Archive for October 2015

Adam and King David: a deal is a deal

This article was constructed with the help of either writings, lectures or shiurim of Rabbi’s Yissachar frand, Noach Isaac Oelbaum, Yossi Bilius
We begin the Shabbat services with the statement “LEH CHU NEH RANENA L’HASHEM” let us all sing to G-d, here Adam is in the taking charge role which fits him well as he leads the world in praises and songs to G-d. The plain explanation is that only he, a human, had the gift to do so. There was no other creature capable to lead the world like a human.
 However, there is more to it. Adam personally, was tremendously gifted in the area of praise, song. It’s no coincidence that there was one other who dominates the Shabbat prayers with his praises and song, King David. Well, there is also a link between the two, or perhaps I should say a transaction that occurred that will bond them forever.
Adam was shown the soul of King David and the fact that he was destined to live only 3 hours. Adam was very grieved at this loss of potential. He inquired whether he was allowed to bequeath some of his own years to David. The Almighty answered that Adam was destined to live for 1000 years, but that he would be allowed to give up some of those years to David. Adam then bequeathed 70 years to David, so that Adam lived for 930 years and David lived for 70 years.
As we all know in the business world the more one thinks of a deal that he made, that he signed, sealed and delivered, that he signed mazal u’bracha on, the more he second guesses the transaction. The Sages teach that when Adam was about to turn 930 years old, he regretted his earlier generosity and wanted to back out of the deal. G-d urged Adam to keep his word.
The Rokeach cites an even more startling version of this Medrash: When Adam originally agreed to give over 70 years of his life to the future King David, he signed a document to that effect. The document was “co-signed”, so to speak, by the Master of the Universe and by the Angel Matat. In the Rokeach’s version of the Medrash, when Adam turned 930, he tried to deny that he ever made such an agreement. At that point, the Almighty pulled out the document proving that he had made the deal!
The Medrash in Tehilim cites in this vein, that King David’s comment in Tehilim [146:3]: “Do not trust nobles nor sons of man (ben Adam), for he holds no salvation”, refers back to Adam’s attempt to retract his gift of the 70 years.
In our world of business if someone negates on a business deal he is looked down on. He actually, to some extent, black listed in the industry. Honoring a transaction is one of the basic laws in business. I once bought an expensive ruby my first year in the Colored Stone business. My Father was shocked that I bought such an expensive stone; he was even more shocked at the lousy choice I made. He ordered me to bring back the dealer and negate the transaction. It was one of my most humiliating experiences in the industry. It is something that had never happened again. My father explained to the dealer that “he’s young and inexperienced”, which I apparently was, and luckily he accepted and took back the stone. However, he never did business with me again. I learned, from then on, to be real sure before I utter the word “deal-mazal!!” and to be an expert in the merchandise I buy.
One of the methods a businessman conducts himself is using the shock system. He says in a stern voice:  “I’m buying this product at this price and that’s my last offer, take it or leave it!! Make a decision quickly or I’m leaving now, there is another place I saw a similar product; is it yes or no?!!” One businessman used the shock treatment a bit too much and it cost him dearly. On a colored stone buying trip in Bangkok, Thailand one individual took the stones in his left hand and stuck it out the open window and threatened if you don’t agree on this price and not say “mazal” I’m throwing the stones out the window. They agreed, and the transaction took place. The natives, the Thai people are a very honorable people and would never negate on a transaction that they shook hands on; however, they don’t like to be threatened, so when he left their building, there in the courtyard, they broke the very arm he threatened to throw the stones with.
Astonishingly, Adam was not rebuked by G-d for trying to turn back on the deal. As a matter of fact, incredibly, he was praised. How can that be?
The book Mayanei haChaim by Rav Chaim Zaitchik makes an interesting observation.
This desire to retract, in this particular special situation, does not stem from evil or shortcomings on Adam’s part. On the contrary, it stemmed from his greatness and his understanding of the value of life…….How is it possible, one may ask?

