Wednesday nights - Rav Benzion's Tanya shiur..........Please continue to daven for the good health of the Rebbe (Yechiel Michel ben Devorah Leah) and Rebbetzin (Feiga bas Sarah).

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Seder Hayom (1): Modeh Ani

In conjunction with the shul's daily halacha initiative, I would like to complement the halachos we are learning with some insights into avoda with the words of the Rebbe and other tzadikim, specifically those who are connected to Hornosteipel, namely Beis Chernobyl, the Baal Hatanya, the Rebbe Reb Zisha, Sanz, Kantikuziv, etc. I doubt I will be able to post on this every day but b'siyata dishmaya I hope to stay more or less on schedule with the program.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Minhagim: Pesach (Part 2)

The Rebbe, shlit"a, sells chometz gamur such as bread and liquor.

Click here to read an informative article from the OK outlining the basics of selling chometz, including an explanation of the Baal Hatanya's requirement that the sale be done through an arev kablan (guarantor).

* * *

It is customary to have special dishes for Pesach and not to rely on kashering them by hagala.

However, it is permitted l'chatchila to do so if one wishes. The Rebbe Reb Yaakov Yisroel, zy"a,  had special dishes for Pesach but there were always a few dishes that he would do hagala on. Similarly, the Rebbe, shlit"a, has separate dishes and utensils for Pesach but some years he will do hagala on a few things (particularly the becher of Reb Zisha Tolmitcher).

The source for the halacha of hagalas keilim is the verse (Bamidbar, 31:22-23) which states that any material that can withstand passage through fire, namely all metals, can be made "kosher" through libun or hagala. There is also a halacha that an earthenware utensil that has absorbed a forbidden substance has no remedy, even by way of hagala or libun, as the verse explicitly tells us (Vayikra, 6:21), "and any earthenware vessel...shall be broken, and if a copper utensil...shall be scoured and rinsed in water" (a reference to hagala).
At Shalosh Seudos on Shabbos Hagadol 5767 (2007), the Rebbe pointed out that when the Torah teaches us the halacha of hagala, it lists all types of metal (gold, silver, copper, iron, and so on). In the pasuk of earthenware vessels, however, the Torah only mentions copper. Second of all, as we know from the seforim hakedoshim, the entirety of Torah is always relevant and teaches us how to live in every moment and in every situation. How can we apply the ideas behind hagala to our daily service of Hashem?
The Rebbe explained that the reason why earthenware vessels cannot be kashered through hagala is because earthenware is porous and a substance will be absorbed much more deeply, to the "point of no return". Hagala isn't strong enough to expunge the absorbed material that entered so deep into the vessel. With metals (which are not porous), while the substance is absorbed to some degree, the damage done is merely a "flesh wound" and through the appropriate process, can be remedied.
In the Mikdash there were three levels: the Kodesh Hakadoshim, the Kodesh, which is where the service was performed, and the Courtyard where all the preparations took place. The Kiyor was there; that's where they prepared the animals and all the other things that were "mundane". A curtain supported by pillars set into sockets of copper separated the Courtyard from the Kodesh.
The dividing curtain between the mundane and the holy must be held in place by copper. The word for copper is נחשת (n'choshes), which comes from the word נחושה (n'chusha), meaning strong, adamant and inflexible.
In today's tumultuous and portentous world, there is no place safe from the adverse influences of society. The very air we breathe is impure and not only from an environmental standpoint. Today, living is hazardous to one's spiritual health. Undoubtedly, our best defenses will be breached. But the question is, how far will the poison and pollution get in?
If our convictions are made of n'choshes (copper), if we are adamant and unfaltering in our commitment to drawing the line when we are presented with something antithetical to our values as authentic Torah Jews, as inflexible as copper, then even though some of the "animalistic" and the mundane will penetrate, we can be purged. There are ways to restore one's integrity.
But if we are porous like earthenware and our minds and homes are a free-for-all, we will absorb much more of the impurity. Then, the only way to purify ourselves again is by breaking and that is something we are not ready to deal with.
The first pasuk teaches us in a practical sense that all those metals are subject to hagala. When the Torah tells us that earthenware is irremediable other than by breaking, we are supposed to pay attention to the alternate example: copper. None of the other metals are mentioned. Among all the other metals, copper (נחשת) represents that which is resolute and tenacious, and that is how we must live if we have hope of being restored to uncompromised purity and sanctitude.

