Mourning’s End – Understanding Sefira and Lag B’Omer

The Torah’s Honor

The untimely demise of a Torah giant impacts every Jew, leaving a deep feeling of loss. If two Torah leaders died on one day (G-d forbid), the tragedy would be immense. We cannot even fathom how we would feel if the number was ten, fifty, or a hundred. In this light, we can begin to grasp the devastation of 24,000 Torah scholars dying between Pesach and Shavous, all students of Rabbi Akiva.

Our Sages reveal that they all died for the same reason: they did not honor each other properly ( Yevamos 62b). Their failure to honor their colleagues prevented them from appreciating words of Torah said by others. As a result their understanding of Torah was confined to their own insight, an extremely limited perception. Lacking total comprehension, they were not worthy to pass the Torah on to the next generation.

This flaw was rooted so deep in their conduct that they were not aware of it. Even Rabbi Akiva did not perceive it and never reproached them for it. If so, why were they punished so severely? The period between Pesach and Shavous is a time when a Jew is meant to prepare himself to receive the Torah. They should have used this opportunity to look within themselves and recognize their shortcomings. Instead, their souls were returned to their Creator.

Because of this tragedy, the Jewish people observe a period of national mourning between Pesach and Shavous. During this time we refrain from getting married, taking haircuts and shaving ( Shulchan Aruch 493:1-2). In addition, the accepted custom is not to listen to music ( Igros Moshe 1,166 and other poskim ) or to dance, even at a seudas mitzva ( Mishna Berura 493,3).

Days of Mourning
Although the students of Rabbi Akiva died between Pesach and Shavous, all agree that there were not deaths on every single day of this period. Some Rishonim cite a Midrash which says that the students died continuously from Pesach until “ Prus, ” half a month before Shavous (Abudraham , Razah and others.) According to this calculation, mourning should be observed as long as the deaths continued, i.e. until the 19th of Iyar, the 34th day of the Omer . This is the conclusion of the Shulchan Aruch (493,2) and the accepted practice among Sephardim.
Other poskim cite a comment by Tosfos saying that they continued to die until right before Shavous (Maharil). However they did not die on the sixteen days that Tachanun is not said (i.e. seven days of Pesach, six days of Shabbos, and three days of Rosh Chodesh ) leaving a total of thirty-three days. Those who accept this version do not mourn on the exact days that the students died, but rather during a corresponding thirty-three day period established by our Sages.

The Rema follows this view and it is the accepted practice among Ashkenazim (Rema 493:2-3 citing Maharil see Bach ). Some have the custom to observe this period from the second day of Pesach to Lag B’Omer, and others from the day after Rosh Chodesh of Iyar until Shavous.

Dancing at Two Weddings

What are the practical implications of these two different understandings? According to the Sephardi custom , one may not celebrate a wedding until the thirty-fourth day of the Omer . According to the Ashkenazi custom, a wedding may be held until the second of Iyar, or from Lag B’Omer onwards (depending on the custom of the parties involved).

However in certain areas there is a halachic concept of miktzas hayom c’kulo (part of a day is like a full day). For this reason, although seven days of shiva are required, a mourner “gets up” from shiva on the morning of the last day. Therefore Ashkenazim may take a haircut after sunrise of the thirty-third day of mourning, and Sephardim after sunrise of the thirty-fourth day.

May one officiate or participate at a wedding which falls during the period of mourning one observes? An Ashkenazi who knows he will attend a wedding during the Omer ahead of time should follow the custom which places the date of the wedding outside of his mourning period if possible. However at times this is not possible, e.g. he has two weddings, each in a different period.

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein ruled that since attending a wedding is a fulfillment of the mitzva of rejoicing with a bride and groom, and the couple are allowed to get married at times permitted according to their custom, it is permissible to attend a simcha during one’s Sefira mourning period (Responsa Igros Moshe, 1,159; 2,95).

The Rema rules that since a bris mila is considered to be a personal Yom Tov for the father of the child, he may have a haircut the day before. The haircut should take place close to nightfall unless the bris is on Shabbos, in which case he may do it at any time on Friday. The same halacha applies to the Sandek and the Mohel , for the bris is also considered to be a Yom Tov for them ( Mishna Berura 493,12).

