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June 28, 2016 / 22 Sivan, 5776

Posts Tagged ‘Hashem’

The Greatness Of The Avos

Thursday, November 8th, 2012

“And Sarah died in Kiryas Arbah, which is Chevron, in the land of Canaan,
and Avraham came to mourn for Sarah and to cry for her.” – Bereishis 23:2

Every word in the Torah is exact and every nuance measured. Therefore, Rashi is bothered that the Torah places the burial of Sarah next to the Akeidah. There doesn’t seem to be any connection between the two events. Rashi answers that the Torah is teaching us that it was through the Akeidah that Sarah died.

The Midrash tells us that after the Akeidah, the Soton came to Sarah and said, “Did you hear?”

“No. What?”

“Avraham took Yitzchak with him to Yerushalayim to the very place where the Bais HaMikdash will be built. He built an altar right where the Mizbeach will one day be. He tied Yitzchak up, hands behind his back, and put him on that altar. Then Avraham prepared the wood and everything else needed to bring a korban. He took a long knife, held it over Yitzchak’s neck, moved his hand down…”

Before the Soton could continue, Sarah’s neshamah left her and she died.

The Taz on this Rashi explains that when Sarah heard the words of the Soton she imagined the pain and terror that Yitzchak must have felt at that moment. It was too much for her to bear, and that caused her death.

This Rashi is quite difficult to understand. Sarah Imeinu was a strong, emotionally stable woman. She had unshakable bitachon, having lived through many trials and travails. More than that, while all the Imahos matured at a very young age, Sarah was 127 years old at this point, not a flighty teenager. It seems difficult to understand how she could die from feeling the pain of her son. But even more, her son was not a toddler. At the time of the Akeidah, Yitzchak was 37 years old. He was a grown man. How is it possible that this news caused her so much pain that she literally died from it?

This question can best be answered by understanding the dynamics of the human personality.

Parental Instinct

In the wild, a mother cougar will risk its life to save its young. A mother bear becomes ferocious and almost uncontrollable when her cubs are threatened. In many species, we see a powerful maternal instinct to protect offspring, and this lasts until the young are about two years old. Then something strange happens. The same mother who would risk life and limb for her litter will turn against the now-grown cub and force it out of the group. The cub is no longer recognized as something to protect, but as a competitor to be shunned and chased out. The motherly instinct served its purpose. When it is no longer needed, it shuts off like a water spigot.

We see an eerie parallel in the world of man. If you go to your local hospital and look in at the new fathers in the nursery, you will witness very tender scenes. When Frank picks up Frank Jr. for the first time, there is a look of love and devotion in his eyes. You can almost hear him planning out their future. “Frank Jr. and I are going to be tight. We are going to play ball together, go to hockey games together. It’s going to be great.”

And it is, for a while. But then Frank Jr. hits the teenage years and it is no longer so beautiful. No longer does Frank dream about spending time with his child, no longer does he yearn for that relationship. What happened?

What happened was that Frank Jr. stopped being the little babe looking with love into his father’s eyes, and the relationship took on a very different nature. When the natural instinct begins to wane, a very different relationship ensues.

The Chovos Ha’Levovos tells us that Hashem implanted into the human heart all the instincts needed for survival of man. One of these is the parental instinct. The father didn’t ask for this sensation, nor does he control it, but he feels the pain of his child. In fact, if the son is cut, the father feels it as if it his own flesh that is being cut. This is an instinct that Hashem put into parents to give them the drive to care for and protect their young. However, that attachment doesn’t last forever. As the child matures and becomes his own person, the parent still loves the child but there is a change in the relationship.

Rabbi Ben Tzion Shafier

What Does It All Mean?

Wednesday, November 7th, 2012

The continuation of my column on the power of prayer was ready to go – but then tragedy hit. Tragedy of a magnitude none of us could have envisioned.

New York City, the capital of the world, is shaken to its core as buildings tumble, electrical power is lost, highways and neighborhoods are flooded, bridges and tunnels are closed down, cars float away, people lose their homes and even their lives.

