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Friday, December 15, 2006



The Modzitzer Rebbe Shlita holding the microphone for his father, the Nachalas Dan ZtvK"l, at a Modzitz dinner a few years ago [click to enlarge]
Now for the serious part – a Dvar Torah, from the Modzitzer Rebbe Shlita. I was fortunate to spend the “Shabbos Yahrzeit” of Parshas Vayetzei with the Rebbe Shlita, which preceded two yahrzeits that week, of the first two Modzitzer Rebbes, as we mentioned. This was followed by my own “Shabbos Yahrzeit,” [preceding my Dad's yahrzeit] wherein I shared the following words of the Rebbe Shlita at a [Carlebach-style] minyan held in my home last Friday night.

As Rashi points out in this week’s parsha, Vayeshev, there is a strong connection between Yaakov Avinu and his son, Yosef: “Whatever happened to Yaakov, also happened to Yosef,” and Rashi enumerates several examples. This connection links the parshios from Vayetzei until the end of Sefer Breishis [the Book of Genesis], that is, the portions of Vayetzei, Vayishlach, Vayeshev, Miketz, Vayigash and Vayechi are all connected.

At the very end of Parshas Toldos [Breishis 28:9], there is a very long Rashi which proves that Yaakov spent fourteen years learning Torah in Beis Ever [Ever was a great-grandson of Shem, the son of Noach. He passed away in 2187, when Yaakov was already 79 years old and living near his father-in-law Lavan in Charan]. Rashi mentions that Yosef was separated from his father Yaakov for 22 years, corresponding to the 22 years that Yaakov was separated from his father, Yitzchak, and did not honor him. These 22 years were the 20 years Yaakov spent by Lavan and the two years “on the road,” that he took to return to his father’s home.

This idea is echoed in our Parsha [37:34], where we are told that Yaakov mourned for his son ‘for many days.’ Rashi says that this refers to 22 years, corresponding to the 22 years that Yaakov did not fulfill the mitzva of Kibud Av v’Em [honoring his parents].

The Gemara [Megilla, 17a] asks that Yaakov was absent from his parents for 36, not 22 years! The answer is that the fourteen years spent learning Torah in Beis Ever is not held against him. As Rashi explains at the end of Toldos, “because of the merit of learning Torah, he wasn’t punished for them [these 14 years], and Yosef was separated from him for only 22 years, midda keneged midda [measure for measure].

The Rebbe Shlita asks, how can this be? How was it that Yaakov was punished for not honoring his parents, when his entire mission of leaving his parents’ home and going to Charan, was at the bidding of his parents, and thus a fulfillment of the mitzva of Kibud Av v’Em? In the same way that the merit of learning Torah protected Yaakov from punishment for those 14 years, the merit of the mitzva of Kibud Av should have protected him for the 20 years in Lavan’s house!

The answer lies in Yaakov’s return journey homeward. On the way from Eretz Yisrael to Charan, Yaakov spends 14 years learning Torah, and another 20 years at Lavan’s home [at his parents’ request], working to “pay” for the privilege of marrying Lavan’s daughters. But now that this long spell is over, shouldn’t Yaakov travel post haste back to his father’s home and the Land of Israel? And yet, he takes his time: a year and a half in Sukkos, and another half a year in Beit El. This tarrying indicates a p'gam, a defect in Yaakov’s mitzva of Kibud Av. It also calls into question the whole 20 years that preceded – perhaps they weren’t only out of the pure motivation of honoring his parents. Since there was a defect in that mitzva, it could no longer protect him, and Yaakov was punished for the entire 22-year period.

Furthermore, one cannot compare a two-year delay alone, with a two-year delay that follows a period of 20 years. The latter is a lot more painful. So Yaakov’s punishment had to be “midda keneged midda,” and added up to a 22-year period.

