Thinking Globally – Mrs. Michal Baruch
ויחל נח איש האדמה ויטע כרם
“Noah, the man of the earth, debased himself and planted a vineyard (Bereshit 9:20)
Rabbi Dovid Goldwasser, in his book Something to Say on parashat hashavuaquotes Rashi in translating the word ויחל as debased, from the word חול. Using this word implies that Noach lowered himself by planting a vineyard. On this point, Rav Simcha Wasserman ztz’l asks why it would be wrong to plant a vineyard, when the Torah itself praises wine. Rav Simcha points out that Noach’s depressed state of mind upon seeing the destruction of the world when leaving the ark was understandable. But first seeking to plant grapes, in order to comfort himself with some wine, was not the correct response to the situation at hand. He chose to focus on his own emotional needs rather than on rebuilding the world. Instead he should have planted wheat to sustain the new world after such calamitous destruction.
This dvar Torah impressed me with its relevance to this time of year, precisely when this parasha is read. Many Jews, during the month of Elul and certainly during the Aseret Yamei Teshuva andYamim HaNoraim, are very busy with
mitzvoth. In true self-sacrifice and hard work, Jews spend their money, energy and time on expenses for the chagim, food, clothing, the arba minim, sukkah, seats in beit knesset. Also, tremendous amounts of tzedakah are given and there is a heightened sensitivity to our mitzvoth ben adam lechaveiro. We develop a greater awareness of how we speak to others and even take kabbalot upon ourselves regarding doing acts of chesed during this time. Many people host loads of guests and have houses bursting with visiting family members and this creates a lot of work. This gives us lots of merits and truly helps us grow. We are similar to Noach and his family as they negated their own needs to deal with the priorities of the time – to keep the creatures in theTeva alive and healthy to ensure a continuation of Hashem’s world.
Suddenly the chagim are over, and while we all feel the remnants of true spiritual and emotional growth and greater connection to Hashem, we now look towards the winter with our own personal goals and agendas. Many of us had to put off our professional, academic or physical/personal health goals during the past month and a half to focus on this et ratzon. It is natural and even essential that we approach the coming months with a little self-prioritizing. “Now I can focus on MY goals, MY responsibilities, and MY needs.” While no one would achieve great life accomplishments without this type of focus, we can still take an important aspect of these inspiring days into the rest of the new year, and avoid the mistake that Noach made.
That heightened awareness that we developed during the chagim in terms of our noticing those people who need company, a kind word, an invitation, some help or just some positive attention and love, can accompany us even as we buckle down to the day-to-day routines. Watching how we speak and react to others that we live and work with can certainly become part of who we are in this new stage of the year. And this will show Hashem that while we need to work on our own goals, we are truly focused on helping His nation and on rebuilding a better world.
How to Achieve Yirat Shamayim – Rabbi Yirmiyahu Cohen
The Shulchan Aruch (46) says that we must recite 100 Berachot daily. The source for this is a gemara in Menachot (43) that tells to דורש the pasuk as מאה 100 and not מה.
The gemara is teaching us that the recital of 100 blessings daily increases our יראת שמים.
Now, let’s think, we all recite 100 blessings daily, does it really increase our Fear of Heaven?
I’ll tell you a story….There was an elderly Jew who would come to learn every evening in the neighborhood kollel. Once the Rosh Kollel overhead him making the shehakol blessing over a cup of water. The Rosh Kollel was really impressed by the sincerity and quality of his blessing. The elderly Jew noticed that the Rosh Kollel was watching him and decided to tell him a story:
“I was in a concentration camp and the Nazis ימך שמם would tease us by watering the horses in front of us whilst we were really thirsty – really really thirsty – our mouths watered. Then once the Nazis went and left the dripping horses, we would run and sucked every last drop off the wet horses. That water was the sweetest I’ve ever tasted. At the time I made a promise that if I survive this war, I will bless the blessing of shehakol over water with the greatest intensity possible.”
The reason that our Yirat Shamayim is not increased when we make Berachot is because we mumble them as quick as possible. If we were to bless like that old man, our Fear of Heaven would really rise.
David Hamelech tells us in Tehillim (128)
“הנה כי כן יברך גבר ירא השם”
If a man blesses כי כן (which is Gematria 100) he merits to be a ירא השם.
