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  • The Life on Autopilot

    Shmuel Katanov

    As you already know, Moshe Rabbeinu grew up in the palace of Pharaoh and one day he has decided to go out and see the world outside of the palace. As he was taking a tour around the city, he saw all the hardships and bitterness his people had to go through in their everyday life. Suddenly he came across this scene - he saw how an Egyptian guard was beating a Jewish slave.

    In Shemot 2:12 says:
    וַיִּ֤פֶן כֹּה֙ וָכֹ֔ה וַיַּ֖רְא כִּ֣י אֵ֣ין אִ֑ישׁ וַיַּךְ֙ אֶת־הַמִּצְרִ֔י וַֽיִּטְמְנֵ֖הוּ בַּחֽוֹל׃
    “He turned this way and that, and seeing no one about, he struck down the Egyptian and hid him in the sand.”

    Rabbeinu Bahya said:
    וירא כי אין איש אין איש עתיד לעמוד ממנו שיתגייר - And he saw that no one, (there are were people standing around since pharaoh found out about this incident), no one was a man enough to stand up to him - to the Egyptian guard. All were afraid and no one stepped forward to defend the slave.

    So Moshe Rabbeinu struck the Egyptian guard, killed him and buried him in the sand.

    In the Masechet Gittin 56A there’s a story of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza, where the host of the party was arguing with one of the people that was invited to the party erroneously, and which happened to be his enemy - bar Kamtza. As they were arguing back and forth, no one from the rabbis present at the party said anything in his defense. When he was thrown out from the party, bar Kamtza decided to revenge all those people involved in his humiliation and the outcome was that we have lost millions of lives and the Temple was destroyed.

    In another scenario: when Moshe Rabbeinu came late for few hours from the Mount Sinai where he received the Torah, the people came over to Chur the son of Miriam and demanded from him to build them an idol - he flatly refused for which he was killed said Rashi on Shemot 32:5:3. After killing Chur they have approached Aaron haCohen. He saw how they have dealt with Chur and agreed to build them an idol, but he was stretching the time and slowing the process in hopes that Moshe Rabbeinu will come down and this plan will be foiled. But against all of his efforts and with the help of the Egyptian sorcerers working behind his back, the Golden Calf has emerged from the fire and people have worshipped the idol as it says in Shemot 32:4. When Moshe Rabbeinu came down with the commandments, he saw similar scenario, few thousand or so people are dancing around the golden calf and the rest of the three million people along with Aharon haCohen are standing around and watching.

    After this incident, Aaron haCohen becomes a Rodef Shalom - the Pursuer of Peace. Aaron haCohen understood one simple truth – we should not live on autopilot. He started strengthening the unity between friends and families, thus creating peace, unity, and harmony in the society.

    But what is living on autopilot? When we live on autopilot – we make mistakes in ideology, principles, and convictions. We ignore quarrels in the society, accept and spread slander, and play along in other people's arguments.

    Evil thrives when no one goes against it when no one challenges it and it sweeps more people into it while doing lots of damage.

    As German theologian Martin Niemöller said in his poem in 1933:

    "First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—
    Because I was not a socialist.

    Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—
    Because I was not a trade unionist.

    Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
    Because I was not a Jew.

    Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me."

    And as Albert Einstein said: “This world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing.”

    The more we ignore things that are happening with others, standing by idly while letting things to be done and words to be said, the more it goes out of control and at the end, we too become liable in the eyes of G-d. Look around in your community, your family and the places where you have influence. Is it lacking peace? Is there are harmony or there are strife and slander?

    Moshe Rabbeinu had to get involved when Egyptian guard was beating a Jewish slave to death and he did. The rabbis that were present at the party, had to get involved in the story of Kamtza and Bar-Kamzta without concerning themselves of the consequences they might have had. And in the building of the golden calf, the three million people and Aaron haCohen had to stand their ground and go against the people that were bowing down to the idol no matter the outcome that was there for them.

    The more we keep quiet, thinking that it is none of our business and while pretending we do not notice anything – we give evil time to carry out their evil plans, because that's when they start to count on us that we will defend them, justify their actions before others and not expose their plans – and for this we carry the burden of the guilt and will be responsible before G-d, as our ancestors.

