R’ Dovid Winiarz – An Inspiration to Us All

By now, most of us have heard of the tragic loss of R’ Dovid Winiarz. You pretty much couldn’t be involved in the world of kiruv without having known Dovid. Most of our (Mark and David) interaction with Dovid was peripheral, online and through a phone call or two. But even on that level, you would quickly “get” who Dovid was: A proud but not prideful Jew, strong in his commitment but soft and caring in demeanor, a family man who loved Judaism and loved Jews. A man who saw the potential in every single person, Jew and non-Jew, and had a mission to better himself and help others reach their own potential. A man who not only gave out “Keep Smiling” cards to strangers but generously shared his own brilliant smile with everyone he met.

I (David) vividly remember seeing him at the Siyum Hashas dancing with so much joy that he stood out to me amongst the tens of thousands of attendees. He was in his glory: flanked by family members, young and old, surrounded by Jews of all types and rejoicing in the Torah.

R’ Dovid leaves behind a wife and 10 children. While we cannot take away the pain of this loss, we do have the opportunity to relieve some of the financial burden placed on their shoulders. Please click here to donate. Tizku l’mitzvos.

The Ethics of “What’s in it For Me?”

Why was Yehudahs approach to saving Yoseph so different from that of Reuvens?
Why do the sages condemn those who find merit in Yehudahs tactics?

Reuven heard these words [the brothers’ plot to murder Yoseph] and tried to rescue him saying “Let’s not kill him.” And he said to them “Don’t commit bloodshed … “

— Bereishis 37:21,22

Don’t spill the blood of an innocent man

— Targum Yonasan ben Uziel ibid

Reuven responded and said “ didn’t I tell you not to commit a sin against the lad [Yoseph]? but you didn’t listen. Now a Divine accounting is being demanded for his blood”

— Bereishis 42:22

And Yehudah said to his brothers: “What will we gain [ מה בצע] if we slay our brother and conceal his blood?”

— Bereishis 37:26

And the greedy one desirous of gain [ובוצע ברך] blesses himself … in having infuriated HaShem

— Tehillim 10:4

Rabi Meir says: This passuk  [ובוצע ברך] refers to none other than Yehudah, for it is written, And Yehudah said to his brothers: “What will we gain [ מה בצע] if we slay our brother and conceal his blood?” So all who praise/bless Yehudah, the botzeia; infuriate [HaShem] …

— Sanhedrin 6B

There was a small city, with only a few inhabitants; and a great king came against it, surrounded it, and built great siege-works against it.  A poor wise man was present in the city who, by his wisdom, liberated the city; yet no one remembered that poor man.

— Koheles 9:14,15

[The above passage is interpreted as referring to the milchemes hayetzer-man’s internal moral battle to exercise his free will properly. The “great king” refers to the yetzer hara-inclination to evil; while the “poor-wise” man represents the yetzer tov-inclination to good. The Gemara comments:] “At the time that the yetzer hara holds sway no one can even remember the yetzer tov.”

— Nedarim 32B

Rabi Yehudah quoting Rav said  “One should always busy himself with Torah [study] and Mitzvah [performance] even if he does so for ulterior motives for the result will eventually be that, from within the ulterior motives, he will [develop to] attain the level of [Torah study and Mitzvah performance] for its own sake.

— Nazir 23B

Both Reuven and Yehudah tried to dissuade their other brothers from harming Yoseph. But their diverse approaches are markedly different. Reuven is an ethicist exhorting the brothers to avoid sin and spilling the blood of innocents. Reuven appeals the better angels of their natures and argues, in effect, that virtue is its own reward and that they ought to do the right thing for its own sake. Yehudah is a pragmatist.  His tactic to get the brothers to drop their murderous plan is “What’s in it for us? What do we stand to gain either monetarily (Rashi’s interpretation) or in terms of our fathers affection?”  There is no trace of a moral or halachic argument in Yeudah’s words.

The Izhbitzer explains that Yehudah based his approach on the psycho-spiritual dynamic revealed by the Gemara-Talmud; that “At the time that the yetzer hara holds sway no one can even remember the yetzer tov.” When the Divine Will chooses to test us It causes us to completely forget the severity of the prohibition and to put the moral repugnance of the sin out of our minds. HaShem designed the mechanism of bechirah chofshis-human free-will; to function such that, in the heat of the nisayon-test; when the yetzer hara asserts itself, none can even remember the yetzer tov. While enmeshed in the ethical challenge to reject evil and embrace good, exhortations for moral and ethical behavior, to do the right thing for its own sake, will fall on deaf ears.  The time for understanding  and internalizing the lessons of the superiority of good over evil and that virtue is its own reward is pre-need. In the heat of the moment of trial the inclination to do good is nowhere to be found.

It is at times like these when the most efficient tool against embracing evil, abusing our bechirah chofshis, is to appeal to pragmatic considerations and ulterior motives. The Izhbitzer maintains that Yehudah was a down-to-earth “man of the world” well acquainted with hardheaded realities and that he recognized that the brothers were in the very thick of a great nisayon. There internal voices of conscience and morality had been silenced and he understood that any appeals based on morality and ethics emanating from him would be similarly ignored.  And so he forwarded the מה בצע –what’s in it for us?  What will we gain?; argument. Even when the yetzer hara holds sway people “remember” such practical considerations and, if compelling enough, they can dissuade would-be-sinners from doing evil or, at least, affect some damage-control and diminish the intensity of the sin.

The brothers were in the midst of a great nisayon, their collective memory loss of their yetzer tovs was so great that they were convinced that the murder that they sought to do was justified and was, in fact, the moral and ethical thing to do.  Many meforshim-commentaries take the approach that the brothers convened as a Sanhedrin and ruled that Halachah demanded that Yoseph  be put to death.  The Sforno (37:25) opines that they had ruled Yoseph to be a rodeiph-a “chaser” with homicidal intentions. In such cases anyone may kill the rodeiph to save the life of the would-be murder victim. While the Izhbitzer asserts that the brothers ruled that Yoseph, trying to drive a wedge between them and their father was amounted to sundering the unity of HaShem. In so doing Yoseph had committed a capital offense akin to idolatry.

Read more The Ethics of “What’s in it For Me?”

The Holiness of “Going like a Sheep”

Vayechi 5774-An installment in the series

From the Waters of the Shiloah: Plumbing the Depths of the Izhbitzer School

For series introduction CLICK

By Rabbi Dovid Schwartz-Mara D’Asra Cong Sfard of Midwood

The Elokim before whom my fathers , Avraham and Yitzchak, walked is the Elokim who has led me like a Shepherd from my inception until this day.

-Bereishis 48:15

After the revelation at Sinai various directives of the Torah, some actually counted among the 613 mitzvos, express HaShem’s will for imitatio dei– by which man finds sanctity and goodness by endeavoring to imitate HaShem.  Be it “walking in His ways”(Devarim 8:6 & 11:22), “sticking to Him”(Devarim11:22&30:20)[ which Chazal interpreted as sticking to His middos-characteristics] or “be holy for I am holy”(Vayikra 19:2) the idea is the same one. To wit; that we humans should make our own behaviors, and the spiritual-psychodynamics that underpin them, as consistent with those of HaShem as the limits of our theology allows.

Rav Moshe Codovero’s classic work, Tomer Devorah is predicated on this principle.  First the author analyzes the thirteen Divine Attributes of Mercy and then offers guidance and advice as to how to integrate them into our own lives,  Some have described the principle lyrically as dimui hatzurah l’Yotzrah– making the painting grow similar to the artist. (Cp Koheles Rabbah 2:26)

One of the twentieth century’s preeminent gaonim and chachmei hoavodah taught that while all this is true, that prior to the revelation at Sinai, in our Nations developmental period “walking in His ways” was not just one among many mitzvos or even the best technique for performing all the others. It was the be all and end all of the life’s-work of the patriarchs. HaShem proclaims His mission for Avraham as follows: “For I have paid special attention to him, so that he may command his children and his household after him, that they will keep the way of HaShem, to do charity and justice; HaShem will then bring about for Avraham everything that He promised.”  (Bereishis18:19)

The “way of HaShem” is not the merely way that He commands us to walk but that k’vyachol-as it were, the way / path that He treads Himself.  HaShem is our King, but also our Father, and in Divine Parenting “Do as I say, not as I do” is an anathema.  The “way of HaShem” is why He formed a covenantal relationship with Avraham and the nation that will spring from his loins. As such “walking in His ways” is the very cornerstone of Jewish patriarchy.

