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Showing posts from June, 2011

Thought for the Day: Mourning the Bais HaMikdash

I saw a mashal in "Achas Sha'alti" this morning that left me shaking.  Imagine an older couple who, after years of trying, are now expecting their first child.  Just before the child is due, the doctor comes to the parents with devastating news, "The child is in distress and is putting the mother's life at risk.  I can save one or the other, but not both."  The father doesn't know what to say, but the mother does.  "I have lived my life to produce this child and you must save him.  That will give my life meaning, and also my son will grow up to learn torah in my z'chus and say kaddish for me."  The child is born with medical issues, but alive.  The mother, as predicted, does not survive.  The father has to send the boy away to be raised in a proper environment while he works day and night to pay for the ongoing medical bills and care.  As the boy grows, he remains in poor health and even engages in behaviors that worsen his condition and i…

Thought for the Day: A Public Thank You to Mrs. Adele Cherrick

I committed to one thought each day.  Sometimes the struggle is to find even one; Baruch HaShem, bli ayin hara, so far I have put in enough "y'gi'ya" each day that HaShem has granted a "m'tzi'ah".  Today the challenge was to pick which thought to share.  I made my decision by applying "derech eretz kadma latorah".  This morning, Mrs. Cherrick's younger son, R' Alfie Cherrick came over to me with his disarming smile and wished me a day of tremendous hatzlacha.  (R' Cherrick, by the way, is my role model for sincerity.)  I was tired this morning and just said thank you; usually I mutter something like "gam l'mar", but I forgot even that.  I saw R' Cherrick waiting (which is unusual) and finally remembered that it is only derech eretz to respond with a similar bracha.  I was embarrassed and so I added, "Its because your brachos are much more meaningful than mine."

R' Cherrick's response was clas…

Thought for the Day: You Get What You Project

ד,ט [ז] רבי ישמעאל בנו אומר, החושך עצמו מן הדין, פורק ממנו איבה וגזל ושבועת שוא;
והגס ליבו בהוראה, שוטה רשע וגס רוח. Rabbi Yishmael his son said, one who refrains from being a judge, rids from himself hatred [...]

The Rav mei'Bartenura (in his first explanation) says that this refers to someone who refrains because there is someone more qualified available to judge this case.  The hatred that he is avoiding is the because whoever loses is going to hate the judge (he will feel the judge didn't hear him out, or was biased toward the other party, etc).  So according to this explanation, the hatred will only be engendered toward a judge who is not the most qualified available.  On the other hand, one who accepts to judge a case because there is no one more qualified will not suffer being hated.  But why not?  Moreover, it would seem from the Rav's explanation that a world class judge who is not quite the most qualified available will be hated; whereas a mediocre judge who is …

Thought for the Day: New Opportunities, New Challenges

I have a chavursa in Petach Tikva.  We learn Motzei Shabbos (for me)/Sunday morning (for him) using Skype.  We were not able to learn last week because his internet was down.  In his email he bemoaned the fact that this was a technology created problem and 10 years ago would not have been an issue.  That's true, of course.  On the other hand, 10 years ago I couldn't have lived in Chicago and had a chavrusa in Petach Tikva.  The new technologies do have new pitfalls, but they also present to us new opportunities.

Chazal tell us that every generation that does not build the Bais HaMikdash, it is as if they destroyed the Bais HaMikdash.  Building even a simple structure, such as a single family dwelling, requires lots of different skills.  You need plumbers, electricians, carpenters, painters, etc.  Each one has his responsibility to achieve the final outcome.  On the other hand, when the group who lays the foundation is finished, they are not going to see a house.  Everyone has …

Thought for the Day: Hilchos Tisha b'Av

We started learning hilchos Tisha b'Av again this morning at the vasikin minyan.  I would really like to learn those halachos from now on "l'hagdil torah u'l'hadir".  So I need to do tshuva.  "Wait!", you'll say, "We all need to do t'shuva!"  Au contraire, mon frer; the Rambam says in hilchos tshuva that each Jew should look at himself as exactly balanced between mitzvos and aveiros, and his whole city as exactly balanced, and his whole country as as exactly balanced, and the whole world as exactly balanced.  One Jew doing tshuva could turn the tide and we could all be on the next set of eagles' wings out of here.

