Wednesday, September 27, 2006
THE DANCING ZEIDE
THE SHPOLER ZEIDE’S PRAYER
Every Rosh Hashana, before blowing the shofar, the Shpoler Zeide would spend time alone in his room. Nobody knew what he did there and it remained a mystery for years.
One year, a Chassid came from a distant land and when he heard about the Shpoler Zeide’s practice of spending time alone before blowing the shofar, he decided he would solve the mystery. What did he do? Before the Shpoler Zeide entered the room, he quietly hid, and from his hiding place he peeked through a crack into the room.
The Shpoler Zeide entered the room and to the Chassid’s great surprise he saw him lying spread out on the floor crying and pleading:
“Master of the Universe, what do you want of your nation, Israel? If I didn’t see for myself the mitzvos and good deeds that the Jewish people do, I would not have believed that in this bitter Galus [exile], where the Satan dances among them and everything desirable is before their eyes, they could fulfill even one mitzva.
“You described Gehinnom [hell] in Reishis Chochma (a Mussar work that describes the punishments for every sin), but You place temptation and trials right before their eyes. I promise You that if you had done the opposite, and had described the temptations in a book and put Gehinnom in front of their eyes, not a single Jew would transgress even a minor transgression.”
Then the Shpoler Zeide got up, passed his hand over his eyes, left the room and began his avoda [Divine service] before the blowing of the shofar.
The Baal Shem Tov gave the Shpoler Zeide the following bracha [blessing]: "Wherever the sole of your foot should be placed on the earth, it should join well with the ground below. From this bracha came a wonderful talent for dance, which he made into a yesod [fundamental principle] in avodas Hashem. His dancing on Shabbos and Yom Tov with great fervor aroused tears and joy simultaneously, and brought pangs of teshuva into all who witnessed it.
Once, Rebbe Avraham Malach, the son of the Maggid of Mezritch, was with the Zeide for a Shabbos. After Kaballas Shabbos, the Zeide began to dance in his usual wondrous manner, as the mispallelim [congregants] sang. Afterwards, Rebbe Abraham, who had carefully watched each step, remarked: “Your dancing was so good... that I saw in each step another yichud [spiritual unification].” The Zeide told of his bracha from the Baal Shem.
“But you dance so nicely and simply, to the beat of the niggun, from where does that come?”
“Graceful dancing,” replied the Zeide, “I learned from Eliyahu HaNavi.” He then related the following story.
The Shpoler Zeide's Niggun ("Hup Cozzack!")
The Shpoler Zeide was famous for his love and concern for his fellow Jews. He had a special fondness for misfits, thieves, and scoundrels, Jews who had fallen on hard times, but who were nonetheless good-hearted souls.
Once, the Shpoler Zeide heard of a Jew who had been thrown in prison for not paying his rent. The Jew's life was in grave danger, and the Shpoler Zeide wanted to save him. In those days, it didn't take much to put Jews in jail and then throw away the keys.
The guilt or innocence of the Jew would be decided by “The Bear Dance.” The half-starved Jew would be dressed up in a bearskin (Purim style), and then forced to out-dance a Cossack soldier, generally the best, hand-picked, and most exquisite dancer in the area. If the Jew fell first, it meant that he was guilty and would be whipped to death. If the Cossack fell first, the Jew would go free. No Jew had a chance. The Cossacks were famous as powerful horsemen, and athletic dancers with tremendous energy.
One night the Shpoler Zeide was visited by the prophet Eliyahu. Eliyahu instructed him in the fine art of dancing, and blessed him with power to outlast the Cossack. He also taught him what was to become forever known as the "Shpoler Zeide's Niggun."
The Shpoler Zeide went to the prison, drank mashke (vodka) with the guard until he fell asleep, then lowered himself into the pit. Then he exchanged clothes with the other Jew, and helped him in his weakened state to climb out of the dungeon and escape.
The next day a messenger from the nobles and Cossacks arrived with the bearskin and threw it down into the pit. The Shpoler Zeide donned the bearskin and pulled himself up by the rope.
The messenger led him to the Great House of the nobles, where a drinking party was in full swing. Everyone hooted and jeered when he came in. The band started to play and the Cossack danced. Then the Jew danced. People were surprised to see that they were evenly matched. The Cossack danced again, and the Jew in the bear suit danced back. Hours passed as the band played song after song. Never had a Jew danced so hard and so excellently. Never had a Cossack met his match.
By now the lords and Cossacks had stopped laughing and sat there stunned. Finally the musicians got tired, and even the Cossack dancer was willing to stop. Not so the old Shpoler Zeide with his white beard hidden under the bearskin, who started singing the niggun he had been taught ("Hop Cozzack -- Dididiyamam-mamah -- hup Cozzack -- dididiyum!") , and danced as he had never danced before. Now he called tauntingly to the Cossack, "Come on, dance, you!" And the weary Cossack forced himself to dance on.
The band picked up with renewed vigor, and the tune accelerated rapidly. The dancers moved faster and faster and faster and faster, till even they did not realize how fast it was.
"Hop Cozzack -- Dididiyamam-mamah -- hup Cozzack -- dididiyum!" the Shpoler Zeide cried (part of the song means 'Hop, Cozzack -- Jump, Cossack!), swinging his arm and kicking his feet, as he continued to dance with astonishing ease, until they reached a pace that was so fast they couldn't make out their own singing and dancing of the niggun.
That's when it happened: suddenly the Cossack dancer's cruel heart gave out and he fell dead. So the Shpoler Zeide won “The Bear Dance,” and his fellow Jew was freed from prison.
The Zeide’s niggunim: To the best of my knowledge, all that we have are two known niggunim. I was privileged to have heard the “Kol Ba’yaar” niggun from Rabbi Nachman Bulman ZT”L, who sang it slightly differently than the Chabad version linked below.