If one needs to take a haircut for health reasons one may be lenient and do so during Sefira ( Aruch HaShulchan 493,2). If one will sustain a financial loss (e.g., you may lose your job) it is permitted to shave or get a haircut (Responsa Igros Moshe , Orach Chaim 4,102). Similarly if one is learning to play a musical instrument for financial reasons, he may practice during Sefira ( ibid . 3,87).

Lag B’Omer
A number of poskim maintain that according to the Rema, a wedding may be celebrated on the night of Lag B’Omer ( Chok Yaakov , Elya Rabba , Graz , Mor Ukatzia Igros Moshe ibid . and others). Since Lag B’Omer is a Yom Tov in its own right, one should not mourn on that day. A proof for this is that Tachanun is not said during Mincha on Lag B’Omer or the day before ( Mishna Berura 493,9). If one has a good reason to hold a wedding on the night of Lag B’Omer, one should consult with a rabbi.

The commentators are unclear on the exact nature of Lag B’Omer ( Pri Megadim ). There are a number of reasons offered for the festival, all of which share a common theme – the strengthening and beautification of Torah for the Jewish nation. In this light, Lag B’Omer fits well into the period between Pesach and Shavous, which is a time of preparation to receive the Torah. At the same time, this period serves as a rectification for the transgressions that brought about the original decree against Rabbi Akiva’s students.

Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai
It is commonly believed that Lag B’Omer has significance because it is the anniversary of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai’s death, as well as the day that he and his son left the cave after years of hiding from the Romans ( Kaf HaChaim 493,27; Aruch HaShulchan 493,7; Chaye Adam 131,11 and others). On the day of his death Rabbi Shimon revealed the mystical insights of the Zohar and he did not die until he had completed this revelation ( Bnei Yissaschar, Iyar 3,3). To commemorate this momentous transmission, Rabbi Shimon stipulated that Lag B’Omer should be a day of simcha and promised tremendous reward to those who would rejoice on this day at his graveside . As a result many have the custom to ascend to the tomb of Rabbi Shimon and his son Rabbi Eliezer in Meron to celebrate Lag B’Omer.

The Ari relates an incredible story which sheds light on the magnitude of this day. A great tzadik named Rabbi Avraham HaLevi had the custom to add the prayer of nachem (consolation for mourning) to Shemonah Esreh during the Omer . One year he went to Meron for Lag B’Omer and said nachem usual. The image of Rabbi Shimon appeared to him and told him that he had desecrated this holy day with his prayer, and as a result he would need consolation in the near future. Within a month one of Rabbi Avraham’s children died ( Magen Avraham 493,3 ; Kaf HaChaim 493,26.)

Lag B’Omer is an auspicious time to pray to be blessed with children and it is a well-known segula to pray for this purpose at the tomb of Rabbi Shimon on the day. Some people also distribute eighteen rotel (a fluid measure) of wine or grape juice, another act considered auspicious.

The sanctity of the day has the power to restore life as well. More than a hundred years ago a woman ascended to Meron on Lag B’Omer to give her son his first haircut on his third birthday. In the midst of the celebration the boy suddenly fell deathly ill and shortly afterwards everyone thought that he had passed away. His mother cried to Hashem that she had brought her son to rejoice on Lag B’Omer and instead tragedy had befallen her. Shortly afterwards, she heard the boy crying and he soon recovered ( Ta’amei HaMinhagim p. 263).

Other poskim also associate Lag B’Omer with Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai in a different way. After the death of his 24,000 students, Rabbi Akiva acquired five new disciples, one of them was Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. On Lag B’Omer he gave them semicha , declaring them to be rabbis, thereby assuring that the transmission of the Torah would not be halted by the death of his previous students but would continue with his five new disciples ( Chida, Tov Ayin 18.)

The Miracle of Manna
The Chasam Sofer has a different approach to the nature of Lag B’Omer ( Responsa, Yoreh Deah 233). He proves that when the Jewish people left Egypt they first received the Divine sustenance of the manna on Lag B’Omer. Just as the miracles of Chanukah and Purim are commemorated with national festivals, so too we remember the manna on Lag B’Omer.

