14 April, 2011

Pesach - True Freedom

It was the year 1942 and the ghetto of Krakow was completely judenrien. The Great city of Krakow - the epicenter of Judaism in Poland for over five hundred years, was now devoid of Jews, all systematically uprooted by the Nazi beasts. In the middle of this desolation two brothers were hiding, running from bunker to bunker, trying to stay alive amidst all the insanity. The Holiday of Passover was fast approaching and those two brothers had something of great significance on their mind. They had to find a way to eat matzah on the first night of Passover. It took a lot of inventiveness and sacrifice - getting caught meant getting shot - but they built themselves a makeshift oven and found some flour. They were able to bake a small amount of Matzah for themselves. The night of Passover came and they sat down to their makeshift seder - celebrating the Jewish exodus from Egypt. In years past they had sat at a beautiful set table with the finest silver and surrounded by family. Tonight they sat down in a dark attic, all alone in the world, running from the Nazis, their very lives in danger, with a bit of Matzah that they sacrificed their lives for. The younger brother- a 21 year old - calls to his older brother; "There is no way I can have a seder tonight. The seder is to celebrate our freedom, our going out of exile- yet here we sit, our lives in danger, the tragedy unspeakable- our family is all gone, the entire city is up in flames and the Nazis won't be happy until every Jew is dead. Isn't this worse then the lives the Jews had in Egypt? Back then their lives weren't in danger as it is in our time- what kind of freedom are we celebrating tonight?" The older brother answered; "Every night in the evening prayers we praise Hashem for taking us out of Egypt to an 'everlasting freedom'. The everlasting freedom that we gained and are thankful for isn't a physical freedom - that is only a byproduct of what we got that night. Rather it's the spiritual freedom that we recognize. Passover celebrates the birth of a nation, when we went from being Egyptian slaves to becoming a newly born Jewish nation - a nation that G-d could call his own. When we sit down at the seder we celebrate something bigger then life, a going out of slavery into the embracing hands of our father in heaven- becoming 'A G-dley nation'. This is something that no one can ever take away from us - no matter how much they beat, torture and even kill us, we will always remain standing, free to serve G-d. G-d will always have his nation roaming the earth". With those words two brothers- my grandfather and his older brother- sat down to a Seder that only consisted of dangoursly earned matzah and a little bit of borscht which they used as a substitution for wine. Yet this was most probably the most magnificent seder ever experienced.

18 February, 2011

Parshas Ki Sisah

The Chafetz Chaim- who was a Kohen- once asked R’ Shimon Schwab “Why aren’t you a Kohen?” R’ Schwab, not knowing what that Chafetz Chaim wanted, answered, “because my father wasn’t a Kohen and nor was his father”. The Chafetz Chaim said that after Klal Yisroel made the Eigal Moshe said ‘Mi l’Hashem alai’ and my great grand father- who was from Shevet Levi answered the call, that is why this Shevet was imbued with extra kedusha. Only Shevet Levi had the courage to stand up for what was right and not get swept up with the masses. That is why i am a Kohen and your not.
How was it that every single descendent of Levi had that courage and not one other Jew was able to join them?

The Rambam in the beginning of hilchos Avodah Zara says that the teachings of Avraham Yitzchak and Yaakov- Yichud Hashem- that Hashem is the sole creator of the universe and he is the only one that runs the world- was all but forgotten from the world- even from Klal Yisroel while they were enslaved in Egypt. The only ones that held on to the teachings of the Avos were the descendants of Levi, the belief in Hashem and his Oneness never left them. Every single descendant of Levi from when they were a newborn in the cradle was ingrained with the emunah of Hashem. The Alter from Navordik says that it is this that gave them the clarity of mind when the world had gone insane. The fact that this teaching wasn’t something they merely learned- but rather it was a deeply rooted tradition that was part of their essence of who they were. When all of Klal Yisroel was lost and was wondering if the true way to serve Hashem is through the Golden Calf- Shevet Levi was able to remain true to their upbringing. The deeper understanding of this is; if something is proven through logic and even if it’s clearly shown to us – it can be disproved if questioned under the wrong circumstances. But if we truly believe in Hashem and believe that he’s that great that we cannot fathom his greatness, then no question or circumstance can change our mind for our belief and tradition is deeper and greater then anything in this world.

