Prayer as a Weapon

21 02 2012
Based on a shiur by Rabbi Hershel Reichman 

When Yaakov Avinu blessed his children, he said, “I took Shechem b’charbi u’vekashti,” with my sword and arrow. Targum Unkelos translates b’charbi u’vekashti as “b’tzeluti uvuati, meaning with my prayers and requests. Prayer is a powerful weapon

In Tehilim, King David, one of the greatest formulators of Jewish prayer, uses the term zemirot, from the root word zemer, a song. Zemer can also mean to cut with a sword or knife or to prune. A zemer is a song with a cutting edge. It can break through all obstructions that prevent us from achieving our goals. Whether it’s praying for redemption, health, or whatever other things we are lacking, there are tremendous barriers. Prayer is like a sword that can pierce right through. Nothing can withstand the power of prayer. Not only does it bring blessing, but it can cause miracles to happen. Nothing can stop prayer, which works above natural law.

Chazal say, “Afilu cherev chada munachat al tzavoro al tityaesh min harachamim.” Even if a sharp sword rests upon your neck, do not despair of Hashem‘s mercy. People at the brink of death have risen from their sickbed through the power of prayer. Prayer is a sword, a powerful weapon that Hashem gave to us.

In the Shemonei Esrei, we say three times daily, “Ki ata shomea tefilat amcha.” You listen to the prayers of your people. There’s no prayer that goes unanswered. Even if a person thinks he wasn’t helped, one day he will be. Moshe prayed 515 prayers to enter Eretz Yisrael. Although he himself did not merit to do so, his prayers weren’t in vain. Every Jew who entered the land after him, did so on the strength of his prayers.

How do I balance giving my son rebuke and elevating his self-esteem?

20 02 2012

Excerpted from Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller’s Question and Answer series on


My eight year old son often hurts his friends with words. I know he’s clearly acting out when he feels bad about himself. How do I balance giving rebuke and elevating his self-esteem?




There are a few concrete things you can do.


Talk to him before or after he’s in the act, but not while he is acting out. Catch him when he’s available emotionally and tell him a thematic story. It could be about the animals in the barnyard who put down the weak horse or the new Russian boy in cheder who was excluded. You should convey the point that the good guy is the one who saves the persecuted ones.


Once he identifies with the good guy, then you can say, “I wish sometimes that I was like that.” Many times when I read about heroes in the Holocaust who saved hundreds of people I wish I could be like them, but of course we can only do what we can. At least we should never hurt anyone or call them stupid or clumsy. Then list all the words he says without him knowing that you are talking about him. It may not work right away, but it’s sure to enter his heart, even if he doesn’t give you any signs.


If you catch him stumbling again, you could tell him, “These are things we don’t say. They hurt people’s feelings.” He already knows from your stories that that’s what the bad guys do.   He may say, “Yes, but he really is stupid.” You could then respond, “That may be true, but how do your words make him feel? You’re supposed to try to make him feel good. This upsets him.”


If you’ve done the preliminary work, he’ll get the message.

Netivot Olam I: Combating The Yetzer Hara # 8

17 02 2012
Based on a shiur by Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller  

As our identity becomes entwined with the evil inclination, the yetzer hara becomes progressively stronger. A person must gird himself to fight against it. Rav Yitzchak said, “The yetzer hara renews itself every day.” It makes sin seem new, when in fact there’s nothing new about it. The good seems old, because good is part of the human essence, while evil is superimposed upon it. Good resonates in the deepest part of our self, which is ageless and eternal, while evil appears new because it doesn’t exist inside ourselves. Evil by definition doesn’t have existence. It conceals it and creates an illusion of darkness.

One of the best ways to fight the yetzer hara is by using its own method, by presenting the good inclination in new ways. The two most successful movements during the age of the Enlightenment were Chassidut and Mussar. Both took existent reality and dressed it up in new ways of discovering Hashem in the world and in ourselves.

