Monday, June 23, 2014

Appreciation

by Rabbi Eli Mansour

“The nation settled in Kadesh; Miriam died there and was buried there. The nation had no water…” [Chukat 20:1-2]

Why did Beneh Yisrael suddenly run out of water when Miriam died?

Rashi explains that as Beneh Yisrael traveled through the desert, a miraculous, mobile well accompanied them to ensure that they would have a constant, adequate water supply. This well was provided in the merit of Miriam, an exceptionally righteous woman and prophetess, and once she died, the well was taken away, leaving the people without water.

The question, however, remains, why didn’t the well remain even after Miriam’s death? Was her great merit insufficient to continue providing the nation with water even after she passed on?

The Keli Yakar [Rav Shelomo Efrayim Luntschitz of Prague, 1550-1619] offers a remarkable explanation. He notes that when the Torah reports the death of Miriam, it simply states that she died and was buried. No mention is made of eulogies or mourning, in contrast to the Torah’s accounts of the deaths of Aharon and Moshe, where it is explicitly mentioned that the nation wept for the loss of their leader. It seems, the Keli Yakar observes, that the people were not moved by Miriam’s death, and did not properly eulogize or mourn for her. They failed to appreciate the fact that their constant water supply was directly and solely due to her. God therefore took away the well so that the people would appreciate what an exceptionally righteous person they lost. As they did not properly appreciate the miracle of the well and Miriam’s greatness which provided it, it had to be taken away.

The Keli Yakar’s insight teaches us the importance of appreciating everything we have while we have it. If we take everything we have for granted, then God is compelled to take it away, Heaven forbid, so we can appreciate just how valuable it is.

Unfortunately, we take so many things for granted in our lives. People do not generally appreciate their vision until, God forbid, they or someone they know suffers vision loss. We do not appreciate our health until, God forbid, we or someone we know takes ill. We do not appreciate our children until we meet a childless couple.

Each morning, we are required to recite a series of Berachot thanking Hashem for things that may appear simple and trivial. First and foremost, we recite “Elokai Neshama” to thank God for restoring our soul, for enabling us to wake up in the morning. We recite the Beracha of “Poke’ah Ivrim” to thank Him for our eyesight, “Malbish Arumim” to thank Him for our clothing, “Zokef Kefufim” to thank Him for allowing us to stand up straight, and “She’asa Li Kol Sorki” to thank Him for our shoes. We receive all these gifts, and so many more, each and every day, and our Sages who composed the liturgy wanted to ensure that we thank God for each one of them.

These blessings, like most of our blessings, are not fully appreciated until they are taken away from us. I once saw somebody I know running out of a burning building in a bathrobe; he was at the gym when a fire erupted, and he had no time to put on his clothes. This is when I appreciated the Beracha of “Malbish Arumim.” When we hear of somebody who wrenched his back during the night, we appreciate the Beracha of “Zokef Kefufim.” The Beracha of “She’asa Li Kol Sorki” came into focus for me after a bizarre experience I had once when I traveled to Mexico City to deliver a lecture in a large synagogue there. The hotel in which I stayed offered a free shoeshine service, whereby guests leave their shoes outside their room at night and then have it returned shined early the next morning. So, I left my shoes outside the room, and when I opened my door the next morning to go to the synagogue for Shaharit and my lecture…they were not there. I went down to the lobby to meet the people who had come to take me to the synagogue, and they saw me there without any shoes. This is when I appreciated the Beracha of “She’asa Li Kol Sorki,” that even the shoes on our feet should never be taken for granted.

Rav Avigdor Miller [1908-2001] would occasionally put his head in a sink full of water for several moments, until he needed to come out of the water for air. He explained that he wanted to feel grateful for the air we breathe at every moment of our lives. In order to truly feel appreciative, he deprived himself of air for several moments, during which time he was able to appreciate how precious the air is.

Part of the reason why it’s so difficult for us to appreciate our blessings in life is because we’re so busy complaining about our “problems.” These “problems” are things like traffic jams, a flat tire, a head cold, a misbehaving child, or a broken piece of furniture. When our emotional energy is expended on worrying about these “problems,” we are not able to feel happy and grateful for our blessings – that we have a spouse, children, a roof over our heads, a source of livelihood, friends, clothing to wear, and so on.

