Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Vayeitzei 5770

שבת טעם החיים ויצא תש"ע
Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Vayeitzei 5770

A Dream of Ascent

ויחלם והנה סלם מצב ארצה וראשו מגיע השמימה והנה מלאכי אלקים עלים וירדים בו
And he dreamt, and behold! A ladder was set earthward and its top reached heavenward; and behold! Angels of G-d were ascending and descending on it. (Bereishis 28: 12)
The Torah records how Yaakov was headed to his uncle Lavan in Aram (modern day Iraq) and he stopped off at the site of the Holy Temple. The sun set early and Yaakov dreamt that there was a ladder extending from the earth towards the heaven, and angels of HaShem were ascending and descending on it. The Midrash (Vayikra Rabbah 29:2) relates an intriguing dialogue between HaShem and Yaakov. Yaakov witnesses the ascendancy of various angels of the gentile world, and he sees them all ascending and then descending. When he witnesses the angel of Esau ascending higher and higher, Yaakov asks HaShem if this angel will ever descend. HaShem responds with a verse that states (Ovadiah 1:4) even if you raise your nest like an eagle or if you place your nest amongst the stars, I will bring you down from there – the word of HaShem. This verse alludes to Esav, who throughout history will ascend like an eagle and at the End of Days he will experience his downfall. Subsequently, HaShem instructs Yaakov to ascend the ladder. Yaakov questions HaShem if perhaps he too would ultimately have to descend, and HaShem assured Yaakov that he would not descend. The Midrash concludes that Yaakov did not believe and he did not ascend. This lack of faith is reflected in the verse that states (Tehillim 78:32) nevertheless, they sinned further and did not believe in His wonders. HaShem informed Yaakov that due to his lack of faith, his descendants would be subjugated to the nations of the world in four exiles. Yaakov then became fearful that the exile would last forever. HaShem reassured Yaakov that the gentiles would eventually be decimated but the Jewish People would suffer in this world so that they would be cleansed from their sins for the World to Come.
Yaakov was always ascending, refusing to be complacent
This Midrash is puzzling, as we are not told why Yaakov did not trust in HaShem that his ascension would be for eternity. The simple interpretation of the Midrash is that Yaakov was lacking in faith and was punished that his descendants would suffer in exile. However, we can interpret this Midrash in a positive manner that will explain why Yaakov did not ascend. The Torah records the years of Yaakov in ascending order, i.e. seven years, and one hundred and forty years. The commentators (see Otzar Chaim Parsahas Chaye Sara) write that this variation demonstrates to us that Yaakov led a life of ascendancy. Yaakov was constantly striving for higher spiritual levels and was never complacent with his current situation.
The Vilna Gaon rejects the offer of the angels
It is said that the great Gaon of Vilna (Rabbi Elijah 1720-1797) was approached by angels from on high who offered to study Torah with him. Surprisingly, the Gaon rejected their offer, as he explained that he wished to toil in Torah study and not receive it as a gift.
Yaakov wished to ascend with his own effort
We can understand the above-cited Midrash in a similar vein. The Gemara (Brachos 55b) teaches us that a person’s dreams reflect the thoughts that he has during the day. Given the fact that Yaakov was constantly preoccupied with thoughts so spiritual growth, even in his dreams he was contemplating spiritual ascent. Thus, when HaShem offered him to ascend, he refused. The expression “he did not believe and he did not descend” alludes to the idea that he did not believe in himself, as he was never complacent. Yaakov chose not to ascend, as this would have been tantamount to receiving spirituality on a silver platter. Such a gift was the antithesis of Yaakov’s motif of struggling in this world to achieve the reward.
No pain no gain
We are often presented with situations where we can take the easy route to greatness. Yet, the Mishnah (Avos 5:21) instructs us that commensurate with the struggle is the reward. As the expression goes, “no pain no gain.” One should always embrace the struggle and then he can be certain of the reward that is awaiting him at the end.
The Shabbos connection
The Gemara teaches us that Yaakov reflects Shabbos, which is deemed to be a reward without parameters. During the week one may feel that he is not ascending the spiritual ladder at a quick enough pace. On the Holy Shabbos, however, one should be assured that HaShem affords His Beloved nation with the opportunity to scale the heights of spirituality. HaShem should allow us to realize that despite all our struggles, if we put in the proper effort, we can ascend to the Heavenly Throne and maintain a close relationship with HaShem.
