Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh Author Schedule

The author of the wildly popular sefer "Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh", Rav Itamar Schwartz, is coming to the U.S.

Below follow the link for the cities and times... rabosai, it is kdai...


Thursday, July 31, 2008

Parshas Masei

Parshas Masei notes the 42 encampments that the Jews took on their 40 year journey through the wilderness until going into Eretz Yisroel. The boundaries of the land of Israel are also defined, and cities of refuge are established for unintentional murderers, and we conclude the book of Bamidbar/ Numbers.

I saw in the Sfas Emes that the journeys can be counted either to sum to 49 or 50 based on how many times the Yidden returned to certain places. Each journey was a tikun for some other midah that needed to be fixed... for the places correspond to the 49 levels of tumah that the Yidden merited to be mesaken by leaving Egypt. As we know, aveiros can be turned into mitzvos with Teshuva, and that was the purpose of the travels, to do a hagala of sorts before entering Ha'Aretz.

The journey through the wilderness is one which offers many opportunities for insight into the trials and travails that the Jews had to endure before meriting to enter the Land of IsraelWe see that the posuk at the beginning of Parshas Masei states, “These are the journeys of Bnei Yisroel who went out of Mitzrayim in organized groups under the
leadership of Moshe and Aharon.” It is true that the journeys of Klal Yisroel began after their redemption from Mitzrayim, but why is it necessary once again to remind us of this
fact? Theoretically, the posuk should have simply said that these were the journeys of the Bnei Yisroel. It what way could we somewhat understand what the reference to Mitzrayim is revealing to us?

R’ Ahron Rapps starts a great exposition of this question by having us first look to the mishnah in the 2nd perek of Pirkei Avos which lists the results of having certain thigns in excess- some positive (more we study- more wisdom we acquire) , some negative (more wives, the more witchcraft will be prevalent)...

Rashi in Maseches Sanhedrin cites the Yerushalmi which discusses that Shimon ben Shetach was successful in killing eighty witches by having them all picked up off the ground. The powers of tumah which are the source of the witches’ evil ability are grounded on the earth of Olam Hazeh. When a witch isn’t standing on the ground, the machshefa can’t sap the tumah to be able to manifest its abilities. In the ideal framework, the isha relates to the physical world, enabling it to be elevated by the ish. In the imperfect state, she simply relates to the physical and becomes a natural part of the process of the machshefa. Further, the Maharal (in Derech Chaim) explains that the more wives a person has, the more chance there is that the balance and relationship won’t be ideal. Thus, more witchcraft could develop. The Sfas Emes explains that, essentially, this idea can be found with the journeys of the Bnei Yisroel. The Sfas Emes says that as long as a person is connected to and bound in the physical gashmius of Olam Hazeh, he can’t soar towards Olam Haba. Just as a witch can only do her earthly craft when she is anchored on earth, so too, the nefesh can’t find its true address until it is freed and allowed to fly.

We know that Mitzrayim was the most immoral nation of its day. The Mitzriyim lived their lives relying totally on the Nile River and the idea of G-d never played a role in their existence. They were totally connected to the physical world of Olam Hazeh. When Klal Yisroel was redeemed from their midst, the Yidden were released from such an identity and given the ability to develop spiritually to be able to dwell in the holy land of Eretz Yisroel. Klal Yisroel couldn’t possibly go directly into the Holy Land, directly after leaving the tumah of Mitzrayim.

Leaving Mitzrayim enabled the Bnei Yisroel to be removed from the physical realm, and through their journeys in the midbar, they were able to advance in a positive sense towards kedusha. As such, we can strive, learning out from this week’s Parsha, to always look for the Olam Ha Ba elements of daily life and yearn to allow our neshamos the ability to soar above the mundane and into the profound teshuka of heavenly actions and thoughts.

A gitte.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Chizuk from the Shomrei Emunim

I saw in the Sefer "Shomer Emunim" (hereafter the S"E) this past Shabbos a nice quick vort on Emunah that is relevant to this tekufa. The pasuk on Amalek says that we must remember that the fight against Amalek, and everything he stand for, is in every generation. The lashon is l'dor dor, and the dor is chaser, it is missing a Vov. The S"E says that the gematria of Dor is 2x the Gematria of Emunah. What this teaches us is that Amalek attacks us on two separate levels of Emunah- a simple level and a more sophisticated level. For the person who only has simple Emunah, Emunah Peshuta, Amalek offers Shtussim and simple distractions that try to distract that individual from keeping on the derech yeshara. These vicissitudes do, unfortunately, ensnare some, and are relatively easy to discern. However, the more refined person, with a more thorough developed sense of Emunah, is attacked by Amalek not through simple ta'avos, such as, eat Treif or be mechalel Shabbos, which this kind of individual would not succumb to. For this individual, Amalek manifests his nature of kerirus, or trying to make us become more 'cold', to our mitzvos- not davening with as much kavuna or rushing through that Berocha.