Kol Bayaar: It is said the both the text and the moving melody were composed by the renowned tzaddik, Rebbe Aryeh Leib, better known as the Shpoler Zeide (having lived in the town of Shpole in the Ukraine). He was one of the early followers of the Baal Shem Tov, the Founder of Chassidus, and was widely known for his great love and devotion to his fellow Jews. This niggun is a dialogue between the Almighty Father and His children, the People of Israel. The Father looks for His children in galus (the Diaspora) and implores them to return home to the Holy Land, "Dear children, please return home, I feel forlorn without you."
Kol Bayaar – Longer Version [Chabad]
Hupp Cossack – Avraham Fried version
Rebbe Aryeh Leib’s “mark was felt for over 200 years of Chassidic tradition. His influence was uninterrupted in all the generations following the Baal Shem Tov. He himself said, ‘My name is Aryeh [“lion”], and in all my incarnations it was Aryeh, and all the beasts bow before the lion. In all of the Ukraine, I have the [accepted] opinion in Heaven.’ All the tzaddikim on earth in his generation bowed their heads to him: Zeide’s honor.” [Steinman].
Zechuso yagein Aleinu – May the Zeide’s merit indeed protect us all!
Friday, September 22, 2006
The Essence of Teshuva
The Essence of Teshuva
as related by Rabbi AJ Twerski, in Not Just Stories
A man once came to Rebbe Michel of Zlotchov, stating that he had inadvertently done something forbidden on Shabbos, and asked the Rebbe what he must do for his teshuva to be accepted. Rebbe Michel explained the gravity of violating the Shabbos to him, and that Shabbos is equivalent to all the other 612 mitzvos. His sin was indeed serious one, and he therefore prescribed a rigorous course of fasting and self-mortification as penance.
This man subsequently came to the Baal Shem Tov, who told him that the fasting prescribed by Rebbe Michel was unnecessary, and that as penance he should provide the candles for the pulpit in shul. The man proceeded to buy candles, and since in those days the candles were made of tallow from animal fat, a dog who wandered through the open door of the shul sniffed the candles and ate them. The man then replaced the candles, but whenever they were lit, the wind blew them out. He took these as being Divine signals, that his teshuva was rejected, and he reported this to the Baal Shem Tov.
The Baal Shem Tov understood that the problem was due to Rebbe Michel's interference, and that the latter believed that a more strenuous penance was necessary. The Baal Shem Tov sent a message to Rebbe Michel, asking that he come to him for Shabbos.
Rebbe Michel accepted the invitation, and set out on the trip on Wednesday, giving himself ample time to arrive before Shabbos. However, the trip was plagued with one mishap after another. First the axle of the wagon broke, and this took considerable time to repair. Then a severe thunderstorm caused the roads to be muddy and hindered their progress. Then a wheel fell off and then they took a wrong fork in the road. In short, there were a series of misfortunes that resulted in their arrival at the Baal Shem Tov's home late Friday afternoon, shortly before sunset.
Rebbe Michel, who was by this time terribly anxious that they not travel into the Shabbos, took his belongings and rushed into the Baal Shem Tov's house, where he saw the Baal Shem Tov in his Shabbos garments, standing with the goblet of wine in his hand, reciting the Kiddush. Assuming that it was already Shabbos and that he had violated the Shabbos by traveling, Rebbe Michel fainted.
The Baal Shem Tov revived him and said to Rebbe Michel, "You did not violate Shabbos, because the sun had not yet set. I accepted the Shabbos upon myself earlier than usual, but for you it is not yet Shabbos."
"But tell me, Reb Michel, when you thought that you had violated the Shabbos, how distressed were you? Don't you see that if the awareness that one has sinned causes a person to feel deeply distressed at having transgressed the Divine word, this is the essence of teshuva? Once this regret has occurred, there is no need for additional self-punitive behavior. The man who had sought a method of penance from you had already experienced the pain of the awareness of having transgressed, and all that has necessary was some token act of penance, because the true teshuva had already taken place.''
May we all merit the essence of Teshuva this Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur!
Thursday, September 21, 2006
GEMS FROM THE SAR SHALOM
As mentioned yesterday, we would not have done justice to the memory of the first Belzer Rebbe, the Sar Shalom, without including some gems of his - some of his Divrei Torah. The following are in tune with this season.
Rav Yosef Karo begins the section in his Shulchan Aruch [Code of Jewish Law] about the Rosh Hashana season, with the following: “The custom is to get up early in the morning to say Selichos [prayers for forgiveness] and petitions.” We find no other place where he begins a legal section with a custom – this is usually done by Rabbi Moshe Isserles [the Rama], who, in his commentary on the Shulchan Aruch, would bring the Ashkenazic custom where it differed from that of the Sephardim [those who followed Rav Karo].
The Sar Shalom explains that these days are days of judgment, din; and it is proper to ‘sweeten’ the judgment or even nullify it. The Yerushalmi [Jerusalem Talmud] informs us that a custom can nullify a din. Thus, Jewish custom can nullify harsh judgments [on the Jewish People]. Therefore Rav Karo began this section with a custom, in order to nullify and sweeten the din.
Elsewhere, the Sar Shalom explains why a custom can be stronger than a din. The dinim, or Halachos, have a way of being fulfilled even if a person cannot fulfill them physically, and that is by learning about them. For example, by properly learning about the Korbanos [sacrifices], it can be considered as if one has brought them. But a custom does not have this feature – it can be fulfilled only by actually performing it.
“And the angels hasten to their mission, and are gripped by fear and trembling” [from the Musaf prayers]. What kind of fear do the angels have? The Sar Shalom explains that the angels are supposed to be defenders of the Jewish People, and on the High Holidays, Hashem examines the angels to see if they have performed this task properly. Therefore, the are seized with fear and trembling, and hasten to defend the Jewish People, that they should have only benefits.
