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Sunday, February 7, 2016

Magical Moments of Mesorah VI - Rav Moshe to Reb Yoshe Ber Soloveitchik

"I remember myself as a child, a lonely, forlorn boy. I was afraid of the world. It seemed cold and alien. I felt as if everyone were mocking me. But I had one friend, and he was - please don't laugh at me - Maimonides, the Rambam, How did we become friends? We simply met!

"The Rambam was a regular guest in our house. Those were the days when my father, my mentor, was still living in the home of my grandfather, the great and pious Rabbi Elijah Feinstein of Pruzhna. Father sat and studied Torah day and night. A rather small group of outstanding young Torah scholars gathered around him and imbibed his words thirstily.

"Father's lectures were given in my grandfather's living room, where my bed was placed. I used to sit up in bed and listen to my father talk. My father always spoke about the Rambam. This is how he would proceed: He would open a volume of the Talmud and read a passage. Then he would say 'This is the interpretation of Rabbi Isaac and the [other] Tosafists; now let us see how the Rambam interpreted the passage.' Father would always find that the Rambam had a offered a different interpretation and had deviated from the simple way. My father would say, almost as a complaint against the Rambam, 'We don't understand our Master's reasoning or the way he explains the passage.' It was as if he were complaining to the Rambam directly, 'Rabbenu Mosheh, why did you do this?'

"My father would then say that, prima facie, the criticisms and objections of the Rabad are actually correct. The members of the group would jump up and each of them would suggest an idea. Father would listen and rebut their ideas, and then repeat, 'Our Mater's words are as hard to crack as iron.' But he would not despair; he would rest his head on his fist and sink into deep thought. The group was quiet and did not disturb his reflections. After a long while he would lift his head very slowly and begin, 'Rabbotai, let's see...' and then he would start to talk. Sometimes he would say a great deal, other times only a little. I would strain my ears and listen to what he was saying.

"I did not understand anything at all about the issue under discussion, but two impressions were formed in my young, innocent mind: (1) the Rambam was surrounded by opponents and 'enemies' who want to harm him; and (2) his only defender was my father. If not for my father, who knew what would happen to the Rambam? I felt that the Rambam himself was present in the living room; listening to what my father was saying. The Rambam was sitting with me on my bed. What did he look like? I didn't know exactly, but his countenance resembled my father's good and beautiful face. He had the same name as my father - Moses. Father would speak; the students, their eyes fixed on him, would listen intently to what he was saying. Slowly, slowly, the tension ebbed; Father strode boldly and bravely. New arguments emerged; halakhic rules were formulated and defined with wondrous precision. A new light shone. The difficulties were resolved, the passage was explained. The Rambam emerged the winner. Father's face shone with joy. He had defended his 'friend,' Rabbenu Mosheh the son of Maimon. A smile of satisfaction appeared on the Rambam's lips. I too participated in this joy. I was happy and excited. I would jump out of bed and run to my mother's room to tell her the joyful news, 'Mother, Mother, the Rambam is right, he defeated the Rabad. Father came to his aid. How wonderful Father is!'

"But occasionally the Rambam's luck did not hold - his 'enemies' attacked him on all sides; the difficulties were as hard as iron. Father was unable to follow the logic of his position. He tried with all his might to defend him, but he was unsuccessful. Father would sink into musings with his head leaning on his fist. The students and I, even the Rambam himself, would tensely wait for Father's answer. But Father would pick up his head and say sadly, 'The answer will have to wait for the prophet Elijah; what the Rambam says is extremely difficult. There is not expert who can explain it. The issue remains in need of clarification.' The whole group, my father included, were sad to the point of tears. A silent agony expressed itself on each face. Tears came from my eyes, too. I would even see bright teardrops in the Rambam's eyes.

"Slowly I would go to Mother and tell her with a broken heart, 'Mother, Father can't resolve the Rambam - what should we do?'

"'Don't be sad,' Mother would answer, 'Father will find a solution for the Rambam. And if he doesn't find one, then maybe when you grow up you will resolve his words. The main thing is to learn Torah with joy and excitement."

"This experience belongs to my childhood. Still, it is not the golden fantasy of a little boy; the feeling in it is not mystical. It is a completely historical, psychological reality that is alive even now in the depths of my soul. When I sit down to learn Torah, I find myself immediately in the company of the sages of the masorah. The relations between us are personal. The Rambam is at my right, Rabbenu Tam at my left, Rashi sits up front and interprets, Rabbenu Tam disputes him; the Rambam issues a ruling, and the Rabad objects. They are all in my little room, sitting around my table. They look at me affectionately, enjoy arguing and studying the Talmud with me, encourage and support me the way a father does. Torah study is not solely an educational activity. It is not a merely formal, technical matter embodied in the discovery and exchange of facts. It is a powerful experience of becoming friends with many generations of Torah scholars, the joining of one spirit with another, the union of souls. Those who transmitted the Torah and those who receive it come together in one historical way-station.

"Thus, the Rambam remained my friend even after my childhood, and we are friends to this very day. Indeed, there is only one difference between my childhood experience and my present one. In my childhood, only the Rambam was my friend, while at present my study group has grown and includes many Torah scholars. All the sages of the tradition, from the days of Moses to the present, have become my friends! When I solve a problem in the Rambam's or Rabbenu Tam's writings, I see their glowing faces expressing their satisfaction. I always feel as if the Rambam and Rabbenu Tam are kissing me on the forehead and shaking my hand. This is not fantasy. It is a very deep experience. It is the experience of the transmission of the Oral Torah."

