Friday, June 18, 2021

Who is King Mashiach

 Rabbi Yuval Ovadia

Thursday, June 17, 2021

How to Understand the Incomprehensible

by Rabbi David Hanania Pinto 

We sometimes find that a person on a mitzvah mission passes away. For example, he may be killed in a road accident. This occurs despite our being told by the Gemara [Pesachim 8b], "Mitzvah messengers are not harmed." There are also people who demonstrate self-sacrifice in honoring their parents, yet they die at a young age despite the Torah promising [Shemot 20:12], "Honor your father and your mother, so that your days will be lengthened." 

Many years ago, the holy Rabbi Rafael Pinto zt"l was murdered in Morocco by Arab rioters. His tragic death left everyone in shock since he was famous for his exceptional righteousness and profundity in Torah, remaining secluded in his home without leaving for any reason. In addition, Rabbi Rafael was known as someone who had connections amongst the Arabs and often treated them charitably, supporting them when necessary. 

Similarly, the entire history of the Jewish people is replete with difficult circumstances where great, lofty tzadikim suffered through terrible hardships. During the empire of the wicked Greeks, Chana's seven sons, from oldest to youngest, were killed in front of her eyes, following which she threw herself from the roof. The Gemara also tells us that all Rabbi Yochanan's sons died during his lifetime (Berachot 5b, Rashi). Over the course of time, during the terrible Holocaust, European communities suffered indescribable atrocities. The wife and children of the Admor of Satmar were killed, among millions of others. 

This harsh reality can undermine our faith and, G-d forbid, even lead to denying Hashem's existence. In order for Am Yisrael to remain faithful to Hashem despite all the challenges and troubles the human mind cannot grasp, Hashem commanded man to observe chukim – decrees – which we have no permission to ponder. By accustoming ourselves to fulfilling also the mitzvot which are beyond our comprehension, one attains absolute faith in Hashem, despite the many questions that may crop up from time to time as a result of various difficult events. 

This week's Parshah cites the verse [Chukat 19:14], "… a man who would die in a tent." What is the connection between the opening verse of the Parshah, "This is the decree of the Torah" to the later verse, "… a man who would die in a tent"? Man must know that he receives the strength to cope with all the hardships that befall his 'tent' – his home – even in the most difficult of circumstances, when death and bereavement enter his personal abode, by observing the chukim. When a person educates himself not to ask questions and fulfils chukim that he does not comprehend, only because it is Hashem's will, from this he draws the strength to cope with his troubles without casting doubt on the justice of Hashem's providence. 

Parshat Beha'alotcha tells us [10:35], "When the Ark would journey, Moshe said, 'Arise, Hashem, and let Your foes be scattered, let those who hate You flee from before You'." Rashi explains, "Since the Ark would travel ahead a distance of three days' journey, Moshe would say, 'Stand in place and wait for us and do not go further'." The Ark went ahead of them to show Bnei Yisrael the way. Let us try to picture this awesome sight! Bnei Yisrael walked in the Wilderness with the pillar of cloud going ahead to straighten the path, while at night the pillar of fire went ahead of them to light up the darkness. Furthermore, Am Yisrael were nourished by the manna and quenched their thirst from Miriam's well which accompanied them on their journey in the Wilderness. 

The Ark went before Am Yisrael and in this manner showed them the way, but Moshe Rabbeinu called to it, "Arise, Hashem, and let Your foes be scattered..." Moshe was asking the Ark to wait for Am Yisrael and not advance more than a distance of three days' travel so that Bnei Yisrael would feel safe and protected by the Ark's presence. Were it to go any further ahead, Bnei Yisrael would no longer feel its presence and may feel vulnerable. 

Furthermore, the Ark was the symbol of Torah since it contained the Luchot. Similarly, every Jewish person possesses a spark from Moshe Rabbeinu's soul, therefore he calls out to Hashem saying, "Do not distance Yourself from me too much. I need to feel Your closeness." Hashem, on His part, turns to man and says, "I remain in My place. If you feel lost and distant, it means you are the one who has distanced himself." 

How can man feel constant closeness to Hashem? Through cleaving to the Torah and mitzvot, even in matters that are considered a chok, incomprehensible to our human minds. When a person fulfills all the mitzvot without leaving anything out, he merits feeling constant closeness to Hashem even if, G-d forbid, death visits his home. If man accustoms himself to fulfil Hashem's word indisputably, sudden, unexplainable death will not make him lose his composure since he feels Hashem's love and closeness.

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Why There is Darkness Before the End

 New shiur from Rabbi Mendel Kessin

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

How God Saves Humanity

 New shiur from Rabbi Shimon Kessin

Sunday, June 13, 2021

Prayers to the Tzaddik: Gimel Tamuz 5781

                                                              Art Robert Kremnizer

Article written by Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski obm

Every person has a direct line with G-d, and we are not permitted to pray to intermediaries. Indeed, the propriety of prayers where we appear to be asking for blessings from angels or for their intervention on our behalf, is the subject of debate, and must be interpreted in such a way that does not violate our basic belief that we relate only to G-d as the One from Whom everything emanates.

Yes, there is also the concept of faith in a tzaddik, which is derived from the verse in Exodus [14:31] "They had faith in G-d and in Moses, His servant". The sages derived from this verse that believing in the leader of Israel is equivalent to believing in the Creator [Mechilta]. In addition, the Talmud states that if there is a sick person in one's household, let him go to a chacham [a wise man] to pray for his recovery [Bava Basra 116a]. Inasmuch as everyone has a direct contact with G-d and we do not work through intermediaries, why is the prayer of a tzaddik more potent that one's own prayer?

There are several ways in which we can understand the concept of faith in a tzaddik. First and foremost is that the opinion of a wise man, a tzaddik, as a Torah authority, must be accepted and followed even if we are in disagreement with it [Sifri, Deut 17:11].

There is also a concept of receiving a blessing from a tzaddik and this has its basis in a statement from G-d to Abraham "And you will be a blessing" [Gen 12:2] which the Midrash interprets to mean that G-d gave Abraham the power to bless people, and that gift has been given to other tzaddikim as well. Nevertheless, a person must understand that even though the tzaddik conveys the blessing, the origin of the blessing is G-d.

A woman once came to Rabbi Mordechai of Chernobel, pleading for a blessing to have a child. To the amazement of the bystanders, the Rabbi, who was exceptionally kind and benevolent, said brusquely to her "I'm sorry, I cannot help you". The woman left the room tearful and broken hearted.

Noting the bewilderment of his chassidim, Rabbi Mordechai said "Just wait a few moments, then go find the woman and bring her back here." The chassidim did as they were told and when the woman came back, the Rabbi asked her "What did you do when you left here?"

The woman replied "I turned my eyes to Heaven and I said "Dear G-d, the Rabbi refuses to help me. Now You are my only hope. Bless me that I have a child."

Rabbi Mordechai said to the chassidim "This woman believed that I had magical powers, and she was trusting in me rather than in G-d. When I refused her request, she placed her trust in G-d where it belongs. She will now be blessed with a child."

The primary function of a tzaddik is to assist people in the proper service of G-d, to help them recognize their character defects and show them how to do teshuvah.

The power of a tzaddik is in his strong belief in G-d, and anyone who has that strong a belief can bring about similar results. When the tzaddik prays for a sick person, for example, and says that G-d is the healer of the sick, his belief is so strong that it actually brings down the Divine healing upon the person. In fact, said Rabbi Mordechai, the prime reason for having a relationship with a tzaddik is to learn how to perfect one's belief in G-d.

