Tuesday, October 25, 2011

To my daughter,


And maybe more of bnos Yisroel.
You are getting married this week. It is big step in our life, as your parents, but for you it may be the most important one.
Not long ago you were born; not long ago I sang to you when you woke up and opened your beautiful blue eyes. Not long ago I tried to answer all your questions — for some of them you got your nickname, the Pooh.
Our choices didn’t make your life easy. On the contrary, you were exposed to difficulties unknown to your peers, difficulties that only the life of a family like ours can bring. We did everything to protect you and your siblings, to make it easier, to make things as smooth as possible. If we failed at any point, I can offer nothing more than an apology. We tried our best, to give the best of our love, the best of our will — to give you more than we got, more than our upbringing provided.
Raising children is always an experiment, but not an experiment on some strange subject in a laboratory environment, detached from real life. The “experiment” of raising children is done on the dearest of dearest, blood of our blood, life of our life. We are never sure what the results will be of our work, and we always think that somewhere, sometime we could do better.
The goal was clear from the beginning: to bring up this girl to become a woman who will devote her existence to the Giver of life. Somewhere on the way we found the right path to do this for us, as well as hopefully for our descendants. We discovered the Torah and we joined the holy klal Yisroel.
You were raised without extended family, in a strange land, sometimes not having any possibility of sharing your feelings with your parents in a common language. There was more hardship than this …
We were successful to teach you about Hakadosh Baruch Hu, about His Torah and unity with his chosen people. You are one of them, in many aspects you are better than the average Jew, you are not only “one who believes,” you are a tzadeikes and as one of our principle beliefs teach us, the greater the tzaddik the greater the yeitzer hara.
We brought you to this point in your life; most of the time it was not your choice.
Here are two steps in which a Jew takes responsibility for his relationship with the Creator. For a girl it is at age 12. For you it was a greater responsibility and decision than it was for most of your peers. Now you are approaching the moment in your life when, together with your husband, you will be fully in charge of you relationship to Hakadosh Baruch Hu.
For years I was trying to make you understand that there is nothing more important than this, than your connection to the One who offered us our existence. Our awareness, the fact that we think, we feel, we laugh and we cry, we love, and we loathe what is wrong, has only one purpose, and it is to connect to the One who caused these feelings and the awareness of them to be.
Life without this connection is not a life worth living; life without Him in the center of our mind and feelings should not happen. I’m sure that your mother and I were successful in our parental tasks and now it is for you to continue in this way.
But, “continue” is not enough. Our Torah teaches us that up to this point, most of our spiritual achievements are credited to our parents and teachers. We set your bechirah point high, and now when you take the whole responsibility into your hands it is not enough just to maintain what we gave you. It is imperative, it is up to you to raise your bechirah point to new levels. This is an opportunity for you to open new horizons of spirituality that are impossible for us, your parents, due to the baggage we carry, the tail schlepping behind. Only with this opportunity will you contribute to what you have already achieved and you will be able to start new generations and, after 120, come to our Father in Heaven with gift of YOUR life.
Do not look for frumkeit. Do not look to appease the idol of religiosity always lurking and trying to settle in our hearts. Look not for what the others will say, but be brave always to do what is right at the time when it is right in the place where it is right.
Remember that performance of every single mitzvah, the prohibiting ones as well as the commanding ones, is serving the one purpose, connecting us to our Creator. When you do a mitzvah do it right, as Chazal teach. This way we bring happiness to our Creator by performing the mitzvah with intention, taking us to higher levels. When we do the same mitzvah while understanding the mitzvah’s depth, it gives us unbelievable happiness. But He really treasures the mitzvos that we perform simply out of love to Him. Every time we do the will of G-d, we express our love to Him, and even though we shouldn’t count on any reward for what we do for Him, He did promise such a reward to us.
Don’t forget, that most of our minhagim serve us and do not make us serve others. The minhagim of Klal Yisroel protect us from sin, keep us away from the grave danger of falling from the path of righteousness. Minhagim are not enemies of our happiness and freedom, just the opposite. Cleverly chosen and kept, they are guardians of holiness and the freedom and unity of our people. Keep them wisely. 
Together with your husband, chose a mentor for yourself, a rav who will advise you in all halachic issues as well as the many other matters of life. Chose the right one and you will have no doubts about what you do. 
And last, but not least, honor you parents. Yes it is sweet for them to have nachas from their children, but this is not the reason why you should do it. This mitzvah belongs to the category of bein adam l’Makom and as such should be considered strongly by you. By performing his mitzvah your children (they should come soon, be healthy, and grow to be servants of Hakadosh Baruch Hu) will honor you the same way.

