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Posts Tagged ‘Hashem’

Technology, Yom Kippur, Ahmadinejad

Thursday, October 4th, 2012

As we Jews know, there are no coincidences, no random happenings. As a matter of fact, in lashon hakodesh, the holy tongue, the very word “mikreh,” translated as “it happened,” actually means “kara mei Hashem” – “it happened from G-d.”

The concept of hashgachah pratis – guidance from above – is part of our Jewish faith. Everything is orchestrated, even if we are not aware of G-d’s Guiding Hand.

Every morning when we recite our berachos, we say, ““Blessed be the L-rd our G-d who arranges the footsteps of man.” Sadly, in our contemporary society we run so fast that the still small voice, the message from above –is no longer audible. We do not hear, we do not see. We keep “running” – even if we don’t know where.

Just ask someone, “Why are you running?” and he will look at you in disbelief. He believes he is living a “normal” life, and that answers it all. The insanity has become normal and, most tragically, we are unaware of anything being amiss.

The other day I asked our computer technician if he had seen the new iPhone, for which people stood on line the entire night and longer.

“Yes,” he answered.

“So what is so special about it?” I inquired.

“Well, it’s faster than the previous one” he told me.

I tried to digest it all. Faster than the previous one. Where are people running? They stand on line for hours and hours, and spend money that very often they can ill afford, for a few minutes of “faster.” It’s madness – but we have become so addicted that we do not recognize it.

Was it only yesterday that people said a new world was dawning, a world in which gadgets would liberate man to pursue more worthwhile and meaningful goals? There were so many promises: the microwave, the fax machine, and of course the computer, which would revolutionize the world. It would free us from labor, our businesses would become more efficient, and the entire world would become one small village. Nations would become friendly neighbors. Yes, the hopes were endless.

Has it happened? Oh yes, call anywhere and a computerized voice will answer, instructing you to push this or that button, but a human voice that could help and guide you is never there. Yes, nations have become neighbors – but neighbors still bent upon destroying one another. Yes, the computer has liberated us – we need only push a button, Google, and it is all there. But in the process we have forgotten how to read and research a subject.

By every law of logic we should have so much more time on our hands, but we are busier than ever. Why? Who is robbing us of our time? That very same computer! We sit glued to the screen, and there are those who visit disgusting sites. We get into ridiculous, seductive, foul conversations with strangers who become our new friends. In the not-too-distant past parents could feel confident in the knowledge their children were in their rooms, safe and secure, but now, with the click of a mouse, those children can find themselves in the most corrupt and degenerate places that will scar them for life.

And he computer has become the fastest, most convenient means to spread lashon hara. You need only send out an e-mail or post something on a blog and in seconds you can destroy lives.

That which Hitler did over years, the computer does instantaneously, and all kinds of crazies learn how to kill, make bombs, blow up buildings. Their targets can be schools, movie theaters, shopping malls – the more people involved, the better.

I need not tell you the tragic and destructive consequences of our computerized, technology-dominated society. Every segment of society is affected.

An entire generation has grown up without learning how to talk. Children no longer call their parents or grandparents – they text! And they are not the only ones – husbands and wives, friends, relatives and business associates have stopped talking. The reason for it is simple: No one wants to hear the voice of the other.

I recall my dear, revered father, HaRav HaGaon HaTzaddik Avraham HaLevi Jungreis, zt”l, advising people in Yiddish: “Kein mohl, nisht ofen telephone” – “For important conversations, never on the phone!” And he proceeded to explain: “It is important to have eye contact and a warm loving expression on the face. It makes all the difference, especially when words of criticism are imparted.”

‘Did You Add Salt to a Wound?’

Friday, September 28th, 2012

Just days ago on Yom Kipper, The Day of Judgment, Jews gathered as one in shuls, shteibels and temples and desperately and profusely promised Hashem that we would reform our ways and improve our behaviors and actions towards Him, our Father and Creator, as well as towards our fellow man, who, being made in His image, is deserving of our respect and compassion, and of being treated as an equal, no matter their social or financial status, age or gender.