On Motzei Shabbos Hagadol 5768 (2008), the Rebbe told the following story:
One year when the Baal Hatanya visited the Mezritcher Maggid for Pesach, he didn't have enough money to purchase a new becher for Pesach. All he had was a glass becher that he used during the rest of the year. Technically, a glass cup wouldn't need to be kashered but the Rama says in Hilchos Pesach that the minhag is not to kasher glass. Some understand the Rama to mean that on Pesach, because of the stringent nature of chometz, we are machmir not to kasher glass. During the rest of the year, to kasher glass that was used with treif, for example, one could kasher glass. Since the Baal Hatanya had no other option, he brought his glass becher with him to the Maggid's seder and relied on the opinions that glass is generally kasherable and even on Pesach.
When the Maggid was ready to begin the seder, he raised his becher to make kidush but something seemed out of place. He put his becher down and became lost in thought. He then proceeded to raise the becher a second time and again he put it back. After a third time the talmidim began to worry. Reb Mendele Vitebsker, a particularly close talmid of the Maggid, began to make his way around the room, searching for what could have upset the Maggid's kidush. Finding nothing amiss, he reported such to the Maggid. "I don't know either," exclaimed the Magid. "But how can I proceed when the Rama is standing there looking frighteningly b'rogez (trans. in a fury)?"
The Baal Hatanya heard that and quickly removed his becher from the room.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Chometz-Free Only With Siyata Dishmaya

איתא במשנת חסידים (ניסן ג, ד): הנזהר ממשהו חמץ בפסח מובטח לו שלא יחטא כל השנה

In Mishnas Chassidim it is written: One who is careful [lit. one who is kept] from even the smallest amount of chometz on Pesach is assured that he will not sin the entire year.

The Chernobyler Maggid (quoted in Yalkut Meorei Ohr) pointed out that it should have said הזהיר (ha'zahir), meaning "one who is careful", and not הנזהר (ha'nizhar), "one who was kept", the implication of which is that he was kept from chometz by a third party. So he says that the truth is that since chometz is forbidden even as a ma'shehu (a smallest amount), it is impossible for a person to truly be sure to get rid of ALL of his chometz. Rather, after all the hishtadlus and work that we do to remove the chometz, one must ask from the Ribono shel Olam that He assist him that he should be able to be saved and kept from chometz b'mashehu. The only way to be careful from chometz entirely is by the intervention and assistance of Hashem so it is correct in saying "one who was kept from chometz".

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Minhagim: Pesach (Part 1)

The custom is to use only shmura matza throughout Pesach.

* * * 

Similarly, only hand-made matza should be used. Women and children are also makpid about this.

In the "machine vs. hand-made" debate we find some of the greatest poskim on either side. The rabbanim of Galitzia were predominately opposed to the use of machine-made matzos. It is not entirely clear what the prevailing custom was among the masses in Ukraine, but in Hornostiepel they were makpid to use only hand-made matzos, as well as shmura (although the two concepts are entirely dependent of each other).

When the Rebbe speaks about this topic, he invariably mentions this story (I have heard it from the Rebbe's brother Reb Shiya as well): The Rebbe Reb Leibele appointed Rav Chaim Osterer to be the melamed of Reb Yaakov Yisroel. Once, Rav Chaim brought the young Reb Yaakov Yisroel to a matza factory that was under his supervision. Rav Chaim showed him all the machines and explained how they make matzos in the best possible way from a halachic standpoint, with all of the hidurim and chumros. Reb Yaakov Yisroel pointed to one area of the machine and asked what was inside. When they opened it up, they saw some dough that had become caught and all the matzos were brushing up against it as they moved along the conveyor-belt (rendering them all chometz). Rav Chaim said, "The absolute truth is that this is near impossible and I myself have checked this exact spot many times before and something like this never happened. It is probably because you are an eiynikel of the holy Divrei Chaim of Sanz (who was strongly opposed to machine-made matzos)."
Reb Elisha Gorlitzer, hy"d

Rav Benzion Twerski related the following: During the Holocaust, Reb Elisha Gorlitzer, a son-in-law of the Rebbe Reb Motele and grandson of the Divrei Chaim, ran to Russia and from there was sent to Siberia. It came to Pesach time and although there were machine matzos available, being a grandson of the Divrei Chaim, Reb Elisha did not want to eat them. He exclaimed, "If it has come to this, that I must eat machine-matzos on Pesach, what is my life worth?" and he wept bitterly all Erev Pesach. Reb Elisha spent Pesach in Heaven for he passed away that night (15th of Nisan) before the seder.

* * *
The Rebbe, shlit"a, is not makpid to only eat razaveh matzos.

