Life IS Tough: How Avraham Avinu’s Nisyonos Impact Us All, Part One

I guess we all do our share of complaining. After all, life is tough.
Life is all too often stressful, aggravating, annoying…and trying. It is demanding
and strenuous, at times even onerous and troublesome. Sometimes it involves actual
suffering, anguish, and misfortune. Frequently we wonder where it is all coming
from, if Hashem is indeed actually doing this to us. Why are we victims, what is
the point, why can't the good times just roll? And even when they do, it doesn't
seem to be all that perfect, it's always disturbed or spoiled to some degree,
necessitating straightening out, and energy, to just put Humpty Dumpty back together
again.

Whose fault is this?

It states in Pirkei Avos, 5: 3: "Avraham Avinu was tested ten times, and he passed
all of those tests; this is to inform you the endearment of Avraham Avinu [to Hashem]."

It is important that we knowthis is to inform you —
that the endearment of Avraham Avinu in the eyes of Hashem came about through
his passing of ten specific "tests." This is Avraham Avinu, and his life
— he passed ten tests!

What does that say to us? Let's delve into that statement.

In the Maharal's world of numerology, the number ten is associated with
holiness; it represents a complete set, symbolizes the full range of possibilities.
It is the many consolidated into the one; it is the symbol of the difference between
the least and the most, the maximum degree of differentiation. Thus, to say that
Hashem tested Avraham Avinu with ten tests is to say that He tested him in all
possible ways
. And indeed, in the commentary on Avos by the brother of the
Vilna Ga'on, he writes that the ten nisyonos of Avraham Avinu incorporate
within them all possible difficulties that a person may experience in life
— difficulties that a person may face physically; questions in emunah;
difficulties in ruchniyus; issues concerning one's wife and children;
difficulties involved in chinuch habanim; predicaments concerning
one's possessions; hardships determining one's role in the community; shidduchim;
parnassa;
you name it!

Now, we know of the time-honored rule that ma'aseh avos siman l'banim.
We know that we carry within us the spiritual DNA of our Avos, and especially
that of Avraham Avinu.

Let us now look at and study Mesilas Yesharim, chapter one: After explaining
that the goal of our lives is to attain closeness and bonding with Hashem, and that
that is the ultimate pleasure possible, and that the path that Hashem chose for
us to reach this goal is through our performance of Torah and mitzvos in this world,
and that Hashem placed a person in a world where there exist various obstacles to
that pathway — those obstacles being our physical needs, wants, and desires — he
then says that a person is thus constantly in a state of battle. For every aspect
and occurence in this world, whether good or bad, is but a nisayon, a test,
for a person to see what path he or she will choose; whether the circumstance be
wealth or poverty, serenity or tribulations or suffering — everything, no matter
where a person turns, no matter what he or she does or what he or she faces — is
a test to determine his or her mettle, to see how he or she will wage this war.

In Derech Hashem (section 2, chapter 3), Ramchal (the author of Mesilas Yesharim)
elaborates, and writes: Good and evil exist throughout the beri'ah…the
good consists of every possible good, worthy quality (e.g, patience, kindness, empathy,
generosity, civility, bitachon, judging favorably, being satisfied with
what one has, humility, happiness, zerizus, truth-seeking, Torah-study);
and its opposite consists of every bad quality (e.g, anger, impatience, arrogance,
brazenness, egocentrism, cruelty, mercilessness, worry, sadness, jealousy, laziness,
stinginess, inapprpriate desires, falsehood, lashon hora).

He continues: Hashem's wisdom has decreed that in order for every possible
quality that can be included within the limits of the nature that a man has, which
is there for him to fulfill his ultimate purpose of existence, Hashem brings together
all these qualities (the good and its opposite middah) together with their
causes (e.g, that traffic jam, your spouse being late — again!, that plea for tzedakah,
that nudnik asking you for a favor, that obnoxious neighbor, competition, not getting
the raise you wanted…just take ten situations from what happened to you — yes,
you! — yesterday — yes, yesterday!) and everything which surrounds them and accompanies
them…

All the people in the world are placed into different stations in life, different
situations — and every station, every event, is a test for that particular individual
at that particular moment in time — an opportunity to embrace the good, or to fall
prey to the bad (e.g, Shall I yell at him? Should I get angry? Should I become frantic
with worry? Should I bend the rules? Shall I tell Reuven what Shimon did to me?
Shall I turn to Hashem or should I use my protexia?).

