Tag Archives: repentence

The Non-existent Scar

Impeached witnesses are not considered guilty until they have impeached themselves.

-Makkos 5a, Rabbeinu Chananel

When someone says something uncomplimentary to us, we are of course displeased. The intensity of our reaction to an unkind remark, however, depends upon ourselves.

A former patient called me one day, sobbing hysterically because her husband had told her that she was a poor wife and a failure as a mother. When she finally calmed down, I asked her to listen carefully to me.

“I think that the scar on your face is very ugly,” I said. There was a moment of silence. “Pardon me?” she said.

“I spoke very distinctly, but I will repeat what I said. `The scar on your face is repulsive.’

“I don’t understand, doctor,” the woman said. “I don’t have a scar on my face.”

“Then what did you think of my remark?” I asked.

“I couldn’t understand what you were talking about,” she said.

“You see,” I pointed out, “when I say something insulting to you, and you know that it is not true, you do not become hysterical. You just wonder what in the world it is that I am talking about. That should also have been your reaction to your husband’s offensive remarks. Instead of losing your composure, you should have told him that he is delusional. The reason you reacted as extremely as you did is because you have doubts about yourself as to your adequacy as a wife and mother.”

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
from “Growing Each Day” for Sivan 30

Sorry to start of today’s “morning meditation” with such a long quote, but I think it was worth it. R. Twerski’s therapeutic intervention was absolutely brilliant (I have a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and a Masters in Counseling and formerly was a family therapist and Child Protective Services social worker). It’s so simple and yet so profound, and it speaks not only to this one woman’s situation but I think to all of us in our lives.

I couldn’t help but relate this article to recent events in my online life. After all, I’m human and I have doubts just like any other man. When someone calls me on my issues, real or imagined, I have to pause and consider whether they could be right about me, and if so, to ask if this is a “call to action” for me to make changes.

despairMany times, especially online, but also in “real life,” we are insulted, accused, harassed, and maligned, often by the people we love and care about, the people we’re most vulnerable to. As we see in R. Twerski’s example above, a woman was insulted by her husband about her poor performance as a wife and mother. Nothing could cut deeper to her heart than those statements and the person making them.

How we react should depend on whether or not the allegations are true, but that’s not how most of us typically respond. It’s like driving down the road and having someone suddenly cut us off in traffic, honk their horn, and then give us “the finger.” They’re not only being aggressive but behaving as if we’ve done something wrong.

How do we react to that? Either we get scared or angry…or both. Incidents of road rage start this way.

But what if, assuming we’ve done nothing wrong, we were to respond with bewilderment? “What the heck set that guy off,” we might ask ourselves.

And if someone blows up at us on the web or in person, again, assuming what they’re saying isn’t true about us (we don’t have a scar on our face), what prevents us from also simply becoming confused but not experiencing anger or pain?

Because we fear that there really is something wrong with us. I think that’s the result of sin and guilt.

Face it. You’re not perfect. Neither am I. Far from it in fact. We have sinned. Chances are we will sin against God and other people today. It is very likely that we will sin again tomorrow…or we fear that we will.

feverIf a person goes around always worried about who they are, their past failures, their fear of future failures, and whether or not their shortcomings are obvious to everyone around them, then it’s easy to respond with anger or pain when insulted. We’ve already primed ourselves to go off half-cocked when someone gives us a reason.

But for most people, most of the time, the issues they worry about are more imagined than real.

It’s like the woman in Rabbi Twerski’s commentary. She didn’t have an ugly scar on her face, and R. Twerski at least implies that she’s not a bad mother and wife either. She only reacted as if she were because she feared that this was the truth of her existence, even when it wasn’t.

All the elaborate proofs, all the philosophical machinations, none of that will ever stand you firmly on your feet. There’s only one thing that can give you that, and that’s your own inherent conviction.

For even as your own mind flounders, you yourself know that this is so, and know that you believe it to be so. It is a conviction all the winds of the earth cannot uproot that has carried us to this point in time, that has rendered us indestructible and timeless.

For it comes from within and from the heritage of your ancestors who believed as well, back to the invincible conviction of our father, Abraham, a man who took on the entire world.

The doubts, the hesitations, the vacillations, all these come to you from the outside. Your challenge is but to allow your inner knowledge to shine through and be your guide.