Still, the Izhbitzer explains, there are subtle yet defining differences between the various patriarchs approach to “walking in His ways.”

Avraham Avinu was defined by his middah of Chesed– loving-kindness, giving to, and pouring out upon, others. Avraham utilized love and kindness in every given opportunity to assimilate himself to His Creator. Yitzchak Avinu was defined by his middah of Gevurah-forceful self-restraint.  Yitzchak utilized awe and forceful self-restraint in every circumstance to emulate the way of His Creator. Yet Avraham was unfamiliar with the notion of mimicking Divine Contraction and Yitzchak was unaccustomed to imitating Divine Expansion.

But Yaakov was not defined by, and thus not restricted to, any particular middah. Yaakov’s very being was imitatio dei. Yaakov was a living self-portrait of HaShem that continually developed ever-higher fidelity to the Likeness of the portrait Painter.  Yaakov possessed the spiritual dexterity to copy HaShem in all of HaShems Divine middos. Whether the given situation called for chesed, gevurah or any other attribute across the theological spectrum, Yaakov, chameleon-like, conformed to the ways of His Creator.  In this respect his father and grandfather were, relatively speaking, more rigid and limited.

When Yaakov says that his fathers walked before HaShem he was humbly voicing a feeling of comparative inferiority.  He is expressing his observation of the proactive way in which they served HaShem. Capable of standing on their own two feet they, k’vyachol, walked ahead of HaShem. As Rashi (Bereishis 6:9) says “Avraham strengthened himself and walked in his righteousness by himself.”  Defined by their own particular middos, Avraham and Yitzchak were able to improvise and adapt these middos in Divinely imitative ways to new situations. This was especially so in those situations that seemed to be repeating the past, situations that precedents had been set for.

In contradistinction, Yaakov himself needed constant shepherding by HaShem. “Elokim…has led me like a Shepherd from my inception until this day.”  A sheep follows every move of the shepherd.  When the shepherd goes to the right or to the left, up or down, slow or fast, the sheep follow. Yesterday, watering his flock, the shepherd may have brought them right up to the riverbank. Today, floods have caused the waters to overflow and to repeat yesterday’s livestock management would not result in hydrating the sheep, but in drowning them.   Similarly Yaakov felt the need to follow HaShem like a sheep with no internal GPS to guide himself. Even if he confronted the “same” situation for the hundredth time, he awaited Divine guidance and then precisely shadowed HaShem’s Movements k’vyachol.

In fact, this was no inadequacy on Yaakov’s part but the very characteristic that made him the “choicest of the Patriarchs” and why it is his visage, and not those of Avraham and Yitzchak , that is chiseled on the Divine throne of Glory.

Yaakov lived the life that king Dovid prayed for “(When) HaShem is my Shepherd I will lack for nothing!” HaShem always leads a person, yet most people, bristling at the sheep-Shepherd relationship, turn their faces aside and willfully refuse to follow the leader.

The second Izhbitzer explains the relative advantage of Yaakov’s sheepishness in light of the following gemara:

And many nations will go and say: ‘ let us go and ascend up HaShem’s mountain, to the house of the L-rd of Yaakov; and He will teach us of His ways, and we will walk in His paths.’ For out of Zion will Torah go forth, and the word of HaShem from Jerusalem.

Yeshaya 2:3

Rabi Elazar observed; “to the house of the L-rd of Yaakov” (why is this place referred to as the house of the L-rd of Yaakov) and not the L-rd of Avraham or the L-rd of Yitzchak? Avraham referred to the site of the Beis Hamikdash as a mountain (Bereishis 22:14), Yitzchak referred to it as a field (Bereishis 24:63), but Yaakov called it a house “and he called the name of the place Bethel (Bereishis 28:19).

-Pesachim 88A

There is an inherent danger in being fixed in a particular middah. One who is intransigently stuck even in the noblest of middos may be found wanting in particular situations.  No middah is more splendid than rachmanus-mercy, rooted in the chesed that is the very foundation of the world. Yet our sages teach us that one who can never let go of mercy will first abuse it by bestowing it upon unworthy recipients and then overcompensate for that abuse with its antisocial antithesis. “All who are merciful to the cruel will ultimately be cruel to the merciful” (Koheles Rabbah 7).

No one middah is complete and perfect unto itself. This is why Yaakov eschewed reliance on any particular middah.  Instead, he would assess the changing circumstances and look to HaShem for enlightenment and guidance minute by minute. He would move from middah to middah as the Divine will renewed Itself every moment. This is the meaning of the pasuk “No black magic can (harm) Yaakov nor any occult powers against Yisrael. ‘How is G-d acting at this moment’ is the only question pertinent to Yaakov and Yisrael.”(BeMidbar 23:23).

Through his incessant imitatio dei, his constant cleaving to HaShem Yaakov became subsumed within the Divine Light.  The Divine Light surrounded Yaakov like a house. As a house provides shelter from the elements the surrounding Divine Light lent Yaakov invulnerability. No malevolent powers, nor the excesses or deficiencies of the monomaniacal fixation on a particular middah, could harm him. Nimbly darting from middah to middah Yaakov sheepishly followed HaShem at every turn. Unlike his father and grandfather Hashem, k’vayachol, served as a protective “house” for Yaakov.

Adapted from:

Mei Hashiloach Vayechi D”H Vayomer Elokim
Bais Yaakov Vayechi inyan 7 page 426 (213B)
Also see Pri Tzadik Rosh HaShanah inyan 8 page 170

To Be Willing to Do More than Die… so That Others May Live

Vayigash 5774-An installment in the seriea
From the Waters of the Shiloah: Plumbing the Depths of the Izhbitzer School
For series introduction CLICK

By Rabbi Dovid Schwartz-Mara D’Asra Cong Sfard of Midwood

 Love HaShem your L-rd with all your heart, with all your soul and with your entire uttermost.

-Devarim 6: 5

The second modifier of this commandment “love…with all your soul/ life” is the scriptural source for the halachah-Torah law that one must lay down their lives and die ahl kiddush HaShem– through holy martyrdom to sanctify The Name rather than transgress the prohibition of idolatry(Sanhedrin 74A). There are several other transgressions and circumstances where the halachah demands “death before transgression.” Those brave and G-d-loving souls who were equal to this ultimate test of tests have gone down in the annals of Jewish history as kedoshim-holy ones.

As all death is certain, if we were able to pick the circumstances of our deaths the noblest and wisest choice would be to die ahl kiddush HaShem confident that, in doing so, this end of our temporal lives will gain us holiness and entrée to an exalted eternity.  Rabi Akiva prayed for such a death every day and his prayers were answered (Brachos 61B). Those who die ahl kiddush HaShem occupy such an exalted position in the world-to-come that their station is inaccessible even to those who lived righteous lives but died conventional deaths. (Pesachim 50 A)

The Rambam goes so far as to say that dying ahl kiddush HaShem instantly redeems a terribly lived life. In his words “A person who’d lived a wicked life whom HaShem affords the merit of the exalted level of dying ahl kiddush HaShem, even if his sins were as great as those of Yeravam ben Nevaht and his cohorts (who’d lost their share in the world-to-come) will gain a portion in the world-to-come.” (Igerres Teiman).

The conventional translation for the last modifier of this pasuk is “Love HaShem…and with all your might.” But the Hebrew word meod literally means “very/ exceedingly.”  The word that concludes the pasuk is the second person, singular, possessive construct of this word. In this vein “and with your entire uttermost” comes close to a hyper-literal translation. Such a translation means that we are commanded to love HaShem by giving Him that which we value above all else, that which we would gladly trade our hearts and souls to obtain. The Izhbitzer teaches that there are times and circumstances that call for more than trading a fleeting life for an everlasting one. There are times and circumstances when mesiras nefesh means sacrificing our eternity, NOT sacrificing something else to get it.

