Thursday, May 29, 2008

Reb Aizel Homiler Does a Jew a Favor

26 Iyar, "Yesod of Yesod", is the yartzeit of many great tzadikim. Last year I wrote about Reb Shlomke of Zvhil's Miraculous Cholent. This year I would like to write something brief about Reb Yitzchok Issac Epstein of Homil (1857), best known as Reb Aizel Homiler ZY"A. He was one of the best known of the early Chassidim of Chabad, and author of Chanah Ariel and Maamar Shnei Hameoros. He was a chasid of the first 3 Lubavitcher Rebbes. After the passing of the Mitteler Rebbe, many wanted him to become there leader, but like a true chasid he declined and became a follower of the much younger Tzemach Tzedek. I recall hearing stories many years ago featuring him and Reb Hillel Paritsher ZY"A, another prominent Lubavitcher chasid. Here is one short story about him.

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In many towns, including Homil, there was a custom for the Rabbi to go with the Burial Society to check on the upkeep of the local cemetery on Lag BaOmer. This would be followed by a festive meal. On one such occasion, Reb Aizel Homiler passed by a certain grave and paused to read the excessive praises on the deceased man's tombstone. Reb Aizel said that in the next world they were asking this man to explain all of the praises written on his tombstone. Reb Azriel ordered the proper tools brought, and then had the people smash the tombstone until the inscription was no longer visible. Arriving at the meal later than expected Reb Aizel told the assembled: "I was out doing a favor for a fellow Jew".

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This story has much to teach us. We have all heard and read exaggerated eulogies and seen tombstone inscriptions of people we knew, that don't match the same person we knew. This could chas V'Sholom cause the departed's soul to suffer very much. One of the great tzadikim (one of those that all circles held of) gave a eulogy at the funeral of a certain Rosh Yeshiva. He said that although the Rosh Yeshiva was a great teacher and disseminator of Torah, he did not reach the level of Yiras Shomayim that he should have. Later on, the tzadik's students asked him (in a respectable manner, in order to understand) how he could say such a thing in public. He responded that he was doing the biggest favor for the departed by praising his real accomplishments and making sure that false praise weren't said about him.

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This, of course, is something only a really great person can do. For the rest of us, keeping away from false praise is all we can do. Although we should not try to do things in order to be praised, the moral lesson we can use to improve ourselves is to think how we can improve our Avodas Hashem in such a way that the Heavenly Court will never question even the most excessive praises of us after 120.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Bitul of the Degel Machane Ephraim


This is written Li’iluiy Nishmas the great tzadik, Reb Moshe Chaim Ephraim ben Reb Yechiel ZY”A (1748-1800), the Rebbe of the town of Sudlikov, best known by the title of his sefer, Degel Machane Ephraim. The yartzeit is today, 17 Iyar. His father, Reb Yechiel "Der Deitshel" Ashkenazi, was a great mekubal from Germany, and his mother, Udel, was the daughter of the Baal Shem Tov. Her name was spelled אדל, which the Baal Shem Tov said stood for אֵ׳שׁ דָּ׳ת לָ׳מוֹ – “a fiery Torah to them” (V’zos HaBracha 33, 2). His younger brother was Reb Boruch of Mezhibuz, and his sister was Fayga, mother of Reb Nachman of Breslov. A wealth of Torah from the Degel and other information can be found at A Simple Jew.

This whole post came about as the result of a question he asked me regarding my understanding of a piece of Degel. Therefore, it is in his merit that this was written. I have gone to daven at the Degel’s kever many times (he is buried in the same Ohel as the Baal Shem Tov), and therefore feel it is a great zchus that I was able to put this together. What is written below is based on my limited understanding; if anyone understands the material differently, feel free to comment.