Rav Soloveitchik, And From There You Shall Seek, pp. 143-146

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Magical Moments of Mesorah V: Rav and Rav Yaakov Moshe Charlap

"It was the days leading up to Shavuot (1904) that I went to Yaffo on the advice of my doctors to bathe in the sea. Shavuot fell out on Friday and I went to prayer at the synagogue "Sha'arei Torah." I was twenty-one years old at that time. I heard how Rav Kook said the Akdamot prayer in front of the congregation, shaking and crying. My entire being trembled. From that moment on I attached to Rav Kook with fierce love and I was his disciple forever...I felt [at that moment] that my entire being was a flame of God, my physicality moved aside and my soul which attached to the soul of Rav Kook rose to the highest worlds."

Magical Moments of Mesorah IV: Rav Kook and the Nazir

“After taking a mikveh in the Rhine River, carrying a volume ‘Shaarei Kedusha-Gates of Holiness’ (by Chayim Vital), full of uncertainty and expectation, I made my way to the Rav on Erev Rosh Chodesh Elul -5675-1915. I found him engaged in halachic/legal studies with his son. We spoke about Greek wisdom and its literature; which did not satisfy one who knew the sources in their origins.  I stayed to sleep in their home. My heart could not rest at night. My life’s destiny was hanging in the balance. I awoke in the morning and I heard the sound of footsteps back and forth. I approached  the room from whence the footsteps came. It was the Rav praying the morning blessings, the tefilla/prayer of Akeidat Yitzchak in a sublime supernal melody.“From the eternal high heavens, and it reminded us of the love our ancestors.” I listened and I was transformed and became another person. I quickly wrote in a lettethat I had found more than I had hoped for. I found for myself a Rav.”
Rav Dovid Cohen, Introduction to Orot HaKodesh

הרב הנזיר זצל

Friday, December 11, 2015

Magical Moments of Mesorah III: Rav Yosef Zundel and Reb Yisrael of Salant

"In observing Rabbi Yosef Zundel one day, Reb Yisrael slipped on a twig, or some such. He attracted Rabbi Zundel's attention. There followed one of the great moments in Jewish spiritual history.

Here was a young boy, secretly observing his ideal. Here was a ripened scholar and pietist, discovering he was being followed. The scholar had to respond to the moment - to a boy's yearning, to an opportunity to turn a moment of embarrassment into a lesson of the spirit.

Rabbi Yosef Zundel rose to the occassion, for his humility before Hashem included certainty about the way to it. He turned to the fledgling disciple, read the question on his face, told him how to proceed:

'Yisrael! Study mussar, that you may become one who fears heaven!'

Simple words.

They transformed Reb Yisrael. They entered his heart 'as a flaming arrow' (as he later put it). They constituted the prescription for the spiritual ascent to which he aspired, the ascent he had witnessed in Rabbi Yosef Zundel."

-The Fire Within, pp. 40-41, by Rabbi Hillel Goldberg

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Reb Nosson Tzi and Howard Shultz

The speculation about my candidacy reminds me of a lesson from a great Jewish leader. A decade ago, I visited the Western Wall in Jerusalem with Nosson Tzvi Finkel, a widely respected rabbi in Israel. As we approached one of the holiest sites in Judaism, the rabbi halted about 10 yards away as a crowd of admirers gathered nearby. I beckoned him further.
“I’ve never been closer than this,” the rabbi told me. Astounded, I asked why.
“You go,” he said. “I’m not worthy.”
-Howard Shultz (CEO of Starbucks) in the New York Times

  Drawing by Yona

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Magical Moments of Mesorah II - The Izhbitzer Rebbe to Reb Tzadok


According to Chassidic tradition, when Rav Zaddok first arrived in lzhbitza, he stood silently in the back of the study hall during the Rebbe's Friday night and Shabbos morning "tischen." The Chassidim sought in vain to detect on the face of the Lithuanian genius some sign of his being moved by the teachings of Rav Mordechai Yoseph. Late Shabbos afternoon, as darkness descended upon the shtetl, the Rebbe quietly addressed his followers. Suddenly from the back of the beis medrash, a man began to scream "The Rebbe is burning me! The Rebbe is throwing acid upon my heart!"
-Rav Moshe Weinberger, Rav Tzaddok the Kohen - Jewish Action, Fall 5757
Drawing of the Izhbitzer Rebbe

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

A Thought Experiment

Imagine a person in your mind. Now imagine two, three four...a whole family, a whole town, a whole city, a whole country, a whole world.
The world only exists in your mind - if you were to stop thinking about the world it would disappear - and yet, it has no awareness of your existence.
At first whatever happens in this world is totally and completely dependent on what you imagine: it has no free-will, no independent activity. If at any moment you want to change the fixtures or dynamics of this world you can. Now it is blue, now it is red.
But try to imagine this world making decisions, building...and destroying. The world has now come alive, it has free-will, movement, independence. It's existence is still totally and completely dependent on your conscious intent, but now it has become more than an image; it is a dream.
Now imagine that this world begins to become aware of You, its Imaginer. It has brief moments where it can conceive of You, where Your consciousness shines through the world. But most of the time it cannot believe or even imagine that it only exists in your mind. Eventually, though, the Truth becomes apparent.
And now the dream of the world is united with it's Dreamer.
The world is the dream of God.