11 February, 2011

Parshas Tetzava

The Baal Haturim points out that Moshe’s name is not mentioned in this weeks Parsha. One of the reasons he says, is that when Moshe was begging Hashem to forgive Klal Yisroel after the sin of the Eigal, he said to Hashem forgive them or erase my name from the Torah. It would seem that this was a punishment for him - offering to be erased from the Torah - so Hashem erased his name from just one Parsha. This is hard to believe for he sacrificed himself for the sake of Klal Yisroel, so why would he be punished? The Chidushai Harim explains this with a Gemorah. The Gemorah (Baba Kamah 60b) says that if one puts himself in danger for the sake of divrei Torah, we don’t say over Halacha in his name. This also is hard to believe that it is a punishment.
Every member of Klal Yisroel’s neshoma is in essence Torah (Yisroel, Torah and Hashem are all one). The only thing that divides us from the Torah is our guf- our physical bodies.
When one puts his life on the line for the sake of Torah, he is detaching his body from his soul and thus all that remains is just the neshoma which is in essence the same as Torah itself. We cannot say over the Torah in his name for being that the Torah is detached from his physical being it’s not his in a phyiscal sense - it’s/he's pure Torah. So too Moshe, being that he gave himself up for the sake of Klal Yisroel got to the level that the torah doesn’t speak about him as it does in the other Parshas, but rather he becomes synonymous with Torah and is addressed just by the word “Vatah”. For in this weeks Parsha Moshe and Torah are one.
P.S. Further study has to be done why this is expressed in Parshas Tetzaveh and not any other parsha. Take a peek at the Alshich in this weeks Parsha, and Masseh Rokeach on the Mishkan.

14 January, 2011

Parsha Beshalach

As Klal Yisroel was standing at the edge of the Red Sea, in obvious danger, they yelled out to Hashem (14;10). Rashi tell us that they davened as their forefathers had davened.
The Avos, even at the peaceful times of their lives, davened their tefilos were always the same- as if they were under distress and their only salvation could come from Hashem. The first time Klal Yisroel was faced with a danger and could not rely on nature was at the Yam Suf. The Egyptians were at their back and the water was in front of them, nowhere to go, no one to rely on, they called out to Hashem- their only salvation. That is what the prayers of the Avos looked like everyday- every tefila was of total reliance on Hashem.
R’ Yerucham Levovitz zatza’l explains that this concept is basic in our relationship with Hashem. The nations of the world’s relationship with Hashem is through teva- nature. Everything they want or need can be found in nature and that is who they turn to when they’re in need- אֵלֶּה בָרֶכֶב וְאֵלֶּה בַסּוּסִים .Klal Yisroel has a personal relationship with Hashem everything we receive is directly from Him. We rely purely on Hashem and His will and nothing in nature can or does influence our relationship. וַאֲנַחְנוּ בְּשֵׁם-יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ נַזְכִּיר -there is no nature at all. This relationship changes what our prayers are to look like. You can rely on nature to sustain you, on horses and chariots to lead you to war. If you do, there will be many times that you don’t have to beg and plead to get what you need- if you plant, you will harvest, if you work hard you will see results- naturally. In your everyday life there will be no need for tefila. Klal Yisroel relies solely on Hashem, everything we get or do is directly from him. If we need a fruit to eat or if we need the waters to split- to Hashem they are all the same- all we have to do is yell out and ask Him. The Avos- who lived with this recognition that every breath, every meal, every miniscule happening in this world, is a direct gift from Hashem, when they davened their tefila was one of total reliance on Him- for that is all we can rely on.
R’ Shimshon Pincus says that purpose of many of the tzoras we suffer, is to come to the realization that everything- big or small, is from Hashem. If we would daven- before calamity strikes, the way we do when we are under distress- a tefila of total reliance on hashem, there would be no need for most of the difficulties we face.

