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October 23, 2016 / 21 Tishri, 5777

Posts Tagged ‘Hashem’

Tefillah: A Meeting With Hashem – Are We Atheists In Foxholes?

Friday, September 2nd, 2016

“There are no atheists in foxholes,” goes the saying. When in dire straits, even the greatest non-believer will often admit that until now his life was a farce. He had denied G-d’s existence only because he wanted to live without any constraints – like an animal, without the burden of his conscience. Now, when he feels helpless, as shells explode around him and the angel of death ruthlessly snatches away his comrades, he raises his eyes in prayer to G-d, whom he just rediscovered.

We Torah-observant Jews are definitely light years ahead of that poor fellow. But in a certain way we are similar. Let us think about how we daven Shemoneh Esrei. We all try to concentrate, but it is difficult. Our mind wanders, and we daydream about countless topics. And before we know it, we find ourselves taking three steps back.

But if, chas v’sholom, a person is told by his doctors that he has a severe disease and needs to undergo intense medical treatment, his prayers take on new dimensions. Each word is said with emotion and feeling, because he knows that his life is on the line. And if his business is floundering, he pours his heart out during the blessing of Bareich Aleinu, and begs Hashem for help.

Sure, we are much better than the atheist who only sees the truth when it may be too late to start living a life of faith. But to a certain degree we also forget about Hashem when the sailing is smooth. How can we rectify the problem?


Foolish Complacency

This Shabbos is Rosh Chodesh Elul. In just thirty days it will be Rosh Hashanah, when Hashem will decide what will happen to us in the upcoming year – and sometimes the ruling can have an effect that will last for many years to come. Since we are judged based on our past performance, we should be quite terrified. But for some strange reason we are calm and complacent. Indeed, much ink has been spilled regarding this phenomenon: Just several generations ago, even the simple water carrier was terrified when Rosh Chodesh Elul arrived, but in our times, it is very difficult for us to truly be worried about our impending judgment.

One of the explanations given is that in those generations most people did not really know where their income would come from, nor whether there would be food available. And, at any moment, the gentiles could rise against the Jews with terrible pogroms and persecutions. Before the discovery of antibiotics, a simple cold could lead to deadly illnesses. The people living in those times truly understood that they were totally dependent on Hashem’s ongoing protection and kindness. Hence, the Yomim Noraim were truly scary days. But in our modern age, our livelihoods are relatively secure, we have doctors who can cure most ailments, and except for sporadic terrorist attacks, we feel more or less safe. Of course, in our hearts we know that everything we have is truly from Hashem, but those feelings are not enough of a reality in our daily lives. Thus, Rosh Hashanah does not have enough significance to us. What can we do to change our mindset?


The Poor “Rich” Man

The Gemara (Rosh Hashanah 16b) states: “Reb Yitzchok says that any year that is poor in the beginning will be rich in the end.” Rashi explains that “poor in the beginning” means that “Klal Yisroel makes themselves poor on Rosh Hashanah to utter supplications and pray, as it says in Mishlei (18:23) ‘A pauper utters supplications.’” On Rosh Hashanah we must turn to Hashem in prayer the same way a poor man asks people for help. Rav Matisyahu Salomon, the famed Mashgiach of Beis Medrash Gavoha in Lakewood, explains this with the following parable:

Everyone thought that Bob was fabulously wealthy. The estate that sprawled over several acres, the fabulous mansion, the numerous luxury cars, the private yacht and airplane – they all bespoke riches. Not to mention his downtown skyscrapers and countrywide chain of stores. But the truth was far from what the eye beheld. For the last three years Bob had suffered tremendous losses on all financial fronts. He desperately tried to bail himself out of the rut he had fallen into, but to no avail. The bank began warning him of seizures and foreclosures, until, one day, it came. “If you do not pay us the money you owe, in exactly three days we will seize all your assets and properties,” the letter from the bank stated. Without waiting a moment, Bob ran to the bank manager and literally went down on his knees. “Please, please, have mercy!” he pleaded. “If you take everything away I am finished! I have new plans which will definitely succeed! Give me a few more months to save myself!”

