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Monday, June 7, 2021

Mashiach: The Great Reframer

The paint has dried on the canvas of life. What has happened has happened - there is no way to change the past, to whitewash the pain, to ignore the blemishes. But, amazingly, a new frame can be placed around this canvas that suddenly shifts the entire picture.

“To reframe, then, means to change the conceptual and/or emotional setting or viewpoint in relation to which a situation is experienced and to place it in another frame which fits the ”facts” of the same concrete situation equally well or even better, and thereby changes its entire meaning.”1

“[R]eframing can be seen as a generic process in therapy. In fact, I would go much further and propose it to be the single most basic and necessary operation in the process of change and therefore of all therapy. Everything else is subordinate and either aids or, alternatively, impedes this process...It is not that ”...a new frame may be an essential setting...for change”; I would argue that it is the only setting for change...”2

We look at the painful history of our people - and the pain of the present - and we ache for comfort, Nechama. Not the comfort of soothing but the comfort of seeing; the essence of Nechama is seeing things in a new light.

“For N.Ch.M. is consolation and regret, both a complete change of feelings to the way one had felt towards something hitherto. Up till now one had considered something to be right, had perhaps boasted upon it, and then suddenly finds out that one has to be ashamed of it: regret, remorse. Similarly, real consolation is only such, that brings the conviction to one who has suffered pain and grief, that this too leads to ultimate good and everlasting happiness, not the ‘Babylonian idea of consolation’ which says, ‘what can one do, one must accept what cannot be avoided (Bava Kama 38a), but which awakes the consciousness that if one were able to see through and over all the conditions and results and consequences as God can and does, one would not alter what has happened even if one could.”3

And that is why one of Mashiach’s names is “Menachem” - The Reframer.4

We await the day when Mashiach will come and “transform darkness to light and sweeten the bitter.”5

“The World to Come is not like this world. In this world on good tidings we say the blessing of “Hatov v’Hameitiv” and in bad tidings “Dayan Ha’Emet.” In the World to Come it will always be “Hatov v’Hameitiv.”6

“Then,” in that sudden shift, “our mouths will be filled with laughter.”7

”[Humor as] a flash of insight shows a familiar situation or event in a new light, and elicits a new response to it.”8


1 Watzlawick et al., 1974, p. 95 quoted in Antti Mattila, “Seeing Things in a New Light: Reframing in Therapeutic Conversation, p. 6

2 Cade, 1992, p. 163, quoted in Antti Mattila, “Seeing Things in a New Light: Reframing in Therapeutic Conversation, p. 55-56

3 Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch on Berrishit 50:21. See also Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch on Bereishit 5:29 and Rashi on Bereishit 27:42.

 4 Sanhedrin 98b. See also Talmud Yerushalmi, Sanhedrin 10:9 and Zohar III:173b

5 See Zohar I:4a. See Rav Kook, Igrot Ha’Rayah I:142.

6 Pesachim 50a

7 Tehillim 126

8 The Act of Creation Arthur Koestler (1964), quoted in Antti Mattila, “Seeing Things in a New Light: Reframing in Therapeutic Conversation, p. 93

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

The Study of Torah in Dark Times - VII

 “I do not know how to explain it, but teaching has a tremendous and very strange impact upon me. When I teach Torah, I feel the breath of eternity on my face. Even now, in my old age, teaching Torah and giving shiurim relieves me of the fear of death and all the gloomy and depressing moments which elderly people go through. When I teach Torah, I feel rejuvenated and as if I were a twenty-five or thirty years old. If not for the study and teaching of Torah, I would have lost my sanity in year of my triple mourning in 1967 when I lost my mother, brother, and wife. I was on the verge of mental collapse and breakdown. I did not break down; I emerged victorious. That victory over despair was due to one thing only, I would say - my overwhelming dedication to Torah and teaching Torah. I am not trying to bead or to boast; I am telling the truth. I was sick that year and the following year. I felt somehow that because of teaching Torah, I was not alone and that I had somebody. That somebody was invisible, but I felt His presence, I could confide in Him. There was somebody on whose shoulder I could cry, and there was somebody from whom I could almost demand words of solace and comfort.”

R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik, in The Rav: The World of Joseph B. Soloveitchik, Volume 2, pp. 200-201

Sunday, December 20, 2020

The Study of Torah in Dark Times - VI

 “Praise be to God, if I were to write all my Torah novella from when I was in the hospital* in halakha and aggadah, it would be a complete and very important book...including many areas that are, praise be to God, ‘standing at the apex of the world,’ in their depth and height.”