Our prayers were saturated with sincerity, our pleas- passionate and pure. This time, we would amend our not so pleasant ways. Nothing motivates the determination to improve oneself than the fear of Divine Retribution. The knowledge that teshuvah – repentance and remorse and regret for less than stellar behaviors, attitudes and activities – can postpone, even cancel a stern, life-altering judgment is the best fuel to ignite an unwavering commitment to change.

And many of us are making a conscientious effort to keep our promise to be kinder, more ethical and more tolerant, both as Jews and human beings. But within weeks, ingrained bad habits will free themselves from the restraints we so self-righteously encased them in, and reclaim their turf in our flawed personalities.

So how do we prevent that regression? How do we fortify our resolve to self-tikkun in a way that will help ensure that on the final Day of Judgment in the Heavenly Court, our neshama will be headed “north” not “south?”

It is generally accepted that one of the questions people will be asked on That Day will revolve around business ethics. We will be asked if we were honest in our financial dealings with others.

Perhaps one question that we should expect to be asked of us is, “Did you rub salt into a wound?”

“Rubbing salt into a wound” is an expression that has come to mean adding tzaar – emotional hurt – to someone who already is in great pain and distress. It actually is based on a practice centuries ago when slaves, captured enemies or prisoners of war were lashed either as punishment or as a way of making them talk. Many were further tormented by having salt rubbed into their open, bleeding wounds, causing excruciating pain on top of the pain they were experiencing from the whipping.

(Baby-boomers no doubt remember all too clearly the intense pain that would have us howling and jumping out of our skin when iodine was dabbed onto a skinned knee or cut or scrape to prevent infection. The cure was worse than the sickness. Only much later did soothing, antibiotic ointments become available.)

Of all the “bad” behaviors we indulge in, whether through misguided “kindness” or deliberate maliciousness, enhancing the pain, grief or hopelessness of someone who is hurting mentally, emotionally or spiritually is especially harmful to the recipient – it is like rubbing salt in an open wound.

When I say,” kindness,” it is because there were times when salt was rubbed into an open wound to prevent infection and promote healing. Nonetheless, the resultant agony was just as horrific as when it was done out of pure cruelty.

So many people are what I call the “walking wounded.” Young and old, wealthy or poor, married or single; pillars of their community or barely visible in the crowd, no one is spared from torment, loss, loneliness, fear, self-doubt or the inevitable emotional battering and trauma that comes from being a breathing, sentient human being.

Mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, children, teachers, rebbeim, acquaintances, friends, bosses, colleagues, even strangers like a bus driver or store clerk can deliberately or inadvertently, via “good” intentions, salt a wound.

This is clearly evident in the story of Penina and Chana, who became the mother of Shmuel Hanavi. In Shmuel 1 chapter I, verse 7, we are told that a man, Ephraim, had two wives, Penina who had many children, and Chana, who was infertile. Penina would torment Chana about being childless, but the Midrash says she did so out of kindness, to spur Chana to daven with more kavanah, and garner Hashem’s sympathy – but all it did was make Chana feel worse, so she did not even want to eat.

A Time to Perfect Ourselves and Thereby the World

Thursday, September 27th, 2012

Note from Harry Maryles: R. Netanel is a young man (age 20) who learns in Yeshivas  Mir Yerushalayim. He studied at Hasmonian in London and describes his Hashkafos as moderate Charedi  influenced by Rav Shamshon Raphael Hirsch and Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik.

Netanel  runs a Torah Website  - Geshmak Torah - which he describes as “a user-friendly Dvar Torah service with compelling, “say-able” Divrei Torah. gTorahmakes them navigable, accessible, and pleasant to read; with content that will speak to everyone”.

I am pleased to post this Dvar Torah submitted by him for Erev Yom Kippur. His words follow.

As Moshe winds down in his final address to the people, he reiterates the responsibility they took on when they agreed the covenant at Sinai:

Today, Hashem your God commands you to perform these laws and statutes; to guard and keep them – with all your heart and soul. Regarding Hashem you have said today, that He will be a god to you; that you will walk in his ways, to keep his laws and statutes; and listen to His voice.

Hashem has said of you this day, for you to be a Chosen People for Him, as He has said to you; and you will keep His mitzvos. And He will place you supreme, above all the nations He made; for praise, honour and glory, that you would be a holy nation dedicated to Him, as was said (26:16-19).