Rav Yosef Dov of Brisk (otherwise known as the Bet Halevi) once asked a pupil that came to visit him what he was doing, מה מעשיך? The pupil responded, Baruch Hashem I have a thriving business which Hashem has blessed. A few minutes later the Bet Halevi asked him again, as to which the pupil responded in the same way. As the pupil was about to leave and the Bet Halevi asked him again, מה מעשיך? The pupil got a little impatient and said, “Rebbi you have asked me this 3 times. I told you already I have a thriving business.” As soon as he said those words, he realised that his Rebbi wanted to tell him something. He begged for forgiveness, “Rebbi please tell me what you mean…” The Bet Halevi explained, “I didn’t ask you what Hashem is doing for you, rather what are you doing for Hashem!?”
Parnassa is decided by Hashem, whilst our יראת שמים is not.
הכל בידי שמים חוץ מיראת שמים.
What are you doing to earn יראת שמים?
Getting Stronger and Stronger – Rabbi Baruch Shechter
I hope that everyone had a productive Summer. I’m looking forward to seeing all those who are coming back for Shana bet and hearing from those who aren’t.
It’s that time of year again when we have to reassess what we’re doing here on this planet and if we have lived up to the task that was set before us in 5777. Ellul is the end of the last year (the chance to end off on a good note) on the one hand, and month of preparation for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur on the other hand.
When I was asked to write chizuk for Rosh Chodesh Ellul I thought to myself that there is an endless amount to say about Ellul. Then I thought to myself that I really don’t have to say anything at all and that I can let others do the talking for me.
So what I suggest (strongly… even more than strongly) is that everyone take 5 minutes a day the first week of Ellul to learn inspirational material connected to Ellul. The second week of Ellul learn 7 mins. a day. The third week of Ellul learn 9 mins. a day. The last week learn 10 mins. a day. This will also ensure that the chizuk of Ellul doesn’t fade but only gets stronger.
Every other chag of the year, if you get it wrong you could always think to yourself, “Next year I’ll get it right.” With Ellul and Rosh Hashanah, the whole discussion is whether there will be a next year!! Lets do our best and with Hashem’s loving assistance we’ll get it right this time.
Wishing Everyone a Shana Tova,
No Pain, No Gain – Mrs. Mindel Kassorla
A couple of years ago, at exactly this time of year, I was in the hospital recovering from a recent surgery. I called for the nurse to tell her I was having some unexpected pains. Immediately, she asked if I wanted medication.
My response was: “No, I don’t need medicine, because it’s not so bad. What I really want is for you to tell the doctor, because the pain is concerning me… I don’t know why it’s happening. Actually, I specifically don’t want medicine because if it gets worse, I won’t realize, and it’s important for me to be aware of it, since it could be indicative of a real problem…”
I think sometimes we have a mistaken view of the inflictions we impose upon ourselves on Tisha b’Av. It looks like we are trying to artificially induce pain. But this experience taught me a new approach: All year long we are in pain over the loss of the Bais Hamikdash. We just don’t feel this pain, because we are allowed to take painkillers… Music…. Food… Fun…. And that is OK! We need that to survive. But in truth, all of our challenges and suffering are only due to the fact that we are in galus. It can be hard to make that connection when we “treat” the pain without analyzing the real source.
But on Tisha b’Av, we recognize that pain is an indication of a real problem. Instead of numbing ourselves to it, we remove all the distractions and allow ourselves to feel it. That’s the only way we can properly treat it. And hopefully, if we can really feel the pain and loss, we will once again feel the connection to Hashem as well.
In the Center or in the Circle? – Mrs. Sheva Rand
Tammuz is a hard month.
It’s the beginning of the end.
It’s when we start re-going through the motions of how we ended up in galus.
Sometimes, if you really think about it, you might wonder: How did we got ourselves into this mess? And and how we can get out of it?
Rav Dessler explains that when B’nei Yisrael deteriorate to a point where their only hope for continued spiritual survival is galus, then Hashem handpicks the nation which epitomizes the negative traits which lead to our decline.
This serves two purposes:
1. By living among people who display this characteristic in such an extreme way, it becomes abundantly clear to us where we have gone wrong.
2. If we are able to correct this negative trait in an environment where it is so pervasive, then we have truly perfected ourselves.
The galus that we are in now is called Galus Edom. Edom is another name for Eisav. Although Eisav had many negative traits, the medrash says that his essense was a rotzeach – a murderer. Rav Dessler explains that the root middah of his murder was ga’avah. He so desperately needed to be “the center” that he couldn’t even tolerate another’s existence! We know that Chazal tell us that the second Beis Hamikdash was destroyed due to Sinas Chinam. Although it is less extreme, Sinas Chinam comes from the same root as Eisav’s murder – ga’avah. “I don’t hate you because you are in my way or in competition with me or because of something bad you did to me. Intrinsically, it is just your existence that is a threat to me, because it takes me out of the center.”
