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Archive for the ‘Mussar’ Category

Tisha B’av- The Power of Tears

Posted by Rabbi Yehuda Spitz
July 26th, 2012
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by Rabbi Binyomin Radner

The night of Tisha B’av was enacted to be a night of crying. After the meraglim returned from the land of Israel and spoke lashom hora about the land, the Pasuk states, “The nation cried that night”. That night was Tisha B’Av.

Consequently, the night of Tisha B’av was designated to be a night of crying, as the  Gemara, Mesechta Taanins 29a says that G-d responded.  “They cried for no reason, therefore I will turn this into a night of crying for all future generations.”

The Gemara, Mesechta Yoma 9b says that the second Temple was destroyed on Tisha B’av because of baseless hatred (sinas chinam).  The basic understanding of baseless hatred is unwarranted hatred that people felt towards their fellow Jews.

The Maharsha there references the story of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza as an example of baseless hatred that caused the destruction of the Temple.

Additionally, the Chofetz Chaim, in his introduction to the Sefer Shemiras Halashon, writes that although the Gemara faults baseless hatred amongst the people for the Churban, the catalyst for it was actually the lashon hora in addition to baseless hatred. If not for lashon hora, the natural outgrowth of sinas chinam, the Churban would not have come about.

The Gemara, Mesechta Sotah 35a tells that because the meraglim spoke lashon hora, therefore they were killed out with the horrible disease of Askara, a disease which affects primarily the throat, midah keneged midah for lashon hora spoken with the mouth.

More so,the Chasam Sofer, Parshas Shelach, d.h. amru chazal traces the roots of  the lashon hora of the meraglim as follows:

Chazal say, “Al ma avda haaretz al shelo birchu batorah techila.” -”Why was Eretz Yisroel destroyed?  Because they did not make birchas hatorah before they learned.”  Although generally one does not make a bracha on a mitzvah unless he will complete doing the mitzvah afterwards, and one’s learning is not complete until he puts it into action fulfilling what he has learned, still a bracha is made before he learns. This is because it is inevitable that one will sin with avak lashon hora, if not outright loshon hora, at some point during the day. Therefore, one makes a bracha before learning as a birchas hodaah, a token of gratitude to Hashem for giving us the Torah which is our only antidote against the evil inclination of lashon hora.

So according to the Chasam Sofer, birchas hatorah is not a birchas hamitzvah rather a birchas hodaah. If they would have appreciated that the Torah is the only antidote to lashon hora and would have made a birchas hatorah, they would not have ended up speaking lashon hora about the land, Tisha B’av would never have been enacted as a day of tears, and the land would not have been destroyed. It was because they did not believe that the Torah was an antidote to lashon hora that they did eventually fall prey to the yetzer hora of lashon hora and spoke evil about the land. Furthermore, Chazal say that lashon hora kills 3 people:  The one who speaks it, the one who hears it, and the one who it is spoken about. This is exactly what transpired in the incident with the meraglim. The meraglim who spoke it got killed, the people who heard it were killed throughout the ensuing 40 years in the desert, and the land of Israel which it was spoken about was destroyed as the Pasuk says in Parshas Nitzavim, ‘29,’22 ,Gafris vamelach seraifa kol artza”.

However, the Maharsha, Mesechta Taanis 29a offers an alternative explanation to the one he gives in Yoma 9b:

The baseless hatred under discussion was hatred that the people had towards G-d Almighty, chas vechalila.  When Moshe Rabeinu was giving rebuke to the Jewish people in Parshas Devarim, it is brought that the people had said, “Since G-d hated us therefore He took us out of Egypt”.
When the meraglim gave their negative report about the land of Israel, some of the people scorned that it was because G-d hated them that He took them out of Egypt, in order to kill them out in the desert. They felt this way because of the general rule that one automatically assumes that the feelings that he has towards his neighbor are the same feelings that his neighbor has towards him. Since they felt hatred towards G-d Almighty, they complained that G-d had hatred for them as well. Moshe then rebuked them that it was of course out of love that G-d took them out of Egypt and that their  hatred was indeed baseless.

The Maharsha explains that this baseless hatred is alluded to by the terminology of  “crying for no reason.”  Since they had hatred for no reason, therefore they cried for no reason.

Chazal in many places tell of the tremendous effect that tears can have, both positively and negatively

The Gemara, Mesechta Bava Metzia 59a tells that one should always be careful to refrain from talking to his wife in a manner that will cause her pain, for since she is more prone to tears the punishment for such is swifter to come.

The Gemara then continues, “From the day the Temple was destroyed, the gates of prayers were locked, but the gates of tears were never locked.”

The flow of the Gemara seems quite clear to be that tears are a double edged sword. On the one hand, one who causes someone else pain to the point of bringing them to tears can have quite a detrimental and negative effect, invoking the midas hadin against him.

On the other hand, one who sheds tears while praying can invoke the midas harachamim much more so than with just prayer alone.

In fact the Maharam Shif there writes based on this that he is somewhat puzzled by why we say in davening,   “Machnisei dimah hachnisu dimoseinu”.-  “Angels of tears bring in our tears”.  After all, tears are so powerful and are granted immediate access to Heaven, we should not need to ask the Angels to bring our tears in to G-d.

The power that tears can have is further illustrated in the  Gemara, Mesechta Kesubos 62b which relates the incident in which Rav Rechumei would learn in the  Yeshiva of Rava the whole year and would leave to  visit home once a year on Erev Yom Kippur. One year he became so involved in his learning that he delayed in coming home. His wife was anxiously awaiting his once-yearly visit and when he did not come at the expected time, she shed one tear. As a result, the attic in which Rav Rechumei was sitting at the time, collapsed and Rav Rechumei died instantly.

Now, surely Rav Rechumei’s wife did not want him to die and will be much more hurt that her husband was taken away from her altogether.

R’ Chaim Shmulevitz, Sefer Sichos Mussar, Maamar Zechiras Miryam explains that nevertheless such is the power of tears. When one causes another person pain to the point of tears, it is likened to a fire which burns on contact, regardless of what the intent was. Just as a fire burns on contact, whether it was started intentionally or not, so too causing another person pain to the point of tears can invoke an immediate and harsh response from Heaven, even if done unintentionally, Rachmana litzlan.

We also find that as soon as Miriam heard Moshe crying as a baby in the Nile River, she was immediately filled with compassion and came to his aid.

The Pasuk, Parshas Shemos, ‘2, ‘6, says “Vehinei naar boche vatachmol olav”.   “Behold the child was crying and she had pity on him”.

The Zohar says that this terminology alludes to our concept that crying is very powerful and can achieve results much more effectively than prayer without tears. Based on this the AriZal advised that one should do his utmost to shed tears during the closing prayer of  Neilah on Yom Kippur, since tears are so very powerful and G-d will certainly not  ignore them.

