Moshe Stempel – Purim – True Simcha

Tonight’s vaad was based on the sefer Pachad Yitzchak by R’ Yitzchak Hutner.

In his sefer Aznayim LaTorah, R’ Yerucham quotes the words of the Alter of Kelm to every new talmid in his yeshivah. Whenever the Alter would admit a new talmid into the yeshivah, he would make the following disclaimer: “There is no guarantee that you will merit entrance into the World to Come by coming to this yeshivah. However, I can guarantee that you will never experience pleasure in This World after you leave this yeshivah.”

Through these words, the Alter of Kelm intimated that a Ben Torah is unable to indulge in his physical desires with complete enthusiasm. Instead, his conscience will always remind him that he shouldn’t be using his time like that. Therefore, any physical excitement that he will experience will not really appeal to him. Rather, only simchah of a spiritual nature will truly provide him with pleasure.

Our Baalei Mussar emphasize that fulfilling our physical desires merely whets our appetites for more physical pleasures. A person can never be satisfied with material wealth. All the Hollywood stars can attest to the idea that wealth and power often lead to divorce, involvement in drugs, and even suicide. It can’t be overemphasized that the simchah of Purim should never take the form of a secular celebration.

In sefer Bereishis (Genesis) we read that Yaakov Avinu switched his hands when he blessed Yosef’s sons Ephraim and Menashe. The Pachad Yitzchak explains that this unusual behavior was very symbolic in nature. When the Angel of Esau dislocated Yaakov’s right thigh, Yaakov demonstrated that his lower section was vulnerable to attack. This vulnerability was bound to be passed on to Ephraim. Being that Ephraim was the forebear of Yehoshua who would battle Amalek, Yaakov wanted to fortify him by placing his right hand on Ephraim’s head.

When we dance on Purim, we demonstrate that even our legs are elevated to G-d’s service. Like Yehoshua, we completely vanquish the Amalek that resides in our hearts.


Moshe Stempel – A Pesach Love

Today R’ Bamberger discussed the importance of having love for G-d. In the secular world, the term “friendship” is defined as mutual exploitation. In other words, you love a person only because of what that person gives you. In the Torah, on the other hand, the word for “love” (ahavah) is derived from the root “hav” (to give). Thus, you love a person only to the extent that you give to that person. True love isn’t a selfish pursuit to fulfill one’s base desires.

Love must be reciprocated between both parties in a relationship. Clearly, if one party to a relationship doesn’t reciprocate the affections of the other party, no relationship exists. The love between G-d and the Jewish people is one that is reciprocated. In our daily morning prayers, we declare that a person is obligated to love G-d with all one’s heart and soul only after we bless G-d for choosing us as His chosen people out of His love for us. We also demonstrated our love for G-d by following Him into the barren wilderness after G-d smote Egypt with the ten plagues out of His love for us.

The holiday celebrating the Exodus from Egypt has two names: Chag HaPesach and Chag HaMatzos. The name Chag HaPesach celebrates the fact that G-d passed over the homes of the Jewish people when He smote the firstborn sons of the Egyptians. The name Chag HaMatzos celebrates the self-sacrifice of the Jewish people who traveled into a barren wilderness with nothing but matzos on their backs. The Vilna Gaon explains that we refer to this holiday as Chag HaPesach in order to sing G-d’s praises. Conversely, the Torah refers to this holiday as Chag HaMatzos to sing the praises of the Jewish people.

The megillah of Shir HaShirim is a story of love between G-d and the Jewish people. The Rambam explains that Shir HaShirim employs the symbolism of a man’s love for a woman in order to indicate how much we are supposed to love G-d. Our attitude in life should be that we can’t do enough to express our love for G-d.

The Ramban homiletically interprets a pasuk in Tanach to mean that if you have an inspiration to express your love for G-d, you should make it tangible. Indeed, our fulfillment of the mitzvos to eat matzoh and marror and to drink four cups of wine on the seder night are tangible ways for us to express our love for G-d.

Rabbi Akivah was one of the few people in the world who experienced complete selfless love in his marriage. R’ Akivah’s wife Rachel was the daughter of one of the wealthiest men in the world, Ben Kalba Savua. Since R’ Akivah was an ignoramous at the time that he married Rachel, Ben Kalba Savua disowned his daughter and forced her to live a life of extreme poverty. The Gemara tells us that R’ Akivah and his wife were so poor that they had to sleep on bales of hay. In the morning, R’ Akivah would pull pieces of straw out of Rachel’s hair and tell her that one day he would buy her a golden tiara to wear as a crown.

