Love Beyond Reason

10 10 2011
Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rabbi Hershel Reichman 

Love Beyond Reason #4 The Shem MiShmuel asks, why on Hoshana Rabba do the aravot (willow leaves) play the central role?

 

The Midrash explains that each of the species represent a different type of Jew. The etrog (citron fruit), which has a good flavor and scent, represents the tzaddik who has both Torah wisdom and good deeds. The lulav (palm branch), which has a good flavor, but no scent, signifies a person with wisdom but no good deeds. The hadassim (myrtle branches), which have a good fragrance but no flavor, symbolize a person with good deeds but no wisdom. The aravot (willow branhes), have neither flavor nor fragrance, which signifies a person who lacks both good deeds and Torah wisdom.

 

We find a similar idea hidden in the ketoret (incense offering). There were eleven spices, one of which was the chelbana, which exuded an unpleasant odor. However, when combined with the other ten spices it added a tasteful pungency to the mixture. On Sukkot, we take the four species and symbolically proclaim that every Jew, no matter what level he’s at, has something to contribute to klal Yisrael.

 

On Hashana Rabbah, only the aravot are taken. This teaches us the absolute love Hashem has for every Jew, even the most wicked. Hashem chose us, exercising a choice unbound by logic, and he will never abandon us. Our relationship is otherworldly, something that cannot be contained in words. And just as Hashem remains loyal to us, we must love every Jew regardless of his level.

 

While Yom Kippur is an island of sanctity, isolated from the rest of the year, Hoshana Rabbah contains elements of the weekday. A lot of the influence of Yom Kippur has worn off by the time we get to the end of Sukkot. On Hashana Rabbah, we tell Hashem, “We want to be good, but the complexities of life make it difficult. Give us a free gift and forgive our sins.”

 

During the times of the beit hamikdash, the Jews would circle the altar with the aravot. This signifies that even if we fall to the lowest depths like the aravot, Hashem will lift us to the level of the altar. Large aravot were placed on the altar. The aravot were offered as a sacrifice, just as we offer our own human weaknesses to Hashem. In a sense Hoshana Rabbah goes beyond Yom Kippur. On this day it is as if Hashem tells us, “My children, you are not lost, despite your failings.”

 

Our sages teach us that Shemini Atzeret, the eighth day of Sukkot, is a holiday of its own. Seven signifies the cycle of nature, while eight represents something supernatural. It’s wrong for a person to think, “This is the way I am. I cannot improve.” On the contrary, we can transform ourselves because there is something extraordinary beyond nature inside each of us. Torah study, prayer, and kind deeds empower us to repent. While angels remain stagnant, people have the ability to reach unimaginable heights.

 

When the beit hamikdash stood, the Jews would form a human wall and encircle the altar with the four species. A wall is like an environment. There are terrible environments that must be shattered and good environments that must be built. Walking around with the lulav and etrog is akin to destroying negative barriers. Encircling the altar with the Torah is like erecting\a wall of sanctity. The Zohar writes that the female side of the satan is called yilila. This also means wailing because sadness is fundamental to evil. The opposite is also true. Therefore, the last day of the holiday is Simchat Torah. Torah signifies simcha (happiness). We rejoice with Hashem‘s love and with the privilege to build a wall of holiness and sanctity to last us through the coming year.





Rebbetzin’s Perspective: What are some ways I can motivate my husband to think about Elul and Rosh Hashana?

28 09 2011

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

Rebbetzin's Perspective

Question: 

What are some ways I can motivate my husband to think about Elul and Rosh Hashana without sounding like an annoying seminary girl? I’m not worried about his learning because he has a learning seder (session) every day, but whenever I bring up the idea of change or growth he gets annoyed.

 

Answer:

Some men like hashkafa, but most don’t. No man likes to feel as if his wife is the provider and he is the receiver. Be patient. As men mature, they want to know more about how to put it all together. Hashkafa sefarim were really written by and for men and many of them will eventually study them. When they do, it will probably be with a lot more depth and perception, and a higher level of integration than women, because men are much more grounded in Torah learning. By the time he’s thirty eight, he’ll probably be motivating you, instead of the other way around. This is usually how it goes in most marriages.

However, let’s say he’s already forty five and you’re still trying to get him to work on his inner life. Begin by asking some questions such as, “It’s Elul and I don’t feel anything much different than I did in Av. Did they ever say anything about this in yeshiva? Is there anything I could learn that can give me insight?” Make him your teacher. Don’t correct him even if he gets it wrong, just listen. Since his skills are better, in the end his grasp will be much more profound.