Aseres Ymai Teshuva – the Ten Days of Repentance:
These Ten Days are auspicious for doing Teshuva, and even if, G-d forbid, one neglects to repent, he should at least do so on Erev Yom Kippur. If that day is passing and he still hasn’t availed himself of the opportunity, he should at least arouse himself towards the end of the day, when the candles are being lit for the beginning of Yom Kippur. This is alluded to in the Talmudic expression, that a man should say three things [of reminder] in his home on Erev Shabbos [Sabbath eve]: “Isartem, Eravtem, Hadliku es HaNer [literally, take the tithes, arrange the Eruv, and light the candles].” The Sar Shalom interprets it thusly: Isartem – the Ten days of Repentance has passed; Eravtem – and the Eve of Yom Kippur has passed; Hadliku es HaNer – now that they’re about to light the candles for Yom Kippur, and it’s the last minute, why are you not at least now aroused to do Teshuva?***
Chazan in the Days of Awe:
Rebbe Yehoshua of Belz, son and successor of Rebbe Shalom, said the following about the timing of his father's departure: "It is known in the Poskim that the shliach tzibur [cantor] during Yamim Noraim [Rosh Hashana to Yom Kippur] requires preparation and abstinence three days in advance; therefore, my father was requested by the heavenly yeshiva three days before Rosh Hashana in order to serve as the chazan."
NOTE: We previously wrote about Belzer Negina here, where we mentioned: "In general, the Rebbes of the Belzer dynasty did not compose their own tunes...Belzer Chassidus cannot claim a long musical history; in fact, back in Galicia [where the town of Belz was located], Belz never had a choir at all..."
Wednesday, September 20, 2006
A Shul is Built in Belz
Today is 27 Elul, the 151st yahrzeit of Rebbe Shalom Rokeach of Belz, the first Belzer Rebbe, known as the “Sar Shalom [Prince of Peace]”.
Rebbe Shalom could trace his ancestry to the great Gaon, Rabbi Eliezer of Amsterdam, author of Ma'aseh Rokeach. Orphaned at a young age, he was brought up by his uncle, Rabbi Yissachar Ber, the Rabbi of Skol, under whose tutelage he studied Talmud and Halacha with great intensity. The fire of his Chassidus was nurtured by his mentors, the Chozeh of Lublin, Rebbe Avraham Yehoshua Heshel of Apta, the Maggid of Kozhnitz, and Rebbe Uri of Strelisk.
After his marriage, he devoted 1,000 days and nights to the uninterrupted study of both the revealed and Kabbalistic Torah, emerging as a recognized scholar of eminent stature. Young students and accomplished scholars flocked to him in even larger numbers, to see and to learn; foremost among these was the renowned Rabbi Shlomo Kluger of Brody. In Belz, Rebbe Shalom blazed a new trail: the fusion of excellence in Torah scholarship with the burning mystical zeal of Chassidus.
In the city of
"It was terribly stormy and the windows blew open, the glass shattered and the candle blew out. It was terrifying experience. I took it upon myself to weather the storm, and not forfeit the past 999 nights. I opened the Aron Kodesh and cried out to Hashem for His help. I cried and begged until Hashem accepted my plea, and the storm calmed. It was quiet outside when I suddenly heard footsteps. Who could possibly be walking outside in the middle of the night after such a storm? I looked up and saw Eliyahu HaNavi! We began to learn Torah together all night.”
“The last Halacha he taught me was regarding the Beis Knesses [Shul, synagogue]. Now that our city is fortunate to build its new Shul, can I let others do the work while I sit still?”
While the big synagogue in Belz was being built, Rebbe Shalom was constantly seen browsing through a certain book of Kabbalah. One day the book disappeared, and construction was halted until the book was found again. On another occasion, construction was halted when Rebbe Shalom announced that he needed two rare books in order to allow the construction to continue. Fortunately, it just so happened that there was a book dealer in town who had these books, and when the requested books were handed to Rebbe Shalom, construction was allowed to continue. Years later, his son and successor Rebbe Yehoshua remarked that he had looked through those books and never saw any connection between the books and the building of a synagogue.
The magnificent yeshiva and study hall in Belz that the Sar Shalom had erected soon became the spiritual center for tens of thousands of Belzer Chassidim in
TO COME: Gems from the Sar Shalom
My good friend, A Simple Jew, has "beat me to it" and posted, albeit briefly, about Reb Michel Twerki's niggunim, including three downloadable clips! Check it out!
Monday, September 18, 2006
The Niggun that Saved a Soul Centuries Later
Rebbe Yechiel Michel's father , Rabbi Yitzchak of Drohovitch, initially an opponent of Chassidus, became an ardent admirer of the Baal Shem Tov. Young Yechiel Michel received instruction from the Baal Shem Tov, becoming one of his most prominent disciples. After the Baal Shem Tov's passing, Rebbe Yechiel Michel became a student of the Maggid of Mezritch. A master of homiletics and a spellbinding orator, he was a much sought-after preacher and lecturer.
The Zlatchover Maggid was largely responsible for introducing Chassidus to the Jews of Galicia. He founded a multi-branched dynasty and had numerous prestigious students. Foremost among them were Rebbe Avraham Yehoshua Heshel of Apta, also known as the Ohev Yisrael, and Rebbe Mordechai of Neshchiz, known as the Rishpei Aish.
We have a few niggunim composed by Rebbe Yechiel Michel. On the Breslov recording, Asader L’Seudasa, Track 6 is titled, “Niggun of Reb Mich’l Zlotchover”. On the liner notes, Ben-Zion Solomon writes, “According to Breslover tradition, this is the dveykus niggun with which the holy Reb Mich’l Zlotchover left the world during the Third Meal of Shabbos…Other texts were also sung to the niggun, but its beauty and power are most obvious when it is sung without words – as Reb Mich’l himself sang it.”
