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Archive for the ‘Inspiration’ Category

The Rock – Parshas Chukas

Posted by Rabbi Yehuda Spitz
July 1st, 2011
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פרשת חקת – The Rock

by Binyomin Radner

פרק כ’ פסוק י”ב – “ויאמר ה’ אל משה ואל אהרן יען לא האמנתם בי להקדישני לעיני בני ישראל לכן לא תביאו את הקהל הזה אל הארץ אשר נתתי להם

משה and אהרן are taken to task for failing to sanctify G-d in the midst of the Jewish nation and are therefore denied the privilege of leading them into the Promised Land.

The פסוק is rather cryptic both in its wording of the incident with the rock  at מי מריבה, and in what precisely the sin of משה and אהרן entailed. The commentators discuss this issue at length and the אור החיים alone explores no less than ten varying possible explanations as to what exactly transpired at מי מריבה.

רש”י explains that משה was commanded to speak to the rock and thereby release water for the Jewish people to drink. Yet משה deviated and struck the rock with his staff instead of speaking to it. This was because the rock did not react after being spoken to, as it was the wrong rock. משה figured that perhaps he should hit the rock first in order to achieve the desired effect as was the case with the rock in פרשת בשלח. If only משה had spoken to the rock as instructed, the people would have said, “If a rock which does not speak nor hear and does not need sustenance, yet still dutifully fulfills the command of G-d, we certainly should do likewise.” This potential response would have caused a קידוש ה’.

רמב”ן takes issue with the approach of רש”י on several fronts:

ה’ commanded משה to take the staff in his hand first and then to approach the rock. The implication is that he should, in fact, hit the rock. For if he was to merely speak to the rock to release water, what role would the staff play other than to be used to hit the rock?

Furthermore, the fact that sufficient water for an entire nation could be released from the rock is a tremendous miracle in and of itself. The act of striking the rock does not detract from the miraculous nature of water being produced from an inanimate object, let alone in such a large quantity so as to provide water for a nation of millions of people . Accordingly, the קידוש ה’ of such a supernatural event is the same regardless of the method of communication with the rock.

Additionally, the Pasuk in דברים פרק ל”ו פסוק נ”א  refers to the incident at מי מריבה with  ”אשר מעלתם בי”. Why should משה hitting the rock be called an act of מעילה (which is deriving personal benefit from הקדש?)

Thus, רמב”ן (as well as רבינו חננאל and the רא”ש) explain that the wrongdoing of משה and אהרן was not in the action of striking the rock, but in their choice of words,  ”המן הסלע הזה נוציא לכם מים”. “From this rock will we produce water”?! They should have said “יוציא” “He” – that ה’ will produce the water. This incorrect wording could possibly have lent credence to the false notion that משה and אהרן were the ones who produced the water from the work, and not just ה’. That perhaps it was something of a team effort.  Hence, the קידוש ה’ was lacking. This is also why it was called מעילה since they derived personal benefit from an act of G-d by seemingly crediting themselves with the miracle instead of completely crediting G-d with it.

The רמב”ם in שמונה פרקים פרק ד’ offers yet another explanation that the sin of משה was that he acted with anger when he said to the Jewish nation “שמעו נא המורים” (Listen here rebels.) This caused a חילול ה’ since משה was the chosen emissary of G-d, and the people thought that G-d was angry with them as well, which was not the case.

In light of the attacks which the רמב”ן lodges at the approach of רש”י, perhaps we could have a better understanding of רש”י with the words of the כלי יקר:

The כלי יקר explains that the staff under discussion here that משה was to hold in his hand while speaking to the rock was actually the staff of אהרן. The staff of אהרן was dry wood which contained no moist nor water whatsoever, and yet  still  had sprouted flowers and almonds, which is impossible without water. This occurred because ה’ performed a miracle causing the staff to produce water which in turn produced the flowers and the almonds. Thus, משה was to display the staff to the Jewish people in order to demonstrate that just as ה’ can produce water from a staff, so can He produce water from a stone. Furthermore, whereas משה is commanded to speak to the rock the פסוק does not  inform us  at all of  what he is supposed to say to the rock. But on a closer look, the פסוק states “ודברתם אל הסלע ונתן מימיו”. The basic meaning is that “You should speak to the rock, and then it will give water.” However, the כלי יקר explains that these two words “ונתן מימיו” were the actual words that he was  to say to the rock. Meaning, he should say to the rock, “Just as the staff produced water by the command of G-d, so too should you (the rock) produce water by the command of G-d.”

This is alluded to by virtue of the fact that the גימטריא (numerical equivalent) of  סלע  (rock) = 170 which   is the same as that of עץ (staff). The rock was supposed  to learn from the staff to produce water by G-d’s command. משה however,then proceeded to strike the rock not with the staff of אהרן but with his own staff. This was a great sin due to the history of the staff’s involvement in many of the miracles. Some would scorn that the miracles were performed by the staff of משה with the powers of witchcraft contained inside that staff. Now that water was produced from the rock only after being struck by the same staff of משה  ,the misconception that the miracles were all performed with witchcraft of his staff was further intensified. This caused a חילול ה’ as it reopened the possibility for the scorners to credit the staff for all of the miracles instead of ה’ who really performed them.

The כלי יקר concludes that there is a deeper lesson  hinted to us as well. Earlier in פרשת בשלח, ה’ commanded משה to strike the rock to produce the water, and later on in פרשת חקת not to strike, but to speak to the rock to produce water. At the first time, the Jewish nation had just previously left Egypt and was yet young. Now in פרשת חקת the Jewish nation  was older, had experienced matan torah, and was more developed. This teaches us that when a child is young, corporal punishment can be effective and helpful in the child’s development. However, once the child matures into adolescence, only verbal rebuke is the proper חינוך.

Furthermore, the Jewish nation was to learn from this that they ought to  follow in the ways of ה’ without “corporal punishment”. Meaning, without all of the punishments that were given to them throughout their journey in the desert, they should be able to dutifully follow in the ways of  Hashem without coercion or threats, but out of free will. Since the rock was struck instead of spoken to, this message was prevented from being fully internalized by the Jewish people.

R’ Moshe Feinstein Zt’l in the Darash Moshe adds that there is another lesson hinted to us here as well:

Certainly there is no real difference between hitting the rock or talking to it. The miracle is the same just  like the  רמב”ן explained above. Hence, Moshe was commanded specifically  to speak to the rock even though rocks do not hear or understand. This is to teach us that Torah should be taught even to those who who do not at first  fully grasp it, and  eventually with the accurate  effort and toil, they too will reach the point where they are able to understand it .  R’ Moshe writes furthermore that one should not give up on teaching his children even if it seems at first like they do not understand. Rather, he should teach them repeatedly  until they do understand. Just as the stone did not understand but still fulfilled the command of G-d, so too and certainly to people who do not understand in the beginning but can eventually, with effort, reach the point where they can understand the words of Torah.


The author can be reached at benradner@gmail.com.

Mothers-in-Law, Sandy Koufax, and the Lesson of Shavuos

Posted by Rabbi Yehuda Spitz
June 5th, 2011
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by Rabbi Elchonon Feldman

Rabbi of Belmont United Synagogue, London, U.K. 

As we approach the anniversary of one of the most epic historical periods of our nation, I am reminded of a….  Mother-in-law joke:

What do you do if you miss your Mother-in-law?

 Reload and shoot again.

Let me explain why a coarse piece of humour is on my mind as we approach Shavuos, our re-enactment of receiving the Torah at Sinai.

When it comes to Jewish-American sports heroes, the famous Baseball Pitcher Sandy Koufax comes to mind. In his famous act of loyalty to his roots, on October 6th 1965, during the first game of the World Series, the Dodgers versus the Twins, Sandy refused to pitch (that is throw the ball at a guy with a wooden bat, for all those unfamiliar with the sport), for it was Yom Kippur day.

In this selfless act of commitment, Sandy became a Jewish-American icon, a model for generations to come; for Jewish men and women to make their own sacrifices by putting their Judaism before themselves.

Imagine you were in the same Shul as Sandy during that Yom Kippur service. Obviously, the Rabbi would have made an honourable mention during his sermon of Sandy’s self-sacrifice. I can imagine it would not have gone something like this: “Sandy, I would like to publicly applaud you on your dedication to your ageing mother, you have gone out of your way to escort her to Synagogue today and you have doted over her throughout this service. Oh, in addition, I think it’s great that you didn’t play baseball today, possibly forfeiting your entire professional career.”

Why am I convinced that the Rabbi did not mention the devotion Sandy had for his mother? Although, of course, it is laudable to treat one’s parent with care, still, relative to such a massive act of sacrifice, it just doesn’t seem to register.

Yet, we see in Megillas Ruth, which we will be reading over Shavuot, a fascinating thing. Boaz, a Jewish aristocrat, who marries Ruth the convert, explains what exactly attracted him to her: “I’ve been told all about what you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband—how you left your father and mother and your homeland and came to live with a people you did not know before.” (Ruth 2:11)

We must analyze this verse. First Boaz comments how Ruth helped take care of Naomi, her Mother-in-law, after the passing of Naomi’s son, Ruth’s husband. This is very nice indeed. However, only afterward does Boaz even mention Ruth’s supreme accomplishment of leaving her house of royalty in Moab, becoming a peasant, and following the religion of her heart. How can we give centre stage to kindness to one’s Mother-in-law in contrast to Ruth’s famous conversion? Perhaps this is why the above mentioned Mother-in-law joke came to mind.

