Weekly Cycle

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Week 32 (Book 4): Ups and Downs

STORY OF CHANNAH: 4. The bows of the mighty are broken; And those who stumbled, are girded with strength.

PIRKEI AVOT ON THE GREATNESS OF TORAH: Great is Torah, for it gives life to its observers in this world, and in the World To Come. As is stated (Proverbs 4:22): "For they are life to he who finds them, and a healing to all his flesh."


TZADDIKIM: Rav Naftali Tzvi of Ropshitz and Rabbi Yitzchak Isaac Yehuda Yechiel Safrin ben Alexander Sender of Komarno 

On Week 32, still related to Yom Ha’Atzma’ut, the verse from the story of Hannah speaks of how the bows of the mighty were broken, and those that had stumbled were given strength to succeed. This is a very accurate description of what took place in 1948.

We now switch from discussing the quality of those that study Torah for its own sake, to examine particular verses chosen in Pirkei Avot which illustrate the greatness of the Torah, which gives life in this world and in the World to Come. The first verse speaks of life and healing of the flesh. At the time of independence, the Jewish people were broken. Yet somehow they gathered strength and found life and healing. The same can be said for Channah.

We also now switch from the Book of Proverbs to the Book of Ecclesiastes. Chapter 1 contains many of the above themes, particularly how the world goes in circles, with many ups and downs. The wicked may at one point be on top, but they will ultimately fall. Life and endurance are given to those that remain humble:

1. The words of Koheleth son of David, king in Jerusalem.              

RASHI -  The words of Koheleth: … “The words of Koheleth… The sun rises… All the rivers run into the sea.” He refers to the wicked as the sun, the moon, and the sea, which have no reward. So it was taught in Sifrei (Deut. 1:1). I learned from there that the section deals with the wicked and compares them to the rising of the sun, which ultimately sets.


4. A generation goes and a generation comes, but the earth endures forever.

RASHI - A generation goes and a generation comes: As much as the wicked man toils and labors to oppress and to rob, he does not outlive his works, for the generation goes and another generation comes and takes all away from his sons, as it is stated (Job 20:10): “His sons will placate the poor.”
but the earth endures forever: But who are the ones who endure? The humble and low, who bring themselves down to the earth, as it is stated (Ps. 37:11): “But the humble shall inherit the earth.” And Midrash Tanhuma states: All the righteous of Israel are called earth [or land], as it is said (Mal. 3:12): “for you shall be a desirable land.”


6. It goes to the south and goes around to the north; the will goes around and around, and the will returns to its circuits.

RASHI - goes around and around: … Also the wicked, no matter how much their sun rises, they will ultimately set. No matter how much they gain power, they will ultimately return to the place of filth. From the place of filth they came, and to the place of filth they will go. And so…

This week includes many yahrzeits, including the founder of two prominent Chassidic lines: Rabbi Yitzchak Isaac Yehuda Yechiel of Komarno (10th of Iyar) and Rabbi Naftali of Ropshitz (11th of Iyar).

From Ascent:

Rabbi Yitzchak Isaac Yehuda Yechiel Safrin ben Alexander Sender of Komarno (25 Shvat 1806-10 Iyar 1874), was one of the most prolific and respected expounders of the Kabbalah teachings of the Baal Shem Tov. He insisted that every Jew should study the Zohar and the Writings of the Arizal, and emphasized the importance of Kabbalistic meditation. A close disciple of Rebbe Tzvi Hersh from Zhiditchov (the Komarno dynasty is considered a branch of Zhiditchov), he was a hidden ascetic for many years, only later known for his genius, piety and ability to work wonders when he became the Rebbe of thousands of chasidim. He authored volumes of deep insights on Jewish mysticism, as well as on Mishnah and Jewish Law. His commentaries include Heichal HaBrachah on the Torah, Otzar HaChaim on the commandments, and Zohar Chaion the Zohar.