The Chatam Sofer fought the Enlightenment with his motto, “Chadash assur min haTorah.” He forbade innovative changes to Jewish practice. He made battle against those who had veered off the path innovative. In this way, he was able to rally his troops around him. Bais Yaakov too in its early days sold newness. It propagated the feeling of sisterhood and of discovering oneself in a Torah framework. This is our challenge today. We must find new and novel ways in our own personal battles against the yetzer hara.

The yetzer hara is also called the satan and the malach hamavet (angel of death). We may mistakenly think that the yetzer hara is physical because it uses physicality as a tool. In reality the yetzer hara is spiritual. The tool of the yetzer hara is chisaron, lack. There are always lacks within ourselves and society. The satan points them out and gives us a new way to contend with it. We must be careful.

The feeling of chisaron is a real feeling, but its essence isn’t real. The desire to fill the empty spaces is normal. The question is with what will we fill it. When we turn towards evil for a solution to our imperfections we create even deeper deficiencies.

The function of the malach hamavet is to take a person out of his body because his soul has no more purpose on this world. Our missions were fragmentized after the sin of the eitz hadaat (tree of knowledge). We do things that put us in a place where there’s no more reason to continue the battle. In this frame, our task is completed. Death is tumah, a blockage. It’s not being able to interact with the world any longer. The malach hamavet, which creates the heaviest concealment and ends bechira (free choice) most completely, is a spiritual force generated by the yetzer hara’s reality.

Within us, there’s an internal and external aspect. The internal is the soul and the external is the desires of the body, which feel very basic and real to us. Often our boundaries are so shaky and our awareness of what’s going on in our choice processes is so subtle that we have two voices that both sound like the real self. The part that wants dignity and tzniut (modesty) resonates as true, but the part that wants newness and attention feels true too because the self that desires is also there, although it’s not the most essential aspect of who we are. It’s a tough call and most of us don’t succeed all of the time.

Bringing upon oneself thoughts of desire is more severe than actually sinning. As long as the thought process isn’t involved, the essential self isn’t involved. Our contact with our soul comes through thought. A person who makes the wrong choice may say, “I have to be me.” Which side of who you are is really you? How deep are you willing to go to find yourself?

We’ve lost our sense of self. A person who brings evil of the mind upon himself won’t dwell with Hashem because he’s driven Hashem out of his consciousness. You can’t be identified with good and evil at the same time.

The yetzer hara can drive a person out of both worlds. It cuts a person’s reality off from this world and cuts him off from Hashem, who is the eternal and ultimate source of good.

Parshat Mishpatim: Brick Burden and Buoyancy

16 02 2012

Based on a shiur by Mrs. Shira Smiles

When Moshe, Aharon, his sons, and the seventy elders ascended Har Sinai, they saw a vision of Hashem. “Under His feet was the livnat hasapir,” the sapphire brickwork. Rashi says that this brickwork served to remind Hashem of the suffering of the Jewish people in Egypt.

Rav Belsky asks why the bricks in this vision were made of sapphire and not of straw and mud like the bricks that caused the torment in Egypt? He explains, we tend to focus mainly on the redemption and the giving of the Torah, which were major events in Jewish history. However, the unpleasant Egyptian servitude also impacted the Jews in a deep way. Only a people who had experienced so much suffering could become Hashem‘s nation. In Hashem‘s eyes, every mud brick was a sapphire.

The capacity to transform difficulty into lessons of tremendous value is one of the greatest abilities a person can develop in life. Every painful experience has meaning and purpose. The greatness of a person is revealed when he takes those bricks of clay and transforms them into sapphire gems. Our challenge is turning our burdens into opportunities. How do we accomplish this?

The first way is to remember that eventually, in retrospect, we will understand everything. When the sea split and the Jews saw the great hand of Hashem upon the Egyptians, they realized the meaning behind their suffering. The Chatam Sofer expounds this idea. Moshe asked Hashem, “Show me your ways.” Hashem responded, “You shall see my back, but not my face.” When we view things in historical perspective, we can understand the whole picture. On the sixth day of creation, the Torah says that Hashem looked at all that He had made and, “V’hinei tov moed“(And behold it was very good.) What was very good? Suffering. In the context of the six days of creation, you can see things in their entirety and then you can understand how affliction is really a blessing.