I think we can offer something a little more substantial. The Targum Yonason ben Uziel, an early commentary on the Torah, explains as follows: Boaz was not just describing his personal admiration for Ruth, rather he was explaining Ruth’s merit to be the mother of the Davidic dynasty; the Birth-mother of Moshiach. True, the ability to sacrifice one’s self for what is right is an outstanding virtue, perhaps integral for royalty. However, simple personal care is the cornerstone of Judaism. The Talmud tells us that there are certain attributes which characterize and exemplify the characteristics of a Jew, the finale of which is our Chessed. Ruth deserved to be the Mother of royalty not just due to her spiritual devotion, but rather because of her kindness.

As we approach our own special re-acceptance of the Torah on Shavuot, we need to decide how much of a role caring and kindness plays in our own lives. When we are shooting for the stars in terms of spirituality, our relationship with our fellow man is paramount to get us there.

Perhaps the Rabbi did mention Sandy’s kindness to his mother during the sermon, or at least he definitely should have.


 Rabbi Elchonon Feldman has over 15 years experience at high level Yeshivos as both student and teacher, where he gained the relevant Torah fundamentals and skills to lead and teach a congregation. This is complemented by a degree in Liberal Arts and a councellor’s license. He received semicha last year and recently completed a two year rabbinic training program at the Ohr Lagolah Leadership Institute. He is a talmid of mine, as well as the newly appointed rabbi of  Belmont United Synagogue in London, U.K. He can be reached at  rebelchb@gmail.com.

Categories: Hashkafah, Inspiration, Mussar, Shavuos Tags:

Purim Somayach!!!

Posted by Rabbi Yehuda Spitz
March 19th, 2011
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by Daniel Freedman
Well its that time of year again
where we drink and join the party train
Yes, I know its exciting and filled with great cheer
When we rid ourselves of the inhibitions that have blocked us
throughout the year
But give some thought to these few words,
which I think will give you something more than just for the birds.

We celebrate the hand of G-d, a hidden hand no more,
With subtle hints in the Megillah we read twice for thats the law.
For Haman’s failed attempt to wipe us out
ended in his own demise that came about.

But take pause, and do contemplate, there is another that also tried
and failed in his attempt, but lived a ripe old age, for which no-one cried.
His Name: Achashveirosh, who was equally malicious in Haman’s exposé
Equally vicious?  why you do you malign? you may say.
But its true, the king’s mind was not on our side at all
and it is only Mordechai’s rescue that saved us from the fall.

Remember it is Achashveirosh that held the party,
with the relics from the Beis HaMikdash, that almost ended in tragedy
He was by no means a saint
and in fact could be likened to something like smelly paint.

What is the point, anyway you might digress?
I mean we won, and we’re here no less?
It is true we are here, for the valiant steps of individuals in times of despair
but its time we realize that WE need to care!

Mordechai and Esther, as great as they were, are no longer here,
to help us overturn decrees that have fallen on a deaf ear
But we are in a serious matzav, if you couldn’t quite tell
Financially speaking, many of us are not at all well
the world is going crazy, and in a few weeks, Egypt, Jordan and the like
have quite literally lost it, and have taken a hike.

The threat of Iran is much more severe, especially with a nuclear
program aimed at Israel,
Palestinian gunmen at our door, makes life interesting I must tell,
But these are symptoms of a deeper problem, as the case was with our
ancestors in Persia,
The tragedy came from a lack of sensitivity to who we are and what our
purpose is,
We forgot our mission, our focus, and came to a dangerous precipice
and now we aren’t so fortunate to have others to save us from this.
We have to rely on ourselves to make simple changes
and we pray that these might have a great impact for the future
Pray a few words to G-d, give a little charity, learn about Purim, say
a Psalm for the sick
and become more connected to your fellow Jew, give a friend a hug and
say I love you
to the people you care about.

Purim is not just a holiday for once a year,
But rather is a day that spreads throughout, good cheer
Good tidings is what we want, a failed plot, a killed despot
To see G-d’s hand in everything is the test for us all
Especially in trying times, when we’re in for a long haul
So my wish and blessing this Purim and time of gladness
Is that each and everyone of you is able to wipe away the sadness!

Freileche Purim!

The author can be reached at daniel@ohr.edu.

Turnabout – The True Meaning Of Purim

Posted by Rabbi Yehuda Spitz
March 13th, 2011
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by Rabbi Shlomo Price

A certain teacher, Mr. Schlatter tells of an experience he had early in his career.

He had a student, who was very troublesome. He was a bully, a thief and always getting suspended. Everyday, Mr. Schlatter would have the class memorize some famous inspirational sayings and repeat them at roll call. Among them were, “If you can see the obstacles, you’ve taken your eyes of the goal.”, “There is no failure except in no longer trying.” This troublesome student complained the most about this routine until he was expelled from the school. They lost touch for five years when all of a sudden the student called Mr. Schlatter.

He was at a special program at one of the neighboring colleges and had just finished parole.

He told Mr. Schlatter, that after being sent to different prisons for his antics he had become so disgusted with himself that he had taken a razor blade and cut his wrists.

To see the amazing ending of this story continue reading:                       

One of the Torah thoughts that I like to say about Purim is from the sefer “Drash Moshe” in Hebrew, p. 67, by Hagaon Rabbi Moishe Feinstien, z.t.l. (also cited in Artscroll Megillah on this verse from “Bastion of Faith”)

He discusses the name of the holiday “Purim” because of the pur-the lot that Haman drew in order to decide which month to annihilate the Jews (Esther 9:26).

He asks, “…the name (of a Holiday) teaches us the main concept of the Holiday, and this concept of the lots is not a major theme of Purim, (so why is the name Purim)?

Evidently, the lesson from this is, that a person shouldn’t think that when Hashem has already given him good fortune and blessing that it’s already in his hand (guaranteed) and there is no longer any need to seek Hashem’s salvation.

Rather he should feel that just as he must pray to Hashem before he gets it, so too must he pray even after Hashem has given it to him, for one does not know what his lot is. We see this from Haman. Even though his lot (in the beginning) was for his benefit, later it was for his detriment and for the benefit of the Jews. This is a very important principle in Belief of Hashem that we should learn from this Holiday. That is why this name (Purim) is the most befitting of all.”

Of course we see this lesson in everyday life how very wealthy people can overnight lose their fortune to the whims of the stock market (which of course is just one of the messengers of Hashem to give or take away sustenance)

We also see the other side of the coin in Purim, how a situation that looks so bleak and desperate can all of a sudden, make a “turnabout” and be a tremendous benefit for its recipient. As it says in the Megillah (Esther 9:1) “… and there was a turnabout that the Jews dominated over their enemies.”

A few years ago I was privileged to attend a Bar Mitzvah in St Louis that brought this point home. It was of a boy who came to live with his uncle in St. Louis, at the age of 11 1/2 and didn’t even know Aleph Beit. Yet here he was, a mere year and a half later, a true Ben Torah who lained the Torah and Haftorah and spoke beautifully about his yearnings to be a true Ben Torah.

Before I left to St. Louis from Israel, I was informed by the guys in the Yeshivah (Neveh Zion) that the St Louis Rams had just won the Super Bowl. This was news to me on two accounts. First of all, I thought the Rams were in Los Angeles. Second of all, I didn’t know that the Super Bowl had been played. See what you miss by moving to Israel.

Anyway when I arrived in New York before going to St. Louis I visited the Yeshiva “Shaar Yoshuv” in Far Rockaway to see some of the Neveh Alumni. Over there, as Hashgocho would have it, I was told by one of our alumni, Gershom Paretzky, the amazing dismal history of the St Louis Rams of yesteryear and their miraculous turnabout this year. Of course, he also briefed me on the no less amazing biography of their quarterback, Kurt Warner.

Armed with my new vital information, when I spoke at the Bar Mitzvah I made use of it. I mentioned how “… St. Louis is a land of miracles and heroes as we see from the Rams, Kurt Warner, and of course, who can forget Mark McGwire? In case you did, he hit 70 home runs for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1998.

But all of these so-called “miracles and heroism” pale in the light of the real hero that is with us tonight in St. Louis, the Bar-Mitzvah boy. In fact, as much as we all came here to inspire the Bar Mitzvah boy, there is no doubt that more than we could have inspired the Bar mitzvah boy, he has inspired us.”

A person must learn never to lose hope or give up.

In fact, I saw some beautiful stories in the book, “Chicken Soup of the Soul” which stress this point.

One is about Thomas Edison who invented the light bulb. He had tried over 2,000 experiments before he got it to work. A young reporter asked him how it felt to fail so many times. He said, “I never failed once. I invented the light bulb. It just happened to be a 2000 -step process.”

When Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone in 1876, it did not ring off the hook with calls from potential backers. After making a demonstration call, President Rutherford Hayes said, “That’s an amazing invention, but who would ever want to use one of them?”

Another story from the same book is really a story within a story. It is called “The Magic Pebbles” by John Wayne Schlatter.

This schoolteacher, Mr. Schlatter, tells how he would handle one of the most frequently uttered questions in his teaching career, “Why do we have to learn all this dumb stuff?”

He would answer by recounting the legend of “The Magic Pebbles.”

One evening a group of nomads were suddenly surrounded by a Heavenly light which gave them a special message, “Gather as many pebbles as you can. Put them in your saddle bags. Travel a day’s journey and tomorrow night will find you glad and it will find you sad.”

The nomads, who were expecting some profound message and advice, were disappointed with such a menial task that made no sense to them. However, they were so inspired by the great light that they each picked up a few pebbles and put them in their saddle bags.

They traveled a day’s journey and at night while making camp they looked into their bags and discovered that every pebble had become a diamond. They were glad they had diamonds. They were sad that they didn’t get more pebbles.

Mr. Schlatter then tells of an experience he had that illustrated the truth of that legend to him.

He had a student, early in his career, who was very troublesome. He was a bully, a thief and always getting suspended. Everyday, Mr. Schlatter would have the class memorize some famous inspirational sayings and repeat them at roll call. Among them were, “If you can see the obstacles, you’ve taken your eyes of the goal.”, “There is no failure except in no longer trying.” This troublesome student complained the most about this routine until he was expelled from the school. They lost touch for five years when all of a sudden the student called Mr. Schlatter.

He was at a special program at one of the neighboring colleges and had just finished parole.

He told Mr. Schlatter, that after being sent to different prisons for his antics he had become so disgusted with himself that he had taken a razor blade and cut his wrists.

“You know what , Mr. Schlatter, as I lay there with my life running out of my body, I suddenly remembered that dumb quote you made me write 20 times one day. ‘There is no failure except in no longer trying.’ Then it suddenly made sense to me. As long as I was alive, I wasn’t a failure, but if I allowed myself to die, I would most certainly die a failure. So with my remaining strength, I called for help and started a new life.”

At the time that he heard the quotation it was just a pebble. When he needed guidance in a moment of crisis, it had become a diamond. And so it is with all of us we should gather all the pebbles we can and we can count on a future full of diamonds. Till here is the story.

Of course, all of this may be true concerning secular wisdom, but Lehavdil elef havdolos, the words of Torah are more precious than diamonds the very moment we learn them. And if secular wisdom can help in the future, then certainly Torah wisdom will inspire and help us immediately if we only internalize them.

I will further this point with part of an article from Aish.Com about Purim from Rabbi Benjamin Bleich, called, “Modern Miracles.”

“There is a Hebrew word in the book of Esther central to the story of Purim, V’nahafoch – it was turned around. Everything that seemed like a misfortune at first was in retrospect recognized as a Divine miracle. Because there are miracles, unlike those in the Bible, that come camouflaged as seeming coincidences, as natural events, as incidents that “just happened,” but that in reality are the products of heavenly intervention in the affairs of mankind.

The very name Purim comes from the word meaning “lottery.” Some call that a game of pure luck, the winner determined by random inexplicable forces that have no rational basis. Faith however allows us to understand that in a world governed by an All-seeing God there cannot be room for blind chance. A lottery is far more than luck; it is allowing the Director of the universe to decide the outcome while hiding in the background.

Purim is the holiday that harps on what people call coincidence. It reminds us, as the proverb has it, that “coincidence is God’s way of choosing to remain anonymous.”

Purim has many miracles in its story. Not the kind of miracles that override the rules of nature. Rather the miracles that happen so much more frequently in our own lives. The miracles that we so often discount because God chooses not to shout but rather to whisper. It is His still small voice that we have to attune ourselves to hear as He turns tragedies into blessings. And that is why the festival of Purim, with its message of miracles camouflaged as coincidence, will outlast every other holiday on the Jewish calendar.

A personal story will shed some light on the matter. Thirty years ago in the middle of giving a lecture to my class at Yeshiva University I was suddenly called out due to “a life-and-death emergency.” One of my students was threatening to commit suicide in his dormitory room and desperately needed some counseling.

I rushed over and found the young man wailing and moaning. “This is the worst day of my life!” he screamed, “I don’t want to go on living anymore.” Slowly the story poured out of him. His girlfriend had just broken up with him and he was inconsolable. “You don’t understand, Rabbi. I’ll never ever find anyone like her. I’ll never meet someone as perfect as she is. I can’t go on, I just want to die.”

I stayed with my student all day, as well as the following night. I tried to reassure him that his life was not over. By morning I finally got him to promise me not to give up on his future. He agreed that suicide is a sin and that he’d struggle to go on, even though it pained him to lose what he was certain was his only possibility for happiness.

A little over 20 years later I was teaching in my very same classroom when there was a knock on the door. A young man asked permission to enter and then, with a smile, asked, “Rabbi, do you remember me?”

It took but a moment for me to realize who it was. “Of course I recognize you,” I told him, “and you still owe me a night’s sleep.”

The young man returned to tell me the end of the story. “You know that day when I wanted to commit suicide and I told you it was the worst day of my life? In retrospect I now realize that day was really the luckiest day of my life. The girl I thought I couldn’t live without — she’s been involved in drugs and a series of scandals that even hit the newspapers. My life would have been a horror had we stayed together. I came back to thank you Rabbi, because today I am married to a woman who is truly the best in the world and we have four amazing children who give me joy every single day. I guess what you taught us is true. There are times in life when we mistake blessings for tragedies.”

But that’s not the end of the story.

Just one year after this moving experience I was invited to serve as scholar in residence at a synagogue in Los Angeles. For my Sabbath sermon I chose a theme based on a verse in Exodus in response to Moses’ request to see God. God told Moses, “You cannot see My face, for man cannot see My face and live… you will see My back, but My face shall not be seen” (Exodus 33:20). Of course God has no body. It was not His physical appearance that was being discussed. Moses wanted to “see” — to comprehend — God’s ways and His interaction with His creations. What he was told is that with our finite intelligence we can’t understand events as they unfold; it is only retroactively that “You will see My back” and grasp God’s infinite wisdom. I quoted Kierkegaard who expressed the same idea when he said, “The greatest tragedy of life is that it must be lived forward and can only be understood backwards.” And then, as I was speaking, the story of the suicidal student suddenly popped into my head and I told it as an illustration.

The following Sunday night, one of the congregants told me that my speech had unwittingly saved a life. It seems that in the audience on the previous day for the Sabbath service was a young man just 24 hours before his wedding. He was scheduled to fly out to New York late Saturday night to join his bride for the wedding ceremony they had been happily anticipating for the last six months. No sooner was the Sabbath over when he received the phone call that shattered his dreams. His fianc?e at the last moment decided she couldn’t go through with it. She called to regretfully inform him that it was all over.

The almost-to-be-groom later described to his friends what happened next. For a moment he felt suicidal. He wanted to rage, to vent his anger, to scream. But one thought kept repeating itself in his mind. Why was it that on that very morning he heard a sermon describing an almost similar event? He had not intended to go to that particular synagogue. It was a last-minute decision that brought him to a place where, almost as a Divine message, he could hear words that in the aftermath of his own tragedy might offer him some solace.

Little did he know that my inserting that particular illustration was also totally unplanned. A higher source put into my mind and my mouth — a gift from God to allow someone to survive incredible pain just a few hours later.

And this story, too, has a happy ending. This past July my wife and I were strapping ourselves into our El Al seats on the way to Israel. Passengers were still filing by on the aisles when one of them began to stare at me and suddenly shouted, “Aren’t you Rabbi Blech?” When I responded that indeed I was, he identified himself. Five years before, he told me, he was sitting in a synagogue in Los Angeles on the day before he was supposed to get married. He proceeded to share the part of the story I already knew.

With tears in his eyes he asked me to come with him so he could introduce his wife and three children. “I’m just like that student in the story you told us that unforgettable Shabbat. Today I’m the happiest man in the world. I can honestly say that the curse of that Saturday night has turned out to be my greatest blessing.” [Till here is from Rabbi Bleich]

In the Sefer Chumash HaMagiddim on Parshas VaYetze [p.242…] there is a very inspirational lecture from Rabbi Yaacov Galinsky, shlita which also teaches us this lesson, that one must have patience and then he may see later on how a seeming “tragedy,” was really for his best.

We find that after Leah had six sons, she was pregnant with the seventh son. Since she knew that there would only be 12 tribes she calculated that since the two maidservants had 4 [2 each], if she would have 7 that would leave only 1 for her sister Rachel. This would be disgraceful as Rachel would have less than the maidservants. So she prayed and it changed to a female and she was named Dinah. [Bereishis 30:21in Rashi from Berachos 60a].

This was a tremendous sacrifice that Leah had done for her sister Rachel, to give up the merit of having another holy Tribe. As much as we understand their holiness, the Matriarchs knew better.