All these situations are made in order to create these tests, so that a person
choose: Will the wealthy person be generous or stingy? Will the poor person be satisfied
and have bitachon, or will he be bitter, angry, sullen? Will the wealthy
person be haughty? Will the gifted person be humble, sharing with and caring for
others?

The same is true for every single event! Every person's predicaments
in life are his or her challenges. Divine Wisdom divides these challenges amongst
the human race, with every person having his or her particular ones, each in its
proper time and place. And it is within this framework that he or she must strive
for success. His or her deeds are then judged by Hashem, depending on the particular
responsibility that was given to him or her at that moment, in that situation.

Thus, all gratification and all suffering and all annoyances and all frustrations
exist as a challenge and a test — and the nature of the challenge is what Divine
Wisdom has decreed to be best for — and the life task of — each and every individual.

The manner in which all this is accomplished is beyond our ability to grasp and
comprehend, and we can never understand it or perceive it fully. It is done with
unimaginable wisdom, with each person treated according to his or her nature and
potential and role in life.

To be continued…

Rain, Rain, Don’t Stay Away, It Is For You That We All Pray, Part Two

In Ta’anis 9B there is a dispute between Rebbe Yehoshua and Rebbe Eliezer concerning
the primary source of our rain. Rebbe Yehoshua holds that the clouds (condensed
water vapor) ascend to the sky, and then, as clouds, receive the original upper
waters
(as per Bereishis 1: 6,7) within them, and they proceed to “sprinkle”
those waters onto the earth. Rebbe Eliezer holds what is probably more familiar
to us, which is that rain is the ocean waters (lower waters) which evaporate,
ascend as vapor, undergo a certain transformation in the heavens to allow for their
use as usable, potable, water, and then descend as rain.

If we study this dispute for a few moments, we will be able perhaps to understand
why the Gemara in Ta’anis speaks of rain in such reverential terms. Scattered throughout
daf 7A through 9B in Ta’anis are the following statements: “A day of
rain is as momentous as the day on which the Torah was given…More momentous
than the day the Torah was given…A day of rain is greater than the day of the
resurrection of the dead…as momentous as the day on which Heaven and Earth were
created…On a day of rain, even salvation (apparently not associated with rain)
proliferates and grows…Rain does not fall unless Israel’s sins have been forgiven…
Rain falls for the sake of those who are trustworthy in business…As momentous
as the day of the ingathering of exiles…”and, conversely, the lack of it is considered
to have some major cosmic significance…”Rain is withheld only if there is a dire
gezeirah against the Jewish people…because the giving of tithes were
neglected…because of spoken lashon hara…because of brazen people…
because of bitul Torah…because of the sin of theft…because the
deeds of the generation are degenerate…”

The lesson all these statements are imparting to us is that we need a special
merit, some special consideration, for it to rain, for it is indicative and representative
of something notable and exceptional; and the lack of it speaks of Hashem’s extreme
displeasure.

This goes way betyond the obvious need for physical rain. Realize that both according
to Rebbe Yehoshua and Rebbe Eliezer, rain is reuniting, to a degree, the upper and
lower waters which were separated on the second day of Creation, when the lower
waters then complained bitterly at their being distanced from Hashem. The Maharal
explains that water has no essential tzurah, no essential form, which denotes
purpose. Rather, it is chomer, and takes on the form of whatever vessel
it is put into. Thus, in the upper spheres, mayim elyonim is Torah — the
purified, distilled, will of Hashem, bonded intimately with Him. Hashem then split
off the lower waters, which, when used improperly, are chomer incarnate,
as indeed it is so described in Kabbalistic sources. What we need to do is reunite
the lower waters with the upper ones — acknowledgement there is only one Source
for all existence, and all is but a manifestation of His will.

What accomplishes that? What helps the world reach its ultimate goal
by taking chomer and proclaiming its bond with Hashem? RAIN!
Rain is chessed Hashem, rain represents the hashpa’ah from Heaven
onto earth, rain expresses and exemplifies how Hashem — literally— showers us with
his beneficience, and it is but our acknowledgement which stands in the way of thus
reuniting this world with the upper world, the world of malachim and Heavenly
spheres. Yes, Hashem created the means of reuniting the lower world with the upper
world — through rain. Thus, we see that both Tannaim agree that this is
what is involved in the rain process: a connection between the waters separated
at Creation. (And this reuniting is actually considered a bonding of the highest
order. The Gemara says [Ta’anis 6B], “Rain penetrates the ground as the soil’s husband
[the same Hebrew verb, revi’ah, is used to describe both]. As we see in
Yesahaya 55:10, the words used are, “And the falling rain makes the ground
give birth, and produce vegetation…
A sky which clouds over and produces no rain
is compared to a woman in labor who does not give birth…Hashem is po’ked
(remembers) righteous women (And Hashem remembered [pakad] Sarah…And
it says, You remembered the earth [pakadeta aretz]) and watered it).”