One Rabbi recommended that we each compile a list of ten blessings in our life and keep this piece of paper with us when we pray the daily Amida. When we reach the Modim section, in which we thank God “for Your wonders and favors that are given at all times,” we should look at the list so we can be grateful for the particular blessings in our lives. This will help us experience true gratitude, and appreciate what we have while we have it, so that the Almighty will continue showering us with these blessings and not, Heaven forbid, take them away from us.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Gehennom

GEHENNOM: loosely translated as ''hell''.


Important Note: This article has been greatly edited: the entire essay can be read by advanced scholars (questions must be answered before you can access all the information) at Daf Yomi Review

"If people knew of the bitter punishments of Gehinom, they would fall on their faces and scream and they would not have any business whatsoever with matters of this world." - Rabbi Yehonason Eibshetz, Ye'aros Devash 1:2

Note: The potentially infinite sufferings of Gehinom from a benevolent G-d only make sense if man and his actions in this world are also infinitely important. Otherwise how could G-d punish so immensely for such insignificant acts? From learning about Gehinom we can get a glimpse of the greatness of our mission in this world and the enormous responsibility that lies on our shoulders.

BIRTH

The midrash says: Before a person is born a "candle" is put on his head (i.e. an angel teaches him the whole Torah) and he gazes from one end of the world to the other as written "When His candle would shine over my head" [Iyov/Job 29:5]. Just before birth, the angel takes him/her to Gan Eden and shows him/her the tzadikim sitting with their crowns on their heads.

And the angel says to him:

"Know who these people are that you are seeing. They were formed just like you in their mother's womb and were born into the world. They guarded G-d's mitzvos, and therefore merited this goodness. And soon you too will be born into the world and if you are meritorious and you guard the Torah you will have a place with them, otherwise you will sit elsewhere".

Afterwards, he is brought to Gehinom and he is shown the wicked which are beaten by angels of destruction using clubs of fire and scream 'voy, voy'. And the angel says to him:

"Know that these that are being burned, they were formed just like you and they were born into the world and did not guard G-d's mitzvos. Therefore they are punished and humiliated like this. And you will soon be born. Be a tzadik and don't be a rasha, in order that you live." [as it is written "And he taught me, and said unto me, 'Let your heart hold fast my words, keep my commandments, and live'" - Mishlei/Proverbs 4]

When the time comes to leave the womb, immediately the angel hits him and extinguishes his candle and pushes him out by force and he forgets everything he saw. It is because of this, that a baby cries (i.e.even though the baby forgot, his 'inner soul' remembers and he cries) immediately when it is born [Midrash in Rabbeinu Bechayei - end of Acharei Mos]


LIFE

Throughout a person's life the Midda of Din (trait of justice) accuses him/her (in the Heavenly court) but it is not listened to. When the day of death comes it is listened to. [Vilna Gaon -Even Shlema ch.10]

At the time of death is the very great day of judgment. Generally G-d judges leniently, but for someone who was "ra l'brios" (evil to society), he is given the full measure of justice. And likewise for a haughty person.

The body and the 'nefesh' are judged for 30 days and the 'ruach' is judged for 12 months (Except for heretics, deniers of the Torah, Jews who abandon their religion, who stay there forever [see Rosh Hashanah 17a for a list of sins warranting punishments of eternal Gehinom (and not just 12 months)]

[everything below is from the Ramban's book Shaar HaGemul unless otherwise stated]

There are three entrances to Gehinom.

1. desert - "they [Korach, Dasan, Aviram and their families] descended with all their possesions alive to the she'ol (Gehinom)" - [Bamidbar 16:33]

2. sea - "from the belly i saw the she'ol" [Yona 2:3] when Yona was in the belly of the fish, it swam to the depths of the sea and showed him the entrance to Gehinom.