TheYalkut Me’am Loez, Parshas Toldos, ‘27, ‘38 brings from the Zohar that in the merit of the tears that Eisav cried while he was asking Yitzchok Avinu for a bracha, the Jewish nation has been under Eisav’s rule for so long. And they will remain under his control until they do Teshuva likewise with tears, invoking G-d’s compassion.

Not only that, but the Medrash, Tehilim ‘137 says that when Yirmiyahu  was being separated from the Jewish nation right after the Churban, they began crying that they wanted him to stay with them. Yirmiyahu responded that if they would have cried even one time before the Churban, back when he was imploring them to do Teshuva, they would not have gone into exile.  Such is the power of crying.

We see from Leah as well the power of davening with tears. The Pasuk says “The eyes of Leah were weak from crying”.  And Rashi explains that this was so because Rochel was originally supposed to marry Yaakov and Leah was supposed to marry Eisav.

The Gemara, Mesechta Bava Basra 123a relates that we see from here how powerfully effective davening with tears can be. Through crying, Leah altered the gezaira of bas ploni leploni, i.e. who she was to marry. Not only that, but she married Yaakov even before his original bas zivug Rochel did. Not only that, but really Rochel’s son Yosef was supposed to be the firstborn of Yaakov.  Instead, Leah bore Reuven first, making her son the firstborn of Yaakov.

This was all and only through the power of prayer accompanied with tears.

The Gemara, Mesechta Bava Basra 60b tells us, Kol hamisabel al Yerusholayim zoche vi’roeh besimchasa”.

“Anyone who mourns over Yerusholayim becomes worthy and sees in its happiness”.

The obvious question raised by many of the commentators is why does it say zoche vi’roeh, which is in the present tense?

Shouldn’t it say yizkeh viyireh which denotes the future? Shouldn’t the proper terminology be that anyone who mourns over Yerusholayim will eventually be worthy to see its rebuilding when that happens?

The Sefer Kehilas Yitzchok Al HaTorah, Parshas Devarim brings down an answer to this question in the name of Reb Chaim of Volozin.

We know from the Gemara, Pesachim 54b that when one suffers the loss of a loved one, the pain of such is eventually forgotten and he moves on. This is a great kindness from      G-d for otherwise people would not be able to function if they would always have the vivid and painful memory of losing a loved one distinctly on their minds.

Rashi, Parshas Vayeishev ‘37, ‘35 d.h. vayimoain lehisnacheim brings from the Medrash that this is true only for a loved one who has actually passed on. But for a loved one who is only thought to be dead but actually still alive, he/she is not forgotten.

This is why Yaakov Avinu could not be comforted over Yosef since Yosef was actually alive and only thought to be dead.

Accordingly, one who mourns over Yerusholayim shows that for him Yerusholayim is still alive, similar to Yosef who was not dead but just temporarily missing. Hence, one who mourns over Yerusholayim sees immediately that Yerusholayim is not dead, and experiences the joy of realizing that Yerusholayim is still alive. This is why the pain of the Churban is still alive today and has not been forgotten, because Yerusholayim is still alive. This alone serves as a source of comfort to those who mourn over Yerusholayim. Hence, the Gemara teaches us this idea by putting this passage in the present tense.

This is in addition to the literal meaning of the Gemara that one who mourns over Yerusholayim will eventually join in the celebration of its rebuilding when that happens.

We also find this concept discussed in the Rema, Sefer Toras Ha’ola brought in the Tallelei Oros on Megilas Eicha, Page 47 as well where the following episode is recorded:

It once happened that Plato the Great Philosopher came together with Nevuchadnetzar to Yerusholayim after the Churban. They entered the Har Habayis and found Yirmiyahu Hanavi weeping bitterly.

Plato addressed Yirmiyahu, questioning his weeping twofold:

  1. You the wise one among your people, why do you cry over the destruction of mere wood and stones?
  2. The destruction has already happened and is in the past. It is not befitting for a wise person to cry over the past, what’s done is done!

Yirmiyahu responded to Plato as follows: As a philosopher you must have many questions in the field of philosophy that remain unanswered. Plato agreed that he in fact has many questions that are unanswered and doubts that anyone in the world can answer them. Yirmiyahu then told him to go ahead and ask him his questions in philosophy and that he will clarify them. Plato then went ahead and posed his questions. Yirmiyahu, obviously well-educated in philosophy, answered every single one of his questions with no trouble at all, clarifying all of his doubts. Plato, astounded by the sheer brilliance of Yirmiyahu exclaimed, “How could a mere human being possess such astounding wisdom”?  Yirmiyahu responded,” All of the wisdom that you heard from me I drew from these stones and wood chips of the Temple.

However to the second question that you asked me about why I cry over the past, this I cannot explain to you as you will not be able to comprehend the answer”.

This is where the story concludes.

The Alter of Kelm explains that the answer to the 2nd question is simply with the afore-mentioned concept that we are not crying over the past but actually on the present and on the future.  The gates of tears were never locked, and through mourning and crying over the Churban we show that Yerusholayim is still alive, in addition to the fact that if we cry over the Churban we will eventually be zoche to see the rebuilding of the Bais Hamikdosh.

However a goy is incapable of comprehending this idea and therefore Yirmiyahu did not relate it to Plato.

Rav Dessler explains this passage of kol hamisabel in the Gemara a bit differently:

The Michtav Me’eliyahu Volume 2, Page 47 explains that on Tisha B’av we are supposed to be in pain over the galus of the shechina. One who is able to feel this pain to the point that it brings him to tears and is pained that because of the Churban he cannot be connected to G-d the way he should be, has already reached a high madreiga and that alone is a cause for comfort. Just being able to realize that one is missing out on something to the point of tears is a relief in and of itself, and a source of comfort. This is also the purpose of having a designated time for crying as a bechiyah ledoros. Although the basic understanding of bechiyah ledoros is that it is a punishment, it is also meant to be a way for all generations to realize that they are spiritually lacking because of the Churban, and thereby bringing them closer to the Geula. This is why this lesson is mentioned by the Gemara in the present tense.

Just realizing that one has what to mourn over is a source of comfort, and opens the gates to the final Geula.

(Perhaps according to what we mentioned earlier from the Yalkut regarding the tears that Eisav shed when asking Yitzchok for a bracha, we can suggest another explanation for why one who is misabel sees, in the present tense, the nechama of Yerusholayim immediately. For one who cries tears over the Churban on Tisha B’av combats the tears of Eisav and brings us that much closer to being redeemed from his rule, to the final Geula Shelaima, bemhaira.)

May we all be worthy to see the kiyum of vekara olai moed, when Tisha B’av will be turned from a day of mourning into a day of rejoicing, bekarov beyameinu Amein.

Wishing everyone an easy and meaningful fast.