One should keep in mind that the manna was not just a source of food for the Jews in the desert. It provided spiritual sustenance that elevated the Jewish people, enabling them to later learn Torah ( Meam Loez, Shemos 16,12). In this respect it has a direct connection to the receiving of Torah and it is appropriate to commemorate this event before Shavous.

The Talmud ( Yavamos 62b) tells us that the students of Rabbi Akiva were punished because they did not show honor for one another. This statement implies that they felt respect for each other but they did not outwardly show it.

In these troubled times it is incumbent upon the Jewish people to look for ways to find favor in Hashem’s Eyes, especially in this matter where we have transgressed in the past.

Demonstrating respect for all of our fellow Jews is no trivial matter. It is an essential prerequisite to receiving the Torah.

Rabbi Travis is the Rosh Kollel of Kollel Toras Chaim.

Originally published here on 5/4/2007

Divrei Hesped for Rav Kalman Zev Levine – Killed al Kiddush Hashem 25 of Cheshvan 5775

Streams of Tears

Yermiyahu cried “Einei einei yordu mayim” (1,16). Rashi explains that this refers to crying constantly. What is the deeper message that the Navi is conveying to us?

Generally crying helps a person to feel better afterwards. However when a person feels boundless pain he just keeps crying and crying and crying. This is what Rashi means; even after all the crying, the mourner over Yesuhalayim still does not still does not feel better.

I do not believe that I have every cried so much in one day as I did on the day of the murder of these four kedoshim. The first niftar I heard about was Rav Aryeh Kupinsky my next door neighbor is a yedid nefesh, who learned together with me in yeshiva. Two years ago his fourteen year old daughter died unexpectedly in her sleep. His children were just getting over the shock of losing their sister and now their father is dead.

Afterwards I heard about Rav Moshe Twerski who was a magid shiur in Toras Moshe where I studied for five years as a bachur and I cried even more. Then I heard about Rav Dovid Goldberg, my son in laws uncle who made sheva berachos for my daughter not long ago in his home, and more crying. After these three doses of bad news in one morning I thought I had exhausted my supply of tears.

However at 1PM I got a phone call from one of my talmidim that Rav Kalman Levine, who is a rosh chebura and rebbi in my kollel, had been murdered. At this point I just collapsed in despair. The tears have been flowing all day, and the pain just gets stronger and stronger. There is very much to be said about all of these kedoshim, but I am going to focus on Rav Levine who was a member of my kollel.

The Biggest and the Smallest

Rav Levine had many, many maylos; but perhaps his greatest attribute was his humility. Rav Levine was a master of the entire Torah, and wherever you asked him, shas, halacha, mussar, the source was on his lips. He would mention the answer nonchalantly, like it was not a big deal that he knew everything. He exemplified what Chazal say “Lo pasak girsa m’pumya” Torah did not leave his mouth for a second.

Yet with all of this Torah knowledge, the concept of honor did not even cross his mind. He exemplified what Chazal tell us (Shabbos 105b) “He was the gadol of the chabura” the greatest of all the talmidim in the Beis Medrash, and at the same time he was “The katan of the chabura” for he carried himself with the ultimate simplicity and pashtus.

On the way to the kevura, his nephew Rabbi Yehuda Kraft commented that the Chafetz Chaim writes that if a person receives honor in this world, this detracts from his reward in the next. Rav Levine goes to olam habah with all of his reward intact completely.

Oved Hashem

Rav Levine was a complete oved Hashem. He learned until very late hours every night and woke up every morning for neiztz without exception. I daven neitz occasionally, and I am astounded how without exception he never missed a minyan. I was amazed by his consistency.

Rav Levine was a zariz. Wherever he went it was fast and in the midst of sherus, complete service of Hashem. He went from mitzvah to mitzvah like an arrow being shot from a bow – straight for the target. He lived and breathed the Boreh Olam.

Rav Levine headed a shiur in Mesilas Yesharim in the kollel once a week. This was the essence of his life. Everything he did was just one straight path to the truth.