3. in Jerusalem as it says : "He has fire in Tzion and an oven in Jerusalem". and R. Yochanan ben Zakai said:"there are 2 palm trees in the valley of Ben Hinom and smoke rises between them - this is the entrance to Gehinom." [Eruvin 19]

A person must pass through all three "landscapes" after death. [Vilna Gaon on Mishlei 3:24]

The River of Fire ["Nahar Dinur", Daniel 7:10] separates between the mystical Land of Israel on high and the mystical "chutz l'aretz" (diaspora) just like the Jordan river separates the land of Israel from the diaspora below. [Vilna Gaon - ES 10:16]. (this means the Dead Sea which is the end of the Jordan river and the lowest place on earth (by far at 418m below sea level), corresponds to Gehinom which is the end of Nahar Dinur and the "lowest place" in the mystical worlds.)

Generally speaking, every Biblical and Rabbinic transgression requires a sentencing in Gehinom (unless one repents before death, in which case he is forgiven completely). Some examples of sins which merit Gehinom in the other levels [from Zohar Chadash Ruth 79a quoted from Reishis Chachma - Shaar Yira Ch.13] :

Level 1) someone who interrupts his Torah study to engage in idle chatter, someone who doesn't honor talmidei chachamim, someone who curses a deaf person or the like, someone who says good things about someone in front of his enemy (causing him to say lashon hara).

Level 2) someone who honors himself through putting down someone else, someone who knows his friend is going to stumble in halacha and he doesn't tell him and they're both in the same city, someone who has a shul in his city and doesn't go there to pray, someone who lifts his hand to hit his friend even though he doesn't hit him, someone who insults his friend and causes him embarassment.

Level 3) scholars who are arrogant in their Torah study, someone who judges others negatively (l'kaf chova), lends money with ribis, doesn't say amen after someone's blessing, interrupts his davening and talks, an old scholar who forgot his Torah learning (through neglect)

Level 4) arrogant people (gasei ruach), someone who speaks harshly to the poor and the downtrodden, someone who sees a poor man in a tough situation and doesn't lend him money, someone who oppresses his employee (oshek schar sachir), a man who wastes seed (motzi zera lbatala), someone who has relations with a gentile or a nidda, a judge who corrupts justice or takes a bribe. [from Zohar Chadash Ruth 79a quoted from Reishis Chachma - Shaar Yira Ch.13]

(Also, gentiles who did not keep the 7 mitzvot of Bnei Noach will be sentenced to Gehinom, even if they had no education whatsoever in the matter. The gentile will respond to the Heavenly court screaming "how could I have known!?" which on the surface seems like a good claim. But it will not be accepted. The reason is that every creature and every phenomena in the world reflects intelligent design of infinite proportions. Any person who is not insane knows in his heart that there must be a Designer. This obligates him to question and search out the truth with all his heart, as to why he was created and what his purpose in this world is. If he doesn't do it, it is only because he is entangled in his desires and does not want to know. For this he/she will be sentenced.[Kovetz Ma-amarim by Rav E.Wasserman - sec. Emuna.]

THE GREAT DAY OF JUDGMENT

Originally G-d wanted to create the world with justice, whereby a sinner would be destroyed immediately and not be given a second chance (according to strict justice, one who sins no longer deserves to live). He saw the world could not endure and merged justice with mercy to give sinners a chance to repent. This is why this world seems to have no justice and evildoers roam freely.

In the future, will be the 'great day of judgment'. Everyone who ever lived must, in turn, stand individually in front of G-d while all of humanity watches. All of his life is reviewed on a large movie screen, including all of his actions, words, thoughts, in front of all of humanity (but if he does teshuva, that part of the tape is erased. The final accounting of all the consequences of his actions relative to other people and all descendants will also be examined and taken into account as it says "the end of the matter all is heard" [Koheles 12:13]. Then each and every person will receive the full measure of justice without any mercy or any favoritism as G-d had originally intended to create the world [Yearos Devash 1 Derash 6].

Rabbi Yehonosan Eibshetz, zt'l explains that all the suffering a person has while alive in this world is not in the category of punishment. It is only there to wake him up in order that he mend his ways. Similarly, he says the sufferings of Gehinom are also not in the category of punishments. Their purpose is only to clean and purify the soul from the sins which contaminated it in order that it be fitting to behold the face of the King on the "Great Day of Judgment". The main punishment will be meted out then (unless one repented before death).

TIPS:
One who learns to overlook the bad things that people do to them, will be forgiven for all their sins (measure for measure). [Talmud Yoma 23a]

"Be concerned that you do not offend, not that you are not offended" - [Mildred N. Ryder]

If one observes Shabbos properly, then G-d forgives him for all of his sins.  [Talmud Shabbos 118b].