This week’s edition is dedicated as a zechus for Shira Yaffa bas Rochel Miriam, Ezriel Pinchos ben Shira Yaffa, Aliza Faygil bas Shira Yaffa, and Shlomo Yakir ben Shira Yaffa.    May they be zoche to a yeshua bekarov. Amen.


A Guten Shabbos!

Rabbi Binyomin Radner, writes a weekly Parsha Publication.

To comment or to subscribe, please contact the author at benradner@gmail.com.

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Posted by Rabbi Yehuda Goldman
May 10th, 2012
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Vayikra 21:1

“Hashem said to Moshe, say to the Kohanim, the sons of Aaron, and tell them: Each of you shall not contaminate himself to a dead person.”

As highlighted, there is a seemingly superfluous phrase in the aforementioned verse. Why did Hashem first instruct Moshe “say” and then once again, “tell”?

There are two classical explanations to this question.

The Ibn Ezra writes that the word, “Emor – or say” was in reference to the previous chapters and interpretations. Thus, the Kohanim – the scholars and teachers of the Torah, would be responsible to safeguard it and preserve its integrity.

Having emphasized this, Moshe went on to “V’amarta – or tell them”, referring to the special laws pertaining to the Kohen – the subject of this chapter.

The Rambam offers an alternative explanation. The Torah used this double expression to stress the importance of this commandment. Why, because it runs contrary to the natural habit of mankind. Prohibited from coming into contact with the dead, the Kohanim would be required to take steps to comply with the Torah’s instructions against contamination.

Rashi, in his commentary to the Talmud in Yevamos 114a, writes that the Sages inferred that the Kohanim were required to convey this teaching to those who would otherwise not be subjected to the commandments.

Thus, the adult Kohanim were to make sure that the minor Kohanim – the children – were not to become contaminated from the dead as well.

On this, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein comments that this is a warning to adults to ensure that their behavior in front of children be one of example, so as not to negatively influence them.

The following story, involving Rabbi Moshe Feinstein himelf, beautifully illustrates this idea.

Two school children once came before their classroom Rebbi with a question. One student, whom we’ll call Avraham, had borrowed something from his friend – whom we’ll call Shimon – and broke it.

Avraham insisted that he was not obligated to repay Shimon. On the other hand, Shimon was adamant that Avraham was obligated to repay for the item he had broken.

Their Rebbi was flabbergasted. Why?

For quite some time, these boys had been learning Perek Hamafkid – the chapter in the Talmud that deals  with the laws of when one who borrows an object is required to repay the lender or not, in the event of damage or loss. This case now before him was clear cut and the basic case outlined in the Talmud. Avraham was surely obligated to pay!

How could Avraham not realize this and continue to insist otherwise?

The Rebbi was very much bothered by this and took the question to the Rosh Hayeshiva, who was none other then Rabbi Moshe Feinstein.

Reb Moshe listened to the story and offered the following answer.

Every child is taught not to talk in Shul. Yet, he explained, when this child went to Shul he likely noticed that all the adults around him talked anyhow. Thus, the child must reason that everything one learns is not always put into practice.

Hence, even though the Talmud stated that he would be required to repay Shimon, that is not necessarily the practice!

After checking with the child, this rationale was sadly confirmed as truth.

Emor, V’amarta – say and tell” – just as the Kohanim were required to take heed that their charges not transgress that which would contaminate them, so too, adults must ensure that their behavior in front of their children, as well as other children around them, be one of positive example and not G-d forbid, a negative influence.

Good Shabbos!

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:

Judgement Day – The Meaning of It All

Posted by Rabbi Yehuda Spitz
September 16th, 2010
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by R’ Binyomin Radner

The Gemara in Rosh Hashana 16B states that three books are open on Rosh Hashana . That of the completely righteous, the completely evil, and the half- and-half. The completely righteous are written and sealed immediately in the book of life. The completely wicked are written and sealed immediately in the book of death. The half- and- half are undecided until Yom Kippur. If they are found to be worthy at that time, they are sealed for life. If not, they are sealed for death.

Rashi and Tosfos both understand “completely righteous” to refer to one who has a majority of merits and “completely wicked” to refer to one who has a majority of sins. The obvious problem that many of the commentators deal with is that very many times, as we see, righteous people suffer and wicked people prosper. How are we to practically understand the Gemara telling us that on Rosh Hashana it is decreed that the righteous people live and that the wicked people die??

Tosfos answer that the Talmud’s mention of the “death of the wicked” and the “life of the righteous” actually refers to the afterlife in the world-to-come. The judgement on Rosh Hashana effects the world-to-come and not this world.

Of course this begs explanation as well: How are we to understand that the judgment of Rosh Hashana is actually a judgment on the world-to-come?

The Ran argues on Tosfos (according to the Gra’s understanding of the Ran) that the judgment of Rosh Hashana is, in fact, a judgment on “this world”. And the term “completely righteous” does not mean completely righteous in reality. Rather, in this specific judgment they are labeled “completely righteous”. Meaning, Hashem wishes to reward the wicked in this world for the little bit of good they have done in order that He may exact retribution from them in the world-to-come. In this regard, Hashem treats the wicked like they are righteous, specifically in this world. And so it is in the reverse. The truly righteous get treated as if they are wicked in this world, in order that they may be punished for the little bit of bad that they did so that they will get their full reward in the world-to-come.

The Ramban writes a similar approach to the Ran in the Sefer Shaar Hagmul that the judgement of Rosh Hashana is definitely on this world, and not on the world-to-come. He is adamant about this and brings many proofs as such.

The Chinuch has a different approach from the Ran and from Tosfos. In Mitzvah #311 the Chinuch writes that the Talmud is to be understood literally: “Completely righteous” and “completely evil” is as it sounds and is not referring to a majority of mitzvos or a majority of aveiros. This could possibly explain why it happens that the wicked prosper and the righteous suffer. They are not completely righteous nor completely evil, but somewhere in the middle. Thus, it is implicit in the Chinuch that one who does not fall into one of these two categories would fall into the other category of “beinunim” . His status remains undecided until Yom Kippur.

We could possibly take this one step further and say that according to the understanding of the Chinuch, most people would fall under the category of “beinunim” since most people are neither completely righteous nor completely evil. However, according to the understanding of Rashi and Tosfos, one who has a majority of mitzvos is labeled completely righteous and one with a majority of aveiros is labeled completely wicked.

The Sefer Sifsai Chayim page 102 points out that the Talmud writes even before this passage on the previous page (16A) a blanket statement that all people are judged on Rosh Hashana and their judgment is sealed on Yom Kippur. There, the Talmud does not differentiate between the different categories. This would seem to contradict the above-quoted passage that people are divided into three categories.