The S"E concludes that it is especially important for Bnei Toira to recognize the influence of Amalek as it appears to them, for the ways are different than they are for hamon am. In the summer months, we must be vigilant to not let our standards fall in what we consider acceptable behavior...

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Parshas Pinchas

Good Shabbos and welcome to Parshas Pinchas. This Parsha describes Pinchas as the recipient of the ‘Bris Shalom’- or covenant of peace, as well as discussing a new national census by tribe giving us a 601,730 person strong nation at this point, laws of inheritance (sparked by the sharp questions of Zelophehad’s daughters), the inauguration of Joshua as the successor to Moshe Rabeinu, and finally, a description of the offerings and proscriptions for our many festivals and holidays- Shabbos, Rosh Chodesh, Pesach, Shavuos, Rosh HaShuna, Yom Kippur, Succos, and Shemini Atzeres.

To narrow our focus a bit, I would like to focus on the eponymous protagonist of this week, Pinchas, who received the gift of the Priesthood for his zealotry in spearing the Israelite man cohabiting with the goyishe seductress, the daughter of a prince, no less. Now, this ‘earning’ the priesthood as the Midrash tells us, is slightly different from the way that Aharon got the priesthood, namely, as a gift: “The service is a gift that I have given with your priesthood”. There are many levels on which to understand this distinction: on the most basic level, a gift represents kindness. The concept of earning a gift was in fact introduced by Avraham Avinu. The Midrash tells us that Shem the son of Noach received the priesthood. The Midrash makes it clear that he was not chosen to receive the priesthood as a reward. When Shem died, Avraham Avinu received the priesthood. The Midrash states clearly that he was chosen because of his righteousness. Avraham Avinu developed, cultivated and perfected his strength to achieve anything God asked of him. He passed the ultimate test when he went to sacrifice his son Yitzchak. As a result he was granted the highest level of love of God, the characteristic by which he is known as the pasuk states “Avraham ohavi/Avraham, the one who loves me… and in turn, was able to get the closest through this ‘priesthood’.

The Sfas Emes quotes the Zohar in saying that the priesthood is a channel for drawing Hashem’s lovingkindness into the world. God granted the priesthood as a gift. This represents God’s love. The priests, too, whose work in the Beis HaMikdash brings us closer to God and is done on our behalf, represent love and kindness. On another level, we need look no further than R’ Shneur Zalman of Liadi in his book, the Tanya, who according to R’ Tokayer, writes that there is a level of love for God which cannot be reached directly. Rather by working on developing awe of God, achieving the highest level we possibly can, each of us according to our individual potential, we are granted a commensurate level of love for God. This level of love is a gift that is granted involving no prior direct effort or preparation. The terms awe and love as used by the author of the Tanya and by the Sfas Emes imply serving God and coming close to Him respectively. We cannot work to experience God directly. However, we can work on serving Him. As a reward, He allows us to experience closeness to Him. Rav Shneur Zalman is teaching us that God’s love – the experience of closeness – is a gift that can be earned. In this sense, Pinchas, too, was granted the priesthood, an aspect of love and kindness, as a gift for acting zealously on behalf of the nation. His total focus on the nation’s behalf was in fact a basis of the Gemara in Kiddushin in comparing the concept of completeness coinciding with closeness to God: The Gemara states that a priest who is physically disfigured may not serve as a priest. The Gemara learns this from the pasuk describing Pinchas’s reward, the covenant of peace.

So in the coming weeks leading up to Rosh Chodesh Av, while we are bein HaMetzarim, it is our duty to serve Hashem with a full heart because we learn out from Pinchas, that only by being shaleim, whole, in our service, can we ultimately come close to Him. Good Shabbos!

