Category Archives: Holidays

Rosh Hashana: Small Is Huge!

Rosh Hashana

Small Is Huge!

“For the matter is extremely close to you; in your mouth and in your mind to fulfill it.” (Devarim 30:14)

With Rosh Hashana quickly approaching, there is a sense of unease in the air. What will our coming year be like? There are so many things we need from Hashem, our loving Father. How can we show Hashem that we deserve bountiful goodness?

When we do teshuva, repent from our sins, we are showing Hashem that we care. That we do want to improve ourselves and become closer to Him.

The basic parts of teshuva are to admit our sins, feel bad that we acted badly, and accept upon ourselves not to repeat those actions in the future.

All Hashem wants is to see that we are trying to improve. When we think about our actions and inactions, we will realize that we have much to improve. If we try to do too much, our improvements won’t last, and we will find ourselves back into our regular routine of sinning. The best approach in which we will have a better chance that it will be lasting, is to choose a small area that needs improvement. It may be to be more careful about saying brachos before or after eating, saying the first paragraph of birchas hamzon while looking inside a siddur, learning an extra minute of Torah, doing one extra act of kindness, showing more respect to a parent or friend, or….  The Ramban (Devarim 30:14) says that doing teshuva is doable. It is not difficult. May our attempts at improvement succeed. May our prayers ascend the heavens. And may we all be granted a wonderful, sweet new year.

The Chofetz Chaim zt”l has a beautiful moshol, parable, illustrating the significance of doing even one small, yet powerful improvement:

The defendant was on trial for his life. The trial was not going well. It seemed as if a guilty verdict would soon be forthcoming. The defendant had one, slim chance. He had hired a new lawyer. The lawyer was brilliant and had never lost a case. If only the lawyer would make it to the trial on time, before the guilty verdict was sealed, then the defendant would have a chance. Suddenly, the courtroom doors opened. There was an excited buzz in the courtroom as the new lawyer walked in. The new lawyer presented the case brilliantly and the case started turning in favor of the defendant. The verdict was announced, and the defendant was declared not guilty! (Give Us Life by Mendel Weinbach

Every action that we do creates an angel that will appear in the heavenly court on the day of judgement. Pirkei Avos (4:13) quotes Rabbi Eliezer son of Yaakov who says, “One who fulfills one mitzvah acquires for himself a single defending angel. One who commits one transgression acquires one accusing angel.” Our sins create prosecuting angels and our mitzvos create defending angels. Often, our sins are done with energy and excitement, creating powerful prosecuting angels who eloquently present a case against us. Many of our mitzvos may be done, lacking feeling and concentration, creating defense angels who can only present weak arguments on our behalf. When we are being judged, all may seem to be lost. We can still be rescued by the dramatic appearance of just one angel. “If there is one defending angel out of a thousand, to argue the righteousness of a man, he may save him from punishment.” One prayer said with concentration and meaning, one evening of Torah study for which some favorite entertainment was sacrificed, one act of unusual generosity, … can create that powerful defending angel who can rescue us from harsh judgement.

The Meiri (Pirkei Avos 13:4) says that a person should not belittle the significance of performing even the smallest mitzvah, for every good deed creates a defending angel. Every action that we do, makes a difference! Let’s make a commitment, NOW, to improve in one area, even a small one. That determination will jettison us into the category of “those who repent”. It will give us a better chance to have a wonderful, new year!

A shana tova to all!  לשנה טובה תכתב ותחתם!



Shavout: May I Have Some of Those Gold Coins that are in the Valley?!


May I Have Some of Those Gold Coins that are in the Valley?!


“I prefer the Torah of Your mouth more than thousands in gold and silver.” (Psalms 119:72)

The Yom Tov of Shavuos is approaching. Hashem gave us the greatest gift, the Torah. I recall hearing that when we daven, we are talking to Hashem. However, when we learn Torah, it’s as if Hashem is talking to us! We are so lucky to have this precious gift! Learning Torah strengthens our connection to Hashem. It also helps refine our middos. We should take advantage of every opportunity, every extra moment that we have, to learn Torah. On the first night of Shavuos many remain awake the entire night to learn Torah.  Hashem invested the yom tov of Shavuos with the extra potential for us to increase our understanding of the Torah. We can tap into that potential with any Torah learning that we do on Shavuos. We can tap into that potential even more if we learn Torah that entire night.

The Midrash (Midrash Rabba Shmos 52:3) quotes a story. One of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai’s students left Eretz Yisroel and settled elsewhere. He was successful and became very wealthy. When he returned to Eretz Yisroel, his friends were jealous of his great wealth. They, too, wanted to leave Eretz Yisroel to become wealthy. When Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai became aware of his students’ desires, he told them to come with him to the valley of Pnei Marom. When they were all assembled, overlooking the valley, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai davened that the valley should become full of gold coins. His tefillos were answered and the valley filled with gold. Then Rabbi Shimon told his students if they wanted gold, it was “there for the taking”. He continued, however, by saying that whoever would take gold now, would be taking away from his reward in Olam Haba. where Hashem rewards us for the Torah that we will have learned.