The Sifsai Chayim answers that on Rosh Hashana there are actually two judgments: One is on this world and one is on the world-to-come. He explains with a mashal. In the courts of the world, first it is decided whether one is innocent or guilty. Afterwards, if he is guilty, his punishment is meted out in the sentencing. So it is with the judgment of Rosh Hashana. The first judgment is on which category one will be placed in: Righteous, wicked, or middle. This is the judgment of the next world. Meaning, a person is being labeled and placed according to his spiritual status. For example, the Talmud in many places discusses what a “ben olam haba” is. This does not mean that he is living in olam haba right now. Rather, he is labeled a ben olam haba based on his actions, decisions, fear of G-d etc. This is the first part of judgment. Is the person a ben olam haba, a ben olam hazeh, or somewhere in the middle? Then, based on the spiritual status of a person (or lack thereof,) it is decided what will happen to him. Thus, all of the olam-hazeh-related matters are decided and “sentenced” based on one’s olam-haba-related status.

With this insight of the Sifsai Chayim, perhaps these two passages in the Gemara no longer seem contradictory, since there are actually 2 judgements taking place on Rosh Hashana. Furthermore, we can understand what Tosfos mean when they mention olam-haba-related judgment and how it very much effects olam-hazeh.

The Mishnas Reb Ahron Page 181 sheds more light upon this: He writes that the status of a person in olam-haba will be practically reflective in the amount of siyata dishmaya one will receive throughout the year to protect and further his spiritual state. As we find, Chazal say מלגלין זכות על ידי זכאי וחובה על ידי חייב”". Heaven arranges that good things “happen to come” through deserving people and bad things “happens to come” through liable people. On Rosh Hashana, first it is decided whether a person is meritorious or liable. Then, based on his meritorious or liable status, it is then decided whether good things will be done through him or bad things will be done through him. This could also be a practical example of how judgment on spiritual status affects a person’s everyday life and all of the seemingly coincidental events that transpire in a person’s life throughout the year.

May we all merit to be written and sealed in the book of life for all judgements.


The author can be reached at  benradner@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!]

Shana Tova U’Mesuka

Posted by Rabbi Yehuda Spitz
September 12th, 2010
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by Daniel Freedman

On the first of the month, which is really the seventh month of the year
We crown the King of all Kings which today is abundantly clear
That all our actions, yes, every last one
can be changed to serve Him, though the year’s almost done
Its not about sin, and the past, but rather a leap forward, a positive start
to set our goals, our vision for the new year, which now stands afresh, and apart
which is why we dip our challah in honey, oh so sweet
the challah our work, the honey our desire for our own song to have a new beat
You see, just like Torah, that can change our whole life
the honey itself, can do the same, and absorb all our strife
So when the apple that represents judgment is dipped in the honey which symbolizes mercy
We pray and ask that our year is completely transformed into one that is sweety

Likutei Halachos of the Chofetz Chaim
Bnei Yissaschar on Apple and honey
Rosh Hashana Davening\


The author can be reached at daniel@ohr.edu

From The Heart To The Ear – Rosh HaShana 5771

Posted by Rabbi Dovid Boruch Kopel
September 7th, 2010
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The Ramban poses a puzzling question in his drosha on Rosh HaShana. The Torah writes that we should make Rosh HaShana holy and refrain from labor, just like the other Yomim Tovim. Unlike the other Yomim Tovim, however, the Torah does not specify why we should make the day holy or what this day is all about. For example, the Torah commands us to keep Pesach, calling it Chag HaMatzos, and then explains the significance behind the chag – remembering our exodus from Egypt. I don’t believe the Ramban addresses an answer to this puzzling question, and I cannot say I am certain of one, but I would like to suggest a thought on this matter.

In the short description of Rosh HaShana the Torah specifies that there is an obligation to have a Yom Teruah and a Zichron Teruah. These verses reference the obligation to sound the shofar on Rosh HaShana. Why doesn’t the Torah explicitly state the commandment such as “Sit in the Sukkah” or “Eat Matzah” or “Take the four species”.   Instead, the Torah says that the day should be a day of the Teruah and a Zichron Teruah.

Another essential piece to the puzzle is our focus on making Hashem our king on this awesome day. It is  well known that this is an integral part of the Yom Tov, as seen in the laws of saying HaMelech HaKadosh, whereas the rest of the year we do not refer to Hashem as HaMelech in this context. Why is this major theme absent from the Written Torah?

In my opinion, the reason that the Torah does not explain the aforementioned must be to teach us something more significant by not telling us rather than telling us. With every additional word the Torah uses to further explain the mitzvah it becomes clearer to us. The less we understand a mitzvah the more likely that we can do the mitzvah for the reason that we are obligated to do it[1]. In other words, when we put on Tefillin there is nothing else to think of other than we are doing a mitzvah. When we do a mitzvah like Maakeh (to build a fence on a roof) the mitzvah may be performed in a way that is not totally due to the Torah’s obligation, i.e. safety. Generally, the mitzvos where we lack understanding can be more difficult to fulfill since we cannot grasp what we are doing except for the fact that we are fulfilling the will of Hashem.

It is possible that the acceptance of the yoke of Hashem must be entirely from the heart of a person. In other words, the Torah wanted for a person to approach Rosh HaShana from his heart not only his mind. Perhaps that is the reason for the teruos since they alert one’s heart to remember that Hashem is the King of this world. The whole year our eyes are covered from His glory and splendor. Had our eyes not been covered where would our free will be[2]? Rather, Rosh HaShana is a time set aside for alerting the heart of the People of Israel, but what for? To remember. Not to remember our sins[3] but that Hashem is our master. This thought is my interpretation of the foundation to understanding the essence of Rosh HaShana and the vague nature of the verses in the Torah.

From the day of Rosh HaShana we make Hashem our King once again[4]. We proceed from Rosh HaShana for the next ten days ascending to levels of holiness and purity until we reach the final day, Yom HaKippurim which represents the kesser or crown of the glory of Hashem. The concept of Malchus, or the kingship of Hashem, is a revelation of our actions. This means that the greater our actions, the greater the revelation of Hashem‘s Kingship.

It is said in the Seforim HaKadoshim that Yitzchak Avinu represents the Yom Tov of Shavuos. Yitzchak Avinu represents the attribute of din or judgment. We customary use a shofar made of the horn of a ram to remind us of Akaidas Yitzchak (The Binding of Isaac). There is also a connection between the shofar used on Rosh HaShana and the shofar used on Matan Torah[5] (The Receiving of the Torah). Because the verses regarding Shavuos and Rosh Hashana are juxtaposed, we also see a connection between these two holidays.  We also see the connection of Shavuos and Rosh Hashana when the gemara attempts to learn the three components of Rosh Hashanah dovening, Malchius, Zichronos, and Shofros, from the verse regarding Shavuos.