What are we to do? How are we to understand this?

As readers know, whenever suffering befalls us I search our holy books to find illumination and guidance. I turn to my most loyal friend – a friend that has always been at my side and given me comfort and strength and never betrayed me – my sefer Tehillim, my Book of Psalms.

The psalms were written by King David, who experienced every type of pain and suffering that can befall mankind, and so each word is drenched with his tears and speaks for all eternity and for all mankind.

The devastation of Hurricane Sandy began on Monday, October 29, the 13th day of the month of Cheshvan. The psalm designated for the 13th day of the month is Psalm 69. I opened to it and the words jumped out: “Save us, oh G-d, for the waters have reached onto my soul.”

There is more. This psalm does not leave us in the cold – it also provides our remedy, our answer: “But as for me, my prayer is to You, Hashem.”

Yes, we must turn in heartfelt prayer to our Heavenly Father and beseech His Mercy, His Salvation.

I looked at the weekly parshah and read how our father Abraham, whose hospitality had no bounds, opened his home to strangers. That which our forefathers experienced and shaped their lives has become part of our DNA.

I think of all those who lost power or were left homeless. I know of a woman who stood in her home, waist deep in water, desperately searching for photographs of her father and mother who are no longer here. Who can comprehend the pain?

And I think of all the wonderful people who opened their homes just like our father Abraham. I am one of those people who had to evacuate and I too have benefited and continue to benefit from that hospitality.

The Rambam taught that when suffering is visited upon us we are commanded to cry out and awaken our people with the sound of the shofar. Everyone must be alerted. Everyone must engage in self-examination and ask, What is my life all about? How would I rate if I were given a “neshamah checkup”? What does my Judaism, my Torah, really mean to me?”

The Rambam wrote that if we regard the tragedies that befall us as simply the way of the world, natural happenings, we are guilty of achzarius (cruelty). At first glance it is difficult to understand why Maimonides would choose the term “cruelty” to describe those who see trials and tribulations as the way of the world. They may be unthinking, apathetic, foolish, obtuse or just cynical, but to accuse them of cruelty seems rather farfetched.

The answer is simple. If we regard our pain and suffering as “mere coincidence” and feel no motivation to examine our lives, abandon our old ways and change, then indeed such an attitude is cruel, for it invites additional misfortunate upon ourselves and others.

Great Torah luminaries of recent generations told us we were entering the final stages of history, a period called ikvsa di Mashiach – footsteps of the Messiah. So how can we remain silent? Would that not be the ultimate cruelty?

Ours is a generation that has been challenged again and again. We have had so many wakeup calls – some terrifying, some more subtle – but we have remained indifferent to them all.

I will not go back to the time of the Holocaust, though by every right I should – for if that didn’t shake us up, what will? Even the terrible events of 9/11 are no longer vivid in our minds and the fellowship and the kindness that ensued in its wake are all long gone.

Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis

The Prison Cell Of Laziness

Friday, November 2nd, 2012

“And he delayed, and the men held him, his wife, and his two daughters by the hand because of the mercy of Hashem, and they took them and left them outside of the city.” — Bereishis 19:16

Hashem appeared to Avraham and told him that the people of Sodom were wicked and would be destroyed. The only ones who would be saved were Lot and his family, because of the merit of Avraham. Hashem then sent two malachim, Gavriel and Michoel, to accomplish this task.

When they arrived on the scene they explained to Lot that they were on a mission to wipe out the city, and he was to take his family and flee. Yet he didn’t move. “He delayed.” While he clearly understood the consequences, he remained glued to the spot. Finally, the malachim grabbed him by the hand and pulled him and his daughters away to safety.

The Sforno notes that there is an apparent contradiction here. It is clear that Lot was being saved because of the merit of his brother-in-law Avraham. Yet in this pasuk it says he was saved because of “the mercy of Hashem.” Which was it – the merit of Avraham or Hashem’s mercy?