The first part relates to our commitment to the relationship, and the second part to Hashem’s commitment. The transition though, is quite difficult:

Hashem has said of you this day, for you to be a Chosen People for Him, as He has said to you; and you will keep His mitzvos.

The opening is clearly Hashem speaking of us, but the ending, which discusses mitzva performance is clearly back to our commitment. How is adherence to Torah related to being called Am Segula? Whose commitment is this about? And what is the supremacy granted as a result?

Rabbeinu Bachye teaches that being called Am Segula – “chosen” – is not what it seems at face value. It is not a status we are born with; it is a title, an achievement that we have to work towards.

Similarly with circumcision. The very first mitzva a newborn is party to is a microcosm of the Jewish mission; perfecting what we have with what we are given, working towards the ultimate goal of perfection.

Rabbeinu Bachye says that the entire verse pertains to our commitment –– we just have to earn it.

So being chosen is in fact a bestowing of responsibility, but is in turn rewarded with being “supreme” over the other nations. What does this mean?

R. Shamshon Refael Hirsch writes how when the responsibilities are met, the world becomes a better place. The world is damaged, and being a better person repairs it.

Adam was commanded to “conquer” the world, when he was still all alone. His conquest was through listening to God; this is how all the animals knew to come to him to be named – they perceived godliness in him.

The same with Yakov – the Torah emphasises how he left Beersheba and went to Charan. The former seems redundant – it should only matter that he arrived somewhere – and the answer is that his departure does matter. When someone righteous leaves or goes somewhere, the environment and atmosphere of the place fundamentally change.

There is a story told of a young Chafetz Chaim, who saw the ills of the world, and decided to change the world. Seeing that the task was too monumentally large, he changed his mind, and set out to change his community. After seeing that that too was impossible, he downgraded his ambitions again, and decided that if he could not make them better, he’d at least himself.

And by making himself better, he really did change the world.

R. Hirsch teaches that by being better people, the world becomes a better place. There is famine, war, child slavery and kidnapping in the world, and while people attempt to deal with the symptoms, it is ultimately futile if humans aren’t more humane.

This is also what we mean when we make brachos, when we say Asher Kidshanu; and what we mean we say Ata VChartanu on Yomim Tovim – the very next words confirm that v’Kidashtanu b’Mitzvosecha – what distinguishes us is our mitzvos.

The Torah assures us that perfection of the world comes through perfection of self. On Rosh HaShana we daven for the world to become a better place. It’s in our hands to make it so.

Visit the Emes Ve-hmunah blog.

Parshas Ha’azinu: Never Give Up!

Thursday, September 27th, 2012

Yom Kippur was but a few days ago and we were all feeling the closest to Hashem that we feel all year. And now it’s time to build the sukkah.

But before we move on with the holiday cycle we need to see what we can do to retain at least some of those special feelings of Yom Kippur.

This week’s haftorah guides us on just such a path.

We don’t always read the haftorah portion which we read this week given that Parshas Ha’azinu is often Shabbos Shuva when we read the classic Shuva Yisrael ad Hashem Elokecha haftorah. But this year Ha’azinu is read on the Shabbos after Yom Kippur and the haftorah is one of Dovid HaMelech’s songs to Hashem from Shmuel Beis (22:1-41) known as Shiras Dovid. A very similar version of this shira appears in Tehillim perek 18. (Of course, the rabbinic enactment of haftorah is to read specifically from the Navi so reading from the Tehillim version is not an option. Tehillim is part of Kesuvim, Writings of Tanach, and not the Prophets.)

Shiras Dovid is essentially a praise and thanksgiving from Dovid to Hashem Yisbarach thanking Him for saving Dovid from all his enemies. Dovid expresses very poetic and detailed praises and rededicates himself to an even stronger connection and relationship with Hashem as a result of all Hashem has done for him.

Rabbi Moshe Eisemann in Music Made in Heaven-Thoughts on Dovid HaMelech and Tehillim, (pgs. 53- 54) points out that of all the 150 chapters of Tehillim, the only one that makes an appearance in Sefer Shmuel is the Shiras Dovid. Why, aren’t there many songs in Tehillim which were said in connection to various events in Dovid’s life that appear in Shmuel? If the prophet Shmuel wanted us to get a full picture of who Dovid was, why is this one the only perek of Dovid’s songs included? Furthermore, when exactly was this song written? It appears in the text in the final segment of Dovid’s life but it mentions Dovid being saved from Shaul which occurred very early in Dovid’s life. Why then is the song only mentioned now?