Even though I have already stated that the focus of the form of service on Rosh HaShana is through the heart, the Torah set a method of how to establish His Kingship. In other words, “Zichron Teruah”, “Yom Teruah” are the ways that we a establish The Almighty’s Kingship[6].  As we have already seen, Rosh HaShana is hidden, and what we have revealed to us in the Written Torah must be essential.  The way to achieve “teruah,” as in Yom Teruah and Zichron Teruah, is through blowing the shofar. We have already mentioned that the shofar is made from the ram’s horn which is connected to Akaidas Yitzchok. There is a concept of din and chessed regarding Akaidas Yitzchok that I now wish to explain.

It is well known that Avraham Avinu personifies the attribute of chessed as well as his son Yitzchak Avinu personifies the attribute of din. From this we can realize a very important fundamental idea. All din in the world is rooted in chessed. Just as Yitzchak Avinu is the son of Avraham Avinu so too din comes from chessed. All dinim from Hashem are completely rooted in chessed. That is a very deep idea, how the world could not stand on pure din and needed din and chessed.[7] As the verse says “Olam Chessed Yibaneh”, chessed is the foundation of everything. Now we can understand the connection between Yitzchak Avinu and shofar.

Due to Hashem‘s commandment, Avraham Avinu was prepared to sacrifice his only son as the verse says “Kach Na Es Bincha”. He listened to the decree of the King without question or doubt at all. Yitzchak Avinu stood upon that mountain prepared to sacrifice himself like a perfect korban in order to fulfill the will of Hashem. All of a sudden a Malach came and stopped the sacrifice from happening. This is a parable to Rosh HaShana. The whole year we are obligated to keep the six hundred-thirteen mitzvos of the Torah without doubt or question at all. However, we sin. In reality, one who disregards the decree of a king of flesh and blood would be killed instantly, however the King of Kings has chessed that has no limit and absolves us of our sins. Avraham Avinu listened to the decree of the King and was prepared to sacrifice his son who he loved more than himself. Yitzchak Avinu was prepared to sacrifice himself in order to fulfill the decree of the King since that was his purpose. For that reason we can understand why we blow the shofar with the horn of a ram[8], since on Rosh HaShana we recognize the glory of the King. The Avos were willing to actually give up their lives in order to fulfill the decree of the King, and with His endless chessed Yizchak Avinu’s life was spared. In other words Akaidas Yitzchak was an example of how his life was on the line and due to the glory of the King his life was spared[9]. I believe this that this explanation is also what the Shlah HaKadosh says in Mesechta Sukkah perek Ner Mitzvah ose 45.

This is a very fundamental idea as we want to have long lives with parnasah and success and everything that we need gashmius and ruchnius, for what? The purpose of it all is for the glory of the King! That is simple, if one has the ability to actually give up their lives and fulfill a mitzvah with all six hundred-thirteen parts of our bodies, what is greater than that? The Avos felt that their lives were only for the glory of the King, and nothing else.

I already wrote that Yitzchak Avinu is connected to Shavuos and Rosh HaShana. Regarding the order of the year, after Shavuos there is a personification of the attribute of din is from the beginning of Tamuz through Av until Elul. Those days are mesugal to the attribute of din.

The connection between shofar by Matan Torah and Rosh HaShana needs to be explained. I want to say a comment based off of the famous concept of the Bnei Yissaschar. He says that within the four letters of the holy name of Hashem there are twenty-four possibilities which are two sets of twelve. There is an understanding that there are two heads of the year one beginning with the attribute of chessed (Nissan) and the other with din (Tishrei). The whole year can be expressed differently when looking from the perspective of chessed or din. The ends of each year are Adar and Elul. Just as it is written that the Jews accepted the Torah during the time of Purim[10] through ahavah so too during the month of Elul there must also be an acceptance of the Torah, however it will be through yirah. The acceptance of the Torah in Elul is obviously linked to the month of Tishrei and this is another connection between Rosh HaShana and Torah.

I would like to suggest a nuance on something that I have heard many times from my great Rebbi, HaRav Nochum Lansky Shlita who said this idea in the name of the Gr”a z”l. In the first verse of the Shema there are six words. In the second verse of the Shema (Boruch Shaim) has five words. Says the Gr”a z”l that the word echad is the connection between the two verses. It is a well-known idea from the Arizal that Rebbi Akiva is considered the father of Torah Sh’Baal Peh (The Oral Law). The gemara in Berachos says that Rebbi Akiva passed on while uttering the word echad. Therefore, says the Arizal that Rebbi Akiva connects the two parts of Torah together. On that idea I would like to suggest that Krias Shema is the acceptance of the yoke of His Kingship and we learn from the Arizal that Krias Shema hints to the entire Torah therefore we see a great bond between Rosh HaShana and Shavuos as well as Yitzchak Avinu with Torah and Malchus.

Finally, I want to explain that there is a connection between Rosh HaShana and Shavuos. Rosh HaShana is in the seventh month of the year, and the number seven has very deep significance such as Shabbos, Shmittah, Yovel, Niddah, Shavuos. A commonality all of these have is they deal with tachlis or purpose. That is to say that just as Shabbos is called the tachlis maaseh breishis so too shmitah is end of the seven year cycle as well as Yovel. A Niddah becomes permitted to her husband on the seventh day. The seventh month is the beginning of the year and that is the foundation of Adam HaRishon, as he was created on the sixth day in order to fulfill the mitzvos of the garden and that of Shabbos which is the tachlis of the world. Generally, Rosh HaShana is a revelation of the attribute that we are able to purify ourselves (like niddah) and on Yom HaKippurim which is also in the seventh month, then we can obtain that level of observance of Torah and Mitzvah.

The Chazal write that we do not blow a regular horn because it hints to malchus and the attribute of din. However, shofar of the ram hints to the attribute of Rachamim. The strength of the shofar of the ram is to flip the attribute of din to rachamim.

I would like to conclude with a general thought. The Yomim Noraim are days of slichah and kaparah a time where the King sits on the kisai din. I want to mention the famous Rambam in Hilchos Teshuvah who states “what is teshuvah gemuarah”. He says someone who had sadly fallen to temptation and committed a sin against the decree of the King. Later this individual finds himself in the situation where he is tempted to sin again but stops himself from sinning. Why, says the Rambam? Because of the teshuvah. What does that mean? The teshuvah raises a person to a place above where he had been prior to his sin. On that subject even though he still has a Yetzer HaRa his Yetzer Tov is stronger! It is more than difficult to destroy and purge his Yetzer HaRa entirely, rather strengthen his Yetzer Tov.

