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Hakhel Email Community Awareness Bulletin


Sent January 31:


Special Note One: On our note yesterday “Crying Out”, one reader attentively pointed out that the last brocha of request in Shemone Esrei begins with the direct plea of “Shema Koleinu--Hear our voices!”  Of course, your Tefillah should not disturb the Tefillah of your neighbors in Shul. Otherwise…let your voice be heard!


Special Note Two: Chazal teach (Chagigah 16A) that humans are likened to angels in three ways:


We have Da’as--intelligence;

We walk upright, and are not four-legged with our face to the ground; and

We can speak in Loshon HaKodesh--in the Holy Tongue.


Let us take the first heavenly aspect--intelligence, for a moment.  Our intelligence, our ability to think and reason, is our clearest and boldest indication that we are not simply animals in human form.  With this wonderful characteristic, however, comes a concomitant and great responsibility.  Our thoughts--all of our thoughts and each and every one of our thoughts--are, simply put, of heavenly origin.  Indeed, because of this, the Tzeidah LaDerech writes, “a pure thought is the most elevated form of action”.  Similarly, the Tomer Devorah adjures “Do not let a stranger enter [your mind] and spoil your thoughts.”  Proper focus, proper concentration can allow a person to grow greatly as a person, for it allows him to rise above the animal and touch the level of an angel.  This is why the Ba’alei Mussar contrast ta’avah, or improper desire, with chachma, or wisdom; for they indeed exist at the opposite ends of the human spectrum.  Because our minds do have a tendency to wander off course, it is important that we train ourselves to focus, at least during the important parts of the day.  One of these times is Tefillah, when we are actually in the Heavenly sphere and in direct communication with Hashem.  Each one of us, on his own level, can incentivize ourselves in some way to stay on course.  This is not to suggest that we cannot focus at other parts of the day.  It is only to recommend that we do our utmost to ensure that we use our greatest talent at the “high” points of our day.


Special Note Three:  Rabbi Daniel Mechanic, Shlita, of Project Chazon, has delivered hashkafa shiurim to thousands upon thousands of high school students across America.  When he asks the students why they are frum, more than 90% respond, “Because my parents are frum”.  This is a shocking statistic--as Yeshayahu HaNavi (Yeshaya 29:13) warns us all that the performance of “Mitzvos Anashim Melumada--Mitzvos by rote, as a matter of course”--is a grave sin.  However, if a person has the great fortune to have been born into a religious environment, how can he avoid but performing the Mitzvos as a matter of course--as a part of the society, environment and the world in which he lives?  HaRav Dessler, Z’TL (Michtav M’Eliyahu, volume 4, p. 339), writes that we can and must defeat the “hergel”, the habit, by “Iyun V’Hisboninus”--by going beyond a shallow, superficial, and cursory approach to mitzvah performance and by actually thinking about, and looking more deeply into, the Mitzvos we perform.  If, as a result of our thoughts, we have to look up and find something new, or we otherwise on our own come to a new realization, regarding a Mitzvah, we have accomplished our goal, for we have brought a freshness, a concern, a love for the Mitzvah, which is what is expected of us--and is what we should expect of ourselves.


May we suggest choosing a Mitzvah that we could use some improvement in--think a little bit more about it, study its Halachos and Haskafos and put more effort or kavana into it--thereby elevating yourself from the drone of habit, from the foible of the high school student, to the level of potential that you have truly been blessed with.  A great source to begin is the Sefer HaChinuch (available in English through Feldheim Publishers)...and a great way to continue are the contemporary works we have been blessed with on Mitzvos ranging from Birchas HaMazon and Berachos to Tefillin, and from the laws of making money to the laws of Tzedaka--and properly dispensing it.  If we give an extra few moments a week of our most precious commodity, our time, to bettering Mitzvah performance, we will be using our time in a manner that the very Maker and Grantor of time will be most satisfied with!


Sent January 30:


Special Note One:  Sometimes we can go into a store and actually **not wish** to purchase what is available for sale.  As we walk up and down the aisles of a well-stocked pharmacy, we note the hundreds and hundreds of medications and remedies available for illnesses and conditions of all degrees--ranging from mouth sores to severe indigestion to ingrown toenails.  HaRav Avigdor Miller, Z’TL, points out that when we pass through these well-stocked aisles, or even hear the piercing sound of sirens, we should take a moment and sensitize ourselves to pray for the people who need the medication and intervention--and sincerely thank Hashem that we don’t!




Special Note Two:  Both Rashi and the Ramban (to Shemos 12:40) note what is apparently an explicit contradiction in the Pesukim as to the actual length of Bnei Yisroel’s stay in Mitzraim.  Avraham Avinu was told in the great covenant of all time between Hashem and Bnei Yisroel--the Bris Bein HaBesorim (Bereishis 15:13)--that we would be in a foreign land for *400* years.  Yet, as we left Mitzraim in last week’s Parsha, the Torah states that we dwelled in Egypt for *430* years--an overt and unequivocal 30 year difference!  Because of this blatant difficulty, the Ramban concludes after much discussion that, in fact, Bnei Yisroel should have left after 400 years--as initially declared in the Bris Bein HaBesorim.  However, because of the severity of the sins that Bnei Yisroel were committing in Mitzraim while there--falling to the 49th level of impurity--Hashem actually punished them, by extending their period of servitude.  So why did the slavery then end 30 years later?  The Ramban answers that it was only because they cried out to Hashem, as the Pesukim clearly relate--“Their outcry because of the work, went up to Hashem” (Shemos 2:23); “The outcry of Bnei Yisroel has come to Me” (Shemos 3:8); and “Then we cried out to Hashem…and Hashem heard our voice…” (Devorim 26:7).


Thus, the Ramban learns that even though we were undeserving, and very severely mired in sin, we were redeemed because we **cried out** to Hashem.  The Chofetz Chaim (Chofetz Chaim Al HaTorah to Devorim 26:7) indeed reassures us that crying out is an unconcealed secret of success in prayer.  It is, therefore, no coincidence (as it never is) that Chazal (Ta’anis 15A) teach us that on special public fast days decreed because of a potentially calamitous or calamitous situation, six additional brachos are uniquely added to the Shemone Esrei in the Chazaras HaShatz--and in all of these unique brachos, there is one common strand--the Chazzan prays “He shall hear the **voice of your cries** today….”  The lesson is clear:  If we really, truly want salvation, we have to cry out for it--and we can get it even if we are otherwise undeserving.


In this week’s Parsha, Beshalach, we will once again see that very same lesson, as the Pasuk describes their reaction to their predicament: “…and [they] cried out to Hashem” (Shemos 14:10), and Hashem explicitly responds that there is no need to cry out any longer, and then performs one of the most celebrated miracles of all time--the splitting of the sea!


Together with this absolutely essential lesson, of actually crying out in order to bring our geula, we would like to add a few additional, great points.


Firstly, the Chofetz Chaim cited above recommends that one pray after having performed a mitzvah.  It is for this reason, he writes, that after we bentch, we list a long list of “HaRachaman” requests in which we beseech Hashem’s mercy.  If we draw ourselves close to Hashem through the performance of His precepts, our prayers will also be nearer.


Secondly, your Tefillah will be much more sincere and powerful if you actually envision Hashem as being directly in front of you.  This is, in fact, an absolute Halachic requirement (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim, 98:1).  One can greatly improve in this area by highlighting the word “Atta”--You (Yes--you are standing in front of Hashem--and have the right to call Him--You!) in your siddur wherever it appears in Shemone Esrei.  This will serve as a constant reminder that you are standing directly in the presence of Hashem--and rejuvenate your Tefillos.


Finally, one can also highlight all of the words relating to **Rachamim**--mercy in Shemone Esrei (such as Rachaman, Rachamecha, B’Rachamim…) and also highlight the times that we ask that our requests be granted **“Miheira**--quickly or speedily”--and also **“BiYomeinu**--in our days”, all of which indicate a real sense of true urgency.


Sincerely voiced, meaningful, Tefillah, is what brought us out of our last exile--in spite of, and directly thwarting and overcoming, the sins we were mired in and suffering from at that time.  That same kind of real, directed and dedicated crying out can bring us home again--and this time, it will be forever!!


Sent January 26:


Special Note One:  The Chofetz Chaim Heritage Foundation provides a free, short Shmiras HaLashon Yomi daily telephone shiur given by HaRav Ephraim Shapiro, Shlita., of Miami, Florida.  The phone number is 212-990-6023.