Inside is boundless power.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe, Rabbi M. M. Schneerson

revenge-and-happinessKnowing yourself is very helpful for a number of reasons. If you know who you are and what you are about, then whenever someone accuses you of something that is untrue, you cannot be hurt. Even if the person who is upset with you is very dear to you, if they are wrong about you, it may injure you somewhat, but not in the same way as if what they said were the truth. If you are accused of being a failure, if you really aren’t, how does that affect you vs. how you react if you fear being a failure?

Also, knowing yourself helps you recognize when you have sinned and reveals to you your own faults. This is an opportunity to make corrections, to improve yourself, to repent, to return to God, to make right the wrongs you’ve committed against others, to make the person you will be tomorrow better than the person you were yesterday.

Stealing is abhorrent to most people. They would never think of taking something which does not belong to them. Still, they may not be bothered in the least by making an appointment and keeping the other person waiting for a few minutes. Rabbi Luzzato points out that this double standard is a fallacy, because stealing others’ time is no less a crime than stealing their possessions.

Moreover, stealing time is worse in one aspect: stolen objects can be returned, but stolen time can never be repaid.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
from “Growing Each Day” for Sivan 29

Worry, guilt, and self-recrimination are thieves. They steal your time and your peace of mind. If someone steals your money, that can always be returned, but once a moment in time has elapsed, you can never get it back. Also, even if you achieve peace of mind in the future, you have wasted time worrying in the past (and in the present) needlessly, when you could have been devoting that time to improving yourself, to helping others, to serving God.

Which is more important: five minutes or five cents? Everyone will say that “time” is more important. But still we throw it away more often than money. And in Jewish consciousness, killing time is suicide… on the installment plan.

from the “Ask the Rabbi” column

Rabbi Twerski also writes:

If someone has wrongfully infringed on our time, it is proper that we should call it to his or her attention. As with other offenses, we should try to sincerely forgive if the offender changes his or her ways. If we have infringed on someone else’s time, we must be sure to ask forgiveness and to remember that teshuvah consists of a sincere resolution not to repeat the same act again.

If someone points something out to you that needs correction, something you may have been unaware of or something you’ve been avoiding dealing with, they’re doing you a favor. Assuming their intent isn’t malicious and their attitude isn’t hostile or condescending, they are acting as an agent of change and providing you with the opportunity to improve.

soaring_hawkIf, however, a person’s intent is hostile or vindictive, and their desire is to injure you, perhaps because they feel you’ve injured them…if their allegations are wholly untrue, then you should ask yourself, “Why are they acting this way? What could have prompted this outburst?”

That’s certainly better than responding by feeling guilt or shame or by lashing out at the other person, perpetuating the cycle of “You hurt me, now I’ll hurt you.” Every time you give in to that temptation, you are stealing time from that other person and wasting your own. You’re also destroying your peace of mind and their’s and stealing our time and service from God.

“Face the facts of being what you are, for that is what changes what you are.”

-Soren Kierkegaard

Miketz and Chanukah: The Gift of Light

Joseph of EgyptThey said to one another, “Alas, We are being punished on account of our brother, because we looked on at his anguish, yet paid no heed as he pleaded With us. That is why this distress has come upon us.”

Genesis 42:21 (JPS Tanakh)

What lesson for our lives can we learn from their statement?

Rabbi Dovid of Zeviltov comments in the commentary Otzer Chaim: If a person did something wrong and recognizes that he has done wrong, he will be forgiven. However, if a person does something wrong and denies it, there is no atonement for him. When Joseph’s brothers previously said that they were innocent, Joseph responded by calling them spies. When they said that they were guilty, Joseph was full of compassion for them and cried.

Dvar Torah for Torah Portion Miketz
Based on Growth Through Torah by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
Related by Rabbi Kalman Packouz

Rabbi Packouz also states that according to Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski in his book Twerski on Chumash, “there is no coincidence that Chanukah occurs during the week that we read about the epic of Joseph and his brothers.” But what can one have to do with the other? What can we learn about ourselves?

Well, for starters:

Many people deny their faults and the things that they have done wrong because they mistakenly think that others will respect them more. In reality people admire someone with the honesty and courage to admit his mistakes. It takes a braver person to say, “Yes, I was wrong.” This kind of integrity will not only build up your positive attribute of honesty, but will also gain you the respect of others. When you apologize to someone for wronging him, he will feel more positive towards you than if you denied that you did anything wrong. This awareness will make it much easier for you to ask forgiveness from others.