His midos were exemplary. Rav Levine was always happy, and when he attended a wedding he was literally bubbling over with simcha. It gave him the greatest joy to see that his talmidim were growing and progressing.

Rav Levine’s greatest joy was Torah learning and whenever he was learning it was like he was in olam habah. When something went wrong he would say, “Anyway this world is not where we are meant to be. Our real home is Olam Habah.”

Emunah Sheleima

Most of us have a point, as small as it may be, of safek in emunah. By Rav Levine there was no point. His emunah was 100% complete with not an iota of room for any doubt.

Rav Levine and I traveled home together from kollel every day for a number of years. During the last year the conversation was almost always the same. Rav Levine constantly remarked that it is clear to anyone who can see that we are at the threshold of redemption. For Rav Levine, moshiach was already here.

Every time there was news of a killing or kidnapping his emunah was strengthened and strengthened. He would often say that there is absolutely nothing left for us to do except to come to the recognition that we have nothing to rely on except Hashem. He would say these words with all of his heart and all his soul.

Speaking to Hashem

Rav Levine davened like he was standing directly in front of the shechinah. The night before his petira he davened in the kolllel. He had his hands up in the air and he was speaking to Hashem.

I often davened next to Rav Levine and he was literally crying during prayer. Every single beracha was taken with the greatest seriousness. During his tefilah he looked like he was engaging in war – a battle to raise his emunah higher and higher and come to a complete recognition of Hashem.

A few days before he remarked to one of his students how it is so easy for a person not to be yotzei tefilah. If a person does not have kavanah in the first berachah of Shemona Esreh. Rav Leveine had kavana in every Shemona Esreh.

There was no such thing in his life as chopping a tefilah. A few days before his petria he told me Maariv takes me half an hour. He coomented that the only way he could daven and still make our ride is if he davened early.

Guarding His Toungue

Rav Levine guarded his tongue like no one else could. We once had a passionate discussion about one of the halachos of shemiras halashon. I was lenient and he was machmir. The discussion got so heated that we almost came to blows. In the end we agreed on the halacha, but I saw that he not only knew the halachos of lashon hara he lived them.

After Rav Levine had been buried one of his students got up and gave a fiery derasha. He spoke about Rav Levine’s hasmada and middos. Even after a full day of crying there were more and more tears.

However one of the most inspiring things he said was about Rav Levine’s shemirras halashon. You could not get in a single word of lashon hara when talking to Rav Levine. He had a complete mastery of the halachos, and they permeated through his blood.

Korbanos Tzibor

As Jews living in Eretz Yisrael we are being pursued daily. Jewish blood is spilled and the enemy just gets more and more blood thirsty. What can we do to deal with this situation?

Rav Rubin, the rav of the shul where the incident took place, mentioned that the way of the Jewish people is not to take revenge. Our job is to serve Hashem with complete emunah. The tests that we are experiencing now are all nisyanos in emunah. Each person has to think about what happened today and think how they can increase their emunah and come back to Hashem in teshuva sheleima.

The rav related that when he was learning in kollel they received a special visit from Rav Shach who was already very old and weak. Rav Shach just read the pasukim of Bereshis, explaining how Hashem created the entire world. Initially Rav Rubin was disappointed that this gadol b’Torah was relaying such a simple message, but in his later years the rav understood the great depth of relating emunah peshutah, simple faith in Hashem.

The rav also mentioned that the custom is to bury those who die al Kiddush Hashem in their blood stained clothes. The Shach explains that the reason for this is that when he gets to Olam Habah Hashem will see their blood stained clothes. This will arouse His anger against the murderers.

May the blood of these four kedoshim, and all the Jews that have died al Kiddush Hashem, come before Hashem’s throne and scream out for mercy. We are in the most difficult times, and there is nothing that can help us now except for tefilah and increasing our emunah in Hashem. May these four kedoshim be a malitz yosher for us and may our tefilos be answered speedily.