In Ukraine, it seems that there was a common custom to use razaveh matzos (whole-wheat matzos). This minhag is mentioned quite favorably by Reb Motele in a responsa published in Emek Shaila (Orach Chaim 17) and it is referred to as a "hidur" in Perach Shoshanim (107), the kuntrus of minhagei Manistritch in the back of Erchei Yehoshua (Reb Leibele's brother-in-law, the son of Reb Yitzchok Yoel of Kantikuziv). The Hornosteipler Rebbe in Flatbush told me that he follows this minhag, along with Skver and some of the other Chernobyl branches.

* * *
Like the Baal Shem Tov and subsequently all Chassidim, the Rebbe shlit"a does not eat gebroks (also called matza sheruya, lit. soaked matza). Many are exceedingly stringent regarding gebroks and go to great lengths to ensure that no amount of matza comes in contact with any liquid. So too, no utensils should come in contact with gebroks. Others, while they do not eat gebroks, they will be more lenient about utensils or are makpid only that water shouldn't touch the matzos but other liquids or spreads may be eaten with matza.
At the Rebbe's seder, all the participants are given bags in which to keep their matzos in order to minimize the amount of loose crumbs. Many will break off a small piece of matza while it is still in the bag and proceed to eat only one small piece at a time. Also, the matzos that are on the table should be covered, lest a drop of water fall on them.
The Baal Hatanya writes clearly in his Shulchan Aruch that the stringency of gebroks applies only to matza with water but regarding fruit juice, "it is simple that there is no reason to be stringent at all". Many, including the Rebbe, however, are careful also with fruit juice (Divrei Chaim was makpid?). But one does not have to worry about milk products that do not have water mixed in. For example, I once heard the Rebbe tell someone they could eat matza with cream cheese or butter. Even though the main issue with gebroks is with liquid, such as dipping matza into liquid, he nonetheless later told someone else not to spread avocado on matza.
If crumbs of matza did fall into a utensil with water, one should not eat the food that was in the utensil. The utensil itself can be washed out well and reused.
On the last day of Yom Tov (in chutz la'aretz obviously), we have the minhag to eat gebroks. The Rebbe does not have special utensils for this rather he uses the regular Pesach utensils and uses the same utensils next year without kashering them.

This is a work in progress so please send me any other minhagim, halachos, sources, stories and other information that you may know about. As always, comments and questions are greatly appreciated.

Thirty Days Before Pesach

Yeah, I know, its really twenty-six days.

The Gemara in Megila (29b) says that one must ask about and expound upon the laws of Pesach, starting from thirty days prior to Pesach which is Purim. The inner reason, adds the Chernobyler Magid (in his Likutei Torah, Parshas Parah), is because the בהירות (clear, bright light) of Pesach starts shining from Purim. Last Shabbos (still before Purim), the Rebbe was already learning Maor Einayim (at the beginning of Parshas Tzav) about Pesach.

Here is a tidbit from Rebbe Nachum of Chernobyl (Maor Einayim, in the השמטות from Breishis): "Rosh Chodesh Nisan is from the same word as נס [commonly meaning 'miracle', but also a pole or something elevated], for in this month we are able to "elevate" our heads [and pick ourselves up]. Therefore, it is imperative to strengthen and purify oneself [in this month]."

In Parsahs Tzav, the Maor Einyaim adds that just like Klal Yisreol went from Egypt (constriction, katnus) to freedom (gadlus) in Nisan, so too every year during the month of Nisan we have the capability to leave the constricted, limited experience and primitive thinking that we find ourselves in most of the year, and to move forward to freedom and gadlus (expansive, liberated experience and connection to Hashem). This is what Chazal meant when they said (Rosh Hashana 11a): בניסן נגאלו ובניסן עתידין ליגאל, "In Nisan they were redeemed and in Nisan we will be redeemed in the future". Every year we can tap in to the light of Nisan and be redeemed from the debilitating nature of Egypt, Paroah and all that they represent.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Shemini: Authenticy Cannot Be Dependent

This shiur is was given one day after Shacharis during the week of Parshas Shemini 5767 (2007).

Our Sages are very bothered with figuring out where Nadav and Avihu's approach went awry. Some say because they answered a halachic query in front of Moshe Rabeinu. Another opinion is that they were not married. The most famous reason given by Chazal is that they drank wine before they entered the Kodesh HaKadoshim (Holy of Holies).

The Rebbe suggested the following: At our own level, we understand the importance of living life joyfully, and certainly Nadav and Avihu understood how important it is to serve Hashem with a joyful heart. Concerned about the fact that their joy may not have reached the necessary quality, they sought to amplify it by drinking wine, which they intended, would liberate some extra measure of joy.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Backwards Busha Battling

Sorry about the title; I just couldn't help it.