Monday, June 25, 2007

Parshas Shelach Lecha

Good Shabbos and welcome to the weekly edition of the Goren HaChaim shiur on Parsha. Mazel tov to Yosi Rosen on the birth and subsequent bris of his son this Thursday, Avraham ben Yosef Chanoch. A very appropriate name given this week’s Parsha, as we will see:

This Parsha, Shelach Lecha, deals with spies sent to reconnoiter the land- ostensibly, to determine of the nation of Israel. Commentators have famously pointed out that the syntax of the pasuk, as well as the directive, are similar to Lech Lecha. In both cases, the protagonist (either the spies or Abraham) were fine men. Abraham as we know is our patriarch, and the spies sent were explicitly told to us to be heads of the tribes- nesi’im- men of upstanding character. Among them were Caleb and Joshua, leads of the nation of Israel. Further, in both cases, the leaders of the nation were told to go to a place which they did not know- for Abraham it was to leave his homeland and to go to a land which Hashem would tell him. In this case, it’s slightly different- they know exactly where they are going, they are just unsure what they will find there. Finally, in both cases, Rashi notes that the ‘lecha’ is ‘l’tovoscha’- for their own good. In Abraham’s case, it was to set out to start the beginning of his great nation. In our case, although Hashem in a manner of speaking did not require the spies to go out, nevertheless, if the people feel that they need a human assessment of the land, then it will be for the good of the nation to have spies- in other words, to have the free will to make their own decisions.

However, the result of the actions was profoundly different: Abraham established a great nation (in fact Caleb went to pray at Hebron in the merit of the forefathers, notably Abraham, that the mission would be received with success), while the spies returned with an unsavory report of the land that ultimately caused this generation of Jews to die in the desert, never seeing the land of Israel, which resulted in the 40 years of wandering in the desert (this is because the census was just taken of everyone above 20 and Hashem did not want anyone to die below the age of 60, which is considered the age of a normal life. Therefore, 20+40=60, ie, all the 20 year olds at the time of the counting had to reach 60 before the generation could be considered complete). So how are we to understand this difference- why did Abraham vs. the spies start out quite similarly, and end so differently?

I think a possible answer is found in the debate among our sages regarding rewards for mitzvos in this world, as explained (among other places) at the end of Ha Isha Nikneis in Kiddushin (29b). In that sugya, the Mishna says that whoever does a mitzvah has his days lengthened and bettered, and receives a share in the world to come- and whoever does not, does not. The Gemara debates what types of mitzvos count for this world vs. the next world, and the implications for the fact that we see some people do in fact do Mitzvos, and do not get rewards, and some do not , and are rewarded (ie why do good things happen to bad people, etc.) I think a notable lesson in this Gemara is that which is learned out from the incident which Acheir saw that led him partially off the derech. We know that when someone takes eggs from a nest, he must send away the mother bird- this mitzvah specifically is mentioned as something which if you do, you will get a long life. Well Acheir saw someone do this very thing, and then fall off the ladder and die. The question is- how could this happen, we have a pasuk that goes the other way? Zocht the Gemara, the ladder had rotten rungs and we don’t rely on miracles to save us- I can’t just run into the road and expect not to get hit… we have to watch ourselves very much. So how does this relate to the spies?

The Chiddushei HaRim explains. The spies were supposed to be shlichei Mitzvah- and we know that Shlichei Mitzvah eino nizakin (messengers for mitzvos cannot be harmed). In order to become true emissaries, though, they needed to suppress their own desires and motives and proceed with the mission simply because God commanded it. If they had done this they would have been protected. Ten of the spies failed to do this and the results were tragic. God wanted the spies to show the nation that it was possible to bring the light of the Torah into the physical world. It was possible to live in the physical world, to work within the boundaries of nature and still live a spiritual life. This was the spies’ ultimate mission.

The Sfas Emes notes, however, that the nation in the desert lived with explicit miracles. They ate food that dropped from the sky every day. They saw the clouds of glory and the pillar of fire. Coming in to Israel they would be living within nature. The challenge would be to maintain their high level of faith. The challenge would be to realize that just as God provided for them in the desert in an explicit way, He is within nature as well, albeit, implicitly. Success in this challenge would be to reach a level of understanding that nature is a bigger wonder than the miracles of the desert. As part of the transition to living within nature, the spies were sent to scout the land. Their ultimate mission was to maintain the level of faith they had in the desert when exposed to explicit miracles. Their ultimate mission involved seeing the land and its inhabitants and realizing that even though the inhabitants were strong and live in fortified cities, God is within everything. In this ten of the twelve spies failed. They did not maintain their high level of faith. They were fooled by what they saw. In contrast, Avraham Avinu had such a pure faith from the age of 3, he did not experience the type of miracle every day, he was not able to just shrug off what he saw due to his experiences- he did it all with siyata di’shmaya and pure intentions.

