Wednesday, March 24, 2010

220 - Haggadah

"The Torah speaks about four sons" - Rav Wolbe comments that if the Torah felt it imperative to write four separate pesukim to parallel the four different sons, it implies that every child must be spoken to in a language that he can understand. Even the wicked son must be answered with a response that is hand tailored to his personality.

"Regarding the son who doesn't know how to ask, you begin to speak to him" - Rashi explains that for such a child one should tell aggadic explanations that draw his heart. Rav Wolbe explains that the Seder Night is aimed at opening the hearts of our children. The Korban Pesach is referred to as "avodah", for through its performance Bnei Yisroel began their avodas Hashem. True avodas Hashem can only be achieved when one internalizes in his heart that there is a Creator Who took us out of Egypt, and we are His servants.

"Because of this (the Pesach, Matzah and Maror) Hashem acted on my behalf when I went out from Egypt" - Rashi explains that we were redeemed in order to perform His mitzvos. Rav Yeruchom Levovitz would say that people think that because they want to eat they must therefore make a bracha. However, the opposite is true. The reason we were created with the need to eat is so that we should have the opportunity to say a bracha. Likewise, we do not perform these mitzvos because Hashem took us out of Mitzrayim, rather, the purpose of Yetzias Mitzrayim was to give us the opportunity to perform these mitzvos.

"A person is obligated to perceive himself as if he went out of Egypt" - Rav Wolbe points out that the Haggada revolves around each individual person. Thus we say, "Each person is obligated to perceive himself as if he left Egypt"; "Hashem acted on my behalf when I went out fromEgypt," and so on. Rav Wolbe goes on to explain. The Seder Night is set up in question-answer form because a question stems from one being aroused to ask. The Gemara explains that when King David is described in the pasuk as one who "knows how to make music," it means that he knew how to ask questions properly. The correlation between making music and asking questions is that they both are borne out of hissorirus - being aroused. The questions in the Haggada were designed to arouse us to delve more deeply into the events of yetzias Mitzrayim and their implication to our avodas Hashem. Only once one is aroused, can he feel as if he himself left Egypt.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

219 - Pesach

It is amazing to note that when the Torah describes Yetzias Mitzrayim, there is a much greater focus on Pharaoh than on Bnei Yisroel. There is a lengthy description of the ten plagues, which were primarily aimed at changing and subduing Pharaoh. Rav Wolbe (Da'as Shlomo, Geulah pg. 306) enlightens us as to the reason behind this phenomenon.

We find that in the earlier generations (the Dor Haflagah, Nimrod and the people of Sodom), there were people who acknowledged the Creator and, nevertheless, intentionally rebelled against Him. If they truly comprehended His omnipotence, how is it possible that they intentionally rebelled against Him? In a similar vein, Rashi, (Bereishis 6, 6) quoting Chazal, explains that although Hashem was planning to destroy mankind in the flood, He was "consoled" by the fact that He created man down on earth and not in the heavens. Had man been created in the heavens he could have convinced even the angels to rebel! Chazal revealed to us the arrogance of man: he wishes to remain independent at all costs. Even if he dwelled in the heavens, he still would not subjugate himself to the Creator Who rules over heaven and earth.

Likewise, merely a few days after Bnei Yisroel heard the Ten Commandments from Hashem Himself, they made the golden calf. It is easier to worship something that was created with one's own hands, than to worship Hashem Whom man did not create. Moreover, He created man and demands his subservience. After they sinned, Hashem told Moshe Rabbeinu, "I have seen this nation and they are a stiff necked nation." The root of the sin was not the idol worship; rather, it was that they were stiff necked.

This is the reason the earlier generations acknowledged Hashem and, nonetheless, rebelled against Him, as opposed to later generations. Since they recognized His greatness, they had trouble subjugating themselves to a power they knew to be so much greater than they. However, later generations were not as cognizant of Hashem's true greatness and therefore did not feel the need to rebel. They did not feel threatened by Hashem's Omnipotence.

This is the reason that the Torah focuses the story of the exodus on Pharaoh and not on Bnei Yisroel. The years of bondage had taken a toll on Bnei Yisroel and they were broken in body and spirit. All they were waiting for was redemption, and when Hashem revealed Himself they willingly accepted His yoke upon themselves. This was not the case with Pharaoh who stated, "I don't know Who Hashem is" and boasted, "The Nile is mine and I created myself!" Hence, the plagues were aimed toward systematically subduing Pharaoh by showing him Hashem's greatness.