Chabad has a niggun of his, which is also referred to as the Niggun of Rachamim Rabim. On this link you can hear that the Baal Shem Tov said of his talmid, Rebbe Michel, that he often visited the Heavenly Chamber of Music [Heichal HaNegina] and collected niggunim of dveykus and yearning. The Maharash of Chabad [Rebbe Shmuel] once remarked that in this niggun one can perceive the Baal Shem Tov. But this niggun had an effect that went way beyond the Chassidim of Chabad in Rebbe Michel’s time and afterwards. Which brings us to our story…
How Rebbe Yechiel Michel’s Niggun Saved a Soul – Centuries Later
The founders themselves did not know where things would lead, but a whole year of working out of their apartments – with students sleeping on the floor, rotating kitchens for the meals and using different shuls as classrooms, was draining them of energy and focus. Finally, R. Shaul Leiter announced he would take the plunge and voyage overseas to try to raise funds to rent a building. The rest cheered and promptly elected him Executive Director. He proved himself worthy and in October of 1984, Ascent opened in a four-apartment courtyard. They remained there until the Summer of 1990.
Today, Ascent owns a 12,000 square foot former hotel with 85 beds, an industrial-sized kitchen, a dining room, three levels of porches, a synagogue, and a Jewish library and multi-media center on premises; and runs comprehensive programs for English, Hebrew and Russian speakers. Last year, nearly 7,000 visitors and residents passed through Ascent, which is located in the most picturesque part of the Old City of Tzfat.
The following story is from an interview with Chaya Bracha Leiter that I found in a Chabad internet publication.
Countless people have passed through Ascent with so many stories. Is there one story in particular that you want to tell us?
“Six years ago an American girl came to Ascent on her way back from India. She wore layers of filthy orange clothes, was barefoot, had numerous earrings and hair that looked like a bird’s nest. It took me some time to get used to her and I kept telling myself to look at her neshama [soul] and not at her outward appearance.
“I began talking to her and saw that she was intelligent and refined. She stayed with us for Shabbos, and at the Melave Malka meal [post-Shabbos] played her violin. She didn’t know a single Jewish song but she played like an angel. I knew how important it was to be mekarev a person from where they are at.
The Baal Shem Tov promised that he would listen to whoever sang the niggun in whatever Spiritual Palace he was in, in the Supernal Worlds, and would ask for great mercy for him.
“We sang the niggun together a few times. It was an incredible spiritual experience. When we finished, I gave her a book of Tehillim even though she barely knew how to read Hebrew, and I went back to Ascent. She remained at the gravesite until four in the morning and prayed.
She explained that the clothing had ideological meaning for her, and that it was her way of negating materiality and yearning for spirituality.
Thursday, September 14, 2006
THE PELE YOEITZ: SAVED AT THE MIKVA
Rebbe Mordechai Dov of Hornesteipel, (click to enlarge)
from last year's post:
Tonight and tomorrow, the 22nd of Elul, is the yahrzeit of the Heiliger Pele Yoeitz, Rebbe Mordechai Dov Ber of Hornesteipel. A direct descendant of the Rebbe Reb Zusia of Anipoli, he was also the grandson and successor of the Cherkassy Rebbe, a son-in-law of Rebbe Chaim of Sanz, and a tremendous Talmid Chacham [Torah scholar] and Chassidic Rebbe in his own right.
Rebbe Mordechai Dov was descended from many Chassidic greats [besides the Rebbe Reb Zusia]. These included the Baal Shem Tov, Rebbe Nachum of Chernobyl, Rebbe Schneur Zalman of Liadi [Chabad-Lubavitch], and Rebbe Aharon HaGadol of Karlin. But he was not one to rest on his laurels: he left us some great Halachic works, Emek Shaila [responsa], Turei Zahav on the Halachos of Ribis [interest]. He also expounded Chassidic teachings on Torah which are found in the Pele Yoeitz, for which he is known; Emek Chochma [which appears together with his grandfather's (Rebbe Yaakov Yisrael of Cherkasse) sefer, Emek Tefilla as Shoshanas HaAmakim.
Finally, Rebbe Mordechai Dov is the forefather of the Hornesteipel Rebbes, and the first one [in his line] to take on the Twerski name, which was his mother's maiden name. His successors were Rebbe Yehuda Leib of Hornesteipel-Chicago; Rebbe Yaakov Yisrael, the Milwaukee Rebbe, who was the father of the famous Twerski brothers including Rebbe Shloime ZTUK"L, [who became the Hornesteipel Rebbe, and lived in Denver], R. Michel Shlita of Milwaukee, and R. Avraham Yehoshua of Pittsburgh. Both R. Michel and the present-day Hornesteipel Rebbe, Rebbe Mordechai Dov Ber of Flatbush, and tremendous composers and singers of Negina as well as their other Chassidic talents.
And, oh yes, a wonderful book of the Hornesteipler has been written by his great-grandson, Rabbi Avraham J. Twerski, called: The Zeide Reb Motele.
A story about Rebbe Mordechai Dov of Hornesteipel
"My grandfather, the Rebbe of Hornesteipel, was asked by a Chassid, 'Why is it that my prayers go unanswered? Were we not assured that G-d would grant the wishes of those who do His will? Why is it that the prayers of a tzaddik are more effective than the prayers of an average person?'
The Rebbe replied, 'A person's sincere wish is never denied, but that wish must be the person's foremost desire, and very few people pray for what is truly their foremost desire.