The Death of the MasterYesterday was Thanksgiving, an American national holiday dedicated to giving thanks to God for His bountiful goodness to us. All that we have, whether great or small, comes from the Holy One of Israel, the gracious and compassionate Provider and Creator. Even the ability to forgive and be forgiven by God is a blessing for which we should be thankful. Without such a gift, a single sin would forever separate us from God, and condemn us to our doom.

But as Rabbi Pliskin’s Dvar Torah states, we are only forgiven and freed from guilt, slavery, and destruction if we admit to our wrongdoings and ask for forgiveness. Our “free gift,” so to speak, actually comes with a price. True, as a Christian, I believe that the death of the greatest of all tzaddikim, Yeshua of Nazareth, paid that price, but forgiveness of sins is like a package wrapped in bright shiny paper decorated with a pretty bow. It just sits there until we accept it and open it up. To do that, we have to do something else. We have to admit our sins rather than deny them. For when we too say we are guilty, then the Father will welcome us back with open arms.

And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet; and bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.’ And they began to celebrate.

Luke 15:21-24 (NASB)

But what does any of this have to do with Chanukah?

“Rav Avraham Pam (former Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva Torah Vodaas) teaches us that we see this special love of God for the Jewish people regarding the many Jews at that time who had defected to Hellenism and then returned to Torah observance with the triumph of the Macabees — regarding their relationship with the Almighty after their return to the Torah. When a couple reconciles after a separation, the relationship often becomes one of peaceful coexistence, but the quality of love that they initially had for each other is rarely restored.

“Not so when Jews do teshuvah (repentance — returning to the Almighty and to the ways of the Torah). Rambam says that although a sinful person distances himself from God, once he does teshuvah he is near, beloved and dear to God. It is not that God “tolerates” the baal teshuvah (returnee), but rather that He loves him as He would the greatest tzaddik (righteous person). As the prophet says, “I will remember for you the loving-kindness of your youth, when you followed Me into the desert, into a barren land” (Jeremiah 2:2). The love of yore is fully restored.

“This is the significance of the miracle of the oil. It teaches us that with proper teshuvah our relationship with God is restored, as if we had never sinned.”

chanukah-candle-lightingAs believers, as disciples of Messiah, Son of David, the light of the world, the doorway to the Father, we too have been granted the ability to do teshuvah with the same results. It is not as if we are “damaged goods” that, once broken and dirtied, can only approach God just so far and no further. It’s as if we never left, as if we never sinned, as if we have always lived in the Father’s household as beloved sons and daughters. If I can extend the above commentary, God loves the baal teshuvah as He does His Son, His only Son, the one who saved us and redeemed us at the cost of blood and life.

During this week, people in Jewish homes will be lighting the Chanukah candles in remembrance of the miracle of the oil and the miracle of victory over the Greeks in battle. However, the Chanukah lights and the lesson learned by the brothers of Joseph should remind us of something more. As believers, when we light the menorah, we are reminded of God’s great forgiveness in our lives, and how He literally turned darkness into light in our hearts and souls.

In John 8:12, Jesus declared himself the light of the world. In Matthew 5:14-16 we discover that as his disciples, we too are the light to the world. In Jewish tradition, once the menorah is lit, it should be placed in a window for everyone to see. We too were encouraged to allow our own light to shine into the world, as a message of hope and peace, and as evidence that God does powerful miracles.

Love, hope, and redemption are powerful miracles indeed, and a tiny light shining in the darkness is evidence in our world of an overwhelming brightness shining from the Throne of Heaven.

Happy Chanukah and Good Shabbos.

Tazria-Metzora: Time Out

whispererTzara’at, the skin discoloration mistranslated for millennia as “leprosy,” is a curious disease. It is not contagious—it was only acquired by virtue of speaking badly of other people. It was a physical skin discoloration caused by a spiritual defect. The “metzora,” the sufferer with tzara’at, had to stay outside the city and inform all that he or she was spiritually impure.

-Rabbi Shlomo Yaffe
“Healing Hubris”

Judaism does not believe in free speech.

Talking ill of your neighbor, even if it is the truth, is unequivocally banned. In fact, the Talmud (Erchin 15b.) equates gossip-mongering with idolatry, licentiousness and murder—the three cardinal sins—combined!