At least she merited a daughter from Yaacov which is also fine and good. One would imagine that such a daughter that was born as a result of Leah’s self sacrifice should merit great blessings and a tremendous Choson-groom.

But what happened?

She gets taken by Shechem a Gentile!!

One can ask at this point a very poignant question. Is this Leah’s reward for her sacrifice? Is this the Nachas-the pleasure Leah is supposed to get from Dinah for her self sacrifice? This is truly a hard question to answer.

However, if we look in “Pirkei DRabi Eliezer,” Chapter 38 it will be revealed to us an amazing thing.

A daughter was born from the union of Shechem and Dinah. Her name was Osnat. She was considered Jewish as her mother was Jewish. Nevertheless, the brothers wanted to kill her so people shouldn’t say there was immorality in the “House of Yaacov.”

Yaacov wrote the Holy Name of Hashem on something and hung it around Osnat’s neck and sent her away. Hashem, who sees everything, sent the  Angel Michoel to take her and bring her down to Mitzrayim-Egypt to the house of Potiphar and his wife. The wife of Potiphar was barren and brought up Osnat as her own daughter. Eventually she married Yoseph.

Yoseph and Osnat had two children, Menashe and Ephraim. They were counted among the 12 tribes. [Bereishis 48:5-see Rashi].

So now we have the amazing answer to our question.

Leah gave up one tribe and gained two tribes Menashe and Ephraim, her great grand children!!

In the beginning, when Leah sacrificed, we don’t see immediate beneficial results. In fact, we see as if she was given a slap. Only much later do we see the final benefit that she merited double.

We learn from all of this that we have to have patience. We won’t always see immediate results for our sacrifices. But if we have patience we may see it at the end. With this future outlook we can make peace with the difficult present.

Sometimes, we have to take into consideration things that happened to our Neshamos-Souls in a different lifetime to get the whole picture.

 The Chofetz Chaim (On Torah. p.284), brings the verse in Tehilim 19:10 “…The Judgements of Hashem are true, they are all together righteous.” The simple understanding by many commentaries [Ibn Ezra,Metzudas Dovid] is that they don’t contradict each other, but the Chofetz Chaim explains it in a very novel way.

 We know that for sins bein odom l’chaveiro-between man and man Yom Kippur alone will not forgive us. We require personal forgiveness from the one we have wronged. If someone hits his friend and he doesn’t make amends in this world then the soul must return again in a different gilgul-reincarnation to this world to rectify this sin.

 Imagine, the Chofetz Chaim says, the pain and anguish that the soul has when it is sentenced to come back down here again [the soul yearns to be next to Hashem, and just when it finally thinks it’s reaching its goal, it is sent down here again. This is tremendous suffering for the soul].

 The soul complains to Hashem why He made him rich. The soul blames the haughtiness and chutzpah that accompany wealth as the reason why he hit his friend, and begs not to have to be sent down again.

 Finally, when the soul realizes that inevitably it must come down to rectify the sin of hitting his friend, it pleads for special consideration. It begs to be sent down as a poor person with a broken spirit, or to be born without a hand, so that it will prevent him from hitting his friend again.

This causes a great upheaval in the Heavenly Court. The Prosecutor does not agree. He claims that in order to make amends properly, the neshomo has to come down in the exact same situation it had before. It has to be rich and with two arms in order to go through the same test again. Finally, after much praying, pleading, beseeching, and a number of advocates who spoke on the soul’s behalf, its request was granted. It was sent down as a poor man or without an arm.

 Yet, when the soul gets here, it remembers nothing of the previous episode. When it is born poor or handicapped, instead of thanking Hashem for listening to its request, it complains to Hashem about the unfairness of its situation. It forgot completely how hard it worked till it “persuaded” Hashem to create it with this situation, to insure that he wouldn’t hit his friend.

 This is what the posuk in Tehillim means, that in order to see the truth in Hashem’s judgments, one must see the whole story all together. When one knows what occurred before he was sent down, how he begged Hashem to create him in this situation, then it will be obvious to him that Hashem’s judgments are true and his poverty or handicap were a tremendous merit for him.

 One of the beautiful thoughts that Rabbi Bleich mentioned, I had seen before from  Rabbi Yissochor Frand, in the name of the Chasam Sofer.

The posuk in Ki Sisa (Shmos 33: 23) says, that Hashem told Moshe, “. . . . And you will see “Achorai“- My back, “Upanai” – My front you will not see”. The Chasam Sofer points out that there are many events that look quite bad when they actually occur. We wonder why Hashem is doing this. Only much later do we sometimes see how this event led to a whole chain of events that ultimately led to a tremendous good for Klal Yisroel. Then we realize in retrospect that the first event was really good.

This, he said, can be alluded to in the posuk “Upanai – My front”, – before that final event (that clarifies the first event) occurs then “we will not see” – we will not understand its goodness. However “Achorai” – My back”, – when you see much later the great event that it led to, “you will see. . . “, you will then understand in retrospect why the first event was necessary.

When I looked up the Chasam Sofer I saw that he uses the story of Purim as an example.

He points out that when we look at the death of Vashti which caused the taking of Esther as Queen, it raises the obvious question. Why did Hashem cause Esther to be taken as Queen to this Goyishe King where she will be defiled? [Or as a Jewish Comedian would say, “What’s a nice Jewish girl doing in a place like this?!”]

Years later we discover that it was very necessary. It put Esther into a key position to help bring salvation to Klal Yisroel.

May Hashem help us to learn the lessons of Purim and internalize them so that we can live them throughout the rest of the year and so we will truly live a happier life in this world and the next.

 Have a Happy Purim!


Rabbi Shlomo Price, a renowned lecturer and educator, is also a senior Rebbe at Neve Tzion. To receive his weekly Priceless Torah – please contact him at RabbiShlomo.Price@gmail.com.

The Purim – Pesach Connection

Posted by Rabbi Yehuda Spitz
March 10th, 2011
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The Purim- Pesach Connection


By Rabbi Elchonon Feldman

Rabbi of Belmont United Synagogue, London, U.K.

Well, as the song goes: ‘Happy days are here again.’ We are approaching quite a jovial time in our calendar. On the horizon are some of the most popular Jewish festivals: Purim and Pesach. For most of us this period of time can be tricky. We have to strategize how to best give and receive the most MiShaloch Manot (friendship food parcels traditionally given on Purim day) and still have all the chametz in them consumed before Pesach arrives. Talk about difficulties!

An interesting question which comes to mind based on this receive-consume dilemma is why exactly couldn’t there have been a healthier distance from Purim to Pesach? After all, there is only one month in between! Obviously, the straightforward approach is that we have no say in how any given epic period in our Jewish history will fall out. Therefore, wherever on our calendar these occasions occurred, will be commemorated as our Holiday and there is not much to do about it.

The truth is, there is very careful intent in what will happen and when, during our calendar year. We look at time as raw potential to be channelled. As we see in nature, there are seasons of growth and blossom as well as seasons of decline and wither. Similarly, throughout the year there are periods of positivity and emancipation as well as times of negativity and constraint. It seems that there must be some insight into why Purim and Pesach come one after the other. What exactly is there beneath the surface?

As with most aspects of Judaism, there is more than meets the eye. Let us take a brief glimpse into Purim. Besides being a great time for camaraderie and revelry, where friends and family get a chance to party in proper Jewish fashion, there is something special we are celebrating. The men and women of our nation were on the brink of annihilation. Haman had brought forth an edict which would have legalized our decimation. However, due to a string of ‘coincidental’ occurrences, the evil plans were thwarted and the very gallows which Haman built to hang our main protagonist Morderchai, were used for Haman instead. Yay, let’s celebrate!

We who have had the benefit of history can see things from such a rosy perspective. Back during the time of Purim though, it was relatively easy to say that all the events which were unravelling were happenstance, mere lucky circumstances which could have just happened. As they say with the New York Lotto ‘Hey you never know’.

Yet, we Jews decided to see things differently. We were looking for the hand of God and therefore we saw it. In fact, this is one of the reasons why there is a custom to drink intoxicating beverages on Purim. We need to see beyond our personal natural discomfort with anything paranormal existing in our world. So we drink until we can say ‘Yes, I am comfortable with a reality where God intervenes for me.’ (Each of us therefore requires a different inebriation to get us there.)

This sheds a whole new light on the purpose in placing Purim before Pesach. Sure, our exodus from Egypt was miraculous and God performed feats which may never be matched until the end of time. But, perhaps that type of intervention was unique to that time. Therefore, we need Pesach to come at the heels of Purim, where we ascertained for ourselves that God is always looking after us, even behind the scenes. Hence, we can now approach Pesach as a culmination of the expression of God’s love for us rather than just an exception.

May we all merit to see God in the small details in our own lives and may we always have positive opportunities to appreciate the ‘coincidences’ in the world we live in.


Rabbi Elchonon Feldman has over 15 years experience at high level Yeshivos as both student and teacher where he gained the relevant Torah fundamentals and skills to lead and teach a congregation. This is complemented by a degree in Liberal Arts and a councellor’s license. He received semicha last year and recently completed a two year rabbinic training program at the Ohr Lagolah Leadership Institute.   He is a talmid of mine, as well as the newly appointed rabbi of  Belmont United Synagogue in London, U.K. He can be reached at  rebelchb@gmail.com.