Rabbi Naftali of Ropshitz (6 Sivan 1760 [the same day as the Besht's passing!] -11 Iyar 1827) became the rebbe of many thousands of chassidim. He was noted for his sharp wit and humor and his elusive sparkling aphorisms. Some of his teachings are collected in his works, Zera Kodesh, Ayalah Sheluchah, and Imrei Shefer. Many stories about him appear in the book, Ohel Naftoli.

From RabbiShimon.com:
When R' Naftali decided to join the chassidic movement he chose Rabbi Elimelech of Lizensk as his mentor. He subsequently became a dedicated chasid of the "three patriarchs:" the Chozeh of Lublin, the Maggid of Koznitz, and Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Rymanov.

During the Napoleonic wars the Tzaddikim were divided in their attitude towards Napoleon. Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Rymanov strongly supported Napoleon and felt the wars represented Gog and Magog and were a prelude to the Messiah. His disciple Rabbi Naftali, as well as Rabbi Shneur Zalman, the Baal HaTanya, were strongly opposed, sensing that Napoleon's victory would introduce changes which would threaten the Jewish community's way of life.

After the passing of these three luminaries he settled in Ropshitz, which then became the focal point for thousands of chassidim. Ropshitz chassidut distinguished itself for the captivating niggunim it created, soul stirring melodies of ecstasy and of yearning for nearness to G-d.

Reb Naftali is a crucial figure in the development of Galician Chassidut and there are many "minhagei Ropshitz", which are followed in Galicia. He was known for his profound wisdom, sharp sense of humor and musical gifts.  He was a master of kabbalistic interpretation of the Torah, a fact reflected in his writings. His demeanor, his sermons, and his witticisms concealed a depth of thought that could be grasped only by his closest students, foremost among whom was Rabbi Chaim of Tzanz.

Other yahrzeits this week include Rabbi Yerachmiel Rabinowitz of Peshischa (son of the Yid HaKadosh, 8th of Iyar), Rabbi Moshe Mordechai Twersky of Lublin-Trisk (8th of Iyar), Rabbi David Twerski of Tolna (son of Rabbi Mordechai of Chernobyl, 10th of Iyar), Rabbi Masoud Abuchatzeira (son of the Abir Yaakov and the father of Baba Sali, 12th of Iyar)

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Week 33 (Book 4): Health

STORY OF CHANNAH: 5 They that were full have hired out themselves for bread; and they that were hungry have ceased; while the barren hath borne seven, she that had many children hath languished.  

PIRKEI AVOT ON THE GREATNESS OF TORAH: And it says (ibid. 3:8): "It shall be health to your navel, and marrow to your bones."           


TZADDIKIM: Rabbi Mordechai ("Mottel") of Chernobyl (20th of Iyar) and Rabbi Mordechai ("Mottele") Twersky from Rachmistrivka (17th Iyar)

On Week 33, the week of Lag Ba’Omer, the verse from the story of Hannah continues the theme as last week, but the focus is on physical wealth and health, particularly the ability to have children.

Regarding the greatness of the Torah, Pirkei Avot also focuses on the physical, and also seems to allude to procreation, “It shall be health to your navel, and marrow to your bones."

Chapter 2 of Ecclesiastes is primarily about describing the pleasures of the body and physical wealth:

1. I said to myself, "Come now, I will mix [wine] with joy and experience pleasure"; and behold, this too was vanity.                      
2. Of laughter, I said, "[It is] mingled"; and concerning joy, "What does this accomplish?"
3. I searched in my heart to indulge my body with wine, and my heart conducting itself with wisdom and holding onto folly, until I would see which is better for the children of men that they should do under the heavens, the number of the days of their lives.                 
4. I made myself great works; I built myself houses, and I planted myself vineyards.
5. I made myself gardens and orchards, and I planted in them all sorts of fruit trees.
6. I made myself pools of water, to water from them a forest sprouting with trees.
7. I acquired male and female slaves, and I had household members; also I had possession of cattle and flocks, more than all who were before me in Jerusalem.               
8. I accumulated for myself also silver and gold, and the treasures of the kings and the provinces; I acquired for myself various types of musical instruments, the delight of the sons of men, wagons and coaches.           
9. So I became great, and I increased more than all who were before me in Jerusalem; also my wisdom remained with me.
10. And [of] all that my eyes desired I did not deprive them; I did not deprive my heart of any joy, but my heart rejoiced with all my toil, and this was my portion from all my toil.
11. Then I turned [to look] at all my deeds that my hands had wrought and upon the toil that I had toiled to do, and behold everything is vanity and frustration, and there is no profit under the sun.