Extracted from "Not Just Stories" by Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski MD
Published by Shaar Press

The Lubavitcher Rebbe would often answer requests by saying that he would pray for the person at the grave of his father-in-law, the previous Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak.

Thursday, June 10, 2021

Understanding the Success of the Israeli Leftist Party

 New shiur from Rabbi Mendel Kessin

A Lesson in Fund-raising

Rabbi Zusya of Hanipoli once came to a city to raise funds for charity. Two local young men were very eager to share in this great mitzvah by doing the legwork of going from door to door. There was a wealthy man in town who always gave a very generous donation to every good cause. They decided to approach him last, because his large donation was guaranteed.

After a long hard day of knocking on doors, the two volunteers succeeded in raising nearly 50 rubles, a very respectable sum. Bone tired but very optimistic, they approached their final, affluent prospect, expecting him to match the entire amount they had amassed. How chagrined and shocked they were when he gave them only the few rubles necessary to round out the full 50 rubles. All of their pleas for a more generous contribution fell on deaf ears. They could not believe it! Why had this philanthropist's heart suddenly turned to stone?

The two collectors returned to Reb Zusya and complained bitterly about their acute disappointment. The Rebbe silenced them saying "My dear sons, there is no reason to be upset. At the very moment a supplicant arrives in a city, a Heavenly decree pronounces how much money he will raise. Once the decree is issued, it cannot be changed. The poor man will not take from this city a penny more or a penny less."

Reb Zusya continued: "The moment I set foot in this city I heard a celestial voice crying out that I would raise exactly 50 rubles for charity. Had you approached the rich man first, he would certainly have given you a lavish donation. However, since you saved him for last, he could not give you more than the few pennies you were shy of 50 rubles."

From this story, the Stretiner Rebbe derived an essential lesson in fund-raising. Often people discourage a fund-raiser, saying that a certain person or group of people have been solicited time and again and they are probably sick and tired of giving, or have exhausted their charity account. This is absolutely false. For every new cause a new Heavenly decree determines how much will be raised. It makes no difference how many times these people were approached. As long as there are people willing to collect, the preordained sum will be raised.

In this vein the Ponevezher Rav would say "Ess felt nit kein tzedakah gelt in der velt, ess felt nemers!" - "There is no shortage of charity funds in the world; there is only a shortage of collectors!"

Nor should someone be upset when a donor gives a disappointing gift. It is very possible that it was decreed that no more money could be donated to this cause.

Source: Maamarei Tzedakah by Rabbi Aaron Roth

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Who Are the Erev Rav? Do They Run the World?

 New shiur from Rabbi Alon Anava

Monday, June 7, 2021

When Will Eliyahu Ha Navi Show Up ?

No-one gives a shiur like Rabbi Jacobson.   

When will Eliyahu Ha Navi show up indeed.... and what will he do?

For Source sheets click here

Sunday, June 6, 2021

Korach's Mistake

According to Chasidic thought, Korach's rebellion occurred at this point in time since it was prompted by the sin of the spies.  The inner reason why the spies did not want to enter the Land of Israel was because they preferred the exclusively spiritual life of the desert to a life of serving G-d and physical concerns, such as the need to earn a living.  The downfall of the spies thus sent a powerful message that Judaism prioritizes physical action over spiritual and intellectual pursuits.

Upon hearing this, Korach protested to Moshe "Why have you made yourselves elite over G-d's assembly?" [Korach 16:3]  "I can appreciate" argued Korach, "that you are a more spiritual and holy person than us, but since we now see that Judaism makes physical action the priority, how are you better than anybody else? Aren't your actions the same as ours?"

Korach's mistake was that the Torah does not demand lifeless action, but rather deeds that shine with inspiration and spiritual enlightenment.  Thus, the two mistakes of the spies and Korach teach us that a healthy equilibrium is required: One must not shy away from physical life, like the spies.  But on the other hand, Judaism's emphasis on action must never lead to a life of meaningless ritual and spiritual bankruptcy.  Every mitzvah should be carried out with the highest levels of spiritual consciousness.

Our struggle to harmonize physical action with spiritual contemplation is fought on three fronts:

a) the need to ensure that one's intentions do not remain in the realm of wishful thinking and that concrete action takes place;
b) that one's actions should always be dictated by the Torah's value system;
c) that action should never be overglorified, and that one should always aspire to be more spiritual.

Our Sages taught that the world was made with the letter ה.  This is because its shape represents the equilibrium between the more spiritual dimensions of thought and speech, versus physical deed.  Korach's name - קרח - is spelled by letters that are all distortions of the left side of the letter Hei, indicating how he wished to upset this equilibrium in the area of deeds.

In the ches ח the gap between deed and thought/speech is closed, suggesting that the physical no longer looks up to or aspires to the spiritual - which is why Korach rebelled against the spiritual leadership of Moshe and Aharon.

In the kuf ק deed has extended below and is no longer dictated by the thought and speech of Torah.
And in the raish ר, deed is missing altogether.

In short, it is relatively easy to be entirely spiritual and aloof, or entirely physical and mundane.  Our challenge is to harmonize both these qualities in our daily life, thus making a home for G-d below.

Based on Likutei Sichos, Lubavitcher Rebbe

Friday, June 4, 2021

Praying by the Graves of the Righteous


by Rabbi Benjy Simons

As an individual is taking leave of the cemetery after visiting his dearly departed mother, his attention is diverted to another man in the distance. The man seems to be praying with profound intensity and keeps repeating, “Why did you have to die? Why did you have to die?” 
The first man approaches him and says, “Sir, I do not wish to interfere with your private grief, but this demonstration of pain is more than I’ve ever seen before. Who are you mourning? A child? A parent?”

The mourner takes a moment to collect himself, then replies, “My wife’s first husband.” 

In this week’s Parsha the incident of the spies is told over in great length, and we have the first historical record of the concept of praying by a grave site. Rashi mentions that Calev who was the representative of the Tribe of Yehuda goes to Chevron to pray by the graves of the Patriarchs, which later became included in the tribal portion of Yehuda. He was concerned that he may be enticed by his colleagues who wished to disparage the Land of Israel, and unlike Yehoshua who received a name change and specific prayers from Moshe, Calev needed to draw down his own blessings for strength and fortitude (see Sotah 34b). 

While the Halachic commentators debate what exactly is permissible when interceding with those who have passed on, the Gemara (Ta’anis 16a) records the custom to go out on fast days to (Jewish) cemeteries and have those who have passed on to pray on our behalf. The Midrash (Sefer HaYashar Vayeishev Ch. 8) also records that Yosef prayed by his mother Rachel’s tomb when being brought down to Egypt in chains and that Ya’akov himself buried Rachel on the road to Bethlehem to enable her to pray on behalf of her children who would go into exile after the destruction of the First Temple (see Rashi to Bereishis 48:7). The Arizal writes that there exists a special energy at the grave of a Tzaddik and the Chasam Sofer equates the sanctity of a Kever with that of a Shule. 

The Kitzur Shulchan Aruch (128:13) writes in the context of the custom of visiting a cemetery on Erev Rosh Hashanah, that it is important that we not direct our prayers to the deceased, but rather may it be in their merit that we receive blessings and success. He writes that were one to pray to the deceased directly, one may be in violation of the prohibition of ‘inquiring of the dead’, and perhaps connected to why we do not know were Moshe is buried today, due to the concern that it would become a shrine and potentially likened to necromancy. 