If a person foolishly feels that he is all set and does not need Hashem for anything, he will not view his life as being on the line. Entering Rosh Hashanah in such a manner is not very smart. We must consider the possibility that we are in exactly the same situation as our friend Bob. Yes, Baruch Hashem, we have health and parnasah, but perhaps it is all on credit! Maybe Hashem in His infinite kindness is giving us a chance to mend our ways – but at any moment He can decide that the time is up. And in truth, that is what happens every Rosh Hashanah. Just as the bank reevaluates its client’s credit ratings from time to time, so too, each year on this day, Hashem evaluates how we have acted until now. And then He decides to extend us credit, or, chas v’sholom, not to.

We must approach Hashem the same way that Bob beseeched the bank manager, and beg Him like a poor man. If we do so, says the Gemara, we will merit a good year. The more we show that we realize that we do not deserve anything, the more we will deserve mercy.


The Daily Foxhole

Let us return to our daily Shemoneh Esrei. One of the reasons we have so much trouble concentrating during a regular Shemoneh Esrei is the same reason we do not feel scared about Rosh Hashanah: We simply do not feel that we are in danger. But if we would think about all the people who suddenly lost their parnasah or health, we would change our mindset. All those cases teach us that nothing can be taken for granted. Then, every time we ask Hashem for health, we will do so as one who really needs a medical salvation, because we never really know if our good health is really just on credit.

We are better off than the atheist in the foxhole – his faith in Hashem is buried so deep that it requires a life-threatening situation to bring it to life. We, on the other hand, know the truth – we are just fast asleep. With a little thought, we can awaken ourselves, and show our true colors.

If we use these days of Elul to instill in ourselves the reality that one good year does not tell us anything about the coming year, by the time we reach Rosh Hashanah we will truly be able to pray to Hashem like a poor man does. And then, we will merit, b’ezras Hashem, having a happy sweet New Year.

Rabbi Eliezer M. Niehaus

Tefillah: A Meeting With Hashem – Love Our Nation

Friday, August 5th, 2016

A friend of mine related that his brother was on a business trip to Istanbul and went to pray in a local shul. He was quite surprised when one of the congregants waved to him. “I don’t know this man,” he thought. “He must be a really friendly person!” But then he noticed the man was waving to everyone in shul. And he was not the only one – every single person in shul was doing the same thing! After davening, they told him that this custom was based on the words of the Arizal, cited by the Magen Avraham (O.C., beginning of siman 46). He writes: “Before the morning tefillah one should accept upon himself the mitzvah of v’ahavtah le’reiacha kamocha – you shall love your fellow as yourself.” In order to fulfill this mitzvah properly, the custom of this congregation is to wave to each and every fellow Jew in shul.

But what is the Arizal’s reason – why is it so important to fulfill this mitzvah specifically before we start praying?


Plural Power

One who examines Shemoneh Esrei will notice something interesting: we speak in the plural form. For example, we ask Hashem to give us rain, to heal us, to forgive us, etc. That is, I come before Hashem as a representative of our nation – not for myself. Once a person has asked for everyone, he may add personal supplications, as long as he fulfills certain conditions (see Shulchan Aruch, O.C. siman 119). One example being at the end of Shemoneh Esrei when we say “Elokai, netzor leshoni mei’ra – My G-d, guard my tongue from evil… etc.” In general, though we use the plural form. In fact, the Gra in Sh’nos Eliyahu (Brachos 5:1) says that not only must we verbally ask in the plural form, we are not even allowed to think only about ourselves when we pray! But why not?

The Gemara (Brachos 30a) states that when a person prays he should always include himself as part of the community. Rashi explains that this will cause his prayer to be accepted. On a simple level, we can explain that one who includes himself with the tzibur will be answered in their merit, because the community usually has more merit than the individual.

However, I believe there is an even deeper reason why including ourselves with the tzibur helps our tefillos be accepted by Hashem. The whole concept of approaching Hashem in prayer is absolutely mind-boggling. How do we have the audacity to approach the Master of the Universe, who is holier and greater than anything we can possibly imagine, and expect that He is interested in hearing us? Only because Hashem tells us so in the Torah. “For who is a great nation that has G-d close to them like Hashem our G-d, whenever we call out to Him?” (Devorim 4:7). Hashem gave our nation the special privilege of turning to Him in prayer, and He has promised to listen to our prayers. And why did we merit this special closeness? Simply because He loves us, as stated throughout Tanach. The prophet Yirmiyahu (31:3) says in the name of Hashem: “I have loved you with an eternal love.” And Yeshaya (54:10) says even more: “For the mountains will depart and the hills will move, but My loving-kindness shall not depart from you, nor will My covenant of peace move away.”