Rav Michoel Forshlager, letter to Rav Mordechai Gifter quoted in Michoel B’Achas, p. 128 and 262

*In a different letter (p. 128), he describes his medical condition and hospital experience as follows: “I was suffering terribly, and after some days I went to the hospital for an eye operation. I was there for about three months with terrible suffering. For about fifteen weeks I was not allowed to move my head, even a bit, and they would monitor me for this.”

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

The Study of Torah in Dark Times - V

 “The [Novarodok] yeshiva was reestablished in Gomel in 1914 with about eighty students...It was precisely during these arduous times that the yeshiva reached the pinnacle of spirituality. The students did not pay attention to their physical needs. Often there was no food and no fuel. They wore tattered clothing and sent hungry, but they set the yeshiva aflame with their desire for more Divine service, for greater and greater advancement, for more and more spiritual growth. Rav Yosef Yozel was at the peak of his powers...

“The war went on and soon in massive street sweeps conducted by the government to catch ‘deserters’ but somehow they were always able to escape. The searches, however, were becoming more frequent and Rav Yosef Yozel decided to spread his boys throughout the towns of Russia and the Ukraine...Each senior student was assigned a group of younger boys and was sent to a town. They moved into the local synagogues and, whether welcome or not, whether financially supported or not, they took root and flourished. Sometimes they had to overcome strong opposition; usually little material support was available. The youngsters succeeded against all odds and established major yeshivas in Kiev, Charkov, Nizhmi-Novgorod, Rostov, Tsaritsin (Volgagrad), Saratov, Pavlograd, and Tchernigov. A yeshiva was even established in the shadow of the Kremlin in Moscow but it did not survive. Each of the centers was surrounded by a network of elementary and grammar schools under the supervision of the mother institution...

“In 1917, the Bolsheviks overthrew the provisional democratic government and seized power. The great teeming masses of the Russian empire were set feee from any authority as the Red Army battles the Whites and numerous local factions and militias fought each other. Murderous bands of demobilized soldiers and ruffians roamed the countryside, especially  targeting  Jews and merchants. Hundreds of thousands of Jews were murdered. There was no order and no government and human life was cheap. Famine and typhoid and cholera epidemics ranged unchecked and roads and railroad stations were choked with refugees and the dispossessed. As the Communists took power, ‘class enemies’ were mercilessly eliminated or exiled.

“Novardok was not afraid. With heroic disregard for personal safety, the students continued their activities. They cared not for borders or decrees. They moved from place to place to spread Torah and Mussar. The boys infiltrated behind front lines to carry messages between yeshivas. Students fearlessly took the pulpit during Communist rallies and preached spiritual renewal. At times, they appeared in groups at show trials of the Jewish religion and made public demonstrations of their faith. They argued with the ‘prosecutors’ and broke into Mussar chants in the midst of the proceedings. They jostled with soldiers and speculators for space on the roofs of overcrowded train cars and braved epidemics to carry out their assigned tasks. Contact and communication  between  academies was not broken and the movement remained united. On a number of occasions, these boys were suspects of being counterrevolutionaries or spies (a crime punishable by death) and were imprisoned. Some were pressed into forced labor and several succumbed to contagious illnesses. Still they did not desist.

“Rav Yosef Yozel himself did the same. On Rosh Hashana he might be in Kiev, before Yom Kipper in Charkov, and on Yom Kipper in Gomel. Almost every Shabbos was spent in another place. Despite being over seventy years old, he jumped onto roofs of passing trains and pushed himself in between cattle cars. During one such occasion, he spent several hours hanging from a metal cable that connects railcars, in the middle of the Russian winter. When he arrived at his destination, his hand was frozen to the metal. He was forced to leave skin and flesh behind in order to disembark. Rav Yozel’s shining personality endeared him to his fellow travelers, the Russian peasants and soldiers, who often aided and assisted him. Amazingly, the annual gathering continued despite all obstacles. As Communist control solidified, however, personal communication become impossible. The yeshivas exchanged coded telegraph messages, based on biblical verses and statements of the Sages. Once, for example, Rav Yosef Yozel received a telegraph from Saratov. The Soviet government decreed that the local yeshiva be closed. He wired these two words in response: ‘Av Harachamim.’ This is the title of a well-known Sabbath prayer dealing with martyrdom; it indicated that they must be prepared to give up their lives for their faith in the manner described in that prayer. When the commissar and the soldiers came to close the yeshiva, the dean refused the obey. The official then  pointed his loaded rifle at him. The Rosh Yeshiva opened his shirt and cried out ‘I am not afraid, shoot.’ Immediately, every student in the yeshiva lined up behind their teacher and did the same. Faced with this unexpected defiance, the Communists backed down and the yeshiva remained open.”

