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Monday, February 27, 2006

From an Elevating Shabbos to the Entry of Adar

I was privileged to spend a very elevating Shabbos in Ramat Beit Shemesh this past Shabbos Mishpatim-Shekalim. My host davens at the Aish Kodesh Shul, home to today’s Piaseczno Rebbe Shlita, who is a great-nephew to Rebbe Klonymus Kalman of Piaseczno, and named for him. While the majority of the Shul’s members are newly-arrived Americans, the flavor is quite Chassidic while maintaining a modernity usually not found in other Chassidic environs. The Rebbe speaks both during the evening and morning services, as well as at Shalosh Seudos [the third Shabbos meal]. There was plenty of singing, which included many Carlebach niggunim. I was pleasantly surprised to find the Baal Tefilla for Shacharis singing a Rebbe Mottel Twerski [Hornesteipel Rebbe Shlita] niggun, “V’ha’arev Nah,” for Mimkomcha, and was zoche to relate this good news to Rebbe Mottel himself, when I saw him at his grandson’s Bris on Sunday.

At Shalosh Seudos, I was hoping the Piaseczno Rebbe would call on me to sing Mizmor L’David. After they sang this niggun twice, first to a Carlebach niggun, then to a standard Chassidic tune, the Rebbe asked if anyone has a new tune for this that perhaps they could add to their repertoire. I gladly volunteered and sang the Divrei Yisrael’s “Niggun of the Homeless,” which is often sung to Mizmor L’David.

The Rebbe himself later sang Keil Mistater to a Modzitz niggun,
[found here, sixth track – Yibaneh] which yours truly later identified it to him as such. Finally, after a guest delivered a dvar Torah, the Rebbe spoke briefly, and then called upon the young boys present to deliver a short dvar Torah on the Parsha. Many of them did so, most beautifully, as the Rebbe stood behind them, beaming! Those familiar with the life of the first Piaseczno Rebbe will know that this practice originates with him.


Rav Avraham Greenbaum (L) and Yosef Karduner (R)

But perhaps the highlight of my Shabbos was the wonderful Melave Malka that my good friend Bobby Rosenberg, the mainstay of the Carlebach shul in RBS, “Kehillat Ahava v’Simcha” put together. Billed as “The Healing Wisdom of Chassidus, from the writings of Ramchal and Breslov, presented by Rabbi Avraham Greenbaum with music by Yosef Karduner,” it was indeed that and more.
Karduner’s music is well known, and speaks for itself, though I must say, to hear him live adds an extra dimension that cannot be duplicated on recorded music.

Reb Avraham Greenbaum of the Azamra Institute is an amazing speaker. But first, a bit about Azamra:
AZAMRA is a Hebrew word meaning "I will sing!" The keynote of all Azamra's work is the teaching of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov (1772-1810) based on Psalms 146:2:"Azamra! I will sing to my G-d as long as I live!" "The way to sing the song of joy is by seeking the good in all people, especially in ourselves. Each good point is one more note in the song of life!"

One of the many beautiful points of R. Avraham’s talk was an expansion of what we had written here in a previous post – on the Shira:
“…as a result of the Emuna [faith, belief] in Hashem, the Jewish People sang Shira. The verse preceding “Az yashir,” says “Vaya’aminu BaShem uv’Moshe avdo – they (the Jews) believed in Hashem, and in Moshe, His servant.” Our Sages explain that in the merit of Emuna that they had, they were able to sing Shira, and the Shechina (Divine Presence) rested upon them.”

Rabbi Greenbaum brought a verse from Shir HaShirim [4:8] that says, ‘tashuri m’rosh Amana,’ literally, ‘look from the top of Amana.’ However, this can be read, ‘tashiri m’rosh emuna – sing from the beginning of faith’, which, indeed points to the lesson cited above. Moreover, he said, miracles come out of faith, and are made of song, as follows: Even the miracle of the splitting of the Yam Suf [Reed Sea] could be explained as an act of nature, as some kind of tsunami. Indeed, the verse in Chumash relates, “…and G-d drove back the sea with a powerful east wind during the entire night, transforming the sea bed into dry land, and the waters were divided” [Shemos, 14:21]. But what was really miraculous was the timing, the “orchestration,” if you will. For the sea had to split exactly as the Jewish People entered, and had to return to its natural state just as they were through, and the Egyptians were inside. Similarly, for an orchestra to play music and not just generate noise or cacophony, they need to be perfectly timed.


When Adar Enters…

Fish, the Symbol of the Month of Adar

"Meshenichnas Adar, Marbin b'Simcha - When Adar enters, our Joy increases (Ta'anis, 29a).

All of this now brings us to tonight’s festive beginning of the New Month of Adar. Rabbi Avraham Greenbaum writes on his Azamra website about the Month of Adar:
This week we celebrate the beginning of the new month, Adar, which is the twelfth and last month of the Jewish year. People usually rejoice when they start the year or any other enterprise, but tend to succumb to sadness and apathy as things become more ragged later on.
This is why the
Shulchan Aruch emphasizes: "When Adar arrives" we must maximize the Simcha (= Joy)! Precisely towards the end, the climax of the year, we must strive to increase our joy.
But how is this possible when we face so many dire threats all around us and from within? Only through strengthening our
EMUNA -- our strong FAITH that G-d is with us now at the end just as He has been ever since the beginning of time -- can we attain true and enduring joy, secure in the knowledge that everything that is happening is for our own ultimate good and the good of the whole universe.

This point is further emphasized in a dvar Torah from Rebbe Shaul Yedidya Elazar of Modzitz, the second Rebbe. He asks, I could understand if our Sages told us, “when Adar is going out, we should increase our joy,” for this is after our deliverance from the decree of the wicked Haman. But when Adar comes in – this is the time that the decree was still in effect, to utterly destroy the Jewish People! How can that be a time for increasing joy?