    When Aharon haCohen died, on his funeral there are were a lot of children from all those families that were about to fall apart, that he was able to save. Thousands of children were named in his name as a token of appreciation from their parents. Aharon haCohen has dedicated his life to peace, he was pursuing it, he has busied himself with it all the hours of his day – giving it the importance and letting us know of the huge responsibility that was placed on our shoulders.

    With his deeds, efforts, and results Aharon haCohen has proven that each one of us can be a peacemaker in his own society.

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  • The Baseless Hatred Mystery Revealed

    by Shmuel Katanov

     Our Chachamim z"l tell us that the First Bet Hamikdash was destroyed because of three sins: Avodah Zarah/Idolatry, Shefichat Damim/Murder, and Arayot/Adultery. The second Temple of only one sin - Sinat Chinam - Baseless Hatred.

    Each of the sins are bad in their own right, but it took three sins to bring down the First Temple and only one the Second. Why? Why only one, what is so destructive and bad about it?

    Let's dive into Sinat Chinam cause I believe the reasons for the destruction of the First Temple are pretty self explanatory.

    So what is Sinat Chinam? It is Baseless Hatred or simply Hate that is coming from a place of evil. It's a wish to see another's demise or failure and when you in that hating mode you observe and translate anything that person does to negative with no benefit of a doubt.

    When you hate you always pursue the harm of another. You speak of him in harmful way, you make up stories so you get more people on your side to believe the lies, so he can have enemies. You speak and spread lashon hara - an evil speech, because you want others to see him in a bad way. You may say things to his spouse, so the family will have no peace and eventually falls apart. You accuse him and his children, so it should effect their shidduchim/marriage prospects. You make sure his reputation is ruined in his community and places of business. You make sure your family and people around him show him a cold shoulder so he feels unwanted and unbelonged.

    All of this is done stealthily where few people involved in the community or many across many communities. In our times, all of the above can be accomplished with just few clicks of the computer or the phone.

    Because of this ugly behavior, of the few or the many, Hashem has destroyed the Second Temple. So if the Temple is destroyed and it may seem like nothing is at stake today, what do we have to lose this time around?

    Chachamim tell us, that when a new family is born, the chatan and kallah are on their way to build something enormously holy - their Own Bet Hamikdash, where each room of their house resembles the original Temple. The bedroom is like the Holy of Holies, the living room table is like a Mizbeach where we cater the guests and consume our earthly sacrifices. Kitchen is where it's all prepared to the strict laws of kashrut.

    Our houses and shules are small Batey haMikdashim. This is where Shechina rests, this is where the mitzvot are done and kedusha is kept.

    Hashem wants peace and unity between people in the community or between communities, where people help each other, happy for each other, where they see good in each other with no jealousy and hate towards each other. Where they want others to have better houses, cars, vacations, respect and accessories. This is what Hashem expects from his people.

    Second Temple was destroyed because of Hate, the most ugliest trait that consumes many communities and people no matter their religious backgrounds. The solution to it is Achavat Chinam - Baseless Love. Otherwise our small Batey haMikdashim are at stake.

    The Sages taught, "Any generation in which the Temple is not built, it is as if it had been destroyed in their times" (Yerushalmi, Yoma 1a).

    Our job is to change for the better, to do good to others, more of baseless love and no hate and animosity towards others - be it in their own community or outside of it, better ourselves in our servitude to Hashem and earn the merit to see Moshiach and the Third Beit Hamikdash rebuilt in our days. Amen.

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  • The Spirit of Our People and The Crown of Torah

    by Rabbi Avi Matmon

    "And Israel encamped there before the mountain." (Shemot 19:2)

    "And Israel encamped- The singular denotes that they were united as one man with one heart." (Rashi)

    "Every single Jew has in his soul the soul of every single soul in Klal Yisrael. Since all of their souls are bound together, this one has a share in that and that one has a share in this." (Tomer Devorah)

    The most celebrated trial of the century was that of Otto Adolf Eichmann. On May 23, 1960, Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion announced to the world that Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann has been captured and would stand trial in Israel. Eichmann, the Nazi SS officer who organized Adolf Hitler's "final solution of the Jewish question," was captured by Mossad and Shin Bet agents on the streets of Buenos Aires, where he had been living under the name of Ricardo Klement since 1952. The agents drugged Eichmann and he was flown out of Argentina disguised as an Israeli airline worker who had suffered head trauma in an accident. Three days later, Prime Minister Ben-Gurion announced that Eichmann was in Israeli custody, where then he was put on trial for genocide. The decision was made to film the trial for a worldwide TV audience.