I think the implications are clear for us and hopefully we can carry this mindset with us through Shabbos and into the summer months as well!

Parshas Korach

Good Shabbos and welcome to the G"C shiur on Parshas Korach. Hakoras Hatov to Rav Herschel Schechter for his glosses on the gemora in Eiruvin and for ideas on the presentation of the Machlokes. In this week's parsha, we note the mutiny spearheaded by Korach and other leaders of the nation against the authority of Moshe Rabaini, and his brother and Kohen Gadol, Aaron. Perhaps we can learn some interesting lessons about proper Jewish leadership from this example…
The issue that Korach raised was one raised in other places in Shas: if a tallis is fully techeiles, do we need another techeiles string attached to it? (Similarly, if there is a house full of Torahs, do we require that there be a mezuzah affixed to the door?) A common theme to these questions can be the division between the purpose behind the mitzvah and merely fulfilling/discharging the mitzvah itself. It is said that on the basis of sevora (mere logic), Korach might have had a point, if he had presented his case l'shem shomayim and not l'shem dissent. As the Rambam says, you can take off your tzitzis at night (ur'iesem oisam) on account of the pasuk but only if you're going to change your outfit, not stam (v'tzarich iyun on this).
Similarly, the gemara in Eiruvin (13) notes that there were numerous disputes between Beis Hillel and Beis Shammai. We also know that the gemara in Brachos (6) says that "Beis Shammai b'makom Bais Hillel eina mishna"- we never follow Beis Shammai at all. (now how does this reconcile with the fact that in Yevamos 31 the Gemara spends much time trying to understand the shita of Beis Shamai?) The answer is that we know that learning the shita of Beis Shamai is indeed a kiyum in Mitzvas Talmud Torah- but we don't pasken like them- so what's going on here? The Noda BiYehuda and others say that when there is a halacha established by Chazal, we don't follow the minority, at all (not even a midas chassidus to do so). Also, the Sefer HaChinuch says (and is echoed by mefarshim) that Beis Shammai were sharper (m'chaddei tfei) but Hashem allowed the halacha to be like Beis Hillel in order to allow a feasible way of arriving at a psak to exist. This approach is not unanimous, and is supplemented by the idea that judges (and leaders to some extent) get siyata dishmaya- assistance from heaven. But how far reaching does this authority extend?
We know there is a famous Rashi on the beginning of Sifrei that says that the words of the Chachaim must be followed to the left and the right- even if they say your right is left and your left is right. However, we also know that there is a Yerushalmi Horios that says that a talmid chacham is not allowed to follow the words of the Sanhedrin in cases where he knows that the psak is wrong. So Ramban reconciles this apparent distinction by saying that Rashi must be referring to a psak that a hedyot (simple person) thinks is in error (i.e. if your doctor gives you advice that doesn't make sense, unless you have a Medical degree, etc. you probably shouldn't just ignore it based on your own reasoning)
To return to our initial gemara in Eiruvin, the Ritva says that when Hashem gave the Torah to Moshe, he taught him all the mitzvos in the Torah. So essentially Moshe was the only Chacham at that point and he spread Hashem's Torah to Am Yisroel, but it was all coming thorough him. It could be that the major fallacy committed by Korach was to view himself as a Chacham and think that he understood all the sevoras of Moshe and determine that they are objectively wrong. In fact, however, he was a hedyot and should not have questioned the ruling of the Chachaimim. This is why when the earth swallowed him up, we know to this day (Gemara) that Korach and his followers are still saying from down below in Gehinom: Moshe Emes v'toraso Emes- Moshe is true and his Torah is true. So we can see that Korach was wrong for several reasons- its not taka that he had a legitimate point of view l'shem shomayim, like Shammai, where even though we never pasken by it, we still get credit for learning it. And it wasn't even that he was looking for upholding one of the shiv'im panim la torah. Rather, he was actively seeking to take for himself authority from Moshe Rabaini and not for the right reasons- so from the tziruf (combination) of these reasons, we see that the Earth swallowed up. Let's try to always figure out the right directions for our own life by following the right motivational sources for the right reasons, and follow our hearts and minds- for the good!

