Thursday, November 12, 2009

Reb Pinchas of Koretz and challah

We are told in Bereishis Rabbah concerning this week's parsha, parshas Chayei Sara, that while Sara Imeinu was alive three things occurred in her house: a candle was alight from one erev shabbos to the next, a blessing was found in her dough, and a cloud was stationed over her home. In Imrei Pinchas, Reb Pinchas Koretzer comments that concerning the bracha in the dough this does not mean that a small amount of dough grew to giant proportions. Avraham was not short on money, and the dough wasn't lacking. Rather, it means that when the dough was baked it grew evenly, and into a resplendent, deliciously aromatic and delectable challah. And he says that it is a matter of intention. When a woman is happy and cheerful while baking the challah, and has the intention of it being lichvod shabbos, the loaf will come out of the oven pleasing to the senses. And, conversely, if she is grouchy and angry while baking the challah, it will come out of the oven burnt and unshapely. Such was the simcha and contentedness of Sara Imeinu that her dough was blessed.

The Beis Yisroel, the forth Gerrer Rebbe, notes that as is the case with Sara Imeinu in this week's parsha, the Torah always records the lives of tzaddikim in descending order, starting with hundreds, moving down to tens, and so on. The one exception, he says, is Yaakov Avinu, who lived "seven years and forty and a hundred years." The midrash also claims that he didn't actually die. Yaakov is often called "the chosen of the avos (patriarchs)" because of his lifelong striving for truth. The upward numerical progression in his age, says the Rebbe, reflects his constant spiritual "climb," which transcended death and continued until he reached the "upper worlds."

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Preparing for the Satmar Rebbe

We are all familiar with the kedusha of the first Satmar Rebbe, and even if we oppose some of his more controversial views, we are still in awe of his saintliness. The following two stories illustrate how he was viewed and held in esteem by other gedolim of the time.

In the Skulener Rebbe's later years he was very sick. At one point he was advised to see a doctor not far from Kiryas Yoel, the Satmar village in upstate New York, which was home to the Satmar Rebbe. The Skulener Rebbe asked that on the trip upstate he stop by the Satmar Rebbe before the doctor's appointment for a bracha (blessing) for good health. The meeting was arranged between the respective gabbaim. The Skulener Rebbe fell asleep in the car ride upstate, and when he was awoken by his gabbai he found himself already in Kiryas Yoel. The Rebbe's gabbai had gone in to the Satmar Rebbe, letting the Skulener get his rest, and when the gabbai finally woke up the Rebbe, he told him that the Satmar Rebbe was waiting for him, "now," at that exact moment. The Skulener Rebbe, incredulous, asked, "vos?" The gabbai repeated, "the Satmar Rebbe is waiting for you. I just went in to him a minute ago, he's waiting for you right now. We have to go in right now!" The Skulener Rebbe, again incredulous, asked, "vos??" The gabbai said, "but you said that you wanted to get the Rebbe's bracha before you went to the doctor...because you've been sick..." The Skulener Rebbe said, still with a look of astonishment on his face, "you expect me to go in to see the Satmar Rebbe without hachanah (preparation)? To just start talking to him?" The gabbai pleaded with him, "this is your one chance, we have to get to the doctor's office, you can still meet with the Rebbe for a few minutes. You said that you needed his bracha!" The Rebbe again exclaimed, "without hachanah???" He told the gabbai that it was out of the question. They turned the car around, and went straight to the doctor's office. The Skulener Rebbe never met with the Satmar Rebbe again, and never got his bracha. It simply wasn't possible for him to speak with, and be in the presence of the holy Satmar Rebbe without lengthy preparations in ruchnius (spirituality).

Rav Segal, the Manchester Rosh Yeshiva was planning a trip to America. An avreich from the kollel came up to him, and asked for a favor: "I know that the Rosh Yeshiva is planning on meeting with the Satmar Rebbe during his trip to the States. My wife and I have been trying for years to have a child, but with no success. Would the Rosh Yeshiva be so kind as to get a bracha from the Satmar Rebbe during his meeting?" Rav Segal assured him that he would.

Rav Segal prepared with a six hour mussar seder before he met with the Rebbe! He cried, and he beseeched, with his head toward shamayim (heaven). Only then was he prepared to meet the Rebbe face to face. After the meeting, as Rav Segal was walking back to the car, his gabbai said, "oy! You forgot to ask for the bracha for the avreich at the yeshiva! OK, let's run back in quickly." The Rosh Yeshiva said, "vos?" He said "it'll take a second, let's just run back in, the door is probably still open!" The Rosh Yeshiva asked, incredulously, "vos?? You expect me to go in to see the Satmar Rebbe without hachanah?" The gabbai pleaded, "but you just came out! You were just in a very lofty state. You prepared for six hours beforehand. And you promised this avreich a bracha from the Satmar Rebbe." The Rosh Yeshiva said "It's completely out of the question. I will not walk in to see the Satmar Rebbe without proper hachanah" "What are we supposed to do?" questioned the Gabbai. "I'll have to give him the bracha myself," said Rav Segal. "There's just no other way." And so they left, and later flew back to Manchester. The Rosh Yeshiva did give the avreich a bracha, and less than a year later on Rosh Hashana it was whispered into the Rosh Yeshiva's ear before tekiah shofar that the bracha had come to fruition. Rav Segal took a chance, and it worked out for the best. But there was no way he would look in the Satmar Rebbe's eyes without hachanah.