In order to understand why G-d not only did not punish Adam for wanting, having chutzpah to negate on the deal, but praised him, we must explore why G-d chose for the first man the name “Adam.”
The most popular reason why man is called Adam is because man comes from the ADAMA – the ground. However, there are other various names that Adam is called by; some are ISH, ENOSH and GEVAR. Why it is that ADAM was the name chosen to represent man? We just finished a month long of holidays and the one underlying theme throughout the month – or I should say two months – is TESHUVA – repentance. During this period, we pound our hearts and we recite the thirteen attributes of G-d. As we said in our High Holidays issue, G-d guarantees us that if nothing else works, that if no other method of prayer is accepted, the thirteen attributes will go through. What is it about this particular prayer that has that kind of ability? The philosophy behind the recitation is we have to strive to be like G-d, and by reciting His attributes, we affirm our commitment to work on ourselves to have just the right measurement of kindness, mercifulness, temperament, etc. This is the reason why ADAM, the name, represents man the best. We learn in the Prophets – Nevi’im – ADAMEH LE ELYON – we shall be similar to G-d. This is man’s mission in life. So our goal is to be like G-d, ADAMEH.

Now, the question of why G-d praised Adam and called him a tsaddik even though he wanted to negate the deal is becoming more clear.
The Ibn Ezra asks why we must honor the elderly by rising before them. The Ibn Ezra answers that people who are elderly have learned to appreciate the value of life. They deserve honor for that recognition. For appreciation is a fundamental feature in the Jewish philosophy.  A person acts differently, thinks differently, and has a different perspective on life when he is in his fifties and sixties than when he is in his twenties and thirties. He is a different type of person. We need to honor that perspective and attitude by rising before such people.
When Adam was “born,” and was told he had 1000 years in front of him, it was tantamount to someone coming to a millionaire and asking for $1000 donation. The millionaire is prepared to flippantly give over the 1000 dollars. It means very little to him. But if this same millionaire loses all his money he will be greatly aggravated over the fact that he gave away 1000 dollars.
At the end of his life, Adam was like the millionaire who lost his money. The 1000 years that he once had in front of him were now behind him. He had a different perspective on life now. It is because of that perspective that we rise up before the elderly. It is because of that perspective that we say “Precious in the Eyes of G-d is (the time of) death for his righteous.”

Rav Chaim Zaitchik interprets that Adam  — as with all Tzadikim — cherished life so much that as he was approaching death he could not bear to forgo the opportunity he had to accomplish more with those extra years. The potential to live and be like G-d is a burning desire in all of us, and it’s awakened only through age and life’s experiences. There is so much that a righteous person, one who appreciates life can do with even one more year, with even one more month, with even a single day. Life is so precious that when he realized that his time was up, he became so distraught and irrational that he forgot his promise or was willing to retract the promise (depending of the varying versions quoted above).
Interestingly, King David had fallen victim to the same desire to live. Towards the end of his life, he knew that he is destined to die on Shabbat. David also knew that if one learns Torah, the Angel of Death cannot harm him.  He then devised a plan, when his seventieth year was approaching, he would learn constantly without stop from when the Shabbat begins till it ends twenty five hours later where then he will be safe.

 One Shabbat he hears noise from his garden and after ignoring it for a while, succumbs to his curiosity. Those few minutes where he looked outside was all the Angel of Death needed. For those minutes of non Torah learning he was able to take David’s life.
 Subconsciously, we want to be perfect. The Jewish philosophy is all about emulating G-d. G-d rested on the seventh day, for this reason we rest. We conduct kindness because G-d does kindness with us. Patience is a virtue because G-d is patient.  Perfection is the goal. Unfortunately, that goal is rarely reached.  Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto in the book Messilat Yesharim writes that Ninety five percent of people when asked before they leave this world, if they  fulfilled their life dreams, did they accomplish what they set for in life said “no”. We don’t realize how much life means till later in life.  That appreciation is special and G-d loves it.
 Interestingly, this episode accomplished several things.  David received seventy years and Adam elevated his status to a tsaddik.