Whoever recites the Shema and is careful with the pronunciation, Gehinom will be cooled down for him (assuming he is sentenced to spend some time there) [Talmud Berachos 15b]

"The fire of Gehinom has no power over those who learn Torah" - [Talmud Chagigah 27a]

Someone who stares at women for pleasure, even if he has Torah and good deeds like Moshe Rabeinu, it will not save him from Gehinom [Berachos 61]

Tzedaka saves a person from Gehinom - [Bava Basra 10a]

Someone who visits a sick person and sees to his needs, will be saved from Gehinom - [Talmud Ta'anis 7b]

"Whoever gets angry all types of Gehinom rule over him" - [Talmud Nedarim 22]  "The fire of Gehinom has no power over those who are free from anger" - [Sefer Maalos HaMidos beginning of Maalas HaRatzon]

Rabbi Yisrael Salanter, zt'l would bring his hand very close to the havdala candle every motzei shabbos to remind himself of the fires of Gehinom.

There is also a parallel Gehinom of snow. When one refrains from transgressing the negative commandments in the Torah, it makes a protective "garment" called "shanim" (lit. "years" since there are 365 days/year and 365 negative mitzvot) which protects from the snow blizzard there. This is alluded in the Friday night "Aishes Chayil" song: "lo sira beisa mi'shaleg ki kol beisa lavush shanim" - her house will not fear snow because her whole house is 'clothed' in 'shanim'. [Vilna Gaon on Mishlei 31:21-22]

"And you will return to Hashem your G-d" - [Devarim 30:2]"

Nothing stands in the way of teshuvah [Rambam Hilchos Teshuva 4:1]. Even if one transgressed throughout his entire life but repented on the day of his death and died in repentance, all his sins are forgiven." [ibid 2:2]

Said The Holy One blessed be He: "My children open for Me one opening of repentance the size of a pin prick and I will open for you openings through which even wagons can enter." [Shir Ha'shirim Rabba 5:3]

Without teshuvah the world could not endure. Without teshuvah man could not but despair, crushed by the burden of his errors. Torah is the foundation of the universe, it assures and sustains its existence. Teshuvah ensures its survival.

The first step (in teshuva) is to drop the burden of the past completely from your shoulders. Start anew as if you were born today...[Rabeinu Yona - Yesod HaTeshuva] "The shame and regret that the soul feels from one transgression is far worse than all the pain of this world. One act of getting angry, or hurting someone, or being depressed, or wasting time... is a relentless eternity of pain.

Now for some good news. The pain of Gehinom is nothing compared to the reward of one mitzvah. In other words, if you experienced the pain of all the Gehinom of every person since the beginning of time, it would still be worth it to gain the reward of one mitzvah."

The main purpose of life is not to refrain from evil but rather, to do good. [R.Avigdor Miller zt'l].

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Bring Back Our Boys !


Please pray for the 3 Israeli teenagers (ages 16 and 19) who were kidnapped by Arab terrorists on Thursday night -

Yakov Naftali ben Rachel Devorah, Gilad Michael ben Bat Galim and Iyal ben Iris Tshura
 יעקב נפתלי בן רחל דבורה, גלעד מיכאל בן בת גלים, אייל בן איריס תשורה

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The Seven Keys to Shamayim


by Harav Moshe Wolfson, shlita [Rav of Beis Medrash Emunas Yisroel and Mashgiach of Yeshivah Torah Vodaas]

[Adapted from a shiur that was delivered under the auspices of Irgun Shiurai Torah and prepared for publication by Rabbi Yochonon Donn]

Wordless Power 
There are two types of song: one has words (this category would include the art of poetry) in which words are joined together to create a rhythmic pattern and a sense of uniformity. In this type, the feeling of enjoyment and relaxation that comes from hearing music results from the whole song including the words.

In the second type of song, the reason for the enjoyment it gives us is more obscure: it comes when notes are put together to create a wordless song. It is not logical that notes thrown together should elicit a sense of enjoyment in people, that wordless tunes can be enjoyed is a gift from Hashem.