Many people find that when they are studying Torah they are alert and focused, while when they daven they have difficulty concentrating and are constantly distracted by countless random thoughts. This is because when one davens he is acknowledging that there is a Higher Power that controls everyone and everything, and automatically a feeling of rebelliousness rears its head. We must learn from Pharaoh that no matter how great one thinks he is, he is a mere creation and he must humble himself before his Creator and submit to being His servant.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

218 - Vayakhel / Pikudei

Although both of this week's parshios deal entirely with the Mishkan and its vessels, the Torah prefaces the parshios with Moshe cautioning Bnei Yisroel to guard the Shabbos. Rashi explains that albeit that they were building a Mishkan for Hashem's Shechina, they must take care not to desecrate the Shabbos. Rav Wolbe (Alei Shur vol. II pg.382) enlightens us regarding the uniqueness of this spiritual day.

Shabbos differs from all other mitzvos because it is not merely a commandment, but also a gift. As Chazal (Shabbos 10b) tell us, "Hashem said to Moshe, 'I have a wonderful gift in My treasury called Shabbos; go tell Bnei Yisroel that I wish to give it to them.'" Likewise we find that the bracha recited during Kiddush differs from the brachos recited when performing other mitzvos. Generally we say, "Blessed are You Hashem, Who sanctified us with His mitzvos and commanded us," while on Shabbos we say, "Who sanctified us with His mitzvos and desired us, and His holy Shabbos with love and graciousness He gave us as an inheritance." Shabbos is a state of holiness, and it was given to us not merely as a commandment but as an inheritance.

Rav Wolbe writes that there were people who had the ability to sense when Shabbos began without having to look at the clock. Throughout the week the Alter of Kelm's face was white as a sheet, and on Shabbos his cheeks took on a reddish hue. Similarly, Rav Yeruchom Levovitz's appearance changed on Shabbos to the degree that a student who saw him for the first time earlier in the week and then again on Shabbos, thought that a new Mashgiach had come to the Yeshiva. "Hashem blessed the seventh day and sanctified it" (Bereishis 2, 3) and He turned it into an entity of holiness that can be felt and experienced.

Furthermore, by resting on Shabbos we bear witness to the fact that Hashem created the world. The Torah writes, "For in six days Hashem made the heavens and earth, and He rested on the seventh day" (Shemos 20, 11). The Ramban (on this pasuk) explains that through the Shabbos we remember creation and thereby acknowledge that there is a Creator. Additionally, Rav Shamshon Rafael Hirsch writes that the reason for the 39 forbidden melochos on Shabbos is to demonstrate that Hashem, Who created the world, is the sole Master, and on this day man has no permission to perform any action that is a form of creation.

Shabbos is a perceptible kedusha; a guest that we can welcome, as we say in Lecha Dodi, "Come O bride, come O bride the Shabbos queen." Let us take a few minutes on Shabbos to think about this wonderful G-d given present. It is a day that reminds us of creation, The Creator, and the fact that it is He Who is the sole Master of the world in its entirety. These thoughts might enable us to feel, to some degree, the uniqueness of this wonderful day that arrives each and every week.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

217 - Ki Sisa

The Ramban in this week's parsha (Shemos 34, 27) writes that the second set of luchos differed from the first set of luchos, and was, so to speak, a new Matan Torah subsequent to the sin of the golden calf. Rav Wolbe explains (Alei Shur vol. II pg. 109) by citing the Gemara (Avodah Zara5a) which tells us that had Bnei Yisroel merited to keep the first set ofluchos, the world would look much different. None of the Torah learned would ever have been forgotten, and neither the Angel of Death nor the nations of the world would have had dominion over Bnei Yisroel.