Between Yom Kippur and Sukkos – Actions to Match Up to Our Prayers

From Days of Majesty – By Rabbi Daniel Yaakov Travis

On Yom Kippur, the Jewish people were forgiven for the sin of the golden calf and were given the second set of luchos. Yet even after this tremendous act of pardon, we still did not know if we had found favor in Hashem’s eyes. During the days between Yom Kippur and Sukkos, the Jewish people gave away much of the wealth that they had taked from Egypt, for the sake of building the Mishkan, the tabernacle in the dessert. On Sukkos Hashem responded by showing His intense love for us when He returned the Clouds of Glory (commentary of the Vilna Gaon on Shir HaShirim 1:4)

Every year from Elul until Yom Kippur, we toil to repair our relationship with our Creator. When Yom Kippur ends, although we are cleansed of our aveiros, our job is not complete. Between Yom Kippur and Sukkos we engage ourselves completely in mitzvos in order to encourage Hashem to show His deep love for us. Perhaps these four days are the most critical in the entire Jewish calendar, for they determine the true extent of our devotion to HaShem. The intense love that is meant to exist between us cannot return until our actions match up to our prayers.

In the merit of our serving HaShem with devotion, may he show His true love to us, His children, and bring us all back to His Home quickly.

Moving from “Miracles” to “Hashgacha Pratis” – Reflections on the Lessons of Operation Cast Lead

Moving from “Miracles” to “Hashgacha Pratis”
Reflections on the Lessons of Operation Cast Lead

by Rabbi Daniel Yaakov Travis
(based on a shiur heard from HaGaon Rav Moshe Sternbuch shlita, Ravad of Yerushalayim, leil Shabbos Parshas Shemos in Beis Keneses HaGra, Har Nof.)

Victors in Battle
The War in Gaza appears to be drawing to a close. The enemy has sustained a serious blow to its infrastructure, but their leadership and ultimate goal of destroying the Jewish People remain intact. Although the Israeli military forces can hardly claim victory, a major battle has definitely been fought and won; and that is, the knowledge that Hashem alone runs the world.

“Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we will make mention of the name of Hashem” (Tehillim 20,8). The enemy has fired enough deadly missiles to, chas vashalom, wipe out large numbers the Jews living in Eretz Yisrael, Hashem’s Name was sanctified among the many faithful Jews who have turned to him in their hour of need, and He answered us with open miracles, a sign of clear victory in the battle before the coming of moshiach.

The Sifrei Musar tell the story of a band of soldiers on their way home from a glorious battle who meet an elderly rav. Instead of congratulating them on their victory, the rabbi surprises them with his remark: “While you have won a minor war, the major one still lies ahead. Combat with flesh-and-blood soldiers is easy compared to the war with the yatzer hara which rages constantly throughout a person’s life.”

Whatever the outcome of the Gaza conflict, each of us will find that our own personal war with the yatzer hara will rage on. The front-line in this war is our emunah, which he is actively trying to undermine. The newspapers have reported so many miracles over the past few weeks that they have almost become mundane. How can we ensure that the true message of this war will be make a lasting impression on our hearts?

The answer is that we must stop using the word “miracle” and start referring to “hashgacha pratis” (personal Divine Supervision). A miracle is a remote concept that does not obligate us to make real changes in our lives. The recognition of hashgacha pratis, however, is one of the fundamental principles of the Jewish faith, and entails an obligation to seriously reconsider our outlook on life.

“I believe with complete faith that the Creator, Blessed is His name, creates and guides all creatures, and that He alone made, makes and will make everything” (1st of the 13 Ikrim). Seemingly, every mitzvah of the Torah can be considered ikrim, fundamental. What is so special about these thirteen?

Rav Chaim Brisker explains that a person who does not believe in hasgacha pratis or any of the other ikrim has crossed a red line and is no longer considered part of Klal Yisrael. Similarly, the Ramban writes at the end of Parshas Bo, “Anyone who does not believe that there is no such thing as ‘nature’ and doesn’t realize that everything is hashgacha pratis and Divinely guided, does not have a portion in Toras Moshe.” hashgacha Pratis is the foundation of our relationship with Hashem and His Torah.