This week also includes many yahrzeits, including two prominent rebbes who descended from the Chassidic line of Chernobyl: Rabbi Mordechai ("Mottel") of Chernobyl (20th of Iyar) and his grandson who named after him, Rabbi Mordechai ("Mottele") Twersky from Rachmistrivka (17th Iyar).

From Ascent:

Rabbi Mordechai ("Mottel") of Chernobyl [1770 - 20 Iyar 1837], successor to his father, Rabbi Nachum, was the son-in-law of Rabbi Aharon the Great of Karlin and subsequently of Rabbi David Seirkes, an important disciple of the Baal Shem Tov. His eight sons all became major Chasidic leaders. One of them Yaakov Yisrael Twerski of Cherkassy, the first Hornsteipel Rebbe, married Devora Leah, one of the six daughters of Rabbi DovBer of Lubavitch, son of Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi (match arranged by the two grandfather-Rebbes), in order to maximize the possibilities for fulfillment of the prediction, "the Moshiach will be born of the elder disciple of the Maggid of Mezritch or the youngest."

Rabbi Mordechai ("Mottele") Twersky from Rachmistrivka (?- 17 Iyar 1921) moved to Jerusalem from Europe in 1908. He was known for his sharp mind and many business men used to seek his advice. He himself was a skilled craftsman, who did complex engravings from silver and copper. His father, Rabbi Yochanan Twerski, son of the famous Rebbe Mottele of Chernobyl, was the first Rebbe of the Rachmistrivka dynasty.

Other yahrzeits this week include R' Chaim Meir Yechiel Shapira, "the Saraph" (fiery angel) of Moglenitz (15th of Iyar), Rabbi Shmuel (of Karov-Vinagrov (15th of Iyar), Rabbi Moshe Chaim Ephraim of Sudylkov (the Degel Machaneh Ephraim, 17th of Iyar), Rabbi Moshe Isserles (the Ramah, 18th of Iyar), Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Riminov (19th of Iyar), Rabbi Shmuel Abuchatzeira (the forefather of the Abuchatzeira dynasty, 19th of Iyar), and Rabbi Yechi ben R' Avrohom Abuchatzeira (20th of Iyar).

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Week 34 (Book 4): The Tree of Life

STORY OF CHANNAH: 6. The Lord kills and makes alive; He brings down to the grave and raises up.

PIRKEI AVOT ON THE GREATNESS OF TORAH: And it says (3:18): "She is a tree of life for those who hold fast to her, and happy are those who support her."


TZADIKKIM: Rabbi Chaim Hager of Kosov and Rabbi David of Zubeltov, sons of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Hager of Kosov (26th of Iyar)

Week 34 is the last week of the month of Iyar. The story of Hannah speaks of Hashem as the one who brings life as well as death, which is the ultimate difference between those that are healed by Him and those that are not.  

The quotation of in Pirkei Avot for regarding greatness of the Torah for this week also is about life, describing the Torah as the “Tree of Life.”

Chapter 3 of Ecclesiastes begins with the same contrast of life and death:

1. Everything has an appointed season, and there is a time for every matter under the heaven.   
2. A time to give birth and a time to die; a time to plant and a time to uproot that which is planted.         
3. A time to kill and a time to heal; a time to break and a time to build.

It is very interesting that the third verse draws a contrast between “killing” and “healing.” As mentioned above, healing is ultimately about sparing life itself.

This week also includes two prominent yahrzeits from the Chassidic line of Kosov: Rabbi Chaim Hager of Kosov and Rabbi David of Zubeltov, sons of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Hager of Kosov. The two brothers passed away on the same date, the 25th of Iyar.