Pirkei Avos (6:9) quotes the following story. Rabbi Yossi ben Kisma once met a man who wanted him to relocate and become the rabbi of his town. He offered Rabbi Yossi an exorbitant amount of money. However, since his man’s town was devoid of Torah learning, Rabbi Yossi refused.  Rabbi Yossi told him, “Even if you were to give me all the silver and gold and precious stones and pearls in the world I would only live in a place of Torah. And thus is it written in the book of Psalms of David, King of Israel (Psalms 119:72), ‘I prefer the Torah of Your mouth more than thousands in gold and silver.’”

Rabbi Yossi’s response seems very similar to Bilam’s response. Balak wanted Bilam to curse the Jews. Bilam told Balak’s messengers, “Even if Balak would give me enough silver and gold to fill his house, I cannot transgress the word of Hashem….” (Bamidbar 22:18) The commentaries say that Bilam’s response indicated his enormous greed. Yet Rabbi Yossi’s similar response was considered praiseworthy. What was the difference? The Chida answered this question while he was still a youngster. He said that Bilam’s words “I cannot transgress the word of Hashem” implied that if he were permitted to do so, he would have done so. Rabbi Yossi, on the other hand, was very clear and decisive when he said, “I would only live in a place of Torah”. Rabbi Yossi only wanted to live in a Torah environment (Maggidei HaEmes as quoted in Pirkei Avos with Ideas and Insights of the Sfas Emes and other Chassidic masters by Rabbi Yosef Stern).

In responding to the man who wanted Rabbi Yossi to come to his town, why did Rabbi Yossi also quote to him the pasuk in Tehillim from King David? The sefer Ruach Chaim & the Ksav Sofer explain as follows. Rabbi Yossi said that he only wanted to live in a Torah environment because spiritual wealth was more important to him than physical wealth. Had that idea only been expressed by him, it would not have had such an impact. After all, it was said by a Torah scholar who was poor and had not tasted luxury. Therefore, Rabbi Yossi added that this idea was expressed by a wealthy king. Despite his great wealth, King David was the one who said that spiritual wealth was much more valuable than physical riches (The Pirkei Avos Treasury by Rabbi Moshe Lieber)

The Midrash (Vayikra 27:1) gives us a history lesson about Alexander the Great. While conquering the world, Alexander came to a country inhabited by women. They sent a delegation to speak to Alexander. They told him that it was pointless and even disadvantageous to Alexander to fight against them. They said that if he would be victorious over them, it wouldn’t bring him glory since they were only women. However, if they would defeat him, it would be a big embarrassment to him. Alexander heard the logic of their argument and did not attack them. Upon leaving, Alexander left an inscription stating, “I, Alexander, was a shoteh, a dumb person, until I came to this country”. Rabbi Henach Leibowitz zt”l questioned this Midrash. Alexander had one of the greatest minds of his day. He was a brilliant general, in the process of conquering the world. How can he say that until this he was a dumb person? Rabbi Henach Leibowitz zt”l explains that Alexander realized the significance of every added piece of knowledge. It is more than becoming a little smarter. Every extra bit of knowledge changes you into a new person! It’s as if you were not smart and the new knowledge turned you into a smart person.

Extra knowledge transforms you into a wise person. Imagine the great transformation you will have with each additional understanding of Torah learning. Every “minor” increase in understanding, transforms you into a wiser and wiser person!

Thank You, Hashem, for Your precious gift of the Torah. Torah brings us close to You and transforms our lives.

Torah brings us happiness and satisfaction.


Special Pesach Issue: One Small Step is Actually a Giant Step!

Special Pesach Issue

One Small Step is Actually a Giant Step!


“The Jewish People did as Hashem had commanded Moshe and Aharon.” (Shmos 12:28)

The German M42 machine gun was a feared weapon in WWII, cutting down Allied troops in swaths. The allied troops needed to land troops on a certain beach. The problem was that the Nazis had a machine gun “nest” guarding the beach. The Allied general asked for a volunteer to attempt to destroy the “nest” by throwing in grenades. The mission had little chance of success, but it had to be attempted. Private Warren volunteered for the mission. The other soldiers gave Private Warren a standing ovation for his determination to accept this dangerous mission. Before he left on the mission, the general promoted him to Corporal.

Rabbi Yitzchak Blazer zt”l, Rav Yisroel Salanter zt”l’s student, says (Kochvei Ohr -6) that even if the concept of teshuvah, repentance, would not exist, once one realizes that he would be punished for his sins, it would be natural for him to automatically feel bad and stop sinning. The concept of teshuvah would further obligate him to also confess his sins and accept upon himself never to repeat them. Apparently, confession and accepting upon oneself not to repeat the sin, is more difficult than regretting and stopping the sin. HaRav Alter Henach Leibowitz zt”l says that this idea is also said by Rabbeinu Yonah (Shaarei Teshuva , Sha’ar 2:10). Accepting upon oneself never to repeat a sin is a much more difficult aspect of teshuvah. Rabbeinu Yonah says that as soon as one makes the commitment to accept it, “in an instant he goes from pitch darkness to great light”. He literally becomes a different person. In addition, he acquires reward for all the mitzvos of the Torah, even for those mitzvos which he did not yet learn! He reaches the same, high level as the Jewish People did when they said “na’ase v’nishma”. The Jewish People said that they would do all the mitzvos even before hearing what the specifics were.             