Alone with Hashem
In at least four places the Degel mentions the teaching of Reb Nachman Horedenker on the verse: וְאִישׁ לֹא-יַעֲלֶה עִמָּךְ וְגַם-אִישׁ אַל-יֵרָא בְּכָל-הָהָר - “No man shall go up with you, and also no man shall be seen throughout the mountain” (Shemos 34, 3). We can learn out from this that when one wants to serve Hashem, he needs to imagine as if there is no one else in the world but himself. The Degel then uses this teaching to explain several other verses. I believe the reason why the Degel wrote on this so many times was because this was something he worked on, and he reached the level he speaks of, as we will see at the end.

Parshas Emor
Degel Machane Ephraim discusses how at times a tzadik can fall into the sins of the common folk of his generation. For example, if they are accustomed to levity, he may act in a light headed manner occasionally, so that he won’t be looked at as a fool by the people. The first verse of Parshas Emor cautions tzadikim to be wary of this. It reads וַיֹּאמֶר ה׳ אֶל-מֹשֶׁה אֱמֹר אֶל-הַכֹּהֲנִים בְּנֵי אַהֲרֹן וְאָמַרְתָּ אֲלֵהֶם לְנֶפֶשׁ לֹא-יִטַּמָּא בְּעַמָּיו- meaning: Kohanim, a reference to those who serve Hashem, should not contaminate their souls with those improper things done by the “עם”, the common folk. This is the meaning of what Hillel said (Avos 2, 6) ובמקום שאין אנשים, השתדל להיות איש. One should strive to be a man, and act in a way as if there are no other people (meaning those that do improper things). This is in accordance with the words of Reb Nachman Horedeker above; one should act as if there is no one else, in order that he won’t learn improper things from them.

Parshas Shelach & Matos
In both of these sections the Degel explains the following verse again according to the same teaching: וְכָל-אָדָם לֹא-יִהְיֶה בְּאֹהֶל מוֹעֵד, בְּבֹאוֹ לְכַפֵּר בַּקֹּדֶשׁ--עַד-צֵאתוֹ; וְכִפֶּר בַּעֲדוֹ וּבְעַד בֵּיתוֹ, וּבְעַד כָּל-קְהַל יִשְׂרָאֵל - “And there shall be no man in the tent of meeting when he goes in to make atonement in the holy place, until he come out, and has made atonement for himself, and for his household, and for all the assembly of Israel” (Emor 16, 17). Again, this verse his teaching us that when one wants to serve Hashem truthfully he needs to imagine there is no one else there. He says “understand this”. The way I understand this is that when one goes to engage in hisbodedus (personal prayer, in which one tries to make atonement, as stated in the verse) he should do so in solitude, and in a state of mind where no one else but him and Hashem.

Parshas Ha’azinu
The Degel explains the verse ה׳ בָּדָד יַנְחֶנּוּ וְאֵין עִמּוֹ אֵל נֵכָר – “Hashem alone lead him, and there was not with Him a strange god”, once again bringing Reb Nachman Horedenker on the verse וְאִישׁ לֹא-יַעֲלֶה עִמָּךְ. The Degel then mentions the verse (Devarim 11, 16) וְסַרְתֶּם, וַעֲבַדְתֶּם אֱלֹהִים אֲחֵרִים – “you will turn and serve other gods” and says “but, when a person is “yichidi” (“alone”, which could imply without other people in his mind, or engaged in Hisbodedus) he attaches himself with the “Yichudo Shel Olam” (Hashem), and then וְאֵין עִמּוֹ אֵל נֵכָר, there is not with him any strange god - only Hashem. The way I understand the verse ה׳ בָּדָד יַנְחֶנּוּ וְאֵין עִמּוֹ אֵל נֵכָר is: When one has no strange god, meaning that he is not thinking about anything but Hashem (strange god does not necessarily mean idols or worshipping the sun, chas v’Sholom; it can be money, power, fame, etc.) while engaged in Hisbodedus then Hashem will lead him, because he is attached to Him, as mentioned.

