Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Makom Shelibo Chafeitz - Restoring a Forgotten Fundamental of Torah Study

לכבוד זמן מתן תורתנו

The תורה הקדושה is our main connection to Hashem. It is available to everyone. However, to tap into it on a higher level, one needs to develop a personal connection with it, to gain ownership of it, so to speak. As Chazal tell us (commenting on Tehillim 1:2) regarding a pious man, first it is called תורת השם, Hashem's Torah, and later, after he contemplates in it day and night, it is called תורתו, his Torah, as if he made a kinyan (act of acquisition) and acquired it as his own.

The teaching of Chazal that we just mentioned is from the gemara in מסכת עבודה זרה דף יט עמוד א.

That same daf, shortly afterward, also contains a very important principle, that can help one connect to the Torah in a more personal way, that unfortunately is not so well known today it seems. Namely that a person should learn Torah in a place his heart desires, במקום שלבו חפץ. That means that if he desires to learn מסכת גיטין, he should learn that, מסכת בבא קמא, let him learn that, חומש, let him learn that, מדרש, let him learn that, הלכה let him learn that, אגדה, let him learn that, and so on.

This important principle was taught by none other than the great רבי.

In the modern era, the great Chofetz Chaim reaffirmed the validity and importance of it.

The Torah has so many aspects and so many spiritual flavors and delights, so to speak. Sometimes one's soul is in need of a certain type of spiritual nourishment found in a part of the Torah, that may not be so commonly studied by the masses, or is somewhat off the beaten path, so to speak. One should, in such a case, not ignore one's personal desire for that part of Torah, as it may indicate a need of his specific neshama (soul) and circumstances. Rather, one should turn their attention and effort to it.

Perhaps this principle (ללמוד במקום שלבו חפץ) is seemingly not spoken about so much in public today, as it can at times conflict with institutional frameworks. Also, many people are learning in formats such as Daf Yomi, in which flexibility is limited. Be that as it may, the principle is an important one, which needs to be remembered and practiced.

In the merit of us following this ancient teaching of Chazal, may we be zoche to have the Toras Hashem truly become our Torah.

A gutten Yom tov.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

The posuk that can explain Trump

There is a posuk that is helpful in understanding Mr. Trump.

Mishlei 18:23 - תחנונים ידבר רש ועשיר יענה עזות.

A wealthy person speaks strong words.

There are different levels of wealth as well. If someone worth ten million dollars speaks with a certain strength, someone worth one hundred times that amount might hold forth in a correspondingly stronger manner.

Unfortunately, not enough people, especially on the male side, learn sefer Mishlei seriously. A sefer called by kadmonim ספר החכמה is a quite fitting study for an עם חכם ונבון actually though, even for men.

(There is also a related idea brought in שמות יח:כא on the words אנשי חיל, where Rashi says עשירים שאין צריכין להחניף ולהכיר פנים.)

Let us connect to the חכמה עליונה of the תורה הקדושה to help us through these turbulent times, בעזרת השי"ת.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

The Missing Havdalah of Purim

Why is there no havdalah after Purim?

There is a vertel (short vort) that I have seen that goes like this -

Why is there no Havdalah after Purim? Because there should be no end to it, we should take it with us through the year.

I saw it in the name of a Rosh Yeshiva who is already in the next world, but I think it originally is from Polish Chasidus.

Sounds nice, but does it add up?

1) If there is no kiddush on Purim, how could there be havdalah? Usually the two go together.

2) We have kiddush and havdalah as part of yamim tovim that are mideoryasa, from the (chamisha chumshei) Torah, aka Biblical in origin (e.g. Shabbos, Pesach, Sukkos, Shavuos). Purim is from a later time period, and not in that category.

3) Is there havdalah after Chanukah? Is there havdalah after Tisha BeAv?