Special Note Two:  HaRav Yechezkel Levenstein, Z’TL, gives the following concise guideline for developing Yiras Shamayim.  He writes that one should distance himself from situations of “safek”, or doubt.  What this means is that, if you find yourself in a situation where you are not sure whether you should pick up the item because it is muktzah--or not; purchase the ready-made product with a Hashgacha that you don’t know about or recognize (especially those from overseas)--or not; make the witty comment which really has some merit and truth to it--or not; open a Sefer Tehillim--or make an “important” phone call instead; say something about a Shidduch which you are almost completely sure, but not really fully sure is true--or not; etc., then you will have grown in Yiras Shamayim if you withstand the nisayon--the test--and control yourself!




Special Note Three:  We have been asked to expand upon the “hisboninus”, or brief introspection, that one may undertake during the course of the day.  It appears that there are three basic categories, any of which one may quickly run through a person’s mind at any point, or points, during the day.


The first quick review one may undertake is the core “Bein Odom La’Chaveiro”:


  • Have I helped someone in a meaningful way, or thought about a new way that I could help?

  • Have I spoken Loshon Hora, have I pained someone with words (even worse if the person is especially sensitive), have I embarrassed, or made fun of someone even jokingly, or brought honor to myself at someone else’s expense?


The second category, which can be briefly assessed at another point or points during the day is “Bein Odom L’Makom”:


  • How was my Shemone Esrei at Shacharis/Mincha?

  • How have my Brachos been today--am I concentrating on the word “Baruch”?

  • Were there times that I sensed Hashem’s presence?

  • Did I make any personal requests of Hashem in the course of my activities or while taking a break?

  • Did I say “Thank you, Hashem” at different point(s) during the day in recognition of something that happened?


The third category may be termed “Bein Odom L’Atzmo”.  Have I:


  • Been honest?

  • Flattered or improperly exaggerated?

  • Reacted angrily?

  • Looked at things that I shouldn’t have looked at?

  • Been too occupied with material matters--having them preoccupy my thoughts?

  • In general, have I been complacent about failing to control my thoughts, words, and actions?


Everyone can pick a time(s) during the day to spend a few moments catching up with himself.  The day will then become an important, meaningful, and precious link in the chain of life.


Sent January 25:


Special Note One:  We received the following important comments from readers regarding “Atzlus!” (yesterday’s mailing):


(a)    “I once heard from HaRav Shmuel Berenbaum, Z'tl, that Atzlus is the source of all midos ra’os--all bad character traits.”


(b)   “I think that everyone could really work on easy things, which he is not doing because he is simply a bit lethargic--whether he acknowledges it or not.  Here is one example:  the Gedolim say that one should daven from a siddur, bentch from a siddur, etc.  I started putting a siddur on the table BEFORE I start eating to make sure that I say Al HaMichya or bentch from a siddur.  I also started to make the effort (B’li Neder) to answer Yehhai Shemai Raba from a siddur, and have found that my kavana is much improved--very, very rewarding.”


(c)    “Interestingly, we just had the Daf Yomi which proves your point.  The Gemara in Ta’anis 11B says that a certain Amora entered a town and was asked three questions, and that he did not know the answer.  What did he do?  He went straight to the study hall to get the answers without delay.  I believe the Gemara is teaching that if he would have waited….”


Special Note Two:  Regarding a recent bulletin Special Note, relating to appreciating Hashem’s gifts (last Friday’s mailing), we received the following thoughts for sharing:


(a)    “I would like to note that if you think about it, there are really (at least) three different great aspects of Hashem that we must appreciate:  His great Wisdom (extending from the creation and existence of so many galaxies--to the details of the life of an ant here on earth); His Strength (from earthquakes, tsunamis, tornadoes, and even local thunderstorms--to His ability to withstand the ruination of His world caused by sin and sinners), and His Chesed--Kindness (from the Sun, in its perfect spot, coming out and setting at the prescribed time, so that we can properly plan and use our day--to the gift of Torah and mitzvos which bestows upon us eternal life so great that it is currently unfathomable).”


(b)   “…You left out thanking Hashem for your mind, for being within the realm of normalcy, and for being able to live with and relate to people on a daily basis.  Before I start the Brocha of “Ata Chonen L’Adam Daas” in Shemone Esrei, I try to think about the fact that I can think, that I can understand, that I can reason, that I have been blessed with the ability to put things together and have them make sense.  I also sometimes think about how fortunate I am to be able to study Torah and apply its laws, and that I am able to actually communicate with Hashem as to where I am, what I think I need, and where I am going…”


Hakhel note to these responses: Thank you for these beautiful notes on Thanking Hashem, we wish to add a point to this as well.  If a person needed some knee surgery for torn ligaments on one leg, and the short surgery proved successful, how he would thank the doctor whenever he saw him for taking him out of his misery and helping him function almost as good as new.  Now, let us consider that Hashem is the Creator, and Doctor of all doctors.  Not only can He heal us from our various ailments and illnesses, but He actually gave us, and continues to give us **daily (for we should take nothing for granted)**, our vision, our hearing, our smell, our touch, our …everything, literally, our ….everything.  Picture a baby left at someone’s doorstep.  The person brings him in and takes care of him for two weeks, a month, a year, until he can find his natural parent or a home.  Even if he raises the child, eventually the child will go off and be on his own.  Not so with Hashem, who is with us and cares for us from the time our souls leave our place in the Heavens to come to this world, and until we return it to Him.  When we say Modim, daily in Shemone Esrei, we really owe it to ourselves to let the message penetrate through us, so that the words of Modim are truly expressed with kavana--a true understanding and a deep appreciation.

Sent January 24:



The Sifsei Chaim writes that when the Alter of Kelm was near the end of his life and in a debilitated state, he awoke from a slumber, and, realizing he was in bed, yelled “Atzlus--this is laziness!”  In his very weakened state, he attempted, unsuccessfully, to get out of bed.  While the story certainly fits the personality of one as great as the Alter of Kelm, there is, of course, a splendid lesson we can derive from this as well.  We must be on the alert, we must take the initiative to bring about, create, and further create, further zechuyos--further merit for ourselves and our loved ones.  We must be careful and diligent to distinguish between those situations in which we fall just a step short or even reach a destination, and those situations in which we can go the extra mile and reach a better or more important goal.  In this week’s Parsha, for example, the Bnei Yisroel were scheduled to leave Mitzraim for various reasons--the merit of their forefathers, the time had come based upon their suffering, their intense prayers and cries, the unbelievable righteous women, not changing their language, etc.  Nevertheless, the Torah teaches that despite all of these laurels, they could not rest on any or even all of them.  Rather, the Bnei Yisroel were required to take the final step of actually shechting (slaughtering) the Egyptian god and sprinkling it on their doorposts.  It was this extra step of dedication, this additional effort and undertaking, that was the actual and final catalyst for Bnei Yisroel to leave Mitzraim, for a Nation to be born, for the Torah to be given at Sinai…and the rest is history--past, current, and even future--extending on for Eternity.  So, when we take a look at our actions, and we count two or three reasons why we don’t need to do this and instead need to do that, perhaps we should add on the perspective of the Alter of Kelm in order to determine whether the action or inaction we are about to take is…“Atzlus!”


In addition to the term “Atzlus” ringing in your inner ear, may we suggest another helpful tool?  Consider yourself to be one of the most important ministers, if not one of the king’s sons, actually residing in the King’s palace.  Now further consider that this wise and powerful king wants the best for his country, and accordingly, needs to make sure that everyone in the palace is conducting himself properly and doing the best for his country.  Being omniscient and omnipotent, he installs video cameras in every room in the palace.  From the throne room, he can tell when and how often the Minister of Defense is playing cards or even chess; whether his son is studying, doing something purposeful, or wasting his or other people’s time; and even whether the cleaning crews are too lax to properly clean the palace for the upcoming dignitary’s visit.  We can, at least, consider ourselves as being viewed by such a camera when we are about to act, or not act.  After all, are we all not in the King’s--actually King of Kings--palace?!   Rolling over one more time in bed, not picking up your pace as you get close to your Shul or Beis Medrash, not picking up the papers on the floor at home or at work, yelling or uttering sharp words because it is the easy way out, not bothering to help someone even if they can take care of it by themselves, not studying some Torah for five minutes before going to sleep….  We are all faced with situations throughout the day where what we are doing is good, but what we could do is better--especially if we knew that video camera was watching us, **and it really is**.  Just as one builds muscles by working over and over again on strengthening the muscle, so too, can one work on “Atzlus!” by acting throughout the day to overcome his natural tendency, and utilizing his inner strength to build his inner character.  We can go far if we take those individual “Atzlus!” moments, conquer them one at a time, and, each time smile sincerely--and proudly--at that “camera”, and at ourselves!