Similarity in Likutei Mohoran
On several occasions, ASJ wrote about similarities between Degel Machane Ephraim and Likutei Mohoran. Here is another similarity. In Likutei Mohoran (1, 52) Reb Nachman of Breslov (grandson of Reb Nachman Horedenker) says that the only way to come to “bitul” (self nullification) and include himself in the “Mechuyav Hamitziyus”, meaning Hashem, is through hisbodedus. (Hashem is “Mechuyav Hamitziyus”, he needs to exist, as opposed to the world which only exists because Hashem wills it). This is learnt from the Mishna (Avos 3, 5) חנניה בן חכינאי אומר, הניעור בלילה If one is awake at night. והמהלך בדרך יחידי and he goes to do hisbodedus in a place where other people don’t go, because in such a place he can come to “bitul”. והמפנה ליבו להבטלה He takes his mind off of all earthly matters in order to arrive at “bitul”. Then he will be able to include his soul and the entire world in the “Mechuyav Hamitziyus”.הרי זה מתחייב בנפשו his soul together with the entire world becomes included in the “Mechuyav Hamitziyus” (through his self nullification, he becomes nothing, making this possible).

In the “Hashmata” to the second section of Likutei Mohoran, he says on the verse אֶחָד הָיָה אַבְרָהָם – “one was Avraham” (Yechezkel 33, 24) that Avrohom acted as if he was the only one in the world and didn’t pay any attention to anyone else in the world. That is the meaning of אֶחָד הָיָה אַבְרָהָם. Similarly, when one wants to serve Hashem, he needs to imagine as if nobody else exists in the world. In this way, he won’t pay attention to any people, even relatives, who try to discourage him or mock him. He should also ignore any obstacles that get in his way that try to prevent him from serving Hashem properly.

Putting it all together
Reb Nachman Horedenker, Degel Machane Ephraim and Reb Nachman of Breslov all seem to be saying that one should speak to Hashem in a completely private place, and in such a way, one can come to “bitul”. Elsewhere in Likutei Mohoran (2, 103) it says that it is not good if one hears or feels that there is someone else next to him while praying. One needs to imagine in his mind as if it is only him and Hashem alone. (See also Likutei Mohoran 1, 55) This lesson can also be applied to the previous teachings of the Horedenker and Degel. Even if one is among people, such as in Shul or anywhere else, he should take everyone out of his mind (as stated in the first paragraph). If one does this, then even when not alone, he can bring himself to “bitul”.

Parshas Bo
The term מה is often used to infer bitul, as when Moshe Rabbeinu said (Beshalach 16, 7) וְנַחְנוּ מָה, what are we. He made himself into nothing – complete bitul. There are several ways to spell out the letters in the name of Hashem, יקוק. One of those equals 45, the numerical equivalent of מה. This is spelled יוד- הא- ואו- הא, using the letter “aleph”. (Arizal says one should concentrate on this permutation of the Name while reciting Hashem in the Brachas of Sefiras HaOmer, The Degel’s yartzeit is, of course, during Sefira.) The Degel in Parshas Bo explains that a person is made of blood - דם. When you add the א – One, which is Hashem, and “Aleph” represents the “Alufo Shel Olam” – the Ruler of the Worl”, to דם then you get אדם, which equal 45, the same as מה. That’s why this spelling of the Divine Name is spelled with “Alephs”, as opposed to other ways of spelling it without “Alephs”. When one comes to bitul, or מה, then he is the numerical equivalent - אדם.