    Eichmann's trial began in Jerusalem. It was the first trial to be televised in history. Eichmann faced 15 charges, including crimes against humanity, crimes against the Jewish people, and war crimes. He claimed he was just following orders, but the judges disagreed, finding him guilty on all counts on December 15 and sentencing him to die. On May 31, 1962, he was hanged near Tel Aviv.

    The identity of the executioner was kept secret for 30 years and was not revealed until the man retired. As a human-interest story, German television wanted to interview the man who actually pulled the lever and killed Eichmann. The German film crew traveled to Israel to interview the man. As it turned out he was an orthodox Jew of Yemenite descent.

    The man agreed under one condition - that they interview him at the Kolel - study hall where he was attending daily. The producer asked him why he wanted to be interviewed in a crowded room and not in a quite studio. He answered "I want the German people to see why we survived. I want the German people to see us learning Torah."

    Rabbi Matityahu Solomon asks that on Mincha of Yom Kippur there is a special Segulah of not losing, Chas V'shalom, children before the parents die. They have to shed a tear for the loss of the two sons of Aharon, Nadav and Avihu, who died at an early age when they were consumed by fire at the altar. Why is this a concern on the day of judgment?

    We are embarking on the holiday of Shevuot and there are numerous points to keep in mind for our spiritual success in commemorating our Torah. Everyone is aware that the High Holiday period between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is a period of judgment (Din). However, not everyone is aware that the Ari z"l and the Shaloh HaKodesh write that there is judgment on Shavuot as well. The judgment of Shavuot affects each and every one of us. On Shavuot there is Heavenly Judgment that determines the degree of success each of us will have in pursuing our Torah studies during the coming year. Just as the amount of material sustenance each of us will receive for the next 12 months is determined on Rosh Hashanah, the Day of Judgment, so to the amount of spiritual sustenance each of us will receive from our Torah study during the next twelve months is determined on the Day of the Giving of the Torah.

    We know how to prepare for Rosh Hashanah. We know we are to pray, we know we are to do mitzvot. These things determine the nature of the Judgment we receive during the season of the Days of Awe. What are we supposed to do on Shavuot in order that the Almighty will say "If this is how he acts, then he deserves to be given a year of success in his learning endeavors?"

    We all know the story of Purim and how the wicked Haman wanted to destroy the Jewish people. It says in Tractate Megila when Haman came to pick up Mordechai for the royal parade, he found Mordechai teaching Torah to children despite of the decree of annihilation. He was curious to know what they were learning. They answered the laws of sacrifices for the future when the Bet Hamikdash would be functioning. At that point in time Haman came to a startling realization, that the children's learning of the laws of korbanos-sacrifices would overwhelm his plotting to destroy the Jews. What was it that deflated Haman? What was it that made him realize that his plan was doomed? Haman expected them that they were planning their end. He thought they, if anything, would learn the laws of death or dying for G-d (Kiddush Hashem) but to find them learning about a Bet Hamikdash that didn't even exist yet and how they were anticipating the coming of it demonstrated to him their resilience and willful stubborn spirit. It was a spirit to exist and co-exist- a spirit that is nurtured by the Torah.

    The Holy Books say that a person's judgment in this matter is dependent on his desire (cheshek) to learn. The more he wants it, the more he shows the Master of the Universe somehow that this is important to him and he wants success in his learning endeavors, the more he will receive it. It is this "cheshek to learn" that determines the extent to which the Almighty will allot him success in learning and that is how he strengthens his spirit.
    This is what we have to demonstrate over the next few days leading up to Shavuot - our desire to learn! One develops a 'cheshek' if one comes to an appreciation of what Torah is and of how important Torah is to his life. Somehow, in these next few days, we must spend time thinking of the role Torah plays in our lives, the importance that it has. In this way, we can sincerely express to the G-d our desire to grow in learning.