From Ascent:

Rabbi Chaim Hager of Kosov (1768 - 25 Iyar 1854) succeeded his father, R. Menachem Mendel, as Rav and Rebbe in Kossov in 1827. He is the author of Toras Chayim. A prominent synagogue in Tsfat is named after him. His son, Menachem Mendel, became the first Rebbe in Vishnitz.

Rabbi David of Zubeltov (1797 - 25 Iyar 1846) was the son of Rebbe Menachem Mendel of Kosov and the son-in-law of Rabbi Moshe Leib of Sassov. He became a rebbe in his own right at the young age of 29. He was held in great respect for his wisdom, even by the other rebbes of his generation.

Other yahrzeits this week include Rabbi Mordechai Shraga of Husyatin (22nd of Iyar), Rabbi Shlomo-Eliezer Alfandri (22nd of Iyar), Rabbi Benyamin Mendelson (24th of Iyar), Rabbi Yitzchak-Isaac of Homil (26th of Iyar), Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu of Zvolin ( son of Rabbi Yecheskel of Kuzmir and father of the first Modzhitzer Rebbe, 26th of Iyar) and Rabbi Shlomo (Shlom'ke) of Zivhil (26th of Iyar)

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Week 35 (Book 4): True Wealth and Honor

STORY OF CHANNAH: 7. The Lord impoverishes and makes rich. He humbles; He also exalts.

PIRKEI AVOT ON THE GREATNESS OF TORAH:And it says (1:9): "For they shall be a garland of grace for your head, and necklaces about your neck."           


TZADIKKIM: Rav Meir’l of Premishlan (29th of Iyar), Rabbi Yisroel (Ben Baruch) of Vizhnitz (2nd of Sivan), and Rabbi Chaim-Elazar Spira, the Munkaczer Rebbe (2nd of Sivan)

Week 35 is the week of Yom Yerushalayim and Rosh Chodesh Sivan. The story of Hannah speaks of Hashem as the one who gives wealth and exaltedness, as well as the one who takes these away.

The quotation of in Pirkei Avot regarding the greatness of the Torah for this week speaks of true wealth and exaltedness – which comes from the Torah - and uses a garland and necklaces as metaphors for the Torah itself.

Chapter 4 of Ecclesiastes contrasts physical wealth with true wealth, which comes from wisdom. It mentions how even a king, without wisdom, will be humbled in his own kingdom:

13. Better a poor and wise child than an old and foolish king, who no longer knows to receive admonition. 14. For out of the prison he has come to reign, for even in his kingdom, he becomes humble.

This week includes three prominent yahrzeits of Rav Meir’l of Premishlan (29th of Iyar), Rabbi Yisroel (Ben Baruch) of Vizhnitz (2nd of Sivan), and Rabbi Chaim-Elazar Spira, the Munkaczer Rebbe (2nd of Sivan)

From Zechus Avos Yogen Aleinu:

"Reb Meir'l and Reb Yisroel of Ruzhin were very good friends, even though they had very different ways of serving Hashem. The Rizhiner lived in grand luxury while Reb Meir lived with the bare minimum. One day Reb Meir'l was riding in a simple wagon drawn by a lone horse and he came across R' Yisroel of Rizhin riding in a wagon drawn by four powerful horses. Reb Meir asked him why he needed this. The Rizhiner replied that if he got stuck in the mud, these horses could get him out easily. Reb Meir responded: "since I have one weak horse, I am careful not to get stuck in the mud, in the first place".

"He was also on very good terms with Gedolim from the non-chassidic world, such as Reb Shlomo Kluger and Reb Yosef Shaul Natanson. There are many recorded Divrei Torah and interchanges between them. Some of the most beautiful stories out there involve Reb Meir of Premishlan. To me he was always one of the most beloved figures in Chasidish stories. I read a biography, written in English, years ago, about Reb Meir and Reb Uri of Srelisk; I searched online and couldn't find any information on it. It had lots of great stories and Divrei Torah."