On Rosh HaShana we are all merited to experience how the Rambam describes the blowing of the shofar. He says “Ooroo Ooroo Yishainim M’Shinaschem” (Wake up, wake up the sleeping from their slumber). However, the Chazal say that in reality regarding the mitzvah of the shofar there is a flip of the attribute of din to rachamim and then Hashem will rise from the kisai din and sit down upon the kisai rachamim. The implication from the words of the Chazal is seemingly opposite from that of the Rambam. The Rambam seems to imply that the mitzvah of shofar causes us to wake up and do teshuva. I believe that the two are not contradictions. Through the blowing of the shofar there is a possibility for Hashem to sit upon the kisai rachamim. In other words, through our merit that we establish the Kingship and realize the Hashem is the King of Kings we will become careful with all the mitzvos of the Torah. Once we realize the Kingship of Hashem and the great yoke that we have upon us the tears will follow, the embarrassment of what we have done will be apparent. Says the Mabit that our nishamos are unable to become dirty with our sins, it is only our perception that we feel dirty and impure. However, we feel and cry for each and every sin that we do…but it is the klipos that quiet us down for the whole year. Through the inspiration of the shofar we wake up and make it possible to perceive the glory of the King and the utter embarrassments that we have for not following his decrees. After that the King will arise and sit upon the kisai harachamim and absolve our past. Meaning that regardless of the fact that we “wake up” or not we still have past history.

I wish to give a berachah to all those who read this (and to those who don’t as well) that b’ezras Hashem Yisborach we should all be merited to be written in the book of life for the year ahead. Not for ourselves, rather for Him, for Hashem. In order to serve Hashem with all our might, in all areas of life, at all times, and in all situations. This year to come we will be merited to rise to the holy land and build our Avinu Malkainu his house and then and only then will His true glory be clear to the whole world.

[1] I am not talking about the difference between l’shma and lo l’shma, rather I am talking about if a mitzvah should be performed because it is understood logically, or because you want to do it because that is the will of Hashem. I heard once from Rav Gifter zt”l, that we have something called “Taamei HaMitzvah”. From the language of tam, to taste.  Says Rav Gifter that the reason we eat a fruit is for nourishment, the taste is only secondary. The reason we do mitzvos is because that is the will of Hashem, however the “tam” is what does it taste like when we perform it. That is what I am referring to, the more that we know about a mitzvah the more difficult it becomes to do it only because that is the will of Hashem as opposed to all the tamei haMitzvah.

[2] The basis of free will is that the will of Hashem is not overwhelming to the extent that you cannot act against it.

[3] There are no selichos there is no viduy on Rosh HaShana, it may not be agreed upon if it is a day of simchah, but it surely is not a sad day. All the tefillos are focused on being mamlich Hashem not on the fact there is a din on our future.

[4] Hashem is always our Melech as mentioned earlier we cannot have free will if we always feel that the Melech is looking over our shoulders.

[5] Shla”h Hakadosh in many places.

[6] The shofar brings us to be mikabel Hashem as the Melech.

[7] Even though din comes from chessed it by itself was still too potent that pure chessed was needed as well.

[8] The ram was brought as an olah in place of the sacrifice of Yitzchak Avinu.

[9] Meaning if you do mitzvos with every fiber of potential that you possess then you are living your life to serve Hashem. A person who is not put in the Sefer HaChaim doesn’t just mean they were rishaim rather, that for whatever reason their death will provide more Kavod Shemaim, i.e. m’siras nefesh for Kiddush Hashem.

[10] Kimu V’Kiblu Ha’Yehudim

Categories: Machshuvah, Mussar, Rosh Hashana, Shavuos Tags:

Realigning Our Spiritual Map: The True Inside Story of Purim

Posted by Rabbi Yosef Tropper
March 5th, 2009
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This entry is part 7 of 14 in the series Living Purim Every Day

ליהודים היתה אורה ושמחה וששון ויקר (אסתר ח:טז).

The Jews had light, happiness, fulfillment and preciousness (Esther 8:16).

The Gemara (Megillah 16b) tells of the greatness that the Jews achieved upon their victory from their enemies. Each word of this verse hints to one specific aspect of their lives:

“The Jews had light”, this is Torah,

“happiness”, these are the festivals (many explain this to refer to Shabbos and Yom Tov),

“fulfillment”, refers to circumcision,

“and preciousness”, refers to Tefillin.

Three Simple Questions

There are numerous questions that beg to be asked on all of this:

1-If the verse wished to express that the Nation achieved the ability to freely practice all of these Jewish rites, why does it not say them explicitly?! Why must Chazal perform detective work in order to properly decipher the hidden references of the verse, could it not have just read, “The Jews had Torah and festivals, etc?!

2-When the Megillah is read in Shul on Purim, there are four verses which the reader stops before reciting them and the entire congregation reads them out loud first (see Shulchan Aruch O”C 690:17. There is one additional verse read this way, but it is subject to a different discussion). This is done in order to stress the miraculous redemption which Hashem brought as expressed in these verses. The significance of each verse is clearly seen and it is apparent why they are given this special attention. They include the introduction of the great and heroic sage Mordechai and the recounting of the distinguished respect he received in the end. There is one verse whose presence on the VIP list is greatly perplexing… our verse! Why is it deemed so significant? Why should it be read out loud by the entire congregation?! What is so special about the four cryptic descriptions it contains?

3-During the recitation of the Havdalah, we have a custom that dictates that the one reciting stops and everyone declares one sentence. That sentence is our exact verse, ליהודים היתה אורה, the Jews had light etc., with an added phrase at the end, “Kain Ti’hyeh Lanu, so may we merit this as well!” What is the source for this custom? After searching through numerous texts and speaking to great Halachik authorities, it was established that, to the best of our knowledge, there is no known source for this custom! Perhaps through our understanding of this mysterious verse we will gain insight as to how the verse became a weekly ritual, emanating deep from the Jewish psyche.

Why Were They Decreed To Die?

The Gemara (Megillah 12a) tells us that the Jews were deemed deserving of death on account for their partaking in the feast of Achashveyrosh. The Gemara quotes Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai who counters this understanding by stating that this cannot be so, for only the inhabitants of Shushan attended the party and thus how could this have affected the Jews elsewhere? A strong question indeed. The Gemara appears to reject that explanation and then states an alternative reason. R’ Akiva Eiger points out a blatant contradiction here. The Midrash (Shir HaShirim Rabbah 7:14) states the Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai himself explained that the reason why they were decreed destruction was on account for the party which they partook of?! How could he use an idea that he himself disproved?!

The answer lies in the very Midrash itself and this is precisely what R’ Akiva Eiger is drawing our attention to. Rabbi Shimon’s students asked him how the sin of the feast in Shushan could affect the Jews everywhere else? He answered them that this is understood through the concept of “Kol Yisrael Arayvim, all Jews are responsible for one another!” This needs to be understood better.

Unmotivated and Unexcited

Chazal tell us that at the time of Purim the Jews reaccepted the Torah willingly. At Mount Sinai they had accepted the Torah but it had not been whole-heartedly (see our full explanation in Introduction (Part 1 of 2)).  Hence, that commitment waned and faded over the years until in the time of Achashvayrosh it was nearly forgotten.