Parshas Chukas

Good Shabbos and welcome to Parshas Chukas. This parsha records several famous teachings, including the "chok" or decree, of the red heifer, the death of Miriam HaNeviah, attacks on the Jews in the desert, as well the instance of Moshe striking the rock to bring forth water for the Jews who were complaining. Regarding this latter point, Hashem said simply to Moshe and Aaron: Because you did not believe in Me to sanctify Me in the presence of Bnei Yisroel, therefore, you will not bring this congregation into the land that I have given them' They are the mei merivah - the waters of dispute". In this shiur, I would like to delve into the sin of Moshe Rabbeinu and try to understand the nature of this transgression and what implications this has on our lives today. Shkoyach to Rav Ahron Rapps for his insights from the Maharal, and to the Ahavas Emes Institute and Rav Naftoli Weinberg for elucidating the Gemora in Avoda Zara.

There is a disagreement among numerous commentators on the exact nature of Moshe’s sin. I will briefly mention some that I saw in the Ba’al HaArtscroll Chumash, and in various Seforim HaKedoishim, and point us towards the direction of the one I find most interesting (which will reveal my bent for the Chassidish). Rashi says that Moshe sinned in striking the rock, rather than speaking to it, as he was told. Ibn Ezra says that Moshe hit the rock twice, not once. Rambam says that Moshe’s sin was in becoming angry at the people. Ramban and R’Chananel says that Moshe’s sin was that he implied that he and Aaron had the power to produce water, and it was a Chilul Hashem.

A bit more on the Rambam vs. Ramban here. Rambam and Ramban focus on Moshe and Aharon's sharp words of rebuke, which they administer on their own accord, without a divine command. However, whereas Rambam stresses the tone of this rebuke, Ramban sees its content as the basis of their sin. Abarbanel says that Moshe/Aaron were punished because they had sinned before and are only now getting punished (Golden Calf for Aaron and Moshe sending the spies in previous parsha). Rambam claims that Moshe's sharp censure - "listen you rebels..." - reflects an inappropriately angry tone that caused a "chillul Hashem" (a desecration of God's Name). [ See Rambam in "shmoneh perakim," quoted by Ramban in his pirush to 20:7 Ramban claims that by saying 'we' in their rhetorical question - "is it possible that we can take out water from this rock?" - Moshe and Aharon lead the people to believe that it was they (and not God) who produced the water from the rock. [See Ramban 20:7 in name of Rabbeinu Chananel.]

Moving along, it is worth looking to the Maharal in the Gur Aryeh to help explain the conjunction of Rashi and Rambam as well. The Gemara in AZ (5b) says that Moshe’s sin was when he told the people, "Shimu noh hamorim - Listen you rebels." Implying that they should have been happy at the manna as well- but we see what happened after that complaint- Hashem immediately sent a plague of venomous snakes to attack them. Rashi explains that they were punished middah k'neged middah. "Let the snake whose food all tastes the same, pay back the Jews who complained about the manna, which could be appreciated through a variety of tastes." )

Now, the Chidushei HaRim offers perhaps the most interesting one in my mind. He says that the key to their shortcomings lay in the word “L’ainaihem”- before their eyes- implying that Moshe had to speak to the rock in a way that the people would see something, rather than just know it. Sure, the water flowed, but Moshe failed to teach the people that Hashem wanted the Jews to have unquestioned knowledge that Hashem provides what people need. Since he failed to impart this vital lesson, the nation could not achieve greater spiritual heights- and this was Moshe’s sin. Now we must understand that as Rav Shach says in his Meirosh Amana, and is echoed in numerous Seforim, Moshe Rabbeinu was a devoted servant of Hashem Yisborach and had only the Divine Will in mind. No personal agenda ever played a role in his subservience to Hashem… so why did this happen?

I would like to suggest an approach that perhaps combines the opinions mentioned above. We know that we have a yetzer hora and yetzer tov- a good and a bad side. The trick is to harness both sides for the good. Every midah (character trait) can be used for good- for instance, jealousy, can be used badly as in, I want that house like he has, or it can be positive, ie, look how well he learns, look how well he davens, look that he just finished that masechta, I want to do that too. Perhaps we can recall the Gemara Brachos 64a that the pasuk of serving Hashem “b’chol levavcha”- with all your heart- refers to both your inclinations. Even an eved Hashem such as Moshe perhaps only wanted to fulfill the will of Hashem but failed to do the extra step of being Mekadesh Shem Shomayim while he did so- as the Chidushei HaRim says- he used his good but didn’t channel his negative towards avodas Hashem in this instance as well. It is incumbent upon us to channel all our energies towards a singular purpose and let us hope that as we enter the summer months with all its attendant temptations, we can keep this in the front of our mind and serve Hashem with all (both sides) of our hearts. Good Shabbos!