Thursday, April 22, 2010

Chofetz Chaim and Weights and Measures

"Lo sa'asu avel bamishpat; bamidah bamishkal, uvamesurah. Moznei tzedek avnei tzeddek aivas tzeddek v'hin tzeddek y'hiyeh lachem..."

This week's double parsha, parshas acharei-kedoshim, deals with the commandment of having correct scales, measures and weights in one's business dealings. "You shall not commit a perversion of justice" in this regard. And this is the parsha of the Chofetz Chaim. The Chofetz Chaim's first published work was an anonymous pamphlet regarding correct scales and measures after he witnessed improprieties at the local markets on a regular basis.

At one point, the Chofetz Chaim and his wife opened a grocery store to bring in some money. To say that the Chofetz Chaim was scrupulous in his business dealings would be an understatement. One day, after he had sold some small measured packets of salt, he noticed that the scales were a bit off. Not knowing exactly who had been "cheated," he went around town giving tiny packets of salt to anyone and everyone he came into contact with on the streets. His philosophy was that when he passes on, and is being judged on high, he needs that extra little bit of salt to tip the scales in his favor; because he had no degree of gaivah (haughtiness), but only self-negation. When he learned in yeshiva as a bachor he would leave the beis midrash (study hall) each day for set period of time. Nobody knew exactly where he went, but many were curious. One day, a small group followed him into the woods. They saw him standing over a ditch, and heard the following: "So Yisroel Meir. You learn for a few hours and you think that you're somebody? Keep this up, and you will end up right there, down in that ditch."

On another occasion, a woman had come in to buy a few items including a herring. She forgot the herring in the store, but upon discovery, the Chofetz Chaim could not remember the exact person that left behind the fish. To make sure to pay this person back he gave everyone that walked into the store during the next few days a free herring.

And speaking of weights and measures, when the Belzer Rebbe met the Chofetz Chaim during the latter's historic trip to Warsaw to meet with the Prime Minister, at the Chofetz Chaim's general understatement the Belzer Rebbe remarked in private, "he has golden scales in his mouth, and he weighs every single word carefully before he speaks."

And speaking of weights and measures one more time, the Vilna Gaon authored a musar sefer (book on ethics) called Even Shleima. Many wonder what the significance of this name is. The Vilna Gaon asked where his name appears in the Torah. He found it in parshas ki seitzei, which also speaks of weights and measures. The words Even Shleima spell out Eliyahu ben Shlomo.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

25th of Nissan - Yahretziet of the Divrei Chaim

The following is a shocking and somewhat disturbing story. When I read this story in the Pshevorsker Rebbe's sefer, Shelosh Esrei Oros - Sippurei Kodesh, I wrote to Rabbi Tal Zwecker for some more information on the asceticism of the Rebbe Reb Elimelech and some of his disciples. The Pshevorsker Rebbe heard this from the mouth of Rav Ephraim Dovid Halberstam and others.

But just for some background, the Rebbe Reb Elimelech's greatest desire was to separate from the world of materialism, and he practiced strict self-denial as a means of attaining higher degrees of ruchnius (spirituallity). He abstained from alcohol, and fasted regulary. He went as far as to poke himself with sharp thorns. But he dicouraged his disciples from using such forms of asceticism as a means of coming closer to G-d, but there were those, such as Reb Naftali Ropshitzer, who ignored his advice, and followed in his severe ways.

Reb Naftali or Ropshitz was the badchan (a kind of comedian) of Rebbes. But he was a holy badchan. He made people laugh. He made other Rebbes laugh. He made jokes of other Rebbes, and he still made them laugh. He was once traveling incognito, and stopped at an inn for a rest. There was a wedding going on, but the calah, the bride, was spotted sitting at a table and crying. He went over to her, and asked what was wrong. She responded that the two families were poor, and that they could not afford a badchan for the wedding. Reb Naftali replied, "I'm a badchan!" He stood up, and began improvising on the spot to the delight of the bride and to all those assembled. But there was another side to Reb Naftali, and it wasn't all jokes. Although discouraged by his Rebbe, Reb Elimelech, he did adopt some of his severe practices, as we'll see.

The Ba'al Shem Tov went out of his way to discourage self-denial and intentional physical affliction. He taught that asceticism leads to depression and an even greater spiritual danger, that of pride.

The Divrei Chaim, Reb Chaim Halberstam of Sanz, was a student of Reb Naftali, but this story only tells of the Divrei Chaim's recounting of a story of his Rebbe. Reb Halberstam, in addition to his excellence in Torah and kabbalah, was known for his compassion and humility. The poor knew that they would always have a hot meal either directly from the Divrei Chaim, who gave away practically all of his money to the poor, or through one of his organizations to help the needy.

Reb Shlomo Halberstam, first Rebbe of Bobov, was the grandson of the Divrei Chaim. One day they were taking a ride in an open carriage to take in some of the crip cold air. The Divrei Chaim became engrossed in his thoughts, and seemed to sink into an otherworldy state of consciousness. Reb Shlomo, a young man at the time, noticed a high flame coming from his grandfather's pipe ("lulka"). He was worried that the flame might catch onto the wooden side panel of the carriage and set the carriage on fire. He moved close to his grandfather to cover the flame with the iron lid of the pipe, but burned his hand in doing so. Still worried about the flame, and not wanting to wake his grandfather, he began to switch his fingers on the iron lid, so that he would not burn himself futher. When the Divrei Chaim woke up from his dveikus he saw his grandson moving his fingers and switching his hands on the lid of the pipe in order not to get burned. The Divrei Chaim took the pipe out of his mouth, and said, "HA! (you think that's something?) One day I was walking with Reb Naftali and the Rebbi of Kaminka on a cold afternoon on the icey streets. The Kaminka Rebbe and I walked ahead of Reb Naftali, who kept stopping along the way. We became curious, and walked back to Reb Naftali, who was a distance behind us. As we approached, we noticed a pool of blood surrounding him. We looked around, and found blood in all of the spots where he had stopped. His shoes were off and his feet were frostbitten and stuck to the ice. Apparently, he would stand long enough so that his feet would cling to the ice, and he would then tear his feet from the ice, thereby tearing some of his skin off in the process, and his foot would begin to bleed.