A very Happy Birthday to Zevi B.

23 December, 2010

Parshas Shemos

The Parsha begins with the recounting of the twelve children of Yaakov. The Ohr Hachaim says that the Torah is praising them for going down and staying in Mitzrayim. They could have left - they had gone back to Eretz Yisroel to bury Yaakov - and yet they stayed in Mitzrayim, for that they deserve to be mentioned again.
Pesach night we begin the narrative of yetzias Mitzrayim saying that Esav settled in his land - Sayir, while Yakov and his sons went down to Mitzrayim. Who invited Esav to the Seder? Why do we mention him in our narrative of Mitzrayim?

The Medrash says that the land of C'naan was promised to Avrohom and Yitzchok. Of Yitzchok's two sons it remained unclear who should inherit the Eretz Yisroel - Yaakov or Esav. The catch was that Eretz Yisroel comes with a price. It is one of the things that can only be acquired with yisurim. Avrohom was told that his descendants would have to travel through 400 years of golus before they returned to Eretz Yisroel. The golus mitzrayim was the first step to us acquiring Eretz Yisroel. Esav knew all of this and he made a decision that he does not want the yisurim, nor Eretz Yisroel. It's not worth it. Esav took his family and nation and left Eretz Yisroel to settle in Sayir where he was happy and complete. Yaakov on the other hand was focused on the long term. He knew that there was a bumpy road ahead, but he also knew that it was rewarding. Instead of choosing to settle anywhere with his family and be content, he went down to Mitzrayim. He had a nation of Hashem to build. He had to start in golus.

We begin the Pesach seder with the realization that golus is not a punishment, but rather the growing pains to acquire Eretz Yisroel. These are the hardships that Esav chose to give up. So to the Torah begins the golus Mitzrayim giving a special mention to Yaakov and the shevatim for choosing the path of golus in order to inherit the land that was promised to Avrohom.

17 December, 2010


Sorry this is the unedited version due to time constraints.

After Yakov died the Shevatim asked Yossef for forgivness. Yosef answered; וְאַתֶּם חֲשַׁבְתֶּם עָלַי רָעָה אֱלֹהִים, חֲשָׁבָהּ לְטֹבָה, לְמַעַן עֲשֹׂה כַּיּוֹם הַזֶּה, לְהַחֲיֹת עַם-רָב.. You thought that you were doing bad but in reality it was for the good – for today I am here and I am able to feed you all.
The Ohr Hachaim says that Yosef answered his brothers; you’re totally innocent. If someone who thinks he is eating trief meat and while not realizing it, it is really kosher meat - he is innocent. The punishment depends on the outcome, is it a good or bad deed. So to, Yosef told his brothers, even though you thought to harm me since it led to good, there is no wrongdoing on your part and you’re free of any punishment. (On a side note- this seems to contradict the famous Chazal that the Shevatim were not totally forgiven and the asarah harugai malchus were an atonement for them.)
The Gemora in Nedarim says; if a lady makes a vow, her father or husband can be nullify it. If it happened that a woman made a vow and goes ahead and breaks the vow. Unbeknown to her at the time of the transgression her neder had been nullified already and in reality she did nothing wrong – she still needs a kaporah for her intention. In light of this halacha the Ohr Hachaim is obviously perplexing. The Shevatim had done wrong – they sold their own brother as a slave. How can they be totally innocent? Even if the end of the story was that it all was for the good, their intention wasn’t for the good and would be enough to warrant a kapporah.
The Pardes Yossef offers an answer that while it may not fit into the words of the Ohr Hachaim it clarifies an issue. What the Shevatim were thinking when the sold Yosef is beyond our comprehension. We cannot begin to understand the machlokas that went on between yosef and his brothers. But there is one thing that we have to know; They all were 100 percent leshaim shomaim – not a tiny bit of their own selves involved. The argument wasn’t a petty one of jealousy, rather a machlokas of two different ways of how to serve Hashem. The Shevatim clearly felt that what Yossef was doing warranted them selling him amd even killing him- his death or his selling- (Just like Sorah and Rivka threw out Yismael and Esav from the family, they to felt that Yossef should be thrown out.) Their intentions bein adom lemokom were one hundred percent to do the right thing.
The Halacha of the Gemora in Nedarim is true when someone has bad intentions and yet his actions are innocent that is when he needs forgiveness. Yosef told his brothers; Being that your intentions were clearly good and so is the outcome – it is just the middle that seemed bad – there is no need to ask for forgiveness, you are totally innocent.

