Friday, August 31, 2007
The Patience of the Maharal
The Maharal was one of the most seminal thinkers in the post-medieval period. He developed an entirely new approach to the Aggada 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 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.
The Maharal castigated the educational methods of his day where boys were taught at a very young age and insisted that children must be taught in accordance with their intellectual maturity. Thus, Talmud and certainly not Tosfos should be introduced only when the child is developmentally capable of fully comprehending what is being taught. He recommended that the system proposed in Pirkei Avos be followed.
Amongst his talmidim were the Tosfos Yom Tov, the Kli Yakar, the Tzemach David and R. Eliyahu of Lontz, known as R. Eliyahu Baal Shem.
The following story has been excerpted from this week’s English weekly HaModia, with a small supplement from an excellent biographical sketch by Ben Zion Bokser at Wellsprings.
The Patience of the Maharal
When the Maharal turned eighteen, Reb Shmelke wrote to him, explaining that he could not live up to his dowry obligations, and therefore he was releasing the Maharal from any obligations toward the engagement. If the young man wished to marry someone else, he was free to do so. The Maharal wrote back that he was not interested in going back on his word, and that he hoped Reb Shmelke would be helped from Above. However, if the father did not wish to keep his daughter waiting until he should regain his wealth, he should find her another shidduch [match], and then the Maharal would know he was free.
The mechutan [father-in-law to be] remained poor, so much so that the Kallah [fiancee] opened a small bakery to help her parents. And so she stayed single for ten years. The Maharal likewise did not marry. He sat and learned, and thus earned the title Reb Leib Bachur. About the Maharal during those years, the Rema, HaRav Moshe Isserles, quoted the pasuk [verse], "Harimosi bachur me’am, matzasi David avdi -- I have raised a young bachur (i.e., unmarried man) from the people, I have found David my servant (Tehillim, 89:20), for he was descended from David HaMelech.
A war sprang up after those ten years and the advancing armies marched through Worms. As a cavalryman among the rear guard rode past the open window of the Kallah’s shop, he pierced one of her loaves with his spear. Perel ran after him, crying out not to steal from a poor girl who was supporting her elderly parents. The rider called back, "What can I do? I have no money and I am very hungry.'' But then he offered her one of the two saddles he was sitting on, and tossed it roughly into her shop.
When Perel went to pick up the saddle, she saw gold coins peeking out of the split seams. She ran to tell her parents of their good fortune, and how Hashem's salvation had come, and her father immediately wrote to the Maharal to come and marry her, since Hashem had miraculously helped them cover the dowry and pay for the wedding.
The marriage finally occurred in 1544. Bride and groom, according to the Loew family chronicler, Meir Perles, were then 32 and 28 years old respectively. Their marriage was a very happy one, and they were blessed with seven children, six daughters and a son.
One of the Maharal's sons-in-law, Rav Yitzchak HaKohen Katz, later noted that his father-in-law had always refused to join a beis din asked to break off engagements because of defaulted dowries. When such cases arose, the Maharal always tried to persuade the parties to maintain the engagement. If that failed, he sent them to other Dayanim [judges].
Monday, August 27, 2007
The Cherkasser and Saving Souls
My previous post on him can be found here.
Before our story about today’s Baal Hilula [yahrzeit], I’d like to present a short one, which is related, about his beloved grandfather, Rebbe Nachum of Chernobyl. This is my free translation from this week’s "Sichas HaShavua" published in Hebrew by Chabad.
Who is Saving Whom?
Rebbe Nachum of Chernobyl’s Chassidim were sitting down to a Melave Malka [a festive meal after Shabbos, escorting the Sabbath Queen out], and they began to examine their matzav [status] in regards to how they serve Hashem. Each one found many faults and shortcomings in himself, until they felt very, very low. Their one consolation was that they had an affiliation with the great tzaddik, Rebbe Nachum of Chernobyl, and decided they should make the journey to visit him. Surely he would pull them out of their lowly state.
They traveled the entire night until they came to Chernobyl. The next morning, they went in to greet the tzaddik. Rebbe Nachum told them that the previous night, at the Melave Malka seuda, he sat down and made a self-assessment. He came to the conclusion that he was the lowest of all men, and despaired of all hope. Then he remembered that G-d fearing Chassidim were attached to him, and this gave him consolation. Surely they would be concerned for their Rebbe and pray for him.
When Rebbe Yitzchak of Skver, another grandson of Rebbe Nachum’s, told this story, he added: "This is the power of true Hiskashrus [attachment, bonding] to a tzaddik."