The Zohar (Vayikra 70b) writes that when the world needs mercy and we are dwelling in pain, we go and notify those sleeping in Chevron and Hashem will do their desire and have mercy on the world. May we merit that all our prayers are answered and those who have passed on intercede on our behalf.

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Thursday, June 3, 2021

23 Sivan: A Special Day for Salvation

Special prayer for the 23rd of Sivan [Thursday 3 June]

On the 23rd of the month of Sivan (כג׳ סיון) the decree of Haman (At the time of Mordechai and Esther) to annihilate the Jewish nation was nullified. 

The holy books teach us that this day is a very powerful day for prayers to nullify decrees and anything bad, evil and horrible against us. In the same way that from that day the situation of the Jewish nation changed and became good, and “Mordecai left the king’s presence with royal raiment” (Esther 8/15) … “and the city of Shushan shouted and rejoiced” … and as a result the Megila says… “The Jews had light and joy, and gladness and honor” – The holy books teach us that this day (Sivan 23) is a powerful day to revoke and nullify any decree against you (Sickness, death, poverty, infertile, etc.) 

Therefore on this powerful day there are a few things you want to do: 

Light two (2) candles for Esther and Mordechai 
  • Give three (3) coins to charity. The coins should be held with both hands at the same time when placing in the charity box 
  • Read chapters 22, 83, 130, 142 of Tehilim – Find text at link below 
  • Read chapter 8 from the Megila of Esther – Find text at link below 
  • Read Avinu Malkeinu (Without a blessing, just the text)- Find text at link below 
  • Pray from your heart with your words anything you want and need – Ask from Hashem 
  • Recite the short prayer – Find text at link below 
  • Take upon yourself a good decision to add a Mitzvah to your daily schedule 

IMPORTANT NOTE: Make sure all the above is done and read on the 23rd of Sivan during the day from dawn till sundown!

**All text available at Rabbi Anava's site: click here


Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Current Events [Moshiach] and the Existence of God

 New shiur from Rabbi Mendel Kessin

He also responds to the controversial comment at the end of his last shiur regarding Gerim. [you can hear this within the first 10 minutes of the lecture] - and for those who tried to comment on that on this blog, I did not publish those comments as I thought it was just extending the lashonhara even further.

Thursday, May 27, 2021

The War of Anti Semitism - Why Now?

New shiur from Rabbi Mendel Kessin

Two Methods to Bring the Geulah

 New shiur from Rabbi Shimon Kessin

Eclipsing the Wonders of Yetziat Mitzrayim

[text received via WhatsApp - author unknown]

The most significant thing is that the blood moon Joel 3:3 should be very familiar to everyone because it appears in our Haggadah in the signs and wonders that will eclipse [pun intended] the signs and wonders of Yetziat Mitzrayim to herald in the Final Redemption.... May it be so !

Timelapse over Sydney Opera House: Hirsty Photography

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Supermoon Rising


Supermoon rising over Bondi. 

Photo: Glick Photography

New Video from Rabbi Alon Anava: Message of Meron

 "Stop Stepping on Others"

After the devastating disaster in Meron on Lag Ba'Omer, Rabbi Anava points out the sources in the Torah referring to the disaster and the message G-d is sending us that we need to address.

Total Lunar Eclipse

Tonight in Australia we will be able to see the full lunar eclipse: for full details of how to see it in your country click here.

The last time the moon turned red, I saw it with my own eyes, although the moon was quite far away and just a small red dot in the sky.  This time the moon will be much closer to us, and as the weather is fine here I'm hoping for an amazing sight.

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Mysticism: Manna for All

But the multitude among them began to have strong cravings. Then even the children of Israel once again began to cry, and they said, "Who will feed us meat?  [Beha'alotecha 11:4]

Ordinary bread [''bread from the earth''] which is the product of hard physical labor, is a metaphor for the ''revealed'' interpretations of the Torah [nigleh] found in the Talmud, which require arduous analysis, questioning etc.

On the other hand, manna [''bread from Heaven''] represents the mystical teachings of the Torah, which are of such a ''heavenly'' nature that there is no disagreement or argument.

Logically speaking, a person might think that it is necessary to have a firm grounding in classic texts, and achieve a certain degree of spiritual greatness before one can progress to the study of mysticism.  However, the Torah teaches here that even the wicked individuals who complained to Moshe ate manna.

From this we can learn that it is appropriate for people from all walks of life to study the mystical teachings of the Torah - particularly as they are formulated clearly and methodically in the teachings of Chassidus.

Based on Likutei Sichos Lubavitcher Rebbe

Monday, May 24, 2021

War of Words

It seems that the more we try to defend ourselves, the worse it gets for us.  [These are just my thoughts, you are welcome to disagree with me.]

In that vein, I refer to an ad in the NYTimes by the World Values Network which is headed by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach - an ad which seems to have only inflamed the situation.  If you go looking for that ad on Google, all you will find is a mass of links to sites condemning the NYTimes and the World Values Network for publishing such a thing.   

This is the ad:

For those who may not be aware, Bella and Gigi Hadid are top models, and Dua Lipa is not only a mega pop star, but also dating Anwar Hadid, brother of Bella and Gigi.  Between them all, they have over 100 million followers.  

In response to the ad in the NY Times, all three women have unanimously rejected the notion that they are in any way anti-semitic: Lipa said "I utterly reject the false and appalling accusations that were published today in the NY Times ad.... this is the price you pay for defending Palestinian human rights....  I take this stance because I believe that everyone - Jews, Muslims and Christians - have the right to live in peace as equal citizens... the World Values Network are shamelessly using my name to advance their ugly campaign with falsehoods and blatant misrepresentation....." [see full text here]

I believe everything Dua Lipa says about her beliefs. She, along with Bella and Gigi, see Israel as a ruthless entity intent on wiping out her people.  In her young mind, she does not equate her anti-Israel sentiments with an anti-Jewish feeling.  

They are not alone in these thoughts.  A former close friend of mine also feels the same way, and she is definitely not an anti Semite I can promise you that.

Why can these people not see what is really happening here?  

It is not for lack of intelligence, they have plenty of that.  

Another question I have is why Hashem saw fit to bless these three women with good looks, talent, fame and fortune [and millions of followers].  Why?  Obviously Hashem knew that they would use their platforms to defend the Palestinians, considering that Bella and Gigi's father is Mohamed Hadid, a well known personality, lately most famous for building an impossible mega-mansion  and losing a great deal of money in the process.   Make no mistake, the opinion of these three women is having a major detrimental impact upon the Jewish people, and increasing anti-Semitism around the globe.

The only conclusion I can come to is that Hashem wants this to occur.  And there can be only one reason why Hashem wants this to be so..... is to unite the Jews.

If we cannot unite in good times, then we must be forced to unite in bad times.  And famous faces such as the three women above, are being utilized for this purpose.

Bread of Shame

 Rabbi Mendel Kessin's latest shiur [audio]: Nahama d'Kesufa

A transcript of this shiur can be found here

Friday, May 21, 2021

Living under Rocket Fire


Voices From Israel: Bruria Efune, a Mother of Four From Be’er Sheva 

‘Your heart is racing, but you need to show your kids that you’re calm. . . ’ 

A lot of people are asking me what it’s like to live in the south of Israel, under fire. 