Moreover, even the purpose of Torah study changed in the aftermath of the sin of the golden calf. Through receiving the second set ofluchos, "Hashem dwelled among them in their impurity" (Vayikra16, 16). Albeit that before thechet haeigelBnei Yisroel rose to a level where they had noyetzerhara, they became impure due to their sin and thereafter had to contend with theyetzerhara. Hence, ouravodahchanged, and its focal point became the battle against theyetzer hara. The Torah is the weapon we were given to accomplish our objective of overcoming theyetzerhara. As Chazal tell us (Kiddushin30b), Hashem said, "I created the yetzer hara and I created the Torah as its spice"(through which theyetzerharacan be refined to become a positive force).

Chazal mention numerous methods of battling theyetzer hara. "Yargiz" - get angry at him, "Misgaber" - overcome him, "Rodeh" - subjugate him and "Mifatpeit" - belittle him. However, all these methods involve a direct confrontation with theyetzer hara. The study of Torah functions in an entirely different manner. As Rashi (ibid.) explains, it elevates a personabovehisyetzer hara. A child might ride on a stick and claim that it's his horse, however, he will not do this once he gets older, for he comprehends that a stick is not a horse. He doesn't have to fight with himself or convince himself not to do it; rather, it is simply a matter of maturity. The Torah works in a similar fashion. Once a person delves into the Torah, he matures to a level that he is simply not interested in what theyetzer harapreviously offered him.

In our battle with theyetzer harathe optimal approach is not to fight him head on, but to rise above him and make him irrelevant through the study of Torah.

216 - Purim

The Mesilas Yesharim writes that man was created to have pleasure. Not just any pleasure, rather "to delight in Hashem and have pleasure from the radiance of His Shechina." Moreover, Chazal tell us that in the World to Come there is no eating or drinking; the righteous sit with crowns on their heads and they derive pleasure from the radiance of the Shechina. Pleasure is what dominates the timeline from one's birth until all of eternity.

Additionally Rav Wolbe writes (Da'as Shlomo Geulah pg. 207) that pleasure is the determining factor behind all of our actions. The question is only what gives a person pleasure. "Tell me what you enjoy and I will tell you who you are!" Determining what gives a person pleasure, is the litmus test for determining his essence. Even if most of one's pleasures revolve around physical gratification, does he also, from time to time, obtain enjoyment in the spiritual arena? Does he delight in performing a kindness for another, from connecting to Hashem through prayer, from the profundity of Chazal or an ingenious Torah thought? This is a question everyone should ask himself. Indeed, this is one of the lessons that we can glean from the story of Purim.

Chazal tell us that the three days of fasting that Esther instituted, had another purpose besides enabling the Jews to pray with more feeling. The fast was meant to counteract the physical pleasures they enjoyed when they participated in Achashveirosh's party. As the Gemara states, the decree to kill the Jews came in wake of their participating in that party. However, we must ask, "If all the food was kosher and no one was forced to drink anything, what could possibly be so terrible in partaking of the festivities, that as a result, all of Shushan's Jew's were slated for annihilation?" The answer is that instead of focusing their sense of pleasure toward the spiritual realm and thereby gaining eternity, they directed their pleasure toward the physical. They immersed themselves in a hedonistic party that was focused entirely on entrenching the body in pleasure. Only after they fasted and put the physical pleasures in the right perspective, did they merit salvation from their enemies.

Rav Wolbe related that he remembered a G-d fearing learned man in Germany who stated that as long as he has Wagner's music, he can't possibly feel dejected. How could it be that such a Torah scholarly man found his non physical pleasures outside the realm of Torah?

We read in the Megillah (8, 15), "And the Jews had light, happiness, joy and honor." Chazal tell us that this refers to the light of Torah the happiness of Yom Tov, the joy of bris milah and the honor of tefillin. The Jews came to a new perception of pleasure, and they acknowledged that true light, happiness, joy and honor are obtained through the Torah and mitzvos.

We ask of Hashem, "Please make the Torah pleasurable in our mouths." "V'hareiv" - "make pleasurable", shares the same root as the word "hitareiv" - "to blend" because the things in which one finds pleasure blend into the very essence and makeup of that person. Although we are flesh and blood and are therefore automatically connected to the physical pleasures, we should strive to integrate the Torah into our flesh and blood. This will enable us to enjoy the greatest pleasures in the entire world!

Excerpted from the new sefer Daas Shlomo - Maamarei Ge'ulah

Divrei hesped written by the Mashgiach, Harav Shlomo Wolbe, z"l, following the petirah of the Bais Yisrael of Ger, zy"a, on 2 Adar, 5737/1977.