It could also be that he’s just not the hashkafa type. This doesn’t mean that he doesn’t have a yearning for spirituality. It’s just that he doesn’t have the ability to listen to the language. His means of communication may be dikduk halacha (care in Jewish law). His ahavat Hashem (love of Hashem) may be expressed through tzedaka, charity. His yirat Hashem (fear of Hashem) may be actualized by the level of kashrut he maintains. Let his deeds show you where he truly is and don’t try to gauge his spiritual standing by how much he’s learning.





Elul-Month of Relationships

18 09 2011

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Mrs. Shira Smiles

Elul-Month of Relationships The Sefat Emet teaches that the essence of the month of Elul is understanding the interplay of the word ‘lo‘ as expressed in the verse in Tehillim, “Hu asanu v’lo anachnu. He created us and we are His.” ‘Lo‘ can be translated interchangeably as ‘to Him’ or ‘we are nothing.’ We have the ability to attach ourselves to Hashem to the extent that we nullify ourselves. This is encoded within the word Elul – spelled lamed, aleph, lamed, vav.

What does nullifying oneself mean? Rav Tatz explains that our inner struggles are linked to the root challenge first faced by Adam. Adam reasoned that if he would sin he would bring himself and the world down from its pure state into a world of physicality. If he could then stand firm against temptation, he would achieve much more than by resisting sin on an elevated level. However, he was mistaken. Where there is an illusion of independence, where there’s a wrong choice that contradicts the Divine Will, there is a death. We all face this challenge. Being told what to do is a negation of self. Adam wanted to use his entire being to serve Hashem. But he failed to realize that the greatest assertion of free will is giving in to a Higher Will. Elul is a time to introspect and ask ourselves, how many times did our will and Hashem’s Will clash? How many times did we insist on our own will? It’s a time to work on nullifying the ‘I’ and committing our will to Hashem.

There’s also the second aspect of ‘lo.’ We belong to Hashem. The Netivot Shalom writes about the pasuk, “Nachpesa diracheinu, Let us search our ways.” We must not only think about our sins but also about our mitzvot. What is our mindset when we do mitzvot and learn Torah? Are we just going through the motions and missing the essence? When we say a bracha or daven, do we visualize that we are talking to the Masterof the world? Elul is a preparatory time to analyze our relationship with Hashem. We must open our eyes to find Him.

There’s no aspect of life devoid of Hashem. Whether it’s physical or spiritual needs, we must turn to Him for help. When we do this, even for minor things, He becomes more involved in our lives. The Chazon Ish told a student that the main thing to ingrain in a child’s mind is emuna and hashgacha pratit, recognizing that Hashem is intimately involved in every aspect of our life. This is how we develop an emotional bond with Him. The mindset of a Jew has to be, “V’ani kirvat Elokim li tov. For me closeness to Hashem is good.”

If we spend Elul focusing on making Hashem’s Will our own and on developing a relationship with Him, we can then stand before him on Rosh Hashana and crown Him king.





Lashon Hara In The Workplace #2

8 09 2011
Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rabbi Beinish Ginsburg   

Lashon Hara in the Workplace

There’s no difference whether you speak lashon hara (slanderous talk) on your own or whether someone pressures you to do so. Even if it’s someone you respect, like a parent or Rebbe, you may not speak what is forbidden. The Chofetz Chaim brings proof from the story of Doeg and King Shaul. The Torah considers Doeg a rochel (a gossiper) for informing King Shaul about David and the city of Nov that protected him.

Of course a person shouldn’t cause disagreements or ill will unnecessarily. Therefore if someone close to you is compelling you to speak lashon hara, think about the right way to say no. Very often deflecting tension and discomfort depends on your tone of voice and the way you say it.

There is a famous question in the Igros Moshe whether a teacher can ask his class to disclose which student perpetrated an offense, so that the teacher can rebuke him? Rav Moshe is against doing so because it trains students to speak lashon hara. The Rebbe may have the right intentions, but the students won’t. The Nesivas Chaim quotes Rav Hominer who takes a different approach. If the teacher asks the students to speak ill about someone for a toelet (benefit) so he can deal with the mistake properly, it’s permitted. The Rebbe must clearly state that in this context it is not lashon hara as he is doing it for the boy’s benefit.  The Nesivos Chaim concludes, that the teacher must weigh very carefully what the students will think. Will they say, “Our Rebbe is making us speak lashon hara,” or will they understand, “Yes, this is for a toelet.”