Praise of the Degel
It says in Parshas Bereishis (5, 1) זֶה סֵפֶר תּוֹלְדֹת אָדָם – “This is the book of the generations of Adam”. The Degel says in the name of Reb Nachman Horedenker that the name of a person is his neshama, soul. The Degel says that סֵפֶר is the numerical value of שֵם (name). Based on this we can say that tell a person’s neshama from his sefer and his name. With the Degel we can literally see his essence in the name itself. Based on this, we can see that the Degel reached the level of bitul mentioned in this article, as the whole previous paragraph is built into first letters of the name of his holy sefer, ד׳גל מ׳חנה א׳פרים, which spell אדם. Now, we can get a hint from the verse זֶה סֵפֶר תּוֹלְדֹת אָדָם – This is the sefer (and name) that will teach us who אָדָם (the first letters of ד׳גל מ׳חנה א׳פרים) was. Then again, the Degel's first name was Moshe, the same as the one who said וְנַחְנוּ מָה. Moshe Rabbeinu was also the midah of Netzach; the Degel’s yartzeit is Netzach of Hod. Also, the numerical value of דגל מחנה אפרים is the same as אדם מפורסם, which can mean “well known אדם”, indicating that it’s known that this tzadik reached the level of אדם, as mentioned. It also teaches us that through the learning of this sefer, one can bring himself to bitul and to the level of אדם. I heard from ASJ that the Degel’s yartzeit is the 17th day of Iyar which is the value of טוב; it is also the 32nd day of Sefiras Haomer – equal to לב. The first letter of his name מ׳שה ח׳יים א׳פרים equal 49, the value of לב טוב, "A good heart". Finally, when one says just the word “Degel” it is known to be referring to the Degel Machane Ephraim. The value of דגל is 37, the same as טובך - the word from אנא בכח that we concentrate on for the 32nd day of Sefira. דגל also equals the value of ז״ל, which of course stands for זכרונה לברכה. That says it all.

May the merit of Reb Moshe Chaim Ephraim ben Reb Yechiel protect all of Klal Yisroel and bring success in all endeavors, materially and spiritual. Amen.

Prayers Urgently Needed for Rav Mordechai Eliyahu shlita

Received from Yitz of Heichal HaNegina
15:36 PM - 16 Iyar 5768, May 21, '08 
Rabbi Eliyahu Suffers Stroke

(IsraelNN.com) Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu, former chief rabbi of Israel and a widely respected leader of the national religious movement suffered a stroke a short time ago. He is partly unconscious and is hospitalized in the Intensive Care Unit of Sha'arei Tzedek Hospital in Jerusalem.
 
Psalms are to be said for a recovery for Rabbi Mordechai Tzemach ben Mazal Tov.

Monday, May 19, 2008

40 days of Tefila at Amuka

There is a special opportunity to have a minyan of talmidei chachomim recite the entire Sefer Tehilim at Amuka, the kever of the Tanna, Rebbe Yonasan ben Uziel, for 40 days in a row. The 40th day, 26 Sivan will be the yartzeit of Rebbe Yonasan ben Uziel, and they will be joined in tefila by tzadikei hador. This is especially auspicious for those seeking shidduchim. This is being arranged by the famous tzedaka organization, Kupat Ha'ir. They will daven for all donors, based on specific instructions from the Nadvorna Rebbe shlita and other Gedolim. All names must be in my Tuesday 12:00AM. Below is a copy of the ad with specific details in Hebrew.

To donate and for details, call the 24 hour hotline (USA number) 866-221-9352.

 

Monday, May 12, 2008

Iyar - Month of Healing: Redux

Last year I wrote about Iyar & Segulas for Refuah. This year I would like to write about another type of “Refuah”. Reb Tzadok HaKohen of Lublin (Pri Tzadik, Rosh Chodesh Iyar, 4) quoting Sefer Ohev Yisroel, says that the month of Iyar is an auspicious time for teshuvah. This is based on the well known idea that Iyar is an auspicious time for healing; אייר stand for א׳ני י׳י׳ ר׳ופאך. Now, the most important type of healing is the healing of the neshama, consequently, Iyar is a special time for teshuvah. The concept of the time between Pesach and Shavuos being a time for healing is actually alluded to in the Gemara (Shabbos 147b), which mentions several healing methods. The Gemara goes on to say that the period between Pesach and Shavuos is the most opportune time for these healing methods.

Do Men Need Mikvah?

Read what the Rishonim, as well as contemorary Gedolim, have to say on the subject of "Do Men Need Mikvah?"

New Koretz-Bershad Website

There is a fascinating new website devoted to two legendary tzadikim, Reb Pinchas of Koritz ZY"A and his talmid, Reb Rephael of Bershad ZY"A. I received the following via email regarding this:
 
Dear "A Talmid",
 
I am thrilled and delighted to announce my new web site, http://twotzaddiks.org/, which is devoted to the lives and teachings of Rebbe Pinchas of Koretz and his disciple, Rebbe Raphael of Bershad.
 