However, it is precisely at this time that we are to increase our joy – from our deep faith, which is our best weapon. [The following, till the end, he brings from his father, the Divrei Yisrael:]
In Tehillim [106:44], the verse says, “And He saw their distress, when he heard their Rina – exaltation.” This is strange – when someone’s in distress, we would expect him to cry. However, again referring back to the crossing of the Reed Sea, we are told that “the women followed her [Miriam] with drums and tambourines” [Shemos, 15:20]. Where did they get drums and tambourines in the desert? Our Sages say that the righteous women were so certain that Hashem would perform miracles for the Jewish People, that they prepared themselves with drums and tambourines.

So therefore the verse which says, “And He saw their distress, when he heard their Rina – exaltation” can be explained: Hashem saw, that when the Jewish People were in the very midst of distress, He still heard their exultation and singing to Him, so He saved them. From here we learn that whenever a Jew is, G-d forbid, in a difficult situation, if he sings about his salvation which is to come, Hashem will help him.


Finally, with the advent of the New Month of Adar, I’ve already been asked to present niggunim for Adar and Purim. We’ll begin with Meshenichnas Adar: from the Binyomin Ginzberg Trio’s
Purim Sameach recording: Mishenichnas (which is also often sung to the pasuk V'nahafoch from Megillas Esther 9:1) has been reharmonized for some added harmonic "bite." The lyric for Mishenichnas is from the Gemara Ta'anis 29a.

Another well-known Mishenichas Adar is set to the melody of a traditional cotton-picking song whose Southern origins inspired the Trio's bluesy rendition of the popular tune.

Please send in, by either e-mail or in the Comments, your links and suggestions for the following niggunim:
Shoshanas Yaakov
Layehudim Haysa Ora
Any other Purim niggunim!

I'm surprised you didn't link to the Modzitzer Shoshanas Yaakov:

It's great fun at a Purim Seuda, and all of the interludes make it easy for the uninitiated to catch on.
Anon - I was planning to, just in this post I wanted to only present "Mishenichnas" as it's the beginning of Adar. As we get closer to Purim, I'd like to present a lot more - so keep the links & suggestions coming!
Two points in Megilat Esther are not clear. Firstly, what brought on the decree to destroy all the Jews, and secondly, what suddenly happened that caused the decree to be canceled? To understand this, we will look at the story of Purim.

Like a bolt of lightning, the decree "to destroy to kill, and to annihilate all Jews, both young and old, little children and women, in one day" fell upon Persian Jewry. The reaction of the Jews to this edict was quite puzzling. The Megilah says that the "City of Shushan was in consternation". Consternation? Certainly, a more normal reaction would be to shout or cry. But "consternation"?

But if we take a glimpse at the of situation Persian Jewry at the time, we would see that consternation is the reaction we might expect after all. For it never entered their minds that such a thing could ever happen. They were the biggest patriots! They were the most loyal to Achasverosh! That is why when Achashverosh (nine months earlier) sent out invitations for the 180-day feast, the Jews were the first ones to confirm their attendance. All this despite the protests from the "extremists" such as Mordechai, who warned against their participation in such a feast, since it's intention was to make the Jews assimilate. But the Jews wanted to prove that they are not different than the rest. Thus the reaction of consternation upon hearing the shocking decree.

But then the Megilah continues: "And Mordechai knew all that was done..." He had no illusions, and understood fully what caused the decree. He knew that the assimilation - precisely what the Jew thought would ease anti-Semitic tensions, was the very cause of the decree! For the rule was learned since our days in Egypt: Whenever the Jew tries to water down his Judaism and be accepted by the gentile, the latent hatred (which is always there) of the gentile towards the Jew outwardly manifests itself.

If so, why was the decree annulled? Because immediately upon receiving word of the decree, Mordechai, as we mentioned, knew the reason for it, and did not give up. He also did not go on a boot-licking campaign to plead the case of the Jews to the king or his cabinet, despite the fact that he was no stranger to the palace and had connections there. What he did was to undergo a last-ditch effort to awaken the Jews to understand the real cause of the problem - that precisely their effort to shed their uniqueness as Jews and to blur over their Jewish identity and be like goyim is what brings upon them bad times.

Indeed, it is not easy to convey such a message to a Jew, when he is socaught up in having the goy love him. Because such a message seems tocontradict all logic. But in Shushan, a great miracle occurred, and it is the real hidden miracle of Purim - the Jews did "Tsheuva"! And not just "Tsh'uva" of talking without backing it up, but rather one of deeds. Instead of continuing to grovel to the Persians and bring down barriers as most Jews naturally react, they made themselves subservient to the truth of Mordechai only, admitting to their original mistake of participating in the forbidden banquet. This was the significance of the mass fast which was declared. It signified a genuine "Tsheuva" to G-d.

By the way, now we can see why the Name of G-d does not appear in Megilat Esther, despite the fact that the theme of the story is "Tsh'uva to G-d". It is to tell us that when there is distress, one should not just rely on G-d to solve our problems in some miraculous fashion. Rather, we must prove by our actions that we understand the reason for the distress, and then do the right thing, even if it appears to be "illogical".

This should give us encouragement for today. For the problem of today is the same: Our need to copy the gentiles, to blur over our uniqueness as a people, and our absolute dependency on the world. At times it seems there is no hope. Can our people ever understand that America won't save us? And behold, we have a precedent in our history where from great distress, the Jewish People were able to wake up and to cling to the truth of Hashem. May we see the same awesome "Naha-Fochu" (a turning of the tables) quickly.
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