Wouldn't it be great to be that one Jew? Race ya!

Thought for the Day: She'asani Kirtzono - The Beauty of Mitzvos

Men and women both say "shelo asani goy" and "shelo asani eved".  There is no source for a woman to use the feminine forms ("goya", "shifcha").  On the other hand, a woman does not simply skip "shelo asani isha"'; rather she has her own bracha, "she'asani kirtzono".

The first thing to note is that - as always in the Torah - we never say, "they get to do x, so I should get to also!"  Whenever someone has a different obligation or privilege, it is always because of something in their spiritual make up that demands that obligation or privilege to achieve their perfection.  We don't always know the reason(s), but our Torah comes with the Manufacturer's Stamp of Approval.

The Avudraham (cited by HaSiddur HaMeforash) says that a woman's kavana when saying "she'asani kirtzono" is to accept with love the decree of the Creator that she is exempt from positive time bound commandments.  Note t…

Thought for the Day: Shelo Asani Eved

First I need to correct an error from yesterday, the tanna d'vei eliyahu says that a person who increases acts of loving kindness puts shalom in his body.  Same vort, but I wanted the quote more accurate.

Second, I have neglected to mention that inspiration for many of these TODs is from the sefer "Achas Sha'alti" by Sha'altiel Meir Cohen, a young talmid chocham who was selling his sefer (two volume set on t'fila) at the kosel when I was there a few years ago.

Of the three "thank you for not make me a ___", only one has the possibility of being by choice, an eved (k'na'ani); a non-Jew who chooses to enslave himself to a Jew rather than convert.  Why would a person choose that?  An eved has mitzvos, but is exempt from all time-bound positive mitzvos.  A Jewish woman is exempt from time bound positive mitzvos because of specific decree; as evidenced by her declaration thanking HaShem for making her according to His will.  But an eved?  He chos…

Thought for the Day: Improving Quality of Life with Chesed

The tanna devei eliyahu says that acts of g'milus chasadim give a person a "guf shalom" -- a body at peace.  As noted before, shalom does not mean the absence of fighting; rather it means that the component parts are doing their job and the the system as a whole is working at maximum efficiency.  Given that, what does chesed have to to with shalom?

The Chovos HaLevavos gives a beautiful mashal.  Imagine a king who hires a agent to conduct some important business for the king in a distant land.  Of course, the king is also going to supply the agent with everything he needs to accomplish his task -- including servants of the king who will be assigned (temporarily) to the king's agent.  The servants are loyal to the agent, but only so long as he is loyal to the king.  If the agent starts to do things that are counter to the king's wishes or even not in line with the agent's mission, then the servants are also likely to rebel.  So too, says the Chovos HaLevavos, …

Thought for the Day: Longer Life Through Chesed

The gemara (Rosh HaShannah 18a) wonders what was the z'chus that allowed Rabba and Abaya (descendants of Eli haCohein and subject to a decree of early death) to have such long lives.  Rabba, Chazal tell us, lived to 40 because he was constantly involved with Torah; Abaya lived to 60 because he was constantly involved with Torah and G'mulus Chasadim.  I heard from R' Chaim Dov Keller, shlita, that the Chafeitz Chaim said on this chazal that one does not lose from doing chesed.  Our life is not a fixed pool out of which we need to take away from one thing to give to another.  As Jews we don't live b'derech ha'teva, we live (literally) -- both spiritually and physically -- b'derech ha'Torah.

Thought for the Day: Advice for a Long Life

Everyone has advice for a living a long and healthy life.  Vitamins, exercise, meditation, and on and on.  What about Chazal?  Perhaps its worth asking their advice. (Yes, I admit it... there was a hint of sarcasm there.)  The talmud (Brachos 8b) says: everyone who completes "shnayim mikra v'echad targum" every week will length his days and years.  That's not a bad deal.  Spend a couple of hours each week reviewing the parsha and you get a long life; guaranteed by Chazal.