Rabbi Eisemann mentions the Abarbanel’s approach to the shira. – this song was sung by Dovid on many different occasions. One might call it Dovid’s own personal “theme song” and whenever he was saved from a perilous situation, he would sing this same song to Hashem. This is why the first pasuk reads, “Dovid spoke to Hashem the words of this song on the day Hashem delivered him from the hands of all his enemies and from the hand of Shaul.” Dovid always spoke these same words to Hashem whenever he was saved, going back all the way to his first dangerous encounter with an enemy, Shaul.

Given that this was Dovid’s theme song, we suggest that’s why the song is mentioned at the end of Sefer Shmuel, at the conclusion of a book designed to tell us about Dovid’s life. In a sense, mentioning the shira here acts in part as a eulogy, a hesped, a great telling of who Dovid was and how he lived his life.

Sefer Shmuel records many of Dovid’s successes but also records his mistakes and transgressions. (To be sure, Dovid’s transgressions are not like yours or mine. The sins of individuals mentioned in the Torah must never be understood at face value. Rav Shlomo Wolbe’s Alei Shur, Volume 1, page 227 explains that sins of the earlier biblical generations were all based on mistaken intellectual calculations, not animalistic desires or simple “foul-ups.” The same point is brought in Rav Avraham Korman’s Mavo LeTorah SheBichsav VeSheBaal Peh, pgs. 168–169, in the names of the Alters from Kelm and Slabodka. They go so far as to apply this rule to wicked people mentioned in the Torah, as well. See also Rav Dessler’s Michtav Me’Eliyahu, vol. 1, p. 161–166.)

Rabbi Eisemann writes “Sefer Shmuel teaches us that even very great men can sin, without impugning their greatness or cutting them off from their source of inspiration. Perhaps more importantly, that even a sinning man can be great, if he is able to summon the energy which true teshuvah demands.”

‘I Inspire Myself’

Tuesday, September 25th, 2012

We first met Shlomie (name and some details have been changed) over 20 years ago. He davens in our shul, and he and my husband share a love of photography. Over time, we got to know each other well.

Every year, Shlomie would come to our house for Purim seudah. He would wear a costume and bring his famous chocolate Oznei Haman (Hamantashen). Together with the rest of us, he would don a funny clown’s hat and we would pose for our annual family Purim photograph. He considers himself an uncle to our children, and they have adopted him as well.

Shlomie had a history of health issues. There was a point in time when he was relatively young and the doctors did not have too much hope for him to survive. As he lay in his hospital bed, he overheard the doctors discussing his helpless case. With Hashem’s blessing, he proved them wrong.

Shlomie was always full of emunah. He always wore a smile and was friendly to everyone. He loved learning Torah and had recently taken on a new chavrutah, a young yeshiva student learning in our neighborhood.

A few months ago, Shlomie was tested again. It was late Friday night when he tripped and found himself on the floor of his living room, unable to get up. As no one could hear him, he spent the night on the cold floor. He unsuccessfully tried to get up on Shabbat morning. He lay there all of Shabbat, Sunday and Monday. There was a bottle of water on the floor nearby, and he was able to reach it and drink some of it. He had no food to eat, and he could not reach his much-needed medicines.

On Tuesday, a neighbor began to wonder if Shlomie was okay. Having not seen him for a few days, she called for help. An emergency crew showed up at the apartment building, and broke open the windows. They found a very disoriented, but very alive, Shlomie lying helplessly on the floor.

The doctors could not believe he had survived this nightmare – but once again he had. We went to visit him in the hospital, and he amazed us with his optimistic attitude. He did not feel sorry for himself; rather, he told me how thankful he was that Hashem was still watching over him. He told me how he was waiting to feel stronger so he could begin several projects he had long been planning to undertake. Each one involved completing a cycle of Torah learning. Instead of looking at what he just experienced as a setback, he saw it as an opportunity for advancement.