Shortly after he married Rachel, R’ Akivah went away to a yeshivah to learn, where he stayed for 24 years without ever seeing his wife. After the end of the 24 years, he returned to his wife with 24,000 students behind him. Rachel came out to greet him in her tattered garments and ran to embrace her husband. At the time, some of R’ Akivah’s students tried to push her away due to her unkempt appearance. However, R’ Akivah restrained them with the following moving words: “The [Torah] that is mine and the [Torah] that is yours is to her credit.” Thus did R’ Akivah reciprocate his wife’s selfless love for him.

Moshe Stempel – Chanukah And The Sanctity Of The Torah

Tonight’s vaad was based on the sefer Orchos Yosher by R’ Chaim Kanievsky.

The gemara at the end of Mesechta Sanhedrin tells of many Torah scholars who were very wicked people despite their great wisdom in Torah. The purpose of those stories is to demonstrate that knowledge of Torah is no guarantee that a person will perform good deeds. A deed is defined as “good” if it follows the dictates of the Torah.

How can we ensure that our learning of Torah will make us good people? The answer to this question can be found in the commentary of the Medrash Shmuel to a mishnah in Pirkei Avos.

The Medrash Shmuel notes a contradiction between a baraisah in Mesechta Kiddushin and a famous mishnah in Pirkei Avos. A baraisah in Mesechta Kiddushin states emphatically that Torah study takes precedence over performing good deeds since Torah study automatically leads a person to the performance of good deeds. On the other hand, a famous mishnah in Pirkei Avos tells us that it is possible for a person to have great wisdom in Torah and at the same time not perform its dictates. To quote the words of the mishnah verbatim: “If a person’s Torah wisdom exceeds his good deeds, his Torah wisdom will not endure.” How can these two sources be reconciled?

The Medrash Shmuel offers a profound insight into the aforementioned mishnah in Pirkei Avos that clearly reconciles the apparent contradiction. The Medrash Shmuel notes that the mishnah describes the individual not as someone who doesn’t perform mitzvos altogether, but rather as someone whose good deeds are merely “exceeded” by his Torah wisdom. In other words, he only performs those commandments of the Torah that appeal to his sense of reason. His deficiency is that he does not really believe in the Divine origin of the Torah. Therefore, his Torah wisdom does not have any real value.

The proper attitude that one must have when he learns Torah is that he is learning the Torah that was transmitted directly by G-d at Mount Sinai, and therefore it is true, and therefore he will perform its dictates whether or not they appeal to his sense of reason. The baraisah in Mesechta Kiddushin is dealing with a person who learns Torah with such an attitude.

This profound insight of the Medrash Shmuel sheds light on five other questions:

Pirkei Avos begins with a detailed description of how our mesorah was transmitted from Moshe Rabbeinu at Mount Sinai throughout the rest of the generations. Why are those details so important? Wouldn’t it have made more sense to begin the Mesechta with the basic principles of Judaism?

The gemara in the first mishnah in Perek Chelek in Sanhedrin tells us that a person who denies the Divine origin of the Torah has no share in the next world. What is the significance of this sin?

The gemara in Mesechta Avodah Zarah tells us that one who learns but doesn’t perform mitzvos is comparable to a person who doesn’t have a G-d. What is the connection between these two qualities?

In the famous story of Chanukah, the Greeks had no intention to exterminate the Jewish people. They merely wanted to destroy the sanctity of the Torah. What was the significance of this conflict?

The gemara tells us in Mesechta Kiddushin and Mesechta Chagigah that Elisha ben Avuya left the Jewish faith after he saw two disturbing incidents. In one incident he saw a young man die a tragic death as a result of following his father’s command to perform the great mitzvah of sending away the mother bird before taking its young. In the other incident he saw the tongue of a great Torah scholar being dragged in the mouth of a dog or a pig. Elisha ben Avuya was convinced that such tragedies and atrocities could not take place if there was really a G-d in the world and therefore rejected his faith. What do we learn from these incidents?

The significance of Pirkei Avos beginning with a detailed description of the Torah’s transmission from Mount Sinai is to emphasize that Torah study only has value if a person recognizes its Divine origin.

The significance of the sin of denying the Divine origin of the Torah is that one thereby destroys the entire foundation of the Torah.