Before I jump in, I want to point out that we live in Be’er Sheva, which means we don’t have it nearly as bad as those in Ashkelon and Ashdod, who don’t have it nearly as bad as those in Ofakim, Netivot, Sderot and the small communities within 3 kilometers of the border with the Gaza Strip. Some of those communities get rockets year-round, but you’ll never hear about it in the news because no one cares. A huge percentage of those kids suffer from severe PTSD. When we get rocket rain in Be’er Sheva, it means they’re getting a non-stop rocket storm. 

Also: We absolutely LOVE living in Be’er Sheva, and never regret it for a second. It’s an amazing city. The Jewish people have been refugees for long enough; we’re finally home, and no amount of rockets will chase us away. 

So what’s it like to live under rocket fire? 

Imagine it’s been a pretty normal week, you finally got all your kids to sleep and just sat down on the couch to relax … when a siren goes off. It has a surreal sound, maybe because of all the echo, maybe because it doesn’t sound like 2021. 

You jump up, shove your phone in your pocket (because you never know), and run to grab the baby and wake up your oldest daughter, while your spouse grabs the toddler and next child up—your prearranged plan. You bring them to your shelter or “safest room” faster than you know how to move, and shut the door. If you’re in Be’er Sheva, you have 60 seconds. Sderot has 15, while a few communities only have seven seconds. 

Now your heart is racing, but you need to show your kids that you’re calm and confident that everything will be OK. So you smile and with your best, cheerful, non-shaky voice say, “Good job! We did it! Now let’s thank Hashem (G‑d) for protecting us, and giving us such an amazing army and Iron Dome!” 

The kids are in a weird state of sleepy/wide-awake. The siren keeps wailing over and over because usually if there’s one rocket, there’s 10. You hear the booms, your kids hear the booms, you try to distract them by talking about happy things, and you hug them tight. If you’re more experienced, you can differentiate the booms—Iron Dome booms have more of an echo, while hits fall loud and flat; sometimes, you can even feel the shake. If you hear a hit, your job of keeping the kids calm just got 20 times harder. 

After 10 minutes, you put the kids back to bed, sit back on the couch and adjust your mindset for the new reality. 

Were there any hits? How long is this round going to last? Why now? Should we move the kids into the bomb shelter for the night? 

Now you’re glued to your phone, checking if everyone is OK, responding to worried family members and obsessively reading the news. 

If you live in an apartment with a shared shelter, you prepare comfortable clothing to sleep in. You debate taking a shower; if you’re willing to take the risk, night is better because there’s less noise pollution, but you still shower with the water on a trickle so that you can hear the next siren. You have a robe ready to throw on and you move fast. 

The sirens get your adrenaline pumping, which is good for being ready to react but bad for falling asleep. Even when you do fall asleep, you try not to fall into a deep sleep—you need to hear the sirens.

The terrorists like to fire at night, and especially at early dawn, because it’s easier for them to hide. In Be’er Sheva, we’ve been woken up as many as five times a night, but the average is probably three for the more intense “escalations” during the past two weeks. 

Morning comes, and between 6 and 7, you’ll get the official notice: no school, no non-essential work, everyone must stay near shelters at all times and review Home Front Command instructions. 

Staying trapped in the house with your children, and hopefully spouse, for days on end—not knowing when it’ll end—you need to keep the kids entertained and calm, despite the constant noise of aircraft above, booms and siren runs, and despite the fact that you know homes are being destroyed and people are being hurt, and these siren runs are no joke at all. 

Every time a kid moves, you need to recalculate your 60-second dash to safety, often moving furniture and toys so that there’s nothing in the way. 

Mundane things become a big challenge. Getting dressed needs to be done strategically. Cooking must be with a timer on the oven, or something that can be turned off at any moment and still turn out fine. Bath time with the kids needs to be fast, so that you reduce the likelihood of slippery towel-wrapped kids in the shelter. Speeding motorcycles become your new worst enemy. Every time you hear one, your heart stops, and for a second, you wonder if it’s a siren. 

Despite work being cancelled, many people still go out or work from home, so that the business doesn’t go down with the rockets. Working from home with kids and sirens interrupting is a special kind of challenge. You might decide to spend your day with the kids so you can keep them calm and then work through the night; it’s not like you’re getting any sleep anyway. 

If you’re lucky, you have a clean public bomb shelter near you, meaning you can dash over with your kids so that they can play in the underground safety with their neighborhood friends, while you catch up with the other parents, and most importantly, let your guard down. Everyone becomes extra helpful and supportive of each other, with strangers going out of their way to help and provide comfort. 

You might start checking the news or social media obsessively, even though you know you shouldn’t. You’ll have just been huddling with your kids in a bomb shelter and then go online to see someone condemning Israel, and your blood will boil. Either that, or you’ll just hit the block button because you are so done with it. 

On the flip side, you’ll see someone on the other side of the world write all about what Israel should do, and you’ll just get so annoyed because no, we just want to get the kids back in school. If you want to have an opinion, try living here first. 

Then there’s the people commenting on the bravery of the Israelis and how strong the people in the south are, and you’ll just want to scream that you’re not strong, you’re falling apart, this isn’t normal, not even for the most seasoned, tough Israelis, and especially not for the parents of young children. 

But you also get encouragement—from the people around the world showing support and standing with you, from the people donating to important organizations in the south, and from those wonderful organizations and people who drop everything to help. 

You learn to joke about things and find the odd humor in it all because it’s a great classic Israeli survival tactic. You might stock up your shelter with great snacks, and if you’re sharing a shelter with neighbors, you have fun sharing them, turning things into a festive-like atmosphere. You also laugh at each other when someone shows up wrapped in a towel with bubbly hair or in funky pajamas. 

There’s only so many adrenaline rushes your heart can handle. If the sirens keep up for long enough, your heart starts to physically hurt. But also, you oddly start to hope for another siren just to end the suspense of when the next one will be, so that you make it to safety and can stop all the planning.

Eventually, you start hearing rumors of a ceasefire. You’re mad, relieved and suspicious. You’re mad that they’re not solving the problem for once and for all, but you’re also relieved that it’s over for now, and yet still suspicious that it’s not going to last. The more operations you’ve lived through, the more strongly you feel these emotions.

Once the ceasefire is announced, you wait for further instructions. If you live in one of the closer communities, you’ll probably be waiting another few days. If you live in Be’er Sheva, you might have a late school day, and you’ll need to decide if you trust the ceasefire enough to send your kids off. Only half the kids will be in school on the first day back. 

Suddenly, you’re expected to continue on as normal. Get back to work, catch up on everything and walk around like nothing happened. You’re still waiting for it all to start again, but for the rest of the world, it’s old news. 

Bruria Efune is a mother of four living in Be’er Sheva in southern Israel. She is currently raising funds to buy a bomb shelter for neighbors who are in a very unsafe situation. To assist in the effort, visit the donation page here

Priestly Blessings by non-Cohanim


Cartoon: Mordechai Becher, David Podbere

Text by Rabbi Benjy Simons

For those that live in the Diaspora, Birchas Cohanim on the festivals is one of the highlights, as we draw down the blessings as given by Hashem through the Kohanim. The text of their blessing comes from this week’s Parsha, which seems as one would imagine, specifically limited to Aharon and his sons (see Bamidbar 6:23). Surprisingly though, this passage has been adapted as the standard blessing that many parents have the custom to give their sons each Friday night, or a Rabbi of a community towards a Bar Mitzvah boy, irrespective of the father or Rabbi being a Kohen! 

