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Nahar U'Pashtei: Blog2

The Torah’s Power

Moshe begins the shirah of Ha’azinu with a prayer about the Torah and its guidance. May my teachings drop like rain, may my utterance flow like the dew; like storm winds upon vegetation and like raindrops upon blades of grass. Rashi explains the difference between the comparisons of Torah to rain and dew in that travelers are upset by the rain, whereas everyone is happy with the dew. The message therein is that a Torah life can be like rain, but it is better if it is like dew. What is interesting though is that dew can also present its own problems. Upstate, where we interact with dew more frequently, we know that it can easily ruin one’s freshly pressed suit, or present other similar challenges. I would like to posit, then, that with rain, the Torah alludes to larger problems, and with dew it alludes to minor inconveniences. The lesson expressed here by Moshe Rabbeinu is profound indeed. Part of the life that the Torah has designed for us is the spiritual growth that happens through being tested. When one is presented with a particular challenge, and works through it, he emerges a new person - fortified by the middos that it took to do so. We need the lessons of life to be taught to us; Emunah and Bitachon at the top of the list, but in truth, every exemplary attribute that is contained in the mitzvos of the Torah is there for us to experience and to thereby come closer to perfection. The Torah may fall like rain, bringing challenges that penetrate to our core. These are the nisyonos we wish to never require. Or, it can come as dew; where the challenge is present, but is more easily overcome. It strengthens us in the same way that a rainstorm helps vegetation. And the beauty of the Torah and its guidance is that it contains raindrops for each and every one of us; we can be compared to blades of grass on the receiving end of these droplets. When one turns to the Torah for answers, he will discover that it speaks directly to him and his situation and guides him through whatever he may be experiencing. But Moshe Rabbeinu did not want any of this suffering, or these challenges, to come upon us. He says here in these verses that the Torah itself can serve as our nisyonos, and serve to propel us upward. A person does not need to be sent a challenge if he will learn the Torah with the goal of understanding what the Torah would demand in a given situation. If a person is willing to open his eyes, and cultivate the potency of middos that the Torah demands of him, he will not need to be actually tested to solidify these strengths, for he has already done so via his learning! We see, then, that the recipe for a life full of menuchah and berachah is to preempt any nisyonos that might be sent our way to help us grow by delving deep into the pathways that the Torah sets down for us. Every mitzvah in the Torah is a beacon of guidance into exactly what type of people we should be and strive to become! Our suffering and nisyonos come when we are not paying attention to what the Torah demands of us. They serve to force us to iron out our strengths by creating the need to rely on those strengths to pass a test. But if we are ready to do so, we can acquire these life lessons through devoting ourselves to the Torah and its ways! A gut Shabbos! A Project of the YSI Alumni Association Written by R’ Moshe Weiss