The second way is turning our suffering into trust. Trust is a result of emotional closeness, not intellectual understanding. Emotional intimacy allows one to live with an intellectual problem because one’s trust is so great. When you feel Hashem is your loving father, you have a deeper sense of trust when seemingly bad things happen. Without knowing the why of our pain we can still find meaning in it and be consoled.

The third way is turning fate into destiny. Sometimes the only way to deal with tragedy is to transform it into opportunity.

The Baalei Mussar explain that the elders were shown the livnat hasapir because Hashem wanted to tell them Itcha anochi b’tzara, (I am with you in your pain). Throughout the slavery in Egypt I was with you, and now I am with you in your joy as you receive the Torah. This is the attribute of nosei b’ol im chaverio, sharing in a friend’s burden. This applies to feeling the suffering of others, and rejoicing in their joy. The entire parsha is predicated on this. It begins with how a master must treat his servant and ends with the livnat hasapir. When we can feel for another person, we’ve turned our bricks into sapphire, we’ve achieved redemption.

Rav Chaim Friedlander says that feeling along with another person is accomplished through shrinking the ego. Nosei b’ol is not only in the realm of emotions but in the realmof actions. If you can’t help someone physically, you can still pray for them. The Sichot Mussar notes that just as Hashem had the livnat hasapir under his feet as a constant reminder, we too should create reminders for ourselves to think of others.

The livnat hasapir teaches us to turn our pain into opportunity, our suffering into moments of closeness to Hashem. We can create jewels in our life and feel the pain and joy of others. When we step out of our narrow constraints, we can make the suffering lighter. When we turn someone else’s bricks into sapphire, we’ve turned our own too.


How can I increase my kavana in tefilah?

7 02 2012

Excerpted from Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller’s Question and Answer series on


How can I increase my kavana in tefilah? Can you provide some practical solutions?




Create a mental image that speaks to you and use it to guide you through tefillah. I’ll suggest one but you can use your own.

Close your eyes and picture yourself as a young child, way before you realized that your parents didn’t have much control over events. Imagine your father or mother telling you, “It’ll be ok.” Take that moment of absolute trust and transfer that feeling to Hashem. Ultimately, He cares for you more than anyone, and only He can give you what you need. Take this image along with you when you start davening.

It’s difficult to move from an outside action oriented world to an internal world. Try to concentrate on the meaning of the words. When you say Pisukei D’zimra, draw Hashem’s infinity into your heart. When you get to Shemone Esrei, think about Hashems omnipotence and recognize that only His life force and essence can give you what you need.

The Song of Devorah #13

6 02 2012
Based on a shiur by Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller 

The Gemara says that the deeds of Yael and Devora were greater than the women of the tent, the Imahot. Every woman wants a husband who will provide, so she can build with what he gives. Avraham had everything Sarah wanted on a spiritual level. Yitzchak was far more than Rivka ever dreamed of. Yaakov was an ish tam (a perfect person). He was so far removed from everything Lavan represented, that Rachel and Leah wanted nothing more than to take what he provided and build the Jewish people. Although the lives of the Imahot weren’t easy, they were only called upon to work within their natures.

Devora and Yael had to contend with far more. Barak demanded that Devora provide him with merit and leadership, something every woman wants from her husband. Yael desired to be a nurturer but ended up having to be a killer. They had to act against their natures as wives and mothers and they did so l’shem shamayim because they saw a picture that was bigger than their individual selves. Sometimes the role a woman thought she would have is not the role Hashem provides her, because he is giving her something greater, not necessarily more comfortable or easier, but more elevated.

All the songs in Tanach are holy. One of the most exalted among them is Shirat Devora. A melody can be sung with harmony. This aspect of song reflects the confluence of life events. All the pieces fit together, which in turn evokes song.