Everything else in life is just background; it’s not the ikar. However this background should serve you in better serving the Creator. You should have a healthy and wealthy life with mutual understanding, love ,and devotion to each other. Hashem should keep you on a straight path so that you will be able to share your prosperity with the needy and increase the value of Torah in Yisroel.

Matys Weiser

Special thanks to my editor, Mrs Yocheved, for editing this letter on the day before marring her own child.

Sunday, October 9, 2011



Rav Hirsch is not easy to read. His language is beautiful but sophisticated and can be enjoyed by everyone who appreciates the brilliance of putting the human mind into words. Rav Hirsch mastered this art like no one else. Like only few of the Jewish writers and rabbis, he was able to express the transcendent in way that could be understood. His writing is hard to read not only because of the sophistication of his language, but, I believe, rather due to our natural opposition to be corrected, to challenge our beliefs and feelings.
Above that, we are not interested in the transcendent; we find millions of ways to defend our mind and our conscience from the awareness of the One Above and what He requires of us.
We can tolerate the thought of some god in relation to our needs, but our relation to G-d and what He requires of us, that is harder.
This is true of humanity in general, but what about G-d’s chosen children – the children of Israel? Sadly to say but when comes to this we are no different from the rest of humanity. We may be on a much different level, but still … Our prophets and rabbis have warned us about this for more than three thousand years.
The Holocaust caused a tremendous teshuvah movement – Jews have returned to their heritage of Torah like almost never before. Thousands of people recognize the greatness of Torah and the necessity of serving our Creator. This movement has been going on already for more than sixty years and people from all walks of life and backgrounds are participating in this progress. Thousands of Jews have found new areas of their lives that can be improved by applying the teachings of the Torah and its broad explanation by the true leaders of our nation.
One hundred and fifty years ago we had this great writer and leader — Rav Hirsch — whose words ring true today as much as they did then, maybe even more today.
As large a teshuvah movement as we have, there are record numbers of our brothers who are detached from the Source of life, like never before in history.
Infected by the strange ideas and philosophies of the secular world, most of us have little or no awareness of our Jewish mission in the world and what is supposed to make us different from the other nations. For hundred of years there has been tremendous pressure for us to become just like the other nations of the world. In all of galus (exile), when external enemies as well as foes from within, attempted to get us to be like the gentiles, one by one or even in larger numbers, they failed due to spiritual strength of the previous Jewish generations. Then servants of the sitra achra (the other, evil, side) began to fulfill their most treacherous mission to make all the Jewish people just like the other nations and Jewish peoplehood just like other nationalisms of the world.
They are succeeding.
How much are they succeeding you may learn by reading fragments of Rav’s Hirsch’s writing about two opposite modes of existence, ours and theirs — dwelling in the succah or within solid borders and under the roof and being aware of the temporariness of this reality, or investing our strength in building destructible things; fighting spiritual battles or wasting our time, talents, and potential to build something never intended by The One Who chose us.
I’m still trying to understand what helped me to understand the temporal character life. Is my being ger what is decisive in this matter? The very word “ger” expresses temporariness and detachment from the “solid” ground, but is it enough?
We read in selichos just few days ago that the first ger tzedek was no one other than Avraham Avinu. Is it only because he was first to convert from paganism to belief in One G-d, or maybe also because he was first to realize that this world is only a battlefield where morality must prevail over injustice and humility must overcome pride? But after the victory day of our departure from this world we are going to our true home.
