Sunday, 15th December 2019
 
Chazaq

By R’ Shay Winer   

 

What a serious yet exciting time of year. As religious Jews, we are always happy to be “involved” in something connecting us to H-shem. What do I mean? One of the reasons that we love Chanukah in addition to the obvious, is that it is 8 days long. There is Kedushah for 8 whole days! So if one night you weren’t “feeling it” you still have another night and another. We need the connection to something holy all the time, but especially during the dark and cold days of winter. Remember, we had such a spiritual uplifting during the whole month of Tishrei and with Sukkot and then this major drop off with no YomTov in sight till Pesach. That’s why Chanukah (and all Yamim Tovim) means so much to some of us.

Whenever we leave a spiritual time, there is a real void. Just realize how you feel sometimes as the end of Shabbat is approaching. There is a reason that statistically, many bad things happen on Motzai Shabbat; after all, there is a major drop off from the Kedushah that was in the world just a few hours before, and people are looking for ways to fill that void. After a fulfilling YomTov of Pesach, we are comforted by the fact that the next YomTov is only weeks away; Shavuot.

But in between these 2 major Yamim Tovim we find ourselves performing a count, a real and actual counting of days between them. While we may look forward to other Yamim Tovim, we don’t actually perform a counting and additionally, why count upward? Usually when we look forward to something we count “down” the days, not “up”?!

Perhaps we can attempt to shed some light on an important point while exploring this question. There are several answers as to why we count. First of all, we are commanded to by the Torah specifically, and with a Berachah. That is enough of a reason. But for many Mitzvot there is also the “Ta’am HaMitzvah” – literally, the “taste” of the Mitzvah, meaning, we can also find some flavor and depth to the reason of the observance of the specific Mitzvah.

There are several reasons. One of them is that the count demonstrates our thrill for the impending occasion of receiving the Torah celebrated on Shavuot. Just as a student often counts the days until the end of school or an upcoming trip or event, we count the days to show our excitement at again receiving the Torah on Shavuot.

As a matter of fact, Rav Yitzchok Hutner zt”l – Rosh HaYeshiva of Yeshiva Chaim Berlin (My Rebbe – Rabbi Avner German’s zt”l’s Rebbe) expressed that we don’t “leave a YomTov” we “take” that YomTov with us on our continued journey. We take the lessons learned and we plow forward with the vigor and strength gained from that YomTov.

It is a well-known concept that in Judaism we do not simply commemorate a holiday and remember the events that took place on that day, we actual RELIVE that day! And the Kedushah and the aura of that time is apparent now in our time as well. The YomTov is just as alive as we are and all that the YomTov represented then is taking place now as well! How inspiring, how strengthening to know that H-shem has just saved us from the bondage of Mitzrayim, why? To take us and coronate us as His nation. To give us His most precious gift – the holy Torah. How can we not count to such an exciting event?! And that is perhaps why we count upward and not downward. You see, we are not simply counting to an event or a commemoration of one. We are actually building up to a live event that will take place shortly. Every day that we count is not a day “less” rather it is an integral part of what is to come. We need this “day” and all of its challenges and lessons in order to prepare ourselves for what H-shem wants to give us. It’s a time of preparation and striving and that is perhaps why we are counting “upwards” to the precious day of Shavuot. When we count something precious, we count upward. The most common example would be when we count money, one…two…three, etc.

But wait, there is another aspect to Sefira, actually, perhaps the more important one that without its lesson, the gift of the Torah will not accomplish its goal and purpose. We cannot ignore the fact that many calamities have befallen us during these days of Sefira; namely, the death of Rebbi Akiva’s 24,000 students. Imagine, 24,000 giants of Torah. 24,000 great and holy men. Look how much Torah we have today as a result of only 5 of Rebbe Akiva’s remaining students, could we imagine if we had the Torah of an additional 24,000 of them?!

But that Torah was obviously not willed by H-shem. As scary as it is to write or say that, it was evidently true. As are many things with Judaism, it’s the quality not quantity. On their level, these 24,000 Talmidim did not accord the proper Derech Eretz to one another and for that reason, H-shem saw it fit to take them. It is far from our mind to understand H-shem’s ways and to understand the fine line of judgment exacted on these great men, but what is left for us to learn is that “Derech Eretz Kadmah LaTorah”. As we say in yeshiva: “Be a Mentsch”. Simply translated, be a person.

I read that Rabbi Chaim Vital zt”l asks: “If Derech Eretz is so important, why doesn't the Torah make it one of the 613 Mitzvot?” He answered “that were Derech Eretz to be a mitzvah, it would imply that it's a Mitzvah just like all the other Mitzvot when in truth, it's much more. It's a precondition to observing the Torah” Perhaps a person lacking in basic rules of Derech Eretz doesn’t really connect with the Torah and benefit from its holiness.