Pulled out of the Depths
In the book, The Zeide Reb Motele, Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Twerski relates*:
*[NOTE: I have added a sentence and some explanatory words, from another source - yitz.]
This story is particularly dear to me, because it is essentially a first-person story.
I met an elderly cousin who was a grandson of the Rebbe of Koidanov. He told me that when he was a child of nine, he had a melamed (tutor) who was not a Chassid of his grandfather. "Why are you not a Chassid of my grandfather?'' he asked.
The melamed said, ''I was a Chassid of your great-great-grandfather, the Rebbe of Cherkassy. The practice was that at Shalosh Seudos (the third Shabbos meal), the Rebbe would expound on Torah until it was dark. When Shabbos was over, he would have someone light candles, and he would continue his Torah discourse until late.
''This one Shabbos, the Rebbe did not expound on Torah. He was deep into meditation. No one brought in candles, and we sat silently in the dark.
''All at once, the Rebbe opened his eyes and said, 'The Talmud says that on Shabbos, all the neshamos (souls) that are in Gehinnom (Hell) are released. When Shabbos is over, there is a declaration, ''The wicked must return to Sheol [a part of Gehinnom – Hell]'' (Tehillim, 9:18). But how can this be? We have a principle not to make a declaration of punishment.
"We all sat silently, not knowing what to answer. Then the Rebbe said, 'I'll tell you the answer. There is a place known as avadon (lost), in which souls are doomed to eternity. But I say that souls should be released even from avadon. Do you all agree?'
"We all responded, 'Yes, we agree.'
'' 'Then let someone bring in candles,' the Rebbe said.
"When the candles were brought in, we saw that the Rebbe was in a cheerful mood. He said, 'The declaration, ''The wicked must return to Hell,'' is not a declaration of punishment at all. To the contrary, it is a declaration that the neshamos that had been doomed for eternity in avadon may be released to Gehinnom, from which they will be released after twelve months.' "
The Chassidim who were present at that Shalosh Seudos told over that as the Rebbe was speaking, they felt him "grabbing the neshama in avadon by its 'hair' and bringing it into Sheol"- that he gave it its tikkun.
And so, my melamed said, ''if I was a Chassid of a Rebbe who could release neshamos from avadon, can you expect me to be a Chassid of anyone else?"
Zechuso Yagein Aleinu v’al Kol Yisrael – May the Cherkasser’s merits save and protect us all!
Sunday, August 26, 2007
Tidbits from the Rebbe Reb Simcha Bunim of Pshischa
There’s more at last year’s post: Serving Hashem with Simcha [Joy]…and Song
From this week’s English HaModia weekly:
The Rebbe Reb Simcha Bunim of Pshischa, zt”l, who illuminated Poland's Jews by elaborating on the derech in avodas Hashem of his Rebbe, the Yehudi Hakadosh of Pshischa, which was the foundation for the Chassidus of Kotzk, Vorke and Ger, among other Polish courts.
Among the leading talmidim of the Rebbe Reb Bunim, who was called ''the Rebbe of all Polish Rebbes," are the Kotzker Rebbe, Rebbe Yitzchak of Vorke, the Chiddushei HaRim, Rebbe Henach of Alexander, Rebbe Yaakov Aryeh of Radzimin, Rebbe Mordechai Yosef of Ishbitz, Reb Fennel of Gritza and Reb Shmuel Shinaver, zechusam yagein aleinu. Reb Shmuel Shinaver wrote the Ramosayim Tzofim.
''The Rebbe Reb Bunim's father, HaRav Tzvi Hersh, zy"a, the Maggid of Vadislov, traveled to the Chassidishe Rebbes in his later years. Although he wasn't a misnagid earlier, he was only drawn close to Chassidus in his old age. One time, when he was in Kozhnitz, the Maggid of Kozhnitz was giving a family member a bracha, placing two hands on his head. Also wishing to receive a bracha from the Kozhnitzer Maggid, the Vadislover Maggid bent down for the Kozhnitzer to place his hands on his head and bless him. But the Kozhnitzer refused to give him a bracha. ''You don't need my brachos,'' the Kozhnitzer explained. ''You have a son who will rescue you from wherever you are – even from She'ol Tachtis [the depths of hell]!"
I received this via e-mail today:
Rebbe Simcha Bunim of Pshischa said to his disciple, Rabbi Peretz: "If you reach the spiritual level where you grasp what you yourself are truly giving voice to, then you'll understand the language of all creatures and creations. -- Hasidim Mesaprim, vol. 3, # 386
This is the reality of mystic wisdom behind the legendary "knowledge of the language of the birds and animals.
