Thursday, January 27, 2011

261 - Mishpatim

"If you take your friend's garment as a security you shall return it to him before sunset. For it alone is his clothing - it is his garment for his skin, and in what should he lie down? - If he will cry out to Me I will listen for I am compassionate" (Shemos 22, 25-26). The Ramban explains, that Hashem is cautioning those who think that they have the ability to take a garment of an unrighteous person as a security because even if the borrower cries out, Hashem will not heed his prayers. Therefore, the pasuk stresses that He will listen for He is compassionate. Since Hashem is compassionate, He accepts the prayers of even those who are not righteous and deserving.

Rav Wolbe (Shiurei Chumash) states that according to this explanation of the Ramban, there is a pasuk in the Torah explicitly informing us that acceptance of a tefilla is not dependent entirely on one's level of righteousness. One cannot be sure that the tefilla of a tzaddik will be accepted while that of a rasha will remain unanswered. However, as written in Tehillim, there is one prerequisite to tefilla. "Hashem is close to all those who call upon Him - to all who call upon him truthfully." In other words, one must not fool himself while davening. When praying to Hashem, a rasha must acknowledge the fact that he is wicked, but nevertheless plead to Hashem to help him in his time of distress. He knows where he stands spiritually, but still recognizes that the Hashem is the only One Who can truly help him.

Additionally, "true prayer" implies that there must be a possibility that the prayer can be fulfilled. If one prays that he should know the entire Shas by the next morning, there is a lack of truth in his prayer because such a feat is impossible.

Despite our shortcomings, Hashem takes an interest in our prayers, and He accepts them. One must never think, "Why should I daven; after all who am I that Hashem should listen to my prayers?" The Torah tells us that Hashem is "Chanun" - compassionate. The Ramban writes, "chanun" stems from the root word "chinom" - gratis. Hashem listens to our prayers for free - even though we have nothing to offer in the way of righteousness.

A biography of the Mashgiach
Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe z"l

The Bais Hamussar is in the midst of a monumental project.

A biography of the remarkable life of the Mashgiach Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe z"l is being written in English.

Anyone familiar with the Mashgiach's personal history knows that his life was and will forever be a source of Chizuk to all. Every person can grow from reading about his life of trials and his many courageous victories, aside from the influence he had on the multitudes through thousands of Shiurim, much personal guidance and his well-known Seforim.

Thus, the story of the Mashgiach's life will Bezras Hashem touch upon the soul of Jews all over the world, regardless of affiliation or observance level.

We ask you, a recipient of the Bais Hamussar Dvar Torah, to take part in this biography and donate a minimum of $100, and have your name inscribed in the book.

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Friday, January 21, 2011

260 - Yisro

Before Matan Torah, Hashem asks Moshe to determine whether Bnei Yisroel are interested in accepting the Torah. Their immediate response is recorded in the Torah: "And the entire nation answered as one and they said, 'All that Hashem has spoken we shall do'" (Shemos 19, 8). The Mechilta explains the seemingly superfluous wording of the pasuk "as one" as follows: These words were added lest one think that all of Bnei Yisroel answered in a similar fashion due to chanufa i.e. because they felt pressure to conform. The Torah informs us that the agreement to accept the Torah was an individual decision made by each and every one in Klal Yisroel.

Rav Wolbe (Shiurei Chumash) elaborates, that often when a poll is taken in a public forum, there is a majority that feels one way while a dissenting opinion is held by a minority of the people present. Nevertheless, in many instances, the minority is too embarrassed to voice their opinion and therefore, they agree with the majority. The Mechilta refers to such consent as an act of chanufa. They don't want to concur, but they also can't bring themselves to say no to those with whom they disagree.

A congregation, or for that matter any group of people that are acting together, is a powerful force. A group of people learning Torah or fulfilling mitzvos together creates an atmosphere that can aid in strengthening one's Torah observance since it's easier to apply oneself when there are numerous people striving toward a similar goal. However, there is also a down side to being part of a group because it hinders a person from developing his own individuality. He is concerned with what everybody else thinks in general, and how they regard him in particular. This causes him to act or conform in ways that might not be appropriate for him.