This past Shabbos (Tzav 5771) after tish, the Rebbe said that one of the ways to generate the requisite conviction and determination in order to stand up against the temptation of the yetzer hara, is to ask yourself the following: If I did such-and-such, would I be able to look at myself in the mirror afterward? In other words, imagine that you already did the aveira. How do you view yourself? By experiencing that busha (shame, embarrassment) you can guilt yourself into not actually doing it. You are fighting the battle in backwards fashion.

Rashi brings that Yosef Hatzadik was prevented from succumbing to the yetzer hara by the sight of his father's image - ראה דמות דיוקנו של אביו. The Rebbe interpreted it as saying that Yosef thought, "When I am finally reunited with my father, having done this sin, how will I be able to look at his face?" He looked ahead and imagined what it would be like to look in his father's eyes as a compromised Yosef as opposed to as Yosef Hatzadik.

Video: Purim 5771

Awesome video of the Rebbe saying Torah at the Trink Seudah. A tremendous yasher koach to Reb Tzuriel Kastel for filming and posting the video.

You can try downloading it by clicking here (mp4, 288 MB).

Friday, March 18, 2011

Purim: We Will Not Kneel, Not Now, Not Ever

When the Megila speaks about Mordechai's refusal to bow down to Haman, the pasuk says, "ומרדכי לא יכרע ולא ישתחוה". While this could be understood  as "Mordechai would not bow", the literal translation is "and Mordechai will not kneel and he will not bow".

The implication is that there is something about Haman and Amalek that is so antithetical to the Jew that Mordechai absolutely could not kneel. In his not kneeling, Mordechai gave the message that Haman is so evil and so foreign to the Jewish mindset and experience that we will not kneel and we will not bow. Not now and not ever. He didn't bow with such defiance and conviction that it was clear to all that he could not and would not at any point in time.

When Haman saw this total and absolute determination-and he recognized it to be forever unfaltering-that's when he knew he would have to destroy Klal Yisroel, that there was no way to "convert" them.
Adar is a time of to renew. It is a time to renew convictions and reaffirm our undying and unwavering allegiance to Hashem and the mission he has charged us with.

On Shabbos Zachor and Purim, when we remember to forget Amalek, let us do so with every fiber of our being and let there be no room for anyone, including ourselves, to misunderstand our intentions. We will not give in to the yetzer hara. We will not kneel to Haman. We will not bow to any other than Hashem.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Fight Against Amalek

Relevant to Shabbos Zachor, here is an excerpt from Mishpacha Magazine (Issue 196), as "heard from the Milwaukee/Hornsteiple Rebbe, HaRav Michel Twerski, shlita":

What were the two things that drew Yisro close, which convinced him to cast his lot with the Jewish people?  Rashi, quoting Chazal, tells us that it was the splitting of the sea and the war with Amalek that were the catalysts for his conversion. These two things symbolize the path of a good Jew; these two experiences represent the two facets of our work in this world.  Kriyas Yam Suf gave us the ability to jump in, to leave everything behind, to throw it all away and take the plunge.  Then after the initial enthusiasm wore off, after that burst of self-sacrifice, the uphill battle began.  The fight against Amalek represents the fight against all those forces that wish to ‘cool us off,’ to lower the flames of our passion and determination.  As hard as it is to take the plunge, it’s equally hard, if not more so, to keep the battle going, to persist and endure.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Photo of Rebbe Yaakov Yisroel Twerski, ztz"l

This photo was taken in Detroit, apparently at a bagleiten. I'm guessing that it was on the way to the chasunah and not Shabbos morning since there are no shtreimelach. (Also, if it was Shabbos morning it would have been taken by a goy. Possible, but not likely we would have it if that were the case).
Click to enlarge.

From left to right, Rebbe Shlomo Yaakov "Zeide" Eichenstein of Burshtein, Rebbe Moshe Panet of Dej-Shotz, The Rebbe Reb Yaakov Yisroel of Milwaukee, Rebbe Yosef Bentzion Rabinowitz of Orel-Brezna (Reb Yossel Detroiter), the chosson Rav Meir Moskowitz son of Rebbe Avrahom Chaim of Heirtz,  Harav Avrahom Dov Twerski son of Rebbe Baruch Dovid of Kalinkovitz, Rav Aaron Halevi Pintchick son of Rebbe Nochum Yehoshua Halevi Pintchick of Dombrovitze-Sarne, Rebbe Dovid Moshe Shapira of Gvoditz-Sadigura, Rav Yoel Brandwein. Picture was taken in Detroit in 5713.
(Thanks to Reb Chaim Shmeel Twerski for the precise details.)

