Chovot Halevovot: The Connection of Torah

15 05 2012

Based on a shiur by Rabbi Yitzchak Cohen 

The Gemara says, “There are three keys that Hashem did not give over to agents.” They are, techiyat hameisim (resurrection of the dead), childbirth, and rain.

One can clearly see Hashem through rain. When there’s a drought, people realize that Hashem is in control. Rain is a direct blessing from Him. If it’s not coming down, it’s because of our sins.

Although Hashem does many miracles for us every day, the best proof that He exists is the Torah. In birchat hamazon we say, “Ki ein machsor l’rei’av.” If you fear Hashem, you have no deficiency. Torah brings us to yirat shamayim because Torah demonstrates the existence of the Hashem.

The Gemara says that at Har Sinai the Jews accepted the Torah out of fear. Years later after the Purim miracle they accepted the Torah out of love. Why wasn’t there a complete acceptance immediately at Har Sinai? The Torah is a part of creation. Just as we have no control over creation, initially the Torah too had to be against our will so that subsequently we would look at the world through the Torah lens and recognize Hashem on our own.



Love Your Neighbor- To What Extent?

14 05 2012
Based on a series by Rabbi Hanoch Teller: Honorable Mentchen II

Chesed is normally translated as loving kindness, but it’s more. A secular government can legislate laws such as not speeding or not killing. It cannot, however, expect people to act in a conjointly sense of ‘we’ on behalf of the community.

The Rambam teaches that “V’ahavta l’rei’acha kamocha” (Loving ones fellow Jew) means caring about someone’s monetary possessions. The mitzvah also includes praising others. However, the Chafetz Chaim cautions us to be careful as excessive praise is likely to generate negative comments.

It can be hard to feel happy for someone when their fortune soars and to feel sad when their situation plummets. To fulfill the mitzvah of V’ahavta l’reicha one must work on obliterating his feelings of jealousy.

The Baal Shem Tov explained this mitzvah to mean that your behavior towards someone else should be based on the other person’s likes and dislikes, not your own.

The Gemara explains a pasuk in Chabakuk, “V’hatznea lechet im Elokecha.” You shall walk modestly with Hashem. This refers to burying the dead and helping a bride get married. At some weddings the focus is not on the other person but on yourself. What do they think about me? How do I look? V’haznea lechet teaches us that we are there for the other person.

Loving ones fellow Jew includes being hospitable to guests. We should do more than just providing a meal. We should look out for their needs, correct someone for doing something people would consider odd, chastise someone for sinning, lend money or other articles, pray for those in need, save someone from injury, greet people with a happy countenance, teach Torah, and share good news. A craftsman fulfills this mitzvah when he has in mind to do his best work for the benefit of his customer. A doctor fulfills this commandment when he heals someone.

On one of his travels Rav Moshe Leib Sassover entered a tavern. He heard a Russian horse trader say to his companion, “Igor I love you.” Igor tearfully replied, “No you don’t. If you really loved me you’d know what I am lacking.” Rav Moshe Leib learned a great lesson. True ahavat yisrael means being concerned about what the other person is missing and truly caring about them.

Parshat Behar: Walking with G-d

10 05 2012

Based on a shiur by Rabbi Avishai David

In Parshat Bechukotai, the term halicha (walking) is used many times in reference to our observance of the mitzvot. The parsha begins, “Im bechukotai teileichu. If you will walk in my statutes.” Further on the Hashem writes, “V’hithalachti b’tochechem. I will walk with you.” The parsha continues, “Va’olech etchem. I will walk with you.”

Later on in the parsha, the Torah presents the other side of the coin. “V’halachtem imi keri. If you will walk with me keri.” The Rambam explains that this means we don’t recognize Hashem’s involvement in our lives. The Torah tells us, “If you walk with me b’keri I will walk with you b’keri.Hashem will respond to us in the way a person conducts himself.

We can follow the halicha of Hashem. The result will be as the Torah describes in the beginning of Bechukotai, “I will dwell among them and walk with them.” Rashi comments on this, “I will walk with you in gan eden.” Or it can be the opposite, halicha b’keri, which will ultimately lead to terrible consequences.

Hashem told Avraham Avinu, “Kum hithalech b’aretz.” Get up and walk the length and breadth of the land. Avraham chose righteousness and walked with Hashem.

May we follow in the footsteps of our forefathers.


Sefirat Haomer Liberation of the Mind

1 05 2012

Based on a shiur by Rabbi Hanoch Teller

There are two terms for work in Hebrew, avodah and melacha. The Ramban explains that melacha

is purposeful work which produces a finished product, while avodah is labor that has no defined objective. The term eved, a slave, is a derivative of avodah. An eved is one who works with no goal or accomplishments to show for his efforts. His agenda is that of his master’s. When Hashem redeemed the Jews from Egypt he not only freed them from slavery, but from the senseless avodah they were forced to do.

The Jews were commanded to erect two cities, Pitom and Ramses. The Gemara teaches that they were built on quicksand. As soon as they were completed, they sunk into the earth. The Egyptians intended to torture and degrade the Jews with senseless labor. When Bnei Yisrael left Egypt they were finally freed of this avdut. They gained new purpose and became true servants of Hashem.

Erich Fromm noted, “Freedom without freedom for, is not freedom at all.” The seder, the feast of liberation, is bound by laws. There are halachot about the matzot, the korban pesach, the wine, and the marror. Chazal understood that for one to be truly free there must be a purpose. Otherwise a person becomes enslaved to his passions. On the first night of Pesach we savor the freedom to chart our own destiny. On the next night we start counting the omer, working our way towards the goal of matan Torah.

Freedom and discipline are partners. Self-control is achieved by establishing a point of contentment.

Chazal say, “Eizehu ashir hasameach b’chelko.” A rich man is someone who rejoices with his lot.

If we constantly look at others and what they have, we will never be happy.

The Baal Shem Tov told a story of a man who was climbing up a mountain with a heavy load on his shoulder. He looked up at the summit and saw that he was still very far away and he began to feel despondent. The Baal Shem Tov then said, “Instead of looking ahead, look back and see how far you’ve traveled. That will give you the strength to keep on going.”

A person should look inside himself to see who he can become. The happiest people are so busy doing things. They have no time to think if they are happy. One must train oneself to always be joyous and not make it dependent on anything.

Many things happen beyond our control, but you can always control how you will react. The most important component to achieve happiness is gratitude. Gratitude is related to expectation. The more you expect the less grateful you’ll be. The less you expect the more grateful you’ll be.

We have the obvious edge. Judaism is based on appreciation. The Gemara says, “Mishenechnas Adar marbim b’simcha.” (When Adar comes we increase our joy.) It also says, “Mishnenchnas

av m’mamatim b’simcha.” (When Av comes we decrease our joy.). The Kotzker Rebbe questions, should it not say marbim b’aveilut (mourning is increased)? He explains that the baseline for a Jew is always simcha (joy).

Start your day off with gratitude by saying Modeh Ani with passion. Say the blessings with intention and train your children to do so too.

The days of sefirah are an auspicious time to work on yourself. Avoid comparing yourself to others, and having high expectations. Engage in self-discipline and develop gratitude. May we reach sheleimut (perfection) in our avodat Hashem (serving Hashem).