We see a similar idea mentioned in the Torah reading on Pesach. The Jews needed a special merit for Hashem to take them out of Egypt. On the first day of the month of Nissan, Hashem gave Moshe a directive, the first merit for the Jews (Shmos 12:3). The Jews were told to take a sheep, a god of the Egyptians and tie it to their bedposts. This was in preparation for the slaughtering of the sheep 4 days later. It was a scary directive since it involved taking and tying up the Egyptian god in full sight and letting the Egyptians know in advance that they would slaughter it. Yet the Torah testifies that “The Jewish People did as Hashem had commanded Moshe and Aharon” (Shmos 12:28).

Rashi asks, how can the pasuk say that the Jews had already followed Moshe’s directive to take the sheep? After all, the directive was given on Rosh Chodesh Nissan and it wasn’t carried out until the 10th, when they took the sheep, and the 14th, when they slaughtered it? Rashi, quoting a Mechilta, answers that as soon as the Jews had accepted upon themselves to do so, the Torah considers it as if it they already done it. The Jews had accepted upon themselves only one mitzvah. Yet that transformed them to the level as if they had accepted the entire Torah!

Merely the acceptance to do a single mitzvah can cause a major transformation in oneself!

Rashi says later that Jews were praised because they did not omit a single detail of what Moshe and Aharon had said. Why are the Jews being praised for this if it was considered as if they had already done the mitzvah? HaRav Alter Henach Leibowitz zt”l said that even when one has good intentions to do something, he must maintain the total commitment to actually accomplish it. He must also daven to Hashem for siyata dishmaya, Heavenly assistance, so that nothing will prevent him from doing so.

Let us grab the opportunities that we each have.
Let us accept upon ourselves each single mitzvah opportunity.
May Hashem grant us the Heavenly assistance to fulfill that, and all the mitzvos!

Based on a dvar Torah by HaRav Alter Henach Leibowitz zt”l

Parshas Tetzaveh – Special Purim Issue – The Most Powerful Weapon!

Parshas Tetzaveh – Special Purim Issue

The Most Powerful Weapon!


“Mordechai tore his garments and … cried out a great and bitter cry.” (Megillas Esther 4:1)

The evil Prime Minister, Haman, convinced King Achashverosh to annihilate every single Jew. Rashi (Megillas Esther 4:1) says that Mordechai, who was the leader of the Jews, was told about this terrible decree, in a dream. He was told that the punishment had been decreed because the Jews had bowed to the idol in the days of Nevuchadnetzar, and because they had enjoyed Achashverosh’s feast. Mordechai’s response to this news was, “And Mordechai tore his garments and clothed himself in sack and ashes; and he went out in the midst of the city, and he cried out a great and bitter cry”. The Maharzu and Eitz Yosef (Midrash Rabbah Shmos 38:4) explain that Mordechai’s “crying” refers to tefillah, prayer.

Although the actual decree of annihilation was scheduled to take place in eleven months hence, Mordechai felt that the Jews were in an exceedingly dangerous situation. He sent a message to Queen Esther to immediately approach King Achashverosh and beg him to save the Jewish People. Esther responded that there was a death penalty for anyone approaching the king without first getting permission. If she would go to the king now, she would be placing her life in danger. She felt that it was prudent to wait until the king called for her. She said that he would probably call for her sometime soon, as he had not seen her for almost 30 days. Mordechai felt that the situation was so serious that he told Esther that she should go anyway, despite the danger to her life. Esther agreed to go but requested that the Jews fast for three days beforehand. In that merit she would be successful in her mission. The last day of the fasting was the night of the first Pesach seder. If the Jews would be fasting, that they would not be able to fulfill the Torah requirement of eating matza at the seder. They would also be unable to fulfill the Rabbinic mitzva of drinking the 4 cups of wine and eating marror. Despite that, Mordechai agreed that all the Jews should fast.

Later in the Purim story, there was a turn-around of events. Mordechai was honored greatly while Haman was humiliated. The Midrash (Esther Rabbah 10:4-5) tells us what occurred. “The king said to Haman: Hurry, take the garments and the horse as you have said. Do so to Mordechai the Jew who sits at the king’s gate. Do not omit anything that you spoke of.”

Haman went to Mordechai and told him to put on the royal garments. Mordechai responded, “Why are you dishonoring the monarchy? Is there any man who would put on royal garments without bathing?” Haman went and sought a bath attendant but could not find one. Queen Esther had declared a national holiday, closing all the schools and stores. She wanted everyone to witness Haman’s humiliation. Since there was no bath attendant available, Haman who had previously been a bath attendant, was forced to bathe Mordechai himself. After the bath, Haman told Mordechai to put on the king’s crown. Mordechai said to him, “Why are you dishonoring the monarchy? Is there any man who would put on a royal crown without a haircut?” Haman searched for a barber but could not find one. What did he do? Haman, who had been a barber for many years, gave Mordechai a haircut.  Then Haman told Mordechai to mount the horse. Mordechai said, “I do not have the strength [to mount it], for I am old.” Haman responded that he too was also old.  Mordechai said to Haman that he had brought this upon himself.  Thereupon, Haman bent down on his hands and knees to allow Mordechai to step on him to mount the horse. Then Haman led Mordechai on the horse through the city square, proclaiming, “So shall be done to the man that the king wishes to honor!’” (Megillas Esther 6:10-11)

The Midrash continues that while Mordechai was riding the horse, he began praising Hashem. “I will exalt You, Hashem, for You have lifted me up and have not caused my enemies to rejoice over me. Hashem, I cried out to You, and You have healed me. Hashem, You brought my soul up from the grave. You have given me life that I not go down to a pit.” (Psalms 30:2–4).