Eliezer and his 20/20 Vision – Parshas Chayey Sarah 5771

Posted by Rabbi Yehuda Spitz
October 29th, 2010
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Eliezer And His 20/20 Vision

  • by Rabbi Shmuel Brazil

Eliezer the servant of Avraham Avinu and the messenger to acquire the shidduch for Yitzchak relates his miraculous journey in how he came to Besual and Lavan. “I came today to the well” [24,42]. Rashi quotes the Chazal today I left and today I arrived. From here we learned that the earth jumped for him shortening his travel distance. What is the significance of this “fast lane” travel especially as it relates to the shidduch that he was seeking?

 Our Chazal tells us that Eliezer was tremendously tested on this mission. He had what he considered a very suitable daughter for the shidduch of the next Gadol Hador. After all he was known as Damesek Eliezer which signified that he was the exclusive interpreter and amplifier of his Rebbi’s Torahs. He was an incredibly trusted servant to his master for Avraham signed over to him all his wealth to be the guardian for Yitzchak. His merits were bountiful for it was him alone that Avraham took along to battle the four mighty kings. So what could be wrong for Yitzchak to marry his daughter and have him as an illustrious shver? This underlying self interest could have easily misguided his mission to unconsciously manipulate it to doom and failure. However, Eliezer nevertheless overcame his personal ego and desires and made every possible super human effort to ensure his mission would be successful as his master requested. What could have easily become for Eliezer an almost insurmountable challenge of clouded and blurred vision of purpose, was diverted to evolve into a clear and unobstructed vision without any compromise or opaqueness.

 To this personal victory over his inclination, Eliezer proudly proclaims I came today to the well. Ayin also means an eye. Eliezer was stating that by removing all self prejudice and personal motives from his mission he arrived at “the eye” the clarity of vision, the truth the whole truth and nothing but the truth. He further adds on by saying I went out today and I came in today. In the deeper meaning, with this statement Eliezer reveals how he was able to subdue his natural self interests and place his master’s over his own personal agenda. Our Chazal say in Avos three things take a person out of this world jealousy, lust, and honor. Eliezer made a profound introspection on himself that perhaps these three fundamental shortcomings are distorting his clear vision of his mission. For all three have to do with the eye. Lust is brought about through the eye as Chazal state on the passuk lo sasuru acharei levavchem veacharei eineichem that the eyes see and the heart desires. Jealousy also is aroused by seeing someone else’s benefits whether it be physical material or even spiritual. The Maharal writes that the malaise of a tzar ayin, the individual who possesses a “narrow eye”, is that he is very stingy with granting kovod to others. For the source of desiring to receive and to give kovid is all in the eye, how he wants others to perceive him and also how he looks at others if they are deserving of his kovid to them.

 All of these three are effected by the eye which is the spy for the ever hungry “I”. If they not corrected and set straight they can take a person out of this world. In a simplistic understanding this means that all three stem from gaavah haughtiness the feeling that one “deserves” better than his present situation and that what he desires is “coming to him”. Concerning gaavah our Chazal give us the insight that Hashem declares Me and the baal gaavah cannot dwell in the same world. Therefore, one who has anyone of these middos that follows the distortion of the eye and whose origin is in gaavah is considered as if he went out of the world – meaning the world in which Hashem dwells in. His I has removed him from Hashem’s presence.

 Eliezer in his righteousness treated himself after a deep self analysis, as if he was truly affected with all three maladies of these middos to the point where they took him out of this world. He therefore immediately did teshuva and perfected all of them by nullifying his I and ego and brought himself back into this world with a corrected eye. This is alluded to in his statement I came to “the eye” by my self introspection of the three middos that take one out and in of this world. This is what he meant today I went out and today I came in. I have rid myself of any self interest. “Eved Avraham anochi” my entire anochi – I, is of the essence of eved Avraham and void of any interest of my own.

 Twenty twenty vision is the perfect vision. The lashon hakodash of twenty is esrim which is gematria karais – the punishment of being cut off from Hashem. Karais commences only from twenty years old gematria esrim. But esrim also spells keser which means crown. Perfect vision means that one sees that Hashem is the king of kings 20/20, it is His world He sustains it at every millisecond and our I has to be nullified to fulfill His will alone. 20/20 vision means that one recognizes that the blueprint of the world was the Torah which is all contained in the fundamental Ten Commandments which contains keser [620] amount of words. The perfect vision is the Torah vision and that nature must fit into the Torah and not vice versa.

 Testimony to his success of his personal victory over his middos was demonstrated by the “fast lane” of his journey. The mefarshim explain the passuk Hashamayim shamayim lahashem vehaaretz naasan livnai adam as follows: Hashem made the heavens heaven [spiritual], and the earth He gave to man to make into shamayim [spiritual]. The mission of man is to transform this earth into shamayim. The Medrash explains that the shamayim symbolizes the head and intellect of man while the aretz symbolizes the heart the middos and emotions. The purpose of man is to negate his heart to his head, subjugate his emotions and middos to his intellect. Eliezer was called an “eved maskil” one who successfully accomplished this feat as evidenced by ensuring a successful mission for the shidduch of Yitzchak. When one elevates earth to heaven then his earth that he walks on takes on a spiritual quality. The earth earned its name eretz from the word ratz which means to hurry and run, for it ran to fulfill the wish of its creator. When man negates his earth to his heaven, it then brings out the spiritual quality of the earth which is to hurry and to quicken hence to shorten the distance of normal travel. Eliezer’s introspection of “today I left the world and today I came back” into the world merited him the shortening of his journey.

 If we closely at the words of the Baal Shem Tov we can see a hinting to our interpretation. He explained that the holy “name” that causes the earth to jump is found in the acronym of the first passuk of the Torah in the words es hashamayim vees haaretz the letters of אהוה These letters are the identical acronym of the words ואבוא היום אל העין I came today to the well. The difference between the two is that in Eliezer’s statement the acronym is almost completely backwards. In the light of what we explained the words of the Baal Shem Tov illuminates how Eliezer merited for the miraculous shortening of his trip? The answer is that this secret lies in one’s negating his aretz to shamayim by taking his aretz -  middos, his I and eye, and transforming them into shamayim, subjugating them to his intellect to his neshama.

Now we see how the passuk and the derashos of Chazal brought in Rashi all support this one concept of Eliezer’s personal achievements during this mission. By doing a chesbon hanefesh to ensure the success of his mission so not to allow the interference of personal gains, he went out and in this world by fixing what he considered a shortcoming in his three middos of kinah, taavah, and kovod. By doing so, he was able to arrive at “the ayin” a true unadulterated clarity of vision. His tremendous self effacement and self scrutiny for absolute truth was made evident by the miracle of his supernatural shortened travel time and distance. He was one of those who successfully brought his aretz to shamayim

 Chazal say that Eliezer is the guard standing in front of the Meoras Hamachpeila not to allow anyone to enter. This befittingly is his resting place amongst the avos hakedoshim. For Chevron is the city as it name suggests that connects the heavens and the earth. Machpaila means double for it possesses a double quality of both earth and heaven together. All the neshamos on their way to Gan Eden pass through this cave on their journey to bask in the light of the Shechinah. Eliezer with this mission earned this prestigious status during his lifetime that he merited that even after death his body could be both on earth and shamayim. 20/20 VISION!

 Gut Shabbos


Copied with permission from http://www.zeevhatorah.org.

Rabbi Shmuel Brazil,  the Rosh HaYeshiva of Yeshivas Zeev HaTorah in Yerushalayim, and composer of “Regesh”, has been a Rebbi in Yeshiva Shor Yoshuv for over three decades, during which he has taught and shaped the lives of hundreds of talmidim. His new sefer Bishvili Nivra Haolam is now available in sefarim stores. It has over 400 pages with detailed indexes on the parshiyos, topics, and Yomim Tovim.  It’s is, as the title suggests, a handbook of incredible chizuk interwoven with derush, remez, sod and stories to guide and help each person in realizing his unique individuality and thereby complete his mission on this earth. Don’t shortchange yourself going through life without bringing out that extraordinary potential and talents that you alone possess, and that can deliver to you that special deep gratifying feeling of accomplishment in avodas Hashem and personal growth. This sefer will greatly empower you and change the way you look at yourself, the immediate people in your surroundings and the world at large. It has haskamos from Rav Jaeger, Rav Moshe Wolfson, Rav Gamliel Rabinowitz, Rav Chaim Kohen of Toldos Aron and Rav Shimon Susholtz ‘shlitas”.

He can be contacted through the Yeshiva’s website: http://www.zeevhatorah.org.

Priceless Torah – The Power of Diminutive Deeds

Posted by Rabbi Yehuda Spitz
October 14th, 2010
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 Parshas Lech Lecho

 by Rabbi Shlomo Price

In Bereshis-Genesis 14:13 [see Rashi there], it says that Og came and told Avraham about the capture of Lot, Avraham’s nephew, which consequently led to Lot’s rescue by Avraham.