His disciple Rav Tzadok, the Kohen of Lublin, cites many examples of this supreme type of self-sacrifice:  After the sin of the Golden calf Moshe Rabenu offered to be erased from G-d’s book in order to save the Jewish People (Shemos 32:32).  When his son plotted to commit regicide/ patricide, King Dovid sought to do damage control by worshipping idols, forfeiting his own share in the world-to-come, so as to minimize desecrating HaShem’s Name (Sanhedrin107A).  For his love of Torah, in order to be the precedent-setting case that would bring a disputed halachah to light the mekoshesh eitzim-wood gatherer / chopper was willing to desecrate Shabbos (BeMidbar15:32-26, Tosafos Bava Basra 119B). Similarly, all those who “strolled in the Orchard”(Chagigah 14B) i.e. who studied the mystical secrets of the Torah, did so for the selfless, reckless love of Torah. They were cognizant of the risks these Torah studies posed to their bodies, sanity and even their faith. To lose ones faith is to lose the world-to-come.

“Send the boy with me” said Yehudah to his father Yisrael …”I will be responsible for him myself.  You can demand him from my hand. If I do not bring him back and have him stand here in your presence I will have sinned to you for all time.”

Bereishis 43:8,9

 Yehudah walked up to Yoseph and said “Please, your highness, (alternatively; my Master is within me) please let me say something to you personally…”

Bereishis 44:18

“Besides, I offered myself to my father as a guarantor for the lad. I told him ‘If I do d not bring him back to you I will have sinned to my father for all time.”

Bereishis 44:32

The sidra opens with Yehudah’s dramatic monologue. Apparently his peroration is being delivered in front of Tzafnat P’a’aneyach, the viceroy of Egypt. Superficially, pasuk 32 reads as a maudlin plea for mercy; “look at what I stand to lose unless your highness reconsiders…” But, in truth, even prior to Yoseph’s revealing his true identity, Yehudah was, in effect, speaking to Yoseph. More precisely; he was acting as his own advocate before HaShems heavenly court over the sale of Yoseph, and over Yoseph’s presumed loss to the history and kedushah-development of K’lal Yisrael. Earlier there had been a consensus among the brothers that all of their troubles in Egypt, now having culminated in Binyamin being accused of stealing Tzafnat P’a’aneyach’s divining cup, were Divine retribution for the sale of Yoseph. (Bereishis 42:21,22)

As criminal-defense attorneys will tell you, in many cases the best defense is a good offense. Yehudah’s line of attack was that he could supply K’lal Yisrael with everything that Yoseph had to offer…. and more. The second Izhbitzer, the Bais Yaakov, explains Yehudah’s words as follows: “Yoseph’s greatest spiritual strength derives from his supreme self-control.  Even when the most overpowering temptations sing Yoseph a siren-song calling for an expansion of self that would overspill these boundaries, Yoseph, personifying yesod-immovable, defined foundation, has ability to constrict himself and respect boundaries that are just not to be crossed.

“But” Yehudah argues “I possess that power as well because; bi adonee-HaShem’s theonym is within me, His holy Name is subsumed inside my own (the name Yehudah is the tetragrammaton with the letter dalet intervening between the final two letters) and His divine power to maintain boundaries is contained within me.

“Moreover I have a capacity for self-sacrifice that Yoseph lacks.  I can be moser-nefesh / neshamah-sacrifice my soul.  I posses the singular selflessness, the self-abnegation,  to forfeit not merely my temporal body but my everlasting soul so that others may live. Yoseph does not. Ki ahvd’cha ahrav es hanaaar– your slave has cosigned for the youth (Binyamin).”

Chazal teach that when Yehudah guaranteed Yaakov the safe, live return of Binyamin he did it on penalty of losing his share in the world to come (See Rashi-Bereshis 43:9). Yehudah was willing to do more than merely sacrifice a few remaining years of life on Binyamin’s behalf.  He was ready to forfeit eternity. According to the Bais Yaakov’s reading “If I do not bring him back to you I will have sinned to my father for all time” is no weepy supplication for clemency; it is a bold and defiant assertion of superiority.

Adapted from:
Mei Hashiloach V’eschanan D”H v’ahavta page 57B
Tzidkas Hatzadik 201page 78
Bais Yaakov Vayigash inyan 14 page 404 (102B)

 

Dreaming but Not Sleeping

Vayeshev 5774-An installment in the series

From the Waters of the Shiloah: Plumbing the Depths of the Izhbitzer School

For series introduction CLICK

 By Rabbi Dovid Schwartz-Mara D’Asra Cong Sfard of Midwood

 Soon thereafter the Egyptian king’s wine steward and the baker offended their master, who was the king of Egypt.

-Bereshis 40:1

 [Regarding] this one (the wine steward) a fly was found in his goblet, and [concerning] that one (the baker) a pebble was found in his bread.  (Bereshis. Rabbah 88:2)

-Rashi ibid

The kingdom of the earth is analogous to the Kingdom of Heaven.

Zohar Miketz 197A

Throughout this Sidra there’s a marked disparity between Yoseph and Yehudah. All of Yoseph’s well-intentioned plans go awry First, he shares his prophetic dream with his brothers and they grow jealous of him. Then he tries to edify his brothers and some are ready to kill him while, in due course, they sell him to an Ishmaelite caravan consigning him to near-certain doom. He serves his master faithfully, resisting all temptations, but then gets framed for an infidelity that he was innocent of. Finally, he makes a minor effort at self-help, asking the Pharaoh’s wine steward to say something favorable about him to Pharaoh and, as a result, ends up spending another two years prison.

On the other hand, Yehudah seems to be living the proverbial charmed life. Even though he was the one who presented Yoseph’s goat-bloodied garment to their father, causing their father overwhelming anguish,  he still merited being in Yaakov’s proximity all those long years that Yoseph was in exile.  In the, apparently, very sordid affair of Tamar, all ended well and the progenitor of the Messianic line was born.

The Izhbitzer teaches that Yoseph envied Yehudah and had grievances about HaShem’s conduct of his own affairs. He wondered why HaShem crowned all of Yehudahs endeavors with great success, even those that were overtly risky or that ventured far into moral and ethical ambiguity.  Whereas all of his own actions, no matter how purely motivated, came under the closest Divine scrutiny, the “precision of a hairsbreadth” and, invariably, were found wanting.

The dreams of the Pharaoh’s wine steward and baker were meant to serve as an allegorical response to Yoseph’s grievances. Every king, including the King of all kings, has a servant like the wine steward and a servant akin to the baker.  The wine steward was restored to his position because he was not responsible for his offense.  There’s really nothing that he could’ve done to prevent a fly from buzzing into the wine goblet.  A fly is animate and has an instinct if it’s own. It’s even possible that the fly fluttered into the goblet after it was already in the Pharaoh’s grasp. However, the baker’s offense was unpardonable as an inert pebble should never have found its way into the king’s bread loaf. Yoseph was like the baker and Yehudah was like the wine-steward.

King Dovid, the quintessence of Yehudah, is described by the Zohar (Mishpatim 107A) as the Kings “jester”. As a powerful king himself how should we understand this unusual title? We know that King Dovid’s songs of Tehilim were sung as the wine libations were poured in the Beis HaMikdash on HaShems “table” kivayochol -as it were. If the purpose of a jester is to dispel sadness from, and bring merriment to, the king’s heart, then jesters and wine stewards employ different means to achieve the same goal. So, the jester designation can be understood in wine steward terms.

But the “jester” designation refers to the something deeper as well. Yehudah’s offenses, and those of his descendants, were deemed to be beyond the range of their  bechirah chofshis– free-will. As our sages taught; “the Angel appointed to preside over desire forced him” to consort with Tamar (Bereshis Rabbah 85:9).  Jesters allow their kings to toy with them and to defeat them at the royal courts’ games. When a person loses his bechirah chofshis he becomes G-d’s plaything, a mere puppet on HaShem’s string, as a jester might, a man who has lost his bechirah chofshis “lets” G-d win kivayochol.  The pasuk states: “that You may be justified when You speak, and be in the right when You judge” (Tehilim 51:6). When expounding on the episode of Dovid and Bas-Sheva the Gemara understands that what Dovid meant to say here was “let them [the people] not say, ‘The servant triumphed  against his Master’.” (Sanhedrin 107A). In other words, Dovid is telling HaShem “I’m your jester, I let my King win”

On the other hand, Yoseph was like the baker. HaShem had instilled Yoseph with a fiery clarity and brilliance and the passionate strength to withstand all tests. After all, the House of Yoseph was to be the flame that would consume the House of Esav (see Ovadiah 1:18). HaShem had placed Yoseph in a crisp, brilliant and immaculate place. He and his descendants needed to stay spotless in order to refute any of Esav’s contentions. As trying as Yoseph’s trials were they were never outside the scope of his bechirah chofshis. Yoseph was in complete control of his choices.