Tuesday Parashas Ki Sisa, 5737

The Rishonim explain the cheit ha'eigel, that Klal Yisrael felt that they could no longer be without Moshe Rabbeinu, and therefore decided to make for themselves an image that would remind them of their leader. Although this was forbidden, their motivations were positive: because they so deeply felt the need for a leader and guide they could not wait even another day.

Aharon Hakohein, who helped them make the eigel, shared this sentiment:
"He [Aharon Hakohein] saw that Chur had been killed [for not going along with the initiative for chet ha'eigel], and said, if I don't go along with them, they will do to me as they did to Chur, and fulfill with me 'Im yeihareg bemikdash Hashem Kohein venavi-if a kohein [Aharon] and navi [Chur] are killed," there will be no takanah for this forever. It is better that they serve the eigel-perhaps they will be able to attain a takanah through teshuvah. (Sanhedrin 7a)

The Maharsha there says, "This aveirah has no atonement because the Torah was given to us to listen to chachmei Torah, the Kohein and Navi, and punishes those who don't listen to them with death."

As such, the ties that Klal Yisrael have with its chachamim are so fundamental that there is no atonement and forgiveness for severing those ties. Even the eigel, despite being a serious sin, was atonable comparatively.

If this matter is so crucial for Klal Yisrael, and everything is contingent on whether there are chachamim and morei derech for the nation, how awesome are the words in Yeshayahu Hanavi, (29, 13-14):
"And Hashem says, '... with its mouth and lips it [the nation] has honored Me and its soul it has distanced from Me, and their fear of Me has become automatic and routine, therefore, 'Hinneni yosif lehafli es ha'am hazeh hafle vafele' and the wisdom of its wise men will be lost and the insight of its sages will be concealed."

Rashi explains, "Hafleh vapeleh means a cover upon a cover, a seal over a seal. What does it mean? The demise of chachmei Yisrael is double as hard as the churban Bais Hamikdash and all the curses in Sefer Devarim, because all those are one hafla'ah, as it says, 'Vehafleh Hashem es makosecha', and here it says the word hafle vapele, twice."

The sin of Am Yisrael was "their hearts have been distanced from Me." They do the mitzvos, learn Torah, daven, make brachos, but without the soul. Not only are their souls distant from what the mouth says, but they distance their souls to all sorts of other matters. Their yiras Hashem is habitual, as a mother gets a child used to doing in his youth, what the melamed has taught him in cheder. It is all just taught and performed; there is no soul and real feeling.

We know that punishments from Above come in the form of making our nisyonos more challenging for us. If until now, things were automatic, without soul- now it will be much harder for us to reach true feeling in our Torah and mitzvos: The demise of chachamim makes it more difficult. Up to this point, Chachamim taught and rebuked, but things still remained habitual, without any feeling. And now, there won't even be rebuke; there won't be anyone to awaken us, which will make it doubly difficult to reach any true feeling.

This punishment is much more serious than the destruction of the Bais Hamikdash. Even the Bais Hamikdash cannot bring to an awakening if there is no prophet or chacham. Neither will the curses in the tochachah effect the desired results if there are no chachmei Yisrael who understand why Klal Yisrael was given the rebuke and the curses. The loss of chachamim, the concealment of the sages, is a "double blow, a cover upon a cover, a seal upon a seal" (Rashi above)-on the soul! The soul that was so distant from yirah has now been double sealed off and covered; how much more difficult the avodah shebalev will become with all these coverings!

However, as with all punishments in the Torah, this one too, has a remedy for the nation: If they did not listen to Gedolei Yisrael in their lifetimes, then their deaths have a staggering impact. "And when are divrei Torah fulfilled? When their masters are taken from them" (Yalkut Koheles 12), and in this way tzaddikim are greater in their deaths than in their lifetimes (Chulin, 7b). What they were unable to effect with their rebuke during their lifetimes, the horror of their passing will accomplish, because then everyone awakens and recognizes their situation and their hearts suddenly desire to strengthen in avodas Hashem.