Moreover, the Jerusalem Talmud tells us that “King David’s soldiers would fall at war, for although they were completely righteous, tale-bearing was widespread among their ranks… Ahab’s militia, however, although they were notorious idol-worshippers, were victorious on the battlefield because of their exceptional camaraderie . . .” (Pe’ah 1:1.)

Apparently, G‑d takes greater offense at the badmouthing of His children than at the badmouthing of Himself!

In some ways, then, the gossiper is the worst sinner of all. As such, his “punishment” teaches us much about the nature of all the punishments prescribed by the Torah.

-Rabbi Mendel Kalmenson
“Spiritual Rehab”

Commenting on this week’s Torah Portion TazriaMetzora is a difficult task, at least if I don’t want to seem repetitive. After all, I’ve been “bashing” lashon hara or “evil speech” for a few days now as a problem I have with religious people and in how such speech destroys God’s reputation and all our lives.

It is thought in some circles of Judaism, that the cause of tzara’at in ancient times was evil or ill speech. The consequence was that, after the condition was confirmed by a Priest (with the cry of “Unclean!”), the metzora was set outside the camp. There was a period of waiting and then re-examination. If the metzora was declared clean, then he or she undertook a certain set of rituals and then could re-enter the camp. If not, then they had to wait some more and the process would repeat itself. Presumably, anyone who was a metzora would eventually be declared clean and then re-enter the camp of God.

But what if someone was never declared clean? What if the disease wouldn’t go away? I guess that would mean not only the symptoms would remain, the skin disease, but the underlying cause would keep hanging around: talking ill of your neighbor (and your neighbor ultimately could be anyone).

“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.

Matthew 18:15-17

I suppose that’s the closest New Testament equivalent to the condition of the metzora who sinned against his or her neighbor by gossiping against them. Well, it’s not as if the metzora didn’t exist in the days when Jesus walked in Israel:

When he came down from the mountain, great crowds followed him. And behold, a leper came to him and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. And Jesus said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a proof to them.”

Matthew 8:1-4

The word rendered as “leper” in verse two is probably a rather poor translation or there was no Greek word that captured the Hebrew “metzora.” It seems that, in one fell swoop, Jesus forgave the metzora of his sin and cured his physical and spiritual ailments.

the_leperIn some sense, it’s a shame we don’t suffer from tzara’at today. If our sins were as plain as the noses on our faces, perhaps we would be much more diligent in avoiding sin. Then again, to the degree that there was such a law that required the metzora be examined and isolated from the camp, I guess people under such a law weren’t able to avoid such a sin, even knowing the consequences.

Still, it seems cruel. Why isolate someone from the community if they’ve sinned? We see examples in both the Tanakh and in the Apostolic Scriptures. The metzora endured temporary (hopefully) exile, while the passage from Matthew 15 teaches that a person gets “three strikes” before they are “out.” Do they ever get back in? How did the metzora get back into the camp?

Rather than talk to others, he needed to talk to himself.

This wasn’t about revenge; it was about reflection.

He wasn’t being hurt because he’d hurt others in the past. He wasn’t even being isolated so that he wouldn’t come to socially isolate others in the future. He was simply being given the opportunity to get to know his present self.

People who hurt and isolate others are lonely and in pain themselves. Those who try to destroy other people’s security and happiness are themselves often sad and insecure.

The Torah—which is concerned with kindness, not power—sees the sinner as a victim, not an enemy, and therefore recognizes his need to be strengthened rather than weakened. This, the Torah perceives, cannot be done in the presence of others, but has to be done alone.

In the presence of others, he would see that which he lacked. Alone with himself, he was able to see that which he possessed.

-Rabbi Kalmenson

This isn’t hard to understand. Any parent who has put their child in “time out” understands what is happening. This is what parenting experts and educators call “logical consequences.” If you can’t get along with your community (your brother, mother, playmate), you don’t get to be with them for a certain period of time. If you sin against your brother (in Christ), and you don’t repent, you don’t get to be with your brother or any of your brothers, presumably until you are able to repent.

Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.

Matthew 18:21-22

Oh, yes. When they do repent, you take them back. That’s what happened to the recovered metzora and what was supposed to happen to the brother who sinned against you. When they repent, you take them back. Even if they sin against you later and then repent, and then sin against you later, and then repent, and then…

Gee, really? Is this like a sin and repent and forgive revolving door? I suppose there must be limits.

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.