Clearly, the tide was beginning to turn. It appeared that Haman’s downfall had begun. When Haman returned home, even his wife and other advisors told him that his downfall was a foregone conclusion (Megillas Esther 6:13). Yet, as soon as Mordechai completed his ride, Rashi says (6:12) that he went back to wearing sackcloth and fasting.

We would think that at this point, Mordechai would not be praying with the same intensity as before. After all, he had experienced the beginning of the tide turning. Yet, the Maharzu comments on the Midrash Rabbah in this week’s parsha (Shmos 38:4) that when Mordechai returned to sackcloth and prayer, he prayed with the same level of intensity as previously.  Mordechai’s prayer at this time, despite the onset of Haman’s downfall, was as powerful as when he had first found out about the harsh decree.


It is amazing that Mordechai was able to pray with the same deep feelings when he clearly saw Haman’s downfall quickly occurring! It is also amazing that he felt the necessity to do so! He understood that the Jews were still in danger, and that Hashem could, just as easily, turn things back around if the Jews were not deserving.


When we are in need, we turn to our most powerful weapon, prayer. Sincere prayer from the depths of our heart is very powerful and productive. Hashem does not always give us the answer that we want. However, our prayers can make a difference now, and for our future generations. Our prayers may even help one of our future descendants in need. Even if we see that our prayers are beginning to help, we must not let up. We must continue praying with the same fervor and intensity as before. We cannot take anything for granted, as situations can quickly change and turn back around.


When, with Hashem’s help, we do see salvation, we must continue our heartfelt prayers, expressing our thanks and appreciation to Hashem.



Pesach: I Crossed the Busy Street and Was Not Hit by the Car!

Special Pesach Issue #2

I Crossed the Busy Street and Was Not Hit by the Car!


“I did not know; my soul placed me upon chariots of my noble people.” Shir Hashirim (6:12)

I heard a beautiful story from Rabbi Moshe Yosef Gruenstein, of Project Heritage (recorded on Torah A man came into shul one morning with small cakes and a bottle of schnaps. When he was asked why he had brought it, he replied that it was to celebrate a special occasion. He had crossed a busy street and was hit by a car. However, nothing had happened to him! He had not gotten hurt! He brought some refreshments to share and express his hakaras hatov, appreciation, to Hashem for his personal miracle. The next morning, another man also came to shul with cakes and schnaps. When he was asked why he had brought them, he gave a different reply than his friend. He said that for the past twenty years, he had been crossing the same street that his friend had. In all that time, a car did NOT hit him. He too wanted to show appreciation to Hashem for the bad that did NOT happen!

There is another story about a very poor Jewish man who was brought to the attention of the king. The king was impressed with him and appointed him to a royal position. The Jewish man was very wise. Before long, the king appointed him to be his royal advisor. This appointment made the other ministers, who were not Jewish, jealous. They slandered the Jewish advisor to the king, saying that he was stealing money from the royal treasury. The king believed his other ministers. They searched the Jewish minister’s home but did not find any of the supposed stolen wealth. When they approached a locked door, they were sure that the money was hidden in that room. They broke the door and entered the room. To their astonishment, the room was almost bare. All it contained was a table, chair, and some tattered clothes. The king asked his Jewish minister to explain the contents of the room. The minister explained that the tattered clothes were the clothes that he had worn before he was appointed to a royal position. Every day he entered the room and put on the tattered clothes. He wanted to remember his past poverty so that he would remain humble and not feel arrogance due to his current, high office. He wanted to remember his past difficulties to help him further appreciate his current rise to power.

We must stop, think, and appreciate all the good that Hashem does for us. We also must stop, think, appreciate, and thank Hashem for all the bad things that could have happened but did not.


On Shabbos of Chol HaMoed Pesach we read Shir Hashirim. The pasuk in Shir Hashirim (6:12) states, “I did not know; my soul placed me upon chariots of my noble people”. The Midrash Rabba (Shir Hashirim 6:1) quotes Rabbi Chiya who explains this pasuk with a parable. There was once a princess who was forsaken. She had to work in a lowly occupation to earn money for food. Once, the king passed and recognized that she was his daughter. He sent his minister to bring her back to the palace in the royal carriage. Her friends were astonished at this turn of events. They said that yesterday she had been gathering leftover sheaves and today she was in the carriage with the king. She said to them: “Just as you are astonished about me, so I am astonished about myself.” The princess did not respond that she was a princess and that she belonged in the carriage of the king. Rather, her response was that she too could not comprehend her rise until she realized that the carriage was sent by her father.