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Propitiousness of Purim

HaRav Shloime Twerski of Denver, ztz"l, on Purim.
From the sefer Pele Yoetz (free translation):

"During the Purim seudah, Reb Motele said L'Chayim in his holy manner and then said the following:
Today, on Purim, there are three hashpaos:
1) The tefilah of each and every member of Klal Yisroel, even if davened by themselves, will come before the King of Kings and his request will be fulfilled.
2) On the average, our lips are moving and we are not so present to the davening. On Purim one is able to connect his thoughts with his speech during davening and learning.
3) Even one who is caught, chas v'shalom, in thoughts of heresy and transgression, today he can be aroused to repentance and he will return from his wicked thoughts and ways."
Look it up to see how he reads these three things into the Megilla (9:25).

In another maamer in Pele Yoetz, Reb Motele says:

"Today is the time to accept the yoke of Heaven and the oneness of Hashem upon ourselves, to serve Him completely through self-negation and the extirpation of personal interests, to fulfill only the will of Hashem. [This can occur] through the revelation of the central point of the neshama, the "pintele yid". From today on, we can accept on ourselves to serve the One G-d in all our actions and affairs."

These are just a sampling of the awesome power of Purim!

Reb Motele on Purim

A little about the Rebbe Reb Motele on Purim...

I remember hearing on numerous occasions that the chassidim used to file by the Rebbe Reb Motele and each one would pour a little of what they were drinking into a large, sliver negel vasser cup that was placed before the Rebbe. It didn't matter if they poured in beer or vodka, wine or whiskey. When the "cup" was full, the Rebbe would drink the whole thing and begin saying Torah.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Tachanun During Adar

Specific minhagim as heard from the Rebbe, shlit"a:

1. Yahrtzeits during Adar are kept during both Adar Rishon and Adar Sheini.

2. Tachanun is omitted on the 7th of Adar, the yahrtzeit of Moshe Rabeinu.

3. During the Shivas Y'mei Hamiluim, the last seven days of Adar, Tachanun is omitted. However, in Adar Rishon, Tachanun is said since these seven days are not inherent to Adar rather they are the seven days prior to Rosh Chodesh Nisan.

Heard of any particular minhagim of the Rebbe or the Rebbeim of Hornosteipel for Adar/Purim? Post them in your comments.

Rosh Chodesh Adar II משנכנס אדר מרבים בשמחה

We had an extra month of Adar this year to prepare for Purim.
We are already half way through שלושים יום קודם החג.
Better late than never.
So here is a recording of the Rebbe's Layehudim, sung at the Purim Seudah in 5768 (2008) to get us started.

Nusach: Weekday Shmone Esrei

Shemoneh Esrei from the Radviller Siddur
I have received a number of requests to post about the differences between the Siddur Tefila Yeshara and the actual nusach of the Rebbe, shlit"a.

The first thing we need to remember is that while the Rebbe, shlit"a, does daven from the Tefila Yeshara siddur, it is impossible to clarify the actual nusach of Hornosteiple in any conclusive manner.

There is a letter in the back of Pele Yoetz from the Rebbe Reb Mottele, zy"a, to his youngest son Reb Burich Duvid'l, asking him not to forsake his nusach in favor of the nusach of the Baal Hatanya and that he should rather daven according to either the Siddur Nehora or Siddur Radvil.

Now, I have toyed excessively with possible theories as to what the Rebbe Reb Mottele could have meant when he wrote "either Nehora or Radvil", since they are two distinct siddurim, the differences between them vastly outweighing the similarities. While the Siddur Nehora is basically Ashkenaz, the Radviller nusach is clearly a Chassidishe nusach (although it too resembles Ashkenaz to a much greater degree than other Chassidishe siddurim).

For the sake of getting to the point, I have kept out a lot of details and history. Maybe I'll get to write a post about the whole topic in greater depth...

We start with Siddur Tefila Yeshara (Radvil), printed for the second time in 1820 (date of the first print is up for discussion).

It was printed a number times after that and eventually found its way to Barditchev  in 1894 where it was combined with the by then famous commentary Keser Nehora (which was previously printed in a different siddur). The siddur we have today is called Siddur Tefila Yeshara v'Keser Nehora Hashalem Bardichev and it was printed with some amendments in Premishla in 1929. Until the new edition came out this past Chanuka, all prints of this siddur were copies of the Premishla edition.

Without further ado, let us begin. 