"Take, for example, the person who prays for success and wealth. He may indeed be impoverished and may very profoundly desire to become wealthy. Yet, if he were drowning and could not catch his breath, he would, of course, not think of acquiring wealth. At that point, his most fervent and only desire would be to breathe and remain alive; hence wealth is not really his first priority. The Talmud states that if a person forgoes his own needs to pray for the needs of another, that prayer is warmly received."
"The devotion of a tzaddik to his followers is so great," the Rebbe continued, "that their well-being becomes his first priority. The love of the tzaddik for his fellow Jew surpasses the love and devotion of a father for his favorite child. When a tzaddik prays for someone's health and success, his desire for that person's happiness is so intense, that even if the tzaddik were drowning at that point, his prayer would not be for his own survival, nor his wish to be able to breathe and remain alive, but rather that the other person's needs be fulfilled. This self-negation and self-sacrifice which the tzaddik achieves out of love for his fellow man is the reason why his prayers are answered."
Rav Twerski continues, "The Rebbe knew of what he spoke." Mordechai Dov was orphaned at an early age, and was brought up in his maternal grandparents' house - that of Rebbe Yaakov Yisrael of Cherkasse, and Rebbetzin Devora Leah, daughter of the Mitteler Rebbe. Once, one of the Rebbe's [of Cherkasse] Chassidim came to him, to beg him to pray for his salvation. He had not earned enough to meet the payments on the inn and dwelling which he was renting from the "poritz" [feudal lord], and the latter began to take action against him. He had already removed the glass from the windows of his house, and the cold and snow were penetrating inside. He also threatened him with expulsion and imprisonment if his arrears were not promptly resolved. He could not envision any source of help, and came to Cherkasse to ask the Rebbe to pray for Divine mercy, so that he and his family would not languish in prison.
To his horror, he found that the Rebbe was out of town. He therefore went to the Rebbetzin, who was known for her wisdom and righteousness, to pour out his heart and tell her of his bitter plight. Her advice was, "Go to the beit medrash [house of study] and find our grandson, Mordechai Dov. He should be able to help you."
"But your grandson is only a child of ten," the man said. "I need the Rebbe. Our very lives are in jeopardy."
"The Rebbe is not available now," the Rebbetzin repeated. Go talk to my grandson."
The man found Mordechai Dov in the beit medrash, engrossed in his Talmud studies, and against his better judgment, unburdened himself to the young boy. The young boy listened sympathetically to the man's tearful tale of woe, sighed deeply, and said, "If only Zeide [Grandfather] were here, I am certain that he could help you. But there is nothing I can do for you."
In desperation, the man cried out, "Look, your grandmother sent me to you. Now if you truly cannot help me, then I hold no grudge against you. But if you have the capacity to help me and refrain from doing so, then I shall never forgive you for what will befall my family - not in this world, nor in the Eternal World to Come." He then burst into bitter tears.
The young boy was shaken. Before him stood an unfortunate Jew, whose whole life was in his hands. He suddenly felt the intensity of this man's pain and troubles. "Don't cry," he said in a soft, reassuring voice. "Let's light a lamp and go to the mikva." It was after midnight.
The man accompanied the young boy to the mikva and stood by, holding the lamp, as the latter immersed himself beneath the surface of the water. After a few moments, the man became concerned that the child was not coming out of the water. As the moments passed, far beyond what seemed to be the human endurance for surviving without air, the man became panic stricken. He began to worry that because of him, something terrible had happened to the Rebbe's grandson. He tried to go down to the mikva to extricate the child, but his limbs seemed to be paralyzed - as if someone was holding him back.
He soon forgot his troubles, about his being in arrears, and about his imminent eviction or imprisonment. He was totally occupied with the child, whose head remained immersed beneath the water. "Dear G-d," he began to pray, "just let me see that young child emerge from the mikva alive."
After what seemed to be many eternities, the young boy emerged form the water. "Go home," he said. "You have nothing to worry about." Relieved, the man returned home, arriving in the morning.
Several weeks later, the Chassid returned to the Cherkasse Rebbe and told him that upon his return home, the poritz had sent for him and apologized for having been so harsh with him. That previous night, the poritz related, he developed a choking sensation and was unable to breathe. In his panic he began to reflect that perhaps he was being punished by G-d for being so ruthless with his tenants. He then resolved that henceforth, he would be more lenient with them, and soon thereafter his breathing returned to normal. He then had the window glass restored to the Chassid's house, and said, "So I will not only forgive you your arrears, but I will also arrange more liberal terms for your future payments."
Hearing this story, the Cherkasse shook his head and said, "This is too tender an age for my grandson to place his life in jeopardy." But the pattern that was initiated at the age of ten persisted for the next 53 years. The wants and needs of others took priority - always.
adapted from "Not Just Stories" and "HaAdmorim L'Beit Sanz" by yitz
Monday, September 11, 2006
CHAI ELUL 5766: The Singing Heart
The Maharal was one of the most seminal thinkers in the post-medieval period. He developed an entirely new approach to the aggada [non-Halachic, stories] of the Talmud and it is likely that no previous author devoted so much space to the interpretation of the non-Halachic thought of the rabbis of the Talmud. He was held in great esteem by his contemporaries and has had a profound impact on all streams of Judaism. Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook stated that the "Maharal was the father of the approach of the Gaon of Vilna on the one hand, and of the father of Chassidus, on the other hand." He has been described as a Kabbalist who wrote in philosophic garb.
…His works include a major commentary on Rashi's commentary on Chumash [the Pentateuch], volumes on Passover in all its facets, on exile and redemption, on Torah, on Pirkei Avos, on Drashos of Chazal and on development of character.
An inspiring account of the Maharal can be found here. We’ve written about the Baal HaTanya here. Here is last year’s Chai Elul posting, and an earlier Baal Shem Tov piece. But without further ado, here’s an inspiring Baal Shem story from the Chabad.org website.