Hashem’s love for our nation is so great that even though we sinned and were sent into exile, He still loves us. Hashem did not choose us because of our good deeds; rather, He has an unconditional love for us (Maharal, Netzach Yisroel, chapter 11). Therefore, even if we sin, He will not forsake us. On the contrary, He will make sure that we repent and perfect our ways, so that we will be worthy of Him dwelling amongst us.

Rabbi Eliezer M. Niehaus

‘Seek Hashem When He Can Be Found’

Wednesday, July 20th, 2016

Seek Hashem when He can be found. Call upon Him when He is near.”Yeshiah 55:6

So begins the haftarah we read at Minchah on fast days.

Let’s try to understand what happens on fast days. During Shacharis we say special tefillos recalling terrible events that took place on that date. By Minchah, the shock of contemplating these events has begun to be digested by our intellect. It dawns on us that we have gone through all these events and miraculously survived.

At that point we begin to understand that fast days provide us with a great gift: the chance to become close to the King of the Universe.

I find it amazing that the Holy Ark contains the broken luchos, the Tablets Moshe Rabbeinu smashed after the incident with the golden calf. Why should the holiest spot on earth contain a vivid reminder of Am Yisrael’s rebellion against Hashem, a reminder of our degradation, our embarrassment, our ingratitude?

That may be exactly the point. Only when we remember our utter degradation can we rise to the heights. Only when we are broken can we cry out to Hashem. When we are filled with arrogance, we have no room for Him. Only when we are crushed are we ready to beg Him to save us. It’s not that we desire to be crushed, God forbid, but this is a fact of life.

Let him put his mouth to the dust – there may yet be hope.”Eichah 29

A few weeks ago, I was driving near a Jewish neighborhood. I saw a car mount the sidewalk and park in front of a store. In America this is unusual, so I watched as the door opened. A “religious-looking” Jew got out and entered the store. This is dangerous. The perception exists among non-Jews that we believe ourselves to be above the law and above other people.

Dina d’malchusa dina – the law of the land is the law(Gittin 10b; Nedarim 28a). But more than that: it is just plain stupid to antagonize the surrounding culture, especially at such a violent time in history, when nations are looking for excuses to attack us.

A fast day comes to remind us that our only hope for greatness and redemption is to humble ourselves and cry out to our Father in Heaven. Every day we begin our tefillos with the words:


Master of all worlds, not in the merit of our righteousness do we cast our supplications before You, but in the merit of Your abundant mercy. What are we? What is our life? What is our kindness? What is our righteousness? What is our salvation? What is our strength? What is our might? What can we say before You, Hashem, our God and the God of our forefathers? Are not all the heroes like nothing before You?


We really must try to incorporate this into our being.

The Three Weeks are not only the most tragic days of the year, they are perhaps our greatest opportunity to come close to Hashem. This is how we can turn tragedy into simcha. Tisha B’Av is called a moed (Eichah 1:15), which implies that its intrinsic identity is positive. It should have been the day on which our eternal entry into the Land of Israel was assured, but it became twisted into a day of tragedy.

The nature of the Jewish people is that we do not give up, even under conditions of deepest grief and catastrophe. We use these events – even if they arose through our own errors – to elevate ourselves to a level that would not have been possible without them. The lowest day becomes the highest day; that is exactly the nature of Redemption.

At the very beginning of history, Adam and Chava had every reason to give up. As I put it in my book Worldstorm: Finding Meaning and Direction in Today’s World Crisis:


How could Adam and Chava live with the burden they had introduced into the world? How, I ask, did they live? For quickly they knew. Quickly they sought clothing because suddenly their innocence was not good enough for them. Before their rebellion they had nothing to hide because they had no guilt. But now no amount of clothing could cover their guilt. Where could they run to escape from God? Nowhere! It is God’s world.

So the banishment was self-inflicted; they had sealed their own doom. Can you imagine their burden on that day, the hot tears flowing as their feet walked out of that perfect world and passed the sword of the angel guarding the entrance through which no man has ever returned? Can you imagine what rested upon their shoulders? Already then they must have felt the guilt of thousands of future generations of their own children, the accumulated pain which was to befall every individual who would ever exist in the future world. It would all come about as a result of their one “tiny” error in Gan Eden.