Devora sang, “When vengeance is afflicted upon Israel they dedicate themselves to Hashem.” Precisely when circumstances are at the worst, the Jewish people give themselves up to G-d. In times of great suffering, a person’s true nobility can shine forth. This is true for the Jewish people throughout history.

When Hashem gave the Torah, all nature stopped in its tracks. Matan Torah showed us that the outer and inner realities of all physical things have one master, Hashem. He had to stop nature in its tracks so we could see that it was a mode of Hashem‘s expression, not something with inherent power of its own. Hashem‘s miraculous interventions throughout history all have one beginning point, Matan Torah.

Devora affirms that without the merit of Torah they could not have succeeded in battle. Often, Torah scholars are viewed as lazy, taking the easy way out. On the surface it seems correct but it is not true. Hashem puts us in the world to fight evil. The source of wickedness is in the human heart. The only way to be victorious is to develop a people who have such inherent capacity to be a living example of goodness that they draw down Hashem‘s protection.

If military success is dependent on Hashem‘s help, what was the role of the soldiers? The merit of their mesirut nefesh (self-sacrifice) drew blessing from heaven. And the people learning Torah brought merit too. Whatever one’s purpose is in being moser nefesh for Klal Yisrael, even if one is not a soldier or Torah scholar, one must do it with all his strength.

Devora ends her shira with, “V’ohavei Hashem kzait hashemesh b’gevurato.” (Those who love Hashem are as powerful as the sun in its full strength.) This refers to the farmers in Israel who keep shemitta. Letting go of earning a living for two years requires tremendous faith.

It also refers to a person who is insulted and does not respond. There are people who are above insults. They think, “If this person is right, I’ll fix it. If not, it doesn’t matter. ” But most people are not at that level. When someone says something negative about us, it cuts to the core, it diminishes our Divine image. When a person accepts such complete humiliation with equanimity, he is saying, “Hashem, I’ll serve you with my heart, soul, and all my possessions. And if I’m imperfect like this person thinks I am, I’ll serve you even more from my place of imperfection with love and perfect faith.”


3 02 2012

Based on a shiur by Dayan Shlomo Cohen  

copyrights According to Jewish law one cannot buy a davar shelo ba l’olam (something that doesn’t exist or is intangible) because there is no gemirat daat (final comittment). If there’s no gemirat daat, one cannot make a kinyan (acquisition).

You can’t sell something that doesn’t exist yet because the buyer doesn’t know what he will get.

For example, if a deal is made on next year’s crops, the buyer can renege on it. However, once the supplier provides the crops, the transaction is valid because then there is gemirat daat and the kinyan has been finalized. If you buy a field together with the crops of the coming year, the sale is valid because you are acquiring the land that will produce next year’s crop.

Similarly, the poskim discuss a case of a cow and its unborn calf. The seller sold the cow along with the calf. By the time it was born, prices had changed and the seller realized he had sold it too cheaply. If there was a kinyan while the calf was in his mother, he can’t ask for more money. The price originally agreed upon is binding. However, if there wasn’t a kinyan, since it was a davar shelo ba l’olam, the seller can ask for a higher price.

Selling items that are still in a supplier’s warehouse is a problem in halacha because the seller doesn’t own it yet. There is no gemirat daat. Therefore, the deal is invalid and both sides can demand a different price later on. If the seller personally obligated himself to supply the items, he must do so when they comes into his possession.

Halacha dictates that custom can create gemirat daat. The buyer trusts the seller, even though he can’t supply the item right away. Since deals involving future commodities are made all the time, there is gemirat daat and the kinyan is binding.

According to halacha, if you buy a piece of land, the property belongs to you including its airspace above until the heavens. For example, if you bought a courtyard and someone on the third floor above your property wants to build, you may stop him. However, Jewish law teaches that where one person stands to gain and the other one doesn’t lose, “Kofin al middot sedom,” beit din can force him to allow the person to build. Where there is even a small loss, this principle does not apply and the person who wants to build has to pay for the building rights.