One who learns Torah but doesn’t perform mitzvos is comparable to someone who doesn’t have a G-d because, if he really believes that the Torah he learns has a Divine origin, he would automatically come to perform the mitzvos.

The Greeks tried so desperately to destroy the sanctity of the Torah because they knew that it was the kedushah (sanctity) of the Torah that gave it its value.

Elisha ben Avuya made the mistake of believing that he had to understand everything. He refused to acknowledge that G-d’s wisdom is too profound for a human mind to fathom.

The gemara in Mesechta Chagigah presents an apparent difficulty to the insight of the Medrash Shmuel: The gemara tells us that Rabbeinu HaKadosh was punished for referring to Elisha ben Avuya as a wicked person. What was more disparaging about Rebbi’s comment than the very mishnah in Pirkei Avos? Furthermore, how could the gemara in Chagigah indicate that Elisha ben Avuya had a share in Olam Hobah if the mishnah in Sanhedrin indicates otherwise?

The answer to this question is that Elisha ben Avuya repented at the end of his life (Yerushalmi). Thus, he no longer fell in the category of the mishnah in Avos of someone whose Torah wisdom exceeds his goods deeds and maintained his share in Olam Hobah through accepting the Divine source of the Torah.

One final difficulty: If the value of Torah study is that it brings a person to the fulfillment of good deeds, what is the interpretation of the gemara’s maxim of “expound and receive reward” in Mesechta Sanhedrin? Why should a person be rewarded for studying the halachos of the rebellious son, the wayward city, and house tzaraas if these halachos can never be applied in practice? The answer to this question, given to me by R’ Shapiro in Bayswater, is that there are two purposes to Torah study. While the primary purpose of Torah study is that it should lead to the performance of good deeds, Torah study is also an end in itself. The baraisah in Kiddushin only meant to indicate why Torah study is greater than performing good deeds, not the entire purpose of Torah study.

Moshe Stempel – Based On A Vaad – Pesach And Faith

Tonight R’ Bamberger spoke about the topic of bitachon (faith in Divine Providence). Tonight’s vaad was based on the Ramban’s commentary on Chumash.

The Ramban explains that there are different levels of belief in G-d. On the simplest level, belief in G-d is associated with belief in a Creator. Any intelligent person would agree that the theory of evolution can’t account for the complexity of the world that we live in. Indeed, anyone who ever studied anatomy can’t help but be overwhelmed by the miraculous nature of every faculty that we have. However, true belief in G-d requires that a person recognize the Divine Providence in the world. Relating the account of the Exodus from Egypt is supposed to ingrain within a person the idea that G-d directly controls the events that happen in this world.

The openly miraculous events of the Exodus proved for all time that G-d controls every aspect of Creation. After this clear demonstration of His power, G-d never had to overturn the world every time someone doubted His existence. Thus, the agnostics in the world are refuted by the account of the Exodus from Egypt.

If G-d’s Providence is so clear, why do some people still doubt whether G-d actually controls the world? Some people begin to falter in their faith when they go through physical or emotional suffering. Other people falter when they stumble in various sins. The Ramban’s message to those people is that they should ingrain within themselves the account of the Exodus from Egypt in order to combat their heretical thoughts.

Since our conception of G-d is so closely connected with the events of the Exodus, the holiday of Pesach (Passover) keeps the Jewish people together as a nation. Indeed, even the most secular Jews keep Pesach on some level. It should also be emphasized that the seder night is a time for fathers to transmit to their children the story of the Exodus. Primarily, the seder is not a time for children to demonstrate what they learned in yeshivah throughout the year.

Moshe Stempel – Purim And Nature

Tonight R’ Bamberger continued to discuss the topic of Purim. Tonight’s vaad was based on the sefer Michtav Me’eliyahu by R’ Eliyahu Dessler.

Chazal tell us that G-d always creates the remedy before He creates the problem when He punishes the Jewish people. In his sefer Ohr Chadash, the Maharal explains this phenomenon as follows: When G-d punishes non-Jews, His intent is that they should suffer. The suffering isn’t there to stimulate them to repent. However, when G-d punishes Jews, His intent is not merely to inflict pain. Rather, the suffering is there to stimulate us to repent for something.