From Ascent:

"Rabbi Meir of Primishlan [?-29 Iyar 1850], lived in abject but patient poverty, yet exerted himself tirelessly for the needy and the suffering. His divine inspiration and his ready wit have become legendary. He wrote no works, but some of his teachings were collected and published by his Chassidim after his death."

"Rabbi Yisroel (Ben Baruch) of Vizhnitz, Bukovina [1860 - 2 Sivan 1936], had many thousands of followers over the 43 years he served as Rebbe. After WWI he headed a major yeshiva in Hungary. Because of his warmth and friendliness to every Jew, he was known as "the Ahavas Yisrael."

"Rabbi Chaim-Elazar Spira, the Munkaczer Rebbe (Dec 17, 1871- 2 Sivan, 1937) wrote and published over twenty books on the Jewish Law, Torah, chasidism, and religious philosophy and customs. His most notable work which made him world famous was the scholarly work, Minchas Elazar, which contains six volumes."

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Week 36 (Book 4): The Crown(s) of Torah

8He lifts the poor from the dust; From the dunghill, He raises the pauper, To seat them with princes, And a seat of honor He causes them to inherit, For the pillars of the earth are the Lord's, And He placed the world upon them.       
And it says(4:9): "She shall give to your head a garland of grace, a crown of glory she shall grant you."
Ecclesiastes: Chapter 5
Tzadikim: Rabbi Yisrael Baal Shem Tov and Rabbi Avraham Mordechai Alter of Ger 

Week 36 is the week of Shavuot and the Shivah Yemei Milu’im. In the verse from the story of Channah, she sings of how Hashem raises the downtrodden and sits them with princes. Hashem is the one that decides who deserves honor and nobility.

The quotation in Pirkei Avot regarding the greatness of the Torah for this week also speaks of honor and nobility (quite similar to last week), comparing the Torah to a garland and a crown. It was on Shavuot after all that the Jewish people were crowned with a double crown: one for saying Na’aseh (“we will do”) and one for Nishmah (“we will listen”).

Chapter 5 of Ecclesiastes, like Chapter 4, contrasts wealth and poverty. It also mentions cases in which a king will be subservient:

7. If you see oppression of the poor and deprivation of justice and righteousness in the province, wonder not about the matter, for the Highest over the high waits, and there are higher ones over them. 8. And the loftiness of the earth is in everything; even the king is subservient to the field.

This week includes the yahrzeit of the Baal Shem Tov (6th of Sivan) and Rabbi Avraham Mordechai Alter (the third Gerrer Rebbe, also on the 6th of Sivan).

From Ascent:

Rabbi Yisrael ben Eliezer (18 Elul 1698-6 Sivan 1760), the Baal Shem Tov ["master of the good Name"], a unique and seminal figure in Jewish history, revealed the Chassidic movement and his own identity as an exceptionally holy person, on his 36th birthday, 18 Elul 1734. He wrote no books, although many claim to contain his teachings. One available in English is the excellent annotated translation of Tzava'at Harivash, published by Kehos.

Rabbi Avraham Mordechai Alter (1866 - 6 Sivan 1948), the son of the Sfas Emmes, was the third Rebbe in the Gur dynasty. He was the spiritual leader of over 250,000 Chassidim in pre-WW II Poland. In 1940, he managed to escape with three of his sons to Israel (then Palestine), although the vast majority of his followers did not survive. He began to rebuild the Gerrer community in Jerusalem, but he died there during the siege of Jerusalem on Shavuos, 1948. He was known as the Imrei Emmes, after the title of his major book.

Other yahrzeits this week include Rabbi Yitzchak Issac son of Rabbi Yisachar Beirish of Ziditchov (9th of Sivan), Rabbi Moshe of Rozvadov (10th of Sivan), Rabbi Yehuda (Yidel) son of Rabbi Alter Yechezkel Horowitz of Dzhikov (11th of Sivan) and Rabbi Avraham son of Rabbi Noach Weinberg of Slonim (12th of Sivan)

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