When we think of the story of Purim it is often not realized just how low the Jews had fallen. Chazal (Esther Rabbah 1:9) tell us that Hashem was outraged at the Jews because many of them were not keeping Shabbos! Additionally, Chazal tell us astonishing words that came out their mouth’s upon seeing the lavish feast of Achashveyrosh. They declared, “with  a feast this great and luxuriant, what more can Hashem offer us in Olam HaBah, the future world?! These blasphemous words are astounding!

They did not really mean or believe what they were saying, rather, the problem was one of feelings. The Jews had slowly forgotten about their passion in life. They had forgotten about their love and special bond with Hashem and the great mission which they had been given. Monotony, complacency and mediocrity had become their daily routine. They were going through life habitually and missing out on the true excitement in life called Avodas Hashem!

Good Morning Dear Jews!

It was time to wake them up! So Hashem sent one of the most evil men in all of history, Haman, to do the job. He was rich, powerful and he hated the Jews! A deadly combination. Suddenly, he got his plot off the ground and he was going to wipe out every single Jew from upon planet Earth. The Jews were jolted to an abrupt awakening. Suddenly, it didn’t matter if you kept Shabbos, learned Torah or didn’t, if you were a Jew, you were dead! Even the most secularized people of our Nation were forced to rethink their life’s course. The Jews gathered and repented and began to once again embrace their forgotten legacy. Day by day, more people returned; sincerity and passion returned. As the repentance increased, Hashem began to show His great hand more and more. One hidden miracle after another, and Esther was in the palace, Mordechai was a powerful governmental leader and the head enemy, Haman, was killed. The fear of the Jews fell upon the nations and the Jews regained their freedom!

Imagine how inspiring and emotionally charging the entire experience must have been. They regained their Jewish pride and most importantly they reaccepted the Torah, only this time out of complete love and total commitment.

Now we have the keys to answer everything.

The Solution

The sin of the Jews was that they had lacked passion and excitement in their Avodas Hashem. They veered away and stopped appreciating Hashem and His Torah. Thus, just as their service was dead, Hashem decreed death upon their bodies. When they rejuvenated and animated their daily service, this brought them back to life in a physical sense as well!

The Party

When they ate from the feast it represented the collective feelings of the whole Jewish public. They were stating, “Achashveyrosh has more fun and enjoyment to offer us than Hashem does!” This was the sin of the entire Nation! The Shushan incident was just one illustration of this!

They always knew that Torah was true, but they viewed it as bland and dead. It was only when they realized the greatness and excitement of Torah and Mitzvos that they were granted new life!

Light and Happiness

This is why the verse uses only adjectives to refer to the four Mitzvos that they rededicated themselves to. It was not enough just to bring back Torah and Mitzvos into their lives. It was a recognition of how exhilarating and invigorating Torah and Mitzvos are that was necessary. Their hearts were ignited to truly feel:

The only light is Torah!

The only happiness are the festivals!

The only fulfillment is through circumcision,

The only  preciousness is Tefillin.

A life of passion and dedication to Hashem!

A Powerful Illustrative Verse Indeed

Now we understand why this verse is so significant in recounting the great Jewish salvation. The recognition and appreciation expressed in this verse was the exact understanding that gave them life!


So too as we begin every new week, during the recitation of Havdalah, we concentrate upon this beautiful and fundamental verse for spiritual alignment. We pray that our hearts too should be opened to appreciate and truly feel just how meaningful and rich our relationship with Hashem is! We are blessed with the opportunity to live this every day!

A Mission Statement

Posted by Rabbi Yosef Tropper
January 8th, 2009
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When I asked people if they know what a mission statement is, most answered, “yes”.

When I asked people if they have a mission statement, most answered, “no”!

Although my poll was not conducted according to precise scientific procedures, I would venture to assume that my results probably do represent an accurate worldview on the topic.

Some miscellaneous responses I received:

-Why do we need it?

-I thought it’s only for large corporations?!

-Who has time for it?

I would like to present some clarification as to what exactly a mission statement is and outline some benefits that it can afford you by creating one. When a person realizes how useful and constructive it can be, this may serve as encouragement to actually pen one.

When writing about the lack of direction in corporate settings, Dr. Stephen R. Covey (The 8th Habit) states that according to his company’s poll (conducted well according to all standards) they found that 2 out of every 3 workers did not know what their company was trying to achieve! He then describes how this is a good explanation as to why so many companies complain of poor employee performance. They don’t know what they are supposed to be doing!!

When someone has a goal in mind, they are then able to work towards it. When one is left in the dark and clueless as to what is expected of them they obviously will not produce.

So it is in all aspects of life. Whether regarding material pursuits such as livelihood and one’s career development and certainly in spiritual ventures such as Torah learning and establishing a house for Hashem, a mission statement can be most helpful.

Goals give direction.

The Mesilas Yesharim, Path of The Just, begins his entire program for charting out a lifelong endeavor of spiritual development with one simple statement found in the middle of Chapter 1. It is true that there are many details and advancements that he enumerates throughout the entire work, but, nevertheless, the main goal of the program is stated right at the beginning and in very clear terms.

“Whatever will bring you close to Hashem should be vehemently pursued; whatever will detract you from closeness to Hashem should be fled from as one escapes a raging fire!”

The entire first chapter is filled with many brief synopses just as this. Two more examples which contain much depth as well are the following.

“Man’s purpose in this world is to fulfill the Mitzvos, serve Hashem and withstand the trials.”

“Proportionate to how much you conquer your desires and ward off the distractions from spirituality, accordingly you will connect to Hashem, understand Him and enjoy Him!”

The author (R’ Moshe Chaim Luzzatto) has one recurring trademark throughout all of his works and that is the goal to simplify and clarify the idea being discussed. Thus, as you embark on the journey to greatness following his map, he offers you many short mission statements which you can take for yourself or modify according to your needs!

Indeed the Talmud (Berachos 17a) tells that the great Rabbis had quips that they used constantly as well. מרגלא בפומיה, pearls of wisdom that they were accustomed to say and live by! This is a Torah source for the very idea of mission statements which we are discussing!

I cannot say that it is easy to write, many people sit down to a paper and don’t even know where to begin. You will see though that as you write, many dormant feelings and ideas will start to awaken inside you and you will be happy that you are finally able to capture them on paper and now can consciously implement them into your life.

Many people write them for all different reasons. Some write one for their daily living, marriage goals, family vision, company purpose. The list is endless! Some are long and some are notably short. All of them are helpful! And this sparks many to write them for more categories!