Shabbos Stories
Preparing for the Satmar Rebbe
We are all familiar with the kedusha of the first Satmar Rebbe and we are still in awe of his saintliness. The following two stories illustrate the level of esteem held by other gedolim of him in his generation.
In the Skulener Rebbe’s later years he was very sick. At one point he was advised to see a doctor not far from Kiryas Yoel, the Satmar village in upstate New York, which was home to the Satmar Rebbe. The Skulener Rebbe asked that on the trip upstate he stop by the Satmar Rebbe before the doctor’s appointment for a bracha (blessing) for good health. The meeting between the gabbaim was arranged. The Skulener Rebbe fell asleep in the car ride up to Kiryas Yoel, and when he was awoken by his gabbai he found himself already in Kiryas Yoel. The Rebbe's gabbai had gone in to the Satmar Rebbe, letting the Skulener get his rest, and when he finally woke up the Rebbe he told him that the Satmar Rebbe was waiting for him, “now,” at that exact moment. The Skulener Rebbe, incredulous, said, “vos??” The gabbai repeated, “the Rebbe is waiting for you. I just went in to him a minute ago, and he’s waiting for you right now. We have to go in right now!” The Skulener Rebbe again said, “vos??” The gabbai said, “but you said that you wanted to get the Rebbe’s bracha before you went to the doctor...because you’ve been sick...” The Skulener Rebbe responded with a look of astonishment on his face, “you expect me to go in to see the Satmar Rebbe without preparation? To just start talking to him?” The gabbai pleaded with him. “This is your one chance as we have to get to the doctor’s office, and you can still meet with the Rebbe for a few minutes. You said that you needed his bracha!” The Rebbe told his gabbai that it was out of the question. They turned the car around, and went straight to the doctor’s office. The Skulener Rebbe never met with the Satmar Rebbe again, and never got his bracha. It just wasn’t possible to speak with, and be in the presence of the Satmar Rebbe without lengthy preparations in ruchnius (spirituality).

Rav Segal, the Manchester Rosh Yeshiva was planning a trip to America. One of the fellows from the kollel came up to him, and asked for a favor: “I know that the Rosh Yeshiva is planning on meeting with the Satmar Rebbe during his trip to the States. My wife and I have been trying for years to have a child, but with no success. Would the Rosh Yeshiva be so kind as to get a bracha from the Satmar Rebbe during his meeting?” The Rosh Yeshiva assured him that he would.

Pr4ior to meeting the Rebbe, Rav Segal prepared by engaging in a SIX HOUR MUSSAR SEDER. He cried, and he beseeched, with his head toward shamayim (heaven). Subsequent to his preparations the meeting took place. As Rav Segal was walking back to the car his gabbai said, “oy!! You forgot to ask for the bracha for the avreich at the yeshiva! OK, let’s run back in quickly.” The Rosh Yeshiva said, “vos??” He said, “it’ll take a second, let’s just run back in, as the door is probably still open!” The Rosh Yeshiva said, incredulously, “vos?? You expect me to go in to see the Satmar Rebbe without preparation?” The gabbai pleaded, “but you just came out. You were just in a very lofty state. You prepared for six hours beforehand. And you promised this avreich a bracha from the Satmar Rebbe.” The Rosh Yeshiva said “It’s completely out of the question. I will not walk in to see the Satmar Rebbe without preparing myself properly.” “What do we do??” questioned the Gabbai. “I’ll give him the bracha myself. There’s just no other way.” And so they left, and later flew back to England. The Rosh Yeshiva did give the avreich a bracha, and less than a year later on Rosh Hashanah it was whispered into the Rosh Yeshiva’s ear before tekias shofar that the bracha had come to fruition.
Rizhiner and the Tzemach Tzaddik
The Tzemach Tzaddik was the son-in-law of the holy Rizhiner Rebbe. The Rizhiner was known for his riches and malchus (royalty), but for all of his material wealth, he was on a very high, exalted level. When it came to physical matters such as eating he took after the tradition of his grandfather, Reb Avrohom the Malach (the angel), who was given this title for his reluctance to partake in earthly delights such as food.