The Most Beautiful Esrog

by Rabbi Berel Wein
I wish to share with you a beautiful short story about the wonderful festival of Sukkot. The story was authored by S.Y. Agnon, the Israeli Nobel laureate who won the prize for literature a number of years ago, and whose likeness adorns the 50-shekel note in Israeli currency.
It seems that Agnon, who was born in Poland, was a neighbor of a famous old rabbi from Russia. Both of them are now living in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Talpiot. One year before Sukkot, Agnon met his rabbinic neighbor at the neighborhood store selling esrogim — the yellow citron fruit which is symbolic of the Sukkot holiday. There Agnon noticed how meticulous his neighbor was in choosing an esrog. Even though he was a person of limited means, the rabbi insisted on purchasing the finest, and hence most expensive, esrog available. After examining many specimens, the rabbi finally chose the one he wished and paid for it.
Walking home with Agnon, the rabbi emphasized to him how important it was to have a beautiful, flawless esrog on Sukkot, and how the beauty of the esrog was part of the fulfillment of the Divine commandment for the holiday.

On Sukkot morning Agnon noticed that the rabbi was without an esrog at the synagogue services. Perplexed, Agnon asked the rabbi where his beautiful esrog was. The rabbi answered by relating the following incident:
“I awoke early, as is my wont, and prepared to recite the blessing over the esrog in my sukkah located on my balcony. As you know, we have a neighbor with a large family, and our balconies adjoin. As you also know, our neighbor, the father of all these children next door, is a man of short temper. Many times he shouts at them or even hits them for violating his rules and wishes. I have spoken to him many times about his harshness but to little avail.
“As I stood in the sukkah on my balcony, about to recite the blessing for the esrog, I heard a child’s weeping coming from the next balcony. It was a little girl crying, one of the children of our neighbor. I walked over to find out what was wrong. She told me that she too had awakened early and had gone out on her balcony to examine her father’s esrog, whose delightful appearance and fragrance fascinated her. Against her father’s instructions, she removed the esrog from its protective box to examine it. She unfortunately dropped the esrog on the stone floor, irreparably damaging it and rendering it unacceptable for ritual use. She knew that her father would be enraged and would punish her severely, perhaps even violently. Hence the frightened tears and wails of apprehension.
“I comforted her, and I then took my esrog and placed it in her father’s box, taking the damaged esrog to my premises. I told her to tell her father that his neighbor insisted that he accept the gift of the beautiful esrog, and that he would be honoring me and the holiday by so doing.”
Agnon concludes the story by saying: “My rabbinic neighbor’s damaged, bruised, ritually unusable esrog was the most beautiful esrog I have ever seen in my lifetime.”