The message here is clear. Hashem already gave us the formula to get out of galus. When we perfect the middos that got us here, then we will get out. If Eisav’s whole hashkafa is that “I am in the center and everything revolves around me,” then in contrast, our hashkafa is: “Hashem is in the center and we are all equidistant points in the circle around Him.” We just have to make the switch of stepping back into the circle and recognizing that Hashem is in the center.
Two Way Street – Rabbi Moshe Rosenstein
We know that one of the crowning achievements of Klal Yisroel in the Midbar was as they approached Har Sinai. Hashem offered us the Torah and we responded with what is always seen as a tremendous leap of faith – “naaseh vinishma!” Before we even knew what was in store for us, we placed our implicit trust in Hashem that He would know what was best for us and our well-being and future.
What many of us don’t realize is that Hashem actually beat us to it in this respect. It is fascinating to note that the very first mitzvah that all of Klal Yisroel was given together, as a nation, was the mitzvah of “HaChodesh hazeh lachem” – the mitzvah of Rosh Chodesh. What is so significant about this mitzvah? The Daas Zekeinim m’Baalei Tosafos comments (Shmos 12, 2) that with this mitzvah, Hashem placed His implicit trust in us! Beis Din is the one who decides when Rosh Chodesh is, and Hashem and the entire Heavenly Court are “dependent” on the decisions of man. In The mitzvah of Rosh Chodesh, Hashem empowered Klal Yisroel with the ability to be partners with Hashem in the ongoing running of the universe.
How beautiful it is that Hashem gave us the opportunity to return the favor and accept His Torah with blind faith as we accepted our roles as Hashem’s partners officially and eternally with the Bris Torah that we made with Hashem at Har Sinai. May we all merit to feel this partnership with Hashem, and maximize our kochos in working on it, as we accept the Torah this Shavuos with faith and love.
Counting Once Again…But Does it Really Count? – Rabbi Noam Fix, Dean
We are familiar with the routine: work hard cleaning and helping for Pesach, enjoy the chag to varying degrees and then try to remember to count sefiras haomer and see how long you can last. Maybe commit to getting yourself a small reward if you succeed to finish (besides for the obvious spiritual reward that you receive) or if you “break your record!” Sounds familiar…
At some point we begin to ask ourselves does this type of counting “really count?” What is the point or meaning of it anyway? Isn’t it a bit silly to go through the motions when the whole thing seems so devoid of meaning!? It is a question that arises in many areas of our avodas Hashem (or lack there of…). Obviously it is ideal, and one must try, to “tap-in” to the koach of the days and connect to the spiritual elements they possess. But what about when we can’t, or don’t care to…?
One of the main ideas that is accentuated throughout the Haggadah is that Hashem took us out of Egypt even though we were not deserving. One of the main messages of Pesach being: Hashem gives to us, bestows upon us, provides for us even though we are not worthy. His love is unconditional, irrespective of our spiritual standing. Hashem provides for us just because He loves us! That being said, we also find that a staggering 80% of Klal Yisrael did not make it out of Egypt! The reason being that they categorically rejected the idea of leaving. They could not fathom that Hashem would take them out, or they just didn’t care to leave. They did not even express a desire!
I am suggesting that our counting – our routine, devoid of meaning, external act of counting – represents a yearning deep inside which expresses to Hashem that we want a connection. And that is all that is necessary for Hashem to provide us with greatness. That is all that Hashem needs in order to create for us our personal Geulah – to leave our own personal Mitzrayim!
“I want spirituality in my life”, “I would like to have the time and energy to tap-in to these special days, but my life circumstances don’t allow me to! I am too busy with school, dating, marriage, children, familial, emotional, social challenges…I am simply not motivated!”
No matter, Hashem doesn’t need much…
Train yourselves to view any small act as an expression to Hashem of our interest in wanting to stay connected, and that is all that He needs. Taking a second to count the omer, a minute to read this d’var Torah, maybe going to a shiur here or there or having a chavrusa are all small acts that send a message…Leave the window open and that allows Hashem to work His miracles and to provide you with spiritual greatness, even if you are not deserving! Hashem is looking for ways to provide and give us, we just have to make sure the door isn’t closed.
Keep on counting and then “count on Him” that He will provide!