In truth, the concept of the Priestly Blessing being given by a non-Kohen is already found in the Talmud (Shabbat 118a), where Rabbi Yose despite not being a Kohen, when asked by his colleagues to ascend the platform to give the Priestly Blessing, he acquiesced. While the Magen Avraham rules from this story that a non-Kohen can Duchan, virtually all the other commentators struggle to understand this story in light of the Gemara (Kesubos 24b) that rules that a non-Kohen is forbidden to give such a blessing and thus seek alternative understandings as to why this was allowed. 

Tosfos defends Rabbi Yose, as aside from being unable to recite the blessing prior the benediction, seemingly no violation takes place. Alternatively, Rav Pinchas HaLevi Horowitz suggested that in the case of Rabbi Yose, there were not any Kohanim present at the time, and thus to avoid missing out entirely on the blessing, they requested that Rabbi Yose give it in lieu of the Kohanim. The Rema (O.C 128:1) though seems to take issue with these interpretations, for a non-Kohen may never ascend to give the Priestly Blessing regardless of the blessing being omitted or if there are no other Kohanim present.

Rabbi Yoel Sirkes and the Maharsha suggest that perhaps a distinction can be made when the one giving the blessing does not raise both his hands, which as explained by Rabbi Yechezkel Halevi Landau is an intrinsic part of the procedure (Sotah 38a). They argue that when Rabbi Yose gave his blessing, he never raised both his hands, essentially differentiating his blessing from that which was done by the Priests in the Temple and observed today by the Kohanim. 

The story is recorded by Rabbi Boruch Epstein in his Magnum Opus Torah Temima, that the Vilna Gaon (who was not a Kohen) gave over the Priestly Blessing to Rabbi Yechezkel Landau at his wedding but was careful to only raise one hand to make a clear distinction that he was not following the procedure normally done by the Kohanim. 

A further leniency as cited by the Mishna Berura (128:3) regarding this issue, is that perhaps one can avoid the prohibition by having in mind that one is NOT fulfilling the Mitzvah (i.e., using a negative intention) of the Priestly Blessing, and furthermore this may even be implicit as it is being done not in the context of the Amidah where it is normally recited. 

While we are told that Hashem desires the bestowal of this blessing (Sotah 38b), may we merit to always give each other blessings in the correct Halachic manner.

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Friday, May 14, 2021

Know What to Answer

In the face of the world's animosity towards Israel, here are the answers you need to know:

[I don't know who wrote this, but it's worth sharing]

Here are a few accusations and brief explanations. 

“Israel forcibly removed residents of Sheikh Jarrah”: 

This is a neighbourhood in East Jerusalem, with a population predominantly of Palestinians. No one has been evicted. There has been an ongoing court case (over 30 years!) between homeowners and tenants over rent evasion. To date, the final judgment of the Israeli High Court has been postponed. Also see Israel's Critics are Right:Sheikh Jarrah Exemplifies the Arab-Israeli Conflict

“Israel has commandeered the Al-Aqsa Mosque”: 

Not true. The Al-Aqsa Mosque is built on the holiest site in Judaism – the Temple Mount. Despite this, Israel gave administrative control of it to the Islamic Waqf, while Israel maintains security control. The Waqf doesn’t permit Jews to pray on the Temple Mount. Israel did not take over here, nor did it threaten to. The IDF does bear the responsibility to ensure the safety of all citizens and broke up violent demonstrations in the vicinity of Al-Aqsa. As for that burning tree a few metres from the mosque, that was ignited by Palestinian fireworks aimed at Israelis. Media footage spliced the burning as a backdrop to Yom Yerushalayim celebrations, hence confusion. 

“Israel’s response is disproportionate”: 

Israel is doing its utmost to protect innocent lives on both sides. For example, it sends out advance warnings and uses "Roof Knocking" to allow civilians to evacuate before it takes out military targets. This courtesy, or anything remotely similar, is not reciprocated. Israel is under attack and its first obligation is the safety of its citizens. 

“Israel maintains an illegal occupation of Gaza”: 

In 1967, Israel was simultaneously attacked by Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Iraq, and Lebanon. Miraculously, Israel emerged victorious and opted to return most of the land, via brokered peace deals. In 2005 Israel evacuated from Gaza, forcibly removing 8,000 Jews from their homes. The hope was that Gaza would become a peaceful Palestinian state. There is no Israeli presence in Gaza. 

“Disturbing photos of the dead flood my newsfeed”: 

Death of the innocent is tragic. Yet view images critically - there is a regular use of fake or doctored photos beamed out about those from Gaza. Do a reverse google search, more often than not, those pictures are actually from Syria. 

“Jewish mobs have done terrible things to Palestinians”: 

There have been a small number of instances over the past week involving unlawful actions by a small number of Jews. The Israeli government does not condone this, the justice system is robust and those perpetrators have been arrested. 

Remember: Knowledge is power. Remain proud and informed Jews who stand strong! The above reflections have merely scratched the surface. Israel is not culpable. This is your homeland; your people. In the past, we have seen the darkest of days. Israel has a right to defend itself. 

Finally there are things we can do, no matter how distant we are geographically. The Torah teaches us (and history has repeatedly demonstrated to us) that the physical protection of each one of us – and, indeed, our very collective destiny! – is intrinsically connected to our spiritual activism. When we pray or dedicate a good deed to our brothers and sisters in Israel, we create a spiritual defence shield for them that will help them through difficult and dangerous times.

That Number 45

A few more 45's I've noticed, for those who are interested. [See 45 is the number of Geula]

In Hebrew, 45 is מה  - in the soul  מה is the trait of self-nullification. It is the primary tool for peace and unity.  [Source Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh]

Each missile launched from Gaza costs $45,000. [Source]

Count 45 days from the Meiron tragedy [L'ag B'omer] and you end up on Gimel Tamuz.

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

The Right Path

"Of Yetzer, the Yitzri family; of Shilem, the Shilemi family" [Bamidbar 26:49]

This verse, said the Chofetz Chaim, can be expounded upon in the following manner:

"Of Yetzer" - One who succumbs to the lure of the yetzer hara (evil inclination) will immediately find himself in the company of the "Yitzri family" - the members of the yetzer hara's family are all more than ready to help him along the path of wickedness.

"Of Shilem" - But one who strives for perfection (sheleimus) will find himself in the company of the "Shilemi family" - those who fear Heaven and have achieved spiritual perfection will help him along the upright path.

"In the path that a man wishes to go, he is led" [Makkos 10b]

Monday, May 10, 2021

Another Brick in the Wall

Thanks to Rahel for transcribing this:

"The Chofetz Chaim brings down an idea that the Mashiach asks 'Who would like to donate to the construction of the Third Temple.' 

What Jew wouldn’t wish to have his name on even one brick? Many would rush to donate. 

The Chofetz Chaim says, 'I can give you a way to donate right now!' 

Every word, every sentence which avoids loshon ha’ra emplaces a brick to build the Heavenly Temple.

'That is the End,' says the rabbi. 

With that begins the descent of the Heavenly Temple into the physical world. From there, the shechina goes out into the entire world and ends this nightmare called “galus”—exile."