The Sforno answers that both are true. Initially Lot was to be saved because of the merit of Avraham. However, he wasted that opportunity. The malachim told him to flee and he didn’t. The merit of Avraham was now used up. However, Hashem still had mercy on him because “it wasn’t out of rebelliousness that he delayed, rather out of being overwhelmed by the situation and out of laziness.”

This Sforno is difficult to understand. The two reasons given are: 1) being overwhelmed and 2) laziness. Aren’t these two concepts contradictory?

If Lot was “overwhelmed by the moment,” that means he understood the gravity of the situation. The entire city – and every man, woman, and child in it – was going to be annihilated. That understanding is enough to evoke terror in any man’s heart, and we can certainly understand why he didn’t move. He went into emotional overload. He froze out of fear.

But Sforno said there was a second reason: laziness. If he was gripped by fear, how could he be too lazy to move? Is it possible a man could be standing in a burning building, knowing this life is in danger, and be too lazy to move?

To understand this we need a deeper perspective on the human personality.

When Hashem created man, He took two diverse elements and brought them together. One part of man is pure intelligence, the nefesh ha’schili. The other part is animal instincts, the nefesh ha’bahami. Together, these two make up the “I” that thinks, feels, and remembers. The nefesh ha’schili only wants to do that which is good, proper, and noble. It aspires for holiness and growth. More than anything, it desires to be close to its Creator. The nefesh ha’bahami is made up of all of the instincts, drives, and passions in the human. Each part has its own nature; each has its own inclinations.

To better understand the animal soul of man, we need to look for its corollary in the animal kingdom.

The King of Beasts

Living at the very top of the food chain, the mighty lion is known as the king of the beasts. You would imagine that his life would be idyllic, until you watch his daily routine. In the African Serengeti, the male lion will wake up in the noon sun, let out a monstrously loud yawn, roll over and go back to sleep. A few hours later, he will wake up for bit, and then go back to sleep again. Not long after that, he will stir, let out another earth-shaking growl, and go back to sleep yet again. On average, he will sleep twenty hours a day. When there is no food to eat and the pride is not under not under threat, there is a heaviness to his nature that is almost depressing to watch.

Part of the human has that tendency. We know it as laziness, but it is actually a sluggishness that is part of his inner nature. As the Mesillas Yesharim describes it: “The nature of physicality is thick.” There is a part of me that just doesn’t want to move. It is a weightiness that makes we want to just stop and remain inactive – not out of tiredness, not out of fatigue, but because of a lazy streak that makes me just wants to vegetate.

Rabbi Ben Tzion Shafier

Politics And Torah — Friends Or Enemies?

Friday, October 26th, 2012

Many trees upstate were damaged by the hurricane that swept through the East Coast at the end of last summer, and I was involved in finding the safest equipment to clean up the mess. I love trees and found the chore of cutting them down very difficult, especially knowing that the stately 60 year old trees would be impossible to replace. Even though we planted new trees, I don’t know whether I will be there to enjoy these new saplings when they are 60 years old. I realize that the storm waters that destroyed the trees came at His will, and He could just as easily cause miraculous growth so that the new trees would be as stately as they ones they replaced. We know that all is in His hands, and even though we are required to put forth our efforts, the ultimate success is dependant on His will. However, there always seem to be those certain areas where we forget that the Almighty is really running the show.

The Orchos Tzaddikim (Ways of the Righteous) explains: When a man splits wood with an axe, although it is the axe that is actually splitting the wood, the power doesn’t come from the blade, rather from the man who wields it. The blade is merely the instrument of cutting. Furthermore, one whose livelihood and needs depend on somebody else should not put his trust in that person; he should only place his trust in Hashem.

Imagine there are a hundred blind men, who are walking, one behind the other. Each one has his hand on his friend’s shoulder and is being led by the man before him, until they reach the front of the line where there is one man who can see. Each man in the line is not really leading the man behind him, even though it may seem that way. In reality, the seeing man at the head of the line is the one who is really leading them all. If the seeing man would detach himself from the group, they would all stumble and fall.