The Mechanics of miracles-Succot edition

This article was constructed with the help of either writings, lectures or shiurim of Rabbi’s Noach Isaac Oelbaum, Asher Hertzberg, Baruch Dopelt, Rachamim Shaulov and Dr. Abba Goldman and Esther Matmon
Although Succot is a beautiful holiday, it does require much work. Building the Sukkah, granted it’s fun, takes up lots of time. The same can be said about buying the Lulav and Etrog set, it impinges on our really heavy schedule. Waving those pointy lulavs with an occasional dart can be painful and burdensome, especially having to be careful not to break the delicate “pitom” on the small etrog.  Furthermore having to go out to the sukkah every time one wants to snack, a small cookie, (mezonot) is really uncomfortable. It’s similar to going out to the corner neighborhood store by car to get a paper only to have to walk a half a block to get a parking stub from the mini meters. Might as well not eat the cookie or get the paper.  Moreover, it’s not easy to sit in uncomfortable climate and change our lifestyle. It’s nice, perhaps for one or two outings, a change of scenery takes out the boredom in our HO HUM life, however seven days!! That’s a lot of meals where plates going back and forth from inside the house. Nevertheless G-d said to perform the commandment of sitting in the Succah therefore we dutifully oblige.
It’s interesting that Sukkot follows the Yamim Noraim – days of awe, where we just came out apologizing profusely and asking G-d to wipe out the bad decree, Amein! Perhaps Succot with all its tasks and requirements is one last test. We were knocking our hearts with our fists and cried “we’ll gravitate to you, G-d!!  We won’t sin anymore; we’ll change”. Is that what we said not too long ago?   Well, here is a shot to prove your worth, as they say. Here is an opportunity to put your trust in G-d. Here is a chance to put your money where your mouth is. Here is an opportunity to show we really meant what we said. Hey!! You mean business….don’t you? Here is a chance to weather the uncomfortable environment and have the right feelings.
  Many Jews open a letter, an email with the word BH, or SIYATA D’SHMAYA – with G-d’s help on top of the page. It’s a Jewish heading. It really is a loaded statement. In other words, by writing BH, we’re implying G-d’s running the show. How many of us believe that?
  One of the major aspects of “with G-d’s help” is we participate in the help. “Siyata” can also mean “helper of G-d”. We learned about “Effort”, in Judaism 101. We have to make an effort in all our life endeavors. We can’t just sit pat and wait for G-d to deliver at our door step money, the Porsche or the mail order bride. We have to use our optimal ability to move up in life, in every aspect of this wonderful glorious world whether spiritual and/or materialistic. Here we take effort to a different crazy level. We were under the notion that Siyata d’shmaya was a solo act. The idea was “we are waiting for G-d Who is going to help”. However, if we participate, do an extra part then the miracle will take effect. Do you believe in miracles?
We see this occur from the following stories:

****The Chafetz Chaim – Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan, (1839-1933), was one of the greatest Rabbis in our illustrious Jewish history. His books, commentary on Jewish law (Mishna Brurah) as well as his books where his profound words and emphasis on lashon hara (guard your tongue) have been unprecedented and has changed many lives.
The Chafetz Chaim was quite revered in his time and when he fell extremely ill at the age of eighty eight in the year 1929 there was an outcry and concern for his wellbeing. Tehilim was recited throughout the Jewish world. After all, he was considered one of the prominent Rabbis of the generation and well needed for his teachings and advice to the Jewish populous.
 There was one young man Mordechai who was particularly taken by the Chafetz Chaim’s illness. He was the son of the prominent Rosh Yeshiva – Moshe Londinsky and for a brief period was one of the Chafetz Chaim’s personal secretaries. One night, at the study hall, being in a somber state, he decided to recite the entire Tehilim  for the z’chut of the refuah shelema of his Rav. As the dawn hour was approaching, he got up from his seat, after finishing Tehilim, and went up to the eichal – Aron Hakodesh to put in his own personal prayer. As he grabbed the parochet (the velvety cover curtain) and brought it close to his eyes, he cried out to G-d “the world needs the Chafetz Chaim!!” “I’m a young student that will probably not come close to the greatness of such a holy man. As a matter of fact”, He said, “I’m willing to give up 5 years of my life so that the Chafetz Chaim can live. He’ll probably be more productive in those five years than I will be my entire life”. This is how deeply the young man felt. Throughout the day the young man thought of the proclamation he had presented to G-d and still felt strongly about it.
 The news traveled fast that the Chafetz Chaim was miraculously getting better  and chances of him making a full recovery was great. Sometime later the Chafetz Chaim now at full strength met Mordechai Londensky.” I thank G-d that the Rebbi is feeling better” Mordechai said. The Chafetz Chaim looked him in the eyes and said “I know what you did for me Mordechai and I want to thank you for the five years”. Mordechai was floored. He hadn’t told anyone about his conversation with G-d. The Chafetz Chaim then proclaimed.  “I am giving you a blessing that you will live a little longer then I am right now”
 …Five years later the Chafetz Chaim past away…
  Rabbi Mordechai Londinski passed away at the age of eighty nine. It was just like the Chafetz Chaim had promised “you will live a little longer then I am now”. His funeral, though, was delayed for a day for his beloved son Moshe who was in California had to arrive. Usually, the burial has to take place within twenty four hours. Rabbi Kaminetski gave the unusual HETTER-“permission” to delay.  Rabbi Moshe Londinski arrived and eulogized his father where he revealed this story. He said “besides my father, I and Chafetz Chaim no one knew this story until today” Rav Kaminetski said “it’s with the help of G-d that I made my decision to delay. Now I know why”.
 Rabbi Mordechai Londinski made the extra effort to make the miracle happen, the miracle of life.
Many people have gone to the Baba Sali for brachot – blessings. One particular individual was seeking a bracha – blessing to have children. It was medically impossible for him and his wife to conceive. However, the man was determined to make every effort to make this impossible dream possible. There were usually long lines and people waiting for hours to see the Rabbi and when they do see him it’s in passing, very brief – one or two word answers. However, many have sworn that his brachot come true. When it was finally this individual’s turn the Baba Sali looked at the letter that was presented to him with the request “Children!” to which he replied “lost case”, next… person on line. The individual though broken came the next day again to be in line for a blessing, after his turn came, he again gave in his request “Children!”, and the answer was… “lost case”, next…, the next day he was there again with the same request and the same answer followed “lost case”. He kept coming to Rav Baba Sali every single day for the next 200 days to bless him to have kids and always received the same answer…Then the secretary of the Rav Baba Sali finally told the Rav “why don’t you tell him to stop coming already”, the Rav told the petitioner “you come every day with the same request and I gave you an answer already, may be you should stop coming”. The petitioner said “I know your prayers work, G-d listens to you; you are the only one in this world who can help me”. “Do you really believe in it?” asked the Rav, “then go right now and buy a baby carriage”. The man left ecstatic “I received the blessing!”, “I received the blessing!” He went and brought a new baby carriage to his wife at home. Nine months later he had a baby!
 People like this refuse to be discouraged by those who advise them that their goals are impossible to attain. 
We often hear such an individual being praised for “accomplishing the impossible,” almost as if he pulled off something supernatural, against the natural order. The truth is that the person may have indeed gone far beyond the norm in dedication, sacrifice and commitment.