1 Corinthians 6:9-10

That sounds pretty harsh, but then again, if someone is willfully and habitually sinning, are they really saved at all? Are they really members of Messiah’s “sheep pen?” Can we flaunt the will of God to His Face and still expect that He will write our names in His book of life?

Why are we sometimes exiled from the community of brothers?

And so, ultimately, this was a therapeutic time for the metzora, focused not on hurting him but on curing him. Rather than confine him, this procedure aimed to free him.

Could this be the reason that the Torah portion which describes the metzora’s impurity, likened in Jewish literature to spiritual death, (Talmud, Nedarim 64b.) is called Tazria, which means “conception,” or the beginning of new life? (see Likkutei Sichot, vol. 22, pp. 70ff.)

-Rabbi Kalmenson

isolationI suppose there’s a certain merit in the idea of isolating yourself when you realize that you are living a double-minded life. Why wait to be publicly humiliated when you can stop it now, take a “time out,” and turn to God to get yourself straight. How that’s implemented depends on your sins. Are you a gossip? Are you a drunk? Are you into “inappropriate adult material?”

For some of that, you might not be able to deal with it alone and in fact, being alone might make it worse. Sometimes you have to withdraw from your usual social avenues and connect with a group or individual who is there specifically to help you out with your specific problem.

The closest ancient analogy is the Priest, who was responsible for the initial and subsequent examinations of the metzora. The metzora’s counselor during isolation was God. In modern times, we continue to need God, but sometimes he sends us additional, human help.

And there’s hope for life after “tzara’at.”

Life isn’t out to get you.

It’s out to be gotten by you.

And if and when in life you are forced to punish, do it like a pro.

Imitate G‑d.

Don’t hurt out of weakness; repair out of strength.

-Rabbi Kalmenson

A life under repair might not look pretty, at least in the beginning, but if the life is truly being repaired, that means productive work is being done. Give it time. Give God time to work with you (and me). Jesus told Peter to forgive repeatedly, over and over again, so that none should perish but everyone come to repentance.

Good Shabbos.

Getting Ready

TeshuvahRav used to say, “There is no eating or drinking in the World-to-Come…tzaddilkim sit with crowns on their heads and enjoy the glow of the Shechina.” -17a

Rabbi Yosef Leib Bloch illustrated the lesson of this Gemara with the following parable. A man planned to move to America. In those days, the only way to go from Israel to America was by boat. The trip was too long for one excursion, so the boat first stopped in France for two weeks, as the crew prepared the ship for the longer leg of the journey across the Atlantic. The traveler did not know English nor French, and he wanted to prepare himself for the journey, so he began by teaching himself French. When he arrived in France for the two week stay, he began to enjoy conversing with the natives. After the two weeks elapsed, he once again joined the other passengers and crew for the rest of the trip. When the finally arrived in America, the man tried to use his new skill of speaking French, but no one understood him, and he also did not understand the English speakers. Upon observing this, one of the French travelers who was with him on the boat smirked and commented, “It seems quite foolish for you to have spent your time learning French, which you knew you would only use for a total of two weeks, instead of learning English which you knew you would need for the rest of your life!”

This pearl of wisdom in our Gemara which Rav was used to say taught this lesson. A person is in this world for seventy or so years. His permanent abode will be in the eternal world to come. There, the language spoken does not include mundane matters such as jealousy and hatred. Nor is the topic discussed involve eating or drinking. Yet, what do people spend their time doing in this world? They busy themselves becoming inundated with concerns which are of this world, which is only temporary. The language spoken in the World-to-Come is simply where “the tzaddikim sit with their crowns upon their heads, and they radiate in the glow of the Shechina.” When a person comes to the עולם האמת , he will have to explain the language he studied, and whether he is prepared to communicate as is done in the World-to-Come.

Daf Yomi Digest
Stories Off the Daf
“Preparing for the World-to-Come”
Berachos 17

Even though I may not comment or otherwise indicate my presence, I visit a fair number of “religious” blogs on a daily basis and sample their content. A significant number of them indulge in various controversies (think Titus 3:9) and debates that are almost always swept into virtual “black holes;” like immense gravity wells in space that swallow all light and life but return nothing.

It’s like the Jewish gentleman in the above-quoted parable who learned a “language” that would serve him for only two weeks and ignored the greater requirement of learning the “language” he would need for a lifetime. Now imagine learning that the debates and discussions we deem so important in the here and now aren’t what’s really important to God and to our fellow human beings in the long run.