I told him that he inspired me with his strong faith and positive outlook. He smiled, saying, “Debbie, I inspire myself.”

May Hashem continue to watch over him and give him the good health and strength he needs to fulfill his dreams of continued Torah learning. May he continue to inspire others as he inspires himself.

Our Holy Visitors

Tuesday, September 25th, 2012

Sukkos comes to us as a beautifully wrapped gift from Hashem, right when we can use some pampering. Having just completed an exhaustive round of appeals to our Father in heaven to forgive our iniquities and grant us yet another chance to prove ourselves worthy of His beneficence and mercy, we emerge as newborns – clean and pure and free of the stain of sin.

An infant upon birth is immediately swaddled in blankets to protect it from the sudden change in temperature of its new confines. At the conclusion of Yom Kippur we are forgiven our transgressions and likened to a newborn; hence Hashem protects us with the sukkah, shielding our newly acquired holiness from becoming sullied by the vulgarities that surround us.

How apropos to celebrate a new beginning by inviting our elite leaders, our role models from time immemorial, to join us in the Sukkah. Enter the Ushpizin (Aramaic for guests) – the seven holy shepherds who blazed the trails for us to walk in, whose merits we invoke for our benefit at every turn in life.

The luminaries that comprise the Ushpizin are Avraham, Yitzchak, Yaakov, Moshe, Aharon, Yosef and Dovid, each representing one of Hashem’s divine attributes and each possessing a spiritual essence uniquely his own, along with the combined middos – the character traits – of them all.

Avraham Avinu represents the divine attribute of chesed (kindness) and is the epitome of the perfect host. He has served as our model for the mitzvah of hachnassas orchim ever since he invited the angels to “sit under the tree.”

According to a fascinating midrash, it is as a result of this gesture that Avraham’s children were rewarded with the mitzvah of sukkah. Shedding light on the correlation, the Zohar teaches that Avraham Avinu’s intent when inviting the malachim to rest beneath the tree was to teach his guests (the angels disguised as mortals) that one is to place Hashem before him always. The seven days during which we are commanded to sit in the sukkah correspond to the human lifespan of seventy years – during which time our every act and deed, physical or spiritual in nature, is to be done l’shem shamayim, for the sake of heaven. (Alshich HaKadosh)

Yitzchak Avinu represents the divine attribute of gevurah (strength). Who can possibly begin to fathom the remarkable strength of a young man who had allowed himself to be bound by his father, in readiness to be offered as sacrificial lamb to God per divine instruction? Their complete submission to the will of Hashem attests to both father’s and son’s unerring faith in their Creator. Their actions have spoken for all eternity and have achieved atonement for our weaknesses and failings time and time again.

Yaakov Avinu is aptly accredited with the divine attribute of tiferes (beauty). By integrating the qualities of his father (gevurah) and his grandfather (chesed), Yaakov managed to achieve the perfect blend of character traits to qualify him as progenitor of the twelve tribes of Israel.

Following Yaakov’s defeat of Eisav’s ministering angel, Hashem named him Yisrael – which contains the words yashar (straight, upright) and Kel (one of God’s names), thus validating Yaakov’s uprightness in his service of Hashem.

Moshe Rabbeinu, whose legacy lives on in teachers of Torah throughout the generations, personifies the divine attribute of netzach (eternity). The mere mention of Moshe Rabbeinu invokes the trait of humility. Yet if he was truly “more humble than any man on earth,” how is it that he did not have an issue with being summoned to ascend to the top of Mount Sinai to accept the Torah as an intermediary between God and the Jewish nation? Shouldn’t he have protested “Who am I to go…?” as he did when Hashem told him to approach Pharaoh?

Moshe knew Hashem had chosen the smallest mount for Mattan Torah and rationalized that it was fitting for him, as the smallest Jew, to be mekabel the Torah on the smallest mount. (Kedushas Levi)

Aharon HaKohen, bestowed with the majesty of the kehunah by the Almighty Himself, represents the divine attribute of hod (glory). The role of kohen gadol was most suitable for Aharon, whose love for his fellow man was legendary. He was close to the people and genuinely took their troubles to heart. As one who took upon himself the tza’ar of Klal Yisrael and constantly prayed that their burdens be lightened, he was the perfect candidate to wear on his heart the choshen – the breastplate that depicted the twelve tribes of Israel via precious gemstones set upon the woven square. (Be’er Mayim Chaim)

Q & A: Selichot Restrictions (Part II)

Thursday, September 20th, 2012

Question: The Kitzur Shulchan Aruch states that an individual praying selichot without a minyan is not allowed to recite the Thirteen Midot or the Aramaic prayers. What is the rationale behind this halacha?