The Orchos Tzadikkim concludes, “Let a man take this to heart and reflect that there is no leader but the Holy One Blessed be He, and we are all like blind men, each being assisted and aided by his neighbor, and each neighbor being powerless to assist if not for the first Supreme Leader, the Giver of all, all of Whose ways are just.”

In our daily lives, there are many people who seem to be directing our happiness, success and welfare, yet it is really Hashem alone who is orchestrating our destined level of success. The puppets that are our bosses or political leaders are really just as “blind” as we are; yet we endow them with so much power. We become frustrated with them, despite their powerlessness to dictate our financial and personal successes.

We spend an inordinate amount of time obsessing, worrying, and arguing about our leadership on a national level. Ultimately, no matter how much research, time and effort we put into casting our individual votes, we don’t pick our government leaders. We expend so much time and emotional energy on the campaign issues (or non-issues) and the election fodder, that we often forget that when all is said and done, the final false promise is made, and the last vote is counted, it is only our Father in Heaven who both counts the votes and ultimately decides who runs our country.

Our relationship with Hashem is characterized in many different ways. One of the most important ways is Hashem as our King. However, this relationship may be lacking because most of us have never experienced the awe and respect one would have for a human king. Not many decades ago, people spoke of the government and its representatives, particularly the president, with respect. In the current climate, there is no expectation of respect for our leadership in the press, media, or in the population at large. While many of our leaders may not seem to be deserving of our respect, it is however, likely that this attitude reflects an overall lack of respect for authority that is prevalent today.

Rabbi Gil Frieman

Gedolim Are Human

Wednesday, October 24th, 2012

And Hashem said to Avram, “Go for yourself from your land, from your birth place, and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” – Bereishis 12:1

With these words begins one of the ten great tests of Avraham. The Ramban explains that these were trials by fire, designed to bring Avraham’s greatness to the surface, taking it from the potential to the actual. They helped form him into the singular tzaddik he became.

Rashi notes that in this test, Hashem is very expressive about the place Avram is leaving, but does not mention where he is to go. “Leave your land, your birthplace, your father’s house, and go. . .” Rashi explains that this was all part of the test and added to the reward he would receive when he passed. Each description of the place he was leaving increased his longing and attachment to it, making it more difficult. Rashi continues that this is similar to the akeidah when Hashem challenged Avraham: “Take your son, your only son, the son that you love.” Each phrase further increased the test because it highlighted and stirred up the love Avraham felt for his son.

This Rashi is difficult to understand. The Avos were spiritual giants, men whose feet may have been on the ground but who lived up in the heavens. Avraham lived in a world of spirituality, barely cognizant of his physical surroundings. And what makes this question even more pointed is that it is hard to imagine that Avram was particularly attached to either his birthland or his father’s house.

There is a well-known midrash that says that at a tender young age Avram recognized the folly of idol worship. He set out to teach the people of his town the error of their ways but they were less than accepting of his teachings. His father in particular was dead set against them, as he owned a store that sold idols. One day his father asked him to watch the idols, and when he came back, he found that all the idols had been smashed. He turned to Avram and asked, “What happened?”

Avram answered, “Someone brought in food for the idols. One of the smaller ones took it, the bigger idol got jealous, and they had a fight, punching, kicking, and smashing. This is what is left.”

Avram’s father was not impressed with the cleverness of his son. In fact, he was so unimpressed that he took him to Nimrod the king, who pronounced him an enemy of the state and attempted to execute him. That resulted in another of the tests of Avram: the fire of Ur Kasdim.

This being the case, it is hard to imagine that Avram felt any great attachment and connection to his homeland and his father’s house. So what does Rashi mean that each expression made it harder for him to leave?