Sent January 23:



This past Shabbos, Rosh Chodesh Shevat, Shmiras HaLashon Yomi commenced a new cycle of five-minutes-a-day study of the Halachos of Shmiras Halashon.  In just four months, one can review the Halachos of Shmiras Halashon by just studying approximately two Halachos (or paragraphs) a day, in either the Sefer Chofetz Chaim (Hebrew), OR Guard Your Tongue (English), OR The Chofetz Chaim a Lesson a Day (English) OR The Daily Companion (English).


We have available a Shmiras HaLashon Yomi calendar, which also contains phone numbers for Shmiras Halashon questions.  For those already not in the Shmiras Halashon Yomi program, we strongly urge and recommend this study.  To understand its great importance in our daily lives, we provide the following excerpts from Guard Your Tongue (Part 4):


How Would You Like It?

Before speaking against someone else, think how you would like it if someone said that about you.


Slandering the Doctor

Ponder this:  A man lost his faculty of speech and after a painstaking search, obtained a physician who was able to cure him.  Would he have the insolence to use his newly-found speech to slander that doctor?  Definitely not!  Our situation is similar.  Hashem has endowed us with the ability to speak, let us not use it against His wishes.


Refraining from Loshon Hora

When you refrain from speaking because you fear that you might utter something forbidden, you are credited with a mitzvah.  This mitzvah is equal in status to a mitzvah which requires a positive action.


Set an Example

If a person guards his speech, others will emulate him and he will be rewarded for that merit, also.


Likewise Treatment Above

One who refrains from speaking about the faults of others and seeks to find their merits will be treated likewise on his day of reckoning.


At the Same Moment

When one speaks Loshon Hora about another person, at that very same moment, his sins are mentioned in Heaven. (HaRav Chaim Vital--Shaar HaKedusha)


Daily Account

A person should make a reckoning every day to examine his speech of that day.  If the entire day passed by without incident, he should joyfully mark this down in a notebook.  He should also praise Hashem for His past help and request His help in the future.


Common Excuses For Speaking Loshon Hora


The following excuses for speaking Loshon Hora are not valid justifications.  It is important to familiarize yourself with this list.


  1. “But it true.”

  2. “I didn’t actually say anything bad about the fellow” (when you have hinted about a fault).

  3. “I did the same thing myself.”

  4. “Everybody knows it.”

  5. “I’d say it even if he were here.”

  6. “I was only joking.”

  7. “He’ll never know about it.”

  8. “I wouldn’t mind if someone said that about me.”

  9. “We’re close friends, so he won’t mind.”



For all those joining in, may the Segulah of studying the laws of Shmiras HaLashon and the ultimate positive effect it will have on your daily life, serve as a great merit for you and your family.


One final note:  The Chofetz Chaim Heritage Foundationhttp: www.chofetzchaimusa.org (the leading international organization in Shmiras HaLashon and Ahavas Yisroel) sponsors a Shmiras HaLashon Shaila Hotline, 718-951-3696.  The Hotline is available Monday through Thursday and Motze’ei Shabbos 9:00-10:30PM, Eastern Standard Time.

Sent January 19:

Special Note One:  It is reported about a great Rav and his Rebbetzin that they made a pact with each other upon their marriage--when either of them would begin to get upset at the other, they would say to themselves “Zeit Mevater--I am going to give in.”  More than 50 years later, they recalled how successful their “pact” had been.  Interestingly, when someone recently went to the home of HaRav Binyomin HaTzadik Zilber, Shlita, in Bnei Brak, and asked for a Bracha for his home, HaRav Zilber responded, “Be Mevater”—you be the one to give in!  Indeed, the Gemara (Rosh Hashana 17A) relates that Rav Huna, the son of Rav Yehoshua, was about to pass on to the next world, and another Amora asked that shrouds be brought in to take care of the  soon to be deceased as soon as possible.  Incredibly, the dying Amora recovered.  When he was asked how this could have happened, he responded that he had undergone Heavenly Judgment, and that Hashem had told the Heavenly Court that because he was “maavir al midosuv--he looked the other way” and didn’t take the  potential hurt to heart, the Heavenly Court also looked the other way and allowed him to live.  Applying this concept of “Zeit Mevater” only two or three times a day, whether it is in the home or elsewhere, can have a tremendous impact on one’s personality--and ultimately can actually save one’s life!!


Special Note Two:  The Michtav M’Eliyahu (Volume 4, p.77) brings in the name of HaRav Yisroel Salanter, Z’TL, that even if the gates of prayer are closed, the gates of prayer for Hashem’s assistance in ruchniyus, in spiritual matters, always remain open.  This is a tremendous gift!  When each of us davens, in Shema Koleinu or in Elokai Netzor, we should add a sincere request that we reach and even go beyond (for anything is possible) our potential in ruchniyus, that our actions bring about Kavod Shomayim--Hashem’s Honor, and that Hashem be able to say about us “...Avdi Ata Asher Bichu Espaer” —you are my servant, and I am glorified by you” (Yeshiya 49:3).  It is said about the Brisker Rav, that he would at various points throughout the day recite the words “Lishuoscha Kivisi Hashem--For Your salvation do I long for, Hashem.”  Reciting these concise and potent words throughout the day with the thought that you wish to improve as a person, in this area or that area, or in this respect or that respect, can go a long way, traveling through those wide open gates.




Special Note Three:  Shlomo HaMelech, the wisest of all men, teaches us “Biyom Tova Heyei B’Tov” (Koheles 7:14)--when things are going well, or at least better than you had otherwise expected, Shlomo HaMelech reminds us to express in no uncertain terms our recognition and our appreciation for the good.  Here is a brief sampling of various things which may be “going good” for us today, on a particular day, or every day.  Everyone can make his own list, and modify it (Be’Ezras Hashem always adding to it) from time to time.  The good that I thank Hashem for includes


  • Clothing—warm, comfortable, more than one of each kind, makes me look better, helps identify me, and gives me respect

  • Food—nutritional, tasty, attractive, good aroma, so many different kinds of so many different foods, different foods for different age groups

  • Body—eyes that see, ears that hear, hands that touch, legs that walk, teeth in order to eat, air to breath, water to drink, mouth to help people with, a working heart, a working liver,  working kidneys

  • Environment—the sun, the rain, the streets, the sidewalks, the grass and trees, the home


Of course, all of these are only general categories.  One can literally take a notebook(s) and continue to add and add on to what he has and what he has to be thankful for.  Now, add on to all of this, our Eternity(!)--accomplished or through the infinite gifts of Torah and mitzvos, performed with care and love--and our thanks becomes everlasting!!

Sent January 18: 

Special Note One: There are only 4,192 Mishnayos in all of Shas.  This means that if you learn just 3 Mishnayos a day, you will complete all of Shas in less than 4 years (!).  As Rosh Chodesh Shevat is upon us, you can commence the trek to Spring in a wonderful, blooming and memorable way by making this the day that you begin your simple and straightforward, dedicated, and meaningful journey through Shas!


Special Note Two: An important reminder--The phone number for Kol HaLashon--which provides hundreds upon hundreds of free shiurim over the telephone is 718-906-6400.  Moreover, Shiurim are available at this number in English, Hebrew, Yiddish, Spanish, French and Russian.




Special Note Three:  Today is Yom Kippur Katan for the month of Shevat.  With Rosh Chodesh Shevat, we will have completed four months, or one-third, of the year 5767.  With a solid majority of the year still ahead of us, we can go far to reaching our potential, and accomplishing the hopes and aspirations that we had for this year.  Now may be a time to review, and to discuss the year to date with friends and family.  It is interesting to note that the G’ra (to Sefer Yonah 4:3) writes that (notwithstanding that we currently have no Navi to ask) we are able to determine what our primary focus for improvement should be based upon the following two criteria.  Firstly, one should make himself aware of the situations that seem to continuously recur.  They are, the G’ra advises, recurring for a reason--for a person to get it right.  Secondly, one must discern which particular actions, what particular aveiros, one seems predisposed to, and work on minimizing/eliminating them--for this is why a person has been brought to this world.