If something unseemly crept into Yehudah’s affairs it was as though the zigzagging fly splashed into the King’s wine goblet after it was already in the King’s hands.  There was absolutely nothing that the jester/wine steward could have done to prevent it.  If something inappropriate contaminated Yoseph’s affairs it was as though a tooth-shattering pebble was in the King’s bread.  The King grew furious and bitterly disappointed because this was absolutely something that the baker could have, and should have, put a stop to.

 

The righteousness of the unblemished will straighten his way; and by his wickedness, the wicked shall fall.

-Mishlei 11:5

 When an otherwise unblemished Tzaddik sins, the Divine trait of Strict Justice demands the harsh and “precision of a hairsbreadth” punishment to expiate the sin. But the Divine trait of Mercy seeks alternatives modes of Tikun-sin repair and amelioration.  It will not allow the Tzaddik to take the punishment. Instead It allows the Tzaddik to observe someone guilty of a coarser, more overt expression of the same sin taking their punishment.  This sensitizes the Tzaddik to his own misstep.  The Tzaddik sees the retribution being executed and, growing reflective and insightful concludes, in essence, that “there, but for the Grace of G-d, go I”. This is why the pasuk says “and by his wickedness, the wicked shall fall.”,  when the correct poetic meter of the sentence should have been “and the wicked shall fall by his wickedness.” The truth is that there are times and situations when the wicked fall due to the wickedness of the unblemished! They do so in order the enable the unblemished to straighten his way.

As sternly as Yoseph was judged compared to Yehudah, it could have been even more severe. In fact, mercy tempered the justice that he was dealt. The Pharaoh’s baker became the punishment proxy for Yoseph, the Divine King’s “baker”. The dissimilar dreams of the wine steward and the baker were not just revealed to Yoseph because he happened to be the best dream-interpreter available in the dungeon. They were revealed to him to help him understand the difference between Yehudah’s relationship with HaShem and his own, to help him identify with the baker rather than with the wine steward, to stop grumbling about alleged Divine miscarriages of justice, to realize his own strengths and responsibilities, to shift the responsibility for his tribulations to his own broad shoulders and thus be metaken– repair and repent for his shortfalls. 

Adapted from Mei HaShiloach I Vayeshev end of long D”H Vayeshev

 And Mei HaShiloach II Vayeshev D”H B’Inyan

 

Addition by Subtraction

Vayishlach 5774-An installment in the series From the Waters of the Shiloah: Plumbing the Depths of the Izhbitzer School For series introduction CLICK By Rabbi Dovid Schwartz-Mara D’Asra Cong Sfard of Midwood   Yaakov remained alone, and a man wrestled with him until just before daybreak.

-Bereshis 32:25

He had forgotten small flasks and [unwilling to squander them] returned [unaccompanied] for them. 

-Rashi Ibid

But Esav said, “I have plenty, my brother; let what is yours remain yours.”, “Please no!” Yaakov said “If indeed I have gained favor with you, then please accept my gift.  After all, seeing your face is like seeing the face of the Divine, you have received me so favorably. Please accept my welcoming gift as it has been brought to you.  Elokim has favored me [with it], and I have all [I need].” Yaakov thus prevailed upon him, and [at last] Esav took [it].

-Bereshis 33:9-11

Yaakov was among those Tzadikim who “value their property more than their bodies”(Chulin 91A).   So much so that he found it unconscionable to let a few small flasks go to waste.  Rav Leibeleh Eiger points out that his imploring Esav to accept his substantial gifts seems totally incompatible with his earlier behavior and attitude.  Even had he been less frugal, the fact that the recipient was the wicked Esav should have curbed his generosity and apparent urgency to part with his own property.

“But of the Tree of the Knowledge Joining Together of Good and Evil, do not eat of it; for on the day that you eat of it you will definitely die.’

– Bereshis 2: 17

The word Da’as means joining together and becoming as one. We’ve learned that the Original Sin, ingesting of the fruit of the Tree of the Joining Together of Good and Evil resulted in the Yetzer HaRa became internalized and integrated into mans very being. When Adam and Chava became what they ate this had a universal cataclysmic effect as the mish-mash of good and evil spread throughout the macrocosm as well. The catastrophic result of the Original Sin is that on both a human and a cosmic level there is no longer any unadulterated good or any unmitigated evil.

To resolve Yaakov’s inconsistencies Rav Leibeleh applies and expands this concept. He maintains that the physical manifestation of mans intrinsic evil is the foreskin. The bris milah-covenant of circumcision is intended to separate this congenital admixture of evil.  No one considers circumcision an act of maiming nor circumcised people to be amputees. On the contrary; the preamble to this covenant is “Walk before me and become perfect!” (Bereshis 17:1). One achieves perfection through excision of the superfluous. Circumcision is addition through subtraction.

Milah serves as the template for free-will endowed human beings to continue exercising their will in making birurim-refinements that sift the evil away from the good and expunge it. When HaShem bestows munificence and kedushah-holiness on deserving individuals that kedushah contains traces of evil as well.  It is the recipients’ mission and challenge to sift away and remove these smatterings of evil.  The Divine Wisdom determines the quality and quantity of evil that is in the mix, customizing the “compound” that requires refining so that it is appropriate to the soul tasked with the refining.

In our patriarch’s case, the vast stream of benevolence and kedushah overflowing from HaShem to Yaakov was adulterated by the pollutants of Esav’s evil. But until Yaakov isolated and detached the portions belonging to Esav that he’d received, he himself was as imperfect and spiritually maimed as one who is uncircumcised.  While Yaakov was, indeed, very parsimonious and possessive of that which belonged to him, he was eager to divest himself of all that belonged to Esav. This explains why he literally begged Esav to accept his gift. Yaakov was not giving away, he was giving back.

This helps explain the odd grammatical construct of pasuk 11; “Please accept my welcoming gift as it has been brought to you” is in the past tense. The pasuk would have been less stilted had it read: “Please accept my welcoming gift that I bring to you/ that I am giving you”. Subtextually Yaakov is telling Esav “Don’t imagine for a moment that I’m giving up anything (good/holy) that is actually mine. I’m merely transferring something that belonged to you from long ago. It had been brought to you in the past as an extraneous, superfluous add-on of evil at the time that HaShem’s shefa-overflow of benevolence came to me (כי חנני אלוקים). The welcoming gift that I present to you now was always meant to be yours.   On the contrary, you must take back what was always your portion from me so that what remains with me will be refined, unadulterated holiness. I must add to myself, perfect myself through this subtraction. Giving you this gift is another iteration of cutting away my foreskin.”

The very act of urging, pleading, nagging, almost harassing, Esav to accept the gift, was out of character for Yaakov.  While non-violent, it resonated of the type of compulsion and intimidation we normally associate with Esav, he to whom “the arms” belong, who lives by his sword and who engages in tyrannical imperialism. The technique of this gift-giving, actually divestiture, was itself, a part of the birur. “Prevailing-upon” his brother, Yaakov used his persistence as body language to tell Esav “Take your own haftzarah-your compelling, prevailing-upon away from me. ויפצר בו…ויקח

On that day Esav returned on his way to Seir. Yaakov journeyed to Sukkoth.  There, he built himself a house, and made shelters for his livestock. He therefore named the place Sukkoth. [Shelters]

– Bereshis 33: 16-17

The Torah’s narrative progresses from the episode of the “gift” to Esav to the final separation of the two brothers from one another. Rav Leibeleh concludes that this segue is as seamless and reasonable as the irreversible separation of the foreskin from the perfected body.

Adapted from Imrei Emes Vayishlach D”H Kach page 37  

Working Smarter — After Working Hardest

VaYetzai 5774-An installment in the series

From the Waters of the Shiloah: Plumbing the Depths of the Izhbitzer School

For series introduction CLICK

By Rabbi Dovid Schwartz-Mara D’Asra Cong Sfard of Midwood

She (Leah) was pregnant once again, and bore a son. She said: “This time let me express gratitude to HaShem.” She named the child Yehudah. Then, she stopped having children.

-Bereshis 29:35

Rachel saw that she bore Yaakov no children. Rachel was jealous of her sister (Leah) and she said to Yaakov: “Give me children, or else I will die.”  Yaakov became furious with Rachel: “Shall I take HaShem’s place?” he said “It is He who is holding back the fruit of the womb”.