There are definitely instances that require one to conform to the opinion of the majority. However, in all other situations, one must be careful not to merely copy the opinions of others. Rather, he should take the time to determine the best course of action for his individual achievement and act accordingly. He should ask himself, "What is the course of action that will best promote my growth as a Torah Jew?" Like everything else in life, a tzibbur must also be used in the proper manner if one wishes to achieve the optimum results.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

259 - Beshalach

The Torah relates how each day, no matter how much mann a person would gather, when he would measure it, he would find that he was left with exactly one single portion. However, on erev Shabbos after measuring the mann that had been gathered, they found that they had two portions. Moshe Rabbeinu explained that since the following day was Shabbos no mann would fall, and therefore, they were given a double portion that would last for two days. Nevertheless, there were those among Bnei Yisroel who did not heed Moshe's words and went out on Shabbos to search for mann.

In response to their behavior Hashem tells Moshe, "Until when will you (plural) refuse to observe My commandments (Shemos 16, 28). Rashi, puzzled by Moshe's being included in Hashem's rebuke, explains that as people are wont to say, "When one weeds a field, some cabbage gets uprooted in the process." In other words, although it is the wicked who deserve the rebuke, the righteous are also included.

Rav Wolbe (Shiurei Chumash) asks why this is so. Why are the righteous at fault for the sins of the wicked? He explains that even though it is the wicked who committed the sin, to a certain extent the others are at fault. If the majority is very scrupulous in the observance of a particular mitzvah, it would not be possible for the minority to sin in that area. It is only the laxity in Torah observance of the general populace that allows individuals to sin.

This concept is outlined clearly in the Navi Yehoshua. When Achan took something from the consecrated property of Yericho, Hashem told Yehoshua, "Yisroel has sinned, they have taken from the consecrated property, they have stolen etc." Although it was a single person who was guilty of the above transgressions, the entire Bnei Yisroel were blamed for the misdemeanor. This is because if the rest of Bnei Yisroel would have distanced themselves from stealing to the nth degree, it would not have been possible for any individual to transgress the prohibition to steal. This concept stems from the dictum of Chazal that all Jews are guarantors for each other (Kol Yisroel areivim ze la'ze).

Reb Yisroel Salanter would say that if we strengthen our observance of Shabbos in Lithuania, it will prevent a fellow Jew from desecrating the Shabbos in Paris. A good way to help prevent our brothers from leaving the fold of Judaism - and maybe even bringing those who haven't yet gotten to know their heritage closer - is by strengthening our own observance of Torah and mitzvos. All Jewish people are connected in more ways than meet the eye.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

258 - Bo

The Torah tells us that Bnei Yisroel left Mitzrayim in a hurry and did not even prepare any provisions for the way. Rashi (Shemos 12, 39) comments that from here we see Bnei Yisroel's greatness; they followed Hashem into the wilderness without an inkling of where they would procure food for themselves. Referring to this occasion, Hashem declared, "I recall for you the kindness of your youth, the love of your nuptials, your following Me into the desert, into an unsown land." Rashi adds that the reward for this blind faith is mentioned in the following pasuk, "Yisroel is holy to Hashem."

Rav Wolbe (Shiurei Chumash) says that it appears from the pasuk that because Bnei Yisroel had bitachon they were rewarded with kedusha (becoming holy). We tend to think that bitachon and kedusha are two concepts that are entirely unrelated. However, the Navi is enlightening us to the fact that these two middos are interdependent, and Bnei Yisroel merited becoming holy due to their complete bitachon in Hashem.

We can explain the connection between bitachon and kedusha as follows. Kedusha means to be devoted in an absolute manner. Hence, the Torah refers to one who is dedicated entirely to Hashem as a kadosh, while a man who is devoted to promiscuous activity is referred to as a kodeish. In a similar vein, Hashem is described as Kadosh because He is totally set apart from all of humanity. We are therefore commanded, "And you shall be holy (kedoshim) because I am Holy (Kadosh). Just as Hashem is completely set apart, so too, Bnei Yisroel should set themselves apart from the rest of mankind and be absolutely dedicated to Hashem.

How does one reach this level of kedusha? It can be reached through bitachon. He who has absolute faith in Hashem relies on Him entirely, and does not place his trust in any human being. Bnei Yisroel, with their bitachon, followed Hashem blindly into the wilderness and showed that they were devoted totally to Him. This complete devotion raised them to the level of kedoshim.

Accordingly, kedusha is not as difficult to obtain as many may think. A few minutes a day spent studying Sha'ar Ha'bitachon in the Chovos Ha'levovos can add greatly not only to one's menuchas hanefesh (peace of mind) but also to one's level of kedusha.