Moshe Jakobowitz
Brooklyn, NY

Answer: The Beit Yosef on the Tur (Orach Chayim 565) explains that the Shelosh Esreh Midot represent a communal prayer and thus a davar she’b’kedushah. A mishnah in Tractate Megillah (23b) enumerates the situations that incorporate a davar she’b’kedusha and require a minyan.

* * * * *

Now we turn to the matter of the prayers in Aramaic.

The halacha that the Aramaic selichot prayers may only be recited with a minyan is based on a discussion in Shabbos 12b. Rabba b. Bar Hana said, “When we would follow Rabbi Eleazar to inquire after [the health of] a sick person, sometimes he would say [in Hebrew], ‘Hamakom yifkodcha l’shalom – May the Omnipresent remember you with peace,’ whereas at other times he would say [the same prayer in Aramaic], ‘Rachmana yidkerinach lishlam.’ ” The Gemara asks: How could he pray in Aramaic? Didn’t Rabbi Yehuda say that one should never make a request in Aramaic? And didn’t Rabbi Yohanan say that when a person makes a request in Aramaic, the ministering angels do not come to his aid since they do not understand Aramaic?

The Gemara answers that a prayer for a sick person is different since the Divine Presence is with him. Rabbi Anan said in Rab’s name: How do we know that the Divine Presence supports a sick person? Because it is written (Psalms 41:4), “Hashem yis’adenu al eres devai – G-d supports him on the sickbed.” Rava quotes an alternate explanation of that pasuk in the name of Rabbin. He says “Hashem yis’adenu…” also implies that G-d provides sustenance to a sick person. Yis’adenu can mean both help and provision of food.

The Shiltei HaGibborim (ad loc.), quoting the Tur (Yoreh De’ah 335), states that when one is in the presence of a sick person, one should plead on his behalf in any language. However, if not in his presence, one should only make the request in Hebrew. The question is why? Isn’t the Divine Presence with a sick person even if one isn’t praying for him in his presence? Tosafot (Shabbos ad loc. s.v. “She’ein mal’achei hasharet”) ask another question (for which they do not provide an answer): If we posit that the ministering angels are privy to the innermost thoughts of man, how is it possible that they do not understand Aramaic?

Furthermore, as Rabbi Shmuel Eliezer Edels (the Maharsha) points out in the late edition (“mahadura batra”) of his Chiddushei Halachot on Tractate Shabbos (found at the back of the Vilna Shas), we cannot assume that every person whose life is endangered will be helped by G-d, as evidenced by the verse in Parshat Korach (Numbers 16:29), “Im ke’mot kol ha’adam yemutun eileh ufkudat kol ha’adam yippakeid aleihem… – [Said Moses:] If these die like other men, and the destiny of all men is visited upon them, then it is not G-d who has sent me.”

Korach and his followers were about to be punished for their rebelliousness against Moses. The manner of their death would serve as proof that their rebelliousness was not just directed against Moses, as Korach contended, but against G-d as well. They would not die after an illness, like other mortals whom the Divine Presence visits on their sickbed, but would be swallowed alive by the earth, without any recourse against the decree. This is because by rebelling against Moses they were, in fact, rebelling against G-d, on whose mission Moses had been sent. It is also from this verse that Resh Lakish derives the mitzvah of visiting the sick, as detailed in Tractate Nedarim (39b).

With this in mind, we might also wonder how we are to know when to beseech G-d on behalf of a sick person. When is an ailing person in grave danger, i.e., how do we define “choleh”? Since we do not know the extent of the danger and have to utilize every means at our disposal – including the help of ministering angels who understand only Hebrew – we resort to prayer in Hebrew when we are not in the presence of the sick person.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/ask-the-rabbi/q-a-selichot-restrictions-part-ii/2012/09/20/

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