 Rav Zeidel Epstein ,ztl, in his sefer-book, Haoros on Chumash-Bamidbar-p.126, brings Rashi [Bamidbar 21:34]  who explains that Moshe was afraid of  fighting with Og the King of Bashan because of this “merit” that Og had. Moshe was afraid that this merit was so great that it would outweigh the merits of Moshe and all the Jews.

 Rav Epstein, ztl., points out that if we scrutinize Og’s “merit’ we will uncover a startling revelation.

 Rashi in Bereshis, [ibid.] brings the Midrash which explains that Og really had ulterior motives. He wasn’t interested in saving Lot’s life. Rather Og was hoping that Avraham would go out to war to save Lot, and ultimately Avraham would be killed at the battle. This would enable Og to take Sarah, Avraham’s wife, to be his wife.

 So we see that rather than being a praiseworthy merit of saving Lot’ life, it was a deed with the vilest intentions of murder, immorality and stealing. Why does he deserve any reward, and even if he does, would it be so much that Moshe was afraid of it?

 Even more than this, if we examine further we will see that Og seemingly received plenty of reward already. He was saved from the Mabul-Flood on credit because Hashem knew what Og would do later. Og also lived a long life to about five hundred years. So it’s a wonder why Moshe was so afraid of this “merit?”

 In truth, what we see here is a confirmation of the Gemoro-Talmud Shabbos 32a. The Gemoro quotes the verse in Iyov-Job 33:23 that says, “If there be for him an angel, one interceding angel among a thousand, to vouch for man’s uprightness; then [G-D] is gracious to him and says: “Redeem him from going down to the pit, I have found a ransom for him.” [We say this verse in Kaparos before Yom Kippur].

 The Gemoro expounds on this verse that even if 999 angels speak against him and only 1 speaks for him [that is 1/1000 or .001 of all the angels] it is possible that he will be saved.

 Rabbi Eliezer the son of Rabbi Yosi Haglili says that even if that 1 defending angel himself is not completely for him, but 999 parts of that angel are against him and only 1/1000 part is for him [that is 1/1,000,000  (one millionth) or .000001 of all the testimony of the angels] it is still possible that he will be saved, “I have found a ransom for him.”

 It is possible that the whole action is thoroughly evil and the epitome of utter villainy, none the less, if there is a fraction of a fraction of some good in it he will get reward and be saved by it.

 We see from here that not only do our good actions carry a lot of weight but even the minutest part of an action can have a lot of power and value. This applies even if the main intention of the action was not for good purposes.

 Rabbi Epstein, ztl., concludes, “One who reflects on this will see the wonder of wonders of how much power and value there is to a person’s action. Through such a small fraction of good, one receives such a great reward. How great is Hashem’s favor and mercy on His creations.”

 Rabbi Paysach Krohn, in his book, “In the Footsteps of the Maggid”, p. 160 brings a beautiful story about the Rosh Hayeshiva of Rabbi Chaim Berlin, Rabbi Yitzchok Hutner, ztl. (1904-1980), which also shows us the value of even one small gesture of a mitzvah.

A taxi was arranged to take the Rosh Hayeshiva and one of his students to a bris-circumcision. When they saw the taxi driver’s identity plate with his Jewish sounding name on it, they realized that he must be Jewish. Meanwhile, in the front seat, the cab driver realized that one of his passengers was a prominent rabbi. He reached over to his right and put on his cap over his bare head as an act of respect for the Rosh Hayeshiva.

Rav Hutner turned to his student and said in Hebrew, so the driver shouldn’t understand, “Mi yodea kama olom habo yesh lo al tenua zu-Who knows how much merit in the World to Come he will get for this act?”

The talmid didn’t think that this small sign of respect was so significant so he asked Rav Hutner, “Does it merit Olom Habo-the World to Come?” Thereupon Rav Hutner related the following story.

The Chidushei Harim, Rabbi Yitzchak Mayer Alter (1789-1866), one of the previous Rebbes of Gur, had a custom to go to the mikvah-ritual bath every day. His attendant noticed that he always took the longer route to the mikvah rather than the shorter one, but he never asked why. Finally, one day his curiosity overcame him and he asked the Rebbe why he purposely seemed to go the long way to get to the mikvah.

The Chidushei Harim answered, “When we go this way, we pass the station where Jewish porters unload the heavy packages for travelers. These porters are very simple non-religious people. They do not pray, nor do they learn Torah. However, when they see me, they stop what they are doing, straighten up and call to each other, ‘Reb Itcha Myer is coming! The Rebbe, Reb Itcha Myer, is coming!’

As I pass by they nod their heads respectfully and acknowledge my presence. For this (display of kavod HaTorah-honor for the Torah) they will get Olom Habo. I know they have no other way of earning it, so I walk this way every day to give them that opportunity.”

Of course we learn from this the great ahavas Yisroel -love and sensitivity for fellow Jews (even non-observant ones) that the Rebbe had, but we can also see another important point. We must not underestimate the small acts that we do, nor the seemingly simple acts that others do.

I will conclude with an amazing story from the sefer “Tuvicha Yabiu,” Vol I, p.240.

 There was a kashrut supervisor in a certain hotel who used to have a special minyan-quorum of ten for Mincha at the hotel. One day he was short one person, so he approached a gardener who was working there. The gardener, who was a simple person, had no idea what Mincha  or a minyan were, but after the supervisor explained to him the importance of the mitzvah he agreed to join the minyan. Before they started to pray a different person joined, so the gardener, who wasn’t needed, left.

 About ten years later, when the supervisor had already changed his job, this gardener appeared to him in a dream. His face was beaming and he informed the supervisor that he passed away about a month ago and you have no idea how much reward he is getting just for agreeing to join the minyan. He added that in merit of that mitzvah he was granted permission to appear to the supervisor to request from him to approach the gardener’s only son in Yerushalaim. His son wasn’t religious, but maybe the supervisor could persuade him to say Kaddish for his father. The gardener gave the supervisor the exact address and he succeeded in persuading the gardener’s son.

 Let us consider, what did that gardener actually do? All he did was to agree to join the minyan, nothing more. Look how much reward he got-the privilege of appearing to the supervisor in a dream.

 All these stories should teach us the value of every small deed and step that we take to serve Hashem.

 We also have to realize that this great bargain is ONLY as long as we are ALIVE. One moment later and it’s too late. Imagine our terrible regret when we realize, in the World of Truth, that we literally squandered so many opportunities to get tremendous merit for the World to Come.

 Let us take this to heart and do our utmost to utilize these wonderful opportunities and we will live a happier life in this world and the next.


Rabbi Shlomo Price, a renowned lecturer and educator, is also a senior Rebbe at Neve Tzion. To receive his weekly Priceless Torah – please contact him at RabbiShlomo.Price@gmail.com.

New Beginnings – Divrei Chizuk for Shabbos Bereishis

Posted by Rabbi Yehuda Spitz
October 3rd, 2010
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New Beginnings – Divrei Chizuk for Shabbos Bereishis

 By Rabbi Yehuda Spitz

Transcribed from a shmuze given in Yeshivas Ohr Somayach – Yerushalayim on Shabbos Bereishis 5771

As is customary in many shuls and yeshivos around the world, Ohr Somayach makes a special kiddush on Shabbos Bereishis. The question is – Why? Why is this – making a special kiddush on this particular Shabbos – such an almost-universal custom?

Those readily partaking in the kugel and cholent might just say “Why not?!”, but there must be more to it than just indulging in gastronomical pleasures.

Some might say “Well, it must have something to do with Simchas Torah, or the ending and restarting of the Torah cycle”, but others might contend that we already celebrated that yesterday, on Simchas Torah itself. If so, what is the deeper meaning of celebrating b’davka on Shabbos Bereishis?

I would like to preface the answer with a story I recently heard from Rabbi Yaakov Minkus, a rebbe in Yeshivas Beis Yisrael:

Once during the Simchas Torah hakafos, the Rav of a certain shul noticed two congregants just standing in the back schmoozing away the time. Concerned, he approached them and asked them to come join in the traditional dancing. Politely, they refused. “Rabbi”, they told him, “This dancing is not for us. For you as the Rabbi to dance with the Torah, it makes perfect sense, but not for us! You see, to tell you the truth, we didn’t learn anything this past year, nor did we set aside any specific time to learn at all. Any time we had the chance to learn, we spent the time schmoozing and wasting time. So on Simchas Torah we are doing the same. We have no right to dance with the Torah.”

 The Rabbi replied “You are right and you are wrong. As you know, there are two different kibbudim that are given out on Simchas Torah: that of the Chassan Torah and that of the Chassan Bereishis. The Chassan Torah is the aliyah where we celebrate the concluding of the Torah. This is customarily given to the Rabbi or another Talmid Chacham who has made great strides in his Torah learning over the past year. According to your own admission you are correct, you do not have much to dance for.

But there is another aspect to our dancing on Simchas Torah, and that is of the Chassan Bereishis. This is the aliyah where we celebrate the starting anew of the Torah. Anyone can receive this kibbud. So for this aspect of Simchas Torah, you should also join in! It’s a new cycle, a new starting point. So even if last year you fell short, now is the time to pick yourselves up and get dancing – for all the Torah you will iy”H learn over the next year!”