--R.Mendel Kessin from "Hashkafa of Tragedy in Meron"

The 3 Levels of Forgiveness

Always forgive your enemies; nothing annoys them so much. [Oscar Wilde]

The people criticized G-d and Moshe: "Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the desert? There's no bread and no water, and we're sick of this unwholesome (manna) bread." G-d sent venomous snakes upon the people, and they bit the people. Many people of Israel died. The people came to Moshe and said "We have sinned! For we have spoken against G-d and against you! Pray to G-d that He should remove the snakes from us!" Moshe prayed on behalf of the people. [Chukas 21:5-7]

Even after the people criticized Moshe heavily, resulting in a punishment of venomous snakes, we nevertheless find that Moshe did not bear a grudge and prayed for the people to be saved. "From here we learn" writes Rashi, "that if a person asks you for forgiveness you should not be cruel and refrain from forgiving."

This principle is recorded by Rambam in his legal Code, the Mishneh Torah, in three places and there are a number of variations which need to be explained.

1) In Laws of Personal Injury, Rambam describes the method and process of forgiveness. "Once the attacker has asked forgiveness once, and then a second time, and we know that he has repented for his sin and he has abandoned the evil that he has done, then one must forgive him". However in Laws of Teshuvah these details are omitted. Instead, we are told that "When the sinner asks him for forgiveness, he should forgive him with a full heart and a willing spirit." Similarly, in Laws of Moral Conduct: "If the person returns and aks him for forgiveness, then he should forgive."

2) The person who forgives is given a different name in each of the three laws. In Laws of Moral Conduct he is called the "forgiver"; in Laws of Teshuvah a "person", and in Laws of Personal Injury he is called the "injured party".

3) One further detail is that in Laws of Teshuvah a person is told not to be "difficult to appease". Why does Rambam use this phrase, and why only in Laws of Teshuvah?

The Explanation

Forgiveness can be carried out on three levels:

1) When one person sins against another, he becomes liable to be punished for the sin that he committed. In order to be relieved of this punishment he needs to appease both G-d and the person that he sinned against. Therefore, through forgiving a person for his sin, one alleviates him from a Heavenly punishment.

2) A higher level of forgiveness is to forgive not just the act of sin but the sinner himself. i.e. even though one person may forgive another for a particular bad act (thus relieving him from being punished) there still may remain a trace of dislike for the person in general. Thus, a higher level of forgiveness is to forgive the entire person completely for his wrong, so that there remains no trace of bad feeling between them.

3) The highest level of forgiveness is an emotion that is so strong and positive that it actually uproots the sins of the past, making it as if they never occurred at all. After such a forgiveness, the sinner will be loved by the offended party to the very same degree that he was loved before the sin.

It is these three types of forgiveness which Rambam refers to in his three different laws:

1) In Laws of Personal Injury, Rambam discusses the laws of compensation for specific damages that one person causes another. Thus, when he speaks there of forgiveness for a sin, he is speaking of the forgiveness that is required to relieve the sinner from the punishment of that specific sin. Therefore, Rambam spells out the precise method of forgiveness that is required to achieve atonement ("when the attacker has asked forgiveness once, and then a second time, and we know that he has repented for his sin etc. then one must forgive him"), because only by following this precise method can we be sure that the sinner will be acquitted of this punishment.

To stress the point further, Rambam speaks in terms of an "injured party" and the "forgiving" of the injury, as we are speaking here of a specific sin and its atonement.

2) In Laws of Moral Conduct, the focus is not on the actual sin and its atonement, but rather, the character of the forgiver. And, if a person is to be of fine character, it is insufficient to forgive a person just so that he will be freed from punishment. Rather, one should forgive another person completely (i.e. the second level above). Therefore, in Laws of Moral Conduct, Rambam stresses that "When one person sins against another, he should not hide the matter and remain silent" for it would be a bad character trait to harbor resentment, keeping one's ill feelings to oneself. Therefore "it is a mitzvah for him to bring the matter into the open".

Thus, we can understand why Rambam omits here details of the process of forgiveness, for the main emphasis here is not the atonement of the sinner, but the required character traits of the victim.

To stress the point further, the person is termed here not as the "injured party" but as the "forgiver".

3) In Laws of Teshuvah, Rambam is speaking of the highest level of forgiveness which is required for a person to achieve a total "return to G-d". For this to occur, the forgiveness must be done in a manner that is so deep that one uproots the sin totally; as if it had never occurred at all. This is because total forgiveness is a crucial factor in the sinner's overall return to G-d, as Rambam writes: "Sins between man and his fellow man... are not forgiven until... the person has been asked for forgiveness..."

Thus, Rambam stresses here that "A person should be easily placated and difficult to anger, and when the sinner asks him for forgiveness, he should forgive him with a full heart and a willing spirit" (despite the fact that these details are more appropriate to Laws of Moral Conduct), because the goodwill of the victim is a crucial part of the sinner's teshuvah. Only when the victim is completely forgiving - to the extent that the sin is uprooted, as if it never existed - can we be sure that the sinner has returned to be as close to G-d as he was prior to the sin.

To stress this point further, Rambam writes "It is forbidden for a person (not an "injured party" or "forgiver") to be cruel and difficult to appease" - i.e. here we are not talking merely of the minimum forgiveness that is required to relieve the sinner from his punishment. Rather, here we are talking of the victim as a "person". And one can hope that he will not merely "forgive" his fellow who hurt him, freeing him from punishment, but that he will allow himself to be "appeased" completely, thereby helping his fellow Jew to come to a complete Teshuvah.

Source: Based on Likutei Sichos Vol 28 Lubavitcher Rebbe

Friday, May 7, 2021

45 is the Gematria of GEULA

Following on from Rabbi Kessin's shiur below, a couple of things I have just read.

Firstly, from R' Avrohom M. Alter:

Over this past Shabbos, one of the survivors from Meron, gave over something quite unbelievable, when relating his experience: 

When he was entangled among all the other trampled people, he (this survivor) managed to find a small passage of air that kept him alive. In those precious minutes, this survivor heard another person saying Shema, knowing clearly that he was about to return to His Creator. And then, this victim, after saying Shema, continued: "Whoever is on top of me, I am moychel (forgive) you completely." And those were the last words heard from him. 

Clearly the people who passed onto the Next World, were not simple people! A person whose focus and final thought in this world, is to be concerned about the possible feelings of guilt of the one who is pushing him down (even though it was unavoidable), is not a simple person! 

Though we can not comprehend the Cheshbonos of Shamayim (Hashem's perfect wisdom), we do know that there is always what to be learned for US ALL! Each person knows where they can improve.

Perhaps one lesson we can learn is to always consider the feelings of others, even when we are in difficulty. Reb Chaim Vilozyner said: "A man was born for others, not to serve himself." May this be a zechus for the iluyos neshomos of all the victims z"l.

The second one came via a What's App group, sent to me by Sharon:

"To what could we compare this tragedy to? 45 holy tzaddikim were taken while a hundred thousand Jews were all united, all different types of Jews together in one place, singing and praising Hashem. As we look at the pictures of the pure innocent children, as well as the fathers and brothers who have passed on, we can help, but cry. The Ben Yehoyada writes ( בניהו ר”ה דף מ”ח ) Chazal have taught us that our final geula will be in the merit of 45 tzaddikim. 45 is the numerical value of geula. 

The Gemara says( Zevachim 92:19) the world is held up by 45 tzaddikim. There is no question that these tzaddikim are now enjoying the delights of gan eden with all of the other tzaddikim from the previous generations.  They have completed their mission in this world. It is us who are left bereaved and speechless. It’s a time to cry. We cry over the 45 tragedies that came about, and we cry because we don't know what to say. We don't know exactly what Hashem wants from us. 