How could they bear it? How could anyone bear the responsibility for such untold suffering? The truly amazing thing is that they did bear it. Their greatness is shown perhaps more by the way they bore their exile than by their actions inside the Garden.

Adam and Chava did not commit suicide. That same Adam and Chava – whose introduction to life outside the Garden included the murder of one son by another – walked onward through life. They did not give up! They lived to become the parents of yet another son, Seth, who carried the knowledge of God onward to the next generation and through whom the hope of the world was to survive.


Generations later, Avraham and Sarah did not give up. Even though Avraham was one man against the entire world, he did not waver in his belief in the existence of Hashem and from his quest to learn Hashem’s Torah. When they were already “too old” to conceive children, they gave birth to a child who changed the world.

Am Yisrael was released from slavery in Egypt at precisely the moment we reached the lowest level, “mem tes sha’are tumah.”

At the Yam Suf we had every reason to give up, surrounded as we were by the sea on one side and the Egyptian army on the other. But Nachshon ben Aminadav trusted Hashem, entered the water and Am Yisrael was saved.

When we as a nation wandered through Midbar Sinai, we perpetrated rebellion after rebellion against Hashem. We were our own worst enemies and – because of our own stubbornness – had every reason to give up, but we did not. Because we did not give up, we were saved.

The list goes on and on. “Ani ma’amin b’emunah sheleimah.” When you are desperate, you cast all your hope on Hashem, and only then are you going to find Redemption. If you know there is nothing else besides Hashem Echad, your life is going to change.

Min ha meitzar…from the straits I called upon God; God answered me with expansiveness. Hashem is with me; I have no fear; how can man affect me?”(Tehillim 118).

Hashem was with Dovid because he called “from the straits,” when there was nothing on earth that could help him. Hashem took Dovid out of the straits, but he had to hit rock bottom first.

* * * * *

I will recall for you my personal story. On January 10, 1966, my life was falling apart. I did not believe in God and I did not want to believe I was Jewish. My marriage seemed to be disintegrating. I was in graduate school and couldn’t concentrate. I woke up at 2 a.m. crying. It was all over. I had tried “everything” and nothing worked. It looked to me as if I would spend the rest of my life in a mental institution, God forbid.

But wait! Maybe there was something else other than the pit. Only then, under the terrible pressure of a decree of death, did I come to realize that if I was going to survive, I had to believe God is real. And that’s where it all began. That moment of absolute despair was the moment that changed my life. It was God or Gehennom.

I was so stubborn that it took that terrible moment to force me to humble myself enough so that I could believe I was not God.

The Three Weeks is that period of excruciating pain through which we are reminded that Hashem Echad is the One Source of Life. If we want to live, we have to surrender ourselves to His guidance and mercy. The secret and the seeds of Redemption lie in the pain we feel as we plummet to the utter depths during these terrible days of tears and tragedy.

In our own time, the suffering is prodigious. In Eretz Yisrael, Jewish blood is flowing. Outside Israel, tzouris upon tzouris. Each day, you think you have heard the ultimate – until the next day, when you hear something worse. How far can we be from mem-tes sha’are tumah, the straits from which we are going to cry out to God (Tehillim 118) “Ana Hashem hoshia na – please Hashem, save [us] now!”

Our son told us a beautiful thought from the Chofetz Chaim. Why did the miraglim become despondent? They knew Hashem was able to bring them into Eretz Canaan, but they felt they and their generation were not worthy of His help because of their sins. Their sense of shame caused them to doubt they had the merit to enter the Land.

This is the way of the yetzer hara: to try to cause us to forget our innate nobility and focus instead on what we did wrong. Hashem is waiting to help us, but we feel unworthy. (Based on Sefer Shmiras Haloshon, chelek beis, Parshas Shelach.)

* * * * *

Just this morning, as I was writing this article, I did something so stupid. I began to berate myself and feel as if I were hopelessly dumb with no hope whatsoever. Why do I keep making the same mistakes over and over again? This is the same thought many people have before Rosh Hashanah, when they tell themselves it is hopeless to do teshuvah because “each year I regress after all my promises to improve.”

In general, the present generation is extremely depressed. We are so steeped in the ways of the surrounding culture that the innate meaninglessness of its lifestyle has affected us deeply. But we really do not want to give up.