With respect to the concept of “review and renew”, of introspection, the Sefer Shaarei Orah makes several crucial points:


  1. Every person must fully recognize that it is he, and only he, who is responsible for his actions.  Family, friends, teachers, and even Rabbis are helpful and even essential--but ultimately, we always revert back to the teaching of Hillel (Avos 1:14)--“If I am not for myself, then who will be for me?  And if I am [only] for myself, what am I?  And if not now, when?”  This personal responsibility refers to all aspects of a person’s life--including matters of health, parnassah, and simchas hachaim--enjoyment of life--in general.  Similarly, one should consider whether there is anyone who has any legitimate complaints against him or his family, and think about whether he can help rectify it.  As the Chovos HaLevovos teaches (Sha’ar Cheshbon HaNefesh, 11):  “For the days of a person’s life are Megillos.  Write in them that which you would like remembered about you.”


  1.  One should also, of course, study the good and great things that he does and strengthen (and if possible, improve) in these strong points.  Indeed, the Netziv writes if one notices that he is predisposed towards one or several specific mitzvos, it is also because these mitzvos are an integral part of his life’s mission.  One should, accordingly, work at becoming better, better…best in these areas.


  1. One should also recall and celebrate the successes--the joys, the happy events, the simchos attended, so that we can better appreciate, in a very tangible way, the special value and great worth of every day of life.  As Dovid HaMelech teaches (Tehillim 145:2) “Bichul Yom Avaricheka…--Every day I will bless Your Name forever and ever.”


Interestingly, the Shaarei Teshuva (3:17) writes that by consciously exercising free will to perform a mitzvah, one actually fulfils a Mitzvas Asei from the Torah of “U’Bacharta Ba’Chaim--and you shall choose life” (Devarim 30:19).  Incredibly, Hashem in his great beneficence has made even the proper exercise of free will a mitzvah.  Let us take a few moments at this time of year to enjoy the mitzvah of free will--to review and renew in a very real, personal, and tangible way!

Sent January 17:

Special Note One: We received the following special comments from our readers:

(a)    “With respect to your special note on loving others (sent on Monday), it is reported in the name of HaRav Avraham Jofen, Z’TL (Rosh Yeshivas Navardok), that the way to help remove hatred/dislike for someone is to do a Chesed for him--even unbeknownst to him.”

(b)   “There is a fascinating organization called the Kinyan Ha’aretz Association which sells or leases agricultural land to you in Eretz Yisroel so that you can fulfill the Mitzvos Hateluyos Ba’Aretz. Their website is: www.kinyan.org

Hakhel Note on this:  We asked HaRav Yisroel Belsky, Shlita, about this organization and concept.  He responded that he believes it is a legitimate organization and that, while actually working the land is clearly on a higher plane, there is some kind of Kiyum Hamitzvah in buying or leasing land, while not living or working in Eretz Yisroel.  He stated, however, that it was not possible to evaluate the quality of the mitzvah.  You may want to look further into this, and ask your own Posek.

Special Note Two: Some of us may view rain as a necessary evil, others as a drudgery, and its effect on yet others may be dreariness and even depression.  Yet, the Gemara in Ta’anis (7A-8B, the Daf HaYomi over the last two days) teaches us that we should see through the clouds and view rain in a much brighter context.  In fact, in one place, Chazal even refer to rain as “Ohr--light”.  Among Chazal’s teachings relating to rain are that the day of rainfall is: (a) as great as or even greater than the day of Techias HaMaysim; (b) as great as or even greater than the day the Torah was given; (c) as great as the day that the Heavens and the Earth were created; (d) as great as the day of ingathering of the exiles; and (e) generally, a day of Yeshua--salvation--and success.  Of course, these words of Chazal require further study and explanation (see commentaries there), but Chazal are clearly providing us with insight and guidance as to the importance and value of showers to us, whether or not we own fields or flocks.  Indeed, after a period when no rain has fallen, Chazal teach that a brocha is recited, and that the brocha includes the words “Al Kol Tipa U’Tipa…--for each and every drop we are thankful to You”.  It is no wonder then that HaRav Avigdor Miller, Z’TL, comments that when looking at rain drops, one should picture not only apples and pears, or lulavim and esrogim, falling from Heaven, but also shofaros and Sifrei Torah, and even men and women, and little boys and girls landing in front of our very own eyes.  With this perspective, when we wake up in the morning to a gray sky and the pounding of raindrops outside, we can be thankful that Hashem has granted the world that surrounds us--ourselves included--a day of caring, a day of blessing, a day of life.


Special Note Three:  We are now ready for the second great lesson from the Ramban (Shmos 4:10) cited yesterday.  The Ramban presents a “chidush”--a novel thought--as to why he believes Moshe Rabbeinu did not want to be healed from his speaking difficulties, which goes beyond our basic understanding that he did not want to be healed (and therefore did not daven to be healed) simply because he did not want to go before Paroh.

It was, the Ramban writes, because Moshe Rabbeinu never wanted to forget the miracle that occurred to him when he was a young child. We are all familiar with this miracle--when Paroh wished to determine whether Moshe, as a young child, was destined to be the leader of B'nai Yisroel, as his astrologers claimed, he tested him by placing both a coal and his crown in front of Moshe.  The Malach Hashem pushed Moshe's hands toward the coal and Moshe then put his hand in his mouth, and his life was spared.

The Great Lesson:  Moshe Rabbeinu was willing to give up his leading position in Klal Yisroel for all time, his receiving the Torah directly from Hashem at Har Sinai, his being the father of all Neveim, and his unparalleled accomplishments, both personally and for his people, so that he would not forget even one of Hashem's miracles on his behalf.  What are we to say for the life-saving miracles that each one of us has experienced in his lifetime?

Here are some halachos which can serve as a start:

When one personally experiences something that is “yotzi mederech hateva,” commonly referred to as a “miracle,” one makes the bracha of “sheoso li nes bamakom hezeh” when passing the spot (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 218:4).  If one passes the spot more frequently than every 30 days, it should be said without “Shem U'Malchus” (ibid. Mishne Berurah seif katan 15).

The Chayei Odom (Conclusion) writes that one should make a Seudas Hoda’ah (Thanksgiving Meal) on the anniversary date of the miracle every year.

The Kitzur Shulchan Aruch (61:3) adds that one who was miraculously saved should set aside money for Tzedaka according to his ability, distribute it to those who study Torah and should daven to Hashem that his giving to tzedaka should be considered as if he brought a Korban Todah--a thanksgiving sacrifice.  In fact, the Mishne Berurah (Orach Chayim 218, seif katan 32) adds that, in recognition of the miracle, one should actually recite the pesukim of the Parshas Todah (See Vayikra 7:11) from the Torah.

Sent January 16:

Special Note One:  Beginning this Thursday evening, January 18th from 9:30-11PM, Rabbi Yisroel Reisman, Shlita, will be starting a new weekly shiur for men in Mesechta Makos to “Master a Perek.”  The shiur will be held in Agudath Israel of Madison, 2122 Avenue S in Flatbush.  For further information, please call 718-253-5497.

Special Note Two:  Oven mitts and potholders are often insulated or quilted with reprocessed materials which can contain Shatnez.  When purchasing oven mitts, the consumer can readily determine if there is a Shatnez problem.  The insulation material is usually exposed inside the mitt at the seam.  A pure white or off-white stuffing is not a problem.  However, if the stuffing material is colorful, i.e. contains colored threads and fibers, it is reprocessed material and should be avoided.  The Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 301:12) clearly states that garments used to protect one’s hands from heat must be free of Shatnez, just like one’s clothes.  For more information, please contact The Lakewood Shatnez Laboratories at 732-364-7056.

Special Note Three:  Chazal note (Rosh Hashana 32B) that there are only three pesukim in the Torah which refer to Hashem as “Melech”.  One of these rare pesukim is “Hashem Yimloch L’Olam Voed--Hashem shall reign for all eternity” ( Shemos 15:18).  Because of its rarity, and the crucial importance of its message, this posuk is repeated a total of 10 (!) times in our daily davening--Shacharis (6 times), Mincha (1 time), and Ma’ariv (3 times).  Think about eternity--how long it really is, and that, happily, it is Hashem Himself (and not a tyrant, despot, or even friendly, frail, mortal king) who will reign now and forever and who loves us, his precious children at all times.  For the remainder of this week, may we suggest that you find and focus on this special posuk--each of the ten times that you mention it!