When we examine the Purim story, we discover that all of Haman’s plans backfired on himself. After he advised Achashveirosh to kill Queen Vashti, Esther became the new queen. Haman’s attempts to persuade Achashveirosh to kill the Jewish people led to the execution of his own family. When Haman explained to the king how he wanted to be honored, he was forced to honor Mordechai in that same fashion. Finally, when Haman removed the supporting beam from his mansion to hang Mordechai, he and his sons were ultimately hanged on the same gallows. The perfection of G-d’s Justice is best portrayed when evil people are punished for their sins measure for measure.

The Ramban emphasizes that the miracles that took place in Egypt during the Exodus were supernatural in nature. However, all the miracles that took place during the Purim story were hidden in nature. Indeed, the Hebrew name “Esther” is cognate to another Hebrew word that means “hidden.” Thus, our job in exile is to see the Hand of G-d even within nature.

Many people make the mistake of believing that our problems are the results of corrupt politicians, white-collar criminals, or terrorists. Nothing can be further from the truth. Rather, G-d Himself controls every aspect of nature.

R’ Mendel Kaplan was known to speak with a very broken English. He came to America at a late stage in his life and was unable to master the English language. He used to bring a newspaper to class and ask his students to read it for him. He then told them that he would teach them how to interpret the articles that they read. His message was that a person needs Da’as Torah in order to properly interpret events that happen in the world.

The story of Purim teaches us that G-d controls every aspect of nature. Indeed, the very name “Purim” means “lots.” The reference is to the lots that Haman drew to determine the date on which it was most favorable to exterminate the Jewish people. Thus, even the date that he ultimately selected was not mere “chance.”     ​


Moshe Stempel – Presentation of Series Of Short Articles On Chanukah Based On Previous Vaad’s

Tonight R’ Bamberger continued to discuss the importance of feeling joy on Yom Tov. Tonight’s vaad was based on the sefer Michtav Me’eliyahu by R’ Eliyahu Dessler.

The Gemara in Mesechta Shabbos records a dispute between two Tanaim regarding whether we should increase or decrease the number of candles that we light each night of Chanukah. Beis Shamai maintain that we should continually decrease the number of candles, while Beis Hillel hold that we should continually increase the number of candles.

One interpretation of the dispute is as follows: Beis Shamai focus on the number of days that are left in the Yom Tov, while Beis Hillel focus on the number of days that have already passed in the Yom Tov.

Another interpretation of that dispute is the following: Beis Shamai rule that one should continually decrease the number of candles to correspond to the continually decreasing number of cows that are offered as sacrifices during Succos. Beis Hillel rule that one should continually increase the number of candles to reflect the rule that one should continually increase his level of holiness.

Parenthetically, the Beis Yosef asks what the connection is between the sacrificial cows on Succos and the Yom Tov of Chanukah. One possible answer is that the Syrian Greeks tried to abolish the Yom Tov of Succos. Therefore, we commemorate the failure of the Greeks’ designs with the lighting of the Chanukah menorah.

R’ Dessler explains that the dispute between Beis Shamai and Beis Hillel concerns the best way to grow in our service of G-d. Beis Shamai takes a realistic approach. We should always be aware of our tendencies to degenerate and should therefore take measures to prevent that from happening. Beis Hillel, on the other hand, is idealistic. Since every person is capable of reaching great spiritual heights, we should strive to constantly grow in our spiritual levels.

R’ Bamberger noted that R’ Dessler presents two different approaches to chinuch. Some yeshivos admit that their students aren’t holding on the level that they should be, and that they should therefore “water-down” the curriculum to cater to their needs. Other yeshivos recognize the infinite potential in their students and encourage them to achieve the goals of the yeshivah. R’ Bamberger emphasized that he endorses the latter approach.

Moshe Stempel – Presentation of Series Of Short Articles On Chanukah Based On Previous Vaad’s

Tonight R’ Bamberger discussed the importance of the kedushah (sanctity) of the Torah. Tonight’s vaad was based on the sefer Ohr Gedalyahu by R’ Gedalyah Schorr.

During Chanukah we celebrate the Jews’ victory over the Greeks. What was the conflict with the Greeks about? The Greeks had no desire to kill the Jews, nor to prevent them from practicing Judaism. They even had respect for the Torah, considering it a book of great wisdom. In fact, the translation of the Torah into Greek was based on the Greeks’ desire to study the Torah.

The Greeks were disturbed, however, by the kedushah of the Torah. They had no problem with Jews studying Torah, as long as they learned it as a secular wisdom.