Today is 1 Elul on the Jewish religious calendar. It is, as I previously mentioned, a month in which observant Jews (and perhaps the occasional Christian) all over the world prepare themselves for their most important annual encounter with God.

You can think of the month of Elul in terms of the life you lead. Jews use this entire month to prepare for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, but our lives, from birth to death, are also a time of preparation.

During Elul, Jews take a frank spiritual assessment of themselves, dedicate themselves to turning away from willful sin, give generously to charity, make increased efforts at Torah study, perform more frequent acts of lovingkindness, and diligently repair relationships that have been damaged. Imagine if all of us did that all of the time? Imagine if doing so was our highest priority?

If you return, O Israel … you shall return unto Me. –Jeremiah 4:1

Today is the first day of Elul, a period of time which is particularly propitious for teshuvah, for it precedes Rosh Hashanah, the Day of Judgment.

Elul and ShofarThe Sages say that the Hebrew letters of the word Elul, form an acrostic for the verse in Song of Songs: I am devoted to my Lover and He is devoted to me (6:3). Song of Songs utilizes the relationship between a bridegroom and his betrothed to depict the relationship between God and Israel. Any separation between the two causes an intense longing for one another, an actual “lovesickness” (ibid. 2:5).

The love between God and Israel is unconditional. Even when Israel behaves in a manner that results in estrangement, that love is not diminished. Israel does not have to restore God’s love, because it is eternal, and His longing for Israel to return to Him is so intense that at the first sign that Israel is ready to abandon its errant ways that led to the estrangement, God will promptly embrace it.

Song of Songs depicts the suffering of Israel sustained at the hands of its enemies, and we can conclude that the Divine distress at this suffering of His beloved Israel is great. Teshuvah is a long process, but all that is needed for the restoration of the ultimate relationship is a beginning: a sincere regret for having deviated from His will, and a resolve to return.

Today I shall…

seek to restore my personal relationship with God by dedicating myself to teshuvah.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
“Growing Each Day, Elul 1”

Imagine taking the time during the month of Elul, but ultimately with the rest of your life, to restore your relationship with God and with all of the people around you. Now take that imagination and put it into action, turning thoughts and wishes into a tangible reality.

Yom HaShoah: Remembrance and Hope

Rav Moshe Teitelbaum, zt”l, the previous Rebbe of Satmar, went through the living inferno that those who survived the Holocaust endured. After some time in Auschwitz, he was moved to Tröglitz, a camp in Rehmsdorf. Despite the danger, the inmates of the camp arranged to pray kol nidrei and they invited the rebbe to lead the prayers.

Of course, it was unthinkable to eat on Yom Kippur. But since the meager evening meal was served after nightfall, it at first appeared as though those who wished to fast would have to go without food before the fast as well. After much wrangling, the head of their block, Dr. Kizaelnik—who had been the rosh kahal in Sighet before the war—finally managed to arrange with the kitchen staff that the evening meal would be served before nightfall.

An eyewitness later recounted, “Before kol nidrei we went back into the block and fell onto our beds, crying bitter tears the likes of which I hope I never hear again. Then the good doctor announced that kol nidrei would soon begin and that any who wished could join the minyan. Still weeping, we went to the part of the room set aside for davening, and the rebbe began to speak.

“The rebbe commenced, ‘Rabbi Akiva said: Ashreichem Yisrael! Before Whom are you purified, and Who purifies you? Just as a mikveh purifies the defiled, God purifies Yisrael. We must recall that Rabbi Akiva was one of the ten martyrs—killed for sins he did not commit. He saw all the terrible travail which would befall Yisrael. Yet he chose to give a message of chizzuk to us for all generations. Although a mikveh literally alludes to a ritual pool, it can also allude to the word tikvah, hope. This
teaches that when we hope to Hashem, and do teshuvah—even if we are in the worst situation—God will uplift us. Even from this present darkness, which no nation has ever experienced, such bitterness and cruelty, God will deliver us. Amen.'”

Daf Yomi Digest
Stories Off the Daf
“The Hope of Yisrael”
Kereisos 23

Holocaust Remembrance Day orYom HaShoah begins in the evening of Wednesday, April 18, 2012, and ends in the evening of Thursday, April 19, 2012. Do not forget. Do not let your children forget. As long as we remember and repent, there lies our hope in God.