-Bereshis 30:1,2

 There are teachings of Chaza”l that, when measured in the crucible of reality, challenge our emunas chachamim– faith in the Torah sages.  Perhaps none so regularly and personally as this one: “If one were to tell you ‘I have toiled but I have not found- tried hard but have not succeeded’ do not believe him.  ‘I have not toiled but I have found- have not tried but have succeeded’ (again) do not believe him” (Megillah 6B).

How many of us have been frustrated by failure in our personal lives, our academic efforts and/or our careers despite having put forth our very best efforts? Conversely, how many times has unanticipated success come our (or our competitors) way, relatively effortlessly?

The Izhbitzer teaches that our two matriarchs Rachel and Leah, are, to all appearances, the exemplars of these two claims, equally lacking in credibility.   Rachel, after years of heartfelt prayer and buying a “fertility drug” (the mandrakes) was still childless. To that point, her life story had been one that veritably shouted: “I have toiled but I have not found”.   On the other hand, Leah named her fourth son Yehuda as a way of thanking HaShem for having “taken more than my fair share” (Rashi ibid). Taking more than ones fair share is another way of saying “I have not toiled… but I have found”.

But the Izhbitzer tweaks the claims of the sisters and, in so doing, answers our questions. For now, we’ll concentrate on Rachel’s claim that “I have toiled but I have not found”.

Imagine a person wanting to enter a home, banging loudly and repeatedly on one of the homes windowless and doorless solid exterior walls the livelong day, but, tenaciously maintaining his position at the solid wall and refusing to move towards the door.  While expending great efforts and burning many calories to achieve the goal of entry, he’s banging in the wrong place, his enormous efforts are misdirected. He may be working hard but he is not working smart. Were he to move a few feet and just rap on the door ever so lightly, it would immediately swing open and he would gain entry.

HaShem provides every individual soul with a unique makeup and an incomparable defining middah– characteristic, a leitmotif that colors all their perceptions, impacts all their decisions, tests them at every juncture and motivates all of their thoughts, words and deeds. The Divine Will desires that one’s leitmotif  be both their greatest strength, their supreme source of good and their worst weakness, their most horrible enabler for evil.

Rachel was toiling mightily in prayer but where she really needed to concentrate her efforts was on the birur-the purification of her particular defining middah.   Rachel’s soul was endowed with a matchless capacity for jealousy. But jealousy can be a stingy, malcontent green-eyed-monster or the engine that drives self-improvement and self-actualization.

Unholy, evil jealousy begins with an attitude of “It’s not fair. You don’t deserve that. I hope that you lose it. Only then will justice be served!”  But jealousy can be sublimated into something good and holy, into the proverbial kinas sofrim –the academic envy of the wise students that spurs them to greater scholarship. The anthem of kinas sofrim is: “Hmmm…that looks good.  You’re certainly entitled to what you’ve gained but I’d like some too.  Some is good so more must be better. There’s plenty to go around and I won’t rest until I’ve gotten it, and more, too.” Kinas sofrim observes a good mousetrap and the boons that it brings  to the mousetrap builder and to society. It then goes out and builds a better one.

The Ramba”n fails to understand Yaakov’s vehemence.  What did Rachel do wrong?  After all, the Gemara advises those suffering from illnesses, in her case infertility, to approach sages and ask them to daven on their behalf (Bava Basra 116A).  Yaakov grew testy over Rachels misplaced yegiah-efforts and exertions. All her prayers, or any that Yaakov might have added, were like knocking on a brick wall instead of on a door.  He recognized that she was jealous, that this was her defining characteristic. But he realized that she had yet to be mevarer– to clarify and purify her middah.  Was her jealousy of the run-of-the-mill, catty, begrudging variety, or, was it the high-minded kinas sofrim that utilizes the irritants of envy to produce the pearls of ever-greater effort, innovation and achievement?

Rachel said: ‘Here is my handmaid Bilhah. Come to her and let her give birth on my lap.  Through her I will then also have a son.’

-Bereshis 30:3

“Isn’t it enough that you’ve taken my husband away?” snapped Leah “Now you’d even take my sons mandrakes? “All right” Rachel responded “Yaakov will lie with you tonight in exchange for your son’s mandrakes.”

-Bereshis 30:15

 Rachel offered Yaakov Bilhah, and negotiated a deal resulting in yet another pregnancy for Leah. These concessions brought more “competitors” into the marriage. By doing so she had rid her jealousy of any elements of pettiness and malice and distilled pristine kinas sofrim from her defining middah. With this small, yet significant step, she had stopped working hard and started working smart. She’d stopped pounding the brick wall and began lightly rapping on the door. Unsurprisingly, the door then swung open and she soon conceived Yoseph.

Essentially Yaakov bellowed at Rachel “I’m skeptical when you claim ‘I have toiled but I have not found’ because you’ve toiled, but in the wrong way, at the wrong spot. To unlock the doors of fertility you don’t need to pray anymore.  Purify your jealousy and you’ll be knocking on the doors.  You have not “toiled” smartly and that’s why you have not yet “found”. Work smart and those doors will swing open “

The second Izhbitzer adds that the efforts Rachel expended at working hard were not wasted.  The Gemara teaches that if one sees that their prayers were not answered they should pray again (Berachos 32B). The Divine Will decrees precisely how long we must work our hardest before we attain salvation by working smart. There is no free lunch and there is no free epiphany that allows a person the sudden intuitive leap of understanding to correctly identify precisely which middah is their own leitmotif . Once discovered, one may begin the “working smart” of distilling the goodness of, i.e. being mevarer, their middah.

To carry the allegory further, there is something about banging on walls that eventually, cumulatively points us towards the door. And so, even while working hard and, apparently, ineffectively; claiming “I have toiled but I have not found” is a lie. All the banging on te wall eventually culminates in allowing the wall-banger to see the door that he must knock on. We toil, then we find. We work smarter, davka after working our hardest.

Adapted from Mei HaShiloach I VaYetzai D”H vaTomer haPa’am

Bais Yaakov VaYetzai Inyan 66 (page261) 

Opposites Attract…AND Repel

If I say to the girl “Tip your jug over and let me drink” and she responds, “Drink, and I will water your camels as well” she is the one whom You have verified [as the mate] for Your servant Yitzchak. [If I find such a girl] I will know that You have done lovingkindness to my master.

-Bereshis 24:14

She [Rivkah] is fitting for him [Yitzchak]for she will perform deeds of lovingkindness and is worthy of coming into the house of Avraham.

-Rashi Ibid

She is worthy of him, for she will perform acts of kindness, and she is fit to enter the house of Abraham;She is worthy of him, for she will perform acts of kindness, and she is fit to enter the house of Abraham;

At first glance the litmus test for Rivkah’s compatibility with Yitzchak seems ill-advised.  While it’s true that Avraham Avinu is identified with Chesed-lovingkindness, Yitzchak Avinu is identified with Gevurah-might and self-control. So, while extending favors and lovingkindness might demonstrate that Rivkah was worthy of entering the house of Avraham, Eliezer had been dispatched to choose a bride for Yitzchak, not for Yitzchaks father. As such, perhaps Eliezer should have prayed for HaShem to arrange for circumstances that would test Rivkahs self-restraint, courage and strength rather than her lovingkindness.

HaShem said “It is not good for man to be alone.   I will make him a helpmate opposite him

-Bereshis 2:18

Rashi famously explains this Pasuk as an either / or proposition; “If one is worthy (his wife) will be his helpmate, if he is unworthy then she becomes his opponent to wage war”.  However, the Izhbitzer writes that a straightforward reading of the Pasuk tells us that Hashem’s Will is that one’s help arises from a challenging opponent rather than from an ostensibly sympathetic ally.

To illustrate this concept he cites the Gemara (Bava Metzia 84A) that relates that after the death of Reish Lakish, Rebee Yochonon became despondent. Rebee Yochonon had been the deceased’s adversary in numerous Halachic disputes, At first Rebee Elazar ben Pedas was sent to him as a new disciple to “replace” Reish Lakish. But Rebee Elazar turned out to be a “yes-man” ally, buttressing each of Rebee Yochonon’s Halachic opinions with corroborating braisos. Rather than drawing comfort from his new student Rebee Yochonon grew even more grief-stricken and cried out “You are nothing like the son of Lakish! When I offered an opinion the son of Lakish would pose twenty four questions and I’d supply twenty four answers. In this way the topic would be illuminated and clarified.”