In case that's not enough incentive; how about this?  Its halacha.  Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim, 285.  R' Fuerst, shlita, used to give a Mishna Brura shiur on Monday nights.  When we got to this siman, I said, "This is one of those things that are good advice, right?"  R' Fuerst, shilta, said, "No; you have to put on t'fillin every weekday and you have to say shnayim mikra v'echad targum every week."  I just replied, "Oh".

Thought for the Day: Why Things Happen

In last week's parasha, we read that Moshe Rabbeinu changed the name of Hoshea to Y'hoshua.  The observant among us (and thank goodness there was an observant 4th grader last week) were perplexed because it seems that Y'hoshua already had that name at the time of the cheit ha'eigal which happened several months earlier.  I saw two different approaches to resolving the discrepancy.  The Ho'il Moshe says that Y'hoshua's name really was changed now, but that the Torah haK'dosha used that name even before it was changed out of respect for Moshe.  The name change is mentioned now to reveal his original name and the reason it was changed.

The Chizkuni answers that the name was changed when Y'hoshua became Moshe Rabbeinu's "heir apparent" and cites other examples where a new life role brings with it a new name; Avram became Avraham, Sarei became Sara, etc.  The Torah ha'K'dosha reveals to us now why the hashgacha had it that Moshe cho…

Thought for the Day: Real and Complete Piety

The talmud (Bava Kama 30a) relates what seems to be a machlokes: Rav Yehuda says that a person who wishes to be particularly pious should fulfill the dictates regarding matters of damages (n'zikin), Rava (or Ravina) says the matters of [mesechta] Avos, and others say brachos.

The first thing to note is that to be pious one must actually carry out the actions demanded by those tractates and not simply learn them.  Second, as we all know, in lashon haKodesh, piety is "chasidut" (not the fashion statement, of course), which is related to the word "chesed".  Chesed (kindness) always means putting someone/something else first. Given that, it makes sense that one route to piety is via nezikin, where I am forced to spend my money to rectify mistakes I have made regarding another's property.  Brachos makes sense, as I am forced to think about G-d before I do many things and before I eat.  These would seem to be two roads to piety.  How does Avos fit in there?

The M…

Thought for the Day: S'char Mitzvah Mitzvah

The mishna in Avos (4:2) tells us that "s'char mitzvah mitzvah" -- the Rav mei'Bartenura (the rishon, not the wine) understands the mishna to be clarifying two things.  First, that reward one gets for doing a mitzvah is the opportunity to do another mitzvah.  This world is finite, whereas a mitzvah is connected with the infinite.  One cannot, therefore, truly realize the benefit of doing a mitzah in this world.  HaShem instead rewards our efforts by giving us even more opportunities for connecting with Him.  The Rav gives a second explanation of this mishna: the perceived reward/enjoyment of doing a mitzvah is itself a mitzvah!  That means that ones good attitude and enthusiasm in doing a mitzvah is in and of itself a mitzvah.  Which brings another mitzvah, which (since you were enthusiastic about the last mitzvah) just increases your enthusiasm and joy about having another opportunity, which is itself a mitzvah, which ... and on and on.

Of course it works the other …

Thought for the Day: Echad b'Yisrael

Many years ago when I was a gabbai in Dallas, I asked a guest (marginally religious Israeli) if he was cohain or levi.  When he said he was not, I joked, "Oh, just a yisrael, huh?"  He sat straight up, held up his forefinger and declared proudly, "Lo! Echad b'Yisrael!".  Since that day I have never thought of any Jew as "just" anything.

This morning I learned a new dimension the meaning of echad b'yisrael from R' Dovid Siegel, shlita, who is visting from Eretz Yisrael on his annual trip to the US.  Rabbi Siegel showed me a startling Gr'a (Shnos Eliyahu, Brachos, 5:1).  The Gr'a holds that it is forbidden (yes, that is a direct quote) to daven for oneself in shmone esrei.  Shmonei esrei is a t'filla for the needs of klal yisrael; one's personal needs/bakashos may not be addressed until elokai n'tzor.  Rabbi Siegel explained to me that the the Torah was not given to an individual, it was given to klal yisrael -- that is, HaSh…

Thought for the Day: Taking Advantage of Tachanun

There is a well known mashal about a savage who saves the king's life.  The king rewards the savage by letting him spend an entire night in the royal treasury and take all he wants.  The savage, not understanding the king nor the value of jewels, just sees boxes of rocks that he knows he is supposed to bag up.  Bemoaning his luck, he works very lazily and ends up with almost nothing.  We, of course, wouldn't be anything like that poor savage.