One day when the Tzemach Tzaddik and the Rizhiner were engaged in a meal, the Rizhiner put his fork down after he was only half way through with his meal. When the Tzemach Tzaddik questioned him the Rizhiner said that before he was born, he had made a deal with his neshama (soul), only to eat enough to get by, and not a morsel more. The Tzemach Tzaddik then commented that he just realized something. “All my life there was something that bothered me, and I just figured out the answer,” he said. “On Friday night we sing shalom aleichem, welcoming the angels that accompany us home from shul into our homes. But then, just a short while later, we sing tzeischem lishalom, bidding them farewell. Why do we send them away so soon? Now I realize why. It’s because angels can’t partake in earthly pleasures. They can't taste food. We don’t want to show them disrespect by eating in front of them, so we say goodbye before we begin our meal,” at which point the Tzemach Tzaddik put down his fork, indicating that he was in the presence of a malach at that moment, the Rizhiner himself.
Imrei Yosef of Spinka
The residents of the city of Marmarosh, Romania, suffered from terrible poverty. The Imrei Yosef, Rabbi Yosef Meir Weiss, first Spinka Rebbe, was no exception. He lived in Marmarosh just before moving to Spinka, where he established his dynasty. In Marmarosh he didn’t even have enough money to buy wood to heat his home in the winter. One wealthy follower of the Rebbe owned several forests, and he would send wood to the Rebbe at the beginning of each winter. It was stored in a shed in the Rebbe’s courtyard.

One bitterly cold night a desperate villager stole into the Rebbe’s shed to take some wood. In the pitch dark he felt around for a few loose logs. As he was pulling out a piece of wood, a pile of logs collapsed on him, and he was badly injured. But bleeding and writhing in pain, he was able to suppress his screams of agony lest someone catch him in the act of stealing, and from the Rebbe, no less.
The next day the Rebbe found out about the incident. Word spread around town, and the thief locked himself up in his house. But just what did the Rebbe have to say about the theft? “I am ashamed to open my mouth if a poor, brokenhearted Yid risked such danger in my house because of his terrible poverty.” The Rebbe, in need of that wood to fight off the bitter winter in Marmarosh, didn’t rebuke the man. He didn’t even put a lock on the shed. Instead he put in a request to have lighting installed in the shed, just in case anyone else needed to “borrow” some wood. “If not I would not be able to call this a Jewish home,” said the Spinka Rebbe. And a lantern was lit each night in the courtyard from then on outside the Rebbe’s shed.
Reb Arele Roth and a disenchanted man
Reb Arele Roth, founder of chassidus Shomrei Emunim came to Jerusalem in 1925. He was known for his fervent and emotional style of prayer and worship. In Satu Mare (Satmar), Hungary, at the time, he was viewed as being inordinately intense, and became somewhat of a curiosity. Such was his manner of conducting himself that the students from the Satmar yeshiva were banned from visiting or even laying eyes on him. It is said that he often had to change his shirt up to two times during Shabbos morning prayers. He often stretched out the davening to four or five hours. Such was his intensity. When he moved to Jerusalem in 1925 he had decided to become a sofer (a scribe), but his teacher quickly realized that this was no ordinary human being and, soon after, Reb Arele Roth founded Shomrei Emunim.
On one occasion at a simcha the Rebbe was dancing fervently in the middle of a circle. Amidst his ecstasy he opened his eyes, and noticed a man with a disturbed face, perhaps a misnagid (opponent of chassidim) looking on with contempt. Reb Arele broke the circle, took the man by the hand, and led him into the middle of the circle. He began to dance with him, and looked into his eyes. The man was transformed. Never before had he seen such an expression and, amidst the dancing, never before had he conceived of such ecstasy. The man never looked back. He became a devoted chassid of the Rebbe. Such was Reb Arele’s intensity and influence. (Adapted from
A surgical procedure
In 1854, Rabbi Yehoshua Rokeach, the Belzer Rebbe, suffered from a succession of mysterious ailments. Although he was in much pain, he maintained a cheerful countenance on the outside. His chassidim, however, were greatly worried-not just because of the illnesses themselves, for they were all curable, but because of certain disturbing hints from the Rebbe that his end was near.
The next time the Rebbe’s condition worsened, they decided to spare no expense and bring him to Vienna. There, in the finest medical facility in Europe, they took him to be examined by top specialists. The doctors announced their diagnosis: an immediate and risky operation was urgently necessary.
The Belzer made his preparations. He immersed in the mikveh; he wrote his will; he recited with great emotion the words of the Final Confession. Only then, in an exalted spirit of awe and love of G-d, did he allow himself to be placed on the operating table.
The surgical team assembled around the Rebbe. All awaited the chief surgeon’s signal to the anesthetist to begin his procedure.