Special Note Four:  Moshe Rabbeinu was a “kvad peh” (had difficulty speaking), and he so argued to Hakadosh Boruch Hu, in claiming that he was not the person to appear before Paroh (Shemos 4:10).

The Ramban there notes that this problem--of appearing before the King as a “kvad peh”-- was quite resolvable.  In fact, all Moshe Rebbeinu had to do was daven to Hashem to be healed from this malady and he would have been cured.  The Ramban continues that Moshe Rabbeinu intentionally did not daven so that he would not be healed, and so that he would not have to go!

The Ramban then incredibly concludes that Hashem did not heal Moshe Rabbeinu because he did not daven for it.  Had he davened for it, Moshe would have approached Paroh, cured.  As Hashem said, “Who gives mouths to people, or who makes people incapable of speech or deaf or capable of sight, or blind, is it not I, Hashem?” (Shemos 4:11)

There is a great lesson we can learn here:

Despite the reasons we may give as to why it might have been better for Moshe Rabbeinu to appear before Paroh as a kvad peh (to ensure his humility, to demonstrate that he wasn’t G-d, etc.) and though his speech difficulties were Divinely ordained, if Moshe had davened to be healed, he would have been healed, and, as the Ramban asserts, Hashem said--because you did not daven, I will simply not heal you.

If we ourselves are blessed to go through our daily life without any medical issues, then it would greatly behoove us to daven for someone we know who does have these issues.  Although we may not be Moshe Rabbeinu, the message of the Torah, as described by the Ramban, is clear.

Let us do our part.  Where do we daven?  Perhaps at the end of Shemone Esrei in Elokai N’zor, or by saying additional Tehillim, and/or, at any time, in our own words.  None of us should be a “kvad peh” in our Tefillos--we should be as expressive as we can be to help ourselves, our friends, and our loved ones.

Sent January 15:


Special Note: Sometimes we do not fully fathom the incredible Kochos, the incredible powers that our Tefillos exert on a daily basis.  The Mishna Berura (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 132, seif katan 8), for instance, writes the following with respect to Aleinu, which we recite three times daily:


“We should recite Aleinu with proper awe and reverence, because all of the Hosts of Heaven are listening as we recite Aleinu, and HaKadosh Baruch Hu Himself stands with the Heavenly Court, who all then exclaim ‘Praiseworthy is the people for whom this is so, praiseworthy is the people…’”


Based upon this alone, it would behoove each and every one of us to, b’li neder, recite the first paragraph of Aleinu **word for word** from a Siddur.  We should all join together in the privilege; we should all join collectively in the honor!




Set forth below is an extremely moving excerpt from the Tomer Devorah (Chapter 2), written by HaRav Moshe Cordevero, Z’TL, which we can and must inculcate into our daily lives:


“A person should always be guided by the following two crucial principles:


“First, he should respect all creatures, recognizing in them the greatness of the Creator, who formed man in His wisdom and Whose wisdom is contained in all creatures.  He should realize that all creatures are to be greatly honored, since He Who fashioned things--the Wise and Exalted One--has busied Himself with creating them, and if one despises them, G-d forbid, it affects the honor of their Creator.


“This is comparable to an expert craftsman who fashions a vessel with great skill, but when he displays his work to people, one of them mocks and derides it.  How angry that craftsman will be, since, by scorning the work of his hands, the critic is belittling his very skill.  So too, HaKadosh Baruch Hu, is grieved if any of His creatures are despised.  This is the meaning of the posuk ‘Ma Rabu Ma’asecha…--How many are Your works Hashem…’ (Tehillim 104:24).  Dovid HaMelech does not say ‘how great’ [Ma Gadlu] but ‘how many’ [Ma Rabu], which demonstrates the importance of all creatures.  The posuk indeed continues, ‘You have made them all with wisdom (ibid.).’  Thus, since Your wisdom is involved with each and every one of them…it is proper for man to seek the wisdom in them and not despise them.


“Second, one should accustom himself to loving his fellow man in his heart.  Even the wicked should be viewed as if they were his brothers.  What’s more, he should continue until love for all people is fixed in his heart...as Moshe Rabeinu…said: ‘I wish all the people of G-d were prophets’ (Bamidbar 11:29).  And how should he love them?  By recalling in his thoughts their good qualities and by covering up their flaws and refusing to see their defects; rather, he should look for their good qualities.  He should say to himself: ‘If this poor, loathsome fellow were very rich, how much would I delight in his company, as I delight in the company of so and so.  And if he were dressed in handsome garments like so and so, there would be no difference between them.  If so, why should he lack honor in my eyes being that he is superior to me…since he is plagued and crushed with poverty and suffering, which cleanse him of sin?  Why, then, should I hate him whom the Holy One, Blessed Be He, loves?’


“This way, his heart will turn to the positive side of things, and he will accustom himself to ponder the good qualities we have mentioned.”


Practical Suggestion: Today, pick a creature that that does not particularly find favor in your eyes, and a person whom you believe is not the greatest tzadik, and sincerely try to apply the above lessons to each of them.  Then, try this again when you come across another creature, and another such person.  By doing so, you will certainly be making great strides not only in the areas of self-discipline and self-improvement, but also in feeling a greater closeness to your very own Creator!

Sent January 12:

Special Note One:  Hakhel hopes to publish Shailos and Teshuvos relating to care of the elderly as it relates to Kibud Av V’Aim.  If you have, or are aware of such Shailos, please forward them to us as soon as possible.  Please include the word “Kibud” in the Subject line of the email.  Thank you.




Special Note Two:  The following excerpts and adaptations contain certain important notes regarding sleep that appeared in, or are based upon, a recent issue of “Halachically Speaking”:


  1. If one makes a simple calculation, a person is asleep for one-quarter to one-third of his life.  For example, one who lives eighty years and sleeps six hours a day has slept for twenty years--a quarter of his lifetime.

  2. A person should go to sleep with the intention that he is sleeping in order to have strength to serve Hashem more effectively the next day.  The Ben Ish Chai writes that this is why we say the brocha of HaMapil before going to sleep.  Others say that before going to sleep one should actually state that he is going to sleep in order to serve Hashem.

  3. Before going to sleep, it is proper for a person to review the entire day to see how he could improve in any way for the future.  If one finds any particular sins, he should accept upon himself not to do them anymore, especially the common but devastating sins of flattery, lying, shaming, and loshon hora.

  4. Upon awakening from sleep one should say Modei Ani to thank Hashem for returning his neshoma and letting him live another day.  Since there is no name of Hashem in Modeh Ani, one may and should recite it while in bed without first washing his hands.  Once again, one should say Modeh Ani immediately upon awakening--and not wait until he starts davening to express his thanks.  Children must be trained to say Modeh Ani as soon as they are able.  One should contemplate the words while reciting them and pause after the word “Chemla”, as “Rabba Emunasecha” is a separate thought.  There is a discussion in the poskim as to whether one is permitted to recite Modeh Ani while not wearing a yarmulka.  Accordingly, it is better for one who cannot find his yarmulka to cover his head with the sheet or blanket.  A person who said Modeh Ani and then fell asleep again can repeat Modeh Ani for a second time upon awakening.

  5. One must be careful not to get out of bed too quickly because doing so is dangerous.  Instead, one should wait a few moments before getting up.  However, one should not tarry in bed, as Shlomo HaMelech, the wisest of all men, teaches us **twice** in Mishlei (6:10 and 24:33) that  a person must be careful not to say “A little more sleep, a little more slumber, a little folding of the hands while lying down”.

  6. When going to sleep, one should lie on his left side, and at the end of his sleep, he should lay on his right side.  It is much healthier to sleep on the side because doing so allows the lungs to work better, so one gets more out of his sleep.

  7. Many people believe one may not sleep while wearing regular (daytime) clothes because doing so causes some type of ruach ra’ah to go onto the clothing.  The Kitzur Shulchan Aruch is the only one source that mentions that one should not sleep with regular clothes on, and should remove them before going to sleep.  However, the minhag is that one may sleep while wearing regular clothing.

  8. Someone who is weak and wants to lay in bed with a Sefer should keep the Sefer sufficiently elevated above the bed, so that he is not lying on the same level as the Sefer.