But we can talk about and have been talking about it since the 2nd Bet Hamikdash was destroyed due to us not treating each other properly. What is actually going to change in our behavior towards one another? I mean let’s face it, we are selfish beings and although we have moments when we help each other and sometimes very much, we are still not where we need to be in this regard, what are we missing in our understanding or ability to accomplish this feat?

I, unfortunately do not know the answer to this one, I have however learned something from my Rebbe, Rabbi Moshe Aharonov shlit”a who learned it from his Rebbe, Reb Asher Freund zy”a whose teachings and way of life has been a life source for many individuals and families throughout the world. R’ Asher taught in the name of the Ram”ak – Rebbe Moshe Cordevoro zy”a, that “the faults/shortcomings that we see in our friend is a mirror of our own.” That means that the same friend or spouse or child that is acting a certain way which we find annoying or repulsive, is actually H-shem showing us ourselves through the actions of another. While this may sound easy enough to understand, there are times when it is extremely challenging to actually believe it, after all, we don’t see ourselves nearly as bad as we see others. But that aspect of it is very deep and merits its own article. The point to take from it for our purpose is that if we see our friends actions as a personal message from H-shem to us and we ask H-shem to help us release our friend – the messenger  of the message – from the act, then we will be left alone with the act and ourselves seeking H-shem’s help. That is exactly what we need and not more. We are thereby removing all of our friend’s personal attachment to the act that pained us leaving us with no ill feeling towards them! Like R’ Asher zy”a explains, “the friend is just the stick (that H-shem uses to prod us) not the One that is swinging it at us”. If we can at least start to understand this concept, we will not only be on the road to the Geula, we will actually be living happier each and every day! Imagine, no one has harmed me or done bad to me, how much less baggage would we be carrying? No grudges or grievances with anyone, simply us connecting with H-shem through our trials and tribulations.

Wishing us all a meaningful Sefirat Ha’Omer and Kabalat HaTorah.

---

Rabbi Shay Winer is the Assistant Principal in Yeshiva TIferet Tzion High School. He is a Talmid of Rabbi Aharonov and learned in the Mesivta of Long Beach. He can be reached at the yeshiva or by email: sw@ytths.org.

 

By R’ Shay Winer   

 

What a serious yet exciting time of year. As religious Jews, we are always happy to be “involved” in something connecting us to H-shem. What do I mean? One of the reasons that we love Chanukah in addition to the obvious, is that it is 8 days long. There is Kedushah for 8 whole days! So if one night you weren’t “feeling it” you still have another night and another. We need the connection to something holy all the time, but especially during the dark and cold days of winter. Remember, we had such a spiritual uplifting during the whole month of Tishrei and with Sukkot and then this major drop off with no YomTov in sight till Pesach. That’s why Chanukah (and all Yamim Tovim) means so much to some of us.

Whenever we leave a spiritual time, there is a real void. Just realize how you feel sometimes as the end of Shabbat is approaching. There is a reason that statistically, many bad things happen on Motzai Shabbat; after all, there is a major drop off from the Kedushah that was in the world just a few hours before, and people are looking for ways to fill that void. After a fulfilling YomTov of Pesach, we are comforted by the fact that the next YomTov is only weeks away; Shavuot.

But in between these 2 major Yamim Tovim we find ourselves performing a count, a real and actual counting of days between them. While we may look forward to other Yamim Tovim, we don’t actually perform a counting and additionally, why count upward? Usually when we look forward to something we count “down” the days, not “up”?!

Perhaps we can attempt to shed some light on an important point while exploring this question. There are several answers as to why we count. First of all, we are commanded to by the Torah specifically, and with a Berachah. That is enough of a reason. But for many Mitzvot there is also the “Ta’am HaMitzvah” – literally, the “taste” of the Mitzvah, meaning, we can also find some flavor and depth to the reason of the observance of the specific Mitzvah.

There are several reasons. One of them is that the count demonstrates our thrill for the impending occasion of receiving the Torah celebrated on Shavuot. Just as a student often counts the days until the end of school or an upcoming trip or event, we count the days to show our excitement at again receiving the Torah on Shavuot.

As a matter of fact, Rav Yitzchok Hutner zt”l – Rosh HaYeshiva of Yeshiva Chaim Berlin (My Rebbe – Rabbi Avner German’s zt”l’s Rebbe) expressed that we don’t “leave a YomTov” we “take” that YomTov with us on our continued journey. We take the lessons learned and we plow forward with the vigor and strength gained from that YomTov.