In the “Al Hanissim” prayer that we recite during Chanukah, we read about the desire of the Greeks to prevent the Jewish people from performing the statutes of the Torah. Since the statutes of the Torah have no logical basis that we can understand, a person performs them only in order to fulfill G-d’s will. This approach to the performance of mitzvos creates a strong bond between us and G-d. 

The truth is that we are supposed to perform all the mitzvos in the Torah in order to fulfill G-d’s will. Thus, even the laws of “torts” described in Parshas Mishpatim are really decrees of G-d that we perform only because they are G-d’s will. The Greeks wanted to destroy this aspect of the mitzvos.

The mitzvah of succah, for example, symbolizes the separation between Jews and the gentile nations of the world. The Gemara tells us in Mesechta Avodah Zarah that when Moshiach comes G-d will offer the mitzvah of succah to the gentile nations of the world. However, G-d will cause a blazing heat to prevent them from actually fulfilling the mitzvah. As a result, the nations of the world will kick the succah and leave it. This rejection of the mitzvah of succah by the nations of the world will serve as an indication that they have no connection to all the other mitzvos of the Torah as well.

R’ Bamberger related that the American media actually distorted some of the events that occurred in Mumbai, India over this past weekend. While the media made it sound like R’ Holtzberg and his wife Rivkah were simply shot during the chaos of the terror attack, the reality was much more grim. Indian media sources revealed that they were actually tortured and mutilated in a horrific fashion. Additionally, all the sefarim in the Chabad house were ripped and destroyed. The Islamic terrorists even sprayed bullets into the sefer Torah that was in the room. The bullets penetrated the section of the parchment containing the parshios of Acharei-Mos and Kedoshim, describing the deaths of Aaron’s two sons Nadav and Avihu. Thus, the Mumbai terror attacks were essentially an attack on the kedushah of the Torah.

Mr. Ronald Lowinger once made a siyum in Yeshivah Darchei Torah in Far Rockaway to celebrate the completion of a chapter of Mesechta Bava Basra. During the siyum, he recounted his latest trip to Europe to erect a monument on a mass grave for Jews who were murdered during the Holocaust. As he was traveling through Hungary, he noted the hateful words of a Hungarian anti-Semite: “We thought we got rid of you people.” He also noted how a sefer Torah was strewn on top of the bodies in the mass grave.

After Mr. Lowinger finished speaking, R’ Zevi Trenk, the menahel of the yeshivah, pointed out that it was unusual that the sefer Torah was on top of the bodies. If all the Jews were killed prior to the sefer Torah being buried there, who could have buried the sefer Torah? R’ Trenk surmised that the Nazi Gestappo must have buried it. Clearly, the Nazi Gestappo believed that burying the sefer Torah was tantamount to burying the “Jewish G-d” as well.

R’ Trenk then turned to Mr. Lowinger and told him how he should have responded to the Hungarian anti-Semite: “Not only did you fail to bury the Jewish people, but you failed to bury G-d and his Torah as well.”

The language of the mishnah in Pirkei Avos, “Moshe received the Torah on Mount Sinai,” further supports this idea. If the name of the mountain was “Choreiv,” why was it called “Mount Sinai?” The answer is that the Hebrew word “Sinai” is phonetically similar to the Hebrew word for “hatred” (sin’ah). Thus, as a result of the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai, hatred against the Jews descended to the nations of the world.


Moshe Stempel – Presentation of Series Of Short Articles On Chanukah Based On Previous Vaad’s

Tonight R’ Bamberger continued to discuss the topic of Chanukah. Tonight’s vaad was based on a letter written by R’ Dovid Heksher.

In the story of Chanukah the Greeks attempted to destroy the sanctity of the Torah. Matisyahu and the Chashmonaim valiantly resisted them and thwarted their plans. What was the significance of this conflict?

The chochmah (wisdom) of the Torah is unlike every secular form of wisdom. While the human mind can comprehend secular wisdom, the wisdom of the Torah is far beyond human comprehension. The only way to attain the wisdom of the Torah is through receiving it as a gift from Heaven. Since G-d intended the Torah solely for the Jewish people, a gentile is not able to understand it. As we recite each day in our daily prayers: “G-d did not make known his statutes to the nations of the world.”

The Greeks were renowned for their wisdom. The Rambam maintains that the Greek philosophers were so brilliant that they were nearly on the level of prophets. Despite their great wisdom, they had no access to the wisdom of the Torah. This deficiency in their wisdom bothered them greatly. Instead of conceding their inferiority to the Jewish people, they did everything in their power to wrest the Torah away from the Jewish people.