Finally, the Gemara [Sotah 21a] informs us that the mitzva of learning Torah protects and saves a person, while he is occupied with it, and while he is not. But the performance of other mitzvos protect and save a person only while he is occupied with it. When he is not occupied with it, it cannot save a person [from punishment]. So we can thus understand why Yaakov was punished for the 22 years, but not for the full 36 years of absence, for the 14 years of learning Torah afforded him both protection and hatzala – being saved.

From this, we can see the extreme importance of the mitzva of honoring one’s parents, and how careful we need to be with it. Our honoring them does not cease after they leave this world – indeed, the recital of Kaddish, the observance of a Yahrzeit and similar events are ways we can honor our parents long after they have “left” us.

May this be a merit for the Neshama of my father, Avraham Tzvi ben Yehuda. Tehi zichro Baruch -- may his memory be for a blessing!

Thursday, December 14, 2006


Kibud Av and a Drive-by L’Chaim – Dad’s Yahrzeit

My Dad, z"l

Part One

Today, 23 Kislev, is my father’s 14th yahrzeit. I am fortunate enough to have enough Shuls [synagogues] and minyanim [prayer services] in my Yerushalayim neighborhood that it’s usually quite easy to “get the Amud” on a yahrzeit, to lead the prayers for that day, as is the Jewish custom. In addition, the Chassidic custom [as opposed to some others, who fast] is to “shtel Tikkun”, to provide some light refreshments, usually after Shacharis [the morning prayers] in Shul.

So, I served some cake and cookies, along with some fruit juice, brandy, and liqueur after the 7:30 minyan this morning. As the 8:30 minyan was still davening when I was leaving the Shul, I poured a few “L’Chaims” [shots of brandy] for some friends I saw there. Then it happened.

As I was walking towards my car to go home, and to my shiur [learning session], I noticed another friend walking out of Shul. Knowing exactly where he lived, I thought, “I’ll meet him when I come around the block with my car, and offer him a…drive-by L’Chaim! So I pulled around, honked the horn, and when he noticed me, I motioned to him to come over to the car. I then poured him a L’Chaim so that he could toast “l’ilui Nishmas” – to the elevation of the soul – of my father.

But no, things didn’t stop there. I then went to my shiur, where again we partook of cookies and a L'Chaim toast. When the shiur was over, as I walked the short distance to my home, I saw a close friend who happens to live nearby, walking in the street. I offered him a L’Chaim, which he gladly accepted. Before I could head down the stairs to my home, I saw another neighbor, again in the street, and offered him a L’Chaim! Aren’t yahrzeits wonderful?

L’Chaim, Dad, and may your Neshama have a wonderful Aliya!

[Part Two to come, IY”H]

Wednesday, December 06, 2006


HaBocher B’Shirei Zimra – The Imrei Shaul of Modzitz

Rebbe Shaul Yedidya Elazar and some of Chassidim in America.
Second from the left is HaRav Ben-Zion Shenker.

Tonight, the sixteenth of Kislev, is the 59th yahrzeit of a man who left his mark on the Jewish world in an extremely unique fashion. Rebbe Shaul Yedidya Elazar Taub Zt”l, the second Modzitzer Rebbe, known for his sefer, the Imrei Shaul, is remembered by Polish, American, and Israeli Jews with much respect and fondness, regardless of their level of observance.

The Imrei Shaul was world-renowned as phenomenally gifted in both musical ability and Torah scholarship. He guided thousands of Chassidim in Poland, later in the US, and finally in Eretz Yisrael. So much of his life was legendary - over ten thousand at his Tefillos on the Yamim Noraim; non-Jewish composers trying to furiously write down some of the notes from his stellar musical compositions during the davening; his miraculous escape from the Nazis across Poland, Lithuania, Russia, Japan and the US; rebuilding the Chassidus from near extinction in America and Eretz Yisrael; the only Rebbe allowed to lead a Tish in Vilna; interceding for freeing Jews while in the Far East and in the US - including the Mir Yeshiva; up until even after his petira [passing] - being the last Jew to be buried on Har HaZeisim [Mt. of Olives] the day of the UN Declaration for a Jewish State, and the war started.