We must forfeit one fifth of our wealth for the sake of a positive commandment and all of our wealth for a negative commandment. Therefore, even if it means forfeiting ones job, one may not violate the negative prohibition of lashon hara. In the long run, if a person is careful with forbidden speech, he will gain the respect of his co-workers. He can be a walking Kiddush Hashem by living up to the image of how a Jew should speak and behave.

A person should get in the habit of asking sheilot (questions) about lashon hara just as he does for Shabbat or kashrut. If you’re sitting with a group of people who are speaking lashon hara and you can’t leave or change the subject, you must keep quiet and not join in, even if they will think you’re strange. Our Sages say, “Better to be considered a fool for ones entire life rather than to be a fool for one hour before Hashem.” If you’re riding in a van and you can’t stop the lashon hara, plug into your ipod.

The prohibition of loshon hara includes writing. Slandering in a veiled way is also forbidden. The Torah says, “Lo selech rochel b’amecha-Do not go as a gossipmonger among your people. Unkelos translates rochel as korzim-to wink with one’s eye. Using body language to convey lashon hara is a Torah prohibition. This seems to contradict a later halacha where the Chofetz Chaim mentions avak lashon hara-the dust of lashon hara.  Hinting to something uncomplimentary such as, “I don’t want to talk about this person,” is a Rabbinic prohibition. The difference is that in the first halacha, the person communicates the actual lashon hara in a roundabout way so that others shouldn’t understand. In the second case, the person doesn’t say anything negative, he just hints to it.

 





Simcha and Bitachon

8 07 2011


Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller

Simcha and Bitachon

What does bitachon really mean and how do we acquire it?

You cannot have trust without faith as it says, “Those who know Your name trust in you.” What is Hashem’s name? The word Hashem literally means, “the name” but here it refers to the letters, “yud, keh, vuv, keh,” which have enormous symbolic value. They are a contraction of the time senses-hayah hoveh, v’yiheh-He is, He was, and He will be. Hashem is reality. He is the source of all being. Unless a person internalizes that, he cannot have bitachon. People tend to take Hashem out of their lives. They’ll say, “I trust Hashem but I have to take care of this myself,” or “For this I have to be a realist.” Knowing Hashem means including Him in every moment.

The Maharal writes that the letters of Hashem’s name tell us about Him. The letter yud hints to His creativity. It is above the line which tells us that He is completely one and not a part of this world. His creativity isn’t defined by His having created. He is creative wisdom. The letter Hey is meant to suggest that He made a world with the possibility of descent. Hashem from his unknowable unity brought about this world and He is here at the moment in our lives. The letter vav, like a pillar, is a connective letter. A pillar can measure a million feet tall, yet the top and bottom still remain linked. The vav is completely straight which symbolizes Hashem’s unwavering constancy. Connecting to the meaning of Hashem’s name is what having emunah is about. When you know Hashem’s great name and have a sense of His presence, creativity, and unity, you develop sensitivity towards His greatness and power. Then your whole heart will trust Him. Faith will not automatically breed trust. Emunah is knowing Hashem, by opening your heart and mind. It is the source of the whole Torah. Therefore the first commandment is “Ani Hashem”-I am Hashem.

Every so often, I’ll meet someone who will say, “I don’t believe in Hashem.” And I’ll answer, “The Hashem you don’t believe in, I don’t believe in either.” People have infantile pictures of the Creator as the big guy in the sky. This is not emunah. Emunah is cultivating an idea of Hashem who is unknowable, who created the world, who is connected and involved in everything that happens to us moment by moment.





Rebbetzin’s Perspective I Class #2

3 07 2011

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

Rebbetzin Perspective

Question:

How do I balance listening to lashon hora with developing a deep and meaningful relationship with my teenage daughter?  Are there different rules when dealing with teenagers who need to be able to talk freely in order to understand themselves and their circle of friends?  

 

Answer:

 

If you care about someone, you want to give them what’s best for them. If you had a brilliant child who wanted to become a doctor, you’d do whatever you could to get him through medical school. If you had a special needs child who required extra intervention, you’d surmount all obstacles to help him progress. Your daughter desperately needs to learn how to differentiate between actual lashon hara and  lashon hara l’toelet, and how to developing a positive eye. As her mother, you are responsible to guide her.