Similarly, when the Jews were in Egypt, they were enslaved, working with mortar and bricks.  They were contemptible in the eyes of the Egyptians. When Hashem freed them and they were redeemed, they became elevated over all mankind. The nations of the world were astonished beyond belief. “Yesterday you were working with mortar and bricks, and despised, and now you have become free men, elevated over the entire world?” The Jewish People responded, “Just as you are astonished about us, so are we astonished about ourselves.” They didn’t know why they deserved to be elevated to such greatness. They realized that it was only due to Hashem’s lovingkindness.

The Midrash brings Yosef Hatzadik and King David as further examples. Yosef became the second in command over all of Egypt. King David sat on his throne. Both were raised to lofty positions of power yet did not take anything for granted. They did not attribute their successes to their own righteousness or wisdom. They were not arrogant. They realized that their success was only due to Hashem’s kindness (Midrash Rabbah as explained by the commentary Yaffe Kol). Recalling their low beginnings increased their appreciation of Hashem’s kindness in raising them to positions of prominence.

Some feel that it is best to forget an unpleasant past. We see from this dvar torah that we should remember it and contrast it with the pleasant present. That will magnify our appreciation of Hashem’s great kindness of salvation.

To properly appreciate Hashem’s compassion and kindness we must keep in mind

our past difficulties and how Hashem helped us.


(based on a dvar Torah by Rabbi Henach Leibowitz zt”l)


Megillas Koheles: A Daily Battle of Epic Proportions!

Megillas Koheles

A Daily Battle of Epic Proportions!


Haman entered, and the king asked him, “What should be done for a man whom the king desires to honor?” Haman thought in his heart, “Whom would the king desire to honor more than me?” (Megillas Esther 6:6)

This Shabbos we read Megillas Koheles. The Midrash Rabbah (Koheles 5:2) contrasts the actions of reshaim, wicked people, and tzadikim, righteous people. Reshaim are controlled by their heart. The Yefe Toar explains that they are controlled by their emotions and desires. “… Haman said belibo, in his heart, and Esau said belibo, in his heart”. Tzadikim, on the other hand, control their hearts and emotions with their intellect. “Chana spoke to her heart and King David spoke to his heart”.

The Midrash Rabbah continues. Haman went to King Achashverosh early in the morning to request that Mordechai be hung. Achashverosh pre-empted Haman’s request by asking him what to do for a person that he wished to honor. Haman’s heart was desirous. He assumed that the king wished to honor him. Immediately, he answered that the person should be dressed in the royal garments that the king wore on the day of his coronation. He should also ride on the horse that the king rode on the day of his coronation. Furthermore, the king’s crown should be placed on his head. Haman was very smart, but his desires clouded his better judgment. Achashverosh saw-through Haman’s suggestions, realizing that Haman wanted these royal honors for himself. In fact, Achashverosh was so upset that his face turned colors when Haman mentioned the king’s crown. What intelligent person would even think of asking for those coveted items that are so special and unique to the king? Yet, Haman’s personal desires clouded his better judgment and that is what he asked for.

Chana, on the other hand, controlled her emotions. She followed her intellect and acted appropriately. Chana and Penina were co-wives of Elkanah. Every year, Chana would go to the Beis HaMikdash with her husband. Penina had many children, but Chana had none. Penina felt bad for Chana. She said a few things to Chana to motivate Chana to beseech Hashem more intensely. The Eitz Yosef quoting the Yefe Toar explains, that Chana was very pained and agitated by Penina’s words. Emotions swirling, Chana wanted to scream out loud to Hashem, to beg for a child. However, she understood that screaming within the Beis Hamikdash would be a lack of respect. Thus, she controlled her emotions. She davened fervently, but silently.

King David also controlled his emotions, allowing his intellect to control his heart. Before David became king, King Shaul tried to kill him. (One of Shaul’s close advisors had poisoned his mind against David.) David told himself that he must escape, by leaving the Land of Israel. He felt in his heart that he should not leave. Emotionally, he felt that Hashem was with him and would save his life. If King Shaul would keep pursuing him to kill him, then David, having no other choice, would have to kill King Shaul. After all, the Torah permits a person to take pre-emptive action to kill a person who is trying to kill him. These were the emotions that were swirling in David’s heart. However, after thinking the matter over, he realized that he could not bring himself to kill King Shaul, who had been anointed by Hashem. If that was the case, then David was potentially in mortal danger. Therefore, David followed his intellect and determined that he did have to run away, outside the Land of Israel (Yefe Toar).

We fight a similar battle, numerous times every day, in our relationship with Hashem and with the people around us. Our emotions are screaming that we must act a certain way. We can follow what our heart is telling us, but that is not always the proper thing to do. We must stop and think logically if this is the appropriate course of action. It is not so easy to ignore the emotions that we feel in our heart. It’s a battle. We must work hard, trying our best to win each battle. Following one’s intellect and tempering one’s emotions is the right course of action. It will also be beneficial to us. For example, if our boss, our good friend, or our spouse says a hurtful comment to us, our emotions will be swirling. If we follow our emotions, we may respond in an attacking and hurtful way. That can negatively affect our job and our relationships. If we follow our intellect, we may understand that this is not the best time to respond, when we feel so hurt. We may be able to wait and respond when we are calmer. That would save us from the harmful ramifications that would surely, otherwise follow. Perhaps, we may even decide to forego our comments, realizing that the words said to us were said in the heat of emotion. The boss, friend, or spouse lost control of themself, but truly still has respect, admiration, and love for us.