But that is not what brought them success. They tasted success only because G-d’s hand enabled them to do so, or else it truly would have been impossible to achieve what they did.

Anyone who walks this earth with his eyes open is aware of the hand of G-d that touches us every moment of our lives. We see Siyata Di’Shmaya – Divine Protection – constantly. We work hard to accomplish our goal and then G-d takes over.

Every person was created to carry out a mission in life. Those who succeed are the ones who don’t let anything deter them for long. With faith in the One Above, they ignore the difficulties that would throw off lesser men. They continue their effort with the knowledge that G-d will assist them and take over for them at the proper time.

The final verdict is Hoshana Rabba, after we experience Succot. G-d watches how we would react sitting in the glorious but weather related Succah. It’s a time to ask, to pray, and to go beyond the norm.
We learn a very interesting and valuable lesson in similar vein from mikvah.  If someone is spiritually impure – tameh and touches the water, the water becomes impure. It’s powerful – the way Humans can transmit tumah – spiritual impurity. However, if a person immerses himself in a kosher mikvah, then not only is that the mikvah does not fall to impurity, but on the contrary – it makes the person tahor – pure. As long as the person does not have any chatzitza – any object on his body that will be considered a separation, for the idea is to be totally embodied/immersed within the mikvah parameters. He is part and parcel with the mikvah and with that power becomes pure. The Mitzvah of Succah is similar: in order to perform it – one has to be totally in the parameters (the entire body of the person inside the sukkah), just like Mikvah changes one’s status so does Succah, the power of Succah has the ability to make one Kadosh. The power of Succah has the power to make miracles; however, we need siyata di’shmaya and participation from ourselves. We build it, we beautify it, we do our part of participation and G-d does the rest.