My interest in these two 18th century Chassidic rabbis developed from my genealogical research to trace my ancestry back to R' Raphael of Bershad and from my desire to find out what he believed and taught. Subsequently, my research broadened to include R' Raphael's teacher, R' Pinchas of Koretz, an associate of the Baal Shem Tov who is regarded by Chassidim as one of the "pillars of the world."
 
I discovered that there is little material available in English on the lives and teachings of these two tzaddiks. Most of the extant information appears in scholarly academic works or in anthologies of aphorisms and anecdotes. Some collections, such as the Imrei Pinchas HaShalem and the Midrash Pinhas, contain R' Pinchas's Torah, organized according to the weekly parsha, but these works are inaccessible to those who do not read Hebrew. After gathering the available information, I would like to share my findings with the English-reading public, in the hope that the lives and teachings of R' Pinchas and R' Raphael will be remembered and more widely appreciated.
 
My work is basically a compilation of translated quotations and commentary in English, organized systematically by topic or theme. I decided not to attempt an analysis of the teachings, as I lack the qualifications and perspective for that endeavor, but my work presents the opinions and analyses of numerous commentators and scholars. It also contains an extensive bibliography of works in both English and Hebrew, which, I hope, may be helpful to readers and researchers. In addition, the work includes photographs and information on the burial places of the two rebbes and the two-century-old synagogue in Bershad where R' Raphael prayed.
 
I decided to publish my work on the internet rather than in print so that I could include links to sources and resources and so that my work would not compete with commercial publications. After a long period of acquiring permissions and teaching myself web coding, my web site (http://twotzaddiks.org/) is finally ready! I invite you to visit, learn from the teachings, and enjoy the stories. I welcome comments, feedback, and other contributions, and I plan to update the site occasionally, as new information becomes available.
 
I am immensely grateful to friends, family, and others who have contributed photos, provided translations, and given me encouragement and assistance. My friends in the Chassidic community have warmly welcomed me into their midst and afforded me insights on Chassidic viewpoints and practices that have helped me reconnect with my heritage and deepen my own spiritual outlook and understanding.
 
Susan Steeble
Shoshana (Bershad)

Monday, May 5, 2008

Shavuos Trip Itinerary

Received from Rabbi Tal Zwecker via email:

trip to the Ba'al Shem Tov on Shavous join us or send a kvitel

the itinerary of the trip includes:
Thurs flight to Kiev Shabbos in Uman with a boat ride
before Shabbos,
Sunday travel
Mon-Tues.Shavous in Mezibuz by the Holy Ba'al Shem Tov
Wed Polonoye the Toldos Yaakov Yosef, Shpitevka by R Pinchas Karitzer,
Hanipoli by the Mezritcher Maggid and Rav Zisha, Sasover by R Moshe
Leib
Sassover, Premishlan by Rav Meir Premishlan Dinner and sleep in Belz,
Thurs Levov Berditshev by Rav Levi Yitzhok and Babi Yar Depart back
for
Israel.

Price inlcudes food accomadations transp. and insurance $1450 per
person.
To get this group price we need min. 10 people we have 5 interested so
far.

We are working on a possible charter flight for cheaper airfare if you
are interested let me know.

The Holy Ba'al Shem Tov is buried in the Ukraine in Mezibuz we are
planning on trying to organize a trip together with the Clevelander
Rebbe Shlit"a on Shavous to the Holy Baal Shem Tov in Mezibuz on his
yarzeit.

If you would like to join us please email me or
call me at 054-842-4725 or 02-992-1218 in the USA voip 516-320-6022.

Even if you cant join us and cant send in a donation send me a kvitel
as I did in Lizhensk ALL kvitels will be taken regardless.


If you would like to send us your kvitel a note with requests for
health blessings and parnassa etc. with your name and mother's name
and details together with your tax deductible contrbution mail it to:


Mosdos Cleveland 11 Har Sinai St Ra'anana Israel




Thanks
Tal