We prepare for this momentous opportunity to acknowledge Hashem (and not that
cold front coming in off the Gulf of Mexico colliding with the warm front of El
Nino) on Sukkos, with nissuch hamayim, the water libation. This is the
powerful catalyst for rain (see Rosh Hashanah 16A): “Hashem says, pour the water
libation onto my Altar on Sukkos, so as to ensure a blessed water supply in the
coming winter.” And, having seen the Rashi in Vayikra cited last week (now you have
to go look it up. I told you not to throw out last week’s Chadash!) that
the water libation was Hashem’s answer to the lower waters, that you, chomer
epitomized, can and will be brought on the Altar of G-d, meaning subsuming
the lower waters to be seen as the handiwork of Hashem, as rain, which is the reuniting
of elyonim and tachtonim, as acknowledged by us as a Heaven-sent
gift.

And so nissuch hamayim on Sukkos (offering our personal lower waters
onto the Altar of Hashem) brings the blessing of rain (Hashem’s chessed
and hashpa’ah onto this world, as acknowledged by us) which itself carries
in it the reuniting of Creation’s upper and lower waters, as per Rebbe Yehoshua
or Rebbe Eliezer — and thus has the potential to embody the greatest of days, whether
it be the resurrection of the dead, the creation of Heaven and Earth, or the giving
of Torah — for this is the goal of Creation: reuniting these two entities to
produce
spiritual growth.

KI ATA HU HASHEM ELOKEINU, MASHIV HARU’ACH UMORID HAGESHEM…V’SEIN TAL
UMATAR LIV’RACHA!

Shabbos Parsha Vayeira Bulletin, Tefilla Halacha, and a Poll Question

Shabbos Bulletin Parshas Vayeira

If one forgets to say ‘v’sein tal u’matar —

  • If he remembered before saying the shem HaShem of the conclusion of the berachah, he goes back to vesein tal….and says from there.
  • If he said the shem HaShem of the conclusion of the berachah, even if he just said Baruch Atta HaShem (and nothing else yet), he continues, and says vesein tal.. in shema koleinu.
  • If he did not insert it in shema koleinu, but remembered that he forgot after saying shem HaShem of the conclusion of the shema koleinu berachah, but nothing else (i.e, he said Baruch Atta HaShem), he should conclude lamdeinee chukechoh, say vesein tal u’matar livrachah, and continue ki atta shome’a…(continued iyh next week)

The Kaf HaChaim (siman 151:8) describes the severity of the aveirah of talking in Shul , and says that one who talks in Shul inappropriately would be better off not coming to shul at all.

Poll question:Do you think the Kaf HaChaim’s statement should be our Shul policy?

Lech Lecha – Shabbos Bulletin and Tefilla Halacha

Lech Lecha Bulletin in PDF format

An Eretz Yisrael fellow in Chu”l–If you go after today, continue saying v’sen tal u’mottohr in the birkas hashanim..try to avoid being the shali’ach tzibbur; if you end up being the shali’ach tzibbur, you should daven the way the tzibbur is saying.

If you have been there from before today, say it while there in shema koleinu, till you get back here. After that, say it in the regular place. 

Chu”l person here–If he is here already now, or will be coming, and he is staying till Dec 4, he should say it like we do here.

If he is leaving before Dec 4, he says it in shema koleinu. 

After an edifying session at the Oneg last leil Shabbos, where the subject of talking in Shul was fleshed out over delicious cholent, Rav Malinowitz feels a certain consensus was reached, and there is no need to address the matter publicly–at this point. There will be steps taken in the coming days iyh to make the davening atmosphere in the Shul even better than it is.