10 December, 2010

Parsha Point to Ponder - Vayigash

In Parshas Vyeshev Rashi tells us that all the Torah Yaakov learned in the yeshiva of Shem and Ever, he taught to his son Yosef.
Why did Yaakov send Yehudah to Mitzraim to open a Yeshiva and not give the job to Yosef who was in Mitzraim already?

03 December, 2010


By definition golus is when one is exiled in a foreign land. The third golus we went through as a nation- the one that gave us Chanukah, was that of Yavan- the Greek empire. Yet we were in our homeland, with the Bais Hamikdosh standing, all along. What about the struggles we went through with the Greeks is categorized as golus? The Marsha (Megillah 11a) answers: The objective of the Greeks in their conflict with Yisroel was to take the kedusha out of Am Yisroel. The Greek philosophy was that there is no kedusha in the world, nothing is holier then the next thing- Yisroel is just like any other nation, the Torah is just as mundane as any other subject and the Holyland, Eretz Yisroel, is just like any other land in the world. In their fight against Yisroel the Greeks were successful in uprooting the kedusha from Eretz Yisroel thus making our homeland foreign to us. The three golios that took place outside of Eretz Yisroel are compared to a son that is lost and far away from his father. The golus of Yavan is compared to a son who doesn’t recognize his father’s house, thus feeling like a foreigner while he is in his own home. With the kedusha taken out of Eretz Yisroel, Eretz Yisroel itself became the foreign land we were exiled to. The victory of Chanukah had to have included in it the freedom from this struggle. With the Neis of Chanukah the kedusha was put back into Eretz Yisroel and was once again the home of Klal Yisroel.
Chanukah was the completion of the dedication of the second Bais Hamikdosh. Chasmal tell us that when they returned to Eretz Yisroel to build the second Bais Hamikdosh, Ezra sanctified the land for eternity- ‘kudsha leshata ul’usid lavoh’. R’ S. R. Hirsch (Bamidbor 15;18) explains this to mean, that the goal of the second Bais Hamikdosh was to equip Klal Yisroel and prepare them for the centuries of dispersion that lay ahead of them. The victory over the mighty Greeks completed the work of sanctifying the land that Ezra had started, making the kedusha of Eretz Yisroel a reality for eternity. Bringing the second Bais Hamikdosh and the kedusha of Eretz Yisroel to completion- a kedusha to last for eternity.

19 November, 2010

As Yaakov was in battle with the angel, the malach said, “Let me go for it's morning" Chazal tell us that he meant that 'it's time for me to sing shira to Hashem'.
The Koshnitzer Maggid asks - If he knew that he has to sing shira at a appointed time why did he pick a fight with Yaakov so close to that time? Wouldn’t it have been smarter for him to fight with Yaakov after he sang shira?
The answer lies in the understanding of who the angel was and what his tachlis- purpose on this world. Chazal teach us that the angel was the 'sar shel Esav' also known as the yetzer horah.
On the last day of creation it says, (bereishes 1;31) "Hashem saw all that he had made, and lo! It was very good." The medrish explains that 'It was good' refers to the yetzer tov, while the 'very good' refers to the yetzer horah. The meforshim explain that life would be nice and calm without an evil inclination, but without any tests we wouldn't be able to grow. Being challenged by the yetzer horah and overcoming it is what makes this world 'very good'. The whole purpose of creation in general and the evil inclination in particular is to help us grow by overcoming the obstacles we are faced with and when we do, the evil inclination has accomplished it's purpose of creation.
Shira is sang to Hakodosh borech hu when a mission has been accomplished. The precise second that the angel saw that he could not win over Yaakov, that in fact Yaakov had overcome his fight with the yetzer horah, his mission was completed successfully and thus was able to sing shira to Hashem.