Gedolim Stories

Despite this being a very long and difficult exile, we have we have succeeded in creating our own Torah culture. We have our own manner of dress and speech; we have our own goals and priorities. We have our own newspapers, music, and books. We now even enjoy a vast body of Torah literature. Whether stories of gedolim or fictional novels that convey Torah values, it is a great accomplishment and necessary to remaining an exalted nation.

However, there is a small fly in the ointment. It seems that the gedolim written about in the popular books today are presented as malachim – as if they never failed, never suffered any setbacks, and never went through nisayonos. Never questioned themselves. Never felt lost or confused.

The reality is quite different. Every gadol has suffered. Every great person goes through tests and tribulations. Each of the Avos and Imahos had periods of darkness and difficulties and on some level they all failed. The true distinction between people who become world class gedolim and those who don’t is how much they were willing to pay the price, how committed they are to serving Hashem, how many times they were willing to get knocked down and get back up again.

If you find a gadol story that doesn’t include dark times, you are reading pure fiction. In the world Hashem created, fighting spiritual fights is integral to growth, and fighting means that sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. It seems that in an attempt to portray gedolim as great, we have made them non-human – angels just barely wearing human form.

Rabbi Ben Tzion Shafier

The Highchair

Wednesday, October 24th, 2012

Yael was tired of sticking the highchair together with glue or Sellotape. It had lasted through five children, a miracle in itself, but now it seemed to have given up all hope – and decided to self-destruct.

Every time she tried to clean it, more parts seemed to come loose. Yael was scared that it wasn’t safe enough to put her little Shloimy in it any longer.

But money was very tight and it was nearing Yom Tov. Shloimy only used the highchair on Shabbos; the rest of the time he sat in his stroller or on a booster chair at the family table.

But on Shabbos, especially if extra guests were present, it was best for him to be in a high chair in order for him to have the freedom to eat as he wished without Yael having to worry about him getting the food on everyone else. And of course it freed up more space at the table. But could she justify spending the money on a chair for one day a week?

Yael went to a store to see just how much a chair would cost. There were an amazing variety of high chairs from which to choose. Who’d have thought the manufacturers could think of so many different possibilities. It had been a long time since Yael had looked for a new one; thus the choice was baffling. Prices varied from the simplest to the 5-star models, with more bells and whistles than she’d have ever dreamt possible. But even the simplest one wasn’t very cheap.

She went home and decided that they’d have to manage a bit longer.

Another few weeks went by with Shloimy at the table during the week and in his highchair, under the watchful eye of his mother, on Shabbos. Yael tried to ensure that his excited movements didn’t unhinge any part of the chair. But eventually her managing the situation turned into surviving it – and the chair just became useless.

Yael went back to the store, hoping that there would be a special offer on highchairs. But the prices remained unchanged.

But then she remembered something she’d been taught in school. She had learned that Hashem returns to you the money you spend on purchases for Shabbos. We’re not always aware of when and how He does this, but if you designate (verbally, if possible) that what you are buying is l’kavod Shabbos kodesh, then what you buy for Shabbos is not an extra burden on the household finances. This is because, it was taught, that if it wouldn’t have been spent for Shabbos items, that money wouldn’t have been in your wallet.

With this in mind Yael chose an economical but sturdy highchair, and as she paid for it she said out loud, “This high chair is l’kavod Shabbos kodesh, because Shabbos was the only day when Shloimy used it. Buying in a Jerusalem store, her loud declaration barely raised an eyebrow, although she received a few smiles from those who heard her.

She went home satisfied that she had done the right thing, confident that her family’s already very tight budget wouldn’t suffer because of her purchase.

She arrived home, paid the babysitter, prepared supper, and bathed her six young children. After supper the older ones waited in their pajamas for their abba to come home from kollel so they could kiss him goodnight.

As he walked through the door, he had a big smile on his face. “Yael,” he said, “You can go and buy the highchair now.”

She turned around from washing the dishes. “Why?” she asked.

“You’ll never believe this but as I got off the bus I saw something on the sidewalk. I thought it must have been something that I had dropped, so I picked it up. It was a 200-shekel note. I was the only one who got off the bus and there was no one else around to ask if it was their money. So according to halacha, it’s ours. That should cover the cost of a highchair, no?”