Special Note Three:  We wish to add the following significant point to the Modeh Ani discussion above: HaRav Chaim Vital, Z’TL, writes that he once was a “mais gamur”--deceased, but that his Rebbe, the Arizal, brought him back to life through his crying.  When HaRav Vital arose, he writes that he recited the full brocha of “Boruch…Michayeh HaMaisim” with Hashem’s name.  HaRav Shimshon Dovid Pincus, Z’TL, (Nefesh Shimshon, Siddur HaTefillah, page 18) teaches that, similarly, when a person awakens in the morning, considering what the body and soul have experienced overnight, he should truly feel the gift of Techiyas HaMaisim.  Modeh Ani, then, in a very real and wonderful sense takes the place of, and should be recited with a similar deep appreciation and thoughtful fervor as, one reciting the brocha of Techiyas Hamaisim!

Sent January 11:

Special Note One:  We received the following emergency request from Partners In Torah: “…Over the next few weeks, we expect to sign-up close to 1,000 students through the Birthright Israel program…  We therefore have a CRITICAL shortage of suitable mentors for these students.  We find that the students are best matched with someone who is either within 10 years of their age or are in professions that the students aspire to grow into (i.e. doctors, lawyers, investment banker/finance types, are the most requested)  While it is critical that we have on hand as many mentors as possible in other age groups, the most urgent need is for men ages 20-35 and women ages 25-35.  Once again, we are in URGENT NEED.  Please ask your readers to join in spreading Torah to those less fortunate for just one hour a week!  They can call us at 1-800-STUDY-4-2.”

Need we say more?

Special Note Two:  We received the following comments from readers relating to recent bulletins:


(a)    “…When it comes to food, I always marvel at the fact that what grows from the ground--which is sometimes dark, sometimes damp, and sometimes poisonous to ingest--is so delicious and satisfying!  Peaches, grapes, bananas, tomatoes, pears, wheat, etc., etc.  This alone is a miracle of miracles and proves to the world that Hashem exists.  A second point, and I always say this--when someone gives you food, be it a waiter, spouse, sibling, or friend, you must ALWAYS say “thank you” for many reasons--including that they, too, are agents of Hashem--Hashem sent them to deliver the food to you just as He is responsible for the growing of the food itself.  If you make a brocha, then thank Hashem’s “partners”, too, in delivering the food to you.”


(b)    “Eating food is not the only human function which could be similar to an animal’s.  I refer specifically to taking care of one’s bodily functions.  I find it remarkable that there are many halachos that relate to this aspect of our existence.  For instance, the Shulchan Aruch, at its outset, Chapter 6, explains in detail the meaning of the brocha of Asher Yatzar.  As far as I know, nowhere in Shulchan Aruch is any other brocha explained in such detail.  Even Birchat HaMazon, which is from the Torah, is not explained in such detail!  It almost always strikes me when saying the words “Lifnei Chisay Kvodecha” in this brocha and in no other--that Chazal are teaching me that G-d puts me in front of His Heavenly throne at all times.  Many of the Halachot and Hashkafot relating to these more private matters are not taught either because it is assumed that people know them, or because it is assumed that people study them privately.  Please point your readers to Shulchan Aruch Chapters 76-88, 92 and 103 for starters.  [Kitzur Shulchan Aruch Chapters 4, 5 and 12]  There really is much to learn.  Thank you very much!”


(c)    “I heard another important lesson from the Torah’s description of Yosef’s revealing himself to his brothers:  He said “Ani Yosef”--and his brothers were stunned, absolutely stunned.  Some of us may feel that, after 120 years, we will have questions to raise, and excuses to give to the Beis Din Shel Ma’aalo.  Why did this happen to me?  How come he was so wealthy?  Why did I never have those opportunities?  However, when we get to the World of Truth ready to ask, question and defend, we will be met by something what the brother encountered in hearing “Ani Yosef”--and we will be shocked and stunned, as Yosef’s brothers were after all those years, to finally understand with clarity and depth what had really transpired.  There will no longer be any questions, any complaints, any excuses, any doubts.  I heard this moving explanation in the name of the Alter of Navardok…”


Thank you to our readers. Your wonderful comments are always welcome, as we share our Treasure together.




Special Note Three:  There is an astonishing Pasuk in this week’s Parsha.  That Pasuk states: “But the midwives feared Hashem and they did not do as the King of Egypt spoke to them…” (Shemos 1:17).  How could it be that two women could flagrantly violate and disobey the direct orders of the King of Egypt--the most powerful monarch of his time?!  We could understand if the Pasuk would teach us that they tried saving some babies, or that they pleaded with the King--but to wholeheartedly and completely disobey--would surely mean execution in a matter of minutes!  HaRav Matisyahu Salomon, Shlita, explains that the basis, the source of the actions, of Shifra and Puah are revealed by the first part of the Pasuk—“But the midwives feared Hashem…”--it was their fear of Hashem that allowed and caused them to overcome all obstacles.  They obviously had devoted much time and effort in developing such a level of Yiras Shomayim.  HaRav Salomon therefore suggests that a great lesson that we each can learn from the midwives is to spend time studying Sifrei Mussar and listening to shiurim which help us develop our Yiras Shomayim.  If, as the Pasuk specifically describes them, “midwives”, can stand up **and succeed** against the King of the only superpower on earth at that time, we, too, can accomplish much in our own personal environments with the proper thought and study--by taking a set time every day and learning how to battle--and win against--all those “Kings of Egypt”--all the machinations of the Yetzer Horah--around us so often in our daily lives.





The Torah, in describing the moment of Yosef’s “meeting” his brothers starkly relates: "V’lo Yochlu Echav La’Anos Oso--and his brothers were unable to respond to him, because they were perturbed in his presence.” (Beraishis 45:3)  In commenting on the core lesson to be learned from this Posuk, Chazal teach:  “Woe to us from the day of reckoning, woe to us from the day of rebuke....”  If Yosef’s brothers, who as a matter of Halacha weighed, determined, and acted upon, what they felt was correct (knowing and taking into account their own prejudices), how will we, acting sometimes impetuously, sometimes impulsively, sometimes inanely, respond to the detailed accounting of the Heavenly Court upon the actions, inactions and reactions we undertook, or failed to undertake, during our lifetimes?”


A sobering thought.  But Chazal, in their great mercy, share this thought with us while we are still alive--so that we can do something about it!  On reflection, however, what is it exactly that we can do?  After all, we are mere mortals, somewhat above the animals around us, but not even domiciled in the same sphere as the next highest stage of creation--the angels.  Perhaps the answer lies in the question itself.  Chazal (Chagiga 16A) list the ways in which we are compared to an animal.  One of those ways, in which we are involved daily, is eating.  If we can, in this very animal-like activity, raise it to what are truly human heights, if we can rise above the animal part of intake and digestion in some way, we should be able to obviate some of the disconcertion and shed some of that shame on the day of Heavenly Judgment.


We mean something more than stopping to read the back of cereal boxes (animals don’t do that, anyways), or even the front of the boxes (how have so many cereals become “whole grain”--and why haven’t the brochos changed as a result?).  Instead, we mean contemplating at these times that **all** of our activities have a purpose if they are done L'shem Shomayim, for the sake of Heaven.  If we make a brocha before we eat the food, and after we eat the food, imagine the sanctity we can imbue into the act of eating itself!  To analogize, compare this to the obvious difference between putting on/taking off your Tefillin and the actual wearing of the Tefillin themselves, or to setting/cleaning off the Shabbos table to the actual Shabbos table itself.  If we could only then spend an additional few moments while eating to also contemplate


  • that Hashem provides us with all of this and that it simply would not be here without Him;

  • the incredible make-up of the different food items being consumed--from atom up (could all of this have really come from a “Big Bang”--or even two?);

  • that you/others have taken efforts to ensure that the food is Kosher and otherwise prepared in accordance with Halacha;

  • the complexity of what it took to get this relatively small amount of food to your table and the human labor and planning that were required to help feed little you;

  • that you can obtain nourishment from tasty food, rather than painful injection;

  • that you are saying thank you to your body for hosting your soul;

  • that you are energizing your soul by converting the physical strength derived from food into spiritual strength (isn’t it much harder to learn, or not to act agitated, on a Ta’anis then a day in which you have eaten well?);

  • that this is a valuable moment because you are fulfilling man’s purpose in life--sanctifying the mundane...


and the special thoughts go on.  You can even move on to use this G-d given break from work/daily chores to figure out a shidduch for someone, or think about a practical way to get out of a particular bad habit in your davening.