Weekday Shmone Esrei (the number connotes which bracha):
1) same as printed.
2) "ורב להושיע" also in all three tefilos, not just Mincha.
3) same, in Kedusha we say "לעומתם ברוך יאמרו" as is customary in Chernobyl. The chazzan doesn't say "לדור ודור נגיד גדלך" rather ואתה קדוש
4) The Rebbe Reb Leibele's son, Reb Nuchim from Tel Aviv, wrote that in Hornosteiple they said "חכמה בינה ודעת". However, in Pele Yoetz (Parshas Vayigash) and in the Siddur Radvil the nusach is "דעה בינה והשכל". The Rebbe, shlit"a, says דעה בינה והשכל
5) same.
6) same, without what's in the parenthesis.
7) same, without what's in the parenthesis.
8) same. (9) same. (10) same. (11) same.
12) same. In the letter from Reb Nuchim he mentions some differences regarding this bracha but the Rebbe, shlit"a, davens like in the siddur.
13) same.
14) same (k'minhag ashkenaz).
15) same.
16) שמע קולנו ה' אלקינו אב הרחמן חוס ורחם עלינו
17) same. (18) same.
19) We say שים שלום by all the tefilos. 

That's all for now. I would appreciate any corrections or additional information. Thanks!

Come To Take

The Rebbe, shlit"a, related that after the passing of one of the Rebbes of Modzitz (the name of whom escapes me) there were older chassidim who found the transition to the son of their previous rebbe very difficult. Finally, one of these chassidim came to the new rebbe and complained, "By your father I would walk in and immediately be overcome with feelings of elation, thoughts of teshuva and pining for the Ribono Shel Olam. Now, when I come to the Rebbe's tisch I feel nothing."

The new Rebbe answered, "In this week's parsha (Pekudei) it says by all of the various parts of the Mishkan it says "vayiten", "and he put" (lit. gave) each on in its appropriate place. But when it comes to tell us that Moshe put the luchos in the Aron, the Torah says "vayikach vayiten", "and he took and placed". This is to teach us that one must come to take and then it will be placed in his heart. If you are not coming to take you cannot possibly be given."

And the chasid remained with his new Rebbe. 

(Leil Shabbos, Parshas Pekudei 5571)

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Pekudei Download

To download the weekly D'var Torah from this past Shabbos so you can print it easily (.pdf format) click DOWNLOAD. Sorry for not getting it up here earlier.


This past Shabbos, the Rebbe composed a new nigun and introduced it by Shalosh Seudos. The Rebbe called it "Avi's Aufruf Nigun", in honor of the chosson Avi Appel, whose chassuna is this Wednesday night in Toronto, בשעה טובה ומוצלחת. To hear the nigun click here. To download, click here.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Pekudei: Everyday Ruach Hakodesh Part II

...This is a continuation of the previous post.

Is This Ruach Hakodesh?
These three stories all deal with people who have been liberated from everything which confounds most of our minds. And because their minds are free, what comes to them is significant. They understand that its not capricious. There is meaning to what enters their awareness, especially, if what enters their minds is in any way unusual. Why, after scores of years, did I think about this question of chicken before the soup or vice versa? When I’m touching the mezuzah, why is my mind reviewing the laws of Tumah? Why, when someone is telling me something which is perfectly logical, that they should retire and learn Torah, does my mind tell me that he should continue working?
You could argue that it isn’t ruach hakodesh. It could just be a keen sense of intuition. Maybe. But it sure is prophetic caliber stuff (ruach hakodeshdik) when someone has a mind that is free of debris and garbage to such a degree.

My Heart Told Me: Rashi HaKadosh

Rashi's Synagogue in Worms
When describing the garments of the Kohen Gadol, Rashi (Shmos 28:4) says: “My heart tells me that [the Ephod] is similar to the type of apron worn by princesses when the go horseback riding.”
Our attention is drawn to this comment, merely for the fact that the phrase “my heart tells me” is not only uncommon with Rashi, but in his entire commentary of Tanach, it appears no place other than on this verse.
In addition to the fact that Rashi’s mind was clear of debris, his line of sight was also not subject to anything disharmonious with Torah. If something came to his attention, not only in the form of a thought, but even if he saw something, totally outside of himself, that wasn’t congruent with his discipline, it had to be for a reason. When Rashi was walking along and his attention was diverted to the apron of a princess riding by, the likelihood is that he was plagued to no end. Why did he need to see this, something so out of place with who he was? But, he knew it must be for some reason. When he encountered difficulty understanding the nature of the ephod, it all came together and he knew that “his heart had told him” what the Ephod looked like.