From the writings and talks of Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak of Lubavitch
The Baal Shem Tov displayed a remarkable affection for simple pious folk. This approach was widely known and was a major reason for the tremendous number of simple Jews who became his devotees in a short while, as many accounts attest.
However, his greatest disciples, who were tzaddikim (righteous and saintly) and Gaonim (Torah geniuses), could not accept this approach. True, the Baal Shem Tov frequently sent them to learn traits like sincerity, trust, simple faith, faith in sages, faith in tzaddikim, love of Israel and the like from simple Jews, still they could not appreciate the Baal Shem Tov’s regard for ordinary people, and certainly could not emulate him in this.
It was the practice that guests ate two of the Shabbat meals at the Baal Shem Tov's table, but one meal was reserved for the inner-circle disciples, the "sacred fellowship," while guests were not admitted, even to observe from a distance. One summer Shabbat, between 1753 and 1755--when the circle of disciples included brilliant and renowned men like the Mezritcher Maggid and the Rav of Polnoye--an incident occurred that thoroughly perplexed and confused the disciples.
A large number of guests came for that Shabbat, including many undistinguished people like farmers, artisans, cobblers, tailors, vintners, gardeners, stockmen, poultry men and small merchants. At the Friday evening meal the Baal Shem Tov showed extraordinary affection for these people. He poured of the remains of his Kiddush wine into the cup of one, to another he gave his own Kiddush cup to recite the Kiddush; he gave pieces of the loaves of his HaMotzi to several; to others he gave of the meat and fish of his portion. He showed other gestures of friendship and regard for these guests, leaving his disciples no little perplexed.
The guests knew that they could not attend the second Shabbos meal that was reserved for the inner group of disciples, so after their repast they assembled in the Baal Shem Tov's shul, and being totally uneducated, barely able to go beyond simply reading Chumash and Tehillim (psalms), they all started chanting Tehillim.
When the Baal Shem Tov sat at the table for the second meal, he arranged the disciples in a deliberate order, characteristic of the meticulous system governing everything he did. In a short while he started to hold forth, "saying Torah," and all of the disciples felt a tremendous G-dly delight in their master's teaching. It was customary that they sang at the table, and when they saw the obvious cheery mood of the Baal Shem Tov, they were even more pleased, filled with a sense of gratitude and happiness for G-d's favor to them, granting them the privilege of being among the disciples of the saintly Baal Shem Tov.
It occurred to several of them that now it is so delightful, without the crowd of simple people who have no idea what the Master is saying. Why, they thought, does he display such affection for these people, pouring from his cup into theirs, even giving his cup to one of them?
These thoughts still flitted through their minds and the Baal Shem Tov’s expression changed. He became serious, immersed in his thoughts (dveykus), and without a shift in this mood he began to speak.
"Peace, peace, to the far and the near," he quoted. Our Sages observe that “where the penitent stand the perfect saints cannot,” stressing perfect saints. He explained that there are two paths in G-d's service--the saint's and the penitent's. The service of simple people is similar to the penitent's, the simple person's humility of an order with the penitent's remorse and resolve.
When the Baal Shem Tov concluded they resumed singing. Those disciples who had been questioning the Master’s open affection for simple people, realized that he was aware of their thoughts. His exposition of the qualities of the simple, equating them with the superiority of the penitent over the saint, was obviously addressed to them.
During the songs he was still in his deep dveykus, and when they finished singing he opened his eyes, intently examining each disciple. Then he told them to each place his right hand on the shoulder of his neighbor, so that the disciples sitting around the table would be joined. The Baal Shem Tov, naturally, sat at the head.
He told them to sing certain melodies while in this position of union, and after the songs he told them to shut their eyes and not open them until he tells them to. Then he placed his right hand on the shoulder of the disciple to his right, and his left on the disciple sitting there. The circle was closed.
Suddenly the disciples heard songs, melodies, interlaced with moving pleas, touching the very soul. One voice sang, "Oh, Ribono Shel Olam (Master of the Universe)," and launched into a verse of Tehillim, "The sayings of G-d are pure sayings..." Another sang--"Ai, Ribono Shel Olam,” and another verse, “Test me G-d, prove me, purify my heart.” A third introduced his verse with a spontaneous cry in Yiddish--"Tatte hartziger... (heartful father) Be gracious to me; I trust in You and I shelter in the shadow of Your wings." A fourth voice: "Ai gevald, zisser foter in himel, (sweet father in heaven)... Let G-d arise; His foes will scatter; His enemies will flee." Another voice was anguished. "Tayerer tatte (dearest father)... A bird has a home; a swallow a nest." Still another pleaded, "Lieber foter, derbarmdiger tatte, (beloved father, merciful father) Bring us back, G-d who helps, erase your anger against us."
The disciples hearing these songs of Tehillim trembled. Their eyes were still shut but tears coursed down their cheeks. Their hearts were shattered by the songs. Each of the disciples fervently wished that G-d help him to serve Him in this manner.
The Baal Shem Tov removed his hands from the shoulders of the two disciples, and the group no longer heard the songs and Tehillim. Then he told them to open their eyes and to sing a number of designated songs.
"When I heard the song of Tehillim," the Maggid later told Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, "my soul just spilled forth. I felt such a longing, such blissful love (ahava b'taanugim), that I had never yet been privileged to feel. My boots were soaked with the perspiration and tears of teshuva from the inwardness and depths of the heart."
When the Baal Shem Tov stopped singing an instantaneous hush fell over the group. He sat in deep dveykus for a prolonged time, then looked up and said, "The songs you heard were the songs of the simple Jews saying Tehillim with sincerity, from the recesses of the heart and with simple faith.