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The Depth of Teshuvah

The period of the Ten Days of Repentance, beginning with the Day of Judgement and culminating with the fast of Yom Kippur, is a time where one must cultivate his relationship with Hashem. With teshuvah, we aim to leave our sins behind and create resolutions for the future; this is what this special time is for. One should emerge from this elevated closeness to Hashem a new person, reborn of the opportunities presented. This is not merely a time to be aware of Divine judgement; but a time to grow from it as well. Many people, as they glide through these days of awe, are somewhat content in their approach to Hashem’s service, and feel their only need here is to daven for continued brachah, and that Klal Yisrael be saved from the terrible suffering we have witnessed in recent times. I would like to present the following thought. The Gemara in Berachos tells us of what seems to be a most peculiar conversation. When R’ Yochanan Ben Zakai was on his deathbed, his students came to visit him. After some words of guidance, they asked him for a blessing. Whereupon, R’ Yochanan blessed them, saying, “May it be the will of Hashem that the fear of Heaven be upon you like the fear of flesh and blood.” His confused students asked him, “This far and no more?” That is, should our fear of God not exceed that of our fellow mortals? And R’ Yochanan answered, “would it only be so! Know, when a person commits a sin in private, he says, ‘O that a person not see me!’” Now, on the surface, it would seem that R’ Yochanan’s students were average scholars, and he was advising them that by fearing Heaven as they do the disgrace and shame in the eyes a fellow person, they will indeed save themselves from many sins. And the same is true for anyone who could harness this useful tool in his or her life. The problem with this interpretation, however, is that the Talmidim of R’ Yochanan Ben Zakai were established righteous Torah giants. Chazal elsewhere describe the greatness of these students and the extent of the Torah knowledge of even the smallest among them! This being the case, there must be some deeper meaning here, hidden beneath the surface of this great tzaddik’s advice! R’ Yochanan meant to convey, that sometimes a person will fall to sin because of a certain line of reasoning. He will think to himself, “Hashem knows what I’m going through”, or “He knows that I just cannot hold out any longer.” Sometimes it will be in the form of taking an extra nap instead of learning, and sometimes in the form of stealing, or perhaps a more severe sin. He may turn to Hashem and comfort himself in the knowledge that Hashem knows his battles and how hard he works, and that he has reached his limit. But what would be if at that moment, his friend or colleague would walk into the room? Suddenly, he would stop in his tracks! Because he knows that his fellow mortal cannot possibly understand his presumably righteous calculations to sin, he will overcome his yetzer hara once more! This is what R’ Yochanan meant to teach his students. If one can still hold strong in the presence of a friend who does not understand, he must realize that by definition he is not powerless! He must reach deep inside himself and find this hidden resolve, and thereby solidify his commitment to Hashem to a new level. This is something we can all work to perfect during these days of Repentance. Is our commitment and our resolve truly where it should be? Or do the excuses we find ourselves often relying on masking a deeper issue? Can we honestly say that we dedicate our days to the service of Hashem, or do we look over our shoulders, hoping no one sees us falter? Let us use these awesome moments to cultivate a real and deep motivation to shteig that will allow us to grow to higher levels. A Gut Shabbos! A Project of the YSI Alumni Association Written by R’ Moshe Weiss

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Return Again

In Parshas Netzavim the Torah speaks about teshuvah. When we will seek out Hashem, either because of the suffering we have endured, or because of a yearning to reach a higher place. He is waiting for us, and he will shower mercy upon us. And as the great day of judgment draws closer, we are all thinking thoughts of repentance and improvement. Some because of the realization that on this day it will be decided exactly how much money we will have, and yet others because they seek spiritual growth and deveikus. But there is a nagging feeling in the back of our minds. Didn’t we do this last year? Granted, we did change over the course of the year, and there are some notable improvements we can present. But did we really become the people we repented and then pledged to become? Certainly not! We took a small step forward, and maybe even some steps backward! And this being the case, why would Hashem so readily accept our teshuvah yet again? He knows the future and knows right now, as we speak these words and strike our chests, that we will not keep our promised resolutions! How can we be confident in the power of teshuvah if we cannot offer this guarantee? And the answer, we must understand, lies in the passage we read on Rosh HaShannah. We learn about the soon to be evil Yishmael, who cried to Hashem and was saved. Hashem heard his voice ba’asher hu sham, at the madreigah he was on at that moment. Hashem, in His infinite mercy, will only judge a person on his current level, regardless of what the future may bring. The fact that hashem knows the future does not factor in. Just as Yishmael was not put to death for his future of bad choices, so it is with every person. When a person repents and truly resolves to try and put his misdeeds behind him, Hashem will not look anywhere but at his current state. This allows a person to forever return and start anew no matter how many times he has fallen. So, on the one hand, the lesson here is that teshuvah is always possible. Hashem is ready to give a person as many chances as he needs to succeed, and one should never stop trying or give in to the notion that Hashem is tired of his failures. He always judges a person on his current madreigah, and this is enough to earn him a favorable din. But perhaps a deeper message is why Hashem does so. Why does Hashem only look at a person’s current status, and not at his future mistakes? It is because Hashem knows the nature of man, and He understands our struggles. Hashem knows that greatness is not built in a day, and constant improvement is the key! So, he ordained a system where one is not punished for future mistakes. We are only judged by what is, not what will be. This creates the environment needed to grow spiritually; one where there is demand for constant growth but acceptance and improvement as well. A Gut Shabbos! A Project of the YSI Alumni Association Written by R’ Moshe Weiss

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