Saturday, October 18, 2014

Week 5 (Book 4a): Loving G-d and Bringing Him into the World: Ryzhin and Bluzhev

STORY OF CHANNAH: 5 but unto Hannah he gave a double portion; for he loved Hannah, but the LORD had shut up her womb.   
   
QUALITY OF ONE WHO LEARNS TORAH FOR ITS OWN SAKE: Loves G-d  
     
BOOK PROVERBS: Chapter 5
 
TZADIKIM: Rav Menachem Mendel of Vizhnitz and Rabbi Yisrael Spira of Bluzhev (29th of Tishrei) 
 
Week 5 is the week of Rosh Chodesh Cheshvan.  The verse from the story of Channah is about how Elkanah would give her a double portion, but that she could not become pregnant. This aspect of Channah runs parallel to the story of our matriarch Rachel. Jacob loved Rachel dearly, yet G-d had also not graced her with children. Today, one of the few dates of Cheshvan that we do commemorate is the anniversary of the passing (yahrzeit) of Rachel, on the 11th of Cheshvan.
 
The Pirkei Avot adjective associated to this week is also associated with love: “loves G-d.” In Hebrew, it is written “Ohev et HaMakom,” which literally means loves “the Place.” In various texts, G-d is called “the Place,” because He is not placed within the world, rather the world is placed within Him. There is no place devoid of G-d.[1] That means that even when we go outside our comfort zone, outside the “Garden of Eden” that is Tishrei and holiday observance, and into the “danger zone” that is Cheshvan and world involvement, G-d is always with us. We are always within Him.
 
Chapter 5 of the Book of Proverbs encompasses many of the basic ideas of loving G-d (reminiscent also of the love between Jacob and Rachel), and being aware of the pitfalls that exist once we engage with the world around us:
 
3. For the lips of a strange woman drip honey, and her palate is smoother than oil.      
4. But her end is as bitter as wormwood, as sharp as a two-edged sword. (...)
15. Drink water from your own cistern and running water from your own spring.           
16. May your springs spread out rivulets of water in the squares. (…)                                
19. [The wife of your youth] is a lovely hind and a graceful mountain goat, her breasts will satisfy you at all times; you shall always be intoxicated with her love.
 
Rashi explains that the “strange woman” is a reference to foreign gods and apostasy, while the “wife of your youth” and “your own cistern” is the Torah. The references to water are also appropriate for the month of Cheshvan, the month of the Flood.
 
This week, yahrzeits continue to be related to the Rizhin dynasty. The 29th of Tishrei is the yahrzeit of Rav Menachem Mendel of Vizhnitz, the son-in-law of the Rizhiner, and the founder of the Vizhnitz chassidic dynasty. Also (often) this week, is the yahrzeit of the Rizhiner himself, Rabbi Yisrael Friedman, on the 3rd of Cheshvan. An interesting story is told of an interaction between these two tzadikim, which very much exemplifies what was mentioned in the previous week, of how the spiritual path of Rizhin is about elevating the physical world yet also remaining above and beyond its limitations and pleasures:
 
One day when the Tzemach Tzaddik and the Rizhiner were engaged in a meal, the Rizhiner put his fork down after he was only half way through with his meal. When the Tzemach Tzaddik questioned him the Rizhiner said that before he was born, he had made a deal with his neshomo (soul), only to eat enough to get by, and not a morsel more. The Tzemach Tzaddik then commented that he just realized something. "All my life there was something that bothered me, and I just figured out the answer," he said. "On Friday night we sing shalom aleichem, welcoming the the angels that accompany us home from shul into our homes. But then, just a short while later, we sing tzeischem lesholom, bidding them farewell. Why do we send them away so soon? Now I realize why. It's because angels can't partake in earthly pleasures. They can't taste food. We don't want to show them disrespect by eating in front of them, so way say goodbye before we begin our meal," at which point the Tzemach Tzaddik put down his fork, indicating that he was in the presence of a maloch at that moment, the Rizhiner himself.[2]
 
Also usually this week, is the yahrzeit of Rabbi Yisrael Spira, the Bluzhover Rebbe. Rabbi Yisrael survived the Holocaust, having himself experienced the agony and suffering of the concentration camps and having lost his wife and children. There are many stories of his miraculous survival, righteousness and dedication during this time and afterwards. The Bluzhever Rebbe was able to find G-d literally in the gates of hell on earth:
 
During the days of Chanukah, the Rebbe lit candles in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Once when he recited the blessings, a Jew asked him a question: “Rabbi, even if you stubbornly lit the Chanukah candles and said Lehadlik Ner and She’asa Nissim [the blessings of lighting candles and remembering the miracles], what justification do you have in saying Sheheheyanu Vekiyemanu Vehigi’yanu Lazman Hazeh [“Who has kept us alive and preserved us and enabled us to reach this time”]? During a time in which thousands of Jews are dying terrible deaths, why would you say Sheheheyanu?”
 
“I too asked myself this question,” the Rebbe replied. “I looked for an answer and found one: When I recited the blessing, I saw that a large crowd had gathered – risking their own lives in so doing – to watch the lighting of the candles. By the very fact that G-d has such loyal Jews – prepared to give their lives for the lighting of the candles – by that very fact alone we may recite Sheheheyanu.”[3]
 
Other yahrzeits this week include Shimon HaTzadik (29th of Tishrei), Rabbi Shmuel Tzvi son of Rabbi Yechiel Danziger of Alexander, the Tiferes Shmuel (29th of Tishrei), and (sometimes) Rabbi David ou-Moshe (1st of Cheshvan), Rabbi Baruch son of Rabbi Yisrael Hager, the Seret-Vizhnitz Rebbe, the Makor Boruch (2nd of Cheshvan), Rabbi Eliezer of Dzikov son of Rabbi Naftali Tzvi of Ropshitz (3rd of Cheshvan), Rabbi Yehudah Leib of Kopust (elder brother of Rabbi Shmuel of Lubavitch, 3rd of Cheshvan), and Rabbi Klonimus Kalman Shapiro of Piazetsna, the Aish Kodesh (4th of Cheshvan).

 
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