It is a well-known concept that in Judaism we do not simply commemorate a holiday and remember the events that took place on that day, we actual RELIVE that day! And the Kedushah and the aura of that time is apparent now in our time as well. The YomTov is just as alive as we are and all that the YomTov represented then is taking place now as well! How inspiring, how strengthening to know that H-shem has just saved us from the bondage of Mitzrayim, why? To take us and coronate us as His nation. To give us His most precious gift – the holy Torah. How can we not count to such an exciting event?! And that is perhaps why we count upward and not downward. You see, we are not simply counting to an event or a commemoration of one. We are actually building up to a live event that will take place shortly. Every day that we count is not a day “less” rather it is an integral part of what is to come. We need this “day” and all of its challenges and lessons in order to prepare ourselves for what H-shem wants to give us. It’s a time of preparation and striving and that is perhaps why we are counting “upwards” to the precious day of Shavuot. When we count something precious, we count upward. The most common example would be when we count money, one…two…three, etc.

But wait, there is another aspect to Sefira, actually, perhaps the more important one that without its lesson, the gift of the Torah will not accomplish its goal and purpose. We cannot ignore the fact that many calamities have befallen us during these days of Sefira; namely, the death of Rebbi Akiva’s 24,000 students. Imagine, 24,000 giants of Torah. 24,000 great and holy men. Look how much Torah we have today as a result of only 5 of Rebbe Akiva’s remaining students, could we imagine if we had the Torah of an additional 24,000 of them?!

But that Torah was obviously not willed by H-shem. As scary as it is to write or say that, it was evidently true. As are many things with Judaism, it’s the quality not quantity. On their level, these 24,000 Talmidim did not accord the proper Derech Eretz to one another and for that reason, H-shem saw it fit to take them. It is far from our mind to understand H-shem’s ways and to understand the fine line of judgment exacted on these great men, but what is left for us to learn is that “Derech Eretz Kadmah LaTorah”. As we say in yeshiva: “Be a Mentsch”. Simply translated, be a person.

I read that Rabbi Chaim Vital zt”l asks: “If Derech Eretz is so important, why doesn't the Torah make it one of the 613 Mitzvot?” He answered “that were Derech Eretz to be a mitzvah, it would imply that it's a Mitzvah just like all the other Mitzvot when in truth, it's much more. It's a precondition to observing the Torah” Perhaps a person lacking in basic rules of Derech Eretz doesn’t really connect with the Torah and benefit from its holiness.

But we can talk about and have been talking about it since the 2nd Bet Hamikdash was destroyed due to us not treating each other properly. What is actually going to change in our behavior towards one another? I mean let’s face it, we are selfish beings and although we have moments when we help each other and sometimes very much, we are still not where we need to be in this regard, what are we missing in our understanding or ability to accomplish this feat?

I, unfortunately do not know the answer to this one, I have however learned something from my Rebbe, Rabbi Moshe Aharonov shlit”a who learned it from his Rebbe, Reb Asher Freund zy”a whose teachings and way of life has been a life source for many individuals and families throughout the world. R’ Asher taught in the name of the Ram”ak – Rebbe Moshe Cordevoro zy”a, that “the faults/shortcomings that we see in our friend is a mirror of our own.” That means that the same friend or spouse or child that is acting a certain way which we find annoying or repulsive, is actually H-shem showing us ourselves through the actions of another. While this may sound easy enough to understand, there are times when it is extremely challenging to actually believe it, after all, we don’t see ourselves nearly as bad as we see others. But that aspect of it is very deep and merits its own article. The point to take from it for our purpose is that if we see our friends actions as a personal message from H-shem to us and we ask H-shem to help us release our friend – the messenger  of the message – from the act, then we will be left alone with the act and ourselves seeking H-shem’s help. That is exactly what we need and not more. We are thereby removing all of our friend’s personal attachment to the act that pained us leaving us with no ill feeling towards them! Like R’ Asher zy”a explains, “the friend is just the stick (that H-shem uses to prod us) not the One that is swinging it at us”. If we can at least start to understand this concept, we will not only be on the road to the Geula, we will actually be living happier each and every day! Imagine, no one has harmed me or done bad to me, how much less baggage would we be carrying? No grudges or grievances with anyone, simply us connecting with H-shem through our trials and tribulations.

Wishing us all a meaningful Sefirat Ha’Omer and Kabalat HaTorah.

---

Rabbi Shay Winer is the Assistant Principal in Yeshiva TIferet Tzion High School. He is a Talmid of Rabbi Aharonov and learned in the Mesivta of Long Beach. He can be reached at the yeshiva or by email: sw@ytths.org.