Further Illustration: The Rebbe Reb Zisha

Compilation of Reb Zisha's divrei Torah
A woman came running into the Beis Medrash, crying hysterically. “My husband has gone missing! Am I to remain an aguna my entire life? Have mercy!”
“Your husband is in the hekdesh (the local inn for transients and paupers).”
Everybody turned in the direction of the voice. It was the none other than the Rebbe Reb Zisha, zy”a, of Anipoli who has spoken with such confidence. It took no persuading anybody and the hekdesh was promptly investigated. Sure enough the woman’s husband was found and convinced to give his wife a proper get.
When queried as to how he knew, Reb Zisha responded in all simplicity, “This morning when I went mikveh, I overheard two vagrants conversing and one told the other that there was a new addition to the regulars at the hekdesh. Now why would I have heard something if it wasn’t going to be of some use to my avodas Hashem? I couldn’t figure it out. When this woman said her husband went missing, I understood; it was obvious that her husband had to be at the hekdesh.”

Baal Shem Tov: Chilul Shabbos?

The Baal Shem Tov, zy”a, once saw a certain individual violating the Shabbos (some versions say he was informed that someone was seen violating the Shabbos). The Baal Shem Tov had no rest. He was sure he had somehow desecrated the Shabbos but could not find in himself even the slightest dereliction of this holy mitzvah. He then understood (or, according to some versions, he davened to the Almighty and it was revealed to him) that inasmuch as there was such strong opposition to the Baal Shem Tov, he had once been present when some of the Chassidim and their opponents were arguing and the Baal Shem Tov overheard someone disrespect another Talmid Chocham who was present. The Sages teach that a talmid chocham is likened to Shabbos (see Zohar 3, 29a) and since the Baal Shem Tov did not protect the honor of the talmid chocham, he saw the violation of the Shabbos. The Baal Shem Tov immediately set out for three of the great tzadikim of that generation to serve and honor them. (A story in and of itself.)

Listen To Your Own Questions
With a parsha such as Pekudei, we are often faced with some pretty basic questions which are dismissed for their simplicity. Any question that is troubling you is significant and you should stop and ask yourself, what does that mean to me?
It happens all the time. We go through these sedras every year. Every time I come up with some question that never occurred to me before. And virtually every time I thought about what it is that stopped me it was something that was pertinent to me at this point which would not have been pertinent to me or it wasn’t particularly relevant to me at that time.
The questions or comments that pique our interest when we are learning are really kinds of messages that we would do ourselves a disservice if we brushed them off. There is something there for us to find if would just look a little.

Hashem’s Direct Guidance

 The Baal Shem Tov himself imparted that whatever a person sees or hears is meant to tell him something meaningful in regards to the service of his Creator (see Keser Shem Tov, hosafos, 224). This is true for every individual, not just the likes of the aforementioned Tzadikim. The problem is that most of us have not disciplined ourselves and our senses to only take in that which is pertinent to us and the Almighty’s service. Because detrimental influences and distraction have a free pass into our field of awareness, the significance of those messages is greatly diminished. Unless we see something flagrantly out of place, it is difficult to discern that which is important from the static. The extent to which we commit ourselves and our “inbox” exclusively to G-dly things is the extent to which what we see or hear will contain a meaningful lesson for us.
The Master of the Universe converses with us on a regular basis. But one needs to tune up and tune in to hear it. We need to clean the receptor. Ruach hakodesh is alive and well even today but it is reserved for those who believe in and are faithful to its Source.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Pekudei: Everyday Ruach Hakodesh

The Rebbe Reb Leibele: Questioning Order

In the area of Russia (present-day Ukraine) where Hornosteiple was located, it was common practice to serve the meat before the soup. The exception was Shabbos when they served the soup before the meat as we do today. It was a prevailing convention with no special reasons attached to it.
One Friday night, they brought in the chicken soup and placed it before the Rebbe Reb Leibele, zy”a. The Rebbe did not eat from the soup; it just sat there. Finally, he asked those seating around him, “Why is it that during the week we eat the meat before the soup and on Shabbos we eat the soup before the meat?”
Of course, nobody knew. It was nothing more than a convention. So the Rebbe said, “We might as well have the chicken first, just like during the week. Bring in the chicken.”
When the chicken was placed before the Rebbe, he immediately noticed something that didn’t look right. The chicken was sent to the Rav who promptly ruled it was treife. Had they eaten the soup first, which had been made from that chicken, they would all have eaten treife.
At once, the word amongst the Chassidim was this was a demonstration of the Rebbe’s ruach hakodesh, his prophetic sense.
Reb Leibele silenced them, “We have done it this way for years. During the week, first we eat the chicken and on Shabbos we eat the soup first. Tonight, when they placed the soup before me, was the first time I ever wondered about it. The question occurred to me now as opposed to any other time. It was clear to me that I should think about this. No ruach hakodesh was involved.”
The next Shabbos and on all subsequent Shabbosim, Reb Leibele continue to eat the soup before the chicken, just as he had until then, even though nobody could explain the reason for switching the order. But that one Friday night, because the question occurred to him, he understood that he had to change something. 