 

Some people have the illusion that if they confide in their spouse they are drawing closer. In fact they are doing quite the opposite, notes the Chofetz Chaim, because their relationship is based on the common desire to tear people down. If you don’t set your daughter straight now and she continues analyzing and discussing people endlessly, the day may come when you’ll be the bull’s eye. She’ll be talking about you in a way she’s been talking with you all along about others.

 

The first step would be to gently get her to focus on what is unique, special, and precious, in every person. The next step would be to steer her to look for constructive solutions to her social problems. The final stage would be to have her come to these conclusions on her own. This will change your relationship with her in a very pivotal way. It will now be based on the common goal of finding resolutions and developing positivity rather than constantly putting others down.





Pure Money-Verbal Agreements #2

1 07 2011

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by  Dayan Shlomo Cohen

Money Matters What constitutes ownership in Jewish law?  At what point is there a transfer of possession from seller to buyer?

Every transaction has several stages. The first is the final decision to buy, the second is when the buyer and seller come to a verbal agreement, and the third stage is paying for the item. The overriding rule in what causes a transfer of ownership is gemirat daat-a final decision that the buyer and seller will now proceed with the transaction.

Asking and comparing prices does not create an obligation to buy.  However, once the buyer makes a positive decision to purchase the item, our Sages say those who fear Hashem should stay true to their thoughts. Beit din will not take a stand if the buyer retracts at this point. However the next stage, when a verbal agreement is formed, creates an obligation. The Sages term buyers or sellers who retract at this level “mechusrai emunah“-unfaithful people. Beit din cannot force the buyer or the seller to keep his agreement, but the one who retracts is called a rasha and beit din will attempt to make him keep his word. If there is a fear of loss involved, then either of the parties may renege on the agreement.

There is an argument in the Shulchan Aruch and other Poskim whether a change in a situation allows a buyer or seller to go back on his word. The Shulchan Aruch rules that it makes no difference and each party must stand by his word. The Rema agrees with this. If either the buyer or seller dies, according to some opinions, his heirs should keep the agreement.

According to the Chasam Sofer, a change in a situation may allow a person to go back on an agreement but it does not apply to every change. Indeed Rav Wosner rules that one may nullify an agreement due to a significant change but not because of a small change. Overcharging 1/6th more than the market value, nullifies a sale. If it is less than 1/6 it is valid. If it is exactly 1/6, one must return the 1/6th and the agreement remains valid. The same holds true for the seller. If he finds out that he can now sell an item for 1/6th more he may go back on the agreement. If it is less than 1/6 he cannot.

Once an agreement is reached and it is written down and signed, there is an obligation to supply the goods and pay. A signature is considered a kinyan and obligates both the buyer and the seller. It is considered more severe than mechsurei emunah.

What happens if you make a verbal agreement with two people simultaneously? The stigma of mechsurei emunah can be removed by appeasing one side verbally or monetarily. You can sell to the second and appease the first or visa versa.

 Giving a gift also depends on gemirat daat. Telling someone you will give a gift doesn’t create a transfer of ownership.  A small gift creates an obligation. Offering a large gift doesn’t create an obligation because the listener does not believe you anyway. A rich uncle who promises his nephew a bike must stand by his word. On the other hand if he promises him a car, there is no obligation. A poor uncle who promises a bike is not obligated.  However if he promises him a small gift such as a book, he must keep his word.

 A decision to give to charity involves no change of ownership. However according to some Poskim, a final thought creates an obligation akin to a vow and beit din can force someone to keep it. Other Poskim disagree and maintain that thoughts do not create a vow.  All opinions hold that a verbal donation is a vow. Generally children cannot be forced to keep their parent’s vows to charity but it is fitting that they should.  If after a vow was made, the situation changes, the obligation can be nullified.  If you pledge tzedakah on the condition that someone will survive, and he does not, there is no obligation to honor the pledge. If you say, “In order that he should live,” one must follow through with the donation. The same way a debtor must pay his debts, one must keep one’s charity obligations even when it becomes financially difficult.

The Shulchan Aruch rules that one should not take charity from a married woman because she may not have her husband’s permission. Poskim today rule differently since times have changed and woman are more in charge of the home.

In the diamond exchange, a verbal agreement usually finalizes a transaction and the buyer and seller wish each other mazel u’bracha. In Jewish law, this is considered a final agreement and a transfer of ownership.