A number of descendants of Yisro, Moshe Rabeini’s (Moses’s) father-in-law, refused to live in solid buildings and cities for over 500 years. Why did their ancestor Rechab ask them to sacrifice so much and why did they comply? Was it a matter of simple recognition of evil lurking on the streets and in the houses of the city, or, again, was living in tents as the nomads did an expression of the awareness of life being transitory by this group of devoted geirim?
What drove thousands, if not millions, of Yidden to give up their lives al kiddush Hashem without hesitation? Was it only a strong attachment to their heritage or did they know that with this expression of ultimate love for their Creator they would be transferred to a higher reality?
What was feeling Garff Valentyn Potocki when he was burned on the stalk for changing his faith? Was the hate directed to his body, which sinned for many years, or rather was his higher soul’s desire to be released from its body so it could ascend to a higher, better world?
All of the selichos that we have been reading every morning for the past days made us more aware about the fact of us being “dwellers of clay structures.” The conclusion of these days of return was Yom HaKadosh¸Yom Kippur. Now we are entering days where we are again in a different mode, we have to learn about how temporary our life is and how dependent on our Creator our existence is.
To appreciate and get more from the coming days of Succos, I decided one more time to share with you a small explanation of what we are fighting for, written by Rav Hirsch. After you read this, please do yourself a favor and go back to the months of counting the Omer, where I posted more of the Rav’s elucidations of how to return to the path of faith in G-d and loyalty to Him — how we should understand our assignment in the cosmic struggle to bring mankind back to peace with its Creator.  
I know Rav Hirsch’s writings are not easy to read, but even if you have to read it again and again in order to comprehend, it is worthy to learn more about our people — people of G-d — and our national mission as it was prescribed for us in the Torah and Prophets.
Last Shabbos, Shabbos Shuvah, in my hometown of Monsey, a story was told in the middle of the customary Shabbos drashah (Shabbos sermon). Rav Chaim Shea Halberstam of Satmar brought down a known chassidic tale about the Rebbe Reb Shmelke from Nikolsburg. The story goes as follow:
The Rebbe was going through a financially very difficult period in his life, but he was known to give tzedakah — his share of money given to the poor— even giving from his own household items when he didn’t have money. One time, when he had already run out of money for a while and there was almost nothing at home to give out, came to him a person asking for help and describing his severely dire situation. The Rebbe looked around and the only valuable item he could find was his wife’s shterntichel (head cover decorated with some precious stones, which his Rebbetzin wore only on Shabbos and Yamim Tovim). The Rebbetzin was not home at that moment and with feeling of great compassion for his fellow Jew the Rebbe took the shterntichel and gave it to the needy person. The Yid departed with amazement and joy, for he saw at least some of his problems being solved. In the courtyard the Rebbetzin passed him as she returned home. She noticed excitement on the stranger’s face and as she entered her home she had already had a feeling of what had just happened.
“You gave him my shterntichel, right?” asked the Rebbetzin.
“Yes,” answered Reb Shmelke.
“Well,” said the Rebbetzin, “he will probably sell it for 10 talars and it was worth at least three hundred talars …”
“What!?” gasped the Rebbe with astonishment. “I didn’t know it was so valuable.”
Then he ran out, looking for the stranger and caught up to him few streets away.
“Reb Yid! Reb Yid!” he screamed. “What I just gave you is worth at least three hundred talars. Please don’t sell it for less!”
The story itself is beautiful as it teaches us about the moral heights of our teachers and ancestors, but no less beautiful was Rav Halberstam’s explanation.
We are passing a special time of opportunity to come back and connect to Hashem that which we don’t have at other periods of the year. We must not sell it short. We must take most of what is given to us.
This is what I wish for myself, my family, my friends and readers, and the gantze Klal Yisrael, the whole community of the Children of Israel.