We introduced Reb Shaul to our blog last year, focusing on his Kah Ribon niggun. I would now like to focus on one poignant expression of his, which almost became the name of this blog. If I were to have my own shul or minyan, I would give it this name.


HaBocher B’Shirei Zimra

As we mentioned regarding the Divrei Yisrael, all of the Modzitzer Rebbes use/d Negina not only as a vehicle for Avodas Hashem (Divine Service), but as an integral part of it. This often amazed people, who couldn’t understand how one could place so much emphasis on Negina as opposed to Torah scholarship.

When asked about this, Rebbe Shaul once responded with the following:
In the Yishtabach prayer, we praise Hashem as "Habocher b'Shirei zimra," the One Who chooses song and melody. In the Birchos Haftorah [the blessings following the reading from the Prophets on the Sabbath], we praise Him as "Habocher baTorah uv'Moshe avdo" – the One Who chooses the Torah and Moshe Rabbeinu, his servant. Hashem is given the same title – "Habocher" – for both Torah and Negina.

Moreover, Rebbe Shaul points out that regarding Torah, our relation to Hashem is one of servitude – 'Moshe avdo;' whereas with Shira, song, Hashem's Majesty is emphasized – "Habocher b'Shirei zimra, Melech yachid…" [a unique King].

This concept is best understood through a story which was heard from R. David Shternshuss of blessed memory. In 1935, Rebbe Shaul came to Eretz Yisrael for a visit. He spent a Shabbos in Yerushalayim, with the Tishen being held in the Chassidishe Shul in Batei Warsaw. Rebbe Shaul entered the Shul, at the beginning of the Tish, and started saying Shalom Aleichem (in Modzitz the minhag is that Shalom Aleichem and Eishes Chayil are said without any tune, and Azamer B’Shvachin is sung during the meal). People started wondering, why isn't the Modzitzer Rebbe singing? Ribon Kol HaOlamim and Eishes Chayil were said without any tune, to the amazement of more of the people.

After Kiddush and Hamotzi [the blessing over bread], the fish was served and Shirayim [remnants of the Rebbe’s portion] given out, a procedure that took close to an hour. The people quieted down, Rebbe Shaul cleared his throat ... and said Divrei Torah for three-quarters of an hour!

Many people became discouraged, and quite a noticeable amount of people started leaving the Shul. At the end of the Divrei Torah, without any break, Rav Shaul started to sing Azamer B’Shvachin. People heard him quite a distance away and started running back to the Tish. Even more people came in then, than the people that were there at the beginning of the Tish. This pattern of a course of the Shabbos meal, long Divrei Torah, and Niggunim repeated itself throughout the Tish. As a writer described the Tish, it was hard to figure which was more important: Was the Niggun an epilogue to the Divrei Torah, or were the Divrei Torah a prologue to the Niggun?

My thanks to R. Yehuda Nathan and Eliezer Weger for their contributions to this post.

Zechuso yagein Aleinu v’al Kol Yisrael – May the Imrei Shaul’s merit protect us all!

Tuesday, December 05, 2006



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This is so hot that my fingers can hardly touch the keyboard! A new disk from the Modzitz Musical Heritage Machon has just been released. The disk contains all ten niggunim composed this year by the Rebbe Shlita for the Yamim Noraim (High Holidays). This "internal" disk, not for regular commercial distribution, features a Modzitzer choir ["Capella"] of men and boys, and high-level musical accompaniment, making it a near-studio quality production. It should be noted that at the Yahrzeit Tish on Sunday, some 150 copies of this disk were sold.

While not giving a full review, I want to share some more information about this disk. As we mentioned, the Modzitzer Rebbes compose several new niggunim every year for the Yamim Noraim. Recently, two of these, usually a Kaddish and Slach Nah, are introduced at the first night of Selichos. Then on Rosh Hashana, several additional niggunim are introduced: Mechalkel Chaim, Simcha L'Artzecha, Kadsheinu B'Mitzvosecha, Areshes Sfaseinu, and others. [Sometimes another niggun or two is introduced for Yom Kippur as well]. This year, although the new Rebbe Shlita is in mourning, we were graced with ten new niggunim. In fact, one of them the Rebbe Shlita composed on Rosh Hashana itself, and introduced it to the Chassidim at the Tish on the second day of Yom Tov.