Although the Shulchan Aruch rules that copyrights and trademarks are intangible, the majority of poskim today maintain that you can own a copyright. In certain cases, a person who steals a copyright or trademark is considered a thief. Since trademarks and copyrights are commonly bought and sold, any deal involving these things is valid.

When you know what the assets are but you don’t know how much there are, the transaction is valid. If it turns out that there was much less than the buyer anticipated, he can make a claim that he was overcharged. If it turns out to be much more, the seller can claim he undercharged.

The halacha may seem that one who receives a mistaken gift from an inheritance can keep it, because you can only acquire what you know is there. However, with regards to an inheritance, you don’t need to make a kinyan. The moment the father dies, there’s an automatic transfer of ownership to the sons. Therefore, if a son gives someone a gift from an inheritance, not knowing its true valuable, it must be returned.

Parshat Beshalach by Rabbi Ginsburg

3 02 2012 teacher Rabbi Beinish Ginsburg presents the following dvar Torah on this weeks Parsha.

In this week’s parsha the Torah writes (13,18) that Am Yisroel left Mitzrayimchamushim.” What exactly does this word mean? Rashi quotes several pshatim, and one pshat is that they were armed, they were carrying weapons. Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l raises the following question. It seems to be a little strange that they were carrying weapons with them. Everything that has been happening to Am Yisroel has been b’derech neis, has been miraculous. Am Yisroel is in the midst of the ultimate experience of neis nigleh, miraculous events. So why should they bring weapons with them? Hashem was obviously aware that He was going to fight the battles for Am Yisroel. Hashem knew that Am Yisroel did not “need” their weapons, so why did they bring them? That is the question Rav Moshe raises.


Rav Moshe explains that this is a “chidush gadol” which carries an important message for Am Yisroel then, as well as for us nowadays. Hashem wanted to teach Am Yisroel that a neis, a miracle, is not limited only to when Am Yisroel does nothing and our enemies fall before us. Rather, Am Yisroel has to know that even when we put in the effort and we do our “hishtadlus,” still all of our accomplishments and all of our success come from Hashem. Hashem is the “Ish milchama;” Hashem fights our battles. Therefore, Hashem wanted us to take our weapons with us, so that when there would be a battle, we could make use of them, while still recognizing that our victory comes from Hashem. Even when we do fight and the victory does not appear to be overtly miraculous, we know Hashem is guiding our success[i].


We have discussed in the past the concept of neis nister, hidden miracles. Hashem sometimes governs Am Yisroel with a neis nigleh, an overt miracle where Hashem works outside the ordinary laws of nature. But most of the time Hashem governs us through neis nistar, hidden miracles, where Hashem works within the laws of nature. And one challenge we have is to recognize that the natural events we experience are really neis nistar governed by Hashem. One of the messages of neis nigleh is that Am Yisroel is supposed to learn from the neis nigleh that all of nature is really from Hashem as well. If Hashem can change nature, that means Hashem controls nature. And if Hashem controls nature, that means when events and natural phenomena run “naturally,” they are really being governed by Hashem- it is a neis nistar.[ii] For example, several times in history Hashem has caused the sun to stand still in the sky and not set normally. From these exceptional cases, we are supposed to appreciate that when the sun rises and sets normally, that is actually a direct neis nistar from Hashem.


With this yesod of neis nistar in mind, it seems to me that Rav Moshe here is developing a very deep idea. Am Yisroel is in the midst of a completely neis nigleh experience; we have just witnessed the makos, and we have just witnessed the ultimate makah- makas bechoros. We have the Clouds of Glory and the Pillar of Fire guiding us as we leave Mitzrayim. We will soon experience krias Yam Suf, the ultimate neis nigleh. And in the midst of that neis nigleh existence, Hashem begins teaching us the idea of neis nistar. As you leave Mitzrayim, take your weapons with you. That will teach that you have to do your hishtadlus, you’re going to ‘fight’. But, still you must learn and know all of the success is coming from Me. Am Yisroel recognized that their entire existence depends on Hashem. They saw that in a very clear way. So at that moment, at the beginning of the Yetziah, the leaving, from Mitzrayim, Hashem begins the education process of teaching us about neis nistar as well. I think this is a deep message which comes out of Rav Moshe’s explanation on this posuk.[iii]


We should all work on recognizing the Yad Hashem in the natural world. All of teva is really a neis nistar from Hashem.