This morning, after my stupidity, I spoke to a trusted rabbi who gave me a way out. I started to feel that – perhaps – there is hope for me, and that is what we need to know: even though the yetzer hara will tempt us endlessly to become depressed and hopeless, there is hope and help from Above that will never desert us. Hashem loves us and will certainly bring Mashiach. No matter the problems that weigh down on us, Hashem will surely fulfill all His promises.

We begin every day by saying, “My God, the soul You placed within me is pure. You created it, You fashioned it, You breathed it into me, You safeguard it within me….” Contrary to the belief systems of other cultures, we know that Hashem created us with intrinsic kedushah.

The fast day haftarah continues: “For My thoughts are not your thoughts and My ways are not your ways…. As high as the heavens over the earth, so are My thoughts [higher] than your thoughts.”

We are being guided by a Power infinitely higher than we can comprehend.

During the Three Weeks, the rejuvenation of Am Yisrael begins, because we are not going lower than this. This is the end … and the beginning. On Tisha B’Av, Mashiach is born. We read in Midrash Eichah Rabbassi 1:59: “On the day the Temple was destroyed the Messianic Savior was born. What is his name? Menachem [Comforter].”

Midrash Eichah explains: An Arab passed a Jewish farmer plowing his field. The Arab heard the farmer’s ox mooing. The Arab, who understood the language of animals, told the Jew that meant the Holy Temple had been destroyed. While they were conversing, the ox mooed a second time. The Arab told the Jew this meant the Redeemer had been born.

Amazingly, the news of Mashiach’s birth came through the mouth of an Arab. Today the Arabs are also telling us something. Their activity shows they are, on some level, aware of how little time they have before their power is nullified by the arrival of Mashiach.

The ArtScroll commentary to this Midrash is illuminating:


Before the Temple’s destruction, it was not possible to have Mashiach, as that which is already perfect cannot perfect itself. It is only from the imperfect state of a destroyed Temple that this nation may ascend and eventually merit the Mashiach…. All seeds in the ground first disintegrate and decay and only afterward begin to grow into new plants…. A similar principle exists in the spiritual realm: sprouting must emanate from decay. The sages teach that us that only one who mourns over the…destruction of Jerusalem will merit to see its consolation. This, explains Maharal, is because the eventual rebuilding of Jerusalem and the rebirth of the Jewish nation can only come about after there existed a state of destruction…. But how will we be consoled? We will realize that all those years of pain and travail were not for naught and were not purposeless. They were part of the process of decay that caused the brilliant light of the Mashiach to shine.


May we see it soon in our days.

Roy S. Neuberger

Tefillah: A Meeting With Hashem Our Real Best Friend

Friday, July 8th, 2016

“Man’s best friend” is one of those phrases we have gotten so used to that we overlook its absurdity. This phrase, of course, refers to a furry, four-legged creature – namely, the dog. Have we ever contemplated how ridiculous this statement is? How can one say that a human being, the bearer of a soul from the upper spheres, is best friends with a canine mammal of the Order Carnivora? And, if we are discussing a Jew, who has a holy neshama from under Hashem’s Throne of Glory, which gives him the ability to connect to Hashem, it is even more ludicrous.

So who is really “man’s best friend”? The answer is G-O-D … not D-O-G! Yes, they have the same letters, but we have gotten the word totally backwards!

In many places, we refer to Hashem as our friend. For example, “Rei’acha v’rei’ah avicha al ta’azov – Do not forsake your Friend and the Friend of your father” (Mishlei 27:10). Rashi explains that the friend of our father is Hashem, who was a close friend of our forefathers. But He is not just a family friend, He is our own personal friend – “your Friend,” the verse states. We ourselves see that He is our best friend, so Shlomo HaMelech tells us not to forsake Him!


So Many Presents!

Last month (6-10) we mentioned that one of the prerequisites to turning to Hashem in prayer is knowing that He loves us and has our best interest in mind. We explained how we can see this love from the fact that Hashem gave our nation His precious Torah, the source of true life. But from the aforementioned verse in Mishlei, we also see that we must be aware that Hashem is our personal friend. One of the best ways to build that awareness is by contemplating all the wonderful gifts that our Friend is constantly bestowing upon us. Let us mention just a few.