How did the Greeks attempt to accomplish their objective? By contaminating everything that was sacred. The Greeks reasoned that they could stop the Jews from learning Torah through constructing theaters and stadiums in Eretz Yisroel. They also made thirteen breaches in the wall surrounding Jerusalem, corresponding to the thirteen hermeneutic principles by which the Torah is expounded. This was also the significance of the Greeks sacrificing a pig in the Holy Temple and the contamination of all the jars of oil.

The Greek culture is still very much alive in the various forms of entertainment that secular society provides us with. To the extent that we can insulate ourselves from the influence of the media that surrounds us, we can continue the battle of the Chashmonaim against the Greeks.

Moshe Stempel – Day Of Judgment

Chazal tell us in numerous places that our fates for the upcoming year are predetermined on Rosh Hashanah. Therefore, it is appropriate to approach this Day of Judgment with trepidation. Indeed, R’ Yisroel Salanter recalls how many Jews in Europe would tremble when they heard the word “Elul” mentioned. Unfortunately, as time wore on, it may be said that, the general sensitivity of people declined steeply, and the word “Elul” no longer carries the significance that it once had.

There is a concept in accounting called “zero-based budgeting.” Under zero-based budgeting, no department within a company receives automatic allotments from the CFO based on past performance. Rather, every department has to prove to the CFO on a yearly basis why they should be entitled to receive a given amount of funding. Otherwise, they receive nothing. On Rosh Hashanah, our situation is the same. Just because we received certain blessings in the past year doesn’t mean that we will receive them again in the following year.  

On Rosh Hashanah G-d decrees whether we will live or die, whether we will be rich or poor, whether we will be healthy or sick, and whether we will experience any type of joy or pain in the upcoming year. Therefore, there is obviously a lot at stake on this auspicious day. R’ Eliyahu Dessler points out that the existence of the Jewish people is under constant threat by anti-Semitic governments. The purpose of those threats is to stimulate us to do teshuvah. When we feel too secure in our lifestyles, we tend to forget about G-d and seek to satisfy our physical desires.

The Chofetz Chaim emphasizes that even natural disasters are predetermined on Rosh Hashanah. In the early 1900s, two deadly earthquakes struck Eretz Yisroel and Russia. In a letter that he wrote addressing the catastrophe, the Chofetz Chaim attributed the disaster to a message from G-d to do teshuvah. The Chofetz Chaim stressed that everything that happens in this world is directed by G-d and nothing happens by mere chance. The Rambam espouses the same view in Hilchos Ta’anis. In fact, the Rambam writes that someone who attributes natural disasters to “mother nature” demonstrates cruelty.

When a massive tsunami struck Southeast Asia in 2004 and claimed a quarter of a million lives, R’ Aharon Leib Shteinman warned people to be more careful with their speech. The Mashgiach of Yeshiva Darchei Torah, R’ Dov Keilson, offered the following explanation for Rav Shteinman’s words: A person’s faculty of speech is supposed to be governed by certain boundaries. Similarly, the water in the ocean is not supposed to flow past the boundaries of the dry land. However, when people abuse their faculty of speech and disregard those boundaries, so too does the water in the ocean overflow its boundaries and brings massive destruction to the world.

The name “Elokim” for G-d refers to G-d’s role as an Omnipotent Being. No power exists outside of G-d. We also know that Man is created in G-d’s image. But how can Man be perceived as being omnipotent? The Nefesh HaChaim explains that Man influences all the events of this world through his actions. When Man is righteous, good comes to the world. When Man sins, he brings death and destruction to the world. Therefore, Man is omnipotent in the sense that he can influence all the events of this world through his ethical decisions.

In the book of Yonah, the captain of the ship that Yonah the Prophet was traveling in found Yonah sleeping in the ship’s cabin as the ship was in danger of sinking. Thereupon, the captain asked Yonah why he was sleeping and not praying to his G-d for salvation. The Chofetz Chaim writes that every Jew today is like the captain of that ship. It is our job to ask ourselves why we are not paying attention to the awesome judgment that we will be facing on Rosh Hashanah.

The sound of the Shofar is supposed to awaken us to the call for teshuvah. However, as R’ Yisroel Salanter zt”l noted in his generation, people have become completely desensitized to the sound of the Shofar. Today we need mussar to direct us on the right path. Therefore, it is crucial that every Jew set aside time every day to study mussar.