Matys Weiser

Gog and Magog
by Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch from “Collected Writings” V3 p121

Our dwelling in the "hut" should deliver us from the "deification" of all those forces that tend to ensnare our hearts and to alienate us from our trust in God and in His guidance. We are referring to the forces of nature and of human ingenuity, both of which have been elevated to god-like stature by the Jewish world. Both these elements are symbolically negated by the roof of our succah, which must be neither mechuber nor kli, neither still a part of nature imprinted with the stamp of human intelligence. The mechitzos — walls — those units that separate his personal domain of independent existence and creativity, may be fashioned by us as we please from the products of nature and human industry, The degree of sophistication evident in the construction of our dwelling places on earth may reflect our social position in its many nuances — from marble palaces to tiny huts that have only two complete walls and the beginning of third.
However these differences can have effect and meaning only in relationships between men, in the various circumstances of social living, in the mechitza that “defines the succah (domain) of each individual. But with regard to that element which shelters us all, which can bestow protection, happiness, permanence, and prosperity upon both palace and hovel, all of us, prince or pauper, arc equal.
This is what separates Judaism from the non-Jewish world. The non-Jewish world labors under the illusion that, in order to ensure his survival and prosperity on earth, man must obtain the help of nature and use his own intelligence to obtain dominion over nature through his skill and science. In the non-Jewish view, the supreme goal of both individual and society is to secure a prosperous existence on earth, to which all else, from the most material to the most spiritual, must be subordinated.
The non-Jewish individual and non-Jewish society do not consider their task to be accomplished until, through the use of nature and human ingenuity, they have built the elaborate structure of their existence and prosperity on earth and fortified it against all possible dangers. Those who labor under this delusion expect to derive not only their mechitzos, but also the succah itself, the element that covers and protects them, entirely from the powers of man and nature. They regard a sturdy rooftop for their life's structure as the ultimate all-important objective. They surround power with the halo of divine majesty and teach the weak to cower before the strong, the individual to bend the knee before the state, all this for the sake of expediency and survival and for the gratification of their selfish desires. This mentality seeks to build the protective covering for the lives of men and nations under the aegis and with the help of nature and human ingenuity. This notion has become the motivating ideal of men and nations and has demoralized them both.
Israel however, entrusts its survival and defense entirely to the hands of G-d. Israel employs the gift of nature and products of human ingenuity not for purpose of its protection but as a means to fulfill the Divinely ordained task of man on earth, Israel regards devotion to duty, obedience to God and the fulfillment of His will as the focal point of the lives of men and nations. The ideal of Judaism is to use the powers of nature and man only for building the mechitzos of the house of mankind dedicated to the loyal service of God. Israel secure under God's shelter, the roof of the succah, is ready to follow the Ark or the Covenant; His will and His Law; without apprehension or fear.
The theme of the great drama that we call world history is in reality the struggle between the "roof” and the "hut." The ideal represented by the hut is incompatible with the ideal symbolized by the roof. But the hut will prevail, and in the final act of world history we shall witness succah shel Leviyason, all mankind united beneath the shelter of God's grace. The history of nations begins with a tower that strives to reach up to heaven and ends beneath the roof of a hut. It is not mere coincidence that the political force which does battle against the hut, this goal of human salvation, is called "Gog and Magog." (gag – roof) is the antithesis of succah, and magog, according to its grammatical form, symbolizes the realization of the principle of gog and would then denote the political force that upholds the principle of gog. Magog in the form of a political entity, a "state," contradicts the ideological concept of succah (Just as ozayin, vov, zayin — power) relates to meoz (fortress) and/or meoralef, vov, reish — (light bearer).