Just a thought. At the end of parshas mishpatim Rashi cites two views on the pasuk "vayishkon kevod Hashem al har sinai, vayechaseihu he'anan sheishes yamim - and the glory of Hashem rested on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it/him for six days." In Rashi's second pshat "vayechaseihu" refers to Moshe. "The cloud rested on 'him' for six days," rather than on Har Sinai. And this teaches, as Rashi says, that when one comes into contact with the "machane shechinah - the camp of the divine presence," one must separate and prepare oneself for six days. Perhaps Rav Segal viewed the Satmar Rebbe as an emissary of the Shechinah, and used the number six here on a human scale, preparing for six hours before his holy meeting with the Rebbe.

And, similarly, in regard to the inyan (subject) of kedushas hashishi (sanctity of the "sixth"), after the passing of Reb Elimelech of Lizhensk, someone went to the cook of the house, and said, "please. Please tell me something about Reb Elimelech; what it was like working in his house. Tell me something about the tzaddik, please." The woman was reticent, and looked away. He pleaded with her, "please, tell me something about the tzaddik; something you learned while being in his house; something that went on." On the third attempt the shy woman came right at him, and said, "one thing. There's ONE THING! And that is EREV SHABBOS (the eve of shabbos)." She said, "EREV SHABBOS! The kedusha (holiness) in the house on erev shabbos! At midday the tzaddik already had his head against the wall whispering, 'shabbos kodesh, shabbos kodesh.' We went around the house saying to each other, 'gut shabbos, gut shabbos.' The kedusha in the house on erev shabbos was almost as great as on shabbos kodesh itself! Although we were still preparing for shabbos, erev shabbos was already mei'ein olam habbah (a taste of the world to come)."

Could we fathom what shabbos must have been like in the home of Reb Elimelech if erev shabbos involved such preparations in ruchnius, and was a holy day in itself.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Skolya Rebbe and parshas Vayeira

I've been neglecting this site, but plan on writing again. As I was reviewing this week's parsha this incredible story came to mind.

But just some background. The Skolya Rebbe, Rabbi Dovid Yitzchok Isaac Rabinowitz, was known for his great genius and depth in Torah learning, among other things. He had a certain custom at his tishen. Somebody present was chosen to say a pasuk (verse), any pasuk, from the Torah. The Rebbe would instantly begin to expound on the pasuk. He would expound, and he would expound, sometimes for up to two hours. The person honored with giving the Rebbe the pasuk was usually a guest or somebody prominent. The Rebbe never failed to impress, and hold those present at the tish rapt. Once while visiting Ireland the Rebbe was at the home of a prominent Rav. During the course of conversation the Rav said, "why doesn't the Rebbe come clean! Everyone knows that the Rebbe plans which pasuk is going to be said ahead of time." The Rebbe challenged the Rav, and asked for a pasuk. He thought for a second, and said "Reuven, Shimon, Levi, VeYehuda." The Rebbe closed his eyes, and expounded on the verse until the Rav had to stop him at 2:30 in the morning. He begged the Rebbe's forgiveness, who, in turn, said, "I forgive you, but please don't accuse another Jew of lying in the future."

And now to the story: The Rebbe was sitting in his apartment when he heard a truck pull up downstairs. Suddenly, the horrifying sound of boots running through the halls and up the staircase was resonating in the corridors of the building. It was a Nazi raid. Amidst the banging on doors, smashing down of doors, dragging of Jews out of their apartments, horrifying screams and, the incessant sound of boots, the Rebbe, scared for his life, sat at his table and closed his eyes. He began to concentrate on the pasuk, "ve'es ha'anashim asher petach habayis hiku basanveirim mikaton v'ad gadol vayeel'u limtzo hapasach" (and the people who were at the entrance of the house were stricken with blindness, from young to old, and they tried in vain to find the entrance. Shemos 19:11. It refers to the people of Sodom who surrounded Lot's house in order to terrorize him and his visitors, but were stricken were blindness, and were unable to find the door to the house). The Rebbe, with intense concentration, repeated the pasuk over, and over, and over again. The apartment to the right was raided, the apartment to the left was raided, and all Jews had been emptied out of the apartments above and below, and later shipped off to their deaths. This pasuk combined with the Rebbe's shefa (connection) on high saved him from the camps. The Rebbe was later able to escape from Europe with his life.

Just as an aside from this week's parsah, as well, the first Satmar Rebbe was once late for a bris. In attendance was Rabbi Eliezer Silver, who was on a tight schedule that day. The bris was to begin at 9:00 sharp, but the Satmar Rebbe was nowhere to be seen. 9:15 came, 9:30. At twenty minutes before ten the Satmar Rebbe walked in, and with a look of astonishment on Rabbi Silver's face he said to the Rebbe, "what happened to 'vayashkeim Avraham baboker? (and Abraham woke up early in the morning)'" The Satmar Rebbe replied, "it doesn't say how long the 'vayachavosh es chamoro (and he saddled his donkey)' took!!!"