Rain, Rain, Don’t Stay Away, It Is For You That We All Pray, Part One

Rain, rain, rain. We are now turning our attention to it, praying for it, hoping for it, anticipating it, longing for it, and eagerly awaiting it. All over the world, and especially here in Eretz Yisroel, the need for rain is basic and essential. It is true that we do not feel it in a modernized society as much as we did in the past, since we do not see dwindling water supplies in our backyard as people still did just a few decades ago here, and still do in many parts of the world; but of course the indispensibility of rain is ever-present — for life, for agriculture, and, in fact, for any one of so many basic needs. Eretz Yisroel is blessed with an abundance of streams and brooks, creeks and rivulets. “For Hashem your Lord is bringing you to a good Land — a Land with flowing streams, and underground springs and subterranean waters, gushing out in valleys and mountains. (Devarim 8:7)

 Of course, this then leads us to being confronted with the reality that, “But the land which you are crossing to occupy is a Land of mountains and valleys, which can be irrigated only by rain; it is therefore a Land constantly under Hashem, your Lord’s, scrutiny; the eyes of Hashem, your L-rd are upon it at all times, from the beginning of the year until the end of the year.” (Devarim 11:11) Unfortunately, the “blessing” of modern plumbing and water-storage-and -dispensation, which in Eretz Yisroel today is under the auspices of Mekoros — the national water company, who has gone and dried up many of the above-mentioned streams and water sources in the interests of creating a water-infrastructure which carries water to your kitchen sink and bathroom, as well as to just about everyone else’s — has created a distance between our Creator and ourselves, as most of us now do not directly experience Hashem’s giving us water. But let a winter or two or three go by with insufficient rainfall, and we are hit with the reality of our dependence, adding a special prayer in Shemoneh Esrei, perhaps fasting..  as the government scurries about, warning ominously of red lines, and of course raising the price we pay for water, and hatching brilliant schemes such as importing icebergs (no, not lettuce — real, live, icebergs) from our good friend, Turkey (I kid you not — people either don’t know, or have short -term memory issues.)

 It is a fact that many of the rituals of Sukkos which we just celebrated have to do with beseeching Hashem to make the coming rainy season an abundant one. Chazal teach in Maseches Ta’anis, as well as in Maseches Sukah, that the four minim that we take and wave have an unusual dependence upon rain, reflecting ours, and thus constituting an implicit prayer for precipitation. The aravah we take on Hoshana Rabbah and the many many hoshanos which we say then are all about rain and imploring Hashem to send it. Of course we all remember how in the middle of the joy and gaiety of Simchas Torah we stopped, and solemnly, in a Yomim Nora’im niggun, no less, pleaded for rain in Tefillas Geshem.

 And how many people are aware that the festivities and liveliness which we all enjoyed at the many Simchas Beis Hasho’evahs which we attended are commemorative, according to most Rishonim, of the nisuch hamayim ceremony on Sukkos in the Bais Hamikdash (this consisted of pouring not only wine, but also water, into the cavities in the mizbe’ach made for this purpose, while bringing the daily Tamid morning korban), itself an avodah meant to be an insinuated prayer for rain (see Rosh Hashana 16A )?

Let us now take a deeper look at this “pouring-of-the-water” ceremony. Rashi (Vayikra 2:13) tells us of a Midrash which describes the dismay  of the”lower waters” when the separation between the upper waters and the lower waters happened on the second day of Creation. (If that sounds vaguely familiar, we leined it in last week’s portion, B’reishis.) “Why have we now become distant from Hashem (the upper waters remained part of the heavenly spheres, while the lower waters became part of this world’s earthiness)?” Hashem then promised them that they would “return” to Him. When? How? When nisuch hamayim is performed, when the lower waters are poured ( i.e, offered ) on Hashem’s Holy Altar in the Bais Hamikdash.

 This can be understood in the following manner: Our understanding of rain is that there is something called a “water cycle,” where the water in the world is basically finite, and keeps going around and around. Let’s start with evaporation (the sun heats up water in rivers or lakes or the ocean and turns it into vapor or steam. The water vapor or steam leaves the river, lake or ocean and goes into the air.) Then there is condensation (water vapor in the air gets cold and changes back into liquid, forming clouds) Next comes precipitation (so much water has condensed that the air cannot hold it anymore; he clouds get heavy and water falls back to the earth in the form of rain, hail, sleet or snow). And finally, there is collection (when water falls back to earth as precipitation, it may fall back in the oceans, lakes or rivers or it may end up on land; when it ends up on land, it will either soak into the earth and become part of the “ground water” that plants and animals use to drink, or it may run over the soil and collect in the oceans, lakes or rivers, where the cycle starts all over again).

In Gemara Ta’anis (9B-10A), Rav Eliezer says that the source of the rain we have is indeed the oceans and seas. And the process of evaporation and cloud formation separates the salt from the water. And while Rav Yehoshua holds that rain originates from the original upper waters mentioned above, the Gemara explains there that even according to Rav Eliezer, our perspective on rain is also that it is a celestial, Heavenly gift, coming onto the earth from a more sublime, otherworldly place, as it acquires that quality when it becomes clouds.

To be continued…….