Sunday, October 2, 2011


This essay has been bubbling, like a stew, in the heat of my brain for few weeks already but I couldn’t sit and write it out. It is simply too big to put it into a short essay. As my self-imposed deadline for writing something about teshuvah was fast approaching, I felt some resistance from within me, so I couldn’t do it. Today I understand that it was nothing more than my usual yetzer hara — evil inclination.
This morning, at my daily shiur (lecture with my chavrusa/learning partner) we came to the place where the Gemara is teaching its famous teaching — No tzaddik gamor can exist in the place of the baal teshuvah. Not even the perfectly righteous can be valued as highly as the one who is coming back to G-d.
If I wouldn’t believe in siyata d’Shamaya (guidance of Heaven), I would wonder why we came across this baraisa on the day before Erev Rosh HaShanah. But I do believe.
B’ezras Hashem I will come back to this topic again, but now let me share with you these few words that you can still use before Yom HaKadosh — the Day of Atonement, the week after Shabbos Shuvah.
The world was created for teshuvah, according to Chazal. aven’tHavHaveavesay III’ve said in many of my essays that the reason for Creation is our bechirah — free choice. It certainly is the ikur — the main point — to create mankind. What then do we do with Chazal’s statement that teshuvah is the reason for Creation? For many of you it is clear and understandable, but let me attempt to make it even simpler to help you grasp the idea.
There are two kinds of choices. One kind I would call choice of maintenance, or passive choice. This is the choice of a person who was born with a certain level of kedushah (holiness) as a result of his environment and inborn character, among other factors. In the span of his life he maintains this level, sometimes even with great effort as his yetzer pulls him to failure. Nevertheless, he wins his battle and leaves this world with the great accomplishment of maintaining what he got. This is the tzaddik gamor — a man of perfection.
On the other hand, there is the Jew born into a family that is remote from keeping the standards of the Torah, but who realizes the Torah’s value. With great effort, he climbs up, passing multiple shaarey teshuvah (gates of repentance, or steps of return) and he ends his life with great spiritual accomplishments. We call such person a “baal teshuvah” and his choices are active choices, as he must conquer areas of evil that are part of his upbringing and nature. There is no question that his effort has more value than the maintenance of holiness of the tzaddik gamor, at certain moments in his life he adds this quality of maintenance to the quality of return.
In the classic writings of Chazal there is, however, another category of people also called “baal teshuvah”: A person who failed in his Yiddishkeit (the way of Jewish life) but realized his mistakes and with great pain comes back to what he left before. Because he realizes his lowly position and yet has a great love of G-d, this man’s attachment to Him is even greater than it ever was before. Certainly his dveikus (connection to Hashem) is greater than that of the tzaddik gamor and perhaps even greater than the baal teshuvah. One of the maamar Chazal that even children who grew up in a Torah environment know, is the mushal of rope.
The rope of the mitzvah is hanging all the way from Heaven down to our earthly reality; this rope is connecting us with a higher reality, at the same time marking the distance from there. Sometimes however this mitzvah rope is broken, lo aleinu, and we lose this connection. It can be fixed, with the power of teshuvah (return) we can tie the rope again and reestablish our connection with Hashem. But we know what happened with the rope that had to be fixed by tying it together — it became shorter. And that’s precisely is what is happening with our spiritual distance from G-d. Not only the place where the rope is tied becomes the strongest part of the rope, but we are closer to G-d as result of the teshuvah.
Someone can make a simple calculation to break the rope and fix it as many time as possible. Smart, no? Not at all. There is no way to know if we will be able to jump so high to be able to reach the other end of the rope. There is no guarantee that teshuvah will happen and this is the secret of teshuvah — it bring us closer but we cannot, we must not, put ourselves in a position to lose the connection in order to make it better. The first man tried this and the result was tragic for all of us, but this is already a different story.
But there is fourth category as well. Someone who for various reasons or teritzim — excuses — chooses not to do ratzon Hashem — the will of Almighty — and has begun to walk the path of evil. Where can this path lead him ultimately? We saw this at the beginning of this past summer.
A person was born and raised as frum, a devoted Jew, and at some point in his life — probably in a slow process — began to shake off the yoke of Torah. Ultimately he became a chaye ruach, a wild beast who in the end killed a child. A boy whom we treasured so much in our Jewish society, a boy who as the Gemara describes supports the existence of the world with his learning — Torah learning is the very foundation of world. The formerly frum man killed, dismembered, and stuffed parts of the body in his refrigerator, perhaps in preparation for even more hideous act. I can’t even think further.
I will not go so far as to accuse of all demented individuals who might have such inclinations as this chaye ruach did, but this single example shows how far the path of destruction can go.
In the second part of the same summer, we heard about something that is almost the opposite of the first event.