12 November, 2010

Parshas Va'yietzai

Avraham referred to the makom hamikdosh as har Hashem- the mountain of Hashem. Yitzchok called that same spot sadeh- a field. In this week's parsha Yaakov calls it bais Elokim- the house of Hashem.

Maseh Avos siman l'bonim- everything that the Torah tells us that transpired to the Avos, is a sign to what their children will go through. Yaakov was the Av that taught us how to live life in golus. He was the one that lived through exile, in a hostile environment and flourished and grew despite the antogonism of Lavan and Esav. We are to learn about the life of Yaakov and learn the lessons of how to live through the long golus.

As Yaakov was leaving Eretz Yisroel- running away from a brother who wanted to kill him, running to live by an uncle who wanted to destroy him- he first stopped at the Makom Hamikdosh to daven. How would he be able to survive the hostilities he was about to face in the house of Lavan- so far from the kedusha of the house of Yitzchok? His hope was to build a house of kedusha for only a house can protect him from the outside influences. His last stop before going into exile was the makom hamikdosh- the source of kedusha in this world. He built himself a house of kedusha in that spot to take along with him on his journey through golus.

אַחַת שָׁאַלְתִּי מֵֽאֵת־יְהֹוָה אוֹתָהּ אֲבַקֵּשׁ שִׁבְתִּי בְּבֵֽית־יְהֹוָה כָּל־יְמֵי חַיַּי - Dovid hamelech asks Hashem for one thing- to dwell in the house of Hashem all the days of his life. Isn't that request a bit unrealistic? Dovid had to take care of his kingly duties, to take heed of and solve the problems of the country and of the Jewish people. He had to deal with other kingdoms, meet with his ministers, and make crucial decisions accourding to the will of Hashem. How could he pray to dwell in the house of Hashem ALL the days of his life? Reb. Sarah Schenirer (Carry Me In Your Heart by Pearl Benisch, Feldheim Publisherd- pg. 127) answers: The whole universe is a House of Hashem. Wherever we go, whatever place we occupy, we can make it a dwelling for Hashem. Whatever we do, every day and every minute of our lives, we dwell in Hashem's house if we do everything with His will in mind. Everything we do, say, and feel, in dealing with people or in practicing our professions with honesty and truth according to Hashem's commandments, we dwell in Hashem's House all our lives. Dovid's wish was that he be able to live his life and yet never leave the house of Hashem.

Yaakov was the first one to go into exile. On his way he was taught an important lesson. One can be doing the most mundane things and yet be dwelling in the house of Hashem. Hashem made sure that Yaakov went to sleep at the makom hamikdash, to teach him that if you build a house of Hashem, a house of kedusha- anywhere in the world, anything you do in it- even sleep, if it is done to bring you closer to Hashem, is the highest form of service of Hashem.

Parshas Vayietzai Ponderable Points:
Why is it important for the Torah to tell us the give and take between Yakoov and the shepherds about the rock on top of the well and that Yakoov (The 'ish tam') was able to roll it off himself?

Why did Yakoov offer to work for seven years?
(In the Torah we find we find the concept of working for six- days, years and resting the seventh. Shabbos, Shmitta and eved evrey)

Is there a significance that all the Shvotim where named by their mothers? (With the exception of Levi)

How come Yakoov left Lavans house before his mother called for him, as she said she will?