And so, if we take the Heavenly, and bring it right down to us now in our earthly, and erstwhile earthy, activities, we should be in a much better, much less shocked, disconcerted, perturbed, or disgraced position, when that great day of outlook, of clarity, of Heavenly Light, reviews our potential...and our accomplishments!




Among the brochos that Yaakov Avinu eternally blessed his children with was the brocha which he gave to his Bechor, Reuven.  The words of this brocha include “Pachaz KaMayim Al Tosar…--You acted with water-like impetuosity.”


There is a preliminary question here: Where is the brocha contained in these words?  It is said in the name of HaRav Yerucham Levovitz, Z’TL, that the biggest brocha that a person can have is to know his capabilities and understand his limitations.  Shaul HaMelech, for instance, thought that the Kingship belonged to him and his descendents, and was tortured by the fact that it was being taken away. Reuven, on the other hand,  was given the brocha to know, fully and finally, that neither the Kingship nor the Kehuna--the Priesthood--would be his, and that, accordingly, he should not spend unnecessary and, in fact, wasteful, pain and effort working towards those unattainable goals.


Each and every one of us  may want to be, for example, the one who is wise enough or erudite enough to win all arguments; wealthy enough to buy all that we perceive as our needs; and successful enough to be the “boss” and not the employee.  We should, however, recognize and appreciate what our capacities truly are and develop ourselves within that framework of potential.


Looking back again at these words of Ruach HaKodesh from Yaakov Avinu to Reuven, his precious first-born, we find another amazing insight, this time made by HaRav Matisyahu Salomon, Shlita.  HaRav Salomon explains once again, that Yaakov’s words to Reuven are not words of punishment, but, in fact, a lesson to us all.  Yaakov told Reuven that he did not have the capability of Kingship and the Kehuna because he lacked Menuchas HaNefesh--calmness, tranquility and peace of mind--and the clarity that goes along with it.  One who acts hastily and sometimes out of confusion, makes mistakes, and certainly cannot consistently make clear decisions.  For success, a sense of serenity and peace of mind is required.  Kingship and Kehuna are extreme examples in which this composure is so important, but it is the very same Menuchas HaNefesh that is required of each and every one of us to be successful at our particular mission in life.


In the Yeshivos of Kelm, Navardok, and, later, Gateshead and Lakewood, the Orchos Chaim LaRosh (a succinct compellation of Halachos, Mitzvos, and Mussar teachings authored by the great Rishon, the Rosh) was [and is] recited with fervor during the month of Elul.  In Kelm, the three words in the Orchos Chaim to which were given the greatest of emphasis were “Al Tivahel Ma’asecha--Do not act with confusion.”  Hastiness, disorder, and lack of necessary care all lead to patent and latent error, explains HaRav Salomon, and this leads to a lack of achievement and life fulfillment.  Indeed, every day, at the end of the tefillah “Uva L’Tzion” we request “V’lo Neylayd Le’Behala--…so that our actions are not confused, so that our accomplishments are not futile” (see Artscroll Siddur).  HaRav Salomon adds that Chazal teach that Noach “found favor in the eyes of Hashem” (Bereishis 6:8) precisely because of, as his name indicates, his “menuchas hanefesh”, his equanimity in a world of upheaval and turmoil.


Each and every one of us is subjected to a pace of life which would lead us straight down the stream of “behalah” if we allow ourselves to be forced along by its strong current.  HaRav Salomon suggests, therefore, that we must be vigilant with ourselves to take the slogan of “Al Tivahel Maasecha” with us when confronting the foibles of our daily lives. He suggests something which he calls “simple but not easy”.  A person must have a method by which he could stop the pace--not immediately going from one completed item to the next.  Instead, he should get used to stopping and asking himself, “What am I doing?  “Am I doing it in an orderly fashion?”  “Am I doing it right?”  “What have I done?”  and “What am I going to do?”  Just as we stop an automobile engine from overheating by putting it into neutral, every so often through the day, we must put ourselves into neutral as well, compose ourselves and order our lives.


What a great lesson the Torah teaches us for success in life.  Noach, whose very name bore his essence of calmness and peace of mind, allowed the entire world to survive.  Reuven, the great Bechor of Yaakov Avinu, on the other hand, could not carry the positions of responsibility of his people because he lacked the requisite composure and tranquility.  How much better our lives would be if we could bring the words of HaRav Salomon, Shlita, with us into our work and home environments--that added degree of serenity, of composure could very well mean the difference between a gross error and an unbelievable achievement!  So, let us put those occasional checkpoints into our daily routine, and into an otherwise hectic situation--so that we, too, will find favor in the eyes of Hashem!



Special Note One:  News reports have indicated that there is a possibility of a prisoner exchange for at least one of the Israeli soldiers being held captive, Gilad ben Aviva.  According to one report, hundreds of prisoners being held in Israel for terrorist links would be set free.  This brings to the fore Chazal’s teaching that one should always pray **before** a tzara comes, because once the tzara, Chas C’Shalom, arrives, many more z’chuyos are needed to be spared from its effects.  NOW IS THE TIME TO PRAY THAT GILAD BEN AVIVA BE RELEASED WITHOUT ANY RESULTING HARMFUL OR DEVASTATING EFFECTS ON K’LAL YISROEL.  Hashem, in His mercy, has provided us with these press leaks or “off-the-record” comments so that we can take action in the proper time.  Appropriate prayer can be made after reciting a Kepital Tehillim, or directly in Elokai Netzor, at the end of Shemone Esrei.




Special Note Two:  When a spacecraft takes off, it travels a great distance on the initial burst of energy at blastoff.  Then, it must continue to travel on new and potent sources of additional energy.  As the Yomim Tovim of Tishrei conclude, in fact, on the last day of Yom Tov--Simchas Torah--we start the year off powerfully by immediately beginning Chumash Bereishis.  Next week, however, we begin Sefer Shemos.  Just as a spacecraft cannot thrive on the initial energy from take off, so too, do we need to re-energize and re-inspire ourselves.  Let us look at the special Shabbos davening for a moment.  We recite four times (i.e., in every Shemone Esrei) the following important requests: “Kadesheinu B’Mitzvosecha…--Sanctify us with Your commandments and grant our share in Your Torah; satisfy us from Your Goodness and gladden us with Your salvation, and purify our heart to serve You sincerely.”  These are truly great requests.  If we really mean them, can we simply close our Siddur and expect that they be fulfilled with nothing more on our part?  We are, among other things, asking for Kedusha, reaching our potential in Torah, the joy of salvation, and “taharas halev--purity of heart.”  What are we going to do to help make these things happen?


Perhaps we can start with the “sur me’ra”--not falling into the pitfalls of previous weeks--not going through another seven-day cycle of work, chores, learning, sleeping, Shabbos; work, chores, learning, sleeping, Shabbos; work, chores, learning, sleeping, Shabbos…. Instead, we can focus on how the next seven days will be different, will show a change, some kind of improvement.  They will not simply be yet another seven days of winter, or the week that is “two months before Purim”, or “three months to Pesach(!)”.


Here are a few of suggestions for a little invigoration.


Let this week be the week in which we:


  • Live in complete harmony with our spouse or boss--not even raising our voice once

  • Give additional Tzedakah every single day

  • Come to every Tefillah on time

  • Feel that Hashem is listening to us in every Shemone Esrei--as we ourselves attest “Ki Ata Shomaya…”

  • Pause to think about Yerushalayim and the Bais HaMikdash, either when mentioning them at one of the many points in davening, or at some time during the day

  • Daven for someone else or do a Chesed Shel Emes (see yesterday’s Hakhel email) every day

  • Think about a mitzvah or middah that we would like to improve on and take some step--albeit small--in that direction


Parshas Shemos teaches us that Bnei Yisroel got into an unfortunate rut which lasted for 210 years.  Let us do our part to steer clear of that rut in the coming week!