We learned in yesterday’s Daf Yomi how during the shalosh regalim that here was so many people cramped into the courtyard of the bet hamikdash that it appeared like the people were floating above the ground, yet when it came time for them to bow Hashem gave each person ample space to make a full bow and not encroach on his friend's space. When the Shechina was dwelling amongst us, crowding was not a problem. When the Shechina was dwelling amongst us, we knew what the ratzon Hashem was, but now what do we do? We don't know exactly what to do, but we can't just do nothing. 

We must react with action. I can't help but think of Rabbi Akiva. After he lost 24,000 precious students, all great tzaddikim. Although he was broken, he immediately took action and went to find more students to teach Torah to. At a time that he could have questioned and given up, Rabbi Akiva said so long as I have life I must continue to be the best eved Hashem that I could be. It was because of that decision that we have Torah today, as we know it.

At a time when our hearts are open and we want to help so badly, the best thing we could do is improve ourselves. Whatever we were thinking of maybe changing, now is the time to do it. We need Mashiach. We could also additionally, work on bringing more life to those people around us, going out of our way to give honor to people and to give them encouragement. 

That gives people more life. Everybody could use a good word, and we are the ones who are able to give it to them. And it doesn't cost us anything. It's not good enough just to hold back from dishonoring people. 

We have to proactively give honor. The gemara says, if someone gives money to a poor man, he deserves six berachot. But if he gives the poor man chizuk, if he lifts him up with elevating words, then he deserves 11 berachot. Tell somebody “you're doing a great job. Keep it up.” Be free with compliments, compliment your spouse, your children, your friends, your coworkers, give people kavod. It'll bring more unity and more love. 

We pray that those who are injured should have a Refuah Shelemah. We pray for those in mourning to have a complete Nechama that only the Ba’al Hanechamot can give them. And we pray that these 45 tzaddikim will go in front of the kiseh hakavod and plead with Hashem to bring us mashiach. 

Then we will see the fulfillment of the pasuk בלע המוות לנצח ומחה ה’ דמעה מעל כל פנים - death will cease to exist and Hashem himself will come down in all of  His glory and personally wipe off the tears of every single person's face. And then we will be able to live together forever in a complete state of joy.

Thursday, May 6, 2021

Rabbi Kessin: Tragedy in Meron and Why Moshiach Isn't Here

 Audio from Rabbi Mendel Kessin - given 5/3/21

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Instead Of


As night fell on Thursday, and Lag BaOmer spread its joyous light throughout Israel, Rabbi Shimon Matlon shared an envelope with a friend, instructing him not to open it until Sunday. 

Later that night, Shimon was among the 45 men and boys who lost their lives in the tragic crowding in Meron. 

As revealed by Israeli journalist Yossi Elituv, the envelope contained a single sheet of paper with the following lines (roughly translated from Hebrew):

Instead of being filled with disappointment, Accept everything with love. 

Instead of being rigid, Be flexible. 

Instead of complaining, Let your mind be in control. 

Instead of harping, Be more grateful. 

Instead of seeing problems, Filter out negativity. 

Instead of drowning in water, Know it's all from G‑d. 

Instead of blaming everyone, Remember Who is the greatest of all. 

Instead of getting angry, Take a deep breath and stretch. 

Instead of being upset, Exercise your faith. 

Instead of choosing darkness, Choose the full half of the glass. 

Instead of sinking into despair, Remember that everything is a test from G‑d, Who saves. 

Because G‑d decides what's going to happen, But you decide what your attitude will be.

Saturday, May 1, 2021

Ani Ma'amin @ Meron

L'ag b'Omer at Meron, the yarzheit of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai.

At the core of his teachings Rabbi bar Yochai taught that there is more than meets the eye in any situation.  

Minutes before the fatal crush the men are singing Ani Ma'amin b'emunah shleimah b'viat ha Mashiach..... I believe in perfect faith in the coming of Moshiach.

Friday, April 30, 2021

Mourning Restrictions during the Omer


by Rabbi Benjy Simons

This week my wife asked me what I wanted for dinner tonight. 
I responded, well, last night we had… 

As we find ourselves during the period of Pesach to Shavuos commonly known as Sefiras HaOmer, and as this Parsha mentions the Mitzvah of counting the Omer, I thought it would be prudent to understand the historical context of why there are certain restrictions during this time and how we curtail our joy throughout this period. 

The Kitzur Shulchan Aruch (120:6, 10) writes that during the first 33 days of Sefira the disciples of Rabbi Akiva passed away. We thus observe a partial state of mourning, whereby we avoid marriages, haircuts and customarily avoid listening to music. As many of the students of Rabbi Akiva passed away, their Jewish brethren were busy with burying their colleagues and thus it is also written to not do any work from sunset until one counts the Omer (Tur). 

The Talmud (Yevamos 62b) provides the backdrop as to why this occurred, namely that the 12,000 pairs of students lacked an element of respect between each other. Despite Rabbi Akiva’s efforts to match up his students and the importance of loving one’s fellow (Yerushalmi Nedarim 9:4), there was discord and resentment found among his students. According to the Gemara they died of diphtheria, which affects the respiratory system and connected to the spreading of Lashon Hora (Shabbos 33a). 

Another suggestion often cited by Rav Sherira Gaon is that Rabbi Akiva’s students passed away during the Bar Kochba revolt, but this was censored from the Gemara to avoid the political ramifications. This would connect with the above mentioned Gemara in that there were 12,000 pairs of students, as each soldier had a partner who was learning in his merit, but they were unable to get along as each felt that they were contributing more to the cause which led their annihilation. It was perhaps this malicious speech, which the Talmud Yerushalmi (Peah 1:1) identifies as the cause of diphtheria and the casualties of warfare. At a deeper level is it known that Rabbi Akiva supported wholeheartedly the cause of Bar Kochba (Eichah Rabbah 2:4) and that he would be the Moshiach and hence the tragedy of this time represents a Messianic hope that was unfortunately lost. 

May we therefore merit through our observances at this time to usher in the Messianic redemptions, where there will be a flourishing of Torah study and death will be swallowed away forever (Isaiah 25:8).

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Tuesday, April 27, 2021

The Reward

Art: Boris Dubrov

''And you shall take for yourselves on the first day, the fruit of the hadar tree...'' [Emor 23:40]

The Vilna Gaon had a great love for the mitzvah of the four species.  Year after year, Vilna's vendors streamed to the Gaon's house with choice etrogim, and he would select the one he thought was the nicest.

One year, a vendor showed the Gaon an exquisite etrog.   The Gaon was very impressed and was willing to pay its full price.

''I do not wish to sell the etrog for money''  responded the vendor.  ''Rather, I desire the reward that you will garner for performing the mitzvah of the four species.''

''I readily agree'' said the Gaon.  ''I will take the etrog, and you will receive my reward.''

All those who visited the Gaon that Sukkot saw him savoring his beautiful etrog to a far greater degree than in previous years.

To calm their curiousity, the Gaon explained: '''Throughout my entire life, I have yearned to fulfill the words of our Sages [Pirkei Avot 1:3] ''Be like servants who serve their master, not for the sake of receiving a reward.''  A person must not serve Hashem simply in order to receive a reward.  This is extremely difficult, however, as we are constantly aware that we will receive a reward each time we perform a mitzvah,  But this year I was given the opportunity to perform a mitzvah with the knowledge that I would not be receiving any reward for doing so!''

''I am so fortunate to have merited such an opportunity.  This is why you find me so overjoyed.''