A Knock on the Door
“My Beloved is knocking saying, ‘Open to Me, my sister, my love'”… (Shir HaShirim 5,2). Over 1,000 missiles have been fired at us from Gaza. Hashem intended every one of them as a wake-up call to us, to arouse us from our slumber to an active awareness of His Providence. They were His way of ‘knocking on the door’ and letting us know that the end of days is approaching.

Even though this war took place in Eretz Yisrael, Hashem wants this message to be heard around the world. In recent months, He has toppled global financial markets and massive amounts of wealth have disappeared without a trace. Economists are baffled but the meaning is clear to all believing Jews – Hashem is knocking on our doors and begging us to stop relying on other sources of power. He alone should be our source of security.

“Hashem is lifted up above all of the nations, His glory is in the Heavens” (Tehillim 113,4). Dovid Hamelech reveals to us the fundamental difference between Hashem’s relationship with the Jewish people and with the other nations of the world. While non-Jews view Hashem as too exalted to get involved with their personal lives, Jews proclaim, “Who is like Hashem Elokeinu, who is enthroned on high yet looks down to behold the mundane matters in the physical world (ibid. 113,5).”

Although Hashem is the unchallenged ruler and creator of the whole universe, this does not stop Him from getting involved with every single detail of a Jew’s life, no matter how trivial or unpleasant. “He raises up the poor from the dust heaps, and the destitute from the lowest grime” (ibid. 113,6). He rules the entire universe – yet the true mark of His greatness is His humility. It’s his care for every detail of every Jew’s life that characterizes him as a loving Father.

When a Jew davens, he should feel Hashem is with him. He has to know that every single word of his prayers is heard, and that every thought that is passes through his mind is noted. This is all part of Ikrei Emunah, and hashgacha pratis is first of the 13 Ikrim.

Chazal tell us that if we do not recognize Hashem’s Prescience in our lives He will send upon us a “cruel king like Haman.” We have the capability to save ourselves from a terrible fate. We must replace take the word “miracle” out of our vocabulary and replace it with hashgacha pratis.

Although the obligation to see Hashem in our lives is borne by every Jew, it is especially crucial for Roshei Yeshivos, Rabbanim and Mechanchim of both boys and girls, to relay this message to their students. If the Zohar tells us that when people discuss hashgacha pratis, Hashem gathers all of the melachim to hear, it is certainly a good use of our time to speak about it as much as possible. In doing so, we will make Hashem a very real part of our daily lives, and awaken an awareness of His hashgacha pratis in our hearts.

Hastening Redemption
Sefer Daniel describes the bitter tribulations that Klal Yisrael will suffer during the times of moshiach. Yet in Sefer Yeshiyah (60,22) the pasuk says “I, Hashem, will hasten it in it’s time.” The Chasam Sofer explains that if we merit Geula, Hashem will hasten it, If not, we will have to wait for the time and the circumstances that accompany this day.

“Unless You have utterly rejected us, and are extremely angry with us, Turn to us Hashem and we shall return, renew our days as of old” (Eichah 4:22 – 23). The Yeshuas Yaakov offers a beautiful explanation of these verses.

When someone is disgusted with his friend, he cuts off all ties with them and has nothing to do with them. On the other hand, if he instead expresses his anger and disappointment to his friend, this is a sign that he still hopes to continue the relationship in the future. If we see that Hashem “is extremely angry with us” and as a result has punished us, it is a sign that He still loves us and wants us “to return to Him as in the days of old ” when we were free of transgression.

We can best understand the situation of the Jewish people today through its parallel to a famous story of a tzadik who davened and toiled all his days for the redemption of the Jewish people. He vowed that when his soul left the world that he would shake the heavens until moshiach would finally come and finally put an end to the suffering of Klal Yisrael. Yet after his death, moshiach still did not come.

The tzadik was granted permission to come back to this world and appear to his friend in a dream. He explained that we live in such times of darkness, every mitzvah that we does has incalculable merit, and is extremely precious in Hashem’s eyes. From his new vantage point in Shamayim, he understood that the suffering of his fellow Jews was cherished by Hashem because it did not shake their commitment to serving Him.