The Tzemach Tzedek: Illogical Logic

The Tzemach Tzedek, zy”a, the third Rebbe of Lubavitch and brother-in-law of Rebbe Yaakov Yisroel of Cherkass, was approached by an elderly man. The man told the Rebbe how he had worked an honest living his entire life and now, with what he had saved up, he wanted to devote the remainder of his days to learning Torah. Uncharacteristically, the Tzemach Tzedek told the man that he should not retire. He should continue whatever his regular learning schedule was until now but he must continue working his job. The elderly chasid returned home and despite his Rebbe’s clear instructions, he sold his business and became a permanent fixture in the Beis Medrash.
Not long afterward, this chasid became ill and grew progressively weaker until finally he couldn’t leave his bed. He sent his children to his Rebbe to pray on his behalf. When they came in with the kvittel, the Tzemach Tzedek immediately said, “I told your father not to stop working. Go back. Tell him to commit himself to start to work again and he’ll get better.”
One of the Tzemach Tzedek’s sons had been in the room, and when he was left alone with his father, he expressed his curiosity as to what could be so bad about sitting and learning.
The Tzemach Tzedek explained: “For a person whose mind is clear of debris and garbage, the first thought that comes to his mind when confronted by a question is the thought that Heaven wants him to have. It’s not that I have any logical reason for telling him he should remain working. If anything it is entirely illogical. But when he came to me originally that was the first thought that came to mind so it was clear to me what Hashem wanted him to do.” 

The Rebbe Reb Mottele: Halacha Mix-up

When the Rebbe Reb Mottele of Hornosteipel, zy”a, would often visit his magidus shtetlech (towns), he would stay at the home of one of his Chassidim in that particular town. On one occasion, he came to the front door of where he was staying and reached up to put his hand on the mezuzah. Puzzled by something, he stopped and put his hand down. He put his hand up to the mezuzah again and the same thing occurred. When he touched the mezuzah for a third time and put it down, Reb Mottele turned to the owner of the house and asked if there was an alternate entrance. The chasid replied to the affirmative and showed the Rebbe through a  side door.
“Is there something wrong with my mezuzah?” asked the chasid.
“No,” the Rebbe responded. “I think the mezuzah is okay.”
“So then why did the Rebbe insist on entering the house through the side door?”
Reb Mottele explained: “You must always strive to be connected to the Divine Will associated with any given moment. Whenever I engage in a mitzvah, I review all of the halachos of that mitzvah. When I came to the door and put my hand on the mezuzah, I should have been thinking about the laws of mezuzah. Instead, every time touched the mezuzah, I could only think of the halachos pertaining to ritual purity. I don’t know why.”
After some investigation it was discovered that the mat at the front of the door had become ritually impure to a degree that some Tzadikim were still careful about even long after the destruction of the Beis Hamikdosh.
“When I put my hand on the mezuzah for some reason I was thinking about the halachos of Tumah. It didn’t compute. What do the laws of Tumah have to do with a mezuzah? So I stopped and tried again. By the third time I understood something must be up.” 

To be continued...

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

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To Be Alone In Divine Service

Here is a classic vort from the Rebbe, shlit"a:

When Hashem told Moshe to ascend Har Sinai, He added this stipulation: איש לא יעלה עמך וגם איש אל ירא בכל ההר ההוא. No man shall ascend with you and also no man shall be seen on the entire mountain.
The repetitiveness of the pasuk is obvious.

More often than not, when we are engaged in avdoas Hashem such as davening or learning, we are all too busy worrying about what other people are thinking.

"How am I shukeling?"

"Am I davening too loud?"

"I better not look up out of the sefer, so-and-so is watching."
When one wants to ascend the mountain of Hashem, he must totally remover all others' presence from his consciousness.This is what Hashem was telling Moshe Rabeinu when he told him to ascend Har Sinai and "no man shall ascend with you." It is just you and Hashem.

But there is something subtler and deeper that requires our attention. Inevitably, even if we succeed and are not preoccupied with what other people think, we distract ourselves by constantly checking up on our own avodah. Not in relation to me and the next guy, but my Divine service qua my Divine service. How am I doing in relation to my obligation and abilities? In the moment of avodah, in middle of davening, is not the time to be making cheshbon hanefesh. We get too caught up in this form of self-judgment at the wrong time. How can we expect to lose ourselves in the moments of avodaha and be focused on serving the Almighty when we are busy watching ourselves under the microscope?

So the pasuk is not redundant. Hashem told Moshe: Not only do I want no other man to go up with you, but when you are there on the mountain of Hashem, do not bring yourself either. Let no man be seen at all.