Now imagine a slightly upscale savage, he has a credit card backed by the king's bank.  This savage uses the credit card freely, barely giving a thought to the huge debt being accumulated.  Then, one day the king announces that anyone who would like may come on Thursday and talk his debt down.  All he has to do is admit his mistakes, admit that only the king can help him, earnestly declare that he will try to do better, etc.  In fact, the king is so magnanimous that he even allows that the poor savage can come to him ever…

Thought for the Day: Shelo Asani Isha

I was telling my wife about an interesting story about R' Yonason Eibschutz (great story, for another time).  The story involves a man who was sincerely pious, but then got upset when he got r'vi'i (the fourth aliyah) on Yom Kippur.  At that point my wife stopped me and asked, in all innocence and sincerity, "What's is there to get upset about?  Any aliyah is chashuv!  Every word of Torah is chashuv."  (That's the problem with my wife, she listens to what I say and reminds me at the most inopportune times...)  I started to explain how some aliyahs are considered more chashuv than others, and how he felt slighted, and... and....  My voice sort of trailed off as I realized she was absolutely right.  I couldn't explain why the man got upset precisely because there was no cause at all for him to be upset.  In fact, he should have been thrilled beyond words to have been called up the to torah on Yom Kippur for any aliyah.  In fact, we Jewish men should be …

Thought for the Day: Shelo Asani Goy

It is worth noting that in the morning, after acknowledging our physical nature, our spiritual nature, and the wisdom to utilize them together; the very next bracha is "shelo asani goy" -- "Who did not make me a non-Jew".  Why not just say, "Who made me a Jew"?  There are really two aspects to this bracha.  First, it is important to appreciate the beautiful gift we have been given -- the gift of simply not being a goy!  The mishna in avos 3:18 says: beloved is yisrael who are called children of HaShem.  There is also a second, more subtle point.  HaShem has not only made us "not a goy", but He has also given us the opportunity to make ourselves into "yisrael".  By working to make ourselves into "yisrael" and not just being created that way, our experience of Olam HaBa will be with the richness and depth of an earned relationship and not just gift for nothing.

Thought for the Day: Kabalas haTorah is right now and right here

Where did we receive the Torah?  Mount Sinai.  Where is Mount Sinai?  Uh... (even Wikipedia doesn't know!)  Ok, try again.  When did we receive the Torah?  The we know was on the 6th or 7th of Sivan; but definitely on Shavuos... well, or the day after.  Doesn't it seem odd that we are a nation who has no existence nor meaning except as the People of The Torah, and we don't know precisely when or where we accepted that mantle?

On the other hand, perhaps that is exactly the point.  There was a historical event that marked our initial introduction to and acceptance of the Torah, but that event takes second place to the real kabalas haTorah: right now, right here.

Thought for the Day: Derech Eretz Kadma la'Torah

I heard R' Henoch Leibowitz, zecher tzadik v'kadosh livracha, say that a person can have gadlus and not be a gadol.  He can have gadlus in his knowledge, but not be a gadol because that knowledge is associated with him and not an expression of his very being.  When Betzalel was told by Moshe Rabbeinu to build the keilim and then the mishkan, he didn't just do as he was told.  Rather, Betzalel said, "Everything I know from the Rebbie up till now would lead me to believe that the mishkan should be built first and then the keilim"  (Rashi to Shemos 38:32).  Why didn't Betzalel just do as he was told by his rebbie; a man who had just come done from weeks of intense instruction from the Creator of the World, Himself?  Betzalel was looking to Moshe Rabbeinu to correct his thought processes in order that he could appreciate and feel that this was the proper way to proceed. (In fact, Moshe Rabbeinu in this case admitted to a mistake and praised Betzalel for his quest…

Thought for the Day: Finding Grace in Everyone's Eyes

Near the end of our morning brachos, we ask: "Please allow us today and every day to find grace, kindness, and mercy in Your Eyes and in the eyes' of all who see us."  One may ask, once we have found favor in HaShem's Eyes (so to speak), why do we need to worry about everyone else?  After all, if you go into a king's court, you need to worry about what the king thinks and not the rabbble.