If you ask, “How much is that person worth?” most people will answer based on his assets. But the correct answer is that if he has a healthy heart, liver, and kidneys, he is worth several million dollars! Why? Well, the average cost of a heart transplant is $ 1,250,000; for a liver, $750,000; and for a kidney, another $350,000. That brings us to the grand total of $2,350,000 to receive “used” organs. Studies show that approximately half of heart transplant recipients are still alive at 10 years post-transplant. A living donor kidney functions, on average, 12 to 20 years, and a deceased donor kidney from 8 to 12 years. That being the case, how much would a person pay for a brand new heart or kidney, straight from the “Manufacturer”? At least double the price! That means that we, who have “original” organs, are worth millions of dollars! And we take these wonderful presents from Hashem for granted.

But it doesn’t stop there. Do we think about that fact that He is constantly making sure that they function properly? We do not have to attach ourselves to a dialysis machine three times a week for several hours to clean our blood. Our heart pumps smoothly and effortlessly – no pacemaker necessary. Our lungs draw in wonderful oxygen – no need to drag around an oxygen tank. We do not wheeze as we breathe and coughing does not tear our innards apart. We hear just fine without hearing aids. No need to tap with a white cane or be led by a seeing-eye dog. We are able to use the facilities, our food gets digested properly, and we can enjoy the different types of food Hashem gives us. Perambulating with our wonderful legs is a pleasurable experience! Arthritis and muscle pain? Those are things we hope never to meet. Our heads are free of horrible migraines, our skin is generally not dry or chapped and, for the most part, when it is time to go to bed, we place our heads on the pillow and drift off into a peaceful slumber without too much delay.

Rabbi Eliezer M. Niehaus

Tefillah: A Meeting With Hashem – The Day Of Love

Thursday, June 9th, 2016

Before you begin to wonder what “the day of love” is, I will let the cat out of the bag: I am referring to Shavuos. “Really!” you are probably thinking. “I know it is the day we receive the Torah, a day when many stay up all night learning, a day of celebrating with cheesecake . . . but a day of love?”

But that is the truth. We begin every Shemoneh Esrei of Yom Tov with the joyous declaration: “Atah vichartanu mi’kol ha’amim – You have chosen us from all the nations. Ahavta osanu – You loved us, v’ratzisa banu – You desired us.” The Siach Yitzchok (in Siddur Hagra) explains that these words refer to the three festivals. You chose us on Pesach, You showed us Your love on Shavuos by giving us the Torah, and You desired us on Sukkos, by returning the clouds of glory after the sin of the golden calf.

How does receiving the Torah show us Hashem’s love to us?


Ahava Rabbah!

The bracha that we recite right before krias shema of Shachris is also known as “the bracha of Torah,” as in this blessing we ask Hashem to teach us His Torah. The introduction to this prayer is “Ahava rabbah ahavtanu, chemla gedolah v’yiseirah chamaltah aleinu – With an abundant love You have loved us, with exceedingly great pity have You pitied us.” Such a declaration is unparalleled in our daily prayers. And in the evening prayer we say that it is an eternal love – Ahavas olam. The fact that Hashem gave us His Torah shows us that He does not merely love us – it is an eternal and overwhelming love!

Then we continue with the most heartfelt plea in the entire seder hatefillah: “Our Father, the merciful Father Who acts mercifully, have mercy upon us, instill in our hearts to understand and elucidate, to listen, learn, teach, safeguard, perform and fulfill all the words of Your Torah’s teaching with love!” And finally, it concludes “…who chooses Klal Yisroel with love.”

Were it not for the great and infinite love that Hashem has for us, we would not have received the Torah, nor would we dare ask for the gift of Torah on a regular basis. Let us explain.


Tree of Life

Rav Chaim Volozhiner (Nefesh Hachaim, Sha’ar 4, chapter 33) explains the pasukEitz chaim he la’machazikim bah – The Torah is a tree of life for those who grasp onto it” with a parable of a man drowning in a raging river. As he is about to go under, he notices a large tree floating by and grabs on for dear life. He knows if he will let go for just one second, he will die. So too, we have been thrown into the vast waters of “Olam Hazeh – this world.” The only way to stay alive is to grab hold of the tree of life – the Torah. If we let go and run after the empty pleasures of the world, even just for a short time, we will have immediately separated ourselves from the source of life. We will be in danger of drowning in the materialism of this mundane world and dying a spiritual death. Only when we learn Torah are we considered to be alive. And the Nefesh Hachaim explains (see chapter 10) that this is because when we learn Torah we attach ourselves – figuratively – to Hashem Yisborach, the true source of life.