Hashem’s stated goal in the creation of the first woman; adversarial assistance, was to become the template for all subsequent women. The antithetical natures of man and woman are reflected on the biological, psychological and spiritual levels. Human males and females perceive reality in distinctive masculine and feminine ways. They are two genders divided by a common language. A contemporary author aptly titled his bestselling book about relationships using a metaphor indicating that men and women come from different planets and are as extra-terrestrial aliens to one another.

Chazal tell us that since the time of Creation, HaShem is a Matchmaker who “sits and pairs up couples.” (Bereshis Rabbah 68:4). Based on how He designed the first human couple to function as a unit this means that besides the two genders being diametrically opposed to one another in the broadly generic sense the Divine “Maker of pairs” customizes opposing forces in every specific couple according to each partner’s unique make-up.

The Izhbitzers great disciple Rav Tzadok, the Lubliner Kohen, carries the concept further:  The attraction and pairing of opposites is based on more than the dynamic tension of opposing forces strengthening and sharpening one another. It is also because each individual is incomplete unto themselves. To use the Talmudic imagery, a single person is merely half a body.  So when antithetical males and females are paired they complement one another and fill in that which their partner lacks.

This explains the prayer of Avraham’s servant, Eliezer. It is precisely because Yitzchak is defined by Gevurah that Eliezer sought a mate for him imbued with Chesed. To have paired Yitzchak with a woman of Gevurah would have been redundant, so to speak,  as Yitzchak would already have provided the marriage with that half of the equation. Such a match would work against the Divine template for matchmaking; “a helpmate…. opposite him” davkah.

There are two ways in which a Midah B’Kedusha-A characteristic rooted in holiness can be linked to another characteristic;  either by uniting with its opposing Midah B’Kedusha or by being conflated with its sympathetic, mirror-image Midah B’Sitra Achra-a characteristic rooted in evil.  When two antithetical Midos B’Kedusha join forces their relationship is symbiotic. They complement one another like nesting concave and convex figures with each Midah B’Kedusha rounding out the other to form the whole.  So, while a tension exists between them, sensing that it is their “adversary” that will make them complete, they are attracted to one another as well.

On the other hand when a Midah B’Kedusha connects to its mirror-image Midah B’Sitra Achra nothing beneficial accrues to the Midah B’Kedusha . It is stuck with and to the evil Midah B’Sitra Achra as part of the inescapable fallout of the cosmic mish-mash of good and evil resulting from the Original Sin *1. But there is no reason, hence no way, for a Midah B’Kedusha to unite with an antithetical Midah B’Sitra Achra. When confronted with an antithetical Midah B’Sitra Achra the Midah B’Kedusha senses all of the tension and the antagonism but none of the opportunity for fulfillment. In such instances, the Midah B’Kedusha is utterly repelled by the adversarial nature of the Midah B’Sitra Achra.

This helps us better understand the family dynamics of our earliest patriarchs and matriarchs. Avraham Avinu was defined by his midah of Chesed– loving-kindness, giving to, and pouring out upon, others. His mate, Sara, complemented and completed Avraham through her opposing midah of Gevurah. In the next generation the roles of the male and female marriage partners were reversed. Yitzchak Avinu was defined by his midah of Gevurah-forceful self-restraint.   Informed by Hashems awe-inspiring Infinity, Gevurah is the trait of conquering, and impeding the expansion of, oneself.  His mate, Rivkah, complemented and completed Yitzchak through her opposing midah of Chesed.

The evil parallel midah of Chesed is Znus-debauchery which bears some superficial similarities to acts of “giving to and pouring out upon others” but which is informed at its core by selfishness and egotism rather than by selflessness and altruism. The evil parallel midah of Gevurah is Shfichas Damim-homicide which bears some superficial similarities to acts of “forcefulness, conquering, and impeding expansion” but which seeks to dominate others rather than oneself and that is informed at its core by self-indulgence and paranoia rather than by self-abnegation and the awe of G-d.  Yishmael is the embodiment of Znus while Esav is the personification of Shfichas Damim [The arms are Esavs arms…You shall live by your sword].

Although Yishmels midah was evil it had some affinity to the holy midah of Chesed and so Avrahams Chesed allowed him to tolerate Yishamel.  But Sara, who possessed holy Gevurah, the trait intrinsically hostile to Chesed, was completely repulsed by Yishmaels unholy, evil “Chesed” and so she drove him away. In precisely this manner while Esavs midah was evil it had some affinity to the holy midah of Gevurah and so Yitzchaks Gevurah moved him to affection for Esav.  Yitzchak loved Esav (Bereshis 25:28).  But Rivkah who possessed holy Chesed, the trait intrinsically hostile to Gevurah, was completely revolted by Esav’s unholy, evil “Gevurah” and so she orchestrated events to disinherit him.

Adapted from Mei HaShiloach Bereshis D”H E’Eseh Lo                                                                                                                                                      and Kometz HaMincha Inyan 50 (page 4647)

1* This fundamental concept received a fuller treatment in an earlier installment in this series.  To learn about it CLICK HERE

Don’t Just Choose Good. Sift the Evil Away From the Good

An installment in the series

From the Waters of the Shiloah: Plumbing the Depths of the Izhbitzer School

-For series introduction CLICK

By Rabbi Dovid Schwartz-Mara D’Asra Cong Sfard of Midwood

 “But of the Tree of the Knowledge Joining Together of Good and Evil, do not eat of it; for on the day that you eat of it you will definitely die.’

– Bereshis 2: 17

 “Avram came to her [Hagar], and she conceived; and when she realized that she was pregnant, she looked at her mistress with contempt. Sarai said unto Avram …Now that she sees herself pregnant she regards me with condescension.  Let Elokim judge between me and you.’”.

– Bereshis 16: 4, 5

Every other  בֶּינֶיך – between me and you, in Scripture is spelled lacking the second yud, but this one is spelled plene. As such it may also be read וּבֵינַיִךְ (second person feminine, as though Sarai is threatening Hagar rather than Avram), for Sarai cast an Ayin Hara-evil eye on Hagar’s pregnancy, and she miscarried her fetus. 

– Rashi Ibid

Many Mechabrim-Torah authors, in particular the Ramcha”l , explain that the very Raison d’être of Klal Yisrael- the Jewish People is to rectify the sin of the first man and to bring humanity back to the pre-sin state. This is why comprehending the workings of the original sin is a prerequisite to better understanding the family dynamics of our patriarchs and matriarchs.

In   Nefesh HaChaim the Magiha –author of the glosses, explains that prior to eating of the forbidden fruit Adams Yetzer HaRa-inclination to evil was clarified and external to his being (personified in the Nachash HaKadmoni-the primordial snake). The qualitative paradigm shift resulting from the first sin was that the Yetzer HaRa became internalized and integrated into mans very being. The word Da’as means joining together and becoming as one. He and Chava became what they ate, entities in which good and evil are joined together. This had a universal cataclysmic effect as the mish-mash of good and evil spread throughout the macrocosm as well. The catastrophic result of the original sin is that on both a human and a cosmic level there is no longer any unadulterated good, even in the soul of the most saintly, nor any unmitigated evil, even in the deeds of the wickedest.

The Pasuk (Koheles 7:14) “In the day of Good…in the day of Evil…; Elokim made one corresponding to the other,..” teaches that everything in Kedusha-holiness and good has its parallel in impurity and evil. After Adams original sin these parallel entities become linked and blended together.

Avraham Avinu was defined by his midah of Chesed– loving-kindness, the trait of giving to, and pouring out upon, others. The evil parallel midah of Chesed is Znus-debauchery which bears some superficial similarities to acts of “giving to and pouring out upon others” but which is informed at its core by selfishness and egotism rather than by selflessness and altruism.  As a patriarch of Klal Yisrael and a rectifier of Adam’s sin Avraham Avinu’s life’s-work was not merely to choose to actualize Chesed and avoid stinginess and callousness at every opportunity but to clarify and purify his Chesed, to thresh away its Znus dark underside.