This is the feeling after the passing of the Gerrer Rebbe, ztvk"l. He has led his flock for nearly thirty years b'chessed elyon, with deep concern for every aspect of the lives of every one of his thousands of chassidim. There is no area of life that he was not involved in. Gerrer shtieblach are full every morning to the capacity from four until seven in the morning, because the Rebbe instructed his chassidim to learn during these hours. How he worried for chinuch, and for Chinuch Atzmai!

He was strongly involved in the holiness of bachurim and avreichim. What an organized community! Those who came to him for advice and to consult him on whether to perform dangerous operations and the like were not exclusively his chassidim. This is a loss for his chassidim and for Klal Yisrael in general!

It is impossible to imagine this generation without the chassidic world, and we must concede that besides for the yeshivah world, only chassidus enables Klal Yisrael to exist.

Let us look into the words of my Rebbe and teacher, Harav Yeruchem Levovitz, zy"a, (Daas Chachmah Umussar, Part 2, Maamar 78):
"Whoever is familiar with chassidus, knows that it only took hold with tremendous mesirus nefesh, and its leaders risked their lives to imbue chassidus within Klal Yisrael. This is proof of the intent of l'sheim Shamayim that its founders had. Chassidus is not a new Torah; it is a new emphasis ("a naye kneitsch") that they found in the Torah. If so, why were they so energized to the extent that they were ready to be moser nefesh to spread this new "knietsch" in the world? Would Torah not have been the same Torah without it? It must be that this l'sheim Shamayim was the biggest mofess (wonder) of the shitah of chassidus. Because it was l'sheim Shamayim, it was Torah Hakedoshah to them, for which one is required to be moser nefesh, because every single word, every dagesh, every emphasis in Torah, requires a commitment to the point of mesirus nefesh."
There are two chiddushim here, in addition to the appreciation of the shitah of chassidus: The first is that the mesirus nefesh displayed for an emphasis in Torah proves the l'sheim Shamayim involved; the second is that something that is totally l'sheim Shamayim is Torah.

The source of the first chiddush is from Shimon Hatzaddik, who did not eat the [korban] asham nazir of any nazir who became impure except a specific one who came from the south (Nazir 4b). Tosafos there explains that he did not eat from the asham nazir because he was afraid that once the nazir became impure he may have regretted his promise to become a nazir. This would make the korban chullin, an invalid korban.

He did eat from that specific nazir because "It is regarding you that the passuk says 'lehazir l'Hashem,' meaning that the beginning of his neder was completely l'sheim Shamayim so Shimon Hatzaddik was not worried that the nazir would regret his promise even if he became impure. But the others who made promises when in a state of distress or because of an aveirah that they had done and did it as atonement, as the days pass from their decision, they regret their undertaking."

From this Tosafos we see that only when an action is completely l'sheim Shamayim can we be sure that the person will carry through until the end, even if it will take longer than he thought, because that is the power of "lishmah." So when we see how they were ready to give up their lives for one emphasis in Torah and withstood the most difficult challenges, this is proof that their intentions were completely l'sheim Shamayim. If not, they would not have withstood the tests.

The source of the second chiddush - that something that is l'sheim Shamayim is "Torah Hakedoshah": The Gemara in Brachos 63a says, "Bar Kaparah taught, on what small parashah are all bodies of Torah contingent? Bechal deracheca da'eihu vehu yeyasher orchosecha." Rabbeinu Yonah writes in Mishlei on this passuk that one meaning of this is that the intentions of everything one does should be l'sheim Shamayim. According to this, all the bodies of Torah are contingent on the "lishmah," and the purpose of the whole Torah and all the mitzvos is to bring a person to do them lishmah. The Rambam also explains this in his Peirush Hamishnayos at the end of Makkos.

We learn from this that if an action or emphasis is completely l'sheim Shamayim, this is Torah Hakedoshah-because "lishmah" is Torah itself!

Rav Yeruchem continues:
"We see the same regarding the study of mussar. Reb Yisrael [Salanter] z"l introduced the "kneitsch" of mussar and fought the whole world for it with mesirus nefesh. What was all the fuss about for the study of mussar a few minutes a day? These few minutes would seem to be so trivial, but Reb Yisrael devoted his entire life solely to this purpose of spreading mussar in the world. This shows that his intention was entirely l'sheim Shamayim."