We must hold on just a bit longer, and keep performing Hashem’s mitzvos faithfully, while strengthening our recognition of His hashgacha pratis. In this way, we will surely merit to hasten the arrival of the moshiach, amen.

Rabbi Travis is a Rosh Kollel in Yerushalayim and is the author of Shaylos U’Teshuvos Toras Chaim and “Praying With Joy – A Daily Tefilla Companion” a practical daily guide to improving one’s prayers, available from Feldheim Publishers.

Choked to Life

”Thank Hashem for His kindness, and His wonders you should tell over to people” (Tehillim 107, 21). The Shelah notes that this passuk starts in the singular (kindness) and concludes in the plural (wonders). Furthermore while we thank Hashem for kindness, when we speak to other people we are told to mention His wonders. What is the significance of these differences? We may suggest that David Hamelech is revealing to us the secret of strengthening our relationship with Hashem and of helping others to do the same.

When it comes to our relationship with Hashem we must thank him for the smallest acts of kindness, as Chazal say “On every breath a person takes he is obligated to thank Hashem” ( Midrash Rabba , Devarim 2). However, when speaking to others about Hashem’s greatness we have to wake them up from the deep sleep that causes us to forget all the acts of kindness He does for us constantly. When someone experiences special hashgachah from Hashem he is obligated to tell this to others. When Moshe Rabbeinu met Yisro after all the miracles of Mitzrayim, he told him immediately about the miracles (Brisker Rav, Shemos 18:8). Eliezer too, returned from his mission to find a wife for Yitzchak and before anything else told Yitzchak how he had experienced kefitzas haderech and how the water had flowed upwards to Rifka at the well (Mizmor L’esoda page 291).

The following experience brings these thoughts to life.

Rio de Janeiro in Brazil is known for some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. During the daytime, for obvious reasons, it is impossible for a religious Jew to visit them. Early in the morning they are less crowded.

During Elul 5752, a few weeks after our marriage, we were visiting my wife’s family in Rio . Because it was Elul, I decided one morning that I would tovel in the sea before anyone got there. This way I would be able to see the beauty of these famous beaches while performing a mitzvah . My wife warned me that there were muggers around, but my desire to tovel and see the beaches overrode her admonition. I wore my bathing suit underneath my clothes and headed for the beach.

As I watched the sunrise, I reflected on the month of Elul and its predominant mitzvah to do teshuvah and return to Hashem. My heart was filled with awe over the sheer splendor of the experience.

As I prepared to go into the sea, suddenly two enormous hulks loomed up beside me. I contemplated running, but realized that I had no chance of escaping them. What could I do? One of the thugs grabbed my neck and started to choke me while forcing my face into the sand. The other one searched through my few possessions, repeatedly muttering, “No money, amigo.” This was an abrupt lesson about what Chazal mean that one must thank Hashem for every breath. The air supply to my lungs was getting less and less, and I was sure that my end had arrived.

Suddenly a thought popped into my mind, a shiur that I had heard about the Brisker Rav. His life was endangered and he thought, ein od milvado “there is nothing in the world except for Hashem”). Chazal promise that anyone who concentrates on this phrase will be spared from all danger, and this thought had saved the lives of the Brisker Rav and many others.

As these words came into my mind the mugger released his grip on my throat and both muggers ran away. As they departed with my few possessions they shouted, “The Mafia of Brazil!” Still determined to complete my mitzvah , I toveled in the sea and ran quickly back to my mother-in-law’s apartment.

During the same year as the mugging in Brazil, on 18 ( chai ) of Sivan, Erev Shabbos Shelach, I was in a serious car accident where I was miraculously saved. These two revelations of Hashem’s niflaos woke me up and pushed me to think that maybe Hashem wanted more from me. As a result I started to write sefarim, and five years ago opened up Kollel Toras Chaim.

May Hashem help us to recognize Him constantly by merely hearing about His wonders, amen.

Rabbi Travis will be making a seudas hodayah on Shabbos the eighteenth (Chai) Sivan at the Gra shul in Har Nof. Please be in touch with him if you would like to attend. The following article will appear in this week’s Hamodia.