This starting point, this new beginning is now – Shabbos Bereishis.

We see it clearly in this week’s parsha – Bereishis. Aside from reading about the actual creation of the world from nothingness, (which if not a terrific example of a new start I don’t know what is,) there is also the story of Kayin and Hevel (Cain and Abel). After Kayin murders Hevel in cold-blood, G-d confronts him about his crime. After first denying any wrongdoing or even knowledge of the murder, (“Am I my brother’s keeper?”) G-d then pronounces sentencing and Kayin finally admits to the crime. He says just three words: (Gen. 4:13) “Gadol Avoni M’niso” – meaning that “this sin is too great for me to bear”.

We then find something astounding – G-d reduces his sentence in half! In pasuk 12, Kayin’s sentence is that of “Na v’Nad” – wandering and exile in seclusion. Yet, after his admittance, in pasuk 16 it states that Kayin settled in the land of Nod – meaning exile and seclusion. What happened to the decree of constant wandering?

Chazal explain (Sanhedrin 37b – see also Torah Temimah to pasuk 13) that we see that his teshuvah – even though it was half-hearted, and even though is was only said when confronted, and even though he at first denied any wrongdoing, and even though he committed such a despicable act and the potential for all mankind for all time was halved, even so  – it caused his punishment to be halved! Not only that, he merited to see seven generations of his own offspring! (One of whom, Na’ama, was a tzaddekes – the wife of Noach, through whom mankind propagated after the Flood.) All because of those three words he said.

 This is an unbelievable lesson to take from parshas Bereishis – the power of renewal and new beginnings. This is the message we need to take from this kiddush on Shabbos Bereishis.

Even if last year we didn’t accomplish as much in learning as we could have or even should have.

Even if Elul zman didn’t work out as well as we would have wanted.

Hashem is giving us now a chance for a new start, potential for zman anew.

That is the reason klal Yisrael celebrates on Shabbos Breishis. May everyone be zoche to utilize this message for the upcoming zman, and Iy”H next year on Simchas Torah everyone here will be able to say, that “the reason I am dancing is because due to the aliyah I had in learning, I could be the Chassan Torah!”

Priceless Torah – Parshas Succos – The Meaning of Succos

Posted by Rabbi Yehuda Spitz
September 21st, 2010
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by Rabbi Shlomo Price                                

 In the Parsha of Succos [Emor]  there is a mitzvah of sitting in the Succah on Succos [Vayikra 23:42]

There are many lessons to learn from this mitzvah. I will just mention a few.

Rabbi Pliskin brings down in “Growth Through Torah,” that the Chofetz Chaim said that the mitzvah of being hospitable to guests benefits the host in a spiritual way. The guests serve as a reminder to the host that every person is only a guest in this world.

The holiday of Succos is also a reminder that we are only in this world temporarily. Just as the booths we sit in are temporary dwellings, so too our entire sojourn in this world is only a temporary dwelling. Therefore, on Succos, said the Chofetz Chaim, we should be especially careful to invite guests. For then we have a double reminder of our temporary status in this world. This awareness will increase our motivation to make the best use of our time to accomplish as much good as we can.

I saw in the Sefer “LeHagid-Chumash Hamaggidim,” that he brings from the Alshich HaKadosh who asks why the name of the holiday is Succos and not named after any of the other Mitzvos that are done on this Holiday [like pouring water on the altar or the four species]?

He answers that all the high levels of saintliness and righteousness that a person wants reach in this world are dependant on one thing only, how much one internalizes this fact that he is a living in this world as a temporary resident. One must realize that all money and assets in this world are temporary and minor and the Next World is the main and permanent dwelling. That is why the name of the Holiday is Succos which teaches us this important lesson.

In fact they bring a story about the great Tzadik Rav Boruch Toledano. His son said that when they came to Eretz Yisroel from Morocco they bought an apartment and told their father that they could move in.

His father said he refuses to live in his OWN house. In Morocco he didn’t live in his own house and he won’t live in his own house here either. He would rather rent it out and use the money to rent an apartment from someone else. When he was asked why, he explained that when I live in a rented apartment and can be thrown out by the owner, then I feel that I’m just a temporary resident here in this world. If I would live in my OWN apartment I’m afraid that I may mistakenly think that this world is my permanent dwelling place.

There is another beautiful point from Rav Moishe Feinstein, ztl., that I like to say on Succos.

In Drash Moshe [p.221 and p.344-45] he discusses the great joy of “Simchas Beis Hashoeva-The Joy of Drawing Water.” On Succos they would start asking for the rains for the winter by pouring water  on the Mizbeach-Altar.

The Gemoro in Rosh Hashana  16a says, “Rabbi Yehuda says in the name of Rabbi Akiva, ‘Why does the Torah say….Pour water before Me on Succos?’ In order that there be a blessing in the rains of the year.”

Rav Moishe explains, “On Succos which is the time for asking for rain, and without rain things won’t grow and we would have G-D Forbid  famine, a poor man may wonder what can I do to help merit a rainy year? He cannot give much charity or sacrifices. Therefore Hashem said,” Pour water before Me on Succos,” this means that Hashem is saying , “I’m not asking much from you, only that it should be for the sake  of Heaven.” Hashem wants the heart as it says in the Gemoro Menachos 110a , “Whether one brings a lot or a little, as long as his heart is towards [Hashem in] Heaven.

Even water alone which is not worth anything, if you will but do a mitzvah for the sake of Heaven with it, Hashem will bless the rains of the year.”

Rav Moishe concludes, “This is the reason why there was so much joy by this mitzvah of pouring the water more than by all the other mitzvos of the Torah, because this encourages and teaches us that we can reach our perfection with what Hashem has granted us even without loss of money and without bother as long as whatever we do is for the sake of Hashem.

Even when one eats, drinks and has bodily pleasures, as long as he does it for the sake of Heaven it is a preparation for a Mitzvah and true perfection.”

This should be a big encouragement for all of us that Hashem only wants us to use our potential to its fullest, and not to underestimate our potential.

Another point that I like to say over on Succos is  an amazing observation about the relationship between Hashem and us that can be learned from  the mitzvah of sitting in the Succah.

In the Sefer HaChinuch Mitzvah 325 he writes about the root of sitting in a Succah,  “…That we should remember the great miracles that Hashem did for our fathers in the desert…and by remembering these great miracles…we shall be observant of His Mitzvos, and thereby be worthy of receiving goodness from Him. And this is His desire, that He wants to bestow goodness.

Now, we all understand that the normal order of things is that only when you need something done then you hire workers.

Consequently you have to pay them. Nobody is going to hire workers for something that he doesn’t need, just to pay them wages

Well, Hashem does! In His infinite mercy, He “hires” us [not because He needs us, but]  just to be able to pay our wages.

And when we sleep in the Succah, think about this wonderful opportunity. Anytime we sleep, which we need and enjoy, if we have the right intention to refresh our body to be able to serve Hashem then it’s a Mitzvah. On Succos we get a bonus mitzvah of also sleeping in the Succah.

 We also have to realize that Hashem gives us many easy opportunities to get tremendous reward, but we don’t realize it.

Imagine, a poor man goes door to door to collect money. At one house he gets a big surprise. The fellow recognizes him and asks him what happened with his $1million dollar gift that his Uncle gave him? Did he use it all up already? The poor man said that he didn’t know anything about it. The fellow tells him that his Uncle died apparently before he told him about the gift. But if he goes to a certain Bank he will find it waiting for him. The poor man goes and joyfully collects his new found wealth.

There is no way to describe the appreciation the poor man shows to his friend for revealing to him this wealth that he would not have known about.

I think the same thing applies to many Mitzvos which we don’t realize how valuable they are until somebody reveals their worth to us.

One example is answering Amen. There are many books on how important and valuable every Amen is.

I saw a beautiful story in a book called “Just One Word-Amen,” by Esther Stern, that reveals to us how valuable it really is.

A certain Doctor was raised in a totally assimilated family in a part of America that was totally devoid of Judaism. Nevertheless, he managed to become a Baal Teshuvah. When asked to explain what inspired him, he was happy to share this remarkable story.

Many years ago he was treating a terminally ill patient. His life was ebbing away. After discussing his case with a number of specialists, he offered the following option to the patient and his family.

His life might be lengthened for six months by a complicated surgery but it would be painful and costly. The patient said that this was not a decision that he could make on his own without consulting the great sage Rabbi Moishe Feinstein.

The doctor went with him to Rabbi Feinstien to personally explain to him the intricacies of the case, and he was also interested to see how the Rabbi would deal with the situation.

The Doctor said, “It was my first opportunity to consult a saintly Rabbi. I explained all the hardships. What followed will remain in my memory forever.

Rav Feinstein began to cry for almost twenty minutes. He was so moved by my patient’s plight despite the fact that he wasn’t a relative or a close disciple, only a disciple from many years ago. Finally he said that he needed another day to consider the difficult issue before making a decision.