Mussar and Chassidus are both a new "kneitsch" in the holy Torah. Fundamentally, both of them may not be that distant one from the other.The Arizal said before his passing that he had not managed to reveal the entire Toras Hakabbalah, and promised that he would return again to complete the task. A recently published sefer says that he did just that: In the subsequent generations came the Baal Shem Tov, the Ramchal and the Vilna Gaon, who completed the revelation of his Torah. What was this revelation if the Arizal said that all of his words were from Chazal?

He did not reveal the nimshal, and only his close confidant, Harav Chaim Vital, zt"l, with his great depth and wisdom, understood it but he, too, concealed it. And so, these three tzaddikim were the ones who revealed the nimshal in Kabbalah. When these three are compared we can see the similarities between them. The nimshal in Kabbalah is the very foundation of the path of the Baal Shem Tov as well as the Torah of the Gra in Toras Hanistar, and this is the basis of the teachings of his talmidim after him until Rav Yisrael Salanter.

The common denominator between mussar and chassidus is the battle against melumadah, rote in Torah and mitzvos; they both vigorously oppose an approach to avodas Hashem that is just "with the lips and the mouth they have honored Me but their souls are distant from Me!"

The passing of the Gerrer Rebbe should awaken us all: If we have lost the wisdom of our wise men, then we are guilty that our yiras Hashem is melumadah, without soul, without substance!

The consolation for the grieving kehillah is that baruch Hashem, it has a continuation. The chassidus is a flourishing tree, and it has not waned to this day. Those who say that only the early founders of Chassidus were great, but today it has declined and is no longer the same chassidus, are lying. That is the way of historians: they only look back in retrospect; they do not see and do not want to see life in the present. Of course, our generation cannot compare itself to past generations, but based on this generation, Chassidus is alive and thriving, and it bears fruit and will continue.

And Halevai we should merit to see a continuation of the study of mussar and the avodas hamussar and to see great baalei mussar as well, because we know today that, if chas veshalom the mussar derech will not continue, it means that Torah is being forgotten, Rachmana litzlan. It is imperative that mussar should also have a hemshech, both in learning and in practical implementation and by having baalei mussar, b'ezras Hashem!

215 - Terumah

Rav Wolbe (Shiurei Chumash) sites the Sforno who explains the commandment to build the Mishkan. Before the sin of the golden calf, Bnei Yisroel were able to build a mizbeiach anywhere at all. Hashem's glory filled the world and, therefore, one was allowed to offer a sacrifice wherever he wished, as the pasuk states, "Build for Me a mizbeiach . . . any place that you mention My Name I will come to you and bless you" (Shemos 20, 21). This was not the case after they sinned with the golden calf. Hashem decided that His glory would have to be concentrated in a specific place. Hence, we were commanded to build the Mishkan to serve as that abode, and from then on sacrifices could only be offered in the Mishkan or Beis Hamikdosh.

Rav Wolbe elaborates, that the Mishkan was to act as a virtual world; a microcosm of the entire universe. As Chazal tell us, the hooks that held the yerios (coverings of theMishkan)together twinkled like the stars, the beams of the Mishkan paralleled the angels on high, and each of the utensils mirrored a different aspect of the universe. Originally, the world was created pure, but became tainted shortly thereafter when Adam sinned by eating from the eitz hadas. When Bnei Yisroel heard the Aseres Hadibros at Har Sinai, they regained the purity of Adam before he sinned. However, they lost that status with the sin of the golden calf. The Mishkan was intended to fill the void and act as a miniature world devoid of sin.

It was for this reason that all those who were ritually impure were not permitted to enter the Mishkan. Ritual impurity associated with death comes as a result of sins, for as Chazal tell us, "It is not [the bite of] the snake that causes death, rather, it is the sin that causes death." If there were no sin, there would be no deaths. The Kuzari explains how all the ritual impurities are in some way connected to death. Sins, and therefore death, have no place in this newfound utopian world. In this abode, Hashem's Shechina could reside.

Chazal also explain the commandment to build the Mishkan almost homiletically. "Build for Me a Mikdash, and I will dwell within - each and every one of you." If the world around us is filled with decadence, each of us must attempt to create an environment that resembles the Mishkan. We must ensure that the enticements and sins of the secular world do not enter into our homes thereby enabling it to act as an oasis for Hashem's Shechina.