We must always think before we act! We must control our emotions!

That will help us in our service to Hashem and in our interpersonal relationships.


Based on a dvar Torah by HaRav Alter Henach Leibowitz zt”l


Succos: To Do So or Not To Do So – That is the Question

Special Succos Edition

To Do So or Not To Do So – That is the Question


“You are not to desecrate my Holy Name, rather I should be sanctified among the children of Israel…” (Vayikra 22:32).
On the first two days of Succos we read, “You are not to desecrate my Holy Name…”.

Hashem expects a Jew to act in a manner which sanctifies Hashem’s name.

The Torah tells us, “You are permitted to take interest from a non-Jew but not from a Jew, in order that Hashem, your G-D, will bless you in your every undertaking…” (Devarim 23:21). If a Jew borrowed money from a non-Jew, agreeing to pay him interest on the loan, he may not renege on his word. The Sforno says that if he reneges, he is being dishonest. The Sforno adds, that he is also making a chillul Hashem, profaning and desecrating the Name of Hashem! Chillul Hashem is such a severe sin that one only achieves atonement for it with his death, unless he creates a kiddush Hashem, a sanctification of Hashem’s name. (Rabbeinu Yona in sefer Shaarei Teshuvah).

However, if he does pay the non-Jew the interest on the loan that he had promised to pay then the Torah says that Hashem will bless all his work.

HaRav Henach Leibowitz zt”l questioned this Sforno. We would not think that the sin of reneging to pay the non-Jew interest on a loan is so severe. We may think, true he had given his word to pay it. However, he could easily rationalize that the non-Jew would understand why he is not paying it and therefore he could renege on his word. He could tell the non-Jew that he is treating him the same way that he would treat his brother, a fellow Jew. Namely, that it is forbidden to pay interest to a fellow Jew even if he erroneously promised that he would.

However, it is clear from the Sforno that this is not the behavior that the Torah wants from us. Hashem wants us to act with honesty. If we promised to pay the interest to the non-Jew than we MUST do so. Not to do so is considered treachery and a chillul Hashem!

The Rosh HaYeshiva zt”l said that we live in a time when people are looking for monetary loopholes, especially when dealing with non-Jews. We must realize the gravity of the sin that our action is causing. We may be doing a terrible, terrible sin of causing a chillul Hashem that even Yom Kippur does not atone for. We must be very careful when dealing with non-Jews and with the government to always act in a very honest way.  And, if we do so, the Torah promises that we will not lose out. Rather, we will gain because Hashem will bless our efforts.

We must always be honest in business and avoid any chillul Hashem.

Hashem will give us extra blessings when we do so.


Rosh Hashana: The Conductor of the Orchestra!

Special Rosh Hashana Issue

The Conductor of the Orchestra!


“And Hashem had remembered Sarah… Sarah conceived and bore a son to Avraham….” Breishis (21:1-2)

This past week, someone sent me a thirty second video clip. An elderly woman was sitting on a bench in front of an apartment building. She dropped her cane which fell a few feet away from her. She noticed a non-Jewish, teenage boy nearby.  He was standing, leaning on a pole, and munching on a candy bar. She asked him if he would pick up her cane. Although he said yes, he continued munching on his candy bar, seemingly ignoring the situation. The elderly lady shrugged her shoulders, laboriously got up, walked the few feet away from the bench with difficulty, and bent down to retrieve her cane. As soon as she did so, there was a loud crash. A piano fell from the building and crashed onto the bench that she had been sitting on moments before. Clearly, Hashem had orchestrated the lady’s cane to fall away from the bench, forcing her to move away from the bench, thus saving her life.

Hashem orchestrates many such events for us, as well.

On the first day of Rosh Hashana the Torah reading discusses Hashem miraculously enabling ninety-year old Sarah to have a child. The Torah tells us about this event immediately after telling us about a difficult event in Sarah’s life. Avimelech, King of Gerrar, forcibly took Sarah into his palace. Hashem protected Sarah from abuse. Hashem appeared to Avimelech in a dream and told him that he would die for taking a married woman. Furthermore, at Sarah’s behest, Hashem sealed all the body openings of Avimelech and all Avimelech’s people. Avimelech returned Sarah to Avraham, together with many gifts of appeasement. Whereupon, Avraham prayed to Hashem who reopened all their body openings. After Avraham’s prayers, the Torah tells us that Hashem opened Sarah’s womb, enabling her to give birth to a child.

 Why does the Torah connect these two episodes in a sequence? Why does the Torah tell us about Avimelech, followed by Sarah giving birth? Rashi learns a beautiful lesson from this. If you pray to Hashem for someone else, when you yourself have the same need, then Hashem responds to your needs first. Avraham davened that the openings in Avimelech’s body be reopened. In response, Hashem then opened Sarah’s womb. How do we know that Avraham was answered first? The Gur Aryeh, quoting Rashi in the Talmud (Bava Kama 92B) proves it from the Torah’s wording.  It should have said “vayifkad Hashem es Sarah”, that Hashem remembered Sarah. Instead, it said “Va’Hashem Pakad” means that Hashem already responded to Sarah’s need, before responding to Avimelech’s need.