The next day he greeted us warmly, and with confidence and equanimity assured the patient, ‘Go ahead and have the surgery. We will all pray on your behalf and ask Hashem to grant you many more healthy years.’ Rav Feinstein saw my skepticism so he told me, ‘In the half year reprieve the surgery will grant our friend, he will have the merit of answering Amen to many Berachos. Each Amen will create a guardian angel for him. These angels will defend him in the Heavenly court and he will be granted a long life in their merit.’ “

The Doctor finished his story by explaining that this encounter with the holy Tzadik struck a chord in his heart. Rav Feinstein well understood  the ordeal that the patient would have to undergo. Nevertheless, he felt that it would be all worthwhile so that the patient could live a little longer and be able to utter a few words! What is more, Rav Feinstein believed that these words could actually interfere with nature. At that moment the doctor realized that there must be something profound to Torah and Mitzvos.

In fact, the story concludes that the patient actually outlived the doctor’s grim prognosis by several years.

The gematria-numerical value of Amen-אמן is 91-the same as the word angel-מלאך. Just as Rav Feinstein said, “Every Amen creates a guardian angel.”

We must be deeply grateful for all these books that reveal to us our profound wealth that we didn’t know existed.

May Hashem help us to remember Him always and this will consequently lead us to keeping His Torah and Mitzvos. This will in turn make us worthy of receiving goodness from Him, which is His ultimate wish to bestow upon us goodness.

Have a Chag Kasher VeSameach


Rabbi Shlomo Price, a renowned lecturer and educator, is also a senior Rebbe at Neve Tzion. To receive his weekly Priceless Torah – please contact him at RabbiShlomo.Price@gmail.com 

Dip the Apple (and the Challah) in The Honey

Posted by Rabbi Yehuda Spitz
September 12th, 2010
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By Rabbi Richard Jacobs

Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur are full of customs
which on the surface seem pretty strange; for example,
casting our sins into the water on Rosh
Hashana (Tashlich) and the atonement ritual of
Kaparot on the day preceding Yom Kippur.
Dipping an apple in honey is so well known it is now
synonymous with Rosh Hashana greetings cards and it is
no less strange than either Tashlich or Kaparot. An apple
dipped in honey is one of the symbolic foods that we eat
on the first night of Rosh Hashana. We return from our
evening prayers to find the Yom Tov table not yet laden
with a sumptuous Yom Tov meal. Instead it is covered with
“delectable delights”, including apples and honey, fenugreek,
leek, beets, dates, gourd, pomegranate, fish and in
pride of place the head of a fish (or if you are really lucky
a head of lamb).
After Kiddush and Challah (also honey dipped), yet before
the meal proper, we embark on what can only be described
as a tantalizing taste sensation, eating a morsel
from each dish preceded by a short (and equally puzzling)
prayer. For example: on eating the apple in honey we say
“May it be Your will …that You renew us for a good and
sweet New Year”; on eating the pomegranate we sat “May
it be Your will…that our merits increase as (the seeds of) a
pomegranate”; and on eating the fish we state “May it be
Your will … that we be fruitful and multiply like fish”1.
What is the point of this exercise? Do we really think
that eating an apple in honey will cause us to have a sweet
new year? That eating pomegranate will cause our merits
to increase? Or that eating fish will cause us to have more
Yet our Sages tell us that “Simanim milsa he”2 – these
symbols are significant. To understand we need to look a
bit deeper.
The Rema in the laws of Rosh Hashana3 tells us that
there are those that are careful not to eat nuts on RoshHashana3. One of the reasons he gives is that the Hebrew
word for nut (egoz) has the same numerical value (gematria4)
as the Hebrew word of sin (chet)5. From this we can
see how far we are supposed to distance ourselves from
even the hint of sin on Rosh Hashana. The Kotsker Rebbe,
with his customary wit, points out not to forget that sin
also has the numerical value as the word sin — for sure it
is more important for us to distance ourselves from committing
a sin rather than just refraining from eating nuts.
These symbols are significant when they come to stir us
to strengthen our emunah, our faith. By eating these foods
and, more importantly, by saying these short prayers, we
fill ourselves with positive will and inspire ourselves to improve
our deeds. It is our responsibility not to only keep
the bathwater, but also to ensure that we do not lose the
deeper meaning of this curious custom.
Each symbol also has its own deeper meaning. One of
my favorite explanations of the custom to dip the apple in
honey is that of the Bnei Yissasschar.
A highlight of the Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur services
is the prayer of “Unesaneh Tokef”. At the climax of the
prayer the congregation call out in unison, “U’teshuva (and
repentance), u’tefillah (and prayer), u’tzedakeh (and charity)
ma’avirin et roa hagzeira” (remove the evil of the decree!).
Above the words “U’teshuva u’tefillah u’tzedakeh” are written
another three words Tsom (fast), Kol (voice) and Mamon
(money). These three words indicate the means with
which we can achieve repentance, prayer and charity.
The Bnei Yissasschar points out that each of these words
has the numerical value of 136, in total 408 6. Apple, tapuach
in Hebrew is spelt taf + peh + vav + chet. The outer letters
have the numerical value of 408 7 while the inner two
letters have the value of 86, which is the equivalent of the
name of G-d that represents Judgement8. Rosh Hashana
is the Day of Judgement when we are judged for our actions.
The word for honey in Hebrew is D’vash, which has
the same numerical value as Av Harachamim – Merciful Father9.
Dipping the apple in the honey hints to us the way
which we can successful turn this Day of Judgment into a
merciful one – by repenting, praying and giving charity.
Wishing you a sweet New Year.

1. The full text can be found in the ArtScroll Rosh Hashana Machzor
page 96
2. Horayos 12a, Kerisus 6a
3. Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 584:2
4. Each of the letters of the Hebrew Aleph-Bet has an equivalent numerical
value. A Gematria is the sum of the values of all the letters in each
word. On occasion an additional 1 is added for the word as a whole.
Our Sages often link and draw connections between words and phrases
with the same numerical value.
5. Aleph (1) + gimmel (3) + vav (6) + zayin (7) + 1 (for the word) = 18
= chet (8) + tet (9) + aleph (1)
6. Tzadi (90) + vav (6) + mem (40) = 136
Kuf (100) +vav (6) + lamed (30) = 136
Mem (40) + mem (40) + vav (6) + nun (50) = 136
The sum total is 408
7. Taf (400) + chet (8) = 408
8. Peh (80) + vav (6) = 86 = aleph (1) + lamed (30) + heh (5) + yud (10)
+ mem (40)
9. Daled (4) + beit (2) + shin (300) = 306 = aleph (1) + beit (2) + heh (5)
+ resh (200) + chet (8) + mem (40) + yud (10) + mem (40)

Rabbi Jacobs is the Executive Director of the Ohr Lagolah Hertz Institute for International Teacher Training, an affiliate of Ohr Somayach Institutions. He can be reached at r.jacobs@ohr.edu.
This article was copied with permission from the Ohr Somayach Rosh Hashana/Yom Kippur Handbook, which is still available online at http://ohr.edu/roshbook/.


[Editor's note: by Rabbi Y. Spitz - While this is an excellent explanation for why we dip apples in honey, it still leaves room to explain why it's also customary to dip challah in honey. I recently saw an outstanding pshat in Rabbi Shmuel Brazil's new sefer, "Bishvili Nivra HaOlam" - page 43 -44:

He cites the famous Rabbenu Yona in Brachos (36) quoting Rabbenu Meir HaLevi that if a piece of non-kosher food falls into a batch of honey, then over time the honey will dissolve the non-kosher substance until absolutely nothing remains of it, not even a trace , and eventually it will be permissable to eat of it. The Chofetz Chaim in his preface to Lekutai Halachos also quotes this as proof that just as honey has the ability to transform the natural state of another, so too The Torah has the strength to change a person's natural state from Rasha to Tzaddik

Rabbi Brazil continues that the gematria of the word  devash (honey) is equal to that of the word Isha (woman) -ד+ב+ש=4+2+300=306.א+ש+ה+1+300+5. This is as Chazal tell us (Bereishis Rabbah 17,7)  that the wife has the ability to change the natural state of her husband - for the better or for the worse. [This is also why, according to some commentaries why Yaakov was punished for hiding Dina from Eisav]. He then brings several more proofs to this idea - about the power of honey to affect change in other items.

He then refers to the idea of Challah symbolizing  Man – for the mitzvah of taking challah – especially on Erev Shabbos – is counted as  a woman’s personal mitzvah – to help rectify Chava’s sin of enticing Adam to sin (on Erev Shabbos) -and thereby ruining Man’s potential – for Adam was called “Challaso shel Olam“.

Utilizing these concepts helps clarify our minhag – For every Jew’s goal during the period of Yomim Nora’im is to try to show Hashem that we are trying to change our wayward ways, as well as ourselves to be proper Ovdei Hashem. Therefore, by dipping the Challah in the honey we are symbolizing our heart’s request – that we take ourselves (symbolized by the challah) and try to change (symbolized by the honey’s inherent abilities) for the better.

Wishing everyone a Kesiva v’chasima Tova!]