Good Shabbos,

Beinish Ginsburg

[i] Rav Moshe then asks that according to this approach, why didn’t we bring food as well? Why didn’t we bring food in order to show our own hishtadlus, before Hashem does any sort of miracle, like sending us the man? Rav Moshe explains that it would have been impossible b’derech hatevah, in a natural way, to bring enough food for such a long trip. So, we had no choice but to rely on a miracle. We only took the leftovers of the matzos. We performed a mitzvah with the matzos, so we cherished the matzah, and therefore brought the extras with us. However, when it comes to a military battle we are able to do some sort of hishtadlus, so we were supposed to bring our weapons.

[ii] We have discussed previously that the gematria of hatevah (86) equals Elokim (Remember that in the gematria, replace the letter ‘kuf’ with the letter ‘hei’.)


[iii] This mehalech blends well with the famous Ramban in Pzarshas Bo. The Ramban develops the idea that when we experience neis nigleh, we are supposed to learn that all of teva is really a neis nistar from Hashem. Rav Moshe’s approach parallels the Ramban.

Parshat Beshalach: Closing the Circle

2 02 2012

Based on a shiur by Mrs. Shira Smiles  

In Parshat Beshalach, the Jewish people ask, “Hayesh Hashem birkbeinu im ayin?” (Is Hashem among us or not?) They had just experienced unbelievable miracles in Egypt and at the Red Sea. They witnessed miracles daily in the desert. How did they now doubt Hashem’s presence? Why did Amalek come immediately after this incident to attack the Jews? What was the significance of Moshe’s hand being held up high during the battle?

Amalek’s attack was a reflection of a certain coldness that had set in among the Jews. They didn’t feel a connection to Hashem. Surprisingly, it is possible to live a life filled with Torah and mitzvot devoid of consciousness. This is true in the realms of thoughtandofaction. We must stop and ask ourselves, “Are we serving Hashem with feeling? Do we sense Him accompanying us or are we walking alone?”

The Mishna says that during the battle with Amalek, when the Jewish people looked upwards and subjugated their hearts to Hashem, they were victorious. Reaching a level of closeness and oneness with Hashem means serving Him with the mind and the heart. Only then can we win the battle with our evil inclination.

The Netivot Shalom points out that the Jewish people encountered Amalek precisely before they reached Sinai. When we commit to begin growing, Amalek rears his head and says, “Who do you think you are? How can you handle this?” That’s the “Hayesh Hashem b’kirbeinu,” the doubtful enemy. We have to fight that inner voice.

The Rebbe of Vizhnitz taught, “V’haser satan milfnanei ume’achareinu.” When we are inspired to reach for greatness, the Satan begins to question, “You? Look what you just did, look what you are about to do!” We must not let that doubt overtake us.

Rav Wolbe explains that when the people asked, “Hayesh Hashem,” they weren’t questioning Hashem‘s existence. They questioned his method of interacting with them. Is it on a level of yesh, somewhat comprehending Hashem, or on a level of ayin, not understanding Him at all?

Rabbi Tatz notes that the hands are the limbs of action and the head is the limb of understanding. When the hands are held higher than the head, we affirm that practice comes before understanding. The Jews said, “Naaseh v’nishma,” we will do what is true and right regardless of our inclinations. In contrast, Amalek put his ego first. Moshe dramatically demonstrated with his hands held high above his head that what matters most is action.

Singing to Hashem means living a life dedicated to Him, putting the hands over the head. We must walk with Hashem, and dedicate our mindset to beautifying the mitzvot, feeling connected to Him, and elevating our spiritual, mental, and emotional state to serve Him.