    Study of Torah is a specific mitzvah in Deuteronomy 6:7 (which we recite daily in the Shema): "You shall teach them diligently to your children" - which directs us to transmit Torah to the next generation... "and you shall speak of them (words of Torah) while you sit at home, while you walk on the way, when you go to bed and when you get up" - which directs us to study the Torah ourselves. This need to devote ourselves to knowing the Torah, to work at it, to strive to comprehend it, to give it first priority - is repeated over and over again throughout the Bible. Our history demonstrates that the moment study of Torah is neglected, assimilation of the Jewish people into its surroundings makes its inroad. Without fail, every Jewish community in history that did not teach and study Torah as its first priority gradually disappeared from the scene. Beyond all the good, rational reasons, Torah is the mysterious bridge which connects the Jew and God, across which they interact and communicate, and by means of which God fulfills His covenant with His people to sustain them and protect them.

    It is therefore no surprise that Torah study is so central with us. It is the first blessing a newborn child receives: "May he grow up to Torah, to the wedding canopy, and to good deeds." The prayer book is filled with petitions to God to help us understand His Torah. No wonder Rebbe Akiva in the Talmud states that to expect a Jew to live without Torah is like expecting a fish to live without water. That's because the fact is that the Torah is the essence of the Jewish people, our very life and soul, and without it we literally have no existence. This explains why, in a traditional Jewish community, the one who is looked up to and most admired is the scholar of Torah - not the entertainer or the athlete.

    When we study Torah, we are not studying an abstract and arcane text of the ancient world. We are studying the way in which God wants us to live on this earth... (We) are in fact engaged in discovering the essence of Judaism, which is to say, the essence of ourselves.

    Rabbi Paysach Krohn asks a great question. Why did the Angel fight with Yaacov and not with Avraham and Yitzchak? Why did he pick on Yaacov? We know Avram represents kindness-chessed and Yitzchak represents sacrifice and prayer. Yaacov represents Torah. In essence the angel was saying they can do kindness as much as they want; they can pray all day. However, if I take away the Torah there is no future generations. Why should we shed a tear for Nadav an Avihu?

    Rabbi Matityahu Solomon quotes the Ponavitch Rav. Moshe said that Nadav and Avihu were greater than himself and Aharon. As great as they were, can one imagine how great they would have become? Can one imagine what Klal Yisrael would have looked like if for forty years they would have been taught by MOSHE, AHARON, NADAV, AND AVIHU! Can one conceptualize how they would have influenced Klal Yisrael? Furthermore, how much would our nation look like TODAY!

    Rabbi Ephraim Waxman expounds on the Tomer Devorah when it says, "Every single Jew has in his soul the soul of every single soul in Klal Yisrael. Since all of their souls are bound together, this one has a share in that and that one has a share in this." When one learns Torah, he lifts up every Jewish soul in Klal Yisrael that resides with in his Neshama. Even Jews that don't have an inkling that Torah exist benefit from your learning. The power of studying Torah not only transcends space, but it transcends time. One who learns G-d's Torah benefits generations before him and the generations before him learning Torah benefit him through the millennium. Inside our souls rest the souls of our fathers. We have the souls of Nadav and Avihu. In other words, every Jew is timeless and ageless and we all come together and are united through Torah. He explains this point from an interpretation of Kedusha that is recited by the Ashkenazim. "NEKADESH ET SHIMCHA BA'OLAM K'SHEM SHEHMAKDISHIM OTO" - "We, in this world, sanctifies your name through our learning Torah like your name is sanctified in the heavens by the Jews who perished and are by your side, our ancestors."

    In every generation there is that bad angel in one form or another who tries to deter or, at times, destroy us. Rabbi Matityahu Solomon relates an incident, when he was a boy, barely bar mitzvah, where his father one day brought home a 16-year-old refugee from Eastern Europe. It was soon after the war and many of these boys were shipped to England, broken, without families. "My father said to my mother 'Bring out to this boy a pack of cookies'. We were all taken aback, a pack of cookies back then was a big deal at the time. My father continued 'This boy was just tested by the Rosh Yeshiva-Head Master and incredibly, it became known to us that he memorized 200 daphim-pages of Gemarah while he was in the Concentration camp! The boy's father was a Rav in Eastern Europe and gave Daf Yomi classes and when he and his son were forced into the camps the father taught his son.'"

    Rabbi Solomon continues: "I thought, can one imagine the father and son in the barracks in the concentration camp huddled up in one corner afraid not to get caught and the father teaching the son. That is the desire one prays for on Shevuot. That is the spirit of our people. The son, now, will study Torah, unfortunately, without his father. But, in essence, they both will sanctify G-d's name, in this world and the Heavens, for they are part of a nation that has spirit!"

    Rabbi Avi Matmon

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