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18 Elul 5768 - September 18, 2008 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Opinion & Comment
The Road To Repentance — A Selection Of Thoughts And Practical Guidance for Aseres Yemei Teshuvoh From HaRav Shach zt'l

Everyone Must Undertake to Improve, Especially With Regard to Torah

Everyone must leave with the resolution to improve, to make some undertaking, to realize that Rosh Hashonoh and Yom Kippur are approaching and to come "before Hashem" with at least something small in hand. When one has an audience with a minister, one looks for a small gift to take with and give him, as a means of entering into discussion.

The most important area for making undertakings is Torah study. Boruch Hashem, almost everyone has completed the masechteh and after another zman has gone by, we'll know another masechteh and so on. Today, [even] this leads to becoming geonim and scholars. There is no need to specially pursue novel thoughts and intricate discussions. New ideas come into one's mind by themselves in the course of one's learning, for I'm not talking about [the type of learning that is] mere translation of the words — ivreh teitsch. One has to learn in order to gain thorough knowledge of what one is learning and be very determined to immerse oneself in one's learning. That means that one's mind should be on one's learning at all times.

The times of the sedorim should be observed to as well as those of prayer. Some retire late while others go to bed early but lie in bed chatting and talking, gathering together in the rooms. One should go to sleep on time.

Although I'm speaking to you like this, who knows what will be with me? I am an old man but whatever I can do, I must do. I ask of you — "your camp should be holy"! (Devorim 23:15)

The street is treif. To whatever extent one can avoid travelling, one should avoid it. I have been told that this is the situation even in Yerushalayim! "Your camp shall be holy"!

We must make progress in our learning. When someone grows in his learning he is not helping anyone else; he's helping himself. His learning improves and [eventually] he becomes a great Torah scholar. Things will go well for him and his future will be better as well. He will be cleverer, have a better understanding of things and will find a better situation in life. We want things to go well and it will be easier to find a livelihood.

May Hashem grant us a kesivoh va'chasimah tovoh.


Understanding Tefilloh

Talmidim asked HaRav Shach where in the prayers of the Yomim Noraim they should have finding a suitable match in mind.

He replied, "In the words sab'einu mituvecho (satiate us from Your goodness)."

He might have had the following gemora in mind (Yevomos 62): "Rav Tanchum said in the name of Rav Chanilai, `Every unmarried man lives without joy, without, blessing and without good.' The gemora derives the lack of good in being unmarried from the posuk, "It is not good for man to be alone" (Bereishis 2:18), where we see that being married is synonymous with good.

(From Tel Talpiyos, published by Kehillas Chanichei Hayeshivos, Bnei Brak, Tishrei 5765: Conduct During the Month of Mercy in the Company of the Luminary, Our Master, zy'a)


Answer Us Like You Answered Avrohom Ovinu

I once went to see HaRav Shach on erev Yom Kippur night. Amongst other things, I asked him about the prayer we say in selichos, "He who answered Avrohom Ovinu on Har Hamoriya will answer us; He who answered Yitzchok Ovinu when he was bound on the altar, will answer us." In the prayer for protection from children's illnesses we also ask Hashem to, "answer us like You answered Avrohom Ovinu on Har Hamoriya."

My question was that it seems from here that our forefathers prayed to Hashem to prevent Yitzchok being slaughtered as an offering and that their prayers were answered. This is amazing [because we know that Avrohom and Yitzchok were both ready to comply wholeheartedly with Hashem's command to perform the Akeidah, which would seem to preclude their praying that it be averted].

HaRav Shach didn't even let me finish my question. He immediately responded with a cry of, "Ihr fregt gut! (You're asking a good question!) I'll explain. Every morning we ask Hashem, `Don't put us in a situation where we'll be tested.' Why do we make this request? Trials are very valuable; one elevates one's spiritual level by withstanding them. One must conclude that since there is a possibility of one's failing a trial, it is worthwhile praying not to encounter it at all. It is preferable to avoid the danger of stumbling and lowering one's level, even at the cost of missing an opportunity to climb higher.

"This was the thrust of Avrohom's and Yitzchok's prayers at the Akeidah. We have no doubt that they could have stood up this tremendous trial, would they ultimately have been called upon to do so. However, in their great self- effacement our holy avos were concerned that they may chas vesholom fail the test at the last minute. They therefore beseeched Hashem to remove it altogether."

HaRav Shach adduced support for his reply from the medrash (Bereishis Rabba 56:8): "Rabbi Yitzchok said, `When Avrohom wanted to bind his son Yitzchok he said to him, `Father, I am a young man and I am concerned that my body might shake from the fear of the knife and I will distress you. The shechitoh may be invalid and the offering will not fulfill its purpose. Therefore, bind me very tightly . . .' Here we clearly see their concern lest they not succeed in withstanding the trial fully.

On fasts and in selichos, we pray that Hashem answer us like He answered the prayers of Avrohom and Yitzchok that they should not be tested.

[In reference to Avrohom Ovinu's prayer being answered on Har Hamoriya , the Maharsha in Chiddushei Agados on the second perek of Taanis writes however, "Not that he was answered by Yitzchok's not being slaughtered. Rather, his request that `Hashem should select a lamb Himself' (Bereishis 22:8)."

Rav Tzvi Rotberg, head of Machon Mishnas Rabbi Aharon showed me the following medrash (ibid. 11): " `And a mal'ach . . . called a second time and said, `I swear . . .' ' Why was this oath necessary? He [Avrohom] said, `Swear to me that you will not test me any more in the future, nor my son Yitzchok.' " The Eitz Yosef writes, " `that you will not test me any more' — because if chas vesholom I would not have listened to you, I would have lost everything that I toiled for all my life. His fear was that he would not withstand his trial, therefore he made this request." This accords exactly with HaRav Shach's explanation.

On the same occasion, I merited HaRav Shach showing me what he'd written about the Akeidah in Avi Ezri (Mahadura Kama, Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah:6), according to the view of Rav Yehoshua Leib Diskin zt'l, that there was an element of trial in the prophecies of all the prophets besides Moshe Rabbenu. Since they were conveyed with a certain degree of unclarity, there was room to explain the prophecy in a different way than it was intended and the trial was to convey the true message.

When he had finished, HaRav Shach said to me with a smile, "You ought to pay me a million dollars for such a vort!"

(From Nitzotzei Eish, in memory of Rabbi Eliyahu Shraga Niehaus z'l, from the section Amud Ha'eish, in memory of HaRav Shach.)

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