Source: Rabbi Yisroel Bronstein

Friday, April 23, 2021

Rabbi Yitzchak Isaac of Komarna


Rabbi Yitzchak Isaac Yehudah Yechiel Michel Safrin of Komarna was born on the 25th of Shevat 5566 (1806). His father passed away when he was 12 years old, and he was raised by his uncle, Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch of Ziditchov. After he married, he moved to Pintchov, his father-in-law’s town, and became a rebbe. Rabbi Yitzchak Isaac also served as a dayan (judge) in Ziditchov. Rabbi Yitzchak Isaac suffered disdain and poverty. Later, he said that he achieved his lofty spiritual level in the merit of the persecution, which he suffered with love and joy. Later, he moved back to Komarna and remained there until the end of his life. 

Rabbi Yitzchak Isaac was the first and most important rebbe of the Komarna Chassidut and had thousands of chassidim. He was a prolific writer on an array of Torah topics, particularly on Kabbalah, in which he was an expert and a great innovator. He delved into the writings of the Ba’al Shem Tov and into the stories about him and his disciples. Rabbi Yitzchak Isaac passed away on the 10th of Iyar, 5634 (1874), at the age of 68.

There are many stories of Rabbi Yitzchak Isaac and the books that he wrote. Once, he was a guest in someone’s home, and he slept in the study. On Shabbat night, he saw that one of the books on the shelves was shining. At first, he thought that he was imagining things, but when he saw that the book was indeed shining, he got up to see which book it was. It was none other than his own book, Netiv Mitzvotecha. The next day, on his way to the mikveh, Rabbi Yitzchak Isaac slipped and broke his leg. He later said that he deserved this, for he felt a bit of pride over the fact that the book he had authored was shining.

On a different occasion, he couldn’t fall asleep because his book, Notzer Chesed, was shining from the shelves. 

In the introduction to Rabbi Yitzchak Isaac’s commentary on the Zohar, Zohar Chai, his son describes the long process of writing it: The tzaddik began writing after Pesach 5617 (1857). After writing four pages on the two opening lines of the Zohar, he saw that it was an “endless fountain,” and he decided to stop writing. At that time, some people came to ask him to pray for an ill Jew, and when the tzaddik said that he would gift him his innovations on the Zohar, the Jew recovered). 

Ten years later, a ninety-year-old Jew who looked young and healthy came to visit Rabbi Yitzchak Isaac. Rabbi Yitzchak Isaac decided that if a person could live to such a ripe old age in good health in his generation, then he may be able to complete a book on the Zohar despite his relatively advanced age (59). That night, he saw the Ba’al Shem Tov, who approved his commentary, and Rabbi Yitzchak Isaac began to write again. 

He wrote continuously for several weeks, without speaking to anyone. He would eat and drink only at nightfall. He continued with this practice until he finished the introduction to the Zohar. When Rabbi Yitzchak Isaac saw that his health was suffering, he set aside specific times for writing. He continued with this writing schedule until the last Pesach of his life. 

The last section upon which Rabbi Yitzchak Isaac wrote commentary was the Zohar on God’s words to Moses, “Enough. Do not continue to speak to Me of this matter” (Deuteronomy 3:26). The Zohar writes, “‘Enough’ – with the light of the sun that you had – ‘do not continue’ – for the time of the moon has come, and the moon cannot illuminate until the sun sets. Instead, [the Torah continues], ‘Command Joshua and strengthen him and encourage him’ (Deuteronomy 3:28). You, who are the sun, must shine for the moon, who is Joshua.” 

After Pesach, Rabbi Yitzchak Isaac became ill. He asked for his manuscript to be brought to him so that he could continue writing and not stop at this section. It did not transpire, however, and he passed away.  

Rabbi Yitzchak Isaac lived for 68 years, the numerical value of “life” (חַיִּים). He passed away on the 10th day of Iyar, the day of netzach (victory) within netzach in the Counting of the Omer. In this story, we see how much the triumph of life was necessary to enable him to write his overflowing Torah commentary.

Rabbi Yitzchak Isaac’s commentary on the Zohar can be considered the pinnacle of his Torah works. How does one merit such a length of days? From the verse “Length of days in her right hand” (Proverbs 3:16), we can learn that Rabbi Yitzchak Isaac merited length of life in netzach due to his “right hand” of love and kindness. He radiated this love and kindness to the world through his books, in order to bring his fellow Jews close to their Father in heaven. (Interestingly, writing with the intent of bringing others close to God is generally done with the right hand). 

Besides writing many books, Rabbi Yitzchak Isaac also liked gematria and “numbers” (מִסְפָּרִים), which in Hebrew shares a root with “books” (סְפָרִים). Interestingly, his last name, Safrin (סָאפְרִין), shares the same root and is cognate to the word sofer (סוֹפֵר), meaning a scribe. The light that shines from his books is reminiscent of the shining light of the sappir (סַפִּיר), or sapphire. Thus, the words for number, story and sapphire all stem from the same three-letter root ס.פ.ר. and, in Kabbalah, they correspond to the three aspects of every vessel. 

Of the many beautiful descriptions of writing in the Bible, the one that seems to best describe Rabbi Yitzchak Isaac is, “[My tongue is] the pen of a quick writer”[1] ( עֵט סוֹפֵר מָהִיר[לְשׁוֹנִי]). This description is also numerically related to him since its value is 680 and it consists of 10 letters, which means that the average value of each letter is 68, Rabbi Yitzchak Isaac’s lifespan. The reduced value of these words is 50, the age at which Rabbi Yitzchak Isaac began writing his commentary on the Zohar. The word for “pen” (עֵט) is the initials for “good advice” (עֵצָה טוֹבָה). Thus, with the pen that he holds in his right hand when writing, he is giving others good advice through his books. Indeed, the sages say[2] that age 50 is the age at which one is best suited to start giving advice. The word “pen” can also be seen as the initials for “important and unimportant” (עִקָּר טָפֵל); knowing the difference between the two is vital to good writing and authoring books that are illuminating. 

The age at which Rabbi Yitzchak Isaac began writing his commentary on the Zohar is connected to how the writing ended—his passing in the middle of sefirat ha’omer (the Counting of the Omer) on the day of netzach in netzach, the attribute of Moses, while writing about the passing of Moses. Moses attained the 50th gate of understanding and gave the Torah on the 50th day of the Counting of the Omer. 

The parallel between Rabbi Yitzchak Isaac and Moses is apparent in this story and is expressed in many places in his books. It would be interesting to guess the identity of Rabbi Yitzchak Isaac’s Joshua, the “face of the moon” that he illuminated. 

Moses was the great scribe of Israel[3] as well as its faithful shepherd.[4] For Rabbi Yitzchak Isaac, leadership and teaching Torah did not come together easily. The Yeitiv Lev[5] once remarked that the Komarna Rebbe had many chassidim, and then their number dwindled. But uncharacteristically, when he would go on a journey, the crowds would flock to him. He explained that in heaven, there was great satisfaction from his writings. Thus, heaven ensured that chassidim would not come to him when he was at home, which would have distracted him from his writing. But, when he was out on a journey, and could not write anyway, the crowds returned.

[1]. Psalms 45:2. [2]. Avot 5:22. [3]. Sotah 13b. [4]. Moses’ connotation in the Zohar, רָעֲיָא מְהֵימְנָא. [5]. Rabbi Yekuthiel Yehudah Teitelbaum (1808 to 1883), grandson of the Yismach Moshe.