Avraham Avinu’s progeny prior to Yitzchok were the incarnations of the dark underside of his midah. He needed to get them out of his system, as it were, before being able to reproduce a soul as free of evil admixtures as Yitzchaks.  Whereas Avraham Avinu was defined by his midah of Chesed his son Yishmael would be defined by his midah of Znus. When HaShem Kivayachol-so to speak, shopped the Torah to other nations of the world our sages recount the following exchange:  “‘He shined forth from mount Paran’ (Devarim 33:2) HaShem asked the Ishmaelites ‘Would you like my Torah?’ they replied ‘What is written within it?’ HaShem said ‘You shall not commit adultery ‘‘If so’ they responded ‘we do not want it’.”  In a similar vein the Talmud (Kidushin 49B) tells us that “ten measures of infidelity/licentiousness descended to the world. Arabia took nine measures and the remaining measure was divided among the balance of the nations”.

Progressing from these principles Rav Tzadok, the Lubliner Kohen, offers insight into the apparent “domestic squabbles” in Avrahams home.

During Hagar’s first pregnancy the refinement process of Avrahams Midah began. The embryo then being formed embodied a blend of good and evil that was being filtered out. Yet in the mix that was being filtered out there was still a greater relative amount of Chesed vs. Znus. Feeling the gravity of the good growing within her Hagar “lightly esteemed” i.e. grew self-important and became condescending towards her mistress. By the second pregnancy unadulterated Znus was distilled from Avrahams Chesed in the person of Yishmael.

Just as Chava, Adams mate, was the one who induced him to internalize evil and to comingle evil with good it would be Sara, Avraham Avinus wife, who would prompt him to extract and externalize his evil. Just as Chava began her work of ruination-through-adulteration with her eyes “The woman (Chava) saw that the tree was good to eat, and that it was desirable to the eyes” (Bereshis 3:6), Sara would begin her work of repairing- through-sifting-out with her eyes, casting an Ayin Hara-evil eye. Just as Chavas work of ruination-through-adulteration would conclude with the conflicted, ambivalent  humans, whose goodness had been contaminated with evil, being driven out of Eden (Bereshis 3:23,24), Sara would complete her work of repairing- through-sifting-out by banishing the unambiguous human, whose soul completely extracted and distilled the evil midah of Znus, from the house of Avraham. (Bereshis 21:10-14),

 Adapted from Kometz HaMincha Inyan 38 (pages 3940)

and Nefesh HaChaim chapter 5 Hagaha D”H v’zehv’hainyan (pages 22-25)  

 

 

Don’t be Bailed Out. Be Vindicated!

An installment in the series

From the Waters of the Shiloah: Plumbing the Depths of the Izhbitzer School

-For series introduction CLICK

 By Rabbi Dovid Schwartz-Mara D’Asra Cong Sfard of Midwood

G-d’s angel called to him from heaven and said “Avraham, Avraham’!  Do not put forth your hand towards the youth (i.e. do not harm him) for now I know that you fear G-d as you have not withheld your only son from Me.   

-Bereshis 22:11,12

And today, recall with mercy the binding of Yitzchok on behalf of his offspring. Blessed are you Hashem who recollects the covenant.

-Conclusion of the Zichronos blessing- Rosh Hashanah Musaf Service

On the second day of Rosh Hashanah the Torah reading is the Akeda– The binding of Yitzchok. The Meforshim explain that this in order to evoke the merit stockpiled by the Patriarchs at this seminal event in Jewish History. The legacy of this merit will help us, their offspring, be more likely to be adjudicated favorably on this Holy Day of Judgment. Per the Talmud and Rav Saadiya Gaon the Akeda is among the reasons underpinning the Mitzvah of Shofar and, in particular, the use of a ram’s horn to fulfill the Mitzvah as Avaraham ultimately sacrificed a ram in a burnt-offering as a surrogate for Yitzchok.

Conventional wisdom maintains that of the two patriarchs involved it was Avraham who played the pivotal role in earning the incalculable merit of the Akeda by withstanding daunting, superhuman challenges to his faith in a kind Creator, his life’s work in disseminating a theology predicated on that faith, his defining characteristic of Chesed-lovingkindness in general and, in particular, his unprecedented and peerless love for Yitzchok.

Rav Gershon Henoch, the Radzyner Rebbe takes a decidedly different approach maintaining that while Yitzchok may have been relatively passive his was the predominant role in shaping the everlasting impact of the Akeda.

HaShem is omniscient and exists above and beyond time.  As such when His spokesbeing the angel stayed Avrahams slaughtering knife at the last moment categorically admonishing him “Do not put forth your hand towards the youth” HaShem was doing far more than providing the individual person Yitzchok with a stay of execution and a new lease on life. He was giving his Divine seal of approval on the life of Yitzchok AND on the lives of all the souls that would issue from Yitzchok.  The life and lifework of each and every Jew, each and every human being who can be described as the offspring of Yitzchok, received HaShems imprimatur when the Divine voice reverberated through the angel and decreed “Do not put forth your hand towards the youth” . When HaShem issued this decree the Divine Mind was perfectly and infallibly aware of all the future generations about whom He’d assured Avraham “It is (only) through Yitzchok that you will gain posterity”(Bereshis21:12). The conception, birth and ongoing existence of every single Jew who was ever born or who will ever be born, down to the last generation, are thus firmly rooted in the Divine will.

Consider, says the Radzyner, the enormity of what this implies. Sin, ruin, hazards and stumbling blocks are inconsistent with the Divine will. So with the words “Do not put forth your hand towards the youth” HaShem affirmed that no sin, ruin, hazards or stumbling blocks can stem from any Jew. Otherwise a strong claim of injustice, K’vyachol, could be lodged against HaShem. After all, Avraham had already given Yitzchok up.  Yitzchok  had been elevated as a sacrifice. He was no longer of this world.  He was as good as dead.  Yet HaShem, in effect, resurrected a corpse that had not yet fathered children. Had it been possible for any sin etc. to result from this future offspring why would an omniscient transcendent G-d have reinstated Yitzchoks existence?

Accordingly the concept of invoking the merit of the Akeda is about much more than a wayward child who’s run afoul of the law drawing on the deep pockets of his mega-rich and politically well-connected father to bail him out for the umpteenth time. The merit of the Akeda inheres in it demonstrating, against all apparent evidence to the contrary, that the wayward child never ran afoul of the law in the first place.  Thundering across time and space the Akeda admonishes one and all “Do not put forth your hand towards the youth”! It is the quintessence of exoneration through merciful justice that overturns the sentence of nonexistence and validates the life of all of Yitzchok’s offspring on this Holy Day of Judgment.

The Rosh Hashanah liturgy (or any other) that superficially asks HaShem to remember, recall or recollect is troubling. For the transcendent Creator memory cannot possibly mean the cognitive bridge connecting the no-longer-existent with the present as it does for His temporal creatures. Instead concludes the Radzyner, “recalling with mercy the binding of Yitzchok on behalf of his offspring” means that through the Akeda it is within the grasp and recollection of every Jew to gaze into the depths of his heart and the inner recesses of his memory to behold how he is rooted in, and bound up with, the Divine Will.

Adapted from Sod Yesharim Rosh HaShanah Chapter 77 (page 84)

The Great BTs Behind The Recent Women’s Prayer Gathering

Jonathan Rosenblum has a great column this week called the The Feminist Story the Media Missed at the Kotel. He chronicles the planned peaceful prayer gathering of women and girls across the national religious-haredi spectrum that occurred on Rosh Chodesh Sivan.

As it turns out, Ronit Peskin (who blogs here) and Leah Aharoni (who blogs here) are BTs who have met the same challenges many of us face in paving their own path of Torah observance:

Neither Peskin nor Aharoni are mainstream haredi. Peskin, 25, home schools her three young children, teaches women how to forage for edible food growing wild, and runs a website called Penniless Parenting, on how to keep down the family food budget, which receives 60-70,000 hits worldwide a month.

In response to the boast of WoW founder Susan Aranoff that WoW seeks to liberate haredi women so that they can “function religiously . . . without the ‘help’ of men,” Peskin describes her religious journey from her modern Orthodox upbringing in Cleveland to “quasi-chareidi” — i.e., strict in halachic observance, a cross between “Litvak” and Chassidic,” accepting of people from different backgrounds, and open to the outside world — including a rebellious teenage period of no observance in between. Her religious search forced her to become financially independent at 17.

Of her current life, she writes, “It was a path I chose, and fought lots of obstacles to get there. I don’t live this way because I haven’t witnessed alternatives. I’ve witnessed them and rejected them, and made the choice to live as I do because I find it the most meaningful type of life for me. Implying that I’m doing what I do merely because I’m subjugated by men is insulting to me, insulting my intelligence, insulting to the men I love, and insulting to the entire population of Chareidi women. . . . I don’t need you to rescue me. . . .”

