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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.  

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Magical Moments of Mesorah VII - Rav Ashlag

"I will tell him the story that happened with me, from the beginning to the end,  due to which I merited the wisdom [of Kabbalah], in His great mercy:

“On the Twelfth of the month of Cheshvan, on Friday morning, a man came to me. I discovered that he was a great and wondrous scholar of Kabbalah and of other branches of knowledge. Immediately as he began speaking I sensed and felt the wisdom of God in him, and all of his words were spoken with great amazement and splendor. With this I believed very much with my entire being. He promised to tell me the wisdom of Truth comprehensively. I learned with him for three months after midnight in his home. Mostly we focused on the [practical] ways to holiness and purity. Yet every time I begged him to tell me a secret of Kabbalah, he began to say the basic points but would not completely reveal it to me. Clearly I had this intense longing, and after intensely pleading with him again he revealed one secret. I was boundlessly joyful.

“As this continued to happen I began to acquire some egotism, and the more egotism I acquired the further my holy Master distanced himself from me. Unbeknownst to me this continued for three months, until the last few days I did not find him at home at all. 'I searched for him and did not find him.' Then I realized he was distancing himself from me, and I was deeply pained. I began to better my ways. On the ninth of the month of Nisan, in the morning, I found him and I sought to pacify him and then we were reconciled as before. He told me a big secret regarding “a mikvah measured and was found lacking,” and of course I was ecstatic. Yet I saw that he was becoming physically weak, and I did not leave his house. The next day, on the tenth of Nissan, the year of 1919, he left this world, may his memory protect us and all of Israel.

“The magnitude of my pain cannot be written, for my heart was full of hope to gain wisdom and knowledge. And now I was left naked and destitute, and even what I received from him was forgotten because of the great sorrow. From then on my eyes looked heavenward with limitless longing and desire.  I did not give rest for even a single moment, until I found favor in the eyes of my Creator and Rock, Blessed and Exalted. The merit of my holy Master stood for me, and my heart was increasingly opened to the supernal wisdom, like a flowing river. I even remembered all of the secrets that I received from my Master, in Hashem’s compassion. 'Blessed is Hashem who gave me life and sustained me!' How am I able, a destitute person like myself, to thank God – even from the beginning He knew that I was lacking in intellect and understanding to even give thanks and praise for his tremendous beneficence. But who can tell Him what to do?  My holy Master was a business man and he was well-known in the city as a trustworthy merchant. But no one recognized his knowledge of Kabbalah, and he did not give me permission to reveal his name."