Suddenly, to everyone’s surprise, the Rebbe called out to one of the surgeons. After confirming his first name, he said: “Moses? You’re a Jew, aren’t you?” The doctor quietly nodded his head.
Moses, whose given name was actually Moshe Yitzchak, was from a small town called Linden. There he had grown up in a traditional Jewish home. His father had tried his best to provide him a strong Jewish education, but alas, the boy’s heart was drawn in a completely different direction. As his head filled with visions of more cosmopolitan, attracting vistas, he grew further and further from the values of his nurturing home. As soon as he was of age, he left Linden and his distraught parents, and headed for the great metropolis of Vienna.
The first step he took in his new life was to change his name to Moses. Next, he enrolled in a secular school, where thanks to his brilliant mind and determined diligence, he caught up to and surpassed his age-mates by absorbing an extraordinary large amount of material in a relatively short period of time.
Armed with his decree, he was accepted to the medical school of the university, and there too he was highly successful. Soon after, he became established as a first-class physician and surgeon.
Unfortunately, the more he succeeded, the further he drifted from his Jewish roots. No longer could anyone recognize the sophisticated Dr. Moses as the small-town Moshe Yitzchak of Linden.
Although Moses’ nod of affirmation of his Jewish identity was small and unobtrusive, it was noticed by everyone in the room. There was absolute silence when the Rebbe continued: “Moses, do you believe that G-d Al-mighty created the world and conducts it?” After a short hesitation the perplexed Moses answered, “Yes, Rabbi, I do.”
The medical staff looked on in astonishment, but the Rebbe seemed oblivious to their stares as all his attention was focused on the doctor. “And what about Moshiach the righteous one who any moment will come and redeem our people from the exile? Do you believe that, Moses?”
This time Moses was silent longer. He selected his words carefully. “Uh, I believe that there will come a certain time when there will be a redemption, but I don't believe that it will come about through a Messiah, a single person, who will rule over the whole world and everyone will be in awe and fear of him. Such a thing is not within the realm of rational possibility; so I can’t accept it.”
The Belzer Rebbe lifted his head and turned to face Moses directly. He opened wide his powerful eyes, two bright shining orbs radiating kindness and goodness, but also power and authority.
The Rebbe’s penetrating gaze fastened on Moses. He felt it burning into him. He tried to avert his own eyes but was unable. It was as if they were magnetically attached to those of the Rebbe.
The stunned members of the medical team saw their comrade's face turn deathly pale, then blush bright as a beet. Then again white, again red. His whole body was trembling and his hands had begun to shake. They had no idea what to think of this unexpected bizarre interaction, but they realized Moses must be undergoing some sort of spiritual or emotional trauma.
The tension was palpable. Moses was panting and breathing with difficulty as if he had just completed a long-distance run. He tried his best to calm himself and relax, but found himself unable to. The simple fact that someone had asserted control over him with just a glance kept him in internal turmoil.
Finally, the Rebbe averted his eyes from Moses. The surgeon felt his composure return. Then the Rebbe looked at him again, and studied his face, but this time his gaze was caressing. “Nu, Moses, now do you believe that an individual is capable of arousing fear in all those around him with just a glance of the eyes?”
Moses nodded in silent admission.
“Well, Moses, that is exactly how it will be when Moshiach arrives. G-d’s chosen one will rule over the entire world, and everyone will abandon their evil ways and turn towards G-d.”
“The Rebbe is right; I was mistaken,” muttered the abashed physician.
The drama over, the operation was able to take place. Afterwards, it was pronounced a great success, and thousands of chassidim breathed sighs of relief.
Fifteen days later the Belzer was discharged. He boarded the train to return to Belz from Vienna. To the deep sorrow of his followers, however, he never arrived, but went to his eternal reward on 23 Shevat, at age 59, during the course of the journey. Among those that merited to be in the small group of disciples present at the moment that the Rebbe passed on was his devoted chassid, Moshe Yitzchak of Linden. [Translated and freely adapted by Yerachmiel Tilles]
Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Vayeitzei 5770
Is sponsored liRefuah Shleima Refoel Chaim Simcha ben Devorah Aliza bisoch shaar cholei Yisroel
I will be giving a class in Navi on Shabbos afternoon at Bais Haknesses HaGra 14561 Lincoln in Oak Park, half an hour before Mincha.
Have a wonderful and delightful Shabbos
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