How does learning Torah attach us?

The midrash (Shemos Rabah Parsha 33) states: “When a person buys an object, he doesn’t buy the seller with it. However, when Hashem gave us the Torah, He told us that kaviyachol we are taking Him along with it.” In many places the Zohar notes that Torah and Hashem are one.

Rabbi Eliezer M. Niehaus

Tefillah: A Meeting With Hashem -Sefirah Days Are Chol HaMoed!

Friday, May 13th, 2016

Just two weeks have passed since we put away our Pesach dishes, but it seems like ages ago. But that is a great mistake! Did you know that Pesach doesn’t end until Shavuos? The Ramban tells us at the end of Emor (23:36) – this week’s sedra here in Eretz Yisroel, next week’s for those of you in chutz la’aretz) –

“These days of counting are similar to the days of Chol HaMoed that are in between the first and last day of Sukkos . . .”

Knowing this should make us jump for joy! All those weeks of preparation did not end after eight days –

they continue all the way until Shavuos!

But how are they similar to Chol HaMoed and what should we be focusing on during these special days?


49 Days of Self-Growth

Last time we saw that one of the primary purposes of the ten plagues was to awaken Klal Yisroel’s faith in Hashem so that they could act upon it. Indeed, they reached the level of being able to slaughter the Egyptian god without any fear, and leap into the raging Red Sea upon Hashem’s command. But that was not sufficient.

During Yetzias Mitzrayim they were raised to a level higher than what they were really worthy of. But once the light of that special day stopped shining, they would have fallen down to where they had been before if they had not taken immediate action. They began counting toward the day they would receive the Torah and 49 days of preparation commenced. The result was that they became truly worthy of receiving the Torah.

It is clear that intense self-perfection in many areas was necessary to merit the great revelation of Hashem’s glory on Har Sinai. But it is also possible to suggest that one of the things they focused on was living with the reality that Hashem was their Master. Thus, they internalized the clear lessons in emunah they had been shown, and returned to the level where they had been when they left Mitzrayim – through their own efforts.

This was not merely a historical event. The Ramchal in Derech Hashem tells us that during every important event in Klal Yisrael‘s history there was a spiritual light and it shines each year, on a smaller scale, when that time of the year comes around again. To gain the most from that light, we must prepare ourselves to tap into it.


Tapping The Light

The Maharal tells us that there is an integral difference between the meal offering sacrificed in the Bais HaMikdash on Pesach and the one that was brought on Shavuos. On Pesach we offered the omer from barley, which is animal food, but on Shavuos, the shtei halechem, the two loaves of bread, were from wheat, which is human food. This teaches us that in order for us to retain the level we reached on Pesach we must throw away our animalistic character traits. Only then can we hope to reach great spiritual heights.

One of the ways in which we act similar to an animal is in forgetting to think about the source from which all things come. Does an animal think about where its food comes from? It sees food in the feeding trough or grass in the meadow and doesn’t give two hoots who put it there. During the days of sefiras haomer we must rise to the level of being a human who understands the source of his food: the Master of the Universe.

One of the reasons Hashem wanted Klal Yisrael to offer this korban was for this reason. After all the effort the farmer invested in his field throughout the winter, there was a danger that when he reached the harvest he would pat himself on the back and think he accomplished it all. Thus, the Torah forbids him to harvest or consume his crop until after he has sacrificed the Korban Omer to Hashem. (Nowadays, when we unfortunately do not sacrifice the Omer, the new crop becomes permitted once the day when it used to be offered has passed.) This instills in him, and the rest of Klal Yisroel, the reality that Hashem is the One taking care of him.

Rabbi Eliezer M. Niehaus

Being Like Hashem

Thursday, April 28th, 2016

And Pharaoh sent for Moshe and Aharon and said to them, ‘I have sinned this time. Hashem is righteous, and I and my people are wicked.” – Shemos 9:27


After months of rebellion, Pharaoh finally admitted he was wrong. The Dos Zakainim explains that the plague of barad moved Pharaoh more than any other. And it was because of one factor: Moshe had warned him the hail would kill anything living. Again and again, Moshe cautioned Pharaoh to take his livestock and his slaves inside. Because Pharaoh was repeatedly warned to save the living creatures, he was moved and recognized his error.