4) Rav Hutner, Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivas Rabbeinu Chaim Berlin, taught (with a Yiddish expression) that after Yamim tovim in general, our attitude should be that we do not say that a Yom tov has gone, passed us by, but rather that a Yom tov, with its spiritual gains, has come to us, has become part of us, brought us to a higher level, and we should take along spiritual gains acquired then. So the idea of taking the yom tov spirit along even after Yom tov ends is not just for Purim, but is for our holidays in general.

Purim havdalah that we could use more of

There is a different type of havdalah that we need more of. We need havdalah, discernment and distinguishing, among our own people, about what Purim is, and what it isn't. It is not (Chas veshalom) a Jewish version of St. Patrick's Day, Carnival, Halloween, or Independence day. It is not a wild free for all (G-d forbid). It is a day where we act in a holy manner, as opposed to throwing off all restraints.

We need havdalah between solid Torah teachings, and cute quips, or inspirational sayings, which may not have a firm basis, or withstand scrutiny.

May we merit to have the havdalah we need, not just around Purim, but year round.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Dati Leumi Debate Chassidic Ties

Just like among the Modern Orthodox in the United States, where some elements are trying to connect it to Chassidism, similarly, in the land of Israel, there are some who are trying to bring the Dati Leumi and Chassidus closer together. However, just as in the USA, there are others in the camp opposing and resisting such a major shift as well.

In Israel, this recently came into public view in a major way, the trigger being a debate about if it was appropriate for Dati Leumi people to join in celebrations of the Yud Tes Kislev holiday of Lubavitcher Chassidim. A popular Dati Leumi website ran two articles by הרב ברוך אפרתי  related to the subject, one opposing the celebration of Yud Tes Kislev, and the other citing Rav Tzvi Yehudah Kook, the great Dati Leumi Torah leader, as saying that the Vilna Gaon was their Rebbe, among other things.

Baruch Hashem there are people there that are standing up for their longstanding traditions. May we be zoche to a peaceful resolution of this matter soon.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Chasidic Yeshiva Bochurim Banned From Attending Their Rebbe's Tish

Rav Yirmiyahu Kaganoff shlita, a poseik in Eretz Yisroel, has recently written some interesting words about a not so well known Polish gadol who lived in Baltimore, R. Michoel Forshlager z"l, in two installments.

In the second part, the following is stated

"in Sochatchov they did not allow the bachurei yeshivah to attend the tishin of the rebbe, since this would take away from their single-minded goal of growing in learning."

Sochatchov, a leading, and influential Polish Chasidic dynasty, was known for placing great emphasis on limud haTorah.

This is in contrast to what I heard a while ago from Rabbi Moshe Weinberger, mashpia at Yeshiva University, and Rabbi of Cong. Aish Kodesh in NY, in one of his lectures. He said there, in a talk about the Chasidic Shabbos, that as opposed to what outsiders might think, by Chasidim there was no thought that attending a tish could be a problem of bittul Torah (you can hear it here, at app. 18:50). Obviously, that was not correct. At least not in Sochatchov. And I suspect that Sochatchov was not the only place with such a position.

Moral of the story - caveat emptor - buyer beware. Be a critical consumer. Not everything that is stated out there is accurate.

P.S. I read a while ago of a similar thing in another Chasidus in the past as well (Sanzer?).

Monday, November 9, 2015

The Proper Way of Waiting for Moshiach, and Alternative Ways to Avoid

I have a page here from the Yated Neeman newspaper in New York from the end of Cheshvan 5776, with a very important column about waiting for Moshiach. Since there is much confusion about this issue, I will share some of what the writer, Avrohom Birnbaum, writes, in a summarized adaptation.

Frequently, we hear or read messages that Moshiach is about to come, whether it is this year, at the end of shmitah, this month, any day, and so on. Sometimes these messages are even attributed to a gadol like Rav Chaim Kanievsky shlita, or a mekubal.