As an example, I wrote a mission statement about mission statements:

A mission statement is a short and brief paragraph that captures and formulates, in general terms, the essence of one’s goals and aspirations. It helps concretize, articulate, and put into focus and perspective many otherwise loose idealistic ideas, in order to make them practical. It serves as a constant reference point to look back upon in order to regain clarity and direction and as a means whereby to realign one’s focus. With careful thought, it is always open to revision and improvement!

So, do you know what a mission statement is?

Do you have a mission statement?!

Responding To Difficult Times

Posted by Rabbi Dovid Boruch Kopel
January 4th, 2009
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It is an amazing observation that is so simple in its root. The things that show the greatest Yad-Hashem may be perceived as the utter lack of such. There are individuals who have a “healthy” mindset where they see the Yad-Hashem constantly in our everyday lives. Such people will always take the best of those events that occur in the world and respond accordingly. There are others who sees everything with a tinge of chaos, nothing is logical, nothing is fair – you get the point. The first group of people can accept those events that we don’t understand their source. The others choose not only to not accept but they go even further and say that things are unjust and asks questions that begin with “why” and end with “it’s not fair”. Such people are often miserable, and it is a real shame. It’s such a shame because the things that are here in this world for us to remind us of our mishaps are those such events. It is not by chance that catastrophic events occur in the world. It isn’t by some roll of the dice that certain groups of people are targeted more than others. It is not pure coincidence that the Jewish people are always in the center of the media. No, none of this is true. It is because this is for us to realize that something is wrong, very wrong. The scariest part is when we don’t even see the signs. We are so far aways that the signs to help us are foreign!

The Almighty made an amazing system in the human body. We have defense mechanisms in our nervous system that allows us to sense pain or extreme temperatures and react to them. The sense itself is only an indication for us to react accordingly. Meaning the sensation of agony that we feel when we touch something hot is to cause us to move our hand away to prevent any damage. The pain itself is minute in comparison to had there been no indication and the inevitable conclusion of severely damaging your hand chas v’shalom. If a person was about to walk in the street unaware that a car was approaching. In response to that another individual heroically pushed the man out of the way resulting in him falling to the ground and bruising his leg. The injured man begins getting hot and excited in response to the pain he is currently suffering. The hero says in shock, “I saved your life”. The injured man responds, “Yeah, but you hurt me.”. I don’t think anyone can honestly say that the injured man is responding appropriately. What a fool, I would say. Your live was saved what is a little pain?! My dear friends we do this everyday! We are swept out of the way from death and left with a mere paper-cut. What is our response? “Yeah, but you hurt me.”. Why do we do this? Is it because we don’t really sense the danger initially, or are we that sick that we cannot overlook the momentary pain!? I think we can gauge this by seeing our response in a similar scenario. If the hero saved us with not a scratch, how thankful would we be? I hope that we would be at least “very” thankful if not ecstatically thankful. Therefore you may conclude that the momentous pain is actually concealing this emotion and submerging it below. How can that be? Such an appreciation, why would it fall to this minute pain? The answer is because we let it. We have a tendency to lose sight of appreciating the gifts that we are constantly given. When the smallest opportunity comes to avoid having to feel appreciative to someone we will take it. This selfish nature is deeply rooted in man and is a very powerful force. The only way to treat such a great threat like this is with a secret weapon that the Chazal tell us.

Chazal[1] teach us: “חביבין יסורין עליך”, or “Love the suffering that befall upon you”. You may ask why in the world should you react that way? The answer is because all that happens to us is just and fair. It is needed for us and it is the best thing for us. The yisurim that we are given are compared by Chazal to the raw meat that is sweetened by salt. We all know that salt has a unique ability that it absorbs liquids, when raw meat is covered in salt the result is that the blood is absorbed into the salt. I thought that the reason why the Chazal compare the salt sweetening the meat because it won’t have any more blood. However says the great commentator the Maharshah that it is the entrance of the yisurim in the meat as opposed to the meat being sweet due to the absence of the blood. That means that it is two-fold, both the absence of the blood as well as the presence of the salt sweetens the meat. That is a comparison given to explain the relationship between yisurim with the avonos that we do. The yisurim absorb the avonos, but they also improve the individual as well. The yisurim brings you to a level that you weren’t at prior to the avonos. This is an understanding that can explain the statement of Chazal that a Baal-Teshuvah stands at a place that even a Tzadik Gamor stands. That is due to the acceptance of the yisurim that one experiences he returns to where he had before with an added sweetness to the Ribono Shel Olam.

These yisurim help rid us of our wrong, and give us a push in the right direction as well.  We have so much at our grasp! These words of Chazal are the keys to all the locks in our lives. The first step to getting in control is by seizing it! The tools are here, are you? We have the ability to change our focus and direct our attention on the aspects of life that are so much neglected. Realize that even the worst of times is really the best for you.

Now that we have an idea of how to look at things in a finer light. We can just briefly adapt this concept from a individual basis to a global one. As you may or may not know, the world was created for a purpose. The Jewish People are the head of the campaign of this purpose. We are the sole members who cause the success and failure of this campaign. Everything else in the world, are here to aid that purpose. They are essential for us to utilize but that is all. Therefore all of the events of this world are due to our actions, and that alone. The Jewish People are responsible for all the catastrophic events and all the wondrous ones as well. All of them are a result of our actions. This is simply the system of the Jewish People being treated like one body. This idea is something I hope to bring out in another entire article, but until then this idea is important to know. We are all one. That isn’t just a good line, but rather a truth to the deep secrets of this world. The People of Yisroel are one body. That single body is treated with the same system of yisurim as aforementioned above. We are given the opportunities as a community to see our wrong-doings and repent appropriately. That being a communal effort all are affected by it. The sinners and righteous are treated as one group[2] therefore we must all act in response to those yisurim. Those of use who attempt to perform the Mitzvos of the Torah are not “as” liable for the yisurim but we are still of course responsible. For the very fact that we are obligated to see that others do not transgress as well!

When we see things in our personal lives, as well as our lives generally speaking. We should try not to focus on the “Why is this happening to me?” with emphasis on the “me”, rather focus the “why”. The answer will always be the same, because you need it. If not you yourself then you as a part of the People of Yisroel. If you are experiencing these events in your life that is the biggest reminder that you are the one that can help. If not why is it happening to you? It is happening to you so that you do something about it. Respond to the events in your life by taking action to fix, not to question. Don’t try to understand the “me”, sometimes not even the “why”. There are times we won’t fully understand at all, but always realize there is a reason. When all things look dismal – look up. This is your chance, right now. If not you then who? If not now then when? If there was ever a time where you are being given your chance to do something, it’s right now. When you are down. Keep looking up and realize the time is now, and I am going to take charge of my actions.f

  1. Berachos 5, b []
  2. Though the Rambam in Hilchos Teshuvah states that the punishments are based on the majorities there are of course those who break free from this calculation []