This Dos Zakainim is difficult to understand. Why would this detail cause Pharaoh to admit Hashem was right? He witnessed the greatest revelation of Hashem’s mastery of nature and it didn’t move him. He watched as Mitzrayim, the superpower of its time, was brought to its knees. That didn’t move him. Why should this single factor have such an effect?

This question is best answered with a mashol.

The Nature of the Human

Henry Ford, while a brilliant businessman, was not known for his kindliness. In fact, he used to brag that he never did anything for anyone. The story is told that while he was going for a walk in the fields with a friend, they heard yelps coming from a nearby property. A dog had gotten caught in a barbed wire fence and couldn’t get out. Ford walked over to the fence, gently pulled on the wire, and freed the dog. When he returned to the road, his friend said to him, “I thought you were the guy who never did anything for anyone.” Henry Ford responded, “That was for me. The dog’s cries were hurting me.”

This story is compelling because Ford didn’t care about anyone but himself. He didn’t choose to be kind. He didn’t want to feel the pain of others. In fact, he tried his best to squelch this sensitivity. But it was still there. He couldn’t stop himself. He was pre-programmed to have mercy. In his inner makeup there was that voice that said, “Henry, the poor animal is in pain. Go do something!”

Even though he prided himself on selfishness, he couldn’t quell that voice inside. It bothered him to hear a creature in pain. When he heard those cries, they reached down to his inner core, to that part of the human that only wants to do good, proper and noble things. That part was touched. It saw an animal in pain and said, “Don’t just stand there, Henry. Do something. That poor animal is suffering.”

Let Us Make Man

This is illustrative of the basic components of the human. When Hashem created man, He joined together two diverse elements to form his soul. These are his spiritual soul, what we call his neshamah, and his animal soul, which is comprised of all of the drives and inclinations needed to keep him alive. The conscious “I” that thinks and feels is made up of both parts.

The neshamah comes from under the throne of Hashem’s glory. It is pure and holy and only wishes for that which is good, proper, and noble. Because it comes from the upper worlds, it derives no benefit from this world and can’t relate to any of its pleasures. The other part of man’s soul is very different. It is exactly like that of an animal, with all of the passions and desires necessary to drive man though his daily existence.

We humans are this contradictory combination. Within me is an animal soul made up of pure desires and appetites, and within me is a holy neshamah that only wishes to do that which is right and proper. The animal soul only knows its needs and exists to fulfill them. The neshamah is magnanimous and only wishes to give. These two total opposites are forged together to create the whole we know as the human.

This seems to be the answer to the Dos Zakainim. Pharaoh was a human being, and as all humans, he had a sublime side to him. He may have spent years ignoring and pushing it down, but it remained within him. What he experienced during the plague of hail was pure chesed. His enemy was concerned for his good.

There was nothing Hashem had to gain by protecting the cattle and the slaves of the Egyptians. The only motivation was generosity, goodness, and a pure concern for others. Seeing this warmed even the callous heart of Pharaoh. He understood he was dealing with something outside of the realm of normal human interests. He saw Hashem.

This also helps us understand one of the great ironies of life.

The selfish person is focused on his needs and wants. The generous person is concerned about the welfare of others – even at the cost of his own needs. We would assume the selfish person would be happy. After all, he is singly focused on what’s good for him. But the generous person has the good of others on his mind – surely he can’t be as happy. He has to worry about the good of others.

Yet just the opposite is true. The more a person is focused on others’ needs, the happier he is. The more he focuses on his own needs and wants, the unhappier he will be.

When man develops the trait of giving, he achieves inner peace, balance, and harmony. When he ignores it, he suffers. His sense of self becomes fragmented. One part of him is demanding “What’s in it for me?” and the other side is crying out “What have I done for others?” The more a person develops the nature of giving, the more he becomes like Hashem.

This why kindliness is so basic to being a Torah-observant Jew, to being as much like Hashem as is humanly possible. While it takes focus and attention to bring out the higher part of our personality, it is ingrained in our soul and so it comes naturally to us.

Rabbi Ben Tzion Shafier

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/parsha/being-like-hashem-3/2016/04/28/

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