Aharoni is firmly in the national religious camp, and makes her living as a business consultant helping “female business owners create more income doing work they love.” She too traveled a long religious path from her native Soviet Union – a path that started in a Reform Temple and included a period of time in the congregation of Rabbi Avi Weiss, a leading figure in Orthodox feminism.

She finds “the epitome of misogyny,” in WoW’s “rejection of the feminine Jewish experience.” “There is nothing more demeaning to women than positioning the male experience as the only one worth living and setting up women for an ongoing game of catch-up. . . . I have liberated myself from the need to predicate my identity on becoming ‘one of the boys.”

Read R’ Rosemblum’s whole article to get more inspiration and a deeper appreciation of these two amazing women.

Remembering Moshe Yosef Reichenberg

I’m sure all of you have heard of the terrible tragedy that befell, Moshe Yosef Reichenberg A”H, while trying to save the life of a six year old neighbor and his father. Click here.

His petirah has left his already severely stressed family completely broken, and bereft of their pillar and support. The Reichenberg ‘s have been beset with many serious challenges and have lived a life of abject poverty despite R’ Moshe’s complete dedication to parnasah and his family.

A group of Rabbanim have set up a special fund to assist the family, which will be very carefully administered. Kindly open your hearts to the cries of his almanah and yesomim, by clicking here www.reichenbergfund.org

or call 845-232-0067 and donate what you can.

Kindly spread this information around to as many of your contacts as possible.

In the great zechus of helping ensure future of HaShem’s children, may the Avi Yesomim watch over all of us, and may we never have to make such an appeal again.

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Remembering Moshe Yosef Reichenberg zt’l
By Rabbi Yisroel Greenwald

I’m still in shock, reeling over the impact of the sudden tragic petira of my friend, Moshe Yosef. His final act of mesiras nefesh – literally – to rush to save a child’s life from electrocution with disregard to his personal welfare, transcends the realm of human nature and comprehension. The Medrash (Kohelles Rabba, 9:10) says that someone who gives up their life in order to save the life of others merits the highest level in Olam Haboh. My rebbi, Reb Mendel Kaplan, would call such a person a true kodosh.

I first became friends with Moshe Yosef when I left Lakewood Yeshiva to come to Ohr Somayach in Monsey. I was a single bochur in my upper twenties at the time, and I felt that I could be more productive if I would be in an environment where aside from my personal learning, I would also be able to teach and give to others. It was there I got to know and become close with Moshe Yosef then a talmid at Ohr Somayach. I may have been a positive influence on him, but to a greater extent I benefited from his friendship and his special qualities.

Moshe Yosef had a magnetic spiritual energy about him. I remember once sitting with him at a cafe near a university. In the midst of our discussion, a couple of drunken university students came to our table and tearfully asked us for guidance and advice how to do what is good and proper in the eyes of man and God. Moshe Yosef was able to talk their language and inspire them on their level.

I can’t remember ever seeing him angry – even at times where the situation may have called for it. The harshest reaction I ever received from him was when I once told him something which was clearly improper, and which I later regretted. His only reaction was his raising an eyebrow for a brief moment, which fleetingly hinted to his annoyance. I have observed him in the most trying of circumstances. Circumstances that a lesser person would have been perfectly justified in exploding or throwing in the towel, Moshe Yosef reacted with calmness, equanimity, and with his ever-present smile.

He would go to great lengths helping others. For years he spent his entire Purim eve and day performing Purim Shpiels in the homes of numerous Monsey residents raising money for the Monsey G’mach, Keren Hachesed. I recall once spending the entire Ta’anis Esther with him preparing for such a shpiel and hurrying together with him to shul just moments before Megilah leining. His professional performances always delighted his audiences and helped raise tens of thousands of dollars for tzadakah each year.

Moshe Yosef was a true friend, the type you feel totally comfortable with and always there for you when you need him. On more than one occasion, when he noticed I was going through a difficult period in shidduchim, he would invite me to his home for a weekday meal, or offer to go out and do a recreational pastime together.

When Moshe Yosef first came to Ohr Somayach, he left behind a rich and satisfying social life. In those early years he was popular with rebbeim and students alike. Even outside the yeshiva he had a bit of a fan club. I remember when we would go swimming at the local pool, the young cheder boys would gather around to watch him make impressive dives from the near ceiling high diving board. With his talent, intelligence, athletic abilities, and warm endearing nature, I felt confident that Moshe Yosef’s future held much promise.

After the week of shiva I called Rabbi Yochonon Wosner, who was one the rebbeim he was close with at Ohr Somayach. The first thing Rabbi Wosner asked me was, “Did you ever see Moshe Yosef without a smile?” To come to think of it, I haven’t.

But what is truly remarkable is that his infectious joy and optimism was not the product of a life blessed with material happiness and success. On the contrary, his life was beset with extreme financial and personal hardships. Whether it was a fire that destroyed all his material possessions or raising a child with autism, Moshe Yosef faced each extreme challenge with an equally extreme level of bitochon and simcha.

In a rare letter from the Chofetz Chaim, he gives chizuk to a young student who faced seemingly insurmountable difficulties. In it he writes:

“I have received your pure letter and my heart goes out exceedingly for your pain. Just know my beloved one, there is a general principle that anything that is more holy is more desolate during the time of its destruction. The land of Israel is desolate, Yerusholayim all the more so, and the place of the holy Temple most of all. And the same principle applies to the bodies of the Jewish people. Whoever is closer to Hashem is more desolate. But know that in the end, the place of the holy Temple will be elevated before the eyes of the entire world. The same applies regarding people as well.’In the end Hashem will make known before the eyes of all men the honor due to the people who held steadfastly to Him; in the time of their pain and affliction. . . ”

Chazal say that in the time of the future redemption, each person’s reward will be comparable to a light. A person who helps members of the community will shine like the sky, teachers of children will be like stars. Some people will be like the sun in the early morning hours, others will be like the sun in the later hours of the morning. The highest level is when the sun is at its brightest peak; a level the Sages say is reserved for true Torah scholars.

Chazal say that the sun in its midday glory is granted to another class of people as rn’ell. Not necessarily the scholar or person of notable achievement. Rather it is for those people who accept their suffering with joy and love of Hashem. Unto them the sages apply the verse, “And those who love Him will be like the sun going out in its full glory.”

I don’t know many people who aptly fit the above description as our beloved friend, Reb Moshe Yosef Reichenberg, zaycher tzadik v’kodosh I’vracha. Yehi zichro baruch.

Rabbi Greenwald is a former faculty member at Yeshivas Ohr Somayachi n Monsey,
and author of Reb Mendel and His Wisdom and We Want Life!

Reb Meir Schuster Tribute Website

This week marks the launch of a major grass root initiative in honor of Rabbi Meir Schuster, a legendary Jerusalem figure who has been bringing Jews back to their heritage since 1969.

Now in his sixties, Rabbi Schuster has been struck by Lewy Body Disease, a rare degenerative illness with symptoms similar to both Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.

For 40 years, stationed at the Western Wall, Reb Meir, as he known to his students, touched the lives of close to 100,000 Jewish young people. He brought tens of thousands to their first class in Jewish philosophy or their first Shabbat meal. Thousands stayed for a week or a month or ultimately decided to remain in Jerusalem to study.

Rav Noach Weinberg, of blessed memory described Rabbi Schuster as, “A model that inspired a generation of others who didn’t think they had ‘the right stuff’ to pursue kiruv ”

Said one of his students, “No one cared more deeply about a soul than Reb Meir Schuster.”

In more recent years, Rabbi Schuster founded Heritage House a youth hostel for tourists in the Old City of Jerusalem, and the Shorashim Torah Centers for Israelis. Both initiatives provide welcoming environments for Jews seeking more connection with their heritage.

Rabbi Michel Twerski, who knew Reb Meir when he was a boy in Milwaukee, describes the Reb Meir he became as “an unpretentious legend of our time. A rare figure of history who has touched so many lives through his profound authenticity.”

Now a group of Rabbi Schuster’s “students” have created a web site and online community where they are sharing photos, recollections and miraculous stories of Reb Meir.

You can learn more, and read some of these truly amazing and heartwarming “only-in-Jerusalem stories” at http://www.rebmeirschuster.org/.