Sefer Pe'as Hashulchan by Harav Yisrael of Shklov zt'l, cites the Vilna Gaon in saying that most of the secrets of Torah are hidden in the art of music and that without understanding music it is impossible to comprehend the Torah. This knowledge of music was given over to Moshe Rabbeinu on Har Sinai along with the rest of the Torah.

The Zohar even says that there is a heichal - an entranceway - in Shamayim that can be opened only with neginah (song). The Zohar relates that Dovid HaMelech approached that entrance only with the neginah of his Sefer Tehillim.

Keys to the Heichal
The seven major musical notes are called keys. Each of the seven keys opens a different door in Shamayim, and it is only through music that these entryways can be opened. Musicologists do not know why the term "key" is used, but it is quite possible that it is a tradition handed down from Yuval, whom the Torah identifies as the father of music.

When the Baal Ha'Tanya came to Shklov, the residents bombarded him with questions. Chabad sources say that he responded with only a niggun, which answered all their questions. As the Vilna Gaon explained, music opens the doors of Torah in Shamayim.

A Gemara in Arachin says that the kinor (stringed instrument) in the Beis Hamikdash had seven strings, but in the times of Moshiach it will have eight strings. There are seven major notes on a musical scale, and the seventh note corresponds to Shabbos, for Shabbos completes the kinor, so that even today one can sing. The seven days of the week are actually the seven tunes of Creation. When Shabbos - the seventh tune - arrives, the harp is complete. This is the reason why we usher in the Shabbos with kapitel 29 of Tehillim, which describes the seven kolos - since then we can proceed with song.

This is the reason for the minhag among Klal Yisrael of singing zemiros on Shabbos. HaRav Mordechai of Lechovich zt"l reportedly said that he would be able to believe that all the seven seas had dried up, but not that a Jew does not sing zemiros on Shabbos.

The reason people so enjoy songs is that the tones that form them have been combined ever since the six days of Creation. Some songs, however, only confuse a person, such as some modern-day songs that are based on, for example, the pounding of a drum, or on words that have no correlation to each other, such as many non-Jewish songs. While they have a tune, it is different than the accepted process of music.

This latter type of song leads to immorality, just as the tones of these songs have no relation to each other but are merely thrown together, immorality involves the relations of two people who are not meant for each other. Neither these songs nor illicit unions were predestined from Creation.



Seven Keys of Chesed
There is a fundamental difference between the seven ushpizin (the holy guests on Succot) and the twelve shvatim - the 12 tribes of Israel. Every Jew has a direct connection with the Ushpizin, whereas each shevet is a separate and unique entity, the shvatim are thus a symbol of disunity.

For every seven white keys, representing the major notes on the piano, there are five black keys, representing the minor notes, each of which is a half-tone higher or lower than the white key next to it. The black keys complement and harmonize with the white keys.

In general, someone who would play using just the white keys on the piano would be able to play only a lively song, while playing just the black keys would result in a sorrowful song of sadness.

It is likely then that another tradition handed down from Yuval is for the keys that play major notes to be white, for happy songs, while the black keys, which play the minor notes, are black, for mournful music.

White is a source of chessed (kindness) for Klal Yisrael (this may be one reason doctors wear white), on the Yamim Nora'im we wear white kittels. Black, on the other hand, represents the trait of gevurah (severity) and is a source and an expression of melancholy.

A song that is played using a combination of black and white keys mixes chessed and gevurah. Together the seven white keys and five black keys of an octave equal twelve, the number of tribes of Israel, which as mentoned above, can symbolize disunity. Such a song is appropriate only for galus. When Moshiach arrives, however, everything will be white, for there will be no atzvus (sadness).

Chazal tell us that when Moshiach comes, an eighth key will be added to music; this key will be a 'roundup' of the previous seven (similar to the all-inclusive kollel used in gematriyos).

In Sefer Tehillim (68:7) when Dovid HaMelech relates the events of our redemption from Mitzrayim, he says motzi asirim bakosharos - "(Hashem) releases those who are bound in chains". The Gemara explains that the word "bakosharos" is a combination of bechi and shiros - simultaneous crying and laughter. This is a song played with both the white and black keys. When Moshiach comes, however, there will only be shirah - a joyous song played with the white keys.