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Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The Varieties of Anomolous Experiences in Jewish Literature I - Reb Shraga Feival Mendolovitz


"Reb Feival would tell how one day, when walking in the road, the image of his beloved teacher, Rabbi Samuel Rosenberg, appeared in front of him and ordered him to stop. Reb Feival halted - and quickly realized that had he not done so, a car would have struck him down. In gratitude, he vowed to name his next child for Rabbi Rosenberg, and so his sixth child bears the name of his great master." (Men of Spirit, p. 559)
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Thursday, November 17, 2016

Magical Moments of Mesorah XII - The Vilna Gaon to Rav Menachem Mendel of Shklov

"The event took place in the community of Serahai, where the Gaon lived for some time in the home of his son's father-in-law, who served as the local rabbi. His disciple Menachem Mendel stayed with him there, and it was he that wrote down the interpretation of Song of Songs. When the Gaon had nearly finished the commentary, the Gaon invited his son's father-in-law and his son Judah Leib to join him. The Gaon asked to have the windows closed and that many candles be lit, although it was still full daylight:

"And when he completed his interpretation he raised his eyes on high with mighty devotion, blessings and thanks to His great Name, may it be blessed, Who enabled him to conceive the light of all the Torah from within and from without. Thus he said, All the wisdoms are needed for our holy Torah and are included within it, and he mastered all of these perfectly. And he recalled all of them: the wisdom of algebra and triangles and geometry and the wisdom of music...and of the wisdom of philosophy, [The Gaon] said he knew it perfectly. And he brought only two good things out of it...and the rest must be thrown out. Then he said, thank God the entire Torah, which was given at Sinai, he knew it thoroughly, and all of the Prophets and Writings and mishnayot and the oral law, how they are hidden in it, and no doubt was left to him about any Halakhah or sugiya in the whole Torah in his old age, and he knew the entire oral Torah and all the Halakhic authorities up to the recent ones on the Shulhan Arukh, and he clarified them and shined light onto darkness of flawed readings;...and in hidden things all that was in our possession, the Zohars and the Tiqunei Zohar and Sefer Yezira and the writings of the ARI of sacred memory and the PARDES, he studied them and knew them...And he revised them with evidence as clear as sun; only two grave things in the mysteries of the Torah of the Zohar  were questionable to him...And those, if he knew who knew them, he would go on foot to him and then wait for our righteous messiah, and with this he finished."

The Gaon of Vilna: The Man and His Image, by Immanuel Etkes; Quoting Hakdama to Pe'at HaShulkhan by Rav Yisrael of Shklov.

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Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Magical Moments of Mesorah XI: Reb Yeruchum Levovitz to Rav Wolbe

"I will never forget the Simchat Torah I spent with him [Reb Yeruchum Levovitz]. He gave an incredibly powerful inspirational talk. After each section of the discourse we sang "Happy is Israel!" He sang and danced with his hands spread upwards to heaven, with his disciples crowded below dancing across from him. At the end of the discourse he came down from the Aron Kodesh and began a dance which caused every eye to pour forth  with tears over the cascade of holy feelings. How wonderful was this image! Hundreds of disciples, among them giants of spirit themselves, dancing, crying and singing. Our master and teacher [Reb Yeruchum] himself said at this time: 'I do not know which is more precious to the Creator of the world - our Yom Kippur or our Simchat Torah!'"

Rav Wolbe, Adam BiKar, p. 28



Thursday, May 5, 2016

Magical Moments of Mesorah X - The Kotzker Rebbe

"The first time I came to Kotzk, and I saw the Rebbe in his study, it seemed to me that the Mishnaic sage Akavia ben Mahalalel stood opposite me, thundering: 'Know from where you came! Know where you are going to! Know before Whom you will give justification and a reckoning!' (Pirkei Avot 3:1). This vision remained engraved in my heart all my life, and when I returned home after eight weeks in Kotzk, all desires and empty pleasures were contemptible in my eyes."

Meir Urian, Sneh Boer BeKotzk, p. 88

Monday, April 25, 2016

The Paradox of Freedom: Subservience



אמר רבי אבא אחר שתפשו הקדוש ברוך הוא לירבעם בבגדו ואמר לו חזור בך ואני ואתה ובן ישי נטייל בגן עדן אמר לו מי בראש בן ישי בראש אי הכי לא בעינא
תלמוד בבלי מסכת סנהדרין דף קב/א

Rabbi Abba said: After the Holy One grabbed Yerovam [ben Navat] by his clothes and said to him 'Repent, then I, thou and Ben Yishai [King David] will walk in the Paradise.'

Yerovam said to Him: 'Who will be in the front?'

'Ben Yishai will be in the front'

'If so [he replied], I am not interested.'

Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heaven.
John Milton, Paradise Lost, Book I:Line 263


Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Magical Moments of Mesorah VIIII - Rav Hutner

"During the past year, the Alter of Slobodka [Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel] worked hard to explain several fundamental perspectives which pertain to me personally, but in no way could I assimilate them, could I integrate them into my consciousness. And now, suddenly, with the death of the Alter, they have all become clear and vivid...'Greater are the righteous in death than in life..'"

Pachad Yitzchak, Letter 159


"When tears well up into weeping, we know why we weep. My tears at this moment, however, surely and surely did not well up now. My tears are old and venerable now, having gathered in the subsoil of the soul now and over time, in their own time. Hidden tears, the soul itself hid them by placing a concealing rock over the entrance to the well of the soul. Across time - their own time - there gathered types of tears, different tears. In this hidden spot of tears there are those of 'My eyes dropped streams of water for not having kept your Torah' and of 'Extend grace to me, wretched am I' - tears of sharing the sorrows of men, of pitying an orphaned generation, of yearning for the countenance of parents and teachers whom I was privileged to view once upon a time, of yearning for the higher light in blessed hours of engagement with the secrets of Torah, of reciting the Song of Songs from out of a mighty sense of their loftiness - tears flowing as water libations upon the altar, the altar of love of God, tears of exaltation. All these types of tears, sentenced to hiding across ages, across years, now coalesced into one unity beneath the concealing rock, and behold! When my fingers just grazed Maharal's tombstone, the concealing rock on my breast split to smithereens and my tears came gushing, like a waterfall cascading downward between clefts in the rock."

Sefer Zichronot, 62

(translations by Hillel Goldberg, Between Berlin and Sloboka)

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Magical Moments of Mesorah VIII - Rav Yisrael Salanter and the Alter of Novardok

When he [Reb Yosef Yozel] was a merchant he visited at times the town of Mamel, where Rav Yisrael Salanter was living at the time...On one afternoon, when Reb Yosef Yozel was hurrying in the streets of Mamel in his business dealings, from one place to another, hurriedly and in haste, Reb Yisrael suddenly stopped him and asked him:

 'Why are you running so much?' 

Reb Yosef Yozel answered him: 'I have a milestone around my neck, as I have to feed a large family of eleven; a wife and daughter, with a widow and seven of her children.'

 Rav Yisrael explained to him that even with all of his responsibilities he needed to set his primary time for Torah study.

 After some time, Reb Yosef Yozel visited Rav Yisrael in his house as per his request. On their third meeting Rav Yisrael invited him to a lecture in Mesilas Yisharim, which he was giving in the main synagogue in Mamel. Reb Yosef Yozel accepted the invitation and attended the lecture thirteen times. On the thirteen lecture Rav Yisrael's words had such an impact on Reb Yosef Yozel, to the extent that he felt an inner earthquake trembling within himself. He left the lecture stunned and shaking. On the way home he gathered some bundles of ware and he began planning a way to free himself from business and to devote himself to Torah and Yirah.