Zechuso yagein Aleinu v’al kol Yisrael – May the Rebbe Reb Bunim’s merits protect us all!
Friday, August 24, 2007
Respecting our Sages and Their Teachings
But the blogosphere, which is subject to absolutely no control, can also be a tremendous source of harm. One does not have to look very far to find so-called “jewish*” blogs that denigrate Hashem, His Torah and His Sages. And unfortunately, some of these “jewish” bloggers have contributed to this, while getting much of their information from secular, anti-religious websites.
[*As an observant Jew, I am aware that this word is normally capitalized. I use the lower case, here and below, to emphasize that what is sometimes called “jewish” is not really so Jewish.]
Most, if not all of us, are familiar with the Halachos of Lashon Hara, how one’s speech can cause harm to others, and even if the truth is spoken, it may be prohibited by the Torah. But for a brief review of the seriousness of the matter, I bring the following, from Judaism 101:
The Harm Done by Speech
The harm done by speech is even worse than the harm done by stealing or by cheating someone financially: money lost can be repaid, but the harm done by speech can never be repaired. For this reason, some sources indicate that there is no forgiveness for lashon hara (disparaging speech). This is probably hyperbole, but it illustrates the seriousness of improper speech. A Chassidic tale vividly illustrates the danger of improper speech: A man went about the community telling malicious lies about the rabbi. Later, he realized the wrong he had done, and began to feel remorse. He went to the rabbi and begged his forgiveness, saying he would do anything he could to make amends. The rabbi told the man, "Take a feather pillow, cut it open, and scatter the feathers to the winds." The man thought this was a strange request, but it was a simple enough task, and he did it gladly. When he returned to tell the rabbi that he had done it, the rabbi said, "Now, go and gather the feathers. Because you can no more make amends for the damage your words have done than you can recollect the feathers."
A few short weeks ago, the leading Chareidi Rabbis here in Eretz Yisrael issued a “kol koreh,” a proclamation, stating that one should not attend public music concerts if men and women are present in the audience. Among those who signed were the Gerer Rebbe, the Belzer Rebbe, Rav Elyashiv and Rav Shteinman. Admittedly, at first glance, this was an extreme declaration. But instead of trying to understand what our great Sages were aiming at, several “jewish bloggers” went into a tirade how these Chareidi Rabbanim are the next “Taliban,” are “completely out of control”, and other such extreme Lashon Hara that I dare not repeat here.
When I commented on one of these blogs, and tried to present other points of view, the blogger accused me of “hijacking” his posts, and my comments were summarily deleted. Now if I were some kind of computer hacker who could break into blogs, edit or delete his posts, etc. I would understand why I would be called a “hijacker.” But to present a differing point of view, which readers are free to ignore; or to show a different point of view by means of a link, which readers are free NOT to click, is hijacking?
At present, I am bogged down by a very busy work schedule. I will try to find the time to post an appropriate response on this issue, with my understanding of what the Rabbanim were aiming at, hopefully before the New Year. However, one does not need to look too hard or deep to see what is wrong in the so-called “jewish music” world of today.
Several of the recent posts in the blogosphere attest to this.
Who Took the Jewish out of Jewish Music
Only Ugliness & Impurity
And yes, even some voices in Chabad-Lubavitch are in accord with the Gedolei Yisrael:
The Stench Emanating from Concerts – NOTE: This is in Hebrew, and hasn’t been translated. Here’s a brief translation of the opening sub-header:
“Even without the psak of the Rabbanim, whoever is concerned with the chinuch of his children will do everything to refrain from attending these performances.” Rav David Meir Druckman about the Concerts [Arvei Shira] controversy.
Is it really such a wonder that our Gedolim have found it necessary to put a stop to these concerts?
Recently, some of these “jewish bloggers” who had previously adored him, began to scrutinize the baal teshuva reggae-rap singer Matisyahu. When I tried to point out to one of them that some of the reasons for the Kol Koreh of the Israeli Rabbanim were not so different to what he finds objectionable about Matis, he couldn’t accept it. Okay, this blogger, doesn’t live in Israel, he doesn’t really know what goes on here.
But you cannot just reject some of the greatest Chassidic Rebbes, and leading poskim and Talmidei Chachamim of our time, without first investigating thoroughly. And no, reading Ha’aretz, Ynet, Ma’ariv, The Jerusalem Post and even Arutz-7 over the Internet will NOT give you a full picture of life here. You need many years here to understand. Until then, please do not denigrate our Sages!