. Klal Yisroel will be at liberty to study Torah without having to battle the nations of the world.

In the Modim d’Rabbanan, we ask that Hashem gather His exiles to the courtyard of His sanctuary in order to keep His laws, do His will, and serve Him wholeheartedly. This is a reference to the days of Moshiach. Throughout our tefillos, we express a yearning to serve Hashem without blockage of the heart and without external obstructions.

It emerges that the Maggid’s mashal describes in a heartbreaking but enlightening fashion the indifference we may feel before looking comprehensively and deeply into our yiddishe hearts’ yearnings for a full avodas Hashem.

During the Three Weeks, we are meant to observe and understand that the spirituality and closeness to Hashem that we actually do have now is indeed small and very far from what Klal Yisroel had while the Beis HaMikdash stood. But it is a starting point and it is a time to see what is missing. We mourn the vast distance between us and Hashem and look forward to seeing our return to Zion in mercy.


The Mabit Discusses Plagues and Emunah

Baruch Hashem the health crisis seems to be lessening in intensity, particularly in Eretz Yisroel, and we are returning to some semblance of our old lives. Our tefillos are with those who lost loved ones over these months. May HaMakom console them along with all the mourners of Klal Yisrael.

We came across a beautiful drasha from the Mabit that addresses a similar health crisis in the 16th century and we’d like to share it with you.

The Mabit, Rav Moshe ben Yosef Mi Trani (1500 – 1580) was a great talmid chacham and one of the Gedolei Hador in the time of the Beis Yosef. His family came from the city of Trani in Southern Italy and later was exiled from Spain. Born eight years after the exile, the Mabit went at age eighteen to Tzfas and became a prized talmid of R’ Yaakov Berav. For half a century he sat on the Beis Din in Tzfas. He was a colleague of R’ Yosef Karo, the author of the Beis Yosef and the Shulchan Aruch. He was niftar on the 23rd of Nissan 1580 and is buried in Tzfas near the Holy Ari z”l.

In the Sha’ar HaTefillah in his sefer Beis Elokim (chapter 16), the Mabit discusses plagues and even references quarantines and other safety measures of the type that are being put in place in our ongoing crisis. The Mabit says that there are many types of decrees, those on generations, countries, and individuals. Nevertheless, every person of faith has to remember that Hashem has a plan for every person as decreed on Rosh Hashanah. Some people are decreed to survive and some are not. However, Hashem covers all that up so it seems that everything is happening naturally. He’ll put into the minds of those who merit it ideas on how to protect themselves. This makes it seem as if the protection measures are what determined their fate, but it was really Providence that determined it based on a spiritual calculation. The health safety measures were a cover for the administration of Divine judgement.

The esteemed Rosh Yeshiva HaRav Moshe Goldstein, shlita, of Yeshivas Shaarei Yosher used to give the moshel of a person for whom it was decreed on Rosh Hashanah that he should prosper in the coming year. The man went and made an unwise investment. Nevertheless, Hashem pulled all kinds of levers in the economy, making some currencies go up and others down, caused surpluses in some commodities and shortages in others so the end result was that the investment worked out. This person, not being one of notable emunah, took all the credit for his success, not knowing that his action in the realm of finance alone would have led to significant losses. Hashem is the One Who orchestrated the successful outcome based on calculations and actions that transcend nature.

Likewise, those of weak faith see the outcomes of the health crisis as depending on health measures alone. The Mabit reminds us that Hashem wants teshuva and maasim tovim. It is the pursuit of these that take us out of danger. Everything else is not only secondary but illusory. Of course, according to the rules of interaction between emunah and hishtadlus, we are required to engage in health safety measures. We do this not because the hishtadlus affects anything but because Hashem commanded us to do hishtadlus in order to challenge and grow our emunah. Just as we do with parnassah, we have to believe that the hishtadlus is a cover for Who really saves us, namely HaKodesh Baruch Hu, and how we earn His protection via teshuva and maasim tovim.

May Hashem continue to safeguard the health of you and your family and bring a refuah shelaimah to those who are suffering. May He bring comfort to those who are mourning. And may He bentch you with meaningful days throughout the counting of the Omer leading to and through Shavuous.


Chanukah: Special Chizuk – Recapturing Our Inner Child

Ah, Chanukah! Singing around the candles; lively family dreidel games; getting gelt, gifts and treats – it’s a Yomtov that’s particularly thrilling for the children. And this is no accident; it’s actually written in the sefarim hakedoshim that Chanukah is “Chag Hayeladim” – a children’s Yomtov. .

Nevertheless, it seems strange that the Rabbanim would single out Chanukah for its focus on children. What about Purim? Or the Seder night on Pesach? So many of our Yamim tovim are child-centered; what, then, is special about Chanukah?

To answer this, I’d like to share a vort that I heard from Rav Ephraim Wachsman. But first, some more questions:

The Machzor Vitri writes that the name Chanukah is derived from the word “chein” – charm. What’s the connection between chein and Chanukah? Lastly, we know that the timing of our yamim tovim is not accidental; what is the deeper significance of the fact that Chanukah always falls out during the Parshios that relate the story of Yosef Hatzaddik?

Rav Wachsman explains that when the sefarim call Chanukah Chag Hayeladim, they aren’t referring to actual children but, rather, to the childlike essence that is inside each of us. What is it about children that gives them such chein? A child is all potential. He doesn’t yet have accomplishments to his name; he hasn’t yet learned to measure himself according to external standards of, “Am I achieving as much as my peers? Am I making as much money? What do people think of me?” When we look at a child, all we see is his inner essence, his core kochos. And therein lies his attraction – because every one of us, at our purest neshama level, has a unique charm.

Chanukah, then, is indeed about chein – about closing ourselves off from the demands, doubts and disillusionment of the outside world and recapturing our inner childlike charm. That single jug of olive oil that the Chashmonaim found was enough to dispel the darkness and destruction all around them – because it had remained untainted, pure.

We learn a similar lesson from the life of Yosef Hatzaddik. Sold by his brothers, thrown into jail, on the outside, Yosef had every reason to throw in the towel. What was it that gave him the strength to keep going, to remain Yosef Hatzaddik? It was his remarkable chein – the fact that he was in touch with his inner essence, that he never forgot who he really was inside.

This is the power of Chanukah. And this is the power of a Jew.

When the Ponovezher Rav gazed at the barren Bnei Brak landscape and declared that here he would build a great yeshiva – he was choosing to see the inner potential, rather than the outside ruin. When Rav Aharon Kotler refused to listen to those predicting the death of American Torah and instead opened a kollel – he was focusing on the future based on an inner vision, rather than listening to the outside naysayers.

Each of us in our own lives has confronted this crossroads at one point or another. Do we give in the outside voices of “reason” and skepticism, telling us we can’t, no one does it, it’s impossible? Or do we allow ourselves to listen to our inner child, to hear that voice from our own deepest selves insisting that we can and we should?

This Chanukah, let us use the power of the Yomtov to rediscover that child we used to be – that pure, holy potential that lies within each of us.