"Now, my pupils, think carefully on this. We are only the 'edge of truth' (sfat emet) for the body is not truth and only the soul is truth, and it is only part of the essence, and so is called the 'edge of truth.' Still we do recognize truth, and feel truth and are affected by truth, affected deeply. Consider then how G-d Who is perfect Truth regards the Tehillim of these simple people...."
From the writings of the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn (1880-1950); translation by Zalman Posner.
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Tuesday, September 05, 2006
Serving Hashem with Simcha [Joy]…and Song
Today is the 12th of Elul, the 179th yahrzeit of Rebbe Simcha Bunim of Pshischa, author of Kol Simcha, (1767-1827). Rebbe Simcha Bunim studied in the yeshivos of Mattersdorf and Nikolsburg under the guidance of Rav Mordechai Banet.
Having been introduced to Chassidus by his father-in-law, he became the follower of the Maggid of Kozhnitz. After working as a manager of a timber producer and later as a pharmacist he was influenced and by the Chozeh (Seer) of Lublin, becoming his closest disciple. When Rebbe Yaakov Yitzchak, also called "the Yid HaKodesh [Holy Jew]", left the Chozeh's circle to establish his own Chassidic court in Pshischa, Rebbe Simcha Bunim followed him there, and upon the Yid's death he succeeded him. Thousands of Chassidim were attracted to the Pshischa approach to Chassidus that Rebbe Simcha Bunim advocated, accentuating Torah study, introspection, and self-searching. This new direction in Chassidus was continued by his successor, the famous Kotzker Rebbe; by Rebbe Yitzchak, the Vorker Rebbe; the Chiddushei HaRim of Ger; and by Rebbe Chanoch of Alexander.
Collections of his thoughts on the Torah were published by his followers under the titles Kol Simcha, Ramatayim Tzofim, Chedvat Simcha, and others.
adapted from an article by Rabbi Berel Wein:
For the first century of the Chassidic movement, many of the Rebbes were chosen in a democratic, meritocracy-driven fashion by the Chassidim of the group itself. Thus, some great but unlikely Rebbes appeared and on the whole were quite successful…The most noted unlikely Rebbe, in my opinion, was the great Rebbe Simcha Bunim of Pshischa. In the 1840s, he was a licensed pharmacist -- some say that he was the only Jewish licensed pharmacist in Polish Russia -- as well as formerly being a merchant and customs agent in Danzig. He wore Western style "short" clothing, knew a number of European languages, had attended concerts and the theater and was an accomplished bridge player. (In today's Chassidic society, none of these attributes would be considered necessary or desired for the position of Rebbe.) Nevertheless, he was one of the most dynamic and successful leaders of Chasidic Jewry in the nineteenth century.
Rav Wein’s history CD on Rebbe Simcha Bunim can be found here where he adds:
Rebbe Simcha Bunim was an atypical Chassidic master; in earlier stages of his life he was world-traveled and secularly-educated. Yet he earned the esteem of the Holy Jew of Pshischa and became his successor, bringing Pshischa to its highest point and turning it from a counter-revolutionary movement into the normative Chassidus of Poland.
In this week’s parsha, towards the end of a long list of curses that are punishments for disobeying Hashem and His Torah [Devarim 28:45], the verse [28:47] says that these punishments are “tachas asher lo avadta es Hashem Elokecha b’simcha [uv’tuv levav] – [literally,] because you did not serve Hashem your G-d with joy [and a good heart].” The Gemara [Erchin, 11a] comments that this refers to Song: “what type of [Divine] service is with joy and a good heart? You must say, Shira – Song.”
Rebbe Simcha Bunim has a number of explanations of our verse. “The Torah does not specify the sins for which the Jewish people will be punished. The only one that it mentions specifically is ‘because you did not serve the Hashem your G-d joyfully.’ ” (Iturei Torah).
Upon the same verse, Rebbe Simcha Bunim explains it with a Chassidic twist: “Why were they punished? Not only did they not serve Hashem, but they rejoiced in their not serving Him, and for that they brought upon themselves all these curses. The verse is explained like this: because you did not serve Hashem, (and you did so) ‘with joy’. You should have fallen upon your faces (out of shame), not rejoice!” [Siach Sarfei Kodesh, Midrash Simcha]
The sefer Iturei Torah brings this in the name of the Kotzker Rebbe, as follows: “You rejoiced in that you did not serve Hashem, your G-d. The ‘casting off of the yoke’ [of Heaven] was with joy and a good heart.”
The sefer continues: A Kotzker Chassid became very ill, and realized that his end was nearing. Turning to his fellow Chassidim who were at his bedside, he said, “There is one thing that really distresses me now, which is, that I cannot get up and dance with you now. Since I see that it is Hashem’s will that I leave this world, it’s a mitzva to fulfill His will – and mitzvos need to be done with simcha!”
“Yismach lev m’vakshei Hashem – those who seek Hashem are joyous-hearted [Divrei HaYamim 16:10]. When a person is looking for a lost object, he is usually distressed, and only when he finds it does he rejoice. But those who seek Hashem are already joyous in conducting the search – in seeking him out. – [Rebbe Simcha Bunim, in Iturei Torah].
One of Rebbe Simcha Bunim’s Chassidim was a rather unpleasant character: he was very short-tempered, complained a lot, and prone to depression. One time he arrived in Pshischa on Motzaei Shabbos [Saturday night, after nightfall], explaining that although he wanted to be with the Rebbe for Shabbos, he had trouble along the way, and was forced to spend Shabbos on the road.
Rebbe Simcha Bunim explained: “Shabbos is a great hostess. When Rosh Chodesh comes out on Shabbos, Shabbos welcomes its guest by giving it Maftir and Musaf. When Yom Tov comes on Shabbos, Shabbos gives it all the Tefillos [prayers] as well as the Torah reading. And if Yom Kippur falls on Shabbos, in addition to all of that, Shabbos gives away its meals and joins it in fasting.”