So briefly, this disk has ten niggunim, some of which are lively dance tunes [Kaddish, Simcha L'Artzecha, Kadsheinu, V'Havieinu]; others are dveykusdik [Slach Nah, Mechalkel Chaim]; waltzes [Areshes, Halleluka]; and one long Tish niggun Heyei Im Pifiyos, which is beautifully sung for close to twelve minutes! Most of the other tunes are 3-1/2 to five minutes each. The choir harmonizes beautifully, and the musical accompaniment is very tastefully blended with the singing. The disk is about one hour of pure listening pleasure!

Those in Israel who wish to purchase copies of this unique and highly enjoyable disk can contact R. Yitzchak Krimelovsky at telephone 052-764-1308. The disk will be sold in the Diaspora as well. I can help facilitate your order if you e-mail me your name, address and phone number. I would greatly appreciate your feedback on this disk, once you have listened to it, either in the comments section or by e-mail.

Monday, December 04, 2006



As we mentioned earlier, today is the 13th of Kislev and the 86th yahrzeit of Rebbe Yisrael, the first Rebbe of Modzitz, known by the name of his sefer, the Divrei Yisrael. Rebbe Yisrael is the recognized innovator of using Negina not only as a vehicle for Avodas Hashem (Divine Service), but as an integral part of it. He was the composer of many dozens of famous niggunim, remembered and sung even a century later, with the most famous one being the Ezkera HaGadol, which we wrote about last year.


In honor of his yahrzeit, here is a selection of some of his sayings, and some short stories about Negina:

Someone once asked Rebbe Yisrael of Modzitz, what is the nature of Negina?
“The greatness of Negina,” responded the Rebbe, “is that it can arouse one to Teshuva, it uplifts one’s soul, and brings the hearts of the Jewish People closer to their Father in Heaven.”
“Is it possible,” asked the person in amazement, “that what mussar sefarim [books of Jewish ethics] cannot do, Negina can do?”
The Rebbe answered, “I will explain this to you with a parable. A simple villager, who owned a flour mill, came to the big city, and saw an alarm clock in the window of a watch store. He went inside to buy the clock. The watchmaker greeting him and asked him his name, where he was from, and his occupation. When the miller responded, the watchmaker burst out laughing. ‘Why do you need an alarm clock? At your mill, there are all these heavy grinding machines working day and night. If that doesn’t wake you up, what could a tiny clock with a gentle ring do for you?’
The miller replied, ‘You don’t understand human nature. It’s human nature that something a person lives with all the time, he gets used to it, and becomes unaware of it. So it is with me – all day and night I am around the mill, and I don’t even notice the noise of all the machinery there; it could never wake me up. But the delicate sound of this little alarm clock is something new for me, and it will easily wake me up.’
“So it is with Negina,” continued the Rebbe. “People are overly familiar with the great works of mussar, they are used to them, and they have no effect. But Negina is something new, and it can effectively arouse people to Teshuva and to the proper path.”

* Negina is the language of the soul, its sound and expression. The language of the soul is very concise. What one niggun can express, cannot be expressed with thousands of words.

* It is said that the Chamber of Song [Heichal HaNegina] and the Chamber of Penitence [Heichal HaTeshuva] are close to each other, and I say, that the Chamber of Song is the Chamber of Penitence.

* A person should not have an ear just to hear the songs of others, but also to hear the songs which sing from within his heart.

* When I hear a song from the mouth of a Jew, I can ascertain how much fear of G-d there is within him and whether he is wise or foolish.

