Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The Great Teacher by R. Yechiel Yaakov Weinberg

Even the well-disposed of our historians who wish to strive after objective truth have not yet achieved an adequate appreciation of the historic greatness of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch. Even they talk of him as of a great orator and preacher, who, with the power of his tongue ignited a spark of faith in the hearts of his hearers. It was this force of the spoken word, so they claim, which compelled the simple German Jews to return to a life of traditional observance from which they and their fathers had strayed either in search of material luxury or through a lack of mental stamina. They agree that the establishment of the Adath Jeshurun in Frankfurt--the wonderful edifice which was built in the midst of wholesale abandonment of all defining characteristics of Jewish life--was the first nucleus of the spiritual revival which spread throughout the West. It was this which cleared the way for the movement of "Teshuva" amongst other communities in Germany and elsewhere; and the brilliant achievement of Hirsch served as a model for other great communities in Western Europe and America to establish well-regulated educational institutions in the true spirit of ancient Jewish tradition.

But this description does not do full justice, and may mislead those who have not become acquainted with the great teacher through his important writings. The mere fact that he was the first after an interval of many generations to compose a complete philosophic work on the Jewish faith to shed new light on the reasons for the Mitzvot in the Torah, the first after a long interval to write a complete commentary on the whole of Torah and Psalms, a commentary which, besides explaining the text, is full of brilliantly original thoughts; the first in modern times to attempt a synthesis between true religion and the best of modern thought and philosophy--is in itself enough to put him in the front rank of Gedolei Yisroel who have arisen in the European Diaspora. 

But even this does not paint the whole picture of his spiritual image. He was the initiator of a religious revival which penetrated to the back-bone of German Jewry and spread beyond her borders even into the large population centres of Eastern Europe, and even into the Courts of the Chassidic Rabbis. 

The Great Teacher, R. Yechiel Yaakov Weinberg, The Living Hirschian Legacy, pp. 112-3

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Lev L'Achim program tomorrow

"Washington Heights Lev L'Achim program will be held tomorrow evening, Thursday, June 23 at 7:45 p.m. in 90 Bennett Avenue.

Lev L'Achim is at the forefront of the efforts to strengthen and expand Torah and Mitzvos in Eretz Yisroel. Lev L'Achim's most well-known program probably is Project Rishum, which has enrolled tens of thousands of children from non-religious homes in frum schools. In addition, there are many programs and initiatives that focus on other age and social sectors of the population.

We will be addressed by Rav Mantel and by our guest speaker, Rav Eliyahu Meir Klugman. Rav Klugman, a native of Washington Heights, is a member of the Hanhala of Lev L'Achim and is intimately familiar with the various Lev L'Achim programs.

In addition, a new video will be shown.

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Tuesday, June 21, 2016

the requirement to study and understand minhagim and their origins

"The students of the Maharil (Rabbi Yaakov Moelin, 1365-1427) offer a chilling story about their teacher in his collection of laws pertaining to Yom Kippur.2 The Maharil was once chazzan in the town of Regensburg during the Yomim Noraim, and decided to insert a piyyut into Mussaf composed by Rabbeinu Ephraim, who happened to be buried in Regensburg. Although the leaders of the town informed him that this was not their practice, he did not listen to them based upon his logic, saying that it would be an honor to Rabbeinu Ephraim to recite the piyyut. A few days later, on Yom Kippur, the Maharil’s daughter died. He understood that this was a punishment for changing the minhag hamakom (local tradition).3 This background provides a remarkable insight into why the Maharil emphasized the importance and centrality of minhagim, and how he became the single most influential and accepted codifier of Ashkenazi practices.

"Writing during the time of the sprouting of the Reform movement, the Chasam Sofer (Rabbi Moshe Sofer, 1762-1839) was a strong advocate of keeping minhagim. He felt that unorthodox practice began by “simply” changing a few minhagim. As such, he called those that change minhagim “violators of the Torah.”4 This remark is based upon Tosfos, Menachos 20b (s.v. Nifsal) — “minhag avoteinu…Torah” — the tradition of our forefathers is considered Torah.

"Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchik explained that this phrase from Tosfos extends beyond the basic obligation to heed to the minhagim of one’s community. It also applies to the requirement to study and understand minhagim and their origins, just as one wrestles to understand each and every word and halacha mandated by the Torah to the best of one’s ability. It is based on this that the Rav dedicated much time from his shiurim teaching minhagim and their sources, with the same depth of methodology and rigor that he would use when teaching halachic concepts to his students."

from Minhagim on Chanukah: Dreidel and Sufganiyot, Rabbi Yosef Kalinsky

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

No small sin

 “I was completely opposed to Rabbi Kalischer on this subject. More than three or four times he wrote to me and sent me his books and pressured me to take a leading role in his movement to settle Eretz Yisroel, until he finally came to me and accused me of delaying the redemption. And I asked him to leave me alone on this matter, for what they consider a great mitzvah is in my eyes no small sin, and therefore it is impossible to reach common ground.” ( Rav Hirsch to Rabbi Yaakov Lipshitz, personal secretary of Rabbi Yitzchok Elchonon Spector, 1886, Shemesh Marpei, p. 216)

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Land Needs Torah

There was a need to impress upon the mind of the Israelite who possessed freedom and land the value of the Torah. There was a need to proclaim to the State as a whole and to each individual in it: "The land which you own, the fields which bloom for you and the fruits which ripen for you--these are not your gods and your goods, these do not constitute you a nation nor are they the objects of your strivings as people and individuals. All these have been given to you for the sake of the Torah; for the sake of the Torah you possess them, and without the Torah you would lose them. All this land with its abundance of milk and honey, and all the rich and free national life which flourishes on it, are only a means and have only one object, namely, with this freedom and abundance to develop a communal, collective and individual life such as your God and Master has prescribed for you in the Torah." To impress on our minds and hearts this unconditional value of the Torah and the conditional value of all other possessions--this was the purpose of the ספירה of the days and weeks which  ואחד ב"ד וכל אחד , both the heads of the community and every individual in Israel מהחל חרמש בקמה had to count from the first setting of the sickle to the corn up to מתן תורה to the festival of the giving of the Law. 

In course of time Israel forgot this counting. It ceased to count up to its Torah and to see in the Torah the principal element in its national existence. It began to look for freedom and independence to its land and soil, to which it had the same right of possession as any other people to its own land. It imagined that it was entitled to count by its land, that it could dispense with the Torah and retain bread and soil, freedom and independence without the Torah, and "Judah's gods became as numerous as his cities". Then it lost land and soil, freedom and independence, saving nothing but the Torah up to which it counted no more in the land itself, and it wandered in strange lands for two thousand years. The seasons go round, the sun shines and the dew falls, but for the Jew no seeds sprout, no fields bloom, he no more puts the sickle to his own corn. And why? Because he wanted his activities to end with this sickle, and he was not willing to begin from this sickle to count to his Torah. From the time that he deified the sickle he lost the sickle! 

[R' Samson Raphael Hirsch, "Iyar," Judaism Eternal, Vol. I, p. 80-1.]


And on a similar note:

464. "There were ten generations from Adam to Noach," and again "There were ten generations from Noach to Abraham": the generations passed in review before the eyes of the Creator, "until Abraham came and took the reward of all of them" (Avos  5: 2), meaning that the entire Universe is now solely for him:  i.e. he and his seed are the central figures.

465, Indeed, this concept needs time to penetrate our minds. Even loyal and proud Jews are accustomed to thinking that the most they can claim is an important place in the world.  Jews are humble and fair-minded, and this concept is almost  repugnant to many. But the open declarations of the Scriptures cannot be disregarded. They speak clearly and declare that Israel  (not the State of Israel, which is the antithesis of the name Israel) occupies the place; it occupies the world and the Universe. 