“But if Tisha B’Av falls on Shabbos,” he continued, “Shabbos doesn’t give it anything. On the contrary, it is pushed aside until Sunday. For Shabbos does not want to receive a guest that is prone to depression. It is better for him to come after Shabbos.”
for Elul and the Yamim Noraim [High Holydays]:
People are not to blame for the fact that they sin. Indeed, they withstand great temptation though their strength is negligible. They are, however, to blame for the fact that they do not repent their evil ways, because they always have the ability to do so. [– Rebbe Simcha Bunim of Pshischa]
Finally, regarding Song, Rebbe Simcha Bunim taught:
All the plagues that the Egyptians suffered were a strike at the Egyptians, and a cure for the Jewish People. At Kriyas Yam Suf – the splitting of the Reed Sea – this too occurred. When Hashem casts the horses and their riders into the Sea, ga’avah [haughtiness] was removed from the Jewish People. Horses are symbolic of haughtiness.
It is impossible to sing to Hashem if a person is haughty. A person needs to know that Pride belongs to Hashem alone. Thus the verse [Shemos, 15:1] says, “I will sing to Hashem, for He is truly proud.” That is, one can sing to Hashem when he realizes that all Pride belongs to Him, and this happens when the [Egyptian] horse and rider are cast into the Sea, and [the Jewish People] are cured of their haughtiness. [Kol Simcha]
Zechuso yagein Aleinu v’al kol Yisrael – May Rebbe Bunim’s merit protect us all!
Sunday, September 03, 2006
YAHRZEIT OF REBBE PINCHAS OF KORETZ 
Our good friend A Simple Jew has two guest postings, from Shoshana Bershad, a descendant of Rebbe Raphael of Bershad who was Rebbe Pinchas' leading disciple:
Rebbe Pinchas of Koretz and
Shoshana (Bershad)'s addition to Rebbe Pinchas of Koretz
Finally, our friend Yrachmiel of Ascent has a wonderful story about Rebbe Pinchas, here.
Friday, September 01, 2006
NEW FEATURE: DVAR TORAH FOR SHABBOS
Note: this can also be found on the new Modzitz Yahoo website.
Why Does the Torah Permit Her?
based on a ma’amar by Rebbe Yisrael Dan ZT”L of Modzitz, 5758
“When you go out to war against your enemies, and Hashem your G-d will give you victory over them, so that you will take captives. And if you see a beautiful [married] woman amongst the captives, you may take her as a wife. [Devarim 21:10-11]
The Nachalas Dan [previous Modzitzer Rebbe ZT”L] asks, how could this be, since those who went out to war were complete tzaddikim [righteous people], since those who were afraid or faint of heart [because of their sins – Rashi] [Devarim 20:8] were sent home? How could they have a desire for a non-Jewish woman, to such an extent that if the Creator would not have permitted him to take her, he would have done so anyway, even in violation of the Divine Command? [Kiddushin, 21b].
Furthermore, the Rebbe notes that the Torah is extremely stringent in the area of sexual immorality, and has added many stringencies in order to safeguard it, as evidenced by the following amazing passage in the Gemara [Sanhedrin 75a]:
Rabbi Yehuda said in Rav's name: A man once developed a passion for a certain woman, and his heart was consumed by his burning desire [his life being endangered thereby]. When the doctors were consulted, they said, 'His only cure is that she shall cohabit with him [have relations].' Thereupon the Sages said: 'Let him die rather than that she should cohabit with him.' Then [the doctors suggested,] 'Let her stand naked before him.' [The Sages answered,] 'Let him die rather than that she should stand naked before him'. 'Then', [said the doctors], 'let her converse with him from behind a barrier'. 'Let him die,' [the Sages replied,] 'rather than she should converse with him from behind a barrier.'
Still further, our Sages in Masechta Brachos [3b] tell of an inquiry made to King David:
After the break of dawn, the Sages of
Rashi explains that they asked the Sanhedrin’s permission to go to war, so that they should pray for their success in battle; and they questioned the Urim and Tumim* if they would be successful. However, once they Urim and Tumim responded that they would be victorious, why did they need the Sanhedrin to pray for them?
The Rebbe ZT”L explains that warfare was a tool given to Esav and his descendants, as the verse says, “upon your sword shall you live” [Breishis, 27:40]. The Midrash [Yalkut Shimoni, Yisro 20] relates that they were so immersed in bloodshed that they refused to accept the Torah because of it. For when they asked what was written in it, they were told, “Do not murder.” They responded, “This is our inheritance from our forefather – upon your sword shall you live.” [That is, we cannot accept it under these conditions].
The Jewish People, on the other hand, accepted the Torah unconditionally. As a result, their yetzer hara, evil inclination, had no influence over them. From them on, they were given the power to overcome it. Our Sages say [Sukka, 52b] that if Hashem didn’t help, we couldn’t overcome it. This was the “help” that He gave us. Even if the yetzer returned [after they subsequently sinned with the Golden Calf], nevertheless an “impression” was made on their hearts, and this would help them to overcome the yetzer.
However, upon going out to war, which was in the domain of Esav, they feared that their ability to fight the yetzer would be impaired. If they started out under duress – in a state of war, they still might end up willingly marrying a non-Jewish woman. For this reason, they Torah needed to permit the taking of the beautiful woman, and the Jewish People needed to ask the Sanhedrin to pray for them – so that they shouldn’t fall from their lofty level of purity at a time of war.
*Note: See Shemos, 28:30. According to Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan [The Living Torah], “The Urim and Tumim would be consulted like an oracle. The High Priest would meditate on the stones until he reached a level of Divine inspiration. He would see the breastplate with inspired vision, and the letters containing the answer would appear to light up or stand out. With his Divine inspiration, the High Priest would then be able to combine the letters to spell out the answer.”