An example of this last statement is found in the following story:
When he lived in the town of Modzitz, the Rebbe would travel every day to the outskirts of town, to be refreshed with the crisp, clean air there. Once he was passing through a pasture field, and suddenly heard a shepherd singing. He asked the wagon-driver to stop the carriage, so that he could hear the song of the shepherd. When the song finished, he continued on his way.
He then said to his entourage, “Surely you wondered why I stopped to listen to the shepherd’s song. But you should know, that whenever a person sings, it is if he is praying and confessing to G-d. A person’s song is his confession, for through a person’s song one can tell the nature of a person. And whoever confesses, no matter who he is, he should be heard.”

Zechuso Yagein Aleinu v'al Kol Yisrael - May the Divrei Yisrael's merits protect us all!

Sunday, December 03, 2006


The Bas Ayin – Finding the Beauty in the Land

The Avritch Shul of the Bas Ayin in Tzfas
Today is the 12th of Kislev, and the 166th yahrzeit of Rebbe Avraham Dov of Avritch-Tzfas [1765-1840].
from the Ascent website:
He was a Rebbe in Europe for forty years and in Tzfas for ten; a disciple of Rebbe Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev and the first two Rebbes of the Chernobyl dynasty. One of his disciples was Rabbi Shmuel Heller, the chief rabbi of Tzfas. His famous book, Bas Ayin, was written in Europe, but he refused to allow it to be printed until he could 'expose' it to the air of the Holy Land and refine it there.
Rubble from the earthquake in Tzfas
Besides his famous sefer, what he is most famous for is his part in the earthquake miracle of 1837. In the deadly earthquake of 24 Teves 5597 (January 1, 1837), 5,000 people lost their lives, of whom 4,000 were Jews, more than 80% of the community. It was between the afternoon and evening prayers, when most of the men were in shul, that the tremors and rumblings suddenly began. Of all of Tzfas' shuls, only two remained standing (Ari-Sefardi and Abuhav), and many hundreds of Jews at prayer perished under the collapsed debris. In the shul of the Avritcher Rebbe, as elsewhere, panic set in, and the congregants began to bolt for the outdoors.
"Come to the ark if you wish to be saved!" shouted the Rebbe in a powerful voice. Immediately everyone crowded around him. The Rebbe threw himself on the ground, praying and weeping. Local tradition records that although most of the building collapsed, the part where the men were clustered remained upright and everyone was saved.
The the complete story of the giant earthquake can be found here.


But Rebbe Avraham Dov didn't always find it so easy to live in the Holy Land. Rebbe Avraham of Kalisk, who came to the Land of Israel on the first Chassidic wave of Aliya in 1777, wrote in a letter, printed in the sefer Pri Ha’aretz, that anyone who comes to Eretz Yisrael goes through a great deal of tribulations until he is able to live there. It's not a matter of days or months or even a year, but of many years. A person is literally "born there" - one has to pass through a period comparable to conception, development and childhood, until "face to face, he will see the Face of the Land, and his soul will connect with its Soul."


Opening His Eyes
from the
L'Chaim Weekly website

When he was already elderly, Rebbe Avraham Dov of Avritch settled in the Holy City of Tzfas. But although he had waited many years for the opportunity to bask in the spiritual light of the Land of Israel, once there he found life in the Holy Land too difficult to bear. The hardships were all too apparent, while the holiness of the land was hard to discern.
When he felt he could bear no more, Rebbe Avraham Dov began to think of returning to his home in Avritch. "After all," he reasoned, "I left my relatives and my students behind in order to live in the land, but it's all to no avail, for I am suffering so bitterly. Let me return to Avritch, and they will be happy to see me, and I will be glad as well."
When Rebbe Avraham Dov reached the decision to return home the rainy season in Israel was approaching. One day, as he was walking to the synagogue for the afternoon prayer, he heard noises coming from the surrounding rooftops. He couldn't identify the strange sounds, and he asked the people he passed, "What is happening? Where are these noises coming from?" The people were amused that he didn't know.
"Here, in Tzfas," they explained, "we have the custom of performing household chores on our flat roofs. We also use the roofs for storing food and other household supplies. The noise you hear is caused by the women scurrying about, removing all these things from the roofs."
"But why are they doing that?" Rebbe Avraham Dov asked.
"Why so that nothing gets ruined by the rain, of course," was the incredulous reply. But Rebbe Avraham Dov was still confused. He looked up at a sky as blue as the sea when there are no waves in sight.
"It certainly doesn't look like rain," he said, hoping for some further explanation.
"Surely you remember that tonight we say the prayer for rain. We beseech G-d to remember us and send benign rains to water our crops and provide water for us. Since we are sure that our Father in Heaven will hear our prayers and will heed our request, we take precautions so that our possessions won't be ruined when the rains come."
The unquestioning faith of the people affected the Rebbe deeply. Suddenly his eyes were opened and he saw the sublime heights of faith achieved by the simple Jews of the Holy Land. His pain and disappointment were replaced by a sense of awe at the holiness of the land and its people. At that moment, he abandoned all thoughts of returning to Avritch and began a new leg of his own spiritual journey to the holiness the Holy Land.