According to Dr. Michael Schiffman’s blog, “over 50,000 elderly Holocaust survivors living in Israel, and many thousands of holocaust survivors living in the former Soviet Union (are) living in abject poverty right now.” You can help make a difference. Learn how at Dr. Schiffmans’ blog and then make a donation at chevrahumanitarian.org.

There’s always hope, as long as you repent, remember, and then act out of kindness and compassion.

Cloaked in Light

Rav Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, zt”l, offered a parable to understand why we do not say hallel on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. “This can be compared to a king who loves his children very much. Since they are close to the king they grasp his greatness and can sing his praises as is fitting.

After a while, these children left the king’s palace to a distant place. They went on a long and dark journey. Their expensive garments became soiled and torn. Any remnant of good they had taken from the king’s table was lost and they virtually forgot their noble lineage due to the difficult circumstances they were required to endure. After enduring much difficulty and pain, they returned to the gate of their father the king. Obviously they were filled with shame and at first they were certainly unable to praise the king as is fitting. How could they explain why they had left and strayed to such distant places? It was only after the king graciously forgave them and they were able to remove their soiled garments that they began to return to themselves. After spending some time in the presence of the king, partaking of the delicacies of the palace, they could once again praise the king as is fitting.”

Rav Levi Yitzchak explained, “Each year we are just like those princes. When Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur arrive, we feel so ashamed of our sins that we cannot possibly say hallel—fitting praise for the King. It is only after we are completely cleansed from all sins and have prepared for Sukkos that we can once again praise the King eight days as is fitting.”

Daf Yomi Digest
Stories Off the Daf
“The King’s Table
Arachin 10

Rema writes that one should attempt to begin reading about something good and finish reading about something good. Mishnah Berurah explains that Rema means that one should begin and end with something good about the Jewish People.

Mishna Berura Yomi Digest
Halacha Highlight
“Beginning and ending an aliyah with something good”
Rema Siman 138, Seif 1

The general custom during the traditional Torah readings on Shabbat, is to begin each Aliyah with something positive about the Jews and to end each aliyah in the same manner. It doesn’t always work out that way, but it is one of the reasons the portions of each aliyah are selected as they are. We can learn a general principle of life from this.

I once heard a high school teacher say that whenever he found it necessary to criticize a student, he would take the student to his office to avoid embarrassing him in front of the class, then he would begin the criticism by giving the student a compliment and, after delivering the “painful” portion of the rebuke, would end by delivering another compliment. In this manner, the student would not feel as if his relationship with the teacher was based solely on the child’s failure, and that there were other qualities of the student that the teacher recognized and admired.

In the Daf for Arachin 10, we see that the children of the King started life very well under his guidance but that life took a turn for the worse when they struck out on their own. Returning to their father, they were ashamed to the point of being unable even to praise the King as was his due. However, the King ended this period of failure in the lives of his children with the same goodness as it had begun, by removing the filth from upon them and returning them to a clean state. How like another parable that was told by the Master.

Our lives all begin in innocence at our birth but as is common with human beings, we turn to serve our own interests and to sin against other people and against God. Even people who are born in religious homes and who are raised by devout parents cannot maintain a life of pure innocence, and the “darkness” of our human natures begins to dampen the goodness of the image in which we were created.

BrillianceYet we have a King who is unwilling that we should begin but not end our lives in the same goodness, and like the parable of Rav Levi Yitzchak, all we need to do is return to our Father in humility and with a contrite heart, and He will remove that which is filth from upon our shoulders and clothe us in pure light.

Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him. And the LORD said to Satan, “The LORD rebuke you, O Satan! The LORD who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is not this a brand plucked from the fire?” Now Joshua was standing before the angel, clothed with filthy garments. And the angel said to those who were standing before him, “Remove the filthy garments from him.” And to him he said, “Behold, I have taken your iniquity away from you, and I will clothe you with pure vestments.” And I said, “Let them put a clean turban on his head.” So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him with garments. And the angel of the LORD was standing by.

And the angel of the LORD solemnly assured Joshua, “Thus says the LORD of hosts: If you will walk in my ways and keep my charge, then you shall rule my house and have charge of my courts, and I will give you the right of access among those who are standing here. –Zechariah 3:1-7

Bless the LORD, O my soul!
O LORD my God, you are very great!
You have donned majesty and splendor
cloaked in light as with a garment,
stretching out the heavens like a curtain. –Psalm 104:1-2