The Rambam writes that the avodah of a Jew during the ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is to do teshuvah. R’ Itzele Peterberger asks why the Rambam singles out teshuvah from all the other mitzvos in the Torah. If the purpose of doing teshuvah is simply to tip the balance of the Scale of Judgment in favor of our mitzvos, why shouldn’t any mitzvah suffice?

In his sefer Shaarei Teshuvah, Rabbeinu Yonah answers that rejecting the opportunity to repent for our past misdeeds demonstrates that we don’t really believe in G-d’s system of reward and punishment. Such a demonstration is in itself cause for severe punishment.

R’ Aharon Kotler alternatively explains that the mitzvah of teshuvah is unique, since it has the ability to change the past. When a person does teshuvah, he transforms all of his past sins into mitzvos. However, all other mitzvos only accord a person merit for the future.

When we repent for our sins, there are two forms that our repentance can take: repentance out of fear and repentance out of love. Repentance out of fear requires that one regret his past misdeeds, completely reform his behavior, and break his negative attitudes and habits. This is a very difficult form of repentance to do. Repentance out of love, on the other hand, is motivated by our appreciation of the miracles that we experience. When G-d performs a miracle to give us a new lease on life, we should be inspired to mend our ways and to thereby atone for all our past misdeeds. When a person reaches the recognition that everything he has in life is a G-d-given gift, he will undoubtedly repent out of love for G-d. 

R’ Moshe Bamberger related that he once witnessed a large black SUV skid on a patch of ice and slam into six cars. There was broken glass everywhere, and car parts littered the entire street. R’ Bamberger was amazed when the driver of the SUV walked out of his vehicle a few seconds later and called his employer using his own cell phone. Unfortunately, the driver was completely unfazed by the miracle that he experienced.

During “Elul” the doors are wide open for us to mend our ways through the vehicle of teshuvah. When we do teshuvah, we declare that our real desire in life is to be servants of G-d.

Moshe Stempel – Mashiach Is The Prize – A Parable From The Chafetz Chaim

Tonight R’ Bamberger spoke about the mitzvah of building the Beis Hamikdash. The purpose of the Beis Hamikdash is to serve as a source of inspiration for us to observe the mitzvos better. This leads us to the question of why we should do mitzvos in the first place. Does G-d really need our mitzvos?

To this question, the Sefer Hachinuch answers that G-d gave us the mitzvos for our own good. When we perform mitzvos, we earn a share in the World to Come. The spiritual pleasure that can be had in the world to come is the ultimate pleasure in the world. It wouldn’t be the same thing if G-d would give us a share in the World to Come without our deserving it. Human nature is such that we only appreciate something if we worked hard to get it.

R’ Bamberger related a relevant story about himself. Apparently, the child labor laws weren’t in effect yet when he was a child. When he was 10 years old, he worked as a waiter in a summer camp for two months for just $86. He had to do really heavy work, like mopping floors. However, he never appreciated money more than those $86 that he earned through many hours of hard labor.

The Rosh Yeshivah of Darchei Torah, R’ Shlomo Avigdor Altusky, Shlita, spoke on a similar topic this past summer on the Fast of the 17th of Tammuz. He related an interesting incident that occurred with the Chofetz Chaim. A man once told the Chofetz Chaim that he didn’t want Moshiach to come. He explained that he felt that way since we are only able to accumulate merits for the next world through the nisyonos that we face in this world. The Chofetz Chaim didn’t reply to this explanation, but indicated that he didn’t approve of it.

R’ Altusky tried to explain why the Chofetz Chaim disapproved of the man’s explanation. He gave the following parable: A boy lost his father at a very young age. Due to his unfortunate situation, he was forced to become very mature and assertive at a very young age. Twenty years later a colleague noted to the orphan how much his character improved through the death of his father. To this insensitive remark, the orphan replied that he would gladly give up all of the ma’alos (positive traits) that he acquired if he could have his father back.

This was the Chofetz Chaim’s reason for disapproving of his visitor’s opinion. While it is true that we are earning merits through our nisyonos and yissurin in this world, the reward isn’t worth it. This is the reason why we want Moshiach to come quickly and not to live in this world indefinitely.

In fact, it is the very suffering that we experience in this world that will bring the Moshiach. The medrash tells us that Moshiach ben Dovid was born on Tishah B’Av. This idea should bring us consolation for all of the difficulties that we experience in our lives. The true goodness that G-d has in store for us can only be had when Moshiach comes.