Jewels of Our Lives
Excerpted and Adapted from a story by Reb Shlomo Carlebach as told by Mimi Feigelson

The Bas Ayin, Rebbe Avraham Dov of Avritch, was one of the Chassidic leadership who made aliya. One day, a stranger entered his chazter (courtyard) in the city of Tzfas, and Rebbe Avraham Dov ran to greet him. The Chassidim couldn’t hear what they spoke of, but as soon as the stranger left, the Rebbe returned to his study and did not emerge for three weeks.
The Chassidim were puzzled: Who was that person? What did he and the Rebbe discuss? Why did the Rebbe lock himself in his study for three weeks? Their puzzlement grew when the Rebbe finally emerged and commanded his Chassidim to prepare the most amazing Tish (a festive meal at the Rebbe’s table).
The Chassidim did as they were told. They ate and drank and sang and danced. But the whole time, all they really wanted to know was: Who was the stranger? What did he and the Rebbe discuss? Why did the Rebbe lock himself in his room for three weeks?
At last one of the Chassidim mustered up the courage to ask the Rebbe, "Why?"
The Rebbe silenced them and began: "Many years ago, while still in Avritch, I would always sit for hours with anyone that came from Eretz Yisrael. I would question them about the Holy Land and what it was like to live there.
One day a shliach d’Rabbanan [charity collector] showed up and we talked endlessly. When he stood to leave I begged him, ‘Please, tell me more!’
"He said to me, ‘I’ve told you everything.’
"But I insisted, ‘Tell me more!’
"He said to me, ‘What more can I tell you? When you stand at Me’arat HaMachpela along with the Patriarchs and Matriarchs [in Chevron] you will know.’ And he turned to leave.
"I begged of him, ‘Please, tell me more!’
"He said, ‘What more can I tell you? When you stand at Kever Rachel [Rachel’s tomb] and cry with her, you will know.’ And again he turned to leave.
"I continued to beg, ‘Please, tell me more!’
"He said, ‘I’ve told you all I can. When you get there you will see for yourself, even the stones are precious stones. Even the stones are made of emeralds and rubies and diamonds!’ And with this he left.
"So you see," the Rebbe turned to his Chassidim, "when I arrived, everything was exactly as he said it would be. Everything but the stones -- they were regular stones, they weren’t precious stones at all. I could never understand why he lied to me. Why the last thing he told me was not true.’
"Three weeks ago, he walked into the chatzer, and despite the passage of 20 years I recognized him immediately. I ran to him and said, ‘Everything you told me was true, but the stones! Why did you lie to me? Why did you tell me they were precious stones when they are not?!’
He looked at me and said with dismay and surprise: ‘What? They’re not?’
"So I locked myself in my study and I began to cry. Every day I would cry and look out at the stones. Today, finally, while looking out of the window I realized that every stone was precious. Every stone was an emerald or a ruby or a diamond!"

May we all learn to appreciate the simple spiritual beauty of our Holy Land!
Zechuso yagein aleinu, May the Bas Ayin's merit protect us!

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