According to Rashi, it seems that Sarah gave birth because of Avraham’s prayers on behalf of Avimelech. The Ohr HaChaim, as well as the Gur Aryeh, question Rashi’s explanation.  Had Hashem not already promised Avraham that Sarah would give birth, irrespective of Avraham’s prayer for Avimelech? The Ohr HaChaim explains, Hashem had already promised that Avraham would have a child. To create that desired outcome, Hashem provided Avraham with the opportunity to daven for another. That mitzvah that Hashem gave, was the force which triggered the desired result, namely the birth of a child to the barren Sarah. The Ohr HaChaim says, in general, when Hashem wants to do a specific good for someone, Hashem arranges for that person to have the opportunity to do a specific mitzvah. The result of that mitzvah will bring the person the good that Hashem wants to give him. The Gur Aryeh explains in a similar manner, with a twist.  Hashem purposely placed Sarah in the uncomfortable position of being taken into Avimelech’s palace. Hashem did so, even though it also provided an opening for scoffers to claim that Yitzchok was Avimelech’s child (In order to disprove their claims, Hashem caused Yitzchak to look just like his true father, Avraham). The resulting effect of being in this uncomfortable position was that Avraham prayed for Avimelech.  That prayer, for another, resulted in Avraham being answered first, and having a child.

The explanation of the Ohr HaChaim and Gur Aryeh give an understanding into the workings of Hashem.

At times, Hashem will create a situation which seems negative and hurtful to us.

Yet, Hashem’s intent is for that situation to cause us to respond in a way which will bring blessing into our lives!

That “hurtful” situation will end up being the trigger for extreme happiness!


Shavuos: Learn Torah or do a Chessed? Flip a Coin??




Boaz said in reply, “I have been told of all that you did for your mother-in-law after the death of your husband, how you left your father and mother and the land of your birth and came to a people you had not known before.”  (Rus 2:11)

Dr. Meshulam Hart is a well-known and respected pediatrician in Bnei Brak, Israel. He has become very knowledgeable about medical information related to the coronavirus. Since the coronavirus pandemic began spreading around the world, Dr. Hart has been receiving thousands of calls every day from all over Israel and the world asking for his advice. He was even asked by the Gedolei Hador to advise yeshivos how to safely re-open. He has also published instructions on this topic for the public. Dr. Hart asked HaRav Chaim Kanievsky shlita, the following question, “I have a chavrusa in the afternoon every day for at least an hour”. However, in the past few weeks, the telephone rings every minute with people calling for advice. May I shut off my phone at least while I learn…I’m also obligated to learn Torah.” Harav Chaim heard the question, thought for a long while and then uttered one word: ‘Chessed.’” Dr. Hart clearly understood that for the current time and in the current situation, since he was one of the few people capable of helping, his obligation to do chessed came before his Torah learning. (Yeshiva World News, May 26, 2020)

The Mishna (Meseches Peah 1:1) states, “And Talmud Torah is equal to all of them.” We receive part of our reward for learning Torah, in this world.  Most of our reward will be given in the next world. Learning Torah is greater than all the mitzvos. The Vilna Gaon in his sefer Shnos Eliyahu writes that every word of Torah learning is a separate mitzvah.  The Chofetz Chaim writes that a person can usually speak two hundred words a minute. If he speaks two hundred words of Torah learning in a minute, he receives two hundred mitzvos every minute that he learns Torah (based on a lecture by HaGaon Rav Gershon Edelstein shlita, Parashas Vayechi 5776 and Sefer Binyan Olam)

Even before the Torah was formally given, Jews learned Torah. Shem and Ever, Noach’s sons had a yeshiva. All our forefathers learned Torah. There are so many stories of people learning Torah both day and night, managing with little sleep because of the preciousness of every word of Torah.

Why is learning Torah so special? Learning Torah enables a person to be as close as possible to Hashem. This is as the Zohar (Acharei Mos) states, “Hashem, Torah, and Yisroel are one.” In other words, Torah is what connects Bnei Yisrael to Hashem. The Tana Dvei Eliyahu (ch. 18) writes that when a person learns Torah, Hashem sits opposite him and learns with him. The Talmud (Gittin 6B) states that when Rebbi Evyasar and Rebbi Yonasan were learning Torah together, Eliyahu Hanavi approached them. They asked him what Hashem was doing at this moment. He said that Hashem was saying, “My son Evyasar says this, and my son Yonasan says this.” (from a lecture by HaGaon Rav Gershon Edelstein shlita, Parashas Vayechi 5776).

 As great as Torah learning is, there are times that it must be temporarily put aside. Rabbi Yisroel Salanter was once learning in shul, late into the night, when he heard a conversation between two homeless Jews. (It used to be the custom that the very poor or homeless would sleep in a local shul.) One said that he was very thirsty and asked the other to accompany him outside, to the well, to get a drink of water. The fellow refused to go, saying that he was too tired. Rav Yisroel closed his Gemora and went to the well himself, to get his fellow Jew a drink of water!

The Rambam writes (Hilchos Talmud Torah 3:4), if you have a choice to either perform a mitzvah (for example, chessed) or learn Torah, you should learn Torah. However, if the mitzvah cannot be done by others you should perform the mitzvah first and then continue learning.