R' Avigdor Miller, Awake My Glory, 464-5.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Only Divine providence could secure Israel’s national future

"Tell those of overhasty heart: “Be strong, fear nothing! Your G-d is here; retribution will come, brought to bear by G-d; it will come and become your salvation." (Isaiah 35:4) “Those of overhasty heart are good-natured people who are prone to act hastily – “the head follows the heart.” Every thinking, observing Jew must realize that it is the deviation from the path of faithful performance of our duties that led to our exile, and only return to G-d and His Torah can put an end to our misery. And again: be strong, remain firmly committed to your heritage, do not fear the inadequacy of your actions, G-d is omnipresent to judge your deeds and the wrong done to you. The dream of the revival of your national existence will become reality only with the help of G-d – Who will also judge the surrounding nations for their deeds. Only when G-d brings about the salvation will it be enduring. This thought motivated our Sages as they convened in Yavneh to add the fourth blessing to our grace after meals. The uprising against Hadrian led by Bar Kochba proved to be a fatal error. Many thousands of bodies lay unburied in Betar, serving as a silent and moving reminder to the Jewish people never again to attempt to regain its national independence by its own power. When, years later, permission was given to bury the corpses, it was welcomed by the downtrodden nation as the beginning of better times. This stressed the need for the repeated warning that only Divine providence could secure Israel’s national future."

Rabbi Julius (Yehuda) Hirsch (1842-1909),  son of RSRH, Commentary on Isaiah, Chapter 35, verse 4.

Thursday, June 2, 2016


Approbation by R' Yitzchok Elchanan Spektor, (1817-96) to the Hebrew Translation of the Hirsch Commentary on Chumash that was started by
R' Moshe Aronshon of Kovno in the 19th century

It is known among the tribes of Israel what has been achieved by that righteous man, the pious gaon Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, of blessed memory, late head of the beth din of the holy congregation of Frankfurt am Main, who dedicated his strength and energy to Israel and its Torah, in order to restore the crown of the Law to its ancient glory and to lead the hearts of tens of thousands of [the people of] Israel back to our Father in Heaven. This is the man who, until his extreme old age, devoted his whole life to [the task of] winning souls for the Torah and the Testimony, to support and uphold it, with his activities--"the labors of the righteous are life-giving" [Proverbs 10:16]--as well as with his wonderful, renowned books that are irradiated by the light of the Torah and the lamp of the commandments .... 

However, the light stored up in his books was hidden from those tens of thousands in Israel who do not know the German language .... 

Now ... I will offer my approbation and my blessing to my friend, the worthy R. Moses Zalman Aronsohn ... for the great and splendid work which he has now undertaken, namely, to translate from the German language into our sacred tongue . . . the great and wonderful Commentary on the Torah by the gaon Rabbi Samson [Raphael] Hirsch, of blessed memory. 

This is the precious and much praised commentary which is indeed a crown of glory, "the beauty of Israel" [II Samuel 1:19]. It is a most honored work, done for the sake of heaven, a lovely, choice treasure to exalt the Holy Torah, to give strength and honor to the religious heritage of the community of Jacob. The many original interpretations introduced by this gaon and sage, who was great in knowledge and who conveyed understanding in a manner that is lucid and in conformity with reason, are invaluable. Of equally matchless value is his demonstration of the complete unity of the Written Torah and the Oral Law, which he accomplished in a truly magnificent manner. ... 

How deep are his thoughts, which reveal the wonders and the wisdom concealed in the Torah of the Lord! He removes all the alien and doubtful ideas raised by would-be scholars from generation to generation, and demonstrates that the Torah of the Lord is perfect, the word of God stands forever, and that the light of the Written Torah and the Oral Law will live for all time. 

Kovno, Monday, the third day of 
the month of Marheshvan, 5656 (1895) 

(signed) ISAAC ELCHANAN, residing in this holy community 

From The Pentateuch, Terumath Tzvi, Judaica Press

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Israel’s “common country” is the Law of G-d

"The existence of all other nations is based on their having a country of their own, and their rights and laws grow out of their national life. That is why their existence and history comes to an end as soon as they lose their common country. But Israel’s “common country” is the Law of G-d. Through the Law it became a nation in the wilderness before it had a country, yea, it received its country itself only for the expressed purpose of keeping that Law. That is why its national existence was not attached to the continuance of its possession of its land, and until this very day it forms the world-historic wonder of the continued existence of a nation scattered amongst all the other nations for thousands of years after it had lost its own common land. But that loss had to occur after it had worshipped the possession of land and riches as the highest goals, but the Torah of G-d had become held in contempt as being a hindrance to attaining them and disturbing in enjoying them. That loss itself was a necessity for Israel to regain itself." (Rabbi Mendel Hirsch, The Haphtoroth, p. 303 on Haphtorah Bamidbar, Hoshea 2:7)