Two streets from where I live, a man, a baal teshuvah, attempted to save the life of a young boy and in the process of jumping in to do that, he sacrificed his own life. For many years Reb Reichenberg z”l was walking the path of return to his heritage, the path of his forefathers, the path of the ultimate good of Torah.
His reward for this effort is incredible! I know many of you will think that I have gone mad at this moment. He lost his life. How can I call this a reward?
No, he gained life, and he won it in the best possible way!
There is a halachic principle expressed in the Talmud that if there are two people walking in the desert and one of them has an amount of water enough for only one of them to survive, he should drink it himself rather than share it with his companion. If he were to share the water, it could possibly bring death to both of them, since neither would have enough water to survive. This teaches us that value of our life is the highest principle, as only in this life can we exercise our bechiros — free choices. That’s the value of life as it is expressed by Chazal (Michtav MeEliyahu).
Halachically, it is our life that should be most important to us; that’s the law. But there is the letter of the law and the spirit of the law. Law represents din (judgment) but since the world cannot be sustained only by the letter of the law, so we cannot limit ourselves only to this aspect. It would be enough for us if we would be able to be perfectly righteous but we are not. We cannot perform all the commandants of our Creator, and according to din we should therefore be annihilated.
Another Divine middah,  attribute, was necessary to add to the spiritual fabric of the creation, namely chessed or Heavenly love. According to the principle of justice, due to our constant failures, we deserve the punishment of being eradicated. However, with the attribute of chessed consequently allowing our mistakes and rebellion to be forgiven, our continued existence becomes possible.
It is necessary to say that even the quality of din, which this world was created with, originates in the quality of  chessed, but since we are touching deeper level of teachings of Torah that are not so familiar to me in a broader sense, I cannot explain more than this.
The word “chassid” , for the person who claims to be such, comes from the word “chessed.” As with everything else, we should emulate G-d.
A chassid is a person who at least from time to time acts above the letter of the law. Let’s say there is sign on the road indicating the presence of children playing. One driver on this road would slow down his car to exactly the speed as the sign says, exactly where it is posted. The chassid would slow down much before the sign, just by seeing the children or knowing that there is a playground. He would slow to a speed even lower than that which the sign instructs, just being aware that the nature of children is to run unexpectedly into the street, without watching. The law would serve him only to indicate a playground where children cannot be seen.
This is how chessed works in the area of service to G-d called bein Adam l’chaveiro — between man and his fellow man. In the area of service to G-d called bein Adam l’Makom — the submission of a person to the will of G-d, totally unrelated to his fellow man — this above example cannot be used.
The Orach Chaim in his sefer, Rishon L’Tzion, on page 103, teaches us a similar lesson. He says that yes there is such a principle to favor our life before the other people’s lives, but it is permissible to save the other’s life in an act of  chessed, even if it can cost us our own life.
The life of our brother, Reb Reichenberg, was taken precisely in a moment of such chessed!
There is another principle that comes from Chazal.
When Ishmael was almost dying in the desert, the malachim (angels) were asking Hashem to let him die, as in the future his descendents would bring harm to the children of Yitzchok on their way to galus (exile). The Midrash describes how Hashem asked the angels, “Who is he now, a tzaddik or rasha – righteous or evil?”
“He is a tzaddik,” answered the malachim.
“Then I must help him to survive,”’ said the Creator of life.
This teaches us that person is judged at the current stage of his life.
Reb Reichenberg ended his trial of life at a moment of highest devotion to the values of the Torah — attempting to save the life of his fellow Jew. It happens to be that as in the story from just few weeks before, this was also the life of child — a boy whose breath could have supported the existence of the world for little longer.
The way and the moment of petirah of our brother, Reb Reichenberg, was the most that we could wish for ourselves. The opportunity given to him to leave this world performing an ultimate act of chessed is his reward for years of spiritual effort and climbing to the heights of what a human, what a Yid, can do for his fellow man, and for the sanctification of the Name — a Kiddush Hashem.
Most of us will not be privileged with such an opportunity, and as we go through our lives we must look for other opportunities to sanctify His Name, to do the will of our Creator as expressed in the revelation of the Torah, and to perform acts of chessed.

At this time of the year, all of us Yidden have an opportunity to taste the flavor of what it is to be like the one of the baalei teshuvah. With the help of our machzor and the special atmosphere of these days of teshuvah, we can return from our evil ways, we can feel the chessed and rachamim, love and compassion, of our Father and King.

I wanted to thank for ideas contained in this essay to Rabbi Shechter and my Chavruso Reb Menachem and my Rav ( Hashem should bless them)  for clarifying certain issues necessary to write this essay.

Matys Weiser