The Parsha teaches as follows:

“And the days of Yisroel drew near to die; and he called his son Yosef, and said to him:  If now I have found favor in your eyes, please…deal with me kindly and truly….” (Beraishis 47:29)


Based upon this Pasuk, Rabbi Zelig Pliskin, Shlita, in Love Your Neighbor (page 125) brings the following story:

When Rabbi Moshe of Kobrin was seven years old, there was a severe famine in Lithuania. Poor people wandered from village to village in search of food.  Many of them flocked to the home of Rav Moshe’s mother, who readily cooked and baked for them.  Once a very large number of the poor came to her home and she had to cook for them in shifts.  When some individuals grew impatient and insulted her, she began to cry, since she felt that she was doing her utmost for them.  Her young son, the future Rabbi of Kobrin, said to her, “Why should their insults trouble you?  Don’t their insults help you perform the mitzvah with sincerity? If they had praised you, your merit would be less, since you might be doing the kindness to gain their praise, rather than to fulfill the Almighty’s command.” (Ohr Yeshorim, p. 50 footnote).


Based upon this extremely important concept, the principle of true and pure kindness, Rabbi Pliskin writes that one should not view many of his otherwise necessary daily tasks as a mere drudgery.  Instead, a person taking care of young children, or assisting someone who is ill and cannot otherwise take care of himself, is, in fact, providing a real chesed shel emes.  As Rabbi Pliskin quoting HaRav Chaim Pinchos Scheinberg, Shlita, writes, “If a housewife had the opportunity to perform the same tasks [i.e., tasks performed on behalf of small children] for, let’s say, the Chofetz Chaim, she would certainly be happy to do them.  It is no less a chesed for one’s own children.”


Each and every one of us, rather than having to perform a chesed shel emes only at, Rachmana Litzlan, a levaya, should attempt to perform pure acts of kindness with those incapable of paying you back, or not knowledgeable enough to pay you back, or in some cases, even saying thank you.  Providing behind the scenes, unappreciated chesed is the hallmark of the people of Israel.  Do the billions of people in the world today, for instance, know or appreciate that they are in existence only because of Torah and our study?  Indeed, with this thought in mind when learning, your study too becomes a chesed shel emes!


As we leave Sefer Beraishis, let us proudly accept the legacy of our Avos--looking for opportunities in which we give for the sake of giving, and not give for the sake of getting something in return!




Special Note One: The Dubno Maggid relates the following Mashal:


A king once acquired a precious, very large diamond whose value would have been exceedingly great--but for one large scratch across the center.  The king searched his kingdom and made inquiry in all neighboring kingdoms to find the greatest expert to do something about this terribly unfortunate flaw.  Satisfied that he had found the greatest expert available, the king cautiously showed him the precious gem.  The expert studied it for a few moments and exclaimed “How terrible!”  Everyone in the throne room winced.  The expert then continued: “A beautiful diamond such as this--without the king’s royal emblem upon it.  That line running through the middle is an absolutely perfect place for us to begin!”


The lesson, of course, for us to learn is that we must take the seemingly difficult, dreadful or even simply unwanted situation we are in, and turn it into an opportunity for usefulness and growth.  We had noted last week, for example, that getting caught at a light, having to bear an insult, getting screamed at (and now, we add, being locked in a room with an accountant or lawyer) may seem wholly untenable.  Yet, if at all possible, we should try to use the situation for our value and benefit.  Rather than throw up your hands, for instance, at being the first car to be caught at a (two-minute) light, use the occasion for something it is that you have to think about--even if it is a moment only to reflect upon your middos or how you can help yourself(!)  After a while, you may find that you no longer feel the urge to race through a yellow light.


Special Note Two: Relating to the concept of Brochos in this week’s Parsha, we add the following two points:


(a)    Prior to giving a Brocha, try to feel a greater closeness to the person.  Yaakov Avinu, for instance, first brought Menashe and Ephraim close to him, and kissed them and hugged them (Bereishis 48:10).  This may constitute an important component of the sincerity, depth and potency of the Brocha.


(b)   Having made this point, there is really no requirement that Brochos be made directly to human beings.  It is well known, for example, that the Alter of Slobodka once passed by the home of a Talmid Chacham and blessed the home and everyone in it.  We can analogize a bit:  When an ambulance speeds by, or even when you hear the ambulance siren, you can daven/give a Brocha that the person, whoever he or she may be, has a Refuah Shelaima.  Or, in another vein, when seeing the bakery line out the door on Erev Shabbos, you can silently bless everyone on the line to have an enjoyable Shabbos.  While at first all of this may appear a bit naïve, childish, or “overly frum”, it really only indicates that you are a thinking person with (or trying to develop) Ahavas HaBriyos and Ahavas Yisroel--love for Hashem’s creations and love for fellow Jews.  In fact, the Baalei Mussar denounce the term “frumkeit” as relating to observance and practice out of rote, rather than with feeling and freshness.


Special Note Three: To put Notes One and Two together, we provide the following remarkable pasuk (Yirmiyahu 9:22, 23 ) in which the Navi exclaims:  “Thus says Hashem:  Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom, nor the strong man boast of his strength, nor the rich man boast of his riches; but, let him that boasts exalt in this, that he understands and knows Me, for I am Hahem who practices kindness, justice and righteousness on the earth, for in these things I delight, says Hashem.”


In short, in whatever situation we find ourselves, Hashem tells us--what do we think that He would do in the same situation?  The man who “understands and knows Me” is the man in whom Hashem delights.  Who is more patient than Hashem and gives more Brochos than Hashem?  These are, of course, only two feasible examples, but they are important steps along the way to being Hashem’s delight!




With this week’s Parsha, Parshas VaYechi, we conclude Sefer Bereishis.  Sefer Bereishis is so vital to us for it is the “Sefer HaYashar”, teaching us how to conduct our lives in preparation for the 610 mitzvos that will be described in the upcoming four sefarim of Chumash, as all of Sefer Bereishis refers to just three mitzvos!


Let us look at how Sefer Bereishis concludes, and how the Bechir SheB’Avos, Yaakov Avinu, concludes his life.  In a word, with Brachos.  The Sefer HaYashar, and Yaakov Avinu, conclude that the greatest lesson, the greatest gift, which one can provide to another when taking leave or departing from them is a directed, sincere, meaningful blessing.  Perhaps by the great .specificity within each one of the Brachos, the Torah is teaching us how directed our Brachos must be.


We can conclude from this that while a general Brocha given to another (especially if sincere) is important, it is no match for a more tailored version.  “Stay well”, “All the best”, “Be Good”, are important, but not as potent as “May you find your Bashert, your Zivug Hagun, very soon”, “May you make another Siyum again soon”, “You should have Nachas from each and every one of your children”, “May you have great Hatzlacha in your next business venture” and the like…  Suits bought off the rack in a department store may fit, but there is nothing like a hand-crafted ensemble.


Lest we think that our Brachos are mere chatter, or at best, display some pleasant cheer or good will, we should turn to the first three Pesukim we recite after making Birchos HaTorah.  The Pesukim are, of course, “Birchas Kohanim”.  This is how we are to start our day of Torah--with words of blessing!  The Kohanim are the medium through which Hashem blesses us, as the Pasuk teaches (Bamidbar 6: 23), “So shall you bless B’nei Yisroel, say to them…”  We, too, in our own little--and big--way can be that conduit for Hashem’s blessings.  The classic greeting of one Jew to another is not “Hello”, “Hi”, “What’s up?”, but rather, “Shalom Aleichem”--in which you bless the other individual with the blessing of peace before anything else.  Once you then learn more about the other’s exact needs at that time, your blessings can then be made more precise.


We can all use Brocha in our lives.  If we are effusive and sincere in our Brachos to others, if we look for what  the Brachos that others need are, we will in turn, Be’Ezras Hashem, be likewise zoche to the Brocha that Hashem himself gave to our Forefather Avrohom Avinu, “I will bless those that will bless you” (Bereishis 12:3).




Will we let Aseres B’Teves pass us after partaking of a bagel and juice or some other break-fast?  Our body remembers the fast for a while after our abstinence.  Our souls should remember it at least as long.  Chazal (Shabbos 31A) teach that one of the first six questions a person is asked by the Heavenly Court is “Tzipisa L’Yeshua--Did you long for the Redemption?”  How can we express this longing?  We suggest that this week during the “Es Tzemach Dovid” brocha of Shemone Esrei (in which we state our longing for the Moshiach) we recall something that we have longed for (the bus or train to come, the luggage to arrive off the airplane, etc.), and feel some heartfelt hope for the arrival of Moshiach.  You can put a little Post-It note or make some small highlight (by highlighter or otherwise) next to this brocha in your siddur.  Show yourself and others that ruchniyus opportunities are not supposed to merely boomerang off us after they touch us, but are to penetrate within us like a fine, pure oil.

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