With regard to Rav Chaim, it is sad that his name is used as a source for various unfounded and misunderstood statements. One of the members of Rav Chaim's household told Reb Birnbaum that he could be certain that almost everything said in Rav Chaim's name has a chazakah that it is either not true, or taken out of context, by people with vested interests, or distorted by sensationalistic media.

As far as the frequent pronouncements that Moshiach is about to come, the writer says he is profoundly ambivalent about them. Why? Because a ma'amin does not need such announcements. He believes and waits for Moshiach anyway. But not only because of that. It is also because of a great concern that such announcements can actually hurt the belief in the coming of Moshiach among some people.

Reb Birnbaum brings a Chasidic story supporting his position. Around one hundred and seventy five years ago there was a year in which numerous tzadikim and mekubalim predicted that Moshiach would come. R. Eliezer of Dzhikov, a Polish Rebbe, publicly announced at the beginning of that year that Moshiach would not come that year. He explained that despite the predictions, Hashem might decide not to bring Moshiach then (as indeed happened). If so, there was a danger that people, especially simple Jews, might lose their faith in Moshiach. And he could not allow that to happen. On the other hand, if Moshiach would come, what would be the worst thing that could happen? People would say that he was a shakran and not a real Rebbe. It is said that R. Chaim of Sanz, when he heard what R. Eliezer said, praised it, and said 'he saved many Yidden from apikorsus'.

(Adapter's note) There is a similar story about Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky zt"l. I don't recall all the details at present, but I think it was in the context of trying to get someone to close his business on Shabbos. Some people wanted to promise the guy something irresponsible if he did so, such as that Moshiach would come if he would do so and keep Shabbos (two Shabbosos?). Rav Yaakov objected and said that it was not proper to do so, and that the man could lose his faith if and when he would see that what was promised did not happen. The bottom line is that we cannot, it is improper, to build Yiddishkeit with falsehood, and irresponsible, and unfounded claims and predictions.

Another version of this perversion is in form of a revelation allegedly via an autistic child or similar. Such scams should also be ignored.

Such circulating predictions, rather than indicating a strong belief in the coming of Moshiach may actually indicate the opposite. A true maamin has such a strong belief that he has no need of such dubious pronouncements to supposedly be mechazeik him.

May we be zoche to the coming of the true Moshiach bikarov.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Extreme Hotspots - Kivrei Tzadikim In Contemporary Neo-Chasidus

Rabbi Moshe Weinberger, Yeshiva University mashpia, and Rabbi of Cong. Aish Kodesh in Woodmere, recently traveled with a group of his followers to burial sites of Chasidic leaders in Europe, before continuing on to the land of Israel.

In one of his talks during the trip, at the grave of the founder of the Chasidic movement, which was recently featured prominently (at the landing page, first page you see when visiting the site) at, he stated (11:40-) (reading from a writeup related to a R. Yosef Dayan of Eretz Yisrael) that

"One hour of Torah and tefillah at the burial site of a tzadik, he used to say, is equivalent to hundreds of such hours in a Beis HaMedrash."

Rabbi Weinberger is viewed as the leader of the neo-Chasidus movement, so his words are significant.

A few things strike me as particularly significant about the statement - 1) the statement is not qualified, e.g. if a person is at the highest level, prepared for the experience thoroughly, but is given as a blanket statement, 2) in addition to the extremely high multiplier effect claimed, the mere fact of quantifying the matter, 3) the mention of learning at the site, in addition to davening.

Is this in line with mainstream Chasidic theology nowadays?

It comes across as quite extreme, even for Chasidim. Do other Chasidim nowadays make such statements? It is one thing to say that praying at such places is powerful, but to quantify such claims, saying they are hundreds of times more powerful than doing the same things elsewhere? Not doubly as powerful, thrice as powerful, or four times as powerful. Hundreds of times as powerful. That is quite a claim.

I suspect that in this, as well as with some other things, neo-Chasidus is outdoing much, if not all, of old Chasidus.

It is not Rav Soloveitchik's Modern Orthodoxy for sure.