When Rus came to collect grain from Boaz’s field, Boaz gave her special privileges. When she questioned why, he told her that he was very impressed with two things that he had heard about her (Rus 2:11). Rus took such good care of her destitute and lonely mother-in-law, even after her own husband had died. Furthermore, Boaz was impressed that Rus gave up so much to convert to Judaism. Rus was a princess. She gave that up, leaving her family and birthplace to convert. Now she was so poor that she had to gather grain just like the rest of the Jewish poor, by gathering it from other people’s fields. The Targum Onkelos says that Boaz told Rus a prophecy that he had received. Jewish kings and prophets would descend from Rus because of her two actions. In fact, the pasuk refers to her act of chessed first. We see from Rus the importance of chessed.

The Sforno says (Vayikrah 25:38) that doing chessed for someone is not just acting with kindness to one individual. It is as if one is doing chessed to all the Jewish People! Despite the importance of doing chessed, learning even one word of Torah is greater! We see the importance of learning Torah. Yet, if you are the only one who can do a time-relevant chessed, then doing the chessed comes first. We see the greatness of chessed. Rev Henach Leibowitz zt”l said (as heard from Rabbi Binyamin Luban) that if someone else can do the chessed then you should not stop learning Torah. However, if you are the only one who can help, it is your obligation to help. The reward for this chessed will ultimately be greater than the reward you would have received for learning Torah. However, if you constantly do chessed instead of learning Torah, you will be ignorant of Torah. What should you do if you are in a group of people learning Torah and you are approached to do a time-relevant chessed? If the chessed is needed immediately and there is no one else to do it, then you should quickly volunteer. You should not think, let one of my friend’s do it while I continue learning. You should quickly volunteer since all of you have an equal obligation to do the chessed.

Let us take advantage of the special opportunity to learn Torah throughout the night of Shavuos, this Thursday night. The night of Kabbalas HaTorah is an especially significant time to learn. However, if we are needed to do a chessed and there is no one else available, we should stop learning Torah to do it. Afterwards, we should resume our learning.

Pesach: Soccer and the Mitzvah of Not Eating Chometz


Soccer and the Mitzvah of Not Eating Chometz


Rabbi Sholom Schwadron had noticed that one of the students at the yeshiva missed his lecture, two days in a row. That was very unusual for this student. Rabbi Schwadron found out that the student was home, even though he wasn’t sick. He went to visit his student, to find out why he was absent. After some prodding, the boy finally said that he was an avid soccer fan and he stayed home to watch the finals. In fact,” the boy added in embarrassment, “I probably won’t be in yeshiva tomorrow as well. It’s the final day of the championship.”

Rabbi Schwadron furrowed his brow in interest. “It sounds very exciting. How do you play the game?” “Well,” began the student filled with enthusiasm, “The object is to kick a ball into a large goal.” Rabbi Schwadron’s face brightened! “Oh! Is that all? Let’s go to the backyard and we will kick the ball into the goal. Then you can return to yeshiva tomorrow.”

The boy laughed. “Rebbe, you don’t understand! There is a goalkeeper whose job is to stop the team from getting the ball into goal!”

“Tell me,” Rabbi Schwadron whispered. “is the goalkeeper there at night also?” “Of course not!” laughed the student. “Rabbi Schwadron suggested “We can return in the evening and kick the ball into the goal when the goalkeeper is not there. Then you can win and return to yeshiva!”

The boy threw his hands up in frustration. “Rebbe! You don’t understand. There is no challenge to kick a ball into an empty net. The excitement is to try to score if there is someone trying to stop you!”

“Ah!” cried Reb Sholom in absolute victory. Listen to what you just said! It’s not as challenging to come to the yeshiva when nothing is holding you back! When it’s difficult, when you have a temptation holding you back, that’s when it’s special. When the Yetzer Harah (evil inclination) is “crouching in the goal” to prevent you from doing the right thing, that is when it is most difficult to score. That is when you really score points. Come to yeshiva tomorrow, and you can’t imagine how much that is worth in Hashem’s scorecard!” The student understood the message and was there the next day, in class!

We are so careful not to eat chometz (bread/leaven) on Pesach (Passover). So much so, that when the matzah is baked before Passover, many hurry every 18 minutes to carefully clean all the utensils, to prevent the dough from rising. Some people are so scrupulous that they don’t even put matzah balls in their soup, concerned lest any raw dough become chometz from the liquid. There is a simple solution! Instead of using flour, why not make matzah using potato starch (flour from potatoes)? Potato starch doesn’t rise so it can’t become chometz. How much easier that would be. Yet, you are not permitted to use potato starch or other flours that can’t become chometz if left unchecked. Why not? The Chasam Sofer learns a beautiful lesson from this: To prevent potato starch from becoming chometz isn’t a true accomplishment. Only by carefully supervising the preparation of baking matzah to prevent it from becoming chometz, does a Jew show his love of Hashem and his loyalty to the Torah. Similarly, Hashem put the world into our hands, with our evil inclination, tempting us to act improperly. We will elevate ourselves spiritually, only when we work hard to overpower our evil inclination.

Through overcoming our Yetzer Harah, we achieve great successes!