Perhaps we may answer from the answer Hillel gave to the ger asking to be taught the Torah while standing on one foot (Shabbos 31a).  Hillel told him, "What is hateful to you, do not do to your friend."  Rashi brings two explanations of friend: (1) it really means HaShem, (2) it really means your fellow human, because most of the mitzvos are in the bein adam l'chaveiro (interpersonal) category.

Of course we need to find favor in HaShem's Eyes, but part of that (most, according to Rashi) depends on properly fulfilling our obligations to other people.  On the oth…

Thought for the Day: Giving good kindnesses

"haGomel Chasadim Tovim l'Amo Yisrael" -- who bestows good kindnesses on His nation Yisrael.  One may ask, what kindness is not good?  I saw an explanation in the name of R' Eliyahu Lopian, ztz'l, that kindnesses may be bestowed in two different ways.  There is, of course, kindness given simply out of the good nature of the giver.  The receiver in that case is just the lucky beneficiary of the giver's kindness.  On the other hand, there are kindnesses given because the receiver in some sense is "owed" the kindness.  The way a parent prepares breakfast for his child exemplifies this.  The latter is a true chesed tov, as it leaves the receiver with no feelings of shame.  We praise HaShem each morning for doing so much chasadim for us each and every day (each and every moment of each and every day) and all the time in a way that allows us to feel that we deserve it all.

On that idea, we may make the following kal v'chomer: If HaShem (who owes nothi…

Thought for the Day: Constantly questioning yourself

I know that chazal say hagadol mei'chaveiro, yitzro gadol hei'menu; but knowing my struggles, I can't even imagine that a gadol b'yisrael has anything like that going on.  I believe the answer is that they struggle with the same midos, but at a more refined level. Yet, I had trouble having a concrete idea of what that really meant.  Then I heard that when R' Bachaya first contemplated writing the Chovos l'Vavos, he abandoned the project.  Even though he had already come to the conclusion that such a sefer was desperately needed, he didn't feel that he was the one to write it.  Over the next months or years, R' Bachaya constantly questioned himself -- was he truly not at the level to write Chovos l'Vavos, or was he just being lazy?  Eventually, of course, he decided that his motivation for refraining was more out of laziness than true humility.

Imagine if R' Bachaya had not continually questioned his motives!  What would the world be like without…

Thought for the Day: Becoming more careful and more caring

מִשְׁלֵיכח:יד  אַשְׁרֵי אָדָם, מְפַחֵד תָּמִיד; וּמַקְשֶׁה לִבּוֹ, יִפּוֹל בְּרָעָהFortunate is the man who is constantly in fear, he who hardens his heart will fall to evil. (Proverbs 28:14)
By arranging the verse like this, Shlomo haMelech declares that unless a person is afraid constantly, he makes himself cruel.  Why should cruelty be the inevitable result of not being in fear?  The fear to which Shlomo haMelech refers is the fear of someone doing an important and delicate task.  A neurosurgeon, for example, while operating on a sensitive structure of the brain will be in constant fear as he works.  That is perfectly appropriate and quite obviously only a very cruel person would embark on such a procedure lightly.

Shlomo haMelech wants us to live our lives like that.  "Ele toldos Noach, Noach" -- These are the generations of Noach: Noach himself!  Every action, thought, and desire affects who we are and what we are becoming.  One must be constantly on vigil to guide himse…

Thought for the Day: before you can achieve greatness, you need to appreciate your own greatness

R' Avigdor Miller, ztz"l, was wont to say that the Alter from Slobodka spoke for decades on the topic of "gadlus haAdam" just to get out the message of how much better it is to be human than to be a dog.  It is only then that we can begin to appreciate the inherent greatness of being a Jew over just being a goy.