Yael could barely see through the tears that blurred her eyes.

“Yes. Baruch Hashem, that exactly covers the cost of the highchair and the delivery cost. And it should be here in a few minutes.”

Ann Goldberg

People Eat for Free and They Work for Free

Thursday, October 18th, 2012

Rebbe Nachman of Breslov once revealed what he called a great secret – people eat for free and they work for free. He explained this with the following parable.

There was a wealthy man who was renowned for his hospitality. He would happily and generously provide all guests that came his way with the finest food, drink and lodgings, leaving them content and satisfied.

Not far from his home, lived another very wealthy person; a great miser who wouldn’t even give a slice of bread to the poor.

Once, a pauper who hadn’t eaten for a few days, heard about the wealthy donor with the compassionate heart, so he dragged his feet to his door to ask for a meal. But, as the saying goes, “poverty chases after the poor,” and instead of arriving at the door of the compassionate donor, the pauper erred and accidentally came to the home of the stingy miser. The poor man bowed before the landlord, lavishly praised him, and pleaded for a meal. The astonished miser realized that the pauper had made a mistake, and decided to take advantage of the situation.

“Of course, I’ll feed you!” he said, “But first I have some errands for you to do.” Following the man’s instructions, the pauper chopped wood, drew water, and did other difficult chores until he was utterly exhausted.

Finally, the miser said, “Okay, now it’s time for you to have your meal.” Pointing to the home of his compassionate neighbor, he said, “Just go there and someone will serve you.” The pauper didn’t realize that he’d been fooled. He thought that both houses belonged to the same owner and that it was the accepted, general custom to work in the first house before being served in the other.

As soon as he entered the second home, butlers greeted him, washed him, and brought him to a lavish table were many different foods and delicacies were served. They treated him like a nobleman.

As he was eating his meal, he moaned, “It’s true I had to work so hard first…but it was worth it!”

The curious master of the house asked him, “My good friend, you said you worked hard for this meal. For whom did you work? It wasn’t for me!”

The pauper told him that he’d worked at the neighboring mansion, and the kind philanthropist immediately understood what had happened. “My friend, I’m sorry to tell you, but you worked for free and you’re eating for free. Where you worked, you didn’t eat. And where you eat, you didn’t work!”

Rebbe Nachman said that the same thing occurs in regards to our livelihood. We work and we think that it is our work that is earning us our livelihood, but actually, our income comes from another source; it is a gift from Hashem. “Where we work we do not eat, and where we eat, we do not work.” This is a great secret of life. While it appears that our work provides our livelihood, it is really provided by Hashem.

Of course, while Hashem is our Provider, we are still obligated to do hishtadlus and to work for our livelihood. And while the hishtadlus doesn’t essentially support us, it does serve several other important purposes, as the holy sefarim explain.

The Mesilas Yesharim (21) writes: “…Man should theoretically be able to sit idly, and the livelihood that Hashem ordained for him should come to him effortlessly. However the Torah states, ‘By the sweat of your brow, you shall eat bread.’ This ‘curse’ [that mankind received after Adam ate from the Tree of Knowledge] requires everyone to exert some form of effort, or hishtadlus for their livelihood. It has been decreed by the exalted King, and is a tax that all mankind must pay, which can never be evaded…”

The Chovas Halevovos (Sha’ar haBitochon 3) teaches us two other reasons why we must work: (1) To test our integrity, as the workplace constantly requires us to choose honesty or its opposite. (2) To make life more difficult. History has proven that in the generations where life was too “easy” and there was an abundance of easy comfort and pleasure, people began to forget Hashem. This is what happened to the generation of the flood (at the time of Noach) and other times as well. Therefore one must work for his livelihood, so life won’t be too easy, and we will remember our Creator.

Rabbi Baruch Twersky

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/torah/in-hashems-hands/2012/10/18/

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