Novarodok: A movement that lived in struggle and its unique approach  to the problem of man, by Meir Levin, pp. 23-28. Also see The Fire Within, by Hillel Goldberg, pp.142-147, and The Alter of Novardok: The life of Rav Yosef Yoizel Horowitz and his worldwide impact, pp. 161-231. 

Monday, December 14, 2020

The Study of Torah in Dark Times - IV

With the help of Hashem, Sunday, Tammuz 15 5675 [a year of war across the entire land, which Germany and Austria has made with Russia, England, and France. Cities have been destroyed and provinces inhabited by Jews have been decimated, with tens of thousands displaced without support or assistance; the young men of Judah have fallen dead on both sides, battei midrash in which Torah is studied are few, as there is no one to maintain them, and the Jewish nation’s upheaval is great], Stuyepitz [which has been almost completely burned down, on Monday, the 25th of Sivan, and all the inhabitants are in distress and dire straits with no place to live].”

Chazon Ish, Keilim, Introduction to Siman 7

“Years later, the Chazon Ish pointed to a chiddush in Mesachta Eruvin, and said to disciple, Rabbi Shlomo Kohen, “I propounded this chiddush in a cellar in Stuyepitz, as bullets whizzed above my head.” 

The Chazon Ish by Rabbi Shimon Finkelman

Saturday, December 12, 2020

The Study of Torah in Dark Times - III

“We have now completed that for which we have hoped [to complete], and I ask of God, may He be blessed, and I implore Him, that He should save me from errors. One who finds in it something doubtful or it is clarified for him in any halakha a better explanation than I have explained, he should make note of this and judge me favourably, for what I tasked myself with is no small matter, and its execution is not simple for someone with a sense of honesty and discernment. [This is] especially [true] because my mind is often occupied with the occurrences of the time, and with the exile and wandering in the world from one end of the heavens to the other that God has decreed upon us. Perhaps we have already received reward for this exile, as exile atones for sin. He, the exalted One, knows that I have written the explanation of some laws while I was traveling by land, and others I wrote while at sea on the Mediterranean, and this [commentary on the Mishna] alone is sufficient [to be a large burden upon me] to explain, in addition to investigating other fields of knowledge.

I have only described the situation to express my regret for what [errors] may be revealed by a discerning critic. It is inappropriate to blame him for his critique; rather he receives reward for it from God, and he is beloved to me, as it is a labor for God. And what I have just described about my condition while I was writing this work is the reason that it took me so long. I, Moshe, son of R. Maimon the judge, the son of R. Yosef the sage, son of R. Yitzchak the judge, son of R. Yosef the judge, son of R. Ovadia the judge, son of R. Shlomo the rabbi, son of R. Ovadia the judge,  may the memory of the righteous be a blessing, began to write this commentary when I was twenty three years old, and I completed it in Egypt at the age of thirty, in the year 1479, as dated in formal documents. Blessed is He Who gives strength to the weary, Fresh vigour to the spent.

           Rambam, End of Peirush Hamishnayot, Uktzin 3:12

Monday, November 30, 2020

The Study of Torah in Dark Times - II

 “He packed a trunk with his most precious belongings: the books which he received as wedding presents; the hundreds of letters of Rayatz which be catalogued and prepared for publication; his folder of Reshimot,  containing his Torah thoughts and customs of Rayatz that he meticulously documented; the “unauthorized”photostated copies of Rashab’s discourses he had made ten years earlier, and the notes on Tanya and indices of Chasidic thought which he composed. Utilizing a personal connection to obtain a much coveted ticket, the couple boarded one of the last trains to leave Paris, on or before 11th June, joining the mass exodus of some 100,000 Jews who fled Paris before the German conquest of 13th June...

“We know that for the two months he was in Vichy, Menachem Mendel immersed himself in Torah, since he composed six long Reshimot during this short period, which fill some forty-three printed pages. For the most part, the Vichy Reshimot follow themes in the weekly Torah portions and in all likelihood  represent notes of lectures he delivered in the synagogue. What is immediately striking in the text is a complete lack of reference to the troubles of the times; there is no hint that the ideas were penned by a man who was fleeing for his life from the Nazis. Instead, Menachem Mendel takes one or two ideas in the Torah portion and suggests an innovative twist, based on Chasidic thought. As ever, the discourses are extremely rich in sources, and clearly lacking access to a library of Jewish books, the author leaves a number of references blank with a view to filling in the exact page numbers at a later date. Considering the circumstances under which they were written, the depth and complexity of the material is quite remarkable. As in the turbulent years of his youth, one gets the sense that Menachem Mendel found some comfort from the dire and hazardous situation by retreating into abstract thought.”

Turning Judaism Outward: a biography of the Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson by Chaim Miller, pp. 130-131