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.

 

Moshe Stempel – Shavuos

Tonight R’ Bamberger continued to discuss the 48 methods of acquiring the Torah. The first eleven methods were already discussed in previous vaadim.

The twelfth method of acquiring Torah is through carefully choosing one’s friends. A person’s friends have a very significant influence on him. Therefore, it is vital for a person to choose friends with good character traits.

R’ Bamberger once had a roommate who would learn with a chavrusah every day between the hours of 12:15 a.m. – 2:00 a.m. The chavrusah was clearly the most diligent talmid in the yeshivah. However, he married a girl who influenced him to severely limit the amount of learning that he did each day. This story illustrates the extent to which a person is influenced by social factors.

The thirteenth method of acquiring Torah is through testing the students. Preparing for a test sharpens the mind and puts pressure on a person to retain information.

The fourteenth method of acquiring Torah is through having a calm frame of mind. A person can’t learn when his mind is agitated.

R’ Yerucham emphasizes that physical relaxation doesn’t lead to tranquility of the soul. Rather, physical relaxation makes it more difficult to learn. In order for a person to maximize his growth in Torah, he needs to break his desire for creature comforts.

When R’ Moshe Feinstein visited the Lakewood Yeshivah for the first time, he noticed that the boys there leaned on shtenders when they learned. R’ Moshe remarked that he couldn’t conceive that Torah would thrive in such a yeshivah. He explained that a person can only succeed in his learning when he brings himself to the Gemara, not when he brings the Gemara to himself. Indeed, it is well known that R’ Shteinman, shlita would always sit on a chair without a back when he learned.

The fifteenth method of acquiring Torah is through learning the 24 books of Tanach. Indeed, Chumash and Rashi is the foundation for the whole Torah. The commentary of the Ramban has also been referred to as the foundation of faith in G-d.

The sixteenth method of acquiring Torah is through the study of Mishnah. The Shelah HaKadosh writes that R’ Yosef Cairo once experienced a quasi-prophecy when he recited Mishnayos on the night of Shavuos.

As we approach the Yom Tov of Shavuos, we should remember that our fate in Torah is decided on Shavuos. Moreover, our success in Torah is what really adds meaning to our lives.

From A Vaad

 

 

Moshe Stempel – Purim And Pesach

Our Sages tell us that we are supposed to increase our level of joy when the month of Adar arrives. This is because the month of Adar ushers in the miraculous times of Purim and Pesach.

In Mesechta Rosh Hashanah, there is a Tannaic debate as to when the world was created. R’ Eliezer maintains the view that the world was created in the month of Tishrei. On the other hand, R’ Yehoshua maintains that the world was created in the month of Nissan. Tosafos reconciles these two views by explaining that G-d had the intent to create the world in Tishrei but didn’t create it in a physical sense until Nissan.

The Sfas Emes explains that the name “Elokim” is used to describe G-d in the account of Creation since G-d originally intended to create the world subject to the attribute of strict justice. However, when G-d created the world in a physical sense, He realized that it could not continue to exist unless He exercised His attribute of compassion. Therefore, the name “Hashem” is used in the Torah to describe G-d later on in the Torah.

R’ Akiva was such a great individual that he was able to live subject to G-d’s attribute of strict justice. For this reason, he met such a terrible fate at the hands of the Romans, despite his tremendous righteousness. Based on the mystical concept of G-d’s original intent before He created the world, there are those who maintain that thought has a certain superiority over deed. For this reason, the thought of transgressing a certain precept of the Torah is on some level more severe of a transgression than performing the transgression itself.

When repenting 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 done out of appreciation for miracles that we experience. When G-d performs a miracle to give us a new lease on life, we can receive atonement for all our past misdeeds if we use our appreciation to sing praises to G-d and to repent. After contemplating all the miracles that took place for our ancestors at this time of the year, it is our obligation to repent out of love to G-d.

R’ 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 on his cell phone. Unfortunately, the driver of the vehicle was completely unfazed by the miracle that he experienced.

One question remains unanswered: What is the connection between the miracles that took place on Purim and those that took place on Pesach? The Purim miracle was completely hidden in nature, while the miracles associated with the Exodus from Egypt were all openly revealed. The answer is that hidden miracles are no different than open miracles. We perceive certain miracles as being hidden in nature only because we are used to them. When a person reaches the recognition that G-d controls every aspect of Creation, he will undoubtedly repent out of love for G-d.