In many chasidishe k'hilos the Rebbie makes all of the birchos hashachar.  One morning the Rebbie skipped "shlo asani goy".  The chasidim were wondering what was going on and one approached the Rebbie to politely ask why he had skipped that bracha.

"This morning on the way to davening", said the Rebbie, "I saw an extremely wealthy goy getting out of his limousine.  I felt that was a rare opportunity to say that bracha with particular kavana.  We are not thanking HaShem not being the bum on the street, we are thanking Him for not making us only rich and powerful in this world.  Baruch sh'lo asini goy afila k'ze…

Thought for the Day: Thank you, HaShem, for providing everything I need.

The Magid from Zlotchov was impoverished beyond what we can imagine; yet every morning he would declare with recognizable simcha:
baruch atah HaShem, sh'asah li kol tzorkiHis talmidim asked one day, "With all due respect, the rebbie is extremely poor and lacking in even basic necessities; how can the rebbie say that that bracha at all?"  The magid answered that it was precisely because of his situation that he was so excited to make that declaration.  "Apparently," he said, "I need to be impoverished and HaShem is providing everything I need to experience that to its fullest!"

Speaking from experience, cancer is often not painful at all, but chemotherapy can be brutal.  My doctor told me (more than once) that he was going to cure me, but to do that he was going to give me the full dose and course of chemo.  Chemo was painful, but I was very sincere every time I thanked him for giving me everything I needed to be cured.

Thought for the Day: Thank G-d the rooster knows to crow at dawn

The first of the morning brachos is a funny declaration praising HaShem for giving enough sense to the rooster to discern between day and night.  I think the most common p'shat is that we are reminded from the very first bracha to thank HaShem for the smallest things.  Two additional ideas are worth mentioning.

First, from HaShem's side:even when we can't tell the day from night (for example, when the gloomy cloud cover is so thick we can't tell day from night), the rooster still can.  An familiar cry in the gloom that reminds us that HaShem is ever with us.

Second, from our side: R' Ayeh Levin notes that if you take a rooster from one locale to another, he'll always crow according to local dawn .  Our situation in life is constantly changing, the rooster reminds us to look at our "locale" each day and respond according to today's requirements and not just repeat what we did yesterday.

Thought for the Day: Having a makom kavu'ah for davening

The gemara (brachos 6b) quotes Rabbi Chelbo (quoting Rav Huna) and says:
“Kol ha’kovea’ makom le’tefillaso, Elokei Avraham b’ezro’”
“Whoever fixes a (regular) place for his prayers, the G-d of Avraham assists him.”
I saw that Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank asks: why is it davka the G-d of Avraham that will help him when he fixes a place for davening?  A fixed place in this context (as explained by Rabeinu Yona) means to always daven in the same shul (not necessarily the same seat).

He answers by first noting that Avraham, among the Avos, is noted for his extreme anivus (humility); as we see when Avraham Avinu was davening for S'dom he referred to himself as "dust and ashes" (breishis 18:27).  A person who always davens in the same shul year after year is per force going to be working on his anivus.  Whether it is being passed over for an (expected) aliyah, or disagreements about the pace of davening, or even personal disagreements with other members of the k'hi…

Thought for the Day: Asher Kidishanu b'Mitzvosav

I try to learn one chidush regarding davening each day.  I will try out sharing a thought each day; your mileage may vary.

Why do we refer to all the mitzvos when making a bracha before doing any one miztva? For example, on washing our hands, why not just say, "baruch atah HaShem, asher tzivanu al n'tilas yadayim"? The Sha"ch answers it is because all mitzvos are interlinked; as it says in avos 4:2, "mitzvah goreres mitzvah" -- the performance of one mitzvah is inextricably linked to all other mitzvos.  Doing one mitzvah, therefore, has an effect on the entire system of mitzvos  Chazal tell us, as brought in the introduction to sefer Chafeitz Chaim, that each mitzvah corresponds to one or our limbs/organs/sinews.  It is therefore quite appropriate to realize (and proclaim) that the performance of any one mitzvah sanctifies our whole being.